Ever wandered late into to a series? You’ve heard the hype but for whatever reason didn’t quite jump on board when what feels like the whole world did? I know exactly how you feel but thankfully it’s never too late and the great thing is that when you do finally catch on, you don’t have to wait for the next release! It’s all there, from beginning to end, ready for you to immerse yourself in and you can simply jump straight in and enjoy.
There’s something rather fantastic about reading a whole series all together. For one thing it allows you to disappear within the pages of the story while still fresh from the last. Of course it has to be a great series and what better than one with a kickass heroine with a cute love interest and a strong desire to save her family business, her reputation, oh and pretty much the whole darn world. A little bit of magic, alchemy, peril and of course romance and you have the recipe to an awesome trilogy.
So why am only just reading The Potion Diaries series now? The first in the series – The Potion Diaries – was published in 2015, and in 2016 was chosen for The Zoella Book Club. Hot on it’s heels was Royal Tour and finally this year, Going Viral. I have to admit these books have been on my radar for quite some time. The first title was a Lovereading4kids book of the month in July 2015 and the consumer reader review panel absolutely loved it, so I was extremely pleased when I found myself in possession of all three books this summer. They are actually rather wonderful. Amy has created a very likeable protagonist who I grew very attached to and to be honest I am missing her quite a bit. Each book follows on from the last (but equally independently readable – although how anyone can not read them all is beyond me) and are filled to the brim with adventure, magic, danger, and a little bit of luv. I thoroughly recommend them and although aimed at the teen/YA market, I think an older reader (such as myself) will very much enjoy them. The content is pretty okay for younger and ‘almost’ teens too.
To my mind the proof of a good series is that you’re always left wanting more, always wondering where the story could go next. I believe Going Viral is to be the last in The Potion Diaries series but I am thrilled to read that Amy has started work on a brand new series, so that’s rather exciting. She is definitely an author worth seeking out.
Here’s a few more details about each of the three titles. Just a warning though – the synopsis’ for books 2 and 3 do kind of have spoilers to the previous book.
When the PRINCESS OF NOVA accidentally pioisons herself with a LOVE POTION meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. OPPS. A nationwide hunt is called to find a cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.
Enter SAMANTHA KEMI – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but have fallen on hard times and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? And just how close is she willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing enemy, in the meantime?
Just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.
NO BIG DEAL, THEN.
Since winning the Hunt and savving her new BFF, Princess Evelyn, Sam Kemi has been royally busy. What with TV interviews, working in her family’s potion store ad preparing to join Evelyn on her world tour, Sam STILL hasn’t had time for a real date with Zain, her new-boyfriend-slash-former-rival.
And that’s not happening anytime soon. Someone has tampered with Sam’s grandad’s mind and she is the only one who can UNLOCK HIS MEMORIES. But those memories hold the key to the most powerful potion in the world – which people would KILL for…
So Sam must swap dresses, princes and palaces for dragons, centaurs and caves in her quest to save her grandad (and everyone else).
JUST YOUR STANDARD EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A POTION-MAKING TEENAGER, THEN.
After finding her great-grandmother’s potion diary, escaping the clutches of Emilia Thoth, saving her grandfather’s memories AND becoming a Master Alchemist, surely it’s time for SAM KEMI to have a good, long rest? And maybe, just maybe, a proper date with her boyfriend Zain?
But now that Princess Evelyn is married to the sinister Prince Stefan and showing symptoms of the Gergon illness, it looks as though Sam’s adventures are just beginning the GOOD news: there might be a cure for the virus soreading like dagonfire through the city. The BAD news? It’s buried in a remote village in a far-flung country next to an active volcano – and Sam’s not the only one after it.
WITH A TV CREW TRAILING SAM’S EVERY MOVE AND TIME FAST RUNNING OUT, IT LOOKS LIKE THINGS ARE ABOUT TO…GO VIRAL
Published by Simon & Schuster.
Find out more about the fantastic Amy Alward here.
Find out more about Lovereading4kids here
Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
Just because I’m quiet doesn’t mean I’m aloof. Maybe I just want to be alone. Maybe I’m not good at conversation. We all can’t be cool and gregarious and Hey, bro what up? like he apparently is. Some of us aren’t wired for that.
