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The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths - Review

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

While trying to get myself over my reading slump I remembered that I had the fourth Stephens and Mephisto book yet to read. I got it on Netgalley (so thank you to Quercus books for that!) and had been "saving" it for something. For what, I really don't know. Elly is one of my favourite authors; I think she can weave a story like almost no other. She creates believable and interesting characters and has settings that are so visceral that you feel like you're right there behind people watching events unfold.

I got into Elly through her Ruth Galloway novels, where Ruth is an archaeologist who often helps the police with their investigations. I love the mixture of fact and mythology, theology and profane, and I've recommended the books to a number of people now and got them hooked too. When I first read that Elly was writing a new series I was at first sceptical, but gave them a go. And now I love them too!

The Stephens and Mephisto mysteries are set in Brighton in the early 1950s. Edgar and Max served together in the war and meet up after several years. Edgar is a detective and Max is a magician, and Edgar ends up engaged to Max's daughter, Ruby, who is also a magician. Max and Ruby always end up involved in whatever mystery is going on, and there's a cast of supporting characters that I really like, including Edgar's colleague Emma, who is quite a feminist. We follow quite a few people's points of view which makes the plot move quickly and always keeps my interest.

I think this one is my favourite of the 4 Stephens and Mephisto books so far, although looking back at my blog I said that about the last one, so maybe they're just improving each time! Set just before Christmas, the start of the novel finds a girl called Lily dead. She lives in digs owned by Edna and Norris, and although there are a couple of theatrical girls also living there, no one can understand why there seems to be such a link to the theatre. But Lily's body has been staged in such a way that points at one of the groups currently on the bill at Brighton Hippodrome with Max, so the police have to investigate backstage again.

I loved the claustrophobic feeling of this book, made worse by the encroaching snow and bad weather. It's set over just a few days too, which helps. I think the 1950s setting is one that is often overlooked but which works really well here. I don't think I would like these books as much if they were modern, but there's a great mix of old fashioned and modern policing which I love.

I can't wait for the next one, if there is one!

A Reading Slump

Thursday, August 23, 2018

I've found myself in a bit of a reading slump recently. I didn't love The Baby as much as I thought I would, then I didn't finish The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Then I read what has to be one of the most depressing books I've ever read. It was about a Catholic girl growing up in Belfast in the 80s and 90s, and I liked its politics and a lot of the story, but there was very little optimism in it and I really had to force myself to finish it. My partner and I were away over the weekend and I finished it then and just felt really miserable about it.

I then flitted around on my Kindle a bit, trying to decide what I wanted to read next. I'd only taken my Kindle with me for ease of packing. I'm going away again in three weeks and so I'm trying to keep some Kindle books especially for that. Plus some of it wasn't downloaded so I couldn't read it in the cabin we were staying in. I had a few Netgalley books and I read a bit of some of them, but nothing grabbed my fancy. I read half of quite a sweet but quite chaotic middle grade book, but didn't like it enough to carry on.

I feel like I wasted like eight days reading stuff I didn't like! I hate that! I'm mad about it. I don't know what I'll read next; I plucked a couple of paper books off the shelves when I got back yesterday but I don't feel wild about either of those, either. Ugh, it's just too difficult.

I am one of those people who reads nearly every day. I get into bed and read Twitter and then read a book for anything from twenty minutes to an hour. It's only if I get into bed very late that I don't read. So for me to not really read anything good for over a week is practically unheard of, and very, very annoying. I'm hoping I have better luck tonight and find something better!

I did however watched To All The Boys I've Loved Before on Netflix. I haven't read the book, but I saw book Twitter be gleeful over the film so I thought I'd give it a go. I absolutely loved it! I loved Lara Jean and Peter, and I'm of the age that remembers John Corbett in Sex and the City, so I loved seeing him too! I'd definitely recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.

Did Not Finish - The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Thursday, August 16, 2018

I got this book as part of Sarah's Round Robin which had stopped for a while but it's got going again now. While it didn't look like my kind of thing, I thought I'd give it a go. It is intriguing, but the story wasn't moving fast enough for me and at a hundred pages in I gave up. I feel like I gave it enough of a go!

