#TuesdayBookBlog

‘Fault Lines’ by Tsveti Nacheva #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

I read ‘Fault Lines’ for Rosie’s book review team.

When the unthinkable happens…

When her best friend disappears from a party at a haunted house attraction, Laurie Arbo fears the worst. Ashley would not just up and leave. As days turn into weeks, it becomes clear that she is not coming back. But without a body, proving that a crime has been committed—let alone unmasking the culprit—is a tall order.

The truth should come first.

All eyes are on Ashley’s boyfriend, who is being cagey. But Laurie’s own partner, Nate, is keeping secrets too. On that fateful night, his clothes were covered in blood, which he swears wasn’t Ashley’s. Refusing to accept the man she loves might be a murderer, Laurie decides to believe him. Yet, unable to put the past behind them, they drift apart.

But what if it’s ugly?

Seven years later, while working on a TV documentary about a local family drama, she reconnects with Nate, and the pieces start falling together. As Laurie draws closer to learning what happened that night, she realizes the truth might be the one thing she doesn’t want to uncover.

I really enjoyed this novel. The characters are very well-written, the writing flows well, and there’s enough intrigue and twists and turns to keep you turning the page. 

Laurie’s best friend vanishes after a Halloween party out in the backwoods of Canada. Laurie, having gone to bed drunk, can’t remember the night clearly, but what she does remember is that her boyfriend Nate’s clothes were covered in blood – surely he can’t have anything to do with Ashley’s disappearance?

They split up, but years later, Laurie’s work takes her back to her past, and she’s finally forced to confront the truth.

As the story unfolds, our ideas about the characters and their motivations unfold too, and they reveal things about themselves that add to the intrigue of the story. That said, I did feel that Erin was a bit of a missed opportunity – I was expecting more from her and her potential didn’t feel realised.

Laurie, though, is a great character; it’s very easy to believe in her and the way she behaves and to sympathise with her. Her confusion and her emotions are so well portrayed. 

The settings work very well too, and there’s a very creepy and threatening feel to the narrative.

One of the strengths of the novel for me was the smaller storyline around Ashley’s mum and her frustration and fear around her daughter’s disappearance. She’s another really well-written and fully realised character.

There are a few issues with tense, however, with lots of switches from past to present that don’t really work, and some of the dialogue feels rather formal. 

But overall this is a very well-written and enjoyable novel.

‘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.

‘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.

 ‘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. 

‘The Hunger’ by Alma Katsu #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #HistoricalFiction #Supernatural

hunger

Hive   The Big Green Bookshop

 

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

Combining historical fiction with the supernatural, the author cleverly blends the actual horrors of the pioneer wagon trail with something even more terrifying and deadly. It all adds up to a novel that is so interesting in so many different ways.

The hardships the families face are bleak enough and they are told unflinchingly in a narrative that is full of historical detail that never overwhelms. The characters are authentic, honest and engaging – some you hate, some you love, every one of them is three-dimensional.

The portrayal of their journey would be interesting enough, but the addition of something lurking in the woods, ready to pounce, adds to the claustrophobia that surrounds the travellers. And the author uses restraint so well, biding her time, building the suspense slowly, racking up the tension, making this a true page turner.

Accomplished, unusual, and a truly thrilling read.

5 stars

‘A Little Bird Told Me’ by Marianne Holmes #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Little Bird

Hive

In the scorching summer of 1976, Robyn spends her days swimming at the Lido and tagging after her brother. It’s the perfect holiday – except for the crying women her mum keeps bringing home.

As the heatwave boils on, tensions in the town begin to simmer. Everyone is gossiping about her mum, a strange man is following her around, and worst of all, no one will tell Robyn the truth. But this town isn’t good at keeping secrets…

Twelve years later Robyn returns home, to a house that has stood empty for years and a town that hasn’t moved on, forced to confront the mystery that haunted her that summer.

And atone for the part she played in it.

