First impressions of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist

The longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced last week – Wednesday 8th March, at midnight. I wanted to take some time to absorb and digest the list, laying out plans for my reading, so a week later here’s my initial thoughts on the books that made the cut.

Image courtesy of the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Looking at the longlist this year, overall I’m happy. There’s a mix of books I’ve read, books I thought would appear, books I’m longing to read and also books – and authors – I’ve never even heard of. Honestly, there’s also a few books I’m surprised to see, that I thought maybe wouldn’t be longlisted because there’s already loads of hype around them. That’s not to say they don’t deserve recognition and an (even) wider audience, but I prefer it when I discover new, hidden talent. And that’s really why I love the WPF – it gives me a kick up the bum to read the books I’ve had on my list a little to long and also allows me to discover new gems that might have gone unnoticed.

Out of the 16 longlisted books, I’ve already read two:

Both were impeccable, enjoyable and memorable reads.

Out of the 14 remaining books, I already have five on my TBR list:

  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal

Looking at the last nine books, I’ve heard of – but don’t really know anything about – five:

  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

So that leaves four that are completely shiny and new to me:

  • H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
  • When I Hit You: or, a portrait of the writer as a young wife by Meena Kandasamy
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert

One of the first things I do when I see the prize each year is to assess what I’ve already ticked off reading during the previous year, as well as what I already own. Then I go through the rest of the books on the list picking out the ones that interest me the most, reserving them from my library in the hope that I’ll get them out before the shortlist for the prize is announced.

This year, I’m most excited to read The Trick to Time, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Manhattan Beach and Miss Burma. I’m really into reading historical fiction at the moment, so I think the latter three will help scratch that itch. There’s a couple I’m not too fussed about (I won’t name names at the moment), but if I can get them from the library and have some spare time I’ll try and give them a go.


Femmeuary Reads

I had such a great month of reading in February – I stuck to my pledge of only reading books by women, as part of Lauren and The Books’ Femmeuary (see this post if you have no idea what I’m on about). I managed to read five four star reads and one five star books – I’ve felt more motivated to read than I have in a long, long time. May this reading streak continue! 

How to be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax (Penguin) – 4/5  


This is a warm and witty look at mental health; accessible and informative it discusses twelve elements, from evolution to addiction. In tone and content, I found this quite similar to her previous books Sane New World and Mindfulness for the Frazzled, however I thought the structure of it was great and really enjoyed the discussions between the monk and the neuroscientist. At the end of each chapter, each topic is dissected, looking at how the mind works, mindfulness and more scientifically, the brain. If you’re looking for a light-hearted book at why we behave in certain ways, this one is for you.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Vintage) – 4/5


A book about courage, belonging, determination, love and family. I was nervous going into The Road Home, as last year The Gustav Sonata by Tremain was one of my favourite books and I hoped that this would live up to expectations. I’m pleased to say it did – I absolutely loved it. Rose Tremain creates characters that are intricate and three-dimensional, ones that you care about and also ones that at times you hate. There was only one plot point that jarred with me – no spoilers here, but on reflection I can see why Rose Tremain included it, however the point in question seemed so out of character for the book’s main man (Lev) that I thought I was a little unnecessary.

Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand (Bloomsbury) – 4/5


Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent. My Mum got me this book for Christmas and I’d saved it to read to coincide with it being 100 years since (some) women got the vote and woman’s suffrage. At times this is quite dense, but never unenjoyable, to read – it is rich with description and character, so much so that you get a true flavour of what Sophia was like, her priorities and her lifestyle. I learnt so much from this book. Ultimately it is about a strong, independent and revolutionary female that I’d previously not heard of.

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray (Aster) – 4/5


A fresh look at alcohol addiction and the joy sobriety can bring, as well as understanding why society has a negative view of staying sober. This was in no way condescending, or preachy, instead Catherine Gray provides information – and her story – and lets you make your own mind up. It tells the tale of her booze-fuelled twenties and how hitting rock bottom allowed her to start living her life again. It is a super quick, and enjoyable read, which definitely made me question my health and my alcohol consumption. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Blackfriars) – 4/5


This novel opens with such a punchy first line – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” after reading this, I was hooked and raced through this novel in two short sittings. Everything I Never Told You is about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio; it explores family dynamics, racial tension, and the pressures children can face from parents. Ultimately, it is about discovering who we, and our families, really are and why we behave the way we do. Ng’s writing is beautiful, filled with tension and tenderness – I’ve now got her second book, Little Fires Everywhere high-up on my TBR list.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore (Windmill Books) – 5/5


Where do I start? This was, without doubt, my standout novel for the month. It follows Ada Sibelius, an intelligent young girl who has been raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab. Set in multiple eras (1980s and 2009), early on in the novel Ada realises David is forgetting things – the book is her quest to discover her father’s past and piece together his life. It is emotional, quirky and intense – it won’t be for everything, but for me it was incredible. A full review will follow shortly, once I’ve managed to put how much I enjoyed it into words.

