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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

Jojo Moyes – After You

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I had built this book up so much after how much I loved Me Before You, but sadly, I have to say it disappointed me.

It’s taken me almost a month to read it, which is unusual and a sign of how I wasn’t completely absorbed. I just couldn’t get into the first half of the book at all, it seemed very slow and I didn’t feel the same connection to Louisa as I felt when reading Me Before You. The second half of the book did improve dramatically and I really got into it, but I just couldn’t say I loved the book after such a disappointing start.

Obviously as this is a sequel, the review will contain spoilers to Me Before You, so if you haven’t read that yet, I probably wouldn’t read on from here!

We start the book after we left off, Louisa still recovering from Will’s death, trying to get to grips with life without him and failing quite miserably. Her lowest point comes when she’s completely drunk and falls off the roof of her flat, seriously injuring herself and forcing her to temporarily move back with her parents.

Everyone is concerned for her, but she soon has more worries of her own when a teenage girl turns up at her door claiming to be Will’s daughter. Desperate for a connection to Will, Louisa finds herself completely involved in the life of this complete stranger, putting her life on hold in an attempt to hold on to a part of Will.

During all this, Louisa finds herself a new love interest, which quite frankly was one of the most interesting parts of the story and the reason that the book picked up further along.

But I kinda feel that the ending wasn’t entirely as I would have expected or wanted, although it did make me cry, so it can’t have been all that bad. It does seem like it may have been deliberately left open as it was to leave the author open to another sequel. I just hope if she decides to do it, it’s a bit more gripping like Me Before You.

C.S. Lewis – The Great Divorce

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I don’t think I’ll ever fail to be amazed by the imagination of C.S. Lewis. The ideas that he has and the way that he approaches them are simply genius.

I took this book with me on our recent Church Parish Weekend away at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick. I couldn’t think of a better place to read, sitting by the side of the lake and being surrounded by nature, it was perfect!

Reading CS Lewis - The Great Divorce

It’s quite a brief book at only 146 pages, taking us on a journey through heaven and hell and demonstrating our power to choose between our selfish selves, and salvation and eternal life. We, along with the narrator, overhear many conversations between those that live in heaven and those that have come up on a journey from hell to decide if they are to change enough to take their place there.

The conversation that resonated most with me was one where the ‘visitor’ realises that the heavenly person that had come to meet him was a murderer while he was living on earth. The visitor couldn’t believe that the murderer had made it to heaven, and he was unwilling to go to heaven if this man was there, as he didn’t believe that he belonged in the same place or that the ‘murderer’ should be forgiven. It’s really easy to judge people by their actions, but it’s also really easy to forget that you don’t know their heart or their circumstances. God doesn’t condemn us for bad decisions; as long as we truly repent, we can be forgiven. I think not judging people is much easier said than done, but this was a good reminder that God loves us all the same.

I had so many favourite quotes that I probably couldn’t write them all here for fear of publishing the whole book, but I’ve picked a couple that really stood out to me.

The first is when a ‘visitor’ to heaven can’t believe that people that were famous on earth are no longer distinguished in the same way in heaven. The reply he gets is as follows:

“But they aren’t distinguished – no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light’s the thing. They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognised by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgement.”

The second is when another visitor is trying to defend her feelings towards her son, with “What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature”. The response is this:

“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods”.

A stark reminder that we need to make sure that God is the centre of our lives and that we let him guide our actions and our feelings. If we let our feelings take the reins instead of God, things will go bad.

What I liked most about this book that it didn’t feel preachy or like it was pushing morals in your face. It was more gentle and subtle reminders of unhealthy behaviours that we need to keep in check. If you weren’t a Christian, you could probably enjoy this book as a fantasy about heaven and hell, but as a Christian, it set off sparks in my mind that have continued long after I finished reading.

Brandon Sanderson – The Rithmatist

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*sigh* Brandon Sanderson. Is it even possible for him to write a bad book? I’d love to take a glimpse inside his head, his creativity is just endless.

I love the fact that every Sanderson book you read has a different world and a different magic system, but it’s always introduced so well that it’s not confusing or hard to understand.

In this book, the magic revolves around something called Rithmatics. These are people who have the power to make chalk drawings come to life. They can draw chalklings on the ground which have specific powers, and give them instructions for what they should do. Some chalklings are straightforward lines, but some have more power depending on how much detail they have been given. Some chalklings even have the power to hurt people, like the dangerous ‘wild chalklings’. There are eight rithmatic academies in the United Isles, all training Rithmatics to go fight on the front line in Nebrask to keep the wild chalklings at bay.

