Twenty Years of Harry Potter

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.

Twenty years is a long time. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton was US President; Tony Blair stormed to victory in the UK General Election on a mandate of things only being able to get better; Katrina and The Waves won the Eurovision song contest. And a book by unknown author, J.K Rowling, called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

albus-dumbledore-harry-potter-quotes-favim-com-2040949It’s impossible now to imagine a world without Harry, Ron and Hermione, and it’s impossible to let this twentieth anniversary go by without a moment of reflection on the impact of the franchise. In 1997, Bloomsbury ran an initial print run of 1000 books for their new release. In January of this year, the seven books of the series had sold nearly 500 million copies worldwide. So what is it about the series that has made it so successful?

When you listen to people talk about Harry Potter, the first thing you notice is a sense of belonging. The books resonated with people on a personal level. They taught us that it is ok to be yourself, to be different, and that people are incredibly complex. Fred and George are class clowns, but also successful entrepreneurs, and incredibly brave. Luna Lovegood doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. She is completely true to herself. Neville Longbottom is terrified most of the time, but it doesn’t stop him fighting to save the world. The women are smart and daring, and unashamedly so. Readers found heroes and friends within the pages, and it kept them coming back for more.longform-original-19888-1424711210-4

In the way that good fantasy fiction does, it shone a light on our own world. The slavery of the house elves, the complexity of good and evil. This isn’t just a series about witches and wizards, it’s so much more complex than that. And it doesn’t shy away from it. It was children’s fiction which didn’t talk down to children. No wonder they loved it. It generated a passion for reading in children and young adults who had never picked up a book before. How magical is that? Who could forget the lines of fans queuing up outside bookstores on publication days, dressed up as every conceivable character. And it spoke to adults too. As I alluded to in our review of The Philosopher’s Stone, it is a nostalgic read. But it’s also dark, challenges preconceptions, and generally makes adults think about the world around them, just like it did its younger readers.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_3yzvk95xx76s8wsgcs8c0sg8k_640And it still has the power to bewitch. Last year, I volunteered at an event run by Felixstowe Library on Harry Potter Night. Actors were dressed up as Hagrid, Snape, Professor Trelawney and Dumbledore, and the entrance was made up to look like Platform 9 3/4. AS we were preparing for the influx of children, Hagrid walked past the doors, and a boy of about seven gasped “It’s Hagrid!”. The magic lives on in the next generation.

The franchise is now so much bigger than the books. The films have been some of the most successful of all times, grossing over $8.5 billion at the box office. And with further films yet to be released, including a sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, due out in 2018, they aren’t done yet. What I find incredible when I re-read the books is how the actors have become synonymous with their characters. It’s difficult to picture Harry without thinking of Daniel Radcliffe, or think of Severus Snape without imagining the late, great Alan Rickman. Currently in the West End, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is pulling in the audiences, with tickets harder to grab hold of than a snitch on a particularly stormy day. Meanwhile, you can tour the studios, walk down Diagon Ally, see the Hogwarts Express, drink Butterbeer, eat Every Flavour Beans (including the ear wax ones), even buy 4 Privet Drive (for just shy of £500,000). Who could have imagined this in 1997?

Who knows what the future holds for the franchise. If pottermore.com has taught us anything, it’s that JK Rowling has an unlimited supply of stories, myths and legends. One thing is for certain. Harry Potter will still be read and loved, not only by those of us who love it now, but by future generations too. Always.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

IMG_1643We are fast approaching the 26th June, which is officially the 20th (!!) anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. And our fond review of the series is coming towards the end as well. We have made it to the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and once again we have turned to fellow fans to give their feedback. Why not join in the conversation and let us know what you thought! Warning: spoilers below!

This book certainly seemed to polarise the people we spoke to. “I didn’t love Half Blood Prince. It felt like something I had to get to the end of just because I needed to know what happened,” said Clare.
“I thought It was all too angsty,” said Rachel. “I know that was the point of it, but it reminded me too much of stroppy teenager stuff that I’d experienced or seen. I suspect I wouldn’t have minded if I had been an actual teenager.”

Heather disagreed, seeing the angst instead as further demonstration of Harry’s growing maturity. “He is battling with his contending feelings of isolation and fondness for his friends,” she said. “This book is pivotal to the series and supplies an intense and dramatic read.”

“It’s definitely more of a grown up book than the rest of the series, but that makes sense seen as though Harry and co are in their 6th year at Hogwarts,” said Lauren. “I though it was a rollercoaster of a read; will Draco survive, let alone complete his mission? I couldn’t read it fast enough to find out! I finished the book having been through so many emotions I was exhausted but in a good way.”

“This is my favourite book of the series for a number of reasons,” said Claire. “For me it was a coming of age book, bringing together the whole reason for the tale. Harry finally realises what his destiny is and what he must do. He finds out exactly how Voldemort has bemuse so powerful and what a huge task it will be to find and destroy the horcuxes, finally defeating him. It also has the heartbreaking moments when Dumbledore dies, killed by Harry’s perceived enemy Snape, who turns out to be the eponymous half blood prince. I remember reading that passage twice as I couldn’t quite believe that Dumbledore was dead. I found this to be the most gripping book of the series, but unfortunately the biggest let down of the film franchise!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

IMG_1642The problem with reviewing Harry Potter, is that most people have already read the series. Most people already have their favourite moments and characters, as well as a favourite book. So instead of writing about what I love about the next two books in the series, I’ve turned it over to some fans to share their thoughts. Today it’s Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix and it’s fair to say, there were fairly mixed views on this one.

“Phoenix was pretty shouty,” said Rachel.
“It was a depressing read. Quite a negative book,” Beckie said. “I enjoyed it, and how it progressed the story, but there wasn’t much to lighten it. There wasn’t as much humour as the rest of the series,”
“I agree that Harry seemed quite petulant and shouty the first time I read it,” said Giles. “But then you read it again and you realise how traumatised he is from the events of the last book. He is suffering from PTSD, and to make things worse, no one outside the order believes that Voldemort has returned.”
Heather thinks this traumatic encounter changes all the characters we know and love. “We definitely see an increasing maturity and grounded dimension to the characters. As a result, Harry, Ron and Hermione encounter internal struggles and endure a new dynamic.”

The idea of an increased maturity within both Harry and the series itself is a popular one.
“I thought it really showed how the series had grown up. Much more than the end of Goblet of Fire did,” said Rachel.
Carolyn agreed with this, and felt the book showed us a new side to Harry. “To be able to examine the meaning behind Harry’s change in personality, the book has to be read very carefully. However, when you examine the truth, you discover how beautifully Rowling has described Harry’s thoughts and feeling and how they have affected, not only him, but those close to him,” she said. “It also shows how he deals with his past in order to protect the ones he loves from the dangers he is about to face. I would say the Order of the Phoenix is my favourite book in the series.”

