Recent Reads #Minibookreviews

Recentreads

Here are some thoughts on my recently read books

 

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Chiff Chaff // David Barnard //  February 2018 // Troubador Publishing // Goodreads

I really wanted to love this quirky book because I’m kind of obsessed with Orkney and Shetland. Not that I’ve been, but I’m pretty sure my dream home is around there somewhere.

Sadly, I just couldn’t get into Chiff Chaff and had to DNF.  I didn’t even make it to the Chaff!

The writing was interesting. I liked the use of dialect and the descriptions of the landscape, but the 16 year old narrator in the first part of the book was too repetitive and muddling for my liking. It was too much effort to figure out what was going on, so I admit it – I gave up. A great idea, but it didn’t work for me. 

unicorn rating 2

 

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Final Draft // Riley Redgate // June 2018 // Amulet Books // Goodreads

It’s always interesting reviewing books a long time after you’ve read them. It really shows whether the book has staying power or not, especially for someone like me with terrible memory!

I read Final Draft in May, and while I probably couldn’t give you a concise synopsis, parts of it have definitely stayed with me. Laila was a great protagonist full of complexities and heart. She is probably the most diverse character I’ve ever read being pansexual, biracial, Ecuadorian, suffering from anxiety, and plus size, but I never felt like it was a tick-box-of-diversity book – Redgate made Laila 100% real. It’s a wonderfully modern coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever felt different. So basically, for everyone, right? 

unicorn rating 4

 

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Leah on the Offbeat // Becky Albertalli // Creekwood #2 // April 2018 //  Balzer + Bray // Goodreads

The highly anticipated companion novel to best-seller Simon Vs was everything I hoped. In fact, I think I preferred it to the first book. Leah is like my spirit animal, I need her to be my bff. Maybe I can join her band…

Anywayyyy, in this Creekwood instalment, Leah takes the centre stage as she tries to keep her band together and figure out who the hell she is. I thought one of the most interesting parts of this story was that Leah is out (as bi) to her mum, but is struggling to tell her best friends, especially recently out Simon. It’s usually the other way round in coming-out stories. I guess it shows how much she thinks of her friends. 

Leah…is one of those great books that takes you right back to how it feels to be a teenager  approaching the end of high school. On one hand relief, on the other, crippling fear of the unknown and the inevitable fracturing of friendship groups. Another perfectly-crafted book portraying the complexities of friendships and growing-up by new fave Becky Albertalli. 

unicorn rating 4

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you thought!

Other reviews you may be interested in: Simon Vs the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli // The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee and others

 

 

Reading Round-up: March/April 2018, part 2 #minibookreviews

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I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but I’ve been pretty rubbish at posting reviews lately. I unfortunately don’t have the time (or the motivation) at the moment. I would, however, like to share a few thoughts on some of my recent reads…

 

Anything You Do Say ~ Gillian McAllister

I had heard nothing but good things about Gillian McAllister’s thrillers, and this one was my first. I was absolutely captivated from the very first page. It’s a simple concept which begs the question what you would do if you critically hurt someone by accident? Would you try to help them and turn yourself in? Or would you leave them for dead and hope it’s never traced back to you?

It’s such a tragic dilemma, and I couldn’t stop reading. What I loved the most about it was that there’s no easy answer, and no simple outcome. Both versions of the story are fraught with grief, loss and terror, but show that the human spirit can survive more than you may think.

unicorn rating

 

The Language of Thorns ~ Leigh Bardugo

This book is so beautiful, I almost didn’t care what was inside! But of course, I did a little. This is a collection of fairy tales from the Grisha world created by Bardugo in her Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology. To write a collection of fairy tales and myths that her characters may have heard as children like we’ve heard variations of Grimm’s and Andersen’s just shows how vast and complete Bardugo’s world building is, and for this alone I was impressed.

However, I wasn’t as impressed by the stories as I was the concept. A couple of them were fun, and compelling but the rest fell flat for me. Thankfully, the stunning illustrations, and beautiful cover (in hardback) more than made up for it. I think it’s a book you’ll want to keep on your shelves to look at, rather than reread.

unicorn rating 3

Have you read either of these? Let me know what you thought?

