Line Of Duty – Series 4

Rating: 5/5

***Please note: This review contains Series 4 spoilers!***

My Sunday night tv viewing is now devoid of good drama, after the end of Line of Duty last week. After a triumphant finale, this series is still being talked about a week later and, after much speculation, it has been confirmed that the programme will return for two more series. The news shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering the BBC had moved the show from its previous slot on BBC2 to its new home on BBC1 for Series 4. Such a move is always a clear indication of how much faith the BBC has in a show’s future and proved the right decision after last Sunday’s finale drew an average of 7.46 million viewers.

What a thrilling and gripping finale it turned out to be! I was literally on the edge of my seat, whilst in between hiding behind a cushion for some of the more excruciatingly tense moments. Considering I was new to the show, I quickly became invested in the story and its characters. Normally I am quite pedantic about my tv viewing habits and prefer to watch a show from its conception. Line Of Duty has been on my Netflix watch list for quite some time now, yet by chance I found myself watching the first episode of the fourth series with family. After that opening nerve-wracking cliffhanger, how could I not carry on watching such an exhilarating series?!

As a new viewer, Line Of Duty Series 4 felt like a fresh story and while there appeared to be hints of  the anticorruption unit’s work from the previous seasons, it was easy to follow what was going on regardless. I quickly grew to love the show’s central characters and equally despise its core villain. AC-12’s Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) provide the moral backbone of the series and a foil to the duplicitous DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton).

Initially I was surprised to hear of the addition of Hollywood star Newton to such an already well established series. However, it wasn’t difficult to comprehend the actress taking on such a role after viewing just one episode. There’s not many characters that have me screaming at the tv! DCI Roz Huntley is one of the most manipulative and devious characters I’ve witnessed on tv recently and Newton played her with such complexity that I have no doubt she will be nominated for every television award possible this year.

I was delighted when Huntley received her comeuppance in the final episode, with justice being served at last for the murder of forensic investigator Timothy Ifield. Somehow though, Huntley  evoked a sense of sympathy and redemption by confessing to her crimes, as well as displaying decent detective work by cornering her own lawyer for his involvement in the Balaclava Man mystery.

The show didn’t shy away from issues such as gender inequality and it highlighted the difficulties women still face in their careers. DCI Roz Huntley appeared to be penalised for putting her family before her career for many years and severe pressure was placed on her to solve the case that resulted in her framing of Michael Farmer. Without a doubt, Huntley had to fight her way to the top of the career ladder and a ruthless streak appears to be deemed necessary in order to get ahead in such a male dominated industry.

When Kate was passed over for promotion in favour of her colleague Steve, the implication was evident that it was because of her gender. Then there was Jobsworth Jodie, one of the most irritating characters I’ve endured on tv lately. Clearly motivated by promotion prospects, she turned a blind eye to Huntley’s suspicious behaviour and divulged confidential information at any given opportunity. However, on a more positive note, times have moved on from the chauvinistic days of the past when women in the police force were merely deemed capable of menial tasks such as making tea, as showcased in the recent ITV Prime Suspect:1973 adaptation, a prequel exploring Jane Tennison’s early days in the police force.

Police procedural dramas are always a winning formula and Line Of Duty displayed an intelligence often not seen in other shows of the same genre, particularly when dealing with forensic details. Of course certain elements are still inaccurate, but there will always be some discrepancies for the sake of dramatic tension. Strong leading characters like Hastings, Fleming and Arnott have a dynamic on-screen chemistry and provide the heart of the story. The AC-12 team looks set to have their work cut out for them in the next series as they continue to uncover the mysteries of the conspiracy ring involving the Balaclava Men. While much of the loose ends were tied up in the finale, there is still the question of who H really is and there were plenty of teasers for what lays ahead in Series 5.

The success of Line Of Duty Series 4 demonstrates the importance of quality over quantity. The BBC is known for producing fantastic dramas and much of this success can be attributed to their formula of creating short series that span a few episodes compared to the standard US prime time tv network format of a 22-24 episode arc. This style often leads to a diminishing quality in a series and results in many ‘filler’ episodes. However, American cable television has been following a similar shorter format for a number of years and it looks like many of the prime time networks are coming to the realisation that a shorter narrative arc results in a more polished and improved story. With the BBC commissioning new adaptations of Little Women and The War of the Worlds, this golden era of television shows no sign of abating and long may it continue. In the meantime, I’ll be revisiting the rest of the Line Of Duty series!

