Shadow of the Wolf - Tim Hall

Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed, and will alter forever the legend of Robin Hood


David Fickling Books has always been one of my favourite publishers in the UK and I was very much looking forward to reading their first titles released as an independent publisher. Shadow of the Wolf didn't disappoint. This retelling of Robin Hood is one of the boldest books I've read in quite a while.

The story starts with Robin Loxley being left alone in Sherwood forest and having to fend for himself. He soon meets Marian, a young girl his age and together they have incredible adventures and plan a fantastic future together. But their fate will be completely changed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Tim Hall takes aspects of the Robin Hood myth (locations, characters (Robin, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Will Scarlett, Marian...), Robin's archery skills...) and creates a setting that takes a lot from local myths and folklore and links the story to nature and fantastical creatures. Tim Hall's take on Robin Hood is quite simply unique and reading it you forget all about foxes and Kevin Costner.

The story doesn't shy away from darkness and the reader can see the true cruelty of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin's full transformation into something not quite Robin-like in the forest of Sherwood. Reading this book really reminded me of when I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Both stories share a similar darkness, loss of innocence and depth as well as well-rounded characters. There is no sugar-coating of events happening in the book and I felt compelled to continue reading. 

YA has been very much discussed lately. Is it too dark? Is it not "literary"/ ambitious enough or a bit too simplistic/easy? Shadow of the Wolf is a book about fate, freedom and also love. It is about how sometimes your fate and your future may be stolen from you and you will need to fight for your freedom but also for who you love. A lot of times you might fail, but isn't trying already a step forward? I can't think of a more timely book to read, than that of a classic story showing how history repeats itself. You might be a Palestinian child whose future has just been blown to pieces. You might be a European child, slipping into poverty. Either way, the future you were planning for yourself may just have been taken away from you and you might need to fight (not literally, of course) to get what you want. Darkness is a part of life and there is a place for it in fiction for young people.

Shadow of the Wolf is by far one of the most exciting books I've read this year. It transported me all the way to Sherwood forest and quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to leave.


To read a preview, head over to the David Fickling Books website.

Thanks to Phil Earle for the proof copy!

Recent reads (featuring: Joel Dicker, Deborah Levy, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, Jenni Fagan and Angela Jackson)

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, Joël Dicker
August 30, 1975. The day of the disappearance. The day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.
That summer, struggling author Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard, along with a manuscript copy of the novel that made him a household name. Quebert is the only suspect.
Marcus Goldman - Quebert's most gifted protégé - throws off his writer's block to clear his mentor's name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon merge into one. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of 'The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America'.
But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.

This book has been a massive hit in France since September 2012 when it first came out. My mother loved this book and sent me a copy a while ago but it's only this year - after it was published in English - that I ended up picking up my French copy. I have to say, I read the book in just a few days (so brownie points for that, I guess) but I've been a bit underwhelmed by it. I was expecting great things (since it won prestigious awards in France and has been translated worldwide) but for me it was a fairly typical crime novel. There were so many twists and turns that it kept me reading but I didn't find it as exceptional as the buzz is making it out to be. The story within a story about the main character's writing life and his relationship with his publisher could have been brilliant but I felt it was rather tedious to read and rather unrealistic. (I won't mention the main character's parents or some badly drawn characters because they made me pretty cross). All in all, a good page-turner, perfect for the summer, but not particularly life-altering. 
If anyone has read it in English - do let me know how you found the translation! I found several oddities (cultural and even factual) in the book, in particular about its American setting, so would love to know if these were kept in the English language version (just because I'm nosy)!


Swimming Home, Deborah Levy
As he arrives with his family at the villa in the hills above Nice, Joe sees a body in the swimming pool. But the girl is very much alive. She is Kitty Finch: a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails, walking naked out of the water and into the heart of their holiday. Why is she there? What does she want from them all? And why does Joe's enigmatic wife allow her to remain?
Profound and thrilling, Swimming Home reveals how the most devastating secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.

