Rosamund Lupton – Three Hours

OK. Amazing.

I inhaled this book in a day.

Three Hours is about a school, in Somerset, under siege by a shooter. The narrative follows different characters: various children within the school, teachers, parents and law enforcement.

The book raises issues of what can happen when an individual is lonely, vulnerable and taken advantage of. It also raises subjects of terrorism and racial discrimination against innocent and, also, vulnerable individuals in their own unique circumstances.

I think what shocked and struck me most whilst reading this book was that this could truly happen to any institution, any where in the world. I feel like as someone living in the UK, I find myself so distant and unable to relate to the shootings happening in America more frequently. I’m aware that terrorist attacks happen in the UK, but it’s a lot rarer to hear of instances of shootings – in particular, school shootings that are more typical to the US. This thought process scared me because it shows what can happen when someone is isolated or treated badly by peers. It teaches us that, no matter how far we think we are from being attacked, we have no clue when or where bad things can happen. This book opened my eyes to the realisation that everybody is vulnerable and should be taken care of.

I couldn’t recommend this enough. For some reason, I’m attracted to these types of stories – one of my favourite books is We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s a fascinating, yet gripping, read that will keep you completely hooked throughout.

This is also a perfect lockdown read – considering the school is in lockdown! Go read it – there are no excuses.

Sofka Zinovieff – Putney

I wanted to read this book before My Dark Vanessa was released (today!), on the recommendation of Dolly Alderton from The High Low podcast. I was not disappointed with Putney and read it within a couple of days.

I loved it, but it frustrated me. Each character had their own secrets and varied understanding of their own or others’ secrets.

The story revolves around the Greenslay family, who are quite bohemian and allow their children to run rather wild and free. Ed is welcomed into the Greenslay family and quickly develops an infatuation with Daphne Greenslay, an energetic 9 year old.

This infatuation is evident from the first chapter, so the reader is quickly unable to feel comfortable in any part of the story and are overly aware of what is to come.

Child abuse is a difficult topic to read about. But when the characters do not fully understand their abuse, both victim and perpetrator, it is even more frustrating and frightening. Despite the fact that I became annoyed with every single character in this book, due to their either involvement or ability to watch the crime continue unpunished, it struck me as quite realistic. Don’t get me wrong, I have never experienced abuse and I know nobody that has. However, I can’t help but think that the way that Daphne interoperates her abuse, as well as the way that Ed justifies it (though horrific), is quite an honest depiction of how victims and perpetrators of this kind of abuse may think.

This book is definitely not for those that are looking for a comfortable and happy read. There is no heroic slaying of the evil character.

Margarita Montimore – The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart

OK. I’ll be totally honest – I picked this book up because I thought it looked like an easy read that I’d get through quite quickly after spending so much time reading non-fiction books recently. But, it was so much more than that.

I didn’t think this book would be as good as it is simply because of the synopsis – a woman who time travels every year, within her own body, to a random year? It sounded very out there and I wasn’t completely sold on it, to be honest. However, when reading it, I found myself increasingly attached to Oona and other characters within the flashes of her life that the reader is permitted.

Oona’s repeated feelings of wonder and disbelief at her time travelling condition make this book a tad more realistic, as it’s something she tackles year-by-year and doesn’t hide her emotions in doing so. After all, it’s not a normal condition – I felt like I had to cut fictional Oona some serious slack. Her emotions throughout the novel and the connections she made with different characters made the book more real to me. Obviously, I’m aware it is very far away from the realistic but I was hooked anyway. We follow Oona’s highs and lows as she and ourselves are flung throughout the nineties and into the depths of the 2000s and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Helen Lewis – Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights

This book is an exploration of ‘difficult women’ throughout the history of (mainly) the UK. These women were ‘difficult’ in various ways – some displayed behaviours that may deem them to be ‘difficult’ in modern times, others simply spoke their mind and stood up for themselves against injustices but were determined to be difficult due to their points in history.

I find it incredibly difficult to review non-fiction books at times. I find it even more difficult when it is a book like this, as it is full of a range of stories and opinions about feminism throughout history.

Instead of doing an in-depth review, I thought I would just share some of my personal highlights of the book. To be clear – this book would suit anyone with a slight interest in feminism. There are a range of subjects throughout the book, each indicated by the chapter titles. Some of the chapter titles were unexpected and some were definitely more interesting than others (to me).

I really enjoyed reading the ‘Divorce’ chapter at the beginning of the book. I’ve rarely considered the feminist implications of divorce and how these have developed throughout history, so this was a really interesting viewpoint for me to read. The chapter details stories such as how a man once sued his wife for not having sex with him, as, technically, he ‘owned’ her vagina. Though outrageous, I found the quippy stories like these extremely intriguing (in an OMG – what? Way!)

I also really enjoyed the chapter about sex. The chapter detailed sex as a feminine subject – instead of focusing on the pleasure of the man it focused on the woman. Some of this section did remind me of Nimco Ali’s book ‘What We’re Told Not to Talk About (But We’re Going to Anyway)’.

