Review: These Dividing Walls, by Fran Cooper

One Parisian summer
A building of separate lives
All that divides them will soon collapse… 

In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building.

Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers.

Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief.

But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…

 

These Dividing Walls is the debut novel from Fran Cooper. The story follows the inter-woven stories of the residents of Number 37, on a street in the suburbs of Paris.

What’s The Story?

Edward arrives at number 37 a grieving, lost Englishman. In an attempt to get past the sudden death of his sister, a friend has loaned him use of her apartment in Paris. As he settles into life in the apartment block, he comes to meet many other residents, each dealing with their own personal issues and hiding their own secrets.

The Review

I found this book very refreshing in that it portrays the good, the bad, and the ugly of Parisian society (and indeed society the world over). When you pick up a book set in Paris; you instinctively expect shiny arrondissements, la rive gauche, sophisticated and put-together protagonists and a rosy sheen on the French capital. What the reader actually gets in These Dividing Walls is a presentation of the normal, everyday Parisians on the outskirts of the city; away from the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées.

Between them, the residents of Number 37 represent a cross-section of the sentiments, struggles and everyday trials of husbands and wives, parents and children. There are some very likeable characters, like Frédérique, the aunt of Edward’s apartment-owning friend who lives in a stunning and spacious ground floor home in the same building; working every so often in her art book shop. She brings Edward out of his solitude, recognising in him the same loss she feels in her own soul; and together they help each other to heal. In young mum Anaïs, Cooper sensitively but accurately depicts the overwhelming sea of emotions that accompanies postnatal depression; as she struggles through a life with three small children, a shell of her former self.

The underlying theme which runs throughout the book, affecting all of the characters; is that of xenophobia in an age of increased immigration, and the way this affects lives. An air of fear and anger sits over the Paris of These Dividing Walls, fuelled and exploited by far-right dissidents; denied and ignored by the richer arrondissements; and we see the characters deal with this situation in different ways. Some of the residents, who have arrived bitter and twisted into their older age; ooze spite and venom in the face of that which is different to them, others beat them down with open-minded acceptance that yes; bad things happen, but no; the actions of the few do not represent the beliefs of the many.

The rumbling undercurrent of rebellion comes to a head at the end of the book, when all the residents find themselves drawn in some way into the events taking over the city.

There is no neat wrap-up at the end of These Dividing Walls, which is another point I very much liked about this book. The final message is that, through grief, betrayal, terror; life continues forward – for the residents, as well as for us.

 

These Dividing Walls is a fantastic and contemporary debut from Fran Cooper, due for publication on 4th May.

With thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the ARC.

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Review: The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George

The Overview

The Little Breton Bistro (released 2nd March) is the latest offering from Nina George. Having devoured The Little Paris Bookshop on honeymoon last year, I couldn’t not request this ARC when I spotted it on NetGalley, and was pretty chuffed when my approval email came through!

The Little Breton Bistro follows protagonist Marianne on a quest to rediscover life. The book opens in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, as she prepares to take her own life. Stuck in an unhappy and loveless marriage to a dull and controlling man, Lothar; she just can’t see the point of going on living.

Her plan is thwarted by a homeless man who pulls her from the river, and she is whisked off to hospital for treatment. While she is in the hospital, she finds a small tile painted with the image of a beautiful port town, Kerdruc, in Britanny. She decides to escape the hospital, fully intending to complete what she started in Paris in this beautiful little port town.

The journey from the hospital in Paris to Kerdruc is full of quirky coincidences, and when Marianne finally arrives in Kerdruc, she is mistaken for the new chef at Ar Mor bistro. This is the turning point in Marianne’s story; and from this point we see her rediscover the joys in life, and help guide the people around her too.

The Review

Part of what really made the story for me were the descriptions of the landscape that flow throughout – George’s words paint a stunning image of the Breton coast, from sights, smells, to colours, and emotion.

As is her signature style, The Little Breton Bistro flows with an engaging and easy to follow storyline. A host of characters grace the pages, each of them contributing a different theme to the book; and contributing to Marianne’s transformation – we watch her turn from suffocated and timid to powerful and confident in herself. Her husband Lothar, by contrast, does exactly the opposite – although for the vast majority of the book he is only present in Marianne’s guilt; by the end of the story he has been stripped of the control he once had over her. This book is about love – new, enduring, unrequited – as well as birth, death and friendship. As her life changes from everything she once knew, Marianne arrives at a point where she must decide to hold on to the past; or embrace the future.

