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Haven't They Grown by Sophie Hannah - Review

Sunday, May 30, 2021

I finished this book while sitting in A&E one Wednesday morning in late April, waiting to be seen. I've had some ongoing health issues and I was waiting for surgery but the pain had got so much in the last week of April that I phoned an ambulance. The paramedic agreed I probably did need one, but there was an hour wait, so Lee drove me to the hospital instead. He obviously couldn't come in with me, so had to come home, and I first had to sit and wait and then lie on a bed and wait. I was in too much pain to read to begin with, but they gave me some codeine which really helped, and then I felt okay to read. I had good care from all the doctors I saw; I'm so grateful for our NHS. Anyway, on to the book...

I saw someone reading this online I think, or I saw a review, and I was intrigued by the premise, so I placed a hold on it at my library, and it quickly arrived. I've read some of Sophie's books before and have liked them, so I had high hopes for this. 

So, Beth Leeson is in her early forties and is married to Dom. They have two children, Zannah and Ben, and live a comfortable middle class life near Cambridge. Beth seems to be mostly occupied with how much screen time her children have and the fact Zannah is doing no GCSE revision. One Saturday morning Ben has a football match in nearby St Ives (who knew there was a St Ives in Cambridgeshire?!) and Beth is reminded of the address of an ex friend of hers, Flora, who moved to just after the friendship ended twelve years ago. So she decides to visit the address. She goes with Ben, but can't see much, so after dropping him off at the football match, she goes back. 

Flora was married to Lewis Braid, and had two small children a similar age to Zannah and Ben, called Thomas and Emily. Lewis inherited a lot of money and Dom thinks that's what put a barrier between the two families, but Beth knows the truth. Flora had a third child, Georgina, and there were several things that happened around the birth of Georgina that put a barrier between Beth and Flora. 

Flora now lives in a big gated house on a private road. While Beth is there, she comes home in her Range Rover, and lets two children out of the car. She calls them Thomas and Emily, but they are still the tiny children Beth remembers. They are still five and three. But how can that be? She overhears a strange conversation Flora has on the phone, in which Flora says "I'm lucky. I'm very lucky." 

Beth tells her husband and Zannah, and the three of them look the family up online. Lewis is living in Florida, and his instagram is full of photos of himself, and a seventeen and fifteen year old Thomas and Emily. He responds enthusiastically to a message Beth sends, but then she realises there are no photos of Flora or Georgina online. She speaks to Lewis, and then also Flora. She hears Flora's voice say "I'm very lucky", but she's convinced that all is not right in Florida, and that the woman she saw in Cambridgeshire WAS Flora. 

She goes to try to learn more, but is put off by one of Flora's neighbour. However, she's then in Huntingdon when she sees Flora coming towards her. Flora scuttles off, and Beth then meets a woman who says she lives in Flora's house, and that her children are called Toby and Emma, NOT Thomas and Emily. 

Beth won't let it go, though, even though Dom would really like her to. She remembers Lewis as a boorish, overbearing man, who often made a fuss and left Flora embarrassed, and she's convinced something is really rotten within the family. Of course she has to pursue it, because otherwise there wouldn't be a book. 

I liked the first half, I liked the mystery of what was happening. I didn't quite like the ending; I thought there was too much telling and not enough showing. I thought it was a bit ridiculous actually. I also didn't like how Beth paid little to no attention to her second child, Ben. He's barely there, in fact. But I'm giving this four out of five because I found it compelling. 



You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson - Review

Thursday, May 27, 2021


Where did I get it? It was a Christmas present from my friend Lucinda. She read it and loved it and wanted me to read it too. 


What's it about? Liz Lighty is a senior in high school in a small town called Campbell, in Indiana. She wants to go to Pennington University and become a haematologist, but to do that she needs a scholarship for college. She applies for a musical scholarship, but right at the beginning, she learns she didn't get it. She doesn't want to tell her grandparents - who are raising Liz and her brother Robbie after the death of their mother from Sickle Cell Disease - so she and her friends come up with a plan. 

