The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell #OutThisWeek

madwomanTitle: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Series: Into the Dim #1
Format: Digital ARC, 353 pages
Publication Details: March 1st 2016 by Touchstone
Genre(s): Literary Fiction; Mystery
Disclosure? Yep! I received an advanced copy in exchange for an HONEST review

Goodreads // Purchase

In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she’s rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë’s literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that’s never been shown outside of the family.

But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn’t exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world’s greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë’s own writing.

A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

Review

I’m not really sure why I requested this novel from Netgalley because I never got on with the classics at all and I couldn’t even differentiate between the Brontés (I can now though, whoop), but I can’t even express how happy I am that I gave it a go – I think it’s been my favourite of the year so far!

Samantha Whipple is the last living descendent of the Bronté family. She has been home-schooled by her father – with a heavy emphasis on literary criticism – and has a sharp mind as a result. She is also however, a bit strange and socially awkward, but adorably so.

Samantha has always lived with the Brontés legacy hanging over her like a cloud. It seems the more she tries to distance herself from them, the more they follow her around. Everyone assumes that she’s inherited a secret part of Bronté estate following from her father’s death but she has no idea what it could be or where.

When random Bronté books that belonged to her father start turning up she is both annoyed and intrigued about the whole thing. Luckily for Samantha she has a dashing tutor who may be willing to help her…

I loved everything about this book. The interactions between Samantha and Professor Orville were hilarious, and Samantha’s character in general (especially her hatred of all pretty much all fiction) just made me do actual LOLs. 

I loved the academic setting and the literary debates. It even made me want to revisit that world. Not that my time at uni was anything like this…but maybe it could have been! I loved that it was like a literary treasure hunt. I loved the debate about ‘is all good fiction actually the truth’. It was nice to read a book that actually made me think a bit.

It even made me want to try the classics again. Maybe. One day 😉

The Madwoman Upstairs is definitely a book for Lit nerds. Like me, you don’t have to enjoy the classics to enjoy this, but it would probably help if you’re interested in the study of literature in general. Oh, and did I mention how swoon-worthy the professor is? OK so yeah…unethical…but y’know…HOT. 

The Madwoman Upstairs gets ALL the unicorns from me!

unicorn rating

Sixteen, Sixty-One by Natalie Lucas

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Title: Sixteen, Sixty-One
Author: Natalie Lucas
Series: N/A
Edition: Kindle, 320 pages
Publication Details: June 6th 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Genre(s): Non-Fiction; Memoir
Disclosure? Nope, I bought it.
Goodreads // Purchase.

Natalie Lucas was just 15 when she began a close relationship with a man in his early sixties. Matthew opened Natalie’s mind and heart to philosophy and literature. Within months they had entered into the intense, erotic affair that they would disguise as an innocent intergenerational friendship for several years. Together they mocked the small-town busybodies around them, laughing at plebs like her parents and his in-laws, who were all too blinkered by convention to live pure lives. Only Natalie and Matthew were truly free.

Or so she believed. But when Natalie left her hometown for university and decided she wanted to try to live a normal life, Matthew’s affection soon turned into a consuming obsession.

Written with remarkable candor and grace, Sixteen, Sixty-One is more than an account of suburban grooming: it is the gripping story of a young girl’s sexual awakening and journey into womanhood.

Review

It’s been a while since I finished this book, and I’m still not sure how much I enjoyed it.

I definitely did enjoy parts of it, and I liked Natalie’s voice in terms of the narration, but I found it all a bit odd.

A fifteen year old Natalie meets sixty year old Matthew – a friend of the family, and all of a sudden her eyes have been opened to a whole new world. Matthew draws her in with intellectual discussions regarding literature, art and philosophy, and Natalie is completely taken in. She’s thrilled to have someone in her life to inspire her and talk to her as an adult, as she doesn’t really feel connected with others her age, or her family.

By the time Natalie is sixteen, her and Matthew’s relationship has turned into more, with him making the first move, and her not objecting. Talk has turned from the arts to that of “Uncles”, people who are not bound by society’s rules – clearly all an elaborate grooming technique to make Natalie feel like all of this is special, but not wrong. It left a bad taste in my mouth, as you’d expect.

The book moves at a good pace and covers a lot of ground. Sometimes I couldn’t put it down, and at other times I just wanted it to end.

I really did feel for Natalie. She went through some really horrific times, but there are moments of joy and happiness too.

