Posts Tagged With: fantasy

Drawn by Chris Ledbetter

drawn by chris ledbetterTitle: Drawn
Author: Chris Ledbetter
ASIN: B00UGRG8SK
ISBN: 978-1772333763
Publisher: Evernight Teen
First Published: 5 June 2015 (Kindle) / 3 June 2015 (paperback)
No .of pages: 282

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Caught between the sweltering fall landscape of Wilmington, NC beaches and southern illusions and expectations, all sixteen year-old Cameron Shade thinks about is art. That, and for Farrah Spangled to view him as more than just a friend. Cameron hopes he can win her heart through art. After several warm interactions with Farrah, including painting together at the beach, Cameron discovers just how complex Farrah’s life is. Following a tense run-in with Farrah’s father, she forbids Cameron to speak to her again, but Cameron’s convinced there’s more behind the request. To impress Farrah, Cameron sketches her portrait into a mysterious sketchbook. He nearly jumps from his skin when the sketch moves and communicates with him. Farrah is now in grave danger because the sketch he drew of her sucked her real-life’s soul into the sketchbook. Cameron now has twenty days to extract Farrah. To save her, he must draw himself into the book. If he fails… they both die.

Review:
I don’t read an awful lot of teen fiction, but when I do, I only enjoy it if the premise is original and daring and grabs me from the get-go.

Let’s just say, I enjoyed this book!

Chris Ledbetter has done something few have done, and that is to write a teenaged boy with whom I, as a woman (and once, a teenaged girl) can relate. I felt for Cameron, I felt for him deeply, and was able to sink into his emotions and passion for art quite effortlessly. Farrah wasn’t quite so well, ahem, drawn as Cameron, but as she was not the main character, only the focus for Cameron’s growing affections, this was understandable – she was attractive, but as a reader I knew little about her, which was pitched very well, as Cameron didn’t really know all that much about her beyond the basics and his attraction for her.

The premise for the story was cleverly thought out and written with a light touch that lifted it above the ordinary – a heavier hand would have thrown everything out of balance and crushed the plot entirely. Its an unusual take on a Pygmalian-type of fantasy, where an artist brings his work of art to life, and falls in love with her, only Cameron is already falling for Farrah before he creates her Echo.

There was a tinge of sadness about the tale too – Ledbetter doesn’t shy away from the darker and more upsetting trials of teen and family life, and the complications inherent in relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic – and that’s refreshing. Yet, it never becomes maudlin – that lightness of touch and tone keeps things buoyant and ensures the reader doesn’t sink into depression while turning the pages. It’s a fine line, but Ledbetter walks it well.

Even if you don’t read young adult/teen fiction, don’t discount this book – it’s worth the effort and may just change your mind!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

See my interview with the author HERE

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Wow. Honestly, wow. I’d been told this book was good, so I hoped for good. I got ‘wow’.  Uprooted is a fantasy story imbued with a feeling of fairytales – set in the surrounding areas of an evil wood and starting with a Dragon taking a girl away to his tower. This is essentially as much information as the reader is given on the back of the book, and I am grateful for having no clue where the story was going to go, because I loved just immersing myself in the world and going with the flow. My review might be a tad short simply because I want to retain that mystery for any potential readers – do not read anything about the plot before reading it!

Novik’s world is captivating and her story compelling. Just the right amount of world-building is employed to create an enchanting setting for a story that takes its time but is never dull. Although quite a chunky read, I tore through it in a couple of days, dying to find out what would happen.The prose is lyrical and light – Novik uses words like rich, vibrant colours in a painting. The descriptions of how Nieshka and the Dragon weave their magic are more metaphorical than literal, and are not just original and clever but also significantly contribute to the feeling of artistry surrounding this book. Everything about Uprooted has the feeling of an old fireside folktale being recollected for modern readers. Not just a simple tale of good and evil, there’s a real heart to this one.

I actually feel that this would be a great starting point for people wanting to get into the fantasy genre – I’m not an avid reader of fantasy myself but this book had just the right mix of all the best elements of fantasy to make it a wholly satisfying read. Highly recommended.

