The Unsettled by Ayana Mathis

Ava Carson will do anything to save herself. When she finds herself and her ten-year-old son, Toussaint living in a squalid family shelter, she is determined to get out and better their lives.

She plans to head to her estranged mother in Alabama but on reuniting with her former flame, everything changes for the worst.

Ava Carson has been running her entire life. Leaving an abusive marriage, she finds herself and her ten-year-old son Toussaint living in a horrendous family shelter. A place full of squalor, poverty and illicit happenings.

Determined to get out and better their lives, she makes the move for freedom. She plans to return to her childhood home in Bonaparte, Alabama and reunite with her estranged mother, Duchess. However, when reunited with her child’s biological father, Cass, her focus drifts.

Infatuated, she hesitantly welcomes communal living. She continues to follow the dreams of an increasingly maddening Cass, a former Black Panther, rebel and nefarious con man.

Things go from bad to worse as police interest in the property drives further paranoia.

As Ava falls deeper, Toussaint does too. He begins to lose himself and his childhood innocence amidst the unsettled madness.

A mother’s ambition and a son’s destruction

An emotionally charged story, The Unsettled is brimming with turmoil. Though the writing is vivid and descriptive, many characters are unlikable.

I particularly disliked Ava. Never truly satisfied, she’s selfish, weak and delusional. Her own needs come before her son too often, damaging him greatly.

Interestingly, it’s told in multiple narratives from the perspective of three generations. Ava and Toussaint in Philadelphia and Duchess in fictional Bonaparte, Alabama. This is a nice touch, giving a thorough background of generational trauma.

A heavy read, the novel explores difficult themes including poverty, racism, abandonment and abuse.

The Unsettled by Ayana Mathis was released on September 26 2023 via Knopf.

I personally have read The Unsettled. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

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The Household by Stacey Halls

The Household by Stacey Halls

An heiress supports a house for fallen women, trying to offer its residents a second chance. Here, they may rehabilitate, learn valuable skills and start afresh.

Each with their demons, these women must fight for change in their lives.

Many people’s worlds collide at Urania Cottage, a home for fallen women in The Household by Stacey Hall.

The cottage is remote and its residents are initially unknown to one another. However, they have one thing in common, each is desperate to change their life.

Angela Burdett-Coutts, a wealthy heiress is a benefactor of this unique venture. She is no stranger to feeling a lack of freedom in life, having been stalked for the last decade.

Among others, Josephine and Martha take refuge and work in the countryside home. They soon become friends in their quest for rehabilitation. However, they’re both looking for someone and the temptation to escape the confinements of the cottage appeals to many.

Mrs Holdsworth manages the home, trying to keep the women content and safe.

As their lives become entwined, the cost of freedom is high and each woman must navigate her circumstances.

A house of fallen women desperate for freedom

The Household by Stacey Halls is a wonderful novel focusing on female characters in Victorian England.

Told from multiple perspectives, the novel slowly explores these main characters and their differing personalities and troubles.

It illustrates contrasts between the social classes and the female experience and is inspired by Dickens’ House for Fallen Women. It features the famed novelist in a cameo alongside the reimagined Angela Burdett-Coutts. It’s fascinating how Halls brings these inspired and complex characters to life.

Among other things, it explores poverty, prison and prostitution and ultimately, the desperation for freedom.

This novel draws you in with interesting female leads and well-researched historical fiction. You cannot help but empathise with these characters’ tumultuous lives and personal woes.

The Household by Stacey Halls is due to be released on April 11 2024 via Manilla Press.

I personally have read The Household. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

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A Cruel Twist of Fate by H. F. Askwith

Helena, a humble sweetmaker’s life is about to fall apart as her mother prepares to go to debtor prison. To help, she secures a job as a governess at the mysterious Archfall Manor, a secretive isle estate famed for its celebrated inventors, the Caudwell family. Hoping to restore her own family’s fortunes, she also seeks answers to their misfortunes caused by the family on the island, many years ago.

