“Howards End is on the Landing” by Susan Hill

One day, author Susan Hill finds a dozens of books on her shelves that she realises she has never read or had forgotten she even owned, and she decides that for the next year, she will not buy any new books and only read those she already owns. In this book, she talks about different authors, genres and styles of books, recounting tales of authors, teachers and friends associated with them, and makes one of those lists we all love; if you could only have forty books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

This was a wonderfully satisfying book! Reading it felt like reading the best book blog ever written, by a friend whose stories and anecdotes you’ve never heard before. It is not a “Forty books everyone should read” or a sycophantic trawl through “All the amazing famous writers I’ve ever met”, it really is just about someone thinking aloud about all their favourite books and authors, and how they came to love them. It never talks down to the reader, but talks about the time and place for different genres and styles, from children’s picture books to poetry anthologies, and from spy thrillers to classics, and from Shakespeare to Roald Dahl. I loved being able to exclaim, “Yes, I agree!” or, “No. Are you mad, woman?”

But what I really got out of it, was an insight into the mind of another reader, and it made me contemplate the books I’ve read, those waiting patiently on my shelves to be read, and the books and authors I will buy or borrow in the future. As soon as I’d read the last page, I turned back to the first and started flicking back through again.

My copy is borrowed from the library, and I will definitely be buying my own hardback copy to treasure and to refer back to, as there are some great suggestions in there too! I can’t recommend this highly enough for any one who loves books and reading them.

“Agaton Sax and the Diamond Thieves” by Nils-Olof Franzén

Just a brief review for this one, as it’s an old childrens book, now out of print and pretty much unavailable.

While reminiscing about books from childhood the other evening, I found that my local library had a selection of books in its reserve archive, so I put in a reservation for a few books, including this one. When I mentioned it on The Book Club Forum, someone reminded me that Kenneth Williams had read the series on Jackanory, and the whole way through I could picture and hear him in my head so it was just like being five years old again. It was a lovely, nostalgic Sunday afternoon read that was a fabulous reminder of childhood.

“Fallen” by Lauren Kate

Luce is sent to reform school after a mysterious fire kills her boyfriend and she can’t explain what happened. A world away from her previous private prep school where she was on a full academic scholarship, Sword & Cross reform school has strict rules, constant surveillance and strange classmates. But when Luce encounters Daniel, she’s sure she has met him somewhere before …

Yet another foray into teenage fantasy books, and this was a pleasant surprise as I was beginning to wonder if I’d become jaded by a surfeit of them, but I found myself completely engrossed in this story. Intriguing characters and with a niggling creepiness to the story which gradually builds to a thrilling crescendo before an epilogue to set up the rest of the series.

I loved the relationships between the characters and there were some genuine surprising plot twists and developments. A very satisfying piece of story telling on the whole, although sometimes I found myself thinking, “have you never seen a horror movie? DON’T DO THAT!!!!”

In fact, my only minor complaint about the book (but it’s more of a general moan) is what happened to books that deliver a complete story? Don’t get me wrong, I love series and I devour them with glee, but I’d much rather have a book that could be read as a single story, yet a lot of serial books I’m reading lately, whilst leaving me wanting more, leave a slight taste of disappointment when the final chapter or epilogue tries to entice you with some ideas of where the story will continue.

As a final word, my copy of the book has a very short blurb on the back which gives nothing away, but if you read the full synopsis from either amazon.co.uk or waterstones.com, then you will find out something that I think is a spoiler, so beware!

“Evermore” by Alyson Noël

After seventeen-year-old Ever survives the car crash that kills the rest of her family, not only is she is left with psychic abilities that torment her daily, but also haunted by the ghost of her twelve-year-old sister, Riley. Now living with her aunt in a new state, she’s changed from the popular, outgoing teenager she was before the accident, to an outsider who hides behind hoodies and drowns out the psychic noise with her iPod. When the unbelievably gorgeous, intelligent and altogether too good to be true new boy, Damen, starts paying attention, Ever finds herself drawn to him but soon suspects all is not as it seems.

There is a prevalence of teenage supernatural books being published in the wake of the success of the Twilight series, and this is another one to add to the list. Parallels with Twilight repeatedly crop up throughout, with a young teenage heroine who is new in town, drawn to the incredibly beautiful, mysterious, intelligent male lead, who leaves subtle (and some not so subtle) clues that all is not as it should be.

To be honest, while it was entertaining enough, there was nothing particularly original about the story and certainly nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd. While I will look out for the next instalment in the series which is due out later this year, I certainly won’t be rushing out to buy it as soon as it’s published, and will probably just get it from the library.

I think it you like this sort of book then you’ll probably read it and it will be diverting enough, but it you’re looking for a new perspective then you’re likely to be disappointed.

