Mostly Butterflies

Last week I received a surprise parcel from Macmillan.  I had a suspicion as to what it might be but was completely wrong as it turned out to be a beautiful copy of Matthew Oates’ His Imperial MajestyMy first flick through showed me that it has some gorgeous illustrations but I was somewhat sceptical about the review on the front cover from Patrick Barkham – ‘Monumental, transcendent, hilarious.’  This is a natural history of the Purple Emperor butterfly and it is packed full of fascinating information.  How could it possibly also be hilarious?

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I had to take this picture on a rainy day when not a butterflywas in sight so I made do with a brooch.

It turns out that it can.  I am still only partway through (my Mum who doesn’t normally like reading non-fiction was so taken with this book that she borrowed it to read herself) but there are definitely some very funny moments.  I particularly enjoyed the account of a meeting with a walker when the author was lying flat on his back looking for butterflies in the trees above him with binoculars.

I love butterflies.  Hacking out on the ponies I often see many of them flitting about the hedgerows and although I can identify very few of them they are wonderful to watch.  I even have a sketchbook from when I was eight or nine to which I gave the misleading title of Mostly Butterflies.  On looking through it I find that there is precisely one butterfly – apparently a Monarch.  A more accurate title would have been Mostly Horses but I was obviously very keen on butterflies at the time – even if it was a short time.

Thank you to Macmillan for the free review copy.  I am looking forward to reading the rest of it when I get it back!

Sparkling Cyanide

I have been reading Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide with a lovely group of people on Instagram and have been thoroughly enjoying it.

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I haven’t read any Christie for a while and it has been years since I read this one.  So much so that I genuinely had no idea whodunnit – which makes a nice change for me when I’m re-reading a book.  This was a good one too – a long list of suspects who all seemed pretty plausible.  Early on I did single out the love interests and write them off as suspects but then I remembered that Christie is not Ngaio Marsh or Georgette Heyer.  Anyone could have done it – including either or even both of the love interests – so they went back on the list.

In the end, I only guessed a few pages before the reveal which is always satisfying.  I like to be able to work out the solution before the detective but it’s not so great when you work out the murderer right at the beginning of the book!

It was a lot of fun reading this with the others.  There are always so many things which come up in the chats that I just don’t notice for myself when I’m reading and it is lovely to share my ideas with other people.  We might not be able to have in person book clubs at the moment but this is just as good (especially as my book club would never read a lot of the books I would like to choose!).

Book Review – The Fowl Twins

I was so excited to receive a review copy of Eoin Colfer’s new book The Fowl Twins last autumn.  My sister was obsessed with his Artemis Fowl books as a teenager so out of curiosity I picked one up myself.  I was instantly hooked and have loved them ever since.  It took me far too long to get around to reading this one but I’m glad I finally did.

Publisher’s Blurb

Criminal genius runs in the family…

Myles and Beckett Fowl are twins but the two boys are wildly different. Beckett is blonde, messy and sulks whenever he has to wear clothes. Myles is impeccably neat, has an IQ of 170, and 3D prints a fresh suit every day – just like his older brother, Artemis Fowl.

A week after their eleventh birthday the twins are left in the care of house security system, NANNI, for a single night. In that time, they befriend a troll on the run from a nefarious nobleman and an interrogating nun both of whom need the magical creature for their own gain . . .

Prepare for an epic adventure in which the Fowl twins and their new troll friend escape, get shot at, kidnapped, buried, arrested, threatened, killed (temporarily) . . . and discover that the strongest bond in the world is not the one forged by covalent electrons in adjacent atoms, but the one that exists between a pair of twins.

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Starting this book was like stepping back into a familiar world.  Artemis himself wasn’t around and neither were Holly Short or Butler but this book fits right in with the original series and I felt very at home there.  I loved Myles and Beckett and NANNI was just genius.

The plot is full of twists and turns and although I saw most of them coming it didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment of the book.  After all, it is aimed at children significantly younger than I am!  This is a fun and exciting start to a new series and I am already eagerly awaiting the new book.

Book Details

The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780008324810

RRP: £14.99

Book Review – A Kind of Paradise

I have seen Amy Rebecca Tan’s A Kind of Paradise recommened by many people and as it is set in a library I just couldn’t resist it.

Publisher’s Blurb

Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year.  A big one.  And every kid in her middle school knows all about it.  Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment.  What a waste of a summer!

Or so she thinks.

A Kind of Paradise is an unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.

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I loved this book.  It was exactly the kind of cosy, comfirting read I need at the moment.  As a celebration of libraries and community it is perfect but the plot is also engaging and you can’t help rooting for the characters.  Piecing together what happened to Jamie at school makes for fun problem solving as well.

I spent a lot of time at the library as a child – I would take out as many books as I was allowed and would quite happily have taken more and read them too.  They are such a fantastic resource and although they are closed at the moment this book reminds us of that.  I would highly recommend it to any book lover.

