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The Case of the Missing Treasure by Robin Stevens - Review

Saturday, March 30, 2019

I was in an independent bookshop in Oswestry last week while I was there for a few days, called Booka. It had a cafe in too, but we didn't have chance to stop. It was an absolutely gorgeous book shop, I could have spent some serious money in there! The fiction section was lovely, but the Young Adult section blew me away. It was full of so many contemporary titles, all looking really eye-catching and ready to buy. My friend Sam was really impressed with the children's section too, which had some gorgeous editions of older titles. 

I decided to contain myself and just buy this Wells & Wong mini mystery. It's set just before the events of Death in the Spotlight, so I'm slightly out of order, but the beauty of these books is that you can read them in any order and it's not too confusing. This mystery is narrated by Daisy, who I always find a bit full of herself, but I do love how much she loves Hazel and how that's shown. 

The Junior Pinkertons come over for the weekend and for Daisy's birthday, Uncle Felix sends them all on a treasure hunt. They end up at the British Museum and while there get embroiled in catching a thief. 

I liked it, cute little story. I also liked the information in the back about Egyptian mummies and about the thinking that the treasures in such museums should be returned to their countries of origin. Robin never talks down to her audience, it really does make her one of the best authors for this age group. 

I can't wait for the next one!

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

I had been hearing loads about this book since the beginning of the year, and then it got longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and I knew I wanted to read it. I requested it at the library; it was out at the time and had two more requests on it, but it finally came through to me and I picked it up last week. I took it away with me on holiday and I'm glad I did, the beginning had me a bit confused and I was glad to have the focus to read on holiday.

I think it had me a bit confused because there's no speech marks used in the book, so it sometimes can be hard to work out who's speaking, and what is speech and what is inner thoughts. I get that this is a deliberate choice, but I'm not sure it really paid off completely for me. I got on with it and by the end didn't notice much, but it is jarring to begin with.

So anyway the book starts in Sligo in Ireland, where Connell and Marianne live in the same small town. They're in the same year at school and are both set to do well in their exams. Connell's mum Lorraine is Marianne's mother's cleaner. Marianne's family is quite well off, but her life isn't happy. Her brother is very abusive and at school she's bullied and ignored. She's quite cold at the beginning of the book, but it makes sense in context of her family.

Connell, meanwhile, is popular and good looking and plays on the school football team. He's quite a thoughtful person, though, I really loved him as a character. His mum is a single parent. He and Marianne start having sex, but Connell never tells any of his friends about it. Marianne encourages him to apply to Trinity college in Dublin, which he does. Everything's going well until their Debs ball and Marianne ends up upset.

The two make friends again in Dublin and start up their relationship again. The book follows them throughout their university years and how they just seem to keep coming back to each other. I liked the open ending, it felt just like life really.

There's a lot missing from the book, stuff which I would have liked to read, but I understand that it's not that kind of book, it's more of a concept than a straightforward narrative. I did like it - I'm giving it four stars out of five. The setting was vividly drawn and I loved both main characters. I'd definitely read something else by Sally!

Small Country by Gael Faye - Review

Saturday, March 23, 2019

I bought this book from Our Liberty Box which was a black owned business that sold things from Africa and the African diaspora. It doesn't appear to be working now, but I saw an advert for something last year and bought some Christmas gifts from there. I also bought myself this book and another.

This book is about the Rwandan genocide, the civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsis in the 1990s. So if that's something that will distress you, don't read this book. However, I didn't find it too graphic. There is some violence, of course, and some mental illness which may also be distressing. I think that for an older teen it would be a perfectly appropriate book, however, especially for a teen interested in this kind of history.

The story centres on Gaby, a young boy living in Burundi. He is mixed race - his dad is French, and white, and his mum is Rwandan. She has been living in exile for many years in Burundi as she's a Tutsi and the situation in Rwanda has been tense for years. She sometimes gets to visit her aunt in Rwanda, who has four children, with whom Gaby and his sister Ana are close.