 

Reading Round-up: March/April 2018, Part 1 #MiniBookReviews

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I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but I’ve been pretty rubbish at posting reviews lately. I unfortunately don’t have the time (or the motivation) at the moment. I would, however, like to share a few thoughts on some of my recent reads…

 

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island  ~ Liz Kessler

This book was so cute. I’d never read any Liz Kessler books before and I didn’t realise this was like book 7 in the series, but it didn’t matter at all. It’s a story about friendship, family, romance and a mysterious adventure involving an ancient prophecy, (I bloody love an ancient prophecy btw) and of course, Mermaids!

I thought it was paced well, and had some struggles and dilemmas in it that were perfect for the target age group, such as letting down your best friend, and being the third, all nicely topped off with some mermaid magic.

unicorn rating 4

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ~ Mackenzi Lee

I’m so glad that this book was as good as I anticipated. It’s not a quick read, but totally worth the investment. There’s not that much historical YA out there, particularly LGBT historical YA, and this tale of travelling and debauchery is in a league of its own. It’s a great story, with truly diverse characters and not just for the sake of it like I see happening in YA a lot these days.

unicorn rating 4

 

Simon Vs the Homosapiens Agenda ~ Becky Albertalli

I knew I would love this book from the moment it came out, but I’m afraid all the hype did ruin it a little bit for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it, and I loved the main characters, and the fact that books like this exist, but people were talking about it like it’s something new, and I didn’t think it was really.

unicorn rating 4

 

Member of the Family ~ Dianne Lake

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had this weird fascination with Charles Manson, but I never really read that much about him in the time before the murders took place. This book, written by the youngest recruited member of ‘the family’, provides a lot of insight on that time when the group transitioned from a hippie commune, to a sadistic cult capable of the harshest of crimes. 

I found a lot of this book interesting but it dragged, especially in the beginning. I get that Dianne’s dysfunctional childhood is what paved the way for her joining Manson, but it could have been summarised a bit. I’m glad I read it though!

unicorn rating 3

More mini reviews will be posted tomorrow 🙂

Mini Reviews #BooksReviews #readingroundup #2018Reads

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but I’ve been pretty rubbish at posting reviews lately. I unfortunately don’t have the time (or the motivation) at the moment. I would, however, like to share a few thoughts on some of my recent reads…

 

 

Flood & Fang (The Raven Mysteries #1) by Marcus Sedgwick

This is was fun, middle grade read, with a gothic vibe – of such the kind that Sedgwick is so good at. The illustrations were inspired, too. Fans of the likes of The Addam’s Family will be sure to love this series.

unicorn rating 4

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

I’m not always a fan of Fae books, unless they are written by Holly Black. And she’s done it again! The Cruel Prince is a beguiling, thrilling, and often uncomfortable read (how would you cope with living somewhere surrounded by people who could literally force you to do anything they wanted!?). Full of visceral descriptions and real, interesting characters, Holly Black’s world of Faery is a brutal beast, and one that’s hard to put down.

 

 

Scarecrow by Danny Weston

I was slightly disappointed by this YA book, simply because I thought it was going to be a horror, or at least a gripping fantasy-thriller from the cover art, but I was mistaken. I also picked it up because I liked the sound of the setting – a remote cabin in the Highlands, but the setting wasn’t explored much either. However, it was a fast-paced story with good characterisation, including Philbert, the talking scarecrow, who can either save the day, or make the protagonist look increasingly insane…

unicorn rating 3

Almost Midnight by Rainbow Rowell

This was my first taste of Rainbow Rowell’s work – a long time coming. These two short tales set around New Year were both adorable and compelling, with beautiful pencil illustrations. I can tell even from these short stories that Rowell is a master of creating complicated, diverse and entirely realistic teenage characters. I’ll definitely read more of hers now.

unicorn rating 4

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski #BookReview #Horror #SciFi

 

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hematTitle: The Hematophages
Author: Stephen Kozeniewski
Series: N/A
Format: Digital, 326 pages
Publication Details:  April 1st 2017 by Sinister Grin Press
Genre(s): Horror; Science Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads

Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.

Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.

Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort.

