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29 March 2015

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter 3)
JK Rowling
Bloomsbury Children
Publication Date
Fantasy, children


Harry Potter, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, is about to start his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry can't wait to get back to school after the summer holidays (who wouldn't if they lived with the horrible Dursleys?). But when Harry gets to Hogwarts, the atmosphere is tense. There's an escaped mass murderer on the loose, and the sinister prison guards of Azkaban have been called in to guard the school.

My Review

It's the 3rd year at Hogwarts, and Harry and his friends are now 13 years old. This book follows in the successful formula of the previous 2 books, and the structure is exactly the same, with Harry spending the summer holidays at the Dursley's and he can't help to use magic which he shouldn't really do in the Muggle world. But of course,  Harry makes it to Hogwarts and meets Hermoine and Ron in the Hogwarts express where the adventures start. 

I think the fact that the books follow exactly the same layout with a different storyline makes it so successful for children. It's not hard to follow and the characters - while somewhat stereotypical - also hold surprises and interesting twists.  Rowling cleverly re-caps whats happened before in the text which ensures you are never really lost. For me l the real value of the HP books is the fact that it gets children reading who may not have picked up a book otherwise. Of course, RJ Rowling has a wonderful imagination, and one which can be easily understood by children and build a fantasy world. 

I have to say that I usually neither read children's nor fantasy books, but thoroughly enjoy the HP books as a change from my usual reading. I would also recommend the HP books if you are an aspiring writer (not necessarily of children's fiction only) and would like some ideas on how to build up a story, re-cap on a previous storyline and how the English language can be 'bent' for your story. 

About the author

J.K. Rowling is the author of the bestselling Harry Potter series of seven books, published between 1997 and 2007, which have sold over 450 million copies worldwide, are distributed in more than 200 territories, translated into 74 languages, and have been turned into eight blockbuster films. She has also written two small volumes, which appear as the titles of Harry's schoolbooks within the novels. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through The Ages were published by Bloomsbury Children's Books in March 2001 in aid of Comic Relief. In December 2008, The Tales of Beedle the Bard was published in aid of the Children's High Level Group, and quickly became the fastest selling book of the year

As well as an OBE for services to children's literature, J.K. Rowling is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees including the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, France's Légion d'Honneur, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and she has been a Commencement Speaker at Harvard University USA. She supports a wide number of charitable causes through her charitable trust Volant, and is the founder of Lumos, a charity working to transform the lives of disadvantaged children

For further information about J.K. Rowling, please visit her new website:

(Photo credit: JP Masclet)

24 March 2015

Newbooks is a magazine for book lovers and reading groups, published in the UK bi-monthly. 

Can I first say that I am in not affiliated to the magazine, but love not only reading books, but also read about books / authors / what's new / what are others reading etc. I'm a subscriber to this magazine. Apart from author interviews and book reviews, the magazine usually offers some of the books they reviewed for free to the readers (you will need to pay P&P though which is £3 per book).

Books which are reviewed in the magazine and which you can order for free (pay £3.50 P&P per book)
Every review always also features an extract from the book
(Please note: I have not read yet any of the books below and the synopsises and some other extracts have been in part taken from my copy of Newbooks magazine or Amazon.)

1. These are the Names by Tommy Wieringa

A border town on the steppe. A small group of emaciated and feral refugees appears out of nowhere, spreading fear and panic in the town. When police commissioner Pontus Beg orders their arrest, evidence of a murder is found in their luggage. As he begins to unravel the history of their hellish journey, it becomes increasingly intertwined with the search for his own origins that he has embarked upon. Now he becomes the group’s inquisitor … and, finally, something like their saviour.

Beg’s likeability as a character and his dry-eyed musings considering the nature of religion keep the reader pinned to the page from the start. At the same time, the apocalyptic atmosphere of the group’s exodus across the steppes becomes increasingly vivid and laden with meaning as the novel proceeds, in seeming synchronicity with the development of Beg’s character. 

With a rare blend of humour and wisdom, Tommy Wieringa links man’s dark nature with the question of who we are and whether redemption is possible.

