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Fight Like A Girl by Sheena Kamal - Review

Thursday, June 29, 2023

My friend Lucinda gave me this book in April, thinking I would like it, and she was right, because I do! She gave me four proof copies of books, all of which I'm excited to get to, so I finally picked this up last week. I've been in a bit of a reading slump recently which I find depressing; I'm hoping to get back on an even keel soon! But I've read read over fifty books before the end of June so I'm still hoping I can make it to a hundred again by the end of 2023!

So this book is set in Toronto and the protagonist is Trisha. She's seventeen and she does Muay Thai boxing. She trains hard and has won competitions before. She lives with her Ma, next door to Pammy and Christopher, who is the same age as Trisha. She calls him Columbus and generally finds him annoying. 

Trisha's family is Trinidadian Indian. Her dad still lives in Trinidad, but every few months he comes to stay with  Trisha and her Ma. He is physically abusive towards Ma and Trisha hates him. However, he then dies - the very beginning of the book is his funeral. I don't want to give anything away about that because I found it genuinely shocking and a brilliant part of the book. 

However, when Trisha's dad has died, it isn't long before Ma starts bringing around another man, Ravi. Trisha hates him, too. But he starts acting weird, and so does Ma. She's keeping secrets from Trisha, and she's violent towards her too (this has always been the case, which Trisha seems to accept as just normal between mothers and daughters, but it seems like it ramps up a level too). Trisha reads part of a book about a soucouyant, a Caribbean folklore creature that behaves a little bit like a vampire. Everything sort of adds up, but her mother can't really be one of those, can she?

I liked how the book skated a thin line between reality and fantasy, between this life and fantacism. I love that, and I think this did it really well. There's several points where the reader is not sure what is real, just as Trisha is not sure what is real. I liked the stuff in the gym and the romance, both of which give Trisha something else to concentrate on. I would definitely read something else by the same author and am giving this four out of five! 

Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard - Review

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Every time I pick up one of Sara's books I end up really fired up about Young Adult literature and want to write all the books! I have been told that my writing is like Sara's which is a huge compliment. This is the third book in a trilogy about Caddy, Rosie, and Suze - each book has a different one of them as a protagonist and this time it's Rosie's turn. In the first one, Caddy's book, the girls are doing their GCSEs. I haven't read the second one, but I picked up a bit about what had happened in that book due to what Rosie says in this one. However, I've ordered the second one to the library because I would like to read it.

I bought this book in The Bookish Type in Leeds in February; I had a voucher from a friend and there was a sale on too so I ended up buying eight books altogether I think! I am trying to make my way through them before the end of the year. Or before I go to the next sale!

Okay, so in this book Rosie is leaving Brighton to go to university in Norwich. She is going to study pharmacy and she is determined that it is going to be great. Suze is staying behind in Brighton, working full time. Caddy is starting at Warwick university just a week later than Rosie. So Rosie is dropped off by her mum and left in her flat. There's at least seven of them in there - drama students Rika and Dawn, Freddie, and three boys named Jack. Rosie tries really hard to go out with them in Freshers week and have fun, but discovers it's not really her thing. Everyone gets very drunk and Rika is kind of a bitch. Then Rosie is thrust into her course. Unlike some people's, it's very full on, with lots of labs and stuff, so she's often out of the flat and everyone takes to calling her The Enigma as they don't really know her. One person that Rosie meets on her course drops out a couple of weeks later, and other friends Rosie makes aren't living the typical student life. Rosie starts to feel overwhelmed and incredibly unhappy - but she's made A Plan and she is sticking to it regardless of anything else!

She meets Jade, who is a third year pharmacy student, and the two start a relationship. It's very sweetly told, although Jade does at first come across a bit one dimensionally. She tries to get Rosie to fall in love with Norwich, but it doesn't work. Rosie is determined to just keep going. She feelsl ike she can't tell Caddy and Suze because Caddy is having the time of her life in Warwick and she doesn't want to upset Suze. When the girls do get together it is often messy, which I actually really liked because real life is messy and teenaged girls are messy! It read brilliantly to me. 

