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Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


Where did I get it? I bought it. I was talking to my friend Lucinda about books with queer parents, especially books set in the UK, and she suggested this one. I bought it on eBay I think, it's brand new though. 

What's it about? Izzy is twelve years old and is just starting Year 8. She lives in a little town in Suffolk, with her parents, her elder sister Megan, and her younger brother Jamie. She is best friends with a girl called Grace, and at school the two of them are really into drama and have tried out for parts in this term's musical, Guys and Dolls. 

A few weeks into the term, Izzy's parents tell the family that Izzy's Dad is trans. She has been going to a support group for a few months and now wants to live openly as a woman. Each of the children reacts differently, and there's a lot of finding out things about Danielle, and about how to refer to her, and about what she's been through to get to this point. 

Izzy is quite scared about people at school finding out, though. She thinks she'll be the topic of conversation forever if it happens, and she already gets bullied a bit by a girl called Mia. 

As the term goes on, Izzy finds out lots of things about herself and about her parents and her family. I loved Izzy, she's a great main character and I was on her side the whole way. I liked her friendship with Grace; it felt very natural with its ups and downs. Being twelve is hard anyway! 


What age range is it for? Eleven onwards, I think 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously! There are some other trans people in the book, which I really liked. 


Are any main characters people of colour? It's not said, but I think Grace is black. I'm saying this because her surname is Okafor, which is a Nigerian surname. I can't be sure, unless I missed something. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? No 


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? Gosh, none. I loved this book. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes a hundred percent. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was down the side of the bed, which seems to be how I choose my books these days! 

 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, it puts a spotlight on Izzy's house 

 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of The Last Days of Archie Maxwell by Annabel Pitcher, although Archie's dad is gay not trans 


How many stars? Ten out of ten 

 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it!

Ana on the Edge by A J Sass - Review

Saturday, December 26, 2020


Where did I get it? I had it preordered because I had seen hype about it on Twitter and wanted to read it! It arrived and I picked it up quite quickly because I was desperate to read it. 


What's it about? It's about a nonbinary kid called Ana, and at the end of the book she is still using the pronouns 'she', so that's what I will use for this review. Of course, in Ana's future she may choose a different name or different pronouns or both, and that's fine. And also of course, she may be nonbinary and use the pronouns she/her/hers, because that's fine too. But I just want to explain why I'm using those pronouns. 

So, Ana is a champion figure skater. She's twelve, she lives with her mom in San Francisco in a studio flat. Her mother works full time and tutors in the evenings and at the weekends to be able to afford Ana's skating, plus all the things like costumes, clothes, trips and so on. Ana's best friend is Tamar, who is a synchronised skater. Their coach is called Alex. 

Alex is about to move rinks to one in Oakland, so it's decided that over the summer, Ana will skate there with him. She'll go every weekday with Faith and Hope, who she knows vaguely, and she'll skate there and work on her new programme for the next year of skating. In return for free lessons, she'll work as an ice assistant with kids who are learning to skate. One week, there, she meets Hayden. Hayden at first assumes she's a boy, and Ana doesn't correct him. 

The two start a friendship, and Ana realises that 'girl' maybe doesn't describe how she feels. She starts to pull away from Tamar. She works with a new choreographer, Miss Lydia, on a dance, and gets a new costume. Both these things scream 'girl', but again, Ana doesn't feel like that. She really wants to live her truth, but is scared of doing that.

I loved this book for many reasons, especially because I felt it dealt sensitively with Ana's identity and how she finds her truth. I also like that it showed a poor family. Ana and her mom live in a studio apartment and share bunk beds; Ana's dad isn't around. I liked how their money situation was handled. I also really liked the look at competitive figure skating, which is something I find interesting!