Book Details

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan

Publisher:  HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780062795410

RRP: £12.99

Book Review – The Other Bennet Sister

I recently received a parcel from Pan Macmillan which actually made me jump for joy when I opened it – it contained a review copy of The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.  I’m normally very wary of reading sequels and retellings of my favourite books written by different authors as I am worried about what they will do with characters I love.  However, a book about Mary Bennet is hard for a bookworm to resist!

Publisher’s Blurb

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the middle of the five Bennet girls and the plainest of them all, so what hope does she have?  Prim and pious, with no redeeming features, she is unloved and seemingly unlovable.

The Other Bennet Sister, though, shows another side to Mary.  An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance?  And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.

One by one, her sisters marry – Jane and Lizzy for love; Lydia for some semblance of respectability – but Mary, it seems, is destined to remain single and live out her life at Longbourn, at least until her father dies and the house is bequeathed to the reviled Mr Collins.

But when that fateful day finally comes, she slowly discovers that perhaps there is hope for her, after all.

Simultaneously a wonderfully warm homage to Jane Austen and a delightful new story in its own right, Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister is, at its heart, a life-affirming tale of a young woman finding her place in the world.  Witty and uplifting, it will make you feel – and cheer – for Mary as you never have before.

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The very first sentence of this book drew me straight in.  It had a nod to Pride and Prejudice which caught my attention but it is very much its own story which is what kept me reading.  I loved the passing references to some of Jane Austen’s other novels (especially the discussion about muslin!) and I thought that Janice Hadlow had captured Austen’s tone well.

I found that this book to be more descriptive and contain less dialogue than Austen’s own work and it also had a more introspective feel to it.  This may have been due to the fact that it is told from Mary Bennet’s point of view – it suited her  very well.

I had expected to be given a different view of Mary and that was indeed the case.  Growing up I always wanted to be Lizzy (don’t we all?) but was afraid that really I was much more of a Mary.  Now that idea doesn’t worry me.  What I didn’t realise was that I would also see an entirely new side to Mr Collins.  I may have been unfair to him in the past!

I very much enjoyed this book and I would recommend to fans of Jane Austen.  It is obviously not the same as a book by her but it is a believable new story in her world and I think it fits nicely.  I have also appreciated the fact that it has sent me back to Austen’s own novels.  I have dipped into Northanger Abbey and am currently staying in Hunsford Parsonage as I work my way through yet another re-read (or – in this case – listen) of Pride and Prejudice.  Any book which gets me involved enough to go back and compare scenes with those told from a different perspective in the original novel is clearly doing something right.

Book Details

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Publisher:  Mantle

ISBN: 9781509842025

RRP:£16.99

Book Review – Break the Fall

When Hachette Children’s Books sent me a review copy of Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli (several months ago) I had never heard of it.  I knew immediately that I wanted to read it though.  A young adult book about gymnastics?  Yes please!

So much so that I abandoned all my reading plans for that evening and started it straight away.  I love watching gymnastics and have always wished that I was flexible enough to actually do it.  This was my chance to pretend to be a part of that world

Publisher’s Blurb

The only thing seventeen-year-old Audrey Lee dreams about is swinging her way to Olympic glory.  Nothing is going to stop her, not even the agony in her back.  Every spasm and ache will be worth it once she has that gold medal around her neck.

But none of her training prepares her for her coach being led away in handcuffs, accused by a fellow gymnast of the unthinkable.  No one knows what, or who to believe and Audrey’s teammates go into meltdown.

As the Olympic torch closes in, Audrey has no idea who to trust, let alone what life holds after her final dismount.  The only thing she can do is hope that in the end, belief in herself and what’s left of her team, will be enough for gold.

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I was immediately sucked in to the tension of competition and after that I just didn’t want to stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime because I really wantd to know what happened to these girls.

Of course, for me this book was all about the gymnastics and I lived every moment of the competiions and training.  However, I did also like the way the accusation of the unthinkable was handled.  I am always wary of too much teenage angst in books (just because as an adult it can infuriate me) but that wasn’t an issue for me here.  I thought the girls handled the situation very well, whilst still being believable teenagers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It made me think of a more modern, more adult Noel Streatfeild book – a book about a specific interest but with a great plot as well.  Streatfeild always makes me want to rush out and conquer whichever sport or interest I happen to be reading about and this gave me that same feeling.  I will certainly be trying Iacopelli’s previous books about tennis.

Thank you very much to Hachette for the review copy.

Book Details

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

Published 20th February 2020 by Hachette Children’s Group

ISBN: 9781444953244

RRP: £7.99

Book Review – Eliza and Her Monsters

Last year I went through a spate of reading books about people who love books, or fandom in general.  In trying to find more to feed my obsession I came across Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia and immediately ordered a copy.  Of course, by the time it arrived I had moved on to other books and so it has sat on my shelf for several months waiting for its moment.

This week the time came.  I wanted something to read at bedtime, my book club book was not enthralling me and I was only one chapter into The Three Musketeers so that hadn’t gripped me yet either.  Eliza was calling to me from the shelf so I snatched her up and settled down.

