Sunday, 27 April 2014

Review: Hook's Pan (Kingdom #5) by Marie Hall

'Even the most evil had a tender side, and the most pure the propensity for destruction.'

I never thought I'd say this but here goes: I'm in love with Captain James Hook. Don't be fooled by the cover, this is less a fantasy bodice-ripper and more a fairytale legend getting the happy ending that he deserves.

I've always loved all things Peter Pan and Neverland, and for some unknown reason I have often had sympathy for Hook ( I remember even cheering him on at a local pantomime once!) Recent TV adaptations, Once Upon a Time in particular, have definitely begun to portray him in a more attractive light - in a dark and brooding bad-boy sort of way - which only adds to his appeal!

This story sees Hook still hell bent on revenge on Peter, but it turns out that he has good reason! Pan is presented as little more than a vile mischievous imp, and it is interesting to view his relationship with Hook from the Captain's point of view for a change. One hundred years from the day their feud became serious, Hook's fairy godmother Danika has decided that it's time for Hook to settle down, and chooses Trishelle Page - with a troubled past and severe disillusionment when it comes to love - as his perfect partner. Only trouble is Trisha is from Earth, and the idea of Kingdom and Neverland is laughable to her, never mind the concept of fairy godmothers! As their worlds collide, Hook and Trishelle are told that they are destined to be together and are given three days to fall in love, but with each of them adamant that they will never love again, time is fast running out...

I picked up this book on a whim as an Amazon freebie, and I'm so glad that I did! I loved Hook from the moment he is introduced. In my mind, he was a sort of mash up between Colin O'Donoghue's Hook in Once Upon a Time, and Joseph Fiennes as The Bard in Shakespeare in Love - dark and delicious. It was nice to see his tender side too, and I loved how Hook called Trishelle 'little bird.' All of the characters are well thought out and the descriptions of Neverland, The Jolly Roger and the undersea world of the Seren Seas were truly enchanting; you could picture the setting as if you were watching it on screen. Told from both Trishelle and Hook's perspectives, you can't help but will them to get together, and the banter between them is brilliantly well written. Hook just oozes sex-appeal whilst Trisha is feisty and quick-witted. As for Peter, 'Pan was looking less and less like a romantic figure symbolic of perpetual childhood and more like a snot-nosed imp.' As I've grown up, I too have come to realise that Peter is far too cocky for his own good, and it is refreshing to see a narrative take Hook's side for once.

Full of humour and romance, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Other reviewers have mentioned how unbelievably quickly Trishelle gave up her life on Earth for Neverland, but then who wouldn't want to spend eternity sailing the seas with a sexy pirate!?

I would say that I'm eager to read the rest of the Kingdom series, but Hook has always been my favourite fairytale bad boy so I'm not sure this one can be topped. Nevertheless I'm interested to see how the other fictional baddies find their happy-ever-afters.

5/5 stars - Witty, compelling, and set in the most magical of fictional worlds, Hook's Pan is a book that you'll want to read over and over again.

This book was read as part of Fairytale Fortnight!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

April Book Haul

I went to the library this morning and picked up a couple of titles that looked really interesting. I only allowed myself two as I've already got five renewed, not to mention the number of NetGalley ARCs and Goodreads First-Reads that I have to get through! It's going to be a busy few weeks...

The Illusionists - Rosie Thomas

"London 1885. A shadowy and threatening place for a beautiful young woman of limited means. Eliza's choices lie between marriage and stifling domesticity or a downwards spiral to the streets. But Eliza is modern before her time and she won't compromise. One night at a run-down theatre she meets the charismatic Devil Wix - a born showman who is set on running his own company. His right-hand man is Carlo Boldoni, a irascible dwarf whose dazzling talent eclipses everything Devil tries to do. Forever linked to Devil by a boyhood tragedy is his friend Jasper Button, a gifted artist, and the fourth member of this strange crew is Heinrich, an enigmatic engineer. As the seductive but dangerous world of the Palmyra Theatre snares them all, it falls to Eliza to try to keep the peace between the men who love her. Too late, she realises that her fortune and her future depend on Devil and his companions. There is no escape... but to continue to risk her life, not just her heart. Offstage as well as on, Eliza must learn that magic takes on many forms. What is real, and what is merely an illusion?"

