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Book Swap!

Monday, April 29, 2019

I joined in with a book swap recently that I saw on Twitter. I love getting stuff in the post and I love getting books, so I signed up. I think the instructions were that at least one book should be off the person's wishlist, but anything else was fair game.

I was paired with my friend Janet, which was great because she and I have really similar taste in books and often swap. I didn't know that it was a direct swap until I got my parcel. I recognised her handwriting immediately and knew I was in for a treat.

Look how nicely Janet had wrapped my gifts:


I was so intrigued to open them! I got home after a really long, tiring day at a conference and this was a perfect time for a present!

Look at what was inside!


I don't own that Adam Silvera book even though I have all his others, so that's a welcome addition to the collection. Never Anyone But You looks REALLY good, it's about two women who fall in love in France in the early 20th century. And Close to Home is exactly the type of crime/mystery novel that I love. The pin badge says "One more chapter", I do love a pin badge.

Thanks so much Janet, I appreciate it!

Everything Is Lies by Helen Callaghan - Review

Thursday, April 25, 2019


I got this book from Michael Joseph, part of Penguin UK, so thank you so much to them for granting it to me. I wanted to read it because I liked Helen's previous book Dear Amy. I also really liked the premise of this when I read the blurb.

I will trigger warn for suicide and murder, some graphic violence and sexual assault.

Sophia gets a phone call from her mum one Friday night. Her mum is desperate for her to come home; she's usually needy but this sounds quite different. Sophia can't leave London but promises she'll come down the next day.

After a disastrous run in with a married colleague, Sophia heads back to her family home in Suffolk. There she finds the unthinkable - her mother hanged from a tree in the back garden with her dad close to death near by. He has been stabbed, and when he gets to hospital they're not sure he'll survive.

The police treat it as a murder-suicide. They think Nina stabbed Jared and then hung herself. Only Sophia thinks that this is just way out of character for her mum, and is determined to find out the truth. She finds some notebooks of her mother's, and begins to uncover Nina's past.

I will say that I saw a few of the twists coming, but I quite liked seeing if I was right and seeing how and when - while massively traumatised - Sophia didn't pick up on them. This is a gripping novel and will be a firm favourite for fans of this genre. I did stretch my believability grounds a couple of times, but I let it go. I will say that I didn't understand why the subplot of Sophia's work life was even a thing - I didn't think it fitted in and I thought they treated her really badly. Would you really expect a recently bereaved colleague to be in the office? I would have liked this to be better, or not there at all, but I'm giving this a solid seven out of ten.

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris - Review

Monday, April 22, 2019

As you'll know, I'm a big fan of Joanne Harris' books set in France, which often have white witches as their main characters and are filled with drama. I haven't got on with her later novels, and find her absolutely insufferable on Twitter, so I don't keep up with her newer work. I know she's been writing some mythological stuff and I know I should try some, but I keep finding other stuff to read instead. But, I heard that Joanne had written another book about her characters from Chocolat, and I knew I wanted to read it so ordered it immediately as a bit of a gift to myself.

In Chocolat we met Vianne and her daughter Anouk, who are both quite magical and psychic. They move to a small town called Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and open a chocolate shop. Vianne's magic lies in chocolate - she scries with it and she can tell what chocolates people need to unlock parts of themselves. In that novel she comes up against the local priest, Reynaud, and eventually she and Anouk leave Lansquenet. I loved Chocolat when I first read it in around 2000.

In The Lollipop Shoes Vianne and Anouk are living in Paris, now with Vianne's younger daughter Rosette. The mysterious Zozie de L'Alba appears in their lives and starts to cause mayhem. I think The Lollipop Shoes is my favourite of the series.

In Peaches for Monsieur le Curé Vianne gets a letter from an old friends and goes back to Lansquenet. Reynaud is a big part of this book too. I didn't like it too much, I felt it dragged. But I still wanted to read The Strawberry Thief.

Firstly I have to say that it is nice to be back among familiar characters. Vianne isn't as present in this book as Rosette and Reynaud, but I still like her brand of magic. Reynaud has morphed into quite a sympathetic character and I liked his parts of the book best. Rosette also gets her point of view, and this is where the book fell down for me.

But about the book: Narcisse, an old farmer in Lansquenet, dies, and leaves part of his property to Rosette. No one can really work out why, except that he was fond of her, but he's left a letter of confession to Reynaud which we also read. Reynaud is trying to be absolved of his own sins. Narcisse's old flower shop is rented out to a mysterious newcomer, and everyone feels her pull, including Rosette.

