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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

Lara Avery – The Memory Book

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I’m not going to lie, I bought this book purely based on the cover, and only because Waterstones was ‘buy one get one half price’ and I’d already picked up the book I wanted. But boy am I glad that this cover leapt off the shelves at me.

As the title of the book suggests, this is a book of memories. Samantha has just been diagnosed with a disease called NPC, which will have dementia-like symptoms and she wants to write a book for Future-Sam to remember who she was and what her dreams for the future were.

I guess you could kind of compare this book to something like The Fault In Our Stars, where the main character has a disease and you live it through their eyes, but this somehow seemed way more gut-wrenching. As the effects of the book were not just physical but intellectual, you could see Sammie starting to fall apart through her own words and it broke my heart.

I’m not ashamed to say that by the end, big fat ugly tears were leaking out of my eyes and falling silently onto the pages of the book. As I got to the last few pages, it was pretty obvious what was happening, even though I hoped against hope it wasn’t true. But for all the ugly tears, it was a happy ending too, the pieces of Sammie’s life had pulled together into a perfect place for her and that made me happier than anything.

I’ll definitely remember this book, it wasn’t an easy read, but it has left its mark on me. Find happiness in all moments, because you never know when you won’t be able to do that anymore. And remember that your happiness might not be what you expected, or what you had planned all along. And that’s okay too.

Charlaine Harris – Night Shift

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I’m so very glad that I decided not to read this series as soon as it came out, because it’s been great being able to read three books back to back and not have to wait a year for each one to be released.

This book definitely ramps up the excitement factor from the first two books, it seems like there’s a lot more going on, and it feels much more tense.

The crossroads which have been mentioned so often throughout the series are suddenly the centrepiece of the story, as people start to turn up at the crossroads and kill themselves. It’s just a tad scary for everyone living in the town, and it seems like it’s down to the vampire Lemuel to discover what’s causing this terrifying turn of events. And when Fiji starts hearing a terrifying voice, it seems like her witchly powers are going to be called into action too.

I definitely enjoyed the more action-packed nature of the book, as well as the fact it kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out if they’re going to discover the secret in time and save the town and its residents (new and old).

But the ‘ritual’ that Fiji has to go through in order to stop the menace felt wrong to me. It didn’t feel natural to the story and it felt kind of like Harris had wanted to shove back in some of the more racy scenes that were prevalent throughout the Sookie Stackhouse novels but had been missing from these books so far. But I’d much rather Fiji have got together with her chosen partner in a more natural way, this just made me cringe all over.

It didn’t ruin the whole book for me, but it put a major dampener on how much I enjoyed the finale, and made me less likely to want to read the next book in the series (if there will be one).

Charlaine Harris – Day Shift

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After the end of the first book in this series, I didn’t even wait ten minutes to pick this up as I was desperate to find out more about the other characters in the town of Midnight, Texas.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Although Manfred, Fiji and Bobo still seem to be the main characters in this story, we learn an awful lot more about the secrets that the other characters are hiding. But Bobo manages to stay out of the spotlight in this book and the spotlight is very heavily turned on Manfred and Olivia, after one of Manfred’s clients dies during a consultation and two people that Olivia was seen having dinner with in the same hotel also wind up dead.

It seems like Olivia may be a more dark character than we first imagined, but I won’t go into too much detail and spoil it for you! I will just say that I don’t think we’ve quite learnt all there is to learn about Olivia, and I think there’s probably more to come in subsequent books in this series.

We also meet new characters in this book, including a familiar face from the Sookie Stackhouse novels, Quinn the weretiger. And he brings a young boy with him who he says is his son, but he’s growing at an alarming rate, and pretty soon the residents of Midnight realise that it’s the worst possible moment for the spotlight to be on the town after these murders, the last thing they want is more people hanging around!

As with the first book, the goodreads reviews seem to be overwhelmingly negative, but I’d take them with a pinch of salt. If you like Charlaine Harris, you’re bound to like this book, just don’t expect it to be quite as fast-paced as the Sookie books, it’s a bit more sedate than that (but still keeps you turning page after page).

Charlaine Harris – Midnight Crossroad

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It’s no secret that I love Charlaine Harris, I think I’ve read over 30 of her books now. But this one has been out for a while and I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t bought it yet. Maybe I knew that once I started reading, one book wouldn’t be enough, because I bought the first 3 all at once.

In this book, you can kind of tell that there’s a lot of setup going on for the next books that will be released, as it does take quite a lot of time before any of the ‘action’ starts, but that’s not to say that the setup is uninteresting. We’re introduced to Manfred, who has newly moved into the town of Midnight, a small underpopulated town in Texas, where most people only stop long enough for the traffic lights to change at the crossroads.

But what was lovely was that Manfred comes from the Harper Connelly books of Harris’ that I previously loved, and I really like the fact that this is a bit of a crossover. Lily Bard from the Shakespeare mysteries also gets a mention too.

