Book Review: Wolf by Wolf (Ryan Graudin)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Pages: 390

Release Date: November 5th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Over ten years since the Nazis won the war, 18 yr old Yael has one mission: to kill Hitler – a captivating second novel from Walled City author, Ryan Graudin.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.Her story begins on a train.

Germania, 1956. Over ten years since the Nazis won the war. 18-year-old Yael is part of the resistance, and she has just one mission: to kill Hitler.

But first she’s got to get close enough to him to do it.

Experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains are the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she’s lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she will be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.

But with other riders sabotaging her chances at every turn, Yael’s mission won’t be easy. . .

 

Review:

I made a comment recently in a review about typical ‘what if Hitler had won the war’ re-imaginings and this book falls firmly in that category. Except it’s not typical, it’s brilliant and I loved it.

In this alternate universe, Hitler won and is still alive, Jews and non-Aryans are persecuted in the worst ways, and there appears to be no hope for any kind of resistance. Except for Yael and her remarkable shape shifting abilities, and a daring plan to kill Hitler.

I loved the fantastical elements mixed in with this alternate history type story. When so much of the awfulness of the story is based on identity – Jewish, Aryan and otherwise – it’s fascinating to have a character able to change their appearance at will. It would be so easy for Yael to live a normal life in Hitler’s regime: all she has to do is change to a blonde haired, blue eyed Aryan beauty and the Nazi’s would leave her alone. But that’s not who she is as a character, and Yael wants to use her abilities to change the world, not just blend into it.

There is a feel of The Hunger Games to the Axis race, only a little less dramatic – although riders may die during the race, it’s aim isn’t to kill everyone off until there’s one winner. I was worried there would be a lot of race description, which didn’t really interest me as I’m not that into motorbikes, but there was plenty of other action to go with it. While Yael may have thought her biggest challenge would be driving the fastest to win the race, she has a lot more to contend with: the twin brother of the girl she is impersonating and his attempts to get her home, and a previous winner of the race with a history with ‘her’ that she has no idea about.

This is a fantastic book based on two interesting ‘what ifs’: what if Hitler won the war, and what if the medical experiments performed in concentration camps actually could change someone’s appearance? While the ending – which is definitely not what you expect – concludes this part of the story nicely, it also sets the way for another in the series, which I hope will come out very soon!

4

Book Review: Beautiful Broken Things (Sara Barnard)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Pages: 400

Release Date: February 11th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

I was brave
She was reckless
We were trouble

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

Review:

I hesitated before requesting this on NetGalley as I was worried it wasn’t my type of thing, but I’m really glad I did!

I worry with these kinds of contemporary stories that they won’t hold my interest – I’ve always been more into fantasy, plus I worry I’m too old for these kinds of friendship/coming of age stories. Just goes to show I should ignore myself more often as I really enjoyed this.

I didn’t connect too well with Caddy at the start, I think probably because we’re such opposites, even when I was that age. I’d had plenty of her ‘Significant Life Events’ by that age and, like most people who’ve had them, I couldn’t understand her craving for them. So what if you feel your life is a little boring/you don’t have any stories to tell? Mine weren’t really stories you could tell in general conversation anyway. But I guess I can understand the worry of appearing boring to everyone else.

The friendships in the story were really wonderful and I loved that the focus was on the friendship of these three girls rather than focussing on boyfriends and love. Sure, there’s a bit of boy talk, but it’s not the centre of the story, and I feel we need more of that in YA. Not everything when you’re young is about falling in love and finding the ‘right’ guy – I know who I was dating when I was 16 and it definitely wasn’t anywhere near Mr. Right!

The subject matter is handled really sensitively, though I won’t mention it to much here, so I don’t ruin any of the ‘reveal’. I just want to say that its a topic that should be explored in YA more and I love the angle that Barnard went for: it looks at what happens after the ever after, when a tragic event is over but the effects are still lingering. It also does this from a different point of view, not from the victim but from a new friend, which just shows how these things spread and don’t just affect those directly involved.

Caddy’s evolving relationship with Suzanne felt unstoppable. It started tense and gradual but it began to feel like it was spiralling out of control. If you’ve ever experienced a friendship that was so good for you and so bad for you at the same time then you’ll understand this book completely. Caddy relies on it and knows she is right about it, no matter what her parents or best friend says, but as a reader you can see it’s slowly sucking her in and dragging her down too.