Prom is a Big Deal in Campbell, and each year, whoever gets crowned prom queen wins a $10,000 scholarship. Liz has never been on the inside at school - she's too poor, and she's black, in a town that is mostly rich and mostly white - so she's convinced she can't win, but she thinks she has to try. Her friends - Gabi, Britt and Stone - become her campaign managers. They take control of her look, her social media, and more. Gabi in particular takes this very seriously, and eventually she and Liz argue over what she's doing. But in the meantime, Liz is avoiding Rachel Collins, a shoe in for prom queen, and trying to work out her friendship with Jordan Jennings. She and Jordan used to be friends, but after a falling out at the beginning of high school, they've barely spoken since. But now they're thrown together and Liz finds herself wanting to be friends.

And then there's Mack. She's new at school and joins the school band, where Liz plays clarinet. She's also running for prom queen. Liz likes girls and is out to her friends and family, but it's in a very low key way. She doesn't think it's safe enough to be out at school, and she's sure that if she was, she would have no chance of becoming prom queen. But she and Mack have real chemistry, and start dating. 

I liked the book and I loved the romance with Mack. I liked Liz's rejuvenated friendship with Jordan, who was a sweetheart. I liked some of the rivalry stuff, and I liked how awful (and racist and homophobic) Rachel was. I thought that the end could have gone either way - either Liz won or she didn't - which I think is good writing.

I'd definitely read something else by Leah! 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, obviously! I don't think Liz explicitly labels her sexuality as lesbian or gay or bisexual, but she definitely likes girls and is under the queer umbrella. Mack is similar. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Liz and her brother Robbie - who also has Sickle Cell Disease, which affects mostly people of colour - are black. Jordan is too, but as I say it's a majority white town which affects how Liz fits in. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Liz has anxiety and she sometimes has panic attacks. She has methods to help herself cope with them, which I thought were put across really well, and which would probably help a reader if they were suffering from panic too! It's very well written 


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, there's some mentions of the death of Liz's mother, and a little bit about Robbie's sickness too. It's not graphic. 


Are there swear words? A couple 

 

What criticisms do I have? I would have liked to see more about Liz's friendships with Gabi, Britt and Stone. They remain quite unknown, and when Gabi and Liz do fall out, I thought they should have hashed it out a bit more. I would have liked just a bit more expansion here. 

I've seen other reviews that said they thought the book was a bit too much of a fairy tale. I disagree. I think there are proper hard bits in it, and I also truly believe that queer girls deserve all the fairy tale endings in the world. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, one hundred percent. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I've been wanting to get to it since Christmas! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute. Liz ends up using the crown as a motif for her campaign, which I really liked. 

 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. 


How many stars? Four out of five. 

 

Where is the book going now? I'll definitely keep it!

The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth - Review

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Someone I follow on Instagram had read this book recently, and I was quite intrigued by it so I requested it at the library and picked it up. It's a weird book - I read it very quickly and found it compelling, but I can't altogether say I liked it. It's one of those books where nearly everyone is a terrible human and you're not compelled towards sympathy for any of them. I actually quite like that, but somehow it just didn't really work for me here.

Lucy is a stay at home mum living in Melbourne. She has three young kids, Archie, Harriet, and Edie, and she's married to Ollie. At the very beginning of the book, Ollie gets home from work, saying he is unwell, and shortly after police turn up at the door. Ollie's mum, Lucy's mother in law, Diana, is dead. It's an apparent suicide - there is poison next to her body, and a suicide letter found in her office. She had also told the family that she was suffering from breast cancer. 

However, police quickly discover that there was no poison in Diana'a body, and neither was there any cancer. They are treating the death as homicide. It becomes clear that everyone in the family had reason to dislike Diana. Lucy, in particular, has never really got on with her. Parts of the book from her point of view go back in time to show the fractious relationship the two have had ever since Lucy and Ollie got together.

