I’m Still Here (Black dignity in a world made for whiteness) – Austin Channing Brown

“Ain’t no friends here” the words of Dr Simms who taught African American and Mexican American history at North Park University where Austin Channing Brown studied for her BA. Dr Simms was only her second black teacher and this one sentence forms the basis for “I’m still here”.

Austin is saying nothing different to any of her black female predecessors who have exhaustedly spoken about this white world they are forced to conform to. “Black Dignity in a world made for Whiteness”. But they are not being heard and they are not being listened to and learned from.

Once I’d finished reading I wanted to post it through the letterbox of each of the houses on our street, to everyone in my town. As a majorly predominantly white town, I can guarantee you that most people will shriek they aren’t racist. They aren’t using the n word, they aren’t telling black people to go home. I can also guarantee that they are in some form or another racist. I hold my hands up. I saw myself in Austin’s stories of being oppressed. So now I/we have to do something to ensure it doesn’t happen again. That’s not by placing our white guilt on our black comrades, its about holding ourselves accountable and making sure they are heard.

Many of the things Austin wrote about are attributable to white women but there’s absolutely no doubt that when they happen to black women it’s worse. Because not only is the issue about their gender it’s about the colour of their skin too. White women don’t have to deal with that. So we need to help, we need to understand now. Share our platform, in fact hand it over to black women.

I don’t even know if I’m making sense so please go get a copy of “I’m still here” and see what you can do.

Thank you to @viragopress for the review copy. Sorry I didn’t get this out on publication day, I was trying to process what I was reading with the respect it deserved.

The Search Party – Simon Lelic

BOOKSTAGRAM TOUR POST

16 year old Sadie Saunders is missing. One of the UK’s biggest missing persons searches is taking place. But Sadie’s friends don’t think the police are looking in the right place. Telling no one, they set out into the woods to find her. The trouble is, each of the five friends has a secret.  Each of them is a suspect.  And not everyone will make it home alive.
 
In his spine-chilling new thriller, Simon Lelic introduces Detective Inspector Fleet, back in the run-down town that he never planned to return to, where time is running out on what could be the biggest case of his career.

The Search Party had me hooked straightaway. Set in a British (coastal?) town where Inspector Fleet is having to deal with his past and the case presented in front of him. The main focus of the book is around the 5 teenagers as though they were speaking to the police interviewing them.

We all know people like each of the teens, we grew up with them, we are them. We have dealt with their problems (ok maybe not murder). It definitely had a  Broadchurch feel to it, brooding copper etc.

Thanks to Rosie and Ellie at @vikingbooksuk for letting me be a part of this tour.

Review – Frying Plantain – Zalika Reid-Benta

Kara Davis really can’t win in life. Her family says she’s too soft, too quiet, yet too bold. Not only is she having to deal with this as a teenager but she’s trying to find her identity as Canadian and Jamaican.

One of the things I loved about Frying Plantain was reading the celebratory reviews from black Canadian girls who loved seeing their lives and their families reflected in the book. So it is really not my place to say what’s good or bad about it. Because seeing those was more than enough.

Kara’s a well thought out character. The times when she’s asking her mother and grandmother where they met the men who have created her. That was touching. It felt parallel to living in a city but never having explored it. Even when you have moved and moved again.

Frying Plantain isn’t about one single dramatic event. Its about motherhood and family. About what friendship can become.

Really looking forward to more from Zalika Reid-Benta

Thank you to @dialoguebooks for the review copy. You are doing fantastic work!

What I read in July 2020

Inland – Tea Obreht

A novel about the American West from the viewpoint of a woman. Nora is struggling to keep her family both together and alive. They have very little money and even less water. Coming from a line of families who have spent their lives moving from place to place in search of something better, Nora is torn between staying on the outskirts of a town she’s come to call home and having to go somewhere else so that she can actually carry on breathing.

3/5

Supper Club – Lara Williams

Definitely a more MeToo coming of age story. But with flawed women at the helm. The aim of supper club is to take up space. Both in body and in the sense of a venue. It’s an art project, it’s a statement. A good summer read.

3/5

The Far Field – Madhuri Vijay

Shalini lives in Bangalore with her father, her mother having recently died. She’s restless, lost and puzzled about someone from her past. Again, another story of a selfish main character who uses her privilege to go on a soul searching journey to places she knows very little about.

Midhuri Vijay evokes so much in the prose. There’s never an exact reason given for Shalini’s selfish behaviour which actually makes it a much more real story in that sense. A product of her environment.

4/5

Adults – Emma Jane Unsworth

Honestly, this far into July I felt like I’d picked up the same book but in different countries. Mother and daughter relationships are pretty popular it seems. Along with unconvential friendships. Either it’s a common theme or I’m just picking up the same book by accident.

