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Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers - Review

Monday, May 23, 2022


This was another book club book, and it's actually the one I chose! I bought it last April when Waterstones had just opened up again in Meadowhall, I think it was on buy one get one half price. I didn't read it in 2021 so when it came to choosing books for book club in 2022 I chose this. Coincidentally someone else did too, it was one of Lynn's choices. It seems like such an ideal book for a book club, which the publisher must agree with because there's book club questions at the back of this copy. This will be useful for me when it comes to book club!

The book is set in 1957 and the main character is Jean. She is one of the only female staff on the North Kent Echo. She enjoys her job as a journalist, mostly. She lives with her widowed mother; her sister Dorrie emmigrated to Kenya with her husband and they only hear from her sporadically. Jean's mother is difficult to say the least, unwilling to leave the house and increasingly demanding within it. Jean spends all her time, energy and money on dealing with her money. She can't go out with her colleagues for a drink on a Friday night. She is thirty-nine and seems to be quite depressed, having accepted her lot but not being too please about it. 

The paper receives a letter from a Mrs Gretchen Tilbury, alleging that her daughter was the product of a Virgin Birth. The letter seems quite credible, so Jean's boss sends her off on the story. Jean goes to meet Gretchen and the little girl, Mary, who's around ten, and Gretchen's husband, Howard. Gretchen was ill as a teenager and was in hospital at around the time that she must have conceived. She was on a ward with three other girls and particular friends with a girl called Martha. Jean tries to contact the other girls and also the Matron of the ward.

Everyone seems to agree that Gretchen is a credible witness and that she could be telling the truth. There are certain scientific tests that can be done, so Gretchen and Mary and Jean go to London for some of those. Howard owns a jewellery shop near the Strand, and Jean calls in on him a couple of times. She also visits the family at home and ends up becoming close to all of them. She must engineer time away from her mother carefully, but as she becomes freer and freer she is too close to the story really as it develops.

I don't want to give away much more of the story as I liked watching it unfold. There are parellels between Jean's life and Gretchen's and, as it turns out, between Jean's and her mother's. I liked Jean a lot and really felt like the reader understood her and her motivations. I felt sorry for her, too. I think generally my book club will have enjoyed the book, I'm looking forward to our meeting!

I'm giving this five out of five and I'm also going to lend it to my mum I think!

The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths - Review

Thursday, May 19, 2022


I've been waiting for this book forever! It feels like so long since I got to read one of Elly's adult books, whether the Ruth novels or these, the Stephens and Mephisto series. I had this and the new Ruth book on pre-order, because I was waiting for the paperbacks. This one arrived in mid April and I picked it up not too long afterwards. I do feel like it's not really a Stephens and Mephisto book anymore because we don't get a lot from Edgar's point of view. Instead a lot of it is from Emma Stephens' point of view. She used to be a DI but once she married Edgar she had to give up her job. She is now a private detective alongside Sam Collins, who is also a journalist. There is a young female detective, WPC Meg Connolly. Emma and Meg mostly narrate the book, and I love both of them and am really happy that in this book they become much more friendly!

At the beginning of the book a man called Bert Billington is found dead. He is an ex showman, married to ex chorus girl Verity Malone, and the couple have three children - David, Seth, and Aaron. Bert was fifteen years older than Verity, and had a string of affairs in his life, and is found to have been poisoned with rat poison. Aaron telephones the police to say that he thinks his mother has killed his dad. Bob Willis and Meg start to investigate. Meanwhile Verity employs Emma and Sam to look into the death too. There is a list of suspects a mile long as it seems no one really liked Bert.

Middle son Seth is an actor, and he's currently in Whitby filming a sequel to Dracula with Max. Max knew Verity and had a short-lived relationship with her. His wife Lydia is in Whitby with him, but once filming is finished she doesn't want to stay with him and heads home to Massingham Hall. 

There's a lot of mystery and intrigue throughout the book, but I find it so cosy, like putting on some comfy slippers and settling down with friends. I liked the further look into Meg's family, and I liked Emma's struggle with being a mother and wanting to work. I am giving this four out of five and I'll look forward to the next one as usual!

Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne - Review

Sunday, May 15, 2022

 


This is a perfect middle grade book and I'm so glad I had the chance to read it. I saw someone mention it on Twitter and they also said it was on Netgalley, so I requested it immediately. So thank you to Firefly Press for granting me permission to read this book. I was given a free electronic copy for reviews purposes only and was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions remain my own. 

Hazel Hill is in the seventh grade at middle school and she has no friends. Really, she doesn't, and really, she's okay with that. She works hard and is a hit with most teachers. She lost the speech competition last year to super popular girl Ella Quinn, but she is determined that she will win this year. She lives with her parents and her baby brother, Rowan. And she's gay. She knows that but she isn't yet out to anyone. 

She shares her desk in homeroom with a boy called Tyler. He isn't exactly her friend, but he talks to her. Specifically, he talks to her about the girls he has crushes on and girls he's been out with. And he's pretty mean about them, but Hazel doesn't entirely notice. 

But then he tells her that Ella Quinn has a crush on her, but that can't be right, can it? Hazel asks Ella Quinn (she always goes by her full name to everyone except her BFF, Riley) and it turns out that no, Ella isn't any kind of LGBTQ+, but she was being harassed by Tyler and trying to get him off her back. This sounds awful written down, but it does make sense in context and Hazel forgives her. 

