‘This is How it Ends’

I had been desperate to read This is How it Ends since receiving it at a work thing and I featured it as my Cover Design of the Month for April and I wasn’t disappointed!

It is an absolutely beautiful book, the photo above doesn’t do it justice! Bear in mind that this is a proof AND that it has become a little battered in my bag…but hopefully this gives you an idea of the foil detail!

A stunning book that your bookshelf deserves to be friends with!

Anyway, there’s a lot more to this book than the gorgeous cover…This is How it Ends by Kathleen MacMahon is

“A story of unexpected, live changing love”

What is so refreshing about this love story, in addition to the unexpectedness and the old ‘Stop looking for love, it will find you’ thing…instead of two young protagonists who are unexperienced, awkward and think they know everything about the world…our lovers have lived, loved and lost.

The book opens as Bruno, a New Yorker in his late forties (not ‘nearly fifty’, a distinction that Addie is keen to maintain) is on a flight to Ireland after losing his banking job with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and he decides to try and reconnect with his extended Irish family…much to their initial delight! The relatives whom he is trying to connect with are Addie, an out of work architect/swimming enthusiast who is currently a live-in carer for her father…only because he has broken both arms mind, not because he is unable to care for himself! However, he has also been suspended from his work as a doctor so there is little to keep him occupied during the day…which makes him (and Addie) feel very claustrophobic!

Anyway despite impressive efforts to avoid him, Addie finally meets Bruno and they fall in love. It’s not all plain sailing along the way but the book reminds you that life is for living and that you shouldn’t waste a second of it!

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‘Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai’

For once, I’m speechless! I have NO clue where to begin about this book, it is powerful, beautiful, tragic, harrowing and an absolutely wonderful read!

What you can’t tell from the visual above is the beautiful foil detailing, which I am told is done using a matte foil to give a more antique-y feel. It is an absolutely beautiful cover, designed by Yeti Lambregts at Headline and I can’t wait to get a hardback copy for my shelves!

I’ve made a semi-radical decision…I’m not going to give ANYTHING away about this book because you simply MUST read this when it is published! You won’t regret it! All I will say is that if you enjoy books like A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Calligrapher’s Daughter…you will relish every page of this book and be touched by the story of its heroine Kozaisho.

The hardback will be published 05.07.12 (ISBN: 9780755389254) and the paperback will follow 17.01.13 (ISBN: 9780755389285) but it is a wonderful book that you must read!

‘Heart-Shaped Bruise’

I’ve been desperate to get my hands on Tanya Byrne’s Heart-Shaped Bruise for a while now and I decided that my Easter holiday was the perfect opportunity to read it!

The cover (designed by Clare Shepherd at Headline) is striking and it doesn’t give too much away!

Our protagonist is Emily Koll, a gangster’s daughter who is currently residing in the psychiatric ward of Archway Young Offenders Unit. She makes it crystal clear that she isn’t sorry for whatever she has done, which instantly made me dislike her…it also made me intensely curious! I haven’t hated a character for a long time and if I’m honest, I really wasn’t sure about it…but it is always nice to read something different 🙂

So, Emily is awaiting trial for something but she won’t tell us what…though given where she is, we can assume that it is quite bad. She has regular therapy sessions with Dr Gilyard but none of them seem to be doing any good…they are very useful to the reader though because we find out snippets about her personality and reasons for doing whatever it is that she did, each time! We also have little flashbacks to times in Emily’s life, which are really useful for the reader. What is quite worrying is that whatever time period the chapter or section is set in, Emily is still completely filled with hatred!

We soon learn that the object of Emily’s hatred is a girl called Juliet and the reason for this hatred is that Juliet stabbed Emily’s father…though it isn’t quite as simple as that…as the plot slowly unfolds and we learn more and more, I found myself unable to believe the depths that Emily is prepared to sink to, to get revenge on Juliet! She is ruthless, though she is also living her life as a teenage girl, which is really interesting to read about as it is a completely 100% different from my experiences as a teenage girl…though a few themes were familiar…going a bit crazy over a boy for example!