2. The Humans by Matt Haig


After an 'incident' one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he's a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

3. The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland, author of the hugely popular Company of Liars will thrill fans of CJ Sansom and Kate Mosse with its chilling recreation of the Peasants' Revolt. It offers an intelligent, beautifully researched glimpse of a more deadly, superstitious era ...
Lincoln, 1380. A raven-haired widow is newly arrived in John of Gaunt's city, with her two unnaturally beautiful children in tow. 
The widow Catlin seems kind, helping wool merchant Robert of Bassingham care for his ill wife. Surely it makes sense for Catlin and her family to move into Robert's home?
But when first Robert's wife - and then others - start dying unnatural deaths, the whispers turn to witchcraft. The reign of Richard II brings bloody revolution, but does it also give shelter to the black arts? 
And which is more deadly for the innocents of Lincoln?

4. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself. From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we also see played out our own hopes and fears, rivalries and tensions – the essential nature of family life.

5. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Through every family run memories which bind it together - despite everything. The Tulls of Baltimore are no exception. Abandoned by her salesman husband, Pearl is left to bring up her three children alone - Cody, a flawed devil, Ezra, a flawed saint, and Jenny, errant and passionate. Now as Pearl lies dying, stiffly encased in her pride and solitude, the past is unlocked and with it, secrets.

6. A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

The author of the USA Today and New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home has once again created an unforgettable historical novel. Step into the world of Victorian London, where the wealth and poverty exist side by side. This is the story of two long-lost sisters, whose lives take different paths, and the young woman who will be transformed by their experiences.
In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.
Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.

7. A Place called Winter by Patrick Gale

To find yourself, sometimes you must lose everything.
A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence - until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything.
Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.
In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.

Other books featured in the magazine (some with extracts)
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • Flight by Isabel Ashdown
  • What she Left by T.R. Richmond
  • The Well by Catherine Chanter
  • The Longest Fight by Emily Bullock
  • The Death's Head Chess Club by John Donoghue
  • Esperanza Street by Niyati Keni
  • Tregian's Ground by Anne Cuneo
  • Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
  • Wasp Or, A Very Sweet Power by Ian Garbutt
  • Lie of the Land  by Michael F Russell
  • The Art of Waiting by Christopher Jory 

Other features 

  • Q&A with Belinda Bauer
  • The literary landmarks of Bristol
  • nb Book of the Year (my favourite book of the year Apple Tree Yard on place 10)
  • The big interview: Matt Haig
  • Tales from the world of self-publishing (very interesting if you are an aspiring author!)
  • The big interview: Tommy Wieringa
  • Publishing News
  • Feature on Rudyard Kipling
  • Best books about -... Scotland
  • Best Books of the 21st century (hmmm, not sure I agree, but make up your own mind)
  • Five Gender-bending novels (I read one of them: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters)
  • The Costa Awards 2015
  • The Wainwright Prize longlist
  • The Directory - selection of titles recently published or about to be published  and reviewed (Now that is one of my favourite parts of the mag )
And the regular features 

    • What we are reading
    • Where I write - Anne O'Brien
    • When I met ... 
    • Bookshops we like
    • They say, we say 
    • Blog Spot

    And much much more. I love this magazine - I think the only print magazine for readers in the UK (?) and a must really for any bibliophile. 
    23 March 2015

    Stuart Handley
    Stuart Handley
    Publication Date
    March 2014

    Book Description (from goodreads) 

    A Matt Lilburn thriller novel
    Take a man and clone him—now you have an exact copy to live then die. Take a carbon eating atom and let it replicate itself over and over for eternity—then you have a problem. The code for replication, this God technology, has been discovered and is up for sale. Matt Lilburn locks forces against a corrupt U.S governor, the governor’s son and the Chinese triads. A raw boned soldier of justice fighting for his life against greed, power and corruption.