Ollie was brought up by his mother, and his dad, Tom, alongside his sister Antoinette, known as Nettie. Nettie is married to Patrick and is desperate for a child. Tom is a businessman - I can't remember what he does, sorry - and has a lot of money. Lucy discovers this when she first meets Ollie's parents and sees the house, which has an indoor pool for one thing. They have, it's repeated several times throughout the book, 'more money than they could ever spend'.

However, and here's the big however, Diana refuses to give any of it to her children. She put them through private school, but since then has mostly left them to make their own way. She reasons this by saying that she didn't get handouts, and neither do the refugees she works with, so why should her children? She refuses to help Nettie out with IVF, and she refuses to help Ollie and Lucy with a down payment for a house.

Now, I do understand her point of view somewhat. I understand trying to teach your kids how to work hard and how to appreciate the value of a dollar. But she just comes across as tight for most of the book. And for no reason, when she has so much money. I didn't like this part of Diana at all.

Half of the chapters are from her point of view, so the reader is told how she is like she is, and why. There are things in her past that happened that explain why she doesn't want to just give her children money (although I still didn't agree with her). There are also a few things that have happened between Diana and Lucy in the time Lucy and Ollie have been married, which, from Lucy's point of view, look needlessly cruel and the actions of a mother in law who doesn't care about her at all. However, when shown from Diana's point of view, there are sometimes mitigating factors. Diana is very cold - towards everyone except Tom - and when she does think something nice, like how Lucy is a good mother, she doesn't say it, when saying it would go so far towards mending fractured relationships. 

I didn't like all the secrets everyone was keeping, which are slowly metered out throughout the book in a way that I found quite frustrating. I won't spoil the ending, but I thought the reason the killer had for killing Diana was a very frustrating one and one which is a bit of a cliche, which I didn't like. 

I also thought that some of the timelines didn't match up. Lucy and Ollie are supposed to have been married for ten years, but had Archie soon after being married, and he is only six. Ollie seems to age funnily throughout, ending up at forty-eight years old - if he and Lucy were the same age, then she was very old to be having three children without difficulty. Lucy at one point orders an Uber and something else which seemed really anachronistic to say it was supposed to be several years earlier than the publication of the book. Then there's two year old Edie, who has a vocabulary far surpassing any two year old I've ever met. Mistakes like this just seemed sloppy and irritating.

I'm giving this three out of five. I enjoyed the read, but the above criticisms overshadowed it somewhat. 



Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart - Review

Thursday, May 20, 2021

I heard of Shuggie Bain when it won the Booker Prize last year, and immediately thought I would like to read it. Every now and then I like to read prize winners to see what all the buzz is about. Last time I did it was Girl, Woman, Other, which I ended up loving, and I feel the same way about this. I requested it from the library and it came in really quickly. I've been doing that a bit in the past few weeks, and I'm imoressed with how easy it is. The library staff are working really hard to make books accessible and safe for us. 

So! Shuggie Bain is the titular character, named Hugh after his dad, Big Shug. At the beginning of the novel Shuggies is fifteen and living by himself in a bedsit. He works in a supermarket. 

Next, we're back ten years previously when Shuggie is five and living in a tenement in Sighthill in Glasgow with his mother, father, brother, sister, grandma and grandad. His parents, Agnes and Shug, had an affair and left their first spouses for each other. Agnes is an alcoholic. Shug is abusive and generally an awful person. Shuggie was born and everyone is squashed into Lizzie and Wullie's three bedroomed flat. 

Shug then moves the family out to Pithead, an ex mining community west of Glasgow/in the west? I'm not sure exactly. They have a ground floor flat, but only two bedrooms, meaning the kids will still have to share a bedroom. Shug leaves the family, leaving Agnes for the dispatcher at his work, a taxi business. The family doesn't see him again, really. 

Catherine, the eldest child and only daughter, leaves the family to get married young, cutting all ties with her mother. Leek, the middle child, dreams of going to art college but ends up on a Youth Training Scheme instead. He and his mother are antagonistic towards each other for most of the book.

