Book Review: The First Bad Man by Miranda July

 

The First Bad Man

I’ve posted before of my love of Dawn O’Porter – and when she recently started a page on Patreon where she posts lots of content she doesn’t post publicly (for a small monthly fee – less than a coffee shop latte!) I signed up straight away.  One of the things on there is a book club – and this was her suggestion for February / March – after she was given a copy of it by Louis Theroux.  Dawn said that fans of Eleanor Oliphant would love it – so I immediately purchased it. #followingtheherd #DawnOPorterinjoke

Here is the synopsis:

“From the acclaimed filmmaker, artist, and bestselling author of No One Belongs Here More Than You, a spectacular debut novel that is so heartbreaking, so dirty, so tender, so funny–so Miranda July–readers will be blown away.

Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people’s babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense non-profit where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one.

When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter Clee can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically-ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee–the selfish, cruel blond bombshell–who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

Tender, gripping, slyly hilarious, infused with raging sexual fantasies and fierce maternal love, Miranda July’s first novel confirms her as a spectacularly original, iconic and important voice today, and a writer for all time. The First Bad Man is dazzling, disorienting, and unforgettable.”

Well – where to start!

This is truly a weird book.

Initially I could see the likeness between Cheryl and Eleanor – but then this got odder and odder.  And quite disturbing.  The sexual content grew and grew which I was slightly uncomfortable with – as it was all so bizarre.  I got to about 40% and was unsure whether to push forward or not.  Then I had to take my youngest to a medical appointment – and was sat in the waiting room at Birmingham Children’s Hospital reading it – and it just felt wrong.

I’ve decided that 2020 is the year I will allow myself to give up on books I’m not enjoying – and so that was it – I gave up before 50%.  No more pushing through (like the Goldfinch!!)  Life is too short – and there are SOOOO many books out there I want to read.

Lots of other people on Dawn’s Patreon page loved it – so please don’t let me put you off – maybe I’m just a bit too straight laced and vanilla?!

 

 

ETA:  I wrote the above back in February when I started (and gave up on) The First Bad Man.  However, the book club on Dawn’s Patreon page never got to fully dissect it as Dawn’s best friend died suddenly and so book club was put on hold.  Then ‘lockdown’ happened – and I’m not sure when book club will start again (although there is still lots of content on the Patreon page – just different to book club – but still very entertaining).  Anyway – I decided to post this blog post anyway as it was sat there ready to go and I’m interested to see if any of you guys have read it and what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Sight Of You by Holly Miller

The Sight Of You

I’m not sure why I ended up with an ARC off NetGalley of this book – but I’m so very glad I did – it is brilliant!

Here’s the blurb:

“Joel is afraid of the future.
Since he was a child he’s been haunted by dreams about the people he loves. Visions of what’s going to happen – the good and the bad. And the only way to prevent them is to never let anyone close to him again.

Callie can’t let go of the past.
Since her best friend died, Callie’s been lost. She knows she needs to be more spontaneous and live a bigger life. She just doesn’t know how to find a way back to the person who used to have those dreams.

Joel and Callie both need a reason to start living for today.
And though they’re not looking for each other, from the moment they meet it feels like the start of something life-changing.

Until Joel has a vision of how it’s going to end . . .”

Firstly – this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It’s like a classic written now – you can imagine kids studying the amazing descriptions and sentence construction and the way it draws you right in – particularly when describing the seasons / weather / nature – it is stunning.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised – but often modern books feel a bit rushed, or on a production line because the author / publisher has a deadline – but it really feels like this book has been crafted and lots of care and attention to detail taken over the turn of phrase.

It is also ridiculously emotional!  You are invested in Callie and Joel from the off and really want everything to work out for them – but it’s difficult to see how it will.  Each chapter is written from an alternating point of view – and it swings like a pendulum between Callie and Joel.

Initially the pace is quite slow, day by day even, and you see how their initial friendship and then relationship starts.  You are really rooting for both Callie and Joel and their respective baggage.  The exquisite writing doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a modern book, set in current times, with familiar themes and settings.

