Category Archives: book review

Friend Request by Laura Marshall. Review 

‘Will we hold them forever, these hurts we bear from our teenage years?’

We have all at times been the victim of bullying, just the same as we have always at times been the bully. No! I hear you cry, I would never bully someone. True, I’m not saying you were one of the big, bad wolf ones, the popular ones or the good looking ones who ostracised everyone else or regularly tormented anyone. But you’re telling me you never laughed along with a joke at someone else’s expense, never played a trick on someone else or took part in what you thought was a practical joke? Passed along a bit of gossip or revelled in hearing it? We’ve all done it and you’re the bigger person if you can hold your hands up and admit it. 

In 1989 Louise is just that herself. Bullied although she didn’t recognise it as such, she stands on the fringe of the ‘popular group’ in school, where she doesn’t fit in and half of the gang don’t even know her name. When the new girl Maria joins the school, Louise has the opportunity to make a real friendship, to finally belong. But Sophie the school bitch who keeps Louise around simply to make herself look better doesn’t like Maria and doesn’t want Louise having friends. Left helpless by peer pressure Louise turns from bullied to bully and along with her ‘gang’ makes Maria’s life a living hell. 

Fast forward to 2016 and Louise gets a friend request on Facebook from Maria. But that can’t be right can it? Maria died that year at school under mysterious circumstances. Or did she really die at all? 

This novel is highly gripping, especially for a debut novel you don’t really expect this kind of quality but it’s really, really engrossing. From the first page to the last I haven’t been able to put it down and I literally had no idea by the end!! 

It’s the classic tale of revenge on the b*tches who made your life hell in high school but with a new and unique twist. Powerful and evoking I felt like It took me right back to my own school days, knowing what it was like to always be on the fringes. The sentence I’ve quoted at the top of this review really nailed it for me, because if Louise had asked me that question, my answer would definitely be yes. 

July Author Interview – Paula Cocozza 

This month I had the honour of interviewing the lovely Paula Cocozza, Paula is a writer for The Guardian and her debut novel How to Be Human was published on the 9th May this year. You can read my review here:

What was your background and how did you get into writing?

 Before I got into writing, I got into reading. From about the age of 11 I read everything I could get my hands on. Luckily I had a great little library – Goring library in Worthing – between school and home, so I’d stop off on my way back and stock up. I never knew what I wanted to be, but I knew I loved books, so I read English at university and after that decided that I wanted to write. When I graduated, it was 1994, and the World Cup was on. For a laugh I sent a letter to a football magazine asking if I could write for them. They said yes, and I ended up writing about football for the next five or six years. So I was writing from my first job, but I always had in my head the sense that I was not writing the thing I wanted to write. I just didn’t know what it was. From football writing I moved to fashion writing and eventually feature writing – I have worked at the Guardian now for more than ten years. Then a few years ago I realised I had to face up to the very private ambition I had always held – which was to write fiction. I have no idea why it took me so long to reach that point, but it did.
Football to Fashion to Features, you’ve done it all then. What are your ambitions for your writing? 

To keep doing it. To write the stories I know as truly as I can.

Which writers inspire you? 

I love Hilary Mantel, especially Wolf Hall and Giving Up The Ghost. There is such physicality in her prose. You can feel the body in the words. I find Ali Smith inspiring, because she seems to treat the blank page as a tremendous opportunity for fun. She has a playfulness with language that I really admire. I have a lot of admiration for Henry James, for the way he steps in and out of his characters’ minds so that narration, and writing, itself can seem sinister, transgressive. And recently I have found Elizabeth Strout very inspiring. I’m obsessed with her local repetitions – she writes sentences that if you took them to a creative writing workshop people would underline all the repetitions with some tut-tut remark in the margin, but Strout does it so cleverly. Some of her repetitions are heartbreaking.

I’ve actually just bought Wolf Hall on your recommendation, although I haven’t had chance to read it yet. How much research went into writing How to be Human? 