Lucky Bunny - Jill Dawson

"Crime is a man's business so they say, though not according to Queenie Dove. As a self-proclaimed genius when it comes to thieving and escape, she reckons she's done pretty well. Yes, she's had a tough childhood in London's East End during the Depression, with a father in and out of prison. But she survived the Blitz, learned how to get by on her wits, and soon graduated from shoplifting to more glamorous crimes. Daring, clever and sexy, she thrived in the Soho of the Krays and the clubs of Mayfair, fell wildly in love, and got away with it all. Or did she? For beneath Queenie's vivacious, unrepentant account lies another story - of punishment and loss, and a passionate relationship that turns sour. To the end, she believes that she was lucky, but did she simply play the hand that fate dealt her? Vividly portraying the times and circles she moved in, Lucky Bunny captures an intriguing, engaging woman as it questions how far we are in control of our own lives.

Earlier this month, I received this book through Goodreads Giveaways:

If I Could Turn Back Time - Nicola Doherty

What if you found The One, then lost him again? Or not so much lost him as became the neurotic, needy
girlfriend from hell. The girl who tried to make him choose between her and his job, and got seriously paranoid about his relationship with his best female friend... Zoe knows she doesn't deserve another chance with David. But if there's the tiniest possibility of making things right, she'll snatch it. Even if it means breaking the laws of physics to do so...

I also received these titles via NetGalley - Click on the covers for more details and to request them yourself!

Any books that you're excited to read this month?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Question: Are there any film/TV adaptations that are better than the book?

I, along with millions of other costume drama fans, have been tuning into BBC1 for the past couple of nights to watch Jamaica Inn, an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's famous novel. Complaints about the sound quality aside, the two parts of the drama screened so far haven't exactly caught my attention, and I've found myself watching out of obligation - it's very rare for me to pass up on a period drama!

During the course of tonight's episode I sent out this tweet:

"Not gonna lie, Jamaica Inn isn't exactly making me want to read the book. Lots of dramatic moor shots and mumbling in a Cornish accent.."

which prompted a fellow twitter user and Du Maurier fan to defend the novel and encourage me to read it, deeming the BBC adaptation 'nonsense'. I do, of course have every intention of reading the novel, I've never been one to judge a book by its film. This does however cause me to ponder the question: Are there any film or television adaptations that rival, or even surpass their literary counterparts? All too often I have got excited about an adaptation of a book that I have loved, only to be disappointed when it eventually comes to air.

This much used graphic illustrates perfectly the problem of book lovers, and indeed film makers everywhere: it is impossible to condense everything that happens in the novel into a two hour film. This is why, I suppose, there is a growing trend of splitting books into two films- like the final books in the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series. But even then it is difficult to satisfy the fans of the books. There will always be at least a handful of people who are unhappy with the casting; we all have our own mental image of Heathcliff, and casting the infamous Christian Grey must have been one of the trickiest jobs in Hollywood (I've not read the book, but the twitter backlash when the original casting was announced was enough to demonstrate how passionate people are about their favourite literary characters).

Off the top of my head, the only instance I can think of where I prefer the film to the book is Bridget Jones' Diary - because how can you possibly better Hugh Grant and Colin Firth? Bridget is also a lot more likeable in the film; and it has a sense of Britishness about it that I just adore.

So which, if any, films do you prefer over the books? What is it that makes a good film adaptation? And are there any film adaptations coming out that you are excited about, or even dreading?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review: Season of Light by Katharine McMahon

Paris, 1788.

