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Welcome to Camp Killer by Cynthia Murphy - Review

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

I heard Cynthia talking about this book at Northern YA Litfest and was intrigued by it, and then I requested it on Netgalley and got approved. So thank you very much to Barrington Stoke for granting me access to this book. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This book will be published on 7th September 2023. 

So you know Barrington Stoke books, right? They are made for reluctant readers and dyslexic people; on paper they are made of thick paper which is easier for dyslexic people to read. They are novellas and the ones I've read have been brilliant, so I was excited to get to this one. It is like an old school Goosebumps book, which I loved when I was a tween, so it seemed like my kind of thing. And it was! My only complaint is that it was so short, but of course that's the nature of Barrington Stoke books! 

So Hannah is sixteen and at a new summer camp for kids in the UK. It has been set up by Chad, an American who used to work at those kinds of summer camps in the US. He was there with Hannah's mum, who worked as a camp counsellor, hence why Hannah has been invited to work at the new camp. This is the case for all the new counsellors, including Fionn, Rich, Emma, and Grayson. On the first night, before the younger kids arrive for camp, all the counsellors and Chad are having a campfire when Fionna decides to tell everyone about the history of the house where the camp is located. They tell the story of Dorothea, who built a widow's walk at the top of the house and who looked out for her husband to return to her and who, when he did, ended up dead. Dorothea's ghost is supposed to haunt the house and grounds.

But Hannah doesn't believe that, does she?! But then weird things start happening, and death is around the corner... 

I loved this story - it's perfectly creepy and really well written. I'm giving it five out of five. 

Norah's Ark

Sunday, August 27, 2023

I am so happy to welcome you to my blog today for my stop on the tour for Norah's Ark by Victoria Williamson. I love good middle grade books and if you look around my blog you'll find reviews of other middle grade books. This book is a stand out of the genre and I am so glad I got to join in the tour!

The book is told from two perspectives, those of Norah and Adam. They are the same age and will be going to senior school in September. However, at the beginning of the book they don't know each other.

Norah is small for her age and is living in a hostel with her dad. They are technically homeless and her dad doesn't have a job. They have very little money and Norah is often hungry. They have to use the foodbank and Norah's dad has to spend a lot of time at the job centre and looking for a job. He struggles to read, though, which doesn't help him. She also struggles with things like reading and counting, which means she is in a special class and is bullied at school. 

She is bullied by a girl called Chelsea, who lives with a foster family and who is also in the special class, but she has a lot of fancy things so she's quite in with the popular girls. Norah has a bike that she loves, and she spends a lot of time in the park by herself while her dad is in the betting shop with his friend Ed. She also loves animals - she has a pet spider that she rescued and she has been feeding a nest of baby birds. This is how she meets Adam. 

Adam lives in a "big, posh" house that backs on to the park. He has been ill for years with leukaemia but he's finally better. But his mum still thinks he's ill and won't let him go back to school, or go back to swimming, or even leave the garden. His dad is a lawyer and working hard and is barely around, and his mum gave up her job and now mostly keeps herself busy worrying over Adam. He would love to go back to school but isn't allowed. He finds the nest of baby birds and brings them into his treehouse. When Norah arrives, the two become friends eventually and work together on the birds. 

The very best of middle grade does a thing where it tells very complex stories - homelessness! lack of money! childhood cancer! - and makes them accessible to nine, ten, eleven years olds in a clear, concise way. This does exactly that and that makes it a joy to read. It is so empathetic towards both kids that I really feel like any child could understand their circumstances even if their lives are very different. I also thought it was really good that both Norah and Adam at first think that the other lives a perfectly charmed life. It's a true life lesson to learn that things aren't always as they seem on the outside. I also liked the very frank look at the benefits that Norah and her dad were living on and how they sometimes got messed up by things out of her dad's control. 

I also thought the ending was really good - it was really well drawn and while not a perfectly happy ending, it worked well for the age group. 

