#fridayreads

‘A Room Made of Leaves’ by Kate Grenville #TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview

It is 1788. When twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth marries the arrogant and hot-headed soldier John Macarthur, she soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Forced to travel with him to New South Wales, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours. All her life she has learned to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.

Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.

There’s no question that this is a beautifully written novel from a very talented author. Some of the description is absolutely wonderful and there’s such a clear sense of time and place.

The opening chapters, describing Elizabeth’s childhood, worked the best for me, and the Elizabeth in these chapters felt very real and fully drawn.

Once the narrative moves to Australia, the novel didn’t work quite so well for me. I did feel that Elizabeth was a little too good to be true and that the portrayal of her husband was a bit superficial. I would have liked a bit more detail about the dynamics of their relationship, and also some more detail about the daily hardships of life in the new settlement. This aspect, in particular, was very glossed over. It must have been absolutely brutal, but it doesn’t really feel that way.

I think too, that, while there certainly is acknowledgement of the cruelty to the indigenous people of the area, this could have been more fully detailed. And is it really believable that Elizabeth would have been so enlightened, that she would have recognized that the immigrants from England were stealing land and food and lives from others?

That said, the book did leave me wanting to know more about the real Elizabth Macarthur, and it was, on the whole, a book that I’m glad to have read.

‘Here Is the Beehive’ by Sarah Crossan #bookreview #fridayreads

For three years, Ana has been consumed by an affair with Connor, a client at her law firm. Their love has been consigned to hotel rooms and dark corners of pubs, their relationship kept hidden from the world. So the morning that Ana’s company receives a call to say that Connor is dead, her secret grief has nowhere to go. Desperate for an outlet, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca…

This story begins at the end of an affair – brought short by the sudden death of Connor. It follows Ana’s memories of the affair alongside the way she copes (or doesn’t) with the situation.

The story is told in verse form, which makes every word, every line, every scene compacted into what is really important. Rather than making things feel underdeveloped, the author’s skill means that you learn so much about each character, each situation, in a few well-chosen words and situations.

Ana isn’t very nice. She’s selfish, and self-absorbed. But she’s also deeply unhappy, and the narrative doesn’t try to excuse her, or her behaviour, it simply shows us what she is like, what she does, and how that affects those around her.

The narrative is packed full of emotion – love, hate, jealousy, guilt, but it never feels overdone, just realistic, considering the characters and the situation.

It’s a fairly short read, but no less a whole story – I read it in a couple of days which is unusual for me at the moment as I have so much else to do! So that’s a testament to how much I enjoyed it.

Inge’s War by Svenja O’Donnell #FridayReads #BookReview

What does it mean to be on the wrong side of history?

Svenja O’Donnell’s beautiful, aloof grandmother Inge never spoke about the past. All her family knew was that she had grown up in a city that no longer exists on any map: Königsberg in East Prussia, a footnote in history, a place that almost no one has heard of today. But when Svenja impulsively visits this windswept Baltic city, something unlocks in Inge and, finally, she begins to tell her story.

It begins in the secret jazz bars of Hitler’s Berlin. It is a story of passionate first love, betrayal, terror, flight, starvation and violence. As Svenja teases out the threads of her grandmother’s life, retracing her steps all over Europe, she realises that there is suffering here on a scale that she had never dreamt of. And finally, she uncovers a desperately tragic secret that her grandmother has been keeping for sixty years.

Inge’s War listens to the voices that are often missing from our historical narrative – those of women caught up on the wrong side of history. It is a book about memory and heritage that interrogates the legacy passed down by those who survive. It also poses the questions: who do we allow to tell their story? What do we mean by family? And what will we do in order to survive?

I recently watched The Final Account – over the course of more than a decade, the documentary film-maker Luke Holland collected interviews with surviving witnesses and participants of Hitler’s Third Reich. These were people who were there. Soldiers in the army, members of the SS, women who worked in the offices of the concentration camps. Those who lived nearby. It is a programme that was hard to watch. One man in particular was still proud of what he’d done. One woman, who worked in an office in a camp, said it was nothing to do with her. She said the treatment of the Jewish people horrified her. Then she laughed as she recalled hiding her boyfriend – a guard at the camp – when the allies came. There were those, of course, who were horribly ashamed, who took their share of the responsibility. 

