All Souls Trilogy – Deborah Harkness

*This review may contain spoilers*

Oh where to begin?!

I was first introduced to Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy by watching the ‘A Discovery of Witches’ series on Sky and I was hooked. It’s a brilliant adaptation of the first book in the trilogy, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of series.

But having already watched the series I did find that it impeded my reading of the first book in trilogy, which is titled ‘A Discovery of Witches’. Knowing about the general plot from the tv show and having enjoyed it so much, and being left with such a cliff hanger, made me seriously impatient to find out what comes next. I had to force myself to be patient with book, and allow myself to be fully immersed in the world Harkness has created, in a way only the novels can truly provide.

The plots and characters Harkness has created are wonderful. They are very real, relatable and supernatural all at the same time. As a reader I connected with so many of them, and when one of my favourites seemed about to meet an untimely end I was genuinely horrified – I simply had to carry on reading just to learn their fate in that moment.

The love, romance, hopes, dreams and hardship between Diana and Matthew are stuff great loves are made of. The Romeo and Juliet elements are unmistakable and the paths they travel both together and alone are inspiring.

A tale of witches,vampires, daemons, magic and love – at times the pace of the novel was almost agonizing as Harkness lingers in the details and seemingly mundane nuances, but when the tempo picks up with rapid speed in the way that it does, as a reader you’ll be glad of the reprieve. Ultimately those extra details are what ties the plot, the characters and their relationships together. They also ground the story, making it more relatable, and believable.

The relationships and plot between the books are expertly intertwined. Harkness is careful to allow new experiences to shine, but also doesn’t let the reader forget the key moments, making sure they are gently reminded and teasing them into place book after book.

Harkness’ inclusion of real-world places, objects, life and famous people from history are so satisfying. It makes it all the more intriguing to see how it be done in the tv series to come.

In short I would 100% recommend this trilogy and the accompanying tv series. But consider reading the first novel before watching the series, so you can fully enjoy everything the book has to offer.

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The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths

*This review may contain spoilers*

The Stranger Diaries is the first stand alone novel I’ve read from Elly Griffiths. I admit I was hesitant at first – not because I doubted Griffiths’ skill at all, but because I was worried that my loyalty to Ruth Galloway (from the Ruth Galloway series) would spoil it for me.

I am am so pleased I shoved that feeling to one side, because The Stranger Diaries is most definitely well worth the read. I would even go as far as to say that it would make a perfect introduction to Griffiths’ work.

The Stranger Diaries is a fantastic detective thriller, with a wonderful cast of well rounded and diverse characters. I’ve read my fair share of teen fiction, and it was nice to have a thrilling plot and a teen character who didn’t radiate teen angst and nothing more.

Quite often I find that crime fiction writers can become predictable – you can see how the plot will likely develop, you recognise the characters from their other work and you have a strong idea of who the suspect will turn out to be. I had none of these problems with The Stranger Diaries.

Strong writing mixes some great plot twists and dramatic killings, with softening for the main characters in all the right places. Of course about 3/4 of the way through I had some ideas of who the killer would turn out to be, and one of them was right! But rather than being being boring or predictable, Griffiths makes possible for it to be fun for the reader to have a guess, but still not actually know who it would be, right until the very end.

One of my favorite things about this book was Griffiths’ skill at making the right characters seem aloof and dodgy, and at the same time the right characters were also relatable and just like me and you – even their quirks, dreams and habits like keeping a diary. I mean, who hasn’t kept a diary of some sort at one time or another?

The pace of this novel was spot on – it allowed for plot twists and turns as well as character development. It didn’t stop me devouring it in 2 days though! I just couldn’t put it down – I was actually worried for the safety of the main characters and needed to know what happened next, and that they would be safe. That truly proves the skill of a good writer, when they can conjure such strong emotions for characters – people who don’t exist outside those pages – and literally keep the reader awake.

Over all this novel is a knock out and I would definitely recommend not only this book, but Griffiths’ other works to anyone wanting to try or are already fans of crime fiction.

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The Gift – Cecelia Ahern

*This review contains spoliers*

So it’s been quite a while since I wrote a review for a book I’ve read, but during this Lockdown I’ve re-discovered my love of books and how to make more time for reading.

I’ve read quite a few novels over the last few weeks and I will be writing reviews for those that I’ve felt strongly about.

On that note I’m starting with The Gift, by Cecelia Ahern. 

Where to start? Firstly, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I did not enjoy this Christmas story.

By all means, this opinion does not mean that it’s bad or poorly written. It’s actually very well written and concise in all the right places. But no amount of clever plot twists were able to detract from the fact that I disliked most of the characters and the character arc was just too little, too late (literally).

Ahern clearly had an agenda and a moral story to tell with this Christmas themed novel – but I felt the little references to Christmas that did feature were lack luster. Half the time I had forgotten that it was set at Christmas time, until another faint reference or scene crept in.

I’m not entirely sure if this apathy towards Christmas was meant to be reflective of the main character Lou – if so then it’s definitely fitting of the character and adds to the atmosphere. But as a reader, when I read any novel set at Christmas time I want to feel like it’s Christmas – even if it’s the middle of May (and I’m definitely not driving home for a while). I’m not saying that all novels set at Christmas need to be chocolate box village Christmas or even happy, but I do expect to at least feel like it’s Christmas when I’m reading it, regardless of the plot.

