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Did Not Finish - Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Thursday, December 23, 2021

It is so rare that I don't finish a book, but I just couldn't get on with this at all. I thought I'd just write a quick post, because it really seems like a me problem than a problem with the book.

I saw loads of people rave about this series of books, so I bought the first two probably like six months ago and was looking forward to reading them. I have to admit, I thought they were Young Adult fiction and was surprised when I started this and it isn't! Chloe is thirty one, so I don't know why I thought it was otherwise... but I did. 

At the beginning of the book Chloe lives in her parents' mansion with her younger sisters, her parents, and her grandmother. Chloe works in social media and she is also chronically ill. She has fibromyalgia and I think arthritis and a lot of joint problems. She sometimes has to take a lot of painkillers and lives with brain fog because of that. I loved all this part of what I read - there aren't enough books about chronically ill young people and I liked how honest Chloe was about her illness and her pain and her limitations. (I suffer with chronic pain myself so empathised and sympathised). 

She is almost knocked down while walking on the street, and regards it as a near death experience. She is pretty shaken up and decides to write a bucket list of things she wants to do. First on the list is to move out of her parents' house, so she does. She moves into a block of flats which has a superintendent in residence. Red. He is an artist but he's had a terrible relationship and given it up, so a friend of his has given him the job. As a superintendent. Now I dunno about you but I've literally never heard of a block of flats in the UK that had a superintendent, so I found that weird. Plus at one point the edition I was reading had 'colour' spelt as 'color', I'm not sure if that was intentional. And Chloe and Red are bantering at one point and one of them says something about 'filing your taxes'. Now I'm self employed so I literally do do my own taxes, but I'd never say I 'filed' them. It felt like Americanisms shoved into a British book set in "South Nottinghamshire" and I found that very weird. 

I also found the insta romance a bit hard to swallow. I liked the beginning and I was beginning to care about Chloe and her family, but then she quickly moves out so you don't see all her family much, which disappointed me. She then instantly decides she both hates and likes Red because... he is hot and owns a motorbike? Okay. 

I'd have really preferred this if it was a YA romance, but I'm sorry, it just wasn't for me! 

The Offing by Benjamin Myers - Review

Monday, December 20, 2021

I was given this book last Christmas by Lee's brother and his girlfriend, they thought I would like it and the main character is from Durham as Lee's family is so I get why they liked it. I keep a list of books I got for Christmas and my birthday, and I try to get through them before Christmas and my birthday roll around again. In 2021 I've managed about half of them... We'll see what I get for Christmas! Hah. 

Anyway, this book is set in 1946 just after the end of World War Two. Robert, from a Durham village somewhere near Sunderland, has just finished his exams and left school. He will probably follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and start work as a miner, but before that he wants to go travelling down into North Yorkshire to see a bit of the world. He sets off with not much more than a tarpaulin and a sleeping bag. He finds a few days work at some farms along the way. He intends to go somewhere around Whitby and Scarborough, and wants to swim in the sea. 

On the way he finds a small cottage, the meadow around which is basically eating it, and its owner, Dulcie. She is an older lady, taller than Robert, and she has led a weird and wonderful life. Over the next few weeks, she persuades Robert to stay, sleeping first in the meadow and then in a small summer house on the grounds. She feeds him well, giving him his first taste of lobster and of brandy. She has connections which mean that the rationing going on all over the country doesn't seem to apply to her. She has a wine cellar. She lends Robert books and encourages him to read poetry. She tells him he could go to university. 

Robert is determined to pay his way, so he starts cleaning up the summer house. He wants to hack down the weeds which obscure the view of the sea, but Dulcie is angry with the sea and won't let him. He begins to uncover the truth about her life and the great love of her life. 

The book is written from the perspective of an older Robert, and by the end it's clear exactly who he has become. I liked the lyrical quality to the words and to the descriptions - I could exactly imagine the cottage and the village that Robert walked through to get to the sea. I liked Dulcie and was sympathetic towards her. I loved how Robert's life turned out.

I'm giving this four out of five.

The Faraway Truth by Janae Marks - Review

Thursday, December 16, 2021

I can't remember where I picked up this book, but it can't have been very long ago as it was hanging around by the side of the bed and I knew I wanted to read it soon, so I picked it up towards the end of November. It's a middle grade book about a girl called Zoe, who is twelve.

She lives near Boston with her mum and her stepdad, who is the only dad she's ever known. At the beginning of the book she has her birthday party at a local cake shop, Ari's Cakes, because she loves to bake. She is with her friends Maya and Jasmine.

Back at home her next door neighbour Trevor comes over. Zoe and Trevor used to be friends, but then Zoe overheard Trevor say something about her to his basketball pals, and got upset, so now she's not talking to Trevor and didn't invite him to her birthday party.

She picks up the mail and notices that there's a letter from her biological dad, Marcus, who is in prison for murdering someone. Zoe has never met him or been allowed to ask questions about him, but now she has this letter. She decides to write back, and gets another letter back from Marcus. She starts to do a little research about Marcus' crime. 

