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A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris - Review

Saturday, September 18, 2021

I've written before that I'm a huge fan of Joanne's first few books and have reread quite a few of them. I've liked her books for about twenty years now and one of my favourite books, Five Quarters of the Orange is by Joanne. However, I've not kept up with her last few books; I don't like her mythology stuff that much. But then my friend Laura told me this book was coming out, and as I loved the previous two books so much, I ordered it straight away. Then, when it arrived, I picked it up almost straight away too. 

It's the third in a series of books about St Oswald's School, a grammar school for boys somewhere in Yorkshire. The first two are Gentlemen and Players, which again is one of my favourite books and which came out in 2005, and Different Class, which came out in 2016 and about which I don't remember much. There is also a book called Blueeyedboy which is set in the same town and has some of the same characters, but isn't set in the school. I didn't like Blueeyedboy and found it quite disturbing. 

So, we're back at St Oswald's with Roy Straitley, the Latin teacher who the boys call Quasimodo and who inhabits the Bell Tower. The New Head is La Buckfast, who was part of the previous Crisis Intervention Team. She is an ambitious woman, although slightly cold. She has admitted girls to the school, in an attempt to get more cash for the School after its catastrophic year. She also has a muddled and tragic history which is linked to both St Oswald's and King Henry's, their rival boys school also in the town. 

There's a new sports hall being built, and on the day before the first day of term, Straitley's Brodie Boys turn up and tell him that they think they've found a body in the foundations of the new building. Straitley goes to investigate and does indeed see what looks like bones and a bundle of rags and, crucially, a King Henry's Prefect badge. Straitley takes it to Ms Buckfast. He assumes the body is that of Conrad Price.

Ms Buckfast starts to tell him the story of what happened in her younger years. When she was five, her fourteen year old brother Conrad went missing. He was a pupil at King Henry's and was supposed to pick her up from school, but when he didn't arrive she walked along to King Henry's and waited for him in the locker room. She was found there some hours later, talking about a green door and "Mr Smallface". Conrad was never found and Becky never understood what she meant by either of those things. 

She then grew up in a loveless household where her parents spoke about Conrad as if he had merely popped out. They refuse to get rid of any of his things and are taken in by conmen over the years posing as Conrad. Becky had a baby at sixteen, Emily, whose father was in Different Class but I've forgotten entirely what happened to him. 

We then meet Becky again in 1989, when she is twenty-three and has qualified as a teacher. She worked atr Sunnybank (also in the same town) and met Dominic there, a teacher a decade older than her. But then she gets a job at King Henry's. Dominic doesn't want her to work there, claiming that they're all stuff snobs, but she takes a supply job. On her first day, Eric Scoones, Straitley's friend, who was found out as an abuser of boys in previous books, mistakes her for one of the boys. It's an inauspicious start and later the same day Becky sees a boy with a Prefect badge who looks just like Conrad. His disappears, though, and a few more spooky things like that happen. She makes friends with Carrie, the hippy drama teacher, and doesn't tell Dominic about the bad things. However, Emily then starts talking about Conrad and "Mr Smallface". 

Meanwhile, back in 2006, Straitley is struggling to cope with the changes in School and his health is worsening... 

I did like the book, and I liked Becky even though she's quite difficult to like. I love Straitley and always have throughout the other books. I can imagine his classroom so well, I really like it. I found some of the going backwards and forwards in time from 1971 when Conrad disappeared to 1989 and to the "present" time of 2006 quite confusing. I also think there were genuinely a couple of mistakes - the character Scoones moved between the schools as a teacher but I think there was a mistake as to where he was when at least once - but I tried to not let that detract from my enjoyment of the book. I'm giving this four out of five and the book is now destined to be lent to my mum who I hope will enjoy it too!

Once Upon A Crime by Robin Stevens - Review

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

 


It's the last ever book featuring The Detective Society! The last ever Wells & Wong mysteries! The last ever time we'll be with Daisy and Hazel! Wahhh! This isn't a full murder mystery - that was Death Sets Sail that came out last August - but instead is six little mysteries in one book together. 

I've read two of these mysteries before - I read The Case of the Missing Treasure in its own mini book that I read back in March 2019 and The Case of the Drowned Pearl was a World Book Day book that I read last March - so I didn't read those again. But I really enjoyed the other four mysteries. 

The first one is about Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy's wedding and a mystery that occurred there. There's a mystery that happened on the ship on the way back from Hong Kong but which Hazel writes up nearly a year later after the events that happened in Death Sets Sail. This one had a surprising ending where SOME PEOPLE from the series ran away to the Spanish Civil War! I was very surprised but LOVED this detail, I hope Robin knows I would read a whole series about THAT. 

There's a mystery told by Alexander to Hazel in a letter, about a mysterious dog that turned up at Westone, his and George's school. I would love a whole book about Alexander and George as I love them very much and also think their school sounds MUCH worse than Deepdean. Haha. 

The final mystery is abouyt MAY WONG! We met her in two previous books, and we already know that The Ministry of Unladylike Activity is going to star her, so it's nice to get a little taster of that in the form of this mini mystery. 

