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The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid - Review

Sunday, October 29, 2023

I saw this book in paperback when I was on holiday in the Lake District in July, as it is set in the area and was on one of those 'local interest' tables. I couldn't justify buying it but then it was reduced on Kindle a few weeks later and was in a set of three with two other books for just £1.99 I think, so I bought it. I was really looking forward to it so I read it when on holiday when I really had chance to savour it. It was really good and I'm glad I read it, and now I'm looking forward to the other two books in the collection. 

So the main protagonist is a woman called Jane. She is from the Lake District and her family still lives up there, including her parents, her brother Matthew, who is often nasty to her, Matthew's wife and child. She lives in London in a tiny flat on a bit of a grotty estate. She is a lecturer at a university, an English lecturer with a particular expertise in William Wordsworth (who was of course from Cumbria himself and made his home in the Lake District). 

A body has been found in a peat bog, perfectly preserved. It becomes known that it has some distinctive tattoos that are similar to those found on people who travelled in the South Pacific. Jane wonders if it could be the body of Fletcher Christian, known for the mutiny on the Bounty and the consequent settling on Pitcairn Island. You see, she is a proponent of a theory that says that Fletcher managed to return to England and met with Wordsworth (who he went to school with) and told the real story of what happened on the Bounty. Jane has seen a fragment of a letter from Wordsworth's wife to one of his sons which makes reference to a 'document' and which Jane therefore thinks has been passed down to some relatives, etc etc. She gets a leave of absence from work and heads home to investigate, via many elderly people in the close area of where she's from. She doesn't seem to live an unhappy life in London, just a bit of a lonely one. She also works in a bar and has a couple of friends from work and the bar. 

There is also Tenille. Tenille is black and lives near to Jane. She is bright but permanently bunks of school. She does love poetry like Jane, though. She has lost her mum and lives with her aunt. Recently, her aunt's boyfriend has been paying her a creepy amount of attention and she confides in Jane that she is worried he will abuse her. Jane is about to leave for Cumbria and she is worried, so she asks Tenille's dad (who isn't in her life) for help. Things happen that I won't spoil and Tenille has to go on the run. Police question Jane about her in Cumbria, but surely Tenille won't get that far... 

Then there is also Jake. Jake is Jane's ex boyfriend and at the beginning of the book he is in Greece with his new girlfriend, Caroline. He is an antiquities dealer and Caroline is his boss. They are both ruthless people and when they get wind of what Jane is on the trail of, they want it, so they can make money off it. Jake heads back to England to try to make up with Jane and work out what she knows. 

There's the pathologist who is looking at the body, too. I liked her and Jane a lot and hope they pop up in other books too. The pathologist, River, also starts a relationship with one of the Cumbria police who I also likeds and would read something else with him in it. At first the book has no crimes in it and everyone is just sort of going about their business, but then... 

One of my only criticisms was the way that sometimes Jane's housing estate and its inhabitants were portrayed, as well as how Tenille was portrayed. I will say that this book is over fifteen years old and I think that shows in some of these outdated stereotypes. I feel like if McDermid was writing this book now, these perceptions wouldn't be present or would be portrayed differently. I hope so, anyway. 

All in all I really liked this and am glad I read it. I'm giving it five out of five. 

The Body in the Blitz by Robin Stevens - Review

Thursday, October 26, 2023

As you know, I'm a huge fan of Robin Stevens and everything she's ever written, so I was pleased to hear that there was going to be a second book in the Ministry of Unladylike Activity series. You can read my review of the first book here, and you can read all my Robin Stevens reviews here. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes, so thank you to Penguin Random House Children's for granting me access to it. I was not otherwise compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

So, the whole book is narrated by Nuala, unlike the first book which has parts narrated by May too. I do think this works better, because May is easily distracted and I really like Nuala. As you may remember from the first book, Nuala, May (Hazel's sister) and Eric are being trained as spies by the Ministry that Hazel, Daisy, George, Alexander and others now work for. The rationale is that no one pays attention to children so they're perfect to use as spies. Nuala and May are at school but they get a message in code telling them to leave immediately. They give their excuses and go. I will say that I was a bit sad to not be at Deepdean for longer, but I get that Robin probably wants the books to be entirely different from Hazel and Daisy's series. 

