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Coffee, Books and Paris

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: ‘This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived ‘a life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy’.

REVIEW: After a month-long summer break indulging myself by re-reading Harry Potter, I’m back, and with a book that is currently one of my favourites I’ve read this year. Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Jane Austen is one of the best biographies I’ve read in a long time, showing us a completely new side to a woman who is generally believed to have written incredible novels, but otherwise been rather dull. Worsley focuses on the places that Jane called home throughout her lifetime, and how these places inspired her novels, hindered or encouraged her writing, and to what extent they can be perceived as a true home. Despite being a big Austen fan, I had not previously realised just how many times Jane and her family moved around, often dependent on the charity of relatives – particularly her many brothers. After the death of her father, Jane, her beloved sister Cassandra and her mother moved from place to place, two spinsters and a widow with little money to call their own, until they finally settled at Chawton, one of the places most associated with Jane Austen. Between her childhood home at Steventon and her final home at Chawton, Jane moved between a great number of cities including Southampton and, most popularly, Bath. However, as Worsley explains, things could have been very different for Jane had she chosen to marry. Modern readers of Austen’s novels tend to picture her as somewhat frustrated, able to write such beautifully romantic plots into her novels because she longed for such a life herself. Although suitors of Jane’s such as Tom Lefroy and Harris Bigg-Wither are relatively well known, Worsley reveals the real story behind these two relationships, as well as revealing a further three prospective suitors for Jane’s hand in marriage. Had Jane accepted one of these offers, her life would surely have been more comfortable, and she may well have been able to provide for her sister and mother also. Yet, Jane did not settle for any of these suitors – it seems that, perhaps, she was as much in pursuit of real love as the characters in her novels were. This biography therefore shows us the real story behind many of the modern perceptions of Jane Austen, and was written in such a beautiful narrative style that it felt like a novel, making it incredibly easy to read for a work of non-fiction. The book has clearly been thoroughly researched and, despite of course knowing how Jane’s tale would end, was so well-written that I found myself very emotional at the end of the book when Jane’s story came to a close. By introducing us to this hidden side of Jane, witty, fun, sarcastic and full of imagination, Worsley allows us to feel close to Jane; she makes her so accessible that the reader actually feels grief when reading of Jane’s death, despite it having taken place exactly two hundred years ago. This is an incredible biography and I would highly recommend it.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “A chance encounter in New York brings two strangers together: Liat is an idealistic translation student, Hilmi a talented young painter. Together they explore the city, share fantasies, jokes and homemade meals, and soon fall in love. There is only one problem: Liat is from Israel, Hilmi from Palestine.

Keeping their relationship secret works for a while, but the outside world always finds a way in. After a stormy visit from Hilmi’s brother, cracks begin to form and their points of difference – Liat’s military service, Hilmi’s hopes for Palestine’s future – threaten to overwhelm their shared life. Then comes the inevitable return to their divided communities, and the lovers must decide whether to keep going or let go, or have the decision made for them.”

REVIEW: I was lent this book by a friend and was looking forward to reading it upon her recommendation. Rabityan’s writing is beautiful; poetic but also fast-paced, it adds to the heightened emotions that already fill the story of Liat and Hilmi, two lovers who seem destined never to be together. Their warring backgrounds put a constant strain on their budding relationship as they clash over politics, over the secrecy of their relationships, and over the future of themselves and their warring nations. Added to this is the fact that Liat has a clear date in mind for when she must return to Israel, putting a time limit on their relationship that earmarks their happiness as only temporary. The cracks begin to show when socialising with their friends and the few family members they let in on the secret, but when Liat returns to Israel with Hilmi following not close behind to visit his own family members, the reader begins to hope that the two will find a way to defy their politics and families and be together after all. It is difficult to continue to give a summary of this novel without giving too much away; the ending was truly a shock and left me in tears for quite some time afterwards. Rabinyat has a way of writing that makes the reader feel as though they are in Liat’s shoes, which allows us to experience both her joy and her pain. I cannot emphasise enough the sheer quality of the writing in this book, which was both thought-provoking and heartbreaking – my only complaint is that I wish it could have been longer.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “In her iconic essay ‘Men Explain Things to me’, Rebecca Solnit investigates the conversations of men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t. This famous and influential essay is included here along with the best of Solnit’s feminist writings. From rape culture to grandmothers, from French sex scandals to marriage and the nuclear family, and from Virginia Woolf to colonialism, these essays are a fierce and incisive exploration of the issues that a patriarchal culture will not neccessarily acknowledge as 'issues’ at all.”

REVIEW: I have considered myself a feminist from the moment I was old enough to understand what the term meant, and have recently decided to read more feminist texts in order to increase my understanding and awareness of the issues we face on the road to achieving equality between men and women. Solnit’s collection of essays is both fascinating and horrifying; it is also worrying how many of her examples I recognised through either witnessing similar scenarios or being involved on them. Her title essay, 'Men Explain Things to Me’, describes an experience Solnit had in which a man decided to lecture her on the topic of a book she had recently read, using her own book as the basis of his knowledge without imagining that she could possibly have been the author. I am sure many women have also had an experience of 'mainsplaining’ - it happened to me in a university seminar only a couple of months ago, where I was lectured by a tutor who possessed a very patriarchal view of Mary Shelley and her novel 'Frankenstein’, without realising that I had not only studied both author and work in detail, but am also an avid fan. Her essay 'The Longest War’, which talks about the statistical rates and experiences of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse across the world, was particularly striking and terrifying, and one that hit close to home as I have a close friend who as a result of a rape that took place forty years ago has never been able to live a normal life. Solnit’s essay on marriage equality was another one that really stood out for me. This collection of essays is wonderfully written, engaging and definitely enough to light a fire even in those who may not yet identify with the idea of feminism. I would highly recommend it.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.”

