Book Review

Book Review: Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman.

BoysDontCryYou’ve got it all planned out. A summer of freedom, university, a career as a journalist – your future looks bright.

But then the doorbell rings. It’s your ex-girlfriend, and she’s carrying a baby.

Your baby.

You agree to look after it, just for an hour or two.

Then she doesn’t come back – and your life changes for ever.

A gripping and original story about love, relationships and growing up the hard way.

Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses books were for me, like so many others, some of the first young adult fiction I read as an adult. I was blown away by them and passed my copies to others so that they too could read their brilliance. For whatever reason I hadn’t read any more of her books, I kept hearing great things about Boys Don’t Cry so I grabbed it when I saw it at my local library. Eventually I sat down to read it and devoured it in one slightly emotional sitting, and then kicked myself hard for not reading it sooner.

Boys Don’t Cry is Dante’s story, he is a bright teen waiting for the uni results that mean he can go away to university and pursue his dreams of becoming a journalist. His life is turned upside down by the discovery that he fathered a child, and is now entirely responsible for that child. At the same time Boys Don’t Cry is Adam’s story – he gets nearly half of the narrative duties – he’s the younger brother, his heart is set on a career in the performing arts and he’s openly gay even if his brother and father don’t outwardly do or say anything to acknowledge it.

Both boys are under a lot of emotional pressure, they feel the absence of their dead mother keenly, and whilst their father is trying his best to bring them up there are significant cracks in his relationship with them both. The addition of the baby into their family unit pushes the relationships even further, at times this made for painful reading – I found I could understand everyone’s perspective, there truly was no right or wrong between Dante, Adam and their father.

Dante’s reactions to his rapidly changing future feel both harsh and entirely genuine. Discovering he has a child and becoming responsible for her has a dramatic impact on his life in every way imaginable, I found myself wondering how I would have reacted to a similar thing at his age, it felt too big to even begin to consider. I realised as I was nearing the end of the book that we never hear about the Dantes of the world – there must be young single fathers out there, I can’t remember ever hearing about one though.

Adam’s story was somewhat unexpected in that I didn’t expect him to have such a strong presence or narrative within the book. He gets his own storyline, though it twists in and out of Dante’s, whilst this works well there were times when it almost felt like there was a little too much going on – I guess it’s that age old age of it never raining but pouring. I found that I could see relatively early on within his story where it was going, I was willing myself to be wrong but was proven right.

The final section of the book in particular has some beautiful, touching moments. I spent the last few chapters in a completely heightened state of emotions. The conclusions felt very true to the characters and the plot, and I closed the book feeling incredibly glad for the opportunity to read such a book. It deals with some huge issues but never feels like an “issues” book. It is instead a book about the value of communication and the power of family and of love. I have seen mention of a companion novel coming at some point, telling the story of baby Emma’s mother Melanie – I’ll certainly be reading this book far more quickly.

Boys Don’t Cry is published by Corgi. My copy of the book was borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

Book Review : Kiss Date Love Hate by Luisa Plaja.

Lex Murphy and her friends have complicated relationships. If only there was a way to avoid all the dating/hating drama…

When Lex fills a cool new computer game with characters based on herself and her classmates, she makes some ‘wishful thinking’ adjustments to the profiles. Finally, everyone can be perfectly matched and happy, at least on screen. Love, Life, Looks – it’s all under Lex’s in a harmless game,

After all, these changes can’t come true… can they?

From the moment I saw the cover to this book I knew I had to read it as soon as I could, whilst I’m not remotely a pink person the little computer characters and generally pixelated look of it really appealed to my inner geek. Then there was the synopsis, the idea that Lex could influence real life via a computer game, an intriguing concept. I thought I had a bit of an inkling of what to expect from this book, my expectations were met and exceeded my far.

