Thursday, 29 January 2015

Review: The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Publication Date: 29th January 2015

Huge thanks to Random House UK for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

And these are they. My final moments. They say a warrior must always be mindful of death, but I never imagined that it would find me like this…
Japanese teenager, Sora, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.

I should probably be upfront that Sarah is in fact a very dear friend of mine, so whilst I would be gushing about this book already simply on its own merit, the fact that it was written by Sarah just makes it even more awesome.

There is a big surge of diverse young adult fiction hitting the shelves which is a welcome breath of fresh air, and Sora’s tale set in modern Japan is no exception. Add to it that the story itself tackles death, euthanasia and features a disabled protagonist and ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ quickly sets itself apart as something other than your average YA fiction. The truth is it is so much more.

Sora is a tragic and compelling protagonist, at times buoyed up by those around him, sometimes sinking underneath the weight of inevitability, but his narrative had me racing through the book. It is a quiet, raw tale full of the tragic sense of time crashing too fast that comes with such a story, but that in no way hinders the storytelling, or makes it feel like a waste of a book. The prose is so beautifully constructed that you are at once struck with the inevitable end, desperate for any way to alleviate it, but knowing that there is nothing that can be done except to be with Sora through his journey and listen to his story.

The cast of characters that surround him really lift the tale up, injecting it with moments of humour and lightness in amongst the dark. I loved watching Sora slowly begin to let his friends in, to allow them to see him and then to form such a strong support system with them. It truly turned the story from a quiet dirge into something filled with quiet beauty. I loved the additional threads of their own separate stories, each of the three trying to tackle their own problems and drawing strength from the others when it all became too much.

Yes it tackles hard issues, but Sarah handles them with a deft grace that leaves the reader enthralled by the story and utterly wrecked by the emotions within. It is tragic but underpinned with lightness and a feeling that all is not lost, no matter how dark things can get. Quiet hope and dignity suffuse the decisions and actions as Sora comes to terms with himself and the legacy that he will leave.

This book stayed with me well beyond turning the last page. I had questions and thoughts and took quite some time to process through all the issues raised and feelings brought into question by Sora’s tale.

Mixed into all of this, Sarah captures the everyday internet culture that almost all teens are used to these days – something that is strangely left untouched in most books. I loved watching with Sora these teens go about their daily lives, the issues and heartaches that all feel as though they are life and death at the time. It’s something that everyone can relate to, either because they themselves are going through it or they’ve been through it in the past. But at the same time the Japanese culture creeps in and it was so wonderful to see those little touches that marked this book out from so many generic UK and US teen stories. It was like looking in a slightly skewed mirror, the same but so many little differences that make it unique – the mythology and culture and little details that really brought this tale into full technicolour.

This book will destroy you. It will creep into your mind and your heart and your soul and it will slowly pull you apart piece by piece until by the time you reach the last page you are an uncontrollable sobbing wreck. I thought this might just be me, but just look at some of the reviews already springing up about Last Leaves and you’ll see that everyone is having this reaction. It is an incredible book, an important book, and the one book that I will be saying to everyone, if you only read one book this year, let it be this one.

Buy your copy from Amazon or The Book Depository now!

Other great reviews for 'The Last Leaves Falling':

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Author Q & A with Sarah Benwell

I feel so incredibly lucky to announce that today on the blog, I have an interview with one of the most exciting debut authors this year, Sarah Benwell. Sarah is an incredibly talented author whose debut novel 'The Last Leaves Falling' will be released in the UK tomorrow - here to tell us a little more about the book, the research that went into it, and her writing process.

For anyone who hasn’t yet heard about your debut novel ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ can you tell them a little bit about it?
The book follows Japanese teenager Sora, who has ALS, as he deals with that diagnosis… I am terrible at this. Here’s a handy blurb:
Japanese teenager Sora is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Lonely and isolated, Sora turns to the ancient wisdom of the samurai for guidance and comfort. But he also finds hope in the present; through the internet he finds friends that see him, not just his illness. This is a story of friendship and acceptance, and testing strength in an uncertain future.

