Book Review

Book Review: The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop.

TheSunriseIn the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island’s most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city’s façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

I’ve read and loved a couple of Victoria Hislop novels in the past, I love the way her writing style transports me back to the historical setting of the book. When I saw her new book focused on the conflict in Cyprus I was really interested in it – I know not a lot about this piece of modern history so what better way to get a bit more informed?

The book opens with a timeline of the events in Cyprus leading up to the 1972 setting of the book. I found this a very useful whistle stop tour, giving some useful background information. Following this the book has a brief period of scene setting, introducing us to Famagusta – the city setting for the book – and the Papacostas – the ambitious couple opening the luxury hotels that are to provide much of the focus of the story. This first chapter is quite long, and I found initially that I didn’t feel like I was gelling with it. I think I just wanted the story to get going and to draw me in.

By the end of the first chapter I was beginning to get drawn in, and then very quickly I was hooked and couldn’t read quickly enough. The core cast of characters is plentiful, I felt like I got to know all of them and was invested in their individual stories. Whilst the stories of both Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta are interesting, for me it was the Georgious and the Özkans who really captured my attention. The two families come from the two warring sides, the Georgious are Greek Cypriot and the Özkans are Turkish Cypriot – this allows the reader an immediate view into both sides of the dispute from a very human, relatable position.

The two books I’d previously read by the author had both featured a modern story intertwined with a historical story. I must admit I’d expected this book to follow the same pattern and it was only when I reached the mid point that I realised this book was instead following an entirely linear narrative. It worked well for this story, I don’t think having a modern story woven through it would have added anything to the reading experience.

I liked the way that the author has tried to present a very balanced take on what happened in Famagusta in the 1970s, showing that both sides were following strong convictions and in doing so both sides committed crimes and atrocities. This never feels heavy handed, instead very matter of fact. I think having young children included in the two families helps with this – questions are asked by Mehmet Özkan in particular that allow for discussion of the human side of the conflict. This feels a particularly timely read as we’re currently living with many conflicts ongoing that are pitting two sides of communities against one another.

This book is atmospheric, and gripping. It covers a time in history that I knew virtually nothing about but by the time I reached the end of the book I felt both that I knew a little more and would like to do some reading of my own to learn more still.

The Sunrise is published by Headline Review in the UK from 25th September. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

MG Monday: The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Caroll takes a spin into the spotlight.

TGWWOAAbandoned as a baby at Chipchase’s Travelling Circus, Louie dreams of becoming a ‘Showstopper’. Yet Mr Chipchase only ever lets her sell tickets. No Death-Defying Stunts for her. So in secret, Louie practises her act- the tightrope- and dreams of being the Girl Who Walked on Air. All she needs is to be given the chance to shine.

One night a terrible accident occurs. Now the circus needs Louie’s help, and with rival show Wellbeloved’s stealing their crowds, Mr Chipchase needs a Showstopper- fast.

Against his better judgement, he lets Louie perform. She is a sensation and gets an offer from the sinister Mr Wellbeloved himself to perform in America. But nothing is quite as it seems and soon Louie’s bravery is tested not just on the highwire but in confronting her past and the shady characters in the world of the circus . . .

Last year Frost Hollow Hall, Emma Carroll’s debut novel, was one of my best reading surprises. Historical fiction isn’t something I naturally gravitate towards but I was blown away by this beautiful read. When I read the synopsis for The Girl Who Walked on Air I had a feeling it was going to just as brilliant a read.

The book is set in the circus of the Victorian era. The circus that has performing animals and gets bums on seats with the promise of death defying feats that might just go wrong. Very quickly we get to see these aspects of the circus. Louie, our main character, was abandoned as a baby on the steps of one of the performers caravans. She was brought into the circus family though the owner, Mr Chipchase has resolutely kept her in the background – she has the very unglamorous roles of ticket seller and costume maker. She has a secret though, inspired by world famous tightrope walker The Great Blondin she’s been practising her own headline act and she’s good at it. Really good.

I loved all of the descriptions of the circus world Louie lives in, I really felt like I was walking through it with her – seeing all of the characters, smelling all of the smells, hearing the roar of the crowd. There is such a great level of detail, you can see that the author really did her research and has managed to instil it into the pages of the book. This combined with the twisty, gripping plot (Louie is of course not being kept out of the limelight for nothing) makes for a really atmospheric read.

I loved Louie so much as a main character. She’s strong and stands up for herself, she knows what she wants and is determined to make it work. She’s also very brave, the very idea of stepping onto a tightrope fills me with fear – the feats she manages are incredibly impressive. I liked her from the very beginning of book, she’s very appealing and so I was really rooting for her. The supporting characters are well created too, I liked how a number of them evolved as we got to know them better throughout the book.

