The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am not always one that selects prize-winning titles, but this is a well-deserving winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2017.

The art work on the cover of this book is absolutely stunning and immediately catches your eye, even before you reach the magical sounding title. This is a story that takes you on a real adventure and, most importantly, there is wonderfully strong and independent female lead character in Isabella. She is a girl who will fight with real courage and fierce loyalty for the people she loves and the beliefs that are important to her.

When Lupe, Isabella’s best friend, goes missing, it is Isabella who uses her great knowledge of the stars and maps to support the search party. As you follow the characters on their adventures, there is a great use of myths and stories to influence the decisions made by those living on the island. It really reflects on how the ideas that can be with a nation of people for as long as they can remember, passed on to each generation, can lead some to have fear and misunderstanding and others to have the courage to fight for what they care for. You see the characters really form as each part of their adventure influences them personally.

You are on the edge of your seat throughout the story, never sure what is going to come next. You feel the danger and excitement as you turn each page; it is impossible to put this novel down. It may be a children’s book, but it is one that adults will enjoy just as much.

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

I was once lucky enough to be a bookshop girl for one year between studying. Therefore, I was instantly drawn to this book – and even more so because of the stunning cover courtesy of the very talented Ashley King.

There is something about this magical tale that reminded me of the favourite stories of my childhood. There is something almost Roald Dahl-like about this adventure, with its wonderful characters. They are colourful and instantly spark your imagination, and are brought to life throughout the book with beautiful illustrations.

The main setting of ‘The Great Montgomery Book Emporium’ is somewhere that I would absolutely love to visit. So many books and so many adventures facing anybody who sets foot in there – it’s delightful. It also emphasises the real pleasure that books can bring an
ybody that is around them. However, the bookshop at the start of the story, ‘The White Hart Bookshop’ (it was a pub in the previous life, after all), is full of charm too.

From the moment you start this charming tale by Sylvia Bishop, it is so difficult to put down, as you are just rooting for the Jones family to have a happy ending.

The Breakdown by B A Paris

I love a book title that is clever and, for me, this is one of those. ‘The Breakdown’ can refer to the car in the lay-by at the start of the novel (and, in fact, the crime scene), and the mental state of the central character as the story develops.

It can be difficult to talk about thrillers, as part of the enjoyment is not knowing. The pace of the story sets the scene and reflects the ‘breakdown’, however the book becomes ever more fascinating as it hurtles towards the conclusion and you revisit all your thoughts and ideas about the story.

Cassie, the main character, is someone you feel both empathy and sympathy for, although I was not sure some of her actions accurately reflected the educated woman she had been presented as. Although, this could be due to the ‘breakdown’ concept of the story – it certainly makes you wonder how you would behave if ‘fear’ was always with you. Despite the thriller side of the book, I think the fear Cassie has of her family history is more pivotal to the whole story.

Overall, it was a satisfying read – but a story I would only think works as a one-off.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The ever-so-lovely fellow bookworm Hayley From Home sent me this absolutely wonderful little book. It is a title I have been aware of for a while but, as I always have a ‘to read’ pile that is sky high, it had just not quite ever made it onto it. However, I wish I had discovered it sooner!

This tale is told in the sweetest collection of letters. Snail mail is such a romantic idea in this crazy world of technology; there is such a dreamy notion about people’s feelings being put down on paper. The characters are all so wonderfully portrayed through the letters. The style of each letter and telegram is unique to each character and, therefore, you don’t really need them described to you in any other way. The letters even bring the ‘absent’ character, Elizabeth, to life and the reader learns about her just as Juliet does.

The historical setting of the story is Guernsey just after the occupation in WWII. It allows the characters to reflect on their experiences and relationships with each other and the Germans. The thing that stands out for me the most in this novel is the question ‘does being on the other side automatically make you the enemy?’ It’s something I’m still contemplating now.

This treasure of a book has left me wanting to develop my knowledge of this period in Guernsey’s history, and even make a visit to the island.

So, always share your favourite reads with your friends because you never know what treasures you may uncover.

March means The March Family

As a lover of all things books, BookishlyUK instantly caught my eye on social media. They just seem to have an amazing collection of all things books, including one of my favourite book accessories: the bookmark.

So, when I saw they did a monthly Bookishly crate that you could order, I had to give it a go, especially as March was ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott; a book that I have very fond memories of growing up.

The crate arrives promptly after ordering, and it is really exciting opening the box and finding what is inside. The items have clearly been placed lovingly in the box, and it is very well packaged (we all love some bubble wrap). There is a copy of Little Women, which has the lovely sleeve designed by BookishlyUK – they have a lovely page and marble style to them. The matching bookmark has the best rule for life – ‘Eat, Sleep, Read, Repeat’ – and matches the sleeve of the book beautifully.

As a lover of all things books, there is a great collection of other goodies that allow you to share your love of books in other ways. There is a framed book page print with a lovely quote to bring a smile on even the dullest of days – this is a piece of home decor I have always been a fan of. I love being able to display literature and positivity in different ways.

For me, snail mail is another way to share the love of words. The two greetings cards included, again with quotes from the book, are perfect to pop a note in the post to friends who have a similar passion for books. They are well designed and can be used for any number of occasions.

To top it all off, there is a tote bag – and you can never have too many tote bags! This is another brilliant use of a quote from Little Women. It cleverly references another passion of mine, coffee, which again proves how well thought out the crate is, as the final little treat it contains is ‘Perk-u-latte’ coffee. For me, there is not a better combination than a good book and a coffee – but I have been good and am saving it until I can really set aside the time to reread Little Women and savour every sip.

This little crate, for me, cannot be faulted. The fact that you can order it as you fancy and don’t have to subscribe means you can keep an eye out for the books that you love. They would also make a lovely gift for someone you know who loves reading.

I will certainly be keeping an eagle eye out for other titles that may make the crate.

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!