Book review: Kololo Hill by Neema Shah

Published on 18th February by Picador, Kololo Hill by Neema Shah is a debut not to be missed. Striking and heartfelt, this novel has a lot to say. Sincere thanks to Katie Green for my gifted copy.

It’s 1972 and Idi Amin is on the rise. With brutality and fear as his weapons of choice he issues a devastating decree. All Ugandan Asians must leave and leave within 90 days. They can take virtually nothing with them, their property and money are now belong to the state. They can not return.

Through the eyes of one ordinary Ugandan Asian family we experience the fall out of such a situation, and the impossible choices they make; both as families and individuals.

Asha and Pran are a young Asian couple. Married for a short time, after a whirl wind courtship that was hi jacked by their families. They are still in the early days of their relationship, still testing the water and finding the boundaries when suddenly their whole world is thrown into crisis, everything and everyone they hold dear under immediate and terrible threat.

Along with Pran’s parents , Jaya and Motichand, and his younger brother Vijay, their life of relative ease, their business running a local dukan their sense of self and security are lost. The family must begin the painful and seemingly impossible task of looking to the future. But where do they start?

Each have different paperwork, passports and access to different countries. They all have to leave but will it be possible to do that together or will they be spilt even further apart? And how can they protect their house boy December who has served the family loyally for years? For now as a member of one of many ‘wrong’ tribes he too is in danger.

This is a story of displacement, of having to take huge leaps of both faith and fear in order to move forwards. With vivid detail and heart breaking clarity Neema Shah paints a skilful picture of what it meant to be an Ugandan refugee, arriving in the middle of a British winter. Against each slight and knock back we see men and women fighting to both make a new life and hold on to their sense of identity, self and culture.

The characters in the novel maybe experiencing the same trauma but there is no stereotyping of pain or reaction. With well rounded brush strokes each character takes their own path and makes their own distinct choices. For Vijay, his youth and disability shape his reactions, in the same way Pran’s inability to let go of the past shape his .

But for me it was the female characters who really shone through this narrative. Asha is determined, determined not to look back or let her trauma shape the rest of her life. And her mother in law Jaya holds on to the best of what she left behind while struggling to adapt to their strange grey land that is 1970’s Britain.

There are many things I look for in a novel and teaching me about the world I think I know Is pretty high on that list. This episode in history was a complete blind spot for me. I knew nothing about it at all. This novel has opened my eyes, taught me new things and made me thirsty to know more.

As a debut this one is pretty special.

Rachel x

Book Review: Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan

Want a book with the wow factor? Something that is just going to pop on your reading palette? Then look no further than Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan! Published today by Sphere this book pushes all the boundaries and then some more.

Huge thanks to Millie Seaward for my gifted copy and the chance to read and review.

Violet is young, working for a start up art business and dreaming of bigger things. She is also reeling from a broken engagement and the fallout surrounding this. Without good friends or a supportive family, Violet feels like her life is going nowhere. Her self esteem is at rock bottom and her sexual encounters are unfulfilling at best.

A chance meeting at an art event with a woman who is everything Violet aspires to be seems to be the key to changing her life. Lottie, the woman in question and Simon her equally perfect husband offer Violet a job, a new lifestyle and so much more.

Through Simon and Lottie, Violet encounters the world of high class sex parties. But is this part of her sexual awakening, or hopeless, dark exploitation? Or some shade of both?

Violet’s story is an exploration of female desire, of what happens when boundaries are pushed and news worlds open up. There is both a strange air of empowerment and vulnerability in Violet’s story as her need and longing to be both desired and loved is laid bare. Through her rollercoaster of experiences Violet begins to realise that the two things are sometimes worlds apart.

Over the past year I have encountered a fair few ‘devour in a day’ books. Insatiable was a devour in an evening book. This is the kind of the book that makes the rest of life fade into the background, while the story bursts into your consciousness with an explosion of light and colour. A plot that races ahead of your brain, characters so alive you can touch them, this novel will provoke all kinds of emotions in the space of minutes.