Rosette is a disabled child. In the earlier books she doesn't speak but can use sign language. When she does speak Accidents tend to happen (as she can't really control her magic) so she often doesn't. Through her point of view though we can see that she understands much of what is said about her. She is sixteen but still very childlike and her friends are getting tired of her. Vianne also fears what will happen to her and tries to keep her close.

I thought that Rosette's point of view was really well written until the end of the book, when something happens that really frustrated me. I don't know. I did like the book, but with huge caveats.


The Books That Made Me

Thursday, April 18, 2019

I saw someone else make a post like this a few weeks ago but I can't remember who, so if it was you thank you very much! I thought I would share some of the books that have meant a lot to me and have stayed with me throughout my life.

I was a child who read a lot. I loved my local library and am actually working on a zine about libraries that I've loved. We used to go in the caravan for two weeks every summer and I would take thirteen books with me for that time! As a teenager I was really into music so didn't read as much, but there's still a few books that meant a lot to me then. At university I read SO much fiction - I laid in bed a lot reading and it was when eBay had just started so I used to buy book lots off there and take my chances on stuff. I also used to swap books with my housemate Katie. When I was in my twenties I read all kinds of things and then discovered Young Adult literature through a friend. I did my MA and wrote a whole YA novel for it, after a couple of false starts with a crime novel. I now read probably half YA and half other stuff. I have thirty years of reading history to look back on!

Okay here we go, X books that have stayed with me:


When I was quite small I really loved the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I liked all of them but my favourite was Ramona Forever. A few years ago I rebought all these books on eBay and thoroughly enjoyed rereading them. Ramona is a fun little girl whose logic is perfect but who sometimes gets into trouble. She's irrepressible and I love her. 


I also loved Harriet the Spy when I was little. I can vividly remember borrowing a copy with a blue cover from the library. I reread this while I was doing my MA, it was still lovely. 


I read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was little, like every other 80s/90s kid. I liked the Five Find Outers and the Secret Seven a lot, but I really loved the Famous Five. I realise that the books are really outdated for a modern audience and I'm glad that attitudes have moved on, but I still do have a soft spot for them. My favourite was Five On A Hike Together, where the Five get split up quite early on in the book. Julian and George have to take Timmy to the vet, so Anne and Dick carry on to try to get to where they were heading. They end up overhearing a message about loot hidden in the middle of a lake, and the Five set off to find it themselves. 

I don't remember where I got The Disinherited by Louise Lawrence, but I do still have my childhood copy. It was maybe the first arguably YA book I read that was set in the UK. I was busy reading Point Romance and Sweet Valley at the time, where everyone is American and thin and perfect, so to read something about disaffected kids in the UK was groundbreaking for me. 


As a teen I borrowed books off my mum. I read a lot of Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes. I think those books can show how to weave narrative really well, so I'm not sad that I read them. I loved Circle of Friends a lot, I even like the film with Minnie Driver even though it's a bit rubbish.


When I was in sixth form my French teacher (who was actually French) encouraged me to read Chocolat. This was in 2000/2001 and Joanne Harris wasn't very known at the time. I gobbled up her first few books and made my parents read and enjoy them too. My favourite is Five Quarters of the Orange, set in Nazi occupied France on the banks of the Loire. The Loire valley is one of my favourite parts of France. I want sunshine and a good book! I really recommend this one.


I read My Soul to Keep when I was at university and loved it. It's really creepy and atmospheric. I've never reread it and I'm kind of afraid to! But I really should read something else by Tananarive Due


I read The Color Purple at uni, too. I can remember so clearly where I was, actually. I was away for the weekend in Whitby in a tiny cabin with my partner and just read this the whole way through one evening. I really like epistolary novels, do you have any favourites? 


Notes From An Exhibition is arguably my favourite novel of all time. It's about an artist, an American woman who lives in Cornwall. She has a husband and four children. There's an exhibition of her paintings after her death and we see how each painting came into existence. It's such an amazing book. My friend Amy made me read it years ago and I've bought it for a few friends too. She's not much of a reader so you know it has to be good!


I really liked three of Carol Goodman's books and I read them all at a similar time in my mid 20s. This one is my favourite, but I also really like The Drowning Tree and The Lake of Dead Languages. They're all kind of sophisticated mysteries, with family dramas at their heart. I love them. I really need to reread them all. 


Also in my mid 20s I got introduced to YA literature by my friend Angie, who I first met on Xanga. Angie is a tireless promoter of diverse authors and stories. She introduced me to this series and I've read all of them. While it now seems really dated, I do have a soft spot for it in my heart. It also opened up a whole world of YA for me, specifically LGBTQ+ literature for children and teens, something I'm really passionate about. I don't think I would be the kind of writer I am if it wasn't for this book and others like it.


