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Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Ten Steps to Us by Attiya Khan

About the book

What if you met the boy of your dreams but loving him was forbidden? Aisha Rashid is used to being invisible or bullied and overshadowed by best friend Isabelle. So no one is more surprised than her when Darren Brady, the hot new boy in school, takes an interest in her and not Isabelle. But Aisha is a devout hijab-wearing Muslim and Darren is off limits. Does she follow her heart even if it means losing her own identity? And is Darren really all that he seems? If only there was a way she could keep the boy and her faith. Maybe there is a way? All it takes are ten steps…

My review

This was a read-in-one-sitting book for me. A wonderful balance of YA escapism, conflict, and a thoughtful, nuanced portrayal of Aisha’s thoughts, feelings, and struggles as a teenage Muslim girl. It’s hard to watch Aisha’s struggle between her beliefs and her feelings, particularly because it’s painfully evident how torn she is. It’s clear how important her faith is to her – but how can she ignore the very natural feelings she’s experiencing? Told by Attiya Khan with sensitivity, lots of humour (and some mouth-watering descriptions of food), Ten Steps to Us is a rounded exploration of faith, love, and self-discovery.

I was surprised at how abruptly it ended – I would have loved to carry on delving into Aisha’s life and discover the path she chooses for herself. The ending was perfectly set up for a sequel, so fingers crossed…  

Many thanks to Literally PR and Hashtag Press for having me on this blog tour!

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Blog Tours Book Reviews

No Number Nine: Blog Tour

About the book

What do you do when your amazing, beloved sister dies?

Hide in your room for two years.

Sleep with a very, very wrong man.

Leave home and start a new life, lying to everyone you meet including your kind employer, your curious friends and the man you love?

Pip Mitchell’s an expert at making seriously bad decisions. But when her past, present and future collide at the Sydney Olympic Games, she’s going to have to decide whose side she’s on – or she’ll lose everyone she loves.

My review

My predominant feeling reading this was that I just wanted to reach into the book and give Pip a big hug. F.J. Campbell writes about grieving with so much poignance and sensitivity, delving into its complexity and often-unexpected effects. Pip’s raw emotion makes reading No Number Nine feel very emotionally intimate; very much a journey the reader is on with her.

Although there are some heavy themes in the book, it’s an incredibly moreish read filled with humour and some great characters. Billy and Nadine were my favourites: two characters whose light, hilarious charisma radiates from the pages. Pip is a wonderful protagonist to follow because she’s complex, flawed, and grows so much as the story unfolds. I also enjoyed the central romance of the book, particularly because it didn’t dominate the story, but felt like a natural part of it.

Thanks to the story and characters, I ended up being much more absorbed by the hockey/Olympics theme than I expected. The Munich setting was also fun to be in, not least because going abroad feels like a distant memory thanks to COVID!

Thank you to F.J. Campbell and Literally PR for asking me to be on this blog tour!

Purchase links

Hive | Amazon

Follow F J Campbell

Twitter: @fj_campbell

Instagram: @fjcampbell_author

Website: www.fjcampbell.net

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Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Would I Lie to You? By Aliya Ali-Afzal

About the book

At the school gates, Faiza fits in. It took a few years, but now the snobbish mothers who mistook her for the nanny treat her as one of their own. She’s learned to crack their subtle codes, speak their language of handbags and haircuts and discreet silver watches. You’d never guess, at the glamorous kids’ parties and the leisurely coffee mornings, that Faiza’s childhood was spent following her parents round the Tooting Cash ‘n’ Carry.

When her husband Tom loses his job in finance, he stays calm. Something will come along, and in the meantime, they can live off their savings. But Faiza starts to unravel. Raising the perfect family comes at a cost – and the money Tom put aside has gone. When Tom’s redundancy package ends, Faiza will have to tell him she’s spent it all.

Unless she doesn’t…

It only takes a second to lie to Tom. Now Faiza has six weeks to find £75,000 before her lie spirals out of control. If anyone can do it, Faiza can: she’s had to fight for what she has, and she’ll fight to keep it. But as the clock ticks down, and Faiza desperately tries to put things right, she has to ask herself: how much more should she sacrifice to protect her family?

