The Queen of the Tearling


This is the first part of a three part series and definitely one for older readers as the swearing in it is necessary but bad! Kelsea Raleigh is a girl who has a destiny. The book begins with her living in a small house in the forest with her guardians Barty and Carlin. She knows that she is destined for greater things, and that she is the daughter of the Tearling Queen; when she reaches the age of 19 she will become the Queen herself but she has been hidden all these years because of fears that she will be killed. The Tearling is a land created by William Tear, and contains exiled people from England and America. They went there for a better life but things are pretty basic and there are few doctors and no technology. There is however, magic.

Kelsea’s mother Queen Elyssa was a weak queen and signed a treaty with the Red Queen to send people from Tearling to Mortmesne as slaves. Mortmesne is the neighbouring country to the Tearling and is ruled by the Red Queen, a magical figure who does not age. After Queen Elyssa’s death, her brother Thomas became the Regent until Kelsea was old enough to rule. He has left the country to ruin and is lazy and weak. There are also other factions like the Caden who are trying to kill Kelsea so that the Regent can stay on the throne and continue ruining the kingdom. All Kelsea has to do is get back the Keep in the main city of New London, and be crowned. This is easier said than done as so many people are trying to kill her. She is protected by the Queen’s Guard, a group of men loyal to the previous queen who will guard her until death. Their leader is a man called Lazurus, or the Mace. He is a huge man mountain who kills people with a mace!

When they arrive in New London, Kelsea begins to realize the extent to which the country has been ruined. She sees giant cages where people are herded in and taken to Mortmesne. They are chosen once a month through a lottery system run by a pretty nasty piece of work called Arlen Thorne. The decisions she makes will have a huge impact on whether the country will remain at peace or not, but she cannot sit by and watch such cruelty. The Mace can do little but advise her but she is governed by a mysterious jewel that hangs around her neck, given to her by Carlin when she was a baby and part of the proof that she is the real queen of the Tearling. It has magical powers that she had no idea existed. During her journey back to the New London she meets a mysterious figure called the Fetch who she kind of falls in love with, he takes the companion jewel from her. The two jewels together make her extremely powerful, she just needs to learn how to use that power.

As you can imagine, the book ends on a cliffhanger and I have already started the next one in the series. I was  getting a bit fed up of reading teen angst books where one kid has something wrong with them and it was all profoundly depressing. What happened to fun!? Anyway, so I thought I would read a fantasy fiction book to give my brain a rest from all the angst! This is a really enjoyable fantasy fiction book that transports you to another world. It is a little confusing as to whether the people who founded the Tearling left the present world or not but that seems a bit incidental and you will find out more about this in the next book anyway. The characters are interesting and you will enjoy seeing Kelsea grow from a bit of a geeky tomboy to a strong leader. She is constantly described as plain and a bit fat, she struggles with fitness and has to tell the cook to make her healthier meals, she is not the gorgeous heroine queen that you would expect, and I think that makes it a better book for that. She is a more realistic character. The others are good strong characters that  you will enjoy reading about. It is advertised as a Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games type book, although I can see some similarities this book is in a world all of it’s own. It is violent though and, if you don’t like swearing and violence then this is not for you.

further reading: Game of Thrones series (but only if you are prepared to invest some time and you don’t mind a bit of sex and violence!) The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman (and the rest of the series).


Side Effects May Vary – Julie Murphy


This book makes me have conflicting emotions. The main character, Alice, has discovered that she has leukemia and only has months to live. Her childhood friend, Harvey, decides to care for her while hiding his feelings, that he is hopelessly in love with her, even though she has been totally ignoring him for the last couple of years. The trouble is that Alice isn’t very nice. In fact, she is a total user who knows that Harvey is in love with her and will do anything she asks.

