‘You Be Mother’ – Meg Mason


You Be Mother is a deceptive read; seemingly light and charming but with a rather dark undercurrent that left me quite a lot more moved than I was expecting.

Abi is a trainee social worker who finds herself pregnant after a relationship with overseas student, Stu. When she has had the baby she makes the decision to head over to Australia to try and make her family unit complete. Things do not go quite to plan.

Stu’s mother, Elaine, is a hard nut to crack. Reluctant to let her little boy go she throws whatever spanners in the works she can, without being accused of being deliberately unkind. To a young woman like Abi – who seems to have had a very hard life (though we don’t get all the details until later) – this is an obstacle that is too hard to overcome. With no income, little support from her boyfriend and a lack of friends it is hardly any surprise that Abi is keen to find something she can call her own.

In a rather unexpected occurrence Abi is befriended by her elderly neighbour, Phil. With her own children all abroad, and her husband having recently died, Phil is also lonely and quite likes feeling useful. Finding common bonds in spite of their age gap, the growing friendship between these two is lovely…but it does not bode well that each of them is keeping secrets from the other.

As the story unfolded I felt unexpectedly caught up in their situations. A vibrant cast of characters and it certainly made me think long and hard about families and how we get to decide who is significant to us.

‘The Davenports’ – Krystal Marquis

The Davenports is a historical romance, exploring the demands placed on our key characters by their families and wider society. It examines attitudes to race and developing social agitation while offering a somewhat light-hearted look at relationships.

Our key focus is the Davenport family. Wealthy, and black, the Davenport children – Olivia, John and Helen – are accustomed to living a relatively charmed life. Their race is not often an issue as their wealth protects them from some of the more common experiences many faced at this time. However, as the family try to secure a match for Olivia and maintain their business fortune, eyes are opened and the children start to develop their own understanding of the world around them.

From start to finish this was both entertaining and informative. As you might expect, the characters often behaved foolishly but there was a sense of them growing as characters. I found the ending a little frustrating, but it reads as if there might be more to come.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this before publication.


‘Weyward’ – Emilia Hart

Three Weyward women: Altha, Violet and Kate. Separated by time, but linked by blood. Both victims and survivors, these women share a bond.

Altha, a healer, was on trial for witchcraft. Violet, raped at sixteen by a family cousin and disowned by her father. Her only solace the insects that so fascinate her. Kate, in the present, escaping an abusive relationship. She flees to Crows Beck, a remote Cumbrian cottage left to her by her eccentric great-aunt Violet. Upon her arrival she starts to unearth her family history.

Multiple points of view can be distracting, but these blended almost seamlessly. With interwoven elements it was fascinating to read about each woman and to see their growing personalities as they each challenge the expectations of their time.

While it’s infuriating to see the ongoing issues women who do not conform to society’s expectations face, I feel that the author focuses on the developing strength of each woman and growing courage to stand firm in her own identity. I adored the way nature was presented here, in each time period.

This is part of a growing trend in books focusing on witches and exploring womens’ identity. While the character of Kate is presented as the one who is uncovering the family history and the one who may be seen by a contemporary audience as most sympathetically presented, I found Violet and Altha the characters who most caught my interest. Their stories, sadly, may have been common and I – like Kate – was eager to learn more about the two women who took on the patriarchy in their own ways.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication.

‘She is a Haunting’ – Trang Than Tran

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication. It was a very different reading experience for me, focusing as it did on Vietnamese culture and it required quite a lot of focus to keep track of who was who at key moments. There were some formatting issues which leads me to believe some elements were rather lost.

Even after finishing, I’ll confess to not being entirely sure how to talk about this book. It was truly a book that unsettled me and the content definitely made me a little squeamish on occasion. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, but it evoked such a reaction that I feel it’s a book I may return to.

The basic story focuses on Jade being manipulated into spending the summer with her father in Vietnam so that he will support her university costs. Upon arrival, her discomfort in this environment is evident. However, little details given then indicate that her discomfort may have a more supernatural element. Her father’s home seems to be haunted.

As we follow Jade through this experience, we see that her relationships with family are at the heart of the story. The haunting also serves as a timely way to introduce talk of colonisation and to explore attitudes to race and culture. While I have to say I know little of this era/place, it was certainly a fascinating read.


‘Becky’ – Sarah May

Having no knowledge of Vanity Fair (another classic I feel that I should have read but have never got round to) it’s hard to pass comment on the success of this modern retelling.

In ‘Becky’ our main character is journalist Becky Sharp. Determined to escape her home-town and poor childhood, Becky wants to be noticed. A quick learner, Becky is adept at getting what she wants. We follow her through her rise through the ranks, to her ultimate involvement in some murky events that bring many of her contemporaries (and her) down.

From the details we get it’s clear that Becky is a character who is ruthless in her quest to make a better life. She is used to using situations and people to her advantage. While these are unpleasant qualities, as we learn more about her life and see those around her I found myself less judgmental.

