Review: All About Evie by Matson Taylor (2022)

Blurb

Evie Epworth is ten years older. But is she any wiser?

Ten years on from the events of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, Evie is settled in London and working as a production assistant for the BBC. She has everything she ever dreamed of (a career, a leatherette briefcase, an Ossie Clark poncho) but, following an unfortunate incident involving a Hornsea Pottery mug and Princess Anne, she finds herself having to rethink her future. What can she do? Is she too old to do it? And will it involve cork-soled sandals?

As if this isn’t complicated enough, her disastrous love life leaves her worrying that she may be destined for eternal spinsterdom, concerned, as she is, that ‘even Paul had married Linda by the time he was 26‘. Through it all, Evie is left wondering whether a 60s miseducation really is the best preparation to glide into womanhood and face the new challenges (strikes, power cuts, Edward Heath’s teeth) thrown up by the growing pains of the 70s.

With the help of friends, both old and new, she might just find a way through her messy 20s and finally discover who exactly she is meant to be…

Review

Many thanks to the author, publisher and the lovely Squadpod for my copy of All About Evie in exchange for an honest review.

I was so excited to catch up with Evie again, having adored the first book The Miseducation of Evie Epworth. It also provided another opportunity to bake, and to celebrate with Matson and the Squad, which is always a joy!

It can feel like a bit of a risk to catch up with a beloved character, but I knew I was in safe hands, and this second installment is just as joyous and jubilant as the first. The time jump works well, giving Evie a gap to settle into her London life, and when we meet her again it is in full 70s, Biba-frocked glory. I was hooked from the wonderful opening paragraph to the very last page.

Despite initial setbacks of a typically unique and hilarious nature, Evie has lost none of her lust for life, her enthusiasm, or her kindness. She’s just a pleasure to spend time with on the page, as are the new characters we are introduced to, and the old ones we meet again.

There are some beautifully written flashback sections that cast new light on the backstories of certain characters, and it is these sections in particular that evoke the strongest emotional response. I think in a way that is representative of Evie herself – she is not just the star of the show, but she also shines her light on other people, allowing them to step into the spotlight. We root for Evie so strongly because she roots for others – she’s exactly the sort of person you want to have on your team.

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot, but if you enjoyed Evie’s first (mis)adventure, you will not be disappointed with this sequel. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her yet, you need to get right on it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: EVERYONE needs Evie Epworth in their life.

All About Evie by Matson Taylor is published by Simon & Schuster and is available to purchase here.

Review: Every Trick in the Book by Iain Hood (2022)

Blurb

There’s only control, control of ourselves and others. And you have to decide what part you play in that control.

Cast your eye over the comfortable north London home of a family of high ideals, radical politics and compassionate feelings. Julia, Paul and their two daughters, Olivia and Sophie, look to a better society, one they can effect through ORGAN:EYES, the campaigning group they fundraise for and march with, supporting various good causes.

But is it all too good to be true? When the surface has been scratched and Paul’s identity comes under the scrutiny of the press, a journey into the heart of the family begins. Who are these characters really? Are any of them the ‘real’ them at all? Every Trick in the Book is a genre-deconstructing novel that explodes the police procedural and undercover-cop story with nouveau romanish glee. Hood overturns the stone of our surveillance society to show what really lies beneath.

Review

Many thanks to the author and to Renard Press for my spot on the blog tour and for sending me a proof of Every Trick in the Book.

I was a massive fan of Iain Hood’s previous novel This Good Book so I jumped at the chance to read more of his work. I also really like the link between the titles (I’m having fun thinking of what his next book might be called) and the gentle intertextual reference to Susan Alison MacLeod which appears early on in Every Trick. These little touches of playfulness are what the author does so well, and it sets the reader up nicely for the meta, modernist journey that Hood takes us on.

To borrow from the artistic theme of his previous novel, reading Every Trick feels like wandering through an eclectic art gallery. From the camera-panning opening, in which we zoom in on the everyday objects that represent the family’s ‘Sunday supplement’ life; to Paul’s interactions with Sarge and the Chief; to his surreal spell in an institution; to the Woolfian consciousness-flitting of imagined passers-by: each set piece has a different tone, and yet the author manages to pull it all together through clever mirroring techniques (of plot, character and indeed whole passages).

This is definitely a book you have to concentrate on, and I’m sure my brow was deeply furrowed while reading (except when it relaxed for the humour that is liberally sprinkled throughout), but like This Good Book, Every Trick wears its intellectual credentials lightly, and the play(fulness) is the thing. And just when you think it has wandered too far into stylistic trickery, it pulls you back in with a sucker punch of emotion, bringing Olivia and Sophie to the forefront at just the right moment.

I think what I admire so much about Iain Hood’s writing is that rather than ‘making you think,’ it invites you to do so, with a wink and a nudge and the comforting hand of levity laid gently on your shoulder. Yes, it is deeply intelligent, self-referential, stylistically daring work, dealing with large, important themes, but it is also tremendous fun, and pulling off this particular trick is no mean feat. I’m so glad that Renard Press has given us the opportunity to enjoy his work, and I look forward to His Next Book

About the Author

Iain Hood by Jeremy Andrews

Iain Hood was born in Glasgow and grew up in the seaside town of Ayr. He attended the University of Glasgow and Jordanhill College, and later worked in education in Glasgow and the west country. He attended the University of Manchester after moving to Cambridge, where he continues to live with his wife and daughter. His first novel, This Good Book, was published in 2021.

