Where Ideas Grow

A blog for students of creative writing at York St John University

What the Editors Read in May

Firstly, we’re so sorry for the late blog post! May has been an incredibly busy month for the team. From journeying to the idyllic hills of Grasmere, to the launch event for York Literary Review 2024, to the creation of our very own publishing press (Astrea Publishing!) – May has been a very special month.

Yet, in the midst of it all, we spent our quiet time with our noses in a book. Scroll down to see what we’ve been reading during these busy, exciting times…


‘People of Abandoned Character’ by Clare Whitfield

Genre/category: Historical fiction 

Page count (including epilogue + acknowledgments): 419

Synopsis: ‘London, 1888. Susannah rushes into marriage to a young and wealthy surgeon. After a passionate honeymoon, she returns home with her new husband wrapped around her little finger. But then everything changes. His behaviour becomes increasingly volatile and violent. He stays out all night, returning home bloodied and full of secrets.

Lonely and frustrated, Susannah starts following the gruesome reports of a spate of murders in Whitechapel. But as the killings continue, her mind takes her down the darkest path imaginable. Every time he stays out late, another victim is found dead. Is it coincidence? Or is her husband the man the papers call Jack the Ripper?’ – Waterstones

Personal rating of content: 4/5 


  • Very clear research went into this novel. It was obvious that Whitfield knew a lot about the Jack the Ripper cases. The foundational research added to my immersion of the setting.
  • Engaging voice. Low-plot moments weren’t boring and high-plot moments weren’t overwhelming. An easy read regardless of its heavy topics.
  • Whitfield gave each victim a chapter of their own to humanise them. I thought this was incredibly powerful. 
  • The protagonist, Susannah, is very fleshed out. You get to know her very well throughout the story. 
  • The plot-peak was dramatic and well-paced. (No spoilers though!)


  • Whilst Whitfield did a good job at making particular characters despicable and easy to hate, there were no characters in the book that I absolutely loved. I didn’t really care for anyone. The protagonist could have died and I wouldn’t have been too bothered.
  • I found the way Mary Kelly’s murder was written to be a bit distasteful. 
  • The end seemed to drag on for longer than it needed to. It also became graphic and gory to the point of absurdity. I understand that the book is about Jack the Ripper, but it seemed to go on for far too long. It didn’t need a 5-6 page moment haha.

Personal rating of cover: 4/5 

I think it’s pretty! It reflects the content well too. 

Favourite Quote: ‘It was better to be ignorant of something than to be painfully conscious of what I lacked. I was happier when I didn’t understand I was lonely.’ – p.39

Would I recommend?: 

Yes, but not for the faint of heart. This book contains mention of physical/emotional/sexual abuse and graphic murder. 


‘Book Lovers’ by Emily Henry

Genre/category: Romance

Page count (including epilogue and acknowledgments): 377

Synopsis:  ‘One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…

Nora is a cut-throat literary agent at the top of her game. Her whole life is books. Charlie is an editor with a gift for creating bestsellers. And he’s Nora’s work nemesis.

Nora has been through enough break-ups to know she’s the woman men date before they find their happy-ever-after. That’s why Nora’s sister has persuaded her to swap her desk in the city for a month’s holiday in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina. It’s a small town straight out of a romance novel, but instead of meeting sexy lumberjacks, handsome doctors or cute bartenders, Nora keeps bumping into… Charlie.

She’s no heroine. He’s no hero. So can they take a page out of an entirely different book?’ – Waterstones

Personal rating of content: 4/5


This was a very enjoyable read, and it felt like I was watching a rom-com while reading it. The main character, Nora, was very different to other protagonists I’ve read about, and that was done in a good way. She was a very cold, ambitious, and distant literary agent, which was super interesting to read about. That gave the book a sense of difference in regard to others in the genre, which made me enjoy it a lot. The romantic relationship is also very deep, and all the characters were very loveable.


I think I kept waiting for a very “wow” moment but that never really happened. Also, a lot of the plot points felt quite unrealistic. 

Personal rating of the cover: 7/10

It’s a cute cover that matches the style of the other books by the author.

Favourite quote: “Is there anything better than iced coffee and a bookstore on a sunny day? I mean, aside from hot coffee and a bookstore on a rainy day.” Real.

Would I recommend?: Yes! It’s a cute, summery romance read that could be enjoyed by many lovers of the genre.


Baumgartner’ by Paul Auster

Page count 202


A tender, psychologically acute short novel from the great American writer and author of The New York Trilogy that explores the inner life of a septuagenarian embarking on life without his beloved wife. (Waterstones.com)

Personal rating 



 Baumgartner is the first novel I have read by Paul Auster, and it will certainly make me read more of his work. Baumgartner tells the life of a 70-something-year-old man, in the third person, allowing us to be a fly on the wall. Baumgartner lost his wife a decade ago, in a freak accident that left a huge hole in his life. Auster’s writing is tender, beautiful, and without pretence. There are moments of humanity and humour, laced between moments of memory and sadness, as Baumgartner reflects on his life, the first time he met his late wife, new beginnings, his childhood, and everything that has led him to where he is today. I thoroughly enjoyed it, Auster’s writing is sublime. 


Since it does read as a continuous stream of consciousness (with momentary flickers that place the reader back in the current day,) it can be slightly difficult to focus at times without reflecting on your own life – yet this is the beauty of it, and I rate Baumgartner 5 stars ultimately. 

Would I recommend?

Definitely, a short novel that lets the reader experience brilliant and thoughtful characterisation and writing.

