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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;

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

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.

You can win a digital copy of this book by entering the Rafflecopter here:

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.

No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter - Review

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Where did I get it? Netgalley. Thank you very much to Macmillan's Children's Books for the opportunity to read this novel. 

What's it about? I already know of Bethany Rutter through plus size blogging, and I saw a few people mention that she'd written a YA book with a fat protagonist, so I was eager to read it. The book is about Emily, who is seventeen, and just starting her last year of school. 

She lives with her mum and dad in Croydon, South London. Her beloved elder sister Katie is at university in Manchester. Emily and her mum are both fat. Emily is okay with this, but her mum has tried every fad diet going and is always on at Emily to join in with her. But Emily has a great sense of style and a ton of confidence. Meanwhile at school, Emily has a strong group of friends, but is bullied quite a bit by resident pretty girl Holly. Her best friend Camila has also returned from a summer in Sweden quite a bit thinner, which complicates Emily's feelings about her own body even further. 

Emily meets a boy called Joe at a party and immediately has a crush on him. She soon learns that he works in a local record shop and she sets about making the two of them friends. They share a taste in music which Emily is pleased about. The two grow closer but as they do, Emily's discomfort grows. Joe seems ashamed to be seen with her - can it really be because of her body, especially when he seems so nice otherwise?

What age range is it for? 15+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? They're not main characters, but Emily does have queer friends. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Again, not main characters, but Emily's friends. I have to say that I felt like the some of the diversity was a little bit performative? I'd have liked these secondary characters to have been fleshed out more beyond what they are. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I think maybe marijuana is mentioned, but Emily doesn't use it herself. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Maybe a couple, judiciously used 

What criticisms do I have? As above, I found the diversity a bit false and not developed enough. I also thought the book felt like it was set maybe ten or more years ago - some of the references and bands talked about seem quite out of date. I would have liked the whole thing to feel a bit more modern than the late 00s. I'm not quite sure why it felt like this, but it did. 

For myself, I did think that a lot of stuff about fat politics was a bit simple. But, I recognise that that is because I'm a fat acceptance blogger myself so none of it was new information. In that way, this book utterly wasn't written for me. It was written for teens after all, and this might all be new to them, and I'm glad it exists for them. I would recommend that anyone interested in this stuff should google more and get more information that way. 

I also found it difficult to keep track of time sometimes. Like the narrative would say "We did this for weeks/we did it often" or something like that, but then in the next bit, it would only be a week or a couple of weeks later. I thought that was odd. 

I found the book average - I think there are far better books with fat protagonists and I'd look for them first. But, I do think the introduction to fat politics would be good for many teenagers, fat or thin. 

Would I recommend the book? As above, kind of if you're the target demographic. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was keen to get to it around the time it was published. 

What do I think of the cover? I like it! I think it's cute and eyecatching. 

What other books is it like? I'd recommend The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding as being similar and better.

How many stars? Three out of five

No Big Deal will be published on 8th August 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. 


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