Addictive

‘Escape from Witchwood Hollow’ – Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

4-star-rating

Escape from Witchwood Hollow - Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Escape from Witchwood Hollow – Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading, I was a bit skeptical and thought that I would not enjoy this offering from Mierek. It opened very much like an American, young teenage fiction: a bit bland, slow to get started and, quite frankly, a bit of a hard slog for lack of interesting plot. However, after getting through the first few chapters and the story of Arnn begins to be told, I found that I couldn’t put this book down and ended up devouring the rest very quickly. It was, as my blog title states, simply, addictive.

I found myself drawn into Witchwood Hollow like the characters Mierek writes about. I too, wanted to escape the claustrophobic setting of the forest, but could not stop reading, desperate to find out what would happen to the characters. The story of Witchwood Hollow takes places over three separate time frames – Honoria’s 2001, the witch’s beginnings and Albertine. Mierek cleverly weaves their stories together and the links that are revealed throughout were a surprise to me, making this story even more enjoyable. The way time seems to slow in the forest appears to be reflected in the writings and, whilst this implies the story stagnates, it is completely the opposite: you are drawn into reading more without realising how much time has passed!

I really enjoyed reading this book and found the way the characters are all tied together at the end a great way to complete the story. I didn’t expect these revelations and this made it even more of a great read for me. I was surprised to see the cover depicts a character – perhaps, Honoria? – with pink hair as this is definitely not talked about in the novel (surely, such a distinctive feature would come up in conversation with her peers?) and it was certainly not how I imagined her. That being aside, this spooky read was a pleasant surprise after how it began in such a shaky manner.

The different layers in the story are intriguing. Were it not for the slow beginning, I would not have hesitated to give this a full five stars. Whilst it is a teenage fiction, I read past this and enjoyed the ghostly horrors that lay within the forest of Witchwood Hollow. If you do find yourself reading this, definitely persevere until Albertine reaches America: from then on, the pace really kicks off.

Sweet

‘Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams’ – Jenny Colgan

4-star-rating

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams - Jenny Colgan

‘Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams’ – Jenny Colgan

Were you a sherbet lemon or chocolate lime fan? Penny chews or hard boiled sweeties (you do get more for your money that way)? The jangle of your pocket money …the rustle of the pink and green striped paper bag …Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian’s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she wrong. Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton’s sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. As she struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, she also wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully coloured sweets. Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams – a novel – with recipes.

In a similar vein to Colgan’s other novel that I have read, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Rosie Hopkins follows our heroine, Rosie, as she goes about trying to sort out the sweet shop her Aunt Lilian has long since abandoned through old age. A typical chick flick, you can expect to read of stunning suitors and stereotypical “country bums” as Rosie begins to discover that life in the countryside isn’t as bad as she initially thought it to be.

What I liked the most about this was reading about Rosie’s journey, not only her shenanigans in the tiny village, but how she changes within herself. It is blindingly obvious that her London boyfriend, Gerard, is not “the one” and, in my opinion, it took Rosie far too long to realise that. Gerard is, in essence, a lazy man looking for a mother replacement. I question why Colgan let him linger for so long in the story and feel that his departure could have easily been swiftly told.

That being said, I found it difficult to identify who Rosie would settle down with. There are several candidates up for offering, but Colgan cleverly keeps you guessing: gradually striking out the different potential suitors along the way. This was a surprise for me as I consider such “chick flicks” to be more predictable – well done, Colgan.

Just like The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, we not only follow Rosie’s story, but discover Lilian’s past. I found this endearing and heart-warming, especially considering how Rosie’s path begins to echo that of her Aunt’s. It was a sad and regretful tale, which made me want Rosie to make the right choices, particularly as the story reached its finale.