As the book carries on the pace picks up – and the final chapters are almost annual – but it serves to build the momentum as it heads towards the conclusion. The inevitable conclusion perhaps?

It made be weep (which frankly anything does at the moment – but I think I would have even if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic!)  It is beautiful, heart breaking, life affirming, a story of friends and family and a perfect love story.

This book is going to be one of THE books of the summer of 2020 – so I would suggest pre ordering now, so you can be one of the cool kids who reads it first!

Huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my ARC – I will most definitely be buying this as gifts for friends come June 2020.

Book Review: The Summer We Ran Away by Jenny Oliver

The Summer We Ran Away

I’ve long been a Jenny Oliver fan – even before my name featured as a character in one of her books – so always keep my eyes peeled on NetGalley for her work – and saw this one, which comes out in June 2020.

Here’s the blurb:

“It was meant to be the party of the summer…

In Cedar Road, everyone is preparing for Lexi’s ‘White Hot’ summer party. For one night, parking squabbles and petitions are put aside as neighbours sip Prosecco under the fairy lights and gather by the hot tub to marvel at Lexi’s effortlessly glamorous life with Hot Hamish.

For Julia, it’s a chance to coax husband Charlie out of his potting shed and into a shirt so they can have a welcome break from the hellish house renovation they’ve been wrestling with. And it’s a chance for Julia to pretend – just for a night – that her life is as perfect as Lexi’s.

But when, during the party, one of Julia’s WhatsApp messages falls into the wrong hands and reveals her most intimate thoughts, things reach boiling point…
    
And when all the neighbours know exactly what you’re thinking, there’s only one thing to do.

Run away.

It’s going to be a summer Julia will never forget…”

The book starts on the evening of Lexi’s summer party.  Lexi is an ‘influencer’ and Julia’s neighbour – and Julia is desperate to be part of Lexi’s ‘in crowd’.  I initially felt a bit sorry for Julia – who was trying so hard to seek Lexi’s approval – when Lexi was clearly a complete cow.

(As an aside, I also wanted to buy Lexi a t-shirt from Paper Press Ireland that I recently got my teenage daughter which says ‘Being famous on Instagram is the same as being rich in Monopoly.  Calm Your Tits’.  Check out their slogan tees – they are EPIC.  Anyway – back to the book!)

The build up to the scene where Julia’s WhatsApp message is read by the wrong person is cringeworthy – you can just see where it’s going to go – real squeaky bum time!

And I actually much preferred the book after Julia had escaped from the party.

Her relationship with Amber (who I pictured as an Angelina Jolie-esque, don’t give a shit type person) develops really well, and the descriptions of France were brilliant and really evoked the feeling of being at an antiques market.

I also liked the fact that despite her disastrous time at the party – Julia is still desperate to know what has happened there by stalking social media – it really is an evil drug sometimes.

Using social media to stalk features later in the book too – and knowing who to stalk (sometimes not the actual person you’re bothered about – but someone close to them #skills) is great.

As well as Julia’s relationships with family and friends (I love the phonecalls with her parents – perfectly written), Amber’s relationships with her son and people from her past and present are also fundamental to the book.  Julia and Amber are incredibly different people. but it all segues together really nicely.

I enjoyed the ending and how lots of storylines were all tied together.  It also makes you think about priorities – especially at this weird time in the world.

As with all of Jenny Oliver’s books it was funny, warm, heartfelt and a lovely read.  I actually think this is my favourite so far (I suspect I say that every time?!)

I would definitely recommend you pre order it now so you get a nice surprise in June!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

 

My Dark Vanessa

I’d seen this book on a couple of lists of “books to read in 2020”, so had a look on NetGalley to see if it was available – and it was!

Here is the blurb:

“An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher
ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER
Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.
She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.
Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.
Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.
Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.”

Firstly – this is not an easy read.  It’s dark and disturbing and I could see would be a trigger for some people who’ve been in a similar situation.  That said – it is also a very good read.

It flicks between present day (when Vanessa is 32 and working a pretty dead end job in hospitality) and back when she was a teenager and first crossed paths with Strane.  As the reader you can totally see how Strane groomed and abused Vanessa – but in her eyes it was the love of her life.  It then follows her life through the intervening 17 years – and how her entire life is entwined with the abuse she suffered / her great love affair – depending who you are.

