Thursday, 5 September 2019

Summer Reading Highlights

It has been a couple of months since I last blogged, and am now returning from my little break with some of my reading highlights from the summer months. I do tend to take a couple of months off blogging mid year, usually when the summer school holidays start to approach here in the UK, as I find my summer runs a lot more smoothly when I reduce the things I am wanting/needing to do. Although I stop posting here on my blog during that time, I do still keep up with my Twitter, as that definitely requires a lot less commitment - I've updated reading over there, shared book mail, and taken part in a couple of readathons (which I'll be talking more about in my highlights). 

So, here's all things bookish with me for the last two months... 

I read a total of 17 books during July & August - 13 fiction & 4 nonfiction.

I took part in two readathons during the summer months - in July I took part in 24in48 (a weekend event) and in August I took part in Bout of Books (a week long event).

If you're unfamiliar with 24in48, the main aim for the readathon is to read as much as possible with the goal of 24 hours read time within the 48 hour time period. I've never actually 'completed' the readathon as such by reading for a whole 24 hours, but it isn't a win or lose type of thing - just have fun reading more than you usually would.

I read for a total of 14 hours & 55 minutes and completed 4 books!

Much like the last readathon, the gist of Bout of Books is to read more than you usually would in a given time period - a week - and just have some bookish fun really with challenges, chats and being immersed more in a bookish community. This time around I didn't do any of the challenges, keeping it low pressure with my focus being reading.

Even though the event is a longer one, I technically read less than the 48 hour event, but of course circumstances & mood play a large part in any readathon - I ended Bout of Books having completed two books fully & reading 918 pages.

I think both readathons were successful in their own way, and I thoroughly enjoyed returning to these tried & true reading events for me.

Before my summer break, I briefly mentioned my Harry Potter reread - I'm still rereading them, but not as a primary read.

I initially started my reread in physical book format, switching between my regular paperbacks & the illustrated editions, however I soon turned this reread into an audiobook only one. I have never listened to the audiobooks in full as a reread, and so it has been a lot of fun returning to the wizarding world in this way.

I'm currently on the 4th book in the series... So a way to go yet!

I've found this summer that I have read at a much slower reading pace than in previous years - at one point going two weeks without having finished a book - and yet I didn't worry about it or think a slump was coming on... I just embraced the pace.

Just as with other areas of life, there are seasons to things: reading slow this summer just felt like the right thing to do. Savouring the books I was reading, and also sitting with them - absorbing them fully before moving on to another. I read quite a few books this summer that I found deeply thought provoking, as well as a couple of books that sent me on research projects having become fascinated with a topic.

As readers we are everchanging, and I do think the pace at which we read is something that adapts as we do. For now, I'm continuing with this slow pace.


I hope you all had a great summer of reading!

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Favourite Books of 2019 | First Half

With the conclusion of June, we are now officially half way through the year (I have no idea how! I swear time flies the older you get), and I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on my reading so far this year as well as share some favourites.

I don't typically wrap up my year with a favourites post, as many do within the blogging community, however for the last two years I have shared a 'Recommended Reading' post as a wrap up - highlighting books that I think others should read for a variety of reasons. For me, there is a difference between my favourite books, and my recommended reading. Of course I'd recommend all my favourite books (& some may even end up on my recommended reading), but my recommended reading isn't made up of my favourite books.

When I think about the books I recommend, it is often to do with the book itself - enjoying a specific plot element, the characters were incredibly well written, or I enjoyed the message behind the story, etc. When I think about the books I'd call favourites, it is more about my feelings and the overall reading experience. I hope I've explained that well!

Anyway, on to my favourites for the first half of 2019. I have three nonfiction titles and seven fiction - I wasn't aiming for ten in total, but it is a nice round number.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper (library borrow)

Trekking Beyond: Walk the World's Epic Trails (I was gifted my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)
The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction (I was gifted my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

To me it has been interesting looking back on my reading year so far as I can notice shifts in my reading preferences... For example, I've been reading a lot more historical fiction this year, and a lot less thriller fiction. I do wonder how the second half of the year will pan out.

What has been your favourite book(s) of the year so far?

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Currently (Re)Reading | End of June

I have returned to Hogwarts.

This wasn't in my reading plan, in fact just last weekend I went to the library and borrowed a bunch of new books... However, I'm very much a mood reader, as I express a lot here on Reading with Jade, and right now I just need something familiar & comforting. 

I don't know where I'm going with this reread - will it be the whole series, or just a couple of the books (likely the former), but what I do know is I love being back in this world & with these characters.

Happy reading!

Monday, 10 June 2019

Recently Read Fiction + Currently Reading | June 10th

Throughout the month of May I had a self imposed reading challenge - to work through my unread middle grade books throughout the month - and whilst I really enjoyed the majority of the books I read (two titles being highly anticipated ones for the year), I have been happy to return to a regular reading pattern... A regular reading pattern being pretty much reading whatever I feel like!
I ended 'Middle Grade May' on the 29th of the month, and promptly devoured a whole fictional adult novel the following day, reading The Lost Man by Jane Harper. I've found with all three of Jane Harper's novels now that I'm able to fly through them, wanting to pick the story back up at any and every possible opportunity. 

Having been really quite invested in the Aaron Falk series, I was a little unsure about a standalone from Jane Harper... But at the same time this newest release of hers was one of my most anticipated titles going into the new year. There was no need for hesitation however, I came away from The Lost Man concluding it be my favourite of the three books Jane Harper has released.

