Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evarista

I am not usually one to pick up a book if it is award-winning. I don’t avoid them; I just don’t seek them out. However, as it is pride month, and there is so much support (as there always should be) for diversity of all kinds in fiction, this book seemed like a great choice. It was also a chance for me to discover a new author.

This book is engaging from the word go and really difficult to put down. It is a really clever tale about 12 women who have stories that interlink, even if ther are not aware of it. However, it is not just their stories that absorbing, but all the themes that are explored throughout this book. There is the exploration of gender and what it means to be a woman – is there a set rule? There is an exploration of racial and heritage identity which was probably the most fascinating to me. It is such a complex issue, which we are fully aware has been thrust to the forefront of all our minds at the moment.

I do not feel that I can give this book the justice it deserves. Especially without spoiling it for others who may like to read it. Yet, it is true that it is a book that will stay with you. It will make you think about the world around you. And you will certainly be reflecting on your relationships, friends, family, acquaintances and lovers. Do you really ‘know’ everyone?

I really do not think I can express how utterly stunning this book is, other than to urge you to read it if you haven’t. I will certainly be seeking out more of Bernadine Evaristo’s books…hearing amazing things about ‘Mr Loverman’.

Noah Could Never by Simon James Green

Now, it is not often I read a sequel so quickly, but as I am reading with pride this month, I had to find out what happened next to Noah Grimes.

I enjoyed this title even more that the first one. I mean, poor Noah’s awkward adventures do feel like they only happen to him, but – just like the first – I think we all remember how everything seems like such a big deal when you are young. Especially, in this case, if you took part in a school exchange (mine was to Italy).

However, what is really important in this book is the development of Noah and Harry’s relationship. There is such a minefield to teenage relationships and the insecurities that come with it. I felt it was handled really well in Green’s novel, He makes it clear, through Noah and Harry, that there is no ‘normal’; all relationships are individual. By the end, I think Noah learns a very important lesson about love.

There really are a lovely light-hearted read, especially in these strange times. I mean, who can’t help getting the giggles at the thought of a goose swallowing the diamonds (although I did wonder if this was a nod to ‘The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle’ by the wonderful Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). And, if you are a fan of pretty much any detective novel, you will relate to Noah’s rather over-active imagination.

There books are simply a delight, with a colourful cast of characters finding their way in the world (and that is not just the teenagers) and through relationships.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I would like to thank my lovely bookstagram friend Mrs D for encouraging me to have a ‘Great Expectations Buddy Read’. This is a book that I remember having a go at about 10 years ago, but I didn’t get very far. I think Dickens has always seemed daunting, so I needed a bit of a push to give it a go.

‘Great Expectations’ is a story that I am sure so many of us think we know. It is certainly a tale I thought I knew from various film and television adaptations. However, there is so much more to the book that I think you would ever be able to transfer to the screen. It also struck me that this always seems to follow set ideas when it is adapted. Pip always seems to be played as an innocent, Miss Havisham as so old and odd, and Estella as simply cold-hearted. That is, of course, part of their characters but not the be all and end all. Dickens has such a creative way of crafting his characters that they are never so simple.

The story of Pip and his coming of age is a great adventure but also highlights some real flaws in human nature. Especially some of the expectations we and society place place on ourselves and, sometime, there expectations are also our undoing. However, there is also the ease with which some people are manipulated or moulded into a certain way of being and thinking about themselves or others.

Dickens’ writing style brings every single moment of this story to life. You really feel you are on the marshes and in London – and especially when you are in the walls of ‘Satis House’, that famous home of Miss Havisham. The settings are as much part of the story as the characters and the action.

Reading this has certainly given me the bug to read more Dickens. Although, I cannot deny that I am still a little intimidated by some of his larger books.

Do you have a favourite Dickens novel?

Hideous Beauty by William Hussey

This book was in that I chose to read as June is Pride Month. It is a book that, again, I have discovered thanks to the Bookstagram community.

‘Hideous Beauty’ is quite a book. There is so much amongst its pages to think about – this is certainly not just a story. This is a book that tackles some really complex issues – well, to be honest it should not be complex but sadly for some people it is and it is reality.

This book is clever. It has within its pages a mystery that needs solving – what are the secrets that Ellis has been keeping from Dylan? However, is it just about Ellis’ secrets? This is quie an investigation of relationships. Relationships of all kinds – romantic, family, friendships – all are tackled in this book and, in parts, quite closely examined. Sometime with surprising outcomes and, sometimes, with really tragic outcomes. (There will be tears).

However, as William Hussey says himseflf in a letter to his readers, he has tackled some of the ugly reality faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community. For some, that may make for uncomfortable reading, but if it makes for people think and causes them to take responsibility for their education, or re-education that can only be a good thing.

I feel I can do this book justice. It needs to be a book that is read to be fully appreciated. It is a real emotional page-turner that will stay with you for a long time. If you are going to pick this novel up, know that it does contain a trigger warning for some of the issues it tackles.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

This is a book that I picked up after attending a book event where Aisha Saeed spoke with Becky Albertalli about their co-authored book ‘Yes No Maybe So’. I had not encountered Aisha Saeed before as an author, but she was so engaging when she spoke and, clearly, loves to write, that I was encouraged to give her novel a go.

Amal has dreams of becoming a teacher, she loves to learn and she loves to read. But society has other ideas, she lives in a very patriarchal society and a village that appears to be run by those who have money – and not those who work hard in the community to make a living. After an accidental encounter with the rich Khan family Amal finds her life changes and her dreams appear to disappear. However, could she still be in control of her future, with a little help from her friends?