My review

I don’t normally go in for ratings, but this was a 5-star read through and through. My adrenaline levels were so high while reading that I had to keep taking breaks to calm down despite being insanely impatient to find out what happened next.

There are few of us who can’t relate to the panic of a small, seemingly harmless lie ballooning out of proportion (although hopefully not to Faiza’s level!). Aliya Ali-Afzal demonstrates its domino effect so eloquently: the way one lie trickles down to another, the denial, the sickening anxiety.

I enjoyed how honest this book was. Money is a subject so frequently viewed as taboo – or at least uncomfortable – and it was refreshing to read a first-hand account showing the effects of how damaging lifestyle inflation, the pressure of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, and simply not being taught how to manage money can be.

Woven through the story is Faiza’s experience and perspective as a British Pakistani woman with biracial children. As a Brit with mixed Asian/white heritage, I felt familiarity with experiencing a split cultural identity and microaggressions just subtle enough to make objections appear unreasonable.

Although Faiza’s decisions often made me feel like screaming into the pages, I still found her a sympathetic character. The pressure she felt to fit in with the yummy mummy culture around her was powerfully illustrated, and the reasons behind her choices were explored with a lot of nuance.

All in all, a zinger of a book that balances heart-pounding suspense with themes that are impactful and thought-provoking.

Author Bio

Aliya Ali-Afzal has a degree in Russian and German from University College London, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is an Alum of the Curtis Brown Creative Novel Writing course.

Aliya worked as a City head-hunter, before retraining as an MBA career coach. She has always lived in London, since moving there from Pakistan as a young child, but has also spent time in Russia (both pre- and post-Perestroika), Germany, Amsterdam, and Cairo.

Her debut novel, Would I Lie to You? was longlisted for The Bath Novel Award and The Mslexia Novel award.

Her work in progress, The Funeral Book, was longlisted for The Mo Prize Hachette UK, and is about 24-year-old Zara, who is planning a wedding at the same time as her beloved 90-year-old granny is planning her funeral.

Purchase links

Waterstones | Bookshop.org | Hive | Amazon 

Follow Aliya Ali-Afzal

Twitter: @AAAiswriting

Instagram: @aliyaaliafzalauthor

Follow Head of Zeus

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

Instagram: @headofzeus

Website: www.headofzeus.com

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Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Just One More Thing by Dom Haslam

About the book

The partner we no longer trust, the boss we fear, the family member we cannot tolerate. Stories exploring the psychological effect of modern life: a pregnant mother becomes convinced her husband is having an affair and will stop at nothing to get to the truth; a married man is drawn inexorably towards temptation, despite knowing it could cost him his family; a quiet man absorbs increasing pressure and stress, with devastating consequences. Ordinary people count the cost of ‘just one more thing’.

My review

There’s something voyeuristic about this short story collection. I felt as though I was eavesdropping on the characters’ thoughts and conversations, peering through their windows into their lives. Each story pulses with tension and raw honesty, revealing the often-ugly effects of modern life’s pressures. They leave you wanting more but never give too much, always stopping at a point that achieves the most impact. The collection isn’t comfortable to read. It deals with challenging emotions and actions. It looks at Brexit, COVID, social media, politics, and racism in everyday life. It’s a bold and unapologetic examination of life today, forcing us to confront what and who we might be under the surface.  

Author bio

In between his day job, bringing up three children, being run off his feet by a crazy cocker spaniel, listening to Mozart’s D minor piano concerto, perfecting the art of homemade pizzas and studying Ordnance Survey maps of the Yorkshire Moors, Dom likes to write. Dom lives in the fantastic town of Ilkley in Yorkshire, having arrived there via Bedford, Nottingham and London. Dom has written two books, So Long, Marianne, a romantic fiction, and Just One More Thing, a book of short stories about greed, obsession and fear.

