31 December 2016

2016 Reading Challenge and 2017 Reading Goals

For my Goodreads reading challenge this year I set myself a target of 30 books. Last year I had the same target but only just managed to scrape it, so I'm pleasantly surprised that this year I've been able to read 42 books! Here's everything I read this year in date order, with my star rating.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - ★★★★★
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman - ★★★★
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman - ★★★★
The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith - ★★★★
Peter Pan by JM Barrie - ★★
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson - ★★★
The Ballroom by Anna Hope - ★★★★★

The BallroomThe Ballroom by Anna Hope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful love story set against a fascinating historical backdrop, with a very vivid and atmospheric setting. Completely absorbing.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin - ★★★★
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit - ★★★★
The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen - ★★★
The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan - ★★★★★

The Last Days of SummerThe Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ticks all the boxes for a perfect thriller. Complex characters, atmospheric setting and a smart, tense narrative. I couldn't tear myself away from it especially towards the end.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark - ★★
Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith - ★★★
Dreaming The Bear by Mimi Thebo - ★★★★
St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell - ★★★★
Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery - ★★★★
The Second Love of My Life by Victoria Walters - ★★★★
LaRose by Louise Erdrich - ★★★★★

LaRoseLaRose by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book so much. It was a really absorbing but delicate human story and I kind of feel like it sneaked up on me in the way that even though it was a simple plot, it develops into a deeply affecting story. I got so involved in the lives of the characters and really cared about what would happen to them. The story flows really nicely between past and present, offering an insight into the family histories and personal connections of the characters, which are interesting as well as moving. I appreciated the insight into Ojibwe traditions and history and I thought the concept was fascinating.

The main thing that struck me about this book was the writing. There are some beautiful descriptions, and I thought Louise Erdrich captured the humanity and experiences of her characters perfectly. I would go as far as to say her characters are some of the most authentically human I've ever read. LaRose is a powerful book, one to read slowly and savour, and its well worth the time.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh - ★★★★★
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave - ★★★★
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman - ★★★
The Midnight Watch by David Dyer - ★★
The Trap by Melanie Raabe - ★★★
The Ornatrix by Kate Howard - ★★
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - ★★★★★

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book in so many different ways - it feels like a long time since I have been so transported by a novel or become so involved with the characters and their lives but I have been so absorbed! A really wonderful book.

Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse - ★★★★
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies (Pottermore Presents #1) by J.K. Rowling - ★★★★
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists (Pottermore Presents #2) by J.K. Rowling - ★★★★
Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (Pottermore Presents #3) by J.K Rowling - ★★★★
Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter - ★★★
I See You by Clare Mackintosh - ★★★★★
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - ★★★★
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue - ★★★★
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper - ★★★
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson - ★★★★
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain - ★★★★
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan - ★★★
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf - ★★★★
Room by Emma Donoghue - ★★★★
A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce - ★★★
The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher -

Some reading stats for 2016:
12,240 total pages read
1 non fiction book
30 books by female authors / 12 by male authors

Looking back over everything I've read this year, I'm really pleased! I discovered Kate Atkinson whose books I've been meaning to read for years, and also Emma Donoghue who only came on to my radar after the release of Room - having read two of her novels this year I have definitely added her to my list of auto-buy authors and I plan to read more of her back catalogue.
A few of the books I've read have become firm favourites, especially Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I'm so glad I finally read them and I'm actually quite glad I did so at an age where I could fully appreciate them. Also joining the list are The Ballroom by Anna Hope and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - both absolutely beautiful. My least favourite read of 2016 was Peter Pan - I know, I was surprised too! I thought it was absolutely horrible. You can read my full review here.

Reading Goals for 2017
One of my reading resolutions for 2016 was to read a popular trilogy that had passed me by. As I've mentioned, I read His Dark Materials and absolutely loved it, so I'm sticking with this idea for one of my 2017 goals. The trilogy I'd really like to get to this year is The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson. I've heard good things!

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 2017, I'm also going to be doing a full HP re-read. I've purchased myself a brand new boxed set of the children's paperbacks and I can't wait to settle back into the wizarding world.

Last year I said I wanted to challenge myself to take on a really big book, with 1000+ pages. In particular I really wanted to read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but I didn't get around to it, so I'm taking this goal with me into 2017, and I will read it this year! I might even make it one of the first books I read as I think it will be perfect to chase away the January blues.

