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How to Die Famous by Benjamin Dean - Review

Friday, May 17, 2024

I bought this book in a bookshop in Edinburgh because I liked the other book I read by Benjamin Dean and I liked the sound of this one so I picked it up with a book token I got for my birthday. I picked it up at the end of April and it took me absolutely bloody ages to read. I just really didn't like it, but I can't really put my finger on why. 

The main character is Abel, and he's just got a job on the reboot of a series called Sunset High. He's British, but he's now jetting off to LA to film alongside the other stars - Lucky, Ryan, and Ella. But Abel is hiding the fact that his brother Adam was a victim of the Sunset High 'curse'. Adam fell to his death from a hotel roof three years ago. Abel is convinced he was murdered, thanks to Adam's final message to him, in which he wanted to talk to Abel about Omnificent, the production company that makes Sunset High. So Abel is going to try to uncover what happened. 

There were other victims of the 'curse' too. In the original series, a young woman called Mila was trated badly and has since retired from public life. Then in the first reboot, which Adam was working on, a young woman called Penelope disappeared and was never seen again. But the teens think must be different now, right?  

The other three don't know who Abel is in relation to the production member who fell off the roof, so Abel is able to do some detective work, including finding some people who Penelope spoke to just before her disappearance. But the other three have problems too. The book is told from the points of view of all four of them, although mostly Abel, and this is one of the things which didn't quite work for me. It just made it difficult for the reader to get to know any of the four of them particularly well. 

Lucky's mum was killed in a car crash being chased by paparazzi who were trying to take photos of him, so he's obviously feeling really guilty and stuff. He's Omni's leading young man, but he's drinking a lot to numb his pain and they're running out of patience with him. Ryan and Lucky are a couple, but Ryan is blindsided at the beginning of the book when she finds herself replaced by Ella. Ella and she are best friends, but of course, now the press are saying there's a rift between them because Lucky and Ella are seeing each other. Ryan also feels she is being pushed out by Omni in order for Ella to take over from her. 

Ella came from nothing, and her mother is pressuring her to make her career, mostly because she would like to spend all Ella's money. Ella has no one in the world, except her personal assistant Natalie.

Except none of this is actually true, which annoyed me. It's obvious there are secrets and baddies everywhere, but I just found the whole thing a little bit unbelievable. I'm sorry because I wanted to like this, but I've got to give it three out of five. 

Standing in the Shadows by Peter Robinson - Review

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

You may know that I love the DCI Banks books and have done for years. I think I've read most of them, but I haven't read many of the later ones because I've just got out of the habit of them. I was really saddened when Peter Robinson died though because it meant there would be no more books! I had been meaning to get around to reading this, the last one, because I feel like I owed it to the author and the character! My mum has read all of them and she recommended this, so I finally got round to it. I requested it at the library and when it came it was the large print version - does this mean I'm officially old now? 

In a way it is really sad that this is the last one because I would have liked to see Banks retire and take up a life of whiskey and listening to vinyl all the time, having served his time and more and having had a good career. Plus, Annie Cabot is barely in this book because in previous ones her dad Ray has died and she is taking some time off. I am not totally up to date on what has happened there, but it's briefly explained in this book. But it would have been nice to have Annie back working on Banks' last case. It's not Peter's fault, of course! I just feel sad about it!

This book has two different strands of story, which of course are going to cross over but the reader doesn't find out how until just towards the end of the book. The first strand is set in the early 1980s, in Leeds. Nick is a student at the university and his ex girlfriend, Alice, is found killed. They had split up after six months together and she had started to go out with a man called Mark when she was killed. The body has been found near where a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper was found just a few weeks previously, and at first police think the murder may be the work of the Ripper. They interview Nick but soon discover there's no way he could be the Ripper, but they still consider whether he killed Alice or not. Nick himself suspects Mark, but Mark has completely disappeared. Nick lives in a big house that has been split into bedsits, and Alice lived in the top floor flat. Her parents come to get her stuff and invite Nick to the funeral. Mostly he is upset, and also wants to work out what happened to Alice. This strand of story is really evocative of the early 80s around Leeds University and the fear around the murders that the Yorkshire Ripper did. 

