Review – All The Little Animals by Walker Hamilton

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Rating: 4/5
The only story of murder and abuse that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I do love a good short novel – the kind that you can read in one sitting. I picked up All the Little Animals way back in February after my visit to Astley Book Farm for my birthday. Three things attracted me to it; 1. It sounded incredibly interesting and quirky, 2. It had been made into a film (so must be quite a good story), and 3. It only cost £1. Bargain!

The novella was described as a “frightening tale of human depravity and violence” but also “a little masterpiece of compassion and simplicity” so it’s safe to say that I really didn’t know what to expect. Would it be a horror story? Maybe a twisted thriller or murder mystery? I’m not usually a fan of any of these genres so I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d enjoy the story, but as I said, it only cost £1, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Out of all my guesses about the storyline, the one thing that I really didn’t expect it to be was a beautifully detailed tale of friendship between two men. Yes, there’s violence, betrayal and abuse but this was all balanced out by the relationship between Bobby (an abused 31 year old man with what I guess you would class as a learning disorder) and Mr. Summers, a man so broken by his past that he’s left it all behind to live in a tiny, basic “house” (shed) in the backwaters of the Cornish countryside.

As Bobby runs away from his abuser, he encounters Mr. Summers and assists him with his primary task – burying all the animals that have died on the country roads. The descriptions of the animals, the scenery and Mr. Summers himself are so fantastical, and come from such an unreliable narrator that I wasn’t quite sure if there were elements of fantasy in the storyline. At first, I thought that Bobby might be having some kind of breakdown and that Mr. Summers was a figment of his imagination, or an allegorical reference to his own father. However, as the novel progressed I realised that Bobby just has a very vivid imagination – and this made the storytelling even more engaging and magical. I was actually surprised at how rich all of the scenes were – the detail, the emotions, the colours and smells – all were perfectly described with a remarkable economy of language to create such an emotive story. When I think back, it feels like I’ve read a 300 page novel so to condense the plot to just over 100 pages is incredibly impressive.

Utterly charming, horrifying, emotive and yet amazingly brief, All the Little Animals really is a must read book. Highly recommended.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #40 Read a book that you read on a trip.

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Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Wow. You know when you read something that’s really hard hitting and epic and ambitious and feels completely authentic even though you know the characters aren’t real? That’s this book. It’s so powerful I’m not even sure where to begin.

Half of a Yellow Sun is the story of two sisters, Olanna and Kainene and their lives during the civil war in Nigeria. The fighting over land and political rule results in the short lived founding of a new nation – Biafra – and the women are caught up in the chaos that ensues. Told from both of their perspectives, plus Olanna’s servant Ugwu and Richard, Kainene’s British partner, we get to see the horrors of the war from very different perspectives.

At first, the novel is a fascinating portrayal of life in 1960’s Nigeria. Olanna and Kainene are from a privileged upper middle class family and it was really interesting to see how indigenous people with power and money were living in a post colonial society that still seemed very British. Juxtaposed to this was the extended family, who lived in villages with a far more traditional way of life. Being able to see both the lives of both the rich and the poor was really interesting, especially as I’ve read very few books about Africa in general and certainly not any from this time period. What struck me most was how oddly modern life seemed to be – Olanna and Kainene are both unmarried and living with partners, they attend university and have good jobs. That’s certainly not something that I expected to be happening in the 1960’s anywhere in the world, but especially not somewhere that I would think of today as being quite profoundly Christian.

Just as my interest in the story started to wane, civil war breaks out and suddenly, everything is thrown up in the air. What amazed me was how, for a good portion of the book, most of the characters tried to continue as normal with their daily lives. I’d never thought about war from as something that slowly creeps up on people but this book illustrates perfectly how it slowly affected little things, like your ability to travel or access to imported foods, until, one issue at a time, your life is subtly changed until it is almost unrecognizable.

As the book progresses, the horrors of war become more apparent and as the violence increases, so does the suffering of the people. Adichie doesn’t shy away from the impact of things like starvation and malnutrition on children and, although we don’t see any first hand account of front line fighting, the novel is quite graphic and shockingly sad. It is this insidiousness, the mundanity and powerlessness of the general population that is so well captured and gives the novel such extraordinary weight.

