Saturday, 31 December 2011

100 Follower Giveaway!

I've reached my first big milestone as a blogger, I've gained 100 followers!

I'm very thankful to all of you who have followed me and who have sent me comments in the past month as I've been starting up my blog - it's been great motivation.

To say thanks and to celebrate, I'm hosting an
  International Bookmark Giveaway!

3 winners will be randomly selected to win 1 '100th Follower' bookmark and 3 other assorted bookmarks - they're all handmade by myself.
My 100th Follower has automatically been chosen as an extra winner!

How do you enter? 
It's simple - All you have to do is be a GFC follower of this blog and fill out this form.
If you're wanting to follow me on Twitter/Facebook or want the Giveaway Button, look to 
the left hand of this page where you will find all you need for extra entries!

The opening dates for this giveaway are 31st December 2011 - 18th January 2012.

Grab this button for your blog to share the chance with others:

Friday, 30 December 2011

Follow Friday (1)

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read
The question that everyone was asked this week was:

The New Year is here - and everyone wants to know your New Years Blogging Resolution! What are you going to try to revise, revamp and redo for 2012 on your blog? 

To be honest, I'm not much in favour of 'resolutions' as it just gives me something to break!
I only started blogging this month and so I'm still new to all of this. I think I'm doing okay so far though, so my main aim is to keep doing what I'm doing - reading, reviewing and commenting
For me, I think that consistency is going to be the key of my blog - I need to keep myself reading at a good pace and posting frequently so that I don't fall behind - I need to keep myself motivated! I also think that I'll look into hosting more giveaways, as my first seemed to be a reasonable success. I'll be contributing to RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) as much as possible in 2012, too. 
I'm pretty happy with the appearance of my blog so far (yay, owls!) but I'll keep it in mind to keep it tidy and looking as good as I can make it.

A Little Wanting Song

A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
Paperback, 288 pages

Published October 11th 2011 by Random House
(First published April 28th 2005)

My shelves:
 books-i-own, contemporary, read-in-2011, realistic-fiction, young-adult

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads
A summer of friendship, romance, and songs in major chords. . . .
CHARLIE DUSKIN loves music, and she knows she's good at it. But she only sings when she's alone, on the moonlit porch or in the back room at Old Gus's Secondhand Record and CD Store. Charlie's mom and grandmother have both died, and this summer she's visiting her grandpa in the country, surrounded by ghosts and grieving family, and serving burgers to the local kids at the milk bar. She's got her iPod, her guitar, and all her recording equipment, but she wants more: A friend. A dad who notices her. The chance to show Dave Robbie that she's not entirely unspectacular.
ROSE BUTLER lives next door to Charlie's grandfather and spends her days watching cars pass on the freeway and hanging out with her troublemaker boyfriend. She loves Luke but can't wait to leave their small country town. And she's figured out a way: she's won a scholarship to a science school in the city, and now she has to convince her parents to let her go. This is where Charlie comes in. Charlie, who lives in the city, and whom Rose has ignored for years. Charlie, who just might be Rose's ticket out.
Told in alternating voices and filled with music, friendship, and romance, Charlie and Rose's "little wanting song" is about the kind of longing that begins as a heavy ache but ultimately makes us feel hopeful and wonderfully alive.

My Review

I had been quite excited to read this book, but unfortunately it wasn't as good as I thought it could be. I am a massive fan of contemporary/coming of age young adult literature and had high hopes for this book. I did enjoy this book, it was a quick and easy read, but it wasn't as good as  had expected it to be. I wasn't truly absorbed until about half way through the book, where I began to feel more knowledgable about the characters. Music isn't particularly my favourite subject either, and this is one main aspect of the book - this did tire me slightly at points. 

A Little Wanting Song follows two protagonists, Charlie and Rose. They are both characters that are reasonably easy to connect with (though I took a little time adjusting to Rose) but there isn't really anything about either of them that I really loved, although they did feel like very real characters. There were quite strong differences between the two in their thoughts and personalities, but their voices were very similar and at points it was a little difficult to differentiate between them. Unfortunately, because of this, the novel was not as brilliant as it could have been. Dave, Charlie's romantic interest and Rose's best friend, is likeable and had potential to be a strong character, but I thought that the romance was a bit too sudden. I simply just did not like Luke, Rose's boyfriend, but it would've been interesting to see why he acted the way he did. I did appreciate how everyone introduced to us did have a particular purpose or impact upon our protagonists lives, and that they also felt very realistic.