I really liked the format and the winding narrative of this book, it kept me guessing until the end and Tanya Byrne’s writing is really easy to read in spite of the often quite emotional context. I don’t want to give too much away about this because I think the suspense built up by Emily’s tormented nature and refusal to admit responsibility for her actions (or even to admit what she actually did!) would be ruined if I gave too much away but I would definitely recommend this book so you too can unfold Emily’s secret and relish the moment that you find out what she has done! Though, don’t expect Emilt to change her ways or soften…Byrne’s character is too strong-willed and well-developed for that to happen!

The Versatile Blogger Award

Hi all!

I’ve just been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Sarah who blogs at A Fiction Habit and it was such a lovely surprise! I haven’t known Sarah for long but we met through the blogs and twitter over a mutual love of reading. Although she hasn’t been blogging for long, I really enjoy her thought-provoking style and the way she discusses a variety of literary topics, focusing on different elements each time, book cover design, bookshops, classics etc.

Anyway I need to do the following things:

  1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your post (please see above :-))
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass this award along.
  4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Now, sharing 7 things about myself without worrying people…here we go!

1) I have a semi- irrational fear of toilet roll holders (don’t ask, I will not elaborate…)

2) I can’t eat food on the bone

3) I am writing two books (slowly…)

4) I can stand on the tips of my toes for no reason whatsoever – think Kate Winslet in Titanic when she’s trying to impress the boys…a strange approach but it worked didn’t it?!

5) My parents sold our family home in 2009 to move to France and live on a Dutch barge for their retirement – their blog is here

6) I only like red/strawberry sweets – this does not mean that I don’t eat other sweets…I love sweets

7) I’m allergic to after-sun mixed with insect repellant but not the two separately.

Now I need to pass the award along to some bloggers that I think deserve some recognition so…

Claire at Paperback Reader is a bookaholic! She writes honestly and passionately about a wide range of books and she’s generally a lovely person!

Helen at lovelylovelybooks is another great friend of mine and a fellow book blogger. We have quite a similar taste in books, so I always pop over to Helen’s blog once she reviews something that I’ve read to see what she has said about the book and often to check that she likes my recommendations!

Amreeta’s blog Notes by Nectar is always worth a look whether it’s to check your weekly tarot card (though she does run in Dubai weeks nowadays having moved there in December), to see what it’s like being a proofreader in Dubai – some of the examples she takes photos of are brilliant! Or just to see what it’s like to live in Dubai! It’s always worth a read and Amreeta is lovely, though almost entirely obsessed with Hawaii 5-0 :p

I’ve only recently met (well through twitter and the blog) Jessica who blogs at Prose and Cons Book Club but I really enjoy her blog as there is always a great variety of posts! In addition to her book reviews/discussions on literary news, I really like her writing style, particularly her descriptions of London Life as I often find myself in similar situations! Just yesterday I was asked out by a slurring drunk man on my way home…for the second time in a month. Win.

So there you go! These are my blogger recommendations and I hope the nomination makes them smile!

’22 Britannia Road’

I was given a copy of this book at a Penguin Blogger Event and I’m so glad! If the cover hadn’t grab my attention (which it did!), the author read a sample from the beginning of the book and I was hooked!

Anyway, Amanda Hodgkinson’s novel is a fantastic read which shows a different perspective of WW2 and highlights the strength of love in the face of adversity. The book starts as Silvana and her son Aurek are waiting to board the ship that will take them to Britain, where Silvana’s husband Janusz now lives. The family have been separated for six years and in that time, all of them have endured and survived indescribable inhumanity while the world was at war.