Anticipated Reads: March

Here are the books that I’m most looking forward to reading in March (all blurbs are below):


The F Word by Lily Pebbles (Hodder & Stoughton) 

If there’s one piece of invaluable advice for women and girls of all ages, it is that there is nothing more important than creating and maintaining strong, positive and happy friendships with other women.

If Lily Pebble’s 1998 diary is anything to go by, female friendships are incredibly complex and emotional but they’re the mini love stories that make us who we are. For many women, friends are our partners in crime through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal (Viking)

Mona is a young Irish girl in the big city, with the thrill of a new job and a room of her own in a busy boarding house. On her first night out in 1970s Birmingham, she meets William, a charming Irish boy with an easy smile and an open face. They embark upon a passionate affair, a whirlwind marriage – before a sudden tragedy tears them apart.

Decades later, Mona pieces together the memories of the years that separate them. But can she ever learn to love again?

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi (W&N)

It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her. Yet she hopes desperately they can mend their shattered relationship.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Tinder Press)

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.

Bookworm A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (Square Peg)

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

August Summer Reads

One day I’ll actually get my monthly wrap-up written and published on time, but for now this will have to do (I promise to try harder next month, I promise!).

I always find I read fewer books during Summer due to me wanting to be outdoors – coupling that with being super busy at work and it being really hot outside I managed a pathetic total (compared to my usual reading tally!) of three books in August…Anyway, enough of the boring excuses!

Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton)


I am a huge fan of Sophie Hannah, so was super excited to receive an advanced copy of her newest psychological thriller. This is such a compelling read, full of dark humour and twists – I highly recommend this for an easy Summer read. A full review is here.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press)

Tin Man

This hit me right in the heart – it has had marmite reviews on Good Reads,  however I think that’s because it has been so hyped up. For me, it lived up to that hype and I thought it was such a tender book – my full review is here.

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole (Allison & Busby)

Set in the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: she has inherited the estate of a woman she doesn’t know. What unfolds is a tale of friendship, love and family. I picked this up to read on a whim and was so pleasantly surprised – it was a cosy, happy read that left me feeling warm and fuzzy. One of the many things I enjoyed about Woman Enters Left was the format – it was split perspective, over two timeframes and was peppered with letters and diary entries.

Hopefully this month, thanks to the colder weather and autumnal vibes, I’ll manage to ramp up my reading again!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press)

How do I even begin to explain how beautiful Tin Man by Sarah Winman is? It feels cliché to call it beautiful, but it really is. At its heart, Tin Man is a tale about the complexities and longings of friendship and love; how the lines between the two blur so easily and are never clear cut. Not only that, but it’s also an explosive study of sexuality, illness and grief; let me tell you, it’s heart-wrenching and raw in such an understated and simple way. It is a book that made me feel so much, in an incredibly short amount of pages.

Tin Man

I can’t say much more, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m lost for words at how to describe such a wonderful piece of writing. I only wish I had the opportunity to read it for the first time again – with the type of open eyes, heart and mind that you have when opening a book at its first page, full of expectation and hope.

This deserves to be on many book bloggers’ top books of the year list; I’ll be amazed if it gets knocked out of my top five!

Publisher: Tinder Press
Author: Sarah Winman

July Reads

Another month has passed, which means it’s time for another wrap-up! I must apologise in advance for my tardiness with this post – I had written half of it before 1st August, then it fell by the wayside, but it’s here now! Better late than never, right?

Once again, my reading hasn’t been great having only read six books – I’ve found it hard to have time to pick up books, having to prioritise other things (if you haven’t taken a look at this post, please do!).

Without further ado, last month I read…

Plum by Hollie McNish (Picador Poetry) – 5/5

Plum hollie mcnish

Plum is poet Hollie McNish’s newest collection and features both new and old poetry – her recent poems are interrupted by earlier writing from her formative years – voices that are raw, honest and also very, very funny. If you’re looking to get into poetry, this is a fantastic place to start – Hollie is warm, honest, funny, sarcastic and passionate. I could listen to her poetry over and over again (a personal fave of mine is Mathematics – I encourage you to go and have a watch on YouTube!)

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound) – 5/5

Good Immigrant

This is a collection of essays written by BAME authors, edited together by Nikesh Shukla. It explores what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today. The essays look at identity, culture, family and diversity; I found it enlightening, eye-opening, funny, heart-breaking and infuriating all in one. This is such an important read and one that everyone should pick up!

