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Did Not Finish - If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

It is so rare that I don't finish a book, or that I get halfway through a book and then give up on it. I sometimes read just a few percent of a book on my Kindle or a few pages, but rarely get too far. I don't like giving up on books and I wanted to love this book, so I persevered, I really did. But, I just couldn't get on with it.

My friend Angie recommended this book on Twitter and said it had an amazing black fat protagonist, which intrigued me. I ordered it and picked it up a couple of weekends ago. The protagonist is Winnie, who is seventeen and who spends the summers with her grandma in a small town called Misty Haven. Granny owns a diner called Goldeen's and Winnie works there. She's accompanied by her brother Winston and their cousin, Sam (who I think also lives with Winnie's family full time). Sam is spending her summer babysitting. Winnie tries to get Granny to enter a competition, but she's having none of it. Winnie's ungirlfriend Kara lives in Misty Haven. The two of them are friends who are dating, but are both free to date other people.

So every summer there's a like homecoming thing where the town nominates a Queen, and then someone volunteers to be her consort, and then there's a whole celebration thing around that. I don't think I read far enough to fully understand the ins and outs of this thing. Winnie gets nominated as Queen. Kara volunteers to be consort, but then so does this boy called Dallas, who is totally dashing and who Winnie has a crush on.

This is like all that happens in the first half of the book. The action just wasn't moving fast enough for me, and I felt like there was a lot of telling me what was what rather than showing me. There was a lot of what I felt was unneeded detail. I liked Winnie and Winston and Sam, and even Dallas, but Kara left me a bit cold.

Oh, there's also Granny commenting on Winnie's weight and trying to get her to go on a diet and exercise with Sam. Usually I love this stuff, but it just wasn't gelling for me. It took me five nights to read half the book, which is ridiculously slow for me. So for now, I'm giving up on the book, but if it sounds like your thing, do read it!

A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward - Review

Monday, December 2, 2019

After I ready the first book in this series, I bought the next two off eBay for just a few quid each. I had enjoyed the first book and liked the three main detectives involved - Francis Sadler, Damian Palmer, and Connie Childs. So I thought I would keep going with the series. I have been enjoying reading more crime fiction by women; I genuinely think it's a genre where the differences between how women write and how men write are really stark! I was, for example, shocked when I found out S K Tremayne is a man, because I think his writing skews very feminine.

Anyway, this book sees the same detectives in the fictional town of Bampton in Derbyshire. At the beginning, a body is found in an abandoned morgue some way out of town, and Sadler is called to the scene. He recognises the body straight away as that of a man called Andrew Fisher, who Sadler knew as a teenage. The problem is that Andrew Fisher was killed in 2004 by his wife, Lena, who has just served twelve years in prison for murder. Sadler and his team go to interview her immediately.

Lena lives with her sister Kat in their childhood home, Providence Villa. The place is falling apart, but Kat sort of loves it, and Lena has had little choice but to be there. She's not overly surprised by the police's visit, but she then goes missing. Lots of the book is told from Kat's point of view as she tries to work out what her sister did and where she is now. She starts receiving messages from Lena and is utterly confused about what's happening.

Meanwhile the police are doing their thing trying to work out who the actual body in 2004 was and where Andrew Fisher has been hiding all these years.

I liked the story, I thought it was compelling and interesting. However, I didn't like the ending very much. While I understood the motives involved, I didn't think they were written in a way that made them believable. And I thought the book went on for too long after the denoument, for no reason. Plus Palmer just really annoys me.

I'm giving this book three out of five stars, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one. I will probably read the third one, though.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus - Review

Friday, November 29, 2019

Where did I get it? Amazon, I bought it. 

What's it about? Let me tell you this is one of the best YA books I've read in ages, I absolutely loved it. 

It's set near San Diego in California and is a contemporary YA novel. In it, five teenagers end up with detention with a teacher, Mr Avery. They're a bit of a motley crew - there's Bronwyn, Cooper, Addy, Simon and Nate. The five of them have their phones confiscated and are supposed to start an essay, but then a car accident outside distracts them. Simon, who is the owner of a gossip app about the school, drinks some water, and ends up writhing on the floor having suffered an allergic reaction. No EpiPen can be found, and despite paramedics' best efforts, Simon dies from the reaction.

