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: ★★★
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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.
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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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18 May 2016

The 5am Review: I Let You Go

Good morning... I'm wide awake and have been since about 2.30am so I thought I would write you a quick book review!

Description
In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating
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Rating: ★★★★★

This book had been on my shelf for quite some time when I picked it up, originally one that I bought from last year's Richard and Judy book club selection at WHSmiths.  I was pretty happy when Paul picked this out of my TBR jar for me as I had been meaning to get to it, and I love a thriller, so was excited to see what I would make of this one.

The story starts with a car accident in Bristol, in which a young boy is killed.  After this we follow our main character Jenna as she tries to move on, by relocating to a remote Welsh village and cutting herself off from what she deems to be her former life.  At the same time and shown in alternating chapters, there is the ongoing police investigation.  I'll be honest and say I wasn't immediately hooked and said as much on Twitter via Goodreads - only to receive a tweet from the author herself advising me to stick with it until the end of Part One and then get rid, if I wasn't a fan.  So I did as I was told and persevered, and I'm so glad I did!  The end of Part One was where it started to get really interesting and from this point on I was hooked.

On reflection I think the twist in this novel relies quite heavily on misleading the reader.  That might sound odd, as surely all twists rely on readers thinking one thing and then being shown another, however I've seen a lot of people say they had already assumed what was revealed to have been happening all along, so I think in particular this one depends on how you're reading and the perceptions you have from the beginning.  However I was personally taken on the journey the author intended and so it worked really well for me.

Despite the main twist being revealed quite early on, the rest of the book was equally gripping.  Not easy reading in places with some quite dark themes - it's hard to say more without giving away plot details but I do think this book maybe should come with a trigger warning for domestic abuse.

The characters all felt very real and had convincing back stories.  I was slightly less interested in the police and what was going on in their personal lives as some of it seemed irrelevant, however for the most part I could see how it was important to the plot.  The writing was brilliant and very clever. Overall, a really impressive debut, and I can see why it was on all the book club lists!  I will definitely look out for anything else by Clare Mackintosh - in fact her new book I See You is out in July!
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15 May 2016

I'd like to read...

Some of the books that caught my eye in April...

 The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen30138532 

When we first meet Kit, she's a fox.
Nineteen-year-old Kit works for the research department of Shen Corporation as a phenomenaut. She's been “jumping”--projecting her consciousness, through a neurological interface - into the bodies of lab-grown animals made for the purpose of research for seven years, which is longer than anyone else at ShenCorp, and longer than any of the scientists thought possible. She experiences a multitude of other lives - fighting and fleeing as predator and prey, as mammal, bird, and reptile - in the hope that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. Her closest friend is Buckley, her Neuro - the computer engineer who guides a phenomenaut through consciousness projection. His is the voice, therefore, that's always in Kit's head and is the thread of continuity that connects her to the human world when she's an animal. But when ShenCorp's mission takes a more commercial--and ominous--turn, Kit is no longer sure of her safety. Propelling the reader into the bodies of the other creatures that share our world, The Many Selves of Katherine North takes place in the near future but shows us a dazzling world far, far from the realm of our experience.
I first decided to check this out after seeing someone post a picture of the cover on Twitter.  I love foxes!  But I was even more intrigued after reading the description.  I think it sounds like a fascinating concept and I think I will also really enjoy the sci-fi aspects to it.  Due for release on 2nd June so I will definitely be going to pick up a copy!

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

27169760“The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen; a fib, an excuse, a piece of flattery. Next thing you know its smell is in your nose. There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke.”

England. A century ago, give or take a few years.
An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.


I've seen a LOT of discussion about this book around in the book blogging and Booktube communities.  From what I understand, it's set in a school where young people are taught how to control their smoke.  It's been compared to both Harry Potter and His Dark Materials with a lot of people saying that it fills the gap left by them both.  That's a very bold claim, so I'm both excited and a little nervous to read it.  Our copy is actually already on pre-order so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in when it arrives!




