Saturday 30 January 2021

Girl by Kenya Hunt | Book Review

[This post contains affiliate links.]

Girl by Kenya Hunt - 5/5
"In the vein of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, but wholly its own, Girl is a provocative, heartbreaking and frequently hilarious collection of original essays on what it means to be black, a woman, a mother and a global citizen in today’s ever-changing world.

Black women have never been more visible or more publicly celebrated. But for every new milestone, every magazine cover, every box office record smashed, the reality of everyday life remains a complex, nuanced, contradiction-laden experience.
Award-winning journalist and American in London Kenya Hunt threads razor sharp cultural observation through evocative and relatable stories, both illuminating our current cultural moment and transcending it."

I don't think I could ever rate this lower than a five out of five. It is an important book that everyone should read.

It is made up of essays on different "topics", mainly written by Kenya Hunt but also by a few contributors which I will get to in a moment.

Girl - "the root word in the unique love language between Black women"

This book touches on important subjects such as the rise of Black people being seen on TV, movies and magazine covers and seeing themselves being represented, the impact of Donald Trump being elected President of the United States, pregnant Black women and their maternal care, activism, and many more.

I will be completely honest and say that I feel educated after reading 'Girl'. It had me Googling people like Sally Hemings and Bethann Hardison who I shamefully and ignorantly knew nothing about.

I watch the news, I see on social media the effect that racism has but I still I had genuine shock at some things like how hard it is to book an Airbnb because your profile picture shows that you are Black. Something known as "Booking while Black." Appalling.

As I mentioned before, there are contributors in the form of Ebele Okobi, who writes about raising a Black boy ("Is this the year he is old enough to be a threat?" and the death of her younger brother Chinedu at the hands of police officers in the US), Jessica Horn (her experience visiting Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and becoming an activist), Freddie Harrel (on hair) and Candice Carty-Williams (on writing Queenie and the aftermath).

I encourage everyone to get a copy of this book because it is truly eye-opening.

Friday 29 January 2021

Shiver by Allie Reynolds | Book Review

[This post contains affiliate links.]

Shiver by Allie Reynolds - 3/5
"When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can't seem to let go.

The five friends haven't seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don't know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.

In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light."

This is quite a good debut!

The story is told by Milla, a snowboarder, in both present day and ten years ago.

In the present day, she has met up with her old group of friends, Heather, Dale, Brent and Curtis, where they used to compete but two of their group aren't there. Odette was injured and Saskia, Curtis's sister, is missing and presumed dead.

This is a 'locked room' novel and is written quite well. Firstly, there is suspicion of who actually set this reunion up. Some people got emails signed off as Milla and some by Curtis. Both of them claim not to have organised it. Then strange things happen. Someone knows who killed Saskia and they want the truth to come out.

I love the setting of Shiver. I've read a couple of books set on ski resorts and really enjoyed them despite never going skiing myself. There is a lot of snowboarding jargon but it was easy to follow. The relationships between the characters in both past and present times are well described and it is obvious that a lot of people would have had a motive to hurt Saskia. She and Milla definitely had a "keep your friends close but enemies closer" type relationship.

I liked that there was a romantic aspect in there too and the fact that Milla was able to reflect back on her competitive nature, realising that she could take it too far sometimes.

The ending did surprise me and it wasn't what I suspected at all. 

Thursday 28 January 2021

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent | Blog Tour #OurLittleCruelties

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.]

I am very excited to be taking part in the blog tour for Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent, published by Penguin Ireland/Viking Books UK.

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent - 5/5
"Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin.

Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother's unequal love. As men, the competition continues - for status, money, fame, women ...

They each betray each other, over and over, until one of them is dead.

But which brother killed him?"

Is it too early in the year to say that I think this will be one of my top reads of 2021?

This is a very character-driven novel and I was hooked from the get go. It follows the stories of Will, Brian and Luke, three brothers from Dublin, and starts with a funeral. But which of the three of them is in the coffin?