Meanwhile, an archaeologist finds a body in a field near the A1. The field belongs to a farm which has been bought in order for the road to be widened and for a new shopping centre to be built. First, though, archaeologists are digging on the off chance that there are Roman remains nearby. This body, though, is nowhere near as old as that. The police are called in. They reckon the body was dumped around 2016, and is that of a sixty year old man. The police are drawing total blanks, but they are interested when they discover that the owner of the farm is an ex copper. 

There's also stuff which was quite current at round about the time that Peter must have been writing this book, which was about the undercover cops who had relationships with people under false pretences. It's really interesting and very topical and I liked the way it all came out at the end.

In all I'm giving this four out of five because I really liked it and enjoyed being back in Eastvale with Banks and co. 

Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin - Review

Saturday, May 11, 2024

I picked this book up in February in Edinburgh. I was staying with a friend and she had to work, so one day I went to Portobello Bookshop in Portobello to spend a voucher that I had been given for my birthday. I picked up four books and this was one of them! It was actually the first book I picked up in the shop. Recently I've had a few books that I've 'had' to read and it's been a bit of a slog, so I picked this one up because I really wanted to read it. I wanted to treat myself, as it were. And I ended up loving it and sped through it, so it was the perfect thing I needed!

The book starts in 1978 in Vietnam. Anh, Minh, and Thanh are packing to leave. They are the eldest children in a family with seven children - Mai, Van, Hoang, and Dao - and their parents. The war has ended and many Vietnamese are leaving the country. Anh's dad's brother is already in the United States, in New Haven, so the family is planning to emmigrate, via Hong Kong. Anh and her brothers will go first, and the other six will follow soon behind. 

Anh, Minh, and Thanh arrive in Hong Kong and are taken to a camp. There they will stay, waiting for their parents. They make friends with a young boy in their hut, Duc, and his grandmother, Ba (I apologise for not being able to put the correct accents over the letters in some of these names). Then they are told that their family has died. Anh identifies the bodies of her parents and siblings; they are buried in Hong Kong. Workers from the camp ask Anh if she has any relatives in America but Anh says no because she blames her uncle for her dad wanting to leave Vietnam. She's angry with him, so says no. Because of that, the children's application for refugee status in the US is denied, and instead, they are sent to England.

They arrive into freezing cold weather and have to stay at first in a similar camp in the south. There they are taught English and experience snow for the first time. By this time Anh is about eighteen and the boys are at school. She is a seamstress. The family is moved to London, to a council flat in Peckham, not too far from Duc and Ba. They have to share the bed in the one bedroom there is. Minh kind of falls apart. Thanh is a clever student, but Anh isn't sure that she can get him to university. Anh works in a clothing factory. It's Thatcher's Britain, the mid 80s, and being an immigrant isn't easy. 

The book is quite a saga - it moves on vastly in time and we see Anh as a much older woman. I really liked her - she was trying to do the right thing by everyone all the time, while being extremely young and having lived through a ton of trauma herself. I liked her brothers too; I felt for both of them. It's not just a story about this family but it's about a lot of families who have lived through similar trauma and who have come to the UK for a safe haven. 

Part of the book is also sort of free verse from Dao's point of view - from the point of view of a small child who is now a ghost and who is watching his surviving siblings from the afterlife. I liked this - it points towards the family's religious beliefs and the ceremony that they perform to remember their dead ancestors. I love this stuff.

This is a brilliant book and I would urge you all to read it. I'm giving itr five out of five. 

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau - Review

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

This is another book I borrowed off my friend Chloe. She knew I would love it so passed it across, and I did indeed love it and am really glad I read it. I loved the artwork in this book - everything is in the same shade of blue as on the front cover with white and grey, meaning it's really lovely to look at. I just loved the artwork, it's really simple but effective. 