More generally, I'm going to set my Goodreads challenge goal slightly higher and aim for 35 books in 2017. Wish me luck!

14 November 2016

Life After Life // A God in Ruins

Before reading Life After Life and A God in Ruins I had never read any Kate Atkinson, and I can only say I'm glad to have remedied that now.  Her writing is beautiful and here we have two atmospheric, quietly moving stories.  They almost sneak up on you, especially Life - in the beginning I almost felt like not much was happening but before I knew it, I was more than 50 pages in and hooked.

Both novels feature members of the Todd family, with emphasis on one particular character in each.  In Life After Life we are introduced to Ursula Todd who is born one snowy night in 1910, and dies immediately.  In the very next page, Ursula is born again, and this time survives - for a while, at least.  The novel continues in this fashion as each time Ursula is born we follow the happenings of her life and witness how these affect the path she is on;  how in some cases the decisions she makes or things that happen to her catapult her into tragedy, and how on other occasions she is able to steer a straighter path.

Crucially, Ursula is unaware of her ability to 're-do' her life.  She often experiences a type of premonition that something awful is about to happen, which prompts her to make a different decision than she might have in a previous version of her life, but for the most part she does not do so consciously and is not actively setting out to change her own destiny.  This means the story manages to avoid being gimmicky.  Instead, it's a thoughtful look at how seemingly small events can affect a person's life, explored against the poignant backdrop of the Second World War.  The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time as you might expect, but each version of Ursula's life is helpfully scattered with details we have already encountered in previous ones, so it's easy to keep up with.

There are lots of good things to say about about Life After Life but the best thing for me was the characterisation.  The Todd family is a large one and they also have a variety of wider friends and family and with so many characters it can be easy for them to merge into one another - not here.  Each one is memorable and I had a real sense of who they were as individuals, from the solid patriarch Hugh (my favourite) to his wayward sister Izzie, and I enjoyed reading about all of them.

I couldn't say the same for A God in Ruins and even though I gave both books 4 stars on Goodreads, I would have to say that I didn't enjoy this quite as much, but only for the reason that I just didn't like some of the characters as much.  In this companion novel the focus shifts to Ursula's brother Teddy Todd and flicks backwards and forwards in time, looking at his time in the RAF during the war and his life afterwards, into old age.  In the present and recent past segments we are introduced to Teddy's family and some of the narrative is from their point of view, and they just were not characters I enjoyed reading about, particularly not Teddy's daughter Viola.  She was self-indulgent and petty and I found myself feeling annoyed with her quite a lot.  The reason behind their rocky relationship is made clear by the end, but Teddy had been one of the most endearing characters in Life After Life and I felt upset that he didn't have the family life he wanted!

For me, A God in Ruins had the more powerful message.  It's hard to say too much about it without giving the ending away, but it was very affecting and genuinely thought-provoking.  Again the Second World War is almost a character in itself, and personally this is a time period I love to read about in historical fiction.  My heart was in my mouth many a time following Teddy on his bomber raids.  These moments in contrast with the quieter, more reflective passages of Teddy's life after the war make for a very moving story and both books really have something to say about the fragility of life.

Two books that I'm very glad I read, and I will definitely be reading some more of Kate Atkinson's work in the future.

6 November 2016

9 Nice Things

A mish-mash of things that have made me smile over the past few months.

01.  Receiving my invitation to my best and oldest friend's wedding next year!

02.  Starting my new job at the beginning of October, and the card I was given by my old manager on my last day in the office saying thank you for being part of the team.

03.  A giggly day out in York to celebrate a friend's birthday where we put on silly party hats and wandered the streets doing a historical treasure trail, getting some serious funny looks from the locals, and finished with a yummy meal at Ask Italian.

04.  A weekend by the sea in Scarborough with my family, complete with early morning walks on the beach, fresh donuts, amusements, funfairs, fish & chips, games night and even a boat ride.

Sunrise in Scarborough - not a filter in sight
The first time we have been to the seaside since we've been together - I know! - so it had to be done

 05.  Eating in Jamie's Italian whilst on induction for my new job in Manchester, which is in the most beautiful 1930s bank building with domed ceilings and amazing woodwork.  They have even turned the old bank vault into a private dining room.  Our waiter told us that Hitler thought it was beautiful too, and ordered that the building not be destroyed on the invasion of the UK as he wanted it for his Northern headquarters.

06.  Playing in pretty lights at Light Night Leeds.

07.  My first festive drink of the year - a black forest hot chocolate from Costa.  Fierce competition for my old favourite gingerbread latte from Starbucks!

