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Everyone was looking for Jennifer Jones.

Alice Tully is trying to live a normal life. She has a boyfriend, a job at a coffee shop and a loving home and yet the news that Jennifer Jones – JJ, the infamous child killer – is about to be released from prison is preoccupying her thoughts. The media are desperate to find out everything they can about when and where Jennifer Jones is going to return to society. Only a handful of people know the truth and Alice Tully is one of them.

Narrated in the past and present tense, Looking for JJ, tells the story of murder from a different perspective. Told with incredible sensitivity, Cassidy explores the age-old question of nature vs. nurture and the role it plays in the actions of a child-killer.

As readers know the consequence of the action before it is explored in detail, tension and uncertainty run throughout the story. You are made to draw a connection and a conclusion to characters before you know the truth of what happened and, at times, it feels very uncomfortable feeling sympathetic towards what should be an unsympathetic character.

Cassidy’s narrative is compelling and complex as it challenges preconceived ideas and explores if people who commit the worst crimes can ever have the right to a second chance.

4 star

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Across Worlds

On the Other Side

Steady lights flickered across her closed eyelids, and in her ears she could hear the rhythmic hum and rattle of a train on its tracks.

They say you should never meet your heroes and as a huge admirer of Carrie Hope Fletcher, the quintessential role model for tweens, teens and this 20-something, I had been putting off reading her first foray into fiction for this very reason. And yet I bought a copy, a gorgeous purple-edged copy, and I eventually dared to read beyond the blurb in the hope that I would love On the Other Side as much as I love the author. There are some spoilers in this review so please be warned.

Evie Snow has lived a long and complicated life. At the age of 82, she passes away surrounded by her loving family but when she reaches the other side, she realises that in order to move forward, she has to look back and face what she has been desperately trying to forget…

Now this is a difficult review for me to write because whilst I did enjoy the unique magical realism of the story and the immersive feel of Carrie’s writing, I was immediately distracted by the choice of the author to write herself as the lead Evie Snow and her boyfriend-at-the-time, Pete Bucknall, as the romantic lead Vincent Winters. I know you should write what you know and that art imitates life but this obvious mirroring seemed unimaginative and a little narcissistic – two qualities I would never associate with Carrie Hope Fletcher, I hasten to add. I loved the little nod to her fan base that she includes within the story and didn’t even mind the obvious declaration of love to Pete in the lift graffiti (“CB luvs PF”) but having the two leads directly correlate to real life – from personality to physical characteristics – was just too much, even for this fangirl.

The lack of setting or time period is also where this book feels very confused. Fletcher creates a 1940s-style world where parents control their children with the threat of disinheritance and male bosses can freely sexually harass female employees without consequence and yet it is also a world modern enough to have skinny jeans, mobile phones and to openly accept all sexual preferences within society. There is the feeling that if On the Other Side is progressive enough to have openly bi-, pan- or homosexual characters, why is it still a world where parents can dictate who you marry and why isn’t Evie Snow strong enough to stand up for her own rights as much as she stands up for her brothers?

On the Other Side is riddled with wholesomeness and a continued feel of good-bad, right-wrong throughout, with characters being placed deliberately on one side of this stringent fence. This not only felt a little unrealistic but it also meant that by the end, I just couldn’t champion or support Evie. As someone who initially appears to be making choices to support a strong and independent woman, I couldn’t understand some of her later decisions and the fact she was making all these amends to her family by travelling back to the other side before raising the ultimate two fingers up at Jim was heart-breaking – I loved Jim!

To end on a positive, there are promising hints of authorship within On the Other Side. Fletcher’s style and tone of writing is engaging and she creates some really interesting ideas, balancing the fantastical with the ordinary with ease. It just needed a bit more time to develop and a historical context, along with a stronger editorial direction, would have lifted this book considerably. Even just a little more research would have given On the Other Side more authority and provided the well-written magical realism a springboard from which to jump. As it stands, it falls a little flat.

3 star

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Love In Absolute Certainty

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Thank you for choosing Match Your DNA, the world’s first scientifically proven test 100% guaranteed to match you with the one and only person you’re genetically designed to fall in love with.

There are several reasons why I was drawn to reading John Marrs’ The One. Firstly, I love a psychological thriller, particularly when I’m on holiday, and a week in Bordeaux made for the perfect setting to settle down with Marrs’ new book. Secondly, the premise seemed too intriguing not to pick it up, particularly as I met my boy online. If there were some way to push the boundaries of online dating even further and combine it with genetic absolute, surely everyone would want to try it, wouldn’t they?

Following five different Match Your DNA clients The One explores how absolute scientific certainty can affect relationships, dating and just how far some people will go for their ‘One’. Without wanting to include any spoilers, this book is far from the usual beach-read fodder – it takes you on an unpredictable thrilling journey through five different peoples lives and perspectives, all in the name of and quest for the ultimate – true love.

As with all multi-narrative tales there are, inevitably, some stories that work better than others. There was one story in The One that, for me, wasn’t as strong as the other four but fortunately that didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the book at all. I found the premise and characters (for the most part) absolutely gripping, with each story revealing a new angle or complication and I loved seeing how strongly ‘absolute science’ affects personal feeling.

