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D.O.G.S by M A Bennett - Review

Tuesday, September 17, 2019



Warning: may contain spoilers to the first book in this series!

Where did I get it? Amazon a few weeks go. I added it to my "read soon" pile by the side of the bed. 

What's it about? It's the sequel to S.T.A.G.S, which as I said at the time, was ripe for a sequel. We're back at St Aidan the Great's school with Greer, who is traumatised from the events of S.T.A.G.S. At the end of that book, she and Nel and Shafeen have worked out exactly who is behind the Order of the Great Stag, and gone to confront that person. 


However! At the beginning of this book, it is a year later and Greer is in hospital. We don't find out why, though. We go way back to just after Henry dying the previous year, and we see how Greer and her friends can't confront the Great Stag because... he is dead. 

There's a new Abbot in place, Abbot Ridley, who is also Greer's drama teacher. The action then moves to the new year, when Greer is in the upper sixth form. She and Nel and Shafeen are now Mediaevals, eg prefects. Things are different in the school without Henry and his lackeys. Greer is starting to knuckle down for her Probitiones (like A levels) and as a drama student and aspiring director, she needs to choose a play written before 1560 for everyone to perform just before Christmas.

She gets intrigued by a play called The Isle of Dogs, by Ben Jonson, a play that was considered so blasphemous that Jonson was arrested for it and all copies destroyed. Except, legend has it, one that he gave to someone who lived nearby to STAGS, at Alnwick Castle. Then, one Sunday night, an unseen hand puts some pages under Greer's door. It is the first act of The Isle of Dogs, which is about a queen who falls in love with a lesser noble and refuses to marry the King of El Dorado which is what her courtiers are advising her to do. 

Abbot Ridley advises Greer to put on the play, so preparations begin for that. Henry's cousins, Louis and Cassandra, both audition for parts, and even though Greer doesn't want much to do with them, she has no choice but to cast them. Ty, the first de Warlencourt scholarship winner, is cast as the queen. Greer doesn't know her very well, but gets to know her throughout the book. 

She is still feeling really guilty over Henry's death, and is still kind of in love with him and his charm. She finds herself falling for the de Warlencourt charm even more, putting a rift between her and Shafeen (her boyfriend). She is pulled back into their world, with all its allures, but also all its mysteries and idiosyncrasies.

I thought this was such a good book, better than the first. It feels meatier in one way, there's more mystery to get into and I liked unravelling it. I didn't know if any of the story was true and I didn't want to google in case I spoilered myself, so I took it all at face value and thoroughly enjoyed it for that. It is a bonkers book! Sometimes when I read a book I think, "oh, I could have written something similar", but for these books, the imagination is just off the scale and really cleverly done. I love the school setting and the main characters, including Ty and the de Warlencourt twins. 

This feels to me like a perfect middle-of-the-trilogy book. It's got that Empire Strikes Back feel to it (which is the best Star Wars film, don't argue with me) - it is a perfect bridge between what happened in the first book and what will (hopefully) come soon to bring forward the resolution. I don't KNOW that there'll be another, but I bet there will. The ending of the book is a perfect Luke-I-am-your-father moment, so don't leave me hanging. 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No - I would really like to see this actually. I thought there was a subplot that could have hinted it, but no 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Ty is black. She even says a couple of times that she's not just a token character, which I thought was quite tongue in cheek. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, but it's fleeting and not graphic

Are drugs mentioned or used? No, but some alcohol use

Is there any talk of death? Yes, but it's not graphic

Are there swear words? No I don't think so. 

What criticisms do I have? Again, I kind of felt like Greer - and to a lesser extent the other characters - don't have a lot of background to fill in stuff about themselves. Greer is northern, from Manchester, which I liked, but we mostly know about who she is at school. Maybe this is a deliberate choice, though, because it serves to make us understand more why the allure of the privilege of the de Warlencourts exists. 

They do make much more use of smartphones in this book, which I liked!

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely yes 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had seen really good reviews and knew I wanted to get to it soon. 

What do I think of the cover? It's good! It's in theme with the previous one. 

What other books is it like? S.T.A.G.S, obviously but it also reminded me of Dan Brown's books (which I think are terribly written, but compelling stories - M A Bennett is a better writer) with the religious themes and unravelling the mysteries. I also had another book in mind, which I've forgotten - I'll edit this post if it comes back to me. 

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it! Hopefully waiting for the next one!

Puddin' by Julie Murphy - Review

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it in an independent bookshop in Cockermouth when I was on holiday there last month. I have been meaning to read this for ages, but hadn't got round to buying it. It's one of those floppy American paperbacks which I find difficult to read, but I bought it anyway. 

What's it about? It's a companion to Dumplin', starring some of the same characters. In Dumplin', Willowdean makes friends with Millie, whose mum is really over-protective, and is bullied by Callie, a dancer on the high school dance team. This book focusses on these two girls, each chapter told by them alternately.