A Cruel Twist of Fate focuses on Helena, a sweetmaker desperate to save her mother from debtor prison.

In a brazen attempt to restore her family’s fortunes, Helena deceptively applies to be a governess at Archfall Manor, the infamous home of the secretive Caudwell family.

The collection of inventors who live on the isolated isle have many a sinister rumour shrouding them and Helena, quickly becomes ensnared by them.

She works swiftly and secretly, trying to solve the mystery of her own father’s disappearance at the manor in her infancy.

However, as people start to get hurt, she must act quickly to discover the culprit. For her own and the entire household’s safety.

Thrown into the depths of secrets and betrayal

The Gothic mystery thriller has a good pacing and the remote setting is wonderfully sinister. Its beautifully descriptive writing adds to the uneasy feeling of the landscape and characters.

I particularly liked the way H. F. Askwith developed Helena as the protagonist. She is a vivacious and intelligent character who is relentless in her search for truth and justice.

The other mostly eccentric characters are difficult to read, progressing the story and its mystery fantastically. You’ll feel a step ahead, just to be pulled in another direction.

Although fascinating, I do wish the ending had been fleshed out a little more as I didn’t feel fully satisfied with the closure.

Overall, a fabulous read full of twists and turns with a well-developed female lead. It’s certainly worth a read in 2024.

A Cruel Twist of Fate by H. F. Askwith was released on January 18 2024 via PENGUIN.

I personally have read A Cruel Twist of Fate. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

Read more book reviews on The LDN Gal

The Glennmare Girls by Anya Mora

The Glennmare Girls by Anya Mora

Popular Kitty is missing and a teacher has been injured on campus and cannot recall what happened to him.

In a strange rural elite boarding school, detectives, teachers and Kitty’s friends try to unpick the happenings of that night. What happened to Kitty and what is everyone else hiding?

Located on an island close to Seattle, Glennmare Academy is a strange place for unruly young women of affluent East Coast families that is stringent with its no-technology teaching.

The young women who attend are isolated. They immerse themselves in their studies and friendships to a toxic degree.

One of the most popular among the cohort is Kitty Calloway. She’s a girl who leaves a lasting impression on everyone she meets – but she’s now missing.

On the same night, her literature teacher, Wells Halifax, is found on the remote boarding school’s beach unconscious. Once awoken, he has no recollection of the last six months and his close friends are quick to travel to his aid.

Everyone at Glennmare Academy is shocked by the turn of events and detectives and staff are left suspicious of the night’s happenings.

Surely her tight-knit friendship group knows more than they are letting on and just how close was Mr Halifiax to his students?

A rural boarding school filled with secrets

Told cleverly in multiple narratives, The Glennmare Girls by Anya Mora slowly builds suspense with many different points of view. Its short and snappy chapters ensure a great pacing.

The main characters are well-developed and complex. However, more insight into some secondary characters and their interesting backstories would have been appreciated.

Despite this, there’s lots of clever detail throughout alongside twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end.

Please note, difficult themes include: sexual assault self-harm, eating disorders, mental health, grooming and animal abuse.

The Glennmare Girls by Anya Mora was released on 18 December 2023 via Joffe Books.

I personally have read The Glennmare Girls. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

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House of Open Wounds by Adrian Tchaikovsky

House of Open Wounds by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Palleseen army are dominating the world with their perfectionist doctrine. The injured and dying are brought from the front line to field hospitals where a motley crew attempt to patch them up by any means possible.

Entrusted with saving the damned, the unit work with unauthorised magic, necromancy demonology and banned Gods to save and repurpose souls. If discovered, their unethical actions could lead to harrowing consequences.

The Palleseen army are ravaging the world with war, desperate to correct a perceived imperfect world.

Behind the front lines, field hospital tents attempt to save the damaged and damned by any means possible.

Yasnic, a former priest turned rebel, finds himself stationed within the hospital. Miraculously saved from the gallows, he clings to faith literally, carting around a box of orphaned Gods wherever he goes.

