Harry Potter life lessons

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Brooklyn

Brooklyn

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Originally published: April 29, 2009 (my birthday)

I was at a train station, serious delays in every direction and I would not be leaving anytime soon. To top off my bad luck, my kindle had run out of battery. It was time to purchase a real, paper book.

I perused the bestsellers in WHSmiths and found Brooklyn. I had seen the film advertised and as always I prefer to read the book before watching the motion picture. The blurb on the back wasn’t exactly captivating, but it had won the Costa novel award in 2009 and had been short and long listed for a few other awards since. It seemed like an easy read that would help me pass the time.

It is set in 1950’s Ireland and is the story of a young girl, Ellis,  who has grown up in a small rural town with her mum and sister (and a few brothers who have since moved away). She has no real prospects until an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in New York where she will be able to live, work and study for a better future.

She travels to New York by ship, and has a bumpy ride. She finds a lodging with some other similar minded women, a job in a department store, an evening course and eventually love. But, as with all soppy stories there is also another man, this one all the way back in Ireland.

It is basically the story of Ellis growing up and having to choose between two boys. I would say it is half interesting and a very tame read. There was one dramatic plot twist which I didn’t see coming and actually upset me a little. But I soon go over it and realized I was back in the monotony of this read. This book is exactly the reason why I tend to avoid the WHSmiths bestsellers.

If you want an easy holiday read about young love, dances and courting then please…be my guest!

3 star

Atonement

 

Atonement

Published: 2001

Author: Ian McEwan

This book has been on my radar since the film release in 2007, but I never felt an overwhelming urge to read it so although I had it on my kindle it wasn’t until I bought the hard copy a few weeks ago that I decided now would be as good a time as any.

For those of you living under a rock, the story goes that a young girl commits a crime that allegedly has disastrous consequences for her sister and their long term family friend; it sees lovers torn apart and a family in turmoil. The film trailer and even the book synopsis created this illusion that I was about to read something terrible, awful. This young girl unwittingly commits a crime and the whole world turns upside down because of it. The problem I had with this book is that the crime wasn’t drastic enough for me; the lives after the said crime were not substantially decimated.

Setting the scene for this lie was the most interesting part of the book; it was most of the book in fact! Everything after just seemed to fall out of the authors mouth like word vomit. I didn’t think enough emphasis went on any character so how a reader can feel that lives have been turned upside down is beyond me. Example, the elder sister stops speaking to her family (apologies for a reveal), but how did this impact her or the family? It doesn’t say.

It might seem that I am being harsh and I suppose I have my own high expectations to contend with, I did enjoy the book. Maybe it is because I like period literature, or maybe it is because I have a black heart and wanted to read about the ruining of lives!

On that note, there was one poignant scene in the book, set on the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII after the retreat had been ordered; it saw a fight ensue between army soldiers and a weak member of the RAF. This spat tore at my heart strings, and I thought McEwan successfully captured the absolute carnage of human mentality and body on those beaches over 70 years ago.

 Although my review has the pretence of snubbing the literary efforts of McEwan, I would recommend the book.  I would always recommend the book over a film.  The setting of the scene was beautifully done, and the descriptiveness of the war efforts were also very good.

 

4 star

Sycamore Row

Sycamore_Row_by_John-Grisham

Sycamore Row

Published: October 22, 2013, paperback July 2014

Author: John Grisham

A few months before reading this I read The Confession for the second time within less than 12 months. I never re-read books (unless it is Harry Potter).  So when I discovered Grisham had a new book out I was stomach butterfly excited!

I downloaded Sycamore Row as soon as I could and completely devoured the book like a lioness who has gone without zebra for weeks.  The book followed Jake Brigance, a solicitor introduced in an earlier book ‘A Time to Kill’.  I haven’t yet read A Time to Kill, however I happened upon the film one evening and was emotionally gripped, one of the best films I ever seen due to a dramatic storyline and a brilliant acting.