The novel is split into two parts, Brothers and Strangers. In part one, we have three different subsections; Will, Luke and Brian. It fluctuates between years but I still found it easy enough to follow along. It is a fantastic story about a dysfunctional and toxic family.

We hear about the same time periods, same events, but from their different points of view. We get a real in-depth feel of each of the characters and their backgrounds in a Irish family. 

We discover more about their relationships, their work lives (Will, a film producer/director, Brian, a teacher turned agent and Luke, a pop star turned film actor - all in the public eye) and dynamic between the brothers themselves. The highs and lows of their lives are covered in a brilliant way, especially when the rise of social media happens.

I have to add a trigger warning for homophobia, drug use, rape, mental health issues and eating disorders. This book honestly has it all but it doesn't feel like they are throw in for the sake of a story. It is obvious that it is meticulously planned and well-written. All of the characters are very unlikable and it is rare for me to enjoy a book so much when I don't really like any of the characters. Absolutely fantastic and I would thoroughly recommend.


The bloggers below are also taking part on the tour so please be sure to give their reviews a read too!

Monday 25 January 2021

Into The Woods by David Mark | Blog Tour #IntoTheWoods

[AD/Gifted - I was provided with an eBook copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Into The Woods by David Mark - 4/5

"Thirty years ago, three girls followed a stranger into the woods. Only two returned. The surviving pair have never been able to remember what happened or what the fate of the third girl was. Local rumours talk of hippies and drugs and mystic rituals, but no one has learned the truth.

This story is just what Rowan Blake needs. He's in debt, his journalistic career is in tatters - as well as his damaged body - and he's retreated to the Lake District to write. Yet even Rowan isn't prepared for the evil he is about to unearth, for the secrets that have been buried in that wood for far too long..."

This is a wonderfully descriptive slow burner. 

You are drawn in instantly with the description of a girl who seems to be being tortured. Then, we see that a short Tweet from a journalist named Rowan Blake has had a reply from a neo-Nazi telling him that he was "going to burn". Very intriguing.

In present day, we follow Rowan whose life has basically gone to pot. He went from being journalist to author to TV presenter and then right back down again. He had one decent book about a real-life serial killer but despite being told that he has a knack of getting into people's heads, he didn't get many sales and he is desperate to make some money with another. 

We also have flashbacks from the late 1980s to early 1990s at a school called Silver Birch. It is not your typical school, a bit "hippy" and they focus on reiki and shamanic healing. This is a recurrent theme running throughout the book. Here, we follow Violet and Catherine then their new friend Freya. The three of them go missing but only Violet and Catherine return.

Back in present day, Rowan is currently living in his sister's land with injured hands that he has had a skin graft on. With publishers asking for pages for his new book, he needs to find something worth writing about. His pre-teen neice Snowdrop makes a portfolio of all of the articles he's written, in a way to boost his spirits, and he comes across the story of the Three Girls. He then vows to find out what happened to the third one who was never found. Rowan enlists Snowdrop to help with the writing.

Rowan's sister, and Snowdrop's mother, Serendipity is acquaintances with one of the girls who was abducted - Violet. He then uses his journalistic background to dig deeper and get in contact with anyone who may have information, from neighbours to police officers and staff from the school. He is definitely looking at this from a "How much money can it make me?" point of view, rather than actually trying to find justice.

This book is so descriptive. The jumble of the women's memories really makes you as the reader feel confused. It has been a long time since I've read a book that is as descriptive as this. Not only does it put you in the scene but you can imagine smells and tastes too. I genuinely felt queasy at some scenes. It keeps you guessing right up until the very end.

Thank you very much to Aries Fiction for having me on the blog tour. Check out the other book bloggers in the graphic above for their reviews too.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Confessions Of A Forty-Something F##k Up by Alexandra Potter | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book in order to take part in the readalong with Tandem Collective. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contain affiliate links.]

Confessions Of A Forty-Something F##k Up - 5/5
"Nell Stevens’ life is a mess.

