Book Review

‘One Split Second’ by Caroline Bond #BookReview #FridayReads

One split second … the moment that changed their lives forever.

When a car carrying five friends home from a party crashes into a wall, the consequences are devastating – not just for the young people directly involved, but also for their families and the wider community.

No one escapes unscathed, but some are more deeply scarred than others. Those affected are left to question who was to blame for the accident, and what price they will pay.

This moving story of an accident and its aftermath explores our understanding of love and loyalty, grief and forgiveness.

As a parent of young adults, I completely understand the premise at the heart of this book. Although I know my children are sensible, I hate the thought of them driving, more because of other drivers out there.

So the idea here is a really good one, with a lot of potential, and the opening scene is intriguing and so well-written, so moving. It really makes you want to read on. 

There are some interesting characters here too, with some well thought-out back stories, and the relationships between them work very well.

But for me, all that potential just didn’t lead anywhere. There was nothing particularly unusual or surprising about what had happened, why it had happened, or the consequences. It all felt a little flat, unfortunately.

My Favourite Books of 2021 #BookReview

I’m very glad I didn’t set myself a target of an amount of books to read in 2021, because there’s no way I would have achieved it. I always think I’ll have more time to read than I actually do, but it’s been an odd year with lots of ups and downs (see my post here). In some ways it’s flown by and in others it seems like last Christmas was ages ago. On the plus side, the quality of the books I’ve read this year has been wonderful, with some absolute crackers – books that will stay with me for a very long time.

‘Miracle Creek’ by Angie Kim

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.

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

‘Your House Will Pay’ by Steph Cha

Grace Park and Shawn Mathews share a city, but seemingly little else. Coming from different generations and very different communities, their paths wouldn’t normally cross at all. As Grace battles confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from their Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to life on the outside after years spent in prison.

But something in their past links these two families. As the city around them threatens to spark into violence, echoing events from their past, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways which will change them all forever.

Beautifully written, and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and moving family story, perfect for readers of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel for me was the way in which it explored how the past continually reaches into the future, and the way other people’s actions can have far‑reaching and sometimes tragic consequences for those who are blameless.

Timely, well-written, relevant, the sharp writing pulling no punches, this is a thought-provoking and important novel, that lays bare the injustices, the prejudices, the hate, discrimination, and the violence that many still endure every single day. 

‘A Long Petal of the Sea’ by Isabel Allende

September 3, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile. 

When opportunity to seek refuge arises, they board a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to Chile, the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.

A masterful work of historical fiction that soars from the Spanish Civil War to the rise and fall of Pinochet, A Long Petal of the Sea is Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

An absolutely beautiful book. Allende has a brilliant command of both the history and politics of the Spanish Civil War and of Chile and Venezuela, brought out through the compelling stories of a variety of interesting and authentic characters.

Their stories, the terrible things they endure, the happiness they find in life and in each other make this an outstanding read, and one of the best books I’ve read in ages.

‘The Stray Cats of Homs’ by Eva Nour

The story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive, even in the face of unimaginable devastation.

‘A cat has seven souls in Arabic. In English cats have nine lives. You probably have both nine lives and seven souls, because otherwise I don’t know how you’ve made it this far.’

Sami’s childhood is much like any other – an innocent blend of family and school, of friends and relations and pets (including stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof). 

But growing up in one of the largest cities in Syria, with his country at war with itself, means that nothing is really normal. And Sami’s hopes for a better future are ripped away when he is conscripted into the military and forced to train as a map maker. 

Sami may be shielded from the worst horrors of the war, but it will still be impossible to avoid his own nightmare… 

It’s really not easy to write a review that does this book justice. It’s so beautifully written, that at times it is a joy to read, but the subject matter is so utterly heart-breaking that it feels strange to say so.

If you’ve ever questioned the motives of those who put themselves in danger to escape places like Syria, or, from the security of your warm house, with food in your fridge, and your children safely at school, demanded to know why the young men don’t stay and fight, then I respectfully suggest that you read this book. In fact, it’s a book that everyone should read.

‘Starve Acre’ by Andrew Michael Hurley

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

This is a slow moving novel but it keeps you gripped throughout, slowly and surely unveiling the darkness that lies beneath a very real tragedy. You can feel Richard and Juliette’s devastation at their loss, their confusion about what happened to their boy, and at what is happening now.

Fascinating, disturbing, weirdly beautiful. And such a gorgeous cover.