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All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon
Coloured sheets of paper fall from the sky. This is their first indication that something serious has happened. Each sheet bears a message: you have three hours to evacuate, bring only one suitcase. From their balconies they can see a dark column of smoke rising above the nuclear plant. For the people of Pripyat, these are the last moments they will spend in their homes. For a child piano prodigy, a dissident factory worker, a broken-hearted surgeon and unknowing others, this disaster will change their lives forever.
This promises to be a big, sweeping, human story which I always love.  The focal point of the story is set against the Chernobyl disaster which I'm aware of but don't know too much about, so I think it will be an emotional and interesting read.






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The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter. 

One that I'm definitely intrigued by, but unsure if I'll get around to it.  It definitely sounds interesting and I guess I'm especially into the space travel and sci-fi elements.  I've read some reviews and they seem to be quite mixed, but many people seem to have found this book very thought provoking with some interesting observations about human nature and faith in particular.


What books have caught your eye this month?
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11 May 2016

#Readathon reviews





Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery: ★★★★
Caitlin is the only young person living on Middle Island. On the first day of vacation, she finds a tiny alien on the beach. Caitlin becomes close to her secret friend, whom she names Perijee, teaching him everything about her world and treating him like a brother.  There’s only one problem: Perijee won’t stop growing. And growing . . . Caitlin will have to convince the adults around her—and Perijee himself—that the creature they see as a terrifying monster is anything but. 
A really fun, quick read!  A little far fetched in places - a setting where, following an alien invasion, people are living in government camps guarded by soldiers or otherwise travelling around the country looting, yet Caitlin's dad is able to write a book about life from other planets, have it published and give a television interview about it in the space of a few days.  I think the author was a little unsure whether to go down the post-apocalyptic route.  However, this would be my only complaint!  Brilliant characters and lots of twists and turns, definitely a great adventure story for children.

Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo: ★★★★ 
"When I get up, there's nobody home. Even Mum has gone out. The note says, 'I have to check my emails. I'll snowmobile to the meltline and be back soon. XX Mummy'.
And I think, 'Good. I can feed my bear...'"
This was such a lovely book.  I loved the characters especially the main character Darcy and the wounded bear she takes care of.  Darcy suffers from a chronic illness brought on by the change in altitude between her new home and the town she grew up in, and I thought this was described really well.  It was a touching story with beautiful description - and an equally beautiful cover!

Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith: ★★★
With an eerie simplicity of style, Highsmith turns our next-door neighbors into sadistic psychopaths, lying in wait among white picket fences and manicured lawns. In the darkly satiric, often mordantly hilarious sketches that make up Little Tales of Misogyny, Highsmith upsets our conventional notions of female character, revealing the devastating power of these once familiar creatures— "The Dancer," "The Female Novelist," "The Prude"—who destroy both themselves and the men around them.
I don't quite know what to make of this one!  All I can say is that it's a very unusual yet strangely entertaining collection.  I would recommend to fans of black comedy.

St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell: ★★★★
Charting loss, love, and the difficult art of growing up, these stories unfurl with wicked humour and insight. Two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab; a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to 'Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers' (Cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Insomniacs; Cabin 3, Somnambulists. . . ); a Minotaur leads his family on the trail out West, and finally, in the collection's poignant and hilarious title story, fifteen girls raised by wolves are painstakingly re-civilised by nuns.
Possibly my favourite book of Readathon!  It took me a little while to get used to Karen Russell's writing style but I really enjoyed the stories in this collection - they're imaginative and beautifully crafted and I loved the magical elements to them.  I'm really excited to read more from Karen as she clearly has a wonderful imagination.  Some of the stories I liked more than others but all of them had really original concepts and a real mixture of human emotion and behaviour.
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8 May 2016

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Classic #3)

Romantic, heroic, comic and tragic, unconventional schoolmistress Jean Brodie has become an iconic figure in post-war fiction. Her glamour, unconventional ideas and manipulative charm hold dangerous sway over her girls at the Marcia Blaine Academy - 'the crème de la crème' - who become the Brodie 'set', introduced to a privileged world of adult games that they will never forget.