    My review

    I did read a book in this series (Matt Lilburn Thriller) before (BioKill), and I now think I should have read this one first. They are stand-alone, but I still feel TanDrex introduces us to our hero Matt Lilburn with quite a bit of his background story which I was missing in BioKill. Don't get me wrong, you can still read BioKill without any problems, but my advice would be to read TanDrex first. 

    Matt and his younger brother Duncan have been in boarding school ever since a car accident killed both their parents. Matt protects Duncan from bullies all through their school years and makes enemies. And Duncan did not even tell him the worst of it. Forward to the future, and Matt is now a government agent and Duncan a successful scientist, working on a technology which could give those who hold it the greatest power. I did not always understand what exactly this technology would give one - I am not very technical, but this did not have great bearing on me understanding the story. In any event,  with such a valuable technology, people are after it and old enemies of Matt and Duncan re-surface. And there are traitors, people they thought are close to them. But at the same time, their is also great friendship and Matt's colleagues who pull together.

    Matt also has a love-interest here and I liked the fact that, rather than just someone he meets during his work as a almost casual relationship, Maria is unconnected to his work and she gives him something to look forward to away from work - someone to come home to. 

    With just over 200 pages, this is a quick story; you could easily read it in 2 days. It is fast-paced and there is always something going on. It is never boring and the story moves forward. At the end, I was reeling for Matt and Maria, hoping they will all make it.

    As this is a series, I can see how other characters from the story can be developed further and maybe have a story and/or main plot line dedicated to them. My favourite for this would be Matt's teammate Scrat - I like a strong and gutsy woman. I would definitely read this.

    About the author

    Stuart Handley has lived in New Zealand most of his life except for a tour of duty with the military based in South East Asia and later living in Australia with his wife and daughter. A soldier, a farmer, a horseman with a famous Clydesdale team, an inspector with the R.S.P.C.A, a property valuer, Stuart has a life full of rich experiences culminating as a full time author. 

    22 March 2015

    The Reverse Commute
    Sheila Blanchette
    Book Shepherd Publishing LLC
    Publication Date
    January 2014
    fiction, women

    Book Description (from Amazon)

    Sophie Ryan, a middle-aged woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, is stuck in a dead-end job barely paying her bills. Adding to her problems, she and her husband, Ray, live in an old New Hampshire farmhouse with endless, humorous calamities.

    One night when Ray is out of town, Sophie has a vivid, passionate dream of Ryan Gosling that inspires her to hatch a plan to change her life and fulfill her dreams of escaping the farmhouse and her job.

    Meanwhile, in the same suburban office where Sophie works, is a twenty something young girl also stuck in a cubicle, bored with her job and frustrated with life after college. One snowy night, she barely makes the train home and finds the last available seat across from a strikingly handsome, mysterious young man.

    We follow Sophie and Ray and the young couple, keeping up with their dramas while at the same time trying to make the leap into their newly imagined, idealistic lives. Like a fast moving train, the story carries us along through twists and turns, obstacles and speed bumps to the surprising conclusion.

    Readers will be eager to find out what happens next and will be thinking about the book long after they have read the last page.

     My Review 

    I enjoyed this sweet little story which I picked up as I mainly read on my commute, and it was a freebie - can't go wrong. It tells the story of 2 woman in alternating chapters. One is a middle age woman, unhappily stuck in a job she does not enjoy, teenage children who are just about to fly the nest and a husband she has to nag constantly to do jobs. And then there is a young woman, at the start of her career and adult life who is stuck in an unhappy relationship. But has just met a boy on her daily commute who seem to tick all the right boxes. Both woman work in the same dreary office where they feel stuck with boring jobs and dreams of a more exciting future. 

    It can be a bit confusing first, but once you understand that the story of each woman is told in alternating chapters, it becomes quite clear and I was looking forward to see what they are doing next. There is a bit of a sweet twist to this at the end which I did enjoy. After having found traces of Sophie in my at the beginning (oh dear!), I felt at the end of it that all is not too bad and there is hope. 

    I guess the book is not going to change your life, but I thought it was well written and entertaining and I did get the 'aha' moment at the end. I think it would maybe suit a middle-aged reader best. 