Them: Adventures with extremists by Jon Ronson (Picador) – 3/5


It seems I was on a bit of a non-fiction roll this month! I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s books and my favourite of his is The Psychopath Test, however I wasn’t mad about Them: Adventures with Extremists. The book goes on a quest to explore extremism, from Islamic fundamentalists to Neo-Nazis. Originally written in 2001, this book is definitely still prevalent today; I found it fascinating in parts, but also a little boring in others.

Dying to Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books) – 4/5

Front Cover Dying to Live

Dying to Live is the sixth book in the Detective Kubu series – I loved the setting of the book, the African landscape added a different dimension, making it stand out from so many British crime books, which can sometimes feel a bit samey! If you’re looking for a fairly light crime novel, which is a bit different, then I’d definitely recommend giving the Kubu books a go. My full blog tour post is here.

Our Memory Like Dust by Gavin Chait (Doubleday Books) – 2/5


This one puzzled and perplexed me – my full review can be found here. Our Memory Like Dust wasn’t completely up my street, but I definitely think you’d enjoy it if you’re a fan of light sci-fi or dystopian fiction. Chait is a complex storyteller, using many themes, characters and contemporary issues to make a wider point about society – although I think some of these points went over my head…

The Marshking’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (Sphere) – 4/5

Marshking's Daughter

Last of all, I picked up The Marshking’s Daughter to help get me out of my slump! I was hooked from the get-go; it is thrilling, suspenseful and action packed. The story is centred around a woman who was born into captivity after her Mother was abducted – I was wary that this might read like Room by Emma Donoghue. I shouldn’t have been worried as it was completely different. Dionne creates wonderful, atmospheric scenery which chills you to the core. After finishing The Marshking’s Daughter I was excited to pick up another thriller.

What did you read in July? Do you have any recommendations? 

Blog Tour: Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts (RedDoor)

#BlogTour #BookReview @RedDoorBooks @AndrewCrofts #SOTIG

Welcome to my stop on The Secrets of the Italian Gardener blog tour. Thank you RedDoor for having me!

About the novella:  


Mo, the wealthy dictator of a volatile Middle Eastern country, enlists a ghostwriter to tell his story to the world and enshrine him in history as a glorious ruler. 

Inside Mo’s besieged palace the ghost forms an unlikely friendship with a wise and seemingly innocent Italian gardener who slowly reveals that the regime isn’t all it appears to be.

As a violent rebellion threatens all their lives the ghost struggles to cope with a personal secret too painful to bear.

Author: Andrew Croft
Paperback: 160 pages
Published by: RedDoor

My thoughts…

The Secrets of the Italian Gardener follows a nameless ghostwriter as he is enlisted to write about Mo, a powerful, Middle-Eastern dictator. During his time at the palace he wanders the grounds collecting his thoughts as he struggles to garner information from Mo. Whilst in the beautiful, serene garden he stumbles upon Lou, the Italian Gardener, and as the friendship between them develops we quickly start to see that there is both pain and suffering behind beauty. Even the nicest people can have dark pasts to hide.

The novella is full of power and threat. As the violent uprising on the streets overspills into the palace, Lou continues his work to hide the atrocities that are taking place. Crofts uses the garden to show that we mustn’t always take things as they seem on first glance. He champions the restorative, healing power of nature; over time pain can be built into something beautiful. The darkness feeds the light and without one the other can’t thrive.

Whilst it made me uneasy in places, it also made me question whether I would do the same as the ghost writer – would I stand by and watch the atrocities, keeping silent, all in the name of money? Crofts weaves in a parallel storyline where the ghostwriter and his wife deal with one of the greatest personal tragedies a parent can go through. This personal pain both marries and contrasts with the tragedy that is unfolding on the global stage before him; as the uprising and revolution roars in the Middle East, his own grief becomes prevalent giving him a reason to continue with his work. Can we ever judge the reason and rationale of another person’s moral decision?

I read this in one sitting and for such a short book it packs so much in thanks to Crofts magical storytelling ability. It encompasses everything from what it is to endure grief to understanding, and accepting, your own morality. Political, tense, philosophical and intriguing, The Secrets of the Italian Gardener is a well-developed, thought-provoking read that will make you question good vs. evil.

About the author:

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers.


He has spent much of his ghostwriting career amongst the dictators, politicians, arms dealers and billionaires who hold the reins of power and control the wealth of the world, stationed in their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in tax havens like Monaco, Geneva, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

You can check out the other posts on the blog tour here:


I received an beautiful hardback copy of Secrets of the Italian Gardener from RedDoor Books in exchange for a fair, honest and unbiased review. Thanks RedDoor!