If you'd ask me last year, I would've said high fantasy wasn't my cup of tea. I've tried watching Game of Thrones several times and couldn't get into it, and I'm always kind of put off by the amount of pages a high fantasy book series entails (the one exception being anything Tolkien, especially The Silmarillion). Until I came across the Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Game of Thrones-hybrid Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, a really accessible young adult fantasy. I became absolutely hooked. I feel much more confident venturing outside of my reading comfort zone now and so when I was given the opportunity to review one of the novels by YA fantasy favourite V.E Schwab I didn't have to think twice.
There are four Londons that connect the different world in A Darker Shade of Magic: Grey London (closest to the London we know), which is virtually devoid of magic and is as bland as its name; White London, which has two sinister twins on the throne whose power-hungry escapades most closely resemble the little I know about Game of Thrones; Red London, which is the home land of protagonist Kell, who lives in the Royal Court; and Black London, which was consumed by magic long ago and was presumed lost.
People normally cannot travel between the different worlds unless they are of the Antari race; powerful magicians that can create doors between the different Londons, which are in the same place in each of the worlds. After a bloodshed in recent history there are only two Antari left that we know of: Kell, who lives in Red London and has been brought up by the royals, Prince Rhy being as close to him as a brother could possibly be, and Holland, who is bound by a magical soul spell to do the bidding of the cruel twins ruling over White London.
Red and White London are forced to exist side by side, with not one being more powerful than the other. However, all of that changes when an innocently looking smuggling job by Kell between two of the Londons goes horribly wrong, and suddenly the power of all Londons could befall any of those in the midst of the uproar. It isn't only Red London and White London that are implicated, but on his travels Kell picked up a petty thief named Lila in Grey London too, and with Black London being not quite as lost as everyone had presumed, the battle begins to open the doors between the Londons and control the magic of all the worlds.
While I found A Darker Shade of Magic to have a little bit of a slow start as the different worlds, characters, alliances and the rules of magic were introduced, once the story got going, it really got going. Each time Kell and Lila moved from one world to another, it almost felt like an entirely new story as it was so unique and exciting. The intricate details differentiating the four Londons were incredible and so very inventive, and the vivid descriptions practically made these worlds leap off the pages – I could've sworn I smelled flowers when we moved to the events in Red London.
Not being very well-versed within the high fantasy genre also gave me the advantage that I didn't spot common themes or developments within these kind of novels, and so every discovery and every twist was a complete surprise to me. There are some very clever revelations and storyline progressions that I didn't see coming at all, and this made the novel an endlessly exciting adventure, not to mention hugely gripping as I had to know what turn it would take next.
Neither Kell nor Lila are conventional protagonists or particularly likeable in the beginning, but the fantastic writing had me completely invested in their stories very early on. Kell especially because man he was bad-ass and so very, very cool (even his coat is awesome, you'll know what I mean once you read the book, trust me). And having a character from Grey London, a city so very close to our own, discovering the different worlds and the impact of magic on all of them, was a clever way of bringing the imaginative concept close to home. Even more so in my case, as I live in London and so was able to envision the different locations mentioned throughout almost as if I'd been walking there myself just moments earlier.
Complex, imaginative and absolutely engrossing, A Darker Shade of Magic is the perfect novel for readers to dip into high fantasy with (and to never come back out of it, because it's so very addictive). It is the first novel in a trilogy, with the final installment set for publication in 2017. I will be reading the second novel before then, for sure, because I need more of Kell and Lila in my life, not to mention explore all four Londons to their fullest extend. We've seen a lot from Grey London and Red London already, but I'd love to see more from White London, and perhaps even Black London. If the glimpses I've seen of these worlds so far are anything to go by, I'll be in for an absolute treat. ...more
The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is Cathy Bramley's fifth novel, following on from Conditional Love, Ivy Lane, Appleby Farm and Wickham Hall. It's crazy to realise that her first book was published only in 2013 and she's written so many more since. And they get bigger too, so every time there are a few more pages for her readers to relish and enjoy. Her latest release is jam-packed with heartwarming and heartbreaking moments, like we've come to know and love from Cathy, with some sweet surprises woven in as well.
Verity Bloom is unlucky in love. Conned out of her job by the man she trusted she needs a break from her high-powered London life. So when her old friend Gloria, mother to Verity's late best friend Mimi, rings up asking for a temporary helping hand with the launch of her cookery school in the village of Plumberry, the phone call couldn't have come at a better time. Verity has packed her bags before Gloria can say val-au-vents, and makes her way to Plumberry to work her marketing magic on her friend's cookery school.