This book has truly cemented Emma Carroll’s place on my list of authors I’m really excited by. She creates wonderful worlds and characters, and has made me completely rethink my personal relationship with historical fiction! When it’s written this well it’s something that I’m going to want more and more. The Girl Who Walked on Air is great, its gripping and exciting and left me entirely satisfied. I can’t recommend it strongly enough!

The Girl Who Walked on Air is published by Faber Children’s in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

EleanorAndParkEleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.

For the last twelve months or so everywhere I’ve looked I’ve seen people raving about Rainbow Rowell’s books. Well actually, I’ve seen as many people raving about how awesome Rainbow herself is as I’ve seen discussion about her books. Either way I knew I needed to finally get on and read her books. Eleanor and Park seemed like the perfect place to start. Now I’ve read it and loved it I find myself wishing my reviewing skills were better, this book deserves a far better write up than I have any hope of producing.

Eleanor and Park is set in 1986, and is told jointly by the characters named in the title. The setting was an interesting one, I was a young child in the UK during 1986 but much of the nostalgia that the time period evoked worked well for me. Whether it would work quite so well for today’s teen I don’t know, but I always managed fine with books set many decades in the past so I reckon it probably will.

Both Eleanor and Park have significant challenges within their lives. Eleanor’s are more obvious, living in poverty with an abusive stepfather and a mother who doesn’t seem able to provide the comfort or support Eleanor so desperately wants and needs, transferring to a new school . Park on the other hand has to manage a father whose expectations seem unreachable, and his own desire to simply get on with life and remain beneath the radar. The dual narrative, third person structure of the book means we really get to see inside the two characters’ heads – we get to understand how they feel, what they want, what they’re struggling with. I felt that this meant I could connect more deeply with them as characters.

This is definitely a love story, though I haven’t read many like it before. It’s slow and tentative and awkward, like so many real life burgeoning teen romances. Neither Eleanor or Park fit into the quintessential romantic lead pigeon holes and the book is all the better for it. The uncertainty that underpins their relationship again draws the reader further into it, and I’m sure will be something that many readers find they can identify with. So many love stories play out more like the Hollywood romance and whilst these occur in real life they’re not the only sort of romance and I really appreciated the authenticity of relationship found within this book. The Hollywood take on this story would also result in some neat, saccharine sweet ending. What we get is so much better, an untidy ending of hope and progress.

I loved the role both comics and music played within this book. The mix tapes element of the book was something I particularly found I identified with, whilst personal CD players were a feature of my teenage years mix tapes were still somewhat important – I still have a box which contains a few that meant most to me for one reason or another. Their differing circumstances means there is something of an inequity in the relationship between Eleanor and Park, her life has meant that in many ways she hasn’t experienced many of the cultural things that Park has. Music however is something she knows even if what she knows is different to what Park knows. He might know the stuff that’s current but she knows the greats that have come before. She is able to teach him in the way he is able to teach her – this is the power of music and something that moved me greatly as I read.

This book is hard to describe neatly. It’s quiet and yet huge, its story is simple and yet multi-faceted. Fundamentally this is a book that will claw its way under your skin, dragging you into its characters’ lives, staying front and centre in your brain even once you’ve finished reading. I absolutely loved it and am already looking forward to revisiting it.

Eleanor and Park is published by Orion in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Book Review: Double Crossing by Richard Platt.

DoubleCrossingIt’s 1906, and David O’Connor, newly orphaned and alone in the world, has had to leave his home in Ireland to go and live with his uncle and aunt in America. His journey to New York and his new life there are tougher than David could ever have imagined, especially when he is harbouring a dark secret which he must take with him to his grave.

Double Crossing is historical fiction, set in the early 1900s first in somewhat rural Ireland and then in New York City. It has an interesting structure, the story is told primarily through diary entries but there are illustrations and images of artefacts such as newspaper clippings and record cards dotted throughout the book. I really liked this about the book, the illustrations in particular. The structure also makes it a pacy read, the book spans less than 6 months but it feels as you read as though the time is zipping past.

The early part of the book, set in Ireland, is naturally set against the backdrop of the significant unrest between the Catholic and Protestant members of the community. The diary nature means that whilst this is described well there isn’t a huge amount of explanation of why (though that’s such a huge question I’m not surprised), it may mean that younger readers have some questions – I think historical fiction that leaves its readers wanting to learn more about the book’s setting is an excellent thing.

