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A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris - Review

Saturday, September 18, 2021

I've written before that I'm a huge fan of Joanne's first few books and have reread quite a few of them. I've liked her books for about twenty years now and one of my favourite books, Five Quarters of the Orange is by Joanne. However, I've not kept up with her last few books; I don't like her mythology stuff that much. But then my friend Laura told me this book was coming out, and as I loved the previous two books so much, I ordered it straight away. Then, when it arrived, I picked it up almost straight away too. 

It's the third in a series of books about St Oswald's School, a grammar school for boys somewhere in Yorkshire. The first two are Gentlemen and Players, which again is one of my favourite books and which came out in 2005, and Different Class, which came out in 2016 and about which I don't remember much. There is also a book called Blueeyedboy which is set in the same town and has some of the same characters, but isn't set in the school. I didn't like Blueeyedboy and found it quite disturbing. 

So, we're back at St Oswald's with Roy Straitley, the Latin teacher who the boys call Quasimodo and who inhabits the Bell Tower. The New Head is La Buckfast, who was part of the previous Crisis Intervention Team. She is an ambitious woman, although slightly cold. She has admitted girls to the school, in an attempt to get more cash for the School after its catastrophic year. She also has a muddled and tragic history which is linked to both St Oswald's and King Henry's, their rival boys school also in the town. 

There's a new sports hall being built, and on the day before the first day of term, Straitley's Brodie Boys turn up and tell him that they think they've found a body in the foundations of the new building. Straitley goes to investigate and does indeed see what looks like bones and a bundle of rags and, crucially, a King Henry's Prefect badge. Straitley takes it to Ms Buckfast. He assumes the body is that of Conrad Price.

Ms Buckfast starts to tell him the story of what happened in her younger years. When she was five, her fourteen year old brother Conrad went missing. He was a pupil at King Henry's and was supposed to pick her up from school, but when he didn't arrive she walked along to King Henry's and waited for him in the locker room. She was found there some hours later, talking about a green door and "Mr Smallface". Conrad was never found and Becky never understood what she meant by either of those things. 

She then grew up in a loveless household where her parents spoke about Conrad as if he had merely popped out. They refuse to get rid of any of his things and are taken in by conmen over the years posing as Conrad. Becky had a baby at sixteen, Emily, whose father was in Different Class but I've forgotten entirely what happened to him. 

We then meet Becky again in 1989, when she is twenty-three and has qualified as a teacher. She worked atr Sunnybank (also in the same town) and met Dominic there, a teacher a decade older than her. But then she gets a job at King Henry's. Dominic doesn't want her to work there, claiming that they're all stuff snobs, but she takes a supply job. On her first day, Eric Scoones, Straitley's friend, who was found out as an abuser of boys in previous books, mistakes her for one of the boys. It's an inauspicious start and later the same day Becky sees a boy with a Prefect badge who looks just like Conrad. His disappears, though, and a few more spooky things like that happen. She makes friends with Carrie, the hippy drama teacher, and doesn't tell Dominic about the bad things. However, Emily then starts talking about Conrad and "Mr Smallface". 

Meanwhile, back in 2006, Straitley is struggling to cope with the changes in School and his health is worsening... 

I did like the book, and I liked Becky even though she's quite difficult to like. I love Straitley and always have throughout the other books. I can imagine his classroom so well, I really like it. I found some of the going backwards and forwards in time from 1971 when Conrad disappeared to 1989 and to the "present" time of 2006 quite confusing. I also think there were genuinely a couple of mistakes - the character Scoones moved between the schools as a teacher but I think there was a mistake as to where he was when at least once - but I tried to not let that detract from my enjoyment of the book. I'm giving this four out of five and the book is now destined to be lent to my mum who I hope will enjoy it too!

Once Upon A Crime by Robin Stevens - Review

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

 


It's the last ever book featuring The Detective Society! The last ever Wells & Wong mysteries! The last ever time we'll be with Daisy and Hazel! Wahhh! This isn't a full murder mystery - that was Death Sets Sail that came out last August - but instead is six little mysteries in one book together. 

