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Chinglish by Sue Cheung - Review

Monday, September 30, 2019

Where did I get it? Netgalley, many thanks to Penguin Random House Children's books for the opportunity to read this book. I was granted a free electronic copy of this book for review, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

What's it about? It is a book told in diary format, based on the true experiences of author Sue Cheung as a teenager in the 1980s. In the book, Jo Kwan lives in Coventry with her parents and her younger sister Bonny. At the very beginning of the book, she is living in Hull, while her older brother Simon lives in Coventry with their grandparents. The Kwans own a butcher's shop, but when they move to Coventry they have bought a Chinese takeaway. Upstairs is really small - there's no living room and Jo and Bonny have to share a room. Jo is thirteen and is about to start a new school.

At school she is subjected to bullying slurs but makes friends with a goth girl called Tina. She can't let Tina come home with her though and be subjected to her crazy life. She serves in the takeaway most days after school. Her mum doesn't speak much English, her grandparents don't either, and although her dad does, he prefers to stay quiet. Jo and Bonny doesn't speak Chinese very well, so all of the family has to cobble together bits of language in order to communicate. Add in some unlucky pets, and life is chaos.

The first half of the book I thought was very funny, I loved Jo trying to just cope with life and keep the two halves of her life separate, while also doing typical teenage things like dyeing her fringe and wishing she would grow. The second half, when Jo is a little bit older, is a little bit darker, showing her dad's abusive behaviour, and showing just how much Jo really wants to get out of the house, and out of Coventry. I found this half really moving, and felt like it was an important part of the book. 

There's a bit at the end where Sue Cheung talks about the bits that are real and the bits that aren't, and makes the point that this book is her truth, but not necessarily anyone else's. I liked it, I like that point too. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, and there's quite a lot of racial abuse 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

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

Is there any talk of death? No, but there is some graphic violence so be careful

Are there swear words? No, Jo actually uses "flipping" instead, haha 

What criticisms do I have? I just wish it had been longer! 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. I really liked it. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had seen positive reviews of it on Twitter. 

What do I think of the cover? I love it! It's so vibrant and has the traditional Chinese colours of yellow and red, and the image of the dragon, but that's juxtaposed against the image of the Dr Marten boot. I think it's a fab cover. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of the Adrian Mole diaries, which I loved as a teenager. I think the 80s setting adds to it, but Jo is a funny diary keeper too like Adrian. 

How many stars? Four out of five! Read this now, it's excellent. 

Arsenic and Tea by Robin Stevens - Reread

Friday, September 27, 2019

I read this book back in 2015, and although it's the second in the Detective Society series, I actually read it third. When I was reading Top Marks for Murder recently, there's a lot of mention of what happened in Arsenic and Tea, and I found it was all a bit muddy in my mind, so I decided to reread it.

The book takes place at Daisy's family home, Fallingford, over Easter, and over Daisy's birthday. Hazel and Daisy are there with their schoolmates, Beanie and Kitty. Daisy's brother Bertie is there with his friend Stephen, and their old aunt Saskia is there. There are several domestic staff, and Daisy's parents. And Mr Curtis. It becomes clear that Lady Hastings has been having a dalliance with Mr Curtis, and that he is a very suspicious character. Daisy is outraged, but trying to keep herself in check, and Hazel is just bewildered by the weird behaviour of the English upper classes. Then Mr Curtis dies, and the girls must try to discover what happened to him before the police arrive.

It's interesting, reading this back. I had forgotten exactly what happened, and that Lady Hastings' affair was common knowledge. In Top Marks for Murder she's had to kind of retire from public life, and I couldn't remember why. Nothing really seems too scandalous to me, but I understand that for the time period, it probably was. I also understand why the girls are outraged - they are fourteen after all.

I do feel like I can see that the series has matured a lot between the second book and the most recent one. It's happened so gradually so as to not really be noticeable, but I'm glad it has matured, and I think it's been done well. I loved the reintroduction to Daisy's family and family home, and I hope we get to go back there before the series ends.

Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker - Review

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

I got a copy of this on Netgalley, so thank you to Little Brown for the chance to read and review this book. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book to read, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thought and opinions are my own. Who Put This Song On? is published today.

It is a novel loosely based on the diaries and experiences of author Morgan Parker. There's more explanation at the back about which parts did happen and which parts didn't, which I liked reading afterwards, although while I was reading I accepted that it was either all true or all fiction. It's a strange crossover and while some parts of it read like memoir, there's definitely novelised sections too.

Morgan is seventeen years old at the beginning of the book, and school is about to start again. She is seeing a therapist, Susan, because over the summer of 2008 she had a bit of an episode and is suffering from anxiety and depression. She is trying her best to feel better, but she's kind of finding it difficult at school. She is one of the only black kids in her Christian school, and one of the only Democrats. Barack Obama is about to be elected, but the white kids at her school don't know anything about black history beyond Rosa Parks.

She has three friends - Meg, who sometimes seems to just wilfully misunderstand Megan, James, who is working out his sexuality, and Kelly, who is technically a virgin. She meets David at an art class she is taking, and the two of them start to bond over music. Morgan loves music - she's into sad indie and emo - and I loved all the references in the book because it was a lot of bands that I like too. I also appreciate a good mix CD or tape!

I was a lot older than Morgan in 2008 but I felt it very deeply anyway. I was a depressed teenager so I really felt Morgan's torment there. I liked how she talked about the intersection of being black and being depressed. I liked how none of her friends got it. I'm giving this four out of five - cute little book.

Oh and I think the cover is really pretty too!

Now You See Them by Elly Griffths - Review

Friday, September 20, 2019

When I read The Vanishing Box, the previous book in the Magic Man series, I felt like it had a real ending feel to the series. I thought I had said that in my blog, but I didn't. But I definitely felt like, as the fourth book, it had a wrapping up vibe, and I said to my partner that if that was the case, I would be happy with how it finished.

But then I was equally happy when Elly announced a new Mephisto and Stephens novel! We would be back with Edgar and Max! I requested it on Netgalley, so many thanks to Quercus Books for the opportunity to read this book. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

So I started the book and found that although we're back in Brighton, it's eleven years later! It's 1964! Edgar and Emma are married and have three children - Marianne, Sophie, and baby Jonathan. Edgar is now Superintendent and Emma is a housewife. And she's pretty bored and fed up. From a promising career as a detective, she's now merely Mrs Edgar Stephens and she feels she's wasting her talents somewhat.

At the station, Bob is now Detective Inspector, and there's a promising new woman police officer, Meg. She's a bit jealous of being compared to Emma, but she's got a lot of initiative. In the eleven years since the last book, Max has moved to LA, married an American starlet, and had two more children, Rocco and Elena. He's back in the UK though because another of the Magic Men has died, and because he may be filming a new film in the UK.

It's May 1964 and the mods and the rockers are set to clash on the bank holiday, but there's also a girl missing from the local private school. Her father is demanding that the police find her, but as they look into her disappearance, they uncover two more missing girls. Are they linked, and if so, how? And how does American heartthrob Bobby Hambro, currently residing in the Ritz in London, fit into it?

I loved being back with Edgar and Max and Ruby, Max's daughter from a previous relationship. Emma is great in this book - she loves Edgar and the two get along well as partners and as parents, but she's bored. The world is changing, but not quick enough for the wife of a superintendent to keep her own job. I really felt for her. I would have liked more from Edgar's point of view, although I guess that as a superintendent he is probably buried in paperwork most of the time anyway. I did think that solving the mystery came quite fast, but I liked the book. I'm giving it four out of five!

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What age range is it for? 15+

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

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

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely yes 

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

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

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

How many stars? Five out of five. 

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

Puddin' by Julie Murphy - Review

Saturday, September 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What age range is it for? 14+

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

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

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

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

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

Is there any talk of death? No. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akin by Emma Donoghue - Review

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Litter of Bones by J D Kirk - Review

Sunday, September 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu - Review

Thursday, September 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

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

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

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

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

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

Are there swear words? No 

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

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Keeper by Graham Norton - Review

Monday, September 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm giving it four out of five.


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