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Saturday 19 August 2023

Books for August

 Graphic showing the books read by Is This Mutton books and fashion blog in August

Dear friends. August is a funny old time in book publishing. Hardly any books come out, with most publishers preferring to wait until September.  I have a bumper edition for September, but not so many this month! But there's excellent variety, ranging from a crime thriller set on Scafell Pike to life at Broadmoor a hundred years ago and a different look at George Orwell. 

Let's start with a corker of a crime thriller. 

The Body on Scafell Pike by S J Brooke  (4 stars)

The Lake District is a fantastic location for a crime series, and DI Jess Chambers is a likable, effective but impulsive detective. She makes mistakes and one of them nearly costs her her life. 

Investigating the murder of a well-known fell runner with a strong social media presence is Jess's first SIO role in her new post in Cumbria.  

We're given a satisfying number of red herrings as suspects, and the police investigation and technology is impressive.  

Jess is an intriguing character and we know very little about her,  except that she was transferred to Cumbria from Belfast,  and has been single for a long time. No doubt SJ Brooke, a former newspaper crime reporter, will fill in some of the gaps in subsequent books. 

An enjoyable and well written crime thriller.  Vivid imagery around the murder will stay in my mind for some time to come.

My Work by Olga Ravn  (4 stars)

Synopsis:  Anna is utterly lost. Still in shock after the birth of her son, she moves to snowbound Stockholm with her newborn and boyfriend, where a chasm soon opens between the couple. Lonely and isolated, Anna reads too many internet articles and shops for clothes she cannot afford. To avoid sinking deeper into her depression, she must read and write herself back into her proper place in the world.

My Thoughts:  This is a tough read. Do not read if you're expecting a baby. It's a searing, harrowing and visceral book that I don't think I will ever forget.  It's a feminist treatise on aspects of motherhood that are scarcely ever talked about: the toll that motherhood can have on a woman's life and personality;  the impact it can have on a relationship;  the feeling of being torn between love for a baby and despising its neediness and relentless demands. 

This book is published on 5 September. Thanks to NetGalley and Book Hug Press for the eERC. 

First Position by Melanie Hamrick

Two things attracted me to this novel about ballet. First, the subject. You can always rely on novels and biographies about ballet to be full of gasp-worthy incidents involving fat shaming, sexism, bitchiness and misogyny.  Secondly, the writer is Mick Jagger's fiancee. She retired from America Ballet Theatre in 2019 after 15 years.

I didn't realise when I bought the book on Amazon that it was a Mills and Boon. But it's a long way from the benign and chaste romances one tends to associate with that publisher. 

The book started off quite promisingly. As Sylvie Carter arrives at the ballet company to start her career, we hear thrilling details about the number of pointe shoes she's already been allocated (and the number of pairs increases as you climb up the ladder). Well, as a balletomane that's the sort of detail I love. 

But it then deteriorated into a story of promising young dancers being seduced into forbidden relationships, dodgy nightclubs, alcohol and drugs.

By the end, I had to remind myself that the girls were only 19 because their behaviour seemed so jaded, cynical and self destructive.

I was hoping for something like Black Swan but this fell some way short. 


Wifedom: Mrs Orwell's Invisible Life by Anna Funder

Here's a shocker.  Much loved English writer George Orwell was a misogynist, a sex pest, and possibly homosexual. Anna Funder is the first biographer to explore this possibility. "Orwell was trapped in a homophobic world that may have separated him from his truth," she writes.

Homosexual or not, Orwell, or Eric Blair as he was christened, was married twice, and it's his relationship with first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy that comes under scrutiny. Orwell had no scruples about stealing her ideas. Eileen had written a poem called Nineteen Eighty-Four a long time before she met him.

She gave up a lot to be with Orwell. When they met, she was an Oxford graduate supporting herself financially while studying for a masters in psychology. After their marriage they lived in a remote cottage with a smallholding, and Eileen not only took care of the animals but also acted as Orwell's editor, agent and secretary. 

In 1945 when the terminally ill Eileen was planning to meet George in London for the court appearance that would finalise the adoption of their much-wanted son, Richard,  Orwell didn't turn up, preferring to go to France for a journalistic assignment. 

Orwell mentions "my wife" 37 times in his writing. But not once is Eileen named. 

Thanks to Viking Books for the advance reader copy. 

Broadmoor Inmates by Nicola Sly 

I don't know what it says about me but I'm fascinated to read how "lunatics", as they were known, were treated in not too distant times, and in particular the histories of Bethlem ("Bedlam" as it became known) and Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. 

Nicola Sly tells the stories of people who committed a crime and were declared criminally insane and sent to Broadmoor, which opened in 1863. 

I became very invested in the short and poignant stories. Nicola Sly is clearly an expert on this topic and has many pictures of asylums and hospitals, long since closed, and some of the judiciary involved, which add to the content. 

The social history is what interests me the most. It's amazing how many murders start with someone rushing to get help, and returning with a doctor and a policeman. How likely is that to happen nowadays?  Occupations included weaver and spinner. 

The stories of women who killed their babies and children are poignant: nowadays many would have been diagnosed with post natal depression. 

It's strange how many men, described as gentle and loving fathers, killed their children and couldn't explain why. 

The causes of death for the Broadmoor inmates are often "softening of the brain" with a few cases of dropsy and plain old age.  Some of the inmates spent more than 50 years in Broadmoor. At the time it was built, the only "treatment" was work and fresh air. The book doesn't cover the post 1930 years at Broadmoor when there became more emphasis on drugs and "treatments" such as lobotomies and ECT.

This book is published on 30 August. Thanks to NetGalley and Pen & Sword for the eARC. 

The Forgotten Tudor Royal by Beverley Adams 

There ares several women who stand out in the Tudor period, and Lady Margaret Douglas is one. She was the niece of King Henry VIII and a close friend of Queen Mary I.  Margaret was a head strong and rebellious woman who suffered much heartbreak and loss. Her husband and son were both murdered at the hands of the Scots and she outlived all her children.

Against the orders of Queen Elizabeth I she plotted the marriage of her eldest son Lord Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots, with disastrous consequences.

A devout Catholic all her life, she lived at a time when religious division split the country in half yet she remained loyal to her faith.  

She never gave up on her dream of uniting the thrones of England and Scotland,  which was finally realised through her grandson King James VI/I.

This book is published on 31 August. Thanks to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for the eARC. 

Join me on Monday for a special Book Spotlight on well loved writer Amanda Prowse. 


Book Spotlight: Becoming Liz Taylor by Elizabeth Delo

Book Spotlight: Lessons by Ian McEwan

Book Spotlight: Salt and Skin by Eliza Henry-Jones

Book Spotlight: Three Sisters by OJ Mullen 

I'm Joining Sue from Women Living Well After 50, Donna from Retirement Reflections, Joanne from And Anyways and Debbie from Deb's World for the  What's On Your Bookshelf  (#WOYBS) link-up. 

Sharing this post with  #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Hello Monday at Sunshine and BooksRena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer, #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette, Final Friday/Traffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle Senior Salon Pitstop at Esme Salon #FridayCoffeeShare at Natalie the Explorer Crafty Creators at Life as a Leo Wife


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