Half of a Yellow Sun also contains a book within a book – I won’t say too much but at the end I was really pleased to find out who the author was. I liked that the book ended sometime after the civil war had finished so that I got to find out what had happened to all of the characters (almost). I’d become very attached to each of the four narrative voices, despite all of them being in some way flawed so it was nice to not be left with too many questions at the end. 

I don’t think that I could honestly say that I enjoyed Half of a Yellow Sun, but it is an amazing book and one that I would thoroughly recommend. I loved that the dominant characters were women and it was so interesting to not only learn about a completely different culture but to see it from a privileged female perspective. Yes, some parts were quite harrowing and bloody but then this is fundamentally a book set within a war zone so I think the violence is completely justified. The nearest novel that I could compare it to is Empire of the Sun – and in my book that’s high praise indeed.

Rating: 4/5
Epic, ambitious, utterly absorbing and completely unique. A great history lesson about an often overlooked war.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #14 Read a book about war and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #5 Read a book by a person of colour.

Review: George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

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As I sit here on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, munching my way through a free box of chocolates (thanks Ocado – free chocolates or champagne with your fifth shop – genius) I noticed the quote;

“‘I also adore so-called truffles… as Prestat makes them.’ So wrote Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Awww” I thought to myself, chomping away. “I love Roald Dahl.”

Immediately, there was a smile on my face as I thought back to my childhood, when I would badger my Mum to buy me another of his books from WHSmiths as she dragged me round town on a Saturday. I would then trail after her, trying to read and walk as she browsed yet another department store looking for who-knows-what. Sometimes, she would dump all the shopping bags down, tell me to stay where I was and go off on her own while I happily sat on the floor and devoured my newest paperback. Nowadays, this would probably be seen as neglect but I was perfectly happy in my own little world.

Back to rainy Tuesday…

As I looked out of the window at the endless grey drizzle, I decided that my afternoon needed a little bit of sparkle, just like my boring Saturdays used to. I got straight on to my online library resource (which would have blown my tiny mind) and downloaded my favourite book as a six year old – George’s Marvellous Medicine. 

I’ve always been a fan of shorter books – those you can read in one sitting, that have a small cast of characters and an easy to follow linear progression. Don’t get me wrong, I also adore getting stuck into a magnum opus of a text (high five, Wheel of Time saga) but nothing beats the satisfaction of adding a book to your TBR and ticking it off on the same day. Done! And yes, there are arguably better novels of Dahl’s like Matilda, the BFG or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but for me, there was a unique pleasure in his shorter books.

But would it stand up to the text of time?

In case you had a deprived childhood, George’s Marvellous Medicine is the story of a young boy left with his Grandmother while his parents go out for the day. George is tasked with giving his Grandmother her prescribed medication, but instead decides to invent a potion of his own. You see, the thing that I love most of all about this book is that instead of being a sweet old lady, the Grandmother character is truly terrifying, miserable, horrible and downright evil. I absolutely adore the way that she is depicted, with no redeeming features whatsoever – the total opposite of 99% of all other literary Grandmothers. Brilliant. So, after being bullied by her, George decides to literally give her a taste of her own medicine.

The story is a fabulous, magical adventure for kids. I’m not going to gender stereotype the book, but I bet the danger and naughtiness would appeal just as much to little boys as little girls. It’s tons of fun, with very easy language and a fast pace. As always, there are brilliant illustrations from Quentin Blake that really add another dimension to the story.

Although I was worried that George’s Marvellous Medicine would have lost some of it’s magic when reading it as an adult, I was pleasantly surprised that it had retained all of its original charm and sparkle. I’m not sure that you could still write a book about feeding your Grandmother a concoction of every hazardous substance in your house mixed up in a saucepan (just like you probably can’t dump your child on the floor in the co-op and leave them to entertain themselves) so modern parents may want to issue their kids with a health warning before letting them read it – but please don’t deprive them of such an exciting adventure. 

Rating: 4/5
Magical, thrilling, sparkly storytelling at it’s finest. Just don’t try this at home.

P.S. Realised I’ve used quite a few brands in this review – just wanted to clarify that I’m not in any way sponsored or making money by doing this!

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #25 read a book you loved as a child.