I've read two of these mysteries before - I read The Case of the Missing Treasure in its own mini book that I read back in March 2019 and The Case of the Drowned Pearl was a World Book Day book that I read last March - so I didn't read those again. But I really enjoyed the other four mysteries. 

The first one is about Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy's wedding and a mystery that occurred there. There's a mystery that happened on the ship on the way back from Hong Kong but which Hazel writes up nearly a year later after the events that happened in Death Sets Sail. This one had a surprising ending where SOME PEOPLE from the series ran away to the Spanish Civil War! I was very surprised but LOVED this detail, I hope Robin knows I would read a whole series about THAT. 

There's a mystery told by Alexander to Hazel in a letter, about a mysterious dog that turned up at Westone, his and George's school. I would love a whole book about Alexander and George as I love them very much and also think their school sounds MUCH worse than Deepdean. Haha. 

The final mystery is abouyt MAY WONG! We met her in two previous books, and we already know that The Ministry of Unladylike Activity is going to star her, so it's nice to get a little taster of that in the form of this mini mystery. 

In it, the time is now September 1939, when May is PRACTICALLY ten (nine years and four months) and has come to England with her father to bring her and Hazel's older sister Rose to Deepdean. They are staying in Uncle Felix's flat with him, Lucy, their maid Bridget (also a spy like Felix and Lucy) and Daisy and Hazel (who are now counted among the 'grown ups' and who are heading off to university soon - Hazel is supposed to be going to Oxford!). May is supposed to return to Hong Kong with her dad but then war breaks out and it's decided she will be safer staying in England and going to Deepdean a little early, to be part of a new form for younger girls. May is FURIOUS about this. 

Felix and Lucy's flat is on the first floor of a mansion block and one day, May goes out with Hazel, leaving Rose at home, and a man from the second floor is discovered dead. All the adults think it's suicide, but coupled with something Rose tells her, May realises this is nonsense, and sets about solving a murder. It's a gorgeous little mystery, full of May's enthusiasm and inability to feel like she's not being heard. In that way she reminded me of Daisy from the first couple of books, but Daisy did mature. May is lovely though, I can't wait to read more about her, and this mystery was just enough to whet my appetite. 

I'm giving this five out of five because you all KNOW how I feel about Robin and her books. I can't wait to meet May and her Deepdean friends in 2022! 

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson - Review

Saturday, September 11, 2021

 


Where did I get it? I bought it a few weeks about at a publisher's fair in Manchester, actually from my friend Vicky, who runs Pen Fight Distro, and who has quite a lot of middle grade and YA books. 


What's it about? Candice is twelve years old and is spending the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, which is where her grandmother lived until ten years previously, when she moved to Atlanta to be closer to Candice and her family. Candice's parents have just split up, and their house is being renovated to sell it, so Candice and her mom have gone to Lambert. Candice's mom is a romance writer, meaning Candice is along quite a lot of the time. She loves reading and puzzles. Across the street Brandon lives with his family - his mom, his sister Tori, and their grandfather. Despiter herself, Candice ends up making friends with Brandon and the two swqap library books. 

Then in the attic, Candice finds a mysterious letter addressed to her grandmother about an inheritance left to the city by a man called James Parker. It has clues to where the money is, clues which Candice's grandmother tried to follow and ended up digging up tennis courts in a nearby neighbourhood. She thought that was where the treasure was buried, but it wasn't, and she got into trouble with the city and lost her job - which is when she moved to Atlanta. 

Candice and Brandon start trying to unravel the mystery. Brandon is being bullied by some boys from school but is supported by his sister. Candice desperately wants to go back to Atlanta and see her dad, but she has to learn some stuff about her family first. 

There are also some historical parts to the book, concerning a family called the Washingtons, who were well known in the city and whose history is linked to the inheritance. I liked these bits - they showed what life was like for black people in the area at the time, and the segregation there was between black people and white people, and so on. I thought these bits were good for teaching the reader about history but not in a preachy way. 


What age range is it for? Aged ten plus I think 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, but I don't want to put any spoilers here. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Candice and Brandon and their families are black, plus there's lots of black history.  


