Saturday, 30 April 2016

Reading Round-Up: Mar/Apr 2016

It's the end of another two months, and time for my second reading round-up! If you missed the Jan/Feb post, you can catch up here.

What is reading round-up?

Reading round-up is a simple way for me to keep track of everything book-related, and a fun way to show my readers what I've been reading over the last few months!

Out are the books I've read in March/April.

In are the books I've acquired during that time.

And wishlist are the books I've found out about and want to buy but haven't managed to get my hands on yet!

  • Predator by Wilbur Smith
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • Royal Wedding (The Princess Diaries #11) by Meg Cabot
  • Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
  • Confessions of a Wild Child by Jackie Collins
  • How to Fall in Love by Cecelia Ahern
  • The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
  • The Maze Runner trilogy (books 1-3) by James Dashner
  • The Martian by Andy Weir 
  • The Red Pearl by C.K. Brooke
  • Flawed by Cecelia Ahern
  • The Love Triangle by Nic Tatano
  • The Demon Girl's Song by Susan Jane Bigelow
  • How to Get Ahead in Television by Sophie Cousens
  • Ship of Magic (The Liveship Traders #1) by Robin Hobb
  • The Ghost of Bluebell Cottage by Claire Voet
  • The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett by Jan Birley
  • When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro 
  • Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
  • Waking Dream by Rhiannon Lassiter
  • Return to Bluebell Hill by Rebecca Pugh
  • While My Eyes Were Closed by Linda Green
  • Squall by Sean Costello 
  • The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith
  • Changing Teams by Jennifer Allis Provost
  • Stricken (The War Scrolls #1) by A.K. Morgen
  • The Child Taker by Conrad Jones
  • Slow Burn by Conrad Jones
  • Starting Over (Starting Over #1) by Evan Grace 
  • Deep Blue (Blue #1) by Jules Barnard
  • Keeping the Tarnished by Bradon Nave
  • Finding Sarah (Echoes of Nutt Hill #1) by Wendy Lou Jones 
  • First Kiss (Ghost Bird #10) by C.L. Stone
  • Orphan Train Bride by Teresa Lilly
  • Orphan Train Bride For Christmas by Teresa Lilly
  • Orphan Train Belle by Teresa Lilly
  • Orphan Train Bride Healing Scars by Linda Baten Johnson
  • The Beach Hut by Cassandra Parkin 
  • Tim Connor Hits Trouble by Frank Lankaster
  • Unpredictable (Key West #1) by C.A. Harms
  • Trail of Deceit by Dr John C. House
  • Truth or Dare by Aimee McNeil 
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo 
  • Midnight Bites by Rachel Caine
  • The Night Manager by John le CarrĂ©
  • Baxter's Draw (The Lockwood Legacy #2) by Juliette Harper
  • The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien
  • Where Did It All Go Right? by Andrew Collins
  • If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
  • Death in Shanghai (Inspector Danilov #1) by M.J. Lee 
  • Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill 
  • Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
  • The Two-Family House by Lynda Loigman Cohen 
  • A Town Called Dust (The Territory #1) by Justin Woolley
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord
  • Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
  • Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
  • The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Reread Book Review: The Harry Potter series (books 6-7) by J.K. Rowling

Today marks the final installment of my three-part series rereading the wonderful Harry Potter books. This time I'm sharing my thoughts on the final two books in the series - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. 

If you need a refresher on the rest of the series, you can find books 1-3 here, and books 4-5 here.

Just before we move on to the reviews, just a quick little reminder of what the 'reread book reviews' are all about:

Writing a book review for Harry Potter seems a bit of a pointless exercise; surely everyone must have read the books by now? That's why I've decided to document my journey through the wizarding world here. It's not like my usual book reviews. These are written with the impression that you, the reader, have also read the books. Think of it more as a recap - a reminder of why Harry Potter captured the nation's imagination and never let it go.

WARNING: There will be spoilers ahead!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In my opinion, Half-Blood Prince is the most like the first 3 books out of the later ones. We (mostly) return to the normal Hogwarts school year storyline, and it's nice to get back to having a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who isn't Professor Umbridge. Not that Snape is exactly a great DADA teacher, but anyone's got to be better than Umbridge!

