Review: The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

The Blurb

Soon after Sally Lockhart’s father drowns at sea, she receives an anonymous letter. The dire warning it contains makes a man die of fear at her feet. Determined to discover the truth about her father’s death, Sally is plunged into a terrifying mystery in the dark heart of Victorian London, at the centre of which lies a deadly blood-soaked jewel.

The Review

Having read the opening paragraph to this story with some students that I work with I was compelled to read more. The story of Sally Lockhart seemed both mysterious and dangerous; it sounded exciting and full of adventure and to be fair…it was full of adventure. However, for me after the initial first page thrill The Ruby in the Smoke started to drag.

I liked the characters in the story and I liked that Sally Lockhart joined a motley crew of friends who were all out to help save her; and indeed, Philip Pullman created some very ghastly villains but the story just fell flat with me. I was expecting a full on rollicking adventure and instead I found myself struggling to convince myself to turn the page.

It is not written poorly, the characters are fleshed out, the twists of the plot are very clever – The Ruby in the Smoke just wasn’t for me.

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman is available now.

Review: Where There’s Smoke by Jodi Picoult

Title: Where There’s Smoke

Author: Jodi Picoult

Pages: 41 pages

The Blurb

Bestselling author Jodi Picoult is ‘a master of her craft’ (Daily Telegraph) who writes ‘elegant, spare prose with the punch of a populist thriller’ (Elle). In this original short story, available exclusively as an eBook, Picoult introduces Serenity Jones, one of the fascinating characters from her eagerly awaited new novel, Leaving Time.

Even as a child, Serenity Jones knew she possessed unusual psychic gifts. Now, decades later, she’s an acclaimed medium and host of her own widely viewed TV show, where she delivers messages to the living from loved ones who have died. Lately, though, her efforts to boost ratings and garner fame have compromised her clairvoyant instincts.

When Serenity books a young war widow to appear as a guest, the episode quickly unravels, stirring up a troubling controversy. And as she tries to undo the damage – to both her reputation and her show – Serenity finds that pride comes at a high price.

The Review

As a huge fan of Jodi Picoult I was excited to start reading her short story Where There’s Smoke. Well, excited and a little apprehensive. You see, my favourite aspect of Pioult’s work is how she manages to change your mind throughout her stories. You go in with one solid unchangeable belief and before you know it you are siding with the antagonist. I worried how she would be able to portray this same quality in so few pages.

Fortunately, Where There’s Smoke is unlike other works by Picoult in that you do not come across this dilemma. Picoult gives you a brief insight into the world of television psychics and how their powers can be seen as both good and bad.

In her inimitable style, Picoult draws you in straight away and has you hooked and completely immersed in the world that she has created which is why she is one of the greatest writers of our time.

I cannot wait to read Leaving Time.

Where There’s Smoke by Jodi Picoult is available now.

Follow Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) on Twitter.

Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

The Blurb

How do you solve a crime when you can’t remember the clues?

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Back home she finds the place horribly unrecognizable – just like she sometimes thinks her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Emma Healey grew up in London where she completed her first degree in bookbinding. She has been lucky enough to have spent most of her working life in libraries, bookshops and galleries. She completed the MA in Creative Writing: Prose at UEA in 2011. Elizabeth is Missing is her first novel.

The Review

Firstly, let me just say wow. I only use a small word and not an expressive hyperbole because to be quite frank I don’t think that being hyperbolic expresses just how amazing Elizabeth is Missing actually is. Therefore, before I go into things I just want to congratulate Emma Healey on her impressive novel.

Elizabeth is Missing is one of the most engaging books that I have read this year. With its mix of past and present all jumbled together it just makes for a remarkable read. The story follows Maud, an older lady who is suffering from the most debilitating and heartbreaking of illnesses – Alzheimer’s disease. She is constantly forgetting things, places and people. She lives day to day by notes that she finds round the house ‘Don’t make toast’, ‘Don’t cook eggs’ – for the most part she looks after herself but has daily visits from her carers and her daughter Helen who has taken on the majority of duties as carer.

The story centres around Maud’s belief that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing however, as the reader we do not know whether this is a new event or a past event or something that Maud has made up in her confused state. The whole mystery of missing people is an allegory for the loss of mind and it is pretty powerful.

Elizabeth is Missing is truly heartbreaking and you want people to believe Maud, heck you want to believe her but equally you begin to question the validity of her statements. It is just an awful illness that Emma Healey has approached with such sensitivity that it makes it difficult to believe that Elizabeth is Missing is only her debut novel.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is available now.