Ella Quinn has quite a developed body meaning that she gets lots of negative attention from men and boys much older than her. At first Hazel doesn't quite get it but then she sees it in action and does get it. Ella then shows her some disgusting messages that she's received on an app, and Hazel recognises one of Tyler's spelling errors and knows he sent the messages. The girls ask other girls if they've had run ins with Tyler, and find at least two who have.

They then end up in trouble because Tyler's mother accuses them of starting a campaign against Tyler. The girls try to explain to their principal, Mrs West, what is actually going on, but she doesn't believe them and tells them to be less online basically. 

The girls realise they need to sort this out for themselves... so they do.

I loved this book, it was so perfectly like being twelve and all the problems that go alongside that. I loved Hazel, I wanted her to win and felt for her very deeply. I liked her parents, who are slightly clueless but trying their very best, especially as they have a small baby and a big gap between the two kids. I liked Ella and Riley and their friendship, and the way they pulled Hazel into their circle too. I would love for their to be a sequel to this from any of those three's point of view. I love middle grade when it's written in such an endearing way as this. I'm giving this five out of five!

Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One will be published on 18th October 2022. 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante - Review

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

I heard about this book because I was watching Write Around the World with Richard E Grant, which was basically an excuse for him to go on holiday and swan about talking about books. Anyway he was in Naples and he mentioned this book, and I was intrigued, so I requested it at the library. It took me quite a while to read it, because it's really dense, but I did like it. It's the first in a series and I'm not sure if I will get round to the rest of them, but I wouldn't be opposed to it!

The book is set in Naples, in a poor neighbourhood. The narrator is Elena, the eldest in her family. Her mother is disabled; her father works as a porter in the city. Her best friend is Lila, whose father is a shoemaker, and whose brother Rino joins him in the family shop after school. The book is set in the late 1950s. Elena and Lila have many neighbourhood friends, but always come back to each other. After their compulsory schooling, Lila leaves school even though she is clever, cleverer than Elena. A teacher insists to Elena's parents that she continue in school. She does, and eventually even goes to high school. 

Their lives diverge and at times Lila seems disengaged from their friendship, but Elena remains loyal to her through periods, acne, first boyfriends, and growing up. From the beginning of the book we know that they're still friends as old women - Lila's son phones Elena to tell her that his mother is missing, and so begins Elena's recounting of their whole lives.

I loved the setting - I could just imagine the neighbourhood and the houses and apartments, and the neighbours that Elena tells us about. I liked how she grew away, how she studied and could hold her own against her teachers. I liked the boys she fell in love with and her trip to Ischia. I am giving this four out of five - it's a total epic and I wanted to know what happened. 

The Secret of Haven Point by Lisette Auton - Review

Saturday, May 7, 2022



Where did I get it? A friend on Facebook shared it because their friend wrote it, and I liked the sound of it so bought it when I had a voucher on Amazon. 


What's it about? Alpha Lux was the first of the Wrecklings. She was discovered abandoned in a soap flakes box by Cap'n, an ex boat captain who has made his home on a peninsula somewhere in the north east of England. One by one others arrived. They're all disabled in one way or another. Alpha was burned in a fire and lost one eye and one ear. Her best friend Badger is blind and uses clicks to orient herself. Cap'n has agoraphobia. Everyone lives in the lighthouse, Old Ben, or one of the cottages nearby, and every Sunday the wrecklings have to wreck a ship to bring their supplies in. 

Oh, and there's mermaids. Alpha's adoptive mother - whose name I forget, I'm writing this a few days after I read the book, and I'm sorry - is a mermaid who uses her magic to let Alpha into the depths to visit her and the other mermaids. Mermaids can also go on land, and they also sing a magical song to bring the ships in. This song also keeps Outsiders out. 

But Alpha's mother is keeping something from her, and then Alpha sees something glinting up on the cliff top, and begins to feel the community is being watched. She and Badger make plans to go looking, before anything can threaten their community. 


What age range is it for? 11 plus


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yeah, there's two women who are getting married in the book, which I liked. I also for the longest time couldn't work out if Alpha was a boy or girl - no one uses any pronouns about her for ages. I get big non binary vibes from her. I do reckon there'll be a sequel so maybe I'll be right! 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, I think so, but can't remember specifics


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, as I said, the whole community has either physical or mental disabilities. I loved the way these were described, in such a good way as to explain them to a kid. One of the women, Laura, has what sounded very much like ME, and it was described brilliantly. The whole lighthouse and surrounding area have been modified to be accessible to everyone. 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, and it is somewhat graphic, but age appropriate I thought 


Are there swear words? No, but there's loads of inventive ways for Alpha and her friends to NOT swear, which I found really funny and fun. 

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I really liked it 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, especially for a middle grade reader 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just wanted to get to it soon! I really hope there's more in the series - the ending has Alpha and Badger setting off on a journey and I hope we see it

How many stars? Four out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I think I'll send it to my friend Lucinda who might like it!

A Girl Called Justice: The Smuggler's Secret by Elly Griffiths - Review

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

 

I read the first one in this series nearly three years ago, and felt it had some teething pains. But something reminded me of the second and third in the series recently, so I requested them both at the library. The third one came in first, annoyingly, but then this one came in the week after so I picked it up. I do think this book was much better, I liked Justice a lot more and understood her motivations more. 

Justice is back at school just after Christmas. She feels a bit better towards her school though. She meets a new games teacher, Miss Heron, and the new Matron, Miss Robinson. There seems to be a mystery about Miss Robinson straight away, and there also seems to be a new mystery about the school basements, which are even more strictly off limits than they already had been. 