What inspired you to write this story? Can you tell us about how the original idea evolved into the novel readers will have in their hands tomorrow?
Last Leaves started out as a very, very different book. I was discussing book concepts with a writing buddy, and – as it often does when you’re with friends – conversation drifted. To Japan, the creepy sadness of Aokigahara, and from there, to loneliness, and coercion, and the particular Japanese trend towards suicide pacts.The statistics are horrifying, and Last Leaves started out exploring why.
In the original, the book started with Sora, Mai and Kaito making that pact. The story was about them reaching that end (whether or not they ultimately went through with it). But it turns out the story was all wrong for the characters in my head. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell a story principally about letting go, any more than my characters wanted to live it. Eventually, the story’s focus shifted, to choice, control, and dignity.

The moral and legal debates surrounding end of life choices and the right to die are – correctly – impassioned. We’re all connected to it. Whether we’ve watched someone fight or languish, or have simply wondered what if this were me? Whether we’re for or against it or somewhere in between. Of course we are all passionate. It affects us all.

Debating is good. The issues are complex and the potential for harm if we get it wrong is very, very real.

Last Leaves offers one perspective – the voice of one, lone, fictional teenager – but I hope that it’s done in such a way that readers can approach the issues and explore them safely, and make up their own minds.
The UK cover for The Last Leaves Falling

Sora suffers from ALS, your descriptions of both the condition and the effects of the drugs he has to take to combat that are incredibly realistic and really help the reader to connect with the awful situation that Sora is in, what research did you do to help you create this?
A lot of it is about imagining what it would feel like to deal with the pain and physical constraints and not-knowing – taking whatever experience you have and applying or multiplying that. It’s method-acting of the mind. It’s empathy.

But it also felt very important to portray things fairly. It will never, ever be 100% the way everyone experiences these things because no two experiences are the same. But I sought out the voices of people with ALS. And I talked to friends who use a wheelchair, or have limited mobility, friends who’ve dealt with the uncertainty, the pain, the meds.
I asked questions. I asked them to read my work and pull me up on anything I got horribly wrong.

Sure, it can be uncomfortable: it’s hard both checking your privilege (you will inevitably make assumptions or infer things without even realizing) and making yourself vulnerable to criticism, but it’s so important to be as fair and truthful as you can, and to be willing to listen, and to learn.

Luckily, people have been awesome, and this book is so much better for it.

(*Um. This answer sort of morphed into something more than getting physical details right. Whatever. It stands.)

Speaking of research, the setting is wonderful – from Sora’s family flat in the city to his grandparent’s out in the country, what research did you do to create this beautiful piece of the world that Sora and his friends inhabit?
Some degree of cultural immersion, I guess. While visiting Japan is still waiting on my bucket list, there’s a lot you can do to expose yourself to a place without visiting. I’ve had Japanese housemates, and several conversations about their homes. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies and series, seen photographs and read all the Japanese literature I could get my hands on. Details are everywhere. And this goes for the cultural details too.

When I was done, I asked a Japanese friend, and another who lives in Japan, to beta read/ check my work.

Diversity in novels is a hugely important thing, did you start out with the idea that you wanted to create a particularly diverse protagonist, or did it just happen that Sora’s story came to you and happened to fall into the diverse bracket?
You’re right, diversity in books is hugely important. Much as I believe this, though, I never sit down thinking ‘I must write something diverse’, or even ‘how can I get diversity into this story/ onto the shelves?’ It just happens naturally. My world isn’t populated by white, straight, cisgendered, neurotypical, able-bodied people, so why would that be all I write?

Other people, places and cultures are my crack. I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences between us all. So my stories explore that, which lends itself nicely to diversity, but it’s not a conscious, forceful thing, just the things I love.

The US cover for The Last Leaves Falling
The title and cover are absolutely stunning, you must be thrilled with the cover art (both UK and USA editions) how did you come up with the title for the novel?
Yes yes yes yes yessss. I love both covers with all my heart.
The title was a tricky thing. It started out as Death Wish – playing into the book’s ending, and nodding towards Japanese horror and anime cultures. But it was felt (rightly, I think) that this wasn’t doing justice to the story.

I suck at titles. Really, really. All credit for THE LAST LEAVES FALLING as a title goes to Kayla Whaley and her epic distillation skills.

