Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Published by Orion Books

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say

Nancy, Eleanor and Mary met at college and have been friends ever since, through marriages, children and love affairs. 

Eleanor is calm and driven, with a deep sense of responsibility, a brilliant career and a love of being single and free – despite her soft spot for her best friend’s husband.

Mary is deeply intelligent with a love of learning, derailed by three children and a mean, demanding husband – she is now unrecognisable to herself and her friends.

Nancy is seemingly perfect: bright, beautiful and rich with an adoring husband and daughter – but beneath the surface her discontent is going to affect them all in terrible ways. 

When Nancy is murdered, Eleanor and Mary must align themselves to uncover her killer. And as each of their stories unfold, they realise that there are many different truths to find, and many different ways to bring justice for those we love…

What I Say

Women, Eleanor thought, carry guilt and responsibility like a second skin, so much it weighs them down and stops them ever achieving quite everything they should.

Over the years, I have come to realise that the kind of novels I love to read are ones where they are female led, the same age as I am, but most importantly with a moral and ethical code far removed from mine. Why? Well, in my opinion they make the most interesting and compelling stories.

Close enough to me so I can relate to their hopes and fears, but just deliciously twisted enough so that I can delight in the dilemmas and situations they find themselves in!

Do I seem that sort of person? Maybe you have a different view as to what kind of person I am, and that right there is the whole crux of Imperfect Women. Who really knows us, and what is the difference between our public and private selves? After all, we know that #PerfectionIsOverrated don’t we?

Three seemingly close friends Mary, Nancy and Eleanor met at University and have been together ever since. They have been there to support each other through affairs, marriage, childbirth and secrets.

These women seem to be the perfect and supportive friend group – until one day Nancy goes missing after having dinner with Eleanor and she is found dead. Instantly their world is turned upside down, and when Eleanor goes to Nancy’s house, Nancy’s husband Robert, confesses he believed that Nancy was having an affair. The thing is, Eleanor knew – but only that the man was called David and she had met him at work.

From this point on, the lives that these women have held together for so long starts to unravel in ways they could never have imagined. Eleanor and Mary are left facing the reality that the woman they believed they knew so well was someone they didn’t really know at all. Eleanor and Mary are desperate to find out what happened to their friend, but don’t for one minute think this novel is a murder mystery.

Imperfect Women is so much more.

As we hear the stories of each of the women – each has a section of the novel’s narrative to herself, what becomes increasingly apparent is this is a novel about the choices women make or are expected to make. It also shows the unpalatable truth that whichever one you choose it won’t be the right one. Nancy is a stay at home mum with an apparently fabulous and carefree lifestyle, Eleanor has dedicated her life to her career working for charity, and Mary has put aside any ambitions to dedicate her life to her ungrateful academic husband and her three children – and she has become invisible to society.

Little by little we start to understand what exactly is going on for each of the women, and how the lives they have lived and projected to the outside world may have seemed to be one thing, but in fact it is only when we read each of their narratives do we understand the way in which they constantly judge themselves and their friends.

Nancy is apparently living a fabulous life – she doesn’t have to work, she has a house in the city and one in the country for weekends, and a husband called Robert who adores her and their wonderful daughter Zara. Scratch beneath the surface and you see a woman who is living in a gilded tower, whose husband has basically forbidden her to work, and has struggled with the isolation and mundanity of motherhood and bringing up a child. It seems understandable that she should be drawn to seeking something beyond the confines of her marriage. I really felt Nancy’s frustration and desperation to feel something, anything that wasn’t what she was told or expected to feel. It seemed almost logical that an affair would give her this sense of liberation from her life – but not that it would culminate in her death.

Eleanor has established herself as the career woman, who is apparently the most independent and driven of the three. She works hard and loves what she does, but as a reader you get the sense that she does question whether she has made the right choices. Having children was not part of the equation for her, and it is interesting to see how everyone else felt it was their place to comment on her choices. I felt she was envious of Nancy, and when the opportunity comes up for her to be closer to Robert – she has no qualms about taking it. This is the thing with all these women. They assure each other that their bond is unbreakable, but at certain key moments, they each prove their morals take second place to their own needs and wants.

Mary was the character I felt closest to. She is married to the unappreciative and quite frankly odious Howard. He has systematically stripped away her self belief and confidence over the years as he slides from affair to affair, all the while berating Mary for not living up to his expectations. Her intelligence and own hopes and dreams have been disregarded as she has to look after her three children (four if you count Howard!) and she is becoming increasingly jaded and accepting of her own life. She loves her children passionately and devotes her life to them, but she has also lost her own identity and I think this is so true of many women over forty. We are someone’s wife, someone’s Mum, but as Mary realises, when the chance presents itself, she has to find the courage to change everything and become Mary again.

As I read the novel, what worked so well for me were the revelations not only about each of the women, but also about the connections they had with each other too. Little by little, Araminta Hall drip feeds little pieces of information that slowly start to come together, and then the realisation hits you as to how much and how little these three friends really know about each other!

When the identity of Nancy’s lover is revealed (no of course I’m not going to tell you, read the book!) the lives of the women are changed forever, and I loved how this gave Eleanor and Mary the impetus to take control of their lives. As the novel moves to its conclusion, which is done so well and is not what I expected, I thought it was poignant how Mary and Eleanor reconnected and how the longevity and unspoken bond of their friendship was what gave them strength to carry on- even though they still weren’t being entirely honest with each other.

