The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

The ‘cute’ children’s classic that filled me with rage! #rantbookreview

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The Peppermint Pig. Nina Bawden. (First published 1975)

It is a difficult year for the Greengrasses. Poll’s father has lost his job and gone overseas, the family are living off the charity of two aunts, and Poll and her brother Theo just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. It takes a tiny, mischievous pig to bring laughter back into their lives.


I picked up this book because I love pigs and I thought this cosy-looking children’s classic would be the perfect cheer-me-up book. I am not usually one to discourage people from reading a particular book, but if you are an animal lover, vegetarian, or sensitive soul, I would strongly advise you don’t read The Peppermint Pig. I am also not usually one for spoilers, but I am going to spoil the ending of this book in my review/discussion because I need to talk about it and vent my feelings. Look away now, if you don’t want to be spoiled.

So, just to give you a brief idea of why I was so upset by this book, let me give you a synopsis:

  • Children’s dad loses his job. Dad goes off to America to try and make his fortune, leaving the rest of the family to move in with their aunts in a cramped cottage. They do not have much money.
  • Family get a little pet pig called Johnnie who is so small he fits inside a pint glass. Johnnie is a mischievous pig with a penchant for Hot Cross Buns, and cheers the family up with his cheeky antics.
  • Johnnie gets large and fat and too big for the house. Family gets a new puppy to distract the children from what is about to happen.
  • Mum sends Johnnie to the butcher to be slaughtered.

DEAR GOD, WHAT A CRUEL AND BRUTAL WAY TO END A STORY. I had no idea how to rate this book out of five stars, so I ended up giving it no rating at all. I wanted to give it 1 star, but I felt it would be unfair of me to give the book such a bad rating for having a sad ending. But I felt so angry with the author, and even more so with the publishers. Let me explain…

Up until Johnnie is killed, the book had been sweet and lovely and heartwarming. If this book didn’t have such a horrible ending, I might have given it four or five stars for its cosy, charming writing and amusing characters. But I felt incredibly betrayed by this book, because it pretends to be something it isn’t. If I was reading a Stephen King novel, I would expect at least one of the characters to come to a grisly end, because that’s kind of what I signed up for. But, the adorable pig on the front cover and the cutesy blurb on the back cover give no indication that Johnnie is going to end up on someone’s dinner plate by the end of this story. This book is packaged so that it will appeal to animal lovers, yet animals lovers are exactly the kind of audience who should avoid this book like the plague. It all feels so misleading: “Read this cute piggy book, it will make you so happy… oh wait, we’re lying to you, it will actually rip your heart out of your body and spit on it, whilst you sit there and cry a salty river of tears!”

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An even cuter purveyor of evil lies!

I think in some way the author intends for her audience to feel betrayed, because in feeling so we can fully empathise with the little girl protagonist Poll, who loves her friend Johnnie and feels horribly betrayed by her mother for sending him away to be killed and eaten. Perhaps the author is trying to explore the theme of adults lying to/misleading children, and that we cannot always trust those we love. But, the thing is, a few scenes later, the author attempts to justify what has happened to Johnnie by having Poll’s Aunt Sarah take her to the butcher and explain that animals HAVE to be killed so that we can eat them. After this, Poll forgives her mother without much more fuss. So, I’m not really sure what message the author is trying to convey. It doesn’t really seem like she’s on Johnnie’s side though. (RIP)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the mum has to sell the pig; I understand that the family are poor and struggling, and that sometimes bad things happen. I know that bad things happening in a book doesn’t make the book itself bad. I know that not all stories have happy endings, and that we shouldn’t shy away from helping children to understand that. But, at the same time… I would never read this story to a child, and I regret reading it myself. Sometimes we NEED a happy book with a comforting ending, to give us hope, to make us feel better. That’s what I thought I was getting, which is the reason I was left so bitterly disappointed by this book.

This is not a bad book, and I can see why lots of people DO love it, because it is well-written, with loveable characters (especially the late Johnnie, RIP). However, this book really wasn’t for me. I’m sorry if this review was an incoherent rant where I repeated myself a bunch of times. I probably could have just typed the word BETRAYAL over and over again and it would have had the same effect. 😛 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go read something fluffy with a proper happy ending. Recommendations welcome!

P.S. If anyone needs cheering up now, you are welcome to look at this photo of me hanging out with an adorable micro pig (who just would not look at the camera, sorry!) and live vicariously through me 🙂

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Mini reviews: ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’ and ‘Let the Right One In.’

Review number one: ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’ by Anna Kendrick

Rating: 5 stars

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I picked up Anna Kendrick’s book when I was feeling poorly, and it was exactly what I needed to cheer myself up. I love the way Anna writes and she is so damn funny I was laughing out loud the whole way through.

When I was younger, I used to think celebrities weren’t ‘real’ people. Obviously I don’t think that now, but Anna Kendrick’s book made me fully appreciate that they *are* real, and Anna Kendrick is one of the realest. (Too many reals in that sentence, for real.) Anna comes across as so human, relatable, and down to earth. Even though she’s a successful actress, she’s just as awkward and anxious as I am. She’s got a fabulous self-deprecating sense of humour, she’s struggled with insecurities throughout her life, and she doesn’t take anything she’s achieved for granted. I loved reading about her school days full of awkward relationships and embarrassing moments. I just wanted to hug her and be like: aww, Anna, me too.

It was fascinating learning about Hollywood movies behind the scenes. It’s actually a lot less glamourous than I would have imagined, and there is no way in hell I would be able to do it. I need way more sleep than Anna Kendrick gets (and it sounds like she does too!) It was awesome reading about the funny things that happened on the sets of some of my favourite movies too.