As Silvana and Aurek try to settle into a normal life, Janusz is desperately trying to fit into the English way of life (inviting people for numerous cups of tea and keeping a tidy garden etc.). Although they all knew it would be hard to adjust after such a long time apart, because there is so little talk of what they actually experienced in the war…there is so little understanding between them! It becomes clear towards the end of the novel that although they don’t want to recollect the horrors that they have experienced, some things need to be said. Although Silvana lived a relatively normal life in Warsaw before the war began, Aurek was just a baby when Janusz had to go to war and various events meant that Silvana and Aurek spent most of the war hiding in the forest and Janusz seems embarrassed of his unruly/primitive behavior throughout the first half of the book and yet desperate for Aurek to reciprocate his love. Hodgkinson’s writing is so beautifully and honestly realistic that I went through a real mixture of emotions…I smiled when Janusz offered people tea for the sake of it, I felt awkward when Aurek was ‘misbehaving’ in public and I felt so desperately sad and sympathetic for Silvana when her child finally begins to bond with ‘the enemy’ (as Aurek describes him), Janusz because although you can tell that she wants Aurek to have a relationship with his father, it was just the two of them for such a long time and their relationship was so intense because of the situation that it must have been very difficult to see him running to his father before coming to her.

But it isn’t just the struggle of the war years that is apparent throughout the book, it is the struggles of every day life that were so poignant and so wonderfully described. I found myself gushing as Aurek’s descriptions of Janusz as ‘the enemy’ slowly faded and he let him into his life – the moment where he thinks (something along the lines of…)

‘If the enemy tries to hug me, I will let him’

…really warmed my heart!

This is a fabulously well-written book, which shows you the war from another point of view, without preaching or repeating previously explored perspectives of life in wartime. Wonderful descriptions, honest characters and a touching narrative!

‘The Night Circus’

“The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

This book is absolutely enchanting! I have heard that it has received quite mixed reviews but I absolutely loved it!

From the outset I was swept along with the magic of the circus, desperately wishing that I could be there, but feeling like I already was! The structure was essential in making the reader feel that they were visiting the circus as the novel was split into various sections from various perspectives. In one chapter you’d be walking through the circus into various tents, the sights and smells being described so wonderfully that you could taste the sweet cinnamon buns and smell the warm cocoa! Then you’d be whisked off to Chandresh’s mansion where you’d watch the events of the ‘Inclement Weather Parties’ or the fantastically mysterious dinner parties…then you’d visit Bailey, a true circus lover and take another different look at the Cirque du Reves. This book is truly wonderful!

Our two main characters, Celia and Marco, are bound together before they even meet in a twisted duel, organised by two bitter, expiring men – one of whom is Celia’s father, not that he acts like it! The circus brings them together with a host of other wonderfully unique characters and multiple threads of mysterious narrative, which make the book really hard to put down, almost as if it bewitched me as I read the words on the page. The book spans several years, during which time we really get a chance to watch the characters grow! Especially the twins, Poppet and Widget, who were born on the day that the circus opened for the first time! I don’t want to give too much away about the plot because I think it would ruin the magic a bit…but if you’re a dreamer, or a “reveur”…like me! You will cherish this book and recommend it to your family, friends and everyone who you wish to be a part of the magic!

The cover design is bold and striking! The book is a wonderful, magical read, which I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone!

‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’

Wow! Another fantastic book by Stieg Larsson that kept me in suspense until the very end!

I absolutely love the pairing of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander! I was desperate for them to work together again, though I was pleased that Lisbeth remained true to herself at the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and for most of The Girl Who Played With Fire. After using her computer skills to steal billions from the shady businessman, Wennerström…Salander takes herself off on a well-deserved break! She breaks all contact with Mikael at the end of the last book and only reinstates communication between the two of them when she is thrust into the public eye and wanted for murder! Mikael is desperate to find out who the murderer is, not only because he can’t believe that Lisbeth is guilty but because the victims were his friends and he is certain that they were murdered because of a book that ‘Millennium’ were publishing for them and a huge name & shame issue of the magazine, which would incriminate a lot of high-ranking police officers among other people. So how did Salander get mixed up in all of this!? More interestingly, how did her prints end up on the gun that killed the young couple?! Well, that is what Mikael needs to find out…