Miss Heron makes the girls do cross country running, and it turns out Justice is good at it and she gets put on the team. They all each have to do a Good Citizenship project also, where they each go into the village on Wednesday afternoons to help out one of the residents. Justice gets paired with Mr Arthur, who lives in Smugglers' Lodge right on the beach. He was blinded in the war and has a fierce Alsatian called Sabre. He asks Justice to read The Times to him, and she has a good time with him. 

Of course there's a mystery and I loved it, I thought it was very well executed. I'm giving this four out of five. 

Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Hepperman - Review

Friday, April 29, 2022


Where did I get it? I bought it a few years ago when I was looking for YA books which featured abortions. I must have had it recommended or googled it, and bought it. I had completely forgotten about it and it was on a shelf, but then about two months ago I pulled it off the shelf and added it to the huge pile of books next to my bed. I'm not sure why! But I did! By which point I just couldn't remember what it was about at all, so it was a total surprise. 


What's it about? It's a novel told in verse (which you already know I love) starring Addie, who is in high school in Minnesota. She has a boyfriend called Craig but he's cheating on her. She then starts seeing his friend Nick and they have sex multiple times. Addie is on the cross country run team and is very good, she's one of their best athletes.

She realises she is pregnant and tells Nick, and then her parents. She doesn't want to tell her parents because she's afraid of letting them down, but she has to because an abortion in Minnesota requires parental consent for minors. The actual abortion is barely touched upon, which I liked. But Addie goes to a Catholic school and in one of her classes is a girl who think abortion is a terrible sin. Addie also writes poems and Nick, who is in a band with a terrible lyricist, wants her to write some lyrics for him. 

She doesn't regret the abortion at all. She does start missing running practice though. She starts to go to a different coffee shop while pretending to her parents that she's at practice, and while there she meets Juliana, who used to be on the running team but is now at college. The two start to get close, and there's a bit of a relationship/crush between them. Addie is pulling away from everything she knows - but can she find herself again? 

I loved the poems, they were just lovely and really got across the whole novel in such a good way. I read this quickly because it was just so nice. 


What age range is it for? 15+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yeah kind of, definitely there's something between Addie and Juliana even if it's not explicitly labelled by the end of the book 


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


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Juliana has mental health problems 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's a bit explicit (in a very good way!) 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No, the abortion drugs are barely mentioned either 


Is there any talk of death? There's a little bit about an attempted suicide, it's not graphic 


Are there swear words? No 

 

What criticisms do I have? I wished it was longer! I wished we'd seen more of Addie and Juliana falling in love! 


Would I recommend the book? Yes especially if you like books told in verse.


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I pulled it off the shelf to get to it, so I did! 

 

What do I think of the cover? I like it, it's cute 

 

What other books is it like? Well anything by Sarah Crossan definitely 


How many stars? Four out of five 

 

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


The Five by Hallie Rubenhold - Review

Tuesday, April 26, 2022


I've heard of this book, which does deep dives into the lives of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper in autumn 1888, but I probably wouldn't have ever picked it up to read. I know people who have raved about it, but I don't know a lot about Jack the Ripper in general so I never thought to pick it up. But then someone chose it for my book club, so I picked up a copy on eBay for just a few quid. I read it at the beginning of April and now want everyone who considers themselves a feminist to read it. 

You've probably heard the same as I have, that Jack the Ripper killed sex workers. Here, the author looks very closely at the lives of each of the women - Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane. The overriding thing I came away with was that nearly all of them had problems with alcohol, and honestly it's hard to blame them. Their lives were hard, filled with tragedy, and they had all lost many people close to them. I think I would have turned to alcohol too. 

Each of them also seemed to have like a turning point in their lives where it meant that they ended up in the East End, in poverty, far away from where their lives began. Polly Nichols's marriage dissolved and she ended up in dosshouses the workhouse. Annie Chapman lost a child and may have had another with foetal alcohol syndrome due to her drinking. Her marriage also broke down and she ended up in dosshouses and the workhouse. Elizabeth Stride was born in Sweden and ran a coffee house in London with her husband, until her marriage broke down and she took up with someone else and again lived in the dosshouses and a workhouse. Catherine Eddowes tramped for a lot of her life, living an itinerant life for a long time; her body was found with many things she could have sold on it. Mary Jane was known to have worked as a sex worker, firstly in the West End, but then she was trafficked to Paris and on her return ended up in the East End. Rubenhold argues that there isn't much proof that the other women DID work as sex workers. I can see why some people have criticised her for that, as if she is arguing that their lives meant more because they weren't just "common prostitutes". I don't think she was saying this, but I think it's a valid criticism. I do think she was a bit snotty about the women's use of alcohol. Alcoholism is a disease like any other, first of all. Second of all - all these women had suffered tragedies that we would find hard to cope with. They nearly all lost children, they had nearly all lost their parents in their teens, and they lived in poverty that is so deep it's hard to fathom. I think I would have turned to drink, too. In context, I think it was easy to understand. 

I did feel like the book painted an excellent picture of the sheer poverty that many people lived in at that time in the Victorian era. It was shocking at times, and Rubenhold definitely drew upon contemporary accounts to prove her point. 