08.  Keith the cat coming to stay with us whilst his owner was on holiday.

09.  Catching a rainbow on my way home from work.


3 August 2016

June & July Book Haul

I've had plenty of book buying opportunities over the past couple of months. I got copies of some titles I've been looking forward to for months, as well as a couple of other treats.  July was also a month of book buying firsts - I realised earlier in the month that I didn't own any scripts, and I now own two, and I also bought some nonfiction for the first time.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Four Tales by Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Received for Review
 Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent* - read my blog tour post here!
Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse**

* Thank you to Penguin Books
** Thank you to Bloomsbury Books

24 July 2016

Women Writing Crime by Liz Nugent - Lying In Wait blog tour

I'm very happy to be hosting today's stop on the blog tour for Liz Nugent's new thriller, Lying In Wait and to be welcoming Liz to the blog to talk about the rise in women writing crime fiction.

Women Writing Crime, by Liz Nugent

Crime has become a really broad genre in recent years, and whereas it used to mean police/ detective procedural, now it encompasses so much more. Thrillers, psychological suspense, spy novels, domestic noir, mystery, courtroom drama and the ‘whydunnit’ are all sub-genres within crime. The spectrum is very broad and the standard varies hugely.

The rise and rise of female crime writers is great to see. In Ireland, women currently outnumber men 5 to 1 in the genre. I’m not sure if it’s the same in the UK? These women are writing smart sassy gripping novels. I don’t know why women have really broken through in this genre in the last decade? Maybe there are so many of us now that we are impossible to ignore? There is strength in numbers. Our male counterparts have, by and large, welcomed us into the tribe. Remember that writers are also readers and we all want more books.

When Marian Keyes first coined the term ‘griplit’ to describe compelling page-turners, she used it as a compliment and she was not using it exclusively to describe the work of female writers, but now sadly, I have seen it used in a reductive way by some to dismiss and belittle the crime writing of women.

If there is a difference between the way men and women write, I’m afraid I don’t see it. Writing is not and never has been a competition between the sexes. All genders are capable of great work and terrible work. Our approach is as diverse as the human race allows. Tall people don’t write differently to short people and so it is with men, women and transgender individuals. We each apply our imagination to the page and some of us are lucky enough to get published. What a wonderful world! 

Lying in Wait

'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'
Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. However, there is one thing Lydia desperately yearns for to make her perfect family complete, and nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants...

This is a dark, twisty and utterly gripping domestic noir that you won’t be able to put down from the author hailed as Ireland’s answer to Gillian Flynn.

Praise for Lying in Wait

‘A tense, taut, almost gothic thriller where the tension tightens to near unbearable proportions. I devoured it in one sitting, it was impossible to stop reading.
A brilliantly written, stand-out novel’ Marian Keyes

‘Taut, crisp, clear, a storm-warning of a book. It has the eeriness of The Turn of the Screw; but as these screws turn, a mighty tension takes hold. Masterly’ Sebastian Barry

‘I absolutely loved it. I thought it impossible to match the brilliant Unravelling Oliver, but Liz has. She keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from page one until the completely unexpected ending’ Amanda Redman

‘A stunningly talented writer’ Sophie Hannah

Blog Tour


13 July 2016

The Ornatrix*

Flavia was born with a birthmark covering her face, in the shape of a bird in flight.  Ashamed of the mark, her mother makes Flavia hide her face behind a veil on the rare occasions she is allowed to be seen in public.  But on the night before her younger sister's wedding, Flavia does something drastic, something that will draw her into a much wider and stranger world than she could have imagined: the convent of Santa Guiliana, just outside the city.  There she meets Ghostanza, a courtesan turned widow, whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia, and whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched.  Flavia become her ornatrix: her hairdresser and personal maid.  But as white-lead paint rots the flesh below it, so the bustling city, and Santa Guiliana, is rotting below the shimmer of wealth and privilege.  And Flavia is drawn into a world of desire and jealousy that has devastating consequences.

Rating: ★★

Unfortunately, The Ornatrix just wasn't my cup of tea.

From reading the description, I thought it would be, and there were aspects of it that I liked.  Set in sixteenth century Italy, it follows main character Flavia who was born with a large birthmark across her face.  Living with such a mark in a society that places a lot of emphasis on how women look or dress, Flavia is introduced to cosmetics and beauty practices when a courtesan named Ghostanza arrives at the convent where she is living following an incident in her family home.  The story then follows the many lengths Flavia will go to in order to conform to the perceived standards of beauty at the time, and is a tale of self discovery as well as a reflection on how society defines the idea of beauty.

