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Liza's England by Pat Barker - Review

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I read this book for my book club, and it was actually my choice. I've read a couple of her other books, and when I saw this one was a possibility for our choices, I said I'd like to read it and would lead the book club on it. That's tonight, so I'm thinking up some questions to spark discussion, although we don't usually need much encouragement.

The story is set in the North East of England in 1986. Liza was born just after midnight on the 1st of January 1900, so is as old as the century itself. She is living in the house she has been in for years, on an old terrace that is due to be demolished. Stephen is some kind of social worker, and is tasked with telling Liza that she must move. The two become quite close, and we read about the entirety of Liza's life.

She was born into a poor family with many siblings, some of whom died in infancy. Liza starts work aged about twelve, and then sees her beloved brother Edward killed in the first world war. She has a hard relationship with her mother, and then marries Frank, a soldier who was hit in the throat and who holds seances for grieving widows and mothers. We go backwards and forwards in time with Liza throughout her life to her current situation, living in squalor and poverty in the front room of her house.

Meanwhile, Stephen's partner is in America and Stephen misses him, and he's having problems with people and clients at work. He isn't close to his family but has to deal with his aging parents.

I really liked Liza's life story and felt that she endured a lot of hardship and strife. The reader could see how the world changed in the 20th century through Liza's story. I found it harder to get on with Stephen, but I could see why his part was included. All in all, I give it nine out of ten.

Willoughby Book Club

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My friend Janet went to work for Willoughby Book Club last year sometime I think, and I was intrigued by the premise of the club, and the fact that it had so many different genres and types of subscription. I used to subscribe to a beauty box about six years ago when they weren't very well-known, and loved the surprise coming through the door every month. It's a nice surprise to yourself!

So when Janet recently shared a link which said that WBC had 10% off for Easter, I thought I'd sign up and give it a go. I paid just under £27 for a 3 month subscription; normally this would be just under £30. I thought that £9 including postage was pretty fair, so I sat back and waited.

My first book arrived this week! Plus the parcel had some extras in it. I have seen a lot of hype about this book so I'm really interested to read it. Plus the cover is absolutely dreamy, I love it. Here's some photos:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - have you read this yet?

And the extras I got: a bookmark (can never have enough), a book plate, a sticker, and a badge!

I then saw on Twitter that Willougby Book Club run an affiliates programme, so I asked to join it. I got a very nice, positive email back from them. They're a small company and it really shows. They said they'd love to have me aboard! Here's my link:

Now, you can, as my link says, get 10% off any subscription by clicking my link - and if you do buy something, I also get some commission. I want to be clear about this, and I want to reiterate two things, that a) my subscription was paid for with my own money, and wasn't sponsored in any way, and that b) I wouldn't sign up to be an affiliate with a company that I didn't believe in. I believe in ethical spending where possible and I definitely believe in supporting an small, independent, UK company like this. 

If I can work out how, I'll be adding a banner with my link to my site, so that it's available to any new visitor to my site. As far as I know, the 10% off doesn't have an expiry date. 

I hope you'll give them a go too! Buy yourself a book subscription!

Flight of A Starling by Lisa Heathfield - Review

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Where did I get it? I requested it on Netgalley because I love Lisa's writing so much, so thank you very much to Egmont Publishing!

What's it about? Lo and Rita are sisters, aged just eleven months apart, and are travellers. They travel with their parents and grandad, and other families that they have grown up with, and their circus, where they put on shows every night. Lo and Rita are trapeze artists and are both incredibly talented at what they do. Lo is sixteen and she meets a 'flattie' - a non traveller - called Dean, and quickly become infatuated with him, and starts to wonder what she wants from life. Meanwhile, her family is falling apart a bit and Lo is struggling to cope. 

What age range is it for? 15+, let's say

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters people of colour? I am going to say yes, as travellers are an ethnic minority even if they are white skinned, and are often discriminated against. There is an element of this in the novel. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? No not at all

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, and I'm going to trigger warn for drug use too, but I don't want to say more as it's a major spoiler. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes 

Are there swear words? No

What criticisms do I have? I've decided to add this question to my reviews, because I always think of things that I would have done differently or that I just didn't like. As a writer I often think about how I would write things and get the same story across. It doesn't mean that I think the book is bad or that the author is a terrible person. I hope that makes sense. 

