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The Villa In Italy by Elizabeth Edmondson - Review

Sunday, November 28, 2021


This is a book that I probably wouldn't have ever picked up in my entire life, but it was the November choice for my book club, so I bought a second hand copy on eBay and started it in early November. And I ended up really enjoying it and want to read other stuff by the same author! I totally judged it by its cover and thought it would be frothy fluff. It isn't, and I really liked it. 

The book is set in the mid 1950s, so the spectre of World War Two is very definitely still felt. Four strangers are told that they are named in the will of a Beatrice Malaspina, and that they must travel to her house, the Villa Dante, in Northern Italy, for further instruction. 

The first person is Delia. She is from a posh family in Yorkshire; her father is a lord. She is an opera singer, a profession that her parents don't approve of. She has been suffering from bronchitis for a while and the damp English air has done nothing to help. She is only too happy to go to Italy, hoping the warmth will help her. She goes with her friend, Jessica. Jessica is also from a posh family, and she's also married to an MP, Richie Meldon. The marriage is unhappy and Jessica is desperate for a divorce, but Richie won't comply. Jessica has been followed around by a tabloid journalist, so she's also desperate to get away from England. The two take off to Paris in Jessica's car, and then on to Italy. They arrive in the middle of a storm and, desperately hoping the house is in fact the right one, go to bed.

The next two to arrive are George and Marjorie. George is a scientist, currently on sabbatical from his work in Cambridge. During the war he worked on stuff that was linked to the atom bomb, and since then he has lived a guilty life, incapable of dealing with the fact that he had a hand in the deaths of so many people, albeit at a removed place. 

Marjorie is a detective writer, but she hasn't written anything for over five years. She is working class and also a lesbian, which I felt was revealed in a really good way further on in the book. She is recovering from an accident and is also running out of money.

None of these three people know who Beatrice Malaspina is, but they all have time to travel to see what is going on. They spend a couple of nice days down on the beach and exploring the house, which has expansive grounds outside and many frescoes painted on the walls inside. There are two members of staff, Benedetta and Pietro. 

Then Lucius arrives. He's the son of a rich US banking family and is himself a banker. He's about to get married to someone it turns out that Delia and Jessica went to school with. He also doesn't know Beatrice and doesn't know why he's there.

The five start to work together to bring the house back to some of its glory and to uncover what is going on with the will. I found the book really compelling and read it fast. I liked Delia, who is really the main character, and her life and friendship with Jessica. But I liked everyone else too - although not some of the people who turn up towards the end. I liked the posh, genteel people feel to it. I'm giving it four out of five. 

You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M McManus - Review and Blog Tour

Thursday, November 25, 2021




Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for You'll Be the Death of Me! If you haven't been to my blog before, please do have a click around as I've reviewed all of Karen's previous books and plenty of other YA novels. It is a pleasure to welcome you! 

Where did I get it? I was given an electronic copy of the book in exchange for this review. I was not otherwise compensated and all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you very much to Penguin for having me! 


What's it about? Cal, Ivy, and Mateo are all seventeen and are high school seniors in a suburb of Boston, MA. They used to be friends in 8th grade, after a school trip where they snuck out together and had The Greatest Day Ever, but things happened and they haven't spoken since. But each of them has things going on in their lives. One day, they all meet in the school parking lot and decide to skip school and head into Boston. 

This is what's going on for each of them:

Cal has split up with his girlfriend Noemi and has started 'seeing' someone else. It turns out this person has been grooming him and he is rightly unsettled about it. Noemi says he's like a shell of a person, and Cal certainly feels it. He's been pulling away from all his friends and even from his dads. I don't want to spoil the storyline but I loved how it all unravelled for Carl. 

Ivy lives with her parents, who are high achievers (her mum is due to receive an award on the night of the day that Ivy decides to skip school) and so is her brother Daniel. In fact Daniel skipped a grade so he's a senior like she is. Ever since this happened Ivy has felt 'less than', there's no love lost between her and Daniel and she is constantly striving to keep up with him. Ivy had been in the running for class president, but she lost to Brian 'Boney' Mahoney, who was running as a joke, and she's annoyed about it. She feels a bit lost and lonely. 