Imperfect Women is a novel that will reinforce what you already know about women today – that they can be career orientated or stay at home to raise their families, but that both choices are seen as imperfect, and to mix the two is regarded as taking neither seriously enough. It also raises many complex questions about who decides what women should do, and why we still allow ourselves to be defined by others expectations and needs and desires, and still lack the confidence to put our own demands first.

I loved it.

Thank you very much to Francesca Pearce at Orion for my gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out what these other brilliant bloggers have been saying too..

Comedy Women In Print Shortlist Shadow Panel – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Beth O’Leary:  The Flatshare

Published By: Quercus Books

Buy It: here

 

What They Say: 

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

What I Say

I have a little confession to make here, seeing as I am (hopefully) amongst friends. Unlike the other books on the Comedy Women In Print Novel Shortlist, I read and loved The Flatshare when it originally came out.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, and being completely honest with you, I loved writing this review, and although it is a very different style from what I normally do, I am proud of it. I wrote it as soon as I had read it, and every word came straight from the heart. The Flatshare is the sort of novel that makes you believe in love, joy and happiness and heaven knows we need it at the moment..

Tiffy Moore has just dumped an awful boyfriend called Justin.

Tiffy works at a publishing house and Leon is a Palliative care nurse.

Tiffy has a scatty client called Katherin, who is just about to hit the big time with her book about crocheting, and she needs Tiffy just as much as Tiffy needs her.

Tiffy decides to rent half of Leon Twomey’s bed.

Tiffy is at work when Leon isn’t and vice versa.

Tiffy starts to leave post it notes for Leon, little ones at first, longer ones as they start to communicate.

Leon starts to learn about Tiffy from the notes she leaves him, and Tiffy starts to learn about Leon, and they start to cook and look out for each other.

Leon has a brother called Ritchie who is in prison for an armed robbery he says he didn’t do, and is waiting for his uselesss lawyer to speed up his appeal.

Leon nurses a man called Mr Prior who was in love with a man during World War II and before he passes away, Leon wants him to be reunited with the love of his life.

Leon and Tiffy start to edge closer to each other, realising that they are attracted to each other.

Leon and Tiffy go to Brighton to find Mr Prior’s Mr White, Tiffy hurts her ankle and Leon and Tiffy spend the night together… but nothing happens.

Leon and Tiffy return back to their flat, and suddenly everything has changed between them.

Their Flatshare is no longer as uncomplicated as it should have been, as more things happen and other people get involved.

Leon and Tiffy realise that sometimes, you have to take chances and go beyond what you have accepted for so long, to understand you are worth so much more.

Leon has to try to open his heart and life up to the things he has tried to run away from, to finally find the happiness he deserves.

Tiffy has to realise that the man of her dreams is not the one who controls her every move, and that she has to believe in herself to really find the love she deserves.

Leon and Tiffy are relatable, flawed and fully formed characters who will come into your lives and are impossible to forget.

Leon and Tiffy share the novel with their unique voices and viewpoints, and the story moves along at a perfect pace, filled with normal friends like Mo, Gerty and Rachel.

The Flatshare is the novel we all need to read, especially now when we have been dealing with the strangest and most unfathomable times. It is a gorgeous, joyous, unapologetic, heartfelt book that is impossible to put down, and even harder to forget.

The Flatshare is a novel that restores your faith in people and in love and that sometimes it can come when you least expect it.

The Flatshare shows that you can read a romantic, comedic novel that will turn all the cliches on its head, but at the same time it is whip-smart, genuinely funny, and made me wish I had a Leon of my own in my life.

Beth O’ Leary has written a novel that I absolutely loved, cannot stop recommending, and was just what I needed to read.

Tiffy and Leon share a flat.

Tiffy and Leon share a bed.

Tiffy and Leon finally meet.

Tiffy and Leon’s story is The Flatshare.

I am so glad that I met them, and I think you will be too.

Comedy Women In Print Shortlist Shadow Panel- Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Published by John Murray Press

Available at all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say

Routine makes Majella’s world small but change is about to make it a whole lot bigger.

*Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers. 

Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.

What I Say

As I have got more and more into judging the novels on the Comedy Women In Print Shortlist Prize, one of the many things I have learned is that it means I have a responsibility to read all the books, whether it is one I would choose to read or not. That is the wonderful thing about reading, that in picking up books outside my comfort zone, I have not only found new authors, but also have had the chance to step into the worlds of unlikely protagonists like Majella O’Neill.

Big Girl, Small Town is absolutely and completely Majella’s story and we are with her every step of the way.

It takes place in a Northern Irish town called Aghybogey where Majella lives and works. In fact she has never been anywhere else, and the town she lives in is her world. She works for the minimum wage in a fish and chip shop, and is also dealing with her Mum who is an alcoholic and utterly dependent on Majella. Her father is no longer living with them, having vanished as The Troubles raged around them.

The domestic and mundane life that Majella and her family has, is set against the world around them, and although The Troubles are known as an historical event, in Majella’s world they are part of the fabric of her family’s history too. We learn that her Granny has been murdered in her own home, and in spite of it, Majella has to carry on as normal for her Mum and for herself.

