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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue - Review

Friday, December 29, 2017

I bought this book on Kindle in July, because it was cheap and I wanted to read something else by the author. I read Room by Emma years ago, it must've been about 2011. I sobbed my way through it and then immediately lent it to my mother-in-law because I knew she'd like it. I really recommend it, although obviously it needs trigger warnings for abuse, sexual abuse, violence, things like that. 

As for The Wonder, it starts off so differently to Room that to begin with it's hard to believe it's the same author, but by the end I definitely felt like it showed similar kinds of spirit. I want to read more by the author, I'll have to see which of her books appeal to me next. I got some book vouchers for Christmas so maybe that's what I'll buy!

So, this novel starts with English nurse Lib Wright travelling to Ireland. The book is set in the 1850s, just after the Irish potato famine. Lib served in the Crimea under Florence Nightingale, so she's one of the 'newer' types of nurses, upright and rigorous in her nursing. To begin with, I found it hard to warm to Lib, but I liked her by the end of the book. She's going to Ireland as the employee of a committee set up to investigate the case of Anna O'Donnell. Anna is eleven, a devout Catholic, and supposedly hasn't eaten any food for four months. The committee wants to know if she really is a miracle and a wonder.

Lib is at first dead set against the whole thing, and is sure someone must have been secretly feeding Anna. She feels herself to be the only voice of reason - even her nurse colleague is a nun and therefore of the same religion at the rest of the village. She starts to feel something towards Anna, though, and the two end up as friends. 

The beginning of the book is quite slow, but it really worked for the pacing and the whole slow atmosphere of the novel. I really liked it. I guessed a couple of the twists but that didn't detract from the whole. I'm giving this a five out of five because it's excellent.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard - Review

Friday, December 22, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it for myself, I really liked Sara's book Beautiful Broken Things so I bought this one. It's ages ago though, but I've been meaning to get to the book!

What's it about? Stef suffers with acute anxiety and has spent most of her school life silent, a selective mute. That's been okay as she's had best friend Tem with her, but now it's the start of sixth form and Tem has gone to college, while Stef is left at their school. But she's determined to speak, because her parents aren't sure she'll be able to cope with university if she can't.

Then on the first day she meets Rhys, who's deaf. They're introduced because Stef can sign a little bit, and two become friends. They slowly start to fall for each other, and Stef slowly overcomes some of her major obstacles.

I really liked how it was clear that Stef didn't "get over" her illnesses due to her boyfriend or due to the medication she was using, but that both things helped her to feel more confident. I liked the relationship between Stef and Tem, and thought it was a really good portrayal of teenaged friendship with all the good and bad that can have. I liked the relationship between Stef and Rhys, although I did think Rhys was a little bit too perfect at times. I thought the portrayal of Stef's anxiety was really true to life, and I say that as someone who has lived with anxiety for almost twenty years now. I liked the supporting cast too - Rhys' family especially, but Stef's parents, step-parents, and little sister too. It's a really good book!

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Tem is black. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, of course. I really liked the look into the deaf world, I'd have liked to see more of Rhys' friends actually. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, quite a bit, and it's quite explicit. I thought it was great because Stef was very much like "Is that it?" once she'd done it. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Prescription ones, yes 

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

Are there swear words? No I don't think so? Very few, if there are. 

What criticisms do I have? None, overly. Rhys was a bit too perfect, but Stef loved him, so I sort of forgive her for thinking that. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well, oddly, I didn't mean to read it, but I went to the Turkish baths in Harrogate on Monday, and needed to take a paper book to read in there since my tablet might get damaged in the heat. I perused my shelves before I set off and was taken with this one. I read about a quarter of it while relaxing in the baths. 

What other books is it like? The main relationship between Stef and Rhys reminded me very much of Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield. It has hints of Holly Bourne's books too. 

How many stars? Eight and a half out of ten. 

Where is the book going now? I'm keeping it - look at that beautiful pink cover! 

