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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

REVIEW: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is one of my favourite poems – in fact, Rossetti herself is among my favourite poets. My Mum even bought me a beautiful Folio Society copy of ‘Goblin Market’ and other poems for my eighteenth birthday. S. Jae-Jones was clearly inspired by the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in the writing of this fantastic novel; she quotes it at the beginning of the book and quotes a number of other poems by Rossetti throughout. The novel tells the story of Liesl, a gifted young composer who is overshadowed by her beautiful sister Kathe and her talented younger brother Josef, who looks set on his way to becoming the next Mozart. What no-one knows is that Liesl is the talent behind the music that Josef plays, and has continuously helped and inspired him, despite her compositions being scorned by her drunken father. Liesl and Josef have always had a deep belief in the stories their grandmother Constanze tells them about the Goblin King and his Underground court, and the Goblin Grove has acted as a sanctuary for them for many years. Liesl has long forgotten her childhood friendship with the young Goblin King, and the promise she once made to one day be his wife, and her belief on the stories themselves is starting to slip away. After a terrifying experience with Goblin fruit sellers at the market, however, Liesl is forced to confront the reality of the Goblin King. Her sister Kathe is taken by him and, although the rest of her family have erased Kathe from their memories, Liesl cannot. She finds her way to the Underground world of the Goblin King through her music, and manages to set Kathe free. As her price, however, she must stay Underground with the Goblin King, whom she feels a reluctant but powerful desire for. The complex relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King makes for gripping and powerful reading, the desire between the two characters so strong that it practically jumps from the page. The love that slowly begins to develop between them is so full of passion and emotion that the reader is completely sucked in by it, the sacrifices they make for each other painful to read of  – and the ultimate sacrifice that is made at the end of the novel made me cry for quite some time, though I will not spoil it here.

I absolutely loved this book. S Jae-Jones really captures the magical, fantastical, yet somehow Gothic and slightly terrifying atmosphere of much of Rossetti’s poetry, especially ‘Goblin Market’. She turns this epic poem into a beautiful, gripping story full of emotion and meaning, and I enjoyed every page. I only wish the book could have been longer!

 

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After You by Jojo Moyes

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Lou Clark has lots of questions. Like how it is she’s ended up working in an airport bar, watching other people jet off to new places. Or why the flat she’s owned for a year still doesn’t feel like home. Whether her family can ever forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago. And will she ever get over the love of her life.

What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change. Then, one night, it does.

But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for – or just more questions? Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered safe. Open it and she risks everything. But once Lou made a promise to live. And if she’s going to keep it, she has to invite them in…”

REVIEW: I only recently got around to reading the prequel to this book, ‘Me Before You’ (as some of you may remember) and I absolutely loved it, so I was both excited and filled with rather a lot of trepidation upon starting this second novel, ‘After You’. I had no need for concern, however; yet again, Moyes writes a brilliantly sensitive, humorous, heartwarming (and, at times, heartbreaking), poignant and hugely enjoyable story. When the novel opens it is eighteen months after Will’s assisted suicide and Louisa is struggling to move on with her life even after taking a trip around Europe and moving into a new flat in London. Relations with her family are still strained, she works in an airport pub, and feels lonely in the barely decorated flat. Things all begin to change, however, when Lou falls from the balcony of her block of flats (an accident which, much to her anger, everyone seems to think is a suicide attempt) and is terribly injured. With the help of paramedic Sam, however, she survives, and from there on her situation begins to see some slow – and somewhat rocky – improvement. She is reunited with her family (the sub-plot of her mother turning into a liberal feminist was absolutely hilarious and lightened up many of the more emotional moments), and a mysterious knock on her door one night leads to the discovery of Will’s daughter, Lily, whom he had never known about during his lifetime and who comes to Lou seeking both information about her father and an escape from her uncaring mother. Throw in a relationship (or maybe not a relationship, in Lou’s uncertain mind) with Ambulance Sam, the paramedic who saved Lou’s life, a job offer in New York and the chaos of introducing Lily to the Traynors and we now have an amazing follow-up to the phenomenal ‘Me Before You’ – and this one also made me cry at the end, though for very different reasons. Undoubtedly this is one of the best sequels I have ever read, which is even more impressive considering what it had to live up to, and I highly recommend it to any ‘Me Before You’ fans.

