Book review – Shauna Robinson – “Must Love Books”

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When I spotted this book on NetGalley I was drawn to it by the woman of mixed heritage on the cover and the books / publishing theme. As I’ve said a few times, I’ll read books about lost girls / millennials if there’s something else to them, e.g. they’re a global majority people person, LGBTQIA, etc.: I’m not hugely interested in millennials milling about but will read about them if there’s something else. This turned out to be a darker read than I was expecting, with some deep themes around depression and self-hatred, and I’ll issue a content warning with that in mind as there are themes around suicidal ideation, although it’s by the end a generally positive book.

Shauna Robinson – “Must Love Books”

(30 November 2022, NetGalley)

Nora knew by their eager glances that they wanted her to burst through the doors and make it rain sandwiches, but just to spite them, she knocked on the glass – even added a timid, “Can I come in?”

Nora has been working in a publishing house in San Francisco (the author acknowledges this setting was used out of laziness as she was writing what she knew, but it’s interesting to have a non-London/New York set book about publishing) and she’s never seemed to progress, certainly in terms of income, and also in terms of getting any editorial input. She’s a glorified admin, turned to for sandwiches and drinks, yet as the staff have been hollowed out through cuts and people leaving, she finds herself with more and more to do.

Her best work friend leaves, and then she’s given a pay cut which leaves her short on her rent. Now, what would most people do in that situation? Remember their contracts and get a second job in a bar or delivering stuff. Not Nora – she takes up an offer to be a freelance editorial assistant for a rival firm, promising them she’s left her current role and not telling her current role. Of course this gives tension to the book as we know it’s all going to come out, but it’s also just such a foolish thing to do that I lost respect for Nora, however desperate and depressed she is, which made it harder to engage with the book. She also messes around with one of their authors, getting into a tizzy between liking him for him and knowing it could benefit either job if she could get him to sign up to publish his new book with either of her employers. Again, disloyal and immoral, and put me off (I am not put off by reading about massive villains but these poor choices are annoying).

There are some good scenes, but also once we get into helping Nora help herself with her mental health and her career, it starts to read like a how-to book rather than a straight novel. Again, I don’t mind a bit of didacticism, or I wouldn’t read Barbara Kingsolver, but when the love interest brandished a copy of “What Colour is Your Parachute” and she asked for an intervention from some barely known co-workers, it reminded me most of a book called “The Phoenix Project” which was a novelised toolkit for Dev Ops people and clunked its way through my husband’s officemates. Again, the author does say at the end that she wrote what she would have found useful when stuck in her career and mental health herself, and there is useful stuff here if you know nothing about helping your way out of these ruts, but it didn’t make it necessarily wholly work as a novel.

There is a lot of detail about how nonfiction publishing works, which I enjoyed, and commentary on Black representation in publishing which I appreciated having without the magical realism of “The Other Black Girl“, and there were some funny scenes and good friendships, but this is not the best book I read this month.

Thank you to One More Chapter for approving me to read this book on NetGalley in return for an honest review. Must Love Books was published on 16 February 2023.

Book review – Ada Leverson – “Bird of Paradise”

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I very much enjoyed Ada Leverson’s “Little Ottleys” trilogy (which, coincidentally, I also read at the same time as Heaven-Ali) and so I jumped at the chance to read this standalone novel when Michael from Michael Walmer publishing got in touch with me about his reissue. Leverson is known for being a close friend of Oscar Wilde, and she certainly has his sparkling wit and facility with one-liners, making her books very fun to read. This one has an unexpected turn, though, I felt …

This is another read for #ReadIndies Month, as it’s published by Michael Walmer. You can find more info about the book itself here.

