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Hopefulness in Homelessness

No and Me

‘Miss Bertignac, I don’t see your name on the list of presentations.’

Christmas is a time for love, forgiveness and giving. It is a time for putting aside any selfishness and a time for thinking of others as well as thinking of those less fortunate than ourselves. Delphine de Vigan’s novel No and Me is a perfect book to mirror the sentiment of the season as it focuses on the developing relationship between a teenage girl and a young homeless woman.

When a school project brings 13 year-old Lou and No, a teenage girl living on the Parisian streets, together they come to realise that they can get more from each other than just information. As their unlikely friendship grows, their lives become intertwined and the feeling of longing starts to turn into belonging.

A subtle and tender tale, No and Me explores how circumstance determines who we are and how we behave. Through Lou, a highly intelligent but naïve girl, we see No as a person rather than a faceless statistic of the streets. In Lou de Vigan expertly depicts the indestructible confidence that young teens have. Lou has the beautiful confidence that she can change No’s world, that kindness truly is the cure and that happiness, once lost, can eventually be found.

For a translated text (No and Me was originally published in French), it reads incredibly well. The narrative voice is perfectly pitched and there aren’t any of the awkward phrasings that usually occur in translated texts. It’s a straightforward voice and whilst it could easily have been more graphic or more emotive in places, it doesn’t need or try to be and that space allows the audience to connect and cheer for the characters wholeheartedly.

Quiet and understated, No and Me may not a fast-paced drama but is still a powerful and an affective read. There are no simple solutions or tied-up loose ends and de Vigan embraces that in her finale. It’s raw and imperfect and wonderfully fitting to the story of these two characters.

4 star

The amazing UK charity Crisis is a charity my family like to support, particularly around Christmas time. They campaign to end homelessness in the UK and over the Christmas period they host Christmas dinner for those in need. If can spare the money and you would like to help someone over the Christmas period, please do donate to Crisis ­– it really does make a difference.

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The Return!

Hello!! It’s been a while hasn’t it? Where is this year going?!

Why the hiatus I hear you cry? Well, it’s been a hectic summer for me as wedding season hit – both my sister and best friend decided to get married (not to each other you understand!) and so I’ve been bridesmaiding it up all over the shop!

It’s been manic, lovely, stressful, enjoyable and emotional but as a result books haven’t been my main priority over the last few months. My reading levels have dramatically dropped as I’ve been replacing commuter reading on the train with podcasts and walking in the sunshine. But, just like the dark mornings and cold winter chill, I can assure you that I am back!

I’m trying to find a way back to blogging so bear with me this month – a girl needs to find the words again! – but I am planning a few festive posts so keep your eyes peeled…

In the meantime, as regular TTWers know, I absolutely love the graphic novels by Lucy Knisley and so, to ease me back into this reviewing malarkey, I thought I’d try Knisley’s latest offering – a perfect fit given my recent escapades into the world of “I dos”, wedding cakes and white dresses…

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Knisley’s narrative and artwork style is light-hearted, funny and so accessible that I read the entire 304-page book in two days. It’s a memoir, a momento and a memory box of one specific, hectic time in a relationship and Knisley doesn’t hide the experience behind rose-tinted glasses. There are dramas, arguments and frustrations as much as there are heart-warming, romantic and genuinely lovely moments.

For curious singletons and unmarrieds (of which I am one!), this is an amazing insight to the journey down the aisle from the perspective of someone in the thick of it. It feels so personal and yet universal, a balance Knisley is always adept in creating. Her narrative voice is relatable and fun, and the personality injected through both art and voice allows the other to sing.

Something New is more than a play-by-play of a single wedding day. Knisley goes back to describe how her new husband both broke and mended her heart, how he proposed and why they decided to have the wedding they did. It’s a story and a journey and I love that Knisley and her husband allowed their tale to be told. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

4 star

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Across Worlds

On the Other Side

Steady lights flickered across her closed eyelids, and in her ears she could hear the rhythmic hum and rattle of a train on its tracks.

