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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! 

Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison - Review

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle a few weeks ago, it was cheap.

What's it about? The story is told from two people's points of view. Phoebe and Luke have just arrived at the fictional York Met University, having been to the same school in London. For the past seven years Phoebe has had a huge crush on Luke. Luke has been with Abbey for three years and has basically never noticed Phoebe. 

On their first night on Freshers they end up sitting on a bridge by the lake together having rescued a fellow drunken fresher, and start a friendship. Luke has sort of broken up with Abbey, and he and Phoebe have a nice conversation and agree to go to Freshers' Fair together the next day. 

Phoebe makes friends with two girls in her flat, Negin and Becky, and a girl called Frankie who is the most hilarious part of the book. Luke tries out for the football team and has to undergo their initiation rites to get on to the first team. The two of them are doing the same degree and end up in seminars together. There are tons of twists and turns along the way in Luke and Phoebe's relationships and there are lots of important messages throughout the book as well as it just being really funny and intriguing. 

This book took me right back to being a Fresher myself way back in 2002. I went to York St John university, which isn't the main university but a smaller one, but obviously I know York well so it was lovely to read a book set there. I had friends at York university and the fictionalisation of it here seems pretty true to life. York Uni does have lakes and ducks and is campus based, so the novel was really believable from that point of view.

I was a pretty miserable Fresher myself; I didn't make many friends and felt very alone. I did eventually make friends but I could understand Luke's loneliness all too well. I love my dorm room at uni - I lived in a little house rather than a flat but I had an upstairs room and it was really cosy and 'mine'. I spent a lot of time there and really missed it when I had to move out - I loved the bed especially! I think that there's a lot of pressure on 18 year olds who are mostly away from home for the first time to have an amazing time as a Fresher and in the first term and maybe even the first year of uni, when actually it can be pretty daunting and scary, and I felt like Lucy and Tom did a really good job of showing that. 

Phoebe is a great character and I loved her friends. I liked a lot of the incidental characters like Ed, and yes, I even fell a bit for Luke. He is a bit of an idiot at times and most of his problems would be cured by just talking about something instead of assuming, but I did fall for his charm in the same way Phoebe did. 

This book is also really, really funny. I'm not someone who laughs out loud a lot at books, but I did for this many times. As I said, Frankie is especially hilarious but I think they all were at points. The authors have a real gift for comedy and I really liked that. I'd like to read their other books now.

I'm interested in how they co-write. I saw Lucy and Tom on a panel at YALC in 2015 but it was about sex in YA I think, so I'd be interested in hearing about how they co-write. It must be so difficult but maybe really rewarding? They probably bounce off each other a lot. It must also take a lot of pre-planning too! I would like to know more. 

Lastly, I think the sex scenes represented in the book are really realistic and show both the good sides and the bad sides of sex. I love it when sex is written so realistically like this. Especially when there are condoms and frank conversations involved! 

What age range is it for? 16+, I think. There are quite a lot of mature themes. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No, I wish there had been if I'm honest. 

Are any main characters people of colour? I think Negin is a person of colour but I'm not entirely sure. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, lots. It is portrayed, as I've said, very realistically, and also for the most part very positively. No one is shamed for having sex, and when people try to shame others, it's shut down. It's a pretty big part of the novel and one which I felt was done really well. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There are a couple of characters who smoke weed but that's literally it. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Yes, lots. I think it's really realistic of how teenagers speak, but your mileage may vary. 

What criticisms do I have? Okay, first of all I did like the book and I hope that comes across in this review. However, I wanted to edit some of the dialogue because it bothered me, and I also think that the word 'said' will do most of the time. In one part, someone screams, someone shouts, and someone bellows, all within about two minutes of each other and it was just too much. You can just say said! It's fine! Said is good! You can show that someone is speaking loudly without using a word like 'scream'. Do people generally scream a lot? It bothered me. 