Review – The Humans by Matt Haig

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I found this lovely little book whilst on holiday in Dawlish earlier this year (for £1.50! Result!) I’ve read a few things by Matt Haig (see here for a review of Reasons to Stay Alive) and have really empathised with his non-fiction writing, so I was excited to see what this book was about. After reading it, I can confirm that empathetic self help sci-fi is a thing, and Matt Haig has totally cornered the market. Oh, and that it’s pretty good.

The Humans begins with a classic science fiction setup – an alien arrives on earth in the body of a human man and proceeds to take over his life. All the classic tropes are there – the car headlights, the nakedness, the jarring impact of being run over but miraculously healing yourself. So far so repetitive rip-off. But what happens next is a sweet, funny, achingly self-aware look at what it means to be a human in the 21st century. Which is odd for a story about an alien assassin, but there you go.

Written in a familiar tone, the novel focuses on the life of Andrew Martin, an Oxford professor with a wife (Isobel) and child (Gulliver) and dog (Newton). Andrew is extraordinarily focused on his career (to the detriment of his family) and is poised to announce a groundbreaking advance in mathmatics. Unfortunately, the aliens monitoring our planet aren’t happy about us mere Earthlings taking such a dramatic step forwards and send an unnamed alien assassin to inhabit Andrew’s body and to kill anyone who knows too much about his discovery. However, once alien Andrew begins to learn about life on Earth, things get complicated. Emotions get involved. And that’s where the problems start…

I loved the way that an alien being was used as a device to highlight the ridiculousness of being a human. It was often self-referrential in a gently mocking way, such as when alien Andrew learns that humans often do things that they think will make them happy that actually make them miserable, such as writing a semi-autobiographical novel. Because alien Andrew is, obviously, not from round here, he questions ‘normal’ behaviour and his stark comparisons and lack of understanding of basic social norms are often brilliantly observed, right down to tiny details. I loved how these funny little observations were littered throughout the text and found myself chuckling out loud on several occasions (not a good look). I’d heard this book being described as similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and I can completely see why – despite being very different subject matter there’s a reflection of human behaviour which, when seen through another’s eyes, shows how utterly baffling and contradictory people can be.

Having read Matt Haig before I know that he’s suffered from depression and anxiety and so the description of Gulliver’s mental state felt completely authentic. I really liked how there was no specific reason for him to feel so low and I thought that the reaction of his parents was very realistic. In fact, the way that all of the characters related to each other was by far and away the best thing about this book. It showed how complicated and messy family dynamics can be, how love can be evidenced in many different forms and that whilst forgiveness may not be easy, it’s always a possibility.

The only thing that I didn’t really like about the book was the lack of pace and direction. Often, the story would meander along and although it was very sweet and funny, not a lot would be happening. I did get bored in places and had to have a little reading break, but the short chapters did help and the story always pulled me back in eventually.

In saying that, I LOVED the part towards the end where alien Andrew detailed all the advice that he would give his son based on what he had learnt about humanity. It was clever and funny and would be brilliant to refer back to if you need to make a speach at a wedding. Just a great piece of writing, even out of the context of the book.

I really enjoyed The Humans, despite it not being anything like I expected it to be. I very much enjoyed the quirky writing style and the gentle way in which human behaviour was mocked. There were some big, dark themes dealt with in a very honest and realistic fashion and their portrayal and the advice given was brilliantly written. Despite occasionally lacking in direction, the warmth and humour shone through to make a really lovely read. Recommended for anyone who wants the equivalent of a literary hug.

Overall rating: 4/5
Not at all what I expected, but I really enjoyed the originality and humour.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #21 Read a book from a non-human perspective.

Review: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

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So, you think you know what this poem is all about – you’ve seen the Simpson’s version (which is actually pretty amazing and faithful to the original text), you’ve coveted the Poe socks that seem to be doing the rounds of every book subscription box going – but have you actually sat down and read The Raven? I hadn’t, and if you haven’t either then you’re in for a treat.

As you probably know, The Raven is Poe’s most famous poem about a man haunted by the loss of Lenore. One night, he’s visited by a raven, whose only utterance is the phrase “nevermore”. The scene is a classic horror movie scenario, a cold and wet night with a mysterious tapping from something outside wanting to come in. Considering how few words are used, the overall tone is brilliantly conveyed to create a darkly gothic, slightly surreal poem about loss, grief and despair.