I think you definitely get a good study of each of the women, instead of just the macabre details of their deaths. I ended up feeling sorry for all of them, and honestly, if all of them had turned to sex work in order to make a living in a time and place where it was difficult for women especially to make a living, I would have completely understood it. I would now like to read more about Jack the Ripper (which is useful as it turns out I've got a book about him), but I'm glad this came first so that I can understand the women before trying to understand anything about him. I'm giving this four out of five. 

I Couldn't Love You More by Esther Freud - Review

Friday, April 22, 2022



I was reading something and this book came up and I was intrigued, so I requested it at the library as I'm trying to not buy books at the moment. I actually got the notification that it had arrived while I was in the library at craft club, which I go to every Monday morning. That was useful because it meant I picked it up on my way out and didn't have to wait until the next week!

I will say at the start that I did enjoy this book but I do feel like I've read very similar before. It features a young woman who is unmarried and pregnant and who heads to one of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. Her story does differ to some because she voluntarily puts herself there, but she definitely doesn't understand exactly what she's signing up to; she doesn't know she'll have to stay for three years to pay off her "debt" of having been "cared for" by the nuns through her pregnancy. The Magdalene Laundries in Ireland and the harm they inflicted is a massive scandal, and I'm glad that books do exist which detail the horror, but I've read quite a few and if I had realised that's where this book went, I might have swerved it. But I didn't, so I did read, and I did enjoy it. But I wil lstart with the caveat!

The book takes places in several different time periods. Firstly there's Aoife, who sometimes has first person narration and sometimes has third person narration, and who's husband, Cashel, is dying. The two met in London in the war, and got married and had a little girl, Rosaleen. Because of the war she was evacuated to Harrogate, where she was fostered. They pick her up towards the end of the war, when they have had another girl, Angela. They run a pub in the East End, but Aoife, who is Irish, somewhat dreams of returning home. They have another little girl, Kitty, and buy a farm in Ireland. The girls go to boarding school in England and Rosaleen always has somewhat of a chasm between herself and her parents. She disappeared from their lives shortly after Christmas around 1960 when she was nineteen. Aoife knows that Cash knows more about this than he's ever let on and she wants to get it out of him before he dies. 

Meanwhile, we're in the late fifties with Rosaleen, in London. She meets a man in a pub and starts an affair with him. He is an artist, a sculptor, and he introduces her to many of his bohemian friends. He lives in poverty and sometimes ignores her when he's trying to work. She finds herself pregnant and heads home for Christmas, concealing it. When she gets back, something happens that means she ends up in the convent. 

Then we're also in the early nineties with Kate. She is an artist and is married to Matt, a musician who is also an alcoholic. Their marriage is falling apart. They have a little girl, Freya. Kate knows she is adopted and sees her mother everywhere - in a woman at the station, in a homeless woman nearby, and so on. 

The Whitby Murders by J R Ellis - Review

Tuesday, April 19, 2022


I fancied something light to read so turned to the next in the DCI Oldroyd series. I actually read the 5th book first, then went back to the beginning, so I missed out the fifth one and went on to this, the sixth in the series. I have the 7th in line to read too and I don't think it'll be long before I get to it! When I've got a lot going on in my life I like to read easy books like this because they keep me turning the page and, being crime novels, I know everything will work out by the end. 

So, DCI Oldroyd's daughter, Louise, is in Whitby for the goth weekend in October, with some of her friends. There's Dom and Andrea, who are a couple but who argue sometimes, Maggie, and Ben. Maggie's boyfriend Mark is on his way too, but a day later than the first part of the book. There's another person who arrives later too. But the five have booked to do a Dracula themed escape room, while all dressed up in goth clothes. 

They are shown into the room by a Romanian woman called Elaine. She explains the escape room and also that a Dracula will follow them and if he catches up to them the game will be over. The five manage to escape the first room but once into the second everything goes wrong. Dom and Andrea have been rowing, and he suddenly pulls out a knife and stabs her. Then he says something like, oh god what have I done, and disappears through the emergency escape door. 

Ben falls to Andrea, trying to save her life. Louise goes back to reception to get help. But Andres dies before help can get to her. Dom is missing, but police are certain they'll find him before long, especially as he has no known links to Whitby. 

But Louise isn't sure. She feels like something felt wrong in what happened, even though everyone agrees that Dom stabbed Andrea before escaping. She phones her dad in Harrogate, and he manages to get himself seconded to Whitby to work under one of his old mentees, Alice Granger. Oldroyd believes his daughter, and presses the investigation to go further, utilising his current underlings Stephanie and Andy to do so. Of course there's more to the story. I really liked the mystery and how it unravelled, and the chance to get to see a bit more of Louise and her life. 

I would probably have given this five out of five but what annoyed me was some of the names of the children! There's no reason to believe that this series of books isn't set right now, as it's published, but for some reason Alice's children are called Ian and Lesley. Am I supposed to believe that a child born in around 2003 is called Lesley? Because I don't. And there's a few things like this, and they annoy me, and just smack of a writer that can't be bothered to do some proper research and find what children are actually called these days. 

The Lighthouse by Fran Dorricott - Review

Friday, April 15, 2022


I got this book on Netgalley, so thank you very much to Avon Books for granting me access to it. I received a free electronic copy of the book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions remain my own. 

I haven't heard of this author before, but the premise of the book intrigued me. I would read something else by the author, as I found the book pretty good, if a little predictable in parts. It's a pretty standard thriller but there are some genuinely chilling parts. I had to stop reading at one point as I was alone in the house and got too scared!