In it, the time is now September 1939, when May is PRACTICALLY ten (nine years and four months) and has come to England with her father to bring her and Hazel's older sister Rose to Deepdean. They are staying in Uncle Felix's flat with him, Lucy, their maid Bridget (also a spy like Felix and Lucy) and Daisy and Hazel (who are now counted among the 'grown ups' and who are heading off to university soon - Hazel is supposed to be going to Oxford!). May is supposed to return to Hong Kong with her dad but then war breaks out and it's decided she will be safer staying in England and going to Deepdean a little early, to be part of a new form for younger girls. May is FURIOUS about this. 

Felix and Lucy's flat is on the first floor of a mansion block and one day, May goes out with Hazel, leaving Rose at home, and a man from the second floor is discovered dead. All the adults think it's suicide, but coupled with something Rose tells her, May realises this is nonsense, and sets about solving a murder. It's a gorgeous little mystery, full of May's enthusiasm and inability to feel like she's not being heard. In that way she reminded me of Daisy from the first couple of books, but Daisy did mature. May is lovely though, I can't wait to read more about her, and this mystery was just enough to whet my appetite. 

I'm giving this five out of five because you all KNOW how I feel about Robin and her books. I can't wait to meet May and her Deepdean friends in 2022! 

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson - Review

Saturday, September 11, 2021

 


Where did I get it? I bought it a few weeks about at a publisher's fair in Manchester, actually from my friend Vicky, who runs Pen Fight Distro, and who has quite a lot of middle grade and YA books. 


What's it about? Candice is twelve years old and is spending the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, which is where her grandmother lived until ten years previously, when she moved to Atlanta to be closer to Candice and her family. Candice's parents have just split up, and their house is being renovated to sell it, so Candice and her mom have gone to Lambert. Candice's mom is a romance writer, meaning Candice is along quite a lot of the time. She loves reading and puzzles. Across the street Brandon lives with his family - his mom, his sister Tori, and their grandfather. Despiter herself, Candice ends up making friends with Brandon and the two swqap library books. 

Then in the attic, Candice finds a mysterious letter addressed to her grandmother about an inheritance left to the city by a man called James Parker. It has clues to where the money is, clues which Candice's grandmother tried to follow and ended up digging up tennis courts in a nearby neighbourhood. She thought that was where the treasure was buried, but it wasn't, and she got into trouble with the city and lost her job - which is when she moved to Atlanta. 

Candice and Brandon start trying to unravel the mystery. Brandon is being bullied by some boys from school but is supported by his sister. Candice desperately wants to go back to Atlanta and see her dad, but she has to learn some stuff about her family first. 

There are also some historical parts to the book, concerning a family called the Washingtons, who were well known in the city and whose history is linked to the inheritance. I liked these bits - they showed what life was like for black people in the area at the time, and the segregation there was between black people and white people, and so on. I thought these bits were good for teaching the reader about history but not in a preachy way. 


What age range is it for? Aged ten plus I think 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, but I don't want to put any spoilers here. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Candice and Brandon and their families are black, plus there's lots of black history.  


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I really liked it. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, that was the worst thing for me. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely, for any age range 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I wanted to get to it soon after buying it 

 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, I'm not sure how much of the story it gets across but maybe that doesn't matter


How many stars? Four out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I might lend it out, but I'll keep it!

Fallen by Mel O'Doherty - Review

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

 


I bought this book a few weeks ago at a publisher's fair in Manchester that Lee and I went along to. It was really cool to see a bunch of indie publishers and I looked at lots of books, but came away with just three. I picked this one up because of the religious iconography - that definitely caught my eye. My undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and it's been something I've been interested in since. This book is about the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland and the ensuing scandal that came out only a few years ago, this is a subject that I already know something about and am interested in. So I bought the book and then picked it up just a few days later!

The book is about the Connolly family. Mum Elaine, Dad Martin, and Michael, their son. The book goes backwards and forwards in time which I sometimes found confusing and hard to deal with, but I persisted and I'm glad I did. At the beginning Michael is only nine years old and the family is on holiday in the south wear of Ireland, not too far from their home in Cork. Elaine sees a man that she seems to vaguely know, and has some kind of breakdown. 

She starts to talk about what happened to her in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. She says how the nuns killed her baby and how they burnt her breast to stop her from feeding the baby - an abuse for which she still bears the scar. Michael and Martin both don't believe her. She is diagnosed with manic depression and over the next three years she continues to talk about the abuses she suffered. She writes letters to the newspaper which Martin never posts, and she protests outside Mass about her dead baby. She's increasingly hard to live with and Michael struggles with her. When he is twelve, she takes her own life. 

Michael makes friends with a lad called John when he's a teenager. John has been expelled for fighting at his private school, because he is an illegitimate child and gets called a bastard by other pupils. He ends up at Michael's school and the two form a friendship that lasts over thirty years. However, Michael, ashamed by what happened to his mother, never tells John about her. 