What age range is it for? It's middle grade, so I'd say anywhere from a mature nine year old upwards. 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes! Obviously! It's a broad spectrum. I loved how Ana discovered things about herself, and how she learnt about being nonbinary. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Ana and her mother are Chinese-American. Ana's mom came from Hawai'i originally, as did Ana's dad. Ana's dad was Jewish, so Ana and her mom sometimes go to temple too. Ana is expecting to have a bat mitzah and there's a lovely bit where she wonders what that might look like for her as a nonbinary person. (I am SURE there are Jewish nonbinary kids who have had a mitzvah!) 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No. 


Is there any sex stuff? No, and there's a refreshing lack of focus on bodies at all (which is good when you're dealing with LITERAL CHILDREN). 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? No 


Are there swear words? No, and actually this is done really well. For instance, Tamar says things like 'flipping' and 'hecka', which I thought suited her perfectly and were really good ways of not having kids swear. At one point she does swear, and the narration says something like "Tamar says a word that would get me grounded for a month" which is SO GOOD. 

 

What criticisms do I have? None, this is so close to being a perfect book. A J Sass is an author that I will definitely be keeping an eye one. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes! A hundred percent! Especially for kids around Ana's age, but really for everyone. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just really wanted to! 

 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, it shows Ana in a costume she feels comfortable in. 

 

What other books is it like? It is comparable to Rick by Alex Gino, which is also great. 


How many stars? Five out of five. Loved it! 

 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'm definitely keeping it! What's next, A J? 

Boy Parts by Eliza Clark - Review

Monday, December 21, 2020

My friend started an informal book club the other month, and I suggested Grown for our first book, so we read that in November and chatted about it then. Another member, my friend Lori, suggested Boy Part for our December book, because she had just read it, so we all said yes. It was just 99p on Kindle so I got it on there.

I started reading this and immediately knew it was something my friend Laura would like, so I encouraged her to buy it and join the book group. She loved the book too, so I'm looking forward to seeing what she thinks of it at the book club at the end of December. I also messaged my friend Paul, who's an artist in Gateshead, to see if he'd read it and it turns out he had, so that pleased me a lot. 

So, the book is about an artist in Newcastle (which is why I thought Paul would like to read it) called Irina. At the beginning of the book she's working in a bar while also selling her erotic photography. She takes photos of men that she scouts on the streets in erotic and sometimes fetishistic poses,turning a female gaze on a part of art that is usually a male gaze on women, not the other way round. She doesn't just choose pretty men, but all kinds of different men. She has a type, but she's learnt not to sleep with her subjects. Hasn't she?

She's attacked at work and is given a six week sabbatical, and at the same time she is contacted about an exhibition in Hackney that the curator wants her to exhibit in. Irina starts going back over her past catalogue. The book is somewhat of a memoir in that way, because Irina is now 28 but the reader learns about her life and her art from the age of fifteen upwards. 

Irina has two friends - Flo and Finch. She and Flo had a brief relationship after uni, and Flo's boyfriend Michael and Irina don't get on. Finch is one of a younger cohort of students that "love" Irina and her work. Finch is desperate to get Irina's feedback on his work, but Irina just keeps not getting round to it. Flo tells Irina about a man she might like at the local Tesco, and indeed the two start a friendship/relationship. 

Irina has mental health problems, that much is clear. She self harms, she's anorexic and bulimic. She drinks too much and does a lot of drugs. She is the most unreliable narrator I think I've ever read. There's lots of things in the book that I'm not sure whether they were real or not. I'll be interested to see what the rest of the book club thinks, because I could have gone either way on a lot of things. I didn't dislike her, but I didn't like her either. I felt sympathy for her, but also wanted to give her a shake. There was a lot to understand about her, like her cold relationship with her mum and how she was groomed as a teen, but I equally didn't like her much. 

I like books about art and music because it's hard to portray mediums that use sight or hearing in words, and I think this book did it brilliantly. I could picture each of Irina's pictures perfectly. I liked her art, but there was a non-consensual nature to a lot of it. 