It all starts with an unfortunate incident where Alice and her boyfriend Luke sneak out of school and go back to Alice’s house. They see something that they weren’t meant to see and Alice swears Luke to secrecy. Unfortunately he is also seeing Alice’s frenemy Celeste and the next day everyone knows. When Alice is diagnosed and realizes that she is not going to make it, she makes a bucket list of revenge. She dumps Luke and gets revenge on both him and Celeste, as well as doing some other stuff like sneaking in to an abandoned camp and smoking pot.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Just as she thinks that she is on her last legs and got all the revenge out of her system, a visit to the doctor’s tells her that she has gone in to remission. She no longer has cancer and is going to live. She finds out the night after Harvey has told her that he loves her. She says it back and then realizes that she is not ready for that kind of commitment and panics.

As she recovers and goes back to school she starts to ignore poor old Harvey and he is in total turmoil. Then she takes up with another boy (can’t remember his name but it doesn’t matter, he isn’t around for long) and Harvey finds out. He tells her enough is enough and goes off with someone else. I won’t spoil the ending but, suffice to say, I still feel conflicted. Alice is not a nice person. Harvey is a nice person but a total doormat. I don’t think that Alice really cares about anyone except herself, and the problem is that because she is dying everyone thinks they should feel sorry for her. There is a really horrible incident towards the end where the people she has been really mean to get their revenge on her, and I just kind of felt that she deserved it! Anyway, you read it and decide what you think.

It’s a good book because it makes you ask yourself whether you would do the same thing in her shoes. If you knew you were dying would you get back at people or would you let the bitterness go and fundraise or something. I like to think I would do good things  but, I’m pretty sure I would give some people some home truths as well! But also, just because you think you should feel sorry for someone, if they are as horrible as Alice is, do you still need to be nice to them?

Dreaming The Bear – Mimi Thebo


This is a quick, enjoyable read. Darcy is the main narrator but there are some sections in italics, not sure who is narrating these, maybe the bear! Anyway, Darcy lives with her mum and dad and her brother Jem in Yellowstone National Park where her dad is working on a research project. They used to live in a proper town but her dad has  been offered a position working in the park and has moved them all there, Darcy is not very happy with this. Her mum is also working on some research thing and her brother Jem is older than her and goes to the local high school. She is supposed to be going there too but has been really ill with pneumonia and is off sick. She is recovering and must do a certain amount of exercise every day to build up the strength in her lungs. She goes out one day and starts walking through the snow. She is taken ill and has an encounter with a bear who looks after her. The bear also has something wrong with it and she has a kind of out of body experience.

Darcy is also a little bit in love with a boy in her brothers class called Tony Infante. As Darcy struggles with her illness she builds a connection with the bear and she starts to feed her. The bear has an injury in her shoulder and is stuck in a cave up an incline that she can’t get down  from. She is also really annoyed with her dad and her mum has gone away to a conference  and left them to it. Then a storm hits.

Darcy, Jem, Tony and their dad are stuck in their house and all confined to one room. This is a little intimate for Darcy but it means that she can get closer to Tony. After the storm Darcy and her dad go down to town and after a few more  trips they realize that when she is down in town she is much better. Eventually one of the research assistants works out the connection.

This  book is a nice easy read and, although it doesn’t look like much, it is quite enjoyable. It is also on the Carnegie longlist for this year and I can see why. It won’t take you long and that’s quite satisfying!

We Are All Made of Molecules – Susan Nielsen


We Are All Made of Molecules  was one of the books available as part of the Booktrust box of books, another great selection this year and I read it as part of my book club with year 8.

Stewart and his dad live together in their house which, until recently, also contained Stewart’s mum. A year before the book is set, she died. Stewart is a highly intelligent 13 year old and attends the Little Genius School for gifted children. He is very clever.

Ashley lives with her mum, her dad lives in a little house in the garden (apparently it’s called a laneway house) because he has  decided that he is gay. Ashley is not the brightest button in the box and is mortified by this. She is, as she describes it, at the top of the social ladder and is always worrying about her position on it. She is desperate to keep the fact that her dad is gay a secret.

Their worlds collide when Stewart’s dad starts dating Ashley’s mum and they decide  to move in together. Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mum and Ashley is super not happy about it. To make things worse (for her) Stewart decides to move from Little Gifted to the same high school as Ashley.

