Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman

As a history teacher for the day job, this book really appealed to me. This may sound strange but I have not always been a fan of reading books about History. They can sometimes be very technical and very hard-going, which can, sometimes attack someone’s love of history. However, recently I have found some really excellent history books – and combined with a new love of learning have really embraced reading factual books.

Now, this book is ‘Bloody Brilliant’ in so many different ways. Number one, it is a book about women in history but more importantly it is about some of the women that the history books have not recognised quite as much as they should have done. Cathy Newman has done an amazing job of ensuring that they can now have more of the recognition that they deserve. It really inspired me to ensure that, as a woman, some of these women make it into lessons so that they are highlighted to future generations. You never know, they may be the inspiration someone needs to go forward and be ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

Number two, it is written in a wonderfully accessible way. It will bring history to many readers who may usually be put off by the idea of reading a ‘fact-filled’ book.

Number three, the cover. In fact, the cover is so fabulously eye-catching that it started a conversation between myself and a fellow train passenger about whether it is a good read. By the end, I am pretty sure that she would be picking up a copy herself.

Finally, this book is a stepping stone to finding out more about some, if not all, of these women. You realise that they have paved the way for some of us to have far more opportunities in our lives. I know, it’s always up for debate if full equality has been achieved, we would not even be this far without them.

Do you have any favourite inspirational women from history?

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf

This book needs to be on every bookshelf in the country. This has to be one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read.

Onjali Q. Rauf has written the Children’s book that needed writing – I could not believe how easily accessiable she has made the issue that she tackles in this novel.

Through the innocent eyes of nine-year-olds, we meet Ahmet – a young refugee boy who is running away from the bullies. And all our young heroes want to do is help him find his family. The most wonderful adventure then unfolds as they attempt to ensure no borders are closed before Ahmet is reunited with his family.

This tale will make you smile and it will make you cry. Tears of happiness as well as of sadness. And this book will stay with you long after you have read the final words.

The thing that made this novel was the fact that the children who befriended Ahmet saw nothing but a friend who needed help, without being influenced by any opinions of others. It also makes it so clear that we can all learn so much from each other and that a multicultural society is one of the best gifts that we have.

This book truly deserved to be a ‘Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize’ winner – but it should never only be read by children. It is a gift that should be read by all to remind us that, metaphorically, we should all make friends with the boy or girl at the back of the class.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I was swept up in the hype of ‘Big Little Lies‘ – and enjoyed it. I read ‘Truly Madly Guilty‘ – and was not as big a fan but finished it all the same. However, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ found its stride and swept me away again.

This novel is not something that you will ever predict. Nine strangers are thrown together on a health retreat, all with the aim of making a change or escaping it all. However, not is all as it seems with the health retreat, those that run it or the characters.

I, personally, do not think that any reader will predict this tale or its rather dark twist. You do become rather invested in these nine perfect strangers and, when the novel reaches its end, you are given a small chance to draw your own conclusions about their futures. It is clear, however, it will all never be quite be the same again.

I could not out this book down. It has been a prefect holiday-time read, as it includes mystery, a little romance and humour along the way. Although I am not sure I would want check out an isolated health farm with ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ (whatever its Trip Advisor rating).

Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Earlier in the year I absolutely loved ‘Simon Vs the Home Sapiens Agenda‘, so was excited to read more about these fabulous characters in ‘Leah on the Offbeat’.

We first met Leah as one of Simon’s best friends in the first novel, but this time she takes centre stage in her own story of self-discovery. Just like her best friend Simon, Leah is handling the complex and emotional world of her own identity and sexuality. Especially when she realises that she may love one of her friends more than she ever realised.

One of the best things about this novel is that Leah is a character that we can all identify with on some level or another. We all remember what it was like to navigate those teenage years and always being self-conscious about something as we grow into who we are.

However, what makes this book a great YA novel is that it is tackling LGBTQ+ issues from the point of view of a strong female lead, who does not simply fit into a clearly defined bracket. Yet, the struggles of being a senior are not really that different whoever you are.

This novel has so much humour and warmth that it was a joy to read. You don’t want it to come to an end, as you really want to know what else happens with each and every one of the characters.

I do hope that Becky Albertalli takes us on more of the adventures of the lovely Creekwood gang. I would love to know what their university adventures are like.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

When I was growing up, I do not really remember YA fiction being much of a thing. In fact, I remember my mum actively encouraging me to avoid what was around for YA and move onto classic works by the likes of Agatha Christie.

However, now YA is a wonderful genre in its own right and, in fact, is read by so many people of all ages. I have probably read more YA now than I ever read at the ‘correct’ age.

Angie Thomas is one of the authors who has taken the YA world by storm. Her bestselling novel, ‘THUG‘, was a brilliant book which won her a huge following. Tackling some tough issues, it was educational and emotional. ‘On the Come Up’ is no different, it is an equally wonderful read.

Bri has ambitions of being a world-class rapper, just like the path her father started on. Using her music to raise awareness of the issues that matter. However, she ends up on a journey of self-discovery, realising that the past does not need to define you, and nor do the views other people may have formed of you. In fact, maybe it is time to break the mould and Bri should take the chance to shine on her own and move out of the shadow of others.

This novel is a great read. You find yourself really engaging with the characters. You feel all the emotions the characters feel, you will laugh with them, feel the frustration with them and cry with them, always wishing them the best. A novel like this also makes you reflect on the life you are leading and the world we live in – You get to the end wanting to make the world a better place for all those living in it.