The book encompasses a lot, and a lot of time, and one of my only criticisms is that sometimes I felt like things were skipped over, but I understand it because there was a lot to fit in. I related a lot to the book because I hated my first semester at university - I didn't like the whole Freshers thing either and I hated nightclubs (still do!) and I really struggled to make friends. I am going to lend this to my friend Ros because she had a similar experience as me, and it is terrible because you feel so alone and overwhelmed. I got into my rhythm in the second semester, although I do still think I could have made more of my uni experience. I loved how real Rosie's story was!

I also feel like the ending was so well done - I won't spoilt it but it's perfect for the book and shows that life doesn't always turn out like you think it will. I'm giving the book four out of five. 

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett - Review

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

I got this book for Christmas from my brother- and sister-in-law, they're both big readers and I think Libby had read this and chose it for me off my wishlist. You might remember that I've read and enjoyed both of Hallett's other books so I was pleased to get this and picked it up last week. However, I didn't think it was as good as her other books and I can't really explain why. I was pleased to finish it!

So it's not told in prose, like Hallett's other books, which is a technique that I like and I'm glad that current writers are pushing the boundaries a bit there as to how to write a novel and maybe even the boundaries of what constitutes a novel. This one is told in phone recordings done by a man called Steve Smith. 

Steve hasn't been out of prison for long, having served an eleven year stretch for a huge robbery. He was told after that that he had a grown up son, born when he was only about seventeen years old. He was thrilled to be a dad and met up with his son a couple of times, but his son then said he needed space. He gave his dad an old iPhone 4, and Steve is using that to record his life story on, for his son. The transcripts have been sent to his son, which we learn at the beginning of the novel, because they are now involved in a missing persons case. There are errors in the transcriptions which as a reader you have to just gloss over, and which become pertinent later. 

He starts off by telling his son about when he was about fourteen and was in a Remedial English class taught by Miss Isles (which the transcription software usually understands as the word 'missiles'). There were only five of them in the class - Steve, Donna, Shell, Paul, and Nathan. One day Steve finds a copy of a book called Six Go to Goldtop Hill by an author called Edith Twyford, and he takes it to the class. Miss Isles mentions how Edith Twyford is now not an author in fashion (you can read this as the criticisms levelled against Enid Blyton) and starts to read the book to the class. She then tells them about a code called The Twyford Code - the idea that the author left clues in her books that led to some treasure or something similar. She takes them on a trip to Twyford's cottage in Sussex I think, and then she mysteriously disappears. Steve has never been able to work out what happened to her, and now he's determined to. First of all he needs to get back in touch with all his old mates, and he needs some help from some other people too. 

Interspersed with this story is the story of Steve's life - an abusive dad, being brought up by his brother Colin, and getting involved with the Harrison gang, which is how he ended up in a life of crime, and how he ended up in prison. It's hard to not feel sorry for Steve as he seems to have had a rough life, but he also seems to have become obsessed with the Twyford Code. 

But of course, there's a twist in the story. Like with Hallett's previous books, I did pick up on a few of the red herrings but not on some of the others. I am not sure that the ending really worked for me entirely. It did make sense, but I'm not sure it paid off with the rest of the book. Really I'm giving this book 3.5 out of five, I think it's the weakest of Hallett's books... but I will probably read her next, anyway!

Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick - Review

Sunday, June 18, 2023

When I read Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick I was impressed with the author and I had heard of this book so I bought a copy on eBay I think and I've been meaning to get to it and a couple of weeks ago I finally did. And I loved it! I liked it more than Dread Wood, I think. It's a lot of fun, but with some genuinely scary bits too. I can imagine this going down really well for kids aged between 9 and 12. 

So, Lance is in Year 6 at his junior school, the final year. It's close to the end of the year, too, because it's hot. His best friends are Chets, Big Mak, and Katja. He is bulled by Trent, one of the most popular boys in the class, and the deputy head, Miss Hoche, has it in for Lance and has done since an incident at the beginning of the year. The whole class is going on a residential trip to Crater Lake. There's a new residential centre and Lance's class is the first one to use it. They're all quite excited on the trip there when suddenly the coach has to come to a stop because a man has run out into the road.