I think the fact Vanessa was a similar age to my eldest daughter made it all the more difficult to read – I could empathise with her parents – as well as with Vanessa herself.

Vanessa is just so totally blind to what is happening to her – and really feels that Strane is in love with her and caring for her and only doing what she wants – it’s desperately sad.  You can see this affects her relationships with all of those around her – family, friends, men, future lecturers, colleagues.

When Strane is accused by another girl of abuse – Vanessa has to question what happened to her too – but still she sees it as a great romance, and that she was far more special to him than anyone else has ever been.  The grooming was exceptionally well done…..

Lots of famous literature is quoted, as Strane is an English teacher – in many instances where there is a similar type of relationship – like ‘Lolita’.  I’ve never read this and wonder if there were more references that I would have understood if I had?  But it didn’t detract from my understanding of the book.

In this era of #MeToo it does make you stop and think more about the older powerful man and the younger vulnerable woman keen to impress.  (Actually – one of the jurors in the recent Harvey Weinstein trial has reviewed this exact book on ‘Goodreads’ which made it to the press for the similarities with the legal case).

This is thought a provoking and well written book, and I was keen to find out what happened  – but it was not an easy read, and some of the sex scenes are quite graphic – although probably needed to be in the shocking context of the book.

Many thanks to the publishers and Net Galley for my advance review copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In 5 Years

I’d seen this book on a list of ‘books that will be big in 2020’ – or words to that effect – so asked NetGalley for an advance review copy, and my wish was granted.  Here’s the blurb:

“Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day, this heart-breaking story of love, loss and life will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about destiny…
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.
That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.
It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real… Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.
That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream…
In Five Years is a love story, brimming with joy and heartbreak. But it is definitely not the love story you’re expecting.”

I LOVED this book.  It twists and turns and is really emotional – but not in a typical ‘love story’ way.  It is a love story – but with many different types of love.  I don’t want to say too much or give too much away, as you really need to be lead by the book.  I devoured it in just a few days, as I was desperate to know what happens.

Right the way through you’re on a timeline to see if the events of December 15th 2025 were just a weird dream or actually happened – so you kind of know what you’re aiming for! And that just succeeds in building the tension significantly – SURELY it can’t be true??

I liked Dannie as a character (most of the time) and empathised with her as being a coper – and when there is a massive crisis for her or her friends, turning into full on organiser / Monica from Friends control freak.  That is exactly what I do too!  It makes you feel like you’re ‘helping’ (even if it can be seen as being bossy?!)

Also – I had one of those totally weird experiences whilst reading this which makes you feel like you’re Mystic Meg (showing my age there!) or your brain is being tapped.  Until a fortnight ago I had never heard of DUMBO in New York – but since then it’s been EVERYWHERE.  For those of you who are like me 2 weeks ago, this is the area called ‘Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass’, DUMBO for short – in Brooklyn) So, first I spotted it tagged in a random Instagram #travelgram post, then BrummyMummyof2 tagged herself there in her Instastories on a trip to NYC with her gorgeous family, then the lovely Lucy from Lil’s Parlour did the same!  And THEN it featured in this book – where thankfully it was explained (as I hadn’t been uncool enough to ask Emma or Lucy where it was!)

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  It as an escapist, quick read, with an interesting premise.  I won’t give away the ending – but I really liked it.  I will definitely look out for other books by this author in the future.

Thanks NetGalley for my copy in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

I am 45 years of age – but my parents still ask me for a Christmas list each year!  This year I asked for a new mixing bowl (so that our one plastic bowl didn’t have to double up as the family popcorn bowl and sick bowl #classy) and a copy of Adam Kay’s new festive book Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas (having loved his debut novel – This Is Going To Hurt).  The parentals came up trumps with a nest of mixing bowls (fancy!), this book – and some coasters and a bottle of gin #winningatChristmas

So here we go!  First – the blurb:

“A short gift book of festive hospital diaries from the author of million-copy bestseller This is Going to Hurt

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . . but 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.”

 

Twas the nightshift

I’ve read this in one sitting this evening whilst enjoying a festive break to Centerparcs (and thus far with no need for medical intervention – although there is still time in the next 36 hours).

This book is FABULOUS.  Totally in the same vein (pun intended) as Adam’s (I’m calling him by his first name as he didn’t make it to consultant rank?! #relevantjoke #Gerry) first book – and just as great.

There is – as expected – the slightly gross descriptions (candy cane as a dildo anyone?!) and language – but that just makes it more enjoyable.

There are definitely some LOL moments – and I read a few sections to my husband whilst giggling ridiculously!

There is one deeply moving section of a few pages – with a message beforehand so people can skip it if they think it could be triggering – which really makes you think how medical professionals – who HAVE  to make themselves immune to most things to simply function – would be emotionally traumatised by events they have to be a major part of.  Massive respect to them.

So this blog post is also a thank you to all of the NHS staff working this festive season – and to everyone else who has to buckle up and get on with work at antisocial times with the elderly, infirm and mentally ill (my niece and nephew at a care home and Wetherspoons respectively)

 

 

Book Review: The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page

As part of a reading challenge I had to read a book written by someone with the same name as me – and I LOVED The Lido by Libby Page.  So when I saw her next book was out – I asked for an advanced review copy from Netgalley and was granted my wish, in exchange for a review – so here is my review!

The 24 Hour Cafe

First of all, the blurb:

“Welcome to the café that never sleeps. Day and night Stella’s Café opens its doors for the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It is many things to many people but most of all it is a place where life can wait at the door. A place of small kindnesses. A place where anyone can be whoever they want, where everyone is always welcome.

Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They work at Stella’s but they dream of more, of leaving the café behind and making their own way in life.

Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café; a day when Hannah and Mona’s futures will be changed and their friendship tested. Today is just the start, but it is also marks a conclusion. Because all beginnings are also endings. And all endings can also be beginnings…”

Initially I wondered how this was going to work – as it appeared to be a chapter per hour that the 24 cafe was open.  There was only so much making coffee and wiping tables that would be interesting – but I need not have worried!  Although that is the premise of the chapters – there are lots of flashbacks to historical events that help shape the current position of the protagonists.

The main characters narrating the chapters are Hannah and Mona – friends and colleagues – and you learn about how they met and their back story as the 24 hour progresses. This is interwoven with the lives of the customers to the cafe – who are wide ranging.

Just as with The Lido, Ms Page has a brilliant way of writing about normal life and making it interesting and endearing.  I found that with most of the characters I was immediately invested in their futures.

I have to say I though Hannah should have had a bit of a slap on numerous occasions by Mona – deffing out your girlfriends for a bloke is such a shortsighted thing to do – but it is incredibly well written and believable.

The descriptions of the café itself are excellent – and you really feel like you’ve been and sat in one of its booths. If I ever walk out of Liverpool St Station I’ll be looking around for Stella’s!

All of the customers are interesting, and the interactions between them and the staff members are written beautifully – and I absolutely LOVED that the final chapter is a year down the road and you find out what has happened / is happening to loads of them.  I also love the fact it isn’t all hearts and flowers and happy endings dished out to everyone – it is real, and true, and what actually happens to people IRL.

This is a fabulous, escapist read – with no violence, graphic sex, bad language (I don’t think – although I guess it’s all relative..) – just a really lovely book.  I would highly recommend you buy it when it comes out in January 2020.

Book Review: Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Dirty Little Secrets

I am part of a book club which is mostly on Facebook.  A subset of us occasionally meet up IRL – but mostly we just share books we’ve read online.  Now a large number of groupies had read this book – to the point that I had total FOMO and had to purchase it, even without reading the blurb, as I trust their judgement on books!

But for you – here is the blurb:

“Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.
In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.
There’s just one problem.
Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.
The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.”

It is a great book – and, as expected, I did really enjoy it!

Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Olive or a different person who lives in the gated community or one of the 2 police officers investigating the case.  It twists and turns and you can quite believe that any of the residents were responsible for Olive’s demise.  There are lots of ‘dirty little secrets’ out there!  The residents are all very different with their own issues and all are written really well – even if none of them are particularly likeable!

