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Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino

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RATING: 2.5/5

BLURB: “Determined to be with her new love, Ariel makes a dangerous deal with Ursula. Will the cost of losing her enchanting voice and nearly her soul prove too high for Ariel, or will the power of good prevail?”

REVIEW: Ursula is possibly my favourite Disney villain (closely followed by Scar from ‘The Lion King), and having read Valentino’s previous twists on Snow White and Beauty and the Beast I was really looking forward to this one. I was, however, a little disappointed. The novel had so much potential, but many of Valentino’s ideas and tales about Ursula’s background could have done with more elaboration, as could the story of her time in Triton’s court. The story of how she lost the human father who adopted her was heartbreaking, and explained much about Ursula’s personality and villainous actions. Yet other backstories that would have added depth to her character were skimmed past; we learned that she had been close to Triton’s wife during her time at court, but little more about their friendship. We learnt of the fact that Triton and Ursula were in fact brother and sister, but saw little of the dynamics of their relationship aside from skimming the surface of their fallouts and hatred for one another. This made it possible to understand why Ursula targeted Ariel, but it would have been interesting to be able to identify more depth to her motives. Whereas Valentino’s previous books did make the reader feel sympathy for the villains whose stories she told, I have to admit that despite my intial sympathy for Ursula over the death of her adoptive father I had soon stopped feeling anything for her at all. This is unfortunate, as it is this sympathy for the villains which first attracted me to Valentino’s work. The three mad sisters who feature in all three novels are still prominent in this book, and I enjoyed following their story more than I enjoyed following that of Ursula, though of course the two storylines are linked. I particularly love the character of Pflanze, the cat belonging to the sisters, who can communicate with them as well as other witches. Overall, however, I found the book disappointing, and was able to read through it quickly as there was little to grab my attention.

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The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Joe, Beth and Frannie take their cousin Rick on an adventure he’ll never forget! Find out how they escape from the Land of Dreams. And what goes wrong in the Land of Topsy-Turvy. And who drives a runaway train in the Land of Do-as-you-Please”

REVIEW: I absolutely loved Enid Blyton as a child. Beginning with my Mum reading me her Famous Five books as bedtime stories, I soon ended up loving such series as ‘The Naughtiest Girl in School’, ‘Mallory Towers’ and ‘St Clare’s’ – and, of course, the Faraway tree stories. I picked up this copy during a free book giveaway at work a couple of weeks ago after realising I couldn’t find my Faraway Tree collection (which I’m still desperately hunting for!), and couldn’t resist re-reading it. ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ is the second book in the series, and I remember it as one of my favourites. These stories truly are enchanting. A magic tree, inhabited by lovable characters such as the beautiful fairy Silky, the amusing Saucepan man, and kind-hearted Moon-Face, hosts a different magical land at the very top of its branches every week. Three local children, Joe, Beth and Frannie, are eager to introduce their cousin Rick to the wonders of the Faraway Tree and their beloved friends there, and this leads to a number of enchanting and amusing adventures for the children and their magical friends. My favourite tale had to be that of the Land of Magical Medicines, in which amusing incidents involving lots of growing, shrinking, flying and swelling up took place. The stories made me feel as safe and comforted as they did when I was a child, and I remembered the enchanting feeling of escaping on a new adventure every chapter with a great deal of fondness. I would highly recommend this book, and it is definitely the sort of story that should be read to children to encourage imagination and a belief in magic – one day, I hope I will be reading it to children of my own.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Effia and Esi, two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow: from the Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem. Spanning continents and generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – an intense, heartbreaking story of one family and, through their lives, the story of America itself.”

REVIEW: I was keen to read this book when I first read about its release, and was lucky enough to find a work colleague to borrow it from. I’m so glad I did, because this book is incredible. In equal measures both heartbreaking and heartwarming, the novel is divided into chapters initially telling the stories of Effia and Esia, and then each of their descendants. The stories are often harrowing, but it is not right that stories of the suffering of slaves should be anything other than this; in writing these tales, Gyasi spares nothing in describing the details of the trials her characters face, from the domination of white over black to the domination of men over women in traditional patriarchal cultures. The stories vary in content and each has an important moral impact on the reader. I felt every word whilst reading this novel, which is partly what makes it such an intense read; it is gripping and impossible to put down purely because every word draws you in and holds you there as a witness to the events taking place. The story of Ness was my favourite, and one I found particularly moving; I had to put the book down for a while to recover! I also particularly enjoyed the story of Abena, though once again this was a more moving tale. The book itself is pure genius, showing how our suffering and our lives can have consequences that span generations in a kind of butterfly effect. What starts with Effia, an Asante girl who marries a slave trader, and her sister Esi, captured and sold into slavery herself, takes us on a journey that ends with a budding romance between their descendants as they explore Ghana, the land of their heritage. I can’t recommend it highly enough not only as a novel, but as a historical and moral lesson, and a captivating piece of literary art.