If you are expecting a funny, girlie novel, then you will be disappointed. True, this is a pretty good read, but I did not find it funny – definitely not on a par with Sophie Kinsella. There were some parts that offered a slight chuckle, but that was about it. Indeed, about two thirds of the way through, I felt Rosie Hopkins start to become a bit lack lustre and lose its pace. Colgan makes up for it in the final few chapters, as the ending tidily reaches its conclusion. There is a sequel to this story that I intend to read, and hope that the next instalment has enough bite to keep me entertained.

Couldn’t put it down

Chergui’s Child – Jane Riddell

5-star-rating

Chergui's Child - Jane Riddell

Chergui’s Child – Jane Riddell

Thirty-something Olivia is recovering from a traumatic event five years earlier, when she is summoned to the bedside of her dying aunt, Dorothy. Shortly afterwards, she learns that her aunt has left her a large sum of money. She also receives a letter with a startling revelation. From Morocco to London to the south of France, this is the story of one woman’s journey to make her life whole again.

I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review, Generally, I avoid reading more than one book by the same author too close together. I feel there is a danger the writing would be too similar and I wouldn’t get the enjoyment I sought from it. Having recently finished Daughters of the LakeI was concerned that Chergui’s Child would be of a similar offering. However, I am delighted to say that I was very much mistaken and I just couldn’t put this one down.

The plot captured my imagination straight away. Following Olivia’s story, both in present day and six years previous, Riddell vividly portrays a woman’s love for her family. Olivia is determined to follow her aunt’s final wishes and through her journey, readers learn of her fragility and innocence to love. She was such a likeable character and, without wanting to give away the plot, I could really understand the feelings Olivia describes as her a journey becomes a web of mystery.

Riddell’s descriptions of Morocco and the south of France are delightful, making Chergui’s Child a definite summer read. Cosied up at home, I felt myself being transported to warmer climes and could easily imagine the exotic scenes of Morocco and see Olivia’s travels through France.

This is a pacey drama that will not disappoint. The emotionally-charged roller-coaster that both the reader and Olivia experience keeps you gripped right until the final pages. It is difficult not to share Olivia’s frustrations as she travels across France and the ending leaves you satisfied that she has finally found closure.

Not very original

‘The Gift’ – Alison Croggon

2-star-rating-1

The Gift - Alison Croggon

The Gift – Alison Croggon

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, a gift that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfolds. Now she and her teacher, Cadvan, must survive a punishing and uncertain journey through a time and place where the dark forces they battle with stem from the deepest recesses of other-worldly terror.

So, from the blurb, you can expect to think this book is different to many fantasy books already out there. But, I was sadly mistaken. This book is so similar to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that it just becomes frustrating. It took me ages to read The Gift and each time I picked it up, I was more saddened than the last that Croggon did not seem to write an original idea.

Ok, so let me give some examples. We have a journey that needs to happen, a pilgrimage through a fantastical world where Maerad and Cadvan are attacked by mystical creatures. They are taken to a secret world in the middle of a very large forest, meeting a race of elf-like people living in a beautiful city (sounds like a bit like the Elves in The Lord of the Rings, huh?). The final part of the novel is about Maerad trying to be accepted by the Bard council. And the leader turns out to be a corrupted Bard who has crossed paths with Maerad when she was a child. (Perhaps a bit like Sauruman in The Lord of the Rings?!) The book finishes with Maerad and Cadvan desperately trying to escape whilst chaos ensues, ending with the start of the next phase of their journey…. yeah, you get where I am going with this one.

Croggon began the novel with such promise and I was really excited to read this one; the trilogy has been sitting on my bookshelf for ages. But, as I started to see the links between the two plots, I grew disinterested in the plight of Maerad and Cadvan, and instead kept looking to see how many pages I had left to go. Why did I continue reading, if I was so disappointed? Aaah, because I was so curious to see how it would finish. In fact, the final few chapters started to get more interesting for me as Maerad is initiated and discovers the truth about how her mother died.

I will probably trudge through the next two books, to see how they run and whether Croggon develops more original material. As with any series, I am always keen to see how they pan out and what happens to the characters. However, if you are looking to read a fantasy novel, I would definitely steer clear of this. If you know about The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will find yourself making comparisons between the two.