Then there's Mateo. He lives with his single mum and his cousin, Autumn, who lost her parents in a car crash when she was eleven and has lived with Mateo and his mum ever since. Ma used to own a bowling alley, but after an accident there and with her own health declining, money is tight in the house. Mateo is working three jobs and Autumn is too, including doing something that becomes pertinent to the plot. Ivy and Mateo also kind of had a thing when they were thirteen, but something happened and they haven't spoken since. 

So yes, the three of them decide to skip school and head into the city. Each chapter is told from one of their points of view, taking it in turns, which I really liked because I got to know each character well. I liked them equally, and for different reasons. They are heading towards a cafe when they see Boney Mahoney heading towards a squat that is used as an art studio. Boney, as winner of the election, is supposed to be giving a speech at school at right that minute. Ivy is furious - thinking that he has skived off and that this shows how little he cares about being class president - so she follows him into the building. However, when she gets there, she finds Boney dead, with a syringe at his side. The boys realise that she makes a pretty good suspect for killing him actually, so when they hear sirens they leave very quickly. 

The day disintegrates as Ivy does find herself public enemy, as Cal discovers truths about the person who has been grooming him, and as Mateo finds himself under suspicion and increasingly worried for Autumn. All the action is contained to one day which adds to the tension of the book. I really enjoyed it, I liked how good and bad things happened and how many things got sorted out 


What age range is it for? Fifteen plus 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No I don't think so 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Mateo's mum is Hispanic 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Mateo's mum, I'm going to say she counts. And I loved the way that her ill health and the cost of her medication had such an effect on Mateo and Autumn - this is reality for so many children and teenagers and I thought it was very well put across. 


Is there any sex stuff? No, but trigger warning for the grooming obviously 


Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes. I won't give away the plot but it's illegal drugs. There's not much talk about effects of the drug, but be careful 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously as Boney gets murdered. It isn't too graphic but be careful. 


Are there swear words? A few, they're well used within the plot though. 

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I loved the book as I've loved everything else by the author! 


Would I recommend the book? Yes completely. 

 

What do I think of the cover? I like how it fits with Karen's other books. They would look gorgeous in a whole collection on your bookshelf! 

How many stars? Four out of five!

 

Karen M. McManus is the #1 New York Times and international bestselling author of young adult thriller/mystery novels, including One of Us Is Lying, One of Us Is Next, Two Can Keep a Secret, and The Cousins. You'll Be the Death of Me will be her next novel, publishing December 2021. Her work has been translated into more than 40 languages worldwide. Karen lives in Massachusetts and holds a master's degree in Journalism from Northeastern University, which she mostly uses to draft fake news stories for her novels. For more information, visit www.karenmcmanus.com or @writerkmc on Twitter and Instagram.



Afterlove by Tanya Byrne - Review

Saturday, November 20, 2021


Where did I get it? I bought it in Waterstones a few weeks ago, as you can tell by the sticker. I follow Tanya on Twitter and have been intrigued by the premise of the book for ages, so I knew I wanted to get it soon. 


What's it about? Ashana is sixteen and goes to school in Whitehawk, Brighton. She has her best friend, Adara, and her family - Mum and dad and her sister Rosh. Mum is an A&E nurse and Dad works as a gardener. Rosh loves books. Ash is gay, and is out to Adara, and to her mum, and I think to Rosh, but she knows that her mum disapproves and isn't sure if her mum has told her dad. Ash has kissed girls, but they always end up ghosting her or otherwise breaking her heart. 

Then on a school trip Ashana meets Poppy. Poppy goes to Roedean school and lives in a huge house. The two start a relationship, and the first half of the book is the two of them falling in love and getting to know each other through jaunts round Brighton and a trip to London. Poppy is bright and beautiful and it's easy as a reader to see why Ash falls for her. 

But right at the beginning of the book we see Ash as a grim reaper, so we know she's going to die. And she does. In the After. I absolutely LOVED the last night she spent with Poppy and the way she's confused when she's first dead. The legend is that the last person who dies on New Year's Eve becomes the reaper for teens who died like they did, in the area. Ash meets Dev and Esen and Deborah and has to come to terms with being dead. But she's desperate to see Poppy again... 


What age range is it for? 14 plus 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, both Ash and Poppy are gay. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Ash's family is Indo-Guyanese, which I really liked, I liked the cultural depiction of Ash's family. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I don't think so, although Ash's dad has been ill. It's not mentioned much. 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's lovely but not graphic 


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


Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously, and it is somewhat graphic 


Are there swear words? Yes, I loved this actually, it was very real. 

