Friday, 30 March 2018

Exhibit Alexandra by Natasha Bell: Review

Thirty-seven-year-old Alexandra Southwood – wife of Marc, mother of Lizzie and Charlotte, part-time lecturer in art – has disappeared. The usual things proceed to happen: the police investigate, her family and friends go mad with worry. Unusually, though, these events are recounted by Alex herself. But of course, Alex isn’t actually there to observe them... because she’s disappeared, and there’s some evidence that she has done so under violent circumstances (her bloodied clothes are soon found by a river).

Writing that just then made me think of The Lovely Bones, where the story is narrated from beyond the grave by a murder victim. But that is not the scenario we have here - Alex is definitely very much alive, and we are given snippets of what she is currently experiencing - apparently held captive somewhere by an unnamed man -  along with her account of the reactions of others to her disappearance.

Alongside this narrative are letters gathered over the years from Alex’s old friend Amelia Heldt, a New York-based, relentlessly boundary-pushing conceptual artist who, it seems, can’t quite comprehend her friend’s apparent retreat into marriage, motherhood and academia.

As Marc deals with the loss of his wife, there is increasing evidence that Alex was not, perhaps, all she seemed – or all he believed her to be.

So far, so intriguing.

The promotion for Exhibit Alexandra describes it as “unlike any other thriller you’ve read”, and that’s probably true – the central concept is certainly original.

I did start to get a fairly vague inkling quite early on of what might be happening – and a slightly more developed one a bit later – but although I kind of got the basics I certainly couldn’t fill in the details until much later... and some things were a complete surprise. 

I did ponder whether Alex could be described as an unreliable narrator - certainly she does not tell the whole story, but on the whole I think she plays fair with the reader.

The digressions into the often challenging work of certain artists are fascinating – I hadn’t heard of most of them and had to look them up to confirm whether they were in fact real people (they are – mostly). 

Exhibit Alexandra both tells a compelling story and poses some intriguing and endlessly debatable questions about art and life, identity and ethics. A fascinating read.

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Cows by Dawn O'Porter: Review

Cows don’t need to follow the herd...

Dawn O’Porter’s highly entertaining novel follows the lives of three women facing some very pertinent issues.

TV exec and single mother Tara finds her life unexpectedly in tatters after a video of an ill-judged “private” moment on a train goes viral, resulting in massive public humiliation.

Cam, the author of a wildly successful (and lucrative) straight-talking blog, accidentally becomes “The Face of Childfree Women” after blogging about her choice not to have children, and faces a backlash as a result. (Incidentally this is something I will never understand. I do have children and am very happy about it, but why on earth anyone should be criticised for not having or wanting them is beyond me. Seems to me not wanting children is an excellent reason for not having any - pressurising anybody into doing so seems deeply misguided.)

And finally Stella, who works as PA to Jason, a successful photographer, is grieving the loss of her mother and twin sister, and dealing with her own terrifyingly high risk of developing the cancer that took their lives. Stella does want a baby, but with both health and relationship difficulties staring her in the face, how on earth is she going to achieve that? It's time to take control...

The Cows is a hugely enjoyable read which deals with some very topical issues facing women. It’s not the first story I’ve read recently in which a woman is publicly shamed for her sexuality, but it’s very well done. What happens to Tara is appalling but also quite believable, at least in terms of the public response, in which she is both delightedly mocked and widely condemned - not only for the incident but for her other life choices too, once they come to light. It’s horrific.

Cam is also a great character who is determined to live her life the way she wants, and largely succeeds, even though others (her mother, for one) don't always understand why she is the way she is. Her blogs seek to inspire and empower women, and usually do, though she misses the mark at times (it shouldn’t take a huge amount of sensitivity to notice that a statement like “My womb is what makes me a woman” might not go down well in some quarters.... women who've had hysterectomies, just as a for instance).

And Stella - well, Stella goes off the deep end to a point where the story does become a bit absurd, as she goes to some extreme lengths to achieve her goal.

