Book Blog Tour ~ English Animals by Laura Kaye

english-animals-jacketMirka is 19, Slovakian, and starting a new job at an English country house. Her employers, Sophie and Richard, are upper-middle class, with no children, and Mirka is unsure at first what her role is to be. She becomes a live-in assistant, helping Richard with his fledgling taxidermy business, and providing domestic support to Sophie. The lines are blurred; is she domestic help, business employee, friend?

Mirka’s ability as a taxidermist soon surpasses Richard’s; for him it is another business venture to try and keep afloat amidst the troubles of keeping a large house running. But Mirka, though reluctant at first, finds an art in it; the English animals that she preserves become a way of expressing herself, and taking inspiration from old fashioned anthropomorphic taxidermy, creates a name for herself, eventually being featured in a magazine.

 

The taxidermy is expertly described, down to the smallest detail; if Laura Kaye has no experience of the craft herself then she has certainly done her research. But it provides a mere backdrop to the more important English Animals that are at work here; Richard, Sophie, and the supporting players throughout the story.

Mirka finds Richard an easy man to like when he is being warm, generous and funny; she shares a close friendship with him that includes trips to the pub and hunting expeditions (even if Mirka does ultimately balk at the idea of shooting an animal).

Sophie, the lady of the house, is an enigmatic, privileged woman who is used to having what she wants; though what she wants more than anything is the one thing she can’t seem to have – a baby. Mirka struggles at times to understand Sophie’s motivations, accusing her of seeing everything as a toy to play with. Sophie admits as much herself; she just wants to feel wanted.

The entrance of Mirka, an Eastern European, into a middle England village in this day and age certainly reflects a Brexit state of mind; in groundskeeper David we get a man who almost certainly would have voted leave, threatening Mirka and making it clear that he thinks she should go back to where she comes from. Sophie’s father, though slightly more caricatured than David, has similar views on foreigners, failing to recognise the irony in having a house in France that he lives in year-round.

The quirkiness of the English middle classes; isolated in their rural communities, is emphasised by the fact that the entire story is told from the perspective of Mirka, whose first language is not English. She has no handle on idioms, unable to help Sophie with the cryptic crossword until something finally clicks towards the end of the novel. Mirka’s sense of disorientation at this previously unknown culture helps us to see these people through her eyes. Her discomfort at Richard’s birthday party – a bad taste fancy dress party where people dress as dictators, pregnant nuns and child molestors – is palpable, and in stark contrast to another party she attends with some hipster types in East London, where she feels at ease, with her ‘own tribe.’

This really is an exceptional piece of work, particularly given that is a debut novel. It’s easy to read without lacking in scope, and the plot drives the momentum of the story beautifully. Laura Kaye is most certainly a novelist with a bright future.

English Animals by Laura Kaye
First published: January 2016
ISBN: 9781408709450
Little Brown
Provided by publisher

 

Book Blog Tour ~ The Dry by Jane Harper

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The worst drought to hit Australia in a century is already causing tensions to run high in Kiewarra, a small farming town that hasn’t seen rain for two years. Things become unbearable when a local family is murdered, and the only suspect is Luke, husband and father, who appears to have killed himself after gunning down his wife and son.

Luke’s childhood friend Aaron Falk is the protagonist who leads the reader through the story. As a police officer himself, he is drawn into the investigation into the family’s deaths, and his presence in his childhood home forces him to confront some of the lies and secrets that caused him to leave in the first place.

Through the clever use of flashbacks, the reader learns that Aaron and his father were implicated in the death of a teenage girl decades earlier, after she drowned and left a note showing only one word – their surname. This old mystery runs alongside the current investigation into the murders of the Hadlers, and though Aaron would rather leave the past in the past, secrets refuse to stay buried, and the two cases become intertwined.

The crime at the centre of the novel is a strong one, and one that will keep readers guessing. The oppressive feeling of returning to a place long consigned to memory is compounded by the heat of the weather; Aaron is struggling with his return to a community that effectively ran him out of town, and this feeling is emphasised by the brutality of the drought conditions. There is no respite from the weather, or the lack of weather as far as rain is concerned, and the pressure mounts throughout the novel as it becomes clear that this community is on the brink of total devastation.

The Dry is my first read of 2017, and it was a pleasure to read it. The film rights have already been acquired, and it’s obvious that in the right hands, this could be adapted to a taut and atmospheric crime thriller.

Friday

Album of the Week 005 ~ Joanne by Lady Gaga

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Album : Joanne by Lady Gaga

Release Date : October 2016

My Favourite Tracks : A-YO, Joanne, Million Reasons, Hey Girl, Angel Down, Grigio Girls, Just Another Day

Album Notes
I don’t really know what happened with my love for Lady Gaga. I absolutely adored her first two albums, and then I didn’t really keep up with what she was doing. But when I started my music challenge, I decided to take a listen to her latest album, Joanne, and I’m so glad I did.

What I love most about Gaga is her ability to jump between music genres, while ultimately making really good, emotionally loaded pop music. It’s fun and deep at the same time, and her voice is flawless. I found it really hard to narrow down my favourite tracks, hence the choice of seven of the eleven tracks above! Though if I really had to choose, the fact that I haven’t been able to get Grigio Girls out of my head for days should give you an idea as to how much I love it, and A-YO is another stand out. I’m now going back to rekindle my love for her first two albums, and I’m going to give the other three a listen too.

