Month: January 2021

‘Jane in St. Pete’ by Cynthia Harrison @CynthiaHarriso1 #RBRT#TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read ‘Jane in St. Pete’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Widowed art lecturer Jane Chasen is not an impulsive woman. Why, then, does the formerly methodical workaholic quit her job, sell her house, and move from Detroit to Florida? Instead of pondering her atypical behavior, she takes a closer look at a neighbor’s intriguing outdoor art installation. Days later, Detective Jesse Singer discovers the murdered artist in his studio. With Jane’s help, Singer finds the victim’s bloody shirt, inexplicably located within Jane’s gated community. Singer knows nothing about art, and as he closely questions Jane, she offers to help with the art angle of the case. Singer soon takes Jane up on her offer. Then, Jane begins to receive anonymous threats. Singer, determined to protect Jane, keeps her closer to his side than ever—she’s not complaining.

As a woman of fifty-one, it’s nice to read a novel now and then where the female protagonist is someone I can really relate to. Jane is an experienced, intelligent woman, looking to finally live life for herself, to be herself. While I’m not on the verge of leaving my husband and living alone, it’s always good to see woman of a certain age portrayed as having a lot to live for, and with a lot going for them.

This is an entertaining mystery, well-plotted, with an interesting murder case moving the narrative forward. But while the case was important, well-written and held my interest, for me the real story here was Jane and her gradual settling in to her new life and what it could offer her. She’s a fabulous character and I look forward to reading more about her.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Florida too – they made me long for some sunshine!

Well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable. 


‘Miracle Creek’ by Angie Kim #BookReview

In rural Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine – a pressurised oxygen chamber that patients enter for “dives”, used as an alternative therapy for conditions including autism and infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos’ small community.

Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night: trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges, as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.

Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is a thoroughly contemporary take on the courtroom drama, drawing on the author’s own life as a Korean immigrant, former trial lawyer, and mother of a real-life “submarine” patient. Both a compelling page-turner and an excavation of identity and the desire for connection, Miracle Creek is a brilliant, empathetic debut from an exciting new voice.

This is such a good book – one of those rare novels that you can become completely immersed in, that you look forward to getting back to, a novel you want to finish because you’re desperate to know the truth, but also one you don’t want to end because you’re enjoying it so much.

I do enjoy courtroom dramas, and while ‘Miracle Creek’ is technically part of this genre, there’s a whole other layer (and more) here. The difficulties, the joys, the guilt of parenthood, the complicated feelings around motherhood, fertility, making the right choices for your child, starting a new life in another country, prejudice and racism, all these issues and more are explored through the lives of several well-drawn, authentic and compelling characters.

The multiple viewpoints add to the confusion and mystery and I genuinely didn’t guess who was responsible for the fire until it was revealed.

A fabulous debut novel and an author I’ll definitely look out for in the future.

‘Hard Pushed’ by Leah Hazard #BookReview

No sleep for twenty hours. No food for ten.
And a ward full of soon-to-be mothers…

Midwives are there for us at some of the most challenging, empowering and defining moments of our lives. From heart-wrenching grief to the pure joy of a new-born baby, midwife Leah Hazard has seen it all.

But life on the NHS front line, working within a system at breaking point, is more extreme than you could ever imagine.

Moving and compassionate, funny and unexpected, Leah shares her experiences in this extraordinary love letter to new mothers and fellow midwives everywhere.

The Covid pandemic has certainly shone a spotlight on the NHS and those that give so much to keep the people of this country safe and well. Underpaid, under-appreciated, overworked, nurses, doctors, midwives and countless others struggle on – criticised in the press and on social media, even accused of lying, given nothing more for their dedication than a round of applause, and yet we still expect them to be there for us when we need them.

Leah Hazard’s account of her time as a midwife plainly shows the pressure the system is under after years of cuts, underfunding and stealthy privatisation. Exhausted, run off their feet, wolfing down microwave meals, these women (and men) are expected to make life and death decisions right there at the business end of things, often without support.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Hazard uses real life stories to add warmth, humour, love and the joy experienced at the birth of a new life to her story, a happy mum an antidote to the exhaustion. She has a genuine love of her work and of those she guides through giving birth. 

This is an extraordinary book – and Hazard is an extraordinary midwife. With the NHS more stretched now than ever, it’s so important to appreciate how lucky we are in this country. To see the NHS accused of lying about Covid on social media is infuriating. My sister has been a nurse in the NHS for more than thirty years, working as a specialist neo-natal nurse for most of that time. My daughter was a patient in that very unit. Those of us on the ‘outside’ really have such a limited understanding of the pressure, the dedication, of the staff. Books like these bring it to the fore.

A must read.

‘In at the Deep End’ by Kate Davies #BookReview

Until recently, Julia hadn’t had sex in three years.

But now:
• a one-night stand is accusing her of breaking his penis;

• a sexually confident lesbian is making eyes at her over confrontational modern art;

• and she’s wondering whether trimming her pubes makes her a bad feminist.

Julia’s about to learn that she’s been looking for love – and satisfaction – in all the wrong places…

Frank, filthy and very, very funny, In at the Deep End is a brilliant debut from a major new talent.

There were things about this book that I really loved and things that really irritated me.

It’s well-written, and very funny at times, and I certainly learned a few things! Julia is complicated, misunderstood, confused, and sometimes I really felt sorry for her, and at other times I didn’t like her at all.

There are lots of side characters – a few of which were very interesting and I wanted to know more about them, but they didn’t feel fully realised.

Some of the situations seemed really far-fetched, and didn’t seem at all in character.