Millie is a fierce fat girl. She works at her uncle's gym and she is determined to go to journalism camp in the summer, instead of Daisy Ranch, the fat camp she's been to for the past nine years. Her mother is certain that this year Millie will lose the weight, and that's when she can do all the things she wants to do. However, Millie just believes that she can do whatever she wants in the body she currently inhabits. She is very crafty, and also just very lovely. She has a crush on Malik, a preppy boy who is the only Indian in the school, with whom she chats online every night. 

She is friends with Amanda, and through the pageant she made friends with Willowdean, Ellen, and Hannah. She's determined that the five of them should stay friends, so she suggests them each hosting sleepovers every weekend. She begins to break her mother's rules by sneaking out and not applying for fat camp.

Meanwhile, Callie is co-assistant captain on the Shamrocks dance team. She is a legacy member; her mother was on the team that won Nationals in 1992. The team is one of the only winning ones in school, but they don't get the budget that the boys' teams do. In recent years, the team has been sponsored by Millie's uncle's gym, but they've had to pull their sponsorship. The team is outraged, and decide to go vandalise the gym. Things get out of hand and the main window gets broken. Callie is the only one identifiable on video, and she ends up taking the fall for everyone, losing her place on the team permanently. She's grounded and has her phone taken away, and she now has to work at the gym alongside Millie to work off her debt.

Callie is a typical popular girl - thin, pretty, always ready with a smart remark that often ends up mean. She's Mexican - her dad is Mexican but she now lives with her white mum, stepdad, and younger sister, and feels like the odd one out. None of her teammates will talk
to her, and she's basically a pariah. Millie is nice to her and although to begin with Callie pushes her away, the two end up friends. 

I loved the Texan setting of this book, there's loads of cultural things that I didn't quite understand but liked anyway. I loved Millie, I was rooting for her the whole way and very much want to be her friend! I liked how, on a couple of occasions, she was talking to another character about what makes them stick out at school, and she acknowledges her privilege while also being sympathetic and talking about always sticking out as the fat girl. Both Millie's and Callie's mums are just off the scale, like Willowdean's mum in Dumplin'. I loved these mums, I thought they were both trying their best even if they did sometimes miss the mark.

Overall I feel like the book is about sisterhood and about sticking up for your girls. Callie in particular makes some really stupid decisions, but they felt very real and I really sympathised with her. I liked the growth she made, and Millie did too by learning to stand up for herself. I liked the romances too - they were really lovely. 

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? They're not main characters but yes. 

Are any main characters people of colour? As above, Callie is Mexican

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

Is there any sex stuff? No, it's mentioned but not graphically 

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

Is there any talk of death? No. 

Are there swear words? Yes - Millie never swears and it's hilarious, but Callie definitely does. 

What criticisms do I have? I would have liked more of Willowdean, Ellen, and Hannah, but I did really love the sleepovers we saw. I would have liked to see Callie trying to talk to her ex teammates, but it's not in as much depth as I would have wanted (maybe because of the dual narrative constraints). I also thought there were a couple of weird time slips, but overall, I'm criticising basically nothing.

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. Especially if you've read Dumplin'!

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I knew when I bought it that I really wanted to get to it. 

What do I think of the cover? I think it's lovely! It shows the two girls in their similarities and not their differences. 

What other books is it like? Dumplin', obviously. I'm trying to think of something else but I think I'm drawing a blank. 

How many stars? Eight out of ten. I very slightly preferred it to Dumplin'. 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'm definitely keeping it!

Akin by Emma Donoghue - Review

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan for granting me access to read this book. I wasn't aware that Emma had a new book out, but when I noticed it on Netgalley I knew I wanted to read it! I loved Room, which I read years ago, and last year I read The Wonder by her. This book is a contemporary novel which she's apparently gone back to after a few historical novels, and I was intrigued by the premise.

Noah is an old man living in New York. He is about to turn eighty, and for his birthday he's using some money left by his younger sister to visit the place he was born - Nice, in France. His wife Joan is dead, his sister Fernande is dead, and even her husband and son have now gone too. Noah is pretty much alone in the world.

His nephew, Victor, left behind a son, Michael. Noah gets a phone call two days before he is due to travel to France to say that Michael's maternal grandmother has died and Michael has no one else to care for him. Noah is the closest suitable relative. Noah has never met Michael thanks to family estrangement, but soon the two are off together to the south of France.

Noah was born in Nice just before the outbreak of World War Two. His grandfather, Pere Sonne, was a famous photographer, and his mother, Margot, stayed behind in France to work with him. She sent Noah off to New York to join his father Marc, and stayed in France until her father died. Fernande was born there some time after.

In clearing out Fernande's possessions, Noah finds an envelope of photographs, and, with Michael's help, begins to track down what Margot did during the war.

Meanwhile Michael is a typical eleven year old. He is obsessed with his phone and his Air Jordan trainers, and he is clearly grieving for his grandmother and disquieted by the disruption in his life. He is surly and rude towards Noah, and completely unimpressed by any part of Nice.

The book touches on a lot of themes around family, around grief, around kind of blooming where you're planted. I loved Noah's look into his mother's background, I thought he was a great character and I wanted to know more about Margot's war, too. I would love to read more books about occupied France (one of my favourite books of all time, Five Quarters of the Orange, is set in the Loire in WWII) and I'd love to read more, so please recommend them if you have any!

