A refreshingly paced read full of humanity and heart – Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, teen book reviews

Taliah gave up on her father long ago: he never responded to any of her letters, and he’s a rock star. But one day the famous Julian Oliver turns up on her doorstep to whisk her away, not only to get to know him but her whole family. With her mother ignorant and out of the country Taliah has only a three days to find out where she came from, and why she’s never known him before.

This book was great! Probably my favourite thing about it was that the whole story, a fairly short novel, took place over only three days. We journeyed with Taliah in (much closer to) realtime, with each encounter and moment, not missing a conversation or encounter. I don’t remember when I last read a book like that, and I really enjoyed it.

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The story of this book was better than the book itself – There was a Time by Frank White.

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Writing, Writing Thoughts

A manuscript, wrapped in string, appeared at the Hodder and Stoughton offices. Attached was a note: I used to be a Hodder author. I am now one of the few people left who were alive at the time of the Second World War, one of the only people who can capture the feeling of those times. I have written it into a book, and this is it. (My paraphrase).

So far, so exciting. But sadly, this is the story OF the book, not in the book. Author Frank White, in his own words now, says: “What I aimed to do was to capture the feeling of those times and remind people of what the country went through.” If that is so, my main takeaway from this book is that during these times everyone committed adultery.

I thought this was going to be the perfect book for me but it broke my heart – The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended

When Ásta and most of the rest of her Icelandic village are kidnapped and shipped off to Algiers she was about to give birth, and her third child is born in the hold of the ship, surrounded by people she has known for many years. Her family is separated and sold to different owners, and her husband is sent back to plead a ransom. Ásta finds her new world a confusing mixture of abhorrent and compelling, and must try to tread a path between mourning her lot and making a new life.

I was so excited when this book arrived. The cover is beautiful, it’s set in Iceland, the title suggests selkies (a Scottish and probably beyond mythological creature: a seal that walks out of the water and turns into a woman) and goodness gracious me, it’s actually a book about a mother. And boy was it excellent, but it was also utterly heart wrenching.

A great historical mystery with a clumsy imprint of modern values – Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh

Book Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Thoughts

It’s 1892. After an incident in London society leaves Sarah Gilchrist shaken to her core and ostracised, she follows her dream of studying to be a doctor in Edinburgh. She spends her evenings helping in a hospital for the most needy in society. When a prostitute she has treated at the hospital turns up on the dissection slab, she starts to investigate, putting her reputation, friendships and even life at risk.

The concept for this book was cool. I like the strong female heroine, I like that she doesn’t treat herself as a victim, and it’s interesting to be looking and learning about the first women doctors, and hey, she’s a detective too. So far so ridiculous, so fun. And the story unfolded pretty cleverly. I really enjoyed her encounters with the many classes and types of people that she encountered: rich relatives, other students, the underclass and more. And the solution was pleasantly unexpected. But Gilchrist was completely anachronistically liberal, and frustration with that overshadows my memory of the book.

I’m so glad I stopped avoiding this book – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Book Reviews, Recommended, Uncategorized

When Cora’s husband dies, she is finally freed from a domineering and cruel marriage. She explores her interests: and when hunting for the mysterious Essex Serpent which has overcome a village’s imagination, she meets a man in a field and helps a farmer rescue a sheep. To both of their amusement she’s later introduced to him by mutual friends, and they start a friendship that enriches their lives beyond measure: until it goes further than they intended. Will’s wife is dying, Cora’s strange doctor paramour is pushing the limits of modern medicine, her servant is enlisting the help of a pining rich man and falling for a poor one, and the various people grow together and apart in interesting ways.

I avoided this book for quite a long time. I saw that it was about a vicar and read enough to suspect that it was going to be rather sordid, and as a Christian and a person who knows a lot of really great vicars I’m so tired of them being portrayed in a contrary way. After a real person recommendation I picked it up, and though there were a couple of moments, this was largely a thoughtful people study of a novel, and I very much enjoyed it.

I only worked out what this book was about at the very end – Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Uncategorized

Henry Aster’s father bought an old gothic house in a middle of a small American town where no one understood him, his writing or his obsession with books. Henry and his little sister grew up in the shadow of his father’s ambition, depression and genius, until one day his was gone. When he moves away to university Henry must deal with all of this, with his own writing ambition and becoming his own man. 

For the first bit of the book I was just trying to work out where it was going, what it was about. It seemed to just chronologically be telling this guy’s story, with various flashbacks to his childhood. I couldn’t grasp if there was a central point: apart from his Dad. I eventually gave up trying to suss the book out and went with the flow, then at the end worked out what it was going on about all along. I’m not sure if this made me more or less satisfied.

A fantastic concept overtaken by a boring romance – City Of Circles by Jess Richards

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, teen book reviews

Danu is a part of the circus. Her life has been beset by tragedy and mystery, and when they visit the City of Circles, a city split into levels that spins, the mystery only deepens: there is something here for her. Meanwhile Morrie at the circus has been teaching her to tightrope dance, and has been falling deeply in love with her. She must decide to pursue romance or the mystery of her family, and either way she feels she will lose out.

I was really excited about the concept of this book and the mystery at it’s heart: the City of Circles, and the main character’s story and origin. The circle was a nice place to start, the characters interesting – but the start dragged on for far too long. She stayed in the circus for too long: she stayed with Morrie for far far too long and the bit I’d been waiting for, the bit that really felt like the story getting started, didn’t happen until the very last section of the book.

As magic as I could have wished for – Goldenhand, the last instalment from Garth Nix.

Book Reviews, children's books, teen book reviews

The King and Abhorsen are away again and Sam gets news from his old friend Nick across the border. From the borders of the world free magic is attacking again, and Lirael, Sam and Nick must solve more mysteries, fight old enemies and revisit old friends to defeat it once and for all.

I find I already can’t remember the plot of this too well, which is very exciting as it means I’ll get to read it again really soon. I didn’t expect that it could be as magical and as enjoyable as reading the other book for the first time (and I was a bit disappointed by Clariel as was my friend Ian) but this was a complete delight. 

The Godfather by Mario Puzo – I really did not expect to enjoy this.

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, Uncategorized

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You know, don’t you? Like the film? No? Alright then. The Don presides over a vast array of networks and family, and through the book navigates the balances of power, warfare and affection that moves around him. Rival gangs fight. People ask for favours. Protection is given. But The Don is old, and his eldest son is only interested in women, the middle isn’t up the the job, and the youngest spurned the Mafia life long ago. With enemies closing in and the centre of power seeming to fail, what will happen to the family business?

I never ever thought I’d read this. I haven’t even seen the film. But when a friend with almost flawless taste recommended it, I had to give it a go. And to my shock, and despite a whole load of things that usually put me off, I really enjoyed this book. It draws you in so cleverly to the world of the Mafia; to their alternate morals and loyalties, to their feuds and family.

The Eight Books to buy this Christmas – my ultimate literary gift guide

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, children's books, Recommended, teen book reviews, Uncategorized

Stuck for present ideas? Look no further! A book is a thoughtful, pleasingly weighty and easily wrapped gift. It says, I’ve thought about you. I’ve considered what you might like. I’ve invited you onto a journey, nay, adventure, through these pages I have purchased for you. I believe that you can read.

And here I’ve done the thought and research for you. Pick the most appropriate gift for the person you love, tolerate or are obligated to buy for and get wrapping! Plus my top book of the year is hidden in there too…

Here are my top tips for: