The No-Show by Beth O'Leary - published today

Happy Publication Day | The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

Happy publication day to The No-Show by Beth O’Leary!

I’m a big Beth O’Leary fan, and her latest book is no exception. Three women are all stood up by the same enigmtic Joseph Carter on Valentine’s Day – and over the course of the novel, we begin to understand why. The characters are a fully fleshed-out and authentic cast, and although there are some darker turns that the story takes, it’s told with O’Leary’s trademark warmth and compassion.

I went on an ARC requesting spree… 4 new releases

Well, I clearly have no self-control. Despite the growing pile of books on my TBR shelf, I couldn’t resist a virtual visit to Netgalley last night… these new releases just looked too good to pass up.

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

“A dazzling, unforgettable novel about a young black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system—a debut that announces a blazingly original voice.”

Pub Date 07 Jun 2022

The early reviews in for this are excellent, so I’m hoping my reading experience is just as positive.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

“Fathomlessly inventive and original, Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea is a portrait of marriage as we’ve never seen it before.”

Pub Date (US) 12 Jul 2022

I love this cover, what can I say.

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

“Bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs Mieko Kawakami invites readers back into her immediately recognizable fictional world with this new, extraordinary novel and demonstrates yet again why she is one of today’s most uncategorizable, insightful, and talented novelists.”

Pub Date 03 May 2022

I’ve not read Breast and Eggs (what a title) but I’ve heard good things so hoping I enjoy this one.

The Fell by Sarah Moss

“From the award-winning author of Ghost Wall and Summerwater, Sarah Moss’s The Fell is a riveting novel of mutual responsibility, personal freedom, and the ever-nearness of disaster.”

Pub Date 01 Mar 2022

I loved Summerwater so I’m looking forward to diving back into Sarah Moss’s evocative and descriptive prose.

Descriptions and pub dates taken from NetGalley.

Do you have better self control than I do when it comes to accumulating new books?! Have you read any of the above or do you plan to?

The Hop by Diana Clarke - book review

Book review: ‘The Hop’ by Diana Clarke – a refreshing, propulsive and empathetic story of the modern sex industry ★★★★½

Kate grows up poor, in rural New Zealand, with her unconventional mother, who she adores. To supplement the household income, Kate and her best (and only) friend Lacey start giving kissing lessons at school, and then go to work in the local strip club once they’re old enough.

In her early twenties, running from tragedy, Kate crosses the ocean and lands in Las Vegas to work at a legal brothel, The Hop, under the moniker of Lady Lane – the stripper name she picked with Lacey as a kid, the name of her first pet plus the street she grew up on. She’s tall and thin and white and blonde, and ruffles some feathers when she arrives. The other women working there – trans women, women of colour, older women – know that their pimp, Daddy, has hit the jackpot.

The portrayal of sex work in this book is like nothing I’ve ever read in fiction. It’s not all roses – like any other job, there are good days and bad days – but it’s empowering, and energizing, and it makes Kate feel good. The bunnies at The Hop come from all walks of life, but they are all there by choice. It’s something that society struggles to accept.

‘They want there to be another reason, something deeper, they want to hear that you were unloved as a child or that you were abused as a teen…As if money isn’t enough of a reason to do anything. As if staying alive isn’t enough of an answer.’

The prevailing narrative where sex work is concerned is grittiness, trauma, poverty, tragedy – but this book is nuanced and fiercely feminist. It brims with energy, even as it confronts challenging and harrowing truths. For the women at The Hop, working in a legal brothel presents the only safe option to pursue their profession, with sex workers on the street being murdered, assaulted and attacked on a daily basis.

I loved the structure of this novel. I was daunted at first by the prospect of it flitting between so many voices – it’s a risky move. While Kate’s first-person narrative dominates the story, we hear too from best friend Lacey, pimp Daddy, Bunnies Betty, Mia, Dakota, Rain, the Vogue features editor who’s writing a piece on Kate, a celebrity lookalike of Kate, Willa Jordan… but you know what? It works. The characters are so vivid that it unfolds almost like a play or a documentary, building up a richer picture of the story and context without distracting from the narrative trajectory.