REVIEW: I studied Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’ during my English Literature A-level, and it has become a favourite book that I often return to. I was recommended ‘Wise Children’ very recently by my A-Level Literature teacher, and was looking forward to reading more of Carter’s work. ‘Wise Children’ tells the story of twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance through the eyes of Dora, as she looks back on their lives and the chaotic liasons that have shaped and changed their sprawling Shakespearean family. As the illegitimate daughters of famed thespian actor Melchoir Hazard, Dora and Nora were cared for by their grandmother upon the death of their mother and found themselves using their beauty, charm and hidden family connections to rise up the glittering social ladder and form careers for themselves as minor Hollywood starlets, and later on as a singing and dancing double act. As we learn more about their lives and the affairs that have made their family into a melodrama, we can’t help warming to Dora and Nora and cetting caught up in their glamorous and dramatic lives. The events culminate at Melchoir’s hundredth birthday party at the end of the novel, where revelations galore plunge events into mirth and chaos. This book is fast-paced and witty, often comical and somehow extraordinarily Shakespearean, and Carter’s style is easy to distinguish. Although it took a chapter or so to get into, once I did so I really enjoyed this book and found it both fun and easy to read, and would highly recommend it.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.

To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.

But no-one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…”

REVIEW: I’m sure frequent readers of this blog have gathered by now that I enjoy retellings of classic stories and fairytales, and I have a large stack of Alice in Wonderland retellings ready to get through on my bookshelf. Splintered was one of these books. It tells the story of Alyssa Gardner, a bold young woman who finds herself isolated from most of her peers due to her ability to hear the words spoken by insects and plants. The only people she lets herself be close to are her father, who is still devoted to her mad mother, her best friend and work colleague Jen, and Jen’s older brother Jeb, who has always been protective towards Alyssa, but whom Alyssa has always wanted much more from. After an incident at the institution where her Mum lives, Alyssa finds a series of clues and objects linked to Wonderland which she believes will cure her mother’s madness. During an argument with Jeb, she accidentally lures him into Wonderland with her, plunging the two of them into great danger. Although the pair begin to learn much more about themselves and each other, leading them to confess their feelings for one another, things are complicated by Morpheus, Alyssa’s dangerous but attractive guide to Wonderland. As Alyssa completes an increasing number of tasks that we recognise as stemming from the original story – for example, her emptying of the Pool of Tears – she begins to uncover more and more secrets about her heritage, and finds a way to break the curse of madness that has plagued the women of her family ever since Alice Liddell.

This book was clever and imaginative, and the storyline was more unusual and different from many of the usual formulaic reproductions of the Alice story. There were some parts of the book that I simply enjoyed less than others; I loved the development of the relationship between Alyssa and Jeb, and the conflicting desires Alyssa felt for the two men in her life. There were some elements of Wonderland itself that I enjoyed less; for example, the moment when the flowers turned into zombie-like creatures and chased Alyssa and Jeb in an attempt to eat them. I can’t pinpoint what exactly about this book didn’t quite hit the spot for me, because I did enjoy it, and the writing style was good with vivid description. I am intrigued to see what the further books in this series have to offer for this tale.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

REVIEW: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is one of my favourite poems – in fact, Rossetti herself is among my favourite poets. My Mum even bought me a beautiful Folio Society copy of ‘Goblin Market’ and other poems for my eighteenth birthday. S. Jae-Jones was clearly inspired by the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in the writing of this fantastic novel; she quotes it at the beginning of the book and quotes a number of other poems by Rossetti throughout. The novel tells the story of Liesl, a gifted young composer who is overshadowed by her beautiful sister Kathe and her talented younger brother Josef, who looks set on his way to becoming the next Mozart. What no-one knows is that Liesl is the talent behind the music that Josef plays, and has continuously helped and inspired him, despite her compositions being scorned by her drunken father. Liesl and Josef have always had a deep belief in the stories their grandmother Constanze tells them about the Goblin King and his Underground court, and the Goblin Grove has acted as a sanctuary for them for many years. Liesl has long forgotten her childhood friendship with the young Goblin King, and the promise she once made to one day be his wife, and her belief on the stories themselves is starting to slip away. After a terrifying experience with Goblin fruit sellers at the market, however, Liesl is forced to confront the reality of the Goblin King. Her sister Kathe is taken by him and, although the rest of her family have erased Kathe from their memories, Liesl cannot. She finds her way to the Underground world of the Goblin King through her music, and manages to set Kathe free. As her price, however, she must stay Underground with the Goblin King, whom she feels a reluctant but powerful desire for. The complex relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King makes for gripping and powerful reading, the desire between the two characters so strong that it practically jumps from the page. The love that slowly begins to develop between them is so full of passion and emotion that the reader is completely sucked in by it, the sacrifices they make for each other painful to read of  – and the ultimate sacrifice that is made at the end of the novel made me cry for quite some time, though I will not spoil it here.

I absolutely loved this book. S Jae-Jones really captures the magical, fantastical, yet somehow Gothic and slightly terrifying atmosphere of much of Rossetti’s poetry, especially ‘Goblin Market’. She turns this epic poem into a beautiful, gripping story full of emotion and meaning, and I enjoyed every page. I only wish the book could have been longer!