Ada Leverson – “Bird of Paradise”

(03 February 2023, from the publisher)

A woman’s jealousy of another women is always sufficiently dreadful, but when the object of jealousy is hers by legal right, wen the sense of personal property is added to it, then it is one of the most terrible and unreasonable things in nature. (p. 162)

Three or four people were dotted about the room, but no one had ventured onto the [floor] cushions. There was one young lady whose hair was done in the early Victorian style, parted in the middle, with bunches of curls each side. As far as her chest she appeared to be strictly a Victorian – very English, about 1850 – but from that point she suddenly became Oriental, and for the rest was dressed principally in what looked like bead curtains. (p. 258)

A decade ago, Nigel Hillier was very much in love with the now-Bertha Kellynch. He had proposed, but then family pressure meant he unproposed and married an heiress, Mary. Of course, he then came into the money he needed, meaning he feels he has unfinished business with Bertha. Bertha, on the other hand, having been heartbroken, has come to a clear view of Nigel and his insufficiencies, and is blissfully happily married to Percy, a kind of nice but dim character, who she is determined will stay in love with her.

But Bertha is kind-hearted, and when she sees an opportunity to get the ever-faithful Nigel to help her help her young friend Madeline to attract the (dreadful) Rupert Denison, and tempt him away from his current “arty” friend, she unashamedly uses him and he manages to encourage himself to feel that he can become indispensible to her.

This is all very frothy, but poor Mary, Nigel’s wife, has been driven into a horrible, clingy paranoia by him making it obvious she was a poor (or rather rich) second choice, and she spends her time sitting by the window, looking out for him, rather ignoring their two children. In fact, she has riches untold there, too, as it becomes clear that the only thing lacking in Bertha and Percy’s marriage is a child.

So the scene is set for intrigue and anonymous letters and the like, but there is a massive current of morality to proceedings, as Bertha is clearly and only committed to her Percy and her marriage. Thus it could be a painful story, but it’s enlivened by the marvellous supporting characters, from the truly dreadful, prissy, lecturing Rupert to Percy’s peculiar mother and his rather astounding younger brother, Clifford, who produces half a play, some awful poems and a huge crush on his schoolfriend’s very unsuitable mother.

One-liners abound, but also wonderful set-pieces: Rupert and Madeline’s assignation in a tea shop where she gets herself into a terrible twist (contrasted with her rival’s coarse over-riding of Rupert, clearly satirising a particular type of “arty” girl who is actually very commonplace) and Lady Kellynch’s tea party into which Clifford’s crush is almost-disastrously introduced. There’s also a fun satire of an artistic salon, so a lot to enjoy outside the main story and its twists and turns, of course satisfactorily tied up.

The dual nature of the really quite sad at times main story and the social observation can be seen, I think, in the two quotations I include above, giving something for every reader, dare I say?

This is Book 5 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

Book review – Charlie Hill – “The Pirate Queen”

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I’ve read all of Charlie Hill’s books, from “The Space Between Things”, which I loved, and pick whenever I see it to give it to people, but inexplicably never reviewed, through “Books” (also unreviewed – what am I doing?), his fragmentary autobiography “I Don’t Want to go to the Taj Mahal” and two sets of more recent stories, written or edited by him. We also have mutual friends and have probably been in the same room at the same time – however, I still haven’t met him, as after he got in touch and kindly offered me a review copy of “The Pirate Queen”, I was too unwell to come to the door, so Matthew met him! Anyway, as it’s published by an independent publisher and I try to read review copies quickly, I have hoovered it up over the past few days, and entertaining and thought-provoking it certainly was.

This is another read for #ReadIndies Month, as it’s published by Stairwell Books.

Charlie Hill – “The Pirate Queen: An Almost-True Story about Grace O’Malley

(11 February 2023, from the author)

Where lately she would have responded to the threat with the snarl and goring of the cornered boar, now she sought a less bloody path. No more would she allow her hand to be forced, no more would she merely react to situations that were as elemental as the wind or rain – instead she would look further ahead, to the events of her past. As a young girl she had excelled at seeing the rocks beneath the sea and in manoeuvring around them with a steady nerve and it was this experience she would draw on in her quest to consolidate her power. (p. 33)

For once, it might benefit one to read the Author’s Note at the end before reading the novel – not something that is always recommended. Hill found out about the Irish pirate Grace O’Malley and immediately developed a burning need to tell her story, finding she’d been pretty well written out of history. This clever, metafictional book is the result – a historical novel featuring real characters and invented ones, and with the insertions of an invented play detailing the (invented) meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley, another kind of queen.

