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December 29, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

The Girl on The Train

It’s been awhile since I stayed up way way past my bedtime reading a book because I just had to know how it ended. These days tiredness usually wins out and, short of propping my eyes open with matchsticks, not much can keep me awake once my head hits the pillow.

The Girl On the Train, however, changed that. The premise alone, of a commuter witnessing a shocking event in a stranger’s back garden, was enough to get me hooked. I’m a sucker for a psychological thriller and this novel promised drama, mystery and a plot twist to rival Gone Girl and it didn’t fail to deliver.

The novel is told through the eyes of three female protagonists, Rachel, Anna and Megan.

Rachel’s daily train commute takes her right past Anna and Megan’s track side houses, which are just doors apart. At the start  of the novel we see her immersed in her imaginings of how the other two live their lives, gleaned from her brief daily glimpses in to their back gardens.

However, the reader quickly learns that Rachel has a history with the residents in one of the houses, where she herself used to live with her ex-husband, Tom, who left her for Anna. Rachel’s jealousy and anger towards Anna and Tom still impacts massively on her life and it is clear that she is struggling to move on.

Megan, however, exists, for Rachel, purely in her imagination where she resides in blissful matrimony with her loving husband ‘Jason’. That is until the night that Megan goes missing, which just so happens to be the same night that Rachel decided to get blind drunk and pay her ex and his new wife a visit. With a hangover that seems to last days and an unshakeable feeling that she holds the key to what happened to Megan, Rachel sets about desperately trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

Through these three women, who are different in age, circumstance and happiness, we see the story unfold. As the plot moves seamlessly between the past and the present, it becomes apparent that Rachel, Anna and Megan’s stories are linked in ways they would never have dreamed of.

Hawkins does a great job of keeping the reader in the dark, whilst dropping just enough hints to make you feel like a world-class detective when you start to piece the story together. Each puzzle piece that fell in to place felt like a small victory that had me reading on to find out if I was in fact as talented at solving crimes as I felt I was.

The author also plays around with the idea of unreliable witnesses and misinterpreted situations which I found interesting in terms of character development and knowing who to trust. In particular Hawkins explores issues surrounding alcoholism and subsequent memory-loss as well as the extent that some people will go to manipulate situations to benefit themselves. The characters she creates were successful in stirring up emotions ranging from empathy to disgust and whilst i’m less than convinced I would like to spend time with any of them, if they were real people, I found them compelling enought to want to read through the night to see how their stories ended.

Claustrophobic, addictive and page-turnery, this is a must for a late night read-a-thon.

 

June 8, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

Happy Birthday Moon

A three year old told me today that ‘cat’s don’t have birthdays’ but then she also told me that she saw a wolf crossing the road so i’m not convinced that she is the most reliable of sources!

So in the spirit of celebrating one whole year of our smallest kitten’s life I want to talk about what Moon has brought us over the time we have been lucky enough to have her…..

I think at the last count we were on about 1 million shrews, 50 leaves, a dozen or so mice and a vole.

Thanks Moony x
P.s Please don’t worry about bringing us a present tonight, it’s your birthday so we’ll hunt you down a tin of tuna.

May 22, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

Northern Lights

northern lights

His Dark Materials, of which Northern Lights is the first, were childhood favourites of mine. So when Ben finally (after a tiny bit of nagging) embraced reading I decided to buy him the trilogy. I gave it to him slightly nervously as it is always feels like a bit of a risk giving someone something you read so long ago, and that is technically meant for young readers, in case they look at you as if to say ‘i’m not five!’. But of course Ben didn’t do that, he read and he loved. In fact he loved so much that it made me desperate to read them all over again despite the groaning bookshelf of unread books calling to me from our tiny spare room Library.

In the first of the three novels, Northern Lights, Philip Pullman introduces us to Lyra, a young girl who has been raised parentless in Oxford college. With busy scholars as her guardians and visits from the only relative in her life, her awe-inspiring uncle, few and far between, Lyra is, for the most part, allowed to run wild around the grounds and surrounding town, which she does with relish. Rivalries with visiting gyptian children and getting in to mischief with her friend Roger, the kitchen boy, are all that concern her.

All that changes with a series of events that begins with the latest visit from her uncle, Lord Asriel, in which she secretly witnesses a murder attempt and first learns about the mysterious and otherworldly particle called ‘Dust’, which Asriel has spent years searching for. Fascinated and horrified as she is by what she heard, whilst eavesdropping, Lyra fails, at first, to understand the true consequences of what she has witnessed. However, when children start to go missing, up and down the country, amongst whispers of ‘Gobblers’ taking them to perform unspeakable experiments on, and the arrival of the enchanting Mrs Coulter, who whisks Lyra away to be her ‘important assistant’, Lyra’s peaceful existence is quite abruptly shattered as she suddenly finds herself embroiled in the battle to harness the power of Dust.

