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Quippe

Quippe

Joined August 2016

Longer reviews can be found at I Read, Therefore I Blog here: ireadthereforeiblog.wordpress.com
review
Quippe
The Deathless Girls | Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Mehso-so

Kiran Millwood Hargrave‘s YA gothic fantasy (a homage to the ‘dark sisters‘ in Bram Stoker‘s Dracula) has some beautifully written scenes and shows the discrimination faced by Travellers but there‘s not much plot, Lil‘s first person POV leaves Kizzy under-developed and in the final quarter, her disappearance means that a key decision has no tension or explanation while the ending is very weak such that it doesn‘t do the dark sisters justice.

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Oliver Bullough is a journalist and writer specialising in Russian history and politics. In this well-researched, easy to follow book that left me incredulous and furious, he sets out how the international finance system (facilitated by Western bankers, accountants and lawyers) permits the rich and the crooked to hide their money while still benefitting from it. It‘s jaw dropping stuff that makes you realise that money conquers all.

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Sujata Massey‘s historical crime novel (the first in a series) is a well constructed affair that does an excellent job of portraying 1920s multicultural Bombay, what the rise of the independence movement means for the city‘s various religious and cultural groups and the problems faced by women, but the murderer is a little easy to guess and I wanted more of Alice and Perveen‘s friendship than what‘s on the page.

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Why Cities Look the Way They Do | Richard J. Williams
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Richard J Williams is Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures at Edinburgh University. In this fascinating book he builds the argument that global cities look the way they do due to different, interacting processes operating on them. He focuses on the impact of money, power, sex, work, war and culture (specifically creative industries) predominantly on western cities, and I came away with a different way of thinking and looking at places.

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Mehso-so

The second in Tamsin Cooke‘s STUNT DOUBLE SERIES is a fast-paced, YA action fantasy that makes good use of its Thai locations but the female characters are thinly drawn in a book that‘s clearly aimed at boy readers, a certain suspension of disbelief is needed to buy into the plot and while the revelation of a secret brings emotional depth, it also seems very soapy.

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White Bodies: A Novel | Jane Robins
Panpan

Jane Robins‘s psychological thriller is a tedious, silly affair that poorly uses the serious subject of controlling male behaviour. The lacklustre plot is far too easy to guess and isn‘t helped by an alienating main character whose personality ‘quirks‘ include eating things that belong to her fundamentally unpleasant sister and who never acts in a believable or rational way (to the extent that at one point I thought she was special needs).

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Mehso-so

Lorraine Justice is a designer, speaker and educator. This book is strong on principles of good design and design management but which doesn‘t really go into much depth on what the future of the industry may look like (and remains focused on products rather than services), she sets out the key issues to be aware of in the design cycle. As an introduction to the topic, it‘s fine but those seeking more depth should look elsewhere.

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Walls | Emma Fischel
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Emma Fischel‘s humorous fantasy novel for children aged 9+ is a clever, funny book about a boy who struggles with change, anxiety and his parents‘ divorce and who decides that he‘s going to use his magical powers to punish and bully rather than for good. I especially liked the fact that Ned is really difficult to like for a lot of the book and a lot of the fun comes from his slow realisation about how unpleasant he is and how he reacts to that.

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Feminism Is... | DK Publishing
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Alexandra Black is a writer specialising in non-fiction, Laura Buller writes for younger readers, Emily Hoyle is a writer who has covered feminism and Dr Megan Todd is a lecturer in social science at the University of Central Lancashire. In this well structured introduction to feminism aimed at teens (introduced by TV presenter Gemma Cairney), they set out some of the key moments in feminist history and the main issues it‘s tackling today.

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Joanna Nadin‘s contemporary novel for children aged 9+ is a wonderfully observed story of belonging, friendship, grief and working out who you are. The dialogue really conveys the Leeds location and Nadin does a good job of showing the issues involved with having parents in low paid work without over-emphasising it. The Dogger storyline had a neat magical realist vibe, although I wanted more of a resolution.

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Nathalie Spencer is a behavioural scientist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. In this very broad book that doesn‘t offer much new to those seeking to get control over their finances, she looks at the psychology of financial decision making and how behavioural science can be used to boost financial wellbeing. If you‘re wondering why you keep avoiding dealing with your finances, then this book offers an additional means of procrastination.

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Midnight at Moonstone | Lara Flecker
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Lara Flecker‘s debut fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (beautifully illustrated by Trisha Krauss) is a charming affair about the importance of creativity and coming together to help each other out. There‘s a bit of an old-fashioned vibe to the story telling but for me that added to its appeal and I think many readers will relate to Kit‘s fear that she‘s a disappointment to her successful dad and siblings.

