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Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King - Review

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

I bought this book in March at the queer bookshop in York that my mum had recommended to me and which I then visited with my friend Jacqui when I visited her one afternoon. I was intrigued by the blurb so took this with me on a weekend away. I read the introduction by Sandi Toksvig first which alerted me to several facts: the book was older than I thought, having been written in 1985, and while I knew it was in some way LGBTQ+, having been sold in the bookshop, I was surprised to learn it was semi autobiographical but that, despite sleeping with both men and women, Florence King was very conservative and regretted having come out. This was a really useful introduction and definitely helped me to read the book in a certain way. 

So Florence King was born in 1936 in Washington DC, to an American mother and a British father. Her maternal grandmother moved in with the family when Florence was born and never moved out. She had failed with bringing up Florence's mother as a typical Southern belle, so she is determined to do better with Florence. She is obsessed with being from Virginia elite, despite the somewhat rough times the family has found itself in. She brought with her her black maid, Jensy. Florence's mother, grandmother and Jensy all have very different influences on Florence's life. 

Florence is very intelligent which makes her stand out at school right from the beginning. She is an oddity and never quite fits in with the other girls - who she calls malkins - who wish for marriage and babies. In fact she reads as autistic to me, but maybe I'm projecting. She excels at French and wants to major in that at college, but due to no one really understanding the scholarship programme, the college she goes to doesn't offer it as a major. She turns to history instead. She graduates but doesn't want to teach, so applies to do an MA in Mississippi where, to earn her keep, she becomes a dorm proctor. I loved this part of the book where she meets all the Southern women, including Tulaplee. She meets Bres, a perpetual student, and the two start a relationship. Florence has previously lost her virginity to one of her professors, having an affair with him over one summer. She is included into Bres' group, all bohemians, who drive into nearby states to procure alcohol.

I think Florence genuinely did love Bres and their relationship had a sad end. I liked the book and how snobby the grandmother was. I liked how Florence just kind of kept herself apart throughout the book. I'm glad I read it and I think I'll pas it on to people at my book club. I'm giving it four out of five.

Passing for White by Tanya Landman - Review

Sunday, April 23, 2023

I was looking for something quick to read a couple of weeks back and remembered that I've still got about three of the Barrington Stoke books left to read on my Kindle - I bought a bunch for about a pound each in April 2020 and have read a few of them since. These books, when printed physically, are printed on thick paper suitable for people with dyslexia. They're nice little novellas and often touch upon really deep subjects but in a really accessible way. I would say this book is suitable for anyone aged thirteen and upwards. 

I will mention that there are a few uses of the N word throughout, which are completely in keeping with the time and attitudes of the characters, but which will be jarring for a modern reader. Tanya includes a note about this language at the back of the book and I completely understand her reasoning for using this language, as disgusting as it may be for us. But do be careful when reading. 

The book is based on the real story of William and Ellen Craft, slaves who escaped to the Northern United States in December 1848. I hadn't ever heard of them but have found it fascinating to read about them since then, as well as the stories of other slaves who escaped in similarly amazing circumstances. 

So, the book is about Rosa and Benjamin. Benjamin is a slave who works as a carpenter throughout Macon, Georgia. One day he goes to Rosa's house, and is expecting to meet a housegirl who looks like him. He is blindsided by the fair skinned girl he meets, who is in fact Rosa. Thanks to the fact that her mother's slave master was also her father, she can pass for white. She was given to her current mistress, Miss Abigail, as a wedding present, and to get her out of her father's house. Her owner, Mr Cronwell, rapes her nightly. 

She and Benjamin get married and she is soon pregnant. She knows that her owner may well be the father, and wants to escape. She and Benjamin realise that they can have several days over Christmas to escape without drawing attention, and also that Rosa can pass as a white man, travelling with Benjamin as her slave. They will get to Philadelphia and be free there. They decide Rosa will pretend to be an invalid to help cover up the fact that she can't read or write. 

Their journey is not without peril, and includes the disgusting attitudes of white men and slave owners of the time. This is a very good little book, portraying an important part of history. I'm giving it five out of five. 

They Lie Here by N S Ford - Blog Tour and Review

Friday, April 21, 2023

Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for They Lie Here by N S Ford! I previously reviewed We Watch You by the same author so do click through to that review. Also please do have a look around my blog in general. I review a lot of different genres of books!

I liked We Watch You a lot so when the chance to review something else by N S Ford popped up I jumped at it. This book is quite different but still with a creepy edge to it. It's set in Waelminster, an old city in the north Midlands, I think. I was trying to match it with a real place and the closest I could come to was Lincoln, so I imagined it like that. It sounds a bit like York, too! A woman called Kat Green has just moved there. There's a band from the city called Scorpio Hearts, who were an electro-pop group in the early 80s who achieved some success before their songwriter Roskoe Darke left the band and mysteriously disappeared. 

