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Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo - Review

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

This is another of the Carnegie longlist books that I managed to get at the library before everyone was told to stay at home. I started reading it while still finishing something else, but then really got into it and finished it one evening. It's middle grade so quite a short, straightforward book, but it has a real depth and a lot of heart that I really liked. I would definitely read something else by Kate DiCamillo!

The book is set in the mid 1970s and stars Louisian Elefante. She is twelve and has been brought up by her Granny, who is an eccentric character and who believes that there is a curse upon the family. It was brought about because her dad, Louisiana's great-grandfather, a magician, sawed his wife in half and didn't put her together again.

Louisiana is woken up in the middle of the night by Granny and told that they are leaving Florida because of the curse. The two travel to Georgia, where Granny becomes unwell and has to have dental surgery. The two hole up in a motel, where Louisiana meets Burke Allen and his crow. Then everything goes haywire, and Louisiana is left to muddle her way through it.

Apparently she made an appearance in a previous book about her friend Raymie Clarke, which I would like to read. I found the book funny, touching, and a really good middle grade story for 9-11 year olds. I'm giving it four out of five.


Lark by Anthony McGowan - Review

Saturday, March 28, 2020

At the end of February I saw tweets about the Carnegie longlist, and thought I should definitely get to reading some of those books. The longlist seemed incredibly strong this year, and I was eager to get to a few in particular. I keep a bullet journal/catch all journal hybrid, so I wrote the list down in there, and then used my local library website to see which of the books was available for me to request. About six or seven were, so I requested three and then picked them up at the library in the middle of March. I've scheduled this post for the end of March, but as I type the government is advising to stay at home if you can because of Covid-19, and I hope that many libraries will shut down to help stop the spread of the virus, although I'm sure this needs to be a government directive unlike currently. All this to say, I didn't go to the library recently but I do believe passionately in supporting your local ones when it is possible.

Anyway Lark by Anthony McGowan was one of the books I requested. It's a Barrington Stoke book, meaning it's quite short, and printed on thick paper and with a font intended to be reader friendly. I really like Barrington Stoke books and have read quite a few. They're fun little stories, always brilliantly done by the author. This book is the third in a series about the same two main characters, apparently, but it works perfectly well as a standalone story. There's definitely enough background for the reader to understand where the characters come from.

The book is about brothers Nicky and Kenny, who are youngish teenagers in the book. Kenny is older, but has some kind of learning disability and goes to a special school, so Nicky is the one to look after the two of them most of the time. I think they're about 13/14. They live with their dad and his girlfriend Jenny, and have done ever since their mum left when they were about four/five. Their dad had an alcohol problem to which is written about, but not in much depth (I assume there's more about it in the previous books).

Nicky and Kenny are about to see their mum for the first time in years and are understandably anxious about it. Their dad suggests that they go for a walk somewhere on the Yorkshire moors one day while he's at work. They live closeish to Leeds so have to get on three buses first, and then they set off along a public footpath.

However, it starts to snow, and darkness is setting in, and neither boy is really dressed for cold weather. Nicky has the idea to go over the hill instead of around it, and then something terrible happens, and the boys have to work together to get back.

I loved the book, I thought it was a really good story. I liked Nicky and how much he looked after his brother. I loved the northern setting (still so sorely needed!) and the story is really complete. I utterly recommend the book! I'm giving it four out of five.


The Runaway by Linda Huber - Blog Tour

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Hello, I'm really happy today to welcome you all to my blog for this stop on the tour for Linda Huber's new book The Runaway. Please do check out all the other stops on the tour because I'm sure there's lots of lovely reviews to read!

I liked the book, I thought it was an interesting premise and I liked Nicola and her tenacity throughout the book. I liked Kelly and thought she was a pretty typical teenager. I could picture the house in Cornwall perfectly and thought the setting - sunny, easy, breezy Cornwall - really added to a juxtaposition with the threat of the book. I did see some of the twists and turns coming, but felt this was a decent book about a family falling apart. I liked how quickly the ending came, when it came, and I liked the flashbacks throughout which explained more about Ed's personality to us.

