Monday, 29 February 2016

Books for Mother's Day #2

Here are some more suggestions for Mother's Day gifts which are all popular, easy reads.

Lighthouse Bay
I read this on holiday and loved it so much I gave it 5 stars and recommended it to everyone! In retrospect, my enjoyment might have been partially down to being on holiday and this novel being the perfect, relaxing saga that I needed but I would still recommend it as a good book full of romance, drama, secrets, suspense and a few clever twists. It's set in Australia and shifts between two characters, one in present day and one in 1901. I liked the setting, the historical detail and the fact that both the characters have a past to come to terms as well as a desire for a new start. I don't want to say much more but it is a satisfying engaging read - perfect for a holiday or a weekend indulgence! Don't judge by the front cover - this doesn't really capture the kind of story it is - I read it on Kindle as probably would not have picked it up otherwise!

Big Little Lies
Liane Moriarty has written several books and they are all engaging and quick reads. This novel is no exception and I found myself either smiling wryly at the absurdity of some of the characters'  behaviour or rapidly turning the pages as the tension and drama unravelled itself. I did think some of the characterisation was a little far fetched at times but as I got further into the book, I quickly became wrapped up in the different threads of story lines and wanted to find out how they would all eventually come together. "Big Little Lies" centres around the school playground; the politics, marriages, children and cliques. The novel is structured around the run up to a charity evening and a dramatic turn of events which take place there. Moriarty also deals with abuse, bullying and several other deeper issues which creates more tension and interest. The denouement is gripping. I would also recommend "The Husband's Secret" and "What Alice Forgot" which I think is my favourite.

What Would Mary Berry Do?
I borrowed this from the library while "The Great British Bake Off" was on; it was the middle of winter and I needed some "comfort reading" to go alongside some comfort eating! This is a gentle, heartwarming and humorous read. The main character, Marie, is very likeable and makes some perceptive observations which will make you smile as she attempts to juggle work, three children, a husband and a chronic inability to cook. It's a easy, fun and witty read about family, friendship and love.

The Photographer's Wife
This story uses old photographs to reveal a hidden past and is set between two different time periods which is moves between as the secrets are exposed. Sophie wants to create an exhibition of her late father's photography. Barbara, her mother, has spent a lifetime trying to keep the past buried. But it is time for the truth and time for Sophie to confront the reality of her parents and their marriage.

The Sea House
Again, this novel uses a dual time line, moving between 1860 and present day. It is set on the island of Harris in the Hebrides. Alexander Ferguson, a vicar and amateur scientist is fascinated by the reported sighting of "seal men" and mermaids off the coast and wants to prove the legend that he is in fact descended from these people. In the present day, Ruth and Michael move into a house on the same island and set about building a home for their future family. However, things are stopped by the discovery of the bones of a small child - a child whose legs are fused together like a mermaid...... A little bit more fantastical and magical but also a story of confronting traumatic pasts, hope, redemption and healing. Atmospheric.

The Winter Witch
The combination of Welsh words, evocative descriptions of 19th Century Wales and witches makes this a captivating read. Morgana, the main character, has not spoken since she was a child. She is viewed with curiosity and talk within her small, remote Welsh village. Her mother marries her off quickly in order to try and protect her and slowly she begins to fall in love with her new husband. This tale has a bit of everything in it from love to suspense and Morgana is a well crafted character whose use of gesture and sign can express far more than words. A little different but you will be transported firmly back in time to this part of Wales through beautiful writing and imagery.

The Pursuit of Happiness
I read this book about a decade ago and will definitely be re-reading it. It's a 660 pages of the finest type of spellbinding storytelling. It is one of the handful of books that has kept me up until 3am because I could not put it down. It is set in 1940s America and follows Sara and her relationship with Jack. It is a story of love, betrayal, dilemmas, choice and destiny with plenty of dramatic twists. Kennedy is perhaps the only male author I know who can write about women with utter conviction. His depiction of emotions and feelings is so truthful and compassionate that the characters are magnetic and mesmerising. I think I might have even found myself gasping out loud at times as I was so caught up with the narrative. This was the first novel of Kennedy's I read and since then I have read them all and will even stretch to a hardback copy of his new titles as they are always such enthralling and thoughtful reads.

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications on the right hand side.

My Review of "Gone Astray" by Michelle Davies

Gone Astray
This is a very believable crime thriller which takes a very ordinary simple situation and turns it into an exciting and gripping tale full of twists, suspense and drama. I had to check whether this was in fact Michelle Davies' first novel as the plot is so well executed and the characters so well crafted! It reads as fluently as any other book in the genre of psychological thrillers and will give recent titles such as "Gone Girl" a run for its money.

Leslie Kinnock, her husband Mack and their daughter Rosie are recent £15 million winners of the lottery after Leslie bought a ticket on a whim. They have moved house, area, schools and left their old lives behind but Leslie seems to resent this new found wealth and hasn't adapted to it as easily as the rest of the family. She "loathes the wealth" which is all about "show" and walks around in bagging, worn clothes as what "was the point of dressing up when Mack's job and no friends to see". I thought this made her a rather intriguing character and right from the beginning it implies Leslie has a deeper dissatisfaction with life and suggests more about the seemingly perfect family set up.

