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Top 10 Books of 2015

  1. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  3. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden 
  4. The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  5. The Pact by Jodi Picoult
  6. The Night Falling by Katherine Webb
  7. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory
  8. Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
  9. How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
  10. The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

It’s that time of year again! I can’t believe it’s come around so quickly. I’ve read a total of 51 books this year (I used to read more, but I guess that’s what final year of university does to your reading time!) and it was a real struggle to pick my top ten as there have been so many amazing reads. The decision was eventually made, and listen above are my Top Ten Books of 2015.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has ever followed, favourited or commented on any of my reviews, and to anyone who has even taken the time to read them at all. I would especially like to thank those who have offered me their own works of fiction to read – it’s a real honour to be trusted with reading and reviewing someone’s most precious piece of writing. I have lots of new books to read as well as some exciting debut novels to review in the upcoming year! So Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you’ll continue to read this blog in 2016 🙂

 

 

 

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Whatever Love Is by Rosie Rushton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “When Frankie Price goes to live with her wealthy cousins, she finds herself part of a social scene that she’d only read about in magazines. Shy and overwhelmed, she retreats into her own passion; writing. But when the entire family is rocked by scandal, and her mate Ned comes under the spell of the beautiful but manipulative Alice, Frankie realises that she has to fight for the life she wants.”

REVIEW: Rosie Rushton has written a series of young adult novels based on each of Austen’s six full novels. I had read all of them when I was younger, and they encouraged me to move on to read Austen’s works themselves; all of which I now adore. I had not, however, read Whatever Love Is, Rushton’s adaptation of Mansfield Park, and picked it up when I happened to see it in a bookshop recently. I love the way Rushton makes the stories of Austen so accessible to teenage readers, and translates the characters almost seamlessly into modern times. I feel that the more rebellious characters of Mansfield Park – i.e. Henry, Mary and Tom – were always rather forward for Austen’s time, but Rushton manages to make even the sedate Fanny Price into a relatable and enjoyable modern character. Fanny is transformed into Frankie, a shy, awkward teenage girl who comes to live with the Bertrams after her mother’s mental breakdown and her father’s decision to travel. Her feelings for Ned (Edmund)  are made clear from the beginning of the novel, and she pours both these feelings and the discomfort she feels around the rest of the family into her writing. When Ned falls for the scheming Alice (Mary), and her brother decides to pursue Frankie, things become complicated. Frankie can see right through the Crawford siblings, but the other characters in the novel remain frustratingly unaware of their true characters, and the reader grows more attached to Frankie as she struggles to expose them whilst not causing any scandal or upset. This is a very enjoyable adaptation of Mansfield Park, and the ending left me with a smile on my face just as Austen’s novel did. I really enjoyed the way in which Rushton adapted the story to fit more with concepts of modern relationships and current ideas surrounding both romance and family, and would encourage any fans of Austen (even if, like myself, you are no longer a teenager!), to read this adaptation.

 

 

 

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “This story is a rare and utterly engaging experience. It tells the extraordinary tale of a geisha -summoning up a quarter century, from 1929 to the post-war years of Japan’s dramatic history, and opening a window onto a half-hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation”

REVIEW: A lovely friend of mine bought this book for me for Christmas after months of asking me to read it because she loved it so much – and I’m very grateful that she introduced me to this brilliant novel. The novel tells the story of Chiyo, a young girl from a small Japanese fishing village who is sold, alongside her sister, to a man who sends them to the town of Kyoto. Chiyo and her sister Satsu are separated as Chiyo begins her training as a Geisha and Satsu is forced instead into the much more degrading occupation of prostitution. We follow Chiyo on her journey from maid to student to apprentice, until she eventually becomes the geisha Sayuri under the guidance of Mameha. Sayuri’s life as a geisha sees many ups and downs, with the vengeful Hatsumomo constantly trying to destroy her reputation and men vying for her attention. Sayuri has her heart set, however, on the Chairman she has worshipped since her teenage years; but they seem destined to never be together and her fate rests instead in the hands of many different men. Nobu is probably the most influential of these men and plays a large role in Sayuri’s life – I will confess he was a favourite character of mine and I did hope that the two of them would end up together at the end of the book! It is hard to write much more about the plot without giving away spoilers, so I shall leave my summary of the book there. The narrative is directed through the eyes of Sayuri, which allows the reader to grow hugely attached to her and come greatly to care about the troubles she experiences both before and during her time as a geisha. Golden’s writing is also beautifully descriptive and evocative, and a true pleasure to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