The man is called Dale, and he's a worker from Crater Lake, and he's covered in blood. The coach driver stays to help him and everyone else walks to the centre. There, they're met by a man called Digger. He shows them round the centre. Lance has a special medical need so he gets a room to himself down some steps. His friends don't know what this need is, though, as he's never told anyone about it. The kids are fed tomato soup - in the heat! - and make plans to have a midnight feast later. 

But no one arrives to get Lance. So he goes to his friends' dormitory himself. And on the way he comes across some other kids in his class, only their eyes have 'bugged out' and they don't seem to realise who Lance is. 

The book then becomes a fight for survival as Lance and his friends, and new friend Adrianne, try to work out what has happened and how they can escape with their lives. Like with Dread Wood, there are some genuinely scary parts and some really clever parts. There's also a lot of bonding between the friends which I really loved. 

I will definitely have to read more by this author because they're just so good! I'm giving this five out of five. 

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve - Review

Thursday, June 15, 2023


I bought this book in the LGBTQ+ book shop in York, The Portal, when I visited a few weeks ago with my friend Jac. I was intrigued because it's historical crime fiction starring a trans man, which isn't something that you see very often. I will use the words 'trans man' even though they're not used in the book because that is how we would understand Leo these days, but in 1888 when the book is set he may not have had those words to describe himself. But he is a trans man. 

So, yes, Leo is a trans man, "hiding" his secret self which is that he grew up as Charlotte, daughter of a middle class vicar. He left home when he was fifteen, unable to survive that life anymore, and has ended up in London. He works as an assistant to the hospital pathologist; he sews up dead bodies after the post mortems have been done. He doesn't like his boss but it's a pretty good job. He rents a room above a pharmacy, living with the pharmacist Alfie and his daughter, Constance. Constance really likes Leo and if she beats him at a game he promises to take her out for a treat. 

Leo visits a brothel every Wednesday evening and spends some time with Maria, buying her affections. She knows the truth about him and does seem fond of him too. He asks her to go with him to the theatre one Saturday afternoon and he's excited about it, but Maria never turns up. But then Maria turns up on the slab at the hospital, murdered by someone, and Leo is distraught. Then he gets arrested for the crime, and is terrified that the police will find out the truth about his body and will arrest him for deviancy, and his life will be over. But then someone else intervenes and Leo is let go... but why? And by whom? And who really did kill Maria? And is it linked to the death of Jack Flowers, who turned up dead in the hospital just a few days before Maria? Leo has to do a lot of digging to get to the truth.

I had previously read that this was the first book in a series starring Leo, so that did intrigue me. However, on the basis of this one, I wouldn't rush to read anymore. It's really slow in places and seems quite bogged down by detail at times. There's a lot of characters and as Leo doesn't know their names it's hard to keep them straight. The book is incredibly violent in parts and there is a brutal rape scene, which I did understand the inclusion of but it was hard to read. In all I'm giving this three out five as I felt it dragged a lot. 

UK Crime Book Club Event in Leeds

Monday, June 12, 2023

 On the 3rd of June I went to Leeds with my friend Sarah for a UK Crime Book Club event. I had seen it on Elly Griffiths' twitter, because she was appearing at the event, and asked Sarah to go. This was way back in January! Tickets were £20 and we were both looking forward to it. Sarah picked me up and we drove to Leeds and parked in The Light. It was a bit difficult because the satnav took us to the wrong side of The Light, but I managed to turn us round and get us to where we needed to be. We walked to the Carriageworks Theatre and got signed in and everything. It was a good building because it's all accessible and it was really clear where we needed to be.

The first panel was all Yorkshire crime writers, so that was good. Sarah and I both really likr crime novels and we heard of about twenty to add to our lists in this panel, by the panellists themselves and ones they suggested! It was great to hear stories from two ex police officers and about how that influences their writing. And it was nice to hear about why and where they've set their books in Yorkshire. I need to pick some of those books up! The next panel was in a different room and it was called "The Evil Within", but it didn't focus very much on that which was a bit of a shame, but the three panellists were really funny and engaging. One of them was really young (a rarity in crime writing, I think!) and his books feature counter terrorism and stuff like that, so I would like to give those a go! 