What was the hardest part of writing ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ for you?
There were some difficult scenes, inevitably, but I think the hardest thing was actually the fear. All that research and reaching out to other people is because I really care about getting things right. Particularly where ALS and the wider portrayal of disability in books is concerned.

When you’re writing about any marginalized group – or any group of people to which you don’t belong – you have to be aware of their experiences, of the representation so far, of tropes and attitudes and bug bears, of the history you’re walking over.

It was particularly scary in regards to Sora’s disability. There is not nearly enough representation of disabilities in literature, and what there is is often met with fear and skepticism by disabled readers, who have long put up with awful tropes and stereotyping and being used as plot devices. Add to this that Last Leaves looks at assisted dying, that it broaches difficult questions about rights and control, and I was nervous about getting it right. I’d like to open up worlds and experiences and discussion, and I absolutely want to do no harm.

And the best/most rewarding part?
All of it? As difficult as it sometimes was, writing this book has been an absolute privilege. I’m incredibly grateful for all the help I’ve had, and hope I’ve done it justice. I think I have. I’m proud of the result.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I think I’d like to leave that up to you guys. But I wouldn’t say no to making people think.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
South Africa. Music. Heartbreak. Girl-girl kissing. :D

Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors reading this? 

Research, research, research. And don’t be afraid. Or do, but write your story anyway.

So that's all from Sarah! Thank you so much for coming over and taking the time out of your crazy schedule to talk to us! 'The Last Leaves Falling' is an absolutely incredible book, but I shall wait until its release tomorrow to gush about it properly when I will be posting my review, so check back then to hear more!

You can pre-order the book on Amazon here
And follow Sarah on twitter for more updates and writerly musings!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Holly Black is the Queen of revealing the true terrifying natures of the Fae.

Every book she writes plays host to a whole array of strange and fantastical creatures that are the darkest versions of faeries imaginable, and they are utterly spellbindingly beautiful books. It is an incredible book, showcasing that Holly Black becomes even more talented with each book she writes. It showcases everything she has become known for – flowing prose, strong female characters, and a warping of the world around us until anything seems possible and even the most frightening things are real.

‘The Coldest Girl in Coldtown’ ushered in a new age of Black’s books, and an even more engrossing series of novels. Standalones featuring heady and terrifying new worlds, ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’ isn’t quite as chilling (no pun intended) as ‘Coldtown’ but it branches out to give us a peak at Fairfold and the fae terrorizing its citizens.

It’s a dark novel full of secrets, lies and lost memories, featuring one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The narrative skips back and forth between past and present, offering glimpses into each of the main characters lives and secrets, but ultimately following the story of Hazel, whose secrets and lies and deepest darkest desires are what act as the catalyst for the events that unfold. It explores the relationships both with herself and the two people closest to her – her brother Ben and her brother’s best friend, Jack.

Everything is kept hidden from the reader, the book holding onto its secrets to make you work to piece the whole of the puzzle together, and work I did, tearing through the book in a matter of hours. I loved it. The quiet terror and determination of the town to completely ignore and disregard all the magical things happening around them. The gradual unfurling of Hazel’s character and all the choices that have shaped her into the person we are introduced to and the relationships that are built back up into working, functional things.

This is an incredible new novel from an author who seems to have no difficulty creating unique works of art with each new book. They are always raw and full of human emotion and foolishness, beautiful highs and terrifying lows and often places that most authors shy away from. Black deals with difficult or taboo subjects with finesse and brilliance and I cannot recommend her books enough, and ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’ is no exception. For new and old fans alike, this latest offering will not fail to delight and terrify.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Review: The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

Huge thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.

Release Date: 13th January 2015

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder --and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.
The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.
But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

When anything tries to compare itself to ‘The Night Circus’ I am hesitant. ‘The Night Circus’ is such a hauntingly beautiful novel that holds such a special place in my heart that nothing ever seems to come close to touching it. ‘The Magician’s Lie’ comes incredibly close though.

The novel is split, between the night when Arden’s husband is found dead and she goes on the run, only to be caught by Virgil, a police officer, and her retelling of her life story whilst in custody. One night and one incredible story later, Virgil must try and untangle what has really happened.