Professor Slughorn is a great new character - he injects some much-needed freshness into the Hogwarts teaching staff at this point and the Potions lessons are really interesting to read about. Plus there's the memory. It shows Slughorn as more human and much more relatable than a lot of the other characters. And we can't move on without mentioning the Felix Felicis - the scene where Harry takes the potion is one of my favourite passages in the whole series, it's pure brilliance.

Of course, the real meat of this story lies with Snape, Malfoy, Dumbledore, and the Horcruxes. Malfoy's various plots to kill Dumbledore add a sense of urgency to the storyline, which, coupled with the news of Voldemort's latest killings, really starts to change the tone and shift things away from the suspense created in Order of the Phoenix.

We really get the sense that we're on the home stretch now. By the end of this book, Harry knows what he must to do finally defeat Voldemort, and we know that the final book will be devoted to this task. It's sad to leave Hogwarts behind, but we know the end is coming and either way, it will be the end of an era.

Of course, without a doubt the most significant aspect of this book is Dumbledore's death, but we don't learn the true significance of the timing and situation surrounding it until Deathly Hallows. To everyone's surprise, Malfoy turns out to be cleverer than anyone thought he was, but ultimately it's Snape who drives the story here.

JK Rowling is back to her old tricks of foreshadowing again in Half-Blood Prince - for example we get a fleeting glimpse of Ravenclaw's diadem before we know its true nature. We also see that Malfoy disarms Dumbledore although it's Snape who eventually kills him - this seems trivial at the time but it's vital to the endgame in Deathly Hallows.

It's little things like this that make these books so magical, and why it's possible to discover new things you previously missed with every reread.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I remember the massive amounts of hype surrounding this when it was first released. I was on holiday, and I spent about 3 days trying to get hold of a copy because everywhere I went it was sold out. For a couple weeks after release day, everywhere you went and everywhere you looked you'd see someone with their nose in this book. Even now almost 10 years on, I've never seen a book grip a nation like this series did. 

In terms of location, Deathly Hallows is different to the previous 6 Potter books because we don't go to Hogwarts. For the majority of the book the trio are on the run, which instead gives us a wider insight into the wizarding world at the time and allows for a lot of important events to take place. We learn more about Harry, Ron and Hermione in this book than the rest of the series put together. The fact that they are effectively alone together for such long periods of time, while completing a seemingly impossible and highly dangerous mission, really brings out their true nature. It's a blow when they have the big argument and Ron leaves, but the fact that he feels sorry and manages to find his way back again (using the Deluminator for this was a genius idea on Rowling's part!) really shows his depth of character and that loyalty and friendship is paramount, themes which are visited again and again throughout the entire series.

Despite the terrible events and many deaths of this book (it's definitely one of the darkest of the series) Rowling still manages to incorporate lighter, positive moments. To use one of Dumbledore's quotes,

"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."

I think this quote embodies one of the most important messages in the whole series, and it's incredibly relevant in normal life too. In the book these lighter moments include Bill and Fleur's wedding at the beginning, but also the hints of romance throughout, to use just a few examples. The birth of Tonks and Lupin's son should be a happy moment, but it is made bittersweet by their deaths, yet the sad irony of Harry Potter being godfather to another orphan isn't lost.

Of course, we can't talk about Deathly Hallows without mentioning the final battle. It's impressive, not only in terms of its grandeur and scale, but because it brings all the loose threads Rowling has been dangling under our noses together. Finally we see Dumbledore's grand plan, and we understand why Harry is eventually able to defeat Voldemort. It's complex, yet it's also incredibly clever and well-plotted. However, some of the most heartbreaking moments are the deaths of some of our most beloved characters. The death of Dobby is the big one (and the one that I defy you not to shed a tear at) though it was always the deaths of Hedwig and Colin Creevey that really got me. They bring home how ruthless and uncaring Voldemort is - he's willing to murder innocent animals and underage children just to get to Harry Potter. And if that's not true evil, I don't know what is.

All I can say is that Deathly Hallows is a fitting end to one of the best, and most popular, series of books ever written.

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Which book is your favourite? Chat to me about all things Potter in the comments below!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Reread Book Review: The Harry Potter series (books 4-5) by J.K. Rowling

Today I'm continuing my three-part feature rereading the fabulous Harry Potter series - and this time I'm sharing my thoughts on books 4 (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and 5 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) with you.