I read Station Eleven a few years ago and I love it. It's a dystopian novel set after a flu epidemic has wiped out most of the world's population. It shows how some people die and then what survivors do afterwards and how they make lives for themselves. Weird and all too real, I have made so many people read it. 


A couple of years ago someone in my book club chose The Ballroom. It's a lady called Caroline and she always chooses really good books, she and I must have similar tastes. It's about a woman in a mental hospital in Ilkley and a man she meets there. 


I love Dumplin', a book about a fat teenager and her beauty pageant mom. I loved Willowdean so much. I think the film was pretty good!


I'm sure it's no surprise that Simon vs is one of my favourite books. I love Simon, I think he is so cute and even when he's making stupid decisions you understand why he's making them. I love Simon's family and a lot of the stuff about coming out in this book. 


I genuinely think everyone, whatever race, age, or gender, should read The Hate U Give. It's a powerful story that fits in perfectly in the world of 2019, but it's also just really, really good. I can't wait to see what Angie is working on at the moment, she's very talented. 


Finally, I really loved The Woman In Black when I read it a few years ago. I don't like horror, but I can tolerate it better on paper than on film. I found this so chilling. The bit in the nursery with the chair is the bit that sticks out in my mind. It's such a good book and a great example of horror in books. 

Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak - Review

Monday, April 15, 2019


Where did I get it? My friend Janet lent it to me before Christmas and it's been on my 'read soon' list ever since. 

What's it about? Aidan Lockwood is a senior in high school in Temperance, Ohio, which is a very small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. A couple of weeks into his senior year, Aidan's old friend Jarrod turns up. Aidan doesn't remember him, but Jarrod takes him to a lake and shows Aidan a memory of the two of them. Slowly, it becomes obvious that Aidan's mum has stopped him from remembering things about his past and about the family's past and about Aidan's own psychic powers. 

Aidan sees two harbingers of death; a man in a black suit, and a white stag. He is pulling at the threads of the family history, despite the fact that his mother is trying to keep him out of it, and eventually knows what he has to do to save them.

Meanwhile, Aidan and Jarrod find themselves falling in love. Jarrod has been thrown out of his dad's house because he's gay, and that's why he's back in Temperance living with his mother. I felt a bit two ways about their relationship. On the one hand, I really liked that Aidan didn't spend any time angsting over the fact he was falling in love with a boy, he just let it happen. On the other, I felt like there wasn't enough emphasis on their relationship and I wished we'd seen more of it. 

What age range is it for? 13+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yeah. Jarrod is gay, and Aidan starts a relationship with him, although he never labels himself. 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is quite graphic, and there's child death too. 

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

What criticisms do I have? I just felt like the book as a whole didn't go far enough in any one direction for me. It was a bit confusing in parts. I didn't understand why Aidan's mother kept so many secrets from everyone. Once Aidan realised some of what happened, she should have really just told him the truth. It was purely a plot point that she didn't. 

Also, as I said, I would have liked to see more of Aidan and Jarrod together. 

Would I recommend the book? Kind of? I liked the magical, rural, claustrophobic setting. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I need to send it back to Janet!

What other books is it like? It really reminded me of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Only not as good. 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Back to Janet!

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliott Wright - Review

Friday, April 12, 2019

I got this book on Netgalley so thank you to Simon & Schuster for granting me access to it. I received an electronic copy of this book for my consideration but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Furthermore, in the interests of full disclosure, I know Susan Elliott Wright a bit. She did the same MA I did and we're friends on Facebook. I follow her writing pretty closely as I've enjoyed all her books and am always excited for a new one.

So I got granted this book and then kept meaning to get round to it and then I finally did! I'm glad I did because I really liked the book; I'm giving it four out of five.

It's set in Sheffield and has Leah - Cornelia - as the main character. At the beginning of the book she's dealing with long term back pain and about to go back to work. It's obvious she's been in hospital but it's not obvious what has happened.

Then her husband Adrian dies and Leah discovers things about his life that she didn't know, and then tries to infiltrate his other life. We see her start to get ill again and, through a dual narrative showing us what happened "then", we see what happened when she was ill.

The dual narrative is really effective, and I liked Leah and felt really sorry for her throughout the book. I loved the setting and I liked the other characters. I liked how it started off showing you how Adrian and Leah got together as I thought it showed the depth of their relationship and then the betrayals later.

I would give trigger warnings for death, for suicide, and for mental illness. I found it quite harrowing to read even though I really liked it too.

Can't wait for the next one!


Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


Where did I get it? I bought it at Northern YA Lit Fest from one of the stalls. I had already read a chapter sampler that a friend sent me, so I knew I was intrigued by the story so decided to buy it. 

What's it about? It's set in Southern California in a time very like now, when there's a significant drought in California and all the water is turned off. 

Alyssa is watching when the "Tap-Out" happens. She goes to Costco with her mother and brother to stockpile water. It's chaos there, people are panicking and some are leaving the state. Alyssa's uncle decides to go to his girlfriend's in Dove Canyon and wait it out there. Everyone is pretty sure that this will all end soon, that FEMA will come in and help the worst affected, and that the government will sort it out.

But when Alyssa's family lose what little water they had, her parents set off towards the beach, towards one of the new desalination plants, leaving Alyssa in charge of her ten year old brother, Garrett. 

Meanwhile, next door neighbour Kelton has been preparing his whole life for something like this. His parents are survivalists, and have a stockpile of stuff in the house, a safe room, and even a bug-out deep in the woods. They have water, and electricity when that goes off too, but that makes them a target for people in the neighbourhood. Kelton's relationship with his dad is complicated, but Kelton wants to help Alyssa and Garrett and his mum agrees. The family are waiting for Kelton's brother Brady to arrive before they all set off to the bug-out. 

Kelton and Alyssa and Garrett set off for the beach to try to find Alyssa's parents, and what they find there shocks them. Several things happen meaning that five of them set off towards the bug-out, but I won't give any more plot points away. 

Interspersed with the points of view of the main characters are little snapshots showing us what some other people are doing, what the news is saying, what the government is doing, stuff like that. This is a really accomplished book and I really liked it. It's easy to imagine - what would you do if water stopped coming out of the taps? - and terrifyingly close to reality. I kept thinking it just couldn't end well, and I really liked the ending. It's a classic dystopia in some ways - the adults are got rid of meaning that the teens have to rely on themselves and no one else. 

The effects of thirst are really well described, the desperate lengths people went to to try to get water, and the government response all felt really real. It felt similar to what happened to a lot of people after Hurricane Katrina when the government failed to help people adequately. I liked how each of the main characters reacted differently and I liked how political this book is - overconsumption of water is an issue and states like California have had record droughts. I read Unwind by Neal Shusterman a long time ago, way before I started this blog, and really liked it, but I think this book is even better. It's an almost perfect YA disaster book. 

I also really liked how guns were part of the story in a very political way, which is also really suitable for a current audience. I also found myself really really thirsty while reading this, while vowing to do better about wasting water!

What age range is it for? 14+ due to violence

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes Alyssa and Garrett are mixed race. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not in the beginning, but throughout the book, yes. I will warn for violence, for death, and for trauma. 

Is there any sex stuff? There's a couple of examples of sexual assault

Are drugs mentioned or used? There's a couple of mentions of marijuana but I think that's all. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, lots. Some of it is violent, trigger warnings apply.

Are there swear words? Maybe a couple if any. 

What criticisms do I have? Honestly, I really only have one big one, and it's about the lack of discussion of other drinks. Okay, I get that the taps don't work which affects drinking water and cooking, but no one seems to have any stockpiles of, like, Coke? It's weird. Right at the beginning Garrett drinks a Gatorade but after that no one seems to think about any other kind of drink? I didn't get it, because it would still hydrate you, you could still use other drinks. There's bits where they're looking for water sources, but don't seem to ever run across half a bottle of lemonade which might help? I thought it was quite strange. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. It's really interesting and good. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? All the books that I bought at the lit fest are hanging around in my bedroom and it was top of the pile! 

What other books is it like? It really reminded me of Gone by Michael Grant, which has a similar setting and has no adults in it. 

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'll definitely keep it!

The Curse of Sara Douroux by C A Wittman - Review

Sunday, April 7, 2019

I got this book on Netgalley, I think I was pre-approved for it, so thank you to the publisher for that. I was granted access in exchange for a review but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I don't really know where to start with this book. I didn't love it, but I did like elements of it. Let me start with the premise. Sara is in her sophomore year of high school on the Hawaiian island of Maui, in 1985. She lives with her elderly parents, Louis and Annette, who keep to themselves and don't let her out much. She is adopted; she is mixed race and her parents are white. At school she doesn't have many friends, but Jenny, a newcomer to Hawaii, tries to be friendly. Jenny is being bullied by Sunami, whose family lives in the valley, some of whom used to live in the house that Jenny now lives in.

