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The Little Friend by Donna Tartt - Review

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Recently I asked for any recommendations of books set in the American Deep South but that weren't about slavery - it's not that I don't think there are good books with that setting, but often they're written by white people, which is not what I'm after, and I'm also just kind of fed up of reading about the pain and suffering of black people. I got a couple of replies on Twitter asking me why I didn't want books about slavery, which is honestly just tiring, and I don't know why I had to explain myself. So I didn't.

Anyway someone recommended The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, and I knew that someone in my book club had read it recently so I asked if anyone had a copy. It turned out Margaret did, so I went to hers while I was in the area and picked it up. This book is HUGE, it's over 550 pages. For me, that's about twice the size of the books I usually read. It was hardback, too, which I find difficult to manoeuvre thanks to some mild arthritis in my fingers. However, I removed the dust jacket, which helps, and picked up the book after I'd finished the Elly Griffiths I was reading. 

I've never read anything by Donna Tartt and have always meant to. I'm assured I'd love The Secret History, but I've never got round to it. So I was pleased to pick this up. 

It's set in Mississippi in the early 1970s, although the time period could sort of shift and it took me a while to figure out when exactly it was set. It concerns the Cleve family, a white family who used to live in a big mansion called Tribulation, but who lost it thanks to the financial mismanagement of Judge Cleve. He had four daughters - Libby, Edie, Tatty, and Adelaide. They are, by the time of the book, aged between 65 and their early 80s. 

Edie has a daughter, Charlotte. At the beginning of the book she has three children - Robin, 9, Allison, 4, and baby Harriet, only a few weeks old. On Mother's Day in May the children are outside in the front yard and Robin is murdered. His body is left hanging on a tree. No one is ever caught, and the event causes Charlotte to fall into depression and the children's father, Dix, leave the state to live in Tennessee. 

Twelve years later, Harriet, now twelve, is obsessed with finding out what happened to Robin. Charlotte is still depressed and is usually in bed, so the girls are left to their own devices a lot. Allison, it seems, did witness something to do with Robin's murder and has been slightly unhinged ever since. She too sleeps a lot. Harriet is friends with a little boy, Hely, and the two of them run around the town doing basically whatever they want. 

Harriet manages to get some information out of Ida Rhew, their housekeeper, a black lady who is the closest thing Harriet really has to a mother. She says that Danny Ratliff was seen in the yard just before Robin died. Harriet becomes obsessed with Danny and wants to exact revenge upon him. 

Danny is now twenty one ish and lives in a trailer on the same compound as the rest of his family. He has several brothers - Farish, the eldest, has been in both prison and a mental hospital, and now cooks meth on the compound. He gets Danny to help him move it for sale. Eugene, another brother, was burned in an accident and is now a preacher. The youngest brother, Curtis, has learning disabilities. The boys live with their grandma, Gum. Eugene has a friend, who is also a preacher, who has a ton of venomous snakes that he uses in his preaching. It is here that the two stories converge. 

I loved the book, I thought it was so interesting, and it really has that southern gothic feel of too hot summer and vague menace that I was going for. I loved Harriet as a character and loved her family background. They were exactly what I was looking for. It took me nearly two weeks to read the book because it is so dense as well as long. But I loved it and am glad I persevered, and I'm giving it five out of five. 


The Postcript Murders by Elly Griffiths - Review

Sunday, September 20, 2020

I'm thrilled to be reviewing Elly Griffiths' new book, The Postcript Murders. I was granted an electronic copy for review, so thank you very much to Quercus Books for letting me read the book. I was not otherwise compensated for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

This book is the second in the Harbinder Kaur series. I reviewed the first, The Stranger Diaries, here on this blog. In it, I said that I thought Elly would write another book starring Harbinder, so I'm pleased to have been proven right. I like Harbinder a lot - she's mid 30s, a detective but not yet a DI, is gay, and lives with her parents. As a dutiful Sikh daughter, she's often left to cook and clean for the family. In this book her mother Bibi has an accident and needs a carer to come in each day - which comes in later. 