Back to Sycamore Row, it follows the aftermath of the death of a wealthy cancer stricken Southern man, Seth Hubbard,  leaving his estate to his black house cleaner and naming Jake Brigance as the estate’s solicitor.   Big sparks fly as Seth’s children and Grand children contest the decision made in his last, hand written Will claiming he was under duress or that he was too poorly to be in his right mind.

What is so superb about this story, is the way that Grisham can have you gripped to every word on the page as you eagerly urge the characters to discover just a thread of information.  A truely captivating read that once again draws on the racial segregation of Southern America.

I think the ending is the best part, you must read it!

5 star

“It’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.”

“It’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.” – Danny says to his father

Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl

Inside all of us is… A Wild Thing

Inside all of us is Hope.
Inside all of us is Fear.
Inside all of us is Adventure.
Inside all of us is… A Wild Thing.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

…protect each other

Mockingjay quote

An Officer and a Spy

An officer and a spy

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An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Last year I read The Ice King and it wasn’t until I had finished the book that I realised the target audience was the male reader. Now that I can recognise the traits, I immediately cogitated this book as for men. Well, in all honesty it must be fairly obvious considering the first chapter was completely dominated by a military situation which involved a lot of military terms and phrases. I contemplated throwing in the towel and moving onto something more appealing to my female mind (feminists please don’t attack me).

I am glad I continued and endured the first few chapters of words that flew completely over my head, thinking to myself, “I am sure it will all come together”. And come together it did. The story then became fascinating, and I fell whole heartedly into Harris’ mindset, timeframe and location. Thinking about the characters whilst reading and then each time I put the book down I simply couldn’t get enough of when the next crucial revelation was arriving and from where.

The story is set on the Dreyfus Affaire, a true story about a Jew punished for allegedly being a traitor in the French army passing secret information to the Germans by being sent to live in squalid conditions on a remote island near the Faulklands.  If you google the story you will discover that Dreyfus was in fact innocent and the story details the discovery of his guiltlessness and the extremes people went to both punish and save him and those around him.

A truly fascinating read that both shocked and taught me about this infamous scandal.  I highly recommend this book.

5 star

Starting Over

Starting over

 

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Starting Over by Evan Grace

The book opens with a cutesy just turned 18 year old girl named Bellamy, dressing herself in preparation for losing her virginity with the guy she has been in love with like forever *yawn*. On reading the first couple of pages I did not have high expectations, especially after being introduced to other characters such as  ‘Lola’.  Just another trashy book that has somehow managed to claw itself onto the kindle most downloaded list.

In every sense I was correct, always follow your instincts. It was rubbish, a terrible story line which produced so many more questions than it could answer, but I was addicted and couldn’t put the book down! Yeah it was a trashy love story which could be predicted from the outset and yeah the names were terrible and the discourse appalling……but my god it’s addictive.

I would also like to mention that the book digresses on several occasions into a more intimate scenario. Perhaps not a book for the pure?

Four stars simply for being addictive

4 star

Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant

divergent-series

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Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

When you run, you aim to run negative times, always trying to beat your previous lap. So why can this concept not be applied to literature…we should all endeavour to be better the next time, shouldn’t we?  There are so many book series that seem to get worse as you read; Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent….

I enjoyed Divergent, the concept wasn’t unfamiliar with a very Hunger Games vibe; society sectioned off and conforming to set standards and expectations. It was also definitely a young adult read with the standard strong female lead, action, betrayal and secret love, so nothing new basically.  Having said that, a great read which I finished quickly.

Insurgent was a little odd for me but I kept reading simply to know more, although I wasn’t addicted to it like I was the first. It was pretty much the same as Divergent but with an added twist of some killed off characters returning.

Allegiant, well, it is a means to an end I guess. It reminded me of the Hunger Games trilogy in that the first two books were strong, exciting and addictive and then along came the third which saw the protagonist as a quivering mess doing odd things to save everyone but themselves. Starting strong then gradually getting worse.