I loved the plot of this book, Lex is made to go on a film-making course over half term – she sees it as a punishment but her headteacher sees it as an opportunity for her to reach her full potential. Along with her on the course are her friends, and her ex-boyfriend and Lex’s former best friend who masterminded the break up. Lex’s friend George shows her a computer game Life, Love, Looks that his dad is testing, they build characters for everyone on the course and then Lex starts to have fun making alterations to them so that the digital versions match up better with her ideal situation.

This wouldn’t be a great contemporary story if there wasn’t some brilliant romantic tension, and this book certainly ticks that box. Lex is still lusting after Matt, her ex-boyfriend, but is increasingly aware of her fellow always in trouble student Drew. He seems to have ideas about Lex, but she’s too hung up on Matt to really consider him… well maybe. Whilst Lex is trying to work out her feelings, her next door neighbour and close friend George is trying his hardest to get Jess to notice him despite her opinion that high school boys are all far too immature.

The characters within this book are brilliant, I found myself comparing them to some of the people I was at school with. These characters are all so real, the way they talk to one another and relate to one another really rings true. I loved the way that so many of the characters had hidden depths, it was a real pleasure getting to know them all better. Lex is a great leading lady, whilst at times I found her view of things difficult to agree with felt I could understand her really well. I loved Drew too, he’s the kind of male character I know the teen me would love because the grown up me still does!

It’s really hard to explain why I loved this book so much without spoiling the reading experience. I was really enjoying it and then reached a point where for me it went from being a great book to being an absolutely brilliant one. When I finished it I marvelled at the cleverness of the book, and how it evolved over the course of just under 300 pages. It’s a week now since I finished it, and my thoughts still keep returning to it.

I think this book will be a really valuable read for all teenagers, it’s prompted me to start a list of books that my future library must own. I know I’m going to be recommending it to anyone who’ll listen.

Kiss Date Love Hate is published in paperback and eBook by Corgi in the UK from 2nd February 2012. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Teacher, Teacher by Jack Sheffield.

It’s 1977 and Jack Sheffield is appointed headmaster of a small village primary school in North Yorkshire. So begins Jack’s eventful journey through the school year and his attempts to overcome the many problems that face him as a young and inexperienced headmaster.

The many colourful chapters include Ruby the 20 stone caretaker with an acute spelling problem, a secretary who worships Margaret Thatcher, a villager who grows giant carrots, a barmaid/parent who requests sex lessons, and a five-year-old boy whose language is colourful in the extreme. And then there’s also beautiful, bright Beth Henderson, who is irresistibly attractive to the young headmaster…

Warm, funny and nostalgic, Teacher, Teacher is a delightful read that is guaranteed to make you feel better, whatever kind of day you’ve had.

This was my third book for the Transworld Book Group challenge, I was really intrigued by the synopsis and as I want to read a little more non-fiction this semi-autobiographical book seemed like a good step to take.

The book covers a school year, each chapter starts with an entry from the school log book and then proceeds to tell the story behind the entry. Whilst many of these stories are funny and thoroughly entertaining, dotted throughout the book are a few more touching and emotional stories. I found that I enjoyed the amusing stories but it was a couple of the touching stories that I carried on thinking about long after I put the book down.

Jack is a great narrator, and way into this small village, but it is the other characters who really steal the book away. There are both adults and children that delight, it would seem mean to pick out any favourites.

My only slight niggle was that Jack occasionally made comments that felt very modern in both their thinking and the language used. I think though that it is because I previously worked with schools that this grabbed my attention, most readers wouldn’t notice this.

I really enjoyed this book, I know that there are a further four books in the series and I’m sure that with time I’ll be reading them all.

Teacher, Teacher is published in paperback by Corgi in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Nothing But Trouble by Rachel Gibson.

Chelsea Ross knows she’s a great actress. Which is lucky, as she’s just got the toughest role of her life!

Washed up from Hollywood and in serious need of cash, Chelsea jumps at the $10,000 opportunity to act as a ‘carer’ to famous hockey player Mark Bressler, injured after a car crash. After all, how hard can it be to play nice and pick up after an incredibly hot invalid in need of her tender loving care? Just three months of playing nurse and the cash is hers.