They say you should never meet your heroes and as a huge admirer of Carrie Hope Fletcher, the quintessential role model for tweens, teens and this 20-something, I had been putting off reading her first foray into fiction for this very reason. And yet I bought a copy, a gorgeous purple-edged copy, and I eventually dared to read beyond the blurb in the hope that I would love On the Other Side as much as I love the author. There are some spoilers in this review so please be warned.

Evie Snow has lived a long and complicated life. At the age of 82, she passes away surrounded by her loving family but when she reaches the other side, she realises that in order to move forward, she has to look back and face what she has been desperately trying to forget…

Now this is a difficult review for me to write because whilst I did enjoy the unique magical realism of the story and the immersive feel of Carrie’s writing, I was immediately distracted by the choice of the author to write herself as the lead Evie Snow and her boyfriend-at-the-time, Pete Bucknall, as the romantic lead Vincent Winters. I know you should write what you know and that art imitates life but this obvious mirroring seemed unimaginative and a little narcissistic – two qualities I would never associate with Carrie Hope Fletcher, I hasten to add. I loved the little nod to her fan base that she includes within the story and didn’t even mind the obvious declaration of love to Pete in the lift graffiti (“CB luvs PF”) but having the two leads directly correlate to real life – from personality to physical characteristics – was just too much, even for this fangirl.

The lack of setting or time period is also where this book feels very confused. Fletcher creates a 1940s-style world where parents control their children with the threat of disinheritance and male bosses can freely sexually harass female employees without consequence and yet it is also a world modern enough to have skinny jeans, mobile phones and to openly accept all sexual preferences within society. There is the feeling that if On the Other Side is progressive enough to have openly bi-, pan- or homosexual characters, why is it still a world where parents can dictate who you marry and why isn’t Evie Snow strong enough to stand up for her own rights as much as she stands up for her brothers?

On the Other Side is riddled with wholesomeness and a continued feel of good-bad, right-wrong throughout, with characters being placed deliberately on one side of this stringent fence. This not only felt a little unrealistic but it also meant that by the end, I just couldn’t champion or support Evie. As someone who initially appears to be making choices to support a strong and independent woman, I couldn’t understand some of her later decisions and the fact she was making all these amends to her family by travelling back to the other side before raising the ultimate two fingers up at Jim was heart-breaking – I loved Jim!

To end on a positive, there are promising hints of authorship within On the Other Side. Fletcher’s style and tone of writing is engaging and she creates some really interesting ideas, balancing the fantastical with the ordinary with ease. It just needed a bit more time to develop and a historical context, along with a stronger editorial direction, would have lifted this book considerably. Even just a little more research would have given On the Other Side more authority and provided the well-written magical realism a springboard from which to jump. As it stands, it falls a little flat.

3 star

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Love In Absolute Certainty

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Thank you for choosing Match Your DNA, the world’s first scientifically proven test 100% guaranteed to match you with the one and only person you’re genetically designed to fall in love with.

There are several reasons why I was drawn to reading John Marrs’ The One. Firstly, I love a psychological thriller, particularly when I’m on holiday, and a week in Bordeaux made for the perfect setting to settle down with Marrs’ new book. Secondly, the premise seemed too intriguing not to pick it up, particularly as I met my boy online. If there were some way to push the boundaries of online dating even further and combine it with genetic absolute, surely everyone would want to try it, wouldn’t they?

Following five different Match Your DNA clients The One explores how absolute scientific certainty can affect relationships, dating and just how far some people will go for their ‘One’. Without wanting to include any spoilers, this book is far from the usual beach-read fodder – it takes you on an unpredictable thrilling journey through five different peoples lives and perspectives, all in the name of and quest for the ultimate – true love.

As with all multi-narrative tales there are, inevitably, some stories that work better than others. There was one story in The One that, for me, wasn’t as strong as the other four but fortunately that didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the book at all. I found the premise and characters (for the most part) absolutely gripping, with each story revealing a new angle or complication and I loved seeing how strongly ‘absolute science’ affects personal feeling.

From a more practical point of view, the format of this book makes it an ideal holiday read. The chapters are short and snappy, making it a perfect dip-in-and-out read whilst lounging on the beach, and yet the story is so unbelievably addictive that you’ll probably find yourself immersed until the end regardless!