And then there's Shuggie. He is hopelessly devoted to his mother, despite how neglectful she is. She 'keep herself nice' even though she drinks all the money away, and is never seen without her glamourous clothes and make up, all bought on tick from the catalogue. Everyone agrees Shuggie is 'not right' in the head. He read as autistic to me, I have to say. I wanted him to succeed, but I also wanted him to be loved and safe, and mostly he was neither.

That isn't to say that Agnes is hard to like. She isn't. She's been let down by everyone in her life - including her parents. One of the most shocking parts of the book is something that happened between her parents that is never explained or put right, but which I found terrible. She fears everyone will leave her and so she drives them away before they have chance to hurt her. At one point she stops drinking and gets a job and I was rooting for her the whole time, but sadly a stupid man got in the way and she relapses. 

This is a whole saga of a book. It is so big in scope and the width of the storytelling is amazing. I loved it, I really did. Five out of five. 




F.O.X.E.S by M A Bennett - Review

Sunday, May 16, 2021


Warning: review contains spoilers for previous books in the series


Where did I get it? I got it as a present from my mum and stepdad for Christmas - I asked for it as I've read the other two in the series.

You can read my review for STAGS here and my review for DOGS here


What's it about? We're back with Greer and Shafeen and Nel. The book starts just after the end of DOGS, when Greer has been found guilty of murdering Henry at the end of book 1, and has been branded on her thumb with an M, saying she is a manslayer. However, in hospital, she is convinced she had a visit from Henry and that he is alive. She can't convince Nel and Shafeen though. So all three of them decide to go to Henry's family's London house to ask his parents.

Cumberland Place backs on to Regent's Park and is absolutely huge. Henry's parents. Rollo and Caro, are there, along with their faithful butler, Bates. Caro keeps talking about Henry in the present tense, as if he is still alive, and at night she comes into his bedroom - where Greer is staying - while sleepwalking. 

Then Ty, who was introduced in DOGS, tells Greer and co to look into 'foxes'. They can't get hold of her after that, but it seems like everywhere they turn, there's a fox. There are foxes on the walls in Greer and Shafeen's bedrooms, and Rollo is a member of the House of Lords and is trying to overturn the ban on fox hunting with dogs. It's just before Christmas and he is convinced he will be able to hold a fox hunt at Longcross on Boxing Day, as is tradition. He takes Shafeen under his wing and takes all three of them to the STAGS club in parliament.

However, all three are uneasy, mostly for the reasons that they don't fit in amongst the privileged students at STAGS in the first place. They begin to believe that actually the hunt will be a Ty hunt - so they must go to Longcross to save her. 

I thought that this book would be the final in the series, but I was almost three quarters of the way through and not much had happened, and at the end there's a definitey cliffhanger - there HAS to be at least one more book in the series, right?! I can't believe there won't be more to Greer's story. I'm excited to see what happens!

I really enjoyed the book BECAUSE not a lot happens. There's a proper middle book feel to it, and lots of chatting, and lots of Greer, Shafeen and Nel doing ridiculous posh things. I couldn't believe how things unfolded and how deep the Order went. I love this series. 


What age range is it for? 15+


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Shafeen is Indian and this difference is shown a few times, I like this subplot 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I think Greer has some PTSD going on, and Caro definitely does. 


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No I don't think so. 


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


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none! I was quite surprised at how little happened, but then I'm happy because there must be another book to read!


Would I recommend the book? Yes. Start at the beginning if you haven't read them all. It's a good series. 


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

 

What do I think of the cover? It's great, it is a bit darker than the other two but still fits in with the theme.  

What other books is it like? The other two! 


How many stars? Five out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it - I really hope to meet M A Bennett one day and get her to sign my copies of her books! 

The Catch by T M Logan - Review

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

I read The Holiday by T M Logan last year, and I'd been seeing people in a book group I'm in raving about The Catch, so I got it on my ereader and read it in just one day. That's not because it's very good, but it is compelling and I did want to know what happened. Like in The Holiday, most people in this book are terrible humans with too many privileges who do not deserve your sympathy.