This will undoubtedly sound odd, but I've been reading this book for the past two years. It is super short and yet it took me two years to read it. (I know, weird). I started the ebook after it was shortlisted for the Booker in 2012, and didn't quite fall in love with it so I stopped reading it. Normally, I would have forgotten all about it and moved on to other books, but I could actually remember the story vividly. So when I left the book I was reading at home and wanted to read on the bus a couple of months ago, I started reading it again. I knew exactly where I left off in the story which made me realise how memorable the writing was. I have finished it and even though I didn't entirely love the book, I am so glad I persevered. I loved the cast of characters and their personalities and since the story is set in my neck of the woods in France, it really resonated with me. 


A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities portrays a world on fire, split between Paris and London during the brutal and bloody events of the French Revolution. This Penguin Classics edition of is edited with an introduction and notes by Richard Maxwell.
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...'
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille the aging Dr Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There, two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil lanes of London, they are all drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror and soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

I had never read any Charles Dickens before, and I was never sure where to start. When I wanted to teach myself English by reading English language books, I printed off this "100 books you should read in your lifetime" type of list and obviously there were quite a few Dickens on it. A Tale of Two Cities is my wife's favourite and I'm happy to say I absolutely adored it and will be reading some more of his books. I didn't find the writing as hard as I thought it would be and the story in both Paris and London during the French revolution was fascinating.


Surfacing, Margaret Atwood
A young woman returns to northern Quebec to the remote island of her childhood, with her lover and two friends, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her father. Flooded with memories, she begins to realise that going home means entering not only another place but another time. As the wild island exerts its elemental hold and she is submerged in the language of the wilderness, she sees that what she is really looking for is her own past.

I read this book as part of my book group. I had never read a Margaret Atwood book before and I thought I would absolutely love it. Sadly I just couldn't get into the story. The book is said to be "one of the most important novels of the twentieth century" and I just couldn't get into the story. Nor did anyone else in the book group. Having been published in 1972, I wondered if the story may have lost some of its power and relevance over the years. Even though I didn't quite connect with this book, I really do want to read other Margaret Atwood novels (notably, The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin).


The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan
Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as suspicious as its residents. But Anais can't remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform...

This is one of my favourite books of the year. I started reading it last year but got a bit intimidated by some of the writing being in Scottish and only came back to it this year with my (other) book club. Despite having put the book down after reading the beginning, I read the rest of the book quickly and fell in love with it. I absolutely loved the writing and the story and the characters. The book felt so real and raw and new. I'd like to read more books with heroines like Anais and I'll be looking out for Jenni Fagan's new book!


The Emergence of Judy Taylor, Angela Jackson
Judy Taylor married the first man who asked her. She lives in the neighbourhood where she spent her uneventful childhood. She still has the same friends she first met in primary school. But everything she once knew is about to be turned upside down.
Judy might be ready to start a new life in vibrant Edinburgh, if she's prepared to accept what it means to change. First she has to ask herself if it's ever too late to make up for lost time.
The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a story about first loves and second chances. It's about love and life and sex and starlings. It's about Judy and Oliver and Paul and Fabiana and Rob and Min and Lily and Harry and a French siren called Isabella.

This is a very short book which packs a punch. I feel it goes against the grain and tells the story of a woman's life in a way I'd like to read more of. Judy Taylor is a bit lost, she doesn't have the answers to the questions going through her mind, but she decides to take control of her life, throw financial safety out the window, and get ready to find herself. The novel is set partly in Edinburgh and you can't fail to fall in love with the city alongside Judy. A very promising debut.

Holiday reads!

I don't know about you but holiday for me is all about the books! I love making a big pile of what I want to read and I end up reading books not on the pile and getting distracted by food and puppies and barely managing to read a couple. 

For a change, that's exactly what I'll do for this holiday! Above is the pile of books I'd like to read and you'll be able to see the pile of books I've actually anded up reading at the end of it. :)

Enjoy the sunshine!

Caro xx

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried. Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and - in Eleanor's eyes - impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to get by. Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall in love. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're 16, and you have nothing and everything to lose. Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is funny, sad, shocking and true - an exquisite nostalgia trip for anyone who has never forgotten their first love.


I don't think I need to introduce this book, it's been rocking the YA world for the past year and it seems EVERYONE has already read it. There has been SO MUCH hype about this book that I wondered if I would like it. I rarely do when hype is concerned, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I can understand the hype surrounding it and even if I didn't completely LOVE it, I did think it was a great book.