I appreciated the historical setting and the level of detail and insight into the beauty practices adopted by women of the time was really interesting and well developed.  Its clear that this is an area the author knows a lot about.  In particular I liked that included before each chapter was a beauty tip or 'recipe' for a particular problem, such as bad skin or puffy eyes etc.  I took these to be real examples from the time however there was no note on the original source, but I found this really interesting, and I did enjoy reading about the theme of beauty particularly within the historical context.  I felt like I had learned something, which is always a positive!  It was definitely thought-provoking with some good points of reflection on the suffering and health concerns resulting from some of the practices as well as societal ideals.  I could see this being a good book club read for that reason.

However for me, the story itself was not that enjoyable.  I didn't feel particularly connected to any of the characters; although I felt sympathy for Flavia for the fact that she was uncomfortable in her own skin, I didn't find myself particularly interested to know what would happen to her or anyone else.  There were also a few supporting characters that I found it hard to differentiate between.  The plot was quite slow and at times, I found the writing style quite difficult to get on with.  For these reasons, it didn't keep my attention too well and that's why I have only given it a 2* rating.

*My copy was sent to me by Duckworth in exchange for an honest review.

9 July 2016

Some thoughts on Zoella's book club

At the start of June, vlogger Zoella announced a book club collaboration with WHSmith (if you don't know who Zoella is, I can only assume you don't live with any teenagers or spend much time on the internet).  Aimed at encouraging young people to read through the use of Zoe's influence, the book club collection consists of the 8 titles pictured above.  Since then, there has been some discussion online about the books that were chosen, and some concerns have been raised about how the Zoella book club titles portray sex and virginity in particular. 

I read this article which sums everything up nicely including specific examples from the texts so I won't go into too much detail, but generally the issues raised are to do with the emphasis placed on virginity and/or the losing of, and unrealistic, heteronormative portrayals of 'perfect' sex, particularly first time sex.  I haven't read any of the titles other than Giovanna Fletcher's Billy and Me which I would actually say is not a YA book, so I can't offer any opinions on the books themselves, but from reading around the subject a little bit, I do think these are valid concerns.  However, I think it is unfair to place all the responsibility for this on Zoe's shoulders.

The Zoella book club could definitely have been an opportunity to educate young readers and introduce them to a wider range of issues, however I think it would be naive to assume that there were no constraints on the book choices made, or that Zoe was the sole decision maker.  Because of this, I found the closing comment of the article unnecessarily patronising - there's no doubt that she has a young audience but she is a responsible role model in many ways, most notably in her work to raise awareness of mental health and anxiety, and she can't be expected to cover every single issue relevant to teens.   

The real issue is the lack of positive representation to be found in young adult literature generally.

Most of the titles included had already enjoyed popularity in their market - I have heard of them all, despite not having read them myself and I suspect this is why they were chosen.  It is not a coincidence that none of the titles picked stray from the aforementioned narratives surrounding virginity - this is the dominant theme to be found not just in books but in films, tv programmes, even pop songs, and this is reflective of how these issues are discussed in society.  These representations of virginity loss as a life-defining moment will be familiar to us all - how often do we see female characters worried about having sex, or women experiencing negativity if they do?  And whilst I suspect teenage boys are not the target market of the Zoella book club, this applies to them too.  For them, it's a rite of passage; a ticket to respect among their peers.  The chance for Zoe to introduce her book club readers to representations outside of these is limited by the lack of alternatives available.

Having said that, Zoe's reaction to the article was quite disappointing.  She had an opportunity to contribute to a discussion but instead laughed off what she seemed to see as personal criticism, saying that she was tired of people trying to patronise her audience.  I think she's right that teenagers should not be assumed incapable of making their own informed decisions, but it's also fair to say that they are still impressionable and their decisions can be quite easily influenced by things they read.  She did not respond at all to concerns raised about the lack of LGBT representation in her book club picks, potentially alienating these members of her audience.  This is something I would have expected her to give some more thought to - but again, I daresay she was limited to what was already popular.

Whilst it would have been nice to see Zoe acknowledge the issues that were raised, and perhaps open the discussion among her audience, I don't think sole responsibility lies with her.  Her aim to encourage young people to read is something that I can definitely get behind.  Instead, I feel it is the responsibility of those writing for young people to ensure they are not perpetuating the myths surrounding virginity in their work, and are inclusive of a wider range of experiences.