There are some brilliant set pieces here (Tara’s dad’s birthday dinner, during which the mostly elderly attendees start recounting their own al fresco sexual experiences, was a delight). And some very spot-on observations about current society. Towards the end, something shocking and unexpected happens, and this threw me off balance a bit - I wasn’t quite sure why it was necessary in terms of the story and kind of wished it hadn’t happened...

Overall a fantastic read, highly recommended.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Far Cry From the Turquoise Room by Kate Rigby: Review

The book....

Told from both daughter and father's perspectives, Far Cry From The Turquoise Room is a coming-of-age, riches-to-rags tale of loss, resilience, and self-discovery, set just before the millennium. It is also about the passage of childhood into puberty.

Leila is the eight-year-old daughter of Hassan Nassiri, a wealthy Iranian property owner, and younger sister to the adored Fayruz, her father's favourite daughter. 

But a holiday narrowboat tragedy has far-reaching consequences for the surviving family. Hassan withdraws into reclusive grief, when he’s not escaping into work, or high jinks with his men friends at his second home in Hampstead, leaving Leila to fend for herself in a lonely world of nannies, chess and star-gazing.

Leila eventually runs away from home and joins a family of travellers in Sussex, and so follows a tale of adventure, danger and romance – and further anguish for her surviving family. But how will she fare at such a young age and will her family ever find her?

My thoughts...

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read it in time for the one day blog blitz on 7th March (sometimes life and work interferes with my reading time, which is simply unacceptable), but I have now and I really enjoyed it. It’s a short novel but an absorbing and unusual one.

Hassan, a wealthy Iranian businessman living in London, is husband to Samira and father to his two little princesses - Fayruz and Leila - though Fayruz is the acknowledged favourite. When Fayruz is killed in an accident when Leila is eight years old, everything changes.

Leila’s parents are lost in their grief and there is no time or thought for Leila.  (Even Fayruz’s cat - a painful reminder for her parents but a comfort for Leila - is given away.) When boarding school is suggested, what is Leila, by now nearly eleven, to do but run away?

The story is told alternately by Leila and Hassan - although the Leila sections are longer. I loved her voice, which is very engaging. Feisty, funny and at times heartbreaking. While I enjoyed the first part of the book it wasn’t unputdownable, but it really picked up pace for me when Leila ran away and from that point I was riveted. 

Leila is brave and resourceful but has no idea how vulnerable she really is. She is fortunate to fall in immediately with people who are kind to her, but as she moves on dangers are all around and come terrifyingly close at times. As the mother of an eleven year old girl, it made alarming reading. Leila’s new life is far from the privileged bubble she has hitherto inhabited - far from the beautiful rooms of her home. Will she ever return, and how changed will she be? Meanwhile her father Hassan is on his own journey...

Kate Rigby skilfully inhabits the minds of both characters and has delivered an entrancing read.

Purchase Links...


Barnes & Noble



The author.... 

Kate Rigby was born near Liverpool and now lives in the south west of England. She’s been writing for nearly forty years, with a few small successes along the way, although she has long term health conditions. Having been traditionally published, small press published and she is now indie published.

She realized her unhip credentials were mounting so she decided to write about it. Little Guide to Unhip was first published in 2010 and it has since been updated.

However, she’s not completely unhip. Her punk novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus was published by Allison & Busby (1990) and by Villard (American hardback 1990). Skrev Press published her novels Seaview Terrace (2003) Sucka!(2004) and Break Point (2006) and other shorter work has appeared in Skrev’s avant garde magazine Texts’ Bones.

Thalidomide Kid was published by Bewrite Books (2007).

She has had other short stories published and shortlisted including Hard Workers and Headboards, first published in The Diva Book of Short Stories and as part of the Dancing In The Dark erotic anthology, Pfoxmoor Publishing (2011). Hard Workers is to republished for a third time - in an anthology called ‘Condoms & Hot Tubs Don’t Mix’ - an anthology of Sexcapades - which is due to be published by Beating Windward Press in the US in February 2018.  It is her shortest ever story and yet the most popular in that sense!  All proceeds will go towards planned parenthood.

She also received a Southern Arts bursary for her novel Where A Shadow Played (now re-Kindled as Did You Whisper Back?).

More information can be found at her website::

Or her occasional blog:

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