BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor and park Image is from the Goodreads page

I read Eleanor & Park on holiday while tucked up in bed (yes, I’m so old!) and I read it in a couple of sessions flat. I really enjoyed it, actually. It’s the first Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read, but a few friends have recommended one of her other books, Fangirl. Maybe I’ll read that next – I definitely want to read more Rowell! This is a review so it may contain some spoilers re overarching themes and the like, but I’ll try to keep it relatively major spoiler free. This book tackles the topics of domestical violence, alcohol abuse, childhood abuse (including implied sexual) and bullying. If you are sensitive to any of those topics, you may want to skip this one.

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Book Review: Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly

This review may contain mild spoilers but will not talk in detail about any important plot points. I bought this book second hand from a used book sale sometime last year and just got around to reading it. The book is about a girl called Emma, who is the last person to see her childhood best friend, Abby, before Abby goes missing. The book is centred around Emma trying to find out what happened to Abby while also trying not to let the unsavoury circumstances in her past (that led to her “abandoning” Abby and moving to a different school) bleed through into her present. Check out the Goodreads page here.


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Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Okay, I finished the book MONTHS ago but just haven’t gotten around to writing and posting my review until now. It’s a good job I made notes straight after I’d finished! The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is about a woman, Mme Ramotswe, who opens a detective agency in Botswana, and follows both her interactions with other characters and the cases brought to her and how she solves them. This book was part of my Continent Book challenge (the Africa months). This review is spoiler free (I think, there might be a couple tiny ones but nothing that will spoil anything about the book for you in any way).

The book is structured so that in every chapter (near enough) there is another case for Mme Ramotswe to solve. There is also one overarching case that runs throughout the book (revolving around a missing child and a witch doctor – I didn’t find any of it too grim or overly descriptive though). Alongside Mme Ramotswe is a pretty large cast of supporting characters, from the people she is helping to friends who help her. The characters seemed well rounded and interesting – they all seemed 3d to me, with well-thought out reasons behind every decision. I don’t know much about African culture, but I imagine the way these characters talk and interact with each other would be pretty realistic.

The main chapters, as I’ve said before, are about Mme Ramotswe and the cases she is hired to solve. However, interwoven into the main story is chapters about Mme Ramotswe’s background, her disastrous marriage, and her now deceased father who’s money she used to set up her detective agency. Although these chapters do slow the story itself down slightly, they make Mme Ramotswe more solid and I don’t think I would have understood and rooted for her quite so much had those insights into her past not been there.

In all, the book was well written and entertaining. I liked the characters and was satisfied with the ending (although it didn’t leave me with any lasting feelings either way). Maybe I just went into it with my expectations set too high but it just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. I can’t put my finger on anything WRONG with it, it just didn’t touch me, strike me, make me want to run back to the library and find all the sequels NOW. I mean, maybe if I saw the sequels in the library one day and was in a bit of a reading slump then I’d pick it up, but I wouldn’t go actively looking for it, nor am I particularly desperate to read it again.

I’m giving The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency 3 out of 5 – it was a pretty fun, pretty light read that was well written, but I’m not chomping at the bit to read more.

Book Review: Hamster – Family Pet Guide by David Alderton

 I finished this one a while ago but haven’t had time to update it yet. Now, I don’t own a hamster so I can’t tell you exactly how much of the information in this book is needed or useful, and how much is just “extra” BUT I will say that this was a very informative book. It has sections on the care and choosing of both pet hamsters and show hamsters, and even a separate section on how to breed hamsters successfully. All major pieces of information are covered here: sexing; which hamsters can be kept together and which are solitary; taming; feeding; cleaning out cages; basic first aid; and important signs of illness to name just a few of the more interesting sections. There were also separate sections on each variety of hamster and its particular needs, all with clear headers.

This book also had some beautiful photographs (my favourites are definitely the ones depicting the different varieties of hamster – I never knew there were so many colours!), and the ratio of text to images is very well balanced. The layout of the book is good and easy to read. It would also be easy to just skim through the book and quickly find your chapters of interest by looking at the clear headers at the start of each section. The chapters too are well marked. Hamster gives you all the basic information you need to know before buying a hamster (and it even includes “non essential” information, as well as information about breeding or showing your hamster if that’s your cup of tea) without overloading you with info.

In short, it’s a brilliant little book and a very well written guide, and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of purchasing a hamster.

(You’ll probably note that this review is slightly shorter than my usual reviews, and I haven’t given it a rating. This is because it’s a non-fiction guidebook, and so I didn’t rate or review it as I would a fiction book, or a “based on a true story” book.)

Life Updates, Coming Up Soon and Baking Treats!