But it’s not just the main characters who make an Impact in this book. “This is where we first meet Nymphadora Tonks who is one of my favourite characters,” said Mai. “She’s not only rockstar cool, but she’s a real romantic heroine in the Cathy/Heathcliff tradition.”
“Sirius Black,” said Clare. “I can’t forgive because I can’t forget.”
“For me it was all about Sirius,” Giles said. “Realising that Sirius was a sad and lonely wizard who missed his best friend, and thought he could get him back through his best friend’s son.”

“Delores Umbridge,” said Lauren. “I loved her yet hated her all at the same time. Surely only possible due to Rowling’s brilliant writing.”

“I loved how much more of the wizarding world we got to see,” Clare said. “Each book made it richer and deeper. But every book post movies suffered greatly from a lack of sharp editing, possibly because it had become such a genuine sensation by then.”

“The biggest book of the lot so far, yet I read it just as quickly as the others,” said Lauren. “I finished this one smiling!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_FireYesterday, Rachel eloquently stated her case for Prisoner of Azkaban. Today it’s my turn to explain why I think that the Goblet of Fire is the best book in the Harry Potter universe. I’ve had many conversations with people over the years, and a lot of them have described the book as “filler”. But for me, the Goblet of Fire is where everything changed.

The book begins, not on Privet Drive, but in the village of Little Hangleton and the Riddle House. This was the first book of the series to move away from Harry and Little Whinging, and as a result we are thrown straight into the action. As Frank Bryce steps into the house, describes the figures who are trespassing on the estate he has vowed to look after, it is clear he is doomed. Voldemort, Pettigrew, Nagini and the killing curse, all before the end of chapter one. JK Rowling had thrown down the gauntlet. This book was going to be dark.

For me, Goblet of Fire delved further into the minds of the characters than any other book before. Ron’s reaction when Harry’s name is pulled out of the Goblet of Fire is so real, perfect for someone who has lived for three years in his friend’s shadow. It is the book in which Harry is able to experience what it is like to have family, albeit one who is on the run from the Dementors. Future events will make this a bitter sweet experience.

We also learn a lot more about what the wizarding world thinks of Harry. Rita Skeeter and her ‘fake news’ are believed, because it compounds what people already believe: that Harry enjoyed his celebrity and would do anything for the attention. Even Ron fell into the trap of believing this was true. How else could Harry’s name have ended up in the Goblet of Fire?

But there is such fun within the book as well. The Quidditch World Cup (up to the bit where things start to go wrong), was brilliant. I would totally enjoy camping more if I had a tent like the Weasleys! I loved learning more about the other magical schools, and the descriptions of the Yule Ball. And I LOVED Mad Eye Moony, up until….well, you know.

I would like to clarify, for those who have just watched the film. Dobby gave Harry the gillyweed.

And then the ending. The death of Cedric Diggory made us realise that no-one was safe. Voldemort was back, and he wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his ultimate goal. Goblet of Fire was different to the books that had come before it. And after it, nothing was ever going to be the same.

5 Bites (obviously!)

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

IMG_1641And so we come to the third installment of the Harry Potter series. And my favourite. Book or film, number 3 always hits the top of the charts for me. I think it’s brilliant! I own three physical copies and a ebook. It’s on my wish list for audio-books to own but I have listened to it from the library several times.

I just feel that The Prisoner of Azkaban is where Harry Potter really branches out and shouts to the world that here is a story for the ages.

Rowling herself said that writing POA was her best writing experience- her money worries were at bay, the press attention wasn’t too overbearing and she felt comfortable. I think that shows in her writing throughout. The little additions to the wizarding world she drops in, those little details that make it so easy to immerse yourself in a world where broomsticks and hippogriffs are perfectly legitimate ways to fly, and chocolate is the cure to abject despair!

Prisoner of Azkaban has the reputation of being the point in which the series becaomes darker, and in may ways that’s true. It’s certainly the book where you realise that Harry’s life will never be easy. In other series, the offer Sirius makes to Harry to come and live with him would mark the point at which he gains a trusted guardian and adviser and can really grow into his role as a hero. In Rowling’s world, it marks the point in which we realise that Harry has to overcome so much more than Lord Voldemort… he has to overcome everything life throws at him. I actually think that having Sirius make this offer, moments after Harry believes his story, and moments before he has to go on the run again, is the cruellest thing Rowling does to Harry over the whole series.

Plot wise, it’s a pacy book and I think the last of the streamlined books in this series. 4, 5 and especially 6 I find prone to bloat and it always makes me appreciate the efficiency of story telling in Prisoner of Azkaban so much more

I also love the characters in this. Lupin is a fabulous character, flawed and kind hearted, struggling with his inner demons and his principles. I do love him.
I also love the interplay between harry, Hermione and Ron. Their friendship endures despite the trials and tribulations of life.

It’s a 5 biter for me!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

29470648This is the second YA novel I have read in the space of a month, the second lent to me by my younger sister, and the second to show me just how incredible YA fiction is.

Amanda Harvey is moving, from her mother’s house in Atlanta to her father’s in Tennessee. She hasn’t seen her father in six years due to her parents divorce, and a lot has changed in that time. Amanda has the normal teenage problems of newbie in new school: making new friends, getting hit on by handsome, confident jock, Grant (we’ve all been there!) But Amanda is especially anxious about people getting too close. At her last school, she was known as Andrew and bullied to the point where she attempted to take her own life. To Amanda, letting anyone come too close would mean them finding out her secret, and the cycle of bullying beginning all over again.

This is quite a remarkable book. From the start, it’s clear we are not dealing with just a normal high school romance book. It doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of Amanda’s story, but for the most part, the writing is sweet. A bit heavy on the internal sensations at times, and occasionally cliched, but sweet none-the-less. The characters seem a little too perfect to start with, but then develop more depth as the book goes on.

The book is set mainly in the present, with the whole story from Amanda’s point of view. We learn more about her past through flashbacks, and for me this is where the substance of the story is. Russo does an excellent job of portraying Amanda’s anxiety throughout the book, and the conflict between the response of her mum and dad to her transition is very well done.

This is an important book: for cisgender (non trans) readers and transgender readers alike. The notes from the author at the back of the book are hugely personal. As a trans woman herself, Meredith Russo has pulled partially on her own experiences for this novel. She is keen for all readers to understand that Amanda is just one (fictional) person, and that her experiences are not true of everyone. This is an excellent book for cis readers to use to increase their understanding of both gender and sexuality, and to help trans readers know they are not alone.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverI can remember exactly where I was the first time I read The Philosopher’s Stone. I was eighteen and in Mexico on a month long trip with schoolfriends. In a burst of teenage pretentiousness and a desire to bring a book which I wouldn’t read too quickly, I only had on me Dante’s Inferno (I know, right!) Shockingly, I found that this wasn’t the book to cosy up with in a tent after a long days hiking. So a friend lent me her copy of Harry Potter. It was three years since its release, and at the time I hadn’t heard much about it. But I do remember taking a train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon and thinking I was like Harry on the Hogwarts Express. Except for the scenery. And the country. And the fact that I hadn’t just discovered I was a wizard. Apart from that, it was exactly the same.