George’s writing style and stories always remind me of the film Amélie – colourful, full of life, with a sprinkle of the eccentric. French-ness. It is a winning combination.

I was surprised to learn that Nina George has written 26 books, as well as over 100 short stories – a quick Amazon search suggests that The Little Paris Bookshop and The Little Breton Bistro are the only ones to have made it across the continent to our bookshelves. Hopefully there are many more to come!

With thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for the ARC.

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Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I’m going to put it out there, straight up: I have never read any of Jodi Picoult’s books before. I have a small collection of them on the bookshelf, hidden among my TBRs and old favourites, and obviously went along and cried to My Sister’s Keeper when the film was released; but nothing more. So, when a friend, a massive Picoult fan, got in touch to say she was holding a reading from her new book at the Sage Gateshead (and that the tickets included a copy of the book!) I jumped at the chance to go along.

Picoult was at the Sage as part of the tour to promote Small Great Things, her latest book. The evening consisted of a reading from the book followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

I knew from the reading that this was going to be a book quite unlike anything I’ve read before, and so I spent a little time mentally preparing myself before picking up Small Great Things towards the end of January.

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The book tells the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American Maternity nurse with over 20 years’ experience in looking after new mothers and their babies. One day, at the start of her shift, she takes over the care of a newly-born baby boy, Davis Bauer. His parents, two white supremacists, lodge a complaint with the hospital and insist that no African American personnel are to touch their son. The hospital complies with their request and Ruth is taken off the case. However, as a result of a staff shortage, a colleague asks her to keep watch over the baby while she deals with another delivery – and he dies.

What follows is the story of Ruth’s journey through the American justice system, leading up to her trial. The narrative is split between the views of Ruth; Turk, the white supremacist father; and Ruth’s attorney Kennedy. The ever-changing narrative allows us to see into each of our protagonists’ lives, away from the trial – their history, their beliefs, and how they came to be in the position they are in currently. I found this to be a very effective way of telling the story, and thought it added a great amount of depth. This way, nothing the reader sees is clear cut. You cannot help but feel for Turk, as he mourns the loss of his first child; even while at the same time you are filled with disgust and horror at his behaviour and the way he lives his life. Similarly, while you feel shock and horror at Ruth’s tale and the everyday discrimination she experiences purely as a result of her skin colour; you can’t help but be angry with her when she holds back information from Kennedy. Over the course of the book, we see Kennedy assess the way she approaches and deals with racism, and the way this changes, as a result of her relationship with Ruth.

Whilst I may have gotten a flavour of the book at the reading, I was absolutely not prepared for how completely uncomfortable this book would make me feel. All. The. Time. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book which created such an ambience of anticipative tension. It drags out those elements of society that it’s all too easy to look away from and try to ignore; and sits them right in front of you across 494 pages of unapologetic rawness. Picoult is without doubt an accomplished and skillful storyteller, and the tale is made all the more impactful by the fact that both Turk and Ruth are based on real people, with similar stories, who she met with and spoke to over the course of her research. Small Great Things is great indeed, and I certainly look forward to reading more of Picoult in the near future.

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Review: Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

I have not come across a huge number of books which can hook you on the first page; even fewer that can do so in the first paragraph. But the rawness of the opening sentence of Snowblind sets the tone for what is a very clever crime story and an outstanding first novel:

The red stain was like a scream in the silence.

The first book in Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, Snowblind follows Ari Thor Arason, a young police recruit about to finish his training. He is offered a job with the police force in Siglufjordur, a small town he doesn’t know much about except that:

…one could hardly travel further north in Iceland; a place probably closer to the Arctic Circle than to Reykjavik.

He accepts, leaving his girlfriend and their apartment behind in Reykjavik and moving to the town where nobody locks their doors and, in the words of his sergeant, nothing ever happens.

Except when it does.

Installed in Siglufjordur, Ari Thor tries to settle into life in a small town surrounded by mountains. He takes piano lessons with Ugla, a young woman who has also recently moved to the town and understands his feelings of entrapment and claustrophobia. On Christmas Eve, alone on the evening shift, Ari Thor receives a phone call which marks the beginning of an investigation that will chill the town to its bones. When a young woman is found seriously injured in the snow and an elderly, famous writer meets his death in the local theatre, Ari Thor must battle community secrets, heavy snowfall, and the avalanches which block off the only route in or out of the town.