Follow Emma Healey (@ECHealey) on Twitter

Elizabeth is Missing

Review: The Gospel According to Drew Barrymore by Pippa Wright

lisa talks about...

The Blurb

Friendship is like a shark: it has to keep moving forwards to survive.

Esther and Laura have been best friends since they were seven, when Esther was chubby and Laura was already perfect. So much has changed since then – school, boyfriends, drink, experimental hair-dye, university, jobs, London, babies – and their friendship has changed just as much, but they are still close, still inextricably linked to one another.

So when Esther is told that Laura has gone missing, she leaves everything behind – including her husband and small child – to fly to San Francisco and trace her friend’s last movements. All she has is an email from Laura: ‘I’m channelling Drew Barrymore, as ever. The Gospel, right?’ In trying to understand why Laura has disappeared, and what on earth Drew Barrymore has to do with it, Esther needs to look back. Back at the secrets woven…

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Review: Mary Hades by Sarah Dalton

The Blurb

Not many seventeen year old girls have a best friend who’s a ghost, but then Mary Hades isn’t your average teenager.

Scarred physically and mentally from a fire, her parents decide a holiday to an idyllic village in North Yorkshire will help her recover. Nestled in the middle of five moors, Mary expects to have a boring week stuck in a caravan with her parents. Little does she know, evil lurks in the campsite…

Seth Lockwood—a local fairground worker with a dark secret—might be the key to uncovering the murky history that has blighted Nettleby. But Mary is drawn to him in a way that has her questioning her judgement.

Helped by her dead best friend and a quirky gay Goth couple, Mary must stop the unusual deaths occurring in Nettleby. But can she prevent her heart from being broken?

The first in a series of dark YA novels, Mary Hades follows on from the bestselling Kindle Single ‘My Daylight Monsters‘. A spine-tingling tale with romance, readers will be shocked and entertained in equal measure.

With some scenes of horror and some strong language, this book is best suited for readers aged fifteen and up.

The Review

With YA fiction being so on trend at the moment I think that it is a really difficult market to enter. It is dog eat dog. However, when you have a really great story to tell – much like Sarah Dalton had – then you really have nothing to fear. Mary Hades is a chilling, unique story.

As a protagonist, Mary is really likeable. Maybe her best quality is that she doesn’t mope on her past as a reason for the way that she is. Also she isn’t fiercely independent and she does rely on the other characters. Oftentimes, characters are written in such a way that they aren’t allowed to show moments of weakness but I felt that Dalton created a realistic leading lady in Mary Hades.

As for the story, it made for a gripping read. I am so glad it has been made into a series because quite clearly Mary has more tales to tell.

Well done Sarah Dalton for writing a cracking book.

Mary Hades by Sarah Dalton is available now.

Follow Sarah Dalton (@sarahdalton) on Twitter.

Mary Hades

One Year Later: A Look Back at My IBD Story

One year ago today I was released from hospital after a 19 day stay. I had a very bad reaction to the medication I was taking for my Ulcerative Colitis. One year on I am reliving what happened. Partly because it is cathartic but also to hopefully raise awareness for the GYBO (Get Your Belly Out) Campaign. Another reason why I am sharing it is because people need to be aware that Crohns and Colitis are not just the “pooping” disease. There are many things that can happen because of it. It is with this in mind that I have shared a few photographs of how it affected me. Thanks for reading.

Here goes:

Ten weeks ago I nearly died. Have I got your attention? Good. Let’s go back to the beginning then.

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in November 2012. I will be honest with you I had never heard of UC, a cousin of mine has Crohns disease but I genuinely had no idea what UC was. I was initially medicated with Pentasa and things seemed to be getting better.

In February 2013 I developed a chest infection and subsequently had my first flare up. I was medicated with my first bout of Prednisolone steroids. They worked to an extent but it would get to one of the final weeks of medication and the flare up would come back. It was recommended by my IBD specialist nurse for me to start taking Azathioprine.

For those not in the know, Azathioprine is an immunosuppressant and it came with plenty of side effects and conditions. I wouldn’t be allowed to spend prolonged periods in the sun but since I am not a sun worshipper that really wasn’t a problem for me. The plus side of the medication is that I would not have any more flare ups, the bad side being that essentially I was introducing a toxin to my body and I would be more susceptible to catching any bugs going around.

I started taking the medication (along with my Pentasa) in the summer. Yet something wasn’t right. I was constantly tired – nothing unusual there for someone diagnosed with UC – I was coming home from work and falling asleep instantly, I was always feeling unwell and by the time October had come along I was having another flare up alongside another chest infection. I stopped doing things that I liked to do. I stopped going to choir, going out with friends became a tiresome chore. It wasn’t fun.