I’m a book lover for sure, no big shock there but I also love film too and so the fact that Alex, Approximately combines the both hit the spot straight away. The film quotes at the beginning of each chapter are great, setting the tone perfectly and made me want to go watch them all again and catch the one or two that I haven’t yet seen.
‘Alex’ and Bailey are ‘friends’, friends in the sense that they chat via the internet in a film fanatics online community. They haven’t actually met in real life, not yet anyway. But that could change when Alex invites Bailey to his local film festival, which just so happens to be in California, which just so happens to be where Bailey’s Dad lives, who just so happens to be the person Bailey is going to live with – except she hasn’t told Alex yet. Because Bailey is an habitual evader. She avoids situations that make her uncomfortable or might cause her stress and as she’s desperate for the Alex she meets in real life to be as wonderful as the Alex she knows online, she wants to check him out first. The only problem is she has no idea what he looks like or or even what his real name is. Armed with clues she’s picked up during their many online chats she heads out into the California sunshine to try and track Alex down and find – who she hopes will be – the boy of her dreams. Of course life starts to get in the way, such as a summer job at ‘the Cave’ and co worker Porter, who soon becomes her ‘archnemesis’ and is making her life hell. He’s a surfer boy, all sexy rebellion and sun-kissed curls but she hates him right? Except before long she’s spending way too much time thinking about him which complicates things somewhat, especially her reality evading lifestyle and her search for Alex.
I immediately fell in love with both Alex and Bailey and it didn’t take me long to warm to sexy, surfer boy Porter too. I absolutely loved Alex, Approximately and was completely charmed by Jenn’s writing. Her ability to make you connect with the characters is fantastic and I was sad to say goodbye to them when the story ended. Although there is a love story at the heart of this, it is also a story about overcoming out greatest fears to be the people we want to be. I loved Bailey, she’s smart and sassy yet full of self doubt and it’s only as the story progresses that you realise just how much she’s been through.
There are many nods to films that I adore throughout this book, not only in the quotes but in the inspiration to various scenes and I felt it worked perfectly. It left me feeling warm and fuzzy, just how so many of the films made me feel too. I loved it. It will remain on my bookcase and will no doubt be revisited on those occasions when I feel the need for that comforting, feel good read – the one that feels like a hug on a dark, cold day.
Published by Simon and Schuster
Published in paperback in July 2017
Review copy supplied by the lovely people at Simon and Schuster (thanks so much:)
Find out more about author Jenn Bennett and her novels at her website: here.
This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell returns with her latest breathtaking novel. This Must Be The Place is a story about journeys, it’s about discovering who you are and where you’re meant to be. Daniel Sullivan is leaving on a journey, he is leaving his shotgun-toting, recluse of a wife and his two young children behind in Ireland as he flies to America to celebrate his estranged father’s birthday. Yet anyone can be easily thrown off course, especially when the past creeps in and misty, murky memories begin to haunt Daniel. After so many years it is now time to face his past but just what will it cost him? Will life ever be the same and will he ever be able to return home to Ireland?
I can’t remember exactly when I first discovered the writing of Maggie O’Farrell, I do however remember the book. The Hand That First Held Mine. It was by no means her first novel but for me it was the discovery of something very special. O’Farrell’s writing is exquisite. Her characters are brought to life through her wonderful prose and you can feel their living, breathing presence as you read. Her stories will haunt you and in some small, subtle way you’ll never be quite the same again.
Published by Tinder Press
Published in paperback in April 2017
Published in hardback in May 2016
Review written for Lovereading.co.uk
Visit Maggie’s website here.
The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox
Ed Peters, a young Fleet Street journalist, lives a hedonistic 1970’s lifestyle of which he’s grown weary. Whilst the country is in the grip of a stifling heatwave, Ed returns to his mother’s hometown of Brightland in an effort to make his peace with both her and his past. However, an encounter in a junk shop leaves him bewitched by the story of the young silent movie actress, Leda Grey. As he sets out to meet the reclusive actress both life and sanity are at risk as he enters Leda’s world and the secrets hidden away for over 60 years in her decaying cliff-top house.