I think my main problem with it was that it read as fiction. Which is a good thing in terms of readability, but a curse in the sense that I wasn’t convinced by how real it all was. At times I was stunned by Natalie’s decisions, and it’s like she had to keep reminding the reader just how naive and young she still was to justify her actions.

But overall, I have nothing but respect for her in writing this book (if indeed it is all true – could this be another A Million Little Pieces?), as she has told the world about the most intimate details of her young life – even the things she lied to herself about for so many years – and she’s done it in a eloquent, interesting manner.

It certainly makes for a thought-provoking read if nothing else.

unicorn rating 3

Sixteen, Sixty One is available now in paperback from Waterstones.

The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones

barefoot
Title: The Barefoot Queen
Author: Ildefonso Falcones
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 656 pages
Publication Details: November 25th 2014 by Crown
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the publisher/author in exchange for an HONEST review.

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Purchase

It’s January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona’s-a young, rebellious gypsy-the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever.

Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. They soon find themselves in Madrid-a city of passion and dancing, but also a treacherous one full of smugglers and thieves. Caridad and Milagros must help in the gypsy’s struggle against society and its laws in order to stay together; it’s a dangerous battle that cannot, and will not, be easily won.

From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe

Review

When I requested this from Netgalley I’d been reading YA after YA and felt like I needed to get stuck in to a grown-up book to break the monotony, but by the time I got round to starting this 600+ page book, I wasn’t really in the mood to be honest. Therefore I’m not sure if my enjoyment of it – or lack of- is down to that, or something more.

The Barefoot Queen started so promising. I flew through the first hundred pages eager to find out what would become of Caridad, a former slave whose master died on the ship The Queen, which took her to Cadiz.

I thought the writing was beautiful and it started off at a good pace…but then I got lost. It didn’t take me long to realise that Falcones was going to throw in unnecessary details, backstories and cultural observations that added nothing to the story in my opinion. It just got too bogged down and I struggled to get through.

I really agonised over what to rate this book because there were parts of it I loved, and in essence it’s a great story that deserved to be told. It was just a slog. I felt sorry for Caridad who finds herself in Seville completely clueless as to what to do with herself after a lifetime of slavery. She needs to find work, but only knows how to labour on a plantation, and who’s going to hire a negro woman with no master?

When she meets gypsy, Milagros, the two discover just how dangerous it is to be a woman in 1700’s Spain.

Again, I wanted to like this book. It’s an epic tale of two women’s bravery and is clearly well researched. I just wish Falcones had pulled it back a bit, and not got so bogged down in detail. The pace was too slow for me…that’s what binge-reading YA books does to you.

Overall, I wouldn’t want to put people off this book as it’s an important and interesting story if you don’t mind a bit of a slog. It’s also extremely violent in parts, and you won’t come away from this book without a twinge of sadness and despair for these poor characters who really go through the ringer.

unicorn rating 2

The Barefoot Queen is available in hardback and paperback from Waterstones now.

Armchair BEA 2014: Day 1 – Introduction & Literature

ArmchairBEA LogoExample

Armchair BEA is a celebration of Book Expo America, and a conference for book bloggers who can’t attend the actual event.

I kind of forgot I’d signed up to be honest, so my involvement might be a bit slap-dash, but that is the story of my life. It looks like a lot of fun, so I’ll try to keep up.

Today’s agenda is an Introduction post – which is about all I can manage at the moment because I’m so hungover – and a discussion about what ‘Literature’ means to you. Which I’m going to cheat a little on…

Intro

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

My name is Lipsy, which is a nickname I acquired in college because I got my lip pierced and I’m quite loud. My real name is Lauren, but I feel like I’m being told off when people call me that. I started my blog, Lipsyy Lost & Found just over a year ago. I celebrated my first blog birthday last week:).

I’m from Crewe in the UK, which is a small town near Manchester but I’ve been living in London since I went to Uni here. I’m the token Northerner in my group of friends. I would like to thank Game of Thrones for making me sound cooler than I am. The Northerners never forget.

2. Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online.

A book blog full of nonesense.

Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Instagram

3. What genre do you read the most?
I love so many genres but YA is my ultimate best, mainly YA fantasy or paranormal romance. But I will literally read anything!

4. Share your favorite book or reading related quote.
❤ Peter Pan!

5. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 books would you bring? Why? What 3 non-book items would you bring? Why?