I informed my IBD nurse and was booked in to hospital to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy – it was arranged for two month later, the 23rd December. In those two months I continued to get worse. After the uncomfortable procedure (that lasted less than ten minutes) both the nurses and I could see how bad the flare up was. I asked if I could come off the Azathioprine. I was told that I couldn’t and instead it was increased by 50mg. I was also medicated again with Prednisolone but neither stopped the flare up. Two weeks later I was medicated with Pentasa suppositories. Eventually the bleeding stopped but I still felt sick most of the time.

 

On February 15th 2014 I woke up with two big red patches on my face. I had previously suffered with acne rosacea and just assumed that I was having a little flare up with that and treated it with the cream I normally used. However, by Monday my eyes had swollen and my skin was blistering and flaking. It did not look good. Concurrent to the flaky skin I also developed several mouth ulcers – these were not your regular ulcers, they were giant strips of ulcerated skin in my mouth that Bonjela wasn’t even touching. I had also developed a boil on my chin which every so often would weep. It did not look or smell very nice.

 

I went to my GP who prescribed me an antihistamine however it didn’t help and after a few days I was a back at the doctors. I was then prescribed a cream. I used it but again it didn’t work.

On the 24th of February I had an appointment at the hospital, a general check up, and I saw a doctor who I had never seen before. One who didn’t know my case history, one who was literally meeting me for the first time. I asked this doctor if I could please stop taking the Azathioprine because I knew that my health had deteriorated since being on the medication. The doctor instantly slammed me down. She told me no, and that the medication was helping me. She didn’t want to listen to my reasons for the request or listen to all the illnesses that I had had since being medicated with it. She was, however, concerned about my skin. I left this appointment feeling very disappointed. I figured that I would wait until my next appointment, hopefully with a doctor or IBD nurse I had worked with before, to discuss my concerns.

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I had another trip to my GP regarding my face infection. When I was called to his room he found me struggling for breath with a racing pulse. He asked me when my last blood test was. It had taken place the week before at the hospital. He looked up the results and found that I was severely anaemic. The hospital had failed to inform me. Just to check, my GP sent me to get another blood test and a chest x-ray.

Two days later I was back at my doctors. The results of the blood test had shown that my haemoglobin levels had dropped from 93 to 79 and that I needed a blood transfusion. I was medicated for my anaemia with iron and folic acid but I needed to contact my IBD nurse to be admitted into hospital.

My nurse informed me that they didn’t have any beds available until the next day on the gastro ward however, if I got any worse or my temperature increased I was to go to A&E.

Later that night I knew something was wrong. I took the advice of my nurse and went to hospital. They were informed that I was medicated with immunosuppressants and I was to be put in a separate room. After an initial triage assessment they saw that my temperature was at a dangerous level and that my heart rate was 150bpm. They were concerned I was going to have a heart attack and put me in resuscitation.

I was sent for another chest x-ray, had blood and blood cultures taken and a stool and urine sample before I was placed on the Medical Assessment Unit. Even though I was running a temperature I felt so cold. I was given a thin sheet to cover myself with and had a fan directed on me to try and bring my temperature down. I was also fitted with the first of my many saline drips. The hospital wanted to get the blood transfusion done as soon as possible but couldn’t because of my increased temperature.

It took nearly two days for the temperature to come down. It was brought down by me being wrapped up in ice cold, wet blankets and towels.  It was the most horrific thing I have ever been through.

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However, even once the blood transfusion was done I still wasn’t getting any better. The boil on my chin had begun to grow and had become angry, red and crusty. A dermatologist was sent to see me about it. She prescribed a cream which was applied but by the following day my face had swollen. It was assumed that a bad tooth that I was due to have extracted had caused this so I was sent to have that removed. This didn’t fix the problem.

I was medicated with various intravenous antibiotics. The doctors kept telling my family that they would see a difference in ten hours but I was continuing to get sicker. I was having regular ECG’s, blood cultures taken for all sorts – pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV – all of which I was sure I didn’t have.

I had to have a heart ultrasound and a CT scan. When they had the results of them they saw signs of an infection on my lungs. It was decided that I need to have a bronchoscopy. Before that though, dermatology had been back to see the development of my chin. Due to its increased size (which had previously been thought to be impetigo) the doctors wanted to take some scrapings and to cut away some skin on my chin to try and diagnose what the cause was. Within two days I had a piece of my chin cut away and biopsy pieces taken from my lungs.IMG_8336

I was now officially fed up.

