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The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez - Review

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it off a few weeks ago. After I read The Liars of Mariposa Island, I was intrigued by Operation Pedro Pan, an operation which saw 14,000 children leave their families in Cuba during the revolution for relative safety in the United States. About half of them had families or friends in the States to live in, but the rest lived in camps or were fostered into families. I'd recommend reading up on what happened! 

What's it about? Lucia and her brother Frankie live with their parents in a small town in Cuba. It's 1961 and the revolution is rumbling along. Children are being recruited to the youth military, including Lucia's friend Ivette. 

Lucia is a typical fourteen year old - desperate to be grown up, wishing she could wear make up, and looking forward to her quinces in November. She loves Cuba and her parents, but doesn't really like the revolution. One day she and Frankie see some soldiers execute their dad's boss. Their parents aren't revolutionaries either, and rumours are starting to swirl around the family. 

Lucia's parents decide that she and Frankie will leave Cuba. They arrive in Florida and live in camps for a few months before they are taken to Nebraska to live with the Baxter family. Everything is wildly different in America, not least the snowy winter. They occasionally get to speak to their parents, but everything coming out of Cuba is scary and confusing. 

I started reading this book not realising it is really a middle grade novel. Lucia is fourteen but skews a bit younger, and that was annoying me until I noticed the cover says "for ages 8-12". That would explain it! Once I got into the middle grade mindset I enjoyed it a lot more. 

What age range is it for? Well, as above! 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, they're Cuban. Lucia and Frankie encounter some racism in the United States. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No, except for some mild trauma I guess. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? A little, it isn't overly graphic and I think it is well done within the context of the book and within a revolution. 

Are there swear words? No. 

What criticisms do I have? I thought it was quite simplistic even for a middle grade novel. But I do think it's a good book for portraying what life was like for kids who left Cuba under Operation Pedro Pan. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was on the pile next to my bed! 

What do I think of the cover? I love it! I think it's really eye-catching. 

What other books is it like? The Liars of Mariposa Island for subject matter, obviously! 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Well, unfortunately the book got a bit soaked on the edge of the bath, so I probably won't keep it!

All the Rage by Cara Hunter - Review

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I started a couple of books at the beginning of October that I just couldn't get in to. One was about a bisexual black girl and I was really hoping to love it, but I couldn't gel with the story and gave up about fifty pages in. The next was a crime thriller set in Derbyshire that I was so-so about and would probably have finished, until the central character, a woman who kept going on about being a mother, talked about not pursuing a diagnosis of autism or ADHD for her son (who is heavily coded as such in the narrative) because she didn't want him to be "labelled". I stopped reading right there. I'm a fan of diagnoses and labels, what can I say. They're not bad things.

Anyway I decided to read Cara Hunter's new book which I got on Netgalley, so thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read this book. I received a free electronic copy of this book for review but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

You already know that I love the DI Adam Fawley books. I've read and enjoyed the first three and I think they're some of the best crime novels around at the moment. I have had a bit of a problem with some other thrillers that are just too gory, especially when dealing with the brutality of women. I'm thinking especially of the Peter James books, which I had to give up on. I've found Cara Hunter's books to not be so gory, although I will say that this one is probably the goriest so far.

I want to also say that there is a trans character in this book and I was a little bit apprehensive about how she would be treated. I was pleasantly surprised. There are some transphobic comments from a couple of people, but the character mostly has the police absolutely behind her and in particular has detective Erica Somer to rely on. I am happy that the character didn't get totally ripped to pieces and wasn't disbelieved.

So Adam Fawley is going through some anxiety with his wife Alex, with whom he is newly reconciled. There's an attack on a young woman, Faith, and there are some similarities with an old case, dubbed the Roadside Rapist by the press, which Adam was involved in and prosecuted. Adam is convinced that the crime has nothing to do with the Roadside Rapist, who is now serving a long prison sentence but who has always maintained his innocence.

Then another girl goes missing and there are even more similarities with the Roadside Rapist. Can they really have got the wrong man nearly twenty years ago?

There are a number of red herrings within the book, all of which I think worked well. Adam and Alex are going through some things after the death of their son (revealed in previous books) and Alex is suffering quite severe anxiety. There are other points of view from Adam's, told in the third person, and I liked the focus on the female detective, Everett and Somer, but I would have liked more of Gislingham and Quinn like in previous books.

I wasn't quite sure where the book was going to go - at one point I thought I'd worked it out, but I was really wrong! I liked it, I'm going to give it four out of five.