Keeps you intrigued throughout

‘Daughters of the Lake’ – Jane Riddell

4-star-rating

Daughters of the Lake - Jane Riddell

Daughters of the Lake – Jane Riddell

Daughters of the Lake is a contemporary family drama set in Switzerland. Madalena invites her four adult children to celebrate her hotel’s fortieth anniversary, unaware of their tensions and secrets. As the day of the celebration approaches, confused emotions take hold, and the occasion goes badly wrong. Set against a backdrop of mountains and lakes, this is a story of love, betrayal and family conflict.

I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. To be honest, based on the cover, I was a little dubious about what this book could offer me. A little drab and, quite frankly, a little dated, I was expecting a hard slog and a basic plot. However, readers be warned: do not be deceived! Once I had got into the story, I found Daughters of the Lake intriguing, surprising and one that kept me interested right until the very end.

Riddell writes about this family from different perspectives at each chapter. This was a clever technique to help you see inside the minds of the characters. I did not find it confusing to jump between different people as it felt like each chapter came to such a conclusive point, it was natural to switch to somebody else. Sometimes I even felt desperate to continue reading from one character’s point of view, keen as I was to know more!

One would expect that the family Riddell writes about would be open and honest with each other. However, the reality is far from different. The secrets that each person has, just indicates how much they really do not know one another; they are less like a family and more like separate units. The revelations come throughout the novel and were certainly not expected. In addition, the quick turn of events for the characters were also a surprise and I really liked the unforeseen way the plot developed.

I read Daughters of the Lake over several weeks but this did not impact my enjoyment. The novel is really easy to pick up again: not just because of its structure with character switching, but also because the characters are so memorable for their different behaviours. This is the first novel I have read by Jane Riddell and I look forward to discovering more of her writing.

I think my only criticism of the book was the novel’s beginning. I found it a little hard work to get stuck into and, for me, this made the first couple of chapters difficult to enjoy. Maybe it was because of the different viewpoints, that I could not get a chance to really know the people properly, or perhaps that I was reading little chunks at a time. If this is you, then I really recommend you keep going because the plot will draw you in.

If you thought being set in Switzerland, this family would have an enjoyable, scenic holiday and catch-up, you are very much mistaken. If anything, the fresh air seems to encourage honesty, drama and memories resurfacing.

Redeems itself at the end

‘Mockingjay’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

The final instalment to ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, I found myself finally being able to complete this series without having seen all of the films! Interestingly, my response to the first half of the book (i.e, part one of the film), was the same as the film: quite a lot of talk and description that slowed the pace down considerably in comparison to the opening novel. However, the second part of ‘Mockingjay’ kept me guessing with its twists and turns; the ending had me physically gasping aloud as I could not see how the story would conclude.

There is a lot of focus on Katniss’s mental state, which the film certainly overlooked. Tormented by her role in the two Hunger Games, she still struggles dealing with the death she has caused and her now pivotal role in the rebellion again the Capitol. It was this that slowed the pace down but on reflection, was a key part to the story’s conclusion. For a seventeen-year-old girl, she definitely carries a lot of emotional baggage and her conflicting emotions towards Gale and Peeta have her searching inwardly in a bid to find peace with herself.

As I drew closer to the end of the novel, I initially felt the ending was becoming predictable and too simplistic for even a teenage audience. However, the final few chapters intensified the plot and Collins surprises readers with Katniss’s fragility and the Capitol’s downfall. Not wanting to reveal the ending, I could not believe how ‘The Hunger Games’ ended and applaud Collins for taking the bold step of not keeping characters alive just because of popularity/importance. I think this is what redeemed the story and, coupled with Katniss’s troubled state of mind, could not put down the book until I had reached its satisfying conclusion.

What was also refreshing about ‘Mockingjay’ was the fact it was not a similar plot to the first two books. Not having to read about another Hunger Games made the novel more enjoyable. But, Collins does continue to interweave the theme of playing games throughout, to the extent that at times I had to pause and think about what was being suggested as the story came to its end.

