Fire, Brimstone and…Coffee?!

I’ve been getting through books at a rate of knots recently, and pretty much every one (with the exception of one poetry collection) has been top notch. I find it really hard to decide which to write about when I’m enjoying so many titles, so today we’re going to sneak two in. Both are new publications coming out within the next week or so, but one is fiction and the other memoir-ish (I’ll explain the ‘ish’ later). Also, I’ve added a new little function to my blog but I’ll save that until the end admin type business!

Let’s have a gander at the fiction first, a novel called ‘Fire Sermon’ by author Jamie Quatro. I have never read Quatro before, who has so far published short stories, but this first novel of hers hooked me in with the blurb.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro is a daring debut novel of obsession, desire and salvation that shows the radical light and dark of love itself. This is a visceral, rich and devastating portrait of life and loves lived and lost that cannot fail to echo in your own experience

We meet Maggie as a young woman not long out of education, getting married to her first love. It seems a blissful day with the coming together of families to celebrate the union of this perfectly presented pair. Thomas, her new husband, is good looking and devoted to his partner, and as as we jump forward in time we see he is equally committed to the two young children they have.

Jamie Quatro

Maggie is not finding life quite so comfortable. She struggles as Thomas constantly pushes for sex each night, her mind battling over what she wants to do, or very much doesn’t want to do, compared to what she thinks a wife should be doing. I found Thomas suffocating in his demands and often wanted to haul Maggie away.

Maggie soon finds her own escape however, after writing to the author of a book she much admires, she soon becomes dedicated pen pals with James. The pair are both Christians and find they can talk about this and other life experiences easily with one another after finding an alarming number of similarities between their lives. Crucially, these are things they find they can’t talk to their partners about and soon make an agreement that the one topic they won’t broach is their respective spouses.

The novel jumps back and forwards in time, we read about Maggie and James three years into their liaison, long before we read about their actual first letters and meeting. We are absorbed in Maggie’s world, the turmoil in her thoughts racing off the page, watching as she picks over her every thought and feeling. Her relationship with God is central and she constantly questions how he will judge the path she has chosen. It often feels like she is self flagellating but as she cannot see or hear God right now (at one point physically being locked out of church) she does so in front of her therapist.

I enjoyed this exploration of a marriage, the meeting of two minds and the entanglement of guilt and belief. The book never presented me with answers, just as it doesn’t with Maggie, and as life can’t for all situations, but it did display how claustrophobic guilt can be. I will definitely keep an eye out for Quatro’s short story collection now as I’m intrigued to see if and how she explores such big themes in a more constrained framework. If you enjoy character driven novels that don’t follow a conventional, linear narrative and want to dig deep into the moral quandaries a person can live through, this is definitely a book for you.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro £14.99 (Picador)

The second book I’ve been reading is ‘The Wife’s Tale’ by Aida Edemariam (only right to sit in Bath and read this, being in the city of Chaucer’s fictional fellow Wife). Although a memoir, it is not actually the immediate story of Edemariam herself, but that of her grandmothers, a woman who at 95 years of age lived a life with plenty to put on the page.

Aida Edemariam

Edemariam’s grandmother lived her whole life in Ethiopia, and what a time she lived through, experiencing war, fascism, being exiled from her home. I confess to knowing next to nothing about Ethiopia and I found this a fascinating account of the changes the country has gone through, the customs held by the people who live there and the way these have changed over the century of this amazing woman’s life.

Gondar, Ethiopia

I may have been absorbed by the account of Ethiopia but what really made me lose my heart to this book is the story of Edemariam’s grandmother herself. I felt like I was sitting at her feet hearing the stories of her marriage at the unbelievably young age of 8, the struggles she went through in this union, and the births, and deaths, of many children. She inspired me with her strength, which despite being sorely tested so many times in so many ways, seemed to me limitless. Not only the strength of will, love and determination but that of her body and all it endures, I often paused my reading to sit and reflect in awe.