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I really liked it. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, that was the worst thing for me. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely, for any age range 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I wanted to get to it soon after buying it 

 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, I'm not sure how much of the story it gets across but maybe that doesn't matter


How many stars? Four out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I might lend it out, but I'll keep it!

Fallen by Mel O'Doherty - Review

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

 


I bought this book a few weeks ago at a publisher's fair in Manchester that Lee and I went along to. It was really cool to see a bunch of indie publishers and I looked at lots of books, but came away with just three. I picked this one up because of the religious iconography - that definitely caught my eye. My undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and it's been something I've been interested in since. This book is about the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland and the ensuing scandal that came out only a few years ago, this is a subject that I already know something about and am interested in. So I bought the book and then picked it up just a few days later!

The book is about the Connolly family. Mum Elaine, Dad Martin, and Michael, their son. The book goes backwards and forwards in time which I sometimes found confusing and hard to deal with, but I persisted and I'm glad I did. At the beginning Michael is only nine years old and the family is on holiday in the south wear of Ireland, not too far from their home in Cork. Elaine sees a man that she seems to vaguely know, and has some kind of breakdown. 

She starts to talk about what happened to her in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. She says how the nuns killed her baby and how they burnt her breast to stop her from feeding the baby - an abuse for which she still bears the scar. Michael and Martin both don't believe her. She is diagnosed with manic depression and over the next three years she continues to talk about the abuses she suffered. She writes letters to the newspaper which Martin never posts, and she protests outside Mass about her dead baby. She's increasingly hard to live with and Michael struggles with her. When he is twelve, she takes her own life. 

Michael makes friends with a lad called John when he's a teenager. John has been expelled for fighting at his private school, because he is an illegitimate child and gets called a bastard by other pupils. He ends up at Michael's school and the two form a friendship that lasts over thirty years. However, Michael, ashamed by what happened to his mother, never tells John about her. 

When he is forty-five, Michael is a history teacher in a high school on the north side of Cork. The north side is where his mother came from, it's the 'rougher' side of town. And then of course the news breaks about the scandals carried out by the Catholic Church in Mother and Baby Homes and in Magdalene Laundries and so on. Michael realises that his mother was telling the truth all along. In Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, the rate of infant mortality was as high as 75%. The babies were thrown in unmarked graves. Elaine was clearly left broken by the experience which she didn't have the tools to deal with in the late 70s.

The end of the book shows Elaine's experiences, both in the home and immediately afterwards, up to when she met Martin and married him. I really liked this part of the book and am glad it was included, even though it is so painful. 

I liked the book a lot, I found the structure a bit difficult and also kept getting confused between Michael and Martin, but I did like the subject matter. I'm giving this four out of five. 

Lies Like Poison by Chelsea Pitcher - Review

Saturday, September 4, 2021

 


Where did I get it? Amazon, recently. I needed to buy something and this was £4 so I added it. 


What's it about? Let me start by saying I didn't like the book. It's needlessly complicated and over written, and while I think that is in part a choice because it's supposed to be like a fairy tale, it's also just done in a bad way. I'd read a hundred pages before anything really happened, and by that point I was invested so I kept reading. I had hopes that the book would redeem itself, but it really doesn't. Sorry! Not for me.

But anyway, it's about three friends, Raven, Belladonna, and Poppy, plus Raven's stepsister Lily. Three years ago, when they were all fourteen, Raven was being tortured by his wicked stepmother, Evelyn. Belle and Poppy hatched a plan to poison her to free Raven, using belladonna and poppy petals in her tea. Lily got wind of this plan, and stole the 'recipe' Belle had written. Raven swore he could hear his dead mother talking to him, so he was sent away to a school across the country. Lily was sent to a mental health facility just outside of town. Belle and Poppy grew apart, and Poppy changed her name to Jack. 

But now it's now, and Evelyn has been found dead. Belle is the prime suspect, because Evelyn was indeed poisoned by belladonna. But she has an alibi -- but Jack doesn't. Belle gets back in touch with her, and then learns that Raven is finally allowed to come home. 