‘”Does it look like I’ve sold my body?” I said, “I’ve had guests who have served in the military and lost their legs. I’ve had guests who sleeved their arms in factories. I’ve had guests whose bodies are failing them, who’ve had to opt out of surgery because of America’s health care system. Does it look like I’ve sold my body?”

It’s propulsive and refreshing and funny, too.

‘It happened soon enough after the #metoo movement … for Lady’s video to become big news. The debate over what constituted assault was at its climax, darling, and not the good kind. Walmart changed their name to #WalmartToo for the month, which was a lot to unpack. Facebook changed their logo to teal, the color of, I guess, sexual assault? Thank god for the conglomerates, darling. Saving the world once hashtag at a time.’

This book sucked me in the same way as Diana Clarke’s first novel, Thin Girls. I wasn’t sure at first, but once the narrative picked up steam I was completely hooked, and sad to part with the characters when it ended. Highly recommended, and I can’t wait to see what Diana Clarke does next.

With thanks to HarperCollins via Edelweiss for the advanced copy. The Hop will be published on 7th June 2022.

The Heights by Louise Candlish book review

Happy Publication Day | The Heights by Louise Candlish

Happy publication day to The Heights by Louise Candlish!

If you’re in the mood for a slow-burn thriller, get this on your TBR. Ellen Saint isn’t thrilled about her golden boy Lucas’s new friend, Kieran. Convinced he’s leading him astray, her worst suspicions are confirmed, and her hatred of Kieran turns into a full-blown, and dangerous, obsession. It’s gut-wrenching in its slow reveals, the truths and untruths that emerge as the story unfolds.

reputation by sarah vaughan - book review

Book review: In ‘Reputation’ by Sarah Vaughan, a female politician risks losing everything ★★★★

Emma Webster is an MP – a politician who has risen through the ranks and worked bloody hard to get there. She’s no stranger to violent misogynistic attacks, particularly given her work in campaigning for so-called “women’s issues”, most recently the sentencing for revenge porn. But because she’s a woman in the public eye, she’s considered ‘fair game.’ Hateful tirades can be sent via Twitter, text, or post – but as long as there is no explicit threat, there’s nothing the police can do.

In her life, the constant threat of (male) violence is normalized. She keeps bottles of water on the desk at meetings with constituents – not in case of a bout of thirst, but to save her life in case of an acid attack. It’s a high price to pay to be a politician with a rising star, and Vaughan conveys the very real terror as part of the necessary fabric of her life.

‘A conviction politician, that’s what she was, and all the more refreshing for it. There were too few of them around these days.’

So there’s the threat of the insidious trolls hiding behind Twitter handles like @englandrules and @suckmyc*ck, never quite knowing whether one of them might step out from behind their keyboard and put a bomb through her letterbox. And then there’s the tabloid media, always looking for the next story that’s going to sell them papers (side note: anyone interested in the savagery of the British tabloids should listen to The Murdoch Phone Hacking miniseries on the British Scandal podcast).

Over the years, Emma has befriended journalist Mike Stokes, political editor of tabloid The Chronicle (his colleagues call her an ‘MPILF’). She knows how it works: the little dance that politicians do with the media, trying to keep them on side. Of course, he has a job to do: to sell papers and rise through the ranks himself.

‘I’d underestimated him, not wanting to consider the extent of his ruthlessness. And later? Well, then his ability to turn on me became painfully, fatally clear.’

It’s a smart, tightly plotted read – somewhere between a courtroom drama, political thriller and domestic noir. The second half of the novel is set in a courtroom where Emma is on trial, and it’s truly mesmerizing to watch the whip-smart wordplay between the prosecution and the defence, to see how the truth can be bent and shaped to different ends.

I enjoyed Anatomy of a Scandal (soon to be a Netflix show), and equally enjoyed Reputation for its multi-layered plot that never lets up. Qualms: I wished the secondary characters were better fleshed out, as when the narration slipped into their POV it felt more like a device to move the plot along, and one of the secondary plots about mental health support for returning servicemen also failed to be wrapped up in a satisfying way. However, I enjoyed this thought-provoking and pacy read a lot, and it’s very much in-keeping with the cultural conversation about misogyny, online abuse, and being a woman in the public eye.