The story brings together two characters. Eleanor has just moved back with her mother and step dad and sleeps in the same room as her three other smaller siblings. Things are very tough for her. She has no privacy at home and has to watch what she does in front of her step father. She is big with bushy red hair and second hand clothes. Not the popular girl type. Then there is Park, he is half-Korean and listens to a lot of (mostly alternative) music and reads comics. He doesn't feel 100% comfortable in his own skin and even though his parents are great, he feels his father would rather Park be a bit more like him (strong, masculine, white? ...). On her first day at school, Eleanor seats next to Park on the bus and from then on, they start getting to know each other and slowly falling in love. They don't fall in love immediately, they actually don't like each other very much, but they gradually fall for each other.

It completely passed me by that this was set in 1986. You'd think cassette tapes and no mobile phones would be a big hint but it just didn't register, I was whole-heartedly hooked to the story and to Eleanor and Park's emotions that this could have been set in 2013. This is such a universal story (first love) encompassing deep themes (racism, poverty, abuse...) that are sadly still alive and kicking today.

Eleanor and Park get to know each other through comic books and music. I am such a believer that art can soothe the soul and bring people together that I have loved seeing Park patch Eleanor up little by little with songs. 

So why didn't I LOVE the book, as everyone else seems to have? Well, I felt there were parts of the story that were either too present or too scarce. Eleanor's home life is heart-wrenching and horrible and I would have wanted to read more about her and her sibling and what happens to them. I also didn't see a lot about Park's life aside from his feelings from Eleanor and I really wish I had, especially about him being half-Korean. I felt the questions raised in the book (race, poverty, abuse, bullying...) could have been explored more thoroughly and sensitively. I know real life is never as neatly tied up as books are and sometimes things don't make sense but I would have liked more on these subjects to be able to completely fall in love with the book. 

A lot has been written about this book, some praising the love story and the writing, and some critising some aspects of the book and I think one should read the book as well as what others feel about it so do head over [here] to read John Green's review of it but also [here] to read Renae's review over at Respiring Thoughts for her thoughts on race in the book as well as Ellen Oh's opinion of the book as a Korean American [here]. And most importantly, head over to the comments to let me know what YOU thought about this book!

Recent YA novels I've read...

... and don't have time to review individually!

The Midnight Club, Christopher Pike
Rotterdam Home, a hospice where teenagers with terminal illnesses went to die, was home to the Midnight Club--a group of five young men and women who met at midnight and told stories of intrigue and horror. One night they made a pact that the first of them to die would make every effort to contact the others . . . from beyond the grave.
My wife is obsessed with Christopher Pike and read most of his books when she was a teen so she made a little pile of her favourites for me so I could discover him and The Midnight Club was the first one I've read. I absolutely loved it. The story is really compelling and the characters felt so real. I loved the plot and the writing is brilliant. 


Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
I'm guessing everyone has read this book by now! I read Eleanor & Park first and I liked it but didn't love it (I'll probably write a post about my thoughts soon) so I wasn't sure what I would make of Fangirl but I actually LOVED it. Part of the reason I loved it is the irrational feeling that this book was about my life at Uni. I've never written (or read) any fanfiction but I was a complete Potter fan (still am) and the book really reflected what I was feeling at the time. The love story was utterly adorable and I loved the characters.


A Boy Called Hope, Lara Williamson
I'm Dan Hope and deep inside my head I keep a list of things I want to come true. For example, I want my sister, Ninja Grace, to go to university at the North Pole and only come back once a year. I want to help Sherlock Holmes solve his most daring mystery yet. And if it could be a zombie mystery, all the more exciting. I want to be the first eleven-year-old to land on the moon. I want my dog to stop eating the planets and throwing them up on the carpet. And finally, the biggest dream of all, I want my dad to love me. A Boy Called Hope is a brave, bold and funny debut about family in all its shapes and sizes.
This is younger YA / older middle grade book and it is funny and heart-warming and sweet. I really loved it and I thought it's such a thoughtful book and I loved the characters and the writing. I went from laughing out loud to crying my heart out reading this book and I can't wait to read Lara's next books!