When he is forty-five, Michael is a history teacher in a high school on the north side of Cork. The north side is where his mother came from, it's the 'rougher' side of town. And then of course the news breaks about the scandals carried out by the Catholic Church in Mother and Baby Homes and in Magdalene Laundries and so on. Michael realises that his mother was telling the truth all along. In Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, the rate of infant mortality was as high as 75%. The babies were thrown in unmarked graves. Elaine was clearly left broken by the experience which she didn't have the tools to deal with in the late 70s.

The end of the book shows Elaine's experiences, both in the home and immediately afterwards, up to when she met Martin and married him. I really liked this part of the book and am glad it was included, even though it is so painful. 

I liked the book a lot, I found the structure a bit difficult and also kept getting confused between Michael and Martin, but I did like the subject matter. I'm giving this four out of five. 

Lies Like Poison by Chelsea Pitcher - Review

Saturday, September 4, 2021

 


Where did I get it? Amazon, recently. I needed to buy something and this was £4 so I added it. 


What's it about? Let me start by saying I didn't like the book. It's needlessly complicated and over written, and while I think that is in part a choice because it's supposed to be like a fairy tale, it's also just done in a bad way. I'd read a hundred pages before anything really happened, and by that point I was invested so I kept reading. I had hopes that the book would redeem itself, but it really doesn't. Sorry! Not for me.

But anyway, it's about three friends, Raven, Belladonna, and Poppy, plus Raven's stepsister Lily. Three years ago, when they were all fourteen, Raven was being tortured by his wicked stepmother, Evelyn. Belle and Poppy hatched a plan to poison her to free Raven, using belladonna and poppy petals in her tea. Lily got wind of this plan, and stole the 'recipe' Belle had written. Raven swore he could hear his dead mother talking to him, so he was sent away to a school across the country. Lily was sent to a mental health facility just outside of town. Belle and Poppy grew apart, and Poppy changed her name to Jack. 

But now it's now, and Evelyn has been found dead. Belle is the prime suspect, because Evelyn was indeed poisoned by belladonna. But she has an alibi -- but Jack doesn't. Belle gets back in touch with her, and then learns that Raven is finally allowed to come home. 

Jack and Lily then break into Evelyn's office - she's a therapist - and look for clues, and steal some files. Jack then also has to set fire to a bunch of Raven's clothes, for some reason? I don't know, I didn't follow that bit at all.

There's so much stuff that is kept from the reader, for apparently no reason. Then there's stuff that's told to the reader in such a way that it makes out like we are stupid. It's so complicated, with so many threads... I didn't get it. I didn't hate the characters at all, but I wish they had been written better. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, no spoilers, but yes 


Are any main characters people of colour? Raven is mixed race. There's a really big emphasis on characters' looks and clothes, and I don't really get why. Also, fourteen year old Belle owns a black negligee and thigh high boots, which I absolutely don't buy, and Raven owns black satin sheets and black satin pyjamas. Come on. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not really... I guess there's some mental health stuff, but it's just kind of hinted at rather than being on page per se. 


Is there any sex stuff? Not really 


Are drugs mentioned or used? The poisons, I guess 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, it's quite graphic 


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? Oh I think I've covered them. I liked the sound of Chelsea's other book but now I don't think I'll bother


Would I recommend the book? No 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was down the side of the bed. 

 

What do I think of the cover? I think it's a bit dull actually, it doesn't give away too much 

 

What other books is it like? It's just not as good as anything I could mention. 


How many stars? Two out of five 

 

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

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for Lies Like Wildfire! It is my pleasure to welcome you. If you've never been here before, please do have a click around because I review a lot of YA books so I'm sure you'll find something to whet your appetite!


Before I start I need to give trigger warnings on this book for: fire, climate change, death, suicidal ideation, pet death, a few other things. You may find this a difficult book to read. Take care!

Where did I get it? I'm on the blog tour! Thank you so much to Penguin for having me on this tour. I was provided with an electronic copy of the book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for my review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 


What's it about? It's the final summer before college for the "monsters", a group of friends who have been friends since they were like eight years old and in a drama summer camp together. The five of them want to have a fun-filled summer before three of them go off to college and two of them get jobs. 

There's Hannah, daughter of the Sheriff of the town they live in, Gap Mountain. When she was six, her mother caused a fatal accident because she was drunk, and the Sheriff had to arrest her and she was imprisoned. She later died, leaving Hannah without her mum and with the knowledge that the Sheriff will put his job and the law before members of his family. Hannah didn't get into Stanford so is heading off elsewhere to do Criminal Justice. Hannah has three horses and a beloved dog, Matilda. 

Her best friends are as follows: 

Drummer, who Hannah has been in love with for years. But "monsters don't date monsters", and besides, she doesn't think he likes her that way. Drummer does keep her on a hook, though, and keeps her around because she's useful for getting him out of scrapes. He is going to work full time in autumn. 

Mo is also heading to college. She's a sensible person, I liked Mo a lot. There's Luke, who is on probation for some petty vandalism the previous year. He lives with his mum and brother, but his mum is a drug user and his relationship with her is fractious. Luke is also going to work full time in the fall, and is fiercely protective of his younger brother. 

