Wednesday, 26 March 2014

FICTION 5: Great Books for Mothers Day!

In no particular order, here are 5 books I think would make fantastic presents for any mother on Mother's Day!

1) Lettice & Victoria - Susanna Johnston

I wrote a review about this book (read it here) but in short, it's a great read. It's one of those books that might take more than one read before you absorb everything fully but that just makes it even better - it proves how rich it is and the amount of layers there are in the story. If your mum liked 'Keeping Up Appearances', chances are she'll love this!

2) Billy and Me – Giovanna Fletcher

In all honesty, I’ve read a LOT of books and this is, by far, one of the most touching books I’ve ever read. I cried a lot when reading this but not always sad tears. I’ve written a review on this book (read it here) and I know that I’m going to read this time and time again in the years to come. I love it. The characters are fantastic, you can’t help but love them. Also, the story doesn’t follow the usual chick-lit structure which appealed to me.

3) The Time of Our Lives – Jane Costello

The Time of Our Lives

I recently finished this book and loved it all. It’s about 3 friends who win a luxury holiday (their first holiday together in a LONG time) but things don’t work out as they’d planned. They find themselves in hilarious situations, although probably not so funny if they’re happening to you. They also realise things about themselves that they didn’t want to admit before. I laughed through the majority of the book and when I wasn’t laughing, I was gasping at the situations the 3 friends found themselves in or saddened by the back story of Imogen. It’s light-hearted, funny, and easy to read. This, a cup of tea (maybe not for me as I don’t like tea), and a comfy sofa and I guarantee your mum will be relaxed!

4) The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Without a doubt, hands down, my favourite book of all time. I had to read this when I was studying English Literature at 6th Form and I fell in love with it immediately. Usually, as we all know, when you have to study a book, you pull it apart so much that you end up hating it and never wanting to read it again – not the case with this book. I’ve read it more times than I care to remember and I love it just as much. It’s set in a dystopian world where women are forced to act out certain roles in society, right down to how they dress/speak. They’re not allowed to read and lose touch with many friends. This is written from the view point of Offred, a woman who’s rebelling in her own ways against the world she now finds herself living in.

5) The Brightest Star in the Sky – Marian Keyes

The story is set in Dublin and is based on the lives of everybody living at 66 Star Street. The way Keyes makes the lives intertwine is engaging and captivating. There are points where you think you know what’s going to happen and then you find out you’re wrong. Throughout the story, there’s a small narrative from the mysterious visitor and it isn’t until you’re about halfway into the book that you work out just who that visitor may be. If you think then that you know how the book will end, you might just find you’re wrong. The story touches upon love, pain, loss, and success, in such a way that you can’t help but keep turning the pages. This book is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and tug at your heartstrings at the same time. It’s brilliantly written and is one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story counts down the days until the absolute revelation of the mysterious visitor and it’s that eagerness to find out just who it is that makes it slightly impossible to stop reading. This book is incredibly heart-warming, funny, and just genuinely amazing.

Monday, 24 March 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Claire King - The Night Rainbow

"During one long, hot summer, five-year-old Pea and her little sister Margot play alone in the meadow behind their house, on the edge of a small village in Southern France. Her mother is too sad to take care of them; she left her happiness in the hospital, along with the baby. Pea's father has died in an accident and Maman, burdened by her double grief and isolated from the village by her Englishness, has retreated to a place where Pea cannot reach her - although she tries desperately to do so.
Then Pea meets Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does and who always has time to play. Pea believes that she and Margot have found a friend, and maybe even a new papa. But why do the villagers view Claude with suspicion? And what secret is he keeping in his strange, empty house?"
This novel follows the life of two sisters, Pea and Margot, as they cope with the fallout of the loss and devastation that struck their family a short while ago. Along the way, they make a new friend who, despite their own tragedy, slowly helps to make everything better.