Kat is determined to find him. She has done this before with stars who have been reclusive, and each time she has managed to find them and they've resparked their careers. She has bought a ton of Scorpio Hearts memorobilia and has contacted a few people who might know what happened to him. She is perusing a charity shop one day when she finds an old record of theirs and goes to pick it up. However there's someone else reaching for it at the same time - someone who introduces himself as Seth. He's keen to get to know Kat, but she finds him a bit full on.

Then there's her neighbour, Ellie, who is a nurse. I found her a really creepy character and thought for sure something would go one way with her, so I was surprised when it didn't! Plus someone seems to be following Kat round Waelminster. The book takes somewhat of a sci fi turn, which I had read in the blurb and wasn't certain about, but actually it was quite believable and really fitted in with the narrative. Kat also has secrets of her own she wants to keep buried, but nothing is quite as it seems - least of all the pretty city itself. I also loved the last few lines, they made me shudder!

Orlando by Virginia Woolf - Review

Monday, April 17, 2023

You might remember that I am doing an Oxfam reading challenge this year. I will donate some money to them at the end of the year when I've completed the challenge. This month's prompt was "A classic", so I went for Orlando as I had picked it up in February at The Bookish Type's sale. I had never heard of it but then I'm really not one for classics at all. This book took me six days to read for this reason. The sentences are so long and everything is so wordy! I had to really concentrate on the book so although I did enjoy it, I won't be rushing to read something else in a similar vein.

So, Orlando is an Elizabethan nobleman who serves as a page for the Queen and is a favourite of hers. He attends one of the Frost Fairs on the Thames and falls in love with a Russian princess called Sasha. Their romance is doomed, though, and she leaves him. Orlando starts to write an epic poem called The Oak Tree, meets a poet called Nick Green, and is eventually appointed as ambassador in Constantinople. There he falls into a coma-like state and can't be awoken. When he does awake, he has become a woman. 

This she accepts quite readily. She joins a gypsy clan but eventually heads back to England. There, because of her sex, she can no longer inherit the family home, money, and titles, so she's embroiled in a legal battle over this. Time has moved on; she sees several centuries throughout her life. She meets a sea captain and marries him on a whirlwind. He leaves for the Cape of Good Hope and Orlando once again meets Nick Greene, who, like her, seems to never age and is slipping through time like she is. 

I did like the book and am glad I persevered with it. Orlando accepts her sex change without too much consternation and has many ideas about how differently women are treated throughout the more than three hundred years she witnesses. I'm giving this four out of five. 

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams - Review

Friday, April 14, 2023

This book was the April choice for my book club and as you can see I had picked it up from the library. I started it right at the end of March because I really wanted to get to it as I had a lot of books planned for April. I am still doing the Marple challenge and the Oxfam challenge that I've been doing so far in 2023, and I had two blog tour books to read. So I thought I'd better get on with this well in advance of our book club meeting on the third Wednesday of the month. 

So this book concerns the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary, which really happened at the end of the 19th century, and which was really edited by Dr James Murray, who is a character in this book. His daughters ended up working for the dictionary too, and they are briefly in the book. The main character is Esme, whose father, "Da", is also working on the dictionary. Dr Murray has built a shed in the back garden to work in alongside four other men. The building is known as the Scriptorium, the "Scrippy" for short. It has the Sorting Table in the middle, Dr Murray's desk at one end, and pigeon holes all up the walls. Words arrive from volunteers with their definition and a quotation of the word in use, and are pinned together with other definitions. The book starts in 1888 when Esme is just six years old. 

Her mother Lily is dead, so she spends part of her days sitting under the Sorting Table watching her dad and the other men work. One day a word drifts down to her and she takes it rather than hand it back. She is looked after by Lizzie, one of the Murrays' maids, and she asks to put the word in to Lizzie's trunk. The word is bondmaid - aka a slave girl. The word never makes it into the first volume of the dictionary, A - B, something which Dr Murray discovers later, when a letter alerts him to the fact. This really happened too, but obviously the character of Esme and her stealing of the word is made up. 

Over the years Esme collects more words that have been lost or abandoned, storing them in Lizzie's trunk. She hurts Lizzie when she is still quite little but the two make up. Lizzie is only about eight years older than Esme, and is "fortunate" to have found herself in service. There's a lot in the book about class and about the different privileges that women of different classes enjoy. I will bring this up at book club as I think it's an important part of the book. 

When she is about fourteen, Esme is sent to boarding school in Scotland. This happens because her godmother, Ditte Thompson, recommends it. Ditte is one of the volunteers for the dictionary, although her contributions are rarely mentioned. She was a real person too, and she published a book which was often taught in schools. Esme hates the school and there's implications that she suffered much abuse there, so she comes home. When she leaves school, she works for the dictionary. 

