The Wish List – Sophia Money-Coutts

I received a copy of this book from the publisher on NetGalley. And it’s actually the second time this has happened, as I also received What Happens Now? last year, and thoroughly enjoyed that, too.

The Wish List – Sophia Money-Coutts

Don’t miss the late50925941._SY475_st laugh-out-loud novel from Sophia Money-Coutts, coming soon!

 Be careful what you wish for…

Florence Fairfax isn’t lonely. She loves her job at the little bookshop in Chelsea and her cat, Marmalade, keeps her company at night. But everything changes when her stepsister, Mia, announces that she’s engaged to her boring golf-playing boyfriend. That’s when Florence meets Irish love coach, Gwendolyn.

…because you just might get it!

When Gwendolyn makes Florence write a wish list describing her perfect man, Florence refuses to take it seriously. Finding someone who likes cats, doesn’t wear pointy shoes and can overlook her ‘counting habit’? Impossible! Until, later that week, a handsome blond man asks for help in the bookshop…

But is Rory the one, or is he simply too good to be true? Florence is about to find out that her criteria for finding Mr Right aren’t as important as she thought – and that perhaps her perfect man has been right there all along

***

Praise for Sophia Money-Coutts:

‘So funny. And the sex is amazing!’ Jilly Cooper

‘Hilariously funny – I couldn’t put it down.’ Beth O’Leary

‘A laugh-a-minute page-turner, perfect for poolside reading!’ HELLO!

‘Howlingly funny’ Sunday Times

‘Wonderfully rude’ Red

‘Surprisingly saucy and distractingly funny’ Grazia

‘Fast and furious, funny and fresh’ Daily Mail

‘Fizzes with joy’ Metro

‘Hilarious and uplifting’ Woman & Home

‘A thoroughly modern love story’ Woman’s Weekly

‘Does it earn its place in your beach bag? Absolutely’ Evening Standard

This is Sophia Money-Coutts’ third novel, and it’s every bit as filled with fun and laughter as the first two. Florence Fairfax is 32, single, working in a job she enjoys, but which isn’t going anywhere, and is just a little bit stuck. Her flighty, hilarious stepmother decides to change this by sending her to a love coach that she saw in a magazine. She’s definitely not a quack, because she was written up in the magazine!
Florence’s love coaching involves writing a list of the qualities she wants in a man, which include having a nice bum, liking cats, and not minding Florence’s counting, an anxiety mechanism that permeates her life. And, the week after she has her first meeting with her love coach, a man walks into her bookshop and asks her out. Taking her first tentative steps into a relationship, Flo realises that perhaps what she wrote on her list wasn’t necessarily everything she wanted in a man.
Rory the Tory, the tall, handsome man who sweeps her off her feet and introduces her to black and white dinners, trips to his country home, and sex that makes you say ‘cowabunga!’ is a Very Nice young man, with good prospects and a good work ethic. But even if he ticks all the boxes, perhaps Florence is going to discover that what she wants and what she needs are two very different things.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, as it weaved together family concerns, anxiety, comfort zones, relationships, friendship, and a gorgeous, grumpy cat called Marmalade. Flo is a really relatable main character, with a frank, funny inner monologue, and I really felt like I could have been friends with her. Rory is a fairly infuriating first experience of a boyfriend, but he felt really real. And Zach, the nephew of Flo’s boss who comes in to help out in the bookstore, the tattooed photographer with a motorbike and a penchant for leaving cups of coffee in places where they definitely should not be, is a real dreamboat, even if Flo doesn’t think so. Florence’s fractured, funny family, where her two half-sisters and stepmother feel like the real family and she’s the tagalong from the first marriage, feels very real, as she tries to cope with her feelings of isolation from the family unit, but the love between them is still solid and heartwarming. And I absolutely loved Mia and her feelings about her wedding, together with her mother’s outrageous reactions to the wedding day scandals.

All in all, a funny and warm book that felt like just what I needed to cheer me up in these strange times.

Four Stars
****

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July Roundup

Another month passes before I can even really keep track of it. I had two weeks off work in July, which was lovely, as it meant that I had a fair block of time where I wasn’t as stressed as I have been lately. I caught up with friends and family, and sleep, more importantly!