It’s a novel full of humour, full of life, love and sex. In short it’s brimful of everything!!!

Rachel x

Book Review: Space Hopper by Helen Fisher

This is a novel unlike any other I have read in a very long time. Space Hopper by Helen Fisher published this month by Simon & Schuster is a heart warming novel that explores the human condition, the fragility of life, the importance of memory and the role faith, in all it’s forms, plays in our lives.

Space Hopper is a story all about the experiences in life which touch us all and it is a story wrapped in authenticity and love.

Let me introduce you to Faye. Faye is happily married, has two beautiful children, a fulfilling job and close friends. Life is good, more than good. But there is a hole in Faye’s life, worn and familiar but a hole none the less.

The death of her mother when Faye was just a girl still quietly haunts her. Her memories of her mother Jeanie are muted but precious and the loss has shaped her life and her outlook. So when a chance discovery and inexplicable circumstances mean that somehow Faye finds herself back in the past, her life is turned upside down.

Suddenly Faye has the unfathomable, amazing chance to spend time with her mother; to get to know the woman she really was and to try and find out the truth of what really happened all those years ago.

But time-travelling has it’s risks and Faye finds herself torn between the family she has created in the present and the desperate need for a mother’s love. Each journey back in time could spell disaster but each minute spent in the present only increases the longing she feels.

This is a story about grief, about moving forwards and about the pain we suffer to achieve this. It is also about faith and all the ways it touches our lives. The story and the events within it embrace the leaps of faith we take each day. Eddie, Faye’s husband is training to enter the clergy, her blind colleague Louis is continually putting his faith in the world around him just to survive, Faye herself has put her faith in the memories she has held all these years.

Faith is the glue that holds us together and faith is the engine driving this tale forward. With faith anything is possible.

This book will have you on the edge of your seat. It will play with your emotions, and raise all kinds of questions; questions you will inevitably ask of yourself. This is a book that makes you think; about the past, the present and the future, and the role we all play in shaping them.

And if like me, you are a child of the 70’s, this book will indulge and raise your sense of nostalgia for the past to mammoth proportions. Simply beautiful.

Rachel x

#BlogTour Review: The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

Yesterday, I kissed my husband for the last time.

Sometimes you pick up a book and the first line is absolute perfection. A line that is a hook that sinks in deep and refuses to let go. And that is exactly what happened when I settled down with Inga Vesper’s The Long, Long Afternoon published 4th February, by Bonnier Books.

It’s 1959, in the serene , immaculate suburb of Sunnylakes. Amongst the swimming pools, sprinklers and Sunday gatherings, a tragedy is brewing. Quietly and without warning Joyce Haney, model housewife and mother, vanishes without a trace. Her two frightened children are discovered by the black maid, Ruby. The girls are alone, blood is smeared across the modern, perfect kitchen and brand new baby clothes lie abandoned on the floor.

It is up to Detective Mick Blanke, an ex – NYC cop, to try and peel away the layers of perfection that surround this case and find out the truth that lurks beneath. Escaping his own gremlins , Mick sees this case as a way of atoning for past mistakes and is determined to get this case right.

But this case is anything but straightforward and it is quickly apparent that nothing and no one are what they first appear to be. And Mick is going to need whatever help he can get, however unconventional that maybe.

In Ruby, Mick recognises an intelligence and determination that belies the prejudice and horror she faces on a daily basis. Befriended and championed as she was by Joyce Haney, Ruby is desperate to find out the truth and is persuaded, at great personal risk to help the Detective put the pieces of this grisly jigsaw together.

Aided by Ruby’s unique insight into the homes of Sunnylakes Detective Mick Blanke examines the cast of characters that surround this case and probes deeper, asking questions and turning stones.

How devoted is Frank Haney to his missing wife? What exactly do the women discuss at Genevieve Crane’s Women’s Improvement Meetings? Why had Joyce befriended young Deena Klintz, so obviously from the wrong side of the tracks? Which of these perfect friends and neighbours really understand Joyce? And who is the mysterious Jimmy that has suddenly reappeared in her life?