A group of six friends are heading to a remote Scottish island for a weekend. Kira is a photographer and has been asked to photograph the new accomadation on Ora. There is a lighthouse and adjoining cottage, which have been recently renovated. She takes along her friends - Moira and Jess, a couple who have a small daughter, James, Lukas and Genevieve. James, Moira, Jess, and Lukas met when they started uni; Kira joined them in the third year when she started going out with Lukas. The five were very firm friends, but a few years ago Kira and Lukas split up, acrimoniously. Genevieve is Lukas' new girlfriend and Kira is dreading meeting her. The six are taken to the island in a small boat, which will return on Monday to pick them up, but should make a couple of trips in the meantime too. 

The six disembark and take all their supplies up the slope towards the lighthouse. They all love the accomadation - the cottage has nice bedrooms and a small kitchen, but the real wow is saved for the lighthouse, where there is a big entertaining space and sunroom, and the lighthouse rooms themselves. They explore to the top, where the lamp is, but find that one room on the first floor is locked. Then Jess decides to cook, and discovers that a bottle of wine is missing. It's later found, outside, empty. 

The six eat, and start to drink, and later decide to go down on to the beach. They think about building a fire, and James goes back to find matches. He doesn't return. The other five spend hours looking for him, finding an abandoned shack further up the island. They have no phone signal, and are considering trying to get the coastguard or otherwise, but eventually return to the cottage, where they find James. He is clearly shaken, but won't tell them where he's been or what happened. 

Weird things carry on happening, but there's plenty of tension within the group too. Moira and Jess are finding it hard to be away from their daughter, and keep coming up against each other. James seems withdrawn. Kira has issues with him and with Lukas, and is quick to judge Genevieve because she is Lukas' new girlfriend. Genevieve is trying hard to fit in with the group, but she's got to work with over ten years if history between them. The novel is told from the points of view of Kira, Genevieve and Moira, in turn, and each of them thinks that either Lukas or James may be playing pranks. 

But are they really alone on the island? And if they're not, are the others real, or paranormal? I liked the scary things, they were well written. I did think some of the interactions between the six didn't always ring true - sometimes someone would be really angry and would then quickly lose it, for example. I did like it though, and I'm giving it four out of five. 


Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido - Review

Monday, April 11, 2022


After I read Brother of the More Famous Jack right at the beginning of this year, I went on to the Barnsley library website to search for other books by her and placed a hold on one. I was patient about it arriving, but it didn't, so when I was in Penistone library for craft club I asked the librarian what was happening, and she realised the book in question was missing. The only other copy was one in the readers group lots - these tend to be collections of at least 7 copies of the same book that are loaned out to the readers groups. My own book club started out as one of these so we sometimes do get these collections to read, so I'm familiar with them. The librarian said she could reserve one for me, I just had to promise to get it back to the library quickly. As I go fairly often, this wasn't a problem. It does explain the strange label on the book though!

This book is a total saga, it encompasses forty years of the lives of several people. It's one of those where you follow several people and then it all comes together in clever ways at the end. I love books like these because I think it's so clever of the writer to keep threads alive and to weave them all together at the end. I am a writer but I don't write like that at all so I'm always in awe of people who do! The actual action takes place over only a few weeks in 1995, but as I say the story encompasses years and years and many people and families. 

Now, before I review properly, I do have to say that a couple of things really jarred with me given that the book is mostly set in 1995. I was eleven years old then, just a year younger than Zoe, one of our main characters, so I remember it well and remember being her age. Firstly, Zoe is "the last in her class" to have a mobile phone because her parents won't allow her to have one. This doesn't ring true at all to me. The first person in my class to have a mobile didn't have one until 1999, and when I left school in 2000 was when I had one for the first time. So this kind of annoyed me because I just didn't believe it. Secondly, Zoe's mother Caroline is looking for her sister some way into the novel, and finds her church newsletter on the internet. I know people were using the internet in 1995, but I'm just not sure that a pastor's wife would have been uploading her church newsletter for the world. I felt like these were more like 2010 happenings (when the book was published) and they did annoy me. 

But! Those things aside, I did really like the book. At the beginning, Caroline and Josh meet. They are both graduate students in England, but Josh has grown up in South Africa and Caroline is Australian. They start a relationship and have modest plans for their future - Caroline wants to buy a small Victorian terraced house and have four children. On their wedding day, Caroline's mum and sister come for the occasion, and insist that the newlyweds give up their bed in a decommissioned double decker bus for them. Caroline and Josh end up in a tent, Josh beginning to understand the type of person his new mother in law is. Their baby Zoe is born and they're about to buy a house when Caroline's father dies and her mother moves to England. She demands a house and a monthly allowance from Caroline, having apparently been left no money. Janet, Caroline's sister, has cut off all contact. For the next twelve years, Caroline and Josh live on the bus and scrimp and save to keep Caroline's mum happy. They are on the cusp of finally being able to afford a house when Zoe goes off to France on a French exchange and Josh goes back to South Africa for the first time in nearly thirty years for a conference.

I'm telling you this in linear fashion, but the book doesn't do that at all. At the beginning Zoe is heading to France, where she is staying with a boy, Gerard, and which goes horribly wrong right from the beginning. I didn't enjoy either of my French exchanges so I definitely felt for poor Zoe here. I think then we head to South Africa with Josh. He is the adopted son of two secular Jewish people, Bernie and Ida, who fought against the apartheid laws and who had to leave South Africa very quickly when Josh was leaving for England. He was in love with a girl called Hattie back then, who gave up her dream of being a ballet dancer because of her wayward brother. They happen to meet in South Africa, where Hattie is married to a rich man and who she has three children with, the youngest of whom is still at home and completely baffling to Hattie. 

