Love Hurts

Ouch. I’ve finished my latest read and it has left me sore, the story within like an open wound, making me wince whenever I recognised a bit too much of myself in its pages. Louise O’Neill, author of ‘Almost Love’, is one of my favourite voices around because she writes with such unflinching honesty no matter what the topic. She is prepared to face down taboos and lesser said thoughts and feelings, dragging them on to the page and into the light to be examined. Although reading her books may leave you with more than a tear or two rolling down your cheek, they are cathartic and honest, reflecting how life is and not how we want it to be. Another author I wish had been around when I was younger to reassure me.

Louise O’Neill

One of the things I love most about O’Neill’s work is that she doesn’t strive to make her characters likeable, what is important is that they are depicted so truthfully you feel they could walk off the page. It seems to me she wants to press the importance of how necessary it is for us to still be able to stand side by side with a woman/girl who has been through hell and back, no matter what character assessment we make of her. The truth is still the truth, experiences just as affecting, and as a society we have to be there for all, not just those who seem the ‘perfect victim’. Life, and people, aren’t perfect, and that’s ok.

Almost Love is a novel that flits back and forwards over the period of 4 years or so of our protagonist Sarah’s life, each chapter alternating ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ so we know where in her timeline we find ourselves.

Sarah moved to Dublin, away from her small town life and father, after finishing art college. Moving in with a group of friends she watched as their careers took off, while hers seemed to…stall. With no faith in her art work she soon stops trying entirely, taking a teaching position in which she certainly isn’t the most reliable faculty member.

Life is further tilted on its axis when she meets a much older, much wealthier man who quickly has her under his spell. Sarah is infatuated, and despite warnings from those around her not to get in to deep, she pays little attention and before she knows it finds herself adrift from all her previous ties. As we jump back and forward in her narrative her story unravels and we watch as the effects of this blinkered love become clearer to us. Is love meant to hurt this much and will she find her way home again? I so often wanted to scream at her but then immediately wrap her up in a hug as well.

I loved how O’Neill brings in discussion of feminism in her work, with this story raising some great points. A lot of the feminism in play with these characters comes from quite an academic back ground, and I wanted to applaud when Sarah poses questions about how applicable this ‘brand’ of feminism was that she found in the books/academia around her to women like her mother, who worked full time in a more traditional working class role.

There are also interesting looks at the nature of imbalance in relationships caused by money, misogyny running amok and complex family relationships.

Whether you’ve lived experience of what Sarah goes through or you know somebody else who has, I can’t imagine this book not reaching out to each reader and relating to them in its own specific way, and what more can you want from a story?

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill £14.99 (Riverun – Quercus)

Are there any books you wish you’d read as a teenager? Do you think they would have altered your path or would you have charged on anyway? I like to think that even if I’d carried on making all my mistakes they would have planted a voice in my head to help me manage the bumps in the road.

We have lots of great books coming your way so if you want to sign up, here is the usual details…

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and until next time all,

Happy Reading!

Love Hurts

Women’s Prize Longlist

When the clock struck midnight and not just any day began but International Woman’s Day, the long list for the Women’s Prize was released, and yes, I was one of those people who stayed up to see who had made it on there.

I very much like the long list this year, which has been described as ‘outward looking’, with a couple of books on there I’ve adored, some I’ve very much enjoyed, a few I’ve got piled up to read and then the sneaky couple I’ve never heard of.

I thought I’d pull the list together in one place so if you wanted you could see previous reviews of those in the running that have appeared on Dog Eared, a little summary of the ones I’ve read but haven’t blogged about, and my two pence worth on the ones I still have to delve into.

Let’s get straight to it!

H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker

This is the first of the books that I have to confess has never crossed my radar. Having now had a read of the blurb I’ll definitely be having a read now. The novel seems to focus on a future utopia, where there is no poverty, greed, fear or God. Where we are looked after and surrounded by a loving community. Every narrative must have its challenges so what is going to happen in this dreamy world?! Turns out I neeeed to know!

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

This is a contender I’ve read but didn’t blog about. It follows Selin, who is Turkish-American, in her first year at Harvard. Her new environment is quite the shock to the system as she faces up to ‘being an adult’ while studying languages, a topic she thinks about often, and raising money on the side by teaching ESL students. After meeting a fellow student, Ivan, from Hungary, the pair fall into a disjointed relationship that leaves Selin as confused as it does contented. I laughed a lot at this novel which focuses on that unsteady time of transition in life.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Im actually reading this one now and only a quarter, if that, of the way in! I loved Cannon’s first book, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, so was eager to get started with this and I’m enjoying it already. We meet Florence, who is living at a home for the elderly, where the staff are always attempting to get her to join in activities she has no interest in. When we are introduced to Florence however, she isn’t taking part in an activity but is lying on her bedroom floor, waiting for somebody to find her. Things have been a little strange around the home lately, although her best friend Elsie questions if she is just getting slightly forgetful and confused, but when a new resident appears from her past it is a cause for fear not celebration. That’s all I can say so far, other than I’m looking forward to getting back to the book later!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes-Gowar is featured next, and you can read my blog about that by clicking here

