Friday, 29 May 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Publication Date: June 4th 2015
Publisher: Harper Collins
Length: 446 pages

Huge thanks to Harper Collins for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

One of the most perfect books to find as a reader is one that sweeps you away. That immerses you so fully that you live and breathe the story. You laugh and weep with the characters and rage on their behalf as you tear through the pages, desperate to see how it ends.
This is one of those books.

I loved Elias and Laia for very different reasons. Elias’ chapters are packed with action and fraught with the dangers and horrors of the trials and Blackcliff. As a result some people will lean more towards favouring his chapters as they push the story along at a breath taking pace and catch you easily in his twisted world and the terrible decisions he must constantly face.
However Laia holds her own, just in a much quieter way. She is no hero, no super spy, no assassin trained for vengeance. She is just a girl who has lost too much and desperately craves safety and comfort. She is terrified and wants to run away from the danger. This is no chosen one, no lioness rampant. And yet. Her character growth and arc are incredible. She comes to terms with the life she has been forced into, she tries desperately to find her way through this impossible situation and as a result you feel for her. You want to protect her and help her. You cheer for her as she gradually finds her courage and pieces it together to form something she can use. Yes her chapters are quieter, the action less dizzying, but they are still fraught and full of fear and you come to know her character better in those stolen moments of fear in the darkness better than you could in any other situation.

I also loved the characters surrounding them, even those I loathed and feared. Fierce and wonderful Helene, Izzi and Cook – I loved these strong and clever woman, all fighting for the things they love and believe in. The female friendships in this book were a breath of fresh air, and I found them so compelling to read.

The world building was also incredibly strong. There was just the right amount of information, with enough gaps and holes to be filled in in later books. You got the feeling that this was only a small slice of the world. Admittedly an incredibly brutal one, but still only a piece. Because Laia and Elias are so enmeshed in this piece of the world it makes complete sense that we only see this, but I loved the whispers of a world outside of the corner we are shown, of the other places we might see. It made it clear that this is not a small world, that there are larger pieces at stake than just this, but that this part of the world is important, vital even to these two particularly. It was a brutal world, filled with horror and bloodshed, but whilst it was overwhelming it points it never felt ridiculous. 

Everything felt like it had roots in our own worlds history, whilst then subverting and twisting it and adding in some dark fantastical elements. You get the sense that there is something inherently wrong, a darkness, a tipping balance that has reached the crucial point. It leaves the reader feeling a sense of wrongness, a prickling that all is now ok, a tension that is reaching the breaking point. We never find out the true picture and scale of what that is, but I love this slow build. It is a novel that takes its time whilst never dragging at all. It is brutal and non-stop, but it left me desperately wanting more – more of the characters, more of this world and answers, above all, answers. Not as with some novels, out of frustration and irritation, but simply because I have been pulled so thoroughly into this world and I want to know everything.

This novel was fantastic. A beautiful and horrifying start to what is sure to be an incredible series. It’s very dark, very twisted, but filled with gorgeous prose, electrifying action and complex characters. I loved it.
Catch up with the Harper Collins 'An Ember in the Ashes' tag #FantasyIRL in the first of two videos I'm doing for Bookish Brits here

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Review: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Publication Date: June 4th 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 336 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

When he's sent to Latham House, a boarding school for sick teens, Lane thinks his life may as well be over.
But when he meets Sadie and her friends - a group of eccentric troublemakers - he realises that maybe getting sick is just the beginning. That illness doesn't have to define you, and that falling in love is its own cure.
Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about true friendships, ill-fated love and the rare miracle of second chances.

I knew very little about this book when I came to it, it was a case of a truly beautiful cover catching my eye and launching straight in, but from the outset I was hooked. I loved the concept - a sanatorium for modern teens struck down by Total Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. It was an idea I haven’t seen before and Schneider tackles the idea with a brilliant mix of humour and grace. You know from the outset that not everyone is going to make it out alive and that leaves a bitter-sweet and poignant feeling as you read that reminds you that life is for living in the moment, not for a possible someday, and this group of teenagers do everything they can to seize the little moments that raise life out of the depressive state that can so easily be sunk into with a long term illness.

The dual narratives were wonderfully handled, offering two very distinct voices to two very different characters. Lane is a driven grade A student, living life for the future and doesn’t know how to deal with the ‘setback’ of his illness. Whilst Sadie has been ill for so long that she can only live one day at a time, the future is an unknown thing that cannot be planned for. They come together to teach each other about seizing each day and living life in a series of moments, rather than planning for a someday future. My only frustration was that Lane didn’t ever seem particularly ‘sick’. He pushes it a little too far at one point and you do see a decline in his health, but compared to the other characters he never seemed to struggle, never really had off days and points where he had to rest. I wanted to see more of that, otherwise it didn’t feel real that he was in this place.

