Book Thoughts: My Sister Milly

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My Sister Milly – Gemma Dowler – 2017 – True Crime

“My name is Gemma Dowler. On 21 March 2002, a serial killer named Levi Bellfield stole my sister and sent our family to hell.”

As the description says this book is a memoir of the killing of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who went missing in 2002 and was later found murdered. I was only 9 when she went missing, so I don’t really remember the initial news coverage, but I do remember the coverage of the trial and this book looks at that case from the point of view of Milly’s older sister Gemma.

Gemma was motivated to write this book to share her memory of her sister, and the first part of the book definitely does that. I’d have liked a bit more focus on Milly throughout the rest of the book as well, just because I’m left with a lot of questions about the case. I knew the basic story of this crime from watching documentaries on the case, and as I said I remember when the trial took place, but I felt it lost a bit of the aspect of Milly throughout the story – I don’t think this is Gemma’s fault though, I think it’s probably an accurate representation of the fact that the police had seemingly forgotten this all started because of something that happened to Milly.

This is a really interesting view of the police that I haven’t seen in other true crime books before. Usually in true crime families focus on the police is only with the FLO’s, so it’s sad to hear the Dowler family felt so let down by an organisation that should have protected them. I was expecting more details about Milly’s case and although there was obviously some information it felt like a book more focused on the social injustice they faced as a result of the crime, rather than the crime itself.

I don’t think you can help but admire Gemma’s bravery and courage. I can’t imagine going through even one event she has gone through, and yet despite her sister’s abduction and murder, the way Gemma was treated by police and CPS, and the hacking scandal she continues to pick herself up and live her life for her sister and her parents too.

I would recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the case. There’s definitely enough background even if you’ve never heard of this case before, although I’d imagine most British adults have at least a small recollection of the crime. However, it’s not an easy read. It’s emotional and there is a lot of deep content about the impact on Gemma’s mental health, as well as other difficult topics to read. It’s a fascinating book, and probably one of the most well-written true crime books I’ve read. I gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads. Although it was co-written by a professional author, it never lost the feeling of being almost like a diary. Very moving.

Book Thoughts: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell – 2017 – Short Stories


Book Summary:

Stories of family and magic, lost souls and superstitions. Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.

Mermaids are on display at the local aquarium. A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. And a couple are rewriting the history of the world in the middle of the night.

My thoughts:

I often watch Jen Campbell’s YouTube channel, and I’m a big fan of her. I particularly enjoy her videos about disability and its representation in different media. So when she said that she was writing a new book for adults, I was really interested to read it. It’s a really sweet collection of fairy-tale-esque short stories, many of which have aspects of disability or being “different”.

My favourite stories in the book were The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, or Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel. The first was written in a script style and this made it really unique from the rest of the book. It was the easiest story to read and get absorbed in, and it was quite sweet to read about a couple having cute conversations in the middle of the night. Aunt Libby’s story was my favourite story for plot. It’s about an old lady who owns a hotel where the guests sleep in coffins to get closer to ‘the other side’. The hotel is supposed to be haunted and although it is supposed to be a scam, there is a spooky twist at the end.

My least favourite story was probably Margaret and Mary and the End of the World, or Bright White Hearts. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the writing, but I just didn’t really understand the references, as I’m not really into fantasy and fairy tales. The writing in the book is truly magical, so it was a bit of a shame I didn’t understand them. On Jen’s youtube channel she has talked about the stories a bit and some of the references, and I’d love to read the stories again and read them a bit more slowly to fully understand the references and be able to research them properly.

I really loved the cover of this book. I think it might be one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen. I think there was a day cover and a night cover when people talked about this on Booktube, but I’ve only seen the night cover so far – I prefer that one anyway!

I rated this book 3 / 5 on Goodreads. I would recommend the book to people who like fairy tales, and the writing is truly beautiful. I think if I’d understand the references more I’d definitely have given it a higher rating.

Book Thoughts: Lingo

Lingo: A language spotter’s guide to Europe – Gaston Dorren – 2014 -Language and Linguistics



Book description:

Lingo takes us on an interesting tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects, from the life of PIE (our common ancestor) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and puzzling Czech accents. Along the way, it explains the baffling ways of Basque, unlocks Ukrainian’s enviable grammar and provides a crash course in alphabets. We learn why Esperanto could never catch on, how to language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands, and consider if English is like Chinese.