Majella is autistic, although that is never explicitly stated, and we see how she has to naviagate her life by establishing routines and strategies for dealing with the world around her. Everything is very black and white for her, and to cope with situations like the suggestive and rude male customers at the Chippy, she had to ‘learn’ the socially acceptable way to deal with them so that she can function.

I thought Michelle handled this really sensitively – Majella copes by stimming – which for her is rocking on the balls of her feet and flicking her fingers. This isn’t made into a huge part of the story, but as readers we can see it, and it is the little details and quietly mentioned rituals and routines that add poignancy and emotion to what Majella is dealing with.

Her bedroom at home becomes her haven – a place where she can make it just as she wants it, even though the rest of the house is like a bomb site. It is her place to eat, to watch her Dallas DVDs, to think and to be in peace. For me, one of the most touching scenes in the book is when Majella treats herself to a new luxurious duvet set that she has paid for herself. It is joyous to see how wonderful it makes her feel, but tinged with sadness that she has no one to do that for her.

Majella and her mother almost become local celebrities because of her Granny’s murder, but as awkward and uncomfortable as it is for Majella, it almost gives her an air of untouchability and celebrity by association. In a strange way, this helps Majella exist in a world where repetition and the tedium become her comfort.

I would have to say that Big Girl, Small Town is not a cosy, comfortable read. The humour and laughter is balanced by the less than palatable part of Majella’s life. She has unromantic sex with Marty her married work colleague because she wants to have sex, not because she is attracted to him, and through the novel the sex she has is unemotional and without passion. The sex scenes and the way sex is talked in almost a biological sense fit in with the story because Majella is very matter of fact and direct too.

The novel also shows us the stark reality of life for people in a town who do not have a lot of money, and are trying to survive the day to day grind. At times this may seem bleak, but it is also important to note that there is an innate sense of community and at times humour too. Everyone knows everyone else, although it might seem like they don’t, they look out for each other and try to help as much as they can.

Majella’s life outside work consists of her looking after her alcoholic Mum and eating food from the chippy alone in her bedroom. She seemingly just accepts that this is her life, and gets on with it, however heartbreaking it may be for us as the reader to see.

I thought that it was a brilliant plot device of Michelle’s to have Majella working in a chippy, as it is a focal point for the town, and gives the reader a chance to meet all the different characters who go there. It may seem like nothing much happens on a daily basis, but by hearing their stories, we learn about the reality of life in Aghybogey. Going to the chippy is part of their routine and gives some people structure, other people a place to gossip, and for some characters it is their connection to the world beyond their front doors.

Big Girl, Small Town finally offers some hope for Majella after her Grandmother passes away, and a will is read, and when she realises that someone believes in her she finally starts to believe in herself. Majella understands that she has the potential to change her life – all she has to do is to find her courage. If you love a novel that is packed with larger than life characters and writing that moves from laughter to sadness and back again, then Big Girl, Small Town should absolutely be on your reading list.

It is at times undoubtedly challenging to read, as you really feel for Majella and the seemingly bleak life she leads, and it was painful at times to watch what happens to her. This I think is what Michelle is trying to show us – that although Majella is seemingly caught in a world without hope, the chance to change her story is always present – she just needs to believe in herself enough to take the first step.

How Do You Keep The Passion Alive?

You know by now that I am honest with you all, and if you didn’t, well you do now, and to be fair, you might want to sit down while I tell you something.

The thing is, over the past few weeks I have been thinking about how to keep Book Blogging. I love books and reading, and trust me that has never changed, but increasingly I have felt like I am on a Bookish Conveyor Belt in an ever changing and increasingly noisy social media world.

I love this Community which I am so proud to be part of – I truly often don’t understand how it works – still. I have learned over time to only review and talk about books I love and ask only for proofs I know I will read and review, but at the moment it sometimes feels like a job – and that’s not right.

Let me give you an example. I am always grateful for any Bookpost I get, especially when a publisher or publicist has sent me something, and I spend a long time taking and editing pictures, tagging the right people, using the right hashtags and then sharing it across my social media platforms, making sure I have the right usernames and hashtags for Instagram which might be different to Twitter! We all do those posts where we show off our bookmail and thank the senders- then when no one says anything you wonder what you did wrong.

Were the pictures not attractive enough? Did I post at the wrong time? What is wrong with my account? I spent three hours doing all that and for what?

Is it just me? Am I too sensitive or is there something more fundamental to consider- that we all need to think about.

Why do so many of us fall prey to the need for likes and shares and the ever present Fear of Missing Out. When I started blogging in 2017, I talked about books from the library I had borrowed or books from my shelves that I loved and then I got my first proof.

Looking back, I openly admit I became a bit of a blogging grabbing monster. Hanging around Twitter, checking to see if any publicists were offering proofs – and I mean any proofs – I got caught up in the thrill of having a book sent to me and posting about it. I’ve talked about this before here and I’ve really tried to not fall into the trap again. It’s hard though, and it’s something I know I have to work on.

How do you keep loving books and talking about them in a unique way after a while? Can you really still be enthusiastic and love ALL of them ALL the time? What about if you have asked for a book because every one else did and you don’t ever read and review it? Do you feel horrendously guilty and silently appalled that you’ve fallen into the trap of wanting that book because it’s everywhere? What do you do with it if you haven’t read it? Do you admit it? Why do we feel the need to ask for proofs and new releases? Does that mean lots of us are talking about the same book and if so, how do we get heard?

