Friday, November 25, 2022

Acts of Service, by Lilian Fishman

 Acts of Service is a novel set in Brooklyn, New York, centring around Eve, a New Yorker in her twenties who is finding her own sense of sexual freedom and queer identity. This was a fascinating book, exploring a variety of somewhat philosophical themes, from sexual identity and exploration to the ideas surrounding personal freedom. Amid a landscape of polyamory, Fishman unpicks the intricacies of sexuality and the interplay of power and dominance – does one need to be dominant to feel powerful? 

Being on the autistic spectrum myself, I find human sexual behaviour both foreign and intriguing. Hence the decision to pick up this book – a unique genre/ topic to me. I did enjoy the book, as my interest was sustained by the slightly unusual narrative style where the story unfolds within a very small geographical space, namely a few bedrooms and coffee shops. Yet Fishman purposefully uses this set-up to create room for the human physical intimacies to inspire the very story itself. Thus, reinforcing the power of body language as a powerful method of communication.

A further question Fishman explores is the definition of love. Juxtaposing romantic love and its accompanying emotions, many of which we may see in the public sphere, with intimate love, a more private affair, where hidden desires and sexual fires are unearthed, along with emotions of passion, desire, and lust. Fishman prompts the reader to consider if both romance and intimacy can be considered under this umbrella of love. 

By featuring such weighty topics, Fishman creates a subtly philosophical landscape, using the central characters of Eve, Nathan and Olivia as a vehicle from which to consider wider ideas such as dual identity and the varying personas people portray within public and personal spaces. As someone who finds vulnerability and human behaviour challenging, it was even more interesting to read about how the trio of main characters each deciphered their partners’ attitudes and level of confidence through the feeling of their body. 

My one criticism is that the ending felt a little rushed and disconnected to the main story line. I felt Fishman was trying to increase the tempo near the end by including a slight plot twist and subversion of expectations, yet I don’t feel she fully integrated this into the prior storyline, resulting in a slightly disjointed ending. Regardless, this was certainly not a regrettable read, since it is important to bring to light the topic of vulnerability, as I believe it is a gift to find someone with whom you can feel free with and take down all personal defences. This may be easier said than done, but not out of the realm of possibility…

- Scarlett

Paperback, £13.99.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind, by Kate Brook

When reading this book, you will get to know Hazel, a hugely relatable character for anyone single in their 30s. Her story will have you laughing with her; wanting to hug her and, at some points, wanting to scream at her that she can’t see what is right there in front of her! But most of all, due to the beautiful way that Kate Brook has portrayed her lead character, you will find yourself just wanting to meet Hazel for a coffee and talk days away like she’s your best friend.

Along with Hazel, you meet one of her housemates, Alfie, and Hazel’s sister and her wife. This delightful blend of characters are all on their own journeys, and it’s fascinating to see them intertwine throughout the story. Between the four of them they manage to navigate themselves into and out of situations that are portrayed by the author very gently and honestly, exposing some of the challenges of modern relationships, as well as the sheer joy that can be found in them!

While reading this book, I thought I knew where the story was heading, but as soon as I settled into the ebb and flow of it all, along came a plot twist to head it in a different direction (‘well... that wasn’t what I had in mind’ ... I kept saying to myself!)

Some quite challenging subjects are taken on in this book: sexuality, fertility issues, abusive relationships, modern family set ups, and the financial burden that is adulthood. Each of these topics is addressed in a very real, honest, and careful way, sprinkling over them the right amount of humour to capture the journey of the characters in a way that you can’t help but love them. 

The blurb on the back of the book says it is ‘painfully relatable’ and I can’t tell you how true this is. It is a real eyeopener to adulthood in 2022 and I think I would struggle to find anyone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s who couldn’t relate to an element in this book.

I absolutely devoured this book in a matter of days, and I have now begun the grieving process that you go through when you read a great book and you start to miss it. Missing the characters, wishing the story was real, and wanting to read it all over again just so you can remain in Hazel’s world for a little bit longer.  

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!

- Nicola

Hardback, £14.99. Find it in the fiction section or order here!

Friday, November 11, 2022

I am not your perfect Mexican daughter, by Erica L. Sanchez

I am not your perfect Mexican daughter is about a girl called Julia, who has never been the perfect daughter. But then her older sister Olga dies in a tragic accident. Olga was often seen as a perfect person without any flaws, but shortly after her death Julia discovers that Olga was not as perfect as everyone thought. Now she is questioning who her sister really was and somehow live up to the impossible ideal that Olga left behind.

No one seems to realise that Julia is struggling: she has anxiety and depression, and she doesn’t have any friends to comfort her. But she has a really nice relation with her English teacher who helps her find which college she should go to. He also makes sure that she is always ok and looks out for her.

Overall, I really loved this book and couldn't put it down. It’s definitely one of my new favourites. I loved Julia so much as a character. Everything she is going through made her seem so much more real. Throughout the book she mentions that she wants to be a writer and travel the world and it was so nice to see her follow these ambitions throughout the story. 

- Julia

Paperback, £8.99.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse, by Sangu Mandanna

I really enjoyed reading this book – although I am slightly out of the age range at 60+ - it is a good adventure story with fun characters and an interesting use of parts of Indian mythology. 

This is the second book in the Kiki Kallira series and ideally you need to read the first one in order to understand the relationship dynamics, and to get a grounding in the workings of Kikiverse.  Essentially, it is an imaginary world created by Kiki on paper during a time when she needed to dream, and escape from what was happening in her life. It magically came into being

Like all good adventure stories, this is about righting a wrong. The action moves along swiftly, and the interaction between various characters is well done and with wry humour. As well as a journey/ quest for Kiki and her friends, this story deals with some important issues, such as race, emotions, a feeling of powerlessness for an individual, and acceptance. But these are dealt with in a non-preachy way. Themes of acceptance, trust, and appreciation/ understanding of self, including quirks, differences, and insecurities, are part of Kiki’s personal growth journey. These issues don’t intrude on the story, and I enjoyed the fact that Kiki starts to accept herself, rather than continue to struggle with knowing her “rain works “a bit differently”.  

