Monday, 30 September 2019

Sleep - C.L.Taylor

Taylor’s dual persona appeals to the gemini in me but I confess that Sleep is the first of her books I have read either as Cally Taylor or C.L.Taylor. However she has been a writer on my radar for some time. Thus I was delighted to review a copy of Sleep from Readers First.

I read it almost in one sitting. Somehow I feel that is a compliment for a writer. It suggests the unputdownable which IS a compliment! Creating an atmosphere redolent of Agatha Christie with And Then There Were None seven guests on a remote island, and, Anna, our protagonist so suffused with guilt she can’t sleep, all combine to create a thriller that has you second and third guessing, suspecting everyone on two legs and rarely reaching the right conclusions.

I love how writers of psychological thrillers have that ability to manipulate their readers. On several occasions here we are ‘persuaded’ of one thing only to find that it is not so and we stagger back in amazement at how we could have made what turns out to be an assumption without any real basis. As the story unfolds and the denouement becomes clear you berate yourself for being so horribly wrong. All the necessary clues are there but you follow the wrong line of thinking willingly! It’s very clever and C.L.Taylor shows herself to be a master of finagling the reader!

But a good thriller needs to be multifaceted and here all of the seven hotel guests have their own stories and secrets for us to unravel and decide what bearing they might have on Anna. And Alex, Anna’s ex boyfriend, what part does he have to play in this? No one escapes our mantle of suspicions which, I suspect, is exactly what Ms. Taylor wants from her readers! The book is peppered with some flawed and blemished people. Their foibles turn out to be quite fascinating and offer some tangential lines of thought and considerations. 

But of course we are more than happy to have our thoughts and ideas messed with as long as the conclusions are satisfying and believable. Without that the thriller loses its momentum and the reader feels cheated. So, what happens with Sleep I hear you ask? Read it and see!! I’ve given you all the clues!

Another compliment for a writer is whether the reading of one of their books  sends the reader scuttling off to seek out more. So? Will I be seeking out more of C.L.Taylor’s books? It’s a ‘Yes’ from me!

Saturday, 28 September 2019

The Testaments - Margaret Atwood

‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’

Many have referenced the hype and publicity campaign surrounding the publication of this book. But I hardly think a book like this needs much help! I think it sold itself from the very first announcement of a sequel to The Handmaids Tale. Anyone who has read and revered that would surely have devoured it  regardless of hype. I know I have. I was driven by curiosity in part. The burning question for me surrounded the motivation of the author primarily. What would persuade you to write a sequel  to a novel first published in the eighties and that has a been a catalyst for a three series TV show of the same name? You might be tempted to say money and sales, surely? Exploit the situation to your own advantage? And if the author were anyone other than Margaret Atwood I’d probably cynically be nodding my head in agreement. But for a writer of her integrity, critical success and back catalogue I felt there had to be something else. I definitely wanted there to be! 

For me The Handmaids Tale was a landmark in dystopian, no, sorry, speculative fiction and re reading it in a) the wake of series one of the TV show and b) Trump’s America  the prophetic qualities were chilling. Here's what I thought if you're interested -

There’s much a TV show cannot represent from a work of fiction especially some of the structure and nuances of narrative and I thought that was apparent when seeking an immediate comparison between book and TV show. However reading The Testaments I feel the book owed much to the TV show! It’s made me wonder how great was Atwood’s contribution to series two and three and it’s made me question, yet again, my memory of the Handmaids Tale! I feel sure there are situations referred to in The Testaments that do not occur in HT but in the TV show. It feels odd to say that. And I will stress that it may be my ageing memory. Atwood has this to say in her acknowledgments - ‘The television series has respected one of the axioms of the novel: no event is allowed into it that does not have a precedent in human history.’ And if that isn’t food for thought for readers and viewers alike I don’t know what is! Talking of food - Blessed be the Fruit. 

But I’m also questioning how to approach any kind of relevant review since it is the book not the TV series I need to focus on. But I’m damned if I can rid myself of Ann Dowd’s face when I’m reading. It all seems to fit together so well. I wish I’d read both books without seeing the wretched TV show! I think I could be more objective about the book. Thank goodness, I enjoy a challenge!! 