One day Sara is told that her cousins are coming to stay. She has never met them before, and when they arrive she's not introduced to them by name. They don't speak. They seem ill; they're very pale and don't eat. Sara's parents seem terrified of them, and are keeping secrets from her about where the cousins have come from.

Meanwhile, Jenny sees a white woman with long hair outside her bedroom window at night, and Sunami's little cousin Mele has seen the same woman. Jenny and Sunami have to work together to try to work out what's happening.

So far, so good. I liked the beginning of the book and found it genuinely creepy when the cousins turned up. I'm not good with horror things, but reading it is different to seeing it on screen and I can cope with it more. But it is still really well written. For about the first 40 percent of the book.

Then I felt it lost its way a lot. It didn't feel as thoroughly edited as the first hald. There were soooo many characters that it was hard to keep track, and so many subplots that I lost thread of them all. At one point characters called Angela, Annette, and Analise were all talking, and with similar names it was hard to keep them straight. There's a subplot about a person called River that just fizzles out, and I felt like the ending was just baffling - it builds and builds but there's no crescendo and not much resolution. We didn't see what happened afterwards to two main characters. There's a mythology that is incomplete and inconsistent which just makes it frustrating for a reader, and there were other inconsistencies in the narrative that just wound me up more.

I liked the setting of Hawaii, I thought this was a good setting for a book and I liked the conflict between the native Hawaiians and the white incomers. I liked how the English used by the Hawaiians was portrayed, that felt very real and I appreciated learning about it. I didn't understand really why Sara's parents were French, and there's a few decisions like this that didn't make sense. Like why set it in 1985? What was significant about that, except for the fact that it meant no one had a mobile phone? I don't know. I did read the whole book because I wanted to see how it ended, but after a strong start I was honestly disappointed. I'm giving it two out of five.


Killing Honour by Bali Rai - Review

Thursday, April 4, 2019


Where did I get it? My BFF bought it for me years ago, but I hadn't ever got round to read it. Then I pulled it out to take to the Lit Fest to get Bali Rai to sign, so I thought I should read it! 

What's it about? Sat is fifteen at the beginning of the book. He's the youngest in a traditional Sikh family. His older brother is married to Mandy and then his sister Jas gets married to Taz Atwal. Jas doesn't seem happy but Sat is too wrapped up in himself to really notice. Then Taz and his brother announce that Jas has run off with her secret lover, who is Muslim.

Sat's family are shocked, and each retreat into themselves. His dad starts drinking a lot; his mum avoids the gurdwara because she feels ashamed. Sat is shown the proof of her affair, but doesn't believe it. He doesn't think Jas would do that kind of thing, so he sets out to try to uncover what happened to her.

There's always other narratives, so we see Taz's inner circle, and some of the abuse that women have suffered.

I really liked this book. It's written in a very simplistic style, but it really works. I felt for Sat, I wanted him to succeed. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Obviously. I'm not sure I've read about many Sikh characters, so I really liked that. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, trigger warning for sexual assault, be careful with yourself. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes there's cocaine use 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, although it isn't very graphic. 

Are there swear words? Yes, judiciously. 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none. I really liked Sat and his family. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely! 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Literally because I met Bali and really liked him (he liked my partner's political badges!) and I read (Un)Arranged Marriage about sixteen years ago. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of Moonrise by Sarah Crossan for the family aspect. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I have to keep it, it's signed!



The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier - Review

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

I bought this Penguin Modern Classic book for a pound in a bookshop in Ironbridge a couple of weeks ago. They had around thirty titles in the shop and I would have liked to buy more, but decided to just stick to this du Maurier short story.

I've read lots of her work over the years. I'm actually named after the novel Rebecca which my mum really liked, and it's one of my favourite books too. I love Jamaica Inn, too, I like how menacing and sinister it is. I've got six of her other books, including short stories which include the short story that became the film The Birds (one of my favourite films, and I share my birthday with Tippi Hedren!). But I hadn't ever read this short story, so I thought I'd buy it.

It's a bit like Frankenstein, it's a science fiction story which is somehow unlike other works by du Maurier I've read and yet very similar. There's definitely a menace to it, definitely a discomfitting undercurrent. The narrator, Stephen, is an engineer and at the beginning he's sent to work at an isolated laboratory in rural Suffolk, at the request of his boss, who is friends with the head scientist there, Mac. Stephen arrives and is immediately cautious. Mac has three computers in his lab, and through them he's managed to create call signals for a dog and for a little girl with Down's syndrome. He is looking to isolate the essence of life, I guess that which could also be called a soul.

The only problem with this book is that it wasn't long enough! I loved it, I thought it was really macabre and creepy. I'm going to make my partner read it!


 

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