Well, wow!

I had forgotten I even owned this blog! In fact, over the past few years I have forgotten quite a few things; how much I love reading, how reading keeps me sane, how much I miss reading and how much I enjoy reviewing books and talking about them – even if I am talking to myself.

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Since I wrote my last entry, I have had another child, my eldest has started school, I have changed jobs and I’ve also read a lot of books!

My youngest little man is now 19 weeks old and I’ve finally got over the tiredness from the night wakings and the illness from surgery and I’m finally full of  enough energy to get stuck into another great book, although I don’t get enough time to complete them as quickly as I would like!

I’m currently reading ‘The Life She Was Given’ by Ellen Marie Wiseman, one of my favourite authors. If you love historical fiction I would highly recommend her writing. I first discovered Ellen’s work when I read ‘The Plum Tree’ a number of years ago now. I would love to share my thoughts on both of these novels and hopefully will get around to it.

Hopefully, I won’t find myself leaving it so long to wrote another review! Let me know in the comments if you have recently read anything great, I always love a recommendation.

 

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The Book Thief : Thoughts

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World War II is a very interesting subject for me, living in Britain this is a subject which I have heard about, read about and spoken about for as long as I can remember.  I have visited museums, read books and written essays about World War II, about the brave men who fought for our independence, the ones who returned and the ones who did not.  We have celebrated the anniversary of VE Day by way of street parties and barbecues all of my life.  My Nan, my paternal grandmother, who was just a young girl at the time, has told me of her experiences living in the City of Liverpool at the time war broke out, about buildings exploding in her neighbourhood and the competitions she would have with her friends to see who would be first to find the shell.  She has spoken fondly of her memories of being a young evacuee in the Welsh countryside and about the people she met and the wonderful experiences she had.  I have learned about the struggles on The Home Front, the women bringing up the babies and looking after the home, driving buses and ambulances, building weapons and ammunition in our factories whilst desperately waiting to hear news of their sweetheart.

Every November 11th I proudly place my money in the tins that line the checkout of every supermarket and street corner and I pin a blood red poppy to my lapel.  At 11am this day, the nation falls silent.  So silent you could hear a pin drop.  Everybody, whether or old or young takes two minutes to reflect on the events of all those years ago.  Young children who catch a glimpse of their friends, eyes twinkling with nervous laughter and feel the corners of their own mouths twitching as they desperately try to stifle the bubble of inappropriate laughter threatening to escape too young and innocent yet to truly understand what this moment stands for.  Old men, with weathered faces and hands, hands that worked hard and eyes that have known love, laughter and tragedy, silent tears streaking down their ragged faces as they remember their experiences, their comrades who made it home and those who will remain forever young on the battlefields of war.  These men are like my Grandfather, a man whose experiences from 1939 to 1945 were so harrowing that, although the pain and memories were etched all over his face, he never spoke of them for the rest of his life.

But what about that one forbidden question?  The one our history teacher would rebuke and would refuse to enter into discussion about.  What of the enemy, the Germans?  By this I don’t mean Hitler and his Nazis, we all know what happened to them.  I mean the the regular working class Germans, and their children, living under Hitlers regime.  Innocent victims of the Nazis, other than those who died in the concentration camps.

I studied a poem many years ago when I was working towards my GCSE in English, it was about an English lady working away in her kitchen one peaceful afternoon listening to the merry chirp of birdsong, the sounds of war seeming a million miles away, when she hears an almighty crash coming from the woods behind her home.  She throws down her apron and takes off to investigate.  What she comes across is an enemy plane lying wrecked among the bluebells, with the Swastika glaring out at her from among the wreckage she turns to walk away when a hand reaches out to grab hers.  She looks into the eyes of the soldier who is no older than her own son, as the life ebbs away from him he takes a ragged breath and clings to her hand as he whispers “Muta”, the German word for mother.  I remember clearly, the tears pooling in my eyes as I thought about that young man, dying scared and alone in a strange country, fighting for a cause he most likely never believed in in the first place.  What was it about him that was really any different from our own young men, dying scared and alone all over the world?  Now, I could talk about this forever the brutalities of war, the politics, the rights, wrongs, ins and outs but this not a history paper or a political discussion and I am not the kind of person who looks at things like that anyway.  I like to think of people, of how intrinsically we are all the same.  I wish I could remember the name of that poem, such was the profound effect it had on me at that time.