The Fiery Heart, Richelle Mead
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives. In The Indigo Spell, Sydney was torn between the Alchemist way of life and what her heart and gut were telling her to do. And in one breathtaking moment that Richelle Mead fans will never forget, she made a decision that shocked even her. . . 
But the struggle isn't over for Sydney. As she navigates the aftermath of her life-changing decision, she still finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her sister Zoe has arrived, and while Sydney longs to grow closer to her, there's still so much she must keep secret. Working with Marcus has changed the way she views the Alchemists, and Sydney must tread a careful path as she harnesses her profound magical ability to undermine the way of life she was raised to defend. Consumed by passion and vengeance, Sydney struggles to keep her secret life under wraps as the threat of exposure — and re-education — looms larger than ever.

I love all of Richelle Mead's books and after the end of Vampire Academy, I was so happy to read the Bloodlines series with Sydney and Adrian as the main characters. I love where the story is going and I can't wait to see how the series continues.


Half Bad, Sally Green
Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.
There was so much hype about this book that I was excited (and slightly wary) to read it. I've read many good things about it and I liked the idea at the start but it sadly didn't quite work for me. I wasn't sure where the story was going and I wasn't rooting for many characters. I'll be interested to see how the sequel goes so I'll wait for reviews for this one.


Divergent, Veronica Roth
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

The big new YA franchise everyone is talking about. I wasn't keen on reading it when it first came out but I just wanted to give it a chance and I thought it was entertaining enough but I didn't quite see the point of this dystopian world and it didn't make a lot of sense. It's the case with most dystopian YA these days but I wasn't passionate enough about the characters or the writing to suspend disbelief like I've done for other books. I don't think I'll bother seeing the film but I've heard the dystopian universe actually makes sense in the sequels so I may give them a go next time I want a fast pace read.

Midnight Crossroad - Charlaine Harris

Summary from Goodreads:

From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale — populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...


I'm a huge fan of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series - I even met her a few years back [details here] - and I was excited/scared to read her new series. 

Midnight Crossroad has an interesting premise. Midnight is a small town situated on a crossroad in the middle of Texas. Few people go through it and even fewer people live there. The ones who do live there, do so for a reason. They want to disappear, they don't want to attract attention. Midnight is a bit like Fight Club. There are rules and if you have to ask what they are, you're clearly not meant to be part of it. We start the story as Manfred Bernardo moves to Midnight for various reasons he mostly wants to keep to himself. He's a psychic, the type that makes money on the internet with photos of himself looking all mysterious, but he also experiences some genuine visions. He quickly gets how the town works and even though he is curious about his new neighbours, he knows better than to ask any questions.

In Midnight, there is a gas station, a pawn shop, a diner, a magic shop, an antique shop, a church and a hairdresser. Each one of Manfred's neighbours owns or works for one of these establishments and they have a routine set up. Manfred tries to glean as much information about them but there are some people he just can't seem to put a finger on who they are and what they do. One of the residents also owns a cat - Mr Snuggly - who seems to be more than just a regular cat.

The plot revolves around Manfred's landlord and the owner of the pawn shop, Bobo, whose girlfriend disappeared a couple of months ago. Bobo, alongside all the Midnight residents, thought she had left him and had gone to live somewhere else. But her departure was a bit sudden and she left all her belongings so everyone was still a bit suspicious and it didn't surprise many of them when her body was found in the town. Things quickly get worse and we learn that more than one person in Midnight has secrets to hide (well, MORE secrets than everyone thought).

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse books, the story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, following each character living in Midnight. When I started reading the book, I had some issues getting into the story and I felt it didn't hook me as much as Dead Until Dark did and the pace was a bit slow. But as I read along and discovered more about the mysterious Midnight residents, the story hooked me in other ways. I loved following each character and seeing how they interacted with each other and I can't wait to read the second book in the series to know more about them.

I haven't read Charlaine Harris's other books aside from the Sookie Stackhouse series and I am told some of the characters in Midnight Crossroad come from her previous books which is rather exciting. I think this book is different from her previous series but also has some classic Charlaine Harris aspects. The characters are fascinating, the world she created is very intriguing and there is SO MUCH mystery ... so much, in fast, that you just HAVE to relocate from Bon Temps to Midnight, Texas.