I will say that my only criticism is that the book is set in Hull but there were some phrases that sounded really un Yorkshire to me (I am from West Yorkshire!). When I read that the author is Scottish that made more sense because a lot of the phrases are used by my Scottish friends. For example Norah at one point picks up the laundry that "needs washed". We in Yorkshire would say "needs washing". I also doubt that a kid would pick up on these, but it's my only criticism. 

I am giving this book four out of five because I just LOVED it! I loved Norah and Adam. 

I was provided with a paper copy of this book for review purposes only. I was not otherwise compensated for this post and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Penance by Eliza Clark - Review

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

I read Boy Parts by Eliza Clark back in 2020 and absolutely loved it, so when I saw she had a new book out I knew I wanted to read it soon. I bought this hardback copy from my friend Vicky, who has a bookshop and distro called Pen Fight. I would highly recommend buying stuff from her because you're supporting a small business if you do! This arrived just a couple of weeks ago and I very quickly picked it up as I've read mixed reviews, especially from people who loved Boy Parts. 

I will say that it's entirely different - the author can obviously move herself through genres because this is a good book. I will be interested in what she does next. I did like this, but it's with a few caveats - but I'm not sure if that's what the author intended. It's a weird one. I'm passing this on to my friend Sam because I would like her input! 

So the book is like a book within a book. A horrific crime occurred in a place between Whitby and Scarborough (places I'm very familiar with, being from West Yorkshire) called Crow-on-Sea, and a man called Alec Z Garelli has decided to write a book about the case. He is a journalist disgraced because he was involved in phone hacking, and he's written previous books about horrific crimes (think Fred and Rose West type of crime). His daughter took her own life some time prior to his writing this book, and obviously this has affected him deeply. You do get to know him as a person even though generally in books like his the author is silent and irrelevant. I didn't like him at all - but I think that's very much the point! 

So the crime. A sixteen year old called Joni Wilson was tortured and then set alight in a beach hut on the seafront. She was left for dead but managed to make her way to a local hotel where the receptionist phoned an ambulance. She was horrifically burned, lost consciousness,  and never woke up. She died three days later. Four girls were arrested very soon; one was able to establish that she wasn't there, and the other three stood trial for bringing about Joni's death. Two of them are now out of prison and thanks to a judge waiving their right to anonymity (because of their ages), have new identities. 

The girls were Angelica, Dolly, and Violet, and the girl who had an alibi was Jayde. The book concentrates firstly Joni, then each of the others in turn. 

I feel like through looking at each of the girls in turn Alec was trying to get the reader of his book (which is by extension the reader of the whole book ie me) to sympathise with each of them. This worked for me for each of them except with Dolly, who just comes off as a psychopath with few redeeming features. Joni's mum talks to Alec and tells him that she was bullied as a little girl, about how she didn't grow up maybe as fast as some others, and how she was victimised in particular by Angelica. Angelica comes across as a typical mean girl and I felt really sorry for Joni. 

Then in Angelica's part we do learn stuff about her which did make me sympathise a little bit. Her friend Aleesha was killed on a school trip in Year 6 at a water park in the town which obviously affected Angelica massively. Her dad is notorious in the town as a huge Brexit supporter (think Nigel Farage) and Joni's death happened on the night of the Brexit vote. I still think Angelica was a terrible person and was a huge catalyst in Joni's death because it seemed like she just wouldn't leave the girl alone. 

Next is Violet. She and Joni had been friends in primary school but had drifted apart. Violet is a loner and massively into Tumblr fandoms, mostly true crime. She had become somewhat Tumblr famous for writing some posts about the history of Crow-on-Sea. It had had some witch stuff and so on, which Violet wrote about. I was on Tumblr myself for years - although as a much older adult - so I did like some of this stuff because I know that fandom on Tumblr was just insane. She had had some huge traumas when she was a kid which made it make sense as to why she was a bit of a dark teenager. I feel like in real life Violet would have survived her teenage years intact and made it as a successful adult had she not got caught up in this crime. That's not to exonerate her but she wasn't as involved as Dolly and Angelica. I empathised with Violet a lot I think. We all do stupid shit as teenagers and think we're being really edgy. Violet's just went further than most of us. 