Lingo also looks at words that English has loaned from across the continent, and those we really should import, like the Norwegians’ utepils (lager enjoyed out of doors), the Germans’ gonnen (the opposite of envy), or the Frisian tafalle (to turn out better than expected).

My thoughts:

In Lingo, Dorren is attempting to look at some of the most interesting points of over fifty European languages, and in many ways he does this. There are a huge range of languages presented throughout this book from the larger languages (like English, Spanish and German) to smaller languages I’d never even heard of before (Faroese, Monegasque and Ladino). He presents each language from a different point for example, the alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, interesting vocabulary points, or its’ history.

Honestly speaking though I found the book didn’t really hold my attention. It was a bit dull in parts especially when it got more in-depth with a small language point such as Welsh spelling patterns or the Russian alphabet. The parts of the book where he looked at the language from a point of their history or social aspects are personally more interesting to me, and I found that these chapters didn’t happen often enough through the book to keep me engaged. My favourite chapter was the Belarusian language, where Dorren presented aspects of the language from the opposing aspects of people who were pro- and anti- Russian. For languages I have very little knowledge of (most of the smaller ones in the book) I’d rather he’d presented them in a similar way to this.

I’d also have liked a small glossary included in the book. Dorren uses a lot of linguistics-related jargon that, even with a degree in Linguistics, I wasn’t certain what they meant. I think if you were just someone with a passing interest in the subject you might be put off by the more specific references.

I gave the book 3 stars on Goodreads. My degree is in English Language and Linguistics, so although I’m not an expert in languages themselves, I have a keen interest in the sociological factors behind them. This is a great book I’d probably recommend for someone who is studying English Language or Modern Foreign Languages at A Level or university for something more educational but that still doesn’t require much concentration.

Book Review: The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist – Diane Chamberlain – 1997 – Drama

When Susanna Miller loses custody of her eleven-month-old son, Tyler, she goes on the run instead of turning her little boy over to her ex-husband and his new wife. She dyes her hair, changes her name, and escapes from Boulder, Colorado, leaving behind everyone she knows including Linc Sebastian, the man who has been her best friend since childhood and who knows her better than anyone.

Susanna lands in Annapolis, Maryland – lonely, frightened – and always looking over her shoulder for someone who might recognize her. Just as she’s beginning to feel safe in her new surroundings, she stumbles across information that could save the lives of many people… if she’s willing to take it to the police. But going to the authorities means revealing her identity, admitting her guilt and, worst of all, losing her son.

The story is primarily told from Susanna’s point of view, although there are some points from Peggy or Linc. At parts of the book I could empathise with Susanna and her predicament, but I found the characters in this book particularly unbelievable. I couldn’t really relate to any of them, and didn’t really care about their problems they were facing, which was surprising because the premise of the book really appealed to me when I saw the book in the charity shop.

The main question in the book is whether Susanna should hand in the list she finds on her computer or not. However this question doesn’t really get left in her hands, and so feels a little redundant to the story. The problem is, as this is the only thing the plot is relying on, there is not much story left without it.

My favourite thing about this book was the plot of the list that Susanna finds on her computer, and trying to figure out what it was referring to.
The book had a rather predictable ending, like most of Chamberlain’s books but this time it felt a little boring rather than the usual satisfaction I get from the endings of her books.

I gave this book 2/5 on Goodreads. Unfortunately I don’t think this Chamberlain book is one of the memorable ones. I didn’t engage with the plot or the characters, although I’m not really sure why. I probably couldn’t recommend this book to somebody newly discovering Chamberlain’s books. I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t set in North Carolina or whether there was something in the plot that turned me off, but I really didn’t care about this book – it wasn’t that it was a badly written book, more just a bit dull.

Book Thoughts: The Good Father

The Good Father – Diane Chamberlain – 2012 – Drama

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The Good Father tells the story of Travis, a man in his early twenties trying to raise his 4-year-old daughter Bella. He loses his job and his home and is offered a chance to make money, although he will have to commit a crime. Will he choose to commit the crime, even though he may lose his daughter in the process?