It turns out his cup of water was laced with peanut oil, so police start looking for a murderer. It then further transpires that he was about to publish posts about Bronwyn, Cooper, Addy, and Nate, and that each one of them had a reason to want him dead. The four of them are suddenly in the spotlight and somehow unlikely friends - but one of them is lying. 

I guessed some of the twists and turns in the book, but that only added to my enjoyment of it. I thought it was a really fantastic book told from four points of view. 

Bronwyn is a super high achiever who wants to go to Yale. She lives with her parents and her sister Maeve, who I also loved. Cooper is a star baseball player who is getting attention from scouts. He can't let down his father, who is really into him being a major league player. He has a girlfriend, Keely, but he also has a secret he really doesn't want anyone to find out. 

Addy is a popular girl with a popular boyfriend, Jake. Everything looks perfect in her life, but her mum is a bit of a mess and her sister has moved out. Plus Jake dictates everything about Addy's life, like the clothes she wears and the parties they go to. Addy's secret is that she slept with a friend of Jake's over the summer, and feels really bad about it. 

Nate is the school misfit. He's on probation for selling drugs, although he's still doing it. He lives with his alcoholic father and his mum isn't around anymore. He and Bronwyn end up getting close, which I absolutely loved - he is a perfect brooding YA hero and I loved him. I think my favourite bits were Nate's bits, followed by Bronwyn's. 

Then there's Simon. Simon has tried hard for years to fit into the popular cliques at school, but has never quite managed it. He has this gossip app that doesn't spell people's names out specifically, but gives their initials. And the thing is, the gossip on there is never wrong. Each of the four of the suspects want to keep their secrets safe, and Simon has come up against each of them before. It's a real whodunnit!

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yeah, no spoilers though. I did see some criticism that there was some internalised homophobia here, and I don't quite agree. I think the person concerned is worried about how their family will react, which is totally a valid thing to worry about. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Bronwyn's family is Colombian, but it's not a main part of the story. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No I don't think so. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic and people always use protection. Again, I saw criticism saying that Addy is slut shamed, and while I agree that she is, it's other people's reactions to her. It's not her internal thoughts - she realises she has the right to have sex with anyone she likes. The author doesn't slut shame her, but characters in the school do, if that makes sense. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yeah, as Nate is a dealer. It's not graphic, but it is there. 

Is there any talk of death? Yep, obviously. Simon's death is quite graphic for sure. 

Are there swear words? A few, not many 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none. My only one really is that there are a couple of gaps sometimes when the book skips between different narrators. Gaps in the reader's knowledge and in time. But you can fill in those gaps so it's not a big deal. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well, you see, I bought Karen's next book Two Can Keep A Secret, and I thought that was a sequel of this, so I thought I had better read this first. But it's not a sequel... But whatever. I'll read that one soon. 

What do I think of the cover? I prefer other covers to this one, but this was the Kindle one. 

What other books is it like? I thought it was a lot like A Good Girl's Guide to Murder. 

How many stars? Five out of five. Excellent, fun, intriguing book. 

Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson - Review

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

When we were on holiday at the beginning of November I scrolled soooo far in my Kindle app on my tablet. I don't use my tablet for anything else except the Kindle app - not Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook or any of that. It's not the best tablet in the world, but it works fine as a Kindle. And while I don't buy many books via Amazon anymore, I've been using a Kindle since 2011 so I have loads of books on there.

I was scrolling trying to decide what I wanted to read. I ended up deleting quite a few books that I'd either started and given up on or that I didn't want to read anymore. It was a good clean up session! Anyway I came across this Peter Robinson book that I think I bought back in 2014. I needed something a bit easy to read like that, so started it.

