Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review: The Madonna of the Pool by Helen Stancey

2017 • 142 pages • Fairlight Books

In most short story collections, an overarching theme is usually present in each of the narratives which help each story gently flow in to the next.  In this debut collection Helen Stancey explores the quiet disappointments, achievements, and complications that each of us experience through everyday life. She draws attention to the small events and decisions that can both disrupt and significantly alter the lives of others and ourselves, all while maintaining a delicately poetic tone throughout.

This is certainly a quiet collection of stories, in that it doesn’t feel as though you’re being bombarded with dramatic imagery or metaphors. Instead, Stancey has pieced together a collection that feels subtle and truthful to the human experience without feeling overwrought. Each story follows a different character – or group of characters – as they deal with a significant event in their lives, usually one of disappointment or loss but the significance behind each of them is how the characters move on from their experience. Overall, it’s a realistic portrayal of human endurance captured in twelve short stories, each intently focused to create a snapshot of the characters’ everyday trials and triumphs.

I find short story collections great when you want a bit of variety in your reading and whilst Stancey has a poetic and dreamy way of writing, very few of these stories stuck with me. As I said, this is a very quiet collection which draws attention to the small yet challenging events in life, but I confess I did find some of them quite dry. The story that I enjoyed the most was Shall We Dance? which followed the character Anna as she attended her mother’s funeral, where she quietly reminisced on her childhood memories of her mother. Whilst a sad story it brought focus to Anna’s own relationship with her own children, and how with death comes life – an inevitable cycle we are all a part of. I found it to be the most thoughtful story in the collection and the one that I was moved by the most.

The other stories, while good, didn’t strike me as especially memorable and I think short story collections are subjective depending on their reader. Stancey’s style is certainly readable and effortless in its execution but I just wasn’t wowed by it, which is what I was hoping for. However, I did enjoy the similar tone that ran throughout each of the narratives; each story has a feeling of melancholia wrapped within it but simultaneously there is also a hint of hope and ambition beneath the sadness. I guess what Stancey was hoping to get across from this collection is that where there is disappointment, there is also optimism. For me however, where there were one or two memorable stories in this collection, the rest were simply okay.

My copy of The Madonna of the Pool was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review originally appeared on their website.

Overall rating: 2 stars

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Mid Year Update

It's a little hard to believe but we're already a little over halfway through the year - 2017 is flying by, guys! Summer has hit and it felt like February was only last month, but in light of having hit the mid-way point in the year I thought I would do a little update to see how my reading has been going so far this year.


My GoodReads goal for 2017 is to read 40 books. I've had this same goal for the past few years but I have to say that year is going much smoother than usual. So far I've read 30 books, which puts me 10 ahead of schedule and I haven't felt under pressure once. Each year I read a little more than the last but this year I feel like I'm on a roll! I've made more time for reading without it feeling strenuous and I'm really pleased with the mount of books I've read so far.


It's not very often I give a book five stars. I only give them primarily to books that earn a spot on my list of absolute favourites, and new favourite books don't pop up very often. The only book I've awarded five stars to so far this is Pride and Prejudice and that was a re-read back in February. I've had a few very good reads but nothing that's completely blown me away and left me thinking about it weeks after. But here are some of the books I have really enjoyed so far this year:

  • Shelter by Jung Yun
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  • The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Whether any of these will end up on my list of favourite reads of the year in December only time will tell. There's still six month left of the year to read some more amazing books. 


There's one book I've been waiting what feel like the better part of a year to be released and in July it's finally out in the U.K. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is undoubtedly my most anticipated read of the year - I've been so pumped about it I even pre-ordered it on Amazon and I'm so excited that it's release date it nearly here! It's a different to her usual novels set in Ancient Rome or Renaissance Italy in that it's a WWII drama than spans two different timelines, but I've no doubt it'll have Quinn's signature style all over it.


Looking over my 2017 Reading Goals I feel like I'm doing pretty well with the challenges I've set myself: I've been reading short stories, some non-fiction, and even translated works. My reading has definitely developed and I'm reading on a wider scope now than I ever have before. Monthly TBR's aren't something I always set myself/stick to but there are a few books I would like to get to by the end of the year:

  • Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  • The Muse by Jessie Burton
  • For The Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser
  • The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis
Ideally I'd like to get through all of the books on my physical TBR, but it's important to be realistic, right? If I manage to get to these four by the end of the year I'll be pleased. 


So there we go - my mid-year reading update. I think my reading this year has gone pretty well so far. How's your reading going? Have you read or are planning to read any of the books I've mentioned?

Happy reading, book lovers!

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