A love letter to… 2016

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Dear 2016,

It’s been a year since I wrote to your predecessor, and though series on this blog don’t usually last long, I’m pleased that we are here once again, with me writing to you on your last day.

What to say about you as a year? I think everyone agrees that you’ve been eventful at best, disastrous at worst. On a global level, there’s no doubt that you’ve been probably one of the worst of my 34 years on the planet. Right-wing politics has taken a stranglehold on the world, leading to two of the worst decisions (in my opinion) that mankind could have made: Brexit and Trump. The people who support these decisions do not tend to hold views that are in sync with my own, and so I find myself in a position where the things I hold true are not being represented at a political level. But I believe that there are enough good people in the world that hopefully one day we’ll look back on you, 2016, as an anomaly.

But while political storms raged across the world, it’s important to remember the good things that happened on a personal level. I became a great-aunt! I can say in all honesty that my niece’s daughter Peggie is one of my favourite people, and I am so looking forward to watching her grow up. She’s lucky enough to have a middle name that matches my first name (I double checked, it was for me), and while I don’t get to see her quite as much as I would like, any time spent with her is wonderful.

Peggie was (technically) the only new addition to the family, which is odd for a family that grows as quickly as mine. A wedding in October brought the official tally for new additions to two, as Peggie’s mum and dad married in Spain. But Paul has been a part of the family for so long that it was a technicality!

In terms of work, I feel as though you were a good year. I don’t work for a company that has an official structure for promotion. But I like to think that I have been rewarded for my hard work in more ways than one, and I think I’ve finally reached a point where, when someone asks me what I do, I know what to say. I work in marketing!

A love letter to a year on this blog would not be complete without the mentioning of two certain radio presenters. My love for Wittertainment is steadfast, and you, 2016, have brought me some extra friends because of it! Mark Kermode has been in residence, once a month, at the BFI, and I have been to ten of the eleven shows (#superfan). I have been lucky enough to do this with my Wittertainment friend Chloe, who I have known for a while, and Liz and Goldy, two fellow Kermode acolytes. I’m so lucky that I get to spend time with these wonderful women who are helping to set the world alight in different ways.

The other Wittertainer has been a part of my year as well; I met Simon Mayo at YALC in July, where he was promoting his wonderful YA novel Blame. He’s such a gent, it strikes me that this kind of thing isn’t necessarily his favourite way to spend time, but he’s generous and chatty and I love that I have met him in person three years in a row now.

What else has happened? I went to Iceland; my first time on a plane in many years, and though it was only a short trip, it was amazing, and I’d love to return. I visited Glasgow for the first time (another plane trip), though that was for work and I got to see very little of the city. October saw two weddings; the aforementioned Spanish wedding of my niece and new nephew-in-law (another plane trip!), and my university friends Montanna and Ryan in Surrey. Yet again, I went to my friend’s caravan in Camber Sands for the weekend with my best friends, and had a lovely time.

Oh, and I moved! You were the year for a new beginning, 2016, as my friend Hannah and I had to vacate the chilly flat that we were renting, so we found somewhere new, and it’s lovely. It has a name (as well as a number, we’re not that posh), and it’s warmer, cosier, and just generally lovlier than where we were before. I still struggle with the age-old problem of keeping my bedroom tidy, and I no longer have a bath (woe is me), but I love it here.

All that’s left to wonder is what your successor has in store. All good things, I hope. Though with that inauguration and that exit looming, who knows? Let’s just try and make it a good one.

Smell ya later, 2016

Janelove

A love letter to… is an ongoing series that hasn’t really been ongoing since this time last year, and only has a paltry four entries. So it’s not really a series at all. 

Book Review ~ Eat Like a Gilmore by Kristi Carlson

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With the recent revival, all things Gilmore Girls have been very much en vogue recently, and so when I spotted the Eat Like a Gilmore cookbook, I was rather intriuged!

There’s no denying that when you think of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, one of the first things that springs to mind is just how much food they eat. They manage to stay fabulously slim, but between Friday Night Dinners, meals at the diner, eating Sookie’s incredible food, and the various takeaways that they partake in on a regular basis, they eat a LOT of food.

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This cookbook takes inspiration from all of those places, with Sookie’s Kitchen, Luke’s Diner, Emily’s House and Town Favourites all being given as categories for the different recipes.

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Fans will spot favourites such as The Birthday Girl (a cocktail created for Rory’s 21st birthday – ‘it’s very pink’), the Candy Cane hot chocolate that Lorelai doesn’t actually get to have in the Season 7 episode ‘Santa’s Secret Stuff’, and plenty more.

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Of course, as well as being a gimmick to tie in with the return of the television series, this is also an actual cookbook, so there’s plenty of inspiration for meals and snacks and drinks. I’d just venture a word of caution: real-life calories are not the same as television calories – if you eat like those Gilmore girls, you will probably die.

It’s an unofficial companion piece, sure, but this is a fun book for any fan of the series, and I’m looking forward to making some things out of it!

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Eat Like a Gilmore by Kristi Carlson
First published: October 2016
ISBN: 9781510717343
Sky Pony Press
Provided by publisher

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