Posts Tagged With: review

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
ImageAuthor: Catherynne M Valente
ISBN: 978-1780339818
Publisher:  Corsair
First Published:  Feb 2012 (hardback) / Oct 2012 (paperback)
No .of pages:  336

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
September is a twelve-year-old girl, Somewhat Grown and Somewhat Heartless, and she longs for adventure. So when a Green Wind and a Leopard of Little Breezes invite her to Fairyland – well, of course, she accepts (mightn’t you?). When she gets there, she finds a land crushed by the iron rule of a villainous Marquess – she soon discovers that she alone holds the key to restoring order. As September forges her way through Fairyland, with a book-loving dragon and a boy named Saturday by her side, she makes many friends and mistakes. But while she loses her shadow, her shoe and her way, she finds adventure, courage, a rather special Spoon, and a lot more besides . . .

Review:
I can’t rate this book highly enough.  It is so lovely and fantastical and magical that my inner child just ate it up.  I’m still a little conflicted about the target audience as, for all intents and purposes, it’s a children’s story, but then nestled in amongst the almost lyrical story are words like vichyssoise and talk of diplomatic immunity.  My overall thought is that it is a children’s book, but it’s intended to be read out loud by a nominated adult, who, whilst telling this wonderful tale, will get just as much from it as the utterly engrossed listener.

September is one lucky girl.  You know that moment, where your imagination runs away with you, and you are taken to a far off world where everything is colourful and magical and nothing like every day, boring life??  Well, September gets to live that!

One day, she is going about her usual tasks and then from nowhere appears the Green Wind riding on a leopard.  Without even a backwards glance, September climbs through the window and embarks on a journey to Fairyland and finds herself having in the craziest adventure.  Along the way we meet some loveable (and some not so loveable) characters, my favourite being Ell the “Wyvery” (the offspring of a Wyvern and a Library – it all makes sense when you read it!)

The story is engrossing and hurtles along at a very fast pace throughout, although sometimes, I just couldn’t turn the pages quick enough!  September’s journey through Fairyland is not all fun and games though, and she has some serious decision making to do on her way, along with a battle or two for survival.

The book leaves the story open enough for September to continue her adventures in Fairyland and I am so pleased to know that there is at least one more adventure for her to have, although I’m definitely hoping for many more.

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

bitter-greensTitle: Bitter Greens
Author: Kate Forsyth
ISBN: 978-0749013622
Publisher: Allison & Busby
First Published: 25 February 2013 (hardback/Kindle) / 29 July 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 496

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of King Louis XIV, has always been a great talker and teller of tales.

Selena Leonelli, once the exquisite muse of the great Venetian artist Tiziano, is terrified of time.

Margherita, trapped in a doorless tower and burdened by tangles of her red-gold hair, must find a way to escape.

You may think you know the story of Rapunzel . . .

Review:
Everyone loves a good fairytale, and one of the most beautiful, mysterious and compelling of all is that of Rapunzel. It has had many different names and versions, but the one that is perhaps best known was penned not by a man (or by the bothers Grimm, as most people assume – they only adapted it) , as most novels and writings of that time, but by a woman. And not just any woman, but one of the most notorious and scandalous women of her age, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, who was exiled from the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, after a life that would make even the most hedonistic of courtiers blush!

Kate Forsyth has expertly woven together three stories that at once mirror each other whilst at the same time are completely different, deftly combining different time lines and locations to create an exquisitely intricate tale that will shock, amaze and bewitch. Readers will be drawn into the whirlwind of the 17th century French court, and the artistic beauty of Italy as the elements draw together the lives of Madamoiselle de la Force (the storyteller), Selena Leonelli (the sorceress), and Margherita (who has had so many incarnations as the beautiful heroine with the tangled hair).

The lines between fact and fiction are expertly blurred and blended till we find ourselves wrapped up in the fairytale ourselves, no longer able to untangle the strands of three very different lives that have culminated in one of the best-loved fairytales of all time.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

You can see my exclusive interview with
Kate Foryth
HERE

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A Cottage by the Sea by Carole Matthews

a cottage by the sea by carole matthewsTitle: A Cottage by the Sea
Author: Carole Matthews
ISBN: 978-1847444615
Publisher: Sphere
First Published: 3 January 2013 (hardback / Kindle) / 28 March 2013 (paperback) / J1 March 2013 (audio)
No .of pages: 448

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):Grace has been best friends with Ella and Flick forever. The late-night chats, shared heartaches and good times have created a bond that has stood the test of time.

