I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork

The wonderful thing about a book club is that it encourages you to read titles that you would not usually select. #BookClub140 by Parker and Me has been a really great way for me discover new titles and feel part of a book club, even when I am struggling with time. This month’s book has been another great read.

I have not really embraced ‘Scandi Crime’ – I think it has just passed me by. However, this book had me hooked from the moment I read the first page. Short, sharp chapters are used to keep the pace of the story and have you constantly wanting to find out what happens next. It is a complex, clever story with many twists and turns, and you’re always guessing what will happen next.

The two lead characters, Holger Munch and Mia Kruger, are interesting people, and you very easily empathise with their situations. As with many great detective stories, they have their own demons and a complex relationship with each other, but you root for them throughout the novel, hoping that it is going to be a happy ending. (Although, you may occasionally question some of their very stubborn decisions…).

In this story, you are never really sure what is going to happen next and your imagination has you constantly trying to work out where the crossover in the stories may come. It is a tale that you really become invested in as you become suspicious of pretty much everyone, and Samuel Bjork uses minor characters with skill to really bring great depth to the plot.

I would really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well-constructed crime thriller, and I am intrigued to see where the second encounter with Munch and Kruger will take us.

 

Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

I picked up this little treat when it was the Waterstones Book of the Month for Children. I was got by those wonderful words ‘half price.’ The book had caught my eye every visit, as it is has the most fabulous orange-edged pages with a lighting bolt in white, and there is something very cool about the sophisticated cartoon style of the characters on the cover. Once you open the book, the little Pegasus that runs along the bottom of the page to form a little flip book illustration is good fun.

The story is a great little adventure with a colourful collection of characters inspired by the gods and beliefs of Ancient Greece. They may not be as you expect, though: Zeus the ladies man with a penchant for crazy shirts, and Aphrodite and her dating agency are just two of the larger-than-life figures that help Elliot keep his family home from the grasp of the local ‘lady of the manor’ figure.

The themes of the book are certainly adventure and friendship, and it makes you realise that sometimes both of these can exist in the most unlikely of places – and you have to put your faith in the most unusual people. You can certainly warm to the characters and hope for good to rule in the end.

The conclusion of the story has been left open for the adventure to continue, and it would be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Five Fabulous Females in Fiction

International Women’s Day first really came to my attention when I was living in Italy, as they celebrate Women’s Day every year. Beautiful yellow flowers are handed out to the women and families celebrate the women in their lives. It was such a lovely tradition.

As I have thought back and remembered that day, I have decided to think about the females in fiction that I have loved, as I have grown up reading so many wonderful books. They need a little bit of celebrating too.

  1. Matilda (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

I was an enormous Roald Dahl fan as a child and, to be honest, I still am. I do not believe that he wrote books that were only to be enjoyed by children. I can remember the birthday that I was given three Roald Dahl titles as a gift and Matilda was in the collection. She is already ideal to me because she loves books and she does not let being a little girl stop her from achieving exactly what she wants. She may not feel that she always fits in, but she has so much character and is a great role model for fans of her story.

2. Beatrice (Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing)

I first met Beatrice as I studied A-Level English Language and Literature. She is someone who appealed to me straight away, as she is not your typical heroine. Beatrice is a witty and independent figure, and seems very different to many characters of the time – she may appear cynical about happy endings but, in fact, desires them more than most. She is someone that I would love to have as a friend; she would cheer up any situation and would certainly tell you to ‘get over it’.

3. Emma Woodhouse (Emma by Jane Austen)

Now, let us all be honest: there could have been any number of characters that could have been plucked from the pages of Austen’s works; however, for me it has always been Emma. I am not entirely sure what appeals so much about Emma, as I can totally recognise that to some she may be a little irritating and misguided. Yet, when I first met Emma on the pages of Jane Austen’s novel, there was something that I found charming. She wears her heart on her sleeve and all her actions are, she believes (most of the time), to benefit others. Emma may get a bit carried away and does not always go about things in the right way, but she still is a lovely heroine and learns her lesson. Even reimagined in the recent retelling by Alexandar McCall Smith, I thought Emma was great!

4. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling)

Hermione may be one that many of you expect but she has been a female character that I have learnt to love as my love for these books has increased. I am not going to lie – at the start, I had a similar reaction to her Ron Weasley but, as he did, I learned to love her. Hermione is a strong, independent young woman who (very much like Matilda) does not let anything stand in her way. She is one of the bravest female characters I think you can find in fiction, and the most fiercely loyal. The friendship between her, Ron and Harry is inspiring and shows that gender should never stand in the way of true friendship and adventure.

5. Mrs Hudson (The Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Great female characters don’t always have to be central to the stories they appear in. In fact, many have an important supporting role too, and Mrs Hudson is one of those characters. As the long-suffering landlady of Mr Holmes, she must have seen all sorts treading the famous stairs of 221b Baker Street. Mrs Hudson may not always have a voice, but she has nothing but affection for Holmes and Watson, and offers them great support – even if it is as simple as a cup of tea.

Who are your favourite females in fiction?

Happy International Women’s Day!

Hidden by Emma Kavanagh

Someone recommending a book is always a joy. So, when a friend of mine suggested the book ‘Hidden’, it seemed worth a read.

A nice easy read told in short, sharp chapters from the point of view of the key characters. It introduces the story at the point of a tragedy and you then go back to follow the characters through the story to find out why they have faced such an event. These people are all already connected by the tragic shooting of Dylan Lowe about a year before, and their lives continue to cross paths – until they are brought together again as witnesses or victims of ‘The Shooter’: the mysterious character of the novel who has been watching the hospital where Dylan Lowe is in a coma.

The plot does not need spoiling (which, therefore, makes it hard to summarise) but is well constructed. There are a number of occasions you feel that you may know the identity of ‘The Shooter’, only to be thrown by a plot twist. I was as surprised as the characters in the book when their identity was revealed, and this does lead to you having some sympathy for the character. If you are fan of modern thrillers this will be a definite read for you.

The honour of Book 8 in my year of books goes to this title…now what to read next?

Why World Book Day is a great idea – even after 20 years!

I realise that there may be many people in the panic of creating a costume for tomorrow, as it is World Book Day and the tradition seems to have developed that this must mean we must dress as our favourite character to show we have read a book. However, I do think that it is more than that – and maybe we need to see past that.

A celebration of books and reading can surely only be a good thing. Anything that encourages people to read is a fabulous idea. Even if it is one of the only times of year people really think about books, at least they are. For me, it was always more a struggle of who is your favourite character; for my sister, it always seemed to be who is the most unusual character that she could go as (one year it was a skunk…), but what mattered was that we were thinking and talking about books.

There was always the eager anticipation of what we would spend our World Book Day book token on – never an easy decision, as we were all bookworms, but I take joy in thinking that token was like the golden ticket for Charlie Bucket, and it introduces children to a whole new world that can bring them happiness.

Of course, it’s not just about children. Quick Reads appear at this time of year by many of our bestselling authors, and this often encourages adults to read and try something new too – and one of the biggest adventures anyone can ever have is finding a new story to enjoy.

So, as the fancy dress panic begins to fade (for adults and children) and World Book Day leaves us for another year, think about the key message – how important it is that we all have an adventure in words!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The title of this book was the reason it was chosen as the next read (as well as the rather pretty cover). Who can resist being transported to Paris and, more importantly, a bookshop in the stunning city?

The bookshop gets even better when you realise that it is a ‘book barge’ run by a bookseller who really believes in the power of books. You can not help but admire how direct Monsieur Perdu is with his customers, but they always thank him in the end – even if it takes a little time.

