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A Parisian Playground

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Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amélie and Moulin Rouge.

I was sure I wasn’t going to enjoy this book. The blurb had all the hallmarks of a Lindsey Lohan/Amanda Bynes/Hillary Duff 90s romcom and the book itself contains all the corresponding over-used stereotypes of a fairly ignorant American girl moving to Paris against her will but meeting a sophisticated and popular English (ish) boy called Étienne St. Clair (seriously!). And yet, despite that and in all honesty with hand on heart, I couldn’t put it down!

Anna and the French Kiss is a characterful read with an accessible and relatable protagonist – you can’t help but imagine yourself in Anna’s place within the pages. She’s in an alien environment, unsure and alone and in that all-too-familiar-way trying to find her voice and place in the world. Stuck between missing an old life and forging a new one, Anna soon finds the reason behind Paris’ romantic reputation and learns that it’s not all bad being forced to live in the French capital…

There are some books that read better when taken on face value – books where, if you scratch too hard beneath the surface, you could argue yourself out of ever having enjoyed it in the first place. Anna and the French Kiss is one of those books. It’s not trying to do anything complicated or complex, but rather tell an addictive story of teen romance. It’s a read to escape within, one that ticks all the boxes – pacey, accessible, Parisian – and yes there are clichés and hypocrisies, yes you know what the outcome will be and yes it is a bit predictable but it is still utterly scintillating!

Anna and the French Kiss is a book that truly demonstrates the phrase “it’s the journey, not the destination” – you may be able to see all too clearly where you’ll end up but it’s so much more about the captivatingly enjoyable tale of getting there!

4 star

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Frost Kings and Folklore

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It was late winter in Northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

I know you should never judge a book by its cover but the stupendously striking cover brought The Bear and the Nightingale to my attention – isn’t it beautiful?! This tale is not only stunning on the outside but a fantastic tale of fantasy realism, set in medieval ‘Rus with a brilliantly headstrong protagonist to lead the way!

Katherine Arden delivers an astonishingly good read with her debut, mixing historical fiction with fantasy and depicting atmospheric medieval landscapes alongside ethereal Russian folklore. Using lyrical prose and a headstrong female protagonist, Arden manages to control and balance pace with atmosphere to create a truly magical read, rich with superstition and tradition.

I loved how easily Arden weaves fairy tale and folklore into the realism of Vasya’s world. Her language is poetic but not flowery and it creates a truly believable yet mysterious place to live within the pages. There are invading strangers, hidden secrets, manipulative shadows and untold pasts that take the reader on a fantastical adventure, one you’ll wish would never end.

The exploration of faith within The Bear and the Nightingale and the conflict between religious faith and ancient tradition is well established in Vasya’s world. The issues that arise when one tries to supersede the other for the community as well as the internal struggle for the characters is recognisable and helps to link this ancient tale to the modern world.

I read this book on my Kindle and it was only when I got to the end that I realised there was a glossary – people, there is a glossary! Reading without this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book, I muddled through and made assumptions that were near enough correct, but the glossary sure would have helped so do use it when you pick up this astonishing and enchanting read!

4 star

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Bonjour Josephine

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It was the most important night of Josephine’s life.

This book would not have made it to my bookshelf at all had I not been working as a steward at the Bath Literature Festival. I am not a big reader of historical biographies but when author Kate Williams gave a talk on her new title it was so passionately and knowledgeably given that I was so drawn to finding out more about the unique life of Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie that I asked for the book for my birthday. It has, admittedly, taken me a while to read the book but, now I have, I found it to be a fascinating, informative and entertaining read, one that took me by surprise.

Josephine is an accessible book that focuses on the rise and fall of the woman who was to become the Empress of France. Williams’ writing style is authoritative yet informal and demonstrates her hours of research within simple, perfectly structured sentences. As entrancing as a good fiction novel, Josephine transports you back to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France to follow the life of one ordinary girl from Martinique who went on to become a national sensation.

The decadence, resilience and pure dumb luck of Josephine’s life is astonishing – she determinedly travels from Martinique, survives her first husband, escapes the guillotine, becomes one of the It girls of French society, collects many lovers and admirers and eventually marries Napoleon Bonaparte, helping him to cement his place forever in history. The woman lived a life and a half!

The whole book is riveting but it is the turbulent and passionate relationship between Napoleon and Josephine that creates the particularly addictive narrative. Interspersed with source material, Williams effortlessly depicts the depth of obsession and connection between these two ambitious survivors of French society. Napoleon is like a man possessed throughout the chase of his Martinique girl and Josephine knows just how to get what she wants from her paranoid and insecure husband. Their over-the-top declarations of love and petty, juvenile behaviour contradicts the expectation of these two supposedly-sophisticated adults and it’s amazing how indulged they become as their power grows.

Josephine is a captivating read that offers great insight to the world of the French court, the Revolution and empire and how one remarkable woman was able to survive and thrive during turbulent times.

4 star

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Unnervingly Familiar

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I’m wondering what if.

Set in an alternative 1950s England, where the ‘Motherland’ has taken control of the country, Maggot Moon tells the story of Standish Treadwell. He’s not very bright and people underestimate him, but they shouldn’t. Constantly running from the bullies, Standish is about to uncover the biggest secret in his totalitarian world ­– a secret that will cause everyone to question the “truth”s they have been told.

I’ll admit that Maggot Moon isn’t the easiest novel to jump straight into, as the chapters are short snap shots, pieced together by a narrator whose reality is very different to our own. It took me a while to decipher what is what and who is who, which was slightly unsettling but once the novel gathers pace, you gain your bearings and a connection with the events and characters is built.

