Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver

40725252Maud is a lonely child, growing up in a corner of the Fens in Edwardian Suffolk, without a mother and ruled over by her father. When, one day, he finds a medieval painting in a graveyard, unnatural forces are awakened that drive him beyond the point of obsession and into insanity. For Maud, this is the beginning of a battle to survive in a world haunted by devils, protect her beloved Fen, and uncover the demons of her father’s past.

I absolutely loved the atmosphere of this book. It is dark and spooky, with an air of menace from the very first page, which is entirely down to Michelle Paver’s brilliant writing because nothing overtly scary actually happens for the majority of the story.

Maud is one of the best characters I’ve read recently. Considering that she’s a child and a girl in Edwardian times with literally no power to do anything, she’s surprisingly ballsy. Her courage and intelligence made it impossible not to care about her. And the way she gets revenge on her father without ever attracting suspicion to herself or placing blame on anyone else is just brilliant.

I hadn’t read any of Michelle Paver’s books before Wakenhyrst, but I will definitely be correcting that in the future.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Red Address Book – Sofia Lundberg

4354190796-year-old Doris lives alone in an apartment in Stockholm. She gets very few visitors, looking forward instead to her weekly Skype calls with her grandniece, Jenny. Looking through the names in her old address book, Doris decides to write down the stories of her life – working as a maid in Sweden, becoming a live mannequin in Paris, falling in love and heading to America before the Second World War. There are so many stories to tell, and not much time left for Doris to tell them.

To begin with, I found this book quaint and interesting enough, but it didn’t really grab me. Doris and her stories did grow on me as I read on, and I did get more drawn in. The Red Address Book is a really sweet story; the actual plot isn’t very exciting but Doris is a strong and genuine character who made it a worthwhile read. It wasn’t 100% my cup of tea, but engaging and emotional nonetheless.

I do have to say that I was consistently put off by the mild obsession with beauty, but Doris and Jenny were both models and had their beauty celebrated so it did make sense at the same time as being shallow.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

15195Containing both volumes 1 and 2 of Maus: A Survivor’s TaleThe Complete Maus tells the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman’s experience of surviving in Hitler’s Europe.

The first and most important thing to make note of is that this is a completely true story. It isn’t a piece of fiction based in the truth of Auschwitz, it is a true account of Art Spiegelman’s father’s life during World War II. It is a heavy and intense read, but completely incredible.

The second important thing you need to know about this book is that it is a graphic novel. It is masterfully drawn, with plenty of narration which makes it easy to read even if you’re not a regular graphic novel reader. The metaphorical representation of people is a massive part of this book. Jews are drawn as mice, Nazis as cats, the Allies as dogs, and Poles as pigs. This is an incredibly effective commentary on stereotypes, and highlights the absurdity of dividing people by nationality.

The brutal honesty about life as a Jew during the Nazi occupation is shocking and horrific, but truly, truly fascinating. On another level, the relationship between Art and Vladek is also explored, and it really shows how the children of survivors can be so affected by the experience of their parents.

Maus isn’t an easy or pleasant read by any means, but it is powerful and it’s essential. If you’re into graphic novels, you MUST read this book. If you’re into historical accounts and memoirs, you MUST read this book. If you read anything at all, you MUST read this book.

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To Kill a Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

37541225.jpgPrincess Lira is siren royalty, feared and revered throughout the ocean but living in the terrifying shadow of her mother, the Sea Queen. Prince Elain is heir to the golden throne of Midas, dedicating himself to hunting down the elusive Prince’s Bane – a siren known for stealing the hearts of princes all over the world. The pair’s paths cross when the Sea Queen curses Lira with humanity, banishing her from life in the sea until she returns with the heart of the great siren hunter.

To Kill a Kingdom is inspired by The Little Mermaid, which I didn’t realise until I started reading and picked up on all the similarities. The story is very different, but some aspects are clearly taken from The Little Mermaid (Lira’s red hair, the Sea Queen’s tentacles, Lira being turned human and losing her ‘song’, etc). This was actually a really exciting feature for me because, although fairy-tale inspired books are common, The Little Mermaid is quite a rare one.