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “This is the secret history of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Wonderland is part of our cultural heritage. But beneath the fairytale lies the complex history of the author and his subject. Charles Dodgson was a quiet academic but his second self, Lewis Carroll, was a storyteller, innovator and avid collector of ‘child-friends’. Carroll’s imagination was to give Alice Liddell, his ‘dream-child’, a fictional alter ego that would never let her grow up.

This is a biography that beautifully unravels the magic of Alice. It is a history of love and loss, innocence and ambiguity. It is the story of one man’s need to make a Wonderland in a changing world.”

REVIEW: I have wanted to read this book since its release, and was very excited to receive it for my birthday last month. I am a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and have read the book and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, many times. Although I knew a little, as many of do, about the story behind Carroll’s creation of this famous tale – his close friendship with a little girl named Alice Liddell, whom he one day took a boat ride with and, to amuse her, told her the story which would eventually become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I learnt a great deal more through reading this biography. Douglas-Fairhurst writes beautifully, and the book reads almost like a novel itself, truly capturing the magic surrounding both the creation and dissemination of Alice. A great deal of time is spent discussing one of the great mysteries of Lewis Carroll; how close was he to Alice Liddell and the other little girls he befriended and photographed? As an amateur photographer, the majority of Carroll’s portraits involved young girls, many of them named Alice and some either nude or barely dressed. Douglas-Fairhurst discusses the problems this poses for us in the modern day, looking back on Carroll and his life; realistically, many of us might apply the term of paedophile to Carroll, in light of what we can see from his photographs and the letters he wrote to these young girls. However, Carroll – when he was busy being Charles Dodgson – was a reverend, a religious man, and often condemned those who viewed the purity and innocence of children through a ‘sinful’ eye. I would concur with the conclusion that Douglas-Fairhurst makes: that Carroll was, in fact, simply captivated by the innocence and beauty of youth, a period of life which he saw as carefree and creative. Carroll maintained a close relationship with children because he loved youth and wished to reconnect with his own lost years, and I think you can see that childish and youthful imagination shining through in both of the Alice books. I really enjoyed learning more about Carroll and the story behind the creation of Alice, and would highly recommend this book.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “George Boleyn has gone down in history as being the brother of the ill-fated Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and for being executed for treason, after being found guilty of incest and of conspiring to kill the King. This biography allows George to step out of the shadows and brings him to life as a court poet, royal favourite, keen sportsman, talented diplomat and loyal brother.”

REVIEW: As many of you will not know, but as everyone who knows me well is all too aware, I am completely obsessed with George Boleyn. Much of my academic career so far has been dedicated to research about him and his life, and I am currently planning my Master’s dissertation, in which he will heavily feature. It has always frustrated me that George, despite being such a fascinating and important historical figure is generally overlooked due to the fame of his sister, Anne Boleyn. Although Anne Boleyn is of course worth great admiration –  my undergraduate dissertation was on her, in fact – it is upsetting that George is often relegated to a chapter or a few sentences in books about his sisters. His portrayal in fiction, both in the form of books and TV shows, is also something that I have often found distressing, not to mention based on very little factual evidence, as is pointed out in this book. Therefore I was delighted to receive this biography as a Christmas present from my Mum, who has been a victim of my obsession for several years now and has herself become quite fond of George. This biography brilliantly gathers together the little evidence we have on George from primary documents and cleverly examines what these sources can tell us about George’s life and his career as a courtier, poet and diplomat. The authors’ admiration for George and respect for his talents really shines through in the writing, and it made such an enjoyable change to read something of this nature dedicated entirely to George. This book will be a valuable source to me in the research and writing of my dissertation, and I hope it introduces many more people to the fascinating historical figure that is George Boleyn.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.”

REVIEW: As many of you will know, I am a huge Picoult fan, and was delighted when a fantastic friend bought me ‘Small Great Things’, her latest novel, for Christmas. This book, like so many of hers have done, has really stuck with me since I finished reading it, and as her books often do has caused me to ask questions of myself that I might not have asked had I not read it. It is also highly appropriate to read this book now, in light of recent political events in the US and, indeed, across the world, as racial hate crime is on the rise. This book does not just tell the story of a nurse who is accused of killing a baby, a crime she did not commit; it tells the reader how it feels to be a black woman in the United States, showing both the subtle and more shocking racial prejudices that face them in day-to-day life.

Ruth Jefferson is a well-liked, experienced and respected midwife, and is both angered and upset when she is told by the father of one of the babies put into her care that she is no longer allowed to tend to the baby due to the colour of her skin. When the baby dies a couple of days later and it emerges that Ruth could have saved him, but was torn between her duty and the command of the child’s father, the situation soon blows up and Ruth is taken to court, accused of murdering baby Davis Bauer. Throught the novel we experience the events through the eyes of Ruth, the main protagonist, but also through Turk, the baby’s father, and Kennedy, Ruth’s lawyer. As the blurb states, this case changes the lives and perceptions of all three of these characters, but this is not something I want to delve deeply into in this review; Picoult’s books are always so gripping that I fear to give away the ending would simply ruin the novel and dramatically reduce its impact. And this book did have an impact on me.

Throughout the book we see the daily racism experienced by Ruth who, although less aggravated by it than her older sister Adisa, is physically hurt every time she is treated as inferior – which, of course, anyone would be. I have never considered myself to be a racist person, and I still do not in any way; yet, the question was raised in this book about the difference between active racism – whereby people act like the character of Turk and racially abuse those with different racial backgrounds to themselves – and passive racism, where people do not see themselves as racist but do not do anything to particularly discourage racism from happening. I found this point to be a really interesting one, and although I would definitely not accuse myself of active racism, I began to think that many of us are probably guilty of passive acts of racism, even if we do not mean to be. This debate is something that has really stuck with me since I finished the book, and is something I think many readers will find themselves thinking about once they finish the novel.

