Throwback Thursday: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen:

 

Image result for water for elephants bookWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen:

This book is a real gem: a rare gem that thrills and shocks simultaneously. This is a beautifully written, well researched, off-beat love story about a young man called Jacob who (having been suddenly orphaned at the age of 22 while at university and in the age of the depression in America) finds himself, quite unexpectedly, working for a circus. Here we are treated to a feast of colourful (many rather unsavoury) characters (with dwarves, bearded ladies and a whole host of animals).  This book is just spectacular – the way that I was immersed into circus life was astounding, I really felt the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells; I was there in the big top, there on the train in the dead of night, there at the raucous after-show parties – Gruen did a fantastic job of setting the scene.

Animals are one of my biggest passions (along with books and travel) and therefore any book containing animals is usually a hit with me. Water for Elephants is not only a love story between Jacob and Marlena (a married woman whom he loves from afar) but also between Jacob and his animals, imparticular an elephant named Rosie whom I also fell in love with.
The story flits between Jacob as an old man in a nursing home (where a circus comes to town which brings back all his memories) and Jacob in the 1930’s during his circus years. This is a wonderfully written, engrossing, captivating novel and I felt lost when I had finished it; I truly had withdrawal symptoms. After now having seen the film, I want to immerse myself in this wonderfully vibrant and chaotic world that is The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If you think you won’t like a book set in a circus, think again; there’s so much more to it and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Verdict:

An absolute joy! A book that made me laugh, cry, and everything in between. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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Throwback Thursday: Dog Boy by Eva Hurnung

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen one that I read in 2010 and still plays on my mind even now:

9270148Dog Boy by Eva Hornung:

As soon as I saw this book sitting on a shelf in Waterstones years ago I made a bee line straight for it. I am such a huge animal lover and I am a sucker for books with animals on the cover, in the title or narrated by them. Wolf Totem, Animal Farm, Black Beauty and Life of Pi all feature in my list of favourite books of all time.

Dog Boy is narrated by Ramochka, a four-year-old boy who lives with his mother and his latest “uncle” in a high-rise apartment block in Moscow. After several days of his mum not returning, seeing Uncle moving out all the furniture, and being left to fend for himself in freezing conditions and with no food, he finally ventures outside. Cold and hungry, Ramochka follows a large sandy coloured dog back to her lair. The dog becomes the only source of food, warmth and comfort that Ramochka has available to him and he begins to see the dog as his Mamochka. The puppies that Mamochka is already nursing become his siblings and they accept him into their fold immediately and unquestioningly. The two older siblings, however, take more convincing but eventually, Ramochka becomes a permanent and invaluable member of their little family, all living together in the basement of a derelict church in the harshest of conditions. The longer the new family is together, the more Ramochka begins to forget his old life, and before long he is eating rats and other fresh kills that any one of the pack manages to bring home.

What I loved about this book was the real love and strength of the bond between human and animal. It was amazing to see how the pack of stray dogs view the world, through the eyes of a small boy. The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privilege and one I won’t forget easily.

Verdict:

A highly recommended read. It will lift you up and tear you down but it is truly a wonderful, captivating, must-read.

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Throwback Thursday: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.

Taken from my review in 2009, this book is still firmly at the top of my favourite ever reads. In 2008 it won the first ever Man Asia Literary Prize and with good reason. I have hardly ever come across anyone else who has read it but I honestly recommend so highly.

Image result for wolf totem jiang rongWhat I thought:

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself simultaneously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang’s passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was an honour– they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides – the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both enchanted me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can’t praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.

Verdict:

It’s now quite a while since I read this and I really think I want to read it again soon; just reading this review has brought back so many memories of how wonderful it is. If you love animals, nature, different cultures, the human spirit or just damn good literature then you will love this.

 

Review: This Love by Dani Atkins

this-loveWhat I thought:

Dani Atkins is one of my author crushes. Of her 5 books, I have read and adored 4 of them (and still have one to read, which makes me happy). In fact, Our Song was in my Top 10 books for 2016. Dani’s books have a reputation for being tear-jerkers and they really are, but in a way that breaks your heart and lifts it up at the same time.

In This Love, Sophie lives a fairly reclusive life, not allowing herself to get close to many people for fear of losing them, thanks to a tragedy in her teens that has never let her go (or rather she has never let go of). One autumn night, a fire breaks out in her apartment and she is helped to safety by a random passer-by, Ben. What results is a friendship that alters the way Sophie looks at life. With a cast of colourful and endearing characters that surround what has become the authors trademark, a story about life and death, this is yet again a wonderful book to get lost in.