The book starts when Ed, aged nearly fifty, is sitting in his back garden (where he just happens to have a badminton court) watching his daughter Abbie play her new boyfriend, Ryan. Abbie is around 24 and Ryan is a decade older than her. Abbie lives with her parents. Ed is very unsure of Ryan, suspecting that there's something 'off' about him, some kind of deadness about the eyes. At the end of the afternoon, Abbie and Ryan reveal that not only are they engaged, but they are going to get married in just five weeks' time.

On paper Ryan seems perfect - he got a first class degree from Manchester University, he served five years in the army including two tours of Afghanistan, and he volunteers in a hospice because his mother died of cancer and he wants to give something back. But Ed still doesn't trust him. Claire, his wife, tells him to not be so stupid, and says he'll upset Abbie if he carries on behaving irrationally.  

Ed decides that he must move fast and begins leaving work early to stalk Ryan. He puts a GPS tracker on Ryan's car and finds out that Ryan a) visits a 'dodgy' house on a 'dodgy' estate on the outskirts of Nottingham, visits a red light area, and also doesn't visit Manchester every second Sunday of the month like he says he does. He still can't find any concrete proof, so he hires a private investigator to do the work for him. He also begins to suspect that things aren't right at home - the cat is skittish, there seems to be eau de cologne in the air, and he can't find things. 

The first half of the book shows Ed spiralling, and the reader does believe him and he does find out some dodgy things about Ryan. The second half of the book got stupid and unbelievable and I didn't enjoy it. I'm giving this three out of five. 



Things To Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr - Blog Tour and Review

Saturday, May 8, 2021


Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Things To Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr! It's a pleasure to welcome you. If you haven't been here before please do have a click round and read some of my other reviews!

I frst read Emily Barr books when I was at university. She was writing 'chick lit' then, for adults, and I read Cuban Heels, Baggage, and Backpack, I think. Even though she was labelled as 'chick lit' I don't feel like it was at all - the books started off quite happy and jolly but quickly turned into something darker. I read Stranded in 2012, and when I heard a few years ago that Emily had started writing YA, I was keen to read her new stuff. I read The One Memory of Flora Banks in 2017 and The Truth and Lies of Ella Black in 2018, and enjoyed both. So when I got the chance to be included in this blog tour I jumped at it!

So the hero of the book is Libby, who is seventeen. At the beginning of the book, it's December, and she is walking through a park when she learns - along with the seven and a half billion other people on earth - that the world is going to end in nine months. It's something to do with the permafrost melting and releasing too much carbon dioxide, which will mean that humans can no longer breathe properly and will die. All life will be wiped out. 

Libby grieves for a little bit but then decides to do things out of her comfort zone for her last months on earth. She auditions for the college play, and ends up playing Juliet opposite the girl she has a crush on, Zoe. She is generally quite shy and keeps to herself, but tries to change herself. She lives with her mum and stepdad, Sean. She also has her dad, and his fourth wife, Anneka, and her half siblings Sofie and Hans-Erik. Some people don't think the world will actually end, that scientists will sort it out, but everyone is in kind of a fever about it. 

In the beginning of the next year, Libby's dad tells her that he had a brother, Andy, who he was estranged from and who has died in a car crash. He has left all his money to Libby and her dad. He also has a daughter, Natasha, Libby's cousin. Libby's dad tells her she should do what she wants with the money, like travel over Europe during the summer, which is still available via train, and he encourages her to get in touch with Natasha.

The two start an email relationship. Natasha is the outgoing person Libby wishes she was. Natasha gives Libby some tasks to do, like go to a party where Zoe will be. 

Then, Libby and her mum and Sean decide to go to Spain to spend some time, and it's decided Natasha will join them later. She does arrive, and she and Libby have a great time together. But it's obvious something will go wrong. And it does, spectacularly. I loved it, I liked what happened and how chaotic the world was and all of that.

I liked Libby and really wanted her to be okay. I liked the ending of the book a lot. For a depressing book it's quite uplifting! I utterly recommend this, and am giving it a very good four out of five. 