‘Lock Every Door’ by Riley Sager

You’ve been offered a luxury apartment, rent free. The catch: you may not live long enough to enjoy it…

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents. 
These are the only rules for Jules Larson’s new job as apartment sitter for an elusive resident of the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile private buildings and home to the super rich and famous.

Recently heartbroken and practically homeless, Jules accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

Out of place among the extremely wealthy, Jules finds herself pulled toward other apartment sitter Ingrid. But Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her. Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story – but the next day, her new friend has vanished.

And then Jules discovers that Ingrid is not the first temporary resident to go missing…

Welcome to the Bartholomew…You may never leave.

Creepy, sinister, possibly verging more on horror rather than thriller, this was an absolute page-turner. The build-up keeps you guessing, tension growing, and little clues are left here and there, but I could not have guessed at all what was really going on, or who was behind it.

I love a good, scary book and this was so well-written, and lots of fun (if you like classic horror films like I do). A great read.

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo

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 . . .

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

Without punctuation, 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.

‘How to Lose a Country’ by Ece Temelkuran

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.

Well-written, accessible, human – definitely recommended.

‘Love Lives Here’ by Amanda Jette Knox

All Amanda Jetté Knox ever wanted was to enjoy a stable life. She never knew her biological father, and while her mother and stepfather were loving parents, the situation was sometimes chaotic. At school, she was bullied mercilessly, and at the age of fourteen, she entered a counselling program for alcohol addiction and was successful. 

While still a teenager, she met the love of her life. They were wed at 20, and the first of three children followed shortly. Jetté Knox finally had the stability she craved–or so it seemed. Their middle child struggled with depression and avoided school. The author was unprepared when the child she knew as her son came out as transgender at the age of eleven. Shocked, but knowing how important it was to support her daughter, Jetté Knox became an ardent advocate for trans rights.

But the story wasn’t over. For many years, the author had coped with her spouse’s moodiness, but that chronic unhappiness was taking a toll on their marriage. A little over a year after their child came out, her partner also came out as transgender. Knowing better than most what would lie ahead, Jetté Knox searched for positive examples of marriages surviving transition. When she found no role models, she determined that her family would become one. 

The shift was challenging, but slowly the family members noticed that they were becoming happier and more united. Told with remarkable candour and humour, and full of insight into the challenges faced by trans people, Love Lives Here is a beautiful story of transition, frustration, support, acceptance, and, of course, love
.

Honest, brave, sometimes heart-breaking, ultimately uplifting. The author reveals a great deal about herself, her fears, her hopes, and is honest about mistakes she’s made. And it’s all told in a way that makes you feel as though you’re sitting down with her for a chat over coffee; the warmth and humour – and the love – comes through so clearly.

Sometimes, reading so much anti-trans nastiness on social media, it feels like we’re back in the eighties, protesting against Section 28 – the language feels horribly similar – and this book is a reminder that these are real people, who deserve to live their lives free from hate.

‘Dominicana’ by Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with César at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

What a wonderful book. Warm, heartfelt, honest and beautifully written, I just loved Ana and so wanted her to be happy. I felt all her frustrations, her dashed hopes, her spirit, and felt so invested in her story.

‘The Water Dancer’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Hiram Walker is a man with a secret, and a war to win. A war for the right to life, to family, to freedom.

Born into bondage on a Virginia plantation, he is also born gifted with a mysterious power that he won’t discover until he is almost a man, when he risks everything for a chance to escape. One fateful decision will carry him away from his makeshift plantation family and into the heart of the underground war on slavery… 

There are moments in this book that are terrifying, moments that are full of hope, of love, moments that are so frustrating and infuriating. And the magic, the supernatural, feels seamless, such a natural part of Hiram and such a natural part of the narrative.

The historic details add a further layer and there are stories within this story that are astounding to read. 

An absolutely brilliant novel.

‘Skint Estate’ by Cash Carraway

I’m a scrounger, a liar, a hypocrite, a stain on society with no basic morals – or so they say. After all, what else do you call a working-class single mum in temporary accommodation?

Skint Estate is the darkly funny debut memoir from Cash Carraway, a scream against austerity that rises full of rage in a landscape of sink estates, police cells, refuges and peepshows.
A voice that must be heard.

Cash Carraway tells it exactly like it is, with an intelligence and wit that makes reading this book bearable. Because without her skill as a writer, it would be unremittingly depressing. Which a life in poverty in the UK undoubtedly is.

It’s not just a blessing for the author that her writing and her talent has been recognised, it’s a blessing for the rest of us – her work is so important, and deserves to be shared. She’s a real talent, and I do hope she’ll write more of her experiences. 