 I don’t want to give anything away. Bur the twist as I see it is delicious!! Structurally no surprises here as in HT the testimonies are clear and dominate from the start. And it’s pretty much straightforward story telling of what happens in and out of Gilead several years after the conclusion of HT. That simple, huh? Not really, for at the back of your mind you continue to consider all that’s happening in the world today, politically and within the world of feminism that the book is almost a fabled commentary on our world today. It’s left to the reader to form conclusions and ask questions. One or two maxims that resonate with me -

The inventor of the mirror did few of us any favours: we must have been happier before we knew what we looked like.

You don’t believe the sky is falling into the chunk of it falls on you.’

I thoroughly enjoyed The Testaments. As a story, well paced, brisk even, an underlying sense of urgency, anger almost or maybe that is too strong.  It was broader in concept with the voices of more than one character whereas HT offers us Offred’s only. We see it all through her eyes. The Testaments may present as more accessible and appealing to a wider readership in terms of style and the connection with the show. The really strong characterisation was Aunt Lydia which seemed to be the only character where Atwood delves a little deeper. I found myself looking forward to her ‘bits’ more. Was the book what I was expecting? No, I don’t think it was.But then again I don’t know what i was expecting. Maybe that was part of the attraction.  I guess my familiarity with HT and GIlead diluted some of the impact. But I don’t seem to be able to jump off the fence and be critical. I do have to question whether it justifies a Booker nomination though. For I don’t think it achieves the heights that Handmaids Tale did or has. I think it serves to show just how great that book is. I know there are some people questioning whether a sequel was even ’needed’ . That’s up to the writer, no one has to read it do they? As readers we make the choice to do so. Something else that has occurred to me as somehow ironic were the publicity screenings simultaneously in goodness knows how many cinemas of Margaret Atwood talking about the book. It seemed a very Gilead thing to do! One step away from it being beamed to all homes!!??

I think I’ll have to conclude by admitting a large degree of uncertainty. I brought too much to this book before I even started to read it to believe that I can do a half decent job of commenting on it. But it sure as hell has got people talking! 

Friday, 27 September 2019

The Community - Joe Hakim

A debut novel, a sci fi theme with some observations regarding the state of certain areas of our society and the vulnerabilities of some groups within that society all conspire to offer a compelling story of an unusual event that binds a group of friends together from school days to adulthood. The contrast of their apparently simple, youthful lives with their complicated adult lives is stark as some of them disintegrate into the pitfalls of modern day temptations like drugs and gambling.

If you’re old like me you might recall a brilliant film from the 1970’s called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Whilst this story in no way seeks to emulate the premise of that film the idea of a collective consciousness endures and is well served here. If you have an interest in the possibility of life originating from beyond this planet this book will appeal to you. I have my own thoughts and opinions about such matters which I’m not keen to go into here, maybe another time, another blogpost, but some are explored in this fiction. But it is very much the debut novel, that’s not a criticism it’s an observation, because debut novels are often a delight with the exuberance of a writer finding their feet, paddling in the sea of storytelling prior to their dive into the ocean of oeuvre.

I feel it’s a character driven book with each of the group of friends having their own stories and their own voices. In many cases their own voices representing a regional vernacular that may or may not be representative. I can cuss with the best of them but I did feel there was one ‘fuck’ too many at times. Notwithstanding it’s a well paced narrative structured into ‘Phases’ and chapters together with some creative font use to emphasise the difference between the ‘Phases’ and the chapters. 

I think the book does intend to compare our current society, the bleaker side of it maybe, with the potential of an otherworldly perspective and view. There’s a paradox of sorts that make alien intervention a welcome proposition?  But I dislike the word ‘alien’, it’s too sci fi and comic book if you’re looking at the subject from a more serious perspective. 

It’s a promising debut offering food for thought and propelling us towards considering the prospect of an alien controlling presence and the impact that might have for good, or bad. ’They will fill the void within us all’ is the oft repeated tagline from the narrative. And if you’re looking for a meaty sci fi/ alien/ horror story this might fill your void. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Sea Cloak and Other Stories - Nayrouz Qarmout

This is an absorbing collection of eleven short stories with a common theme of life as a Palestinian in Gaza. I’ll be honest and admit that those words seem to belong behind the windows of politics and i have a habit of drawing the blinds down on them. So a collection like this is essential for one such as myself who can sometimes fail to acknowledge the reality of the humanity behind the politics. You see and hear words on the news, an all too brief report, the snatch of a survivor account, people weeping at some atrocity but how deeply does it resonate in these times of media overload? I am humbled by this book for one thing it has done is to exploit my ignorance. 