As it’s pretty short, a lot is left up to the imagination. Who is Lenore? Is the raven a real creature? Is there any hope for the main protagonist? Is it all a dream? I think it’s amazing how Poe managed to provide just enough information to allow readers to draw their own conclusions, but not so much that it’s obvious what has happened and not so little that it’s confusing.

Personally, assumed that Lenore is a dead wife or girlfriend but she could easily be a female friend or relative (or even just an allegorical reference to the man’s sanity as it slips away), and Poe could easily have been referring to the death of a relationship, or the love between the two characters.

It seemed to me that the raven represented a voice of reason, or perhaps an internal dialogue, who consistently responded to the man’s proclamations of grief by saying “nevermore” meaning “nope, never coming back, not gonna happen”. I’m not sure whether the man had gone mad with grief and was seeing the raven as a vision of his own despair or whether he was dreaming but in either case it seemed like there was absolutely no hope for him. It’s this sense of despair that mixes so well with the creepy atmosphere to give the poem real emotional punch.

I read the illustrated version of the text (for free, via Amazon) and the beautiful pictures really added to the overall experience of reading such an atmospheric poem. With Halloween just around the corner, it’s a great text to read at this time of year – I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Overall rating: 4/5
Beautifully written, a gothic masterpiece.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #30 Read a book with pictures.

Review – Fellside by M R Carey

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Photo credit: http://www.goodreads.com

Let’s get this out of the way IMMEDIATELY – this book is not The Girl With All The Gifts. It’s not as fast paced, nowhere near as interesting, the characters are not as well developed, the action isn’t as constant and there are parts where it’s just plain hard to believe.

*so tempted to just write rating: 2/5 and leave it at that*

But I wouldn’t do that….

So, Fellside is the story of Jess, a young heroin addict who is convicted of manslaughter. She has very foggy memories of the event (she is accused of starting a fire which kills a young boy) but through a series of visions/hauntings (not really sure what to call it) and with the help of her legal team she unravells what really happens. That’s kind of the main plot but there are lots of other side stories that take over and tenuously link together. Its all a bit confusing to be honest.

Because the multiple storylines are all smushed together, you would think the action would be a mile a minute – like reading two books at once. Well, you’d be wrong. There were some parts of Fellside that really needed expanding upon – in particular I would have liked a lot more character description as with quite a large cast it was easy to get people confused – and some parts where literally. nothing. happened. and it was so slow and boring that I wanted to give up reading it. Apart from not really getting a sense of the main characters, I also felt that the smaller characters were all pretty bland and samey so it was easy to forget their back stories. This did not help when, at the end, some of these bit parts became pivotal to the storyline – I kept having to flick back to try to work out who was who.

Of the main characters that I could get a handle on, they collectively had very few reedeeming features so I didn’t really care what happened to any of them. I suppose I felt a bit sorry for Jess but she just seemed so bland and hopeless early on that by the time she had picked herself up I really wasn’t that bothered.

I found a lot of the storyline pretty unrealistic. I can deal with the fact that its a supernatural thriller, but there were lots of inconsistencies that made me question what was happening. For example, Jess is really badly injured in the fire and has to have reconstructive surgery on her face. By the accounts of the other characters the success of the surgery is limited by the seriousness of her burns and she is left with a weirdly frozen expression that a lot of her fellow inmates find creepy. And yet, despite having limited interactions with Jess (and when they do meet Jess literally says nothing) her lawyer falls completely in love with her. I’m not saying that Jess’ facial features preclude her from having someone fancy her, but I felt that the insta-love was totally inappropriate given that the characters hardly say two words to each other. Or when Jess is at death’s door early on and you know she can’t die because she’s the main character. Yawn.

I also struggled with how random the plot was. Instead of having exciting twists that you didn’t see coming (where the reader would think ‘oooh! I did not see that coming!’) we instead had bizzare plot detours where you were left thinking ‘what?!?’. I really hated that.

Despite nearly giving up on this book a number of times, I did read it to the end because a) it was part of a reading challenge, b) my friend had leant it to me with the warning ‘it drags on’ and c) my momma didn’t raise no quitters. Perhaps crime thriller/supernatural thriller/horror fans would enjoy it more but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. 