The relationships that are developed in this book are the main basis of this book and they are explored well. It was really interesting to see how Charlie and Rose interacted and how their friendship progressed. I enjoyed seeing them both overcome their internal struggles with their families, their past and their present troubles. Charlie, especially, had a lot of issues with her familial relationships, particularly her father, after the death of her mother several years ago. Crowley is talented in getting deep into the emotional states of her characters, it's clear to see, and this is why the book is enjoyable. It did take me a little while to adjust to Crowley's writing style but her writing is simple, yet good. I was surprised with how she made me feel quite strong emotion through certain phrases or paragraphs, rather than through specific events.

This book wasn't particularly remarkable or memorable, but it was enjoyable. It's a simple and quick enough read, but the characters and relationships were surprisingly complex. I will look forward to reading more of Cath Crowley's books in the future, but this one just didn't strike me as great.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Paperback, 260 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Ember
(First published October 26th 2010)

My shelves:
books-i-own, christmas-books, cover-appeal, read-in-2011, realistic-fiction, young-adult, contemporary, really-good
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads
“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

My Review

From the very first page, I knew that I would love this book. It grabbed me from the first page and failed to let me go. Although I was slightly disappointed by Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, written by the same two authors, I was still very excited to read this book and rightly so.
The story is told in two alternating points of view from Dash and Lily. Both characters are very well developed and their personalities are very distinct. I loved both characters as they both felt very unique and it was easy to connect with both of them. Dash is described as a bookish, snarly type and Lily is a quirky but usually sensible girl, looking for some adventure. The characters both felt very natural and unlike others that I have read about before. Dash and Lily had fantastic chemistry and they complimented each other. Their friendship and the progression of it wasn't cliché and it had all of the awkwardness that you'd expect from two people meeting in the way that they did - this made them all that more endearing. The humour in this book was also excellent and give me a lot of laughs throughout.
I thought the main form of communication in this novel - notes via a red Moleskine notebook - was fantastic! It immediately made me want to go to a book shop and hunt down a book that may be waiting for me, or to start an adventure of my own in a similar way. The whole idea of communicating with someone unknown felt thrilling, intriguing and slightly dangerous. I felt as though I was with Dash and Lily on each step of their journey, starting and ending in The Strand, the bookshop where the whole adventure began.
Although this book is set during Christmas, this is a book that could be read at any time of the year as Christmas is simply the backdrop - theirs a light festive feeling behind the whole thing, but it certainly doesn't dominate the book. The characters and plot are the main focus and it's better off this way as it's very effective.
This book is definitely something that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys contemporary young-adult stories, quirky characters and fantastic humour.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas by Scarlett Bailey
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 27th 2011 by Ebury Press

My shelves: adult-fiction, books-i-own, chi
ck-lit, christmas-books, cover-appeal, read-in-2011, realistic-fiction, title-appeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads

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...

My Review
As soon as I saw the beautiful cover, teamed up with the very festive title, I just had to pick up this book! As you can all probably tell by now, I love a good, seasonal read, but I'm usually a little disappointed when novels are simply based around Christmas with a few references of snow are chucked in, but this one was very festive indeed.
This story is told over the period of Christmas and revolves around the friendships and relationships of our protagonist, Lydia. Lydia spends her Christmas with her best friends, her ex-boyfriend, an old flame and a handsome handyman. I thought that Bailey had a good idea of all of these relationships and the characters all connected very well. The bonds between them felt solid, even though there were several characters. I think it would've been even better if Bailey had perhaps cut one or two characters out to leave room for more progression of the others, but she still did a very good job. Lydia's friends, Alex, Joanna and Kathy all had very strong personalities and were fun to read about - they were all very diverse but worked fantastically as a group of friends. There was a lot of humour in this book and it did have me laughing a few times, which is always a positive point! The children in the novel provided great entertainment and their joviality was fun to read about. As for Lydia's romances, I thought that her and Jackson's relationship was the most interesting and I would've liked to have seen her and Jackson interact more when they met again. Stephen didn't interest me at all, unfortunately, but Will was presented as a perfect, down to earth guy who had a lot going for him.
The ending was predictable, but it was a good one. The book wasn't extremely compelling and I did feel it drag at points - perhaps because I knew where it was going - but it was still a pleasure to read. Bailey did a great job writing this debut novel and although it wasn't completely amazing, I can see definite potential for more compelling reads by her. This was an enjoyable Christmas
read and I think that Bailey is one to watch.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

In My Mailbox (4) - The Christmas Edition!

In My Mailbox (IMM) is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren
In My Mailbox is a place to showcase your new books,
whether you obtained them through the post or otherwise.

