Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

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Like Other Girls

Claire Hennessy

Hot Key Books (2017)

YA, Contemporary

Like Other Girls is the story of Lauren, a 16-year-old bisexual girl grappling with the sometimes harsh realities of being a young woman in contemporary Irish society. Lauren is struggling with her identity – with the expectations of perfect femininity espoused by her all girls school, with dismissive attitudes towards bisexuality she finds even within the LGBTQIA community, and with her relationships, particularly with her boyfriend and the best friend she is still somewhat in love with. Then, she finds out she is pregnant. Readers familiar with Irish law will know the implications of this for Lauren, as she journeys alone to England for an abortion.

Lauren is a complex protagonist, and one in an incredibly difficult situation. She makes some bad choices, and Hennessy doesn’t shy away from showing Lauren’s darker and more ‘problematic’ (to use a much discussed word) thoughts. At times this can make for uncomfortable reading, particularly when Lauren is dealing with a close friend (whom she still has feelings for) coming out as transgender, or considering the degree of privilege you have as a cisgender woman in a country that denies women bodily autonomy. I do wish some of Lauren’s attitudes had been challenged a bit more, the transphobia in the book did make me uncomfortable, however her friend Ellie does call her out and at the end of the book there is a sense of Lauren growing as a person. Besides, in other ways Lauren’s flaws are a strength of the book and part of the way it pushes back against the pressure on girls to always be perfect.

Hennessy’s book is incredibly timely and will make readers angry. She uses articles very similar to those Irish readers will have encountered over the last few years, and a chilling scene in which her protagonist is given misleading and false information at a ‘counselling’ service. It evokes a very true-to-life sense of what it is like to be female in a country in which you don’t have bodily autonomy, in which abortion is illegal, and in which girls and women like Lauren must travel to the UK every single day for a medical procedure that should be available safely and legally in their home country. The trauma Lauren goes through makes the book painful to read, and shows how damaging the lack of access to abortion in Ireland is. Acclaimed Irish writer Marian Keyes has said that this book ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’, and I think its readers will too.

Like Other Girls tackles a number of very sensitive topics without falling into that dangerous trap of becoming an issue novel, without moralising or preaching, and without demonising its protagonist or giving her an unrealistic ‘happily-ever-after’ type ending. It is also a funny book, filled with pop culture and musical references, and with a strong, snarky voice at its centre. It also has a fantastic cover – it’s a label! for a book about labels! – designed by Leo Nickolls.

To sum up – Like Other Girls is a fierce, feminist book that while not an easy read, is an important one. We need stories like Lauren’s, and we need to repeal the eighth amendment.

Like Other Girls will be launched tonight, May 25th, in Dept 51 at Eason O’Connell Street at 6pm.

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

I love Patrick Ness’ writing and think he is one of the best YA writers working at the moment. I was delighted to receive an ARC of his latest book, Release, from LoveReading4Kids to review.

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Release

Patrick Ness

Walker Books (May 2017)

YA

Taking place over a single Saturday in summer, Release is the story of a day that will change seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn’s life forever. He feels trapped in his devoutly religious family, his crappy job, his mixed up personal life…he learns to escape and be able to really live. Meanwhile, across town, someone else is having an extraordinary day of their own…

Ness has stated that Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever influenced this book. The opening line is a nod to Mrs Dalloway, as is the one-day structure and some of the style. I think Release is most akin to Forever in its frankness and openness about sexuality and teenage life, arguably it could be seen as an LGBTQ Forever, or a modern day Forever. However, the nods are subtle and the reader does not need to be familiar with these texts. Release is unmistakeably a Patrick Ness book and showcases the power of his writing and the depth of his characters. Personally, I much preferred the Adam Thorn storyline to the supernatural/ghost story, and was found myself keen to get back to this when the narrative switched.

The book is set over a single day, this structure lends it an intensity and gives the reader a sense of being at a pivotal moment in Adam Thorn’s life, of the tumult and change of adolescence, in a powerful, poignant punch of a book. This book is one that will stay with me, and Adam is an incredibly well-drawn character.

Raw, powerful and moving, this is a book that draws the reader in, one they won’t want to be released from. Fans of Patrick Ness will not be disappointed.