A few years ago we visited Munich – a wonderful place, wonderful people, friendly, welcoming, beautiful. On our final day there we visited Dachau, and suddenly things weren’t so wonderful. What got to me most was that the camp was there for all to see. Everyone. No one could have not known. 

Of course we all hope that we would stand up to fascists. That we wouldn’t turn a blind eye, or worse, be involved. But documentaries like The Final Account, and the proof of places like Dachau niggle away – would we really be any different? Would we be brave enough to say no? 

Inge’s War, for me, is another story that poses this question. 

The writer’s grandmother, Inge, grew up in East Prussia, an area that was, in a lot of ways, removed from what was happening in the rest of Germany. On the whole, people just carried on with their lives, at least at first. Inge’s parents disapproved of Hitler, but they kept their heads down, not really believing that anything bad would happen. So removed were they, that they allowed Inge to move to Berlin in 1940, at the age of fifteen.

Here, Inge met Wolfgang, a young man who had avoided being called up. When he finally had to go to war, Inge discovered she was pregnant. He promised to stand by her, but his father forbade it, and feeling betrayed, Inge returned home.

The story then follows Inge and her parents, as the war does find them, and they too have to flee. What happens to Inge from them on makes for a dark tale, and the author comes to understand her stern, guarded, taciturn grandmother.

It’s unusual to read about German refugees, the terror they felt, caught between the Nazis and the Russians at the end of the war. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for them, for women like Inge, who were collateral damage in all of this. And when you read about atrocities like the Nemmesdorf massacre, the only thing you can feel is horror and disgust. But when you think about what happened to Jewish people, the Romani people, LGBT people, the disabled, and all the other groups targeted by the Nazis, it’s hard to feel as much sympathy for people fleeing who voted for Hitler, who may have watched their Jewish neighbours being taken away. Who turned a blind eye at the trains full of human beings. And the author recognises this, feels this conflict herself. But she asks the questions too of what would we, the readers, have done? Can we honestly say we would have intervened, spoken up, acted? 

The research here is, of course, impeccable, and the writing so accomplished. Accessible without dumbing down, thoughtful, respectful, and, unsurprisingly given the author’s relationship to Inge, completely genuine and authentic. This is, without doubt, an important book. 

Whole-heartedly recommended (as is The Final Account).

‘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.

‘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. 

‘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!

‘Your House Will Pay’ by Steph Cha #BookReview #FridayReads

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.

‘Your House Will Pay’ is inspired by the true story of the 1991 shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by a Korean convenience store owner. Set in 1991, a week after the beating of Rodney King, and against the backdrop of the LA riots, the novel explores the consequences of a similar incident – 15-year-old Ava Matthews, buying milk, is accused of stealing by the Korean store owner and shot dead. The shooting is witnessed by Ava’s little brother, Shawn

We catch up with Shawn in 2019, his older cousin Ray about to be released form prison. Things haven’t changed that much since 1991, and Grace and Miriam Park are attending a memorial for another black teenager, shot by the LAPD. Ava and Shawn’s Aunt Shelia is one of the speakers.

But there is more that connects these families. Another shooting brings the past out into the open for Grace, and she has to question everything – her parents, her upbringing, her place in the world.

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.

Shawn was the stand out character for me, written with such empathy. He has been through so much in his life and is trying his best to make a future for his family. But the one thing he can’t control is other people. 

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. 

Highly recommended.

‘The Guilty Party’ by Mel McGrath #FridayReads #BookReview

Hive

On a night out, four friends witness a stranger in trouble. They decide to do nothing to help.

Later, a body washes up on the banks of the Thames – and the group realises that ignoring the woman has left blood on their hands.

But why did each of them refuse to step in? Why did none of them want to be noticed that night? Who is really responsible?

And is it possible that the victim was not really a stranger at all?

Cassie, Anna, Dex and Bo have been friends for years, and despite two of them being in long term relationships with partners outside ‘The Group’, they are closer to each other than to anyone else.

But they’re getting older, in their thirties, and the cracks in ‘The Group’ are beginning to show – at least for Cassie, who seems to have always been just a bit on the outside.

