Trailer Trash: an 80s memoir by Angie Cavallari review

Hi everyone! I’m back from my holiday with a review for Angie Cavallari’s memoir Trailer Trash, which I received from the author and Booktasters. It follows Cavallari and her siblings adjusting to life after their parents decide to move the family to Florida and become the owners of a trailer park.

The memoir was told in vignettes, some being a couple of pages long, others a bit longer. I found this an effective way to tell the ‘plot’; they reflect the nature of memories and how we remember some moments clearly whilst others become hazy. They are these short, sharp snapshots into a completely different world and actually helped to make this world more accessible. By having the small vignettes Cavallari could explore one aspect of living in a trailer park without bombarding the reader with information. I also really enjoyed the ‘trailer park lingo’ passage near the beginning of the book and found it handy when I had forgotten a certain acronym or phrase.

Throughout the memoir Cavallari discusses her relationship with her family, and I would have liked more in this area. For example, her mother seems obsessed with Angie’s weight, even forbidding her to eat foods that her siblings could have. It was quite shocking to read that as it does crop up more than once yet a couple of times I felt Cavallari changed too quickly to a different subject. I wanted to know more about how Cavallari felt being targeted in this way; how it affected her growing up; how this affected her relationship with her mother (if it did at all). I would have liked more introspection but that is obviously a personal preference.

The tenants of this trailer park obviously pop up in the narrative. Some I found more interesting than others but overall I enjoyed the sections focussing on them. It was a small window into their lives. It could have been easy for Cavallari to judge them; to comment on their vices and virtues. But instead she gives enough information for the reader to make up their own mind about these people without adding her own biases. It helped make the memoir feel ‘real’ rather than overdramatic or exaggerated to make it more interesting. These were/are real people and deserved to be treated with respect, and I think Cavallari does that well.

Overall I did enjoy Trailer Trash. Cavallari moves between comedy and drama effortlessly and there were moments I giggled. Like I mentioned previously I would have liked more written about the relationships between Cavallari and her family but that’s only a minor criticism. Trailer Trash is also really well-written and I would read more of this author in future.

Trailer Trash: an 80s Memoir is published independently and you can find more information here

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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite review

Hi everyone! Some people might remember that I included Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer in my predictions for the Women’s Prize this year. I included it on the list because I was intrigued by the premise but I didn’t necessarily expect it to make the longlist, perhaps due to the fact the plot is quite odd. But I was pleasantly surprised when I found out it was. Set in Lagos, Nigeria our protagonist is Korede, a nurse who receives a phone call from younger sister Ayoola during the night. Ayoola has killed her third boyfriend, supposedly in self-defence, and Korede arrives to clean up the crime scene. However, not long after this Ayoola starts to date a doctor that Korede has secretly been in love with. Not wanting to see him become the fourth victim Korede has a choice to make: does she save the man she loves or protect her sister?

The novel wasn’t what I was initially expecting. The quote on the back from the New York Times begins ‘A scorpion-tailed little thriller’ so I thought this would be a plot-heavy, fast-paced read. Instead, Braithwaite has focussed on the relationship between Korede and Ayoola. This is the heart and soul of the novel, and the strange dynamic they have never failed to interest me. Both are truly terrible people. Korede seems exasperated by her sister but she is essentially Ayoola’s enabler and an accessory to these murders. She is also an unreliable narrator; the reader has no idea whether her descriptions of characters are accurate or whether she is projecting on to them. It was fascinating to try to read between the lines in an attempt to grasp these other people better, away from the sisters’ influence. I did find Korede the more interesting of the two; Ayoola didn’t really stand out for me but this could simply be due to the fact we see events unfold from Korede’s perspective, so we gain a better understanding of what she is thinking and feeling rather than her sister.

Without going into spoilers, Braithwaite adds a red herring into the mix. The plot seems to be suggesting a particular development for a character but at the last minute it’s yanked away.  At first I wasn’t sure – I felt the sub-plot with the red herring added nothing  – but upon reflection it made the final image of the novel all the more poignant. There are some twists and turns that are quite predictable but I was so invested in the characters that I didn’t really mind.

