Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens. My thanks to the author for asking me to take part in the tour and for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
Fragile but practical Shelby Stewart and ambitious, confident Astrid Ericcson just want to start their PR careers in 1980s Boston and maybe find a nice guy to hang out with. But long-buried memories of incest at the hands of her local hero stepfather keep interrupting Shelby’s plans, affecting her health one way after another. And when will she actually date someone her friends think is good enough for her?
Astrid thinks she wrote the book on How to Get Ahead by Flirting but is forced to re-visit her career advancement strategy when her boss Brad takes the innuendos to a whole new, scary level, threatening her job and her safety.
Suddenly, instead of taking charge of their lives, both women find themselves spinning out of control.
In this fast-paced story for the #metoo generation, the women reach new highs and lows in life, work and romance, while struggling to make sense of the abusive relationships that haunt them.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book, to be honest. I tend to approach books that purport to have a message with a certain amount of trepidation, as they can often be a little preachy and earnest, which is not something I particularly enjoy in my fiction. However, I have to say that this book really took me by surprise, being thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time, and reaching the perfect balance of both.
This book follows the lives of two young women, Shelby and Astrid, who find themselves in the same circles as they both start work in a PR firm in Boston. Very different women, they don’t get on to begin with, but they are both struggling with private demons and eventually find they have more in common than they believed at first. I am sure most readers will be able to identify with one or other of the main characters – I am more of an Astrid than a Shelby for sure – or at least find some common ground with them, which makes them very sympathetic vessels for the story. I found them both very well drawn and honest portraits of young women. As someone who would be only a few years younger than them, starting my working life in the early 90’s, their stories and behaviour definitely struck chords with me and my experiences.
And this is the crux of the book. Astrid’s story, in particular, rung some uncomfortable bells and made me think back to things that happened to me as a young, professional but inexperienced woman starting work in a legal firm, in a very male-dominated specialism. Whilst not having to deal with things going as far as they do for Astrid, I certainly had some encounters that made me uncomfortable at the time and, looking back, amounted to sexual harassment and an abuse of power by men in senior positions. And I can understand why I, at the time, and Astrid in the book struggled to know how to deal with them. The fact that these experiences will be commonplace for most women reading this book makes me immensely sad and furious at the same time, and I hope that the world has moved on and things have improved for when my, currently teen, daughters hit the work place.
And it isn’t just in the workplace that the women struggle with self-image, self-worth and drawing boundaries, it happens in the home and in social settings too. And one thing that did strike me about the book is that it is not condemnatory of men in general, only those with predatory intent. It also does a good job of highlighting how women can be messed up and make poor decisions based on past experiences and their upbringing, plus societal expectations of the female gender. There are also instances of women objectifying men in a way that we probably need to examine, as well as pointing the finger at the opposite sex for their bad behaviour. All in all, it does a good job in provoking internal questioning on gender politics in general, and for that reason can make for uncomfortable reading at times.
If this does all sound like it is veering to the issue-heavy read I baulked at in the opening paragraph though, I’m giving you the wrong impression. All of these issues are presented by way of an entertaining and pacy story of three young women navigating their way through the early years of adulthood and freedom and learning some difficult truths and important life lessons along the way. There was not a part of this book that was dry or heavy or lecturing and I fairly raced through it. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it infinitely more than I anticipated and I owe the author an apology for every doubting that it would be different.
This is a book for anyone who is interested in examining gender politics at the same time as enjoying an entertaining story of female friendship and empowerment.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is out now and you can buy a copy here.
Please do check out the rest of the blogs on the tour for alternative reviews of the book:
About the Author
S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K., where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid.
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Facebook: Author S M Stevens