When she's not working she goes with Lizzie to Oxford Covered Market, where she meets some colourful characters including Mabel, who teaches her some of the more colourful words of the English language. Esme becomes fascinated by the words of women, and the working classes, and starts to write them down and keep them in her trunk. She starts to form her own dictionary just by capturing words that the old, white men she works with don't find important enough to include. This is something I'm really passionate about from an accent point of view - there's loads of dialect words that are being lost in the UK alone just because the people who speak them are dying off. I loved this aspect of the book and am looking forward to discussing this part of it. 

As the book proceeds Esme meets an actress, Tilda, who introduces her to women's suffrage and the fight there. Esme is not as militant as Tilda but she does get involved. I liked the aspect of this book where it matched the happenings to the historical actual events too. 

All in all this is a really expansive books and it makes some really important points about women, women's work and lives, class, power, and so on. I thoroughly recommend it! I'm giving it five out of five. 

Like A Sister by Kellye Garrett - Review

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

I picked this book up in the main library in Barnsley town centre. I was there for a meeting and noticed this on a carousel marked 'new thrillers'. I got a middle grade book while I was there too but haven't yet picked that up to read (I tend to renew my library books at least once, oops!). I am so glad I picked this up and would love to read something else by the same author. I am loving all these books that are emerging recently which are thrillers and which focus on young women, especially young women of colour. I would compare this book to How To Kill Your Family or My Sister the Serial Killer. If you have any more like these, please do let me know! 

So, Lena Scott is twenty eight and lives in the Bronx in a house that used to belong to her Gram. She has a half sister, Desiree, from whom she has been estranged for two years. She wakes up one morning and learns from the internet that Desiree has died, close to where Lena lives. She goes to the scene to see what she can find out and avoids a report, Stuart, who then works out she's Desiree's sister and starts hounding her. The police are convinced that Desiree's death was an accidental overdose - she had been clean for a while so they think she didn't know her limits and has overdosed. She died the day after her birthday, when she'd been out partying with some friends and her boyfriend, Naut. Her parents, Mel and Veronika, seem happy to accept the police's version of events, but Lena isn't. She is convinced that Desiree was on her way to Lena's house to ask for help, and got killed. 

She starts on a scavenger hunt around the city, touching on plenty of people Desiree knew - her boyfriend, her best friends Erin and Zarah, and plenty of others. Lena also really wants her sister's car and phone back, but no one seems to know where the phone is. 

The women's dad, Mel, is a famous music producer. He started his label while at college, and one of his first artists was the rapper Free. The two fell out, but not before Lena starred in one of his music videos as a three year old. The two still have beef. Lena changed her name from Mel's and doesn't have much to do with him, and never has. Mel paid for his mother's house, which is a duplex, and where Lena now lives upstairs from her grandma's partner of many years, Aunt E. Aunt E is the mother figure in Lena's life; Lena's mother died five years previously from breast cancer and Lena is now doing post graduate study and hopes to start a charity to support Black people and their families through cancer. 

Desiree has grown up with all of Mel's money and influence on her; she lived in a fancy Upper West Side apartment. She has been on reality TV so is somewhat famous and has a large following on Instagram and so forth. Two years previously, she had a car accident where the car ended up wrapped around a tree and Lena got a strange phone call from a stranger about her sister. Desiree had been using coke and this was the incident that made Lena cut her off. Desiree insisted she wasn't driving but she was charged anyway. But now she's dead, Lena wonders if the reason she was coming to the Bronx was related to the accident.

I loved this book, it's really compelling and I loved the mystery. I did guess some of the twists but others of them really took my by surprise. I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely keep an eye on the author. 

Welcome to St Hell by Lewis Hancox - Review

Saturday, April 8, 2023

I know who Lewis Hancox is from TV and from twitter, but I didn't know he had written a book until my friend Jane visited in February and mentioned this book. I immediately bought a copy on eBay and took it with me on a mini break to the east coast. I started and finished it in the same day because it's really compelling and interesting, and also because as a graphic novel it's easy to read. 

So Lewis is a trans man and has been out since he was nineteen, but before that everyone thought he was a girl and he had previously identified as a lesbian - there's a really funny bit where his dad says he had to come out again as straight when he came out as a man, which I really liked the inclusion of. Lewis has been really brave in coming out with his story and his deadname, I think. He skilfully shows how difficult he found being a teenager, especially in somewhere like St Helens where any kind of difference is seen as odd and often subjected to bullying. I really related to Lewis' depiction of how he tried to fit in as a teenager and how difficult it was. When he went to sixth form college he did start to find himself a bit which was lovely to see. 

The graphics are really nice and there's some inside jokes about them too, like about how Lewis' mum always appears in her dressing gown. Pages that are edged in black are when Lewis himself appears - as older Lewis - when he's trying to tell his younger self something. I liked the artwork. 