When sitting down to write these two reviews I realised these reads are linked by the religion that is so focal in the life of the two woman, and it was interesting to see how they played a part in their lives despite them being a world apart (albeit one being fictional and the other not but I still think an interesting comparison). Aida’s grandmother leads a life that is deeply woven into the church, from the profession her husband chooses to her own pleas to spirits she believes can help when there seems to be little light in her life. Hers is not always an easy relationship with the church itself and she questions those who work within its walls at many points.

Although the trials this Wife’s Tale were many and it certainly is not easy reading about them in the book, this is not a maudlin tale, but one that made me glory at the power of one woman. I believe Edemariam has produced a beautiful monument to her grandmother.

The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam £16.99 (4th Estate)

Last week we had a competition for a copy of the wonderful ‘Goodbye, Perfect’ by Sara Barnard and we’re happy to announce Beth Gunn will have the book winging its way to her after being pulled out in the draw. Sorry if you missed out this time but keep a look out for more great competitions appearing on these pages!

Bear with me, this next bit hurts!

The next thing to mention makes me a tad uncomfortable but after chatting with other reviewers/bloggers who use this system happily I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve decided to set up a ko-fi account for Dog Eared. For those that haven’t heard of ‘ko-fi’ it is a website that aims to help out those who make creative content in their own time for others to enjoy, but basically without a payroll to back them up! The idea is if you read something you like and you’d like to support the creator of the content, you can ‘buy them a ko-fi/coffee’ by clicking on the link and popping £1 or £2 across to them. This is IN NO WAY something I would ever expect readers to do, nor would I ever limit content to those who may choose to donate, it is there as an aside for anybody who wants to support the site and future opticians appointments I need to have from all the reading! I stress again nobody will ever be obliged to do this and it does make me feel a bit icky, but I’ve seen some of our great authors out there using this system and it seems the ‘friendliest’ option possible. I hope you understand and if not feel free to leave a strongly worded post below! If you do enjoy the content and feel you would like to contribute, simply click here.

Thank you so much for your support either way dear reader, it is always lovely to have you visiting our pages, and until next time…

Happy Reading!

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Fire, Brimstone and…Coffee?!

Nobody is Perfect, But This Book Sure Is!

Hello Wonderful Day! The time has finally arrived when the new book from Sara Barnard has hit the shops and is ready to be read, reread and discussed by friends over-excitedly recalling favourite characters and moments. I have chatted about Sara and her wonderful novels quite a few times here on Dog Eared Reads. Her debut, ‘Beautiful Broken Things’, immediately had me hooked and went straight on to my favourites shelf in the book shop I work in. There was no ‘second album syndrome’ for her when she followed up with the gorgeous ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’. Now with this third outing there can be no doubt that we have a YA author who will always have a presence on our bookshop shelves, an example of the best the genre has to offer.

We are lucky today to have Sara pop in for a chat with us AND an opportunity for you to get your mitts on a copy of her new title ‘Goodbye, Perfect’. Read on to find out more!

I follow Sara on twitter and the second I saw that the proofs of her new book were rolling off the printer I was in touch to nab myself a copy. The months in between reading it and the release date today have been an agony, telling all eager bookworms they must get a copy when it comes out but the date feeling so far away!

A close female friendship is at the core of this novel. We meet our protagonist Eden, a young woman who has not always had the easiest path to walk down in life, but has a reassuring hand to hold in her best friend Bonnie. Where Eden struggles Bonnie calmly glides, school is a walk in the park for her with constant A stars and popularity with students and teachers both. When this balance begins to shift Eden is left wondering what role she is meant to play now.

When I was wild, you were steady…

Now you are wild – what am I?

With GCSE’s a matter of days away, exams that had always been considered by Bonnie as such a pivotal moment in her life, Eden is rocked by the admission from her friend that she has been secretly dating somebody. A hidden boyfriend is something Eden could get her head around, but when Bonnie confesses their plans to run away to be together, life becomes a lot more complicated as her once steady best friend begs her to keep schtum. Bonnie had always reliably told Eden everything, now she questions if she knows her friend at all, how could she have kept this relationship from her and now not even provide details of where the pair are running to. Reminding herself that Bonnie loves her and has never let her down before, she keeps her trust in her and agrees to not betray her confidence, I mean, what is a best friend if not somebody to keep your secrets?