Merry Christmas to you all, I hope you had a lovely day!

Here are the books I received and it's safe to say I'm extremely excited for all of them!
The picture certainly isn't the best, so here's a list:

Lola & The Boy Next Door - Stephanie Perkins
Putting Make-up on Dead People - Jen Violi
Blood Wounds - Susan Beth Pfeffer

Geography Club - Bret Hartinger
Scars - Cheryl Rainfield
What They Always Tell Us - Martin Wilson
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares - Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Impossible - Nancy Werlin
Killing Britney - Sean Olin
Bloom - Elizabeth Scott
Hard Love - Ellen Wittlinger
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You - Peter Cameron
How Not to be Popular - Jennifer Ziegler
Newes from the Dead - Mary Hooper
Secret Lives (Darke Academy 1) - Gabriella Poole

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, 23 December 2011

In My Mailbox (3)

In My Mailbox (IMM) is hosted by The Story Siren
In My Mailbox is a place to showcase your new books,
whether you obtained them through the post or otherwise.

I know that this is rather soon after posting my last IMM only four days ago, but as I'd prefer my next IMM post to be books to be those that I get on Christmas Day, I thought I'd do a quick post now to show you what I've received in the past four days.

I've not been very successful in finding any books about angels that I've yet enjoyed, but with all of the hype surrounding Unearthly, I thought that I'd give this one a try. I bought it from eBay for a couple of pounds, and hopefully it'll live up to the hype it's had. I'm really excited to read this one!

I received these four books via swap, this week.
Though I have had mixed thoughts on some of Trisha Ashley's books, I'm extremely excited to read The Magic of Christmas. I read The Twelve Days of Christmas by Ashley last year and it quickly became one of my favourite books. This one may have to wait til next Christmas to be read, but I'm excited all the same!
The English Patient has had quite a few awards with a lot of praise. I'm very interested in World War Two and its history, so this one should be fascinating.
I thought that Jessica Verday described a fantastic setting in The Hollow, although there were quite a few faults, I am looking forward to seeing how the story progresses in The Haunted.
I'm still yet to read the first in The Numbers series, but I'm hoping it will be good enough for me to want to read the second book - The Chaos.

Monday, 19 December 2011

In My Mailbox (2)

In My Mailbox (IMM) is hosted by The Story Siren
In My Mailbox is a place to showcase your new books,
whether you obtained them through the post or otherwise.

I only received one swap this week and that was The Old Curiosity Shop. After reading A Christmas Carol last week, I was eager to get my hands on some more books by Dickens.

I spent some time in Morpeth, a small, close town by where I live, unexpectedly and so naturally, I headed to the independent bookshop where I picked up I Know What You Did Last Summer. I've seen it around before and I'm glad that I finally bought it - it's one I'm certainly excited about. At the bookshop, I also picked up To The Boy in Berlin which I hadn't heard of before, but as it was reduced and looks like it has an interesting format, I decided I'd give it a go. Black Rabbit Summer and Breakfast at Tiffany's were both charity shop finds and I'm especially excited to read the latter, a modern classic.

Three more charity shop finds, this time from Newcastle. I'm not sure what I'm expecting from any of these three, but The Morning Gift looks very interesting and Every Last One seems to have had a lot of positive publicity. Welcome to my World looks fun enough!

I was very pleased to find these in a secondhand bookshop! The cover of Some Girls Bite seems to be rather reminiscent of The Morganville Vampire Series which I love and although I'm yet to read Glimmerglass which precedes Shadowspell, I've seen that both books have incredible ratings!

One Night That Changes Everything and A Little Wanting Song are two books that I purchased from The Book Depository. They both seem to be quite popular and they're both authors that I really need to be introduced to. These are the books I'm most excited about this week!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Angels in the Snow

Angels in the Snow by Sarah Morgan
Paperback, 384 pages

Published October 1st 2010 by Mills & Boon

My shelves: adult-fiction, books-i-own, chick-lit, christmas-books, mum-has, read-in-2011, realistic-fiction
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads

Have yourself a very magical Christmas, full of romance and sparkles! Stella Martin has come back home to the Lake District for Christmas. But is she brave enough to face the man who proposed, then immediately dumped her two Christmas Eve's before? Daniel Buchannan is not looking forward to Christmas - and even less when Stella reappears in the village. But this year will be different! Patrick Buchannan has to make Christmas special for his kids. Luckily, his son Alfie has a plan to make it happen. Alfie knows a lot about the magic of Christmas. And when snowflakes are falling, Christmas carols are ringing out, and the hills of the Lake District are shimmering in the snow, it's possible to believe in Christmas miracles.