Then it was lunchtime and Sarah very nicely went to Greggs to pick something up for both of us. We sat in the square in the sunshine which was completely glorious! We went back in and headed to the next panel which was "Women in Crime". That was a very funny panel, but I will say that I really wish that people would use microphones when they're available. There was a lot of background noise coming from the bottom of the theatre and it was distracting. People think they can speak loudly enough and they really can't! 

We went back to the second room where some signings were happening. I had bought three books in the morning, and picked up a couple more. I had also taken three of Elly's books to sign that have come out since last time I met her, which was in November 2018! The headline panel was next, which was Elly, William Shaw, and Lesley Thomson. I've read a couple of William's books and enjoyed them. I haven't read any of Lesley's but it was one I had bought. This panel was brilliant - they're all friends which made for a really funny panel full of inside information and stuff like that. It was an excellent ending to the day. 

We headed back to the bar area to get our books signed and had great conversations with Elly, William, and Lesley. I had worn my Bruce Springsteen t shirt especially for Elly as I know she's a fan (and so is Ruth Galloway in her books!). Sarah was thrilled to meet Elly too. The event was definitely worth £20 and I would go again.

We then walked back to The Light and had tea in Prezzo. I had burrata and tomato and pesto salad to start with and then a lovely mushroom and vegetable calzone. It was nice to go there! We got back to my house about 7pm I think and I had a little lie down. Lee was out at a gig so I could just relax for the evening. 

The Yorkshire writers panel

The next one in the smaller room. I would estimate there were about sixty people there

Sitting in the square eating lunch

Women in Crime panel, with the organiser Caz on the left hand side

Lesley, Elly, and William in their panel

Elly and me afterwards

And Elly and Sarah!

Me and Sarah in Prezzo

And my delicious food!

Between Beirut and the Moon by A Naji Bakhti - Review

Thursday, June 8, 2023

This was the June choice for my book club and I was intrigued by it but hadn't heard of it before so I gave it a good go. I'm sorry to say that I found it baffling and not very good at all; I'm giving it two out of five which for me is a really low rating. 

I thought it was a memoir and if it had been I might have given it a bit more leeway because memoirs are often a bit messy and non linear. But I googled and it's just described as a 'coming of age' debut which leads me to think it's not. But it does read like one! 

Adam is a young boy in the book; he ages from around eleven years old to around sixteen or seventeen when he is old enough to drive. He lives in Beirut in Lebanon with his parents and his sister. I think there's an older brother but there's very little mention of him so maybe I'm misremembering. The younger sister is called Fara but it's mentioned that it's not her real name - but her real name isn't said, I don't think. That annoyed me. According to google the book is set quite recently, in the late 2010s, when Beirut had a civil war going on, but it feels like it's set way before that, in the 70s or 80s. It doesn't feel modern, and Adam's dad owns a really old car. 

Adam is half Muslim and half Christian and I did like this aspect of the book and how it concerned both Adam and everyone else around him. His dad has a hilarious family, with some shaggy dog story about the grandfather winning a lottery and then losing the money being quite funny but also quite confusing. Adam's best friend is Basil, who is Druze, which is a faith found in Syria and Lebanon and which is quite secretive. Adam and Basil have their ups and downs but remain firm friends until close to the end of the book.

Adam's dad is a book hoarder and this has a huge impact on his family life. Adam and his sister are regularly sent to retrieve books, and the old car that Adam's dad has even ends up covered in them. Adam wants to be an astronaunt (hence the name of the book), but who's ever heard of an Arab astronaut? There's a creepy teacher (they even call him the paedophile) called Mr Malik who manages to groom one of the boys into a nationalist political group. Through all this there is the war, with regular bombings that mean the family hide in the bathroom, and the loss of some people close to them. 

I found the structure really weird - it's not exactly linear and I found the back and forth really hard to deal with. There's lots of 'years later' which adds to the memoir like feel. I just didn't completely like it  hence the low rating. I'll see in a couple of weeks what everyone else thought of it!

The Foundling by Stacey Halls - Review

Monday, June 5, 2023


As I had enjoyed Mrs England by Stacey Halls I decided I would get her other books to read too. I picked this up in late May; I read mostly on my tablet in May because I was away and it's just easier. I raced through this book and really enjoyed it. 

