Friday 29 December 2017

Reviewing the Costa First Novel Shortlist*

Costa Book Awards First Novel Shortlist
This post is a paid collaboration with Costa. All words, images and opinions are entirely my own

This winter I've been working with Costa Coffee to review the First Novel shortlist of the Costa Book Awards. I spent a lovely month reading all four books on the shortlist and today I'm giving you my mini reviews plus a sneaky little prediction of the winner. I've had a wonderful time reading these books so thank you to the lovely Costa PR team for this opportunity!

Stay tuned to the end for an exciting giveaway featuring these books!

The Haunting of Henry Twist

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John 
Firstly, we have The Haunting of Henry Twist which starts with a death and from there unfurls a quite slow-paced but interesting and intimate look at grief, need and longing against the beautiful backdrop of 1920s London. Henry Twist's wife Ruby is nine months pregnant when she is killed after being knocked down by a bus, leaving Henry a single father in a world that doesn't take too kindly to them. Henry then meets a mysterious man who claims he has no memories except for his name, Jack Turner, and the fact that he wants to befriend Henry Twist. Interwoven amongst this are Henry and Ruby's friends and the relationships between them all. I thought that the examination of the relationships between this group of people was done excellently. The narrative voice switched seamlessly between the different characters without ever being confusing and each of their psyches was laid bare on the page in the most beautiful way. Rebecca F. John's representation of loss felt very raw and real and not tragically glamorous like it's sometimes made out to be. Although I sometimes struggle with slower-paced plots, I actually really enjoyed the pacing in this one - I think because it made room for some beautiful writing. It was a real pleasure to read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Next up, I picked up Eleanor Oliphant because I had a feeling that I'd whizz through it, and I was right. The combination of the short chapters and the writing made it compulsively readable and I found that I couldn't put it down. It's written from the perspective of Eleanor, who goes to work and comes home, eats a margherita pizza every Friday and drinks two bottles of vodka to get herself through the weekend. She is completely fine, apart from the fact that she is very alone. This novel follows her as an encounter with a work colleague and a good deed lead her into a variety of situations that she isn't used to encountering. Throughout the book there are hints of some childhood trauma and an unhappy past that Eleanor doesn't like to talk about and this is dealt with very gently and cleverly. Eleanor is a quirky character and at first I was a little worried in case the reader was supposed to just laugh at her, but she actually turned out to be very endearing and funny. Eleanor's perspective was so unique and her way of seeing the world was so different to my own in a way that made me feel like I was discovering the most common human experiences for the first time. Eleanor Oliphant is a heartwarming read with a light current of sadness and quite intense emotion running throughout.

Montpelier Parade

Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
Montpelier Parade is the story of Sonny, a 16-year-old living on the fringes of Dublin society. He works part-time in a butcher's shop, drinks alone in the woods when he can afford to and punches walls to let out the 'howl of feeling' inside him. When he meets Vera, an older woman, his life is turned upside down. Unfortunately, this wasn't my favourite of the list - but it featured some excellent writing nonetheless. Throughout Montpelier Parade, raw emotion bubbles just under the surface, only expressed in short bursts of violence and passion or surreptitious acts. Geary's eye for detail is extraordinary, and these lurid minutiae leave the reader feeling brilliantly uncomfortable. I think the reason why I couldn't truly enjoy this novel was because I wasn't ever quite sure what Geary's message was. For me it was mostly a cyclical refrain on loneliness but I think more could have been done with the themes the novel touched on; class, gender etc. There were certain characters whose motivations I didn't fully understand and on the whole it felt a little lacking.

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
The final First Novel, The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times seems to continue the theme of difference and 'otherness' that runs throughout the shortlist. Lucy Marsh, a young orphan, is whisked away every week to see the 'funny men' in the woods. All ex-servicemen, they are named after the characters in The Wizard of Oz, and each are nicknamed so based on the injuries they suffered in the first world war. Clocks is a dark and twisted fairytale where the horrors of the war are manifested in a ravaged, exhausted landscape full of strange characters with dark histories and an even darker present. It's quite difficult for me to talk about this book without giving too much away because as the novel goes on, the plots and various characters interweave in clever and interesting ways - but you'll just have to read it to find out! Brooks' writing prevents this dark book from becoming too dismal, there is whimsy and humour sprinkled amongst the anguish, and I found Brooks' descriptions of the strange worlds that Lucy moves between to be incredibly captivating. The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times explores the effects of trauma, both on individuals and those around them and the blurred lines between good and evil, a kind of moral greyness that was left in the wake of the first world war.


