The Alchemist – Paul Coelho

The Alchemist is a novel which a reader can enjoy on two levels. I was recommended this book by someone who said they felt it helped them to keep an open mind to new possibilities and challenges. It’s reassuring to find that there are books out there, that can assist us, perhaps unknowingly on a sub-conscious level but that we can also simply enjoy.

The AlchemistOn the surface, it is simply a beautiful novel following a young man’s journey, as he follows his dreams and destiny. On a deeper level The Alchemist is a novel that not only describes the journey of the young man, but more than this Coelho takes the reader on this journey also.

The journey a reader takes in reading The Alchemist, crosses oceans, villages, and deserts, each with its own intoxicating description. Each new place offers new challenges to either be risen to, or given up on. Each new scene also brings us new experiences and new people to meet and learn from, all the while life still moves forward.

It is Coelho’s descriptions of these exotic places that were my favourite part of reading The Alchemist. They were so exacting that they transported me to the centre of the novel.

Coelho’s use of language is quite unique, minor spoiler alert, but his lack of concretely naming the main character in this novel, ultimately means he could be anyone. It makes it easier for the reader to inject themselves into the novel.

The novel is mostly realist, with relatable situations and people you could imagine meeting in the exotic places Coelho describes. But there are elements of magical realism too, these add a slight air of fantasy to the novel – making it a more light-hearted read.

If you read with your mind clear and open to new thoughts and ideas, then I believe this novel could help a reader open themselves to new possibilities.

I would recommend The Alchemist to those who enjoy novels that allow you travel across the world, but also makes you think. It is a novel that can make you think about your own circumstances, and help you pull together a more positive outlook if you let it.

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The Ghost Fields – Elly Griffiths

When the novel you pick up to read during a weekend away is set during a heatwave in Norfolk, I bet your mind conjures images of a sunny beach, romance and flirty plot twists. Until you read the title The Ghost Fields that is.

Elly Griffiths’ The Ghost Fields is a novel which would suit readers who enjoy crime thrillers, or those with an interest in World War Two history or both. Griffiths’ offsets gripping, stark, intense and engaging drama with intrigue, seeming historically sound descriptions and a romantic subplot of unrequited love. It has been a long time since I read a crime thriller which is this well written, I simply couldn’t put it down.

The Ghost Fields

The Ghost Fields is well paced, fast moving in all the right places, and slows to allow the reader to take a breath exactly when needed. Some moments in our heroine’s story hit some particularly dark places deep down, which many readers will be able to relate to. Equally there are some much lighter and less tense moments, which whilst they still carry an air of awkwardness; are a reflection on the development of the main character as both the reader gets to know her, and as she makes decisions which reveal more about her inner desires to her own self.

A few crime novels I’ve read in the past have fallen into the trap of being too focused on the hard facts and not enough on the emotional state of their characters. Books which include references to real events such as World War Two can often become too engrossed in the history and do not clearly link their relevance to the present day in the novel. The Ghost Fields has neither of these problems. As a reader with more interest in the crime side of things than the World War history, Elly Griffiths does well to bring emotion to the history and keeps it relevant to the modern day. Whilst there is just enough dramatic tension to keep you reading, without exhausting the reader.

At times it felt like I was left with more questions than answers, but by the time I had finished reading it, all the secrets had come out and the answers were supplied readily. Reaching the end was as satisfying as it gets for a book lover. All the I’s were dotted and T’s crossed. Granted, I didn’t necessarily get all the happy endings I wanted, but I had answers either way.

If you’re looking for a modern twist on a crime thriller to try, I’d definitely recommend you read The Ghost Fields.

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Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd is one of those novels that many people say ‘One day, I will read it, it’s a classic.’ I’ll be the first to admit I was one of those people, and the intention to read it was always there, but it wasn’t until my sister bought me the book for my Birthday that I got one step closer to actually reading it. Fast forward another year and I still hadn’t picked it up.

Truth be told when someone tells you a novel is a classic it becomes more daunting a prospect to read. The term classic brings so many pre-existing notions with it. But hey…never a judge a book by its cover right?