My Review

Angels in the Snow is a feel-good, easy to read Christmas book which centers around two main characters. This story is seperated into two parts, the first telling the story of Daniel and Stella and the second telling the story of his twin brother Patrick, and Hayley. Both stories come together at the end, leaving us with a satisfying ending.
Whilst I found Patrick to be the more attractive and the stronger character out of the twins, I actually found Daniel's story to be more effective and enjoyable. I felt that there was slightly more depth and emotion within the story of Daniel and Stella, as well as it feeling slightly more realistic. Although it was Patrick and Hayley who were meant to have more of an instant spark, I thought that the chemistry between Daniel and Stella to be a lot stronger. Daniel was a little brash for me at times, but I loved Stella. She seemed very down to earth and had a great personality. Her firm friendship with Patrick was lovely.
Alfie, Patrick's child and Daniel's nephew, features in both stories and keeps them connected together in a skillful way. He is only meant to be ten years old, but seems to have more insight than his age. He is a likeable character and his humour is certainly that of a charming child. He really manages to bring all of the family together.
This is an engaging read, as long as you don't look too far into it. It is very predictable and rather quite unrealistic - especially the second story - but overlooking this, it is an enjoyable Christmas book that should leave you with a glow.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Giveaway Winners!

My International Christmas Bookmark Giveaway ended yesterday and so I'm very pleased to announce the three winners (drumroll please!):

Alex (AnimeGirl)
Carly (FictionFascination)
Mary (AgentDarkholme)

Congratulations to all of you, your bookmarks will be making their way to you as soon as possible! Please check your e-mails for further details.

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Gift

The Gift by Cecelia Ahern
Hardcover, 305 pages

Published January 1st 2009 by Harper Collins

My shelves: books-i-own, adult-fiction, chick-lit, christmas-books, cover-appeal, magical-realism, read-in-2011, realistic-fiction
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads

Lou Suffern is practised in the art of concealment. He is, also, always overstretched, trying to do too many things at once. His overburdened schedule gives him few moments of peace, even in his sleep. And when he spends time at home with his wife and family, he is always distracted, and, mentally, somewhere else.
On a cold winter morning, Lou is on his way to work when he encounters Gabe, a homeless street dweller, sitting outside an office building. Lou is intrigued by him, and contrives to get him a job in
the post room. But this act of charity rebounds on him, and Gabe’s presence begins to grate on Lou -- particularly when he discovers that the latter seems capable of being in two places at the same time. Christmas is drawing near, and before the season is over, Lou’s life will be irrevocably change by the casual act of kindness he has performed.

My Review

I'll admit that I found Cecelia Ahern to be a better writer than I assumed that she would be. I've not read any of her other books before and from the genre she's known for, chick-lit, I was simply expecting something simple and fun. This book dealt with some every day problems and issues and it was trying to teach us something. The story is set in modern day Dublin, nearing Christmas, and the story is well set with clear, visible descriptions.
In this book, Ahern is trying to tell a story about giving the gift of time. However, near the end, she does come across as though she is giving a lecture and the fact that she is clearly telling the reader what to do and appreciate just doesn't come across well - unfortunately, I found the last, ending paragraph to sound a bit pretentious - not a good way to end a story. I do appreciate the lesson that is given which is to spend time with your loved ones and to let them know that you care about them. Though I don't think it's something that really needs to be pointed out, it gives a nice seasonal message to the story. I found the strong points of the novel to be in the working out of relationships between Lou and his family as they felt very realistic. The dynamics between Lou and his wife and children were especially well explored.
I didn't feel as though Ahern had a very clear direction for this story and her characters weren't very solid. The story is told in the form of a policeman (Raphie) telling a teenage boy (known as Turkey Boy) the story of a case that he worked on. For me, the story of 'Turkey Boy' and conversation between him and Raphie in a few short chapters were more intriguing and felt better developed than the main story of Lou. I couldn't bring myself to like Lou at all - there was simply no part of his persona that appealed to me. Gabe, the character brought into the novel in order to give a message, had a huge amount of potential to be interesting, but he seemed to flit in and out of chapters without any development. Both Lou and Gabe had an uncertainty to them, as though Ahern herself didn't really have a firm idea of them herself.
As for the magical realism in this book, I totally was not expecting it and it completely threw me off. For some people, this may be a nice surprise, but it wasn't for me. I enjoy magical books, but the 'magical cloning pills' that were thrown into this just felt completely random and made the whole thing feel a little disjointed. I know that they were an important component to the storyline, but it almost completely ruined this book for me.
The climax of the book comes around near the end and I can see it being a twist that will either work for you or that you'll really, really resent. Thankfully, for me it worked. Despite reminding me of the ending of One Day by Nicholls (which I didn't enjoy), I found this to be effective in bringing closure to the tale and the message.
This book was not something that I'd particularly recommend, as I didn't enjoy it all that much. However, it was nice to sample what Cecelia Ahern has to offer and I found that her writing was quite creative. I'll certainly be reading more from her in the future, but this one was nothing amazing.

