Monday, 30 December 2013

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Imagine a society where everything was the same for all people.  A spouse is selected for you, two children - one boy and one girl are provided upon application and when those children are 12 years old their future occupation is selected for them.

Jonas has reached his 12th birthday and he is given a surprising occupation.  He is to be the Receiver of Memories.  All he is told about this role is that this is an honour, it will require bravery and he will feel both pain and pleasure.  Jonas is not at all sure that he actually wants this honour but he has no choice.  However, what he learns will lead him to question everything he has ever known about the community in which he has grown up.

This Christmas my sons decided to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st century and bought me a lovely shiny new tablet.  A wonderful gift but I have never used one of these before, preferring to stick with my good old laptop.  Admittedly it has seen better days but it has served me faithfully for many years and we have a bit of an understanding and therefore get along rather well together.

So, Christmas morning and one of my clever technically minded sons fills my shiny new tablet with all sorts of apps, one of which was Overdrive Media which enables me to download e-books from the East Sussex e-library.  In setting it up he just picked a book at random to test it and it happened to be The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Having never read it I thought I might as well give it a go and I am so very glad that I did.  It was an amazing book and now I cannot believe that I have never read it before as it was published some time ago but what a treasure to find at the end of 2013.

It is aimed at children but I really think that anyone would enjoy this book.  I certainly did not feel that it was talking down to me as an adult and I found the subject matter to be extremely thought provoking.  In a society that appears perfect, as it does in the novel, it made me consider what we as individuals in the 21st century consider perfection or equality or responsibility, the list could go on.  It is a short book which raises so many questions that I know I shall still be thinking about it some time from now.

My only disappointment was to find that this book is the first in a quartet and I am now hoping that my e-library has the other three books.  The next book in the series is called Gathering Blue and I intend to continue with this series.  I enjoyed this book so much that it made it into my TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2013.

ISBN:  978 0007263513

Publisher:  Harper Collins Children’s Books

Price:  £5.24

Total saved so far:  £110.95

Sunday, 29 December 2013

My Ten Best Books of 2013

This was a hard list to compile as I have read some really good books throughout this year and choosing just 10 has taken a lot of thought and consideration.  My final choices are in no particular order and were not all published in 2013 but represent the books that I enjoyed reading the most throughout 2013.

I also want to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful 2014. So without further ado, here are my TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2013

The Giver by Lois Lowry - I only finished reading this book this morning so my review will follow shortly. 

The Emergence of Judy Taylor by Angela Jackson

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

1Q84 (Books 1, 2 and 3) by Haruki Murakami

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Changing Places by David Lodge

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

The Seamstress by Maria Duenas

The World is a Wedding by Wendy Jones

I would love to hear your opinions of any of the books that made it to my top ten. Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below or email me if you would prefer at

I have got some exciting books lined up for 2014 starting with The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I am about half way through this now and loving it.  My review should be up within the next week.


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Holidays

Deck the halls with boughs of holly tra la la la la etc.  Okay I shall stop singing now. I know it's not a pleasant experience for those around me who can actually hear my not so dulcet tones but it is Christmas Eve and my excitement levels are mounting.

However, before I get into stuffing the turkey and so on, I just wanted take a moment to wish all my readers and followers a Happy Christmas.  I hope that Santa brings you lots of good books to read in 2014.

I shall be back soon with my 10 Best Books of 2013 - not an easy choice as I have read some excellent books this year.

I’m also thrilled to say that since I began this reading blog in October I have saved a whopping £105.71 through reading free books and I am very excited at the prospect of this growing throughout 2014.  I have been fortunate in that I have had some books gifted to me this year but mostly the books I have read and reviewed have been library books, free kindle downloads or books that have been languishing on my shelves for far too long.

This is proving to be a really interesting challenge and I am very much looking forward to continuing with it and discovering new ways to access free reading.  Our library service has recently relaunched their e-library and I intend to explore accessing downloadable library books to read.

So Happy Christmas to you all and thank you for reading my blog.  I really appreciate your loyalty and interest in my reviews.  It is good to know that I am sharing my book love with like minded people.  I hope 2014 brings you much reading happiness.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Coming Up For Air by George Orwell

George Bowling is fat, forty- five and frustrated with his life.  He lives in an English suburb with his sombre wife, two children and is employed as an insurance salesman.  His life is the epitome of ordinariness except that this is England in 1939 and the country is on the precipice of war.