Jack and Lily then break into Evelyn's office - she's a therapist - and look for clues, and steal some files. Jack then also has to set fire to a bunch of Raven's clothes, for some reason? I don't know, I didn't follow that bit at all.

There's so much stuff that is kept from the reader, for apparently no reason. Then there's stuff that's told to the reader in such a way that it makes out like we are stupid. It's so complicated, with so many threads... I didn't get it. I didn't hate the characters at all, but I wish they had been written better. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, no spoilers, but yes 


Are any main characters people of colour? Raven is mixed race. There's a really big emphasis on characters' looks and clothes, and I don't really get why. Also, fourteen year old Belle owns a black negligee and thigh high boots, which I absolutely don't buy, and Raven owns black satin sheets and black satin pyjamas. Come on. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not really... I guess there's some mental health stuff, but it's just kind of hinted at rather than being on page per se. 


Is there any sex stuff? Not really 


Are drugs mentioned or used? The poisons, I guess 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, it's quite graphic 


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? Oh I think I've covered them. I liked the sound of Chelsea's other book but now I don't think I'll bother


Would I recommend the book? No 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was down the side of the bed. 

 

What do I think of the cover? I think it's a bit dull actually, it doesn't give away too much 

 

What other books is it like? It's just not as good as anything I could mention. 


How many stars? Two out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I'll probably donate it 

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for Lies Like Wildfire! It is my pleasure to welcome you. If you've never been here before, please do have a click around because I review a lot of YA books so I'm sure you'll find something to whet your appetite!


Before I start I need to give trigger warnings on this book for: fire, climate change, death, suicidal ideation, pet death, a few other things. You may find this a difficult book to read. Take care!

Where did I get it? I'm on the blog tour! Thank you so much to Penguin for having me on this tour. I was provided with an electronic copy of the book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for my review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 


What's it about? It's the final summer before college for the "monsters", a group of friends who have been friends since they were like eight years old and in a drama summer camp together. The five of them want to have a fun-filled summer before three of them go off to college and two of them get jobs. 

There's Hannah, daughter of the Sheriff of the town they live in, Gap Mountain. When she was six, her mother caused a fatal accident because she was drunk, and the Sheriff had to arrest her and she was imprisoned. She later died, leaving Hannah without her mum and with the knowledge that the Sheriff will put his job and the law before members of his family. Hannah didn't get into Stanford so is heading off elsewhere to do Criminal Justice. Hannah has three horses and a beloved dog, Matilda. 

Her best friends are as follows: 

Drummer, who Hannah has been in love with for years. But "monsters don't date monsters", and besides, she doesn't think he likes her that way. Drummer does keep her on a hook, though, and keeps her around because she's useful for getting him out of scrapes. He is going to work full time in autumn. 

Mo is also heading to college. She's a sensible person, I liked Mo a lot. There's Luke, who is on probation for some petty vandalism the previous year. He lives with his mum and brother, but his mum is a drug user and his relationship with her is fractious. Luke is also going to work full time in the fall, and is fiercely protective of his younger brother. 

Then there's Violet. Violet doesn't live in Gap Mountain, but lives down in Santa Barbara. She spends all her summers in Gap Mountain with her grandmother, Lulu. Violet is beautiful and clever and is heading to Stanford University. She's basically perfect, of course. 

So, the five of them go up to Gap Lake one July afternoon. The lake barely has a beach and is something like two thousand feet deep as it's literally a gorge between two mountains. The five meet up - Hannah and Violet go on Hannah's horses, the others drive up. Mo brings snacks and beer, and Luke brings some weed. 

He has a pack of matches and Hannah tells him off for bringing a naked flame into a wildfire area. He lights the match and she knocks it out of his arm, and a fire starts. The five try to put it out, but it quickly rages out of control. They try to destroy any trace of them being there because starting a fire, even accidentally, is a crime. Hannah and Violet head back to town on the horses and run into Hannah's dad. He asks them if they saw anything and Violet says no, telling the first lie about the incident. 