Around half way through I began wondering where the book was going to go: while I was enjoying the ride, I just couldn’t see what it was building to. But then it all started heating up and we’re carried away to a big, dramatic conclusion that was just perfect. I think the ending was just right. It wasn’t too moralising or patronising, but it did show Caddy that the relationship wasn’t healthy and something needed to give.

I’m writing this now in October 2015 and am annoyed that this book won’t be out until February next year – that’s so far away! Safe to say, this will be one to look forward to in 2016 and I hope it gets the praise and recognition it deserves.

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like Birdy by Jess Vallance

 

Baby Haul!

I see a lot of bloggers doing book hauls and similar, and I keep meaning to do one myself when I get books in, but time has just been running away from me lately. I really wanted to do a ‘baby haul’ post though as we got some amazing, homemade and family things the other week.

So before Christmas, Nathan and I went and spent a weekend with his Nan and her partner. She’s a wonderful woman who’s taken care of Nathan a lot throughout his life, and I have nothing but love and admiration for her. She is also incredibly generous and showered us with gifts while we were there, which made me feel very grateful and guilty at the same time. My favourite things by far were the ones she made for us, and I wanted to showcase some of them here.

We have a selection of beautiful knitted cardigans:

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And a load of adorable little hats and mittens:

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These remind me of the things my Nan used to make when I was a kid: it makes me a little sad that she’s too old to do that now, and my kids won’t know her the way I did (she’s 93 now and has severe dementia). I love the thought and effort that goes into these kind of clothes and can’t wait to see our baby all dressed up in clothes that Great Grandma knitted.

We also have the crib that Nathan slept in when he was a baby, which I find a bit special. It’s just adorable and it’ll be perfect for newborn baby to sleep next to our bed in – which will be pretty soon now!

Finding the Time to Read

I’m currently getting ready to move to a new house (tres exciting!) which is a lot closer to where I work – a little late now I’m about to start maternity leave but hey! For the last six months I’ve been doing The Commute of Hell: train from Wolverton to Coventry, then bus to the other side of Coventry to my place of work, then repeat on the way home, often with a lot of waiting around time involved. On a good day my travelling time is about 3.5 hours, on a bad day it’s pushing 5.

The point of this isn’t how lame it is to travel so much every day – though it’s crazy lame, trust me. I haven’t liked the travelling and with pregnancy it’s been super hard, but there’s been one positive: I’ve had so much time to read! I haven’t always used it wisely. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay awake on the train, but I’ve been making a real effort this year to use it as reading time.

Now that’s coming to an end, I have mixed feelings. It’ll be so nice to have my evenings back again, and to spend less time on horrible public transport, but I’m worried about finding time to read. I know I don’t do it at home as much as I used to – there’s always something else that needs doing.

I also realise that with the little Moore on the way, there’s going to be a lot less me time and a lot more baby time, which will probably equal a lot less reading time.

So my overall point is: how do you find time to read? I realise reading several books a week may no longer be possible, but I’d still like to squeeze one or two in there. So how do you all find time to read??

Book Review: Not If I See You First (Eric Lindstrom)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Pages: 321

Release Date: December 31st 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Parker Grant doesn’t need perfect vision to see right through you. That’s why she created the Rules: Don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances.

When Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart, suddenly reappears at school, Parker knows there’s only one way to react – shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough to deal with already, like trying out for the track team, handing out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened – both with Scott, and her dad – the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem.

Review:

What I loved about this book was that it had a protagonist with a disability – and that wasn’t what the story was about. Sure, it’s mentioned a lot, obviously, it’s part of who she is, but it’s not all she is, and that’s perfect. If it was about Parker’s accident or her learning to cope afterwards then it would be a different book, and possibly not as good in my opinion.

I get that Parker wasn’t always the easiest protagonist to like. She was cagey and blunt, even a little rude sometimes. But those are my favourite protagonists: the ones with flaws, who feel real. I think she would have been a lot less likeable if she’d always been cheery and sunny and full of trust and love, as that’s just not realistic. I don’t like anyone all the time, and I didn’t like Parker all the time, but she felt real to me.

