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September & October 2016 Books

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I completely missed a month! It ended up getting so late in the month that it seemed silly to do September round-up post, so I thought I’d stick all of the books from September and October into one post.

The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent *
I’ve read a lot of psychological thrillers this year; we’re in the throes of quite the glut of this kind of novel right now. I don’t mind; when they are written well, they are very enjoyable, and the very best thrillers can give me a physical reaction when the outcome is finally revealed.

This is another story told from the perspective of a woman dealing with a crisis in her life. In this case, it’s Fran, who discovers her husband’s dead body one night. In the subsequent days, as she attempts to help the police discover what happened to him, she has to come to terms with the fact that she didn’t really know him at all. It’s a gripping enough story, with a great setting; the gloomy winter in the fens really adds to the sense of foreboding and claustrophobia. But ultimately it fell short of being a great book for me. There was just something about the final reveal that didn’t set my world alight.

Remix by Non Pratt
I read this because I heard Non Pratt talking about it on the same YALC panel as I heard Sophia Bennett and Chris Russell talking about their books featuring music. This is the story of a pair of  best friends at a music festival, coming to terms with their respective relationships breaking up, how their friendship is going to survive their recent different exam results, and general teenage drama. It’s well written, and though a lot of it is about boys and relationships, it’s also about teenage friendship. I liked it a lot.

The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe *
You can read my full review of this here; it’s set almost entirely on a train travelling between Manchester and London, and each section of the chapters is told from the perspective of a different character. As you would expect from a train-full of people, they are a mixed bag, from single mum on a business trip, to young man heading to a job interview, with a family man and an older couple, amongst others, thrown in for good measure. The most significant character is Saheel, who is carrying a bomb that he intends to detonate when he reaches his destination. It’s an enjoyable story that I have been thinking about for a few days since finishing it; it has some very well-written characters, and juggling the multiple perspectives can’t have been an easy task, but is handled with aplomb.

 

Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by J.K. Rowling
These new Harry Potter short Kindle books come hot on the heels of The Cursed Child, and as big a Harry Potter fan as I am, I have to say that even I am wondering if it’s ever going to stop any time soon. But that being said, I enjoyed all three of these, as they pick up where the old Pottermore site left off in giving extra information about the characters we all know and love. I don’t necessarily need new stories, but any additional information about the stories I am so fond of? I’ll accept that gladly.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists by J.K. Rowling
I’m not going to lie, these three Pottermore books have largely merged into one, and I’m struggling to remember the defining stories and information contained in them individually. But I do know that this one was my least favourite of the three, given that it contains rather a large amount of information about old Ministers for Magic that we have never heard about before, and other characters I care less for than others.

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody *
You can read my full review of Death at the Seaside here; I have been offered the chance to review three Kate Shackleton mysteries for three years in a row, and it’s always a pleasure to read them! This one follows amateur detective Kate as she holidays in Whitby, and of course, because crime follows her around, she finds herself investigating both the murder of a local jeweller, and the disappearance of her goddaughter. I genuinely had no idea which way the story was heading until it went there, and though it’s a gentle journey, it’s no less enjoyable that something that’s a bit more thrilling. I can heartily recommend this series of books if you like a cosy crime novel, and I really must check out the earlier ones in the series that I have missed.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by J.K. Rowling
I finished this one while I was on holiday; I was only there for four days (one of which was spent at a wedding), so I didn’t get a lot of reading time, but this was another easy read. I liked this one, though I had already read some of the chapters when they were included on the old Pottermore site. I loved reading about how Lupin became a werewolf, and how ultimately he was just grateful to have anyone who wanted to be his friend, and also about Professor McGonagall, and how devoted she was to the school. All good stuff, and I would happily accept a full encyclopedia if Rowling ever wanted to write one.

Books in 2016 – 40

Book Blog Tour ~ Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

9780349406589-1Amateur detective Kate Shackleton has decided to take a break; nothing ever happens in August, so she heads to Whitby for a holiday, meeting up with her old school friend Alma whilst there. But mystery and crime tends to follow Kate around, and she finds herself caught up in the investigations into the murder of a jeweller in the town, who happens to be Alma’s current love interest, and who has also recently lent Alma’s daughter Felicity some money so she could run away with her beau to find her father.