The fire rages. Everyone has to evacuate Gap Mountain and head for the next town, Bishop. Hannah hitches a ride with a man called Justin. Violet abandons her, heading for Bishop too. When Hannah finally gets there, she discovers that Luke and Mo have both lost their homes. She also discovers that Violet and Drummer are dating. 

The fire takes nearly a month to be contained, and ten people die in it. The five obviously feel horribly guilty, but once they've started to lie they find they can't really stop lying. Plus Luke's fingerprints are on record, because of his prior crime, so everyone knows that if anything is found that ties him to the crime, he'll go down for it. And then there's the photo Mo posted of her and Drummer up at the lake... 

But monsters don't rat on monsters, right? But then one of the five goes missing, and all bets are off... 

I liked the story a lot, lots of things happen and everything just spins out of control. There's no malice in the fire, it was an accident, but it rages out of control and so do the lies. I felt for all the main characters and understood why they felt they couldn't tell the truth. I loved the setting of the town and the people who lived in it. 


What age range is it for? Sixteen and above, it's pretty dark in places. 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 


Are any main characters people of colour? No I don't think so, I don't know if that's unusual for the area of California or not? 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? In a way no, but also something happens to Hannah that leaves her pretty traumatised so yes kind of in the second half of the book. 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and it's a little graphic, and also it's not entirely consensual - Hannah is quite upset afterwards


Are drugs mentioned or used? Mentioned, yes, but the only use is Luke's weed at the beginning 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, and injury. It's somewhat graphic. 


Are there swear words? I don't think so. 

 

What criticisms do I have? My only criticism really is that I wish we had seen more of Luke as a person. I understood why the other three were important to Hannah, but I didn't get as much of that with Luke. He just seemed angry and I didn't warm to him. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, a hundred percent. I'll look out for something else by the same author too
 

What do I think of the cover? It's cool, I like the flames. 

 

What other books is it like? It's been compared to One of Us is Lying by Karen M McManus, which I think is a fair comparison to things spiralling out of control. I also thought the disaster element reminded me of Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, which is also set in California. 


How many stars? Four out of five. 


How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones - Review

Friday, August 27, 2021

 


I absolutely loved this book and heartily recommend it to you. I first heard about it because the author, Cherie Jones, did her MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University at the same time I did - we even started on the same day. I'm really thrilled she's got published and that the book is doing so well. I'll definitely read something else by her. The book has a brilliant structure to it and is properly like a saga.

It's set in Barbados, in a village called Baxter's Beach. There, Lala is eighteen and pregnant with her first child. She lives in a shack 25 steps above the beach with her abusive husband Adan, who robs the big houses further along the beach and sells weed. She's been warned to stay at home, but with the baby coming she needs help and has no one to fall back on but Adan. Her mother Esme is dead, and she and her grandmother Wilma fell out a couple of years ago when Lala moved in with Adan. Wilma has warned Lala many times of the one-armed sister, who did not listen to the adults around her and ended up losing one arm. Wilma says Lala is just like this sister, that she's too "own-way" about life. 

Anyway, Lala manages to struggle along to one of the big houses that look on to the beach. She rings the bell on the service gate, and is very surprised when Adan appears out of it. He goes with her to the hospital where she gives birth to Baby. They take her back to the shack, but Adan has to disappear because he's killed a man. 

In the next point of view a month later we meet Mira Whalen, wife of the man Adan has shot. Peter is dead and she's struggled to get out of bed since his death. Mira is Peter's second wife and stepmother to his children, Beth and Sam. She has had three miscarriages and seems unable to have a child of her own. She is from Barbados, but met Peter and now lives in London. She can't get in touch with the children's mother and is clearly traumatised from the murder. 

I don't want to spoil any of the rest of the story because it unfolds in dramatic, traumatic, and utterly brilliant ways. I loved it, I felt like I really had to savour each part of it. It goes back in time with each of the women's families which explained where they'd come from and how they'd come to be the people they were. I will warn for violence, death, rape, and more - take care of yourself. But this is an utterly brilliant book and I'm so glad I read it! 

 

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