Sunday, 3 November 2019

Teenage Favourites of the Past: Making Out series by Katherine Applegate

I thought it would be fun to look back on and revisit some of the book series that I was obsessed with when I was a teenager. The books that I collected and read often featured the things that I was interested in at the time (cue ballet, horses and boys) and looking back, I can see how they tracked the different stages I went through growing up. I still have many of these books on my shelves now, although sadly, some have disappeared over the years to make way for others.

The first series that I'm going to feature is the Making Out series by Katherine Applegate which was published in 1995 onwards. Now when these first came out, they published one book a month. I can remember going into my local bookshop at the start of every month (and often sending my Mum) to buy the latest release. I was absolutely obsessed with these! There were 28 books in the series and I'm lucky enough to still have the complete set, which one of these days I will reread in full. I actually only recently discovered that Katherine Applegate only wrote the first 8 books in the series and the rest were written by a ghost-writer. I didn't notice any difference in writing style at all at the time.  
The series followed the lives of a group of teenagers living on Chatham Island off the coast of Maine. They are in their last year of high school before they begin College and take the ferry to school each day. I loved the setting of the books and from then on, I always pictured myself living within a close-knit community on a small island. It seemed so idyllic at the time.
The main character was called Zoey and much of the series centred around her on and off again relationship with a boy called Lucas. They were hands down my favourite couple and I rooted for them from the very beginning. Zoey was the epitome of everything that I thought I wanted to be. She was smart, funny, beautiful, obsessed with writing down quotes about life and love and kind to everyone around her. She seemed to have it all, although she does go through some pretty big stuff in the series.
There's also Nina who is Zoey's best friend. She always has a smart and witty retort ready and although she seems pretty tough on the outside, she's really quite insecure and vulnerable when you get past her defences. Nina has a thing for Zoey's brother Ben, although he's initially dating Claire, Nina's older sister.
You might be detecting a trend here! Everyone dates everyone else at one point or another. But hey, it's a small island!
Claire is super obsessed with the weather and can often be found on her widow's walk. She comes across as quite the Ice Queen and I can remember not always liking her very much.
Boy wise, as well as Ben who's blind and super hot bad boy Lucas, there's also local boy Jake. He and Zoey are a couple at the beginning of the series but it was always obvious to me that she should end up with Lucas instead.
Later on in the series, new characters are introduced including Kate, Aisha, Aaron and Christopher. Oh and bad girl Lara who I definitely did not like at all but had four books dedicated to her.   
The series actually dealt with some quite hard-hitting topics such as death, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse and the ups and downs of first love. It wasn't always happy sailing on Chatham Island.
This was (and actually still is) one of my favourite young-adult series. I believe the books have all gone out of print now but if you can get hold of it, then I would still heartily recommend it.  
Here's the complete list of books in the series:  

  1. Zoey Fools Around
2. Jake Finds Out
3. Nina Won't Tell
4. Ben's In Love
5. Claire Gets Caught
6. What Zoey Saw
7. Lucas Gets Hurt
8. Aisha Goes Wild
9. Zoey Plays Games
10. Nina Shapes Up
11. Ben Takes a Chance
12. Claire Can't Lose
13. Don't Tell Zoey
14. Aaron Lets Go
15. Who Loves Kate?
16. Lara Gets Even
17. Two-Timing Aisha
18. Zoey Speaks Out
19. Kate Finds Love
20. Never Trust Lara
21. Trouble with Aaron
22. Always Loving Zoey
23. Lara Gets Lucky
24. Now Zoey's Alone
25. Don't Forget Lara
26. Zoey's Broken Heart
27. Falling for Claire
28. Zoey Comes Home
Have you read the series? If so, I'd love to know what you thought of it? Who was your favourite character?

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Blog tour: Thirty by Christina Bradley

Publisher: Headline
Published: 22nd August 2019

Bella Edwards is a hot mess.

Days away from turning thirty, single, struggling to reconcile where she is with where she imagined she'd be by this point in her life, Bella has come to believe her entire future happiness is based on meeting 'The One'.

After an unfortunate encounter with a fortune teller, where it seems Bella's single fate is sealed, she hops on a plane from London to New York to seek the wisdom of her best friend who, in turn, presents Bella with a challenge: thirty dates in thirty days before Bella turns thirty.

Challenge accepted, Bella embarks on a crazy road trip across America to San Francisco, with one clear objective: to find 'The One' and prove the fortune teller wrong. What ensues is a raucous adventure of dating, love, and - most importantly - self-discovery.

'Thirty' by Christine Bradley is a fun, contemporary romance with moments of comedy that often had me giggling out loud. A thoroughly enjoyable read, this is the perfect book to put a smile on your face.

The story follows nearly-thirty singleton Bella who one day realises that she is isn't living the life she always dreamt of. She hasn't found 'The One', all her friends are getting married and settling down and she feels left behind. After an encounter with a fortune-teller, Bella decides that she is going to fly to New York to see her best friend and that is when the fun really begins. She has a new mission: thirty days in thirty days before she hits 30.

Bella is such a funny, crazy heroine and she carried the story brilliantly. I really warmed to her as I got further into the story and I couldn't believe some of the things that happened to her. Each one of her dates is recounted in a letter to her friend Esther which means she is extremely honest about her experiences (some good and some truly awful). But I loved the way she began to throw herself into the challenge. I really did laugh out loud (and cringe) at some of the dates she ends up going on and they were great fun to read about.