My Sister, the Serial Killer also contains flashbacks to when the women’s father was still alive. He reminded me of the father in Chimamanda  Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus; a man beloved by his community but secretly feared and hated by his family. This idea of public vs private, that people reveal or hide different aspects of themselves depending on who is with them is present throughout the novel. Korede and Ayoola are obvious examples but some of the secondary characters reflect this theme too.

Overall, I really enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer. There are some darkly comic and tense moments which kept me on edge and I loved to hate these people. So much. Braithwaite’s writing style isn’t necessarily the most complex or ‘difficult’ out of all the Women’s Prize nominees (looking at you Milkman) but I believe she deserves her place on the longlist. This was a really fun, dark, delicious read and I can’t wait to see what Braithwaite publishes next.

My Sister, the Serial Killer is published by Atlantic Books and you can find more information here.

The First Man on the Moon by Laurent Pehem review

Hi everyone! I thought I would just share my review of The First Man on the Moon by Laurent Pehem. It was originally published on Reedsy Discovery (here‘s a link if you want to see it there or maybe even sign up as a book reviewer yourself). I would post the direct link to my review but when you see this I will be on holiday in Spain, probably consuming my body weight in tapas. Or that’s my plan anyway. But enough of me rambling on, I shall give a brief synopsis. The First Man on the Moon is Laurent Pehem’s memoir charting his and partner Harry’s experience of starting a family. A gay couple living in Luxembourg, when their application to adopt is turned down, Pehem decides to try surrogacy. They decide to try in Thailand but more problems soon follow.

The idea of surrogacy has been a controversial topic in recent years with debates surrounding the morality and legality of the practice. Pehem’s memoir doesn’t delve too far into these arguments but instead provides one couple’s experiences of surrogacy, effectively highlighting their trials and tribulations. Pehem really goes into depth about the process; finding an agency, an egg donor, a surrogate and a plethora of other factors that one might never have considered. He explains everything in a clear and concise manner, meaning if a reader approached this memoir with no knowledge of surrogacy they could still understand and enjoy it. At times the section where they are choosing egg donors and surrogates can be quite repetitive, plus so many women come and go it can be hard to keep track of names. Some readers may be put off by this, but I found the repetitiveness very effective in conveying the growing sense of frustration that Pehem and Harry were feeling. You share this frustration with them at these seemingly never-ending delays.

Pehem as the narrator was wonderful. He doesn’t shy away from difficult periods or hide his own mistakes, making him a fascinating and endearing person to watch. It feels like a painfully honest memoir and I really enjoyed the moments when Pehem reflected on his situation, providing the reader with more insight into his character. Yet he also has this great sense of humour which is sprinkled throughout. His sarcastic observations were fun to read and helped to add some lightness to the plot, which might have become too dreary without his wit. The highlight for me was his turbulent relationship with boss Alicia. Pehem’s descriptions of Bangkok were also well-done. He manages to evoke the hustle and bustle of this enormous city and the reality of living there, away from the tourist traps.

Overall The First Man on the Moon is a very interesting, entertaining read. Both funny and frustrating in equal measure, Pehem writes about a difficult topic like surrogacy in an accessible, sympathetic way. Though there were a couple of spelling mistakes, they didn’t really affect my reading experience as I was so sucked into the plot to really notice them. Whatever your opinion on surrogacy is, at its’ heart The First Man on the Moon is a memoir about family and love and certainly well worth checking out.

The First Man on the Moon is published independently and you can find more information here

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi review

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I picked up a short story collection and I was in the mood for one, having finished quite large novels. I also have never read any Helen Oyeyemi before and kept hearing good things, so I picked up What is Not Yours is Not Yours. All the loosely interlinked stories in this collection have fantastical or magical realism elements to them, with one story ‘Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose’ alluding to Red Riding Hood. I won’t review each individual story here but instead give my impressions of the collection overall.