Every Trick in the Book by Iain Hood is published by Renard Press and is available to purchase here.

Review: That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan (2022)

Blurb

1955: In an apartment on the Lower East Side, school teachers Dovie and Gillian live as lodgers. Dancing behind closed curtains, mixing cocktails for two, they guard their private lives fiercely. Until someone guesses the truth…

1975: Twenty years later in the same apartment, Ava Winters is keeping her own secret. Her mother has become erratic, haunted by something Ava doesn’t understand – until one sweltering July morning, she disappears.

Soon after her mother’s departure, Ava receives a parcel. Addressed simply to ‘Apartment 3B’, it contains a photo of a woman with the word ‘LIAR’ scrawled across it. Ava does not know what it means or who sent it. But if she can find out then perhaps she’ll discover the answers she is seeking – and meet the woman at the heart of it all…

Review

I’m extremely grateful to the publisher and to the Squadpod for my review copy of That Green Eyed Girl. Apologies for the lateness of this review – I did read the book and get my cake made in time, though, so perhaps that compensates a little!

This was one of those books that I’d been looking forward to for a long time – something that always makes me a little bit nervous, just in case I don’t love it as quite much as I hoped. Fortunately, the opposite was true, and Julie Owen Moylan’s debut exceeded my high expectations.

It takes a lot of skill to thoroughly immerse the reader in a certain era, and in this story, the author manages this trick beautifully not once but twice. We flit between the New York of the seventies, all sweltering heat and teen anguish as we follow Ava on her quest to find the owner of the photograph, and the same city, streets and apartment in the fifties, with all the smoky jazz-filled glamour you could wish for. The dual timeline is handled so deftly – I could almost see the cinematic fade from one era to the other – and, rarely for me, I was equally invested in both timelines.

There is so much quiet elegance in this book, so much careful heart-breaking, an assembling and dissecting of feeling done with a masterfully light touch. Dovie and Gillian’s story would be enough to crack the hardest of hearts, but counterpoised with Ava’s mother’s tragic mental illness storyline, the emotional resonance of the book is so thick it hums. I really felt a kind of throbbing, aching urgency as I read this book, despite the gentle, almost lyrical tone. It is a book that taps into the core of what it means to feel, to love, and I was deeply moved by it.

It would be impossible to review this book without mentioning that there is a character you’ll love to hate – I suspect many other readers did a similar thing to me and shouted out loud at her! It is another strength of That Green Eyed Girl – there’s beauty and love and kindness, but also the messier, uglier side of humanity – betrayal and jealousy and dishonesty. It’s the perfect New York novel in that it encapsulates so much of life within its pages.

It’s a real pleasure to read a novel that feels so well-crafted, so elegant and stylish, and yet so full of emotion. It’s like music, each note perfectly placed, drawing out unexpected feelings with its careful pattern. I’m so glad to have discovered a new favourite writer, and I can’t wait to see what Julie Owen Moylan brings us next!

That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan is published by Penguin Michael Joseph and is available to purchase here.

Review: Hope & Glory by Jendella Benson (2022)

Blurb

Glory arrives back in Peckham, from her seemingly-glamorous life in LA, to mourn the sudden death of her father, and finds her previously-close family has fallen apart in her absence. Her brother, Victor, has been jailed; her sister, Faith, appears to have lost her independence and ambition; and their mother, Celeste, is headed towards a breakdown. Glory is thrown by their disarray, and rather than returning to America she decides to stay and try to bring them all together again. However, when she unearths a huge family secret, Glory risks losing everyone she truly cares about in her pursuit of the truth.

Hope and Glory is a rich, heart-warming story of loss, love and family chaos, and marks an exciting new voice in fiction.

Review

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a proof copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, and huge apologies for the delay!

Glory is my favourite type of protagonist – complex, engaging, and flawed. Watching her navigate her return to London and the various complicated relationships she left behind, I felt by turns sympathetic and frustrated, not always agreeing with her actions but always keen to find out what was going to happen next.

The writing hooks you immediately, and the story carries you along – it’s one of those books that you think to yourself, “I’ll just read a few pages,” and then suddenly you find you’re over halfway through. The prose has an easy flow to it that is deceptive – it’s the kind of writing that seems effortless but is in fact the mark of great talent. What struck me most about the story was just how intricate it is, each strand connecting the characters delicately woven, and yet nothing feels contrived, it all feels absolutely real. Glory’s relationship with Julian is especially well done – I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.

This is a character-driven novel that does not shy away from the complexities of family dynamics – even without the shocking secret at the core of the story, there are myriad other examples of the difficulties of negotiating relationships with parents and siblings, and wonderfully perceptive depictions of how the past shadows the present, and how tricky it can be to ‘start over.’ And yet – if you’ll excuse the pun – there is hope – a realistic, tempered kind of hope, that leaves the reader with a sense of optimism at the story’s close. The characters – especially Glory, Faith and Celeste – have stayed with me long after reading, and I’m looking forward to reading more by this talented author.

Hope & Glory by Jendella Benson is published by Trapeze Books and is available to purchase here.