Then there's Violet. Violet doesn't live in Gap Mountain, but lives down in Santa Barbara. She spends all her summers in Gap Mountain with her grandmother, Lulu. Violet is beautiful and clever and is heading to Stanford University. She's basically perfect, of course. 

So, the five of them go up to Gap Lake one July afternoon. The lake barely has a beach and is something like two thousand feet deep as it's literally a gorge between two mountains. The five meet up - Hannah and Violet go on Hannah's horses, the others drive up. Mo brings snacks and beer, and Luke brings some weed. 

He has a pack of matches and Hannah tells him off for bringing a naked flame into a wildfire area. He lights the match and she knocks it out of his arm, and a fire starts. The five try to put it out, but it quickly rages out of control. They try to destroy any trace of them being there because starting a fire, even accidentally, is a crime. Hannah and Violet head back to town on the horses and run into Hannah's dad. He asks them if they saw anything and Violet says no, telling the first lie about the incident. 

The fire rages. Everyone has to evacuate Gap Mountain and head for the next town, Bishop. Hannah hitches a ride with a man called Justin. Violet abandons her, heading for Bishop too. When Hannah finally gets there, she discovers that Luke and Mo have both lost their homes. She also discovers that Violet and Drummer are dating. 

The fire takes nearly a month to be contained, and ten people die in it. The five obviously feel horribly guilty, but once they've started to lie they find they can't really stop lying. Plus Luke's fingerprints are on record, because of his prior crime, so everyone knows that if anything is found that ties him to the crime, he'll go down for it. And then there's the photo Mo posted of her and Drummer up at the lake... 

But monsters don't rat on monsters, right? But then one of the five goes missing, and all bets are off... 

I liked the story a lot, lots of things happen and everything just spins out of control. There's no malice in the fire, it was an accident, but it rages out of control and so do the lies. I felt for all the main characters and understood why they felt they couldn't tell the truth. I loved the setting of the town and the people who lived in it. 


What age range is it for? Sixteen and above, it's pretty dark in places. 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 


Are any main characters people of colour? No I don't think so, I don't know if that's unusual for the area of California or not? 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? In a way no, but also something happens to Hannah that leaves her pretty traumatised so yes kind of in the second half of the book. 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and it's a little graphic, and also it's not entirely consensual - Hannah is quite upset afterwards


Are drugs mentioned or used? Mentioned, yes, but the only use is Luke's weed at the beginning 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, and injury. It's somewhat graphic. 


Are there swear words? I don't think so. 

 

What criticisms do I have? My only criticism really is that I wish we had seen more of Luke as a person. I understood why the other three were important to Hannah, but I didn't get as much of that with Luke. He just seemed angry and I didn't warm to him. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, a hundred percent. I'll look out for something else by the same author too
 

What do I think of the cover? It's cool, I like the flames. 

 

What other books is it like? It's been compared to One of Us is Lying by Karen M McManus, which I think is a fair comparison to things spiralling out of control. I also thought the disaster element reminded me of Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, which is also set in California. 


How many stars? Four out of five. 


How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones - Review

Friday, August 27, 2021

 


I absolutely loved this book and heartily recommend it to you. I first heard about it because the author, Cherie Jones, did her MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University at the same time I did - we even started on the same day. I'm really thrilled she's got published and that the book is doing so well. I'll definitely read something else by her. The book has a brilliant structure to it and is properly like a saga.

It's set in Barbados, in a village called Baxter's Beach. There, Lala is eighteen and pregnant with her first child. She lives in a shack 25 steps above the beach with her abusive husband Adan, who robs the big houses further along the beach and sells weed. She's been warned to stay at home, but with the baby coming she needs help and has no one to fall back on but Adan. Her mother Esme is dead, and she and her grandmother Wilma fell out a couple of years ago when Lala moved in with Adan. Wilma has warned Lala many times of the one-armed sister, who did not listen to the adults around her and ended up losing one arm. Wilma says Lala is just like this sister, that she's too "own-way" about life. 

Anyway, Lala manages to struggle along to one of the big houses that look on to the beach. She rings the bell on the service gate, and is very surprised when Adan appears out of it. He goes with her to the hospital where she gives birth to Baby. They take her back to the shack, but Adan has to disappear because he's killed a man. 

In the next point of view a month later we meet Mira Whalen, wife of the man Adan has shot. Peter is dead and she's struggled to get out of bed since his death. Mira is Peter's second wife and stepmother to his children, Beth and Sam. She has had three miscarriages and seems unable to have a child of her own. She is from Barbados, but met Peter and now lives in London. She can't get in touch with the children's mother and is clearly traumatised from the murder. 

I don't want to spoil any of the rest of the story because it unfolds in dramatic, traumatic, and utterly brilliant ways. I loved it, I felt like I really had to savour each part of it. It goes back in time with each of the women's families which explained where they'd come from and how they'd come to be the people they were. I will warn for violence, death, rape, and more - take care of yourself. But this is an utterly brilliant book and I'm so glad I read it! 