When the stories leaned more into magic realism I felt Oyeyemi was in her prime. The main examples of this is ‘Dornicka…’ and the first story, ‘Books and Roses’. They seemed like modern-day fairy tales and I loved getting sucked into their worlds. Oyeyemi uses third-person narration which is incredibly effective as not only does it emphasise this fairy tale quality by mimicking their structure and how they’re told, but it also means she does not force the reader to celebrate nor condemn the characters. You are able to make your own impressions about these people which I really enjoyed. ‘Books and Roses’ might be my favourite story of the whole book, though ‘Drownings’ was a close second as I was getting Angela Carter vibes whilst reading it. I found their plots really intriguing, the characters interesting and both were really well-written.

However, I did have problems with some of the other stories. One thing I noticed about Oyeyemi’s writing is that there seems to be a lot of unnecessary details. For example, in ”Sorry’ doesn’t Sweeten her Tea’, she describes a character called Tyche and mentions; ‘There’s a four-star constellation on her wrist that isn’t always there, either. When it is, its appearance goes through various degrees of permanence, from drawn on with kohl to full tattoo’ (pg.53). Tyche later briefly appears in other stories. But neither here nor in the others does her ‘magical’ tattoo have any relevance to the plot; it just seems to be ‘there’. This is one example but there were a few dotted throughout the book where it felt like Oyeyemi was being quirky and unusual just for the sake of it rather than adding anything to the story.

Speaking of ”Sorry’…’ the story felt more like two separate plots mashed together. I didn’t see the correlation between our narrator having to look after his friend’s house whilst he’s away and the downfall of a once popular singer. Like I mentioned previously, characters from this story crop up in others and for the most part they work better in these other narratives. Here, they felt plopped into the narrative so the reader will recognise them later and no more. Admittedly, I did really like the theme of fame and celebrity and how fans can go to extreme lengths to defend their hero, but overall the story didn’t work for me. There was a mix of ideas but they never really blended together.

Despite my criticisms, I would like to try more of Oyeyemi’s work after finishing What is Not Yours is Not Yours. The stories that worked for me I really enjoyed and was engaged throughout, and I think really highlight Oyeyemi’s talent. Some stories sadly didn’t work but as a whole I liked the collection and am thinking of trying Boy, Snow Bird next (unless anyone has any recommendations, feel free to comment down below!).

What is Not Yours is Not Yours is published by Picador and you can find more information here

Marilyn and Me by Ji-min Lee review

Hi everyone! I promise this is my last Marilyn Monroe related blog post (for now). I promise. Coming out on 11th July this year Marilyn and Me, translated from Korean by Chi Young Kim, takes place in 1954 when Monroe visits American troops stationed in Korea after the war. A young woman named Alice, working as a typist on a US base, is designated to be her translator for the entirety of the trip. But Alice is harbouring many dark, painful secrets, and the novel flits back in time to before and during the conflict to uncover them and discover why Alice seems to have given up on life.

As you can tell from my small blurb, the main focus is on Alice rather than Marilyn. Alice is very much the driving force behind the narrative; we begin and end the novel with her. She will be quite a divisive character as she isn’t particularly likeable, especially in the first half. As a victim of war she is traumatised by what she has gone through so she doesn’t necessarily act rationally in situations. Understandable. But the way she treats and talks about people is quite horrible and her behaviour in that regard will put some readers off. Also her actions prior to the war starting are reprehensible. But I found her a really tragic yet fascinating character; I couldn’t stop thinking about her. In many ways she is a perfect mirror image of Monroe, another woman who has also suffered greatly in the past. But whilst she hides her sorrow (or at least attempts to escape from it) behind a glamourous persona, Alice seems to wallow in self-pity. This makes her both pathetic and sympathetic, and she will be either be a love them or hate them character.

With translated work I always find it hard to decipher how much credit for the writing goes to the author and to the translator. But either way, there are passages of Marilyn and Me that are very well-written. There was a beautiful line about the letter Y on a typewriter making marks on paper like a bird’s foot on snow. It was just little moments like that, that captured my imagination and reflected elements of characters’ personalities. Another image features Alice lingering on a bench at a train station after her lover has boarded and left. It conveys the loneliness that she feels, both then and in the present. Yet there were other aspects of the book that I didn’t enjoy as much, one being the romantic interest. Without giving too much away, Alice’s lover is necessary to drive the plot forward but other than that, I didn’t really know why he was there. I didn’t understand what Alice saw in him or really knew what he was doing during the war. He feels like a blank canvas that someone has forgotten to draw on; there didn’t seem to be any personality.