Did you watch Line Of Duty? Have you seen all the series? Do you have any good tv recommendations? Don’t hesitate to get in touch and let me know!

Bookstagram Hay-on-wye Meet Up 2017

Recently, I attended the first Hay-on-wye Bookstagram Meet Up, which took place from 31st March-2nd April. This fantastic event was an idea conceived by Anne from Addyman Books and Ruth from Richard Booth’s Bookshop, which came into fruition with the aid of  Bookstagrammer Siobhan from @thehalycondaysofsummer. With Bookstagrammers visiting from all over the world, this event looked set to be the biggest Bookstagram meet up ever.

I turned up on the Friday evening for the welcome reception at Richard Booth’s Bookshop, nervously not knowing what to expect. I was given a warm welcome from Ruth, who ushered me over to a group of Bookstagrammers. I tried to mask my sudden shyness while I took in the flurry of new faces. I was quickly put at ease as I recognised Jude from @mybookbath and soon I realised how many bookstagrammers I knew already. If I remember correctly, the group included Kimberlee @reading.wanderwoman, Charlotte, Annie @2manybeautifulbooks, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Micol @literaryjourney, Elke @meetpenguingirl and Gemma @gemkarita. The initial introductions became an amusing routine over the rest of the weekend as usernames were deemed necessary rather than actual names. The repeated suggestions of name tags for next year might prove to be ideal advice!

In between mingling, I listened to a book talk that evening at Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Author and journalist Oliver Balch gave a speech on Hay-on-wye and his experiences that inspired him to write his book Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders. Once the book talk was over, I joined a group of bookstagrammers for tapas. This group included Charlotte @pagesandplays, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Charlotte @theroamingreader, Jack @that.english.guy.who.reads and Charlie @thebookboy. We discussed our top five books and I recall Harry Potter featuring on all of our lists!

Afterwards, we headed to The Old Electric Shop for a literary-themed cocktail evening. As I was driving, I could only indulge in the non-alcoholic cocktails, but they were still pretty tasty! Here, I introduced myself to Rima from @pardonmywritings, who was instantly warm and friendly. The first evening proved a success and was a brilliant indication of what was yet to come over the weekend.

On Saturday, I returned for a bookplate and printmaking demonstration by John Watson @johnwatsonprintmaker, which was held at The Globe At Hay. This was quite an interesting event as John hosted a demonstration of linocut printmaking and bookplate creation and we all received a special keepsake of the event. Here, I was delighted to meet the lovely Beth @beth.bonini, who gave me a huge hug and was even friendlier in person. Afterwards, I headed into town with Dannii and we watched a book themed fancy dress parade, which ended with a town gathering at the Honesty Bookshop in the Castle grounds. We took in the rest of the celebrations, which was marking the 40th Anniversary of Independence and included a ceremonial raising of the Hay Town flag.

We then returned to The Globe At Hay for the next event, which was a panel discussion chaired by Siobhan. The panel featured @pardonmywritings, @mybookbath, @literaryjourney and These lovely ladies discussed how they began their Bookstagram accounts and gave insights into how they run their accounts, as well as providing some useful Bookstagram tips.

Just before the panel began, I had the excitement of meeting Elle from @theartfulelle. Elle was the first person who I became friendly with on Bookstagram and we greeted each other like old friends with a massive hug. Elle gifted me with a beautiful Boddington edition of Wuthering Heights, which is my favourite book. I will treasure this book, now proudly displayed on my bookshelves. I’m so grateful to Elle and it is heartwarming that people can be so kind and generous. After the panel discussion, I joined Elle, Emma @mistyangelofsky and Clare @literarianlife for tea and cake and we had a lovely afternoon gossiping about all things Bookstagram.

Later that evening, I bumped into Jude, Micol and Anne and we headed back to Addyman Books for after hours book browsing. I also popped over to Anne’s Murder and Mayhem bookshop, where I got to properly introduce myself to Agatha Christie fan Sahiba from @dumbwitnesses. Fittingly, I bumped into Sahiba by the Agatha Christie shelves as she was struggling to contain a bunch of Christies in her arms!

Many of us then headed back to The Old Electric Shop, where I got to have a great chat with Kelly @contraryreader, whose son Charley was instantly recognisable in his adorable Sherlock Holmes costume. Book lover Charley is often featured on the @addymanbooks account and it’s lovely to see someone so young showing such a healthy interest in books, as well as having such great reading taste!

