Book Review

September 2015 Reads.

September was a slower month for me, I was on holiday for the first part of it and so didn’t read anything. I read a total of 9 books, I’ll be rounding up 7 of them here. One of the remaining books is part of the same project I can’t talk about at the moment that I mentioned last month, and the other was The One by Kiera Cass – I’m planning on writing something about the series as a whole once I’ve read the final book.

Naked Heat by Richard Castle. Titan Books.
I really enjoyed the first Nikki Heat book so was keen to read another. I again really enjoyed this, reading it is a lot like watching an episode or two of Castle – the series it is based around. The characters in the book are clearly, as intended, reminiscent of the characters in the show so this feels like a good way of spending more time around them. A fun, easy read – I know I’m going to keep returning to this series, there are 7 books so far so I have plenty more to work through!

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger. Hodder Children’s Books.
I’m reviewing these two books together as they’re companion novels, both set in the same Hamilton High. There is some overlap of characters, particularly with one main character from The DUFF being a sibling to one main character from Lying Out Loud but in good companion novel style both books stand alone really well.

Both books have strong casts of characters, both the main and supporting characters are well developed and feel very real. Something I loved about them both was the way that while there are romantic relationships in the book it is the exploration of friendship that feels more important and more central. Female friendship treated like this is something I want to see more of in books, so I’m glad to have found an author who does it so well!

These books don’t shy away from the challenges facing teenagers; self image, feelings of isolation and family problems to name but a few. Everything is dealt with carefully, and adds to the realistic feel of the books. I saw on Goodreads that in her profile Keplinger says “I write books for teenagers and strive to be honest and true-to-life”, I think both of these books are excellent evidence of this.

The Big Lie by Julia Mayhew. Hot Key Books.
A startling coming-of-age novel set in a contemporary Nazi England.
That was the line that drew me to this book – the concept of that setting felt huge. This is a brilliant piece of speculative fiction that has left me feeling so happy that there are authors out there trying things and getting them so right.

This book is harsh and bleak, and at times incredibly disturbing – I found I was entirely gripped by it from start to end. The main character, Jessika, is brilliantly challenging to read, she’s been brought up by an ultra loyal father and has almost been brainwashed into believing in everything she’s been told. At times you wonder how she can be so clueless, but then this only goes to reinforce the themes of the book. A really brilliant read with huge potential for discussion and further thinking.

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell. Arrow.
This is a wonderful book from Lisa Jewell, but then I’ve never not enjoyed anything I’ve read that she’s written. This is a story told in two historical timelines, it tells the story of Arlette which is set in the 1920s and it tells the story of Betty which is set in the 1990s.

Betty was Arlette’s granddaughter, following Arlette’s death she strikes out on her own and moves to London in pursuit of finding her own path and at the same time finding the mysterious Clara Pickle named in Arlette’s will. Both storylines are captivating and wind around each other beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the moments where something happening in one story provided a lightbulb moment for the other story – each time I was even more eager to read on and discover whether what I thought I’d realised was correct. This book made me laugh and cry and for the time it took me to read it, transported me to two former versions of London and allowed me to explore for a while.

One by Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury.
Okay, hands up, I must admit that the very words verse novel have in the past been enough to have me moving away from a book very rapidly. I’ve heard wonderful things about them, but there was something that just put me off the idea of actually reading one. The buzz around this book though was enough to convince me to give it a go, and very quickly I realised I’ve been missing out on some really good books.

This is a story about conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. They’ve spent all of their lives sheltered as much as possible from the cruelness of the world at large, they’ve been home schooled and protected. When the money for their home schooling runs out they have to go to school, which is naturally terrifying. I found it really interesting that we were seeing their experiences through Grace’s eyes so we get her perspective on things along with what she tells us of what she knows of Tippi’s perspective.

This is a beautiful book about sisterhood, about friendship and about personal identity. The flow of the narrative works so well for the story, I think it would have been a very different book if it’d been written a different way – I dare say it would have lost a lot of the connection for the reader. I’m a definite convert to verse novels thanks to this, I’ll be picking up Sarah Crossan’s previous two as my next ones for sure.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Walker Books.
This is a story about not being the Chosen One. It’s a story about being ordinary and about wanting to just make it through high school without getting involved in any of the drama going on, and it’s brilliant.