The story begins with Rosie's disappearance. Has she been taken or gone willingly? Is this just the behaviour of a typical 15 year old or has a sinister crime taken place?

The opening pages had me completely hooked. My attention was grabbed by the detailed description of Leslie returning home, finding the alarm had been fiddled with and then the eerie silence of a house where her daughter "viewed peace and quiet with the same disdain people reserved for traffic wardens". The image of Leslie searching the house and her growing sense of panic and unease is so vividly captured through minute observations that you are firmly placed at the scene with Leslie and take notice of every single tiny detail as Davies uses these pages to convey more subtle information to the reader and fill every sentence with some hidden suggestion of tension and suspense. Immediately the reader is wondering why the house is such a fortress and why is Leslie so riddled with anxiety and neurosis. The chapter ends on a cliffhanger making anything but reading on impossible.

The chapters then alternate between the unfolding story of Rosie's disappearance and the police investigation. Maggie is the police officer assigned to be the Family Liaison Officer. She is an appealing character; sensitive, and determined yet with her own skeletons and complications. Davies develops her plot by introducing further sub plots involving the people in Maggie's life and then weaving them in and out of the main plot line with a deft proficiency.

Dispersed amongst these chapters is a third, anonymous, more threatening and aggressive voice.

There are so many clues and comments that heighten the sense of mystery and suspense the reader is on tenter hooks throughout the whole novel. The unexplained absences of Mack, the comment from Rosie's friends that "she didn't deserve this", the predatory nature of the anonymous voice and his alluring personality, the emails on the laptop, the hidden secrets between Leslie and Rosie and the duplicitous behaviour of teenagers. All used with skill to create a thrilling read and dramatic climax.

I really liked the way the characters all began to interact towards the end and all the separate threads of story started to interact leading to dramatic revelations. Davies leaves you considering numerous questions such as is anything ever as it seems? How well do we know the people closest to us and how often do we miss what is right under our noses all along?

I enjoyed this book a lot. It was an engaging, quick read that had all the ingredients we have come to expect from a good, well written psychological thriller. I will be recommending to my friends as I think this is a book which will appeal to lots of them. This is definitely a book for fans of Elizabeth Hayes, Linda Huber, Rachel Abbott, crime novels and psychological thrillers. It also reminded me of Fiona Neill's "The Good Girl".

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up on the email link on the right hand side for regular notifications.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Suggested titles for Mother's Day #1

Here are some recommendations for Mother's Day. I will post several blogs to cover a range of genres and titles so keep an eye out and hopefully there will be something for every mother out there!

First up, books about mothers....

The Good Girl
This really is compelling and highly contemporary. What would you do if you find out there is a picture of your sensible, reliable A grade daughter in a very compromising position plastered all over the internet? This novel is a gripping and thrilling tale of such a nightmare and how the whole family cope with the consequences. A great page turner and a totally engrossing read.

The Snow Child
A fairy tale of a read. I gave this 5 stars and fell in love with it. The writing is exquisite. Set in Alaska in 1920 it is the story of a childless couple who build a snow child one evening. It melts but the next day Faina appears in their lives. Charming, heartbreaking, multilayered and evocative it will captivate you.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Another 5 star recommendation from me! Opinionated and fearless Bernadette's often disgraceful behaviour will have you grinning and laughing out loud! This is a witty, sharply observed heartwarming and entertaining novel. This tale centres around Bernadette's disappearance and how her daughter Bea sets out to find her through a series of emails, secret correspondence and official documents. The story tracks Bea's search and is an honest and satisfying read about flawed characters and relationships within families.

The Paris Wife
I really enjoyed this. It is the story of Hadley and her relationship with writer Ernest Hemingway. Their often impoverished life in Paris during the 1920s is told from Hadley's perspective and it is a very engaging novel including a cast of well known characters who formed Hemingway's artistic circle of fiends. The reader feels huge empathy with Hadley, her unquestioning loyalty and patience as she learns to live with a gifted and talented yet sometimes tormented soul. It is about self sacrifice and love. It is moving and extremely well written. I found it very filmic and easy to visualise too.

The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs

There's a whole lot of these types of novels about, including "The Unmummsy Mum", "The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy" and "I Don't Know How She Does It". They are all light, humorous, entertaining reads that satirise the life of a stay at home mum or women juggling both career and families. Sometimes I enjoy reading them and find myself laughing alongside them, sometimes I find them flippant, irritating and derisory. However, I read this a long time ago but a lot of it resonated (sometimes uncomfortably so!) with me and certain parts could have been written about by me! Mary is convinced that her dissatisfaction with life is down to her husband and she puts him on a "reward chart" similar to those used with very small children. The book is amusing and entertaining but also quite sad with some difficult decisions that need facing if indeed your relationship is in trouble....

If you liked "The Ballroom" by Anna Hope......