But Mark Bressler doesn’t need help. The moody hockey player’s glory days may be over, but he has no intention of letting anyone aid his recovery, least of all the maddeningly cheerful Chelsea. He’s determined to get her to quit – and Mark isn’t the type to give in. But then, neither is Chelsea…

I loved the sound of this book, and the gorgeous purple cover, so it was a very easy pick to make it one of my books for the Transworld Book Group challenge. A book that had a sports slant to it really appealed to me, I’m a huge sports fan but don’t tend to read many books that feature them. When the book arrived I realised that this was the fifth book in the Chinooks series, I started to read hoping that it wouldn’t matter that I hadn’t read the previous books.

It didn’t, the book definitely works as a stand alone, nothing happened in the story that made me feel like I’d missed some important fact. The plot does feel pretty familiar, neither Chelsea or Mark likes each other, but it’s clear there is something between them and they end up in a will they won’t they struggle. I think if the book hadn’t had the ice hockey back drop I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did, this was the part that kept my interest rather than the love story.

Mark begins the book as a pretty obnoxious character, though it is understandable considering his recent accident and the abrupt end of his glittering sports career. Chelsea’s determination and focus proves a good foil to his attempts to get rid of her, and I thought her motivation for doing so is quite interesting. I liked some of the other hockey players we get to see fairly briefly, I can see me being tempted to read the other books in this series to get to see some more of them.

I definitely enjoyed this book, though I think this was mainly to do with the setting and the way it’s written. I would have liked the plot to be a bit more adventurous, but for a fluffy read this did do the job.

Nothing But Trouble is published in paperback by Corgi in the UK priced £5.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Past Caring by Robert Goddard.

1910: Distinguished MP Edwin Strafford resigns at the pinnacle of his career, removing himself from the public eye. The woman he loves, and for whom he was willing to sacrifice everything, suddenly and coldly rejects him. All the reasons for his fall from grace are shrouded in darkness.

Seventy years later, historian Martin Radford is down on his luck when a mysterious benefactor offers him the opportunity of a lifetime: to uncover what exactly happened to Edwin Strafford. But this apparent good fortune swiftly turns into a nightmare. Radford’s investigations trigger a violent series of events, which throw him straight into the path of those who believed they had escaped punishment for crimes long past but never paid for…

This is the second book I’ve read for the Great Transworld Crime Caper. As soon as I read the synopsis of the book I thought it sounded like my sort of book, within a few pages I knew I’d made a good choice.

The plot is split between the present (though that’s in the 1980s, back when the book was written) and the past, as historian Martin Radford tries to investigate what happened to Edwin Strafford back in the 1910s. Edwin’s story is told through his memoir, both plots are gripping and once they started to overlap I found it increasingly hard to put the book down.

I didn’t find the characters in the book particularly easy to like, the majority of them are working to their own personal agenda and seem to have little trouble with doing whatever it takes to get to their goal. Many of the characters are however interesting, I enjoyed reading about Elizabeth, Edwin’s fiancée.

Edwin’s memoir covers his time as a politician and his experiences of the women’s suffrage movement. I found this to be very interesting reading, though as it’s a time of history I don’t know much about I couldn’t comment on it’s historical accuracy.

The book is very readable, and the jumps between the present set narration and the past account provided by the memoir were very smooth. I have previously read books that use diaries and memoirs for flashbacks that have failed in what they were trying to do – Goddard pulls it off very well. I’ll certainly be recommending this book in the future.

Past Caring is published in paperback by Corgi in the UK priced £7.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

Book Review : Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton.

Moving to remote Shetland has been unsettling enough for consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton; even before the gruesome discovery she makes one rain-drenched afternoon . . . Deep in the peat soil of her field she is shocked to find the perfectly preserved body of a young woman, a gaping hole where her heart has been brutally removed and three rune marks etched into her skin.

The marks bear an eerie resemblance to carvings Tora has seen all over the islands, and she quickly uncovers disturbing links to an ancient legend. But as Tora investigates she is warned by the local police, her boss, and even her husband, to leave well alone.