However, what Verity hadn't counted on was quite how hands-on the job would be. Or how infuriating the chef she has to work with on a day-to-day basis. And that's before something happens that means Verity has to jump in to teach some of the classes on top of taking on all marketing responsibilities. With romance brewing from different angles, a TV-crew challenging them to do the impossible, hilarity, heartbreak and a whole new business to launch, Verity and team at The Plumberry School of Comfort Food are constantly run off their feet – but they love every second of it.
I feel like I've become a bit of a broken record when it comes to Cathy Bramley because each and every one of her books is an utter delight. Filled with wonderful characters and locations (and scrumptious food often too, especially in this novel) they're the perfect escapism reads from the stress and drag of every day. And despite being doused in all things cosy and lovely, they are also very much rooted in reality with genuine moments of connection and heart-breaking situations that make her characters even more likeable and interesting to read about. Every time a new Caathy Bramley novel is released it goes straight to the top of my to-read pile, even if there are dozens of other books patiently awaiting to be read as well. She's a firm favourite, that one.
And with the The Plumberry School of Comfort Food she has done it again. The locations within Cathy's novels are always immensely vivid and enticing, and in her latest book she's taken it one step further by not focusing on a single place, the cookery school, but creating an entire village and the sense of community that accompanies the picturesque English countryside. It reminded me of Tindledale from Alex Brown's novels and I loved everything about it. This is a setting with endless possibilities and even if we might not return to the main characters of this novel, Cathy usually conjures up an entirely new cast of characters for each of her novels, I do hope we get the chance to return to Plumberry and meet some of the other villagers along the way. Reading about this idyllic, foodie heaven meant that even though I don't have any holidays this summer, I still felt like I was away for the weekend and explored a cute English town.
Verity was the perfect protagonist, not only does she have an adorable name, but she was likeable, kind yet burdened with a whole bunch of baggage as well, which kept her interesting to read about from start to finish. And the fact that there are two very handsome men in the picture didn't hurt either, of course! I also loved Mags, Pixie, Rosie and Gloria, but I especially want to give a mention to Verity's best friend Mimi. Despite the fact that as a reader you only ever learn about Mimi through the other characters' stories and memories, as Mimi died several years prior to the start of this novel, she feels like a big part of the story and she always lingering around the edges of the scenes, which a was beautiful testimony of her friendship with Verity.
The Plumberry School of Comfort Food follows the Cathy Bramley recipe for a delightful read to the dot; an idyllic location, lovely characters, heartwarming moments, and heartbreaking ones, and most of all a fantastic story doused in romance, character growth, friendship and family. It's the perfect recipe for a summer read. And if you love The Great British Bake Off for the innuendos then this is absolutely the novel for you too!...more
Carrie Hope Fletcher is well-known among teens and young adults. Not only for being the sister of McFly's Tom Fletcher and sister-in-law to author Giovanna Fletcher, but also for her inspirational YouTube channel filled with positive messages, videos and songs, which has over 600,000 subscribers. Not to mention that Carrie has graced the West End boards more than once, most recently in Les Miserables in which she was wonderful. She's multi-talented, that one. However, writing a book is something quite different to performing on stage (or on YouTube), so how does her first venture into the world of fiction fare?
When 82-year-old Evie Snow opens her eyes she finds herself looking at a version of herself from decades ago, and she has returned to the apartment building she hasn't lived in since she was in her twenties. Confused as to how she ended up there and how she can look so young, she runs into an old friend and the building's doorman, Lieffe, who explains that Evie has died but her soul is too heavy to move on.
Evie has some unfinished business and it doesn't take her long to realise that this is about the secrets she hid all her life from her family and friends. To lift the weight off her soul, Evie has to think about the most important moments in her life and she's transported back to them. She can't make any changes, she can't even be seen or heard usually, but when those she loves are asleep she can send them a message. And when she does, they can finally learn about her one true love.
There was a lot I loved about this novel but also a lot I didn't (it definitely gave me all of the feels, good and bad!). I'll first talk about some of the things on the negative side, so I can finish this review on a positive note. First of all, the character of Doctor Lieffe was said to be named as such because it's the Dutch word for love. It is not, that's Liefde. As this was a character that popped up a lot throughout the novel, every time I came across his name this annoyed me which was a real shame as he was genuinely a lovely character and I wanted to enjoy his interactions with Evie. This won't bother anyone who doesn't speak Dutch, of course, but since I am Dutch I did pick up on this.