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

Another novel I haven’t came across. This is a novel based on the authors mother and grandmother, and the lives they led in Burma, from 1939 onwards. With a protagonist from one of Burma’s Karen ethnic minority groups, the story is told with World War Two and then a decade of civil war playing out alongside it. I’ll report back when I’ve read it!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Egan has a firm fan base out there after her novel ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ and I’m intrigued to see if this receives as much praise. My bookish friend Emma has been reading this and I know she is enjoying it so far. This novel centres on an Irish family living in Brooklyn during the depression and the Second World War. We have the story of three different characters weaving their way through this book, the one that intrigued me most being that of a woman who becomes a diver to help the war effort. I expect good stuff from this one.

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

This book sounds goooood. It appears to be something of a mediation of motherhood. We have a woman looking at how she is ‘performing’ as a mother herself, while examining her relationship with her own mother and grandmother. Throughout the novel we then encounter moments were significant changes/discoveries were made in medical history. I think this sounds fascinating and am eager to get my hands on a copy!

Sing, Unburied, Sing

I LOVE this book, utter perfection, read about it here

When I Hit You, Or, The Portrait is the Artist as a Young Wife

I honestly cannot believe I didn’t write about this book on the site as it was easily one of my tops reads of the year, albeit not an easy one to swallow emotionally. Stunningly written, it is fiction but does have some of the authors of experience in there, the book looks at an unnamed protagonist who is a successful writer. She meets a professor who she falls for and agrees to become his wife, but soon after the marriage she finds he is a violent man who wants an ‘ideal’ homely wife, and we read in horror as he goes about stripping her of links to the outside world and independence. A remarkable book.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

The return of Roy was quite the anticipated event in the literary world and I too was caught up in the excitement yet…I still haven’t read this! To be totally honest I think the size of the book has put me off, you know when you need to be in the right mind frame to pick up a tome? This is a novel set in India over many years, turbulent war filled years, supposed ‘peace time’ and actual peace time. Again we have a trio of central characters whom we follow, looking at love and hope, what it can mean to be an outsider, how life can tear us apart and how it can heal us again.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Quite a few of my bookseller colleagues have read this and loved it, and I’ve been desperate to read it from all the buzz. My copy is ready to go in the next few days. The book is a retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders in America. The joy in crime fiction is not know what’s coming so that’s all I’m going to say!


Another favourite read of last year, you can find my review here

A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert

This sounds right up my street. Set in the Ukraine, not long after Germany have invaded, a young boy called Yankel finds his town is overrun by the SS, and that be has to put his self and his brothers lives at the mercy of strangers.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Again, why did I not review this when I read it? I really enjoyed Home Fire, which is a modern day retelling of Antigone by Sophocles. This looks at family, relationships and what happens when politics, religion and a struggle with racial identity all begin to bubble up amongst two families with very different backgrounds. I’d like to have a reread of this one.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal

This second outing by de Waal isn’t actually out until the end of March but if it’s half as good as ‘My Name is Leon’ I know we’ll be in for a cracking read. Here our Irish protagonist looks back at her time in 1970’s Birmingham, and an intense love affair that leads to a marriage that may not have been built on the most solid of ground.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

The much feted Miss Oliphant of course found her way on to the long list, our review can be found by clicking here

So as you can see it is quite the list! Have you read any of these? Got any already or tempted to pick up a certain one after finding out a little more about the book? Let us know! Maybe you have already predicted the winner?! As always you can join in the conversation about the books in the comments below! And until next time,

Happy Reading!

Women’s Prize Longlist

My Milkshake brings all the Books to the Yard

Another double serving today and I am dishing up some bookish deliciousness for you! I didn’t deliberately read these two books at the same time but I did adore them both and it seems so natural that they are served up here together. (Do you get where my subtle hints are going? Do you, eh eh?!)

Yes dear reader, the focus here falls on food, glorious food! We have some lip smackingly brilliant YA and a manifesto on all things stomach bound to feast upon. As a person who loves to cook, feed people, eat, and on the other hand also fights to have body confidence and often fails, both books were eagerly picked up by myself. Let’s tuck in shall we?