George’s thoughts turn to days gone by and he makes a return journey to his childhood village in search of the familiar.  However, he finds things have changed beyond recognition and he discovers nothing but disillusionment.

This novel is a re-read for me as it is one that I always enjoy enormously.  I am a fan of George Orwell and have read most of his published works but this is different to many of his other novels.

Here, he presents comic genius with what I consider one of the most amusing opening lines:  “The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth.”  This sets the tone for the whole novel as we view the world through George Bowling’s eyes.

George is not a very likeable character and some of his views are certainly not politically correct by today’s standards. However, what this demonstrates is how people viewed the world at the time as it provides the reader with a fairly accurate glimpse into suburban attitudes in 1939.

On one hand this is humorous to read whilst at the same time the darkness of war lurks in the shadows. The descriptions of George’s childhood are enchanting; Orwell transports us back to a time of safety and innocence with the knowledge that the world is about to be changed forever by the First World War.  It is apt that he finishes the book on the precipice of the Second World War when, once again, the country faces the unknown.

This is a wonderfully nostalgic novel.  George Bowling tells us that “it was always summer before the war” and the author makes a conscious decision to present his protagonists childhood and youth through rose tinted glasses.  However, it is wittily told and I think it shows us that Orwell was capable of a comic brilliance that we do not see in 1984 or Animal Farm.

I always enjoy reading this book and it’s one that has been on my shelves for many years and I would not part with it as I know I shall want to read this again at some point in the future.  I have a lovely edition which I think was published in the 1960’s with the classic Penguin trademark orange spine that I bought in a charity shop many years ago.  I think the cover is an appropriate depiction of an ordinary life with the fear of war looming in the background.  What do you think?  How do you think the cover compares with the current edition?

ISBN:  978 0141185699

Publisher:  Penguin Classics

Price:  £6.99

Total saved so far:  £105.71

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen

Orphaned as a teenager, Darya Borisovna Spriridova, is taken into the Russian court where she is responsible for the care of the child heir to the throne.

Told retrospectively in the 1990’s,  Darya continues to be haunted by the time she spent with the royal family.  Her one remaining desire is to find the missing heir, whose body was not found amidst the remains of the Romanov killings.  She remains convinced of his survival and the ability for him to reinstate the monarchy.

Set amidst the splendour of the royal court and the contrasting political turmoil of Russia’s most violent period in history, the story recreates the final years in the Romanov palace and explores the reasons behind the massacre of the Royal family.  This subject matter has been told in many good novels before but it is very obvious from the beginning that this novel has been fully researched and intelligently told.  Dora Levy Mossanen, retells this story with a sensitivity missing from some other works.

The events are portrayed uniquely through the eyes of the main protagonist, Darya, who is a fascinating character.  Sometimes called a sorceress, other times an Opal Eyed Queen, she is full of mysticism, love and passion.  It is through her eyes that we witness the historical details of the period and the author enhances these historical facts through Dayra’s mystical encounters.  For me, this gave a whole new perspective to a familiar story and demonstrates Mossanen’s skills as a story teller. Adding a magical realism element to the story made this come alive and become incredibly readable.

I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical novels, romance or magical realism.  I was fortunate enough to take advantage of offering this as a free kindle download in August 2012 but had I paid for this I would have considered it money well spent.

This is the first time I have read anything by  Dora Levy Mossanen and I am always excited to discover a new to me author.  I am thrilled to learn that she has written three other novels, Harem, Courtesan and Scent of Butterflies, all of which I hope to read following this excellent novel.

ISBN:   9781402265945

Publisher:  Sourcebooks

Price (based on today’s price for kindle edition):  £4.01

Total savings to date:  £98.72

Monday, 16 December 2013

Delia's Happy Christmas by Delia Smith

‘Tis the season to be jolly…………..  In other words the festivities are almost upon us again and our thoughts are turning to the gathering of friends and family and, of course, food.  Certainly, in our home, the Christmas cooking transforms my kitchen from the calm and comforting place it usually is to something resembling a military headquarters.  I have lists upon lists of ingredients, recipes, vegetarian options…  goes on and on.

What would I do without Delia Smith, I ask myself?  I have several recipe books by Delia adorning my cookery book shelf but at this time of year I love to turn to Delia’s Happy Christmas.  I have had this book for about four years now so have had the opportunity to try out a good few of the recipes.