There were few imaginative books like this available when I was growing up, which is probably why I like reading them now! I would have loved to have had books like this when I was little; books that give you a place to go to in your head, a good story, new imaginary friends, and which tell you that it is more than OK to be different.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe never appealed to me as I found it too preachy and, actually a bit dull. But books like this and the Garth Nix “Keys” series (which is also written for this age group) are magical in all senses of the word.

As the end of the book is nicely set up for the series to continue; I shall look forward to reading the next one. But before that I’m going to go back to read the first one: “Killa Kallira Breaks a Kingdom”.

- Christine

Christine read the proof edition of "Kiki Kallira."
It has since been published, and is available in paperback for £7.99!
Click here to order!

Friday, October 28, 2022

Brielfy, A Delicious Life, by Nell Stevens

When I heard that Nell Stevens was taking on the story of another literary great - following on from her part-memoir, part-imagined life 'Mrs Gaskell and Me' - I had to pick it up.

Written from the perspective of a 14-year-old ghost called Blanca, 'Briefly, A Delicious Life' looks at a moment in the (delicious) life of renowned French writer George Sand and her love affair with Chopin. Set in Valldemossa on the island of Mallorca, Sand and Chopin up sticks from Paris for the better weather, in the hopes of helping Chopin overcome a sickness. Blanca falls in love with George at first sight and so begins an obsessive haunting.

Unfortunately, Blanca is the only one who welcomes the existence of the newcomers. The islanders' repugnance of these strangers, particularly the woman who dresses as a man and brings her children to live in sin with a friend-who-is-most-certainly-not-her-husband, starts as small-town bullying, and grows ever more sinister after an excellent squid heist (yes, you read that correctly). 

Stevens also allows us to time travel through Blanca's memories of her own life and subsequent afterlife on the island. These passages make you fall in love with her and impotently rage at the injustices done to her.

The only sections that didn't quite hit the mark for me were the descriptions of Chopin's playing and his obsession with his piano; however, I imagine they would be a highlight for any classical music enthusiast.

Written with a lyricism I have come to expect from Stevens, this is an excellent debut novel exploring power in relationships and living life for yourself.

- Amy 

Hardback, £14.99.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Stargazer, by Laurie Petrou

Stargazer is a book full of suspense and twists, and I was hooked from the opening chapter. 

From very different worlds, Aurelle and Diana are brought together by trauma, forming an unlikely bond. Their friendship is complex, intense, and unusual. When the girls join university together, you can feel their mutual desire to escape their past and try to forge new identities. 

The main themes running though the book are relationships, lust, loss, wealth, and status. The characters are beautifully crafted and as they developed throughout the book, I found myself wanting to know more about them and what is underneath the surface. The author brilliantly creates a sense of mystery and tension through clever description and characterisation.

Although this book is a slow burner, it kept me on my toes. 

I’d tell you all more, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers! If you like thrilling, suspense filled reads, this book is for you. If you were a fan of Big Little Lies or Little Fires Everywhere, I think you would love this!

- Lauren

Paperback, £9.99. Order now!

Friday, October 14, 2022

Ordinary Monsters, by JM Miro

Ordinary Monsters by JM Miro was an intense however extremely enjoyable read with a whopping total 672 pages, holding a gripping and very well written story line. 

This is a new series about a group of children called Talents who are different and out of the ordinary when it comes to the rest of the world. The first book specifically follows two young boys: Marlowe and Charlie, and their journey to the Cairndale Institute. Here, a corrupt older Talent, Henry Berghast looks after and helps train younger Talents from across the world. However, not all is as it seems when it comes to Marlowe’s talent, and Henry has a big secret he is trying to protect. 

Throughout the book you meet characters you grow to love, like Alice Quicke, a young woman who was brought in to help locate young talents - including Marlowe and Charlie - and Agent Frank Coulton, an agent for Cairndale who actually suggested Alice for the job. You also come face to face with Jacob Marber, an older talent who was turned to the dark side by our antagonist, the Drughr. It is up to the children and everyone at Cairndale to protect a precious artefact and to work out who the real villain is. 

This story is a Victorian sci-fi and is written extremely well. JM Miro has been able to merge two worlds that shouldn’t necessarily pair well together perfectly. The Victorian era focuses mainly across America, London, and Edinburgh, and the descriptions paint a clear picture in your head of the picturesque views in Edinburgh and the dark and dingy alleys in London. However, he has managed to add a dystopian vibe to the writing which opened up even more doorways for the story to unfold. It created settings and descriptions of the unknown creatures that became ever more eerie. 

In the past I have read a handful of books with multiple narrators, and I never had many issues, but at the beginning of this book I found myself finding it slightly more difficult to read. Just as I would get totally invested in one story line and the chapter was reaching a climax, it would end, and the next chapter would be a different story line and I would have to start the whole process again! But when the story lines all merged together, I found it all fit together perfectly and I didn’t encounter any more issues like that. 

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a historical read with a sci-fi twist. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think the series overall has an immense amount of potential. Once past the narrative issues early on, it was a seamless and easy read. The style was beautiful and was a merge of poetry and fiction (in my opinion anyway) and JM Miro really made you love the characters. I cannot wait for the release of the rest of the series over the next few years and I am interested to read more of JM Miro’s work. 

- Phoebe

Hardback, £17.99.