This unorthodox hospital is commanded by the Butcher, a man who has no fear of the horrors of war. The crew deal with unspeakable gore caused by horrific monsters, magical weapons and relentless enemy attacks.

Tasked with saving and reutilising the fallen, they must be mindful to keep their unethical practices under the radar. Practices that include the use of banned magic, necromancy, demonology and ‘false’ Gods. If not, they could face dire consequences.

A gory field hospital comes alive with dark magic

House of Open Wounds by Adrian Tchaikovsky offers spectacular and vivid worldbuilding with beautifully detailed prose that transports you into a gruesome war. It fantastically explores difficult topics including colonialism, politics, fascism, religion, war and poverty.

The story is told from many character’s perspectives with each chapter focused on a different person. At times, this makes it harder to connect and truly get to know them with any true depth.

With all these points of view, the pacing felt slow at times. I often found myself confused as to who was the focus within the narrative and how it was progressing.

Although interesting to have many viewpoints, I do wonder if the cast had been smaller, the novel may have been easier to follow and enjoy.

House of the Open Wounds by Adrian Tchaikovsky was released on December 7 2023 via Head of Zeus.

I personally have read House of Open Wounds. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

Read more book reviews on The LDN Gal

The Next Girl by Emiko Jean

The Next Girl by Emiko Jean book review

Losing her sister cemented Chelsey’s decision to become a detective. Throughout her career, she’s done everything possible to bring justice to missing girls.

One day, a cold case is blown open when a local teenager, Ellie Black, is found after being missing for two years.

The traumatised girl is a shell of herself and isn’t cooperating. Chelsey suspects there’s more to this case and will do anything to solve it.

When two hikers discover Ellie Black, a teenager who’s been missing for two years, Detective Chelsey Calhoun rushes from her bed to investigate.

Thankfully, Ellie is still alive. Last seen at a motel party, all previous leads did little to help the case.

As expected, Ellie is much changed and a shadow of her former rebellious self.

In turn, Detective Chelsey Calhoun has had a traumatic life and is sympathetic to Ellie’s harrowing experience. Losing her sister in her youth, her family and entire world fell apart. Thus, Chelsey will do anything to protect other troubled girls.

However, Ellie refuses to cooperate and with time being of the essence, Chelsey is suspicious. She is relentless in furthering the case and bringing the perpetrator to justice. What is Ellie hiding?

A traumatised teenager who refuses to talk

Told in a dual narrative, The Next Girl by Emiko Jean builds suspense with memory snippets throughout, adding context and depth to the story and its characters.

Both characters are incredibly complex with traumatic pasts. However, the point of view is predominantly told from Chelsey’s perspective. This was interesting as it added a unique insight into the workings of the police.

In contrast, I particularly liked the way Jean demonstrated Ellie’s fractured mindset and illustrated the PTSD she faced from her ordeal. She does an excellent job exploring the psychology of a kidnap victim alongside complex trauma.

Many twists will keep you guessing throughout this dark thriller. Overall, you’ll struggle to put it down and it’s certainly worth a read in 2024.

The Next Girl by Emiko Jean will be released on May 9 2024 via Penguin General UK.

I personally have read The Next Girl. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

Read more book reviews on The LDN Gal

You Wouldn’t Catch Me Dead by Tess James-Mackey

You Wouldn't Catch Me Dead by Tess James-Mackey

Keely will do anything to forget her past. Moving to a new school, she hopes to keep a low profile by keeping her head down. However, when forced on a group camping trip to a remote location in Wales with five peers, she’ll have to find her voice and learn to rely on others again.

You Wouldn’t Catch Me Dead by Tess James-Mackey is centred around Keely, a recluse desperate to keep a low profile in a new town.

Forced to take part in a school camping trip with five of her classmates, she must learn to quickly adapt and interact with others.

Isolated in the Black Mountains in Wales, a freak accident means the tense group must work together to get help. Unfortunately, the area is remote. There is no signal, people or transport nearby.