When her business goes bust and her fiancé with it, Nell’s happy ever after in California falls apart and she moves back to London to start over. But a lot has changed since she’s been gone. All her single friends are now married with children, sky-high rents force her to rent a room in a stranger’s house and in a world of perfect Instagram lives, she feels like a f**k up. Even worse, a forty-something f**k up.

But when she lands a job writing obituaries, Nell meets the fabulous Cricket, an eighty-something widow with challenges of her own, and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they begin to help each other heal their aching hearts, cope with the loss of the lives they had planned, and push each other into new adventures and unexpected joys.

Because Nell is determined. Next year things are going to be very different. It’s time to turn her life around."

Oh I love everything about this book! It was a joy to read.

Nell Stevens was a book editor living in LA with her fiancé Ethan. They opened up a café-cum-bookshop but everything went downhill, they lost the business and subsequently split up. Now having no visa, she moved back to London. Life as she knew it there has changed. All of her friends are married and busy with their families. 

With nowhere to live, she ends up sharing a house with a man named Edward but it's all good (even if he does have a huge list of rules!) because he is only there three days a week.

Determined to feel less like a f**k up, an old contact gets her a job writing obituaries and she becomes close friends with eighty-something widow Cricket whilst writing Monty (her husband)'s obituary. Cricket is totally eccentric and their friendship is wonderful. They are both suffering losses but in a different way and it is beautiful to read. The dynamic between them is so lovely.

This book has so many laugh out loud and relatable moments. I'm not 40 yet (11 years to go!) but even though I have a family of my own, one of the things that Nell feels like she is missing, I definitely related to a lot throughout this book. 

I did guess how things were going to pan out about halfway through which made me desperate to read on to see how exactly everything worked out. The ending was especially witty and I wouldn't have suspected anything less! 

You can find all of my readalong prompt thoughts and challenges at my dedicated 'ConfessionsRA' Instagram highlight.

Saturday 16 January 2021

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet - 4/5
The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban's vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival...and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban--a lord as mighty as he is cruel--has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah... The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

Going into 2021, I wanted to branch out a bit and read different genres that I wouldn't usually pick up. Fantasy is one of those. I don't know why, but I was just never drawn to them. This was my first foray into the genre and what a great one it was.

Judah is a foundling with bright red hair and black eyes. She has no place in the kingdom of Highfall. She shares a unique and special bond with "foster brother" Gavin, heir of Lord Elban and he is set to become Lord of the City. Judah and Gavin can feel each others pain and can communicate through scratches on their arms. Judah must be kept safe and unharmed so that Gavin will be safe.

A healer named Nathaniel (Nate) is able to sneak his way into the House and ends up becoming the magus. He is there for a reason. He knows all about Judah and needs to get to her. But why? Is she as unimportant as she thinks?

This is an absolute beast of a book at close to 600 pages and it's probably one of the longest I've ever read. I was daunted at the beginning but was shocked by how hooked on the story that I became. It is definitely a slow burner, which is sometimes hard for me as I love a fast-paced thriller, and it isn't for the faint hearted. It has made me want to read more of the genre for sure.

Wednesday 13 January 2021

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book from the publisher to take part in a readalong with Tandem Collective. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid - 4/5
When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for 'kidnapping' the white child she's actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix's desire to help. When a surprising connection emerges between the two women, it sends them on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know - about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege.

This book is an interesting one. I've seen so much hype surrounding it and I didn't really know what to expect. I enjoyed it but I thought I would like it more than I did.

The book is split into four parts and short chapters mean that it is easy to fly through.

Such A Fun Age starts with babysitter Emira at her friend Shaunie's birthday party with her other friends Josefa and Zara. She receives a call from her employer Mrs Chamberlain (Alix) asking if Emira could take her daughter Briar to the grocery store as they have had an incident with one of their windows being smashed and she doesn't want Briar to see the police.

