Reputation by Sarah Vaughan

Happy (US) Publication Day | Reputation by Sarah Vaughan

Happy publication day to Reputation by Sarah Vaughan! I devoured this a few months ago and would recommend it as the perfect vacation thriller.

Here are 5 things to know about Reputation to help you decide if it’s the book for you…

  • Sits somewhere between a courtroom drama, political thriller and domestic noir
  • Looks at what it takes to be a woman in the spotlight, particularly in politics
  • Examines the seedy underbelly of the tabloid media and the lengths they’ll go to for the story
  • Whip-smart wordplay in the courtroom scenes will have you on the edge of your seat
  • A sharp focus on contemporary issues in our cultural conversation

Enjoy!

the it girl by ruth ware - book review

Murder mystery in Oxford’s hallowed halls: The It Girl by Ruth Ware ★★★

I was very excited to receive an advanced copy of The It Girl. Ruth Ware is an auto-read author for me, and this one has dark academic vibes that I couldn’t wait to dive into.

It’s the late noughties and Hannah has just started at Oxford University. Bookish and shy, she initially feels out of place amidst her polished and wealthy classmates, but soon falls in love with Oxford and the allure of all that prestige and history. This is a place, she is sure, where she will be happy.

‘With the sun shining and puffs of white autumnal clouds in the sky, the view had an almost unreal beauty and Hannah had the strangest feeling that she had stepped inside he pages of one of the books in her suitcase – Brideshead Revisited, maybe. Gaudy Night. His Dark Materials. A storybook world.’

Her roommate, April, is dazzling: beautiful, rich, charming. She’s also smart – she’s earned her place at Oxford. And she’s vicious too, at times, with a dark sense of humour. But despite their differences, she and Hannah become firm and fast friends. And then – no spoiler, it’s in the blurb – April is murdered.

Ten years later, Hannah is married, pregnant, living in Edinburgh, working in a bookshop, and has tried to leave the trauma of her best friend’s murder in the past. Her evidence alone convicted the prime suspect – but a journalist has just come forward with intel that might lead to someone else – someone who was never investigated. The thought that Hannah might have convicted an innocent man – who has recently died in prison – torments her, and she sets about on a quest for the real truth of what happened that terrible night.

‘She is there too. Hannah. Not the Hannah of now, but the Hannah of then. The Hannah of before. Young, happy, full of hope and promise, and so unbearably, unutterably innocent of all the horror that life could hold.’

For the first half, I was hooked. We had Ruth Ware’s trademark evocative descriptions, the heady friendships of teenage girls, a sprinkling of 00s pop culture – all set within the beautiful, austere world of Oxford.

This thriller switches between past and present, although only for the first half of the book. And it was towards the second half that the story began to lose steam for me. The pace slows to a trickle and the suspense is totally lost as nothing much happens for quite a chunk of time. I also didn’t feel invested enough in the other characters to really interrogate who might have been the culprit. Had we spent more time with them in 2010 then I would have felt a greater sense of buy-in. The flashes we get of these characters do give a sense of who they are, but I was left wanting more.

The ending does pick up pace-wise as Hannah approaches the truth, and there are a few thrilling, cinematic moments, but by that point I wasn’t as interested in the idea as a whole and so I don’t feel that the narrative fully redeemed itself.

I wanted to love this, I really did! But it just didn’t end up being for me.

With thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy. The It Girl will be published on July 12th 2022 by Gallery/Scout Press.

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.

Other books you might enjoy…

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.