If you like the themes of madness and attitudes to mental health which Hope writes about in her new novel "The Ballroom", then some of the following novels may also appeal to you.

Human Traces
This is an enormous 793 pages long  - I read it on holiday years ago which was probably the best way for me as it meant that I was able to really concentrate on what is a rather involved novel and as it was in the pre kindle days, I'd no room for anything else in my suitcase! Faulks is an extremely talented author of lots of captivating books but this felt like a much more ambitious departure. The story follows two psychiatrists from Victorian London to Paris, and then worldwide, in pursuit of their studies, research and exploration of the human mind. In absolute honesty, there are some very good sections of the book but there are also some more heavy going passages and at times it is a bit of a slog. A worthy slog, and a chance to appreciate a great accomplishment but for the more ambitious and dedicated bibliomaniacs among us!

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories
This was first published in 1892 and is a fascinating and horrifying story that will grip you and then haunt you! It is a very very slim read (my kindle edition only had the one story so I can't review any of her other short stories) so you will fly through it but it is a really interesting account of a woman's descent into madness when mental health was so misunderstood, not treated effectively and often not taken seriously at all. It is a famous piece of feminist writing and the author herself suffered from depression. Thought provoking. It almost reads like a horror story as much as a narrative on a depressed mind.

The Story of Beautiful Girl
A much more accessible, mainstream read. This is a beautiful story about a young girl and her deaf boyfriend who escape from the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. It gives a fascinating insight into these types of institutions that actually existed and the cruel misunderstandings, treatments and inhumanity that took place there. It is also a love story and a truly remarkable story. It is an absolute 5 star must read!

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Classic novel from 1963 of which we'll all be familiar - through the film if not the novel. Felt I couldn't talk about this issue without listing this book!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Equally well known and also recently adapted for film, this 1999 novel is a deeply affecting short read. With an almost cult like following, it is a story about growing up and all the trials and tribulations of the those painful years at school. The main character Charlie is shy and socially awkward. He is "caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it". If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. You'll be entranced and moved. I can't believe I didn't get around to reading it until relatively recently and it is one of the few books I have re-read a few times.

All the Bright Places
This came out last year and was a huge success in both the YA charts and adult bestsellers. There has been quite an eruption of YA fiction tackling controversial issues like suicide, mental health, cancer and grief. This is an excellent example of such a book. Theodore is obsessed with thoughts of his own suicide and counts the days until he might die. In contrast, Violet lives for the future and counts down the days until graduation and her escape from her family and its recent tragedy. They are the most unlikely companions but in fact their relationship has life changing effects on them. It's a roller coaster of a read. Lively, intelligent characters who you become helplessly involved with. Well worth a read and well worth sharing with teenagers.

Looking for Alaska
John Green, a YA fiction author, is very well known for "Paper Towns" and "The Fault in our Stars". This is one of his earlier novels about Miles, a boy fascinated by people's last words and his friend Alaska. They are at a boarding school together and the structure of the book is told in sections "before" Alaska's disappearance and "after". The reader has some work to do in piecing together the clues and there isn't a sense of complete resolution or conclusion at the end but it is innovative, quirky at times and an imaginative exploration of life at a boarding school, friendship and coming of age. I rate it 4/5 stars.

The View on the Way Down
Reviewers claim that this is a story "you will want to talk about and one you will never forget." I totally agree. I don't want to give too much away but it is about Emma and her family. One brother has died and one left home at the same time and has not been seen since. It deals with depression, loss, bereavement and grief. It is about how all these things impact on a family. It is very moving and very well written. Highly recommend.

Not a particularly cheery selection of titles here but ones that are rewarding and significant reads. I hope you find them equally interesting and sensitive in their exploration of a difficult and taboo area.

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat follow me @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) on Twitter or sign up for the email notifications on the right hand side.

Which books have caught my eye? (28th Feb)

Time to see what has caught my eye this week!

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Definitely this one! It sounds amazing! The blurb says that it is "told in a chorus of voices belonging to those who knew her best....a portrait of an elusive woman whose monumental talent and relentless pursuit of truth reveal the cost of producing great art, both for the artist and the people around her." However it was more the buzz words in the reviews and recommendations like "provocative", "extraordinary", "outstanding", "gripping" and the fact that a lot of readers weren't even sure how to write about it - they just knew it was a profound read. I am intrigued! @LindaHill50 tweeted about this book several times and her blog post review is worth a read (Linda's Book Bag). She used the amazing word "obfuscation" which I will leave you to look up (as I had to!) and I think I must read the book now if only to work that word into as many conversations about it as possible!

The Butcher's Hook
This has to be one of the other most talked about books this week. We all know Janet Ellis from Blue Peter but this book allegedly has nothing wholesome about it! It is set in 18th Century London and Anne Jacobs is an "uncompromising brutal girl" who will "cheerfully pray for another's unhappy end" while simultaneously be capable of "fun, hope, vulnerability and warmth". (Saturday Guardian Review) The reviews are a little mixed but all agree that it is sharp, well observed, witty and shows a passionate understanding of the human condition. Good luck Janet! I think I'll be reading it purely as a Blue Peter fan!