It seems horribly reductive to introduce our first author, Ruby Tandoh, solely on her Bake Off competitor credentials, she has written two wonderful cook books ‘Crumb’ and ‘Flavour’, and now has brought us a third read musing on everything delicious, ‘Eat Up!’

Ruby Tandoh

A meditation on appetite and what food means to use, the memories we can have tied up in it and the comfort and nourishment it can bring to us is heralded from every page. What really drives Ruby is her passion over making food less complicated than we’ve currently forced it to be. Your food choices should not come with a side portion of guilt, the ingredients you use are not a moral signpost, ‘clean eating’ can be a bloody harmful concept. To each their own, what they enjoy, what they can afford, what works for them. Before you judge somebodies microwave meal walk a mile in their shoes and then eat their dinner or something like that!

About to follow Ruby’s advice…

I learned a lot from the information Ruby pulls together here (note I call her Ruby, not using her surname like most authors, I think she feels like my friend after reading this, somebody I’ve had a good, solid chat with) she never lectures or prescribes a ‘right’ way. I did learn that you will absorb more nutrients from food that you are enjoying than the equivalent in say liquid, mushed up form. The pleasure in actually eating is necessary for our body.

There are discussions on fat shaming, disordered eating, regional and international food, and delightfully the food references used in culture and what they are used to mean. I will never watch that scene in When Harry Met Sally in the same way again. Scattered throughout are recipes from Ruby, all written as if a friend is chatting you through the cooking, rather than a regulated list and bullet point instructions.

I found it to be a thought provoking read, but also one that made me laugh and provided comfort, it also resulted in me getting a giant doughnut due to the intense cravings it provoked, and any book that results in a doughnut is a winner in my eyes!

….I did her proud

Eat Up! By Ruby Tandoh £12.99 (Serpent’s Tail)

Second course now and I bring you a YA read that I gobbled up. Author Laura Dockrill brings us ‘Big Bones’, with an illustration of a gorgeous young women on the front with the kind of thighs that would make Beyoncé proud. Dockrill is not only author but also a poet and illustrator, who graduated from the Brit School of Performing Arts along with her pals Kate Nash and a little known singer called, um, Adele! Her last two books, Lorali and Aurabel, were huge hits with myself and my bookish friends.

Laura Dockrill

‘Big Bones’ is the story of Bluebell, a young woman who knows what she wants, and what she wants is to leave school and get on an apprenticeship to traumas a full time barista at the cafe she currently works part time in.

When an asthma attack results in her mother taking her along to see the nurse she is forced to have conversations she would rather not. It comes as no surprise to her when the nurse pronounced her overweight, Bluebelle knows she is bigger than society considers acceptable, but she feels healthy and she loves how she looks. When the nurse starts reeling off possible health side effects Bluebelle could encounter because of her weight, her mum gets upset and a row ensues. In the end deals are struck, when the nurse encourages gym attendance and the completion of a food diary over a 6 week period, her mum consents to her withdrawal from school if she will do these two things.

What follows is the diary itself, which Bluebelle separates into sections using different foods as headings, then giving us her opinion on them, the perfect cheese toastie to the joys of millionaires shortbread. An unexpected result is that she begins to use the diary to spill the details on, well, every single thing that’s going on in her life. We read about her little sister who has boundless energy, her irritating boss and rather handsome colleague, and her warring parents as they deal with a possibly temporary, possibly not separation. As different challenges come her way, food is a constant pleasure and companion, until a frightening event takes place that manages to sully how she sees both herself and what she eats.

What kind of size cake do you call this?!

It was so deeply refreshing to read about a young woman who had utter confidence in how she looked, seeing sexy in muffin tops and belly rolls. It shows how ingrained it is, for me at least, to be in a space where we expect young women to hate how they look, as I found myself continually having my head pulled up bu this novel surprise. Bluebelle is a pleasure to spend time with, and the story of her family, the navigation of the ‘from child to adult’ years, and be relationship with food are all equally absorbing. Pull up a seat at her table and tuck in!

Big Bones by Laura Dockrill £6.99 (Hot Key Books)

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What books have the best foody memories for you? Let us know in the comments below, and until next time…

Happy Reading!

My Milkshake brings all the Books to the Yard

Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon

Ever since ‘Rebecca’ I have loved an unnamed narrator. It somehow pulls me closer to the character, when you are in close companionship with somebody you don’t really say their name when in conversation, you’re so close there is no need to keep repeating it, so your protagonist has already situated themselves as somebody right by your side by not even mentioning their name. On the flip side you have the juicy delight of feeling oh so close, hearing their every thought and then having that smack bang realisation half way through of, ‘hang on, you haven’t even told me your name, what else aren’t you telling me?’ Can you pin this person down? Does it make them freer to tell you their deepest secrets or more able to invent a fictional life, like somebody hiding behind an avatar on a computer? Does it even matter?! Well, I find it an intriguing decision by any author no matter what the answer!