The story is told through the eyes of Pea, aged 5 and a half. At times the narration felt as though it was coming from somebody much older than Pea is supposed to be. Instead of seeing that as a flaw, I'd like to think that's just the author's way of further proving that Pea had to grow up a lot quicker than any child should have, as a result of the misfortune her family suffered. Despite everything Pea has gone through, the narration perfectly encapsulates the optimism that many young children seem to possess. It is this optimism that keeps you turning the pages.

The novel focuses on very few characters, allowing you to learn a lot about each of them. It's this fact that helps to make it so captivating - it's like following the lives of people you know and care about. It also shows the various ways in which tragedy affects a person and how differently people cope with it; for that alone, it is a brilliant piece of literature.

One element of this novel became fairly obvious quite quickly. I'm not sure if that's an intentional act by the author but, either way, it didn't make the novel any less enjoyable to read. Early on in the story, a relationship develops that makes you wonder whether you should continue to read... All I can say is you'll regret it if you don't. This book touches on some of the darkest places a human can find themselves in but the ending shows that there's always hope.

There's something slightly magical about a story that contains so many negative emotions and situations yet can still portray positivity throughout. This novel manages that with ease. It's an absolute delight to read, even if it is slightly haunting at points. It's the kind of book you read and, thanks to the wonderful descriptive nature of Pea's narration, find yourself getting lost in her world.

The book is available at Waterstones, from Amazon, or on your Kindle

Friday, 21 March 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Mhairi McFarlane - Here's Looking At You

“Anna Alessi – history expert, possessor of a lot of hair and an occasionally filthy mouth – seeks nice man for intelligent conversation and Mills & Boon moments.
Despite the oddballs that keep turning up on her dates, Anna couldn’t be happier. As a 30-something with a job she loves, life has turned out better than she dared dream. However, things weren’t always this way, and her years spent as the ‘Italian Galleon’ of an East London comprehensive are ones she’d rather forget.
So when James Fraser – the architect of Anna’s final humiliation at school – walks back into her life, her world is turned upside down. But James seems a changed man. Polite. Mature. Funny, even. People can change, right? So why does Anna feel like she’s a fool to trust him?”

Anna is haunted by her past and, though she thinks she’s over it, she’s really just spent years blocking it out, a fact she realises when she decides, thanks in part to her friends, to go to her school reunion and face her demons. It turns out the people in her past don’t remember her so can she start afresh and prove she’s changed as those from her past prove they’ve changed too? Maybe…

When she goes to the school reunion, she sees James and Loz; James being the main character from her past that broke her down and Loz being his sidekick. Neither of them recognise her (she’s lost a hell of a lot of weight and truly blossomed, in all senses, by all accounts) and Laurence tries to make a move, causing Anna to make an excuse and leave, with the hope that she’ll never have to see them again.

Oh, how wrong she was! She ends up having to work with James, a situation she is definitely not a fan of. She decides she can either be nice and give him another chance or make his working life difficult. Turns out she can’t stick to the option she chose and I’m so glad that’s the case.

They build a friendship that’s by no means smooth but, oh jeez, you feel compelled to keep reading in the hope they work it out. If they were my friends in real life, I would definitely have bashed their heads together at various points in the book.

Whilst Anna and James are attempting, and sometimes failing, to sort out their differences, Anna’s sister Aggy is in the process of planning her wedding – something that doesn’t go to plan either but, thanks to a surprising helpful hand, Aggy gets her wedding after all, even if it’s not the one she’d been dreaming of.

In most stories, when the lead female has been hurt in the past it’s usually some stupid guy who didn’t realise what he had and left or, worse, cheated and then left. Anna’s story is so different to that. Without giving too much away, she wasn’t just hurt by the guy she liked, she was publically humiliated too, in front of a school hall of judgemental, rude, teenagers. Yes, it involves a boy but not a boyfriend.

It was nice to read a story whereby the lead character has literally been to their lowest point possible and made it through, growing into a strong woman that men adore and want to be with whilst women want to be her. Anna’s not perfect but that’s part of her charm and what makes her character such a joy to read.