The other things that didn't work for me were are all around consistency; what the novel wanted to be and who it was aimed at. A lot of the sugary sweet fantastical elements were on the children's/very young YA scale, yet then there were heavy themes such as cheating and childlessness casually thrown into the mix as well as some gruesome descriptions not suitable for a children's tale. So it this a children's book or an adult one? And speaking of the fantastical elements, the story was far more imaginative than a magical realism at times yet in other moments it read like a more straightforward contemporary read. It being one thing in some ways and another in others made it difficult to fully feel immersed in the world. And then there was the time period it was set in. Evie's relationship with her parents made this seem a historical story at times, yet a lot of it felt very current too; it didn't add up.
Finally, Evie's character too was inconsistent. Presented as a kind and caring person throughout she was actually incredibly selfish and to me the reasoning behind her making the difficult choice she made did not make sense and only led to her hurting two of the people who love her the most for her own inexplicable purposes. There was nothing remotely sweet or magical about that (I really wanted to give her a good talking to at times!) and that too didn't seem to fit with the otherwise almost fairytale happily-ever-after approach to storytelling within this novel.
However, despite its flaws (and they are many I realise only now as I'm writing them all down) there was a lot to love within the pages of this novel too. Carrie's writing is especially beautiful and very accomplished for someone not only as young as her but also considering this is her debut novel. She has a lovely way of describing her characters and the events they go through, which really shows her talent for writing even in these early stages of her career as an author.
And then of course there is the actual story. While it could've done with a lot more editing to bring it into focus, it's incredibly inventive and interesting, and the various elements of Evie's life as well as her journey back through it was unlike anything I've ever read before. The unique story and fantastical plotlines, from Little One to the origins of the tree in Evie's parents' back garden, make this an incredibly unique story that could do very well onto the big screen. If the story is retold solely with a younger audience in mind I have no doubt that it would do well as a family film for Christmastime as there is a touch of classic fairytales and Disney magic to it.
While On The Other Side could've benefited from a heavy dose of structural editing and a clearer focus on audience, characters and setting, there was a huge amount of potential within the pages and there are many fascinating and memorable moments. This is a fairytale, an unconventional love story and a redemption novel all wrapped up into one sugary sweet package. ...more
Alice in Wonderland is one of my all-time favourite stories. Despite its countless adaptation – in literature, on screen and on stage – each time I rediscover the cat who talks in riddles and the playing cards hunting down the perfect roses for their Red Queen, I'm in awe with the imaginative world of Wonderland. So whenever a new incarnation (or even a straight-forward retelling of the original) pops onto my radar I must check in out, and the latest version is by Wicked-author Gregory Maguire.
We all know what happened to Alice after she followed The White Rabbit and tumbled into Wonderland, but what about the people she left behind? After Alice tells the story of Alice's sister, who is the first to find Alice having gone missing, and Alice's best friend Ada, who too disappears down the rabbit hole into the wondrous land where anything is possible. Concerned about her friend, Ada follows in Alice's footsteps and has an adventure in her own right along the way – making her a much stronger and confident girl than she was before she met the crazy cast of characters we know and love from the original tale.
Gregory Maguire truly captured the whimsical characters and surroundings of Wonderland in his re-imagining of the famous story, and it was a delight to return to this place where anything is possible yet seeing it from the perspective of a new character; one who fitted perfectly in the original tale and had her own journey of growth and discovery along the way. Seeing the story we all know and love from a different angle, added a layer of depth to this imaginative world and shone the spotlight on some characters and elements perhaps not fully explored before.
All the moments spent in Wonderland were a delight to read about, which is what made it a shame we were constantly pulled out of this world by switching back and forth between Ada's story and that of Alice's sister Lydia in Victorian Oxford who, together with Ada's governess Miss Armstrong, is searching for the two missing girls. The headstrong Lydia and waffling Miss Armstrong were extremely unlikeable characters and so in addition to not being part of the Wonderland tale, they were also just not very enjoyable to read about. This half of the book did get a spark of interest with the addition of Siam later on in the story, but this was fleeting and not really developed very well, so it felt like he was added in as an afterthought only.