Monday, 12 December 2011

In My Mailbox (1)

In My Mailbox (IMM) is hosted by The Story Siren
In My Mailbox is a place to showcase your new books,
whether you obtained them through the post or otherwise.

As it's getting closer to Christmas, I've been trying to reduce my amount of book swapping as I fear that the books may not get into the hands of their recipients very quickly, thanks to the busy postal service. Nevertheless, it's still early December and so I've sent some books out and received these in return (and all in brand new condition!):

The Kite Runner Graphic Novel - I've never actually read a graphic novel as they don't really appeal to me all that much. However, I absolutely adored Hosseini's original novel and so I couldn't really go wrong with trying this one out - at least the storyline is something that I know I will enjoy!

Forever - If I'm being honest, I didn't enjoy Shiver or Linger, but I'm still a sucker for pretty covers and I feel as though, seeing as I plodded through the first two, that I should read this one. It's not something I'm expecting to enjoy but at least I'll have read the conclusion to the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

Vanished - This is two books in one - When Lightening Strikes & Code Name Cassandra. I read the first two books in Cabot's 'The Mediator' series earlier this year and whilst I didn't find them fantastic, they were easy enough reads. I've heard a lot of good things about Cabot and I'm hoping this series will be fun to read.

It's Not Summer Without You - This is the second in the Summer trilogy and I'm really excited about getting around to reading it. I've had the first book in this trilogy on my bookshelf for some time now, but I've not picked it up yet. However, I read Han's stand alone book, Shug, earlier this year and loved it. Hopefully these books will be just as good or even better!

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts - I admit it, I only really wanted this one for it's wintery cover. I'm not usually one for books about animals, even though I have a lot of pets, but I'm hoping this will be an easy to read piece of chick-lit.

This is the one book I've purchased this week. I've never heard of the book or the author before, but as it was only £1 brand new, I couldn't help but pick it up. There's a comparison to Jodi Picoult on the cover and as I really enjoy her books, that can't be a bad thing.

That's all for this week!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Paperback, 100 pages

Published April 1st 2010 by HarperPress
(First published 1843)

My shelves: books-i-own, 1001-books, adult-fiction, christmas-books, classics, currently-reading, fantasy, favourites, ghosts, historical
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads

'I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,' said the Spirit. 'Look upon me!' A celebration of Christmas, a tale of redemption and a critique on Victorian society, Dickens' atmospheric novella follows the miserly, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge who views Christmas as 'humbug'. It is only through a series of eerie, life-changing visits from the ghost of his deceased business partner Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future that he begins to see the error of his ways. With heart-rending characters, rich imagery and evocative language, the message of A Christmas Carol remains as significant today as when it was first published.
My Review
A Christmas Carol is one of those books that I always meant and wanted to read, but I never got around to it, even though I've managed to watch the original film version each year. I'm very glad that I finally picked up a copy of this novella as it was certainly everything I expected it to be. The book felt a little more realistic than the film adaptations, yet managed to keep a real sense of magic, and therefore I do feel that this was more effective and a little more special.
This is the first piece of literature that I have read by Dickens and I was surprised with how effortless it was to read, the language wasn't at all difficult and it flowed well - his writing is unique and a real pleasure to read. I particularly enjoyed reading his descriptions. Although the story isn't completely light hearted, Dickens manages to weave humour throughout. The several characters and family members that we're introduced to are well formed in a short amount of writing and you can really see a depth in them all.
The transition of an old man, Scrooge, from dissatisfied and irritable into a considerate gentleman is handled in a stirring way, especially when based around the Christmas period.
At a mere 100 pages, there's no excuse to not pick up this heartwarming Christmas tale. Although it isn't totally perfect or extremely 'deep', it portrays a meaningful story and it has to be the definitive Christmas Classic.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Christmas Mystery

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
Paperback, 247 pages

Published October 7th 1999 by Phoenix Press (first published 1992)