Check out the atmospheric trailer for it:


  Thanks to Gollancz for sending over a proof.

The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark

Summary from Amazon:
Described as 'a metaphysical shocker' at the time of its release, Muriel Sparks' The Driver's Seat is a taut psychological thriller, published with an introduction by John Lanchester in Penguin Modern Classics.
Lise has been driven to distraction by working in the same accountants' office for sixteen years. So she leaves everything behind her, transforms herself into a laughing, garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime. But her search for adventure, sex and new experiences takes on a far darker significance as she heads on a journey of self-destruction. Infinity and eternity attend Lise's last terrible day in an unnamed southern city, as she meets her fate. One of six novels to be nominated for a 'Lost Man Booker Prize', The Driver's Seat was adapted into a 1974 film, Identikit, starring Elizabeth Taylor.


I read this book as part of a new Book Club organised by the wonderful bookshop Looking Glass Books for #readwomen2014 and I think it's a perfect book to read and discuss! I came in having my thoughts about the book and I realised there were so many details I had missed! I think I'll reread the book soon and will probably see other things. It's one of those books that can have so many shapes that everyone can take something different out of it.

It's hard to talk about it without giving any spoilers (and this is definitely the type of book that can really use being read without knowing anything about it) so I'll keep things quite general. I learned that this book is Muriel Spark's favourite from all her works which is an interesting fact and I'm looking forward reading more of her books to try to find out why that is.

I have only read two of her books but I feel there are some common characteristics which I gather are very 'Spark'. I like that she has a style that is so intrinsically hers no matter how different the stories are. The writing is at times witty and playful but with crisp and sinister undercurrents. 

There are various themes in the book, it goes from religion to fashion and lifestyles. One of the things I loved the morst about this book is Spark's relation to the reader. It's as if Spark is tricking us into thinking one thing about the character or story (mostly using our prejudice) while actually writing the opposite. I found the book so inspiring to read because it really challenged the way I look at life and at stories as well. The title in itself is the key. Are we ever in the driver's seat? And if we are, like the main character in the book, are we actually in control? 

Lise's journey through the book gets more baffling and shocking as it goes and it is amazing how much this book can challenge the reader in a little over a 100 pages. the writing always goes straight to the point.

I don't think I want to say more for fear of spoiling the experience but I really loved it definitely want to read more of Muriel Spark's books!


Next book up for the book club is Honour by Elif Shafak which I'm really looking forward to reading!

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction longlist 2014


Launched in 1996, the Prize is awarded every year to celebrate women's writing around the world. The judges this year were Helen Fraser, Mary Beard, Denise Mina, Caitlin Moran and Sophie Raworth. 

I used to only look at the shortlist but I've read so much and so much more varied books since last year that I'm actually incredibley excited about this year's longlist and have quite a few of my favourites I was expecting to be part of the list and others whom I wasn't expecting.

This year is also the year to read women writers (#readwomen2014) and the longlist for the Prize is the perfect source of inspiration if you're planning to read more women writer and are not quite sure where to start. I have to admit I generally read more books written by women (out of the 16 books I've read so far this year, 10 were written by women) but I'm always keen to discover new authors.

What do you think of the longlist?

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Fourth Estate
Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne, Fig Tree
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto, Viking
The Bear by Claire Cameron, Harvill Secker
Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter, Two Roads
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter, Fig Tree
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Granta
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, Oneworld
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Bloomsbury
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Picador
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Harvill Secker
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Bloomsbury
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee, Atlantic Books
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, Galley Beggar Press
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson, Mantle
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, Hutchinson
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, Simon and Schuster
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Little, Brown
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, Jonathan Cape

I've only read The Luminaries and I've had on my radar Americanah, Burial Rites, The Flamethrowers, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Almost English, All The Birds, Singing and The Goldfinch of course so I'm looking forward to read those and discover the other authors from the longlist.

Looking for JJ - Anne Cassidy


Summary from Goodreads:
Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. . . . Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it's still hard for her to believe it. She'll never be able to forget, even though she's trying to lead a normal life--she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice's past is dangerous, and violent, and sad . . . and it's about to rip her new life apart. Includes a reader's guide.