Secondly, I felt like there were a couple of plot lines that just got forgotten. For example Phoebe signs up for Quidditch and there's supposed to be a match against a different university, but it never happens in favour of other plot lines. It happened a couple of times and the completist in me just wanted to know what happened!

I also didn't entirely feel like the book was set in the late 2010s, eg 2016 or 2017. It felt earlier than that to me, and the use of social media wasn't shown as much as it would be for teenagers starting uni today.

These were seriously just niggles against the whole of the book though.

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. If you've ever been a Fresher, read it now. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I knew I wanted to get to it soon after buying it. 

What other books is it like? You know, I really don't know. I don't think I've read too many YA novels set at university and I'd really like to read more. 

How many stars? I gave it four out of five on Goodreads, but it's really more of a four and a half. Very close to being a five. Delightful book and so funny. 

Did Not Finish - This Beats Perfect by Rebecca Denton

Thursday, October 26, 2017

It is so rare that I don't finish a book so when I don't, I feel really bad about it. But I've not been reading like a smart reader recently, for one reason and another, so I decided to fall back on a rule I read once. The rule said that if you're under 50 years old, you should read fifty pages of a book before deciding whether to give up on it or not. If you're over 50 years old, you can deduct every year over 50 off the pages you should read. So my mum, who is about to turn sixty, should read forty pages of a book before giving up on it, and my grandma, who is 91, should read just nine pages of a book before being allowed to toss it. It makes sense, right, no one who is 91 has time to spend on a book that just isn't grabbing them!

I'm 33, so a fair way under the fifty years old, so I'm stuck with fifty pages. So I picked up This Beats Perfect as I've heard loads of good things about it, and I also knew I was about to start editing my own novel, which is about a band. As This Beats Perfect is also about the music scene, I thought it might be good to read.

However, I just couldn't get into it. At the beginning of the book, it's Amelie's birthday and she's going backstage at a gig that her dad is doing the sound for - he's pretty famous at doing that. The band on stage is The Keep, a boy band that Amelie feels she is far too good for. She gets photogrpahed with one of the band and wakes up to a million Twitter notifications, all wondering who she is.

I was a bit unsure about this beginning to the novel, because it just didn't grab me. It seemed to be existing in nothingness. We saw Amelie and the band and her dad and a couple of other people, but we didn't care about them enough to get emotionall invested. The second part of the book (around 60 pages in, I actually went over the 50 pages before I gave up because I really did want to give it a chance) has Amelie celebrate her birthday with her mum the next day, but it seemed to flash forwards and backwards in time with no warning, and I couldn't centre Amelie very well in that world either.

So, I gave up. Do I feel bad about it? Yes. Do I think this author is a bad author? Of course not. I would give her another chance, for sure. I just didn't click with this book - and that's okay.

Reading the beginning of this combined with reading my own novel brought one thing very clear to me - writing about music is hard. Music is such a sensory experience, but it's auditory, and auditory traits don't tend to translate well on to the page, which we read and don't always otherwise interact with. There's a couple of bits in my own novel where I hope I get across the idea that playing a gig is scary and exhilarating and thrilling and sometimes painful and often amazing. I probably need to work on them more, but it's definitely something I want to pay attention to.

There are a couple of books about music that I really do love, like Songs About A Girl by Chris Russell and My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend by Eleanor Wood. You can check out all my posts with the label 'music' here.

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths - Review

Monday, October 23, 2017

It's no secret that Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite novelists. I really like her Ruth Galloway novels, which are set in modern times and focus on Ruth, an archaelogist, who is asked to help the police on a number of investigations. I love them, so when I first heard that Elly was writing a new series set in the 50s I was excited to read them. This is the third one in the series and I've read all three. I think this is the best one, actually!

The series focusses on Edgar and Max. Edgar is a policeman in Brighton, but in the war he was part of the Magic Men, an elite group trying to fool the Nazis in Norway. Also part of the group was Max, who is a magician. In the first novel we see the two of them reunite after several years not seeing each other, and Max helps Edgar solve a crime relating to someone else who was in the Magic Men.

