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The Murder at Sissingham Hall by Clara Benson - Review

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I read this for my year long challenge, because one of the challenges was to read a cosy mystery. It's a genre I've heard of, but had never read before, But I saw the first three of these books on Kindle for either free or for like 99p, so I decided to get them. I read just the first book, but I liked it a lot and I'll probably read the second two when I need something easy and, well, cosy, to get into.

Charles Knox is the protagonist of the novel. Newly returned from South Africa, where he has made his fortune in gold mining, he is back in England meets up with his friend Bobs. Bobs invites him to Sissingham, where Charles' ex-fiancee Rosamund lives with her husband, Sir Neville. On arrival, there are several other people there, including Angela Marchmont, Rosamund's cousin, and Sir Neville's relatives Hugh and Gwen, who stand to inherit Sissingham should Sir Neville die.

On the second night of Charles' visit, Sir Neville is murdered and his body is staged to make it look like an accident. Hugh is at the top of the suspect list, but honestly, no one is safe. This was a quick read, full of period drama and the foibles of the upper classes, and I really liked the 1920s setting. I enjoyed it, it's a cute little book.

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure - Review

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle in March, when it was just 99p. I can't remember if someone on Twitter recommended it or if it just appealed to me. 

What's it about? Lucille's mum has gone on vacation and not come back, and somehow Lucille knows she won't come back and that she has to look after her sister Wren. Their dad has also recently left the family, for reasons that I won't spoil. Lucille is scared that if she lets anyone know that her mum is gone too, they'll take Wren away and the two will be split up. So she decides to get a job and do her best to keep the two of them together.

Meanwhile, she confides in her best friend Eden, who agrees to help her. Lucille has also started to notice Eden's twin, Digby, and is dealing with a crush on him on top of everything else. 

The novel is really short and not overly complex to read. I felt like it could have been much better, but I did like it and I thought Lucille and a lot of the people around her were really good characters

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yeah, trigger warning for some violence here 

Is there any sex stuff? No

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so?

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and some of it is quite violent so be careful

Are there swear words? A few 

What criticisms do I have? I felt like the book could have gone deeper into stuff, especially some of Lucille's family history. I also felt like there was a lack of confrontation in the book, and not enough conflict.

Would I recommend the book? Kind of? It's not the best book you'll ever read but it's not terrible either. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Again, I was just scrolling through the carousel on my Kindle app. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me a lot of When We Collided by Emery Lord, only not as good. 

How many stars? Seven out of ten. It was a decent enough read for the end of my holiday and the journey home.

That concludes all the books i read on holiday. I was really happy to read three books - while also doing stuff and cross-stitching on a lot of my downtime - and they were three really excellent summer reads.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz - Review

Monday, June 19, 2017

Where did I get it? It was on Kindle for 99p a few weeks ago, and since many of my fellow YA loving friends have read it and recommended it to me, I thought I'd buy it. I wasn't planning to read it on holiday, so gave myself permission to read just a few pages to see what I thought. I was immediately hooked!

What's it about? Set in 1987, it's a coming of age story featuring Mexican-American teenagers Aristotle and Dante and set in El Paso, Texas. It's all from Ari's point of view. His family is a bit complicated; his sisters are much older than him and his older brother Bernardo is in prison and no one will talk about him. Ari's mum worries about his constantly, and his dad, a Vietnam veteran, has secrets he won't tell. 

At the pool one day Ari meets Dante. Dante's an only child and gets on well with his parents, but isn't sure where he fits into life as a Mexican-American. The two become inseperable even though Aristotle is practically impenetrable in terms of showing his feelings. Over the next year and a bit we follow the two boys as they do indeed discover many secrets about each other, their families, and themselves. 

I loved both boys and their families, but especially Aristotle. Reading the novel from his point of view was just perfect for me.

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, and it's explored in such a beautiful way. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes and again, it's explored so beautifully. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? For a time, yes. No spoilers!

Is there any sex stuff? Very little, I personally would have wanted more, but I did think the kissing scenes were just gorgeous

Are drugs mentioned or used? Marijuana, once

Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is graphic. There's violence, too 

Are there swear words? Not many 

What criticisms do I have? Barely any at all. I thought it was just so pretty and nice to read. I would have liked Aristotle to communicate more, but I understand that it was very much part of his character. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, one hundred percent. If you like YA or LGBTQ literature, definitely read this if you haven't. It's a stand out example of YA as a genre I think. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Like I said, I was just browsing through my Kindle books. 

What other books is it like? Something like The Perks of Being a Wallflower only better.

How many stars? Nine out of ten, I'm so glad I read it. I immediately went on Archive of Our Own to read some fic, which is very unlike me but goes to show how much I didn't want it to end! 

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord - Review

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Alright, so I've just been on holiday and when I go on holiday, especially if I'm flying, I like to not take any paper books and to only take my tablet, which I use to read on via the Kindle app. It means taking less stuff, and it also means I get to scroll through books and take my time in choosing them without the paper ones demanding my attention first. I like to read summery things while on holiday, so The Names They Gave Us was perfect. I had already decided to read it because I knew I wanted to review it, so I actually started reading it the night before we left and really got stuck into it on the plane. Perfect summer reading - I recommend it for your holiday too!

Where did I get it? Netgalley, so thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing! I appreciate being able to read this title. 

What's it about? Lucy is in her junior year of high school and is at prom with her boyfriend Lukas when she discovers that her mother's cancer has returned. Having survived it three years before, Lucy is thrown and immediately worried that she will lose her mum. 

Her dad is a pastor and over the summer Lucy and her parents run a Christian camp an hour away from their home, welcoming different church groups every week. Lucy loves it, but her mum encourages her to take a job at a camp just across the lake. Daybreak is a camp for children who have been through difficult times, and Lucy is at first very unsure and quite judgemental, due to her religious background. She arrives and has to quickly get to grips with the different people - her co-counsellors, the kids, and Henry, a boy that she has a crush on. As the weeks go by Lucy discovers many, many things about herself and about her family. She has to confront her prejudices and learns a lot about life. 

The novel is really simple but really deep, if that makes sense. Easy to read, but heartbreaking in a hundred ways. I thought the ending was perfect, too. 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yeah, no spoilers though 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yep, Henry is and his friend, plus some of the kids. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, but again no spoilers. Take care of yourself while reading this though. The characters gave all been through really tough stuff and it's talked about unflinchingly. 

Is there any sex stuff? Not really

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, somewhat

Is there any talk of death? Yes, of course. Again, take care of yourself 

Are there swear words? Only a few - Lucy isn't the swearing type!

What criticisms do I have? I felt like a couple of the storylines petered out as the novel reached its conclusion, and in some parts I felt like the narrative was too simplistic. However, this may be because I'm an adult and this is meant for teens, so if I look at it in that way I think it's perfect for the age range.

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. I really liked Lord's other book, When We Collided, but I thought this was a lot better but had the same sweetness about it, especially in terms of romance. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Because I wanted to review it, for one, and also because I was on holiday and thought the summer setting would be perfect. It was!

What other books is it like? It's a lot like When We Collided, as I say. As an older YA reader it was a lot like Judy Blume and other classics like that. 

How many stars? Eight out of ten. An excellent read. 

Exposure by Helen Dunmore - Review

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I finished this on the 2nd of June but was going on holiday, so I didn't have time to review it before I went away. Now I'm back, I've got a bunch of reviews to do! It's Sunday afternoon and I'm ready to blog!

I read this book for my in person book club, which meets monthly and which generally chooses books like this. Last month we read Hag Seed by Margaret Atwood, which I also enjoyed. I sometimes don't enjoy the books, but they often push me out of my comfort zone which I think is a really fantastic thing for me. I've read a couple of Helen Dunmore's books before, and enjoyed them.

This book is set in 1960 and concerns Giles, a civil servant with a drinking problem. He falls down the stairs in his secret attic, from where he spies upon his bosses, and is laid up in plaster, unable to retrieve the file that he wasn't supposed to have. He phones Simon, a man who is junior to him in the department, and asks him to get the file. Simon does, but is then arrested for spying and giving information to the Soviets.