Snowblind is an excellent novel, and an impressive debut from Jonasson. The characters are skilfully interwoven using a variety of narrative viewpoints, and there is a large enough quantity of these to tax your brain into trying to piece them all together; while not being so overwhelming that it’s impossible to keep up with what’s going on.

Jonasson’s description of the wild, raw beauty of Iceland and its small, isolated towns paints a picture of the country in the reader’s mind which is both impressive and intimidating, at the complete mercy of the elements. His writing evokes the sense of absolute claustrophobia that Ari Thor feels at being surrounded by snow and unable to escape, and the reader feels all of this with our protagonist. The book keeps you guessing until the end, culminating in a twist that I, for one, most definitely did not see coming.

This sophisticated piece of Icelandic Noir is perfect for curling up against a cold, dark evening. I’m looking forward to getting started on book 2 – Nightblind!

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Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Review

Well hello! Long time no speak… Since the time of my last blog post, I’ve gotten married, started a new job and jetted off for the most beautiful 2 weeks in Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. Now, we’re back and fully settled into married life, and I have been able to up my reading once more!

I’ve also had a think about what it is I wanted to focus on in this space. I am no beauty queen, I cannot afford to buy new clothes every week, and I don’t feel like I can (or want to) write faithfully about these subjects any more. What I can do, however – and do frequently – is read. Buy books. Add to an ever-increasing TBR list and a Kindle that’s bursting with un-reads. I have an inability to walk past a bookshop without popping in ‘for a browse’ and coming out with a volume I just couldn’t leave behind. Going forward this blog will focus on books: my reviews of them, the books I want to read, general chatter and reflection. So, brew up a cuppa, get cosy in your reading chair and have a read of the first review of 2017: Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.

Book Blind Dates 

I had been desperate to read this book for SUCH a long time! In November, I was at an event at the Biscuit Factory in Ouseburn and happened to walk past their pop-up Forum Books shop (sheer coincidence…ahem). There was a huge basket of ‘blind date’ books just staring at me, and after much deliberation, I picked up this unassuming brown paper package all tied up with string:

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How could you say no to that description?! Turns out I couldn’t, and I was so pleased when I unwrapped it to find Mr Penumbra looking back at me. (Also, on a side note – get yourself along to the Biscuit Factory. Art and books and a lovely coffee shop!)

The Review 

I have often thought that what I needed in my life was a 24 hour bookshop, so of course this book caught my eye! I also love books about books, and bookshops. Sloan’s writing is free-flowing, easy and very engaging; and it’s easy to lose, say, the best part of a day getting completely absorbed in this book. It’s also a funny read, without trying too hard at it. From the moment Mr Penumbra stepped from the shadows and asked Clay Jannon:

“What do you seek in these shelves?” 

I was hooked.

The book follows our protagonist Clay as he joins Mr Penumbra’s bookstore as the night clerk. A strange and mysterious place, frequented by a host of rather eccentric individuals and not many other visitors, it doesn’t take Clay long to stumble upon the bookshop’s secret and get pulled into a whole other world: a place of old books, e-books, and the battle between, and integration of; old and new. With Google alongside ancient texts and coding alongside catalogues, this book is just fun. It made me want to learn to code and write a book and buy a bookshop all at once. I read it in two sittings.

I enjoyed the characters who grace the pages of MP24HB – (it’s a long title to type out!) – in my mind, Penumbra was an eclectic combination of Dumbledore, Gandalf, Merlin from The Sorcerer’s Stone and my own Grandad. Clay is the unlikely hero alongside a modern-day (Google) wizard Kat; and the bookshop patrons are lovable in their quirkiness.

This book also contains one of my favourite lines in literature:

“Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.”

Festina Lente, friends – enjoy!

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Although I’ve been a member of a book group in Whitley Bay for a couple of years now; during 2015 I’d not made it to many meetings. A mixture of crazy times at work and then no time at all at work meant that before I knew it, we’d arrived at Christmas and I was left with a somewhat guilty feeling of neglect. I vowed that this year I would make an effort to finish the books and attend the meetings – I don’t really have any excuses at the moment!