Overall I found this book to be gripping and excellently written, dealing with a sensitive subject in a way that educates readers as well as telling them a story. I would highly recommend it.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and author Mary Shelley were mother and daughter, yet these two extraordinary women never knew one another. Nevertheless, their passionate and pioneering lives remained closely intertwined, their choices, aspirations and tragedies eerily similar. Both women became famous writers and wrote books that changed literary history, had passionate relationships with several men, were single mothers out of wedlock; both lived in exile, fought for their poisition in society, and interrogated ideas of how we should live.”

REVIEW: I have counted both Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley among my historical idols  since I was introduced to them both by my fantastic English teacher during my AS level year: Wollstonecraft for her feminist tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which addresses many areas that feminists such as myself still identify as areas that require change to this day; and Shelley for her novel Frankenstein, one of my favourite books of all time, as well as her tumultuous personal life. Until now, I have never before had the opportunity to read a biography covering this exceptional mother and daughter in one go. I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which Gordon chose to structure this biography; it can be difficult, initially, to understand how Wollstonecraft and Shelley can have led such similar lives, and how Wollstonecraft had such an influence on her daughter, when the two only shared the same earth for a matter of days. In structuring it so that the chapters alternate between Wollstonecraft and Shelley, Gordon makes it easier for the reader to map out the parallels in the lives of these two women, looking at what they were each experiencing during the different stages of their lives. Gordon’s writing style itself is fantastic – the book flows almost like a novel, and is engaging from start to finish, with keen speculation and vivid description adding to the enjoyment of the reader, who may feel daunted by such a large non-fiction text without such additional flourishes. Gordon made me feel much closer to these two women, whom I have long considered as role models, and I feel I gained so much more understanding and sympathy from knowing more about their lives. It has also given me a new way to look at things when reading their written works, as I can now apply my knowledge of their backgrounds and the events occuring in their lives when writing to enhance my understanding of their novels, letters, diaries and tracts. I found it difficult to put this book down, something of a rarity with me and non-fiction, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in literature, the women themselves or even those interested in the period from a historical perspective, as the lives of these women tell us much about the political climate and social expectations of the period.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Cornwall, 1790-1791. Ross Poldark faces the darkest hour of his life. Accused of wrecking two ships, he is to stand trial at the Bodmin Assizes. Despite their stormy married life, Demelza has tried to rally support for her husband. But there are enemies in plenty who would be happy to see Ross convicted, not least George Warleggan, the powerful banker, whose personal rivalry with Ross grows ever more intense.”

REVIEW: My first book review of 2017 sees me returning to the Poldark series; there are so many books and my Aunt and I have been buying a few at a time and then swapping, so it’s going to take me a while to get through and I keep getting distracted by other books in the meantime! I do really enjoy this series, however, and this third installment, ‘Jeremy Poldark’, was just as good as its predeccessors. This novel opens in the weeks leading up to Ross’ trial at the Bodmin Assizes; after some ships ran aground near Nampara, Ross was suspected of not only smuggling some goods from these ships, but was also accused by some of murdering the ships’ crews. His nemesis, George Warleggan, smug after his victory over Ross in taking over the mines, is rallying people against Ross, hoping that he will be sent to prison. Demelza, however, arrives early in Bodmin and contrives to meet any whom she feels might have an influence on Ross’ case, working against Warleggan to gain support for her husband. We are also reunited with the character of Verity, who despite being happily married is clearly struggling to adjust to the role of stepmother, wiht two stepchildren who seem inclined never to see her. Francis’ struggles also come to the fore as he attempts suicide, but is talked out of it by the intelligent physician Dwight Enys, who takes on a greater role in this novel as he begins to fall in love and take over Doctor Choake’s medical authority. It is hard to write more without giving away too much, but safe to say this is a satisfying continuation of the series and I look forward to finding out what will happen next to the Poldarks – the mysterious Jeremy of the title included.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

So, the time of year for summarising my Top 10 best reads of the year has come around again! It’s been an unbelieveable awful year for me, and for a lot of people I know, but books have always been there to keep me going, and keeping this blog has given me a purpose even when I didn’t feel like I could ever be motivated to do anything again. First of all, a brief disclaimer – no, I did not include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, despite it being one of my favourite reads of the year. Why? It’s a script, and it seemed unfair to include it and neglect some of the amazing writers whose work I have had the pleasure of reading this year. Just for the record though, if I could have had two number 1 spots, it would have been on here.

10. Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/frenchmans-creek-by-daphne-du-maurier/

9. Katherine Howard by Josephine Wilkinson

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/katherine-howard-by-josephine-wilkinson/

8. Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/four-sisters-by-helen-rappaport/

7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/the-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins/

6. The Angel Tree by Lucinda Riley

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/the-angel-tree-by-lucinda-riley/

5. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-storyteller-by-jodi-picoult/

4. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/me-before-you-by-jojo-moyes/

3. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/12/26/the-fate-of-the-tearling-by-erika-johansen/

2.The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/the-kingdom-of-little-wounds-by-susann-cokal

1. The Bronze Horseman Trilogy by Paullina Simons

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/the-bronze-horseman-by-paullina-simons/

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/tatiana-and-alexander-by-paullina-simons/

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-summer-garden-by-paullina-simons/

Okay, so it’s a bit cheeky to have a whole trilogy hogging the number one spot in my chart; but these books flowed so seamlessly together and we are all incredible that it would have been impossible to separate and rank them: so here they are, the whole set, as my top read of 2016. Aside from having the most amazing quotes (because the writing is among the most beautiful I have ever read), this trilogy is gripping, absorbing, heartbreaking, surprising, and it fills your heart with so much love and pain and joy you hardly know how to handle it – and that, I think, is the very best kind of books.