The book is beautiful to look at with 150 appetizingly photographed illustrations of each of the recipes, although I must confess that my efforts do not always resemble Delia’s delightful concoctions.  However, the photographs do at least help me to know what it was supposed to look like!

Some of these recipes have become real favourites in our home and I highly recommend the recipes for:

*  Cheddar, sage and onion sausage rolls (I actually make these any time I do a buffet style meal)
*  Traditional Christmas pudding
*  Stilton and Lancashire cheese terrine with spiced pear confit (this is absolutely delicious)
*  Champagne jellies with syllabub and frosted grapes (I made these for my son’s 21st birthday)

I could go on as this book contains some amazingly mouth watering recipes.  Many of the recipes include meat but there are a good number of recipes for vegetarians too.  It is a guide to a stress free Christmas and one that I would not want to be without.  It retails on for a mere £4.00.  Unbelievably good value for such a good recipe book.

ISBN:  9780091933067

Publisher:  Ebury Press

Price (based on today’s price at  £4.00

Total savings to date:    £94.71

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Rabbit Hole by Garrett Smith

Set in 2025 Rabbit Hole is the first in the Paradox series.

Rabbit Hole Time Travel is the first commercial Time Travel company and the book opens with a trip to the Hindenberg disaster in 1937.  Brilliant scientist, Dr Nora Hamilton, is the guide on this trip and whilst there makes a discovery which ultimately will lead her to a partnership with Special Forces Operative Nick Canton.

Nora’s business partner and mentor, Dr. Marcus Locke, has been kidnapped by The Rippers; an organisation designed to use time travel technology to alter the past in order to gain wealth and power.  As Nora and Nick work closely together to rescue Marcus and defeat the Rippers, correcting altered history along the way, they grow close in a way that neither of them expected.

Recruiting a close knit team to work with them, neither Nora or Nick know who they can trust; and can they really trust one another?

I loved the premise of this book; that one could buy a commercial flight to any time and place.  It was great fun accompanying Rabbit Hole around the centuries.

I have been a fan of the time travel genre ever since I got hooked on the Back to the Future films decades ago.  However, I confess that I often get confused by the whole time travel paradox.  Frequently, time travel books go into a lot of complicated details and generally lose me somewhere along the way.

However, that was not the case with this novel.  At no point did it get overly convoluted.  It was simply a good story - adventure and romance, with time travel at it’s core which I think worked very well.  The story was engaging and the characters likeable and interesting.  I would have liked to see the main characters develop a little more but I guess I shall have to wait until the next book for that.

It had enough twists and turns in the story to keep it moving along.  The chapters are short, pithy and the book is fast paced and action packed.

Overall, this was a good fun read.  It reads like Wilbur Smith meets Dan Brown, adventurous in nature, short and snappy with time travel as it’s central theme which gives it that extra element.  This will appeal to fans of adventure, mystery and science fiction.

If you could go anywhere in time, would you visit the past or future?  I know what I would do!  How about you?

ISBN:  9780989662208

Publisher:  Garrett Smith Books

Price (based on today’s price at  £9.26
This was gifted to me by the authors

Total saving so far:  £90.71

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

28th July 1914 is Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday.  It is also the day that World War One begins and Alfie’s father promises him that he won’t join up.  The next day he breaks that promise and goes to war assuring Alfie that he will be home for Christmas.  Four years later his dad’s letters have stopped and Alfie is told that his dad has been sent away on a secret government mission.

Alfie believes in ‘doing his bit’ for the war and has taken up shining shoes at King’s Cross Station to earn a few extra pennies for his mum.  One day a customer drops a stack of papers which Alfie helps him retrieve and unexpectedly finds out exactly what has happened to his dad!

I have been a fan of John Boyne ever since I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and this book further illustrates what a skilled writer he is.  In this book he creates the story of one street in wartime Britain and each character is imbued with a personality that expresses what life must have been like for ordinary people during the uncertainty of wartime.

I really liked the way the book comes full circle.  It begins with his fifth birthday and concludes with his 13th birthday and along the way we see Alfie’s maturation during the difficult war years.  He is an adorable character who, like so many, missed out on much of their childhood and grew up very quickly because of the war.  However, John Boyne skilfully manages to portray Alfie’s childlike innocence  and adventurous spirit through his moving writing.  I was very touched by this particular paragraph:

“More than four years had passed since that day, but Alfie still thought about it all the time.  He was nine years old now and hadn’t had any birthday parties in the years in between.  But when he was going to sleep at night, he did his best to put together all the things he could remember about his family before they’d changed, because if he remembered them the way they used to be, then there was always the chance that one day they could be that way again.”