Purchase links

Amazon | Waterstones

Follow Dom Haslam

Twitter: @DomHaslam

Instagram: @domhaslambooks

Website: www.domhaslambooks.com

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Twitter: @LoveBooksGroup

Instagram: @kellysloveofbooks

Website: https://lovebooksgroup.com/

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Book Reviews

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

This collection of short stories is both a puzzle and a totally riveting read. Each story is a keyhole glance into the life of a well-known figure before they were famous – or infamous. Their identity is never explicitly stated – it’s our job to figure it out. Some characters I twigged quickly; others took the help of Google for me to work out. I ended up going down a fair few Wikipedia rabbit holes to find out more!

Simon Van der Velde has a chameleon-like ability to inhabit a range of very distinct voices. Each snapshot of the characters’ lives gives an insight into their inner workings and crackles with a unique energy. Sometimes funny, sometimes chilling, always captivating, this original, interactive collection makes a lasting impression.

Thank you to Simon Van der Velde for the review copy! 30% of profits from the sale of Backstories will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth. Scroll down for purchase links if you want to grab a copy and start working out who’s who…

Follow Simon Van der Velde

Twitter: @SimonVdVwriter

Instagram: @simonvdvwriter

Website: www.simonvandervelde.com

Purchase links

Amazon | Waterstones

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Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: Into the Fire by Rachael Blok

About the book

Eleven guests. Three nights. One murderer.

In a crumbling old mansion in the English countryside, eleven people gather, each one famous in their field. They have been invited for a three-day house party, to celebrate the launch of a groundbreaking virtual reality game that promises to unite the worlds of technology, politics and the environment.

DCI Maarten Jansen has been summoned to join the house party. His instructions are to offer police protection in case of an outside attack. Instead, he finds simmering tensions, long-buried secrets – and a murderer in their midst…

My review

This book was straight up addictive. Packed across three tense days, it jumps between height of the crisis and the build-up. The chapters are short and suspenseful, divided into the perspectives of Maarten, Filip, Lois, and Iqbal. There is a sense of watching each scene through a smudged magnifying glass. I felt simultaneously imbued with the heightening tension between the characters and kept at arm’s length from the truth simmering beneath them – right up until the last moment.

The secluded countryside mansion setting adds a layer of claustrophobia to the taut atmosphere. The threads binding the guests together wind tighter with each conversation. Each page vibrates with energy. Rachael Blok’s writing has an urgency that keeps the reader almost stumbling in excitement to read the next sentence.

Into the Fire hits that spot between a totally unputdownable mystery and a fascinating delve into human emotion and relationships. It totally engrossed me and gave me a much-needed shake from my lockdown lethargy.

Thank you to Midas PR and Head of Zeus for having me on the blog tour!

Follow Rachael Blok

Twitter: @MsRachaelBlok

Instagram: @r__blok

Website: www.rachaelblok.com

Follow Head of Zeus

Twitter: @HoZ_Books

Instagram: @headofzeus

Website: www.headofzeus.com

Follow Midas PR

Instagram @midaspublicrelations

Twitter: @midaspr

Website: www.midaspr.co.uk

Purchase links:

Waterstones | Hive | Blackwell’s | Amazon | Kobo

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Book Reviews

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson

About the book

Review

Following Jared as he learns to navigate the world as a bot with emotions was 10/10, a delightful experience. Imbued with humour and pathos, the book made me both frequently laugh out loud and tear up. The split structure of novel and screenplay adds another layer to Jared’s understanding of the world around him, and made for an original and enjoyable read. 


Jared’s joy in the most mundane of experiences is infectious; I found myself becoming aware of those small, ever so human moments in life that usually brush by unnoticed. The book is also a love letter to old movies, which are important companions to Jared’s emotional awakening. I loved the emphasis on the incredible role art – in any form – plays in developing empathy. The way it enables us to fall into thousands of different lives and feelings. Sometimes they’re completely removed from our own experiences, but we’re always left with a new perspective, a new understanding of someone’s journey through life. And this book was a powerful reminder of that. 