Which brings me on to trigger warnings. There's lots. There's all the mental health stuff above, plus drug and alcohol use, rape, sexual assault, grooming, and more. It's a hard book to read, but so worth it. I really liked the style of the writing, too. I liked reading about a lass from Newcastle trying to make it in a world that is focussed very much on London, and middle class artists. I'll definitely read something by the same author. I'm giving this five out of five and highly recommend it. 

Grief Angels by David Owen - Review

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Where did I get it? Netgalley, so thank you very much to Little, Brown Book Group for granting me access.


What's it about? Duncan is in his last year of school and has three close friends - Lorenzo, Saeed, and Matt. Duncan feels a bit left behind, though, and he feels like the group is splintering a little bit. The other three are sometimes kind of dickheads (I loved how this was portrayed) and Duncan feels like he's just not as mature as Lorenzo, who is obsessed with the gym and his new buddies there, and Matt, who has a girlfriend. 

There's a new boy at school, Owen. He's transferred in the middle of a school year and there's tons of rumours about why. He and his mum go to church with Duncan's parents, so they're invited over. Duncan learns that Owen's dad has recently died and he and his mum have moved a couple of towns over. 

The two start a tentative friendship, brought closer by a love of a sci-fi programme that they watch together over video chat. Lorenzo and the others try to drive a wedge between Duncan and Owen. Everyone acts in terrible ways in one way or another, but eventually, friendship prevails. 

The story is told from both Duncan's and Owen's points of view, which I really liked. I felt like I really got to know each boy, and I liked them. There are also parts where something magical happens to Owen - something which has to happen to get him through the grief and the other emotions around losing his dad. 

I thought that the relationship between all the boys was realistically portrayed, in both good and bad ways. I've seen David Owen speak at a couple of conferences, so I was keen to read something by him. However, I was tweeting about this book when I first started reading it, because there's some fatphobia especially at the beginning but throughout. I was very disappointed by this. Matt is fat, and there's some really horrible parts about his body. For instance, Duncan thinks that Matt's "garantuan" hands are usually more used to holding a kebab than whatever it is he's holding at that point, and there's a whole bit about how it's surprising he has a girlfriend "despite" his giant belly and all of that. 

This is not okay. It's not okay to have phrases like this in any book, but especially not one for teenagers, whose bodies are changing very quickly and sometimes in confusing and surprising ways. For a book that does so well in other ways (which I mention later), I think it's a shame and I was disappointed. I'm sick of fatphobia all over the place. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No, but there's some homophobic teasing from Duncan's friends and Duncan and Owen both respond by being like "We're not together, but it wouldn't matter if we were". I liked that. 


Are any main characters people of colour? No. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Duncan has depression and I really liked this facet of the book and how it was written about. Also Duncan's sister Emily uses a wheelchair, and it's a very non issue, which I also liked. 


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? Only prescription medication, I think. 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, as Owen's dad has recently died. It's not too graphic, but it is there. 


Are there swear words? A few yeah 

 

What criticisms do I have? The fatphobia, but that was almost it. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, but be careful if the fatphobia will be triggering for you. It was for me, and I'm a grown up. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I've been meaning to get around to it. 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's nice, but I'm not sure it really gets across what the book is about. Yes, there's a fantasy element, but it's really about the friendship between the boys and how, although each of them has dealt with difficult things in their lives, they're still whole and still human. 

 

What other books is it like? I can't think of any, I'm sorry 


How many stars? Four out of five 


Grief Angels was published on 5th March 2020. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver - Review

Sunday, December 13, 2020



My partner read this book last year and really enjoyed it, and then my friend Laura lent it to me. She loves it and wanted me to read it. She's the person who got me to read The Woman in Black which is maybe my favourite scary book, so I know that her recommendations in this area are good. Then on my Ghost Story Writing Course the tutor Adam mentioned this book which made me pull it out to put at the top of the pile. I'm a terrible person to lend books to - if you do and you want them back any time soon, please do keep reminding me. 