Thank you so much to everyone who reads this blog, makes comments, gives recommendations, and favourites and follows my post – I am eternally grateful. I also run accompanying Twitter and Instagram accounts for this blog (both @CBPbookblog); feel free to look them up. Thank you so much for all your support – see you in 2017!

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Twenty Years Ago. Twenty-one-year-old Sophie Collier vanishes one night. She leaves nothing behind but a trainer on the old pier – and a hole in the heart of her best friend Francesca.

Now. A body’s been found. And Francesca is drawn back to the seaside town she’s tried to forget. Perhaps the truth of what happeed to Sophie will finally come out. Yet Francesca is beginning to wish she hadn’t returned. The people she remembers have become strangers. And everybody seems to have something to hide. What are they not telling her – and why? Someone knows the truth about that night twenty years ago. But finding out could cost Francesca everything she holds dear: her family, her sanity and even her life…”

REVIEW: One of my best friends lent me this book after I said how much I had enjoyed reading ‘The Girl on the Train’ (which she had also lent me), and said she wanted to see what I thought, as she had found this book somewhat disappointing. Upon reading ‘Local Girl Missing’, I can’t help but agree that something is lacking in this novel, which has the potential to be brilliant but instead just seems frequently unbelievable and even laughable.

‘Local Girl Missing’ has a split narrative telling the story of Francesca (Frankie, as she is better known) in the present day and her best friend, Sophie, whose diary entries are used to make up her chapters in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. Frankie has returned to her childhood hometown of Oldcliffe at the request of Sophie’s brother, Daniel, who believes that he is close to finding the identity of Sophie’s killer after the police unearth new evidence in the case. Sophie’s disappearance had not been regarded as a murder, but Daniel’s pleas convince Frankie to rent out an apartment in Oldcliffe in order to help Daniel with his investigations. As soon as Frankie arrives in the apartment, strange things seem to occur; despite Daniel’s assurances that the other apartments in the building are unoccupied, Frankie is disturbed in the night by the sound of a baby crying, receives menacing and accusing notes, and is convinced that Sophie’s ghost is following her around. Meanwhile, in Sophie’s diary entries, we learn of her often complex relationship with the clingy, possessive and spoilt young Frankie, who has serious jealousy issues and resents Sophie’s intense, romantic relationship with Leon, a local heartthrob. We also learn of the biggest problem facing Sophie in the weeks leading up to her disappearance – Frankie’s Dad, Alistair. After a mistaken kiss, Alistair pursues Sophie relentlessly despite her relationship with Leon, stalking her, threatening her and making declarations of love. The situation quickly escalates and when Sophie is left pregnant after Alistair rapes her, her situation becomes increasingly desperate. These parallel stories combine to lead us up to the climax of the novel, in which the identity of Sophie’s killer is revealed both in the present and in the past. I will not reveal this twist, because it is one of the parts in the book that I did think was done well and which remained a real surprise to the reader, with very few hints throughout the novel that could have led the reader to such a conclusion.

My issue with the book, however, was that it was both clumsy and rushed at times. The plotline itself was fantastic and I was gripped, wanting all along to know what happened – yet, many parts of the plotline could have been taken much further and this would have added greatly to the suspense of the novel. I did feel that the storyline of Sophie and Alistair needed more context and could have been developed much further, for example, and some parts of Frankie’s story seemed rushed, though I don’t know if this was due to the atmosphere of panic that the author was trying to create around Frankie as she grows increasingly terrified and paranoid. The ending of the novel (after the brilliant revelation of Sophie’s killer) was, I felt, ridiculous, and did actually make me laugh aloud, which I do not think was the author’s intention. I had enjoyed the revelation hugely and felt disappointed with the way in which things turned out.

I would still recommend this novel due to the brilliant plot twist, and would be interested to hear if other people found the ending as unrealistic as I did – unfortunately, it ruined the novel for me, but up until that point I had been enjoying it immensely.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 2.5/5

BLURB: “Assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous imprisoned super criminals, provide them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them to defeat an enigmatic, unstoppable enemy. U.S. Intelligence offier Amanda Waller has gathered a group of disparate, despicable individuals with next to nothing to lose. Once they figure out they were chosen to fail, will the Suicide Squad resolve to die beating the odds, or decide its every man for himself?”