The Dry & The Force of Nature are both books that are quite crime driven, whilst developing the character of Aaron Falk, whereas The Lost Man felt more character driven, with a crime/mystery tying everything together. I really enjoyed this slight variation, and felt the characters (especially that of main character, Nathan Bright) to be really well crafted - detailed backstory, life events that feel true to life, authentic reactions in certain situations, and more. The setting of outback Australia was really well presented, with the remote landscape lending to the desperation and isolation of certain characters. Also, the dynamics of the Bright family were really interesting to follow, although hard to read at times.

The Lost Man is quite a dark story, with abuse themes running throughout, however there were glimmers of light to be found within, and as a reader, it was nice to see that it wasn't all doom & gloom for characters you had connected with. 

Before finishing my talk about The Lost Man, I did just want to touch upon the title of this book - something I actually thought about quite a lot whilst reading - as it felt like such a fitting title for the book. The Lost Man could have applied to a handful of characters within the book, and I appreciate how appropriate of a title it is.

(Goodreads link)
Following on from The Lost Man, I picked up The Drowned Village by Kathleen McGurl; a new to me book & new to me author, I went in knowing very little about both.

The Drowned Village is told from a duel perspective, with the narrative being told in a present day timeline as well as a historic timeline largely from the 1930's.

Stella Walker grew up in a small village - an everybody knows everyone, we take care of our own type village - in The Lake District, however at the age of eleven the place she had always called home - Brackendale Green - is emptied and demolished making way for a new reservoir. This year, 1935, is significant for Stella in many other, including the death of her mother, and a long held mystery that still haunts Stella to this day, as an old woman in her 90's. 

When a heatwave arrives, and leaves areas of the Lake District dried up, Stella encourages her granddaughter, Laura, to visit the place she once called home, and to help her clear up & conclude a part of her own history.

The mystery is definitely what held me the most in The Drowned Village; it was intriguing and I really liked the little details that wove the modern day narrative & historic narrative together. I wasn't too keen on the romance side of this book (as it felt a little cliché at times), but it didn't deter me finishing the book, nor ruin my reading experience as a whole. I was held and engaged throughout my time with The Drowned Village, and would be interested in reading more books by Kathleen McGurl.

(Goodreads link)
Having just really enjoyed the historical elements of The Drowned Village, I decided to pick up another book steeped in history, heading to my shelves and deciding on The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola. 

In The Story Keeper we follow Audrey Hart, a young woman who is fleeing London in the hopes of securing a job as an assistant to a folklorist in Scotland - specifically on the Isle of Skye. Audrey has some of her own history with the island, and is keen to help out, and assist, Charlotte Buchanan, as a means of becoming independent of her family. 

There is a lot of change happening on the Isle of Skye, and Miss Buchanan is hoping to finish her book of folklore very soon, as more and more residents of the island are moving away. 

'"Every group of people have their own stories that they create to make sense of their world. Therefore, in folk stories, in fairy tales, we see the reflection of humankind: its strength, flaws, hopes, fears. They tell us what it takes to survive. That, Miss Hart, is why the stories are important, and why they must be protected."'

As Audrey settles in and adjusts to the island, young girls start going missing... Feeling invested and connected with the disappearances, Audrey sets out to discover exactly where these girls going, and what is happening on the island. Are the disappearances linked to the folklore the locals talk of, or is it something much more sinister?

Anna Mazzola has a beautiful writing style, and has pieced this story together so well.

The Story Keeper is an atmospheric mystery, with the backdrop and characters only lending to the darkness of the tale. If I were describe this book in one word, eerie would be it. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for an absorbing historical fiction read.

(Goodreads link)
Start as you mean to go on they say... And I did, with another historical fiction book, this one being a family saga: The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans. 

I first read a book by Harriet Evans last summer, and upon completion, knew I'd be keen to read more books of hers. The Garden of Lost and Found is her newest release, and I borrowed my copy from the library. At 480 pages, in hardcover, it is a chunkster, but a story I'm happy to have committed to. 

In the beginning, I did find it quite hard to fall into the story as present day main character, Juliet, leads a rather chaotic life which put me on edge a little, but also a lot of characters were being introduced in a short space of time and piecing together the threads was a little tricky at times... But once I got to grips on all of that, around the 100 page mark, I flew through this book quite quickly. 

The story centres around Nightingale House, a house that has been in the family for generations, with possession falling to Juliet at a time in her life when she is very much in need of a change. Once there, family history and long held secrets soon unravel.

I do quite enjoy books like this: family sagas that often focus around a house/building, and think that in itself is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book as much as I did.

(Goodreads link)
Last, but by no means least, I want to talk about my reading experience of The Hiding Places by Katherine Webb... And I'm sure you've already guessed that it's another historical fiction. What can I say, I'm very much a mood reader and have clearly been on a historical fiction kick of late.

I came across The Hiding Places by chance, whilst placing reservations for other books from the library online. The Hiding Places came up as a recommendation - I was drawn to the cover, and have read and enjoyed two other books by Katherine Webb, so I took a chance and reserved this one also.

Katherine Webb is a wonderful writer, and that shines through in The Hiding Places - she sets the scene of the story so vividly that you feel as if you are there yourself, with well crafted characters that you feel you know, and a story that you want to savour but also want to get to the end of to unravel the mystery; I find her stories truly engage and absorb a reader.