Another year of fabulous books – and I have a huge TBR pile to welcome me into 2022! Happy reading and a very happy, healthy and safe New Year!

‘The Nanny State Made Me’ by Stuart Maconie #FridayReads #BookReview

It was the spirit of our finest hour, the backbone of our post-war greatness, and it promoted some of the boldest and most brilliant schemes this isle has ever produced: it was the Welfare State, and it made you and I. But now it’s under threat, and we need to save it.

In this timely and provocative book, Stuart Maconie tells Britain’s Welfare State story through his own history of growing up as a northern working class boy. What was so bad about properly funded hospitals, decent working conditions and affordable houses? And what was so wrong about student grants, free eye tests and council houses? And where did it all go so wrong? Stuart looks toward Britain’s future, making an emotional case for believing in more than profit and loss; and championing a just, fairer society.

Last week I reviewed Cash Carraway’s book about her struggle to build a life for herself and her daughter under the current social system in this country. It felt timely then to read this book straight after – a book that praises that once great system, when the much maligned ‘nanny’ state looked after the people of this country and helped those who needed help.

I am slightly younger than Maconie, but I very much recognised the world he described – albeit that I lived further south, first in London and then in an estate in a new town, built to cater for the London overspill. Like Maconie’s estate, the estate we lived in had been planned to put open spaces at its heart – terraces of houses not in rows but in squares around a green area, and we had a toilet downstairs! 

I had a free education,  free library, free care from the NHS, and when I when to university I had a grant – a grant that didn’t need to be paid back – ever.

Things weren’t perfect. There was snobbery. There was still need. But it was a damn sight better than now.

Maconie’s book then, is a love letter of sorts to those institutions that meant so much to those of us who were working class – the swimming pools, the parks, the libraries (especially the libraries), the completely free education. And it’s also a warning that we are letting it all slip away. That we are letting this false narrative of scroungers, of benefit cheats, of people swanning up to food banks in Range Rovers (yes, I have been told this I by someone I know – she firmly believes it) to allow us to turn our back on a system that, although not perfect, was genuinely a safety net, was genuinely a way out for many of us.

Maconie writes with wit, with warmth, with intelligence. The book isn’t perfect though. In a section about how the privately educated have taken over the music industry, with the majority of bands in this country formed of ex-public schoolboys, Maconie wonders where are the John Lennons, the Jarvis Cockers, the Johnny Marrs? In doing so he completely overlooks grime – a whole genre of working class and independent music.

I also found his defence of the BBC a little hard to swallow, and a little disappointing too.

That said, however, this is a really important book. The ‘nanny’ state is not a terrible, interfering, wasteful behemoth that needs continuous overhauling – it is a lifeline for many that definitely needs proper funding (might help if the rich paid their taxes). We need those Sure Start Centres, those public libraries, the school playing fields, the public swimming pools. And we most certainly need free university level education. I couldn’t have done without these things. I wish the generations after me had had the benefit of them too. 

A much-needed warning, well-written, very readable, and an important book, especially as we head into the uncertainty of 2022.

‘Skint Estate’ by Cash Carraway #BookReview #FridayReads

I’m a scrounger, a liar, a hypocrite, a stain on society with no basic morals – or so they say. After all, what else do you call a working-class single mum in temporary accommodation?

Skint Estate is the darkly funny debut memoir from Cash Carraway, a scream against austerity that rises full of rage in a landscape of sink estates, police cells, refuges and peepshows.
A voice that must be heard.

Sometimes, when there’s an article posted on Twitter about foodbanks, or people having to choose whether to heat their homes or eat, I read the comments and wonder what’s wrong with people. I can guarantee that someone will say something about flat screen TVs (all TVs have flat screens), or mobile phones (you have to have internet access to apply for jobs, and access information and services relating to universal benefit, and a mobile is often the cheapest way) or alcohol and cigarettes, the lottery or scratch cards (no evidence that people in poverty buy these disproportionatly, and even if they do, well, god forbid the poor should have any pleasure, just sit on the floor and stare at the wall). Anyway, the ignorance, smugness, and lack of compassion always makes me furious. These people should read this book.

Cash Carraway tells it exactly like it is, with an intelligence and wit that makes reading this book bearable. Because without her skill as a writer, it would be unremittingly depressing. Which a life in poverty in the UK undoubtedly is.

The frustration of moving from temporary home to temporary home, of trying to find work that fits in with childcare, the sheer exhaustion of just trying to keep your head above water, the author relates these things with an honesty that is raw and brave, and with a scathing humour and a justifiable anger. 