Anyway Lee then said I should definitely read it immediately, so I did. 

It's set in the late 1930s and has the spectre of World War II looming on the horizon. Jack Miller is an ordinary clerk in London, feeling dissatsfied with his life, so when he gets the opportunity to go on a year long expedition of the Arctic with four other men, he jumps at the chance. He will be the wireless operator at their base camp in Spitzbergen (which is now known as Svalbard, and which I'm familiar with thanks to His Dark Materials, haha). Alongside will be four upper class men - leader Gus, and four other Oxford educated men. 

However, the trip there is not without incident. One man has to drop out immediately. The others enlist the help of a boat to take them to Gruhuken, which has previously been inhabited but is no more. There was a tin mine there and some fishermen, I think. The boat captain is reticent to tak them to Gruhuken, but he is eventually persuaded. Another of the expedition has to drop out, meaning there's only Jack, Gus, and one other, Gus' best friend of many years. Oh, and their eight huskies. 

On the day that the ship is due to leave the three of them for months, Jack sees a fisherman in waterproof clothing standing by their cabin. The ship captain calls this spectre 'the one who walks'. The ship leaves. It's the summer, so the sun never sets. At first, the expedition goes fine, although there is friction between the men. Gus keeps peace. Jack does what he needs to. The days start getting shorter. A couple of weird things happen, but they're easily written off.

But then Gus and the other man (whose name I can't remember, I'm really sorry... it's a few weeks since I read this) have to leave, leaving Jack alone. He is sure he'll be fine, but the tension really ramps up, especially once it passes the time when the sun rises at all. Instead, there's eternal night. And it becomes clear that Jack is not alone after all.

There are some brilliantly scary bits in this book. I'm quite scared of the dark anyway, so the idea of perpetual night with no electricity is automatically terrifying. Jack begins to be scared of the outside while he is in the cabin with no curtains at the windows, which I thought was brilliant. There's a great part with the huskies which I thought was brilliant. The writing is really clean and sparse and very atmospheric. There aren't a lot of encounters with the ghost, but the ones that are there are terrifying. It's an excellent ghost story.

I did feel the end let it down slightly. I'm not sure how I would have ended it, but it would have been a bit different I think. But that's my only gripe. I'm giving the book four out of five as I really liked it. 

Grown by Tiffany D Jackson - Review

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Where did I get it? I ordered it as I had read a couple of reviews and thought it sounded really good. It arrived in the middle of October and then I read it in November for a virtual book group. I suggested it. I'm writing this before that happened, so I don't know what everyone else thought!


What's it about? Enchanted is seventeen and lives in New Jersey with her family. She's the eldest of five kids, including sister Shea, who's fourteen, twins, and a little girl. Her parents work all hours to pay the bills and keep Enchanted and Shea in private school, meaning Enchanted is often left looking after the kids. She's on the swim team, but what she really wants to do is sing. She goes to an audition for a thing a bit like American Idol or The X Factor, and while she's there she meets musical superstar Korey Fields. She becomes infatuated with him, and eventually her takes her on tour as a backing singer. 

But his charm turns abusive. He stops Enchanted having any contact with her family, he tells her that he's paying their bills now so she can't leave, and he is physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. She's not allowed to do anything by herself, and she's starved, kept from going to the bathroom, told what to wear, and so on. Korey has another girl in tow, too, and an absolutely chilling assistant, Jessica. 

At the very beginning of the book, Enchanted wakes up in Korey's apartment, and finds him covered in blood, dead. So throughout the book there's stuff from 'now', when Enchanted is having to answer questions about what happened, and 'then', when we see how she descends into getting stuck in Korey's circle with no hope of escape. In the 'now', every way Enchanted tries to turn to prove herself innocent is met with problems. 

