Rebecca McCormick. Powered by Blogger.

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.

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!

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon - Review

Monday, April 10, 2017

I read this for my online book club, although I got it off NetGalley so thank you to Blue Door/Harper Collins for granting that to me.

The premise of the book intrigued me. It's set in the summer of 1976 during the famous heatwave, and concerns The Avenue, an ordinary street in a nameless East Midlands town. Part of the novel is told from Grace's point of view. Grace is ten, and hangs out with her friend Tilly (who she seems to treat quite badly on occasion). The two go to church on one occasion and are taught about the Parable of the Goats and the Sheep, and so set off on a mission to find God in their street, by going door to door. Meanwhile, their neighbour Margaret Creasy has gone missing and everyone is suspicious of both her husband and the man at number eleven.

The point of view switches on occasion to the points of view of the adults on the street. Dorothy has got dementia and can't remember what she told Margaret. Sheila can remember all too well the events of a November night nine years ago, when number eleven was on fire and old Mrs Bishop was killed.

I found it really confusing to decide who was who, because Grace kept calling them Mr or Mrs So-and-so but the adults all called each other by their first names. I thought the twists were really good and the novel was well paced, but I found it a bit dull to read. I also feel like I've read a couple too many novels set in the heatwave in 1976 - I get it! It was hot! It sent people a bit strange!

Overall, I give it six out of ten.

The Iron Man by Ted Hughes - Review

Thursday, April 6, 2017

I read this book when I was little, over and over again. It was one of my favourites. I wanted to reread it as an adult and see if it was the same as I remembered. I bought it online recently and picked it up almost straight away.

The Iron Man in question appears in the English countryside one night and eats all the metal things close by, so the villagers get their heads together and bury him in a pit! Then a huge scaly terrible dragon flies off a star and lands on Australia, and the Iron Man has to fight him. Each chapter is a story in itself which is proof of how it started life as a bedtime story for Hughes' children.

I enjoyed the reread - this is a classic for a reason. It's a very cute children's book and I'd recommend it if your little ones haven't ever read it.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Sunday, April 2, 2017

I've heard of this short story as a classic a few times, so I decided to buy the paperback recently. There's seven stories in here, I think, all set in the late 1800s when the book was published. The titular one is the most famous and it concerns a woman who is suffering from nervous exhaustion and who is convalescing in a rented house. She is certain she can see a woman trapped in the wallpaper and starts to go a little bit crazy as time goes on.

I liked the main story but I liked a couple of the others better. They were all about well off people and set against slavery in the deep south, with well-drawn characters and intriguing plots/ I really liked all the stories so give this collection five stars out of five.

Birdy Flynn by Helen Donohoe - Review

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Where did I get it? I won it in a giveaway on Luna's Little Library blog, so thanks Luna! It is a proof copy, I think

What's it about? Set in the mid 80s, Birdy Flynn is twelve years old and lives in an unnamed British town with her family. Mum is Irish, Dad is Liverpudlian but from an Irish family. Birdy's elder brother Noely is living away from the family. Her sister Eileen is around. 

Birdy hangs out with the lads at the beginning of the novel and throughout the book her gender is questioned. She doesn't feel like a girl and is dreading puberty. However, I will use the pronoun 'her' for her because I don't think she is out as trans in her own mind, not even by the end. There is a lot of questioning and I like the way it was handled. 

Birdy keeps secrets. At the beginning of the book her dead Nan's cat Murphy is killed, and later on a teacher abuses Birdy at school. Birdy falls out with her friends and is pretty miserable for most of the book. Her parents don't get on well, with a backdrop of IRA bombings which lead to discrimination and bigoted comments about the Irish. 

I thought that using the Irish and the feelings around the IRA were a good metaphor for the way that Muslims are treated these days. I liked the vast majority of the novel but felt that the end was a bit lacking. I thought Birdy was an excellent character and I really liked Kat, Mum, and Eileen too. A pretty good middle grade book about families and secrets and gender and growing up. 

What age range is it for? 12 plus I think

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? I'm going to go ahead and say yes, even though as I said before I don't think Birdy knows exactly how she identifies.

Are any main characters people of colour? No, but again, there are parallels to be drawn 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, trigger warning for abuse

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, be careful

Are there swear words? Very few, when there are it's really effectively done

Would I recommend the book? Yes, for tweens.

