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Dear Charlie by N D Gomes - Review

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle way back in February and had mostly like forgotten about it, but my friend Stacey read it while she was on holiday and said I should read it, so I did. 

What's it about? Set in 1996, Sam's brother Charlie is infamous. The novel starts at the end of the summer, around the beginning of September. In June, Charlie walked into his and Sam's school in Pembrook with a gun and killed fourteen pupils and teachers, before killing himself. Sam's family is falling apart without Charlie. Sam doesn't know who his brother was or what part he played in Charlie's actions. Their parents blame themselves and each other and are fighting constantly. Sam's life is in pieces; outside, the paparazzi won't leave the family alone and they're ostracised when they leave the house. 

Sam has to go to a different school after being told he was no longer welcome at Pembrook. He starts at Knightsbridge, where people soon make him unwelcome. But he finds friends too, including Dougie, who he thinks is cool, and Izzy, who he has a crush on. 

He writes letters to Charlie as part of the therapy he is undergoing, hence the title of the novel. 

I didn't love this book, although I read it quickly. I felt like Sam was mostly a sympathetic character, although I felt there were parts where he was quite nasty, for example when he commented on the looks of the girls he was hanging out with. It didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the novel and I found it quite jarring.

Also, as a reader, I wanted more exploration into Charlie and his actions. As an adult I can see that not expanding on this makes sense, as a careful author wouldn't want to glamorise what he did. But as a reader, I wanted more! 

I also felt like time tripped in places, and moved on too quickly, whereas in other places things kept getting repeated. I'm sure there would be a lot of repetition from family members in a case like this, but it's not that interesting to read. I was also quite confused about where this book was set. I was expecting it to be American, but it clearly wasn't, but I wasn't sure where in Britain it was set, except that London was "down south". I'm leaning towards Scotland, but I wish the novel had been clearer. But in all, this is an okay book and I'd pick up something by the same author. 

What age range is it for? Fifteen onwards, I think 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No, not that it was mentioned. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Charlie has a mental illness, of course, but it's not explored in much depth or detail. I don't think any trigger warnings would apply. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously. It's not graphic, though

Are there swear words? Not many at all.

What criticisms do I have? I think I've outlined them above. I didn't know why the book was set in 1996, except that in 1996 the Dunblane massacre happened, which changed handgun law here in the UK and which remains one of the deadliest shootings here. In this book, Charlie's actions are used as the vehicle for a change in law. 

I also felt like some people could have tried to understand Sam's point of view more, including his parents. He's clearly been through something really traumatic, but no one except his therapist seems to care. I don't really understand pupils reacting badly to him at his new school - it's not his fault! I thought it was a bit odd. 

Each chapter starts with the name of a different song from 1996 and 1997 and as a 90s indie kid myself I liked this part of it, I'd love to listen to a playlist of all the songs! It wasn't always clear if they were relevant to the text though. 

Would I recommend the book? Kind of? I didn't love it but it's not a bad book. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? As I said, Stacey had recommended it - I think she liked it more than I did!

What other books is it like? The parallels with the Columbine massacre made me think of the book She Said Yes, which is about one of the victims there. It also reminded me a lot of Perks of Being A Wallflower, although I'm not sure why! 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

The Lauras by Sara Taylor - Review

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Where did I get it? Netgalley, so thank you to Random House Cornerstone. 

What's it about? Alex is thirteen years old when their mother pulls them out of bed in the middle of the night after a row with their dad, and takes off. Ma has had a bag with both their important documents packed for the whole of Alex's life, and now it's time to use them. As the two make their way through America, sometimes staying overnight and sometimes staying for up to a whole school year, Ma tells Alex about the Lauras, all the friends she made with that name, and plenty of other friends she had along the way too. She had somewhat of a chaotic childhood and throughout the novel we get to know her story. 

Alex is agender, and identifies as neither male nor female. We get to know their sotry too and see them growing up from quite an immature teen to a young adult. For the first half of the novel I didn't feel like I knew Alex well enough and felt like the novel was just a vessel for Ma to tell her stories with a sideline of Alex. However, that changed and by the end I really loved them as a character; I felt like they'd been through a lot of growth and emerged a better person. I really liked the ending, too. 