Stewart is not the most popular kid in school, but Ashley is the Queen Bee. She resents everything he says and does and doesn’t really want anyone to know that they know each other. Stewart starts to get bullied by the new boy, Jared, and Ashley fancies him. Stewart overhears a conversation about Ashley and decides to help get them together. This will also help with Jared trying to pull Stewart’s shorts down in PE (it must be a boy thing!). Jared is almost as unpleasant as Ashley so they deserve each other.

I loved the split narrative of this book. Stewart’s voice was warm and funny, Ashley was horrible and really made me dislike her. I could understand that they both had issues but I felt that Stewart was far more willing to compromise. Ashley was a bit of a spoilt brat. She does get her comeuppance in the end but it still left me thinking that she was horrible. Stewart is obviously on the Autistic spectrum and is very literal. But what a lovely boy he is, and the way he manages his life is really great.

This is a fun short read and it will help you appreciate the finer points of families coming together in these situations. It is also a good book club choice as there are a few things to discuss here. Most notably, Ashley and her relationship with her dad and Stewart and his obsession with molecules! You will like Stewart though, he’s one of the good guys.

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Monica Hesse


I have just finished reading a book about old people’s homes in Holland (for a book group before you ask!)  and decided to pick  this one up because it is about the German occupation of Holland during WW11. I didn’t know much about so it was an interesting read.

Hanneke Bakker is an 18 year old girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. When we first meet her she is on her way to make a delivery of black market goods for her employer, the local undertaker. She  goes around delivering hard-to-get items to the wealthy people of  Amsterdam. She is also mourning the loss of her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed in the short lived resistance of the Dutch Army before the they succumbed to the German invasion. This was two years previously and Hanneke feels a lot of guilt. She thinks that Bas, who joined up early, did so  because he wanted to impress her.

Hanneke is stopped by a young German soldier and flirts her way out of trouble. She then calls on her next customer, Mrs Janssen, who has several sons. One has  been killed and the others have fled to America and England. Her husband has also not been seen for a while. She asks Hanneke to do her a favour. She has been harbouring a  young Jewish girl who was a friend of the family. Her husband had  been hiding the family at his factory but they had been betrayed and all been killed, including her husband, except for the girl. The girl has since gone missing and Mrs Janssen wants Hanneke to find her, as she is the only family she has left.

Coincidently, the same day her dead boyfriends brother Ollie appears at her door and, although Hanneke does not want to become involved, she agrees to meet with a friend of Ollie and realizes that he is involved with the Dutch resistance movement. He knows someone that can help her find Mirjam (the Jewish girl in the blue coat) and bring her back to Mrs Janssen and safety. Judith is a member of Ollie’s supper club and is Jewish. She works at the local centre where Jews go after they have been rounded up by the Germans. Her sister Mina works in the crèche looking after the very young and both girls are active members of the resistance. We also meet Willem, who is Ollie’s roommate.

What follows is a roller coaster of missed connections and double dealing. Hanneke is unwittingly drawn in to helping the resistance and is nearly caught on a few occasions. All the time she is carrying this guilt about Bas and we learn some of their back story. Hanneke  is a strong character that makes you feel that, if you were in the same situation as her you would  hopefully be as brave. The people of all occupied countries suffered such fear and hardship during the years that the Germans invaded their countries and people must have been constantly afraid of doing anything wrong. The rounding up of the Jews is poignantly portrayed, a boy cries because two girls in his class have been deported to concentration camps because they are Jewish. Hanneke has no hope of a future because she cannot see past her grief. Her relationship with her parents also changes significantly during the course of the book.

Every time I read a book like this, and there are so many out there that I have read a few, it astonishes me. How can ordinary people cope with such an extraordinary situation? Would I be able to cope with it? Would you? People do all sorts of amazing things when they have to, and so many people fought the Germans in their own way, small items of resistance that showed the enemy that they won’t give up fighting for their country. Hanneke is an ordinary girl trying to get by in a world that she no longer recognizes, and this book is so well written that you feel sorry for her but, at the same time, you will wish that you were like her.