The oppressiveness of the heatwave together with the trickery and magic of the silent films is incredibly atmospheric throughout the book; causing us to question what is real and what is a mirage, blurring fact and fiction. Essie’s writing is beautiful and sensuous, capturing the very essence of time, place and character perfectly. Even days after finishing this story I can still see Leda Grey sweeping through the house, both in her young innocence and later as the weary, tormented ghost of the girl she used to be. Yet there is more to this faded movie star than meets the eye. What secrets surround her and what horrors haunt both woman and house? Ed is soon drawn into her story and the curse that surrounds her.
Haunting, sad and beautifully written, this is yet another stunning novel from the wonderful Essie Fox.
Published by Orion
Publication Date: 30th November 2016
Reviewed originally for Lovereading.
Exquisite by Sarah Stovell
Wow! This is a cracking psychological thriller. Told in first person from two different viewpoints it causes you to question the reliability of both women. Smart, sensitive, talented Bo, always mothering, always looking to save someone and Alice, young, damaged and a drifter. The two meet at a writers retreat and a spark sets off an unexpected chain of events that will change the lives of both women. Alice is in awe of the successful author and in turn something in Alice’s writing captures Bo’s attention. The two embark on an intense, complex relationship which soon becomes obsessive and destructive. I was completely swept up in the brilliance of Sarah’s carefully constructed plot that had me constantly questioning the outcome and eagerly turning the page. The beautifully atmospheric setting of the Lake District and bustling, bohemian Brighton echo the different characters at the heart of this story. It was a chilling read, expertly crafted and difficult to put down.
Published by Orenda Books
Publication Date: 1st June 2107
A Late Discovery – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Sometimes for many different reasons a book will pass you by. This is what happened for me with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak when it was originally published over ten years ago now. Not because I wasn’t interested but because it is based on a subject matter that I’ve always found quite difficult to read about.
However one thing that I love about books is the way they can quite unexpectedly find their way into your life when the time is right. One day, quite by chance, I was chatting to someone about books and reading. I’m always delighted when an unknown common ground can be found between people who really don’t know each other at all – I always feel like I’ve found a friend when we have books in common. He was reading The Book Thief at that time and told me how much he was enjoying it. I admitted I hadn’t read it and so he offered to loan it to me. Just a few weeks later I began reading.
I have to say that it is one of the saddest books I have ever read but right from the start I was so absorbed with the writing that I just could not turn away from this story, no matter how much it hurt to read. As someone who has spent some time over recent years pulling books apart and analyzing the method and use of language I can honestly say that I thought Zusak’s technique rather wonderful. Although the events are centered on a young girl, the narrator is death himself. Zusak states at the end of the story that he wanted to make ‘death a vulnerable narrator wh0 is haunted by humans, as opposed to the typically macabre and superior being’ and in doing this I believe it made the harrowing events more bearable to read. The death I observed through his narration was gentle, caring and beautiful yet pushed to his very limits by the actions of humans.
Five hundred souls.
I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.
Some of the characters are difficult to read, so harsh and cruel their actions but the ones who really fill this story, the ones who stay with you are the kindest souls imaginable, even through their suffering they still have the ability to love and see the beauty in life. Getting to know these characters carried me on through the book and although I quite often knew the fate of some early on within the story, I was still compelled to read on, to follow them to their final moments and shed a tear. For the sorrow was still there and possibly more so because I knew it was coming. There was a sad inevitability to events.
The story within The Book Thief is very dark and yet Markus Zusak adds so much beauty with his use of language and colour. It flows through the book even in the bleakest moments and is a constant reminder that with darkness there is always light. It is this contrast, this dark subject that is expressed with such grace and elegance that highlights the horror and the contradiction that human beings bring to the world. As death himself says…
I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and so brilliant.
Words themselves played an important part within the story. Zusak questioned their power and their ability to create such hate, such misery. Liesel is saved from her nightmares by words when she is taught to read and write by her papa. They become a comfort. She then in turn gives the gift of the written word when she reads aloud to those sheltering with her from the bombs, bringing them too some comfort and a brief escape from their fear as the world above them is torn apart. Yet Liesel soon begins to understand that hate and destruction also grow from words. That were there is love there is hate, beauty there is monstrosity and where there is courage, there is also despair.