My shelves: books-i-own, childrens, christmas-books, classics, historical, magical-realism, read, read-in-2011, translated, young-adult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads

The bestselling modern classic. Fifty years ago a girl disappeared from her home in Norway. She ran after a lamb and found herself travelling right across Europe to Palestine, and back through 2000 years to meet the Holy Family in Bethlehem. There she met angels, shepherds, wise men and other biblical characters who joined her on her pilgrimage; and she heard of many of the things that happened in the world in the last 2000 years. In present-day Norway, a boy acquires a strange old Advent calendar. Hidden in each of the windows is a tiny piece of paper. Little by little these pieces unfold the girl's story, and as we learn what happened to her, another story is revealed - that of the strange old man who made the calendar.

My Review

It's really quite a risky thing to try and retell one of (if not the) most well known stories in the world, especially if you're going to put a twist on it. However, I'm pleased that Gaarder did it because he managed to execute it very well. The choice of chick-lit Christmas themed stories is bountiful, and I do enjoy them, but to be able to read a different take on the original Christmas story is a rare treat.
I believe this book was primarily targeted at Children, but this could certainly be classed as a family book. Gaarder shares an important story and he also incorporates some more philosophical questions in this book - infact, because of this, I'd probably recommend it more for older children, perhaps 8yrs +.
The story of the birth of Christ is retold in this book, in the form of following young girl named Elisabet as she travels through different countries and time, retracing the steps of several biblical characters (sheep included), as they make their way to Bethlehem.
This story as staged as a story inside another story. The protagonist, Joachim, stumbles across a magical Advent calendar in an old bookshop, and each day he opens a new window, another part of the story is revealed. Reading this book during Advent was fantastic and like Joachim and his parents, I was eager and excited for another window to be opened to see what happened next during Elisabet's journey.
The Advent format of this book was really exciting and it wouldn't be a bad idea to use this book as a type of calendar itself (if you could resist reading on!). I'd urge people to pick this up for a slightly different, easy to read but interesting Christmas read.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Miracle on Regent Street

Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris
Paperback, 484 pages
Published October 13th 2011 by Simon & Schuster Ltd

My shelves: adult-fiction, books-i-own, chick-lit, christmas-books, read, read-in-2011, realistic-fiction, cover-appeal
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads

Evie Taylor, a girl with a big heart, gets lost in the big city. For the past two years, Evie has lived an invisible life in London. Her neighbours think she’s just moved in, her sister mistakes her for a live-in nanny, and even Evie’s manager at work can’t remember her name. But all that is about to change …this Christmas has brought a flurry of snow and unimaginable possibilities into town. Evie works in the stockroom of an old-fashioned, family-run, London fashion department store. Hardy’s is a beautiful, wood-panelled jewellery box of a building, but it’s in dire need of a makeover. One day Evie overhears that if the entire store’s takings don’t turn round by Dec 26th – 3 weeks’ time – the family who own it will be forced to sell to one of the big chains. Hardy’s is in need of a Christmas miracle. Determined to save her beloved store, Evie hatches a plan to secretly transform it into a magical place to shop again. But has the time come for her to be noticed too? When an accidental romantic encounter with handsome, enigmatic Joel gives her the chance of a whole new identity, she takes it.
My Review

Miracle on Regent Street was a light, festive read. Straight from the beginning, we are introduced to London, where Evie works and resides. The story begins on the 1st December and the atmosphere that is created surrounding the festive holiday is almost magical. Harris manages to make London come alive with her vivid descriptions of the city. The Christmas feeling is very clear too, with the sights, sounds and smells being explored throughout the book. Evie is a likeable character, as are her friends, particularly Lily and Sam. As characters, their personalities were realistic and their thought processes seemed authentic, but their actions just didn't seem very believable. Harris did well to include a strong community of different people - different in age, culture and mannerisms. For me, Lily was one of the strongest characters and I managed to get a good, bold image of her. Sam was slightly cliché, but sweet and I found the relationship between Eve and her sister to be the most interesting, relationship in the book and I enjoyed seeing it evolve.
I feel as though the main issue with this book is that it's very unbelievable. Notably, in the sub-plot, Evie pretends to be one of her co-workers and pretty much gets away with it-something which, in the real world seems practically impossible. My other concern with this book was the length. It was fairly lengthy at nearly 500 pages, and I feel as though it could've been condensed down a lot more which would've made it, in my opinion, more enjoyable.
The storyline of friendship and Evie finding her identity made for a fine plot, it wasn't very complex, it was simple and it was seasonal. This wasn't a bad book, but it was nothing spectacular.