One Summer Night: A Love Letter to Life
This book comes from a new publishing group that are part of Twenty7books -responsible for great reads like "Sofia Khan is not Obliged" and "The Hidden Legacy" which I have reviewed and blogged about earlier this year. It is likened to Jojo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks and sounds like a good, popular, chick-lit-esque read. Lauren is diagnosed with a brain tumour and the novel is about her spirit, fight and about how to she decides live her life. The reviews so far are positive and encouraging so I think this will be one to look out for and more uplifting than the blurb might imply. I certainly trust the judgement of the publishing house with their choice of authors so I'm fairly confident this will be a good, rewarding read.

Broken Sky (The Broken Trilogy #1)
Lee Weatherly is a fantastic YA author of whom I have had the privilege of working with on several creative writing workshops both within secondary schools and as an adult writer. She has written a huge range of books including the exceptionally popular "Angel" trilogy. This is her latest publication coming out on the 1st March. It is once more the first book in a trilogy, set in 1940 where war is illegal and harmony rules but life is less than perfect..... The reviews are incredibly positive and congratulate Weatherly on her creative and imaginative writing. One to add to that "to read" list and buy for any minibibliomaniacs!

The Faithful Couple
This appeared on my Twitter feed with the description that it was a "literary human drama of the highest calibre". That sort of endorsement immediately wets my biblio-appetite! It claims to have mass appeal as well as the potential to win prizes. It is starts in 1993 and charts the friendship of two young men. The reviews I saw said it would appeal to fans of William Boyd (whose "Restless", amongst several titles I haven't room to list now, is a very rewarding read) and Anne Tyler (with an equally impressive list of titles under her belt -all highly readable) As one such fan, I shall be taking note of this novel!

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Several highly regarded reviewers have named this as the "one to watch". It is set in Mumbai and follows the retired Inspector Chopra who inherits two unsolved crimes - one about a drowned boy and one about an elephant! It is billed as a funny, innovative, different, colourful read with an engaging, likeable, light hearted main character. For readers of crime fiction and people looking for something a little different! Look out for it!

Final Round Up!

  • It was great to see "War and Peace" entering the Top 50 Bestsellers list! I wish everyone embarking upon the challenge good luck - it's not one I've won but I am a fan of classic literature and would encourage people to try something - they will be pleasantly surprised by how accessible or engaging a lot of the novels are. 
  • It is also great to see the YA title "The Lie Tree" by Frances Hardinge still in the top ten. 
  • The lovely, unusual love story "The Version of Us" by Laura Bennet and riveting thriller "Disclaimer" by Renee Knight are in the top 20 - all of which can be found reviewed in my previous blogs. 
  • Fiona Barton's "The Widow" which I reviewed this week, is number 7 for fiction and the hotly anticipated audio download is due out very soon. 
  • The new ironic Ladybird series is dominating the hardback non fiction charts and the adult colouring books dominates the non fiction paperback charts! 
That's all for this week! What caught  your eye?

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications on the right hand side.

My Review of "Thin Ice" by Quentin Bates

Thin Ice (Officer Gunnhildur, #5)

This is book 5 of Quentin Bates "Office Gunnhildur" series. I have not read any of the other titles but was able to follow the storyline and enjoyed this book as a stand alone so I don't think it matters if you've read them or not - or if you read them out of sequence. What is does mean is that if you like it, there are 4 more for you to read - a massive plus!

This crime novel is set in Iceland. The location is incredibly atmospheric and really adds another dimension of suspense and tension. The snow creates a slightly suffocating feel and emphasises the sense of being trapped felt by the hostage victims. The story is of two small time criminals whose plans for a quick escape go wrong when their getaway driver fails to show up. In a panic, they jump into the nearest moving car and there begins their descent into a more serious set of crimes as they end up with two hostages in an isolated hotel which is closed for the season. At the same time, Officer Gunnhildur is investigating the death of a thief in a house fire. Both stories seem unrelated but as the investigation continues it is clear they are linked.

The thing I enjoyed most about this novel was that you were immediately thrown straight into the action and there was not a moment of pause or reflection. The narrative hurtles along at a really rapid pace with events unfolding quickly. Bates switches between the two stories and several characters which makes it a quick read and means that you want to read on to find out what happens. The reader is continuously presented with new information, new twists and developments which makes it quite filmic in a way and a gripping read. There is a wide cast of characters to keep track of but this fits with the action and style of the novel.

Erna, one of the hostages, is an interesting character. Not particularly likeable, she flits from displays of aggressive confidence to hysteria. She puts herself in danger with reckless threats to the hostage takers Ossur and Magni and then as Gunnhildur's investigation continues, there are hints of a more wild past and a mystery surrounding the paternity of her daughter Tinna. Her daughter Tinna is a similarly complex character. At 24 years old she is appears more shrew and perceptive. I spent a lot of the novel wondering whether she was a calculating manipulator or a foolish promiscuous young girl who enjoyed taking risks. She is not a typical victim and her reaction to the hostage situation is a great twist to the story. Her role is indicated early on when her mother pleadingly asks, "What are we going to do?" and Tinna's reply is that she is "enjoying the ride."