     About the Author

    Sheila Blanchette grew up in Warwick, RI and attended Pilgrim High School. After graduating from Bentley University, she bounced around in various accounting jobs for almost thirty years until she found her voice and began to write. Currently she is living in New Hampshire with her husband Rich and pursuing her dreams. She still wishes on stars.

    15 March 2015

    Do I bother you at night? 
    Troy Aaron Ratliff
    Troy Aaron Ratliff
    Publication Date
    October 2013

    Book Description (from Amazon)

    They say nothing ever happens in Kansas. 

    Sylvester Petersen used to think so too. That is, until a mysterious new neighbor moves in next door, seemingly out of nowhere. His handful of friends – people who tried to help him cope with the sudden death of his wife – think that it might be an opportunity for him to get reacquainted with the world outside his farmhouse and to build a new relationship with his neighbor. But that idea is soon snuffed out as strange events begin to happen around him. None of them wrong. Just strange: driving in the middle of the night, the sulfur-like odor coming off of him, the fact he doesn’t talk to anyone. 

    And what about that dog? 

    Sylvester chooses the logical explanation and ignores the peculiar behavior. But when other oddities start to happen – the kind that affects Sylvester directly – he begins to worry. His reasoning dwindles and his growing fear points to his neighbor. 

    Where is that stray dog going? 

    After enough time, Sylvester starts to see and hear what the local people have been muttering about: Unexplainable blue light, corn crops moving on their own…and then there's the slaughtered cattle entirely too close to home. 

    And that stray dog that keeps getting fatter and fatter and fatter. 

    At the peak of summer, and with the walls closing in, Sylvester experiences something that will take him to the brink and haunt you forever. 

    Bathed in loss, terror and human spirit, Do I Bother You at Night? will be a story you won’t forget and one that will give you a few restless evenings of your own. 

    Love thy neighbor.

    My review

    First impressions: I liked both the 'question' title and the cover which reminded me of Stephen King's small-town America. 

    Sylvester is the main character of this book and I liked him straight away. He is a simple farmer tending his corn fields but already in the first chapters we learn that he suffered a very traumatic bereavement when his wife took her own life. He has a few friends in town, but generally his life is a lonely one. Strange happenings start to creep into his life. It is cleverly written and I wasn't sure until the end whether we are dealing with 'real' horror here or whether it's all in Sylvester's mind. 

    The build-up is slow but not boring by any means. There is horror and a touch of sci-fi. Apart from the story about 'there is something out there in the corn' and the going ons with the creepy neighbour, this is also a very touching and beautifully sad story about bereavement, trying to cope with the violent loss of your big love. I had the feeling that Sylvester and Maria were very close, it was a bit like 'us agains the rest of the world'. And then it becomes 'Sylvester against the creeps'. 

    What also stuck out for me where the descriptions of the monster Sylvester encounters. A very skilled writer who can come up with the creatures and I could  picture them perfectly in front of my eye whilst reading. The author certainly has a skill for good story-telling.

    Completely unrelated to the story, I also enjoyed the afterthoughts of the writer, telling us how he came up with the story and finally put the story together after

    I received this book from the author in return for an honest review. 

    About the author

    Troy Aaron Ratliff was born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio and self educated in writing, art, and voice impersonations. When he's not reading, writing, sketching, or cooking up his next monstrosity, you can generally find him defending the galaxy from the forces of evil, feeding hippopotamuses, dining with foreign dignitaries and Zen masters, waking up to his supermodel wife, altering the space-time inter-dimensional warp or, more than likely, stuck in traffic somewhere in Southern California on his magic carpet.

    9 March 2015

    Fifty Shades Freed
    E L James
    Publication Date
    April 2012
    Erotic Romance

    When Ana Steele first encountered the driven, damaged entrepreneur Christian Grey, it sparked a sensual affair that changed both their lives irrevocably. Ana always knew that loving her Fifty Shades would not be easy, and being together poses challenges neither of them had anticipated.

    My Review

    So much has been said and written about the Fifty Shades Books that it is somewhat difficult to come up with a unique review.