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Whither Thou Goest by Anna Belfrage (Graham Saga #7)

Whither Thou GoestTitle: Whither Thou Goest (The Graham Saga #7)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781322413
Publisher: SilverWood
First Published: 1 November 2014 (Paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 408

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
In their rural home in the Colony of Maryland, Matthew and Alex Graham are still recovering from the awful events of the previous years when Luke Graham, Matthew’s estranged brother, asks them for a favour.

Alex has no problems whatsoever ignoring Luke’s sad plea for help. In her opinion Matthew’s brother is an evil excuse of a man who deserves whatever nasty stuff fate throws at him. Except, as Matthew points out, Luke is begging them to save his son – his misled Charlie, one of the Monmouth rebels – and can Charlie Graham be held responsible for his father’s ill deeds?

So off they go on yet another adventure, this time to the West Indies to find a young man neither of them knows but who faces imminent death on a sugar plantation, condemned to slavery for treason. The journey is hazardous and along the way Alex comes face to face with a most disturbing ghost from her previous life, a man she would much have preferred never to have met.

Time is running out for Charlie Graham, Matthew is haunted by reawakened memories of his days as an indentured servant, and then there’s the eerie Mr Brown, Charlie’s new owner, who will do anything to keep his secrets safe, anything at all.

Will Matthew deliver his nephew from imminent death? And will they ever make it back home?

Review:
The Graham Saga is a series that just keeps giving! You want cracking characters? They’re in there. You crave action and intrigue? Look no further! You fancy some peril and deliverance? It’s right here, people! You like historical settings, but enjoy modern people out of their time? This is the series for you! And with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books now hitting our television screens, we can expect The Graham Saga to pick up interest from fans of Gabaldon as they look for more wonderful works to entertain them with the kind of rich plots and sweeping landscapes they already love, because if you like Gabaldon, you’ll LOVE Belfrage!

Once again, we see Alex (a modern woman out of her time) and her family almost torn apart and having to pull together to make it out the other side of the trials and tribulations thrown their way. Much of it is edge of the seat stuff and one genuinely found it incredibly difficult to put down the book and return to one’s own day-to-day life (as one must occasionally, to do everyday things such as feeding the kids, getting them to school, and making sure we have a nice, clean home in which to live – seriously, if I could have an extra few hours in every day just to read these books, I’d be a very happy woman!).

Fans of the series will find this latest (7th!) installment delivers everything one would expect and then some – an exciting, often intense, adventurous, romantic saga of a story that will keep readers gripped till the last page is turned, and then leave us gasping and gagging for more. It seems Belfrage cannot put a foot wrong – long may she continue to give us more installments in this truly wonderful series!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Serpents in the Garden by Anna Belfrage (The Graham Saga #5)

Serpents-in-the-GardenTitle: Serpents in the Garden (The Graham Saga #5)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321737
Publisher: SilverWood
First Published: 27 February 2014 (Kindle) / 1 March 2014 (Paperback)
No .of pages: 396

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
‘Serpents in the Garden’ is the fifth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham. After years of hard work, Matthew and Alex Graham have created a thriving home in the Colony of Maryland. About time, in Alex’s opinion, after far too many adventures she is really looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet. A futile hope, as it turns out. Things start to heat up when Jacob, the third Graham son, absconds from his apprenticeship to see the world – especially as Jacob leaves behind a girl whom he has wed in a most irregular fashion. Then there’s the infected matter of the fellow time traveller Alex feels obliged to help – no matter the risk. Worst of all, one day Philip Burley and his brothers resurface after years of absence. As determined as ever to make Matthew pay for every perceived wrong – starting with the death of their youngest brother – the Burleys play out a complicated cat and mouse game, and Alex is thrown back into an existence where her heart is constantly in her mouth, convinced as she is that one day the Burleys will achieve their purpose. Will the Burleys succeed? And if they do, will the Graham family survive the exacted price?

Review:
I only came to this series of books at the fourth novel (see my review HERE) but found it surprisingly easy to pick them up from this point and not be lost to what went before (indeed, it has made me resolve to go back and read the others on account of the story and writing being so good!).