It's set in the mid 1700s in London. Bess gives birth to a daughter in 1747, in November, and we first meet her when she is at The Foundling hospital ready to give up her baby. She calls the baby Clara and would like to keep her but she just can't afford it. Bess works as a shrimp seller - her father Abe is a fishmonger down on the docks, and her brother Ned is a bit of a drunken waster. Bess' mother died a lot of years earlier. The baby's dad was a merchant who gave Bess half of a whalebone heart; she leaves this at the hospital with the baby. This is noted down so that when she comes to claim the baby (if she does), the administrators will know that the baby really is here. 

Bess spends the next six years saving up money to reclaim her daughter. She arrives at the hospital one day, excited to bring her child home, but she is told that someone has taken baby Clara - the baby's mother. But that can't be, because Bess is her mother. Bess has no idea where her child is, but one of the doctors at the hospital is willing to help her. 

Then we meet the mysterious and reclusive Alexandra, and her daughter, Charlotte. Alexandra has two servants, lives in a huge house just off Harley Street, and keeps all four of them locked up most of the time. She and Charlotte only leave the house to go to church, to the chapel attached to the Foundling hospital. Alexandra is clearly traumatised, and moreso after the death of her husband. Into her life comes Eliza... 

I really liked the look at London in this period - it was interesting to hear about all the different areas of London and which were at that time more rural, parts that you would now consider right in the middle of London! I could imagine Alexandra's house perfectly and enjoyed the parts about the tiny yard where Bess lived and the small rooms she inhabited. 

You might remember that I read another book about a girl that grew up in the Foundling hospital: Lily: A Tale of Revenge, which I read for book club back in November 2022. The hospital is a real place and you can apparently visit the museum. It was interesting to go back to it and I will recommend this book to people in my book club in case they are also interested! 

I'm giving this four out of five as I really liked it! I did think the ending was maybe a little bit unrealistic but it's a book so it's fine! 

Friday I'm In Love by Camryn Garrett - Review

Friday, June 2, 2023

Many thanks to Penguin Random House Children's for granting me the access to this book on Netgalley. I loved Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett but didn't finish Off the Record as I just couldn't get into it. But I was willing to give the author another chance with this book. I do have to say that it didn't meet my expectations entirely. I'm trying to think that if I was a teenager, maybe I would feel differently about this book, but I do feel like parts of it were rushed. I also understand that I read a proof copy, so there may have been edits still made, but there are continuity errors which really annoyed me. 

Anyway, the protagonist of the book is Mahalia. She is sixteen and her best friend is Naomi. They work at the same organic grocery story. Mahalia's mum is a single mum so Mahalia's wages are really needed to help keep the family afloat. Mahalia's dad has a new girlfriend and two new children and she doesn't see a lot of him. Money is a big thing in the book which I did love - I love how US YA has so many more poor kids representative in books, how many kids have to work in order to help their families out. This is something I feel is lacking in UK YA, and I put that down to the fact that publishing is extremely middle class so the people who contract books may not consider poor families. So I will give Camryn Garrett that because it's great!

Naomi's family is really well off and she has a hufe Sweet Sixteen party. Mahalia really wishes she could have had one, but couldn't. But she starts thinking about having a coming out party. She knows she is gay and Naomi does too but not many other people do know. Mahalia's mum doesn't know, but she's into the idea of a belated Sweet Sixteen party. She says that whatever Mahalia saves up she will match for a party. She doesn't know Mahalia plans to use the party to come out. So Mahalia starts working really hard to save up money for a venue, a dress, and so on. 

Then there's a new girl at school, Siobhan. Now, here's a big problem for me - Siobhan is supposed to be Irish and has just moved from Dublin. She does not speak like she's from Ireland this really annoyed me. She has a boyfriend, Danny, who is this really annoying white guy who is in some of Mahalia's classes. Siobhan is mixed race so she's less clueless than Danny is, but still. Mahalia has a huge crush on her, which did feel like 'insta-love' to me, but I will forgive that in a book for teens. 

I did feel like the book redeemed itself a bit in the end, because the last five percent of it was really cute. But there's so much that just annoyed me that I was quite disappointed. I'm giving this three out of five. 

I was given an electronic copy of this book for review purposes only. I was not otherwise compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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