Mary Beth Keane – Ask Again, Yes

Two neighbouring families, living in a suburban town, are eternally connected. They’re connected through predictable friendship and love; disaster, too. Ask Again, Yes is an exploration of human interactions.

This book was nothing like I expected. I noticed it’s popularity throughout social media and by it’s reputable Goodreads rating. Because of this, I prejudged this book to be a novel with a great, hooking narrative that would be impossible to put down. What I discovered was so much more, minus the hooking narrative. I’ve found that modern fiction is leaning towards the increasingly deep character explorations and this is evident within Ask Again, Yes.

The novel tackles several problematic and, frankly, hard issues. These include mental illness, alcoholism, illness and parental abandonment. Through the novels careful attention to character development and interaction, these issues are delivered perfectly. The characters all seemed extremely real and imperfect – a combination that makes for a true realistic, believable story.

The character I found most interesting was Anne. If I’m being honest, Anne terrified me at the beginning of the novel – and rightly so. She is definitely viewed as the most problematic character in the book. Her mental illness sends every single other character’s life spinning in a different direction. However, after treatment, I found Anne to be somewhat redeemable. Her hope and persistence kept me from strongly disliking her and instead I learnt to accept her, as did some of the characters.

Personally, I feel that the slow narrative slightly took away potential enjoyment from the novel for me. However, I do recognise and understand the marvel that is Ask Again, Yes.

Joanne Ramos – The Farm

I chose to pick up Joanne Ramos’ The Farm because it struck me as possibly a step between modern day reality and the dire situations explored within The Handmaid’s Tale. I believe my preconception was pretty spot on.

The Farm is a retreat, bearing beautiful facilities that can be enjoyed by people living strict, clean, healthy lifestyles. There is one catch – you have to be carrying a client’s baby. The Farm essentially situates these hosts in a safe and clean environment so that the rich can ensure that their surrogates are creating the best start to their baby’s lives. The hosts are under strict contracts that restrict them from visiting family and friends during their nine months of pregnancy. The Farm, set in America, takes advantage of the hopeful dispositions of immigrant women. In this narrative, this includes Jane – an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother. The narrative follows Jane through her journey on the Farm and her emotional struggles whilst remaining away from her young daughter.

As previously stated, I found The Farm to be a really interesting prospect due to the similarities with The Handmaid’s Tale. I think the aspect that interested me most was that in The Farm, the women essentially put themselves into this strict and controlling atmosphere. However, I see now that this sort of business would pray on the vulnerable and desperate, therefore removing the lack of control the women harboured over their choices.

I thought it was quite slow to begin with. The story didn’t really develop until I was 25% through. Until this point, it was just back story which I think could have possibly been condensed.

When reading, I found the most interesting aspect to be Miss Yu’s (the manager of the Farm) feminist ideals. She’s an extremely ambitious woman herself and delights, throughout the novel, in seeing women make progress in their careers and ambitions. She even has a history of letting hosts stay on and working within the business itself. Miss Yu seems to be a feminist. But, how could she be a feminist whilst taking advantage to these women in this way? I believe this is due to the detailed contracts that Mrs Yu draws up and her desire to see these women improved throughout both their experiences on The Farm and afterwards. This whole dilemma of whether to think of Miss Yu as a feminist did trouble me throughout the novel and I did find it to be one of the main themes for me to focus on.

Overall, I stand by my previous statement that The Farm is an in-between stage, between our current reality and The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s terrifying that this type of business feels so real and close to home.

Josie Silver – The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

I like to think I’m a reader (and lover) of all book genres. However, romance is probably one of the genres that I mostly hide from. I have nothing against the writing, the stories, the characters – I’m just single.

I don’t particularly mind being single, but reading a romance novel with a firm, undying, romantic relationship either makes me roll my eyes or yearn for it myself. This depends on what mood I’m in whilst reading, of course.

Despite this, Valentines week was upon us and I couldn’t let it slip by without attempting a romance novel – it would have been rude, right? So, I picked up Josie Silver’s recent novel – The Two Lives of Lydia Bird. And, boy, I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the undeniably great romance novels would be David Nichols’ One Day and I couldn’t help but see vague similarities throughout The Two Lives of Lydia Bird. Not that I’m saying that it’s plagiarising Nichols’ novel, just that it made me feel as much as One Day did which is no small feat.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is the story of Lydia Bird (I know, crazy twist already, this should be a thriller). Lydia has always been with Freddie and she knows nothing different. That’s until Freddie tragically, and suddenly, passes away in a road accident and Lydia’s world is turned upside down. We witness Lydia’s journey through grief and watch with pride, and sometimes disappointment, at her actions because of the sheer extent of her grief. However, the one thing that keeps us, and Lydia, going is hope.

This novel struck me as, almost, a collaboration between One Day and P.S I Love You. It was raw, it was tough, but the essence of hope within it shone through to the very end.

My one criticism would be that I’m feeling insanely robbed by the brief glimpse into Lydia’s future life in the last chapter, which was swiftly snatched away when I turned the last page and was met with the Acknowledgments.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I deem it a perfect Valentines read, despite whether you’re single, taken, or grieving yourself. Read it.

Happy Valentines Day!