I sound like I am being too harsh, I did mention that it is aimed at young adults so maybe I am being too critical. I read all 3 after all.  Actually, the books made me feel like I was watching some dystopian Barbie world come to life, dolls being controlled by humans……ooo that is a spoiler by the way!

4 star

 

 

There is a film, the reason for my reading the books in the first place. It doesn’t look that bad actually…

The Fault in our Stars

The fault in our stars

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The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Bought this on a whim somewhat foolishly after seeing that it was doing well in the charts and although I read it to the conclusion, I was disappointed.

The book follows two pretentious teenagers that seem to take great pleasure in the fact that they are so intelligent. The way that the characters interact with each other and the world merely stands to make them thoroughly unbelievable as characters as they simply do not behave like real life people do. It makes it seem as if the author is trying to show off how intelligent and brilliant he is by throwing in these deep meaningful and analytical conversations between the two main characters.

The book also deliberately throws in these ‘heart breaking’ occurrences that merely irritate the reader as oppose to cause them to well up with sadness. It actually eventually made me dislike both parties by the end of the novel. What was the most ‘throw up in your mouth’ cringeworthy was the sex scene where the author appears to have neglected to acknowledge that a string of chemo and radiotherapy is likely to have rendered both characters infertile and mentions ‘awkward condomy moments’ which feels like he is trying to keep parents happy as he promotes safe sex. It again, completely detracted from any realism with this book. The fact that she attempts to use the word ‘condomy’ is completely at odds with her usual poetic self.

My advice is to see that this book is aimed at a mainly female young teen audience and to avoid it if you do not fit into that category.

Ben

2 star

Divergent

Divergent

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Another young adult fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is Suzanne Collins meets George Orwell with a hint of dystopia (a la Margaret Atwood).

Part of a trilogy, of which I am on the 2nd now (Insurgent). I began reading it as the film has recently been released and I always prefer reading before watching a book.

I think I will provide a fuller review upon finishing the whole series :-), so for now it is a 4 star.

4 star

The End of the Affair

The end of the affair

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The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

This book was bugging me. Well not the book but my boyfriend, constantly telling me I should read it.  I asked him why? He couldn’t say, but assured me it was a great read. So thanks to his clear hidden talent for sales I downloaded it (Ha, there used to be a time one would buy or borrow a book).

I was blown away, Greene is no author. He is an artist! The story seamlessly flitters between the present and various stages in the past.  It is really hard to review this book without revealing anything about the plot, it also has a bizarre ending that leaves so much to the reader to attain closure.

I know it may seem like a strange review, with no substance. But this book blew me away with it’s sheer brilliance. Talent.

5 star

Unchartered by Tracey Garvis Graves

unchartered

 

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Uncharted by Tracey Garvis Graves

Read here about how I absolutely LOVED On the Island. I found this book about 2 days ago and as with her first I could not put it down. Tracey is a wizard when it comes to making her characters addictive, desirable, relate-able.  I was gripped to her every word and needed to keep reading.

The story behind the skeleton ‘Owen Sparks’ found in a cave whilst T.J and Anna were On the Island. Simply yet amazingly entwined within the first book’s events, a happy ending overall.

I only award 4 stars as there clearly was not enough!!

4 star

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

GONE_GIRL

Gone girl

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 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I began reading this book a few months ago, but a stream of good literature came along so I ditched it without hesitation. When it comes to books, I can be fickle like that.

When I think back to my first thoughts, there was no chemistry, hence why I found it so easy to just cast aside. But I was recently left high and dry after finishing A Respectable Trade  as I didn’t have any new downloads to choose from and being on the tube I couldn’t even use my 3G! My heart started to pound, a little sweat formed above my brow and my face was I imagine quite panic stricken. Frantically tapping through my library to find anything I hadn’t read yet, Gone Girl saved the day.  A little rusty at first but after a few days I got into a nice rhythm, it is a hefty book don’t you know?!