It’s not just about Sadie and Lane though, they are surrounded by a wonderful cast of characters. I really loved getting to see little bits of their characters and how they came together to form a cohesive whole of a group. I could have done with a little more backstory and time on the rest of the friendship group, as it felt more as though they were there to act as a background group rather than an actual set of people with hopes and dreams and wishes.

I loved that the novel had an ‘invisible illness’ at its heart and that it looked not only at how hard it was to live with this on a day to day basis, but also how hard it was to look to the future with the illness constantly lurking in the back of their minds, how that would hinder some plans for the future. But also how others treated those with TB. How some exploited it, how others didn’t know how to deal with it or relate to those stuck in Latham. It was such a refreshing change to have a YA novel tackle something like this, and to do it so well.

If you’re a fan of John Green you’re basically going to love this, it felt a little like a mash-up between ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and ‘Looking for Alaska’. However non John Green fans will also love this. It’s a fresh and interesting plot, a whole heap of sadness but also ultimately about living each day to the full and not letting life pass you by.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Review: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: June 4th 2015
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Length: 288 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family.

I’ve loved reading Sophie Kinsella’s adult books for several years now, but I admit I was a little bit sceptical to see that she was now branching out and writing a young adult book. However I wanted to reserve judgement until after I’d read the book and I am so glad that I did.

This book was fantastic. It was poignant, funny, and tackled the subject matter incredibly well. You don’t find a vast number of books about mental illnesses on the shelves, and few of those manage to combine such brilliant wit and empathy, creating a wonderful cast of characters and allow the reader an insight into social anxiety, general anxiety and depression. I’ve never seen social anxiety in particular handled so well and so accurately in fiction.

Kinsella hits all of the points – what it’s like for the sufferer as well as those around them. The misconceptions, the ‘well why aren’t you better, can’t you just snap out of it’ comments. The way some people will try and make it about them. She brings all of these into the tale and weaves them into a truly brilliant story.

It’s a very odd mixture of writing styles. Most of the tale is told from Audrey’s point of view, but when she takes on a documentary style project as part of her therapy you get odd pieces of script to better convey what’s being recorded by Audrey’s camera. An odd style choice but one that works incredibly well for the story. It was wonderful watching the change in these film pieces from the first one to the last one.

Audrey herself is a fantastic character. Kinsella makes a choice to never tell the reader what events actually happened to put Audrey in this position, but we get enough vague facts to have a rough outlin. It’s a great choice because each reader will have a different interpretation of that outline and will allow more people to be able to empathise with Audrey’s situation. Audrey is bitingly funny – some of the dialogue and situations had me laughing out loud – and slowly comes to grips with her problems, her past and her future. Her determination to forge a more complete life for herself rather than sinking further into her anxiety and depression was tackled wonderfully.

Her family and Linus are a great supporting cast, equal parts realistic and caricatures, the combination works brilliantly and to sometimes hilarious effect. I also loved that as Audrey starts to get better she begins to take more notice of those around her and you begin to see the effect that her illness has had on her family. Everyone has handled it differently, but they are all so supportive of Audrey, and that is a wonderful thing to see.

Kinsella has portrayed social anxiety incredibly – it was refreshing to read a book that tackles this subject so well. You really feel for Audrey and that will offer people who suffer or have suffered from social anxiety and depression a mirror to show that, look, you are not alone and it does get better. Whilst it will also offer a valuable insight for those people who are lucky enough to never have experienced it.

My only issue was that Audrey read like she was several years older than 14. When I was reading it felt like she was sixteen or seventeen and it wasn’t until I went back and re-read the blurb that I discovered how young she was. This isn’t really a problem – there isn’t anything particularly inappropriate happening for her age, it just felt from her voice that she was older than that at points.

I adored this book. It’s well paced, brilliantly witty and full of larger than life characters. It’s a wonderful quick read that offers a much needed look at social anxiety and depression whilst remaining miraculously light hearted. It is bound to be one of the big summer reads and I cannot wait to hear people start to talk about it.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Top Ten Books I Plan to Have in my Beach Bag this Summer

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fabulous folks over at The Broke & The Bookish.
My idea of a relaxing summer read is something light, something a little bit fluffy and something quite definitely romantic. So I've compiled a list of some books I'd love to go back and revisit this summer and a few new books that I'm saving for the long, lazy summer days.

1. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.
What can be more summery than a road trip novel? I absolutely adore Amy & Roger and whilst I have only read the book once the story has really stayed with me. I want a chance to escape on a roadtrip filled with young summer love and incredible places again.

2. Four Nights with The Duke by Eloisa James. This one is already on the shelves but I am saving it for a moment when I need a pick me up and a bit of romance in my life. Eloisa's writing is always superb and her characters brilliantly crafted, and I know that with one of her novels I will always get a happily ever after.