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February’s book was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. The story follows Rosemary, the narrator, as she works through the story of how her sister disappeared from her life as a child – a story she’s never told before.

This had been on my radar for quite some time, and I was really looking forward to reading it…. so I was a little bit disappointed when I reached the end of the book and couldn’t figure out if I had actually enjoyed it or not. It certainly wasn’t one of those books that ‘grabbed’ me. There is a pretty big twist which crops up at 77 pages in; which I wasn’t expecting at all. It completely threw me off course and upended everything I was expecting from the story.

The book starts in the middle of her story; while Rosemary is an undergraduate at the University of California. A chance encounter (and brief jail stay) with a girl called Harlow leads Rosemary to share her story – or, at least; a version of her story with her. Having told this; Rosemary then admits to the reader that the story is not true – the truth is something she has never told anyone. The story then goes back to her beginning, at 5 years old, to the time when her sister was still in her life; and then finally comes back to present day.

“… I don’t see how to go further forward without going back – back to the end of that story, back to when I returned to my family from my grandparents’ house. 

Which also happens to be the exact moment when the part I know how to tell ends and the part I’ve never told before begins.”

Although the way she jumps between periods of time and memory is a clever vehicle for telling her story; at times I did find myself feeling quite bored with the narrative and a little confused with what was going on. Rosemary’s brother Lowell is woven into the story but not fully explored; which I thought was a bit of a loss and could have added another interesting element to the book. That being said; there are some parts of the book which left a real impression and some quite beautifully written sentences throughout.

The nature of the twist is such that, in order to not give anything away, this review needs to stay fairly generic in detail. What I will say is that the book deals very cleverly with the whole concept of memory: the memories we retain from childhood; the way our mind can warp them, and the impression they can leave on us as adults. It also impresses upon the reader how the drive of money and power pushes industry; held up by science and experiments. The book lays out in fairly graphic detail the lengths that those in power will go to, in order maintain their position.

“An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

On reflection; although I didn’t enjoy We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as much as I was expecting (or hoping); when I was pulling my thoughts together to write this review, I found that it deals with a lot more, and makes you question a lot more; than I had originally thought.

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Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

It’s been a long time (a good few months!) since I did a book review, and I’ve read so many good books since then that I’m going to have to start writing!

On a visit to Oxford back in March; my friend took my into Blackwell’s bookshop. It is an AMAZING place. Books sprawl over several floors and the Norrington Room is like the library every book lover wishes they had. I could have spent hours in there.

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As it was, we only had a little while to look around, so after a brief wander I settled on buying ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield shot to worldwide fame in 2013 when his version of ‘Space Oddity’ recorded on the ISS was released on YouTube. His career as an astronaut spanned 21 years and during that time he has become the first Canadian to walk in space and the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. Not a bad career path eh!

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My purchase did not disappoint. Hadfield’s writing flows smoothly and openly, with plenty of humour and sarcasm thrown in for good measure. It’s an easy and engaging read; and I’d encourage you all to read it at once!

Chris’s book roughly follows his life, from 9 year old boy watching the first moon landing on TV to his final space flight in 2013.It is full of tips, techniques and methods of thinking that can, and should, be applied in everyday life on earth. There are lots in there, so I have plucked out my favourite take-aways below.

1) Attitude 

In space; attitude is the orientation of your vehicle relative to the sun. You must keep adjusting your attitude to make sure you don’t stray from your course, lose control and spin out. On earth; the same rule applies. You can’t control all the variables around you in life; but you can control your attitude towards them and the attitude that takes you through your journey. If a variable changes; change your attitude in line with it. Changing your attitude is a much better outcome than being disappointed in your destination.

2) Work the problem

‘Working the problem’ is astronaut speak for working through every possible decision tree for solving your problem, until you reach the one that presents you with a solution. The message here is that rather than stressing out about the issue that’s thrown itself in your way; you should take a breath, step back and calmly work through your options for dealing with it. Did you ever see an astronaut have a me,t down because something went wrong?…….fair enough, they have many many years of training to get them to that point, but the concept still applies 😉

3) The power of negative thinking

I’m sure that most people will at some point have heard of the term ‘visualisation’ – the practise of picturing yourself achieving that goal you’ve been working towards for so long. You see yourself getting that promotion, winning that race, writing the bestselling novel; picture all the positive steps that it is going to take to get you to that goal…..and then you stop. What happens afterwards? What happens if your master plan does not, as is so often the case; go entirely to plan?