The book is generally well-written, but I did struggle to picture one or two aspects. I found it really difficult to visualise the difference between sirens, mermaids and mermen, but I’m not too sure why. I’m not going to blame the author’s descriptions, because it could simply be that the image of mer-people is one so ingrained in my brain that I can’t visualise an alternative. However, this didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the story.

There are a lot of great characters. Lira and Elain are both decent enough protagonists, but the side characters really stole the show. Elain crew, especially Madrid and Kye, are fantastic and entertaining while even much smaller characters like Khalia play important roles within the plot.

It’s not perfect, but the excessive sassy banter that fills this book really makes up for it’s flaws. The flaws are minor and difficult to pick out; there’s just something about this book that stops it being a work of genius, but it’s a good read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Other Half of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen

44025076Augusta Hope has never fit in. As a child, she memorised the dictionary and corrected her teachers. As an adult, she has no interest in the dull, small town her family lives in. When tragedy strikes and severs her connection with her beloved twin sister, Julia, Augusta is more determined than ever to find somewhere she belongs.

I loved this book so much more than I expected. This isn’t a genre I particularly like, though there are always some gems (like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) so I do give a few a try. It took me a while to get into; it wasn’t really until around halfway through the book that I realised how engrossed I was. But this is one of those books where pushing on is really worth it.

Augusta is quite a difficult character, but that’s kind of the point. She’s spiky and weird, but she knows she’s weird and all she wants is to find her place in the world. She and her family are eccentric and challenging characters, not always particularly likeable, but it just works.

The book is also about Parfait, a boy from Burundi who makes his way to Spain (to the exact place Augusta and her family visit). As the narrative alternates between Augusta and Parfait, it is inevitable that they will meet, but getting to that point is an emotional roller-coaster.

The Other Half of Augusta Hope presents a striking comparison between two people from very different worlds, coming together through their own individual tragedies. It is beautifully written and poignant. A surprising page-turner.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Bad Daughter – Joy Fielding

37649581Robin Davis hasn’t spoken to her family in six years. When her father, his young wife (Robin’s childhood best friend, Tara) and daughter, Cassidy, are shot, Robin rushes to be back with them. But her return isn’t entirely welcome, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. Was the shooting really a random robbery, like the police suspect, or was someone close to the family involved?

The Bad Daughter is a really good crime/thriller novel. The official synopsis heavily implies that Robin is the mystery character, coincidentally returning home when her family have been attacked, but this isn’t the case. The story is told from Robin’s point of view, as she tries to figure out what really happened.

This book has some really great characters, all with their own personalities and problems. The relationships within the family were brilliant. They’re a messed up family with a very strained past, but they’re family nonetheless and they want to believe the best about each other despite their considerable doubts. Melanie was my favourite; she’s harsh and defensive, but only in response to the judgement she’s had to put up with in the past.

The plot was very good because the mystery was drawn out effectively with red herrings dotted about here and there, and a really strong twist at the end – which I didn’t really like but definitely didn’t see coming. This is by no means one of the best books I’ve read, but it captured my attention and kept me engrossed in the story. I really enjoyed it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Doggerland – Ben Smith

42363339.jpgIn the North Sea, in the not-so-distant future, far from what remains of the coastline, is a massive wind farm stretching over thousands of acres of ocean, maintained by the Boy and the Old Man. The Boy was sent by the Company to take the place of his father, who disappeared. Where he went and why remains a mystery that the Boy is desperate to find out.

To be totally honest, I didn’t really get this book. I’m not entirely sure where they were, what they were meant to be doing there, or how they got there, which was a bit of a struggle. The situation on land is only alluded to, never explained, which was an effective method of story-telling but really hindered my understanding.

However, despite being bleak and vague, it is beautifully written and I still enjoyed reading it. The style of this book is VERY similar to The Road – ‘the boy’, ‘the old man’ and ‘the pilot’ caused an immediate connection between the two – so if you’re a Cormack McCarthy fan, Doggerland might be right up your street.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Family Trust – Kathy Wang

38359019For years, Stanley Huang has claimed to be worth a small fortune. Now, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and close to the end, Stanley’s true worth is about to be revealed and his family is worried. His two children, Fred and Kate, and his ex-wife, Linda, find themselves at odds with his current wife, Mary, as each wonder what they’re going to get when Stanley dies.