I liked Michael, he was for me a very realistic eleven year old and I liked how he forced Noah to examine his privilege (mostly in regards to money) simply by living in a poorer part of New York.

I did find something a bit odd - Noah's nephew, Victor, is supposed to have been only around twenty six when he died, but Noah's younger sister - Victor's mother - is supposed to have died quite recently, aged around seventy. Which would make her over forty-five when she had her first and only child? I found that baffling and it really bugged me! I did also find that I kept confusing the names Noah and Michael, for some reason they scanned as really similar to me and it was frustrating at times.

I loved the setting - I love France and I could imagine myself in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais alongside Noah and Michael.


Akin will be published on 3rd October. I was provided with a free e-copy of this book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Litter of Bones by J D Kirk - Review

Sunday, September 8, 2019


*I was gifted with a free electronic copy of this book, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own*

I'm really pleased to be able to join in the blog tour for A Litter of Bones by J D Kirk today! Thank you for the opportunity to read this book because I really enjoyed it and would love to read the others in the series. I read this while away on holiday and it was perfect holiday reading and easy to get into.

DCI Jack Logan is a detective in Glasgow, single and a bit world weary. Ten years ago, he was involved in a case featuring a sadistic child killer. Dubbed "Mister Whisper" by two boys who got away, he murdered three boys in a shocking case. Logan helped bring the murderer, Owen Petrie, to justice. Owen is now in a secure hospital, but refuses to disclose the whereabouts of the bones of his third victim, Dylan Muir. Logan visits him a couple of times a month to try to get him to talk, but a new doctor warns Logan off from going again.

Meanwhile, a hundred miles north in the Highlands not far from Fort William, a child goes missing while walking his dog with his dad. The local police receive a letter, very like the letters that Mister Whisper sent to Logan and his team ten years ago. It is so similar that the sender must have inside information. Logan is sent to the Highlands to investigate the crime.

There's a lot of hints that he got the wrong man ten years ago, but Logan refuses to believe that. He's working with some new cops, not all of whom trust him. They have the local knowledge though, so he's got no choice but to make friends.

I didn't guess many of the twists and turns, and I felt like they were revealed in interesting ways. I loved the remote setting - I've been to Fort William myself and it's beautiful and desolate. DCI Logan is a bit of a cliche in parts - he's seen it all, he thinks he knows best, he's a bit of a maverick - but I did find him likeable. I liked the supporting detectives and other officers. I will definitely read more in the series!

Please do check out the other stops on this tour to see what everyone else made of the book!

J D Kirk is a pseudonym for a different author's first crime novel, which was interesting to me - I wonder if I've read any of his other stuff? Here's his bio:

JD Kirk lives in the wilds of Scotland, where he spends his days making stuff up and writing it down. He lives with his wife, two children, one dog, and – if his daughter has anything to do with it – a cat in the very near future.
Having been writing in various genres for over a decade, JD turned his attention to crime fiction in May 2019, and hasn’t looked back. A Litterof Bones is his first crime novel, and the first of his hundred-plus books that his wife could bring herself to read.

The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu - Review

Thursday, September 5, 2019


Where did I get it? On Netgalley, so thank you very much to Hachette Children's Group for the opportunity to read and review it. As you may know, I'm already a big fan of Jen's work and was really interested to read her new book. Thanks! 

What's it about? The book is set in 1986, when the Finneys live on Mariposa Island, somewhere off Texas in the Gulf of Mexica. They are Elena, nearly seventeen, Joaquin, who has just graduated high school, and their mother, Caridad. The three of them have difficult relationships. Elena struggles under her mother's over-protective eye - Carrie rings her several times a day while she's on school vacation to make sure she's at home. Elena can only escape when she has her babysitting job. She meets J.C. one day at the beach and starts a secret relationship with him. 

Joaquin has just finished school and isn't sure what he wants to do with his life. He's a waiter at a local restaurant but he really wants to take off to California. His dad, who took off when Elena was small, supposedly lives there. 

Carrie drinks too much and often passes out late at night, requiring one of the kids to be at home to get her to bed. She's abusive towards them both and they live on eggshells around her, trying to gauge her moods and not make her angry. Joaquin is closer to not caring than his sister is, but Elena knows that she'll never get out from under her mother's control.

The first half of the book is told from Elena's point of view, and the second half of Joaquin's. I found it slightly jarring when it changed - I really wanted Elena back! I loved her, I thought she was a great character. I did like Joaquin's point of view too, but it felt like he was doing more tidying up, kind of? Interspersed between both kids is the story of what happened to Caridad. She was born in Cuba in the 1940s, to a well off family. On the night of her quinceanera, a bomb goes off as revolution builds, and Caridad has to leave Cuba (under what turns out to be Operation Pedro Pan, which really happened). We set Caridad reach the United States, marry the children's dad, and have the children. I found it interesting that we saw Carrie as both a teenager and as a young woman, that doesn't often happen in YA books but I thought it was perfectly appropriate for the book. There's a real insight into what makes Carrie tick and why she is like she is. 