The fact that the two hostages and their criminal captors are snowed in at a deserted hotel couldn't help but remind me of Stephen King's "The Shining" which I thought actually made the whole situation more sinister for me!

Magni and Ossur are rather reluctant small time criminals who very quickly find themselves in a situation well out of their league. Magni has been forced into petty crime following redundancy and is more a victim of circumstance and this makes the reader more sympathetic towards him and his relationship with his hostages more intriguing.

I also enjoyed watching the police investigation unfold. At the beginning I felt I knew more than them about the crime which was a refreshing position to be in and I thought that the way I then observed their line of questioning and conclusions an interesting angle from which to read.

This book is an easy, fast, page turning read for anyone who enjoys well crafted crime stories with strong, engaging characters. It is action packed with several narratives to keep track of and a large cast of characters to engage with but at no point is it over complicated or confusing. This is all handled very well by Bates whose writing is fluent and concise. I am looking forward to reading some of the other titles in the series as a result of discovering this book.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book ahead of publication in return for a fair and honest review.

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 or sign up on the email link on the right for regular updates from this blog.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

What could you read to celebrate #WorldBookDay?

World Book Day is generally celebrated by children, but what about all the adults? Surely we can have a day talking about books, swapping recommendations, visiting the library and reading over a coffee or three? What better example to set? I might give the dress-up-as-your-favourite-character bit a miss though!

So here are a few books that I have really enjoyed reading over the last six months or so that you might like to try! Whatever you choose, make sure you dedicate some time on Thursday to reading!

Product Details
Dorothy Whipple: Greenbanks, They Knew Mr Knight, They were Sisters, The Priory, Because of the Lockwoods
These are all published by Persephone Books and come in gorgeous silver covers with beautiful end papers and matching bookmarks. They are £14 each but you can buy three for a discount. They are available on Amazon second hand. Dorothy Whipple was writing in the 1930s and 40s. She is a sharp and witty observer and her books are very readable and entertaining. "They Knew Mr Knight" follows the very ordinary Blake family and their entanglement with the financier Mr Knight who they meet by chance. It portrays their seduction and the inevitable drama from following his investment advice as they are swept along by his charisma. It is full of tension and very readable. "Greenbanks" is a very rewarding read about a large grown up family in the 1920s. There is some fascinating insight into the effect of WW1 on women and families and also the role of women at this time. The women reflect a range of positions, roles and characters and it is an enjoyable saga. I find her novels really engaging and suit people who like classics but prefer more accessible texts - or are huge fans of Downtown Abbey and other period dramas!

Product Details

Emma Kennedy: Shoes for Anthony
This is a truly delightful read! It is funny, witty, thrilling and deeply moving. It includes tragedy, drama, adventure and humour. Kennedy's insight and observations about a small Welsh community during WW2 are so vividly accurate and evocative that the book really comes to life. You can hear the characters' voices so clearly and feel the energy of 11 year old Anthony and his friends. Despite the light and entertaining feel of the book, it also has depth and a gripping plot about how even the most remote, smallest places become embroiled in the war. Plenty to think about. Plenty to laugh about. Somethings to cry about. Something definitely worth reading.

Product Details

Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove
A quietly pleasing novel. Ove is a grumpy, unfriendly, newly retired man of high morals who enjoys making life uncomfortable for his neighbours. Or is he? Told with wry humour, this initially unlikeable character will grow on you. With a mix of sadness, insight and observational humour we follow Ove as he begins retired life and finds that actually, the people on his street are not all he quite thought them to be...... An uplifting and memorable tale.

Product Details
Patrick Gale: A Place Called Winter
I discovered Patrick Gale relatively recently having never quite got around to reading "Notes From An Exhibition" when it was first published and became one of the most talked about bestsellers. Once I did, I regretted having left it so long and now am trying to read the rest of his novels - all absorbing, exquisitely written books. "A Place Called Winter" is the story of Harry Cane who leaves Edwardian England for Canada and takes up a home in the remote and new settlement of Winter. It is a fascinating saga of self discovery; Harry is a quietly complex yet hugely mesmerising character. An outstanding novel.

Product Details
Isabel Wolff: Ghostwritten 
I came across this book by accident as it wasn't what I thought it was when I ordered it (can't remember what I was actually after!) and even though it took me a while to get into, it was worth it and has stayed with me! Although the content was harrowing in some places, it was fascinating and I learnt a lot about a period of history I was totally ignorant about. Despite the traumatic and tragic themes, it is actually quite a light, quick read about survival, love and hope. Jenny is a "ghost" - she writes other people's stories. Here, her commission is to write the story of Clara, a Dutchwoman who was interned in Java, a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, during WW2. In conjunction with this plot, Jenny also has to confront her own "ghosts" from a childhood trauma which she has tried to ignore for too long. Clara's retelling sometimes felt a little disconnected and separate from the parallel storyline but overall the writing and narrative will keep you engaged and gripped.
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Philippa Gregory: The Cousins War Series
Oh yes, a little guilty pleasure here! A "go to" for a reliable bit of historical escapism! If you fancy a saga of romance, secrets, plotting, deception and strong female women then these are for you! These were recently on TV and were brilliant adaptations of very readable books. My favourite was "The Lady of the Rivers" as it was more mystical and featured the enigmatic Joan of Arc. I'd recommend you skipped "The Red Queen" as it is largely political / war based and has the least human interest out of the whole series. Gregory has thoroughly researched this period of history which is often overlooked in favour of the subsequent Tudor dynasty but in my opinion is even more intriguing, exciting and interesting with some strong characters.