In between catching up with Jude, Micol and Annie again at The Old Electric Shop, we were lucky enough to receive amazing goodie bags full of books from Siobhan. Inside mine was a beautiful edition of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Vintage Books, 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams from Serpent’s Tail, The Pirate Who Does Not Know The Value Of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky from Nyrbooks and Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh from Penguin Books. As well as these books, I had also received more free books earlier in the day at The Globe At Hay and some gorgeous @obviousstate goodies. Needless to say, I also couldn’t resist a bit of book buying, so I came home with bulging bags of books!

On Sunday, I returned to Hay-on-wye for the Booksellers Breakfast, which was provided by local chef Hugh Sawyer at The Globe At Hay. Hugh is the founder of the sustainable food company Off Grid Gourmet and, last summer, my friends and I had a private dinner cooked by Hugh. It was a very generous birthday treat from my friends and we had a delicious dinner in a beautiful countryside setting. As a result, I was eagerly anticipating this breakfast and I can safely say it did not disappoint, with a feast of food on offer. I took the opportunity to say hello to Hugh and he did tell me that he recognised me, although I’m sure he was just being polite!

As well as getting to meet Hanneke @hannekehermes, the breakfast was a lovely opportunity to catch up with everyone else again before the inevitable goodbyes. Once breakfast was over, I joined Kimberlee, Sahiba and Rima for an afternoon of book browsing and, as it was such a warm sunny day, we even got to sit and indulge in an ice cream. We also had a private tour behind the scenes of Addyman Books from Anne, who showed us her own incredible book collection, as well as sharing some insightful stories and anecdotes. Anne has such a vast wealth of knowledge, particularly when it comes to politics, current affairs and, of course, books. I could listen to Anne all day and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to come back and stay over for a night above the bookshop, so I’m already looking forward to this opportunity. Waking up surrounded by books is every book lover’s dream turned reality!

By the time the evening came, Kimberlee and I were the last Bookstagrammers remaining and we sat out under the sun with a drink. It was lovely to have one last catch up and, after discovering we are the same age, it also turned out that we have many similarities in our lives. If I didn’t have work the next day, I would loved to have sat there chatting all evening.

While it was sad to say goodbye to everyone after such a short time, there was a sense in the air that something really special had taken place. When I returned to work the following Monday, my close colleague commented that I seemed different as a result of the weekend’s events and what a positive effect it appeared to have on me. I do feel that the weekend has inspired me in so many different ways and it felt empowering to do something just for myself and now it feels like it’s the beginning of a new adventure. I never would have imagined that I could make friends through social media and it was wonderful to meet so many like minded people. I feel so lucky to have been part of such a special weekend and I believe that this is an event that will continue to grow in the future. Next year’s Bookstagram Meet Up has already been extended to ten days and will take place from March 30th to April 8th. For all the latest updates, make sure to follow @bookstagramhay on Instagram. If you’re a Bookstagrammer or a book lover, this event should be at the top of your list. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea Trailer

Rating: 5/5

Manchester By The Sea tells the story of janitor Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck in a career defining role. The film opens with Lee living a secluded existence in Quincy, Massachusetts before he is called back to his home town of Manchester after the death of his brother. Lee is unexpectedly given permanent custody of his sixteen year old nephew Patrick and is forced to abandon his solitary life, as well as face the demons of his past. As Lee learns to cope with this sudden responsibility, we are given glimpses into his previous life and what led him to leave his home town.

While there are many clichéd Hollywood films featuring similar plot lines, this is no such tale. Manchester By The Sea is a story of loss and grief and is one of the most beautiful yet heart-breaking films I have ever seen. A week later, I still find myself thinking about the film and its central character every day. Casey Affleck delivers a nuanced and haunting performance that is the highlight of his career. He is a most deserved winner of the Best Actor Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, not to mention the slew of awards he has received for such a challenging role.

Other notable mentions must go to Michelle Williams, who is incredible as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, and Lucas Hedges in a memorable performance as Lee’s nephew Patrick. He is a remarkable new talent and looks set to have a bright future in Hollywood. Both deserve all the recognition they have received this awards season.

My heart was broken and I know yours is broken too.”

While this movie is a tragic tear-jerker, it has many comic moments, particularly as Lee deals with caring for his nephew and all the trials and tribulations that come with teenage life. Lighter touches include Patrick’s recurring requests for money and his juggling of his two girlfriends as well as the witty banter between Patrick and his uncle.