Emira agrees but states that as she has been out at a party, she doesn't look very professional and Mrs Chamberlain is fine with that. Whilst at the grocery store, Emira gets accosted by the security guard, assuming that she has kidnapped Briar. A man named Kelley Copeland has recorded the altercation but Emira doesn't want it to be shown anywhere and wants to forget about it.

This story has a lot of depth with the characters given good backgrounds. Alix Chamberlain is a blogger who is writing her own book. Her husband is a news anchor who accidentally says something racist on TV and this instantly changes Alix's approach to Emira. She becomes strangely obsessed with trying to please her. She very much wants Emira to know that she reads books by black authors and has black friends, like she is keeping up appearances.

Emira also starts a relationship with Kelley Copeland and we realise that he and Alix knew each other from high school. Alix gets very obsessed with trying to protect her from him because she "knows what he's like" whilst at the same time Kelley is negative about Emira working for Alix.

It touches on race, privilege and female relationships and I do think it's one worth giving a go. As well as having these serious topics running throughout, it did make me laugh out loud in places.

Discussion Points:
1) "Emira," he said. "Don't tell me she makes you wear a uniform."
"Well, she doesn't make me do anything."
What does the novel have to say about the transactional nature of domestic work? Why do you think Emira and Kelley disagree on the significance of the polo shirt?

It is touched on throughout the entire book that Emira is "just" or "still" a babysitter. It is seen as something you do when you are a teenager and here Emira is, at age 25, babysitting.

Emira sees the wearing of the polo shirt as something that just happened and it continued on because it was easy. Kelley, knowing Alix from years ago, instantly remembers about the black member of staff that Alix's family had and who was also made to wear a uniform. The fact that it was embroidered with the family name suggested ownership. 

2) After the revelation at the Thanksgiving dinner, Kelley wants Emira to stop working for Alix. Do you think there was a right way for Emira, Kelley and Alix to react to their discovery? Is there always a right way to respond?

I don't think that there is a "right" way to respond but it all could have been handled very differently. If, when they first realised they knew each other, either Alix or Kelley told Emira straight away about their past relationship it would have saved the sneaking around and everything blowing up.

3) Over the course of the novel, we learn about events in Alix's adolescence, including her encounter with Kelley. How does Alix's adolescence continue to shape her as an adult? Why do you think she changed the spelling of her name from Alex to Alix?

It is very obviously that what happened to Alix as a teenager shaped her entire life, especially the incident with Robbie. She didn't realise her white privilege and I think she is now trying her best to clear her name and show that she isn't racist in the slightest but it kind of went too far. I believe she changed the spelling of her name to sound less white.

4) Much of the plot is facilitated by technology and the hyper-connected nature of modern society: Emira's encounter at the supermarket was filmed and could be shared, and Alix is able to leave New York and work remotely. Discuss the effect of modern technology in the novel. Does it cause more problems that it solves?

Technology can be both a good and bad thing. Emira was admirable in the way that she steered clear of social media and the whole reason that she was recognised following the video release was because an image was shared of her on Instagram.

Alix was able to share photographs of her week in New York after she went back home and thus making her agent believe that she was still currently in New York. It is easy to lie and make your life look different to what it truly is.

5) How does Shaunie's new job effect Emira's concerns about her own career? Do you think it is fair to say that Emira suffers from a lack of ambition? What other factors are holding her back?

I think Emira sees her friends around her having great jobs with dental and health insurance and feels like she is behind them. We hear about this when she discussed the places that each woman chooses to frequent for their birthdays. I don't think that she suffers with a lack of ambition but I do think that she doesn't know where to go from here and what she is truly capable of. The biggest thing holding her back is the thought of leaving Briar.

6) Emira continues to work for the Chamberlains through difficult circumstances, largely because of her attachment to Briar. How does their relationship compare to Alix's relationship with Briar? Why do you think Briar means so much to Emira?

It is obvious that Briar trusts Emira a lot, telling her that she doesn't like when her baby sister Catherine is the favourite. At the young age of 3 she recognises that her mother spends a lot more time with Catherine and that makes Emira want to show Briar just how special she is. I think Emira is worried that Briar will turn out to be exactly like Alix.