Gaby has four friends who live on his street, and avoids local bully Francis. As tensions rise, Gaby's maman leaves the family, and the men who work in his house are under threat.

I liked this a lot, I thought the point of view of a young boy was a really good way of showing the genocide. This book was translated from French but I don't think it showed. Gael Faye is a musician and this is his first novel, but I would definitely read something else by him in the future.

Northern YA Lit Fest 2019

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Saturday the 16th was Northern YA Lit Fest again. I went with my partner Lee again, across to Preston. We set off really early but didn't manage to make it in time for the first panel, so when we arrived just after 10am we wandered round the stalls for a bit. This year the fest was in a different building at UCLan, so there was a big space for around ten stalls. I again had Christmas and birthday money left over so I had made sure to take that with me.

The first panel was Feminist Fantasy with Melinda Salisbury, Samantha Shannon, Laure Eve, and Rose Edwards. I'm not much of a fantasy fan but when I do read it I like it to be overly feminist, so this was ideal. I really liked it, I thought they were all engaging, and Lee said he thought it was the best panel of the day.

Straight afterwards were signings. We were lucky to get pretty close to the front of the queue. I use a walking stick these days and when we got to Melinda she said, "Oh, if you need to push in to the front of the queue ask a member of staff, no author minds if you do that!" I thought this was a really good thing for her to tell me as I hadn't thought about it - I'm just getting used to asking for early access to gigs so this wasn't on my radar yet.  I did ask a couple of times later in the day, and at the very end Lee stood in the queue for me because I was in so much pain. But altogether this venue and organisation were much more accessible than last year's.

I got books signed by Melinda, Laure, and then found Will Hill who had been in the first panel. I read his excellent book After the Fire on Kindle, so don't have a paper copy. I apologised and asked Will to sign my journal instead. I told him that I liked the book especially as my undergraduate degree was in Theology. Cults really are so fascinating; I'm sad we missed the first panel.

It was lunchtime at this point, so Lee and I went into the cafe just next to the stalls, which was ideal. They had quite a few choices and it was cheap, and there were tons of seats. Then we had another wander round the stalls and I bought a few books. We were also offered a few free books, so I picked up Rose Edwards' novel The Harm Tree and then went back to the signing area for her to sign it.

The next panel was Inclusiveness in YA, chaired by Aimee Felone, with Non Pratt, Bali Rai, Mel Darbon, and A J Hartley. I loved this panel, I thought Bali Rai was speaking really passionately about diversity, and I like Non Pratt anyway. In the signings afterwards I had a nice conversation with Bali (and he was being very complimentary about another blogger, I love it when authors love us) and with Non.

2.30 saw us back in the main lecture hall for a panel on Shame with Katherine Webber, Melvin Burgess, Laura Steven, and Tamsin Winter. I was SO excited to see Melvin Burgess - I am sure that I write YA myself partly because of his books. I told him this in the signing and he was so encouraging about my writing which was really nice to hear.

The lecture theatre was a good venue, but I wish there had been a notice to leave one of the front rows for disabled people as going further up really wasn't good for me. The last panel was Mental Health in YA, chaired by Lisa Williamson with Alice Broadway, Sara Barnard, Akemi Dawn Bowman, and Alexandra Sheppard. I took books I already owned to be signed, and bought a bunch more.

It is a fantastic conference, just big enough to feel big and small enough to be cosy. It was well organised. I can't wait for next year!

Feminist Fantasy panel

Inclusiveness in YA panel

Shame-less panel

Mental Health in YA panel

These were all the books I came home with - I bought five of them, and I got The Harm Tree, Watch Us Rise, and the one with the girl on it in the left middle for free! I can't wait to get to these!