With exam worries and now the where about of Bonnie weighing on her mind, Eden is presented with the full weight of the situation when one morning, along with Bonnies mum, the police turn up on her door to question her. It isn’t just Bonnie running away that has caused those around her to be so frightened, it’s who she has run away with.

As the questioning and pressure on Eden to reveal all she knows becomes more intense, she has Bonnie in the other ear telling her to be what a best friend should be and not give her away. Which voices will shout the loudest and get Eden to listen?

After finishing the book in record time (I honestly couldn’t put it down) I spoke to Sara about ‘Goodbye, Perfect’, here is what she had to say:

Hello Sara and welcome to Dog Eared Reads! I’m a huge fan of your novels and found myself counting down the days to settle down and read your new book ‘Goodbye, Perfect’. You’ve really established a chunk of space on our bookshelves now with brilliant fiction, does it get easier with each book or are you still nervous when hitting that print button?!

I wish it got easier! But unfortunately, no – every book throws up a new, often unexpected, challenge.

Could you tell us a little about Goodbye, Perfect and what sparked the idea for the story in your head?

It’s a story that focuses on the people left behind after a scandalous event. I found myself thinking a lot about all the people you don’t hear about when there’s a big story in the news – the other family members, people in the workplace etc. So when a girl called Bonnie runs away with her teacher, which is what happens in Goodbye, Perfect, I wanted to explore how that decision affected all the people who don’t usually get a voice: her best friend, her schoolmates, her teachers and her family. Bonnie is the quintessential “good girl” and the decision is completely out of character – that’s always something that’s fascinated me, too: the labels we put on girls and how they push against them or reject them. I had a “good girl” friend in school who went through a bit of a rebellious phase at school, and I’ve thought about that a lot as an adult. Why she felt the need to do it and what she gained from it. She never did anything quite so dramatic, though!

In ‘Goodbye, Perfect’, and in your previous books, you have characters who are initially presented as being a particular person to their friends/family, such as the ‘solid, steady, straight A’ Bonnie, cool sisters who look like they have no problems, ‘wild childs’ who look like they could shrug off anything (Suzanne in Beautiful, Broken Things), and then gradually we learn the complexities behind each person. Is this something you consciously want to stress to your readers and if so why?

Yes! It’s really with this book that I noticed how much of a theme that is in my books – the masks we wear and how wrong we can be about people, even those who are really close to us. We do a lot of projecting and assuming, and there’s also the thing of not being prepared when people close to us change. A friend you make at ten is going to be very different at seventeen, but we’re often resistant to it, especially if they change in ways we don’t like. Generally we could all do with assuming a little less and looking a little closer.

‘Goodbye, Perfect’ has a male/female romantic relationship that is filled with respect and care. I realised when I was reading this that the books I grew up with never showed that, relationships always equaled drama. Did you have a similar experience with books when you were younger?

Yes, but I think a lot of that is to do with how we view stories, especially YA, which is that the romance is the centre. And as stories rely on conflict, and therefore drama, it makes sense that they would show only ‘dramatic’ relationships. I like telling stories that take away that element and find the centre of the story somewhere else. With G,P I wanted to have an established relationship that isn’t under threat as part of the plot. I think there’s room, even in YA, to show what a healthy, loving relationship looks like in the middle, rather than always focusing on the beginning or the end.

I love that every point of view is accessed in some way during the novel, so we hear from Eden and how she is feeling, but we also have her mother explaining the other side of the coin/how a parent would feel during that time. To me is seems they were given equal weight, it wasn’t just ‘Bonnies mum is a grown up and therefore is always right’, Edens mam stands up for her daughter and makes sure her views are being respected also. It felt like it was important young women’s experiences are listened to and respected, even if they are still learning about new situations. Do you think young women are being listened to now and do you think fiction can help them find confidence in their voice?

I think young women are very rarely listened to, unfortunately. That’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about YA and why I think it’s so vital. YA provides a safe space for girls where they are centred and valued, where their stories are told. I hope that alone gives them more confidence in the power of their voices and the importance of their stories as they grow into adulthood.