Set My Heart To Five gifts the reader with a fresh appreciation for the unique adventure of being human. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, and the storyline is addictive. A breathtaking book I absolutely recommend. 

Thank you so much to Midas PR and 4th Estate Books for having me on the blog tour for Set My Heart To Five!

Purchase links

Bookshop.org

Hive

Waterstones

Amazon

Follow Simon Stephenson

Twitter: @TheSimonBot

Website: www.simonstephenson.com/

Follow 4th Estate Books

Twitter: @4thEstateBooks

Instagram: @4thestatebooks

Facebook: 4th Estate Books

Website: www.4thestate.co.uk/

Follow Midas PR

Twitter: @MidasPR

Instagram: @midaspublicrelations

Website: www.midaspr.co.uk

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Book Reviews

You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes

This was a read-in-one-sitting book: urgent, unpredictable, riveting. Joe Goldberg is back, and he’s ready for a new home, a new family – a new love. He might be trying to be a better man, but he’s still Joe. Once again, we’re plugged into his chilling, twisted mind, and Caroline Kepnes makes us enjoy every second of it.

This book kept me guessing the whole way. I was initially worried that another Joe obsession might be too stale or repetitive, but the plot was fresh and surprising. There were plenty of new challenges for Joe to overcome. I found it more tightly constructed than Hidden Bodies, and there were some character additions I really enjoyed. I was completely unable to predict the ending.

As far as I can tell from the available info, the next season of YOU is going to pan out pretty differently to You Love Me. The book has set a high bar, but I’m very curious to see what path the TV series takes Joe (and Love) down.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC! You Love Me was another book on my list of highly anticipated 2021 reads, so I was ecstatic to get my hands on it! 

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Book Reviews

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Other Black Girl for months. It’s been all over social media and it was on my own can’t-wait-to-read-in-2021 list, so I nearly died of excitement when I got approved for it on NetGalley. It lived up to the hype. It was very topical: a searing, honest look into the issues within the publishing industry. It was also an incredibly unique thriller with a sinister spin on its social commentary.  

Zakiya Dalila Harris’ candidly illustrated Nella’s experience of being a Black woman in the very white publishing industry. Both the overarching issues and the details were perfectly executed. The book demonstrated just how difficult it can be for Black employees to voice issues with racism in the workplace for fear of how it might affect their careers. How can a company claim to promote diversity if their Black and marginalised employees face backlash for speaking out? It’s easy to see how someone starting their career might feel they have to stay silent.

The Other Black Girl explored some very relevant themes while pulling the reader through its dark plot at the speed of light. There were so many twists and turns; I stayed up reading late into the night. Without giving too much away, the ending was a shock. This book is going to provoke even more much-needed discussion after its release, and I can’t wait for it!

Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC!

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Book Reviews

Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave

This was one of my TBRs that I was especially excited for – with good reason!

Simran Mehta, an Indian-American woman, is studying Psychology at grad school. She’s had a book published and she’s engaged to her high school sweetheart Kunal, a future doctor. Her life is in order – until she meets Neil, a successful newspaper columnist.

The book also follows Simran’s mother Nandini and her grandmother Mimi. Although the primary story is Simran’s, I loved that this book was an intergenerational tale. Nandini and Mimi’s voices and journeys really fleshed out the novel and helped paint a cohesive picture of the pressures and issues many Indian women face today.

Saumya Dave explores some great themes: family, love, courage, race, identity.  I liked the emphasis on mother-daughter relationships, particularly within Indian culture. Both familial and romantic relationships form the centre of the book, but at its core the focus is on the characters’ personal journeys.

Simran’s family have high expectations and place a lot of pressure on her. It was interesting how multi-layered this was: Nandini’s expectations of Simran damage her, just as Nandini has been damaged by the expectations of her own family and peers. Watching them both fight to realise then follow their own desires and paths really emphasised just how difficult it can be.