Of course it is testament to a good writer to make their reader feel strongly about their characters. By the time I was half way through reading The Gift I had very strong feelings about most of the characters. Not in a good way.
I had hoped that the developing character arc of the main character Lou would draw me towards him, and I would find some redeemable qualities in him, and maybe even like him a bit by the end. Sadly I felt the complete opposite. I was glad to have reached the end; and maybe others will be able to find those elusive redeemable qualities, but I was so disappointed and frustrated. The lessons he learns too late and tragedy at the end were just too much of dampener.

Why have such a strong moral case to your plot if the lesson is going to be swallowed up by the events, to the point where it has to be spelled out in the final chapter? It may have been for the benefit of a younger minor character, but I couldn’t escape the feeling it needed to spelled out a little bit for me too.

There are some delightfully clever quips and scenes within The Gift. Unfortunately this is one book I won’t be recommending to my friends and family – for the simple reason that this is not want I want from a Christmas story.
Yes I know it might be a cliche, and I said that not all Christmas stories have to be happy – but for me I do want more happiness than sadness or tragedy. I want to feel Christmas running through the entire plot and I want to be excited to be making my present list for those I love.

So there you have it. I do hope you give it go, and make you’re own minds up about what a Christmas story should be for you

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Shopaholic to the Rescue – Sophie Kinsella

Shopaholic to the Rescue is Sophie Kinsella’s latest instalment of the Shopaholic series and details Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood), family and friends and their escapades across the USA.

I’ve been reading Kinsella’s novels, in particular the Shopaholic series for over 10 years! Reading this latest instalment felt like coming home and catching up with an old friend.

shopaholic to the rescueAs I’ve said in previous reviews of Kinsella’s work, her conversational tone does well to draw the reader in. This especially works when writing from the first-person perspective, Becky’s perspective is certainly a force to be reckoned with!

One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is that even if the current circumstances look bleak, Kinsella writes with a consistent aura of positivity – it makes me as a reader feel hopeful that things will turn out right in the end. I’ve now developed such a bond with Becky that when she feels sad, so do I, but just like Becky I soon bounce back, as does she.

 

Shopaholic to the Rescue definitely keeps up with earlier novels in the series. There are just as many twists and turns, and intriguing and surprising plot twists. There are some returning favourite characters as well as some returning faces Kinsella fans will just love to hate (no spoilers).

One of the strongest themes in Shopaholic to the Rescue is relationships. There are so many relationships interwoven across the Shopaholic series, but it is in Shopaholic to the Rescue that family relationships really come into the forefront, and take centre stage.

From Becky’s relationship with Luke and Minnie, to her Mum’s relationship with Janice, the list goes on. But Kinsella is very skilled as she crafts each relationship differently, taking care to ensure that the reader is crystal clear as to how each person relates to each other. She doesn’t just rely on the reader having recently read a Shopaholic novel, readers are also confronted with new ways in which some surprising characters relate to each other.

All these relationships along with the fast pace of the plot and the numerous plot twists, adds to the overall pace and excitement that the novel generates. There is also always just enough reflection to give the reader a breather and a bit of a reprieve, so they can digest the previous chapter and assess the situation.

Although readers will have read about Becky, her husband and her daughter’s adventures in America before, this novel follows them as they travel across the country, with their entourage of course, and a story that is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching at the same time.

Kinsella’s descriptions of this all-American road-trip were both fascinating and hilarious. Becky’s encounters with some real-American culture is every bit an enticing as any movie.

I really think the Shopaholic series should be made into a tv series – I know I’d definitely be tuning in. Until that happens, Shopaholic fans should make sure they’ve got a copy to dive into. If you’ve never read any of the Shopaholic series before, make sure you start at the beginning because this one is worth the wait to get the full impact.

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My not so Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella

My not so Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. How to describe it. Thrilling, full of twists, relatable, understandable, exciting and inspiring? Yep, it is certainly all those things and more.

Now I fully appreciate that the journey a reader takes whilst reading a book is totally dependent on the book, the author, the reader and the mood. But my journey whilst reading My not so Perfect Life was a bit of a rollercoaster.My not so Perfect Life

I started the novel in a pretty low mood, picking it up firstly because it was written by my favourite author, and secondly because I hadn’t read it yet and needed something I could get totally lost in, as I do most of Kinsella’s novels.

As the plot of the novel progressed I found that I could totally identify with the main character Katie, her life and her ambition. I think Katie is a character people of all ages could identify with, whether it be reminiscent of their past experiences, their current circumstances or their hopes for the future.

As I’ve mentioned, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot to keep even the lightest of readers engaged until the end, and plenty of supporting characters some lovable, others misunderstood and some utterly detestable. But it all comes together to make a fantastic book, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are plenty of hilarious LOL and OMG moments with just enough reality, a fast pace and bump down to earth moments to keep the plot grounded.

By the time I had finished the novel, I felt like I had been on just as trying and testing a journey as Katie had. My mood was in a completely different, much more upbeat and positive place, and I felt ready to re-join the world again. That is the true testament to Kinsella’s skill with words. Her depictions of Katie’s trials and triumphs are written simply but effectively. Their impact is never lost with mundane descriptions that are verbose. Kinsella is concise, consistent and companionable in the way she writes.

If you have read any of Kinsella’s Shopaholic series, or Jojo Moyes’ novels, My not so Perfect Life is one you’ll definitely enjoy and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If your best friend, mum or sister is feeling a little down, give them a copy and watch their spirit lift.

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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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