Tag Archives: buy a book

Book Review: Such A Fun Age by Kelly Reid

 

There’s a lot of hype around this book which can set expectations high.

Emira, a young black woman is a regular babysitter for Briar, a white three-year-old girl whose mother Alix is an affluent white woman. Briar is a talkative and highly inquisitive child with a nervous disposition. Late one night, Alix calls Emira to take Briar out while the police come by to investigate a broken window. Emira thinks about the money she needs and she leaves a party to come and look after the child.  (As an aside, why a three-year-old is not already in bed fast asleep pops into my mind but the nature of this child is explored to kind of explain it.)

Emira takes Briar to a grocery story because the child loves to look at nuts.  A security guard watches them and asks Emira has a young white child. Kelley, a white man happens to film the ensuing altercation.  This event has reverberations for Emira, Alix, Kelley and poor little Briar. 

It is hard to say a lot without giving away spoilers. The underlying issues around race and privilege are central themes as is women’s relationships with each other and the pressure women can place on themselves and on their friends.

Alix is a do-gooder and is genuinely horrified by what happened to Emira at the grocery store. Besides throwing money at her and support to take it further, Alix decides that she really needs Emira not just for babysitting, but as a friend and part of her family. Alix wants to get close, to know her to the point of stalking her babysitter’s texts.


“Alix often felt that Emira saw her as a textbook rich white person… but if Emira would only take a deeper look… Alix fantasized about Emira discovering things about her that shaped what Alix saw as the truest version of herself. Like the fact that one of Alix’s friends was also black. That Alix’s new and favourite shoes were from Payless, and only cost eighteen dollars.”


I had little sympathy for Alix who was completely needy, turning to her girlfriends for advice over the most ridiculous things. Her well-drawn character produced a range of emotions for me. Emira on the other hand just wants to do a job which pays her enough to qualify for health insurance. Well- educated, she is without ambition,  continuously doubting herself. She compares herself to her girlfriends and their own various successes and they don’t  quite understand Emira who’s highlight of the week is to be with Briar who adores her. Alix’s girlfriends are the same. And the relationships are very well handled.


“Sometimes, when she was particularly broke, Emira convinced herself that if she had a real job, a nine-to-five position with benefits and decent pay, then the rest of her life would start to resemble adulthood as well.”


It took a while for me to get into the first half of the book, getting to know characters I didn’t much like. The second half was dynamite with a sinister twist creating a great deal of anxiety about Emira, cheering for her and hoping her response would produce a positive outcome. 

Despite the hype, it’s a quick, easy read and worth checking out. But is it a five star read? Not for me. 

Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


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Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to stay with her flamboyant Aunt Peg. Her aunt owns and runs a struggling theatre and, Vivian helps out by designing and sewing the  costumes for her.  Vivian, naïve and in awe of her new life in New York  befriends show girl Celia and together they treat the city and the men in it, as their playground. One night, a drunken Vivian makes a mistake, which results in public scandal and humiliation for her and the theatre. She is ostracised from the world she’s grown to love forcing her to reassess who she is and what kind of person she wants to be. It leads her eventually to the love of her life.


Apart from Vivian Morris and the minor characters along the way, the biggest star of this drama is New York. I loved reading about the world of theatre and show-business and Gilbert has done a masterful job in researching the era of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, so that we, the reader feel fully immersed.


The book opens with Vivian telling her story to Angela in response to her request about what Vivian was to her father. She replies that all she can tell her is  what Angela’s father meant to her. And so, her story begins. And what a story it is.


It’s an honest portrayal of glamour, sex, fashion, debauchery and decadence. The old Vivian in the story doesn’t portray herself as anything other than stupidly young, frivolous and naïve. She harks back to a time of promiscuity, unwed mothers, homosexuality and where scandal by the tabloids was as ever-present as it is today.


The narration style in first person by Vivian jarred my reading at first and it took a little while to get used to it. It’s a long read and it takes quite a while for Vivian to answer Angela’s initial question, but when she does you get why it’s so long. It was one I couldn’t put down. Enjoyable and enlightening.

Book Review: Snakes and Ladders by Angela Williams



This is a story which is raw, brutal and honest. Angela Williams memoir could almost be fictional and you wish that it was.

Angela with university and teaching credentials stepped out to cross a road and was hit by a postie’s motor bike. Police took down her name and a statement and came back two days later with a warrant for her arrest. There was no court case, no bail opportunity, no appeal, just straight to a correctional facility in handcuffs in front of her dismayed partner and young son. Why? She’d served time for a crime she committed when she was a drug addicted teenager, thirteen years earlier. Except she’d only served five months of it. She was taken away to serve the rest.

I’d seen an interview with Angela on the ABC News less than a month or so ago where she talked about her book which had just launched. My curiosity peaked. I had to read it.
Angela pulls no punches. The introduction warns the reader what to expect.

Let’s take something from the old me and jump in with both feet. Let’s hold our breath when we need to, and laugh when we need to, cry when we need to, eat doughnuts when we need to. I’m here, in the future, holding your hand. I promise it all turns out okay… I drove myself mad to tell you this story, so you damn well better read it.

And once you start reading you can’t stop because no matter how much we see of the old Angela, the prison system, the cruelty of her upbringing and enter her old world, we know it turns out okay. That’s what kept me going. That and the writing, which is wonderful.

Acrid panic froths across the back of my tongue. A glint of burning light off chrome catches my eye. I lock onto this shred of bright, body frozen in place. Crickets chirp in the bag hanging from my hand.

Learning about the women in the modern-day prison system, how it runs, life as a sex worker and drug addict was astonishing at times to read, yet eye-opening. Her own personal journey gives hope.

