Guest Post By Hattie C. Cooper
I’m back at last! Sorry I haven’t posted in ages but exams have just been hectic! Anyway, on with the post! I’m delighted to be taking part in a Faye Rogers book tour for this fabulous book ‘Following Evan’ by Elida May!
Three years on from the sudden death of her husband Matt and a subsequent miscarriage, interior designer Laura is still lost in grief, hiding out in the smart London townhouse that was going to be her family home. On the encouragement of her best friend Carla, she signs up to a dating website and receives a message from a mysterious stranger, imploring her to visit him in New York because he has seen her face in his dreams. Meanwhile, Laura visits an art gallery and is captivated by a painting of a beautiful woman in a flowing dress. It seems to be speaking directly to her, beckoning her to take a leap of faith. These seemingly disparate events lead Laura on an epic journey to the bustling streets of the Big Apple and the desert landscape of Wyoming, where the clues to her future happiness are waiting to be discovered…
Writing a book about loss is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things a writer can do. This is purely because everyone experiences loss and grief in different ways and to pin that feeling down just using words and sentences is extremely tricky. However May did this brilliantly, her words were lyrical and Laura’s emotions became the focal point of this story which were expressed emotively and sensitively while laying everything bare. It should definitely be read by someone who has lost someone close to them or by someone who wants to delve deeper into understanding grief and loss. I found the story of Following Evan extremely gripping as well and although I found some of Laura’s dreams and illusions a tad confusing as I felt they were ill placed within the novel at certain times, the confusion served as a catalyst for Laura herself I found as grief is such a confusing time and the confusion leads Laura to take her massive leaps of faith within the novel. On the other hand though, I felt that the majority of the novel wasn’t too concentrated on the actual storyline per se, of the gallery and New York and Wyoming, but was used up depicting Laura and her situation and while it really helped me identify with Laura, at some points I felt the story dragged because of that and if so much time wasn’t focused on that, momentum for the climax could have built up more to make for a more gripping read towards the middle-end. However, I found May’s writing to be superb overall and for that I am awarding it 4 stars as I feel it dealt with loss brilliantly.
Rating: 4 stars
About the Author
Elida May was born in Albania in 1972. Growing up in a Communist country, where access to books was severely restricted, helped to nurture her love of the written word, and she avidly read whatever genre she could get hold of, including a lot of European literature. Today Elida lives in London with her son Elidon. Following Evan is her first novel, and she is currently working on her second, Diary of Michael Vica.
For my April Classic I decided to break away from my newfound Jane Austen comfort zone and read something completely different. I turned to my TBR and picked out 1984 by George Orwell. I’d had it for ages, gathering dust while my parents and friends mentioned what a good book it is, so I picked it up and the rest is history.
I have to admit, it wasn’t what I was expecting, I was expecting a fairly dry storyline, with a lot of political jargon as all I’d heard about the novel itself was that it was to do with intelligence and a tyrannical government. However, I was greatly surprised. Set in Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain before it was torn apart by conflict, Winston Smith is a government worker who secretly resents the Party who rules them and spies on them using ‘Telescreens’. It follows him as begins to rebel against the organisation and falls in love with Julia, a fellow government worker turned rebel as they join an underground rebellion.
One thing I loved about this novel, is that it is still relevant despite being published decades of years before – the government snooping on our messages and conversations due to the passing of The Snooper’s Charter a few months ago but obviously it’s no0t as extreme (apart from some countries). This is one of the reasons why 1984 will continue to be a classic for many years to come -it is the birth of dystopia in my opinion – and is a novel of real cultural significance. Orwell predicted many technological and cultural advances and for that, 984 deserves its place on the bookshelves of classics.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Image courtesy of Amazon.
Few books truly express the complexity of friendship, particularly female friendships. They tend to be cast into the shadows, second fiddle to romantic relationships because nothing, so it seems, is as intense as a first love – until now.
In Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things, childhood best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable, or were until enigmatic and mysterious Suzanne worms her way into their tight unit. She is cooler, more reckless and for wallflower Cady, Suzanne is everything she wants to be – someone loved by boys and someone whose recklessness which she recognises as a carefree attitude which causes a rift between Caddy and Rosie as Caddy and Suzanne become increasingly close. However, as Suzanne’s secrets are slowly revealed to Caddy and she realises Suzanne isn’t carefree and confident as she thought, but someone struggling to cope as she adjusts to a new life, there are disastrous consequences as their relationship reaches toxic levels as well as touching upon the fragility of family relationships in the face of tragedy as well.
I cannot express how much I adore and admire this book. All 3 characters are given equal standing and their stories are as complicated as they are. Toxic friendships are something which I think there needs to be more of in YA because although toxic relationships are a common occurrence in society, so are toxic friendships and that’s something I think should be more reflected in YA – especially because teenagers and young adults are still finding their feet in regards to this and friendships are an ever changing thing in school particularly. It explores the jealousy felt by Rosie as Caddy and Suzanne develop a bond as she thinks Caddy is abandoning her, the desperation of Suzanne as she so desperately clings to Caddy to stay afloat and how Caddy is so blinded by her awe of Suzanne that she doesn’t realise when things begin to break.
I thought the character development of Caddy was superbly done and one thing I loved about Beautiful Broken Things was how Barnard reflected characters from a diverse range of backgrounds – there was the upper/middle class Caddy and the working class Suzanne and Rosie and it was done without stereotyping. The storyline was gripping and the subject mater was dealt with sensitively but without holding anything back.
A definite must read.
Rating: 5 stars.