5 June 2016

9 Nice Things

Hello everyone, how are we all?  I know things have been very heavily book themed on these pages in recent weeks but I'm going to try and include more lifestyle posts again, starting with this list of things that have been making me smile over the past couple of weeks.

01. The Beauty and The Beast teaser trailer.  I'm so excited to see this film!  I think the casting is perfect and I recently found out that Ewan McGregor is also in it, so basically it's already my favourite film of 2017. 

02. A couple of weeks ago my friend Alice and I had cream tea at The Tetley in Leeds.  It was yummy and it's always lovely to spend the afternoon chatting over a scone and a cuppa or two.

03. Fresh flowers from the market.  I recently picked up these pretty pink roses and they have been adding a lovely pop of colour to my living room.

04. Baking - for the first time in years!  I made banana bread on bank holiday Monday.  I was really pleased with how it turned out, and it made me feel so content to have spent time on something like that on my day off rather than looking at screens.

05. Scented candles, specifically Yankee Candle Lemon Lavender.  I had some time off last week and after spending one whole day cleaning the flat, it was blissful to light a candle and put my feet up.  I don't think the power of a scented candle can ever be overstated!

06. Having things to look forward to.  Next month we're heading down to London to see Harry Potter & The Cursed Child which I'm sure will be amazing!  Since we were making the journey for that, we decided to make a little holiday of it so we're also going to see the Aladdin musical, and I bought Paul tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong for his birthday.  I love going to the theatre so I can't wait!  Then in August we're spending a weekend in Liverpool - Paul has arranged for us to stay in The Beatles hotel which is pretty cool, and I'm hoping to go and find the Penny Lane street sign.

07.  Rainbow ice cream. Best enjoyed in the sun with a friend.

08.  Lighter evenings.  Spring and summer aren't really my favourite seasons (hello, hayfever) but I will admit that lighter evenings make for much nicer walks home from work.

09.  I had to be very brave this week, and I was proud of myself, but it was even nicer to hear Paul tell me I had made him proud too. That guy.  I couldn't do life without him.

30 May 2016

Current library loans + a mini review.

I've really been making use of my local library recently to read some of the new releases I'm excited about but have only been published in hardback for the time being.  I'm not so keen on hardbacks and I used to wait for the paperback release to read them, but this way I can read them at the same time as everyone else and avoid spoilers!

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer - Based on the true story of the SS Californian, a ship that saw the distress signals on the night the Titanic sank, but didn't help. I've been strangely fascinated by the Titanic and the history of it from a young age, and I'm really enjoying historical fiction at the moment, so this seemed like it would be just my cup of tea.

The Trap by Melanie Raabe - A thriller that seems like it's been on my radar for months and months, I originally had this brought to my attention when someone (I can't remember who!) tweeted about the concept, which sounds so clever!
Twelve years ago, Linda's sister Anna was murdered. Her killer was never caught, but Linda saw him. Now, all these years on, she's just seen him again. On TV. He has since become a well-known reporter, and Linda - a famous novelist and infamous recluse - knows no one will believe her if she accuses him, so she does the only thing she can think of: she writes a thriller about a woman who is murdered, her killer never caught. When the book is published, she agrees to give just one media interview. At home. To the one person who knows more about the case than she does.
The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish - Another that I've had my eye on for a while; I included this in April's installment of The List.  I'm looking forward to getting around to it!

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman - I've actually just finished reading Girls on Fire this week.  I decided to put my name on the reservation list for it after seeing it quite a lot on social media and I think I'm actually the first person to borrow this from my library - I must have reserved it just as they had it on order as it is a brand new release.  However for me, it didn't quite live up to the hype.  It's not that it's not a good book - it is really gripping and kept me reading until the end but I just didn't really like it.  There's a lot of bad language and some very disturbing scenes in this book and whilst I'm not easily offended and enjoy a dark book as much as anyone, I found it a little too much and at times I wondered if it actually served the plot, or had been thrown in just to create the shock factor the author was obviously going for.  Not a favourite. Rating: ★★★

25 May 2016

The Girl of Ink & Stars

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped. When her best friend disappears, she's determined to be part of the search part. Guided by an ancient map and her knowledge of the stars, Isabella navigates the island's dangerous Forgotten Territories. But beneath the dry rivers and dead forests, a fiery myth is stirring from its sleep...