As a half-Indian British woman, I found some of the themes surrounding Indian culture familiar. I liked reading about Simran’s experience in the U.S. It made me think about how the experiences of first or second-gen immigrants from the same country might differ, depending on the location they ended up in.

I really enjoyed this wonderful debut by Saumya Dave, and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the future!

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Art

Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting by Jesse M. Locker

I’ve mentioned Artemisia Gentileschi enough on my Bookstagram and blog, so it’s about time this book got a review! To begin with, it’s a gorgeous book: it has some stunning illustrations and the pages are thick and glossy. The cover exhibits a beautiful painting of Artemisia by Simon Vouet. 

Artemisia Gentileschi has exploded into fame over the past few years. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, she’s been the subject of plays, TV, and a whole host of other media. The Artemisia exhibition at the National Gallery has contributed to this significantly, bringing together a collection of her best-known work. She’s become an art history celebrity.

However, the focus tends to be on the traumatic events in her personal life: her father’s friend, Agostino Tassi, raping her, and the trial that followed, where she was subjected to torture. While these events would undoubtedly have had a significant influence on her art, they do not define it. This tunnel vision is something Jesse M. Locker warns against, citing the issues with interpreting her work only through the lens of her trauma. He points out that early sources do not mention the rape: it wasn’t the focus when her works were initially received.

The book focuses on Artemisia’s life and art from the 1620s onwards. Artemisia was only semi-literate, but Locker unearths numerous sources referencing poetry by Neapolitan poets who knew Artemisia. The poems were full of praise for her and marked her out as a figure sitting in the heart of political and cultural power in Naples. Locker examines Artemisia’s reception in Venice, Rome, Naples, and Florence through both visual and literary evidence. It seems that she had close relationships with multiple leading cultural figures during her career. While her level of literacy wasn’t advanced, she was still well-educated through other avenues. The time she spent at the academies was most essential to her artistic development. Also much emphasised is the significance of the oral tradition in Baroque culture, which translated to Artemisia’s paintings.

The penultimate chapter observes the line between Artemisia’s true self and her self-portraits, where she dons multiple disguises as various figures and personas. The book ends with a chapter on Artemisia’s 18th century biographers, mainly discussing the artist Averardo de Medici’s biography on her, which seemed to be unaware of her rape and personal background.

This book was a detailed, nuanced, and fascinating exploration and analysis of Artemisia’s life and work. I learnt so much reading it and recommend it 1000%. The book is now out in paperback for those who want to nab it! I’d also highly recommend Jesse M. Locker’s article on ‘Artemisia’s Fame, Present, and Past.’

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Book Reviews

Blog Tour: American Traitor by Brad Taylor

About the book

An enemy is dangerous. A traitor is lethal. They call them the Taskforce. Designed to operate outside the bounds of law, trained to exist on the ragged edge of human capability, their existence is as essential as it is illegal. Recruited from top operators in the intelligence spheres and led by ex-Special Forces Operator Pike Logan, they’re a formidable unit. Prepared for anything. And they need to be. Whilst aiding an ex-Taskforce member on the run from Chinese agents, Logan uncovers a plan to bait Taiwan into all-out war by destabilising their government and manipulating their artificial intelligence-controlled defence system. With the threat of conflict reaching boiling point, Logan alone realises that all is not what it seems. For a man used to confronting his enemy in close-quarters combat, he faces a dilemma: how do you defeat an enemy that you can’t see? Read the latest book in the electrifying Taskforce thrillers from New York Times bestselling author and former Special Forces Officer Brad Taylor

My review

I ventured into new territory with this book since its subject isn’t one I’m well-versed in. However, one of my resolutions this year was to expand my reading repertoire – and I’m so glad I did! American Traitor was exactly what I needed to inject some excitement into a January lockdown filled with grey skies and apathy.

Brad Taylor doesn’t waste any time. He pulls the reader in right away, and the plot is fast paced from the get-go. An action-packed page turner that kept me reading late into the night, it was also very informative. I learnt a lot about China’s relationship with the West. The book deals with complex issues, but the clear explanations make them both easily digestible and interesting.