I don't know how to talk about the plot of this book, as it is so cleverly done and best left going in knowing little, as I did. I will say though, that if you have ever wanted to pick up a Katherine Webb book, do with this one, and dedicate yourself to the story and her writing... Pay attention; it is very important. 

The Hiding Places is my favourite Katherine Webb book I've read so far, and also one of my favourites for the year too.

(Goodreads link)
As of posting this, I'm not currently reading any fiction books at the moment... Today I'm going to pick up some new books from the library (& return old ones) that I've put aside for the next round of the Buzzword Readathon which starts on Wednesday 12th. If you want to find out more about this readathon then you can check the Twitter page - here.

Happy reading!

Friday, 31 May 2019

Reading Record | Middle Grade May (Week 4)

My reading record posts are a way for me to document all things bookish and reading in my life - typically you will see these posts monthly, however readathons and certain books will have their own specific reading record.

During the month of May I had challenged myself to read largely from my middle grade shelf, wanting to make a good dent in the unread books sitting on it. This post is sharing how I got on during my final week (& a few extra days).

All in all, I'm really happy with the amount of middle grade books I read in May - 12 books in total. 

Today I finished reading Frostfire by Jamie Smith - what I would describe as a high fantasy middle grade book. Whilst I appreciated the story, and greatly enjoyed certain elements such as the history, surroundings and world building, I didn't find myself as engaged with this book as much as others I've read this May.

In the evening I started Explorers on Witch Mountain (5 chapters read), which is the second book in a series by author Alex Bell. Although it has been a good number of months since I read the first book - The Polar Bear Explorers' Club - I found myself falling back into the story & returning to the characters so easily. 

Further reading done in Explorers on Witch Mountain - I'm now on page 122. 

I actually started reading a nonfiction book today that doesn't fall into the MG category, so I'm not going to talk about it a lot here in this reading record - but I did want to acknowledge it; this is the first time I have deviated from middle grade reading this month.

No reading done.

I read a further 70 pages in Explorers on Witch Mountain today, which means I have now passed the half way mark.

I finished reading Explorers on Witch Mountain by Alex Bell. I thoroughly enjoyed returning to the world of explorers, and the ending of this book definitely alluded to another adventure being in the works - which is exciting!

If you're looking for a fun middle grade read then I highly recommend this series. Not only are the plots and adventures engaging, but the dynamics of the friendship group are written well & authentically, the humour weaved throughout is wonderful, and there are morals and messages to be found along the way which I always appreciate in books written for this audience. 

Before bed today I read the first 5 chapters of the next book in the Find-Outers series by Enid Blyton - The Mystery of the Strange Messages (book 14).

I read up to page 182 in The Mystery of the Strange Messages by Enid Blyton.

Today I finished book 14 in the Find-Outers series. I have just the one to go now before completing the entire series - I think that is totally doable in the remaining days of May.

Moving on to the final book of the series, today I read just under 100 pages of The Mystery of Banshee Towers by Enid Blyton - with this book being 190(ish) pages (one of the shorter ones in the series), I'm already half way through.

Today I finished book 15, and the Find-Outers series as a whole. This is the second series I have completed of Enid Blyton's now... The first series was The Adventure series, which had 8 books, and that I think I enjoyed perhaps marginally more. I'm happy to have read the Find-Outers series and been involved in all the fun mysteries, however it seemed to lose focus a bit towards the end, in my opinion. 


Happy reading!

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Reading Record | Middle Grade May (Week 3)

My reading record posts are a way for me to document all things bookish and reading in my life - typically you will see these posts on a monthly basis, however readathons and certain books will have their own specific reading record.

Throughout the month of May I've challenged myself to read through the numerous unread middle grade books I have on my shelves; this post shares how I got on during week three.

I'm going into this new week having gone over the remaining books on my TBR, and roughly pulled together a timeline of as and when I hope to complete specific books. Overall, I'm happy with the rate at which I'm reading and the progress I'm making.

I started The Secret of the Night Train by Sylvia Bishop today; it is proving to be a really fun mystery read.

The Secret of the Night Train is one of those books you have a hard time putting down - not only is it an easy read, but engrossing also... Which is why I managed to finish it today. This was my first reading experience of this author, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books by her.

In The Secret of the Night Train we follow main character, Max, as she journeys from Paris to Istanbul - via 4 trains - in order to visit her great aunt. On route, Max finds herself mixed up in a mystery: a prominent jewel thief also appears to be taking the same journey as Max, and alongside the unlikely accomplice of a nun, Max is determined to detect & uncover the criminal. 

The story itself is engaging, funny, and also a little random at times, which amounted to a really enjoyable story. I would liken The Secret of the Night Train to Agatha Christie, but for a younger audience. 

I don't often read too much on a Wednesday as it is usually my 'busy day', however I did manage to read a handful of chapters in Frostfire by Jamie Smith - a fantasy adventure book that I actually started at the very beginning of May, and am slowly making my way back to.

Ended today on page 130 of Frostfire by Jamie Smith.

You know those days when it's grey and dreary outside, and all you want to do is hibernate with a good book and copious amounts of tea... That's how I felt this Friday morning, and after dropping my son off to school, I did just that - finding myself consumed in Our Castle by the Sea; I finished it in just a few hours.

