Book Review – Dark Age by James Wilde

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SYNOPSIS

AD 367, and Roman Britain is falling to the barbarians. Towns burn, the land is ravaged and the few survivors flee. The army of Rome – once the most effective fighting force in the world – has been broken, its spirit lost.

Yet for all the darkness, there is hope. It rests upon the shoulders of one man: Lucanus – the one they call the Wolf. He is a warrior. He wears the ancient crown of a great war leader, Pendragon, and he wields a sword bestowed upon him by the druids. And he, together with a band of trusted followers, is heading south, to Londinium, where he means to bring together an army and make a stand against the hated invader.

But within the walls of that city, hidden enemies lie in wait. They crave the secret that has been entrusted to him. To own it would give them power beyond imagining. To protect it will require bravery and sacrifice beyond measure. To lose it would mean the end of everything worth fighting for…

The acclaimed author of Pendragon continues his epic telling of the story of the hidden origins of what would become the most enduring of all legends – of Arthur, King of the Britons…

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REVIEW

I am a lover of historical fiction, and this novel has made it all the way to the top spot!

Dark Age is undeniably a tale of battles and victories, which I enjoyed thoroughly as it gave an insight into the ruthlessness and gruesome nature of the barbarian armies. However, this didn’t detract away from some of the key themes in the novel: the contrast between loyalty and betrayal, selflessness and selfish, and hope and desperation. Lucanus is a key player in all three themes, and his relationship with Catia, Corvus, and his loyal band of followers helped us to explore every strand of his personality. I became so fond of Lucanus after following him on his journey to Londinium that the ending of this book truly stopped me in my tracks.

Wilde’s style of writing transports you way back to Roman Britain with ease. I especially appreciated the short chapters, which mirrored just how quickly things could change and the tides could turn and reinforced a sense of uncertainty around every corner. This did, of course, make it impossible to put the book down as I wanted to keep up with Lucanus and his army on their travels! Wilde’s descriptions of the battles between the barbarians and the locations where these took place were so developed and enriched that it was as though the scenes were playing out right in front of my eyes. It was this metaphorical sophistication which truly positions Dark Age in a league of its own.

I really couldn’t give Dark Age a better rating. An undeniable 5* novel for me, and I can’t wait to delve into more enthralling historical fiction from Wilde.

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Book Review – The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah

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SYNOPSIS

A killer that the police are calling ‘Billy Dead Mates’ is murdering pairs of best friends, one by one. Before they die, each victim is given a small white book…

For months, detectives have failed to catch Billy, or work out what the white books mean. And then a woman, scared by what she’s seen on the news, comes forward.

Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck has one of Billy’s peculiar little books. A stranger gave it to her at a gig she did a year ago. Was he Billy, and does he want to kill her? Kim has no friends and trusts no one. How – and why – could she possibly be Billy Dead Mates’ next target?

 

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REVIEW

I haven’t delved into a crime fiction novel for longer than I dare to admit, and this one has shown me how much I’ve been missing!

I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline of The Narrow Bed, particularly getting to know the unique character traits of main character Kim Tribbeck. I can understand how she came to infuriate some readers with her apparent disregard for all things serious – even the death of a loved one and the breakdown of her marriage – in favour of humour, however I could see the softer side of Kim throughout and her determination to keep her walls up through comedy to avoid getting hurt. When you learn to appreciate that, she becomes all the more likeable and a much more in-depth character to explore. I also really appreciated the diversity of the members of the police force trying to solve the case of ‘Billy Dead Mates’. Again, while some readers have critiqued this as being overly detailed and difficult to follow, I think the character developments of the officers in charge of the investigation were completely justified by the hidden message throughout the novel that everybody is different. Just as ‘Billy’ and Sondra had different opinions on feminism and misogyny, so too the police officers had different opinions on how to solve a murder when the motive could be interpreted in so many different ways.

I found the author’s style of writing extremely enjoyable to digest, to the point where I literally couldn’t put this book down from the minute I woke up to the minute I went to bed. From reading excerpts of Kim’s manuscript, to being allowed to sneak a peek at secret emails between ‘Billy’ and Sondra and the counselling stories from Lane, I felt engaged through every single chapter – so much so that I was actually sad to finish the book!

Without giving away any spoilers, I actually gasped when the murderer was revealed and thoroughly enjoyed how the game was given away piece by piece. While the motive for the murders was undeniably very niche, to the point where I was brought back to the realisation that the novel before me was fiction not reality, it was unpredictable and truly made sense to me when you consider the murderer’s upbringing and how they came to the point of no return.

I have now vowed to read every other Sophie Hannah book one by one – that in itself speaks volumes for how much I loved The Narrow Bed!

 

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My Holiday Book Haul 2018!

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When I booked my summer holiday a couple of weeks ago, not only was I super excited at the thought of getting some sun and much-needed relaxation time, I was also VERY excited to shortlist the books I’ve been meaning to read for ages for my holiday book haul!

Although I’m going for a week which gives me plenty of reading time, I also know I want to fit in other activities like the waterpark, jet-skiing and exploring the old town markets, so I’ve limited myself to taking just 5 books. I’m hoping these will last me the whole week and will take me 5 books closer to reaching my Goodreads yearly goal!

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BOOK 1: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

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I’ve been desperate to read this for months after seeing such raving reviews for it across Twitter and in the blogging world. I’ve never quite got round to reading it (…why!?) so this will be the first book of the five that I pick up!

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SYNOPSIS

There are three things you should know about Elsie.

The first thing is that she’s my best friend.

The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.

And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

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BOOK 2: The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah

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This is definitely not what you’d call a typical holiday read! I wanted to take something with me which was a bit more gripping and I could get my teeth into, and this mysterious murder plot seemed perfect. Very excited for this one…

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SYNOPSIS

A killer that the police are calling ‘Billy Dead Mates’ is murdering pairs of best friends, one by one. Before they die, each victim is given a small white book…

For months, detectives have failed to catch Billy, or work out what the white books mean. And then a woman, scared by what she’s seen on the news, comes forward.

Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck has one of Billy’s peculiar little books. A stranger gave it to her at a gig she did a year ago. Was he Billy, and does he want to kill her? Kim has no friends and trusts no one. How – and why – could she possibly be Billy Dead Mates’ next target?

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BOOK 3: Oh Danny Boy by Rhys Bowen

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This made the holiday reading list as it mixes history with mystery while also seeming to retain a light-hearted feel. This is my first Rhys Bowen novel so hopefully I’ll enjoy it!

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SYNOPSIS

How can Molly keep the man she wants out of her life out of jail, for although he may be a love rat, he’s certainly no murderer!

Irish immigrant Molly Murphy is contemplating giving up PI work for something a little less… exciting. Molly has had quite enough recently – especially from the handsome but frustrating NYPD captain Daniel Sullivan. She wants him out of her life for good. But when Daniel is accused of accepting bribes and lands himself in the Tombs, the notorious city jail, he begs Molly to help prove he was framed. After everything they’ve been through together, how can she turn him down?

As Molly finds herself drawn further into Daniel’s case, she begins to fear that his trouble is related to one of his investigations: catching a serial killer who is targeting prostitutes, known to the locals as the East Side Ripper…

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BOOK 4: The Shore by Sara Taylor

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I was very intrigued by this book as the blurb really doesn’t give much of an idea as to what to expect. I was definitely drawn in by the beautiful cover, and as I’ll be reading this lying by the ocean I thought it was very fitting!

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SYNOPSIS

The Shore: a collection of small islands off the coast of Virginia that has been home to generations of fierce and resilient women. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it’s a place they’ve inhabited, fled and returned to for hundreds of years.

The women are united by both small miracles and miseries: from a brave girl’s determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, to a lesson in summoning storm clouds to help end a drought. Their interconnected stories form a deeply affecting legacy of two island families bound not just by blood, but by fate.

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BOOK 5: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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I’m a lover of historical fiction so this one was a definite ‘yes’ to add to the holiday pile. I can sense a few tears arrising at the end of this one – anything centred around the separation of families and loved ones really does pull at my heartstrings!

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SYNOPSIS

Winter, 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester accepts the mission of a lifetime, to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River. It is a journey that promises to open up a land shrouded in mystery, but there’s no telling what awaits Allen and his small band of men.

Allen leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Sophie would have loved nothing more than to carve a path through the wilderness alongside Allen – what she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage of her that it does of her husband.

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I’m very excited to read and review my chosen 5 – I’m hoping to come back from my summer break rested and rejuvenated, and hopefully with some fantastic recommendations for the books I’ve enjoyed the most!

 

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Book Review – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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SYNOPSIS

London 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Retreating to the countryside with her son, she encounters rumours of the ‘Essex Serpent’, a creature of folklore said to have returned to roam the marshes.

Cora is enthralled, believing it may be an undiscovered species. Setting out on its trail, she collides with local minister William Ransome, who thinks the cure for hysteria lies in faith, while Cora is convinced that science offers the answers. Despite disagreeing on everything, he and Cora find themselves drawn together, changing each other’s lives in unexpected ways…

Told with grace and intelligence, The Essex Serpent is set in an age of exhilarating – and alarming – change. But it is, above all, a celebration of love in all its incarnations, and of what we share even when we disagree.

 

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REVIEW

On closing the final page of The Essex Serpent, I finally awoke from my time travel back to the Victorian era! Sarah Perry’s style of writing truly encompassed the traits and dialects of the characters she set out to portray, so much so that I really did feel as though I was walking through the streets of Victorian London. This writing style gave me so much more to digest and really encouraged me to read between the lines for the greater message of the novel, rather than being spoon-fed the plot through every chapter. Such sophistication was extremely refreshing and gave me a sense of accomplishment as I reached the book’s conclusion.

What stood out to me the most throughout the novel was the complexity of the unique relationships between the different characters, depending on their social status and inner beliefs. From Cora and Will’s unlikely rendezvous despite the disparity between their beliefs in science and religion, to Martha’s use of Spencer’s wealth for the greater good of the working class, each relationship wove a unique path as the story developed. The most impressive and enjoyable thing for me was that none of these relationships turned out the way I thought they would, demonstrating just how distinctive and individual this book truly is.

That’s not to say that the main storyline of the novel was lost through an overpowering focus on the characters and their development. Instead, the search for the mysterious Essex Serpent, and the townspeople’s individual reliance on either science or religion to explain the mysterious happenings on the waterfront, truly depicted what life was like in a world transforming rapidly with new knowledge and education. We also see glimpses of the hardship of disease and illness in the Victorian era, and just how much of an impact it could have on the lives of the individuals and families it affected.

Overall, I would give The Essex Serpent an easy 5 stars – enjoyable, engaging, and exactly what a lover of historical fiction was hoping for.

 

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Book Review – Surviving Execution by Ian Woods

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SYNOPSIS

Imagine being condemned to death for murder, when even the prosecutors admit that you didn’t actually kill anyone. This is what happened to Richard Glossip, a death row inmate who was convinced largely on the testimony of the self-confessed killer of motel owner, Barry van Treese. Despite this shocking turn of events, the state of Oklahoma is still intent on executing him, raising international outcry and controversy.

Ian Woods, a reporter for Sky News in the UK, came across the case one quiet afternoon, and has tirelessly campaigned ever since to bring the injustices Glossip has faced to the world’s attention. He has even served as an invited witness to Glossip’s three scheduled executions – all of which were stayed at the last possible moment. This is the gripping true story of the case, and their turbulent friendship, written by a man with unparalleled first-hand knowledge and access. A tense mix of Dead Man Walking and Making A Murderer, Surviving Execution combines the very best in true-crime writing with a searching exploration of our most barbaric punishment.

 

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REVIEW

I can safely admit that Surviving Execution is like no other book I’ve read before! Ian Woods provides a first-hand account into the trial and penultimate death penalty sentence of motel manager Richard Glossip, in a way which forces the reader to question not only Richard’s innocence but more broadly the death penalty as a form of punishment.

I loved the way the chapters were arranged – by giving a brief history of capital punishment in America and across the world, Woods sets the scene for just how severe Glossip’s sentencing is and why it became so controversial. I felt myself going through the same rollercoaster of emotions as the spectators to Glossip’s ever-changing fate, which made the book such a page turner.

I also grew extremely fond of the maturing relationship between Wood and Glossip as they bonded on a personal and professional level. To have got to know Glossip so well over the years ensured the book felt personable and had a sophisticated level of detail which left no clue unturned or opinion ignored. I was therefore disappointed that their relationship took the turn that it did at the end, as I’m sure Woods was after building a friendship he valued.

Overall, this is easily a 5* read and one I will be thinking about for a long time!

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Book Review – The Patriots by Sana Krasikov

The Patriots

 

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SYNOPSIS

Growing up in 1930s Brooklyn, Florence Fein will do anything to escape the confining values of her family and her city, and create a life of meaning and consequence. When a new job and a love affair lead her to Moscow, she doesn’t think twice about abandoning America – only to discover, years later, that America has abandoned her.

Now, as her son Julian travels back to Moscow – entrusted to stitch together a murky transcontinental oil deal – he must dig into Florence’s past to discover who his mother really was and what she became. He must also persuade his own son, Lenny, to abandon his risky quest for prosperity in the cut-throat Russian marketplace. As he traces a thread from Depression-era America, through the collective housing and work camps of Stalin’s USSR, to the glittering, oil-rich world of New Russia, Julian finally begins to understand the role he has played – as a father, and as a son.

 

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REVIEW

If you are a lover of historical fiction / family history this is definitely the book for you. The reader is taken on a journey through Stalinist Russia from the eyes of an American citizen whose life is completely and utterly transformed by her decision to restart her life elsewhere. I’ve read mixed reviews of main character Florence on Goodreads, but personally I found her brave and determined, particularly in her old age where she sticks to her morals and never gives up on the country which gave her her biggest tests yet also some of the best years of her life. I can understand how this is frustrating to some, but I think it made her all the more likeable as a character.

I loved the way the chapters were arranged, alternating between Florence’s perspective of her life, and her son Julian’s own journey learning all about his mother’s past in order to understand the woman who made him the person he is today. While I agree that the depth of information on his quest to seal an oil deal did sidetrack the reader a little from the main message of the novel, I could see why this was included and thought it added some much-need substance to Julian as an individual rather than solely as Florence’s son.

Throughout the novel we watch Florence grow up, we see the USSR transform alongside its people, and we witness familial relationships fracture and redevelop across geographical barriers. Sana Krasikov has done a fantastic job in exploring a multitude of different cultures and perspectives without losing a clear and consistent plot line, which ended with the most poignant scenes and messages.

I would without a doubt give this novel 5 stars and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of reading!

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Book Review – The Woman Who Met Her Match by Fiona Gibson

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SYNOPSIS

Could the right man for her future be a boy from her past?

After yet another disaster, Lorrie is calling time on online dating. She might be single in her forties, but she’s got a good job, wonderful children and she’s happy. This, Lorrie decides, is going to have to be enough.

That is, until she receives a very unexpected request from France. Antoine Rousseau, who had once turned a lonely French exchange trip into a summer of romance, wants to see her – after thirty years.

But Lorrie is a responsible woman. She can’t exactly run off to Nice with the man who broke her teenage heart… can she?

 

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Review

I must be completely and utterly honest. I don’t enjoy ‘rom-com’ style novels, often finding them predictable and cheesy. HOWEVER. After reading The Woman Who Met Her Match, I can safely eat my words and start to delve into the world of rom-com fiction more deeply. I absolutely LOVED this book, and it has completely changed my opinion of this genre as a whole!

Firstly (and most surprisingly for me), I actually laughed out loud at Lorrie and her escapades. Her dodgy dates with potential suitors had me giggling into the pages as I willed for Lorrie to see the humorous side in her failed attempts at romance. That she could still find the positives in life despite the death of husband David is of huge credit to Lorrie’s optimistic nature, meaning I was willing her nothing but the best the entire way through the novel.

 I thoroughly enjoyed the way this novel was written and how the chapters were arranged. Although there were certainly cliffhangers, these weren’t dragged out long enough to make for uncomfortable reading. The concept of each chapter portrayed Lorrie’s primary anxieties and worries at that time which really helped me to connect with her as a career-driven mother and a hopeless romantic. We experience Lorrie’s journey at a relaxed yet engaging pace, meaning I finished this book within 24 hours and really didn’t want to put it down!

Without giving away any spoilers, I could not have been happier with the way this book ended. It was a conclusion I had been championing the whole way throughout, and one which I thought may not happen with the arrival of other potential suitors towards the end. It’s not often I say this about a novel with such confidence, but the ending just felt ‘right’. I finished the last page with such a warmth in my heart that I’m sure replicated exactly how Lorrie felt as her dating dilemmas finally came to an end.

If you are after a humorous, heartwarming novel of second chances and new beginnings, this is definitely the book for you. I would recommend it in a heartbeat!

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