Marketed as Children’s Fiction”, The Book Thief is much more than that.  This is a clever book.  An important book.  The subject matter is one I have been interested in for a long time; the Nazification of Germany.  I believe that as human beings, to truly understand our history and more importantly, to learn from it, we need to hear both sides of the story and sometimes, a fictional interpretation is exactly what we need to gain a true understanding of historical events and the human emotion surrounding those events.

The Book Thief is not a gory story about the atrocities of war, quite the contrary.  It is a story that follows the day to day lives of the inhabitants of a small German town from a time when war seems to be a million miles away until the very moment it arrives, unannounced and deeply unwelcome, to their front doors.  Narrated by Death, we follow the story of Liesel, a young girl who has been placed with foster parents in Munich following the death of her younger brother.  Throughout the course of the story we are introduced to a myriad of characters, including Liesels foster family The Hubermanns.  Mr. Hubermann is a wonderful character, a man of great strength and unwavering kindness who displays the kind of bravery and integrity that most of us could only ever dream of possessing.  His wife Rosa, we come to learn is much softer than she first appears.  For me, the character I most fell in love with was Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s friend.  We first meet Rudy as an impetuous young boy, painting his face black and taking off around the local running track pretending to be Jesse Owens, when his father drags him home and warns him not to pretend to be black or Jewish because of the Nazis.  It is made clear to us that whilst Mr. Steiner is a member of the Nazi Party, he is not a racist, just a man who is prepared to do anything in order to protect and provide for his family.  Throughout the novel we see Rudy’s character grow up and become more hardened toward the cold realities of death and war.

However, it is with the introduction of Max Vanderburg, a 23 year old Jew who takes shelter from the Nazis in the Hubermann’s basement, that we witness some truly harrowing scenes.  As we see the friendship between Max and Liesel grow, Max is forced to leave the safety of the Hubermann’s basement and is later seen by Liesel among a procession of Jews being marched to Dachau Concentration Camp.  What the author achieves is to give us a gut wrenching empathy for these characters, struggling with the dilemma as to whether they should help the Jews, as they know they should, or to turn their backs in order to protect themselves and their children from the wrath of the Nazis.  We witness also, the reluctance of the Jewish characters to accept help from their friends and neighbours for a fear of endangering their lives.  Mr. Hubermann, witnessing a procession of malnourished Jews, throws them a scrap of bread, as a Jewish prisoner falls at Mr. Hubermann’s feet crying and thanking him, he and Mr. Hubermann are whipped by the soldiers.  We witness the heartbreaking account of a mother, woken in the middle of the night by the Nazis banging down her front door in order to recruit her young son and finding herself powerless to stop them.

The novel plods along at something of a meandering pace at first, much like the lives of its characters at a time when you they would have been hard pressed to believe that there was a raging battle taking place not far from your own, comfortable little world.  Until, with the arrival of Max and the Nazis on their front doorsteps, we begin to understand a little about the people struggling through the Nazi regime and striving to hold their lives together.

“Did they deserve any better, these people? How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?”

Whilst all of the characters we meet are citizens of a nation in the process of killing millions of innocent people, Death and the readers alike, wonder just how culpable our characters are for the ongoing Holocaust when some, like Hans and Rosa, have quietly defied Hitler by protecting a Jew, and others, only children who could not possibly be held responsible for crimes planned by Hitler, before they were even born.

Marcus Zusak was born to an Austrian father and a German mother, and as such grew up hearing stories of wartime Munich and Vienna and it was these stories that inspired him to write The Book Thief.  His writing is fluid and his characters strong and likable and what results is a book which made me cry, ponder and debate with myself.  This is an eloquently written novel which tells of how our lives can alter in merely the blink of an eye.  This is a portrait of resilience, of hope and of the strength of the human spirit and I would implore you to read it.

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Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell – review

Firstly, I should apologise for not having posted an entry in such a long time.  Unfortunately, with life, work and family I have not found the time to be able to sit down and write something worthwhile.  Luckily, I have had time to read and as soon as I finished Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell, I wanted to tell you about it.