If you go into Marilyn and Me expecting a novel about Monroe, you will be disappointed. She is very much a secondary character to Alice. As the title suggests, the narrative is told from Alice’s perspective and it is her that guides the reader (and Monroe) through this war-torn country. I preferred the second half of the book to the first; this may be because of Alice’s lover as I mentioned above. But overall, I enjoyed the novel. It is heart-breaking at points but ultimately it has a really nice, life-affirming message within. There were some problems I had but I came away from Marilyn and Me really liking it and wanting to read more about the Korean War.

Marilyn and Me is published by 4th Estate and you can find more information here

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing the hugely popular novel by aunt and niece Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Given that it has sold over 5 million copies, I probably don’t need to write a plot synopsis but I’m going to do it anyway. It is 1946 and London-based writer Juliet Ashton is struggling to think of an idea for her next book. However, a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams living on the island of Guernsey arrives on her doorstep and peaks her interest. They begins to correspond regularly and Juliet discovers Dawsey is a member of the eponymous society. Intrigued, Juliet writes to other Society members and begins to learn more about life under the Occupation of the Channel Islands.

This is an epistolary novel using mainly letters, which for the most part works. Juliet, living in London, is quite isolated; her closest friend lives in Scotland and obviously she befriends more people on Guernsey. Other than her editor, she doesn’t seem to talk to people in the city. Her incredibly detailed letters highlight how reliant she is on these communications and hints that she might be lonely living there. Of course it isn’t just Juliet; we see letters from other characters which I had mixed feelings about. It was nice to hear other characters’ perspectives and it gives them much greater depth. However, I noticed everyone wrote in the same manner which seemed a bit jarring. There were no spelling or grammatical errors that you might find, and everyone is incredibly witty and charming. So whilst the contents of the letters reveal aspects of their writer’s personality, their actual execution is quite bland so readers don’t get a sense of these people through the actual writing style. This is only a minor criticism but I felt it would’ve added a bit more to the story and characterisation.

The story itself would initially appear quite grim; looking at life under the Occupation. But Shaffer and Barrows add an uplifting, almost funny element which stops the plot from becoming too dreary. It was really fun and interesting seeing how the locals came up with these ingenious ways to survive the war. Yet I never felt the plot outstayed its’ welcome; my edition is 240 pages and it whizzed by, though I’ll admit I was more interested in life on Guernsey than Juliet’s subplot. However, this minor plot point is dispatched quite quickly (and predictably) so it never bothered me too much. Juliet herself seemed like an interesting character in her own right so I just didn’t think it was necessary.

Overall, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a really fun read. It has some flaws and is quite predictable in places, but I found the plot quite interesting and the characters endearing. Like the movie adaptation starring Lily James released last year, the novel seems like one to enjoy at the weekend when one is all cosied up and has nothing to do. I don’t mean this in a condescending way; it just has this heart-warming quality which I found a breath of fresh air after the darker novels I’ve read. It isn’t going to break new ground but I liked this quiet, very sweet novel with a great message about community and friendship.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is published by Bloomsbury and you can find more information here.  

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates review

Hi everyone! Before I begin my review of Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates I have a small confession to make: I love Marilyn Monroe. I own 9 of her movies, 2 documentaries about her, the book Fragments which features her notes and letters, and used to have a poster of her in my childhood bedroom. Yes, I am that sad. So naturally when I found Oates’ fictional biography of the woman at my local bookshop, I pounced. The novel begins at the end; August 1962. We then go back to Norma Jeane’s childhood when she is living with her mentally ill mother and follow her life and career, eventually becoming Marilyn Monroe.