At first it took me quite a while to really sink my teeth into this story. Hardy offers some beautiful and extravagant descriptions of the scenery which is the backdrop to our heroine and protagonist Bathsheba’s whirlwind life.Far from the Madding Crowd

At times Hardy really takes his time to reach the next juncture in the plot. Depending on your mood as a reader, this can sometimes feel too pro-longed and unnecessary. Other times I could revel in the minute details of the moment.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that Far from the Madding Crowd is instantly ‘un-put-downable’, it was very easy to pick up and quickly get back into the groove of the novel. Overall I did enjoy the book. It wasn’t until I had read over half way through, that the plot took some truly exciting and unexpected twists.

It’s easy to see that Hardy takes his time with his leading characters, and without overcrowding (excuse the pun!) the story, the reader is offered a plethora of minor characters who help push the timeline along, as well as supplying the reader with some welcome relief to the swirling serious and highly strung emotions.

As is often the case when my generation of reader attempts a 19th Century novel, I did find some of the language odd, vague and at times a little ‘flouncy’ in Hardy’s flourishes. But I didn’t find these clashes of language off-putting, rather as a modern reader it only made it a much starker reality, that many of the trials and tribulations of young love and tragic circumstances have not changed much over the centuries.

Hardy’s ending to this tale of love and betrayal was both subtle and extreme at the same time. Far from the Madding Crowd is well worth the read, but also well worth taking your time with. It’s not a quick read and perhaps not the one for a summer vacation, but with Winter approaching (the urge to quote Game of Thrones is agonising), it is certainly one to curl up on the sofa under a blanket with some hot chocolate.

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Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Given how much I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I decided to give another Austen adaptation a try – Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I had high hopes, but my only expectation was that the main plot points remained the same, and on that front the novel did not disappoint.

Overall the novel was mostly consistent, and generally well written. There were a few times, I felt that some passages were a little long-winded and perhaps not as concise as they could have been. It was in those moments I felt the shift between the tone of Austen and that of Winters’, the subtle differences were all of a sudden much more obvious. In my opinion that was a shame, as I felt it disrupted my flow as a reader. I kept having to remember that the book is an adapted contribution from two different writers.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

As you would expect from an adaptation, there were plenty of new plot twists and new character development moments to enjoy. Some I would arguably say are more exciting than others, some I would say might not matter if they had been included or not. But combined they certainly added a new layer to the original novel.

This added layer was most evident in the new character traits attributed to the Dashwood’s and the Steele’s. Elinor Dashwood in particular, became a much more exciting and likeable character, than was possible in the Austen’s original version. This was simply achieved by a slightly more up-tempo pace throughout, and of course the addition of new events into the plot.

It was good to see that although this was an adaptation, Winters’ had taken care not to leave any wide open plot holes, or major character misalignments. Sure if you’re specifically looking for them I’m sure you’d find them, as you would in any book, film or play. But for me, Winters’ took enough care and paid enough attention to detail, that by the end of novel I felt that all the interlocking stories had been satisfyingly concluded.

Whether you’re a fan of adaptations or a fan of Austen, this is definitely a novel I’d recommend other readers try. But, for a true comparison, it is always worth reading the original too – and I do mean READ, not watch a film or TV series adaptation!

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Man Booker Longlist Announced Today

Leeds Reads

h_logo_official_largeThe longlist, or ‘Man Booker Dozen’, for the Man Booker Prize has been announced today, Wednesday 29 July 2015.

This year’s longlist of 13 books was selected by a panel of five judges chaired by Michael Wood, and also comprising Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne. The judges considered 156 books for this year’s prize.

This is the second year that the prize, first awarded in 1969, has been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK.  Previously, the prize was open only to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.

The 2015 longlist of 13 novels, is:

Bill Clegg – Did You Ever Have a Family(Jonathan Cape)            

Anne Enright – The Green Road(Jonathan Cape)

Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings(Oneworld Publications)

Laila Lalami – The Moor’s Account (Periscope…

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The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

My latest read was fuelled by a desire to conquer my fear, a genuine attempt at tackling one of my long-standing fears head on. So I read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

Firstly let me clarify that I have had a fear of The Woman in Black since I was 16! My first encounter was seeing the play at the theatre with the rest of my Drama class. As much as I could tell you what an amazing performance it was, and how the minimalist effects were perfectly executed- it was so much more. It was an outstanding performance which has successfully cemented a fear in me of The Woman in Black. Just thinking about it makes me shiver, and afterwards I had nightmares for 2 months. Now that’s some performance!