All three of your books have mental health issues intertwined through them, often with more minor characters briefly being described as having a certain mental health problem. I think one of the reasons I adore all three books is that no character ever IS there mental health problem, it is a part of them along with many other strands that make them who they are. Now we have better understanding of just how many of us suffer daily from mental heath problems, how important do you think the representation is?

I think it’s massively important, and not just as the main theme or plot of a book but as part of daily life as well. For many people, their experience of mental illness will be through someone they care about, not just them experiencing it themselves. Mental health is as much a part of the background of life as well as the forefront, and I think representing that is important, too. It’s not always high drama; in fact, for many people, it’s their ordinary.

And finally, can we get excited that a future book is now being worked on (no pressure!) or are you enjoying a well earned break?!

I am indeed working on the next book, but it is not something I can talk about yet… I will say that it involves some old friends. But that’s all I can say 😉

Thank you for popping in Sara, now excuse me as I go giddily dancing about my flat in reaction to that little hint at the end!

I always love being able to talk about Sara’s books with readers, especially those who actually are the ‘young adults’ of YA, as I know they are in great hands. Her books always have plenty of plot and are an exciting read, great for keen readers but also imperative for those I meet who maybe don’t always read so much. The main reason I’m so passionate about them however is her characterisation, the people we meet between the pages are so fully rounded, with weaknesses and strengths, ranges of backgrounds, nothing is black and white just as it isn’t in life. To see a whole variety of experiences reflected is extremely comforting and makes me think more about what others are going through, two things which are equally as important now at 33 as they were when I was 13.

When we talk about our great YA writers Sara Barnard now firmly holds her own on that list, now it’s just time for me to start the countdown for the next book, no pressure Sara!

Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard £7.99 (Macmillan)

So – now is the time for you to be in with a chance to win a copy of ‘Goodbye, Perfect’! All you have to do is leave a comment below and share this post on any of your social media sites. The closing date is February 15th at 12pm and the winner will be notified by 6pm that evening. Good luck everybody, and until next time…

Happy Reading!

Nobody is Perfect, But This Book Sure Is!

Wild Thing

I’ve just finished a book this morning that messed with my tiny little mind. At first I blamed myself, as mentioned previously I’ll often look at a title/cover etc but not read the blurb, jumping in for an immersive experience with little guidance as to what to expect in my reading. I very much did this here, the title was one that immediately caught my attention and the art work on the cover is stunning (by the wonderful Lizzy Stewart who gave us ‘There’s a Tiger in the Garden’ – check it out if you have little readers to entertain).

I had a dramatic realisation approximately half way through (the very thing that messed with my head) but later instead of blaming this on my approach to the book I realised my reaction was just because the work between my hands is, well, bloody amazing and truly, deeply original.

‘The Word For Woman Is Wilderness’. You see right? How could I NOT want to read a book with a title like that?! It comes to us from author Abi Andrews, who shows huge amounts of talent at a young age, making it all the more exciting to see what else she will go on to produce.

The book isn’t exactly set out as a diary, it isn’t dated, but it does follow a journey where our young protagonist sets out to show she can live and experience wilderness just as the famed ‘Mountain Men’ throughout history have done, the matter of her sex is not something that should prevent this as so many seem to believe.

I am thinking about how the small autonomy of just being alone in public for a woman is also a right that needs to be claimed and kept on being claimed until it is a given.

Instead of day by day accounts the text is split into sections which range in size, some describing a moment of the journey, others a thought that is troubling her. Just as time is not linear these entries are episodic but not tightly structured to the timeline of her travels.

Setting off from her home in England and leaving behind parents who are not supportive of this decision, her aim is to reach Alaska, living in a place so vast as to feel truly alone and part of the natural world around her, using survival instincts to get by. With limited funds a decision is also made not to simply fly to Alaska and begin her journey there, but to work her way across the globe in whatever ways present themselves as the miles tick by (making me wonder if this is a ‘Road to Ithaca’ scenario). The people on her voyage bringing with them a whole host of new opinions and experiences that challenge her deeply.