 

 

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited

Becky Albertalli

HarperTeen (2017) – YA/Contemporary

Molly Peskin-Suso is seventeen years old, and has had a string of crushes (twenty six, to be exact) but has never had a boyfriend. Now that her twin sister Cassie besotted with Mina, Molly feels more alone than ever. But Mina’s friend Hipster Will is attractive and seems to be into Molly. Maybe this is a way for Molly to burst her cautious bubble, and to not be left behind by her sister. However, there’s also Reid from work, the guy who totally isn’t Molly’s type. yet who she can’t stop thinking about…

I loved Becky Albertalli’s debut Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and so have been eagerly anticipating this book. While I didn’t love it quite as much as her first book, I found The Upside of Unrequited to be a very enjoyable read with diverse and complex characters.

Albertalli makes very effective use of social media in the book; for example the texting and emoji made it feel current,  and definitely a modern romance. Albertalli is one of my favourite contemporary YA writers at the moment, for her pop culture references, her ear for dialogue and nuanced exploration of all kinds of relationships.

She excels at creating very sweet romances, and like with Simon, she shows a diverse range of relationships here. However, while the romance was very swoon-worthy and well developed, I was pleased by the focus on sisterhood and friendship, and the changing nature of such relationships over time. Sometimes growing up does mean growing apart, and this is something that really is explored in this book.

Albertalli’s books are part of the growing body of wonderful LGBTQIA YA books out there.  One of my favourite things about this book was how diverse it was, without any tokenism or characters being shoehorned in. Molly and Cassie have two mothers, who are very much involved in the story and whose relationship and family are also explored. There are characters of different ethnicities and sexualities, and while different experiences are explored it never feels like an issue book. The more I think about this book, the more I realise just how much there is in it. Molly’s anxiety (and the matter of fact way in which her medication is discussed), her issues with body image, the layered relationships between the characters…

The Upside of Unrequited is an excellent book exploring a variety of relationships – romance, family, friends, self – with memorable characters and sweet romance. Highly recommended for fans of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, or fans of brilliant contemporary YA!

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A YA novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been getting a lot of (much deserved!) attention lately. It is topping bestseller lists, and is to be made into a movie. Best of all, it is creating much needed dialogues.
Angie Thomas will be at Dept 51 in Eason O’Connell Street at 6pm this evening, and will be interviewed by YA author Deirdre Sullivan.
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The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
Walker Books (April 2017)
YA Contemporary
What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?
Sixteen-year-old Starr is caught between two worlds, the poor neighbourhood she calls home and the posh high school in which she feels like an outsider. She isn’t quite sure which Starr is the ‘real’ Starr, and how to balance the different aspects of her life. When she witnesses a police officer shooting her friend Khalil, her world is shattered. Khalil was unarmed when their car was pulled over, but this isn’t the story the media is telling. If Starr speaks out she could put herself and her family in danger; but if she doesn’t, how will this prejudice ever change? Her voice is her weapon, but will she use it?
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a gripping and powerful read that I think should be essential reading for teenagers and adults alike. Thomas gives an emotional insight into the life of a black teenager grappling with racism and police brutality. The Hate U Give is a striking look at racial prejudice in the 21st century, both in tragic events like shootings and the insidious effect of racist remarks and slurs.
Starr’s struggle to get justice for Khalil is moving and heart wrenching. She is a complex character, and a very believable one. Starr is a brilliant heroine, she is real and conflicted and her voice is very strong. Angie Thomas really conveys the trauma Starr is going through after the loss of Khalil, and the impact of another death when she was a child. The family dynamics are also very well done and the dialogue is snappy and on point.
This is a brilliant and important book, one I want to press into people’s hands, it’s such an important book. It is a very impressive debut, and I look forward to reading more books by Angie Thomas in the future.

Review: The Space Between by Meg Grehan

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The Space Between

Meg Grehan

Little Island (March 2017)

YA

Beth has decided to take a year of solitude. Hidden away in her house, she lives according to a schedule, it makes her feel safe and secure. She has her own little world, and everything is under control there. Then, one day a dog called Mouse arrives at her window. Mouse brings Beth a rare and unexpected burst of joy, but it is his owner Alice who really changes Beth’s world. But Beth’s anxieties are still there, her year of seclusion rolls out, and letting someone else into her life is strange and scary.