Then there's Jayde, who was Dolly's girlfriend and who had left the group earlier in the night because she was annoyed. She was one of the only openly gay people in the whole area and was from a notorious family, both of which made her stand out. I liked Jayde - she really seemed to just be living her life and got involved with Dolly and just got strung along. Dolly really comes across terribly, even though she also has things that have happened in her past which make you feel sorry for her. 

Phew sorry this is a long review! I will leave it here except for this:

I was waiting for a huge twist at the end of the book and it didn't materialise. There's one twist with how Alec has got some of his information, but it felt like it was glossed over. I feel like there were really good parts of the book but bits that just didn't add up for me. There were also some editing errors and I couldn't decide if these were Alec's errors, or Eliza's. Does that make sense? But they meant that some parts jarred and took me out of the whole narrative. I'm giving this three and a half out of five; it was compelling and I did want to read it, but I didn't feel like it completely landed. 

A Month in the Country by J L Carr - Review

Sunday, August 20, 2023

When I was in Leeds at the beginning of July I was looking at a table in Waterstones which had a bunch of small novella books on it. I picked up quite a few but couldn't really afford any. One of the books on the table was Heatwave by Victor Jestin, which I read and enjoyed earlier in the year. So I turned to the library, of course, and requested three. They all arrived together so I picked up A Month in the Country first. It clearly hasn't been checked out of the library in forever; it had been in stacks stored somewhere. The first few pages had fallen out and been sellotaped back in. I love this! I love the history of a book and I like the fact that I gave it an airing for the first time in nearly two decades! This also has to be one of the oldest books I've read this year; it was published in 1980. 

The book is set in 1920. Tom Birkin is an art restorer, hired to uncover a mural in an Anglican church in North Yorkshire (somewhere near Ripon). The money to do so has been left by a local woman. Tom's skills are in decline in both availability and demand and he knows it; he was trained by someone else who has just given up. He will be paid twenty five guineas and expects the work to last around a month. 

Tom has served in the trenches in World War One (including fighting at Passchendaele) and has been left with PTSD from the experience, and a nervous tic in his left cheek. He has been married but she hast left him and he has drifted into this line of work. He arrives one day at the local station and makes his way to the church. 

At the church he meets the Revd Keach, who is hard to get to know as a character. Perhaps that's just the divide that exists between Tom and a reverend, in terms of their class, age, and life experiences. Perhaps it's the fact that Keach is uncomfortable with Tom's disability (he always looks over Tom's left shoulder). Tom is to sleep in the belfry, where he will only be disturbed by Mossop, the verger. He meets Moon, who has also served in the trenches, and who has been hired to search for a grave just outside of the churchyard walls, the money also left by the same woman. Tom and Moon stirke up a friendship, sharing their meagre food and having some deep conversations. 

The Revd's wife, Alice, visits Tom. He has a crush on her; she's much younger than the reverend and very pretty, and has a lovely laugh. She doesn't appear to want much from him, though. He visits the huge vicarage nearby at one point. He is also visited in his work by Kathy, the station master's daughter. She is only a teenager. She invites him for tea and then he is invited to chapel, where the station master is a travelling minister. Tom gets quite involved with the life of the chapel in his month in the village. I really liked the depiction of the difference between the (Anglican) church and the (Wesleyan/Methodist) chapel. I grew up in a community like that myself so could really understand it. 

Tom is a likeable character; he sometimes comes off a little passive, but I did like him. He has no religious leanings himself but he does like the work of uncovering the mural and wondering about the painter - something which becomes clear at the end and which serves as a really satisfying end to the book. I really liked it and am giving it four out of five. 

