Three Festive Reads…so far!

I love a theme or a focus when I pick my reads. In June, I ‘Read with Pride’; in November, it was about ‘Non-fiction’, and December is all about festive reads.

So, I have started with three quick reads (not at all motivated by the fact that I do not want to fail at my Goodreads target) and every one has created fantastic festive feels in different ways.

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

This book was an impulse buy a few weeks ago. The title contained Christmas and the author is Terry Pratchett, so I thought it was a win-win situation, and it was.

This collection of short stories, all based around Christmas, is full of wit and humour. They really reminded me of the tales of Roald Dahl, which made me happy because those were always favourites growing up.

This is a fantastic book for readers of all ages who want some Christmas spirit.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

‘This is Going to Hurt’ has been quite the runaway hit in the book world. So, this festive ‘sequel’, which focuses fully on five Christmas shifts, is a gem.

Although some have referred to this as more of the same, I feel that is what makes it work. What I always think is important about these books is that it highlights the work of the NHS at this time of year. Things don’t stop (and thnak goodness for that), and life carries on as it needs to.

There is humour and sadness among these pages – and quite a study of human nature at times. And, for me, a real appreciation of the work of every member of the NHS, whtever the time of year.

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Yes, that is by Michael Morpurgo and not Raymond Briggs, but this was done with the original author’s blessing.

This is not a retelling; after all, the original story is a picture book. For me, this is an intepretation of the tale, even making it more festive.

James is a boy who feels he does not quite fit in with everyone else. His stutter seems to hold him back. However, when he meets or makes The Snowman, combined with the magic of Christmas, things appear to change.

This book is great for those of us who grew up with the original. Also, it is a chance to introduce the tale to a whole new generation. So, spread the joy and grab a copy of this gem.

The Conspiracy of Magic by Harriet Whitehorn

Before I can even comment on the novel, I have to talk about the cover of ‘The Conspiracy of Magic’. It has a cover that makes me want to not only read the book, but become part of the tale. (Even if ice skating is not my strong point, but that is part of the joy of reading – you can do anything).

I was lucky enough to be given the chance to review ‘The Conspiracy of Magic’ by Harriet Whitehorn thanks to the fabulous Dark Room Tours. And I am so glad I had that chance.

This book has everything that a great story should have. As the title suggests, there is magic, adventure, intrigue – and, most importantly, a strong female lead in Cass. An obtuse (not affected by magic), in a world where magic is considered dangerous, as it is powerful. Which, of course, is something that does not go down well with all the residents, and magical forces start to target the royal party that Cass is charged with protecting. This leads Cass on quite an adventure, encountering a collection of colourful characters along the way.

For me, I really enjoyed that the strength for Cass comes from the fact that she isn’t magical. She has to rely on her wits and strength to protect and fight for what she loves.

It reminded me of classic adventure tales, full of great characters, magical settings, as well as humour and emotion. Certainly the sort of book you can imagine diving into and fighting alongside the characters in a classic tale of good versus bad.

This novel is a sequel, the second in the ‘The Company of Eight’ series, however it can be read as a standalone book without any impact on enjoyment. Although, you will want to read more.

So, if you are a fan of adventure, whatever your age, then pick this book up. It would also make a fantastic Christmas gift for avid middle-grade readers.

Go on, try something new!

Safe House by Jo Jakeman

I was sent a copy of ‘Safe House’ by Jo Jakeman as part of its blog tour. I was rather excited, as it is the first time I have had the chance to take part in such an event. And, wow, what a novel to start with.

‘Safe House’ is an excellent contemporary thriller, the perfect novel for these dark nights. Charlie Miller is ready to start a new life in Cornwell; it has been a difficult couple of years and it is time to shake off the ghosts of the past. Steffi Finn was that past, but Charlie knows she has to be long forgotten, as does the relationship she had with the now convicted murderer, Lee Fisher. However, how ever far she goes, she can not shake the feeling that the past is following her.