Col. Hadfield is a big advocate of the power of negative thinking. What’s the point of not preparing for things going wrong? As part of an astronaut’s training, they will go through countless simulations, or sims, to learn how to prepare for things taking a wrong turn – or as Chris puts it ‘what’s the next thing that could kill me?’ (when you’re hurtling upwards into the atmosphere at however many thousands of miles an hour things are a little more extreme!). His confidence comes from always preparing for the worst, and planning how to avoid it.

4) Aim to be a zero

This particular takeaway was possibly the the piece of advice that resonated with me the most. I’m sure there are many in the corporate world who have watched a new team member or manager join the company and immediately sweep through making changes without a real understanding of the current dynamics or the impact those changes will make. In Hadfield’s opinion; you can either be a zero, a plus one or a minus one.

If you’re a zero; you have no positive or negative impact on a situation. You are neutral. You don’t make life more difficult for the people you’re working with, you don’t excel or have a positive impact either.

A minus one is pretty self explanatory…..you are having a negative impact on the situation. Your actions are perhaps not well thought out and rather than providing solutions, you are creating problems.

A plus one is, obviously, the ultimate goal. Everyone wants to be a plus one, to be actively contributing to your situation in a positive manner. But becoming a plus one takes time, and work, and patience. If you waltz into a situation trying to prove how much of a plus one you are; the likelihood is that people are going to perceive you as a minus one, regardless of the skills or the ability you are bringing to the table.

In a new situation, be it a new job or a volunteering or just helping someone out, always aim to be a zero – you’ll eventually be viewed as a plus one without ever having to tell people that you are.

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There are so many positive pieces of advice in the book that I couldn’t possibly list them all here (though you could easily fill a fair few blog posts with them all) – all I can say is that this book is absolutely, definitely worth a read. And that I hope Chris Hadfield signs up for some talks in the UK sometime soon! In the meantime, I will be watching the below TED talk if you need me 😊

Books on my Hot List for 2015

Following on from my review of my favourite books of 2014; today’s post is a run down of (some of) the books on my reading list for 2015.

I am one of those people that cannot walk past a bookshop without going in ‘just for a browse’ and walking out with at least one book (normally 2 or 3, let’s be honest) to add to the stack of books on the bedside cabinet. It’s already so high that it almost blocks the light from my bedside lamp! So it is probably safe to say that this isn’t a comprehensive list and there will be additions over the year – another 11 books with my book group; for a start!

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On my list currently, in no order of preference, are:

The Bookshop Book – Jen Campbell

How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan (January’s book group read)

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

Late Fragments – Kate Gross

Yes Please – Amy Poehler

The stand-outs for me from the list above are ‘How to be a Woman’, which I’m halfway through now and loving; and ‘Late Fragments’ which I bought after listening to a Woman’s Hour interview with the author’s mother. Kate Gross was a charity CEO, who died on Christmas Day last year after a battle with colon cancer. The interview really caught my attention – her mother spoke so openly about her achievements, her illness and her approach to her terminal illness, and Kate sounded like such a brilliant figure. When I got home from work that day I immediately ordered the book.

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I can think of many others I would like to read as well – Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey……so many books, so little time!! I would love to develop a little reading nook in our house this year as well – we’ll see what James will let me get away with 😉

I suppose I had better go and get settled with one of these beauties, then – I have a lot to get through!

Happy reading

Steph x

Top Books of 2014

I am a major bookworm. I always have a big pile of books on my bedside cabinet, and am forever guilty of buying 3 new books when I’m still in the middle of the current one.

I’ve read some good books and some not so good books over the course of 2014 – here is a run down of my favourites!

***Disclaimer*** The following is just a mash up of my opinions on these particular books – I am no expert, nor do I wish to cause offence to anyone who may not agree with me! All interpretation is personal 🙂 Happy reading!

My favourite books of 2014: The Goldfinch, The Secret History, The Shock of the Fall, No and Me, The Fault in our Stars, Eat and Run, Lean In, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.
My favourite books of 2014: The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, The Secret History, The Goldfinch, The Shock of the Fall, No and Me, The Fault in our Stars, Eat and Run, Lean In.