Hello Me, It's you by Hannah Todd (Ed) - Review

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I received this book from the publishers on Netgalley, and was intrigued to read it. It is a collection of letters from young adults, up to 24 years old, writing letters to themselves at 16. There's a particular emphasis on mental health issues, which I have suffered from myself since I was a very young child. I was finally diagnosed with depression when I was fourteen and started on medication and with some counselling. I was further diagnosed with anxiety when I was seventeen, and I have struggled on and off with that ever since. At the moment I'm doing really well and am unmedicated, but I've had a lot of counselling, a lot of medication, and I struggle. I would ask for help again if I needed it, no doubt. 

The book raised money for the charity of the same name, details of which can be found here. It is a really worthwhile cause!

My own mental health history meant that I was really interested to read this book, and I really liked it. A lot of the stories were really touching and often quite difficult to read. It got me thinking about what I would write to myself, even though I am over twice that age. I lost my dad when I was 24, so I think I would warn myself about this, since I would have so few years left with him. I would probably tell myself that even though I still struggle with my mental health, I have a lot more confidence in myself and care less about what other people think about me. I would tell myself to get serious about my writing quicker than I have.

I can't give this book anything less than five out of five, because of the subject matter and because of the open and heartfelt way so many people shared intimate details of their lives. Thank you to all the writers, you are all amazing humans.

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera - Review

Friday, December 15, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it in February

What's it about? The novel is told from Griffin's point of view and it has a dual narrative. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Theo, Griffin's ex boyfriend, is dead, and Griffin is talking to him on the day of his funeral. He's clearly quite unhappy with Theo, and with Theo's boyfriend Jackson. 

We then flash back in time a couple of years and see the beginning of Griffin and Theo's relationship, from when they tell each other they like each other, to when they have sex, to when they tell their families and the third member of their 'squad', Wade. Through the novel we see what happened between Griffin and Theo that led to Griffin being quite so angry with Theo even when he's dead. In the present day, we see Griffin begin to come to terms with Theo's death. 

I'd heard so much great stuff about this book which is why I bought it for myself, but I didn't feel like it lived up to the hype. Yes, the queer representation was good, and it deserves all the props. The two boys had to come out a number of times and each time it was met positively and with love, which I liked. The sex scenes are done sensitively and protection was mentioned a lot, both of which are things I like to see in YA novels. 

But I just felt like basically everyone in the book acted like a dickhead most of the time. I didn't like it, I didn't like the actions of a lot of the characters. If that was the point of the book - that teenagers are messy and stupid and selfish - then case accomplished, definitely. But that wasn't the hype I'd heard and so I felt very much like I was missing something. There were lovely parts, for sure, but for most of the book I was just thinking "Oh no, don't do that". I felt like the only person who acted with anything like a lot of integrity was Wade, who we don't see much of until near the end of the book. I wanted to love this... But I just didn't. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, as I say above there's a lot of nice comings out and a lot of good discussion about sexuality (although I did feel there was a couple of fleeting bits of biphobia coming from Griffin). 

Are any main characters people of colour? Wade is black, although it's barely mentioned 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Griffin has OCD and it's something he struggles with throughout the novel. I felt like this part was well done. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, as I've said it is nicely done; it isn't explicit but I liked each scene (even when I thought the characters were making the wrong decision in having sex then, if that makes sense!) 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, Theo has died and there is some graphic scenes around how he died. 

Are there swear words? A few, not many. 

What criticisms do I have? I think I've said them all above. 

Would I recommend the book? Honestly, I'm about 50/50 on this one. I have two more of Adam Silvera's book and I don't really feel like picking either of them up because of how I didn't like this one. I probably will give him another chance, but I can't say it will be soon. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just browsing my shelves and picked it up. I do love the cover! 

What other books is it like? Ummmm, I don't know! A lot of LGBTQ+ literature, especially for teens, tends to be really angsty and to focus on coming out and stuff, so I was glad this book didn't do that. 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'll definitely keep it, on my LGBTQ+ shelf! 

No Virgin by Anne Cassidy - Review

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Where did I get it? Netgalley, courtesy of Hot Key Books, so thank you very much to them. 

What's it about? Stacey is seventeen and in her first year of A levels. She lives in Stratford in the East End of London with her mum, her sister Jodie and Jodie's baby Tyler. Her parents are divorced; her dad lives in Shoreditch. Stacey dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She has a best friend, Patrice. Following an argument with her mum and Jodie she stays one night at her dad's flat while he's away. She's planning to go home the next day when she meets Harry.

