Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Book Review: Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday
By Graham Swift
Published by Scribner
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Graham Swift's latest novel, Mothering Sunday may be short but it definitely packs a punch.

Mothering Sunday, 1924, and Jane Fairchild, housemaid and orphan has no place to go on her day off. With no family to visit, and her employer out for the day, she is at a loose end... until her lover gets in touch, asking for a secret liaison. Her lover is her employer's neighbour's son, the heir to an estate (after his brothers died in WWI), and is soon to be married to another woman. Life is about to change for Jane - not the affair but the generous employer who lets her borrow books from his private library.

1924 is still an uncertain time - people are still recovering from WWI. Society has shifted and people are still not sure of the future with assumptions of people's lives and the roles they will play for the rest of their lives has gone out of the window. Social mobility is possible if you're determined to take the challenge. Jane is certainly ready to make the leap - she doesn't want to be a mistress or a housemaid.

This is a novel about finding a voice in society, gaining independence, and leading a successful life outside of society's expectations. The way 'class' dominates life is explored in Mothering Sunday with the way it controls nearly all of the characters decisions with the friction and struggles but also the motivation it gives Jane to claw out of a bad situation. She has no background or family yet she doesn't let this stop her from finding a position in society.

Swift explores the importance of stories, and the way they shape our lives, and they way we look back at our lives, reshaping memories into neat stories, and create ourselves a parallel world. Jane sets out to discover who she is and who she will become. The stories she tells of her past, and of Mothering Sunday in 1924 help give her a place in society, helping her to escape the unknown.

"All the scenes. All the scenes that never occur, but wait in the wings of possibility."

Mothering Sunday is a thoughtful, emotive and subtle novel. You can buy Mothering Sunday from your favourite bookshop.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Book Review: Girls Will Be Girls

Girls Will Be Girls
By Emer O'Toole
Published by Orion
Available in paperback and ebook

Girls Will Be Girls is bloody amazing, so go and read it right now. Let me explain why...

Emer O'Toole sets out to explore why being a woman is about performance by the way we modify our behaviour, our attitudes and clothes to fit expectations of society. O'Toole explores the ways girls do this to feel accepted, and to be part of the 'crowd' when in fact being an individual would give you more power and respect. Cross dressing, relationships, body hair, and the way we use language - O'Toole battles through them all to find out why this performance to be a girl needs to be rebalanced.

This book is witty, honest, and full of personal antidotes showing O'Toole's personal journey on becoming a feminist. This personal tale avoids the book from being too academic with O'Toole confronting the issues with gender, and seeking out possibilities to change the 'norm'. If you like Caitlin Moran then you will love Girls Will Be Girls as O'Toole has the same chatty and informal style of writing.

O'Toole also makes sure the book reinforces the idea that we don't have to agree with everything. We all need to find our own way to our own version of feminism. The message is simple: There are endless ways to be a girl.

I wish this book was available when I was younger as it would have saved me worrying about my body shape and what other people thought of me. This book should be handed out to girls and boys at school to boost self esteem.

Girls Will Be Girls is one of those books which will change the way you think about gender, and the way you present yourself to fit society's expectations.

You can buy Girls Will Be Girls from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy from the publisher.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

New Published Piece: Murder and Glut

My second piece, Ways to Convince People You're Okay After a Break Up, is now available on the Murder and Glut website.

The illustration created by Christopher Harrisson is brilliant.

You can read the piece by clicking on the below link.

Ways to Convince People You're Okay After a Break Up

Monday, 14 March 2016

Heather Gudenkauf's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Heather Gudenkauf,  author of Missing Pieces, has popped by to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series. Her book is now available to buy, and I will be reading and reviewing over the next few months.