Product Details
M L Stedman: The Light Between The Oceans
This is the most atmospheric, moving, poignant novel I have read in a long time. I did not want it to end. It was heart breaking. It was captivating. It was extraordinary. It was unforgettable.
Set in a lighthouse off the coast of Australia after WW1, it is the story of Tom who brings his wife to live on their remote island where they are completely cut off for weeks at a time. Their newly married life together is saddened by their inability to have children and then one day, as they try to come to terms with their sorrow, a baby is washed up on the island....... Their decision to follow their hearts will have devastating consequences for everyone- including you!
Equally heartbreaking is the fact that this is the only novel written by M L Stedman, although I am reliably informed the book is being adapted to film this year!

Product Details
Charity Norman: After the Fall
I got this from the library on a whim and didn't really have any expectations but I am so glad I read it! I have since looked out for all her other books which are also good reads. With a similarities to writers like Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve and Diane Chamberlain, this novel explores a family dealing with a sudden tragedy following their move to New Zealand for a fresh start. What should have been an exciting adventure becomes a terrible nightmare. It is full of twists, suspense and tension. Norman creates captivating characters who are more complex than they first appear and she her plot structure is well executed with flashbacks inserted within the present day forcing the reader to frantically piece together the truth of what happened.

Product Details
Beatriz Williams: Along the Infinite Sea
Again, I picked this up at the library on a complete whim - and it's a "W" author, I so rarely get that far down the shelf!! And once again I was pleasantly surprised with this engaging story. This is a New York Times Bestseller and has two main characters, Pepper and Annabelle. They meet when Pepper tries to sell her vintage Mercedes. Annabelle recognises the car and so begins the story of how she came to know it. Moving between the two eras of 1966 Florida and 1935 Cote d'Azur, this is an enthralling tale of love, relationships and self discovery. An easy but satisfying read.

Product Details
Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See
This is set in WW2 and follows the fortunes of French girl Marie-Laure, who has been blind since the age of 6, and Werner, a German boy with a talent for engineering who wins a place at a brutal military academy. The most compulsive aspect of this novel is Marie-Laure's father's model. He has constructed a meticulous miniature reproduction of their Paris neighbourhood so that she can memorise and it find her way home. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, it is also the hiding place of a dangerous secret. As the Nazi's invade, Marie-Laure and Werner's worlds collide. This novel is a very elegantly written. It is a charming and spellbinding read.

I hope there is enough variety here for everyone to find something that appeals to them! Happy World Book Day and hope you all get a chance to indulge in a few chapters at some point during the day! Happy reading!

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications on the right hand side.

My Review of "The Ballroom" by Anna Hope

The Ballroom
I was desperate to read this thoughtful book having seen so many positive reviews and comments about it on Twitter. It is a novel that has clearly had a deep affect on people. The cover is also enticing- I love the imagery of the birds. This metaphor of flying and freedom is echoed throughout the story; the main character Ella is likened to a bird, "something small but wild....something made for flight..." It is a subtle reminder that the thrust of this book is an exploration of freedom and the different types of prisons we build for ourselves - not just externally with physical walls and boundaries but also internally through our mental and emotional states.

The novel is set in 1911 in Sharston Mental Asylum on the Yorkshire Moors. It is a reasonably progressive institute where the men and women are kept segregated apart from one night a week where they are invited to the exquisite Ballroom to dance. It is here that Ella, incarcerated for breaking a window while at work in the Mill and deemed to be hysterical, and John, a melancholic, quiet, but hard working Irish man, meet and fall in love. Dr Charles Fuller administers to the patients and in his initially more visionary approach, which endorses rehabilitation, he takes on the extra role as Bandmaster, attempting to use music and dancing as a therapeutic cure for these "defective" patients. It is a tale of "unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity and of who gets to decide which is which" ( and as the front cover claims, "love is the only escape."