Bella meets all sorts of men on her journey, exploring romance in many different forms but more importantly she learns about herself and what she truly wants. She finally embraces the single life and has time to explore her own passions and the things that make her happy. She is such a wonderfully well written character that you can't help but cheer for her as she gets herself into some hilarious situations.  

I absolutely adored the fact that the story was set in America and that Bella gets to visit my favourite city, New York. She also goes on an epic US road trip, travelling to many of the states that are on my travel bucket list. This was the perfect setting for the story and meant that I enjoyed reading it even more than I was expecting to.

If you love rom-coms then this is definitely the book for you. Funny, witty and warm-hearted, I can promise that 'Thirty' will not disappoint.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Review: Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 4th July 2019

In grey, 1930s England, Bea has grown up kicking against the conventions of the time, all the while knowing that she will one day have to marry someone her parents choose - someone rich enough to keep the family estate alive. But she longs for so much more - for adventure, excitement, travel, and maybe even romance.

When she gets the chance to spend the summer in Italy with her bohemian uncle and his fiancée, a whole world is opened up to Bea - a world that includes Ben, a cocky young artist who just happens to be infuriatingly handsome too. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set: can Bea and Ben put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance?

With their new friends gleefully setting the rules for their fling, Bea and Ben can agree on one thing at least: they absolutely, positively will not, cannot fall in love...

One of my biggest passions is Shakespeare. I studied many of his plays as part of my Literature degree, I have rows and rows of books about him and his works and I'm a long-time member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's a lifelong dream to see all of his plays performed on the stage. I've also seen every film adaptation I've ever been able to get my hands on and read every retelling that I've ever heard about.

My three favourite plays are 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Hamlet' and 'Much Ado About Nothing', so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that Laura Woods was writing a prequel to 'Much Ado'. The story explores the period of time when Beatrice and Benedick first meet in sunny Italy. It's 1933, Bea is abroad without her parents for the first time and sent to stay with her Uncle Leo and Cousin Hero. It's set to be the perfect summer with the opportunity for Bea to explore who she is outside of the confines of Langton Hall and to escape the expectations of her parents who want her to settle down and marry. Bea is a dream character. I loved her from the moment she was first introduced. She is extremely quick and witty, she is warm and open and engages easily with everyone around her and she has a passion for science and natural history which is quite infectious. Laura Wood took all the traits which make Shakespeare's Beatrice such a popular character and developed them in such a way that I felt I was getting to know her afresh and adored her even more than I did already.

As anyone who has read the play or seen the iconic film version with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson will know, sparks fly between Beatrice and Benedick. It was so interesting to see their early relationship explored and to literally feel the crackle of electricity between the two of them. Ben is some what of a ladies man. Gifted with good looks and charm, he is used to the opposite sex falling for him. His first meeting with Bea is one of my favourite parts of the book, as she, quite literally, is the one to knock him off his feet for a change. The romance that develops between them is perfectly written. It's slow burning, tender and very, very real. It's not all smooth sailing and they share a good deal of lively banter but there is also great depth to their feelings and they open up to each other in a way that neither has ever done before.

I loved everything about the pairing of Bea and Ben which isn't always perfect but they fit together in a such a way that just feels right.

There are some other interesting characters in the book, including writer Ursula and her brother Klaus, Uncle Leo's fiancée Filomena and Lili and Gert, who are part of Ben's family. Each in their own way, teaches Bea something that helps to shape her as a person and opens the way for her to explore a new future of her own choosing.

'Under a Dancing Star' was a glorious book which I will definitely be re-reading many times over. The magical setting of 1930's Italy at the Villa Di Stelle, the heady heat and freedom of the summer, and the swoony romance between Bea and Ben which left me wanting to see so much more of the two of them. This is a dream of a story which is my absolute favourite ever take on a Shakespeare play. Congratulations Laura Wood. You nailed it. 

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Blog tour: Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner

Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for Sally Gardner's latest book, 'Invisible in a Bright Light'. This is Sally's eagerly-anticipated return to middle grade, 14 years since the award-winning 'I, Coriander'. She is back with 'a pitch-perfect story about a crystal chandelier that splinters into a thousand pieces, a girl abandoned as a baby on the steps of an opera house and a dangerous game called the Reckoning.'

Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 17th October 2019

It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles.

Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else.

When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste's past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.  

'Invisible in a Bright Light' by Sally Gardner is a beautifully packaged hardback, enticingly designed with colourful eye-catching images, flecked with touches of gold. It's a lovely book to hold in your hands and would make an even better present to give to someone.

I'm a big fan of Sally's writing and I was very excited about her latest middle-grade offering. The opening foreword made me think of The Phantom of the Opera with an incredible chandelier, situated in an Opera House and hints at fairy tales and enchantments. I thought the first chapter was extremely captivating and definitely made me want to delve deeper into the book. It features a young girl called Celeste who is playing a game with a strange man in an emerald suit, only she doesn't know any of the rules or how to play. Although I was puzzled about the rows of people who are being kept in a cave deep under the sea, I was also intrigued and fascinated. I wanted to know more which is always the best way to start reading a book.

Celeste wakes up to find herself in the Royal Opera House where everyone she encounters seems to think she is someone else. She has vague and hazy memories of a different life, where she is happy and free but nothing really seems to make sense to her. That is almost how it feels to the reader too. I know I was a little confused at times and felt like some things were a bit foggy but this was actually  a good thing because it made me sympathise and identify more with Celeste and her struggle to find out the truth about who she is and what has happened to her.   