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Lisa Jewell is an author I have ignored for quite some time.  Thinking of her as a “fluffy, chic lit” author I have always been far too quick to dismiss her works as well, fluffy chic lit!  I am more than happy to admit after finishing the gem of a novel that I was sorely mistaken!  I came across Before I Met You whilst grocery shopping and was attracted first by the beautiful cover, so I flipped it over to have a quick glance at the synopsis and as soon as I realised it was set in the 1920’s I knew I had to read it.  1920’s London, the days of jazz music, smoking, flapper girls and Bright Young Things.  Youngsters, who following the turbulent and traumatic days of the war found themselves seduced by the glamour, opulence and electrifying nightlife of London and in particular, the sexy, smoky jazz clubs of Soho.

Our story begins over half a century later, in the mid 90’s.  Ten year old Betty Dean has been uprooted from her comfortable existence and deposited on the windswept island of Guernsey to live with her mum’s new boyfriend and his aging mother, Arlette.

“Elizabeth lifted her gaze to the woman in front of her, but not before noticing, with some surprise, that the woman was wearing red silk shoes, adorned with matching rosettes.  Elizabeth’s gaze also took in black lacy tights over shapely calves, and then a coat of full, luxuriant mink that hung from throat to mid-shin, and a face, round and elfin, like the face of a child, pink lips, pearly blue eyelids and a matching mink hat.  On each earlobe a small chunk of diamond shone dully in the muted candlelight.” 

From the moment I met Arlette, I had a sense that she was not your average twin set and pearls wearing Nana.  This was a woman whose beauty and elegance had once shone as brightly as the diamonds still twinkling in her ears, a woman who had grown up around a kind of glamour and prestige that those of us who came of age in the grungy 1990’s could only ever dream about and read about between the pages of a novel.  Like Betty, I was enthralled by Arlette and desperate to know her, to hear of her adventures, her romances and the loves and losses that sent her fleeing from London, never to return.  Betty is fascinated with Arlette and we see a tender, loving relationship develop between the pair as Betty nurses her elderly grandmother through the last years of her life.  When Arlette dies, her will reveals a mysterious benefactor by the name of Clara Pickle.  Who is Clara and what does she have to do with Arlette?  Betty, by now in her early twenties, sets off to London to find out.

Betty arrives in Soho and meets a variety of interesting characters including the handsome market trader, John Brightly and disgraced Brit Pop star Dom Jones.  Betty is a wonderful character, sweet, pretty and fun and does not fail to attract a number of love interests of her own.  Told in dual time, the reader is able to draw on a number of comparisons between Arlette and Betty’s lives.  Arlette of course, growing up in the 1920’s an era famous for its jazz bands, Betty in the 1990’s when Brit Pop ruled the world.  We see both women, torn between two men, unsure of whether to follow their hearts or their heads

“Here she was, torn between the man who kept her safe and the man who made her feel mad with wanting.”

As with any dual time novel, there is always one voice that stands out and although I was fond of Betty, Arlette completely stole the show.  Her story is so captivating that I wanted to dive straight into the pages, into the vividly painted picture of 1920’s London, it made me want to bob my hair, throw on some jazz, smoke cigarettes and dance the night away.

Early in her story, we see Arlette meet Gideon, an eccentric artist who finds himself taken with Arlette and her beauty and begs to paint her portrait.  Arlette and Gideon strike up a close friendship immediately and the reader would be forgiven for thinking it is Gideon who is to steal her heart.  I was sceptical.  To me, Gideon did not seem special enough to enrapture a lady such as Arlette, I found him to be weak, flaky and somewhat annoying and struggled to see what Arlette could love about him.  It is Gideon who introduces Arlette to the jazz scene and before long another love interest quite literally sails into her life and steals her heart.  Godfrey Pickle is an exceptional character, he is handsome, strong and talented and I could see immediately how Arlette could fall madly in love with him.

“He beamed at her, then sauntered, slow as a snail, towards the pouffe where he arranged himself in such a way that he looked for all the world as if he were waiting to have his portrait painted.

