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

Emma Jane Kirby – The Optician of Lampedusa

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For all those people who think that ‘immigrants are coming over here to get our benefits and our jobs’. For all those people who say that they are stupid to risk their lives coming over here. For all those people who think the migrant crisis can be ignored. For all those people who couldn’t care less. This book is for you. And it is essential reading.

For this book is not an easy read. It’s not a nice fluffy bedtime story that is going to leave you feeling warm and cosy inside. It’s a harrowing tale of one man’s experience with a group of migrants. A single group out of the many who have endured the same fate.

The optician has been looking forward to the summer boat trip with his friends for ages, and as he wakes up after the first night at sea, he curses the seagulls who are shrieking all too loud. But as he gets out of bed and drinks his first cup of coffee, he realises that those sounds are not seagulls, but the shrieks of dying people screaming for help. And so the optician’s nightmare begins.

We’ve all heard on the news about the sinking of migrant boats, but it can feel distant and hard to understand the true horror. But Kirby has done an excellent job of telling the opticians story in a way that is impossible to forget. I sat on the bus openly weeping for an hour yesterday morning because I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, but I also couldn’t forget that this isn’t fiction. It’s real. It’s still happening.

I don’t know what drew me to buying this book, I think it was partially due to the fact that Waterstones are donating £5 to Oxfam for every copy sold, so I thought I’d have nothing to lose. But I can honestly say that this book will haunt me. It’s impossible not to be affected by the beautifully written prose, and I will recommend this book to everyone.

Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams – She Reads Truth

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The anticipation for this book was immense. I heard about the book when it was first announced on the She Reads Truth website, I eventually got around to pre-ordering it a month before it came out, but Amazon made me wait until an entire month after the release date before I actually got my hands on it! I don’t know why it took so long, but when it arrived I was dying to read it!!

And like the She Reads Truth reading plans I’ve been following for the past year, it did not disappoint. The subtitle for the book is ‘Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away‘, and (as I interpreted it), it was all about making sure that you anchor your life on the things that matter (i.e. God), and not on the things that are unimportant; all those things we make such a fuss about, but that in the end, we can’t take with us.

Threaded through the book are very personal narratives from the two authors. In the book, they’ve laid themselves completely bare, and it made me feel totally connected to them in a way I haven’t in a book for a long time.

In thinking about what quotes I wanted to pull in here from the book, I was left with way too many to list all my favourites. But what I will leave you with is my absolute favourite quote, which I read on the bus on the way home from work. It spoke to me so deeply, and I read it over and over again on that journey thinking that the book was speaking directly to my heart.

“In God’s Word I’m reminded that I don’t secure my standing before him by any guarantees I make, or even those I manage to keep. I am secure because He holds me in the safety of His covenant, the same covenant he has kept for generations past and will keep for generations to come.

The promises I make to God don’t impress him. They don’t score bonus points in some heavenly account. Ultimately only one promise is necessary, only one guarantee is required: The promise he’s made to me. And that promise has already been kept, sealed, for eternity. I can rest in it. I can stop making my own.”

Every Christian woman should read this book. It was the best read I’ve had in ages, and spoke so many truths to my heart about His Truth.

Denise Grover Swank – The Substitute

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I have very mixed feelings about this book. I decided to read it on a whim while I was stuck in traffic on a bus and I’d forgotten to bring my paperback with me, so I quickly loaded up the top free books list on the Kindle app, and the cover for this one jumped out at me as I’m currently preparing for my wedding next year.

In many ways, this was the perfect romantic story. But the cynical part of me just couldn’t help scoffing that everything seemed to fall into place way too perfectly.

I found Megan’s character a little spineless. I mean, if you’ve split up with your fiance, you should probably tell your parents instead of just flying home for your wedding without a clue what you’re going to do. And going along with the story that a complete stranger is your fiance is completely bonkers.

But although the story was ‘too good to be true’, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by it. There was something so magical about the way that the book had been written that I couldn’t help but keep reading and rooting for Megan and Josh to somehow work things out and end up together.

I’d say if you’re looking for a deep and meaningful story, this probably isn’t the book for you, but as a light-hearted feel-good romance, it was perfect.

Jennifer Niven – All the Bright Places

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I don’t know if I even have the words within me to describe how beautifully this book was written, and how much it left my emotions tied in knots after being repeatedly wrung through a wringer.

Finch and Violet meet at the top of the school bell tower, both perilously close to the edge, both physically and mentally. And after Finch talks Violet down from the railings, it seems like he might be her lifeline and the only one capable of bringing her back to (relative) normality.

You see, Violet’s sister Eleanor was recently killed in a car crash, an accident that Violet feels responsible for, and ever since then, it’s like she’s been living in a black hole. And if anyone knows about black holes, it’s Finch. Unwilling to accept a label for his mental health problems (since everyone knows what happens when you get a label), he teeters wildly on the edge of a cliff, waiting to fall at any time.

It seems like they each may have found the perfect person to help with their problems and enable them to move forward, even though Violet may need a bit of persuading that Finch isn’t completely insane.

I don’t want to go any further into the plot from here as I don’t think I can without risking any major spoilers, but let’s just say the ending wasn’t quite what I expected.

Kudos to Niven for being able to write the book in such a way that I wasn’t able to predict the future of either character. And major kudos to Niven for tackling such sensitive subjects with tact and care. It’s obvious that Niven has taken the time to make sure she doesn’t just run to the typical stereotypes of the mental health problems dealt with, and the characters are first and foremost human, not just a caricature of a problem.

If I could read this book again straight away, I would, but this time I’d read it so much more slowly and luxuriate in Finch and Violet’s wanderings around Indiana and their blossoming relationship.

Captivating and beautiful, I can see why the Guardian review snippet on the cover calls it ‘the next Fault in Our Stars’.

Lisa Williamson – The Art of Being Normal

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After such a terrible last book, I needed something to perk me up. And this book was brilliant. Not the kind of book I usually read, but something about it just made me pick it up in the supermarket and I’m so glad I did.

The book runs from two parallel perspectives; David, who longs to be a girl; and Leo, who longs to be invisible. They’re both hiding secrets from their families and the world in general, but may have more in common than they think.

When Leo sticks up for David when he’s being picked on yet again (‘Oi, Freakshow’ is a familiar theme tune to his school life), they strike up what seems to be an unlikely (and reluctant) friendship.

But as the story evolves, it turns out that their friendship is not quite so unlikely after all, and each of them could be just what the other needs to achieve what they want in life (even if what they get is not exactly what they originally thought they wanted).

If you’re looking for an easy read, this isn’t it. It packed an emotional punch, heart warming yet jarring. The book was gripping the entire way through, evidenced by the fact I read it in one sitting, sat on the sofa for four hours unable to let Leo and David go and with a powerful need to know how their lives would turn out.

Williamson did a great job of creating characters who you could instantly relate to, even if their situation is not relatable to you. The topic of gender binaries is not something that I’ve had much to do with, and I’m still not sure where I stand with it, but Williamson has done a great job of handling the subject matter with sensitivity and kindness.

Logan Byrne – Banded

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Wow. Seriously, just wow.

It’s not often that I give a book a 1 star rating as I’m usually quite a good judge of what books I will enjoy reading, but I judged this one way off.

I just cringed most of the way through as it was so blatantly a rip-off of other books, most obviously Divergent. Oh, it’s a society where everyone lives in different zones depending on their abilities and contribution to society? Stalwart (strength), Astute (intelligence), Collusive (greed), Radiant (beauty), Quixotic (no life direction), and the Altruistic (willingness to help others). Hmmmmm, that sounds familiar!

And how do you get sorted into these zones, I hear you ask? Well let me tell you, you put on a hat and it listens to your thoughts and makes a decision. A ‘sorting hat’ if you like. Sounds familiar does it?

Honestly, I struggled to get through this book. So many times I just wanted to stop, but I hate giving up on a book without giving it a chance to redeem itself, but this book had gone too far the wrong way for redemption in my eyes.

I really hope this book was self-published, because if this concept got through an editor to publishing, I’m not sure how they didn’t have thoughts of plagiarism running through their heads.