Narrated by Robyn, this novel transports the reader between the long, hot summer of 1976 and twelve years later, when Robyn and her brother Kit return to their home town. Both are trying to come to terms with the events of that long ago summer.

This is a clever book, well-written and intriguing. The author builds a real sense of time and place, and it’s easy to picture those summer days, and then the dreary grey of a rainy autumn. Robyn is interesting and her relationship with Kit is warm and honest, one that anyone with an older brother will recognise.

There’s a very well-executed twist at the end too.

Robyn’s confusion and fear are sensitively but realistically portrayed, as are her feelings of powerlessness – feelings that lead to consequences neither she nor the reader expect.

But the first two thirds of the novel did feel very slow and it also felt at times as though the narrator was being deliberately obtuse in order to fool the reader, rather than for the purposes of the story itself. This did spoil things for me and I was quite frustrated at times, and a little confused.

The last third of the book makes up for that though, with that satisfying twist.

An interesting read, with lots to recommend it and I will read more from this author.

4 stars

 

 

 

‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

the five

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Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.
Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.
Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

This is a fascinating book in a lot of ways. I have always found the obsession some have with Jack the Ripper quite worrying – yes, his identity is intriguing, but the interest does seem to lean to a fascination with the grisly deaths of women, with these women almost side characters to the whole nasty, cruel business. We have tourist attractions and even museums about him, with the women reduced to mere props. I remember going to Madame Tussauds as a child and walking through the Ripper exhibition, with the recorded voices of women trying to attract clients, a wax model of a women, bloody and gory – a tourist attraction built on horrible, terrifying, painful tragedy visited on real people. The Jack the Ripper Museum sells fridge magnets and bloodstained memorabilia. There’s a lot to unpick there and probably not in a book review, but it goes to show how twisted our fascination with these murders has become.

So a book that focuses on the five victims as people is welcomed, and this book treats them warmly and with compassion, while setting out clearly and unflinchingly the way in which a patriarchal, classist and frankly misogynist society forced women into an endless life of toil, childbirth and misery. Life was grim and unrelenting for these women. The social structures that forced them into these lives is well-described, and absolutely fascinating.

There were a couple of issues for me though. At first, it felt as though, in proving that four of the five victims weren’t actually prostitutes, this meant we should feel more sympathy for them, that their reputations had been sullied by this assumption. But I don’t see why  a prostitute is less deserving of our sympathy. A prostitute doesn’t deserve to be murdered. And while it is important to show that these women were mothers, and wives, and daughters, and sisters, and that they laughed, and cried and worried about money, and were human beings, and that while it is important to take the narrative away from the murderer and to show the women he destroyed as people, I’m not sure that so much focus should be on whether or not they were prostitutes, because it doesn’t matter.

It’s tricky, because the popular narrative is that the women were prostitutes, out at night plying ther trade, and they were killed. The author shows that four of the five weren’t prostitutes, and so disproves this narrative. Which is important, because there is a nasty kind of titillation around the prostitution narrative. But, we are left with the feeling that the death of a prostitute is less of a tragedy – which it isn’t. And there is so much hypocrisy around the whole issue of sex work, that it’s important that we don’t add anything to the idea that it is somehow shameful.

Later on in the narrative, the author does address this to an extent, but the emphasis on the idea that four of the five women weren’t prostitutes did leave me feeling a little uncomfortable. There is still this idea whenever women are killed that if they were prostitutes killed by a client, or if they were women who sometimes slept with men for money or a home or security, or if they were alcoholics or drug addicts, then we shouldn’t care so much about their deaths. We absolutely should.

My other issue is that there’s a lot of conjecture around how the women felt about the things that happened to them in their lives. While there is a place for this, it did become a little wearing after a while. We don’t know how these women felt about anything, because they can’t tell us; we can assume some things, but whether or not those assumptions have a place in a book like this is tricky. While trying to humanise the women, and show them as people, it does feel as though the author sometimes goes too far.