Our Castle by the Sea is the second middle grade novel by Lucy Strange - I read Lucy's debut MG novel last year (The Secret of Nightingale Wood) and was totally blown away by it. This newest release hones in on the Smith family, lighthouse keepers on the English Coast, during the beginning of World War 2. Although middle grade fiction, Lucy Strange focuses on slightly darker matters in her writing, with the characters facing life changing, and often times devastating, events; she writes these with such delicacy though. 

I did really like Our Castle by the Sea, however it did feel slightly familiar to me as I read, with Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll springing to mind at times when reading.

Read a further few chapters in Frostfire today.

I had hoped to finish reading Frostfire today, however that didn't happen and I'm okay with that! I'm ending the week with 70 pages left in this book, and just under a handful of unread books left on my TBR for May.


Happy reading!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Reading Record | Middle Grade May (Week 2)

My reading record posts are a way for me to document all things bookish and reading in my life - typically you will see these posts on a monthly basis, however readathons and certain books will have their own specific reading record.

Last week I shared the first of many 'Reading Record' posts to come over the month of May, and talked a little about my self imposed challenge to read only middle grade throughout the month - this is week two.

Starting the week with another Enid Blyton mystery by reading the first half (ish) of The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage, which is book number 12 in the The Find-Outers series.

Not too much reading done today; a couple more chapters in the Tally-Ho mystery.

No reading completed today.

I finished reading The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage today. I'm just loving this series as a whole, and can imagine I would have been obsessed with it had I read them as a child.

This evening I started reading Everdark by Abi Elphinstone. Everdark is a short story, written & released for World Book Day back in March, and is an introduction to a new world (& series) that will be released very soon (end of May here in the UK). 

My first experience with Abi Elphinstone's writing was in a short story collection of winter tales, in which I admired the creativity and immersive nature of her writing. Last year I picked up Sky Song, and truly feel in love with her writing style.

Having read the first 5 chapters of Everdark yesterday, today I finished the rest of the book. I know I've already mentioned my love for her writing above, but honestly, I just love the adventures she shares and the characters she crafts. 

Abi Elphinstone champions the 'unlikely' person, and showcases that we all have our own strengths and quirks, with those being what make us unique.  I love this message, but particularly so in a MG book.

Ended the day with 10 chapters finished in the next book from the The Find-Outers series.

I finished reading The Mystery of the Missing Man by Enid Blyton. Another good read within the series, meaning I now only have 2 more mysteries to follow along with before I finish the collection.


Happy reading!

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Reading Record | Middle Grade May (Week 1)

My reading record posts are a way for me to document all things bookish and reading in my life - typically you will see these posts on a monthly basis, however readathons and certain books will have their own specific reading record.

This reading record is the first of many to come over the month of May, in which I'm challenging myself to read solely from my middle grade shelf. I love reading middle grade books, that's no secret here on Reading with Jade, and so I'm looking forward to the month ahead. 

Today I read the first short story within Emma Carroll's newest release: When We Were Warriors. You know when you pick up a favourite author you haven't read in a while, and fall in love with their writing all over again - that's how I felt with this. 

Throughout May, I'm also planning on finishing The Find-Outers series by Enid Blyton. I have been slowly working my way through this middle grade mystery series since last year, and am thoroughly enjoying it. I read the first three chapters of book number 11 before bed.

At just under 120 pages, I read Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson in just one sitting. The book is memoir like in telling, sharing the inspirational story of explorer Matthew Henson. Often times with MG books, when I reflect on keeping it in my collection I consider whether keeping it to share with my son one day, and Race to the Frozen North is definitely being kept for such a purpose.

I started Frostfire by Jamie Smith today, reading the first few chapters before bed. This feels like a book that is more suited to the older end of the middle grade age range, given the scenes that have occurred in the early stages alone - what I would think of as quite violent.

Today I finished reading When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll. I really enjoyed this collection of three short stories, and returning to her writing overall.

A couple of the stories included characters we've seen in previous full length books by the author, and all three of them had a common thread linking them together - I thought this was a nice touch.

Emma Carroll writes historical fiction for a middle grade audience, with this collection focusing on WW2. I think When We Were Warriors would make a great starting point to Emma Carroll's writing.

No reading.

I didn't read too much today; another 20 pages read in the Find-Outers mystery. I'm hoping for a good amount of reading tomorrow, completing this book at least.

Ending the week on three books complete; I finished the last 170 pages (give or take a few) of The Mystery of Holly Lane (book 11 in the Find-Outers series).


Happy reading!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Recently Read Nonfiction Reviews | The Happiest Kids in the World + The Enchanted Hour



- source: library borrow - 
Following on from a 2013 study in which Dutch children proved to be the happiest in the world, writers Rina & Michele decided to take a look at exactly why that is. Both authors of this book married Dutch men, and moved to The Netherlands - Rina from the US & Michele from the UK - and are now themselves raising families the Dutch way.

Through the thirteen chapters in this book, we're enlightened on various topics and the in way in which Dutch parents approach them, in contrast to how Americans or the British do. Subjects touched upon include the birth of a child and those first few months as parents, the school system used in The Netherlands, work-life balance as parents, letting go and the freedom given to children as they get older, the simple fundamentals of being a family, how sex education is taught, and much more.

As you can see, The Happiest Kids in the World encompasses quite a lot really, and I think having the perspective of not one, but two authors, really gave the book an extra depth. As well as their own experience, the book includes snippets from friends & family of both Rina & Michele, meaning you were able to learn & understand how the Dutch parent their children from various age points also.