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens

Saturday, March 16, 2019

I got this book for Christmas - I knew it was missing from my collection of the Wells & Wong books and asked my partner to buy it, and then we were in an independent bookshop in November in Helmsley and it was in there, so I pressed it into Lee's hands and made him buy it to put away for Christmas. The other night we were going through some of my books and I thought ooh, I'll pick that up to read now!

It's a mixture of things - a bit of a compendium if you like, like the Enid Blyton compendiums I used to read and love as a child. There are three Wells & Wong mysteries, written from Daisy's point of view. I've read a couple of them before because they were available on Kindle. I liked the one about the Deepdean Vampire. There's a couple of chapters written from the Junior Pinkertons' point of view - both Alex and George get their own chapters and there's a mystery that happened at their school which made me want a whole novel from their point of view! There's non fiction stuff about spies, mysteries, and baking (you always need cake to go with your reading!). There's a couple of chapters that Robin herself has written, which I really liked too.

It's a cute companion book and I'm glad I read it. Nine out of ten!

With Malice by Eileen Cook - Review

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Where did I get it? I have no idea! I picked it off the shelves at the weekend, but I have no recollection of buying it or even reading about it! It's a mystery. I might have picked it up at a book event or something. 

What's it about? Jill wakes up in hospital back home in Michigan, unable to remember what has happened. She has a broken leg and her best friend Simone is dead. Jill has forgotten the past six weeks of her life, so she's forgotten that she's been in Italy on a trip with other students. As her parents start to tell Jill what's happened, it appears that Jill may be at fault for Simone's death.

As well as Jill's narrative, we get interspersed witness statements as given to police in both Italy and America, and blog posts from a blog called "Justice for Simone" plus online comments, lots of which think Jill is guilty and beyond redemption. I thought this was a clever way of writing the book, because it meant the reader knew more than Jill did at a lot of points, due to her amnesia. 

I liked this book, I read it quickly and thought it was an interesting story, as well as having the deeper subtext that we don't know the full story through what we read online. Jill is an unreliable narrator and I think that worked really well too. 

What age range is it for? 14+, due to some graphic violence. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Jill is disabled by the accident and it's a big part of the book. I thought it was done well, although I'd have liked to know whether her disabilities were expected to be lifelong/life changing, if that makes sense. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Prescription painkillers, I think. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, it is sometimes graphic and as I say there's violence 

Are there swear words? Yes a few - something which I really liked! 

What criticisms do I have? Some of the slang words seemed a little bit off to me, but that's all 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if you find the premise intriguing.

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I picked it off the shelf and read the blurb and thought, huh that sounds interesting. 

What other books is it like? I think We Were Liars is a fair comparison, although this book isn't as complex (not that that is necessarily a bad thing!) 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Most likely, the charity shop... I am running out of room for books again and need to cull some!

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee - Review

Monday, March 11, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it upon the recommendation of my friend Lucinda. 

What's it about? It's set in the 1720s, firstly in England, where we meet Henry Montague. He is eighteen and about to go off on his Grand Tour around Europe before settling down to run his father's estate. He's in some disgrace, having been expelled from Eton after being found messing around with other boys, so is under strict instruction from his father that if he is caught doing the same again, he will be disinherited. 

Monty takes off to the continent with his best friend, Percy, and his sister, Felicity, under the watchful eye of Mr Lockwood, their cicerone. They go to Paris, where Monty soon runs into trouble, and they have to take off for Marseilles. 

Monty is in love with Percy, who he's known for most of his life, but Percy doesn't know it. Percy is biracial, and is treated badly by some of the people around him because of it. Monty doesn't like his sister, and finds her often too reminiscent of their abusive father. The party will drop her off at finishing school in Marseilles, even though she really wants a proper education, but can't, because she's a girl.

That's the basic premise, but this is a long book and TONS happens. It's a real romp of a story, with plenty of excitement and twists and turns. It reads a lot like fanfic, and in the back Mackenzi Lee freely admits it's full of tropes - and that's a good thing! It's a really FUN book, I found it utterly gleeful and lovely to read. Monty is an irascible but loveable character, I really liked him. 