In this novel, a Roma fortune teller has been killed and her death has been put down as an accident, but Edgar isn't sure that it was. It's the eve of the queen's coronation in 1953 and there's some concern that there is a threat there. Then a general comes to ask Edgar and Max for their help looking at the death of a colonel that he thinks might be linked, and there's still the mystery of the fortune teller's death to deal with.

I like Edgar, he's pretty reliable and down to earth, and I like him as a narrator. Max's points of view can sometimes irritate, especially when it comes to his daughter, Ruby, who is Edgar's fiancee but who is in show business like Max, but he's basically a good person and I like him. In this book we also got the point of view of Edgar's sergeant, Emma, who is a really good egg, I like her a lot.

I figured out some of the twists in this but there was a really good one that I thought was brilliant and which I didn't see coming. It's all about magic and sleight of hand and I really liked it. It's not a perfect book by any means, but I did like it. I can't wait to read the next one!

Book Haul with my Austen tenner

Friday, October 20, 2017

I had seen some people on Twitter spending their first new ten pound note, the one with Jane Austen on, on books by women. It sounded like a great idea to me so I kept hold of my first ten pound note with a view to spending it in the charity shops and secondhand shops of North Yorkshire while I was away on holiday.

It was interesting to be solely focussing on books by women. I tend to just pick books up by title and then by blurb if I like the sound of them. The first book I picked up, The Light Between Oceans, is by an author called M L Steadman, so I had to google to see if that was a woman. She is! I haven't heard of the film, but the book sounded intriguing. I bought this in a bookshop in Sedbergh, known as England's Book Town, apparently.

I next picked up The Help in an Age Concern shop in Bedale. I've seen the film and really liked it, so I'm intrigued to see whether the book is as good.

The next three books I bought from a tea room just a few doors down from our holiday cottage. There were tons of books in there and I spent a while browsing, but came away with The House at Riverton, The Tea Planter's Wife, and The Spy Game.

Some of these don't seem like my usual kind of book, but I liked the sound of all of them and am looking forward to reading them. Have you read any of them?

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens - Review

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I read the fourth one in the Murder Most Unladylike series while I was away on holiday. I've had it for ages but just not picked it up. I've read the fifth one in the series, so to go back in time jolted me a bit but if there were spoilers in the 5th one I had forgotten them by the time I picked this one up.

This book sees us in the winter term at Deepdean, when Hazel, Daisy, and their friends are fourth formers. There's a new Head Girl, Elizabeth, and five of her friends as prefects. The six of them are terrorising the younger years, handing out punishments left, right and centre. Then on Bonfire Night, the whole school is on the playing fields when Elizabeth is murdered. It's made to look like an accident, but Hazel and Daisy soon realise it isn't. The school headmistress, though, believes it is an accident and sacks the caretaker. Daisy and Hazel enlist the help of their dormmates Kitty, Beanie, and Lavinia to uncover the mystery and track down which of the Five prefects murdered their friend.

Meanwhile, Hazel writes secret letters to Alexander, who she met on the Orient Express in the previous book, and tells him about the case. Daisy is getting quite jealous of Hazel's friendship with a boy, driving a wedge between her and Hazel. I found Daisy quite annoying here, actually, and I was a bit frustrated when Hazel immediately forgave her after a brief conversation. But that may be my adult head looking at a book not meant for me!

This is a really lovely addition to the series and perfect for any middle grader from around ten years old. I know if I was ten I'd be all over these books like a rash. They're so much fun.

You can see my reviews of all the books in the series here.

After the Fire by Will Hill - Review

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle when it was really cheap a few weeks ago. 

What's it about? Moonbeam is seventeen and right at the beginning of the book, there has been a fire at the compound she has lived in for most of her life. Moonbeam has been injured in the fire, and first wakes up in hospital, then in a secure unit. She begins to have therapy with Dr Hernandez, but doesn't trust him at first. But through the book we read about Moonbeam's life within The Lord's Legion, a cult in Texas. 