The three kids arrive in London and Eric is staying with George and Alexander and the girls are staying with friends of Hazel's. One of them, Anna, has gone missing when on a mission, and everyone is a bit worried about her. Daisy is AWOL too, and Hazel is getting increasingly worried. George has been invalided out of the war and has lost a leg; I loved how this was portrayed. 

The war, of course, is raging. I think the book is set in 1941, in the middle of the blitz. Nuala gets across the distress that she and the others are going through, with bombs coming over every night and them having to go into shelters (which May hates) and carry their gas masks about everywhere. The kids are staying in a close with quite a number of odd people living in it. One night, in the bombings, one of the houses is destroyed. The three kids go investigating and discover a body in the basement. 

The body is that of Miss Fig, a resident of the street. She was the local warden and had no shortage of enemies, it seems. Nearly everyone in the mews had a reason to want her dead. May, Nuala, and Eric start unravelling who exactly did kill her, and why. 

I quite enjoyed the mystery of the book, but the book as a whole fell a little flat for me. I can't really explain why, but I just didn't love it and didn't gel with it. May is infuriating a lot of the time (I realise that Robin has said she has ADHD which I think does go towards explaining SOME of that, but maybe it's just her maturity too and maybe we'll see her grow over the series). There's very little of Eric whatsoever. Sometimes I felt like Nuala was a little bit too stereotypical as someone who has some Irish heritage, too. In all, I can only give this three out of five because I just didn't love it. I found this to be a shame because I was really looking forward to reading this on holiday but it just wasn't too good in my opinion. However, I know I will definitely read the rest of the series just because I know what I'm like!

Don't Believe A Word by David Shariatmadari - Review

Monday, October 23, 2023

I came across this book when I was searching for something else on my local library system (I'm not even sure what, now) and it intrigued me, so I requested it and picked it up when it came in. I ended up taking it on holiday and finished it while I was on the plane to Mallorca, haha. 

So something you might not know about me is that I did English Language A level way back in 2002, and a big part of that was about child language acquisition and how that happens. I found it fascinating. I find language in general fascinating - as I said, I was in Mallorca and I don't speak any Spanish but liked looking at the signs to see what parts of words I did know (thank you French and Latin) and also looking at the differences between the Spanish and the Catalan. So this was a perfect book for me, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in language and how it works, too. I also think it is written in a really accessible way and even if you haven't ever studied anything about this, you would still understand it all. 

Each chapter looks at a different myth about language and deconstructs it. I really liked how I didn't feel like the author was judging anyone, whatever their linguistic traits or otherwise. If there's one thing I felt was missing, it was that there wasn't a lot on dialect words which are a particular interest of mine being that I'm from Yorkshire. But in all I'm giving this four out of five and would recommend it!

Kerrang! Living Loud by Nick Ruskell - Review

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

So one thing you might not know about me is that I love music. I'm a big fan of indie music, punk music, Irish music, some metal, some pop, some country. I've been into music ever since I was a small child, and when I was thirteen I got really into Placebo and the Manic Street Preachers. I then got really into metal for a bit (while still loving the Manics) and then punk when I met Lee, and then I fell out of music for a bit until I got really into The Libertines when I was twenty one. Then I got into 3rd generation emo in my mid 20s, and the Gaslight Anthem, and now I just listen to what I want to and while I don't really keep an eye on music, I did see that this book came out and wanted to read it. I first of all read NME and Melody Maker, but when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, I bought Kerrang religiously. I used to buy it from a newsagent on the way home from school, and the owner would keep a copy for me especially. I scoured every page of it weekly, looking for stuff about my favourite bands but reading all of it. I kept articles and stuff cut out from it for years. In fact, I probably still have them somewhere. There's definitely some issues of Kerrang hidden under my desk right now. I bought it again for a few years in my 20s, and I know it has remained important to some of my friends. 

The book is a pretty straightforward history of the magazine from its inception in 1981 to now, from when it was weekly in the 90s to the rise of its website and its own TV channel through to the present day when it's published quarterly. I learnt a lot about the history which was interesting, as well as the type of bands it would cover to those it wouldn't, and those it got criticised for covering (for example Muse). I will say that one of my only criticisms is that there is too much about the band Metallica, who were instrumental in the magazine's success I guess, but I really don't care about them and there was a LOT. I also think there's a lack of women (both in bands and in the writing team) featured, but metal music has always had that problem so it isn't surprising that the magazine reflected this. From my own memories I do remember them looking at some women, but often in a really sexualised way - and I do think they piled on the hate of Courtney Love in the years after Kurt Cobain's suicide. That's not a failing of this author or this book, of course, but it could maybe have been looked at. 