I loved this book, I thought the clash of cultures between Cuba and the US was really interesting and brilliantly written. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, they're Cuban and Caridad is a first generation immigrant. I liked a lot of the storylines here. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, it may be somewhat graphic 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, I didn't think it was graphic but your mileage may vary

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none! I was just a bit jarred when the point of ivew changed, but I did like Joaquin too 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was desperate to read something else by Jen! 

What do I think of the cover? On Netgalley the book is simply called The Liars and has a different cover, but all other publicity seems to be calling it by the fuller title and using this cover. I think it's really pretty! 

What other books is it like? I've seen a couple of comparisons to We Were Liars, and while I don't think the stories are similar, I do think there are similarities with the closed, claustrophobic feeling which isn't helped by the harsh sun. 

I also kept thinking of the sitcom One Day At A Time while I was reading it - Lydia, the grandmother in the series, also left Cuba under Operation Pedro Pan and also has a hard time adjusting to American life. Definitely watch this if you haven't already!

How many stars? Four and a half out of five. 

The Liars of Mariposa Island will be published on the 5th of September 2019. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

A Keeper by Graham Norton - Review

Monday, September 2, 2019

I had been hearing good things about Graham Norton's fiction books, so I took a chance when I had an Amazon voucher and ordered this. It arrived at the beginning of August and I packed it to take on holiday when I went away mid month as I wanted to get to it as soon as possible. I was camping with my family and literally four people asked me if it was Graham's autobiography or a fiction book! It's fiction! It's great!

The book has a dual narrative. We start off with Elizabeth, an Irish woman who has been living abroad in New York since her early 20s. She has a son, Zach, and an ex-husband, Elliott, who left her for another man. Zach is going to California to stay with Elliott while Elizabeth goes back to Ireland to sort out the house her mother has left her.

Her mother, Patricia, died a few months previously. She lived in a house on Convent Hill in their small town, a house left behind to her by her parents where her brother, Jerry, got left the family business. Elizabeth was brought up in the house by her over-protective mother, and now has the job of emptying it.

Her aunt, uncle, and cousins are all quite nosy into Elizabeth's life, and clearly want the house and its contents for themselves. Elizabeth stays one night in the house, but then discovers rats. She also finds several letters from her father, Edward Foley.

Her parents met through a lonely heart's ad and Patricia went to his home in Cork to meet him. When she returned several months later, she had married Edward, had a baby, and Edward was dead. This is what Elizabeth has always been told, and it's what her family tell her too, although her uncle admits that he and Patricia were estranged at the time. But Elizabeth is intrigued by the father she never knew, and she wants to find out more. She needs to head to Kilkenny to meet with her mother's solicitor.

Meanwhile, in the second narrative, we meet Patricia as a younger woman. Having nursed her mother until her mother's death, she finds herself in her mid 30s quite alone in the world. Encouraged by her friend Rosemary, she places a lonely heart's ad and gets letters from Edward. On paper, he's very sweet towards her, but when she meets him he's really quiet and not forthcoming. But after her first visit, she gets another very nice letter, and decides to visit again.

Throughout the book we learn what made both women tick, what brought them together, how they were similar, and how they differ in their styles of motherhood. I liked both women, I thought they were both really good characters and both extremely strong in similar and different ways. There were plenty of twists in the book, some of which totally blindsided me and some of which I saw coming but relished their reveals anyway.

So can Graham Norton write a book? Yes, absolutely. To begin with, I felt like certain parts were really overwritten, a bit florid in phrasing. I got used to it, though, and I actually think this was one of the most "Irish" parts of the book - certain turns of phrase and the dialogue especially. I really liked it - the book as a whole came across as a bit of a family saga which I loved, and which I read a lot of in my teens. I would definitely read Graham's other books too; I think he has a genuine talent and I would love others to read this book too and talk to me about it!

I'm giving it four out of five.


Top Marks for Murder by Robin Stevens - Review

Friday, August 30, 2019

I'm back at Deepdean! I pre-ordered this book and it arrived alongside four more one hot Thursday in August, whoops. I have the knack of ordering books and then forgetting about them until they arrive. Sometimes they sit for ages on my pile of books that I want to get to 'soon', but I can never resist a Wells & Wong novel so I picked it up immediately.

It's Deepdean's 50th anniversary as a school, so there's a celebration at the end of the school year. All the parents are invited for a whole weekend of celebrations including a dinner on the Saturday night. Hazel's parents are too far away to attend, of course, and since the scandal at Daisy's family seat, her parents have been keeping a low profile, so they're not coming either. So Hazel and Daisy are both feeling quite emotional about that. Their dormmates' parents are all coming, though, so the weekend promises to be okay.

On the Friday morning, Beanie is standing by the window in their dorm room when she sees something odd in Deepdean woods. She is pretty sure she sees a man strangling a woman. Has she really seen a murder? The members of the Detective Society decide to keep an eye out to see if any man appears that evening without his wife in tow. They also go out to the woods to see if they can find any evidence. They do, so Hazel hurriedly calls Inspector Priestley to say they think they have another murder on their hands.