David’s journey to America, travelling in steerage class was really eye opening, and despite the fact I’ve visited the Ellis Island Immigration Museum I was shocked by his treatment. These shocks continued as his time in America unfolded – what started as a good story became increasingly gripping as time went on. I felt increasingly scared for David and the characters around him.

There are twists and turns throughout the book, with one fairly major one towards the end. Unfortunately I was expecting something along the lines of the major twist though there were still a number of details I wasn’t expecting so there were still little surprises for me. Regardless of whether I’d expected it or not it worked really well for me and provided a fitting end to the story. There’s a final twist at the very, very end of the book – I read the book a couple of weeks ago now and have to be honest and say I’m still not sure what I feel about it, but I’m enjoying the thinking it’s led me to do!

Whilst the author has written many books this is his first novel for young people. I certainly hope it won’t be his last, I see from his website that he is an expert on smuggling and piracy – I’d love to read a novel on these topics written by him.

Double Crossing is published by Walker Books. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Recent Reads.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

TwelveMinutesTwelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge. Nosy Crow.
Penelope Tredwell is the feisty thirteen-year-old heiress of the best selling magazine, The Penny Dreadful. Her masterly tales of the macabre are gripping Victorian Britain, even if no one knows she’s the real author. One day a letter she receives from the governor of the notorious Bedlam madhouse plunges her into an adventure more terrifying than anything she ever imagined…

This is a really good, atmospheric thriller aimed at the 10+ market. I found that I was drawn into the story really quickly, it’s written in such a way that you find yourself completely swept up by it. The Victorian setting, complete with gaslights and a public taste for ghost stories, works so well and really adds to the reading experience.

I really loved Penny, the lead character. She’s brilliant and plucky, and really smart. I found myself really rooting for her. The villains are well thought out, they could easily have felt like tired, pantomime characters but they’re written carefully to avoid this.

The book whips along really well, there’s no filler – everything contributes to the plot. I was a little unsure when it looked like everything was getting resolved partway through the book but delighted in the way the plot continued to develop. A really enjoyable read.

BeautifulLieA Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master. Bloomsbury UK.
An extraordinarily rich debut novel, set in India in 1947 at the time of Partition.

The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition – news that he knows will break his father’s heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. But that means Bilal has a very complicated relationship with the truth…

Whilst on the surface this is a historical novel about the time of Partition, it’s really about friendship and family, and about love. The historical aspect of the book is done well, the descriptions used really bring this unfamiliar place and time to life for the reader, but it is the characters and their relationships that are the truly wonderful aspect of this book.

The central friendship between Bilal and his three friends is warm and lovely, you get a real sense of the love between them. The reader sees the act of Partition through their eyes, and you can feel the growing helplessness they feel – their lives are irrevocably changed by this fight between grown ups, however much they wish they weren’t.

Similarly you really feel for Bilal and his mission to keep the news of Partition from his father. It is so thought provoking, I found myself wondering whether his actions were right and whether I would have done the same in his situation – I think this book would be an excellent choice for a reading group, there is so much to think about and discuss.

LilysShimmeringSpellLily’s Shimmering Spell (Stargirl Academy #1) by Vivian French. Walker Books.
Welcome to Stargirl Academy, the magical school in the clouds! Previously a rather old-fashioned establishment, it has been reopened by its head teacher to train children to be modern day fairy godmothers. The girls learn lots of spells – shimmering, starry, shining, sparkling, glittering and twinkling ones – which they use to fix problems and help people in trouble. For every successful mission they gain a star, and once they have six stars they will be fully qualified Stargirls!

I must begin by saying I have never read a book like this before. I usually avoid books that appear to be overtly pink and princessy, but lovely Hannah at Walker made such a great pitch for this book that I knew I had to give it a chance rather than pre-judging it. And I’m really glad I did.

This is a lovely book, I adored Lily, the character this first book focuses on, from the very beginning and really cared about what happened to her. She lives with her great aunt, a dreadful woman who treats her so badly, I spent the whole book wishing for her to get her comeuppance!

The Stargirl Academy itself seems like a really lovely place, I really liked the staff members that we meet in the first book – especially Fairy Mary McBee. The ethos I love too – the focus is on using the spells they learn to help other people, I think this adds a lot to the overall warmth of the book.

I think this series of books will be really popular, I know I’m a complete convert and will most definitely be reading the other five in the series – I need to know how the girls earn the rest of their stars!

My copy of Lily’s Shimmering Spell was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Sorrowline by Niel Bushnell.

SorrowlineThe past is not a frozen place. Graveyards are not dead ends. And if the Sorrowline lets you in there is a hidden world of adventure waiting behind every gravestone.