I have read a lot of the DCI Banks books and I love that they're set in North Yorkshire. I found them years and years ago and got both my parents into them - which proves how long ago it was because my dad died in 2008. My mum recently, a year or just over, decided she would read all the Banks books in order. She's been enjoying them and I know she's read this one. I don't read them very often because they're kind of formulaic, but I thought I would as this one was just sat on my Kindle.

In this book, a sixty year old man is found dead near his home, near a disused railway line. He's been thrown from a footbridge in a scuffle, but there's five thousand pounds in his pocket, so he wasn't robbed. He has lived a hermit's life since being fired from his teaching post at the local college four years ago. No one seems to have had much of a grudge against him, but the police have to investigate and end up going back over the man's life to his university days and some time he spent in North America.

I liked the story and wanted to know what had happened to poor Gavin. I do like DCI Banks as a character, and I also like Annie and Winsome, part of his team, although I didn't think there was enough from either of their points of view in this book. I would give it a decent rating, it kept me gripped enough.

However, I did have a few problems with the book. The timelines, for one thing. It's supposed to be set in around the year that it was published, so around 2013/2014. But that means Banks has been in Eastvale since around 1988, and he was in his forties then, so he must surely be over the age for retirement now. And that's one of the points in the book - that he is nearing sixty (so those maths don't add up) and could be needing to retire soon. I get that it's difficult to end a series like this, but the time discrepancies are just annoying me by now.

Banks is offered the chance to gain promotion to superintendent, as long as he behaves himself and plays by the rules. Which of course, he doesn't. In fact, some people complain about him, and while I get that they're making trouble, it won't make his superiors feel any better about him.

Then there's a whole thing about why Gavin was fired from teaching - he was accused of sexual harassment by two students. The way that these young women and another are treated is pretty bad. The whole book seems to be rolling its eyes at the movement towards calling out sexual aggressors, and is trying to say that there are millions of false accusations - which isn't true. It seems obvious to me that the author is from a certain generation and was peeking through just a bit too much.

Then there's a bit where Annie and Gerry have a spat, and it was so ridiculously written I just laughed. It was not how women would really behave towards each other, I don't think, especially when they both work in a man's world like the police. It was ludicrous. And in the same vein, at the very end of the book Banks takes out a young woman that he met through the case. She is thirty six and beautiful - at one point he's ogling a picture of her in a bikini - and she for some reason agrees to a date with a man old enough to be her dad. This often happens throughout the series and it is just getting ridiculous now. It makes Banks come off like a sordid old man, and I don't like it.

This book was written in 2013, at which point all the above were already ridiculous and outdated ideas, and I'm just... A little bit past them now.

We'll see whether I read another Banks book. We'll see!

Cuckoo by Keren David - Review

Friday, November 22, 2019

Where did I get it? It was one of the first books I ever got on Netgalley, but it has shamefully taken me until now to read it. Many thanks go to Little Brown Books for letting me read it, though. 

What's it about? Jake is sixteen and an actor. He's been on Market Square, a popular soap, until a few months ago, when his character, Riley Elliott, was sent upstairs and not seen again. Jake has been auditioning for other parts but it's so far come to nothing. His dad, Neil, is determined to sort out what is happening with Riley and whether Jake will reprise the role, only Jake's agency isn't being very helpful. The family is running out of money and Jake is getting stressed about life. Add in that his brother is nonverbal and autistic and the family have to move makes Jake want to leave home, so he ends up staying with friends for a while. 

The book isn't told in a straightforward narrative like this, though. It's told as scripts of web episodes that Jake has made and put on to the internet. For some reason, Market Square has been cancelled, and people are blaming Jake for it. He's attempting to get his side of the story across by having some parts where he just talks to the camera, and other parts where he gets some of his fellow actors to act the parts of his parents, brother, friends. 

It's not the most in depth book, because it is told through scripts and web episodes, but I thought it was a unique way to tell a story and quite interesting. I felt bad for Jake and I wanted to know what had happened and how he would tell the story. I liked the inclusion of viewers' comments too, it showed how a lot of them just wanted the gossip and didn't care what had happened to Jake. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, as the above too, but none of these stories are told in much depth. They are there, though. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? I don't think so. 