My favourite section of the book was the chapter entitled “The World’s Most Reluctant Adult”. I swear to God I’ve never related to anything harder in my life! It’s so reassuring to know that even someone as successful as Anna Kendrick procrastinates doing housework, and promises herself every year that THIS will be the year she gets her shit together.

My other favourite part of the book was the ‘bonus reading group guide’ at the end of the book, a total satire full of hilarious questions written by Anna herself which had me cracking up with laughter. I desperately want to quote them, but they won’t make a dollop of sense unless you’ve read the book.

I thought I loved Anna before I read this book, because I enjoy her movies and find her tweets funny, but now I know I adore her and want her to be my best friend, thank you please.


Review number two: ‘Let the Right One In’ by  John Ajvide Lindqvist

Rating: 3 stars

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I have mixed feeling about this book, hence the three star rating. The writing was five stars for me: it was so atmospheric, and the author put just enough detail in to make every scene vivid, yet not so much as to make the descriptive sections drag. He managed to make a fairly ordinary suburban setting creepy as hell, and I found the first half of the novel so thrilling because of said creepiness.

The plot for me, however, was only okay. I didn’t feel that much actually happened, and for a 500+ page book I needed way more *story*. Most of the characters were interesting, but Eli, the vampire, who is the whole point of the book, was two-dimensional for me. I know Eli was supposed to be an enigma to begin with, but by the end of the novel I at least expected to have a clear understanding of how Eli became a vampire. But, nope. Eli was severely lacking in the back-story department.

Oskar and Hakan were the most interesting characters for me, but I didn’t feel like they underwent a whole lot of development as the story progressed. Everyone in this novel felt static to me. I felt like if I were to leave them, and come back to revisit them at a different point in their lives, they would all be sitting exactly where I left them. Despite this, I enjoyed reading about these two characters, because I found both of them very twisted.

Hakan is a paedophile, and reading from his perspective was extremely uncomfortable, but somehow fascinating. The author took this character to some very dark places indeed. Oskar, our main character, was also an interesting one: he’s a young, clever, slightly overweight boy, and by all appearances sweet and innocent, but spends his spare time scrapbooking articles about serial killers and fantasizing about murder. He was a pretty messed up kid, but I did find him likeable, and I was rooting for him. Not sure what this says about me…

I really rated the first half of this book, but the second half dragged. I did enjoy this book, but I think I would have loved it more had it had either had more character development and exploration of Eli’s backstory, or simply been about 100 pages shorter!

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A creepy & atmospheric Autumn read: ‘S.T.A.G.S.’ by M.A. Bennett

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S.T.A.G.S. M.A. Bennett. Hot Key Books. August 2017.

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…


I picked this book up at YALC on the recommendation of somebody I met in the Waterstones queue. As soon as she had explained the concept to me I was SO desperate to read it that I immediately ran to the Hot Key Books stand, terrified that they might sell out before I got there. Thankfully I got my copy, despite the book being their best-seller of the weekend! As I was so excited to read this, I had very high expectations, but I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed. This book was SO exciting, and I was hooked from the very intriguing beginning to the chilling final sentence.

S.T.A.G.S. tells the story of Greer, a scholarship student who is struggling to fit in at her elite boarding school. Having made no friends by the time the first school holiday rolls around, she is excited and surprised when she receives an invitation to spend the weekend at Longcross, an estate in the Lake District belonging to the de Walencourt’s, a wealthy family who have been attending S.T.A.G.S. for generations. There is something off about this invitation from the beginning, because neither Henry de Walencourt, nor his group of friends (who refer to themselves as ‘the Medievals’) have ever spoken to Greer, except to make fun of her Manchester accent. Nevertheless, Greer is charmed by Henry, intrigued about the group’s way of life, and lonely, so she accepts without question.

This book is beautifully written, with vivid, immersive descriptions that transported me directly into the story’s setting. S.T.A.G.S (which the author herself has described as a kind of ‘dark Hogwarts’) was a wonderful creation, and the worldbuilding employed to set the scene was magnificent. Longcross estate was also constructed with so much detail that I believed in its existence wholeheartedly. I adored all of the descriptions of the vast rooms and endless corridors, the named bedrooms with their roaring fireplaces, and the sinister presence of stags’ heads on almost every wall. I also appreciated the detail which went into describing every elaborate dinner which took place at Longcross. Every page felt like taking another mouthful of some rich, decadent meal – one in which you can taste every single flavour – and it was just so satisfying to read.

The characters in S.T.A.G.S. are just as layered as the setting. Although there are nine characters in total (eleven if you count ‘Perfect’, the creepy headkeeper of the estate who never speaks unless it’s to his master, and ‘Betty’, his surly wife), they were all well drawn and distinctive. The dialogue in this book was fabulous, and it was never difficult to tell which character was speaking because they all had a clear ‘voice’.

There are only three likeable characters in this novel, and all of them are ‘outsiders’: we have Greer, our main character, Nel, a girl who doesn’t fit in because she comes from the ‘wrong’ kind of money, and Shafeen, an Indian boy, who despite growing up with the same privileges as them, is mercilessly bullied by the Medievals. I really enjoyed the bond that begins to form between these three characters as they start to realise they are in danger. The rest of the characters, the Medievals, are all unlikeable, and yet there is something seductive about them too; I found it so interesting to see the way Greer found herself manipulated by them and the charm they could so believably conjure, and yet quickly and bluntly turn off when they were about to do or say something insidious.