Now, here is where I will explain my ‘book freak out’. Throughout the book so far I’d been reading things that deeply resonated with my own experiences. Granted, I have not experienced true wilderness but I have travelled and the experiences and reactions she had were uncomfortably similar. I then read a part of the book where she was working in a restaurant to raise some funds when the chef had pulled her into a walk in fridge and molested her. When he was called away he left her in there, shutting the door, a door that does not open from the inside. After the event she repeatedly tells herself that nothing really happened and that others suffer a lot worse, the girls and women who are actually attacked. The experience didn’t feel as if it would be judged significant enough by others, that she was just being silly no matter how deeply upset she was. ‘My god’ I thought, ‘this is uncanny’. In my late teens I worked in a pub/restaurant to try and raise money for a holiday with my friends. The chef was particularly horrid and often grabbed my wrist when I went into the kitchen, saying he was going to pull me into the back so I could ‘sort him out’. He would always say he was having a laugh, his voice just the right side of jocular if anybody heard, but his grip on my wrist was tight, I would try to yank it away and often be left with red marks from the pressure. One day he was being particularly touchy and I snapped at him. When I then went into our walk in fridge to get dessert for a customer, he ran behind and shut the door so I was locked in there. The lights go out and you’re trapped. After 5 minutes or so a lady who washed the dishes heard me shouting and let me out. So you can understand, her experiences on this journey were so very real to me. It was at this point I suddenly noticed she was being called Erin in the text. ‘Hang on a minute, she is called Abi!’ I actually said out loud. Reader, I thought I was reading a memoir/piece of travel writing, no no no, I looked at the front of the book and there it was clear as Day ‘The Word for Woman is Wilderness: A NOVEL’. It was like being sent into a tail spin, how could she write so precisely about these experiences and it be a novel? She MUST have done this journey, she MUST have just changed her name. I honestly could not get my head around it. After finishing the book I still do not know if Abi Andrews has made this journey, I don’t know if it really matters, her novel is excellent. The expansiveness of her writing, the incredible realness of it, make it masterful in my eyes. I have the possibility in the near future of going to an event to hear the author speak and I am almost in two minds as to whether I want the answer to this question (I do, I always bloody do, in the end I’m the cat that curiosity killed).

Anyway, less about me and back to the book. This is an excellent read not only for the journey itself but also for the total immersion into Erin’s thoughts. She is young and sometimes naive but I found her endlessly likeable with her desire to challenge the patriarchal consensus and her openness to different thoughts and ways of life that she comes across, not always agreeing with other but always trying to think things through. Her thoughts jump constantly, one moment she will be discussing the Unabomber (somebody she repeatedly returns to) then in a blink of an eye she is considering the beads used in face wash. Science, feminism, philosophy, myth, as she wanders so does her mind on to as many different plains.

I found this novel to be thought provoking, written vividly like colours in a landscape, I was sad when I closed the last page and was no longer travelling with Erin as my companion. She set out and battled often with those who ‘projected vulnerability onto her’ and wanted to achieve the goal of being able to travel freely like a white man. I urge you to pick up this book to see a special journey unfold.

The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews £12.99 (Serpents Tail)

I’m intrigued to know dear reader, have you ever been hoodwinked and thought you were reading non fiction when it was fiction or vice versa? How did it affect the reading experience for you? Let us know in the comments below!

Also on Thursday the 8th of Feb competition time is finally here and our interview with Sara Barnard! Do not miss out!

As always you can subscribe to Dog Eared Reads by emailed dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line and we will notify you each time a new post appears!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Wild Thing

This Could Be Underwater Love…

I received a proof a little while ago that promised great things, historical fiction with…a MERMAID! The artwork on the cover was sumptuous and the publishers proudly heralded this as being their big book of the year. I tend to take these things with a pinch of salt, you never know what book will jump off those shelves and shake a reader to attention, well publicised or not. Well I am happy to say this one has came up with the goods, I sunk deep into every page barely coming up for air and know this will be ringing through the tills at bookshops across the land this year.

‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar is a powerfully evocative novel, taking us to London in the late 1800’s, the smells of the dockside, the pomp and powder of the Bawds house in town.Imogen Hermes Gowar

We meet Mr Hancock at his sparsely run home, essentials are provided for there but the place is down at heal, not occurring to him that at the very least a lick of paint wouldn’t go a miss. He is a worried man as his recent business venture is in question, a ship he has sent out to gather goods to sell has not yet returned and he has heard no word from the Captain. A businessman who loses a ship soon becomes a businessman who nobody will deal with.

Deeper into the city we find Angelica Neal, peachy skin voluptuously pouring over the edges of her clothing, being waited on by her friend (or hired help, depending on who’s point of view you take) and eagerly anticipating her return into society after being ‘kept’ by a gentleman who has recently passed away. Visited by her previous Bawd, who kept her in employ with a roof over her head at the finest of establishments in the city, the argument is made for her returning to this house of ill repute and back to ‘servicing’ the creme de la creme of the city, Lords and politicians being regular visitors. Angelica has had a taste for life outside of those four walls however, and has firmly set her mind on making her own way, believing her looks and charms require no promotion by any other, especially when the money would also be passing her by. Angelica lives an opulent life and likes to indulge in the finer things, and she means to do it in her own way.

Georgian Bawdy House

The novels turning point comes with the arrival of the Mermaid of the title. Mr Hancock may no longer have a ship on his hands but catastrophe may be averted, as the reason for the vessels disappearance being directly related to procuring him the Mermaid. His possession of this throws his house, and then soon after the city, into uproar as people come either to marvel or be horrified by the creature displayed before them. Acting as something of a magnetic force the Mermaid pulls all our characters into each other’s path, although whether this will be the making or undoing of them is deliciously teased along in the following pages.

Mermaids – not as pretty as you think

When reading this novel I really found myself thinking on the theme of ownership and independence. The women of the book are beholden to men for their upkeep and survival, in different ways to each other, some as prostitutes, some as family members working to keep their place in a home. The many layered roles they play is reflected when they look upon each other, what freedom means to one being something totally different to the other. The deep irony coming into play when all of these women, seekers of independence, try to further their own cause by entrapping and taking away the absolute freedom of another – namely, the Mermaid.

Who holds the coins holds the power?

The characters in this novel are all complex and fully fleshed out, they live in the grey area as we observe their strengths and faults, growing to care about them despite the latter. I was particularly partial to Angelica despite wanting to shake her several times throughout!

It was an utter delight getting washed away in this book, it transported me totally and I felt I could vividly see the scenes playing before me like a movie. The prose skilfully uses language at home in the 1800’s yet never feels dated or a struggle to understand, these are fresh characters brimming with life and bursting off the page. I love a proper yarn of a story and this provided, I’ll certainly never think of mermaids in the same light again!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar £12.99 (Vintage)

As usual, you can subscribe by popping an email over to dogearedreads1@gmail with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line, this way you’ll get a notification each time a new post appears. No spam, we promise! Also for those who love YA, great writing and FREE THINGS, keep an eye out in February for competition time!

Until next time folks,

Happy Reading!

This Could Be Underwater Love…

I am Muzna, Hear Me Roar

Oh I love it when the postman brings me a book delivery, even more so when it’s some truly fantastic YA. Macmillan had kindly packaged me up a bundle of reading goodies to get stuck into, one of which will be popping up on here at the beginning of February. We will have an interview with the author herself AND a giveaway – Sara Barnard fans PREPARE!

Keep a look out in the first few weeks of February!

The book I’ve came on to talk about today is the first novel by author Muhammad Khan, and the bookasphere was arumbling with excitement and anticipation well ahead of the publication of ‘I Am Thunder’. Time for me to grab my ‘sharing’ (HA!) pack, open the cover and disappear for a while.

I’ll share how good the book is with you guys but I share my Buttons with NOBODY!

Muzna Saleem is a young teenager when we meet her and burdens are piling high on her school girl shoulders. Facial hair causing constant paranoia, a best friend who helps her access a more popular world in school but who also belittles Muzna’s opinions, and finally her parents applying pressure to be the perfect Pakistani daughter. Muzna is expected to train to be a Doctor, her Ami and Dad waiting to see top marks in maths and science, ignoring their daughters outstanding talent in English class and her dreams of becoming a novelist.