Not really knowing anything about Irish history in the 16th and 17th centuries apart from a dim awareness of a colonial project which destroyed people and communities just as much as the wider world project, I was a bit confused at first, but you can settle in quite easily (looking stuff up afterwards, of course) to the narrative of Catherine, tutor to Maude in 1650 telling her the stories of her great-grandmother, the pirate Grace O’Malley which she has heard from her friend in the castle, Patrick, at first out of interest but then to try to bolster young Maude against her rebellion against her arranged marriage.

Interleaving the older story with that of Catherine and Maude, as they are moved like chess pieces to a family castle to await Maude’s fate, with bits of the play popping up as well, the book interrogates the nature of story, looks at who tells stories and what that telling says about the teller, and asks whether a story can actually help someone.

We get caught up in Catherine and Maude’s story, which seems to end horribly abruptly: fortunately an epilogue solves some of the mysteries.

As I mentioned above, Hill’s Author’s Note, telling eloquently of his project to reclaim Grace from the mists of time and erasure, is useful in putting this otherwise slightly odd excursion into historical fiction into its context. Well worth reading – this would do for Reading Ireland, of course, or Novellas in November, as well as for its excellent self.

This is Book 4 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

Book review – Alexis Keir – “Windward Family”

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I was immediately drawn to this book with its themes of multigenerational family and migration, and as I’ve not read a book about the Caribbean island of St Vincent before, it would add to my knowledge about places and peoples. I was looking forward to it for ages, but I’ve got into the habit of reviewing NetGalley books in the month they’re published so people who enjoy the review can buy the book straight away. Happily, it matched (exceeded) expectations, and I’d urge everyone to read it!

Alexis Keir – “Windward Family: An Atlas of Love, Loss and Belonging”

(8 November 2022, NetGalley)

But now I felt happy and proud to be an itinerant from England with Aotearoa in my heart and Saint Vincent in my bones. I was on the way back to the other places that were home to me, knowing now that i could have more than one.

As children, Keir and his two siblings were sent “home” to Saint Vincent while their parents tried to sell up in he UK and force a new life in America. Things went badly wrong, as we find through scenes splintered through the book, and eventually they were brought home to the UK, a new house bought and nothing more really said. Twenty years later, after time in Aotearoa, where he learned a lot about people’s relationship to land, Indigenous communities and the community of friends and third-sector workers, he’s ready to go back, and from then on we revisit the island with him, latterly to spend time with his parents, who did the big return and built a house over there, but moved backwards and forwards over time, his mum returning for medical treatment, his dad I think still there, ageing within the hammock of his community.

As Keir learned more about the journeys his own family took, he also learned of the history of Saint Vincent, harbouring those who pushed back against slavery, with an African influence that could have come from several different sources, and with its own character. He also started to learn about and research other, earlier, immigrants: a boy plucked from his mother’s arms to be exhibited in a circus, his mother who gets the chance to try to find him, a footman from Harewood House who mysteriously passes back and forth, and an earlier nurse than his mum. Their stories are included, invented voices and circumstances, something I don’t usually go for but fitting in beautifully here in this thoughtful and careful narrative.

Another point I really appreciated was the pushback against toxic masculinity / toxic ideas of Black masculinity, as Keir uses sport to work off his trauma from being sent away early, and his friends in sport to help him, works in social care and support with the Deaf community and keeps in close touch with his sons when his relationship breaks down, acts as his mum’s carer in her final illness and is a big support to his dad when he’s alone, modelling a mode of manhood that we often miss in popular culture narratives.