Black and British, A Short Essential History, by David Olusoga - Review

Monday, August 23, 2021

 



I bought this book fairly recently in Waterstones, in April when shops had just opened again. As you can see by the sticker, it was on buy one get one half price and I think the other book was also about being Black and British, I'll have to get to reading that soon. Anyway, I picked this up the day after England lost the Euro 2020 final because I was disgusted by the racism that Black members of the England squad faced. Of course, they have been facing it for ages, and of course, it's not only England and England fans that have a problem with racism, but it seemed like an appropriate time to pick this book up anyway. 

So, this is a shortened version of David's book Black and British, which is over 800 pages long. It's only around 200. I'm not sure if it is specifically aimed at children but I definitely think that it is suitable for children, from the very youngest readers. The information is set out in clear, concise ways, and while it doesn't spare the horrors of, for example, the British slave trade, it also isn't full of horrific details. My friend Leanne said she'd got this for her and her daughter when she's a bit older - I really think you could read parts of it to a small child and there are pictures and illustrations to show them too. 

I already knew that there were Black Britons as long ago as when the Romans were here. I was intrigued to learn that there was a lady who was probably from North Africa whose bones were found in York in a fancy grave. She was buried with jet and ivory bangles - the jet probably came from Whitby, not too far from York, and the ivory probably came from Africa and may have reminded her of home. I really liked this story. 

I also knew that there were Black Britons here during Tudor times, Georgian times, and afterwards too. Henry VIII had a Black trumpeter called John Blanke, who may have come to Britain as one of Catherine of Aragon's attendants, given that she was from Spain which had strong links to Africa, the north especially.

However there's loads in the book I didn't know. I was really interested to read about the slave trade and the colonisation of Africa, which I didn't realise had happened relatively late in the 19th century, and the men who were instrumental in that, like Cecil Rhodes. I didn't realise that so many West Indian and African people fought for the British in both World War One and Two. I also learnt quite a few things about the Windrush crossing and the subsequent scandal. I kept reading things out to my partner! So this taught me, a whole grown adult, quite a few things too.

I really like David - I've seen a bunch of his TV shows and think he's really personable and knowledgeable which make him a pleasure to watch. I'm really happy to have read one of his books and would do so in the future too. I'm giving this five out of five!

Proud of Me by Sarah Hagger-Holt - Review

Friday, August 20, 2021


Where did I get it? I bought it on my trip to The Bookish Type in Leeds. I liked Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah so I thought I would pick this one up. 


What's it about? It's a middle grade book about two kids who live in a family with two mums, Mum and Ima (the Hebrew for Mum). They are "almost-twins" - they have the same donor dad, but one of their mums gave birth to one of them, and the other gave birth to the other. Their mums were pregnant at the same time so there's only eight days between Becky and Josh. 

Mum - Anna - is about to turn fifty, and Ima and the kids are planning a surprise party for her. At school, Becky's gay best friend Archie is setting up a new LGBTQIA+ group called Pride, with the blessing of their teacher, Ms Bryant. There's a new girl at school, an American called Carli, and she and Becky get close - and Becky feels a lot of things about her. 

Meanwhile, Josh has always been more interested than Becky in learning more about their donor father. He wants to know where he fits in and who he's like. His mums haven't offered much information so Josh goes online himself to do some research, resulting in an adventure he definitely can't see coming.

I really liked the book, it's very sweet and I liked the family. I like the nods to the Jewish side of the family (Anna converted and she and Ruth go to shul on Saturdays, and the family celebrates Shabbat together every Friday night). I like Sarah's way of writing and will definitely look out for her next book! 


What age range is it for? 11-13, a little older if it appeals! 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? But of course! There's quite a bit on queer history too, including that Anna and Ruth grew up under Section 28 (like I did) when it was literally illegal to mention queer families and when a group like Pride couldn't have existed. I liked this telling of history. 


Are any main characters people of colour? No 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? No 


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I very much enjoyed the book. 


Would I recommend the book? Yep! It's great for younger tweens/teens 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was still in the pile down my side of the bed, and I swear I'm trying to deplete that pile! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute, and it fits with Sarah's other book 


How many stars? Five out of five 

 

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

Absolute Proof by Peter James - Review

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

 


I heard about this book a few weeks ago, I can't remember where, but I was intrigued by the premise and by the fact that it was touted as being a bit like Dan Brown's books. Here's my "guilty" secret: I've read all Dan's novels and I don't hate them. They're fast, pacey, they keep you page turning, they often have theological parts which I really like, and they often have parts which genuinely terrify me which I do enjoy in a book. As a writer, I think you can pick up tips on how to write from someone like Dan because hardly a word is wasted, thread plots come together, and dialogue is expositional. I'm not saying his books are without criticism, at all, but I am saying that they do have worth if you're a writer, and they do have worth if you enjoy reading punchy, pacey books. I say "guilty" secret because I don't believe in feeling guilty about anything I read - my reading time is precious and I will read anything that keeps me reading!

So, all that said, I was interested in this book because it's about proof of the existence of God, and it was a fast paced thrilled. It's over 600 pages long which is way longer of a book than I usually read, but I found it fast to read - I'd look at the page number and realise sixty pages had passed since the last time I looked. I'm always interested in Theology in books; my undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and it's something I find fascinating. I've read a few of Peter James' Roy Grace detective series, but never any of his standalone books. I requested this from the library and picked it up not long after it arrived.