But what else has it done? The first thing is I ‘forgot’ is that the stories are all in translation such is the superb job that translator Perween Richards and (Charles Bredin who translated the first story) have done. Yet you never forget the stories are of Palestinian lives. I enjoyed the balance of the stories that as a collection acknowledge the part that history plays in any conflict anywhere. Here there are stories of the past and of the now. There are stories of people trying to go about their daily lives against a backdrop of conflict and uncertainty that our comfortable selves cannot comprehend. The innocence and vulnerability of children living in conflict zones will pull at your heart. The bonding of families, sibling loyalties, terrorist indifferences insist you run the gamut of emotion. 

As a reviewer a short story collection can be a tricky one to review for you almost want to detail each story you’ve read extolling the virtues of all. It is slightly easier when there is such a strong thematic connection as there is here. I think that what struck me reading all the stories is the honesty that pervades them all, telling it how it is. There’s a sense of the writer taking us by the hand and inviting us to not just explore her world but to experience and understand the complexity of belief and emotion invested in a cultural ethnicity far removed from our own daily lives. But more broadly there is a feminist thread that runs through many of the stories that are not functional because of Gaza or being Palestinian but because of being a woman and subject to dogma and outdated traditions. Questions are raised for us to ponder. 

Highlights? That’s hard. There are no low lights! I particularly enjoyed Pen and Notebook exploring sibling responsibility and loyalty that will make you laugh and cry. The Long Braid - feminism and religion - was another favourite of mine. There was a point at which I wondered whether all of these stories were true? The writing is so convincing and strong, descriptions and characterisations so powerful you’re almost convinced the writer has lived all of them in her time. For such a slender volume this collection packs quite a punch, barely a hundred pages yet there’s a depth emanating from it that a book three times the length might not possess. 

I am indebted to Nudge Books for the opportunity to, maybe experience, rather than ‘merely’ read these stories. 

Monday, 23 September 2019

Mud - Chris McCabe

“Waiter! This coffee tastes like mud.
Very likely, sir, it was only ground this morning.”

I go with gut instinct, going with the flow is old hat. Send me a book. I'll read it. I'll review it. If I can. But this book will review itself, it doesn’t need me. it doesn’t need anyone, except open minds and hearts with spaces to be filled by its words and ideas. Hear this book and listen to Offenbach.  Heart this book. Watch this book and imagine a film, an animation. Heart this book. Hold this book and feel in your hands a perfectly sized collection of word jewellery, real not costume, pearls not swine.  Heart this book. Devour this book and taste its wits and wisdoms. Heart this book. Smell this book and know the glorious sensation of fresh, damp, fertile mud. Heart this book. See buttercups.

When is a novel not a novel. When it is Mud. When is a fiction not a fiction? When it exists more as an art installation to be experienced as well as read. Mud is clay is pottery and sculpture and this book has sat upon the poetry potter’s wheel and rests, kiln fired, in my hands. 

Oh, but there must be some convention maybe? You need to know more? I will tell you in a bubble of blurbishness straight from the Amazonian word forest - 
Borak and Karissa must find a bubble of air buried in the mud, somewhere beneath Hampstead Heath, to end their relationship. On their descent into London's Underworld they are followed by a film crew and its odious Director, documenting their quest as they scour 24 types of mud for an ending. As they chance upon bones, bricks and talking moles, they must restrain themselves from throttling each other, and falling in love all over again. Chris McCabe's macabre version of Orpheus and Eurydice brings its themes into the present day.’

That’s it, in a mudslide, no nut shells here.  There you are. That’s it. No, it isn’t. It’s more. Borak is a wizard. (Are we back to pottery? No, Harry, no.)  Borak is not the greatest wizard when it comes to tricks. Nor is he the greatest trick when it comes to love. But we are looking at a Greek legend. It can’t be changed, it can’t be altered. It can only be modernised, retold with emails and callers on the line and Tinder and lost unicorns and talking moles and music . And sweet Karissa in the underworld of mud. Aren’t we all struggling through our own mudworlds ? So let this book accompany you? On your Tiger Feet. It’s funny and it’s witty and it’s profound and it’s sad.   It's also supposedly "the oddest book of the year". Define odd?  Whatever odd is, I  need odd. We all need odd. Odd does me.  I don’t do spoilers but this book cannot be spoilt. It would be impossible to spoil a book such as this. 