If you missed the first installment of the series (books 1-3) you can catch up here.

But before I crack on with the reviews, just a quick recap of what the 'reread book reviews' are all about:

Writing a book review for Harry Potter seems a bit of a pointless exercise; surely everyone must have read the books by now? That's why I've decided to document my journey through the wizarding world here. It's not like my usual book reviews. These are written with the impression that you, the reader, have also read the books. Think of it more as a recap - a reminder of why Harry Potter captured the nation's imagination and never let it go.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Goblet of Fire is the first of the big Harry Potter books. It marks a change from the much more lighthearted antics of the first three books as from here, things only get darker.

This one has one of my favourite openings out of all the Potter books, first with the Weasley's fetching Harry from Privet Drive, then with the Quidditch World Cup. And things only get better from there - the Triwizard Tournament is a great storyline, and gives us much more of an insight into the wider magical world than we've had before. Each of the challenges are great, and are really interesting to read about.

However, I've never been much of a fan of the whole Harry and Cho subplot - I mean I get that it shows Harry's growing up but it always annoyed me for some reason, I feel like it unnecessarily distracts from the main storyline. But after all, that's just a little thing, and it doesn't detract from the high quality of the book as a whole.

Then we get onto the events of the end of the book. Without a shadow of a doubt now, Voldemort is back. The fact that Fudge refuses point blank to believe the Dark Lord has returned only makes things even more interesting, as Dumbledore has to work not only against Voldemort but also against Fudge and the Ministry now, while Voldemort gets stronger and stronger. This is partly why Order of the Phoenix is my favourite Potter book - this dynamic between the different groups is so interesting to read about (and I'll talk more about it when we get onto book 5 in a minute!)

Things are about to get very interesting indeed...

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I'm going to be the odd one out when it comes to this book, because as I've already said, Order of the Phoenix is my favourite Harry Potter book.

Everyone complains that "it's too long" or "Harry's too angry" in this one, and yes, it's the longest book in the series, and Harry does lose his temper and shout a lot, but then under the circumstances, wouldn't you?

My favourite thing about this book in particular is the level of detail. A lot of people say that the beginning is too slow and things take too long to properly get going, but I actually enjoy that. We get more detail and depth into the characters and their world than we've had up to this point - they may just be cleaning the house a lot at the start, but it's interesting - you can't forget they're living at HQ, after all. I also love the sense of suspense building ever so slowly throughout the book. There's a reason the beginning is slow and isn't full of action and drama - Rowling proves herself yet again as a master storyteller by slowing everything right down to a snail's pace. Everyone expects Voldemort to be running around killing everyone he comes into contact with, now he's back, and the fact that everything is quiet and he doesn't seem to be doing a lot only adds to that teasingly slow increase of suspense. That's why what happens at the end of the book is even more dramatic.

Personally I think the very end is actually much weaker than the beginning, because as soon as Harry returns to Dumbledore's office all this very important information is just info-dumped on him by Dumbledore. It's crucial to the remainder of the plot in the next two books, yet it's told to us in such a way that you can't really take it in - it's not interesting enough. As soon as Harry stops smashing things I switch off, every time I read it.

Fred and George really excel in this book. Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes is well underway, and their escapades add much-needed humour and lightheartedness to what would otherwise be a very tense, rage-filled storyline.

Then we get to Umbridge. She is probably one of the most universally-loathed characters in fiction, and it's not hard to see why. But no matter how much you dislike her, you can't deny that she's a great character. Her unflinching persecution of those closest to Dumbledore rivals only the most fanatical of Death Eaters in terms of loyalty and devotion. Plus it's so satisfying when she gets her come-uppance at the end - the fact that we're never actually told what the centaurs do to her makes it even more convincing.

Don't miss the final part of the feature (books 6-7) coming soon!

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Which book is your favourite? Chat to me about all things Potter in the comments below!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Interview: Jeannie van Rompaey

Today is my stop on the Ascension blog tour, and in addition to my review of the book (which you can find here) I also had the chance to interview the author, Jeannie van Rompaey. Read on to find out all about Ascension, her writing process, and why Pride & Prejudice is Jeannie's favourite book.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I’m passionate about reading, writing, art and the theatre. I was born in London, brought up in a village in Northamptonshire and now live on the subtropical island of Gran Canaria with my husband, TJ, a historian. I love living in a warm climate with blue skies above and sea breezes; but enjoy visits to London to see my daughter, go to the theatre and visit art exhibitions.