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you will know two things, the first my love of historical fiction and the second being my hatred for modern literature (juxtaposed I know!). So I didn’t have high expectations, I expected even less some form of actual writing skill. The story plods along and just when you feel like dropping off Gillian drops a bombshell. She uses this method frequently and after a few I realised just how much of a clever ploy this is.  I won’t divulge said bombshells as you may not have read it yet, and there is a film coming out this October. But take it from me, they are big news!

The book is in 2 parts, the second half got really interesting! I almost couldn’t put it down. She turned the whole story on it’s head and aside from a few snore-y parts, which I admittedly skimmed, I was genuinely hooked.

This book could be a five star, for many it probably is considering the amount of people I saw reading this on my daily commute…and the awards;

  • New York Times Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2012
  • Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainer of the Year
  • People Magazine Best books of the year
  • Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel
  • Amazon and Barnes & Noble Best of the Year
  • Macavity Award nominee for Best Mystery Novel
  • Anthony Award nominee for Best Novel
  • The Women’s Prize nominee for Fiction
  • Strand Critics Award nominee

But for now, it is a 4.

4 star

4 stars

The Alchemist

the alchemist

 

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

After reading that this book has remained steadfast in the NY Times Best-seller List for 267 weeks, I felt it was a no brainer. I had to read it, and with only 192 pages it would provide a welcoming break between Bond books.

Very easy reading, finished in about 3 days.  A lovely story about a boy who sets off to fulfil his ‘personal legend’, finds love along the way and realises….well I will keep that bit quiet.  I don’t think it is written particularly well and has a sort of stop start style, but it is full of  life lessons and I can’t wait to read it to my kids (If and when).

I think every book worm should read this, then pass the book on to a friend….

3 star

Brick Lane

Brick Lane

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

The story of an arranged marriage which sees a young woman, Nazneen,  living in a remote village of Goriphur in Bangladesh taking from her home town and sent to marry a 40 year old Bangladeshi man, Chanu, living in London.  It alternates between the present, the flashbacks of Nazneen’s childhood and letters between her and her sister, Hasina.

Brick lane has won countless awards and nominated for even more and I can 100% see that these were very much deserved.  Ali has a beautiful, intricate writing style that makes you feel like you are in the story absorbing the array of mixed herbs and spices, fondling the silk fabrics and slouching in the faux leather sofa observing the family’s financial and social difficulties.  The book allows the reader into a world I would never ordinarily have been privy too, that of a Muslim immigrant.  Ali draws so many social stereotypes and walks a thin line between racism and reality. So much of it I doubted was true, like Chanu believing that white people were “ignorant types” and how he is here just to take our money and leave….and yet there it is, written in a book that is not deliberately trying to be controversial.

The book spans decades and covers a lot politically, it includes world events and far eastern troubles and it is undeniably accomplished with style, knowledge and pride. But I cannot help but award Brick Lane with only 4 stars.  This is because Ali’s strength is also her downfall, too much content. I felt as though I had watched a whole years worth of soap operas and had all sorts of dramas thrown at me.  Then again, perhaps that is the point, that life is not easy and that this amount of hardship and trauma is real for so many people.

My favourite part of the book was the end “this is England, we can do what we want”.  Which is true, we are lucky to have freedom and rights and that is no more prevalent than after having read this book.

4 star

His Dark Materials Trilogy

hisdarkmaterials

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His Dark materials Trilogy: The Golden Compass (Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I am still suffering an almost quixotic heartbreak after finishing the final installment of this ingenious trilogy. It was such a sad ending, that brought tears to my eyes and an empathetic pain in my heart for poor Lyra and Will who carried this story to fruition. I say fruition, but there wasn’t actually a definitive ending. Just a love story left open, forever; “I will love you for ever, whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again…”

I have never read a story so brilliantly creative, it was amazing to visualize and watch in my head as I read. These books are directed at teens/young adults and after reading about Philip I have come to learn that he values Children; “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”
― Philip Pullman

I completely agree, it is only as a child or a young adult that you can fully appreciate the wonder of these books. Most adults would think the story was stupid and that children shouldn’t be filled with such unrealistic ideas.  But where is the harm in believing that we have a soul that we can talk to, or that friendship is a stronger bond than any other or that a promise is a promise!