Writing-wise too, this felt very much a book of two halves. In many ways it's childish and captures the same style of storytelling as the original, but then there is the occasional burst of 'pretty writing' and using difficult language just for the sake of it, that pulls it away from a children's or young adult tale, straight into the adult genre. Gregory Maguire didn't quite know who his intended audience was for this novel, and that unfortunately shows.
After Alice does what it says on the tin; it follows in the footsteps of Alice's tumble into the rabbit hole and explores the aftermath on those closest to the little girl. What it lacked in depth and intrigue for those who were left behind in Victorian Oxford, it more than made up for with the entirely new exploration of Wonderland through the eyes of Alice's best friend Ada. This is a character worthy of a Lewis Carroll novel, and she takes the spotlight with at least as much curiosity and courage as her famous friend. If you are already a lover of Wonderland then this addition to the literary classic will be right up your alley. And if not, at least have a cheeky visit to enjoy a mad tea party....more
Originally read in 2006. Reread in June/July 2016.
Reading all the books in a row, they're becoming a bit repetitive now and I'd like more storyline aOriginally read in 2006. Reread in June/July 2016.
Reading all the books in a row, they're becoming a bit repetitive now and I'd like more storyline and revelations rather than gimmicky writing and repeated summaries of previous books. It almost feels as if 'Lemony Snicket' did not have enough of a story left to tell but tried to stretch it out thinly to achieve 13 novels to match the 13 chapters of each book....more
Third reread (in anticipation of Netflix TV-series) in 2016 and it is not as fantastic as I remembered itOriginally read in 2005 and reread in 2008.
Third reread (in anticipation of Netflix TV-series) in 2016 and it is not as fantastic as I remembered it to be. However, that may be due to the poor film adaptation skewing my opinion of this story. Will see if it continues with the other books as I reread the series......more
I don't often read children's novels nowadays, unless I'm hit by a bout of nostalgia and seek out a childhood favourite (I'm currently rereading: A Series of Unfortunate Events, soon to be followed by Harry Potter). It's not that I don't enjoy them, on contrary, but more so that they aren't on my radar anymore since my younger siblings have hit their teens. And that is a shame, as there are still many fantastic children's books being published, case in point the stunning The Girl of Ink and Stars. This is a future classic, I'm sure.
The young protagonist in this fantastical tale is Isabella, the daughter of a cartographer living on the Isle of Joya. Ruled by the Governor the island is split in two; the part where Isabella lives with her da and the Forgotten Territories. Despite the seemingly inexplicable cruelty of the Governor, Isabella is best friends with his daughter Lupe as they go to school together.
One day a girl goes missing from their class and is found in the Forgotten Territories; murdered by the savages who live there. Despite an outcry from his people the Governor doesn't do anything about this. But when Lupe runs off into the Forgotten Territories to show Isabella that she is nothing like her father, the Governor finally gathers his troops and follows her.
Isabella, worried about her best friend, hides among the Governor's people as their navigator. Dressed up like a boy she shows bravery beyond her years for her friend and her father, and along the way she has the adventure of a lifetime.
The Girl of Ink and Stars is a magical and innovative story, filled with wondrous elements and a world not like any other I've come across in a book before. A brave girl protagonist is still enough of a rarity in children's fiction that when it does occur, a novel really stands out for it and this one certainly does. And for Isabella to be a cartographer, and the book to be filled with gorgeous drawings of maps and stars, added to its beauty. This is a novel not only stunning in words, but in pictures too.
Legend has it that the Isle of Joya was once a floating island and there is a mystical tale of a girl named Arintha and a fire demon, which is one of Isabella's favourite stories. Throughout her journey in the Forgotten Territories Isabella shows such selflessness and courage that she becomes just as inspirational as Arintha. I loved that this novel highlighted how brave and strong a young girl can be and I hope it inspires many young girls and boys reading the book that they can be courageous adventurers too, just like Isabella.
This is a novel filled to the brim with magical adventures. Doused in the same inventive world-building and storytelling as myths and legends, it was an endlessly exciting discovery all while weaving in important subjects such as friendship, family and kick-ass female heroines.Wrapped in a fantasy package it's easy to think that this is completely separate from the world we know and live in, but actually many of the themes are very relatable for children; be brave, follow your passion, and don't worry about being different.