This is a beautiful book in so many ways. The cover (designed by Paula McGloin) is gorgeous, and sets the tone for the book. The Space Between is a tender love story; quiet, emotional and moving. Grehan really conveys Beth’s anxiety and the ways in which her phobias trap and restrict her. At times the book can be difficult to read, and I felt panic setting  in myself reading some of the poems.

Just do the same thing

at the same time

just do it again and

again and again and

again and again and

again and again and

again until it sinks in

until your brain accepts it

until you can pretend

until you can pass as a person

Beth’s connection with Alice, the progression from friendship to something more, is handled tenderly. This relationship was built up slowly, in a manner that felt very realistic. Grehan explores the complexity for Beth of having a connection to the outside world once more. Beth has cut herself off from the rest of the world, and Alice’s ability to navigate it and to do things Beth isn’t able to do anymore is a source of tension. It is always good to see more LGBTQ love stories out there, particularly one portrayed in such a positive light. At times it did feel a bit too rosy, but of course I was glad Alice and Beth got their happy ending. I also would have liked the book to have been a bit longer,  I was enjoying it so much!

I also loved the fact that Alice, while playing a major role in Beth’s recovery, was not a knight in shining armour and Beth has to rely on her own inner strength to get better. Alice says to Beth at one point ‘I can’t be your reason.’ The Space Between shows how love and friendship can enrich your life and bring healing, but in the end Beth is the one who must take the steps, who must save herself. The ending is hopeful, but it is clear that Beth still has a long way to go and there is a sense that her recovery will be an ongoing process, with ups and downs. In this way, Grehan portrays mental illness in a very realistic way. Beth’s anxieties are by no means romanticised or beautified, and we really see how difficult coping with her agoraphobia, anxiety and depression is.

Above all, this is a beautifully written work. Even in the third person, we get right inside Beth’s head. The poems bring us right into her consciousness, and they flow beautifully. The formatting and typesetting are clever, and Grehan plays with the forms of the poems. I loved the part in which Beth is focusing on her breathing. In verse novels, words carry so much weight, and Grehan deftly weaves a moving tale of anguish, love and redemption. It is a short book, yet it has impact. Verse novels are much more prevalent in the US than in Ireland or the UK. Sarah Crossan is the most popular and prolific verse novelist in these parts, and it is great to see a new talent like Meg Grehan working in this format. Here’s to more Irish verse novels in the future!

The Space Between is an honest, delicate love story in verse, a book that warmed my heart and made me cry.

The Space Between will be launched in The Gutter Bookshop on Thursday March 30th by Deirdre Sullivan (author of Needlework and the Primrose Leary trilogy).

Space Between Launch

Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

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Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.

 

Recent Reads

Short reviews of some recent reads!
Vivian vs the Apocalypse – Katie Coyle
Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (Vivian Apple, #1)

This book has been on my TBR pile for a long time, I was glad to finally get to it! A gripping YA read set in a version contemporary USA under the power of the fanatical Church of America. I won’t say too much about the plot (don’t want to give it away!) but this was an exciting read with strong characters, and I am very keen to read the follow up Vivian vs America. A very strong debut, and Vivian Apple is an excellent protagonist.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

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I read this book over Christmas, and felt a bit guilty all snuggled up in blankets and cosy slippers while the author was trekking the Pacific Crest Trail, down to only one hiking boot. This was an utterly gripping and moving read. Strayed is very honest in her writing, and the result is a powerful and uplifting book. While I won’t be hiking the PCT any time soon, it made me think a lot about my own life and what I want to do.

History is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera (ARC, will be published in February 2017)

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A very moving read about first love, loss and grief. I loved how the book switched between past and present (the shift in person was interesting also). Griff, the protagonist, is mourning his first love and best friend Theo, while also becoming more and more controlled by his compulsions. The mix of romance, grief and friendship was strong, and the depiction of Griffin’s struggles with OCD felt very real and honest. I definitely want to read More Happy Than Not this year.

On Beauty – Zadie Smith
On Beauty

After reading Swing Time, I’m keen to discover the rest of Zadie Smith’s work. As a former student of art history, I enjoyed the role art played in this book but what I really loved was how Smith gets us into the characters’ heads and how she explores their relationships. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Ink – Alice Broadway (ARC, will be published in February 2017)
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First of all, how beautiful is this book? The cover is gorgeous and shiny and I was immediately enticed to read it. The book itself is very compelling, and I cannot wait to read the read of the trilogy. It is set in a world in which everyone is ‘marked’, inked with tattoos cataloguing your life. The idea is that this is a way of creating an honest and good society, but Leora soon comes to see that things are not as black and white as they may seem…

I’m currently reading an ARC of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and it’s just as brilliant as I had heard!