One of the most interesting things about the novel was the exploration of privilege and ‘otherness’. Greer, Shafeen, and Nel are considered to be ‘different’ by the Medievals. They don’t fit in to the aristocratic, white, privileged world of the Medievals; Greer because of her class, Shafeen because of the colour of his skin, and Nel because of her family’s ‘new money’. The views the Medievals held disgusted me, and the ignorant way Shafeen in particular was treated was very hard to stomach. The Medievals’ sense of entitlement and self-importance led each of them down a very dark path in this book, and I think their belief in what they were doing, and the casual, dispassionate way they went about it, as if they were doing nothing wrong, were the most chilling aspects of this novel. Naturally there was a fight against their bigotry in this story, but I would have liked to have seen a stronger counter to what the Medievals were saying. I wanted Greer to speak out more. I understood that she was being seduced and manipulated by Henry, but I did find myself getting annoyed with her every time she gave him the benefit of the doubt.

What I loved most about this book was the creepy atmosphere and tension it managed to sustain throughout. I loved that even in scenes of supposed safety, nothing felt safe. This book wasn’t super-gory like I was expecting, but somehow it didn’t need that to be utterly chilling. I also felt that, even without the concept of the teenagers themselves being hunted, the scenes where the Medievals were hunting and shooting animals were sinister enough in their own right.

This book really made me think about the brutality of hunting, and the arrogance of it too: assuming that our lives are more important than the lives of animals, and the idea of hunting them for sport, for fun, makes me feel sick. Of course, I’ve always held that opinion, but reading about it made me consider that maybe I should do more in terms of fighting against it, particularly as our conservative government in the UK want to lift the ban on fox-hunting. Going back to the story, however, what was most interesting and terrifying about the hunting scenes was how compelling they were to read, despite the repulsiveness of the action they contained. The scenes were so immersive and atmospherically written that it was somehow believable that Greer would be swept away by it all, even if she disagreed with it in principle. Very clever storytelling.

The ending of this book was unexpected and the last sentence gave me chills. I can’t really say any more about that because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was the perfectly sinister way to end a book. If you want to read something dark, original, well-written, and gripping I highly recommend giving S.T.A.G.S. a read. I gave this book five stars, and I can’t wait to see what the author writes next.

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Book review: ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’ by Susannah Cahalan

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Brain on Fire. Susannah Cahalan. Penguin. September 2013.

Brain on Fire is the stunning debut from journalist and author Susannah Cahalan, recounting the real-life horror story of how a sudden and mysterious illness put her on a descent into a madness for which there seemed to be no cure

‘My first serious blackout marked the line between sanity and insanity. Though I would have moments of lucidity over the coming days and weeks, I would never again be the same person …’

Susannah Cahalan was a happy, clever, healthy twenty-four-year old. Then one day she woke up in hospital, with no memory of what had happened or how she had got there. Within weeks, she would be transformed into someone unrecognizable, descending into a state of acute psychosis, undergoing rages and convulsions, hallucinating that her father had murdered his wife; that she could control time with her mind. Everything she had taken for granted about her life, and who she was, was wiped out.


Brain on Fire is the one of the most interesting books I have read this year. I don’t often pick up memoirs, but this one sounded too fascinating to ignore. Susannah’s story was terrifying, but so compelling, and I couldn’t put it down. Although there are scientific explanations and statistics peppered throughout this book, it is primarily told like a story. To begin with, it feels psychological-thriller-esque, as there is so much mystery surrounding Susannah’s increasingly worrying behaviour, and what exactly *is* going wrong in her brain. You can’t help but put yourself in Susannah’s shoes and imagine how scary it would be if this were happening to you.

Susannah takes us from the point at which she first becomes ill, through her period of hospitalization, up to her diagnosis, and beyond to her eventual recovery. Whilst Susannah remembers very little about her time in the hospital, she has used interviews with family, friends, and those who treated her, to piece together the missing month of her life. She also describes videos of herself, recorded in the hospital, which give an insight into what was happening to her body when her mind was seemingly absent. These descriptions are unnerving to read, as I am sure they were unnerving for Susannah to watch. She doesn’t recognise the person in those videos, and I can’t comprehend what a strange, disconcerting experience it must have been to see herself like that.

The scariest thing about Susannah’s story is that this could happen to any of us, without warning, at any time. Our brains and the bodies they live in are unfathomably complex and wonderful, but if even the tiniest part of the system malfunctions, our lives can descend into chaos. What Susannah went through is horrifying – seizures, paranoia, insomnia, psychosis, and eventually catatonia – and I can thoroughly appreciate why Susannah describes herself as having been ‘betrayed’ by her body. All of these symptoms came about because Susannah’s body decided to turn on her, and she had no control over the situation whatsoever. It was so interesting to see Susannah trying to come to terms with *why* this happened to her, but also with why *she* survived her illness when many others don’t.

The sections of the book when Susannah is in the hospital awaiting her diagnosis were the most interesting to me. It was worrying, but fascinating to see the diagnosis process laid out, because the doctors on Susannah’s case tried so many different things before they eventually landed upon the correct diagnosis and treatment for her. It is scary when you consider that there are some people for whom the correct diagnosis is never found. There were times when it felt like Susannah’s doctors were trying to find a needle in a haystack, but they found that needle, and I found the whole thing mind-blowing. Reading this book gave me so much awe and respect for those working in the medical profession: out of the millions of possibilities as to what could have been causing Susannah’s symptoms, they had the correct one within a month, and were able to treat her. How incredible is that? Medicine, honestly = magic.