But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES

Review

I was in two minds going into this book. On one hand, I expected to like it because I’ve enjoyed many of Stephen Kozeniewski’s previous books (Braineater Jones, Hunter of the Dead and The Ghoul Archipelago) , but on the other hand, I don’t have a huge capacity for deep-space colony settings/ hardcore sci-fi novels.

Luckily for me, 1. I’m a bit of a gore-fiend, and that came in spades, and 2. It appears that everything Kozeniewski writes is so damn readable! It’s annoying, really. 

The Hematophages centres around Paige, a seemingly accomplished and confident Doctoral Student. But deep down she’s inexperienced and naïve, having never left her space station. Paige bags herself a ‘need to know’ mysterious new job which will send her on a mission into the fleshworld (yes, it’s as gross as it sounds) with its oceans of blood and blood-drinking alien-fish monstrosities. 

The mission is fraught with danger from the start, attacked by pirates with no skin before they even arrive, and then the realisation that they are actually salvaging the world-famous ship The Manifest Destiny which holds some truly grim surprises of its own, Paige and her new BFF/the object of her affection, Zanib will be extremely lucky to get out alive (and with all their parts), never mind complete the mission.

I wasn’t sure about protagonist Paige at first. She seemed to have two entirely different personalities, which meant it took me a little while to get into the swing of things, but I warmed to her eventually and ended up really enjoying this fast-paced story.

The thorough world-building made it easy to understand Kozeniewski’s epic vision. And it was epic! As I said earlier, I’m not a huge SF reader, so maybe this was nothing new, but it was definitely new to me, and felt unique.

I liked that in this version of the far-future the human race are all one colour due to years of inter-racial sex, that the gross Skin-Wrappers evolved from ostracised people with some kind of cancer, and that men have completely died out. Hurrah! (I joke…but, imagine).

Written well, full of stomach-churning wrongness and women kicking some blood-sucking, alien-fish-with-teeth-for-tongues ass, Kozeniewski has done it again. He’s like the indie master of horror. Or something. Give him a try if you can stomach it!

unicorn rating 4

 

 

 

The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews #BookReview

thewordforTitle: The Word for Woman is Wilderness
Author: Abi Andrews
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 315 pages
Publication Details: Published February 1st 2018 by Serpent’s Tail
Genre(s): General Fiction; Adventure
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

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Erin is 19. She’s never really left England, but she has watched Bear Grylls and wonders why it’s always men who get to go on all the cool wilderness adventures. So Erin sets off on a voyage into the Alaskan wilderness, a one-woman challenge to the archetype of the rugged male explorer.

As Erin’s journey takes her through the Arctic Circle, across the entire breadth of the American continent and finally to a lonely cabin in the wilds of Denali, she explores subjects as diverse as the moon landings, the Gaia hypothesis, loneliness, nuclear war, shamanism and the pill.

Filled with a sense of wonder for the natural world and a fierce love for preserving it, The Word for Woman is Wilderness is a funny, frank and tender account of a young woman in uncharted territory.

Review

I think this is the book I wanted to read when I picked up Flat Broke with Two Goats at the beginning of the year. Although The Word for Woman is Wilderness is fiction, it very much reads as a memoir, as we follow the determined, opinionated, and philosophical Erin on a courageous adventure from England to the Alaskan wilderness via everywhere in between.

I lapped up the first half of this book. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. Protagonist, and narrator Erin is a tour de force of feminist, ecological, and philosophical thought, which effortlessly pours out of her during every step of her solitary wilderness adventure. She discusses inequality, gender, freedom, solitude, nature, space…you name it, Erin has an opinion on it.

One of the main things I found interesting about this book (and there were many) was Erin’s pondering on why it’s OK for men to want to be alone but not women. A woman alone in a pub, restaurant, or cinema still seems to be shocking, or at the very least unusual, today. But no one looks twice at a man sat by himself. And the same goes for explorers.

I feel like Erin answers a lot of her own questions throughout the novel, without really meaning to. Such as the whole being in solitude thing, or not needing/wanting help from men, because whether she likes it or not, she is constantly surrounded by people who she finds it difficult to shake off. People, mostly men, whom also want to help her, but in turn end up holding her back.