When my blog post views dropped, and I knew I was getting jaded with it, I tried to think of other ways to keep my account interesting. I started to do Instagram and video reviews, they feel fun and fresh and I love doing them.

Then someone made a comment to me about how in my video reviews I seemed to always love the books I talk about so much and I couldn’t possibly be that enthusiastic all the time after blogging for so long. I explained that I do read a lot, but I only talk about the books I truly love and I know that lots of people will love them too. It also made me realise that there is a fine line between really reading and appreciating a book, and feeling like I am on a schedule as I try and read a book to ensure that I have read and reviewed it before or on publication day.

What’s the answer to keeping things fresh and authentic and to not be worry about likes and latest releases? Do we as Book Bloggers also have a responsibility to those who follow us to try and be true to why we started blogging, to step back sometimes and admit that many of us have that Fear of Missing Out and it is partly our responsibility- that we add to the hype because we want to read the latest releases too? Why can’t I be content to pick a book off my shelf and read it instead – lots of brilliant bloggers do, so does it mean my need to review new books and to get likes is more important than being true to myself and my reading?

Book Blogging has undoubtedly been one of the best things I have ever done. It is also one of the most challenging in terms of time, effort and working bloody hard to build up a blog and social media accounts I am proud of, and hopefully a reputation as someone who is always real and truthful about Book Blogging.

Maybe keeping my passion alive for blogging is as simple as this – by admitting that some days I love it, some days I want to give it all up because I can’t stand or understand it, that I spend too much time tweeting and not enough reading, that I get caught up in the clamour wanting all the latest books and most of all, knowing that if I stopped Years of Reading I would hate not talking to you all about books.

How about you? What do you do to keep yourself interested in Book Blogging?

Comedy Women In Print Shortlist Shadow Panel – Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Published by Trapeze

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say

Queenie is a twenty-five-year-old Black woman living in south London, straddling Jamaican and British culture whilst slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white, middle-class peers, and beg to write about Black Lives Matter. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie finds herself seeking comfort in all the wrong places. 

As Queenie veers from one regrettable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be? – the questions that every woman today must face in a world that keeps trying to provide the answers for them. 

A darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on life, love, race and family, Queenie will have you nodding in recognition, crying in solidarity and rooting for this unforgettable character every step of the way. A disarmingly honest, boldly political and truly inclusive tale that will speak to anyone who has gone looking for love and acceptance and found something very different in its place. 

What I Say

If like me, you are on bookish social media (a lot in my case!) you cannot have failed to have heard about Queenie. When it was published in 2019, it was everywhere, and I have to admit that for that very reason, I bought a beautiful teal hardback signed copy, and then put it on my shelf and promised myself I would read it. I didn’t.

When I found out it had been shortlisted for the Comedy Women In Print Prize, it was the perfect time to read it, because all the noise around it had quietened down and it meant that I could now give Queenie my undivided attention.

I am so glad I did, because I loved this novel.

Queenie seemingly embraces and lives life to the fullest – she has a supportive family, a group of quite frankly fabulous friends, a great job and a relationship with Tom. The novel opens with Queenie at a Sexual Health Clinic with her Auntie Maggie, but it transpires she has suffered a miscarriage, and that actually her relationship with Tom is on an extended break, and he doesn’t want anything to do with her.

What is also evident throughout the novel is the amount of casual racism which permeates every part of Queenie’s world. Strangers want to touch her hair and men on dating apps make awful sexual and racist comments constantly. Tom is white, and although his family appear to have no issue with him dating a Black woman, it is their thoughtless and internalised racism that comes to the fore in throwaway comments or behaviour.

Queenie has a brilliant group of friends she nicknames ‘The Corgis’ – the fabulous Kyazike, her kind work colleague Darcy, and the ever analytical Cassandra. Queenie has an amazing and enviable bond with these women, and their WhatsApp exchanges are so natural and real, that it felt as if I was part of the group too! Their sense of protectiveness and being true and real with each other really reminded me of how powerful and needed female friendships are.

Although Queenie seems to enjoy her job on a national newspaper, she is frustrated by their lack of embracing her efforts to talk about wider issues that affect Black people. Gina her boss is exasperated at times by Queenie’s disengagement with her role, but you get the sense that Gina sees Queenie’s potential if only she could too.

As Queenie starts to grudgingly accept that she and Tom are over, she starts to meet other men – Queenie wants sex and is unapologetic about it. Some of the sex scenes in Queenie are very graphic, at times brutal and disturbing, and one experience she has with a man called Guy was really difficult to read. In fact when she goes to the sexual health clinic, the staff think she is a sex worker, and that the extent of her injuries give them concerns as to whether she has had consensual sex or has been assaulted.

The men she encounters are not looking for a relationship, and the fact she is Black is something they almost see as a point on their score card. What becomes evident to the reader as the novel progresses is that Queenie is using sex as a way to try and feel something, a connection, a sense of power, but it is really masking her mental deterioration and subsequent breakdown. There is also the sense that something in Queenie’s childhood is always simmering constantly at the back of her mind, and that is has shaped how she sees her own relationships.