As the plot unfolds, there are some wonderfully colourful characters in the book to enjoy meeting and lots of secrets to uncover. I loved the sense of magic and wonder that is woven throughout and the sense that nothing is beyond the realms of possibility. There really is so much to enjoy in 'Invisible in a Bright Light' and this is a story that I think will appeal to both middle-grade, as well as older readers.

You can never go wrong with a Sally Gardner book and this was a real treat to read from start to finish.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Review: October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson

Publisher: Scribe
Published: 8th June 2017


Vega Gillberg is 16 years old when the police come knocking on the door looking for her older brother, Jakob. Vega hasn’t heard from him in days, but she has to find him before the police do. Jakob was involved in a terrible crime. What no one knows is that Vega was there, too.

In the rural Swedish community where the Gillbergs live, life is tough, the people are even tougher, and old feuds never die. As Vega sets out to find her brother, she must survive a series of threatening encounters in a deadly landscape. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s dealing with the longing she feels for a boy that she has sworn to forget, and the mixed-up feelings she has for her brother’s best friend.

During a damp, raw week in October, the door to the adult world swings open, and Vega realises that once she has crossed the threshold there is no turning back.

This book is translated from the Swedish original text by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Reading it felt like delving into a short crime novella with an intriguing mystery to solve which lay at the heart of the story. It is set in a small rural Swedish community where everyone knows everyone. This creates a suffocating and stifling atmosphere. People have secrets but these secrets are hard to keep hidden. 

The main character, Vega Gillberg, is sixteen years old. At the beginning of the book she is being questioned by the police about the whereabouts of her older brother Jakob. As the plot begins to unfold, it’s clear that Vega knows that someone has committed a dreadful crime. However, she is not certain of who was involved and why, so she begins to try to connect all the dots. I enjoyed the air of mystery which the story stirred up and like Vega, I was kept guessing until the very end.     

What I did find hard about the book was that I didn’t particularly feel that any of the characters were very likeable. While I enjoyed following the threads of Vega’s quest to uncover the truth, I didn’t connect with her as the central character and so I struggled with some parts of the book which were quite introspective.  

Overall, I thought that ‘October is the Coldest Month’ was a chilling and atmospheric YA crime story. It spends time looking at the role of women and how they are treated by men. Vega has to deal with her feelings towards the men in her life: Uncle Dan, brother Jakob and local boy Tom. Many of the men in the novel are menacing and don’t always turn out to be how they first appear. This adds a nice air of danger to the story, as it’s hard to know who can be trusted.

Although this book wasn’t as good as some other YA crime novels that come to mind, it was still a quick and enjoyable read with an unexpected and surprising finale.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Blog tour: Hey, Sherlock! by Simon Mason

I'm hosting today's stop on the 'Hey, Sherlock!' blog tour. I'm delighted to have a fantastic guest post from author Simon Mason to share with you all. 

"In March 2012 I decided to try to write a crime novel featuring a teenager.

Why crime? Because of the interest: it’s obvious that human beings are deeply interested in wrong-doing. Also because of the story-telling: the best crime novels exemplify what I call ‘the ancient art of literary hypnosis’ – as practiced by other writers interested in crime such as Homer, Dostoevsky and Stephen King – that mesmerizing story-telling which will not let you go. I admire it very much, and I wanted to try it myself.

Why teenager? Of all the astonishing things in the world – the 2012 Olympics, say, or Triple Heart Bypass, the Chrysler Building or Trump – teenagers are the most astonishing. Human exploding devices bursting out into the world in great starbursts of attitude and inventiveness and fantasy and humour.

Why Garvie Smith? My mother, who is a therapist, would have something to say about the fact that a polite, unassuming, modest, conforming sort of person such as myself should have been drawn to the phenomenally lazy, spectacularly rude and often frankly infuriating Garvie Smith.

(Luckily she’s registered blind and hasn’t read the books.)

Actually, the idea for a super-bright, super-lazy, super-infuriating boy came from a friend of my son. I don’t mean he gave me the idea, I mean he was the idea. Between the ages of thirteen and nineteen he really did nothing at all. But he was probably the smartest person I’ve ever met.

It occurred to me that super-bright, super-lazy sixteen-year-old boys – the sort who can’t be arsed to do anything, who wag off school and slouch down to the kiddies playground to pass round a spiff and almost-empty half bottle of Glenn’s vodka – are very well represented in life but not in literature. They’re not great role models, it’ true. They’re anti-heroes.

But my hunch was that, actually, we relish anti-heroes – we positively cheer them on in their bad behaviour. Let’s face it: the word is full of stupid figures of authority, and who hasn’t wanted to tell them to their face that they’re stupid? Who hasn’t fantasised about just not bothering to do that interminably boring piece of work assigned to us some humourless superior? Who hasn’t wanted to tune out quite large parts of the world from time to time?

And I also had a hunch that if a very bright, very lazy boy got interested in something – a murder, for instance – he might just prove to be a little bit brilliant in working out what the police weren’t able to. Although he might arse it up completely for the official police effort, the case might get solved.

So Garvie Smith slouched into my imagination, and – upright, unbending, humourless – along came DI Raminder Singh too, the Sikh detective unfortunate enough to be the ‘official police effort’. Well, I feel sorry for him.

And in this way I arrived at my own variation on the classic detective duo (Holmes and Watson, Starsky and Hutch, Morse and Lewis): Garvie and Singh, a difficult teenager and an uptight Sikh.
What could possibly go wrong?"

Hey Sherlock blog tour banner

'Hey, Sherlock' is out now, published in the UK by David Fickling Books. Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the blog tour and come back soon to read my review of the book.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Review: Wonderland: An Anthology edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane

Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 17th September 2019

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland, in an anthology that bends the traditional notions of Lewis Carroll's classic novel.