Overall rating: 2/5 (but you knew that already).
Disappointing, hard to believe that this was written by the same author as The Girl With All the Gifts.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #17 Read a book involving a mythical creature.

Review: I Should be Writing by Mur Lafferty

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it’s time to get some inspiration – and what better way than with the bluntly named “I Should be Writing”. My internal monologue reads this as *screams* “I SHOULD BE WRITING!!!” in a harried, overly-caffeinated way so quite why there isn’t an exclamation mark on the end of the title is (spoiler alert) a mystery that is unfortunately left unresolved within the pages of the book. Perhaps I equate a different level of stress to the knowledge that I’ve wasted two hours looking at videos of puppies vs stairs when I know that I SHOULD BE WRITING!!! – and is possibly the reason that Mur Lafferty has a book and I… well, I know all the ways that a puppy can fall down the stairs. So cute!

I digress…

I Should be Writing (bet you screamed that in your head) is part self help book, part constructive guide to get you to, well, write. There’s a big focus on motivation (“You’re a writer. Get over it” (seriously, what does Mur have against exclamation marks?)) with plenty of tips for avoiding common mistakes, improving your manuscript and a brief discussion on the different ways to sell your work. There’s also lots of writing exercises to spark your imagination, should you be a bit stuck. The book is pretty brief, but it’s the sort of guide that you can dip in and out of to get an overview on a particular topic, because, you know, you really should be writing…

I found the actual advice given in the book to be pretty useful, if a bit basic (my favourite thing that I learnt was if a character can be replaced with a sexy lamp, you need to make her have more agency). There was some good stuff on character development, passive language and plot devices that helped me to think about the structure and direction of my work (I say that as if I have actually written something – I haven’t – but I do have ideas) which again was quite useful. I’m sure that if I do actually sit down and write something I will become immediately sidetracked by the pretty shiny on Pintrest so knowing that I have some constructive advice to fall back on is quite comforting.

I found that when I was reading the writing exercises at the back of the book I was immediately trying to answer the prompts in my head. I think it was the way they each headed a blank page – it felt like I was in an exam and I had to draw a spider diagram to get all of my ideas down before I forgot them. I might still get a mark even if I don’t get round to writing about them! After all, I’ve only got an hour! Aargh! How many points is the question worth? I’m going to need extra paper! Why is Clara using a highlighter pen? It never leaves you…

I could easily have smashed out a few hundred words for each of the writing exercises so I’d recommend this book on the strength of these prompts alone. I think they could definitely help authors with writers block as they were all clear, non-repetitive and easily relatable; no weird shit like “you look out of the window and there’s a dinosaur in your garden. Write about what happens next” (Answer: you die from the seizure which initiates such  bizzare visions) or “A horse opens its mouth and…” which makes you churn out such nonsense that you question your integrity as a person, let alone a writer. Top marks for Mur. They probably used highlighters too.

The only thing that this book was missing was advice on literally how to write; where you should start, how you can plan a novel out, how to remember which character is which etc. I would have liked some input on these topics over and above “just start writing”. For me that way madness lies but I guess I just enjoy having a proper structure to stick to. To each their own.

Overall, I enjoyed reading “I Should be Writing” (punctuation optional) and I think it would be a good, basic guide for the aspiring novelist. It’s a fun, quick read that avoids all of the dry, textbookyness (I know that’s not a word but Mur said I’m a writer so I can do shit like that) of other writing guides. The focus on motivation and procrastination could be really useful and the writing exercises gave me some great ideas. All in all, a great introduction to writing and a useful book to have around. 

Overall rating: 3.5/5
Solid, basic advice written in a light hearted style. Fun to dip in and out of when you need inspiration.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 # 20 Read a Book With Career Advice.

Review: All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Bugger me, America is messed up. I’m sure the UK has some pretty shocking practices when it comes to children awaiting trial for criminal offenses but as far as I’m aware we don’t lock them all up together and stick them on an island, like some kind of Lord of the Flies for black kids. However, that’s exactly what happens in this true-life account of incarcerated children – children! – who are awaiting trial for seemingly minor misdemeanors on Rikers Island, New York.

The book is the account of one teacher’s perspective on what it’s like to work with these kids. Locked up, far from their families, with just the clothes they were wearing when they were arrested, the full extent of what happens to these poor (in both senses) young men is portrayed with brutal honesty. From gang fights to mental health issues everything is recounted with no sugar coating. It’s a morbidly fascinating glimpse into a world very few of us (hopefully) will ever get to see first hand.