The benefit of a ‘book barge’ is that it is the perfect vessel for a journey of self-discovery after a very long time of living in the shadows. (The prompt for the journey was an interesting twist that you all need to discover for yourselves.) There is a variety of fascinating characters to be met as the journey through France unfolds, who all help and learn from each other in their own way. The relationship that occurs between three of the central characters reminds me of a modern-day ‘three men in a boat’ of Jerome K Jerome fame.

As you reach the conclusion and the pieces fall into place, you do celebrate the happiness you hope continues when you close the pages – and you realise that, sometimes, you should not make snap judgments but be aware of what could really have taken place.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

This choice was made thanks to the world of Twitter. #BookClub140 from ‘Parker and Me’ (which was introduced to me by the lovely ‘Hayley From Home’) selected this as the February title ahead of a Twitter chat at the end of the month. Therefore, it grabbed the accolade of Book 6 in A Year of Books 2017.

‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ was a touching tale with a colourful collection of characters. They are all instantly likable and are all facing different adventures in life.  At times each is facing a challenge, but as they do so it is also a journey of self-discovery. You root for each and every one of them as you follow them on their adventures, even if you do not always agree with the choices that they make. It is a real page-turner that can cause a roller coaster of emotions and occasionally catches you off-guard, as you realise that you may be shedding a tear or two. (Always a good look on a busy train on a Sunday afternoon).

The relationship between Alex and his son Sam (a boy made of blocks) blossoms beautifully throughout the book and shows that sometimes you have to be willing to embrace an adventure whatever form it may take. You may even make it through successfully and realise that you are braver and stronger than you think you are. It is a tale that really does make you hope for a happy ending (although you will have to read it yourself to see if that wish comes true).

If you enjoy titles like ‘About a Boy’ by Nick Hornby and ‘Man and Boy’ by Tony Parsons, then this is a book for you.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is known by many as the author of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. That is, of course, not her only title, but she is known for tackling difficult subjects in her fiction and this novel is no exception.

Book five of A Year In Books 2017 is ‘Small Great Things’. This was a book that was difficult to put down. It tackles the difficult issue of race and how it can define people, and often not in the ways that the characters expect. It is a very well-written tale and Picoult has taken time (as always) to really research her topic and her characters, ensuring that it all comes to life from page one. It is a brilliant courtroom drama and it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. There is a happy ending for some and possibly not in ways that the reader may be expecting. Overall, it is an emotional rollercoaster of a read and it does not disappoint.

If you want a book that makes you think, not just as you read but even after you have finished the final page, then this is the book for you.

Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern

Book 4 of a #ayearinbooks2017

The best thing about picking up a book by Cecelia Ahern is that it is like stepping into a fairy tale for adults. There is always a collection of colourful characters and a few subplots that intertwine seamlessly into the main story.

Laura ‘Lyrebird’ is a lovely character to follow on her journey of self-discovery. The story takes her from her the quiet Irish countryside to the lively city lifestyle of Dublin, and her talent for mimicry throws her into the difficult celebrity spotlight. It is quite a roller coaster, but along the way she influences the lives of the many that she meets and they too end up on a road of self-discovery…

It is a heartwarming tale and a perfect piece of escapism on these winter evenings of early 2017.

Now, what to read next?

100 Hugs (A book to warm the hearts of those in need of a hug) by Chris Riddell

There is not a more wonderful name for a book as January blues may be taking hold. This is a charming little book, published earlier this month, which perfectly showcases the work of Chris Riddell. An incredibly talented artist and illustrator, he has brought together 100 hugs that will bring a smile to your face. These little beauties are interspersed with some lovely quotes from literature and its great figures (could there be anything better for a Bookworm?) A favourite: ‘Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary’ – Oscar Wilde, opposite a wonderful little drawing of hugging pirates. Although, picking an ultimate favourite is difficult as everything about this book will bring a smile to your face.

So…if you’re ever in need of a little cheering up, this is the book for you!

Happy Hugging!