Like her peers, Keely remains on edge in the wilderness. However, she has more than current events haunting her. In this terrifying situation, she is triggered by her past, swept away often in her grief.

As things continue to go wrong, she becomes suspicious that there’s something nefarious going on. Together, these ambitious students must get help – and quickly.

The turmoil of teenage angst and grief

The novel has a nice pacing. The flashback chapters were useful in adding depth to Keeley’s character and understanding her somewhat steely personality. In addition, the final few chapters were fast-paced, throwing you into turmoil.

The remote setting is spectacularly spooky and sinister. The scenic descriptions add to the uneasy feeling throughout.

I particularly liked the way James-Mackey explored and illustrated grief. I thought it was very realistic and poignant.

Overall a thrilling and at times sinister youth adult novel with well-developed main characters. It’s certainly worth a read in 2024.

You Wouldn’t Catch Me Dead by Tess James-Mackey will be released on January 18 2024 via Hachette Children’s Group.

I personally have read You Wouldn't Catch Me Dead. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

Read more book reviews on The LDN Gal

Child of the Ruins by Kate Furnivall

Two women are desperate to survive in post-war Berlin. One searches for her son amongst the ruins of the city and the other will play any side in order to get ahead.

Child of the Ruins by Kate Furnivall illustrates the tales of tenacious women desperate to survive after the horror and destruction of WWII.

It’s 1948 and post-war Berlin has been divided into zones, the West controlled by the Allies and the East by the Russians.

The Russian blockade means over two million people rely on American air drops to survive. A plane lands every thirty seconds in West Berlin.

Anna Wolff lives in a confined East Berlin apartment with her mother, Luisa. The area has been devastated by Russians, fearfully commanding with restrictions, raids and rapes.

Anna’s three-year-old son, Felix, is missing and her old Russian flame has returned. Strange things keep happening and as she deepens the search for Felix, the more dangerous her life seems to become.

Ingrid Keller lives within the rubble of her father’s old circus with her husband, Otto. The former group wheel and deal to better their lives, doing anything for money and security. Ingrid risks it all working as a spy between the almighty powers.

The two women’s worlds collide while working at Tempelhof Airport. Both searching for answers, the airport is the ideal place to learn more about the intricacies and secrets of Berlin.

In post-war Berlin, the Soviets were desperate to get the Allies out of Germany altogether. Spies, corruption and kidnap are commonplace and nowhere feels truly safe.

It’s simple, survival relies on cunning and knowledge. In this desperation, the line between right and wrong has become blurred.

Post-war life during the Berlin Airlift

Inspired by the aftermath of the war during the Berlin Airlift, this historical fiction novel explores the lengths people will go to survive.

Told in multiple narratives, this novel brings the trauma and streets of post-war Berlin to life. The families within have been divided by the war, each individual with their own goals and trauma.

The novel is meticulously researched, drawing inspiration from real and extraordinary history. The world is atmospheric, transporting you to the harrowing scenes of the broken city. With shortages of coal, food, medicine and money, people are desperate and bereft of hope.

Orphaned children run riot in the ruins, Soviet soldiers cruelly keep control and everyday folk will do anything to survive the chaos.

Anna and Ingrid lead with their stories. Full of struggle, mystery and espionage, the novel keeps you on your feet at a growing pace with twists and turns. Each must battle their own demons and seek resolution as they navigate ruined Berlin.

Ultimately, this novel draws you in with its incredibly well-researched historical fiction and tenacious female leads.

It’s a spectacular tale of the lengths a woman will go to survive. Love is a powerful force and human will can be at its strongest in desperate times.

Child of the Ruins by Kate Furnivall was released on October 31, 2023, via Hodder & Stoughton.

I personally have read Child of the Ruins. However, I did receive a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley and this post does contain affiliate links.