    I have now finally managed to read the 3rd book, just about in time before the film was released. In book 3, the story of Ana and Christian continues. They are married now, and Ana tries to adjust to married life with her 'Fifty Shades' as she still refers to him in her mind. Madly in love and lots of sex, yes. But a challenge it is certainly for Ana. As we know now, Christian is quite controlling and of course there is also the security issues he is fretting about. Little things like not wanting to take his surname makes him go really mad. And when she decides to go out with a friend when she promised him she will stay in... oh my! But hey, he is only concerned for her safety. We pretty much meet the same supporting characters in this last instalment, and  previous 'enemies' of the couple come back to haunt Ana. 

    I had trouble getting really into the book. The first half of the book was like wading through treacle for me. And sorry, I just didn't care for their sex life any more. I was like 'ok, here we go again' and I would find myself skipping it. The second half got a bit more interesting and I found myself turning the pages quicker. 

    I really enjoyed the last few pages where Christian recounts the story from his own point. One of my favourite part of the whole series actually, and I felt it was the perfect close for the series. 

    Lots of criticism has been placed on the book stating that Christian is very controlling and she accepts this.  And would she still be so happy with him controlling her if he was not a multimillionaire but living in a trailer park? My thoughts..(apart from the fact that it is a fictional story after all)... Well, firstly, money and success are attractive, no doubt. I also found that the author actually got the portrayal of Ana just right as someone who doesn't actually care that much about the money (without being over the top on it and without being too obvious about it). 

    All in all, with all 3 books read now, I think they are quite simply a love story with sex thrown in. There are lots of elements from your typical romance book - damsel in distress finds prince etc. From my own reading experience, I can honestly say that I have read many books which were steamier than this - and no, I don't read porn, but just ordinary books purchased in normal book stores (Waterstones etc). I think the story would have been ok for 1 book only and 3 books stretched it a bit and parts became boring, especially as all of them are quite long. 

    8 March 2015


    Stuart Handley
    Publication Date
    March 2014
    Thriller Novel

    Blurb (taken from Goodreads

    A Matt Lilburn thriller novel
    'The van lurched upwards as it traveled over the body; a speed bump in the road of death…'
    Terrorism can take many forms. An extreme Islamist group has a virus that can cripple a country economically and America is their target. When that virus reaches American soil the time bomb is ticking. From the Gaza Strip, Syria, England and America, blood is let and tears will be shed. Sometimes—you just don’t know who your enemies are.

    My review

    A very current topic here in this enjoyable little read. Sadly, terrorism is at the forefront of every single news report every single day nowadays. The topic of this book are terrorists who try to smuggle a virus into the United States which would infect livestock and would eventually have a devastating economic effect. 

    For me, the book appeared very well researched and it was completely believable (quite scary actually). I am not usually the biggest fan of spy / secret service books, but I did enjoy this. It was a quick read, with only 255 pages. This means that I sometimes missed a bit more of an 'in depth' story, but with a shorter book, obviously the story has to move on quickly. I also feel the book is plot rather than character driven. This is ideal if you need action in a book and are easily bored with lengthy background stories. There is always something happening here, and there a few twists which did came unexpected for me. One thing stuck in my mind - when the terrorists realised that maybe not all is as they had been promised by those brainwashing them. Again, very current and eye-opening.

    Matt Lilburn is a very likeable hero. What I particularly liked was that he certainly was not 'over the top' but I could very well imagine him being a normal guy as well as a Home Security Agent chasing terrorists. I would certainly like to read about Matt again. 

    I did not find the book on Amazon, and will post review on Goodreads and my Blog only. 

    This book was provided to me by the author in return for an honest review.

    About the author

    Stuart Handley has lived in New Zealand most of his life except for a tour of duty with the military based in South East Asia and later living in Australia with his wife and daughter. A soldier, a farmer, a horseman with a famous Clydesdale team, an inspector with the R.S.P.C.A, a property valuer, Stuart has a life full of rich experiences culminating as a full time author.