Well, I wanted to make sure that everything I wrote about the fox was realistic and accurate. I knew the relationship between Mary, my protagonist, and the fox would or could seem magical, so I wanted to give it a heavy realist ballast by making sure I knew what I was talking about. I watched endless videos of foxes on YouTube with a pencil in my hand. I read some books by people who had studied fox behaviour. I watched the foxes in my own garden. And I searched Twitter for people who love foxes and asked them to talk to me about them. The story really rose out of the details these people and experts all shared, but at a certain point I had to switch off all the research. I knew enough about foxes in general and needed to pay attention only to my Fox.

I love that you he is ‘your’ fox in the same way that he is Mary’s. What are you working on at the moment? 

I am writing a story about a woman who has lost a case of old love letters.

That sounds intriguing! Have you always wanted to write? How did you make the transition from feature writing for The Guardian to writing a novel? 

I wrote the novel while I was working at the Guardian (I still work there). So it has not been a transition so much as an overlap. Both jobs involve telling a story in the most appropriate and compelling way, so luckily I have not felt conflicted or in transition.

What do you use to do your writing? Pen+paper, computer, typewriter etc. 

I have a small Acer laptop. It was pretty cheap and I’m told by anyone who borrows it that it is annoyingly slow. It makes a whirring sound, and I quite enjoy the fact that I can hear it thinking. I keep different notepads on the go as well: one in which I write down any random idea connected to the work in progress. An ‘instant thought’ pad beside the computer where i scribble down thoughts I don’t want to lose, and a large A3 pad which is under the laptop and which I pull out at the start of each section or chapter, to scope out ideas and possibilities. Any excuse to make sure I have fully exploited the stationery opportunities!

It seems to be a thing for writers and readers alike to love stationary, I adore it! If you could write in another genre which would you choose to write? 

Well, I don’t feel that any genre is forbidden me. I could write in any one, and I am choosing the one I want to write in. I guess if I were to do something a little different I might choose fictional memoir, a children’s book or crime. None of those is a burning desire at this stage though!

How often do you write? Do you set yourself a word target or just go with it when inspiration strikes? 

I wrote How to be Human on Fridays and in whichever evenings I could nab in the week – basically stealing whatever time I could get. Now both my children are at school (they are aged six and nine), I also have Mondays during school hours. So Mondays and Fridays, plus evenings when I have the words and the time. I’m doing quite a bit of thinking at the moment, so I don’t set a word count, though I might do at a later stage if I catch myself dithering. For How to be Human, I had a three-day break for each of the two main drafts when I went away, locked myself up in a cottage in the middle of nowhere and wrote 10,000 words a time. So I know I can work quickly when I need to and when I’m ready.

Locked away in a cottage writing sounds like every writer’s perfect retreat! What sort of publishing route did you choose and why? 

I found an agent I really liked, and then she sent the book out on submission. I chose Hutchinson as my publisher because it was clear as soon as I met my editor (Jocasta Hamilton) that she really got – and loved – the book. So it was a choice based on personality and feeling a connection. I wanted the book to be published physically, not only digitally, and I wanted it to be in as many bookshops as possible.

I can completely get that, although I have a lot of admiration for self published authors I feel like If and when my book is ever published I want to see it in my local Waterstones. How do you market your books? What have been your marketing successes and failures? 

Oh crikey, this is the toughest question! If only I knew. There is a marketing and a publicity department at my publisher (Hutchinson is part of Penguin Random House), but an author does have to do a certain amount of publicity themselves. I enjoy using Twitter – it’s a fun way to connect with readers and booksellers. I am also a great believer in the power of a speculative letter, so I wrote to quite a few authors I admired when I had proofs of How to be Human, asking if I could send it to them. In return, there were a few embarrassing silences but also some lovely replies – including a brilliant endorsement from Hilary Mantel. 

I bet that was amazing with her being one of your favourite authors! If you could be the original author of any book what would it have been and why? 

I don’t think there is one: the book has to come from within, and that can only be true of the ones I write.

What are your views on good and bad reviews? How much do you think the success of books relies on reviews? 