But interestingly, the main character in this book is not a rithmatist, rather a teenager who dreamt all his life of becoming one but wasn’t selected by the Master at his inception as a young boy. But when Rithmatic students from the school start going missing, Joel finds himself at the centre of the race to find who is responsible for the kidnappings and put it to an end.

His unlikely sidekick is a lovely flame-haired girl called Melody, who is actually a rithmatist, albeit a very poor imitation of one. She doesn’t like Joel very much to start with, especially since he is infinitely better at drawing the rithmatic lines than she is, even if he doesn’t have the power to make his drawings actually do anything, unlike Melody. As the threat starts to move closer to home, they have to work together before it’s too late.

Apart from the incredibly detailed magic system that Sanderson developed for this book, my favourite part was the relationship between Joel and Melody and the way their friendship grew throughout the book until they were able to work like two halves of the same person. And unlike some books I’ve read, Sanderson didn’t feel the need to add any romantic tension between the two characters, they could simply get on with the tasks that needed to be done.

(Spoiler alert) I also loved the fact that Joel doesn’t get everything that he wanted. He ends the book still craving the exact same thing he desired so much at the beginning. It makes a change from most books where the ‘hero’ seems to get every wish granted to him in some way or other before the close of the book.

And it may just have been me being completely oblivious, but I had no idea how the end of the investigation was going to go until I read it. I’d made my own guesses about who was responsible, but I was way, way off. Kudos to Sanderson for being able to keep the ending such a surprise.

I was so disappointed to get to the end of this book and find out that there’s no sequel yet. I really hope there’s another book as it ended with so much potential for a follow-up and I’d love to find out what happens to Joel and Melody next!

 

Milly Johnson – The Barn on Half Moon Hill

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The Barn on Half Moon Hill is a 99p e-book that Milly wrote to raise money for Claire Throssell, a woman whose children tragically died in a fire started by their dad. There’s a fundraising page if you want to read more.

I went into the book knowing it was only short (85 pages), and that I was probably going to finish up yearning for more (as always with a Milly book), and I wasn’t wrong. When I got to the last page, I was dying for it to go on further, but maybe there’s more of a story to be told, who knows?

Cariad Williams has been writing to movie star Franco Mezzaluna (half moon, geddit?) since she was a small girl, but he’s never written back to her. She’s convinced that he isn’t getting the letters, but she can’t stop writing. She’s told her obnoxious flatmates that he is her boyfriend (not that they really believe her), but the story looks like it will unravel when it’s announced that he’s going to open the new attraction at Winterworld, the Christmas theme park where Cariad works.

She writes one desperate last letter to him, before her mind goes into overdrive thinking of how she can get away from the terminal embarrassment that’s bound to be coming her way when her flatmates are finally proved right that she was lying.

But little did she know that Franco has been reading and saving all her letters, they’ve been like a lifeline to him. And there’s a reason he hasn’t written back to her, one that nobody knows. So when Franco arrives at Winterworld and he knows how she is, Cariad is able to spend one splendid day with the man of her dreams. And as they both reveal secrets about themselves that no-one else knows, it soon becomes obvious why these two people were fated to meet.

As I said at the start of this post, I was dying for more when I turned the last page, but I understand why this was only a short story. I can only hope that Milly might give us a sequel so we can spend more time with Cariad and Franco. A lovely, heart-warming and uplifting book whose only fault is that there aren’t enough pages!

Milly Johnson – Sunshine Over Wildflower Cottage

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IMG_20160623_145804I’ve been looking forward to this book for ages, and it finally came out last Thursday. And for the first time, I went to meet Milly Johnson to get my copy signed! I was the second person in the queue and so excited to meet her, and she was just as lovely as I thought she would be!

We start the book with Viv, driving into a lovely (albeit extremely foggy) village called Ironmist, looking for her new job at Wildflower Cottage, an animal sanctuary. Viv is a very mysterious character, we find out that she doesn’t like animals, so it’s weird that she’d accept such a low-paying job in the sanctuary, even if it is just an admin job. To begin with, we’re left completely in the dark as to her true motives for being in Ironmist, and she remains an elusive character until much further through the book.

When Viv arrives at the cottage, she meets a lovely lady called Geraldine, who is completely attached to the cottage, but also seems to have secrets of her own. And she hears all about the owner of the sanctuary Heath, imagining him as a grumpy curmudgeonly old man. And it turns out that while she might have got the personality right, he’s most definitely not old, he’s a gorgeous young man, and it’s only his stroppy personality that stops Viv from falling head over heels for him at first sight. Well, that and whatever is her actual reason for coming to Ironmist. It doesn’t seem like she’s set on putting down roots here, just get what she wants and leave.