After the main sections of the book we have some long essays which pull themes together, on who cuts whose hair when and how, on parrots; these pieces were I think published separately and first and they have some repetition from earlier sections but it all weaves together very nicely as a whole, and is an engaging and absorbing, and ultimately positive, read.

Even more positively, we find a letter from Alexis at the end of the book which shares how success for him lies in being able to share his words and experiences back home in Luton, in engaging with writers’ groups in Saint Vincent and “persuading people to listen to and read stories which have not been heard before”.

Thank you to Thread Books for choosing me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Windward Family” was published on 2 February 2023.

A Bookish Beck serendipity moment here: This is the second book I’ve read in fairly quick succession (would have been quicker had I not realised and wanted to put some space between them) that I have read an autobiography seen through a multi-generational, group biographical lens of a Black man of Caribbean heritage who grew up in Luton, the other being Colin Grant’s “I’m Black So You Don’t Have to Be“. Both, I hasten to add, are equally worthwhile reads!

Book review – Jessica George – “Maame”

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There are a lot of millennial novels around and I do tend to only go for them if they have a global majority people and/or LGBTQ main character. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee I’ll love the book still! Here, the story of a British Ghanaian woman finding herself appealed so I requested it – and I’m happy to say I really enjoyed it.

Jessica George – “Maame”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

My options are to miss out on the room or start paying rent in a week’s time. Although it’s a great flat, this isn’t a decision to take lightly. I really have to consider whether–

Mum, Ghana: Maddie a friend of mine has a son who is now single. His girlfriend died enough time ago. I’ll give him your number so the 2 of you can talk. Thanks.

I send Jo the deposit straight from my savings account.

Maddie Wright is stuck at home, looking after her dad, who lives with Parkinson’s and has a carer but relies on her, too – her mum lives in Ghana for a year at a time (because she “has” to look after a hostel she inherited with her brother, who she doesn’t trust, really for other reasons) and her brother got away as soon as he could. They call her “Maame”, the person who looks after the family. Should she be called that? Should she be looking after the family? She has an annoying admin job full of micro-aggressions and bad management, a couple of good friends but no particular fun in her life.

All at once, the inevitable happens and she’s suddenly free. Will a house-share with two White women and a slightly creepy new boyfriend as well as a job in a start-up that needs her appearance to help them seem diverse help her to gain her self-respect and sense of fun, or will she need to do the work herself?

We see Maddie grow and develop, being kicked in the teeth a number of times and falling out with people, but always believable and with her two brilliant best friends to see her through and actually a decent workplace with mental health support. The theme of bereavement is perhaps unusual in a modern novel about young people but is absolutely beautifully done, moving and authentic. With this and the (eventual) modelling of decent allyship in the workplace, there’s a lot to learn from in this book as well as entertainment and enjoyment.

I liked this book a lot. I loved Maddie’s friends, who stick by her no matter what, but have their own lives and selves, and I liked that she attends church and this is natural and accepted and not mocked or undermined (a bit like in “Yinka“). As the quotation at the top shows, it’s a funny book, too, even though there are sad and serious themes. White, liberal millennials are gently skewered but there are characters who are perhaps surprisingly up on Ghanaian customs and culture and help things along, and the book is never cruel. If you enjoyed “Yinka” and “Queenie“, I would like to bet you’ll enjoy this one.

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Maame” was published on 14 February 2023. Note: The Black Book Blog has an excellent interview with Jessica George about the book: read it here.

Book review – Ed Hodge – “Make Mine a Double”

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It’s my second lockdown football book, rather bizarrely: as we probably know by now, I don’t read a lot of books about football, and I don’t really like reading about the lockdowns/pandemic, as it’s all too recent. Of course, I really enjoyed “The Silence of the Stands” back in December, and I actually worked on this book in July 2021, and the author kindly sent me a signed copy with my name appearing in the acknowledgements, so even though it turned out I’d seen quite a lot of the text already on my monitor in front of me, I wanted to give him the courtesy of reading it (I also always love reading what comes out of my transcriptions, whatever the topic). And when I was doing the work, I got very fond of the players and manager and their lovely supportive closeness. So here’s a book on a Scottish football club that did the impossible and won the double.