 

What criticisms do I have? Having thought about it, my only criticisms are as an adult reader of the book, and I don't think that's fair. It's a very good YA novel. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Just because I bought it recently and wanted to read it. 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's absolutely gorgeous! It's foiled too, so pretty. 

 

What other books is it like? I'm drawing a blank, sorry 


How many stars? Four out of five

 

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


The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman - Review

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


I read Richard Osman's first book and was quite disdainful towards it because it annoyed me in quite a few ways. You can read my review here. My mum wanted me to read it so I did. She has also read this second one so I decided I would read it. I do think that Richard's writing has improved between the first and second book, this one is better written and has a better story I think. However, it did still annoy me in parts. 

So we're back with the Thursday Murder Club, only a couple of weeks after the events of the first book. Ibrahim borrows Ron's car to go into Fairhaven and on his way back to the car three youths on bikes steal his phone and then beat him up, leaving him ill enough to be hospitalised. Ron, Elizabeth and Joyce are rightfully worried for their friend, and want to find out who did it. 

But also, Elizabeth is distracted because a letter has been put under her door purporting to be from someone that doesn't exist, a cover up that Elizabeth was involved in in her time in MI5. The letter turns out to be from her ex-husband Douglas, who is in a safe house on the complex that the Thursday Murder Club all live on. He is as charming as ever, but he is in trouble. He was involved in an MI5 break in to a house belonging to a notorious gangster, Martin Lomax, and some diamonds have hone missing in the break in. Douglas was identified by Lomax and threatened by him, hence the safe house. He is being looked after by a young woman called Poppy. He says he didn't steal the diamonds but Elizabeth doesn't believe him. 

But a man breaks in with the intent to kill Douglas, and Poppy ends up shooting him dead. Joyce gets a note from Poppy asking her to phone Poppy's mum, which Joyce duly does. MI5 officers Sue and Lance come to the complex to sort everything out. The Thursday Murder Club then end up involved in a murder mystery, gangland wars, trying to find out who attacked Ibrahim, as well as the usual stuff with their families and friends. 

I found the book compelling and wanted to keep reading it. The story did entertain me. I felt like the first half of the book was almost satirical in nature, and I'm not sure if that was the feel that Richard was going for or not, but I found it strange. The second half seemed to settle down, though. I liked how we got to know Elizabeth and Joyce a bit better. Ron and Ibrahim are in this book a little less; I felt like Ibrahim was almost a token character in the first book, but I liked him in this one. Chris, the detective, didn't annoy me as much in this book, and his romance with Donna (also a police officer)'s mum Patrice was very cute. 

I will read the next one. I also noticed that Richard used the verb 'agrees' a lot less here - in the first book there were nearly a hundred uses of the word, but in this one there were just 40, which made it seem much more normal and much less of a writer's tic. I'm giving this four out of five. 

Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth - Review

Sunday, November 14, 2021



Where did I get it? The library! My friend Lucinda, who is a children's librarian, recommended it to me. I requested it and picked it up from my local library. 


What's it about? Aideen is in her transition year in the Republic of Ireland, meaning she's sixteen. Her mam is an alcoholic and has a complicated relationship with Aideen's dad. Aideen lives in constant fear of her mother going off the rails or of social services getting involved. Her mam is a hairdresser but doesn't always turn up to work. Consequently, Aideen has given her phone number as her mother's to her school. 

She often skips school and never does homework. Her form tutor, Ms Devlin, is also her PE teacher, and is fed up of Aideen's continuing excuses as to why she can't do PE. Aideen has one friend, Holly, but Holly has been pulling apart from her for a while. 

While skiving PE one day, Aideen finds herself in the changing rooms with Meabh, a girl in her class who is always perfect and a bit of a know it all. Holly and Aideen can't usually stand her. Meabh wants to stand to be student president for their year, but she can't see how she can fit it in to her ultra busy schedule. She asks Aideen to push her down the stairs just so she can break her ankle or something to get some time off her sports team. Aideen thinks that's a mad idea but ends up doing it.