What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
The name of my bookshop would be Three Wishes for my three children ~ Alex, Annie and Gracie. Each night when they were little we would read together, say bedtime prayers and then we’d each make a wish. I always said my wish was granted when they came along.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Three Wishes would be located in an old brownstone building with high tin ceilings, floor to ceiling bookshelves and a rolling ladder. Of course it would be in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa on a tree-lined street near the Mississippi River.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
My bookstore would have lots of comfy seating. There would be squishy chairs, rocking chairs, maybe even a hammock or two.  It would have a fireplace that we would light on cold winter days. Three Wishes would have a small bakery that specializes in the cookies that my mom makes ~ peanut butter chocolate chip, Pride of South Dakota, and oatmeal cookies. It would also have to have a fountain pop station.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
Three Wishes would be different because it would be open twenty-four hours so a reader can come in a pick up a book at any time of day.  I know many bookstores already do this, but my store would have to be pet friendly so my German Shorthair Pointer, Lolo would have some friends to hang out with. I also think it would be pretty great to have a yoga studio connected to the bookstore. I’m not very good at it, but I like the idea of being good at yoga.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I could never ditch a particular section – it would be like having to pick your favourite child! My bookstore would definitely have to have a mystery~thriller, biography, poetry, children and historical fiction sections.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I would have a display table filled with all the different editions of My Antonia by Willa Cather. My Antonia is my all-time favourite novel and whenever I go to a bookstore I try to find a new edition with a different cover. I’m always on the hunt for a new one.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
It’s so hard to pick just one author ~ I have so many favourites, but I think I would choose Louisa May Alcott. I would have her read from Little Women and talk about her writing process and where her ideas came from. I would ask her what it was like to be a female author during her era and the challenges she faced. 

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Missing Pieces and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I would tell the customer that Missing Pieces is a fast-paced thriller that will make them question whether or not the person sleeping next to them each night is the person they believed them to be.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?

Chocolate cake with no frosting and vanilla ice cream.


Heather lives here on the internet and tweets here.

You can buy Missing Pieces from your favourite bookshop.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Book Review: Look At Me

Look At Me
By Sarah Duguid
Published by Tinder Press
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback forthcoming

Sarah Duguid's debut novel, Look At Me, is an ideal book for a rainy afternoon as you can finish this tightly packed domestic thriller in one single read session or even two if you want the story to stretch a little further.

Lizzie, an unemployed actress, lives with her father and brother in North London. Their lives are comfortable, with Lizzie and her brother living in studio apartments at the end of the garden, and their father supplementing their small incomes. On the surface they look like a family holding it together but all of them are grieving the death of her mother who died suddenly a year or two before the story starts. The decor is still the same, and her mother's clothes still hang in the wardrobes and their lives are exactly like they were before Lizzie's mother passed away.

Duguid explores the complexities of families and the fragile realities people build to hide the truth. One day Lizzie comes across a letter - her father has another, younger daughter. Going against her father's wishes, Lizzie invites Eunice, her long lost sister into their world.  This act of defiance creates a chain reaction as Lizzie and her family's lives start to unravel with the new arrival. This new presence in their home starts to fracture the delicate balance Lizzie has created in her life to survive the world after her mother's death. The veil of happiness to cover up the grief slowly starts to fall away pushing all of the characters to their limits.

Every character is flawed, and at times not always likeable but I liked this because it reflects real life, and at times this book reminded me of Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies with the way lies can rip apart and divide once close-knit families. Loneliness and jealousy consume Lizzie's life as she soon realises that Eunice will not be the cure her family's grief.

Look at Me is short and precise, and will grip you from start to finish. You can buy Look At Me from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.

Monday, 7 March 2016

New Published Piece: The Forge Anthology

One of my short fictions has been republished in the Fiction Forge's anthology. Fiction Forge is a writing forum where members take on writing challenges, give feedback on each other's writing and cheer leader each other through magazine acceptances and rejections. I was luck to be invited the other year and since then I have written lots of short stories and have had some great feedback.

A short anthology has been put together by the forum, and is now available to buy. My short piece, The Ice Cream Van, originally published at Grievous Angel, was written during a writing challenge on the forum.