I also loved the realism of the relationship. Too often in stories, especially in YA, a main focus is some idealised, unachievable romance between the teenage protagonists. I have a general problem with too much emphasis on romance in YA anyway, and the idea that you can find your one true love and perfect romance when you’re that age just doesn’t sit well with me (okay I know it can happen but it can’t be as common as books make out!) The romance in this book is understated and there isn’t a definite ‘we’re going to be together forever’ feeling, and nor is it the plain sailing that we’re used to. Trust is a big issue with the two involved and that has to be earned back: it doesn’t just happen in an instant, which I appreciated.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and it’s great to see a differently abled main character. I’d definitely recommend you giving this a read, especially if, like me, you want to see a different kind of romance in YA.

4

Book Review: Front Lines (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 576

Release Date: January 26th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

World War II, 1942. A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans. For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war.

These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.

Review:

I loved the idea of this book as soon as I read the blurb. I feel I’ve heard of a lot of twists on WWII, most of them being ‘what if the Nazi’s won the war?’ I felt this was such a small thing to tweak – having women fighting alongside men – but gave so many possibilities, and I couldn’t wait to get reading.

I struggled a little to get into it at first, but I’d blame this on Christmas time/a bit of a reading slump. I came back to it in 2016 with fresh eyes and was quickly sucked in. The story follows three main women at war – Rio, Frangie and Rainy – who are all in different units, doing very different jobs, but whose paths do eventually cross.

The book progresses quite slowly at first. We see the girls signing up, each for various different, but equally valid reasons, and then them in training, before they finally go off on assignments. I was glad the book didn’t linger on training too long – I know it’s probably an important part but it just felt like something I would have read before/seen in various films.

I knew that attitudes to women would be a big part of the story, and I did enjoy reading the different ways men reacted to living and training and fighting alongside them – some were more accepting than others, understanding that it was whatever was needed to win the war, but these were a minority. There was a lot of lewd jokes and gestures, and mostly an expectation that the women would be little more than secretaries/support roles, which is why I loved that they end up on the front line (hence the title) and one of them is even the first to get kills in. The women are all very different characters – no one is ‘a wimp’ or ‘one of the guys’ or any stereotypes like that, which is what makes this book work.

What took me by surprise was the attitudes towards Frangie, a black woman at war, and her fellow black soldiers, whether they were men or women. It’s probably naive of me but I’d not really thought about racism being a big thing around war time, but this books shows how there were separate ‘coloured units’ and a lot of the white soldiers wouldn’t want to be looked at by a coloured doctor like Frangie, even when desperately injured. It made me sad that those attitudes existed, and while I know we’re not perfect these days, it’s a hell of a lot better than that.

The story is framed by an unknown narrator, talking from near the end of the war, injured in some way although we don’t know how. It’s a clever device as they tell the story of all three girls, and don’t reveal who they are themselves. I’m hoping it is someone we know, but I’m glad they remain unknown for now – it puts more weight on the fate of the girls because you don’t know who survives.

The worst thing about this book is that it’s the first of a series and I’ll probably have to wait a year to read the sequel. I love the idea and the characters and can’t wait to find out what happens to them all. This is definitely one to read in 2016.

Copy of an art exhibit

Dealing with Stretch Marks

Stretch marks seem to be something that a lot of people worry about during pregnancy. I have to say, it wasn’t something that bothered me in the beginning. My theory was that no one, aside from Nathan, saw my stomach pre-pregnancy anyway, so what did it matter what it looked like under my clothes? I think that was a pretty healthy attitude, but I have to admit it hasn’t really stuck throughout the pregnancy.

Despite my positive attitude, one of the first baby-related things I bought was a moisturiser aimed at reducing/preventing stretch marks. I went for Palmer’s Massage Lotion for Stretch Marks  – because who doesn’t want their stomach to smell like chocolate?!

While I used the cream religiously for the first couple of weeks, I soon slacked off. Perhaps that was my mistake, because lo and behold, a couple of months down the line and I have plenty of stretch marks. I did dwell on it a little when I found the first one, and I was kind of disappointed in my reaction. I’d hoped I wouldn’t be bothered about it, and it annoyed me that I was annoyed by it.

A few weeks later I realised I had a lot more, right at the bottom of my bump. Again, I had a minor panic at seeing them, but I got over it fairly quickly. Like I said before, no one else sees my stomach anyway, and Nathan keeps saying they look pretty cool. I have to agree, I don’t think they’re really ugly or anything, and it’ll be interesting to see how they look when the bump has gone down.