3. Anna & the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.For some reason I put off reading this book until last summer, and whilst that seems utterly ridiculous how reluctant I was to read it, I'm glad I didn't read it until then because it was a book that happened to me at exactly the right time. My first truly hot summer in France, I was feeling isolated, I didn't speak the language, and I felt like a complete and utter failure. And then Anna happened, and she had just moved to Paris and she spoke even less French than I did, and somehow she made me feel less alone and like everything was all going to be ok. And if you're looking for a romantic contemporary read, you cannot get much better than this one.

4. I Love Capri by Belinda Jones.
My favourite of Belinda's novels, this is a romance that felt more realistic than most. Everything wasn't fluffy and happily ever after, but it was infused with hope and love and I think I love it even more for that. Plus I love being taken somewhere new when I read, and Belinda's novels are fantastic for taking you around the world.

5. My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin.
This one would be a re-read, but I first read it in the blinding sunlight on a beach in Swanage, the first time I had ever sat down on a beach to read, so for me this one is a special kind of beach read. I was completely immersed in this world and I haven't had the chance to go back since - I'd love to have that chance this summer.

6. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.
Not released until July 16th, this follow up to 'The Queen of the Tearling' is one that I cannot wait to read. I read the first book a few weeks before my wedding last summer - it was the hottest part of summer in Lyon, we were miserably hot no matter what we did, incredibly stressed about the wedding planning and I couldn't settle to anything. And then along came this book that just caught me up and swept me away. I fell in love with it, and now this series and world are forever tied with summer

7. Paris in Love by Eloisa James.
Another Eloisa book but this time a non-fiction. I love to dabble with non-fiction books from time to time, and this one was one of my favourites. She captures the essence of living in Paris and all the wonderful details that make living in France such an incredible experience, and all in small bite size chunks. A wonderful book to dip in an out of.

8. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn
I adore Julia Quinn. It was her books that introduced me to regency romance, and the idea of romance books in general. Her books are always superbly written, brilliantly funny, romantic and fluffy and I storm through them in a matter of hours - which is why I am waiting to read this one until I have some sunshine and preferably a glass of wine to accompany it.

9. Out of the Blue by Belinda Jones.
This is my second favourite of Belinda's novels, and I adore the escapism, the romance, the travel. If I can't go the places myself then Belinda is one of the best at bringing them to life for me whilst I read and this is another wonderful piece of escapism.

10. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenager
This book is absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. It's been so long since I've read it that I am long overdue for a re-read and whilst this is neither light, nor fluffy, I remember reading it in the hot summer sunshine and being utterly captivated by it and I want to return to that feeling.

So those are the books I'm planning on reading this summer - whether I make it to a beach to do the reading remains to be seen, but regardless of where I read them, I shall be sat in the sunshine enjoying being swept up to other places and times.
What are your summer reads? Let me know in the comments below and link me to your top tens!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Beneath the Surface of Blogging with Faye from A Daydreamer's Thoughts

Today is the last of my guest posts with bloggers going beneath the surface of book blogging. It has been incredible to hear from so many bloggers, both those who have only been blogging for a few months, and some who have been going for nearly a decade. Between them they have offered support, hope and advice and above all reminded us that everyone has frustrations and insecurities and to never feel alone in that.

So today I am incredibly lucky to introduce Faye from 'A Daydreamer's Thoughts' to talk about why she loves blogging, how she's dealt with the slumps and insecurities and the changes that she's making to her blog to stop it from becoming a burden.

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?
I started book blogging because I had been on Tumblr for years and was starting to want a little bit more. Then my friend on twitter told me about her book blog. I read a few of her posts and thought it looked really fun. Without researching anything else, I jumped on the bandwagon and created my own blog, but I wanted to do something different as I knew there were so many book blogs out there so I initially started mine as a book and film blog, and it was supposed to focus on adaptations. I realised later I should have done more research before jumping into it but I learnt on the go and have never regretted my decision to start.

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?
Simply to share my passion and love for books and films. Everything else, including the multitude of friends I've created, have all just been amazing bonuses and probably the reason I keep at it. But mostly I just want to share things with the world.

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?
Aside from sharing things with the world and potential changing peoples views or creating discussions, the most rewarding part are the friendships I have created and hope to create in the future. The people I have met through blogging have all become some of my closest friends - one even became my flatmate!

And the most frustrating?
All the drama. I know a lot of it happens in America but it really puts a strain on blogging as a whole. I also do get a little stressed out about reading and reviewing books on time but I'm getting a little better at this!

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?
Yes. Quite a few, unfortunately. Especially recently where work and my social life have been incredibly stressful and then blogging became that too and I just wanted to curl up and not do anything. I've also had moments where I wonder what the point is because I have a lack of motivation and it seems like nothing I do matters to anyone else. To get myself out of it, I would sometimes go on a blogging break and then realise I miss it like crazy. Or, what I did just recently is decide to change my blog. I'm no longer a book blog but more of a lifestyle blog where I can talk about all the things I love in the world.

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?
I have. Mostly in my first year when I was about to do my final exams at university. I jumped straight back into it because I missed it. I've taken shorter breaks as well and mostly I just get an idea or finish a great book that I HAVE to share with the world and just great straight back into blogging. It's a lot easier to come back then to go in the first place.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?
Just try not to let it get to you? Reading and blogging are hobbies. If you're not feeling them, then just take a step back and do something else. I guarantee that after a while, you'll miss it. And if you don't, so what? We should never feel forced and pressurized into doing a hobby. The world will not stop moving if you stop reading or blogging for a few months.

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?
To be honest, I'm still not really sure! Mostly I don't have a TV so I don't get sucked into it but I do have Netflix and that can pull me in. But really, I just try not to stress about it. If and when I have time to blog, I will and if I don't, then it doesn't matter. I do try to schedule a few posts in advance so I'm not blogging everyday. I read on my commute and when I'm home relaxing but I don't worry if I don't read. I guess, I just do?

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?
I don't really know. 

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?
Don't take it too seriously. Your blog is yours and followers may seem to beg you to come back or beg you to post but honestly, if they're that excited by you and your posts, they'll wait for you to come back. But also, do not stress about the numbers. The biggest piece of advice I usually give is to think about why you're blogging in the first place. If you're hear to gain followers or receive free books, then I guess you should worry about the numbers but if you're blogging to share your love of books then do that. If your passion shines through, people will find you - even if it's only a few. Every follower counts. Honestly, I'd probably still be blogging if no one was following me because I just love it so much. 

Thank you so much Faye for stopping by! Don't forget to check out Faye's blog and find her on twitter

Friday, 22 May 2015

Review: The Painful Truth - What Chronic Pain is Really Like & Why it Matters to Each of Us by Lynn R Webster

Publication Date: May 4th 2015
Publisher: Lynn Webster M.D

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

The Painful Truth is a deeply intimate collection of stories about people living with disabling pain, their attempts to heal, and the challenges that we collectively face to help them survive and, ultimately, live meaningful lives. As a physician who has treated people with chronic pain for more than 30 years, I reveal in the book the difficulties that patients face dealing with chronic pain in a society which is often shamelessly prejudiced against those who are in most need of compassion and empathy. I share how those biases also affect those who treat patients with chronic pain.

My normal reading involves around 95% fiction and 5% non-fiction, and of that non-fiction I never really branch outside historical or memoirs/biographies etc. So this book is quite a departure from my usual reading and as a result my usual reviewing. However when I saw this title come up on Netgalley, I had to read it.

I’ve been in pain since I was seven. I was officially diagnosed with Chronic Pain Syndrome when I was seventeen. I am now nearly twenty seven. I don’t remember a time when I was not in pain. Unfortunately the general attitude towards CPS is to tell the person suffering that they are making it up, that they should suck it up and get on with life, that they should stop complaining. There is very little sympathy, empathy or treatment available, and that leaves you with a pretty miserable existence being ostracized by people who don’t understand and passed from Dr to Dr as each one either tells you to stop complaining, or runs out of ideas of what to do with you.

So a book about CPS is an incredibly important thing, and one that I was thrilled to discover whilst browsing Netgalley. The book is split into two sections. The first has stories from patients of Dr Webster – their individual battles with chronic pain and the ways that it has affected their lives and how they have come to deal with it. Some of them are living virtually normal lives, vastly improved through various means to help deal with the pain, whereas others are still in as much pain as they were at the start but with a better understanding of what they are dealing with, and a supportive network of friends. The second looks at the stigma surrounding CPS and what needs to change for CPS to be recognised and helped.

The book tackles all different avenues of support – family, friends, medical, spiritual – and tries to offer something for anyone reading it. If you have CPS, it offers the knowledge that you are not alone, some new ideas and thoughts, and a sense that you are not stumbling around in the dark with something no-one can understand. If you know someone who has CPS it can offer you a better understanding of what they’re going through and what they might need to support them through it. And if you have never encountered CPS then it helps to shine a light onto a criminally overlooked problem that so many people dismiss as nothing.

It could have benefitted from a heavy edit, some of the stories tended to go in circles, information was repeated several times and there were far too many patient stories. It was interesting to read so many different stories, but after the fourth one I began to get depressed and to lose interest. I had to put the book down and come back to it at a later point. There is a difference between something that is difficult to read because of the subject matter and something that is difficult to read because it hasn’t been edited properly and as a result is far too dense. Unfortunately this came down in the latter camp.
I also felt that whilst these tales were interesting and offered so many different view-points and thoughts on CPS, they didn’t actually help someone who is reading it without having experienced CPS to understand what it is like for the sufferer.