 

 

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: ‘Jane hasn’t lived anywhere for longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. Now the idyllic coastal town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane feels as if she finally belongs. She finds friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste, two women with seemingly perfect lives – and their own secrets. But at the start of a new term, an incident involving the children of all three women occurs in the playground, causing a rift between them and the other parents. Minor at first but escalating fast, until the whispers and rumours become vicious and spiteful, and the truths blur into lies. It was always going to end in tears, but no-one thought it would end in murder…’

REVIEW: Although I am normally an advocate of reading books prior to watching their adaptations, I must admit that when ‘Big Little Lies’ aired on TV a few months back I watched the first episode and was hooked. I watched the six episode season in less than a day (and I’m not normally a binge watcher) and knew that I had to read the book it was based on. After doing so, I have to say the show was an excellent adaptation, varying only minimally from the original novel. The novel focuses mainly on three women, although other female characters are also heavily involved, such as Madeline’s ex’s new wife Bonnie and Renata, one of the other mothers at the school. Jane is the closest to a protagonist out of these three women, having moved to the town of Pirriwee with her son, Ziggy, for a fresh start by the beach. She soon befriends ditzy Madeline and stunning Celeste, who hides her husband’s emotional and physical abuse behind a very formal and polite exterior. The three cement their bond on the first day of school, when Ziggy is accused of hurting Renata’s daughter, Amabella. Jane and her new friends are convinced of his innocence, but the war between them and the other parents continues as Ziggy is isolated and the other parents attempt to have him suspended. By the time of the much-anticipated Trivia Night, tensions are at a high, and the novel takes a highly unexpected and brilliant twist. This is one of those books where it is very difficult to sufficiently review it without giving too much away, and I would hate to spoil the ending of such a gripping and well-written novel. In reading this, the reader not only becomes very invested in the characters, but is also able to picture the beautiful coastal setting in which the novel takes place, as Moriarty writes so well. I would highly recommend this book for people who have watched the TV series, and those who enjoy dramas and thrillers.

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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first ‘Star Wars’ movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved¬† – plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naivete, and a vulnerability that she barely recognised. Today, her fame as an author, actress and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a (sort-of) regular teenager.”

REVIEW: As a huge ‘Star Wars’ and Carrie Fisher fan, I was so upset to hear of her death just before Christmas last year, less than two weeks after I had lost my Nan. I received this book from my brother for my birthday in February, and have only just gotten around to reading it. This autobiography intermingles Carrie’s own memories of the events that occured during the filming of the first ‘Star Wars’ film with a series of extracts from the journals her ninteen-year-old self kept at the time. This is the autobiography that caused a sensation when Carrie revealed the intimate details of her affair with Harrison Ford, who was married at the time. Her own commentary is witty and lively, and she makes little apology for what happens, encouraging the reader not to blame Harrison for the affair, which was common among actors who were away from home for an extended period of time. She writes affectionately of other men involved in the franchise, particularly George Lucas and Mark Hamill, as well as the hair and make-up artists she had on set. The pages from her journal are particularly interesting; it is clear to see the talented author she would become in those pages. Her writing style is witty, but also beautiful and evocative, really giving off a sense of vulnerability, as does the poetry she writes in these pages. This book is fascinating and ideal for any ‘Star Wars’ or Carrie fan, giving a real insight into the events behind the film and how Carrie’s personality and character developed over the years.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places”

REVIEW: This book is a tough one to review, and not purely because it is a printed version of the recently released play ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, set nineteen years on from Deathly Hallows, at the exact point where the epilogue left off – a play which, despite being in two different online queues for six hours each, I’m now not going to get to see until 2018 at the earliest, and that’s if I’m lucky. But enough about that; back to the book. It is also hard to review because I really, truly, do not want to spoil it for anyone. I was fortunate enough not to have any aspect of the plotline ruined for me and I think because of that I enjoyed reading this even more. Being given a new part to the Harry Potter story was truly like a gift in my eyes, and no matter how uncertain I initially was this book had me hooked. I read it in a matter of hours. It captured the true essence of Harry Potter in its purest form and sobbed more times than I can count – and not because the play is sad. I sobbed because we got more from characters we know and love, because so many aspects of the story were exactly what the fans have always imagined, because the twist was fantastic, because there were some wise words from my favourite Dumbledore, and because this book made me feel every emotion I ever felt whilst reading the original series all over again. I can only imagine that watching the play itself must be even more of an intense, amazing experience. I cannot describe to you how much I loved reading this script or, indeed, how much I love Harry Potter. It turns out J.K Rowling was right with her words at the premiere for the final Harry Potter movie – Hogwarts is always there to welcome us home. And believe me, it’s better than ever.

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The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains – a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne? Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.”

REVIEW: Tey’s book was, I felt, very cleverly written, using the realms of fiction to examine and explore the case of the Princes in the Tower with all the thoroughness and research of a non-fiction study. As a historian myself the mystery of who killed the Princes in the Tower has always fascinated me, and just as Grant does in the novel I had reached the conclusion that Richard III was not, in fact, their murderer, though I differ with Tey on who I think was the murderer instead. Through putting such an investigation within the realms of fiction Tey is able to make the story two-dimensional; the reader gains enjoyment from learning about Grant, though we only see small snippets of his life as he is confined to a hospital bed and all of those he meets are either visiting friends, hospital staff or his helpful researcher Carradine. Grant’s mission to find out the truth about the Princes in the Tower and vindicate Richard initially starts as a means of amusing himself to beat the boredom of being hospitalised and immobile, yet it soon becomes an obsession. The conclusions Grant draws are based on solid historical evidence, and quotations from scholarly works on the subject are used throughout the book to back up his ideas, just like in a piece of non-fiction. Although I appreciate the cleverness of this two-dimensional model of writing, I did sometimes find it to be difficult to read as a fiction novel as there was so much factual evidence involved; I feel Tey might have been better off using her extensive research to write a full, non-fiction vindication of Richard III, rather than wrapping the mystery up within the confines of a historical fiction piece.