In the spirit of Simon Stuck in a Book’s reports, I can tell you that of the nine print books that came in in October 2021, reported in my November State of the TBR post, I have now read and reviewed seven. And this is another read for #ReadIndies Month, as it’s published by Birlinn Ltd, a proud Scottish independent publisher.

Ed Hodge – “Make Mine a Double: The Lockdown Legends St Johnstone FC 2020/21”

(19 October 2021, from the author)

I think the more people you’re familiar with and you get on with, it can only be beneficial, and St Johnstone has been a club that has been good with that throughout the whole time since I was a young boy here. Through the years, they have always kept people who have done well, and I think it speaks volumes if you all know the club inside out, the values, what it takes to play here and work hard for everyone. (Stevie May, p. 10)

Having only ever won the Scottish Cup Final once before in 2014, the Saints, one of the smaller Scottish clubs, and against very high odds, won the Scottish League Cup and the Scottish Cup in one season – and that season a really difficult one with a new manager in and then Covid preventing them from having anyone in the stands to watch them (and sometimes preventing players from playing). Manager Callum Davidson had been assistant manager at the club before going away and returning, and he gelled a group of older and younger players together: you can see their mutual respect and care running through the book.

Very like the Madness book, “Before We Was We” or the Welsh history, “Brittle with Relics“, Hodge does a brilliant job of weaving together the individual interviews into a whole, picking out the bits about each campaign, match or player and putting them together, stitching it all into a whole with comments in italics between what is effectively an oral history. It’s a lovely way to make a book and also a great way to make your transcriber proud, as all my typing work is there in great unaltered chunks!

There are lovely stories throughout of friendships made, neighbours looking after the young footballers, the club looking out for its people, and there’s a super section from fans at the back which shows how they managed to keep up with things online, supporting their club and the whole community coming together. While I appreciate not everyone who reads this blog will want to read a football book, it’s interesting reading and would appeal to those who have enjoyed the Welcome to Wrexham series on the TV.

This is Book 3 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

Book review – Anika Hussain – “This is How You Fall in Love”

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I’m finally catching up with reviews for the books I read before that virus got me and I wended my way through nine Christie Barlow novels. We’ll have some NetGalley reads and some ReadIndies, this being one of the former. This is a fun YA romance read that also points out a lot of romance tropes, a bit like Emily Henry’s “Book Lovers“, though set in the UK amidst a multi-cultural group of teens.

Anika Hussain – “This is How You Fall in Love”

(8 December 2022, NetGalley)

Zara is a big romance fan and reading and discussing films with her friends, but she and her best friend Adnan are getting heat from their parents who are desperate for them to get together. Then suddenly they have to pretend to to protect Adnan’s new girlfriend from family issues. As Zara and Adnan grow closer, is there a point at which they should try to give love an actual chance?

There’s a lot to like about this book, though written for a much younger reader than me (once again I find 17 year olds more fun to read about than millennials). I like the South Asian representation and the fact that neither set of parents is stereotyped – Zara’s parents are second generation British and had a hard time themselves and are trying not to do that. Yes, there is a South Asian diabetes thread but then that does educate. Terms for clothes and food and other cultural things are used and not explained, which I always like. The friendship group is mixed and multicultural, which is nice, too.

I found the detailed Pokemon Go thread, which formed a lot of one part of the plot, a bit much, kind of old-fashioned where the rest of the book didn’t seem to be trying to be, and it was annoying that Zara didn’t have enough oomph to stand up for herself a bit more. Adnan’s girlfriend Cami’s arc was a bit melodramatic in the end, and it was a shame that girls ended up pitted against each other.

There is a nice message at the end about the love of friends being the most important kind of love, and I’d definitely recommend this to a teenage or tweenage reader, especially one looking for representation of themselves in books or who could do with some diverse reading.