The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson - Review

Wednesday, May 5, 2021


This book was the April choice for my book club, and I wasn't looking forward to it at all because it just didn't seem like my kind of thing at all. But I bought it on eBay for a few quid and decided to pick it up at the end of March. This was well in time for the meeting, which is the third Wednesday of April, but meant that if I didn't like it I could pass the book on to someone else in my group. 

I ended up loving it. It WASN'T my kind of thing at all but I really liked it. 

It's about a true thing that happened in the 1620s - ships of Turkish pirates arrived on Iceland's coastline and took more than four hundred Icelanders as captives and put them in ships to take them to Algiers, on North Africa's coastline. One of the captives, a priest called Olafur Egilsson, managed to return to Iceland after petitioning the king of Denmark, Christian IV, to pay the ransom of other captives. Christian refused, but in 1637 thirty four captives did manage to return to Iceland. The priest's wife, Asta, was among them.

(I can't do the accents that the Icelandic language has on some letters, and I'm really sorry about that)

So building off what was true, Sally Magnusson has imagined the life of Asta. At the beginning of the book she is pregnant with her fourth child - her eldest is on a different island and is married, and her second and third children live with her and Olafur. Olafur is older than her and has children from his first marriage. The Barbary pirates arrive on the island, ambushing the inhabitants. They kill some people on sight and take Olafur's entire family on to their boat. While on the month long trip from Iceland to Algiers, Asta gives birth to her son, who she and Olafur name Jon. 

In Algiers, their elder son Egill is taken to the pasha's palace immediately. Everyone else is taken to the house of Ali Pitterling Cilleby, a Moorish man who has a harem and two wives. Olafur is soon freed to go back to Denmark to ask for the ransom of his family and others, but the other three are left there. Asta has an easier life than in cold, damp, poverty stricken Iceland, but she is not free. Her children are not free. She fears them converting to Islam and that their souls will not be welcome in Christian heaven. She is summoned to Cilleby's bedroom and there, she begins to tell him sagas and stories from her homeland. 

The book is set so long ago but it feels so modern. I could picture the houses perfectly; I could smell the perfume in Algiers and the stench of the ship. I felt for Asta so much and wanted her to make the best choices. I loved hearing about this event in history and how truth was mixed with the fiction. I liked the sagas she told. I like her relationship with her children and with Olafur. I'm giving this five out of five because it's so good.

Fabulosa! The Story of Polari, Britain's Secret Gay Language by Paul Baker - Review

Sunday, May 2, 2021

 


I had heard of this book a while ago, but then got reminded of it because someone I know read it recently, so I thought I would buy it when I had some credit to use. I picked it up quite soon after it arrived, because I wanted to read it.

So if you don't know what Polari is, it is as the subtitle says, a language used by primarily camp gay men throughout the 40s, 50s, 60s, and then it went into decline in the 70s. The author started his PhD on Polari in the late 90s, and he interviewed Polari speakers then. Since then he has become an expert on the subject, and he's written this witty, accessible, fun book about it. I was thinking it would be quite dry, but it's really not. I found the book really easy to read and raced through it. 

You will have heard some Polari words, like 'naff' and 'clobber' and maybe someone even complimented your 'dolly old eke' (your pretty face). I have heard some words, but it was nice to learn more. Plus there's lots of the history of Polari. It's a mixture of Thieves Cant, backslang, Italian, some words from Romany gypsy, and a few other bits. The history is fascinating, showing how all different groups of men, some who identified as gay and some who did not, added bits to it and made it their own. It was used as a secret language when men having sex with other men was literally illegal, and when the need to hide yourself was high. A lot of the words are focussed on looks, so you could talk about someone without them knowing about it, or on sex, which also makes sense. 

The author talks about how and why Polari faded from use, and why people are interested again now. He talks about the maybe most famous speakers of Polari - Julian and Sandy on a radio show called Round the Horne, which was broadcast in the 60s. He talks about the speakers in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and who they were. I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in queer history. I'm giving this five out of five. 

 

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