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Rival Queens by Kate Williams - Review

Sunday, February 28, 2021

This book was the February choice for my book club, although I'm not sure who chose it. It's not my usual kind of thing at all - I don't read a lot of non fiction at all, and if I do it's not often historical. However, I decided to give it a go. My friend Leanne bought it for my birthday. I've never read any Kate Williams but I've seen her on the TV. 

I feel like I know quite a bit about the life of Elizabeth I, but this book really looked in some depth at her early life and at the reign of firstly her father Henry, then her brother Edward, and then her sister Mary, and what Elizabeth did through those years. The unpopularity of her mother, Anne Boleyn, meant that her position was never that sturdy, and it seems like a lot of people wanted to usurp her throne once she did finally get there. There was of course also the rumblings going on between the Catholics (who wanted a Catholic on the throne) and the Protestants (which Elizabeth sort of was, but also sort of wasn't...) Elizabeth's advisors wanted her married to secure an heir, but of course as time went on she became known as The Virgin Queen and never married. I did really enjoy the theories that she and her friend Lord Dudley may have had an affair, which may or may not have resulted in the death of his wife Amy. Scandalous!

I know very little about Mary Queen of Scots. She was born just six days before her father, James V, died. Scotland was then ruled by regents, including Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, and the child was shipped off to France, where she was betrothed to the Dauphin, Henry II. They were married as teenagers and he became king, but died. Mary returned to Scotland as a young woman and was married twice more, but was implicated in the murder of her 2nd husband and was sent to prison. I liked Mary a lot, I thought it was a shame what happened to her.

I think this book is written in an accessible way if, like me, you're not particularly academic and don't have a ton of prior knowledge about this period of history. There are so many Marys and Margarets and I think that was one of the worst things for me! I couldn't keep them all straight in my head. To begin with, chapters flipped between Mary and Elizabeth, but then there was a bit in the middle that was more Mary, since a lot was going on in her life, while Elizabeth seemed to just be being queen and not trying to get married. 

I enjoyed the book a lot more than I was expecting! I'm giving it four out of five. 

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka - Review

Thursday, February 25, 2021


I recently saw an advert on Instagram for a company called A Box of Stories, which purports to save books from landfill by selling subscription boxes to customers. They do quarterly subscriptions for just under £15 per box, for four books, which I felt was acceptable. That included tracked shipping, too. 

I also joined the Facebook group, which is pretty active, and where people share photos of their boxes. I had seen all of these books in other people's boxes before I received mine, and thought at least a couple of them looked interesting. So I was pleased to get all these books, and picked up The Last Place You Look almost straight away. 

It's about a Private Investigator called Roxane Weary. Before the start of the book, she has fairly recently lost her father, who was a cop called Frank and with whom she had a fractious relationship. She is sleeping with his ex cop partner, Tom, but she's certain it's just sex. Frank was an alcoholic and Roxane and her brothers are both following in similar footsteps. Roxane is living pretty hard, losing days to just checking out. 

A woman called Danielle hires Roxane to look into her brother's case. Brad Stockton was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Sarah's parents fifteen years ago, and now faces execution by the state in less than two months. He has always maintained his innocence, but can't explain how a knife turned up in the trunk of his car. Danielle is sure that she saw Sarah near a gas station in the small town she was from. Roxane heads down to look for her. 

She soon finds herself heading into danger, following leads and dead ends. Could there be a link with other Belmont teens who have gone missing? Could Sarah really be alive after all this time? Someone keeps threatening Roxane and she appears to have local police on her tail too. 

I really enjoyed the book - I liked Roxane and wanted her to succeed. I like her family background. I liked how fearless she was. I liked the mystery and even though it's quite a short book I thought there was a lot of story within it. I would read another in the series if there is one - I'll have to go look! I'm giving this four out of five. 