Despite discussing the film business in the ’40s and ’50s, and the novel being written in 2000, there are eerie comparisons to the MeToo movement. There are men in power who abuse said power and at moments Harvey Weinstein sprung to mind. Therefore the novel isn’t going to be for everyone due to the recurring theme of sexual assault throughout. And even when those moments aren’t being depicted, Monroe is constantly objectified. Her body is mentioned in pretty much every chapter. This makes Blonde a very uncomfortable read; as a reader, you are placed in the position of a voyeur (in some ways that is what readers are, gazing on to others’ lives) yet are disgusted by this consistent objectification, of people valuing her body over any other qualities. It felt very oppressive at times and occasionally I had to put the book down; the fact this feeling occurs throughout means there is no real relief from it. So I can see people being uncomfortable or turned off by the subject matter.

People may also be turned off by the structure of the novel. Whilst the chapters are linear, their actual contents sometimes isn’t. There might be flashbacks, with the chapter beginning at the end. The narration is also unusual, going between third and first person narration; sometimes hearing Monroe’s POV, sometimes a secondary character. There are also poems and play scripts. It is a real mish-mash of styles and narrative techniques; I thought this worked really well, particularly in the latter half of the novel where Monroe is becoming increasingly dependent on prescription drugs. It reflects her confusion and how muddled she becomes after taking these. I also liked how Oates integrated actual quotes from Monroe, whether that be from interviews or her own poems. Monroe has been talked and written about ever since she burst on to the screen, so it was nice to hear her own voice sneak into the narrative; to hear her reclaim some of her own life.

Despite the unusual narrative and disturbing topics that arise, Blonde is beautifully written. Oates’ imagery is so evocative and tender that it easy to get sucked into this world. My favourite scene involves Monroe and a fellow actor ice-skating in New York whilst Arthur Miller (only known as ‘The Playwright’) looks on. Whilst the scene obviously hints at voyeurism, it has a really sweet, joyous quality. It made me reminiscent of periods in my own life and that is mainly due to Oates’ successfully capturing this feeling of fun and lightness through her word choice and imagery. There are also really powerful descriptions of nature that capture the imagination and reflect Monroe at various points in her life.

If you are in any way interested in Monroe, or this period of Hollywood in general, I would recommend Blonde. It is told in an unusual manner and covers some difficult subjects but it is absolutely worth the read. Though a fictional account of Monroe, it is still a wonderful testament to a great actress. Also it is fun to see cameos from other Hollywood legends: Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift (another actor whose personal problems seems to overshadow their acting ability) all make appearances. One of my favourite books I have read this year so far.

Blonde is published by 4th Estate and you can find more information here.  

Predictions for the Women’s Prize 2019

Hi everyone! Since the 2019 Women’s Prize longlist is being announced on Monday 4th March, I thought I would post my predictions  since it is my favourite literary award and I always love reading others’ predictions. Whilst there tends to be 16 shortlisted books I have only mentioned 12  here  – originally I had 15 but culled 3 as I didn’t feel they would make the list due to  mixed response from both critics and bloggers/vloggers. So hopefully at least one of my 12 makes it way into the longlist! Due to the amount of books mentioned here, I will just write a brief synopsis of the plot and if I have reviewed any novels mentioned I will link, so I’m not repeating myself and also no one wants to read a blog post the same length as War and Peace. But enough prattling on, I shall jump into my predictions:

Normal People – Sally Rooney

normal people

‘Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.’

My review of Normal People  

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls

‘When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’ old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she’s not alone: on the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable woman have to be wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters’.

Circe – Madeline Miller

Circe

‘In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Yet, in the golden halls of gods and nymphs, Circe stands apart, as something separate, something new. With neither the look nor the voice of Divinity, and scorned and rejected by her kin, Circe is increasingly isolated. Turning to mortals for companionship, she risks defying her father for love, a path that leads her not to the marriage bed but to a discovery of a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft’.

Transcription – Kate Atkinson

Transcription

‘In 1940, eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathisers, she discovers the work by turns to be tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. However, ten years later, working as a producer for the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat’.