This film has now become a firm favourite of mine and I can’t recommend it enough. A note of warning though; tissues are strongly advised when viewing this movie. I experienced a wave of emotions throughout the film, from laughing hysterically one minute to weeping uncontrollably the next moment. Manchester By The Sea is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time and it is worthy of all its accolades and critical acclaim.

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

Rating: 4/5

The Snow Child is a story that takes place in Alaska in the 1920s and focuses on Jack and Mabel, who have undertaken a fresh start in a remote area, after the death of their baby many years previously. When a mysterious young girl starts to appear on their land, they are wonderstruck and begin to let her in to their lives. But will the little girl let them into hers or will she disappear again?

The Snow Child is a book I have wanted to read for many years, yet somehow I have never gotten around to it. When the opportunity came to join a readalong on Bookstagram, I jumped at the chance. I am so glad I have finally read this wonderful story. The harsh Alaskan landscape is depicted through beautiful imagery that doesn’t detract from the brutal cold climate. Ivey has a remarkable way with words and portrays winter in such a wondrous manner that really entices me to visit and explore Alaska. I read this book in January, which was the perfect time of year for this novel. To my delight, snow even arrived while I was reading the book, which enhanced the atmosphere as well as providing some fantastic photo opportunities.

The Snow Child deals with many themes, including love, loss and family. The loss of Jack and Mabel’s baby threatens to fracture their relationship and their struggles to cope in the harsh Alaskan climate continues to have a negative effect, taking a financial toll on the couple. The arrival of the mysterious girl not long after they build a snow child has a positive influence on their lives as they begin to form a family unit. The girl’s appearance certainly has a magical quality and parallels the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka that Mable refers to in the story. Using this story implies the possibility of magic, yet hints at tragic undertones.

In the light of day, her dreams were drained of their nightmarish quality, and they seemed whimsical and strange, but the taste of loss remained in her mouth. It was difficult to focus on her tasks and she often drifted aimlessly through her own mind. A faint memory emerged again and again – her father, a leather-bound fairy tale book, a snow child alive in its pages. She couldn’t clearly recall the story or more than a few of the illustrations, and she began to worry over it, letting her thoughts touch it again and again. If there was such a book, could there be such a child? If an old man and woman conjured a little girl out of the snow and wilderness, what would she be to them? A daughter? A ghost?”

The third part of the novel veers in a surprisingly unexpected direction and I agree with other reviewers that it felt rather rushed. Yet I still adored this book, which gave me a sense of appreciation of life’s conveniences in today’s modern world. At the heart of the story is the love between family and how it can take shape in all forms.

While the book has a fairytale quality, it harks back to the more darker fairytales such as the Grimms fairytales, where its origins lie as apposed to today’s Disney retellings. This creates a sense of realism in the novel and the reader constantly has a sense of dread at what may lay ahead.

I would definitely recommend this beautiful story, especially to read during the winter months. While inspired by fairytales, it feels unique and memorable. I’m just surprised that it hasn’t been adapted into a movie version as the imagery created in the novel is stunning. Perhaps though it is best that it remains just as a novel, without any interference from Hollywood. Some fairytales don’t need to be retold…


Everyone Brave Is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

Rating: 3/5

This month I had the pleasure of being featured in Sainsbury’s magazine as part of a book reviewing panel, which was quite exciting! The book I was given to review was Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. The novel revolves around World War II and focuses on three central characters and how their lives are affected as a result. The female protagonist Mary North decides to help the children that Britain would rather forget. Friends Tom Shaw and Alistair Heath take different paths to each other, with Alistair answering the call of duty, while Tom refuses to sign up for a cause that he doesn’t believe in.

“How good it would be to fall in love – how perfectly, anciently new.”

On the surface, the novel appears to be a romanticised version of the war, yet in fact it never fails to shy away from the harsh brutality of war and its aftermath. Some scenes are so sudden and unexpected that they are quite shocking, with some graphic descriptions of the ensuing violence and physical harm caused by the war. Many issues are also explored in this book, including PTSD, race and class. Themes of love, family and friendship are a recurring feature throughout the story. Mary’s friendship with her best friend Hilda is one example of how friendship is used as a device to serve as a point of character growth for Mary, as well as highlighting her foibles.

Despite the book’s serious subject matter, the author does create moments of much needed light humour throughout the story, which enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. While this wouldn’t be my favourite book regarding the war, I found it an enjoyable, easy and poignant read.

