Featherweight By Mick Kitson – A Review

Publisher: Canongate

Publication Date: 6th May 2021

Featherweight by Mick Kitson dropped through my letterbox unexpectedly one day and when I opened the parcel and read the blurb I knew it had the potential to be a right corking good read……and boy was it!

Set in the early 1800’s in the Black Country at a time of industrial revolution, we meet Annie Loveridge and her Romi family. Annie’s father Big Tom has died in an accident and the family of seven soon to be 8 have been left destitute and penniless.

With no other choice Annie at the age of 9 is taken by her older brother Tommy to be sold at a local fair. It’s at this particular fair that feared and revered pugilist Bill Perry or ‘The Tipton Slasher’ as he’s known, is fighting in one of his last boxing matches. Bill buys young Annie for the princely sum of 6 guineas and they, together with Bill’s friend and agent of sorts The Gaffer, take to the waterways in their barge.

Annie is immediately enamoured with Bill and they develop a lovely father/daughter relationship. Bill however is ageing and his health is fading. He has a great love of not only Queen Elizabeth but the ale aswell. It’s his love of drinking that pushes him to buy his own public house and spend his days drinking himself into a stupor, telling tall tales with his patrons and knocking out anyone who brings trouble to his doorstep. But when his money dwindles from handing out too many free flaggons of ale to his pals and facing numerous fines for non payment of bills, The Tipton Slasher attempts to get into the ring one last time to win some money to save himself and Annie.

Unfortunately Bill is not up to the job and fearing for his life young Annie steps into the ring against Jem Mason otherwise known as ‘The Bilston Bruiser’. This fight changes her life along with Bill’s and Jem’s and takes them on a whirlwind adventure of ups and downs together.

I really could sit here and type out the whole story but why would I do that and spoil your pleasure in reading this book? which you SURELY MUST.

It is ram jam packed with colourful characters who jump straight off the page. There are Annie and Bill themselves who are not backwards in coming forwards and certainly do not pull their punches. There are various peripheral characters around them that make up an odd family unit of sorts who all stick together and look out for each other through thick and thin.

There’s Janey who teaches Annie to fight and is a sort of common law wife of Bill’s. There’s The Gaffer a close friend and confidante to both Bill and Annie. Then we have Jem who becomes Annie’s love interest and fight show partner at the fairs, and Paddy his agent.

Aswell as this strange family unit there are also numerous contenders in the ring. My favourite of which being Molly Stych who is perfectly depicted:

‘She was a broad woman of around forty years, her hair pulled back from her ruddy face in a bun, and her arms were thick and fleshy, ending in, what seemed to some, unnaturally large hands for a woman. She wore a billowing dress of green silk, with bunched sleeves and a floor length skirt fringed with grimy white lace. Her wide flat face was coloured with rouge and thick powder, and her eyes and eyebrows lined heavily with black kohl. She looked more of a fit for the stage than the boxing ring.

We follow this motley crew of folk along their various adventures. Not all of them successful and not all of them safe but you find yourself swept away and rooting for them all the time.

Both Annie and Bill are brilliant characters, the kind who stick with you for a long time after you’ve closed the book. Annie is a quick thinker and has bravery in spades. She’s the homemaker and the breadwinner with her fighting skills and she is steadfastly attached to Bill and is constantly looking out for him.

Bill is a man who was once feared and respected who is now unfortunately losing his health due to his own battles with the demon drink. He is ferociously protective of Annie and his friends. Loyal and trustworthy to those who respect him.

It is not just the vividly portrayed characters that make this book such a joy to read, it is also the historical detail which really transports you back in time and envelops you in atmosphere.

I could wax lyrical about this book all day but I’ll leave it there and let you decide for yourself if it’s a book for you. If you love historical fiction bursting with colourful characters you really do need to get your hands on this one.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Others By Sarah Blau – A Review

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Publication Date: 13th April 2021

This book, on paper (oh the irony) shouldn’t be one I would like. In fact I recently took to Twitter to list some of the topics/tropes in books that I instantly take against, one of them being ‘something happens to a group of friends in the past which now comes back to haunt them in the future’. This books very much has that element. BUT it also looks at motherhood and I am endlessly fascinated by this.

Also, THAT COVER. Creepy doll head? YES PLEASE.

I’m so glad that I cast aside my assumptions and gave this book a whirl because it was a triumph that I gobbled up in a couple of hours after it dropped through my letterbox one dull Friday afternoon.

The Others is translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir and is set in Tel Aviv where a serial killer has struck. The book opens with the body of Dina Kaminer having just been discovered, naked, hog tied to a chair, a baby doll glued to her hands and the word MOTHER carved into her forehead.

The narrative is told from the perspective of Sheila, a one time friend of Dina from university days. Sheila is questioned by police officer Micha in regards to Dina’s murder. Dina is somewhat of a public figure, given that she has written an article based on the women in the bible who did not have children, seemingly by choice and Dina herself has gone on record to say she herself will never have children, much to the chagrin of a lot of people.

In fact, it’s not just Dina who publicly declares her desire to never have children, another woman in their university friendship group, Ronat, now an actress, has given interviews declaring the exact same thing.

It later transpires that the group was originally a foursome, Sheila, Dina, Ronat and Naama. All tentatively brought together during their class Women In The Bible. The girls are fascinated by the concept that not all women are put on the earth to reproduce and they can identify with the likes of Lilith, Miriam the prophetess, Michal (King David’s wife) and the Witch Of Endor.

There is a party where the women dress up and eminate the ‘baron’ women from the bible and it is during this party that something happens to fracture their friendships.