When Ella invites them to stay for a week in her cottage in South Wales, Grace jumps at the chance to see her old friends. She also hopes that the change of scenery will help her reconnect with her distant husband.

Then Flick arrives; loveable, bubbly, incorrigible Flick, accompanied by the handsome and charming Noah.

This is going to be one week which will change all their lives forever…

Join Grace, Ella and Flick for a week of love, laughter, tears and friendship in A Cottage by the Sea

Review:
I do not usually read chick-lit or romance, but a few years back I came across The Chocolate Lovers’ Club and its sequel, The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet, and thoroughly enjoyed them. So when Carole Matthews’ publishing team asked for volunteers to read and review her latest novel, A Cottage by the Sea, I jumped at the chance.

If I ever read another chick-lit novel, it will be one by Carole Matthews!

I love her fresh, easy style of writing – it seems to flow so effortlessly from one page to the next, so that it barely feels like one is reading at all, more one is absorbing the story by osmosis or some similar biological process. The story seeps into the reader with ease and in a manner that feels wholly organic and natural.

As with most chick-lit, it’s entirely predictable – there wasn’t a single move I didn’t see coming a mile off, but I found I didn’t care – I wanted things to happen the way they did – it felt right and I enjoyed the ride so much that I didn’t really want it to end. It really made me hanker after a holiday in a little cottage in Pembrokeshire, despite the fact that I know my own hubby would hate being away from technology as much as some of the characters here did – I know I’m more of a Grace or Ella when it comes to being somewhere peaceful and undisturbed. And I really did like the characters – I felt like I’d known Grace, Ella and Flick for years, and like an old friend, sometimes I wanted to slap Flick and tell her to grow up. Similarly I wanted to shake Harry and Art, and I completely fell for the lovely Noah – but then, who wouldn’t?

Reading a light novel like this feels like a holiday for my brain and it was exactly what I needed while I recovered from flu. Highly enjoyable, fun, just a joy to read – Carole Matthews gets my vote any day of the week for holiday reading!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Image

Title: Lone Wolf
Author: Jodi Picoult
ISBN: 978-1444729016
Publisher:  Hodder
First Published:  Feb 2012 (hardback) / Oct 2012 (paperback)
No .of pages:  496

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
When Luke Warren is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma, his family are gathered together against the odds; they face an impossible dilemma.
His daughter Cara is praying for a miracle: she will fight everything and everyone to save her father’s life.
His son Edward can’t imagine that a man who once ran with wolves could ever be happy with a different life.
But Edward hasn’t spoken to Luke for six years. How can he dare to speak on his father’s behalf?
Somehow, they must choose:
Do they keep Luke alive?
Or do they let him go?

Review:
This wasn’t my favourite Picoult book and at times I found it a bit of a struggle to continue reading, however, towards the end, the pace picked up and overall, I’m glad I persevered.  This book asks those age old questions about life and death and how we cope.  We are also given a new perspective from that of the wolf and how they, as a pack, deal with very similar situations.

Throughout the book, Luke is in a coma.  We follow his story through a series of flashbacks where we learn of his experiences out in the wild, living with the wolves and his struggle to reintegrate himself back into his family.  His time with the wolves and the journey he takes to be accepted by the pack are crazy but touching at the same time.  Luke (and in turn, the reader) is taught a great many lessons from these wild animals and their way of life.  This aspect of the book, sometimes felt at odds to the on-going story, but overall was a fantastic way of giving the man in the coma his own voice.

The remainder of the book is written from the conflicting views of his two children, his ex-wife and her new husband, and a court appointed guardian.  Edward doesn’t want to see his father suffer any longer and wants to exercise his father’s wish to be an organ donor.  Cara wants her father to be given the chance to pull through and perhaps recover from his injuries.  Georgia is pulled back into the life she left a long time ago and is stuck between her two warring children.
I suppose my own personal preferences are quite obvious as, whilst I sympathised with Cara, I thought Edward was in the right.  However, I do appreciate that depending on the reader, this will change.  Picoult has written the book in such a way that both sides of the story are given equal viewing and she never leans one way or another.  This gives the reader the chance to make up their own mind.
Picoult is a master at making us ask ourselves those difficult questions.  Which way would you turn?  How would you react in this situation?  And at the same time, she writes beautifully poignant stories that tie you to the characters and ensure you stay with them every step of the way.

