Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Confessions Of A Forty-Something F##k Up by Alexandra Potter | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book in order to take part in the readalong with Tandem Collective. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contain affiliate links.]

Confessions Of A Forty-Something F##k Up - 5/5
"Nell Stevens’ life is a mess.

When her business goes bust and her fiancé with it, Nell’s happy ever after in California falls apart and she moves back to London to start over. But a lot has changed since she’s been gone. All her single friends are now married with children, sky-high rents force her to rent a room in a stranger’s house and in a world of perfect Instagram lives, she feels like a f**k up. Even worse, a forty-something f**k up.

But when she lands a job writing obituaries, Nell meets the fabulous Cricket, an eighty-something widow with challenges of her own, and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they begin to help each other heal their aching hearts, cope with the loss of the lives they had planned, and push each other into new adventures and unexpected joys.

Because Nell is determined. Next year things are going to be very different. It’s time to turn her life around."

Oh I love everything about this book! It was a joy to read.

Nell Stevens was a book editor living in LA with her fiancé Ethan. They opened up a café-cum-bookshop but everything went downhill, they lost the business and subsequently split up. Now having no visa, she moved back to London. Life as she knew it there has changed. All of her friends are married and busy with their families. 

With nowhere to live, she ends up sharing a house with a man named Edward but it's all good (even if he does have a huge list of rules!) because he is only there three days a week.

Determined to feel less like a f**k up, an old contact gets her a job writing obituaries and she becomes close friends with eighty-something widow Cricket whilst writing Monty (her husband)'s obituary. Cricket is totally eccentric and their friendship is wonderful. They are both suffering losses but in a different way and it is beautiful to read. The dynamic between them is so lovely.

This book has so many laugh out loud and relatable moments. I'm not 40 yet (11 years to go!) but even though I have a family of my own, one of the things that Nell feels like she is missing, I definitely related to a lot throughout this book. 

I did guess how things were going to pan out about halfway through which made me desperate to read on to see how exactly everything worked out. The ending was especially witty and I wouldn't have suspected anything less! 

You can find all of my readalong prompt thoughts and challenges at my dedicated 'ConfessionsRA' Instagram highlight.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet - 4/5
The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban's vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival...and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban--a lord as mighty as he is cruel--has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah... The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

Going into 2021, I wanted to branch out a bit and read different genres that I wouldn't usually pick up. Fantasy is one of those. I don't know why, but I was just never drawn to them. This was my first foray into the genre and what a great one it was.

Judah is a foundling with bright red hair and black eyes. She has no place in the kingdom of Highfall. She shares a unique and special bond with "foster brother" Gavin, heir of Lord Elban and he is set to become Lord of the City. Judah and Gavin can feel each others pain and can communicate through scratches on their arms. Judah must be kept safe and unharmed so that Gavin will be safe.

A healer named Nathaniel (Nate) is able to sneak his way into the House and ends up becoming the magus. He is there for a reason. He knows all about Judah and needs to get to her. But why? Is she as unimportant as she thinks?

This is an absolute beast of a book at close to 600 pages and it's probably one of the longest I've ever read. I was daunted at the beginning but was shocked by how hooked on the story that I became. It is definitely a slow burner, which is sometimes hard for me as I love a fast-paced thriller, and it isn't for the faint hearted. It has made me want to read more of the genre for sure.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid | Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book from the publisher to take part in a readalong with Tandem Collective. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid - 4/5
When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for 'kidnapping' the white child she's actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix's desire to help. When a surprising connection emerges between the two women, it sends them on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know - about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege.

This book is an interesting one. I've seen so much hype surrounding it and I didn't really know what to expect. I enjoyed it but I thought I would like it more than I did.

The book is split into four parts and short chapters mean that it is easy to fly through.

Such A Fun Age starts with babysitter Emira at her friend Shaunie's birthday party with her other friends Josefa and Zara. She receives a call from her employer Mrs Chamberlain (Alix) asking if Emira could take her daughter Briar to the grocery store as they have had an incident with one of their windows being smashed and she doesn't want Briar to see the police.