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I've wanted to read it since I won it, and it's been on the pile of books next to the bed ever since then, so I finally picked it up

What other books is it like? Gosh I don't know. I'm not sure I know anything similar for the same age range

How many stars? I'm going to give it six out of ten. It didn't wow me and like I said I didn't enjoy the ending

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it most probably. 

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths - Review

Friday, March 24, 2017

This was my 17th book of the year but it took me a week to read because I just couldn't get into it. I was really busy - I had a writing deadline and then I went to Swansea to visit friends for the weekend, but even so. It seemed to take me so long.

This is the 8th book in this series by Elly Giffiths, featuring archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and detective Harry Nelson. I really like the books, they're both really likeable main characters and the supporting characters are really good too. I like the stories as they're a mix of crime drama and religious symbols and theories. My first degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and it's something I really enjoy. I've read all the previous books so I was looking forward to this one.

However, I didn't feel like it lived up to previous ones. There wasn't as much crime or tension there, and the religious elements were really sidelined and unimportant. The will-they-won't-they sexual tension between Ruth and Nelson is getting to be frustrating, too. I gave it three out of five which is low for one of these books. I'm hoping that the next one, The Chalk Pit, is a return to form.

Books I bought in Derbyshire

Monday, March 20, 2017

Last weekend I was away in Derbyshire with some friends. We went to Bakewell one day and Ashbourne another day, and wandered round into the gift shops, book shops, and charity shops. I bought four books so thought I'd do a quick post of them.

My friend Steph took this photo. I've been in this book shop before and loved it. They have a good YA section!

I've seen this kind of mystery book, wrapped in brown paper, before, but have never bought one. This book shop, shown below, had a basket of ten wrapped books in it. We all looked through them and three of us bought one. This was the one that appealed to me the most.

And this was the book inside the wrapping. It looks really interesting! It's set on the east coast which is home to some of my favourite places ever, including Whitby and Scarborough. 

These are all the books I bought. I bought Naked in the same book shop as above. I like Kevin Brooks and I love books about music, so this is perfect for me. 

I bought Star of the Sea and The Drowning Lesson in a charity shop in Ashbourne, I think it was a British Heart Foundation one. I've read Star of the Sea before, but it was about twelve years ago. I'm looking forward to rereading it! I liked Daughter by Jane Shemilt, so I thought I'd give this one a go too. These were just £2 each!

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan - Review

Friday, March 17, 2017

Where did I get it? Netgalley, thank you so much to Bloomsbury Publishing!

What's it about? It's told in free verse, like Sarah Crossan's other book, One. I love this, because it leaves so much out and, like all poetry, leaves space clear for the reader to read between the lines and put parts of themselves in the gaps. 

Chapters are told from alternating points of view. Jess is a white teenager living in North London who lives with her mum and her mum's violent partner Terry. Terry makes her video the times when he beats up her mum. Jess gets caught shoplifting for the third time, and sentenced to carry out community service on Saturdays. 

Meanwhile, Nicu is a Romanian gypsy immigrant who is struggling to find his place in England. His parents have left behind most of his siblings and have come to England to make some money so that they can go back to Romania and find him a wife. He is on the same community service as Jess and then ends up at the same school, too. The two become friends, in a very lovely and cautious way. 

They're both quite damaged, bruised people, and I finished the book loving them both. I liked Nicu's broken English and Jess' armour against the world. I wanted this book to be so much longer but it was perfect just the way it was. 

What age range is it for? Fourteen and onwards, probably. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters people of colour? I'm going to say yes, because Nicu is racially abused and because he says that his skin is darkish. I don't know whether Roma gypsies are counted as people of colour, but they're definitely a minority ethnic group and that's definitely reflected in the book.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? No

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

Is there any talk of death? Yes a little, and trigger warning for violence, obviously. 

Are there swear words? Yes and also quite a few slurs. (I want to point out that to call some travellers "gypsy" is a slur, and that only Roma gypsies like Nicu should be referred to as such. Otherwise, they're travellers and sometimes Irish travellers)

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

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I knew I had to get to it soon because I loved One so much.

What other books is it like? It's a lot like One, for sure. 

How many stars? Nine out of ten. It's practically perfect. It's really beautiful. 

Blogger news


Most Reading