I immediately drew parallels between what R Kelly did to Aaliyah and other women (watch the documentary on Netflix, it's so good, although extremely difficult to watch), and it's something the author mentions in the back of the book. I do want to point out though, as a white person, that this is also something that white men very much do to women too, and I sometimes think that the way society has latched on so much to black abusers is really racist, while we ignore abuses that have happened and continue to happen that are perpetrated by white people. I hope that makes sense, I just wanted to acknowledge it. 

I loved Enchanted's family unit, I loved how her parents worked so hard for the family and were good parents even though things were tight. I loved Shea. I liked Enchanted and her friends. It's a good book, I would definitely read something else by the same author. 


What age range is it for? Trigger warnings abound for rape, sexual assault, physical abuse, and more, so I'm going to say from a mature 15 onwards. Be careful! But it is written in such a way that it is still for teens (very deftly done, I think). 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yep, Enchanted and her whole family are Black. I loved the subplot about Enchanted's hair. She shaves it all off, mostly because it's better for swimming, and it's something her Daddy does for her. Korey likes her to have her hair long, and it becomes a thing between them. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? There's some mental illness which was quite triggering, so be careful there too. 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and I would say none of it is consensual. It's hard to read. 


Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, Korey drugs Enchanted to keep her compliant, with what she calls 'purple drink'. There's some description of how it feels when she's taken it, so be careful there too. However, personally, I didn't think it was too graphic. 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously, as Korey ends up murdered. It is somewhat graphic. 


Are there swear words? A few, but not many. 

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, but I did feel like the book tried to fit in an awful lot, and that meant there were some odd gaps in time when I felt even just a few words like 'three weeks later' would have contextualised things more.

I also wish we had seen a bit more of Korey's charm at the beginning of the book so that we understood why Enchanted fell for him so quickly. But that's a minor gripe. 

Also, as an adult reading this, I was just SCREAMING at Enchanted to PLEASE run, or PLEASE call home, but I appreciate that teenagers just don't think the same, and Enchanted seriously had been brainwashed by Korey and thought she had no other option but to stay with him. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, a hundred percent. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I knew I wanted to, so the book club was the perfect time to!

 

What do I think of the cover? It's gorgeous isn't it? It's the earrings Enchanted wears at her first audition, lent to her by her friend Gab. I love it. 

 

What other books is it like? A lot of the family background reminded me of Elizabeth Acevedo's novels. 


How many stars? Four out of five. 

 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'm keeping it for sure! 

The Cousins by Karen M McManus - Review

Sunday, December 6, 2020


Hello, I am SO thrilled to welcome you to my blog for my stop on the blog tour for The Cousins by Karen M McManus! I am a huge fan of her work and was really looking forward to this book anyway, so when I got the opportunity to join in the blog tour hosted by The Write Reads, I jumped at it! Please check out my reviews of Karen's other books here

Where did I get it? I got an electronic copy from The Write Reads, in exchange for this review and stop on the blog tour. I will probably buy a paper copy at some point just because I like to have a complete set of paper books by authors I love! 


What's it about? It's about the Story family, a rich family who live on an island near Martha's Vineyard in New England. Milly. Jonah, and Aubrey are the grandchildren of family matriarch, Mildred. However, they've never met her. When their parents - the four Story siblings, all of whose names begin with A - were in their late teens and early twenties, Mildred sent each of them a note which disinherited them. Despite their repeated attempts to contact her, they've never managed to. Now their children are nearly grown up, and they get invitations to spend the summer on the island working at the resort Mildred owns. 

The story is told from the points of view of each of Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey. They haven't been very close as children, as each of their parents has forged their own lives. Each has their own reason to want to go to the island for the summer. Aubrey wants to get away from her dad, and is desperate to make amends with the grandmother she's never met. Milly wants to learn more about her mother - the only daughter of the A siblings - who has always been somewhat cold and distant. Jonah.... well, Jonah has his reasons too. 

There are also parts interspersed in the present day narrative which goes back to the 90s, to when all four A siblings were on the island and had just lost their dad, Abraham. Mildred is holding her annual ball, despite still grieving her husband, and youngest two siblings are hanging around with some of the locals. 