So, Ari is the protagonist of this book. He has just left high school and he wants to move to the city (Baltimore) with the rest of his band. He lives in East Beach which is a suburb of the city, so he's desperate to get away, and it's going to be so cool to live with his band, which contains his closest friends! But there's the problem of his family's bakery. Ari has to work there whenever he's needed, and he's totally sick of it. He's sick of baking baguettes and bagels and cupcakes and all the rest of it. So he makes a deal with his dad that he will find his own replacement.

Enter Hector. Hector is from Birmingham (Alabama, I presume, but it's not spelt out I don't think) and I also think he's Samoan or at least part Samoan. Ari's family is Greek, the bakery is Greek too. He loves baking and he's also really good at it. Ari keeps working there and the two of them get close and start flirting with each other. Hector has an ex boyfriend and while Ari doesn't explicitly state his sexual preferences, it's clear he likes Hector. 

Something big happens which changes everything, though. I wasn't expecting this to happen and I think it happened at an odd place in the narrative, but I did like it. Ari's friends change too, in a way that I thought was really realistic and true to life. They're just post high school and it's then when life is changing fast and it's hard to keep up with. 

I will agree with some criticisms on Goodreads that said that the time skips weirdly in the book. I think it does, but most of the time it's easy to keep up with. I really liked Ari and I loved Hector - he's very sweet and this is a really cute story of two kids falling in love. 

As I said I really liked the artwork and I really hope there is a follow up to this book. I'm giving it five out of five. 

Given Vol 2 by Natsuki Kisu - Review

Saturday, May 4, 2024

I read the first volume of this graphic novel when my friend Chloe lent it to me because she thought I would like it. I did, so she lent me the second volume. And then I totally forgot about it, so didn't get round to reading it for ages. Then she reminded me about it and about three other books she had lent me, so I decided to get to them and read them all in a few days. And I did! This was the first. 

So we're back with Uenoyama, Akihiko, Haruki, and Mafuyu. In the first volume they put their band together and the reader found out what happened in Mafuyu's past which makes him the way he is. In this volume, he's trying to write lyrics for some songs for their first gig, but he's really struggling. 

I loved the artwork for the gig the band actually play, it seemed really realistic and each member seemed to come alive and to really love what they were doing. It really seemed to get across the emotions of playing live music. 

I'm not sure if I'll read anymore in this series, but I did like this a lot. Five out of five. 

Into the Lion's Mouth by Nancy McConnell - Spotlight and Blog Tour

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for Into the Lion's Mouth by Nancy McConnell! It's a pleasure to welcome you here - please do have a click around and read some of my other reviews. 

I'm sorry that I didn't get round to reading this book before today. Life got away from me and I just wasn't able to get to it. So instead I'm doing a spotlight for this book which I hope you like and which I hope shows the book off! I am still hopeful I'll read it soon, in which case I'll review it here of course. 

This was one of the BBNYA books this year. If you don't know what that is, it's a competition where book bloggers read and rate books written by independent authors. There are fifteen finalists and one overall winner. I have been a panellist before but didn't sign up this year as I was just too busy. But it is a brilliant initiative and I would urge you to get involved if you're interested! 

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official. BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

This book is a historical middle grade book. I really liked the blurb which is why I signed up, especially as it's set in Venice which I love. Please have a look at the information below, and please do check out some of the other stops on this tour!


Venice is sinking, so they say.

And so are Nico's chances to prosper in the most glorious city in the world. Nurse Francesca is threatening to send him to a farm to pick olives, he has failed at two apprenticeships, and one of the most powerful men in Venice would like to sink Nico's lifeless body into the darkest canal. Orphans have very few options and Nico might be forced to choose the one he most wishes to avoid, leaving Venice behind forever.