7) Towards the end of the novel, Alix tells Emira: "We're so impressed with how you reacted that evening, and so grateful that you came into our lives". How does this square with Alix's treatment of Emira? What, if anything, have Alix and Emira learned from each other?

I thought that it was a bit condescending of Alix to think that Emira couldn't handle herself well in a stressful situation. It really showed a huge shift in Alix's perception of Emira such as being surprised that the knew the word "connoisseur".

8) 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'. Discuss this proverb in light of Alix's decision to share the video. Can her good intentions excuse the damage done? Do you believe her intentions really were good?

I don't think that Alix's intentions were good at all. She shared the video for a number of reasons; for Emira to think that it was Kelley who had done so, to make her husband look better, for her husband's new channel to break the story and have the first interview with Emira and to promote her upcoming book. She was just selfish.

9) White privilege is a recurrent theme in the novel, especially where it goes unrecognised. Do you think fiction is a useful medium for raising awareness of this issue? In what ways might fiction be more successful than non-fiction at starting these conversations?

I definitely think it's great to read fiction books on the topic too. It puts you into the situation and puts you in a very real scenario.

10) Such A Fun Age tackles very serious themes, and throws its characters into some incredibly stressful moral dilemmas. In light of this, what do you make of the word 'fun' in the title?

I took it to be tongue in cheek and a bit sarcastic. It is not fun at all!

Friday 8 January 2021

The Captive by Deborah O'Connor | Blog Tour #UnlockTheTruth

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book to take part in the blog tour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Deborah O'Connor's latest novel, 'The Captive', published by Zaffre Books.

The Captive by Deborah O'Connor - 5/5
"The cage is installed in Hannah's kitchen, the size of a shopping centre parking space. A bed, a basin, a table and a chair. A hatch and metal drawer through which to exchange food and other items.

Then there's him. Always there on the edges of her vision, no matter how hard she tries to block him out.

Every day, the same thoughts run through Hannah's mind:
What if he speaks to me?
What if he hurts me?
What if he gets out?

In a near-future justice system, Jem, the murderer of Hannah's husband, arrives at her home to serve out his twenty-year sentence in a cell. There it's hoped he will learn the true cost of his terrible crime.

But Jem tells Hannah he's innocent, and not only that, her husband had been lying to her. Soon Hannah begins to question everything she thought she knew. Was Jem wrongly convicted? Or is he simply a desperate man, willing to say and do anything that might grant his freedom?

Only he can unlock the truth. Only she can set him free."

My first read of 2021 and what a book to start the year! It had my head spinning, had me feeling so many emotions and blew my mind!

Hannah Cavey's husband John was a Met detective and was murdered in what appears to have been a mugging gone wrong. Prisons have been slated as being "too comfy" for criminals so as part of a new type of restorative justice, criminals now must be held in a cell in the victim's family home. This means Hannah has her husband's murderer in her basement kitchen. As a baker, she sees him every day and also has to feed him.

The story is told from the perspectives of both Hannah and Jeremiah (Jem), the prisoner. Hannah is obviously distraught following the death of her husband and relies on best friend Aisling to be her shoulder to cry on and reminisces with her about the good times she had with John.

Hannah's elderly neighbour Pru has dementia and Hannah often helps her out because in times when Pru is not lucid, Hannah likes that someone speaks to her as though John is still alive. 

Jem tries his best to convince Hannah that he is innocent and played no part in John's death, even going as far to tell her that John was keeping secrets from her. But can she trust him, or would he say anything to get her on his side?

I absolutely loved reading about Jem's childhood and backstory and although he is the antagonist of the book, I liked the depth of his character and it really helped you understand him.

This is such an amazingly written book with so much packed into it. I would thoroughly recommend this to everyone.

Blog tour info:
A massive thank you for Zaffre Books for a copy of this book to review and thank you to Compulsive Readers for organising the tour. If you want to check out the rest of the reviews from the tour, you can find the blog names/Twitter handles in the image below.