This is what really resonated with me about Queenie – is that this young woman who seemingly has so much to look forward to is trying so hard to be so many things to so many people, but is also dealing with the fact that she is estranged from her Mum because of the actions of another man. Queenie’s world starts to unravel – a man she has been pursued by and slept with alleges she has been harrassing him, she is then suspended from her job, loses her home and is forced to move in with her grandparents.

Her decision to seek counselling is something her grandparents find difficult to accept, but eventually they understand why she has to. For me, Queenie’s grandparents were two of my favourite characters. Their love and care for Queenie was such a powerful thing to read, and the fact that they dealt with her in the only way they knew how- by refusing to let her dwell on what she was going through was really affecting for me.

Slowly by confiding in her therapist Janet, Queenie starts to let her and us as readers into her life, and we see exactly what happened and why she is estranged from her Mum. Little by little, Queenie starts to rebuild her life and when the man who got Queenie suspended at work is found to have lied about their consensual sex, it is finally time for Queenie to take the next steps in life, but this time, she is in control.

As a forty-nine year old white woman, I thought I was not the target market for this book. I was wrong.

Candice Carty-Williams has written a novel that draws you in from the first page, and it is witty, warm, and a joy to read. At times it is undeniably challenging too, and honestly I found some of the sex scenes very hard to read. It made me think so much about the world Queenie lives in, and the reality of life for Black women in Britain today. Queenie is a novel that is many things, it is fast moving, funny, tender and at times heartbreaking too.

What is at the heart of this novel for me is the realisation Queenie comes to as to how important and necessary family and friends truly are. Above all, it introduced me to Queenie and her world, and I very much hope I get the chance to meet her again really soon.

The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa

Published by Bloomsbury

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say.

Young, beautiful and ambitious, Bontle Tau has Johannesburg wrapped around her finger. Her generous admirers are falling over themselves to pay for her Mercedes, her penthouse, and her Instagrammable holidays. It’s her duty to look fabulous – after all, people didn’t sacrifice their lives in the freedom struggle for black women to wear the same cheap T-shirts they wore during apartheid.

Bontle’s come a long way, and it hasn’t been easy. Her shrink keeps wanted to talk about a past she’s put firmly behind her. And what she doesn’t think about can’t hurt her, can it?

Blessed adj. [pronounced bles-id] 
The state of being blessed, often referring to a person, usually female, who lives a luxurious lifestyle funded by an older, often married partner, in return for sexual favours.

What I Say.

“All men are dogs, and I’d rather be crying in a Ferrari than in a Polo Playa, honey.’

I had actually bought a copy of The Blessed Girl before I was asked to be a Shadow Judge for the Comedy Women In Print Prize because it looked just the kind of novel I was looking for! I was thrilled to see it being Shortlisted and now I had the perfect reason to sit down and read it!

Let me tell you right from the very first page, I am so pleased I did.

Make no mistake, Bontle Tau is a protagonist quite unlike anyone you have ever met before. From the moment you start reading The Blessed Girl, it is abundantly clear this young woman is passionate, determined, and defiantly unapologetic for the life she is leading. She seems to live and narrate her life directly to us as if she exists on social media, and is constantly filtering and editing her world until it gets the maximum number of likes.

Bontle has a lifestyle that many of us would be envious of. A gorgeous apartment, designer clothes, a fabulous car and Instagrammable holidays we could only dream about. The thing is, and as she tells us from the start, Bontle is a blessed girl, which means that her lifestyle is solely funded by the powerful and rich older men she sleeps with.

She also knows exactly what she has to do and how she has to look to ensure that the men who bless her stay with her and continue to fund her day to day existence.

We find out that Bontle is actually still legally married to a man called Ntokozo. They met when they were young and got married, much to the disdain of Ntokozo’s family, and for a time seemed to be happy. Unfortunately Ntokozo’s work as a doctor, and the pressure he was under, led to him becoming addicted to drugs. Bontle felt isolated and unhappy, and decided she needed to find a way to live her own life and be free from him.

As Bontle decides to pursue the life of a Blessed Girl, she seems to relish the fact that these men will give her whatever material things she wants in exchange for sleeping with them. Bontle knows this, but doesn’t have a problem with it, and is also running her own hair weave business. She regards these men as transactions in her life as a means to her achieving her own dream of opening up her own boutique. While it may be uncomfortable for us to read about Bontle’s choices, for me, the fact that she was so direct and aware of what she is doing and why, helped my understanding.

As the novel progresses, Bontle is regularly sleeping with three men – Teddy Bear, Mr Emmanuel and Papa Jeff and she has no qualms about stealing them from other women – even her friends, if they will give her what she wants. When Teddy Bear needs her to be the front of his building development she does so half heartedly, but is motivated by the fact that she will receive a nice big payment for doing so!

To assume that this book is simply a light hearted, fluffy story about Bontle’s Blessed world would do Angela Makholwa’s novel a huge disservice. What works so brilliantly is the way in which in a slow and understated way, we start to see how Bontle’s childhood and relationship with her mother and brother Golokile has shaped the choices she makes now. The perfection of her present world is set against the harsh and uncompromising reality of Bontle’s past childhood home, and the way her mother raised her and failed to protect her.