The main character is Ross Hunter, who is a journalist living in Brighton with his wife Imogen. He was a journalist in Afghanistan and had a traumatic time there. He also had a strange occurrence at the exact time that his twin brother Ricky died in a freak accident. He doesn't really believe in God, though. Imogen is pregnant but there's a gap between her and Ross explained by her cheating on him while he was in Afghanistan. 

Ross is contacted by a professor called Harry Cook. Harry has written a manuscript which supposedly proves the existence of God. He has been given three coordinates by God which are absolute proof of the existence of God, and has been told to contact Ross as someone who will help him. The two meet, and Ross thinks Harry is a bit of a crank, but agrees to read the manuscript. Harry has already followed the first coordinates, which led him to Chalice Well on Glastonbury Tor. He assumes he was supposed to find the Holy Grail, given the mythology about Chalice Well. However, he didn't find anything, but tells Ross about this. 

Harry is then found dead in his house. Ross is still in posession of his manuscript, and decides to try to follow the trail Harry left for him. He needs a lot of help along the way, including from a great uncle who is a monk, and from a hacker he's been in touch with on previous stories. 

And of course there are the baddies who are on Ross' trail. There's a big pharmaceutical company who want what Ross is looking for so they can use it in their marketing and so on. Then there's a phony evangelical preacher who wants to stop Ross exposing the truth. Ross' life is at risk more and more throughout the book. Imogen desperately wants Ross to give up his quest, but he increasingly can't. 

I generally liked the book, although I felt a couple of threads or characters could have been eliminated. I liked the quest and I quite liked Ross. Imogen I felt made some stupid decisions, but I get that we're not supposed to like her. There are some really scary parts and some great chase parts. It's really good for such a long book. I'm giving it four out of five. 

Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell - Review

Saturday, August 14, 2021

This was the July choice for my book club, chosen by Paula. I hadn't even heard of it but managed to get it on eBay for just a few quid, which was good. I didn't realise it was non-fiction before I started it, but it is literally the diary of the owner of a bookshop in Wigtown, Galloway, in Scotland. He starts it one February, in 2014, when it's around thirteen years after he bought the shop. He had lived away from Scotland for over a decade after going to university in Bristol, but moved back to buy the bookshop.

Wigtown is known as a book town and has an annual book festival. I knew this, and although I've never been I would really like to! I want to go to Hay-on-Wye too, but I've not been there either. It has fewer secondhand bookshops than it used to, but I'm sure it's still worth a trip.

Shaun is misanthropic and surrounded by some very eccentric people. There's Nicky who works in the shop, who is a Jehovah's Witness and drives a van always full of rubbish. She goes skip diving and brings squashed, barely edible food for Shaun often. While she listens to him when he gives her jobs, she then completely ignores him and does her own thing instead. She also has a very idiosyncratic way of filing books. 

Shaun has a couple more people who work in the shop but only Nicky is a regular. He has regular visitors though, including his American girlfriend Anna. There's an elderly man who orders approximately one book a week through the shop but about whom Shaun knows nothing. There's the festival director, Eliot, who turns up every few months for meetings and always leaves his shoes in Shaun's kitchen. There are plenty more people, a lot of whom Shaun is genuinely friendly with and his affection shines through his writing. 

Trade does go through the shop - Shaun details the number of customers and the till takings for each day - but the shop also does a lot of orders through Amazon and Abebooks. Shaun is derisive of both, and of Amazon taking over the secondhand book trade. I feel a lot of sympathy with him there; I try to use independent bookshops and almost never use Amazon for anything. 

There's also a lot of stuff about books that Shaun buys. He will often accept books in the shop, taking boxes and handing over sums up to £100. He often travels to nearby places where people are clearing the houses of loved ones, and takes hundreds of books, handing over sums up to a thousand pounds and beyond. I really liked the aspect of the book and I was amazed how many books Shaun bought. 

I really liked the book, I liked the span of a whole year and the look at Shaun's life and the good and bad parts of it. I'd recommend it!


Don't forget you can still enter the giveaway in the last post, until the end of the month! 

Incomplete Vol 1 and 2 by Chloe McGenn - Review and Giveaway

Wednesday, August 11, 2021


My brilliant friend Chloe is an excellent artist and has done many things in the time I've known her, including making jewellery from doll heads and limbs, and running a shop in Leeds, but for the past few years she's been working on a graphic novel, Incomplete. The novel is about two boys who fall in love; Pip, who is able bodied, and Matt, who is paralysed by an accident on the rugby pitch. The book is partly based on Chloe's experience - her partner Ian was paralysed by an accident on the rugby pitch when he was sixteen. Chloe met him a few years later and as their relationship grew she did loads of research into people who are living with spinal injuries. The books aren't totally autobiographical though, but it is nice as a reader to see glimpses of their lives shine through.