We follow Muzna through a period of serious change in her life. With her dad having to get a new job, a change of home and school is required, her parents feeling some relief at getting their daughter away from the influence of her ‘bad’ friend. Naturally nervous to start at her new school her first few days see her run into a gamut of pupils, some friendly, some so so and some who, well, are down and out racist. Muzna is fully aware of how members of her faith can be viewed and this is something that plays heavy on her mind. A life line is thrown to her when a fellow Muslim student, a gorgeous one at that, takes her under his wing, explaining that the ‘fam’ stand up for each other. Her emotions are quickly whipped up into a storm for him and as their relationship intensifies she is left wondering what is the right and wrong path to take in her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, reading it far too quickly as I was completely wrapped up in the life of Muzna. Khan perfectly encapsulates the school and teenage experience, well, as much as I could relate to, being white myself and attending a school that largely had no cultural diversity I cannot even begin to imagine the added pressures of racism and bigotry being piled upon the high octane teenage emotions that course through every body. The push and pull from every side of the arguments for and against religion, how to have the ‘correct’ identity for where you are living, are described vividly, the confusion Muzna faces reads very genuinely and I imagine has no doubt been brought forth from Khans own experience in both school himself, as a pupil and then as a teacher.

Muhammad Khan

I was swept up in how this young woman was going to go forward, what decisions she would make and the ramifications these would have on those around her. I found her to be a realistic role model, not always acting perfectly, but then who does? Muzna made me feel stronger, I can only imagine the wonders she’ll do for young women with similar worries as her.

This book deserves to be read widely, copies being passed from hand to hand, edges becoming battered from over excited readers desperate to find out the ending. It deserves this not only because of its wonderful exploration of what it is like to be seen sometimes as ‘other’ in your own country, to feel you have to constantly explain your independent self against a preconceived idea of being part of some homogenous mass but also because it is a cracking, well paced, addictive piece of fiction. Let the rumble of thunder make you turn your head to this brilliant book.

‘I Am Thunder’ by Muhammad Khan £7.99 (Macmillan)

Remember, you can chat down below in the comments section as ever and if you would like an email letting you know when a new review goes up email dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line and you’ll get a notification when a new book is being shouted about! No spam, brownie promise.

Happy Reading!

I am Muzna, Hear Me Roar

Sensory Overload

Trigger warning: The novella featured in this post contains content relating to rape and sexual abuse.

I found myself ‘without book’ the other night, I’d finished all my current reads, couldn’t sleep and felt too intimidated to pick up a book with any heft from my shelf. I happened upon ‘Peach’ by Emma Glass, although only just, running my finger along the spines on my shelf it so easily could have slipped past, being a story told in less than 100 pages.

Emma Glass

It felt quite ironic that in trying to avoid a book with heft I had then gone and picked up one that is likely to have knocked me for six than I can imagine any other novel is likely to this year. I read the whole thing in one sitting and was completely blindsided. The last time I can remember a similar reading experience was with the shock I felt finishing ‘A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride.

I will be reading ‘Peach’ again, without a shadow of a doubt, I think I will gain much more from a second reading. I may be doing you a disservice talking about it after the initial ‘hit’ but on the other hand my feelings towards it will never be this fresh again.

We meet Peach, a young woman currently attending college, making her way home one night after she has been attacked and raped. The book then follows her trying to absorb the shock of what has happened. Peach now lives in a hazy, lonely ‘post’ world where only she carries what has happened to her, although sometimes her pain seems to imprint itself on her skin, calling out for somebody to help her. The confusion and fear she feels is portrayed to us in surreal way, a real sensory overload. Peach describes those she encounters as if they are made up of different food stuffs, textures and smells all heightened to her now.