It’s Cassie’s 32nd birthday that brings everything to a head. The four friends witness something horrible – and their reactions, both as individuals and as ‘The Group’ begin an unravelling in the friendship that will lead Cassie on the path of some really sinister discoveries.

It’s not easy to write characters that readers will despise while still making sure they are engaged and invested in the story. The author manages do that here. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, but I did care about what they witnessed and what was going to happen about that. 

I wasn’t sure about the whole ‘fossil’ theme, and I did wonder at Cassie’s very quick friendships with Julie and Will but this is a very clever and complex novel, and definitely worth a read.

‘Lock Every Door’ by Riley Sager #FridayReads #BookReview

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.

I loved ‘Final Girls’, and ‘Lock Every Door’ is every bit as good. 

Jules is offered an opportunity that few of us would turn down, but this novel proves that old adage that if something looks too good to be true it probably is. And the real cost of staying at the Bartholomew is one that is far too high.

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 left here and there, but I could not have guessed the at all what was really going on, or who was behind it.

Jules has a lot more depth that protagonists in horror/thrillers usually do, and her back story added an extra dimension to the novel. 

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. 

‘Generation W’ by Urban Kingdom #BookReview #RBRT #FridayReads

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Generation W’ forRosie’s Book Review Team.

Generation w

Amazon

Generation W is a collection of 100 uncensored interviews with 100 unapologetic and leading British women from all generation who answer the same ten questions about what it was like to live through the 100 years since women began to receive the vote.
Including:
Dr Averil Mansfield – The first British female professor of surgery.
Sally Gunnell – The only female athlete to win Gold at Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth level.
Laura London – At 16 years old Laura was homeless, at 18 years old she was the youngest female magician to be inducted into the Magic Circle.
Alice Powell – on the centenary of women receiving the vote, Alice Powell became the first female racing driver to win a race in Saudi Arabia, in the same year it was finally made legal for women to drive in the country.
Stacey Copeland – growing up, boxing was illegal for women to compete in, in 2018 Stacey Copeland would become the first British woman to win a Commonwealth Title.
ALSO INCLUDING:
The great-granddaughter of legendary suffragette Emmeline Pankurst, HELEN PANKHURST
The first Black leader of a British political party MANDU REID
Former Vogue cover model, leading actress and environmentalist LILY COLE
Beyonce ‘Freedom’ and ‘Runnin’ songwriter CARLA-MARIE WILLIAMS
The first mainstream celebrated female of rock music SUZI QUATRO
Ten times European Gold Medallist Speed Skater ELISE CHRISTIE
BBC Radio 1 DJ JAMZ SUPERNOVAM
PR legend and activist LYNNE FRANKS OBE
Elusive grafitti artist BAMBI
Former Chair of British Library and principal at Newnham College, Cambridge University DAME CAROL BLACK
And many more.
Reading within you will find inspiring stories and truths on how remarkable women have overcome their toughest moments and be able to discover what makes them truly happy, beyond the accolades and legacy. Generation W is one of the most intimate and inspiring books of the 21st century. Now that is on Ebook you can read it anywhere and any time. Perfect for when you need a reminder what you can achieve when you fight for what you want in life. 

There’s so much inspiration to be found in this book, that asks one hundred women the same questions, resulting in some very different answers.

The interviewees come from so many diverse walks of life and all have their own very individual stories to tell. Each woman featured has their own take on what it is like to be a woman in the modern world, what has inspired them, what advice they would give to other women, and how they feel women are portrayed.

It’s lovely to have the voices of so many different women showcased and the interviews provide a varied and inspiring look at just what women are capable of and can achieve.

I do feel that things became a little repetitive and formulaic with the same questions being asked, but I can really appreciate why the authors chose to do this. I think that, because of this structure, this is really a book to dip into, to read two or three interviews and then to dip into again on another day.

I liked that the women were given the freedom to use their own voices and that their replies were included exactly as they were given. That said, the introductions to the interviews and the other sections of the book could have done with a bit of tidying up – the book would really benefit from an edit and proofread, which is a shame, because it does detract somewhat from the interviews.

That said, this is a very thought-provoking book that’s most definitely worth a read.

4 stars