Just Finished…If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay - CoverSeveral friends have recommended If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, to me and it has sat languishing in my bedside table for a while now – this cover is for the version of the book I have and so must have been bought around the time of the film release. I can’t remember now if I bought this copy or if it was given to me to read – I have a feeling it’s the latter, but definitely can’t think who it came from. My author buddy Tony Talbot read and reviewed this on the Aside from Writing blog ages ago, so you can check out his thoughts there (spoiler alert!) if you like (also, it’s evidence of the recommendation!)

My thoughts… 

Before you are 20 pages in to this book, you are shocked into experiencing the same trauma as Mia. There’s so little pre-amble to the crash that it is shocking, even though you know that is what the book centres on before you start. You just don’t want this kind of thing to happen to characters like them – you feel how unfair and sad it is, when this type of tragedy strikes.

I found the comments and interviews (from the film actors) with Gayle Forman really interesting at the end, putting the story into context with her own experience of grief. There are so many facets of grief considered through the story: parental love for a child/younger sibling; romantic loss and that of losing your parents. Mia – sitting outside herself – is a very human, emotive vehicle for considering all these things, whilst reflecting back on the life she has lived and the relationships that have been built around her at that point.

This is, as you would expect, a difficult read in places. I think Gayle does a great job of managing the hard emotional parts of the present, with the backstory of the past. It has the mix in the book, just as you do with grief itself, of being overwhelmed by emotion and loss in one instant, then reminiscing and feeling the warmth of love, family and friends the next. I teared up a few times whilst reading, especially in the sections on Teddy, which Mia felt almost with a parental love for her much younger brother.

I think this is a story that will linger with you for a long time, whether it’s because of shared experiences of grief and how poignantly this is told within the story, or because of the emotion you feel for Mia’s fictional family and those of anyone in real life you experiences these similar freak tragedies.

This is a relatively short book and without formal chapters, you tend to read on through the scenes. Whilst very sad, I enjoyed this book, in so much as it has lingered with me the last few days since finishing and I’d like to read more about the characters I met.



Just Finished…Monsters by Emerald Fennell


I picked Monsters up in the library because of the quirky cover. Reading the very brief blurb on the back it reminded me of a film from years ago with Kate Winslet (I think), where two odd friends have an unsavoury interest in murder.
The actual story was a bit of a surprise and didn’t unfold as I thought it might.

I’m not actually convinced that I ever read the name of the narrator of the story – if I did it was so infrequent that I missed it – and so it is odd to share such intimate knowledge of her strange and rather unhappy life without giving her the label of a name. Perhaps that is part of what the author was looking for, that as the reader there is an uncomfortable voyeurism to reading about this person and their experiences.

The story is well-written, from the point of view of a 12-13 year old, which sees her drifting through points of immature misunderstanding of an adult world to moments of real clarity, seeing the truth of people that maybe sits between being a child and an adult. The way she looks at her friendships and others feels very black and white, more childlike, as do the tempers she has.

Overall, this is an interesting read with well-rounded characters and a view into the painful and odd world of the narrator. Often the murder mystery element of the book drifts into the background whilst trivial seeming things take the centre. It’s not comfortable or fun to read, you feel pity for the narrator in many ways, but also can’t say that she is ever likely to become someone you would want to meet. She’s already pretty broken. 4*

(In terms of the reading challenge, I actually started off reading a political biography on Barack Obama, I still have it but am only about 50 pages into and it has about 800 to go… I’m not overly convinced that I’ll make it to the end of that one, perhaps it’s too far out of my comfort zone!)

Just Finished…Life and Laughing by Michael McIntyre


The ‘2017 year of reading’ plan directed that November would be a comedy and so I bimbled around the library until I came across Life and Laughing by Michael McIntyre.

This the second autobiography of a comedian I’ve read in the last 12months and I enjoyed it even more than the first. If Graham Norton was the comedian I grew up with mainly through my late teens and early twenties with doggy-phone and So Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre is the one

The ‘2017 year of reading’ plan directed that November would be a comedy and so I bimbled around the library until I came across Life and Laughing by Michael McIntyre.

This the second autobiography of a comedian I’ve read in the last 12months and I enjoyed it even more than the first. If Graham Norton was the comedian I grew up with mainly through my late teens and early twenties with doggy-phone and So Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre is the one I’ve watched most recently over the last few years (this book is several years old now and takes you to the point where he began appearing on TV a lot).