Rating: ★★★★

From the first few pages I was hooked by this story.  Set in a world not too different from ours, we're straight away introduced to Isabella and her father who live in a village named Gromera on the island of Joya. Isabella's father is a cartographer and from him she has learned some of the basics of map-making.  This is a theme that runs throughout the story and echoed in the design of this beautiful little book, from the front cover to the illustrated maps on the end papers, to the cartography symbols that adorn each page.

The story and setting are very immersive and beautifully written. The island of Joya is steeped in history and we learn about this from the start as Isabella recounts some of the stories her father has told her, including the myth explaining Joya's past as a floating island and this was fascinating, involving all kinds of strange and wonderful things.  The author also begins setting up the story straight away as we're told that the island in the present day is divided, following the arrival of Governor Adori, and the villagers are forbidden from crossing into what are known as the Forgotten Territories.  Now something strange is happening in the village however we don't find out exactly who the Governor is, why the island is separated or what the strange happenings mean until much later on, and by then we're already following the characters on a wonderful adventure.

It was great to read a middle-grade novel with a heroine.  Isabella and her best friend Lupe, the Governor's daughter, very much lead the story.  For me, Lupe was actually the more interesting character.  Isabella is brave and loyal, but Lupe is more conflicted - she lives with her father who is not very fair to the people of Gromera, yet has to attend school with their children.  Because of this for me her growth during the story was more rewarding.  However I really enjoyed all the characters and in particular the focus on friendship.

This book has a lot of heart and is absolutely bursting with all the things I love most in a story - myth and magic, adventure, friendship.   At times I felt like there was a little too much going on, but that's barely a criticism.  I've read that the US version has been titled The Cartographer's Daughter and I'm not sure why, as I think the sense of magic and fantasy of the story are more accurately captured in the UK title.  Either way, I would definitely recommend this for both children and adults.

22 May 2016

On My Shelf

Today I'm using Jennie's number prompts [1+7, 3+10 and 5+1] to show you some things from my bookshelf! The majority of my shelves are organised alphabetically by author however I also have a couple shelves that are not organised any particular way, so you end up with quite a mixture.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton [shelf 1, book 7]
On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true. As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household she realizes the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?
I read this last year after having it on my list for a while.  It wasn't one of my favourite reads and I think that's because it was quite different from what I expected - not quite as magical as it sounds.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy it though, just for different reasons than I originally picked it up for.  I wrote a full review which you can read here!

The Man Who Risked It All by Laurent Gounelle [shelf 3, book 10]
Alan Greenmor is standing on the edge of the Eiffel Tower, determined to end it all. A cough interrupts him. To his right is a mysterious stranger in a dark suit, smoking a cigar. This is Yves Dubreuil. The person who will change Alan's life.

Dubreuil convinces Alan to reconsider his plans, with one caveat: instead of ending his life, he will have to give his life over to Yves. In return, Dubreuil promises to teach Alan the secrets to happiness and success. Yves' plan to transform Alan from a man on the edge is not an easy or likely one. But if Alan is to return to life, he must risk it all...
I had actually forgotten all about this book! If I remember rightly it was a present a couple of Christmases ago.  Hopefully one I'll get around to reading soon, particularly because it involves two of my favourite things - mysteries, and Paris!

 Harry at the Airport by Derek Radford [shelf 5, book 1]

Quite an odd thing for a 25 year old woman with no children to have on her bookshelf, you may think, but there's a story behind it!

When I was quite young, between the ages of around 2 to 6, we went on a few holidays abroad and most often by plane. I remember snippets of those holidays but nothing at all about flying, being on a plane or even in the airport at all.  I only know that we did fly because I vividly remember reading Harry at the Airport. It follows a family of hippos on their way on holiday and through check in, baggage check, boarding etc. so children can learn about all the things that go on and the different people that work in the airport.  I loved it! I could even picture the exact layout of some of the pages. We didn't go on any more holidays abroad after I started school but every time someone brought up flying I would talk about this book and wonder what happened to it. I even looked for it online a couple of times with no luck.

Fast forward to when I was 18 and I went on my first holiday without my parents, to Tunisia with a group of friends from school. A couple of days before I left my dad surprised me with a copy of the book he'd found on eBay! I don't think it was even available in the UK any more and this copy was actually shipped over from America.  I was so excited and I loved being able to flick through it again! Now, it's one of the most special things on my shelf and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my children in the future.

What's on your shelf?
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