4/5

Queenie – Candice Carty Williams

Such a good book for right now. I can see why it’s been so popular. This was a library borrow but I think I’ll be purchasing my own copy as it’s a definite re-read. I can’t say much more than the actual reviewers who count when it comes to Queenie. They are the readers who see themselves portrayed. Who get to have their own lives told in literature. It’s a positive move. Possibly my only gripe about is that it plays into a trope about Jewish heritage and wealth. It’s more than possible that this was accidental but it felt uncomfortable.

5/5

Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

So refreshing to have the story of the title character told through the eyes of the people closely and distantly connected to them. There’s an incredible amount of scope to play with and it’s been done well. Olive is difficult, strong and scary. Again, parent child problems. How they see each other so differently to what the other thinks they do.

4/5

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Blog Tour – Supper Club – Lara Williams

Twenty-nine year old Roberta has spent her whole life hungry – until the day she invents Supper Club. Supper Club is a secret society for hungry women. Women who are sick of bad men and bad sex, of hinted expectations to be thinner, smile more, talk less. So they gather at night to feast and drink and dance, seeking the answer to a simple question: if you feed a starving woman, what will she grow into? This is a story about the hunger that never goes away. It is a story about friendship, food and female rage. Above all, it is about the people who make us who we are – who lead us astray and ultimately save us.

Supper Club could quite easily have been like so many other books about women who’ve experienced a traumatic life changing event and created a club which inevitably brings them closer to their friends and leads them to find love.

But in an age of MeToo and more representation in literature for women, Lara Williams has created something far better. The characters are flawed and hurting. Their relationships are real and relatable. Their supper club is art and also activism. There’s no dashing hero though, word of warning. The men are skin-crawling awful. And yes, there is an air of Roberta finding herself and her squad, but it’s “not in a set by the sea and they eat cupcakes way”. 

Whilst Supper Club might not leave you with a spring in your step and heart warmed, it will leave you with the belief that things do get better if you want them to. That a story can be told and women are survivors. 

Supper Club by Lara Williams is out in paperback 16 July 2020

Thank you to Hamish Hamilton for my copy and opportunity to take part in this blog/bookstagram tour

(As a side note, my review copy was digital and a lot of words were missing the letter f and the prefixes and suffixes connected to it. So in the descriptions of recipes including fish, it was an amusing read, trying to decipher what it was saying.)

JULY TBR


With libraries in this area looking to stagger their opening across July, I think it’s time to read the books I borrowed just as lockdown was happening. Renewals are extended to August but I’m doing to spend this month trying to reduce the pile. I don’t think I’ll succeed however I’m willing to give it a go anyway.

I’ve got blog and insta tours lined up for July which are on my Kindle.

How hard can it be?

Kicking off with Inland which is super long and wordy. Nice.

What have you got planned?

Blog Tour – Born Survivors – Wendy Holden

Born Survivors would be an extraordinary book if it was the story of just one mother who gave birth in a Nazi concentration camp during the second world war. But it’s not. It’s the story of three mothers. Priska, Rachel and Anka. Who each had their babies whilst trying to evade death and face the loss of their freedom and the lives they knew. How they somehow managed to hide their pregnancies from the SS including Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. And that all three ended up at the same camp but knew nothing of one another. 

Wendy Holden spares no detail in the stories of the women. None. She’s put together a quite remarkable book on how Priska, Rachel and Anka each with their own incredible strength went from living in harmony with their friends and family, to being starved and beaten whilst led amongst the corpses of their fellow prisoners. The Holocaust was not place that a baby was meant to survive. They avoided gas chambers, being shot, dying from diseases such as typhus and dysentery. Men dragged from their wives, children and elderley taken from their families without having any idea that they would never see them again. 

How even when they were taken to work in a munitions factory, they prayed that they would be bombed so that not only would their own ordeal be over, but that it would take the lives of their captors too. 

Really, they were only saved by the Zyklon-B gas having run out just a day before they finally arrived at the horrific Mauthausen camp in Austria, which was liberated soon after by an American troop. 

Every bit of blood, sweat and tears shed by the mothers is on these pages. Interspersed with the pictures of those they loved and those who helped them.

What’s extra magical about Born Survivors is that the three babies, Hana, Mark and Eva, end up meeting with one another much later in life, and quite unexpectedly, automatically feel an incredible bond. Because even though they have no actual memory of the camp, they have it in common and bear the scars of what happened to them and their mothers both externally and internally. 

Three little miracles. In the most horrific of circumstances. Without their strong mothers, they would not have made it into this world. 

Born Survivors was originally released in 2015 but now being released as a special edition in commemoration of 75 years since the end of the war, I would recommend adding it to your tbr pile as soon as possible if you haven’t already read it. Published by Sphere (r.r.p. £8.99)  Paperback & eBook and Audiobook available.

Thank you to Sphere for letting me take part in this blog tour and for providing a copy of the book. 

Priska with Hana

Blog Tour | Rules for Perfect Murders | Peter Swanson

We’ve reached the final stop and it lands with me.