It felt towards the end as though it could easily have been an essay on the dangers and problems faced with pain medication – opioid addiction and all that comes with opioids being the predominant medication used to treat pain. There was a very heavy emphasis on this, and whilst it was interesting to start with I did find myself losing interest after a while. I wanted to see more ideas of ways to tackle CPS rather than just have them glossed over and leave the focus so heavily on medication.

However despite these issues I was incredibly glad to have read the book and hope that more people will discover it and start to look at CPS. It is a problem that so many people suffer from and yet is ignored and trivialised. I hope that this book will allow more people to begin to talk about it, for more to be done to try and ease the suffering of those who are affected, and for those who have been diagnosed with it to know that they are not alone. It is an incredibly isolating condition and one that I hope more people will come to understand.

If your interest has been piqued, but you are not yet ready to delve into a medical text then I highly recommend watching the film ‘Cake’ starring Jennifer Aniston. I haven’t seen CPS depicted so accurately before, and I hope that it’s a sign of a change in people’s perceptions and awareness.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Publication Date: July 1st 2014 (This edition. First published in 1991)
Publisher: Random House
Length: 850 pages

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Unless you have completely avoided the internet for the last year or so, you will have heard the word ‘Outlander’ bandied about at some point. This is due to the insanely popular TV series on Starz that started airing its debut season in August 2014 and is currently airing the second half of the season on Saturday nights.

Based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon, the novels have suddenly received a new surge of interest due to the tv series as a whole host of people turn to the books to fill in gaps, find out what happens, and generally sate their unquenchable appetite for the incredible love story between Claire and Jamie.

I was one of these people. I watched the first eight episodes and promptly demanded all the Outlander books immediately. Because reasons. I stormed through the first book and it both sated all my Outlander needs and made the wait for the second half of the season to air nigh on unbearable, because this series is incredible.

Let’s start with Claire, the driving force behind the story. She is an incredible heroine – headstrong, feisty, determined and full of love and loyalty. She is a modern woman thrown out of her own time and forced into a time and situation where her gender plays heavily against her. She brings modern thinking and ideas in like a whirlwind and sweeps everyone up along with her. It is because of her that the book is so compelling to read – she drives the narrative and you cannot help but fall in love with her and want to know how she survives and thrives in this alien world she has stumbled into.

And then of course there’s her counterpart… Jamie Fraser has now set a new standard for fictional heroes. He’s young, yes, and filled with the ideas and status quo of the period he has grown and lived in, but he is also loyal and gentle and prepared to listen to Claire as an equal and adapt and grow so that their relationship is a truly modern affair with both of them holding equal power instead of Jamie ‘owning’ Claire. He loves her – that much is obvious – but the depth of feeling and emotion depicted in the book swept me away. He is the epitome of the romantic hero, full of fire and daring and love and whilst he desperately wants to protect Claire he also acknowledges she is a strong and independent person in her own right. They compliment each other perfectly, which serves to make the romance and relationship one of the strongest in fiction and one of the highlights of the novel.

The first section of the novel is a little slow to get moving, but once you are into the bulk of the story and are following Claire through the trials and mishaps of being a very modern woman in a very unmodern time you become completely immersed and swept up in the tale. I couldn’t put the book down and stormed through it in a night. Gabaldon has a rare talent of combining compelling and interesting characters with a well-researched and thoroughly realistic look at life in 1743 Scottish Highlands and all that that entails. The politics, the clans, the day to day existence – it’s all beautifully rendered in a captivating story that thrills along at an incredible pace. It is a world populated with fascinating and realistic characters and I found myself utterly enthralled as it touches on everything from the bigger politics and shifts of a time when Scotland was desperately fighting to regain its independence to the smaller pieces of life, the superstitions and traditions. I love Scotland and this furthered my love of the country and its history and brought it to life for me in a way other fiction and mediums haven’t yet captured. Despite the magical idea of time travel this is a novel very much rooted in real life, and other than that one breach of reality to get Claire back to 1743 the novel feels real, which makes it even more terrifying to experience some of the scenes later on in the book when hysteria and a lack of understanding whip events up into a frenzy of terror.

I cannot recommend this book (and subsequent series) enough. Coming to the series now you’re also spoiled for choice as the Starz production of the first book is lovingly brought to life with an incredible cast and absolutely stunning scenery. It’s such a faithful adaptation that satisfies long term fans as well and offers a second entry into the imaginative and captivating story that Gabaldon has created. If you’re still not convinced, check out my article detailing five reasons why you should watch the tv series here.

This is an incredible book, one that became an instant favourite and one that I will return to again and again. It is so many things and not just a romance, but the love story at its heart is one that will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Review: The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine

Publication Date: May 21st 2015
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Length: 336 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

What secrets are hiding in the heart of Paris?
At the famous Patisserie Clermont in Paris, 1909, a chance encounter with the owner's daughter has given one young man a glimpse into a life he never knew existed: of sweet cream and melted chocolate, golden caramel and powdered sugar, of pastry light as air.