The book is written from variety of perspectives. There’s an interesting mix of first person for Pike, the protagonist, and third person for surrounding characters. This really fleshes out the novel and allows readers to understand the feelings and motivations of other characters, while keeping the focus on Pike. Reading the opposing POVs of both Pike and the antagonists gives the whole reading experience an edge, particularly during a chase!

Pike Logan is a fascinating hero. Like steel forged in fire, he’s strong and adaptable, converting his emotion and hot temper into cool-headed action. I especially loved his relationship with Amena, the Syrian refugee he rescued then adopted.

American Traitor is unflinching. Taylor is unafraid to show the violence of reality; he doesn’t wrap his readers in cotton wool. Part of what makes the book so absorbing is how close to home it feels, even for those who aren’t that familiar with this particular strand of foreign affairs. Having read this book, I certainly feel encouraged to do more research into them.

I haven’t read the other books in the Taskforce series, but plenty of background was given and I was able to follow the story and understand what was going on. I’m definitely planning to pick up the other books in the series! I absolutely recommend American Traitor – it’s a great read both for a dull winter and every season in-between. 

A huge thanks to Aries Fiction for having me on the blog tour!

About the author

Brad Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of the Taskforce series, with nearly 3 million copies sold. He channels his decades of experience as a Special Forces Commander in the US army into his thrillers. In the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta, Taylor commanded multiple troops, a squadron and conducted operations in classified locations. Now he lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife and two daughters.

Purchase links

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3hPLisQ

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/american-traitor/brad-taylor/9781838937751

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/414/9781838937751

Follow Brad

Twitter: @BradTaylorBooks

Facebook: bradtaylorbooks

Website: www.bradtaylorbooks.com

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: https://www.headofzeus.com

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Book Reviews

Selected Poems by Kamala Das

Kamala Das is one of my favourite poets of all time. Her writing dives deep into themes of female sexuality and pain, into the haunting Indian landscape, and her identity as an Indian woman. Born in Kerala in 1934, Das was a trailblazer and one of the first Indian women to write with such boldness and honesty about sex.

Her poems on love and sex slide back and forth between the hazy line separating love and lust. They are sensual and evocative but pulse at the core with pain. Her vivid descriptions of India invite the reader to sip from the glass of Calcutta’s April sun and stand under Bombay’s yellow moon.

Reading a Kamala Das poem evokes more than empathy; she makes you climb through each searing word she writes and truly absorb her emotion and experience. Her style is brazen, clear, and uncluttered. If the emotional weight of each poem hadn’t forced me to sit back and allow the intensity to bleed out before I moved on to the next, I would have inhaled the lot in a sitting.

The introduction by Devindra Kohli takes up a good third of the book, and is a fascinating exploration of Kamala Das’ life. I especially recommend the poems Glass, In Love, and Summer in Calcutta.

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Book Reviews

A Perfect Paris Christmas by Mandy Baggot

A Perfect Paris Christmas was the second book I won in @tangentsbb and @ariafiction‘s giveaway! What better setting for an atmospheric Christmas than the streets of Paris?

Keeley has received an offer that most people would kill for: the opportunity to spend two weeks in Paris, all expenses paid. The only thing is, it comes from the mother of the woman who donated her kidney so that Keeley could live. Still grieving from the loss of her sister, Keeley has a choice: to hide from her fears, or face them. When she meets Ethan, a handsome French hotel owner, maybe she’ll discover that facing them isn’t as scary as she anticipated…

Another brilliant Christmas romance from Mandy Baggot, and I enjoyed it just as much as the last one. At a point in time where travel feels like a distant memory, living vicariously through Keeley wandering through all the beautiful areas of Paris was exactly what I needed. Mandy Baggot describes settings so evocatively. I really felt like I was right there rummaging for gorgeous vintage finds at Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen or walking over the cobbles of Rue des Barres. With this book you get a wonderful guide to Paris as well as an enchanting story!

I loved reading from the perspectives of both Keeley and Ethan and delving into their thoughts, feelings, and pasts. Baggot is sensitive and insightful in her exploration of grief, loss and healing.