This is the third year in a row that I have had the pleasure to review a Kate Shackleton mystery here on my blog. Affectionately referred to as ‘cosy crime’, they aren’t the sort of books that are going to present violently graphic murder scenes, or end in a thrilling chase to nail the killer. Things trot along at a pleasant pace, and much like an Agatha Christie novel, build to an exciting climax in which the perpetrator, along with his or her motive, is finally revealed.

Kate Shackleton is an interesting heroine; bound by the societal rules of the time (post World War I), but written as an independent and intelligent woman who can’t resist the lure of a mystery that has to be solved. Kate’s lovable sidekick, Sykes, is once again on hand to assist her, as is her housekeeper, Mrs Sugden.

When I read my first Kate Shackleton Mystery, I was worried that I might feel as though I had missed something; often when reading a series, you feel that you have to start at the beginning. While of course there would be some benefit to reading the series in order, these are self-contained cases, and it’s only the ephemera of Kate’s life that continues with any consistency. But Brody is able to build the backstory without including pages of exposition; it’s always introduced gently that Kate is a widower who lost her husband during the war, and everything else is mentioned only if necessary. It doesn’t necessarily matter that Kate solved the mystery of a murder in a library two books ago, but if something like this needs to be mentioned, it is done with a deft hand.

I can’t recommend this series of books enough to someone who enjoys this kind of cosy crime; it’s not unlike an episode of Midsomer Murders or Morse; just fantastical enough to be entertaining, but moving along at such a pace that you never feel as though you are being left behind.

Death at the Seaside
First published: 6th October 2016
ISBN: 9780349406589
Piatkus
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Blog Tour ~ The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe

30299856Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed. Holly has just landed her dream job, which should make life a lot easier than it has been, and Jeff is heading for his first ever work interview after months of unemployment. They end up sitting next to each other. Onboard customer service assistant, Naz, dreams of better things as he collects rubbish from the passengers. And in the middle of the carriage sits Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack . . .

With The Silence Between Breaths, Cath Staincliffe takes on the mammoth task of sectioning off each chapter to different characters. And there are a lot of characters; as well as the previously mentioned Holly, Jeff, Naz and Saheel, we also have the bigoted Nick, travelling with his family; Caroline, on her way to meet an old university friend; single mum Rhona, who is travelling for work but just wants to be at home with her daughter, and Meg, heading off on holiday with her partner Diana, and their dog, Boss. It’s a pretty big task, and it might be hard to keep track of them all, but for the fact that Staincliffe’s characterisation makes each one feel distinct and entirely real.

Chief amongst the characters are Jeff and Holly, who find themselves sitting next to each other on the packed train and allow an initially terse and confrontational introduction develop into something a little more flirtatious, and packed with potential for the future. Of course this future is set to be brutally interrupted by the actions of Saheel, a young chemistry student who has made the decision that radicalised people all over the world make on what seems like a daily basis; to sacrifice his life and those of others to draw attention to his cause.

We get to learn more about Saheel through his own sections, but also from the perspective of the only character given her own perspective who isn’t on the train – his sister Kulsoom. Through her, we learn not only exactly what Saheel is planning to do, but how the actions of terrorists like this affect the family they leave behind; a family who isn’t committed to such a radical way of life, and who also have to come to terms with the devastating loss of a family member.

It is of course, a very timely story, with this kind of brutal act being in the forefront of everyone’s minds, given the global events we are exposed to so frequently. References to the 2015 election, the upcoming (at the time) EU Referendum, and other topical events, help to place this very firmly in and of its time.

But the characters are the story’s true accomplishment. Keeping a cast of characters this big straight, interesting and sympathetic (in most cases) is not an easy task, but Staincliffe manages it, and left me regretting that I had to say goodbye to them.