REVIEW: I am sure many of you will be fully aware of the plot of the DC Comics film ‘Suicide Squad’, which was released earlier this year, and which was not only hugely popular worldwide but undoubtedly my favourite film of the year (and that’s a big deal, because ‘Finding Dory’ also came out this year and I am the biggest Disney nerd on the planet). Because of this, I am not going to spend time in this review outlining the intricate details of the plot of this novel, which is an adaptation of the film itself and, as such, was both written after the film and was read  by me after I had already seen the film (I went on opening night, oops). I have always been a bit uncertain about movie novelizations; I am generally always of the opinion that books are better than their film counterparts, although sometimes I will concede that a film adaptation could be just as good as its book predecessor, just in the form of a different medium with different considerations and audiences. This is something that I rarely find with movie novelizations, which tend to be written blandly, simply and in a somewhat clunky fashion. This was precisely my problem with Marv Wolfman’s adaptation of the ‘Suicide Squad’ film into a chunky but dull paperback. Wolfman’s writing simply failed to capture the fast pace, violence, black humour and peculiar charm of the film. My main problem, however, was with his characterisation. The characters in this film, like their comic book predeccessors, are vibrant and leap from the screen, filling each moment with insanity, violence and humour. This simply is not the case within the movie novelization. My favourite character, Harley Quinn, delivered her lines in the movie with brilliant comic timing and, often, a deep emotional sincerity that hinted at the depths of her – on the surface – bubbly airhead of a character. In the novel, however, the humour of Harley’s words is not carried off in a way that makes the reader laugh aloud; her words merely seemed rush, crammed in between lengthy and frequently boring descriptions of fighting and tactics. Whilst in the film we come to feel a level of sympathy for all of the Squad, in their turn, I don’t feel that this really came across in the novel for any character other than Deadshot; even Diablo’s story was told with such little feeling that it became just another paragraph in the book. I found this novel a real let down after the vivid and exciting impression that the film had made on me; perhaps if I had read the movie novelization first it would have been better, as it would have provided a foundation to the story which the film might then have expanded and brought to life rather than overshadowed. For any fans of ‘Suicide Squad’, I would recommend turning instead to the comics, which offer a portrayal of the characters much like that that was depicted in the film.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking, and in one moment everything changes. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see: she’s much more than just the girl on the train…”
REVIEW: It has taken me far too long to get around to reading this book, and at the point when my best friend finally offered to lend it to me I had actually just ordered it for my Mum as a Christmas present in a desperate attempt to slyly buy myself a new book without the guilt trip of buying myself a new book whilst I’m poor. I eagerly took up the offer, despite the fact that I could only read the book when my Mum was either asleep or out of the house, so that she wouldn’t ask to borrow it too and ruin her Christmas present. Reading a book like this at such a slow, fragmented pace is, let me tell you, absolute torture: because this book is fantastic.

‘The Girl on the Train’ introduces us to three female narrators; Rachel, Anna and Megan. Rachel is by far the protagonist of these three women, and also a hugely unreliable narrator; turning to alcohol after her failure to have children and the breakdown of her marriage to Tom, Rachel experiences frequent blackouts that often warp and twist her mind, causing her to either forget or misremember events that are crucial to the plotline. This is extremely frustrating for the reader, and worsens as Rachel becomes involved in the investigation into the disappearance of Megan Hipwell. Rachel has watched Megan for months, living in a house that can be clearly seen from Rachel’s train commute. Rachel had named Megan and her husband, Scott, Jason and Jess, and envied their lives from  afar, building up a romantic image of the two from her perspective as the girl on the train. However, things begin to change when Rachel one day sees ‘Jess’ kissing another man inside her home while ‘Jason’ is away. Horrified by what she has seen, Rachel’s morbid fascination with the couple only deepens when ‘Jess’ – her real name now revealed to be Megan – disappears without a trace, putting her husband ‘Jason’ (now revealed to be called Scott) fully under suspicion. Determined to help, Rachel finds herself heavily involved in the investigation, scorned by the police but heavily relied upon by Scott, who believes her to be a friend of Megan’s with information crucial to the case. However, Rachel’s closeness to the case causes a stir; her ex-husband, Tom, whom she constantly seeks contact with, lives just a few doors away from Megan and Scott in their old marital home, with his new wife Anna and their baby daughter. Convinced that Rachel is stalking them and determined to harm their baby, the reader is unsure whom to trust or where the real story lies as this fast-paced thriller takes so many twists and turns. It is difficult to say any more about the novel without giving away the ending, which I certainly do not want to do; the final twist is brilliant and makes the reader question both themselves and the theories that they have inevitably developed during the course of reading the book. Strangely, my favourite thing about the book was the fact that none of the three narrators are particularly reliable – or, indeed, particularly likeable. Rachel, at least initially, comes across as a pathetic, weak voyeur and potential stalker whose lack of memory and dependence on alcohol becomes frustrating and often seems to slow the story down. Anna and Megan are both cheats, though in different ways; Anna had an affair with a married man, and Megan is a married woman having an affair. Both of these women also appear to be spoilt and self-centered, and almost as unreliable as Rachel.

This is a fantastic book that kept me hooked from beginning to end. But a word of warning; as you are reading, don’t trust any of the narrators. And if you are a commuter like me then trust me, reading it before bed is not a particularly good idea; it certainly gave me the chills!

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Eliza Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich. But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth…Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival? And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?”

