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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.

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