Book Review – Keep Them Close by Betty Rose

Genre: Family saga

Similar to: I’m not sure as this isn’t a genre I usually read. Angela’s Ashes maybe?

Could be enjoyed by: Anyone who is interested in multi generational, heartfelt stories

Publication date: 30th January 2020

Full disclosure – I read this book because I met the author at my local library and she was lovely enough to gift me a free copy. So, although Keep The Close is not my usual fare, I decided to give it a go and I have to say was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Thank you Betty!

The book starts with the early life of Robina in her hard working rural Irish family. Robina is a fascinating character – a charming dreamer who is also a tiny bit magical. She moves to Liverpool to study nursing which brings a culture clash so abrupt that innocent Robina is left not knowing which way is up. She meets Moses, falls in love and begins her happily ever after – except that life doesn’t work that way.

I loved the way that although I’ve referred to the book as a family saga, it has a bleaker, more realistic edge which made the story feel more true to life. It could have been quite one dimensional – a tale of two soulmates finding each other and starting a family – but the plot is far more complex and nuanced than that. There’s a lot of elements at play; an interracial relationship at a time when that was very much frowned upon, immigration, poverty, religion, mental health issues, racism… it’s all woven into a storyline which spans a lifetime.

I really liked the characterisation in this novel, especially the main protagonist Robina.  Each individual in the book has been really well depicted, so much so that I’d be shocked if it wasn’t based on real life events. I liked how human everyone was, often making bad decisions for good reasons and frequently getting things wrong! What really shone out though was the love that the characters had for each other and the close family bonds which kept them together – even when they were physically far apart.

As the book progressed I became more and more emotionally engaged with Robina and her family. Even though the ending wasn’t what I expected AT ALL it again felt very realistic and tied up all of the loose ends.

The only criticisms I have for Keep Them Close are that the cover is quite misleading – I think it makes it look like a gothic horror story rather than a family saga and I got a little bit annoyed by the use of quotation marks around every colloquialism. I’m all in favour of using dialect but my own personal preference is if it doesn’t have speech marks round it.

Overall though I very much enjoyed reading Keep Them Close and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading true-to-life novels about family and relationships.

 

Four “Is this real life?”s out of five.

Perfect for lockdown reading – heartfelt, comforting yet somewhat unexpected.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of Betty Rose the author. It was so lovely to meet her and very kind of her to give me a copy of her book. Thanks Betty!

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Author Focus – C. J. Skuse

Hello bookworms!

Long time no see! I’ve been SUPER busy recently so haven’t been blogging much but I’m trying to get back into more of a routine. Anyway, enough of my excuses – let’s crack on.

You know when you find an amazing book and you IMMEDIATELY have to read everything written by them? This happened to me recently when I came across another-book-blogger-whose-name-I-have-completely-forgotten (sorry!) talking about Sweetpea by C. J. Skuse. I thought I’d give it a go and, well, this post is the result.

35720349 I  guess there really aren’t that many comedic novels about psychopathic murderers. The whole premise of Sweetpea is very dark but also very, very funny – after all, who hasn’t wanted to stab someone for walking slowly in front of them? The difference is, Rhiannon actually goes away and does these things. Admittedly, she usually has a better reason (like the person is a paedophile) but there’s also plenty of examples of people getting maimed/killed because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite this, I really warmed to her. Rhiannon represents all of the thoughts and feelings that we’re not allowed to have and reading about them was deliciously addictive – a real guilty pleasure. I loved the unkind nicknames that she makes up about people and the way that she absolutely speaks her mind, no matter how offensive. Clearly, she’s a monster and has a huge amount of issues but she’s also hilarious, kind to animals and retains a certain degree of control over her murdering-y tendencies, allowing her to have a pretty ordinary life.

38739384In Bloom continues in the same vein, with Rhiannon pregnant and killing for two. There’s the same high bodycount, murderous urges (made worse by hormones) and inappropriate humour but this time she has more of a moral compass in the form of her very talkative fetus.

I would say that this book would not work as a stand alone – you really need to read Sweetpea first in order to fully understand what’s going on. That’s not exactly a hardship though, as both novels are incredibly fast paced and you can whip through them at a rate of knots.

The conclusion to the book suggests an ambiguous ending and I really REALLY hope that Book Three is in the making. I can’t wait to see where Rhiannon goes to next!

alibiThe final book that I’ve read by C. J. Skuse isn’t part of the same series but a stand alone novel with a different type of vibe. The Alibi Girl follows the “life” (if you can call it that) of “Joanne” (not that that’s her actual name) who has a lonely life in “her” flat (not actually hers) with “her” cats (not her cats)… can you see how this is going to go? The narrator is so unreliable but that’s what draws you in – you can’t wait to find out who Joanne really is and what the hell is going on. The plot was really intricate and there were so many twists and turns that I was kept on my toes throughout.

