Month: January 2019

‘The Swooping Magpie’ by @LizaPerrat #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘The Swooping Magpie’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

swooping magpie

Waterstones Amazon.co.uk

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy. 
Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.
She’s not wrong.
Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.
Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.
Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.
Reflecting the social changes of 1970s Australia, The Swooping Magpie is a chilling psychological tale of love, loss and grief, and, through collective memory, finding we are not alone.

This is a hugely emotive and important subject and one that deserves to be in the spotlight. While this is fiction, these dreadful things really did happen and the way unmarried mothers were treated was absolutely appalling. Anyone who has read about the Magdalene laundries, or watched ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ or ‘Philomena’ (both very much recommended) will be familiar with the issues behind this novel.

Lindsay is naïve though she tries to be a grown up. She’s vulnerable, though she seems to have it all. She’s looking for love, acceptance, acknowledgement. So she’s the perfect target for the slippery, creepy Jon.

This is a very well-written book. Lindsay is a great main character – she’s not perfect, she’s selfish and headstrong and vain. But she doesn’t deserve what happens to her. Her development as a character, the relationships and friendships she forms, all change her. And what happens to her shapes her life. Her story is written with honesty and candour, and feels completely authentic.

The cast of characters are memorable and their own stories are heart-breaking, particularly poor little Dawnie. And these are stories that deserve to be told. Anything that shines a light on the way these girls and women were treated is a good thing and this novel shows their stories so well.

That said, there were a couple of things that prevent me from giving this novel five stars. I felt that some of the historical detail used to give a sense of time and place were a little forced, felt a little shoehorned into the narrative. I also felt that the story’s full potential wasn’t completely realised – it felt like there was so much more to tell. I wanted to know more about the conditions at the home, Lindsay’s emotions and feelings at having to be there, more about her time afterwards. It felt a little rushed at times, and though it’s not a short novel, I felt that the characters and their stories deserved a bit more time.

That said, this is an important novel, well told and a must-read.

4 stars

 

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‘GIMME YOUR HANDS’ #DAVIDBOWIE

I can’t quite believe that it’s three years since David Bowie died. I don’t know what he would have made of the state of the world right now, the rise of the right wing, Trump, Brexit, the increasing racism and intolerance in the world. I think it would have broken his heart – he was all about inclusion and diversity and being yourself, whatever others thought. We seem to be going back to a world of conformity, intolerance, prejudice and hate. I hope it’s the last death throes of those who are desperately kicking back through their fear of what they don’t know and don’t understand and hopefully we’ll come out the other end, better, stronger, more tolerant, more inclusive.

I was so worried about sharing this post back in 2016, but the responses were wonderful. I’m sharing it again, partly to remind myself of what Bowie meant to me, and to remember that whatever happens in the world, however dark it gets, there is beauty, and light, and music and art and love and compassion and belonging. 

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Posted 15th January 2016

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post. I’m quite a private person, and I don’t like to use this blog to express my personal feelings or thoughts to any great extent (although I have made exceptions in the past). And my blog is also there for my business – and I like to be professional. Also, I feel as though in some way I’m intruding on someone else’s grief, selfishly indulging in feelings that aren’t really mine to have or to share. But I’ve had this post buzzing round my head, refusing to go away. So, here goes…

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I was a very strange teenager. Awkward, lanky, insecure, painfully shy of others and cripplingly terrified of their opinions of me. My family and the few friends I had at the time would probably be quite surprised to hear this, but what goes on on the surface isn’t always the same as the turmoil that’s raging beneath. I knew I was ugly, gawky, weird. I had strange thoughts and compulsions, strange fears (that I now know are OCD). I didn’t fit in, had very few close friends. School was an absolute torture. I was desperately unhappy, most of the time.

My tastes in music were quite pedestrian. I was a Duranie, in love with John Taylor and convinced one day I’d marry him and be taken away from all this misery. I liked their music, still do, but it wasn’t really about that. Then in 1985, I watched Live Aid. I was aware of David Bowie, liked some of his stuff, but we weren’t a very musical household, so other than my sister buying ‘Ashes to Ashes’ in 1980, he wasn’t really on my radar.

That changed that day in 1985. He blew me away. Those songs literally changed me – ‘TVC15’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Modern Love’ and, of course, ‘Heroes’. The following Monday I bought ‘Rebel Rebel’ and a few other singles – you could still buy singles then – and played them over and over. I remember one of the B-Sides was ‘Queen Bitch’. What a revelation of a song. I became obsessed.

Bowie became the focus of my life. I bought album after album whenever I could afford it. I watched his films (my poor mum sat through them all with me, even ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ – rather awkward). I read everything I could (actual books – no Google back then!). There was so much to listen to, so much to learn. I felt as though a whole new world had been opened up to me.

And it had. The beauty of this new obsession was that it led me to so many other things. Directly to Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Pixies and, through Ryuichi Sakamoto via ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ to Japan, the band, not the country! Discovering these bands led me further. I started reading the NME and Melody Maker, discovering the back catalogue of The Smiths, who I adore still, and bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sisters of Mercy, TheThe, Bauhaus. Band after band, song after song that seemed to speak directly to me, to understand me, to recognise how I felt. It was the beginning of a massive transformation.