So, it's time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or... But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you're already there, can't you see?

'Wonderland' is an anthology of short stories inspired by 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. I didn't need to know anything else about this book to know that I desperately wanted to read it. Although I'm not always a huge fan of short stories and I will always prefer to read a full-length novel, they were fun to dip in and out of and interesting to see the authors' takes on the original Alice.

The anthology blends together stories which fit into a myriad collection of genres, from horror to fantasy to historical. Some were much better than others but I always find with short stories that although you don't always connect with every single one, there's usually something for everyone.

There are some really great writers included in 'Wonderland' such as M.R. Carey, Mark Chadbourn, Genevieve Cogman, Jane Yolen, Juliet Marillier, Lilith Saintcrow, James Lovegrove and Catriona Ward. Each have given their own unique take on a different aspect of the classic novel.

My favourites were:

1. Wonders Never Cease by Robert Sherman
An intriguing take on how the Alice story never really ends. There's always a different Alice with a different ending, some happy, some sad.

2. Good Dog, Alice! by Juliet Marillier
I really loved this story. A blue door reveals a magical world that may provide a solution to Dorothea's problem. This one crept up on my slowly because initially you think it's going to be a sweet story about childhood with birthdays and puppies but then it morphs into something much darker and twisted.

3. About Time by George Mann
Lucy thinks that she is past childish pursuits, such as her adventures in Wonderland but when she visits to say goodbye, she finds an unexpected visitor. I thought this story was a brilliant twist on the age old terror of the monster hiding under the bed. The ending really made me smile.

4. The White Queen's Pawn by Genevieve Cogman
This is probably one of the shortest stories in the anthology but there is such a creepy feeling to it that it really got under my skin and I couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards. 

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Literary Landmarks: The Agatha Christie Mile

I love visiting literary landmarks and places that have inspired great writers so for my birthday this year, one of the things I did was walk the Agatha Christie mile at Torquay in South Devon. The map below can be picked up from the Tourist Information Bureau at the harbour in Torquay and provides you with a list of 12 landmarks you can spot along the way.

The Agatha Christie Literary Trail map
The Agatha Christie Literary Trail
Although I've been to Torquay many times before, I've never retraced the steps of the Queen of Crime, so it was exciting to see all the sites that Agatha would have visited when she was alive. 

Directly behind the Tourist Information Bureau is the bronze bust of Agatha Christie that was created to commemorate her centenary year in 1990. It's absolutely beautiful and was made by a Dutch sculptor called Carol Van Den Boom-Cairns.

Agatha Christie bust
Agatha Christie bust
Agatha Christie bust plaque
Plaque of statue unveiled in 1990
If you walk to the top of Beacon Hill and then go a little bit further on, the majestic Imperial Hotel stands just ahead of you. The hotel featured in 'Peril at End House' and 'Sleeping Murder' and was famously frequented by Agatha Christie herself. 

The Imperial Hotel at Torquay
The Imperial Hotel, built in 1866
On the way back down the hill, you pass the Royal Torbay Yacht Club, where Agatha's father Frederick Miller was a member.
You can also see some stunning views of Beacon Cove. In Agatha's day it was known as the Ladies Bathing Cove. She swam here frequently and once nearly drowned when she was 13.  

Beacon Cove at TorquayBeacon Cove at Torquay

Sadly the Pavilion is closed at the moment but this is the site of Agatha's engagement to her first husband Archie Christie.  
The Pavilion at Torquay
The Pavilion
As you stroll along the seafront, you can see the Princess Gardens which were featured in The ABC Murders. The Princess Theatre also hosts the official Agatha Christie Company tours each year.

It's also nice to walk to the end of the Princess Pier and back again. It was built in 1890 and was a favourite spot of Agatha's. She roller-skated on the Pier when she was a child.

The Princess Pier at Torquay
Princess Pier
As you walk back along the seafront to the train station, you pass The Grand Hotel. This was where Agatha had her honeymoon with Archie Christie on Christmas Eve 1914.

The Grand Hotel at Torquay
The Grand Hotel
There are a few other stops on the literary trail. You can visit Torquay's railway station, as well as the Torre Abbey gardens where there is an Agatha Christie Potent Plants Garden. I'm also hoping at some point to visit the Torquay Museum which is home to the Agatha Christie Gallery.

Have you walked the Agatha Christie Mile? If so, which landmarks did you enjoy seeing?

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Top 10 Agatha Christie books

2019 has been the year that I've discovered the genius and ingenuity of Agatha Christie, the undisputed Queen of Crime. I really don't know why it took me so long to actually pick up one of her books because I love whodunits and murder mysteries. Every year I watch the BBC TV Agatha Christie adaptations and last Christmas I also read 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton which was AMAZING. In the notes at the end of the book, he said that he had always wanted to write a mystery as clever as Agatha Christie, so I think that sparked my desire to read the original novels. I started with 'And Then There Were None' which I absolutely loved and then decided to make a list of all of Christie's books which I faithfully hunted for in the library every week (with the help of my Dad!)

I've had a wonderful time binging on all of her stories, as well as watching as many TV adaptations as I could and visiting some of the famous Agatha Christie literary landmarks. The books have given me hours and hours of pleasure and in the future I'm looking forward to rereading them all over again.

I thought I would compile a list of my top ten Agatha Christie books but it's been so hard to narrow it down. I keep on changing my mind! I'm sure everyone has a different selection of favourites but after lots and lots of thought, I'm going to share mine. This is in no particular order as that would have been impossible to do!

