Saturday 25 February 2017

Exploring Classics: The Diary of a Provincial Lady

Originally serialised in Time and Tide in 1930.  

My edition: the VMC Designer hardback.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I think I first saw this when Sarra Manning mentioned it. And then she mentioned it again. And again. And then I started collecting the VMC Designer editions and well, I had to.

WHY I Chose to Read It
Sarra Manning. It was a podcast called The Books That Built Me which Sarra was a guest on that finally pushed me over the edge!

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
This book is pretty much what the title says it is. A series of diary entries about an unnamed provincial lady as she wrestles with unreliable staff, an uninterested husband and constantly battles with the irritating Lady Boxe. And it’s wonderful.

There's no real plot to this series of diary entries, it's just the day to day life of an upper class provincial lady living in the country with her husband, two children and bothersome servants. It's soft and ambling and an insight into the daily life in the 1930s that would usually be ignored in favour of high drama, a big romance or a scandal.

The provincial lady's fixation on growing bulbs, her tireless efforts to fit in (which never really work) and her consistently bad approach to money are fascinating and sound as if they should be boring, but it's actually not at all. If you like stories led by characters and the ups and downs of daily life, The Diary of a Provincial Lady is for you. it's the type of book I can imagine passing on to my mum and then my nan as well. I think they both would have enjoyed it a lot.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady is the perfect book to devour on a rainy Sunday afternoon while dreaming of summer.

WILL It Stay a Classic
This novel hasn’t been out of print since it was published in 1930. I don’t think it’s going anywhere!

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Fans of Nancy Mitford.
- Those who want a cosy Sunday afternoon read.

Review format from Stacey at The Pretty Books as part of the Classics Challenge.


Thursday 16 February 2017

Mini-Reviews: Arcanum Unbounded, Scrappy Little Nobody & Long Way Home

I’m starting to struggle to find the time to write full review for everything I read, and even find the time to read enough to post enough full reviews to fill the schedule I used to. SO. My reviews from now on will be as and when I read three books and compiled into a collection of mini reviews. Just keeping you guys in the loop!

I rated all three books four stars and ‘Arcanum Unbounded’ was sent for review by Gollancz.

Arcanum Unbounded, Brandon Sanderson
672⎟Gollancz⎟24th November 2016

These wonderful works, originally published individually, have been collected for the first time and convey the true expanse of the Cosmere. Telling the exciting tales of adventure Sanderson fans have come to expect, Arcanum Unbounded include the Hugo Award-winning novella 'The Emperor's Soul', an excerpt from the graphic novel 'White Sand', and the never-before-published Stormlight Archive novella 'Edgedancer'.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Brandon Sanderson’s backlist over the last few years so I was super excited when this popped up on my radar.

This is a collection of 9 stories, but I wasn’t able to read two of them as they contain spoilers for ‘The Stormlight Archive’ and ‘Elantris’ which I haven’t read yet. I really don’t want to spoil anything or anyone with this one so I’m just going to talk about my two favourite stories.

‘The Emperor’s Soul’ is the first story in the collection and it was amazing. It’s inspired by Asian mythology, features a super cool magic system surrounding soul stamps and the seriously badass Shai. It’s perfect as a novella, but I could easily have read a full-length novel about this story. ‘The Secret History’ is the longest story in this collection and the best. I can’t even tell you who it’s about or what, but I can say that it’s set in the background of the original ‘Mistborn’ trilogy and it’ll give you some much-needed answers.

This is an incredible collection that’s perfect for any fan of Sanderson, and wherever you are in hs backlist. It’ll hook you if you’re a newbie and it’ll reunite you with some of your favourite characters if not.

Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick
304⎟S&S⎟15th November 2016

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

 Anna Kendrick’s autobiographical collection of essays amusingly recounts memorable moments throughout her life, from her middle-class upbringing in New England to the blockbuster movies that have made her one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses today. Expanding upon the witty and ironic dispatches for which she is known, Anna Kendrick’s essays offer her one-of-a-kind commentary on the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture.

I love Anna Kendrick so I was really excited to read her first book. And it was totally worth the wait.

Though I pre-ordered the hardback, my favourite way to read memoirs to to listen to the audiobook when it’s narrated by the author. Anna’s humour comes across so vividly in her reading of the book and I raced through this six-hour audiobook in only a few days. It’s funny, sweet and honest about Anna as a kid as well as her journey through drama camps, theatre and her first movie roles to become the star she is today.

I really loved how down to earth she’s stayed and her stories of being awkward in social situations and experiences of meeting people she admires. It was funny and refreshing. I think she really respected her teenage audience in the way she discussed her relationships and sex as well - it was honest and blunt and self-aware.

Highly recommended, especially if you love Pitch Perfect or are interested in how celebs become celebs.

Long Way Home, Katie McGarry
448⎟HQ Young Adult⎟1st February 2017

Seventeen-year-old Violet has always been expected to sit back and let the boys do all the saving.

It's the code her father, a member of the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, raised her to live by. Yet when her dad is killed carrying out Terror business, Violet knows it's up to her to do the saving. To protect herself, and her vulnerable younger brother, she needs to cut all ties with the club—including Chevy, the boy she's known and loved her whole life.