“I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime, courage is cheap and clemency out of season.”

Cleave wrote this novel as a tribute to his grandparents. The character of Mary was inspired by his paternal grandmother, Margaret Slater, who drove ambulances in Birmingham during the Blitz, and his maternal grandmother, Mary West, a teacher who ran her own school and kindergarten. Mary and her fiancé David were separated for three years during the war when David served overseas in Malta.

Cleave’s family still have all the correspondence that David sent to Mary and provides excerpts of these at the end of the novel. Unfortunately, they have none of Mary’s, which travelled on a different ship from David’s and were sunk by a U-boat. This was the era of letter writing when people poured their heart and soul onto paper. A letter could take weeks or months to arrive and would mean everything to its sender and recipient. For every letter that David sent, Mary recorded in an exercise book the date it had been posted and arrived, which is featured in the additional excerpts in the novel. Mary also summarised the contents of the letters and her feelings in a separate diary. To see how much Mary cherished her letters demonstrates how important letter writing was during this time period and it is lamentable that letter writing appears to be a dying art form in this age of emails, instant messaging and video chat. The sense of instant gratification has no comparison to a long awaited love letter. Cleave describes his intentions regarding the love letters and those within the novel by saying that ‘I wanted to make that love glow in the letters between my two separated lovers, Mary and Alistair. I wanted those letters to be the bright centrepiece of the novel because it is so terribly brave to fall in love when the world is falling apart’.

Have you read Everyone Brave Is Forgiven? Do you enjoy historical fiction and do you still like to write letters? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



Rating: 3/5

I’m back with my first post of the year! I’ve been sadly neglecting my poor blog recently, but I hope to rectify this with more posts this year, including some film ones at last. Films are my other passion and my aim this year is to review every film I go to see. Hopefully I will be able to review the latest new releases as much as possible, but I also might review a few golden oldies that I come across too.

So my first film review for this blog is the recent Golden Globe winner La La Land. After its astonishing success winning seven awards at the Golden Globes, it looks like a dead cert to pick up a slew of Oscar nominations when the nominees are announced on Tuesday January 24th.

La La Land is directed by Damien Chazelle, whose film Whiplash achieved much success at last year’s Academy Award ceremony. La La Land reunites Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, after previous pairings in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. Here, the couple star as Mia, an aspiring actress, and jazz pianist Sebastian. Initially, the characters take an instant dislike to each other, but it isn’t long before they inevitably fall for each other. The story then focuses on whether they can achieve their dreams, a feat that may test their fledging relationship.

Being a huge fan of musicals, I was eagerly awaiting La La Land. I thought the trailer looked fantastic and I was certain that I was going to adore this movie. Yet somehow, I feel slightly underwhelmed and disappointed with it. In fact, I still can’t quite make up my mind about this film. Perhaps I need a second viewing before I really decide. It’s not often, but sometimes, it can take me a couple of viewings to truly appreciate a film.

There are many elements of La La Land that I loved and I certainly don’t want to detract from the beauty within this movie. It is visually stunning and its dazzling imagery depicts Los Angeles in a positive light, a city that is often accused of being soulless and seedy. The costumes are gorgeous, especially Mia’s wide range of dresses. I had serious wardrobe envy throughout the film!

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling certainly have a sparkling chemistry, although I preferred their pairing in Crazy Stupid Love. Who could forget their recreation of the Dirty Dancing lift?!

“That’s LA. They worship everything and they value nothing.”

Despite the glowing positives, I fear the negatives may outweigh my previous thoughts. While I loved the homage to old Hollywood films, in particular Singin’ in the Rain, this doesn’t quite live up to those classics. I couldn’t help compare it to the most recent musical adaptation of Les Miserables. In that film, the live singing was a brave choice, which resulted in more powerful performances. Here, the lip synching detracts from any emotional impact the characters were trying to convey. While Stone and Gosling give it their all, their vocal abilities seemed limited, highlighted as soon as the talented John Legend performed in the film. Perhaps this was the intention of the filmmakers in order to make the two central protagonists more relatable, but I couldn’t help wondering what more seasoned musical performers could have brought to the roles.

The dance sequences were enjoyable and I couldn’t stop tapping my feet, wishing I could join the characters onscreen. Yet at the same time, the two actors didn’t convey any sense of naturalness in these scenes. These moments in the film felt very much a performance and slightly contrived. In fact, the whole film felt a little too self-aware and self-referential to portray any sense of realism. Surprisingly for a musical, the songs weren’t even that memorable, with only a couple of numbers in particular being a standout for me.

At 128 minutes long, La La Land is quite a lengthy feature and unfortunately it began to drag in the final act. I expected to come out of the screening with a huge smile on my face, but to be honest I was just relieved it was finally over. That might be more to do with me feeling sleepy at that point, though!

I do feel I am being too harsh on this film and I am surprising myself with how negative this review has become. I honestly expected La La Land to become one of my new favourites, but somehow it seemed to be lacking a certain something for me. This feels like such a shame, so I think I will definitely have to revisit it again some time. By then, I might end up falling completely in love with it. Who knows?!

Have you seen La La Land yet? Do you completely disagree with everything I’ve just said? Feel free to comment and tell me why I’m wrong!

The Longest Ride – Nicholas Sparks

Rating: 2/5

The Longest Ride was chosen at my book club recently by a brave new member. To say this isn’t our usual read is an understatement! While I am happy to read anything, some people in the group have quite high standards regarding our reading material, so it was always going to be an interesting book club session. Needless to say, the book didn’t go down very well, although almost everyone was relatively restrained when demonstrating their opinions on the book, for fear of scaring our new member off. However, it didn’t stop one member, who gave one of the most scathing reviews we have ever heard at book club. The poor young chap hasn’t been back since, but hopefully it’s just a coincidence!

Now admittedly, I wouldn’t exactly be rushing to read one of Sparks’ books. There may have been a time when my younger self would have, but after reading The Notebook, I felt deflated. I couldn’t help thinking how much I preferred the film to the book. It’s not often that I prefer the movie to the book, but in this case, the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams really brought the characters to life.

The Longest Ride focuses on two couples – Ira and Ruth and Sophia and Luke. The novel opens with the elderly Ira finding himself trapped in his car after careening off the road. It is there that he starts to see his deceased wife Ruth and their story is then told mainly in flashbacks as they reminisce about how they got together and how their relationship evolves through the years.

In the present day, we are also introduced to Sophia and Luke, who meet some previous few months before Ira’s car crash. Sophia is studying art history at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and Luke is a bullfighter struggling to help keep his family’s farm afloat. The two quickly form a relationship, but Luke is keeping a secret that could threaten everything.

The Longest Ride is typical Sparks fodder. I expected the novel to be cheesy and it was a huge helping of Stilton with a portion of Brie on top! I enjoy the Chick Lit genre, but at least those novels are more realistic and humorous. Perhaps it’s because they are predominantly written by women. Sparks feels like a writer trying to write for women. His characters are just too perfect and the love stories too unrealistic and idealistic. Sparks’ style of writing is romance that is verging into Mills & Boon territory.

However, Sparks does provide obstacles for his characters, which provides some dramatic tension and the book wasn’t entirely predictable. I enjoyed trying to figure out how the two stories related to each other and I liked the setting of the story.  However, I found the Ira/ Ruth story too contrived in the way that they relayed their stories of when they were together. These chapters would have worked much better as proper flashbacks. Instead, Sparks has the two characters telling rather than showing, a style that is usually avoided in writing.

The whole story felt formulaic, but Sparks clearly has a formula that appears to be working, judging by the successful amount of books and movie deals that he has sold. I haven’t seen this current movie adaptation and I won’t be rushing to watch this one, especially after a friend said it was the cheesiest film she’d ever seen. I would imagine that Sparks has probably reached a stage in his career where he knows what works for him and that he could probably produce anything now and it’ll still be a hit with an accompanying movie to follow.

Perhaps I am merely being cynical? What do you think? Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Revenant – Michael Punke

“Hugh Glass isn’t afraid to die. He’s done it once already.”

Rating: 5/5

Expert tracker Hugh Glass is viciously attacked by a bear and appears to be on death’s door. The two men ordered to stay with him steal his belongings and abandon him in the wilderness. Soon a revived Glass is on a quest for revenge and he will not stop until he succeeds…

The Revenant is the book that inspired the Oscar-winning movie and finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his well deserved Oscar for his powerful portrayal of Hugh Glass. It is not difficult to see why Leo was drawn to such a role. The character of Glass is one of strength, courage and determination. His character carries most of the film, much of it in silence.

Visually, the film is stunning and has become my favourite movie this year. With this in mind, I did wonder if I would enjoy the book as much, particularly as my sister didn’t really enjoy the novel and gave up early on. Notably, she hadn’t seen the film, so perhaps she might have been more inclined to continue reading if she had.