And even though it chills her to the bone to admit it . . . something tells her their concern isn’t genuine.

This is the first book I’ve read for The Great Transworld Crime Caper. I’m a big fan of crime fiction so I thought I would take the opportunity to try out some new authors, the synopsis for Sacrifice left me looking forward to it arriving in the post.

The action kicks off within the first chapter of the book as Tora discovers the mutilated corpse buried on her land. From that point on I felt completely drawn in to the plot, and found it really hard to put the book down. There is no let up from the plot, even the quieter sections are all plot building, there is certainly no filler to be found. About halfway through I had a eureka moment and was sure I knew how the plot was going to end, whilst my thoughts were not wrong they definitely fell far short of the brilliant conclusion to the book. Bolton managed to fit so much into the plot yet it never felt unrealistic.

I found the characters easy to engage with, Tora particularly. I found myself getting really invested in her story, when she dug further and further into what was going on I felt anxious about what might happen to her. At the various points when her attempts were thwarted I found myself getting frustrated on her behalf. I also really liked the character of Dana, I found that I could identify pretty well with her.

The way the book is written worked really well for me. I’ve never travelled to the Shetland Isles but Bolton describes the area in such a way that I could picture it really clearly. I loved the way that folklore and legend was woven into the plot, I think the combination of this and the setting worked to make the book a really interesting read.

Sacrifice is published in paperback by Corgi 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.

Book Review

Book Review : “Jump!” by Jilly Cooper.

Etta Bancroft – sweet, kind, still beautiful – adores racing and harbours a crush on one of its stars, the handsome, high-handed owner-trainer Rupert Campbell-Black. When her bullying husband dies, Etta’s selfish, ambitious children drag her from her lovely Dorset home to live in a hideous modern bungalow in the Cotswold village of Willowwood.

Etta’s life changes when, in the snow in nearby woods, she finds a horribly mutilated filly, which she names Mrs Wilkinson and nurses back to health. The filly charms everyone in the village, then tests reveal her to be a spectacularly well-bred racehorse. After a nail-biting court case, she is awarded to Etta, thus ensuring the lasting and vengeful enmity of her former trainer and owner. A village syndicate is formed to put the filly into training, consisting of a riotous mix of local characters, who set off to the races in a minibus clanking with bottles. Ridden by Rupert’s delectable god-daughter, Amber, Mrs Wilkinson captivates vast crowds as she progresses from point-to-point to major races and brings fame and fortune to the syndicate, until, at last, she is entered in the Grand National.

Can she be the first mare in over fifty years, and Amber the first woman ever, to win this mighty race?

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of Jilly Cooper, until reading Jump! the only book I had read of hers was Wicked! When I saw she had a new book coming out I knew it would be the next book of hers I chose.

Jump! is a return to the world of horse racing, bringing back much loved characters as well as introducing a whole raft of new ones. The pace varies throughout the book, I felt that at times it plodded along beautifully giving the characters time to develop and then with the turn of a page it would begin to pick up and race along for a while before steadying back down. I loved this aspect of the book, I think it worked very well particularly as the book is so long.

I fell in love with far too many characters to begin to talk about them all. I felt like I really got to know the characters well and I really cared about what happened to them. So many times I found myself wanting to shout at characters, particularly Etta’s selfish children. I found the characters to be believable, there were many who could have turned into stereotyped clichés but Cooper kept them on the right side of convincing. I also adored the non-human characters, particularly Chisolm the goat – her antics had me laughing out loud.

The plot worked very well for me, with such a cast of characters it needed to be involved enough to keep the reader interested without becoming over complicated. I don’t know much about horse racing and horse owning syndicates but that didn’t matter at all because everything that needed to be explained was covered.

Over the course of the book I laughed and I cried, I wanted to shake characters and I punched the air in delight. I absolutely loved this book and it’s increased my desire to go back to the days of Riders and Rivals and find out how it all began.