I'm always interested in learning about different parenting methods, especially with regards to different cultures, and whilst I may not agree with all that the Dutch do, I definitely think there are some elements of their parenting that lead to such well balanced children - family meals, a good balance with work & home life, large amounts of time spent outdoors, less pressure with schooling etc.

I found value in this book, but I would also say it was written from a place of praise - with everything the Dutch do being amazing & positive, and the American & Brits not so much; through rose tinted glasses almost. Nonetheless, The Happiest Kids in the World proved to be a good base point for learning more about the Dutch method of parenting, and definitely made for fascinating reading.

- source: for review -
I was gifted my copy of The Enchanted Hour for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review -
Going into The Enchanted Hour, I anticipated the book to be all about the benefits of reading aloud to children, and perhaps a couple of snippets of bookish joys the author has experienced with her own children - and whilst both of those things can be found within The Enchanted Hour, it is also so much more than that. The writer of this book, Meghan Cox Gurdon, talks about the history of reading aloud, helps the reader to understand the developmental importance of reading aloud, highlights case studies & personal experiences of reading aloud and also promotes the importance of coming together as a family gathered round a good book - reading aloud isn't just for the young, a misconception held by many.

As I've expressed many times here on my blog, reading with my son is one of my absolute favourite things to do as a parent, so even though books hold a dear place in our household, I feel like The Enchanted Hour opened my eyes a little. I bookmarked a lot throughout my reading experience of this nonfiction title, these marked pages including insightful facts as well as wonderful quotes.

Something I found particularly interesting in The Enchanted Hour is the way in which the author talks about books - you can feel her passion and enthusiasm for the magic of books & reading, and I love how that came across in the writing. Although a nonfiction title, at times I found myself wrapped up in a cocoon whilst reading this, something I often only find in fiction reads; Meghan Box Gurdon has perfectly captured the beauty of oral storytelling in The Enchanted Hour.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

February Fiction Reviews | A Spark of Light + The Dream Daughter



- source: library borrow -
In his line of work as police officer and hostage negotiator, Hugh is trained in attending calls that require his skills in listening, understanding, and of course negotiating, however, the situation at The Center is a little different. The Center is a women's health clinic in the state of Mississippi where abortions are performed, and on this particular day that Hugh is called to the scene to negotiate, he is soon to learn that his daughter is inside the clinic with the other hostages, and of course, the gunman.

As well as the narrative of Hugh, A Spark of Light sees the story unfold through the eyes of gunman, George, and also the hostages inside the Center - they all have their own personal story to tell. Interwoven between the scenes at The Center is the story of Beth, a seventeen year old who finds herself under arrest after taking pills acquired online in order to perform an abortion at home. The stories that run alongside each other are linked, quite obviously so in my opinion, and yet they are wrote as if they are not - a mystery even - with all being revealed at the end.

There is a lot going on in A Spark of Light, with a lot of characters to keep track of also. Although all the characters had their own individuality, with the kind of detailed backstory you'll often find in Picoult's books, I found that I wasn't able to fully invest in them all given the writing style. Chronicled by time, the story is told backwards - starting at 5pm and concluding at 8am, with an epilogue wrapping everything up in the end. I wasn't really a fan of this story telling method, but also I found it to be quite jarring; each time frame is split up into many sections, with different character perspectives, that were too short for me to be fully pulled into their own story. I enjoyed certain characters - Hugh, Olive, Louie - however, I feel like when an author has gone to the length of creating these layered backstories for every single character, giving them place & purpose, I want to be able to enjoy them all. Not necessarily like and connect with all the individuals, but appreciate their presence - I feel like I wasn't able to in this book.

I think the focus of A Spark of Light - abortion in the US - to be a very prevalent and topical one; being the kind of book that opens up discussion and conversation. Also, as a UK reader, I found the topic to be quite eye opening one, what with the laws & views surrounding abortion being quite different to those here. I was genuinely interested in learning more about this subject - as well as reading the 'Author's Notes' to garner more information, I have independently researched to further my knowledge on this matter. I feel like this is the reason why Picoult has written this book: to get people talking & thinking.

Given the focus of abortion in this book, it is worth noting that as well as sharing facts, views, and opinions on what is quite a sensitive topic, there is a scene of an abortion being performed on a patient that is walked through step by step almost. I know some readers would perhaps find this uncomfortable to read, understandably, so I wanted to point that out.

Jodi Picoult is quite well known for honing in on current, and often times controversial subjects, with a careful and unbiased brush... I do think her own personal views were loudest in this book (stating in the 'Author Notes' that she is pro-choice), but that the subject matter of abortion was written in a thoughtful & tactful way.

Usually, in a book by Jodi Picoult, I find myself engaged in the story because of the characters - Picoult's writing style lends to very character driven books - however that wasn't the case for me with A Spark of Light. Whilst her familiar writing style is very much present, I found I was pulled more by the plot than the characters themselves - I wanted to know how the story ended because I was intrigued and committed, not because I cared for the characters as such.

I found I came away from A Spark of Light quite unsure, especially with regards to articulating my thoughts into a review... There were parts I liked about this book, and parts I didn't. I feel like I could sit and discuss A Spark of Light with fellow readers for a long time - it is that kind of book - however I maintain a spoiler free blog, which makes that tricky!

To sum up, for premise alone, I would recommend A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult.

