Book Review: Hungry by Grace Dent

From Frazzles to Foie Gras: a memoir of wanting more.

From an early age, Grace Dent was hungry. As a little girl growing up in Currock, Carlisle, she yearned to be something bigger, to go somewhere better.

Hungry traces Grace’s story from growing up eating beige food to becoming one of the much-loved voices on the British food scene. It’s also everyone’s story – from treats with your nan, to cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, to the exquisite joy of cheaply-made apple crumble with custard. It’s the high-point of a chip butty covered in vinegar and too much salt in the school canteen, on an otherwise grey day of double-Maths and cross country running. It’s the real story of how we have all lived, laughed, and eaten over the past 40 years.
 
Warm, funny and joyous, Hungry is also about love and loss, the central role that food plays in all our lives, and how a Cadbury’s Fruit ‘n’ Nut in a hospital vending machine can brighten the toughest situation.

What I Thought:

Having first been introduced to Grace Dent via Masterchef on TV, there was work to do to catch up with her written work, but I have been a regular reader ever since. I guess because we are not that far apart in age, Grace’s experience growing up resonates with me – especially from a food point of view, so reading Hungry was a complete joy!

From ‘sketty’ at home, to chip butties and – oh dear god – ‘salads’ at school, there are so many memories wrapped up in the food we eat, and Grace is able to frame the periods of her life with these shared memories, all told with her trademark wry humour, but there are some incredibly emotional sections as her family deals with the emergence of strange behaviour from her Dad which they surmise is the onset of dementia.

It is in these passages of family connection that this memoir really stood out for me – Grace Dent’s literary side-eye might have made her name, but she writes so sensitively and honestly about what must have been a truly exhausting and saddening period of her life that I was really moved by it.

Although this is primarily a book about one woman’s life, there is so much in it that defines a generation – especially one that lived – gasp! – BEFORE THE INTERNET! It was a genuine pleasure to take a trip down my own memory lane as I read and I’d recommend it to all, but particularly women of my age…

Hungry is published by Mudlark.

You can find Grace Dent’s column in The Guardian, and can catch up with her on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Nick by Michael Farris Smith

Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s world, he was at the centre of a very different story – one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed first-hand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance – doomed from the very beginning – to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavour of debauchery and violence.

What I Thought:

I’ve not read The Great Gatsby for a very long time, but found myself intrigued by the idea of a prequel from the point of view of that book’s narrator, Nick Carraway. He does seem ripe for a back story, as so little about his history is mentioned in Scott Fitzgerald’s book.

Michael Farris Smith has taken quite bold approach to Nick, in that it is only in the last few lines that he arrives in West Egg, ready to take on the role of the narrator that we already know of.

Aside from that, the rest of this book is a tense and powerful novel of a young man’s experiences in WW1 and what the trauma of such experiences can do to people in a physical and mental sense.

I’m not sure whether it was intended the way I read it, but I felt that the section of the book set in New Orleans paired Nick and Jude up to show the depth of physical and mental scars existing in the men returning from the war by consciously pairing up the two injured men whose only real connection is that they understood what it was like to be there. Their association during this section is very dark and bleak but, perhaps Nick’s return from New Orleans signals his being able to rise above his memories and guilt?

I have an abiding interest in WW1 and I felt that the sections of the book dealing with this, especially the tunnelling campaign, were excellent, depicting the every day experiences of the fighting men, but also the futility of advancing and retreating over the same piece of ground. There is also an immediacy about Nick’s relationship with Elle in Paris that emphasises the importance of grabbing moments and experiences while you can.

In the foreword by Michael Farris Smith, he says that he approached Gatsby very differently upon reading it at a later stage in his life and I am interested to see what the difference of years makes to me when I read it again – I have found out my copy of Gatsby to do just that soon.

Regardless of whether you associate this book with Gatsby or not, it is an excellent novel of the First World War – sensitively written and with a real understanding of the loss and guilt of war, I very much enjoyed it.

Nick is released today (25th February) and is published by No Exit Press.

To find out more about Michael Farris Smith, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Second Chances in Chianti by T. A. Williams

Alice thought her future was set in stone, until her past came knocking…

Alice Butler starred in a successful US sitcom until tensions in the cast and crew caused the show to be cancelled. Now, five years later and working towards her dream job in art history, she’s called back for a revival of the show. It can only end in disaster, surely?

Flown to a villa in Chianti to meet with the rest of the cast, Alice must decide where her future lies – with her boyfriend, David, who laps up the Hollywood company, or with the mysterious Matt, who shies away from public attention?

What I Thought:

One of my prevailing thoughts these days is ‘Thank goodness for romantic fiction!’. I find myself reading more and more of it recently as a bit of pre-pandemic happiness is very welcome.

T. A. Williams is spoiling us at the moment with Second Chances in Chianti, the second book in his Escape to Tuscany series, which is out today but not only that – there is a third book in the series due out in July!

I make no secret of the fact that I love Trevor’s books – they are light and funny, but also regularly look at the history, art and culture of Tuscany, plus there is obvious affection for the people and places he writes about. The descriptions of the area are so vivid that you can almost imagine yourself strolling among the vines on a Tuscan hillside!

