Exhibition Review: The International Style of Muriel Spark


Part of Muriel Spark 100, a programme of events celebrating the centenary of the birth of iconic writer Dame Muriel Spark, this exhibition in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh takes a journey through the various places Spark lived – Edinburgh, Africa, New York, London, Rome and Tuscany – showing the significance of these places to her work and charting her career. Mirroring the often unusual structure of Spark’s novels, the exhibition is not arranged chronologically, and it is possible to wander from section to section and explore Spark’s life and writing. I also love the design of the poster and postcards for the exhibition, as pictured above.

Featuring letters and telegrams from such illustrious names as Jacquelie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Burton Taylor, Evelyn Waugh and Maggie Smith (to name but a few), the manuscript of Spark’s most famous novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and dresses Spark wore for publicity shoots; this is exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the writer’s world. Spark said that ‘since 1949 onwards I have thrown away practically nothing on paper’ and the NLS holds an impressive personal archive of her work and correspondence.

Image of Muriel Spark from NLS website

The only Muriel Spark novel I have read to date is Loitering with Intent (a brilliantly comic satirical book) but having been to this exhibition I am keen to read more of her work! Myself and the friend I was visiting in Edinburgh stumbled across this exhibition, it was a wonderful surprise and definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

I would highly recommend seeing this exhibition in person, entry is free and the National Library is a gorgeous building, but plenty of information and some of the exhibits can also be seen here on the National Library of Scotland’s website.


Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin


The Immortalists

Chloe Benjamin

Tinder Press, 2018



If you knew the day you were going to die, how would you chose to live?

1969, New York. On an unbearably hot summer’s day the four Gold children seek their destinies. The strange fortune-teller they have heard so many rumours about them predicts the date each child will die on, knowledge that will completely change them and their lives. Simon escapes the bonds of the family business, running to San Francisco to live and love freely. Klara pursues her passion for magic, becoming a performer in glitzy Las Vegas. Daniel decides the fates of others through his work as an army doctor. Varya turns to science and logic to try and gain control. They must all live with their prophecy, whether they decide to defy it or believe it.

I was intrigued by this book’s tagline (quoted above), and the story definitely didn’t disappoint. The span the book covers is impressive, and I felt Benjamin really captured the different periods and places her characters inhabit. Each sibling was a complex character with an interesting story, although Klara’s story was the one I enjoyed the most. I liked the magic (bordering on magical realism) in her tale, her hope and her dreams, and the way it explores sexism. Varya was the character I related to the most. The book invites readers to question how people change (or if they can. As the fortune teller tells Varya ‘most people don’t’) and what role we play in our own fate.

The Immortalists also explores family dynamics well – how they all react to the loss of their father, how close Simon and Klara are but how Simon becomes estranged from his other siblings, how growing up can change relationships. It is an emotional read that shows how these connections can be supportive or fraught, and how we can lack understanding even of those closest to us.

This is a gripping novel about life, death, love and what it means to be alive.

Favourite Books of 2017

This was a recent Top Ten Tuesday topic, but I wanted to wait until the end of the year in case there was a last minute addition to this list (and there was!) In 2017 I read 69 books, just one (one!) book shy of my goal of 70 books. I read 100 books in 2016 so this was a bit disappointing, but 2017 was certainly a busier year for me in many ways. So, without any further ado…my ten favourite reads of 2017!

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney


Having heard so much about this book before reading it, I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype, but it most certainly did. A smart yet emotional read that explores relationships, vulnerability and the need to connect with people.

Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

T&B Cover High Res

A collection of 13 dark, witchy fairytale retellings. With a focus on the female body and experience, and diversifying the cast of fairytales, this gives familiar tales a fresh feminist spin. Also, the illustrations and the writing are stunning.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Starr is caught between two worlds – the poor neighbourhood she was raised in, and the posh high school she attends. When she witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil, staying silent is no longer an option. A powerful read, one I cannot recommend highly enough. It is hard to believe such a strong book is a debut.



My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


A great introduction to a brilliant author, I plan to do more catching up on Elizabeth Strout’s backlist this year. A short yet insightful book, more telling in what is left unsaid, about writer Lucy Barton being visited in hospital by her estranged mother.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A stunning collection of essays encompassing music, art, heritage, identity and so much more. A book to savour, and one I have marked many quotes from.

Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls


A fiery feminist read about three girls from very different backgrounds, all campaigning for the vote. With memorable and rounded characters and plenty of rich historical detail, this is a very interesting and inspiring read. (This was my Secret Santa gift from a fellow Rick O’Shea Bookclub member, and the late addition to the favourites list)

The Space Between by Meg Grehan


A tender and beautiful love story told in verse. Beth, suffering with severe agoraphobia, decides to spend a year indoors and alone. However, when a dog called Mouse comes nosing at her window, his owner Alice in tow, her plans are changed.

Spellbook of the Lost & Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle


Beguiling magical realism, full of secrets and twists. The writing is beautiful, and the plot compelling. Fans of Fowley-Doyle’s debut The Accident Season will love this.

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume


I loved Spill Simmer Falter Wither, but I thought A Line Made by Walking was even better. An almost painful read about loneliness, art and identity with photographs taken by the artist protagonist interspersed throughout the book.

The Break by Marian Keyes


I adore Marian Keyes, I only started reading her work a couple of years ago but since have devoured her backlist. Her new novel was the longest book I read this year (576 pages) and I loved it. The family dynamics were my favourite thing about it, and how she manages to make me both laugh and cry when reading her books.

I have set a goal of 70 books again this year, and have just finished my first, Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain, about a circus family, which made my little heart soar.

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and Bookish, combining books and lists. This week’s topic is our favourite new authors from 2017. My best books of 2017 post is coming later this week.

Elizabeth Strout

I read My Name is Lucy Barton in one evening, and was so intrigued by the characters and relationships. I have since read more of Strout’s work, and attended an event in Dublin in which she was interviewed by Sinead Gleeson.

Sally Rooney

Rooney’s debut Conversations With Friends is as brilliant as all the reviews and buzz would indicate. One of my favourite reads of the year, I’m very excited to read her future work.

Meg Grehan

Meg Grehan’s debut The Space Between is a tender and beautiful love story, told in verse. She is definitely one to watch you!

Maria Semple

This year I finally read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and it lived up to my expectations. I loved the memorable characters and sharp wit. Today Will Be Different is on my TBR list.

Mary Paulson-Ellis

The Other Mrs Walker was one of my co-worker’s staff picks, and I am delighted she introduced me to it. This was such an intriguing and gripping read, I was enthralled by it.

Lucy Addington

The Red Ribbon was a very moving historical read that gave me a different perspective on WW2. Addington is a fashion historian, and I am looking forward to checking out her book Stitches in Time.

Alice Broadway

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the Ink trilogy. This was a book I judged by his cover, and I’m glad I picked it up!

Jenny Han

My friend lent me Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy and I flew through it. I loved reading about Lara Jean and her sisters, and look forward to the movie coming out.

Karen M McManus

McManus’ One Of Us is Lying was a real page turner, I couldn’t put it down!

Ayisha Malik

I loved the voice in Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, it was so strong and it was a really enjoyable read.

Leave a link to your TTT post, or comment with some of your favourite authors of 2017.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and the Bookish, combining the joys of books and lists. This week’s official topic is Favourite Reads of 2017 but as the year isn’t out yet, I’m putting that list on hold in case any of my December reads wow me. Instead, here’s a list I missed a couple of weeks ago – the Winter To Be Read List.

Northern Lights – Philip Pullman


To my shame, I have never read the His Dark Materials trilogy. They have been on my TBR list for years, but with the recent release of La Belle Sauvage, I have decided the time is now.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Not only do I love Sally Nicholls’ work, but this book is about the suffragettes! Of course I want to read it! It’s received brilliant reviews, and I just know I am going to love it.

The Taste of Blue – Lydia Ruffles

The Taste of Blue Light

I was very intrigued by this book when I heard the author speak at DeptCon and I was delighted to receive a copy at my book club’s Christmas book swap.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – Emily Barr


I loved Emily Barr’s gripping YA debut The One Memory of Flora Banks, so I have high hopes for this, her second YA novel. I received an ARC at DeptCon and am hoping to read it over the Christmas.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte


I mentioned Bonnets at Dawn in my post about podcasts, and it has inspired me to explore the work of Anne Bronte, the one Bronte sister I haven’t read anything by. It’s been a while since I’ve read a classic, so this will be a good change.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

Tin Man

This book has received high praise from my bookselling colleagues, which definitely earned it a place on my TBR list. It sounds like a moving story of love and longing, and I love the cover.

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World – Lyndall Gordon

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World

This book is right up my street – I really enjoyed Lyndall Gordon’s Emily Dickinson biography, and this subject is one that interests me greatly. I haven’t read anything by Olive Schreiner but I have read works by the other writers and know some of their biographies. It is one of my Christmas picks in the bookshop, and one I will be keen to read myself.