I’m old. Flanders and Swann - 

‘Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me, follow, down to the hollow
And there let us wallow in glorious mud

Wallow in the book. Forever. I heart this book.

Thank you so much, Henningham Family Press, for this copy. 

Sunday, 22 September 2019

The Weighing of the Heart - Paul Tudor Owen

Delighted to be part of the LoveBooksGroup blog tour for this impressive debut novel. My thanks to Kelly at #LoveBooksTours and Obliterata Press for the opportunity. 

Well, the way to my heart is to send me a signed copy! I’m a sucker for them. Gives me a lovely warm, fuzzy feeling because I know that the actual writer has held this actual copy in his fair hand and written in it for me! That’s always a good omen, so thank you, Paul!

Deceptively slender at ‘only’ 241 pages this debut novel is a perfect example of quality not quantity. It’s prose that’s economic but it’s without omission so the overall sense is one of richness and substance. It’s a finely woven plot that had me thinking firstly, Patricia Highsmith, with that way she had of allowing her characters to follow what, to the reader, was clearly the wrong path and letting events spiral out of control almost, and secondly, Salinger, and but maybe any other writer who's come up with a ‘good’ New York story. By good I mean that indefinable way that the city becomes an additional character almost and interacts with the human characters in the story as it does here with Nick Braeburn, an english apple, a little pip, in the Big Apple. Having been to New York several times many of the locations were familiar to me and I find that so satisfying because I think it offers me an ‘added extra’ if you will! But to those readers unfamiliar with the city that never sleeps it can only whet your appetites for a trip there. This author knows the city and knows it well and he understands it too. I was transported back to the smells and the sounds and the throb of that pulsing metropolis. 

Thematically this book follows the current trend of art themed fictions, I’m thinking novels like Tom Rachman’s The Italian Teacher, Marcia Hummel’s Still Lives and Barbara Bourland’s Fake Like Me to name a few. The author has sound knowledge of the NYC art scene from the creative perspective and from the economic perspective. But this isn’t just an art novel. I’m treading on eggshells here because I don’t want to give anything away but referring back to the cover blurb let’s just say that the reference to an Egyptian painting is crucial and fundamental to the entire story on various levels. And Egyptology buffs will have honed in on the title and hopefully had their appetites whetted. It’s marvellously sustained throughout the story and offers some moral considerations. The themes are balanced and work in harmonious tandem. But for me this is a book that will not sit down and be pigeonholed into any specific genre. Good! Reading it becomes a tantalising prospect before you even begin. Crime? Obsession? Art? Egyptology? Legends and scarabs. As you read you ponder the how, whys and wheres. You consider the enigma of the human being.

The main characters are well drawn and believable from Nick and Lydia to the marvellously eccentric Peacock sisters, (I'd read an entire novel about these wonderful ladies!) Told from the first person viewpoint of Nick we’re only told what he wants to tell us, we only know what he thinks, we don’t know if it’s true. Is he very quietly obsessive?  However we are given clues as to his state of mind, it’s all very subtle and implicit. There was one point where I thought the editor had failed in his duties or the printing had gone awry but a close examination and reread of the text suggested it was yet another clue as to our hero’s psyche. The flawed narrator is one of the most exciting devices in modern literature and Owen uses it to good effect here.  We can feel Nick's emotion as if we are feeling it ourselves. But would we make the decisions he makes? Reader? Over to you!

This is a laudable debut. It’s tight, muscular writing with some balanced and contrasting  characterisations. I read many debut novels. I’ve enjoyed many debut novels. But every once on a while you read one and then find yourself really excited about the authors next ‘nondebut’ novel. (As an aside since I read the book I noticed it had been nominated for  the Not the Booker prize. Pretty good going for a debut.....I rest my case).