 

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Why French Children Don’t Talk back by Catherine Crawford

why-french-children-don-t-talk-backTitle: Why French Children Don’t Talk Back
Author: Catherine Crawford
ISBN: 978-1848547124
Publisher: John Murray
First Published: OSeptember 2012 (paperback / Kindle)
No .of pages: 256

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Catherine Crawford, a mother of two young daughters, is tired of the indulgent brand of parenting so popular in her trendy Brooklyn neighbourhood. All of the negotiating and bargaining has done scant more than to create a generation of little tyrants. After being exposed to the well-behaved, respectful children of her French friends, une lumière went on – French children don’t talk back!

Why French Children Don’t Talk Back is a witty and insightful look at how the French manage to bring up obedient, well-adjusted kids. It occupies a pragmatic place on the book shelf and in life – an anti-Tiger Mother approach to parenting.

Review:
I’ve never been much of a one for parenting books, but as a mother of an increasingly cheeky four-year-old boy (I swear, he was perfect before he went to nursery school!), I found myself intrigued by the title, and being something of a Francophile, I thought in for a cent, in for a Euro, as it were!

I was pleased to discover a very common sense approach presented on the pages! It really is all just straight forward advice on setting boundaries for your children in a way they will understand, while not driving yourself crazy and drinking yourself into oblivion every night after the bedtime battle lasts several hours (fortunately, the bedtime battle is one we’ve never had to fight, as our son has always had a very strict bedtime routine).

As it turns out, our parenting approach is particularly, well, French, I suppose! We already did quite a lot of the things mentioned in the book, such as insisting on proper manners and having good behaviour when we eat out, however I decided to try a little experiment in some other areas and to my surprise, after only a few days, they are already beginning to work! Suddenly our son no longer has an outburst when we tell him that no, he cannot watch a second film in one day or have the television on in the background! In fact, just yesterday he watched The Wizard of Oz then asked to watch Mary Poppins as soon as it was finished, When I replied that he had already watched one film and one was all he was allowed, he shrugged and said, “OK, Mummy. Can we have some music on instead please?” Another rule we’ve suddenly implemented is no sweets except at the weekend. He never got a lot of confectionery to begin with, but we were in the habit of rewarding him with a small piece of chocolate roughly every other day if he’d been even remotely good, in the hopes that this would ensure further good behaviour. Today he asked for some chocolate and I said no. He asked once more and I repeated that there would only be chocolate on the weekends. I was floored when he asked for a banana instead!

I suppose what I’m getting at is that this seems to be one parenting book where the advice actually works! Some parents may find some of the steps difficult to follow (such as entirely ignoring a child throwing a tantrum – the sooner they realise they will not even be looked at, the sooner they stop screaming), but with a little perseverance it should all become second nature and, theoretically, we could all have well behaved little munchkins who don’t show us up in public and do as they are asked without us having to repeat it ad nauseum.

Crawford’s style is easy to read – I really felt like I was chatting with an old friend – and her own trial and error experiments with these techniques on her own two daughters are laid bare, complete with what worked and what she’s still working on with them, but if she is to be believed, her girls are transforming into well behaved, very French kids.

Now all I have to do is get our boy to enjoy his food, complete with vegetables and we’ll be completely Frenchified too!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Complete Dukan Cookbook by Dr Pierre Dukan

the-complete-dukan-cookbookTitle: The Compete Dukan Cookbook
Author: Dr Pierre Dukan
ISBN: 978-1444757897
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
First Published: October 2012 (hardback / Kindle)
No .of pages: 480

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
The Complete Dukan Cookbook provides over 300 recipes for all stages of the [Dukan] diet to help you lose the weight you want like millions of others have around the world.

Review:
I must be up-front in that I do not subscribe to any particular diet, especially one that cuts out an entire major food group for even a short time, but I am always interested in finding new recipes to try, especially if they can help me shed a few extra pounds as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

The Complete Dukan Cookbook is very nicely put together – a sturdy hardback with glossy pages that will be easy to wipe down if you get a few splashes on it while trying out a recipe or two. There’s a handy introduction that reminds devotees of the basic principles of the Dukan Diet without going into it too deeply (you’d have to get hold of Dr Dukan’s other books – The Dukan Diet or The Dukan Diet Life Plan for the full works), but it does mean that you have the basic information at your fingertips without having to refer back to another book before you start cooking.