Then there came the film with Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Arthur Kipps. Admittedly there are differences between the film and the theatre adaptations, but these were to be expected. But the film succeeded in re-instating my fear of The Woman in Black, and taking it to a whole new level. The film brought The Woman in Black’s dreadful and terrifying face right into my personal space- I must get round to writing a thank you card to the relative who bought me the DVD!
To this day there are parts of that film that I have not been able to watch, simply because I was able to watch the sequence leading up to it, and then my nerves gave out and the cushion moved in front of my face, so fast it’s become a permanent reflex whenever The Woman in Black is mentioned.

It wasn’t until I saw my brother with a copy of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black, that I then realised that both the film and theatre productions are adaptations from an existing work; therefore I’d done it all backwards!

The Woman in Black

So moving on to my most recent encounter with The Woman in Black….Susan Hill’s novel was much more subtle and eerie than I imagined. She successfully depicts the drab and desolate Eel Marsh House so poignantly that it’s an image hard to forget.
I didn’t know what else to expect from the novel, but I enjoyed the reminiscent ‘retelling’ perspective. Whatever horrors the story revealed, there was a survivor, able to tell the harrowing tale in great detail.

Somehow when reading Kipp’s tragic story, it hit me much harder than it did when I saw the play or film- and don’t forget the film ends completely differently to the book. Hill shows literary skill in creating such an ordinary character, whose life bears no resemblance to my own; and yet throughout the novel I cared for him. I cared for his welfare; for his sanity and for his family; almost as much as I care for my own.

What many readers forget in heavy action or mystery novels are the easy to miss, mundane and everyday occurrences. But rather than skip these events, Hill uses them to build her readers a solid picture of Arthur Kipps; giving us a reliable and believable centre for the plot. The relating of normal, everyday events makes the supernatural events starker than they would have been if the entire novel was littered with them. In fact I was surprised by the end, when you count the relatively few encounters Arthur Kipps has with The Woman in Black, the affect those encounters had not only on Kipps but myself as well…if you’re not even slightly shaken by the retelling of Kipp’s story, then you’re made of stronger stuff than me.

I did find the ending a little bleak as it seemed to just tail off into nothing. It did end for Mr Kipps at least, that much was clear. But it was a little abrupt; it’s not quite a cliff-hanger so there’s no build up or expectation for a second novel; but you don’t get much satisfaction in it either. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected more from a thriller/ horror novel, but I did want more for poor Mr Kipps.

Did reading the novel put my fears to rest? Well not so much, for a few nights I was jumpy amongst the hallway shadows. But I did feel I understood Arthur Kipps and his story much better, and enjoyed the experience whilst reading it. Those chapters which delved into the back story of The Woman in Black were fascinating, I simply wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery- I wanted to be able to put her spirit to rest. When a book can give you the same chills as a play or film, then you know you’re onto something good!

© Gemma Feltham, 25th July 2015

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Shopaholic to the Stars- Sophie Kinsella

Well what can be said of the latest instalment of Becky Bloomwood’s life? I’ve been following Becky’s story for many years now and I always enjoy following her crazy adventurous spirit.

Shopaholic to the Stars is well written, well-paced and is consistent, as I’ve said before these are three things all good books should be. Kinsella’s depiction of Becky Bloomwood truly makes her character and spirit come alive off the page. It’s the kind of world you wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall of.