With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy. Reputation will be published in the UK on 2nd March, in the US on 5th July.

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The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Happy Publication Day | The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Happy publication day to The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan!

I read Jessamine Chan’s debut in May last year. It’s set in a dystopian universe – but one that’s only slightly removed from our own. When protagonist Frida Liu leaves her crying daughter at home alone – just briefly – her life spirals out of control. Determined an unfit mother, she’s sent to a residential program for a year. This program – the school for good mothers – presents the women with AI dolls, designed to resemble their own flesh-and-blood children, and they are placed under 24-hour surveillance. It’s a chilling book, one that simmers with a quiet yet powerful rage. Chan explores the second-generation immigrant experience, and the terrifying possibilities of greater patriarchal control over our lives.

Wahala by Nikki May

Book review: ‘Wahala’ by Nikki May, where toxic friendship turns into a thriller that needs more thrills ★★★

Boo, Simi and Ronke are navigating life in their mid-thirties in London. Ronke, a dentist, is hoping that her latest boyfriend, Kayode, will be her Mr. Right. Simi is pursuing a high-flying career in fashion and struggling with the decision about having kids with her husband, Martin. And Boo is growing dissatsified with her domestic life as wife and mother and growing increasingly attracted to her boss.

An old Facebook photo is what pulls the enigmatic and disgustingly wealthy Isobel into their lives. Isobel grew up in Nigeria with Simi, but they had been out of touch for decades. Seeing a photo on Facebook from a mutual friend’s wedding, Isobel reaches out to Simi to reignite their friendship. Something is off about Isobel from the start – she’s profligate with her wealth, driven around by a driver-cum-bodyguard, and lavishly bestows gifts upon the trio. It’s hardly suprising, then, that she turns out to be a sinister character. Upon her arrival, everyone’s life starts to go pear-shaped.

What I liked: Nigerian culture is infused into the story, particularly through the authentic dishes (Ronke’s favourite restaurant in London is like ‘stepping into downtown Lagos’), and other cultural customs like the aso ebi worn for special occasions – where everyone on one side of the family gets their outfits made from the same fabric. There’s also a sharp contrast between the way that Simi and Ronke connect with Nigerian culture, having spent most of their childhood there, and the disconnect that Boo feels, having been raised by her white British mother in England. We also get an insight into the way these characters experience colourism and racism within their everyday lives – like when patients come into Ronke’s dental practice and assume her (Hispanic, male) dental nurse is the dentist, or when Kayode prevents a white guy from assaulting Ronke and the police turn up to arrest him. These details enriched a narrative that otherwise fell rather flat.

The problem lies in the fact that we know everything has to come to a head – Isobel’s arrival portends this – but it takes a really long time to get there. As such, most of the novel is a slow slide into things going wrong and the characters becoming increasingly unlikeable and frustrating. The ‘thriller’ aspect doesn’t rear its head until the last 20% of the book, and it all becomes a bit cartoonish and wrapped up too quickly. It didn’t really work for me, but I’m sure it will have a lot of fans – and I hear it’s being made into a TV series, so I’ll be interested to see how they approach that.

With thanks to Doubleday for the advanced copy. Wahala will be published on January 6th 2022.

Six Degrees of Separation: Shirley Jackson to Lisa Taddeo

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate. Each month, everyone starts with the same book and we see where our links take us. Links can be anything that comes to your mind and need not have rhyme or reason…

The starting book for this month is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. I’d never heard of this short, frightening story – which caused an absolute uproar when published the 1940s in the New Yorker. So of course I had to see what all the fuss was about – and it’s a terrifying little tale which much to say about mob mentality, tradition and conformity in insular communities. You can read the whole story at this link – it won’t take you very long – and is perfectly timed for Halloween…

I don’t often seek out scary books, but I kept seeing Mona Awad’s Bunny everywhere last year and decided to give it a go. It’s set at an exclusive MFA program in New England, where a group of girls start doing some very strange sh*t and the boundary between the real and the imaginary totally collapses in a bizarre, genre-bending way. It wasn’t for me, but to each their own…

I just re-read this one for book club, so it’s at the front of my mind – hello to another very well-known literary milieu, the prestigious Vermont liberal arts college where the characters of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History find themselves – an elite group of students studying ancient Greek who get similarly wrapped up in their claustrophobic, perverse world…

Tartt is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Medal (as well as the Pulitzer – show off…) just as is Colson Whitehead for his 2017 book The Underground Railroad, an unflinching story set on a slave plantation in Georgia as the protagonists search for freedom via the underground railroad, in this imagining a very real network of train tracks to help enslaved people escape hell.