Poirot's very first case and one featuring a wealthy heiress, a murder and a locked room mystery. Hercule Poirot is at his detecting best in this ingenious story which is an absolute classic.
Roger Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study. Who could have done it? Wickedly clever! About two-thirds through I had a crazy suspicion about who the murderer was and it turned out to be right...which believe me, surprised me too as I never normally guess right. Even then, the ending was still gasp-worthy and audacious, making me want to go right back to the beginning to read the book again.
Another Poirot mystery featuring a family in a small English village where anyone could be the murderer. I was completely wrong-footed the whole way through and the story kept me on the edge of my seat.
Absolutely fantastic! A totally engrossing read with twists and turns at every corner. Definitely one of the best Agatha Christie books I’ve read. Several deaths, a murder or two to investigate and a whole host of intriguing suspects (including one that I really didn't want to be guilty!)
The patriarch of an affluent family is poisoned and found dead. Suspicion falls on his various family members, including his much younger widow, any one of whom could have wanted him dead. Agatha Christie said that this was one of her favourite books to write and it's not hard to see why.
Poirot's very last case where he returns to Styles with Hastings by his side. Even though Poirot is at the end of his illustrious career, he still has his 'grey cells' working and he's still cleverer than any other character I've ever come across. The great detective remains great until the very end.
When I started reading this book, I was surprised about the change of direction that Christie seemed to have gone in. A happy marriage between a wealthy heiress and the man she meets didn't seem like it would lead to death and destruction. However, the twist when it comes is diabolical. You have to just keep on reading.
The only Miss Marple mystery to make my top 10 but it's a good un'. When a murder is announced in the newspaper of the small town Chipping Cleghorn, it's handy that Miss Marple is around to help investigate. I made a guess early on about who I thought the murderer was and then was proven completely wrong when they turned up dead. Hmmm. I decided I didn't have a clue who was responsible for the crimes and so made an outlandish, wild guess and it turned out to be right!
All the key ingredients are there in this Poirot murder mystery aboard the famous Orient Express. After a man is found murdered on the train, the question is which of the passengers is the guilty party? Everyone seems to have an alibi and someone seems to want to pin the crime on Poirot himself. I loved everything about this book, including the fact that I didn't have a clue how the story was going to conclude.
A small island off the coast of Devon and ten strangers who end up stranded together with a murderer on the loose. This is classic Agatha Christie from start to finish. You won't be able to put it down.
So many wonderful books from one author! I love the fact that Agatha Christie wrote such a colossal number of novels and short stories because it's meant that I've been able to binge on and devour her entire back catalogue. I need recommendations now for other books in a similar style. I've read 'The Hunting Party' by Lucy Foley and 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton but if anyone knows of clever whodunits by other authors then please let me know.
Have you read any Agatha Christie books? If so, what are your favourites?

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Review: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 3rd May 2018

He is a broken, wild thing, his heart’s nature exposed by his beastly form. Long ago cursed with a wretched existence, the Beast prowls the dusty hallways of his ruined château with only magical, unseen servants to keep him company—until a weary traveler disturbs his isolation.

Bewitched by the man’s dreams of his beautiful daughter, the Beast devises a plan to lure her to the château. There, Isabeau courageously exchanges her father’s life for her own and agrees to remain with the Beast for a year. But even as their time together weaves its own spell, the Beast finds winning Isabeau’s love is only the first impossible step in breaking free from the curse . . .

This book first came to my attention a long time ago. The beautiful cover initially caught my eye, then I read the blurb and put it on my list of books that I had to read. It's taken me this long to get hold of a copy so I was extremely excited to stumble upon it in my local library.

It's no secret that I love fairy-tale retellings. I can't get enough of them. What was intriguing about 'The Beast's Heart' is that it takes the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast and retells it from the point of view of the Beast himself. So instead of the story being told by the female characters, events are shown through the eyes of the Beast, as he tries to break the curse set upon him.

All of the key and familiar elements of the story were present. A tired traveller arrives at the Beast's home and spends a single night under his roof, picking a beautiful rose before he leaves which he plans to give to his youngest daughter Isabeau. The Beast has dreamt about Isabeau and is desperate to meet her, so he fools the old man into sending him his daughter. In return, he will grant the old man his freedom. Isabeau duly arrives at the Chateau and recognising his loneliness, agrees to spend a year with the Beast. During that time, she is afforded every luxury, as magic weaves its way around their lives and the Beast tries to win her love to free himself of a fairy's curse.

The Beast is a character that I've always liked because although he at first seems monstrous to the eye, he actually has a heart of gold. He's consumed by his loneliness which makes him desperate for company and longing for love. Glimpses are shown of his past and hints given about the reason for his transformation but personally I would have liked to have found out more about his family history. Maybe a few occasional flashbacks to the events that led him to his present situation. I loved seeing him evolve though and learn to become less 'beast' and more 'man'.

One of my favourite things about the book, was the fact that not only do we get to see things through the eyes of the Beast, but we also get to watch Isabeau's family through the Beast's magic mirror. Her two sisters who have been left behind, initially seem rather lazy and discontented but Claude and Marie soon start to change their attitudes and turn their lives around - discovering just how satisfying it can be to learn to cook and keep house. In the process, they enjoy their own romances which develop throughout the course of the story.