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Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright and David Leslie Johnson

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Valerie’s sister was beautiful, kind and sweet. Now she is dead. Henry, the handsome son of the blacksmith, tries to console Valerie, but her wild heart beats fast for another: the outcast woodcutter, Peter, who offers Valerie another life far from home. After her sister’s violent death, Valerie’s world begins to spiral out of control. For generations, the Wolf has been kept at bay with a monthly sacrifice. But now no-one is safe. When an expert Wolf hunter arrives, the villagers learn that the creature lives among them – it could be anyone in town. It soon becomes clear that Valerie is the only one who can hear the voice of the creature. The Wolf says she must surrender herself before the blood moon wanes…or everyone she loves will die.”

REVIEW: This novel is a spin-off from the 2011 film of the same name, loosely based on the classic fairytale and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who writes in the introduction to the novel that she felt the story would work just as well on paper as it had on screen. I saw the film not long after its release, and I enjoyed it – as many of you will probably have noticed, I do like fairytale retellings – though I did feel while watching it as though something was lacking. The story was much the same in the book. At the beginning of the novel, all of Valerie’s worries are centred on who she will chose to dedicate her life to – the handsome blacksmith Henry who wishes to marry her, or the unpredictable Peter who was once her childhood friend and wishes for her to run away with him. When her older sister Lucie is killed by the Wolf, however, everything changes for Valerie. The situation worsens upon the arrival of the priest, Father Solomon, who claims that the Wolf is someone from the village itself. This leads neighbours to turn against each other, and Valerie’s friends to turn against her so severely that she is labelled a witch for being the only person who can communicate with the Wolf. The novel does indeed mirror an Early Modern witch hunt, particularly with its fear of the supernatural and things it doesn’t understand – like the young boy Claude, who is mentally disabled and targeted by Father Solomon for his differences, in what is undoubtedly the only moment in both the novel and film where the reader feels truly distressing emotions, horrified and upset by the treatment of the innocent Claude. Although the finger of suspicion is pointed at many characters in the novel, one of the major letdowns of the book for me was how obvious it appeared to me who the Wolf really was -though I still will not mention the name in the review, for the sake of spoilers. I also found the writing to be simplistic and often very clunky, with unemotive dialogue, though the description of the violence endured by the villagers during Solomon’s crusade was very well-written. Overall, I feel that this could have been a much better novel had the writers been able to diversify a little more from the events of the film and perhaps expand on them.

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The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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RATING: 4.5./5

BLURB: “Kelsea Glynn is the Queen of the Tearling. Despite her youth, she has quickly asserted herself as a fair, just and powerful ruler. However, power is a double-edged sword, and small actions can have grave consequences. In trying to do what is right – stopping a vile trade in humankind – Kelsea has crossed the Red Queen, a ruthless monarch whose rule is bound with dark magic and the spilling of blood. The Red Queen’s armies are poised to invade the Tearling, and it seems nothing can stop them. Yet there was a time before the Crossing, and there Kelsea finds a strange and possibly dangerous ally, someone who might hold the key to the fate of the Tearling, and indeed to Kelsea’s own soul. But time is running out…”