Harry is posh, from Kensington. He is immediately charming and says he can help Stacey with her fashion career. He invites Stacey to spend the night in a friend's flat and while she is there, she is raped.

The book begins after the rape, and we see Stacey go home and tell Patrice what's happened. Patrice encourages her to report it to the police, but Stacey doesn't feel able to. Instead she writes it all down, which is what we read.

The book is a clear and concise account of what could happen in this situation. Stacey is a likeable character. I liked how the book was laid out, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel, which I won't spoil if you haven't read about it. 

I liked how Stacey's family was pretty poor, too, while Harry's wasn't, and she felt the disconnect between them over that. I am a big fan of working class characters in Young Adult novels. 

I want to say a few things about sexual assault and rape here. Only enthusiastic, freely given consent is consent. Being drunk isn't consent. Being unconscious isn't consent. Staying silent isn't consent. Only yes means yes. If you have been sexually assaulted or raped and would like some support or to speak to someone, I recommend Rape Crisis. What happened isn't your fault, not if you were drunk, not if you were in a relationship with someone, no matter what you were wearing, no matter who you were with. Sexual violence are rape are the fault of perpetrators and rapists alone. It isn't your fault and you're not alone. 

What age range is it for? 15+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, there is description of rape. It is painful to read, so be gentle with yourself. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There are mentions of cannabis use. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Not too many 

What criticisms do I have? Well, almost none. I did really like the book and I read it really quickly. But the beginning annoyed me, because I felt like Stacey was being disparaging towards her sister, who was only fourteen when she had her baby. I felt like Stacey was saying she was a "good" girl and Jodie wasn't. I didn't like this judgement and I wish it hadn't been there. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well, honestly, I am trying to read some of my Netgalley books! I made a list of some I want to read over the next year, and thought there was no time to start like the present! I had seen some buzz about this book and the sequel No Shame, so I started it. 

What other books is it like? I've heard it's like Asking for It by Louise O'Neill, because of the theme of rape, but I haven't actually read that book myself. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

We Are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - Review

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I read this for my book club which is meeting on December 13th, and I can't wait to see what everyone else thinks about it as I think it'll be quite divisive among us! I really enjoyed the book and am giving it four out of five, but I can understand some of the lower rated reviews that I'd seen on Goodreads.

There's a twist to this book which some reviews give away, but I'm not going to. I think some people will guess from the beginning, but I utterly didn't, so when the reveal came on page 77 I was flabbergasted. I'm interested to see how many of my fellow book club members guessed it and whether that had an impact on their enjoyment of the book.

The novel takes place over a long span in the life of Rosemary. At the beginning, we understand she is in her forties, and looking back upon her life. She breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the reader directly. She tells us about her early life when, aged five, she was sent to stay with grandparents for a week. When she returned, it was to a different home, with her mother, father, and brother Lowell, but without her sister Fern. We see her teenaged life, when Lowell had left the family home and the FBI came after him and Rosemary had to deal with her parents alone. We see Rosemary in college miles away from the family home when she meets Harlow, who disrupts her life in lots of ways.

The book has a lot of themes including family, memory, lies, deception, and what it means to be human. Yep, lots of lighthearted things like that!

I thoroughly enjoyed this, I think it's possibly the best book I've read in book club this year! I think next year I'll try to categorise them better on here so I can look them up at the end of the year.

The Advent Killer by Alistair Gunn - Review

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I was granted permission to this and its sequel, Cold Christmas, on Netgalley, so thank you very much to Michael Joseph/Penguin UK for that. I like crime thrillers to be pretty pulpy, so the description of this intrigued me. Antonia Hawkins is acting as DCI when the bodies of two women are found, each early on the Sunday mornings of advent. Police can find not connections between the women, but they've each been subdued with a taser prior to being murdered. Then on the third Sunday, a third body is found and the race is on to catch the killer before he can strike again.

There were gaps in the story which frustrated me, and Antonia herself frustrated me at times but I found her a likeable enough main character. I thought the whole thing was a bit predictable in places but it kept me good company reading late at night while ill. I'm giving it three out of five.