I really enjoyed 'The Beast's Heart' but I might possibly have liked it more if I hadn't also recently read 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely' by Brigid Kemmerer (read my review here). The latter is one of my books of the year and was such a perfect retelling with a twist of Beauty and the Beast, that Liefe Shallcross's book paled a little in comparison. Saying that, you can never have enough interpretations of fairy-tales and this one was enchanting and magical, lulling me with a promise of happy ever after.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Review: American Royals by Katharine McGee

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 5th September 2019

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren't just any royals. They're American. And their country was born of rebellion.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America's first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she's breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn't care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there's Samantha's twin, Prince Jefferson. If he'd been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

This was a fantastic read. It is an imagining of what America would be like today if instead of being President, George Washington had been made King. His descendants would therefore be sat on the throne today. It is a book that will appeal to you if you're Royal Family obsessed, can't stop reading all the news about Harry and Megan or even just love scandal, romance, gossip and a touch of intrigue. 'American Royals' has it all.

The story centres around the Washingtons - Princess Beatrice, the heir to the throne, Princess Samantha, the spare and the wild child and her twin brother Prince Jefferson. The book focuses on telling the story from the female characters point of view, so there is also Daphne Deighton who wants to finally win Jefferson's heart and climb back into the court's favour, as well as Nina - a commoner who has grown up with the Royal Family but never quite felt like she fit in.

My favourite character in the book was Beatrice and her struggle to reconcile what she truly wants with the needs of the Crown. She has a pre-destined role to play that she has been groomed for since she was young. She has to make a lot of sacrifices along the way and often struggles between her head and her heart. I enjoyed seeing her start to grow in self-confidence and exert herself more as she carries a lot of pressure and expectation on her shoulders. As well as Beatrice, Nina was an intriguing character because she is on such familiar terms with the Washingtons but at the same time, always feels like she's on the fringes. It was interesting to see how her involvement with them had an impact on other areas of her life and how she isn't entitled to the same level of protection from the eye of the media.

I enjoyed this book so much. Light, fun and a real pleasure to read. I actually thought it was a standalone but the way that it ends leaves a lot of things unresolved, so I sincerely hope that there is more to come.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Review: Unleashed by Amy McCulloch

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 22nd August 2019

When Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital room with no recollection of how she got there, she knows something is up. But with her customizable smart pet, Jinx, missing in action and Moncha, the company behind the invention of the robot pet, up to something seriously sinister, she’s got a lot of figuring out to do. Lacey must use all her engineering skills if she has a chance of stopping Moncha from carrying out their plans. But can she take on the biggest tech company in North America armed with only a level 1 robot beetle...?

'Unleashed' is the second part of Amy McCulloch's brilliant duology which began last year with 'Jinxed'. I was very excited to read this and I wasn't disappointed! It was great to return to the world of Monchaville and to see all my favourite characters again.

If you haven't yet read 'Jinxed' then I would strongly suggest doing so before starting this one. Everything will make a lot more sense to you in terms of the futuristic setting. Basically, society has now evolved to the point that instead of smart phones, everyone has a baku. This is essentially an innovative smart device which is leashed to its owner and comes in the form of different animals. A basic level 1 baku will typically be an insect such as a beetle or a butterfly, a level 2 baku could be a dormouse and they get increasingly more sophisticated in size and technology as the levels go up. The Bakus are designed to make life easier for their owners and so are able to screen messages, display maps, provide entertainment and communication and basically see to their owners every need. I actually think they sound incredible, although it's slightly scary to think that we might not be as far from this kind of technology becoming real as we first assume.

The story picks up a month on from where the previous book left off. The main character Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital bed with no idea of how she got there or what happened to her. The only thing she does know is that her scarab beetle Slick is acting suspiciously and Jinx is missing. It's a good thing that she has Team Tobias by her side to help work out what's going on. Not everything in Monchaville is as it seems and as Lacey and co begin to connect the dots, it seems that something sinister is brewing behind the scenes.

I love the fact that McCulloch depicts a strong female protagonist with seriously good STEM skills. Lacey is an incredible engineer and her ingenuity and tech know-how ultimately help to save the day. This is an area in which teenagers really are the future as they innovate, design and develop some amazing new technology that we may well be using sooner than we think.

Lacey is on a crusade to figure out what is really going on with Moncha Corp and why they are so desperate to get their hands on Jinx. I really enjoyed seeing her and Team Tobias work together to investigate Moncha and the disappearance of their founder Monica Chan. They work like a well-oiled machine and there is no doubt that they have each other's backs. It was great to see more of Lacey's friend Zora in the book too as she has some wicked coding skills.

'Unleashed' unfolds at a fast and furious pace which I think is probably slightly due to the fact that this is a duology and not a trilogy. There's no slow middle book to get in the way, just a whole lot of action and excitement to keep the reader immersed in the story. There are lots of shocks and surprises along the way and I was often on the edge of my seat. I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen to Lacey, her friends and family and I was hooked until the very last page.

Only problem now is that I really want a baku of my own!  

