Sweet Home by Carys Bray

Moving to Edinburgh to study Publishing has changed my life. I’ve worked on so many exciting projects and one of those is launching a Literary Society at Edinburgh Napier University. Myself, Kellie Jones (check out her Booktube) and Sarah Barnard (a fellow book blogger) were surprised to discover that there wasn’t already a bookish society at the University so we teamed up to create one. Shameless plug: if you’re in Edinburgh and want to chat about books, you can join the society here. If you’re not, you can still check out our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages for more info.

We’ve been running monthly book clubs and for our January Book Club, we were reading Sweet Home by the talented Carys Bray. It’s a collection of short stories about family and home life. Here’s my review:

I voted to read Sweet Home for our January Book Club purely based on the cover. You might’ve guessed that I’m a sucker for all things pastel and the aesthetic for Sweet Home is very cute. It also sounded intriguing: a collection of short stories “with psychological insight and a lightness of touch frequently found in fairy tales” and an exploration of “loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret.” I mentioned in my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas that I’m a fan of fairytale retellings so Sweet Home captured my interest.

I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book. Magic and nostalgia are tangible in a way that reminds me of Jessie Burton‘s writing. Some of the stories pick away at the small and seemingly insignificant moments in life, like a mother taking her daughter to swimming lessons or a bereaving pensioner whose bra gets caught in the hedge. Carys Bray makes the mundane magical with her elegant prose. Certain phrases would just catch my breath: “tentative, slipper-finding feet.” How can someone make putting slippers on sound so delicate?

Other stories are truly fantastical, like the man who carves a baby out of ice, the supermarket that sells live babies in boxes (complete with a reduced section for the less appealing models) and the old woman living in a gingerbread house, a story which is a clear allegory for immigration in modern Britain. These magical tales have a hint of Angela Carter about them, only less sordid and more quaint. Nothing truly leaves the real world.

As the picture of the perfect dollhouse with a burnt roof on the cover suggests, “the real world” and family life are never as perfect as we would like them to be. In particular, many of the parents in this collection are trying to be the best or, at least, better than their own parents, but are continually failing to win the hearts of their children. There is an ocean of misunderstanding between children and their parents in many of these stories and a sense of I won’t turn out like my parents. These are feelings which I’m sure most readers can relate to from God, mum, you just don’t get it! all the way to Why can’t my child see how hard I’m trying? Why can’t I forgive myself for my imperfections? Nobody seems to be winning Mother of the Year award in Sweet Home but it’s the flaws which make these characters so relatable. I found myself nodding along with their struggles not because I know what it’s like to be a parent (not for a long time) or because I’ve ever carved a baby out of ice but because everyone has their own experiences of family that they can draw from.

It is not just the sadness of a mother at the end of her tether that got to me, genuine heartache pervades many of these stories. Death of children, death of siblings, death of spouses; you name it and Carys Bray bravely tackles it in this collection. There’s a story of a young boy and his sister finding a dead bird in the garden and burying it. Later, we discover that the boy’s sister dies and he goes back to uncover the remains of the bird. We see the pain and trauma of death through the innocent and ignorance of childhood and it’s heartwrenching. I finished this book feeling just a little bit sad but hopeful that despite all the horrible things that happen, there is still magic and lightness in the world.

This is a beautiful collection of short stories that captured my heart and started my 2017 reading list off on a high-note. I can’t tell if Bray makes the monotonous more magical or if the magical becomes more grounded in reality? Either way, it is lovely. I’m definitely going to buy and read more Carys Bray because her writing style is very much up my street. Bonus point: she’s really nice and tweeted the Napier Literary Society on the run up to our book club.

Proof of her niceness:

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Have you read anything by Carys Bray? If you have, let me know by commenting below or getting in touch on Twitter and Instagram.

My Top 5 Books of 2016

Happy New Year everybody! I hope everyone is enjoying the festive period. I have to admit, I have been so lazy and indulgent over the past few weeks so I’m looking forward to getting back to routine. Anyway, it’s time for a round-up of my favourite books out of the 30 I read this year. If you’re interested in seeing what else I read in 2016, check my page out on GoodReads.

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I joined the Outlander fan club this year when I read Outlander in July. It was a perfect treat after four years of studying books I wasn’t always interested in and I completely fell in love with Gabaldon’s world and characters. I wrote a full review over here but I’ll give you a summary: it’s a love story set in 18th century Inverness, it involves time travelling and features a badass heroine at its centre. I loved reading about Scottish history and I especially loved our favourite Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Being a fan of Outlander has brought me lots of friends on Twitter and Instagram. I also wrote about the book-to-screen adaptation for Scottish Book Trust. A blog which even caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention!

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

Yet another book-to-screen adaptation, I wanted to read Room before I went to see it in the cinema. I read it back in January and I fell in love. Again, you can read my full review on my blog (it was one of my first ever book reviews) but here’s what I thought of it in short. It has one of the most wonderful first-person narrators I’ve come across: five-year-old Jack. It follows Jack and his mother as they live life as prisoners and are eventually freed. It’s a poignant and emotional story that’ll make you laugh and cry, as cheesy as that is. Mostly, I loved the portrayal of motherhood and the strength that Jack’s Ma finds through her son. It is wonderful – if you haven’t read it yet, do it now!

3. The Muse by Jessie Burton

It is no secret that I adore Jessie Burton’s writing. The Miniaturist is probably one of my favourite books of all time and I wasn’t disappointed with the release of The Muse this year. I wrote a full review which Jessie Burton was delighted with. I believe she said she wanted to laminate it and wear it around her neck, just sayin’. It tells the tales of two struggling female artists set across different time periods: 1967, London and 1936, southern Spain. It is one of those magical books that make you feel cosy and nostalgic but you don’t quite know why. If you haven’t discovered the beauty that is Burton’s writing then put that on your resolution list for 2017.

4. Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy

I read this surprising book in November because I was on the shadow panel for the Saltire Society Awards. Chitra won the First Book award jointly and it was well deserved. When I first saw it, I thought: ‘No way am I reading a book about pregnancy!‘ However, despite avoiding reading this on public transport or in front of my parents, I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Before you dismiss it as just another book about pregnancy, please give it a chance. It is one of the richest texts I’ve encountered in the past few years; it’s filled with metaphors and allusions to a wide range of literature and it is far from a fluffy read about giving birth. I’d recommend this to any literature lovers and not just expecting parents.

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I was in two minds about including this book on my list because, well, pretty much everyone except me had read it but I finally gave into my pride and decided to read Harry Potter in 2016. I read the first book in January and I have to confess it is magical. I only wish I had read it when I was younger so I could’ve marvelled at its wonders from a child’s perspective. Nonetheless, I can understand why people are so besotted with this series. I’ve read the first three now and the books are far better than the films which never excited me much. Hopefully, I’ll finish the series in 2017.


Other books I really enjoyed in 2016 include: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Girl on the Train, Ceremony, The Raven Boys, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. 

What books did you guys love in 2016 and what are you looking forward to reading in 2017? Let me know on Twitter and Instagram. I have so many books in my TBR pile for next year so I’ll hopefully get a post up about that in the near future. Happy reading and a very Happy New Year!