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley’s work, so despite the fact that this, her first historical fiction novel, is clearly intended for the child/young adult market, I was eager to read it anyway. This novel tells the story of Eliza Camperdowne, a young girl from a ruined gentry family who is her family’s only hope of achieving greatness under the reign of Henry VIII. After a failed betrothal to the son of the Earl of Westmoreland, Eliza is sent away to be educated in the art of courtly manners at Trumpton Hall, the home of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Trumpton Hall, however, is also home to Eliza’s confident, beautiful, reckless and often rather spiteful cousin, Katherine Howard. Katherine and Eliza instantly clash, and matters become worse when Katherine and the music master, Francis Manham, make Eliza the victim of a cruel joke. When the time comes for the girls of Trumpton Hall to be sent to court, however, it is only Katherine and Eliza who make the cut, and the two of them are forced to at least try and get along as they share accomodation and serve the same Queen, Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Unbeknownst to Eliza, who is struggling with her own feelings and engaging in her own flirtation with the illegitimate but charming servant of the King, Ned Barsby, and earning the admiration of Will Summers, the King’s Fool, Katherine is doing some serious flirting of her own. Eliza is both stunned and horrified when Katherine announces that she is to marry the King; Eliza herself had reluctantly decided to fight for the position of King’s Mistress, in order to help her family’s prospects. As a Maid of Honour, Eliza now has to work even harder to play the court game, and distances herself ever farther from her beloved Ned. When the whole thing comes crashing down around them with the discovery of Katherine’s adultery, it is Eliza who stays by her side, despite all their past bitterness and rivalry, and as Eliza achieves her happy ending she realises how foolish she was to have been jealous of Katherine in the first place.

This is a well-written story, very imaginatively written,  and it does evoke to some extent the dangerous, rumour-filled atmosphere of Henry VIII’s court in its latter years. I do feel, however, that the book was spoiled for me by some of the adjustments that the author chose to make to the historical facts. I do not blame Worsley for doing this, and in light of this novel’s intended audience I understand why the story was made simpler and some of the more lurid details removed. For example, instead of writing separately of Katherine’s affairs with the music master Henry Manox and her later, more serious affair with Francis Dereham, Worsley combines them into one person; a music master named Francis Manham who later attends on Katherine at court and continues a reckless affair with her there. Thomas Culpepper is not included in the tale at all, which I did find somewhat surprising even in consideration of the audience. When I removed myself from my mindset as an historian myself, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt it was an easy to read and engaging tale, and would be a good introduction to history for younger girls; I feel it would inspire many of them to pursue studies into the Tudor period, and this I think is the books most admirable quality – it serves as a source of inspiration.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me”

REVIEW: I was lent this book by a friend when I was about fourteen, and couldn’t get past the first ten pages. When I went on a trip to Foyles with my boyfriend for my 21st birthday earlier this year (a wonderful day where he gave me money and basically let me run riot in a five-floor bookstore), I saw this book on the shelf and decided to try it again. Something about the way the blurb was written appealed to me, and having now read many more fantasy novels than I had when I first tried this one at fourteen, I thought it might now be more up my street. I’m pleased to say that I was right, and am very glad that I tried reading this novel again. Rothfuss’ writing style is brilliant; witty, gripping, descriptive and transformative. I felt completely immersed in the fictional land that Kvothe is part of, and fully believed in all of its legends and history. This is the first novel in a trilogy telling the story of Kvothe. When we meet Kvothe at the beginning of the story he is a humble innkeeper, hiding from his own notoriety and accompanied only by his closest friend, student and servant, Bast. Most of the novel, however, is taken up by Kvothe sharing the story of his past; when a Chronicler arrives at the Inn desperate to hear his tale, Kvothe is reluctantly persuaded to let the Chronicler record his words on paper. Kvothe has led a fascinating life, and the reader eagerly awaits to find out what lies behind Kvothe’s fame and the air of mystery surrounding him. We learn of Kvothe’s past as part of a touring troupe, and his early training by the arcanist Abernathy. His parents and the rest of his troupe are killed in a horrifying murder that Kvothe believes was caused by the legendary Chandrian, and he decides that he will not rest until he finds out the truth about this unspeakable legend. After extensive months of living on the streets, Kvothe finally earns himself a place at the renowned University, through pure talent; but University without money is not easy, and Kvothe’s financial struggles, his enmity with some of the masters, his quick advancement through the ranks and his rivalry with rich student Ambrose combine to make his University years both a fascinating story and a constant struggle. The arrival of the beautiful Denna in Kvothe’s life, however, only complicates things further, and I must confess that Denna was my favourite character in this tale.Beautiful, talented and as mysterious as Kvothe, she is a true match for him, but love does not come easy. At the point of the novel’s ending, dark forces are at work in the present day that are forcing people to confront the possibly reality of the Chandrian, and we are yet to get past Kvothe’s University days in his relaying of the past. I am eager to read the next installments in the series and found this book to be gripping and beautifully written.

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cbpbookblog·3 years agoText

RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “As the crown princess, Rose is never without a dance partner. She and her eleven sisters are treated to beautiful gowns, slippers and dances at party after party in their father’s palace. But their evenings do not end when the guests return home. Instead, Rose and her sisters must travel deep into the earth to the wicked King Under Stone’s palace. There the girls are cursed to dance each night, even when they grow exhausted or ill. Many princes have tried – and failed – to break the spell. But then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure. Together they begin to unravel the mystery. To banish the curse they’ll need an invisibility cloak, enchanted silver knitting needles, and, of course, true love.”

REVIEW:  I always enjoy a fairytale retelling and this novel, based on the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, is an imaginative and engaging story based on this classic tale. The story focuses mainly on the characters of Galen and Rose. Galen is a young, orphaned soldier recently returned from war who seeks out his Aunt and Uncle to give him a new home in the Kingdom of Westfalin. Galen is welcomed with joy by his Aunt but with much more reservation by his Uncle, still wounded over the loss of his own son in the recent wars. He is reluctantly offered a job with his Uncle as an under-gardener at the palace, tending the beautiful and infamous gardens of the deceased Queen Maude. These gardens are now roamed by her twelve beautiful daughters, and Galen develops a particularly strong attachment to Rose, the eldest daughter. But the twelve sisters are hiding a dark secret which they cannot speak of, and which is constantly perplexing their father and the members of their household. Every night the girls appear not to move from their beds; but every morning, their dancing slippers are worn threw and their gowns strewn across the room. Increasingly growing in despair, particularly after their nightttime exertions begin to make the girls unwell, their father the King announces that any prince who can solve the mystery may choose one of his daughters to marry, and will rule Westfalin alongside her upon his death. Many Princes try and fail, but as they all soon after find themselves killed in supposed accidents, the girls find themselves under an increasing suspicion of witchcraft that places the whole kingdom of Westfalin under an interdict that forbids any religious ceremonies. Galen is the only person left willing to try and find a way to stop the curse, due to his growing love for Rose, and this leads him along on a terrifying adventure with the twelve princesses from which there seems to be very little likelihood of escape.

