Books/book review/fiction

Suffragettes Unite!

Old Baggage Book Cover Old Baggage
Lissa Evans
Fiction, women's fiction, politics
Doubleday UK
June 14, 2018

'Essential . . . Evans is a brilliant storyteller' Stylist What do you do next, after you've changed the world? It is 1928. Matilda Simpkin, rooting through a cupboard, comes across a small wooden club - an old possession of hers, unseen for more than a decade. Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing - nothing - since then has had the same depth, the same excitement. Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea - but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie's militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for. Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never, never given up the fight.

What do you do when the Suffragette Movement, to which you had given your youth is not more? And the First World War killed off many men and left many women single – which was not a considered a ‘natural’ state in the early part of the 20th century? And then, you still had not achieved all that you wanted to when you joined the movement, but society was not set up for you to achieve those aims – such as actually being given a degree in a degree awarding ceremony, such as running a business and obtaining a loan in your own name, or even taking part in the Olympics such that a Women’s Olympic Games was set up…

In this book we follow the stories of some of these women in the 1920s. Now middle-aged they are single – most of them – or have ‘settled’ into a marriage. And they find that young girls are rather unadventurous. And  Right Wing politics were beginning to advance into the local area – which happens to be Hampstead in London.

All of which story is dear to my heart as a graduate of Mary Buss schooling.

This is a gentle story but with some serious points to make about how insidious the politics of the right can be, and how easy it was, and still is from time to time, to belittle the work of women and their ambitions – hence the lack of women on Boards – still!

I really enjoyed reading this book and found the characters believable and empathetic and was reminded – again – about my own youth and the restrictions that there still were on girls then in general.

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Books/book review/fiction/crime fiction

The creepy man

The Smiling Man Book Cover The Smiling Man
(Aiden Waits)
Jospeh Knox
Crime, Thriller & Mystery, Police Procedurals
8 March 2018

Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift: an endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends.

Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to the Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city. There they find the body of a man. He is dead.

And he is smiling.

The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth have been filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life…

But even as Waits pieces together this stranger’s identity, someone is sifting through the shards of his own.

When mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats start to escalate, he realises that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move.

And to discover who the smiling man really is, he must first confront himself.

A strange and somewhat disturbing tale of the man found in a hotel room with a smile on his face. Investigated by yet another of these dysfunctional detectives who is yet very bright and very good at finding the criminal, we find all sorts of interesting facts about this murdered man, as the story continues.

The story is dark and not uplifting but also compelling and whilst I can’t say reading it was enjoyable, I was determined to find out what had happened to the man. I did not warm to any of the characters and thus would not necessarily read more about this detective. But the story line was good as was the writing style, so I may yet be convinced by this author…

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Books/book review/fiction

Where to go that’s safe?

Home Book Cover Home
Amanda Berriman
literary fiction,
(8 Feb. 2018)

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn't draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

An unusual and disturbing story told from the point of view of a four year old girl as she experiences her life.

She is a very bright little girl but her understanding of events is, of course, limited by her experience, and what her mother has told her. Her life has been difficult as her father abandoned her mother when she was pregnant with their second child and went back to Poland. He doesn’t provide any  support and this leaves them living in a rented flat in a rather unsavoury building. a flat that is damp, lacks reliable reliable heating and maintenance with doors and windows that don’t fit properly and up several flights of stairs. the owner of the flat also is inclined to request services rather than cash for rent from her mother…

Our little heroine has a friend, Paige, and gradually as the friendship between them develops as it also does with their mothers, we begin to work out just what is really happening in Paige’s life.

I was initially unsure about this story as it was tricky reading a story told in the voice of a child – but it was not written in a sentimental manner and indeed her voice was very poignant. i got hooked and found it excellent.

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Books/book review/fiction

How difficult it is when you have everything money can buy

Rich people’s problems Book Cover Rich people’s problems
Kevin Kwan
Doubleday Books
May 23, 2017

Kevin Kwan, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, is back with an uproarious new novel of a family riven by fortune, an ex-wife driven psychotic with jealousy, a battle royal fought through couture gown sabotage, and the heir to one of Asia's greatest fortunes locked out of his inheritance. When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her bedside--but he's not alone. It seems the entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe, ostensibly to care for their matriarch but truly to stake claim on the massive fortune that Su Yi controls. With each family member secretly fantasizing about getting the keys to Tyersall Park--a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore--the place becomes a hotbed of intrigue and Nicholas finds himself blocked from entering the premises. As relatives claw over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu, but tormented by his ex-wife--a woman hell bent on destroying Astrid's reputation and relationship. Meanwhile Kitty Pong, married to billionaire Jack Bing, finds a formidable opponent in his fashionista daughter, Colette. A sweeping novel that takes us from the elegantly appointed mansions of Manila to the secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, from a schoolyard kidnapping to a gold-leaf dancefloor spattered with blood, Kevin Kwan's gloriously wicked new novel reveals the long-buried secrets and rich people problems of Asia's most privileged families.


The main problem that most rich people see to have, especially the nouveau riche, (less than 4 generations of wealth in my definition), is that they are rich. And for them, they tend to believe that they are the centre of everyone’s universe, and are very demanding, intolerant, inveterate gossips, and basically as selfish as they come. And they don’t what more they can spend their money on to demonstrate their wealth and that they are richer than their ‘friends’. They travel in private jets of course, with full spa pools, masseuses, hair-dressers, maids, make-up artists, body guards and anyone else they think they might need.. and no I am not jealous – except maybe a little bit of the masseuses – that would be nice to have a daily massage.

This book centres on the Singaporean and Chinese newly rich – and those that made their wealth in the days of the British government. The sub-title ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ certainly sums up the story well.

The book follows the lives of a small number of very rich families as the matriarch falls ill and may die and the family vultures that gather around and start manoeuvring.

The matriarch is the heir to the biggest single estate in Singapore and her own heir is uncertain as she fell out with her grandson when she disapproved of his marriage.

I liked the mention of Charlie Siem playing the violin at the wedding as he is one  my favourite artists – I have heard him play in London and he was wonderful.

For me one big bugbear of this book is that the author uses a lot of Singaporean words and then adds notes to the end of each chapter like a textbook. Either provide a full glossary at the book end or beginning or assume that us readers will muddle through – most of us don’t care about the exact translation anyway.


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