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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward - Review

Thursday, May 30, 2019

I bought this off eBay because I've been wanting to read it since it was on the shortlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction last year. I actually wanted this to be my book club choice for the year, but went for the Poison Tree instead. I still wanted to read this though.

It is narrated by multiple people. First of all there's Jojo, who is thirteen. It's his birthday right at the beginning of the book. He lives with his little sister Kayla, to whom he is more of a parent than a brother, his mother Leonie, who doesn't really care about her children, preferring their father Michael, and Leonie's parents Pop and Mam. Mam is dying of cancer. Pop is elderly, having had children in his fifties, and spent time in Parchman prison when he was fifteen. Leonie and her parents are black; Michael is white. Michael is in prison at Parchman, about to be released.

Pop tells Jojo stories about being in prison, telling him about a boy even younger than him, Richie, who was imprisoned and then badly beaten when he broke a hoe.

Michael is being released so Leonie sets off to pick him up, driving several hours north from their Mississippi home. She takes Jojo and Kayla and her friend Misty. They stay with a "friend" near to the prison. Misty and Leonie get high with him. Jojo sees something cooking meth round about. Kayla is really ill and keeps throwing up.

Meanwhile, the whole family is kind of psychic. Mam always used her skills of seeing what was wrong in someone's body to help heal them even though she couldn't do it for herself. Leonie, when she gets high, sees her dead brother Given and argues with him. Jojo can hear animals sing and can sometimes see ghosts. Kayla can also see ghosts.

I liked this book - not really my usual kind of thing but I liked the gothic feel to it and the crossing of the veil in all directions. I loved Jojo and Kayla and even though Leonie was a pretty bad mum I still felt a lot of sympathy for her. I will warn for violence, racial hatred, suicide and death. It is pretty dark. I'm giving it four out of five.

The Blue Salt Road by Joanne M Harris - Review

Monday, May 27, 2019

I got this book for Christmas from my friend Laura. We tend to always buy each other books, which is always nice. She knows I like a lot of Joanne Harris' books, so she bought this one, which is a standalone novel published under the name Joanne M Harris. I was looking for something else on my shelves last week (actually Joanne's book The Lollipop Shoes to lend my mother, because she says she's never read it although I'm sure she has) and found this and pulled it out.

It's a story about a selkie, which is a mythological creature that looks like a seal but which can shed its skin to become a human and walk on land. I've heard selkie stories before but never read a whole book so I was interested. There are plenty of stories about selkie women who shed their skins and fall in love with a man. If the man hides their skin, they cannot return to the sea and must live on land forever, forever mourning their lost seal half. What I'm saying is, I knew what I was getting into with this book, mostly.

This book though is about a selkie man, and the girl he falls in love with, Flora. She hides his selkie skin in the cedarwood chest passed down from her mother and grandmother and binds him to the land for good. She is pregnant with his baby so the two are married. The selkie then goes to sea with her father, to hunt whales and seals, and there he discovers the truth about himself.

The book has a really flowy, mystical vibe to it, which I felt really suited the story and which I liked. Joanne is excellent as using language to portray mood and setting, and I really felt like I got the image of the tiny fishing village where the book was set. There's also really gorgeous illustrations in the book, which really added to the fairy tale feel too. It's not usual kind of thing, but I loved it! Four out of five.

A Girl Called Justice by Elly Griffiths - Review

Saturday, May 25, 2019

You know I'm a huge fan of Elly Griffiths' books, I've read all of her Ruth Galloway novels and her Stephens and Mephisto novels, so I was interested when I read that she was publishing a book for middle grade called A Girl Called Justice. So I ordered it from Wordery recently and thought I'd read it.

It is going to be compared to Robin Stevens' Detective Society novels, which you know I'm a huge fan of, so I'l start by saying that I don't think it is as good as those. It's not as fully realised or fleshed out - I didn't get as sucked into Justice's world as I do Hazel's and Daisy's. I will say that if you like Robin Stevens' books - or know a tween that does - you'd probably like this.