Book Review

Book Review : “The Godfather of Kathmandu” by John Burdett.

Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is summoned to investigate the most shocking murder of his career. Solving it could mean a promotion but, still reeling from a personal tragedy, Sonchai is more interested in Tietsin, an exiled Tibetan lama living in Kathmandu.

But there are obstacles in Sonchai’s path to enlightenment. Police Colonel Vikorn and Army General Zinna are at war again for control over Bangkok’s network of illegal enterprises – and Tietsin has forty million dollars’ worth of heroin for sale. With his life in increasing danger, Sonchai is put to the extreme test.

This is the fourth book that Burdett has written featuring Sonchai, but it is the first one that I’ve read. I think that if I had previous experience of the books I may have found this one a little easier to read. The plot of the murder is entwined with the drugs plot which has a subplot of Sonchai’s own quest for spiritual enlightenment. I personally found the murder plot line the most interesting, but this was the one that had the least coverage. I found the spiritual plot the least interesting, and did at times find myself scanning through it rather than reading it fully.

The character of Sonchai was quite confusing I found, but I feel that this was probably well crafted – he is a man caught up in grief who is trying to balance his personal quest to live a good life with the external influences of his boss Vikorn who is steering him to instead become more corrupt. I found Sonchai’s assistant Lek really interesting but sadly he didn’t get anywhere near as much coverage as I would have liked.

I personally found the style in which the book was written to be difficult to get to grips with. Sonchai narrates the book, but he switches between the present tense and the past tense when talking about different events. I am not a fan of books narrated in the present tense, but that is very much a personal preference and it would be wrong to criticise the book on these grounds. The story itself is well crafted and I’m sure there are many people who will find it hard to put down.

“The Godfather of Kathmandu” is published in paperback on 9th December 2010 by Corgi books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : “Blacklands” by Belinda Bauer.

Stephen Lamb was born to a family struggling to cope with a tragedy. Years ago when his mother was a young girl her brother was kidnapped and killed by a serial killer. Whereas the bodies of most of his victims were found, buried on Exmoor, the body of Stephen’s Uncle Billy was never found. Stephen knows that if he can find the body his family might be able to begin to heal, and so spends all of his free time digging on the moor hoping each time that today will be his lucky day. A school lesson on persuasive writing makes him realise that he has a knack for letter writing, and so he decides that maybe there might be a better way to find the location of Billy’s grave.

This debut novel by Belinda Bauer has won this year’s CWA Golden Dagger Award so I was keen to give it a go. Within the first few chapters I found myself getting pulled into the story, and soon found it hard to put it down. I kept setting arbitrary points at which I would stop reading and get on with all the things I should be doing, but as soon as I hit my stop point I found a reason to set a new point and just carry on reading.

The plot is a carefully crafted one that deals with some potentially difficult topics. A lot of time is focused on Arnold Avery, the child killer and paedophile, and at times reading what he is thinking and plotting does make for uncomfortable reading. I have seen other reviewers draw parallels with the Moors Murders and can see that for some this would be a challenging read. I personally thought the balance was well kept, and a lot of crime thrillers contain content that isn’t suited to all readers’ tastes.

I thought the characters were well crafted, and the plot was certainly engaging. I will be looking forward to reading what Bauer writes next.

“Blacklands” is published in paperback by Corgi Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

The Summer Reading Challenge : “Forbidden Pleasures” by Jo Rees

As the first book I’ve read for Transworld’s Summer Of Reading this was everything I expected. Whilst on the surface it is a tale of the darker side of the glitzy world of casinos, this book is far more about the lives of the two lead characters than about parties, gambling and decadent living.

I felt that the contrast of Savvy who goes from having it all to have nothing, with Lois who is fighting to get her life back worked well. Both characters were a little more rounded than characters I’ve read in similar books though the format did feel pretty familiar. If the twist towards the end was intended to be unexpected then it didn’t work for me, I’d worked it out and was glad that the characters finally had.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, it would be perfect fare for the beach or poolside.