His wife Lily is a German immigrant who has suppressed a lot of her memories of Germany. She arrived before the war and was abandoned by her dad. She and Simon have three children, but under the cloud of Simon's arrest, they must leave their London home and try to forge a new life in Kent.

I really enjoyed the book, and thought it was beautifully understated. Nothing much actually happened, but the scope of the book is just huge. I wish I could write like this! Lily and Simon are especially sympathetic characters and I loved their marriage and relationship.

I've read a couple of Helen's other books and was really sad to hear she'd died while I was away. I feel like she had a lot more writing to do! I think my book club will have enjoyed it too, but I can't wait to find out what they thought.

Girl Hearts Girl by Lucy Sutcliffe - Review

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it at YALC last year because I'd heard a lot of really good things about it. 

What's it about? Lucy is a lesbian and is a popular YouTuber along with her girlfriend Kaelyn. They had an online relationship before moving in together in 2014. This memoir is Lucy's story of growing up and coming out. I was expecting it to be a lot deeper than it was, and I also felt like Lucy could have explored more about the difficulties that a lot of LGBT+ people face, that she personally didn't face, and acknowledged the privileges she had in having a supportive family and so on.  

What age range is it for? 13 and upwards

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, duh

Are any main characters people of colour? No. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Very little and it's not explicit.

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? No

Are there swear words? Not many, if any

What criticisms do I have? As I said, I felt like Lucy has a lot of privilieges in being white, thin, pretty middle class, well-educated, and so on. It's not down to her to write about hardships which she hasn't faced, of course, but I felt like some acknowledgement of her privilege would have been useful. There didn't seem to be much actual substance to the book and I didn't particularly enjoy it. 

Would I recommend the book? Not really, unless you're a big fan of her YouTube stuff. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I suggested it for the non-fiction in my online book club, and it was voted as the choice. I feel a bit bad that I suggested it when I didn't actually like it!

What other books is it like? Oh I'm not sure! 

How many stars? Five out of ten, I didn't particularly enjoy it. 

Where is the book going now? I'll probably donate it, or find someone else who wants to read it!

What She Lost by Susan Elliott Wright

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Disclaimer: Susan did the same Writing MA that I did, so I first heard of her at the launch for her first novel as it was an event I could go to on my MA. I bought her book and friended her on Facebook, and I've bought the next two of her novels too. I really like them - well-crafted plots about feisty women which usually have parts set in the recent past as well as the present. If you like Maggie O'Farrell or Sebastian Barry, I'd say that Susan is an author to check out, for definite.

I think that this is the best of her books so far, but Susan says that it was the most difficult to write, and it's not hard to see why. There's a lot of emotional issues going on, and some devastating events. It really took it out of me just reading it!

In the present, Eleanor is in her 50s and lives on a commune in North Yorkshire. She lost her hair to stress-related alopecia when she was a teenager, and it's just started to grow back. Her mother, Marjorie, still lives in the family home in east London. Her friend Peggy lives upstairs and has been caring for Marjorie ever since she started developing Alzheimers. Eleanor and her mother have always had a strained relationship, ever since Marjorie was in hospital when Eleanor was a small child.

Marjorie is getting more and more forgetful, but she keeps looking for something for Eleanor. Can Eleanor uncover the truth about what happened when she was a child before it's too late?

There were several things I really liked about this book. Eleanor is a particular favourite, and I also liked how her hair loss was dealt with, and the effect it had on her sexual life. I thought this was dealt with really well, very sensitively. Likewise, I felt like Marjorie's Alzheimers was sensitively portrayed. Susan actually wrote a book about Alzheimers (a non fiction book) so it's something she knows a lot about, and that shows. I liked Peggy and the relationship she and Eleanor had, and how this made Marjorie feel. I felt sad that Marjorie and Eleanor couldn't get on, and wanted to bang their heads together more than once.

All in all, I am giving this a well deserved eight out of ten.


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