Robyn Reviews: The Bone Houses

‘The Bone Houses’ by Emily Lloyd-Jones is an enjoyable, if conventional, YA fantasy novel, set against the intriguing backdrop of Welsh mythology. The writing flows, the characters are engaging, and whilst this doesn’t win many points for originality, it executes the staples of the genre with aplomb.

Seventeen-year-old Ryn is desperaely trying to hold together her family, and her family’s prized business: gravedigging for her remote village’s graveyard. Both are in dire straits. Since the disappearance of her father and uncle, Ryn has been the sole breadwinner – but her uncle left debts, and there aren’t enough deaths to make a living gravedigging. There’s also the small matter of the dead in Colbren refusing to stay dead.

Enter Ellis: an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past. Claiming to want to more accurately map Colbren, his arrival coincides with an uptick in the risen dead, or Bone Houses – forcing Ryn into a difficult position. What will she risk to save her family and town – and perhaps stop the Bone Houses for good?

The story alernates between Ryn and Ellis’s perspectives, although Ryn feels like the primary protagonist. Strong-willed, impulsive, and with a huge heart, Ryn closely resembles many other YA protagonists – but that doesn’t make her any less easy to connect to. She’s frustrated – at her situation, her age, the politics of the village, and even her family – but she cares deeply, and everything comes from a good place.

Ellis is kept more of a mystery. A mapmaker raised in luxury as part of the Prince’s household, he’s treated with suspicion by Ryn and the residents of Colbren, who don’t believe he’s there simply to make maps. He’s too well dressed and spoken to blend in – but even the local aristocrat sees an intruder rather than a kindred spirit. Ellis is inquisitive but quiet, and his connection to the reader is slower, his story taking time to unfold. However, his softness works as a contrast to Ryn’s obvious strength – and it becomes increasingly clear he’s strong in his own way.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is its depiction of chronic pain, a condition Ellis lives with. There’s no use of magic to minimise it and no attempt to define him by it – it is simply there, always in the background and regularly affecting how much he can do. It’s unusual to see pain as something which limits characters in fantasy rather than something they fight through, and the difference is refreshing.

The plot is traditional: once the characters and incentives are introduced, it proceeds to a quest-type story with various hurdles along the way. Naturally, there’s a romantic subplot woven in, and this is slow-burn and well handled, complimenting rather than distracting from the main arc. There’s also an animal companion, a goat, which is always a fun addition to a fantasy. The plot springs up few surprises but is enjoyable, easy to follow, and creates a slightly sinister but never unduly scary atmosphere. Whilst this is a YA novel with a seventeen year old protagonist, this could easily be read by younger readers, including middle-grade aged readers advanced for their age.

The Welsh mythology inspiration is one of the few unique elements, and this is intriguing. I’m not familiar with the source material so can’t speak to its accuracy, but it makes a pleasing change from the more common Greek or Nordic origins. The tales are woven into the narrative well, with each of Ryn and Ellis having heard slightly different versions, highlighting the discrepancies intrinsic to oral storytelling tradition.

Overall, ‘The Bone Houses’ deviates little from the standard tropes of the YA fantasy genre, but it executes them well, and wins extra points for its positive disability representation and unusual source material. A recommended read for all YA fantasy fans.

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Paperback: 15th October 2020
Hardback: 31st October 2019

Robyn Reviews: The Rage of Dragons

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter was originally self-published in 2017, then picked up by Orbit and republished last year. It’s an exhilarating epic fantasy, and one of few I’ve read recently told from a single point of view. The protagonist, Tau, is in many ways an unlikeable character, but written so well that the reader ends up rooting for him regardless. I’m excited to see how his journey develops further in the sequels.

“Let them think me a monster” the Dragon Queen thought. “I will be a monster, if it means we survive.”

This African-inspired epic fantasy follows Tau, a Lesser in a kingdom where caste is everything, the son of an acclaimed Lesser swordsman. Tau lives out his days as the sparring partner of Jabari, a Petty Noble of higher caste, and training to join the Ihashe – a group of Lesser warriors and his only chance of achieving any sort of status. He’d be quite content to be injured out of the Ihashe and marry Zuri, a girl from his village – but when his life is turned upside down, his life instead turns into a quest for vengeance.