This book focuses much more on Salander than the first book did and I loved discovering new things about her, although she was often reluctant to give up the information! There are lots of moments that make you seriously consider what it is that you actually know about her rather than what is being portrayed by the other characters/media etc. However, I was always sure that she’d be alright! I never feared for her safety until that bit!!! But as guarded as Lisbeth is, she knew exactly which people to let into her life and this pays off! In recent years I’ve made a conscious effort not to bother with people who don’t reciprocate, not to the extent that Salander chooses her acquaintances but it was interesting to see the extreme side of it! I have been let down by SO many people that I’m slowly becoming hardened to being let down…What is really interesting is that in this book, however reluctant, Salander and Mikael are very close – even though they don’t see each other face-to-face until the very end! Salander is shocked that Mikael knows her so well, this is alien territory for her! But she is relieved when she does see him at the end of the book – unlike the first book, I feel that they will be friends in the third novel – as long as there is mutual respect!

So, how does she end up in this situation!?

Well, classic Salander…she hacks Mikael’s computer and finds out what he’s working on. Then, for reasons that we are unsure of…she goes to visit the young couple, Mia and Dag at their flat. Shortly after, they are both murdered. Her prints are on the gun that killed them. In a parallel storyline, her distrustful guardian Bjurman is fed up with being under Salander’s control and decides to contact someone called ‘Zala’ – incidentally, this is the name that sparked Salander’s interest in Mikael’s research and is what she has gone to speak to Mia and Dag about. The stories intertwine and the suspense continues right until the very end!

If you loved the first book, you won’t be disappointed with this one! I had intended to read the books sporadically but I don’t think I can wait to read the third and final book! Larsson writes the characters so clearly and they stubbornly remain true to themselves throughout, although I think by the end of the book, Salander realises that Mikael isn’t just going to give up on her…she may well have to let him into her life full-time! This is a fantastic book, which kept me in suspense until the very end!

‘The Book of Summers’

This is an incredible book! Absolutely stunning!

Right, swooning over…for the time being! The Book of Summers is the debut novel of Emylia Hall and it is simply wonderful! Our protagonist is Beth Lowe, an artist living in London. The book opens as Beth is getting ready for her father to come and visit. It becomes clear that their relationship is quite strained and when he arrives, he hands Beth a parcel that arrived for her…from Hungary. This sparks a disagreement, which results in her father leaving immediately for Devon…Beth finds herself holding the parcel that she so desperately did not want anything to do with. She recognises the handwriting and decides to open the parcel…soon Beth is forced to remember times that she had tried in vain to forget as inside the parcel is a book, full of photos and memories from her summer holidays in Hungary entitled, The Book of Summers.

Beth takes us through the book, summer by summer…recollecting the sights, smells, tastes, experiences and emotions that she felt during those holidays. This book is written so honestly and beautifully that it really is a joy to read. I have never been to Hungary, but I am genuinely keen to go at some point now! You can read this book ANYWHERE and yet imagine yourself exploring rural Hungary! I mainly read this during my commute to and from work and was amazingly able to ignore the insane people on my train and escape! As Beth recollects summer after summer, I became more and more determined to find out what went so terribly wrong on her seventh summer – why doesn’t Beth want to remember those moments?! Why doesn’t she get along with her father? The strength of Hall’s writing lies in the realism of the characters and the empathy that we feel throughout each and every moment with Beth. I really felt like I was privy to someone’s deepest and most precious memories, but it was written so naturally that I didn’t feel like I was intruding…I just felt like I was there with Beth in the park, in her flat, exploring Zoltan’s garden, watching two young people fall in love purely and honestly.