Christmas Bookmark Giveaway!

International Bookmark Giveaway!
As I've recently opened this blog, and in the spirit of Christmas, I've decided to create a giveaway to celebrate!

I'm going to give you all the chance to win 5 handmade, Christmas themed bookmarks that will look something like these:

There will be 3 lucky winners!
How do you enter?
It's simple - All you have to do is be a GFC follower of this blog and fill out the form.
If you're wanting to follow me on Twitter/Facebook or want the Giveaway Button, look to the left hand of this page where you will find all you need for extra entries!

Giveaway runs from December 6th to December 14th .
Unfortunately, I can't guarantee you'll get these *before* Christmas (due to the postal system) but I will post them ASAP!

Click here to enter!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

My Favourite Books of 2011

It's nearing the end of the year and so it would take me a very long time to list all of the reviews that I've written in 2011. Instead, I thought it would be good to review a select few of my favourite books that I've read this year.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

Every single one of my Goodreads friends rated this five stars and I can now see why. I tried not to get myself hyped up for this book and didn't really look into what it was about, I just started to read and I'm glad that's what I did.
I don't really know what to say about this book because I feel as though it is something that you have to experience for yourself.
It made me cry. Not just a few tears either, but quite hysterically - it made my stomach turn and it felt truly heart wrenching. That may sound overdramatic, but it's not - the emotions that this book stirred inside me were extremely strong. The subject matter, loss and grief, is very poignant and Ness has managed to handle it almost perfectly. Conor is a very authentic and well developed character. I could really connect with him and felt what he was going through. The writing was beautiful and vivid - along with the fantastic illustrations, I was thrown into Conor and the monster's world, like I was there with them, struggling through the visions and nightmares. I think anybody who has lost someone that they love will relate to this. It pulls up memories and the deepest, hidden emotions. For me, it felt as though some of my silent thoughts were being revealed on paper.
This is a truly special book and I can see that it could really help a lot of people who have gone through, or are going through, loss of a loved one. The fact that the story was based on Siobhan Dowd's idea, who unfortunately passed away before it's writing, just makes it even more emotive and real. Ness has certainly done this story justice. A true treasure.

Love is the Higher Law - David Levithan

This was such a beautifully written book. I really enjoy Levithan's writing and this book definitely didn't disappoint. 9/11 is always going to be a sensitive subject and here, I thought it was handled exceptionally well. I loved how the three likeable and realistic main characters lives all came together and the relationships between all three of them was both touching and tasteful considering the background subject. The whole novel was extremely poignant without feeling too heavy. As it was based upon some of Levithan's true memories of the day in New York, the book was only more intriguing. Claire, Jasper and Peter all dealt with things in their own way and the differences were fascinating. The voices felt very authentic and it was easy to relate to their anxiety, sadness and confusion before, during and after the attack on the Twin Towers. I think that the message throughout this book is important, inspiring and it was very well displayed - to stand united and to look after each other is important, and just because some people try to ruin things, we should still go on.

Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

This book was amazing. I really thought that the author put a lot of effort in to make the character seem realistic and troubled, without being whiny or irritating. Obviously the book handles sensitive subjects and I found that they were handled well. I thought the formatting of the book was extremely effective and gave it an 'edge' that some books don't have - it really allowed me to get in the mind of Lia and share her thoughts. The writing was absolutely beautiful and I loved the Wintergirls comparisons. I didn't want to put this book down as it was extremely compelling and both Lia and Cassie were interesting. A book that I'd recommend to any Young-Adult reader

Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins

I love this book, Paris and Étienne St. Clair. Though I feel a little embarrassed to write it, this book is so romantic and it gave me lots of warm fuzzy feelings inside in the best possible way - it just made me feel so happy. There isn't an amazing, shocking, earth-shattering plot, but this just feels so real and works so well. It really didn't take me long to get pulled into the whole story. Perkins is a fantastic writer and it's hard to believe this is her first novel. Her writing flows really well. It is apt and realistic for her teenage protagonist, Anna. Anna is a likeable character who is your average girl who has been 'dumped' in Paris by her parents to study at the School of America in Paris. Her new found group of friends are also likeable and realistic - whilst reading this book, you really feel like you get to know everybody in the School. Étienne/St. Clair is handsome, has a wonderful personality and yet is still slightly flawed which makes him even more loveable. Both Anna and Étienne make mistakes, they're not perfect, but their relationship seems like it really could be perfect together. The backdrop of Paris may be cliché for a romance, but it works so well. Perkins described the city fantastically and I really got absorbed into the atmosphere. This is definitely a book I'd recommend.