So, at the beginning of the book an elderly woman called Peggy Smith is found dead in her sheltered accomadation in Shoreham-by-Sea. She is found by one of her carers, Natalka, a young woman from Ukraine with a bit of a shady past. A heart attack is suspected, and her body is quickly cremated and all seems fine. However, her friend in the accomadation, Edwin, suspects something else has happened, as does Natalka. They learn that Peggy often helped out crime writers in thinking up ways to murder someone, and they learn there might be a clue in an old novel. They enlist the help of their friend Benedict, who owns a coffee shack on the seafront that they both frequent.

Authors including Dex Challoner and J D Monroe have given thanks to Peggy in their novels. Natalka goes to Harbinder with her suspicions over Peggy's death, and Harbinder questions Dex about the old lady. The next morning, Dex is found dead in his house on Millionaire's Row, shot in the head. The police think the two deaths are related.

Natalka, Edwin, and Benedict then all head off to Aberdeen, because J D Monroe and another off Peggy's authors, Lance Foster, are appearing at a literary festival there. Natalka has been followed by two mysterious men, who may be linked to her past. 

I loved the main characters. Natalka remained the most mysterious to me, but I really liked her spirit and the kind of person she was. Edwin used to work for the BBC and is gay, and there's some great storytelling around that. Benedict is an ex-monk and I loved him as a character - he was so interesting. I could have read a whole book about him.

As the book is about books and authors, it gets a bit meta in places. There's a lot of digs at authors and festivals and book bloggers and so on, all of which made it really funny to me. It's quite self-aware in that way which I liked. I raced through it, even though I broke off to read Death Sets Sail. I really hope Harbinder turns up again - and I hope that the friends she made in this book do too. I'm giving this four out of five.

The Postcript Murders will be published on 1st October 2020. 


Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens - Review

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Nooooo it's the last of the Murder Most Unladylike books! We have to say goodbye to Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong! Nooooooooooo I'm not ready!!! I feel like we've all been waiting for this book for AGES, so as soon as it arrived on Friday the 7th of August I decided to pause the book I was reading (which is great and will be my next review!) and pick this up. I had read some of the blurb and spoilers for the book, and I feel like my review will be better if I share them here.

SO! IF YOU WANT NO SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK, CLICK OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW!!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!!!!!

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile. They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two; what they get, instead, is murder.

Also travelling on the SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night.

It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim's timid daughter is being framed - and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet.

But there is danger all around, and only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive...

So that's pretty conclusive, right? I knew that before I started reading and indeed, at the beginning of the book, Hazel is at Daisy's home, Fallingford, just a couple of days before Christmas, and she's there without Daisy. No one feels much like being festive, but Hazel knows she needs to write down everything that happened in Egypt. So she starts one of her casebooks...

A couple of weeks earlier, Daisy and Hazel set out with Amina to Egypt, where Amina is from. They have a nice few days in Cairo and then they board a Nile cruise ship. Also on board are Hazel's dad and younger sisters Rose and May. And then, very ODDLY obviously, George and Alexander from the Pinkerton Society turn up! 

The remaining guests are all adults, and are members of a strange society called The Breath of Life. They believe they are reincarnated souls of famous Egyptians like Cleopatra, and they have strange rituals to go alongside. Daisy and Hazel and the others watch the ritual one night. Afterwards, they go to bed, but in the morning, the head of the society, Theodora, is found murdered in her bed. 

The Detective Society get to work, helped by George and Alex and Amina and also May, Hazel's littlest sister. She is only six, and a total monkey, but she's managed to witness some very important things and the detectives need her help.

All of the rest of Breath of Life are prime suspects, plus Theodora's son, Daniel, who is extranged from his mother but has come on the trip anyway. Hazel comes up against her dad, but the truth is that both she and Daisy, now fifteen, are growing up and finding their own ways in the world.

It was so sad to read this book because it is the last one and I was really aware of that the whole way through. I loved the story, and I thought Robin really encapsulated the feel of Egypt and the Nile. As always, I loved her descriptions of food. I raced to the end because I was really desperate to know what happened and how the series would end. I started crying around page 363 and kept it up to the end. My partner was surprised because I NEVER usually cry at books. But it was so much! I was so sad! 

I'm thrilled to learn that May Wong will return in her own series of books in 2022, and I can't wait to see who pops up in a cameo then.... 


The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde - Review

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Where did I get it? I bought it a couple of months ago. I think I'd seen it recommended on Twitter, and I do love books about music, so I took a chance, I'm really glad I did! 

