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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.

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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.”

REVIEW: Upon the release of this novel, I found myself to be one of the many people who, as avid fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, were greatly excited to read this novel and discover what had happened to all the characters whom we know and love from the original novel. Because of this, I found it extremely difficult to review the book as a stand-alone novel, and felt let down by how the characters had developed, as many of them had become something I no longer liked nor empathised with as I did in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet, Go Set a Watchman was actually the novel that Lee wrote first, until persuaded by the publishers to write instead of Scout’s childhood, which they felt – it seems correctly – would appeal much more greatly to the reading public. In light of this, should we see the characterisation of our protagonists in Go Set a Watchman as the real characters, and the characterisation of them in To Kill a Mockingbird as a more innocent, sugar-coated version designed to sit more comfortably with the public conscience? These are just some of the questions I asked myself as I thought about how I was going to write a review of this book which, despite Lee’s brilliantly witty, energetic and philosophical writing style, for me could not hope to foster the same love in me as To Kill a Mockingbird did when I first read it four years ago. The reader is aware that things have changed greatly in Maycomb right from the start of the novel; we find out within the first fifty pages that Jean Louise’s beloved brother Jem is dead, though his death is never mentioned in great detail and felt somewhat skimmed over by Lee, who perhaps at the time had not realised how much of a beloved and important character Jem would become. The character of Dill seems to have been replaced by Jean Louise’s love interest, Henry, who was barely mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird but who here is shown to have played a great role in Jean Louise’s early years and been the object of her affections throughout their adolescence. Dill is mentioned, but it is Henry who appears to colour all of Jean Louise’s childhood memories, rather than Dill. Minor characters like Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack are pushed to the fore in this novel, taking on integral roles, while the vibrant Calpurnia is pushed to the sidelines as racial tensions begin to mount and she distances herself from the Finch family, including her beloved Scout, who is heartbroken by Calpurnia’s indifference towards her. It is Atticus, however, that has caused so much controversy in reviews since the release of this novel, as Lee has him spouting racist views that disagree violently with the intelligent lawyer who we saw defend Tom Robinson with such passion in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet, I would argue that, by the end of the novel, readers can see that in a sense Atticus has not really changed that much at all. Yes, his views have changed in a manner that completely horrifies Jean Louise and make her physically unwell, and also deeply shocks the reader – or so it seems. By the end of the novel, however, the reader begins to get a sense that Atticus does not necessarily believe in what he is saying; he is, in fact, trying to prevent the racial tensions in the South from escalating by becoming part of one side so that he is able to rein them in. This is how I perceived Atticus’ motives myself, though I will confess that this may be somewhat hopeful on my part, as I did not wish to lose the character I had always admired so greatly. The thing I did enjoy about the book, however, was that Jean Louise  – our beloved Scout – has not changed one bit. Scout acts as an anchor for the reader, acting as our ‘watchman’ – our conscience – and the only point of sanity in a world overrun by terrifying and upsetting racial hatred.