Interesting question! Shortly before my book was published, I interviewed Ross Raisin (for the Guardian), who told me that he never reads any reviews. His wife reads them for him.I thought I would do the same, and offered my daughter 50p a week to keep an eye on Goodreads! But the truth is I do look at them, albeit through the gaps between my fingers. Recently I interviewed Max Porter and he said he read as much as he could because he wanted to engage with the experience of publication as much as possible. I think I am somewhere in between. I definitely avoid looking on Goodreads before I go to bed but I’ve been lucky enough to have some brilliant reviews, in The Economist, The Times Literary Supplement, the Telegraph and Guardian among others. I guess they bring the book to broader notice, so in that sense they are important. But someone told me that a person on average needs to see or hear or read about a book three times before they’ll buy it, so I think reviews are probably just a few pieces of a pretty large and mysterious jigsaw.

Thank you so much Paula for taking the time out to be interviewed on my blog, it’s been an honour and a pleasure to have you! 

You can now buy Paula’s book How to Be Human at all good book stores! And if you’d like to hear more from Paula and get updates on what she’s doing next you can find her social media links below. 

Twitter: @CocozzaPaula []


Amazon author page:

The Overneath by Peter S Beagle. Review 

Yet another incredible collection of short stories from world renowned Fantasy Author Peter S Beagle. I was extra excited for The Overneath because I’d heard it featured a story about our very own Schmendrick the Magician. But imagine my delight when I discovered not one but two Schmendrick stories!! 

In addition, there is of course plenty of other stories in here which deserve praise of their own. From stories about the Fremont Bridge Troll (of which I had never previously heard of but am now fascinated by) to stories of otherworlds where our world lays in the shadows. 

I particularly liked the story about a group of men living together and one of them creates an electronic device which without giving spoilers has a spooky purpose. Another favourite has to be the one about a haunted aquarium and it’s retired teachers for heroines. And of course there’s lots of Unicorn related stories too! 

Peter S Beagle just has an incredible skill for putting together both short and full length stories. I have been in love with The Last Unicorn my whole life and I continue to adore every single thing Peter writes. The Overneath is no different. A fantasy lover’s heaven from start to finish. 

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine. Review. 

Is there anything this lady can’t write about??? She is literally a powerhouse of enviable literary talent! 

Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and Rachel Caine for my ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

I first heard of Rachel Caine when I started reading her Great Library series. So when I had the option to wish for a copy of Stillhouse Lake I figured I’d give it a try even though the genre was completely different. I loved it! I actually think I loved it even more than I did The Great Library series and I love that series! 

Anyway, enough of me gushing. So Stillhouse Lake, it’s a psychological thriller and definitely an adult read. Gina Royal is the perfect all American housewife. 2.5 kids and a picket fence is that what people say? Anyways, she’s happy in her life with her two children and her husband the caring, loving Mel. 

Until her life is destroyed when she discovers that Mel has been masking a secret life as a sadistic serial killer. With Mel now in jail Gina has to form a new life and a new identity for herself and her children to protect them from the backlash and the internet trolls who still believe Gina must have had something to do with it. But it seems like the past is just too hard to run away from. 

Stillhouse Lake is gripping from start to finish, as some of you may already know I try not to read synopsises before reading the novel so it’s more full of surprises! I’m glad I didn’t with this one as every little event was a huge shock for me. Gina, or Gwen as she is with her new identity is an amazing woman who’s gone from a weak willed wife to a warrior mum and she kicks ass! I loved the twists and turns and the ending blew me away, I hope I don’t have long to wait for part 2! 

Game of Thrones Tag!! 

Thank you to the lovely Jessica and Christeena over at Game of Tomes for tagging me, you can see their video here:

So in honour of the return of GoT next week here we gooooo! 

1) How did you discover the series/books?
I actually watched the series first, my auntie recommended it to me and after watching the first season I started the books. 

2) Who is your all-time favorite character?

My favourite, cliche as it is has to be Jon Snow. Not just because I fancy Kit Harrington (which I do) but because Jon for me, is the only inherently good character. He is the only one who isn’t completely out for himself. 

3) Who is your favorite side character?

I really love Varys he’s so funny! 

4) If you could magically resurrect a character by sacrificing another character, who would you sacrifice and who would you bring back?