The story is set in the late 1800s and it's sort of steampunk in origin, which would appeal to a lot of readers. Thaniel works as a telegraphist at the Home Office and one day someone breaks into his bedsit and leaves a watch on his pillow. He can't work it, or open it up, but then one day there's a bomb threat from Clan Na Gael (an Irish independence party) and the watch ends up saving Thaniel from getting killed. He then discovers the watchmaker and sets out to meet him. Meanwhile, a young woman called Grace is a student in Oxford and she has a watch too, although at the time I gave up nothing had happened to her with hers. We also saw flashbacks of the watchmaker, Keita Mori, and his life in Japan.

I liked the writing in this and thought it was quite poetic and lovely in places, but like I say the story just didn't move fast enough for me. I hate not finishing books but now I'll pass this on to the next person in line!

The Baby by Lisa Drakeford - Review

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Where did I get it? In a swap I did at Christmas! It was on my wishlist

What's it about? At the beginning of the book we meet Olivia, near her 17th birthday. She's having a part for it. Her best friend Nicola is there, her boyfriend Jonty, her friend Ben, and her sister Alice. Her parents have gone out and Alice is getting stressed. Jonty is extremely jealous with Olivia, and then to top it all off Nicola gives birth in the bathroom! She didn't know she was pregnant and now there's a whole new life in existence. Olivia catches a look between Nicola and Jonty and wonders exactly who the baby's father is... 

The next chapter is told from Nicola's point of view as she struggles with motherhood. In the next one we meet Alice, Olivia's younger sister, and while you could exclude her point of view, I liked seeing her make a friend and learning more about her. The next chapter is from Jonty's point of view and we learn more about why he acted the way he did. There are explanations but not excuses. The last chapter is from Ben's point of view and ends off the novel nicely.

I liked the concept, but I didn't like this book as much as I hoped I would. I really liked Olivia and Nicola, and wanted more of their points of view on everything, not just on the happenings in the book. I think you could write a whole book from Jonty's point of view and see him as a real rehabilitated character by the end. I liked Alice's point of view, as above, but I didn't really like Ben's, and I didn't like the 'twist' that there was - it felt very out of nowhere and didn't get adequately resolved. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Ben's gay

Are any main characters people of colour? It's not mentioned if they are

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Alice is probably on the autistic spectrum and I really liked how this was described 

Is there any sex stuff? Not really, it's not explicit 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Only a couple 

What criticisms do I have? As above really. I wanted to like this more, I don't think it was executed very well 

Would I recommend the book? Probably not 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It pointed itself out on the shelf to me when I was browsing them the other night 

What other books is it like? The style reminded me of Non Pratt's writing, but I'd say read Non's books instead 

How many stars? Three out of five 

Where is the book going now? I'm not sure. I might donate it!

Freedom by Catherine Johnson - Review

Thursday, August 2, 2018

I saw Cat tweet about how she has two books out this summer starring black male protagonists, and given the recent studies showing that black and minority ethnic authors and characters are disgustingly under represented in UK publishing, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and support a black author writing about black characters. So I ordered both of Cat's new books, the other is on pre-order but this arrived straight away

Set in 1783, it's about Nathaniel Barratt, who is a slave on a plantation in Jamaica. At the beginning of the book, his mother and sister have been sold and moved away from the plantation. Nathaniel dreams of freedom, dreams of buying the freedom of his mother and sister. At the plantation, he is under the whip of the young master Barratt, and his nasty mother.

Then Nathaniel is sent on a ship to England. His mother always told him that there was no slavery in England, so Nathaniel is hopeful for the future. On the ship, he meets Henry, the cabin boy, who tells him of a pub in London where Nathaniel might find him when he is free.

But upon arrival in England, Nathaniel discovers that he is not free at all. He also hears about a ship called the Zong, from which slaves were thrown and described as "cargo". He must fight for his own freedom in London.

The Zong massacre was a real thing that happened and which went part of the way towards the abolition of slavery. The end of the book has a historical note explaining the time period and a brief history of slavery, which I think is a great addition to a middle grade book like this, because it teaches kids a little bit about the truth behind what they've just read. Some of the characters in the book are real characters, which I really liked and thought was cleverly done too. I really liked Nat, I thought he was a very sympathetic character and a great hero for a book like this.

There is some description of violence, obviously, but I felt it was age appropriate for a ten/eleven year old. This is a good story and I am really glad I read it. Five out of five!


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