I did guess where the book would end up but there were still a couple of things I didn't guess at all. I loved how it all came together, and it was easy to feel sympathy for most of the characters. I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely read something else by her. She's such a good storyteller!


The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves - Review

Friday, April 8, 2022


This book is the sequel to The Long Call which I read last February. That one is the first in a new series by Ann Cleeves, about DI Matthew Venn and set in north Devon around Barnstaple. It was also made into an ITV series last year, which I watched. I liked the first one and enjoyed the TV show, so when I saw this book for sale on Barnsley market I bought it immediately. I think I mentioned the stall - if I take this one back I'll get half off the next one. This is ideal for crime books like this for me. I don't reread them and am not bothered about keeping them, so I'll probably get Lee to swap it for me at one point when he goes into town. There's plenty of the Vera books I haven't read. 

I am glad Cleeves has written a sequel to the first one - I actually think it's lots better than the first one. It felt like she had settled into Matthew Venn a bit more, which I liked. I also really like his DC, Jen, and her inner thoughts are always welcome chapters to read. 

So in this book, Jen is at a party that her friend Cynthia is throwing when a man called Nigel wants to speak to her. Jen is a bit drunk so arranges to speak to Nigel soon. However, she's awoken the next morning by Matthew calling her to say there's been a murder. She heads over to a big house called Westacombe. It's owned by a man called Frank. He has two lodgers in the house, Wesley and Eve, who is a glass maker. A relative of Frank's and her family live in a cottage on site and run the farm. 

Eve is Nigel's daughter and she has found him dead in her workshop on the site. He has been murdered with a piece of glass from one of Eve's pieces. Nigel had been a doctor but when his wife was ill, had taken a job on some kind of advisory panel where patients could complain about treatment received. Matthew and Jen think this was why he wanted to speak to Jen, so they start to investigate people he was dealing with. 

Matthew's mother visits him and Jonathan, which I'd have liked to see more of, but I get that there are constraints to books. Matthew was brought up in a religious sect which he left as a teenager and was estranged from his parents, and at the beginning of the first book his dad has died, but he does speak to his mother. I felt like I understood Matthew a bit more here. I will say that I feel like Jonathan remains a bit of a one dimensional character; he's there as Matthew's husband but you never get a full sense of who he is as a person. 

I also need to trigger warn for suicide and discussion of suicide. This is one of my main triggers (I lost my dad to suicide) and it was quite a lot for me. There's discussion of suicide methods and a couple of characters are very unsympathetic towards the issue. I did enjoy the book and this won't put me off reading any more in this series, but by the end I was a bit like, well I'm glad that's over and I don't have to read anything else about suicide for a while. Your mileage may vary on this so be careful if this is a trigger for you. 

I did really like this though, I'm giving it four out of five! 


The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos - Review

Monday, April 4, 2022

 

This was our March choice for my book club. I'm not sure who chose it, but I was a bit apprehensive about the book but ended up really enjoying it. It is a bizarre book though! I think most people will like it but I bet there's a couple in my book club who don't!

So this book is a translation of the original French, so of course there may be some things that aren't exactly as the author intended, but I quite like that. It's also a very meta book, it self-references several times. It's also very tongue in cheek, which I liked. The narration is a little odd too, at several points there are footnotes in the book where the narrator becomes completely omniscient and tells the reader something that will happen later. I don't often read books like this, but I don't mind it. 

The book is set in Brittany, near Dinan, which is somewhere I've been so I could imagine it perfectly which I liked. There is a library in a town called Crozon, and the librarian there has set up a library for writers' discarded manuscripts. Based on something American author Richard Brautigan really did, the librarian, Gourvec, has set up a place for authors to drop off their unpublished manuscripts. His only rule is that they must be dropped off in person. Courvec dies, and his assistant, who I think is called Marion, takes over the library.

Meanwhile, an author called Frederic has written an underwhelming book and is feeling despondent about it. His girlfriend Delphine is an editor for a publishing house; she is who published him. He is determined to write a better novel. He accompanies Delphine to Brittany, where she is from. Her parents mention Gourvec's library, so Frederic and Delphine head across. 

There they find a manuscript that they think is brilliant. It has the name Henri Pick on it. Some digging finds that he is dead, and that he was the owner of a pizzeria in town, which he owned with his wife Madeleine. Delphine wants to publish the book, so they visit Madeleine to ask her permission. 

Madeleine is surprised that her husband wrote a book, as she never saw him read anything and spent most of her time with him. She agrees that he could have written in the early mornings. She and her daughter Josephine, owner of a lingerie shop in Rennes, decide that the book can be published. 

It is, and both women appear on TV and in newspapers to talk about the book. The book is a huge success and the library grows extensively as more and more people visit it. But some people wonder whether Henri could have written such a masterpiece at all. A journalist called Rouche heads to Brittany to investigate. He is in the middle of breaking up with his girlfriend, which is an interesting plot point but ultimately not relevant to the story. That's NOT the only plot point like that, but I liked it!

It took me a day or two to get into the book but once I did I really liked it. It's boggling and it changes direction a lot, which I also liked. I would recommend it for sure, and I'm giving it four out of five. 