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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Lou Clark knows a lot of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is that she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now, and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time”

REVIEW: Both my Mum and a very close friend of mine first read this book when it came out, and have been encouraging me to read it for years, but I always had too many books of my own to read! When the trailer was released for the newly released film adaptation, however, I decided I simply had to read the book before watching the film (I hate doing it the other way around and always avoid it if I can). I am so glad I finally decided to read this amazing, heartbreaking book. I simply couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than 24 hours. The book tells the story of Lou, a slightly eccentric and bubbly young woman who still lives at home, despite having been with her gym-bunny boyfriend for six years, and has constantly felt overshadowed by her cleverer sister Treena, who also has a little boy called Thomas. When Lou loses her job at the local cafe she is devastated, particularly as her family depends on her for much of her income, and hurries to find a new job to tide them over. Much to her surprise, she is appointed to help care for a quadroplegic man at his home, a job she feels she is nowhere near qualified for, and one she certainly doesn’t enjoy at first; Will, the young man in question, is both rude and disdainful of even Lou’s smallest attempts to cheer him and care for him, but the money means she has to stick with it. When Lou finds out about Will’s plans to kill himself, however, in a special care facility abroad, she finds herself determined to stop him and throws herself into planning new activities and events that she and him, along with his medical carer Nathan, can undertake together, in order to give him a new lease of life and hopefully dissuade him from ending his life. This sudden determination to help will leads Lou to become estranged from her boyfriend Patrick, despite them recently moving in together, and this becomes ever more apparent as Lou begins to realise that she has developed feelings for Will. The ending of the book is both heartbreaking and, in a sense, bittersweet, and I will not reveal the ending here. Safe to say I would recommend this book very, very highly, and can’t wait for both the sequel and to see the new film.

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Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Elspeth is fond of saying to her daughter that ‘the first volume of my life is out of print’. But when a bomb hits an Edinburgh street and Margaret finds her mother crouched in the ruins of her bedroom pulling armfuls of yellow letters onto her lap, the past Elspeth has kept so carefully locked away is out in the open. The next day, Elspeth disappears. Left alone with the letters, Margaret discovers a mother she never knew existed; a poet living on the Isle of Skye who in 1912 answered a fan letter from a mysterious young man in Illinois. Without having to worry about appearances or expectations, Elspeth and Davey confess their dreams and their worries, things they’ve never told another soul. Even without meeting, they know one another.”

REVIEW: This epistolary novel spans both the First- and Second- World Wars, and takes us on a journey of romance and discovery as we flit between the two wars through the use of Elspeth and Davey’s letters during the First World War, and through Margaret’s letters during the Second. Elspeth and Davey’s story begins with a fan letter, written by Davey, praising the beautiful poetry Elspeth right; and this becomes a deep connection between the two of them, leading to a deep love and understanding as well as passion, longing and hope for the future – despite the fact that Elspeth is already married and the two live on different continents. Margaret’s story, however, begins upon her finding Elspeth with a pile of letters, after quizzing her mother about her father, whom she has never known. When Elspeth runs away with the letters, Margaret begins a desperate attempt, through her own letter-writing, to contact those who might be able to find Elspeth – and help her find out more about the mysterious American from the letters. Margaret’s letters are also punctuated by her updates of events to her fiance Paul, who is off fighting in the war, and the two become caught up in Elspeth and David’s love story. I do not want to ruin the ending of this delightful book which is romantic, easy to read and often bittersweet, but I will say that I thoroughly recommend it as a light read with a heartwarming message.

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Married by Christmas by Scarlett Bailey

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “All she wants is a perfect Christmas Eve wedding…it’s been on Anna’s wish-list since she was a little girl, dreaming of a far happier family life than she’d ever experienced. Only now – two weeks before her big day – her perfect husband-to-be drops a bombshell…But nothing’s going to stop Anna’s plans – not even the pesky inconvenience of discovering her groom already has a wife!”