I am J - Cris Beam

Wonderfully written and thought out, I Am J is certainly something that I'd recommend to others. There are few books out (that I'm aware of) that describe the thoughts and feelings of transgendered teenagers and it's good to see that there's one that's so authentic. This book really encapsulated how it must feel to be stuck in the wrong gendered body. J's thoughts and struggles seemed very real and it was interesting to see how his world and the people around him changed as he started his physical transition.
The strongest point of this book, for me, is that it seemed so realistic. I've never felt as though I've been assigned the wrong gender, but if I had then I'd imagine I'd feel very much like J did and have some of the same struggles. I found the changes in his relationship with his family and friends to be interesting but sometimes their actions did feel a little forced or fake - the only issue that I had with this book. This novel opened my eyes that little bit more to the transgendered community and hopefully it will allow a lot more people to be informed or to even feel more comfortable with themselves. If I was questioning things, J covered it and managed to give me more information. I also found the inclusion of J's best friends self harm issues and the fact that J was a Jewish/Puerto-Rican to be impressive.
Beam has made an inspiring choice to write this and her own experience with other trans- men and women are apparent. I really hope that Beam writes more as she has so much to offer.

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

I absolutely adored this book from start to finish. The subject is so interesting and heart wrenching and it is really felt through the characters. All of the characters are well formed and play their own part, they're easily distinguishable and their personalities are strong. The story, based on true to life events and memoirs, is also strong and intriguing all the way through - it was hard to put this down. The events and emotions are portrayed extremely well. I felt bonded to the characters which made this novel even more powerful. The changing scenes were well set, the atmosphere clear thanks to good writing. An amazing read that I feel will stay with me for a while to come.

Sing You Home - Jodi Picoult

Without a doubt, this is one of the most effective and best novels that I have ever read. Wow - it's really hard to describe this one, but one word I could certainly use is intense. The amount of surging emotions I felt was bizarre, feeling anger, sadness and joy all within a few pages - Picoult's use of humour was fantastic in this novel and I found myself laughing out loud at numerous points yet I did have to pause to reflect at times as the emotive issues left me sometimes seething, sometimes upset - but I still didn't want to put this down. The soundtrack to this book was a great idea for both the storyline and the feeling of the book, but it just made it way too intense for me to listen and read at the same time. I was interested in all of the featured issues and events - not just the issue of LGBT people vs. society and religion but also of alcohol abuse and mental illness. I felt a connection and thought that almost all of the characters were very well developed and striking. The writing was superb and drew me in right from the beginning. I had high hopes and expectations for Sing You Home and I certainly was not disappointed. Picoult has outshone herself. Although I find it hard to put into words, there is so much that I love about this book and it is most definitely one of my new favourites.

Life As We Knew it - Susan Pfeffer

This is a fantastic dystopian novel by Pfeffer which I really enjoyed reading. When I first began reading the book, I didn't feel particularly enamoured by the protagonist, Miranda, or her writing. However, after reading on for only a little while, I found myself absolutely absorbed into the story. One of the great things about this book is that it's realistic and I could actually imagine it happening - it's quite unnerving in that aspect. It's not hard to put yourself in Miranda's position and think about what you would do if the catastrophe actually happened. The tension is great. I can understand why people may see this book as a little repetitive but it's still realistic, it would be that way. I found the family to be endearing and the way that they worked together wasn't unlike how I'd imagine a lot of family units would work. I found Miranda to be a little irritating and some things she did at the beginning of the book irked me, but I couldn't blame her for most of her thought processes or actions and I connected with her a lot more as the book and situation progressed. I loved reading this and it is an easy read that I'd recommend.

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Divergent is a fantastic debut from Roth. Roth obviously has a talent for writing and her action scenes in this book particularly shine through. With more expansion and exploration in following books, this series could get even better.
I found this book to be so exciting - it was fast paced and so I never got bored. I just wanted to keep reading on as more things were revealed about the dystopic society. The factions in the book really intrigued me - I couldn't get enough information about them and look forward to learning more in the next books. The characters are all reasonably strong and I admire Tris, the protagonist, for her determination (yet her doubts and fears still give her realism). The romance was a little cliché, but I still absolutely loved it.
Around the end third of this book, the action became more intense and I couldn't put it down - it was truly enthralling and well done. So much more was being revealed and it'll be interesting to see how things turn out in the next book. I'll certainly be wanting to read the next installment of Divergent.

For more of my 2011 book reviews, you can check out my 'Read-in-2011' book shelf on Goodreads.