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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!


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