Why o why did they not make the second and third in the series into films!? I heard on the grapevine that The Golden Compass was a bit of a flop in the cinema and the Church sabotaged the sequels being created. I thought this was a little far fetched, however, after finishing the books I can see how the Church would render any reader a heretic, which is a ridiculous statement I know as it is just a book….but I do question whether Philip was massively anti religion. The below are just some examples of anti-religious elements in the book;

  • After death you need to tell true stories to free your soul, there is no heaven or hell just release into the atoms of earth
  • The angels; Baruch and Blathamos, the same sex, lovers who help Will find Lyra
  • Naming our souls daemons and having them as a part of our being as opposed to something to tempt us.
  • “Ah, but i knew about them. I used to be nun, you see. I though physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn’t any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” Mary Malone
  • “I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are.” Mary Malone

YET:

“I think it’s perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don’t know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I’d want nothing to do with them.”

Do you know what, I think this book is massively open to interpretation, it is hard to even review as there are so many layers to these books, my favorite I think is the love story. Who doesn’t fall for a love story?

One final note, I wish I had a daemon in the form of an animal.

5 star

Inferno

Inferno

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Inferno by Dan Brown

If you have read all the books from an author, the news of a new book release will without doubt excite you. Fact.

As soon as I learnt of Dan Brown’s Inferno, I didn’t stop and question the quality or possible storyline I just thought ‘I need to read that book!’ I was exactly the same with his last, The Lost Symbol, and despite the awfulness of that book….here I am reviewing the next one. Funny how people often forget a previous bad experience if a ‘new’ and ‘better’ product emerges.

I have to admit at this point I didn’t have high expectations, in fact I assumed the plot will follow his previous tried and tested Langdon sagas in that, to cut a long story short, he saves the world against all odds. There was nothing extraordinary about this book, the girl, the deadline and the normal thrill of fact entwined with fiction that enables you to regurgitate a few facts after finishing the book, my favourite being the origin of the word Quarantine.

As a fan of Dan brown you have to read this, as any other reader, you won’t miss much. If I am honest, it would have been nice to see some sort of exciting twist to the story (aside this), but I was hooked, it was easy to read and I enjoyed it like I enjoy a nice pub lunch. Safe.

3 stars, perhaps could have been 4 had it involved something  new.

3 star

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Girl Lost

littlegirllost

 

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Little Girl Lost by Brian McGilloway

Currently the number 1 on the Top 100 paid on Kindle storefront. Not sure why I bought this, I think it was because after reading the Confession I assumed I would begin a crime binge. But alas! This book stopped me dead in my tracks.

The story of a girl who is found lost in the woods, bare footed in the snow by a police woman. The police woman has her own troubles, the police force is corrupt, there are kidnappings and fires and murders rah rah rah. One of those stories that is a maze of entwined story lines that seems to incorporate the whole of Northern Ireland and all the problems one small police force could possibly have, drama.

An ok book, not difficult to read and you can understand how this is in the charts, people these days seem to flock to the bad examples of literature (the diabolical 50 shades series to name one). Why is modern literature gradually falling into this pit of (ironic) shallowness!!! Where have all the good writers gone?

I gave this book 3 stars, it has a fairly good plot, a bit too busy at points and I found it quite hard to follow as the writer just seems to miss out points or maybe assume the reader is on the same thought train…either way, for such a simple read it’s baffling.

Has anyone else read this, or another of Brian’s? I can’t decide whether I like this.

3 star