We all know the story: An orphan child is being brought up by his Aunt and Uncle in circumstances that should have had Social Services hammering on the door; discovers he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by an evil wizard (so far, so Luke Skywalker); manages to defeat evil wizard with his mates. And we all can guess why children loved it so much: it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s got a giant dog with three heads. But why were there so many copies of it being read by commuters on their way to work?

Lets face it, it’s not the best writing in the world (please don’t hurt me!) It has all the ingredients of a children’s book- some cliches, a lot of adverbs. In short, not the kind of book that millions of adults would normally take to. But it’s got something so much more. It’s the hero’s journey: orphan boy discovers there is so much more to him than he thought, that he is a celebrity. We have Dumbledore as the wise mentor, Voldemort as the villain. It is nostalgia. Who amongst us didn’t want a letter from Hogwarts to arrive for us? It harks back to rose tinted schooldays, full of adventure and friends. It is warm and funny. I cheered when Hagrid gave Dudley a pig’s tail, celebrated the come-upance of the Dursley’s. I loved it when Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, his first true friendship. And Christmas morning when Harry is overwhelmed with gratitude after receiving Mrs Weasley’s knitted jumper.

But there is a little hint of threat through it all, a warning that in this Mallory Towers- esque world, all is not safe. It drives the book forward. As adults, the magical world thrills us and we are desperate to be a part of it.

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

16646123Two years ago, my younger sister, Carolyn, lent me her copy of The Fault in Our Stars. I trust her judgement, and read it knowing it would not be easy, and that I would likely be in pieces at the end. It was not easy, and I blubbed like you wouldn’t believe. It was with some trepidation then that I accepted this book from her, especially as it came with the caveat “it’ll make you cry even more than The Fault in Our Stars”. It didn’t, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that this is a devastatingly lovely book.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet properly for the first time when they are both standing on the ledge of their High School’s bell tower. This morning, like every morning, Finch has asked himself whether today is a good day to die. He is prone to periods of being asleep, this last episode has lasted throughout Thanksgiving and into the New Year. He contemplates different ways of killing himself, intrigued by the suicides of famous people.

Violet’s life turned upside down when her older sister died in a car crash the year before. The grief of losing her sister, and the pressure of being the person who survived has caused her to withdraw into herself. She no longer feels comfortable in her friends company, and has lost her ability to write which had been such an integral part of her.

After Finch helps Violet down from the ledge, a friendship develops between the two. A love of words and an innate understanding of what the other is going through creates a bond between them, and in each other’s company, they discover that some days can be perfect.

This is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, beautifully written with some wonderful insights. At times it borders on inspirational poster territory, but there is a realness about it that reins it back in. There is such juxtaposition between the characters, which seems to mirror the difference between life and death. There is poetry at times within the prose, assisted by the quoting of The Waves by Virginia Woolf which plays a big part within the book.

This is a book to make you think about mental illness, the way we deal with it individually and as a society. There is a difference between how Finch and Violet are treated by their high school counsellors, with more sympathy being afforded to Violet because there has been a trigger to her depression. But it is also hopeful in its own way. A lovely book, which deserves a moment of contemplation once the last page has been read.

Carolyn says: “This is such a wonderful book, so beautifully written. Jennifer Niven has really captured the thoughts and feelings of a depressive and how it effects those around them. However, she doesn’t portray them in a negative way, which is inspiring. It truly is a great read and I would recommend it to anyone.”

4 Bites from me. 5 Bites from Carolyn!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

13147230._UY475_SS475_Considering I am such a vocal fan of Terry Pratchett, it’s odd that it has taken me such a long time to get to this book. I think that I am saving each book of his, like a fussy collector. Anxious about reading them because I know that for each one I start, there will be one less Terry Pratchett book which I will ever read for the first time. It’s hard knowing that his publications are finite. But then you fall upon a line which could only have been written by Sir Terry, and it sings from the page.

In a future not too distant from our present, Earth is a very different place. In fact, it is many different places. Following the events of what has come to be known as Step Day, humans have discovered that parallel versions of Earth exist just a step away from the original, or Datum Earth as it is now known. Using a device called a Stepper, invented by missing physicist Willis Linsay, humans can move to Earths east or west of Datum, into the Long Earth and unclaimed territory just like the pioneers of the old west.

For Joshua Valiente, stepping isn’t just about discovery. It is a form of escape. Like millions of children across the world, he made his own Stepper on Step Day, before the world knew what the device did and what the ramifications would be. Finding himself in another world, he saved the lives of nearby children who found themselves in the same situation. But Joshua discovered he could step without his Stepper. Fifteen years later and only a handful of people know his secret: Madison Police Officer Jansson who found Joshua wondering the streets of Datum Earth on Step Day, and is now investigating Long Earth crimes within the area which would be Madison on the Datum; and Lobsang, a legally sentient computer who happens to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. And Lobsang has a proposition for Joshua: to join him aboard his stepping airship called the Mark Twain and travel further through the Long Earth than anyone has before.

This is a fun collaboration between Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and the first in a five book series. Like all good Sci Fi and Fantasy fiction, complex themes are considered within the book, such as overpopulation, individuality and Homo Sapian’s need to explore and discover. Disappointingly, I found the middle of the book dragged a little. As Joshua and Lobsang step across countless Earths there is period where not much happens, but towards the final third the tension starts to ramp up a little. I found some of the characters reactions a little unrealistic at times, with conversations seeming to move from calm and considered, to angry in the space of a sentence. But overall I found the concept interesting and the characters fascinating enough to keep me gripped. The fact that I was up in the air whilst reading it added to this. Not aboard the Mark Twain and stepping across the Long Earth however, just on a bog standard Ryanair flight. Still, it’s a start.

3 Bites.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

51EkMKM92DL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_I’m going to start this review with a little warning: I am making a gross assumption that everyone knows the story of Anne Boleyn, so there are a few spoilers within the next 500 words. If you aren’t aware of her history, this book is a fairly good place to start, but you might not want to read much further. You have been warned!

There is something about Anne Boleyn that has held our attention for nearly 500 years. Part of it is the mystery that surrounds her. As Alison Weir writes in her author’s notes at the end of this book, there are not many surviving examples of Anne’s own letters. What we know about her comes from the words of others, whose opinions of her were none too favourable. In this book, Weir gives her a voice.

There is a lot of history to pack in, especially when the author is as well versed as Weir is. The book begins with an eleven year old Anne being offered a place in the household of Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, because there is so much to fit in, most of the book seems to skip from one event to the next. There is no time to draw breath, no time to really develop much more than a two dimensional understanding of the characters.

We are informed constantly of Anne’s dislike of adultery, she shuns the advances of Thomas Wyatt, not wishing to become his mistress. She harbours a hatred for the King for denying her marriage with Harry Percy. There is no mention of a desire for power or fame before Henry begins to make his advances, and as such it seems like a different Anne Boleyn who decides that she wants to be queen more than she wants to marry for love.