What I found so remarkable about this book is that it exists at all. Whilst Susannah is in hospital, and before she is correctly diagnosed, her illness gets progressively worse until she is unable to read, write, eat, walk, or hold a conversation. The fact that she made a full recovery, and went on to write this incredible piece of non-fiction, which is intelligently written, journalistically researched, as well as being a powerful story, feels nothing short of miraculous. Brain on Fire is a fascinating read, and Susannah Cahalan is an incredible woman. Highly worth picking this one up!

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Cute YA contemporary romance set in Tokyo! ‘Seven Days of You’ by Cecilia Vinesse

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Seven Days of You. Cecilia Vinesse. Little Brown. March 2017.

It’s Sophia’s last week in Tokyo, and she’s going to make it count…

Sophia has spent her life ping-ponging between different countries and schools, so, in theory, saying goodbye should be easy. But now she’s leaving Tokyo – the place that finally felt like home. The only way she can get through this is to make her final week perfect.

Then Jamie Foster-Collins shows up, just in time to ruin everything. Jamie and Sophia used to be friends . . . and his return stirs up feelings she thought she’d forgotten.

Suddenly, hours and minutes become meaningless. Only time spent together, exploring the hidden streets of the city they love, is real.


I have to admit that I would never normally pick up a book that was set over a span of seven days, particularly a romance. I always feel like love stories set within a short space of time are rushed, and don’t dive deep enough into the emotions. And of course, said premises usually mean insta-love. These reservations aside, I decided to pick this one up because it was set in Tokyo (and I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo), and it had a glowing endorsement from Becky Albertalli on the back cover (whom I love and adore).

I’m pleased to say that my reservations were unfounded. The romance didn’t feel rushed at all because there was plenty of history between the two characters, and despite the short amount of time spent together in this novel, I fully believed in their feelings for each other, and felt the heartbreak of the impossible situation they found themselves in. This book deals with lots of messy emotions between friends, love interests, and families, and I was very impressed with how much was covered in such a short space of time. In particular, I really enjoyed the family dynamics in this story; the strained relationship between Sophia and her sister Alison underwent some very satisfying development, and the scenes between these two sisters ended up being one of my favourite aspects of the novel. SISTERS FTW.

Moving on to love interests, Jamie was such an adorable fluffy bunny, and was definitely my favourite character in the novel. I just wanted to cuddle the crap out of him. I have to say that it took me longer to warm to Sophia because she was so mean to Jamie at times, and also rather unfair to Caroline (a girl who is dating David, her friend, and the guy she has a crush on at the beginning of the story).  However, Sophia grew on me throughout the novel, and I came to understand that her behaviour stemmed from some seriously mixed up emotions over leaving the place she calls home, trying to work out where in the world she belongs, and saying goodbye to the people she loves. By the end, I really appreciated the fact that Sophia was a flawed character who had a lot going on in her head, and she felt like a more realistic, relatable person because of it.

I found Sophia’s friends, David and Mika quite unlikeable to begin with. David, whom Sophia has been crushing on for a while, was very arrogant, a bit of a playboy/user of girls, and I couldn’t understand what she saw in him, despite his flirty charm. Mika irritated me because she was so sarcastic, told people to shut up all the time (and not in a playful way), and could be pretty unapologetically mean and blasé. By the end of the book, my opinion about David hadn’t changed much, but I liked Mika a little more, and appreciated the friendship between her and Sophia. I wasn’t feeling those girl power vibes between them to begin with, but I could see a hint of them by the final page.

What I loved most about this novel was undoubtedly the setting. I loved wandering around Tokyo with the characters, exploring the big tourist destinations like the Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace, but also the little, lesser known streets with their ramen shops, karaoke clubs, and konbinis (basically Japanese convenience stores full of amazing snacks I need in my mouth like now.) I adored all of the descriptions of food (because I LIVE for food), but I also really fell in love with the portrayal of the city at night and all those twinkling neon lights. There is something surreal about cities after dark, and although this book is a contemporary, the dreamy way the city streets at night were described brought so much magic to the story. I found myself completely transported from my living room in London to the heart of bustling Tokyo.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Although the characters behaved in ways which annoyed me at times (I wanted to slap each and every one of them at some point), I found them to be realistic, believable people BECAUSE they messed up now and again. This story was a fascinating exploration of what it means to belong somewhere, a love story which made me happy-squeal, and a stunning depiction of a city I am DYING to visit.

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Mini reviews: “This Is What Happy Looks Like” by Jennifer E. Smith, and “Ink” by Alice Broadway

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

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If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

It’s June – seventeen-year-old Ellie O’Neill’s least favourite time of year. Her tiny hometown is annually invaded by tourists, and this year there’s the added inconvenience of a film crew. Even the arrival of Hollywood heartthrob Graham Larkin can’t lift her mood.

But there is something making Ellie very happy. Ever since an email was accidentally sent to her a few months ago, she’s been corresponding with a mysterious stranger, the two of them sharing their hopes and fears. Their developing relationship is not without its secrets though – there’s the truth about Ellie’s past… and her pen pal’s real identity. When they finally meet in person, things are destined to get much more complicated. Can two people, worlds apart but brought together by chance, make it against all the odds?

My rating: 3.5 stars

This book was a cute, quick read and the perfect summer escapism story. It’s pretty grey and grim weather in the UK right now, so it was lovely to spend a few hours in a small, sunny town in Maine getting away from it all.

I mainly purchased this book because I read the first few pages in the shop and discovered that the love interest, Graham, had a pet pig. A pet pig is the thing I want most out of life, but my boyfriend is not at all keen on the idea, so for now I’ll just have to live vicariously through Graham. I very much enjoyed all of the Graham’s-pig related anecdotes; although they weren’t the biggest part of the story, they were my favourite part of it.