The explosive finish really caught my imagination. Vivid descriptions made it difficult not to imagine the Capitol’s eventual downfall as the rebels grow in power and, whilst the film adaptations mean you cannot but see Katniss as Jennifer Lawrence, the heroine she becomes is admirable and disturbing at the same time. I found myself always wishing she would be able to return to the humble young girl she was at the start of the series, but enjoyed reading how she attempted to deal with the pressures that being the Mockingjay gave.

This was a really enjoyable read and a series I would not hesitate to revisit in a few years time. Even after finishing it, I found myself haunted by parts of the story and I think this is what makes a solid read. Collins concludes ‘The Hunger Games’ series in a satisfying way, leaving no room for a further instalment, whilst at the same time giving her fans exactly what they deserve: an ending that you can sit and imagine other parts to the story.

Tedious

‘Hands Up!’ – Oenone Crossley-Holland

2-star-rating-1

Hands Up! - Oenone Crossley-Holland

Hands Up! – Oenone Crossley-Holland

Dear Ms Crossley-Holland, I didn’t Oink at you yesterday but I do admit I did oink it was a private joke between me and Billie. Know I do Admitt I should not of been making noises so I am sorry for making noises but yeah as I said I am only sorry for making noises. From Chantelle

When Oenone Crossley-Holland started teaching at an inner city school in London, she had no idea what to expect. She just knew that there was no going back. She would have one of the most challenging and overwhelming years of her life, in which she would get involved in the lives of some wonderfully (and sometimes horrifyingly) exuberant students, and find herself tested to the limit. In this colorful and moving account, Oenone tells of the lows and unexpected highs of the sharper end of teaching. Will she make it through the year? Will she make it through another day? Hands Up! is for anyone who’s ever worked in a school or thought about teaching. It also gives a very clear answer to those who still believe that those who can’t do, teach.

Let me start with two health warnings: firstly don’t expect this to be a book of humorous anecdotes from a secondary school teacher; secondly, don’t attempt to read this if you happen to be in the profession or have an idea of what teaching is really like. The outcome? A tedious read that seemed to take far longer than a less than 300 page book should have done.

This book follows a secondary school English teacher who is training on the Teach First scheme which was in place several years ago. This was back when English curriculum was different both for Key Stage Three and GCSE. As such it makes the book a little bit more difficult to relate to, especially if you are newly qualified. Nonetheless, the trials and tribulations that Crossley-Holland faces are generic across the years and it certainly brought back memories for me from when I was in the teaching sector.

What I found most irritating was the fact that Crossley-Holland continues to moan about the amount of work required, the lack of time she has, and how tired she feels. Yet, on the flip side, she tends to spend most of the week-nights and weekends socialising and out late. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with this, but surely from a logical perspective she is simply making things worse for herself? If it is that difficult, don’t go out each night but instead spend the time doing some of this school work that you repeatedly hark on about. It is this which made me feel impatient to finish this book because I simply could not sympathise with someone who is not making things easier for herself.

The book’s chapters reflect the half terms of a school year. Within these chapters are breaks to show different episodes whilst Crossley-Holland is teaching. This definitely made it easier to dip in and out of but I do think it made the book feel like it was dragging on far longer than it actually was. On reflection I think this book is probably best enjoyed whilst read alongside something else. That way you don’t feel too committed to reading it, and just perhaps enjoy the anecdotes far more.

Although I haven’t read many other teaching books, I am sure there are far more enjoyable memoirs out there than ‘Hands Up!’ can offer. If you really want to have an insight into the teaching profession, you might want to give this a go. However, Crossley-Holland is simply irritating and I think there are better written examples on the shelves. Quite frankly I’m a bit disappointed I wasted time to read this and even now I think perhaps two stars is being a bit generous. On a final note, the author writes a column for a broadsheet newspaper so maybe her articles are far more interesting and enjoyable to read than this memoir.