Being the hippy and animal-lover that I am, I particularly love the idea of people’s ‘dæmon’, who take the form of animal companions, in Lyra’s world, as being an externalization of each person’s soul and vividly remember wishing, as a child, that I had a dæmon of my own. I’m pretty sure that my poor dog even had to endure my many attempts to telepathically connect our minds.

Not only did I fall in love with Lyra’s story all over again, the moment I started rereading Northern Lights, but I also remembered exactly why it is that Pullman has always played such an important part in my reading life. To me, his writing is perfect. He makes his writing accessible for younger readers without ever compromising on complexity of ideas and development of plot and character. His writing is fluid and his storytelling beyond immense. Pullman’s talent for the fantastical is something I can only ever dream of possessing.

If a story that features armoured bears, families at war, magical instruments, beautiful witches, angels and one of the most enticing and terrifying villains of all time isn’t exciting enough for you then I don’t know what is.

A story every child and adult should read. After all, in the book-world, you are never too old to have an epic adventure.

 

April 24, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

World Book Night 2016 – The Aftermath

WBN_header_with_logo_AS_v_3For the first time, since I heard about World Book Night, I got my act together and applied in time to be a volunteer. In my humble opinion, the idea of being able to give people free books, to encourage reading for pleasure, is a pretty awesome one. It helps as well that I am a sucker for happy endings, so I live in hope that by doing so I may have helped at least one person discover the joy of reading. If that person could be my never-read-a-book-in-her-life younger sister then I think I may have to buy myself one hundred books as a reward.

The book I received sixteen copies of is a YA fiction called Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. I’ll admit now that when a box full of shiny new books arrived, addressed to me, I was very tempted to keep one for myself, but being fully commited to the spirit of World Book Night (not to mention being the guilt-ridden human that I am) I managed to resist.

When Saturday rolled around I was excited, but faced with the prospect of having to actually talk to several people I don’t know, about something so dear to me, I suddenly felt a bit nervous too. What if they threw the book in my face? What if absolutely no-one wanted one? And what if for some reason someone called me fat? Despite all these very real worries I forced myself out, bag of books in hand, ready to talk about how much I love reading (which I really really do).

I started off in Basingstoke, comforted by the thought that we were off out for a friend’s 30th that night and if all else failed my friends would take pity on me and take some books off my hands. Walking around with my husband I started looking for likely candidates, I asked if he had any advice on how I should go about “approaching my targets”, he said that the ony advice he had was for me to stop calling people targets as it sounded like something that could end up getting us kicked out of the shopping centre. After that I sent him away to look at sport-related things, knowing he would be happy for the rest of time if that’s how long it took me.

And then I approached my first targets lucky recipients. Having decided to go for people sitting down and therefore hopefully less likely to run away, I walked up to two teenage girls, on a bench. As soon as I started talking to them and explained that I didn’t want any money or signatures they visibly relaxed and seemed really interested in taking a couple of books off my hands, saying they would give them a go even though they didn’t currently read for pleasure. 1-0 to me! I found it a lot easier after that to approach people and get talking to them about books, and whether or not they read, and found on the whole people were really positive and willing to listen. A few refused on the grounds that they said they really wouldn’t read the book and felt it would be wasted on them but no-one verbally abused me or laughed in my face.

With only a few books left to rehome, after my trips around Basingstoke and Alton Sainsbury’s (people also don’t tend to run that fast pushing trolleys), I decided to take the straglers out with me to the pub. The four remaining books were distributed amongst my friends and the table next to where we were sitting. Unfortunately, there was one horrific book incident, I can barely bring myself to tell you about, involving three pages being ripped out and a book left (not I hasten to add by any of my friends). Worry not though, fellow book lovers, because the injured book was rescued by my dear friend Brad who promised to love it and take it on holiday to Indonesia to be read on a beach. His exact words were that he would love it like he would an injured cat and I believe him, even if he had been drinking since that morning.

The rest of the evening was spent drinking vodka and listening to some of my friends read out passages of the book. I think a few of them may even have discussed a career move in to the lucrative world of audiobooks, so watch this space.

World Book Night was even better than I expected. The warm glow of giving something for nothing and sharing a book with my friends was unbeatable. And as for the book destroyers, I feel sad for them that they are missing out on millions of fictional worlds. That’s punishment enough.