This novel is populated by a cast of colourful and shifting characters, whose motives and emotions dance like fireflies before your eyes. There is a vibrancy to the dialogue, to the plotting and the atmosphere that makes this story impossible to leave. The telling of this tale is so authentic and evocative of the period and there is more than just the complex story of Joyce Haney evolving here.

This is web of stories; stories of the forgotten voices, of the past we try to out run, the prejudices we try to ignore, the facades we create and the lies we tell ourselves in order to move forward.

It is also the story of the people who dare to look behind the facade and to challenge the norm, to address the prejudice and to push the boundaries, even if that might bring the whole house of cards crashing down.

This books burst with life, emotion and most of all humanity. Thank you Tracy Fenton for my blog tour invite. This one was an absolute joy!


And there is more…

For other reviews and reactions, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BlogTourReview: A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago published on 4th February by Bloomsbury. Huge thanks to Ros Ellis for inviting me along…and without further ado let me take to the court of James I . But keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you!

From the first pages of this novel the prose is alive with intrigue, vibrancy and glorious detail. Each page leads us further and further into a court whether appearance is everything and alliances are made and broken in the blink of an eye.

This is the tale of courtiers and power, but our chief guides are Frankie, Frances Howard – Countess of Essex and her confidante, serving woman and friend Anne Turner. Thrown together through circumstance, both women are intelligent, cunning and ready to make the most of whatever opportunity comes their way.

Frankie is trapped in a loveless, abusive marriage to Robert Devereux. Desperate, first to please and then to escape her husband she uses Anne’s knowledge of fashion, apothecary and alchemy to help her.

Anne is a doctor’s wife, but is a business women in her own right, holding a patent to a fashionable yellow starch. But despite her intelligence she remains at the mercy of the fortunes of the rich and crucially the men in her life.

When the King’s favourite Sir Robert Carr catches Frankie’s eye the two women work together to gain the ultimate prize. But to do so they must take unimaginable risks and put everything they have on the line.

From the beginning of this story there is an air of tension, of dangerous games being played with high stakes, where the factions of court are built on the shifting sands of family ties and religion. Where fortunes constantly rise and fall and favourites of the Crown attract as many enemies as they do admirers.

Life at court is a one continual and dangerous game, where the stakes are high, and where women need to rely on what little power they have to keep ahead. For both Frankie and Anne their power lies in their sexuality, cunning and intelligence. And they will need all of this to advance their cause and ultimately stay alive.

This is a story of power, of betrayal but crucially of the friendship and compassion of women. With a cast of characters that are unforgettable, dripping with decadence and detail, and whose fortunes change in the blink of an eye.

Heartbreaking, beautiful and unforgettable.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more review and reactions to this glorious books, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

January round up … the longest month ever!

I have always hated January. There is just no getting away from the fact that it is dark, cold and ridiculously, almost supernaturally long. Add in another Covid lockdown and this month was destined to be a bit of a trial!

Books as always have been my salvation, my salvation and often my window on the world. So welcome to January’s round up; I hope you find something here to catch you eye.

I started the month with a very special book, special initially because it was given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends. Life in Pieces by Dawn O’Porter was a reflection on the authors time in lockdown with her young family in LA. There was much we could all identify with here; the sense of panic and disbelief, the fluctuation of emotions, the inability to stop eating or to remember which day it is. But there were also personal challenges too, because Dawn entered lockdown in a state of grief having lost her dear friend Caroline Flack to suicide just weeks before. This book is raw, heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes at the same time. A delightful first read of the year.

Next up was Old Bones by Helen Kitson , published this month by Louise Walters Books this is a delightful story of regret, loss and evolving friendships. You can fine my review here.

