Sweetgirl – Travis Mulhauser

We’ve been having some funny old weather for the last few months – well, funny if you find rain hilarious – but recent reports from the USA have made me fairly glad that we’ve not been having that amount of snow. I mean, look at the name of this blog – we always get more than our fair share of wintry weather up here in BD13 (but if we flood the water is 1,000 feet deep so everybody is in big trouble….). Anyway, as usual I digress. But mostly because my latest review is for a book which features, among other things, an awful lot of very bad weather.

sweetgirlSweetgirl is a slim book – 250 odd pages – but don’t let that fool you. Like its heroine, Percy James, it packs much more of a punch than you would expect. I really liked Percy – a sixteen year old who has had a hard childhood, mostly looking after her addict mother, and yet is still funny, feisty and flawed – and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book as she is pitched against a blizzard, a bunch of small-town drug-lords and an apparantly abandoned baby. There is a great deal of tenderness in Percy’s dealings with the child and with her mother’s ex-partner Portis but you are impressed with the grit that enables her to keep going against the odds.

Oddly, the character who fascinated me the most was Shelton Potter – the local drug dealer who has been supplying Percy’s mother and seems to rule the area (so long as his uncle, the real power in the region, is sitting out the winter in Florida). He is violent and thoughtlessly brutal but I can’t help but feel sorry for him. It isn’t that he is self-pitying – what touched me was seeing how he is unable to see how wicked he is. In his eyes he is a good man, who loves his dog and is doing all he can to ‘rescue’ the missing baby, while we watch him bully his henchmen and take every stimulant he can lay his hands on.

This is Travis Mulhauser’s first novel – I look forward to seeing where he goes next as he is undoubtedly talented.

Jane

 

 

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Laughing All The Way to the Mosque – Zarqa Nawaz

As I may have mentioned previously (I’d say stop me if I’m becoming a bore but that is a risky thing to say…) I do not have a religious faith. However, I’m a firm believer in understanding the faiths of others – and one of the best parts of living in Bradford is that I have lots of people to discuss these things with. Call me old-fashioned but I’d rather learn about Islam from talking to and reading the works of Muslims than trusting the tabloid press. Actually, to be fair, I’d probably not want to trust the tabloid press on much at all but I guess I’ll let them give me the football results…

MosqueIn Zarqa Nawaz’s Laughing All The Way to the Mosque I think I have found a great introduction to the realities of being a Muslim woman in the twentieth century west. There isn’t a huge amount here about the practice of the Islamic faith – Nawaz is not proselytising and doesn’t expect to convert her readers – but there is a lot about practicalities. About why a wash-basin within reach of the loo is the ideal and whether leg-shaving is un-Islamic. You know, the normal stuff. In fact what a large part of the book is about is cultural rather than religious – and often the younger generation are as concerned about the culture they live in as in the one their parents came from. In Nawaz’s case she is more interested in how to fit into Canadian society than into that of Pakistan.

What really sealed the deal for me, however, was how funny the writing is. We rattle through the author’s childhood and education – she seems to have been like most kids the world over, interested in food, fitting in and feeling she knows better than her parents (especially in her teens) – and, once her future career as a doctor falls through after a nasty case of not passing any of the exams, we approach the subject of marriage. Again there is the clash between a modern girl wanting to fall in love (or at least make her own choice of husband) and parents who have had a happy arranged marriage so don’t see why an alternative is necessary. In all these areas, and into her career as a journalist and writer, we see that Zarqa Nawaz is a fast-talking, well-meaning but slightly accident prone woman.

The main part of this book is about Zarqa’s married life. She obviously loves her husband and adores her children but, like any modern woman, she still wants a career. This eventually develops into her work writing a sit-com called Little Mosque on the Prairie – which sounds as if it was everything Citizen Khan wanted to be (but never quite managed). We can see that some of the more conservative elements of Canadian Islam were not amused but, hopefully, this is the kind of writing which will show us the things which we all have in common no matter what our religious or cultural background. I wonder if I can find any episodes of Little Mosque online – it sounds like a sitcom which would travel well?

