blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Mamma – Diana Tutton*

The doomed mutual attraction of a middle-aged widow and her new son-in-law, who is much closer to her own age than her daughter’s, forms the central drama in this social comedy with tragic overtones.

Joanna Malling lost her husband in the first year of their marriage. At the age of 21 she was left with a baby daughter to raise alone. Now twenty years later, Libby is herself a grown woman living in London, and Joanna buys a new home to begin the next stage of her life. But her solitary existence is about to be shattered when Libby announces she is engaged. And with a change of job for her new husband Steven, the newly married couple move in with Joanna. What starts as an uneasy relationship between Joanna and Steven develops into something much more intimate and reminds Joanna of all she has missed out on. With Libby growing suspicious, Joanna must make a heart-rending decision.

The author: Diana Tutton (1915–1991) was a British writer whose novels focused on taboo relationships and family dysfunctionality. In the Second World War she drove a WVS mobile canteen, before she followed her husband to Kenya and joined the FANYs. In 1948 the family moved to British Malaya where she wrote her three novels. Mamma was published in 1956.

My thoughts: I have enjoyed discovering new-to-me women writers through this British Library project (I also really like their Classic Crime series too) so was delighted to be asked to review Mamma.

You might think that the 1950s were very staid and writers never covered anything eyebrow raising or taboo, but you’d be wrong. Diana Tutton is proof of that. Her books were about some very shocking subjects, including incest, and this one is about a doomed and never acted upon romance between a woman and her daughter’s new husband.

Joanna is only 5 years older than Steven and resents the idea that she should just fade into widowhood, she’s not even comfortable with the idea that her daughter is old enough to get married at 20. Her frustrations about the roles society boxes women into are genuine and haven’t hugely changed since the 50s – Maiden, Mother, Crone is a trope from the Ancient World that persists.

This makes her see Steven, 15 years older than Libby, differently. She isn’t initially very keen on him and worries about the age gap between him and her daughter, the life experiences are so different. But Libby insists it doesn’t matter. And it isn’t until circumstances force them into sharing Joanna’s house that she realises her indifference is really something more.

I found this compelling and utterly fascinating, both for what it has to say about women and also the plot, which is slow burn and sneaks up on you. What seems like a gentle domestic tale is much more, but not apparent on first glance. I felt for Joanna, for the way she’s forced into roles and made to act like a woman much older, when at 41 she’s still fairly young and if she were around now would be seen quite differently.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Queen of Romance – Liz Jones*

The first biography of the bestselling author and journalist Marguerite Jervis Daughter of an officer of the Indian Medical Corps, Florence Laura Jarvis (1886 – 1964) was born in Marguerite Burma and became one of the most successful novelists of her time .

During the course of her 60-year career, Marguerite published over 150 books, with 11 novels adapted for film, including The Pleasure Garden (1925), the directorial debut of Alfred Hitchcock. In her heyday she sold hundreds of thousands of novels, but is now largely forgotten; under numerous pseudonyms she wrote for newspapers, women’s magazines and the silent movie screen; she married one of Wales most controversial literary figures, Caradoc Evans.

She also trained as an actress and was a theatrical impresario. Known variously as Mrs Caradoc Evans, Oliver Sandys, Countess Barcynska and many other pseudonyms, who was she really?

Liz Jones has dug deep beneath the tale told in Marguerite Jervis’s own somewhat romanticised memoir to reveal what made this driven and determined woman. And what turned her from a spoilt child of the English middle classes to a workaholic who could turn her hand to any literary endeavour and who became a runaway popular success during the most turbulent years of the 20th century.

Liz Jones writes drama and creative non-fiction, reviews, short stories and journalism ranging from Take a Break to New Welsh Review. Along the way she has raised two daughters, tried to change the world, worked in a café-cum-bookshop, a housing association, in community development and lifelong learning. She is now a Teaching Fellow at Aberystwyth University.

My thoughts: this was a really interesting book. I hadn’t heard of Marguerite Jarvis or any of her aliases. Even studying English Literature for years, she never crossed my path as a writer. Which is a shame. Her life was more interesting than fiction. She reinvented herself so many times, as a writer, a “countess”, a theatre owner. Her books were made into films during the silent era, and then adapted into plays for her theatre company.

I really enjoyed learning about this interesting and colourful woman, her life, marriages and work. Her devotion to her last husband, Welsh writer Caradoc Evans, and her son Nicholas meant she never stopped writing, desperate for money to support them. It’s a shame her books seem to be hard to get hold of these days, yes I looked, as while they’re not particularly fashionable, they’re a part of literary history.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields*

With a new foreword by Margaret Atwood.

Widely regarded as a modern classic, The Stone Diaries is the story of one woman’s life; that of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a seemingly ordinary woman born in Canada in 1905. Beautifully written and deeply compassionate, it follows Daisy’s life through marriage, widowhood, motherhood, and old age, as she charts her own path alongside that of an unsettled century.

A subtle but affective portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life, this multi-award-winning story deals with everyday issues of existence with an extraordinary vibrancy and irresistible flair.

Beautifully written and deeply compassionate, it follows Daisy’s life through marriage, widowhood, motherhood, and old age, as she charts her own path alongside that of an unsettled century.

A subtle but affective portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life, this multi-award-winning story deals with everyday issues of existence with an extraordinary vibrancy and irresistible flair.

Carol Shields (19352003) was born in the United States, and emigrated to Canada when she was 22. She is acclaimed for her empathetic and witty, yet penetrating insights into human nature. Her most famous novel

Her most famous novel The Stone Diaries was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, along with the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Happenstance was praised as her tour de force, masterly combining two novels in one. The international bestseller Mary Swann was awarded with the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian mystery, while The Republic of Love was chosen as the first runner-up for the Guardian Fiction Prize.

In 2020, the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, a North American literary award dedicated to writing by women, was set up in her honor.

Her work has been published in over 30 languages.

My thoughts:

I hadn’t heard of Carol Shields before, and from the foreword it seems she’s not hugely well known in the UK.

I found The Stone Diaries really interesting, although I was a little confused as to who the narrative voice was at times – it seems to be Daisy but uses the third person, an interesting stylistic choice.

Charting Daisy’s life from birth to death, from Canada to the US and back again, the writing draws you into the family saga with Daisy at the heart. From daughter to wife to mother to grandmother, Daisy’s passage through life seems both easy and at times very complicated.

Mixing letters, family members’ recollections and Daisy’s own thoughts, this is a thought provoking look at women in the 20th Century, with Daisy as a sort of everywoman.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: A Match Made in Heaven – edited by Claire Chambers, Nafhesa Ali, Richard Phillips*

Star-studded and beautifully written, this collection of diverse stories about love and desire by South Asian-heritage British Muslim women authors, including Ayisha Malik and Shelina Janmohamed.

Although outsiders often expect Muslim women to be timid, conservative, or submissive, the reality is different. While some of these authors express a quiet piety and explore poignant situations, others use black humour and biting satire, or play with possibilities.

Still others shade into the territory of a Muslim Fifty Shades of Grey, creating grey areas where the mainstream media sees only black and white. If grooming-gang scandals grab headlines, characters are more scandalized by suitors’ sloppy personal grooming.

Finding the right crimson lipstick for a date or the perfect power outfit for meeting a cheating ex-husband are commoner preoccupations than the news.

Stylish but far from shallow, the stories also reflect on migration, racism, arranged marriage, gender differences, lesbian desire, bearding, and many other subjects.

ABOUT THE EDITORS

Claire Chambers teaches postcolonial literature the University of York. Her fascination with Muslim South Asia was sparked by a teenage year spent in Peshawar.

Nafhesa Ali is a sociologist and the lead postdoctoral researcher for the Storying Relationship project at Sheffield University. She researches gender, age, the life course, and methods.

Richard Phillips is a geographer and Storying Relationships’ principal investigator at Sheffield University. His research interests include contemporary multiculturalism and the world after Empire.

All three authors live in the UK.

My thoughts:

This was an interesting collection of short stories centred around love and the Muslim perspective, as written by women living in the UK.

Some of the stories are funny, some sad, one has a possibly demonic cat determined to cause chaos. Some of them made me think about my friends and the conversations we’ve had about sex and relationships.

There’s this weird belief that Muslim women have no agency of their own, and that they’re under mens’ thumbs, clad in hijab and niqab against their will and it jars so harshly against reality.