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green


I am looking forward to reading John Green’s latest offering. It has had excellent reviews, and I like the sound of the plot. The main reason I haven’t bought it yet is that it is in hardback – pricier but also just more awkward to read/carry around!

Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler


Anne Tyler is another author who has been on my TBR list for some time now. I read Vinegar Girl, her adaptation of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, and wasn’t keen on it. However, I want to give her another chance and have always heard great things about Breathing Lessons!

Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman


I saw the movie recently and loved it, so I am looking forward to checking out the book. I’d usually go for the book first, so it will be interesting to compare the two versions.

Let me know what’s on your TBR list, or if you have read any of these books.


Review: The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington


The Red Ribbon

Lucy Adlington

Hot Key Books, 2017

YA – Historical

When women arrive at Birchwood they are stripped of their clothes, their belongings and their dignity. They are given striped sacks to wear and wooden shoes, their hair shorn and their name replaced with a number. Those who are able are put to work, those who aren’t disappear. Fourteen-year-old Ella is a seamstress, but the workshop she works in is in Birkenau-Auschwitz and her clients are the guards, the wives of the officers and the commander.  Ella’s dresses are her key to extra bread and to items she can barter, but she is also creating couture for the enemy. And at any moment, she could be out of favour.

This is a compelling and moving read. The characters are complex and varied, and show us the different ways people survive, the ways they hold on to their sense of self. Ella, the protagonist, is often quite conflicted. Her best friend Rose is an idealistic dreamer, their boss Marta is a hard-edged fighter. There is also a guard, Carla, who strikes up a complicated friendship of sorts with Ella. Each character is fleshed out and interesting.

This book really made me think about the importance of clothing – in terms of identity, dignity and self-expression. As Ella says, clothes don’t seem trivial when you don’t have any, and are left vulnerable and frightened. Each section is given a different colour, which links to the mood and to material items in the story. The red ribbon of the title is key to the book – a symbol of hope, of wish for liberation and a happier future.

The book is well-researched, and features plenty of detail. I will definitely be checking out Adlington’s book, Stitches in Time, about fashion history.

With its memorable characters, emotional depth and historical detail, The Red Ribbon is an absorbing read. Highly recommended!

Thursday Trio: Podcasts I Love

Thursday Trio is a new feature I am trying out on this blog, to get back into the swing of things here. And what better to start with than podcasts, my new love in life. As ever, I’m a bit late to the party but these are my three favourite podcasts that I am listening to at the moment/have listened to recently. Listed in the order I discovered them.

Witch Please

Witch, Please

A podcast that combines Harry Potter and feminist scholarship? Yes please! Co-hosted by Canadian academics Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor this is a highly entertaining podcast that will make you reconsider various aspects of the books and films. It is both smart and laugh-out-loud funny, and also makes excellent use of sound effects. The first season covers all the books and movies, and also extras such as the Lego computer game and the world of Harry Potter merchandising or book design. The second season focused on fandom and fan culture, and included the Warner Brothers studio tour and Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. I eagerly anticipate season three!

Secret Feminist Agenda

Secret Feminist Agenda

I came to this podcast through Witch Please, as it is hosted by Hannah McGregor. It is a weekly podcast with a different guest each week covering such diverse topics as astrology, Doctor Who, fashion and body positivity, all with a feminist bent. The reading lists provided each week are very interesting and have led me to some fascinating articles. The discussions are stimulating and have certainly expanded my feminism. Also, Kaarina’s self-care corner is a cosy hug of a segment. Sadly this podcast is also on hiatus at the moment!

Bonnets at Dawn

I am currently listening to, and loving, this podcast. It pitches Jane Austen against the Bronte sisters. Lauren Burke (Team Austen) and Hannah Chapman (Team Bronte) have episodes such as Darcy vs Heathcliff and Steventon vs Haworth. I have learnt a lot about Austen and the Brontes, and it is also a very enjoyable listen. I am glad to have plenty of episodes ahead of me! (For now I remain Team Austen, although Wuthering Heights is a brilliant book)

Happy listening!

Review: Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

T&B Cover High Res

Tangleweed and Brine

Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (2017)


Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will

Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of 13 witchy fairytale retellings.  The book is divided in two, each element of the title being one half. The Tangleweed stories are earthier and filled with ash, while the Brine tales are infused with water. The elemental nature of the stories reflects the way that fairy tales connect to the very core of our being. This collection is no exception, filled as it is with darkness and light, pain and pleasure, fear and longing. Dark, beguiling and feminist, these are haunting tales that will linger in the reader’s memory, stories that reward multiple readings. Sullivan focuses on the female experience in her tales – she allows the reader enter deeply into the minds of her characters, and does not deny the darker elements of these tales.