- source: library borrow (but I want my own copy) - 
Having recently lost her husband in the Vietnam War, Carly finds herself with more grief when she learns that the baby she is carrying - all that she has left of her husband Joe - has a heart problem, a complication that could mean her unborn baby will survive for a very small amount of time once born, if at all. With the prognosis bleak, Carly's brother-in-law Hunter shares a long held secret of his own, one that could very well ruin all that he holds dear, but also one that could save the life of Carly & Joe's baby. Hunter gives Carly a glimmer of hope, and after some scepticism, she grabs at it whole heartedly.

Told from the perspective of Carly & Hunter, The Dream Daughter is a book that invites you in immediately, with a warm welcome that wholly envelopes you in the story. From the very first page I found myself invested in the complex, and emotionally charged, journey that Carly finds herself on.

I have previously read a few other books by Diane Chamberlain, and have always admired the way in which she writes family relationships - with heart & depth; the good and the bad. This writing style is very much present in The Dream Daughter, taking a deep dive at the unconditional love a parent has for a child, but with this particular book there is an added theme that I personally haven't seen her write before, but that works incredibly well woven into Carly's story. Although this theme is a large part of the plot, it isn't mentioned in the blurb, and so for that reason I'm not going to specifically state it here in my review. I will say it is something I love seeing in fiction, written in this way, and Diane Chamberlain has executed the use of it perfectly - allowing a level of understanding and simplicity for readers, with a topic that could be hard to wrap your head around.

There are many thoughts I'd love to share about The Dream Daughter, but without alluding to the theme I'm choosing not to mention, that makes writing about this book a little difficult.

You know those books that completely consume you - they hold you throughout, totally blow you away, and you want to treasure forever - well, The Dream Daughter is one of those books for me.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

February Fiction Reviews | The Way of All Flesh + An Unwanted Guest



- source: library borrow -
Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.

Simpson's patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education. 

With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh's underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

In this historical fiction novel, Victorian Edinburgh comes to life with a story that focuses on the evolving (& rather experimental) medical field, more specifically that of midwifery. 

The Way of All Flesh begins with us meeting Will Raven as he discovers the death of his friend, Evie, a prostitute living in Old Town; the circumstances surrounding Evie's death are suspicious. Will had recently lent money to a desperate Evie, and we soon learn that the money Will gave Evie was not his own, having borrowed himself from a unsavoury lender. Will, a medical student, is set to be on the up in terms of prospects, and by lending to Evie he hoped he was helping her also... However, he may have indirectly contributed to Evie's death.

With Evie's death hanging over him, Will is apprenticed to Dr Simpson - a man renowned in the midwifery field. Living under the Simpson roof in New Town (a stones throw away, and yet worlds apart, from the poverty he has previously experienced in Old Town), Will is soon the right hand man of Dr Simpson as he is taken on calls of labour with the doctor, attending to patients at clinic, meeting other medical professionals, and continuing to learn within his profession, including the use of chemicals as anaesthetic agents. 

Will is one of the main protagonists within this book, however there is another also - Sarah, the Simpson's housemaid. It is interesting to see the Simpson household from her prospective, as well as Will's, but what I particularly enjoyed in Sarah's narrative was her strength, curiosity, and want for equality. Sarah has a great interest in the field of medicine, but as a female & housemaid, she is often reminded about not getting ideas above her station, and yet she constantly shows drive and determination. 

As the story continues, it becomes clear that there is a doctor in the city undertaking procedures that are dangerous, and illegal, with the lives of many young women being lost... With their own agendas, Will & Sarah soon team up and become a unlikely, and yet dynamic, crime fighting duo.

The crime is central to plot of this book, however I would say the focus was more on the medical side. Personally, I had no issue with this, however I just thought it to be something of note. I found the medical information to be fascinating, especially with regards to the innovation of anaesthetic. Given the setting of The Way of All Flesh, it is also worth noting that some of the medical scenes are quite graphic & gory - labours that don't quite go as expected, as well as surgery performed without any anaesthetic.

After the opening chapters of this book, I felt that there was a macabre depth to the story that would soon unfold, with that feeling indeed being correct. Whilst the plot is unsettling at times, The Way of All Flesh is a wholly engrossing mystery possessing atmospheric surroundings, engaging characters, and interesting medical knowledge of the time period.

- source: library borrow -
A remote lodge in update New York is the perfect getaway... Until the bodies start piling up.

It's winter in the Catskills and the weather outside is frightful. But Mitchell's Inn is so delightful! The cosy lodge nestled deep in the woods is perfect for a relaxing - maybe even romantic - weekend away. The Inn boasts spacious old rooms with huge wood-burning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a book and someone you love.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity - and all contact with the outside world - the guests settle in for the long haul. The power's down but they've got candles, blankets, and wood - an genuine rustic experience! Soon, though, a body turns up - surely an accident. When a second body appears, they start to panic. Then they find a third body. 

Within the snowed-in paradise, something - or someone - is picking off the guests one by one. They can't leave, and with no cell service, there's no prospect of getting the police in until the weather loosens its icy grip. The weekend getaway has turned deadly. For some couples, it's their first time away. For others, it will be their last. And there is nothing they can do about it but huddle down and hope they survive the storm.

When six different parties of guests head to Mitchell's Inn, a secluded lodge in the mountains of upstate New York, for their respective weekend breaks, they didn't plan on finding themselves isolated and without power due to an ice storm. Friday evening, as the weekend begins, many of the guests try to get to know one another and make the most of being snowed in, that is until murder arises...