At the beginning of the novel Justice, aged 12, is going to Highbury school for the first time. Until then she's been homeschooled by her mum, but her mum has recently died (which kind of annoyed me, because why do mothers always have to die, and also Justice didn't tell anyone, which struck me as stupid on her behalf) so her dad, who is a QC, has decided to send her to school. The school is on the edge of Romney Marsh and as soon as Justice arrives she's determined that it is a creepy prison and that she won't escape.

Upon arrival she discovers that a maid, Mary, has recently died. She's sure there's a mystery and sets to unravel it. She is put in a dormitory with four girls, one of who she immediately decides she dislikes. She puts herself in some pretty stupid decisions in order to find out if Mary was murdered, and throughout I just found her so gung ho that I couldn't really get into the book. It just missed the mark for me, which I found really sad, because I wanted to love it. I will probably read the next one, if there is another one, because I hope these are just teething pains as Elly comes to grips with the nuances of writing for younger people.

Close to Home by Cara Hunter - Review

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I got this book recently from Janet in the book swap, and it reminded me how much I really wanted to read it. It had been on my wishlist for ages, since I read a review of it on my friend Jo's site, I think. I do like a police procedural; I find them easy to read and not too taxing on the brain.

So in Close to Home, a little girl called Daisy Mason has gone missing from a family party. Supposedly dressed in a daisy costume, no one saw her after around 11pm. Was she taken by a random stranger, by someone at the party, or by someone closer to home? DI Adam Fawley knows that often it is someone within the family.

And he's not short of suspects. Daisy's dad Barry is a builder, has no alibi. He's also been on dating websites. He says he was driving around before the party, but it turns out that could have been when Daisy disappeared. Her mum Sharon is cold, keeping very much to herself, and isn't behaving how people think she "should" after Daisy's disappearance. Daisy's brother Leo, only slightly older than her, is odd too, clearly keeping secrets and finding life difficult.

Parts of the book are told from Adam's point of view, which I liked, but found it frustrating how we were drip fed the story of what had recently happened in his family. This is the first book, though, so I'm sure we'll see more of Adam's history in less awkward ways in future books. Parts are told from the points of view of some of his underlings. I liked Verity Everett a lot (although found that a really awkward name to be said out loud???), I think she'll go far. Then there's also Facebook and Twitter posts, which I could have lived without, but I did like how they often had correct information without knowing it.

I liked the book, but I will say that I found the drip feeding of information quite annoying in places. There were also unnecessary cliffhangers quite a lot which really frustrated me. But, I read this in a really short amount of time, enjoyed it, and will definitely look for more of this series in the future. I'm giving it four out of five.

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly - Review

Sunday, May 19, 2019

This book was my choice for my book club this year. I noticed it on the list of books that the library has available for readers groups, and I enjoyed He Said/She Said when I read it a couple of years ago, so I thought I'd enjoy this too. And I did, I think I liked it more than He Said/She Said, actually.

I read the first few percent a few months ago, but couldn't get into it. But it's book club this week so I had no choice! If I have a book like this that I HAVE to get into, I find it good to read on holiday when I've got nothing else to distract me. So that's exactly what I did last week, when I was on holiday in Wales. I got into it and really liked it.

So our protagonist is Karen. The novel has a dual narrative, one set now, in the late noughties, where Karen lives in a tiny cottage with her daughter, Alice, and where her partner, Rex, has just come out of prison after doing ten years. Karen and Alice have to learn to live with him, in a way they never have, and Karen lives in fear of any of her neighbours finding out what Rex did.

Meanwhile, we see how Karen met Rex ten years ago. She meets his sister, Biba, and is soon drawn into her bohemian world. Rex and Biba live in a big house in North London and spend their days having parties, taking drugs, and not worrying about what they'll do when the summer ends. Obviously, the reader knows that at least one murder has taken place, but it takes most of the book to find out exactly what happened, and to find out how the two narratives are going to collide. 

I liked Karen as a character, even if I thought she made some stupid decisions. I loved the setting of Biba and Rex's house and family. I guessed some of the twists, but thought they were brought about in a really interesting way. The book as a whole reminded me of Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller, only younger and sexier. I really like Erin Kelly's work and will definitely read something else by her in the future. 