We see how Bontle is trying to cope with both of her lives, help her brother make a better life for himself and for her mother to understand what she did affected Bontle so deeply. When we finally see what happened to Bontle, suddenly I understood why the life she leads now is the one she feels will help her achieve her dreams. It may seem like the men are using her, but Bontle is using them too.

Hand on heart, I absolutely loved The Blessed Girl. It is funny, fast paced and opened my eyes up to a whole new world of Blessed Girls and Blessers that I had never heard of before. It may be uncomfortable reading at times, but the thing about The Blessed Girl is that as readers we need to understand the world Bontle came from and why. Angela’s writing is incisive, smart and puts Bontle front and centre of everything, which is where she absolutely deserves to be.

I loved it.

Thank Goodness I Can Tell You…!

As you may have gathered by now, keeping quiet is perhaps a challenging thing for me at the best of times – especially when it comes to talking about books!

For a while now, I have been keeping a secret that has been so hard not to share with you all because I am really excited about it!

Well, today is finally the day I can reveal all!

I am so thrilled to tell you that I have been asked by the fabulous Comedy Women In Print Prize to be part of their very first Shadow Blogger Panel!

Over the next few months, myself, Susan Corcoran, Janet Emson, Stacey Garrity and Danielle Price will be reading and reviewing all the novels on the Shortlisted Published Comic Novels Authors Shortlist who are:

 

Michelle Gallen for Big Girl, Small Town from John Murray

 

Beth O’Leary for The Flatshare from Quercus Books

 

Angela Makholwa for The Blessed Girl from Bloomsbury Books

 

Nina Stibbe for Reasons to be Cheerful from Penguin

 

Candice Carty-Williams for Queenie from Trapeze Books

 

Abbi Waxman for The Bookish Life of Nina Hill from Headline

Jeanette Winterson for Frankisstein from Vintage

You can read more about all the fabulous authors and their novels here

The winner of our Shadow Panel Winner will be announced in early September, and the Judge’s decision will follow.

It feels SO much better to finally be able to tell you all, and I can’t wait to start reading all these novels and telling you all about them as I go.

Here’s hoping you all follow along with all of us and the hashtag #CWIP and do please tell us what think about the shortlist. As you can guess, I’ll be talking about this a lot, all over Twitter and Instagram- it’s so important to me that you all feel involved with this amazing prize too!

So, what do you think? Any there you can’t wait to read? Any that you have read already and loved? Please do let me know – I love to chat to you all about books, so any feedback or anything else you would like to see from me, just let me know.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have some rather fabulous books to read…

Love

Clare xx

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

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This Lovely City by Louise Hare

Published by HQ Stories

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

 

What They Say

The drinks are flowing.
The music is playing.
But the party can’t last.

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

What I Say

I need to start this Blog Post with an apology to Louise.  I read This Lovely City in May, and adored it, and started a blog post straight away, but I just couldn’t find the right words to tell you all about it.  We were in the middle of lockdown, adjusting to life with all four of us – five if you include our dog, at home, all the time, and we didn’t know what was going to happen next.  Juggling everyday life, school work, new rules and not being able to go out as and when we wanted hit me hard.  The world beyond our house was also facing an unprecedented time, people were protesting throughout the world about Black Lives Matter, and my words somehow didn’t seem important enough to publish.

The thing is, that Louise’s novel is on the bookshelf in my dining room, and every time I went in there, it was sat there waiting for me in its bold and beautiful cover.  I need to tell you about this novel, about Lawrie and Evie, about why their story is so important for us all, and how we think everything has changed in our society, but in so many ways, there are so many attitudes that have not moved on from the time where Lawrie and Evie’s story is set.

Lawrie is part of the Windrush generation, who has come to our country in search of a better life for himself and his family.  He is in love with Evie, the girl next door, who lives with her mother Agnes, and they are like most young people, trying to find a way to spend some time together in a world where it is not seen as appropriate for unmarried couples to spend time together alone. Lawrie is working as a postman, but at night time, he and his friends form a jazz group and play at venues around London.  It seems that this is when Lawrie and London really come alive – Louise’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of this world which where Lawrie really can be himself are so vibrant and real that you feel you are sat in the corner watching these friends enjoy their lives.

One day, when Lawrie is on his post round, he is approached by an hysterical woman who has found the body of a baby in a nearby pond. When Lawrie is taken to the station to give his side of the story, it is clear from the moment that he enters the room, that the police are certain Lawrie killed the child. What is so unnerving and uncomfortable to read about this incident, is not only the judgements that the police unquestioningly put on Lawrie, but how casually and unconsciously their attitude and manner towards him is dripping with the racism they are so comfortable with.

With seemingly little to go on, Lawrie is released – to find that the tyres on his bike have been slashed.  This is what makes This Lovely City so difficult but so necessary to read. This is London in the 1950s. Lawrie and his friends were actively encouraged to come here by the government as part of the Windrush generation, to help Britain rebuild after the Second World War, but the shiny pamphlets and promises of a better life failed to mention the way in which they would be treated and the racist attitudes that they would encounter at every turn.

Lawrie may have been released, but as the baby who passed away was black, the police are convinced that the person who committed the crime must be too, and they step up their threats and intimidation, seemingly randomly targeting people in an attempt to illicit a confession from someone. The interesting thing in this investigation too is that Mrs Barratt, a white woman who found the child’s body is automatically discharged from the enquiry.