What age range is it for? 14+, probably 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Well, the terms we use nowadays definitely weren't in use then, but yes, there's definitely a story around this theme. I will also warn for homophobic violence, which is quite hard to read, but I loved the way it was done. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Percy is mixed race, as I've said. Mackenzi Lee talks about this in the back of the book. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I'm not going to post a spoiler, but yes. I thought the way this was handled was really well written, utterly realistic and a little bit heartbreaking too 

Is there any sex stuff? There's some nudity, but nothing very explicit. A lot of it is implied. 

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

Is there any talk of death? Yes, but it's not graphic. There is some violence. 

Are there swear words? Not really - I actually really liked the 18th century slang! 

What criticisms do I have? None! It's a fun book. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, especially if you like fanfic AUs where people go off to sea or get involved in japes and scrapes. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I didn't buy it that long ago, but it was already on the shelves, and I was looking through them, remembered how much Lucinda had liked this book, and decided to pick it up. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of the Raven Cycle in terms of the camaraderie between the characters. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'll definitely keep it... and probably buy the sequel!

An Evening with Angie Thomas

Saturday, March 9, 2019

On Thursday I was lucky enough to have tickets to see Angie Thomas on her book tour in England. I was terrified I wouldn't get tickets, so back in January I was stalking Bradford Literature Festival's website to get them, and I managed to get tickets for Lee and I. So we went off to Bradford early (getting to Bradford is always a pain from my house) and waited outside Waterstones in the Wool Exchange for a bit, and then got in! There were over 150 chairs and tons of young people. Nearly all the seats were taken! Lee and I sat at the back.

There was a poet called Sophia who interviewed Angie and performed a poem of her own, and who was excellent - I really should look her up because I'd like to read more by her. She asked Angie some questions and Angie responded brilliantly. She spoke so passionately and from her heart about why she wrote The Hate U Give and the message she wants people to take from it. She talked about being censored and how that means she's doing something right. She talked about On the Come Up and how Bri is a totally different character to Starr and speaks more from her heart. She also spoke about her next book, which honestly can't come quickly enough for me!

There was a Q&A session which included lots of people of colour thanking Angie for her books, which was fantastic to hear. Then a signing! I had stupidly forgotten my walking stick, so Lee queued for me (thanks love!) and then I slipped in at the end. Angie was really lovely and signed my books. I really do like meeting authors and telling them how much I enjoyed their books, and seeing other people meet them too.

Bradford Waterstones is in the old Wool Exchange building, it's gorgeous!

Sophia and Angie

I never smile with my mouth open in photos, but I like this photo a lot!

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia - Review

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle! I had been reading a list on Autrostraddle I think about the best f/f fiction coming out, and was intrigued by the premise. So I pre-ordered it on Kindle and it arrived like magic. I had forgotten about it, but thought I'd read it straight away. 

What's it about? It's set in a dystopian world a little bit like the Handmaid's Tale. It's also set somewhere in Latin America and features Latinx characters, which was one of the major pulls for me. It's set on an island called Medio where the old myths about the sun god still rule. The wealthy elite have two wives - their Primera, who runs their houses and social engagements, and the Segunda, who carries and raises their children. All three are supposed to work together to form a stable family. 

Further down the island are where the poor people live, and further out than that, beyond the wall, are even poorer people. There have been rumours of rebellion and uprisings for years, but Daniela, our protagonist, has tried to ignore this as much as possible. 

Daniela is a student at Medio School for Girls, which trains both Primeras and Segundas. She is about to graduate and knows she will be marrying Mateo Garcia, son of one of the island's most powerful politicos and who is himself being primed for president. A couple of nights before graduation and the marriage ceremonies, there's a raid on the school and the police are checking everyone's citizenship papers.