Emira agrees but states that as she has been out at a party, she doesn't look very professional and Mrs Chamberlain is fine with that. Whilst at the grocery store, Emira gets accosted by the security guard, assuming that she has kidnapped Briar. A man named Kelley Copeland has recorded the altercation but Emira doesn't want it to be shown anywhere and wants to forget about it.

This story has a lot of depth with the characters given good backgrounds. Alix Chamberlain is a blogger who is writing her own book. Her husband is a news anchor who accidentally says something racist on TV and this instantly changes Alix's approach to Emira. She becomes strangely obsessed with trying to please her. She very much wants Emira to know that she reads books by black authors and has black friends, like she is keeping up appearances.

Emira also starts a relationship with Kelley Copeland and we realise that he and Alix knew each other from high school. Alix gets very obsessed with trying to protect her from him because she "knows what he's like" whilst at the same time Kelley is negative about Emira working for Alix.

It touches on race, privilege and female relationships and I do think it's one worth giving a go. As well as having these serious topics running throughout, it did make me laugh out loud in places.

Discussion Points:
1) "Emira," he said. "Don't tell me she makes you wear a uniform."
"Well, she doesn't make me do anything."
What does the novel have to say about the transactional nature of domestic work? Why do you think Emira and Kelley disagree on the significance of the polo shirt?

It is touched on throughout the entire book that Emira is "just" or "still" a babysitter. It is seen as something you do when you are a teenager and here Emira is, at age 25, babysitting.

Emira sees the wearing of the polo shirt as something that just happened and it continued on because it was easy. Kelley, knowing Alix from years ago, instantly remembers about the black member of staff that Alix's family had and who was also made to wear a uniform. The fact that it was embroidered with the family name suggested ownership. 

2) After the revelation at the Thanksgiving dinner, Kelley wants Emira to stop working for Alix. Do you think there was a right way for Emira, Kelley and Alix to react to their discovery? Is there always a right way to respond?

I don't think that there is a "right" way to respond but it all could have been handled very differently. If, when they first realised they knew each other, either Alix or Kelley told Emira straight away about their past relationship it would have saved the sneaking around and everything blowing up.

3) Over the course of the novel, we learn about events in Alix's adolescence, including her encounter with Kelley. How does Alix's adolescence continue to shape her as an adult? Why do you think she changed the spelling of her name from Alex to Alix?

It is very obviously that what happened to Alix as a teenager shaped her entire life, especially the incident with Robbie. She didn't realise her white privilege and I think she is now trying her best to clear her name and show that she isn't racist in the slightest but it kind of went too far. I believe she changed the spelling of her name to sound less white.

4) Much of the plot is facilitated by technology and the hyper-connected nature of modern society: Emira's encounter at the supermarket was filmed and could be shared, and Alix is able to leave New York and work remotely. Discuss the effect of modern technology in the novel. Does it cause more problems that it solves?

Technology can be both a good and bad thing. Emira was admirable in the way that she steered clear of social media and the whole reason that she was recognised following the video release was because an image was shared of her on Instagram.

Alix was able to share photographs of her week in New York after she went back home and thus making her agent believe that she was still currently in New York. It is easy to lie and make your life look different to what it truly is.

5) How does Shaunie's new job effect Emira's concerns about her own career? Do you think it is fair to say that Emira suffers from a lack of ambition? What other factors are holding her back?

I think Emira sees her friends around her having great jobs with dental and health insurance and feels like she is behind them. We hear about this when she discussed the places that each woman chooses to frequent for their birthdays. I don't think that she suffers with a lack of ambition but I do think that she doesn't know where to go from here and what she is truly capable of. The biggest thing holding her back is the thought of leaving Briar.

6) Emira continues to work for the Chamberlains through difficult circumstances, largely because of her attachment to Briar. How does their relationship compare to Alix's relationship with Briar? Why do you think Briar means so much to Emira?

It is obvious that Briar trusts Emira a lot, telling her that she doesn't like when her baby sister Catherine is the favourite. At the young age of 3 she recognises that her mother spends a lot more time with Catherine and that makes Emira want to show Briar just how special she is. I think Emira is worried that Briar will turn out to be exactly like Alix.