First Day of My Life by Lisa Williamson - Review

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Where did I get it? I bought it a few weeks ago, after seeing Lisa in conversation with Holly Bourne as part of NYALitfest. I enjoyed Paper Avalanche by Lisa when I read it last year so I thought I would pick this up quite soon. 

What's it about? It's GCSE results day for Frankie and Jojo, who have been best friends since they were four years old. Frankie is waiting at home for Jojo, who never turns up. Frankie goes to pick up her results, wondering what's happened to her friend. She then heads to work, and discovers a baby called Olivia has been snatched from her mother's car. Then Frankie gets a weird phone call from Jojo, in which she hears a baby cry. She thinks things have been a little weird between her and Jojo for a while, ever since Jojo got into the Arts Academy to study drama, and Frankie didn't get a place. But coupled with the sound of a baby, Frankie becomes convinced that Jojo has snatched Olivia for some reason and taken off with her.

Frankie enlists the help of the only person she knows with a car - her ex boyfriend Ram. At first he thinks she's being totally loopy even suggestinfg Jojo could have done such a thing, but eventually he agrees to help and the two set off together to find Jojo. 

The second part of the book is from Jojo's point of view and the third is from Ram's. I enjoyed each of the main characters equally and thought each part was written really well from their perspective. I thought the twists and turns were brilliant and didn't see quite a few of them coming. I raced through this book because I was desperate to know what happened. I liked how parts of the ending weren't happy - that's life and people have to deal with things in their own ways. 

What age range is it for? Fourteen upwards 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Ram is half Iranian and half white. His dad has died a couple of years before the book is set and I liked how this was dealt with. 

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? No 

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

Are there swear words? Not many


What criticisms do I have? As an adult I was just screaming out for each of the main characters to TALK TO AN ADULT, but I appreciate that this is because I am a grown up. And besides, it would have made quite a dull book. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. I think Lisa has a really accessible way of writing - things are difficult sometimes but she gets them across in really simple ways, but is never patronising 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just had my interest piqued when I heard Lisa talk about it. Plus of course I love the Bright Eyes song it's named after!


What do I think of the cover? It's cute, it fits with Lisa's other books 


What other books is it like? I can't think of any specifically by other authors, but it is like Lisa's other books

How many stars? Four out of five 


Where is the book going now? I'll keep it - I hope that after Covid I can get it signed somewhere! 

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves - Review

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

My friend Laura bought me this book for my birthday. She and I often buy each other books, and I think I got four from her over Christmas and my birthday. She really likes Ann Cleeves' books, especially the Vera books, but I've never read too many of them. So I was glad to receive this, to give me a chance to read something else by her. This is the first in a new series, starring DI Matthew Venn. He lives in North Devon with his husband Jonathan. Matthew is from the area, but was brought up in a religious sect in the area, which he left aged around seventeen, and he hasn't returned since. But at the beginning of the book, he and Jonathan have lived on the coast for a little while, and Matthew's dad has just died. He knows he won't be welcome at the funeral, but he does turn up to watch from outside. 

A man called Simon is found murdered on the beach. He was living in a house with two young women, one of whom is the artist in residence at a place called the Woodyard. It does many things, but it has a facility for adults with learning disabilities within in. Jonathan is also the manager there. 

It turns out Simon had a troubled past and had recently been taking the bus out to the coast near where he was found dead, and had befriended one of the service users, a woman called Lucy. She has Down's Syndrome so can't always remember what exactly happened, but her dad is very concerned. Then another service user goes missing, and Matthew thinks the two cases are linked.

I liked Matthew as a cop, although he's a little uptight. I hope we see him soften a little over the next books in the series. We also get narrative from Jen, one of his detectives. I liked her a lot. There are glimpses into the religious sect that Matthew grew up in, and into Jen's abusive marriage, which she has left. I hope these two things are delved into more in the next books. 