Just when 12-year-old Jack Morrow’s life is falling apart he discovers his natural ability to travel through Sorrowlines: channels that connect every gravestone with the date of the person’s death. Confused and alone Jack finds himself in 1940. He embarks on an adventure through London during the Blitz with Davy, his teenage grandfather, to find a mystical Rose that might just save his mother’s life, a mother who he has already seen die. But the terrible power of the Rose of Annwn, is sought by many, and the forces of a secret world are determined to find it first. With a league of Undead Knights of his trail, commanded by the immortal Rouland, can Jack decipher the dark secret hidden at the heart of his family? Can he change his own destiny and save his mother?

Prophecy and history collide in this epic new children’s fantasy adventure series.

This is one of the debuts I was really excited about for 2013, when I first heard about the concept I knew it was something I would probably really enjoy. Within the first few pages I knew I’d been right – I sat down to read just a few pages and the next thing I knew the afternoon was gone and I’d reached the last page.

The story is a really good thriller with cleverly created time-travel elements. I’m a big fan of time-travel stories, but they can make me feel a bit like my head’s spinning – particularly when you start to get into the area of paradoxes and the like. In Sorrowline the time-travel is handled really well, it all makes sense and the questions that arise during the book are answered and in a way that fits well with the plot.

The thriller aspect of the plot is also well developed, at times there is a real sense of peril for the main characters and I felt as I read like my heart was in my mouth! Despite the book having the time-travel element there is never the feeling that it must turn out alright because this the story is happening in the past, a couple of times I found myself wondering how the future might unravel if things went so very wrong.

The main three characters, Jack, Davy and Eloise are all brilliant, but I have to admit to having a favourite and that was Eloise. She’s such a great female character, what we know of her origin story is fascinating and her actions throughout the story made me love her.

I really loved this book, I’m very pleased that there is a teaser snippet included at the end for the next book in the series, Timesmith, I’m already looking forward to reading it even if there is a whole year to wait!

Sorrowline is published by Andersen Press in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Black Spring by Alison Croggon.

BlackSpringInspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, BLACK SPRING reimagines the passionate story in a fantasy 19th century society sustained by wizardry and the vengeance code of vendetta.

Anna spent her childhood with Damek and her volatile foster sister Lina, daughter of the Lord of the village. Lina has magical powers, and in this brutal patriarchal society women with magical powers are put to death as babies. Lina’s father, however, refuses to kill her but when vendetta explodes in their village and Lina’s father dies, their lives are changed forever. Their new guardian Masko sends Anna away and reduces Lina to the status of a servant. Damek—mad with love for Lina—attempts to murder Masko, then vanishes for several years. Anna comes home five years later to find Lina about to marry a pleasant young farmer, and witnesses Damek’s vengeful return and its catastrophic consequences.

I need to begin this review with a little bit of a confession. I have read Wuthering Heights, it was a wonderful experience in my first year of uni – a group of us used to get together on a Sunday afternoon and drink tea and eat toast and take it in turns to read aloud whichever book had been set that week on my friend’s English Lit module. That was 12 years ago though and the very few bits of the book I can remember are as a result of watching the tv adaptation with Tom Hardy in it rather than from the book. I’m therefore not going to be able to talk properly about this book in regards to Wuthering Heights, if you want to read about this I suggest you look at Sarah’s review at My Favourite Books or Erin’s review at Oxford Erin.

The book begins with Hammel narrating, he’s escaping the city for a while and visits the Northern Plateau to do this. He only narrates for the first 40 or so pages and then the story is taken over by Anna who along with Lina takes responsibility for narrating the majority of the book. I found the book pretty difficult to get into until the narrative duties passed to Anna, I found Hammel a difficult character to take to and there were plot points I found I wasn’t really sure I was understanding.

Once the narrative switched to Anna telling Hammel the story of the people he’d already encountered and the ways of the Northern Plateau I found the book a far more gripping and interesting read. The book is still not an easy read, the vendetta that plagues the Northern Plateau makes for pretty miserable reading and the descriptions of the powers held and punishments exacted by the wizards weren’t always for the faint-hearted.

Black Spring is not a book filled with likeable characters who appeal to the reader. With the exception of Anna, and her mother, most of the characters are downright awful yet I found myself completely drawn into their world and wanting to know more about them and try to understand them. I think this is testament to Croggon’s writing style, a lesser writer wouldn’t have encouraged me to read on and I’d have just dismissed them all as dreadful and put the book down.

I didn’t love this book but I know a lot of people will. I’ve looked at the other books that Croggon has written and love the sound of them so I shall definitely be reading more from her.

Black Spring is published by Walker in the UK from 3rd January 2013. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.