The world-building is excellent, with an intriguing magic system and a rigid caste system that’s completely believable. Dragons play a less prominent role than the title suggests – this is very much a military fantasy, with focus on training and battles – but is no less gripping for their absence. It also doesn’t shy away from the horrors and difficulties of war. Evan Winter’s world is stark and brutal, but retains enough elements of hope and humour to make this an enjoyable read.

Character building is less of a focus than in many novels, and consequently the first 100 pages are a bit of a slow slog, but the novel grows into itself and the plot and setting are good enough that the lack of character depth matters less. I would have liked to get to know Tau and his motivations more – along with the other major characters, such as Uduak, Hadith, and Zuri – but the pace of the novel likely would have suffered. Despite being a fan of character-driven novels, I can appreciate why that wasn’t the direction taken here.

The ending is impressive, wrapping up the story but leaving plenty of potential for a sequel. It struck a great balance between allowing this novel to stand alone and leaving plenty of questions to be answered in subsequent books – something that not every novel manages. I like the note it ended on and hope the sequel builds on these excellent foundations.

“The Lessers shook the Crags with the power in their voices. ‘The world burns!’”

Overall, this is a fabulous epic fantasy novel likely to appeal to fans of plot-driven stories – especially those with a military focus. In many ways, it’s a more traditional style of fantasy than many recent entries to the genre. A recommended read, and I’m looking forward to picking up the sequel.


Published by Orbit
Hardback: 16th July 2019, Paperback: 10th March 2020

The sequel, The Fires of Vengeance, is due for publication by Orbit on the 10th November 2020.

Robyn Reviews: The Once and Future Witches

It’s safe to say that October is one of the best months in book publishing history. First, we had The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – now Alix E Harrow is throwing her own (pointy) hat into the ring with The Once and Future Witches.

It isn’t fair to any of the other books being published in 2020 that they have to compete with this. The Once and Future Witches is one of my favourite books of all time. Reading it is like being immersed of a bath of magic and witchcraft, hopes and dreams, power and joy. Alix E Harrow wields words like a master sculptor creating their pièce de résistance. There’s nothing I can say to adequately sum up how incredible the experience of reading this is, other than it ignites your soul with the fire of all those who have been wronged for wanting to be more than they are.

“She is a woman who understands the value of words, especially the ones they don’t want you to say.”

Once upon a time, there were three sisters. Beatrice Belladonna Eastwood was the eldest, the Crone, banished from her home only to find a new one in the New Salem College Library. Agnes Amarantha Eastwood was the middle sister, the brave one, the Mother, holding a punishing job in the mill where she could avoid having to care about anyone else. James Juniper Eastwood was the youngest, the Maiden, a firecracker of a girl who burned with the injustice of the world and wouldn’t rest until it burnt down and a new one arose in its place. These three sisters were lost – to each other, to their purpose, to themselves – but they would find each other again, and the world would tremble with the power of the three united.

“She crumples the map in her fist and keeps walking because it’s either run or set something on fire, and she already did that.”

Bella was the character I empathised with the most – the planner, the reader, most at home amongst her books and research. Given a problem she went to the library and worked. Bella loved her sisters fiercely but also tempered them, soothing Juniper’s more bloodthirsty elements and prodding Agnes into action when she faltered. Bella would never be the spokesperson, the radical thinker, the ideas generator – but she would always be there giving the ideas roots and branches, turning them from abstract dreams into tangible, inevitable reality. No plan would get anywhere without a Bella.

“Together they dared to dream of a better world, where women weren’t broken and sisters weren’t sundered and rage wasn’t swallowed.”

Agnes was the beating heart of the trio – at first cautious, careful, burned too many times, but later the fierce, clawed figure of a mother protecting her cubs. Juniper saw Agnes as a coward, but really Agnes was the brave one – the one not afraid to say no when everyone else insisted she say yes. I understood Agnes less than the others, but then I’m not a mother – I don’t know what it’s like to hold another life in your hand that you value so much more than your own.

Juniper was all thorny branches and tangled thickets and bloody, scraped knees. Juniper was what happened to a dog kicked once too many times that suddenly scented weakness in its owner. Juniper didn’t know words like restraint, or forgiveness, or subtlety – she answered every question with a fist and a curse hissed under her breath. She was not the swooning Maiden of your fairytales. I loved Juniper – loved how fierce she was, how determined, how she never apologised or thought but simply rushed in with no thought of the consequences. The world would be a very different place with a few more Juniper’s in it.

“All the caring was beaten and burned out of her, and now she’s just hate with a heartbeat.”

The plot is excellent, twisting like smoke, but the three sisters are by far the most important part. This book is moulded on the strength of their characters and the sheer beauty of Alix E Harrow’s writing. The fact that the plot is so clever is merely the cherry on top (and the little references and similarities to The Ten Thousand Doors of January an extra little garnish).

Read this book. Listen to the story of the three sisters and let them speak to your soul. Maybe these words will be the ones you need to spark the will and the way, and change your life for the better.

Published by Orbit
Hardback: 13 October 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Bone Shard Daughter

The Bone Shard Daughter is brilliantly readable epic fantasy full of original magic and compelling, diverse characters. The different plot arcs pulled me in and kept me hooked, with twists that were foreshadowed enough to not be entirely surprising but still felt bold and clever. The backdrop – an Emperor unliked and untrusted by his people, supposedly protecting them from a mysterious threat that no-one is sure is real – is well-trodden territory, but was just different enough here to maintain interest.

There are five point of view characters – two main, and three more secondary. The first, Lin, is the Emperor’s daughter – quick-witted and loyal, and determined to become better at the Bone Magic only the Emperor’s bloodline can learn than her foster brother, Bayan. Lin could be naïve and somewhat cold, but her kindness to the constructs and desire to do better always shone through. I always rooted for her, although I wasn’t sure I believed in what she was fighting for – mostly because she wasn’t sure herself.

The second, Jovis, is a smuggler. Wanted by the Empire for his smuggling, and by the smugglers for failing to pay his debts, he’s on the run, searching for his ex-girlfriend – but one good deed snowballs into another, and suddenly he’s involved in a movement he never wanted to be a part of. I loved Jovis – his kind heart, his dedication to his lost lover, and his relationship with Mephis. Jovis is the stereotypical soft-hearted rogue we all need. I loved the idea of the Bone Magic and the constructs, but I almost found Jovis’s parts more compelling because he was just so nice.

The other point of view characters – Ramani, Phalue, and Sand – were interesting, but for the most part less compelling. Sand was the exception – at first, I wasn’t sure why she was included, but her revelations were truly surprising and I’m excited to see more of her in the sequel. Ramani and Phalue were great characters, and Phalue especially had a brilliant arc, but they added less to the overall story. It was nice to see a romantic relationship between two women fighting to make it work across class differences, ambitions, and beliefs, but I never quite understood how the relationship worked – hopefully it will be fleshed out in future books.

Overall, this was an easy-to-read but still creative epic fantasy with intriguing magic systems and characters you wanted to root for. The finale wasn’t quite satisfying enough – and the sequels have potential to be even better. I’ll definitely be looking out for them when they’re published.


Published by Orbit (Little Brown Books)
Hardback: 10 September 2020

Robyn Reviews: We Ride The Storm

We Ride The Storm is true epic fantasy – multiple points of view across multiple factions in a world on the brink of war. It’s a delight following all the separate pieces on the board and musing how they might come together. The plot twists and turns with plenty of action and intrigue; I was always curious to know what would happen next.

The chapters alternate between three characters – Miko, Cassandra, and Rah – and all of them are fantastic. Miko is the sister of Tanaka, the apparent heir to Emperor Kin and ruler of the Kisia. Better at politics and far less rash than her brother, she wishes that it were she who had been born a boy and might someday rule the Empire. I loved her – she was strong and witty but real, still regularly outplayed and at the whims of her emotions. I’d want her on my side in a fight.

Cassandra is the most intriguing character but the least well utilised. A sex worker and assassin from Chiltae, Cassandra seduces men then kills them for whoever pays her the most. But there’s more to her than there seems, and she’s driven by motives stronger than money. When Cassandra was introduced, I thought she would be my favourite – but her role in this is smaller than the other main characters, and – without giving any spoilers – there’s only so many times you can end a chapter by blacking out. Hopefully she plays a stronger role in future books.

Rah is the head of the Second Swords of Torin, a tribe of horsemen from the Levanti. He and his Swords are searching for Gideon, head of the First Swords of Torin, who disappeared on an excursion into Chiltae nearly two years ago. Rah is a delight – loyal to his Swords and his customs but playing at a game with bigger stakes than he understands. He’s the sort of friend everyone needs – supportive but will always challenge you if he thinks you’re doing wrong.

We Ride The Storm was originally self-published, and came to prominence in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog-Off, an annual competition to find the best self-published science fiction and fantasy. It was subsequently picked up by Orbit for re-publication. Having not read the original self-published version, I don’t know how much Orbit have edited it, but I can say it’s a little rough around the edges. The plot is fast-paced and enjoyable and leaves you rooting for the characters, but some of the transitions are a little clunky. I suspect that this will be ironed out in the sequels and am excited to see how they further develop Madson’s writing.

The biggest issue I had was with the ending – it’s a complete cliffhanger, to the extent that it doesn’t feel like the ending of a book. It would be more appropriate as the end of a ‘Part One’. Still, it means that I’ll need to pick up book two which is probably what the author intended…

Overall, this is a solid addition to the epic fantasy genre. Recommended for fans of stories about revolutions and war – especially fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and the Stormlight Archives.


Published by Orbit
Paperback: 25th June 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Ten Thousand Doors of January


‘The Ten Thousand Doors of January’ is a beautiful book. The writing is as gorgeous and magical as the subject matter, taking you away into a world of infinite doors and infinite possibilities. It’s a book about dreams, about believing in something more, about daring to go looking for something beyond your front door. For those who use fiction as escapism, this is the ultimate escape.

“Sentences may alter the weather, and poems might tear down walls. Stories might change the world.”

The protagonist, January, is a seventeen-year-old who grew up as the ward of a wealthy collector, Mr Locke, in turn-of-the-20th century Vermont. Her father works for Mr Locke, travelling across the globe to find treasures for his collection. She never knew her mother. January is in some ways a spoilt child, living in a large house and given education and luxuries that other girls like her – darker skinned but light eyed, an ‘in between thing’ as Mr Locke calls her – couldn’t access. However, she is also a caged child, kept as a jewel in the collection. She has to be good – quiet, docile, a pampered pet rather than a person of her own. There’s no space in her life for adventures.

But of course, adventure finds her as it is wont to do.

“I wanted wide-open horizons and worn shoes and strange constellations spinning above me like midnight riddles. I wanted danger and mystery”

There are two narrative threads woven throughout the novel – January’s life, as she’s living it, and ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’, a book she found in a random chest in her sponsor’s vast collection that tells a story of something January barely dared to believe in – the Doors between words. It’s a very effective technique, gradually revealing secrets without sacrificing narrative pace. ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’ sections were written in an entirely different font of different size and with different formatting, clearly differentiating them from the main plot.

The cast of supporting characters is varied and intriguing.

Mr Locke, the collector, is adored by January – more present in her life than her own father, he moulds her into his vision of the perfect daughter – but he keeps her isolated and shut away, and it’s clear that there’s more to him than there seems.

Julian, January’s true father, plays more of a cameo role in her life, but you feel for him every time – this loving man who so rarely gets the chance to see his daughter, and whose daughter resents him for it.

Jane is the badass warrior woman we all need in our lives, but also complex with her own difficulties and emotional traumas.

Samuel is the least substantial of the main cast, but in a story about hopes and dreams he has a role to play.

I won’t mention too much about Adelaide or Yule – you can find out their story for yourselves.

At times, I did struggle with the childlike tone of the narration. January is seventeen but reads much younger. That being said, she’s lived a very sheltered and pampered life, and this is a book about dreams and adventure and other things we’re constantly told are childish. The tone of the narration fits the story – it fits January, the girl who dared to dream when everyone tried to lock her in a box and make her conform. She refused to grow up; refused to grow out of believing in stories. This is a book which demands that the reader let go of their adult cynicism and re-find that childish optimism – that there’s more to the world than there seems.

This isn’t a book for everyone – the plot can be somewhat predictable, and it’s a book with capital V Villains rather than the more complex, relatable villains that add so much interest to a story – but for those who like beautiful prose, stories about hope and dreams and other worlds, stories about going looking for adventure and believing so much in finding it that you can step off the map entirely, this is the book for you. I hope it takes you somewhere else for a while.

“It is my hope that this story is your thread, and at the end of it you find a door.”


Published by Orbit
Hardback: 10th September 2019
Paperback: 14th May 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was Alix E Harrow’s debut novel. Her second, entirely unrelated, book ‘The Once and Future Witches’ will be published by Orbit on 13th October 2020.

Book Review: This Brutal House

This review was written for and originally published by Bookmunch.

Every now and then a book appears that teaches me of a culture I had been unaware existed, perhaps because it has never been referred to by the tribe I mix with – proof of the echo chambers in which we often inadvertently live. This Brutal House introduced me to Voguing – a ‘style of dance or performance that arose from Harlem ballroom cultures, as danced by African-American and Latino drag queens and gay men, from the early 1960s’ (source: Wikipedia). The story is based in New York City and features people who compete in Vogue Balls for money and kudos amongst peers.

Opening on the steps of City Hall, five elders and mothers are beginning a silent protest at the inaction of the authorities in locating their children who have gone missing.

“it should not only be pageant queens whose faces grace the back of milk cartons but girls who are trapped inside the bodies of boys; those who break out of their incarceration by wearing make-up, boys who like boys”

Within City Hall is an employee, Teddy, who lived with the mothers for a number of years. Through his access to official records he now knows more about what happened to some of his missing siblings. He has not shared these truths with the mothers, wishing to protect them as they once offered him a home.

The mothers are not blood mothers but rather men who take in children needing shelter and who they may then enter in the Vogue Balls. Additional funds are raised by offering sexual favours. Although groomed by the mothers, the children are willing participants. Those who do not wish to dress up in drag and dance can help out in cloakrooms or take on other supporting roles. The children live with the mothers having been rejected elsewhere.

“They were wanted at home; needed until they failed to live up to expectations of manhood. Most were loved, even if they were seldom heard.”

Teddy is assigned by his employer to keep an eye on the growing protest. He is long used to looking out for the mothers’ practical wellbeing.

“Teddy, with better penmanship and turn of phrase, who could reply to the electric company and the rent control board in the language they wanted rather than the guttural tongue by which we were raised.”

The reader is offered glimpses of what is happening and why the situation has been created and then escalates.

“We are unwanted noise, not to be seen or heard”

“The city deems us rodents”

The story unfolds from the points of view of the mothers, the children, various City employees and, most of all, Teddy. He is well aware of the corruption that exists in government and aims to use it to the mothers’ advantage. He observes potential threats and suggests to his colleagues that visible support could be publicly advantageous. He walks the political tightrope carefully.

“When did our police force augment into a military mindset, after funds allowed purchase of the first armour-plated SUV, or the second?”

The chapters told from Teddy’s point of view provide interesting background to life in his mothers’ apartment where, as a boy, he was smitten by one of the now missing children.

“He knows that if Sherry had stayed around she would have moved on of her own volition, her attention mercurial, his dissatisfaction, ancestral and chronic. He would always be unable to mend what needed to be mended.”

When the police respond to reports of the missing, they question the children’s provenance and nature of relationships – why boys have been taken in by older men.

Underscoring the narrative is the question of what is being offered and what taken. Choices are made but by those whose circumstances lead to limited options.

The mothers regard their actions as philanthropic, at least on the surface.

“By nature we are crowd-pleasers, craving the approval of our own, wishing the children to be schooled in our ways, independent, but cut from our cloth. How else can any of the old ways survive?”

Within the various houses that the Vogue mothers run there is a hankering after baubles and couture which are regarded as signifiers of beauty at the balls. The children are trained in how to walk provocatively, dance and strike a pose. They seek attention and validation. The mothers compete to train the child who will win for their house. They beat and berate. I pondered how such behaviour differed from coercion applied by blood families to bring perceived honour above individuals being themselves.

On the steps of City Hall, the protesters seek support and acceptance by a mainstream that struggles to see beyond men wearing wigs, dresses and make-up.

As points of view shift each character is presented as both an emotive and rounded person with issues and sensitivities and then as a derided facsimile whose vision remains blinkered. No easy answers are provided to offset what are often flawed decisions. Family – blood and adopted – are shown to be as culpable as individuals, and government.

Two of the chapters are set at the Vogue Balls. The structure of these is repetitive and tiring to read but succeeds in getting across the intensity of the occasions.

The writing elsewhere is stiletto sharp yet with almost poetic insight in places, although some of Teddy’s later streams of thought may have benefitted from more succinctness.

Any Cop?: A layered tale with a poignant turning point that demonstrates how misunderstood most people are, even by themselves.

“They speak as children sending their parents away, only to wait anxiously at the door once the thrill of the first few nights has worn off. Willing mischief, but knowing they’ll tire of it.”

“Something crumbles in the knowledge that you are no longer needed”


Jackie Law

Book Review: The Stepford Wives

Anyone who does not already know the story of The Stepford Wives should skip the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk that opens this edition and read it at the end. It is a thought-provoking opinion piece but gives away key elements of the plot. I picked up my copy of the tale having seen the film (the 1975 version) so was familiar with what would unfold. As is often the case, the book offers a much more powerful depiction than that shown on screen.

Given the way many men, and also certain women, are currently regarding today’s young women, this is a story that deserves to, once again, be widely read. Have we gone backwards from 1972 when the book was first published? Palahnick writes in this 2011 edition:

“In The Nannie Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic, in this new generation of ‘chick lit’ novels, men are once more the goal. It’s successful women who torment our pretty, painted narrators […] women may now choose to be pretty, stylishly dressed, and vapid. This is no longer the shrill, politically charged climate of 1972; if it’s a choice freely made, then it’s . . . okay.”

“It’s fine. This is what the modern politically aware, fully awake, enlightened, assertive woman really, really, really wants: a manicure.”

The story opens with Joanna and Walter Eberhart, parents of Pete and Kim, settling into their new suburban home in Stepford having left the dirty and dangerous New York City. Joanna, a freelance photographer, is telling The Welcome Wagon Lady about her interests for the ‘Notes on Newcomers’ section of the local paper. Her female neighbours seem more interested in maintaining their already immaculate homes than in socialising. She hopes the article will help her find more forward thinking, like-minded friends. Walter plans to establish himself within the community by joining the local Men’s Association. Joanna is appalled that her supposedly liberated husband will consider attending a club that bans women.

Through the article in the newspaper Joanna meets Bobbie and then Charmaine. The three women get together and collectively wonder at the many beautiful and carefully presented wives in Stepford whose key interest seems to be housework. Their invitations to set up some sort of club for women have been declined with claims that there is no time for such pursuits if homes are to be maintained. And then the vocal and energetic Charmaine changes.

The gradual shift from suburban bliss to the horror of the situation is masterfully achieved. Even knowing the denouement I had to set down the book to catch my breath before finishing. The lengths the men of Stepford will go to in order to ensure their wives take more care over their appearance and become quiet and subservient may appear extreme. Swap their direct action for relentless and widespread emotional coercion and it is all too believable today.

This is a short book that packs a mighty punch with its succinct and fluid structure and language. I am left pondering just how many men would secretly prefer a Stepford Wife to a partner who is, at least, their equal.

The Stepford Wives is published by Corsair.

Book Review: Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, by Adelle Stripe, tells the story of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar who is perhaps best known for the 1987 film adaptation of her second play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too. The book is “a work of fiction and is an alternative version of historic events”. The author has sourced her story from letters, scripts, newspaper cuttings and memories of those who knew Andrea before her death, aged twenty-nine, following her collapse in a local pub she frequented.

Andrea grew up on a run down council estate in the north of Thatcher’s Britain, where factory closures exacerbated the social problems caused by unemployment and limited options for residents. Her skill as a writer was recognised at school but not picked up until a chance meeting with a support worker, Claire, at a women’s refuge where Andrea was sheltering after her boyfriend, the father of her child, started beating her. Andrea was no stranger to domestic violence as her alcoholic father had regularly meted out vicious punishments.

Claire had a contact in London’s theatre land to whom she sent samples of Andrea’s first play, written for her English CSE. The potential of the work was recognised but required that Andrea travel to the capital city. Although excited by the opportunity, this dropped Andrea into a rarefied world that highlighted the stark divide between the lives of those in the north and south of England.

Andrea harboured a great deal of anger at the way she was regarded by the Guardian reading artistic Londoners she had to work with, especially when they edited her words. Having had three children by three different fathers she knew that she appeared to personify the ‘feckless working class’ of political rhetoric. Her gritty plays were written from dialogue she overheard, the life she experienced. Her peers from the estates did not always appreciate the way they were being portrayed.

The author presents Andrea’s story as a mix of diary entries, documentary style dialogue and updates. It is a humane and empathetic representation of a life the protagonist wished to improve but not escape. Living within the crumbling council estates was harsh but there was a sense of community. Andrea was supported by family and friends who were proud of the achievements she struggled to deal with. She fitted in here more than she ever could in London, a city whose influential residents have always, seemingly, failed to comprehend the realities of life beyond their accepted scripts and lived experience.

This story is amongst the best depictions of the north south divide in England that I have read. There is no attempt to glorify the hardship or to tap emotional responses, rather it is a story of a young woman whose messy life brought a degree of fame but rarely happiness. It highlights the reasons for the resentments, the chasm that appears to bewilder those based around London when others beyond the city disagree with their points of view. This is as relevant now as when Andrea lived.

My copy of this book was borrowed from the library.

Adelle Stripe will be appearing at the Marlborough Literature Festival with Mick Kitson on Sunday 30th September 2018. For more information click here.

Book Review: The Million Dollar Blog


The Million Dollar Blog, by Natasha Courtenay-Smith, is an advice book written mainly for those who wish to run their blog as a business. The emphasis is on how to monetise the venture, be that directly through the blog itself or by using it to draw in clients to an endeavour it supports.

The book starts by encouraging everyone to blog. It then goes on to discuss the best way to prepare for this new adventure. It covers content, branding, the importance of aesthetics, and of finding a niche that allows the creator to be enthusiastic about their subject whilst remaining authentically themselves.

“Every blogger interviewed for this book has talked about the importance of authenticity and of the reader’s uncanny ability to see through a blogger who’s just in it for a fast buck and not committed to offering real entertainment value and information.”

Despite the title, there is acknowledgement that creating and maintaining a financially successful blog takes time, support and hard work.

Interspersed within the narrative are numerous tales of successful bloggers who achieve hundreds of thousands of hits and earn staggering sums, although often from more than just blogging. They are also motivational speakers, run training courses, produce video guides, paid for digital content, and books such as this one. Blogging is a part of what they do but it is not the whole story.

There is some discussion about content and the alleged short attention span of many readers. Quality writing, it seems, is not the route to a successful blog.

“Whether content is good is entirely subjective. There is plenty online that doesn’t impress me yet it has huge readership and vast followings”

The author talks of scannability, listicles, clickbait and of finding a unique voice. She believes that to flourish a blog requires a constant stream of fresh content to maintain engagement. She returns several times to the need for search engine optimisation. A presence on multiple social media platforms that encourage reader interaction is advised, but hits from search engines will apparently bring the people most likely to purchase whatever is being sold.

The time required to research, create and promote content on an active blog is acknowledged.

“If you really want to achieve something and get where you want to be, you have to work hard. If you want to do it as a hobby you can do it in your own time, but if you want to do it as a job you’ve got to put the hours in because you’ve got a lot of competition.”

Throughout the book I was Googling the various blogging aids being suggested. Most required a financial outlay. If blogging is to be an integral part of a business, and the author advises that it should be, then some investment is to be expected. The target audience is not the casual blogger.

She mentions blogs for fashion, travel and luxury goods but only touches briefly on those whose aim is to raise the profile of a cause. Even then their success appeared to be linked to activities outside the blogosphere, the blogs offering an introduction to the wider world of PR.

I would have been interested to know what the author would make of book bloggers. They do, after all, support an industry where financial gains are notoriously scarce. As she has chosen to write a book I presume she has some interest in how her creation should be promoted. I will be watching with interest how a digital strategist goes about encouraging sales.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Piatkus.