The thriller has all the ingredients of an excellent tale. A colourful collection of characters, an excellent atmospheric setting, and a number of twists and turns that take you on quite an adventure with Charlie as she tries to start a new life.

I could not put this book down, as the story is told through the past and present, which means there are two tales being told. You are drawn in, wanting to know what forced Charlie Miller to want a safe house so far from everything she has known before…and who she was.

This is a five-star read for all of you who are fans of a chilling thriller. So, I would suggest picking up a copy of Jo Jakeman’s novel and finding a cosy place to settle down and read on these dark nights.

And, as a bonus, the ebook of ‘Safe House‘ will be 99p, on Amazon, throughout November – so why not treat yourself?

The Hound of Death by Agatha Christie

Short stories are not usually my thing, although as I have got older, I have become less averse towards a collection of shorter tales. Ones from the pen of Agatha Christie are sure to be a crowd-pleaser – especially if they are spooky at this time of year.

However, for me, this was not a classic from Agatha Christie. In fact I was a little conflicted by this book. Some of the tales were excellent – especially those that had a crime element. I love a bit of supernatural mind games, especially when there is another twist for the culprit. The traditional ghostly tales were good too. Yet, I found a few of the stories did not hold my attention and when I had reached the conclusion, I was not sure I had taken in what had happened.

This was October’s ‘Maidens of Murder’ choice, which means I was again encouraged to pick up a title by Agatha Christie that I may have otherwise missed. I am glad that I have read this book because I am a fan of Christie’s work but can risk falling into the trap of only reading the famous titles. This just won’t go down as one of my favourites.

Tilly and the Lost Fairytales by Anna James

This is a book that I could not wait to read, having read the first one earlier this year. And this book did not disappoint at all.

Anna James has created the best world for bookworms young and old. As Tilly and her best friend Oskar are bookwanderers and enter books, make friends with characters, and go on adventures. However, as with all great stories, there is an element of danger and mystery along the way.

This time, Tilly and Oskar find themselves caught up in fairy tales. An unusual story, as they do not always have a clear original source but they still hold all the magic of stories. They are a little bit of a mystery but certainly need to be saved for everyone to enjoy. Even if there are those who simply want the magic for themselves.

I genuinely adore these novels; I feel they are like my ultimate fantasy book. We all enter stories every time we open our books and let our imagination take us in an adventure – but, let’s be honest, we would all like characters to really be our friends.

Even better, this is a book that sparked a conversation between me and a bookseller as we discussed how fabulous Anna James’ tales are (and, if I am honest, neither of us are the target audience).

The illustrations and presentation od thse books are stunning, and I can not wait until we go on another adventure with Tilly.

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

This is a novel that I was sent in a fabulous little bookswap in the summer. Not a novel that I would have picked up myself, but that is the beauty of all these brilliant bookswaps – they invite you to read books that you may not have picked up otherwise.

‘Clock Dance’ is a great novel, almost a coming-of-age novel, but for an older character. Willa Drake has lived her life the way she feels she should. However, it has not always turned out the way it should. Her mother was difficult, she became a widow young, and she doesn’t have the relationship with he family that she thought she would and, even, should have. So, when a chance phone call leads her to be the person looking after her son’s ex-girlfriend and he daughter, her life takes a very different path.

This story is a wonderful tale that shows that you do not always have to stick to the life path you are given and that sometimes taking a chance can lead to a different outcome.

A heart-warming tale told with humour, you really hope that Willa will take the opportunities that are thrown at her and throw off the limitations that she gives herself by doing what is expected of her. The final paragraph is one of the best in a book that I have read in a while.

This will encourage me to try some more novels from Anne Tyler, as this is only the second novel I have read and, for me, it was a 5-star read.

Have you found any new authors through bookswaps?

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Two Sara Barnard novels in one summer – wow – I have clearly found another author who grabs my attention. ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ was another remarkable YA novel that I wish had been around when I was ‘officially’ the audience of the genre.