So there we have it! I've read and reviewed the Costa Book Awards First Novel shortlist and now it's time to pick my own personal winner. It's hard to say with book awards whether it should go to the most enjoyable or the most technically accomplished book, because they're not always the same. But the Costa Book Awards have always been about the books the general public will enjoy the most so for me it's got to be Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. it's the one I'm still thinking about the most, I think it appeals to the widest audience and I think it's in with a shot of not only winning the First Novel category but winning the whole thing. But we'll have to see!

The shortlist winners are announced on the 2nd of January and the overall winner will be announced at the awards on the 30th of January.

*This post is part of a series of posts that are sponsored by Costa. All words and images are entirely my own and 100% honest.

Friday 22 December 2017

My Christmas Day Routine

Christmas Day Routine

Christmas Day, everybody does it differently don't they? You might not give a spiced fig about my Christmas routine but I'm super nosy and always love hearing about other people's traditions and how their big day unfolds so I took inspiration from the awesome Helen Anderson and decided to share with you what my family does at Christmas!

Christmas Eve
I was raised Catholic, so when we were younger the whole family used to go to a big nativity and children's mass at our church on Christmas eve - which we'd often take part in. But in more recent years, even though my siblings and I aren't particularly religious, we've attended a Christingle at the village church. If you've never heard of it, a Christingle is kind of like a carol service where everyone is given a 'christingle' - usually an orange (representing the world) with a lit candle pushed into the centre (representing Jesus as the light of the world), a red ribbon wrapped around (representing the blood of Christ) and dried fruits or sweets stuck in on cocktail sticks (representing the fruits of the earth and the four seasons). This might sound kind of strange but it's actually really lovely, with all the carols and excited children - there's a really nice sense of community. 

After that we head back to my parent's house and eat gammon with jacket potato and red cabbage - we've eaten this Christmas eve meal for as long as I can remember, I don't know where the tradition came from but it's tasty nonetheless!

Despite the fact that my siblings and I are all in our late twenties/early thirties we still leave out a tray for Santa - usually a mince pie and, depending on how kind we're feeling, either a nice glass or port or a deadly cocktail of our own making!

Christmas Day
We definitely don't wake up at 5am like we used to, but I'm still up pretty early on Christmas morning with the excitement of what's to come! I usually go and wake up my reluctant siblings and drag them into my room to open our stocking presents. Far from the luxurious 'stocking fillers' that you find on a lot of gift guides, we're more likely to unwrap some shower gel, a few chocolate coins and of course a satsuma at the bottom! 

With a quick breakfast of chocolate coins keeping us going, we get showered and ready and sometimes go to church, but we haven't been on Christmas morning for a few years now. Last year we all wrapped up and took the dog out for a Christmas walk - it was really lovely walking through the village and wishing Merry Christmas to the few other dog walkers. 

After that it's a breakfast of croissants and bucks fizz - heavy on the fizz. I think we're quite unusual in the fact that we don't start opening our presents until around 11am or sometimes even 12! We gather in the living room with some Christmas music on and pass out the presents, we go a bit nuts on presents and we've been known to still be opening them four hours later. We've started to actually take a break in the middle to have our Christmas lunch - turkey with all the trimmings followed by a variety of desserts, Nigella's brownies are probably my all-time favourite.

When all the presents are opened and the Christmas lunch has been devoured, we usually take some time to look at everyone's presents, play a game or watch a Christmas film. To be honest, the evening is all a bit of a blur of prosecco and pringles but there's always time for late-night Cards Against Humanity.

I hope you found that little peek into my Christmas at least a little bit interesting! Let me know what traditions you have or if my Christmas is completely different to yours! I always find it fascinating to find out other's routines and traditions.

Have a wonderful, safe and happy Christmas - I'll be back post festivities with my Costa Book Awards reviews!

Monday 11 December 2017

My Costa Book Awards 2017 TBR*

Costa Book Awards First Novel Shortlist
This post is a paid collaboration with Costa. All words, images and opinions are entirely my own.