*At this point, I am going to have a little bit of a rant. This is tenuously linked to my review but only because of my involvement in the UK justice system. You have been warned*

As someone who spent a few years working in the UK police force at a time when they had just been branded “institutionally racist” I have a little bit of experience of the ways that we worked to change the organisational culture. We aimed to include diversity in everything we did, not just with training (a full two day session that was actually really fun) but by embedding it into everything we did, from appraisal and job interview questions to marketing and branding. We had area Diversity Action Groups with targeted action plans. We attended events like the Caribbean Carnival and Pride. We targeted recruitment adverts to specific interest publications to increase the number of female, LGBTQIA+, disabled and minority ethnic applicants. We had support groups for all the different diversity strands that reviewed all of our policies and procedures to ensure fairness and transparency. We monitored the ethnicity of anyone stopped and searched and published the figures on a monthly basis (if anyone is interested, they were always overwhelmingly white men). Of course there were still problems, but I witnessed myself the amount of work and the dedication of many, many officers and staff to really engage with the idea. And things changed. Slowly, teeny tiny bit by bit, things got slightly better. We recruited record numbers of females and minority ethnic staff. We had awareness days for religious and cultural celebrations where staff and officers brought in food and talked about what the day meant to them. It was really fun (and the free food was a huge, yummy bonus). Everyone seemed really positive about the changes that were being made. I believe (obviously I can’t prove this) that as a result, Drtection rates for hate crimes increased as more emphasis was put on outreach work within communities that were previously very hostile towards the police. I really felt like the actions that we took were having an effect on the community that the police force served.

So I was horrified to read that almost every single inhabitant at Rikers Island was black or Latino – and that it was just accepted that if they had been white they would have been let off with a slap on the wrist. I literally can’t believe how blatantly racist the system is -and that no-one is doing anything about it.

*Ok, rant over. Back to the book review…*

It was really interesting to see how working in such a place was incredibly difficult for the staff – something that often gets neglected in such stories. Peterson is understandably frightened at being left in charge of a class of potential criminals who are disinterested in learning – what’s the point when your life will forever be tarnished with a criminal record? The way that she engages with the kids, enlightens them about their options and inspires their creativity is really impressive. However, the anxiety that she has about taking the job, the sheer effort of designing interesting ways to teach the curriculum and the massively long hours (not to mention the incredibly low pay) all take their toll and I really felt for her when she had to make tough decisions about continuing in the role.

It’s a shame that, as a reader, you don’t get to understand more of the back story about the inhabitants of Rikers Island. Understandably, Peterson has to maintain a professional distance but it would have been fascinating to understand what the young men had been through in order to end up where they were. There are certain issues that get alluded to (violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse etc.) but you never get to find out a full back story.

Despite the fascinating subject matter, I also found the storytelling a little clunky. There were parts that went into massive detail and parts which were skimmed over. I thought that with better editing the book could have been really great, but as it was I gave it…

Rating: 3/5
Could have been more engaging with emphasis on the background of the inhabitants and needed editing – but worth a read for a glimpse into the murky world of reform for minors.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #19 Read a book in which a character of colour goes on a spiritual journey and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #32 Read a book about an interesting woman.

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Oooh, 1970’s New York. That’ll be crime and corruption, disco, rap and punk, the emerging gay scene, social unrest, racism and violence and drugs and gangs and prostitution. What a rich tapestry to pull some threads from, I thought to myself. You could write a brilliant novel in that setting. So I was pretty disappointed when Rowan Coleman chose to pretty much ignore all of those things and instead wrote a fairly bland story about time travel between then and the present day, where the characters mostly hang out in someone’s house.

The story begins with Luna and Pia, two sisters who go back to Brooklyn after the death of their mother to tie up the loose ends of her estate. They find that their mum has posted them a box of films of herself from years ago, telling them the secret which has haunted her for her whole marriage. But – and this is where it gets weird – Luna discovers that she can time travel. At first she thinks she’s having some kind of hallucination but then decides that it’s happening for a reason – and that reason is to stop the events that lead to her mother’s depression. The story then bounces about between the present day and the 1970’s, where Luna gets to know her mum as a young woman and starts to work out who was involved and how to stop it all from happening.