This is the fifth book in The Graham Saga and it is every bit as good as the previous installment – I suspect the whole series is of the same level, as Belfrage’s writing has thus far been of a consistently high calibre that should be the envy of many other authors: She achieves, seemingly with ease, what all writers strive to reach, but is often out of their grasp.

Our favourite characters return; Alex and Matthew Graham continue to carve a life for themselves and their ever increasing family in The New World, but their past is catching up with them and old feuds are resurrected by the return of the Burleys (ooh, how much would I like to get my hands on those guys and wring their necks myself?!); their third son runs off to sea, but not before creating complications with the girl he loves; and other family trials are threatening to tear the family apart. Is there anything life won’t throw at these good people? It makes for gripping reading and I found myself often on the edge of my seat, never wanting to put down the book, even when other things in life demanded my immediate attention – that’s exactly what a good book should do to readers!

I find myself wondering if Belfrage can put a foot wrong with this series? It would seem not, and I, for one, am incredibly glad we have another three books of the saga still to be published – I can hardly wait to get my hands on them! Till then, I shall content myself by going back to the beginning and reading the series from the very start…

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

See my interview with Anna Belfrage HERE.

See Anna Belfrage’s guest post HERE.

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A Newfound Land by Anna Belfrage

a-newfound-landTitle: A Newfound Land (The Graham Saga #4)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321355
Publisher: SilverWood
First Published: 30 October 2013 (Kindle) / 1 November 2013 (Paperback)
No .of pages: 398

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
It’s 1672, and Matthew Graham and his family have left Scotland. Having taken the drastic decision to leave their homeland due to religious conflicts, Alexandra and Matthew hope for a simpler, if harsher, life in the wilds of the Colony of Maryland. Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as you want them to, and the past has a nasty tendency to resurface at the most inappropriate moments. Both Matthew and Alex are forced to cope with the unexpected reappearance of people they had never thought to meet again, and the screw is turned that much tighter when the four rogue Burley brothers enter their lives. Matters are further complicated by the strained relations between colonists and the Susquehannock Indians. When Matthew intercedes to stop the Burleys from abducting Indian women into slavery he makes lifelong – and deadly – enemies of them all. Once again Alex is plunged into an existence where death seems to threaten her man wherever he goes. Will Matthew see himself – and his family – safe in these new circumstances? And will the past finally be laid to rest? ‘A Newfound Land’ is the fourth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Review:
Although this is the fourth novel in The Graham Saga, I was surprised at how well it copes as a stand-alone story. Of course, there is a progressive story arc that obviously stretches over the whole series, but it’s incredibly easy to slip into the action, even at this stage in the story, and pick up where the previous novel left off without being intimately acquainted with the events that have already occurred. The aforementioned events are alluded to in such a way that there is a seamless enjoyment to be had here.

The female lead, Alexandra Lind, is a feisty, modern woman, very much of her time, so there are always going to be problems for her blending in entirely with the 17th century, when women didn’t really have a voice or any rights. By this point in the saga, she has carved her niche in her new world, but there are still elements that rankle her, usually to do with equality issues. This makes for a wonderful friction between Alex and her husband of now some fourteen years, as he is very firmly of his own time, some 400 years behind hers. This often serves to highlight elements of an earlier time that still have relevance today, and means the reader has cause to think about their own feelings on the subject, asking themselves how they would cope under similar circumstances.

There are definitely parallels to be made to another popular time-travel romance series (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon), and this will definitely appeal to fans of that series, but it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy or something that is trying to be like another book. Instead it freely pays homage to it while very definitely being its own thing.