What can I say? It’s been a while guys (understatement of the year there) but I’ve been been pretty busy and stressed. No. Scratch that. I’ve been VERY busy and stressed. This post will be a small one to let you know that I’m still here, I’m still blogging and hopefully I’ll be blogging A LOT more after this. I’ve got a lot of ideas for posts that are pretty much done and dusted so they’ll be up over the next week or so. But first, a quick life update.

I had my final three assignments due within a week of each other, and I started one of them (the longest one, go figure) really late so I was scrambling to get everything done. It sucked, and I’m NEVER leaving work that late again. It’s just not worth the hassle. But I finally did get everything done, I got a good result in my Linguistics (no word on the other two yet) which means I now just have to concentrate on revising for my exams. I have one in April and two in May. On the bright side, my last exam is 14th May and I don’t leave halls until the 31st May so I’m planning to do a few day/weekend trips to explore Scotland a little! It’ll be great fun, and a lovely way to get to know my new home more. 

In other news, we’ve finally found a flat for next year! We started looking late January and I was getting incredibly stressed about it because none of us could decide on one and I was convinced I’d be homeless next year! But we finally found it. The perfect flat. Okay, okay, it’s not perfect by a long shot but it has all of our requirements and we’re all happy with it. And we got it! We actually have somewhere to live next year. I’m so glad we got it sorted before we went home for Easter, and it’s just another weight off my mind with exams coming up.

I will be spending Easter alone this year. I left it too late to book train tickets so the only ones I could get that were a reasonable price were after Easter Sunday. But no matter. I’m going to an Easter service and then out to lunch with a friend so I won’t be TRULY alone. Like my birthday, this Easter will be the first I’m spending away from my family, which sucks but hey, I’m growing up. I’ll be okay. 

Finally, I’ve joined Camp NaNoWriMo this April. I’m hoping to get all my character sheets, a plan and plot outline and a good few chapters of my novel done this month. The people in my cabin seem nice, if a little quiet (but hopefully that’ll change now that camp has actually started). If any of you are on NaNo, feel free to friend me – A J Maslin.

Well, I think that’s just about everything with me! Now I’ll do a little list of posts I have waiting in the works: reviews of Romeo and Juliet, and A Streetcar Named Desire (yes, I still haven’t done these but they are top of my list so look out for them soon); multiple book reviews (I’ve finished three books that I need to review, and I’m hoping to finish four more before I go home for Easter); a reading and writing challenges update (I didn’t do one for March but I’ll definitely be doing one early this month, probably within the next few days); and more of my revision pages (I’m getting down to revising properly now and these pages help me and, hopefully, some of you too). That’s all I can think of now, but I’m sure I’ve left some stuff out. Keep an eye out for some cool stuff over the next month!

And last but not least, I thought I’d share with you a couple of bits of baking I did yesterday, courtesy of my cookbook A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe. It’s a really good book, and I encourage you foodies to pick it up if you like lovely food on a budget. I made the Vegan Banana Bread and the Cabbage Griddle Scones with natural yoghurt and Brie, and they were both delicious! Definitely making them again. I doubled the banana bread recipe to fill my tin, as we don’t have a loaf tin and I had a lot of very ripe bananas. 



Well that’s it for now, but I promise you won’t have to wait as long for the next post! See you soon.

Book Review – My Dad’s A Policeman by Cathy Glass

This review will contain SPOILERS (for the SPOILER FREE review, check out my Goodreads review here: ).

I love Cathy Glass and her books – while they are completely heart wrenching and often leave me on the verge of tears, they are also a reminder of how selfless and good some people can be, and how even the smallest, most damaged children can thrive when they find someone willing to stand with them instead of against them.

Ryan’s mother is an alcoholic. She spends large portions of each day either drinking or passed out from drinking, thus leaving it up to Ryan to look after his young brother Tommy, the house, and his mother. Because he’s been doing this for as long as he can remember, Ryan simply can’t understand why they must go into care – a running theme through the book is him trying desperately to prove that he can look after the family. He also thinks it’s his fault that the family was split up, because he got picked up by the police numerous times for fighting (he has problems managing his anger, but does get considerably better once in the stability of his foster home).

Ryan runs away from his foster home, and then again from the police officers who come to retrieve him. It’s the start of a lonely time for Ryan, made worse when he tries to persuade Tommy to run away with him, only to be met by refusal from the younger boy because Tommy likes his foster home – he has a playmate and enough to eat. I think it’s glaringly obvious how bad their home life was, that this little boy wants to stay with strangers over his family because at least with the strangers he knows he’ll get fed enough.

After some gentle encouragement from his mother, Ryan returns to his foster home but is still desperately unhappy without his brother. The one perk in this time for him was discovering that his foster dad is a policeman – having never known his father, Ryan used to insist to the other kids on his estate that his dad was a policeman (something that was believed by no one but Ryan).