Hints are dropped early with Henry Norris making her “heart jolt” from the moment she sees him and Anne being aware of the good looks of her brother. Despite knowing Anne’s fate, there was still a big part of me that hoped things might end differently. But it wasn’t to be. Alison Weir is excellent at the emotional parts. I could feel Anne’s heartbreak and fear with each miscarriage. And once Anne is arrested on charges of high treason, time and the writing seem to slow down. Emotions run high and the last part of the book goes into the depth and description that were missing throughout the rest.

Alison Weir says she wanted to portray Anne as “flawed, but very human”, and she does this well. Anne is progressive, has been influenced by strong female leaders such as Margaret of Austria and Marguerite of Valois. In some ways she is ahead of her time: keen to shape the kingdom and assist with state matters in a very obvious way. Any book on Anne Boleyn is going to rely on the author’s own interpretation, but this one, based on many years of study, is an interesting portrayal.

3 Bites

This book is the second in Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queen series. Kathryn of Aragon: The True Queen is out in paperback now. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Book Eaters always give honest reviews.

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

41rOoSgvh6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love it when I find a book which almost completely consumes me. The feeling of not being able to put it down, of sneaking a read whenever you can. This is what this book did to me. I had it downloaded on every Kindle app I could, even finding myself reading it on my phone as I was walking to work. Luckily, those situations ended up being accident free- Don’t try it at home, kids!

This is the story of Susan Trinder, orphan and thief who has been bought up in the careful protection of Mrs Sucksby. She knows she is special, Mrs Sucksby has told her so, and raised her as if she were Mrs Sucksby’s own daughter. All she knows of her own family is that her mother was hanged for murder. But Mrs Sucksby and the other inhabitants of Lant Street are the only family she needs, and she would do anything for them. When the enigmatic and high born thief known as Gentleman arrives at Lant Street, he has a proposition for its residents. And Sue is just the person to help him.

Christopher Lilly is a scholar whose life work consists of putting together a bibliography of all the books he owns. His neice, Maud, helps him in this work and has been trapped with her uncle in his house in the village of Marlow for most of her life. Maud is an heiress, an orphan whose money will only be released once she is married. Gentleman has tricked his way into Lilly’s home, claiming to be able to help him mount his collection. His aim: to make Maud fall in love and elope with him. For this, he needs help. Sue will be employed as Maud’s lady’s maid and gently convince her that Gentleman loves her, and that marriage to him is what Maud wants. Once married, Gentleman will have his new wife committed to an asylum and then share his new found wealth with those at Lant Street. Simple.

This story has more twists and turns than the streets of Victorian London’s East End. It was brilliant. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the rug was swept out from underneath me. It’s the kind of book you want someone else to read, just so you can call them and shout “OMG!” down the phone at them. It was all incredibly believable. The characters individual and real, from Sue, Maud and Gentleman, right down to the servants with only a few lines who maintain Lilly’s house, Briar.

I only have one negative thing to say, and that’s that some of the descriptions of body language and reactions bordered on cliche at times. But this had no impact on how much I wanted to read it. The plot pulls you along at breakneck speed, leaving you feeling exhausted at the end. You might be interested to know that the book has recently been adapted into the film “The Handmaiden” by Korean director Park Can-wook.

If you do read it, remember I’m available on our Twitter and Facebook pages for any OMG moments you might have!

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Be More Terry

TerryPratchettSir Terry Pratchett was born on this day in 1948. His career spanned countless books- non fiction and novels- articles, plays, video games, board games, graphic novels and TV programmes. Although most famous for his 41 book ‘Discworld’ series, he is also well known for his struggle with Alzheimer’s, his advocacy for Alzheimer’s funding and the right to die movement, his humanism, his humour and his penchant for black fedoras!

On what would have been his 69th birthday, people across the world are pledging to “Be More Terry”, to follow what they believe Terry would have done in certain situations. Sir Terry’s views on life, love, youth, religion, cats, food, pretty much everything can be found in his extensive writings so being more Terry is actually pretty achievable!

Be more…questioning

“Open your eyes and then open your eyes again.” 195133-Terry-Pratchett-Quote-Not-all-questions-are-answered-but
―  The Wee Free Men

“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”
― A Hat Full of Sky

“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.”
― Monstrous Regiment

 

04_terrypBe more… honest

“He was by nature an honest person, because apart from anything else, lying was always too complicated.”
― Johnny and the Dead

“Mort’s innate honesty will never make him a poet; if Mort ever compared a girl to a summer’s day it would have been followed by a thoughtful explanation of what day he had in mind and whether it was raining at the time.”
― Mort

“’We are going to stick to the rules.  And the thing about sticking to the rules is that it’s sometimes better than cheating.’ “
― Unseen Academicals

 

Be more… political

“’As a wizard I must tell you that words have power’.

‘As a politician I must tell you I already know’.”
― Unseen Academicals220a2462-f45a-4d7f-bb27-122974fe8b53-2060x1236

“On the fifth day the Governor of the town called all the tribal chieftains to an audience in the market square, to hear their grievances.  He didn’t always do anything about them, but at least they got heard, and he nodded a lot, and everyone felt better about it at least until they got home.  This is politics.”
― The Carpet People

“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”
―  The Wee Free Men

 

pratchett1_3230196a-largeBe more… Cat

“Cats know about people. We have to. No-one else can open cupboards.”
– The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

“You can’t teach cats to do anything.  No, not a thing.  You might think you can, but that is because you’ve misunderstood what’s going on.  You think it’s the cat turning up obediently at the back door at ten o’clock for dinner.  From the cat’s point, a blob on legs has been trained to take a tin out of the fridge every night.”
―  The Unadulterated Cat

“If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.”
― Lords and Ladies

 

Happy Birthday Sir Terry, we miss you!

22131-Terry-Pratchett-Quote-No-one-is-actually-dead-until-the-ripples

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

IMG_1614In a not too distant future, America has fallen. A coup has led to the overthrow of the government and the suspension of the Constitution. Democracy is replaced with theocracy, and America has become The Republic of Gilead. This is now a land governed completely by men, and in which women’s rights have been stripped away completely. Forbidden to read, to go out alone, women have few roles in society. With increasing sterility in this new world, the Republic have introduced a biblical way to increase the population. Women known as Handmaid’s are introduced to the households of high ranking officials and their wifes. Their role is to take part in a sexual ceremony with the official and his wife. A Handmaid who has a child is protected from being sent to the Colonies where “unwomen” are exiled. However, any child born is the property of the official and his wife.

Our protagonist is Offred, handmaid to a man known only as The Commander, and his wife who Offred believes to once have been a singer known as Serena Joy. Through Offred we learn about the new regime, it’s practices and punishments. We also get flashbacks to Offred’s past: to her previous life with her husband and daughter, through to life in the Handmaid’s training programme and her friendship with fellow Handmaid, Moira.

Sales in Atwood’s modern classic have soared in the months since the election of Donald Trump, and it’s easy to see why. The premise has become ever more believable, as has the insidious way in which women’s rights are eroded within Gilead. At the start of the revolution, on finding her bank account frozen. Offred’s husband doesn’t rage or take to the streets with her. Instead he promises to look after her, seemingly happy to be the knight in shining armour protecting his woman. In Gilead, men have complete control over women’s bodies, their reproductive rights and lives in general. Executive orders signed by Trump show how easy it is for this to happen in this world too.

It is an uncomfortable read, and so it should be. It deals with an uncomfortable subject. However, it’s flawlessly written. Offred’s voice is intentionally clumsy to start with, a side effect of being forced into silence for so long. But it becomes more fluent as the book progresses. This is an essential book, and can be found in the ‘current affairs’ section of your local bookshop!

5 bites

PS- If you love The Handmaid’s Tale, you might be interested to know that a new TV adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred will be released on US streaming service, Hulu on 26th April. Keep an eye on our page for a UK release date!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

31377300The year is 1645, and as the Civil War continues to rage, Alice Hopkins is making her way from London to her hometown of Manningtree. Newly widowed and in the early stages of pregnancy, Alice has nothing to keep her in London. With her mother’s recent death, all that awaits her in Manningtree is her brother, Matthew. Accidentally burned by a careless wet nurse as a baby, Matthew was always a serious child. Although they were close as children, Matthew didn’t approve of his sister’s marriage and she fears what kind of welcome she will receive.

She discovers that her hometown has changed in the time she has been away. Matthew has risen in importance within the local community, and has become one of the leading voices in the detection of witches. Alice soon discovers that this prominence doesn’t just extend as far as the borders of the town, but into the rest of East Anglia.

As Matthew further investigates the women of Manningtree, so he also delves deeper into his own past. Having found his childhood wet nurse, he becomes convinced of her innocence in his accident. His blame shifts then to Bridget, a former servant, friend of his mother and mother in law to Alice. Alice herself is driven by a desire to protect her unborn child, her mother in law and her brother from the man that he has become.

It’s impossible to know what made a man like Matthew Hopkins act as he did. Beth Underdown paints him as a serial killer, a “killer of women,” which increases the discomfort and threat surrounding his vulnerable sister from who’s view point this story is told. I just wish there had been more of it. I found the first half of the book engaging, but felt that the second half fell a little flat and wanted there to be a little more depth to the characters. The same could be said for the secondary characters: the women who were accused, the female servants who assisted Hopkins- both willingly and unwillingly. I wanted to know more about them.

The dialogue and description plant us firmly in the 17th century, and works really well. I felt Alice’s loneliness and thought Underdown did a great job of showing us that aspect of her. She also shows us how evil can hide in plain sight, and how quickly it can become part of the zeitgeist. An important lesson in our modern world.

3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

IMG_1612Thursday Next lives in an England very different from our own: The Crimean War has been raging for 131 years; Wales has seceded from the Union and has become the Socialist Republic of Wales; time travel is possible, and used by a specialist group called the ChronoGuards.

Thursday herself is a Crimean War vet whose father was a ChronoGuard before going rogue. Thursday works in The Special Operations Network (known as SpecOps), a series of policing departments who specialise in work too unusual to be handled by the regular force. Specifically, Thursday works in SpecOps-27, the literary division.

When the original copy of Martin Chuzzlewit is mysteriously stolen, Thursday is seconded to SpecOps-5 (a search and containment division) to assist. The suspect is Acheron Hades: notorious villain who can use the mere mention of his name to sense an enemy’s presence; who doesn’t appear on film or video; who can persuade people to do his bidding. Thursday knows him as her old English professor, which means she is one of the few people alive who know what he looks like. The only question is: what can he possibly want from the manuscript?

This is a world where words have power, where fictional characters can cross the borders and out of the book. This premise, plus the fact that the bulk of the story is set in my hometown of Swindon, meant this book seemed made for me!

There were parts I loved, such as the small little things which make this world different. I enjoyed how Thursday’s father would appear, freezing time around him so only Thursday could see him, and ask questions such as when and how the Duke of Wellington died (the answer is: shot by a French sniper during the opening exchanges of the Battle of Waterloo. This information makes Thursday’s father realise that the French revisionists have been involved.) I loved the passion people have for books. For example, the longstanding disagreements about who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays has created a group called the Baconians who aim to prove it was Sir Francis Bacon. It’s fun.

But there were things that frustrated me too. Firstly, the names. Amusing and silly to start with, I laughed at the name Paige Turner and Jack Schitt. But then it all got a little annoying, and Milton Keens and Landon Parke-Laine made me squirm.

I was also slightly put off by the character of Thursday. She’s strong and intelligent, which is great. But she feels a little cliched in places and definitely seems like a female character who was written by a man.

This is definitely a book with some enjoyable elements, but the annoyances built up which means I can only award it:
3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

In The Name of The Family by Sarah Dunant

30375755It’s 1501, and the Borgia family are tightening their grip on Italy. Rodrigo Borgia has been Pope Alexander VI for nine years, and continues to combine his role as Holy Father with that of head of his family: carrying out papal duties whilst filling his son’s war chest with papal money. His son, Cesare, Duke of Valentine, appears unstoppable. His mercenary army, supported by his father-in-law, the French king, have taken control of many of the city states in Italy. Cesare’s sights have now turned on Tuscany, and the weak City of Florence. Enter Niccolò Machiavelli: Florentine ambassador, who’s job it is to meet with this young, war hungry, syphilitic Duke and broker a peace between him and Niccolò’s city.

Meanwhile, the Pope’s daughter, Lucrezia is on her way to Ferrara and her third marriage. The addition of the duchy through marriage will swell the lands of the Borgias even more. But enemies abound: within the church, within Cesare’s own army, even within nature itself.

This is the second of Sarah Dunant’s novels about the Borgias, following on from Blood and Beauty, released in 2013. What Dunant has managed consistently through the two books is dispel some of the myths around the Borgias, and bring the family to life. Lucrezia in particular is shown for the fierce, independent woman she was, as opposed to the wanton girl she is often portrayed as. This is obviously a book born of years of passion and research.

I found it almost impossible to put this book down, and came to it each day with a sense of anticipation. The plot and the characters are of equal importance, a symbiotic relationship exists between the two and the story races along. The characters are fascinating, as are the relationships between the main players. I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Cesare Borgia and Machiavelli, and the respect the Florentine had for this young duke who would become one of the influences for Machiavelli’s own writing.

I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley, but we BookEaters always give honest reviews and advice. I can’t recommend this book enough, although be sure to read Blood and Beauty first!

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

IMG_1600During a recent interview for National Public Radio in the US, Viet Thanh Nguyen explained how he wished everyone had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, for this is what produces empathy and compassion. In this collection of short stories, we walk alongside Vietnamese immigrants trying to settle in America; children of refugees trying to establish a life in a world different to that of the childhood, those who might be considered outsiders.

The stories are mostly set in America, with only “The Americans” and “Fatherland” based in Vietnam and allowing us a glimpse of the country through the eyes of US citizens. The country it shows is one of immense beauty, but which is still haunted by war.

There were two stories which shone out for me. “Black-Eyed Women” is the first in the anthology and tells the story of a young writer. She describes Vietnam as a country of ghosts, possessed by the spirits of invaders killed in battle who will now never leave. No wonder she has become a ghostwriter. The ghosts become more literal when she is visited by the phantom of her brother who died when the family made the dangerous crossing from Vietnam to America, bringing back memories of the past and forcing her to confront her present.

In “I’d Love You To Want Me”, Mrs Khanh is dealing with the dementia which has taken away her brilliant, Professor husband. But when he starts calling her by another woman’s name, she starts to doubt the very foundation her marriage is built on.

The writing is beautiful. The words simplistic, but meticulously chosen as befits such short stories. We also get a wonderful sense of the characters despite the story lengths, with development and detail which would suit a novel. There is a sense of displacement throughout the book, both in terms of the characters personalities as well as in place. It left me with a feeling of sadness as well as an empathy for these people I will never meet.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

IMG_1587God has always been a source of confusion for Peri. Growing up in a household with a religious mother and secular father, she has seen the best and worst of both sides, and the division it has caused between her own parents. She has also had her own religious sighting- a Jinn, the baby in the mist who comes to her during periods of high stress. To help her think through her confusion, Peri’s father buys her a ‘God Diary’ in which she writes down questions she has about God and religion.

When she gets a place at Oxford University, she moves from the family home in Istanbul to Britain. There she meets Shirin, British-Iranian and an atheist, and Mona, an Egyptian-American Muslim, who believes her religion doesn’t have to conflict with her feminism. It’s inevitable that Peri is drawn to the enigmatic Professor Azur who runs a series of seminars on God. Alongside Shirin and Mona, in the eyes of a professor Azur they are the sinner, the believer and the confused.

Many years later, and Peri is a mother and a wife back in Istanbul. On the way to a dinner party her bag is stolen from the backseat of her car. In a moment of madness she chases down the thieves, putting her life in danger. During the altercation, a photo falls from her bag of herself, Shirin, Mona and Professor Azur outside the Bodleian Library recalling actions and emotions she thought she had left behind a long time ago.

This is a rich book, in terms of descriptions, characters and themes. The writing is beautiful and quotes from poetry are dropped into a story which is poetic itself. The action moves between modern day Istanbul and Peri’s memories of her childhood and her time at Oxford. In my mind, Peri is immediately relatable. Uncertain, caught between parents, caught between friends. I love how she collects English words, plucking them from books and pinning them onto post- it notes like butterflies. But it is the interactions between the friends which makes this book so special. The conversations between Mona and Shirin are conversations that are being and the world over, between muslims and non-muslims, and Mona argues her point eloquently:
“You’ve no idea how horribly I’ve been treated! It’s just a piece of cloth, for God’s sake.”
“Then why do you wear it?”
“It’s my choice, my identity! I’m not bothered by your ways, why are you bothered my mine? Who is the liberal here, think!”

The one flaw I found with the book was in Professor Azur. I found him slightly cliched at times, and his back story came as a bit of an information dump. But there is an energy about the character, and it’s no surprise people are drawn to him.

If books are escapism, then they are always a way to experience the lives of people whose beliefs are different to your own. This empathy is needed today more than ever. To quote Professor Azur: “If I am Human, my heart should be vast enough to feel for people everywhere.”

4 bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Lives She Left Behind by James Long

IMG_1583There are some books which grab you from the first sentence. This was one. I didn’t buy it straight away due to a distinct lack of funds, and absentmindedly forgot the name of it. And the author. Not wanting to be one of those annoying bookshop customers: “I can’t remember the name of the book, but it had a stag on the cover.” I was relieved to find it displayed on a counter when I went back into the shop after payday.

Joanna’s father Toby had wanted to call her Melissa, but he played no part in the final decision because he died more or less in childbirth.

Joanna, or Jo, is brought up by her mother, Fleur in Yorkshire. Fleur is distant and cold. Angry with her husband for dying, blaming her daughter who’s birth precipitated the accident. From the age of four, Jo knows she isn’t alone. She has a friend in her head called Gally. Gally tells her stories about the past, comforts her when her mother won’t, but Gally grieves and Jo doesn’t understand why. Concerned about her daughter, Fleur takes her to a psychiatrist who puts Jo on tablets. The tablets muffle the world around her, and Gally’s voice fades away.

After being forced out of her job as a developer, Fleur relocates them both to Exeter where Jo becomes friends with Ali an archeologists daughter, and Lucy. At sixteen, the trio join an archeological dig in the village of Montacute in Somerset. Jo feels drawn to the village from the moment she hears the name. Away from the constraints of her mother, she stops taking her tablets and feels a growing bond with the area, especially the nearby village of Pen Selwood.

Meanwhile, local teenager Luke stumbles across the dig. Placing his hand on the soil he feels it recoil, and forgotten memories start to rise to the surface. Schoolteacher Michael Martin is still grieving the loss of his wife and daughter twelve years ago. He blames the move to Pen Selwood for their deaths. His wife Gally was never the same after they arrived and met an eccentric old man called Ferney, who died shortly before their daughter was born. A chance encounter with Luke makes him realise the past cannot be put to rest.

This is a difficult to book to review without giving too much away. The Lives She Left Behind is a sequel to Ferney which has been out of print recently, and has now been republished by Quercus. The story moves through time, although this happens mainly through the reminiscences of the characters. The first third of this book was as good as that first sentence promised it would be. I was genuinely intrigued by the story and wanted to know what on earth was going on.

What bothered me as I read more, was the reactions of the characters. Some are expected to believe stories which would stretch anyone’s rational belief, and while there is a moment of incredulity this is often followed with a shrug of the shoulders and willingness to accept that I didn’t always buy. I also disliked the character of Luke at times, finding him selfish and narrowminded. Maybe this is intentional, but it meant I didn’t always want the outcome that the author obviously hoped I would.

However, it’s a good read and would appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Kate Mosse. I have not read Ferney, and probably won’t go back and read it as this book has covered most of the ground that the original did. I would be interested to hear what fans of the first book think of the sequel through. Does it offer anything more, or just retread a previous tale?

3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Cousins by Salley Vickers

img_1573There have been many generations of the Tye family at the estate of Dowlands in Northumberland, and the family have had their fair share of tragedy. For Fred, the death of his uncle and the horror of the First World War led to his decision to become a conscientious objector in the second. A generation later and Fred’s son Nat dies in a tragic accident after climbing the walls of King’s College at night. This story is engrained in the family’s history and enthrals Fred’s grandson, Will.

The story centres around Will and his cousin, Cele: first cousins who fall in love and begin a tempestuous affair. The book begins after Will has attempted to literally follow in his uncle’s footsteps. He also falls, but survives and the family gather around his comatose body in hospital. The story is told through the narrative of three women: Hetta, Will’s sister; Bell, Cele’s mother and Betsy, their grandmother.

I really struggled to enjoy this book. It is very plot driven which can sometimes come at the expense of the characters themselves. Whilst I got a good idea of the personalities and drives of the five main characters, the secondary ones often came across as a bit two dimensional, probably because they relied heavily on description by the main characters which wasn’t always forthcoming. There is surprisingly little dialogue, instead there seemed to be chunks of exposition which I found myself glossing over and having to go back.

But despite thinking I might bail on it, the plot did keep me going. The main characters and the general story was enough to make me wonder what would happen to them all. And a bit more action at the end made me pleased I had stuck with it a bit longer. The general themes on family and its ties, and the inevitability of history repeating itself were interesting. But ultimately, the style and the lack of fully formed characters let it down for me.

2 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

New Year, New Books!

With Christmas over for another year, many of us have book tokens burning a hole in our pockets. They must, of course, be spent wisely, so it’s time to have a nose at the publishing year ahead and pick out some of the books we are most excited about.


img_1564Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman

Fans of Neil Gaiman will know the importance of mythology within his work: from Sandman to American Gods, Anansi Boys to The Sleeper and The Spindle. In his own words: “what is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.” In this new book, Gaiman will focus on the gods of Asgard, from their beginnings through to Ragnarök and retell the stories in what I’m sure will be his own distinctive way. Published on February 7th.
( Also look out for the TV adaptation of American Gods which premieres this year- on Starz in the US and Amazon Prime in the U.K.)


img_1571Into The Water
by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train shot Paula Hawkins to international stardom and sold millions of copies worldwide. It’s no surprise then that her next novel is highly anticipated. Into the Water focuses on the separate deaths of a teenage girl and a single mother whose bodies are found at the bottom of the river that runs through their town. Penguin Random House inform us that this will be “an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptive mess of emotion and memory.” It’s published on May 2nd.

img_1569Macbeth by Jo Nesbo and New Boy by Tracey Chevalier

We BookEaters have been gobbling up the offerings from Hogarth Shakespeare with frenzied speed, so we are very excited that we have two new books to look forward to in 2017. Nordic crime writer and general polymath, Jo Nesbo recreates Macbeth which is to be published on April 2nd. Tracey Chevalier, author of the bestselling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring, retells Othello in 1970’s Washington DC which will be published on 6th June.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen img_1567

Already described as a must read for anyone in political office, this book surely should be essential reading for everyone. A collection of stories spanning twenty years explores immigration, family and love. Viet Thanh Nguyen has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Pulitzer in 2016. This, his latest book, is published on 7th February.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive was one of the most important books I read last year, and I have been telling anyone who will listen to me about it ever since. How to Stop Time is his latest adult novel and is out in July this year.

In The Name of The Family by Sarah Dunant img_1566

Three years ago I read, and loved, Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant, a book about the Borgias that made it into my top 5 books set in Italy. I’ve been waiting patiently for the sequel ever since. And here it is. In The Name of The Family is set in 1502 and introduces Niccolo Machiavelli to the lives of the ruthless, dynastic Borgia family. For me, Sarah Dunant is the best novelist on the Italian Renaissance. It’s published on 2nd March.

img_1568House of Names by Colm Tóibín

The story of Troy and the ancient war between the Greeks and the Trojans has been retold down the millennia, influencing a multitude of authors. Colm Tóibín, bestselling author of Brooklyn (amongst others), is the latest to reimagine the tale, this time from the point of view of Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. This book tells the story of a woman betrayed, and driven by vengeance to commit murder. Due for publication on 9th May, it’s set to be an extraordinary read.

So have we whetted your appetite? What books are you looking forward to this year?

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

29245653-_uy2250_ss2250_Felix Phillips is the renowned Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. Daring and progressive, his plays are visceral and often not for the faint hearted. This year he is staging The Tempest, an obvious choice following the recent death of his three year old daughter Miranda: a chance to bring her back to life. But before he can really begin, he is fired. Kicked out in a coup led by his assistant, Tony Price and supported by Heritage Minister, Sal O’Nally. Dazed and alone, he drives until he finds a cabin in the woods as broken as he is, and makes his home there as Mr F. Duke.

In this house, he plots his revenge. For company he has the ghost of Miranda, who grows as she would have done if she had survived the meningitis that took her. He also gets a job as teacher in the Literacy Through Literature programme in nearby Fletcher County Correctional Institute (a little nod to Porridge?), where inmates read, dissect and perform Shakespeare.

Twelve years after he was fired, in the forth year of the Fletcher Correctional Players, Felix is informed that the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Sal O’Nally, and Minister of Heritage, Tony Price will be attending the production of this years play. Felix knows exactly what he must do, he has been planning this for twelve years after all. The play will be The Tempest and he will be Prospero, wreaking his revenge on those who have wronged him.

This book is the latest in the series by Hogarth Shakespeare which gives The Bard’s work a modern twist, following on from The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. In this book, Atwood has woven the story and the language beautifully. Phrases from the original Tempest fit in perfectly with the modern text, and some original lines seem shakespearean themselves:

He follows them through the vibrations of the web, playing spider to their butterflies; he ransacks the ether for their images.”

Disappointingly, the scenes set in the Correctional Institute seemed to slow the momentum of the piece too much. It was an interesting approach: the inmates (or actors as Felix prefers them to be called) learn about the play and the characters, delve into the themes of the play and even imagine what might happen to the main characters after the play. Although interesting, it seemed a bit too much like a text book at these points. However, I did like the idea of the actors being punished through the denial of contraband if they use foul language. Their first activity is to go through the text and pick out Shakespearean insults and obscenities which they then use in everyday speech for the rest of the book. I get the feeling Margaret Atwood enjoyed that part!

As Felix himself points out, the reason Shakespeare has survived through the centuries is because he focuses on actions and emotions which are synonymous with being human. The Fletcher Correctional Players understand the themes of revenge within The Tempest, and Margaret Atwood has created a novel which brings it perfectly into the modern day.

4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Unbound: Publishing for the Crowdfunding Generation

imagesEarlier this year, I reviewed A Country of Refuge edited by Lucy Popescu. This book caught my attention for two reasons. First of all, the aim of the book was to add a positive voice to the refugee crises, bringing together authors and poets to write about immigration through the centuries and Britain’s role in supportive those in need. But the second thing that intrigued me was that the book was published through crowdfunding, via website called Unbound.