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick - Book Tour and Review

Friday, April 1, 2022


Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the blog tour for Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick. It is a pleasure to welcome you! I don't read a lot of middle grade but I was so intrigued by the premise of this book that I just had to sign up for the tour. I know I've got another of Jennifer's books somewhere, so I'll have to dig it out soon as I enjoyed this one so much. 

The book is suitable for ten year olds and older, but be aware there are parts that are genuinely scary and horrific - I am very much a grown up and still found some parts shocking! I want to warn as well for some parts of animal cruelty, which I know some people and kids especially can find difficult to read. 

So, the book is narrated by Angelo. He has got into trouble at school, and must now serve a Saturday detention. Joining him are Naira, Hallie, and Gustav. The four of them had some kind of riot in the dining room, and have to serve their punishment with Mr Canton. Mr Canton insists on taking their phones from them, but before he can get them to start doing what they're doing, he disappears. 

The school has some animals on site, including some pigs and their piglets, and chickens, as well as lots of insects, spiders, reptiles and all kinds of others inside the school. Angelo, who is a bit of a loner, particularly likes the pigs and spends a lot of time with them. 

The kids see some strange behaviour from the caretaker, Mr Latchitt, and his wife, and go to their house to see what's happening. They shockingly see Mrs Latchitt throw a live chicken down the well, and realise that she is feeding something down there. They start back towards the school and find Mr Canton - only then a hole opens up on the field below him and he disappears. Angelo tries his best to save him, but can't. The hole then reseals itself, taking Mr Canton with it. But Angelo is pretty sure that there was something else in the hole with Mr Canton, something with hairy legs, something which is kind of familiar...?

The kids realise something funny is going on. They try to unravel it, getting themselves into quite some danger as they do. They each have a secret too. Angelo doesn't have many friends; his parents work two jobs each to keep the family afloat and Angelo doesn't always have enough food to feed himself and his brother properly. I loved this bit - I really appreciate it when working class families are shown in books because that's reality for a lot of kids. The four aren't particularly friends at the start of the book but they definitely are by the end. I loved how tough the girls were too, how they got stuck in to every fight and showed no fear. I also really liked Gus' secret, but I won't spoil it. 

I think this book left itself open to a sequel, which I would love to see! I am giving this five out of five as I thoroughly enjoyed it! 

God Save the Teen by Andrew Graves - Review

Tuesday, March 29, 2022


I bought this book of poetry in the Waterstones Christmas sale, it was only a pound or so. I wouldn't say I'm a big fan of poetry but for that money I'll take a chance on it. I picked it up at the beginning of March and ended up really enjoying it. There's a lot of really personal poetry in it, and a whole bit which was originally a stage show and which tells the story of Andrew's work as a social worker, as well as some stories about his own early life, including when his mam left when he was eleven. I really liked the poems about Johnny Cash and punks, and several of the personal ones about his own life. It's a really accomplished collection of poems and I would definitely read something else by the same author. He's a little older than me but several of the poems reminded me of my own life. I'm giving this five out of five! 


The Baby is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite - Review

Saturday, March 26, 2022


At the end of February Lee and I went into Barnsley town centre one Saturday and ended up eating in the Market Kitchen, which is a new extension to the market and features several food counters - poutine, Turkish, Thai, curry, cafe, a dessert place - meaning you can all have different things to eat but still sit together. There's also a bar which does nice cocktails. I've been a few times both with Lee and with friends, and I really like it. I've tried the poutine but my favourite is the Thai. So I had massaman curry and Lee had a pizza, which was freshly made and completely delicious. Afterwards we walked through the market and I bought myself some daffodils and two books. The book stall had SO many books and also had a great system - if you take a book back, you have half off the next one you buy! I'm guessing they then resell the one you've brought back as quite a lot were secondhand. This never bothers me, I like second hand books. The owner also showed me the crime section which was huge. I also bought a new Ann Cleeves book and the owner said, "If you like her you'll love Elly Griffiths" and I was like, I do! I've read everything she's written! I was really impressed by the stall and recommend it if you're in the area. I'll definitely go back!

I picked this up as I really enjoyed My Sister Is A Serial Killer so would read something else by the same author. This is just a short story really, but I was immediately drawn into the world and liked the story. It's also the second book I've read set during a Covid lockdown. (The first was The Fell by Sarah Moss). I'm sure there'll be lots more books set during the pandemic, but it is weird to read about something so recent in our history. 

So at the beginning of the story, Bambi is living with his girlfriend in the city. (The book is set in Nigeria, as is My Sister Is A Serial Killer). However, she finds out he's been cheating on her, and throws him out. But lockdown has just hit Nigeria, and Bambi has to go to his grandfather's old house. After the death of his uncle Folu from Covid, the house is inhabited only by his aunt. But when Bambi arrives, in the middle of a powe cut, his finds Esohe there too. And baby Remi. Esohe was Folu's mistress, but Bambi also had a fling with her. But here's the problem: both women are saying that the baby is theirs. Bambi thinks that his aunt has had a baby recently, but as time goes on he becomes unsure about what the truth is. 

I really liked the story and wanted more - I'd have loved a full novel. The atmosphere is oppressive and I could imagine the house perfectly. I'm giving this four out of five, I am so glad I saw it and picked it up!

Disconnect by Keren David - Review

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

 

I picked this up at the library along with my last book. It's one of those Barrington Stoke books that are friendly for dyslexic people with separation between paragraphs, thicker paper, and a friendly font. I love these novellas, they're always so cute to read. Plus this one is set in the same universe as Keren's previous book The Liar's Handbook which I read and enjoyed last summer! River appears as a character in this book and I really liked seeing him.