It’s certainly a thought-provoking read, especially if you’re interested in gender roles and equality. Are women naturally more sociable than men? Do they crave friendship and warmth more than men? Do men naturally have an urge to protect women, which in turn often seems to undermine them?

The only bad thing I can say about this book is that at times it was a bit much. A bit too intense, a few too many tangents and rants and repetition of thoughts, which made me want to keep putting it down.

It is however, a book that made me daydream and will stay with me for a long time, and for that it was completely worth the read.

unicorn rating 4

 

 

Blog Tour: Veronica’s Bird #Memoir #BookReview

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Veronica’s Bird, a gritty memoir about a remarkable woman who rose from poverty to unprecedented success in the prison service

About the Book

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Title: Veronica’s Bird
Author: Veronica Bird & Richard Newman
Series: N/A
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication Details: January 22nd 2018 by Clink Street Publishing
Genre(s): Memoir
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

Amazon

Veronica Bird was one of nine children living in a tiny house in Barnsley with a brutal coal miner for a father. Life was a despairing time in the Fifties as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty. However, a glimmer of hope revealed itself as she, astonishingly to her and her mother, won a scholarship to Ackworth Boarding School where she began to shine above her class-mates.

A champion in all sports, Veronica at last found some happiness. That was until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the fire.

He soon began to take control over her life removing her from the school she adored, two terms before she was due to take her GCEs, so he could put her to work as cheap labour on his market stall. Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away from him and applied to the Prison Service, intuiting that it was the only safe place she could trust.

Accepted into the Prison Service at a time when there were few women working in the industry, Veronica applied herself every day to learning her new craft even training in Holloway Prison where Myra Hindley was an inmate. With no wish to go outside the prison, Veronica remained inside on-duty. While her colleagues went out to the pub, the theatre or to dine she didn’t feel able to join them.

Her dedication was recognised and she rose rapidly in the Service moving from looking after dangerous women prisoners on long-term sentences to violent men and coming up against such infamous names as The Price sisters, Mary Bell and Charles Bronson. The threat of riots was always very close and escapes had to be dealt with quickly.

After becoming a Governor, Veronica was tasked with what was known within the Service as a ‘basket case’ of a prison. However, with her diligence and enthusiasm Veronica managed to turn it around whereupon it became a model example to the country and she was recognised with an honour from the Queen. With this recognition the EU invited her to lead a team to Russia and her time in Ivanovo Prison, north east of Moscow, provides an illuminating and humorous insight into a different prison culture.

Through a series of interviews with Richard Newman —author of the bestselling A Nun’s Story— Veronica’s Bird reveals a deeply poignant story of eventual triumph, is filled with humour and compassion for those inside and will fascinate anyone interested in unique true life stories, social affairs and the prison system.

 

Excerpt

Veronica’s time training in the old Holloway prison was an eye opener for her, particularly when she came face to face with Myra Hindley but there were others, just as evil inside…

Myra’s (Hindley) reputation was powerful as all truly evil people impress, in a sick, sad way. Outside the prison, following the escape plot, children had to be reassured it was safe to go outside, and mothers would glance across the street as they waited for their children to come out of school. There was no way they were going to allow them to walk home alone despite being told she was safe inside her cell. Such was the status she ‘enjoyed’ but remember, she was not a celebrity, manipulative, yes, evil very, but don’t let us fall into the trap of giving her a cult status.

I write in some detail about Myra Hindley’s time in Holloway. Although she was carefully moved about the country from prison to prison, a fellow prisoner was able to get to her in an unguarded moment. The prisoner’s name was Judith, a dangerous psychotic. She was apt to flip from eating out of your hand at one moment to a sudden and unsafe rage. This day, for whatever reason, Judith launched herself at the Moors murderer and managed to throw her over a high balustrade where Myra landed on the security nets strung across the light wells to prevent suicides. Such was the force used, Myra’s head was smashed in and she had to have plastic surgery to repair the damage. These incidents occur in the flash of an eye and those eyes need to be in the back of one’s head.