So you may have guessed, our novella today is told by one of these mysterious, unnamed teller of tales, in such an intimate way it feels like you’ve stumbled upon a diary by a bedside. ‘Women’, by Chloe Caldwell, has our young protagonist asking questions of her self, her sexuality and trying to untangle the answers from the messy situations she finds herself in.

Chloe Caldwell

We watch as she moves away from her birth city where she lived with her mother, and was finding herself more and more dependent on drugs to have a good time, to a whole new city and scene, where she plans to start afresh. We are aware she is a writer, and it is this occupation that brings Finn into her life, an older woman who contacts her on Facebook to say how much she enjoyed her book.

The two meet and it is obvious from the beginning that their relationship is going to become an intense and important one in both their lives. Our protagonist acknowledges from the start that she knows this cannot end well, for starters Finn has a partner of 12 years.

With clandestine catch ups in a sunken, rented apartment and the exploration of a side of her sexuality she had not experienced or expected, our woman falls deep. Her writing stops, and the complications begin.

Feeling so closely involved because of the confidential tone of this novella, you want to grab her hand, take her out for a proper meal with a side of good advice, but we can’t, we just have to sit by and read her account of these heady days and hope she comes up for air.

I read this book in one sitting, I got totally lost in the confusion of feelings experienced within the pages. Was Finn another addiction or a true love? Was this a case of learning about her sexuality or just an intoxication with this one woman? You could have easily doubled the length of the book and I wouldn’t have paused, I was thoroughly wrapped up in what I wouldn’t describe exactly as a ‘coming of age’ tale but more of a ‘coming together of mind’ story (clunky phrase but I hope you get my gist!)

I haven’t read any work by Chloe Caldwell before and she is now happily sitting on my ‘check out anything else she publishes’ shelf in my mind. If an honest account of an unsure psyche is your thing, grab a copy and let me know what you think!

Women by Chloe Caldwell £10.00 (4th Estate)

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Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon

Red, Red Rose

There are so many holes in my knowledge of history which are women shaped, women who changed the world around them and who I would have been taught about in school if they’d been born male. I am trying to fill in some of these blank spots myself by following up on even the smallest of lead I find and then burrowing further until I can fill my view of the past with glorious women, not only rows and rows of white men.

I watch a lot of booktube and one of my favourite bookworms is Jean from ‘Jean Bookishthoughts‘. She recently had a post where she talked about some books she’d had delivered from Verso and one book out of her bundle caught my eye immediately.

Before I talk about the book, first a little word on the publishers Verso. They describe themselves as being:

…the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, publishing one hundred books a year.

They began with works in translation, focusing on politics, economics and social theory and have gone from strength to strength as the years have passed by. You can read more about them by clicking here and also view their full range of books, including the one I’m going to introduce you to…now!

‘Red Rosa’ is a graphic biography. Lately I’ve been increasing my intake of graphic novels as I’ve been enjoying them so much and my appreciation for this form of literature is really growing. This was my first time dipping my toe into a graphic biography however and it’s been a great success. Sometimes historical biographies in a more traditional text form can be a little dry, as dates and places I’ve never heard of are reeled off, I can notice my attention may have drifted away a little. This problem is completely negated for me with the graphics, my involvement is held tight by the scenes playing out before my eyes and I really loved the artwork by Kate Evans, who also wrote the text.

Rosa Luxembourg was a Polish Jew, born in 1871, when Russia still controlled the country. With her father showing her his liberal beliefs she soon forged her own path as a socialist thinker, despite huge difficulties that stood in her way, she was truly a revolutionary. Her intellect, passion and commitment to her cause never wavered, despite the persecution she endured. She was never afraid to fight against those who she disagreed with, Stalin and Lenin being two adversaries she would not back down to. Her incredible writing and philosophy being as innovative and radical as it was, she was a target from day one.

This biography not only takes us through her political journey, but also that of her own personal life, her personality so vibrant and powerful the two never going to be the most easy of bed fellows.

Rosa lived a life that burned bright, and her death at the hands of the far right in Germany is an upsetting one, but from reading about how deeply held her convictions were and what a brave woman she was, I remain convinced she would have met the end with her head held high.

Learning about Rosa has ignited a flame to know more about this wonderful woman, and luckily for me, and all you readers out there who I’m sure will be equally fascinated, Verso also stock Rosa’s writings, so we can hear directly from her. I guess my ‘TBR’ pile is going to be even bigger!

Red Rosa by Kate Evans £9.99 (Verso)

Here comes the science bit…

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Until next time though,

Happy Reading!

Red, Red Rose

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!

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!