As we head into August, it seems like this is going to continue for a long time – social distancing, renewed lockdowns, working from home… September, and the start of the new school year, seems both far too close and much too far away. But two weeks off work did mean that I did a fair amount of reading this month.

Lots of these books were actually graphic novels, as I discovered the graphic novel holdings of the London Library Consortium on Overdrive. So that inflated my numbers artificially, but I regret nothing, they were thoroughly enjoyable. Well, except for one of them, but more about that in a minute.

Books

  1. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson Graphic Novels #1) – Rick Riordan, Robert Vendetta
  2. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson Graphic Novels #4) – Rick Riordan, Robert Vendetti
  3. A Daughter of Kings (Battle for Ruin Mist Graphic Novel #1) – Robert Stamek
  4. Noughts and Crosses (Noughts and Crosses Graphic Novel) – Malorie Blackman, Ian Edginton, Jon Aggs
  5. Trouble – Non Pratt
  6. The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus Graphic Novels #1) – Rick Riordan, Robert Vendetti
  7. The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus Graphic Novels #2) – Rick Riordan, Robert Vendetti
  8. Every Little Piece of My Heart – Non Pratt
  9. Blindsighted (Grant County #1) – Karin Slaughter
  10. The Resident – David Jackson
  11. The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) – Rick Riordan
  12. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
  13. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  14. How to Be An Antiracist – Ibram X Kendi
  15. Cry Baby – Mark Billingham
  16. Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages and Co #1) – Anna James
  17. Dear Justyce (Dear Martin #2) – Nic Stone
  18. Kisscut (Grant County #2) – Karin Slaughter

Short Stories/Novellas

  1. None this month

Cover Art

Favourite Book This Month

51977626._SY475_Nic Stone’s followup to Dear Martin, which was my favourite book in May, is every bit as moving as its predecessor. Dear Justyce takes a fairly background character from Dear Martin and adds such depth and reality to his story that I think it might be even better than the first. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley, and I’ll have a full review up closer to publication date, but it really is excellent.

Least Favourite Book This Month

20351624There were several books I really didn’t like this month. A Prayer For Owen Meany grated, and I found myself struggling to finish it, only dragging myself over the line when the library threatened to end my loan. I mean, it wasn’t so much a threat as it was just due back, but it felt like a threat. I also was sorely disappointed by The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which was not at all what I expected. But the book I enjoyed the least this month, because it had absolutely no redeeming features, was A Daughter of Kings, the graphic novel by Robert Stamek. It was just… terrible. It had no redeeming features at all, and I definitely will never read anything by this author again. I borrowed it on a whim from the library and didn’t expect much, but I was still disappointed. No thank you.

 

Favourite cover art

How cute is the cover for Trouble? I have to admit, I had some serious problems with the plot of the book, but this cover is really eye-catching, and great fun.

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Other…

I’m really not loving working from home all the time, but I don’t want to go back to working in the office either. My audiobook consumption is way down, though, as I’m missing out on a lot of driving time, and consequently a lot of audiobooking! Still though, I’d rather miss out on that than go back to work, and see an increase in infection numbers.

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How To Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley

How To Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi

40265832.jpgIbram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America–but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to be an Antiracist, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.

In this book, Kendi weaves together an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science, bringing it all together with an engaging personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism. How to Be an Antiracist is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.

Part educational primer, part call to arms, entirely passionate, How To Be an Antiracist blends the author’s personal journey of unravelling, naming, and overcoming his own prejudices to lay out a manifesto for becoming an antiracist.
The opposite of racist isn’t not racist, that’s an acceptance of the status quo and entirely ineffective. The opposite of racist is antiracist, actively working to dismantle the status quo and the power structures which enable discrimination to embed itself in every aspect of our lives. Written largely from a US perspective, Kendi’s lessons are nonetheless applicable to Western power structures as we see them in our everyday lives. Over the course of eighteen distinct chapters, Kendi lays out what racism is, how racism insinuates itself into everyday life, what racist ideals create and how they impact our perception of people, cultures, behaviour, bodies, and ethnicities, and then moves on to look at how racism intertwines with other marginalised identities – class, space, gender, sexuality. Finally, Kendi looks at what both success and failure in being an antiracist look like, and what the survival of American society would be to become an antiracist society. The book, although written by an academic and packed with academic references, reads easily, and is accessible throughout. Most chapters start with two definitions, laying out what racist and antiracist perceptions of different aspects of people and groups look like. Kendi dives deep into intersectionality, exploring the inextricable links between, for example, race and class, and the double burden of class racism, how this places additional burdens on, for example, poor Black people. He intertwines his delineation of the complex, multifaceted nature of racism and what is required to be an antiracist with his own personal narrative, pointing out how he himself discovered and examined his own prejudices and blindness, and worked to overcome them. Never preachy, and laudable in its goals, How To Be an Antiracist is a primer on racism, antiracism, and the manifold iterations of racism that can creep into mindsets and society.