The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves - Review

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan for granting me access to this book! I love Ann Cleeves so I was really glad to be able to get to read this. It will be published on the 31st of August. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughta and opinions are my own. 

So this is the third book in the Matthew Venn series, which are set in north Devon. He grew up in the area, in a small religious sect, but lost his faith and moved away. He met and married his husband Jonathan and they have moved back to the area. Matthew is the local DI now; his underling are Jen, a Scouser who left an abusive marriage and is living in the area with her two children, and Ross, who is local to the area and who is married. I did feel like in this book we got to see more of Ross' inner thoughts, which I liked, and I like the parts from Jen's point of view too. I will say that I still think Jonathan is a bit two dimensional, but there is a set up at the end of the book that may open up his story more in the next book. I do really like Matthew and think he really settles into himself in this book.

So, the book starts with a woman called Mary Ford being called out to the lifeboat. She is on the volunteer crew and they have had a distress call just off a small village called Greystone. They head out, Mary at the helm, and find a small boat anchored in the bay. There is a dead body curled up in it - the whole scene has clearly been set for them. They take the body back to shore and recognise it as that of local Jem Rosco. 

Jeremy grew up in the area and has become a world famous sailor. He broke some record or something sailing round the world, and has become a celebrity and somewhat of a national hero. He no longer lives in the area but he had reappeared in the village a few weeks ago and drank in the local pub every night, saying that he was waiting for a visitor. He had been quite coy about exactly whom he was waiting for, but on questioning, it turns out his first girlfriend still lives in the area, and that he also has no shortage of enemies around about. He was staying in a house owned by locals, too, even though he still maintained a house in the next village across. Police find the murder scene there, but what they can't work out is who would have killed him.

I really liked the mystery, there was loads of stuff I didn't guess. I loved the setting, in a really cloistered village where there's a lot of members of the sect that Matthew left, where no one really wants to speak to the police, and where things go back years and years. It is a really good book and I can't wait for the next one. 

I have previously read the others in this series: The Long Call and The Heron's Cry, so do read those reviews too! I am giving this five out of five as I really enjoyed it!

Neon Roses by Rachel Dawson - Review

Monday, August 14, 2023

I had heard about this book on Twitter (no one is calling it X, are they) where author Lizzie Huxley-Jones had said it was really good. I liked the sound of it so when I had a gift voucher I bought it. I don't generally buy hardbacks but it wasn't too expensive and I did really want to read it. 

The book starts in South Wales in October 1984. The miners' strike is in full swing and Eluned's family is struggling. Her dad is on strike and the family has very little money. Her mum is helping the aid effort for the miners. Eluned works in a shoe shop but there's very little business because no one has got any spare cash. Her sister Mabli is younger, and is going out with a police officer, Graham, who is much older than her and who is poisoning her mind against the strikers. Eluned comes up against him on the picket line one day and dislikes him even more. Eluned is engaged to Lloyd, who is also on strike, and seems to have been with him for a really long time. He's a bit of a lump but she is very fond of him. Eluned is into fashion and stuff, but life really is grinding a bit because of the strike. 

Then members of the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a group you can find out way more about in the film Pride and in other media) arrive in Eluned's village to hand over some funds they've raised. There's a bit of distrust among the miners, but they all generally have a good time. Eluned meets June, a punky lesbian from Birmingham who now lives in a squat in London. She and Eluned kiss, and then when the iconic Pits and Perverts concert happens, Eluned goes up to London for it and has sex with June. She realises she is gay and breaks things off with Lloyd. 

I don't want to spoil too much of the rest of the book but it's a riot through the mid 80s, through the politics of the time, through finding yourself as a person, through falling in love even though you don't really mean to (they have a weird relationship, on both sides). I loved Eluned's obsession with music and fashion. I liked June and how she was despite herself for a lot of the book. It's great and I now want everyone I know to read this! I'm definitely giving it five out of five. 