I also like the depiction of how hard it was to be a teen and why; I related to this and I think a lot of readers will even if they aren't trans. You still understand not feeling 'right'. This is a brilliant addition to both graphic novels and to queer literature. I really hope Lewis writes/draws something else because I really think he could! I'm giving this five out of five, and I'm also going to be lending it to a bunch of people! 

The Ship of Doom by M A Bennett - Review

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

I didn't know that M A Bennett, who I love and have reviewed extensively here, had written any middle grade books until I was talking to my librarian friend Lucinda about M A Bennett's older books and she mentioned the middle grade ones. I put them on my wishlist and then when my sister-in-law asked what I would like for Christmas my partner sent her my list and she chose The Ship of Doom and The Mummy's Curse for me. I was really eager to get to both, so started this in March. I hadn't looked too closely at the front of the book, meaning that I didn't at first see the Titanic, hah. What an idiot! 

So, the year is 1894 and Luna is living with her aunt, Grace. Her dear Papa has disappeared and Luna assumes he is dead, but Grace tells her that he is 'on another plane'. Grace's house is full of butterflies, pinned and mounted on the walls, which freaks Luna out somewhat. Then one day, Luna is invited to the Greenwich Observatory by Grace, to attend a meeting of her club, The Butterfly Club. There, Luna meets a young Prussian boy called Konstantin. He has been sick for his whole life, but now has a clockwork heart ticking inside his chest. As everyone in the room is chatting and waiting, Aidan and his dad turn up in a time machine. It can connect on like a phone call to someone who is living in 1969, and it can take them to the future. The Butterfly Club want the three kids (they're twelve) to go to 1912 and get Guglielmo Marconi's radio to bring back to the past so the Club can win a prize for innovative inventions. 

The three set off for Southampton docks, but instead they find themselves on board Titanic as it sets sails on its ill fated voyage. The three must try to find Marconi's radio, and have to disguise themselves in order to do it. Aidan is a navvy by trade so he pretends to be a stoker. Konstantin steals the uniform of an officer and Luna wangles her way into first class. They have escapades along the way, and learn some hard truths about time travel and the Butterfly Effect. 

It's a very cute and fun book. I liked how it deal with time travel. I liked how a younger reader who doesn't know what actually happened to Titanic would have seen it unfurl. I do know a lot about Titanic, but I learnt some new things too, which I liked. I loved Luna and Konstantin and Aidan, and some of the things they had each been through and went through in the book. It's really clever and is a really good middle grade novel. It won't be long before I read the second one in the series! I'm giving this four out of five. 

It Ends At Midnight by Harriet Tyce - Review

Sunday, April 2, 2023

After I enjoyed Blood Orange so much I thought I would like to read something else by Harriet Tyce, so I requested this at the library and picked it up mid March. I thought it would take me a while to read but instead I raced through it in about 48 hours. It is, like Blood Orange, incredibly compelling. It again has a lawyer as the main character, although there isn't as much law as in Blood Orange. Plenty of the characters are incredibly unlikeable, again including the main character. I like this in books because I just never know what to think - it's a brilliant way to slip in a lot of red herrings and make the reader doubt everybody.

So, Sylvie is a lawyer who has ambitions to become a Crown Court judge. She is currently presiding over the trial of three young boys who are accused of robbing another boy at knifepoint. She has a friend from school, Tess, and is also friends with her husband, Marcus. However, the two have split up - Marcus has left. Sylvie is a bit full of her own problems when Tess tells her that she's got a brain tumour and it might be cancerous. She wants Sylvie to tell Marcus on her behalf. And she also starts talking about Linda. 

Parts of the book are flashbacks to when Sylvie and Tess were growing up together in Edinburgh, when Sylvie was going out with Stewart, who turned out to be an absolute shit. He got off with Linda at one point, and she ended up in prison for some reason, and Sylvie and Tess lied about something which helped her get convicted. Sylvie wants to leave the whole thing behind, but as Tess is convinced she's dying and wants to make things right with Linda.

Meanwhile, Sylvie is seeing a man called Gareth who still lives in Edinburgh. He is a caterer and she met him at a conference about six months previously. She is excited to tell Tess about him, but this is when Tess drops the bombshell about the brain tumour. Tess isn't that great of a friend, which runs deep. Gareth seems like a nice enough person. Tess becomes obsessed with planning a renewal of her vows with Marcus, but Marcus has his doubts that she's even really ill, as it turned out she lied about something before too. 

There's also parts of the book which detail two bodies being found impaled on railings outside a posh house in Edinburgh on New Year's Day, but it's not obvious who the victims are and exactly what has happened. I did guess a couple of the twists but I found the book really compelling. I'm giving it four out of five. 

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