The Hate U Give

 

Top 10 Books of 2016

I was very pleased with my reading this year – I hit my Goodreads target of 100 books yesterday. While (as usual) I read mostly YA my reading was more varied this year – encompassing more commercial and literary fiction, as well as more non-fiction.

It was very hard to pick my top books of the year, but here they are – in order of reading. And yes I cheated by putting a couple of series in as one book.

The powerful and poetic Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, one of my favourite releases of 2016, was on my 2015 list hence its absence here!

Drumroll please…

Spinster by Kate Bolick

Spinster by Kate Bolick

This started off my non-fiction reading for the year and was a very moving read. Part memoir, part literary criticism and part social/cultural history it was a compelling read about what it was to be a single woman in various eras, and offered a fascinating insight into the lives of such women as Maeve Brennan and Edith Wharton.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

What a gorgeous book. This Pultizer Prize winner lives up to all the hype. A beautifully written tale set between France and Germany in WWI, this is a book that lingers in your mind long after you’ve read it. People have come back into the bookshop to say how much they loved it.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

This is a fantastic fantasy adventure, and I am really excited to read the next installment of the trilogy in 2017. I have been recommending this book to fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson in the bookshop, and months after reading it that scene with the lightbulbs still sends shivers down my spine.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

I adore Marian Keyes, and this is my very favourite of her books. As ever, she combines a striking insight into the darker side of her protagonist’s mind, combined with laugh-out-loud funny moments. If you haven’t read the Walsh family series, you are missing out!

Bone Gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

This book is absolutely gorgeous. I received an ARC to review, and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait to read it again. A chilling piece of magical realism with an intricate plot and unforgettable characters. It is a book about love, what it means to see and be seen. Unmissable.A stunning read, I’m glad it is finally out in Ireland and the UK!

 

Nothing Tastes As Good by Claire Hennessy

Nothing Tastes As Good by Claire Hennessy

Claire Hennessy’s hard-hitting look at eating disorders and body image has a fantastic narrator in snarky ghost Annabel. This is a moving, honest and raw read. I can’t wait for Like the Other Girls, Claire Hennessy’s next book published in 2017!

How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Part literary criticism, part memoir, this is a book readers will love. Ellis revisits favourite books from various points in her life, examining what the heroines meant to her then and how she sees them now. I adored this, especially the discussion of Ballet Shoes!

Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

This is the best fantasy YA I have read in a long long time. The characters are all so interesting and well developed (it’s rare for me to love all the voices in a multiple POV novel), the plots are tight and exciting, and the world is enthralling.

What's a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? and …And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if there was ever a series I wish was around when I was a teenager, it’s the Spinster Club. The characters are real and honest, the focus on friendship is refreshing, and Bourne writes about feminism and mental health in a way that readers can really connect to.

 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

In a year of reading more non-fiction, and moving into writing essays myself, this was a brilliant book to finally get to. It was utterly compelling. I stayed up late, I cried, I marked particularly powerful sentences. Another book that I feel deserves the praise it has received. What a remarkable woman and writer!

I’m looking forward to much more reading in 2017, my first book will be this beauty  (ha) which was one of my Christmas presents:

On Beauty

Recent Reads

Christmas is coming and we are busy busy busy in the bookshop! Here are some quickfire reviews of the last five books I read.

Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell

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This has been on my TBR list for a while, and it did not disappoint! A soaring tale of adventure, love and hope set on the rooftops of Paris. It’s beautifully written, and Sophie is a winning heroine. It has a real classic feel, fans of Cornelia Funke and Eva Ibbotson will love this!

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The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

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Out in Jan 2017 – thanks LoveReading4Kids for the ARC!

A tense and exciting YA thriller, a very impressive debut from Emily Barr. Flora Banks has anterograde amnesia, meaning she has no short term memory. When a memory sticks, it sets Flora off on a mission to try and cure herself.