It is important to remember that whilst there was never racial segregation in London, inter-racial relationships would have been heavily frowned upon during this time and a West Indian gentleman sauntering through the halls of an upmarket department store with a beautiful, middle class English girl on his arm would have been something of an unusual and perhaps to some, alarming sight.  A lesser character than Godfrey may have hidden away, would not have dared to romance an English Rose in the broad light of day and sass an elderly lady who presumed his only reason to be in such a place was to polish her shoes.  But then Godfrey is no ordinary character, Godfrey is a world famous clarinettist, the greatest clarinettist of his generation and member of the world famous Southern Syncopated Orchestra

 “He was not a boss-eyed sailor.  Or a rapist.  He was a legend.”

 And indeed he was.  It was Arlette and Godfrey who kept me turning the pages, desperate to see whether they would get their happy ever after.  Their chemistry sizzles right off the pages and Arlette, like any young girl hopelessly in love, thinks her love is strong enough to survive the prejudice of the time, to change the world around her.  But is it?  And how does Little Miss Pickle fit into the story?  Who is she to Arlette that she would leave her entire estate to her, when nobody in her family even knows of her existence?  Well folks that would be telling.

This is a wonderful, gripping novel which gets better and better with the more pages your turn.  So good that I found myself carrying it with me everywhere, just in case I had a spare few seconds to read the next line.  This is not just a book about Betty on a journey to find out who Clara is; it is Betty and Arlette on a journey to find out who they are and where they fit in the world.  It is a novel which has you questioning how well you really know the people around you, how well do you really know your grandparents and who they were before you?

I was hooked right from the start of this beautiful, poignant and at times, humorous novel and ever since turning the last page, whilst wiping the tear from my eye, I have been berating myself for not giving Lisa Jewell a chance much earlier!

Southern Syncopated Orchestra, Jazz Legends:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2006/10/09/orchestra_feature.shtml

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Keep Calm and Quote

A good book is a successful recipe composed of many ingredients; likable characters, a gripping story line, beautiful prose, but often what really makes a book stand out for me are its quotes.  Some can be as short as just a few words, some can be paragraphs long but those few simple words can be funny, touching or wise and can remain with us for a lifetime.  A good quote has the ability to guide and inspire, convey our emotions or pick us up when we are feeling down.  A good quote will transcend distance and time, will unite people whatever their wealth, nationality or social class and will become our words when we are not able to find our own.

My favourite quotes will have me going back to a book time and time again, just to look at them and remember what they  have taught me.  Below are some of my favourite quotes, please feel free to share yours in the comments section so they can inspire others.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view….until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”  (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird)

There are so many wonderful quotes in this novel by Harper Lee that I hardly know where to start, I have selected this one as an example as it is a lesson of which I try and remind myself and adhere to.  Lawyer, Attius Finch departs this piece of wisdom to his six year old daughter Scout.  Atticus is explaining to his daughter how we should never judge people from the outside looking in, how we don’t know how another person feels and cannot understand their actions until we have looked at everything from their point of view and reminds us to live with sympathy and understanding for others.  This quote exemplifies the beautiful relationship between Scout and her father, Scout learns more from her father than she does from any other character in this book and so did I, he is able to explain complex matters in a way that a child will understand.  Atticus Finch is one of my favourite literary characters, he is a moral guide to whom we should all aspire to learn from.  Atticus is a character of great integrity who is not afraid of speaking honestly to his children and most importantly, he practices what he preaches.  This is a beautiful passage, one that I have reminded myself of many times in my dealings with all kinds of people on a personal and a professional level.

“One time, when I was very little, I climbed a tree and ate these green, sour apples. My stomach swelled and became hard like a drum, it hurt a lot. Mother said that if I’d just waited for the apples to ripen, I wouldn’t have become sick. So now, whenever I really want something, I try to remember what she said about the apples.” (Khalid Hosseini, The Kite Runner)

Amir is explaining to Sohrab that their move to America may take some time and that it is like “sour apples”.  Patience is a virtue, if we wait, good things will come.  I have always believed that we should never rush into things in life and that the longer we wait for something, the sweeter it is when we get it.