But that's just my opinion. My fellow bloggers all have their takes on the book too. Please do check them out. 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Whispers Through a Megaphone - Rachel Elliott

Published in 2015 and long listed for the Bailey’s Womens Prize for fiction in 2016 this is Rachel Elliott’s first novel. I sought it out because Do Not Feed the Bear blew me away. I reviewed it here - There is always the risk when you really enjoy a book by an author and eagerly seek out their previous work that the same heights won’t be reached. I suppose if I’m honest I enjoyed ‘…Bear’ more but that’s not to say that I didn’t love this book too. I read it in almost one sitting!! But I guess that stylistically and thematically the parallels with ‘Bear’ are obvious so it was kinda like an extension, if that makes sense. 

I love what Elliott does with people, she exposes the paradox of apparent, potential normality with quirky flaws. Somehow in her books flawed and quirky people find each other and forge some meaning into their lives that is positive and uplifting. I wish I could be in one of her books and live happily ever after! But that’s not to say that the fictional journey is all whistles and bells and smiles and laughter, no, there’s some moving and tearful moments. But there’s always an optimism.

‘You treated me like a normal person,’ says Miriam the ‘heroine’ of ‘Megaphone’ at one point which had me tearful.

Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years and speaks in a whisper. The reason aren’t instantly apparent until you read the book and discover her history which breaks your heart. I suppose its possible to summarise the other characters by saying they all have unresolved pasts that, had they acted differently, would have redefined their presents. This book shows what happens when people retrace their steps and try to acknowledge their true natures. It also shows what happens when a concealed past is revealed. Such occurrences could be explosive and damaging but you feel that characters are safe in Rachel Elliott’s hands. I could see similarities between the characters in both of Ms. Elliott’s books. books. Somehow I found this comforting. 

One of the features of ‘Bear’ was the extraordinary maxims that peppered the prose with their pertinence and accuracy. I think I ‘overquoted’ in that review so I will try and rein myself in here!

‘A memory is a minefield. The mind is a war zone. So many of us at war with ourselves.’

‘I was thinking about how you don’t always see yourself, “he said. “You don’t see yourself as a real person. So if you put this somewhere in your house, you can’t forget that you exist and we can see you. “ ( Acharacter has given Mriam a carved wooden doll of herself.)

I think what Rachel Elliott does is to show that no matter how different you feel, no matter how much you exist on the periphery of life there is actually a place for you somewhere and people for you somewhere. She also demonstrates the courage it is possible to find when trying to face life’s burdens and confusions. She does it with wit and eloquence. 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Single Journey Only - Ursula Owen

'Words can change lives.’

Thus says Ursula Owen speaking of her experiences with therapy. But it’s a maxim that goes deeper and beyond therapy, the spoken word and the written word. I wonder how many bibliophiles among us can run our fingers along our bookshelves and instantly pick out those green spined tomes of Virago books. I also wonder how many of us ever considered the genesis of such a publishing house? I didn’t! I just knew that Virago published some damn fine books that I wanted to read! That omission has now been rectified. In this honest and eloquent memoir Ursula Owen details her life from child refugee to daughter, sibling, feminist, wife, lover, mother, grandmother, publisher at Virago books and more. 

Single Journey Only succinctly details a life lived to the full and offers a frank discourse on those feelings and events that shaped that life. Unafraid of emotion Owen speaks of those confusing days fleeing Germany as the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ gets underway. She bares her soul over the witnessing of her mother's mental deterioration and her father’s ostensibly stiff upper lip attitude to parenting. It’s moving stuff and the reader can only admire Ursula’s resilience.

But more than a personal story this memoir also documents the rise and spread of feminism in the UK. It’s fascinating reading from someone right in the heart of the movement. Absorbing too are the chapters that detail the rise of Virago as a potent force within publishing, the dynamics between its personnel and the anecdotes about some of their authors including Margaret Atwood and an amazing story of Maya Angelou, YES! Maya Angelou, assisting the author in stopping a choking fit when a piece of steak became stuck in Owen’s throat! 

Something I found most extraordinary was an affirmed desire to assimilate, conform and belong but in many ways eschewing protocols and presenting as quite non conformist. There is a passage towards the conclusion of the book that strikes to the heart of anyone interested in identity, how we ultimately become who we are,

‘I grew up in a German Jewish family whose history was profoundly altered by anti-Semitism, war and migration. I grew up with a mother who struggled with madness; I was a girl anxious to please, compliant, conformist, passionately wanting to belong, to be part of what I thought was Englishness. I lived through extraordinary times, in England and other countries. I learned something about resilience and  fighting my corner. Becoming a woman in these times, I slowly discovered that I was in some ways inevitably an outsider. And that being an outsider has its advantages.’