7) Towards the end of the novel, Alix tells Emira: "We're so impressed with how you reacted that evening, and so grateful that you came into our lives". How does this square with Alix's treatment of Emira? What, if anything, have Alix and Emira learned from each other?

I thought that it was a bit condescending of Alix to think that Emira couldn't handle herself well in a stressful situation. It really showed a huge shift in Alix's perception of Emira such as being surprised that the knew the word "connoisseur".

8) 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'. Discuss this proverb in light of Alix's decision to share the video. Can her good intentions excuse the damage done? Do you believe her intentions really were good?

I don't think that Alix's intentions were good at all. She shared the video for a number of reasons; for Emira to think that it was Kelley who had done so, to make her husband look better, for her husband's new channel to break the story and have the first interview with Emira and to promote her upcoming book. She was just selfish.

9) White privilege is a recurrent theme in the novel, especially where it goes unrecognised. Do you think fiction is a useful medium for raising awareness of this issue? In what ways might fiction be more successful than non-fiction at starting these conversations?

I definitely think it's great to read fiction books on the topic too. It puts you into the situation and puts you in a very real scenario.

10) Such A Fun Age tackles very serious themes, and throws its characters into some incredibly stressful moral dilemmas. In light of this, what do you make of the word 'fun' in the title?

I took it to be tongue in cheek and a bit sarcastic. It is not fun at all!

Friday, 8 January 2021

The Captive by Deborah O'Connor | Blog Tour #UnlockTheTruth

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book to take part in the blog tour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Deborah O'Connor's latest novel, 'The Captive', published by Zaffre Books.

The Captive by Deborah O'Connor - 5/5
"The cage is installed in Hannah's kitchen, the size of a shopping centre parking space. A bed, a basin, a table and a chair. A hatch and metal drawer through which to exchange food and other items.

Then there's him. Always there on the edges of her vision, no matter how hard she tries to block him out.

Every day, the same thoughts run through Hannah's mind:
What if he speaks to me?
What if he hurts me?
What if he gets out?

In a near-future justice system, Jem, the murderer of Hannah's husband, arrives at her home to serve out his twenty-year sentence in a cell. There it's hoped he will learn the true cost of his terrible crime.

But Jem tells Hannah he's innocent, and not only that, her husband had been lying to her. Soon Hannah begins to question everything she thought she knew. Was Jem wrongly convicted? Or is he simply a desperate man, willing to say and do anything that might grant his freedom?

Only he can unlock the truth. Only she can set him free."

My first read of 2021 and what a book to start the year! It had my head spinning, had me feeling so many emotions and blew my mind!

Hannah Cavey's husband John was a Met detective and was murdered in what appears to have been a mugging gone wrong. Prisons have been slated as being "too comfy" for criminals so as part of a new type of restorative justice, criminals now must be held in a cell in the victim's family home. This means Hannah has her husband's murderer in her basement kitchen. As a baker, she sees him every day and also has to feed him.

The story is told from the perspectives of both Hannah and Jeremiah (Jem), the prisoner. Hannah is obviously distraught following the death of her husband and relies on best friend Aisling to be her shoulder to cry on and reminisces with her about the good times she had with John.

Hannah's elderly neighbour Pru has dementia and Hannah often helps her out because in times when Pru is not lucid, Hannah likes that someone speaks to her as though John is still alive. 

Jem tries his best to convince Hannah that he is innocent and played no part in John's death, even going as far to tell her that John was keeping secrets from her. But can she trust him, or would he say anything to get her on his side?

I absolutely loved reading about Jem's childhood and backstory and although he is the antagonist of the book, I liked the depth of his character and it really helped you understand him.

This is such an amazingly written book with so much packed into it. I would thoroughly recommend this to everyone.

Blog tour info:
A massive thank you for Zaffre Books for a copy of this book to review and thank you to Compulsive Readers for organising the tour. If you want to check out the rest of the reviews from the tour, you can find the blog names/Twitter handles in the image below.