But when a rival club comes after Violet, exposing old secrets and making new threats, she's forced to question what she thought she knew about her father, the Reign of Terror and what she thinks she wants. Which means re-evaluating everything: love, family, friends…and forgiveness.

Caught in the cross hairs between loyalty and freedom, Violet must decide whether old friends can be trusted—and if she's strong enough to be the one person to save them all.

I love Katie McGarry’s books. A new one from her is one of my reading highlights of the year and ‘Long Way Home’ was no exception. It was just what I needed, when I needed it.

Motorcycle clubs in themselves are problematic and I think that was really tackled with Violet and Chevy’s story. The position of women, the way they’re treated and the inherent violence and rivalry that comes with them. It was the most aware and most clever books in the series, while still being steamy and addictive and tackling big issues. It was just really well done. When I wasn’t reading ‘Long Way Home’, I wanted to be.

I think this might be the last in the ‘Thunder Road’ series, and if it is I’m looking forward to what’s coming next, but I do hope there will be more.


Tuesday 14 February 2017

The Best Literary Love Stories

My feelings about Valentine's Day may err on the negative, but my feelings about love stories? Always positive. 

I love the secondhand butterflies, the thrill of the will-they-won't-they, the crackle of tension as you turn the pages and the sheer joy of that first kiss, that first admission of love. MAN. You can't beat it.

Unlike lots of people, Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' doesn't make the list for me and neither does 'Wuthering Heights'. It's all about Jane Austen for me. 'Persuasion', 'Sense and Sensibility', 'Pride and Prejudice' - they're my top three and I love them for very different reasons. 

The maturity of Austen's final novel and the second chance at first love; the three Dashwood sisters and their wildly different approaches to love and romance; and the beloved hate-to-love story between Lizzie and Darcy - whatever you love in your love stories, there's something for everyone in Austen. 

I honestly don't think there's a genre that delivers as wide a variety of love stories as YA does. The paranormal romance of Richelle Mead; the realistic, thoughtful loves of Sarah Dessen; the sparkly first loves of Sarra Manning; the steamy angst of Katie McGarry's books and so much more. 

The totally excellent Sarah of Behind on Books and I were talking about the way that YA has changed over the years and something we miss is the guiltless, feel-good, contemporary love stories that used to fill the shelves. Most of these stories now stay in the US and rarely get the press, love and attention of the ones that are edgy or political or tackle the big issues. Those books are obviously incredibly important, but we really miss the good 'ole days. 

For me, general fiction is the hardest place to find a love story to connect with. I started out where lots of readers my age did - Nicholas Sparks. 'The Notebook' and 'A Walk to Remember' were my favourites and I've lost count of how many times I read them, but as I got older and read more widely, his novels began to feel repetitive and I had to start searching again. 

Enter Paige Toon. I picked up her debut 'Lucy in the Sky' on a whim and devoured it on a flight to Florida in 2007. I've been a dedicated fan ever since. Her adult novels are emotional and complex and her YA series is fun and equally as good. I've struggled to find anyone who writes love stories like Paige Toon. 

How do you like your literary love stories?


Saturday 11 February 2017

Blog Tour: Ink by Alice Broadway

Pages: 390
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 2nd February 2017
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora's father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all.

Alice Broadway’s debut is one that caught my eye as soon as I heard about it. And then the stunning cover was revealed and I was SOLD.

We’re thrown deep into Leora’s world with a seriously beautifully written opening chapter and I was totally intrigued. The idea of skin books and the flayers, the idea of wearing your life on your body in that way and the fear of the blanks is fascinating, but also a bit gross. I had to really concentrate not to feel sick when the flaying was mentioned!

It’s not long before you’re thrown headlong into a mystery and the twists and turns had me racing through the pages and on the edge of my seat.

‘Ink’ is a gorgeous, inventive and intriguing debut.

Thanks to Scholastic for the review copy.


Thursday 9 February 2017

Mini-Reviews: The One Memory of Flora Banks, This Beats Perfect & Optimists Die First

The One Memory of Flora Banks, Emily Barr
320⎟Penguin⎟12th January 2017

I look at my hands. One of them says FLORA BE BRAVE.

Flora has anterograde amnesia. She can't remember anything day-to-day: the joke her friend made, the instructions her parents gave her, how old she is.

Then she kisses someone she shouldn't, and the next day she remembers it. It's the first time she's remembered anything since she was ten.

But the boy is gone. She thinks he's moved to the Arctic.

Will following him be the key to unlocking her memory? Who can she trust?

Though I was hesitant about all of the hype surrounding this debut and it took me a while to pick it up, I was hooked from the first few pages of this book.

Flora’s narration is immediately jarring - present tense, full of repetition and the very nature of Flora’s condition made her narration unreliable, and it’s fascinating. It was definitely disorientating at first but I soon fell for it. Hard. I ended up racing through, desperate to finish work so I could get back to it.