Jane

Barbara the Slut & Other People – Lauren Holmes

I was talking the other day about whether I’d like to be young (in my twenties perhaps) again and the general consensus was yes – but not these days. We had our problems in the 80s but youth today seems to be an absolute minefield! With property ownership being a distant dream for many, young people are often reliant on their parents for many years longer than we were and with jobs hard to come by in their chosen field they may end up with all kinds of unusual work-experience.

barbaraThe stories in this collection seem to illustrate this odd kind of existence. They focus on young women (principally, although one story is from a young man’s point of view and one from that of a rescue dog) who are not fully independent of their parents, who are not yet settled into their relationships, or, indeed, their sexuality. They are not stories full of great drama – in fact, to be fair, very little really happens – but that also seems quite true of reality for young people these days. I’m not going to join the ranks of the middle-aged who knock the young for not being dynamic enough – we, frankly, didn’t exactly set the world on fire – and I think I can understand how a mundane and boring life presents its own problems. In these stories, as in life, the answer to boredom appears to be sex. What makes them even more realistic is the almost total lack of eroticism to their sexual experiences.

Don’t read these stories if you need excitement in your literature. But they are an interesting volume to flick through if you want to appreciate some of the more apparently mundane aspects of modern life, and to see how they can be described with a certain amount of dry humour.

Jane

 

Blood Relatives – Stevan Alcock

I live in Yorkshire but I was born and raised in the deep South – yes, I am an Essex girl. Don’t get me wrong, I am fond of my home county and it has some very lovely parts, but I’ve lived ‘oop North’ for over 25 years now. Yorkshire is home. Not that you would know it to hear me speak – when I first met my other half he loaned me a book called ‘Larn Yersen Basic Broad Yorkshire’ but he took it back when I could only manage North Yorkshire rather than West. I was living in County Durham at the time so he’s probably just glad I didn’t go Geordie. (To tell the truth, I tried. I love the Georgie accent but I was pretty rubbish at it…). Anyway, I sound vaguely Southern (not very cockney or estuary) but, as with most languages, I can read and understand much more than I can speak.

blood relativesYou may be wondering why I think this is relevant in a book review (of a book which is not about language or linguistics)? Well Stevan Alcock’s novel is set in West Yorkshire in the era of the Yorkshire Ripper and, more topically, it is written in the local accent. Don’t let this put you off though – even this Essex girl could understand every word. And, more importantly, I was hanging on each and every one of them.

The book focuses on a lad in his teens, Ricky, who works as a Corona pop delivery boy (remember? You could get your regular ginger beer order delivered….) in Leeds. We see his relationship with his workmates – who seem like proper adults but are only in their twenties – his family and with people he meets connected with the Leeds/Bradford gay and punk scenes. His life is not easy – money is short, he feels alienated from his family and he has a lot of anger. There is an air of barely restrained violence about him for much of the time and when his temper erupts it seems to read like A Clockwork Orange with a Leeds accent.

There is tragedy and a lot of comic moments in this book. We can look back on the politics of that era – in terms of race, sexuality, deprivation and so much more – with our feelings of living in a more enlightened age but, to those of us in the North, some of the issues haven’t really gone away. The additional fear and pressure on communities which the Yorkshire Ripper’s reign of terror caused are now replaced by other factors and lads like Ricky are still with us.

Jane

 

Looking forward to2016…

Somehow, this year, I’ve missed most of the ’round-up of 2015′ articles, blog posts and tv specials. Which is probably just as well since the world didn’t seem, on the whole, to have had a good year. For me, on the other hand it was a great year – I had a ‘significant’ birthday complete with a big party with friends and family, had some interesting trips away, ate some great food, heard good music and read so many books I can’t even start to list which were my favourites. As I say, a pretty good year!

Obviously I’m hoping that 2016 will be just as good (although I’m not sure what will be able to replace the Alice 150th Anniversary for me – Best. Anniversary. Ever. ) and I’m having a great time looking at publishing schedules for the year. I love planning so reading through all the articles on forthcoming titles is brilliant for me – I only hope I don’t select so many to read that I don’t have time to keep up. This is always a possibility…Anyway, I thought I would let you know, in no particular order, some of the titles I am already looking forward to in 2016.

New Books by Authors I Already Enjoy

Chris Cleave – Everyone Brave is Forgiven. I have enjoyed every other Chris Cleave book I have read, and particularly loved The Other Hand – one of the most appealing things is the fact that he is capable of writing in so many voices and genres. This one is a historical novel set in the Second World War and is due in April.