Mikey is our main character, he and his friends make for a wonderful group – the sort of friendship group teen me would have read about and wanted to run away and join. Each of the members of this group has their own, ordinary (within the context of the Indie kids as the Chosen Ones are referred to), life challenges to deal with – things like parents who are more engaged with their careers than their children, teen romance, passing finals. Most of them have additional things to deal with too, issues around mental health problems and sexuality are all dealt with brilliantly in this book, but still all of this is part of their normal which makes for an excellent contemporary read as the main thrust of the book. And, just in case you are worried about what the Chosen Ones are up to, each chapter opens with a brief synopsis of what the Indie kids are doing which brings in an excellent urban fantasy thread before the focus returns immediately to our ordinary characters and their lives. The balance is perfectly found, resulting in a book I already can’t wait to re-read.

An unusual book? Pretty much. A must read? Absolutely, definitely.

Geek Stuff · TV Stuff

TV Boyfriends – the update.

Last February I took part in Fluttering Butterflies’ Love Month, writing a post about my various TV boyfriends – the men I love most of all in my favourite tv shows, the ones I wish would appear in real life and whisk me away to somewhere nice. It was a real joy to write, and it was well received – always pleasing. When I was at the Asylum convention (this focuses on Supernatural) the subject came up, and I decided I ought to update the post in light of the number of new TV shows I was watching. The original 2012 list contained 6 names, I’m afraid this new list is a little longer… a nice round 10 to be precise.

In no particular order (I decided to write this post in May, if I’d had to order it then it would have been next May before I’d have written it), here’s the list. All of these characters are included based on their appearance in the 2012/13 season of their respective shows.

To start off with, we have the returners.

Eliot Spencer (Leverage, played by Christian Kane)
Former military man turned mercenary turned good guy, Eliot provides the physical power behind the Leverage team. A true southern gent with a big heart, there’s nothing Eliot won’t do for his nearest and dearest.

Dean Winchester (Supernatural, played by Jensen Ackles)
Dean evolves with every season of Supernatural, season 8 saw yet more growth and character rounding (with no physical rounding going on). The core of Dean Winchester remains the same – he’s a gruff exteriored, warm, loyal to a fault man prepared to put himself on the line to save his nearest and dearest.

Steve McGarrett (Hawaii Five-0, played by Alex O’Loughlin)
Steve heads up the specialist police task force, using the skills he developed as a Navy SEAL. He has only a cursory care for doing things the right way, he’s far more focused on doing the right thing. He’s snarky and strong minded but has a mellower, softer side when it’s most important.

Neal Caffrey (White Collar, played by Matt Bomer)
Art forger and con man turned FBI confidential informant there’s much to love about the vintage tailoring clad Neal Caffrey. Whilst he’s gone good he hasn’t turned that leaf over entirely – he uses his smarts both for good and for his own gain.

And then we get onto the newbies.

Jon Snow (Game of Thrones, played by Kit Harrington)
“You know nothing Jon Snow”. Well he may know nothing but that doesn’t stop Jon from standing up for what is right. After a difficult start his move north has allowed him to find his feet, and of course as this is Game of Thrones find himself in perilous situation after perilous situation. Jon is loyal to a fault, fighting for his family and friends whenever needed.

John Diggle (Arrow, played by David Ramsey)
Acting publicly as bodyguard to Oliver Queen and secretly as right hand man to the Arrow, Diggle is kept busy and faces down danger on a day to day basis. He’s a voice of reason and willing confidante whenever he’s needed to be, and as a bonus he’s always willing to take part in training montages.

Tim Gutterson (Justified, played by Jacob Pitts)
I have a real weakness for smart mouthed sharp shooters and Deputy Marshall Tim Gutterson certainly fits the bill. Whilst many would choose Timothy Oliphant’s Raylan Givens I, far more interested in the quiet, snarky blonde. After 4 seasons we still don’t know much about Tim, but each glimpse we get into this former Army Ranger sniper makes me want to know more and more.

Daryl Dixon (The Walking Dead, played by Norman Reedus)
What a difference a zombie apocalypse makes! Daryl Dixon has emerged from the shadow of uber bigoted big brother Merle to become an integral part of Rick Grimes’ group of survivors. This motorbike riding, crossbow wielding, quiet man is reliable, focused and exactly the kind of person you want fighting in your corner when it all goes wrong.