The Silence Between Breaths
First published: 22nd September 2016
ISBN: 9781472118004
Constable
Review copy provided by publisher

August 2016 Books

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The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp *

I feel as though I never stop recommending this book! I reviewed it as part of a blog tour, and then earlier this week, I reviewed it on the radio! The Radio 2 Book Club had it as their selected book, and because I’d tweeted to say that I had read it, when they had one of their reviewers drop out, they asked me to step in. Which I did, with a huge amount of trepidation! This is such an unusual book, that I think it’s best just to jump in and give it a go, but take a look at my review if you’d like to know more.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 

I recently saw the trailer for the film adaptation of A Monster Calls, and it reminded me that I have been meaning to read it for years! So I grabbed it from the library and actually ended up reading it in one sitting. It’s a beautiful story about childhood, grief and loss, and it struck a very personal chord. Ness’ writing is stunning, and the fact that this is based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could complete the story, makes it ever more poignant. I can’t wait for the film!

Love Song by Sophia Bennett

This is the story of a teenager who ends up in the entourage of a world-famous boyband. Nina somehow manages to catch the eye of the diva girlfriend of the lead singer, and is employed as her personal assistant. Of course, things don’t go smoothly, and Nina finds herself entangled on a more personal level with more than one member of the band. I read this book because I heard the author talking about it on the same music in YA panel at YALC that I’d heard Chris Russell talking about Songs About a Girl that I read last month. I was less enamoured with this one, simply because I felt as though the circumstances that led to Nina’s entanglement with the band were a whole lot more contrived.

Books in 2016 – 33

*Books marked with a star have been provided by the publisher for review purposes

July 2016 Books

July 2016Books

 

 

Oh dear. You know you’ve got rather behind with blog posts when you are publishing a July round up post in the last week of August! Without further ado, here are the books I read in July.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena *

I absolutely loved this book; you can read my full review of it here. It tells the story of a young married couple whose baby is kidnapped while they are next door at a neighbour’s dinner party. I expected it to deal with the public shaming of the parents for having left the baby alone while they socialised, but it was much more of a domestic thriller, with the ready privy to the innermost thoughts of both of them as they come to terms with what has happened. It’s a definite page-turner; I saw someone reading it on the train the other day and she had that fevered expression that only comes when you are a couple of chapters from the end of a book that you simply have to finish!

Blame by Simon Mayo *

I know most people probably don’t think that I can be unbiased about a book by my favourite radio DJ, but I can. I think. It just so happens that I have really liked everything he has written so far. Blame is a Young Adult novel set in the near future, when heritage crime laws have been passed – children can now be prosecuted, and sent to ‘family prisons’, for the crimes of their parents and grandparents. It’s a really interesting look at the consequences of extreme politics, with society blaming anyone they can think of for what’s wrong with the world. You can read my full review of Blame here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Well it’s Harry Potter season again, and I had been re-reading the first book for a while before finishing it last month. I did a full rewatch of the films, and spent a lot of time saying “In the book…” to my friend who has never read them. So I thought it was time for a re-read, and I decided to download the enhanced iBooks versions, as my actual books are still at my dad’s house. I wasn’t terribly enamoured with the ‘enhanced-ness’ of them, they just had a few animated illustrations, and the odd extra piece of Pottermore information. But it’s Harry Potter, so of course I enjoyed it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Well it’s Harry Potter season again… I bought this the day it came out, and read it in 90 minutes. Partly out of nostalgia for the days when I would queue at midnight for a new Harry Potter book and be finished with it by lunchtime the next day (only to flip straight back to page one and start again), but mostly because it’s a play, and it only took me that long to read. I really liked it – I kind of understand the negativity towards it, but I think it’s really important to acknowledge that you are reading a script, something that is meant to be experienced on stage rather than on the page. I’m probably never going to see it performed, but I loved being back in the company of beloved characters, so it gets a thumbs up from me.

Songs About a Girl by Chris Russell

I bought Songs About a Girl having seen Chris Russell on a panel at YALC, talking about music in YA fiction. He was quite delightful, and he piqued my interest about this novel – the story of a teenager who is asked along to take backstage photos of the biggest boyband in the world, and ends up entangled in ways that are not just professional. It’s an enjoyable novel, and it’s clear throughout that Russell has experience of both life as a musician (he’s in a band), and life behind the scenes with a boyband (he’s worked for the One Direction fanclub). Also, he complimented both my glasses and my t-shirt at YALC when he signed my book, and he seems like a charming man, so he has my vote.

Books in 2016 – 30

*Books marked with a star have been provided by the publisher for review purposes

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