Justin Cronin – City of Mirrors. I really want to read this as it finishes off the post-apocalyptic trilogy which started with The Passage. My only problem is that I still have to finish the middle volume and they are substantial books. If I go really quiet for a few weeks chances are I am catching up with the doings of Zero and Amy. Given the June publication date this could happen in the spring…

Francesca Haig – Map of Bones. I reviewed the first book in this series, The Fire Sermon, earlier this year and also met Francesca. I’m not saying that you have to be a lovely person to write a great book but she is and she did…This one is due in April and I have already sent a begging letter to the publisher.

Jasper Fforde – Early Riser. To be honest I’d been hoping for a follow-up to Shades of Grey but maybe E.L. James has put the kibosh on that. Anyway, new Jasper Fforde – squeeeeee!

Hugh Howey – who knows? Hugh is currently sailing around the Caribbean but I’m pretty certain nothing will ever stop his creative flow. My hope is for a follow-up to Sand…

Books by Authors I Really Should Have Read…

Anthony Quinn – Freya – I missed out on reading Curtain Call last year but given how much I enjoy the golden age crime fiction of the 1930s this should be fun.

Curtis Sittenfeld – Eligible. An update of Pride & Prejudice set in modern-day America by an acclaimed author? Sign me up!

Random other stuff

Lucy Mangan – Bookworm. I’ve been an avid reader of Lucy’s Guardian columns in the past so I am looking forward to this, a book about children’s books and loving reading.

William Shatner – Leonard, A Life. A tribute to Leonard Nimoy from Shatner himself. Geek heaven!

There will be a lot more as the year goes on – I haven’t even started to look at this year’s crop of history or science-writing – but I think this is probably enough to keep me going.

What are you looking forward to? Let me know – after all, I’m always willing to add one more book to the to-be-read pile…

Jane

Yuki Chan in Bronte Country -Mick Jackson

I am lucky enough to live within spitting distance of Haworth – although of course I wouldn’t be so uncouth as to spit in the vicinity of the home of the Brontës. This is generally a Good Thing – I enjoy the work of the Brontë sisters, the village is a pretty safe bet to take visitors to for a day out and it is extremely well supplied with tea rooms as well as a steam railway with a real-ale bar on board. The only disadvantages I can see are that it must take ages to look anything up in local directories as every business seems to be called ‘the Brontë …’. Oh, and there are some lovely walks in the area (including the walk up to Top Withins, or ‘oh, that tree’ as it is known in our house – a long story which you probably had to be there to appreciate).

yuki chanOne other thing which Haworth has is a lot of tourists. I mean a lot of tourists and many of them are Japanese. Which means that, in this novel, Yuki Chan fits in beautifully to Brontë Country.

The book starts out seeming like a comic novel – Yuki is an endearing character and appears to be prone to slap-stick events – but as it develops there are darker undercurrents. Yuki is obviously a troubled girl who misses her beloved mother and she puts herself in difficult situations as she tries to uncover what happened on her mother’s own visit to Haworth, shortly before her death. She is aided (and probably abetted) by a local girl, Denny, and we discover a world of spiritualism and snow-studies.

This is a quirky little book – Yuki is as individual as a snowflake and, by the end, as brittle and, I feared at one point, as likely to survive. Now I’d just like to read Denny’s story next (hint, hint…)

Jane

So. Here’s a challenge for us all…

I’m sure that, like me, you end up making the odd resolution at this time of year. Eat less cake and more vegetables. Exercise more. Remember all the family’s birthdays this year. Some of these may even make it through as far as February (although I’m not making any promises about the cake…) but very few will last all the way to next Christmas. This, however looks like something I might be able to stick to.10346453_1019501471444499_4837610290974026107_n

I’m thinking I’ll have the most trouble with ‘a book I should have read in school’. I read a lot when I was in school (what with not having to go to work or anything) and was the kind of goody two-shoes who read everything she was told to. In fact we had to keep a book diary when I was in secondary school – everyone else got a mark out of 20 each term but the teacher always gave me a percentage….

So, who is up for joining me on this challenge? I reckon this is one we can do!

Jane