“Eyes are blind, you have to look with the heart” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

The Little Prince was one of the first books I owned, it was a beautiful hardback edition of which I was very proud, I still have it and very much look forward to introducing it to my son.  Like all good parables, this book can be enjoyed on many different levels.  Young children will love it as essentially it is a silly, entertaining story but as the reader matures the story becomes much deeper – it is about finding something, losing it and letting go.  It reminds us to never lose sight of what is really important in life.  This particular quote reminds me of a lesson of which I already know but often forget, that which is essential is invisible to the eye.  The things that make a person special cannot be seen merely by the eyes, when you love something or someone that person may appear ordinary to the rest of the world but you know in your heart what it is that makes them special to you.

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”   (Roald Dahl, The Twits)

This quote is quite possibly my absolute favourite of all time.  Roald Dahl has such a special and unique way of engaging with his readers, young and old alike.  This book is hilariously entertaining. The Twits are horrible, dirty, nasty characters who enjoy torturing animals and children until eventually the animals strike back and exact their revenge.  Mr and Mrs Twit are ugly because of their thoughts, explains the narrator, and they become more and more hideous by the day because of their bad thoughts and behaviour.  About the importance of inner beauty, this particular quote is self-explanatory and is an important life lesson. Be happy and kind and think only good thoughts and that happiness will show on your face.

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Booking Through Thursday – Ideal

I want you to think about your ideal reading experience. Think about the location. (Your bed? Favorite chair? The beach? Indoors or outdoors?). Think about the sounds. (Is there music playing? Happy children playing in the background? Utter silence?) Is there a snack or beverage nearby? Are you alone or with friends/family (presumably being quiet enough for you to read in peace)? What kind of lighting is there? Are you dressed in something ultra-comfy? What’s your position? Curled up? Stretched out?

Now … describe it so that we can all feel exactly how perfect it is … and why

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I’ve just come across the above blog post from another Book Blogger – Booking Through Thursday, and thought it was such a great idea I wanted to share it with you guys, and tell you about my perfect reading experience.

“It’s strange to describe reading a book as a really great experience, but that’s kind of how it felt.”

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Reading is such a personal experience you know, everyone likes to do it just a little differently!  Me, I can do it anywhere!  In bed, in the bath, even on the toilet – there have been a number of occasions when I have been reading a book that is so good, I’ve taken it with me to the loo, just to read a few more lines!  And being mum to a lively, excitable 2 year old it is often the only place I get any peace!!  But my ideal reading place?  Where would I end up if I could be anywhere in the world right now, reading anything I want?  For me, the answer is quite simple.  I am an al fresco reader and my perfect place to read would be in my own back garden on a hot summers day.  Now, living in England we don’t get too many of those so when they come, they must be savoured.  As soon as the sun starts to peek from behind the clouds all plans are dropped, shopping is cancelled, housework is forgotten, even school and work become obsolete as we all scramble outside in our long forgotten shorts and t-shirts, desperate to feel the warm caress of golden sunshine against our Vitamin D deprived complexions.  I always head to my favourite place in the world, my garden.

My garden is nothing special, it’s not acres and acres of lush green lawns, I don’t have an orchard, or a vineyard or a swimming pool and tennis courts.  It’s rather a humble little space but it is one of which we are very proud.  We have transformed our little patch from a jungle overgrown with poison ivy, weeds and the tangled webs of spiders into an oasis of humble loveliness where flowers gently sway in the breeze and love and beauty flow from every corner.

Today, I am dressed comfortably in shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt, most likely depicting the name of some race or other in which I have proudly participated, my hair is long and I wear it loose and flowing down my back.  I pull out my favourite sun lounger and lie on my front, propped up on my elbows and open my book.  As time goes by, I feel my skin start to prickle slightly with the heat when a gentle breeze rustles through the farmers golden field of corn and creeps up on me causing the hairs on my arms to momentarily stand on end, it whips my hair and causes a pleasant tickle on the back of my neck when just as quickly as it arrived, it is gone and everything is still again,

I glance up intermittently at the peaceful blue sky and watch the luminous, fluffy white clouds float like boats bobbing gently across a glistening blue lake.  Perhaps a butterfly will happen by, drifting on the breeze majestic and beautiful like a floating work of art. I will reach my hand out in the hope that she will land and allow me a closer look at her delicate beauty, but she is elusive and I watch as she glides gracefully over the fence, across the fields and away into the horizon.  Every now and again, I will reach up my hand and wipe away a droplet of cold water that has splashed onto my face as it runs down my cheek, my sons gleeful laughter tinkles like music to my ears as he splashes around his paddling pool. In the distance I hear a bird calling to her mate when the peaceful solitude is broken by the low hum of a lawnmower and the slam of a car door.