Ash Pale illustration by Karen Vaughan

This is illustrator Karen Vaughan’s first book, and she is definitely one to watch. Her intricate pen-and-ink illustrations catch the tone of the tales perfectly, and add an extra layer of richness to the book. Her work shows the influence of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, in a way which ties the collection into the long tradition of illustrated fairytale books, yet she has a style of her own. I particularly like how her illustrations, like the tales themselves, make room for other types of bodies in the fairy tales. This book is not filled with dainty perfect princesses, but with women who would be considered too tall, too fat, too small or altogether too much for such tales.

She wasn’t soft threads woven into silk, but thick rough cables pulsing like muscles on the chests of fishermen. Functional.

There is a strong focus on bodily experience, on being a woman. On the body as functional and a source of power, on the body as a trap.

You like your arms that make things, grow things, mend.

Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are.

There are no quick fixes, fairy godmothers or happily-ever-afters in these stories. The endings are often ambiguous and unsettling. The heroines must rely on their own courage and resources. Some tales will resonate with readers, some will empower them, some will linger on long after reading.

With its poetic and beguiling prose, it is easy to become tangled up in Tangleweed and Brine. This is a book to savour and to treasure, beautifully written, illustrated and designed.


Blog Tour: Stand By Me by Judi Curtin

Stand By Me is Judi Curtin’s second book about time-travelling pals Molly and Beth. Check out my review of their first adventure, Time After Timehere. I think Judi Curtin writes brilliantly about friendship, and this new book is no exception. I was delighted to be asked by O’Brien Press to take part in the blog tour.

35962513Stand By Me

Judi Curtin

O’Brien Press (2017)


In their second time-slip adventure, Molly and Beth find themselves back in the 1960s to help Graham, their favourite great uncle, fix a broken friendship from the past. Once more they must navigate a world that seems like a whole other planet, an era in which their phones are no help and the fashion and music are weird.  On their trip they learn more about Graham and his past, but also about the enduring strength and power of friendship.

Molly and Beth are very likeable characters (even if they tend to say ‘OMG’ an awful lot!), readers will root for them on their quest.  Stand By Me is an enjoyable and entertaining read, with a lot of warmth to it. As always in Judi Curtin’s work, friendship is a strong component and it is touching to see how the girls have stuck together and supported each other in tough times. The title is certainly an appropriate one!  I found the friendship with their uncle Graham lovely too, and it reminded me of my own close relationship with my great aunt.

I love the cover design by Rachel Corcoran, and how she used different elements of the story in her artwork. The bright colours make it stand out, and work well as a pair with the Time After Time cover.

Fans of Judi Curtin will love this new offering, and hopefully there will be more Molly and Beth adventures yet to come!

Check out the rest of the stops on the Stand By Me Blog Tour this week:


Review: The Loneliest Girl of the Universe by Lauren James


The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

Lauren James

Walker Books, September 2017

YA – Science Fiction

Romy Silvers is the commander of The Infinity, a spaceship travelling to a new planet on which Earth 2 will be established. She is also only 16 years old. A tragedy left her as the sole-surviving crew member, with full responsibility to steer the spaceship to its destination and secure the future of humanity. Romy is completely alone in space, she hasn’t had direct contact with another human in five years. Then, she learns that there is another ship, The Eternity, sent to help with the mission. It will catch up with her, she will have an ally. When she receives an email from the commander of the other ship, she finds an unexpected friend in J. They communicate by email, with lags of months as their messages travel through space, but even still Romy finds herself falling for J. Can you love someone you have never met, someone who is lightyears away? However, news of dramatic events on earth could affect their mission and the ghosts of the past that haunt Romy refuse to fade away…

Described as a ‘romantic thriller’ this is a gripping read that I struggled to put down. Romy is a well-developed character who readers will root for, and Lauren James shows the strain Romy’s mission puts on her in a very palpable way.  Her feelings – the trauma, the stress, the longing – come across strongly, and she is a believable and complex character. She is a very admirable heroine – she is strong and capable, because she has to be.

For someone like myself with little knowledge of physics, the aspects of how time works in space were a bit confusing but I soon got my head around it, and James did not include a lot of technical information, focusing instead of character and plot. This was a book I didn’t want to put down. It is a real page turner, and definitely one I will be recommending in the bookshop! Space travel really intrigues me, so if you have any recommendations of other books I should read please do leave them in the comments.

I received a proof copy of this book at the AmericYA panel event in Easons O’Connell Street.