Daniela is immediately terrified. Her own papers say she's from a small town near the wall, but is a legal citizen, but in actuality she's from the other side of the wall. Her parents risked everything when she was little to get her into Medio, and her rising through the ranks as a Primera is how she's supposed to make them proud. Her papers won't pass the government's new checks and she's terrified. Then she's dragged off by a boy with a fox face, who offers her official papers in return for her spying on her new husband for La Voz, the resistance movement. She agrees, but is unwilling to give up her status... 

I'm not going to say much more, but Daniela gets married and has to contend with her Segunda, Mateo's other wife. But maybe there's more between them... But what is the Segunda hiding too? 

I thought that a lot about the setting said a lot about modern America and Mexico and the supposed wall Donald Trump is about to build to keep immigrants out, I don't think that's an accident and as someone who is pro immigration and freedom of movement, I really liked this aspect. I liked the mythological aspects and I am pretty sure there must be a sequel to this book, right? I wasn't sure what was expecting but I loved it, I loved Daniela especially. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Well, there's certainly an f/f romance even if terms aren't discussed! 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yep, obviously. I loved the Latinx culture shown, I think this is a brilliant setting for a high concept novel like this. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? A little, yes, but it's quite "fade to black". 

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

Is there any talk of death? Some and some injury stuff that is quite hard to read

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Gosh almost none! I really liked this, I think it's a fantastic YA novel. I really HOPE there's going to be a sequel! 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. I will definitely be keeping an eye on this author. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was at the front of my Kindle carousel and I had forgotten what it was about so just clicked on it. 

What other books is it like? It has shades of The Handmaid's Tale and The Hunger Games, for sure, but it also really reminded me of Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill. 

How many stars? Eight out of ten. Good book. Read it!

Brave by Rose McGowan Blog Tour

Saturday, March 2, 2019

March 5th 2019
Published by HQ
in paperback, ebook and audio book

“Sensationally explosive…a battle cry you want to get behind.” The Sunday Times Culture
“This memoir is more than just BRAVE, it’s a game-changing, tooth bared roar of defiance” The Mail on Sunday

Hello there! I'm really happy to welcome you this morning to the blog tour for Rose McGowan's book Brave, her unflinching memoir. I was asked to be part of this tour and gifted a copy of the book by Harper Collins, so my thanks go out to them first of all for the book and the opportunity! While I was gifted a copy of the book, I was not compensated in any other way for this review and all thoughts and opinions remain my own. Brave is published in paperback on 5th March 2019.

I have grown up with Rose McGowan - I think I was first aware of her in the late 90s when she was engaged to Marilyn Manson. I was a big Marilyn Manson fan and loved the photos of the two of them together. Rose always seemed so pretty but also badass and in charge of herself. I then really loved her in Scream, one of my favourite films, where she plays Sidney's best friend Tatum. So it really is a pleasure to have been asked to join in this tour, because I was really interested in the book.

I of course heard about Rose in late 2017 when she opened up about the abuse she had suffered in Hollywood, most especially by Harvey Weinstein, who she refers to in the book as The Monster. She detailed the lies and cover ups that Hollywood was involved in, and helped give birth to the Time's Up and #MeToo movements. I knew Hollywood was bad, but hadn't really taken into account how young women especially are taken advantage of at the very least. I hope the movements don't lose momentum - it's beyond time this sick stuff stopped. I also think that the vast majority of women, in Hollywood or not, can relate to the kinds of stories we're now hearing.

Anyway, that's how I came to Rose's book - knowing a little bit about her in the 90s, and more recently in relation to MeToo. I didn't know anything about her early life, but she grew up in a cult in Italy which sounds horrible abusive, and then ran away from home before making her way to Hollywood. The book is hard to read, not only for the details of sexual assault and rape but also because the reader is forced to look at their own role in being complicit in covering up abuses. I would say take care of yourself if it's hard to read, but ultimately it's worth it. I hope young women who may think that being taken advantage of is the only way to get anywhere read it and realise that that's not true. I hope there's a seismic societal shift.


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