I found this premise pretty ridiculous. Everything else in the book is set completely in the real world so the whole time travel thing came out of nowhere and didn’t really fit into the story well. For example, Luna tells Pia about her newly acquired skill and with very little persuasion and no evidence Pia accepts it. Surely any normal person would be convinced that their sister was ill?

There’s also a love story between Luna and Michael (who she meets in 1970’s Brooklyn). I thought their relationship was very sweet but nothing much happened between them, so I felt the whole thing fell a little flat. I also thought it was a bit far fetched for a couple to fall completely in love with each other when they’d only met a few times.

There’s a further additional side story where we find out that Pia is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. Because this was mostly glossed over I wasn’t sure why it was mentioned within the narrative – I thought that the author could have done a lot more with it (or not mention it at all).

However, the one thing that stood out for me was the character of Luna’ s mother, Riss. I loved how she was depicted as a young girl, full of sass and excitement. It’s just a shame that the other characters weren’t written as vividly as she was.

Overall, I felt that by adding in storylines which the entire novel could have been based on, the narrative became a little confused. To me, it felt like five or six different stories all mashed into the same book, with no room for any of the ideas to be properly explored. I would have loved for the characters to get out more, with better descriptions of Brooklyn in both time periods. I really struggled with the time travelling idea and thought that the situation was dealt with in quite a clumsy manner. However, as the novel progressed the main storyline picked up pace and I was genuinely interested to see how things turned out. It’s just a shame that I had to get two thirds of the way through the book before it really grabbed my attention.

Rating: 2.5/5
Fairly indifferent to the book, the annoying/far fetched elements were balanced out by a decent ending and a well written prominent character.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #6 Read a book with a season in the title.

Priorities, Plans and New Pencils

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Hey guys,

Well, it’s September (how did that happen?), so new stationery at the ready – it’s time to plan ahead for the remainder of the year. I’ve had some time off from my blog recently but I’m back now and raring to go. I always feel like this time of year means coloured pens, new shoes and timetables, with the promise of starting something new and exciting – so it’s definitely time for me to get back into writing. Do any of you feel the same? I think the academic year has been hard wired into me, like how a lunar cycle makes people go crazy on a full moon (or is that just a myth?)  

Anyway, my colour coded, bullet journalled, super organised plans are:

1. New blogging timetable
I’ve had a look at my blog stats and I can see that anything posted on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday gets far more attention than anything posted in the week. I’ve always said that I don’t care how many followers I have or who reads my stuff, but it seems silly not to take advantage and post when most of you are likely to see it. So, from now on I’ll be posting on Fridays and Sundays, with the option of a Wednesday discussion type post.

2. Complete my reading challenges
I’m doing both the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 and to be honest I’ve lost my mojo a little bit. There’s just so much good stuff coming out at the minute and Netgalley seems to be getting all of my attention. My current stats are:

Book Riot: 12/24 books read (3 books currently being read)
Popsugar: 23/40 books read (3 books currently being read)

*blinks in surprise* that’s actually better than I thought and although I’m a little behind I think I can complete both by the end of the year.

3. Work on making my blog prettier
I’ve always thought that I’m quite creative but other than sticking up a picture of the book cover I don’t bother with graphics. It actually annoys me when other bloggers put a million gifs into their blogs because I think it interrupts the narrative and my crappy old kindle fire struggles to play them. Does anyone else have this problem/bugbear? I’ve got a vague idea of what I want to do but sometimes I just find it so time consuming and tedious – I’ll have to see how this one goes *reads this back and immediately knows this isn’t something I’ll pursue for long*. Does anyone with a super adorable, graphics heavy blog have any tips?

4. Engage more with the blogging community
I’ve neglected you guys lately so I need to show you some love! I’m sorry and I missed you all, but I have been pretty busy (see previous post).

I think that’s all for now, I can’t focus on much more than that without getting overwhelmed.

Are you all making plans and prioritising specific tasks that you’d like to achieve with your blogs, or in your lives in general? Does everyone have that back-to-school feeling? Do you find it a positive motivator or do you get a mild sense of panic? Let me know in the comments!

Super big love,

Lucinda xxx