In fact this month has been an absolute gem for new releases and I am thrilled to have been able to read and review a fair few. Whether it’s the competitive world of snowboarding, found in the thriller Shiver by Allie Reynolds, the complexities of growing up in Catholic Ireland, The Rosary Garden by Nicola White or the beautiful and deadly beaches of Barbados, How the one armed sister sweeps her house by Cherie Jones the books published this month have literally had something for everyone.

Sticking with new releases, one of the patches of light in these strange dark days has been the opportunity to attend online book launches and events. It was a joy to see both Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden and Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden off on their publishing journeys.

I am thrilled, as always, to be supporting some cracking blog tours this year. Laura Purcell’s The Shape of Darkness was another perfect gothic offering, and next week I will be sharing my blog tour reviews of Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes and Inga Vespers A Long, Long Afternoon. Both very different books, but both completely immersive and vibrant in their own unique ways.

My month has been pretty fiction heavy this month as far as new releases are concerned. But Alexa, what is there to know about love by Brian Bilston was a delightful detour into poetry. Anyone who has spoken to me in real life this month has had this book continually and wholeheartedly recommended. And I have been making quite a bit of Twitter noise about it too.

My one and only non fiction book this month has been How to be a Refugee by Simon May. An incredible story of survival at any cost, you can find my Instagram review here.

And finally to two more books I have read but not reviewed. The first of my Daunt Books subscription books was Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor and it was a cracker! This is the tale of Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Bram Stoker. With Oscar Wilder and Jack the Ripper as bit players this book was just incredible!

And in a bid for just good old fashioned comfort reading I have persuaded my book group to read the first of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles The Light Years . I have been bathing in the warm glow of the audio book but also slightly dreading what will happen if my book friends don’t love these stories as much as me!!

And there ends January! Who knows what February has in store – but remember there are always books!

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview : The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

This is my first Blog Tour of 2021 and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be reviewing the latest novel from Laura Purcell. Let me introduce you to The Shape of Darkness, a glorious historical novel with just the right touch of gothic to keep you turning the pages, with each sentence unsettling you slightly more than the last.

Welcome to Bath of the late 1800’s. The spa and naval town is not quite as glamorous as once it was and there is air of abandonment hanging heavy in the air.

This is reflected in the footsteps of characters we follow. Agnes Darken, is a middle aged silhouette cutter, struggling to make ends meet. Her lover has deserted her years before but still she is quietly hoping for his return. References to past tragedy and illness add to the air of mystery and decay. Agnes’ concerns now centre around how to support her elderly mother and young orphaned nephew, Cedric . Her widowed brother in law Dr Simon Carfax, is a constant support but the memory of his wife, Agnes own sister Constance, is shrouded in secrecy and darkness.

And life suddenly takes an even darker turn when Agnes’ clients seem to be falling victim to murder, each case more gruesome and chilling than the last. Why are her clients being targeted in this way and are the people Agnes loves in danger from this unseen menace?

As Agnes becomes increasingly desperate and the boundaries between the real and the imagined become increasingly blurred, Agnes finds herself drawn to look for answers in the most unlikely of places.

Enter Myrtle and her young albino half sister Pearl. Having lost her mother at birth Pearl is left at the mercy of her own, forceful sister. Having moved to Bath for the health of her father, a victim of the notorious match factories which have left him maimed and dying, the sisters are making a living through the increasingly popular art of Spiritualism. But her increasingly powerful talent terrifies 11 year old Pearl and her world seems to be getting darker by the day.

When the world’s of Agnes and Pearl unexpectedly collide the scene is set for a gothic tale of unimaginable proportions.

Once again Laura Purcell has created a story that will keep the pages turning and your interest alive to the very last minute. Each detail, each turn of fate is woven skilfully into a plot that both chills and delights at every turn. The sense of family and bonds that bind is a recurring theme. The need for love, security and comfort is close to the hearts of both Agnes and Pearl, but their quest continues to take darker paths, each turn more desperate than the last.

When family is not the haven it should be, where will Agnes and Pearl find the protection and affection they need? And has the past finished with both of them or is the worst still to come?