Normally I prefer to read a book before its film adaptation, but this time it actually enhanced my reading. I was able to recall the beautiful backdrop setting and visualise the different places along Glass’ difficult journey. I’m usually drawn to books with more dialogue, but I remained completely enthralled in Punke’s vivid descriptions of the scenery as well as Glass’ encounters and experiences. Punke’s writing immersed me into the story and I became awed at Glass’ tenacity through such extreme weather conditions, considering the seriousness of his injuries. Punke succeeds in highlighting the horror of Glass’ attack through brutal imagery, which is just as gory as depicted in its film adaptation. It is difficult not to flinch when reading some of the passages in this novel and it is astonishing to read just how strong the human spirit can be when necessary.

The Revenant may be a work of fiction, but the character of Hugh Glass is certainly true. However, some legend has filtered through the history of what happened to Glass. The film has some notable differences that add more dramatic depth to the story, but the novel is still rich in its storytelling. Some of the events in Glass’ life are truly remarkable and the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” comes to mind.

“Revenant – n. one who has returned, as if from the dead.”

Glass is a resourceful and patient character who demonstrates just how much one can survive and endure when their life is at stake. I found myself thinking what I would do if I was in that situation and I’m sure I would give up! Not so Hugh Glass, who soldiers on in order to get his revenge. He proves that anything can be done when you put your mind to it and, when you are truly desperate, you will even resort to eating anything that you can get your hands on. Such sheer circumstances are a true test of what a human being can endure and Glass never gives up.

Although the book may be a harrowing tale, there are some light comedic moments, particularly the camaraderie between some of the characters. The book may be lacking in female characters, but it doesn’t detract from the novel and is simply a reflection of its period setting. The other memorable character is Fitzgerald, who abandons Glass after his attack. Fitzgerald is depicted by Tom Hardy in the film and the character in the novel is just as evil and appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He provides an excellent foil to Glass’ character and becomes the main motivation for Glass to keep on living, just to quench his thirst for revenge.

The history in the novel is enthralling and shows just how difficult life could be during such a simple period devoid of today’s comforts. The conflict with the Native Indians is not shied away from in the novel and some of the violence that occurs is horrifying. Despite the heavy source material, I found the novel to be an easy read and even though I may have known most of the story and its outcome, I was still gripped by Glass and his arduous journey of survival and revenge. Quite simply, The Revenant is a must read!

Have you read The Revenant? Have you seen the film? How do you feel they compare? Do you prefer to read the book first before a movie adaptation? Let me know what you think!

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

Rating: 4/5

I’ve been extremely excited to read this debut novel by Lisa McInerney, having known her briefly through one of my best friends during our student days in Cork City many moons ago. It is fantastic to see someone from home doing so well and Lisa has received rave reviews for her novel, which has recently won the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2016.

The Glorious Heresies is set in Cork City and revolves around a multitude of shady characters who interconnect through various dark circumstances. The opening of the novel sets the bleak tone of the story with the killing of a man by fifty nine year old Maureen, who arranges for her son Jimmy to sort out her unfortunate predicament. Being the most feared gangster in Cork City, Jimmy has no shortage of henchmen to do his dirty work for him. He quickly finds someone willing to clean up Maureen’s mess and this leads to a sequence of events that changes many of the characters’ lives forever.

Jimmy’s childhood friend Tony, father of six children and an alcoholic, comes to Jimmy’s assistance, being in desperate need of the money. Tony’s teenage son is already dipping his toes into the gangland world. Of course, things don’t always go to plan, especially when Georgie, the girlfriend of the dead man, starts to question why her boyfriend has vanished.

Admittedly, I wasn’t sure about this book on my initial reading. The novel is so dark and depressing and portrays a side of Cork City that I’m relieved to say I have never witnessed. However, I soon became immersed in the gritty underworld of gangland Cork and was intrigued to see where the story would take these characters. There is an inevitable feeling that nothing bodes well for any of these characters and many of their actions lead them down a dark path.

This is not a book for the fainthearted. Drugs, murder, prostitution, violence, sex and coarse language feature predominantly throughout the novel. However, this serves to accurately portray the harsh realism of the criminal underworld. While it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I became drawn to the people in the story and willed characters such as Ryan and Georgie to turn their lives around and move on from the sort of lifestyles that were dragging them down. The novel is realistic in the way it shows how difficult it is to break the cycle and escape from that sort of environment.