As well as Viv, we also follow the lives of Viv’s mum Stel and her group of friends, who call themselves the Old Spice Girls. Stel is a hopeless romantic, seeming to fall instantly in love with anyone who pays her attention, no matter how bad for her they turn out to be. But when she falls for Ian, the gardener at the hospice she works for, it looks like her luck has changed, he seems perfect!

But one thing we learn from Stel and her group of friends is that you might think that someone’s life is perfect, but you can only see what they let you see, and you don’t know what they’ve been through to get to the life they’re living now. As the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Everyone has secrets and it’s up to them when they choose to share them, all you can do is be a good friend until they’re ready.

I found this book completely gripping, full of romance, mystery, suspense, drama, friendship and of course, a gorgeous location! If I wasn’t on so many painkillers at the moment after my recent hospital stay and still falling asleep all the time, I would have devoured this book in one sitting!

I’d definitely recommend this book to any Milly fans, and anyone that loves a romance with a twist, it was a lovely, lovely book, probably my favourite Milly book so far!

My favourite quote came from the first page of the book, it really struck a chord with me:

“It looked both beautiful and weird; but then weird was good sometimes.”

Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life

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You know you’ve found yourself a keeper when your fiancé goes to London and you say ‘bring me back a souvenir’, and rather than bring you back some Union Jack emblazoned tat, he goes to the British Library and buys you a book and some bookmarks – he knows me so well!

This was one of those rare books that was so beautifully written that I was able to resist the urge to read it all in one go because I couldn’t bear for it to be over so quickly. I luxuriated in the beautiful poetry of the book for a few days, and I’m so glad I did, it was just fantastic – it’s clear why it’s on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

A Whole Life tells (unsurprisingly), the life story of a man called Andreas Egger, who starts off as an orphan arriving at his Uncle’s farm and becomes their unofficial servant, worked to the bone and beaten for any indiscretion, until one day he’s had enough and leaves their home to start a life on his own.

Egger’s life is in many ways ordinary; he has his own home, he finds work, he falls in love, marries a young woman named Marie. [WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS] But in many more ways, he leads an extraordinary life. The work that he does is for the main part very risky, his life with his new wife is tragically cut short, and he is sent to war as a young man; all experiences which change his outlook on life dramatically.

But if my favourite thing about the book is this extraordinary man and the life he lives, a very close second is the gorgeous prose which just draws you in so closely that you can feel like you’re in the mountains with Andreas. There were many pieces that were so beautiful that I had to break off and read them again and again to try and imprint them on my brain.

Up here the ground was soft and the grass short and dark. Drops of water trembled on the tips of the blades, making the whole meadow glitter as if studded with glass beads. Egger marvelled at these tiny, trembling drops that clung so tenaciously to the blades of grass, only to fall at last and seep into the earth or dissolve to nothing in the air.”

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is.”

“When someone opens their mouth they close their ears”

Giovanna Fletcher – Always with Love

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After reading Billy and Me while I was in hospital, I was so glad that I’d already purchased the sequel so that I could read it straight away. I loved Sophie and Billy’s story and was desperate to know what happened next for their relationship.

After deciding at the end of Billy and Me that they’re going to spend some time living in Rosefont Hill away from the press intrusion and the distractions of Billy’s celebrity life, their lives are turned upside down yet again when Billy is offered a part in a film which would he simply can’t say no to (and not just because of his mother’s meddling!).

Sophie’s life was recently turned upside down by the death of her closest friend Molly, and she has the cafe to think about now that she owns it, so she can’t just drop her life and jet to LA to be by Billy’s side, but they’re both unsure about whether their relationship can withstand the distance.

And when Molly’s son Peter comes back from Australia, and when it seems like Billy is being tempted back into his party lifestyle, it seems like they might have been right.

I have to say, as much as I loved Sophie and Billy’s relationship in Billy and Me, I think my favourite relationship in this book is Sophie’s Mum Jane and her fiance Colin, as they prepare for their wedding. They’ve both lost their first partners, and the way that they’re healing each other of terrible grief just warmed my heart completely.

I won’t say too much more to spoil the story, although I will say I was delighted with the magicalness that was Jane and Colin’s wedding in the closing chapters of the book, it was as perfect as I thought it would be!

My favourite quote from this book came right at the end, and I read it a few times as I just loved it so much:

“Love makes the world a better place and I want the life I lead to be the one that’s driven always with love.”

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves an enthralling romance, just make sure you’ve read Billy and Me first!

Giovanna Fletcher – Billy and Me

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I’ve been following Giovanna Fletcher on Twitter and Instagram for quite some time, but never got around to reading her books. But as I was still in hospital when I finished reading Me Before You, I decided to buy this on Kindle to keep me occupied.