I kept saying this was a weird book and I stand by that - its narrative structure is unlike almost anything I've read before. But I really enjoyed it. I would definitely read something else by the same author. 

I've seen that this is categorised as an adult novel but I really disagree. I think it is a perfect example of a Young Adult novel, in fact. Both Alex and Ma are teenagers when things happen, and both are really kickass people while things are happening. While there is sexual assault, sexual violence, and a few other nasty things, they're no worse than in some other YA novels - although, of course, take care of yourself for triggers. Definitely one for discerning YA readers and older readers who like YA. 

What age range is it for? As I say, anything from probably fifteen upwards, but do take care of yourself. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes! Alex is agender and I liked how Ma dealt with this too - standing up for Alex when needed. It's relayed in a really lovely way and I liked Alex's inner dialogue about themself too. 

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

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, as mentioned there's sexual assault and sexual violence, both of which are pretty graphic and could be triggering. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Maybe once?

Is there any talk of death? Very little

Are there swear words? Yes, a few

What criticisms do I have? I felt like there were parts when very little happened and then a lot happened at once, and I felt like some things just got cut off when I would have liked to know more. There is very little to criticise, though. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, very much so. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had seen reviews and knew I wanted to get to it soon. 

What other books is it like? I sort of want to say it's like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, if Chocolat was from Viane's daughter's point of view. It's got that sort of chaotic, moving with the wind, almost magic vibe to it. 

How many stars? Four out of five. Really good book. 

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel - Review

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where did I get it? I got it from Hodder & Stoughton from Netgalley, so thank you very much to them 

What's it about? When Lane Roanoake is fifteen years old, her mum, who ran from the Roanoke house when she was sixteen and pregnant with Lane, kills herself in their apartment in New York, leaving Lane all alone. Theirs has not been an easy or happy relationship. Lane doesn't know why Camilla left her family and her small Kansas town, but that's where she finds herself over the summer she turns sixteen, when her grandparents agree to take her. 

Roanoke is a huge ranch miles out of town, with a strange house, inhabited by Allegra, Lane's cousin, daughter of Camilla's sister Eleanor, and Lane and Allegra's grandparents. There is a strange undercurrent in the house. As Allegra says, all the girls either die, or they run. Lane is uncomfortable, but doesn't, at first, know the ugly truth about the family.

Meanwhile, desperate to escape, the girls spend their evenings with Allegra's boyfriend Tommy and his friend Cooper, who Lane starts a relationship with. 

In a dual storyline, set in the present of 2015, Lane is back at Roanoke because Allegra is missing. It is ten years later and Lane has been in California for the past decade, ever since she left Roanoke. She meets Tommy, now married and the local cop, and Cooper, who she starts a relationship with again. She's determined to find out what has happened to Allegra and expose the secrets of Roanoke for good. 

What age range is it for? Adult, totally. This is a disturbing and uncomfortable novel. That isn't to sad it's bad, but it is terrifying in parts. There is rape, abuse, and lots of sex. Take care of yourself. This is a book for adults and discerning readers. 

What criticisms do I have? It was probably just because I was reading a proof copy but the switches between the two time periods were sometimes really confusing. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if this type of thriller is your thing. I feel like this fits nicely into the Gone Girl kind of genre. Those thrillers that are twisty and turny and which keep you turning the page. While I didn't feel like we got a good picture of Lane as a rounded person, I did like her. I liked Cooper a lot too, I think he was a bit of a dish and said all the right things. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just scrolling through my Kindle and started reading it, and then I got hooked and read it really quickly. 

What other books is it like? While it does fit with books like Gone Girl, I think it also has a feel of The Virgin Suicides about it. 

