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

Comfort Reading

At the moment, reading is a very important escape for many of us. For me, that takes the form of comfort reading. I do not want to be reading books which make me miserable and if that means I spend a few weeks or months reading only children’s books then I am okay with that. In actual fact though, there will probably be at least some cosy crime books consumed, if not some nice middlebrow fiction (my Mum is currently reading the Mrs Tim books by D E Stevenson and making me want to read them again).

I am just getting to the end of The Cricket Term by Antonia Forest. I borrowed the first book in the series from the library many years ago and loved it but have only come across one of the intervening books in the meantime. I love this series but I do need to find the rest of the books – and probably the first one again – as there are a lot of passing references to events about which I know nothing!

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I very rarely make myself a set reading list but I have gathered together a few books which I think will be good for me at the moment. I am about to read Daddy-Long-Legs for the umpteenth time and will probably finally read my lovely, hardback, unabridged copy of The School at the Chalet. I am yet to read Catherine Aird’s latest book – Inherintance Tracks – and now may be the time when I actually get around to reading some books I have seen recommended many times – including The Penderwicks and All-of-a-Kind Family.

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I am also just getting to the end of listening to Pride and Prejudice and have already decided that I will go back and re-listen to the Needlecraft Mysteries series by Monica Ferris. I listened to almost the entire nineteen book series (my library doesn’t have the last one yet) within a few months last year and they are exactly the kind of cosy mystery which I know will be comforting right now.

What is your go-to comfort read? I would love to have some more recommendations!

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

Unexpected Adventures with a Book

This week was supposed to see my very first visit to the London Book Fair. I was incredibly excited and so, although it was absolutely the correct decision, I was very disappointed when it was cancelled. I decided that I would use the free time for my own literary adventures instead.

I started off with a visit to Westward Ho! – named after Charles Kingsley’s novel but also known for its connection to Kipling. I read Stalky & Co – which was based on his time at the United Services College near Westward Ho! – a couple of years ago and I loved it. The first stanza of If is set into the seafront and I had a lovely time walking along reading it.

It was a very blustery day and the wind was icy cold but that just made it more exciting. Plus, it meant we were thoroughly justified in warming up in the cafe!

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I also went to visit Malmsmead and the church of St Mary the Virgin at Oare – both places featured in Lorna Doone. The church is particularly significant as it is where Lorna and John Ridd were married – the shot is said to have been fired through the window on my right.

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The mist had really come down over Exmoor which gave gave a perfect eerie feeling to the day. However, for me no literary pilgrimage to the moor is complete without a picnic so – despite the non-existent view – we parked up and settled down for several hours of reading and eating. Inside the car of course – it was still far too windy and cold (not to mention the rain) to eat outside! It was a perfect afternoon.

Reading Pretty Books

Like many of you I love to have beautiful books.  Given a choice between two editions of the same book, I will always choose the one I think prettiest (unless it is ridiculously expensive!).

This can cause me a dilemma though.  Sometimes one of my very favourite books will be reissued with a stunningly beautiful cover and I have to decide whether I can justify purchasing another copy of the same book.

In some cases it is easy – I bought all of the hardcover reissues of the original Swallows and Amazons covers to replace my battered paperbacks which were just not so pretty.  When my sister found a box of vintage Famous Five books – mostly with dustjackets – going for a song at our village fête I didn’t hesitate to get rid of those paperbacks either.  Although, I did keep my 3-in-1 copy of the first three books because it brought back such wonderful memories.

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Sometimes it is harder though.  There are some beautiful editions of Anne of Green Gables available now and I would so love to have them on my shelf.  My copy is not all that pretty but I am quite attached to it and it is stuffed full of pressed flowers and other memorabilia so I am loathe to part with it.

I know many people have multiple copies of the same book and that would solve a lot of problems but also create a whole new one – where would I keep them all?  I barely have room for the books I have now so having many different editions of a book is a slippery slope I have so far avoided.  It can be hard to resist though!

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?

A Year of Reading

I’m a little late with my round up of last year’s reading because I wanted to post about Christmas last week.  It is still nice to reflect on the year though so better late than never!

2019 was a good reading year for me.  I’m not overly driven by numbers – it is much more important for me to feel that I have been enjoying my reading.  There were a couple of times when I got bogged down in a book I didn’t much like and which really slowed down my reading but on the whole I can say that I read a lot of books I loved. Most of the time I just wanted to get back to my books.

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That being said, I do know that I read 128 books last year – of which 16 were re-reads – which was a big jump up on the 91 of the year before.  Of course, part of that is because I listened to 44 audio books – up from 14 in 2018.  That definitely helped!

I am not at all good at picking favourites – they change so much depending on my mood.  There are a few which stick in my mind though – I loved Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and Waverley by Walter Scott.  Hallie Rubenhold’s Five was fascinating and I was completely hooked by it.

As for reading resolutions for the new year, I have stopped setting myself firm reading lists as for me they creates too much pressure and stop me enjoying the books so much.  The only resolution I really have is to read the books which bring me joy.  I so much loved reading my cosy books over Christmas that I want to carry on doing the same all year round and not pressure myself into reading books I think I ought to read.  That sounds like a pretty good year to me.

We Joined the Navy

At first glance this does not seem to be a bookish post but it is about a beautiful building and we did buy books!

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While I was in Dartmouth I went on a tour of the Britannia Royal Naval College and it was a wonderful experience. The historic part of the building is stunning – both inside and out – and the history behind it is fascinating.

Our tour covered the historic building and lasted two hours but I could easily have spent at least the whole day there exploring. There were lots of tempting little staircases which I wanted to run up – obviously, it is a working Naval college and that just isn’t possible!

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The longest uninterrupted corridor in Europe!

I had such a good time and I would thoroughly recommend the tour to anyone in the Dartmouth area. Of course – as I promised – we couldn’t escape without books!

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