It’s an intriguing premise – a female magician in a period when Arden is the only one, a touring magic show, a desperate and breathless backstory with true love tangled up in it all. The novel is beautifully written and brilliantly executed. The only places where it stumbles are when we are brought back to reality and Arden trying to persuade Virgil of her innocence. The pace slows and I found myself desperate for them to stop talking and for Arden to get back to re-telling her own story.

The novel has been thoroughly researched and it shows, the characters and setting peel off the page and immerse the reader in the tale. It is brilliantly constructed and stitched together and I found myself coming to care about Arden and her story very quickly. She is a wonderful heroine with a fascinating life and I loved her from the start.

The secondary characters are all wonderfully written and the novel is held together by their relationships and interactions. It is startling evocative and beautifully descriptive and I found myself falling in love the further into Arden’s story we delved.

Whilst lovers of ‘The Night Circus’ will be drawn by the comparison, be aware that the emphasis is much heavier on the circus and the illusions and is based in reality with less magic, but that makes it no less magical to read. It is an utterly spellbinding book that explores magic, illusions and the desperate struggle for Arden as a woman to carve out her own place and identity in a male dominated society. I loved this book and it stayed with me long after I read the last page.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

It was on her nineteenth birthday that the soldiers came for Kelsea Glynn. They’d come to escort her back to the place of her birth – and to ensure she survives long enough to be able to take possession of what is rightfully hers.
But like many nineteen-year-olds, Kelsea is unruly, has high principles and believes she knows better than her elders. Unlike many nineteen-year-olds, she is about to inherit a kingdom that is on its knees – corrupt, debauched and dangerous.

Kelsea will either become the most fearsome ruler the kingdom has ever known . . . or be dead within the week.

This book appears to be quite the marmite book with people swearing up and down either that this is an awesome new fantasy, or it’s a big pile of garbage. Luckily I’d managed to steer clear of any reviews prior to reading, so I went in knowing only that there was a lot of buzz surrounding it, and that Emma Watson is attached to a film version currently in the works.

Let’s start by talking about the cover. I love it. It’s one of the best covers I’ve seen this year. Incredibly simple, powerful and effective. And whilst the plot contained within isn’t exactly simple, it certainly gives you a good indication of what you’re going to find.

This is a novel on quite a fantastic scope. It’s a mixture of so many different things – dystopian, fantasy, both young adult and adult, with a fantastic set of characters led by Kelsea.

It took me a little while to warm up to Kelsea, she comes across as a little arrogant, a little bit spiky to start with, but the longer I read the more I loved her. She’s bright and intelligent and determined and so overwhelmed by everything. She’s human, but she’s desperate to try and protect her people, to fix the wrongs that have been going on in her kingdom and be a good leader. However despite all her good intentions she is hampered because no one will talk to her, she has no real knowledge of the kingdom as it is now or during her mother’s reign, which leaves her blind and hobbled and trying to plug all the gaps in a sinking ship. I loved her fierce and wonderful she was, and I loved how insecure and unsure of everything she was as well. She is fiercely human, and you can ask no more from a character than that.

She is surrounded by a cast of brilliant characters. Fetch, the Mace, Pen, all of them help to guide her (and hinder her) and they are so brilliantly constructed. They treat her as their Queen, but also don’t truly respect her, and see her as nothing more than a little girl. It’s brilliantly realistic and wonderfully rendered and I loved watching Kelsea try to win them over, to gain that trust and respect that she desperately needs to try and rule her kingdom.

The world building was, on the whole, very good. I think what will be problematic for some readers is that because Kelsea knows so little, we the readers end up very much in the dark as well. There are lots of little hints at small parcels of knowledge that I’m hoping will be expanded upon over the series. It’s an intriguing world and I loved finding out more about it. It has beautifully woven together elements of a dystopian society as well as a more medieval feudal system. There could be issues further down the line if instead of more explanation the entire history of the Tear is just glossed over and we never learn any more about it as that would prove to be incredibly frustrating. However so far so good, and it provides enough detail to give you a grounding and idea of the world whilst leaving plenty of patches to fill in.