Then it turns out that a boy called Kavi has overhead their conversation. He helps Aideen take Meabh to the sick room, and then he just keeps turning up whereever Aideen is. He brings some people to Aideen who he thinks she can also help, and everything goes quite farcical. Aideen is soon making friends and getting into bother, but also helping people. But she can't solve the problems of her mum or her friendship with Holly, and she also thinks there's sparks between herself and Meabh... 


What age range is it for? Thirteen plus 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Aideen is openly a lesbian and is out at school. There's other mentions of queer characters too. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yeah, Kavi is Indian I think. I'm not sure about anyone else. Meabh has a Polish father (also the principal of the school) and one of her manifesto pledges is to introduce Polish lessons to the school. I liked this bit. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, I think Aideen's mam's alcoholism counts here, so be careful if that's a trigger for you. 


Is there any sex stuff? No, hence why I think it's suitable for 13 year olds onwards. 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? A little bit 


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? I think there was something funny about the timeline - I thought it was near the beginning of the year, but then it was January, but if it was January then earlier in the novel it would have been Christmas and it wasn't? But that's all. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, it's also really, really funny as well as everything else. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? You have to read library books to then give them back! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute. 

 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of Paper Avalanche for the serious bits to do with Aideen's mam, and other funny/farcical books for the helping other people part. 


How many stars? Four out of five. I would definitely read something else by the same author!

Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway - Review

Wednesday, November 10, 2021


I requested this book at the library a couple of months ago, and it came in in mid October so I picked it up soon after. I was intrigued by the fact that the book is set in Derry in Northern Ireland, as I haven't read much set there and I thought it would be interesting to read a police procedural set there. I was right, it was - there was plenty of history around the Troubles and how they were impacting upon life today . The book was published 11 years ago and is set in 2009.

Lucy Black is a detective constable and has recently moved back to Derry to look after her dad, who has dementia and keeps getting her confused with someone called Janet. Lucy and her parents, both police officers, lived in Derry when Lucy was small, but after their house was set alight they moved to Antrim. Lucy is estranged from her mother, but her mother is also Assistant Chief Constable in the Derry police. She is divorced from Lucy's dad and Lucy thinks that almost no one knows who her mother is amongst her new colleagues. 

It's winter and snowing heavily when Lucy gets a call one morning to say that a child has been found in nearby woods. There is a sixteen year old called Kate McLaughlin missing and Lucy hopes this is the child. But this kid is much younger - around eight or nine. She is rescued but doesn't say anything, so police and social workers aren't sure where she belongs. She forms a bit of an attachment to Lucy, who keeps visiting her. It is found that she's covered in blood, but again, no one is sure who that belongs to.

Lucy is moved out of CID to the Public Protection Unit, under a man called Fleming. She is working on finding Alice's family when she realises that the case might be linked to Kate McLaughlin. Kate's father, Michael, owns some land on Derry's dockside that is supposedly worth a lot of money, so the case is assumed to be a kidnapping, but no ransom demand has been made. Lucy steps on some toes to try to get to the bottom of what has happened to both girls. 

Her dad is getting more ill. He's been going through his old police notebooks and keeps talking about Janet. Lucy wants to find out the truth here, too.

This is the first Lucy Black book and I would read more, I liked it and Lucy and the setting. I liked the police corruption portrayed too. I'm giving this four out of five. 


Mr Loverman by Bernadine Everisto - Review

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Because I loved Girl, Woman, Other so much, I had been thinking that I really should read something else by Bernadine Evaristo. Then I watched her on Imagine with Tom Stoppard which was really good, I liked the look at her life and work. I was intrigued by the premise of Mr Loverman, so I requested ut at my library. It came in quickly and I picked it up after my holiday. 

The main character and narrator is Barrington Walker, aged seventy-four, who was born in Antigua but who came to England in around 1960 with his wife Carmelita, known as Carmel. They had two daughters - Donna, in around 1960, and Maxine, in around 1970. Barry drinks a lot and after yet another altercation with his wife, he decides that he will finally leave her. Because, you see, Barry has been in a relationship with his friend Morris since they were fourteen. We see Barry try to cope with how to tell Carmel and also the history of their lives together. We see the lives of their daughters, the lives of Carmel's church friends, and the life of Morris, Barry's lover. 