The cult was led by the charismatic Father John, a self-proclaimed prophet who took over from a looser, less rigid leader called Father Patrick. No one was allowed to leave the compound and John preached about the evilness of the world and the fight that would occur and bring about the end times. Moonbeam's mother had been Banished from the cult and Moonbeam was no longer allowed to talk about her. All the adults of the cult have died in the fire and Moonbeam is one of the eldest that is left.

After a few days with Dr Hernandez he is joined by an FBI agent, Agent Carlyle, who is part of the team investigating the Lord's Legion and the fire. Moonbeam doesn't trust either of them, but she tells more and more of the events that happened within the compound. After therapy each day she has group therapy with the rest of the children who remain, including Luke, who is angry that he isn't dead and hasn't been able to Ascend to Heaven with the adults, and her friend Honey. 

I really like reading about religious cults. I did Theology for my undergraduate degree and particularly enjoyed a module called Christian Communities, Sects, and Cults. The way that cults develop and the way they cut themselves off from the world is endlessly fascinating to me. Charismatic leaders like Father John fascinate me and I felt the author did a really excellent job of portraying him. 

There are a lot of parallels with the true events that happened to the Branch Davidians in the siege at Waco, parallels that Will Hill himself acknowledges at the end of the book. I felt like there were a few TOO many parallels, really, although Hill did a good job of trying to imagine what a survivor would feel like. There's also a lot of repetition in the book. I understand the decision to write the book set from "after" the fire, but it does mean that some things, like Moonbeam's distrust of the psychiatrist and the police, are gone over again and again. If the book was linear, this could've been avoided. 

Finally, I felt like the end was a little bit too neat. I liked Moonbeam and her story, and I think the setting of the cult was a really good one, but I didn't gel entirely with the book. 

What age range is it for? There's a lot of really heavy stuff including abuse and violence, so I'm going to say 16+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No, and I wish this had been addressed. Cults like the Branch Davidians are often exclusively white because of racist interpretations of the Bible and of racist ideas like keeping the believers 'pure'. It would have been an interesting side note. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes. 

Is there any sex stuff? There's sexual assault and abuse, so trigger warning 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, lots, and trigger warning for suicide too. 

Are there swear words? Very few 

What criticisms do I have? I think I've covered them above! The book seemed to take me ages to read and I think that was mostly due to the repetition. I also felt there were places where there was too much telling and not enough showing. Like there's a few times when Moonbeam asks a question the doctor and Agent Carlyle about her mother or her friend Nate and is told they don't know anything. The next lines are something like "I believe him". But why? We're not shown in enough depth as to why, and that sort of frustrated me. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, it is a really interesting story. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It's one of Zoella's current book club choices and I wanted to see what it was like for myself! 

What other books is it like? It's a lot like Seed by Lisa Heathfield which is also about a religious cult, but it's also a lot like Paper Butterflies by Lisa too. I'd be interested in more books like this. 

How many stars? I gave it four out of five on Goodreads so that would usually be eight out of ten, but... I 'm going to go for 7.5. I felt like there were good bits and bad bits, but it is overall a very strong novel. 

Lips Touch by Laini Taylor - Review

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Where did I get it? Remember that my friend Lucinda lent me several books before she went to Canada nearly two years ago? This is one of them. When I went through all my books I was reminded I've still got a few to read, so I picked this one up after I'd finished my last book. One of my purest joys now is being able to go into my "library" and browse my books. 

What's it about? This is a book of three short stories. In the first one, Goblin Fruit, Kizzy, whose family is odd, falls for a new boy at school. In the olden days goblins offered fruit to tempt the souls of young girls, so will Kizzy fall for the same too? I liked how this was a very modern retelling, and I thought Kizzy was a great character. I wanted to know more about her family! 