Sheltering from the snow with a hot drink and a good book, is there a better way to spend these winter months? Probably not. Which is why it's the time of year to shout out some excellent books that are perfect for cosy winter evenings. So therefore...*drumroll*...I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that this year I'm working with Costa and the Costa Book Awards to discuss some truly awesome books with you all!

In case you have no idea what I'm on about, the Costa Book Awards have been going since 1971 (!) and are one of the UK's most prestigious book prizes, second only to the Man Booker. They aim to recognise outstanding and enjoyable books that the general public actually *want* to read, rather than feel like they should. These books are all from authors living in the UK and Ireland and recognise the most enjoyable books across five categories - First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Books - so there's something for everyone in there.

This year, I'm going to be reading and reviewing the four books in the First Novel category before the category winners are announced on January 2nd. The First Novel category celebrates authors who have published their first novel, now that seems rather obvious, but it might be that they've written other things (non-fiction, poetry, essays etc.) before and this is their first novel! So this is a really exciting category for me to be reading as I absolutely love discovering brand spanking new novels from authors I've never read before!

So that's enough waffling from me, let's have a look at the First Novel shortlist, or in other words, my Costa Book Awards TBR...

Costa Book Awards 2017

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John
London, 1926. Henry and Ruby Twist are newly married with a baby on the way. But when Ruby is killed in a tragic accident, Henry, consumed by grief, is left to look after his baby daughter alone in a world without single fathers. Soon after Ruby's death, a mysterious man appears in Henry's life. He claims he has no memories except for his name, Jack Turner, and the fact that he wants to befriend Henry Twist. Henry is both terrified of and irresistibly drawn to Jack - why does this man seem so familiar, so magnetic? Why has he come to Henry under such strange circumstances? And could he be offering Henry a life to replace the one he lost when Ruby died?  

This is the first book I've picked up and so far, it's absolutely fantastic. I love reading historical fiction, especially literary historical fiction, and this one seems dark and twisty and I can't wait to find out what happens. I've read very few novels set in 1920s London so I've no doubt it's going to be full of mystery, Bright Young Things and fascinating insights into post-war life.

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
Summer 1923. Every Sunday, young orphan Lucy Marsh climbs into the back of an old army truck to go and see 'the funny men’ in the woods. Named after characters from The Wizard of Oz – the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Toto and the Lion – these men are, in fact, horribly damaged war heroes. But when these mysterious encounters in the woods come to an abrupt end, Lucy leaves her grandparents' house behind for a new adventure. If Lucy can survive the hazardous path ahead of her, she might just survive into a bright new tomorrow.

The synopsis sounds quite strange, in the most brilliant way. I think this is going to be another, quite different, look into the effects of World War One on the people of Britain and the void that was left behind when a huge chunk of the population didn't return home.

Costa Book Awards 2017

Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
Sonny is a young man growing up in Ireland, living a lonely life of dreams and quiet violence. When he's working on the garden of a house on Montpelier Parade with his father one Saturday, he meets the owner of the house: Vera. There's a spark between Sonny and this sophisticated older woman. But what is it that Vera isn’t telling him?

Montpelier Parade sounds wistful and exhilarating - I love reading about small town lives and the things that can so dramatically disrupt them. I think I'm going to race through this one.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Her life is simple, she is happy and absolutely nothing is missing from her carefully scheduled days. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself.

This is the only book of the shortlist which I'd already heard about as there was quite a bit of buzz around it on booktube this summer, so I'm really excited to be finally reading it. The narrator sounds fascinating and it seems like there's going to be lots of twists and turns along the way. I have a feeling that it's going to be one of those that I can't put down and read all in one go over a glorious, cosy weekend - let's see shall we?


So those are the books that I'm going to be devouring this month! There will be another post up nearer the end of the month where I'll share my thoughts on all of these books along with my prediction for which one is going to be the category winner! There will also be an exciting giveaway in that stay tuned for that!

Which one of these books are you most excited to read? If you've already read them, which one is your personal winner? Let me know in the comments!


*This post is part of a series of posts that are sponsored by Costa. All words and images are entirely my own and 100% honest.

Latest Instagrams

© Sarah's Chapter. Design by FCD.