It’s also touching to see the way James reacts when he finds out just how much of an impact his actions had on Anna; genuine horror and remorse. The length’s he goes to in order to win back her trust and become the friend to her that she needs also makes for great reading.

There are twists and turns throughout which keep you on the edge of your seat and turning the pages, a fine testament to McFarlane’s exceptional writing skills. This would be a great read for anyone who has been belittled by another human and made to feel worthless and not good enough because it’s inspirational and shows that you can become the butterfly you always wanted to be.

Although it’s based around a horrible topic, ‘Here’s Looking at You’ had me smiling, laughing, and full of happiness. Okay, fine, I’m not that tough – I also shed a tear or two as well. I can’t recommend this book enough and I’m going to have to read more of Mhairi McFarlane’s work in the future!

*paid for by myself*

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Stefan Haucke - Shadows of Ghosts

“Shadows of Ghosts carries readers to Enara, a kingdom at war with itself, where for centuries centaurs have been treated like animals because of their horse-like lower bodies; they've been forced to work as slaves in the southern agricultural provinces, and have been bought and sold like livestock. But a strong abolitionist faction has convinced many that centaurs' human torsos, heads, and intellectual abilities make them humans, who should be liberated from slavery and granted the same rights as any other person.
After four years of being forced to live in a remote village and having to keep his real identity a secret, Cal Lanshire, days away from his thirteenth birthday, is given the best birthday present he can imagine. He is told he can soon return home.
But then an old acquaintance unexpectedly arrives with news that changes everything. Cal's father, the king, has been assassinated.
Suddenly the outcome of the war and the very fate of the kingdom depend upon Cal being able to reach the capital where he will take his father's place.
With only his crafty best friend by his side and an escaped centaur slave to guide him, can Cal make it through an enchanted, hostile wilderness, past the assassins sent to kill him, and back to the capital before it's too late?”

‘Shadow of Ghosts’ follows Cal and Mont as they set out on a quest to lead Cal to safety, with the guidance of Zinn (Cal’s fathers advisor) and then Ellsben, a trusty centaur. It’s by no means an easy journey, not least because of the urgency of the situation and the war going on. As we know from Stefan’s guest post, the book falls under the fantasy genre but with a lot of historical influences. This provides enough of a resemblance to the past that we know to help us get into the book, it just has added centaurs and that’s never a bad thing.

For me, fantasy isn’t a genre I’ve read much of but, based on this book, that’s going to change. I loved it. It’s very easy to forget just how young the two boys (Cal and Mont) are when reading this and it’s also easy to forget that Ellsben was a centaur, two things that definitely helped me to get into the book. The war in the story is centred around centaurs – those who think they should have freedom and those that don’t. The fact that you read it and forget Ellsben is a centaur tells me that I’d be on the side of those who think they should be free, as they’re no different to humans.

There’s a clear timeline throughout the book which ensures you know where you are and everything falls into place. It also helps to set certain scenes and give you a better idea of how the characters would be feeling – how stressed, tired, weary they would have been, etc. The timeline is proof that the book is well structured which brings me on to the actual writing style. Not once was I bored when reading this, there was tension when there needed to be, excitement, fear, and so many other emotions – all of which were clear and kept you reading more, desperate to know how it ended.

 The friendship between Cal and Mont is very touching – they go through some of the worst things they’re likely to experience together and see some sights that nobody should ever see, least of all two people as young as they. Throughout it all, however, they remain firm friends. The fact that Cal and Mont come from completely different backgrounds is never an issue for them – they hold the same morals and beliefs – and that’s something that people in today’s society (and, sadly, I fear every society to come) could learn from. They go through some extreme things and to some even greater lengths to protect each other and help each other out which is fantastic to read about.