Zoe eventually tells her Grandma, who babysits her during the summer holidays, about the letters. She has had a letter from Marcus saying he's innocent, and Zoe desperately wants that to be true. 

Meanwhile, she is doing an internship at Ari's Cakes and her parents have agreed that if she does well, she'll be able to audition for a kids' baking show. Zoe also does some brainstorming of her own to come up with a new cupcake flavour.

Zoe and her family are Black, and so is Marcus, but her stepdad Paul isn't. She's aware of the reactions that she gets when she's out with a white man. She also discovers through her research that men like Marcus are more likely to be the victims of miscarriages of justice.

I really enjoyed this book - it's a cute middle grade with a good plot and some good sideplots too. I liked the characters and wanted Zoe to succeed! I'm giving this five out of five. 

After the Party by Cressida Connolly - Review

Monday, December 13, 2021

A few weeks ago my friend Laura gave me a bunch of books that she didn't want anymore. There were some great sounding books in there! I was really grateful. Laura and I have similar taste in books so I generally trust her. I had the books in a bag but thanks to a broken radiator we had to clear loads of stuff out of the bedroom so while we were doing that we took the opportunity to put the books on my spreadsheet. We did this a few years ago, and Lee then made an app for me - - so I can easily check what books I have when I'm out and about and then I don't buy duplicates. So anyway as we were putting this on the spreadsheet I decided to leave it out to read next, and I'm really glad I did as I really enjoyed it. 

The book is set in 1938, right on the cusp of World War Two. Phyllis and her husband Hugh, and their children Julia, Frances, and Edwin, have been living in South America as Hugh works for British Rubber, and have then been in Belgium for a little while, but have no returned to England. To begin with, they stay with one of Phyllis's sisters, Patricia. Patricia is married to Gleville and they have a daughter called Antonia. 

Patricia and Phyllis have another sister, Nina, who married a mechanic, who was rather below her station. (Phyllis and her family are frightfully posh and all their houses are massive). Eric and Nina are big players in British Union, sometimes known as the British Union of Fascists, which was led by Oswald Mosley. They encourage Phyllis to get involved too, as she's newly returned to England. Over the summer, Nina runs camps for party members. Phyllis feels she'll be at a bit of a loss with the children, who are fourteen, twelve, and eight, or something like that, so she takes them along. Julia ends up getting into some bother. Phyllis makes some friends - Sarita, who is married to her second husband, Fergus, and Venetia, who is hilarious but quite coarse. 

War looms on the horizon but Phyllis and her family believe themselves to be huge patriots. They are obsessed with Mosley, who they call the Leader. Phyllis is quite overwhelmed when she meets him. But mostly her life is a round of parties, sorting out the household, and visiting her ailing parents. It's obvious that something is going to happen, but the reader isn't quite sure what. 

Interspersed with the main narrative are little bits from Phyllis herself, which read as if she's being interviewed by a journalist or something. She has been in prison, which turned her hair white, but the reader doesn't know why. She talks about not forgiving her sisters, but again, we don't know why.

I found the book compelling and really interesting. I do love posh people who are sometimes terrible but sometimes not. I liked the backdrop of the Fascist party and associated politics (even though I am very very far from a fascist). I sympathised with Phyllis, to a point, but I also found her frustrating at times. 

The book reminded me of The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes which is ironic because Diana Mitford, one of the sisters, became Oswald Mosley's second wife (she also appears in the book). I'd love to read something else by the same author!

The House Guest by Mark Edwards - Review

Thursday, December 9, 2021

I bought this book on Amazon (something which I try to avoid, but realise that sometimes needs must) for just a pound last December and recently got round to reading it. Someone must have recommended it or linked to the fact it was a pound, but I also know that quite a few people have read this. 

I thought it was good in the first half but then went slightly off-piste. I'm not sure I'd read something else by the author. Here's what it's about, though:

Adam and Ruth are house sitting at a big house in Williamsburg, New York. The house belongs to their friends, Mona and Jack, who they met on a cruise. Jack and Mona are on a retreat in New Mexico. While in New York, Ruth, an actress, is rehearing for a new play with a prestigious director, and Adam is writing a play. 

One stormy evening a woman called Eden arrives, we through. She says she knows Jack and Mona and had expected them to be home. She says she used to go out with a friend of Jack's (although she's much younger than him) and has had a bad break up. 

Adam and Ruth decide to let her stay. Over the next few days they get to know her a little bit - she tells them a little about her past, and she makes friends with them. She and Adam go out one night and he confides that he is a little bit jealous of Ruth. She has that certain charisma and it seems like her career is about to take off. Adam doesn't think he'll make it as a playwright and is worried Ruth will outgrow him.

On the Friday before Jack and Mona are due home on the Sunday, Eden comes home with Japanese food and tequila for everyone. They all get drunk and in the morning, Adam wakes up feeling horrendous. He goes back to sleep until 7pm and finds the house completely trashed, and Ruth and Eden gone. He has to clean up the house before Mona and Jack come back. Although he's concerned about Ruth and Eden he thinks they'll be back soon.

But when Jack and Mona get back they have no idea who Eden is. Adam can't even prove that she actually existed, either. A police officer friend comes over to talk to Adam, but he says Adam would have to register Ruth as a missing person if he wants anything to be done for her, and that has implications for her visa. Adam then overhears Jack and Mona and the officer talking skeptically about Adam's story. 

I liked this mystery and I kept reading - I in fact read the book very quickly - but I thought the resolution was a bit crap and I didn't feel like the twist was good enough. I'm giving this three out of five.

The Mermaid's Scream by Kate Ellis - Review

Monday, December 6, 2021

I was browsing books in the library a few weeks ago and came across this book, which is part of a series centred on detective Wesley Peterson. I do know that many of these detective series can be read as standalones; the authors always give you enough information for you to understand what has happened previously. This one didn't do that much actually, except to tell us that Wesley's wife Pam had previously been ill with breast cancer and is recovering.

Wesley works alongside a woman called Rachel, who I liked, and their boss Gerry. But not all the books is from the police's point of view, there's a lot from the point of view of other people too. 

We start off with Zac Wilkinson, a journalist and writer, who is writing a biography about a reclusive author called Wynn Staniland. He is staying near Staniland's house in Devon (I think) and has been in touch with the author. Staniland wrote a much lauded book called The Viper's Kiss, but shortly after that his wife took her own life in a similar way to a suicide in the book - which in its turn was written based on an historic murder in the area. Staniland lives with his stepdaughter and is rarely seen in public. 

Zac is due to give a talk at a local library when he doesn't turn up. It turns out he has many, many ghosts from the past and a lot of enemies. One of them has turned up to threaten him... but has this person killed him?

Then two bodies turn up in a static caravan at a nearby farm. At first, it looks like they have taken their own lives, but Wesley gets a bit of a bee in his bonnet about it and discovers they've been poisoned. The couple were on holiday from their home in Leeds, and seem to have no ties to the area, so who would have wanted them dead?

I like the main mystery around Staniland and the deaths of Zac and the couple in the caravan, but I thought some of the other stuff, including an archaeological dig at a local manor house, was distracting and pointless. I also found the whole cast of characters baffling, I wish a few characters had been cut entirely. I did find the book compelling and I finished it, but I won't bother with the series again and and giving this three out of five.

Manic Street Preachers - Album by Album, edited by Marc Burrows - Review

Thursday, December 2, 2021

So a couple of things you might not know about me is that I am a huge fan of the Manic Street Preachers and have been since I was thirteen years old in 1997. I even have part of a lyrics of theirs - 'cheap tarnished glitter' - tattooed on my inner wrist. I am also a zinester - you can see all the zines I have for sale here on Etsy. So when Marc put out a call for "book reviewers, zinesters, and Manic Street Preachers" specialists to review this new book, I obviously fitted the bill in all three respects, so I contacted Marc. He sent me an electronic copy of the book for review. I wasn't otherwise compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

I had seen the book previously as a few of my friends are featured - Rhian, who I know through The Libertines primarily, Phoenix, who I must have come across way back when in Manics forums but didn't know until a couple of years ago, and Claire, who I met through Twitter a few years ago. I was excited to read their essays.

The book is made up of essays by different people on each of the Manic Street Preachers' albums, from 1991's Generation Terrorists to 2018's Resistance is Futile. Alongside is a chronology of the band, from singles they were releasing to tours they were doing, and including information on the disappearance in 1995 of Richey Edward's, one of the band's lyricists and sort of rhythm guitarist. It's an enduring mystery and one which the band had to move past musically in their subsequent albums. 

Now, I'll admit I stopped closely following the band after 2001's Know Your Enemy. I did keep up with the next two released, which were compilation albums. Lipstick Traces' second CD is made up of covers of other songs, and I absolutely loved that one, I played it to death at university. I liked parts of Journal for Plague Lovers and Postcards from a Young Man, so I've listened to those on Spotify and so on, even if I don't own the physical CDs. So I haven't followed the band closely for a while, but I was still excited to read the book. 

It had a strong start with Rhian E Jones chatting about Generation Terrorists. I loved the essay on Gold Against the Soul, which I think is an excellent album and is underrated by both the band and fans. Writing about The Holy Bible (one of the darkest and most terrifying albums ever written, focussing on Richey's mental health problems and so on) was never going to be easy, but the author did it brilliantly. Phoenix Andrews' writing about Everything Must Go was personal and reminded me of my own teenaged Manics fandom. Claire Biddles' essay came towards the end of the book, and taught me things about an album I don't know at all. I liked that - I learnt a lot about the later albums that I'm not familiar with. So many of the essays were personal but also political, which is something you can say about the Manics themselves and their music. 

Any fan will like this book I'm sure, so buy it for the Manics fan in your life. I'm giving it four out of five.

If you'd like to buy my zine about the Manics, it's available, here

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