However, Olive is definitely not likeable – although I did feel sorry for her at times.

I really liked the relationship between the 2 detectives as well.  The older bloke nearing retirement – and the up and coming younger female cop – who clearly had secrets in her past too.

The pace builds and builds and kept me keen to read on to find out what had happened.

Overall a good read – and I’d definitely look at books by this author again.  As with most recommendations from the book club – a winner!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

 

The Music Shop

The other week I was ‘post checking’ for my parents whilst they were on holiday.  Much like my mother, I can’t let a situation go unexplained – so bear with! I spotted this book in their hallway and asked if I could borrow it.  Mum explained it wasn’t theirs, but my Dad couldn’t read it at the moment because of an eyesight problem he has, and their friends were in no rush to have it back – so it was fine for me to borrow it.  (#neverknowinglyunderexplained)

I’d read previous books by Rachel Joyce – so thought it would be a lovely, pleasant read on holiday.

Here’s the blurb:

“1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …”

I really enjoyed this from start to finish.  As with Rachel Joyce’s previous books, it’s really well written – and a lovely escapist read.  The fact that it talks about music was also great – as I’m a huge fan of lots of genres of music.

Frank is the main character, and his relationship with Ilse is the centrepiece of the story – but there is a whole host of ‘chorus’ parts that are wonderful.  A tattooist, two undertakers, a Polish baker, the Saturday boy, a café waitress – to name but a few.  The interactions between them all are beautifully observed and feel very real – you are rooting for the whole band of them.

Some of it is just lovely, and some is really moving.  I did weep a couple of times – particularly at the end.  Whilst set in 1988 – and then more recently – it does show how the British High Street has changed over the decades too.

The Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah is fundamental to the story line and is a piece of music I love (randomly, Alexa decided to play it for me the other evening which was lovely!)  I was rehearsal pianist for a production of it way back when I was in sixth form – and because the tenor section were rubbish, I had to bang out their notes – so consequently that is the part I always end up singing along #randomfact

I was not wrong in my expectations, and this is a lovely, escapist, pleasant read – in a world where more of those are needed!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Postcard by Zoe Folbigg

The Postcard

I’d seen this on Netgalley and it really appealed – but I realised it was a sequel, and I am a dyed in the wool rule follower – so went on a hunt for ‘The Note’ first!  I found it for free on Amazon and so quickly devoured – and enjoyed that first.  Now here is the blurb for The Postcard:

“A year after the kiss that brought them together in a snowy train-station doorway, Maya and James are embarking on another journey – this time around the world.
The trip starts promisingly, with an opulent and romantic Indian wedding. But as their travels continue, Maya fears that ‘love at first sight’ might not survive trains, planes and tuk tuks, especially when she realises that what she really wants is a baby, and James doesn’t feel the same.
Can Maya and James navigate their different hopes and dreams to stay together? Or is love at first sight just a myth after all… “

I read the first chapter and was completely confused and thought I’d been hoodwinked – as it was seemingly totally random!  However, it soon became evident that there were two stories running concurrently which I suspected would link up further on (which they did!)

As well as following Maya and Train Man’s story, and the story of Manon (the one I thought had hoodwinked me!) it also follows the story of Maya’s BFF, Nena, back in London who is starting life as a mother.  The inter connection of them all was done really well (and whilst I know the story of Maya and Train Man is true to life – I wondered how much of this, and the interconnecting stories, was too?)

The descriptions of places on Maya and James’s travels was great – and really evoked the feeling of being there (even if ‘there’ involved self administered colonics!!!) but equally Nena’s story – drowning in life with a newborn – was also really believable.

As with the first book in the series, it was an easy read that kept me intrigued and wanting to read on and I enjoyed it.

I was lucky enough to be given an advanced review copy from Netgalley – but you can buy this later this week!  (But I would recommend reading The Note first to appreciate The Postcard fully)

My 7 year old always asks what I’m reading – and so she knows it’s been The Note followed by The Postcard – so she’s been coming up with suggestions for the next book in the series – The Piece of Paper, The Book etc etc.