In the second story, an old woman travels to hell each day to beg for children to be spared from death. She spars with a devil, and on one occasion, barters for the lives of 22 children in an earthquake. The devil she barters with instructs her to make a curse on the youngest child of a rich British family living in India. Anamique is cursed with never being able to speak, and if she does, she'll kill everyone who hears. She lives a quiet life until James arrives, an ex soldier wounded in WWI. She falls in love with him, but eventually learns how to use her voice for good. I liked the nods to Hindu religious beliefs in this story and the setting of the British Raj after WWI. 

In the third story, which is the longest by far and really more of a novella, Esme wakes up one day when she is thirteen and discovers that one of her brown eyes has changed to an icy blue. Her mother, Mab, grew up as an enslaved pet of a powerful Queen, queen of a set of shapeshifting demons. Mab tries to escape the demons, who are coming after them as wolves. Esme starts to remember a pervious kiss from the person who helps them to escape. I loved the setting of this novella, I could have read a whole novel about this creepy land, the beasts near the citadel, and the Queen and her powers. 

I'm not much of a fan of fantasy, but I took a chance on this book and I ended up loving it. I liked the worldbuilding the author had undertaken and the strict rules that each world adhered to. I liked the mix of religions and folk religion and different bits twisted together. I liked the magic and the way each story focussed on something as small as a kiss but were so huge in scope. I would definitely like to read Laini's full length novels and other works. 

What age range is it for? I'm going to say from 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No, although there's an interesting race aspect in the middle story 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, I'm going to say somewhat 

Is there any sex stuff? There is some sexual assault mentioned in the final story, in a fashion. It's part of the creepiness. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, quite a bit, especially in the middle story 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Honestly none! I have even decided I'm going to try to write some more magic myself. Thank you for the inspiration! 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, one hundred percent, especially if you like fantasy. I'm not a fantasy fan, I'm not into Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter, I don't always understand how fantasy works? But I do know when I enjoy reading a book and I definitely enjoyed this. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well Lucinda probably deserves her books back sooner rather than later! 

What other books is it like? Not my forte so I've no idea! 

How many stars? Five out of five! Thoroughly enjoyable. 

Where is the book going now? To Lucinda, maybe to where she is in Canada, but I'm not sure! 

The Rental Heart and Other Stories by Kirsty Logan - Review

Monday, October 2, 2017

I'm just going to write a short/quick review of this book, not in my usual style because I don't feel like it fits into my book questions! I read this book for my online book club, started and run by Jenny, which meets every other month on Skype text chat to discuss a book (on the off months we've started discussing films!). October's theme was short stories, so we suggested a few at the meeting in August and voted on them in the Facebook group. I was excited to read this as I follow Kirsty on Twitter and have her novel The Gracekeepers although I haven't read it yet.

(Having not read books I own is the story of my life, isn't it? Lee and I recently went through all my books because we bought new shelving, and we put them all into a spreadsheet. I have over 700 physical books; I've read only around 1/3 of them.)

I also went to a workshop run by Kirsty at Grrrl Con in 2016, a workshop on inserting magic into your writing. So I was expecting there to be plenty of magic in these stories and I wasn't disappointed! There are twenty stories in total, and they were all good. Several stick out to me as being excellent - the one about the coin operated boy, the one about the couple moving to the Outback, the one about the lady taking girls into her castle to work for her and have sex with her, the one about the teenage boy whose sister has died, the one about the couple living in the caravan. Some of the stories are retellings of fairy tales, others are entirely new fairy tales. There's an element of steam punk to a lot of them, and an apocalyptic vibe to quite a few. There are a couple which talk of the loss of babies, which are really sad but beautifully done. A lot of the stories have queer protagonists which I really liked. Kirsty has a real talent at imagery and at twisting words in a certain way to set a scene.

This is an excellent anthology of stories and I want everyone I know to read it! I can't wait to discuss it with my fellow book club members in a couple of weeks. I always think that the hallmark of a good short story is that you want to know more - the few thousand words just aren't enough and leave you gasping for more. I definitely felt that here, there were several stories where I would have liked a whole novel about these characters! It takes a lot of talent to write short stories like this and Kirsty definitely has it.


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