Flora is frustrating, but I also couldn’t help but feel for her. She’s strong, stubborn and endlessly resilient. Her story built and built until an epic finale in the Arctic finale that took me completely by surprise. I was expecting a shocking and emotional ending and I definitely got it! It didn’t quite make me cry, but I was definitely choked up! Nothing that happened in the last quarter of this book was what I expected and I loved it.

I can’t wait to see what comes next from Emily Barr - The One Memory of Flora Banks was completely worth the hype.

Thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

This Beats Perfect, Rebecca Denton
336⎟Atom⎟2nd February

Amelie Ayres has impeccable taste in music. Bowie. Bush. Bob. So when she finds herself backstage at The Keep's only UK gig she expects to hate it; after all they are the world's most tragic band. In fact she feels a grudging respect - not (obviously) for their music, but for the work that goes into making them megastars. And when lead singer, 'Maxx', is not dressed up as a cross between Elvis and a My Little Pony, he is actually rather normal, talented and has creative struggles not too dissimilar to her own.
But the next morning she wakes up and rolls over to discover a million new @'s on social media. Overnight, a photo of her at the gig has made her a subject of global speculation. Suddenly the world needs to know #Who'sThatGirl? - but for all the wrong reasons.

All Amelie wants is to play her music. She's got the guitar, the songs, the soul and, in the safety of her bedroom, she's got the voice. But when it comes to getting up on stage, she struggles with self-doubt.

Immaculate's a concept. Flawless is fake. But just sometimes music - and hearts - can rock a perfect beat.

Rebecca Denton’s debut is officially my favourite book of 2017 so far! I completely loved it.

I’m not a pop fangirl by any means, I still love the boybands of my childhood but I was never as intensely in love with them as teens are today, but I can never resist a bit of #boybandlit. The angst, the sweet romance, the whole dream come true of a boyband member falling head over heels for you. It’s glorious.

I was totally swept away by the magic of This Beasts perfect. There’s a particular feeling that really good contemporary gives you - a mix of giddy happiness, stomach butterflies and total sweetness that I’ve never found with any other genre. This Beats Perfect totally nailed it for me for the first time in a really long while.

I really, really hope This Beats Perfect is the start of a series and I want more.

Thanks to Atom for the review copy.

Optimists Die First, Susin Nielsen
272⎟Andersen Press⎟2nd March 2017

Petula has avoided friendship and happiness ever since tragedy struck her family and took her beloved younger sister Maxine. Worse, Petula blames herself. If only she'd kept an eye on her sister, if only she'd sewn the button Maxine choked on better, if only...

Now her anxiety is getting out of control, she is forced to attend the world’s most hopeless art therapy class. But one day, in walks the Bionic Man: a charming, amazingly tall newcomer called Jacob, who is also an amputee. Petula's ready to freeze him out, just like she did with her former best friend, but when she’s paired with Jacob for a class project, there’s no denying they have brilliant ideas together – ideas like remaking Wuthering Heights with cats.

But Petula and Jacob each have desperately painful secrets in their pasts – and when the truth comes out, there’s no way Petula is ready for it.

I loved Susin Nielsen’s books. I’ve been totally hooked since devouring We Are All Made of Molecules and Optimists Die First has shot to the top.

Susin Nielsen’s writing is honest and blunt and brilliantly funny. Petula is terrified of everything and collects the weird and ridiculous deaths that make the news to add to her scrapbook after the accidental death of her little sister. Jacob has a prosthetic arm, but is very secretive about what actually happened. The relationship that blossomed between them was so sweet and I really enjoyed how natural and real it felt - none of the reactions or feelings that Petula or Jacob had felt unrealistic or convenient. Perfect.

I love the way Susin tackles big issues and troubled teens in a way that’s relatable and honest, but also with such humour and sensitivity. I’m already excited for her next book.

Thanks to Andersen Press for the review copy.


Tuesday 7 February 2017

Exploring Classics: The Phantom of the Opera

Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

Originally serialised between 1909-10 by La Gaulois

My edition: the Vintage Classics paperback.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
With the musical being as popular and long-running as it is, I feel like I’ve always known about The Phantom of the Opera - it opened about 12 years before I was even born!

WHY I Chose to Read It
I’m honestly not sure. I think I must have heard about it while watching booktube or something as I was suddenly desperate to read. I just went with it!

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I was totally in love with the first third of Phantom. It had that melodramatic, silliness of the early Gothic, but with a brilliant Parisian flair and I was totally sold.

It was gloriously over-dramatic and full of secrets and mystery, but it didn’t take long until I started to lose interest. The story started going around in circles and no real answers were even drip-fed and I quickly lost my patience. The only way I didn’t DNF The Phantom of the Opera was because I listened to the audiobook, but that also may have been the reason I didn’t properly connect with the latter half of the book.

Unfortunately, I did end up drifting in and out quite a lot and ended up missing a few of the big reveals, but I wasn’t really bothered by that point - I just wanted to get to the end.

I’m glad I read this, but I won’t read it again. I do still want to see the musical, though!

WILL It Stay a Classic
As long as the musical keeps playing around the world and the film is beloved by so many people I can’t imagine Phantom is going anywhere.

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Fans of early Gothic.
- Those who love the musical and the film

Review format from Stacey at The Pretty Books as part of the Classics Challenge.