The Girl of Ink and Stars is unlike anything else I've read and I love it for it. It's different, just like Isabella, and a real beauty – inside and out. ...more
In Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Norah suffers from agoraphobia and OCD. This means she's afraid to leave the house and that she has the tendency to overthink any given situation into the extreme and she uses harming rituals to calm herself down. Not being able to set a foot outside of her own front door is very confining but Norah has mostly come to terms with how she lives.
That is, until a new boy moves in next door and his unexpected kindness and understanding give Norah a reason to fight against the mental demons that make her life so very tiny. His confidence in her, gives her the strength to try again and again. She finally gets to experience some of the same things other teenagers do and that too gives her that boost to become stronger and overcome the obstacles in her head.
While I've recently read Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, which also focuses on a character with OCD (an in an incredibly moving and heartwrenching way at that), I had not read a novel about agoraphobia before, YA or adult, and so I was really fascinated by this aspect in Under Rose-Tainted Skies. Not having any personal experience of this anxiety disorder I cannot say with certainty that it was portrayed accurately, but it did feel very realistic and honest to me.
Author Louise Gornall did not gloss over Norah's problems and the devastating effect on the girl both mentally and physically, which made Under Rose-Tainted Skies not an easy book to read at times - but it was an eye-opening and very rewarding one. And though it tackles some very heavy subject matter within its pages, the book never felt too heavy or that I had to put it down because it was emotionally draining. It balanced just perfectly on that edge between poignancy and heartfelt.
Norah, despite her obvious struggles in life, is a very likeable protagonist and one that as a reader you instantly care for. Her raw honesty about her anxieties and the effects on her body and mind were eye-opening and, at times, surprisingly funny, which was a refreshing way of exploring this topic. And then of course there was Luke. Kind, caring, an unexpected beacon in Norah's tiny life I fell in love with him when she did and every moment they spend together I absolutely adored.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an important book, there is no doubt about that. But it's also a beautiful one about being a teenager, first love, identity and, yes, mental health too. If there is one novel you pick up this year that covers an important subject not often found in young adult fiction, let it be this one. ...more
Sometimes I pick up a novel I know absolutely nothing about yet so I can let myself be completely taken by surprise by the story within the pages, and The Comfort of Others was one such a read. I even avoided the blurb and press release so I could dive in without any prior knowledge and expectations, which was a great way to experience Max and Minnie's stories to their fullest.
Max is nearly 12 years old and he lives with his mother. As it's the school holidays she has given Max a Dictaphone in which he records everything that happens to him that summer. It has always just been Max and his mother and they have their own little routines he is content with, but all that changes when he comes to fix the boiler and asks Max's mother out on a date. From that moment on he becomes a part of Max's life, and not in a good way. Max is no longer the centre of his mother's attention and the new boyfriend is being unkind towards him. Max is unable to talk to his mother about is, so instead he shares his thoughts and feelings with his Dictaphone and the old lady across the street.
Minnie lives in the big house in the middle of the estate on which Max lives. When Minnie was Max's age the entire estate belonged to her family, and back then the neat rows of houses were fields and tennis courts. Even though the world around her has changed tremendously in the decades that have passed, inside the house time has stand still. Minnie and her older sister Clara live among the antiques of their youth, stuck in their routines and afraid to leave in fear that the world will uncover their secrets. But as Minnie notices the boy across the street recording his days, she decides to do the same. She picks up a diary from when she was much younger and finally tells the tragic story that led to herself and her sister living in solitude for so many decades.
The Comfort of Others is anything but a comfortable read. The man entering Max's life as well as Minnie's mother were two characters whose actions made me feel hugely uncomfortable while reading and on more than one occasion I contemplated putting the book down as I didn't want to discover what terrible things the two main character would have to deal with next. Despite the adversities on their paths, however, I found Max and Minnie two very compelling characters and it was their unlikely friendship that kept me hooked on reading this novel until the very end.
Max narrating his days in his Dictaphone and Minnie in her diary created an instant personal connection to these two unlikely protagonists, and when their paths crossed they had each other to confide in which made them both stronger and able to tackle the challenges in their life – proving how valuable it can be to talk about problems and worries. The novel as a whole almost felt as an intimate look into the psyche of these two people and while not everything we discovered, especially the horrifying events from Minnie's childhood, made for cheerful reading it was certainly engrossing.
While I was gripped by Max and Minnie's friendship and the uncovering of secrets past and present, the ending of this book let it down for me somewhat as it came too abruptly and happily-ever-after, which felt improbable after the events preceding it. Perhaps adding the same gentle touch of storytelling to the conclusion as had been applied to the other pages would've been a better choice here. Despite its ending, however, the entwinement of the cross-generation stories and secrets made for a fascinating read.