By chapter 3 I was totally imbedded into Becky’s story. I had become emotionally invested in Becky’s family, friends and life in general, any reader paying attention will find the same- I wanted Becky to prosper and have every positive outcome possible. Kinsella, in my opinion, just has that knack of revealing just enough detail; at just the right time. The surprises are constantly flowing but you never get distracted from the main plot. The minor characters Kinsella interjects throughout add detail and flavour to the story. Shopaholic to the Stars is anything other than predictable.

shopaholic to the stars

The strongest emotion I felt whilst reading Shopaholic to the Stars was frustration. This was a consistent feeling I had- not towards the author, but rather Becky herself. This novel and the subsequent instalment to follow, I expect will prove to be the steepest learning curve for Becky Bloomwood since the very first novel in the series, Confessions of a Shopaholic. There were times I simply wanted to jump into the pages and scream at Becky, maybe shake her round the shoulders a bit! But it certainly says something of the skill of the author when then written word can fuel such a charged emotion for an extended period of time.

The last two chapters are the most dynamic and explosive regarding the plot, but as usual Kinsella delivers a stylish adventure with pizazz and panache. This novel is full of lively characters old and new and compelling plot twists. Stylistically I find most of Kinsella’s novels follow a pattern common to many other novels categorised as ‘chick-lit’; but that doesn’t mean that their not worth reading- far from it! Kinsella’s style is easy to read, almost conversational, if you haven’t got a lot of time to read, or like to read in short bursts Kinsella is a writer you should definitely try.

I wouldn’t say this is the ideal novel to read as a stand-alone. It would definitely provide a better experience for the reader if you were to start from the beginning of the series; which is something I sincerely recommend you do (don’t just watch the terrible movie and then think you can pick up the story from Shopaholic to the Stars)!

Overall Shopaholic to the Stars is an enjoyable read, but admittedly I’m not a fan of the cliff-hanger ending Kinsella leaves you with. Now don’t panic Kinsella is already promoting the next instalment so I’ll be reviewing that as soon as possible, but for now we’ll all just have to wait!

© Gemma Feltham 17 July 2015

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Carrie- Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the most recommended and loved horror novelists, until now I’d only seen two films based on King’s work, so as my first introduction to Stephen King’s novels I selected Carrie.

The first thing that hit me when I started reading Carrie was curiosity as to how similar the novel and film would be. But I quickly forgot about any kind of comparison; as the novel quickly had me engrossed in the narrative and compelled to keep reading right until the very end.Carrie The format of Carrie threw me at first, written from numerous perspectives, jumping between different time frames and interjections written in note format throughout- it certainly wasn’t your typical novel style, and not what I expected. Once passed the first few chapters I had gotten used to the flow of novel- I found the trick was to simply read it, not try to analyse it, not trying to remember what happened next in the film, and not trying to make the flow of events or how they are dictated; fit to any other written style.

I had high expectations for King’s narrative style, his reputation would not be what it is if he couldn’t deliver- and I was not disappointed. His attitude to Carrie’s story is extremely sympathetic, and his true skill in manipulating the reader really shines when by the end of the book it’s still Carrie White that the reader feels sorry for; despite all the death she causes.

Admittedly knowing the ending of the book was slightly disappointing but, reading the run up of events, finding out about Carrie’s history with her mother (much more than you get from the film) was very entertaining, it kept the novel grounded in a recognisable reality, despite its paranormal plot.
Carrie herself is a character which many readers would understand on some level, sharing some of her experiences and emotions and having that connection to the main character is what makes this novel more terrifying- the idea that perhaps you, the reader, could be as destructive a force as Carrie would make you think twice.

Overall Carrie was an enjoyable read, it may not have left me with nightmares but I’m certainly not complaining. The plot was gripping the twists were engaging and for the most part the characters were realistic and believable. If you’re considering trying King’s work I would recommend Carrie as the novel for dipping your toe into the horror genre.

© Gemma Feltham 13 June 2015

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Wedding Night- Sophie Kinsella

Recently I’ve had a break from reading, throwing myself into other enjoyable creative outlets. But I’ve found my way back to the wonder of the written word and am thoroughly enjoying it.

I chose the novel Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella simply because, it’s written by one of my favourite authors. It’s a method of choosing a book which has been tried and tested and I’m rarely disappointed.

wedding night

I found Wedding Night a refreshing take on the romantic ‘chick lit’ novel. Without giving too much of the premise of the book away, I enjoyed the sisterly dynamic between the two female protagonists. It’s more common for ‘chick-lit’ to feature best-friends in this dynamic rather than sisters. Being an elder sister to two siblings, it’s a relationship I can easily identify with which made the novel even more engrossing. I found myself wondering ‘Would I have said that?’, or getting excited when I thought ‘I would definitely have done that’!