My Muslim friends are clever, funny, weird, silly and completely normal. Their religion doesn’t dictate their lives, some of them are married, some aren’t. Even among the married ones some chose their own spouse and others went for an arranged marriage (and unlike some people believe, they had a say).

Collections like this one help to redress the balance against the strange stereotype of Muslim women. Showing different facets of life, from writing erotica to pay the bills, finding a (second or third) husband, fending off annoying relatives or buying the perfect red lipstick.

Universal experiences that anyone can relate to, regardless of religion, bring us closer together and help foster better understanding and relationships.

I really enjoyed this book and have some new authors to investigate (although I spotted some familiar names amongst the included writers). The project that spawned this collection sounds really interesting and I hope similar ones produce more enjoyable and enlightening reads.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Women Writers Handbook – ed. Ann Sandham*

A revised edition of the publisher’s inaugural publication in 1990 which won the Pandora Award from Women-in-Publishing. Inspirational in its original format, this new edition offers insight and motivation for budding writers from dozens of distinguished authors, celebrating the breadth of women’s writing in all its forms. Also includes the original writing workshops from the first edition plus quirky B/W illustrations as well as a foreword by Cheryl Robson, publisher and Managing Editor, who was a recent finalist in the ITV National Diversity Awards – Lifetime Achievement category. Aurora Metro Books was a finalist in the 2019 IPG Diversity in Publishing Awards and has a 30 year history of ground-breaking publishing, featuring both diverse and international authors.

The complete list of contributors:

A.S. Byatt, Saskia Calliste, April De Angelis, Kit de Waal, Carol Ann Duffy, Sian Evans, Philippa Gregory, Mary Hamer, Jackie Kay, Shuchi Kothari, Bryony Lavery, Annee Lawrence, Roseanne Liang, Suchen Christine Lim, Jackie McCarrick, Laura Miles, Raman Mundair, Magda Oldziejewska, Kaite O’Reilly, Jacqueline Pepall, Gabi Reigh, Djamila Ribeiro, Fiona Rintoul, Jasvinder Sanghera, Anne Sebba, Kalista Sy, Debbie Taylor, Madeleine Thien, Claire Tomalin, Ida Vitale, Sarah Waters, Emma Woolf

A wide-ranging collection of over 30 essays, poems and interviews from top, international women writers, poets, screen writers and journalists.

20% of profits to go to the Virginia Woolf statue campaign.

The Virginia Woolf statue campaign: The proposed statue will be located in Richmond on Thames where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived from 1914-1924 and set up the Hogarth Press. A public consultation by the local council was 83% in favour of the statue and planning permission has been granted to site the first life-size statue in bronze of the famous author on Richmond riverside where the author walked her dog daily. Over 20% of the £50,000 target has been raised so far.

Website Donate Purchase

My thoughts:

This is a fascinating, engaging and timely collection of essays, interviews, poems and other short pieces by women on a range of topics from feminism to writing, written by an incredible selection of writers.

Not a cover to cover read but more something to dip in and out of, I very much enjoyed learning more about some of my favourite writers, like Sarah Waters and Kit de Waal, as well as new to me writers.

This is an excellent way to celebrate women’s writing and raise funds for a statue of Virginia Woolf, one of our most intriguing and talented writers. A Room of One’s Own was on my Women Writers syllabus at university and has stuck with me ever since. A powerful argument for women to be seen as important as men in terms of their work and given space to do so.

Every woman, especially those who write, needs a copy of this inspiring collection.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books, reviews

Book review: He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly 

I do like a good psychological thriller and this is a cracker. 
Erin Kelly has written a heck of a book, and the twists keep on coming. 

Most of the story is told from the viewpoint of Laura, with some chapters by her partner Kit. Both are witnesses to a crime that brings them into contact with Beth, who might be dangerous or is she? 

Eyewitness testimony is a rather complex subject (I live with an expert on it) but it’s the fallout of the case Laura and Kit testify at that drives the drama in the narrative. Eventually Laura is living her life in ongoing terror and spiralling anxiety, something I can relate to  (though thankfully not in the same circumstances). 

I did not expect the clever twist at the end, which flips the plot on its head – no spoilers here. 

I highly recommend you pick up a copy and read it asap.