What's it about? Emmy King is the drummer in the hottest new band The Brightsiders. Based in LA, the band is huge and they should all be having the times of their lives. But Emmy is falling apart. Her girlfriend Jessie keeps making her do things she doesn't really want to do, and she's partying really hard. At the beginning of the book, the two are involved in an accident while drunk, meqaning Emmy's management are on her back, and she gets thrown out of the hotel in which she's been living. 

She has to move back in with her parents, who she really dislikes. They're both a mess of drugs and alcohol, and they have no money, and they're pretty abusive. . Emmy desperately wants to buy her own house, but she's not yet eighteen. She has tried to help her parents out with money, but they sell stories about her to the tabloids and tell her she's useless. Eventually, she goes to stay with her friend Chloe instead.

The other two band members are Alfie and Ryan. She's known both of them since they were young teens, and the three are close friends. However, on a trip with all their friends, Emmy and Alfie start some kind of relationship. They're intensely attracted to each other, but starting a relationship might mess up the whole band. 

Emmy has paparazzi after her constantly, waiting for her to mess up. Her fans are totally dedicated to her, though, so, feeling brave one night at a Pride show, she feels able to come out as bisexual. She then writes a song for their fans, which she wants to sing, but she needs to prove herself to their management before she's allowed.

Plus she and Alfie just keep making out!

The book is a fun story about being famous and all the pressures that entails. I loved Emmy and Alfie and Ryan, and all their friends. 

What age range is it for? 15+, due to some mature themes. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, lots. Emmy is bisexual, she has friends of other sexualities (and a really nice coming out from someone other than herself, which I won't spoil). Alfie is genderqueer (I LOVED HIM) and Emmy's BFF Chloe is nonbinary. There's a plethora of queer people included which I really liked. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yeah, Chloe is black I think. Ryan is Korean. Again, there's a diverse range of characters which do reflect LA currently.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I'm going to see that both Emmy and Alfie have mental health issues. 

Is there any sex stuff? No, not graphically. I liked the way this was done actually. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, mentioned, but I don't think used. There's some alcohol abuse though. 

Is there any talk of death? No. There is some violence though, it is graphic in parts. 

Are there swear words? Yep and I loved them, they were used so well and really fitted in the context especially in the music business.  

What criticisms do I have? Here's the thing. I LOVED the story of the book. If I was fifteen I would be all over this, I love stories about bands and love and friendship and queer teens. The story is excellent, and would get me to read something else by Jen Wilde.

However, some of the writing left me cold. I found the time span really strange - there's a trip that lasts loads of chapters, and then other things go by really quickly? Plus there's some continuity issues which made me flick backwards wondering if I was misunderstanding. The writing alone would have made me give this book just a three, but I liked the story so I'm giving it a little bit of leeway. I hope that makes sense!

Would I recommend the book? Yes totally, even with my reservations. It's fun! It's a really fun book.

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was still hanging out at the side of my bed so I picked it up. 

What do I think of the cover? I LOVE it! It's so badass and colourful. It shows Emmy with her dyed hair and fierce purple lipstick.  

What other books is it like? It really reminded me of This Song Is Not For You by Laura Nowlin. 

How many stars? Four out of five.  

Where is the book going now? I'm keeping it!

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence - Review

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Where did I get it? My shelves. I saw Patrice speak at YA Shot a few years ago, and ordered this book shortly after. When I saw Patrice speak at YALC At Home last month, I remembered that I really wanted to read something by her, so I pulled this book off the shelves. 


What's it about? Indigo is seventeen and lives with her foster mum, Keely. Her mum was killed by her dad when Indigo was tiny, and Indigo was in the room next door. Indigo has lived in foster care since then, but has had to move around somewhat. She often gets very angry and lashes out. She says it is the "thing" inside her, a thing that she inherited from her dad, who is also now dead. She has just started a new school and is being teased by girls there, who have found out what happened to her family. She is in touch with one of her siblings, Primrose, and is hoping to see her soon.

Meanwhile Bailey is also at school with Indigo. He has a huge crush on her which his friend Austin mocks him for. He tries to stand up for her, and then the two start to get close. His parents - a social worker and a teacher - are wary because of Indigo's "history", which makes them mistrust her. Bailey is then approached by someone to give something to Indigo, which ends up spinning a web of lies throughout the book. 