There are pages inserted throughout the book from different musicians that have feature a lot in the magazine and are particular faves, like Dani from Cradle of Filth, Muse, Ozzy Osbourne - a wide va\riety of people I think. I liked these and it really made me feel as a reader that the writers and the bands had had a lot of fun together and that there was a lot of mutual respect in most cases (although I utterly don't understand what the hell happened with Axl Rose...) I liked mentions of some of the high profile deaths that have happened, like Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, Kurt Cobain of course, and more recent deaths like those of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. 

It was a really nostalgic look for me at the past and at my teen years when I knew all the writers (and had my faves, of course) and the bands by glance if not more. I kept reading bits out to Lee and I really want him to read it. He is a secret Metallica fanboy so he'll probably love it! I am giving this four KKKKs out of five - thanks lads, for all the music. 

Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo - Review

Saturday, October 7, 2023

I've read other books by Elizabeth Acevedo and really enjoyed them, so when I discovered she had written a book for adults I was excited to read it and I requested it at the library. I was the first person to loan out the book! I picked it up just after I brought it home. 

However, it took me a week to read it as I just couldn't get into it. I can't explain why I didn't like it and why it just didn't gel, but by 4/5ths of the way through I was just bored and wanted to give the book two out of five. I did feel like the end did redeem the book somewhat so I am ending up giving it three out of five, but for me that's quite sad and I just wish I liked this book more. 

The book concerns the Marte family, who are from the Dominican Republic originally, but all the siblings end up living in New York City. Flor, the middle of the five children, has a magical gift - she has the gift of dreaming when people will die. Knowing this, the rest of the family is worried when she announces she will be holding a living wake for herself. What has she seen? Is she about to die? She engages her niece Yadi to cater the event, and the whole book is taken up by the time between her announcement and the wake itself.

It does go backwards and forwards in time, though, and sometimes it's not clear who or what every piece of story belongs to. The matriarch of the family was Mama Silvia, who ruled over her children strictly on the campo in the Dominican Republic. The eldest child was Samuel, who is barely mentioned in the book (somewhat thankfully as there are a lot of characters). The eldest sister is Matilde. She is married to Rafa, who is a philanderer and who left her at the hotel on their wedding night to go sleep with someone else. They have never had any children, which is painful for Matilde. She knows her husband has affairs but seems unwilling to do anything about it. She loves dancing, salsa dancing, and is very good at it. She meets a new instructor in the book and it seems like she might have an affair with him. She's around seventy and she doesn't have any magical gifts like her sisters. Dancing is her magical gift, though! 

The next child is Flor who as I said has the gift of seeing death. She was married to Pedro, who has died. She seems to have found childhood difficult but I didn't really pick up why, but she came up against Mama Silvia a lot. She wanted to join the nunnery (there is also a nun aunt) but ended up getting married and having Ona. 

Pastora is the next sister - she is married to Manuelito and they seem to have a genuinely good marriage. They have a daughter, Yadi. Pastora works in a clothes shop. She also sees Matilde's husband Rafa and a younger woman who is heavily pregnant and wants to tell Matilde about it, but Matilde doesn't want to hear it. Pastora has the gift of being able to discern who is telling the truth and how. She was disgraced as a child and sent to Mama Silvia's sister, whose name still cannot be mentioned within the family, and seems to have suffered trauma because of that. I probably liked her best. 

The youngest sister is Camila, born at least ten years after everyone else and who was perhaps least badly treated by Mama Silvia. There's very little about her in the book, but her magical gift is that she can heal with herbs. She is married to Washington, and there's a bit about their wedding/marriage which shows that it's a sexless marriage. 

Ona's magical gift is a magical vagina. She lives with her boyfriend Jeremiah and they're trying for a baby, but Ona had surgery not too long ago and isn't sure if she can conceive. Ona is sort of the overviewer of the entire narrative, but her aunts do keep their secrets from her. 