The prose is excellent. The writing is lyrical. The opening description of Ella attempting to flee the asylum is gripping and the jumbled short phrases capture the sense of her fear, confusion and desperation. The setting of the bleak Yorkshire Moors exaggerates the desolate atmosphere and sense of being ostracised and rejected from the rest of society. The derisive words used to described the "depraved and degenerate" "specimens", the "lunatic paupers" confining them to the "chronic ward"- their "feeble mindedness" which causes them to be treated as a "weaker", "inferior race" captures the cruelty of their plight. Research into Eugenics is beginning to dominate the scientific and political world with preparation of the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 (with the working title of "The Feeble Minded Bill"). Leading figures such as Darwin and Churchill are backing moves to introduce compulsive sterilisation of the "feeble minded" for fear of the country becoming over run and leading to a national disaster. Phrases like "raw fear", "swaying", "hands fluttering like two small birds to her chest", "glassy dead eyes" and haunting descriptions such as "women plucking at themselves, women staring into space" leave the reader with the same "panic" that "sent its dark roots deep inside" Ella on her arrivel. Hope's arresting descriptions embody the sense of confusion and befuddlement that consumes the "patients".

The novel adopts the effective device of presenting the story from three points of view which take it in turns to reveal the story. Each character offers a contrasting view of life at the asylum and madness.

Ella and John are "inmates". As the men and women are segregated, they have very different experiences of life at Sharston. John gets outside much more with physical labour and his constant observations of the weather emphasise the women's imprisonment. There is an obsession with the description of air, wind and sunshine which reiterate the themes of freedom and incarceration. It seems inappropriate for them to be in this place, despite glances of Ella's violent outbursts and her propensity for "hysteria" (which Charles claims is from the Greek word womb which confirms to him that hysteria is passed womb to womb, mother to mother- fascinating!) John and Ella's love brings hope, optimism and affirmation to the novel. Their gradual recognition of their shared emotions is endearing and affecting: "she was there when all other thoughts had fallen away."

By far the most interesting character though is Charles Fuller. Initially Charles brings the concept of music therapy and rehabilitation to the asylum. He has a vision and a drive to create new research. However his obsession to become a "superior man," to be accepted and his absolutely violent denial of his most inner feelings and acknowledgement of his true self, lead to a massively destructive path of danger and horror. He suddenly doubts his ability to "cure these people of their hereditary taints" ranting instead that the "incontinent and intemperate must be brought to hell." He struggles to maintain rational behaviour with to do lists and order but his self repression and delusions become more threatening. These passages are so well written that his spiralling thoughts are truly frightening. The reader is spellbound, left to decide for themselves who is really mad.

Hope has researched this novel thoroughly. The articles about Eugenics are horrifying and make this novel thought provoking and poignant. It is a real investigation of different degrees and experiences of madness, what people perceive to be madness and which characters are truly suffering from madness. The novel is also about power, obsession, love and a insight to the social and political time. It is captivating. It is stunning writing. The characters stay with you and I found the more peripheral character of Clem and her journey particularly engrossing as well as poignant and moving. This is a hugely atmospheric tale with vivd characters. I highly recommend you read it and decide for yourself who is the "superior" mind and the importance of valuing the true healing powers of music and literature.

Thank you to NetGalley for the free copy of this publication in return for a fair and honest review.

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications on the right hand side.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Suggestions for the Mini Bibliomaniac!

It's World Book Day next week and your children may receive a £1 book voucher.  There are some specially published £1 books available or you can put it towards another book of their choice. I know what mine will do! And it probably won't just be the one book.... but let's face it, I am in no position to complain!

So I thought you might like some suggestions of what they could spend their money on or what they might look for in the library. Hopefully, World Book Day will generate lots of conversations amongst them so they share lots of recommendations with each other as this is the best way to find something they'll enjoy. Don't worry about what they choose, whether it's "worthy" or "educative" or too easy. Let them choose. If it's too easy, they'll feel more confident and adventurous next time. If it's a comic style book it doesn't matter, it's still a book. If it's too hard, they'll give up and then you can help direct them to something else. If it's risky or challenging subject matter then they'll either put it aside until they're more comfortable or they'll take it in their stride. Make sure you're there ready to talk about it if you need to be - sometimes novels about death, pregnancy, drugs, bullying etc are excellent ways to open up an objective dialogue and actually give children a safe context in which to explore complex emotional subjects. The most important thing about World Book Day is to enjoy it and celebrate books! That means you should treat yourself to something new too. Make sure your children see you reading! ....But maybe not to the point where they start to say "Are you at the end of your chapter now?"......... Who would let that happen?! *cough*

A lot of these books have been around for a long time but I hope you find something that grabs your mini bibliomaniac!

Ages 5-8 years
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Enid Blyton 
You just can't beat her really. Although some of the writing is a little dated and sometimes takes a while for children to get used to, it's undeniable that her books are still very readable and still enjoyed universally. For younger readers there's the "Faraway Tree" and "Wishing Chair" selection, then "Amelia Jane" or the "Naughtiest Girl" series and then for slightly older readers all the school based adventures at Malory Towers or St Clares. "The Famous Five" work for boys and girls at this age. They are good books to read aloud to your children until they are ready to read alone and this may help overcome any language or contextual explanations.
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Darcy Bussell's Magic Ballerina Series 
Yes I know, it's pink, it's sparkling and it's about ballet..... ! We all thought we'd never do it but do you know what, your daughter will love them! And there are plenty of them! In their defence, they do encourage an interest in the classical stories on which actual ballet's are based and include instructions for real ballet moves. They are easy to read aloud to a 5 year old and make a great choice for a 6/7 year old who is beginning to read independently.