Despite the bleak tone of the novel, it has moments of witty humour and glimmers of hope for certain characters. It is certainly different from anything I’ve read before and I’m excited to see what Lisa McInerney does next. Long may her well deserved success continue.

Have you read The Glorious Heresies? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Muse – Jessie Burton



“A picture hides a thousand words…”

Rating: 5/5

I recently had the pleasure of attending a book event celebrating the release of Jessie Burton’s second novel The Muse. This was organised by the local book shop in my area that runs the book club that I attend every month. Having loved The Miniaturist, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Burton’s new book, which has the most stunning cover. The best part of the event was getting to meet Jessie herself and having my copy signed.

Burton did not disappoint during her book talk. She was charming, witty, self-deprecating and an exquisitely articulate speaker. Her years spent as an actress shone through during her readings of excerpts from her novel and enhanced the characters that she brought to life. It was interesting to hear Burton admit that it was a struggle to fit in writing The Muse along with the gruelling book tour that she undertook worldwide to capitalise on the astonishing success of her debut novel. Sometimes it is easy to imagine successful people living a life of luxury when the reality is that they continue to work hard in order to remain a success.

Like its predecessor, The Muse is another period drama and takes place over two timelines – London, 1967 and rural Spain, 1936. London introduces us to Odelle Bastien, a Trinidad immigrant who is offered a job as a typist for the mysterious Marjorie Quick. In 1936, Olive Schloss harbours secret ambitions, and soon becomes drawn to artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa. The pair quickly incorporate themselves into the Schloss family, a move that has life-changing consequences. What connects these two storylines together may lie in the discovery of a lost masterpiece…

The Muse is an intriguing tale that explores themes of identity and aspiration in a world of creativity and art. I raced through the novel in order to unlock the mystery that connected the two storylines. I was somewhat on the right track, but I still didn’t really guess the surprises that unfolded. This book has some great twists that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling.

The central female characters in each timeline mirror each other significantly. Odelle and Olive are both creative and ambitious yet hide their talents away, although there are hints of wishing for success that they both play down. Despite being decades apart storywise, the women are both of a time where female success was still a rarity and something that could still be oppressed. I could certainly relate to the character of Odelle in the way that she was afraid to put her writing out into the world. I can understand her fear of rejection all too well!

In contrast, the character of Marjorie Quick is a vibrant yet enigmatic figure. Creating a commanding presence as soon as she enters a room, Quick takes Odelle under her wing and encourages her to unleash her potential. Quick is a formidable character to be reckoned with and livens up Odelle’s world for the better.

The novel explores issues of race and politics in the different worlds of London and Spain. London is going through a period of change and becoming a more interracial, multicultural and progressive society yet hints of racism are scattered throughout the novel. Meanwhile, simmering tensions are played out to the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War as Olive becomes tangled up in Isaac’s ideologies and revolts. Burton creates a sensual atmosphere brought to life with surreal vivid imagery and colours through Olive’s paintings and the stunning Spanish scenery. The complicated Schloss family are full of mysteries and secrets and the reader can sense the explosion that is certain to be unleashed before the story ends.

“It had a new form of surreality Olive had never executed before. For all its grounded colours on the fields – ochres and grasshopper-greens, the folkloric tenderness of russet furrows and mustard browns – there was something other-worldly about the scene. The sky was a boon of promise. The fields were a cornucopia of cereal crops and apples, olives and oranges. The orchard was so lush you might call it a jungle, and the empty fountain had turned into a living spring, the satyr’s canton now gushing full of water. The finca rose up like a welcoming palace, her father’s house with many mansions, its windows huge and open to her gaze. The brush strokes were loose, and colour dominated technical accuracy.”

This book is so gloriously addictive that I almost felt sad that it had to end. I could easily go back and read it again. As I think about what kind of film this would make, Burton has just announced that The Miniaturist is being adapted for television by the BBC. I cannot wait! The Miniaturist was another beautiful and intriguing tale, which was chosen for our book club and succeeded in having the highest ever attendance that night, a testament to the success that Burton has achieved.

Burton has now come to the end of her two book deal, which she admitted at the book event has been quite a relief. She is now turning her hand to children’s books in conjunction with an illustrator. I look forward to seeing what she produces in this guise and I’m certain that she will be just as successful.

Have you read either of Jessie Burton’s books? Have you been lucky enough to meet her? Let me know!