Unbound is a crowdfunding site for literature. Founded by authors Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard and John MItchinson in 2010, the idea is simple. If you are a writer, you can pitch your idea to Unbound’s editorial team. Whether your book is just started, or finished and ready for editing, upload as much of your manuscript as you have and what makes your story special. If the editorial team think your pitch has potential it goes up on the site where readers get the opportunity to pledge money towards your idea. If it reaches the target, Unbound help edit and produce the book before selling them in bookstores through Penguin Random House. Work can be fiction or non fiction. unbound_temp

As a reader, Unbound allows you to support projects which strike a chord with you, making the reader an important part of the journey. It all sounds quite exciting.

The company owe a lot to author, historian and python Terry Jones who provided the company with their first book back in 2010. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, funded through Unbound, was listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2014. They have also been shortlisted for Independent Publisher of the Year Award in 2013 and 2014

There appear to be advantages and disadvantages of the system for writers. You don’t need an agent, but your book can’t have been self-published previously. Unbound assist with the editing and the publishing, meaning a first time author gets practical help navigating through this potential minefield. And any profit is split 50/50 with the author, which is a higher return than many traditional forms of publishing. In addition to this, readers get to actively engage with your book.

Conversely, some critics have pointed out a low output in terms of publication: 97 books published by Unbound since its launch compared with 184,000 new and revised titles published by the UK as a whole in 2013. Add to this a high crowdfunded target (Dead Babies and Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly required £10,000 in order to be published) and it’s clear you need to have a lot of support as an author to get your work completely funded. 51dterj0y6l

But what is the process like for a reader? I decided to pledge my support towards one of the 295 books currently on the website. The main page shows thumbnails of each book which includes the name of the book, authors, logline and how far towards their target they are. By clicking on a link you are taken to the books main page which includes a synopsis, extract, author information and opportunity to ask the author a question before you pledge.

In addition to this, each book promises different rewards for certain pledge amounts with all supporters getting their name printed in every edition of the book. For example, by pledging £25 to A Long and Messy Business by Rowley Leigh, I would receive access to the authors ‘shed’ or their private blog which keeps supporters up to date with the author’s creative process. (which, by the way, is an offer open to anyone who supports this book) a 1st edition hardback book and e-book edition. A pledge of £500 would get me a 3 day kitchen-101 with Rowley as well as the perks open to those who pledge £25 (although the student masterclass is only available to the first 16 people who pledge £500.) Each book, each author will offer different rewards in the hope of attracting a higher pledge.

I pledged to support The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson, a novel about a group of soldiers who remained in France after the end of the first world war, burying the bodies of the dead abandoned by the roadside. For my pledge I will be rewarded with a special hardback edition of the book when it is published, a poppy badge and the knowledge that 10% of the proceeds of my pledge will be donated to forces charities. Not only that, but I have supported an author in helping get his work into the world, and that feels pretty good.

The process might not be successful for every author, but as a reader it does give you a more intimate connection with the book. If your chosen book doesn’t meet it’s funding target then your money is returned to your account as credit so you can try again. I am, however, positive that I will see my copy of The Glorious Dead soon!

 

References:

www.unbound.co.uk

Charles, David. (2016) Experiments in Publishing: Unbound Crowdfunding. Available at: www.davidcharles.info

Flood, Alison. (2014) UK publishes more books per capita than any there country, report shows. Available at: www.theguardian.com

Jolly, Alice. (2015) Crowded House: Why I Crowd Funded My Book. Available at: www.alcs.co.uk

Rooney, Mick. (2014) Unbound- Reviewed. Available at: www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-Fiction by Neil Gaiman

9781472207999If I were asked to formulate a list of my favourite authors (which I constantly imagine I am, normally whilst pretending I’m being interviewed after winning some kind of award), Neil Gaiman would always be near the top. His prose is poetic, he is passionate about what he does, and is capable of geeking out over his heroes like the rest of us. In this collection of his non-fiction writing, Gaiman talks on various subjects within speeches, book introductions and newspaper and magazine articles, all with the unique voice which could only be his. When collecting the Newbury Medal Speech for The Graveyard Book, he spoke about the importance of creating and “telling lies for a living”:

“….Somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.
And that is why we write.”

Gaiman’s words resonate. They are capable of producing such emotion, and he manages to make it all seem so effortless.

He also has had the privilege of introducing books written by, or about, friends and favourite authors, director and filmakers. Some he has known well, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Some he has never known, like Ray Bradbury or G.K Chesterton. All have inspired him.

“They fall off the conveyor belt into the darkness, our friends, and we cannot talk to them anymore.”

What strikes you more than anything in reading this book, is the effect reading had on him as a child. He is a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad books for children, that children should be encouraged to read, not forced down a path which may lead them to stop reading altogether. He also talks about how TV, film and comics stimulated him creatively as a child, how these things stay in the subconscious long after they are consumed.

I did not read all the writings. I dipped in and out, starting with the titles that shouted out to me, moving back to read more on the section about films and introductions. Skipping past the comic book section with more ruthlessness. But this is a book which can be consumed in this way, and then you find yourself so absorbed in the writing that you are reading about a film you’ve never heard of before, but suddenly want to watch more than anything else in the world. Neil Gaiman’s words are like magic, and here we get a small glimpse behind the curtain.

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Academy by F.D Lee

img_1559There are some sequels that it’s impossible not to get excited about and for once I’m not talking about The Hanging Tree by Ben Arronovitch. This is The Academy, the next part of The Pathways Tree series. Last year we reviewed The Fairy’s Tale, about a young cabbage fairy called Bea who lives in Aenathlin, the home of the fae. Bea and the rest of the fae are dictated to by the Teller (who cares about us). Hanging over them is the threat of redaction, a process which strips the victim of their personality, leaving them a pliable, mindless slave. And somewhere out there is The Beast, a terrifying creature under the control of The Teller, although thankfully it appears to be keeping a low profile.

In this instalment, Bea has been accepted into The Academy to help her train to be a Fictional Management Executive (FME). FME’s run the plots in the human world, building up belief which power the mirrors and keep Aenathlin running. Bea is the first fairy to ever make it into The Academy. She is breaking down barriers and helping emancipate her fellow fairies who are treated like second class citizens. But not everyone is happy with this state of affairs.

There are many who feel fairies have no place in The Academy, like Carol, a fellow FME trainee, and Bea’s new Professor Master Dafi. Bea’s Plotter and mentor Mistasinon is acting strangely, although after the events of the last book, Bea isn’t sure that she wants to see him. Add to this nightmares from the events of the ball and the gossip that the Academy might be haunted, and Bea is left uncertain as to whether she’s made the right decision.

This book is every bit as good as it’s predecessor. It remains funny, in fact the humour is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. In fact, like Pratchett, this book encapsulates all I love about Fantasy Fiction: It tackles difficult themes in a way that contemporary fiction isn’t always able to do.

Bea remains a strong character and is driven by a need to do what’s right, although she has an element of vulnerability in this book. We also get to find out more about the background of other characters such as Mistasinon and Melly.

Yes, ok there are a few typos which is the only thing that stops it getting the full five stars, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. I love this series, and I’m not the only one: it recently got outstanding feedback at The Writer’s Digest self published fiction awards. It’s time this series got published!

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.