In the present day, the serial killer seems to know things from the party. Symbols and clues are strewn around the bodies which indicate that the killer knows the groups secrets. The investigation rumbles on with Micha trying to glean from Sheila any information he can whilst she is initially a little tight lipped, she eventually gets closer to Micha by degrees and starts to divulge more and more information about her dark past.

What I absolutely loved about this book was Sheila’s character. She’s a very bold and no nonsense protagonist with a wicked almost gallows sense of humour which gave me slight Sweet Pea by C J Skuse vibes. She is caustic and guarded, and a little abrasive and that made me love her all the more.

The ‘something happened in the past’ trope didn’t put me off in any way with this book because what actually did happen was quite dark and it’s sinister tendrils crept forward to infiltrate the future in a ‘you can run but you can’t hide’ way.

I also found myself fascinated by the women in the bible and had to go and Google their stories. I love books that make you go and Google and research for yourself.

All in all I really enjoyed this book. It kept me hooked and had me guessing and who doesn’t love that?

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

My Phantoms By Gwendoline Riley – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 1st April 2021

I read First Love by Gwendoline Riley a few years back, right at the start of my book blogging days. When I saw that she had a new book coming out I jumped at the chance to review it.

I did a quick scan of the blurb and what I got from that was not what the book was at all! But in a brilliant way.

My Phantoms tells the story of Bridget, a woman in her 40’s originally from the north but living in London with her partner John. Bridget is essentially recounting for us some salient points of interest in her childhood with her sister Michelle, their mother Helen (known as Hen) and their father. In fact we come to the story after the divorce of Hen and Bridget’s father and start from a point of Bridget recounting the awkward and uncomfortable weekend visits with her father.

The section involving her father is quite short but brilliantly written and if I’m honest I would have liked to have found out a bit more about him. He’s a strange character but also he has qualities of many a northern Dad. He makes cringey ‘Dad’ jokes and fools around in public to make his two young daughters embarrassed. The girls for the most part stay quiet and don’t really react to his ‘acting the goat’. However, there are times where the good natured ribbing becomes spiked with small acts of almost cruelty, where the humiliation of the girls become the main aim.

‘That outlaws camp was what Michelle and I were bundled into when we got into his car. A rough-and-tumble territory where saying hello was a discardable courtesy, for a start. Instead our father would open with ‘Lock!’ even as we were pulling on our seat belts. If the weather looked cold, he might say ‘Jumper!’, meaning we were to show him that we were wearing one, and if we weren’t, by barking the word again – ‘Jumper!’ – he communicated that we were to go back in to the house and get one. ‘Haircut!’ meant one of us had had a haircut, and would be followed up, as we waited to turn out of our cul-de-sac, with, ‘Did they catch whoever did that? And, ‘Hey? Deaf lugs. Did they catch them?’….’

The majority of the rest of the book focusses on Bridget’s relationship with her Mother Helen. most of this is told from Bridget’s adult perspective. The two of them fall out of contact for a few years and we’re never really told why. Their relationship is strained and is reduced at one point to an annual birthday visit from Hen to London during which the two women meet for a meal and a drinks. These meals are awkward and Bridget veers from desperately trying to keep her mother engaged in conversation to becoming weary of the treading on eggshells and almost goading her mother into arguments.

The dialogue between the two characters in these scenes is just perfectly true to life and utterly toe-curlingly awkward. Bridget tries to wring dry any subject she can think of to make conversation with her mother without inadvertently upsetting her. Hen is an inscrutable character but it is clear that she doesn’t like to be left out. She joins all manner of clubs and groups and is always on the go. She becomes subdued and sulky almost when Bridget recounts anything positive that is happening in her life.

‘Conversely, if I let slip about anything lucky, or nice, in my life, that could be tricky. Once, when I mentioned that I’d been to a Christmas party, she looked very hurt. ‘You’ve just told me about all sorts of festive drinks dos’ I said. ‘This was just like them’. She wasn’t convinced though. When I didn’t tell her enough about it, she said, ‘oh tell me. Oh let me live vicariously, Bridge!‘. ‘There’s nothing else to tell!’ I said, and I searched my memory for a detail I could share. ‘I got stuck with a really boring woman for about ten minutes’, I said. ‘Oh no!’ my mother said. ‘So typical,’ I said, ‘in a room full of interesting people.’ That was a slip up. I knew it as soon as I’d said it. ‘Mmm,’ she said bravely. I tried to get her back: ‘The dreadful thing is, I think she felt she’d got stuck with me too! But neither of us had the wherewithal to break it off.’ ‘Aargh!’ Said my mother. And encouraged, I went on, ‘I think it’s worse when you feel you’re the boring one!’ I said. But there again, that was wrong: I’d given the impression now of such a party-rich life that I could make generalisations. ‘Mmm’, she said, again. And then, again, she smiled bravely and looked at me expectantly. What to say? What else was there?…’

The tension in these scenes is palpable and what I found so fascinating was the fact that I didn’t really know who to side with between mother and daughter. I was fully expecting at the start of the book to find a poor downtrodden woman who has been so ground down in life by her overbearing and cruel mother. This is absolutely not how it turned out and my preconceived ideas were very incorrect!

I loved this book despite its low level tension throughout. It’s easy to draw parallels with real life relationships and identify small personality traits within the characters that I could see in myself or my family relationships.

Gwendoline Riley’s writing is sharp and focussed and I’ve now enjoyed both of the books I’ve read of hers, which of course means I now need to visit her back catalogue.

Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx