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Marked For Life

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I was older than all my friends when I got my first tattoo.

In the case of Alice Broadway’s debut novel, absolutely judge a book by its cover because this one is a stunner – look at all that beautiful foiling! Whilst I admit the cover drew me in, it was the blurb that made me desperate to read this book because the concept of Ink is fascinating…

Everyone is marked from birth. The stories of their lives are documented on their skin, with every significant moment illustrated for all to see. When a person dies, their skin is removed and made into a special book, a life laid bare. Each book is weighed and judged and, if deemed worthy, will sit in the homes of their ancestors forevermore. But when Leora’s father dies, she soon realises that his Skin Book has been edited and she’s not the only one who has noticed…

Engrossing and immersive, Ink tells the story of one girl’s struggle to understand a parent’s death and to come to terms with the idea that her father was a man not a hero. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has to come to terms with the fact that their parents aren’t perfect or invincible – that they keep secrets and have pasts too. Leora only starts to unveil the truth about her father when his Skin Book gets taken away for examination and she begins to realise the significance of one tiny, hidden tattoo.

The dystopian world Broadway creates within Ink is rich and bewitching. Big concepts such as the afterlife, religion, indoctrination and love are woven into the tale with astute awareness and sensitivity. Ironically in a book about death, there is so much life to the tale and the characters – as the opening book to the trilogy it builds Leora’s world and sets up the premise of the following two books without sacrificing its ability to entertain. The ending was so utterly empowering that I couldn’t help but compare and believe that Broadway was setting Leora up as a Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine for the next book and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Normally I wouldn’t read the opening to a trilogy until all three books were out – as an impatient person, I like to read all three in quick succession – but I couldn’t avoid opening Ink. Unique and addictive, Ink rises to a crescendo and leaves you desperate to see where Broadway is going to take us, and Leora, next.

4 star

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Superhero Superstory

All My Friends Are Superheroes

Tom and the Perfectionist sit in the designated waiting area of Gate 23, Terminal 2, Lester B. Pearson International Airport.

We are all told that with great power comes great responsibility (or at least Peter Parker was when he became the infamous Spiderman…) and so, following that vein, I would argue that with great writing comes great storytelling. All My Friends Are Superheroes was Andrew Kaufman’s debut novel and, having devoured it, it won’t be my last foray into his work.

All of Tom’s friends may be superheroes but even they can’t help him. Rendered invisible to his new-bride by a jealous ex-boyfriend, Tom has to figure out a way to convince the Perfectionist of his love (and existence!) before he loses her forever.

In this short, fast-paced novella, Kaufman creates a fantastical, witty world and a love story you’ll want to revisit time and again. His writing is pithy and precise and delivers a modern fantasy romance with a fairy-tale twist.

All My Friends is a really quirky, fun read but at the same time it can be desperate and raw – these characters aren’t being played with, they are doing the playing. Emotions drive the tale within Kaufman’s perfectly crafted storm of this twenty-somethings life. You feel the desperation of Tom longing to connect to his wife of just a few days, the abandonment felt by the Perfectionist and the unadulterated rage Hypno channels into his revenge.

It is, initially, quite a surreal read but once you accept the unacceptable and embrace the ‘super’ nature of certain characters, you’ll find your feet and follow Tom effortlessly time and again.

4 star

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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