This book really missed the mark for me. The only reason I didn’t DNF it is because I was sent a physical copy and felt guilty about not reading it. But, honestly, the time I spent reading this book was time wasted. There were two major negative factors making me dislike this book: the characters and the plot.

First, the characters: Good Lord, I hated them all. They were all obsessed with money and didn’t really seem to care about much else – least of all each other. This is a book about family, but this family didn’t care about each other at all. They spent literally the entire time worrying about money, calculating costs and trying to get more money. And these people appeared to be quite rich, so they didn’t need more money. It’s a culture that I simply did not get.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the plot: Boring, to put it simply. The official blurb makes it sound like a reasonably intricate family drama but, really, it’s all about money. Stanley Huang is dying and his family all start panicking and making grabby hands at his money. That appeared to be the extent of it. And it’s not even a short book.

Other reviews have talked about the multilayered-ness of this book, but I simply didn’t see it. The best parts were definitely the chapters focusing on Kate and her marriage, but these were too short and too few, squeezed between truly dreadful chapters following Fred’s money-grabbing antics.

Unless you’re particularly a fan of these kinds of books (compared by many to Crazy Rich Asians), I would advise a wide berth. Finding something better won’t be hard.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Lost Man – Jane Harper

40692028In an isolated part of Western Australia, two brothers live three hours apart, but are each other’s nearest neighbour. They meet at a landmark between their properties, the stockman’s grave, where their middle brother, Cameron, lies dead in shadow of the gravestone. How did he end up here, miles away from his fully-stocked car, in the middle of nowhere?

This is the first novel by Jane Harper that I’ve read, but I’d heard great things about her work and had high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed. The Lost Man is a cross between a crime novel and a family drama. Instead of a trained detective investigating Cameron’s death, we have his brother Nathan trying to work out what happened. This is extremely well-written and, combined with the context and setting, is entirely realistic and believable.

The story is filled to the brim with secrets and mysteries, but it is written in such a way that I was consistently intrigued rather than annoyed about not knowing anything. I was desperate to know more, in a way that made it very difficult to put the book down because I just wanted to keep reading. While some aspects of the plot were relatively predictable for an experienced crime reader, it was impossible to guess at everything correctly. The final reveal was well thought-out and satisfying.

The characters are nicely damaged and complex, and the setting is stunning. Thanks to Harper’s atmospheric writing, the scenery comes to life, turning the Australian outback into a character of the story itself. I don’t think this book could have been set anywhere else.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Familiars – Stacey Halls

41569416.jpgBased around the real 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, this compelling novel explores the rights of 17th century women and the true fate of those accused of witchcraft. Fleetwood Shuttleworth, noblewoman of Gawthorpe Hall, is pregnant for the fourth time. She has never carried a baby to term. Desperate to deliver an heir for her husband, Richard, Fleetwood enlists the help of a local midwife named Alice Grey. But Alice is soon drawn into the accusations of witchcraft that are sweeping the area, and Fleetwood must risk everything to clear her name.

I love books about witches, especially ones based on real-life events, and The Familiars really hit the mark. I know next to nothing about the Pendle Witch Trials (although I do now want to learn more), but I do know that Fleetwood, Alice and all the other characters in this book are based on real people affected by these trials. The author has used the real names of the women accused and tried for witchcraft, and built a fictional story out of the mystery of what really happened, which is truly fascinating.

The story is wonderfully well-written. The author builds a mysterious, slightly haunting atmosphere without any inclusion of actual magic. The plot is quite simple and develops slowly, but this only adds to the atmosphere and realism.

Fleetwood was a slightly annoying character (though I adore her name), but she fitted well into the story and was bearable enough to read about. Her complete powerlessness against the men around her was frustrating but, considering that the story is based on truth, realistic and frightening. I kind of hated her husband but, for the time, his actions were to be expected.

Also, how beautiful is that cover?

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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