This is a truly wonderful book which offers an escape into a world, so different from our own and yet within reach! This is a must-read! Not just for the summer, but for any time that you need to escape into beautiful imagery, wonderful descriptions and simply read about love, without cliche or pretension.

‘Starter for Ten’

I love it when authors continue to write brilliant books without simply copying the winning formulae from their previously successful books. David Nicholls is one of those authors…I have read his books in the wrong order…but this hasn’t ruined the fun. The “correct” order would have been…

1) Starter for Ten

2) The Understudy

3) One Day

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I am very grateful to her for it! I was laughing and sniggering throughout! This is the first non-autobiographical book that has made me laugh! I mean there were are lots of moments in various books that make me chuckle, especially poor Stephen C McQueen (no relation)’s escapades in The Understudy but I was smiling the WHOLE way through this one!

Poor poor protagonist Brian…a character who we can feel comfortable laughing at because we’ve been in similar situations ourselves, we can relate to him! We meet Brian in the 80s shortly before he heads off to University…with acne-covered skin, a penchant for quizzes and an obsession with the work of Kate Bush, he is a brilliant character and yet, he is extremely ordinary. What is hilarious throughout the book is that Brian is unaware of his ordinariness…in fact, it seems that he is waiting for the world to discover how wonderful he is. The only problem is…that those people (unless they are true geniuses…or audition for Big Brother…) usually get brought back to Earth with a bang!

Anyway, Brian goes off to University with big dreams! He is going to attend every single lecture without fail, concentrate on his studies and be one of lives achievers!

This mentality lasts for less than one night as he becomes enchanted by a girl called Alice, one of those beautiful girls who we all knew at University who led boys on and played the innocent victim of unwanted feelings – however, Brian was a bit too keen…so he becomes besotted with Alice, which leads to the inevitable fall. Along the way he auditions for ‘University Challenge’, experiences those moments that we all shared at University (i.e. being told to keep the noise down, not doing as well in an essay as you’d hoped – even if you didn’t put as much effort in as usual, saying something stupid in a nervous moment, which leads to you looking like a fool…trying to work out who we are/who we want to become, first major hangover…etc. etc.) and learns a LOT about himself – not so much about “Eng Lit”.

This book is a joy to read, even if there were parts that I couldn’t personally relate to, those things happened to friends of mine! Although in a ‘Napoleon Dynamite-esque’ way, nothing massively exciting happens, Nicholls’ style of writing is so smooth and enjoyable! The book describes life for one ordinary boy going to University in the 80s…there are plenty of subtle references to life in the 80s, without being too overpowering and frankly, it is hilarious!

This would be a great present for someone starting University, someone currently at University, someone who has been through University…hell, it would be a great present for anyone! 

‘Black Out’

Black Out by John Lawton is a fabulous read. It is quite a long book, but there are enough twists and turns along the way that you stay interested all the way until the end! I’ve always really enjoyed reading books about the war, I’m actually writing one as well…but that’s not important right now…anyway I always like reading about the war from different perspectives and I think this may be the first book that I’ve read from the point of view of a policeman. It’s easy to forget that crime still happened because there was so much else going on!

Anywho…it is 1944, our protagonist is Detective Sergeant Troy, and severed arm has been discovered by a group of school children (and a hungry dog…). In true detective story-style, there is much more to the plot than this one murder and slowly the story begins to unravel, sweeping both Troy and the reader along into a deep plot tinged with politics, international relations, lust and secrecy.

My only beef with this book is that it seemed to take me ages to read! I think that if certain sections had been more concise, it would have felt more like a detective thriller than a detective novel…there were lots of bits that had me on the edge but then instead of catapulting me onto the next plot twist, it bumbled along for a while…I just think it could have been a bit shorter. On reflection, maybe my desperation for a thriller-style detective novel isn’t fair to the author…Black Out is a brilliant read, I definitely didn’t guess the ending…I had my suspicions but I was kept guessing until the very end – which as you know, rarely happens!