What has struck me over the two novels I have read this summer from Sara Barnard is that she does not shy away from tough topics, and also creates fabulous characters. Steffi doesn’t speak; she becomes anxious in public situations. She is introduced to Rhys, who is deaf. However, they really understand each other. Communication doesn’t always have to be verbal, in fact sometimes the quietest people can be the loudest. Together, Steffi and Rhys help each other grow and face the challenges of being a teenager in the modern world – and, together, they find their voice.

This is a wonderful love story for the modern age and demonstrates the positivity that surrounds someone finding the right person to offer them support. It shows that there can be hurdles and bumps along the way, but often they can make people stronger.

The most wonderful touch about this novel is the symbols with each chapter that demonstrate the numbers in BSL. It has certainly inspired me to want to learn and have more of an understanding of another language.

I can not wait to read more from Sara Barnard, as she really has a talent for creating tales that have you hooked.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Taheren Mafi

This novel has an incredibly clever title and it took me rather a long time to realise this. But when I did, it made me love this book even more.

This is a tale that may seem like a popular one for YA fiction – a love story. However, this has so much more to it. Yes, it tackles the idea of love across the cultural divide (which we all know is something that maybe we should not be facing in the 21st Century), however the journey of self-discovery on these pages is fascinating. Maybe, one who fears prejudice may inadvertently demonstrate their own?

Shirin feels that there is absolutely no need to become part of the school community. After all, they will all have made their mind up about her, judging her on her hijab. However, she meets Ocean, who goes out of his way to find out more about her – and will not give up easily. As a friendship and relationship blooms between the two, it comes to light that Ocean is basketball player and the labels the two feel they carry lead to difficult consequences for both.

A I read this book I went through all the emotions for all the characters. It is quite an emotional page-turner. You certainly feel that, by the end, Shirin and Ocean have been on quite an adventure together – and maybe they are a little happier in their own skin by the end.

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage by Erin Green

Erin Green’s fourth novel has hit the shelves, and her first published by Headline. An exciting August publication for all, readers and author.

‘New Beginnings at Rose Cottage’ is an absolutely wonderful novel; I enjoyed every moment of this tale that was inspired by a recent trip to Brixham that Erin went on with friends (and by the end I am pretty certain you will want to visit it too).

Three women are thrown together as they each book a ‘solo’ holiday at Rose Cottage. At first they appear an unlikely trio to become friends – but they all have a strong connection: the need to find new beginnings.

They have quite some adventures as each embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, their friendships blooms and creates strong bonds that are unlikely to be broken.

The characters in the book are relateable, but my favourite of all was Benni – in fact, by the end of the book, I decided many of us need to ‘be like Benni’. She is just fabulous but, for me, certainly blooms into the beautiful butterfly she deserves to be by the end of the novel.

Erin Green never disappoints with her books. And, although I have a terrible craving for fish and chips and a seaside holiday now I have finished the book, it was a great read and I am looking forward to the next story in 2020.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

One of the best thigs about summer is that I seem to fit a lot of reading time in. Therefore, I discover some gems which have been on my ‘to be read’ pile quite some time, and ‘The Cactus’ was one such title.

I had seen a lot of love for ‘The Cactus’ on social media and in the bookshops, so I was quite excited to give it a go when it became the next book to read.

‘The Cactus’ is such a charming book, full of warmth and humour throughout, even as it tackles some tough subjects. Susan Green has always thought she is fully in control of every aspect of her life; a strong, independent and very organised lady. She does not need anyone else, and enjoys her own company. That is, until she is 45 and life appears to be changing, in ways she can not control – in fact, was it ever as she thought it was?

This book creates characters you can really warm to, and probably represent people we all know. You really find yourself rooting for Susan as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery she didn’t know she needed. In fact, by the end, it is almost as if she has become a new person.

This is a novel that fans of ‘The Rosie Project’ or ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ will enjoy. Not sure I could rank them, as they are all marvellous in their own way – but if you have not read ‘The Cactus’ yet, make sure you do soon.