That said, what we learn about the women themselves, the lives they lived, and the conditions in Victorian England, is fascinating. There is so much here that I didn’t know. For me, the best part of the book was the way it showed how society set these women up to fail, and then judged them as they did exactly that. Walking with these women through their lives, knowing their fate, is emotional and poignant. And it made me furious too – furious that this is what they and many others suffered, and furious that women are still judged more harshly than men, that our opportunities are still limited, that prostitutes are still vilified and judged, and judged more harshly than the men that use them.

So, on balance, while there were aspects of this book that didn’t work for me, overall I would recommend it. It’s an important book, and a brave one too (the author has, inevitably, received horrible abuse from mainly male ‘ripperologists’ online), and I’m very glad I read it. When I think of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane now, I no longer think of the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ in Madame Tussauds, but of five women, who lived and loved and who were human.

 

4 stars

‘Deleted’ by Sylvia Hehir @shehir853 #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Deleted’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Deleted

Big Green Bookshop    Hive

How much worse can Dee’s life get? Having already suffered a traumatic break up with her boyfriend, her best friend is now warning her off the handsome new boy in the village. So what if his dad is a traveller? And that’s without all the problems she’s having with her mobile phone. A young adult romance with a hint of mystery.

As an editor I read a lot of YA fiction, and one thing that annoys me is when the author clearly doesn’t know anyone who is actually YA! This often comes through in writing that is patronising and preachy. Sylvia Hehir ‘s writing is neither of those things. She is a writer who obviously likes her audience and has a great deal of respect for them.

This means she writes characters that are authentic, well-rounded, likeable and easy to identify with. Their concerns feel real and she doesn’t belittle their hopes, fears, anxieties and ambitions.

Dee is a lovely main character and, even as a middle-aged adult, I found her story engaging and interesting. The author portrays Dee’s world so well, it’s easy to imagine the village, the club, the wild countryside. And her relationship with Tom is explored sensitively and thoughtfully.

The writing is excellent and the novel has a lovely pace too.

It’s made me really angry to see young people criticised so nastily by some aspects of the press during this pandemic. All the young people I know are thoughtful, compassionate and really care about the world. A lot of older people don’t seem to grasp how dreadful it is for young adults to see their futures become so uncertain. It’s lovely to read YA by an author who has a real grasp of how much there is to like about the younger generation.

All in all, an outstanding YA novel, and highly recommended.

5 stars

 

 

‘Women’ by Chloe Caldwell #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

women

Big Green Bookshop      Hive

A young woman moves from the countryside to the city.
Inexplicably, inexorably and immediately, she falls in love with another woman for the first time in her life.
Finn is nineteen years older than her, wears men’s clothes, has a cocky smirk of a smile – and a long-term girlfriend.
With precision, wit and tenderness, Women charts the frenzy and the fall out of love.

This novella is incredibly well-written. Every sentence is put together beautifully. It’s a masterclass in how to write evocatively, almost poetically, while still producing prose that is eminently readable and that flows effortlessly.

The unnamed narrator of this story is refreshingly mixed-up and chaotic. She doesn’t know what she wants, or what makes her happy, and she makes mistakes. She’s confused about her feelings for Finn, confused about what she wants, and she makes the wrong choices.

Finn is an enigma – we never really get to know her, but then neither does the narrator. And that adds a real authenticity to the narrative.

That said, I did find the characters a little self-absorbed at times, the narrator in particular. There were times when I wanted to scream ‘grow up!’ but that reaction certainly means the character got to me!

Perhaps the current situation in the world has made me suffer fools less gladly, and perhaps I may have been more tolerant of the narrator’s issues a few months ago – but I did feel at times as though I wanted to give her a kick up the backside! It’s hard to really love a story when you don’t particularly like the main protagonist.

That said, this takes nothing away from the writing itself – which really is beautiful.

four-and-a-half-stars