Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ is otherwise known as Willowdean Dickson. She is a little larger than the average girl so her mum invented the nickname Dumplin’ and it has stuck. Her mum is also the main organiser of the town’s local Beauty Queen Pageant: The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, the oldest beauty pageant in Texas.

Willowdean lives in small town America and  the pageant is the biggest thing to happen in the town every year. If you are a previous winner, even if you’re old, you are celebrated as a town success story. Her mum wears the same dress to the ceremony every year and during the weeks running up to the pageant, their house is full of things associated with it. Dumplin’ lives with her mum and, until last year,  her aunt Lucy. Her father seems to be some guy passing through town. Lucy was also large and, at a young age, had a heart attack and died. She was also a massive Dolly Parton fan and took more interest in bringing up Dumplin’ then her mum. Dumplin’ misses Lucy – lots.

But, there is more to life for Willowdean and she has never even considered entering the pageant. She works at the local fast food place, Harpys and spends most of her time with her best friend Ellen and Ellen’s boyfriend Tim. At the beginning of the book all is well. Dumplin’ is working and hanging out with Ellen, who may be just about to sleep with Tim, life is going on as normal. Except that she works with the gorgeous, brooding Bo. A private school boy who is the restaurants chef. Bo starts making a move on Dumplin’ but, although she is confident about the way she looks, she’s not sure why anyone would like her. Bo makes a move but it’s all a secret and, in the end she decides that he is destroying her confidence by not being open about what he wants, and finishes it. She also finds out that he is starting at her school after the summer holidays. He didn’t tell her.

In the meantime, Ellen and Tim have done the deed but Ellen has a new friend at the skinny girls store that she works in, Callie, and Dumplin’ feels that they are growing apart. Callie is not a nice girl. To protest at the way that ‘not normal’ girls are never entered in the pageant, Dumplin decides to go for it, along with some other  friends who are not pageant material, and here’s were all the drama starts. Add in some Dolly Parton drag queens, some unrequited love and this is a great book! Millie, Emma and Amanda are also great characters that will have you rooting for them.

I liked her other book, Side Effects May Vary and this one is also good. A nice mix of fun, the underdog and sassy girls thrown in means that this is a quick and fun read that will have you rooting for fat girls everywhere ( know I used the f word but it’s used a lot in the book so…). I did feel a bit sorry for poor old Mitch though – but I loved the fact that even though Willowdean was not your average beauty queen, she still gets the guys and, hopefully, lives happily ever after.

An uplifting read that you will enjoy.

 

 

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My Brother Simple – Marie-Aude Murail

This book is written by a French author and is one of the most popular young adult books in France. It follows the story of Kleber and his brother, Simple. Kleber is 17 and his brother Barnaby/ Simple is 22. Simple has the mental age of a three year old and carries around a stuffed rabbit called Mr Babbit. Mr Babbit has his own voice in the book which can sometimes be confusing.

Simple has been living in an institution called Malicroix near where their father lives. Their mother is dead and their father has married a younger woman who is now pregnant. He is not very interested in his boys. Simple hates living in Malicroix and Kleber knows it, so he decides to take Simple out of the home and takes him to Paris to live with him. But first he needs to find somewhere to live. They start off by living with a great aunt but Kleber is desperate to live somewhere else and be more independent. After a few false starts he finds two rooms in a flat share with some university students. They are Aria and her boyfriend Emmanuel, who are medical students, Corentin, Aria’s brother and Enzo, Corentin’s best friend. Even though they are sceptical about taking on Simple, they eventually grow to love him. Enzo is also in love with Aria and, although she knows, she tries to ignore it.

Kleber meanwhile is having romance problems of his own. At college he meets a beautiful redhead called Beatrice and quickly falls in love. In the background is Zahra, another student on his course who he becomes friends with. Zahra falls in love with Kleber but he realises that he will have more luck with Beatrice and starts dating her. Simple goes around in his own little world and they all start to settle in to a routine. Simple is really good at messing up situations and making things awkward for Kleber but he perseveres. Eventually though, things come to a head and, after a series of misunderstandings, things start to go wrong. Kleber and the housemates need to rescue Simple after realising what a positive influence he is in each of their lives.

This book is lovely. Simple is such a great character and makes you feel more positive about life. Kleber is so young but loves his brother and wants to make his life better. Essentially it’s a story about the love that the brother’s have for each other and how one sacrifices his life so that he can look after the other. A really great book about love and redemption and France…

Life on the Refrigerator Door – Alice Kuipers

Some of you have probably read this book, it was published a while ago but always seemed to be out of the library when I wanted to read it! My daughter wanted me to get a copy and she read it in an hour so I thought I’d add a quick read to my reading list and give it a go.