I’m unsure about the character who seems to be regarded by many as the heroine of the original, Amelia. In this she was insipid, we saw little of her to be able to really form an opinion of her and she did little to suggest she was there as anything other than to show an alternative to the behaviours exhibited by Becky. For all her faults, Becky was a much more interesting character.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this. And now I suppose I should think about reading the original!


‘Hex’ – Jenni Fagan

It’s 1591. Fifteen year old Geillis Duncan is imprisoned, several floors below Edinburgh’s High Street. Accused of being a witch, Geillis is about to be killed for the crime she has been accused of. During the course of her last night, Geillis is visited by Iris, a visitor in the shape of a crow who claims to be a woman from the future and sympathetic to Geillis.

Over the course of her last night we hear Geillis recount the story of how she came to be in prison. It is an age-old story of jealousy and persecution of something unknown/different. The story of her arrest, brutal torture and forced confession is appalling…and I felt incredibly angry reading it.

For such a slim book this packs a powerful punch. It is more powerful for the fact that hundreds of years later we see similar tales of persecution and injustice. A warning tale of the dangers of being ruled by fear, and I would love to see extracts used alongside ‘Macbeth’ to offer students another view of the supernatural and contemporary views of women in power.


‘The Cloisters’ – Katy Hays

A coming-of-age story with a dark undercurrent reminiscent of The Secret History.

Ann Stilwell has moved to New York to take up a research post. Upon her arrival she learns the post no longer exists, but a chance meeting sees her seconded to The Cloisters, a gothic museum. Under the tutelage of the curator, Patrick, Ann is tasked with research. What she is looking for is not immediately apparent, but it is linked to ideas about fortune and fate.

Drawn slowly into this world of academia, it’s evident that nobody is quite what they seem. Ann’s curiosity soon becomes obsessive and it is clear that her unexpected discovery is going to become something significant. She is warned about Rachel, the graduate who takes her under her wing. But it soon becomes clear that Ann is not quite the naive ingénue she depicts herself as.

A slow burner. The atmosphere builds slowly, developing in a very unexpected way. I found myself rather open-moved at the revelation about Ann very near the end of the book, but this then helps to explain a particularly unexpected course of action.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this prior to publication and look forward to sampling more by this debut author.


‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’ – Jennette McCurdy

This book made me angry and sad. I’m sure it’s not an uncommon story, but it’s rather depressing that nothing appears to change.

I’ve never heard of Jennette McCurdy or seen the show she talks at length about, but it’s a fascinating insight into an industry that – at its heart – seems callous and uncaring, exploiting people for what it can and not caring what happens next.

From the outset it was clear that McCurdy’s story would not be a wholly positive one. She touches on the abusive mother, her eating disorder and experience of therapy with unflinching honesty. Yet there’s always a sense of brittleness, of something being held back – and perhaps this is a coping mechanism, but it did on occasion feel like a rather superficial look at some elements of her experience.

I found myself constantly wondering just how many people were complicit in her abuse. It was evident that some had concerns, from when she was six, but nobody stepped in and did anything. That’s obscene!

The real positive that I took from this was of the signs of someone starting to form a sense of their own identity. It might not be a fully finished journey, but it seems she finishes in a more healthy mindset than she began.


‘Becoming Ted’ – Matt Cain

I always take it as a sign of a great read when I’ve never read anything by the author beforehand and then find myself checking out their other titles and thinking about reading them before I’ve finished the book in question. This was my first Matt Cain read, and I’m so grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this. It certainly won’t be my last!

A coming-of-age story with a difference. Tender, heartwarming and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, Becoming Ted is a story that needs to be told.

Ted works in his family’s ice-cream business. He hates ice-cream. He has been happily (he thinks) married for decades and is shocked when his husband says he’s found another man and wants to split up. Such a period of upheaval would derail most people, but this begins a period of growth where Ted reflects on himself and his relationships before starting to live a life true to himself.

We follow Ted as he learns what makes him happy, finds a new love and works out what to do about his family and the pressure he feels to stay in a business he hates.

There’s a large assortment of characters, a thoughtful examination of attitudes to homosexuality over time and an interesting insight into the process of drag. Occasionally some events/interactions seem a little contrived, but this was a story that it’s hard not to open your heart to. Is it wrong to say I’d love to see this as a movie?

‘Austenland’ – Shannon Hale

I’m really not sure what to make of this. I picked up Austenland as it fulfilled a prompt for the 2023 PopSugar challenge, and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have read it otherwise.

Much as I like Austen, the thought of people being so obsessed with her works that they will pay to take part in an immersive Regency experience seems odd. Jane is a successful woman, living in New York, but she is presented as lacking something because of her infatuation with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. When a relative dies, the one thing she leaves in her will is a paid trip for Jane to Austenland.

What follows is just bizarre. Jane and other paying guests spend their days living as the kind of characters Austen would focus on. There are many rules, and Jane finds this hard to manage. Determined to not be a cliché she ends up acting in a way that marks her as the very character she’s determined not to be.

There is a love interest, but it felt a little contrived (perhaps because it wasn’t clear what was performance and what was real). So, not quite what I expected but an entertaining enough read.