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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. 

 

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