I only just finished Sense and Sensibility last night so excuse the fact that it’s currently April (I have zero time management skills)! I decided to read Sense and Sensibility because after how much I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, I just had to read the rest of her works!
Anyway, on with the review and the endless praise I have for this novel! I know it’s only the 3rd month and this is my 2nd Jane Austen book but I have fallen completely and utterly in love with her writing – even though her novels were published hundreds of years ago, they’re still so completely relevant to 21st century society.
Sense and Sensibility focuses on sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood as both experience heartbreak with Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby respectively) and how they deal with that on top of coping with their greedy sister-in-law. In typical Austen style, it’s witty & satirical but also shows great humour and heart with cleverly written characters and swoon worthy men (Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are both so sweet!)
I love it because it showcases how not everyone deals with difficult situations in their own way and that not everyone experiences heartbreak the same, some seem to take it harder than others. I also loved how it seemed to poke fun at the stiff-upper lip stereotype of the British as Marianne is completely the opposite, wailing so much she makes herself ill over Willoughby. Elinor is the strong and silent one, keeping her feelings to herself and carrying on as if nothing had changed which broke my heart.
I think the reason why Sense & Sensibility is still a widely read classic today is because heartbreak is still a contemporary occurrence and is universal – everyone has or will experience heartbreak of some kind which is why I still believe that Sense and Sensibility will continue to be widely read well into the future.
Rating – it’s Austen so it has be 5 stars!
And so the Classics Challenge continues! Even though we’re well into March I’m going to talk about the classic I read in February – the glorious mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express by the Queen of crime novels herself, Agatha Christie.
I discovered this classic after I went on an Agatha Christie binge over Christmas, perfect if you’re trying to not to stuff your face full of turkey (And Then There Were None will help with that – I’m never good at dealing with blood) and I decided to make it my February classic because nothing can chase the singleton Valentine’s day blues away like the bumbling French detective, M. Hercule Poirot.
Like most (if not all) of Christie’s novels, Murder on the Orient Express is a classics because it is not predictable at all, full of vivid characters which all arouse suspicion, a smash hit of a storyline and clever clues that you only pick up on after you’ve reached the climax. Murder on the Orient Express is set on a train which after it breaks down in the snow, an American millionaire is discovered murdered in his carriage – meaning the killer must be on the train. What follows is 200 pages of interrogation by Poirot, discovering secrets which were best kept hidden, analysing every character scene by scene and finding out that everyone has skeletons in their wardrobe, some horrific and some heartbreaking.
As you can tell, I think Murder on the Orient Express is a pretty incredible book, challenging expectations of the mystery genre and it makes it pretty clear why so many (including myself) regard Christie as a trailblazer of the crime genre. It will definitely stay a classic because everyone is a sucker for a ‘whodunnit’ – there’s a reason why they’re one of the most popular TV genres and why murder-mystery dinner parties are still a regular occurrence in many social circles – and no writer quite reaches Christie’s calibre when it comes to mysteries.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book to everyone that loves crime novels, but also to anyone who’s fairly new to the genre – it’ll hook you in and lead you to a dazzling climax and you’ll wonder why on earth you never read Agatha Christie until now.
I know we’re in February but I’ve been meaning to post this for ages for the 2016 Classics Challenge (such a shame schoolwork gets in the way!). This is my first time doing the Classics Challenge run by Stacey over at The Pretty Books blog (check it out!) and so far, so good!
For my January classic I selected Pride & Prejudice because a) it’s been sitting on my shelf for almost 2 years now (!) and b) I’ve been looking for an excuse to read Jane Austen books since I finished Emma (fantastic!) a few months ago. Obviously, I already knew about Pride & Prejudice – it’s one of the most famous romance novels ever – but I didn’t really start to become interested in reading it until I watched the Lizzie Bennet Diaries web series on YouTube which acted as a modern retelling of it in the digital age. It was witty, funny and just overall amazing, so I decided to give the classic a go. Because I’m broke pretty much all the time though, I didn’t buy it until I was on holiday with my friend in West Wales and I discovered it for 25 pence in a charity shop (bargain!). I was certain I would read it there and then, but I didn’t, so here I am almost 2 years later!
Anyway, I digress! I think the main reason why Pride and Prejudice has remained a classic years after its publication is because firstly, everyone is a sucker for a love story and also, Lizzie Bennet was the original BAMF before the term was even coined! It serves as your guide for navigating early 19th century, and all the social cues that go with it. Austen turns something that could so easily have become forgettable (like a lot of love stories) and turned it into pages of hilarity, satire and frank truths about female friendships, what happens when your parents interfere with your love life, and not to judge a book by its cover! Also, Mr Darcy is the ultimate book boyfriend (who doesn’t love a man who’s dark and broody?) although I do have a soft spot for the lovely Mr Bingley! In fact, I challenge anyone who reads this book to not fall in love with Mr Darcy (it’s pretty impossible!)In short, you can keep your Augustus Waters’ and Cedric Diggorys – I’d pick Fitzwilliam Darcy every time!
In case you haven’t guessed yet, I loved Pride and Prejudice as even though it was published hundreds of years ago it still seems relevant in the 21st century. In fact, I think it’s more relevant than a lot of modern romance novels at the moment and because if this, I think it will stay a classic for many years to come!
So, in summary, I would recommend this book to everyone who loves a good romance novel that’s full of vivid, memorable characters, a kick-ass heroine (who doesn’t actually need to kick asses to be awesome) and needs something fresh after they’ve been in a stale reading slump for far too long!
To find out more about the 2016 Classics Challenge, click here.