I would have loved to have heard more about some of the characters – what happened after Henry wrote the letter after 72 years? what was the reaction of the wife whose husband learned the piano secretly just for her? Did Carla ever get to any of the places on her travel wish-list? These would almost make stories in their own right and I, for one, would love to read them.

Verdict:

As with the previous books, I found This Love to be pure escapism. Real relationships, friendships, love and romance. Never corny, always charming. This book is about letting go, opening up to new experiences, looking forward and learning to live again. If you’ve never read any of Dani Atkins’ books I can highly recommend them. Feel-good reading at its best.

 

 

Review: Sealskin by Su Bristow

SealSkin-Vis-3.jpgWhat I thought:

Have you ever read a book where, when you turn the final page, you are simultaneously enraptured, enchanted and bereft at having to leave the characters right there on the page and carry on without them? This is that book.

Inspired by the legend of Selkies (seals who can transform into people) and set in a small fishing village in Scotland, this is a book about love, redemption and an awakening, all with a sprinkling of magic. Donald is a young man who is always on the outside, preferring his own company to being among those who mock him and one day, while out on the seas, he is involved in something that will change the course of his life forever. The act is shocking and unexpected but it is a talented writer who can lead you gently in Donald’s footsteps as he learns to atone himself and allow the reader to begin to forgive him as he begins to forgive himself.

What did I love most about this book? Everything. Really, just everything. There was almost a childlike wonder to reading this book; a fairytale that bewitched and enchanted. It is the sort of story that I would want someone to read to me while tucked up under a blanket with a hot chocolate. That’s how it made me feel. I miss it now it’s over. I miss them.

Haunting and evocative with such fluid prose, this is a book of beauty and magic. I fell in love: with the landscape, the cast of characters and with the awakening of a whole village. I was there in the pages. I tasted the salt on my lips, I felt the wind whip through my hair, I felt the bitter cold of rain-soaked clothes and I felt the freedom of running through the grass with abandon.

Verdict:

This book is special.  January is not yet over and I already know that Sealskin will be in my Top 10 books for 2017. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know. And I will read it again. And again.

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NB/ Thank you to Orenda Books for a copy of this wonderful book which I chose to read and review honestly.

The Book Whisperers Top Reads of 2016

2016 has been kind of an odd year for me and, I can’t lie, one I’ll be glad to see the back of. But the good news is that it’s over now and onwards and upwards. I’m devouring books again and resurrecting this blog (that has been semi-neglected for too long).

I’ve definitely got my reading mojo back, particularly in the second half of this year, and have read some really amazing books. The ones I have picked as my favourite are for a mixutre of reasons: they were real page-turners, they resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect, they were real comfort reads and just what I needed at the time.

In no particular order, the books I have picked out for my favourite reads of 2016 are:

 

five-riversFive Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

This has to be my wow book of the year. I thought the premise sounded interesting but was totally unprepared for how it would make me feel. I found this book is enchanting, mesmerising and beautiful and was absolutely blown away by it. In fact, I still think about it now. An author that really understands what it is to be human. Highly recommended. Read my full review here.

 

 

book-5Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was a book club choice that I probably wouldn’t have picked up for myself otherwise (which is exactly what I love about book clubs – they force you out of your comfort zone and introduce you to new authors and genres). Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that is set (for the most part) 20 years after the end of the world as we know it (due to a flu virus that wipes out 98% of the world’s population). What I really loved about this book is the way that it was written without sentimentality, almost matter of fact. I found it really refreshing. The story made me think and ask myself lots of questions about what I would do and I found it really engrossing read.

 

book-9Angela Marsons – all of them!

My new favourite author crush featuring my new favourite Detective crush. Crime fiction is probably my favourite genre and in a sea of crime and psychological thrillers (some of which are fantastic and some of which are mediocre at best), to find a brand new author and fall in love with the entire series is really exciting! I actually read The Lost Girls (book 3) first and promptly went right to be the beginning (Silent Scream) and read all 5 in two weeks. D.I. Kim Stone is a delight to read about (her feistiness and dry wit had me laughing out loud) and in the whole series (currently 5 books , there is not a dud among them). Angela Marsons has been signed up for a total of 16 books in this series and I, for one, cannot wait to read them all. I will be taking part in the Blog Tour for Book 2, Evil Games, in Feb so keep an eye out for that. You can read my review of Blood Lines here and if you haven’t yet discovered this series, what are you waiting for?

