March Reads 2022

As usual, an eclectic mix. From the Booker Prize winner of 2020 to my mate Dave's self published folk horror. Also as usual, I'm not doing an in-depth analysis of writing style, simply gauging how much I enjoyed the book on a scale of 1-5.


The books (in the order I read them) this month are:

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Wayward Voyage by Anna M Holmes

Jack Sharpnails by D. A. Holwill



The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Published by Penguin Books Ltd


Official Blurb

Before anyone else is awake, on a perfect August morning, Elle Bishop heads out for a swim in the glorious freshwater pond below 'The Paper Palace' – the gently decaying summer camp in the back woods of Cape Cod where her family has spent every summer for generations.

As she passes the house, Elle glances through the screen porch at the uncleared table from the dinner the previous evening; empty wine glasses, candle wax on the tablecloth, echoes of laughter of family and friends. Then she dives beneath the surface of the freezing water to the shocking memory of the sudden passionate encounter she had the night before, up against the wall behind the house, as her husband and mother chatted to the guests inside.

So begins a story that unfolds over twenty-four hours and across fifty years, as decades of family legacies, love, lies, secrets, and one unspeakable incident in her childhood lead Elle to the precipice of a life-changing decision. Over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the world she has made with her much-loved husband, Peter, and the life she imagined would be hers with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn't forever changed the course of their lives.

Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace is a masterful novel that brilliantly illuminates the tensions between desire and safety; the legacy of tragedy, and the crimes and misdemeanours of families.


My Review

This is told over 24 hours with numerous time-hopping flashbacks in between real-time scenes. It is all told by Elle as she visits the Paper Palace a summer holiday home somewhere in Cape Cod, a place I know nothing about but now have a rich sense of. This is the book's undoubted strength, the evocative descriptions, the feel for a certain time and sense of nostalgia.

I loved this book and returned eagerly to read more, right up to final chapter, which was hugely disappointing and fell very flat. As you see from the blurb Elle has to make a choice between Peter and Jonas and I was with her all the way until this final moment when I actually decided I no longer cared.

I would recommend this and maybe you will feel differently about the ending.


My Rating

4.5 stars



Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Published by Pan Macmillan


Official Blurb

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.

Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother's sense of snobbish propriety. The miners' children pick on him and adults condemn him as no' right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride. A counterpart to the privileged Thatcher-era London of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, it also recalls the work of Edouard Louis, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, a blistering debut by a brilliant writer with a powerful and important story to tell.


My Review

I found this very difficult to read. Not just because of the content but I found the descriptions too repetitive. I had hoped for a northern Angela's Ashes and maybe that's where I've gone wrong, too many expectations. I did make myself plough through it, mainly because I felt I couldn't give an opinion without reading it all and also I kept hoping I'd get into it more.

The star is, of course, Shuggie himself, he is endearing and throughout the book your heart breaks for him. We long for his story to be different. The story however, isn't just told from his point of view and we do get snapshots of how all his family members are feeling. This gives it depth and a richness; we do benefit from seeing how all generations have coped with their lot in life.

I would recommend you read this when you are emotionally in the right place. I think maybe I wasn't which is why I couldn't enjoy it as much as I anticipated.


My Rating

3.5 stars



Wayward Voyage by Anna M Holmes

Published 2021 by the Book Guild


Official Blurb

Anne is a headstrong young girl growing up in the frontier colony of Carolina in the early eighteenth century. With the death of her mother, and others she holds dear, Anne discovers that life is uncertain, so best live it to the full. She rejects the confines of conventional society and runs away to sea, finding herself in The Bahamas, which has become a nest for pirates plaguing the West Indies.

Increasingly dissatisfied with her life, Anne meets a charismatic former pirate, John 'Calico Jack' Rackham, and persuades him to take up pirating again, and she won't be left onshore. The Golden Age of Piracy is a period when frontiers were being explored and boundaries pushed. Wayward Voyage creates a vivid and gritty picture of colonial life in the Americas and at sea.


My Review

This is just what I needed after Shuggie Bain! A return to my favourite genre.

I was certainly not disappointed and raced through this. It did take a while to get going but by Part Two I was fully engrossed. The exciting thing about this book is that it is inspired by real people during what was known as 'the golden age of piracy'. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were two infamous women who sailed on John 'Calico Jack' Rackham's ship the William. (Yes, Red Rackham and Blackbeard were real.)

Anyhow, the reality of piracy was far from romantic, it required stamina, strength and bravery, as conditions were harsh, physically exhausting and fraught with danger. Anne is an intriguing heroine and Holme's story telling full of excellent details; the political landscape, and life aboard ship are particularly satisfying.


My Rating

4 stars



Jack Sharpnails by D. A. Holwill


Official Blurb

It seems like everyone’s moving to Devon these days.

They’ve all got their reasons.

Cole has come looking for a friend.

A friend last seen in the small Dartmoor town of Dourstone Nymet.

But nobody there has seen her, whether they’re in her Instagram feed or not.

When her baby brother is stolen away to the Undermoor by the mysterious Jack Sharpnails, Cole turns to Nathaniel Harker for help.

He takes her under his wing, giving her the attention she has always craved.

He may not be the friend she was looking for, but he’s the one she’s found.


In the third instalment of the acclaimed Wicker Dogs Folk Horror series, new faces move to town, taking over the Drop of Dew and causing unrest among the residents. They don’t always take kindly to strangers, will they take Cole and her family to their hearts, or rip the heart from their family?


My Review

Ok, I'm probably biased because I beta read this last year.

In honesty, I thought this would probably detract from my enjoyment, but despite knowing the plot, I enjoyed every minute of this. I just like the writer's humour and his really off-the-wall ideas.

This is the third in the Wicker Dogs series and you must read them all, in order, otherwise you won't have a clue what's going on. Also, don't let the 'horror' category put you off. It's more folk than horror and it's not scary horror, although I suppose some things are a bit gruesome. You're more likely to laugh than flinch tho'.

On a side note, H asked me, 'Where shall we take the dogs today?' (we have two cockerpoos)

I mumbled, 'Dourstone Nymet' ...


My Rating

5 stars


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