The language is raw and visceral. In the opening pages we find Peach alone in her bedroom using thread and needle to sew up the bloody tear that is sending pain through her body. At points I felt like I was reading poetry, the lyrical nature, words rolling one after the other. The writing style is so vivid, truncated sentences with each word chosen to directly express to the reader the feeling of that moment. I read part of the book aloud, it seemed right as with Glass invoking every sense within Peach so powerfully I also wanted to engage my senses, hear those words, the shape of them and the feeling they had in my mouth.

The time I spent with Peach was something like a dream, the heady, other worldly place she now seems to exist in, to me feeling very much like a time when life has so suddenly and dramatically changed for you that you do find yourself seeing through different eyes and experiencing your body anew.

This is strong stuff and like ‘A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing’ I suspect won’t be for all readers, but I found it bold, beautifully written and boundary pushing. I think it is good to be challenged and encounter art that is so powerful it is lodged firmly in your mind to be thought about for days and weeks after encountering it.

Now excuse me while I go and read ‘Peach’ for the second time in two days.

Peach by Emma Glass £12.99 (Bloomsbury Circus)

Happy Reading!

Sensory Overload

We Are Family, I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me

I thought I knew a fair bit about the Mitfords, could fair well if they happened to come up on a pub quiz say, well now I think I’m Mastermind level! (Don’t hold me to that, I’m in the mood for some gross exaggeration) With ‘The Mitford Girls; The Biography of an Extraordinary Family’, by Mary S. Lovell, I found acres of new stories to flit about in, and it has led on to me wanting more, to follow up with other writing about these fascinating women and more of the work they produced themselves. This is not to say that ‘The Mitford Girls’ does not give us a complete history, it is a satisfyingly in-depth look into the family tale at a chunky 529 pages long (excluding source notes) but these stubborn, contrary, bright, forces of nature seem somewhat impossible to pin down on the page so I just want to keep finding more of them. When you read more about these complex characters I imagine you’ll agree my search to understand them wholly will likely prove elusive.

This titled, well off and well connected family certainly caused a storm wherever they went, with difficult relationships within their home to follow on with difficult relationships played out in the public sphere, the two most obvious names linked being Hitler and Oswald Mosley. Politics caused huge rifts between the sisters, damaging not only their relationships with each other but also proving life altering to their own persons. With one sister heading off to befriend Hitler while another journeys to Spain to join the Communist party, it is not difficult to see why theirs was a life filled with the kind of events that leave a reader open mouthed when these are recounted.

This volume really does focus on the sisters, mother, father (Lord and Lady Resdale) and brother Tom do appear throughout but the spotlight is never fully on them, as the title of the book suggests we know who the stars of the show were. The only slight problem I had with this biography of the girls is that I feel is does tread quite gently when it comes to Unity and Diana’s involvement with the Nazis and the right wing, not completely letting them off the hook but not really seeming to want to fully charge them with their offences either, a little like the author is always trying to find the reason that they were good girls really and somehow it was all a bit of a misunderstanding/mistake. Oswald Mosley certainly comes out of it in a rosier fashion than I’m ever happy to see him in.

First published in 2001 you can see I’m bang up to date with my reading here, and numerous other books have been published about this family both prior and since this one, but when the Mitfords are discussed it always seems to appear as a reliable source, so I thought it was a good one to go for.

The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell £12.99 (Abacus)

I do have further reading lined up at home already, one book focusing solely on letters between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, I’ve dipped in and out of this and it is GLORIOUS, the art of being bitchy and writing an utterly fabulous letter darling is displayed on every page within. My other tome is the complete letters between the sisters themselves, which has a handy family tree at the front representing each sister as a symbol, so of course we get a swastika and a hammer and sickle. Nancy gets a quill, Debo a crown, I may now have to make a cuppa and sit wondering what symbol I’d be handily reduced to if so needed in the future.

The Letters Of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh Edited by Charlotte Mosley £14.99 (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters Edited by Charlotte Mosley £16.99 (4th Estate)

Let me know if you’ve read about The Mitfords or are tempted to, maybe you know a fascinating titbit about them! And what would your symbol be by your name in the family tree?!

As always comment below, and new readers can email dogearedreads1@gmail with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line to receive a notification whenever a new post appears.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

We Are Family, I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me