Not all of the characters are so much of a joy to read, however. One in particular, Kozal, is a peculiar character from the moment we’re introduced to him. He starts of creepy but helpful, then becomes a traitor, then becomes helpful again. I’m not sure of this is intentional but, for me, it gave me the impression that this was a way of giving an example of the impact the war (be it fiction or in reality) has on peoples mental states. He was a liar, crazy, and selfish and yet he was also true to his word and helpful.

There were a number of surprises in this book, both with things that happened and also the way in which characters reacted to them. The entire time I read this, I didn’t know what was going to happen; I couldn’t even hazard a guess. That’s rare for me – I’m not saying I always work everything out immediately but I often have a rough idea of the ending. With this, I didn’t; yet another reason to like the book and its structure/writing style.

Based on the blurb, I knew I would enjoy ‘Shadow of Ghosts’ but I never thought I’d love it as much as I did. It’s fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the book and felt like I was on the journey with Cal, Mont, and Ellsben. Although it is a fantasy book, there are certain elements that were relatable and, because of the influence history had on the book, it makes it easier to get into the book. What I would say, however, is there are some slightly graphic moments in the book which you might want to avoid if you’re easily squeamish – I bloody loved them!

*received via NetGalley*

Thursday, 13 March 2014

GUEST POST: Stefan Haucke

Hello everyone! Today we've got a guest post from the ever-so-wonderful Stefan Haucke, author of 'Shadow of Ghosts' (review coming soon!!)

In the post, Stefan talks briefly about some of the interesting things he learned whilst doing research for his book.

"Shadows of Ghosts is a fantasy novel that takes place in a land that has many parallels to the United States during the era leading up to and during the Civil War. When I was researching this era I discovered that there was a rapid advancement in the technology of communications and travel; and this rapid advancement dramatically changed society during the first part of the nineteenth century.

Before the start of the nineteenth century, travel and communication was slow. Then, the invention of the steamboat and the building of railroads and canals suddenly made traveling long distances dramatically faster and more convenient. At the same time, the telegraph was invented. Now, with the telegraph, long distance communication became almost instantaneous. There were also major improvements in the ability to rapidly print newspapers and books. These changes in communications and travel allowed new ideas to flow across the United States. The abolitionist movement gained strength. The temperance movement, women's rights, improvement in the care of the mentally ill, prison reform—all these ideas gained a greater audience and led to major societal improvements due to the innovations in communications and travel."

A review of 'Shadow of Ghosts' is coming soon so keep your eyes peeled!!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

BOOK NEWS: Lindsey Kelk Reveals ‘What A Girl Wants’ Cover!

From the moment I heard Lindsey’s next book was going to be released in July, I have been waiting not-so-patiently for more information about the release and the book itself. Today, Lindsey tweeted a picture of the front cover as well as the release date.

For those who don’t know (and why would you?) my birthday is in July so I was always going to be excited about the July release but it turns out that it’s released on July 17th, just 11 days before my birthday. I think it’s safe to say I know what I’m no doubt going to end up treating myself to for my birthday!

According to Goodreads, “Tess Brookes was the girl with a plan. Now she's the girl with a choice. Should she stay in London and start her own advertising agency with her best friend and potential boyfriend Charlie? Or should she head to exciting Milan to pursue both a new career as a photographer and a new man, the enigmatic and elusive (and highly irritating) Nick? For the first time, Tess has to choose between the life she always dreamed of and a future she never imagined possible. With her heart and her head pulling her in different directions, Tess has to make a life-changing decision about What a Girl Wants.”