How many stars? Four out of five, Claustrophobic and atmospheric. I would definitely read something else by the same author. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth - Review

Monday, September 11, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it a couple of weeks ago in Waterstones. I had a gift card from a present in February that I hadn't yet spent, so when I went to Meadowhall to meet a friend a few weeks ago, I bought four books. They were £20.96 in total, so with the gift card I only had to spend 96p! I took a photo of the books I bought:

What's it about? At the beginning of the bookm in the late 80s, Cameron Post is twelve years old when her parents die. They've been at a local (ish) beauty spot that has a history for Cameron's mum when their car leaves the road and they are both killed. Cameron's first feeling is relief - because she's been kissing her friend Irene and now her parents will never know about it. 

Her aunt Ruth, who is a fairly conservative Christian, moves to Montana to look after Cameron along with her grandma. In the second part of the novel, Cameron is fifteen and over one summer, has an intense friendship with Coley Taylor. It turns into something more than friendship. I don't want to say more because I don't want to post spoilers - I hadn't read any before reading the book and it really added to it for me. I felt like every time I started a new chapter I was like "OH GOD WHAT NOW!" and it really went a lot towards my enjoyment of the book.

However, what I will post are trigger warnings. For violence, for self harm, for extreme homophobia, for death, for a lot of painful things happening to queer teenagers. If this sounds like it would hurt you, don't read the book. If you start reading it and it's too painful, don't finish the book. It's okay, I promise. It's an excellent book, but it isn't easy to read. It's hard and difficult and it made me angry. It's all those things and yet it's an important book because it exists in the first place. I'm very glad to have read it. 

What age range is it for? Because of the issues mentioned above, I'm going to say 15+, even though Cameron is younger than that at the start of the novel. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes.

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, but I want to avoid spoilers - but he's one of my favourite characters in the whole book.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? You know... I'm going to say yes, for mental health things, even though it isn't exactly what I might usually mean when I answer this question.

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's somewhat explicit. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, marijuana quite a lot. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes. Take care of yourself. 

Are there swear words? Yes. 

What criticisms do I have? I don't know why the book was set in the late 80s/early 90s, except that I guess that might be when the author was a teenager herself? I don't know that it added to anything, except it might seem like what happens is historical... When it isn't.
Homophobia still very nuch exists. I don't know; it just sort of jarred me.

Would I recommend the book? One hundred percent. I really liked it - that isn't to say I enjoyed all of it, because it is difficult to read. But I want everyone to read it. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I'd heard so much about it. It was publishe in the US in 2012, before I was really into YA fiction (I was dabbling my toes - I liked the Hunger Games and other dystopias like that) so I hadn't heard about it then. It came out here this year, so I heard a lot of buzz about it and when I saw it in Waterstones I knew I had to have it. 

What other books is it like? I'm not even going to try to compare it. 

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, but first I'm going to lend it to my friend Laura. 

The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie - Review

Monday, September 4, 2017

Where did I get it? I heard about it at Grrrl Con, where Natalie was a fellow attendee. Her book was published through Unbound, which is a different approach to publishing that seems to really work for people. The book was 99p on Amazon Kindle around the time of the conference, so I bought it. 

What's it about? There are three main story strands to the novel. Firstly, there's Jean, in the 1910s, who works in the Singer factory. The workers there go on strike, causing friction between Jean and her boyfriend Donald, and Jean's dad. Eventually Jean and Donald leave Glasgow for Edinburgh. 

Secondly, there's Connie in the 1950s. Connie is in her 30s and unmarried, and gets a job in the Sewing Room at Edinburgh Infirmary mending sheets and medical uniforms. At home, she and her mum use an old Singer machine and document everything that they make or mend on the machine. Connie lives in a tenement flat in Edinburgh. 

Thirdly, there's Fred. Fred's grandad has just died and Fred is inheriting his tenement flat. Fred has been living in London and is not that nice of a person at the beginning of the novel. He is disdainful of all of his grandad's posessions and wants to get rid of everything. He goes to sell the old Singer machine, but the mechanisms are jammed. When he investigates, he finds the notebooks from Connie and her mother, and begins to piece together the past.

The novel is deftly and cleverly woven together, and to begin with I found the swapping of points of view quite confusing, but once I got to grips with that I began to really enjoy each of the stories. I loved Jean and Connie, and although I initially disliked Fred I soon came to like him too. I enjoyed this novel a lot. 