I have an MA in Modern Literature from The University of Leicester and have had a varied career as lecturer, theatre director and actor. As Jeannie Russell I’m a member of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators and adjudicate at drama festivals in Britain and Europe. Next year I’m off to Frankfurt to adjudicate there.

I write novels, short stories, poems and plays on subjects I feel strongly about, including: the complexity of human nature and the future of our planet. I also think it’s important to have humour in my writing.

How did you first become interesting in writing?

I was an only child so had plenty of time to myself. I was sometimes lonely and writing stories was one way I could express myself. My characters became my friends. My favourite lesson at school was English and I had a teacher who encouraged me. Unlike the other kids in my class, I actually loved writing essays. I loved words. Still do.

How do you get inspiration for your books?

I think of my mind as being like litmus paper, absorbing everything I see, hear and feel. The result is lots of material to write about. I also have a dream life that informs my work.

What draws you to writing dystopian fiction?

I often wonder about the future of our planet. I look at all the problems environmental, social and political in our world and wonder how we could make it better. It would be good to invent a utopia, a perfect world, but as we are all flawed human beings that would be impossible. The idea of inventing a future world and its inhabitants is a challenge that excites me. My dystopias can be seen as a warning but they also celebrate the resilience of human beings in adversity.

Tell us about Ascension.

Ascension is the first book in the Oasis Series. It is set about 200 years into the future. There are two worlds: Earth, contaminated by plague and Oasis, a man-made satellite in the sky.

Those left on Earth are mutant humanoids who live locked up in compounds, safe from the polluted wilderness outside. They have neo-power which gives them light and enables them to use compus (computers) their main source of knowledge.

The mutant humanoids are as varied in character as in appearance. Kali, in charge of Compound 55, has snakes at her neck and wrists. Mercury, her ersatz son and compu whizz kid is passionate about learning. One-eyed, dedicated historian Odysseus is determined to preserve the artefacts and paintings that come his way. His assistants, three-legged, arrogant Heracles is ambitious and ruthless while moon-faced Isis with her extra little arm, is more interested in beauty treatments than history. Three-headed Ra is head of all the English speaking compounds and rules through fear. But how long can he remain in power?

Those living on Oasis have no mutations and are known as completes. They are the elite who escaped contaminated Earth and set out to make a utopia in the sky. Alexander Court is an idealist, but Orlando Wolfe is unscrupulous in his search for power.

When Mercury has the chance to go to Oasis, he is excited by the prospect of starting a new life there. But will he be happy living as a complete? And is Oasis the perfect world he thought it would be?

Unrest on Earth leads to mutant humanoids looking skyward, determined to share the lifestyle of the completes. How successful will they be?

Ascension explores with humour and compassion the way humans respond to change. The future worlds of Earth and Oasis mirror our contemporary society. The division between the haves and the have-nots widens and the lust for power leads to corruption. Luckily there are some optimists determined to build a fairer, more egalitarian society.

What inspired you to write Ascension?

My dreams, my imagination and my view of our current world. I was also inspired by one of my own paintings that hangs over my desk. A three-headed man. I like painting faces – not portraits of people because my drawing and painting is not good enough to produce likenesses – but imaginary ones. From looking at this painting came the character, three-headed Ra. As my work is always character-led rather than plot-led, the seed of my story was planted.

What’s your writing process?

I find I write best in the mornings, but I have to do my boring household chores first – make the bed, clear up the kitchen etc. I’m usually thinking about what I’m going to write while doing this, so – by the time I sit at my computer in my study my fingers are itching to get going. I then write from about 10 o’clock to 1.30. I also write from about four to seven in the afternoon. Please note my long lunch hour. This is my normal schedule but of course, like everyone else, I’m human, which means I do like to socialise and take a break. When I’m sitting in the sun or shade in my garden or walking by the ocean (I live in Gran Canaria so am obliged to take advantage of the climate) I have a notebook with me, but this is only to jot down ideas before I forget. Actual words and sentences come easier to me on a computer.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

The plot. Especially the last chapter and the ending itself. In the case of Ascension I wanted an upbeat, optimistic ending that would make readers want to find out what would happen in the next book. My problem is how to keep up the tension to get to that point.