I would bring back Rob Stark in exchange for Mellisandre no questions asked!! 

5) You’re a person of the Night’s Watch, who would you break your oath of chastity for? 

Definitely Jon!! 

6) Dragon or Direwolf? Which would you rather have by your side?

Dragons would probably be better in a fight but as I’m a Northerner a Direwolf would be my natural companion. 

7) Which character would you most like to portray on television?

Ygritte because aside from the whole dying thing, she gets to be naughty with Jon Snow! 

8) What is your favorite moment of the books/series?

God this is so hard because the books and the series are literally so tragic and there’s so much heartache that while I’m absolutely addicted to both I can’t say that I can have a ‘favourite’ bit because it feels so wrong! I guess if I had to pick it would probably be when Daenerys steps out of the fire. She’s just such a powerful figure with the baby dragons, she kicks ass. 

9) Who do you think deserves to sit on the Iron Throne by the end of the series?

Jon, or Tyrion! 

10) What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming book/season? 

If this next book ever materialises (pull your finger out George!) I guess I’m looking forward to Daenerys returning to Westeros and hoping that all the Starks get reunited (aside from the dead ones of course). 

Thanks again guys for tagging me, this was the perfect refresher ready for the start of the series on Monday! 

The Windsinger by William Nicholson. Review 

Well this sure takes me back. The Windsinger is the first novel in the trilogy titled ‘Winds on Fire’ and it was one of my favourite books growing up. I must have read it when I was around 9-10 years old and I absolutely loved it. I’ve indulged in a little nostalgia these past few months and bought a lot of the books I loved as a child so that I could enjoy them all over again. 

The Windsinger is one of those books which is both a children’s book and a YA book. Set in the fictional city of Aramanth it is more alternative world than dystopian world. The Manth people live in a city where everyone is supposed to be equal. This is because they are all given an equal chance to pass the same exams and ‘work harder, aim higher, make tomorrow better than today etc etc for the love of their Emperor.’ But it’s not really equal, each member of your family has a rating and together this adds up to a family rating. The higher it is, the higher you rise, the lower it is, the lower you fall. One day you’re high up in Scarlet and the next your sharing a room in a tower block housing 300+ people in Grey. 

But the Hanth family feel differently and spurred on by their parent’s active rebellion and by a chance meeting with an important if petrified figure, twins Kestrel and Bowman set off on a terrifying journey to free the city of its bonds and the distressingly terrible enemy that awaits them. 

Don’t get me wrong this is a simple book aimed at someone much younger than my 27 years, however, I still found it just as delightful possibly because the nostalgia was just so good. The characters are simple and likeable and that kind of makes it for me. There’s nothing overly complex just the perfect adventure and saving the world by two kids. These are the types of novels which all children should read to introduce them to the world of fantasy writing. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Review 

‘There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar.’

I kept seeing this book popping up everywhere but for some reason, potentially the title it gave me the feeling it was going to be a children’s book, even though I actually knew it wasn’t one. Just something about it, maybe I was judging a book by its cover (naughty) but I really didn’t fancy it. Then Netgalley sent me an email about it and I thought why the heck not? Let’s see what everyone’s raving about. My, my, my am I glad I did! 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut novel from Gail Honeyman and the main character Eleanor Oliphant is best described as a mix between Jane Eyre and Sheldon Cooper. Eleanor lives a life which basically involves working in an office, eating a meal deal for lunch each day, listening to The Archers and reading books about anything. She has no friends and her only conversation is with her ‘mummy’ every week on a Wednesday. 

This story held me, it drew me in and kept me there and I couldn’t pull myself away until I’d finished it. Eleanor was, despite her oddities extremely likeable and it was all to easy to empathise with her situation while desperately trying to work out how she got there. There’s plenty of clues along the way and it all comes together in the end but getting there is done in such a way that we watch Eleanor unfold like a crushed  flower still desperately trying to open. 

This is not a sad book, but neither is it a happy one, what it is is interesting from start to finish and so like real life, it makes you question your very existence, the way you treat other people and the small things that seemingly mean nothing but can really turn someone’s life around for the better. What a truly amazing book!