The romance between Ellie and Graham was gentle and sweet. I wasn’t overwhelmed by feelings and chemistry because it happened fairly quickly, but I enjoyed reading all of the email interactions between them, and their banter about whether the ‘whoopie pie’, the supposed ‘state treat’ of Maine, actually existed. Graham’s determination to find somewhere that sold whoopie pies in Maine was a force to be reckoned with.

Ellie and Graham were both interesting characters. Reading Graham’s chapters left me wanting to give him a big hug. Sure, he was a famous movie star – theoretically he had it pretty good… But delving into Graham’s perspective reinforced what I already suspected: being famous would really suck. The thing which had me feeling most sorry for Graham was the way his family treated him differently from how they had before he became a star. Graham just wanted people to treat him like an ordinary person, but even his parents acted awkwardly around him. Poor baby.

Ellie had an interesting family background, and it was fascinating to see how secrets from her past impacted her relationship with Graham. I also appreciated how selfless Ellie was when considering their relationship and its consequences. She thought about how the press attention would impact her family, and treated her own feelings as secondary. But of course, I was rooting for her to get together with Graham anyway!

All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. It didn’t wow me, but it was a fun read that made me smile and took me away from rainy reality for a while. I’m glad I picked it up!


Ink (Skin Books #1) by Alice Broadway

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In Saintstone, every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora’s father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all…

My rating: 3.75 stars

Ink is an underrated book – I haven’t heard anybody talking about it in the bookish community, but I would love for more people to read it. I picked this book up at YALC because a) the cover is SO gorgeous and b) the author spoke on her panel about writing this book whilst she had severe depression, and I thought that was such an incredible, brave thing to do, and an amazing achievement. It inspired me so much to get back into writing.

I’m really glad I bought this book, despite knowing very little about it beforehand, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful and fairytale-like, without being flowery. The plot wasn’t packed with action, yet the book felt pacey – the story flowed very smoothly, and the short chapters had me whizzing through the book. I almost want to go back and re-read it, because I went through it really quickly, and didn’t savour as many of the details as I would have liked. The way this book is written also feels very cosy – it’s the kind of book which would be perfect to read in Autumn, curled up in a blanket with a hot chocolate.

My favourite aspect of this novel was the worldbuilding. Although the plot itself was quite standard dystopian, and it didn’t throw all that many surprises my way, the society of Saintstone felt very unique, and the concept was woven so perfectly into every aspect of life within that society. I particularly enjoyed the use of the myths and fairytales which were scattered throughout the novel; these stories were the foundations of the society and its beliefs, and it was so interesting to see how those in power used stories, which they insisted were literally true, to strengthen their agenda.

I loved all of the scenes in the tattoo shop (or the ‘inker’s’ as it is referred to in this story) where Leora begins her first work placement. It was fascinating to read about all of the different marks people asked for, and the meanings behind them. I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I like learning the stories behind other people’s, and I loved that this book explored the idea of how much we can read into another person from the marks on their skin. Tattoos are a big part of many people’s identities, yet they cannot possibly reveal every little detail of a personality, and I liked the way that Leora, who has always believed she can read people, starts to question whether she truly knows the people in her life after all.

The reason this book just missed out on a 4 star rating was because I didn’t feel like the characters were super-distinctive. The society of Saintstone itself feels like the main character in this story, and the other characters feel like they are there to tell Saintsone’s story, if that makes sense. There was also a romantic subplot in this book which I felt was unnecessary. It’s such a small part of the story, however, that it didn’t bother me all that much.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a dystopian with a fresh concept, strong worldbuilding, and beautiful writing. Pick it up and let me know what you think!

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The most important book you will read this year: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

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The Hate U Give. Angie Thomas. Walker Books. April 2017.

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. 


I finished The Hate U Give this afternoon, and whilst I have a bunch of other reviews waiting to be posted, I felt I wanted to post this one straight away, in light of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. Books like this one are more important than ever at a time when hateful voices are trying to shout the loudest. Let’s not let them. Let’s listen to voices like Angie Thomas’s instead. And let’s shout louder.

The Hate U Give is an amazing book, and I’m struggling to covey just how powerful it actually was in my own words. This book deserves every word of praise it has received and then some. I firmly believe it should be required reading for all of humankind.

This is a novel about racism and hatred, but it’s also so much more than that. Overwhelmingly this is a novel about love and hope. For every act of racism in this novel there is an act of bravery, and for every feeling of hopelessness that things will never change, there is an encouragement to speak up anyway. Starr is an inspirational main character, and her love for her best friend Khalil, and her determination to show the world who he truly was (rather than let him be remembered as the criminal the police and media are portraying him to be), were so incredibly powerful and moving. There is a quote in this story, which is repeated on the final page of the novel, that sums up the overall message of this book perfectly: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” Starr completely embodies that message, speaking out even though she feels afraid, and even when everything seems to be against her; I had so much admiration and respect for her.

All of the characters in this novel are well drawn and memorable, because Angie Thomas is, quite simply, a fantastic writer. Starr’s voice is distinctive – you really feel like she is speaking directly to you – and all of the other characters are written with such depth, compassion, and humour that they feel like real people. I loved how close-knit Starr’s family were, and I loved the banter between them, which constantly had me chuckling. I think they may be one of my favourite fictional families of all time. I loved how real they were; they weren’t perfect, and they had been through some messy situations together, but the pure love they showed for each other in every scene melted my heart. I particularly loved Starr’s parents, and there is an amazing scene where Starr is watching them being cute together, and comments that her parents are her ‘OTP’, which is one of my favourites in the book. How adorable is that?

The character I liked least in this novel was Starr’s friend from school, Hailey. Hailey was so ignorant and insensitive, and if she wasn’t a character in this book, she’s exactly the kind of person I think would benefit from reading it, and educating herself. Hailey doesn’t consider herself a racist, but some of her actions, whether intended or not, are racist. I really hated Hailey’s unwillingness to consider her behaviour from Starr’s perspective, and listen to what she had to say. At the same time, I really LOVED that Starr called her out for her racism anyway, regardless of whether she could be confident it would sink in.

One of the things I found most interesting about this novel was the way Starr acted differently at her predominantly white school than she did with her family, or other people of colour. Starr changed the way she spoke, and hid huge parts of herself from the people she went to school with, including from her boyfriend, Chris, who was white. It was so heartbreaking that Starr felt she couldn’t be completely herself, because she was afraid she would be dismissed as the ‘girl from the hood’, and it was eye-opening to read from her perspective. It was wonderful to see Starr slowly starting to share parts of herself, and her life, with Chris, and her other friends, as her story developed, gradually learning to accept and love the place she comes from, despite its problems.

Garden Heights, the neighbourhood where Starr lives, was so well described, and had so much personality that it almost felt like a character in its own right. Despite the crime, poverty, and gangs fighting territory wars, there were so many wonderful things about Starr’s neighbourhood too, which Starr gradually comes to recognise as the story progresses; the sense of community, of family, and of neighbours who will always have each other’s backs and help each other out. Starr’s own father, Big Mav, is a perfect example of this; as an ex gang member, he is determined to help younger members of the community, and stop them from falling into the life of crime he was once a part of. Mav was such a caring, selfless, brave person, a real role model, and despite not being perfect, he was easily one of my favourite characters in the story.

Of course, this book had some devastating scenes, and I can’t write this review without mentioning them, although it’s very difficult to think about them, because they were so upsetting to read. The scene where Khalil is shot was abrupt, brutal, and felt like a punch in the stomach. Possibly the most difficult thing about this scene, however, was the reality of it. What happened to Khalil has happened to so many black people (predominantly young men) in America (and for all I know, other countries too, but American police brutality against black people is what I have heard most about in recent years). The fact that these murders of unarmed people, who are doing nothing wrong, happen in real life makes me sick, and the fact that the perpetrators nearly always get away with it, and are not charged with murder, turns my stomach.

The people who attempt to justify these murders by painting the victims as criminals, drug dealers, etc. (which is what happens with Khalil’s murder in this story) are also sickening to me. There’s a scene where Starr is being questioned about what happened, and, in her narrative, she tells us: “I didn’t know a dead person could be charged in his own murder, you know?” This really struck a cord with me; Starr is treated as if she and Khalil are the ones on trial, rather than the cop who shot Khalil, and this was, sadly, the perfect way to demonstrate how institutional racism works. Now that I have read this book, I want to do more research into institutional racism, and police brutality, because it has made me want to take action. It has lit a fire in me, as I am sure it has done in many other people.

I thought I knew what racism was before I read this story, but I actually came away with a sense of my own ignorance, and I think that’s why books like this one are so important. We need to learn by listening to the voices of those who have experienced racism firsthand, and we can always learn more. Voices like Starr’s, like Angie Thomas’s, are so important, and the time is NOW, considering we have white supremacist marches going on in America, and a white supremacist in the White House. We ALL need to speak out against this.

The Hate U Give really opened my eyes to so many things I had never thought about before, and I’m so grateful that this book exists. Despite the horror of what happens to Khalil in this story, and the insensitive, racist views of some characters, this book is not without hope, and it was thoroughly compelling to read. It is full of loveable characters, humour, and, most importantly, encouragement, inspiration, and love. This book had a huge impact on me, and I think it is impossible to read this book and come away wanting to stay silent. 5 stars for this incredible book. Please, please pick it up if you haven’t already.

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Most-exciting-book-I’ve-read-this-year alert! ‘Nemesis’ by Brendan Reichs

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Nemesis (Project Nemesis #1). Brendan Reichs. Macmillan Children’s Books. July 2017.

It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, the same man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later she wakes up in a clearing just outside her hometown – alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him too, though he does his best to hide the signs.

As the world around them begins to spiral towards panic and destruction, the two troubled teens discover that people have been lying to them their whole lives…


I picked this book up at YALC, knowing very little about it, and I’m SO glad I stumbled upon it; this book was SO DAMN EXCITING! The concept intrigued me because it’s unlike anything I’ve read before, but that concept was only the starting point for a story which gradually became bigger and bigger, twistier and twistier. This book contained everything I want in a sci-fi thriller: conspiracy, action, shady behaviour, murder, unlikely alliances, and total chaos. The back cover compares Nemesis to The Maze Runner and The 100, but I’d add in a dash of Stranger Things and a sprinkle of Lord of the Flies too. Despite having echoes of these other stories (all of which I, incidentally, love) the plot was original and fascinating, I had no idea who to trust (if anybody), and it wasn’t predictable in any way.

The novel opens with the premise of these two characters who have had terrifying things happening to them since childhood that they don’t know how to explain to anyone else. This is intriguing enough in itself, however the premise is made all the more interesting by the fact that the strange things happening to these two teenagers are set against the backdrop of an impending global catastrophe; the whole world is on tenterhooks waiting to hear from the President of the USA as to whether the Anvil currently on a collision course with Earth will hit or miss.