What do you love most about writing?

The satisfaction when I’ve got to the end of the first draft. I also love hearing what readers think of my writing – especially if they enjoyed it.

Which authors inspire you?

As far as dystopian fiction is concerned Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguru, although I do like their general fiction as well. The most important aspect for me is not the plot or story, but the ideas and, most of all, the quality of the writing. These two authors write so well.

I’m also inspired by Kate Atkinson and Rose Tremain and I must include that great stylist, Ian McEwan. And so many more….

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Write everyday. Write freely at first, let your ideas flow. You can go back later and edit it.

What’s your all-time favourite book?

That’s a difficult one. There are so many to choose from.

I admire Jane Austen’s ruthless view of her own society, her use of irony and her enjoyment of the relationships she creates. Which of her books shall I choose? Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park?

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights has to feature for its narrative structure and wild romanticism. The use of different viewpoints to tell the story was quite revolutionary for its time. Having re-read this recently, I still feel a little cheated by the second half of the book, the young Catherine not being as fascinating as her mother. But the denouement and final lines redeem it.

Another contender is The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, 2009. I enjoy all her books but this one really gripped me – maybe because it’s concerned with the power of words.

Another choice would be Nice Work by David Lodge (1988). I like the clever juxtaposition of Robyn Penrose, the university lecturer, and Victor Wilcox, the industrialist: the idealist and the capitalist. Their amazement at the glimpses they are given into very different worlds from their own appealed to me. Like most of Lodge’s work the novel is well-laced with satirical humour, the author not afraid to encourage us to laugh at his characters while still having compassion for them. I appreciate this book because he draws on his academic knowledge and I read it when I was doing my MA.

Do I have to choose one? OK, Pride and Prejudice.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I would like to build up a 'fan-base' of people who appreciate my work and are interested in reading my next novel.

What are you currently working on?

Two books. One is the third book in The Oasis Series to be called Renaissance. I’m still spinning ideas in my head and my notebook for that.

I’m nearly at the end of writing a psychological thriller called Sunshine Skyway. As usual I’m having trouble with the final chapters. I know how it ends but not exactly how….

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?

I’m not sure. I like the kudos and excitement of a mainstream publisher making an offer for my book but the author has much more control when self-publishing. Either method requires the author to do a lot of the marketing.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa, (Faber and Faber 2012), translated by Edith Grossman. This book is an epic novel spanning three continents as Llosa re-imagines the life and thoughts of Roger Casement, the controversial hero of Irish nationalism. I’m still in the eye-opening section about the Congo – an indictment of colonisation. Vargas Llosa has a talent for writing powerful historical narrative.

Many thanks to Jeannie for agreeing to be interviewed! If you want to find out more about her work, simply visit her website.

Will you be adding Ascension to your wishlist? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: Ascension by Jeannie van Rompaey

AD* | Meet the mutant humanoids. They may look a little different from us, but inside they're much the same as you and me. Left on a diseased Earth, they live in windowless compounds, safe from the contaminated wilderness outside. Safe, yes, but their lives are restricted.

When the mutant humanoids discover that some complete human beings, completes, have also survived and are living greatly improved lives on satellites, they determine to rectify this imbalance and claim their share of Earth's heritage. Three-headed Ra rules the humanoids with ruthless precision, but others are involved in a power struggle to depose him. Who will succeed in being the next CEO of Planet Earth?

Sixteen -year-old Mercury plans to start a new life on Oasis. Will it prove the Utopia he expects it to be?

Ascension, the first novel in Jeannie van Rompaey's Oasis series, explores with humour and compassion the way humans respond to change. The future worlds of Earth and Oasis mirror our contemporary society. The division between the haves and have-nots widens and the lust for power leads to corruption. But there are idealists determined to build a fairer, more egalitarian society.