REVIEW: As followers of this blog will know, I was absolutely amazed with how extraordinarily brilliant the first book in this (soon-to-be) trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling, was. I was so amazed, in fact, that the minute I finished it I sat down and ordered this sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling. I couldn’t put it down, and, as is always a worry with sequels, it definitely did not disappoint. Kelsea’s compassionate and righteous decision to end the Tearling’s trade with the Mort, which involved the sending over of 300 Tearling people of all ages and genders per month based on a lottery-style system, is one that the reader heartily praises in the first novel and , while we still support Kelsea’s decision in the sequel, the ramifications of her actions are becoming far more apparent. The Red Queen, noticing the late shipment, has realised the threat that Kelsea presents to the dominion she holds both over her own lands and the Tearling, most of which is gained through a dark, violent power that she obtains from the demon Row Finn, who also meets with Kelsea throughout the novel to recruit her to his dark purpose. Interestingly, in this book we learn far more about the origins of the Tearling and the world that preceded it – a future version of our current world – as Kelsea begins to have visions of the life of Lily Mayhew, a pre-Crossing woman who begins to rebel after years of horrifically violent abuse from her political husband. Cleverly, Johansen links our slowly uncovered knowledge of the Tearling’s origins with the knowledge we slowly gain about the Red Queen. Both stories – that of Lily and that of the Red Queen – are linked with Kelsea’s own past, and inform her transition to power and the decisions she makes. Kelsea becomes much harder and colder in this novel as she struggles to decide how to wield the power that the sapphires she possesses have given her, but the reader still strongly supports her decisions and finds themselves in increasing desperation alongside Kelsea and her councillors as the Tearling and the Mort armies lean ever closer to war. The ending of the novel produces a shocking twist, and is left on a cliffhanger that has made me desperate for June 2016 to come around so I can read the final installment! This was a well worthy sequel in a brilliant series, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

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The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret after her mother – a monarch as vain as she was foolish – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent; however, he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother’s guard – each pledged to defend the queen to the death – arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding…
And so begins her journey back to her kingdom’s heart, to claim the throne, win the loyalty of her people, overturn her mother’s legacy and redeem the Tearling from the forces of corruption and dark magic that are threatening to destroy it. But Kelsea’s story is not just about her learning the true nature of her inheritance – it’s about a heroine who must learn to acknowledge and live with the realities of coming of age in all its insecurities and attractions, alongside the ethical dilemmas of ruling justly and fairly while simply trying to stay alive…”

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. There are not words for how quickly I became hooked, gripped by the storyline, fascinated by the characters and deeply involved with each twist and turn of the plot. Kelsea is a brilliant character, by turns full of wit, emotion and cleverness that clearly surprises the members of her Guard, who were clearly expecting a replica of her vain, flirtatious mother Elyssa. We travel alongside Kelsea as she gets to know her Queen’s Guard, many of whom the reader develops fond attachments to, who prove difficult to win over but are ultimately loyal as they see Kelsea back to the Keep, the seat of the monarchy where her Uncle the Regent is currently waiting. As she gradually learns more about her kingdom, Kelsea is horrified to discover the abject poverty and suffering that plagues the majority of her subjects, all of whom are also living in fear of the Lottery. In a trade agreement with the bordering country of Mortmense, Kelsea’s mother agreed to trade hundreds of her people to the Mort Queen in order to avoid invasion. As a result, the people live in fear of a member of their family – even their children – being selected in the lottery to be shipped away as slaves, or perhaps worse. Only the elite escape this fate, and Kelsea’s horror at such a thing lead her into a desperate decision that frees her people and wins their loyalty, but also indirectly declares war on the far stronger country of Mortmense. Kelsea must now fight to take her throne from the Regent, keep the support of her people – and indeed, keep her life – as she works out how to protect her kingdom against the threats that come from both within and without. This is an absolutely fascinating book and the second I finished it, I was on Amazon ordering the sequel. It intermingles the genres of historical fiction, adventure and fantasy seamlessly, creating a novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers and, I have no doubt, attract a devoted fanbase.