The book has also  been compared to the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I didn’t really see the connection, or rather I did but didn’t agree.  This book will make you sad, but it will also make you glad that you live in a society where this will never happen again. It’s a study of human endurance and bravery and it made me tingle.

Further Reading: The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas and The Boy at the Top of the mountain by John Boyne.

Holding up the Universe – Jennifer Niven


I have literally just finished this book and I only started it yesterday. It is 388 pages of sheer joy. I really super enjoyed All the Bright Places and wanted to really like this one too. In fact I read my review of ATBP just now to remind myself of why I liked it and at the end of it I wrote, ‘this book is life affirming’. Well hold on to your hats people, this one is even  better!

The book is written as a split narrative by Jake and Libby. Jake is a bit of a high school player. He has an on again off again girlfriend (see mean girls everywhere) and we first meet him through a letter he writes to Libby. Libby is the other narrator. In the letter, Jake tells Libby that he has a disorder called Prosopagnosia. It means that he cannot recognize peoples faces, ever. But, no one else knows that he’s got it so he can’t recognize his family, or friends or his girlfriend and he has a series of identifying features that means he knows who they are. For example he assumes that his parents are his parents because they are in his house every day. There is also his adorable brother Dusty, who wants to carry a purse (I think this is American speak for handbag) to school and gets beaten up for it and another brother called Marcus. He exudes this kind of confidence which is just a front for the fact that he cannot recognize anyone.

Libby is famous for being fat. Not just fat but so fat that they had to knock down half her  house to get her out because she was  too fat to fit through the door. She was hospitalized and hasn’t been to school for years. Before the house incident she was home schooled by her dad after her mum died from a massive brain hemorrhage. She has since lost 300 pounds (21 stone!) and has decided to get back in the game and go back to school. There she confronts the bullies who picked on her when she was 10 and after an unfortunate incident with Jack in the cafeteria, finds herself in detention for a few weeks. The POV of Jack is written so well that I would almost believed that the author had the condition herself.

What follows is an unconventional love story, but one that will warm your heart. It’s a little bit like Thanks for the Trouble in that it is redemptive. Both Libby and Jack need to be saved in different ways. Libby might not look like she needs much help; she’s smart and sassy and wants to take on the world, but she needs to feel valued and Jack helps her to do that. Jacks needs are more obvious. He needs help with his disorder and figuring out how he is going to get through life dealing with it.

Jennifer Niven writes in such a way that you will want to read on and on until the last page, and then miss the book and the characters once you’ve finished. I already miss Jack and Libby and their crazy world. I miss the way  that Jack describes Libby as being full of sunshine. I miss the way she goes through life hurting but willing to fix things, to change things. There are the usual mix of the mean girls and stupid jocks and geeks and nerds and bullies, but there is also Jack and Libby; and they are perfect for each other.

I know that you will love this book. I know that you will read it and take these two into your geeky booky hearts and keep them there. They deserve it, and you deserve to enjoy it with them. But I also want you to feel sorry for those people that say ‘I hate reading’ because they will never get to experience what you have just experienced.

Spread the word.

Thanks for the Trouble – Tommy Wallach




I love Tommy Wallach. His writing is amazing. His descriptions of relationships is so good it makes me want to cry! He describes Parkers parents as ‘loving each other like the sea loves the sand. Slowly wearing it away…’ sad but so good.

Parker Sante is 17. His father died in a car crash and he hasn’t spoken since, he is an elective mute. He communicates by writing messages in notebooks, if he wants to communicate at all. He also doesn’t go to school and hangs out in hotels stealing things off rich people. This is how he meets Zelda. She is sitting in the hotel having breakfast and pulls out a roll of bank notes. She then leaves her bag unattended and he steals it. Unfortunately he leaves his notebook behind with all his contact information and, unusually for him, he also has a pang of conscience. He returns and they start to communicate. She tells him that she is going to spend all her money and then jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. She is just waiting for a phone call and then she’s gone. He is determined to stop her.