From a more practical point of view, the format of this book makes it an ideal holiday read. The chapters are short and snappy, making it a perfect dip-in-and-out read whilst lounging on the beach, and yet the story is so unbelievably addictive that you’ll probably find yourself immersed until the end regardless!

4 star

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Reading “Feelings”

Feelings

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, a week designed to raise awareness and start conversations. My picture-book, Feelings, aims to start those conversations about the emotions we experience much earlier – getting children to recognise and understand what feelings are.

Picture books are magical things. They introduce children to wonderful creatures, imaginary places and the art of storytelling but that’s not all. They also teach children to read pictures and to understand imagery before they can even read words. Feelings, uses picture book principles to help children read and understand how emotions feel without prescription and, most importantly, without judgement.

Feelings is a peek-through picture book that looks to take the reader on a journey through a range of emotions they might experience, with the philosophy of:

Looking from the outside, I may seem the same as you, but deep beneath the surface feelings bubble, stir and brew…”.

The same character appears on every spread, by way of a central cutaway, to explore the emotional spectrum. My Publisher, Thomas Truong, came up with this format to give readers a ‘guide’ and illustrator Richard Jones deliberately made the character androgynous so not to exclude any readers from the journey.

Illustrator Richard Jones explains what it was like to tackle the huge subject of feelings through art:

The moment I read the text for Feelings I knew it could be not only a thoughtful, magical book but a useful one too.

Having worked in a busy children’s library for nearly 15 years I was aware there are very few accessible books for children that tackle the complicated, knotty subject of feelings.

Although there are many tangled distinctions between feeling and emotion it was my role as the illustrator to focus on the feeling – the unique reaction to an emotional response that makes us the person we are. 

Each page needed to be imaginative, inventive and interesting to young eyes but not so specific or abstruse that the reader cannot relate to the feeling portrayed.

FeelingsFeelings is a book designed to start conversations about how we feel, to help make children feel comfortable and confident in talking about or drawing their emotions. It can be used both in the classroom for art projects and poetry lessons or as a one-on-one storybook, allowing parents to guide their child. We’ve had some lovely responses from teachers and bloggers posting the pictures children have done to show how they feel and we’d love to see more! Use the tag #FeelingsBook to share and discuss – join the conversation.

 

Feelings can be purchased online (Amazon, Waterstones, etc.) or in your local bookshop.

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Oh Lydia!

Lydia

I am fifteen years old today, and this journal was a present from Mary.

To me, Pride and Prejudice is the one book to rule them all. Elizabeth Bennett is the utter dream (I wish I was her!) and Mr Darcy is the love interest all other love interests look up to as far as I am concerned. In Austen’s classic, these two are finally brought together through a family scandal – the disappearance of Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia. The whys or wherefores of Lydia’s unexpected departure from Brighton with the unsavoury Wickham is only touched upon in Austen’s classic but Lydia by Natasha Farrant aims to fill in the blanks and unmask the mystery once and for all!

Written in the style of a diary, Lydia is a fun first-person narrative that offers an insight to the inner-workings of the spoilt, selfish Bennett sister as Farrant gives Lydia a voice and a platform on which to perform. The story is both familiar and unfamiliar, starting off in the Bennett household, mirroring Austen’s narrative, then following Lydia to Brighton where details of her escapades have always eluded P&P fans.

Now obviously, due to popularity of P&P, spin-off titles are inevitable – got to ride that train! – but I have managed to avoid pretty much all of them bar one ( PD James’ not so inviting Death Comes to Pemberley). I’m not a huge advocate for spin-offs, they are very rarely done well, but Lydia surprised me. Farrant managed to bring life to the youngest Bennett sister, encompassing the character traits created by Austen and develop her into a more rounded literary figure. She finds a depth to the otherwise childish Lydia, maturing her within the tale to a character worthy of attention. The plot and reasoning behind Lydia’s behaviour is credible, the narrative is witty and fast-paced and the titular character is finally able to come out of the shadows of her siblings and shine.

3 star

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Four Years of Going Through the Wardrobe!

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Today my little blog turns four –

1,096 days Through the Wardrobe door!

I’ve read, reviewed and spread bookish good cheer,

So it’s time to celebrate another literary year!

Blogging is a tricky little beast but one I wouldn’t be without. Yes, book blogs may be ten a penny but, to me, they are so incredibly important. I discover books, people and ideas through the blogging world that I wouldn’t have come across on my own. I see more of the literary market, themes and blockbusters through blogs and social media than what my tastes or day-to-day working life would allow.

Through the Wardrobe is four years old today – four YEARS old!! Though it may be just a quiet toddler within the blogging community, I never believed my little space in the virtual universe would 1) ever be sustained for so long and 2) still be something I am so passionate about. I absolutely love being able to share bookish recommendations, thoughts and musings with you and I shall endeavour to continue and grow Through the Wardrobe over the next twelve months. Thank you so SO much for visiting, following and supporting this blog and me this past year. TTWers – you will never know how much that means!

Now time for some cake!