This book is one of my wife's absolute favourites so I knew I would love it, but little did I know that it would literally blow me away. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Over and over again. I haven't felt like reading a lot of YA lately, and I even fell out of love with it slightly. But reading this book reminded me why I loved young adult fiction so much.

We start the book with 17-year-old Alice Tully who is working as a waitress in a coffee shop. Alice seems to be obsessed by a crime committed six-years ago by 10-year-old Jennifer Jones. Jennifer Jones killed her friend and has been in prison ever since. The media loved that story and Jennifer has been in and out of the papers for half a decade. Now the media is in uproar because she is soon to be released.

It might be a slight spoiler to say that Alice is none other than Jennifer Jones herself. She has been given a new identity and is trying to start her life again. She was released six months earlier so that journalists wouldn't find her easily. It would sound like Alice's life is set to be a real new start, with a job, a boyfriend and University starting soon. But the newspapers keep talking about Jennifer Jones and Alice's guilt is eating away at her. No matter how far she is from her old life, the past always seems to find her again. 

The book starts with Alice Tully in her new life and is followed by a part narrated by Jennifer Jones where we see events that lead up to the tragic death of one of her friends. The structure is notable because it helps the reader get into Alice's head before knowing her past. A way for us not to be blinded by our prejudices. If the parts were swapped, I'm not entirely sure we would feel exactly the same way... The writing is so strong and raw. I was in Alice's head straightaway and felt her pain. 

I loved the portrayal of all the characters, they all had their positives and negatives and felt realistic. I was fascinated by Alice and how she relates to her boyfriend and Rosie (the social worker she lives with) as she doesn't have a great deal of experience when it comes to having what we would call "normal" relationships with people and especially boys.

There are a lot of themes in this book. Themes that make you think. Themes that hit you to the most profound of your beliefs. Can a child be inherently bad or can a terrible upbringing justify a bad action? Nature vs. nurture. Does society need to know about everything? Should a person who commits a crime be condemned for life or can they change? Do they have to relinquish their right to privacy? How much intrusion can we justify for our own security?
This book is so important because it asks the right questions and leaves it to you to provide an answer. It's easy to forget that this book was published ten years ago because the story resonates today more than ever. We have the same issues of culpability, nature vs. nurture and privacy. 

If you're looking for a brilliant example of quality contemporary YA, look no further.

Excitingly, a sequel is being released later this year. If you want to read a blog post by Anne Cassidy about writing a sequel ten years after publishing the first book, it's over here: "Never Say Never: The Story of a Sequel

My Best Books of 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope you've all had a lovely time over the Christmas period and are ready to tackle this new year! I have just started reading The Luminaries and after a few pages of getting into the Victorian writing style, I can't stop reading it! It is extremely fast-paced and gripping.

I have posted this on Twitter but I thought I'd do a formal blog post as well as an update with a book I had forgotten and the last book I've read in 2013 (Graceling). Here is the list of my favourite books of 2013:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Comforters by Muriel Spark
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Son by Philipp Meyer

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh


Interestingly, 8 out of 11 books were written by women and more than half of them are backlist titles. The titles range from YA and fantasy to historical and literary fiction as well as a graphic novel. Only one is a translated/foreign language book which isn't too surprising as I've mostly read English-language novels this year but it's an area I definitely like to explore further. There is only one YA novel and that's mostly because I haven't read many YA books this year. 

One of the books which I loved but didn't make the list was May We Be Forgiven. I loved it when I read it (5 stars and all) but I realised that I had very little of it left with me 6 months later.

My absolute favourite this year has been The Son by Philipp Meyer. I heard a lot about this book before reading it and I saw the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival talking about it and his writing process. The book literally blew me away by the sheer scope of it. If there is such a thing as perfection in a book, this is it.

For 2014, I'm planning to continue reading in a variety of genres/age groups and I'm also aiming to read more Classics and more foreign language books/translation. I will also continue my Muriel Spark reading challenge!

That's it for me. What was your favourite book last year and do you have any bookish resolutions for 2014?