The setting of the book is absolutely glorious. I loved the island and could picture Mildred's house exactly. I really liked the set up and I did pick up on some of the secrets and mysteries as the book went on. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yeah, Milly's dad is Japanese (oh gosh now I've said that I'm wondering if he was Thai? I'm sorry) and there's a little bit about her looking like both her parents. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, there's someone who comes into the book later who is an alcoholic, so there's a trigger warning here because some bits were hard to read. 


Is there any sex stuff? No. 


Are drugs mentioned or used? I think there's mention of marijuana, but not much 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is pretty graphic too. 


Are there swear words? Yep a few, I loved them. 

 

What criticisms do I have? Very few, I really enjoyed the book and loved how visual it was. I also really liked how we got so many points of view, all of which helped to unknit the mysteries


Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well because of the tour, obviously, but also because I think Karen is one of the best mystery YA writers out there at the moment, and I can't resist getting to her books straight away. 

 

What do I think of the cover? I've seen a couple of different ones and personally I like the one on the banner above because it matches the rest of Karen's books!

 

What other books is it like? It is going to get a lot of comparison to We Were Liars and honestly that's a very fair comparison. This is like We Were Liars back when everything was "okay". Like as if We Were Liars went in a different direction. 


How many stars? Four out of five. Loved it!

The Cousins was published on 2nd December 2020. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 


The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth - Review

Thursday, December 3, 2020

When I read Fell by Jenn Ashworth last summer, I read a bit about her other books and liked the sound of The Friday Gospels, which is about a Mormon family living in Chorley near the site of the Mormon Temple there. I bought it on eBay shortly thereafter, but I've taken a while to get round to it. I don't know what my reading habits are currently, but I'm kind of going with whatever I feel like reading. So I picked this up. Jenn is an ex Mormon herself so she knows what she's writing about, and I think that shows. 

It's set on one day in the life of the Leeke family, and we see narrative points of view from all of them. It is the day that middle child Gary is due to return from Utah, where he has been serving his two year mission. He has been delayed because of the eruption of that Icelandic volcano (remember that!) but after several days awake in airports, he's finally on the plane home. He is going home to his older brother Julian, who is no longer an active Mormon, his younger sister Jeannie, who is fourteen and still in school, and his parents Pauline and Martin. Pauline is disabled, and a pretty pious Mormon. Martin is less active too, preferring to work Sundays, and he is having some kind of emotional affair with a younger woman called Nina. 

Jeannie's points of view are heartbreaking. I really liked her and was definitely on her side. We see her at school, trying to fit in amongst non-Mormons. We see her at Sunday school, being taught a horrible lesson about being 'soiled' goods. It's really Jeannie's book, I think. 

Martin is the family's main earner, and is struggling to keep the family afloat. He's resentful of the new things Pauline wants, like new curtains and a sofa. He's resentful he has to pay tithing to a church he doesn't attend and barely believes in. He is supposed to take board off Julian, but hasn't done. And he has been training his dog, Bovril, alongside Nina and her dogs in the part most days. He is about to leave the family for Nina, but none of that goes to plan. 

Pauline is disabled, and quite a pious Mormon. We see her with other Mormon ladies, Maggie and Ruth. The three gossip about everyone they know. Pauline tries to outdo Maggie but constantly feels like her family doesn't in any way match up, especially as Martin rarely goes to church and Julian has fallen away. Ruth has a small daughter, Angela, who is disabled. Pauline gave Jeannie some money to go to the shop and buy special food for Gary coming home, but because of what Jeannie's got going on, she doesn't go, meaning Pauline has to venture out for the first time in two years. All hell breaks loose while she is out, leading to quite a transformation for Pauline. I was very ambivalent about Pauline's narrative - in one way I really liked it, but in another I felt it was very clumsily done. I actually felt like that about a lot of the book - it's a bit heavy handed which I dislike. 