Asa Ardleigh is in Paris accompanying her sister Philippa on her honeymoon. What she discovers there is a city full of ideas, and as tensions increase between rich and poor there is an ominous sense that something is about to change. Enter the young activist Didier Paulin. Dashing, impassioned and full of revolutionary ideals he bears more than a passing resemblance to Enjolras from Les Miserables (the film version at least), and Asa falls instantly in love. After a brief affair Asa must return to England, but she refuses to give up on her dream of a life with one of France's most prolific revolutionaries.

Then revolution breaks out.

Back home Asa becomes restless, even more so when her family encourage her to marry distant cousin and heir to the Ardleigh estate Harry Shackleford. Initially introduced in Paris, Asa despises everything Shackleford represents; his excessive wealth and family connections to the slave trade contrast entirely with her abolitionist ideals. In order to try and tame Asa towards the prospect of marriage to Shackleford, her sisters employ a French companion for her. Madame de Rusigneux is a French aristocrat who has fled her country. She is tormented by her past, and full of secrets and wisdom that make her seem older than her years. In Madame Asa sees more than just a confidante, she sees a way back to Didier, and as revolution rages on she becomes increasingly determined regardless of the consequences...

The moment I discovered that this book was primarily set in Paris I was sold. Be it revolutionary Paris or the opulence and excess of Jazz Age Paris, the city holds some kind of mystical romantic appeal for me that I just can't resist. Katharine states in her author's notes that it was her intention to create an Austen-esque heroine and place her in the context of the French Revolution. On reflection, there are indeed elements of some of Austen's heroines; Asa is not unlike Fanny Price in her steadfast devotion to Didier, whilst her longing for adventure is reminiscent of Catherine Morland. She is blinded by her ideals, and it is this that leads to her downfall.

The thing that I liked most about this novel was how it championed the underdog; despite being introduced as a clingy lovesick Mr Collins type figure - a demeanour that doesn't really change - we actually come to like Harry Shackleford. He is devoted in his love for Asa and would do anything for her. He represents all of the downtrodden male figures in literature who are passed over in favour of some romantic ideal (which, as Asa discovers with Didier, isn't always all it's cracked up to be).

Full of twists and turns that I didn't see coming, Season of Light is so much more than a historical romance - it is more a historical novel with a hint of romance thrown in. The story is so compelling that I read it in a day and had what can only be described as a 'book hangover' when I had finished.

5/5 stars: In the words of a review by The Guardian Season of Light is "one of those books so intensely alive in the past that it makes the world you actually live in feel flimsy and thin." Safe to say that I will definitely be reading more of McMahon's work!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Release Day Blitz: Love's Sorrow (Means of Mercy #1) by Terri Rochenski

Today I'm taking part in the release day blitz for Love's Sorrow, a historical romance by Terri Rochenski. Check out the excerpt for part one of a sneak peek at the entire first chapter, and follow the blog tour for parts two to ten. Also, don't forget to enter the giveaway to win a $10 Amazon giftcard and some Love's Sorrow goodies!

Love's Sorrow
Means of Mercy #1
Historical Romance
Release Date: April 21, 2014
Publisher: Roane Publishing

Hired as a nanny for her cousin’s children, Anne Tearle finds security and a loving family. The children are a dream, but London society is a world of its own, one where a displaced farm girl has no business being. But, wealthy rake, Gavin MacKay, helps her to see associating with the upper class might not be as horrid as she first assumed.
Like all things worthwhile, love comes at a price, and the cost soon bestows more anguish than joy. Lost, but not undone, Anne must find the courage to begin life anew, or succumb to sorrow's unrelenting waves of grief.