That said, there were a few aspects of this book I found a little disappointing. While the deconstruction of race-class lines, race-gender lines, race-sexuality lines, and race-space lines was really interesting, the narrative felt, to me, a little repetitive. Perhaps this was a deliberate choice which jarred with me as dull, rather than impactful – it’s entirely possible that Kendi elected to repeat his sentence structures, particularly where outlining that capitalism and racism are twin burdens, to ensure that his point was hammered home. It may well just be that I didn’t really feel the impact of that and found it jarring instead because I’m a luddite. I admit this could entirely be on me, and not a flaw in the book itself. It’s just something I didn’t like.

The other two points I disliked were largely terminology-related. Kendi names chapter 15 ‘sexuality’ and then talks about what he dubs ‘queer racism’. I strongly dislike this term, because it is out of step with the other labels Kendi uses. Taking, for example, gender racism or class racism, these terms encompass the nature of the intersection between racism and other discrimination – class and race, or gender and race. Queer racism, on the other hand, takes the identity of the marginalised group and centres it in his titling. ‘Queer racism’ sounds like only people who identify as queer are perpetrating this racism, as opposed to racism which intersects with discrimination against people who identify as queer. It feels, to me, a little like calling it ‘black racism’ or ‘poor people racism’. Rather than highlighting the dual burden that queer PoC suffer, it does the opposite, and makes those queer people sound like they’re the racists! (Not that queer people can’t be racists – of course they can!)

In the same vein, while Kendi names chapter 15 ‘sexuality’, the racism intersection he discusses here includes the full LGBT+ spectrum – that is, he includes both gender identity and sexuality. In fact, Kendi specifically mentions the Black trans women on whose effort the Stonewall riots and the movement for LGBT rights was built. But if, in titling his name for this intersection ‘queer racism’, and specifically mentioning Black trans women in his chapter, Kendi is encompassing the full LGBT spectrum, why is the chapter only called sexuality? Sexuality and gender identity are not the same thing. You can be a Black trans straight woman. Given Kendi’s otherwise clear grasp of any areas of discrimination, I found it bewildering and really quite disappointing that gender identity was lumped in with the title ‘Sexuality’. And that’s not to say that I don’t believe they belong in the same chapter, or that they’re not related forms of discrimination. Of course they are. There’s a reason why the acronym is LGBT+, the T is there for a reason. My issue here is specifically with the use of ‘Sexuality’ as the chapter title when gender identity is specifically included, and Kendi uses ‘queer racism’ as the title for that discrimination intersection – he doesn’t called it ‘sexuality racism’, so why is the chapter called sexuality?

Those terminology-related quibbles aside, though, this is an honest and thorough look at racism and how to be an antiracist, blended with the personal story of the author, which hits hard, and lands impactfully. If your antiracism isn’t also feminist, it’s not antiracism. If you’re not anti-class discrimination, you’re not antiracist. And if you’re ‘not racist’, that’s not enough – you must be antiracist, to actively work against the power structures which are embedded in our society and embrace a new structure which is altogether more equal.

Four Stars
****

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The Resident – David Jackson

I read this book for free with The Pigeonhole.

The Resident – David Jackson

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‘Disturbing, blackly funny and completely compulsive’ – ALEX NORTH

‘a SERIOUSLY creepy thriller. I may never venture into the loft again’ – MARK BILLINGHAM

‘Dark and disturbing yet so absorbing. Jackson knows how to reel you in’ – MEL SHERRATT

THERE’S A SERIAL KILLER ON THE RUN
AND HE’S HIDING IN YOUR HOUSE

Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that he can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space.

That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet…

Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him.