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Review: See All The Stars by Kit Frick

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 22nd August 2019

Then: They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. (Venus. Earth. Moon. Sun.) Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

Now: Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

Then: Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

Now: Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

See All The Stars by Kit Frick book cover
After finishing this book, I felt like shouting from the rooftops that everyone else should read it too. It's really that good. I was glued to the story from start to finish and majorly impressed to discover that this is Kit Frick's debut novel. Holy moly! The story is wonderfully depicted and Frick's writing is gorgeous. I absolutely loved it.
'See All The Stars' is a YA contemporary thriller that keeps you guessing as you're teased about something that's happened to change the main character Ellory's whole existence. Once she was part of a group of four friends who did everything together, told each other everything and were as tight and unbreakable as friends could be. They all gravitated around Ret, the ringleader of their little group and Ellory's best friend. But that was Then. When they enjoyed lazy summer days, flirtations with boys and the heady beginnings of love.
The story switches backwards and forwards between Then and Now. Ellory has been away from school for two months and is finally returning to Pine Brook for her senior year. No longer friends with the other girls, she is a loner who only wants to finish the school year and move on to whatever the future has in store for her. There are hints that something terrible has happened. Something that Ellory is still consumed with guilt about but the big mystery is what?
I really did love this book which was gripping, and compulsive reading. I spent a lot of time trying to guess the twist but I also just enjoyed the way that Frick explored the friendship between the girls and the way in which they are so entangled in each other's lives. It's interesting to see Ret at the centre of the group having brought them all together and the fact that without her, Ellory, Bex and Jenni might not have anything else in common. I liked the way in which this was depicted because I think it's often true of real-life friendships where people end up becoming friends with others through association. The bond between Ellory and Rex is all-consuming and this lies at the heart of the story. There are touches of romance too, with Ellory falling for the alluring Matthias who she stumbles upon at a party but the strongest relationship in the book is the one between her and Ret.     
It was interesting to see the disintegration of Ellory and the struggle she goes through without knowing what has caused it. I felt a lot of empathy for her character but also admiration at the way she tries to rebuild her life and move on.  
If you are a fan of this genre and love YA fiction then I beg you to read 'See All My Stars'. It's a five star read that is absolutely captivating. After just one book, Kit Frick is now on my auto-buy list, so I'm looking forward to reading next her second novel 'All Eyes On Us'.   
If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Review: Sanctuary by V.V. James

Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 8th August 2019

The small Connecticut town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback. Daniel's death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge - or something even darker?

As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching . . .

When I first heard about this book I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. I'm a big fan of the author's previous YA Dark Gifts trilogy, written under the name Vic James and I love her writing, so I added 'Sanctuary' to my wish list straight away. It turned out to be a really refreshing read because it felt so unique and original and unlike anything else that I'd read recently.

Described as Big Little Lies meets The Craft, 'Sanctuary' takes the reader on a journey where you never quite know where you are going to end up. Each chapter was full of surprises and there were lots of unexpected twists in the story that I didn't see coming. I loved the sense of anticipation I felt while reading it and the fact that I literally had no idea what was going to happen next. The story and the characters really hooked me in and kept me turning the pages well into the night.  

The story is set in the small town of Sanctuary where modern day witch craft is still alive and well. No longer hidden away or shunned by those who fear it, local woman Sarah is a practicing witch who has helped many of the residents of the town with their day to day problems. Her coven consists of her closest friends who lend energy to her spells and with this ability Sarah has helped to change for the better, the lives of those around her. Devoted to her teenage daughter Harper, her only sadness is that Harper has not inherited her abilities.

The catalyst which drives the plot on, is the death of the local star quarterback. Daniel was the son of one of her closest friends, Abigail and his death is the spark which causes everything to start to unravel. Soon Sarah's daughter Harper is under suspicion for his death and the local community start to turn against the witch who lives among them.

The narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Sarah, Harper, Abigail and Maggie. The latter is a detective who is assigned to investigate Daniel's death and determine what really happened to him. Was his death a tragic accident or did someone kill him? I enjoyed seeing events happen through the eyes of different characters who each have their own view on the events of both the present and the past. As the story picks up pace, there are hints about something terrible that happened years ago and which has been kept secret until now. I couldn't wait to find out what it was and I loved the way V.V. James teases us with it until near the end of the book when suddenly I had quite a change of heart about many of the characters in light of this revelation.

The witch craft element to the story was written brilliantly. It felt entirely plausible that magic could still be employed to sort out modern day problems and also that people would eventually turn against something that they couldn't fully understand or comprehend. Sarah becomes the scapegoat for the town and it was scary to see how quickly things escalated near the end of the story. I literally couldn't put the book down!

'Sanctuary' was a gripping read with an intriguing mystery at it's centre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved the way that it incorporated so many different genres. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to other readers. 

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Review: The Shamer's War by Lene Kaaberbol

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Published: 4th July 2019

The Dragon Lord of Dunark is ruthlessly hunting down Shamers and burning them at the stake. He must be brought down, and so a rebellion is formed.

Rebellions need leaders, and what better choice than the legitimate heir to Dunark, Dina's friend Nico? Nico is reluctant to kill even a rabbit. Still, Dina's considerable powers should help him triumph over the Dragon Lord. But Nico knows only too well that heroes have a nasty habit of ending up dead . . .

'The Shamer's War' is the epic final book in this truly stunning fantasy series. Now that Pushkin Press have republished Lene Kaaberbol's series in full, I really hope that they get the acclaim they deserve in the UK. This is definitely a series that has flown under the radar so far but it's ridiculously good and is definitely one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. I'm quite sad that the journey is over now as I've enjoyed enormously reading the books and following the characters on all their adventures.

The final instalment picks up Nico's storyline, as the book builds towards a showdown between Nico and his cousin Drakan. This is something that I've been anticipating and waiting for from the very beginning. It's been simmering away in the background all the time, so it was great to see Nico finally step up and determine to do something to save his people from further bloodshed and loss of life. Plus, as my favourite character, I loved seeing him more involved and active in the central plot.