Print: Createspace  Amazon  
Ebook: Amazon  BookStrand  Smashwords

Chapter 1 / Excerpt 1
With a loud grind and clanking, the train came to rest at King’s Cross Station. The engine car let out a hiss like the sigh that escaped my lips every night when I laid on my pallet after a long day’s work.
Pressing my face to the window, I stared in amazement at the mass of moving people. When boarding the train in Birmingham, excitement kept me from giving the well-to-do folks more than a mere glance, but I sat captivated as my fellow passengers disembarked around me.
Lavish bonnets and bright-coloured dresses of silky material made me ashamed of the threadbare gingham frock and tattered straw hat I wore.
Aunt Martha and Mary always tried to keep up with the latest fashions by ripping and sewing old dresses—garments beyond repair became an extra flounce or two, and the nicer threads unwoven and made into lace collars or cuffs. I hadn’t ever been allowed time for such frivolous activities, so I made myself content with proper skirt length and suitable patches for worn elbows.
Content, until I gazed upon the ladies of London in all their finery. Aunt Martha would say those folks sinned by squandering their money in such a way.
For about the tenth time, I imagined my aunt’s kitchen minus its scullery maid and target for hurled objects. I choked back a giggle for what must have been the fifth time that morning. My days of being a slave were over, for I had been offered employment.
Fingers trembling, I stood and wrapped my thin shawl tight around my shoulders, clutched my bundle closer, and walked the train’s narrow aisle. I stepped onto the platform and peered around the sea of faces for Joanna Telford.
I had never met my cousin from London. Until a few weeks earlier, I wasn’t even aware I had family beyond Uncle Edward and Aunt Martha. Mrs. Telford wrote to tell me she and her husband were in need of a nanny and governess for their two young sons, and being the merciful guardian he was, Uncle Edward decided to send me away from his wife.
Without her knowing.
Another smile lifted my lips, and I shifted on my feet, moving my tied bundle from one hand to the other. I grimaced as a whiff of body odour rose. Aunt Martha allowed me to bathe once a week, which would have been on the morrow, but asking to do so early certainly would have aroused suspicion. Sneaking away from her house before sunrise as I did would never have occurred with success.
No one spared the poor farm girl a second glance, and insides buzzing like a honey bee, I stood unmoving, a white-knuckled grip on my worldly possessions.
Minutes moved passed slower than a lazy stream and the surrounding crowd began to disperse. I waited. Despair crept closer with every passing heartbeat.
A stooped man in black livery made eye contact with me, and a pleasant smile lit his face as he started my way.
“Miss Tearle?” His voice rasped like a rusty barn door hinge.
“Yes. I am Anne Tearle.” I was grateful to my aunt for one thing. My accent matched almost perfectly with those buzzing around me. Aunt Martha's hatred of the Black Country we lived in and the cane across the back of my legs every time I slipped into the bouncing regional lilt had eradicated all but the barest traces of it.
The elderly gentleman removed his hat, tucked it under one arm, and dipped his head. "Welcome to London, missy.” His smile widened and the skin around his watery blue eyes crinkled. “I’m the Telfords’ coachman, Emanuel. The missus has sent me to collect you.” 

About the Author

Terri started writing stories in the 8th grade, when a little gnome whispered in her brain. Gundi’s Great Adventure never hit the best seller list, but it started a long love affair with storytelling.
Today she enjoys an escape to Middle Earth during the rare ‘me’ moments her three young children allow. When not playing toys, picking them back up, or kissing boo-boos, she can be found sprawled on the couch with a book or pencil in hand, and toothpicks propping her eyelids open.

Website Blog Facebook Twitter Goodreads

Book Blitz and Tour-wide Giveaway
Signed paperback copy of Love's Sorrow, 
$10 Amazon gift card, & swag package.
Ends 5/16/2014
Tour Schedule
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code.  No purchase necessary, but you must be 18 or older to enter. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter, and announced on the widget. Winner well be notified by emailed and have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. The number of entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Roane Publishing's marketing department.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Book Blitz / Giveaway: Meeting Mr. Wright

Today I'm excited to be part of the book blitz for Meeting Mr. Wright, a romance novel by Cassie Cross. The cover is gorgeous, and the plot sounds really interesting; I'll be looking forward to reading this one! Don't forget to enter the giveaway to win a $50 Amazon gift card! Each individual blog taking part in the blitz also has one copy of the e-book to give away, so let me know in the comments if you're interested!