‘A brilliantly creepy, edge-of-your-seat, tense thriller’ – WILL CARVER

‘Utterly compelling and impossible to put down. Incredible’ – LUCA VESTE

‘Twisted as hell. I loved it!’ – MANDASUE HELLER

‘Clever, addictive and brazenly terrifying. I slept with the lights on after reading this one’ – CHRIS WHITAKER

‘Darkly thrilling and utterly compulsive. A tour de force!’ – VICTORIA SELMAN

‘A devilishly dark, wickedly funny crime novel’ – PAUL BURSTON

‘I highly recommend this book, had me terrified’ I’m never going in the attic again. Ever’ – LISA HALL

‘Menacing, disturbing, compelling and unique’ ALEX SHAW

‘Breathtaking, engrossing and deliciously dark, I dare you to read The Resident and think differently’ – STEPHEN EDGER.

I thought I would really love this book – a serial killer in an attic, hiding from the residents, gruesome crimes, and secrets being revealed. I was definitely excited to get started on this one. But as the days dragged on, I found myself reluctant to read, because I wasn’t really loving this. It sat uncomfortably between black comedy and thriller, and although the tension at times was high, I found myself rolling my eyes more than laughing at the jokes, and I was dissatisfied with the ending of the book.

Brogan is a callous killer, no doubt about that – he’s killed many people, and his internal dialogue reveals snippets of this over the course of the book, as he thinks about the many people he’s played twisted games with in the past, but only ever hints. This information is given to us in dribs and drabs to tease the reader with how twisted Brogan really is. On the one hand, I can see how this would be a good thing, because it saves the book from diving into details too gruesome to contemplate, but on the other hand, I felt like these snippets never really showed us any substance to Brogan, just gave us hints, and expected us to build an impression based on this.

Similarly, the narrative skipped between Brogan’s present, in the attic spaces of these terraced houses, and his past, the abusive childhood he suffered, and the trigger point which led to his first killing. These were given a little more detail, but not enough, I felt, to render it sufficiently compelling, or compassionate. I had no real sympathy for Brogan. He had a hard childhood, yes, but he was still a merciless killer. There was also no discussion in the book of when the development of his major psychotic symptom – hallucinations of voices – occurred, or how it impacted on his life, or how it developed into his becoming a serial killer. All in all, it just felt like there wasn’t enough depth to this book.

On the other hand, there were many elements of humour in this, and I can see where the author was coming from on this point – black humour and Brogan’s inner dialogue do lead to some moments of levity as the situation escalates. But I didn’t feel like it was enough to tip this book from thriller to humour. At the same time, there weren’t enough tense or thrilling elements to keep it firmly in the thriller category. Rather, it uncomfortably straddles the two and, I felt, failed to really fulfil the expectations of either.

I was disappointed in this book – it took me a while to decide how I felt about it. At first I thought it was a three-star read, average, forgettable, but not bad, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised I actually was disappointed in it, so it gets a lower rating than I would have originally thought.

Two Stars
**

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender

This book has been on my TBR for literally years. I saw the synopsis once and decided I definitely wanted to read it. I also loved the cake on the cover – so cheery! I actually had a kindle copy of this, waiting to be read, but what triggered me to actually read it was that my library had an audiobook version available – with no waiting! – so I borrowed that, and started listening. I switched to the kindle version when I was about 80% through, because I was fed up and wanted to finish it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender

11482421.jpgOn the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. All at once her cheerful, can-do mother tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes perilous. Anything can be revealed at any meal.
Rose’s gift forces her to confront the truth behind her family’s emotions – her mother’s sadness, her father’s detachment and her brother’s clash with the world. But as Rose grows up, she learns that there are some secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about the pain of loving those whom you know too much about, and the secrets that exist within every family. At once profound, funny, wise and sad, this is a novel to savour.

As I mentioned above, this has been on my TBR for ages, because I thought it was such an interesting concept – Rose can taste the emotions of the maker of food? What a quirky way to gain an insight into people! What an impact that must have on relationships, and how would you learn to deal with that in life? I was intrigued to find out if Rose would become some sort of emotional detective, or therapist, and use her gift for good!