April 18, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

The High Lord

high lord

Finishing the last novel in the Black Magician Trilogy not only means that I know how Sonea’s story ends but also that I can now safely return three of my long-suffering book-friend, Mary’s, books. I think it must have been well over 4 years since these books saw their home-bookcase.

The High Lord follows on from the second book, The Novice, in which we saw Sonea fight and conquer the bully Reign and, as a result of the High Lord, Akkarin, finding out that she knew his secret, being forced to become his ‘favourite’. At the end of The Novice we left Sonea in the clutches of Akkarin with seemingly no way to escape without endangering those closest to her. In this third and final installment we start to learn in more depth about the character of the High Lord, as well as the history of the Magician’s Guild, as both a building and a historical society, and in particular the place that black magic has within its walls.

Canavan’s protagonist, Sonea, appears somewhat pacified in this novel compared to the first. This is, however, much like the character we saw develop in the second novel where, despite her eventual victory, she seemed, for the most part, to accept being the underdog without a fight. This was such a contrast to the angry and unpredictable character we saw in the first novel, who oozed excitement and unharnessed power, that I found Canavan’s development of Sonea’s character into a meek doormat quite unconvincing.

Although Sonea’s rebellion in fact takes on another, much darker form in The High Lord, as a character I found her to be less headstrong than it was promised she would be at the beginning of the trilogy, which I found a little disappointing.

However, What I did find interesting about this novel, in terms of character development, was getting to know the character of Akkarin and finally understanding his motivation for learning magic banned by the Magician’s Guild. Akkarin goes from a mysterious, threatening character to a misunderstood vigilante, willing to put his life on the line to protect his fellow magicians. As Akkarin starts to win Sonea around so he appears more human to the reader.

All in all I really enjoyed this trilogy and felt like the author was successful in creating intrigue and suspense in her novels. My enjoyment of the story was only slightly hampered by my annoyance at the protagonist and the magical world, complete with a rich history, that Canavan created, more than made up for it.

April 17, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

The Woman Who Stole My Life

the woman who stole my life

After starting a new job 6 months ago, as a Nanny, I experienced something recently that I have not experienced before – going abroad for work. As I packed for a weeklong trip with my work-family, to Spain, I knew that I’d need some good reading material to get me through the quiet times (when I would normally have been annoying my husband) and keep me company when I was feeling homesick. And who better for the job, I thought, than Marian Keyes herself.

The Woman Who Stole My Life is the story of Stella Sweeny, a one-time accidental author, who, after a year spent in New York touring her full-of-promise self-help book, has arrived back home to Ireland, with her tail between her (only slightly bigger than when she left) legs. Stella’s desperate attempts to conquer writer’s block, give up her beloved Jaffa Cakes and forget about the people she left in New York are just a few of her daily battles.  As Stella’s story, leading up to and after the publishing of her novel, unfolds, the reader learns why exactly it is that she ignores her phone calls and has a self-imposed Google block on a certain someone’s name.

The thing I love most about Marian Keyes’s writing is her ability to create such relatable characters, who pretty much always end up feeling like lifelong friends. Her characters suffer from very real problems, with heartbreak, depression, long-term illness, addiction and self image issues all featuring in her novels, yet I never fail to feel comforted by Keyes’s humour and the hope that she inevitably delivers to her readers, as we see her protagonists come out of the other side. I would never describe her books as depressing, despite the fact that the struggles she portrays are sometimes more real to me than I would like to dwell upon.  It would be impossible to when she writes with such understanding, wit and warmth.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that this was my favourite Keyes novel, because to be honest nothing can beat the Walsh family series of novels for me, I will say that it delivered just the book cuddle that I was looking for on those lonely Spanish nights. So Marian, thank you for coming along for the ride.

January 30, 2016 / ljbradburn-Smith

Outside Enemies

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You’ll probably know by now about my overprotective nature when it comes to my baby animals so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I struggled when it was Moon’s turn to venture out in to the big bad world where cars live. I was of course worried about all the usual suspects that might harm a young kitty, wild animals, other cats, roads, sharp fences and thorns and some more unusual ones too (her own brother who might finally see her being outside as a way to dispose of her and claim back his kingdom).

But what I wasn’t worried about, when I clearly should have been, was the leaf epidemic which is rife around our front door. Poor Moony, with no support from the other cats or her loving human parents, has taken it upon herself to round up these terrors, bravely assassinate them and drag them singlehandly through the catflap to try and open our eyes to the harsh reality of leaf hunting and the dangers we all face on a daily basis (particularly in Autumn).

Thank god for her kitten courage. We salute you Moony.

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