All the Rage by Cara Hunter will be published on January the 23rd, 2020.

Holding by Graham Norton - Review

Saturday, October 12, 2019

When I read Graham's second book in August, I knew I wanted to read his first one too. I got it on eBay a couple of weeks ago and picked it up straight away. I had heard it was a crime novel, so was intrigued to read it.

It is somewhat of a straight crime narrative, but with extra parts of a book that make it much more than just a crime novel. PJ Collins is a police officer in Duneen, a small town near Cork. He is the only officer there, and for the most part all he does is hand out parking tickets and that kind of thing. Then one day, builders from the new development up on a farm that used to belong to the Burke family find the bones of an adult male on the land, and all building work must stop.

The body is widely believed to be that of Tommy Burke, the son of the original owners, who disappeared over twenty years ago. It is said that he got on the bus to Cork and never returned, but the discovery of the body puts a new slant on things. PJ tries to get to the bottom of what happened, but detectives from Cork come down to help too. PJ and the SIO Dunne don't really get along.

At the time he disappeared, Tommy was engaged to Brid O'Riordan, now married to Anthony, and struggling with an alcohol addiction. She is desperately unhappy and is trying to repair her marriage. Tommy was also kind of seeing a girl called Evelyn, and the two girls had a spat in the street.

Evelyn is the youngest of the Ross girls, is now around 40, and lives with her sister Florence and Abigail. The family had a lot of tragedy when they were younger through the deaths of both their parents (I'll give a trigger warning for suicide here) and have ended up living together for years. The older sisters are protective of Evelyn and she feels like she's never got over Tommy rebuffal of her. The minute a body is found, she feels the weight of it come crashing back around her.

I enjoyed the book, I thought it was an interesting story and I liked the lives of the villagers portrayed. I really liked Evelyn and wanted her to be okay. I liked PJ, I liked the ending for him too.

There is a lot of negative talk about PJ's body. He is fat, and it is commented on again and again to a frustrating degree. We get it, you don't like fat people, cool story. I really disliked that part of the book.

I will say too that the point of view is all over the place within paragraphs in this book. For example, there's a bit which is clearly from Evelyn's point of view, but then there's a bit where it says "Evelyn looked as if --" as if someone else was observing her. It makes no sense and it happens quite a bit. You'd think an editor would have caught it, because I can't see a reason that it's done stylistically.

Overall, I'm giving it 3.5 out of five, I liked it but liked Graham's other book better. Maybe his next one will improve again!


Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky - Review

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This book was the October choice for my book club, so I bought it on eBay for a few quid. As I've read the book, I've offered it to people in my book club so someone can borrow it. We often do that with books so that not everyone has to buy it, and I guess it cuts down on unnecessary purchasing of books. I'll be putting it in the post to Jane tomorrow!

Margaret chose this book; she often chooses small books that I end up loving, like Mother's Day by Graham Swift which I thought was brilliant. I have read Nemirovsky before, I read Suite Francaise about ten years ago and really liked it. So I was really looking forward to this one. If you don't know Nemirovsky, she was a Russian Jew who fled Russia after the revolution and settled in France, but never got citizenship. She converted to Roman Catholicism, although may have done that to try to escape the Nazis, but was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she was killed. She left behind several notebooks which contained beginnings of books, or notes and outlines, of which Fire in the Blood was one. It was published in 2007.

It's set in rural France, in the years leading up to World War II. It's set in the same village as Suite Francaise, actually, which I liked and found familiar. Sylvestre, also known as Silvio, is an old man, living in a small cabin in the forest, having sold off most of his family land in years gone by. He has some family - his cousin, Helene, and her husband Francois. They have a good, companionable marriage. Their daughter, Colette, is about to be married, to Jean. She worships her parents' relationship and wants the same for herself, but she and Jean are somewhat unmatched.

Helene's stepsister Cecile had an adopted daughter, Brigitte, who is married to a man many years older than her, who is dying. She had an unhappy childhood and married M. Declos to try to escape that. She is having an affair with a man called Marc.

As relationships unravel and time goes on, lots of secrets from the past come back, upsetting Silvio's measured life and changing everything about each character. I liked Silvio and felt quite sympathetic towards him. The depiction of French rural life, where everyone knows everyone's business and that of all their families, is brilliant. I liked how Silvio was an outsider while also being trapped in the milieu.