When I actually read this, though, I was thoroughly, sorely disappointed. This is a book which is … metaphorical? I think? I really think I’m too dumb to get this book. There was a meandering and inconsistent plot in which nothing really happened, other than life progressing and the children growing up. The unhappiness at the centre of Rose’s life – in her mother’s cake – is constantly addressed, but the root cause is never isolated, nor is any solution proffered. Rose is at once a child with too much knowledge and not enough knowledge – she is burdened with secrets, but never seeks assistance with them. Her quiet, anti-social brother, who I thought at first was coded as autistic, but the book later showed that this was not the cause, has a fractured relationship with his family, and Rose struggles with this. And she hero worships his friend George, one of the only people who believes her about her gift.

But beyond the first part of the book, where Rose discovers (or is granted) this tasting ability, and where there is some semblance of a plot, the whole thing just dissolves into a disparate collection of anecdotes about how tasting emotions might be a bad thing. In the background lurks this quiet, troubled brother, and his infrequent – but troubling – disappearances. The ending of the book chops back and forth over the course of a few months, explaining Joseph’s disappearances and giving Rose something of an explanation for them, but in a way which I found utterly unsatisfying.

Much like a lemon cake which was made with sadness in the heart of the baker, I thought I was going to get something delicious here, but what I ended up with was something which left me confused, upset, and dissatisfied.

One Star
*

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The Rules – Tracy Darnton

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. I actually read it a few months ago, but waited until now, the month it’s published, to post my review, so that you can go out and buy it straight away!

The Rules – Tracy Darnton

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A gripping thriller from WATERSTONES CHILDREN’S BOOK PRIZE-SHORTLISTED Tracy Darnton, author of THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES.

Amber’s an expert when it comes to staying hidden – she’s been trained her whole life for it. But what happens when the person you’re hiding from taught you everything you know?

When a letter from her dad arrives, Amber knows she’s got to move – and fast. He’s managed to find her and she knows he’ll stop at nothing to draw her back into the extreme survivalist way of life he believes in.

All of a sudden the Rules she’s spent so long trying to escape are the ones keeping her safe. But for how long?

Praise for THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES: ‘Thought-provoking and crisply written’ – Guardian

Perfect for fans of Karen McManus, E. Lockhart and Holly Jackson.

This book is actually a follow-on from a short story written by Tracy Darnton which was included in the anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas, but I haven’t read that, and I don’t think it detracted from the book at all.

Amber is seventeen, in foster care, and was raised as a prepper – ready for anything, and following The Rules her dad laid out for her. Escaping the life that her father trapped her in was not so long ago, and Amber’s still trying to process the impact of it. But when a letter from her father arrives at her foster home, Amber knows that she needs to run – and The Rules are one of the only things that will keep her safe. Keep moving. Stay low. Always keep your go bag ready. Amber runs as fast as she can, trying to escape her dad, but how can you run when the person you’re fleeing is the one who taught you how to run?

This is a really tense, thrilling book, with atmosphere and tension that seeps off the page. I don’t recommend reading it if you’re stressed or anxious, because it will ratchet that stress up to ninety. If you’re in the mood, though, this is a really well-written thriller which realistically portrays how a seventeen-year-old can try to evade her father, without alerting the authorities, and the impact of that.

This book starts off with the tension high, and as each day passes and Amber’s father gets closer, the tension only increases. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that there is a confrontation at the climax of the book, and it is absolutely nail bitingly tense.

My one criticism of this book, and it’s a personal preference, really, is that the ending of the book seems to prioritise shock value over exploration of the characters themselves. I can see the merit in this, but what I thought was quite strong throughout the book was the understanding of character and emotional impact, so I was surprised that this didn’t follow through to the very end. But that said, this is really an excellently written and thoroughly enjoyable book, and I’ll definitely look out for more from Tracy Darnton.

Four Stars
****

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Trouble – Non Pratt

I borrowed this book from the library.

Although I’ve read several of Non Pratt’s books, and have her latest from NetGalley, I had never actually gone back to the beginning and read her début. So when I saw it was available from the library, I hit borrow immediately, and immersed myself in the story of Hannah and her trouble.

Trouble – Non Pratt

In this dazzling debu18138917.jpgt novel, a pregnant teen learns the meaning of friendship—from the boy who pretends to be her baby’s father.

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”

Told in alternating perspectives between Hannah and Aaron, Trouble is the story of two teenagers helping each other to move forward in the wake of tragedy and devastating choices. As you read about their year of loss, regret, and hope, you’ll remember your first, real best friend—and how they were like a first love.

