Tag Archives: relationship

Review: ‘Have You Seen Her’ by Lisa Hall

Nanny Anna only takes her eyes off Laurel for a second, thinking Laurel was following her mum through the crowds. But in a heartbeat, Laurel is gone.

Laurel’s parents are frantic. As is Anna. But as the hours pass, and Laurel isn’t found, suspicion grows. Someone knows what happened to Laurel but they’re not telling.

My mum recommended ‘Have You Seen Her‘ to me and I could not put it down. The narrative is simple yet effective, sucking the reader in. 

Set in a small village, ‘Have You Seen Her‘ explores the reaction of a community after a child goes missing. Sadly, it seemed an all-too-familiar scenario which added some realism to the story. 

Alongside evocative descriptions of place, Hall’s exploration of her characters sets up a great mystery where anyone could be guilty. I thought her descriptions of Laurel’s parents and their relationship were particularly strong.

Have You Seen Her‘ is the first of Lisa Hall’s novels that I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Black Summer’ by M.W. Craven

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘. 

I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.

The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark. 

One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of . 

M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger. 

Vic x

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x 

Review: ‘This Family of Things’ by Alison Jameson

Bird Keegan, a lonely farmer, and his two sisters have lived an isolated existence in the same community their whole lives but when Midge O’Connor – a young woman abused by her drunken father – appears, his world is disrupted beyond his wildest imagination. By taking in Midge, Bird is mocked by his sisters and neighbours. Despite bringing one another consolation, the pair’s relationship is thrown into doubt by the influence of others.

Alison Jameson’s prose captures the reader’s attention with this story of love and redemption. The lives of the three siblings are explored with sensitivity. The isolation and misery are represented skillfully. Jameson’s writing features some very powerful imagery as well as excellent descriptions. I could really imagine the setting thanks to the author’s florid language. The multi-layered characters are examined in a thoughtful manner.

Fans of Kate Kerrigan will like ‘This Family of Things.

Vic x

Review: ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’ by Ben Hatch

Ever fancied upping sticks and travelling around the UK with your family while researching attractions for a travel book? I bet many of you have but one man who really did is Ben Hatch.

Ben and his wife Dinah were approaching forty with little work and money drying up and so decided, after a deal with an American publishing house, to pack their two kids into their Vauxhall Astra to travel the country hunting out child-friendly attractions as well as fun for the adults. Perhaps this was a naive idea considering they were taking two year-old Charlie and three year-old Phoebe.

As a twenty-something non-parent, I wondered how I would react to ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’. Would it make me never want to procreate? I haven’t had a UK holiday since I was seven and I wondered what this book would have to offer me. After reading this book, there are plenty of places I’d like to visit and it definitely reinforced to me the joys (and tribulations) of parenting.

It is important to note that ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’ is not their guidebook. That said, it does mention plenty of UK attractions. That’s more to give you an idea of the setting for the dramas that occur.

‘Are We Nearly There Yet’ catalogues a five-month trip that is heart-warming and funny. There’s drama as well as comedy and I frequently found myself laughing aloud at Hatch’s anecdotes. The book also chronicles Hatch’s father’s final few months of life – and Hatch’s feelings about this. There were plenty of tears as well as laughs. This book is a lovely tribute to his father, Sir David Hatch.

Whilst reading this book, I felt inspired to do something similar which is something I would never usually consider.

Even though Hatch doesn’t sugar-coat the realities of travelling with two small children, he does paint the picture of a happy family who, most of the time, adore each other. The kids are full of character and Ben and Dinah’s relationship is a wonderful inspiration. She’s scared of turtles, he’s a hypochondriac – what could go wrong? This book is a no-holds-barred account of parenthood, marriage and travelling.

It is one of the best books I have read in ages.

Vic x

Britney: how can she know any better?

I have a shameful secret, I am a Britney Spears fan. She has had a lot of ups and downs during her 13 year career in music but I do love the music she produces.