Thank you to Bonnier Books for choosing me to read this novel in return for an honest review. “This is How You Fall in Love” was published on 2 February 2023.

Book reviews – Christie Barlow – “Love Heart Lane” Books 8 to 10

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I reported on the first six books in this lovely series the other day, read book seven a while ago, which got me hooked on them, and now I’ve powered through books eight to ten, kindly offered to me by the PR folk at One More Chapter, while recovering from my horrible virus. Once again we’re in the village of Heartcross in the Scottish Highlands, and we have newcomers coming in and characters we’ve already met providing them with a warm welcome, with the odd mystery to solve and lots of plot twists and turns. I’m glad there are still more coming! Once again I’m going to do fairly short reviews, as each book does follow on from events in either the one before or one a couple before: there are lovely characters, descriptions of houses and scenery and friendships as well as romances and family issues so lovely full books that will satisfy the reader.

Christie Barlow – “The New Doctor at Peony Practice”

(04 April 2022, NetGalley)

I really liked this one as it was quite different: the narrative voice is a man’s, Ben Sanders, the new doctor running the village practice, and it’s also a hate-to-love story, which hasn’t really featured so far, when his medical school nemesis, Katie, gets supplied to him to help out at the practice. Their receptionist is a fun character, there’s lots of rivalry but some real heart in both the continuing story of Rory the vet’s mum’s dementia and the possibility of Ben finding his birth family. And has Katie really mellowed a bit?

Christie Barlow – “New Beginnings at the Old Bakehouse”

(31 May 2022, NetGalley)

This one was a real heartstring-tugger. We re-encounter Molly and Cam from “Primrose Park” and this time the action has jumped forward a few years as there’s a new baby on the way, and Cam is established in his new business. Molly regularly drives their unsold loaves and treats over to the homeless shelter and one day meets young Bree, out on the streets at 16 and so vulnerable. She’s already had to stop bringing dog waifs home and now Cam wants to harden their hearts against someone he can only see as a threat to their wellbeing, especially as he’s struggling with a health worry he doesn’t want to talk about. But Molly – and Cam’s grandma Dixie – can see something special in Bree, and she even reminds them of someone. Will the divisions be healed and will Molly’s waters break while there’s a big event on the go? (of course). A really warm one with issues nicely covered as always.

Christie Barlow – “The Hidden Secrets of Bumblebee Cottage”

(3 Jan 2023, NetGalley)

We’re back at the Bakehouse / Bee’s Knees Honey and Chutneys businesses with Jinny, a journalist on a tabloid owned by her father being pushed too far, pushing back at last and deciding to make her own way in life. A chat with best friend Jay (a friend of a friend of other characters in the series) and she’s applying for a job as chutney and honey maker, even though she has never made chutney and is afraid of bees. Fortunately, she gets the job, and along with it, hunky Gabe, beekeeper and man of mystery. What makes him hate journalists so much? Can Jinny learn to do a full day’s work without causing a flood or other horror? And who will win the Summer Fair produce competition. Some interesting plot points here, cleverly done, that all work out beautifully, of course, and another good one in the series.

Thank you so much for the lovely folk at One More Chapter for contacting me with offers to read these in return for honest reviews: hopefully I’ve done them proud at last. All these books are available to buy.

Mini book reviews – Christie Barlow – “Love Heart Lane” Books 1-6

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First of all, some apologies are due. I’m behind with reviewing, with three books to go apart from these. I’ve got behind with my review books people have kindly sent to me but will be giving those a good go over the weekend. I have not done as much #ReadIndies as I’d hoped. I’m very behind with blog reading: I might need to do a bit of a slash and burn but I will catch up at some point, promise, and hope everyone has been well and having happy reading times.

I’ve unfortunately been struggling with a virus for over a week (not Covid, tested negative multiple times) which has Gone To My Eyes, meaning I couldn’t cope with screens particularly well. On the mend now and thank goodness for Kindles and saved-up series of light and well-done novels!