The really bad thing about stretch marks was the discomfort they brought. My skin felt tight and sore, and having clothes brushing against them really irritated them. It reminded me of the kind of pain that comes with sunburn. I’ve started moisturising more now and it’s definitely helping with the discomfort. We’ll have to wait and see if it improves the stretch marks/prevents any new ones coming in.

If stretch marks are something that bothers you then I’d recommend using a good moisturiser as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. It’ll keep your skin supple and help with the stretching, though I think whether or not you get stretch marks really can depend on genetics and luck more than anything else.

But my real advice is to learn to love them. I know it can be easier said than done, and I don’t always feel great about them, but I like to try and focus on the positives instead. Obviously you’re getting a baby at the end of all this, which is incredible on it’s own. I also think it’s amazing what your body is doing, and you should love it for the hard work it’s doing in growing your baby!

Book Review: White Lies (Zoe Markham)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Carina

Release Date: January 18th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Everybody hurts

For Abigail, a new school could be the fresh start she so desperately needs. With her parents in the army and her sister Beth too far away to run to, she knows this year needs to be different. She’s never been part of the cool crowd and for the first time Abby wants to fit in. And all it takes is just one little white lie…because some truths are too painful to share.

Everybody lies

But at Cotswold Community College, Abby isn’t the only one with a past she’d rather forget. And when she stumbles across a closely-guarded secret, Abigail realises that her one little white lie could reveal everything she’s worked so hard to hide…

Review:

This book was a really easy and quick read – I got through it in a day, mostly because I just didn’t want to put it down and couldn’t wait to find out what was happening.

I’ll come out straight away and say I guessed one of the main plot twists, though the book did it’s best to fool me into thinking I was wrong. It didn’t bother me though, as there were so many other surprises along the way, I was never quite sure where it was going to go.

Abigail is a character you can really sympathise with – at boarding school for the first time, a new girl for the nth time, worried about her parents who are in the army and with some mysterious secret about a boy named Jase… you have to feel for her, especially when it all starts going wrong.

I loved that Abby started off by fitting in quite well, even if it didn’t last long. I was all braced for a classic high school story of immediately hating the outsider, but she was welcomed in initially, if a little awkwardly. It’s only when she puts her foot in it that things start to go desperately wrong – cue more sympathy for poor Abby.

Scarlett, Abby’s nemesis if you will, is a real worthy opponent and not one I’d like to be up against. Not only is she the beautiful, popular girl, she’s also smart, manipulative, loved by all and going through some tough times herself which gives her a free pass to do whatever she wants, according to the teachers anyway. It’s not hard for her to make Abby’s life hell, but boy does she go for it.

I don’t want to spoil things so I won’t say too much about the climax, but things spiral out of control really quickly for Abby, so fast that I had to take a step back and slow down my reading a bit just so I could get a grip.

This is a mystery story with some hints of horror that really plays with your mind, especially when you think you’ve got it all figured out. It sets you on edge and makes you really question what is going on – if you’re a fan of the Red Eye series or just general horror/thriller books then this one’s for you!

4

Book Review: The Haunting (Alex Bell)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: February 11th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Some curses grow stronger with time…
People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.
Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…

Review:

The first book I read in the Red Eye series was Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell and I completely loved it. It’s been by far the best in the series so I was really excited when I found out she was writing another one for them.

I found The Haunting a little slower than Frozen Charlotte, and definitely not as creepy. It’s probably unfair to compare the two so much, as they are different books (plus Frozen Charlotte had me unbelievably spooked) but I suppose it’s inevitable to do so when it’s a book in the same series, and by the same author.

I enjoyed seeing this book from different perspectives – Emma, who has been hurt by the Waterwitch’s curse before, Jem who doesn’t believe in witches or curses, and Shell, a witch herself who sees a lot more than everyone else, even if they don’t always believe her.

Despite the book being fairly evenly split between the three, I thought of Emma as the main protagonist, probably because we started the story with her. I loved her relationship with Bailey, her disability assistance dog, I was kind of dreading something bad happening to him the whole story (I won’t say whether it does or not – not spoilers here!) It was clear how much she loved and relied on him, and how much she would struggle, physically and emotionally if something were to happen to him. I think her being in a wheelchair added a real vulnerability to her character – she couldn’t just go upstairs to investigate strange noises, or run away when something frightened her, and that made for some tense reading.