Favourite quote

Two quotes in particular affected me, and they are from early on in the book;

‘For that reason, Baumgartner has taken to ordering books that he does not need and will never open and will end up donating to the local public library for the sole purpose of spending a minute or two in Molly’s company every time she rings the doorbell to deliver one of the books.’


‘At one point toward the end of the conversation, he manages to coax something that resembles a laugh from her, and when they finally hang up, that tiny excuse of a laugh is what stays with him, for he is almost certain it will stand as the single most important thing he has accomplished all day.’


‘Starve Acre’ by Andrew Michael Hurley

Genre/category: Uncanny fiction

Page count: 241

Synopsis: Starve Acre is the story of a couple, Juliette and Richard, who move to the husband’s family home of Starve Acre in the remote Yorkshire Dales, the book collides multiple narrative, the first being their young son Ewan, who passes away early on in the narrative, before moving through the father and the mother. Richard seems to cope with Ewan’s death relatively well but Juliette does not, believing that she can feel Ewan’s presence in the house, Richard becomes concerned about his wife’s behaviour which is only accentuated when she joins a ‘cult’ of sorts in search of answers. In his quest to find answers of his own, Richard does some digging into the past of Starve Acre including that of his own family. He sets out to discover the secrets of the fabled sycamore tree in the open field where the house got its name, but is astonished at what he comes to find. 

Personal rating: 4/5


The story’s narrative is deftly handled, moving  effortlessly between the grief-soaked present of the Willoughbys, flashbacks to Ewan’s disturbed final months and half-remembered legends of bogeymen of English folklore. It gives a haunting to the novel that never makes you feel more than uncomfortable but does it beautifully. 

Hurley is amazing at describing landscape, rendering the barren countryside in sparse, precise prose. Being a poet myself, I found the way of describing what should be so little to work with harrowing and a lovely contrast to the novel thematically and atmospherically. 

I think it balances the uncanniness of it well and I admire the subtlety at which he blended the lines of fiction and reality. 


Having said that I do think the novel might have benefited from being scarier in some places rather than just unsettling, particularly towards the end after the ‘beacons’ have come on the scene. 

I think there are points where the plot does unravel a little bit in the second half  in contrast to the first half which I thought was magical. I feel some precision was lacking in parts and in a novel where we are left with more questions than answers it left me feeling cold by the end. 

Personal rating of cover: 4/5 

I think the cover is simple and very pretty and gives a lovely, uncanny piece of foreshadowing for the novel. 

Favourite quote: 

‘What you go searching for and what you find aren’t always the same thing’ 

Would I recommend? 

Absolutely, if you’re a fan of uncanny, gothic or folktale fiction, for me this is a must read. However if you are a fan of expansive pay offs were the plot is wrapped up in pretty bows, you will be left disappointed.


‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier

Genre/ category: Mystery, crime, gothic fiction

Page count (including epilogue and acknowledgments): 320 pages

Synopsis: In the bitter November wind, Mary Yellan crosses Bodmin Moor to Jamaica Inn. Her mother’s dying wish was that she take refuge there with her Aunt Patience. But when Mary arrives, the warning of the coachman echoes in her mind. Jamaica Inn has a desolate power and behind its crumbling walls, Patience is a changed woman, cowering before her brooding, violent husband.

When Mary discovers the inn’s dark secrets, the truth is more terrifying than anything she could possibly imagine and she is forced to collude in her uncle’s murderous schemes. Against her will, she finds herself powerfully attracted to her uncle’s brother, a man she dares not trust.

Jamaica Inn is a dark and gripping gothic tale that will remind readers of two other great classics, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. This was also made into a film, also called Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (Amazon)

Personal rating of the content: 4/5


  • As a HUGE du Maurier fan, Jamaica Inn did not disappoint. She is a master of storytelling, creating an atmospheric and dark version of Cornwall that transports the reader back to early 1800s England.
  • Mary Yellan, the young woman at the centre of the novel, is a strong-willed and brave protagonist, which was refreshing to read in comparison to many of the other female characters we see depicted in classics written at this time. Mary was a fantastic heroine to root for, as she represents an almost contemporary representation of female independence and resilience. 
  • Mary’s uncle, Joss, is an unpredictable, violent, hateful drunk, the perfect villain to juxtapose the moral standards of Mary. Du Maurier crafts Joss to be terrible but also very human, turning him into a fully developed and multi-faced character whose presence was always looming in the background of every scene. 
  • The plot itself was riveting to read. Based upon the criminal underbelly of Cornwall and its coastlines, Jamaica Inn explores the nocturnal activities of smugglers and wreckers in the area, an interesting aspect of our history which I didn’t previously know much about!
  • A PERFECTLY executed plot twist.
  • Whilst there is a storyline of romance, it is not the main focus of the novel at all. Du Maurier sets out to explore the deepest evils of man, of what greed and violence can do in its most chilling form- especially against women. The story tackles some heavy subject matters such as domestic abuse and mass murder, opening our eyes to what may have been the reality for a great number of women living in this period. 


  • Without giving any spoilers, I wished the end of the novel had a bit more to it. I just felt like Mary’s decision didn’t fully match with her fiery characterisation we saw throughout the story. 
  • I know I shouldn’t compare, but as fantastic as this book was, it didn’t manage to beat Rebecca for me. Although it had the same gothic undertones, Manderley and Mrs. Danvers will always hold a special place in my heart! 

Personal rating of the cover: 4/5- I like the large typography used as I think it makes the book really stand out!

Favourite quote? 

‘And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.’

Would I recommend it? ABSOLUTELY.

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