The Comfort of Others is a quiet novel about discomfort and oppression, and an unlikely friendship defying them both. ...more
Martini Henry is the second novel by author and actress Sara Crowe, and one that has been on my radar since the fun reading at a Transworld Showcase last year. While I hadn't read the first novel, Campari for Breakfast, I was told that this one could be read as a stand alone and so I was very keen to take part in the blog tour when the opportunity arose.
Sue Bowl is an aspiring journalist. 18-years-old and fresh off a writing course she's hungry for an internship at the local paper while she's working on her dissertation and she tries to be more Russian in her writing, one of the biggest pointers she'd been given during her course.
At the same time she's reading a 3,000 page long tome titled For the Concern of the Rich and Poor, as there are links with Green Place, the mansion she lives in with her aunt and an assortment of lodgers, including three admirals. But things don't go according to plan for Sue and she has to look at a Plan B to gain some much-needed income. And when the one stable thing in her life, her boyfriend Joe, starts unraveling too, everything Sue has been building up since the loss of her mother a year prior comes tumbling down.
I thought Martini Henry was going to a a laugh a minute, but it wasn't really. There were humourous moments, sure, but it wasn't as "hilarious" or "very, very funny" as the back cover quotes or the reading last year at the Showcase made it seem. Instead it was a far more mature coming-of-age novel where the eloquent main character often seemed wise beyond her years because of her impeccable way with words.
Her flowery writing could've of course be attributed to her journalistic aspirations, but then her coursework and newspaper submissions read a lot more inexperienced than her diary entries. The wise-beyond-her-years diary pages could've made Sue look very unrealistic, as her writing did often seem like author Sara Crowe showing her readers how descriptive she could be, but then Sue made some very foolish decisions, which certainly her showed her age.
Ultimately this was very much a book of two halves, however, and while technically speaking Sue was the protagonist as we read her diary entries and the excerpts she creates from the 3,000 page long For the Concern of the Rich and Poor, it was actually the story of the London Taylor's journey from rags to riches which Sue was uncovering within this novel that was the more engaging one to me.
His was an epic tale of coming from absolutely nothing and how, when reflecting upon his life in old age, this completely turned around because of kindness and meeting the right people on his path. No matter what adversities London faces, he remains true to himself and doesn't became hateful towards those treating him and the people he cares about unfairly, which he could've so easily done as it by no means was an easy journey he was on.
This is a story that shows some of the worst sides of the social divide in the 19th century, and it is written in such an engaging, fascinating and even adventurous way that I felt myself being completely swept away by these parts of Martini Henry. Every time we returned back to the 1980s and Sue I felt a pang of impatience as I wanted to learn more about London and how his life would turn out.
That isn't to say that I want to completely dismiss Sue's story, as that had elements that kept me hooked on reading it too, but in her case it was actually the people surrounding her, such as Aunt Coral and Joe, that I felt most invested in and I wanted to learn more about. And of course the 80s setting, which while not all out neon-coloured leggings and back-combed hair, still had some fun little nods to the decade fashion forgot.
It is Sue's story I picked Martini Henry up for, but it's London's story that made me stay. This is a dual time-frame narrative with an interesting twist as instead of focusing on adults connected by a romantic tragedy and war, they are two coming-of-age tales and didn't include a battle until a brief mention at the very end. While this is perhaps not a comedy novel with a laugh on every page, it is a compelling read, especially when London's tale started unfolding and echoing events in Sue's present time.
If you've already read and enjoyed Campari for Breakfast then Martini Henry is undoubtedly a novel you'll love reading to be reunited with Sue, Joe, Aunt Carol, and the gang. If you're not yet familiar with them but you like an eclectic cast of characters, a coming-of-age tale set amid the fashion faux pas of the 1980s, and a fascinating history lesson to boot, then this will be a right up your alley too....more
Mallory grew up with two foster parents who terrorised her childhood; unsuitable to parenthood they threatened her, scared her and forced her into staying quiet and unseen for the many years she lived with them. The only reason Mallory survived was Rider Stark, a boy a few years her senior who protected her from the demons at the peril of his own well-being. When a fire leaves physical evidence of the unsuitable home Mallory and Rider lived in all those years, they are freed from the nightmare but at one terrible cost: they get separated.