It’s the follow up to About a Girl which I LOVED (no surprise, I love all of Lindsey’s work) and the fact this is the 2nd book makes up for the break I’ve had to take from Alex, haha. If you’d like to read About a Girl, here’s the Amazon links: Kindle / Paperback

What a Girl Wants is available for pre-order here: Kindle / Paperback and will be released on July 17th 2014.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

REVIEW: Ann Hood - Something Blue

“College friends Lucy and Katherine reunite as adults—and build a new friendship as changed women.
Katherine shows up at Lucy’s Manhattan doorstep having run away from the marriage altar. Lucy isn’t thrilled to see her former sorority sister—her own life as a children’s book illustrator is complicated enough, especially as she may be falling out of love with her boyfriend. Along with Lucy’s oddball best friend, Julia, the women tackle the complicated challenge of being young, lost, and in search of life in New York City“

This book follows the lives of Lucy, Katherine, and Julia, as they try to figure out what they want from life and how to get it. Lucy has been with Jasper for years but isn’t very happy, Katherine is about to get married but isn’t very happy, and Julia lives her life through lies and, you’ve guessed it, isn’t very happy - in fact you could say they all feel blue. We watch the three girls as they try to get along with each other and stumble through life, on a road towards happiness.

Lucy and Katherine were friends in college but haven’t really spoken in years which is why I found it so weird that Katherine would turn up on her doorstep. That being said, I can understand why she wants to try and go back to a time when she was happy and that was when Lucy was still in her life. Lucy, however, has moved on and become best friends with Julia, wanting to leave her past strictly in the past. She’s not happy with the person that she was then but, then again, she doesn’t appear to be happy with the person that she is now. She feels like she’s stuck in a rut; she isn’t happy with her boyfriend or her job.

“Katherine arrives on the New York doorstep of her old college friend Lucy and finds herself to be a painful intrusion from the past. The pair, together with Lucy's best friend Julia, must learn to forge new relationships with each other.”

All three characters find it hard to adjust after Katherine turns up; Katherine finds it hard to accept that Lucy has changed and they’re not the close friends they once were, she also finds it hard to be around Lucy and Julia because it reminds her of what she and Lucy once had – friendship. Julia finds it hard because she doesn’t really like Katherine and there are moments when she nearly reveals her lies. Finally, Lucy finds it hard because she is constantly reminded of the past she’d rather forget thanks to Katherine’s appearance.

I don’t really know what to say about this story. I understand that it focuses on the three women’s lives and that we watch them as they try to get where they want to be in life and work out what they want… I just don’t feel there was much of a story to pad it out. It was a great, easy read but it felt like there could have been so much more to it. I would have liked there to have been more of a story behind it all.

I like that the characters do eventually get where they want to be, with who they want to be and it’s nice to read a book where the characters have the same ‘what if’s’ as people do in real life. It’s a very believable book in terms of characters, although I feel that Julia is an exaggerated version of how her character would be in reality.

One thing I took away from this book was that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and that you can’t bury your past by running away (which is what Lucy did). It will come back and haunt you somehow although, for Lucy, that worked out fine.

As it was written in third person, I struggled to feel connected with the characters. That’s very much a personal thing to me as I know plenty of people that connect better with third person. It just made me feel like I was an outsider, trying to befriend a group of females who didn’t want to know. Then again, in hindsight, maybe that was a deliberate act of the authors as that’s how the characters felt the majority of the time.

I would suggest this book to a friend, partly because it’s an easy read but more so I could see if they felt the same way as me about it. I was left wanting more but I’m not sure if it was in a good or a bad way – did I want more in the form of another book or did I want more from the book I’d just read? It’s hard to say.

Have you read this book, if so, what did you make of it? Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, 3 March 2014

FICTION 5: 5 Exciting Releases

Here (in no particular order) are 5 upcoming releases that I can't wait to get my teeth into...

1) Jenny Colgan - 'Little Beach Street Bakery' - Released March 13th

"Polly Waterford is recovering from a toxic relationship. Unable to afford their flat, she has to move miles away from everyone, to a sleepy little seaside resort in Cornwall, where she lives alone above an abandoned shop.

And so Polly takes out her frustrations on her favourite hobby: making bread. But what was previously a weekend diversion suddenly becomes far more important as she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, and each loaf becomes better and better. With nuts and seeds, olives and chorizo, with local honey (courtesy of local bee keeper, Huckle), and with reserves of determination and creativity Polly never knew she had, she bakes and bakes and bakes . . . And people start to hear about it.