Sidenote: this book is set in September of this year, and the President of the United States of America is referred to as ‘she’. I got a huge kick out of this.

It was so interesting to see how different people in the town behaved in response to the threat of the Anvil, especially because Min and Noah, our main characters, were far more concerned with the seemingly ‘smaller’ things which were affecting them personally (like, yknow, surviving being murdered in cold blood every two years, nothing major…)

Both Noah and Min were fascinating to me. Min was probably my favourite of the two characters, but Noah was the more complex. Min was determined, rebellious and somebody with a very black and white sense of justice. If she saw something wrong, she would call it out straight away, and defend whoever needed defending in that situation, screw the consequences. As you can imagine, I adored her.

Noah, on the other hand, was more concerned with fitting in, and often stayed silent and accepting when bad things happened. I think this was partly to do with the friendships in each of these characters’ lives. Min had a fiercely loyal friend in Tack, a boy from her trailer park she’d known since childhood, whereas Noah was on the outer edges of the popular crowd, ‘friends’ whom he clearly didn’t trust, and whose mutual affection he was never sure of. With such different relationships in their lives, Min was the more open and outspoken character (as she always had someone to back her up and support her no matter what) and Noah was the quieter, more submissive character (scared to go against his friends, fearing their rejection, even if he disagreed with the way they were acting). Although I admired Min’s bravery, I related more to the way Noah behaved. He was constantly trying to hide his anxieties, and make life less difficult for himself. I think that’s what made his eventual character development within the story so satisfying.

Sidenote: Tack was undoubtedly my favourite character over both of them. His sarcastic, quippy commentary about literally everything had me smiling throughout. He was brilliant; I wanted him to be MY best friend.

The best thing about this novel for me was the plotting. There was so much mystery in the story, and it developed at the perfect pace. I was amazed by the scale of this book, and I loved how something which started off as small-town weirdness gradually spiralled into something global which affected more people than I could ever have imagined. Although there was never any question that something strange was going on in Min and Noah’s town, it was never obvious WHY. The ‘why’ was the thing that kept me turning the pages so rapidly as Min and Noah attempted to piece the puzzle together, and figure out what the hell was happening to them

Around the ¾ mark, this book changed direction in the most exciting way, and I was left reeling. Something huge happens, which affects so many of the characters, and it was so interesting to see how different groups of people reacted to this event. It brought out the best in some characters, but the very, very worst in others. In the final quarter of the book, so many shocking things happened, and I felt like every page was a surprise – some of which were more brutal than others. The ending gave me enough information to satisfy my craving for answers, but left enough unanswered questions to leave me desperate to read the sequel. I NEED THE NEXT BOOK, LIKE, YESTERDAY.

All in all, I highly recommend this book! It was so, so addictive and I raced through it, desperate to find out what was going to happen next. I haven’t heard much hype about this book, but it thoroughly deserves some, so please go out and buy it, lovely people! I hope you’re reading experience will be as enjoyable and edge-of-seat as mine was.

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Book review: ‘Nothing Tastes As Good’ by Claire Hennessy

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Nothing Tastes As Good. Claire Hennessy. Hot Key Books. June 2016.

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.


Trigger warning: anorexia, bulimia

I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this book. Initially, as I closed the final page, I went straight onto Goodreads and rated it 4 stars, because the ending made me cry, and I always rate books highly if they draw that much emotion from me. However, after having a think, I decided to lower my rating to 3 stars, because there were aspects of this book which made me uncomfortable, and I cannot dismiss them.

The novel follows Annabel, an anorexic girl who has died of heart failure, and narrates the story from beyond the grave. In the afterlife, Annabel becomes a kind of spirit guide/guardian angel, and is assigned to help a girl called Julia down on earth. Julia is overweight, and Annabel immediately assumes that, in order to ‘help’ Julia, she must encourage Julia to lose weight.

The premise of this story was so interesting to me, and I found the way Annabel becomes the voice in Julia’s head, telling her she is fat and disgusting and will only be happy if she is thin, extremely clever. The things Annabel whispers in Julia’s ear are exactly the kind of lies her own brain led her to the end believing. Although making Annabel the ‘voice’ of anorexia was a clever concept, I also found her words incredibly uncomfortable to read. I understand that this book isn’t intending to fat shame anyone (in fact, it’s aiming to do the opposite), however Annabel’s words were so toxic and spiteful that I found myself taking offence to them. If you suffer from body self-esteem issues, I think reading what Annabel has to say to Julia, an overweight girl, could potentially be quite damaging (as indeed they were to Julia in the story!)

The other thing I found quite difficult about this read was the way Annabel’s anorexia was glamorised (albeit only by Annabel herself). I had some problems with food when I was a teenage, and I know that if I had read this book at the time, it would have enabled me massively. I understand why the author chose to write about anorexia in this way to a certain extent, because the voice is Annabel’s, and I know from the many, many thinspo blogs I read as a teenager that the way Annabel talks about the ‘perfection’ she is aiming for is authentic. However, I don’t think the realities of anorexia and the damage it does were explored in quite enough detail to counter this, and if you are recovering from an eating disorder right now, I would advise you stay well away from this book, because I believe it could be very triggering indeed.

Something I did really love about this book was Julia. Julia was a fantastic character, with so much going for her: she was intelligent, driven, and her passion for journalism (as editor of her school newspaper) was wonderful to see. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where the main character has an actual hobby, and I found it really interesting to see what a huge part it played in Julia’s story (particularly as the pressure to do as good a job as her predecessor was such a huge trigger for her eating disorder).

I also really enjoyed the romantic storyline in this book; Julia is in love with a boy who works on the newspaper with her. The love story was sweet, and it was refreshing to see a romantic storyline with an overweight protagonist where the weight of said protagonist was not an issue for the boy/something he had to come to terms with before he dated her. I was also really glad this book did not fall into the trap of having romance be what eventually ‘saves’ the mentally ill protagonist.

I didn’t love Annabel quite as much as I loved Julia, because she was a tricky character to get a clear picture of. Although the story is narrated from her point of view, we don’t learn an awful lot about her, beyond the fact that she starved herself to the point of heart failure. I thought this was a shame, because Annabel had the potential to be a really interesting character, but she lacked depth and development. Annabel’s character arc was very much about her realising how much she missed out on by making losing weight the focal point and purpose of her life. Whilst in theory that’s a positive message (because there is so much more to life than dieting), I’m not sure this context was the best way to convey that message. The implication here is that Annabel has wasted her life; she could have been bright and brilliant like Julia, had a hobby she loved, met a person she loved, and been happy, but instead she chose to spend her life starving herself. But the thing is… mental illness isn’t something you choose. Annabel may have missed out on those things, but at the fault of her illness, not of herself. Because of these implications, I ended up being a little bit confused about what this book was really trying to say.

Overall, this was a very interesting book, and I did enjoy reading it, but parts of it made me feel uncomfortable, and I’m not sure they were handled as well as they could have been. I really loved the ending, and found it very moving, but I think had the path toward that ending been lengthier, taking more time to explore all of the issues and ideas the book contained, it would have been a more solid read for me.

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My new favourite book of 2017: ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Gail Honeyman. HarperCollins. May 2017.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. That, combined with her unusual appearance (scarred cheek, tendency to wear the same clothes year in, year out), means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kind of friends who rescue each other from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.


I finished this book over a week ago, and I’ve been struggling to review it ever since. I loved it so much that I almost want to keep it all to myself, but I won’t, because I’m not selfish, and I want you guys to fall in love with it as much as I did.

I don’t read much adult fiction, because I find that YA fiction generally does a better job of handling the issues I am interested in. One such issue is a mental health, and I’ve found in the past that the only adult books which focus on mental health I can find are of the pretentious, literary variety. I feel blessed to have found this book, because not only does it portray mental health struggles, childhood trauma, and loneliness very well, but it’s also very down to earth and relatable. It’s a wonderfully written book, and it moved me so much. I have a feeling this book will become an all-time favourite.

I have thankfully never experienced trauma like Eleanor’s, but I have experienced clinical depression, and I have felt lonely. The chapters where Eleanor is going through a bout of depression were fantastically written. I have never seen depression portrayed so accurately; I feel so often that depression in books is only talked about in terms of suicidal thoughts and self-harm, and that the other symptoms of the illness, particularly the physical ones, never really appear on the page. This depiction was so relatable that it made me cry – not because it made me feel depressed, but because it made me feel understood. I also loved the focus on mindfulness as Eleanor starts her journey of recovery; Eleanor slowed right down and started noticing things around her, paying attention to the tiny, wonderful details of her world, and that is something which has been a big part of my own recovery; it was brilliant to see it championed in this book.

When I initially picked up this book, I was actually expecting it to be about autism or aspergers syndrome. The blurb talks about Eleanor’s inability to deviate from routine, and the way she struggles to understand social situations. However, as I got further into the book, I realised that Eleanor’s routines are her coping mechanism for dealing with her loneliness, and her lack of social understanding is a product of her upbringing, coupled with the fact that she is so often alone. Eleanor lives on her own, has no friends, talks to her mum just once a week, and she spends all of her time outside of work on her own. The most heartbreaking thing about the way Eleanor’s loneliness was handled in this book was that, despite insisting she is ‘fine’ with being on her own, her reactions whenever anyone showed her the tiniest morsel of kindness spoke volumes. It was both sad and heartwarming to see how touched Eleanor could be by something as simple as having a cup of tea made for her.

I wanted to give Eleanor the BIGGEST hug, not just because I felt sorry for her, but because she was such an endearing character. She had such an odd, formal way of speaking (quirky in a completely undeliberate way), and such a lack of social awareness (she could often be quite rude without realising or meaning to); she was characterised in such a humorous way that you couldn’t help but laugh at, and love, her all the more for it. Another thing I adored about Eleanor was that she had absolutely no problem whatsoever with being an oddball. She knew that other people found her strange, and she didn’t mind at all. Eleanor was just Eleanor… completely herself.

What I loved most of all about this story was the focus on friendship. This isn’t really a romance (though I believe one could blossom beyond the final page of this book), but instead is an incredibly compelling, moving story of friendship. I loved Raymond so, so much. He was an ordinary guy, with the odd gross habit, but a thoroughly, thoroughly decent one. Sammy (the old man whom Raymond and Eleanor rescue at the beginning of the novel) was also a real sweetie. The kindness Raymond and Sammy show to Eleanor in this novel is so simple, yet so touching, and I loved the way their friendship helps Eleanor to start taking small steps outside of her comfort zone, by providing an antidote to the loneliness she has been living with for so long, and a support system to be there for when she begins confronting some of the darker parts of her past she has kept buried since childhood.

I don’t want to say too much more about this book, because I would rather you discovered it for yourself, but I strongly urge you to pick this one up; it is so, so touching, so sweet, so funny, so sad, but so ultimately uplifting. I finished this book feeling so emotional, but in a good way. It is certainly the best book I have read this year, but I would go as far as to say it is also one of the best books I have ever read.

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