Author Bio

Nancy McConnell grew up in a little family, in a small town on the outskirts of a bigger city. Besides her family, the two things she loved most in the world were: reading and playing pretend. When she grew up, reading was allowed but playing pretend was sometimes frowned upon. Since that was the case, she decided to write books so that the stories running around in her head would still live. In between writing stories, marrying her college sweetheart, and moving to a new country, she had her own little family and settled in another small town on the way outskirts of a much bigger city. Some things never change. When not writing, Nancy can be found puttering in her garden, taking photos or baking.

Follow Nancy on Instagram @nancywrites66, on Twitter @nancyemcc, and on Facebook @nancywrites4kids or visit her website

Five On A Hike Together by Enid Blyton - Review

Friday, April 26, 2024

So this was a bit of an unusual read for me. I don't usually read children's books, and I wouldn't generally choose Enid Blyton to read for many reasons, but I did have a good reason. I was away at a spa hotel at the beginning of April with my partner, and there was a lake just down from the outside hot tub. On the Saturday morning before we came home we could use the spa again, and we were watching two people row out on the lake to the middle. I remembered that in this book the Famous Five have to orientate themselves in the middle of a lake to find some sunken treasure. I was telling Lee about it and thought I would like to reread the book. It was on Kindle for 78 pence so I bought it!

So, the Famous Five have got a half term holiday weekend from their schools, so they decide to meet up together to go on a hike on what is probably Bodmin Moor. They meet up and set off on their hike, planning to stop at inns and farmhouses along the way for the next few nights before they have to go back to school on the Tuesday. But then Timmy goes down a rabbit hole and injures his leg, so the four kids have to split up. Julian and George go to see a farmer who may be able to help, and Anne and Dick carry on to Blue Pond Farm, where they will hopefully get a bed for the night, and where Julian and George will meet up with them later on. However, Anne and Dick get lost, and they end up at a different farmhouse. The woman who lives there is deaf, and she really doesn't want them in the house on account of her son. But she agrees to give Anne a bed in a little loft room, as long as Dick will sleep in a barn or something. The children are quite scared and tired, so they agree. They have also been scared by some loud clanging bells, the reason for which they're not sure of. But they each bed down for the night, still hoping that Julian and George will turn up (they don't realise they're in the wrong place). 

Then in the night, Dick is woken up by someone scratching at the barn window. The man is asking for Dick by name... but surely he can't mean Dick?? But he has a message, something about Gloomy Water, Two Trees, and Saucy Jane. Oh, and Maggie knows. Dick is totally baffled, but goes back to sleep. But then he is woken again by someone coming into the barn - someone who is clearly waiting for a message. They eventually leave, and Dick is able to go back to sleep. 

In the morning Dick and Anne have to make a quick getaway from the farm, realising it's the wrong place, and before they incur the wrath of the woman's son. They head back to the village and meet up with Julian and George, and Timmy, who is doing much better after some treatment. Dick remembers the strange night time happenings, but no one believes him... until he produces a map. They can't make head nor tail of it, but asking around they realise Gloomy Water is the name of a small lake nearby, and that Two Trees is the house that used to stand on its shores. They try to tell the police about the message and learn that the clanging bells meant that a prisoner has escaped from the nearby prison, but the policeman has no time for the children. So of course they set off to Gloomy Water themselves to see what they can find, and to see if they can decode the map. 

I really liked the adventure, still. It feels like a good one and I liked how the children decoded the mystery. In that, I think it stands up to time. But obviously Enid Blyton is problematic and there's a reason we've moved beyond her in the seventy odd years since this book was first published. One thing I did find stood out was maybe the class issues in the book. Julian and the others NEVER say please or thank you to any shopkeepers or innkeepers who serve them, and they are treated very well by these people, and deferred to, which I think might be a class thing. For instance one inn landlady calls Anne 'miss' even thought she's about ten. The lack of saying please or thank you really annoyed me. They're pompous. Modern Britain really isn't like that and neither should it be!

But I did enjoy the foray into my past with this book, and for that I'm giving it four out of five. 

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