There are also little points of view from Carmel, spaced at roughly every ten years. She suffered with post natal depression after Maxine was born, and Barry ended up looking after Maxine a lot, which is why she remains his favourite child. Carmel then got a job in housing for the local authority, and worked her way up. She assumes that Barry is having affairs with women and even, at one point, goes to a house Barry owns to try to catch him with a woman but finds only him and Morris there instead. Still, she has never put two and two together. 

Barry knows she won't take the news that he is leaving her and wants a divorce lying down. Barry is a rich man - he bought properties in the sixties and has prospered, meaning he's been able to support both his children and send his grandson Daniel to private school. He doesn't want to end up in Morris' studio attic flat (Morris won't take any money from Barry).

We learn that in 1989 Morris' wife Odette caught the two of them together and subsequently left Morris. She never told Carmel, but she did go back to Antigua where she opened up a spa hotel. Morris asked Barry to leave Carmel at this point, but he didn't feel he could. 

Before Barry can ask for the divorce, Carmel has to go to Antigua as her father - a violent man who terrorised her mother - is dying. Soon Donna joins her and Barry is left in charge of sixteen year old Daniel. Everything starts to fall apart. 

I loved the book - I liked Barry even though he's a reprehensible old drunk, and I wanted him to be happy. I liked the story of his marriage to Carmel and how they had both struggled. Both daughters were spoilt brats and I loved how Barry saw that and blamed himself. I liked his steady, quiet relationship with Morris. I liked the story of first generation immigrants from the Caribbean. I did feel like we didn't see enough of Morris' personality as I'd have liked, but I wonder if that was a deliberate choice - because he and Barry couldn't live together, he did have Morris on a little bit of a pedestal and had to keep him at a bit of a remove. I loved the look at older queer communities and how they identified... I don't want to give anything else away though!

I'm giving this five out of five and will definitely read something else by Bernadine in the future. I think she weaves together brilliant narratives, I think she'd a splendid writer. 

You're the One That I Want by Simon James Green - Review

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


Where did I get it? 

I won it! I entered a YALC competition for a copy of the book and a box of artisan donuts! I've never had donuts like this so I was excited to try them! My partner and I shared each of them - my favourites were the Oreo one and the Percy Pig one. Delicious! So thank you so much to YALC for this ace prize! I took the book on holiday and started it there


What's it about? Freddie is sixteen and has just started 6th form at his school, where basically no one knows who he is. He has best friends Ruby and Sam, but he overhears some girls saying they don't know who he is in the yearbook, and on his first day his new head of year keeps calling him Patrick. His mother is a TV producer and is currently working on a new show called Cherries (which basically sounded like Skins) and Freddie is constant disappointment to her, especially ever since he broke down while performing in Les Miserables aged ten. She drags him along to something to do with the show and while there he meets Jasper, who is very hot, but who Freddie manages to cover in cream cheese and basically make a fool of himself in front of. 

Freddie is fed up of himself and decides, after chatting with Ruby and Sam, to start saying YES to everything, to try more experiences, and to get out there more. So at school he decides to try out for Grease alongside Ruby and Sam, and new boy Zach. Zach flirts with Freddie from the off, and Freddie really likes him. Freddie doesn't get a part in the show, but ends up as props manager. He has had a crush on Harrison for ages, but now Harrison is going out with Lottie, who is playing Sandy, and who hates Zach, who is playing Danny. Freddie and Zach start a thing, kissing each other in the props room, but Zach wants to keep it 'fun' and 'casual'. Can Freddie handle that?? 

I found the book a little slow to start off with and I also just couldn't warm to Zach. But once I got into it I liked Freddie a lot and wanted him to succeed. I like Simon's books because they always have such funny bits in but also have a lot of heart and a lot of pathos. 


What age range is it for? 15+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, obviously, Freddie is gay and so are a few other characters. There's an interesting bit about how everyone assumes Sam is gay because he's small and thin, but actually he's straight and likes girls - I thought that made a good point about stereotypes. 


Are any main characters people of colour? I don't think so? 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, some, it's not particularly graphic 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? No 


Are there swear words? A couple, very judiciously used. I always like how Simon uses language. 
 

What criticisms do I have? Nothing apart from the slow start. It's a fun book 


Would I recommend the book? Yes especially if you like Simon's other books 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? After winning the prize I wanted to review it soon! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute - I didn't quite get the donut thing until the end! 

 

What other books is it like? Simon's other books! 


How many stars? Four out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, I've got a collection going now!

 

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