The book is told kind of from an anthropological point of view, supposedly in interviews that Ona has conducted (she interjects history and opinion into the narrative at many points). She is studying anthropology and has turned to her own family as a subject. I did like this aspect and I did like the look at DR history and emmigration. 

Finally there's Yadi, who owns a cafeteria and is a vegan. Right at the beginning of the book her childhood friend Ant appears back in her life. He has been in prison for like fifteen years and is now out. They were in love as teens and there's still a spark between them but Yadi isn't sure what she wants. 

Seriously there are so many strands to this book and I just didn't feel like they were all needed and while an expansive narrative can be amazing, it just didn't work for me here. 

I felt there were too many people for me to keep track of, and I definitely lost which man belonged to which sister. I also didn't understand some of the Spanish - at times it was clear in context what it meant, but at times I had to google a word or phrase that I didn't understand. I'm still not sure what was meant about the water that Rafa's mistress asked Pastora for and feel like that did affect my enjoyment of that arc and what came afterwards. The phrasing didn't seem to be able to be translated fully. 

I'm sad I didn't like this very much; onwards and upwards to Elizabeth's next book!

The Trial by Rob Rinder - Review

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

I was intrigued when I was in the Lake District back in July and I saw this book in every book shop I went in (which was a lot. I like books). Because you know Rob Rinder, right? Also known as Judge Rinder. I never saw his TV show but I've seen him on Celebrity Gogglebox and I also liked his documentary about his family and the Holocaust. I'm also quite interested in the phenomenon of celebrities turning to writing books, which I've talked about before. So I was intrigued enough to give this a go. 

First off I have to say that Rob is actually a decent writer. The writing flows perfectly well for me. There's a sprinkling of humour throughout. The plot flows really well; one of my only criticisms is that I feel like the end all came together a bit quickly. I also think that this reads a lot like the first in a trilogy or a series, and I wouldn't be sad about that because the writing is good. Better than some writers for sure! 

Secondly, I know that Rob was a barrister and judge so it's no surprise that the main character, Adam, is also a barrister. There are bits in the book that I think "Oh that definitely must have happened" whether it's something in court or something in chambers, and whether it's something good or something bad. 

So, Adam is a trainee barrister. He's twenty five. He's on a tenancy year (I think that's the name) alongside another trainee, Georgina, and at the end of the year he or she will be taken on permanently. So it's a big deal. And Adam feels like he's been failing the whole time. Georgina is much more outgoing, much more social, and she has the backing of her pupil master. Adam doesn't fully get how to play the game, and his master is Jonathan. Jonathan is a serial adulterer, and he's quite lazy as a lawyer and gets Adam to do a bunch of donkey work. They have one case with a guy called Kavanagh, who has been accused of fraud, and who Jonathan is trying to keep on the good side of because he has a lot of money. Then Adam's mum is always on the phone to him trying to set him up with young (Jewish) girls his age and he's trying to fob her off. So that's where we find Adam at the beginning of the book. 

Right at the beginning of the book a police officer is giving evidence in a trial. He is Grant Cliveden and he's somewhat of a celebrity - he used to be a bodyguard for the Queen and once saved her from an assassination attempt, and then he's brought down a bunch of big time drug rings, and he's been on TV a lot. He's known. He is in the Old Bailey giving evidence when he has a funny turn and ultimately ends up dying. At first they think he's had a stroke, but then it turns out he's been poisoned. 

There's one suspect: Jimmy Knight. Jimmy had a few convictions for petty crimes in his youth, and was then banged up ten years ago for armed robbery of the post office he was working in. He swears he didn't do it and that Cliveden framed him. He's been out for two weeks and met up with Cliveden in a nearby pub on the day of his death. Plus his laptop shows that he was googling Cliveden when released, and there's a phone found in his flat which had sent messages to Cliveden. Jimmy maintains that the phone isn't his, and says he didn't do it. He can't really explain himself but is adamant he didn't do it. 

The case is on a legal aid basis so Jonathan wants to spend as little time on it as possible. But Adam kind of believes that Jimmy didn't do it. He starts investigating - but that threatens his own life because he has secrets in his past that he doesn't want to come to light in his current profession.

I liked Adam a lot and I liked the story. I did guess some of the twists, but didn't mind it. I'm giving this four out of five. 

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