Milkman – Anna Burns

milkman

The 2018 winner of the Man Booker Prize, Milkman revolves around ‘a teenager – whose only means of escape is literature – is slowly ground down by the unwanted attentions and creeping psychopathy of a paramilitary many years her senior. This is the secret state, a place where gossip and hearsay are weaponised methods of control’.

My review of Milkman 

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under

‘It’s been sixteen years since Gretel last saw her mother, half a lifetime to forget her childhood on the canals. But a phone call will soon reunite them, and bring those wild years flooding back: the secret language that Gretel and her mother invented; the strange boy, Marcus, living on the boat that final winter; the creature said to be underwater, swimming ever closer’.

M for Mammy – Eleanor O’Reilly

m for mammy

‘Meet the Augustts: a loving, Irish, family who, like all families, are a bit complicated. They are bound together by their love for each other, but each expresses themselves in a very different way. When misfortune strikes the family, they must learn to understand each other anew’.

My review of M for Mammy 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh  

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

‘Beautiful, young, successful and wealthy, the novel’s narrator lives in an endless bubble of social engagements, caught up in the heady thrill of early 2000’s New York. Superficially her life is perfect but there is a void at the centre of her world. Fuelled by an unscrupulous psychiatrist – a wonderfully grotesque figure – she begins a regimented programme of hibernation; induced and sustained by a cocktail of narcotics and aided by an avant-garde artist chronicling her descent into self-created somnolence’.

Swan Song – Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Swan Song

‘In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him?’

My review of Swan Song 

My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister the Serial Killer

‘When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in ‘self-defence’ and the third mess her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…@

All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

All Among the Barley

‘The autumn of 1933 is the most beautiful Edie Mather can remember, although the Great War still casts its shadow over the fields and villages around her beloved home, Wych Farm. Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to document fading rural traditions and beliefs. For Edie, who must soon face the unsettling pressures of adulthood, the glamourous and worldly outsider appears to be a godsend. But there is more to the older woman than meets the eye’.

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Washington Black

‘When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven-year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of them. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him. Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape together, but then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible’.

 

And here you have it: my choices for the Women’s Prize longlist. As you can see I’ve went with a lot of former nominees and winners of the prize (Barker, Atkinson, Burns and Moshfegh spring to mind). I reckon some of the bigger names may make the longlist but whether they all do remains to be seen. It will also be particularly interesting to see if Barker, Atkinson and Johnson make the list; their books are either classical or mythical retellings so I’m debating whether they will ultimately cancel each other out. I never noticed it at first when compiling this list but retellings seems to be a key theme running through my predictions. I also selected Swan Song and M for Mammy because one deals with a famous writer and the other focuses on language; making them potentially appealing candidates for a literary prize. Or that’s my thinking anyway.

Let me know below who you think (or hoping) is going to make the longlist on Monday, when we shall find out how wrong I am! Until then, have a nice weekend!

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal review

Hi everyone! So today I’m reviewing Elizabeth Macneal’s debut The Doll Factory which is due for release on 2nd May. It is London, 1850 and The Great Exhibit is in the process of being built in Hyde Park. Whilst watching the construction two people meet; Iris, an aspiring artist, and Silas who owns a curiosity shop and is somewhat of a collector. Iris barely remembers this meeting and carries on with her life, even getting a chance to study with artist Louis Frost. Silas, on the hand, becomes obsessed with Iris and will do anything to make her fall in love with him, going so far as to stalk her every movement.

The Doll Factory is a gripping, tense read. There is quite a slow build in the beginning as you watch Iris and Silas’ separate lives; their relationships, their dreams and fears. It helps you feel connected to these characters and when they do meet and the plot truly kicks off, you are already invested in them. It is hard to put the book down, especially in the last quarter which is truly terrifying. Macneal builds up to this moment and it is wonderfully done; I was on the edge of my seat. However, I will say the final chapter felt odd, almost anti-climatic and I could have done without it and made my own decisions what happened after. It is hard to talk about obviously due to spoilers but I felt it wasn’t necessary to the plot and could have been cut.