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury - Review

Monday, November 27, 2017

Where did I get it? I'm pretty sure I bought it for myself, I think it was nominated for an award and I bought the whole shortlist? 

What's it about? It's a fantasy novel set in a land called Lormere. Twylla lives at court, sequestered away in a tower guarded by two men. She is Daunen Embodied, the living embodiment of the union between Daeg and Naeght, and she is used at court as executioner. She can kill with just one touch and executes those who have committed treason against the queen. She is betrothed to Merek, the prince, who has just returned from trips to neighbouring lands. 

One of Twylla's guards falls ill and she gets a new one, Lief, who is from a neighbouring country and who begins to tell her things about the court and what exactly is happening in Lormere. 

The setting is largely recognisable as being like medieval England. 

What age range is it for? Hmm, I'm going to say from 14 onwards, due to some mature themes

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No, and I feel that this could have quite easily been put in to the book, people from other lands like Lief could easily have been people of colour and this would have added to the differences between the people. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic though.

Are drugs mentioned or used? There is a lot of talk about poisons 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, quite a lot 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? I felt like Twylla's outlook and decisions changed a lot, often literally within the page, and there wasn't always enough reason for me as to why. She was quite frustrating at times. I didn't like Merek very much. I did like Lief, but I felt like Twylla fell for him to easily, it was a bit insta-love for me. I didn't hate it, but I'm not going to seek out the next in the trilogy either. 

Would I recommend the book? Yeah if fantasy is your thing 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just browsing the shelves really and the very pretty cover swayed me 

What other books is it like? I don't read enough fantasy to say! 

How many stars? Three out of five, I liked it enough. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it because I like the cover a lot!

Me Mam. Me Dad. Me. by Malcolm Duffy - Review

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Where did I get it? Netgalley, courtesy of Head of Zeus, so thank you very much to them 

What's it about? Danny is a teenage boy living in Gateshead, in the north of England, with his mum Kim. She meets Callum, a man with a flash car and a big house and a lot of money, and Danny and Kim soon move in with him. Danny isn't bothered by him to begin with, but then Callum starts to hit Kim, physically and mentally abusing her. Callum becomes desperate to do something about it, so he goes to Edinburgh to find the dad he's never met in the hope that his dad will help him sort Callum out. 

I'm familiar with the north east and its accent so it was lovely to read something with a Geordie accent. I think most of the dialect words are either easily understandable or were explained, but if you're reading it have a go at sounding the words out! I think it's brilliant to see a regional accent represented like this. We need more regional novels like this and more novels set in the kind of poverty that Danny is living in at the beginning of the book 

Danny also gets a girlfriend, Amy, and I really liked her - I liked her as a subplot because she added some light relief. She also seemed like a really well drawn girl unafraid of standing up for herself. 

What age range is it for? I'm going to say at least 14+ because there's a lot of violence

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? There are brief mentions but nothing graphic 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes and violence as mentioned above too. It's a pretty tough read so be gentle with yourself

Are there swear words? Yes, a few. 

What criticisms do I have? I think the timeline is all kinds of confusing. Time passes really quickly in places and it's sometimes really disconcerting. I understand why the writer would do this, but I felt like a younder reader might need more signposts as to what was happening. This may happen in the finished copy, I realise I was only reading a proof. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, definitely. It's really good and funny in parts, as well as really sad and poignant. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was scrolling on Kindle, as I do! 

What other books is it like? You know, I really can't think of any... My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher maybe? It seems similar in tone. 

How many stars? Four out of five! Enjoyable read, Danny was a really likeable character even when he was being a bit of an idiot. 

Me Mam, Me Dad, Me will be published in April 2018. 

The Accidental by Ali Smith - Review

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I read this for my book club and it was definitely not something I'd have ever chosen myself. I won't say I loved it, but I did like it. It's quite experimental in structure and form, so I found it quite hard to read and it took me forever. But, I was pleased to have finished it, I felt quite proud of myself for persevering!

Weirdly, it's a lot like The Betrayals that I read a couple of weeks ago and it was hard to not compare the two. It's about a family who are on holiday in Norfolk when a stranger arrives at the door. Mum Eve and her husband Michael both assume she is there for the other of them. Michael thinks she is an interviewee of Eve's, and Eve thinks she is one of the students that Michael has affairs with. The children in the family are Astrid, who is by far the best character, and who is obsessed with videotaping the dawn and tons of other stuff, and Magnus, who had a hand in the bullying of a classmate and is feeling terrible about it. The stranger in their midst is Amber, who bewitches the children and tells both adults truths about their lives. We see the points of view of the whole family, getting parts of the truth each time at the beginning, middle, and end.

The novel ends quite unsatisfactorily so there isn't a lot of nice wrapping up of the storylines. There are parts that I mostly skimmed because they were annoying me, and there were parts I really liked. It's laugh out loud funny in parts. It is odd, but I'm giving it a good three out of five.

The Last Days of Archie Maxwell by Annabel Pitcher - Review

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where did I get it? I pre-ordered it, I've read a couple of other of Annabel's books and I tend to keep an eye on her new stuff, I've met her a couple of times and she's from where I'm from (broadly) and is only a couple of years older than I am. This arrived yesterday evening around 6pm, and I finished it this morning having read it in two bursts. It's one of those dyslexia friendly readable books, where it's printed on heavy paper in special colours. I'm not dyslexic but I do find these books easier to read! 

What's it about? It's a really short book, just 140 pages, so it doesn't encompass lots of happenings, but it's really good. Right at the beginning of the book we discover that Archie's mum and dad are splitting up, and then we find out that Dad is gay and has been hiding it for years. Mum and Archie's sisters Maisy and Amy are very accepting, but Archie is having trouble with it, especially because he fears what his so-called friends would say if they found out. He has been bullied in a previous school and sees bullying of a gay student at his new school. He really likes a girl called Tia, but she's caught up in grief. I don't want to say more or I'll give away the plot of the whole book! 

What age range is it for? Well, Archie is at least 13 (he talks about Dad taking him somewhere for his 13th birthday, although we don't know when that was) so while I would usually go for a couple of years younger than that for the ideal reader, I do think there is a lot here that may not be suitable for younger readers. So I'm going to say from 13 years old, since that's around how old Archie is. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, obviuously. There is some homophobic violence and a lot of homophobic language and imagery. If that is triggering, avoid the book. 

Are any main characters people of colour? If they are, it's not mentioned. It's something I would have liked to see, especially given that the book is set in Huddersfield which is very ethnically diverse. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, there is some mental illness in the book. 

Is there any sex stuff? There's the violent imagery mentioned above and there's some discussion of it, but nothing really shown on the page. What there is from Archie's point of view is very normal teenage behaviour!

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, there's lots of talk of suicide so again take care of yourself. 

Are there swear words? Yes, tons. While I think it's very, very true to life even I was surprised how many words hadn't been edited out. 

What criticisms do I have? Almost literally nothing - I really loved the book and think Annabel has done a fantastic job writing in a very real way about difficult circumstances in the life of a teenager. If anything, I would have liked the book to be longer just so that we could have got more background on Archie and a more in-depth look! 

Would I recommend the book? Yes one hundred percent, especially to a reluctant reader. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just basically couldn't resist it when it turned up at the door! 

What other books is it like? It does remind me of Ketchup Clouds by Annabel which I absolutely loved, I read it before I started this blog though. Annabel is very good at showing teenagers do really, really stupid things but in a way that totally makes sense for their character. 

How many stars? Five, it's not perfect but it is lovely and it made me feel a lot of things in such a short number of words. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it on my LGBTQ shelf, obviously! Firstly though I might lend it to my friend Laura - she's also a fan of Annabel! 

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert - Review

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle, it was £4.99 which is more than I generally like to spend on Kindle books, but I'd heard it was really good so I thought I'd give it a chance. 

What's it about? Suzette is coming back to LA at the beginning of the book. She has been at a boarding school in Massachussetts, sent away by her parents while they dealt with her brother Lionel's bipolar disorder the previous summer. Her brother's nickname is Lion, and he calls her Little, hence the title of the book. They are a blended family; Suzette and her mother are black, and while Saul and Lionel are white, they are Jewish. Suzette (and I think her mum too?) converted to Judaism and it's an important part of her identity too. 