The Making of Mollie – Anna Carey

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I really enjoyed this novel – historical fiction with warm and likeable characters. Set in Dublin 1912 and told through letters, this is the story of teenage suffragettes who want votes for women. Entertaining and enjoyable, and I love the cover illustrated by Lauren O’Neill.

10+

Murder Most Unladylike – Robin Stevens

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A jolly-good murder mystery! Think Enid Blyton meets Agatha Christie. Hazel is an excellent narrator, and I loved how the book was structured as her casebook. I love the Detective Society, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

9+

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

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I have wanted to read Zadie Smith’s writing for a long time, and I am happy to say that Swing Time exceeded all my expectations. It is beautifully written, and explores themes of family, friendship, race, place and dancing. It is such an insightful study of character, and I  just loved how she wrote about bodies and dancing. I am keen to read more of Zadie Smith’s books now!

Review: …And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

Oh how I love the Spinster Club! This is the series I wish could have been around when I was a teenager. I have had the new (and final, sob) book since DeptCon2 but I had been putting off reading it because I didn’t want this wonderful series to end. However, last weekend it was exactly the book I wanted to read. Now I have read it, I am happy to report that fans of Holly Bourne and the Spinsters will not be disappointed.

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…And a Happy New Year

Holly Bourne

Usborne (2016) YA

Same bench. Same view. Same girls.

And yet totally different girls…

…And a Happy New Year? is set at Amber’s New Year’s Eve party, and sees the Spinsters reunited after their first term of university. The distance and their new experiences has altered their friendship, and they are all keeping secrets.

Amber has made a life-changing decision, she just hasn’t found the right moment to tell her best friends yet.

Lottie is not enjoying university life in London, but she is too ashamed to admit it.

Evie’s boyfriend has had a relapse. She is afraid for him and for herself, but she is also afraid of her friends’ reaction.

With all these terrible secrets, this will be a New Year’s Eve to remember…

This is shorter than the other Spinster Club books (a novella rather than a novel) and switches between the POVs of the main characters. All three voices were distinctive, and using this format gave us an insight into each character.  I also loved the ‘countdown’ aspect of the book. There are some wonderful quotes about how New Year’s Eve is actually kind of terrible.

It’s about feeling let down by life. It’s about a sinking feeling in your stomach that the night should’ve worked out better. It’s about your high expectations being dashed. It’s about your feet getting really cold watching shit fireworks. It’s about worrying everyone is having a better time than you. It’s feeling, only ten seconds after midnight, that actually, yes, your problems are still here and you were a deluded idiot for thinking a new year could change that.

As ever, Bourne’s writing is both funny and moving, and she writes brilliantly about friendship, feminism and mental health. What I loved was how this book explored the complexities of growing up (and sometimes growing apart), showing how expectations and reality can differ. Each character’s story was strong and their struggles felt very real. I like that Bourne did not opt for a ‘happily ever after’ ending to her series.

And I was angry at the world and the future and growing up and becoming an adult and all the other things that just do not turn out how they’re supposed to.

This book (and this series) is very much focused on feminism. Romance comes into each character’s story, but the focus really is on their friendship. Bourne explores the difficulty of maintaining friendships when you are all off having different experiences and adventures. Her characters are faced with the question of whether growing up means growing apart.

My favourite of the three characters is still Evie, and her story was very moving in this book. Bourne evokes Evie’s anxieties in a real and honest way. She shows both Evie’s own struggles, and how Evie copes with her boyfriend’s relapse. Exploring this connection between mental health and relationships is a very important part of the book, and I liked that Bourne engaged with the complexities of this issue.

We’d both worked so hard to get better. Us, our love, was our reward. We were supposed to be basking in the harvest of our efforts, not tumbling back down into dark rabbit holes.

Amber and Lottie’s stories were also emotional, and this book has all of the best things about a Spinster Club book – feminism (Does any Christmas movie pass the Bechdel test? Is the New Year the most feminist of all the holidays?), great dialogue, friendship, cheesy snacks etc. etc.

This is a beautifully produced book. It was released in a lovely hardback edition. The dust jacket (pictured above) is gorgeous and festive, and the self cover with its foil design is also lovely.

I adored this book and it is definitely one I will re-read at New Year’s. While I am sad to leave the Spinsters (this book made me very emotional) I am looking forward to Holly Bourne’s next book, due out in 2017!