This book is engaging and written in a very readable style. It would be a great book for secondary school-aged readers. It really encourages you to think about some of the traditional roles that can be outlined for men and women without any discussion or chance for the moulds to be broken. But, in fact, inside us all, is there the spirit to force change and really take control of our destinies?

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a chance to discover another new author.

Run by Ann Patchett

I picked this book up as part of the ‘The Tandem Collective’ #RunReadalong. I have never read a book by Ann Patchett before, but having seen ‘The Dutch House’ all over bookstagram I thought this may be a book to try.

As I started the book, I did not know what it was about (surprise). However, I was intrigued as I started. it has a wonderful opening line that draws the reader straight into the story. You want to know where this first line is going to lead you.

It leads you into a great exploration of family, and what exactly it means to be family. I found this fascinating as the story unfolded – especially when you come across the ‘subtle’ twist. This moment could change the path of the story, or your whole view of the characters. It is very clever, especially as Patchett leaves you wondering if Father Sullivan discovers the twist.

A book that encourages you to invest so much time into thinking is bound to stay with you even when you have put it down. I have found that the characters have not quite left me, the book concludes in a way that satisfied me – but I want to know more, I want to check in with them.

I am glad to have had the chance to discover a new novel and new author – so, thank you ‘The Tandem Collective’. I have already started looking for other books by Ann Patchett; this has certainly ben a lockdown highlight.

Have you discovered any new authors in these strange times?

Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

What seems a lifetime ago, I was one of those readers that was sucked into the world of ‘P.S I Love You’. It was a book that made me a firm of the work of Ceclia Ahern.

So, when we knew that we would have the chance to meet Holly again, seven years after the story of ‘P.S I Love You’ ended, I was very excited. It has taken me a little while to pick the book up, simply because I knew that it would be an emotional read. And I was not wrong.

There is joy as you are reunited with Holly, her family and friends. But there is so much emotion as we realise that Gerry’s ghost is still playing a big part in Holly’s life and maybe she has not come as far in seven years as she thought she had. However, Holly meets some people in the ‘P.S I Love You Club’ who take her on a journey of self-discovery she may not have ever realised she needed.

Ahern tells the story in her usual beautiful style. Her books are so readable and, for me, this was like returning to an old friend. A perfect read in these strange times – a hug in a book.

So, if you have not met Holly yet, grab ‘P.S I Love You’, and – if you have – remember to read the ‘Postscript’. And, when you have done that, why not pick up a pen and send some happy mail?

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

I think – well I know – I have a book hangover from this glorious novel. Read as part of a buddy read-along, I actually finished ahead of the game, because I could not put the book down. In fact, at the moment, this may be my favourite book from the pen of Wilkie Collins.

Collins’ characterisation in this novel is outstanding, which is a key reason that I found the book engaging. The characters embody the narrative, each so clearly individual and representative of the role they are going to play. The villains are fabulously villainous although, as the tale progresses, Miss Gwilt (if that is who she really is) starts to become a little conflicted.

This book, some may say, could have been ahead of its time, as the strongest, most determined character in the book is a female. We all know that there is a continuous debate about females being represented in fiction, but Collins packs no punches with his character Miss Gwilt. Strong, determined, independent – she is fabulous (although you are probably not supposed to be a fan of her).

The tale is excellent, as with many of Wilkie Collins books. There is mystery, intrigue, mistaken identity, scandal – the list goes on. It is all just wonderfully thrilling from the word go (No Spoilers!).

If you have not read a book by Wilkie Collins or a Victorian sensation novel, then this could be a great place to start.

Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

I have been desperate to read this book for ages – so decided to order a copy as a lockdown treat. And what a treat this book is – I am not sure that I can do it justice.

This is a stunning novel, in more ways than one. Just starting with the cover; what a beauty. The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful and bring the wonderful words to life.

We follow Michael in this coming of age story. Michael blossoms into the beautiful Black Flamingo – as his find his identity and place in the world as a gay man. This touches on so many subjects, like racism, homophobia, realtionships (of all kinds) and identity; all handled so well through the beautiful writing of Dean Atta. His perfect prose tells Michael’s story with such warmth and emotion, creating a beautiful page-turner that is impossible to put down.

This lovely YA book is one that I will be recommending to everyone to read, as it is absolutely brilliant – I can already see a re-read on the horizon.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

‘Queenie’ has been everywhere over the last year or so. However, as usual, I was late to the ‘Queenie’ party. It had been on the wishlist and thanks to a bookswap with the lovely ‘Priarie Chicken Pages’ I finally had a copy to read.

‘Queenie’ had been billed as the new ‘Bridget’. Now, being part of the ‘Bridget’ generation, having loved the books and the films, that was a bold claim. However, it is also an unfair one, because Queenis is so much more. Queenie is a leading female character for a whole new generation. She is not the new Bridget – she is Queenie Jenkins.

What makes ‘Queenie’ a really special novel is that Candice Carty-Williams has had the confidence, and skill, to tackle some topics which can be taboo. Mental health, identity and relationships are tackled head-on in the story of Queenie Jenkins. Occasionally, her story is painful but, at all times, you are rooting for and supporting the wonderful Queenie. Don’t get me wrong, she has her flaws, but she has her flaws, but she also has an amazing inner strength that maybe we should all search for.

The writing style is easy to read but there is so much warmth and emotion in each and every sentence. There is also a clever use of memory throughout the narrative to help us build a full picture of Queenie, past and present.

I would highly recommend this book because I don’t think it will be what you expect – I think you will find that it is far more than you expect it to be. It was certainly far more than I expected it to be. Do not compare Queenie to anyone else, because she is a hero in her own right.