How to Kill Men and Get Away With It by Katy Brent - Review

Thursday, August 10, 2023

I bought this book in The Works when I was there in early June and picked it up right at the end of July. It really kept me intrigued, and I did enjoy the book, but I think it had its problems too. 

It is really similar to How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie, and I don't think that is a bad comparison. Katy is also a journalist and I honestly think journalists who turn novelists have a way of writing because of how they've been taught journalism. It isn't a bad thing at all, but it is noticeable, and it means that even if these two books didn't have quite similar themes, they would still feel similar.

Katy herself compares the book to My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and I think that is a fair comparison too. As I said previously, I actually like this new trend of young women turning to a life of crime and think they end up being very witty books. You sort of want them to succeed even though you know they're committing bad crimes. 

So, Kitty Collins is about twenty nine, as far as I could fathom it, and she's very rich. Her dad owned a ton of abbatoirs and made his money that way (this is also the reason why Kitty is a vegan). He disappeared when she was a teenager, and her mum then moved to the south of France with her new partner. She gives Kitty a generous allowance every month but Kitty actually makes her own money from being an influencer on Instagram. She has three close friends and they spend their time going to clubs, parties, having brunch, and being seen in the right places. She lives in a fancy apartment. She seems to hate being an influencer and judges everyone on the terms of celebrity that she lives by. 

She is out one night when a creepy guy follows her and goes to attack her with a bottle. However, he falls on it and ends up dead... She didn't exactly do anything, but she does just leave him to die, too. And she gets away with it. She gets a taste for it, so when a douchey man ghosts her friend, she takes it on herself to get revenge. But she has this creepy stalker on Instagram, and it seems like they know everything Kitty is up to. Can Kitty stay one step ahead? 

So much of this book makes no sense - for instance she uses her own phone while catfishing on Tinder, and drives her own car to and from murder sights, both of which are things that you would think would mean the police would be on her tail immediately. She meets dishy Charlie, a philanthropist, and really wants to just be with him, but men will just keep misbehaving and she feels the need to take them out. Then there's her murky past, too... I get that this book is satire and it really did work for me on most levels, except for the forensic stuff mentioned above because even police aren't that stupid.

But I did enjoy reading this and found it really compelling despite myself. Basically everyone is a terrible human being, even Charlie. I did guess a few of the twists but that's just how it goes! I'm giving this four out of five! 

Haven by Emma Donoghue - Review

Saturday, August 5, 2023

When I was in Northern Ireland in May with my partner I bought two books in the Waterstones in Derry, and both happened to be by Irish authors, which I thought was pretty cool. I picked this up towards the end of July. I don't know exactly what I was expecting from the book, but it wasn't what happened. 

So the books starts in the south of Ireland in the early 7th century. Trian is a young monk at a monastery there. He was basically sold to the monastery as a thirteen year old. He is now nineteen and the famous monk Artt is visiting the monastery. Artt doesn't think the abbot is pious enough and is beginning to piss people off, when he has a vision one night that he is to sail to an island and set up a monastery there. He doesn't know which island, only that God will take him there. He is to take two monks with him - the young Trian, and Cormac, an old monk.

Cormac ended up at the monastery after his wife and children died of the plague, after which he was baptised as a Christian and joined the order. He is getting on in years but is very practical. Trian and he play in the music group together, but Artt insists that they leave their instruments behind. The three men pack a boat, filled with not much at all really, and set off down the Shannon river (the Sianon, as it is spelt in the book). 

Just eight miles from land they find two skelligs. The smaller one has no way to land on it, but the bigger one, a mile further away, is a bit more hospitable. That's extremely relative as both are just outcrops of rock. However, the men land and start a life there. 

