Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I have really enjoyed taking part in #BookClub140 from Parker and Me (as always, thanks for the recommendation, Hayley from Home), as it has led me to read books I may not have chosen otherwise.

This is one such title. Obviously, I had heard all the hype about the HBO series but I did not know anything about the story. However, once I started, I could not put this book down; I was eager every day to make some reading time – but we all know that is easier said than done sometimes.

The key with this novel is that there is the mystery within the tale from the moment you read page 1. Now, I do not want to share any spoilers, but never has a title of a book been more apt. It is fascinating to follow the revelations of the big little lies from the 3 central characters: Jane, Celeste and Madeline. As the reader, you understand why some of the lies have been created and some of the secrets kept. It does not take too long to become all too clear the huge impact that some actions can have on so many people, intentionally or otherwise. I was also left thinking about how we never really know the personal battles that people are facing.

There is a clear humour and sensitivity to the writing that adds to the joy of reading this book. The conclusion of the tale, I think, will be considered a happy, or at least potentially positive, one for the characters that you grow to admire – and, possibly, an understandable one for others.

I would like to give some more of Liane Moriarty’s books a go. My Auntie has suggested ‘The Husband’s Secret’ – what do the rest of you think?

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse introduced me to Neil Gaiman about 7 years ago. Since then, I have become a massive fan of Gaiman’s work and, as there has been such hype about the TV series of ‘American Gods’ (how can there not be when Lovejoy is in it?), I thought I had best read the book first. This is a rule I have: try to read the book before I see any kind of adaptation.

I think this is the longest Neil Gaiman book I have read and it seemed to take me a while to get through it. Not due to lack of enjoyment, but due to real life getting in the way. I was, in fact, hooked from the moment I picked up this title – it does have quite a dramatic start and I constantly tried to sneak in a few pages wherever and whenever I could since then. I was fascinated about Shadow and his story and the mysterious Mr Wednesday from the word go, and you just get more drawn in as you are introduced to the vast array of colourful characters throughout the novel. You just want to keep turning the pages, as you’re always keen to find out what is going to happen next.

It does take some concentration to keep up with the tale as it marches towards the conclusion, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the book. It is extremely clever storytelling when even the smallest incident turns out to have quite an impact on the story. So much is revisited that you wonder if you should have given each event more of your attention as it happened – which is something great that you’ll often find in Neil Gaiman’s stories.

The research and detail that has been put into this book to intertwine all the gods and folkloric figures from around the world as they converge in America (as so many different cultures have done) is commendable, and has left me with a desire to find out more about a number of them. Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was quizzing me on if I had worked out who they all were, but I am happy to find out as I go rather then predict.

This book was a brilliant read and overall, for me, it has left me thinking about ‘Shadow’ and shadows: do we always know what is going on or what is going to happen? Do we need to be in the spotlight, or should we be looking at the magic of the shadows?

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence

It is a fact that I cannot be without a book and, on a recent trip, I needed an emergency book as I had finished the one I had with me. I entered trusty Waterstones and not being too sure what I fancied to read (I can be lost in a bookshop for hours, or possibly even days) and I saw Orangeboy on the table with the other Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winners for 2017. The cover attracted me immediately so I thought I would give it a go. There is one exclamation for this title…wow!

Orangeboy is a great young adult fiction title that will stay with me for a long time. The opening chapter has you hooked and you are left in no doubt that you want to know what will happen next.

Marlon Sunday is introduced to the reader just as the date he is on ends in tragedy, and very quickly he is caught up in a world of gangs and fear. Unfortunately, it is a world that he is not completely unaware of due to the antics of his older brother, but Marlon is torn throughout the novel with his desire to do the right thing but also protect his own family. You find yourself on the journey with Marlon as he tries to navigate this underworld and you are rooting throughout for him to be okay, to make the right choices and to solve the mysteries of why Orangeboy is such a target – what really happened to his brother, Andre?

This is such a well-written novel, narrated by Marlon. You feel like you know each character, although, with some, you are certain to question the choices they make or the way that they live their life. It may be young adult fiction but I think it is a book that should be read by all, as it will stay with you for a long time!

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.

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!

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.