The recipes themselves are divided into colour-coded sections so that you can easily find a recipe for whatever stage you are at in your plan – each phase has starters, main courses and desserts, with pure protein, protein and vegetables, and vegetarian options clearly marked. There is also an abundance of gorgeous photos illustrating most of the recipes, and they are so sumptuous I am almost tempted to try out every recipe in this book! Finally, there’s a very handy glossary at the back so you can quickly find any recipe that caught your eye without having to remember which section it is in.

All foodies, whether following the Dukan diet or not, will find something to enjoy in this compendium of delicious dishes – you can cook everything or just drool over those pictures – either way, this will look lovely in anyone’s cookbook collection and may just add a few new recipes to your repertoire and broaden your tastebuds’ horizons a little.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith

the wisdom of the shireTitle: The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life
Author: Noble Smith
ISBN: 978-1444759648
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
First Published: November 2012 (hardback) / February 2013 (audio) / June 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 224

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Coinciding with the release of the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, his follow-up to the huge Lord of the Rings success, The Wisdom of the Shire is a practical and fun guide – for Tolkien fans everywhere – showing us how to apply the wisdom of The Hobbit to our everyday lives.

Hobbits are those small but brave little people, whose courage, integrity and loyalty allow them to triumph against odds that might appear overwhelming to the rest of us. Noble Smith has long believed there is much we can learn from Frodo’s determination, Bilbo’s sense of homeliness, Sam’s fierce allegiance, and Merry and Pippin’s love of food and fun. Like The Tao of Pooh, The Wisdom of the Shire is the first book to show Tolkien fans just how much there is to learn from those small but brave little people – the Hobbits.

Packed with amusing insights and fascinating trivia, this fun and insightful guide is all you need to complete your quest in life, and cast your cares into the fires of Mordor.

Review:
This is one of those delightful little books that “does exactly what it says on the tin.”  It explores the Shire and visits with the Hobbits who live there like old friends, as well as stopping by various other places in Middle Earth and introducing us to elves, wizards, dwarves, and even ents, as we get to know them better and discover exactly what it is that makes Hobbits so, well, Hobbit-ish.

Hobbits, of course, are some of the best-loved characters in literature, and there is barely a person you’ll meet who hasn’t at least heard of them, even if they haven’t read the books by Tolkien or seen Peter Jackson’s wonderful films. The Wisdom of the Shire looks at how following the Hobbits’ example can lead to a happier life as we learn to appreciate the small and simple things in life – good food, good friends, a cosy home, and a love of the natural world around us.

Filled with fascinating tidbits of information about the people and places of middle earth, as well as the author and the actors who have played roles in the films, this little book keeps you turning the pages to the very end, where you will find a Hobbit test (apparently I am extremely Hobbit-like!) and directions for making your own small Hobbit-inspired garden.

If you’re a fan of the books or the films, you will love this book. Even if you’re not, you’ll probably be able to get something out of the gentle advice it gives in an entirely Hobbit-ish way – never intrusive, always warm and friendly – and will be left with a warm feeling inside, and possibly inspired to live your life the way the Hobbits do, even if you live in the middle of a busy city.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Monster Love by Carol Topolski

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Title: Monster Love
Author: Carol Topolski
ISBN: 978-0141033389
Publisher:  Penguin
First Published:  Jan 2008 (hardback) / Sept 2008 (paperback)
No .of pages:  272

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
No one in the neighbourhood has seen the Gutteridges’ little girl Samantha for months. But Brendan and Sherilyn look happier than ever, so nothing is wrong. Is it?
For the Gutteridges, Samantha was just a thing that threatened to worm its way into their perfect love. For everyone else, her story is the stuff of tabloid headlines. But this time it’s not in a newspaper, it’s happening right next door . . .

Review:
I’ve only rated this average as I found the subject matter difficult to read.  This probably sounds silly and you may well ask “why did you read it then?” but it really is a well written book and once the difficult (but vital) details where over with, I really couldn’t put it down.

The story is about a couple who are so desperately in love that nothing can come between them.  They bond so closely that they feel nothing else is needed in their perfect world.  Along comes an unexpected child and we are thrown into the story of her abuse and eventual murder.  You are given brief glimpses of what she suffered at their hands, and this is more than enough for you to get the idea.  The author doesn’t need to go into details and once you are made aware of what happened, the focus then shifts on to the “why”.  The interesting thing about this book is the story being told in brief statements and recollections of everyone involved, from the neighbours who first alerted the police, to the parents of both of the perpetrators.  The only person who doesn’t get a say is the little girl herself.