Sometimes, bread really is life . . . And Polly is about to reclaim hers."

Pre-order the e-book HERE or the physical copy HERE

2) Giovanna Fletcher - 'You're The One That I Want' - Released May 22nd

"Maddy, dressed in white, stands at the back of the church. At the end of the aisle is Rob - the man she's about to marry. Next to Rob is Ben - best man and the best friend any two people ever had.

And that's the problem.

Because if it wasn't Rob waiting for her at the altar, there's a strong chance it would be Ben. Loyal and sensitive Ben has always kept his feelings to himself, but if he turned round and told Maddy she was making a mistake, would she listen? And would he be right?

Best friends since childhood, Maddy, Ben and Rob thought their bond was unbreakable. But love changes everything. Maddy has a choice to make but will she choose wisely? Her heart, and the hearts of the two best men she knows, depend on it..."

Pre-order the e-book HERE or the physical copy HERE

3) Danny Wallace - 'Who Is Tom Ditto?' - Released April 24th

"We join the action just as our 'hero' Tom, (early thirties, reads the 'news' on the radio) finds out that his girlfriend has NOT left him.
I have not left you. But I am gone.
Please carry on as normal.
Love always,

Has Hayley gone or hasn't she? Is she coming back? If she has gone, but is coming back, when is she coming back? And what is he supposed to bloody do in the meantime?
And what if she's never coming back??
Trying to work out what's happening to his confusing life, Tom tries to track Hayley down. In doing so, he stumbles across a strange and eccentric group of people with an irregular and highly-addictive hobby.
Next, he's being followed, but he's not sure by whom. And then he also almost loses his job at the radio station in the now infamous 'Jam Nazi' episode, which of course, you know about.
Above all, Tom is trying to work out who everyone is.
Because who is Hayley? Who is this new girl following him around the supermarket?
And who, for that matter, is TOM DITTO?"

Pre-order the e-book HERE or the physical copy HERE

4) Jeffrey Deaver - 'Trouble in Mind' - Released March 13th

Image courtesy of

"A cunning collection of short stories from the master of misdirection with tales featuring the hugely popular series characters Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance.
An aging actor attempts to revive his career by entering a celebrity poker game for a reality TV show. Can he outwit his devious opponents or is his fate doomed from the outset?
A successful crime writer dies under seemingly natural circumstances but for one cop doubts are lingering. There's certainly motive for murder - or is there is more to the case than meets the eye?
MURDER . . .
Lincoln Rhyme is announced dead shot by one of his suspects in cold blood. Is this the end of the line for the criminalist or just another twist in the tale?
King of suspense Jeffery Deaver grips with every page setting out a devilishly clever path where nothing is as it seems.
If you think you know the ending think again..."

Pre-order the e-book HERE or the physical copy HERE

5) Jane Costello - The Time of Our Lives - Released 27th March

"Three best friends. One five-star hotel. Will it be the holiday of a lifetime . . .? 
Imogen and her friends Meredith and Nicola have had their fill of budget holidays, cattle-class flights and 6 a.m. offensives for a space by the pool.
So when Meredith wins a VIP holiday at Barcelona's hippest new hotel, they plan to sip champagne with the jet set, party with the glitterati and switch off in unapologetic luxury.
But when the worst crisis of her working life erupts back home, Imogen has to juggle her BlackBerry with a Manhattan, while soothing a hysterical boss and hunting down an AWOL assistant.
Between a robbery, a run-in with hotel security staff and an encounter on a nudist beach that they'd all rather forget, the friends stumble from one disaster to the next. At least Imogen has a distraction in the form of the gorgeous guy who's always in the right place at the very worst time. Until, that is, his motives start to arouse a few suspicions..."

Pre-order the e-book HERE or the physical copy HERE 

What releases are you looking forward to getting your hands on? Anything you'd suggest?