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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. 

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly - Review

Monday, March 13, 2017

This was an adult novel that I came across while browsing NetGalley. The blurb appealed to me so I requested it and then started it when I was browsing my Kindle app. I did like it, but don't think it's appropriate for teens. So if that's you, this book probably isn't for you.

The book stars Laura and Kit, and flips between two time periods and places. Firstly, Laura and Kit are a young couple in 1999, in Cornwall, at the time of the total eclipse there. They've gone with Mac, Kit's twin, and Ling, Laura's best friend, who are also a couple. Things are sort of strained, but Laura and Kit sneak off together to watch the eclipse. When it's finished, Laura walks between some equipment at the festival and comes across two people having sex. She's pretty sure that the woman is being raped, and immediately says so. The woman is Beth, and the rapist is called Jamie. He says the sex is consensual, she says it isn't. Laura gets Beth to the police and eventually the case comes to court and Laura and Kit have to give evidence.

Meanwhile, in 2015, Laura is pregnant with twins and Kit, who is passionate about eclipses, is about to leave to go to the Faroe Islands to see another one. Laura is incredibly anxious about this, and as the story unwinds we learn that she befriended Beth after the court case and things started to unravel. Since then, Laura and Kit have been in fear for their lives and have changed their names and so on.

The narrative switches points of view between the two times and between Laura and Kit. I found that the two were quite similar in voice, which was a bit annoying, and they're both quite unreliable narrators and utterly dislikeable in parts. Still, I liked the book and the story gripped me quite a lot. There is a lot of violence, bad language, and of course the central rape, so take care of yourself if you do read it.

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman - Review

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Where did I get it? My friend Stacey lent it to me. She bought it at YALC last summer and got Tanya to sign it for her :) Stacey really enjoyed it and said I would too, so even though it isn't my usual kind of thing, I decided to give it a go. 

What's it about? The book is set in 1752, in the West Country. Caleb and his Pa are wandering travellers, who perform a Punch & Judy show for crowds in the towns. One day, while performing, Caleb's Pa is involved in a theft, and made to look guilty. He's jailed and sentenced to death. But the Bishop, who is somewhat of a friend, speaks for clemency on his behalf and instead Pa is sentenced to transportation to the Americas. Before he leaves, he tells Caleb that he has a sister, Anne, who lives in a village on the coast, and tells Caleb that he must travel to her and ask for her help.

Caleb finds his aunt and settles into life in the village. One day, a body is washed up on shore. Caleb recognises the signet ring on the body as that which belonged to his father, and sets out to try to find the truth about what happened to his dad.

There are a lot of modern themes in the novel - about loyalty, family, power, corruption, all kinds of things. I really liked the setting and could imagine the village quite well. Caleb is a really likeable character and so are many of the others in the book. I like boats so the shipping element was really good fun. I liked the book a lot more than I thought I would!

What age range is it for? I'd say aged 13+, although there is some chat about whores/prostitutes, so bear that in mind. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Caleb is mixed race. It's part of the plot and I liked how he was treated as different. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Very little.

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, some, in a few different guises. There's some violence too

Are there swear words? No

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. I'm not into historical fiction because I prefer contemporary, but the characters here are really well written

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Mostly because I want to give it back to Stacey!

What other books is it like? I'm not sure, this isn't my forte to be honest. 

How many stars? Four out of five - a really good read!

Where is the book going now? Back to Stacey next time I see her, if I don't post it first!

Solitaire, This Winter, and Nick & Charlie, by Alice Oseman - Reviews

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Recently, I picked up Solitaire by Alice Oseman because as part of a reading challenge I needed to read a book by an author younger than me and I know that Alice is a lot younger than me, I think she's 22 this year. I started reading it and mentioned it to my YA loving friend when I saw her at Sheffield Zine Fest last weekend. She didn't like the book very much, so I was wondering how I'd find it because we usually have similar tastes in books. She did mention though that there was a novella about the same characters. 

When I finished Solitaire - which I liked a lot! - I went looking for the novella and found that there are in fact two! One is set a couple of weeks before the events of Solitaire, and one is set a couple of months afterwards. I bought both and read them in the same day, I really enjoyed them too. I thought I'd review all three books at the same time. 

Where did I get it? I bought it at YA Shot in 2015, when Alice was on a panel there. It's signed to me!

What's it about? In Solitaire, Tori Spring is in her first year of 6th form and she is just really sad and depressed. She doesn't have any hobbies except for spending hours on the internet, and she doesn't have many friends. Her friend Becky is getting obsessed with a new boy, which doesn't help. One day, Tori follows a series of post it notes through school and ends up meeting a new student at school, Michael Holden. He then introduces her to Lucas, who she used to know.

Meanwhile, a guerilla group called Solitaire is wreaking havoc on the school, and through its choices, it seems like they are targetting Tori in particular. Plus, at home things aren't great either - Tori's brother Charlie has been in hospital due to his anorexia, and the family is still reeling from that.

This Winter is set just a couple of weeks before Solitaire, and is set at Christmas, just after Charlie has returned from hospital. Part of it is from Tori's point of view and part of it is from Charlie's. I really liked Charlie as a character and would have liked to read more from his

Nick & Charlie is set a couple of months after Solitaire, but doesn't have much to do with the events of that book. It's about Nick (Charlie's boyfriend, present in all three books) leaving school and preparing to go to university and the impact that has on their relationship. It's very sweet and lovely, I really enjoyed it. 

Now, I appreciate that Alice was very young when writing Solitaire, and it does show in parts. The writing is clunky in some bits and overstated in others. But writing is a craft and you only get better with practice. There are some gorgeous turns of phrase, and I really liked how Alice got across the sadness and ennui that Tori feels. I really enjoyed all three books and I'm glad to have read them. I've got Alice's other novel, Radio Silence, sitting around somewhere, and I would definitely pick it up soon

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Charlie

Are any main characters people of colour? No

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Charlie, and if you want my armchair opinion Tori could benefit from some counselling and medication too.

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, in Nick & Charlie, it's very, very mild. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I think there might be like one mention of weed, and there's some alcohol use

Is there any talk of death? Not much

Are there swear words? Yes, infrequent though. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, especially if you are that age and in sixth form.

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? As above, I wanted to read a young author for my challenge.

What other books is it like? Gosh, I don't know. It's fairly typical of contemporary UK novels. I think if you like it, you might also like Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. It's also about a teenage girl who is depressed and bored.

How many stars? Seven out of ten.

Where is the book going now? I'm going to keep it as it's signed, of course. 

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