As the eighties drew to a close, I began to change. I went to see Bowie in June 1987, the ‘Glass Spider’ tour. I was still a bit geeky, a bit unsure of myself, a bit frumpy and uncool. By the time I went to see him again on the ‘Sound and Vision’ tour in August 1990, I was about to leave home, having been accepted on a journalism course. I was a different person – black eyeliner, black lipstick, black fingernails, cut off Levi’s, Dr Martens, a Gene Loves Jezebel t-shirt. I was finding my way, gaining my confidence, accepting myself.

The following month I met the man who was to become my husband. He was obsessed with Bowie too. We discovered we’d been at the same two concerts. It felt like fate.

I’ve had my ups and downs over the years. As a family we’ve been through a lot – house moves, redundancies, the death of my mum from cancer. All the good things, all the good times, and all the bad things, the bad times spring to mind when I hear certain songs – more often than not a David Bowie song. At a family gathering on Boxing Day, my brother-in-law asked who we would meet, if we could meet anyone. Without a second’s hesitation, both Gary and I said ‘David Bowie’. And now that he’s gone, I can’t think of anyone else, anyone who has the same pull, the same aura, anyone who is anywhere near as interesting.

At 7 o’clock on Monday morning, Gary sent me a text saying simply ‘Bowie’s dead’. I didn’t know what to do except burst into tears. It felt surreal. It still does.

Yesterday, Gary and I went to the Bowie mural in Brixton (I’ve always been inordinately proud that I was born in Bromley in 1969 and so actually lived, for a few years, that close to the man himself!). This was weird for us. We don’t do that kind of thing. After all, we didn’t know him. It seems disrespectful to try and share in that grief. But we are grieving. He was a big part of our lives. It’s not an overstatement to say he changed music, he changed culture. He did. And it’s not an overstatement to say he changed my life. Because he really did. And reading some of the messages scrawled on the walls around the mural in Brixton, I wasn’t the only one. Those messages are some of the most touching, heartfelt and moving things I’ve ever read. Many people have quoted lyrics from his songs that meant something to them. For me, these are the words that really spoke to me at fifteen, and that remind me now that I don’t have to feel the way I did then:

Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only
Make you care
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands.

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Photo Credit BrixtonBuzz

 

The David Bowie Reading Challenge #TuesdayBookBlog #DBowieBooks #DavidBowie

It’s David Bowie’s birthday today, and since his death three years ago I’ve been intermittently taking part in the David Bowie reading challenge, which I first heard about here.

To be completely honest, I’ve not done too well – but the challenge has led me to read some wonderful books, and I’m determined to read more from the list this year.

Here are the books I’ve read so far with links to my reviews.

‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

nights at the circus

‘As I Lay Dying’ by Williams Faulkner

Faulkner

‘Room at the Top’ by John Braine

room

‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

brodie

‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse

billy

‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr

last-exit

‘1984’ by George Orwell

georgeorwellxobeygiantprintset-1984coverbyshepardfairey

‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters

fingersmith

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert

bovary

You can find a complete list of the books here.

I’ve also read ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen, and will post my review soon.

I do recommend the challenge – there are so many books out there, new and old, but there are books on this list that really are must reads and many are books that I’ve been meaning to read for years, so it’s a good way of focusing on that goal.

Do let me know if you’ve read any of the books on the list, and what you thought.

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‘Our Kind of Cruelty’ by Araminta Hall #bookreview #fridayreads

cruelty

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Mike and Verity have a special game. The Crave.

They play it to prove what they already know: that Verity loves Mike. That she needs Mike.

Even though she’s marrying another man.

Now Mike knows that the stakes of their private game are rising.

This time, someone has to die…
Mike adores Verity. She’s everything to him. His troubled background makes him crave security and love and he thinks Verity is the answer to everything. And he thinks she feels the same. At first she does, and she’s a willing participant in the excitement of their game. But when things change, Mike can’t accept it. And the story gets incredibly dark.

I’m really in two minds about this book. It is well-written, well-paced (not a twisty, turny roller coaster, but a good, slow burner), it’s gripping, and involving. It’s also an extremely thought-provoking and honest account of how women are treated, of how assumptions are made of them, how they better not like sex, or they will be judged. And I think that’s something very important.

That said, I did feel that Mike’s character was a little stereotypical. He’s badly affected by his childhood but there must be something else that makes him behave the way he does. It can’t be that simple. It’s a rather flat portrayal of mental health problems and it does get a little tiring, as someone with experience of mental health issues, to see such ‘easy’ motivations for unlikeable characters.

That said, the scenes that explore the treatment of Verity are excellent, timely, valid, important – the novel is well-worth reading for this alone.

Recommended.

4 stars

 

‘Winter’ by Ali Smith #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

ali smith winter

Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.

The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.

In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.

It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.

I appreciate that book reviews are a matter of opinion, and that not all books are for all people. But sometimes I read a book, look at the reviews, and just can’t get my head around them.

This book has an average of 3.5 stars on Amazon. And yet it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time.

I can’t be completely out of touch with what most other readers think, can I?

Oh well, all I can say is I absolutely loved it. It’s different. It’s clever. It’s skilful, uncompromising. The narrative is firmly rooted in the everyday, in reality, but it meanders around, with a feeling of unreality, delusion, even enchantment that lifts this away from being a novel about Christmas, about family, about the past and coming to terms with it, about the strained relationships that are brought to the fore by an enforced jollity. And yet it is all these things too.

And of course the writing is beautiful, poetic, charming and yet also bleak, harsh, cruel at times. A bit like Christmas.

Wonderful.

5 stars