While at school, Suzette had a relationship with her roommate Iris. The two were outed part way through the second semester, and broke up. Suzette likes girls and is coming to terms with that part of herself. Back in LA, Suzette starts to have a crush on her friend Emil, who she's known all their lives, but she also has a crush on Rafaela, a friend of a friend. Meanwhile, Lionel is getting iller and Suzette doesn't know how to cope. There's a lot going on in this book but it's an easy read. Suzette is very easy to like and I liked her family, I liked how each of them wasn't perfect but tried very hard to think of others. 

I felt like there were a lot of strands in the book that didn't get resolved, and they stopped it from being a perfect book for me. For instance, why was Catie so rude? How did Suzette and Iris get outed at school? How did they leave it between them? There were also tons of characters and at some points, like at parties, I had to concentrate really hard to remember who was who. I feel like some storylines and characters could have been cut without affecting the story. I know that life is messy and imperfect, so it could be that all these storylines were a conscious decision, but I would have liked the whole thing to be a bit tighter than it was. 

What age range is it for? 14+, for a discerning reader 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Suzette herself, and she has a couple of queer friends too. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes again, Suzette herself and her mum. Emil is mixed race, black and Korean. Rafaela is Hispanic too I think. There's a great bit when Suzette and Emil are swimming and get a racist comment from someone also there, and immediately call her out (although I wish she had apologised to their faces). 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Lionel. The depiction of his bipolar disorder isn't too graphic, but may be too much for some readers. I felt like some bits were skated over, but I appreciate that this is a book for teens. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and it is a great example of sex in YA literature. It's not graphic, it's very lovely, and they use protection. Wonderful! There's also descriptions of sexual assault, so be careful if that is a trigger for you. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, there's a couple of mentions of using weed, and there's obviously stuff about Lionel's prescription drugs too.  

Is there any talk of death? Yes, a little. 

Are there swear words? Yes, I thought the dialogue was really natural and lovely in a lot of places. 

What criticisms do I have? As I said, I think there were too many strands which never had a good resolution which I would have liked to see. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, a hundred percent. It's really sweet and has a lot going on but it's done in a really good way. I would definitely read something else by this author. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was scrolling through my Kindle and it was quite close to the top. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me in parts of As I Descended by Robin Talley, not just for the boarding school parts but for the best parts of being a teenager

How many stars? Four out of five. Not perfect, but really good!

The Betrayals by Fiona Neill - Review

Thursday, November 2, 2017

This a a really odd book and I was compelled to keep reading it, but I'm not sure if my review will totally do it justice. Firstly though this is definitely an adult book and contains sexual scenes, scenes of violence, and quite a bit of bad language, so be warned for those. There's also a lot of talk of death, self harm, and suicide.

The novel is about two families. Eight years ago they were separate families - Rosie and Nick were married, and had children Daisy and Max. Rosie's childhood friend Lisa was married to Barney, and they had children Rex and Ava. Lisa and Barney were having marital problems because of Barney's drinking, and the whole eight of them were on holiday in Norfolk, in Rosie's childhood home, an event that clearly happens every year. Soon after, Nick leaves Rosie for Lisa, an event that triggers the illness OCD in Daisy - or, at least, makes her much worse. We are told all this in flashback, because right at the beginning of the book it is the present time. Nick and Lisa are still together, Rosie is still working as an oncology doctor specialising in breast cancer, Daisy is "cured" of OCD and is at university, and Max is at university studying to be a doctor.

Then Rosie receives a letter from Lisa, where Lisa says that she is dying of cancer and wants to tell Rosie something. Daisy intercepts the letter and at first hides it from her mother. She is pretty sure she knows what Lisa wants to tell Rosie - what happened on the beach in Norfolk on the last day of their holiday.

Except, Daisy's recollections are, it becomes clear, flawed. The novel is told from her point of view as well as those of her parents and her brother. All four of them have different memories of the day, from the trivial to the significant. Nick is a memory research doctor and the book is kind of a concept novel around that. There's a lot about memory and its unreliability and about how trauma can stop us from making new memories or accurate ones. That's one reason why I found it such a compelling read. I kept picking up on inconsistencies, like Lisa's fringe, for example, and wasn't sure who to trust. In one way, they are all unreliable narrators. Daisy because of her illness, Max because of his guilt... and so on. I think Rosie actually comes across as the most reliable, and that's partly because of her profession - she's very cool, calm, and calming. This book is almost a concept novel but I don't think it quite worked.