Rating:

I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as part of the Readathon in April.  It has been a few weeks since I read it so I can't remember too many specifics, but I can see that I gave it two stars, and I'm standing by that rating.

Possibly if you were to study this text more closely as part of an English literature course, there would be lots to say about it, but as a reader approaching it simply as a work of fiction I just thought it was really dull.  The description makes it sound much more interesting than it actually is!  Equally, I couldn't get along with any of the characters; least of all Miss Brodie - she is supposed to be glamorous and obviously the girls in the story aspire to be like her, but she just annoyed me.

I read through to the end but it's not something I would recommend spending much time on.
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3 May 2016

The Second Love of My Life*


In the Cornish town of Talting, everyone is famous for something.   Until recently Rose was known for many things: her infectious positivity; her unique artistic talent; and, of course, her devotion to childhood sweetheart Lucas.  But two years ago that changed in one unthinkable moment.  Now, Rose is known for being the young woman who became a widow aged just twenty-four.  Rose knows that life must go on.  But the thought of carving out a new future for herself is one she can barely entertain.  Until a newcomer, Robert, arrives in Talting for the summer...

Rating: ★★★★

When it comes to Women's Fiction (I kind of hate that term, but not as much as I hate the term chick lit...), I tend to stick to the same few authors whose work I will always pick up whenever they bring out something new.  I’m happy to say that Victoria Walters is now definitely on that list!

The Second Love of My Life is a beautiful story about grief and finding the courage to allow yourself to move on.  It was easy for me to feel connected to the main character Rose – I’m 25 and recently engaged, not yet married, and so I couldn’t help but empathise with the situation Rose found herself in, and find myself wondering how I would cope if the same thing were to happen to me.

The theme of grief was handled very sensitively and I thought Victoria did a wonderful job of exploring all the different facets of it – we’re with Rose when she’s looking back on her memories with Lucas, when she’s sad and finding it hard to go about her everyday life, when she’s happy and thinking of the future, and when she’s feeling guilty about doing so – and it was a very authentic portrayal, not just with Rose but with the other characters affected by Lucas’ death.

I loved the setting of Talting – it sounded very picturesque and just like a place I would like to live!  I loved reading about the community surrounding Rose as I think this is what gave the book its warmth.  Of course the main pull for me was the promise of a love story and I wasn’t disappointed here either.  Robert was a great character, complex and with his own story to tell, which I loved - and I really wanted to read on to see what would happen between him and Rose.

A really beautifully written and emotional story, full of feeling.  Highly recommended!

Frances at Headline PG has very kindly offered me a giveaway copy for one of you lovely people - all you have to do is enter via the Rafflecopter giveaway below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* My copy was provided to me via request by Headline and Bookbridgr.

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1 May 2016

LaRose*

Late summer in North Dakota, 1999: Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence but only when he staggers closer does he realise he has killed his neighbour's son. 

Dusty Ravich, the deceased boy, was best friends with Landreaux's five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have been close for years and their children played together despite going to different schools. Landreaux is horrified at what he's done; fighting off his longstanding alcoholism, he ensconces himself in a sweat lodge and prays for guidance. And there he discovers an old way of delivering justice for the wrong he's done. The next day he and his wife Emmaline deliver LaRose to the bereaved Ravich parents. Standing on the threshold of the Ravich home, they say, 'Our son will be your son now'.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Gradually he's allowed visits with his birth family, whose grief for the son and brother they gave away mirrors that of the Raviches. The years pass and LaRose becomes the linchpin that links both families. As the Irons and the Raviches grow ever more entwined, their pain begins to subside. But when a man who nurses a grudge against Landreaux fixates on the idea that there was a cover-up the day Landreaux killed Dusty - and decides to expose this secret - he threatens the fragile peace between the two families.

Rating:

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.  The story is told without the use of speech marks although the characters do speak to one another, which for me gave it a hushed atmosphere, as though it was being told to me in whispers, and was very powerful.  LaRose is a book to read slowly and savour, and its well worth the time.

* I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts are my own. 
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