Emma by Alexander McCall Smith


RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Sometimes it takes time to discover who you really are. And for Emma Woodhouse the journey is only just beginning. As she returns home to Norfolk from University, Emma starts to take charge. But as she begins to match-make various friends and neighbours, some important lessons about life and relationships await her…”

REVIEW: As followers of this blog may have noticed, I have read the previous two novels that have been published under the so-called Austen Project, which has had six different, well-known authors writing modern retellings of the six major Austen novels – as I had so greatly enjoyed Trollope’s rewrite of Sense and Sensibility and Val McDermid’s rewrite of Northanger Abbey, I was really looking forward to reading McCall Smith’s version of Emma. It was a good novel, with Emma re-interpreted brilliantly and the other characters instantly recognisable from the Austen original we know and love; Mr Woodhouse’s frantic obsession with cleanliness and disease was particularly amusing, as well as seeming accurate. The story progressed at a good pace and, while the reader often finds him or herself in conflict with Emma (as also happens many times in the original novel), by the end of the story we are glad that she has found her happy ending with George Knightley – though of course, a relationship with such an age gap is harder for the modern mind to comprehend, but McCall Smith made it fitting with the modern reader, who wanted it just as much as I suspect Austen’s Georgian audience would have. My only problem with the book was that, while I felt the previous two rewrites had been bought very successfully into modernity, I did sometimes still feel as though I were reading a Georgian novel whilst reading McCall Smith’s version. Some of the language and even some of the scandals seemed somewhat outdated and I feel some might have been bought further into the future. Overall, however, this was a very entertaining retelling of what is originally a very entertaining novel, and I would recommend it to fans of Austen.


How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran


RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “It’s a good time to be a woman; we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain…Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?”

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. It amazes me how Moran can take so many serious, taboo topics and turn them into hilarious anecdotes and life advice, all the while proving to us that these subjects – including sex, menstruation, pornography -should not be taboo at all, but should be discussed freely and openly. Whilst discussing topics such as these, and numerous others, Moran is constantly demonstrating to the reader that the way we view many of these things is heavily controlled and influenced by the patriarchal attitudes of our society. I have prided myself on being a feminist for years now, and it was such a refreshing change to read a book where the author had exactly the same views as me on so many matters of everyday life – particularly pornography – and was not afraid to be firm in her belief in these views. Moran’s writing is witty, engaging, thought-provoking and often hilarious, and I would state that this is the book every modern woman – and every self-respecting man – should read.


A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

lucy worsley a very british murder


BLURB: “Ever since the Ratcliffe Highway Murders caused a nationwide panic in Regency England, the British have taken an almost ghoulish pleasure in ‘a good murder’. This fascination helped create a whole new world of entertainment, inspiring novels, plays and films, puppet shows, paintings and true-crime journalism – as well as an army of fictional detectives who still enthrall us today. A Very British Murder is Lucy Worsley’s captivating account of this curious national obsession. It is a tale of dark deeds and guilty pleasures, a riveting investigation into the British soul by one of our finest historians.”

REVIEW: This book is a fascinating exploration of how an obsession with murder has become ingrained into British culture, and takes various famous murder cases from the nineteenth century onwards to illustrate how the nation’s relationship with these cases began to develop and expand as time went on. With each new, sensational murder people found new – and often increasingly disturbing – ways of dissecting the event; grisly artefacts from murders were exhibited for people to view, such as part of the scalp of the murderer William Corder, which is still on display in the Moyse’s Hall Museum today. Puppet shows, songs and plays were performed in order to both dramatise and popularise the most horrific of the tales, such as that of Maria Marten, who was buried under the floor of the Red Barn. Worsley dissects each of these cases and the interest they incurred in great detail, and looks at how their legacies have stayed with us even today in the form of fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes and the works of Agatha Christie. This book is absolutely fascinating; the murder cases themselves are just as interesting to modern readers as they were at the time, and the way they have impacted our current culture is also something that I had not expected to discover. I was gripped from the very beginning of this novel, which read almost like a detective story in itself – it is a story of a somewhat shameful section of the British consciousness, a part of us that has survived across centuries and that remains just as powerful in the modern day as it did in the Victorian age.


Leaving Time By Jodi Picoult


RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Jenna Metcalf was with her mother the night she disappeared, but she remembers nothing. In the wake of those tragic events, she has lost not one parent, but two; her father is in an asylum, and she now lives with her grandmother – who finds it too painful to talk about what happened. Ten years on, Jenna is the only one who still seems to care. And she is determined to seek the truth, no matter how shocking and life-changing it might be…”

REVIEW: This is my favourite novel of Picoult’s that I have read since ‘Nineteen Minutes’, which I think will always hold the top spot for me and which I named my top book of the year last year, despite heavy competition. As with all Picoult’s novels, the twist at the end of the book makes it difficult to review without giving too much away, but I can assure you that this twist is one of Picoult’s finest – it truly shocked me and I didn’t see it coming despite having been gripped for the entire novel, trying as desperately as the protagonist to find out what happened to her mother. Jenna’s mother worked at an elephant sanctuary and dedicated her life to studying and caring for these animals; Picoult’s research into elephant behaviour is meticulous, and gives the reader a great deal of factual knowledge as well as allowing us to become as fond of the elephants as Jenna’s mother, Alice, was. One night at the sanctuary, the body of another employee was found trampled by an elephant, and further off was found the unconscious Alice. After being treated in hospital, she discharged herself – and was never seen again. Jenna has subsequently spent the rest of her life trying to find out what happened to her mother, and fears that her mother may have abandoned her for good, or died herself. Receiving little help from her traumatised grandmother, Jenna turns to ex-detective Virgil Stanhope; once the lead detective on the Alice Metcalf case, Virgil is tortured by the fact that it remains unsolved and has turned to drink, but reluctantly agrees to help Jenna and develops a bond with her. They also receive help from the disgraced psychic Serenity who, once a famous celebrity, was slaughtered by press and public alike after several failed readings that gave many false hope of finding those they loved. Yet Serenity senses something special in Jenna, and together the three of them embark on a journey to find the truth about what happened at the sanctuary that night. Picoult, an expert at weaving stories through multiple narratives, tells this tale through the eyes of Jenna, Serenity and Virgil, and through the eyes of Alice herself, who tells us the story right from the beginning – before Jenna was even born. This is a fascinating novel that I simply could not put down, and I would very highly recommend it.