As day turns to night the sweet, smoky smell of barbecue reaches my nostrils, I hear the clink of glasses and the chatter and laughter of friends and relatives greeting one another when my stomach growls reminding me it is empty.  My husband has dusted the spider webs off our grill and as the meat spits and sizzles it is time for me to close the pages on my adventure for another day.

Why not share your own perfect reading experience?  Leave a link to your blog in the replies and keep the chain going! xxx

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Around The World In Books – 1. Australia

Summer is the perfect time for a holiday but don’t fret if you haven’t the means to escape to blue skies and golden sands, your imagination can take you just as far as any plane or boat.  One of  the things I love about reading is that you can travel all over the world, without ever having to pack a suitcase and you will never be disappointed with where you end up.  Every town, city, country and continent has a story to tell, a good book can pick you up and place you right in the middle of another place or time.  I have been everywhere with my books, from Germany to China, Japan and beyond.  Most recently, I visited the Australian Outback with Lucy Christopher.

Outback Australia

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

“You saw me, before I saw you”

Sounds intriguing, right?   From the opening line of this stunning, gritty, emotionally gripping novel, I was hooked.

Gemma is 16 when she is kidnapped from Bangkok Airport and taken to the Australian Outback.  Her captor, Ty, has been planning this “trip” for years and when he finally takes his opportunity to snatch Gemma and spirit her away to the wilderness, it is in the hope that he can make her love him, as he loves her.  Written in the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty, this wholly absorbing novel reflects on the months they have spent together under the glare of the brutal, unforgiving Australian sun as Gemma struggles against her stubborn, hot tempered but strangely alluring, captor.

Whilst this novel is marketed as the YA (Young Adult) genre, Gemma is not your stereotypical angst-ridden, whiny, teenage protagonist.  She is strong willed, determined and, even after numerous futile attempts at escape, she never stops trying to survive. Given that the book is written in the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty, you really get to know and understand this character and experience every one of her emotions with her.  I experienced her anger, her panic and her anxiety.  The fear is palpable.  Gemma is quite possibly one of the only literary characters I have felt complete and utter empathy for.  It is her powerful, compelling narrative which pulls you into the story and renders you completely incapable of letting go.

Essentially, Stolen is an investigation into the psychological phenomena that is Stockholm Syndrome.  Lucy Christopher writes in such a way that you as the reader begin to experience symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome yourself.  I found myself sympathising with Ty, trying to understand him and even feeling sorry for him.  Ty is a complex character, a master of emotional manipulation he is damaged having been forcibly removed from his family as a child, and has decided to go back to basics and live off the land according to the teachings of the Aboriginals who helped to raise him.  Ty is a fascinating character, he is not intrinsically evil but without a doubt he is a troubled soul trying to find a place in life where he belongs.  The desert is his “safe place”, a place where he feels at one with the world around him.  Ty is a man on the outside, but on the inside he is a child, lost and lonely in the vast expanse of the desert, and life.

“You told me once of the plants that lie dormant through the drought, that wait, half-dead, deep in the earth. The plants that wait for the rain. You said they’d wait for years, if they had to; that they’d almost kill themselves before they grew again. But as soon as those first drops of water fall, those plants begin to stretch and spread their roots. They travel up through the soil and sand to reach the surface. There’s a chance for them again.” 

Lucy Christopher’s narrative is so descriptive and real, the wild and desolate landscape of The Outback it is almost a character within itself.  So vividly is it described, I could almost feel the unforgiving, intrusive heat of the sun beating down upon me.  The plants are alive, real and breathing underneath Ty and Gemma’s feet.  This is not a book which is filled with edge of your seat action and suspense but for me, the emotional intensity was enough to keep me hooked until the very last page.

The question Lucy Christopher wanted her readers to be asking is did Gemma have Stockholm Syndrome or where her feelings for Ty real?  Did we as the reader, experience symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome or are we seeing the character for how he really is?  Well, you will have to read and decide for yourself.