What I like most about these books is that, despite glamorous locations and people, the lead characters are always sensible, down-to-earth women who are not normally given to flights of fancy – so when an intriguing man comes along, there is this immediate decision to be made – should she follow her head of her heart? I think you can probably guess which way things will go but getting to that conclusion is the fun part!

As ever, I’d thoroughly recommend this book, and you can pick up any of Trevor’s other works and find them of a similarly high standard – plus, there’s added Black Labrador in every book!

Second Chances in Chianti is published today by Canelo.

To find out more about T. A. Williams and his books, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

As Second Chances in Chianti is published today, you can check out lots of other brilliant blog posts and features on Twitter – find the links on Trevor’s account as above.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in Blog Tour | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Tour: The Girl at the Back of the Bus by Suzette D. Harrison

I watched in awe as Miz Rosa stopped those men on the bus with her clear, calm “no” and I thought about that word. What if I said no? What if I refused to follow the path these White folks wanted for us? What if I kept this precious baby?

Montgomery, Alabama, 1955

On a cold December evening, Mattie Banks packs a suitcase and leaves her family home. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she has already made the mistake that will ruin her life and disgrace her widowed mother. Boarding the 2857 bus, she sits with her case on her lap, hoping that the driver will take her away from disaster. Instead, Mattie witnesses an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks that changes everything. But as Mattie strives to turn her life around, the dangers that first led her to run are never far away. Forging a new life in a harsh world at constant risk of exposure, Mattie will need to fight to keep her baby safe.

Atlanta, Georgia, present day

Ashlee Turner is going home. Her relationship in ruins, her career held back by prejudice, she is returning to the family who have always been her rock. But Ashlee’s home is not the safe haven she remembers. Her beloved grandmother is dying and is determined to share her story before she leaves…

When Ashlee finds a stack of yellowing letters hidden in her nana’s closet, she can’t help the curiosity that compels her to read, and she uncovers an old secret that could wreak havoc on her already grieving family. As she tries to make sense of what she has learned, Ashlee faces a devastating choice: to protect her loved ones from the revelations, or honor her grandmother’s wishes and follow the path to the truth, no matter where it may lead.

What I Thought:

I originally picked up The Girl at the Back of the Bus because of the mention of Rosa Parks but it’s fascinating to read in this book not about Rosa herself, but about a life lived in bravery as a result witnessing that act of defiance.

This really is an excellent book. We jump back and forth between the stories of Mattie and her grand daughter Ashlee and it shows the reader that, although things are better for Ashlee than they were for her grandmother, there is still a long way to go before she can truly believe that she is treated equally.

The fact that an educated, young, black woman who works hard and does everything she’s supposed to do can get passed over time and again by a white man who is her intellectual inferior should, and does, induce anger but this part of the plot is used well to provide Ashlee with a turning point in her life. The inspiration of her Grandmother’s life and the discrimination she faced as a teenager in 1950s Alabama turns Ashlee in another direction and some of the best parts of the book are the scenes between Mattie and Ashlee and their family.

The detail in the historical sections is excellent, providing a real picture of Alabama and Georgia in the 1950s – including the absolutely baffling attitudes towards race and segregation. After being supported and protected as much as possible by her loving mother, at one point Mattie weeps about how it’s not fair – and her mother goes on to show her just how unfair their lives are. This is was a hugely powerful part of the book and stories like that are badly needed, and should be shared and read by all.

For such a powerful story, it’s resolved in an unexpectedly hopeful way, with the hope that Mattie’s experience that day on the same bus as Rosa Parks can having meaning for future generations.

The Girl at the Back of the Bus is published by Bookouture.

To find out more about Suzette D. Harrison and her work, you can check out her website.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of The Girl at the Back of the Bus. Check out some of the other fantastic blogs taking part below.

Please note: I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Singalong Society for Singletons by Katey Lovell

Monique and Issy are teachers, housemates and lovers of musicals! Their Friday night routine consists of snacks, wine and the Frozen DVD. So when Monique’s boyfriend moves to America for a year and her sister Hope moves in because of her own relationship woes, Friday nights get a new name… ‘The Singalong Society for Singletons’!

It’s a chance to get together, sing along to their favourite tracks from the best-loved West End shows, and forget the worries of work, relationships and love (or lack of it). But when Issy shares the details of their little group further afield, they get some unexpected new members who might just change their opinions on singledom for good…

What I Thought:

I feel that this time of year, when the damp and rain get into your very bones, staying in with a cheerful, romantic read is much the preferred choice!

That’s not to say that there isn’t drama in Katey Lovell’s The Singalong Society for Singletons, but it’s nothing that’s not resolved by the end and is somewhat lightened by the back drop of my favourite thing – musicals!

The book is set over a series of Friday nights, which is a great idea as the stuff that’s happened to the gang in the week is recapped, rather than gone over in huge detail – the group is big enough that the flow of the book would suffer if you saw the events in their lives play out in between their meetings.

Apart from the emphasis on musicals – which I completely loved – I liked that each of the characters grew from their participation in the club. Whether it was finding new strength within themselves, falling in love or learning to be a more accepting part of a partnership, each of the characters was light years away from who they had been at the start of the story.

We all need a bit of positive thinking right now and this book fits the bill in every way – even if musicals are not your thing, there is lots to love here and I recommend it.

The Singalong Society for Singletons is published by Harper Impulse.

To find out more about Katey Lovell, you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , | Leave a comment