What age range is it for? While this isn't a YA novel, I do think that an older reader could enjoy it, especially one interested in history and feminism. There's nothing too scandalous in it, although there's some talk of death and stuff like that. Try it if the subject matter appeals!

How many stars? Four out of five. A really good book!

Maximum Pop Samplers

Thursday, August 31, 2017

I recently saw Maximum Pop tweet the link to this post, which has links to the first chapter of a bunch of books released in August! How amazing is that? I went through them, reading the ones which caught my eye. Here's the ones I read:

Stags by M A Bennett. Greer is a student at an exclusive school called Stags when she is invited to the home of the 'best looking boy in the school', Henry de Warlencourt. While there she gets mixed up in something that ends in murder... I definitely want to read the rest of this!

It's All In Your Head by Rae Earl. This is mentioned on the site linked above, but there's no link to read the first chapter. It might have been removed or something. But I thought I'd mention this book anyway because I bought it recently. Rae Earl is the writer of My Mad Fat Diary, and I thought this sounded really interesting. It is subtitled "A Guide to Getting Your Shit Together" and it is something like a self help book, and it talks about lots of different mental health conditions. Many teens suffer from them, so if you do too, you're definitely not alone. I'm looking forward to reading this!

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord. This has actually been re-released, I think, due to its inclusion in Zoella's 2017 book club. I haven't read it yet, though, although I'm pretty sure I own it in a different edition to the one I've linked to. Paige is about to start her junior year of high school, only she's known in her town as the girl whose boyfriend drowned. It's over a year since Aaron died, and Paige is ready to make a plan for the rest of her life. I was instantly drawn to this, I think Emery writes such interesting and believable characters.

T Is For Tree by Greg Fowler. Now, this is really creepy and kind of weird and I'm already intrigued! At the beginning, Eddy's mother Hailey abandons him in the hospital just after he is born. Twelve years later, Eddy lives with his grandmother and is banned from leaving his room, except on Shower Day. But the tree next to one of his windows is actually growing into the house. This already seems like a suffocating and creepy novel. It reminded me a lot of Room by Emma Donoghue, which isn't a YA novel but which I'd thoroughly recommend (although trigger warning for rape/sexual assault)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - Review

Friday, August 25, 2017

I read this for my online book club, and I didn't really enjoy it. I've never read a Poirot book before, and this is only my second Agatha Christie book. I liked the previous one, The Murder of Rogery Ackroyd, a lot better than this. It hasn't put me off totally, but this was just really dull.

I think a lot of people know the story but in case you don't, Poirot is travelling across Europe on the Orient Express when he is awoken one night by a banging in the compartment next to his, which is occupied by a Mr Ratchett. Ratchett had earlier told Poirot that he was in fear of his life and had asked for his help, but Poirot didn't like his face so declined to help. Poirot hears someone speaking in French to a train employee, and is aware that the train has stopped, but soon goes back to sleep.

In the morning it turns out that Ratchett has been murdered and several clues have been left. Everyone has a story to tell Poirot and his comrades in the investigation, M Bouc, a director of the train company, and the train doctor, whose opinion it is that several of the stabbings to Ratchett have come from lefthanders and that a woman couldn't have inflicted them all. The first clue gives an indication of who Ratchett really was - a man who kidnapped and then killed the child of a wealthy family but who escaped justice. In the course of their investigation it becomes clear to Poirot and the others that basically everyone in the carriage had a motive to kill the killer of the Armstrong child. Eventually Poirot gathers them all together in typical fashion to lay out his two solutions to the crime.

I felt like this hasn't aged well at all. I understand that crime forensics were in their infancy but seriously nothing was done in a proper way. The assumptions of Poirot, M Bouc, and the doctor were just ridiculous at the best of times and bordering on racism at the worst. Also, they just seemed to assume that everyone was telling the truth most of the time, like when they were alibiing other people. It was ridiculous! It took me forever to read and I felt the ending was unsatisfactory.

Fortunately, the others in the book club felt pretty much the same! Oh well, you can't like them all!


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