I'm giving this three and a half out of five. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I felt it needed a better copy edit. There was some wishy washy stuff in the beginning where the police couldn't seem to figure out how Simon would have known Lucy when the answer was obvious, and then at the end there were a couple of mistakes that annoyed me. But! It was good, and the setting was excellent, so there we go. 

Erin's Diary by Lisa McGee - Review

Friday, February 12, 2021

You may know that I'm a huge fan of the sitcom Derry Girls, I have been ever since it started and I can't wait for Season 3, although I know filming has been stalled thanks to Covid, but let's hope that at some point we get it. I was a teenager in the late 90s so I loved the universal stuff that was present, and the Derry setting is perfect. I've been lucky enough to go to Derry twice, and it's an absolutely beautiful city that I would recommend. 

I saw this book on Nicola Coughlan's Twitter, so when my sister in law asked me what I would like for Christmas I mentioned this. It's written by Lisa McGee, who wrote Derry Girls and also the sitcom London Irish, which stars Derry Girls' Father Patrick as the main character. 

It is Erin's diary, and it takes place over the course of the two series of the programme, including everything that happens within the twelve episodes of the show. So I knew what was going to come up, but we get funny little asides from Erin. Like all teenagers, she's totally self obsessed. She's also convinced she's a brilliant writer, and thinks that her memoirs will be famous one day. 

There's also bits popped in from the rest of the gang and the rest of the family, meaning this is a bright and well designed book which is fun to read. I enjoyed it; you'll like it if you like Derry Girls, I'm sure! I'm giving it four out of five. 

Mixtape by Jane Sanderson - Review

Monday, February 8, 2021

This book has very much the feel of a YA novel which I really liked, because it felt very present and very immediate, but it's also about two older people falling in love, so I liked it because I don't often read books about people in their fifties falling in love. Then of course there's the music, which I always like to read about. My friend Helen put this on her list of best books of the year, and I liked the sound of it, so I ordered it and picked it up almost immediately. 

So, in 2013, a music journalist called Dan Lawrence is living his life in Edinburgh with his partner Katelin and their son Alex. He's friends with Duncan, who owns a record shop, and his wife Rose-Ann. Kateline and Rose-Ann decide to do an America road trip. Dan also owns a houseboat in London which he uses when he travels down to see gigs and so on. I wouldn't say he's unhappy, but maybe just bored with life, perhaps. He's around fifty-three years old.

Then his old friend Kev Carter mentions on Twitter that their old friend Alison Connor is on Twitter, and that she's a bestselling author! Dan is immediately thrown back to the late 70s, in Sheffield, when he fell in love with Alison Connor and how she left him, heartbroken and upset, and unable to put his life back together until he met Katelin four years later. 

Dan sends a message to Alison, a link to Elvis Costello's Pump It Up, and over the next few weeks the two send music back and forth to each other, and sparks fly between them.

Alison, now better known as Ali, now lives in Adelaide with her husband Michael McCormack and their daughters Thea and Stella. Michael is from an old Adelaide family with plenty of money and a sheep station up north, and a live in housekeeper, Beatriz. He and Ali met when she was travelling in Spain, and her took her back to Australia as his bride. She is an author. She has a reckless best friend called Cass, and is in touch with Sheila, who used to know her mother back home in Sheffield. 

There are also flashbacks in the book, where we're in Sheffield in 1978, when Daniel and Alison, aged eighteen and sixteen, fall in love. They fall in love over music. Alison's home life is chaotic - her mother Catherine is an alcoholic, and she has an abusive boyfriend called Martin. Alison's brother Peter tries to protect her from everything, but she's still a mixed up kind of kid. But in Daniel she finds solace, especially among his family with his kind dad and guileless sister Claire. Daniel's mum Marion is somewhat wary of her, sure that she will eventually break Daniel's heart. And indeed, throughout the book, we learn how she did that. 

As I say, I really liked the book and loved how it talked about love, and loss, and nostalgia, and music. I'd highly recommend this!

Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney - Blog Tour

Friday, February 5, 2021

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Bad Habits, which I thoroughly liked! 

Where did I get it? I wanted to join in the blog tour because I liked the sound of the book, so thanks to The Write Reads and Penguin Books for letting me join the tour! 

What's it about? Alex is a junior at a co-educational Catholic boarding school in the wilds of Minnesota, miles away from where Alex grew up in California. But her parents are divorced and her dad has decided that his alma mater is where Alex will go to high school. She's been there two years and has been close to getting kicked out more than once. She's definitely familiar with the principal's office, and at the beginning of the book she breaks curfew and faces another discipline charge. 

She then decides she will get herself kicked out before the semester ends. She's president of the Feminist Club, and she decides they will stage a showing of The Vagina Monologues. That should be enough to get herself kicked out, right?

Her best friend and roommate Mary Kate makes her own semester goal - before it ends she will have a walk around the lake with a boy - a tradition that is meant to intend the couple will be together forever. 

Alex is trying to rail against everything and everyone at St Mary's, but she gets caught up in things beyond her control. There's a sweet romance, and a lot of character growth, and I ended up really loving Alex and her escapades. The book is fun and funny and there's a lot of calamity which I liked. I feel like it could be the first in a series - I would love to see the rest of Alex's time at St Mary's! 

There's plenty in the book about feminism, about the bodies of women and girls, about consent and choice, about safe sex and so on, but none of it felt like it was written about in a forced way. It was funny. 

What age range is it for? Fourteen plus

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No, I don't think so. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic - I thought this was done really well 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yeah I think like marijuana 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Yes, in very funny ways 


What criticisms do I have? Almost none - it took me a little bit to get into but once I did I really enjoyed it. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes definitely 

What do I think of the cover? I love it - it's Alex with her purple fauxhawk and I think it's really eyecatching. 


What other books is it like? It reminded me of a few films actually, mostly Wild Thing starring Emma Roberts, which I thoroughly recommend 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Bad Habits will be published on 11th February 2021. 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. 

White Trash Warlock by David R Slayton - Blog Tour

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

I'm thrilled to today welcome you to my blog for my stop on the tour for White Trash Warlock by David R Slayton. When I read the blurb of the book I thought it sounded like something I would like to read. I was thrilled to receive a paper copy of the book for review, but all thoughts and opinions remain my own. 

Here's the blurb:

Guthrie was a good place to be from, but it wasn’t a great place to live, not when you were like Adam, in all the ways Adam was like Adam.

Adam Binder hasn’t spoken to his brother in years, not since Bobby had him committed to a psych ward for hearing voices. When a murderous spirit possesses Bobby’s wife and disrupts the perfect life he’s built away from Oklahoma, he’s forced to ask for his little brother’s help. Adam is happy to escape the trailer park and get the chance to say I told you so, but he arrives in Denver to find the local magicians dead.

It isn’t long before Adam is the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, he’ll have to risk bargaining with powers he’d rather avoid, including his first love, the elf who broke his heart.

The Binder brothers don’t realize that they’re unwitting pawns in a game played by immortals. Death herself wants the spirit’s head, and she’s willing to destroy their family to reap it.

And here's what I thought:

I liked the mix of gritty urban and fantasy within the book - I much prefer 'low' fantasy like this than 'high' fantasy where the whole world is different from our own. I like reading about worlds like our which just happen to have magic in them. This book is kind of YA but as Adam is twenty it teeters into New Adult. I personally think it would be fine for any teenage reader from the age of around fifteen. 

I liked Adam; he's been betrayed a lot so he's prickly and distrustful which I liked. I felt like he grew a lot over the course of the book. I didn't like Bobby and was very much on Adam's side! I am certain there'll be at least another book after this as the ending really lent itself to it! 

Thank you to The Write Reads for letting me on this tour. Please stay and click around to read some of my other reviews!


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