Publisher’s Blurb

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless.  Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea.  With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular.  Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community.

Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.  But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity — begins to fall apart.

I immediately loved this book.  It is wonderful to have a character with whom you can identify and Eliza was that for me.  I too felt like an outsider at school, although not to the same extent – and my escape was into books not creating a famous webcomic.

Wallace too was a wonderfully drawn character and I found myself rooting for them both – I really cared how their story turned out.  The downside of that was that I stayed awake far too late reading it.  However, I had a day off on Monday and I allowed myself the luxury of spending the morning curled up in a blanket with the book.  It was glorious.

This was a warm hug of a book about finding something you love and doing it – something we should all remember.  I made a note of several quotes but I particularly loved this one

If you want the motivation back, you must feed it.  Feed it everything.  Books, television, movies, paintings, stage plays, real-life experience.  Sometimes feeding simply means working, working through nonmotivation, working even when you hate it.

We create art for many reasons – wealth, fame, love, admiration – but I find the one thing that produces the best results is desire.  When you want the thing you’re creating, the beauty of it will shine through, even if the details aren’t all in order.  Desire is the fuel of creators, and when we have that, motivation will come in its wake.

I was quite bereft when I finished this book – I so badly wanted to spend more time with Eliza and Wallace.  Please – recommend more books like this!

Book Details

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780062290144

RRP: £7.99

On Reading Six of Crows

I am very late to the Six of Crows party.  I have heard people raving about the books for years but for some reason I never picked them up.

Then somebody shared a quote from Leigh Bardugo’s latest book which made me sit up and think, ‘Oh that’s clever!’  I was drawn to the books but thought that although the books set in the Grishaverse don’t exactly follow on from one another, it would be better to start at the beginning.  I realise now of course that actually the first book written was Shadow and Bone but Six of Crows was the one which drew me in.

I was very pleased to be given a copy for Christmas and couldn’t wait to get started.  It took me a little while to get into it – I don’t read a huge amount of fantasy so I’m not used to learning about a brand new world and its magic.  Pretty soon though I was hooked and I raced through it.

In fact, it was so gripping that I finished it one evening and went straight out in the morning to buy book two – Crooked Kingdom.  I just had to know what happened next and for those few hours in between I felt bereft.

The book has a great plot which is full of surprising twists and turns.  The thing I loved most about it though was the characters – how they interacted with each other and the way there was so much more to them than just the main plot.  They all had their own sub plots and motives, plus intriguing backstories which came out gradually through the books.

Obviously, I loved these books.  The only question is – do I go back and read the Grisha trilogy next or move on to King of Scars?

Book Review – Once Upon a River

My book club’s choice for our last meeting was Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield.  It was not a book I would have necessarily chosen for myself but several of the other members were raving about it so I was certainly intrigued and looking forward to reading it.

Publisher’s Blurb

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger.  In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?

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I found that I was somewhat ambivalent about this book.  I did enjoy it and I think it is well written.  I really liked the characters (especially Rita and Mr Daunt) and I was rooting for them to have a happy ending.  The mixture of science and folklore was interesting too and I spent some time trying to figure out how fantastical the story was – the author’s note at the end explained a lot!

However, it wasn’t a book which made me really want to pick it up each time.  I can’t really articulate why either – as I said, I did enjoy the story.  I think I was letting it flow over me instead of being really invested in it.

The other members of my book club loved it though.  So much so that I thought we were going to have a very short meeting indeed – we don’t tend to have a lot to say when everybody likes a book!  Luckily though we did find tthings to talk about and it was a great meeting.

I would still recommend Once Upon a River to others – it is a good book, I just wasn’t in quite the right frame of mind to really love it.  That was just me though and shouldn’t be held against the book. The weather, however, was perfect – absolutely pouring rain which really added to the atmosphere of the book!

Book Details

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Publisher: Transworld

ISBN: 9781784163631

RRP: £8.99

Book Review – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a book which has been intriguing me ever since I first saw it.  It has sat in the young adult section of the bookshop for months, looking at me and clearly needing me to read it.  Eventually the right time came along and I treated myself to a copy.

Publisher’s Blurb

The case is closed.  Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh.  The police know he did it.  Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure.  When she chooses the case as the topic for her final project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden.  And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth . . . ?

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This book was everything I had hoped it would be.  I was completely gripped by the story and read it long into the night – well past my bedtime!  I just had to know what happened next and I have to confess that the solution did take me by surprise.

I thought the book was very well written and I particularly appreciated the low levels of teenage angst.  No longer being a teenager myself, I do often find myself infuriated by the behaviour of teenagers in books.  That was most definitely not the case here and I have recommended this book to several ‘proper’ grown-ups who have also loved it.

I have also just heard about the sequel which is due out next year and I cannot wait!

Book Details

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Publisher: Egmont Publishing

ISBN: 9781405293181

RRP: £7.99