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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill - Review

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I probably mentioned before that this year my friend Laura and I have been swapping books each month. It was my idea to broaden my horizons a bit, because she tends to read much more highbrow stuff than I do, and we thought it would be nice to share our favourite novels with each. I read Carry On to start with, and then she lent me a book called A God in Every Stone which I didn't finish (but plan to). Most recently she sent me The Woman in Black. While it's not a Young Adult book by any stretch, it has been taught at GCSE and A level for ages, so I felt like it was appropriate to review it.

I heard of the books years and years ago but always thought I wouldn't like it. While it's relatively modern (published in 1983), it is written in the style of Gothic Horror which I find difficult to read, so I've never so much as picked it up. But once I started reading I barely put it down, I really enjoyed it and it kept me intrigued right to the end.

It doesn't fit into my normal review format, so I'll just write about it.

It's Christmas Eve and Arthur Kapps is spending the evening with his second wife and her four children, and her daughter's husband. Arthur is contented in his country home, but when he goes back into the room with his family, they've begun to tell ghost stories to entertain each other. They ask Arthur to join in, but he gets upset and leaves the room. He then begins writing down his story.

Years previously, when Arthur is 23 and working as a lawyer in London, he is sent to the east of the UK to deal with the estate of a lady called Mrs Drablow. She had lived alone on an island just off the coast of a town called Crythin Gifford, in a house called Eel Marsh House, which is cut off from the mainland when the tide is in but which is otherwise accessible by a causeway. Arthur is eager to escape the smog of London, but doesn't want to leave his fiancee Stella behind, but doesn't expect to be away for long.

The funeral of Mrs Drablow is held on Arthur's first morning in the town, attended by only himself and the local solicitor Jerome. However, in the church and then in the graveyard, Arthur spots a woman dressed all in black, in clothes from decades previous, and with a ravaged face. The children in the playground next to the churchyard also watch her, but when Arthur tries to ask Jerome about the mysterious woman, Jerome refuses to answer.

Arthur goes to the island, driven by a man called Keckwick in a pony and trap, and sees the woman in black on the island, at the family graveyard. He begins to think that she can't be real. In the night, he hears a mysterious thumping noise from a locked room in the house and is scared. He sets off to leave the house, but a thick mist has rolled in and he can barely see more than a few feet in front of him. He hears a pony and trap and thinks Keckwick has come back for him... But has he?

I'm going to not spoil the plot any further, but I will say that it is a really atmospheric and creepy book. I really wasn't breathing at one point, I swear! The whole atmosphere is oppressive and scary and the house is terrifying. There's a reason this book has become a modern classic. I thought the ending was horrific, so do read it and let me know what you think!

The Summer Before by Ann M Martin - Review

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I don't think my normal review will really do for this book, so I'm going to just write instead. I'm sure I won't cover anything so feel free to ask if you have any questions.

I was a huge Babysitters Club fan when I was younger, I had loads of the books and often bought one with my pocket money when I went shopping on a Saturday. They also showed the TV series on The Children's Channel on Sky - this was early to mid 90s so we're going back a bit I know! I loved Claudia the most because she was artistic and she liked odd clothes and odd earrings - something which I took to heart when I was a teenager and wore six different earrings in the three piercings I had in each ear - but I was probably more like Kristy, if I'm honest. They made babysitting look like the best job on earth, didn't they? My friend and I used to swap the books. I think my favourite was Babysitters on Board when they all go on a cruise and to Disney World.

I recently saw somone on my Instagram was reading this book and I was intrigued, so I bought it on eBay for a couple of pounds. It's a prequel to the main series, it takes place over the summer before the original four babysitters - Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey - go into seventh grade, where Kristy gets her big idea about starting the BSC. It's before Kristy, Mary Anna and Claudia know Stacey, which I liked. The book is told from each of their points of view and they each have different things going on in their lives

Kristy's mum has started dating Watson and Kristy doesn't like it because she's hoping her dad will come back, even though he's in California now and even though when Kristy writes to him the letter comes back undeliverable. Kristy has already been babysitting for a while and some of her charges are those that BSC readers will be familiar with, including Mallory and the other Pikes!

Mary Anne is desperate to start babysitting, and eventually her super-strict dad agrees that she can, but only if she has another babysitter with her, which obviously makes her feel really babyish. She found a box of her mother's stuff in the attic and has been going through it. I don't think I realised that Mary Anne never knew her mum at all, but from this book it seems like she died when Mary Anne was born.

Claudia feels like she's growing away from Kristy and Mary Anne because she's interested in boys and fashion and they aren't. She meets a boy called Frankie at her birthday party and hangs out with him all summer, barely seeing her friends.

Stacey got her diabetes diagnosis when she was in the 6th grade, but for some reason didn't tell any of her friends, including her BFF Laine. She's living in New York with no friends and feeling very alone. She's quite looking forward to moving to Stoneybrook, therefore, even though she'll miss all the kids in her building that she babysits for.

See, it all happens! I felt like this was a very cute prequel to the series and like it would have brought a whole new generation of girls to the BSC. I'm giving it eight out of ten because it made me remember how much I loved those books!

The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness - Review

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Where did I get it? I bought it, last year sometime. Recently I decided that I'd read all the Carnegie Shortlist books, so I bought the rest, but this one I already owned. I've got them all piled up and my friend Stacey suggested I picked this one up first. 
What's it about? This is a really funny, tongue in cheek novel. Mike Mitchell is an ordinary 17 year old who's only a few weeks from graduating high school. He lives in a tiny rural town in the middle of nowhere, and he's got Problems. He has quite severe OCD and gets stuck in "loops" that he can't get out of. His older sister (also graduating) had an eating disorder that she's still working through, his mother is running as State Governor and leaves her children to it, and his dad is an alcoholic. Mike's in love with his friend Henna, but she's got a crush on new guy Nathan. His best friend Jared's dad is Mike's mum's main rival in politics. All this is going on anyway, but also the town is a little bit weird and every few years something strange happens with the indie kids in the school - they have to fight zombies or vampires or zombie vampires. Eight years ago the school blew up, so everyone's hoping that won't happen again - or at least not before Mike and his friends get to graduate. Not everyone can be the Chosen One, you see - some people just live their lives while all that stuff goes on in the background. 
What age range is it for? 14+
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Jared is gay and Mike is... flexible? He says a couple of times that he and Jared have explored sexually, although he doesn't go into details and says it was merely something to do in a small town. However, I feel that Mike's representation is important - he isn't afraid to experiment with a boy or to tell the reader that. It was a very lovely way of showing this, I felt.
Are any main characters non-white? Yes, Henna is mixed race 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Mike has OCD and his sister Mel is a recovering anorexic. TRIGGER WARNINGS exist therefore for this novel - there's plenty of descriptions of Mike's compulsions, and a little about Mel's issues around food. Take care of yourself.
Is there any sex stuff? Very, very little - it's not explicit but it is clear what has happened, and safe sex is practiced. 
Are drugs mentioned or used? No
Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is a little gory. 
Are there swear words? A few but not many. 
Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. I loved this; it's only the second Patrick Ness I've ever read (the first was The Knife of Never Letting Go which I read for my Children's Lit module for my MA) and I much preferred this. It made me laugh out loud more than once, which is very unusual for me. I felt it was a little like Buffy the Vampire Slayer - very clever and witty. It's very realistic with elements of magic/fantasy too, which is my perfect mix. 
How many stars? Ten out of ten - it isn't perfect but it's very close to it. 
Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, but first I'm going to lend it to Stacey!

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