October Reads 2020

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

I’ve finished 5 books this month and what a variety! I am trying to push myself out of my go-to genres and I am pleased to have read both a memoir and a thriller, neither of which I would usually choose.

The books are:

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale

The Ayahuasca Chronicles by  Fearghal O'Laigh

I Know You, Don’t I? by Bethany Askew

To order any of the books listed, please visit my bookshop.org.


Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Published August 2020 by Atria Books

Official Blurb

England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . . Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament.  The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast.  Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband.  Instead she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life. Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbours. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

My Review

As the nights draw in and the rain seems never-ending I find myself craving not just comfort food but comfort books. Philippa Gregory is dependable, satisfying and hits the spot, the mashed potato of my literary world.

This story is effortlessly told, the harsh beauty of the landscape so easy to depict and the lives of the characters are completely captivating. At 70% it picked up pace and I stayed up late to finish it. What an ending! I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

…thinking about it, maybe ‘mashed potato’ is a little bland. Although everyone knows that I LOVE mashed potato. ‘Tidelands’ is perhaps the rich stew that accompanies it, flavoured with seasonal herbs, the kind Alinor picks in the early morning dew. Fresh, flavourful with a hint of magic.

My Rating

5 stars

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Published October 2018 Tin House Books

Official Blurb

From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them—Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious. The couple are spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. But she's distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbours’ private lives. To Frances' surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes until the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled. But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up, and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever.

My Review

The detail in this novel is brilliantly written. The crumbling Estate, the dramatic landscape, the lazy summer days are all still quite vivid in my mind they have been so well drawn. The story has a Hitchcock feel and I wonder how this would have translated into one of his films. How would he have built on the already excellent tension that runs through the narrative?

Francis is naïve, and has lived a sheltered life much as the heroine in Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter. The story is seen from her point of view and takes us from the present as she lies on her deathbed to her past, this summer that began so well and ended in disaster. Quite what that disaster is you are never quite sure until the end. There is something dark and sinister but is it within the house or within Cara, Peter or Francis herself? Bitter Orange is a truly exciting read and needs to be a film!

My Rating

5 Stars


Paris by Starlight by Robert Dinsdale

Published November 5th by Del Rey

Official Blurb

Every city has its own magic... Every night on their long journey to Paris from their troubled homeland, Levon’s grandmother has read to them from a very special book. Called The Nocturne, it is a book full of fairy stories and the heroic adventures of their people who generations before chose to live by starlight. And with every story that Levon’s grandmother tells them in their new home, the desire to live as their ancestors did grows. And that is when the magic begins… Nobody can explain why nocturnal water dogs start appearing at the heels of every citizen of Paris-by-Starlight like the loyal retainers they once were. There are suddenly night finches in the skies and the city is transforming: the Eiffel Tower lit up by strange ethereal flowers that drink in the light of the moon. But not everyone in Paris is won over by the spectacle of Paris-by-Starlight. There are always those that fear the other, the unexplained, the strangers in our midst. How long can the magic of night rub up against the ordinariness of day? How long can two worlds occupy the same streets and squares before there is an outright war?

My Review

I yo-yo-ed between loving this and finding it slightly tiring.

However, the opening chapter is intriguing and you know immediately that you are about to be drawn into a well-imagined, unique and magical world. My initial excitement slowed down however as it took a while to work out where the plot was going. At 60 % I almost thought of giving up. This is partly due to multiple perspectives, which while helping create a rich tapestry of history slowed the action. Also, the opening chapter focussed on a character that we didn’t meet again until over half way through. Once we met her again it did all make sense and everything starts to come together. The last 40% picked up pace most satisfactorily.

It was hugely topical with the plight of refugees at its heart. Written from both sides of the conflict as the native Parisians turn against the People, I did enjoy the unbiased writing and think that many readers will love the predicament that the main protagonists find themselves in.

It wasn’t as special as ‘The Toy Makers’ partly because I didn’t feel as invested in the characters, but also the relentless night setting was visually quite tedious. It was like being stuck at Longleat’s Festival of Lights, which is great fun for the first hour then becomes relentless and gives you a headache.

I’m sure that after editing, that some of repetitive descriptions will be ironed out, but there were far too many ‘manifestations’ for me and ‘frigid’ air and ‘clots’ of people. Thank you to net galley for an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

My Rating

A solid 3 stars


The Ayahuasca Chronicles by  Fearghal O'Laigh

Published September 28th 2020 by the Book Guild

Official Blurb

The plant brew, ayahuasca, was said to possess the power to unlock ancient, innate wisdom. Those who drank the brew would become the bearers of the One Universal Truth.  A sojourn into the depths of the Amazon ensued...  Fearghal O Laigh shares his experiences with these sacred plants in this travel diary charting his adventures across South America.


My Review

I was lucky to win a copy of this from the author and although it’s not the kind of book I usually read I had a quick look promising to try it after I’d finished my current novel. I started it and then couldn’t put it down!

Weirdly, it has come at the right time. A friend then visited and she is on a spiritual journey and the things she was saying lined up with Fearghal’s experiences. The energy from people, revisited and shared by animals that accompany you through life, the magic healing of grounding and connection to the earth. Then the news that the drawing of a cat had been uncovered at the Nazca lines was released and the timing of the book seemed even more pertinent.

I really enjoyed Fearghal’s journey, the places, the people he met and his reactions when situations posed various challenges.

The only thing I would have liked to know is the context of the journey. What year, the time lines and also what stage in Fearghal’s life did it take place. I couldn’t work out if this was a recent trip or one maybe taken in his gap year? It would have been interesting to know and also I am also rubbish at geography so would have loved some simple maps charting the journey.

My Rating

4 stars


I Know You, Don’t I? by Bethany Askew

Published October 4th by Wallace Publishing

Official Blurb

When Carly Spurway is mistaken for old school friend Caroline Westminster, she has the chance to re-invent her life. As the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred, the web of deceit Carly weaves around herself for protection threatens instead to trap her. But what has happened in her past to make Carly want to escape? And is Caroline’s life as perfect as Carly thinks it is? This story explores how well we really know the people we have relationships with; the different versions of the truth we tell ourselves and others; and the impact of the past on the present.

My Review

I raced through this! The characters, the setting (in my home town) was fascinating. The depth of the characters is wonderfully drawn and I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through.

It wasn’t the end I was expecting, but there was nothing wrong with the one it has, it just surprised me when I found I had finished the book as I had felt I still had a way to go. Highly recommend.

My Rating

5 stars

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