The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consulation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. What good were the words? She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. ‘What good are the words?’
A beautifuly story and I’m so glad I read it. It will stay with me always, as will the memory of the souls and what they represent, that death so gently removed along the way.
The Dress by Kate Kerrigan
One of the many highlights for me in a day at Lovereading.co.uk is when a proof lands on my desk for a novel which we feel will meet the high expectations of our fabulous reader review panel. Quite often the cover gives very little away and it can be particularly thrilling when you are presented with few clues as to what lies on the pages within. However, publisher’s will at times make the proofs (almost) as beautiful as the finished copies and as soon as I saw the cover of Kate Kerrigan’s The Dress, I just wanted to pick it up and start reading. And read it I did, along with a selection of members from the Lovereading Reader Review Panel.
How delighted I was to then discover that Kate Kerrigan herself was coming to our local indie bookshop (yes, we’re lucky enough to still have one) in East Grinstead. So on a bright and beautiful Saturday afternoon I found myself amongst some rather lovely, beautifully dressed ladies listening to Kate as she chatted about her inspiration for the book and her life as a writer.
An extremely warm and friendly woman, she made us all feel welcome, as though meeting an old friend for coffee. Instantly everyone was at ease in the comfortable surroundings of the small cafe within the bookshop. As I had read the novel it was a delight to hear her read a familiar chapter and those discovering the story for the first time were inspired enough to purchase one of the beautiful hard backed copies available to buy on the day.
As Kate spoke about her inspiration for the novel she questioned the power a dress has. This question has since been floating around my head. Personally, I’m a big fan of dresses. They are feminine, smart, sexy, beautiful and they come in so many shapes, sizes and styles. Whatever the season, whatever the occasion there is a dress to suit and I just love that. A favoured garment can make us feel confident, attractive, dare I say beautiful? It can pull us out of the dumps and even reignite precious memories. But can a dress really make someone fall in love? Could it even save a marriage?
These questions are all touched on within the story but there is also so much more within the pages of this delightful novel. I loved the dressmaking details throughout, the dual time setting, glamourous locations and the engaging characters brought to life by Kate. Her characterisation is excellent, as is her attention to detail. During her time with us at The Bookshop, Kate also shared some of her experiences as a writer and divulged the often unrecognised hard work that writing a novel requires. As an (aspiring) writer myself it’s good to know that a book is not just written but nurtured. It takes time, attention and love (and a tough but great editor:) For me The Dress was an engrossing, easy read and a delight from start to finish.
Just a few days after meeting Kate I found myself visiting Killerton House, a National Trust property in Devon. Killerton is home to a fashion collection of over 10,000 items of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing dating from 1690 to the 1970’s (Source – National Trust). Each year the house displays a selection from the collection in an exhibition. This years exhibition, The F-Word: the changing language of fashion, celebrates innovations within the fashion industry and the advances they have brought throughout history. The exhibition features pieces from the past, along with new work created by students from Exeter College.
As I wandered around the exhibition my thoughts returned to The Dress, Joy, Lily, Honor and Frank. It made me wonder about the stories within each of these historic pieces and if a little of the people who had worn them over the years had been left behind. Maybe some of their energy remained within the folds of fabric, the swish of a skirt or the sparkle of a sequin. Quite often memories are locked into the garments we wear; a wedding dress is treasured, just as a favorite jumper can be. The sorting of clothes after the loss of a loved one can be traumatic and painful. Clothes become part of who we are. This is one thing that most can relate to and why the choice of subject in Kate’s book is so interesting. The Dress feels like a character in itself and I read on intrigued to know it’s fate. It was, after all, the image on the front cover that first drew me to the novel before I had even read the synopsis.
The cover image design was based on descriptions of the dress within the story. It is stunning and inspired me to indulge myself by drawing a version with slight alterations made to fit just me. What decoration would your dress be adorned with? As you may see from the picture below my dress includes images of flowers rather than fairy-tales. Of course the absolute perfect dress for me might well be covered in the titles of my favourite novels.
Do you have a dress that is special to you? Please share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
Finally thank you so much to Olivia D’Silva for organising the event and to The Bookshop in East Grinstead for hosting and finally to Kate for coming to visit. I wish her every success with her novel and very much look forward to the next.