So begins a love story. Parker isn’t the most social of people but as you go through the book you realise that that’s because he has deliberately cut himself off. People are willing to give him time but he choses to isolate himself . His friend from Chess and War (it’s a club where you can read about war and play chess, perfect if you don’t want to talk to anyone!) are really geeky and nice. Parker realises that he wants Zelda to stay so tries to show her all the amazing things that life can offer. The problem is that Zelda has been alive for 246 years and has seen it all. She tells Parker that she is immortal and that she was born in Germany in 1770, been married, seen wars play out. She is tired of life and has decided that she wants to end it.

It’s up to you to decide whether she really is immortal or just at the end of the road. I’d like to think that she was but a small part of me also thinks that she needed to concoct a story that allowed her to make the decisions she makes. She sure has a good time though! This is a book about redemption. Parker and his mum needed someone to rescue them, even though Parker thinks he is rescuing Zelda it feels like it’s the other way round. Parkers mum is a mess after his father’s death and is drinking way too much, another problem for Parker to deal with.

It’s a lovely book. I really enjoyed We All Looked Up and it seems to be enjoying some cult status. Tommy Wallach’s way of speaking to the reader is so good you feel like he is sitting next to you reading out loud. Read it all in one go, you will want to go to San Francisco after! But you will also think a bit about why we love people. Treat people like it’s the last time you will see them, you might regret it if you don’t.

Unboxed – Non Pratt


This book is lovely! It’s really small and shiny and printed on relaxing yellow paper; I read it in about an hour and it brought back lots of memories.

The premise of the story is that four friends are meeting up to remember their fifth friend Millie, who has died. They spent an amazing summer together when they were thirteen and put together a time capsule of all their favourite things about each other for them to open in the future. They hid the box on the top of the school roof. Five years have passed and their lives have changed quite a lot since then. Alix is still in the closet and isn’t sure how she is going to tell her friends (although in her world now it’s not a secret), Ben has moved to London and grown ( a lot!) Dean is still secretive and fighting against the world and Zara is there with her annoying boyfriend Ash, who just gets worse as the book goes along.

After a dramatic rescue of the box they gather in the local park with a bottle of vodka for courage. The box is full of memories; music, photos and little ‘in’ jokes that Ash doesn’t understand and certainly doesn’t like. Alix is texting her girlfriend and wonders whether she has made a mistake by coming, but as the night wears on they realise that they have really missed each other and, no matter how their lives have changed, they all still feel the same about each other.

This book is designed for people who don’t enjoy reading or for people that find reading a struggle – particularly dyslexic people. It is short and to the point, chucking you into the story on the first page. It also looks lovely and shiny and as a quick read will appeal to all.

This isn’t like her other two books. Remix is full of sex and drugs and Trouble is about a girl dealing with an unexpected pregnancy so, this is a break from teenage pressures and deals with the more weighty issue of grief. It’s quite unusual for young people to experience the death of a friend so this is an interesting read. It did remind of my misspent youth, sitting in parks with my friends and vowing to change the world. As an adult it is rare to spend time with your friends just having a chat so, take the time to appreciate what you have while you still have it.

A lovely book that will keep you company for a hour or so, maybe with some tea…. and a biscuit…. or two.

Hell & High Water – Tanya Landman


So, those of you with your reading hats on will remember that Tanya Landman won the Carnegie Medal in 2015 for her amazing book Buffalo Soldier (see review) the tale of young black slave who is emancipated and then joins the American army pretending to be a boy. It’s a powerful book about America’s racial problems. The emancipation of slaves by Abraham Lincoln caused a whole load of different problems for the American people in the 1860s. This book is set in England in the 1750s and follows the story of Caleb; a mixed race boy who lives with his father, Joseph Chappell, who is  a Punch and Judy showman.

Joseph has just finished a show in the small town of Torchester and Caleb is going round collecting any donations. A small boy runs in to Joseph and winds him; a silk purse falls at his feet. After that all hell breaks lose. Joseph is arrested and taken to jail. He is spared a death sentence but it is commuted to seven years hard labour in the colonies (America). Joseph and his sister are the children of an Earl who lost his fortune when a ship that he had financed sunk and all the goods were lost. Joseph tells Caleb that he has an aunt Anne who lives at the end of the river; he must follow the river and make for a large house called Norton Manor where she is a maid to Sir Robert Fairbrother, she will, he says, help Caleb until he returns.