 

book-6Our Song by Dani Atkins

I read this book on a 9 day, 120 mile hike on the Cleveland Way in March. I did the walk on my own, just me and a large rucksack, staying in B&B’s and barns overnight and walking all day. When I was feeling battered, broken and weary once arriving at my nightly destination I read Our Song while laid in bed before dropping off into a deep slumber. This was the perfect book for me right then – gentle and heart-warming and just what I needed. I have read several other of Dani Atkin’s books and have loved them all.For a real feel-good, magical read, these books are just the ticket.

 

book-3When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

This was a holiday read for me and a perfect page-turning one. As psychological thrillers go, this is one of my favourites. Five work colleagues, a murder (but you don’t know who or who committed it) and several different view-points that keep you guessing right until the end. And what I love most is that I didn’t guess! It could just be that I have read so many psychological thrillers that I can usually guess the outcome, when I come across one that still catches me out I love it! Clever and gripping.

 

 

book-4Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

A life lived over and over again, but with different outcomes. What a clever plot device. Ursula is born, then she dies, she is born again and dies slightly later, she is born again and so on… Ursula witnesses some of the most important events of the last century, living through (usually, anyway) two world wars, friendships, deaths, and hardship. This book is imaginative, bittersweet, poignant and very ambitious but it works.

 

 

kliing-2The Killing Game by J.S. Carol

What a page-turner. I read this on holiday and couldn’t put it down. A gunman in a Hollywood restaurant that is frequented by the A-List and the rich and famous who are all taken hostage, and who lives and who dies is often a game of chance. Adrenalin-fuelled, twisty-turny and intense. Brilliant.

Read my full review here.

 

 

 

book-8Summer at the Lake by Erica James

I absolutely loved this book. It was everything I needed: friendship, nostalgia, and pure indulgence. Three people are thrown together in a split second and what follows is a tale of new friendships in both Oxford and Lake Como in Italy (which  is a place I have been to and it brought back wonderful memories). Warm, engaging, and like meeting up with old friends every time I picked it up, so much so I didn’t want it to end.

 

 

So there it is – my list of favourite books this year. There are lots more that I thoroughly enjoyed but these get my vote for being in the right place at the right time and wowing me, soothing me and inspiring me.

Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? What are your favourite books of 2016?

Finally, wishing you all a wonderful, happy, healthy 2017 filled with books and more books!

 

 

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

In three words:

Beautiful, funny, heart-breaking

What I thought:

Many years ago I read a book called The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes and I loved it. Why then has it taken me this long to pick another of her books up? If I loved Ship of Brides then I ADORED this!

Me Before You stars a young, eccentricly dressed young woman called Lou Clark who has lost her job at the local cafe and has to make a choice about her next job betweenworking in a chicken factory or being a carer to a disabled man. At the time, neither seem appealing but Lou opts for the role of carer which is where she meets Will Trayor. Will is in his mid thirties and up until his accident he was a high-flying, adrenaline-junkie, career-minded business man with a great appartment in London and a gorgeous girlfriend. Since the accident which left Will quadriplegic, he is now living with, and being cared for by, his parents and hating every second of it. The first meeting between Lou and Will is anything but comfortable and Lou begins to wonder what she has let herself in for. Before long though, Lou has decided to try to make Will’s life a happy one again and show him that it might just be worth living afterall.

What is amazing about this book is that despite dealing with a serious subject matter such as the right to die, Me Beofre You is infused with humour and comic relief that had me howling at parts. Believe me, the humour is needed and Will is one of the funniest characters I have read for a while. Moyes never sugar-coats Will’s condition and this and his sarcastic sense of humour are what makes him so human

Now a warning: Do not read this book in public! I am not kidding when I say that I sobbed my way through the last 50 or so pages, and from reading other reviews I am not alone. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this book.

Verdict: Highly, highly recommended. I was so invested in this small cast of characters that I felt as though I had lost friends when I finished this book. The growing friendship between Lou and Will is one of the most touching and heart-breaking I have ever read and I found myself willing them on at every turn of the page:  I still find myself thinking about them now.

 

  Have you read this book or anything else by Jojo Moyes? What did you think?