Here's the description of the book:

Bad things happen in threes – or so it seems to Nicola. The death of her mother-in-law coincides with husband Ed losing his job and daughter Kelly getting into trouble with the police. Time to abandon their London lifestyle and start again by the sea in far-away Cornwall.
It should be the answer to everything – a new home, a new job for Ed and a smaller, more personal school for fifteen-year-old Kelly. But the teenager hates her new life, and it doesn’t take long before events spiral out of control and the second set of bad things starts for Nicola.
Some secrets can’t be buried.
Or… can they?
And here's information about the author, Linda Huber:
Linda Huber grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, but went to work in Switzerland for a year aged twenty-two, and has lived there ever since. Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle. Currently she teaches one day a week, and writes psychological suspense novels and feel-good novellas with (most of) the rest of her time.
Her writing career began in the nineties, when she had over fifty short stories published in women’s magazines before turning to psychological suspense fiction. The Runaway is her ninth book, and is set mostly in Cornwall, where she spent several happy holidays as a child.
Linda’s other project is a series of feel-good novellas written under the pen name Melinda Huber and set on the banks of Lake Constance, just minutes from her home in north-east Switzerland. She really appreciates having the views enjoyed by her characters right on her own doorstep!
Links:
Amazon Author Page: viewAuthor.at/LindaHuber

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando - Review

Saturday, March 21, 2020


First of all this is a book about a boy who has just lost his brother to suicide, so there is obviously a lot of chat about suicide. Danielle talks at the beginning of the book about how she was bullied at school and attempted suicide because of that, so obviously this book is very personal for her. 

I also have to say that I have the experience of surviving the suicide of a loved one. I lost my dad to suicide when I was 24, when he was 55. He had been ill for quite a while beforehand, but we obviously didn't know it would end in suicide. It's twelve years later and I still deal with the grief of it. Suicide is a grief like no other - not only is it a sudden death, but it's got a unique grief to it because there's understandably anger, abandonment, and an eternal questioning of why it happened and how you could have done something to help. After Caroline Flack's recent death, I wrote this piece for Global Comment about surviving a suicide, which I would encourage you all to read. What I'm saying is, this is a subject close to my heart and I really wanted the book to do it justice. 

Where did I get it? Netgalley, so many thanks to Simon & Schuster for granting me access to this book. 

What's it about? Nate is fifteen years old and lives in Wythenshawe in Manchester with his mum, two brothers Saul and Al, and sister Phoebe. At the very beginning of the book, it is just a couple of days since Al has taken his own life. Nate found him and is obviously very shocked and dealing with his grief. Nate also feels really guilty because Al phoned him just before he died, but Nate didn't pick up and now he thinks that if he had, he could have saved Al. 

He makes friends with Al's friend Megan. Half of the novel is told from her point of view. Al was an artist, and Megan starts to work with Al's artwork to find out what he was going through. There's also excerpts from Al's sketchbook, things he wanted to write down, at the beginning of each chapter. 

Nate is convinced there's some reason as to why Al died, and he tries to uncover why Al had stopped talking to her best friend Lewi. Lewi hangs around with these idiots Eli and Connor now, and Nate isn't sure what happened. However, Saul, Nate's eldest brother, wants him to leave things alone.

Meanwhile Megan, who liked Al but never really stood up for him, mostly because she feared teasing from her best friend Tara. Now that Al is dead, she feels awful about it. Tara keeps saying awful things to her and Megan starts to put some distance between them. There's more bullying going on, especially online. There's quite a few excerpts of online harassment and so on. 

This book is great because it's set in the north and features a working class family! It's something we badly need more of in YA fiction and I am so happy I got to read this book for that reason as well as many others. Go, buy it immediately. 

What age range is it for? 15+ as there's some violence and obviously talk about suicide. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, and that's all I'll say. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Nate and his family are mixed race. Their dad, who walked out a couple of years prior to the book, is black. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No, but there's obviously chat about bad mental health and so on. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I think there's a few mentions of weed, but nothing graphic or too strong. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously. Some of it is graphic as Nate comes to terms with his brother's death, so be careful. 

Are there swear words? Yes, judiciously used. I actually loved the way language was used in the book, and the way that especially Nate's personality came out through the slang he used. It felt really northern, too, for instance there was a lot of "I weren't" instead of "I wasn't". 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, but there were a couple of times when I thought discussion of how Al killed himself was too graphic. This may have been changed before the final print, though.  

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely, it's brilliant. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just wanted to get to it quickly!

What do I think of the cover? I think it's really vibrant and eye catching, and it's a bit like some of Al's artwork, so it works really well. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of Jackpot by Nic Stone, the family situations are written about similarly. 

How many stars? Five out of five, it's absolutely fantastic. I loved both Nate and Megan and thought their grief was brilliantly done. 

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly was published on 9th March 2020. 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. 