Like Graham Norton’s book, I read ‘Life and Laughing’ in Michael’s voice – some of the sentences I could actually hear him saying and imagine him delivering them in one of his routines, head bobbing, cheeky grin and lots of running around the stage. I found – because I read it pretty quickly – that I also began throwing his style into my daily life, speaking to people at work in similar voice, which I had to stop pretty quick – my work life is just not that fun or exciting to justify impersonating a comedian as part of the daily grind.

Life and Laughing was funnier for me than Graham Norton’s book – although I laughed so loudly someone came to check I was OK when I was reading that, I chuckled, ‘lol’ed and SALTS (smiled and little then stopped) at this one all the way through. The observational comedy style that McIntyre has meant that virtually every page had funny-isms dropped onto it; he was writing about his past, but with his comedy eyes wide open all the time – even describing the set up and process of getting his writing room started at the beginning was good (if you’re interested, I’m writing my review on an old MacBook Pro c. 2011 13-inch-ish screen, which has a small crack in the right hand corner where I closed it on a book a couple of years ago – for safety purposes Magic Tape has been applied to prevent any tiny bits falling out).

My favourite thing about this book, behind the review of his life seen through comedy spectacles, was understanding how hard it is to achieve success as a comedian. Norton had similar struggles in his book and perhaps reading the two so close together brought this into greater focus for me. McIntyre shows you the true past behind the success – the long slog of years on a circuit of ‘jobbing’  stand-ups, multiple visits to Edinburgh Festival and everything in between where there’s little money coming in and lots going out as you try to achieve what is essentially a dream. How close must he have come to giving up on this, in order to have a ‘normal’ job that paid the bills? Perhaps it is passion or ambition, drive or something else that carries people to success – Michael seemed incredibly determined in his approach to his career, taking a booking for 12 months time and working in between to hone his skills.

Perhaps it takes someone so determined to succeed that they can live on an edge of huge debt without doing what many must do and ‘get a proper job’. It feels similar to being a writer in this sense – you can sit at home, writing away with no job trying to make it happen (or even in a coffee shop, a la J K Rowling), but many more must not be able to cope with the risk to home, comfort and the ability to eat something that isn’t a Tesco value meal…

The end of the book really made me think. McIntyre is a very positive, flexible comedian – he can do naughty as much as he can entertain families on his ‘Big Show’. Reading his story really made me appreciate what it must have taken to have held out and push to where he has gotten to today. I went into this book as a fan and came out really liking the man he seems to be (despite his revelations of being a stalker). I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of his comedy and also to people who are not ‘biography’ readers – I’m not myself generally, but this one was really worth it.

Rating: 5*

Just Finished…Anchor Leg by Jack Croxall

Anchor Led

The Blurb…

Stranded 750 million miles from Earth. Stranded with a saboteur, stranded with a killer.

Humanity has spilled out into the Solar System, into a succession of giant space stations known as the Relay. Seren Temples is a security apprentice running the Relay’s remote Anchor Leg. When sabotage strands her vessel near another damaged ship, Seren and her team are sent across to investigate. The second ship is a zero-G graveyard. Inside its vast hold, nothing but a single vial of frozen blood.



My Thoughts… This became part of my ‘clear the Kindle challenge’ after I’d downloaded a free copy (I think) ages ago on an Amazon giveaway day. We’ve previously review and featured author Jack Croxall on the blog A-G-E-S ago in 2013, and this is a very different style of book to the historical adventure that Tony read (you can check out our other posts HERE).

Anyway, what about Anchor Leg I (imagine) I hear you cry? Well, how fast did I get into this book? First page and I was transported into the middle of the interview taking place between two of our central characters… I was right there in the room with them, could picture everything and bonded with our lead character, Seren, immediately.

I found the story fast-paced with plenty of mystery and twists. I liked the attention to detail in the crew, apprentices and characters, that felt realistic and sci-if without being OTT, I feel non-sci fi fans (which I’m on the edge of) could read and enjoy this. This is a murder-mystery, conspiracy theory, adventure in space – with the younger characters adding a YA slant to your reading of this, whilst the logical, investigative approach of the lovely Seren makes it feel like a cop-drama in space.

There’s a nice touch of romance in this, that fits with the story as a whole without feeling that it was crow-barred in just to add that element. When you look at it this way, there are elements in this book to appeal to a wide range of readers, and it can neatly nudge you out of your comfort zone if crime, or sci-fi are not really your thing.