The book ends on a happy note. Ryan’s mother is given a year by the courts to straighten herself out (although Cathy’s website states that it actually took 3 years for the boys to be returned to her), and a judge rules that Tommy should also move in with Ryan’s foster family so that the boys will be together. That’s about as upbeat as these kinds of stories get, and I’m glad that the boys were given a stable home, and that their mother was given the help she so badly needed.

This is the first of Cathy’s books I’ve read that doesn’t actually feature Cathy (Ryan’s foster mother is called Libby). It’s also the first I’ve read that’s in first person perspective of the person in care (Ryan) rather than the carer. I loved Ryan’s voice in this, the strength and maturity, as well as vulnerability and childish understanding of how the world works (Ryan was under the impression that he and Tommy could get a ferry to France on £3 and that he could work to support them, despite only being, I think, 12), all really shine through.

Ryan made me want to sob, while at the same time find him and hug him tightly. They say children in neglectful or abusive homes learn to be so much more resourceful than other children, and Ryan certainly proves that – while his mother did love him and his brother, for a good part of his life she loved the drink more and so Ryan had to take on the responsibility of caring for them all without letting anyone know just how bad the situation had become.

Another thing I loved was that Ryan’s best friend Wayne also got a happy ending (taken from his abusive father a couple of days after Ryan was taken)! Wayne had a habit of staying at Ryan’s when things got too much at home, but now it was Ryan’s turn go to Wayne for help. The friendship between the boys is lovely – they don’t need to ask what’s happened, only what they can do to help each other.

Overall, I’d give My Dad’s A Policeman 3.8 out of 5 – it was heart wrenching while still being heartwarming, and to hear the story through the eyes of such a young child (instead of their carer) made it all the more poignant. To anyone who likes Cathy’s books (or similar ones) I’d recommend you pick this up. At 100 pages it’s lovely and quick to read, and the change of perspective is a good change of pace.

(Note: on Cathy’s website it states that this book is a “novel based on a true story” as opposed to a “true fostering story”, which would explain why it is not from Cathy’s perspective/have Cathy in it.)

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

Hey all! This has taken me quite a while to upload because my internet connection has been VERY tenuous for the past few days (ahh the joys of student halls, right?). But I finished Baba Segi last week and can finally do this review, so let’s get to it! I read this book as part of the Continent Read-a-thon Challenge.

*WARNING: this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! For the spoiler-free version, please check out my Goodreads review:  *

Baba Segi has three wives (now four with the arrival of Bolanle). There’s:

Iya Segi, the “original” wife who rules the house and knows how to gently twist her husband around to her way of thinking.

Iya Tope, the second wife who was given to Baba Segi as a sort of compensation by her father after their crops (the crops that Baba Segi was going to buy) failed. She is very quiet and mousey, and tries to stay in the background.

Iya Femi, the third wife who threw herself at Baba Segi’s feet in order to escape her life of servitude with a wealthy family. She can be cruel and ruthless and will do anything to make sure she and her children have the best.

Bolanle, the newest wife and the only educated one. It’s a complete mystery why she married Baba Segi until later on in the book. What’s NOT a secret is how much the other wives despise her and scheme to get her out of their house.

The book actually turned out far better than I expected. It’s a story about polygamy and family, and the secrets that we are sometimes forced to keep from those closest to us. Baba Segi is desperate for more children – hence why he took another wife when he already has three – but a couple of years after their wedding Bolanle is still not pregnant. I should point out here that all the wives are known as Iya followed by the name of their first child. Baba Segi is Baba followed by the name of his first child. Bolanle is still known by her real name because she doesn’t yet have children.

Irritated by the lack of babies, Baba Segi frequents some kind of bar or café in the…seedy part of town. The men there all gather together to listen to his woes and offer advice. Baba Segi decided to take Bolanle to a hospital to get to the root of her fertility problems because, as an “educated woman”, he knew (or rather was told and then pretended he knew) that she would listen to a proper doctor far more than any “herbal” doctors or more…traditional “medicine men”.

The book switches perspectives between all the wives and Baba Segi, and it took me a couple of chapters to realise this. It’s never overtly stated which wife is talking at which point but after you’ve come to know the wives personalities you can easily tell which one is talking. Iya Segi and Iya Femi are cruel and cunning, while Iya Tope is weak and unable to stand up for herself let alone Bolanle. The wives believe they can force Bolanle out of the house if they are cruel enough, but the harsher they are the more determined Bolanle is to make them accept her. I have to admit, I didn’t like Bolanle. She was pretty dense considering she has a college education (although I admit, going to university doesn’t mean you have common sense or “street smarts” or anything), and, while she is certainly determined, I have no idea why she’d even want to be there let alone actively try to make them accept her into the family. I don’t like the other wives either – Iya Femi is a complete…female dog…and Iya Segi isn’t much better. Iya Tope is kinder than them but really is just spineless so her kindness doesn’t make much difference to anyone’s life. Baba Segi is pretty vile to be honest, and mostly unable to control his bodily functions in stressful situations. Iya Femi’s kids (two boys) are brats just like their mother, and Iya Tope’s kids (three girls) are wet blankets just like THEIR mother. The only characters I really like in this are Iya Segi’s children. Segi is the oldest, and, while she largely ignores Bolanle at the start under orders from her mother, they seem to bond slightly later. Iya Segi’s son is a really nice kid (basically the only nice, seemingly well-balanced child/person in the whole book) and he tries to help Bolanle even when his mother is growling at him.