What was surprising for a Charlaine Harris novel was that the romance was at an absolute minimum. I kept expecting something to happen between Fiji and one of the other characters, but nothing ever did. Very weird, but not entirely unwanted, I sometimes think that the ‘romance’ can get in the way of the rest of the story.

I’ve been reading the reviews on Goodreads and it seems like this book is getting slated pretty heavily, but I definitely don’t agree with that. It doesn’t have the excitement and drama of the True Blood series, but I really like the more laid-back feel of this book, like the Lily Bard or Aurora Teagarden books.

I can’t wait to find out what happens in the next book, and find out more about some of the strange characters that live in Midnight. I’m sure that’s going to unravel very quickly!

Lemony Snicket – The Wide Window

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After escaping from the clutches of Count Olaf yet again, but forced to leave Uncle Monty’s house by his unfortunate demise, the Baudelaire children find themselves on Damocles dock, being put into a taxi by Mr Poe to take them to their Aunt Josephine’s house overlooking Lake Lachrymose. The children are not hopeful that she will be a better guardian than Uncle Monty, and unfortunately it’s looks like they may be right.

Because Josephine is frightened of absolutely anything. The door mat, the door knobs, the telephone, the cooker, everything. So much so that their meal on the first night in Josephine’s home is cold cucumber soup, and they have to put a pile of tins in front of their bedroom doors so they will know if a burglar enters the house.

But the siblings can handle this, as long as they are safe from the clutches of Count Olaf, after all, there’s a great big library overlooking the lake and they still have each other. But alas, not. Aunt Josephine is forced to take them into town to get supplies to stock up for the coming hurricane, and there she meets a man called Captain Sham. But poor Aunt Josephine won’t listen to the children’s protests that he is actually Count Olaf – after all, the Captain has a wooden leg, and Count Olaf definitely did not!

When the children wake up the next morning to find a hole in the library window and a note apparently from Josephine saying that she entrusts their care to Captain Sham, it looks like Count Olaf may finally get his hands on the children.

But the children won’t give up that easily, and they come through with ingenious ways to escape from this horrible horrible man.

I LOVE this book, and not just because the ‘Lachrymose Leeches’ have been a running joke in our house for the 15+ years since we first read it together. These are only short books, but very enjoyable and great for reminiscing!

Lemony Snicket – The Reptile Room

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Before reading this book, I looked at some of the reviews on Goodreads and it seems like a lot of people complaining that this book (and the series) are quite similar to the first book. Well, its a children’s book and the whole series is devoted to Count Olaf trying to get his hands on the Baudelaire children, so obviously they’re going to be slightly similar.

But I have no problem with that. You know kind-of what the plot is going to be but it’s completely different in execution to the others. I actually love how the author can dream up such wild plots for his books, he must have an incredible mind.

In this book, the Baudelaire children have been shipped off to their Uncle Montgomery’s house. He is a herpetologist (which means he studies reptiles), and he seems to be the perfect guardian for the children. But when his new assistant Stephano arrives, Violet, Klaus and Sunny immediately know that this isn’t Stephano, it’s Count Olaf.

But of course, they’re only children and they are very distressed by the death of their parents, so no-one will listen to them. And this obviously doesn’t go very well, in fact some may say that it was disastrous for Uncle Monty.

Another great read, I love reading about how the children can get themselves out of each situation with their inventive genius, their bookish knowledge and their very strong teeth!

Lemony Snicket – The Bad Beginning

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These books take me back to my childhood, we read them as a family as they came out, but I’m not sure now that I ever actually reached the end of the series. As the Netflix series has just been released (which is great by the way), I thought I’d take the chance to read them all again.

The Baudelaire children might be the unluckiest children in the world, and we are introduced to them in this first book of the thirteen. We’re also introduced to scheming Count Olaf and his cronies, and of course the hapless Mr Poe.

A lot of the reviews of this book on Goodreads seem to be quite negative about the way that this book is written and that it’s quite patronising (that means that it talks down to you), with the use of describing the meanings of words mid-sentence.

But I think it’s done quite naturally through the book and I think these people may have forgotten that these are children’s books, and this way of writing means that the author can introduce younger readers to bigger words. I used to have to write down all the words I didn’t know so that I could ask my mum what they meant later, so this would have been a relief for her!

Saying that they are children’s books, the actual plot is quite adult – for example in this book Count Olaf tries to take control of the Baudelaire fortune by marrying Violet, the oldest child (but still only 14 years old). But it’s done in quite a light-hearted way so that although as a child you would feel the peril, it’s not horrifying!

I’m so looking forward to re-reading all these books!