Fast forward a few years and Mallory's life has completely turned around. Adopted by two doctors who care for her deeply she now lives in a stable home and is slowly working on overcoming the emotional and physical scars of her childhood. She still has trouble speaking lengthily in front of strangers, an after-effect of being told to be quiet for most of her life, but otherwise she's doing well and she is ready to face a new milestone: high school. As if having a normal conversation with strangers isn't challenging enough for Mallory, another big shock awaits her on her first day of school. She runs into Rider, and all her feelings – for him and about their shared past – come crashing back into her life.
I remember coming across Jennifer L. Armentrout years ago when I read about her novel Cursed, which, back in the day, even made my Waiting On Wednesday. She disappeared from my radar after that, only to resurface with a vengeance with the beautiful The Problem With Forever (and I don't just mean the cover though holy crap, how gorgeous is that one?!). This is a story that needs telling but so rarely does. It realistically shows the emotional impact of the mistreatment of impressionable children and how it can have lasting effects on those involved. Mallory became quiet and invisible, not unlike a mouse, a nickname Rider gives her. The slightly older boy becomes her protector, someone who is willing to sacrifice himself for those he cares for.
Even years later, when Mallory has been living in a loving home for a few years already and Rider too is taken care off, the two characters retain these characteristics; Mallory rarely talks to strangers and Rider is a fierce protector of the younger boy living in the same home as him; Jayden. You can take people away from a nightmare but that doesn't mean the nightmares stop. The things we experience as children are deeply rooted into brains and can influence every next stage in the journey of life.
I loved reading all of this from Mallory's perspective because despite all the hardships she had to endure in her still young life, she is a kind human being and deserving of overcoming her struggles and fears and just be a normal teenager (for as far as there is such a thing as normal, of course). Rider, despite being screwed up from his childhood too, provided the perfect balance to her naivety and neediness, not to mention that he was hot to boot!
The only character that wasn't explored to the fullest was Mallory's best friend Ainsley. Mallory was so completely, almost selfishly, focused on her own troubles that Ainsley got the short end of the stick. I loved Ainsley from the start, her contagious excitement, her unrelenting championing of Mallory and Rider, and her supportive nature despite not necessarily being returned the favour. Why then did this character only serve as a brutal eye opener to Mallory? Driving an important change in mentality just for the plot, without getting some much-needed support herself?
It reminded me of something author Claire Hennessy recently said about the best friend dying (this is not a spoiler, Ainsley doesn't die) merely to make the protagonist do a complete turn around and see what has been obvious to the reader from the very first page. Before she made this very valid comment I probably wouldn't have noticed it in The Problem With Forever, but now it's painfully obvious. And that's a shame, as Ainsley is a wonderful character in her own right and she deserved more than that (at the very least a conclusion to her storyline rather than being left forgotten among those final chapters).
Aside from the handling of Ainsley I loved this novel from start to finish. The Problem With Forever is an important book telling a powerful story. Even these days too many foster kids still slip through the system and with Mallory and Rider, Jennifer L. Armentrout gives these children a voice and shows the emotional effects of not growing up in a loving home, and how it can impact them even years later.
Despite the harrowing premise, this is an uplifting read too. No matter what horrors people experience, most of us will overcome them to come out better and stronger. Not all of us, mind, as this book so devastatingly shows, but for most of us there is hope and we come to realise that these dark moments will not last forever....more
Recent widow April travels to Tindledale to visit her great aunt Edie and take a much-deserved break from her life to try and process the loss of her husband. What starts off as a courtesy short visit to check up on her great aunt and help the older woman in and around the house, turns into a much longer stay when April realises that Edie's house and orchard is severely neglected and needs a younger hand to bring it back to life. April herself blossoms in Tindledale too, soon becoming friends with Molly and being eyed by not one but two of the local men.
And if the villagers and her great aunt weren't enough to keep her occupied already and take her mind off the death of her husband, April also tries to uncover the secret of Winnie, Edie's older sister who went missing during the second world war. Did she really run off because she had a baby with a married man, like so many elder residents in the village believe to be the case, or was there more to the story? For Edie's sake, April is determined to solve the mystery once and for all.
Returning to Tindledale felt like reuniting with an old friend you haven't seen for far too long, and yet within the first minutes of conversation you ease back into the familiarity and comfort of reconnecting with someone you can just be yourself with. Tindledale embodies cosiness and loveliness and spending the better part of the train journey from England to the Netherlands immersed within this village and its quirky inhabitants was an utter delight.