An Unwanted Guest is told in chapters, using a diary like method of clocking in, observing what is happening at given times throughout the weekend. Through this storytelling method we're able to get to know all the characters, what led them to this winter weekend away, as well the dynamic they have with their direct fellow guest - for example, we know Henry and Beverley, a middle aged couple, are away on a make or break trip, with their marriage on the rocks and tensions high between the pair. Each set of guests have a unique story of their own, and it is interesting to see how the individuals interact within the group of hotel patrons. A lot of the scenes I felt like I was people watching, and I really liked that.

Spanning the course of a weekend, the pacing of the plot within this book was really well done, and I felt invested in the story from pretty early on. I really enjoyed the writing style - a lot of the narrative was quite short & snappy, but yet there still felt like depth to the story and characters. The author wrote in such a way that I found I was frantically page turning at times, and could empathise with the paranoia and uncertainty many of the characters felt.

One thing that knocked my personal rating of An Unwanted Guest was the actual murderer reveal, which is a little disappointed in a sense as when reading a mystery thriller everything is leading up to the ending pretty much. Without giving away too, I will say that everything was plonked in front of you at the end, as opposed to having been put together through clues found throughout the book. The ending is two parts almost, the murderer reveal, and more - the more definitely redeemed my disappointment of whodunnit.

This was my first reading experience of Shari Lapena, and I don't see it being my last.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Reading Record | January

My reading record posts are a way for me to document all things bookish and reading in my life - typically you will see these posts on a monthly basis, however readathons and certain books will have their own specific reading record.

This reading record covers the entire month of January.

- Note: any books marked with an asterisk (*) I have been gifted for free in exchange for an honest review -

Starting the new year with two fresh new reads - I had been planning this; strategically planning my books around starting the new year on a clean reading slate. Both of the titles I'm starting - When All Is Said* (fiction) and Trekking Beyond* (nonfiction) - are review books, but ones I've been super keen to delve into.

Today I have made time for reading at many intervals throughout my day - start as you mean to go on!

I finished reading Trekking Beyond* - a great book to start the new year with; inspiring adventures... Even if not to the far flung destinations featured within.

Today I placed my first book order through Abebooks - a hub for independent & second hand booksellers - and have ordered three books through two different sellers. I'm keen, and slightly anxious, to see them arrive.

Buying second hand books online means you can't actually see the condition of them, unlike in a store, however I have very few resources locally in which to buy second hand books. 

Fingers crossed!

Finished my first fiction title of the year - When All Is Said by Anne Griffin*; a heavy but poignant fiction book to start the year on. A solid start to my year in fiction. 

Round 24 of Bout of Books begins today. I have a whole reading record post of the week long readathon, which you can find here. The short of it... I read 3 books in total during Bout of Books.

The first of my books from Abebooks arrived today - happy with my experience with this seller. Book was described as being in very good condition, which if I'm honest I was a little dubious about, but I would say it was indeed accurate. I paid £3 and some pennies for a used copy Fire Season by Philip Connors (a nonfiction title I want to read this year), when it would have cost me 4 times that amount new. Such a good saving, and I look forward to reading this book in the near future.

Started the week with a trip to the library - I had a reservation to pick up, and also two returns having completed them during Bout of Books. I came away from the library with 3 books in total, even though I went in for the 1, with one of the borrows being Kate Morton's newest release: The Clockmaker's Daughter.

Without a doubt Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors, and her 2018 release of The Clockmaker's Daughter is a book I have been anticipating reading since publication... However, I own all her other books in paperback, and so have been holding out for the release of that in order to purchase my own copy.

I hadn't even thought about borrowing this book from the library, but after stumbling across it whilst browsing, I happily checked it out to bring home with me... No more waiting until April (paperback release in the UK). Of course I jumped straight into the book once home!

I'm going into the new week with the aim of finishing up some books that currently have lingering bookmarks.

I have had a week of quite distracted reading, so I've been picking up things on & off depending on my mood, resulting in no books finished this week. I wouldn't be too fussed about that, however 24in48 is coming up next weekend and I want to go in with a fresh TBR and not multiple other books hanging over me so to speak. I will be more focused this week.

Today I finished reading The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton. Obviously, I not long ago spoke of my delight at finding this title at the library... However it wasn't until the first 150ish pages that I really got into the book (I do think this contributed to me distracted reading week). I will have shared a review of The Clockmaker's Daughter by time I post this, but I will say it wasn't my favourite Kate Morton.

Finished off the nonfiction title I had been reading - The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker*. I'm trying to keep up my nonfiction reading (which I focused on a fair bit last year) by picking up at least one nonfiction book a month, so I'm happy to have completed two this month now.

Also, today I was approved on Netgalley for the newest Michelle Paver book: Wakenhyrst*. Out in early April, this is one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and I'm so happy & thankful to be able to get an eARC!

I pulled together my TBR for 24in48 today - a readathon taking place over the weekend.

Taking part in 24in48 was so much fun - I read four books (one adult fiction & 3 middle grade mysteries) in just under 14 hours, and found a bunch of new to me bloggers to follow also. You can find my 'Reading Record' post for this readathon here.

Ending the month finishing Roar by Cecelia Ahern. I have been working through this collection of short stories all month, and found I really enjoyed it. Highly recommend!


Happy reading!