Twilight, because as sad as it is, I never get bored of reading it.
The Iliad, because I’ve always wanted to read it and I’d obviously have a lot of time on my hands there.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, because I could make my own fun.

As for non-books, I would take Katniss Everdeen so she could protect me and feed me, and we’d be BFFs. I’d let her choose the other two things. Hopefully Gale would be one of them.

Literature
I didn’t prepare a post for this (on what ‘Literature’ means to me, and how I define it) so I am going to cheat by just sharing with you a few of my favourite quotes about literature.

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lit4

Does Anyone Care About the Man Booker Prize?

I don’t really know what to think of The Man Booker Prize. It seems to be hailed as the most important accolade in contemporary fiction and a stagnant, restricted, waste of time in equal measure. I guess I fall somewhere between the two. I’m always intrigued to see which books have been nominated, but then I’m always confused as to why I’ve never heard of most of the books. This year is no exception.

The longlist, comprising of 13 books was announced last week. 5 of the books haven’t even been published yet. How does that work? I don’t understand how a book can be in the running for what is essentially Book of the Year but not even be published yet. But, I guess it’s all down to the judges so sales or feedback from the general public is moot anyway.

This year, I haven’t heard of a single one of these books and the only authors I’m familiar with are Jim Crace and Colm Toibin. But, I am happy there are some indie books in there, and the list does seem to be pretty eclectic in themes and styles.

The longlist 2013: See The Website for more details.

~ Five Star Billionaire, Tash Aw (Fourth Estate)

~ We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)

~ The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton (Granta)

~ Harvest, Jim Crace (Picador)

~ The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, Eve Harris (Sandstone Press)

~ The Kills, Richard House (Picador)

~ The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)

~ Unexploded, Alison MacLeod (Hamish Hamilton)

~ Transatlantic, Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)

~ Almost English, Charlotte Mendelson (Mantle)

~ A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)

~ The Spinning Heart, Donal Ryan (Doubleday)

~ The Testament of Mary, Colm Tóibín (Viking)

Here are the ones I like the sound of:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
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Ten-year-old Darling has a choice: it’s down, or out…

We Need New Names tells the story of Darling and her friends Stina, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Bastard. They all used to have proper houses, with real rooms and furniture, but now they all live in a shanty called Paradise. They spend their days stealing guavas, playing games and wondering how to get the baby out of young Chipo’s stomach. They dream of escaping to other paradises – America, Dubai, Europe. But if they do escape, will these new lands bring everything they wish for?

Unexploded by Alison MacLeod
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May 1940, Brighton. On Park Crescent, Geoffrey and Evelyn Beaumont and their eight-year-old son, Philip, anxiously await news of the expected enemy landing on their beaches.

It is a year of tension and change. Geoffrey becomes Superintendent of the enemy alien camp at the far reaches of town, while Philip is gripped by the rumour that Hitler will make Brighton’s Royal Pavilion his English HQ. As the rumours continue to fly and the days tick on, Evelyn struggles to fall in with the war effort and the constraints of her role in life, and her thoughts become tinged with a mounting, indefinable desperation.

Then she meets Otto Gottlieb, a ‘degenerate’ German-Jewish painter and prisoner in her husband’s internment camp. As Europe crumbles, Evelyn’s and Otto’s mutual distrust slowly begins to change into something else, which will shatter the structures on which her life, her family and her community rest.Love collides with fear, the power of art with the forces of war, and the lives of Evelyn, Otto and Geoffrey are changed irrevocably.

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson.
19_Charlotte%20Mendelson-Almost%20English
The air stinks of tuberose, caraway and garlic: the universal scent of central European hospitality. But Marina is not hospitable. After only an hour her skin is tender with cheek pinchings; she has been matchmade, prodded and instructed beyond endurance, and the night is young. Soon they will come to find her, to admire the shape of her fingernails, the thickness of her lashes, their eyes peeling back her clothes, weighing her like fruit. This is not new. She has been brought up to accept the questions and kisses as if nothing could please her more, however much lava is boiling inside. The problem is that Marina has changed. She can bear their scrutiny no longer because her life is a disaster, and it is her fault. She betrayed them and escaped them, and now she wants to come back.

In a tiny flat in West London, sixteen-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally-delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family’s crushing expectations and their fierce unEnglish pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.

At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, Marina realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she? In the meantime, her mother, Laura – an alien in this strange universe -, has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she’d expect back in her life. She isn’t noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.

Have you read any of the books on the list/ are you rooting for any in particular?