I was introduced to the Love Heart Lane series, set in the imaginary Scottish highland village of Heartcross, when I won “Heartcross Castle” from NetGalley a while back. I enjoyed that one a lot but realised it was book 7 in a series: we meet a lot of established couples in that one and I realised that each book would be about a different pair. While I snaffled up books 1-6 (an ebook box set and three individual ebooks), the PR for One More Chapter kindly approved me for the next three books in the series – which I can now reveal I have finally started! But I did read them quickly, while fevered, and each book is a bit spoilery for the previous ones, plus I’ll never catch up if I do a long review for each, so here’s a bit about the series and the first six books!

Christie Barlow – “Love Heart Lane”, “Foxglove Farm”, “Clover Cottage”, “Starcross Manor”, “The Lake House” and “Primrose Park”

(2022, ebooks)

When I say these books are perfect for poorly reading, that is not a negative in the slightest. They are easy to read and comforting, they address serious issues but there’s never anything too traumatic, it doesn’t suddenly get all Rude (yay, sex-positivity, etc., but sometimes you just want a kiss and a hurried trip through a bedroom door that then firmly closes), and you can trust the author and her editors not to allow slip-ups, typos and continuity errors (no one is perfect, but there are very, very few in the six and a half books I’ve read so far). Bad folk get their comeuppance, friendships blossom and people are generally good.

Heartcross is a small community but with a cafe, vets, doctors, pub and corner shop and we gradually get to meet the people of the town, with all of them appearing in all the books but with a focus on a couple or family in each.

In “Love Heart Lane”, Felicity comes home after an eight-year gap (this worried me at first as the heroine of “Heartcross Castle is a returnee, but this is the only time so far we get a similar plot device and they’re seven books apart when read in the right order) after her grandma passes away and finds her mum has closed the flourishing cafe, unable to cope. Felicity’s ex is still around, but can he and her friends forgive her sudden flight and lack of contact since, and will Felicity ever come to terms with the fact she’s unable to have children? Felicity comes good when a freak flood takes out the bridge to the local town and starts putting Heartcross on the map.

“Foxglove Farm” concentrates on an established couple and looks at the economics of farming – does Isla make a good choice when she buys a herd of maybe-hot alpacas for her husband’s birthday to try to cheer him up? There’s some mental health stuff (done well) and a sad bit that is foreshadowed and done well. Isla’s gran, Martha, is a great addition in this one – in general the books feature a range of positive characters of different ages who are capable, funny and interesting.

In “Clover Cottage”, vet Rory and Allie, who works in her parents’ pub, are jogging along OK but then both of them get exciting offers that will mean a big change. Will it pull them together or break them apart? This one also covers working in a family business and serious illness but there are some very funny scenes when a celeb comes to town complete with film crew and followers.

“Starcross Manor” introduces us properly to Julia, who runs the B&B. But a property developer who swindled her and broke her friend’s heart five years ago is not the person she wants to land in the village, determined to capitalise on the tourism caused by various events in the previous books: will he put her out of business? Is she right to gather the villagers against him?

“The Lake House” is a lovely book about friendship: Ella is the victim of relationship fraud, having been subjected to coercive control and her inheritance stolen. When best friend Callie offers her a place to live and a job, she moves from Chester and starts to settle in, making friends especially with Hamish the shopkeeper’s elderly mum, who used to be the doyenne of the fancy restaurant which Flynn is not managing to make a go of. She’s intrigued by boatman Roman and tries to help him open up as she did herself, and she discovers new strengths and talents as she ends up putting on a big show for the restaurant.

And finally in “Primrose Park”, town vet Molly finds herself in a tricky situation as the very recent past catches up with her. She befriends an elderly woman in the nursing home who is sure she shouldn’t be there, and gets involved with the community when the park is vandalised. There is one animal death in this one, but it’s predictable and nicely done, with the after effects shown so not just a plot point. In this book, as in all of them, Barlow cleverly lays red herrings out so the reader thinks they have one up on the characters and knows what is going on, only to realise it’s something else entirely, which makes the books fun and unpredictable.