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The Secret Barrister is an anonymous junior barrister specialising in criminal law in England and Wales who was Independent Blogger of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and has written for numerous publications. In this passionate, clearly written and damning book that is essential reading for anyone who cares about the United Kingdom they set out how the English criminal legal system should work and why it is going so drastically wrong.

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Reconstruction | Mick Herron
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Mick Herron‘s deftly plotted, taut spy thriller (set within the same world as the JACKSON LAMB SERIES and featuring bit player Sam Chapman) is a sophisticated ensemble piece set against the backdrop of post invasion Iraq. I loved how Herron splits the action between the characters to convey their viewpoints and the misdirection is masterly but some scenes are repetitive and I didn‘t think the overall narrative voice quite worked.

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Gill Hasson is a teacher, trainer and writer. In this helpful book she sets out principles of good communication and then provides tips for putting those principles into practice. Each book has a useful summary at the end of each chapter with tips of conversational styles, small talk and disconnecting from conversations plus there are good segments on communicating with people with dementia or hearing problems.

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The House of Light | Julia Green
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Julia Green‘s literary dystopian novel for children aged 9+ is a delicately written, lyrical and thoughtful affair about the desperation, fear and hope that drives you to leave everything you‘ve known. The world building is subtle and clever, the relationship between Bonnie and Granda heartbreaking and Bonnie is a protagonist who it‘s easy to empathise with although I thought the ending was a little too pat.

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Viv Groskop is a writer, stand-up comedian and presenter. In this useful book that‘s aimed at women and has plenty of practical tips and advice on how to give a presentation or speech, she uses examples of successful speakers like Michelle Obama to help the reader find their own style of speaking and give themselves confidence but constantly refers to TED talks so that readers will need to do further research to understand some of her points.

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Oyinkan Braithwaite‘s debut literary thriller (long listed for the 2019 Booker Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Women‘s Prize for Fiction) is a tightly written, fast paced and enjoyable account of family ties, secret crushes and casual murder although the story itself is very thin and I was left unconvinced by Korede‘s protective attitude towards the selfish, sociopathic Ayoola, Tade is underdeveloped and the ending was, for me, quite weak.

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Mehso-so

Mark Alizart is a journalist, philosopher and dog owner. In this peculiar book (translated from French by Robin MacKay) he looks at the evolution of the dog and its representation through mythology and religion with some musing on why women are compared to bitches. There‘s interesting material here but its overt intellectualism is quite alienating and I‘m not sure it has the heart or enthusiasm to appeal to average dog lovers.

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SLAY | Brittney Morris
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Brittney Morris‘s debut YA polemic is a mixed bag that‘s strong on racial politics, micro aggressions and political pressures within the African American community and it‘s great to read a celebration of black American culture. However, the plot is filled with improbabilities and inconsistencies and the focus on the Black American experience comes at the expense of global black experience while toxic masculinity gets a disturbing pass.

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James Bloodworth is a left-wing journalist and broadcaster who spent 2016 working undercover in 4 low paid/gig economy jobs: an Amazon warehouse order picker; a home/domiciliary care worker for Carewatch UK; a call centre agent for Admiral insurance; and an Uber driver in London. It‘s a troubling, timely and powerful look at Britain‘s left-behind cities and the grim existence of those in low income work that highlights working class discontent.

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Holly Jackson‘s debut YA thriller is a page turner that‘s perfect for SERIAL obsessed readers that cleverly mixes third person narration with extracts from Pip‘s report notes to provide background, advance the plot and allow readers to take stock. However, there‘s perhaps too much plot for this novel and some strands don‘t get developed as much as they should, while the revelation at the end didn‘t quite convince in terms of motivation.

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The third in E. S. Thomson‘s JEM FLOCKHART historical crime series is rich in period detail (especially in relation to medical practice of the time) and I really enjoyed the exploration of gender and race during this time but the plot sagged in the final quarter, with Jem doing some strange things for unconvincing reasons while the antagonist and their motives were a little under-baked, although I‘d still check out the rest of the series.

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No Bad Deed: A Novel | Heather Chavez
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Heather Chavez‘s debut thriller heavily relies on the reader suspending their disbelief and I found it too difficult to overlook the coincidences and contrivances that build the plot to enjoy it - especially as the antagonist proves to be from the stereotypical “bad and mad” stable that made me roll my eyes - such that although it is a pacy read, I can‘t say I‘ll rush to read her next novel.

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Bernard Marr is a futurist and author who owns a digital transformation consultancy where Matt Ward works as research lead. This shallow book (little more than a collection of press statement extracts and industry clippings) looks at how 50 companies have used AI but there‘s no analysis here, no consideration of hurdles and little thought to the ethical implications, making it a disappointing read that I got little use from.

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Snowblind: A Thriller | Ragnar Jonasson
Mehso-so

Ragnar Jónasson‘s debut Nordic Noir crime thriller (translated into English by Quentin Bates and the first in a series) makes full use of its atmospheric location to create a sense of choking claustrophobia but the plot meanders and I found myself bored by the emotionally immature Ari Thór and his girlfriend woes, especially as Ari Thór‘s investigation is driven more by happenstance by evidence, such that I am unlikely to check out the sequel.

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Kingdom of Souls | Rena Barron
Mehso-so

Rena Barron‘s debut YA fantasy (the first in a trilogy) makes excellent use of its West African inspiration to build a vivid world populated by tricksy gods that‘s a must for anyone bored with generic European worlds. However, the plot is messy with key events happening off page, a central character who is hamstrung for much of the book and predictable twists and pacing is not helped by too big of a cast such that I‘m not sure I‘d continue.

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Mehso-so

Shane Hegarty‘s science fiction novel for children aged 7+ (the first in a series and illustrated by Ben Mantle) mashes up TOY STORY with WALL-E in a cute but slight tale of identity, loss and belonging. However while Boot is an intrepid robot battling against adversity, his story didn‘t really spark for me, mainly because it hits so many familiar beats and the supporting cast feel by-the-numbers.

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Pretend You're Safe | Alexandra Ivy
Panpan

To be honest, had I know this was a romantic thriller (with an emphasis on the romance), then I probably wouldn‘t have picked it up. Although Alexandra Ivy hits the usual romance beats in a way that will please fans of the genre, I found Jaci too passive who‘s there to be rescued and told what to do by alpha males who know better, the plot is a little silly at times and the antagonist two dimensional. Ultimately this just isn‘t for me.

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The economics of arrival: Ideas for a grown-up economy | Trebeck, Katherine, Williams, Jeremy
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Katherine Trebeck is a senior researcher for Oxfam and Jeremy Williams a writer specialising in environmental and social issues. In this thought-provoking but in places flawed book, packed with figures and research, they use the notion of ever-rising GDP being a damaging fallacy as a starting point to consider what an ‘Arrived‘ economy would look like and how it can be transformed to focus more on environmental and equality.

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Halo Moon | Sharon Cohen
Mehso-so

Sharon Cohen‘s standalone fantasy novel for children aged 9+ does well at showing the tensions in young friendship through the jealousy Jade has for Halo due to her friendship with Pedro and features a largely positive depiction of a modern Ethiopian child (albeit at times it strays towards the “Magical Negro” trope) and I liked Halo‘s interest in astronomy but the story itself is quite pedestrian and never caught fire for me.

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Judy Apps is a communications expert and personal coach. In this book she sets out techniques and suggestions for improving your communications skills to form genuine connections with people by encouraging you to move away from controlled conversational norms and rely on your intuition. The spiritual and new age techniques won‘t be for everyone (and some weren‘t for me) but I did get some good ideas, which I‘ve put into practice.

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Places in the Darkness | Chris Brookmyre
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Chris Brookmyre‘s standalone novel is a clever mix of SF and hard boiled noir with a setting akin to the Western frontier and strong pacing. The world building is great, bringing in tech, politics, economics and social commentary and I liked the different factions at play with their respective agendas but Freeman and Blake felt a bit stock at times and some of the emotional revelations in the final quarter weren‘t earned.

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Mike Berners-Lee is Professor at Lancaster University‘s Institute for Social Futures and in this informative, thought-provoking but depressing book (that at times gets too caught up in the numbers and analogies), he sets out some of the facts and figures relating to climate change (which he expands to look at food supply, biodiversity and plastic use) to give the reader ideas for how to reduce the damage they do to the planet.

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The Land of Roar | Jenny McLachlan
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Acclaimed YA author Jenny McLachlan‘s debut middle grade fantasy novel (gorgeously illustrated by Ben Mantle and the first of a duology) is a stunningly good read - moving, funny and with a lot to say about facing your fears, embracing the power of imagination and the destructive need to be cool with the ‘in crowd‘ it tips its hat at the Narnia and Peter Pan tradition, while updating it for a more tech savvy and less gender stereotyped readership.

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Michael A. Roberto is Director of the Center for Program Innovation at Bryant University. In this thought-provoking book that will appeal to anyone who has worked at a large organisation, he sets out the 6 organisational mindsets that can block creativity within the workplace and offers ways of countering them, drawing on numerous business, technological and creative case studies and social psychology experiments to help make his case.

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A Strange Kind of Brave | Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Mehso-so

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald‘s YA thriller is a peculiar, forced affair, more suitable for Tweens than older teens. I enjoyed the theme of the damage done by loan-sharking and the importance of standing up to bullies, but the twists in this are pretty predictable and I was left wondering why adults were so taken in given some of the absurdities of a big reveal and the McCormack narrated sections are pretty hammy in their villainy.