There are parts of this book that are really short, chapters cut off, time skips of a year or more, and I guess there's no way in knowing whether that's because Nemirovsky didn't get chance to complete the book, or whether she intended it that way. I liked it, I liked how the narrative galloped in such a way, but I do wonder how Nemirovsky would have felt over the book as a whole in its form now.

I can't wait to find out what everyone in my book club thought of it too. I really liked it and am giving it four out of five.

Jackpot by Nic Stone - Review

Monday, October 7, 2019

Where did I get it? Netgalley, many thanks to Simon & Schuster for the book! 

What's it about? Rico is seventeen and lives in Atlanta Georgia. She lives with her mum, Stacia, and her younger brother, Jaxon. The family struggles to make ends meet every
month. Rico works at a local gas station to make money to give to her mum for their bills. On Christmas Eve, Rico sells two lottery tickets to an old lady, for a jackpot of 312 million dollars. The lady gives her one of the tickets. When the numbers come up, Rico is convinced that the lady has a winning ticket and, to begin with, wants to find her to steal it from her. That amount of money would obviously be life changing for Rico's family.

She enlists the help of Zan Macklin, the richest boy in school, who she is sure can help her to hack the gas station's CCTV so she can see how the old lady arrived that night. The two begin to form a friendship through a ridiculous treasure hunt, and there's feelings between the two of them. She assumes Zan's life is free from all pressures, but though he is very privileged, he doesn't have a perfect life. Rico has never had much time for friends, but Zan's friends Jess and Ness warm to her too, and Rico has some lovely rites of passage throughout her last few months at school. 

This is one of those books where subjectively, I didn't love it, I would probably have given it three out of five. But objectively, I can see that there a lot of teens that would need this book, that will see themselves reflected in it, and I think that it's a good book in that way and deserves a higher score. It is different to Odd One Out, the last book by Nic that I read, but I don't think that's to its detriment. I do have a few criticisms, I'll get to those later.

Oh, there's also a few parts told from the point of view of inanimate objects. I thought these were good and added something to the book. They definitely told the reader something that we didn't know, and they were kind of cute. 

What age range is it for? 15+ I'm going to say

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes. Rico is mixed race - Stacia is mixed race and Rico's dad was Spanish although she's never met him. Zan is also part-Mexican, something which came across well I felt. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not really, but I'll trigger warn for illness and mentions of addiction and abuse. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No I don't think so 

Is there any talk of death? Some, it's not graphic

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Hmmm, ok. I found it hard to fathom Zan's motives at times. His privilege did annoy the shit out of me sometimes, too. I thought the romance was cute, but it was on a strange footing from the beginning. I also didn't understand why Rico had literally no friends, and I wish we had seen how she was at school. I genuinely think a lot of my criticisms are just because I'm 35 and white and British - the book isn't for me and doesn't need to be. I didn't hate it! I just had problems with it 

Would I recommend the book? Yes if the premise appeals 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was on my Kindle and just scrolled to it. 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute! I like how Zan looks, it helped me to have a picture of him in my head. 

What other books is it like? I'm drawing a blank, sorry! 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Jackpot will be published on the 15th of October 2019. 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. 

Wake by Anna Hope - Review

Friday, October 4, 2019

I absolutely loved this book and rushed through it, reading it all in one weekend. It was a quiet weekend - I sat outside on our grass on Saturday morning while my partner painted the fence, basking in the sunshine while reading a hundred pages of this book. But I still read it fast because it was such a compelling story and I really wanted to know what happened.

I read The Ballroom by Anna Hope a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it was before I reviewed all my books on this blog, though. That book is set in 1911 and I felt the threat of World War One all through it and wondered what would happen to each character when it happened. I kept meaning to look for Anna's other books and when I remembered this time, I also remembered to check on my library catalogue. I've been trying to use the library more, and reserving books to come
to one of my local libraries is perfect for me as I go there every week for my craft club anyway. I reserved this book and another one and picked them up just three days later - can't complain!

This book is set in 1920, two years after the end of World War One. It follows three points of view, all women. I do think Anna Hope is excellent at writing the intricate lives of women. The book takes place over the five days leading up to the 11th of November 1920, when the body of the Unknown Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey. We see the body of an unknown soldier dug up from a field in Arras, and throughout the book see it move to London. These parts are always really small, because the main focus of the book is three women, all affected by war and who all come together by the end of the book in ways they can't imagine. The book is told from three points of view.