So, a lovely set of reads and I’ve happily moved on to the latest three now, although I will probably fit some reviews of my other languishing books in first!

Book review – Rabina Khan – “My Hair is Pink Under This Veil”

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I picked this book from early on my TBR to read for #ReadIndies Month, which is going on all through this month. This is from Biteback Publishing, which my research leads me to understand is an independent publisher, if quite a big one (I hope I’m correct!). I bought it in October 2021 and reported on its acquisition at the start of November 2021: of the three books in its ‘cell’ on that image that arrived near each other, I’ve now read two; of the nine books in the whole image, I’ve read seven (one still to review). Not toooo bad.

Rabina Khan – “My Hair is Pink Under This Veil”

(13 October 2021)

As I look to the future, with my children and my siblings’ children growing up and moving on, it is crucial for our generation to challenge stereotypes surrounding race, culture and religion. We must move the focus away from people’s obsession with Muslim women’s clothing and what it means, and instead recognise the immense fortitude they have shown in rising above Islamophobia and discrimination to lead fulfilling and successful lives. (p. 288)

Rabina Khan is a Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and ran for Mayor there, too, coming a close second. She was born in Bangladesh and raised in Rochester (it was exciting for me to read about my home county, Kent, and from someone born in the same year as me, even though Rochester is the other side of the county from where I grew up; she does have a similar experience of the monoculture of the county in the 1970s and 80s). In a series of chronological essays, we read about Khan’s life (sort of: there are bits missing which I’d have loved to read about, for example, why she moved out of Kent and how she decided to become a local councillor and the process she went through) and preoccupations around diversity and acceptance.

We hear about her growing up Bangladeshi in a White neighbourhood and the prejudice and ignorance her family were exposed to; I found her quite shockingly tolerant of this time, several times repeating that what we would call microaggressions came out of kindness or misguided attempts at showing tolerance; the racial slurs her father endured being part of a milieu that gave nicknames to Irish people or those with red hair. It’s interesting that she becomes a Liberal Democrat by politics, as this does fit a liberal and also utilitarian politics. She does also detail instances of intersectional racism and sexism, of her ideas being taken and not attributed to her when she’s a local councillor, and models how majority populations might more usefully interact with minority ones by taking some allies as models for us, movingly an older lady standing up for her and her siblings in the library, who then becomes a family friend.

Like Alison Mariella D├ęsir in “Running While Black“, Khan is good at taking personal experiences and relating them to the wider sociopolitical environment, relating her father’s migration for better prospects to the money migrants contribute to the UK through taxes, for example, and David Cameron’s criticism of immigrants being unable to speak English or unwilling to integrate and causing disruption being related to his policy to cut the funding of classes in basic English to immigrants claiming just a couple of benefits. Being a book published in the pandemic, there’s quite a lot of thinking about how people wearing face coverings have swung from Muslim hijabi women being criticised for covering up to all British people being exhorted to wear face masks.

I think Khan has been in the news recently and criticised for saying no woman who wears the veil has been forced to: she’s very, very clear in this book that not every woman who wears any kind of veil has chosen to do that and that some are compelled to by family in the UK or repressive regimes around the world; she does however make the good point that coercive control is not limited to Muslim families and marriages, and that there are a lot of women here and around the world whose families and/or partners choose how they dress. She is also keen to explain how mosques have been changing and developing, opening up into community hubs (I have certainly felt welcomed in local ones here at various events) and sup[porting women to become trustees and committee members for their mosques.

The book is a little repetitive at times, but I wonder if it started life as a series of articles or blog posts that have been woven together. This is a minor point and it’s a really interesting and valuable contribution to the literature on multicultural life in Britain from the late 20th century until today.

This is Book 2 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

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