As the threads of each story pull together, you build up a picture of how the parents evolved from early childhood and the events that lead to their despicable crime.  The story also continues through their trial and eventual imprisonment.

I read the whole book in one day, hoping to find some reason behind the crime, some sort of explanation to help ease my mind, but I got to the end of the book and there was none.  Personally, I don’t think their childhood or upbringing explains away any of their actions, although it is important to understand where they came from.  I suppose this is more true to life than I was expecting as there is rarely any explanation for these crimes.  Despite the difficult basis of the story, I would still recommend this, as a very well-constructed idea, which the author pulls off very well.

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The Queen’s Vow by C W Gortner

the-queens-vow-by-c-w-gortnerTitle: The Queen’s Vow
Author: C W Gortner
ISBN: 978-1444720808
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
First Published: 12 June 2012 (hardback) / 3 January 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
“No one believed I was destined for greatness.”
 
So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

Review:
Fans of historical fiction, get ready to jump up and down, shouting with glee, because Gortner has given us a fascinating account of one of history’s strongest women.

In a world where women are largely marginalised and married off to advantage, while the politics are all left to the menfolk, Isabella bucked the trend by choosing her own husband and deciding to rule her country in her own right.

Isabella of Castile is quite possibly one of the most controversial female figures in history, ordering the conversion or exile of Muslims and Jews in Spain, and causing widespread destruction throughout her Reconquista, but she and her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, are also credited with creating stability and the unification of Spain, and Gortner’s novel portrays a very real and sympathetic character who faces not only the difficulties of ruling fairly, but also of doing so as a woman in what was still very much a man’s world.

Gortner has woven an exquisite tale, fraught with peril, where a woman who dares to go up against men (and beats them at their own game), is beset on all sides by traitors and untrustworthy advisors who would take control of her country for themselves. There is real edge-of-the-seat stuff here, and even if you are already familiar with this period of history and the major players in it, readers will be biting their nails in excited anticipation.

If you’re looking for a dramatic tale of politics, expertly interwoven with one of romance, then this is the novel you have been waiting for. The writing flows so beautifully you could almost believe you’re seeing it first hand and will be almost completely immersed in a world of deception, deceit, danger, love, passion, power and politics.

See my interview with CW Gortner HERE.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Miss Felicity Beadle’s The World of Poo by Terry Pratchett

World of PooTitle: Miss Felicity Beadle’s The World of Poo
Author: Terry Pratchett
ISBN: 978-0857521217
Publisher: Doubleday
First Published: June 2012 (hardback/Kindle/audio)
No .of pages: 128

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
From Snuff: ‘Vimes’ prompt arrival got a nod of approval from Sybil, who gingerly handed him a new book to read to Young Sam. Vimes looked at the cover. The title was The World of Poo. When his wife was out of eyeshot he carefully leafed through it. Well, okay, you had to accept that the world had moved on and these days fairy stories were probably not going to be about twinkly little things with wings. As he turned page after page, it dawned on him that whoever had written this book, they certainly knew what would make kids like Young Sam laugh until they were nearly sick. The bit about sailing down the river almost made him smile. But interspersed with the scatology was actually quite interesting stuff about septic tanks and dunnakin divers and gongfermors and how dog muck helped make the very best leather, and other things that you never thought you would need to know, but once heard somehow lodged in your mind.’

Review:
The books that are released to accompany the main Discworld novels are always fun, and this is no exception. This is a delightful little tale of a young boy named Geoffrey who, while visiting his Grand-mama in Ankh-Morpork, develops an interest in all kinds of poo – so much so that he creates a poo museum in the shed – and meets some very interesting people who work with waste of all kinds.

As would  be expected, it’s filled with interesting little footnotes of fascinating facts about faeces, other bodily waste, its uses, and the people who remove it, as well as the industries that flourish because of it.

Adult fans of the Discworld series will chuckle knowingly as they enjoy it, but those who are parents may also find they decide to read it to their young children who must surely appreciate a good story about poo, and will love the little black and white line drawings – just don’t be surprised if you open it one day to find your little darlings have coloured in all the pictures!!

A must-have addition to any Discworld fan’s collection!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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