Trian is very good at catching birds - who have no fear of the men - for them to eat. Cormac starts a garden in the tiny bit of soil available, and also a midden. He wants to build a shelter for the three of them because although it's spring now, the weather will turn and they'll need shelter. Artt won't let him, however. He is insisten that Cormac start building a chapel to honour God. 

Likewise, Trian is set to work copying out precious copies of the gospel under Artt's direction, even though he would rather be catching and preserving food for the winter. He is not a natural writer and hates the job, but obey's his Prior's commands. Island life is very like that at their monastery, with prayers, celebrating the Sabbath, and observing fast days, but with very little of the joy that made it bearable. Both monks assume that they will travel to trade with people nearby when they run out of things, but Artt forbids them. 

It is obvious that all three of them are going to end up in some kind of codependent madness, but I wasn't sure exactly what would happen. This is the third book I've read on a very isolated island like this and it never ends well! I felt like Artt was unyielding throughout the book and couldn't let either of the other men get their own way even when logic made their opinions seem right. I can utterly believe that someone like him would keep going in his bloodymindedness to get a chapel and monastery established on a rock in the middle of nowhere. 

Apparently the island is real and really did have a chapel and hermitage on it, but the three men are fictional and record has been lost about who really did build those things. But I really enjoyed the book and the look at 7th century Christianity in Ireland. I thought it felt quite modern in parts which I liked. I'm giving it five out of five. 

Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli - Review

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

I saw that someone else was reading the new Becky Albertalli book so I had to order it straight away! I didn't even know she had a new one, but of course I love her work so I had to buy it. I had a gift voucher so it didn't cost me anything. I picked it up not long after it arrived. 

Imogen is eighteen and lives in upstate New York with her parents and her sister. Her sister is gay and has been out for years, she's just a year younger than Imogen. Imogen's two best friends, Gretchen and Lili, are both also queer. Gretchen is bisexual and Lili is pan. Gretchen is also very immersed in queer culture and she has a lot of opinions about being in the community and so on. Lili only came out the year before, and she's now at college just a short drive away. Imogen wants to go to the same college but so far she hasn't visited her friend. That's because she can see that Lili has found a new queer family at college and Imogen feels a bit left out. 

Because she's straight, right? She always has been and she always will be. She's the best ally for her sister and her friends! She's in the Pride Alliance at school, and if someone needs to call her out (like Gretchen does, lots) on her straight privilege then she's always willing to accept that and learn from it. So what if her favourite film has always been But I'm A Cheerleader? So what if she's had crushes on girls for as long as she can remember? It doesn't mean anything, does it? She's everyone's straight friend!

But then she goes to visit Lili at college. This is where the book starts and I will admit that I was very confused with the sheer numbers of characters that she meets to begin with - but I guess that's true to life because she DOES meet all of Lili's friends all at once and they are all desperate to know her and want to like her. Then Lili tells her that she MIGHT have told all her new friends a little lie - that she and Imogen used to date. So all of Lili's friends think that Imogen is bisexual. 

It does make sense as to why Lili has done this, later in the book, but to begin with I thought it was a bit of a daft storyline. But I went with it. As Imogen does too! She has a brilliant weekend, joining in with the in jokes and all Lili's friends. 

And there's Tessa. She and Imogen hit it off immediately, and continue their flirting even when Imogen has gone home.

But Imogen is straight... isn't she? 

This is a brilliant book about working out who you are. I know that Becky got hounded out of the closet before she wanted to be, a few years ago, and I think that has informed her writing here. In a very good way! I loved how Imogen came out to herself little bit by little bit, asking herself what her sexuality it, what sexuality means, all of that stuff. I loved how she fell in love with Tessa, who was a brilliant love interested. I loved the ending when everything went to shit and some people behaved badly - that bit felt very real to me and while you understood it, it was also heartbreaking to read. I loved how friendships disintegrated and how Imogen dealt with that - that felt like a universal thing whatever your sexuality. 

I am giving this five out of five and would thoroughly recommend it!

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