Macneal’s characterisations are also well done. She has created well-rounded, interesting people so it wasn’t a hardship to pick this book up. I particularly liked the relationship between Iris and her sister Rose. It is complicated, fraught, and tender and I felt for both of them even if I didn’t agree with them. There is a sense of them relying on one another for support but at the same time each wanting their own life. It was really fun exploring their characters and the changing dynamic between them as the novel progresses. Silas, in some ways, could have been portrayed as a cartoonish villain. But Macneal makes him quite pitiful, especially in the beginning, and gives him enough personality that the reader can become invested in his character. He is horrific; genuinely frightening and I think a character people will love to hate. Some of the supporting players, such as Louis and Albie, a young street urchin who connects Iris and Silas, are also given depth and motivations of their own which also adds another element to their relationships with the main characters.

I also really liked how Macneal incorporated art into the story. Both Iris and Silas believe themselves to be artists in their fields and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood make an appearance in the book. The novel asks really interesting questions concerning our relationship to art; what is the difference (if any) between art and real life? How does one accurately portray life in art? There is one scene where, viewing a painting Louis has drawn of her, Iris notes that it is both her and not her. This was really well-handled and emphasised this discussion of art and how we view it.

If you historical fiction, or are just in the mood for some creepy Victorian fiction, then The Doll Factory might be for you. Macneal has captured London perfectly; evoking all the seedy bars and fancy houses and everywhere in between. Her characters are beautifully rendered; they are endlessly fascinating to watch and I was disappointed when the book ended. It is hard to imagine this is a debut as it is really impressive; great characters, evocative writing and a truly gripping story. What more can you want out of a book?

The Doll Factory will be published by Picador in May and you can find more information here.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas review

Hi everyone! So continuing my Reading Women Challenge 2019, I picked up YA sensation The Hate U Give. Between the massive success of the book and a movie adaptation released just last year, I’m sure the plot is fresh in many people’s’ memories. Our protagonist is teenager Starr Carter who seems to live in two worlds. She lives with her family in the predominantly black area Garden Heights, whilst attending Williamson High School, whose pupils are mainly white and feels she needs to act differently in both. However, her world is turned upside down when she is the sole witness to her friend Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officer.

Thomas really gets into the mindset of Starr and narrates her story convincingly. It doesn’t feel like an adult trying to mimic a teenager’s mannerisms and language; it feels natural and makes the story feel more immersive. Also Starr serves as an excellent window into the story; she is a relatable character in the sense we have all had friend/boyfriend/parent troubles as a teen but she is thrust into a complex, potentially dangerous situation which allows really interesting discussions of race and identity to occur. As a reader you experience and learn the same time she does. Perhaps because I live in the UK and Black Lives Matter is most commonly known as an American movement (if I remember rightly all the founders are American) but I found this book really eye-opening and I think seeing the story through Starr’s eyes was a very effective way of narrating it.

However, there were some moments of THUG that dragged a little. There is a sub-plot featuring domestic violence, which can be upsetting to some, but I felt that it wasn’t explored enough. Whilst it does serve a purpose in pushing the plot forward, that felt like the only reason to add it in and so it became a bit unsavoury (in a sense the characters involved aren’t really seen in the novel until the end so it is hard to connect with them) and I couldn’t help but think Thomas could have handled that topic better. Also that plot wrapped up a bit too easily for me at the end. I just wanted more. Another thing I wanted more of was character development. Apart from Starr and maybe a couple of other characters, not a lot of people evolve in the story. This might be due to seeing events from Starr’s perspective but I would have liked to have seen more of the supporting characters and their thoughts and feelings.

Overall, I think The Hate U Give is a great YA novel. It is great starting place for young people to explore difficult topics such as racism and police brutality; if I were in its target audience I probably would have loved it. But I’m no longer a young adult (sob!) and I accept the book wasn’t written for me. However, I did enjoy the character of Starr and I think Thomas’ writing is very good; very accessible and clear but with a lot of heart and emotion woven within. Although I did have some issues with the book I can see why The Hate U Give has appealed to YA audiences and achieved critical acclaim. An important, if slightly flawed, novel.

The Hate U Give is published by Walker Books and you can find more information here