This is a great read and I would highly recommend the author based on my reading on Anchor Leg. 5

‘Thank you’ to Bloggers

Sharing Mel’s recent post from her author blog on appreciation for what it means to be a blogger… Happy new year!

Mel Cusick-Jones

dear-blogger Coincidentally, another Melanie seems to appreciate bloggers too! 🙂

I’ve just been doing a little ‘spring cleaning’ on my laptop today, tidying up the bookmarks that I keep on here relating to all things books: I have YA book blogger lists, MG/kids blogger lists, blogs on writing that I follow as well as other general writing resources.

For once, instead of dipping in and out of blogs based on what Twitter flashed up at me and made me go ‘Ooh shiny shiny!’ *click* I started at the top of my list (around 40 YA blogs) and I began running down from the top, to see who was out there from when I first started blogging and reading blogs myself, back in 2011… There are six active blogs left posting today. Just six.

Some of the blogs that have gone were ‘big’ to me – they had between 1000-10,000 regular followers…

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Just Finished…Slated by Teri Terry

Slated - CoverI really liked the concept of Slated – wiping the minds of young criminals to enable them to be reintroduced to society with improved behaviours – in a recognisable dystopian view of London.

The book is well-written and the characters have some depth to them – I particularly liked her adopted Mother. However, for my taste there was a lot of setup with not a huge amount of action – I suppose this might come in the future books in the series – but there was a lot of time spent running and talking, without much significant happening and so when I got to the end of the book I wasn’t really enticed to go further in the series and find out more about what was happening. 3* from me…

Just Finished…The Testing Trilogy

Maybe an odd few spoilers in here, so tread carefully, just as you might if you were going through The Testing yourself!:)

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read the three books that make up ‘The Testing’ trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. I think I downloaded the first book in the series a year or so ago, when it was on a free Amazon download day… I picked it up because it was pegged as being for ‘fans of the Hunger Games…’ and with a blurb like this, you can see why:


Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. 

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

See? Handsome boy from your home sector – check. Students chosen from outer colonies to come to the capital city for ‘Testing’ – check. Deadly competition and questionable morals amongst the candidates, check and check!

I think it was the reported similarities to The Hunger Games that made me avoid reading this for so long. I loved The Hunger Games: the competition, the rebellion, Katniss and Peeta (yep, Team Peeta, not the other guy – Katniss is the narrator and you never got the romance vibe from her in relation to him, did you?) The relationships between the characters as well, from Rue and Haymitch, through to Finnick and Mags – they all had good depth and realism, which I loved throughout that series and for me made it very strong.

Anyway, I’d not read any YA dystopian for a while and so I picked this up in the end and gave it a whirl – and it was worth it! Book one was good, book two was even better I thought – it moved further away from the Hunger Games-esque arena and built out it’s own world and plot.

After blasting through the first two books in this trilogy, I did stall a bit when it came to ‘Graduation Day’. I really liked the world built up in the first two books and in a way, keeping Cia’s world more compact (either controlled as part of the Testing, or built around her place at University) made her actions and the scale of the story realistic.

When we move to the final installment Cia doesn’t seem as ‘changed’ as she continually tells you that she is – this was something that started to grate on me a little in this final book. It felt like there was a lot more tell over show in this part and the characters that you were familiar with from books one and two began to feel a little more like cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that you knew them already and could have seen their behaviours come out, rather than Cia telling you how she was interpreting things.

Overall, after two good books with plenty of pace and action, bounded nicely within the areas they were set inside, the third one fell flat. The various climactic elements left me a bit cold if I’m honest, which is a shame as the set up was good. I think for me – as some other reviewers pick up – things became quite unrealistic in the third book: the scope of what Cia got tasked with seemed inconsistent with the scale of everything else happening around her and her ever-present bag of magic tricks became a crutch. How could they be advance enough to manipulate genetics and do complex chemical engineering to revitalise their world, but not have anything more than basic communications, which a university student can apparently knock together in a workshop pretty quickly.

This is a good series and some comparisons to The Hunger Games are fair, particularly in the first book. But by the second it does stride out in its own direction, which I really enjoyed – the third book delivers many of the answers following the set up in the other books, it just didn’t grip me to the end as I hoped it might.

Overall I’d rate the series 4* – it is very readable and enticed me enough to buy the next two books in the series, having read the first one for free. I would have just liked something more, something different from the ending that was delivered.