I hope Angie Thomas brings us more fabulous characters because these are the novels that the YA world needs.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

This was a novel that I had seen all over the bookstagram. It was something that piqued my interest, I am not going lie – mainly because I loved the cover. And the cover did not let me down – it is, in fact, possibly a perfect cover.

I was drawn into the excitement of the novel from page 1. It reminded me a little of ‘The Hunger Games’. How dark is ‘Caraval’ as a real-life game, and who exactly will turn out to be ‘Legend’? He certainly appears to b the a darker ‘Greatest Showman’.

At points, the story doesn’t seem to have the pace that is created from the start. Yet, if you stick to the story, it certainly picks up, especially when you find yourself trying to figure out exactly who each character is. Nothing and nobody ever seems to be quite as it should.

However, it is again a novel with a strong female lead in Scarlett. Throughout the adventure, she discovers just how strong she is, eventually standing up to those who have made decisions for her all her life.

This book has certainly paved the way for more adventure, and I would be intrigued to see what happens next. After all, who wants to be left on a cliffhanger…?

Pages and Co – Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna Jones

I think I may have found my book of the year (although I did purchase at the end of last year) and, yes, it is Children’s novel, and I have no problem with that at all. ‘Tilly and the Bookwanderers’ will speak to any bookworm or anybody who loved books as a child.

I want to be Tilly because she is a Bookwanderer – and lives in a bookshop – what more could a bibliophile want? Tilly does not just read books – she enters them!! Tilly, and her friend Oskar, really end up in Avonlea with Anne (that’s with an ‘e’) among other fantastic places we encounter through novels. Of course, this wonderful chance for adventure does not come without its risks and dangers. That does not hold back our two adventurers from trying to discover the family secret that has hovered over Tilly all her life. And, of course, there is a shady character in the background attempting to thwart Tilly and Oskar in their mission.

Everything about this book is perfect. The illustrations by Paolo Escabor are delightful and represent the characters and events perfectly. Also, the font and typesetting throughout the novel is used to express some of the events and emotions as you read them. Thus just adds to how delightful this book is to read.

However, what really strikes me about this beautiful book is how much I agree with all the references to how important it is to read and enjoy books as individuals. Yet it is also clear that the enjoyment of books can bring people together too.

So, please, whatever your age, seek out this novel and remind yourself why you fell in love with reading in the first place.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

This month’s ‘Maidens of Murder’ is ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’. I was excited to read this title as it is not a story that I know well.

I really enjoyed this book. It is such a clever mystery tale, you always know that a murder that appears to have no motive will lead to quite an adventure. And – as you expect – the Queen of Crime does indeed take the characters and readers on quite a journey. The ‘twist’ really does make the story a classic of Christie’s work and does also feel a little like she has been teasing Bobby and Frankie as they carry out their investigation. This, although clearly in the style of Agatha Christie’s work, is a little bit of a timeless tale. You could imagine this plot being created now; it is not tied to the past.

However, something that really struck me about this story is how well Agatha Christie created strong female characters. Lady Francis is to be admired as she takes quite the lead in finding out exactly ‘why didn’t they ask Evans?’ but her foe in the tale is also quite a formidable lady (although some may say only until the going gets tough).

Ultimately, however, I think what is good about this book is that as much as it is a classic Christie, it is a little bit of a romance novel dressed up as a crime novel. After all, who does not love a happy ending?

Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton

This book is an autobiography for the modern age, and I could almost end my blog post there, but clearly that would not be enough.

I knew nothing about this book when I started it. I simply found it as a little half-price bargain and happened to pick up a copy.

When I started I was not sure I would enjoy it. I can not put my finger on what in those opening pages did not completely grip me. However, once I got right into the book, I was hooked. Dolly Alderton is simply telling an ordinary tale of a girl finding herself. A true coming-of-age tale. Alderton does not try to dress anything up – she’s honest, almost brutally, about the journey she has taken in life. She tells tales that will make you laugh (Rod Stewart), she recounts events that will make you cry (Florence), but most importantly she makes you reflect on your on journey to thirty (wherever you may be on that journey).

Dolly Alderton has a natural writing style (I know I said a the start of the book I was not sure) once you fall into it. The chapters where she parodies those emails that so many of us will have had about ‘Hen Dos’, ‘Weddings’ and ‘Baby Showers’ that are just a little bit ‘extra’ had me laughing like a hyena on my daily commute.

However, I think the most important lesson in this book is the realisation that the most important thing we need to know about love is to love ourselves. It is certainly the most important lesson that Dolly Alderton herself appears to learn.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

One of the best things about books is the chance to share (I know, I have said it before). So it was a joy when a little book collection sent my way from my Auntie included ‘Force of Nature’ by Jane Harper.

I really enjoyed meeting Aaron Falk in ‘The Dry‘, so was keen to see where the story would take us next.

This novel is a great crime theory. The events that take place in the wilds of Australia are told simultaneously alongside Falk’s investigation. I really enjoyed this method of telling the story. It added to building the tension as the chapters alternate, as you were always keen to see if the investigation was accurately reaching the same points as the real events.

I am not sure this novel is as atmospheric as ‘The Dry’. However, it does not take away from the enjoyment because this books develops Falk as a character, reveals a little more about him as a character and builds an empathy between him and the reader.

Again, it can be difficult to review stories with a twist so this is more my personal opinion. I would love to see how else Aaron Falk’s story develops, as I think he will become a much-loved character of the fiction world.