Elsewhere in the book Owen opines that she had never thought of herself a writer! I beg to differ! Some memoirs can be such dry ,self aggrandising affairs but nowhere does Own fall into that trap. Her candor is one of the features that makes this such a readable memoir of a most fascinating lady. It makes you want to get out there and live your life whatever your age!

My thanks to Emma Dowson and Salt publishing for a copy of this book. 

Friday, 6 September 2019

The Wayward Girls - Amanda Mason

A debut novel, a ghostly flavour with a ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ structure The Wayward Girls explores the dynamics of a family forced into disarray by some supernatural happenings. It doesn’t have a totally original premise but there is a reasonably unique twist. I found it overlong if I’m honest, so slap on the wrist to the editor! 

But there is a complex web of relationships drawn that render this more than a mere ghost story. Looking at things from a child’s perspective and then that adult child was intriguing. A now and then maternal relationship too, is explored.  In fact there is a complexity to nearly all the characters which is quite unusual since invariably there are one or two characters in a novel who remain merely functional. I didn’t feel that so here. They were all substantial people with tangled agendas and emotional dilemmas.

I’m not usually a fan of ghost/horror tales so I approached the book with a little trepidation and wondered if it was going to unnerve me but I didn’t find it that scary. I have dabbled a little into the realms of spiritualism and experienced  mediums and chatted with them. Maybe that diluted my potential ‘fear’ . But it does offer some food for thought. 

I did experience a modicum of disappointment as the denouement seemed to reveal a straightforward explanation but……… But what? You think I’m going to tell you?! Oh no, you have to read this for yourself. 

Thanks to Real Readers for a copy of this debut novel from Amanda Mason

Monday, 2 September 2019

Something to Live For - Richard Roper

I won this book! In a giveaway! You know the kind of thing on social media, you follow, like, share retweet etc and your name goes into a draw. I don’t know how they do the draws but however they do it my name came up for this book and it made me very happy to win something. 

Coincidentally, given the theme of the book, there was a discussion on social media about love stories for men. It wasn’t anything I’d considered but I guess there’s a dearth of them? But if we are getting ‘gendery’ about fiction this might fit the bill as a love story for men. That’s not to say its exclusive, I mean I’ve read it happily. It’s a book for anyone but it’s kind of ‘dudelit’ as opposed to ‘chicklit’.

This is a charming, easy and ultimately uplifting story. Inspired by the author’s awareness of council workers who have cases of people who have died alone often leaving few clues about their next of kin and whilst there is no contractual requirement to do so these workers often attend the funeral of the person so that they have somebody there. 

The hero of our tale, Andrew, is one of those council workers and immediately the sense of him as a caring individual is set from the first page of the book. Andrew likes model trains and Ella Fitzgerald. He seems to do his job competently and is assiduous and supportive to a new colleague, Peggy, when his quirky boss Cameron assigns him to be shadowed by her. Andrew appears to be a regular guy, with his wife and couple of kids. However, not all is at it seems but I would be a spoilsport to tell you too much more!

For me it offered a similar vibe to Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare and could be assigned to the ‘uplit’ genre. But there are some teary moments and I’ll confess my eyes leaked a couple of times. There’s something a tad hapless about Andrew and more than once I wondered if he was somewhere on the spectrum. But as the book progresses so does Andrew in so many ways. There’s a delightful sequence where he enlists the aid of some online friends from a model railway forum. 

Andrew and Peggy are almost polar opposites but that dynamic is such that they get on very well and offer some light hearted moments as well as some soul searching ones. The other characters just about avoid being stereotypical or caricatures. But it’s Andrew who gets our focus and our loyalty. He develops as a person and  he comes to a new realisation by the conclusion of the book. 

It's a straightforward narrative chronologically with any past reveals offered as dialogue exchanges within the novel. It has a comfortable flow and does not present as an obvious debut novel. There's an element of predictability about it but perversely it actually needs to be! It wouldn't be 'uplit' if it wasn't! 

Thanks to @BooksAnd_Tweets (Orion Book) for my prize.