Highlights in the Charts
Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen
Review by Arabella Petts
Patricia Wants to Cuddle is a satirical horror novel which follows the cast and crew of “The Catch,” the world’s biggest reality television show, as they head into the last days of filming.
The four finalists are competing for the “Catch” of this season, Jeremy. There’s Jesus-obsessed Lilah-May; Amanda, an influencer consumed with maintaining her online presence; Vanessa, the villain of the season and Renee, who’s not quite sure she wants to be there, understanding that production is keeping her around as the token black contestant for their optics.
Jeremy and the girls have arrived at a remote, wooded island for the finale which was formerly a popular getaway destination – until a series of disappearances some years ago scared away the crowds. Now it’s just locals and some sheep, but it soon becomes clear that there is something else hiding on the island…a monster? Or a woman?
The chapters switch between the perspectives of each of the final girls, as well as that of Casey, the producer. These are interspersed with some experiments in form, including posts from a “The Catch” fan site, where people are aggressively backing their favourites (think Twitter during the last week of Love Island) and private letters between two girlfriends in 1972. Having multiple perspectives was really intriguing as the reader was able to hear so many different stories and come to their own conclusion about what happened on the island.
This is a great parody of reality TV, satirising programmes like The Bachelor by taking a look at the subverted horror of creating reality TV in addition to tackling more stereotypical horror themes. I particularly enjoyed the foreshadowing: the book starting with someone scrubbing blood from a dead animal off their deck calls to the violent monster on the loose later on. In addition to the horror aspects of this novel, I loved the realisation of the relationship one can have to the uncanny.
Although this has been widely regarded online as a queer horror novel, I personally struggled to see where any LGBTQIA+ themes fit into this book. This of course didn’t mean I loved the story any less; I still see this as an excellent satirical thriller, but perhaps amping up some aspects to create a true queer horror would have pushed it to the next level.
Overall, this is an excellent portrayal of the relationship between horror, the uncanny and romantic reality TV, and is one of my favourite books of the year so far.
Stepping Up by Sarah Turner
Review by Jenna Tomlinson
If you follow TheUnmumsyMum on Instagram, you'll be aware of Sarah Turner's wit and humour in the face of modern-day life’s challenges. A mum to three boys, Sarah's previous books have been a candid observation of parenthood. It's no surprise, therefore, that her first foray into fiction – her debut novel Stepping Up – deals with such themes.
In Stepping Up we meet Beth, who, ironically, is only able to stick at being stuck in a rut. She can't commit to a job or a relationship and actively avoids any form of responsibility. Until, that is, a tragedy occurs which leaves Beth as the guardian to her sister's two children: teenager Polly and toddler Ted. More than aware of the challenges she faces and consistently reminded of her shortcomings by her own mum, Beth has to pull together all of her strength and support from those around her as she tries to step up to this new lifestyle.
The book balances humour and emotion really well. In an interview, Turner discussed how the idea for the novel began from a discussion around will writing and guardianship. This is clearly evident and you can tell the author has thought clearly about the worst-case scenarios of family life.
All of Turner's characters are wonderfully written and believable, which really helps readers to love it. You're obviously rooting for Beth from the second she takes over care of Ted and Polly, but even the secondary characters are fantastic. Beth's friendship with Jory (a platonic relationship that almost became something more) is incredibly supportive and her octogenarian neighbour Albert is an absolute sweetheart. Even teenage Polly is written realistically; typically sneaky and changing her behaviour depending on her audience.
For me, the book was wholesome, heartbreaking and wonderful. As someone with sisters and nephews, the premise of a terrible but potentially very real tragedy such as that faced by Beth made it all the more absorbing for me as a reader. I think Turner writes wonderfully: her novel is well-paced and the emotion is balanced well with the matter-of-fact humour. Stepping Up is unsurprisingly sparking rave reviews on social media and generating an even bigger fan base for Turner. I can't wait to read what she writes next and I know I'm not the only one.