1) The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez (RRP £7.99, Waterstones)

I wouldn’t normally go for a book like this, which I guess you could technically classify as ‘chick lit’ – however; this book is set in a part of the world that I am very unfamiliar with, and that I want to know more about. The book tracks 5 women of various backgrounds whose central connection is a coffee shop in Kabul city. The author lived in Kabul herself and this gives the book a genuine feel – cultural references run throughout the story and, while the book is easy to read; you can never fully relate to the struggles and issues faced by the women in this story. Deborah Rodriguez also wrote ‘Kabul Beauty School‘ which I think will probably be on my list of books to read for 2015!

2) The Secret History – Donna Tartt (RRP £8.99, Waterstones)

This was the first book I read with my book group; and I must say they started me off with a good one! The novel follows an elite group of classics students at a university in Vermont. Narrated by Richard Papen, an outsider who finds himself drawn into the group; the novel tracks their questionable moral behaviour which leads to a shocking conclusion.

I won’t go into details of the plot too much as I don’t want to spoil it. However, what I will say is that the writing is excellent and Tartt does a great job at pulling you in to the story; making you as an outsider feel like you are being given access to a thrilling, secret and exclusive world of the Greek Classics students. It is dark and clever, and will make you question your own morals as well as the story unfolds and you find yourself attached to the characters.

Read it. You won’t regret it.

3) The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (RRP £8.99, Waterstones)

Once I had finished The Secret History, I immediately went out and bought The Goldfinch. This is Tartt’s second novel and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014. The novel tracks the life of the protagonist, Theo Decker, who having survived a disaster at age 13 clings to a small painting, The Goldfinch, which draws him into a world of crime and deceit.

The Goldfinch is a somewhat thicker tome than The Secret History; but I think it is my favourite of the two. It very quickly draws you in to Theo’s world and the dangerous circles he becomes involved in. It may be long but it is definitely worth the read!

4) The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer (RRP £7.99, Waterstones)

I really loved this book. Written by a qualified mental health nurse, this book follows the descent of the protagonist into mental illness following a tragic accident during his youth. It is simple and open, easy and quick to read, and a little bit heartbreaking.

5) No and Me – Delphine de Vigan (RRP £6.29, Amazon)

A friend gave me this book about 3 years ago, and it sat in my little (well, alright, large) pile of books until this summer. The story is about a young French girl who befriends a homeless girl as part of a school project. After the project is complete, Lou persuades No to come and live with her and her family.

6) The Fault in our Stars – John Green (RRP £7.99, Waterstones)

I guess this one needs little introduction – this book went viral earlier this year and has since spawned a pretty popular film, too. I can’t say I really rated the film that much, but I did enjoy the book – I think I even shed a tear. It’s easy reading and pulls at the heartstrings. It’s a sad and horrible truth that people both young and old the world over are battling cancer; and though the characters may be fictitious it’s awful to think that someone so young could succumb to this awful disease.

7) Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness – Scott Jurek (RRP £8.99, Waterstones)

As you will have heard if you’ve read my blog previously, I am a fan of a bit of running. I bought this book for James for Christmas last year and once he had finished with it I had a sneaky read.

Scott Jurek, for those who do not know, is an American ultramarathon runner; and has won almost all of the elite ultrarunning races around. I have run marathons in the past, and that is tiring enough, so I find it difficult to comprehend how someone can run (and win) a race such as the Western States 100. If you read it, be careful – you might come away vegan (as happened to one of the guys at our running club) or seriously considering running an ultra…..hhmmmm maybe later eh 😉

8) Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandberg (RRP  £8.99, Amazon)

I am very much enjoying the third wave of feminism that is going on at the moment. Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook and presented an extremely popular TED talk in 2010 on ‘Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders’. If you have watched this, you will already be familiar with her messages. Lean In is full of mind boggling statistics regarding equality in the workplace, women’s opinion of themselves and their own abilities to lead, and lead change. I found this book inspiring and extremely relevant to the stage I am currently at in my career. Definitely worth a read for both men and women alike. Pick up a copy…..and remember to sit at the table.

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Next time I’ll be reviewing my top books to read in 2015 – if you have any suggestions, please do let me know!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Steph x