Gardner creates an atmospheric alternative-past where humanity is questioned and freedom suppressed. There are obvious influences taken from the history books – most notably from Nazi Germany and Cold War Russia and the main story arc even reflects the infamous Space Race. Standish is an innocent observer to his surroundings, having grown up with the Greenflies and abusive authoritarians, and his matter-of-fact descriptions of the world he lives in makes for very effective and raw reading material.

I found Maggot Moon to be a particularly affecting read but it came into its own upon reflection, when distance gave me time to really think about the content. I was genuinely astonished at how relevant it is to our world today. Comparisons and parallels can be drawn with the US goings on as fact and media manipulation drives the story of Maggot Moon, making it a perfect book for teacher’s to use in their classrooms to raise debate and discussion – especially for children who aren’t quite ready to read 1984.

3 star

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Top Ten Tuesday – Literary Couples

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Every week The Broke and the Bookish conjure up a new Top Ten list for us book bloggers to write about. This week is, unsurprisingly, a love-related freebie so I have chosen to share with you lovely lot my ten favourite literary couples. Writer and frenchman François de La Rouchefoucauld said that “people would never fall in love if they hadn’t heard love talked about” and as some of the greatest love stories are found in literature perhaps they wouldn’t fall in love if they hadn’t read about it either.

Below is a list of my #relationshipgoals couples from the wonderful world of books. These are the couples I’ve rooted for, laughed alongside and felt all the feelings with – the ones that never change because they’re written on the pages of our favourite titles. Starting with…

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Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy

AKA the dream team! Very little needs to be said here as they’re pure perfection!

 

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Mr and Mrs Weasley

I know, I know – Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny or even Tonks and Lupin should be the HP couple on this list and they would be if not for the fact that Molly and Arthur blow every other couple’s love, commitment, loyalty and relationship out of the park!

 

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Jo March and Laurie Lawrence

Because this relationship is what should have been and nothing will change my mind on that! Every time I read Little Women I cross everything that this time Jo will say yes and all will be as it should. Professor Behr has nothing on Laurie Lawrence, Louisa May Alcott!

 

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Katniss and Peeta

Katniss and Peeta may not be a conventional couple but throughout the Hunger Games trilogy they not only want to survive but try to keep the other alive against all odds. Their selflessness towards each other makes them undoubtedly a better fit than Katniss and Gale.

 

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Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe

Anne and Gilbert grow up together and their beautiful love story goes from childhood teasing to friendly respect to a deep-rooted love. He’s the anchor to her dreaming and even makes her say the iconic line “I don’t want diamond sunbursts or marble halls…I just want you.”

 

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Westley and Buttercup

How could I not pick the star-crossed lovers from the greatest story ever told? Westley and Buttercup’s relationship in The Princess Bride make for the ‘typical’ fair-maid and farmhand-turned-pirate love story within a wonderfully satirical and hilarious fairy tale.

 

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Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood

Willoughby was fleeting whereas Brandon is forever! He waits in the wings with quiet determination and patience, saving his love’s life and nursing her back to full-strength – still waters run very deep with his man and Marianne is a very lucky lady!

 

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Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park are the teen dream couple – on paper they are completely mismatched, come from different worlds and yet they find what they need in each other. In Eleanor and Park Rainbow Rowell creates the perfect teen romance with realistically flawed teens – no Romeo and Juliet simpering here!

 

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Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew

Like ships in the night, Emma and Dex are never ready (or single!) at the right moment to get their acts together but we root for them anyway! They’re meant to be; pure and simple but David Nicholls I will never forgive you for page 385.

 

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Benedick and Beatrice

Some people might say Romeo and Juliet for the token Shakespearean couple but I have always preferred the feistier Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. They are older, wiser and have a much better story in my opinion – an embittered yet wisecracking rivalry that develops into something more.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day TTWers! Who are your favourite literary couples? Did you meet your other half in a literary way? Let me know in the comments!

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A Myriad of Mysteries

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A bottle of wine.

With a first line like that was it any wonder I was hooked by the latest offering from Anthony Horowitz?! The boy very kindly bought me this book for Christmas as I loved The House of Silk and as I have a penchant for murder mysteries too it seemed like a perfect pressie – and it was! (The fact he now wants to borrow it had, I’m sure, nothing to do with the selection…!)

Editor Susan Ryeland is reading the latest offering from her highly successful crime writer, Alan Conway, when she realises that the final chapters of his last book are missing. The next day in the office, when investigating where the final chapters could be, Susan’s Publisher announces that Conway has committed suicide. Is his death related to the missing pages or could they even be the reason he was killed?

Magpie Murders is an exceptionally clever book – a murder mystery wrapped in another murder mystery. You start by reading Susan’s tale before you delve deep into the story she is reading, the final Alan Conway novel. Feeling as unsatisfied as she does when the story abruptly ends, you then pick up with Susan again as she looks for the missing pages. Sounds complicated but Horowitz’s accessible and fast-paced writing makes the transitions simple and easy to follow (a different font also helps!).

The credentials and strength of Horowitz’s murder-mystery-writing background are clear throughout Magpie Murders with mysterious clues, red herrings and suspicious characters at every turn. The tale within the tale is a perfect golden-age crime story, written in a tone and voice that harks back to the greats of Christie and Chandler, yet it doesn’t overshadow the modern mystery – they compliment each other as much as they intertwine.

There is nothing about this book that I didn’t enjoy. It instantaneously makes you desperate to solve two crimes – racing towards finding the final chapters, desperately hoping for the answer to not only Susan’s mystery but the other fictional one too! Horowitz has created a wonderful modern mystery with Magpie Murders and I look forward to chatting it over with the boy once he’s read it!

4 star