Julian is a strange man. He actually read like he was autistic to me (he's bothered by things like the electric hum of the lights). He is twenty six and has been saving up wages ever since he started working in the garage he works in ten years ago. He is planning to leave the family, to get away with the money he's got saved. He wants to take Angela, Ruth's little girl, with him. There didn't seem to be any actual reason for this, and it's very creepy. Julian has fallen out with the Mormon church and very much looks down on the believers he deals with. Julian is very dislikeable but I did actually want him to succeed in a couple of ways. 

Lastly there's Gary. If you're not aware, many Mormon teenagers - mostly boys but increasingly girls too - serve a two year mission when they're 18 or 19. The idea is to recruit as many new Mormons as possible and get them baptised. Gary was sent to Salt Lake City, which is obviously already full of Mormons, and in two years he has not managed to recruit one soul. Gary has a terrible stammer, and on the plane on the way home he meets James, and tries to talk to him about the Church of Latter Day Saints in a last ditch attempt to recruit at least one person in his mission. I liked Gary, I felt sorry for him. 

I didn't dislike the book per se, but I found it really dense and quite hard to read. I was glad when I finished it and I'm giving it three out of five. 

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver - Review

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

November's choice in my book club was Unsheltered by Barbra Kingsolver. It was chosen by Margaret, I think, who always chooses really interesting books. This one was no different. I've never read anything by Kingsolver, although I've got friends who love her. I know The Poisonwood Bible is supposed to be really good, and having read this I would definitely read that. 

This book has a dual narrative to it, focussing on one house in New Jersey, in a town that was a planned utopia by a man called Landis. 

In the modern times, the house is owned by Willa and her family. It was left to her by her aunt, who has recently died, as has her mother. Willa is fifty something and has two children, Zeke and Tig, and a Greek husband, Iano. Iano is a college professor and Willa has been working as a journalist, but has lost her job. Thanks to a college closing in PA, so has Iano. The family has also lost their house and pension because of this. Iano has got another job in New Jersey, so the house coming into their possession seems like a total blessing. 

Willa and Iano and Tig move, along with Iano's elderly father, Nick. Nick is cantankerous, and racist, and needs more and more care as the novel goes on. Zeke has recently had a baby with his girlfriend Helene. But then a tragedy happens and Zeke and the baby, Aldus, move to New Jersey into the house too. Tig has recently returned from Cuba, where she was living, but in all the upset, Willa doesn't know exactly why she has come home. 

This would all be fine, and the house is huge, but it's also falling down. The roof is beyond repair, and there's a problem with the foundations of the two storey extension. Willa and her family have absolutely no money to pay for repairs, and over the book the house starts to fall down around them. 

Willa begins to investigate the history of the house, in the hopes of finding that it belonged to someone important and that there might be a grant available  for its upkeep. 

Meanwhile, in the 1880s, the house belonged to Thatcher Greenwood, who was a teacher at the local high school. His wife, Rose, had lived in the house with her mother and younger sister, but they had to exile themselves in New York for a while. Now they're back. Thatcher is more than ten years older than Rose and she is a much higher class than him. The house is already failing, and Thatcher struggles to keep up with the cost of the repairs and the luxurious wishes of his wife and mother in law. 

Next door there lives an older woman, by herself. Thatcher begins to form a friendship with her. She is a woman of science; she corresponds with Darwin and is a big proponent of his views on science and evolution. Mary Treat was a real person, and I liked how she was fictionalised here. I liked her and her friendship with Thatcher a lot. Thatcher's life changes massively over the book and I liked that too.

I liked Willa, and Tig, a lot. I thought Iano was a bit of a dickhead, and I didn't like Zeke or Nick. There's a lot of modern day politics in the book (it's set just about when Trump was trying to get elected in 2016). I found this a little bit heavy handed, actually, but that is just about my only criticism of the book. I liked it a lot - four out of five. 



 

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