Here's the blurb: "Introduced by prize-winning novelist Kerry Hudson and edited by Rebecca Reynolds, The Forge Anthology is a collection of over 30 pieces of startling and thought-provoking flash fiction from award-winning writers of the Fiction Forge, coming together for the first time."

You can buy the anthology from all of the usual ebook retailers via this link.

Here's the Amazon UK link.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

February Wrap-Up

The past month has been hectic so I was quite surprised when I checked GoodReads today to find that I managed to somehow read five books. All of the books I read in February were fantastic so it was really hard picking out a favourite.

Books, Books, Books

Look At Me - Sarah Duguid
A domestic thriller where the appearance of a sibling that no one previously knew comes and shatters family life. This is a short and precise novel. I'll be reviewing this soon.

Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins
Mad Max meets Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. You can read my review here.

Girls Will Be Girls - Emer O'Toole
O'Toole explores the way us girls dress up and play parts that society expects, and how it's time for us to question those expectations. This is a great book - everyone should read it. I've been reviewing it soon so watch out!

Melissa - Jonathan Taylor
This book explores the aftershocks of the death of Melissa and the mass hallucination which happens to all of the people who live down the same street as Melissa's family. This is detailed and interesting book. You can read my review here.

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout
I read this book in two sessions and I could have finished it in one session but sleep got in the way. The narrator looks back at her life when she was stuck in hospital for an extended period and her mum comes to visit. This is a book about poverty, class, fragile cracks in families. The writing is AMAZING. This is my book of the month, and I'm sure it will be a contender for book of the year too. I had heard of the author before (I watched the adaptation of her book Olive Kitteridge the other year) but never read any of her books. I am planning on reading more Strout as soon as possible. I also love the stylish front cover.

At the end of the month, I signed up to Curtis Browns' Agent Discovery Day at Foyles in London. I had to pitch my novel, and let an agent read the first page of my novel. It was pretty scary stuff (but sometimes you need to take that fear and just kick it out of the door) but I came away determined to finish redrafting my novel this year. The agent thought my first page was intriguing (and liked the title too), and that he would want to read more. He also gave me a few suggestions on how to tighten up in a few places. I recommend going to the next one if you have a novel either finished or in progress.

In February I also had a story published. You can read A Love Letter to my Slow Cooker over at Murder and Glut.

I have had an acceptance for another short piece, and I will post the link once it's available.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Gold Fame Citrus

Gold Fame Citrus
By Claire Vaye Watkins
Published by Quercus
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback forthcoming

Sand has swallowed up California - once a place where people floated to for fame and fortune but is now a place where people can no longer escape. Travel is restricted. Gold Fame Citrus is a mesmerising novel about a dusty world where people still manage to cling to hope.

Yet there are two people who do not want to leave, Luz and Ray, who survive on black market food, water rations and cola. Squatting in a mansion, abandoned by an actress, they set about on 'projects' to keep themselves occupied but then a mysterious child comes into their life, turning their plans upside down. The little girl deserves a better life than the once they can offer, and so they must find it for her, leaving behind their life, and trek across the sand so they can become a family, have a better life, be normal.

But the desert is not as barren as the media makes out. After losing Ray, Luz comes across a community who live on the edges of the dunes with a charismatic leader who takes a fancy to Luz. He can find water where others can not. His followers treat him like he is their saviour. Luz finds herself being lured into the leader's arms. The dunes surround this community, protecting them from the outside world.

Watkins' debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus, explores the force of nature, and the power of people in a push and pull battle to control the land with a sprinkling of conspiracy theories, cults, parenthood and relationships. The writing style and also subject matter of ordinary people who's lives are turned upside down by ecological disaster reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake mixed with Mad Max with desert tribes ready to set upon each other if people dare to question their faith.

This is a great first novel, and I can see Gold Fame Citrus making it onto a few literary prizes shortlists this year. You can buy Gold Fame Citrus from your favourite bookshop.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy.