The Shelf by Helly Acton

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The Shelf by Helly Acton

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: An entertaining view of a reality show too extreme even for channel 5 (we hope) this tells us how men want women to behave, and what women think of that.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: July 2020
Publisher: Zaffre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1838770877

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When we meet Amy, she's in a relationship with Jamie. You can't really call it a partnership, because things tend to get done on his terms, but she's sticking around because she hopes she can change him. Ah, yes. Haven't we all been there? Things are looking up when he tells her to pack for a surprise trip. Could this be it? Is he finally going to get down on one knee? Was the work (and the wait) worth it?

Unfortunately, once again, Amy and Jamie are on different pages, and what he has planned for her is something she could not have imagined in her wildest dreams (or nightmares). Unbeknown to her, Jamie has signed Amy up for a new reality TV show called "The Shelf". It's a funny name, isn't it? But the meaning is so much funny as just….awful. Jamie is dumping Amy and leaving her 'on the shelf', along with a number of other women whose partners and husbands (husbands!) want rid of them. They're getting dumped either way, but if they agree to be on the show, the women will live together in a house for a month and compete in a variety of challenges designed to show who is the true keeper among them, and who will in turn walk away with a hefty cash prize.

On the surface, this book has massive appeal for anyone who loves reality shows and dreams of their fifteen minutes of fame, but it goes much further than that. The contestants undertake tasks which are designed to make them a more appealing wife and mother in the eyes of the opposite sex, whether that's brushing up their entertaining etiquette, nurturing an infant or learning the less-is-more art of make-up (men don't like kissing clowns). Before you shriek and run away, be assured that the contestants do not take this attempt to make them better women lying down, nor do they look kindly on the show's host as he highlights their flaws and goads the studio audience into mocking them. These are strong women who cannot be swayed that easily, and several take this opportunity, their moment in the spotlight, to get their own message across, even if it's at the expense of their place on the leader-board.

I found the characters in this easy to read book surprisingly charming. Their men may have dumped them for being "desperate, sad and boring" but I'd describe them as "intelligent, clued up and spunky". It was easy to warm to most of them (there's one notable exception you'll meet as you read) and although I had no clue what it would be, the set-up (and the female author) made me sure I was in for a surprising ending. Without giving anything away, it did not disappoint, and the final twist, three months after the winner is announced, was just perfect. The premise may not make you think so, but this is an uplifting book which flips the tables and shows the women in an empowering way – indeed, it's the men who come out poorly from this whole situation. Some literary license is undoubtedly taken, and I really hope we never do descend into a world where this would be considered a TV show worthy of commissioning – but it's certainly food for thought.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending us a copy to review. It was the first book I read in Lockdown (the Covid drama of 2020 for those reading this in the future!) and it offered up some much needed escapism. If you like this easy, approachable style of writing, but want to make sure you don't get left on the shelf, you might also enjoy He Texted: The Ultimate Guide to Decoding Guys by Lisa Winning and Carrie Henderson-McDermott

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Buy The Shelf by Helly Acton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shelf by Helly Acton at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Shelf by Helly Acton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shelf by Helly Acton at


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