Indigo is also really wary of letting anyone close to her because she's afraid she'll lash out if they get close, but she really likes Bailey. The two bond over music, which I really liked. 

I did like the book somewhat. There's lot of positives about it - Indigo is a really spunky girl and I wanted her to be okay. I loved her style and her taste in music. Bailey is a very sweet boy and was exactly what she needed. I liked Keely, Indigo's foster mum - she was an excellent example of a caring parent. I liked Bailey's family set up, although I thought it was odd in places. 

However, I thought the story as a whole was quite slow. It's a really long book and it didn't grip me very much. I felt like there was some filler which could have been removed and the book would have still worked. I appreciate that I am not the target audience for this book, and that's fine. I am sure that there are readers for whom this book would mean a great deal. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No I don't think so. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yep. Bailey is mixed race - his dad is black and his mum is white. I think the same for Indigo - her dad is white and her mum is at least mixed race, but if I'm wrong then I'm sorry. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Indigo is living with at least some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, yes. 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic and there's condom use (yay!) 


Are drugs mentioned or used? They're mentioned because they were a factor in Indigo's mother's death. There's also alcohol use and someone who abuses alcohol. 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, it is somewhat traumatic. 


Are there swear words? Yes, I really loved them actually, they felt very true to life and natural
 

What criticisms do I have? I think I said them above, it just didn't move fast enough for me. 


Would I recommend the book? If you want or need to read about as kid like Indigo then yes, absolutely. Otherwise, it wasn't for me, but I would read something else by Patrice for sure (I think I have Orangeboy somewhere). 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Patrice is a really engaging speaker on a panel, even at home like I watched her in July, and I really wanted to read something by her.
 

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

What other books is it like? It reminded me of Jackpot by Nic Stone. 


How many stars? Three out of five for me personally. 
 

Where is the book going now? I have a friend who works with vulnerable kids and I think I'll lend it to her!


Killing Dad & Other Short Stories by Keith Wright - Review

Saturday, September 5, 2020


Hello! I'm really happy to today welcome you to my blog for my stop on the tour for Killing Dad & Other Stories by Keith Wright. If you've never been to my blog before, please do have a look around. I often read and review crime fiction. 

I enjoyed this set of short stories. As with all short story collections, I liked some more than the others. Nearly all the stories had some sort of twist at the end, which I personally really like. 

Here's the description of the stories:

KILLING DAD
A family plagued by an abusive father finally take their revenge.
THE SHIFT
A detective completes a shift at work like no other. He couldn’t see the hit coming, and he couldn’t see the positive impact he’d had on so many lives.
THE MISSING LINK
A detective holds a retirement party. His old friend indicates he knows the truth.
THE PARCEL
A devoted son carries out his mother’s wishes.
DEAD TO THE WORLD
A detective stumbles across a murder. The problem is, he is alone with the killer and there is no way out.
THE VERDICT
A woman is abused in her back garden. But are things really what they seem?
THE CONFESSION
A Catholic priest is new to the parish and befriends a lady parishioner.
THE SLEEPER
A loving husband and father, discovers a horrific scene and blames himself.
APPOLLONIA’S MIST
An aging artist falls in love with his muse. But is she as devoted to him?
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS
An elderly couple find themselves next door to a problem family. Surely they will listen to reason?
FROM THE CRADLE
A young detective discovers his partners impropriety, but he learns a life lesson which conflicts with his instincts.
JIMMY TICKLE’S CHRISTMAS
A boy from an underprivileged family has a run-in with an intruder. It ends in tears…of joy.  



And here's the author Bio:

Keith Wright is the Author of the crime novels in the ‘Inspector Stark series’ available on Amazon, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited|Audiobook on Audible and iTunes.

Visit website: Keithwrightauthor.co.uk

Follow on twitter: @keithwwright

YALC At Home 2020

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The last weekend in July should have been YALC, which is usually held as part of London Comic Con. I've been a couple of times, but wasn't planning to go in 2020 as it's really quite inaccesible to me. I can't walk very far, I get easily overstimulated, and accommodation in London is often really expensive. That's why I've preferred to go to Northern YA Lit Fest as it's so much better for me in many ways. 