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Mrs Pepperpot
Again, a timeless classic but a great choice to be either read aloud to a younger reader or for someone beginning to read independently. Gentle, imaginative, humorous and full of harmless adventures!

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Tony Milton's Groovy Raps Series
This are really good fun - although a little hard to track down through Amazon - we borrowed several from the library. My son really enjoyed these. They are short, full of illustrations and large print text, very accessible and lots of fun. It even inspired him to start writing his own raps! There are also plenty of collections of Greek Myths available if your children show an interest in these timeless heroes and monsters! Marcia Williams' comic strips are particularly gorgeous and full of witty comments. Myths and Legends are a really good line to go down with boys as they are often short, more succinct stories with appealing heroes, monsters, quests and challenges.
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Anne Fine "Killer Cat" series 
Anne Fine is a very established, highly acclaimed author who has published a lot of novels suitable for this age group and 8-11 year olds. These books are highly readable and extremely funny. They will be enjoyed by boys and girls - and adults!

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Frank Lampard's Magic Football series
So just as we shouldn't buy the pink ballet books, maybe we shouldn't get the blue football ones either? However, yet again, they will be read and enjoyed! There's a whole bunch of them to get through if they are a hit which is always particularly appealing to boys. They are well written with the winning combination of football and magic!

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Michael Morpurgo 
Mr Morpurgo has to be one of the most talented children's authors on the planet and the one who has written the most! A lot of his titles are for older, more confident readers but these stories are lovely. Gentle, entertaining, amusing and presented with lively illustrations they are a great stepping stone between "picture books" and "chapter books". Both my son and daughter read and reread these.

Ages 8-11 years

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Michael Morpurgo
Sticking with Morpurgo, he has written several novels about King Arthur, Robin Hood, Joan of Arc and Sir Gawain which I think are really appealing for boys in this age range. The stories are classics but still resonant and still excite children. Morpurgo is a compelling story teller.
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Helen Moss' Adventure Island Collection 
These have been a huge success in our house and have actually on occasion been read in almost one sitting! There are at least 10 books in the series; each involves a crime that needs solving and is full of all the classic ingredients for an adventure story - caves, hidden passages, secrets and plenty of suspense. These are modern and contemporary and a kind of reinvention of Blyton taking all the best elements and rooting them more firmly in today's world. Would highly recommend.
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Holly Webb's Maisie Hitchens Collection
Holly Webb has written a great range of books for this age or for more confident 6/7 year old readers. She writes a lot of animal stories which will appeal maybe to younger girls but also has published these mystery books. They are set in Victorian London and follow the adventures of Maisie, the pluckiest detective you'll ever meet! Webb has also written a series of books about princesses and some longer novels like "Winter Wolf" which have captivated my daughter.

Beetle Boy
M G Leonard "Beetle Boy"
I haven't read this yet as it has only just been published but Twitter is raving about it and it is also highly reviewed in the paper and by Waterstones. It is a mystery / adventure story and sounds full of action, excitement and well crafted characters.

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Michael Rosen "Uncle Gobb"
Michael Rosen is more well known for his humorous poetry but this brand new novel is highly entertaining and wonderfully perceptive. It's very engaging with some subtle messages about education and creativity. Your children will race through it and thoroughly enjoy it.

Other titles you can start to think about in this age bracket are things like "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", "Charlotte's Web", Noel Streatfeild's "Ballet Shoes", Philippa Pearce's "Tom's Midnight Garden".


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Andy Muligan "Trash" 
This was recommended to me by a Year 8 "reluctant reader" who had totally got caught up in this story. It had also triggered a lot of thought and discussion about the broader issues such as poverty, corruption and waste that are raised in the book. Essentially it's an adventure story - very thrilling, very fast paced and good characters. It was apparently removed from the Blue Peter Shortlist for having too much violence in it but I think it's a really good read and will satisfy a lot of appetites.

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Sarah Moore Fitzgerald "The Apple Tart of Hope"
Ok, so it was the title and the cover that made me buy this book! However it is a lovely read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oscar, the best apple tart maker, goes missing. His best friend Meg and Oscar's little brother set out to find him. It's a poignant tale of friendship and hope. I can also recommend "Back to Blackbrick" which is a novel of suspense and intrigue as a boy tries to fulfil his promise to his grandfather.

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Malorie Blackman "Noughts and Crosses" series
If you haven't read these books yet then you must! This trilogy predates "Hunger Games" and the subsequent eruption of recent "dystopian" trilogies but is by far the most captivating and compulsive. The clever premise is a romance between Sephy, a "Cross" and Callum, a "Nought". The Crosses are the dark skinned ruling classes and the Noughts are the colourless underclass. I'm saying no more. Just read it!

I hope there are some new titles in there for you and some things which will excite your mini bibliomaniac! Happy World Book Day and I do hope you've enjoyed putting a fancy dress costume together your children to attend school in!

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat please follow me inn Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications on the right hand side.