We all know the story of Britney, the girl from America who took the world by storm aged just fifteen, dressed as a schoolgirl in her video for ‘Baby, One More Time’; the girl who’s been married twice and has two kids who she doesn’t have full custody of. Possibly the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Britney is the bald girl who had a breakdown, who we watched on the news being stretchered out of her home and who then played cat and mouse with paps she thought were her friends. It’s a sad story in many ways.

I have to admit that her work schedule concerns me somewhat. I went to see her during the ‘Onyx Hotel Tour’ in 2004 not long after her marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander was annulled. I next saw her in 2009 on her ‘Circus’ comeback tour. She puts on a great show but in 2009 I worried that she wasn’t choosing to go on the stage, she was put there by her father and her manager, Larry Rudolph despite her fragile mental state. I also feel that, despite stricter vetting processes for staff since her father’s conservatorship took effect, some people will still try to make money off the back of Britney.

And now someone else is trying to cash in on her. Former bodyguard, Fernando Flores, is seeking $10 million for psychological damages after claiming he was subject to ‘unwanted sexual advances’. Wow, he must be the only guy in the world who didn’t want Britney to come onto him. But in all seriousness, if these allegations are true – how could Britney know any better after being taught how to be nothing other than a sexual object for almost half of her life?

Let’s study some of her videos as examples:

  1. ‘Baby, One More Time’: Britney becomes an overnight sensation thanks to a navel-baring school uniform and pigtails.
  2. ‘Oops, I Did It Again’: The red catsuit, need I say more?
  3. ‘Don’t Let Me Be The Last to Know’: By now, even Britney’s ballads require her to wear bikinis and to snog with a hunk on the beach.
  4. ‘I’m a Slave 4u’: 19-year-old Britney wears PVC pants with her pink lace thong over the top and drips sweat while lip-syncing heavy breathing.
  5. ‘Me Against the Music’: yet another chance to catch girl-on-girl action with Madonna as well as gyrating hips and hair flicking.
  6. ‘Toxic’: Britney plays different characters in this video – air hostess with her knickers on show, black-haired assassin who kills a man by kissing him. Oh, and the naked diamond catsuit also features.
  7. ‘My Prerogative’: Britney lap dances for K-Fed and rolls around a bed in her white bra and knickers.
  8. ‘Womanizer’: Yet more half-dressed, provocative multiple personalities.
  9. ‘If You Seek Amy’: Not contented with the song actually spelling out “All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to F-U-C-K me”, this video shows a sex party involving Britney, who looks trashed but then gets changed and poses for the paps as the perfect housewife.
  10. ‘Til The World Ends’: Brit dresses in yet more leather and bodysuits with fishnets, flashing all she’s got.

So that’s just ten of Britney’s many music videos. There’s also VMA performances to consider, remember the time she stripped off to reveal a nude bodysuit? How about the semi-naked performance with a python? Or the Madonna snog? Then, of course, the 2007 shambles where she appeared in a sequinned bikini and cocked up her lip-syncing and dancing.  

According to a lawsuit filed by Flores, Britney leaned over him, with her breast exposed, looking him in the eye as if waiting for something to happen. Isn’t that what she’s been taught to do since she was sixteen, if not younger, by countless directors, photographers and choreographers?

If, she did walk around her home wearing see-through clothes then bend down to retrieve her lighter, showing that she was wearing no underpants, hasn’t she spent the last thirteen years in a pretty much permanent state of undress in photo shoots and even on stage?

Flores even claims Britney ‘engaged in numerous sex acts in front of’ him. Hasn’t she simulated sex on stage before? Isn’t it part of her act?

I’m not saying it’s healthy but this is not a ‘normal’ situation. Britney has no idea what is appropriate, having spent her life in front of cameras and on stage simulating sex, touching herself and licking her lips provocatively while lip-syncing sexually charged lyrics. This is the girl who is rumoured to have had a boob job at sixteen.