But then of course Covid-19 happened, and YALC and the comic con got cancelled. YALC decided to have YALC At Home over the same weekend. There was a really helpful spreadsheet and the time was really packed - there was stuff to be doing for three whole days! Some stuff needed prior registration, and there was stuff happening on Twitter, Instagram, Zoom, and more. I signed up for a few panels on Saturday and Sunday. I mentioned that it was YALC to my friend Lucinda, who is a children's librarian and with whom I often swap books and recommendations. She's been to YALC a bunch of times, but thought she had missed the online one when working the previous weekend. She was pleased to find out she hadn't, so signed up for some of the same panels as me. 

On Saturday morning I got up bright and early to watch The Horror Panel with Melinda Salisbury and Katherine Foxfield, and chaired by P M Freestone. It was really interesting; I don't read much horror but I liked hearing about how each author built tension. Melinda's new book Hold Back the Tide was just 83p on Kindle so I bought it. 

Next I watched a panel on Runaway YA, books starring a runaway in one way or another. Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt, Patrice Lawrence, Amelia Mandeville, and Chloe Heuch were on this panel, and it was really lovely to hear all of them. I was cross-stitching while I was watching, and messaging Lucinda on WhatsApp, which were both nice. Lucinda and I both felt like we were together watching the panels, so it was a good way to hang out. I believe Lucinda was doing chores around the house and then crocheting. 

Watching panels even from home turns out to be as exhausting as watching them in person, so I had a little break after that and had some lunch and watched some other things. I clocked back into YALC at 2pm for the Romance panel. Now, there was a clash with the Supernatural panel, which I also wanted to see, but I'd seen on Twitter that the Walker Books panels were being recorded and would be available to watch later, so I watched the other one live instead. I also passed this information on to Lucinda, who joined me in the Romance one. 

The authors in that one were Simon James Green, Leah Johnson, Chloe Seager, and Katy Birchall. It was a really funny panel and although I wouldn't say I am a romance fan I liked the stories in a lot of these books and I agreed with points made about queering the tropes that we have seen a million times. 


The Romance panel with (top left clockwise) Simon James Green, Chloe Seager, Katy Birchall, and Leah Johnson)

At 4pm Lucinda persuaded me to watch a panel on spin offs, which she wanted to see because Sarah Rees-Brennan was on the panel and Lucinda likes her. I knew next to nothing about the spin offs, but I enjoyed the panel and listening to the authors talk about how they work alongside canon to write their books. I asked a question in this panel, which was really easy to do in the Zoom meetings, which was excellent. 

After that, I logged off for the day and watched a film with my partner instead.

On Sunday there wasn't anything I fancied, so it was 4pm before I started. But I settled down with my cross stitch, messaging Lucinda again, for Feminist YA with Lucy Cuthew, Holly Bourne, Kate Weston, Nikita Gill, and Anna James. There were some interesting books mentioned here, which I will have to check out. I didn't stay in this panel for the Q&A, which is something I would absolutely do in person, too. YALC can be really hard and I'm not good at sitting still for a long time at the best of times. In most of the panels, it's very easy to sneak out if you need to. 

Between 5pm and 6pm I watched a couple of video clips that had been put up, including Lisa Williamson reading part of her new novel First Day of My Life. It sounds good, I think I'll pre order it (and then forget about it, like I always do). 

At 6pm the last panel was with American authors! Clearly due to the time difference this was difficult to do, but it was fantastic to hear Neal Shusterman, Angie Thomas, Maggie Tokuda Hall, Patrick Ness, and Katherine Webber. They were all talking about their new books, all of which I want to buy immediately. It was a really fun and funny end to the panels. 

Lastly, at 7.30 Non Pratt held a quiz on YouTube. Lucinda and I made a team, and we did pretty okay! It was really fun. 

So! I had a really good weekend and I'm really glad that YALC made this happen. It was accessible for me as a disabled and autistic person when in person conferences aren't always accessible for me anymore. The technology was easy to use and worked well. The mixture of panels and panellists was great and a person with more brain bandwidth than me could probably have watched stuff ALL weekend and not got bored. It was nice to watch things with my friend so we could discuss what we'd seen together. 

If YALC can go ahead next year, I would really love it if they could do some kind of hybrid event where they could livestream panels and people like me could watch from home at the same time. The technology exists, and participants could still pay for tickets, only less than the in person ones, obviously. I really hope it's something that the organisers think about. It's the kind of thing that a post-Covid world needs to get on board with. Here's hoping!
 

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