Fiction, Non-Fiction, Reviews

Recent reads roundup! Miss Jane (2016), Mindhunter (1995), and The Butcher’s Hook (2016)

As I wrote about in my last post, I had a bit of a reading slump at the end of 2017 (after a very mixed bag of reading throughout the year), and didn’t get to read much over the Christmas holidays as I had a cold, then the flu, then a chest infection. But now I am back in the swing of things and have just finished my second book of the year!

fullsizeoutput_1930My last book of 2017 was a bit of an impulse purchase on a last-minute present shopping trip to Waterstones – the 2016 novel Miss Jane by Brad Watson. It had been on my long-term TBR for while, so when I saw the paperback I went for it. I started reading it in the lovely Cafe W in the Oxford store, over a latte, and instantly liked it. Watson has an easy way of writing that draws you in straight away, and begins the novel with an account of Jane’s birth, in rural Mississippi in the early 20th century.

The character is apparently based on a great aunt of the author, and this comes through in the sensitive and empathetic approach to her life story. Jane is born with some sort of genital defect that means she suffers from incontinence, and is unable to have sex or have children. Her incontinence means that her time at school is short-lived, and her inability to procreate means that she is discouraged from pursuing romantic relationships – even when she does meet a boy she likes, and who likes her. I enjoyed the depiction of Jane’s simple rural life, and the ups and downs of her family – her older sister Grace feels trapped in their family and moves out as soon as she is able to; her father is good to Jane, but suffers from his own demons and does not nurture her; and her mother is detached, irritable, and intolerant. Jane lives an isolated life that is punctuated with meaningful moments, and sweetened by her friendship with the family doctor who always cared for her.

The first two thirds of the book are great, but as Jane gets older and her life doesn’t really change, the novel begins to flag a bit and I felt less and less engaged as the story petered out. I think if Watson had given his heroine a little more to do than just look after the family farm, even if that’s what his great aunt did, then the last third of the book would have been much more satisfying.

fullsizeoutput_192fMy next read was a Christmas present, and something completely different – Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. I wanted to read this as I loved the Netflix series based on it (also called Mindhunter) and have always been fascinated by true crime and psychology. It is the story of John Douglas’ career in the FBI and the development of psychological analysis and profiling in the FBI, something that has changed the way that we think about criminals, particularly serial killers (a phrase that was coined by Douglas’ department).

I am weird and therefore find serial killers really fascinating, so it was amazing to read about the interviews that were conducted with those that had already been captured and were in prison, such as Ed Kemper and Jerry Brudos (don’t google them if you’re squeamish). Douglas analyses them in detail and explains his work and process with several case studies of killers caught over the years. The book gets a little formulaic as he repeats the fact that his team at the FBI learnt to look at a killer’s ‘work’, or ‘art’, in order to work out what his personality was, but this was fascinating nonetheless, especially when Douglas points out that psychologists and psychiatrists work the other way around. I think you have to have a real interest in the genre to read this book, and I reckon it could have been a wee bit shorter, but I still enjoyed it.

fullsizeoutput_1929Most recently I read The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis, which was a birthday present. This was another one I’d had my eye on for a while, but hadn’t actually gotten around to buying, so it was a nice surprise to receive it for my birthday. It is set in London in the 1750s and follows a particularly frantic period in the life of nineteen-year-old Anne Jaccob, as she grieves her little brother and resentfully tolerates the arrival of a new little sister. She feels completely trapped between her cold, uncaring father and her dreamy bedridden mother, as well as the two servants of the house, for whom she has very little regard.

Anne is an oddball to say the least, fixated on the flaws of everyone around her. I was pleased by her independence and wilfulness, something you might not always find in a Georgian heroine, but I can’t say she was a very likeable character. As you might expect for a girl her age, she can be both intense and apathetic, and yearns to have more freedom. When her parents decide she should marry one of her father’s business associates, the off-putting Mr Simeon Onions (what a name), Anne is just getting caught up in an affair with the butcher’s boy, Fub (another winning name), and decides that she’s had enough. She becomes increasingly reckless, running about London having ill-advised trysts with Fub, and trying to work out how to extricate herself from her family and Mr Onions.