Let me stay with Judith for a moment. When she was at Styal prison she climbed one night out of her cell window which had no bars, urged on by the knowledge it was New Year’s Eve. She shinned down a drainpipe (yes, really), into a workman’s yard where there was a conveniently stacked set of ladders. (You cannot make this stuff up). Selecting one of the long ladders, Judith climbed out before walking off holding out her thumb as she went. Who should be the first to stop and help her but an off-duty policeman. (I told you it could not be made into a film – no-one would believe it). He said goodbye to Judith, a dangerous psychotic, at the start of a motorway and drove off secure in the knowledge he had helped a lady in distress. Having enjoyed a night’s celebration through into the New Year, she finally turned up at a friend’s house in Swansea at three in the morning. She had managed to remain unchallenged for over twelve hours as a friendly inmate had signed the register at seven in the morning for her. This meant she remained unnoticed until lunchtime when the duty officer saw her name was not in the book. The alarm was raised; the hunt was on but Judith was well gone. The police finally apprehended her in her friend’s cellar and took her back. Red and faces were two words which probably came to mind several times that day with the prison officers, and no doubt, those ladders were securely locked up. And, as for that milkman…

This checking was all part of the eternal need to know how many prisoners there were at any one time in any part of the prison. To do so, numbers were checked four times a day, at seven in the morning, when Judith’s friend stood in for her, at lunch, in the afternoon and when the night duty staff arrived. When prisoners were moved around the prison or had to leave to go to a trial for example, chalk boards were constantly updated. As one prisoner left, the number was rubbed out and a revised figure inserted. When they came back the number was altered again. The boards were divided into sections, such as Remand, Trials and Section the last was where a prisoner had to be transferred to the hospital section. Pretty low- tech in those days but it worked, usually.

As I came to the end of my eight weeks I was skilled in controlling fighting prisoners, night patrolling, interpersonal skills, gate duty, the switchboard and…. counting.

I was ready for Wakefield.

My Thoughts

I work in a prison library and I’m constantly surprised and interested in prison life, so I was thrilled to be offered a spot on the blog tour for this memoir.

I’m ashamed to say that I’d not heard of Veronica Bird despite all of her achievements in the prison service. I was eager to learn about her life, why she joined the prison service at a time when very few women did, and how it affected her.

Veronica’s Bird is a compelling read. I was gripped by her difficult childhood, which was a surprise as I thought I would have been more interested once she entered HMPS, but this was not the case. It’s a wonderful story of bravery and triumph from the very beginning.

I enjoyed following Veronica as she embarked on a career in the service with a driving ambition for promotion after promotion. I’m not sure I could ever be that driven, but work was Veronica’s whole life – she had little else – so it made sense that she wanted to be the best.

Many of Veronica’s anecdotes are interesting and insightful, and the pages flew by, but I did feel like there was something missing, and that was emotion. Veronica’s time in the various prisons she worked are told in almost a clinical fashion. I wanted to know how she felt about her first day, about the prisoners she met. How she felt about Myra Hindley, her colleagues, etc. But I felt like most of her memories were devoid of emotion and intimacy. She was doing a job and that was that. This is the only thing that let the book down for me.

There’s no question that Veronica is an astounding woman, who has achieved more than most us ever will, and her story is one that deserves to be read. I only wish that by the end of the book I felt like I knew her, but I didn’t.

She remains an enigma!

unicorn rating 3

About the authors: After thirty-five years working for the Prison Service, Veronica Bird is now retired and living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. She is still an active proponent of the justice system and continues to lecture across the country and is a supporter of Butler Trust, which acknowledges excellence within the prison system.

A qualified architect and Swiss-trained hotelier, Richard Newman enjoyed a forty-year career designing and managing hotels worldwide before retiring in 2001. Since then he has gone on to publish a number of novels: The Crown of Martyrdom, The Horse that Screamed, The Potato Eaters, The Green Hill, Brief Encounters and most recently The Sunday Times bestseller, A Nun’s Story. He is currently working on a new novel about retirement and an autobiography of his time in the Middle East. He lives happily with his wife in Wetherby, West Yorkshire where he enjoys being close to his family.

Thanks to Rachel @ Authoright for arranging this tour

 

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Authors, publishers, agents…If you would like me spotlight, review, or be part of your blog tour please get in touch via the contacts page