All of her life, Britney has performed to gain attention and approval from others. She has not had a normal life, even before she became famous. Her mother moved to New York to allow Britney to perform on Broadway as a child, as well as a stint in The Mickey Mouse Club. In Kentwood, Louisana, where Britney grew up, she was a celebrity long before the rest of the world knew who she was, performing at every competition and carnival going. Not only this but her parents were in a tumultuous relationship due to her father’s drinking and the debts that threatened to overwhelm the family.

Britney was not allowed to be a child.

Perhaps the rebellion we saw in 2004 starting with the Vegas wedding to Alexander and ending with a marriage and pregnancy to Kevin Federline was an act of rebellion, or an attempt to finally have a normal life.  In 2004, there were rumours of excessive drinking, drug taking, pictures of Britney looking less than stage-ready with her Starbucks drink and fast food. After a knee injury, the remainder of the Onyx Hotel tour was cancelled and Britney jumped into marriage and motherhood – was she just looking for love? After all, she’d had six years of adoration from fans but, in reality, was lonely having continued working after her split from Justin Timberlake.

Some of the claims from Flores are pathetic: that Britney picked her nose frequently, broke wind unapologetically and ‘didn’t fix her hair’. Is that a crime? Would it psychologically damage you? I know these are unpleasant things and we might not want to consider that the polished pop princess is human, but we all do it. Let’s face it, we’ve seen Britney at her lowest – being carried out of her home into a waiting ambulance, we know she has issues. Even Britney’s ex husband, K-Fed, acknowledged – through his lawyer – that Flores’ claims are ‘a product of economic motives’.

Flores also claimed Spears was under the influence of prescription drugs, like Ritalin. Unfortunately we also know she has to be medicated due to her psychological issues. This is why I think Britney is also being taken advantage of by her father and Larry Rudolph, her manager. If she has such serious psychological issues – rumoured to be ADD and/or bi-polar disorder – is she fit to go on a gruelling world tour? Or does she do it because she doesn’t know what else to do? Her whole adult life has been touring, recording and promotion.

Britney is a victim of her own success. She hasn’t been able to enjoy her life because of schedules and fame. She’s tailed by paps constantly and doesn’t understand boundaries because of her sexualisation thanks to the industry she’s in but she shouldn’t be allowed to be taken advantage of.

Vic x

Review: Bridesmaids

When I saw the critics calling this “the female Hangover” I thought it was just a buddy movie for girls. I didn’t realise it was literally going to be like ‘The Hangover’ with plenty of swearing, arguing and toilet humour. I should have known when I saw Judd Apatow’s name on the poster.

‘Bridesmaids’ focuses on Annie, a thirty-something singleton who is at a low point in her life since losing her dream bakery, her boyfriend and all of her savings. Annie shares an apartment with Matt Lucas and his crazy sister, resisting her mum’s advice to move home. Only her friendship with Lillian (played by Maya Rudolph) keeps her going. When Lillian gets engaged she asks Annie to be her maid of honour. Lilian also has her sister-in-law-to-be (the best character in the film), two other friends and her fiance’s boss’s wife – Rose Byrne plays Helen – as bridesmaids.

What follows is a silly but funny, and scarily accurate portrayal of female relationships. Helen and Annie are clearly jealous of each other’s friendship with Lillian but have to spend a lot of time together in the run-up to the wedding. Helen is rich and vain with connections Annie could only dream of. Helen gets the girls into a bridal shop without an appointment, books tickets for a hen do to Las Vegas and overrules Annie at every turn.

Throughout this, Annie is still trying to put her life together, doing a crappy job, seeing a bloke who doesn’t respect her, flirting with a guy who is so much nicer (The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd) and being evicted but Lillian isn’t around to talk to.

These set-ups provide some genuinely funny and sad moments. I personally enjoyed the jokes that involved less vulgarity but that’s personal choice. I was surrounded in the cinema by women crying with laughter. What I liked about ‘Bridesmaids’ was that it was so realistic in its portrayal of women and their relationships with each other. We’ve all known a Helen and have often felt like Annie. We do have bodily functions, swear and have sex. It’s silly and sentimental – so are we.

This film will not only apply to women but also men, no mean feat.

Vic x