Diane Chamberlain is very good at characterisation and developing people that are interesting to read about. I really liked Travis as a character, he seems (as the title suggests) a good dad to Bella, although quite naive and weak-willed. It is understandable that he is like this but it feels a bit convenient for the story as he is also supposed to be intelligent. My favourite character was definitely Erin as I just felt like I could relate to her the most. Although I felt she was a bit convenient to the story rather than it being particularly realistic, I couldn’t help empathise with her story. I did also feel that the problems of the main characters were generally believable – Chamberlain often writes about problems people face in their everyday lives (poverty, grief…) and makes them more dramatic for the plot.

As I said the book’s central theme is whether to commit the crime and earn some money for Bella, or to potentially live on the street but not commit any crime. Although the answer is obvious as to what he will do (for the plot if nothing else) I don’t think this itself particularly affects the enjoyment of the plot.

Another of my favourite things about Chamberlain’s books is the setting of North Carolina. Perhaps to Americans North Carolina is not an “exotic” setting, but I love reading about the state as she describes it in her book, and it has made me really want to visit one day so I can properly experience the places she is talking about.

My main problem with the book was that it all just felt a bit too convenient. When Travis and Robin meet again, Robin’s status as the governor’s wife, Erin’s personality and overall presence in the book. There was not a lot of actual plot unfortunately, it just seemed to rely on these convenient situations to move the plot along.

I do however like the way that the book ended. Something I like about Chamberlain’s books is that she always adds an epilogue to finish the book and tie up the characters’ stories. Although they sometimes end up a bit “twee”, I always have nice feeling when I finish one of her books.

On Goodreads I gave this book 3/5 stars. Although I do enjoy the book overall, the plot isn’t the most interesting and I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone as a first Diane Chamberlain book.

Book Thoughts: The Silkworm

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith – 2014 – Crime

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The Silkworm is the second in the Cormoran Strike series. A fairly unsuccessful author has gone missing and his wife wants Strike to find him. When the author turns up dead, Strike tries to prove that the killer was not his wife.

The main point of view in this book is obviously Strike himself, although I find it difficult to warm to him. He has a full of himself attitude, and at times it is tiring to listen to his internal pity party. I really hope that Strike develops more as a character in the next few instalments of the book, or that we learn something new about his character. I definitely preferred Robin, his assistant, in this book. Rowling always writes strong female characters and knowing what I have now read in the third instalment it is interesting to go back and read her again.

The suspects in this book were particularly interesting, although I do find it difficult to keep their storylines separate in my head. My favourite characters in this novel was Orlando and Pippa, and I think the book handles their storylines sensitively.

Some people on Goodreads have criticised Rowling for describing the London setting too much in the book. Although I’m sure it might be a bit much for people who live in London to see their city described in a slightly-fantasy way, for the majority of readers who live outside of the capital it’s helpful to read Rowling’s description of the world Strike and Robin inhabit.

My favourite thing about this book was the fact that it revolved around the literary world. It was interesting to see different characters from this industry, and to speculate whether any of the characters were influenced by real people Rowling might have met in her 20 plus years in the book-world.

However, I think the book was a bit too long and I don’t like the storyline as much as the first book, although I do like that it is still a traditional crime-book plot. I sometimes find it difficult to visualise the scenes in the book, and I wish that when the TV adaptation had been on television last year it had been more faithful to the novel.

I also like the way the book reveals the killer – I’m not very good at realising who the killer is before they are revealed in crime books and programmes, and the first time I read the book I was definitely taken by surprise. Re-reading the book, I can see the clever clues that are slipped in and I really enjoyed seeing those clues add up this time.

I always like the cover of these books because they reflect the London setting of the books.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. If you’ve read and enjoyed the first instalment in the series, then you should definitely give this one a go.

Book Thoughts: Marley and Me

Marley and Me – John Grogan – 2005 – Memoir

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In case you didn’t see the 2008 film, Marley and Me is a memoir by John Grogan about his dog Marley that he raises from a puppy and the funny memories he has about their time together.