This novel is poignant, satisfying and ultimately uplifting.  It has a lot to say about the issues and attitudes of the time and portrays a difficult subject matter in a sensitive way.   It would be a wonderful book for older children and young people.  However, speaking as an ‘older child’ of a few decades, I enjoyed this very much and would recommend it for any age.

ISBN:  9780857532930

Publisher:  Doubleday

Price (based on today’s price at  £7.69
This was a review copy from Random House Publisher

Total saving so far:   £81.45

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Emergence of Judy Taylor by Angela Jackson

Judy is married to her dependable husband, Oliver, and they appear to be very happy.  They have a close circle of friends, most of whom Judy has known since primary school and life trundles along in an uneventful fashion.  However, when she discovers a sinister lump and endures a barrage of medical tests she realises that it is time to re-evaluate her life.

She has some hard choices to make.  She knows that she wants a different life but does not know what form that will take.  Her decision to leave all she knows and head to Edinburgh is one that shocks her family and friends to the core.  Amidst all her confusion, will Judy be able to decide what it is she is looking for and ultimately achieve it?

The characters in this book are very strong.  The main character, Judy, is well rounded and many of her thoughts and actions will resonate with lots of readers.  On the one hand, her decision to leave her husband and family could appear selfish and lacking in feeling for those she has left behind.  On the other hand,  she demonstrates a strength of character that is to be admired and demonstrates much courage in her decision.

The author has a lovely writing style and manages to bring quite minor characters to life.  When Lily, who Judy meets in Edinburgh, talks about the loss of her husband I found this deeply moving.  For just this short time, the author moved from Judy’s voice to Lily’s and it was very powerful and demonstrated great skill.

I thought this book was fantastic and I loved it.  It is thought provoking, observant and sensitive whilst demonstrating humour.  It is about the consequences of the decisions we make on ourselves and others.  It’s about loss, death and heartbreak but ultimately, it is a book about life and living it the best way we can.

I am very impressed by this debut novel and I am looking forward to reading more from Angela Jackson. She is a new writer to watch and if this book is anything to judge by, will produce some outstanding writing.

ISBN:  9781472101655

Publisher:  Canvas

Price (based on today’s price at  £4.95

Total saving to date:  £73.76

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

When Detective Chief Inspector Maigret is alerted by the International Police that the criminal known as Pietr the Latvian is headed towards Paris by train it looks like a simple case of observing his movements.  However, things do not turn out as expected and Pietr proves to be an elusive character whom Maigret pursues around Paris.  Maigret is confounded by a mountain of circumstantial evidence and mixed identities in this novel which is set in Paris between the wars.

This is very much an introduction to Maigret and the main intention of the book is for us to learn about him as a character.  The plot felt secondary to this but was enjoyable enough to keep my interest and I was certainly intrigued to find out how it would end and I wasn‘t disappointed by it.  It’s a short book which does not take itself too seriously.  It’s also good fun to read and serves as an enjoyable introduction to the main character who has the ability to “impose himself just by standing there.”

I have a soft spot for the Maigret series as when I first graduated from the children’s library and became the proud owner of a ticket to the adult library, one of the Maigret novels was the first book I ever borrowed from the adult library.  Of course, I felt incredibly grown up and sophisticated and I’m not going to admit just how long ago that was, but suffice to say, that a few decades have passed since I first discovered the taciturn Detective Chief Inspector Maigret and I thoroughly enjoyed my re-acquaintance with him in this book.

This is a new translation by David Bellos.  Penguin are re-releasing the whole set of Maigret books at a rate of one per month.  George Simenon wrote 70 books in this series so this is quite an undertaking on their part but one that I am sure will be worthwhile as the Maigret books are well worth reading.  I am certainly looking forward to my further acquaintance with them.  New readers to these books will also enjoy watching the development of Maigret.  A good book for old and new audiences alike.

ISBN:  9780141392738

Publisher:  Penguin Classics

Price (based on today’s price on   £5.24
This was a review copy from Penguin.

Total saving so far:   £68.81