On day 13 in the hospital I was finally diagnosed with having something called Sweets Syndrome. Sweets is a really rare condition that since its discovering in 1964 by Dr Robert Sweets has only had 40 registered cases. I am case number 41. I was then medicated appropriately and besides my chin regrowth I haven’t had any real side effects. The reason I contracted it? Azathioprine. The medication that I knew was making me feel ill was in fact making me really ill.


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Since leaving the hospital I have been treated by three specialists and I have been referred to a micro-surgeon. I may need surgery in the future but until my chin has fully grown back there is not much else we can do.

I still get quite shaky when I exert myself physically which some days can be as much as going to the supermarket and I did have a few weepy days when I first was discharged from the hospital but altogether I am just happy to be on the mend. The hospital staff were amazing and I have never seen people work so tirelessly to try and help someone get better. I have been back to thank them since.

I have also been told since by my main specialist and by the nurses on the ward that they did not think I would be leaving the hospital alive. They had never seen Sweets before and therefore everything they were trying was failing. Thankfully though, through their efforts I am here to tell you my IBD story.

My advice to anyone suffering with IBD in any form – you know your own body, the doctors, as brilliant as they can be only see you for a short amount of time. If you have any concerns, do not let the doctor fob you off. You know yourself better than they do. Be vigilant.

 

Review: How (Not) to Fall in Love by Lisa Brown Roberts

The Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Covington doesn’t know the difference between a pawn shop and a thrift shop. Even her dog eats gourmet food, so she’s totally unprepared when her car is repossessed from the parking lot of her elite private school. Turns out her father, a semi-famous motivational speaker, has skipped town, abandoning his family while his business collapses. Even David Letterman comes up with ten reasons why her father won’t ever return home.

Desperate to sell her expensive jewellery for much-needed cash, Darcy discovers that her dad’s brother runs a funky thrift shop on a street full of eccentric characters, including a coffee shop owner named Liz and one supremely hot fix-it guy named Lucas.

Darcy finds some solace hanging out with her uncle and Lucas in the thrift shop and working in Liz’s coffee shop, while the rest of her life falls apart. The time she spends with the uber hot Lucas helps takes her mind off her family’s troubles, even though she’s sure he’s only nice to her because he works for her uncle, especially when she meets the cover girl beauty she thinks he’s dating.

Can Darcy find the courage she needs to adapt to the necessary changes brought about by her family’s drastically reduced lifestyle? And will she open her eyes to the amazing realization that Lucas wants much more than friendship from her?

The Review

How (Not) to Fall in Love is a surprising novel; it is surprising in many ways but mostly because the title is somewhat misleading. Don’t get me wrong, the result of this subterfuge is really impressive however upon picking it up (yes, purely based on the cover) I was expecting a fluffy romance story. How wrong could a girl be?

One of the storylines does involve a love story but it isn’t a silly little teen romance; it is a love born from mutual respect, attraction and also learning to love all parts of another person. Darcy and Lucas’s story is lovely. You see it unfolding and you beg and plead with the characters just to reveal their feelings for each other. And thank you to Lisa Brown Roberts for not making it a whole they-got-together-no-they-broke-up drama because sometimes you need a sustainable romance.

However, I think the main thing that I enjoyed about How (Not) to Fall in Love was the strong protagonist that we had in Darcy. Even though her entire world was falling apart she could have become a spoilt brat; the poor little rich girl who had to face a harsh reality. But that just isn’t interesting and Brown Roberts knows this and made sure that Darcy wasn’t just likeable but she was strong. Flawed, yes, like many a teenage girl but intent on keeping her life – and the life of those around her on track – and it is for this reason I can honestly say that I bloody loved How (Not) to Fall in Love.

How (Not) to Fall in Love by Lisa Brown Roberts is available now.

Follow Lisa Brown Roberts (@LBrownRoberts) on Twitter.

How Not to Fall in Love

Review: Cocktails in Chelsea by Nikki Moore

Title: Cocktails in Chelsea

Author: Nikki Moore

Pages: 40 pages

The Blurb

Fun & flirty short story from the exciting new chick lit author Nikki Moore!

Made in Chelsea?

Nathan Black is on a mission to prove himself. His family may be upper class and his cousin Matt might be a famous music producer, but he’s going to make it on his own. So as soon as he has enough money set aside, he’s quitting his bar-tending job on the King’s Road and opening up his own cocktail bar. He hasn’t got time for love, and definitely not with the spoilt Chelsea Princesses who flirt with him shamelessly every night. But is there something a bit different about the pretty blonde who’s just walked in?

Bournemouth girl Sofia Gold is reluctantly visiting old childhood friends in London for Easter weekend. Keenly aware she’s not part of their glamorous world, she’s more comfortable riding a surfboard than wearing designer dresses and towering heels… although she’s always had a soft spot for cocktails.