Thank you to Josh at Faber & Faber for inviting me to host “Rules For Perfect Murders” on the blog as part of it’s tour this month.

Malcolm Kershaw is an avid fan of mystery novels. Whilst working in Old Devils bookstore, Boston, which specialises in that genre, he wrote a blog post; Eight Perfect Murders.

But that was a few years ago, yet now the FBI are questioning him about his list. Because there have been a few unsolved murders recently and they seem to have Malcolm’s list in common. Can Agent Mulvey and Malcolm find out the culprit before they reenact all the murders from the post? 

As an unofficial new year’s resolution, I decided to read more thrillers and crime books this year. So I was super excited to be contacted about Rules For Perfect Murders. I’d never read any of Peter Swanson’s previous works and the info sent to me definitely intrigued me. 

Swanson writes incredibly intelligently about the publishing and online world of books and writers. Which as a book blogger, is refreshing to see. Someone that understands the reader a little more than others care to share. 

I don’t think with books of this genre, you’re always supposed to feel so suspicious of the antagonist but this is where I was at with Mr Kershaw. Sure, it passed from him to every character after a while but it always came back to Malcolm. How someone so ordinary could find himself here and who even is this FBI Agent? Are they legit too? 

One question I was left asking is, why eight? Why not ten? Most top lists comprise of more rounded numbers. It’s clever and different but it doesn’t actually need a reason, but it certainly felt odd. 

The setting left me cold, the description of the murders left me cold. That’s not a bad thing. I could see all the characters and found them well developed. Good stuff all round. 

If you don’t think of yourself to be a reader who could get into thrillers, I’d recommend “Rules For Perfect Murders” as a good one to dive in with and try.

Thank you again to Faber & Faber for the proof and the opportunity to review the book.

Don’t Look at Me Like That by Diana Athill

JacquiWine's Journal

While Diana Athill was perhaps best known for her work as a literary editor and memoirist, she also produced a small number of works of fiction, particularly towards the beginning of her career. One of these books – a 1967 novel entitled Don’t Look at Me Like That – has just been reissued by Granta in a stylish new edition (very 1960s in terms of artwork). It is, in some respects, a coming-of-age story, imbued with the pleasure and pain of illicit love, all set within the bohemian milieu of Oxford and London in the 1950s.

The novel focuses on Meg Bailey, a socially awkward young woman with a talent for art. Home life for Meg has been frugal and conservative, the daughter of Church of England parson and a buttoned-up mother, reflective of the traditional attitudes of the era.

At school, Meg has only one friend, Roxane Weaver, whom…

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Breaking and Mending – Joanna Cannon – Review

I hate this week. I’ve re-lived this week for 7 times now, each year. Everytime I forget bits, the names of the nurses, what we ate, the timing of when my brother from another mother was moved to a side room of the hospital. It was then we knew he wouldn’t be coming round and we were saying goodbye.

13 February 2020. I’m trying to fall asleep. Suddenly I can’t breathe. I’m sat up on my knees thinking how I short life is and my own mortality scares the fuck out of me. This happens a few times a month. I knew it would probably happen this week. It was bound to.

The week he died we camped in a small room in ICU. I made a bed from two plastic chairs facing each other. It was where the night before they decided they could do no more for Luke, I snapped at the moaning of his estranged father about a light flashing which I had coped with for the past few days, when he’d comfortably slept in a hotel with his new girlfriend.

I have one photo from that whole time on my phone. I don’t know if it’s right to have a kodak moment when someone’s had cardiac arrest and never come round. But there we have it. It’s of his housemates and cousins playing cards. Taken from where I sat on a line of plastic chairs under which we would also lie to nap. 

And so, in the early hours of Thursday this week, I reached for a book. Some might say it probably isn’t good to read about the life of a junior doctor when you’re thinking about a traumatic event in ICU. But let me tell you, it was comfort.

‘Breaking and Mending’ made me cry. It made me sob so much. Dr Jo Cannon led me by the hand back to the hospital. There was even mention of relatives camping in a side room. Bam! Her amazing writing and compassion, tells how she retrained as a doctor, was given a place as a wild card. To then treating patients who have terminal cancer in their thirties and those who don’t even want to acknowledge the words, cancer or hospice. Dealing with seriously ill psychiatric patients who need care which isn’t immediately available to them. 

In a week where the buzzwords are “be kind”, then the start is with Dr Jo. Patients can be treated with medicine. But people need kindness, too. Especially in their final moments. 

Thank you Jo, I won’t be looking into a career in medicine anytime soon, but your words have definitely helped my heart this week. Thank you for sharing your darkest times. 

On Friday, I’ll remember Luke (even though for us he died on the Sunday really. That’s when his pupils blew and he left us.) His organs went on to help others and his life is still celebrated today. I hate that he’s not here to tell me off for fucking this up, or that I can’t share a pizza with him in Muswell Hill. That’s the hardest part.