Sorry to be so negative, but I just really really couldn’t find anything I liked about this book, and as much as I hate to give a book a 1-star review, I just can’t give it anything other.

Milly Johnson – The Wedding Dress

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I decided to read this as it combines my favourite author with my current occupation – weddings!

Unfortunately, I kind of wish I hadn’t read the set of three short stories. It carries on from White Wedding, and although I wanted to know more about the characters when I finished reading that, I think this book was a little bit of a disappointment.

Not in writing, Milly Johnson doesn’t disappoint like that, just that the three short stories were really short, and I finished each of them feeling a little rushed and still hoping for more. I’d hoped that the stories would give me a bit of closure, but I kind of felt deflated. It would have been nice if each story was longer, or just a little more fleshed out, I think this would have made me much happier.

My main problem however, was in the editing of the book, there were a fair few obvious mistakes that left the book feeling less than professional. I’d love to be an editor, getting paid to read books (yes, I’m sure there’s more to it than that), but when a wrong person’s name is used, it just leaps off the page at you (or at least it does to me).

For a 99p ebook, it wasn’t bad, just not what I was expecting!

J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Well I can’t really say anything at all about this book as I really don’t want to risk posting an accidental spoiler, so all I’ll say is that Rowling has hit the nail on the head once again.

I’ve never really read a script before so I was a little worried that the format would get in the way and prevent me from really getting into the story, but I needn’t have worried, I was fully absorbed from page one, most of the time I forgot it was a script and not a book.

When I pre-ordered this, I never for a second thought I’d get to see it in the west end, but my amazing fiance sat in the online ticket queue for over 2 hours on Friday and succeeded in getting us tickets, albeit it for 13 months time!

Can’t wait to see it performed live now, it will be interesting to see how they bring the script to life without the advantage of film special effects.

Victoria Aveyard – Red Queen

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I don’t think I’ve had my heart played with recently as much as with this book. The dynamic of the love ‘quadrangle’ changed so dramatically and so often that I feared I might get whiplash.

In a world where your status is determined by the colour of your blood; Mare, a lowly red blood, stands no chance in a world dominated by silvers. She doesn’t have long left until she’s due to be conscripted to the front line of the war when she finds herself rather unexpectedly thrown straight into the heart of silver royalty.

Torn between the prince she’s betrothed to and his handsome but surly brother, Mare finds her life turned upside down, and she’s now behind the lines at the heart of a red revolution. But the brothers are not entirely what they seem, and soon Mare faces a difficult decision of who to trust and who is simply out for themselves.

And oh, there’s just the small point that despite the fact that Mare is a red-blood, she has the powers of a silver. Something that’s supposedly never happened before. Faced with trying to assist with the red revolution while trying to get to grips with her new found skills, it’s not surprising that Mare finds herself longing to go home.

I won’t say too much more otherwise I’ll completely spoil the book for you. I will say it’s probably one of the best impulse buys I’ve bought for a while, I was gripped from start to end, and completely unable to predict what was going to happen next, Aveyard definitely kept me on my toes.

I can’t wait to read more in this series, I was in love with Mare’s character from the first page and I’m desperate to know what will happen for her next!

Steve Ross – Marked

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I recently went on our Church Parish Weekend, and had the pleasure of helping out with one of the youth groups for the weekend. One of the resources given to each of the children during the weekend was a copy of Marked by Steve Ross. It’s a graphic novel representation of the Gospel of Mark, something I would never have even though of reading.

But like some of the kids, I went back to my hotel room the first night we’d been given it and read the whole thing in one go, I think I stayed up past 1am just so I could finish it. I was completely gripped by the style of the presentation and the unusual take on some of the familiar stories.

It’s amazing how you can think of something in a brand new light when someone presents it to you in a way you’ve never seen before, and this novel achieved that many times, so many ‘a-ha! moments’.

I’d recommend this to any young teenagers (our group was 9-14 years old), and also to older teens and adults who just want a different take on the gospel to refresh their minds. It was great later in the weekend as we read through the NIV version of the gospel to see the kids relating it back to the images they’d seen in the novel and the way they lit up. Simply brilliant.