I'd already fallen in love with the villagers in the Alex's previous novels, and it was lovely to be reunited with some of them, but the new cast of characters in The Secret of Orchard Cottage has to be my favourite one yet. Most protagonists in women's fiction novels these days and in their 20s or 30s, but as readers grow older as well (myself included) it was refreshing to have 40-something April at the heart of the story, and she was complimented well by her 22-year-old stepdaughter and teenager Bella, both of whom I absolutely adored, for some cheeky shenanigans more befitting younger characters.
The Secret of Orchard Cottage wasn't only a heartwarming hug in book shape, it was a proper engrossing read too. I loved the links back to the past that were woven throughout with Winnie's story and the conclusion to the mystery was incredibly satisfying and brought a huge smile to my face. Alex is brilliant at mixing heartbreak with humour, and conjuring up an incredible cast of characters that us readers fall head over heels in love with (I'm looking at you Matt and Dr Ben). The latest instalment in the Tindledale series includes all of these elements and then some, making it the perfect read to dream away with on a lazy summer's day (or a spring, autumn or winter day, any day really...).
With Tindledale Alex Brown has brought all the very best elements of small town England together in one gorgeous place. The main characters in her novels visit this idyllic location to refuel and discover what is truly important in life – friends, family and love – but so do her readers. Having the opportunity to walk the cobble-stoned streets of this picturesque village through the pages of her books is an absolute delight. You don't have to leave your home to feel like your holidaying in the country side, all you need to do is pick up The Secret of Orchard Cottage and be swept away by its heartwarming charm. ...more
Last Dance in Havana is part of the #QuercusSummer campaign, in which bloggers are challenged to read and review one Quercus summer title each month between June-August, and it couldn't have been kicked off with a read that evokes more sunshine and summery feelings than Last Dance in Havana by Rossanna Ley.
It's 1958 when Elisa meets Duardo. A young, impressionable teenager she's instantly taken by his charm and when he goes off to fight with the rebels she waits for him at home. But when news arrives that he has died she is forced to leave Cuba when her family moves to faraway Bristol in England in the hopes of finding a better life. Decades later she has not forgotten Duardo but when she meets a young girl, Grace, who has just lost her mother she feels protective of the child and becomes a mother figure to her. And when the child's father eventually asks Elisa to marry him, it seems a logical next step for the family to take.
Rosanna Ley's Bay of Secrets is one of the most haunting and memorable novels I've ever had the pleasure to read, and I was expecting a similarly set-up story doused in history, research and shocking revelations but that wasn't the case. Last Dance in Havana is more gentle and while it does contain flashbacks and cross-generational storylines, it felt a lot more contemporary and like the ultimate beach read, rather than an in-depth historical fiction read that requires a lot of concentration. This is not a good thing or a bad thing per se, but it does mean that my expectations didn't align with this novel and it took me a little longer to find myself being fully immersed into it.
Where this novel excelled was in its incredible sense of place, and the way it transported the reader to the heat of Cuba and the sensuous first encounter between Elisa and Duardo as they dance the Rumba together. At first we only see snippets of this place through flashbacks as the majority of the novel takes place in present time Bristol, but the further the story developed, the more tangible and vibrant the Cuban colours and sounds woven through the pages became. And even when Elisa was in Bristol there was always a hint of that Cuban atmosphere in the chapters as she never became completely English in her ways.
While half of the novel was focused on a now adult Grace and her strenuous relationships with both her father and her husband, to me it was Elisa's story in past and present that really stuck with me. Despite the hardships she endured in life, she never gave up and she continued to be a kind and caring person to those around her – even when perhaps they were not deserving of it. Her strength and wisdom were an inspiration and made it impossible not to fall in love with her as a character and hope that she would find the love she deserves in the end.
Last Dance in Havana evokes the feeling of romantic escapades and sultry summer days, but it's also an insight in marriage, loss and forgiveness. All these different elements balance the story and create a compelling novel that is perfect to dive into come rain or shine. ...more
I wasn't a fan of this and I am giving it a reluctant 3 stars. The overall experience was very disappointing considering how mind-blowing the end to WI wasn't a fan of this and I am giving it a reluctant 3 stars. The overall experience was very disappointing considering how mind-blowing the end to Way Down Dark was and I may have to revise my star rating down once I've fully processed my thoughts. ...more