Caleb takes the Punch and Judy theatre and heads along the river to find her. When he eventually arrives he is told that she no longer lives there. she has married a fisherman and has moved to a nearby village. He goes in search of her and find her in a tiny cottage at the end of a row of houses. She has a small baby called Dorcas and a step daughter called Letty. Her husband is away at sea and, to make ends meet, they take in sewing from the local crews coming back from long journeys. Letty is not too pleased to see him and Anne is just surprised. The village in general are gob smacked to find a young black man in their midst  but seem to take it in their stride. Latent racism is the order of the day here. Questions such as ‘does it rub off’ are common but Caleb is used to that. He cannot  find work but is a talented sewer and, while Letty goes out to get the work, Anne and Caleb fall in to a routine of sewing and mending. All seems to be ok.

One morning Letty is ill and Caleb is required to go to the beach to see if any driftwood has washed up for them to burn. He doesn’t find any wood but discovers a body instead. The body is a man and he has a distinctive ring on his finger which Caleb recognises. After this things seem to get more and more mysterious. Caleb and Letty turn detective to try and solve the mystery and eventually put them all at risk. Not only are they poor but Caleb is also black, a distinct disadvantage in the 1750s.

I enjoyed this book, I really did. But, and you knew this was coming, I have a couple of issues with it. Firstly, the colour of Caleb’s skin was a little pointless. He wasn’t unusually harassed or picked on, he was a free man and could work and do what he wanted. I wasn’t really sure why he was written as a black man. if he had been used or it had some significance to the story then fair enough, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. That’s not me being racist, it just didn’t sit very comfortably with me. Secondly, there is a romance brewing but it never really gets going. The relationship between Letty and Caleb is nice but not really fleshed out. The book is based on a real life case where a nobleman was paid by the government to transport slaves to the colonies but instead left them on a small island of the coast of Devon and used them as slaves, I remember watching a programme about it. An interesting historical novel that will keep you guessing but, there are too many coincidences to make it really good. Landman writes well though and her ability to set the scene and make you feel as if you are really there is spot on.

you will enjoy if you like historical mysteries, or just enjoy a good yarn!

Tamzin Clarke v Jack the Ripper – Lauren Stock


This a pre release copy from Netgalley, but was published in January 2016.

All I am going to say about this book, and I will be brief, is please do not read this book! It is terrible! I am going to explain to you why I picked it to read though….

The premise of the book is this: Tamzin Clarke lives in New York with her mum and dad. Her dad runs an antique store and her mum is a policewoman. she has a boyfriend (pick generic American boys name, I can’t remember it) who is in a band and plays loads of instruments, and runs some dance group thing with a girl called Macy (who is horrible). oh, and there’s a ghost called Daniel who she instantly falls in love with even though she’s had a boyfriend for ever….

At the beginning of the book someone called Vicki is working as an undercover cop in the red light district. she is attacked by a man with an English accent who kills her. Vicki, it turns out, is the adopted (sort of) sister of Tamzin.

It all goes downhill from there. The writing is atrocious, and I mean really bad; fifty shades of grey bad! The characters are stilted and one dimensional, the main character is so annoying, all the other characters are generic ‘nice boyfriend’, ‘horrible friend’ and ‘cute kid’. The end bit (yes I did make it that far but I skipped a lot!) is the most unbelievable bit of the whole book. It also ties in the main character (who thinks he is Jack the Ripper and makes pies from peoples organs!) to Roanoke, the first settlers in America who disappeared; You see? It could have been so much better!

What is so annoying is that the story line could have been good if the book was edited better and the characters more fleshed out. It may be that the version I read was written before the final edit and that’s why it was quite disjointed, but that could just be me being generous. It does give me hope that I can get a book published though if this is a benchmark!

SO BAD words cannot express it! And, on Goodreads the majority of people give it five stars!! unbelievable!!