I’m currently reading ‘The Nanny State Made Me’ by Stuart Maconie, partly a celebration of the funded NHS, libraries, education, that my generation enjoyed and benefitted from. Had these things still been available, rather than completely decimated by recent policies, you can’t help thinking that Cash Carraway would have had a much better chance in life, that she would have had access to resources, to care, that would have set her on her path earlier, that she wouldn’t have had to have gone through what she has gone through, and write about it, to be a successful writer and journalist. 

I come from a working class background, and I know first-hand the benefits of libraries, and student grants, and access to education. I have also had first-hand experience of the NHS providing lifesaving care for my child – goodness knows what would have happened without it. Reading of experiences like Cash Carraway’s and reading the way people like her are demonised and blamed for society’s ills really brings home just how much in danger we are of losing these things for good. I also wonder how much my life may have been like hers had I been born twenty or thirty years ago rather than fifty-odd years ago.

It’s not just a blessing for the author that her writing and her talent has been recognised, it’s a blessing for the rest of us – her work is so important, and deserves to be shared. She’s a real talent, and I do hope she’ll write more of her experiences. 

‘The Search Party’ by Simon Lelic #BookReviews

16-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing.

Five friends set out into the woods to find her. 

But they’re not just friends…

THEY’RE SUSPECTS.

You see, this was never a search party. 

It’s a witch hunt. 

And not everyone will make it home alive…

THE CHALK MAN meets THE HUNTING PARTY in this gripping story; witness four suspects as, alongside DI Fleet, you attempt to discover the truth about what happened to Sadie…

An excellent and intriguing premise, and a solidly-written novel too. DI Fleet is engaging and likeable, and the mystery at the heart of the story has a great deal of potential.

However, this novel didn’t really work for me. I found the teenagers to be difficult to believe in – their relationships with each other and the way they interacted didn’t feel very authentic. I did wonder why they were friends at all. And I felt that the way the real story was revealed in the end wasn’t really effective. It just felt as though all the ins and outs were just relayed, with no human interaction or reaction.

Fleet, as I say, is a great character and his past trauma adds a real depth to him. I felt that this could have been more drawn out and explored.

It’s a clever idea with a lot of potential, but it missed the mark for me.

‘The Other People’ by C.J. Tudor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Driving home one night, Gabe sees the face of a little girl he knows in the rear window of the car in front.

She mouths one word – ‘Daddy’. It’s his five-year old daughter, Izzy.

He never sees her again.

The police believe she’s dead. But three years later, Gabe still drives the roads, searching for the car that took Izzy, never giving up hope . . .

Meanwhile Fran and her daughter, Alice, aren’t searching – but running.

Always one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them.

Because Fran knows the truth about Gabe’s daughter.

And she knows what the people chasing her will do if they ever catch them . . .

The beginning of this book is fantastic – such an exciting and interesting premise. What a clever idea for a novel. 

It’s gripping, dramatic, exciting, with plenty of twists and some characters to get behind too. I so wanted Gabe to find Izzy, or at least find out what happened to her – his grief, his guilt, his longing for her are palpable; he’s so well-written.

I really loved Katie too – at last, a realistic portrayal of single motherhood, the boring, badly paid job, rushing here and there to pick up the kids, she felt very real and, like Gabe, was so likeable.

Living far from family, we spend a lot of time on the M4 and a lot of time in service stations, and the idea of Gabe driving from services to services is compelling. Motorway services are odd places, and the author’s descriptions are spot on. Standing in the queue for a coffee, I often wonder where everyone has come from and where everyone is going – this book opens up a whole new set of possibilities!

A clever, entertaining, and gripping read.

’Dominicana’ by Angie Cruz #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

‘This book is a valentine to my mom and all the unsung Dominicanas like her, for their quiet heroism in making a better life for their families, often at a hefty cost to themselves. Even if Dominicana is a Dominican story, it’s also a New York story, and an immigrant story. When I read parts of Dominicana at universities and literary venues both here and abroad, each time, audience members from all cultures and generations came up to me and said, this is my mother’s story, my sister’s story, my story’ Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with César at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

What a wonderful book. Warm, heartfelt, honest and beautifully written, I just loved Ana and so wanted her to be happy. I felt all her frustrations, her dashed hopes, her spirit, and felt so invested in her story.

A girl with dreams, hopes, aspirations, Ana hopes she will have a better life as a married woman in the US, even if she feels nothing for husband Juan, a man twice her age. Only fifteen, she has to grow up far too quickly and do her best to make a life for herself. She has so much to contend with, so much responsibility, and so much pressure from her mother, still in the Dominican Republic, always demanding that she send home money. 