I really, thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Even from the very first novel, Non Pratt’s grasp of characterisation shines through on every page. Hannah is a larger-than-life character, bursting off the page, full of life and vigour and sexuality, a fully-fleshed out person with a host of relationships – with her grandmother, her best friend, her parents, her little sister Lolly and stepbrother Jay. But when she realises that, at the age of fifteen, she’s in trouble, it turns out she doesn’t have many people to turn to.

The blurb on this one is a little confusing – or perhaps I just read it wrong. The line I specifically was confused by was this:

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend…

This, I thought, made it sound like Hannah’s ex-best friend was the impregnator. But actually, the ex-best friend (who is female) was the sharer of the news, not the father. Whoops. No wonder I was confused.

Because of this, I went into the book wondering why Hannah needed a cover to step up as the fake father, but once I actually got into it, things became much more clear. Said ex-best friend’s vendetta against Hannah is one of the central tenets of the book, and makes for tough reading as what was a many-year friendship disintegrates into petty gossip and back-stabbing. It’s very well-drawn, though, as the betrayals cut all the deeper when they’re by someone you trusted, and Hannah’s reactions to this feel absolutely solid.

The other perspective in the book, Aaron, is running from his past, hiding from a terrible accident he feels entirely responsible for, and trying to move on – not realising that you can’t move on until you’ve let go of what’s holding you back. As Hannah and Aaron grow closer through their faux shared parenthood, they begin to unpeel each others’ layers, and realise that sometimes what you really need is a friend to help you through the hard times.

If that was all there was to the book, I think it would’ve been a five-star read. However, there’s an additional dimension thrown in, taking the form of the father of the baby. It was pretty clear to me from early on who the father was, and I have to say, the ‘ick’ factor that added was really very hard to digest. On top of that, the book ends at the point of birth, and I feel like the specific circumstances of these two parents would mean that the time immediately after the birth would be one of the most fraught and the most interesting to read about. It felt, to me, like an extra complication which was entirely unnecessary in this otherwise gorgeous story of two people finding each other at a time they needed a friend the most. If most of the characteristics of the father were maintained, with one or two specific details changed, I really think I would’ve been way more on board with this. Spoilers after the rating, because it’s a pretty big reveal in the book.

Overall, though, a really well-drawn and nuanced portrayal of two teenagers in trouble, and how a truly good friend can help you out of any mess.

Four Stars
****

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Tell Me How It Ends – VB Grey

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Tell Me How It Ends – VB Grey

52150096._sy475_Delia Maxwell is an international singing sensation, an icon of 1950s glamour who is still riding high on the new 60s scene. Adored by millions, all men want to be with her, all women want to be her. But one woman wants it maybe a little too much…

Lily Brooks has watched Delia all her life, studying her music and her on-stage mannerisms. Now she has a dream job as Delia’s assistant – but is there more to her attachment than the admiration of a fan? Private investigator Frank is beginning to wonder.

As Lily steps into Delia’s spotlight, and Delia encourages her ambitious protegée, Frank’s suspicions of Lily’s ulterior motives increase. But are his own feelings for Delia clouding his judgement?

The truth is something far darker: the shocking result of years of pain and rage, rooted in Europe’s darkest hour. If Delia thought she had put her past behind her, she had better start watching her back.

In 1960s London, Frank is an investigator tasked with looking into the disappearance of global singing sensation Delia Maxwell. Delving into her personal life and finding the unusually close relationship she’s developed with young Lily Brooks, her personal assistant who looks to become much more, Frank begins to learn more about the enigmatic star, and quickly becomes entangled in her web of secrets. With a past of his own that he hasn’t fully come to terms with, Frank, Delia, and Lily are the three focal points of this story which sweeps from London to Rome, on film sets and sound studios, unveiling hidden pasts that will bring these three together and show how much more there is behind the scenes than any of them might ever had expected.

I had very mixed feelings on this book. The story was interesting, and I loved all the twists and turns which were unveiled as we got to know Delia and Lily. Frank, a newcomer to the situation, is drawn in by the glamour of Delia Maxwell, international sensation, but because of his introduction as an investigator, he’s able to see the vulnerable side also. Developing deeper feelings by the day, he knows that he’s being drawn into a web he might not be able to escape.