Read more book reviews on The LDN Gal

Sausage recipes with Swaledale Butchers

Sausage Lovers Box by Swaledale Butchers

Nothing gets you creative in the kitchen like a box full of sausages. They’re so versatile and the perfect centrepiece to a meal.

I was lucky to sample The Sausage Lovers Box from Swaledale, packed with pork and lamb sausages.

What’s in the Sausage Lovers Box?

In the Swaledale Sausage Lovers Box, you’ll get a pack of:

  • Texan-style Hot Links Sausages (600g)
  • The Cumberland Sausage (500g)
  • 495g Yorkshire Breakfast Chipolatas (495g)
  • Calabrian Sausages (480g)
  • Coarse Pork Sausages (480g)
  • Lamb Merguez Sausages (480g)
  • Toulouse Sausages (480g)
  • Tuscan-style Pork, Fennel & Red Wine Sausages (480g)
  • Yorkshire Breakfast Sausages (480g)
Garlic creamy pasta with Tuscan-style Pork, Fennel & Red Wine Sausages and spinach

What did we make?

We’ve made plenty! A personal favourite is the Herb and garlic creamy pasta with Tuscan-style Pork, Fennel & Red Wine Sausages and spinach!

Herb and garlic creamy pasta with sausages and spinach

This dish was super simple to make. Start by cooking your Tuscan-style Pork, Fennel & Red Wine Sausages from Swaledale.

Use a dish, place your herb and garlic soft cheese in the centre, and surround it with spinach. Use freshly cut tomatoes or tomato sauce to coat and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Cook your fresh pasta to finish at the same time.

Mix the fresh pasta with the baked soft cheese, spinach and tomato. Either place your sausages whole or cut them up and combine them.

Cumberland Sausage by Swaledale Butchers

Sausage recipes

Looking for some sausage recipe inspiration? Other sausage-based recipes could include:

  • Sausage risotto
  • Toad in the hole
  • Premium fry up
  • Bangers and mash
  • Sausage casserole
  • Sausage stew

If you’re looking for a wide variety of premium sausages to add sparkle to your recipes, look no further than The Sausage Lover’s Box from Swaledale.

Looking for more food and drink inspiration?

I received a complimentary The Sausage Lovers Box from Swaledale but all thoughts are personal. 

Are Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms worth the hype?

Tickets to the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate Modern are often sold out. People are desperate to see the famed work of the celebrated Japanese artist.

So much so, that the exhibition within The George Economou Gallery has been extended to 28 April 2024.

Within it, there is artwork and two immersive infinity rooms to discover.

The first, Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life. This room is one of Kusama’s largest installations and was made for her 2012 retrospective at Tate Modern.

The second, Chandelier of Grief. This room creates the illusion of a boundless universe of rotating crystal chandeliers.

What did I think of the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms?

Unfortunately, both infinity rooms have a time limit of only two minutes (although you can queue again).

I have to say, I found this exhibition underwhelming. The installations are small and the time limit didn’t add to a great experience. Although it is charming, I was expecting more from the famed artist.

The most interesting part was the photography and video that graced the gallery walls. Each with context, this media illustrated the life and tribulations of Kusuma. It was an interesting timeline and snapshot of her lived experience.

It saddened me to hear of her great struggle with her mental health. Although, it’s wonderful that she finds her art as a source of therapy.

Who is Yayoi Kusama?

Yayoi Kusama is revered by many as the most famous contemporary Japanese artist.

Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929, Kusama came to international acclaim while living in New York in the 60s. Since her discovery, her eccentric artwork has been celebrated by the masses. This includes a portfolio of paintings, sculptures, fashion design, writing and installations.

Kusama returned to Japan in the 70s. Having spent the last four decades living voluntarily in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital, she continues to work from her workshop to this day.

Exhibition dates and entry cost

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms are open until 28 April 2024. Tickets cost:

  • £10 for general entry
  • £5 for Tate Collective (16-25)
  • Free with a Members ticket

Book tickets for Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate Modern.

Looking for more things to do in London?