I think what annoyed me most though was that this did seem to be a white, middle-class, privileged woman dabbling in lesbianism. It felt a bit like she was trying it on for size, as if it was a bit of a ‘lark’ and she had none of the issues to deal with that others in the community might face – a lesbian version of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ almost! I appreciate it isn’t meant to be gritty, but it just felt a bit irritating.

Definitely worth a read, and perhaps I’m being a little harsh, because the writing is good, but a novel like this needs to have more depth. 

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo #BookReview

This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

I’m a bit late to this one – have been meaning to read it for ages, and finally got round to it over Christmas. I really wish I’d read it sooner. 

Unconventional, thought-provoking, pertinent, this is like a breath of fresh air. 

Following twelve women in the UK, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ explores the nature of relationships, with others and with ourselves. The twelve women are connected, their stories weaving around each other’s, each one warm, human, real. 

There is no punctuation, but this is fundamental to the story-telling. The stories almost crash into one another, rolling like waves, giving the whole thing a rhythm that carries the narrative forward. 

Impressive, important and well-deserving of the Booker Prize, this is a novel I’ll remember for a long time.

‘Grace and Serenity’ by @AnnalisaCrawf #BookReview #RBRT

I read ‘Grace and Serenity’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Living on the streets is terrifying and exhausting. Grace’s only comforts are a steady stream of vodka, and a strange little boy who’s following her around.

At nineteen, Grace has already had a child and endured an abusive marriage. But she’s also had her baby abducted by her vengeful husband and been framed as a neglectful mother. Even her own parents doubted her version of the story. So she did the only thing that made sense to her—run away.

The streets are unforgiving. Winter is drawing in. And Grace isn’t prepared for the harsh realities of survival. At her very bleakest, a Good Samaritan swoops into her life and rescues her. With a roof over her head and food in her stomach, she longs to see her baby again.

But nothing ever comes for free.

This is a really well-written novel, full of emotion, and it’s good to read a story involving domestic abuse that doesn’t hold back, and that really traces Grace’s story from an innocent and hopeful young girl to someone manipulated into making decisions that ruin her life.

Grace is very well-drawn and her feelings and frustrations are depicted clearly, making the reader really care about her and what is happening to her. 

However, I found it quite difficult to accept that Grace’s parents would react the way they did towards the man who treated their daughter so badly. They are supportive and loving and interested in their daughter, so it didn’t seem realistic at all that they would behave the way they do – this really spoiled the story for me, unfortunately. While I could completely understand and believe that Grace could be so manipulated, I didn’t believe that her parents could be, and that they would trust a man who had hurt their daughter.

That said, this is a thought-provoking, sensitive and well-written novel.

‘How to Lose a Country’ by Ece Temelkuran #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

An urgent call to action from one of Europe’s most well-regarded political thinkers, and a field guide to spotting the insidious patterns and mechanisms of the populist wave sweeping the globe – before it’s too late.

‘It couldn’t happen here’

Ece Temelkuran heard reasonable people in Britain say it the night of the Brexit vote.

She heard reasonable people in America say it the night Trump’s election was soundtracked by chants of ‘Build that wall.’

She heard reasonable people in Turkey say it as Erdoğan rigged elections, rebuilt the economy around cronyism, and labelled his opposition as terrorists.

How to Lose a Country is an impassioned plea, a warning to the world that populism and nationalism don’t march fully-formed into government; they creep. Award winning author and journalist Ece Temelkuran identifies the early-warning signs of this phenomenon, sprouting up across the world, in order to define a global pattern, and arm the reader with the tools to root it out.

Proposing alternative, global answers to the pressing – and too often paralysing – political questions of our time, Temelkuran explores the insidious idea of ‘real people’, the infantilisation of language and debate, the way laughter can prove a false friend, and the dangers of underestimating one’s opponent. She weaves memoir, history and clear-sighted argument into an urgent and eloquent defence of democracy.

No longer can the reasonable comfort themselves with ‘it couldn’t happen here.’ It is happening. And soon it may be too late.

This is a really thought-provoking book – and one that perhaps everyone should read, in order to shake us out of the complacency that makes us believe the atrocities we watch on TV couldn’t happen here. They could, and they are.

The author takes us through the seven steps on the path from a democracy to a dictatorship, and it’s frightening to recognise some of those things. The author doesn’t rant, or lecture, but uses examples to show what can happen. It’s a wake-up call for those of us that don’t think these things could happen here, or to us.

It’s not a difficult read, but it is a hard one – reality often is. 

Well-written, accessible, human – definitely recommended.

‘Someone You Know’ by Olivia Isaac-Henry #BookReview

You can trust your family, can’t you…?

Tess Piper was fourteen when her adored twin sister Edie disappeared.

She has spent the last twenty years building a life away from her fractured family, desperate to escape the shadow of the past.

Only now she needs to confront the huge hole her sister’s disappearance left in her life, because a body has been found. The police are shining a spotlight on the Piper family. And secrets are about to surface.

After all, it’s common knowledge that more often than not, these crimes are committed by someone close to the victim. Someone they trust. Someone they know…

What really happened to Edie Piper?

Tess has been struggling to come to terms with her sister’s disappearance for years. Now, it’s all being brought back again, and she’s plunged back into the horror of that time, questioning everyone around her. She doesn’t know who to trust.

A fabulous twisty-turny thriller, with a great main character, ‘Someone You Know’ is a very accomplished debut. There are some clever red herrings, some very perceptive characterisation, and a real sense of time and place in those parts of the story that take place in the nineties.

I wasn’t completely convinced by the ending, if I’m honest, but this is certainly a great debut in the genre.