I'll trigger warn for suicide and murder. I'm giving this four out of five. 

Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard - Review

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it at Northern YA Lit Fest in March. Alexandra was one of the panellists and I liked the sound of her book so I bought it and got her to sign it. 

What's it about? Helen has just moved to London to live with her dad and half siblings. Her mum died when she was ten and she's been living with her grandma, but now her dad wants her to live with him. The twist though is that her dad is Zeus, the Greek god, and her siblings are Aphrodite, Eros, and Apollo. They are immortal gods, but they have to keep their powers under wraps in order to be allowed to live on earth.

Helen tries to fit in with her family, but Aphrodite, who is trying to make it as a make up artist, seems to hate her. Adonis, Aphrodite's son, has auditioned for the latest big talent show, and her dad has disappeared off with his new girlfriend. Helen is trying to make friends at school, but she can hardly invite them over to a house full of gods, can she? Then there's Marco, a boy that Helen really likes... 

I liked the premise of the book, and I liked Helen as a character. I didn't really like the book, though. Time skipped about which confused me, and I think it wasn't edited very well so there were some factual errors. Helen writes letters to her dead mother, and they were written in a really stilted way, explaining things that her mum would have known. I thought the twists were really obvious. I thought that it skewed a lot younger than it was supposed to. I'm sad, because I really wanted to love the book, but I didn't.

I would definitely keep an eye out for something by Alexandra in the future, though, I think she's a really promising writer and I wish only the best for her. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Helen is mixed race - her mum was black and there's some nice stuff about her background and culture. 

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, a bit, it's not graphic 

Are there swear words? Not many, if any. 

What criticisms do I have? I think I outlined them above. It just wasn't for me. 

Would I recommend the book? I sort of still would, if it sounds like your kind of thing. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? We were going on holiday and I grabbed it from the pile at the side of the bed! 

What other books is it like? I'm really not sure of any 

How many stars? Two out of five 

Where is the book going now? I will keep it, I do always keep signed copies of books. 

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown - Review

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it from Amazon a couple of years ago but hadn't got round to it before now. 

What's it about? Just before the beginning of the novel Jo is living in Athens, Georgia, with her dad, an evangelical preacher, and is an out lesbian. She spends her time having fun with her friend Dana, also a lesbian, and making out with girls in bathrooms. Then her dad marries Elizabeth, his third wife, and the family move to Rome, Georgia, which is a much smaller and more conservative town. 

Jo's dad and Elizabeth - who she rudely refers to as Three - ask Jo if she will consider staying incognito for her senior year of high school, by not being out as gay and by changing herself to fit in. In return they say she can go on a trip in the summer with Dana that she's always wanted to take, and her dad says she can start a youth radio show alongside his ministry where she can talk about sexuality and faith. 

Jo agrees, so when she starts school she introduces herself as Joanna. She meets Barnum, a junior with a developmental disability, and from there his twin sister, Mary Carlson. Mary Carlson is popular and beautiful, has a clique of popular and beautiful friends, and is straight, right? Preppy Joanna fits in just fine with this clique, and all of a sudden life is, in one way, a lot simpler. Joanna even has a pretend boyfriend, George, who has lesbian moms. 

But then she and Mary Carlson start to fall in love, and Jo doesn't tell her that this isn't all brand new ground for her as it is for Mary Carlson. Everything starts to go wrong and Jo doesn't know what to do to save it. 

There's a lot I did like about this book. I liked the environment of the small town and church where everyone knew each other's business. I liked Jo's relationship with her dad, and how her relationship with her stepmum grows throughout the book. I liked Jo and her relationships with her new friends in Rome, I thought these were really cute. I liked the romance and I liked how the girls were with each other. I also liked that it's quite explicit. I liked that Jo has faith and reconciles that with being gay. I liked the conservative thinking of some of Jo's family; it felt very real. 

However. There was lots I didn't like. I didn't really understand why Jo didn't just explain the situation to Mary Carlson and ask her to keep it to herself. It would've been so much better than lying to her. I understood why Mary Carlson was so annoyed! 