Anne Brontë – Agnes Grey

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I realised recently that I have never read anything by Anne Brontë, and I decided that I had to remedy that situation. She seems to be the most overlooked of the Brontë sisters, hidden away behind her sister’s bigger novels; Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

But I’m not entirely sure why, as I found this book utterly delightful. You can tell more from this book than from Charlotte or Emily that the Brontë’s were daughters of a Pastor as there are definite Christian themes to the book.

In the book, Agnes is the daughter of a Pastor who has lost the family money and is now become quite ill. Agnes decides that she will become a governess in order to earn some money to keep the family afloat, and despite having no prior experience, she finally persuades her family to let her set out into the world.

The first family she finds are appallingly behaved and poor Agnes almost cannot bear it, but she is determined not to quit as she knows how important the money is, and doesn’t want to think of what people will think of her if she does. But when the family tell her she is no longer needed, you can feel the relief pouring out of the pages.

The second family that Agnes ends up with is barely better, but she is a little older now (as are the children under her care) and has some experience, so she can tolerate it much better. And it is here that we are introduced to her love interest: the curate at the local Church.

It would hardly be a romance novel if there wasn’t some turbulence, and when Agnes has to leave the children and return home to her mother, and then Mr Weston moves away from the village too, it seems like that will be it for the doomed lovebirds.

But we all like a happy ending, and of course this has one. My only problem was that the ‘happy ending’ was too close to the end, and it felt like we were cut off without seeing their relationship flourish, in fact when it has really only just begun. Being the daughter of a Pastor, potentially she thought she had to keep control over her writing, but the romance did lack a bit of the fire and passion that you feel from Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

The book to me is more of a look at society and and the smokescreen of civilization used by the upper-classes at that time – which Anne will have had first hand experience of as she herself was a governess. We learn more about Anne’s opinions of humankind that we do of Agnes, the main character in the book, which is probably why her own relationship takes a back-seat to the observations of the others.

I’d love to read this book again, and will definitely be looking for more of Anne’s books throughout the year. It seems like ages since I’ve read the Brontë’s and Austen etc, and I love it so much!

Just a snippet of some of the more ‘religious’ parts of the book, which may surprise you if you weren’t expecting it in a Brontë novel:

“‘Well’, says he, ‘you know the first and greatest commandment – and the second, which is like unto it – on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets? You say you cannot love God, but it strikes me that if you rightly consider who and what He is, you cannot help it. He is your father, your best friend: every blessing, everything good, pleasant, or useful, comes from Him: and everything evil, everything you have reason to hate, to shun, or to fear, comes from Satan – His enemy as well as ours. And for this cause was God manifest in the flesh, that He might destroy the works of the Devil: in one word, God is love, and the more of love we have within us, the nearer we are to Him and the more of His spirit we possess.'”

C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

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For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?

This is the question that C.S. Lewis is attempting to answer in this book, The Problem of Pain. And if you’ve ever read a C.S. Lewis book before, you’ll know that he is very good about writing the book he wants to write (unlike the last book I read).

Splitting the book up into small sections, Lewis unravels the answer to this oft-asked question in such a way that you can’t doubt that he is right. He writes in such a considerd way, I found myself nodding along with what he was saying constantly.

That said, Lewis is a very clever man. And in some places, I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again because I just couldn’t get what he was trying to say. Obviously the fault there is entirely mine, but I would definitely not recommend you try and read this book when you’re tired or just before bed when your mind has a tendency to drift.

I feel like this is the kind of book you can read again and again and get something new from it each time. I’d say that if you’re new to Christianity and you want the ‘problem of pain’ to be answered, there are probably books out there that are easier to read, but I doubt any of them are as coherently put together and in such detail as this.

As with all Lewis books, there are so many quotes that I could pick as my ‘favourites’, but I have managed to narrow it down to two which made me put the book down and think ‘wow’.

“The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader.”

“In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends (since both these disturb the reason) but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot, it is about you and me.”

I’ll definitely be coming back to this book again in the future, probably many many times.

Jonathan Falwell – 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ

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I’m in two minds on this book. On one hand, I feel like when I was reading it, I did find myself nodding in agreement with things that were said. But on the other hand, I started reading this book in July last year and have only just finished it. Usually if I really get into a book, I read it pretty quickly, especially one like this that wasn’t very long.

The book professes to take us on a journey through the roughly 1000 days of Christ’s ministry on earth, from his baptism in the River Jordan, through to his death and resurrection.

And I guess it did what it said , my only complaint would be that we spent less time actually ‘in the Bible’ and studying the readings than we did reading anecdotes that didn’t to me always seem related to the part of the Bible we were talking about.

The book assured us that we would ‘study’ and ‘look closer’, but I felt like we were barely scratching the surface. I expected a more in depth study on some of the subtleties that we may not notice on first (or second or third) read, but I just didn’t get that.

If you’re looking to learn about Christ’s ministry on earth, I’d say you would probably be better off reading it directly from the gospels than hoping you would get much more insight here.