My favourite part of the book is hearing about Marley’s attempts at training. Although I haven’t seen the film of the book since it came out 10 years ago, it really reminded me of the film. The book was easy to visualise and as a dog owner I could empathise with many of the things that Grogan was saying and the book was very relatable. When the inevitable happens at the end of the book I had tears in my eyes because it was described so beautifully.

My least favourite part of the book was that in places it was slightly boring, for example when it gave a lot of detail about the Labrador breed – however this was only a small part of the book and most of the book was very story driven.

The cover of this book features a beautiful picture of Marley on the front and some cute pictures on the inside – it really helps you to visualise the stories Grogan is telling.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. If you are a dog lover I would definitely recommend reading this book – it’s very moving. If you’re more of a cat person, I’d probably skip it as I think you have to be able to personally relate to the feelings Grogan is describing.

Book Thoughts: The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith – 2013 – Crime

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This book is the first in the Cormoran Strike series written under J.K. Rowling’s pen-name Robert Galbraith. A young model dies and the police put it down to suicide as a result of her mental health problems. A few months later her brother comes to Cormoran Strike, a private detective, as he doesn’t believe that her death was suicide.

The main character in the book is clearly Strike, who is my favourite character in the book. I found him relatable and I enjoyed reading his back story. Another character is Robin – from the reviews I have read of books in this series, she seems to be the most popular character, and although it is great to read a strong female character in a crime book, I find myself not really caring about her. In particular I wish that less time was spent on the relationship between her and Matthew – I don’t really find it adds anything to the story or Robin’s character.

The first time I read this book I also found the Bestigui characters the most interesting suspects and I really enjoyed finding out what was happening in their back story.

The story is told from a third person narrator, which makes it easier to follow the storylines of both Strike and Robin. It is obviously also Rowling’s traditional style, which makes the writing feel more familiar.

I would have liked to see more development of Strike’s character within the novel. You could see a clear development of Robin throughout this book, but the only thing I think would improve this novel is if you could see more development of Strike.

I think the real strength of this book is the dialogue Rowling manages to create and the way she creates believable characters with depth. I don’t usually read crime novels so the first time I read this book, I enjoyed reading the reveal of the killer, and on my recent reread I enjoyed picking up on all the clues I didn’t see the first time.

I would definitely recommend this book – I’m not usually a crime reader but this book is easy to read and has some well defined characters (bad character development is usually something that puts me off reading crime fiction). The writing feels similar enough to Rowling’s Harry Potter series that it is comfortable to read, while exploring a genre that I don’t usually read.

I rated this novel 5/5 on Goodreads.

Book Thoughts: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – 2015 – Thriller

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The plot:

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking, and in one moment everything changes. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

The characters: 

The main character of this book was Rachel and most of the time I found that despite her (very obvious) flaws I actually liked her. I could sympathise with her and I was really rooting for her at the end of the book. Although I’ve never had similar problems to Rachel, her story was believable and I found it hard to blame her for her situation. I did wish that she had developed more over the story, as she often just seemed to blame others for her problems, rather than taking action and didn’t really do anything meaningful until the last few pages.

Another of my favourite characters was Megan – for the most part I felt sorry for her and the tragedies she had in her past, although present-day Megan was a bit more difficult to empathise with – I find it hard to empathise with people who play with other people’s partners, so after a while I did start to feel a bit fed up with her. Although I much preferred Rachel to Megan, I did enjoy reading her parts of the book the most, as it was often the parts where you found a new answer.

The book is also told through the viewpoint of Anna, who I really didn’t like – I found her a bit pathetic without any real action – she blamed Rachel for all her problems, but it is hard to be on the side of the mistress.

My thoughts:

Although I liked this book, I didn’t really understand the hype it received back in 2015. It was an interesting read, but thrillers aren’t really my favourite genre.

I found the plot a bit predictable (particularly the ending), although the way it played out was quite original. I did wish that characters had more of a meaningful relationship with each other, as that’s something I tend to read. I did find it easy to read the book though, and the time jumps were easy to understand. I think if I had seen the film before I read the book it might have been more confused though.

My Goodreads Rating:

4/5. Despite not being a particular fan of thrillers, I would recommend this book. I really liked the way that information was fed to the reader throughout the book, making you feel like you couldn’t trust anything you were reading.