I think the climax worked really well, but my one gripe was how definite it was – throughout the book I enjoyed Shell as a bit of an unreliable narrator. Sure, she thinks she’s seeing all these creepy things, but if no one else is then how do you know for sure? The ending made it very clear whether what she saw was real or not (again, no spoilers) but I think a bit of ambiguity would have added to the creepiness of the book.

Overall, another good read from Alex Bell and the Red Eye series, and a great way to kick off my 2016 reading (and one to add to my Horror Reading Challenge list)

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Highs and Lows of Pregnancy

I have to say that overall, I really love being pregnant. It’s probably because I’ve had such an easy ride with it – no morning sickness, no food aversions or pregnancy mask or any of the other, weirder pregnancy symptoms. I’m not saying it’s all peachy perfect though, so I wanted to share my 5 highs and lows of pregnancy.

I’m starting with the lows, so I can end on a positive later 😉

  1. Food restrictions – I have to say, the no alcohol thing hasn’t really bothered me at all. And while the food thing isn’t too bad as I know it’s what’s best for baby, I will admit there is one thing that I really miss, and that is eggs. Sure, I can still eat them if they’re cooked through, but who seriously wants to eat a hard yolk? I can’t wait to have a runny poached egg sandwich as soon as I’m able!
  2. Caffeine restrictions – Similarly, limiting my caffeine intake has been hard. Before pregnancy I drank a lot of coffee, especially on writing days. I know it was mostly habit rather than needing the boost, but it felt like a real part of my writing routine. It seems cruel having to limit your caffeine intake when pregnancy makes you so tired too. I pretty much cut coffee out completely as I thought that’d be easier than letting myself have a limited amount. I’ve been really good and only had 1 proper coffee since I’ve been pregnant (at Christmas, as a treat).
  3. The aches and pains – I won’t lie: the further I go on, the more of these I’m getting. Pain in my back is probably the worst, along with aching feet too. I find it harder to walk a lot, especially at my usual kind of pace. I spent a couple of days Christmas shopping in Manchester and London and then the rest of the weekend recovering from the agony the walking caused. I do look forward to being able to walk like a normal person!
  4. Stretch marks – Not in a superficial way, but man they are awful. I’ll probably post about this properly at some point but I have a fair few below my bump and sometimes they feel horrible. The skin can feel really tight and sore, a bit like sunburn sometimes, and it just adds to the overall discomfort.
  5. Baby talk – I do sometimes get tired about talking about it all. That probably sounds a bit awful, but sometimes I just want to have conversations about other things. I find that family and colleagues tend to be very focused now – luckily my partner and friends can still talk about other things!

And now on to the positives 🙂

  1. Baby talk – definitely a pro sometimes too, as it means there’s always something to talk about. At our Christmas work do I was sat with strangers and the baby meant we had something to talk about, whereas otherwise I think I would have struggled for small talk.
  2. Movements – I really love feeling the baby moving inside me. It can be a bit bizarre at times – trying to concentrate on a conference call at work when you’re being kicked in the stomach isn’t always easy! – but I love knowing that the baby is alive and kicking in there. It’s also great that Nathan can feel it too and other as well: my mom and one of my sisters felt it kicking on Christmas Day and were really excited.
  3. Special treatment – I know that’s probably bad to say but I have enjoyed some of the perks of pregnancy. Whether it’s people making sure I get a seat on the train/tube, or my special chair at work (seriously it’s amazing, it has inflatable back support and everything!) I figure I might as well make the most of things while it lasts! I’m including having no periods in this too, as that’s pretty awesome.
  4. Body image – I feel like I’m more confident in my body at the moment, mostly because there’s no pressure to be thin. I don’t miss trying to hold my stomach in to look skinny, or worrying about eating too much. I am obviously trying to eat healthily for myself and the baby, but I’m also not letting myself go hungry, which I might have done a bit of in the past.
  5. Nathan  – a bit soppy but I just love the way he’s been about everything. I know he loves seeing my stomach growing with our child inside and he’s forever touching it. He talks to the bump and I think baby will definitely recognise his voice when it comes out. I knew he’d be brilliant about everything because he always is, but it’s so lovely to see still.

As I said, overall pregnancy has been an amazing experience for me, and it feels weird that it’ll be over soon. I feel like I’ve just gotten used to being pregnant, but I’m not quite ready for the idea that it’ll end soon, and we’ll have an actual baby instead. I guess I’ve still got a few weeks to get ready for it yet!