I love Pip - he's enthusiastic, and irascible, and has a lovely character that shines through the books. He always wear brightly patterned shirts, which Chloe has spent a lot of time working on, and it shows. Matt is less easy to get to know, but I love how quiet and patient he is. 

The books are so beautifully drawn and there's the cleaned up drawings and text, but every now and then there's a "pencil sketch", like the original drawing, and I love that Chloe has left these in. There's a gorgeous one of Matt sitting up in his chair in the second volume. 

Chloe has very generously offered a giveaway for my blog! If you live in the UK, you can win BOTH volumes of the comic, so you can see Pip and Matt's relationship from the beginning to them getting serious in Book 2. If you live abroad, we're sorry, but due to postage costs we can only offer Volume 1. 

All you have to do to win is leave a comment on this post! 





Chloe at work!

Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis - Blog Tour and Review

Saturday, August 7, 2021


Hello and welcome to my stop on the tour for Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis! I am thrilled to welcome you to my blog. If you haven't been here before please do click around and read some of my other reviews. I read a lot of YA so I'm sure there's something that will whet your appetite. 

I liked the premise of this book, which I'll copy here because it's a good introduction:

From its creepy town mascot to the story of its cursed waterfall, Burden Falls is a small town dripping with superstition. Ava Thorn knows this well - since the horrific accident she witnessed a year ago, she's been plagued by nightmares.

But when her school nemesis is brutally murdered and Ava is the primary suspect, she starts to wonder if the legends surrounding the town are more fact than fiction.

Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there's a killer on the loose, and they have a vendetta against the Thorns...

So, Ava is almost eighteen and she lives with her Uncle Tyler and his wife Carolyn. They live in Thorn Manor, which has been in Ava's family for generations, but they're having to move out. A year ago, Ava was in a car accident which killed both her parents, and which left her with some injuries that she's still recovering from, and with nightmares in which she sees the last few seconds before the car crash. 

Also present at the crash was Madoc Miller. There's bad blood between the Millers and the Thorns, and there has been for generations. Ava blames Madoc for her parents' deaths, but she also thinks she saw Dead-Eyed Sadie just before the crash. That's the local folk horror story, about a woman who had her eyes plucked out after death and whose appearance precedes a death. 

So Ava and her aunt and uncle move into a local mill, from where they can just about see the Manor and the waterfall which runs through the manor's grounds. Then Ava learns that Madoc Miller has bought the Manor. He and his family, including the "Miller Twins", Dominic and Freya, will be living there.

Ava and Freya are both talented artists and are vying for a place on a summer art programme. They have a bust up at school that everyone sees. Later, Ava sneaks back on to manor grounds because she needs to paint over a personal mural she did in the pavilion. As she does this, she sees Dead-Eyed Sadie on the bridge and rushes towards the bridge. In doing so, she interrupts Freya and Dominic and their friends doing one of their horror lives on Instagram or whatever - there was no ghost at all. Ava's friend Ford is also there and she can't understand why - he knows how she feels about the Millers AND about having to have left the Manor, so why would he hang out with them?? 

Ava and Ford have a bit of a fractious relationship, but she does have real friends - Dahpne and Carla. They're a couple, and Daphne works with Ava at the local gas station. I liked them and how grounded they kept Ava. She has a lot going on her life and it's hard to not feel sorry for her. Basically everything she's ever known has been ripped from her. 

Another night (the book all happens within a short space of time) Ava sneaks again into the Manor grounds - still trying to cover up the mural - and finds Freya's body there, with its eyes ripped out. Dominic is close behind her and then the police - and Ava is the prime suspect. 

She and Dominic start getting friendly, which is a bit weird yes but I really liked it, he's adorable, and work on a comic together. Dominic has some stories about the history of the town that will show why Ava's family is known as the "Bloody Thorns", and he doesn't believe Ava killed Freya - so can they work together to find out who did?

I did guess one of the twists in the book and that's not because it was obvious but probably just because I've read a lot of books. I liked it anyway. And there were some things I didn't see coming but really enjoyed! 

I liked the book a lot - it had a great setting in a spooky old town, with a spooky old manor, and a family with so many secrets and tragedies. I liked Ava and Dominic and the blurring of lines between reality and hallucination and stuff. It had a good ending and I was enthralled throughout! I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely read something else by the same author. 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

 


I heard of this book ages ago and bought it on Kindle when it was only 99p. I had basically forgotten about it though, but then I was scrolling through my Kindle and noticed it so brought it up to read. I really wish I'd got to it sooner as I really enjoyed it and thoroughly recommend it. 

The book is set in 1950 in Mexico, but it has all the hallmarks of a Victorian gothic novel set in England - the creepy house, the silent servants, the creepy patrician of the family, and of course, the horror. I loved the setting, though. 

Noemí is twenty two years old in the book and is living in Mexico City with her wealthy parents. She spends her time at cocktail parties with boys and driving her convertible car; she has yet to choose a major at college which seems to be irritating her father. He calls her home from a party to speak to her about her cousin, Catalina.