As the investigation continues, what is so strong in this narrative is that all this tension, suspicion and sobering sense of unease is set against the love story of Evie and Lawrie.  Her love binds him to her unquestioningly, and her determination to prove that Lawrie is innocent is the driving force throughout the novel.  Evie also faces casual racism on a daily basis, from people not taking her seriously at work, to those not wanting to sit near her on a bus. For me, these scenes were shameful to read, because they were so casual yet so ingrained in so many people.

All Lawrie and Evie want to do is to have the chance to be married, and to embrace the life that was tantalisingly promised to them by the very country that is so intent on destroying it. As the novel moves forward, it becomes clear that both Lawrie and Evie have hidden secrets from each other, frightened that revealing them could end their relationship.  Ultimately, it is only by realising that their love for each other is the most powerful and immovable force, that they can finally be honest with each other and live the life together that they deserve.

From the very moment you turn the first page, in This Lovely City, Louise Hare immerses you absolutely in London in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  The sights, sounds and world Lawrie and Evie are in are so clear and vibrant that it makes you lose yourself totally.  Both Lawrie and Evie are characters that not only are trying to find their way in this huge and sometimes cruel city, but they are also trying to find a way to be together totally honestly, when both have secrets they are desperately trying to hide from the person they love the most.

This Lovely City is a novel that will educate you, make you see how far we think we have come in terms of our understanding and condemnation of racism, but unflinchingly shows us how much there is still to do and how much further we have to go. At the heart of this unforgettable story and in every single page is the love story of Lawrie and Evie. All they want is to live together in peace, in the city they love, and their innate capacity for love and tolerance is perhaps the most important lesson we need to take from their enduring narrative.

I absolutely loved it.

Thank you very much to Joe Thomas and HQ Stories for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

 

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All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Published by Penguin Michael Joseph

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

 

What They Say..

Coming of age isn’t just for kids.

Astrid Strick has always tried to do her best for her three children. Now, they’re finally grown up – but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Elliott doesn’t have any idea who he really is, or how to communicate with his own sons. Porter is, at last, pregnant – but feels incapable of rising to the challenge. Nicky has fled to distant New Mexico, where he’s living the bohemian dream.

And Astrid herself is up to things that would make her children’s hair curl.

Until now, the family have managed to hide their true selves from each other. But when Nicky’s incorrigibly curious daughter Cecelia comes to stay, her arrival threatens to upturn everything . . .

What I Say

Let me start this blog post by making a confession to you all.  I had never read any Emma Straub before All Adults Here. If I tell you that during reading it I had to tell Gaby at Michael Joseph how brilliant it is, and that I have just ordered Emma’s novel Modern Lovers, that should give you some indication as to how much I loved this book. I was also going to do a video review for this blog tour, but after several (five) failed attempts, it seems that the only way I can articulate how much I loved this novel is to write it down.

Why did All Adults Here resonate so much with me so quickly? I just loved the characters in this novel. Emma’s skill in her writing is that she builds up a world where you can vividly see them as they are if they are existing in ours. Every page adds another layer of understanding and connection between Astrid Strick and her children.  They do things that all of us do – the everyday and mundane, they worry about each other, and often try to find the right words to talk to each other too, whilst all the time trying to navigate their way through their own lives the best they can.

Astrid is the matriarch of the family, and having lost her husband Russell a while ago, she is starting to realise that although she loved him, perhaps it is only now that she can really start to be herself as oppose to a wife and a mother.  Her children, Porter, Elliott and Nicky have all made lives for themselves, but perhaps not in the way that Astrid would have expected. Porter, desperate for a child has decided to use a sperm donor to ensure she becomes a mother. Elliott is married to Wendy, and they have twin sons – but Elliott is finding it hard to adapt to fatherhood, and he and Wendy are struggling to communicate.  Nicky and his wife Juliette and their daughter Cecelia haven’t seen Astrid for a while, and after Cecelia is bullied for protecting her classmate from a man they met on the internet, the decision is made to send Cecelia to live with Astrid for a while to give her the distance and stability she needs. It is interesting to see how when Cecelia is away from her parents and free to be who she wants, that she not only finds her voice again, but also makes a friendship with August that will change their lives for ever.

This is what worked so well for me about All Adults Here.  The children may have grown up, but they still need care and reassurance from Astrid.  When Astrid witnesses the death of her friend Barbara, she realises life is too short and decides to make certain decisions about her future that cause different reactions in each of her children – including telling them that she is in a relationship with her female hairdresser called Birdie. Astrid also realises she has not been the best mother to her children, and that she needs to address this with each of her children – but especially Elliott before it is too late.

For me, the novel also unflinchingly addressed many issues in an engaging and emotional way- there is adultery, the notion of parenting and motherhood, gender and sexuality, and ultimately how difficult it can be to stand up and tell people how you really feel, and what you really want – however old you are. It is touching to see Astrid attempt to reach her children by being open, but also to see how each child struggles with the different recollections of their childhood and relationship with their parents and each other too. Little by little, we learn not only about Astrid and her past, but each character is given the chance to absolutely come into their own, and we can start to understand why they behave as they do.