In short Laura Purcell has, yet again produced a novel of true gothic beauty. If you are looking for something which will immerse you in delicious darkness this one is your winner.

And there is more…

Huge thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me along for the ride. And to read more reactions and reviews check out the rest of the tour, all dates and blogs listed below.

Book review: Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden.

I am starting this review with a confession. And perhaps an apology. I read this glorious and beautifully complex book quite a while ago. I have been meaning to review it ever since.

It has sat on my bedside table and I have looked at it every single day, most days I have picked up and turned the pages. Each time it’s brilliance has hit me again and again, each time I am remind of the skill and originality of the author. And each time I wonder how on earth I am going to find the words to do this one justice!

This week on 28th January Mrs Death Misses Death is published by Canongate and the time has come to get my review written and try and express how incredible it really is.

The premise of this book is in essence simple. Death is tired, battle weary and looking for rest. Death wants someone to listen to and tell their story. But Death is not who we might think they are. Death is not the skeletal, white male figure hanging around corners in a black hooded cloak. Death is a woman, a old black woman.

Let that sink in. One of the most underrepresented, under estimated and discriminated against personas in history is responsible for ushering life out of this world. She possesses the ultimate power.

And when we add in the fact that Mrs Death has a sister; a sister who holds the responsibility for birth and life, who takes control of the beginnings in the way her sister controls the endings, the sense of power grows, is all encompassing and overwhelming. These are two sisters in the ultimate symbiotic relationship, one bringing life into the world , one taking it away; making room for the next generation. And they are black. And they are female. And they are old.

After years of carrying this responsibility Mrs Death needs a confidante, someone who she can unburden her own grief to. But who is equal to this unimaginable task? Who can take on the confessions, doubts and torments accumulated by years of ending lives?

Chosen by Death herself is Wolf, at first glance an unlikely candidate. Wolf is a writer, struggling and troubled who has danced with Death before in a number of ways. But now the connection is cemented and as Wolf clings to life and sometimes sanity by the slimmest of margins, with Death’s own desk as the platform for their work, the two troubled souls begin a journey through the past, present and future.

Through a work of complexity and richness, where we dance through a huge showcase of techniques and devices, each perfectly chosen, a whole range of subjects are explored.

Here death itself is laid bare. Mrs Death is complex. She possesses compassion and humanity, alongside a finality and ruthlessness The text forces us into a simple confrontation of death. It forces us to consider how we reassess a life when death occurs, to understand the process of grief and the pain that accompanies it.

And yet this work is more about more than Death. This is about life in all it’s glorious and terrible forms. This is a novel that challenges you to consider the wider human condition. To philosophise on the subjects of sex, gender, race. To look back in time at events we think we understand and see them with fresh eyes, to take a different perspective and challenge ourselves. To consider the endless cycle of life and death, of greed and consumption, of love and hate, of mental well-being and mental illness. To consider just how far we have come and have far we still have to go in all kinds of ways; in compassion, in kindness and in equality. As Wolf grapples with the huge questions and concepts that soar around and above us, that defy explanation and definition, we, as readers, grapple with them too.

This book is the personification of writing as therapy. Through our potentially unreliable narrators we are taken on a complex, compelling and sometimes shifting journey. Filled with equal shares of humour and pathos this is a novel to be absorbed. A single reading will be delightful but not enough. This is a text for life, to be enjoyed but to be studied. To be embraced and then discussed. And never to be forgotten.

Rachel x

Book review: The Rosary Garden by Nicola White

One of the absolute pleasures of book blogging is when someone send a ‘new-to-me’ author my way. And this is exactly what happened when Miranda Jewess sent me a copy of The Rosary Garden by Nicola White, published this week by Viper.

Set in Dublin in the mid 80’s, a teenage girl finds the body of a new born baby in the grounds of her Convent School. Just on the cusp of leaving a life filled with restriction, her future shimmering ahead of her Ali Hogan is suddenly pulled back into a past she had almost forgotten. And it threatens to hold her there.