It’s never really bothered Sofia that she’s ‘one of the boys,’ and that her romantic experiences have been amazingly unspectacular, so when she meets gorgeous Nathan, why does she find herself faking an accent and pretending to be a London socialite? It can’t be anything to do with impressing him, can it? After all, she’s only in the capital for a few days…

But one impulsive kiss later, they both find themselves wishing for things they didn’t know they wanted.

Spring in Chelsea – will love blossom?

The Review

After reading (and loving) book number three in the #LoveLondon series – Valentine’s on Primrose Hill – author, Nikki Moore promised me a fun, frisky, light hearted short story and man oh man did she deliver!

Leading lady Sofia is staying with family friends for the Easter bank holiday weekend and when they take her to their favourite bar in Chelsea she bumps into scorching hot barman Nathan. However, a case of mistaken identity gets in the way of them getting together. It will take the truth to be revealed before these two crazy kids decide to make the right move.

I loved Cocktails in Chelsea. Sofia seemed fun even though she was a fish out of water in her surroundings; Nathan became even more likeable every time he put himself out there only to try and protect himself from who he believed Sofia to be. It sounds a bit random to say this but it was all very Shakespearean.

Nikki Moore has created another enjoyable story for the #LoveLondon series. This is definitely a collection of books which will make you fall in love with England’s capital.

Cocktails in Chelsea by Nikki Moore is available now.

Follow Nikki Moore (@NikkiMoore_Auth) on Twitter.

Cocktails in Chelsea

Review: Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell

The Blurb

Ada Goth is the only child of Lord Goth. The two live together in the enormous Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Lord Goth believes that children should be heard and not seen, so Ada has to wear large clumpy boots so that he can always hear her coming. This makes it hard for her to make friends and, if she’s honest, she’s rather lonely.

Then one day William and Emily Cabbage come to stay at the house, and together with a ghostly mouse called Ishmael they and Ada begin to unravel a dastardly plot that Maltravers, the mysterious indoor gamekeeper, is hatching. Ada and her friends must work together to foil Maltravers before it’s too late!

The Review

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is the first in the Goth Girl series by Chris Riddell. It is a disarmingly charming book about a girl called Ada who lives in a big gothic mansion with her father, the famous poet Lord Goth. Ada is a lonely young lady who is desperate for friendship and when she accidentally comes across Ishmael, a recently deceased mouse, her adventures in friendship start.

Whilst Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is targeted at a younger audience (and I am far from a younger audience) I have to say that this book was a delightful read. It was full of mystery and adventure and the graphics in the book were spectacular. The literary and historical references might be lost on a younger audience however, if the child is reading to a parent they may be able to help them along.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a lovely story and has recently been shortlisted for the Carnegie Award. Go on, give it a read.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell is available now.

Review: The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

The Blurb

A fiercely beautiful debut blazing with emotion: a major first novel about friendships made in youth and how these bonds, challenged by loss, illness, parenthood, and distance, either break or sustain.

Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchably beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can’t quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend’s life. Until a sudden loss catapults Lorrie Ann into tragedy: things fall apart, and then fall apart further – and there is nothing Mia can do to help. And as good, kind, brave Lorrie Ann stops being so good, Mia begins to question just who this woman is and what that question means about them both. A staggeringly arresting, honest novel of love, motherhood, loyalty, and the myth of the perfect friendship that moves us to ask ourselves just how well we know those we love, what we owe our children, and who we are without our friends.

The Review

The Girls from Corona del Mar is a book that explores the intimacy of female friendship. The story focuses on Mia – a girl who, by all accounts, hasn’t had an easy life. However, she is bizarrely envious of her best friend Lorrie Ann. Lorrie Ann’s life is, on the surface, much worse than that of Mia yet Mia puts Lorrie Ann on a pedestal. As always, when you place someone among the gods then they are going to let you down by not being able to live up to your expectation.

In theory, the story should work. Books about friendship are – in my opinion – often more interesting than your regular romance books. I believe that the love between two friends holds a different kind of depth. Yet I don’t feel like I got that from The Girls of Corona Del Mar. I felt that the story was too narrative heavy and that Thorpe went off onto trivial tangents. I became bored reading them and felt that they were completely unnecessary. It took me a while to get back into the rhythm of reading once the story had been brought back to topic.

However, I did like the link to historical figures. I thought that the stories of Inanna were interesting and I would have liked to have seen more of this, less narrative and more dialogue.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe is available now.

The Girls from Corona del Mar