Meeting Mr. Wright by Cassie Cross
Publication date: April 17th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance

Callie Kirkpatrick promised herself she’d never fall in love again.
After catching her boyfriend Ethan cheating on her, Callie decides to retire from the dating game at the ripe
old age of twenty-four. Unfortunately for Callie, she’s going to have to see Ethan at her best friend’s upcoming wedding. Stranded in the airport during a weather delay on her way to the nuptials, Callie meets Nate Wright. He’s sexy and uncomplicated, and a one-night stand is just what the doctor ordered for a girl with a broken heart. Callie thinks she’ll never see Nate again —until he shows up at the wedding.
Nate is hell-bent on making Callie forget about her ex, and he makes her question whether she was ever really in love with Ethan at all. As she begins to fall for Nate, Callie wonders if promises were meant to be broken…

View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon

“He really did a number on you, didn’t he?” Nate says, not even trying to hide his anger. “You’re still torn up over it.” And the way the words come out, they’re a statement of fact. I have to set the record straight.
“I’m not torn up over it,” I tell him, looking him right in the eyes. And that’s the truth. I mean, it’s part of the truth, but things aren’t that simple.
“I’m not. See, the thing is that I thought this would be us, you know? Me and Ethan getting married. Having a wedding, spending the rest of our lives together. I thought that’s where we were headed. I let myself believe I had forever with him, and then I came home and found him in bed with another woman. In our bed. And I just…I couldn’t believe it.”
“Cheating isn’t usually about the sex,” he says, like that matters at all.
“That doesn’t make it any better, Nate. That makes it worse.”
He nods, looking down, and I’m not sure if he doesn’t say anything because he wants me to keep going or because he just doesn’t know what else to say. There’s a part of me that’s ready to say this, to admit it out loud, and I want to admit it to him.
“Six months later, it’s not the sex that bothers me. Well, not really. It’s that I never thought he could do something like that to me. I didn’t think he was even capable of it. I was supposed to be the person who knew him better than anyone else, and I wonder how deep would I have gotten before I found out? Would we have gotten married? Would we have had children? How long would it have taken me to figure out that I didn’t know him at all? That’s what scares the hell out of me. So it’s not about him, you know? It’s about me. I don’t trust myself to know who it’s safe to give my heart to.”
Nate takes a deep breath, and his face is so full of understanding that I could cry. He reaches up and pushes a strand of hair behind my ear, and his expression is so tender that I can’t help but press my cheek into the palm of his hand and close my eyes. He makes me feel safe, and I don’t know if it’s right, but I want to allow myself the comfort that he offers, even though that’s so dangerous. It would be so easy for me to let myself fall in love with him. So easy to let him in. So easy for him to break my heart.
Nate’s hand slides down the side of my neck, and he traces the strap of my swimsuit with his fingertip. I can feel the trail of heat his touch leaves all the way down in my toes. “You won’t ever know who it’s safe to give your heart to. Falling in love is a risk.”
I laugh bitterly. “I think it’s well documented that I’m not much of a risk taker.”
He smiles, putting his hand back on the edge of the pool. “Not every guy is like Ethan.”
I know he’s dying to tell me that he isn’t like Ethan, but he doesn’t do that. I don’t know why his silence makes me believe him more than his words ever could, but everything in my brain is just a big swirl of confusion right now.
“But some guys are, Nate. How will I know the difference?”
He waits for me to look into his eyes before he speaks. “You’ll feel it.”