Unbroken, an Anthology edited by Marieke Nijkamp - Review

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


I got this for my birthday last year from Lucinda, I think, and around my birthday this year I remembered it, so pulled it off the shelves. I started it weeks ago, and read about half, but then I got stuck on one story and put it down to read something else. However, I then decided to just skip that story and finish the book. I didn't gel with it, and that's fine. I'm not telling you which story it was, because it doesn't really matter - just because it wasn't for me doesn't mean you won't love it. That's the beauty of short story anthologies, really - there's such a mix and there's something for everyone.

So the premise of this anthology is that it is stories starring disabled teens. I think in most of the cases, the authors are disabled too. Many of the teens featured live at the intersection of another minority too, whether they are queer, or teens of colour, or are living in poverty or in other precarious situations. Lots of the stories are really good, it was only a couple that I didn't like and ended up skipping.

The stand out stories for me were one about a girl who is blind and who rides a tandem bike, one about a bipolar kid trying to keep it all together for her family, and one about a daughter of Mother Nature who stands up to her bullies by making it snow. Most of the stories are contemporary, but there's a few that are historical and one that is fantastical in nature. I felt like there was a good scope of disabilities represented, both physical and mental. I'm giving this three and a half out of five.

Perfect Liars by Rebecca Reid - Review

Saturday, March 14, 2020


I saw a review of this somewhere and thought it sounded pretty cool, so when I had an Amazon voucher recently I bought this along with a coupe more books I'd been wanting. I picked it up straight away, thinking it would be an interesting thriller kind of book.

The premise is that there are three women, aged in their early 30s, who are friends and have been since they were at boarding school together as teenagers. One of them, Lila, is kind of a mess, and threatening to spill a secret about something that happened while they were in their first term of sixth form. Georgia gets Nancy to come back over from her home in Boston for the two of them to sort Lila out. She throws a dinner party for herself, her husband Charlie, Lila, her husband Roo, Nancy, and Nancy's new boyfriend Brett. Over the course of the evening the reader sees their lives now, and the devastating end the evening has, and then through flashbacks we learn what happened at school. 

I loved the premise but the book really doesn't live up to standards. Firstly, there is just not one person in the entire book who is anything like a decent person. All three women are absolutely reprehensible, and completely spoilt, selfish, and shallow. Charlie and Roo are equally bad. Brett is completely pointless, he's Nancy's fiance but she doesn't love him and he's just eye candy. The three women have an awful friendship where they're totally trying to compete and get one over on the others and where they see malice in every compliment. I just could not have friends like these. I love my friends, I'm happy I have friends like them because god, these three were awful. 

So in the past, they were at a boarding school together. Nancy and Lila are from rich families, although Nancy sulks because her parents write and talk about her, and Lila is annoyed because her dad has a much younger wife and new children. (Her mother died, but this is glossed over and only pulled out when Lila wants sympathy). Georgia was a scholarship girl and lived in fear of losing her scholarship. I did actually think this part was well written and understandable. The girls arrive back ready for their first year of sixth form and instead of being given the three person dorm they had been promised, they've been split up. Lila has been put in the three bed with Heidi and Jenny. She was friends with Heidi a few years ago, but the two have grown apart and now Heidi is subjected to bullying by Nancy for being, well, not thin and beautiful like the three girls. 

The three girls are absolutely furious that they haven't been given the dormitory they wanted, and it becomes clear this is the fault of a new teacher, Miss Brandon. She's young, and wants the girls to branch out into other friendships. They take against her, and get to absolutely loathe her. I didn't feel like they had enough reason to really hate her, to be honest. She doesn't really do that much to them; their reactions seemed disproportionate. They develop a way to get "back" at her, and although we don't see what has happened until near the beginning of the book, it's this secret which has kept the women together throughout the next sixteen years and which Lila is threatening to reveal.

In the modern time, she is a mum to Inigo and is struggling with him. She is probably suffering postnatal depression but her husband doesn't seem to care too much. She is drinking too much and the two of them routinely argue at dinner parties so aren't invited out much anymore. There's some kind of money troubles too (Roo has had to remain a member of just ONE club, the HORROR). I felt sorry for Lila even if I didn't like her.

Georgia is married to an aspiring politician who has far too much money and is actually insufferable. She works at an estate agent's, a "silly little job" that she needs because she sends all her wages to her parents as they're struggling. She is trying to get pregnant and has done several cycles of IVF but without results. She keeps this from her friends, however, because??? Well actually it's not clear why. Because she hates her friends and they hate her, possibly. She lives in a huge house in Notting Hill but the shame of it is that they have to rent out the basement flat, can you IMAGINE. I don't know how these rich people do it, I really don't. 