“Lets face it, you did steal me. But you saved my life too. And somewhere in the middle, you showed me a place so different and beautiful, I can never get it out of my mind. And I can’t get you out of there either. You’re stuck in my brain like my own blood vessels.” 

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Can I have a Top 6?

Yesterday, as an introductory post I presented a list and some brief reviews of my Top 5 all-time favourite books.  Since then, I have been suffering from an attack of conscience with regards to my number 5 choice.  My Top 5 books have been cemented for some time, the top 3 for over a decade and it would take quite some special book to replace any of them!  However, at the end of 2012 I came across one such book.  A book which thrilled and engaged me to such an extent that it has taken up a permanent residence in my subconscious mind, honestly I have even dreamed about it!  That book is “The Girl You Left Behind” by Jojo Moyes.

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Now you may have figured out by this point that not only do I love reading but equally, I am obsessed with history.  They are my two most favourite things in the whole world and when they come together it makes me very happy!  The Girl You Left Behind is the gripping story of Sophie Lefevre and her family living in German occupied France during World War One.  Sophie’s husband Edouard is an artist, and before he left for war he painted a portrait of Sophie and presented it to her as a gift, he called that painting “The Girl I Left Behind”.  Sophie is busy running her family inn, Le Coq Rouge when one day enters a German Kommandent who insists that Sophie and her sister begin cooking for him and his men.  Sophie, needless to say is horrified but feels as though she has little choice, so she welcomes the German enemy into her home night after night.  Before long it becomes clear that not only has the Kommandent become fascinated by the portrait but by the woman in it.  Sophie begins to wonder can she use the mans fascination with her to extract information about the whereabouts of her beloved husband?  Needless to say, this dangerous game leads to no end of trouble for Sophie and her family.

The action switches midway through the book to present day London.  Liv Halston has lost her young husband David, before his death David presented his wife with a gift.  A portrait of an unknown woman.  The portrait now hangs on Liv’s wall, a reminder of her husband and of their honeymoon.  Sadly for Liv, the artists family have been trying to retrieve the portrait and have enlisted the help of an agency which tracks down paintings looted by the Germans during wartime.  A grieving Liv is stubbornly determined to hang onto the painting, one may wonder why when she discovers the tragic history of the painting, would she be so desperate to hang onto it but it soon becomes clear that not everything is as it seems and not everybody’s intentions are as honorable as they would have you believe.

I often find “dual time” stories can be confusing and difficult to follow but I believe that Jojo Moyes has really nailed this genre.  I will be honest and say that I definitely enjoyed the first part of the book more than the second, so much so that I was literally bereft when I turned over the page and realised that Sophie’s story had come to an end.  The author really captures the hardships, the struggles and the desperation felt by Sophie, her sister Helene and the rest of the sad, starving villagers who are buckling under the pressure of German command.  The world she has created is so vivid that having been so engrossed in it, I would look up from the book and actually find myself surprised to be sitting in my own living room and not in the bar of Le Coq Rouge.  I could almost hear the conversation, smell the food and feel the fear and desperation hanging in the air.  I could quite happily have read an entire novel based around Sophie and was so disappointed when her story came to an end that I almost didn’t continue to read, almost!  It was only that I was so desperate to find out what became of Sophie and Edouard that I carried on turning those pages and boy am I glad I did.  I soon found myself as immersed in Liv’s story as I was in Sophie’s.

Without giving anything of the story away there are many comparisons to be drawn between Sophie and Liv and their stories, not least the loss of the loves of their lives and their strength and resilience when life pushes them to and beyond their limits.  Having forced this book on many of my friends, none of whom have regretted it, I have largely found myself alone in my sympathy toward the Kommandent but I was left feeling as though he genuinely loved Sophie.  I think his character showed how even the most evil of enemies is just a person underneath, and how even the most gentle of souls can be twisted and destroyed by the evil of war.

This is a story that progresses at a rocketing pace, which tugs at your emotions and will have you hooked from the very first page.  It is tense, dramatic, heartbreaking and poignant.  I highly recommend this book to anybody, however I would advise that you only pick it up if you know that you have at least one clear day in front of you as you will not be able to put it down until you have finished.

Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire – Review!!!

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Let me start by saying that I did enjoy reading this book. It was nicely written, flowed well and it was certainly not a struggle to reach the end. However, I did feel as though for the most part it was a rewrite of Beautiful Disaster and nothing more. I didn’t feel as though I learned anything about Travis that I did not know before, or the other characters for that matter. I really enjoyed the prologue showing Travis as a young child at the bedside of his dying mother and must admit to having the glisten of a tear in my eye! For me, this small section of the book showed what the author is capable of and it was a shame that it did not carry on in this vein. Given that the author justifies the flaws in her leading mans character with the death of his mother at such a young age I felt as though she could have had a much bigger voice in this version of the novel. It seemed as though she was used as a justification for Travis’ behaviour and then quickly forgotten about. I would also like to have seen the author explore more of the relationship between Travis and his elder brothers.

Although I didn’t struggle too much to enjoy this book I did find my myself a little bored as having read BD I knew exactly what was going to happen at the end of every scene, scenes that we have already become familiar with in the previous novel. Perhaps the author could have written some brand new “unseen” interactions between Travis and Abby rather than relying on the retelling of scenes and situations from BD. The novel does however redeem itself somewhat during the epilogue, this was the first time during the story when I felt myself wanting to turn the page to find out what would happen next.

Given the phenomenal success of Beautiful Disaster and the hysteria surrounding Travis Maddox as a literary hero (or a book boyfriend as I have recently heard him referred to as) I am not surprised that the author, or more likely her publishers would want to capitalise on this and make as much money as they can, which is fair enough! Nobody forced me to purchase it! Unfortunately, I do feel as though Ms. Maguire would have done herself much more justice as a writer by creating some brand new material. Perhaps she could have written fresh material telling us what happened in the 11 years that we missed between the end of BD and the epilogue of WD? I’m not sure whether there will be another book in this series at this point however there do still seem to be some loose ends, for example does Travis succeed in bringing down Mick Abernathy? I would also have loved to see more interaction between Travis and his children. How did Travis react to becoming a father? Given how damaged his character is, did he feel worthy of his kids? Was he worried about his abilities as a parent having not had his mother around? Was he scared and vulnerable as he was when he first fell in love with Abby? Or did he take it immediately in his stride? I do feel as though there is a lot more that could have been explored here and that simply writing the retelling of the novel might have been something of a cop out (sorry!!)

I very much enjoyed the relationship between Shepley and America. For me, they are much more real as a couple than Travis and Abby and I have to admit that I hugely preferred the character of America to that of Abby. She is strong and fiesty and takes no messing around. Unlike Abby, who I felt was needy, whingey and too much of a game player. For example, when she told Travis that she would have taken him back at Thanksgiving had he said the right things to her. Instead she made him suffer even when he begged on his hand knees outside the cafeteria for her to take him back, and continued to mope around herself instead of being honest. Although admittedly had she been immediately honest the book would have been a lot shorter! Abby is one minute insisting that she can’t be with Travis even though she loves him but in the next breath she is falling into bed with him and declaring her undying love! I just couldn’t figure her out! The notion of “I love you but I can’t be with you because (insert stupid reason here) always falls a little bit flat for me because in my experience if you love somebody there is no reason good enough to not want to be with them, right? You accept somebody flaws and all. Abby and Travis’ relationship seems to be based on a distinct lack of honesty and a lot of game playing (it started with a bet remember) which is why I feel that perhaps theirs is a relationship based on little more than sexual attraction rather than being a deep and sustainable love that will last a life time. To me, the real love story here is between Shepley and America and I would have dearly loved to see their story wrapped up in the epilogue also. We don’t even know if they are still together, whether they married and had children. Perhaps we will be hearing more from them in the future.

I felt Travis is a passionate, fiery and fiercely loving character who needed taking care of not messing around and I honestly didn’t think Abby was good enough for him!! She would have been better off with somebody as simpery and annoying as she, like Parker Hayes. Now Travis and America, they would make an incredible and passionate couple!!! Overall, I didn’t hate this book but I certainly did not enjoy it as much as the original. I will however, look out for Ms. Maguires next project.