But it is not just the art of confectionery that holds him captive, and soon a forbidden love affair begins.
Almost eighty years later, an academic discovers a hidden photograph of her grandfather as a young man with two people she has never seen before. Scrawled on the back of the picture are the words 'Forgive me'. Unable to resist the mystery behind it, she begins to unravel the story of two star-crossed lovers and one irrevocable betrayal.

Living in France has made me want to read more books set over here – I want to immerse myself in as much of the country and culture as I can and that means involving it in my reading as well. And truthfully the books I’ve read so far have been fantastic. I’ve loved exploring different parts of the country and different time periods when I delve into a new book – which was what made me pick up this one. I mean the fact that it is set in a patisserie alone was enough to tempt me, the cakes that come out of some patisseries are incredible, they are works of art. So I was curious (and mildly hungry) when starting this one.

The story is split over two timelines, Gui’s in 1910 and Petra’s in 1988. I’m always a little wary of split timeline narratives as one narrative invariably ends up suffering. Sadly this was true for this novel, which knocked it down from five stars to four as, whilst Petra’s narrative was interesting it was very slow and dragged from the pacing and intrigue contained in Gui’s narrative. I wanted to be in Gui’s world, to find out what would happen and to spend more time in the patisserie, so it was always frustrating to be dragged back to Petra’s story where nothing much seemed to happen and she spent a vast amount of time not really accomplishing anything. Her timeline does pick up the pace to match the frenetic conclusion to Gui’s and the final part of the novel was much tighter and worked well as a whole. However the lack of real conclusion to a couple of Petra’s narrative threads left me feeling a little frustrated.

There wasn’t a huge amount of depth to the secondary characters and at times even with the primary characters. It felt as though I were skating along the ideas and possibilities of the book without ever being allowed to grasp at the depths of emotions it could contain. However rather than having a huge negative impact on my feeling during reading, it kind of works. It reads like a movie, you can smell and taste and feel everything and it is so deliciously descriptive in its surrounding, that the lack of real emotional depth of the characters doesn’t prove to be too much of a setback. What did frustrate me though was how childlike Gui proved to be at points. Whilst the majority of the novel was spent with him as an intriguing and fascinating character and our insight into this world, there were moments where he regressed and became childishly quick to anger and misunderstand. Sadly that diminished my love and respect for him as a romantic lead, but luckily these moments were relatively rare and didn’t impact my overall feelings on the novel too hard.

These frustrations and gripes aside, I adored this novel. It was a wonderful story that revealed little pieces of the whole in such a tantalising way that you were constantly kept guessing and wondering how the story would resolve. It was a wonderful mix of intrigue, race against time, love and historical novel and it brought all the threads together seamlessly. The language is rich and evocative and I could visualize the patisserie and the pastries Gui and the other chefs were creating so vividly that it was almost cinematic at moments. It’s a wonderful novel, full of little delights and sadnesses that left me filled with bittersweet contentment and a longing for Paris and pastries. Whilst it wasn’t a outstanding favourite it will definitely be a novel I return to and fall back into the magic of Paris that Laura Madeleine has created. Fans of Daisy Goodwin’s historical novels will love this.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Top Ten Non-Fiction Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful folks over at The Broke and the Bookish

This week is a top ten freebie week, which is always exciting! I talk about fiction books 90% of the time over here, so I decided to branch out and talk about some of my favourite non-fiction books this week. I don't read a huge number of non-fiction books - I'm very picky - but I have some firm favourites that I love returning to. Funny, moving, and some exquisite travel books, this list has a little bit of everything!

1. Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Eloisa James and her family uprooted themselves for a year from America to Paris, and this book is a collection of events, memories, musings and snapshots of living in the capital of France and the unexpected beauty you can find in a strange city. This book helped me in my own transition and reminded me to look for the beauty in the little things and to appreciate the incredible experiences on offer. Written in little bite size chunks, this is a wonderful book to dip in and out of.

2. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I have never laughed so hard when reading a book. I genuinely thought I might have cracked a rib at one point. When reading this on lunch breaks at the office I had to remove myself to my car to read because of the weird looks I received... This book is a masterpiece, and Lawson's humour is unparalleled. An incredible account of her life, this book is insane, brilliant and hilarious.

3. The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour
I discovered this book whilst researching for my non-fiction writing module at university and was utterly engrossed from the very first page. Belle's writing is blunt, compulsive and intriguing. Utterly filthy and incredibly factual. This was my first real foray into non-fiction writing and I absolutely loved it. Infinitely better than the tv show they made from it, this is an eye opener of a book.

4. Immoveable Feast by John Baxter
When Baxter fell in love with a French woman, he moved to Paris to marry her. Her family set him the ultimate test - to cook Christmas dinner for the family of eighteen. The book follows his year long adventure collecting recipes, travelling France and making some truly outstanding food. This is a feast of a book, delving into an incredibly important element of life in France - the food.

5. Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke
For anyone who is living, is going to live or who has lived in France, this book is a must read. Funny, bitingly true and full of useful tidbits of information, this book helped make the transition to living in France easier and provided me with a lot of insider information I never would have learned otherwise.

6. Perfection by Julie Metz
Also a find for my non-fiction module, I have very vivid memories of reading this curled up in front of the fire drinking copious amounts of tea whilst having my heart slowly broken. It was beautiful, terrible, brilliant and heart breaking. One woman's account of how her life fell apart when her husband died, and then shattered when she discovered he had a long term mistress. This is a quiet and tragic book.

7. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
Another book from Baxter, again set in France, but this time exploring Paris by foot. Paris is an incredible city and Baxter explores it in ways that most people would pass by entirely. Whether you're preparing for a trip to Paris, or simply want to explore the city in the pages of a book, this is a gorgeous book filled with the elegance of Paris and a plethora of stories that have unfurled within its streets.

8. A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
A collection of non-fiction by Terry Pratchett, this book dips back and forth in time and writings and is an absolute must for Pratchett fans. His writing is fantastic, regardless of whether he is taking you through Discworld, or talking about his process. This is a wonderful collection of pieces.

9. As You Wish by Cary Elwes
If you love 'The Princess Bride' this is a must read. Twenty five years after the film was made, Cary Elwes has collected together tales from the majority of the cast of filming this incredible cult classic. A book infused with love and adoration for each other and the source material, this is an incredible book that will make you fall in love with the film all over again.

10. My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
This was such a big part of my growing up. My Mother used to read it to me (and she did all of the voices) and I have incredibly fond memories of listening to the Durrell family's exploits. It's an absolutely incredible and wildly funny book that I love going back to again and again.

So those are my top ten non-fiction books. Are you a fan of non-fiction? Or are you tempted by any of these? Let me know in the comments below and link me to your own top ten lists!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: Liberty's Fire by Lydia Syson

Publication Date: May 7th 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Length: 348 pages

Huge thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Paris, 1871. Four young people will rewrite their destinies. Paris is in revolt. After months of siege at the hands of the Prussians, a wind of change is blowing through the city, bringing with it murmurs of a new revolution. Alone and poverty-stricken, sixteen-year-old Zephyrine is quickly lured in by the ideals of the city's radical new government, and she finds herself swept away by its promises of freedom, hope, equality and rights for women. But she is about to fall in love for a second time, following a fateful encounter with a young violinist. Anatole's passion for his music is soon swiftly matched only by his passion for this fierce and magnificent girl. He comes to believe in Zephyrine's new politics - but his friends are not so sure. Opera-singer Marie and photographer Jules have desires of their own, and the harsh reality of life under the Commune is not quite as enticing for them as it seems to be for Anatole and Zephyrine. And when the violent reality of revolution comes crashing down at all their feet, can they face the danger together - or will they be forced to choose where their hearts really lie?

Ever since I moved to France I have been reading more books set in France. It’s such a wonderful step away from the usual UK and US YA fiction we see so much of, and I’ve been loving seeing so much more of the culture and history I’ve been thrust into. The history is something that particularly fascinates me as my knowledge of French History is woefully inadequate and I’m working hard to try and rectify it. So over the last few weeks I have slipped into 1910 (‘The Confectioner’s Wife’ by Laura Madeleine) and 1814 (‘A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin’) so I had a little idea of what might be happening in 1871 but it was incredible to step into ‘Liberty’s Fire’ and have Lydia Syson bring this fascinating period to roaring life.

Syson offers four distinct views into the events of the novel from four very different backgrounds. Jules the American photographer who has no lack of money and has been able to survive the events with very little issue. Anatole his friend, a boy from the country recently moved to Paris who plays violin for the theatre. Zephyrine, whose Grandmother passes away at the start and is at the lowest rung of the ladder – destitute and desperate for the equality the commune can provide her with she throws herself into it without a backward glance, taking Anatole with her. And Marie, an opera singer in the same company as Anatole. Her brother is in the French army and she doesn’t understand or embrace the idea of the commune, in fact she appears downright terrified of it for the most part. Each of these characters with their entangled stories and relationships offer insights into every aspect of the revolution and the commune created in Paris. You see it from both sides, those for and against. Those with money and a way to live and those with nothing who are desperate for some equality. I loved seeing how each of them reacted to the events that unfold, and how they each scramble to try and survive.

The events of this period are absolutely devastating, and Syson has captured that feeling of jubilation followed by horror and devastation perfectly. It is brutal and horrific at points, painted with such vividness with Syson’s beautiful prose. I felt as if I were living it myself, shown these tangled threads of stories and following each character through their struggles. It was heartbreaking but also uplifting and Syson perfectly combines her research and historical pin points so that you come away knowing more about these three months – a period of history I was sadly ignorant of before. But it isn’t just a history lesson, she weaves a compelling tale of love and friendship and survival with a wonderful cast of characters.