The Inspector turns up the next day and takes Daisy and Hazel out for lunch. The girls carry on detecting the crime, and end up smuggling themselves into the hall that evening for the celebration dinner. While there, they see Mrs Rivers, sister of their headmistress, collapse and ultimately die. It looks like arsenic poisoning - but who on her table had the chance to poison her?

The plot has quite a lot of twists and turns and although the girls make several leaps of logic at points, I did also like how sometimes they made really quite sophisticated deductions. I liked the parents being there, and I think in forthcoming books we'll see all five girls face grown up situations that they haven't dealt with before. I couldn't quite remember all of the scandal that had happened around Daisy's family, so I'll have to reread Arsenic for Tea before long and refresh my memory. I do wonder what will happen to the girls - they're about to move up a school year and school is obviously a finite amount of time. Robin probably can't write these books forever! I do love them, though.

My only major criticism is that we didn't see very much of the school life itself, which is what I really like. I'd love more of that - and another ten books at least.

The Upper Hand by A L Fraine - Blog Tour

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


I'm really pleased to join in the blog tour for The Upper Hand by A L Fraine. When I heard about the book, it sounded right up my alley. As you know, I like crime fiction and I really like when there's ritualistic elements of a novel. My undergraduate degree was in Theology & Religious Studies and all kinds of religions really interest me.

Here's the blurb for the book:

A murder with all the trappings of an occult sacrifice. It’s DC Kate O’Connell’s first case.
Will it also be her last?

Keen to prove herself to her superiors Kate fights to break through the lies that surround the victim’s life. But the ritualistic nature of the crime dredges up disturbing memories of a past tragedy.

While wrestling with the demons of her past, Kate learns that her partner has a few skeletons in his own closet. His reputation threatens to taint the investigation and ruin her career before it starts.

Kate must break the silence surrounding the victim to get to the truth before it’s too late, and the death toll rises.

Join Kate as she descends into a murky world of murder and conspiracy in the English Home Counties, in a Thriller that bestseller J D Kirk describes as: “An exciting new voice in British Crime fiction.”

Readers of J D Kirk, L J Ross, David Blake, and Daniel Cole, and fans of True Detective and Seven should enjoy The Upper Hand.

I liked the book, I thought Kate was a likeable detective trying to find her place in a world dominated by men. The beginning was interesting - she's partnered with Nathan, an older detective, and he's a bit of a laughing stock as he has a kind of speciality in X-Files type mysteries. I liked this! I thought the story was interesting. I would read something else by the same author and fortunately you can too. There's a bit more info about that here:

A L Fraine lives in Surrey in the UK, just outside of London, with his wife, kids, cat and dog.
Having enjoyed reading thrillers and watching gripping drama for years, it was the influence of a couple of more recent shows that spurred him on to put pen to paper and write his first thriller, The Upper hand.

The Upper Hand was inspired by True Detective, and Se7en, and the creepy vibe that they had.
The prequel to the Upper Hand, “First Hand”, is available for free for those who sign up to his mailing list, here; https://dl.bookfunnel.com/dbeuremmfr

The Sequel to The Upper Hand, titled “Idle Hands”, is available for Pre-Order now.


If you would like to know more about A L Fraine and his books, you can find him at www.alfraineauthor.co.uk


Thank you so much for the opportunity to read this book and join in the book tour!

You can check out the other stops on the blog tour here:

The Rumour by Lesley Kara - Review

Friday, August 23, 2019


I was away on holiday in July with a friend and some of her friends; we've been camping previously but my friend has a small baby so we went to stay in some cottages instead. At one point I sat down on the sofa and had to move this book out of the way as I did so, so I picked it up to read the blurb. I was intrigued, so I ordered it for myself when I got home. It arrived on the 6th of August along with four other books. Whoops. Sometimes just all your pre orders come in at once! 

This isn't the oddest way I've ever garnered a book recommendation, by the way. I was once on the Tube and I saw someone reading The Future Homemakers of America, and I ended up buying it (and it, of course, turned out to be one of my favourite books). 

Anyway, this book is about Joanna. She's recently moved to a small seaside town, Flinstead, where she spent some of her childhood with her mum. She's been living in London with her small son, Alfie, but she's decided to move back so her mum can help her with childcare and for a better pace of life, I guess. Alfie's dad, Michael, is still in the picture - he and Jo sleep together sometimes when he's around, but they're not a couple. He is a journalist.

Jo is at the school gates when she hears a rumour from one of the "popular" mums. The rumour is that Sally MacGowan, a notorious child killer, is living in Flinstead under a new identity. Sally was ten years old when she murdered a little boy, Robbie Harris. She served quite a few years in prison before being released, but of course no one knows where she is now. Jo doesn't know if the rumour is true or not, but then she repeats it at her book club, and everything takes off from there. The rumour takes on a life of its own, and it seems like every older woman in town is under suspicion. 

There's a new age shop called Stones and Crones, the owner of which is called Sonia Martin. People start to suspect her, including Joanna. The front window of the shop gets smashed in. 