I liked Frank as a main character, for the most part. He had some dark secrets in his past, and had clearly not come to terms with his role in the war, which made for a complex and nuanced investigator. But I was disappointed in his growth throughout the book, as he seemed to regress into a disappointing example of a man, rather than growing into a better person. I was also a little bewildered by the fact that, although there were three points of view in the book, only Frank’s was in the first person. This led me to think of him as ‘The Main Character’, but the plot of the book shows that to not really be the case. The main characters of the book are Lily and Delia, and Frank is little more than a framing device – this is especially demonstrated in the epilogue, where he doesn’t even appear. But because he was the only one in the first person, I couldn’t shake off my thoughts of him as the main character, and this meant that the whole book felt unbalanced to me.

At the centre of the story are Delia and Lily, a middle-aged woman and a young girl who are connected in ways that unfurl over the course of the book. And there are some really great nuances to their characters – Delia fled from war-torn Hungary in early days of the war, and the impact that has on the lives of those around her becomes clear only many years later, when Lily comes to the spotlight. Lily has spent her whole life living in the shadow of the war, and is a traumatised, complex young woman when we meet her.

For the first portion of the book, Frank is our eyes and ears, and the only ones we have. Then Delia makes an appearance, fleshing out some of what Frank has discovered, and reacting to the first twists and turns in the story. Towards the half-way point, Lily makes an appearance as a point of view character, and we start to understand this enigmatic young woman. But as Delia and Lily move to the fore, Frank disappears into the background, and his story becomes something of an irrelevance – this is disappointing, as he has some complex choices to make, and they’re both easily made, and easily dismissed. Lily in particular, I felt, wasn’t given enough attention in the narrative. She grew up in extremely difficult circumstances, and is abused by a toxic older man, repeatedly raped, and thrust into power plays that she knows little about. The impact of this on her psyche is never examined, although she is presented as a complex, mixed-up girl making hard decisions. I just felt like we could have seen more of her.

Overall, this was a really interesting book, with nuanced relationships and an interesting insight into the changing world of celebrity in the sixties. I felt like there were a few notes missed, though, and would have loved to see a deeper exploration of Lily and Delia, rather than the needless side-story of Frank.

Three Stars
***

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Fifty-Fifty – Steve Cavanagh

In mid-2018, I read Thirteen, and was introduced to Steve Cavanagh’s conman-turned-lawyer, Eddie Flynn. I then went back and read his first three adventures, finishing The Liar in lockdown one evening, lying on my bed and listening to Adam Sims narrating Flynn’s chicanery as he avoided consequences and pulled off legal victory. So when I saw that Eddie Flynn’s fifth outing was available for request on NetGalley, I knew it was a no-brainer. I was approved and read it over the course of two busy work days, reading long into the night to the detriment of my brain function the following day, but regretting nothing.

Fifty-Fifty (Eddie Flynn #5) – Steve Cavanagh

50805422._sx318_sy475_Two sisters on trial for murder. Both accuse each other.
Who do YOU believe?

Alexandra Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister killed him, and that she is still in the house with a knife.

Sofia Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body and needs the police right away. She believes her sister, Alexandra did it, and that she is still in the house, locked in the bathroom.

Both women are to go on trial at the same time. A joint trial in front of one jury.

But one of these women is lying. One of them is a murderer. Sitting in a jail cell, about to go on trial with her sister for murder, you might think that this is the last place she expected to be.

You’d be wrong.