Derek Hale (Teen Wolf, played by Tyler Hoechlin)
Ah, Derek Hale. Brooding, sad, growly werewolf Derek Hale. Teen Wolf has no shortage of attractive actors but as most of them are portraying high school students it would be entirely inappropriate to consider them for this list (but I’ll happily mention they exist). Derek has made some really poor decisions over the first 2 and a half seasons, but generally they’ve been for the best of decisions. If only he could master the art of using his words a little more… as long as it didn’t cut the number of brooding stares we get to see.

Kelly Severide (Chicago Fire, played by Taylor Kinney)
Lieutenant of a rescue squad in the Chicago Fire Department (and yet another former Army Ranger – that’s three former members of elite armed forces and a couple whose military history is a little less clear on the list) Kelly Severide is, on the face of things, the quintessential ladies man. Underneath it though we get to see a far more thoughtful, respectful man. His father was the love ’em and leave ’em rogue and Kelly is determined not to be like him. He’s a wonderful friend, and always tries to do the best by everyone.

So there’s the 2013 update to my list, it’s interesting (to me at least) to see that whilst the 10 characters are all very different there are many similar traits amongst them. They may all look and behave differently (though yes there are many pairs of very attractive arms on this list… and many characters who don’t wear shirts as often as they maybe should…) but they share a number of characteristics I valour most highly.

With many of the series already into their 2013/14 seasons I know already there are going to be a couple of changes coming to the list – I’ll try and do it a little earlier next year. I may even ask a couple of friends to contribute their lists.

Book Review

Book Review : The Sweetest Thing by Cathy Woodman.

If only everything in life was as simple as baking a cake…

Jennie Copeland thought she knew the recipe for a happy life: marriage to her university sweetheart, a nice house in the suburbs and three beautiful children. But when her husband leaves her, she is forced to find a different recipe. And she thinks she’s found just what she needs: a ramshackle house on the outskirts of the beautiful Talyton St George, a new cake-baking business, a dog, a horse, chickens…

But life in the country is not quite as idyllic as she’d hoped, and Jennie can’t help wondering whether neighbouring farmer Guy Barnes was right when he told her she wouldn’t last the year.

Or perhaps the problem is that she’s missing one vital ingredient to make her new life a success. Could Guy be the person to provide it?

I loved the sound of this book, as a country girl with a love of baked goods it sounded right up my street. I’d previously read and enjoyed Cathy Woodman’s first novel, Under The Bonnet so I was keen to get reading.

The plot is pretty standard chick lit fare, the kind you start reading and it all feels comfortable and familiar. The book starts with the Copeland family’s arrival at their new home, within the first chapter Jennie has crossed paths with potential love interest Guy (though of course we only guess who he is until the second chapter). They do the typical dance between disliking each other and liking each other with plenty of misunderstandings to keep them going. Beneath the expected love story however there is a subplot focussing on Jennie’s relationship with her children and how they handle the move to the country. I liked this a lot, though for me it did feel like it got wrapped up a bit too easily and cleanly. I would probably have liked there to be a bit more of this plot within the book.

I liked the character of Jennie though at times I didn’t agree with how she responded to things and thought that she walked herself into problems. I did find myself falling for Guy, exactly as you want to with any romantic love interest. There are plenty of laughs provided by Jennie’s children, the younger two in particular are still at that age where they say exactly what their mum wouldn’t want them to say, and Woodman uses this to great effect. The characters who already live in Talyton St George (there are two earlier books set there) are well created and jump off the page.

Each of the chapters has a type of cake as the title and Jennie makes this cake within the chapter. This led to what was probably my biggest quibble with the book. This isn’t the first book I’ve read that has a baking theme but in the others either recipes or a link to a website with recipes has been included. When I got to the end of this book I didn’t find any information about the recipes Jennie baked which was a real shame as there were a few that I would have been keen to have a go at. This didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the book, but I do think that it is possibly a missed opportunity.

I enjoyed The Sweetest Thing, it was a gentle and fairly entertaining read. I’m not sure that I’d rush out to buy the other Talyton St George books but I’d probably pick them up at the library.

The Sweetest Thing is published in paperback by Arrow in the UK priced £6.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.