REVIEW: I’ve been reading this book as a bit of light reading to counteract dissertation research and historical non-fiction, and I found it thoroughly entertaining. The novel tells the story of Anna, a woman who obsessively colour-codes, lists and organises even the most minor details of her life – as you can imagine, her wedding is meticulously planned, and the most important part of all of the wedding plans is that Anna is determined to have her wedding on Christmas Eve. Things take an unexpected turn when Anna, convinced that her fiance Tom is cheating on her, ropes her best friend and flatmate Liv (who has hidden feelings of her own for Tom) into coming with her to spy on him. What she discovers, however, isn’t a recent affair; it is one long past. Tom admits that he is still married to a stripper he wed in a bar while drunk in Las Vegas, but their relationship ended abruptly with her departure to New York and his subsequent return to England. Determined not to miss out on her Christmas wedding fantasy, Anna decides to take matters into her own hands and fly to New York herself with the divorce papers. It is at this point in the novel, however, that the story becomes more predictable when Anna meets Miles on the plane journey to New York. Miles is an old acquaintance whom Anna hasn’t seen since they had a disastrous blind date eight years before, but as the two follow their separate courses in New York, both determined to achieve very different dreams, they find themselves relying on each other for support, guidance and friendship in a way that soon blossoms into much stronger feelings. Meanwhile, left in charge of Anna’s wedding, Liv is struggling herself with her feelings for Tom, feelings that she is finding more and more difficult to hide. I will not reveal any more of the story, and will leave it for you to find out how this tangled web of affections is resolved in the end, but I am pleased to say that, unlike so many ‘chick-lit’ books, the ending was not apparent from the very beginning, and took some thorough working out. Bailey writes in a witty, heartwarming and entertaining manner that makes the book difficult to put down, and I’m sure this book would make a particularly lovely festive read – I’m almost sorry I didn’t save it until Christmas myself!

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The Night Before Christmas by Scarlett Bailey

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “All Lydia’s ever wanted is a perfect Christmas. So when her oldest friends invite her to spend the holidays with them, it seems like a dream come true. She’s been promised log fires, roasted chestnuts, her own weight in mince pies – all in a setting that looks like something out of a Christmas card. But her winter wonderland is ruined when she finds herself snowed in with her current boyfriend, her old flame and a hunky stranger. Well, three (wise) men is traditional at this time of year…”

REVIEW: It seems a strange time of year to reading a book set at Christmas, but once my Mum had finished this one and told me I would love it I decided the time of year would just have to be put aside for a while! The Night Before Christmas is funny, light-hearted, romantic, realistic and full of hope all in one, aided hugely by the main character’s obsession with romance. The reader instantly develops an attachment to Lydia Grant, the protagonist, who panics when she finds an engagement ring hidden in her boyfriend’s luggage days before they go away for Christmas, when she suddenly realises that she doesn’t want to marry him. As they arrive at the secluded Heron’s Pike, the hotel now being run by her university friend Katy, her husband Jim, their two children and a one-earned greyhound fondly known as Vincent Van Dog, Lydia receives even more of a shock when their friend Joanna shows up with a new man in tow – a new man who disappeared once Lydia had fallen in love with him several years before. As if this isn’t complicated enough, her friend Alex is pregnant and grumpy and nothing in the house seems to be working, leading to the local handyman Will turning up at the house. Lydia is instantly drawn to the attractive Will, but the presence of her current boyfriend Stephen and her ex Jackson has already complicated things enough for the very confused Lydia. Unwillingly drawn into a love triangle with Jackson and Joanna, she also breaks off her relationship with Stephen – which would probably have solved many problems if they weren’t all snowed in and forced to spend the holidays together. Lydia’s confusion is something that will resonate with many readers, and as the story progresses we sympathise with all of Lydia’s predicaments, whilst desperately encouraging her blossoming relationship with Will. I enjoyed the fact that this wasn’t one of those completely predictable chick-lit books, and that it kept me surprised, amused and entertained throughout. I would highly recommend it – and not only because of my deep love for greyhounds like the lovely Vincent!

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Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “This is the story of a girl who doesn’t believe in happy endings. Or happy families. It’s the story of Eleanor Bee, a shy book-loving girl who vows to turn herself into someone bright, shiny and confident, someone sophisticated. Someone who knows how life works. But life has a funny way of catching us unawares. Turns out that Elle doesn’t know everything about love. Or life. Or how to keep the ones we love safe…”

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. It isn’t often that I find so-called ‘chick-lit’ fiction that I actually enjoy, as the characters are usually somewhat one-dimensional and the ending of the novel tends to be staring the reader right in the face; but that was not the case with this novel. Evans tells the story of Eleanor Bee, a Bridget Jones-esque character whose struggles and successes in the tough world of publishing make for hilarious, realistic and often romantic results. The reader watches Eleanor grow from a shy secretary into the manager of a publishing division in New York, all the while following her familial problems and her relationship failures. It is hard to discuss the book without giving too much away, which I really don’t want to do as it was the surprises that the book held that made it so interesting to me. For literary readers, the frequent mentions of other books also adds an extra enjoyable dimension to the story, which can at times be truly heartbreaking as we witness Eleanor’s struggle with drink and her mother’s own downward spiral into alcoholism. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, relaxing read with relatable characters and a witty, lively insight into the publishing industry.