Before I get into the review, I should first mention that I often struggle a bit when it comes to sci-fi novels. I don't dislike the genre (far from it, there are some fantastic sci-fi books out there) but I find a lot of sci-fi to be too generic or far-fetched for my personal taste. However, earlier in the year I read Solarversia, a brilliant sci-fi book by indie author Toby Downton, and that seems to have rekindled my appreciation for the genre.

Plus, when I looked into this book a little more, I discovered that the author, Jeannie van Rompaey, was actually brought up in Northamptonshire, where I'm from. Northamptonshire (despite being a comparatively large county) is often overlooked, so it's really nice to have something to celebrate from my home county. Who doesn't love a local (ish) author?

Power struggles

Anyway, on with the review. If I'm honest, I found the whole premise of the story a little difficult to get into. However, I did enjoy the 'us versus them' aspect, especially as it's highly likely that would actually happen should the situation the book details arise in real life. I also enjoyed reading about life in the compounds, and the power struggles between dominant characters.

The characters themselves were largely overbearing and actually quite selfish, but despite that I still wanted them to succeed. In an atmosphere like that, survival of the fittest is key, and that fact is self-evident throughout the entire book. It was also interesting to see how quickly the characters could change sides and forge different alliances depending on what would suit them best at any given point in the story. You get the feeling that they're all in it purely for themselves, and in my opinion, this constant back-and-forth power struggle between the key characters is where the real meat of the story lies.

For me, the story struggled to accommodate the 'completes living on hundreds of satellites' storyline. Yes, the completes are necessary to the story (and the entire hierarchy of their world wouldn't make sense without them) but the satellites part kind of lost me. Still, things improved and picked up again towards the end, dropping off a bit and leaving things hanging to set the scene for the next book of the series.

Character led

Without giving too much away, Mercury was by far my favourite character and I really enjoyed his storyline, essential to tie the two worlds together. I also enjoyed hearing about Odysseus' work in the histo-lab and museum at the start, though I felt his character became redundant towards the end. There was only one character I couldn't stand - Sati. From the very first time she was introduced, she began to annoy me. I'll leave you to make your own mind up, but she has to be the most irritating character I've read about for a while!

Sati aside, Ascension is a solid story definitely led by the characters. As good as the ending seems, judging by certain events, I'm sure there will be plenty of trouble brewing on the horizon ready for book two...

Rating: 3 stars.

Ascension is available to buy now. To find out more, visit Jeannie van Rompaey's website. I also interviewed the author, Jeannie van Rompaey, as part of the blog tour. You can find the interview here.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Ascension? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Reread Book Review: The Harry Potter series (books 1-3) by J.K. Rowling

If you know me at all, you will know that I'm a massive Harry Potter fan. I love anything Harry Potter - I've read the books and watched the movies countless times, I own all manner of Potter-related merchandise, I've even been to the Harry Potter Studio Tour... twice.

So with that in mind, what better books to pick up when I hit a reading slump? Due to various reasons, I haven't felt much like reading lately, so to get back into reading again (my tbr pile is still growing at an ever-expanding rate, even if I'm not reading anything!) I decided to reread the whole Harry Potter series again, for what seems like the 100th time!

No matter how many times I read these books they don't get old. Every new read reveals a hidden detail or clue I hadn't noticed before, and I still enjoy them as much as I did the first time.

Writing a book review for Harry Potter seems a bit of a pointless exercise; surely everyone must have read the books by now? That's why I've decided to document my journey through the wizarding world here. It's not like my usual book reviews. These are written with the impression that you, the reader, have also read the books. Think of it more as a recap - a reminder of why Harry Potter captured the nation's imagination and never let it go.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

I forgot how much I loved this book!
As an introduction to a series, Philosopher's Stone is brilliant. I'm always hooked from the very first page. I studied this book as part of my Writing for Children module at university last year, and was very surprised to hear that my lecturer didn't rate it as an example of good writing. Of course, I had to disagree, which eventually led to me compiling a whole presentation on why it's so good, though that's a whole other story.

Rowling's writing style has always resonated with me. Perhaps because it's not 'dumbed-down' and she isn't afraid to use complex phrases like many other writers, but it's one of the things I appreciate most about the book. I first read this back in 2003 when I was 8 years old. As an 8 year old, did I struggle with it? Not at all. I asked my parents the meaning of the few words I hadn't heard before, and that was it. If anything, I think I learned a lot of vocabulary from the Harry Potter books, and they definitely influence my own writing even now.