The dark humour is still peppered through the text but there’s something bleaker and more desperate about Joanne – Rhiannon may be a psycho-killer but you’d never see her cowering in the corner.

The Alibi Girl is, in some ways, harder to get into but it feels like it has far more scope than the Sweetpea books. The flashbacks to a previous life and the multiple points of view make it feel like a more complete novel, more emotionally charged and with greater depth.

If you don’t like gruesome depictions of killing, bad language or black comedy that’s right on the border of acceptability then these books definitely aren’t for you. If, however, you find yourself snorting at a dismembered penis in a Ford Transit being referred to as the “cock au van” then C. J. Skuse will be right up your street. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

Five “I f*cking love these books” out of five.

Funny, dark and oh-so engaging, C. J. Skuse is my new favourite author – even if I’m now concerned that I might not have fared much better on Buzzfeed’s “Am I A Psychopath?” test 


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Calendar Girls June: Favourite Book with LGBTQ+ Representation

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

 

…and my top pick is…

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Women

I absolutely ADORED this book when I first read it last year. I’m sure that literally no-one else will have read it but it remains a firm favourite with me.

Women is a short, stripped down story of a lesbian relationship where nothing much happens but it is just SO REAL. It’s honest and raw and funny and sad and managed to give me all of the feels. It felt like I had stolen someone’s diary and was illicitly gobbling up the details of their life – a bit like when you come across someone who over shares everything on social media and you fall down a rabbit hole stalking  learning everything about them.

I think it’s the quality of the writing. Chloe Caldwell writes with the most unflinching honesty and has elevated the tale of a fairly short lived, obviously doomed relationship from one of navel-gazing self pity to raw exploration of human emotion. I loved that all of her characters were so flawed and that they acted in completely illogical ways because it made them real. I loved the detail, I loved the depth, I loved the characterisation. I even loved the sex scenes because again, they felt so honest. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the sex is detailed but not titillating, relatable but not comedic, orgasmic but not euphemistic. It’s so rare to see a character with unshaven legs and half her clothes still on having incredible sex and it’s this unashamed female gaze/queer perspective that makes this book stand apart.

 

Do you enjoy reading queer fiction? Where do you stand on the issue of #ownvoices?  Have you written your own Calendar Girls post? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

Review – Women by Chloe Caldwell

Have you ever read a book that you absolutely loved but you don’t think that many other people will get it? That’s exactly how I feel about Women. This short, stripped down story of a relationship just…spoke to me. It’s honest and raw and funny and sad and managed to give me all of the feels. It felt like I had stolen someone’s diary and was illicitly gobbling up the details of their life – a bit like when you come across someone who over shares everything on social media and you fall down a rabbit hole stalking  learning everything about them. 
I don’t usually like books that are either self published or haven’t had a lot of money spent on them because you can just feel the cheap – the oddly worded sentences, the rubbish cover page and the super obvious title (not to mention the typographical errors and misprints). I don’t know what it is exactly, but Women somehow feels like it fits into this category. Despite scoring a cover quote from Lena Dunham (I personally have nothing against her, but if you do then don’t let it put you off) it’s obviously not going to be a bestseller and it definitely has an air of “debut author/limited budget” about it. However, that all seems to form part of it’s charm and actually enhances the appeal of the book rather than detracting from it.

I think it’s the quality of the writing. Chloe Caldwell writes with the most unflinching honesty and has elevated the tale of a fairly short lived, obviously doomed relationship from one of navel-gazing self pity to raw exploration of human emotion. I loved that all of her characters were so flawed and that they acted in completely illogical ways because it made them real. I loved the detail, I loved the depth, I loved the characterisation. I even loved the sex scenes because again, they felt so honest. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the sex is detailed but not titillating, relatable but not comedic, orgasmic but not euphemistic. It’s so rare to see a character with unshaven legs and half her clothes still on having incredible sex and it’s this unashamed female gaze/queer perspective that makes this book stand apart. 

Overall, I loved this novella so, so much that in pretty much devoured it all in one go. Like watching a car crash in slow motion, I just couldn’t tear myself away. I can’t wait to see what Chloe Caldwell comes up with next. 

Rating: Five gut wrenching cries (lust, anger, joy, frustration and crazy monkey sex) out of five.

Passionate, realistic #ownvoices realistic lesbian fiction. Finally.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! I also read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #15 Read a one-sitting book.