And a good decision it turned out to be! I worried a little at the start as the writing style seemed a bit simplistic, but this improved throughout the book and I soon didn’t notice the writing style at all as I was completely enveloped by the story.

Many chick-lit books seem to focus on people trying to find their way into the limelight with a famous partner, but in Billy and Me, Sophie doesn’t even realise that the guy she’s fallen for is famous, and she most definitely doesn’t want to be the centre of attention.

Sophie has had a troubled past which led to her cutting herself off from the world, and she has trust issues that make it hard for her to open up completely to Billy. And when his next acting job requires him to get ‘up close and personal’ with his gorgeous ex, it seems that Sophie just can’t handle it, especially when Billy seems to have no consideration for her feelings.

I have to say, the flow of the book was great. I was swept up with the romance of Sophie and Billy’s relationship, and had no problems identifying with Sophie and feeling the huge range of emotions that she goes through.

One thing I didn’t expect though was the major plot twist towards the end of the book. To just drop something so huge on us (no spoilers here), without any prior warning was a major shock. I actually sat with tears rolling down my face as it unfolded, not wanting to read the inevitable, but unable to stop turning the pages.

Great job Giovanna, I’m so glad that I bought the sequel already so I don’t have to wait eagerly to find out what will happen next for Sophie!

JoJo Moyes – Me Before You

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So I did something that I said I’d never do, I spent £5 on a kindle book, when I could have probably bought the paperback for less at the supermarket! But in my defence, I had been stuck in hospital for 2 weeks and I was bored out of my mind, as I refused to pay £8 a day to watch TV!

I loved this book so much that I read it in one day, I stayed up til half past midnight to finish it, even though I knew I’d be woken up at half five to have my blood pressure checked by one of the lovely nurses. I literally couldn’t put it down once I’d started reading, Moyes has definitely crafted a masterpiece.

I’d heard lots of people talking about the book and about how much they wanted to see the film, but I had absolutely no idea what the book was about before I read it, I just assumed it was the usual run of the mill chick-lit with a happily ever after ending, so boy was I surprised as I made my way through the book.

I laughed, I cried, I was shocked, I don’t think there’s any emotion that Moyes didn’t make me feel. I absolutely loved Louisa, such a relatable character who you could immediately imagine as your best friend. And the gorgeous Will, the way he is portrayed means you never feel sorry for him, you can see him as a normal human being, and sense the emotions he is feeling so deeply.

If you’re after a nice fluffy chick-lit book, don’t be fooled by the cover and think this is the book for you. It’s utterly heartbreaking, and no matter how much you think you can change the ending, you’re not going to be filled with the warmth of a happily-ever-after. I was left with tears rolling down my face trying to surpress the sobs that were threatening to erupt, even though I’d been given more than 300 pages to prepare for what was coming.

Some reviews on Goodreads seem to suggest that this book makes it seem like a disabled life is not worth living, but it’s doing quite the opposite. Moyes has tackled a very difficult situation, but one that is all too real for some families. It would be nice to think that all disabled people live their lives swimming with dolphins and getting involved in disability sports and everything is lovely and happy, but for some people, that’s just not the case. Kudos to Moyes for bringing this to page and screen in such a delicate and well balanced way.

I’m so so glad that I decided to buy this ebook, not only did it fill my day with such emotions and joy, but it’s stuck with me since. I can’t wait to read the follow up, After You, to catch up with Louisa and see how Will has changed her life.

On a related note, I went to see the film at the weekend, and it was simply perfect. Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin and Matthew Lewis were all perfect casting, not to mention the extended cast around them. The film was very faithful to the book, obviously parts were missed out but having read an interview with Moyes who also wrote the screenplay, I can fully understand why. I’d definitely recommend the film to everyone, but READ THE BOOK FIRST!!!

Maria V. Snyder – Magic Study

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So while I was reading this book, I kinda broke my blog a little bit, so I haven’t been able to post this review, even though it’s been well over a month since I read it. So I do apologise if this review is lacking a bit. I’ve also been in hospital for the last 3 weeks, so I think I can get a reprieve in this instance!

The book follows on from Poison Study, which I loved, and this book was much the same. Yelena is travelling back to her homeland to meet her family and discover more about her roots, but she doesn’t entirely get the warm welcome she was expecting. In fact, she discovers facts about her brother that shock her to her core.

Valek is absent for much of the first part of the book, but thankfully he makes an appearance later on, much to my (and Yelena’s) delight. Although it’s not all plain sailing, as Valek isn’t exactly welcome in Yelena’s homeland, Sitia.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book as much as Poison Study, it seemed to have lost some of the unique sense of excitement that I felt when reading that, but it was still a great read and I can’t wait to start on book 3!