Joanna makes friends with some of the mums and rumours begin to fly all over. She spends some time with someone in her book group, Kay, whose daughter and grandchildren have moved to Australia, while someone else in the book group, Liz, starts to avoid Jo. Who exactly is Sally MacGowan? Michael starts to look into the woman, wishing to write a story about her, but Jo and Alfie come under threat. 

I did like this book - it's very compelling and made me want to keep turning the page. I liked Jo, even though she acted a bit of a dolt at times. It was sometimes a bit hard to keep the characters straight - some had really similar names and they weren't all that distinctive. There's plenty of twists and turns along the way and although I guessed some of them I still wanted to know if I was right and how things came out. I didn't like the very end of the book, so while I would have given it a four out of five, I downgraded it to a three out of five. Still, I liked this Girl-on-the-Train esque book and would recommend it if you're a fan of those kinds of books. It's nice to read a book like that set in a sleepy British seaside town! 

Transcription by Kate Atkinson - Review

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

I bought this book last week on a rare trip to Waterstones. I happened to be in Wakefield so I popped in. Their Young Adult section is lovely! It's really well stocked and set out in a really appealing way, and has loads of recommendations from staff. So even though it's not very big it makes the most of its space. I was about to buy the new Robin Stevens book when I remembered I had it on pre-order, just in time! I did end up picking up something else in the YA section, but I might get to it soon so I'll wait.

Anyway, I bought this. It was on one of the tables in the fiction section and I picked it up to read the blurb. I read Behind The Scenes At The Museum in about 2006 or 2007 and I really didn't like it. I couldn't get on with the story or the unreliable narrator. Because of that, I've never picked up another of Atkinson's books, even though several of my friends really rate her as an author. However, I liked the sound of this book so I thought I'd give it a chance. My books were on buy one get one half price so I decided it was worth the risk!

Transcription is about a woman called Juliet Armstrong. At the beginning of the book, in 1981, she is dying. She is thinking about her wartime escapades. The narrative moves to 1950, when Juliet, by then working for the BBC, bumps into Godfrey Toby, a man who she knew through the war. He makes out like he doesn't recognise her, and Juliet is baffled.

The narrative turns to 1940. Juliet is eighteen and has just lost her mother. She gets a job working for MI5, after a baffling interview, and is soon moved to a job doing transcription for a covert operation in Pimlico. Godfrey is posing as a Nazi sympathiser and is spying on a number of sympathisers. Safely hidden in the flat next door, Juliet's job is to transcribe everything that the neighbours say. It's a somewhat dull job - these aren't really active fascists, they're just sympathisers.

However, Juliet is recruited variously by men in positions of power above her. One of them wants her to spy on Godfrey and report back on what he's doing. Then she's asked by another to pose as a woman called Iris and get close to the wife of one of Mosley's supporters. She does so.

Back in 1950 Juliet becomes convinced she's being followed. She's convinced it's due to Godfrey's reappearance, so she goes to his house in Finchley to see if the neighbours have any idea what happened to him. She speaks to a few people - but are they all just a bit too rehearsed?

Things happened in 1940 which Juliet helped to cover up and which Juliet even perpetrated herself. She's trying to forget her actions - and sometimes, her inactions - but in 1950 the threat of being followed and perhaps exposed is too much.

I wasn't sure where the action was going to go at any point. The book has plenty of twists and turns but none of them are completely out of nowhere. I loved the back and forth between 1940 and 1950. I liked the wartime setting and how life carried on even though the war is raging in the background. I loved Juliet as a character, I thought she was interesting and complex and also very principled. I also thought that most of the spying was, like, accidentally hilarious? Accidentally farcical, they seemed to be terrible spies. I liked that. It seemed really realistic.

I'm giving this five out of five, I thought it was a brilliant book and I will definitely give Atkinson a chance again!


Roam by Erik Therme Blog Tour and Review

Sunday, August 18, 2019

I'm pleased to be joining in this blog tour for Erik Thermé's book Roam. I read another book by him a few months ago - Keep Her Close - so I was happy to read something else by the author. I read this while I was away camping which is one of my favourite times to settle down and read for an extended time!

Roam is being touted as a Young Adult novel but I don't agree at all - it skews much older than that. I think it's an adult novel, kind of a thriller. The main characters are between 18 and 21, which takes it out of the realm of YA really.

At the beginning of the book we meet Sarah and Matt, a couple who are out celebrating Sarah's 21st birthday. They've been for dinner, but then they get stranded at the side of the road. Matt starts to turn nasty and Sarah is obviously a little scared of him. She starts to walk for help, and then is picked up by two young men on their way home.

One of them ends up going home, but the other, Kevin, gives Sarah a lift home. When she argues with her mum, he agrees to take her to find her friend Scott. Scott hasn't seen her in years but they grew up together. He's having problems with a roommate so he's been staying with his brother and sister-in-law. Scott is a weird character - deeply unsettling and quite creepy. He's seeing a girl, Mandy, who works front desk at a motel. Everyone in the book ends up there and some weird things end up happening.

I did find this quite a chilling book but didn't altogether gel with the characters. Kevin was my favourite. I wanted to know what happened and found myself rushing towards the end.