Eddie Flynn makes his fifth appearance as Steve Cavanagh’s erstwhile conman-turned-lawyer. I thoroughly enjoyed Fifty-Fifty, which was filled with Flynn’s usual heart-pumping, high-stakes legal thriller mixed with a ruthless killer running around bumping off anyone who took her fancy. I wouldn’t like to have been Avellino’s friend, or enemy, given how quickly key players in this murder mystery were dropping.
I really, really like Eddie Flynn. His ex-trickster ways make him a compelling protagonist as he lawyers his way through his cases, and then slips in some pickpocketing and the odd punch in the face. I’ve read all four of his earlier adventures, and this is a worthy successor to his story.
There are three main POV characters here – Eddie, junior lawyer Kate, who’s on the team for the other Avellino sister, and ‘she’, the killer, who’s deliberately obscured until near the end. This delicious uncertainty makes the narratives of both lawyers more ironic, as both are firmly convinced of their client’s innocence, but we know that one of them is sorely mistaken, and has been taken in by a cold-blooded killer.
Flynn’s fifth outing is a rollercoaster ride, with characters dropping like flies on every other page. As Eddie assembles a legal team for the case of a lifetime, we see a host of old favourites – like Judge Harry Ford, Jimmy ‘the Hat’ Fellini, and investigator Harper, as well as getting a crossover character from Twisted, Cavanagh’s last (standalone) novel. A mixture of tense thriller and unexpected gut-punch, the narrative here keeps you guessing throughout.
This is an excellent book, and were it anyone else, I’d probably give it five stars. It’s missing just a shred of that Eddie Flynn magic, though. Eddie does no punching of bad guys, very little pickpocketing, and no hoodwinking of rival lawyers. There’s still some instances of Eddie making the most of his backdoor connections – he palms a wallet which has ripple effects, and there’s some breaking and entering, and Jimmy The Hat is still lurking around, but I felt like Eddie might be going straight. Which, honestly, I just don’t want. It’s more fun when Eddie plays all his lawyer tricks and then straight up punches someone in the face.
Still though. A really fun book, a worthy entry into Eddie Flynn’s history, and there’s a promise of more to come from the author note at the end!

Four Stars
****

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Noughts and Crosses – Graphic Novel Review

When I was browsing the London Library Consortium catalogue on overdrive last week, I saw that Noughts and Crosses (the Graphic Novel) was there. It was actually already loaned out, and said it had a wait time of four weeks, so I put a hold on it and then forgot about it, as I didn’t expect it for a few more weeks. But then a few days later, I got a notification to say that it was available, which was a great surprise!

Noughts and Crosses (Graphic Novel) – Malorie Blackman, Ian Edgington, John Aggs

25843163._sx318_Callum is a nought – an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses.

Sephy is a Cross – and the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country.

In their hostile, violent world, noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. But when Sephy and Callum’s childhood friendship grows into love, they’re determined to find a way to be together.

And then the bomb explodes . . .

The long-awaited graphic novel adaptation of one of the most influential, critically acclaimed and original novels of all time, from multi-award-winning Malorie Blackman.

Noughts and Crosses is one of my favourite books of all time – a book which opened my eyes to entrenched ideas of race and the notion that history is written by the victors. I love Blackman’s writing, and have read each book in the Noughts and Crosses series as it came out – most recently Crossfire. I also frequently return to the Noughts and Crosses world, as they’re both a part of my childhood and a really accessible way to think about racial privilege and entrenched discrimination.

So in terms of plot, I don’t have a huge amount to say about Noughts and Crosses – I think the plot is excellent, with a love across a divide that seems to great to conquer – Romeo and Juliet, Kevin and Sadie, with an ending which is somewhere in between the two couples in terms of tragedy. I think the plot as a whole is a piece of art, and so really when reading the graphic novel, what I was excited to see was how well that translated to a different format.

I haven’t read anything by this creative duo before, of Ian Edgington and John Aggs, although they also created the graphic novel adaptation of The Recruit, the first Cherub novel, by Robert Muchamore, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But honestly, I was blown away by how good this graphic novel is.

As an adaptation, it’s excellent – it hits all the major story beats, including the key events of the novel and sacrificing detail which can be provided in an 80,000 word novel only where necessary. Where possible, that detail is translated instead into illustrations and panel placements that add to the depth and richness of story-telling. One advantage this format has over the novel is actually how it can add to the world-building in a way which isn’t possible through the written world – showing, not telling, is perfect in graphic novel format, and Aggs and Edgington do a great job of this, from including background characters who make important reappearances later, to changing up aspects of a society that we expect, to indicate the race-swapped influence of this fictionalised world.

The choice to have the novel in black and white illustrations, rather than full colour, was presumably a deliberate choice, and one which I appreciated, as it made the contrast between Noughts and Crosses in this world very stark. A thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of a novel I already loved, and as far as I can see, a solid standalone experience also. I’m obviously biased because I’ve read and really loved the novel, but this graphic novel strikes me as a really interesting independent way to experience Blackman’s imagined world.

Five Stars
*****

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