I really enjoyed this moving and original novel, and would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for their perfect Christmas read.

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Book Reviews

One Christmas Star by Mandy Baggot

I was so excited to win this book (and A Perfect Paris Christmas) in @tangentsbb and @ariafiction‘s giveaway! It’s been a rough year for everyone, and this book provides the heartwarming, festive, and very timely escapism we all need.

Set in London, the novel’s heroine is schoolteacher Emily, who’s having a Christmas nightmare. Her flatmate’s moved out and she’s been charged with writing the school Christmas musical despite being no virtuoso. Meeting disgraced superstar Ray in an unlikely encounter could be the answer to all her problems with the show – and with her own heartbreak.

I loved Emily, a protagonist who is quirky, interesting, and easy to root for. It’s wonderful to see how much she cares for her pupils, who are all written with individuality and nuance. I especially enjoyed Emily’s vintage obsession (as a fellow vintage fanatic)!

Mandy Baggot also explores serious issues such as grief, loss, abuse, and alcoholism. These themes sit perfectly at the heart of the novel, giving it gravity while not displacing its lighthearted atmosphere.

The end result is a book with a perfect blend of warmth, humour, and depth.

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Book Reviews

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

The cover of this book is so stunning that despite the novel winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction, I wondered if the content could live up to the exterior. Naturally, this turned out to be a completely unfounded fear. The novel is based on the short life of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, but focuses on the playwright’s wife Agnes (more commonly known as Anne Hathaway). Shakespeare himself is unnamed throughout the book. It’s an incredibly heartbreaking story of grief, loss, and mourning.

The world O’Farrell constructs is uniquely bewitching, entwining the earthiness of 16th-century Stratford-upon-Avon with Agnes’ ethereality. The author’s immersive language recalls the era the book is set in, but avoids being dull or stodgy. Instead, it has a poetic clarity, skilfully binding the plot together and inviting the reader to follow. The plot itself is not fast-paced; the focus is on the emotions of Hamnet’s mother, his twin Judith, and even – before his death – his own.

The book jumps between two points in time. One is Agnes and Shakespeare’s meeting and marriage. The other is Hamnet’s death and its aftermath. The hope of the earlier story contrasted against the anguish of the latter is almost unbearable to read. Agnes is the antithesis to her bookish husband, her world rooted in plants, herbs, and animals. She possesses unusual insight and intuition. But Death throws red herrings in her path, evades her sixth sense, and steals her son away.

I didn’t anticipate how thoroughly this book would rip my heart out. O’Farrell dives into the pain of loss and pulls the reader under the surface with her. I would recommend Hamnet to absolutely everyone, but be warned: it is not light reading.

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Book Reviews

Medici ~ Supremacy: 2 (Masters of Florence)

It’s 1469, 13 years since the end of Ascendancy (Book 1), and Lorenzo, Piero de Medici’s son, rules over Florence. At his side – for the time being – he has his lover Lucrezia and his friend Leonardo da Vinci. 


Although Lorenzo is the focus of the book, for me Leonardo da Vinci is the highlight. Despite the weapons he creates, Leonardo is a pacifist and insists that Lorenzo only use his designs for defence. Modern scholars actually believe he put flaws into his designs on purpose to prevent them being used for violence! I love his commitment to his principles, his refusal to be blinded by money or glory, and his drive to constantly innovate and go where no one has been before.

Lorenzo, on the other hand, is confined by his own destiny. His duty drains him of any idealism he once possessed, and his arranged marriage to the Roman Clarice Orsini spreads more unhappiness, leaving her lonely and neglected. The sack of Volterra is an utterly heartbreaking chapter, and shows how power can corrupt even the best of intentions. 


Laura Ricci from the previous book reprises her antagonistic role. Although Strukul sparked sympathy for her in Ascendancy, any compassion I once felt for her completely dissipates once she sexually abuses her son. 
As before, Strukul brings each character and scene to life with floods of colour and excitement. I had to keep Googling certain scenes to check if they had really happened – and they had! It’s such a wonderfully rich and fascinating time in history that I am now determined to pick up some non-fiction on it. 