About the Author:
Cassie Cross is a Maryland native and a romantic at heart, who lives outside of Baltimore with her two dogs and a closet full of shoes. Cassie's fondness for swoon-worthy men and strong women are the inspiration for most of her stories, and when she's not busy writing a book, you'll probably find her eating takeout and indulging in her love of 80′s sitcoms.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Bookish Things That I'd Like to Own - Peter Pan edition.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week's theme is bookish things that I'd like to own. I was searching for inspiration for this week's list when I came across this T-Shirt in Primark this afternoon. It
set me on an online hunt for more amazing Peter Pan themed goodies that I didn't even know I wanted until I saw them. I'm going through a bit of a Peter Pan phase in my life right now, I've graduated from university and grown up life is fast approaching.. but what I'd give just to be able to fly off to Neverland instead!

So without further ado, here is my list of bookish things that I would LOVE to own, Peter Pan style:

1) The first thing on my list was always going to be a Spineless Classic. For those of you who haven't heard of them they are essentially an entire book condensed into a work of art. There's hundreds to choose from and they're all amazing, but my top three are Murder on the Orient Express, Pride and Prejudice and, of course, Peter Pan. Ideally every room in my house will have one of these one day, that's wishful thinking for you!

"Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have everything in life if you will sacrifice everything for it."

2) Possibly the coolest chandelier ever? (Source)

"Odd things happen to all of us on our way through life with out our noticing for a time that they have happened."

 3) I need this watch in my life. (Source)

"All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust."

4) And this gorgeous necklace. (Source)

"When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies."

5) It may be more Disney than Barrie, but I love this wall art too:  (Source) 

'"You just think lovely wonderful thoughts," Peter  explained, "and they lift you up in the air."'

6) Anything with this silhouette on. Necklace, wall stickers, literally anything. If I was ever to get a tattoo (never gonna happen, I'm too much of a wimp!) this is what I'd get. (Source)

"Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

7) These shoes, because wow. (Source)

"Wendy," Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, "Wendy one girl is more use than twenty boys."'

8) This bracelet. (Source)

 '"Would you like an adventure now," he said casually to John, "or would you like to have your tea first?"'

9) More jewellery because it's so gorgeous. And because matching necklaces are adorable. (Source)

"She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly."
10) And finally, to bring things back to a more bookish note, this is a dictionary print! I love it, and it's actually not that pricey either so I might have to get myself one... if you like the idea there's loads of other designs to choose from on the Etsy store too! (Source)

"All children, except one, grow up."

And as a extra to go with my theme this week, I found this over on Buzzfeed: A Peter Pan themed wedding! Amazing! Take note future husband!

What's on your lists this week?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Angel of the Opera by Sam Siciliano

The premise of this book is as simple as it sounds: Sherlock Holmes is summoned to Paris to investigate the mystery of The Angel of the Opera (or The Phantom, if you prefer). I was immediately drawn to it as it is a clash of two of my favourite literary characters, and I was eager to see how Siciliano would tackle such a feud.

The first thing to say, or rather warn, about this novel is that there is no Doctor Watson. Instead the story is narrated by a Doctor Henry Vernier, Holmes' French cousin. Unsurprisingly, this affected the story and it just didn't have the same dynamic without John - Henry performed the same function but something just felt missing. Henry's dismissal of Watson's writings as full of inaccuracies also does little to warm the reader to him. As for The Phantom I liked the fact that Holmes took his side, after all they are both outsiders, and you see more and more similarities between them as the book progresses. Including most of the characters from the Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera novel was a nice touch too.

I've been hit and miss lately with Sherlock Holmes stories by different authors; I loved Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk (and today found out that he's writing another Holmes novel, Moriarty, due out in October - yippee!) but I gave up on an anthology of Holmes stories by various authors as I just couldn't get into them. The Angel of the Opera falls somewhere in between; I love the subject matter but it isn't compelling to read and it took me a fair few weeks to get through as it got cast aside in favour of more interesting reads.

3/5 stars: If you like your Sherlock Holmes stories to be loyal to the canon then this book is definitely not for you (but I would seriously recommend that you check out The House of Silk instead!) An interesting concept that falls a little flat in its execution.