In this book, Esther is friends with Natalie, Shaq, and Sophie, and like most Year Eleven girls, they all spend a lot of time of their phones. They have lots of WhatsApp groups but Esther feels quite self conscious in them, and often like she is being left behind by her friends. She lives with her mum and stepdad who own a cafe that isn't doing brilliantly, so they're worried about money. Esther spends a lot of time sending texts back and forwards with her sister Rosa, who lives in New York with their dad, and her little son Zack. Esther is desperate to see Rosa and her dad as she hasn't seen them in so long and misses them. 

Then an entrepeneur comes to school. She is offering any student who can give up their smart phones for six weeks £1000 for it. Esther realises that with that she could buy plane tickets to New York so she's determined to do it. She'll be given an old type of phone so she can text and call someone in emergencies, but that's all. Natalie joins in and so does River and his friend Tommy. 

At first Esther feels a lot of FOMO, but then good things start to happen...

I really loved this little novella, it's just such a good story. I'm giving it five out of five. 

Win Lose Kill Die by Cynthia Murphy - Review

Sunday, March 20, 2022


Where did I get it? The library! I walk past the teen section every week when I go to craft club, and often look at the new books. I was the first person to take this out!


What's it about? Liz is in her senior year at an exclusive boarding school called Morton. As far as I can tell, it's just two years, junior and senior, and students do something akin to A levels with a view to going to university. The school runs on scholarships, and kids are picked from sometimes difficult lives to attend the school. Liz is a member of the secret society Jewel and Bone, which means she will meet sponsors and donors and will be able to choose from the top universities. Jewel and Bone has some frankly weird history and also some bizarre rituals. But Liz is thrilled she's in. It means she is a prefect too. 

At the end of last year, though, there was an accident at school and the new head girl, Morgan, drowned in the lake, and Liz sustained a head injury that means she is still having a few health issues. But she's glad to be back at school and glad to meet new boy Cole. Jameela is now head girl, and Liz's friend Taylor's boyfriend Marcus is head boy. The kids all have a party on the roof, and Jameela has an asthma attack, but when she takes her inhaler she collapses and dies. 

Taylor is now head girl, but weird things keep happening, and she's not taking it well. Taylor and Liz's friend Kat starts to wonder what's going on. 

It's got everything you'd want from a boarding school book. Murder! Lies! A secret society! Parties! A cute love story and kissing in the back stairs! I really liked how much FUN it was as a book. I did guess some of the twists, but as usual I think that's partly because I'm an adult and have read a lot of books!


What age range is it for? 15+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Kat is bisexual, but it's not a big part of the story


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Cole is Chinese and I think some other characters are people of colour, but again, it's not a big part of the story. But I did feel like Morton was a diverse place to be. Plus the headmistress is Indian! 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Liz has got some residual issues from the lake incident, but they're not mentioned too much


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes - not illegal ones but poisons definitely 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, lots, and some of it is graphic 


Are there swear words? No. You may be wondering why I'm sayinf 15+ for this book - it's because of the deaths, which I found quite graphic 

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none! It's a fun book. I would read something else by Cynthia and am looking forward to seeing her Northern YA Litfest


Would I recommend the book? Yes 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well I saw it in the library obviously! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute, I like the listiness of it (totally a word)

 

What other books is it like? Well, I don't think it's unfair to compare it to the STAGS books by M A Bennett, although this one begins with the main characters on the 'inside', which I liked 


How many stars? Four out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? Back to the library when I'm next going!


The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah - Review

Thursday, March 17, 2022


I heard about this book somewhere (possibly Twitter), thought it sounded good, and added it to my wishlist. My aunt then sent me it for my birthday, and as I'm trying to read all the books I was gifted in a timely manner, I got to it in the middle of February. It's one of a series featuring a detective called Kate Daniels. It's set in Newcastle, which I liked. Kate has her underlings, as all detectives do, including Hank Gormley, who I did like, and Lisa Carmichael, who again I liked and was pleased when she did well. She is close to her superior, DCI Bright. Bright has a wife who is disabled after a car accident, and I didn't like how this was portrayed (it was as if Stella had no quality of life now she was disabled...). He also comes on to Kate at one point, which I really didn't like. 

At the beginning of the book Kate is travelling to a church to light a candle for her deceased mother, on Christmas Eve. When she gets to the church she is shocked to find the body of a young girl and the body of the parish priest. He has a prayer card next to him, which Kate finds odd. She follows some leads but ultimately comes up blank. The murders remain unsolved. 

Eleven months later, a man called Alan Stephens has been shot dead in his flat. His second wife has an alibi of being at the airport with a friend, but his first wife, Jo, and his sons don't have alibis. Stephens raped Jo and is estranged from both his sons, so they all have motives for killing him. The problem is that Jo is a psychiatrist who has worked with the police, so she's friendly with them. Furthermore Jo and Kate had a relationship, which Kate wants to keep hidden from all her colleagues. But the net is closing around Jo despite anything Kate does. 

Plus there's also some issue with Stephens and the Assistant Chief Constable, which I utterly didn't understand and couldn't find it in myself to care about. I found the book quite baffling entirely, actually - there's far too many people to keep all the names straight, and a few subplots that I couldn't get on board with. I did like the resolution of the book, but due to the confusing nature I wouldn't read anything else by the same author. I'm giving it three out of five. 
 

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