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I Completed My Goodreads Challenge!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

I realised that when I finished I Am I Am I Am, I also finished my Goodreads challenge for 2019! I'm really happy about this because it's only the middle of August so I'm well ahead of schedule. I'd like to think that I could hit one hundred books by the 31st of December, but we'll have to see!

Last year I read 81 books. In 2017 I read 78, in 2016 82, in 2015 69. I usually set myself quite a low challenge because the year I didn't, 2017, I felt bad that I didn't manage to beat the challenge. My post from last year shows that I smashed my challenge in October so I'm really happy to beat that this year. I do have lists on paper of what I read prior to 2015, but I wasn't using Goodreads until then. I am a prolific list keeper - I keep lists of books read and films watched in the back of my bullet journal. I love bullet journalling, although I also use mine as a general journal and memento book, it's got a bit of everything in it. It works for me though which is the main thing.

I feel like I have made more time for reading this year. I try to read every lunchtime when I'm at home, and I sometimes read while tea is cooking in the evening. I always read before bed, it's very rare that I don't. I've read some short books this year, too, but generally I read full length novels, so I'm really proud of my progress so far!

You can add me on Goodreads here.


I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell - Review

Monday, August 12, 2019

I recently plucked this book off the shelves in our back bedroom. My friend Laura bought it for me either this Christmas or last; she had read it and really enjoyed it. I thought it was time to get to it.

I've read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie, I read it a long time ago and really enjoyed it, I would recommend it. This book is autobiographical, and it chronicles seventeen near brushes with death that Maggie has had. From a near miss on a trail to jumping into the sea to impress some friends, to her childhood encephalitis, the Caesarean she had with her first child, and finally to her daughter's severe allergies.

I read it quickly, because each chapter is just like a little essay and really easy to read. Maggie has a gorgeously lyrical way of writing which comes through even in life writing like this, putting the reader in exactly the place that she was at the time. I could imagine the exotic locales really easily, I could see the hospital rooms perfectly. I liked how sometimes she switched from first person to second person; perhaps from a writing point of view it is purely to distance herself from having to relive the pain of whatever incident she's referring to (and it does seem to happen more in the more traumatic stories), but it also works to engage the reader to imagine themselves as the one in danger. There were bits I found really funny and bits I related to, but it was all really good to read and I'm glad I picked the book up.

I did some life writing myself in my MA and I really like it. I could almost write a book like this myself, and reading it has made me think a bit more about memory and about how we write about our own lives.

I'm giving this a well-deserved ten out of ten. I know I have other novels by Maggie, and now I really want to go and seek them out!


Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty - Review

Friday, August 9, 2019

This was the choice for my book club this month, and I really wanted to read it, so although I can't go to the meeting in a couple of weeks I decided to read it anyway and email my book club with my thoughts, which people often do if they can't make the meeting. Caroline chose the book, and she and I have similar taste in books, I often like the ones she chooses. I have read The Husband's Secret by Liane, but nothing else by her.

So in this, nine people turn up at a health resort in the outback in Australia under the tutelage of Masha, who uses somewhat unorthodox methods to transform everyone's lives. She has two second-in-commands, Delilah and Yao.

The novel is told from the points of view of all nine guests, plus Masha, Yao, and Delilah. To begin with I found this a bit confusing but eventually I really liked it and thought it added a lot to the book.

The nine guests are:

1) Frances, who is mostly the main character. She's a romance writer, she's fifty-two, and she's just been rejected by her publisher and has had a review that has bruised her ego a bit
2) Carmel, a mum of four whose husband has left her and whose confidence has nose-dived
3) Lars, a very pretty man aged thirty-five, whose partner wants to have a baby, but Lars isn't sure
4) Ben, a young man with a yellow Lamborghini who, along with his wife, has won 22 million dollars on the lottery
5) Jessica, Ben's wife, who is somewhat of a fitness guru and who has had a lot of plastic surgery
6) Tony, an ex sportsman who is just feeling a bit lonely and unfit
7) Napoleon (really), a man who, along with his wife and daughter, is spending the anniversary of his son's suicide at the retreat
8) Heather, Napoleon's wife, who is harbouring guilt about the death of her son, and,
9) Zoe, their daughter, grieving the death of her brother.

Upon arrival at the resort, Masha insists on five days of silence, and everyone has one to one counselling with her.

So until about halfway through the novel, that's that. The reader learns more about each character, and about what motivates them. I was convinced it would carry on like that to the end, with each character learning more about themselves and undergoing some kind of transformation, when the novel goes totally off-piste. I won't give any spoilers, but I still say that I didn't see it coming, and I loved it. I loved what happened after that, I just couldn't see how it was going to end. This was a compulsive read and I was really gripped. I really liked Frances and most of the other characters. The ones that were annoying are meant to be, I think. I really enjoyed the book, it kept me guessing and I think it was really well-crafted.