The plot itself is the third piece in the trio that make this brilliant novel work. It is fast paced and exciting, a tense work of art that had me racing through the book. It is also incredibly refreshing to have a plot unhampered by a tag along romance, and I think the book would be weighed down with that tagged on as well. There is so much going on, so much for everyone – fantasy, magic, assassin guilds, politics and scandals and a strong heroine at its heart. I absolutely adored this book. It’s the sort of novel I enjoy getting lost in and I cannot wait for the next book.

Read this if you enjoyed: “The Song of the Lioness Quartet” by Tamora Pierce. “The Girl of Fire and Thorns” by Rae Carson, and “The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy” by Kristin Cashore.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Review: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

When Varvara, a young Polish orphan, arrives at the glittering, dangerous court of the Empress Elizabeth in St Petersburg, she is schooled in skills ranging from lock-picking to love-making, learning above all else to stay silent - and listen. 
Then Sophie, a vulnerable young princess, arrives from Prussia as a prospective bride for the Empress' heir. Set to spy on her, Vavara soon becomes her friend and confidante, and helps her navigate the illicit liaisons and the treacherous shifting allegiances of the court. But Sophie's destiny is to become the notorious Catherine the Great. Are her ambitions more lofty and far-reaching than anyone suspected, and will she stop at nothing to achieve absolute power?

After reading a truly terrible young adult account of Sophie, (the future Catherine the Great) a few months ago, I remembered that I had on my shelves another telling of that story, this one recommended by an author I adore, so I decided to give the tale another go.

‘The Winter Palace’ is an intense and gripping story told by Varvara, a Polish orphan who is taken in by the Empress and set to work in the royal wardrobe. She is hungry, exhausted, constantly belittled, and feels she should be destined for greater things if only the Empress knew that she was there living in the palace. By sheer luck and her curiosity she comes to the attention of Count Bestuzhev who trains her and presents her to the Empress as a new spy.

Varvara is a fascinating protagonist. She has a disappointing tendency to become as flat and invisible to the reader as Bestuzhev demands her to be to the occupants of the palace, but on the whole she is an intriguing view point to watch history unfold from. She sees so much, is privy to so much and it is engrossing to watch her become embroiled in the very heart of everything, privy to the Empress herself. Anyone who has a basic knowledge of Russian history will know how the events of the book will play out, but Stachniak manages on the whole to still make it fresh and new and engrossing for the reader as you are enmeshed further along with Varvara.

Stachniak has re-created the Winter Palace with an eye for detail and an ability to convey the sheer grandeur and over indulgence of the period. It is stunning in its complexity and the vibrancy that fairly oozes from the pages as you are drawn into this world with its intrigues and politics and scandals. It is a lush and opulent depiction of life in Russia that Varvara hovers on the edges of, flitting in and out of the main tale and drawing the reader ever deeper into the web of secrets and lies that make up life in the Palace.

There is a distinct lack of urgency in places that really should be steeped in it. Varvara becomes caught up in redecorations of the palace, orders of new gowns and the mundane and the urgency is lost where it should be rampant. Whilst this is a story that details the rise of power and lead up to Catherine’s coup, it does feel that the story ends just as it gets interesting. There should be more of a thrill, an urgency as the pieces are put in place and Catherine takes control of the country. Instead it is a slow and sedate promenade that never fully forms and takes flight, which is disappointing when it could be so much more.

Stachniak has since written a sequel of sorts – a second novel this time from the perspective of Catherine (Sophie) herself, reflecting on her life. Following on from this breath taking foray into Russia and the world of the Winter Palace, I am looking forward to taking myself back there. Lovers of historical fiction will love this look at a crucial turning point in Russian history, and whilst it can drag in a few places, the writing on the whole is brilliant in its execution and will provide a fascinating fresh insight.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review: As You Wish - Inconceivable Tales from the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.
The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.
Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In 
As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets, backstage stories, and answers to lingering questions about off-screen romances that have plagued fans for years!
With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, 
As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.