4 star

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THUG Life

THUG

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

Regular readers of TTW know that I usually stay away from books that have hype surrounding their launch as I like the headspace to make my own mind up about them. But there was something about The Hate U Give that made me desperate to read it and now, having done so, I can say that the hype is justified. This book is important, relevant and heart-achingly good. Everyone should pick up a copy.

Starr Carter lives two lives – balancing her posh co-ed high school in the suburbs with her home life in one of the poorer neighbourhoods, the place where she was born and raised. She’s managing to keep the two successfully apart but one evening and one tragic incident will soon bring those walls that divide her lives crashing down and she has to decide to find her voice before she’s silenced…

Thomas’ debut novel is fearless. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it is both affecting and effective, drawing you deep into the heart of Starr’s world. It explores the fear, generosity, anger and loyalty a girl, family and community feel when it is threatened by injustice. It examines prejudice at every angle – from a figure of authority’s assumption of behaviour based on race to the issues surrounding couples of different ethnic backgrounds. At its heart, it is the tale of a sixteen year-old who witnesses the shooting of her friend but THUG actually explores much more about the world than we’d readily admit.

Unlike the central incident of the book, THUG is actually an incredibly balanced novel. It examines white privilege just as readily as it explores the problem of gang warfare. It is not anti-white or pro-black but rather calls for universal humanity, justice and consequence. It is as much a social and political commentary as it is a gripping and powerful narrative.

Starr is a wonderfully generous protagonist. She is unfiltered but neutral, seeing all sides of life at school, home and in her neighbourhood. I loved the complexity and honesty that Thomas captures in Starr – she is the only witness to the shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil, by a police officer and has to navigate the guilt, anger and injustice that begin to stand alongside her grief. Somehow she is able to find courage and conviction to go against the accepted authority and fight for what is right. She is an awesome and inspiring protagonist that you’ll root for time and again.

The Hate U Give brings today’s racial tensions and the issues associated with it to light in much in the same way Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird did. It’s just a shame that such a powerful book is still needed today. A fantastic and phenomenally successful novel, The Hate U Give is a book well worthy of its praise. Read it.

5 star

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Marked For Life

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I was older than all my friends when I got my first tattoo.

In the case of Alice Broadway’s debut novel, absolutely judge a book by its cover because this one is a stunner – look at all that beautiful foiling! Whilst I admit the cover drew me in, it was the blurb that made me desperate to read this book because the concept of Ink is fascinating…

Everyone is marked from birth. The stories of their lives are documented on their skin, with every significant moment illustrated for all to see. When a person dies, their skin is removed and made into a special book, a life laid bare. Each book is weighed and judged and, if deemed worthy, will sit in the homes of their ancestors forevermore. But when Leora’s father dies, she soon realises that his Skin Book has been edited and she’s not the only one who has noticed…

Engrossing and immersive, Ink tells the story of one girl’s struggle to understand a parent’s death and to come to terms with the idea that her father was a man not a hero. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has to come to terms with the fact that their parents aren’t perfect or invincible – that they keep secrets and have pasts too. Leora only starts to unveil the truth about her father when his Skin Book gets taken away for examination and she begins to realise the significance of one tiny, hidden tattoo.

The dystopian world Broadway creates within Ink is rich and bewitching. Big concepts such as the afterlife, religion, indoctrination and love are woven into the tale with astute awareness and sensitivity. Ironically in a book about death, there is so much life to the tale and the characters – as the opening book to the trilogy it builds Leora’s world and sets up the premise of the following two books without sacrificing its ability to entertain. The ending was so utterly empowering that I couldn’t help but compare and believe that Broadway was setting Leora up as a Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine for the next book and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Normally I wouldn’t read the opening to a trilogy until all three books were out – as an impatient person, I like to read all three in quick succession – but I couldn’t avoid opening Ink. Unique and addictive, Ink rises to a crescendo and leaves you desperate to see where Broadway is going to take us, and Leora, next.

4 star