I'll trigger warn for suicide and discussion thereof. You may know that I lost my dad to suicide when I was just 24, so it's something close to my heart and I think in this novel it is written about really well. Liane says in the acknowledgements that she read No Time To Say Goodbye, which is a book by a survivor of suicide for survivors of suicide, and I think it shows. I read the book myself back in 2008 and found it really helpful. I thought that what Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe go through was extremely real, really well written, and done really sensitively. They definitely weren't to blame for Zach's suicide and I really hope that comes through in the book.

I'm giving this eight out of ten.


Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell - Review

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


I'm not going to use my normal questions for this book review, even though it's a Young Adult novel, because it is a horror novel and has a very claustrophobic setting. There isn't a huge cast of characters so I think this format is better.

I bought the book on Kindle when I saw people raving about it a couple of years ago, but I hadn't got round to reading it. Then I was browsing my Kindle and thought, oh yes I'll get to that next.

The book starts where Sophie, the heroine, and her friend Jay are in a diner in their hometown when they decide to play with a ouija board app on Jay's phone. They think it's a bit of fun, but Sophie asks if the spirit is her dead cousin Rebecca and the board says yes. The board then starts to recite a poem, Frozen Charlotte, and then all the lights in the diner go off and Sophie sees a little girl standing on a table and feels something cold holding her hand. When the light go back on, a waitress has been injured. The friends leave the diner to make their way home, only Jay dies in the canal on the way and Sophie is left upset.

A few weeks (I think) later, Sophie is heading to the Isle of Skye to stay with her uncle and cousins, Rebecca's siblings. There's her uncle, who kind of keeps to himself painting; Cameron, who Sophie remembers from being little, who has had his hand badly burnt in a fire before Rebecca died; Piper, Rebecca's sister, who Sophie also remembers, and little Lilias, who was born after Rebecca died so never knew her. Their mother is in hospital so the three siblings are basically looking after each other. To begin with, Piper seems really friendly, and Cameron seems to resent Sophie being there. Lilias is quiet and withdrawn and never smiles.

Sophie tries to explore the cottage, which is actually an old schoolhouse. The living room has a stage at one end where Cameron's prized grand piano lives. Upstairs, all the windows have been sealed shut with some kind of wax. In Rebecca's room there are tons of porcelain dolls. They are known as Frozen Charlottes, like in the poem, and they are broken and creepy. Weird things start happening and Sophie is trying desperately to find out whether the spirit of Rebecca is back and causing chaos.

There are really creepy bits in the book but I think it is appropriate for an audience aged about fifteen and older.

The book really reminded me of Your Turn To Die by Sue Wallman which I read last summer. They're both creepy and atmospheric and set in enclosed places which makes everyone act in ridiculous ways. I really liked it, I'm giving it eight out of ten!

Beneath The Surface by Fiona Neill - Review

Sunday, August 4, 2019

I requested this book on Netgalley because the blurb really appealed to me, so thank you to Michael Joseph/Penguin UK for the chance to read this book. Beneath the Surface was published in July so is available to buy now.

I added this book on Goodreads and Goodreads helpfully reminded me that I read The Betrayals by Fiona Neil back in the autumn of 2017. I didn't remember the book and I didn't review it here, but when I looked closer I did remember it. It's a strange tale of grown up siblings whose parents are divorced and their dad's partner is their mum's ex best-friend. This book is kind of similar in tone, so I think I would read something else by Fiona Neill and expect something similar.

In this book there's a family living in the Fens near Cambridge. Due to their spiralling debt, they've had to move from the city centre to a new build in the Fens, but the house has got damp and everything is coated in a layer of red dust. Patrick, the father, has ancestral ties to the area, and to the people who drained the Fens. He is unable to deal with his debt and has to ask his brother - a flashy record producer - for loans.

He is married to Grace, who isn't from the area but who keeps her past secret. She is an over-protective and somewhat overbearing mother, but throughout the book we see exactly why that is.

Their daughters are Lilly and Mia. Lilly is nearly eighteen, and about to go into her last year of school. Mia is ten, and is badly bullied at her primary school and only has one friend, a Traveller boy called Tas. At the beginning of the book, the sisters are looking for something in the garage while their parents argue with Patrick's brother Rob and his wife Ana outside in the garden. Mia discovers a pregnancy test, with a symbol on it showing that whoever used it was pregnant. Lilly tells Mia that it's hers, and Mia gets fixated on the idea of her sister being pregnant and having had an abortion.

Lilly has been seeing a boy called Cormack over the summer, only things have gone wrong between them. Grace doesn't know anything about her daughter's relationship but becomes obsessed with finding out everything about it. Mia is an odd child (she reads as autistic to me, but it's not mentioned within the book) and is being bullied. She is also at odds with her teacher, Miss Swain. I really felt for her when she lashes out at her bullies and ends up getting into trouble - this happened to me when I was being badly bullied in junior school too. It isn't her fault she's bullied! I wanted an adult to stand up for her.

I feel like not a lot actually happens in this book and yet lots does happen, but a lot of it happens in flashback and retelling. I really liked it; I liked the bits from the points of view of both Lilly and Mia. It's hard to write a child's point of view in an adult book, but I feel like it was done beautifully here. I'm giving this a well deserved eight out of ten.

I was given a free copy of this ebook for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


 

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