Because this isn’t the first dead baby that Ali has discovered. Years before, hard on the heels of the death of her father Ali found a scrap of a newborn on Christmas Day in her Aunt’s farmhouse. Concealed from view then, it hasn’t been spoken of since.

Now current events are stirring up the past, and it’s ripples are felt throughout a number of close knit huddles. Through the Convent, through Ali’s own family and friendship group, and through the tight community in the home town of Buleen.

But the truth is hard to come by, for this Ireland of the 1980’s, where the voice of the Catholic Church rings loud, where illegitimate babies are not discussed and alternative solutions need to be found. But never divulged. And for Detective Vincent Swan these issues are very close to home.

This is a case that threatens to run away with the lives of all involved and suddenly Ali’s world is turned upset down, as her role in the tragedy comes under the harshest of spotlights. What exactly is Ali’s role in this crime and how can anyone be persuaded to break their silence?

In this novel it is true the past meets the present but the issues remain the same. Within the narrative we find a sensitive, authentic exploration of the women’s rights. With skill the issues of contraception, the intervention and power of the church, societal pressures and so much more are woven into a compelling and compulsive novel.

So much more than a crime novel, this book tackles difficult issues head on and will open up debate. Highly recommended.

Rachel x

Book Review: How the one-armed sister sweeps her house by Cherie Jones

How the one-armed sister sweeps her house is a novel alive with with warnings. From the long established local tale about a disobedient girl that Wilma tells her granddaughter, to the fate of Tone, a young man who has been up against it his who life, the sense of a cautionary tale is never lost.

This is a story whose intensity hits you from the off and is maintained throughout. This is the story of Barbados, or more specifically a town on the beach. A town of stark constraints, where tourists occupy sprawling beach front villas, but where poverty, drug abuse and violence stalk the local community.

Here is the story of three women. Wilma, married young and having endured years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Unable to protect her daughter from her own father, Wilma has raised her granddaughter Lala. With the iron rod and tales of despair Wilma has tried to keep Lala close.

But Lala falls in love. She too marries young and finds herself trapped in the same cycle of abuse that her grandmother and mother have experienced. The story begins with traumatic premature birth of her daughter, born on the night when Adan her husband kills a white man in a robbery gone wrong. Baby’s life is short, but it is the catalyst for a series of events tinged with a desperate inevitably.

Mira is the wife of the man who Adan shot. A local girl who has married in to wealth, who is grieving not just the loss of her husband, but her own longing to be a mother, the loss of her step children and the fact she never got the chance to tell her husband how she felt.

The lives of these three women have their differences but all are intertwined. Each life is a struggle. All have experienced extreme poverty, all know what it is like to want the world to be different, to have the briefest taste of your dreams only to have them snatched away. Each women is fighting daily for her life, in a system, a society that seems riddled with violence and oppression. Each leads a life where domestic violence is the norm rather than the exception and where mothers are teaching their daughters to survive rather than leave.

Each of these women make sacrifices to ensure their own survival. Each is faced with terrible choices, that aren’t really choices at all. The power of this society seems to lie with the men, and women are fighting from the bottom up.

But there is power and hope in these women’s stories. They are smart, they are watchful and they take their chances where they can. As the novel reaches it’s climax there is a sense that better things may be in reach.

This tale is told in words so electric, so vibrant that they sing from the page. The sense of place is tangible from the start. These characters move seamlessly through a world so real you can feel the heat of the sun and the sand between your toes. There is pain and desperation but also humour, humanity, and a real connection with these characters, which leaves you immersed and invested. Each small detail, each back story gives the story motivation and credibility. It is a story whose power gathers momentum with each turn of the page.

How the one-armed sister sweeps her house is published today, 21st January 2021 by Tinder Press. I feel privileged to have a chance to read and review this powerful and beautifully hard hitting novel. Watch this one closely, it is on a path to greatness.

Rachel x