The premise of the book is that Clare and her mum are really busy people and leave each other notes on the fridge. The author said that she got the idea after her boyfriend left her a note and she realised that someone who read it would know quite a lot about them from just reading that one note. So the book is written entirely in note form.

Clare lives with her mum, who is a midwife. Her parents are divorced and her mum works really long hours. So to communicate they leave notes for each other. Just simple things like shopping lists or when to clean out Peter, their guinea pig/ rabbit. Then things start to get a bit more serious. Clare is only 15 and starts mentioning boys and friends and staying out. It is also obvious from the notes that she has a strong relationship with her dad and spends some time with him. It’s a lot to take on at 15 but Clare seems to do a lot around the house and the bulk of the shopping and cooking.

One day, her mum leaves her a note telling her that she has found a lump in her breast. She had been trying to arrange a time to tell her face to face but they keep missing each other. The notes then take a more emotional, and sometimes angry tone. Clare is scared and angry and still trying to be 15. She starts a relationship with an older boy called Michael and her mum is worried that it may not be appropriate. Gradually we learn that her mum has a mastectomy and starts chemo. Clare struggles to deal with this and spends more time with her dad.

This book is such a great concept. The notes mean that we have an insight in to their lives without becoming too involved. We know that Clare spends a lot of time with her friend Emma but we never meet her. Clare and her mum seem to have a strong, loving relationship but never seem to see each other.

If you are looking for a quick read that you will invest in but not too much, they try this one. It will make you realise that you should spend more time with he people that you love and less  time worrying about stuff because who knows how long you will have with that person? That sounds depressing but it’s actually quite life affirming.

Enjoy.

Kids of Appetite – David Arnold

Kids of Appetite is a split time and split narrative book told from the perspectives of Vic Benucci and his girlfriend, Mad. It’s set in a place in America called Hackensack which I think is near New York!

Vic has Moebius Syndrome. It is a rare neurological disorder that affects the sixth and seventh cranial nerves which causes facial paralysis. Basically, he can’t move his face in any expression and is unable to blink or smile. He has to use eye drops all the time and has a problem with swallowing. He sleeps with his eyes half open (my brother also does this, it’s weird!)  and spends a lot of the  book wiping his face because he has problems swallowing too. Vic has been dealt some bad cards.

Vic’s dad has died and his mum has got a new boyfriend. At the beginning of the book we meet mum and boyfriend and the boyfriends two sons. The sons are not very nice. Just as they finish dinner, Frank (the  boyfriend) pulls out a ring and gets down on one knee. Vic freaks out and runs away. While walking out the door he takes his fathers ashes that have been sitting in the hallway. Vic hasn’t been able to touch them as he is still so unbearably sad about his dads death. While wandering around he decides to go and scatter the ashes in the river. Here he meets Mad, she is also a runway and introduces him to a group of other kids who have all run away from home. She offers to give his somewhere to spend the night and he accepts. He fancies Mad you see.

Because of the way the book is written, we know from the beginning that Vic and Mad have been involved in a murder and are currently being questioned at the Hackensack Police Station. The book is a series of flashbacks where we learn what they have done (or not done) to end up there.

The head of Mad’s little family is called Baz. They also live with his brother Zuz who doesn’t speak but clicks his fingers, and a feisty 11 year old red head called Coco. Baz is writing a book about people that they meet and pick up, while saving to start his own cab company; Renaissance Cabs. All the kids who join their group are called Chapters, and they have to agree to appear as a chapter in Baz’s book and say that they need help before Baz will help them out.  Baz and Zuz are from the Congo and have seen their parents and sister killed in the civil war.

When they open Vic’s dads ashes they find a note inside with a series of wishes of where he wants his ashes scattered; they are a bit cryptic so they need to figure out the  clues and then go and scatter the ashes. Vic also has an obsession with racehorses…

I haven’t read anything else by this author, Mosquitoland looks good too so that has gone on my reading list! This book is a bit quirky, the characters are all a bit out there but I liked the way that you are drip fed the story. You know that something has happened and the book is written in a series of flashbacks and this can sometimes be confusing. I also kept forgetting to check who was narrating so had to go back and check, it was a bit difficult to follow sometimes.

It was enjoyable though, and kept me going right to the end. I eventually managed to work out who had been murdered but not how or why, and there is a clever twist at the end about who the actual murderer is! A good thriller which will keep you guessing with a few storylines to keep you interested. I think that Vic didn’t really need to have a disability though, it felt a little unnecessary and was really only there so that he got bullied by a group of kids once or twice!