Nancy is completely awful, just a horrible kid and a horrible woman. She's cold and calculating and bullies her way through life. We're possibly meant to feel sorry for her because of her parents, but honestly they seemed a lot more fun than she ever did. She's awful, end of. 

I didn't really understand the end of the book; I wasn't sure what I wasn't seeing, but it really wasn't spelt out clearly enough for me. I've read a few reviews and everyone seems to have loved this book, but I definitely didn't. As I said, I don't think their reasons for hating Miss Brandon were anything like justified. The dinner party just went on and on and on forever, and Lila is outside in the cold for about an hour for no reason. I think the dinner party could have been cut down and more time could have been spent on the past and Miss Brandon.

Then there were inconsistencies that drove me mad. The book was published in 2018 so we can assume the modern time is then, making the women about the same age as me (I was 34 in 2018). Why, then, sixteen years ago, did they have iPhones and social media? We definitely did not - things like Myspace and Livejournal existed, of course, but Facebook and internet on phones and a more modern concept of "social media" definitely didn't. The first iPhone didn't come out until 2007, several years later! Then as I said Georgia rents out the basement flat of her house, but several times someone goes down to the cellar to get something? How does that work? It just came off as lazy storytelling and bad editing. 

I was going to give this three out of five but honestly it pissed me off so much that it only gets two. 

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom - Review

Thursday, March 12, 2020


My friend Lucinda gave this to me for my birthday and said it was really good, so I was looking forward to getting to it. I picked it up one night in bed and ended up reading about a third of it before I went to sleep. It really grabbed me.

Kai is a trans woman and this book is kind of a memoir about her running away from her home town - named only as Gloom - to the big city, where she lands among her trans sisters on the Street of Light and Miracles. She is barely 18, and she finds refuge among women like her. She gets dresses and red shoes, and when another trans woman is found dead, she forms a vigilante gang with other femmes to try to get their own back.

There's poems from her notebook and letters home to her sister. There's some history of her as a teen, but not tons. There are fantastical elements, when things that aren't natural happen, and I found them really interesting, and well written, even though they take this book out of a plain memoir into something else.

It's a short book but I really liked it, and felt like I'd learnt something by the end. Kai has some really lovely descriptions and use of words, and I felt like I could picture the Street of Light and Miracles perfectly. I'm giving this four out of five.

The Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens - Review

Monday, March 9, 2020

Another day, another Robin Stevens post! Honestly I should just set myself up as the ultimate fangirl, shouldn't I? This book is a tiny mystery written for World Book Day. I ordered it ages ago and it arrived just before World Book Day, and I obviously picked it up straight away because I really need more Daisy and Hazel in my life. I miss them! I'm not ready for the series to finish in the summer!

Hazel and Daisy are on holiday at the seaside, with George and Alex, the Junior Pinkertons, and Daisy's uncle Felix and aunt Lucy. Hazel is imagining the seaside will be like it is in Hong Kong, with warm water and soft white sand, but of course English seaside is very very different. It's cold, and it rains, and you usually cannot swim in the sea.

In their hotel an Olympic swimmer called Antonia is staying. On their first night in the hotel, Daisy and Hazel overhear an argument between her and some other people. They have to go to bed, but Daisy insists that everyone gets up early in the morning to go for a swim.

The four detectives head out around 7am but before they can start swimming they find a body. Antonia's body. She is dressed in her swimming things, but when the detectives get close to her, Alex can smell that she smells of soap, like she is clean from the bath, and not of the sea, as if she has been swimming and drowned.

Daisy and Hazel have to race to find out what happened to Antonia, and of course they do, because they are both brilliant. I felt like this was a cute little mystery and I liked the resolution. I hope plenty of kids pick this up for World Book Day!


The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens - Review

Friday, March 6, 2020


I don't know if you know about this book, so my review will include an explanation of how it came about. I bought it on Amazon a couple of weeks ago - I had an Amazon voucher to use and as you know how much I love Robin Stevens, it was a crime that I hadn't read this book yet. I immediately picked it up, because I really wanted to read it.