Catalina lives a long way away, in her husband's family home. Noemí only met her husband, Virgil, once or twice before their wedding, and didn't fully understand what Catalina saw in him. They had had a a whirlwind romance and gone back to his home with Catalina's money. Catalina has sent a confusing letter to Noemí's father, one in which she is rambling and seems almost unhinged. She is supposedly suffering from tuberculosis, but Noemí's father thinks she needs a psychiatrist and wants Noemí to go to the Doyle house, see how Catalina is, and if necessary get medical care for her in Pahuca or even Mexico City. 

Noemí travels to the tiny town where the Doyles live and is met by Francia, Virgil's cousin. The car they travel back in is old. The town is nearly abandoned, and unloved. The Doyle house is huge, and sits on an abandoned silver mine. The family owned the silver mine, but all the miners got sick and died, and it had to close. 

The house itself is in a state of disrepair. Noemí isn't allowed to use too many lights, or too hot water for her bath. At dinner time, she must remain silent as she eats with Francis, his mother Florence, and sometimes Virgil. She is told Catalina is ill and must not be disturbed. She meets the patriarch of the family, Howard, who is very old, and dying, and who smells of death, but who seems to take a shine to Noemí. 

When she does catch up with her cousin, Catalina veers between being lucid and rambling. Noemí is determined to get another opinion, so takes a car into the town one day to visit the doctor there. She also visits the local healer woman to get a tincture that Catalina has asked for. However, she gets in trouble for taking a car without permission and while she gets kindness from Francis, she is treated badly by Virgil and Florence. The servants also refuse to speak to her, but seem to always be in the way when Noemí tries to speak to Catalina by herself.

And then there's Noemí's disturbed sleep. She starts to sleepwalk again, and she dreams of a woman with a golden face coming towards her. She sees things moving in the walls, and finds mushrooms in the cemetery, and can't escape the mist that surrounds the house... 

I loved the book, I thought it was brilliantly realised and was done so well. I'd love to read something else by the author. I loved the beginning, the middle, and the end, and am giving this five out of five. 

The Liar's Handbook by Keren David - Review

Saturday, July 31, 2021


This is one of those Barrington Stoke books that in paperback are set out in dyslexia friendly fonts and on thick paper, although I read it electronically. But a while ago I bought a few of these books on Kindle for around 99p each. I've read a couple of them, but always forget they're there, but I was scrolling through my Kindle library and remembered, so I went for this one. It took me almost no time to read so was perfect for the time I needed. 

River is a teenager and up until just before the beginning of the book he's lived with his mum. His dad disappeared before his mum even had chance to say she was pregnant, so River's never known him. However, Tanya's boyfriend Jamie had just moved in and River is suspicious of him.

River is known among his friends and teachers for telling tall tales. He is determined to find out something about Jamie though, who seems too good to be true. He does unravel some interesting things about Jamie, but no one will listen to him. Then River sees an interesting tattoo at a football match, and things start to unravel...

This is a lovely little book, I really enjoyed it and I'm glad I read it. I'm giving it five out of five. 

Trip to The Bookish Type in Leeds

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

At the end of June I went to Leeds to meet my friend Leanne and to visit The Bookish Type, which is an independent queer bookshop in Leeds. I can't remember where I first heard of it, but I've been wanting to go, so I said that on Twitter and Leanne replied saying she'd love to go. I haven't seen Leanne or her partner and child since Christmas 2019, so it was well overdue and I was really looking forward to it. I went into Leeds a bit early and ate some lunch by myself in Costa, having parked in the Merrion Centre, before I went upstairs to meet Leanne. The shop isn't huge, but it does have soooo many books. They're all nicely categorised, too. First on the left was children's and middle grade, so I spent some time looking at that. I was pleased to see the Murder Most Unladylike series on the shelves! 

I was thrilled to see so many books that I've already read, and books by friends of mine. It was so lovely! I picked up three books and some badges. 

The YA section was big - two shelves - and I asked the person behind the counter if I could take some photos of it. I always do this in bookshops as I don't want to annoy anyone, and I also don't want them to think that I'm taking photos of books I want so that I can buy them online later as I think that's rude IF you have the money to buy in store. The person said yes and I said I was a YA blogger and was really impressed by their selection. There were books about teens of all races, with other intersections like disability, and not just contemporary YA but fantasy and so on too. The person thanked me for the compliments and said they didn't always know what to buy, but tried to focus on British YA and not have solely American YA. 

Leanne bought a book for her little girl and then three books for herself. We went for coffee afterwards and spent quite a while catching up. I set off home around 4.10 and didn't get home until 4.50 - I've forgotten what being in queuing traffic is like! I used to work in Leeds and I honestly don't know how I did it! 

Here's the YA shelves what I got:



Look how vibrant and colourful they are - absolutely gorgeous. The person behind the counter and I had a discussion about how queer YA has come on so far since we were teens. This is one of the reasons I love it so much! It just didn't exist 20 years ago when I was a teenager!


The book on the left is a sequel and I read the first one ages ago and have been meaning to buy this one. The other two just looked good


La! If you've seen It's A Sin, you'll know why this has become popular. I have a t-shirt too. The others are inclusive badges and I am an inclusive queer. Thanks!


 

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