So, for this, as with Lisa's previous novels, I think there is a sparseness to Lisa's prose that somewhat frustrates me. This is partly because I would like more of a sense of setting and place - like, for instance, I would have liked more of a description of Lo and Rita's caravan to get my head round things. But, I understand that Lisa is a very different writer to me and I do think the scarcity of prose adds to the immediacy of the novel. I also really liked the bits set in the big top when the girls were performing as I felt they were almost poetic in their beauty. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. Like her previous novels, Lisa has the reader guessing until the very end of the book and totally emotionally hooks us in so that we care deeply about the main characters. I can't wait to see what she writes next. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just wanted to be ahead of the game for once and get this reviewed before publication!

What other books is it like? It is a lot like Lisas's other books, I'm not really sure what else.

How many stars? Nine out of ten, a gorgeous book with the perfect ending. 

Without You by Saskia Sarginson

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My friend Laura lent me this book when we swapped a bunch of our favourite novels last year. I was mooching around my bookshelves and thought I would pick this up. I found the premise intriguing and although I found it a bit difficult to get into due to changing points of view, once I'd read over half of it I was totally hooked and really interested in how it would end.

Eva is seventeen and lives with her mum Clara, her dad Max, and her little sister Faith. Eva has always felt like the odd one out in her family, but she doesn't know why. She goes out sailing with her dad a lot, and on one trip she goes overboard and washes up on the shore of the island just off the coast. She is rescued by Billy, an ex soldier who hears voices and who believes Eva has been sent to him specially. He won't let her go, though, and imprisons her in abandoned military buildings on the island, where they forage for food.

Meanwhile, Eva's lifejacket washes up on shore, so she is presumed dead. Max can't remember exactly what happened, but Clara blames him for losing their daughter and the two start to grow apart from each other. Faith, though, Faith believes that Eva is still alive and that she is on the island. No one believes her and the family start to think that they should move away from the area. Faith is bullied at school and is generally quite an unhappy child.

The point of view alters between first person parts from both Faith and Eva, both of which are very immediate and draw us into the action, and third person parts featuring both Max and Clara, which delve into the family's history and reveal things drip by drip. It's a really good way of writing a novel.

The book is set in Suffolk, on the desolate coastline which I've visited a couple of times, so I could totally imagine where exactly the family lived. I really like it when that happens - I like a strong sense of place in books I read. All in all, I give this a strong eight of ten. I'd definitely be interested in reading something else by the same author.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Monday, April 24, 2017

I picked up this book in a charity shop in a few months ago, intrigued by the premise. When I started reading it, I decided I was going to review it here because it is mostly about teenagers, so I thought it fitted. I then learnt that it's now a GCSE set text, so if the government thinks it's suitable for teenagers I do too!

Where did I get it? A charity shop a few months ago. It was only a couple of quid and had been read. I liked second hand books, though - I like to imagine who read them before me!

What's it about? Kathy is 31 and a carer for people like her, donors. Raised in an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside, Kathy and her fellow students always knew they were born to have their organs harvested and then "complete" ie die. Their teachers, also known as guardians, sometimes let the truth slip, and lots of rumours abound about what the future holds for these children.

The story is set with Kathy reminiscing about the past which does remove the reader from the action a little but the stuff which is set in the school is really suffocating and cloistered. The end felt a little bit rushed to me, and I didn't get all the resolution that I would have liked. But I did like it, and I liked asking myself a hundred questions about what I thought was going on. I think teens will engage with it and have lots of questions too

What age range is it for? Sixteen plus

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Not that it's mentioned

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Kind of? The whole thing is a little bit about disability

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it isn't graphic but it is quite blunt

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, although it's not very open

Are there swear words? No

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely! It's really interesting and intriguing

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I'd kept it next to the bed with about 15 other books and kept thinking I really liked the premise so needed to pick it up

What other books is it like? A bit like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and a lot like Unwind by Neal Shusterman

How many stars? Eight out of ten 

Where is the book going now? I might see if my mother in law wants to read it!

Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood - Review

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I read Eleanor's first book, My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend, over Christmas, so as soon as I read that she had a new book I immediately ordered it. The cover is so beautiful that I'm swooning over it! Isn't it enticing?

Where did I get it?, which as a reminder, has prices very similar to Amazon, free shipping, fast service, and most importantly they pay their taxes (unlike Amazon).

What's it about? Lizzie Brown has just left school and is starting college. Her friends Daisy and Jake are staying at school, so she won't know anyone at college, but she had a bit of a bad time during her GCSEs so is looking forward to a clean start. She decides she reinvent herself and buys a vintage dress from a cool shop in Brighton. She starts college and on the first day meets Viv, who is so cool that Lizzie can barely stand up. Together, they skive off college and meet Viv's boyfriend Rex. Viv wants Lizzie to join her band as the bass player, and reinvents Lizzie as Betty Brown, ready for a local Battle of the Bands.

This novel is just lovely! I thoroughly lost myself in the story and was on Lizzie's side the whole time. She is a bit clueless but basically a gentle soul. There's also a cameo from Tuesday Cooper, protagonist in My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend, which was just lovely. I did think there were some things I'd have written differently, but that for me is part of the enjoyment of a good novel. Viv is the type of girl we've all known over the years. I liked to dislike her!

I also really like Eleanor's use of older music to signify moments for these kids. That's probably partly because I love music and also write about music and bands in my own work. I can't wait for Eleanor's next work - she's an auto buy for me now.

What age range is it for? 15+, nothing too salacious

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

Are any main characters people of colour? No

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Lizzie has mental health problems which are really well portrayed. I loved the description of her panic attacks and they felt really true to life.

Is there any sex stuff? No not at all. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Not much, if any

Are there swear words? No hardly any

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. I loved it. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Partly because I wanted to get ahead of the curve and read it on its launch! I never manage it but I did now!

What other books is it like? It's a lot like Eleanor's other book, and also Songs About A Girl by Chris Russell

How many stars? Nine out of ten. Practically perfect in every way.

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, I hope to see Eleanor at another event in the future and get it signed!

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood - Review

Friday, April 14, 2017

I recently read Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood which is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest. I read it because it was one of my in-person book club choices. Ceri chose it, and she's a teacher who often teaches The Tempest so she was keen to read it. I almost never read Margaret Atwood because I always feel like she's just too high brow for me, even though I really like The Handmaid's Tale. But I was happy to pick this up.

I'm not too familiar with The Tempest. I thought I'd done it at school but on reflection that was Twelfth Night! So in The Tempest, Prospero gets ousted by his brother and ends up on an island with his small daughter Miranda for twelve years. On the island is Caliban, a half-human "monster", son of a witch. There's Ariel, the magical fairy, who makes things happen for Prospero, and obviously other things also happen with other characters.

In Hag-Seed, Felix is the Director of a prestigious theatre who is about to direct The Tempest, who gets ousted by his underling Tony. Humiliated, he disappears for twelve years, living in a hovel with only the ghost of his own daughter, Miranda, for company. He gets a job teaching prisoners in a local prison, with whom he always puts on Shakespeare. He has some unorthodox teaching methods which have gained the respect of the prisoners and which were really interesting to read. For instance, they're not allowed to swear, but must choose ten of the insults from the play they're doing. Hence the name of the novel, which is taken from an insult thrown at Caliban.

After a few years of teaching Felix is told that Tony and Sal, the other person involved in his downfall and who have made their way up the political ladder, are coming to visit the prison. Felix decides he will stage his Tempest finally, and will get his revenge.

Apparently there are loads of hidden things in the text for people familiar with the origial, which clearly went way over my head as I'm not. It took me a while to get into, but once I did, I really liked the book. Felix is quite an unreliable narrator and is quite unlikeable at times, making him an interesting lead character. I liked Anne-Marie, the person playing Miranda, and several of the prisoners. I'd have liked to know more about them, really.

Generally my book club liked it and we talked about Shakespeare and modern retellings too. Apparently the film Yentl is supposed to be Tweflth Night retold, so I think I'll have to watch that soon. Also, did you know Shakespeare made up the name Miranda for The Tempest?

In all, it's a good novel, although a little thin on actual plot I think. Still, seven out of ten!


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