Most of the book is a lot of animosity between the wives, and Baba Segi and Bolanle agonising over the fertility troubles. We then find out why Bolanle feels so guilty – she was raped when she was a teenager and became pregnant. It’s assumed through the book, even by Bolanle, that the rape was when the child was conceived but as she also admits to sleeping with the son of her wealthy landlords regularly it’s possible it could be his. That’s certainly his train of thought as, when she tells him she’s pregnant, he panics and takes her to a backstreet abortionist because “if a friend of his father’s sees them in a hospital together then all hell would break loose” or something along those lines. And she lets him… Now I’m not victim blaming or anything, and yes she was young, but the guy literally said she should be going to hospital for this but she won’t because it would look bad for him to be sleeping with the commoners and she went with it. Of course, no one knows about the rape. That’s also apparently why she married Baba Segi even though she has a degree and could do anything she wanted – she wanted someone to be telling her what to do so she didn’t have to think.

The second half of the book gets FAR more interesting. Bolanle sees a fertility specialist who (of course) asks her if she’s ever had an abortion and she says yes and Baba Segi is distraught because he thought she was “pure” but now she’s “sullied”. However…THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BOLANLE’S REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM! Nothing at all. Funny that, hmm? So they test Baba Segi (although at this point they haven’t told him any of their findings). Meanwhile, the wives are doing their best to get Bolanle kicked out, including putting an animal’s head in Baba Segi’s room and then saying Bolanle did it? This leads to him almost strangling her before he decides that, actually, it’s not the kind of thing Bolanle would do. But then they go too far.

Iya Segi and Iya Femi decide to POISON Bolanle to get her out once and for all. They put poison in her portion of the food and leave it outside her door as per usual. Only, Bolanle doesn’t feel hungry so instead she gives it to Segi. Yep. You guessed it. Iya Segi has now poisoned her own daughter. Things move fairly rapidly now. Segi goes to hospital, is in intensive care for a few days, everyone mopes and looks generally grief-stricken, Iya Tope and Bolanle are the only ones functioning because the other two are feeling guilty as hell (although I noted that they only feel guilty about SEGI – they don’t seem to be feeling too guilty for trying to poison Bolanle or for thinking of the poison in the first place, only that Segi got poisoned instead), but Segi comes home (although she is still very ill) and we discover that Baba Segi has no swimmers. None. It’s not a low sperm count. Literally none. There is no way he could’ve fathered seven children. And now we have flashbacks from all of the wives about the men they slept with (i.e. the children’s real fathers). Iya Tope slept with the meat seller (and apparently paid him), and Iya Femi slept with the son of her old mistress (with the intention of one day going back and parading the illegitimate grandchildren in front of her. This plan went south when the woman died and her son moved away). Iya Segi was the best though – she had been sleeping with her husband’s loyal driver (and then we have a chapter from him telling that story).

So Segi finds out from her mother that the poison was intentionally added to the food (although she is reassured that it wasn’t meant for her…), the doctors ask to see Baba Segi’s wife so he takes Iya Segi, and she informs the doctors that the only reason Baba Segi has children is because his wives cheated on him (he was in the room for this bit). Oh dear. Segi, as if sensing that all the secrets have been spilled, dies. I was actually sad at this bit. I was also pretty moved when Baba Segi, even though he’s really angry because none of his children are his, gives Iya Segi’s son a lovely speech about how he’s a good kid and will be a great man.

And that’s pretty much it! The wives beg Baba Segi to forgive them, and he does (after taking Iya Segi’s shop and Iya Femi’s jewels and makeup. I don’t think he took anything from Iya Tope. Maybe he realised that she was pretty easily led and not the kind to do it again). Bolanle decides to make peace with her past (after ruining their somewhat happy family, I must say) and leaves, and the driver leaves also. And that’s it!

While I disliked most of the characters in this book, I really enjoyed the writing. Shoneyin is very good at making you really picture a place or a scene, and it was a good mix of funny and serious. Ultimately there was a pretty happy ending for everyone I guess (apart from poor Segi). I really enjoyed the switch in perspectives too, especially after you’d gotten to know the characters – you could instantly tell who was talking from about a third of the way through. Overall I give this book 3.5 out of 5, maybe even a 4 if the characters hadn’t annoyed me so much.