The writing is both tight and evocative, plunging the reader into the past and forcing one to consider the harsh realities of frontier living, whilst also feeling very grateful for the modern conveniences now absent from the heroine’s life. The characters jump off the page, almost living and breathing in front of one’s eyes, ensuring total immersion on Belfrage’s time travel drama, leaving one breathless when one reaches the conclusion.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite at the request of the publisher

See my interview with Anna Belfrage
at Kincavel Korner

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Among Others by Jo Walton

Title:  Among OthersImage
Author:  Jo Walton
ISBN: 978-1472106537
Publisher:  Corsair

First Published:  Mar 2013 (Paperback)
No .of pages:  416

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” Fifteen-year-old Morwenna lives in Wales with her twin sister and a mother who spins dark magic for ill. One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori crippled. Devastated, Mori flees to her long-lost father in England. Adrift, outcast at boarding school, Mori retreats into the worlds she knows best: her magic and her books. She works a spell to meet kindred souls and continues to devour every fantasy and science fiction novel she can lay her hands on. But danger lurks… She knows her mother is looking for her and that when she finds her, there will be no escape.

Review:
The best description of this book is a quote on the back cover from Patrick Rothfuss “Funny, touching and gently magical”.  I couldn’t have summed it up any better. 

Whilst the synopsis tells us of a great tale of good versus evil, of magic and spells and of a long standing magical battle; the book is much more understated.  It is written as a diary from Mori’s point of view where the magic almost takes a back seat to the everyday, general goings on of a teenage girl.  There is a very fine balance between Mori’s coming of age story and the magic and mystery of the world she has grown up with and Jo Walton has achieved it perfectly.  We are with Mori through her struggles with family and school life as well as attempting to negotiate the minefield which is the opposite sex, whilst at the same time and almost as casually, she is attempting to understand the murky and tangled world of magic and spells that has been with her all her life and led to the loss of her sister.

Jo Walton has managed to take a magical story and bring it right back to an everyday setting to which we can all relate.  This book is not a rip-roaring adventure of magical hijinks and escapism.  It is more an everyday world with a magical undercurrent.  The pace is slow but continuous and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish.

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Blue Angel by Logan Belle

Title: Blue AngelImage
Author: Logan Belle
ISBN: 978-1472106148
Publisher:  Canvas (Constable & Robinson)
First Published:  Oct 2012 (paperback)
No .of pages:  244

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
The throbbing music, the raucous catcalls, the glamorous costumes, and most of all the sensual skin of burlesque reveal much to the audience, but for Mallory the biggest revelation is her own untapped desire.  When recent law school grad Mallory Dale’s boyfriend, Alec, takes her to a burlesque club for her birthday, she is annoyed. Is this a show for her, or for him? But when beautiful, mysterious burlesque star Bette Noir pulls Mallory on stage, Mallory’s world changes overnight. Soon, Bette becomes Mallory’s private tutor in the tantalizing art of the striptease. Exploring burlesque awakens Mallory’s true erotic nature, but if she devotes herself to her new-found sensual pleasures, will she risk losing Alec? Or can she really have it all?

Review:
On the back of the “50 Shades revolution” we have recently been inundated with books of the more erotic variety.  We experienced something similar a couple of years ago with the Twilight Saga, and whilst I didn’t really appreciate the originals, I was more than happy to read more of the genre that came to light in their wake.  In a similar vein, I have read 50 Shades (the less said about that the better, really) and now I’m looking, with interest, at similar books being released in the slip stream.  This one caught my eye as it was burlesque in nature and not BDSM.  Whilst I knew it would still be erotic in nature, I was engaged by the idea of a woman going to a burlesque club and becoming enamoured with the lifestyle.  Unlike many of its predecessors, it’s not about being submissive; this book is more about female empowerment.  The lead character, Mallory, is going through some difficult times in her life and the burlesque scene allows her to deal with her issues and grow as a person and as a woman.  Whilst I understand that this book is from the erotic genre, and by definition, has some very descriptive scenes within it, I personally don’t think they were necessary.  With a few tweaks here and there (of the book, naughty!), I think this could have been a fantastic story in its own right, without the overt sexual content.  My only concern is that the actual story may be overlooked because people are after a naughty thrill.  I hope not though, because there is a genuine talent lurking within.  If you are looking for something with more depth than the 50 Shades trilogy, then this is for you.  Don’t worry, you still get your fix of full-on fantasy, and you may even learn a few things along the way 😉

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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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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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