If you are looking for a novel packed with twists and revelations, then All Adults Here is probably not for you. I am a huge fan of novels about families – and for me, the more dysfunctional the better! Astrid, Porter, Elliot, Nicky, but especially for me Cecelia, are beautifully written characters, whose lives may seem far from our own, but just like us they have the same worries and concerns, and that is what makes this novel so special.

Emma Straub’s writing is tender, nuanced and understated, which packs such an emotional punch when you least expect it. I could have quite happily spent far more time with this family – and would love to see a sequel..!

All Adults Here is an intelligent and sensitive novel, that recognises we all may lead seemingly disparate and different lives, but understands absolutely that at the end of the day, our greatest need is to feel that we belong somewhere and with someone.

I absolutely loved it.

Thank you so much to Gaby Young at Michael Joseph for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review and a place on the Blog Tour.

Please do check out what these other fabulous bloggers are saying too..

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Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

 

 

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

Published by Fleet

Available online and at All Good Bookshops

 

What They Say

Juliet is failing to juggle motherhood and her anemic dissertation when her husband, Michael, informs her that he wants to leave his job and buy a sailboat. The couple are novice sailors, but Michael persuades Juliet to say yes. With their two kids – Sybil, age seven, and George, age two, Juliet and Michael set off for Panama, where their forty-four-foot sailboat awaits them – a boat that Michael has christened the Juliet.

The initial result is transformative: their marriage is given a gust of energy, and even the children are affected by the beauty and wonderful vertigo of travel. The sea challenges them all – and most of all, Juliet, who suffers from postpartum depression.

Sea Wife is told in gripping dual perspectives: Juliet’s first-person narration, after the journey, as she struggles to come to terms with the dire, life-changing events that unfolded at sea; and Michael’s captain’s log – that provides a riveting, slow-motion account of those same inexorable events.

What I Say

“I had held myself together all my life. Then I became a mother, twice, and I was not fine. I was the opposite of me.”

When I heard about Sea Wife, I was really interested to read it, because for me, a life on the ocean is one that I have never contemplated nor ever experienced.  I also thought it was interesting that the title immediately categorises Juliet, the main character  in such a powerful and definitive way.

At first glance, it might seem like Juliet and Michael have it all  – a home, two children and a life that they have constructed for themselves that satisfies what everyone in their social circle expects. They are the epitome of the American Dream. Michael works for an insurance company, and Juliet, a poet, is attempting to complete her PhD.

Unfortunately, beneath the veneer, Juliet and Michael are struggling. Both with their own emotional state, and their marriage. Juliet suffers from depression and has also suffered sexual abuse as a child and now her ‘ugly angels’ torment her, and and she is plagued by the feeling that she simply is not fit to be a mother. Michael feels trapped in his job, and is increasingly realising that he needs to do something to help Juliet and to try and open communication between them before their marriage disintegrates.

Michael’s decision is to buy a boat which he renames Juliet – something he later discovers is regarded by those in the sailing world as a bad omen.  He has to then persuade Juliet that by taking a year off, and having their children Sybil and George with them, that this is just what they all need to try and find their way back to each other.

The novel is told from a dual narrative perspective – via Juliet’s memories and the Captain’s Log that Michael keeps whilst on board.  Stylistically and linguistically it also creates two distinct stories for the reader as Michael’s writing is in bold and to the right hand side of the page, and Juliet’s is more free flowing and lyrical and it seems more at times to be a flow of consciousness. As the voyage progresses, it is interesting to see how Michael becomes less analytical and logical and instead uses his journal as a way of not only tracing his relationship, but also gaining a deeper understanding of the issues and divides within their marriage.

As they undertake their voyage, it seems like Michael was right, and that in moving away from the constraints they have so strictly adhered to, that Juliet and Michael are slowly able to see the person they fell in love with.  All the time, Amity ensures that the ocean is an ever present and omnipresent force.

At times it is passively part of the backdrop, which makes Michael and Juliet feel that they are in control and have done the right thing in coming away together.  However, they are also reminded of how dispensable and unimportant they are in the world when they have to tackle the storms and ferocious unpredictability of the sea.  It is those times that their marriage is most put to the test as Juliet has no experience of sailing and she is totally reliant on Michael’s knowledge to keep them all safe.

They may be on this voyage as a family, but the limited living space and emerging tensions in their marriage mean that as time passes, Juliet and Michael finally start to see each other at their most open and honest. They realise that politically they are poles apart, that Michael has secured a loan for the boat against their house, and they start to wonder whether they really have a future when the voyage is over.

Then Michael falls seriously ill, and Juliet is forced to make a decision that alters the course of their lives forever, and it ultimately means Juliet has to face the reality of her marriage and confront her own mental health issues too.

Sea Wife is an emotionally challenging and taut novel that will make you think about the relationships with those people closest to you, and how much we take for granted in the way we seamlessly go about our daily lives together. For Michael and Juliet, they chose to embark on this seemingly idyllically journey in an attempt to salvage their fractured marriage. Amity Gaige’s intriguing and realistic portrayals of Michael and Juliet’s world in all its brutal and unfiltered reality, make us understand that we may never truly know the person closest to us until we have no choice. Sea Wife also unapologetically makes us realise, that perhaps we never really knew them at all.

Thank you very much to Grace Vincent at Fleet for my gifted copy of Sea Wife in exchange for an honest review.

Please do see what the other bloggers on the tour are saying too..