I am a rather huge fan of The Princess Bride. I’ve been watching it ever since I was seven and my sister brought home a copy of it on video and I watched it on repeat. It has everything, it is a classic, it is utter genius and pure brilliance and if you haven’t seen this film or read the book, you need to remedy this immediately. As brilliant as the book is, I highly recommend watching the film first.

So when it was announced about a year ago that Cary Elwes would be releasing a behind the scenes making of book extravaganza, I was one of the people whose shrieks of joy could be heard the world over.

The book is beautiful, lovingly created with some gorgeous photographs and a wonderful piece of art hidden inside the dust-jacket. The whole thing reflects the film itself, it’s a labour of love with everyone involved coming together to provide stories, musings and recollections about the process and filming of The Princess Bride. It’s like putting on a favourite sweater and slippers and drinking a hot mug of tea – warm and comforting, familiar and wonderful. I laughed, I got a little teary eyed, and the whole thing was a magical experience, a beautiful way to go back and revisit the film and to hear from the team that brought it to us so many little tales from behind the scenes that helped make it even more brilliant.

The audiobook is also fantastic, read by Elwes himself with the other cast lending a supporting role for their own tales. It’s a labour of love for the people who love the film, by the people who loved bringing it to life.

My only complaint is that the writing does have a tendency to go round in circles and make the same point twice – it could have done with some tightening up and a bit of editing in places. On the whole though, this is a beautiful book, lovingly written and created, and one that adds another piece of magic to an already magical tale.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Review: Bonfire Night (A Lady Julia Grey Novella) by Deanna Raybourn

It's the autumn of 1890, and almost a year has passed since—much to their surprise—Lady Julia and Nicholas became parents. Just as the couple begins to adapt, a solicitor arrives with a strange bequest. Nicholas, it seems, has inherited a country house—but only if he and his family are in residence from All Hallows' Eve through Bonfire Night.
Neither Lady Julia nor Nicholas is likely to be put off by local legends of ghosts and witches, and the eerie noises and strange lights that flit from room to room simply intrigue them. Until a new lady's maid disappears, igniting a caper that will have explosive results…

I adore the Lady Julia mysteries in a way that defies attempting to explain it like a rational human being. Let’s just leave it at this: they are wonderful books and if you haven’t read them yet then you need to, because Raybourn is one of the best writers I have had the pleasure of reading. This series of books found me quite by chance when I had finished reading Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series and wanted something similar. Amazon, in its infinite wisdom suggested I read these, and I have never looked back.

They are brilliantly constructed mysteries with a wonderful heroine at their heart, a broodingly acerbic hero and a cast of excellent characters that make these such a pleasure to come back to. With all that in mind, when the news came out that Deanna Raybourn was parting from her publishers and the chances of another Lady Julia novel had just dropped to virtually non-existant, I was devastated. I love these books and I had hoped to get just one more book to tie up some more ends that had been left. Instead we got the novellas, and whilst I was initially hesitant, Raybourn has done a truly spectacular job of not only telling more of Julia’s story through the four novellas, but also weaving in elements of it into her three novels set in the twenties. Between them we’ve been given a very good idea of where Julia was heading and what happened to her after the events of ‘The Dark Enquiry’.

So with everything built up to a head with the Vespiary in the last novella as well as ‘Night of a Thousand Stars’ I was expecting more of a conclusion where we see the start of that, of how Julia and Brisbane become involved and set it up and the beginning of their parenthood with baby Jack. We definitely got baby Jack and parenthood but there wasn’t a whisper of the Vespiary anywhere, which was quite disappointing.

The novella was a beautifully written little side story, one that I could have quite happily read much more of, but as a final instalment for such a wonderful series? It really didn’t even come close. There was no real closure to speak of, it just felt like another one of Julia and Brisbane’s mysteries – something I am always happy to read – but it didn’t feel like the end of the series.

Part of me now lives in hope that one day we will get another book or novella, something to give us the closure needed on all of these threads (or some mention or cameo in another series just to tie everything up) but I have a horrible feeling that that may not happen. So my rating is not on the novella as a series end, but on the novella as a story (which is wonderful) instead.

Now let's just hope that the publishers decide to honour this series by creating a paperback with all four novellas in, so that all readers can enjoy them, not just those with e-readers.