Dina is right by Nico's side, as she has been from the beginning. I really adore the bond that the two of them share. Although she's younger than him, I always thought I could detect a slight romantic undercurrent between them but I think their relationship has developed more into big brother, little sister. Dina has some difficult choices to make in the book. She now has two gifts: the Shamer's gift and the Serpent gift. She is torn between them and feels like she's lost her path. However, Dina learns a lot about who she is, where she fits and her role in her family. She has always been brave and courageous and those qualities really come to the fore.

The narrative is once again shared between Dina and her brother Davin, who also gets a pretty epic storyline. His character has developed a huge amount since 'The Shamer's Daughter' and it was great to see the arc and the journey that he has been on. He is still suffering after his experience in the Hall of Whisperers but he hasn't lost his overwhelming need to protect the people he loves. There's a touch of romance for him too which I really enjoyed, as I wanted him to find someone special.

Forces converge in the book to bring all the characters together, leading to a nail biting ending which had me on the edge of my seat. The conclusion was actually quite unexpected and Lene Kaaberbol managed to throw in a few last twists to surprise me. I would be so happy if this series could go on and on as I think there's potential for so much more. It's sad to think that I've got to the end of this exciting adventure and it's all over now. However, Dino and co will live on long in my memory and I look forward to rereading the entire series at some point in the future.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Review: The Serpent Gift by Lene Kaaberbol

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Published: 4th July 2019

A watching face in a market crowd, a mist-shrouded figure on the moor, a haunting presence seen only when he wants to be seen--Sezuan, possessor of the Serpent Gift for lie and illusion, is a chilling and ambiguous figure at the best of times.

He is also Dina's father.

And when he comes to claim the daughter he has never seen, the Shamer and her family are catapulted into reckless flight and danger. With nowhere else to turn, Dina must learn to see through her father's deceit and use her own powers to her advantage.

'The Serpent Gift' was another riveting instalment of this wonderful series which is just getting better and better. I think this was my favourite book so far. The plot was packed full of action and adventure, the characters are maturing and becoming like old friends and there was also a lot of powerful and emotional moments in the story.

Dina and Davin once again pick up the narrative reins, as the story begins in their Highland home. The local fair means a time of fun and celebration but all of that is ruined when Dina's long absent father unexpectedly appears. Dina's mother refuses to let him see his daughter and insists that her family leave immediately and secretively in order to escape him. I was very intrigued about Dina's father, Sezuan. We're told that he has the Serpent Gift but it's a little while into the story before it becomes clear what this is exactly. Sezuan wants to know if Dina has inherited his gift as well as her Shamer eyes. I found the father-daughter relationship in the book extremely well depicted and there were some particularly emotional and touching moments between the two. Dina doesn't know anything about her father and isn't sure if he can be trusted but I enjoyed seeing a fragile bond gradually begin to develop.

After having her gift abused in the previous book, Dina is also going through something of a crisis of faith. She has temporarily lost her Shamer ability and starts to question who she really is without it. Even though she may not be able to do what her mother can, she can always rely on her own courage and bravery to put her on the right path which is something I admire about her.

I loved the epic scope of the story and the scenes during the second half of the book which are set in the town of Sagisloc and the Sagisburg prison. Danger and desperation touches everything that befalls the characters and they are constantly having to find a way out of some very hazardous situations. Every chapter feels like it ends on some kind of cliff hanger.

Reading this series, almost feels like watching a big budget fantasy TV series unfold before my eyes. I started this book immediately after finishing the last one, so not having a break in the story has made me feel even more invested in the characters and what happens to them. If I had to be nit-pick anything, then it would just be that I'd like to have seen more of Nico. He is firmly entwined in Davin's storyline but I would even more of him because he's my absolute favourite.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Review: The Shamer's Signet by Lene Kaaberbol

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Published: 4th July 2019

Dina has recently come into her uncomfortable powers as a Shamer, and now even her brother, Davin, no longer dares to meet her gaze.

Yet in these dangerous times there are far worse things in store for the young Shamer, who is kidnapped and forced to use her gift as a weapon against innocent people. Dina must get free. Can her brother help her escape?

'The Shamer's Signet' is the second book in The Shamer Chronicles. I loved the first instalment of this series, so I couldn't wait to get stuck into the rest of the main character Dina's story. After facing extreme danger in the previous book, Dina and her family have started a new life in the Highlands. After fleeing from the evil Drakan, the Dragon Lord at Dunark, it seems that they might finally have found some safety to try and rebuild their home and their lives.

This time the story is told through the alternating perspectives of not only Dina but her older brother Davin too. He's finding it hard as he faces the transition from being a sixteen year old boy to a man. He wants to protect his family from future danger but doesn't really know how. Without a father to look up to or to help train him in defence, he looks for other ways to learn sword skills and how to handle a weapon. I liked seeing more of Davin, as he didn't feature very heavily in the first book. He doesn't have the gift that their mother has passed to Dina, so it was interesting to see the role that he tries to adopt in their family. He's very torn between his family and his own desires.

The story splits into two paths when Dina is kidnapped by someone that wants to use her gift as a weapon and it looks like her only hope of rescue is from her brother. As a reader, it was interesting to see how Dina attempts to survive her ordeal, as well as getting to enjoy the more action driven part of the book, with Davin attempting to find her and bring her home. The contrasting chapters ensured that I stayed engaged in the plot and kept my interest high as I enjoyed the exciting adventure.

I really loved getting to return to the incredible world that Lene Kaaberbol has created. It was great to see different geographical areas outside of Dunark and I adored the epic nature of the story. It feels like it has real width and breadth with all the ingredients for a majorly exciting and winning series.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.
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