After a somewhat slow start, by chapter 10 the events have spiralled and the pace becomes much more frantic and exciting. In some places I felt the novel focused too much on the sexual element, but it does undeniably have its place in the plot of the novel. With a fast paced the plot thickens rapidly. There is a wide variety of characters, a good mix of antagonists and protagonists and in general there’s an interesting mix of encounters; that many readers will find lively and will easily identify with.

Despite the pace of events, character development in Wedding Night is steady. Some may feel it’s a little slow but I find that it’s a common trait in novels which shift perspectives regularly throughout. Kinsella skilfully builds relationships, bridges the two perspectives where events require it and reveals character traits through interesting and often amusing events and circumstances. The result is believable characters, you know who you like and who you don’t. As a reader I quickly discovered characters who infuriated me and those who brought out the romantic side of me. It is a testament to the author who can induce such an emotional response.

Wedding Night is a whirlwind of emotion, the pace once it gets going it doesn’t let up- I couldn’t put it down. Whilst some of the events I imagine will only ever happen in novels and films, there was enough real character, real emotion and realistic dialogue to carry those more theatrical plot twists. The flow of the novel is steady, it keeps up with the pace of events and there were enough plot twists to make every chapter interesting.

Whether you are familiar with Kinsella’s work or not I strongly recommend you give Wedding Night a go. It’s the perfect novel for fans of romance and ‘chick-lit’ fiction but it would also suit readers who generally prefer more light-hearted reading and happy endings.

© Gemma Feltham 22 April 2015

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How To Use A Meat Cleaver Book Signing

Review of How To Use A Meat Cleaver book signing event

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Reader alert: This review may contain spoilers. 

How To Use A Meat Cleaver is a cookbook by Lana, Jennifer & Renee Graziano. This delicious cookbook features family recipes and favorites from the Graziano family. Recently, the ladies stopped by Book Soup in West Hollywood for a book signing and meet and greet. The ladies shared some of their favorite recipes and the wonderful stories behind them.

guest blog

The first hour of the book signing was a fun question and answer session for fans. Renee was  cracking jokes and having a blast while Jennifer & Lana laughed at her as any sisters would do!  Some of their favorite recipes from the book are Sunday Gravy, Lana’s Meatballs & Stuffed  Peppers. The recipes are from their childhood and from the kitchens of their parents, Anthony &  Veronica Graziano, as well as their grandmother Nora Eda Amelia Cultura DiMarini Gebbia. As  the book says, “Food this good should be illegal!”

The ladies made this book come to life by sharing the wonderful memories associated with the  recipes not only at the book signing butguest blog3 in the book itself! As the Q&A session went on Renee missed a call from her son AJ. She called him back on speaker so everyone could hear! AJ was so  sweet to his Mom and said hi to the fans. Renee ended the conversation with an ‘I love you’. It  was a very fun event and the ladies were so humble and kind. Once the Q&A session was finished,  it was time to meet them one on one and have pictures taken and get your book signed!
guest blog4 Someone came around to write the fan’s names on a post it  for the ladies so everyone’s book was    signed correctly.  Everyone had an opportunity to talk each one of the ladies,  take pictures and  grab a hug or two. Lana was so sweet and  gracious. Jennifer was so humble and beautiful. Renee  was  funny and loving. Together, the Graziano sisters are just  pure fun! They truly love their fans  and it definitely showed  at this fun event.

Renee announced another book to be released and the Graziano’s will be releasing their own  food and wine brand! In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of the book at your local bookstore  and you can follow the ladies on Twitter & Instagram to keep up with their next projects!

http://jljones411.com/2015/04/01/how-to-use-a-meat-cleaver-book-signing/

http://instagram.com/reneegraziano
https://twitter.com/reneegraziano

http://instagram.com/lananotamobwife
https://twitter.com/LANAnotaMOBWIFE

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