More than a century on, the protagonists of Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage are a modern-day married couple also living in Georgia and also dealing with the pernicious effects of institutional racism as the husband, Roy, is wrongfully imprisoned.

And for modern-day relationships put under the microscope, no-one has done it better in recent years than Lisa Taddeo with Three Women, a journalistic tour-de-force charting the sex and love lives of three real American women in all their realness.

Thanks for reading my October Six Degrees! Have you read any of these? If you participate in the tag, where did your links take you?

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Book Review - Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr book review

Book review: ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ by Anthony Doerr – an epic and imaginative premise that doesn’t quite reach its ambitions ★★★

When I tell you that this book contains multitudes, I’m not exaggerating. It spans time and space and galaxies, taking us from the 15th century siege of Constantinople to a spaceship of humans fleeing a dying plant to 20th-21st century suburban Idaho. You’d be forgiven for abdicating then and there and thinking, no thanks.

‘Day after day, year after year, time wipes the old books from the world.’

In our 15th century timeline, Omeir is a young village boy who is conscripted into the invading Ottoman army. In the same timeline, Anna lives within the walls of Constantinople, an orphan who is fed and clothed in return for embroidering religious garments for holy men. With no access to education, a chance encounter with written language sparks an insatiable curiosity.

‘Almost overnight, the streets glow with meaning. She reads inscriptions on coins, on cornerstones and tombstones, on lead seals and buttress piers and marble plaques… each twisting lane of the city a great battered manuscript in its own right.’

Access to knowledge is central, too, to Konstance’s story. Effectively imprisoned on a ‘windowless disk hurtling through interstellar space’ a hundred or so years from our present day, the spaceship is governed by an AI called Sybil, containing the ‘collective wisdom of our species’. Within the on-board VR library, Konstance is able to explore earth – through a three-dimensional Google Earth type of technology – and begin to piece together the central mysteries about her existence.

In modern-day Idaho, Zeno is a former Korean war veteran with a passion for ancient Greek who works at the Lakeport public library. Seymour is a vulnerable teenage boy who enters the library on a cold February day in 2020 to detonate a bomb.

‘Ambitious’ is certainly the right word for this epic, meticulous novel from Anthony Doerr. The problem is that Doerr doesn’t really know quite how to channel, or hone, his ambition. There’s a lot to love in this book – his trademark way of rendering people and place with precision and empathy, a highly imaginative retelling of worlds far removed from our own, a genre-blending of historical, fantasy, science fiction. But the ambition of the book overwhelms it more than once.

The thread that ties together these seemingly disparate narratives of Zeno, Omeir, Konstance, Anna and Seymour is an ancient Greek story by Antonius Diogenes, telling the comical and fantastical tale of a shepherd’s misadventures to a city in the sky. That story in itself isn’t that important – the point that Doerr seems to be making is that the survival of ancient, long-forgotten texts is a miracle in itself. Upon learning of the discovery of the ancient manuscript, centuries after its inception, Zeno’s voice fills with emotion.

‘Erasure is always stalking us, you know? So to hold in your hands something that has evaded it for so long—’

It’s a compelling premise – but I’m not sure that the central idea is compelling enough to bind this 600+ page novel together, and for the reader to see it through. The worlds are imaginatively crafted, the characters developed and distinct – but we don’t get enough time with any of them, leading to a disjointed reading experience – interrupted further by passages from the Diogenes text throughout, a story that didn’t really interest me much.

All The Light We Cannot See is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years (I mean, it won the Putlizer – that’s not an original thought) and I had so many aspirations for this book. I feel a twinge of sadness that it wasn’t all I was hoping it to be – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be that for other readers.

With thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy. Cloud Cuckoo Land will be published on the 28th September, 2021.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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