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Massimiliano Di Ventra is Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. In this book (illustrated by Matteo Di Ventra) he aims to provide readers with an understanding of scientific methodology and its limitations so that readers can evaluate scientific claims. However, while it‘s intended as an easy read, you need some scientific knowledge to follow everything and while I got the overall gist, at times I was left confused.

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The Alice Encounter | John Gribbin
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John Gribbin‘s science fiction novella is a sequel to DOUBLE PLANET and REUNION but while I hadn‘t read those books, he gives enough information to be able to follow the plot. I found the writing a little workmanlike and the science was, for me, quite difficult to follow, but the ideas are interesting, as are the situations that the characters find themselves in - especially the terraforming of Mars - such that it‘s definitely worth a look.

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Jonathan Portes is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King‘s College London and in this book he looks at the economics of immigration, from its causes and impact to how the economic facts could influence policy in a post-Brexit world. Unfortunately, the Brexit section is the weakest - mainly because events have moved since it was written - but it‘s a must-read for the economic facts if you‘re looking to inform yourself on this subject.

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The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die | Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
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Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay‘s literary horror novel (published in India in 1993 but translated into English from Bengali for the first time by Arunava Sinha) is a domestic drama pitting the genuinely malevolent Pishima against the virtuous, obedient Somlata and I liked the alternating sections following her daughter, Boshon, a restless teenager who has forsaken love but the open ending is very frustrating and may alienate some readers.

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Serhii Plokhy is Professor of History at Harvard University and a specialist in Eastern Europe. In this by turns horrifying, moving and meticulously researched book (winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize in 2018 for non-fiction), he depicts the events surrounding the explosion of the No 4 reactor at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 and the cover up and clear up that followed and explains how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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Charles Conn is a former partner of McKinsey & Company and former CEO of the Rhodes Trust. Rob McLean is Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company and a former Dean of the Australian Graduate School of Management. This book aims to set out a 7-step programme for complex problem solving but while there‘s some useful information here it presupposes a familiarity with some of the logic tree techniques, which makes it difficult to use for beginners.

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C. J. Tudor‘s second novel is a tightly plotted horror tale that gives more than a nod to Stephen King‘s PET SEMETARY but which nevertheless has a distinctly British feel. The amoral and desperate Joe makes for an interesting protagonist and I liked Tudor‘s depiction of a broken pit village while the supernatural elements are generally creepy. All in all, this is a great Halloween chiller and I will definitely check out THE CHALK MAN.

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Afropean | Johny Pitts
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Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and broadcaster who founded the online journal Afropean.com. In this insightful, compassionate and thought-provoking book that‘s part anthropology, part memoir, part travelogue and part rumination on the black experience within Europe, he seeks to “honestly reveal the secret pleasures and prejudices of others as well as myself” and make sense of what it means to be a black citizen in Europe.

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Swimming Against the Storm | Jess Butterworth
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Jess Butterworth‘s contemporary ecological thriller for children aged 9+ does a great job of evoking the strange beauty of the Louisiana bayou and how it‘s at risk from climate change while Eliza and Avery‘s relationship captures the frustrations and rivalry of having a sibling. However the plot relies on a series of foolish decisions that I didn‘t believe of two swamp kids while I thought the corporate skulduggery plot was resolved too neatly.

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C. A. Fletcher‘s debut novel is an engrossing SF post-apocalyptic story that‘s low on complicated plot and which telegraphs its twists and punches with some heavy-handed foreshadowing but is rich in atmosphere - specifically Fletcher‘s vision of a decaying Britain returning to nature - and I liked Griz with his curiosity, determination and love of his dog and cared about what happens to him.

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Stephen Smith is Professor of African Studies at Duke University and spent 30 years as a journalist in Africa. His book is strong on the human geography of Africa, particularly the problems of its youthful population, the tensions with gerocentric political structures and the levers encouraging migration to Europe and America but is weak on how to address this and at times he offers up literary tangents that give colour but no facts.

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Sir David Cannadine is Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University and in this informative and easy to understand book he aims to set out a political history of Britain within an interlinked and international context but what makes it fascinating are the parallels with modern Britain (notably the Brexit issue with Ireland), which left me with an overriding impression that the more things change, the more they stay the same ...

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Isadora Moon Puts On a Show | Harriet Muncaster
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The 10th in Harriet Muncaster‘s self-illustrated fantasy series for children aged 6+ is another charming and thoughtful affair that focuses on self-confidence and how to deal with situations that make you nervous. It‘s another very girly book but I especially liked how Muncaster sets up the expectations of her dad, who is slightly too worried about what the vampires will like rather than what Isadora will enjoy, which adds to her nerves.