I didn't like how Barnum could literally only talk about elephants. I understood that this was what he liked most, but it made him quite one dimensional and I felt Jo patronised him quite a lot. 

I didn't like Dana - I didn't understand why Jo liked her so much or all the fun they had had beforehand. We were supposed to believe that Jo did what she did partly because she wanted to go away with Dana so badly after they'd finished school, but it just didn't feel very real to me. Jo made a ton of stupid decisions that just annoyed me, too. 

I would read something else by the same author, and I'm really glad this book exists, but I didn't love it. 

What age range is it for? 15+, I think 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes. There's quite a lot of homophobia too, which is done well, if painfully. 

Are any main characters people of colour? One of their friends, Gemma, is black, but it isn't really explored fully, although her relationship with a white boy is mentioned 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Barnum, yes, and as I've said, I don't think it was very well done. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's somewhat explicit 

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

Is there any talk of death? A bit, but nothing explicit or gory. 

Are there swear words? Yes! I really liked this! There's even the c word used extremely judiciously. 

What criticisms do I have? I think I've said them all. It could have been better. 

Would I recommend the book? If you like LGBTQ+ YA fiction then yes, absolutely, add it to the books you've read. If you're not familiar with LGBTQ+ YA, there are better examples out there, I think. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well, I bought it for Janet in our book swap as it was on her wishlist, and I realised I'd been meaning to get around to it for ages and hadn't. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me a LOT of Dress Codes for Small Towns which is, frankly, better. 

How many stars? 3 and a half out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'll probably keep it

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson - Review

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Where did I get it? I saw a recommendation for it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago and ordered it immediately from Wordery. I really recommend Wordery for books, by the way. Their prices are often very similar to Amazon and it means you can avoid Amazon. 

What's it about? Mila is a junior in school and her best friend Riley has just died. Everyone is convinced it is suicide. A week earlier, two popular girls called June and Dayton took their own lives in the park, and then Riley did too. But Mila doesn't believe Riley would do that and is convinced she's been murdered instead. 

She and Riley are witches, so Mila turns her attention to magic to try to help. At the abandoned house they used for witchy stuff, a red grimoire turns up. It has a spell in the back to raise the "wrongly dead", so Mila gathers up all the supplies - much to the disgust of local witch Toby - and does magic on Riley's grave at midnight just after her death. 

Somehow, she manages to raise not only Riley but June and Dayton too. None of them can remember their deaths or what happened to them, and none of them are too pleased to be raised from the dead as they need to stay under the radar and can't go to see their families or friends. 

Mila has to keep up a pretence of normality, but that's not easy when the school newspaper editor Aniyah gets suspicious, and Mila also has to deal with Riley's brother Xander, who she's had a crush on since forever. She's got just seven days to try to work out what happened to the girls before they have to return to their graves. 

I was recommended this book because it has a fat protagonist and it didn't disappoint. Mila is fat and although it's not really a plot point, it is mentioned in really positive ways and I liked it. 

This is a really funny book despite the sometimes dark subject matter. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No, that's about the only thing I would have liked to see that wasn't present 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Mila is Mexican and Aniyah, although not really a main character, is black - they're in the minority in their town so I liked how this was mentioned. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not really. There's mention of suicide though. It is somewhat graphic. 

Is there any sex stuff? A tiny bit - I liked how Mila felt about sex/making out, a lot 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Not unless we're counting stuff in the magic 

Is there any talk of death? Obviously. Some of it is a bit graphic but it's all in context, if that makes sense? 

Are there swear words? Yes. I loved this aspect! It was very believable and real. 

What criticisms do I have? I think the only thing is that I would have liked to see more of Mila's family. We got a few scenes with her sisters, which were lovely scenes, but I'd have liked to see her parents a bit too. I get that it's the kind of media where the parents are missing completely so that the teens can get on with the plot, but even so. 

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

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Just because I was excited to get to it!

What other books is it like? I don't know about books, but other reviews have compared it to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never watched that, but it reminded me a lot of Teen Wolf, which I loved. Just teens getting involved in things bigger than them and trying to deal with it!

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'm keeping it for sure


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