Friday, 1 February 2019

January Fiction Reviews | The Clockmaker's Daughter + The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley + Roar



- source: library borrow - 
My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead whilst another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe's life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artists sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Although I only discovered her books a few years ago now, I would without a doubt say that Kate Morton is a favourite author of mine; I steadily worked through her backlist books, and having adored those, I would say my anticipation to read The Clockmaker's Daughter was quite high... But it didn't quite meet the same level of feelings as her other novels for me. I did enjoy The Clockmaker's Daughter, however I didn't love it like many of her other books.

Kate Morton definitely has a writing stamp - being well known for historical fiction infused with a mystery, with interwoven timelines of past & present. If you look over her other books, you can see underlying themes and styles throughout them, understandably so (I'm not knocking that - I actually like when an author has a writing stamp; going in knowing what you're getting). The stamp can be found in The Clockmaker's Daughter, but she has also switched things up a little.

Initially I found it difficult to get into The Clockmaker's Daughter, however after the first 150(ish) pages (part 1), I soon found myself flying through and enthralled in the unfolding story - which is complex. The Clockmaker's Daughter isn't the kind of book you just fall into, or one I would deem an easy read; you need to remember the characters (of which there are many), follow along closely, and pick up on the little things, in order to fully immerse yourself in the story.

I enjoyed the plot of the book, and the way in which everything was woven together, however some of the characters fell a bit flat, with the narrative of Birdie and the pull of Birchwood Manor being the main hold for me throughout. 

As well as the characters, I wasn't a fan of the ending of this book; I wouldn't say it was done in the style of Kate Morton's other books - everything tidied up neatly in the end. I feel like each story link had an ending, but not the depth they deserved; some of the conclusions left me pondering.

There were definitely positives and negatives for me, but I do believe they balanced themselves out given that overall I would say I had a good reading experience with this book. I'm happy to have read The Clockmaker's Daughter, however it isn't a Kate Morton title I'd recommend for first time readers of her writing.

- source: my bookshelf - 
After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife's hometown, Hawley finds word as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother's mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter's present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.

Both a coming-of-age novel and literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.

I love reading books with familial relationships at the centre, and that's what prompted me to pick up The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley - I knew very little about this book going in, having only come across the book when another blogger shared it in their favourites of the year post.

The story follows the relationship of Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo, who have lived an unsettled life, but have now set up long term upon us meeting them. The two of them are trying to make a place for themselves in the hometown of Loo's mum (& in turn Samuel's wife), who died when she was very young.

Alongside the present day narrative we also have alternating chapters that allow us to learn more about Samuel - how he came to be a man marked with twelve bullet wound scars, the reason why they have lived an unsettled life, and also how he came to be a single father. Without a doubt, Samuel Hawley is a flawed man, and yet as a reader I came to care for him and felt invested in his life. Whilst a man with faults, Samuel's relationship with Loo, was interesting to watch unfold as you could see he struggled (& thrived) at protecting and providing for his daughter; I like that the author explored this kind of family dynamic, as well as touching upon being a product of your environment.

As we look into Samuel's past, we also follow Loo as she makes her journey into teenage years, and has her own set of trials & tribulations. There is growth as a person, self development, love for another, and also unresolved mysteries surrounding her childhood.

The two storylines meet at the end, with Samuel and Loo truly coming together with a little more understanding also. Hannah Tinti concluded the themes in this book well, however the plot itself was kind of open ended. Often times I don't like when a book is left open for interpretation, however I felt it worked well for The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.

Much has gone into this book, with a mixture of themes explored, and genres colliding, however at the heart of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley you'll find love, acceptance, and belonging.

- source: my bookshelf -
Have you ever imagined a different life?
Have you ever stood at a crossroads, undecided?
Have you ever had a moment when you wanted to roar?

The woman in these startlingly original stories are all of us: the women who befriend us, the women who encourage us, the women who makes us brave. From The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared to The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf and The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged her Husband, discover thirty touching, often hilarious, stories and meet thirty very different women. Each discovers her strength; each realises she holds the power to make a change.

Witty, tender, surprising, these keenly observed tales speak to us all, and capture the moment when we all want to roar.

Short story collections always make for interesting read - with some stories liked and others not so much - but hopefully something for everyone found within: I found this to be very much the case with Cecelia Ahern's newest release, Roar.

Within Roar you'll find thirty stories highlighting prevalent matters that women face in day to day life - these are all told in a creative way, with magical realism running throughout, and all of which are handled in a sensitive manner, even when the story itself is humorous in nature. The collection as whole is all about empowering & lifting women - which the stories themselves definitely put across. There are a variety of themes that run through the book, and also diversity in the characters too.

Speaking of characters, each story has a different woman front and centre, however she has no name; being referred to as 'the woman'. I think this was a brave writing tactic as it could go one of two ways - you'd feel connected to the character as you can put yourself in their shoes more easily, or you'd feel disconnected from the character as she hasn't got the depth & substance we'd be used to in a book. Personally, I found the focal woman of a story having no name didn't impact my reading experience in a negative way.

Naturally there were some stories I enjoyed more than others, with a few of my favourites including: The Woman Who Grew Wings, The Woman Who Ate Photographs, The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged Her Husband, The Woman Who Wore Her Heart on Her Sleeve, The Woman Who Guarded Gonads, and The Woman Who Smiled.

Roar is a wonderful collection of cleverly written short stories that you can dip in & out of (I read my copy throughout the month of January), and would make a good introduction to Cecelia Ahern's writing style.
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