The first point of view of Evelyn. She works in a war pensions office, dealing with veterans day after day. She's quite a hard woman, for reasons that become clear throughout the book. She works with a man called Robin, but she's sure he won't last long in the pensions office. She is from a posh family but has somewhat broken away from them. The only person she seems to care about is her brother, Ed, who served as an officer in France.

The second point of view is Hattie. She is just nineteen and lost her dad during the war (although not due to it). Her brother, Fred, has come home, but has shellshock, and wakes up screaming at night. Hettie works as a dancer at Hammersmith Palais de Danse, available for hire at sixpence a dance. She wishes she could live in a flat with her friend, the glamorous Di, but her mum insists that she doesn't, and that Hettie pays towards the upkeep of the house. One night, she meets Ed, Evelyn's brother, and becomes a little obsessed with him.

Thirdly, there's Ada. She is forty three and lost her son Michael in the war. She sees him on every street corner, and is driving herself quite mad by not knowing what happened to him. She and her husband Jack barely speak to each other, each dealing with their grief in very different ways. One day she gets a visit from a salesman who is trying to tell her something, but he leaves before he can.

I thought the 1920 setting was really interesting, and in that way the book reminded me of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. From a modern perspective, it's all too easy to only look at the years from 1918 to 1939 as interwar years - the League of Nations, the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, the rise of anti-Semitism, the annexation of Poland and the outbreak of the second war. But if you were alive in 1920, you wouldn't be thinking about what might happen in two decades. You'd be too busy dealing with the aftermath of the first war, especially when so many men didn't return or were left traumatised. So I found it really interesting to look in depth at women's lives at this time.

I'm giving this five out of five, it is really good. Anna Hope is an excellent storyteller.

It's A Whole Spiel, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman - Review

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

I'm going to use these questions to review this book even though it's an anthology of short stories, they mostly fit so I'm going to do it, I hope that makes sense. 

The subtitle for this book is "Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories", showing that all fourteen of the stories in the book are about Jewish characters. Yay!

Where did I get it? I ordered it a few weeks back, I had seen someone talk about the book on Twitter and wanted to read it as it's not often that I read books about Jewish characters, and I would like to change that. 

What's it about? All kinds of things! The stories range from someone meeting their girlfriend or boyfriend's family for the first time, to going to Israel and swimming in a spring after severe trauma, to making friends online, to starting college, to falling in love with your fellow counsellor at camp. 

I liked all the stories. I think David Levithan's is a real essay about his own experiences, but the rest are fiction. There's a whole spectrum of different Jewish experiences, from kids who are "technically" Jewish but whose parents aren't religious, to the frum girls who have to walk up to the eighth floor of an apartment block on Shabbos to avoid the lift. There are observant Jews and Jews who don't know the story of Hannukah and straight Jews and queer Jews and basically, a lot! I loved the spectrum. 

I genuinely don't think there is a bad story among the fourteen, but my favourites were Aftershocks by Rachel Lynn Solomon, Some Days You're the Sidekick; Some Days You're the Superhero by Katherine Locke, and Neilah by Hannah Moskowitz. I liked David Levithan's essay, as I said above. I really liked the fan references in some of the stories. I loved the plethora of characters and I now want to read books by all these authors! 

What age range is it for? 14+ I think 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yep! There's at least seven who are explicitly queer, and I read queerness into the last story too. There's a story about a boy with a genderqueer sibling, and I LOVED how he stood up for his sibling, I thought theirs was a very nice relationship. 

Are any main characters people of colour? I don't think there are any black characters (and black Jews do exist) but there is some racism and anti-semitism, although not a lot. The book as a whole is more of a celebration. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? There's a couple of characters with mental health illnesses but I don't think there's any physical disabilities. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Weed, but I think that's all. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes but nothing graphic. There is one story with some magic in it, which has some discussion of death and of ghosts. 

Are there swear words? No I don't think so.

What criticisms do I have? If anything, I would have liked one more story about a more Orthodox or observant Jew. That there isn't many be due to the authors involved, which is obviously fine, but that is one thing I would have liked. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It arrived and I really wanted to read it! 

What do I think of the cover? I love it, I think it's vibrant and exciting and I love the subtitle. As a side note, none of the Jewish phrases are explained in the book, which I like - it's not for Gentiles, and if we want to understand the lingo, we'll have to google it. Which I did! I learnt that the Hebrew for the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is Kotel, which I'll remember from now on! 

What other books is it like? It's like other anthologies, like Proud

How many stars? Five out of five, for sure. I loved the book as a whole. 

Where is the book going now? I will definitely keep it.



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