But aside from that, what makes Philosopher's Stone so good? Two things - the amazing world Rowling has created for Harry and his friends; and the characters. The entire plot is held up by these two factors, which are what really sets the series apart from the rest.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Aside from the whole potential-death-by-giant-spider thing (an arachnophobe's worst nightmare) I forgot how much I loved this book! Chamber of Secrets seems to be one of the Potter books I always tend to gloss over, so it was nice to reread this and appreciate it fully again. I think I'll be promoting it to becoming my second-favourite Potter book! 

Plus you can't forget how many references to important events in the later books are in this one. I mean Dumbledore basically tells Harry he's a horcrux when they're discussing how similar he and Voldemort are! How much more of a clue for book 7 do we need?!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Prisoner of Azkaban is my third favourite Harry Potter book, only stopped from being ranked higher because it's quite slow to get going.

Personally I find it a lot funnier than either of the other books to this point - there are a few Fred and George one-liners that still crack me up no matter how many times I read this book, and also Wood's obsession with winning the Quidditch Cup can be pretty funny at points. Not to mention Sir Cadogan and some of the lessons with Professor Trelawney - there are a whole host of minor characters providing humour here and I think that gets lost in the later books, which is a shame.

In terms of the plot it's a nice change to have something go wrong that doesn't actually directly involve Voldemort - it breaks what would otherwise become a very repetitive pattern in the series. Plus we get introduced to the Marauders, and who doesn't love their storyline? Lupin is a fantastic teacher, and by far the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher they have in the whole series. I mean, I actually enjoy reading about his lessons...

I don't think this book carries as many hints to future events as the last one, but we do manage to advance the overarching plot of the whole series quite a bit, especially with the whole Wormtail running off to rejoin Voldemort thing.

My favourite bit of the book has to be the ending. Everything comes to a head and all the threads left in the book draw together to finally make sense. Now we understand how Hermione has been managing to deal with her impossible timetable, why Buckbeak's case was bigged up so much (despite seemingly being nothing more than a subplot) and why Snape hates Lupin so much.  

A great book, and a fab ending!

If you've enjoyed this post, then make sure to look out for the next installment (books 4 and 5) coming soon!

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Which book is your favourite? Chat to me about all things Potter in the comments below!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Book Review: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

AD* | In this poignant and sparkling debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure
Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam's death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam's possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he's never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife's secret life before they met--a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places. 

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a curiously charming debut and a joyous celebration of life's infinite possibilities.

From the very first page, I was hooked by this book. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper follows the life of widowed pensioner Arthur Pepper as he discovers a charm bracelet belonging to his late wife while clearing out her belongings. Throughout the course of the book, Arthur sets out to discover the meanings behind each of the charms on the bracelet, discovering things he never knew about his wife and himself along the way.

Learning curve

Arthur is such a sweet and loveable character that you can't help but like him. Despite everything that has happened to him, he's still plodding on, and you have to admire his resilience. Through all the events of the book, Arthur is a constant. He might get out of his depth at times or find himself in uncomfortable situations, but he manages to deal with everything in his own way. I loved that he set out to discover Miriam's early life, but in reality he ended up learning more about his own life and personality.

The whole story is written beautifully. Without being overly descriptive, Phaedra Patrick has managed to perfectly convey the sense of loneliness, loss, and despair many of the characters in the book are faced with on a daily basis. The old and the new are juxtaposed; Arthur's steady routine is contrasted with teenage Nathan's apparent uncaring attitude, but as we delve deeper into the story the two are more alike than we first think.

Poignant and touching

It's a bittersweet and emotional story, but extremely relatable and true to life. Sadly many older people are living alone with minimal human interaction, and the likes of Arthur and his neighbours only drive that point home. Certain passages throughout the book are so poignant and touching that you're certain to shed a tear!

At the end of the day, Arthur is a perfect role model for life. No matter what life throws at you, you have to pick yourself up and keep going to avoid being, as Arthur puts it, like a crab stuck in a rockpool. Besides, as Arthur demonstrates, you're never too old to change your outlook on life.

A touching, emotionally charged debut, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is available to buy now.

Rating: 4 stars.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper? Let me know in the comments below!