Powerful and gripping

‘Fifty-One’ – Chris Barnham

5-star-rating

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Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, stranding Jake in war-ravaged 1944. Jake’s team, including his long-time girlfriend, is desperate to trace him before something else goes wrong.

Stuck in the past, Jake must pull from his training and blend in. He clings to the one familiar face he can find, Amy Jenkins, a war widow whose life he saved during the assignment. Drawn to each other by their loneliness and thrown together amid the terror of war, Jake and Amy look to a future together.

But Jake’s future cannot let him go. And when his bosses finally find him in 1944, Jake faces a terrible choice: risk unravelling the modern world, or let Amy die.

I really enjoyed reading this book. After reading a comparison between this and The Time Traveller’s Wife, I admit I was sceptical that Fifty-One could match the intensity that Barnham offered. I was wrong.

True, the whole concept of time travel has been done before but the way this is executed is original and actually interesting. I couldn’t totally predict how the plot would conclude and the way that Barnham creates this reality where it is possible to move back in time is not hard-going, letting you enjoy the plot for what it has to offer. The concept is convincing and Barnham has cleverly not set the novel too far in the future that it is unbelievable. At times I imagined scenes from the film, Minority Report, particularly when the characters were in 2044 London, but again, it just didn’t come across as too “out there” and ridiculous. It was science fiction with the right balance.

Half way through the novel I had the great urge to re-read the Prologue. Flipping back to the start on an e-reader is, for me, easier said than done and when I had finished Fifty-One, I could not help but have a quick flick back to remind myself of what had happened. So, take note: pay attention to what happens, it really gives clues for the final climax of the novel!

Fifty-One is time travel with a conspiracy and a romantic twist. It’s original and the way that the ‘Darnell Jump’ is explained is not too dense. I liked the fact that it was spread out over the plot because I found this more enjoyable and memorable when piecing the plot together. It is a satisfying read and I am glad that I had the opportunity to read something I would have probably passed by. The head warp you feel when considering how historical events could be altered by the ‘Darnell Jump’ certainly gives you food for thought about what our own future can hold and the references to WWII and London give this plot that extra bit of reality.

A really good read and one I would thoroughly recommend. If you enjoyed The Time Traveller’s Wife then you should definitely give this a chance.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Obsessed meets obsessed

‘Secret Smile’ – Nicci French

4-star-rating

Secret smile

You have an affair. You finish it. You think it’s over. You’re dead wrong . . . 

Miranda Cotton thinks she’s put boyfriend Brendan out of her life for good. But two weeks later, he’s intimately involved with her sister.

Soon what began as an embarrassment becomes threatening – then even more terrifying than a girl’s worst nightmare.

Because this time Brendan will stop at nothing to be part of Miranda’s life – even if it means taking it from her . . .

First off, let me get this out in the open. David Tennant is Brendan Block. I’m not totally mad. Back in 2005 (thanks IMDB), there was a television adaptation (pretty good, if my memory was right) and Tennant was soooo good at the role of Brendan Block that, since picking up the book again, he was all I could imagine when reading of this antagonist.

Moving on, this is not the best Nicci French book out there. Whilst it starts with a pretty good “bang”, I think it loses pace and I found the plot drifting, chapter to chapter, until French found they could justify getting to the final ending. Secondly, the protagonist, Miranda, is just a little too obsessed for my liking. Whilst she is accusing Block of obsessions, it’s her stalking and repeated “I’m going out of my way to make a point and prove something that no one else can see” that made me feel like she is the obsessed, she is the harasser.

Some of the characters are pretty dumb too. It’s difficult to believe that only Miranda has the inkling about Brendan, whilst everyone gets sucked into such a creepy, brain-washing persona. Even her sister puts a stranger before her own sister, not to mention Miranda’s own parents take Brendan’s side over their daughter’s. Unbelievable and, let’s face it, a bit grim that a stranger can turn literally everyone against you.

That being said, the ending was, well, pretty acceptable. To be honest, it technically doesn’t end but thankfully I’ve got no whiff of a sequel. Because that just wouldn’t work and it would be even more repetitive. I was glad when there was finally closure and all this stalking and harassment could come to an end. Four stars because I think it’s worthy of it for a first time read but, if like me it’s your second or third, it has less of an impact and leaves you feeling more cynical than satisfied.

Not overtly Christmassy

‘Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet shop’ – Jenny Colgan

4-star-rating

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Rosie Hopkins is looking forward to Christmas in the little Derbyshire village of Lipton, buried under a thick blanket of snow. Her sweetshop is festooned with striped candy canes, large tempting piles of Turkish Delight, crinkling selection boxes and happy, sticky children. She’s going to be spending it with her boyfriend, Stephen, and her family, flying in from Australia. She can’t wait.

But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their little community, all of Rosie’s plans for the future seem to be blown apart. Can she build a life in Lipton? And is what’s best for the sweetshop also what’s best for Rosie?

Yes, reading a book with ‘Christmas’ in the title when the big man himself isn’t due to come for another nine months does sound crazy however, ‘Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop’ isn’t as festive as you might think. And that’s what I think makes it a good all-year-rounder. Plus, not to mention that all the snow is actually rather topical at the moment.

Ok, so honestly, I started reading this nearly three years ago. Life got busy and here I am finding the time and desire to read again. I started from the beginning and found myself slipping in to the ‘sweet shop’ world that Colgan so easily creates. It’s not a hard book to get into and you certainly don’t need to have read any of the other series recently to get your teeth into the plot. Rosie and her sweet shop make a welcome return in this sweet (no pun intended) albeit predictable tale of the snowy village of Lipton at Christmas time.

The developing plot has some unexpected turns that definitely made the predictable story line more enjoyable and this is what made me rate this a solid four stars. It’s certainly not a slushy romance and, whilst there were a few chuckling points, I enjoyed the surprise of the story. The ending was satisfying as women’s fiction goes and all became right with the world, as it should, because it is Christmas time, after all. There is less focus on Lilian and her past this time, as Rosie has now stepped up to run the sweet shop. I think this was obviously lacking in the plot and wonder if Colgan could have elaborated more on this, particularly in the second half of the novel.

All being said, this is a decent tale to read. It’s worthy of a cosy blanket and a decent cup of tea… so probably not one to pick up when the weather is glorious outside. However, if you are after a feel good factor book where happiness is found by all, then this offering is one that shouldn’t be ignored, whatever the time of year.

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.