I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Medici ~ Legacy, the third book of the series, which will be out in August 2021 (see my list of Top 10 Books I Can’t Wait For in 2021!) It will concentrate on Catherine de Medici – the most intriguing character of all – and promises to be an exciting dive into her life.

Categories
Book Reviews

New York City in 1979 by Kathy Acker

I picked this compact book up right after seeing the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate in October, and read it on the train home. It was a perfect digestif following the exhibition, adding even more colour and context to what I’d just seen. I’ve never been to New York and I wasn’t alive in the 1970s, but reading this somehow made me nostalgic for both the city and the decade.

Acker’s prose is both dreamlike and visceral, interlaced with black-and-white photographs scattered through the book. I felt like I was peering into 1979 New York City through a slightly smudged camera lens. The first page opens with: ‘SEXUAL DESIRE IS THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD’. It’s an attention-grabbing start, followed by a wonderfully candid first chapter ‘The Whores In Jail At Night.’ The chapter is dialogue alone, eavesdropping on the sex workers’ incredibly blunt conversation. Later on there is a detailed description of an old woman’s vagina: ‘Old women just cause they’re old and no man’ll fuck them don’t stop wanting sex.’

More than simply a passive gaze at New York’s underground, the book is political too. New York City is a pithole, says Acker. The United States government rains down anti-rent control laws and refuses the city Federal funds. A far cry from today, it describes an NYC abandoned by the rich and inhabited by those with a lower income. The only constant is the artists, who were there then and are there now.

I enjoyed this book massively. I’ve seen some criticism of its short length, and disappointment that it isn’t a meatier dive into 1979 NYC. Although I would have happily read many pages more, I think the length is perfect considering its style. The book is a snapshot, full of frozen in time dialogue and streams of consciousness. It gives you an unvarnished glimpse of the city and entices you to find out more.

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Book Reviews

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other spans over a hundred years, following the stories of twelve interlinked Black British women. For most people, this would be an impossible feat ending in a collapsed and hopelessly messy structure, but Bernardine Evaristo isn’t most people. She spins each story from the finest threads and deftly weaves them together.

A Booker Prize winner (2019), this book has deservedly had a lot of hype. There are countless reviews of it out there, but I absolutely had to add my own because this book: wow.

With its fragmented sentence structure and lack of capital letters and full stops, the book is almost like poetry. Adopting such a writing style along with the complex plot is a risky choice, but Evaristo more than pulls it off. My thought pattern quickly started to echo the style of the book, and that’s when you know a book’s got under your skin.

I was captured by the glimpses into each character’s story. Every time a character’s section ended and we moved onto the next one, I’d wish their particular story could have carried on for the rest of the book. That is, until I’d swiftly become grasped by the next character and their life.

Evaristo covers an impressive range of themes. Race, gender, friendships, and relationships are at the forefront, set against a background of today’s Britain seen from twelve very different perspectives. While we may only visit each character for a short time, each theme is explored in great depth and with such variety that you could almost imagine each character was written by a different author.

This book is important. It is a total must-read and I’m jealous of anyone who still has yet to read it for the first time!

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Book Reviews

Scottish Fairy Tales retold by Philip Wilson

Rediscovering books I loved as a child is such a wonderful feeling. Fairy tales are a staple of everyone’s childhood. There are always beautiful princesses, jealous stepmothers and a heady dose of magic, but every culture gives such a unique twist to them.

This book of Scottish Fairy Tales doesn’t shy away from darkness, including a fair share of poisoning and murder. But the stories are heartwarming too, particularly the ones where siblings defy being pitted against each other and are instead supportive and loving.

Every single tale is enchanting. The illustrations are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and drape the words in a bewitchingly magical atmosphere. I enjoyed it now as much as I did when I was a child – this has definitely inspired me to pick up some more forgotten childhood books!