There are, for example, parts of the novel which are supposedly set in the past but which contain anachronistic detail, like for instance eight years in the past 13 year old Daisy has a Facebook account, which I just don't believe was true in 2008/2009. Even further in the past has the two women drinking prosecco when their children were tiny, which I also don't believe actually happened. It just seemed like a little bit more editing would have caught errors like this. (And I guess, since this is a proof copy, that may have happened). There are questions that are left unanswered when they shouldn't have been, and I felt like the last twenty percent of the book was a bit rushed and not entirely satisfying. I also wouldn't really categorise this book as a thriller - it doesn't have that same adrenaline rush for me.

However, I'm giving it a solid three out of five because it is interesting, the characters are interesting, and it did keep me wanting to read. I felt like the portrayal of Daisy's OCD was extremely true to life and showed the way the illness devastated her life and those of the people who love her. Thank you very much to Penguin Michael Joseph for the proof copy - I liked it!

S.T.A.G.S. by M A Bennett - Review

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Where did I get it? I read the first chapter a few weeks ago in the Maximum Pop samplers and immediately ordered the book for myself. I was so intrigued so I knew I had to pick it up soon. 

What's it about? Greer is in her first year of the sixth form, known as Six One, at an exclusive school called St Aidan the Great School (hence the title of the book). She has won a scholarship to get there and feels like she doesn't fit in. For her first half term, no one speaks to her and she's quite lonely.

Then she's invited to spend the first weekend of October half term with Henry de Warlencourt and his friends. Henry and his five friends, Cookson, Piers, Charlotte, Esme, and Lara, are prefects known as 'Medievals' who rule the school. Everyone wants to be one of them and in with their crowd, so everyone at the school follows their whims and trends to try to get in with them. 

Greer is invited to spend the weekend 'huntin', shootin', and fishin''. She isn't certain about it, but her rooommate encourages her to go. Greer is driven across from Northumberland to Henry's house, Longcross. With her and the Medievals are two others who don't fit in - Chanel, who's dad invented a smartphone and who is therefore considered 'new money', and Shafeen, who is as rich as the Medievals but who will never fit in because he is Indian. The weekend begins with dinner, as the 9 teenagers get themselves organised for the weekend. 

I thought it was pretty obvious where this book was going to go, and I thought the ending was quite obvious too, but I appreciate that I'm an adult reading a book meant for teenagers. This isn't to say that I thought the book was bad - far from it! I thought there were plenty of twists and turns that kept me intrigued. There's also a few genuinely terrifying parts. The whole book has a really sticky and claustrophobic feel to it that really ups the ante. I liked the closed setting of the creepy old house in the middle of the countryside and felt it was perfect for a book like this.

I liked Chanel and Shafeen and was happy to know more about thier families and situations. In contrast, I felt like Greer was a bit on an unknown quantity. There is some stuff about her own family but not enough for my liking; it felt a bit like she existed in a vacuum. The Medievals are given just enough background to make them sinister. 

I think there is going to be a sequel - the ending certainly lends itself to one. I really enjoyed the book and would definitely buy the next one if it happens!

What age range is it for? 14+, probably. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Shafeen. It's an integral part of why he doesn't fit in to the school. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No, there's a lot of alcohol though 

Is there any talk of death? Yes and it is quite gruesome in parts so be careful 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? As above, I'd like more insight into Greer's life before she was at STAGS. I felt like things were wrapped up a bit too quickly at the end, it felt a bit rushed. It does feel very much like there'll be a sequel and that did mean some things for left open. I did also feel like some of the anti-technology sentiments in the book were a bit overdone. Oh, also, from a writing point of view I kept getting confused between Chanel and Charlotte, their names were too similar for me. I'd have called Charlotte something else! Overall though I've very few criticisms as I really liked it. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. 

What other books is it like? I really can't think of anything similar!

How many stars? Five out of five - not perfect but really excellent 

Where is the book going now? I think my friend Janet might appreciate a borrow of it! 

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