The somewhat confusing back story to this book is that it is a sequel to a book by another author. Siobhan O'Dowd wrote a book called The London Eye Mystery, starring Ted Spark, his sister Kat, and their cousin Salim. Salim goes missing and Ted and Kat have to detect to find him. Siobhan then made notes about a sequel book called The Guggenheim Mystery, but before she could write it, she died. Robin Stevens was approached to write the book, using only the characters and the title.

I knew Robin would have done the book justice, and she has. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered The London Eye Mystery on eBay immediately so I can see where these characters originated and read Siobhan's work. I will probably end up picking it up really soon!

Okay so Ted and Kat live in London. Ted is twelve, Kat is fourteen. Ted is autistic, although the word isn't used, which would be my one tiny criticism of the book. He is obviously not neurotypical, and there are lots of pointers to say that he is autistic - so why not spell that out clearly? Quite a few books do this and it really annoys me. It's okay to be autistic!

Salim and his mum Gloria used to live in Manchester, but after Salim went missing Gloria is very over-protective and the two of them have moved to New York, where Gloria is a curator at the Guggenheim Museum. Ted and Kat and their mum go to visit Salim and Gloria, and on their second day there, they visit the Guggenheim. While they're there, the fire alarm goes off and everyone evacuates the building. When the fracas dies down, it becomes obvious that In The Black Square by Kandinsky has been stolen.

Gloria is absolutely distraught. Things get worse the next morning when Gloria is arrested for the theft. Her credit card was used to order a removals van to pick up a crate from the museum on the morning of the theft. The police are convinced she is guilty, but Salim, Ted, and Kat aren't convinced. They set out to prove Gloria is innocent, and have to go halfway across New York City to do so.

The characters in the book are lovely. I really liked Ted, and I liked Kat as the exasperated older sister. I loved how there were no parents involved - Mum and Gloria are absent for the vast majority of the book. New York is described beautifully and the museum itself is described so well that any kid reading this will be able to imagine it. I liked the mystery, and I thought it resolved itself really well. I'm giving this a well deserved five out of five - it sits really well alongside Robin's other books.

The Scent of Death by Simon Beckett - Review

Monday, March 2, 2020

I was still really struggling a couple of weeks ago to get into a couple of books that I really wanted to read, so I picked up this book from the side of the bed. I bought it in The Book Vault in Barnsley town centre back in December. I was with my friend Sarah and when I picked it up, intrigued by the premise, she said she had read it and liked it, and that it was better than the first one in the series. That sold it to me, so I bought it.

It's about a forensic anthropologist called Dr Hunter, who has worked with the police on previous occasions when needed to look at bones. He's called to St Jude's, an abandoned hospital on the verge of being demolished in order for an office block to be built on its grounds. A body has been found in the loft and Hunter has to help the pathologist to identify the woman. The building is precarious and while they're in situ the pathologist, Dr Conrad, falls through the floor into the room below. He isn't badly hurt but the room he's fallen into isn't on the building plans. It's been bricked up from the outside, and inside are two bodies, both of which have been restrained and which show signs of having been burnt.

The first body is given to Hunter to work on. The woman was pregnant, the bones of a tiny foetus found within her. She's been mummified, possibly thanks to the conditions in the attic, and wrapped in tarpaulin. Hunter expects to work on the other two bodies, but they're handed over to a much younger expert called Mears.

Meanwhile, in his own life, Hunter is living in a flat borrowed from a friend of a friend in a secure block, a flat that is much posher than his own. This is because he was stalked by a woman called Grace and was stabbed by her and left for dead. The police, including Ward who he is working for currently, thought it better if he moved. Hunter previously lost his wife and child in a car accident, and is now in a relationship with a woman called Rachel. At the beginning of the book she is going to Greece to work for a few weeks, leaving Hunter alone.

He also helps an old woman called Lola and is shocked to discover she is caring for her adult son at home. As St Jude's throws up more grisly secrets, Hunter becomes closer and closer to the investigation.

That's my run down of the plot, but really only the beginning of the plot, because a LOT happens in this book and a lot of it is ridiculous. For one thing, the police tell Hunter a lot of information that they really shouldn't. There's a lot of circumstance and coincidences, which annoyed me. Hunter does some really stupid things at times, too. I found it compelling, and wanted to finish it, but it's not like a normal police procedural. I guess that is partly because Hunter isn't police, but I'm not sure the effect works all that well. I also found a lot of it just beyond belief, and the last hundred pages just frustrated me because I felt like the story was over and then it just wasn't.

I'm glad I read the book and tried the author, but I wouldn't rush to read anything else by him. I'm giving this a three out of five.


 

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