The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

Who could resist such an opening line? I admit, I chose to read this book because it had a nice cover. The back of the paperback edition gives little away but the opening line mentioned above. So, I picked it up and read it. Needless to say, I could barely put it down.

The story is about two magicians who are pitted against each other in a duel but it is no ordinary duel. They have to outdo each other with creating exhibits for Le Cirque des Rêves until a winner is decided. But alongside this runs a romance that is threatened when the competition starts to reach its stunning end.

The imagery in this story is wonderful and atmospheric. You can almost hear and smell the circus, close your eyes and the exhibits are real. The characters are interesting and likeable, drawing you into a world that is impossible but you keep hoping otherwise. The author creates a world that reappears as soon as you open the book and pulls you through to the end.

When I finished the book, I turned to the front and started again.

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Charles Dickens: a Life by Claire Tomlin

Charles Dickens: A LifeCharles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t really know much about Charles Dickens before I read this book. I’ve read a number of his novels but never appreciated them in the context of his experiences and the events occurring in his life at the time of writing. So I decided to find out more.

Claire Tomlin has written quite a few biographies of famous authors and this book was released for the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth. Tomlin manages to weave a detailed account of his life with some interesting anecdotes from Dickens’ own letters to family and friends. In and amongst, she also critiques the novels and puts them into the context of his rather hectic life.

I found the book to be easy to read and even though it was full of detail, it never stopped being readable and you don’t feel bombarded with information that is uninteresting or irrelevant. It certainly made me appreciate his novels as a snapshot of London life but also how the author was feeling at his time of writing. It puts into place why his books became more disillusioned and showed a darker edge to Dickens.

Tomlin doesn’t pull any punches with critiquing his novels – many of which she is quite scathing about and has evidence to suggest that even Dickens’ friends also felt the same. She does such a good job of portraying Dickens that you feel disappointed at him at times but also his despair when he watches as family and friends start to disappear.

A very enjoyable read and I certainly know a lot more about this great author than I did before.

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The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

The Book of Human Skin The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is an extremely talented writer who can write a novel so well using the voices of five different characters. All with their own unique personality and style. Not much happens plot wise but it drags you through. At times you are horrified by what you are reading but still, you read on just a little bit more.
A very…enjoyable?…interesting book.

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Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

Agent 6 (Leo Demidov, #3)Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Child 44 (the first book in the trilogy) on holiday in Northumberland. My husband had read it before me and had gushed about it which was rare at the time as he didn’t much care for novels. I shrugged and opened it at the first page. The whole journey of Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa set my pulse racing and my blood pressure soaring. I was panicking every time I picked it up. It may well have been me running across Russia attempting to escape denouncement. I was hooked. So much so that on a Sunday, we raced from Berwick to Newcastle to pick up the next in the series.

Agent 6 is the third and final book. It takes place some years after ‘The Secret Speech’ and starts with a flashback to when Leo and Raisa first met. It then takes you on a journey spanning decades and Leo seeks to find justice for the destruction of the very thing he needed to keep him sane. It travels from Russia to Afghanistan to the USA in a thrilling ride of deception and disappointment as Leo gets finally to learn the truth.

Although neither of the sequels are in the same league as Child 44 (possibly in my top 10 books of all time so far), it is a usual, very worrying. Leo is man on the edge of desperation and insanity, thus his life is worthless almost. This means he is willing to do virtually anything which does make you hold your breath and keep turning the pages until you are safe, for now. The setting of Afghanistan when the Russians were attempting to bring it under communist reign is fraught with violence and terror. Although not as grisly as some books, it describes the mass violence used by the Russians to stem tide of freedom fighters and does leave some grim images of what mankind is capable of doing.

Overall, a good book at it does finish the trilogy well leaving no strings untied.

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Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

The Jewel in the Crown (The Raj Quartet, #1)The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I was watching Sebastian Faulks on TV last year. We were in Robin Hood’s Bay for another cancelled football match in Whitby. The show was about literary villains and Tim Pigott Smith’s character in the TV adaptation of ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ was Mr Faulks’ favourite. A man named Ronald Merrick. I was talking to my Mum just before Christmas explaining this and that I wouldn’t mind the quartet. Low and behold, Santa brought them for me.

Jewel in the Crown is the first of the set which are set in India at a time when British and Indian forces were falling out badly. It focuses on the rape of a young English woman named Daphne Manners and her relationship with Hari Kumar. It starts off slowly, putting into context the political tension of the time and tells the story through a variety of key players. It starts with the missionary school teacher who gets wrapped up in the riots. Then it moves on and gradually builds up the picture until finally, you find out what happened from Daphne. Only then do you see how the attitude of the white men caused the whole situation to boil out of control leaving a train of destruction in its wake.

Written in 1966, it might not have the pace required for many modern audiences but it is a wonderfully slow climb to the top and leaves you with a feeling of disappointment and almost disgust in the way the British controlled India. A bit hard going to start with but well worth the effort when you reach the end.

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and WarBirdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to read this before watching the TV adaptation recently made by the BBC. It’s been sitting in my bookshelf for months after a friend strongly suggested I should read it. In fact, she has been telling me to every week for about a year. I had a couple of false starts in that time – I was obviously not ready for it. But as soon as I started this time, I was hooked.

It is about a young man named Stephen Wraysford who finds himself in France before the commencement of WWI. He falls in love with a woman unavailable to him but this does not stop him anyway. It progresses through to the war and follows Stephen in the trenches and mines deep below no man’s land.

An incredibly well written book, it conjures up the sights, smells and sounds of what it must have been like in such horrific places. It pulls no punches when describing the horror of battle and death. There is a feeling that seeps into you that isn’t shaken off easily. Even though most of the book is set in a deeply unpleasant situation, you can’t put it down and suddenly find yourself at the end glad that it’s over but wanting to know more.

I definitely suggest that those who have not read this get a copy. It’s a book to read before you know what.

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