I couldn’t stop myself from questioning power imbalances, was filled with rage at small inequalities and awed into silences by big ones. But I keep trying, trusting, writing, thinking.

I couldn’t help comparing this book to the Mars Room which is fictional and was short listed for the Booker 2018. Snakes and Ladders, I think, is so much better.

Book Review: Magnolias don’t Die by A J Collins

This is the sequel to Oleanders are Poisonous, (see my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/03/06/book-review-oleanders-are-poisonous-by-a-j-collins/). I read this one just as quickly.


We skip ahead two years later when Lauren meets her old friend, Harry in a pub where she’s started singing. He convinces her that she has talent enough to make singing a profession and she escapes the sleazy manager and heads off on the road with Harry. There’s one thing she knows and that is, she wants more than friendship from Harry. Of course, it’s not easy as Lauren battles the demons of her past and especially that night on her sixteenth birthday.

This was as pacey as the prequel and my sympathy for Lauren never altered.  I found myself cheering for her hoping she’d put Harry out of his misery, because Harry is a truly likeable guy. She’s grown up a bit more; is gutsy and feisty while finding a way to learn how to forgive and heal. I enjoyed the relationship with Snap too, although he needed more from her than what she was capable of giving. No spoilers.


I’m not sure how you would go reading this one first, I think it would make sense and it is a longer read. But to enhance the reading experience, I’d recommend these books in sequential order. So, buy them both!

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

It’s taken a few weeks to find the words to describe how powerful this book is. And even so I probably won’t do it full justice.

Girl, Woman, Other written by Bernadine Evaristo, together with The Testaments by Margaret Attwood, won the Booker Prize in 2019.

This book, set mostly in Britain contains twelve different stories in various timelines about a group of diverse women, most of whom are black. The reader is taken on a journey with each of the women and we learn about them and their lives with an almost brutal honesty.  This book is a social commentary of what it means to be black and a woman in modern Britain and predictably it’s not always pretty.

There’s Grace in 1905 an orphan, Winsome in 1953, a migrant from Barbados, Amma is 1980 who sets up a feminist theatre. Then there’s Carole, the high flyer in 2008 who turns her back on her Nigerian heritage, and Morgan, once known as Megan in 2017 navigating her way to independence.

These are almost stand-alone short stories except that there is a connection which comes together with an incredible last chapter via Penelope who bears the brunt of family secrets in a calamitous way.

The characters grow on the reader quickly because the writing is succinct, poetic yet direct. The absence of regular punctuation such as full stops and capital letters to start sentences doesn’t call attention to itself as the reader gets very used to the easy to read style within a few short pages.

Amma misses her daughter now she’s away at university

not the spiteful snake that slithers out of her tongue to hurt her mother, because in Yazz’s world young people are the only ones with feelings

but she misses the Yazz who stomps about the place

who rushes in as if a hurricane’s just blown into her room –

 

A word of warning: The connection between the many characters can be confusing and a map would have helped on occasion to prompt the memory. But if you read the book quickly, it shouldn’t worry you too much. And it is very easy to read. But my advice is to take it slowly and saviour it as each word earns its place.

This one is an important book to read, enlightening us all about the history of the black women’s experience in Britain.

I simply loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

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The Island of Sea Women is a fascinating novel of sorrow and grief but more importantly it’s also a novel of friendship, spirituality and the strength of women in an unusual matriarchal society.

Set on the  Korean Island of Jeju, the friendship of two women Young-sook and Mi-ja stretches across time from the occupation by the Japanese until 2008. From different backgrounds, they join the Haenyeo, a collective of women, who traditionally for centuries dive and harvest sea creatures to not only feed themselves, but for sale. The men traditionally stay home and look after the children while the women come together and dive. The island is known for their Haenyeo traditions where women dive even in freezing conditions and worship a female god to protect them when they go out. At the age of fifty-five they retire and nuture baby dives in their teen years.

I thought the book started slowly as we learnt about how the friendship began and all about the matriarchy of the collective and the diving. I have to be honest, while I didn’t warm to the characters at first, I persisted and I’m so glad I did. The next two thirds was a dynamite of action, tragedy and heartbreak. The story flipped into and out of 2008 but not too often.

It’s a fascinating history and the author has done a mountain of work on her research, not just about the Haenyeo, the ancient practice of worshipping female Gods but of Korea’s past and lead up to the War. I’d never heard of this particular Island and when I finished the novel, I found myself reading more about it.

I’d recommend it thoroughly.

Book Review: Academic Curveball by James J Cudney

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I can’t recall reading a series and I don’t tend to read a lot of mysteries so I thought I’d better remedy it.  I’d seen this book across my social media networks and have read an earlier book by this author, Watching Glass Shatter (see my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2018/08/24/book-review-watching-glass-shatter-by-james-j-cudney/)

Academic Curveball is the first of the Braxton Campus Mysteries and is set at Braxton College in Pennsylvania. Single father, Kellan Ayrwick returns home to dutifully attend his father’s retirement function. Both of his parents work at his old college, and he discovers his father is embroiled in some political issues on the eve of his retirement. After the dinner on campus, Kellan discovers a dead body and reluctantly gets involved in trying to solve the murder. Throw in his feisty and cheeky, grandmother, an ex- girlfriend and another murder along the way and things get very interesting.

It’s a very enjoyable read with great pace. The murderer was not who I expected it to be and the twists and turns kept me guessing. The end was left on a high with a cliff hanger and of course, I just have to get the next book in the series to find out what happens. I’m glad I picked this one up and look forward to getting into the next one.