This is a well-told, entertaining and beautifully written story which truly captures the atmosphere of a fairytale. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and am very much looking forward to reading more of Jessica Day-George’s fairytale retellings.

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cbpbookblog·4 years agoText

RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries may have started as a school project for Lizzie, but it is soon much more. Overnight, Lizzie is an internet celebrity as people watch her vlogs, then debate, tweet and tumblr about her and her sisters, beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. Then rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his friend William Darcy, and things really start to get interesting. But not everything happens on screen…Lizzie has a secret diary. This secret diary”

REVIEW: The book is meant to work alongside the popular You Tube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is based upon Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I absolutely love The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and watched it avidly when it was first on; I remember being devastated when it was over and despite the many literature-inspired web series I’ve watched since then, none of them seem to quite live up to this one. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet works alongside the web episodes, with a diary entry corresponding to each, giving us more of an insight into Lizzie’s thoughts and feelings during the notorious events of this hugely popular and often remastered tale. I enjoyed reading this diary as much as I enjoyed watching the web series, and within the diary you get a real sense of Lizzie’s amazement as her vlogs begin to take off and things with the irritating and arrogant William Darcy begin to develop into something very unexpected. I would definitely recommend this book as a fun, light-hearted, easy to read accompaniment to any fans of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – and to those who haven’t yet seen the web series, I ask you, what have you been doing with your time?! Go and watch it, now!

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cbpbookblog·4 years agoText

RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Gina Bellamy is starting again, after a few years she’d rather forget. But the belongings she’s treasured for so long don’t seem to fit who she is now. So Gina makes a resolution. She’ll keep just a hundred special items – the rest can go. But that means coming to turns with her past and learning to embrace the future, whatever it might bring…”

REVIEW: I have read one of Lucy Dillon’s books before and absolutely loved it; Dillon is excellent at crafting beautifully written, heartwarming stories about the importance of love and friendship, stories that are sometimes, like this one, incredibly bittersweet. I also love how all of her books are interconnected; all set in the rural village of Longhampton, many of the characters from other novels reappear, linking all the novels nicely in together; for example, Gina’s lawyer in her divorce case is a character named Rory, who featured in a previous work of Dillon’s. This adds a little something extra for the reader, and allows them to feel as though Longhampton is their home, as well as the home of the various characters they have become attached to. This particularly novel opens at a dark time in Gina Bellamy’s life; she has moved in to a small flat in Longhampton after finding out that her husband is cheating on her, and is in the process of going through a divorce. It has been a hard few years for Gina, who has lived through breast cancer, lost her beloved stepfather, and lost her first love in an incident which is unfolded gradually to the reader and remains a mystery throughout the book – this is a beautifully written and vital part of the plot, so I will not spoil it here. In order to shape her recovery, Gina, with the sceptical help of her best friend Naomi, decides to remove all of her treasured items from her life and keep only one hundred special items, thinking about things that truly make her happy or improve her life. She also throws herself into the renovation of her dream home, where she meets career-driven Amanda and her laid-back photographer husband, Nick, who have big plans for the property. Gina’s life is thrown in to some chaos, however, when a timid abandoned greyhound named Buzz becomes her responsibility – and it is from this point onwards that I truly fell in love with the book. As I have previously mentioned, I myself own a retired greyhound, and he is the centre of my world. I adore him and often wonder how I ever lived without him, and it upsets me so much to think what he went through in racing kennels before he became the soppy, cuddly, sofa-hogging mischief-maker that he is now. Much like my own greyhound did with me, Buzz begins to change Gina’s life. Her reluctant fostering of him slowly turns into adoption, and it is truly heartwarming to read of Buzz gradually coming out of his shell and beginning to trust and love Gina; and also to read of how Buzz changes  Gina’s outlook on the world, encouraging her to find  happiness in the small things. Buzz stole the show in this novel for me, as a greyhound lover, and I was pleased at how Dillon used his character to address the suffering faced by both racing and non-racing greyhounds every day of their lives, and how many of them are often not lucky enough to find a loving, happy home (she even includes a list of reasons to adopt a retired greyhound in the back of the book, and I can fully endorse them all!). Gina’s life is beginning to look up, particularly when Nick and Amanda’s fractious marriage breaks down and Nick confesses his feelings for her. The end of the novel, however, provides a shocking twist and is possibly one of the most bittersweet endings I have ever read in a novel, as Gina discovers that her breast cancer has returned. As a dog owner, I couldn’t help myself sobbing at the anxiety Gina feels over who will look after Buzz if something happens to her, and at the unfairness of Gina’s happiness being marred the untimely return of her illness. The book is left on this strange, bittersweet note, and although it made me cry, it also warmed my heart, and made me think carefully about what makes me happy, and what is most important. I encourage you all to read it; I’m sure it will make you do the same.

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