‘Kids of Appetite – they lived and they laughed and they saw that it was good.’

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

This book is on the shortlist for the Carnegie this year, and my first one on the list! It’s quite a small one so a good introduction to the shortlist.

The  book is set in Alaska in 1970 and has four main narrators: Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank. Ruth lives with her grandmother and her sister. Her father was killed in a plane crash when she was five and her mother has disappeared. Her sister, Lily was a few days old when their mother went AWOL and her grandmother has brought them both up. In 1970, Ruth is 16, as are all the main characters.

Dora lives with her mum who is an alcoholic. Her father is in prison for smashing up a bar when he was drunk. There is some kind of abuse going on here which is alluded to but not talked about openly. It gets so bad that she moves in with her neighbour, who for some reason is called Dumpling. Her family is much is nicer but Dora feels that she won’t be allowed to stay with them.

Alyce’s parents are divorced. She lives in Fairbanks with her mum but goes salmon fishing with her dad every summer for a few months. The trouble is that she wants to be a ballerina and the trials for her to get a scholarship at university are also in the summer. She hasn’t told her dad that that’s her dream so she sacrifices her place and goes with him.

Hank has two brothers. His dad is also a fisherman but has disappeared, presumed dead. His mum has met someone else that they don’t get on with him so they decide to run away. They stow away on the local ferry which will take them to the mainland when disaster strikes.

All four main characters are connected, or will be by the end of the book but Ruth is the more dominant narrator and her story is implied rather then spelt out.

The connections in this book, although clever, felt a bit too coincidental for me. I really enjoyed the storyline though, I learnt something about what it was like to live in Alaska in the 1970s and how hard it must have been. The different local communities are battling against the weather and the government and Alaska was officially made a US state in 1959. Ruth’s father was fighting against this when he was killed. There is some friendship stuff in  there and Ruth’s situation felt a little bit archaic to me  but….

All in all a good book to start off with. The characters fitted together nicely and the end was good. It left me with a warm fuzzy feeling, but that may have been the tea!

The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull is the first in a series about two girls who have a strange connection. One lives in a coven in the woods with other witches, and no men. The other lives with her Dad and moves around a lot. It soon becomes clear that they move around so much because the girl, Poppy has problems settling in at school. Things seem to happen around her.

Poppy and Ember have been switched at birth. Poppy is living with her dad and moves a lot. Ember lives with her mother Charlock Hawkweed and the rest of the coven. The coven is led by her aunt Raven. There is a prophecy that one of the Hawkweed daughters will become Queen of the Witches and that means that it will either be Ember or her  cousin Sorrel.  Raven is determined that it will be her daughter, hence the reason that Poppy and Ember were swapped. Ember has little or no magical powers and there is no real possibility that she will ever be queen.

Poppy is on her 11th school and is struggling with the fact that her mum is in a mental hospital. Her mum is there because she has rejected Poppy and claims that she is not her daughter. Poppy is understandably struggling with this and doesn’t get on too well with her dad either; he is getting fed up with all the moving. Strange things happen when Poppy gets annoyed and most of the schools she has been in have asked her to leave.

One day the two girls meet in the woods by chance. They have no idea that they are connected but form an instant bond with each other. Poppy starts to talk about the outside world and Ember longs to be a part of it. Although she is not allowed the talk to ‘chaffs’ (non magical people) about the coven, she finds herself telling Poppy bits and pieces and lends her some of her books about spells. Poppy soon realises that there is more to their connection then either of them thought.

The other main character in the book is Leo, a boy who lives on the streets. Poppy meets and forms a connection with him and he helps her through some stuff with her cats. Leo has had a hard time and is living in fear of his stepdad and stepbrothers. Leo plays an important part in the lives of both the girls and, without giving too much away, will definitely make an appearance in the next book.

The book has some great elements in it; magic, jealousy, love and revenge. The strong female characters are refreshing to read about, and the idea of a load of ladies living in the woods making potions is kind of cool! As Poppy’s magic grows and she becomes more sure of her abilities she becomes a likeable person that we can identify with. Ember is a little too soft for my liking, but I think this might change later.

All in all a good book that you will enjoy and will keep you guessing. There are some violent elements to it but this is in context and the whole waiting to be queen thing will hopefully be fleshed out a bit more in the next  book, along with the East witches who turn in to big cats. Did I mention that there was people changing in to animals as well?

Further reading: The Thirteen Treasures series by Michelle Harrison, Harry Potter (obviously!) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – basically anything with magic in!

The Queen of the Tearling

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).