Any new Sherlock Holmes novels that you would recommend?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Unique Books I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week, the theme is Most Unique books I've read. I found this list tricky to come up with, as most books are unique in their own way, give or take a cliché or two. Nevertheless, these few books stand out above the rest:

1) The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Such a unique spin of the idea of time travel, I couldn't put this book down! (See here for my review)

2) The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
This little gem seems to be featuring on all of my lists lately but it really is something special!

3) Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Because who can say that Wonderland isn't unique! That, plus the mixture of poetry and nonsense that leaves the reader as perplexed as Alice herself makes for a one of a kind read.

4) Dracula - Bram Stoker
The book that launched a thousand vampires. I've lived near Whitby my entire life, but only had the guts to read Dracula last year. Really not my thing, but unique nonetheless.

5) Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
One of my all time favourite classic books. Gothic fiction meets period romance plot, and it works amazingly well.

6) Peter Pan - J.M Barrie
Neverland will forever be my favourite fictional world, and this is the book that started it all.

7) Macbeth - William Shakespeare
Acting out the witches' scenes during Year 9 English classes is a memory that still haunts me. It's odd, it's creepy, it's one of a kind.

8) Regeneration - Pat Barker
Another one read at school that has stuck with me. A haunting fictional look at the poets of the First World War.

9) Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding
I've yet to read the latest instalment (I'm still too angry from the spoilers!), but the original is witty, innovative and so relatable. I can totally see myself being a Bridget in ten years!

10) Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
A unique setting and an addictive story, such a brilliant book! (See here for my review)

How about you? What are the most unique books you've read?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Review: Park Lane by Frances Osborne

'To be fascinating, Bea thinks, a woman has to have secrets.'

The novel focuses on the stories of two characters who reside at Park Lane in London, Beatrice and Grace. Lady Beatrice is a privileged young woman who yearns for escape from the tiresome social conventions imposed upon her by her class. Under the influence of her aunt she joins the suffragette movement, becoming enraptured by Emmeline Pankhurst and acquainted with a man her family most certainly would not approve of. Grace is a maid at Park Lane, although she tells her family that she is a secretary. As the First World War breaks their secrets become inconsequential, and their stories collide in a way that no one could ever have imagined.

It took me a long time to get into this book, and I very nearly gave up many times. The narrative voice is written in third person present tense, and reads like a constant stream of the protagonists' thoughts, both of which take some getting used to. In the early chapters the plot flits too quickly between the two stories, and you find yourself just getting to grips with events when the viewpoint switches. I found Beatrice's story much more interesting, and so was glad to discover that the majority of the later chapters were focused on her.

It had the potential to be a gripping novel, yet it was the premise of the plot, rather than what was actually happening, that encouraged me to read on. Once Beatrice joins the suffragettes the story starts to get going, and her time spent as an ambulance driver in the war is an interesting read. As a character I liked Beatrice's independence, and her refusal to be patronised because of her gender. Grace, however, I found a bit irritating; she was incredibly passive and timid, purposely the polar opposite to Bea I suppose. I couldn't understand her reasoning behind some of her actions - and there is one pivotal moment in the novel that I certainly didn't see coming!

I wasn't particularly fond of the ending either; realistically things ended the way that they should have, but I couldn't help but want a bit more from the final chapter.

Park Lane is likened on the cover to Downton Abbey, and for me this is where the book fails. Too much time at the beginning of the novel was spent trying to imitate the series and appeal to the fans when it should have just told its own story. A review on the back cover also states that Park Lane has 'echoes of Edith Wharton,' but aside from the aspirations of Beatrice I don't see any likeness.

This is Frances Osborne's first novel, and to take on the Downton fan base with a novel written in a very unusual style was a brave move on her part. The novel takes a long time to get going, but once it does it becomes engaging, and Frances' research into the period comes to the fore through her evocative descriptions.