Are there swear words? No. 

What criticisms do I have? Not many, really. I liked the format. It was a cute book to read on holiday. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes if you're a fan of the author. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was scrolling for ages through the books on my Kindle app and I saw it and remembered I had wanted to read it. 

What do I think of the cover? It's very colourful and eye catching, so I like it. 

What other books is it like? Gosh, I can't think of any. 

How many stars? Seven out of ten. 

Cuckoo was published in August 2016. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Tree Surgery for Beginners by Parick Gale - Review

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

I picked this book up after I'd been to see Patrick in Sheffield as I wanted to read more of his stuff. I've loved the books of his I've read before, but this one didn't wow me on the same level. It took me nearly a week to read it, which is so slow for me especially as it's not even three hundred pages long.

So, the book is about a man called Lawrence. Somewhat of a loner as a kid, he has grown up to be a tree surgeon. He is the only child of a widowed mother, Dora. They live in Gloucestershire, although Dora is American. She came over when he was small, and then her brother Darius followed and is a father figure for Lawrence.

Lawrence is married to Bonnie, the daughter of a client of his. She is kind of way out of his league, but the two of them seem to have an okay marriage. They have a little girl, Lucy, who is three or four.

Lawrence and Bonnie have a fight after Lawrence accuses her of having an affair with an architect friend of hers, Craig. Bonnie falls and bangs her head. She then takes off with Lucy and her faqther, who has never liked Lawrence, registers her as a missing person. A body is then found in nearby woods, and Lawrence comes under suspicion.

Okay, so the book seemed to be going one way, only then the body isn't Bonnie, and Lawrence is released. He then ends up accompanying Darius on a cruise on the SS Paulina. Darius is a bridge expert and is there to teach others how to play. On the cruise, the two f them get close to brother and sister Reuben and Bee. Lawrence begins to enjoy himself despite himself, but makes plans to leave the cruise in Miami to go to Chicago to see Lucy. He also starts an affair with the ship's singer, Lala.

Things go awry for, like, the next two hundred pages. There's all kinds of weird happenings and coincidences and nothing ends up like you think. The narrative swaps places a few times which I found strange. I'm giving this four out of five but really it's more of a three and a half. Odd. Odd book.

Trip to Sylvia Plath's Grave

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Last month I was in Todmorden overnight with friends and on the Sunday we went to Hebden Bridge to look at all the lovely shops there. I had been reminded in the morning that it was Sylvia Plath's birthday, and I know that she is buried in Heptonstall, just above Hebden Bridge, in the graveyard of what was Ted Hughes' family church. The couple lived there for a time, I think. I am a big fan of Plath's work, so I suggested to my friends that we went to find her grave.

I know plenty of people who have visited Plath's grave but I've never done it myself. I had the notion that it was hard to walk to, but when I googled it, I saw that it really wasn't. The churchyard itself got full, so there's another cemetery just across the way, which is where Sylvia is buried. You can drive right up to the church, but it's a bit of a strange rutted lane that you have to drive down first.

We set off up the very steep hill to Heptonstall, taking it really slow. I really wouldn't like to drive up there in bad weather. You can walk up Church Lane from the middle of the village, but that would have been too much for me, so we drove around Hepton Drive and turned down the lane towards the church. We parked and went into the graveyard. I had read that there isn't explicit directions to Sylvia's grave, but that it was easy to find, and it is. There's a middle bit with memorial plaques to people who have been cremated, and she is just off that centre square. Her grave is filled with flowers and pens and little stones and, at this time of year, conkers.

It was beautiful to see her grave and I'm glad we bothered to. The graveyard is very peaceful and the grave is obviously well attended. I first read The Bell Jar when I was in my mid teens, around twenty years ago, and as a teenager who suffered from mental ill health it really resonated with me. I recommend it if you've never read it, but trigger warning for mental illness and suicidal ideation. I also love a lot of Plath's poetry. I have some of her journals, too.

The epitaph on her grave is from the Bhagavad Gita, which I really like. It meant a lot to me as both a reader and a writer to be there, I'm so glad we went.



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