“Shades of Grey” by Jasper Fforde

The start of a new series from Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey delivers to a world after Something That Happened where the colours you can see will affect your standing in society, and your life will be mapped out from the job you get to the place you live to the people you can marry. All you need to do is follow the Rulebook and everything will be fine – or at least that what Eddie Russett thinks until he falls in love with a Grey called Jane.

What do I want from a Jasper Fforde book?

1. Surreal and fantastical yet still realistic and recognisable characters and settings.
2. Excellent storytelling that makes me desperate to keep reading.
3. Funny, witty and clever writing, but that is still accessible and inclusive.

So does Shades of Grey deliver? Yes, Yes and YES! I loved it. My first laugh out loud moment was on page 8 so it was off to a great start, and I think in total there were four occasions when I audibly laughed, but there were plenty of chuckles, knowing grins and smirks along the way.

Fforde has created a whole new environment which while retaining elements of the landscape we live in, provides a whole new way of looking at the world and the colour around us. In a society where your perception of colour decides your rank and role within it, there are obviously parallels with race and class in our own world, and certainly gives you pause for thought about these issues whilst still being entertaining fiction. It’s amazing how much detail and depth there is to the characters, the physical environment and the world that is created.

Any complaints? Only a couple of niggles really. I’m still not sure I understand what LeapBack actually is/was, and perhaps the development of a couple of the relationships between characters were a tad predictable, but there were plenty of other completely unexpected elements to allow these to be forgiven.

The story keeps going right to the last page, and sets us up nicely for rest of the series (of which we are promised at least two more books), although that, of course, means more (not so) patient waiting for the next instalment!

“Moral Disorder” by Margaret Atwood

Inside the front cover of the hardback edition of this book, it says that this book can be “seen as a collection of eleven stories that is almost a novel or a novel broken up into eleven stories.” The stories are all tales of a female character at various stages in life, and set in a variety of time and place, perhaps even, in the first story, on an alternative world or society.

I hadn’t read the inside in the book jacket when I started it and had no idea what the book was about, so at first it seemed like a series of disjointed short stories, all told from the female perspective, but after the sixth story/chapter, things started falling into place. I realised that the first chapter was the main character in old age, then from the second chapter onwards, we were seeing a snapshot of a different time or event in her life, moving onwards to understand how she became the person she was back in the first story.

Although there is a narrative running through the stories, my feeling was that they were really about how we perceive, judge and rationalise people and events within our own minds, giving a very introverted take on the life of an individual. Once I was able to embrace this concept (at chapter six), I could better appreciate the book, and I actually went back and skim read the first five chapters again before finishing it.

Having said that, the first chapter is still a bit of an enigma to me; is this supposed to be an alternate world or society? I still don’t understand the relevance of the political references in the first chapter and how it fits in with the rest of the stories, which all seem to be much more “normal” and in line with our own society.

I’m still not sure if I enjoyed the book, although once I understood what was going on, I did feel more encouraged to continue with it. It did make me think about the difference between the person we are in our heads compared to the persona we display to others, and that made it an interesting, challenging and thought-provoking read.

“The Shoe Queen” by Anna Davis

Genevieve Shelby King has it all, the rich husband, the glamorous apartment, an incredible shoe collection and parties like there’s no tomorrow amongst the artists, poets and writers of 1920s Paris with her best friend, the fabulous Lulu of Montparnasse. When she spots one of her aristocratic associates in a pair of exclusive Zachari shoes, Genevieve is determined to become his newest client, and her desperation to obtain the elusive shoes leads her to evaluate her own desire and the past she hoped to forget.

This is such a deceptive book, starting off with a seemingly shallow tale of a beautiful, rich young woman coveting the exclusive, exquisite shoes made by Zachari, but as the story progresses, we learn of where Genevieve’s obsession with shoes stems from and the emotionally charged story of her past. The female characters in the story are so well written, and we get exposed of all sorts of women, from the bohemian artiste Lulu of Montparnasse to Olga, the severe assistant of the shoemaker. Even the briefest of glimpses into the life of secretary Marie-Claire are a fascinating insight into women’s lives in the period.

I love Genevieve’s journey in this book, as she grows and faces up to the past she has been trying to forget, and learns about herself and the direction she wants her life to take. The ending was a surprise for a book of this style, and I was very satisfied with how the story ended, and I can’t say anymore than that without giving it all away!

The only other thing I would say is that I personally don’t covet shoes, but I could picture the beautiful shoes that Genevieve desires so badly, and I suspect even I would fall in love with the unique, hand crafted masterpieces made by Zachari as they are so beautifully described in how they look, the process of designing and making them, the way they caress the foot and how they make the wearer feel.