It’s difficult to imagine what it must be like to have to make a new life in a country where you don’t know anyone, where you don’t speak the language, where you have no money, no job, no friends. The resilience and courage Ana shows is a testament to all of those who have been forced to build a life in a strange, often hostile land. 

Her story is told beautifully; the author is incredibly talented. 

Highly recommended.

‘Dear Edward’ by Ann Napolitano #BookReview #FridayReads

A transcendent coming-of-age story about the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles: there are 192 people aboard. When the plane suddenly crashes, twelve-year-old Edward Adler is the sole survivor.

In the aftermath, Edward struggles to make sense of his grief, sudden fame and find his place in a world without his family. But then Edward and his neighbour Shay make a startling discovery; hidden in his uncle’s garage are letters from the relatives of other passengers – all addressed him.

Following the passengers’ final hours and Edward’s unique coming-of-age, Dear Edward asks one of life’s most profound questions:

What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

I used to love flying – I even flew to Singapore by myself at the tender age of nineteen. I didn’t give safety or plane crashes a second thought. Then once I had children, it began to really bother me and I’m not sure why. Now, I really, really don’t like it and have to take Valium before a flight.

So a book centred around a plane crash may not have been the most sensible choice, but this was a really unusual and thought-provoking read, full of emotion, without being sentimental, and a really sensitive and intriguing take on a very unusual situation.

Edward is lovely, really sympathetically portrayed, his awkwardness, his confusion, his guilt, his grief, all so well-written. I really wanted him to find a sense of peace, contentment, and happiness.

The reactions of those around him, family, friends, strangers, is an interesting commentary on how we often feel entitled to bits of a person’s life, even if we don’t know them. For me, the interactions with the families of those who died in the crash were a highlight of the book.

My only niggle was that I really didn’t warm to Shay at all. Their friendship didn’t feel authentic to me. Otherwise  a lovely book, beautifully-written, and intriguing.

Hasn’t made me feel any better about flying though!

’Big Girl, Small Town’ by Michelle Gallen #Book Review 

Routine makes Majella’s world small but change is about to make it a whole lot bigger.

*Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers. 

Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.

Some aspects of this novel are fabulous. The writing is excellent. The author brings life to every scene, however mundane the setting, and is obviously a talented writer. There is definitely a place for main characters like Majella – there are far too few of them, and far too few portrayals of the ordinary lives that are somehow extraordinary.

I did enjoy the first half of the book, but then it did all begin to feel a bit unrelenting. I don’t mind ‘gritty’ in the slightest, but I couldn’t find any humour here, despite the reviews. There was nothing to lift things, not a great deal of warmth and I did feel a bit disappointed in the end.

That said, I’d certainly read more by this author.

 ‘The Bodies That Move’ by Bunye Ngene #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

I read and reviewed ‘The Bodies That Move’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

“But what other options are available to you when you’re stuck in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in a tiny dinghy other than to reflect on your life and how the decisions you made brought you there?”

The Bodies That Move tells the riveting story of a man who embarks on a journey in search of greener pastures.

Abandoned by his father as a child, Nosa is forced to bear the responsibility of caring for his mother and siblings. Seeing no future in Nigeria, he is persuaded by an old schoolmate to migrate to Europe. In order to achieve this, he employs the services of smugglers.

His journey takes him through many transit cities, safe houses and detention camps in Nigeria, Niger and war-torn Libya, and sees him cross the Sahara Desert. On his journey, he meets other travellers, each with unique stories. They are all united, however, by the desire for a better life in Europe.

This is a powerful and moving story of a young man who wants so much to improve his life, to provide for his family, to be safe and happy – the basic things that we all want.

For Nosa there isn’t a way to do this if he stays in Nigeria. Although intelligent, well‑qualified, and ambitious, he can’t get a job because he doesn’t know the right people. He has no future in Nigeria, so he has no choice but to try and make a future elsewhere, even if that means risking his life.

His journey is horrifying, the things he sees and experiences terrible. Women raped, men beaten, people left to die. Exploited, abused, treated like nothing, these people are desperate.

It’s a sobering story. And one that needs to be shared. It’s all too easy, from your sofa, or behind your keyboard, to judge refugees and asylum seekers. But it could just as easily be you or me, had we been born somewhere else, in different circumstances. 

The author tells Nosa’s story unflinchingly, without sentiment, and the result is a really well-written, and important novel.