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Blog Tours Book Reviews

The Porcelain Doll by Kristen Loesch

About the book

In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land … … Rosie lived peacefully in Moscow and her mother told her fairy tales. One summer night, all that came abruptly to an end when her father and sister were gunned down. Now, Rosie’s only inheritance from her reclusive mother is a notebook full of eerie, handwritten tales, but there is another story lurking between the lines. Currently studying at Oxford University, Rosie has a fiance who knows nothing of her former life. Desperate for answers to the questions that have tormented her, Rosie returns to her homeland and uncovers a devastating family history which spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges and beyond. At the heart of those answers stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions reverberate across the century …

My review

How does one strike a balance between past and present? Is it worth the risk to delve into pain passed down from one family member to another, to uncover stories previously concealed? It’s often a Pandora’s Box that will force whoever confronts them to face a well of consequences far deeper than expected. In this case, it’s a journey you’ll want to be on.

Loesch tells this intergenerational story with skill and finesse. The book’s two storylines hit two significant points in Russian history: the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a testament to Loesch’s knowledge and dexterous storytelling that this doesn’t overwhelm the reader. I sometimes find it difficult to switch between two different timelines and storylines while reading because I feel jerked away from one and plunged into the other before I’m ready. In this book, I was so equally gripped by each strand of the story that I wanted to keep reading no matter what. They’re woven together with purpose, richly told, and yet both storylines are immersive in their own right. 

There are many special things about this book, but I especially loved the countless lines that struck me as I was reading, that I wanted to underline and come back to because they stayed with me. Loesch’s layered sentences compelled me to reread the same line over and over, ready to find something different each time.  

When I first saw The Porcelain Doll’s title, it reminded me of one of my favourite fairytales as a child: Vasilisa the Beautiful, the story of a girl and her doll (and the infamous Baba Yaga). The author names this very story in her ending note, and mentions her own lifelong interest in fairytales and myths. It was a delight to step into The Porcelain Doll’s pages, which evoke modern fairytale and Russian literature fused. 

In honour of The Porcelain Doll’s publication day – and of a story about mothers, daughters, and granddaughters – I’ve included in the photo above a doll given to me by my nonna. She’s been perched in various spots in my bedroom for so many years, so it was great fun to break her out and give her a little photoshoot. The Porcelain Doll has gifted me a striking reminder of family history carried through generations, and the weight it can carry. 

I actually discovered, thanks to this book, that under my doll’s hair there is a hole, and her head is hollow. To find out what that relates to … the book is just a click away. 

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Blog Tours Book Reviews

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

Yinka had me hooked from the first sentence with an absolutely terrific opening scene. It’s thematically rich, full of warmth, and just the right amount of playfulness. It deals with friendship, family relationships and tensions, cultural identity, colourism, self-love – and being a singleton, which has lead to comparisons with Bridget Jones’s Diary. There are certain similarities, but Yinka is very much her own distinct character (although both heroines are doled out similar amounts of cringeable moments).

I love a book with a strong sense of place, and Yinka squarely delivered with some evocative descriptions of Peckham, while also touching on the subject of gentrification.

I really appreciated the messages in this book, particularly the reminder that life is a constant journey with its heights and its dips; that it isn’t linear, to be tied up neatly with a bow. And wouldn’t it be boring if it were?

On a lighter note, the sprinkles of Yinka’s Google search history and written notes really made me laugh. There’s an excellent balance of depth and humour in this book, and it makes it a joy to read.

Thank you to Nataka Books for hosting this blog tour, and thank you Viking and Penguin for the ARC!

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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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Book Reviews

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

I’m so excited to review this book because I love love loved it!

The book follows Queenie, a 25-year-old journalist, around her life in London where she struggles with mental health, racial, sexual, romantic, and friendship issues. Sound like a lot? It is, but one of the best things about this book is that it’s not afraid to explore very real problems that many people go through.

Some people have criticised Queenie’s decisions and found the book hard to get on with because of that. Certainly, it can be difficult watching a character you’ve become attached to act self-destructively, but don’t we all sometimes? Having made many a self-destructive choice in my life, I enjoyed going through Queenie’s journey and emerging on the other side with her. A book where a character acts perfectly holds far less interest than one where they are flawed, but trying.

I found Queenie’s experience with therapy especially moving. Therapy can be a very harrowing thing to go through, and Carty-Williams articulates it so eloquently. This book manages to expertly explore so many different themes, one of the most significant being what it’s like to be a Black British woman living in London. There’s a scene that many POC will find all too familiar: Queenie’s boyfriend’s family member says a racial slur, and everyone acts like Queenie is unreasonable for being offended. Carty-Williams is excellent at subtly yet powerfully putting to paper Queenie’s experience as a Black woman.

In a time where a record number of young people struggle with mental health issues and POC are only starting to really be heard, this book is essential. It tells us that we are not alone and we’re not the only ones going through it all.

I’m now joining about a billion other people (including the British Book Awards) in saying: if you haven’t read this book already, READ IT!

Also – especial shout-out to Kyazike, best character in the book!