Milly Johnson – The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress

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!

My Rating: 3/5
Year Published: 2012
Number of Pages: 96
Format: E-Book
Date Read: 6th August 2016 – 8th August 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.96
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J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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.

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 343
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 5th August 2016 – 7th August 2016
Average Goodreads Rating:
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Victoria Aveyard – Red Queen

Red Queen

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!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 383
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 27th July 2016 – 31st July 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.10
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Steve Ross – Marked

Marked

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.

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My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2005
Number of Pages: 180
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 8th July 2016 – 9th July 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.47
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Jojo Moyes – After You

After You

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.

My Rating: 3/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 410
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 1st July 2016 – 27th July 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.72
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C.S. Lewis – The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce

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.

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 1945
Number of Pages: 146
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 1st July 2016 – 12th July 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.28
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Brandon Sanderson – The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist

*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!

 

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 23rd June 2016 – 1st July 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.23
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Milly Johnson – The Barn on Half Moon Hill

The Barn on Half Moon Hill

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!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 85
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 29th June 2016 – 30th June 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.19
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Milly Johnson – Sunshine Over Wildflower Cottage

Sunshine Over Wildflower Cottage

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.”

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 17th June 2016 – 23rd June 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.5
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Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life

A Whole Life

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”

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 160
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 13th June 2016 – 16th June 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.97
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