While there is some excellent characterisation in this novel, I was unmoved by Anne’s affair with Fub. I could see why he appealed to her as an attractive and unsuitable young man, but the intensity of their affair didn’t quite ring true, as well as the bizarre way in which they converse – a mixture of flirting, joking, and very unsubtle sexual innuendo. Really they do not know each other at all, but Anne goes in headfirst and fixates on their supposed love, as she does with everything else. It’s fair to say that she is desperate for a better life, and has deep-seated resentments against her family and her position, but she does not deal with any of it rationally. Once Fub gives her a small knife as a sort of keepsake, she begins to fixate on murder (after having seen a calf slaughtered at the butcher’s) and the story goes off the deep end. Anne becomes more and more angry and vengeful, and begins to delight in the idea of killing several people she knows. Unsurprisingly she does knock off a few by the end.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Butcher’s Hook, though I did enjoy it, and Janet Ellis is undoubtedly a good writer. It’s a bit of a mixed bag of good and not-so-good characterisation, wrapped in vivid and intense descriptions of Georgian London and Anne’s sensory experiences. I think it is the most interesting book I have read recently, and I’ll be curious to see what Ellis publishes next.

So there you have it – my most recent reads. I now need to decide what to read next, as I amassed quite a few books over Christmas and my birthday… so many to choose from!

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What are your most recent reads?

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Oh is it Christmas?

Hello all just a quick note to say Merry Christmas!

I’ve been a bit off grid as I was away in Copenhagen until Christmas Eve and this is the first moment I have had to myself since then! Not that I’m complaining, we have had a lovely Christmas.

I recently finished After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell, and I’m about to choose my next book! I also have a Best of 2015 post in the works will will appear soon…

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas and will have a very Happy New Year!

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Kind of a random blog post that’s kind of related to Christmas

Hello all, my apologies for not posting for almost a month! I have been busy at work which = super tired, plus I have been reading quite slowly recently for some reason, so I haven’t had many books to review. I did finish Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood the other week, and have a brilliant (ha!) blog post on it planned out, but haven’t had the time to sit down and write it. I’m aiming to do that this weekend, promise.

I’ve also had some non-serious health issues that have kept me from the blog. So there’s that.

Luckily, I am super excited about Christmas and going on holiday to Copenhagen just before (woohoo!) so I will be sure to blog about that and post some photos, which will hopefully be good and christmassy.

For my Christmas reading, I’ve got the second half of Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon to read, and then I think it’ll be on to some more of The Early Stories of Truman Capote, which I’ve dipped into but not really spent that much time with. I have, as usual, quite a few unread books, so I’ll have to take some time to choose the next book to dive into!

Reviews-wise, I’ll soon be revieweing Look at Me by Sarah Duguid, which is a Big Title for Tinder Press next year. Learn more about it here. I’ll also post about Lady Audley and those early stories from the young Truman – they are very interesting indeed.

I’ll try to post as much as I can over the Christmas holidays. Are you all as excited about Christmas as me?!

Here’s a Christmas puppy for you:

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Hello again!

As you may have noticed I’ve been a bit absent of late, having left blogging to the side to make way for the business of Christmas, and time at home with family. I’m still in that phase of the year, but have been seeing some great posts from my fellow bloggers and felt the urge to get back in the swing of things!

A LOT of people have been doing end of the year posts rounding up their favourite things of 2014, their top books etc, and I have been thinking about whether I want to do this. I did a Best of 2013 post, and a Best of 2014 So Far post in the summer, so it would make sense to do a  Best of 2014 post and highlight my favourite books of the year. Perhaps that will come later this week, or in early January – to be honest I’m not sure what my favourite books of the year would be! I’ve had a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the quality of what I’ve read this year, as there have been some gems but also some disasters…

Anyway, the point of this post was to let you know I’m still alive and reading, with some posts planned. I didn’t really want to write about Christmas this year, and recently most of my social media output has been updates on food and my niece and nephew! The business and social events of this time of year (that makes me sound so popular and braggy!!) have meant that I haven’t had as much time as normal to read, so I’ve not been through as many pages as usual.

The book I finished most recently was The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth – the story of Dortchen Wild, the wife of Wilhelm Grimm. My review of that will be coming shortly!

Amazingly I only got one book for Christmas – My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst, which I’m reading at the moment and very much enjoying. I also got the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore (yes, the Johnny Depp film was based on it…) so I’ll be reading that in January. It’s pretty huge so it may take me some time! But I WILL blog about it as I go, and when I finish it.

So, thoughts on The Wild Girl will be up soon, and I’ll get back into the swing of things in the new year. Did you all have a merry Christmas?

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