3/5 stars: Less Downton Abbey and more a First World War version of Upstairs Downstairs, Park Lane is a fascinating insight into both the suffragette movement and the role of women during the war.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Top Ten "Gateway" Books/Authors In My Reading Journey

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week the theme is Top Ten Gateway Books. I really loved this topic as it made me look back over my relationship with reading, from learning to read to studying English Literature at university. Reading has always been an important part of my life, and on reflection there are a number of books that mark turning points in my reading journey. 

1) Roger Red Hat - Sheila K. McCullagh
The first point in any reader's journey is learning to read at school. I learnt with what Google tells me were called the One Two Three and Away collection of reading books, but I've always known them as Roger Red Hat, Billy Blue Hat, Jennifer Yellow Hat etc.  I remember around ten years ago a friend whose mum used to be a teacher found the books in her attic and we re-read them all in an afternoon.

2) The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle - Beatrix Potter
A childhood staple. Family visits to the Lake District, The World of Beatrix Potter on Lake Windemere and to Potter's home at Hilltop essentially drilled the Peter Rabbit books into my conscience. I credit these books with turning me into the animal lover that I am today.

3) Five on a Secret Trail - Enid Blyton
My mum read the Famous Five books to me until I was old enough to read them myself, and one of my earliest memories of reading is staying up way past my bedtime reading Five on a Secret Trail. I also loved the Secret Seven and the Five Find Outers (which no one else seems to remember but me).

4) Lexy Boyd and the Spadewell Sparklers - Michael Coleman
A little known title. I read this countless times from my local library as a child, and the name has stuck with me for at least 10 years so it must have had some kind of impact!

5) Stormbreaker - Anthony Horowitz
The Alex Rider series of books led me away from Jacqueline Wilson and 'girly' fiction. They made me realise that books aimed at boys were actually very good, and very likely fueled my love for all things James Bond.

6) Lord of the Flies- William Golding
An iconic novel in any UK reader's life has to be the dreaded book that you study for your GSCEs. Generally it is (or at least used to be) one of three titles: To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men or Lord of the Flies, and my teacher chose the latter. Safe to say that I didn't particularly like it; I left my copy of the book in the exam hall and never looked back! Thinking back on it now though, I realise what a unique book it actually is.

7) The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
This little gem completely changed my attitude towards American fiction. We studied it at A-Level, and I wasn't expecting to like it, I naively thought that all of the best 'classic' books were British. I read it in a day, completely stunned by what I was reading, and it broadened my horizons in terms of literature for good. I even jumped at the chance to study it again at university, alongside other works by Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton, and since then I have had an obsession with the Jazz Age and all literature written/set in the 1920s. This is how a book can change a life.

8) Lords of the White Castle - Elizabeth Chadwick
I have always been a lover of history but not necessarily historical fiction. Elizabeth Chadwick changed all that. I picked up Lords of the White Castle on a whim in my local library one day and I absolutely loved it. Since then I have read pretty much every one of her books, and I've got my mum back into reading historical fiction too (she gave it up when I was born in favour of more 'gentle' easy reading books). A triumph all round.

9) Peter Pan- J.M. Barrie
I've always loved the concept of Neverland and the film versions of the story, but I had never read the book until university. It was a lot darker than I was expecting which surprised me and made me view children's fiction in an entirely new way. I want to work in children's fiction because of this book.

10) Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
I like to think that this book got me my first class degree. I'm not  really a fan of Hardy, but given the choice between him and Shakespeare in my final year I hoped that I'd chosen the easier option. By the end of the year I was borderline first but needed one good final essay to seal the deal. Then along came Tess. I had seen and loved TV adaptations of the book before, but as usual I discovered that nothing can compare to the novel itself, and I found writing about it relatively easy (call me a nerd but I love researching and writing about books that I care about).

How about you? Are there any significant books in your reading journey? Feel free to leave a link to your list in the comments! :)