I only had two issues with the story. The first being the pacing. Whilst I loved all the details and the measured pace so that we really got to know the characters and their relationships with one another, the pacing did become a little slow at points, almost to the point where I wondered if there would actually be a climax. It didn’t feel so much like a slow build to a pinnacle of tension where everything exploded, it felt more like a meandering build which worked in some places and frustrated me in others. However when events finally come to a head it is action packed, tense and utterly gripping and enthralling. I could not put the book down until I had learned what had happened to each of the characters.

My second problem was with the relationship. I wasn’t sold on the relationship between Anatole and Zephryine. It was very sudden and I didn’t connect with it in the same way as I did with the relationship between Anatole and Jules. As a result I became more invested in their side moments than the majority of the scenes that occurred between Anatole and Zephryine.

However these were only minor quibbles in a truly extraordinary book. Syson brings this pivotal moment of French history into glorious life and explores it from four unique view-points and I loved these characters and their stories as much as I loved finding out more about the history of France. Syson sets up a vivid peek into this world and then builds into a staggering conclusion with a truly incredible tale.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Beneath the Surface of Blogging with Kat from Perks of Being a Book Nerd

This week for this series of feature posts, I am lucky enough to be able to introduce Kat from Perks of Being a Book Nerd.
She's been blogging on her own site since October 2012 and has been kind enough to take some time out to answer some questions about book blogging, the ups and downs and how she tackles blogging slumps.

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?

Well, to be honest, I’d tried setting up a blog three times before I settled. I’d wanted to do it for so long, but I just... I knew that if no one read the posts, I couldn’t be bothered to continue. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago, I’d read Obsidian by J.L.Armentrout? Another blogger called Kat (also my name! :) ), got me wanting to try it properly. Then I started helping another blog out and that made me more determined to want to create my own. (They didn't like that so much.) Then when I read "Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell, you know how Cath blogs? It made me so much more eager to continue. I guess you could say it was a struggle.

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?

Mostly I just wanted to review for my own sake, but when I gradually started getting views, I got hooked on that feeling - when people actually take an interest.

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?

Definitely when readers comment. It makes me smile, because I know then that people ARE reading my posts and are caring enough to let me know.

And the most frustrating?

Probably the same as most other bloggers, when you spend so long on a post and then nobody reads it. It makes me to just want to quit. I lack confidence in everything, so unless someone tells me to keep going or comments, I just... It takes a lot to keep me going.

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?

As with what I said above, it doesn’t take a lot for me to want to give up, but reading is more than just a hobby for me. If I didn’t read, I’d be lost. Also, it helps with my writing, too. I often get reading ruts where I won’t be able to finish a book for weeks. Actually, i’m going through one right now, which sucks. But I still try and post cover reveals and things like that just so my blog isn’t empty. I’ve also found lately that even when I have finished a few books, I just can’t be bothered to write a review. I feel so bad for it, but it’s more... I find the words don’t want to come out. I’d rather just put “this was good. Go read it.” lol. Man, I feel terrible.

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?

I haven’t consciously taken a break, but I did go through a stage of scheduling my promo posts so that I didn’t have to do anything for a few weeks. It was weird when I made myself review, I wondered if anyone would read it or not.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?

I’m not the greatest at giving advice, but what I’ve heard from other people is that if you don’t want to blog, or can’t find the will to review: don’t. Take a break. It’s a hobby, not a life support. I mean, I love reading, and so does anyone reading this, but if the words aren’t sinking in then it’s pointless trying to force it. I find that sometimes if I can’t read, I can actually write better (not reviews, but my own stories) which is weird, but it’s like my mind is giving room for the stuff I’ve been neglecting.

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?

*laughs* I can’t say I have much of a life outside of those. I mean...Yeah...No I don’t. I write (non-blogging) and I go to town, but besides that...not much to juggle. Maybe I should make something up? Yeah, I have a super busy life. *nods* uh-huh.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?

I’ve found the blogging community can be a little like school. I try not to get too involved because I’m not good at discussions. But I’ve definitely noticed a lot of competition with how many hits someone has or how many followers.

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?

Pretty much what I said before: if it doesn’t feel right, don’t. Blogging is one of those things that you either want to do it or you don’t. You don’t have to quit, but take a break if you have to. It’s still going to be there when you’re ready. Maybe I should listen to my own advice?...

Thank you so much Kat for taking the time to come over and talk about blogging! It's really exciting that people are starting to talk more about other aspects about book blogging, and the struggles that everyone goes through with doing it.

Don't forget to check out Kat's book blog 'Perks of Being a Book Nerd' And follow her on twitter!