Film Review: The Greatest Showman

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tgs-posterFilm Review: The Greatest Showman

Release date: 26th December 2017

Director: Michael Gracey

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson

Runtime: 105 minutes

Genre: Musical

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

The Greatest Showman is inspired by the real life story of how P.T. Barnum rose from obscurity to create a circus and become a significant figure in the circus’ journey to popularity.

At first I found the pop soundtrack an odd contrast to the 19th Century setting. As I wasn’t expecting that as I hadn’t really heard the music before seeing the film, this at first was a strange collision that I wasn’t sure about (although it did remind me of We Will Rock You invading the medieval setting in A Knight’s Tale with spectacular effect). I got into it as the film went on and probably need to see it again to appreciate this aspect of it more. Once I got used to the style of music I found the soundtrack quite catchy. I can imagine some of the songs getting stuck in my head…

The cinematography and choreography was good. There were some great touches and the film really flowed through the way it was filmed. At times the choreography of the dancing was repetitive (mostly in the group songs) and they could have done more with it in some scenes to make it more dynamic and less repetitive. However I greatly enjoyed the way the duets were put together choreographically, particularly Jackman and Efron in “The Other Side” and “Rewrite the Stars” with Efron and Zendaya (although the latter was perhaps a little…cheesy…).

The film focused on Barnum’s story and although I liked seeing his development and relationship with his family, I felt that some of the other characters were not explored as much as they could have been. One of the messages of the story is that being a “freak” does not mean that you should be excluded by society and hide in the shadows. So it seems a little contradictory for the film itself to highlight Barnum’s story and leave the others in the shadows. Perhaps some of this is because Hugh Jackman steals the show a bit. Efron and Zendaya’s characters have a good storyline but none of the other “freaks” from the circus have a story. They have a group story and each have personalities, but we never know anything more about them. Although Zendaya’s character had a subplot, we still didn’t actually really know much about the trapeze artist. Obviously with so many characters they can’t all have equal screen time, but it would have been nice for one or two of the other circus characters to have been given a story of their own.

Overall I enjoyed the film, and although it was great, in some ways they could have done a lot more with the story and characters they had to work with.

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Book Review: The Girl King by Meg Clothier

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10413845The Girl King by Meg Clothier  

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Publishing Info: March 2011 by Century (first published 2011)

Pages: 336

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Georgia, 1177
For twenty years King Giorgi has defended the throne of his fragile kingdom against all comers. Now on the threshold of old age he faces a grave new threat: he has no son to succeed him. There is only his daughter, Tamar; a clever, indomitable and fearless girl.

When a revolt threatens her life, Tamar is sent to live in the mountains, disguised as a boy, until a devastating betrayal places her in the hands of her enemies. Her courageous escape convinces Giorgi she should be his heir, but the nobles are outraged – no woman will ever rule them.

While her father is alive, Tamar has some protection from the hostile forces that surround her, but once he is dead, she is truly alone. She must find the strength to control the bitterly warring factions at court. She must win the respect of her friends and the fear of her enemies. And she must marry a man of whom the elders approve.

But her heart belongs to a reckless boy from the mountains – a poor match for a queen. With rebellion brewing at home and powerful foes circling her borders, Tamar must make a terrible choice between the man she loves and the land she adores …

 

The unique setting of this book is what attracted me to it initially. It was interesting to read something historical that is set in a different country. I knew nothing about the history of Georgia before reading this book.

Unfortunately, I felt I didn’t get enough sense of that setting. I didn’t get any idea of the culture of the country. This world didn’t come to life because although the physical landscapes like the mountains were beautifully described, I didn’t get a picture of the towns and cities, the people, the clothes, the food, or customs and culture. There was just something lacking that meant I didn’t get a clear picture of 12th century Georgia beyond the landscape.

Many of the descriptions, particularly towards the beginning of the novel, were trying a bit too hard to be creative or poetic, so some of them just didn’t make any sense. This was off-putting particularly in the first few chapters, as it was hard to get into when there were so many odd metaphors.

The plot is fairly standard for this kind of novel. Nothing unexpected happens and most of it is fairly predictable. Obviously the author was constrained by history, but in an afterword she admits to having altered some events. The plot just didn’t stand out from other similar books in any way.

The characters were likeable, although I would have liked to see more of Tamar as queen. Towards the end she shows her strength of character and truly acts like a queen. However there isn’t really anything about her running the country or how she deals with the everyday responsibilities of being a ruler. As this wasn’t the main plot I don’t think it needed a lot of this, but showing Tamar in this role a bit would have been nice to see.

I felt no connection between Tamar and Sos. It was like the author made a romance between them happen, but there wasn’t actually really anything between the characters. They felt forced together, which is not what you want to read from a romance.

Despite these things, I did like it. It was a bit mediocre, but I was invested in the story enough to want to read to the end. It scraped a 3 star rating from me, as generally I only rate something 2 stars if I didn’t like it but it wasn’t enough of a road crash to be a 1 star. It was an interesting story to tell which had a lot of potential, but Clothier could have done a lot more with the material she had to work with.

Cover Reveal: Of Legend and Lore

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Today I’m excited to be revealing the cover for the Just-Us League’s latest anthology, Of Legend and Lore. The cover has been beautifully designed by Louis Rakovich, cover designer at Indigo Forest Designs. This reveal is particularly exciting because this anthology of fairy tale retellings will include one of my short stories!

So without further ado, here it is…

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New life is given to eleven old stories in this second collection of irresistible fairy tale retellings.

Royalty faces magical challenges: a prince uses his powers on a rescue mission and reveals a terrible secret about his people; a king takes drastic measures to save his daughters from a troublesome curse; and a princess befriends an unusual frog.

Mythical creatures can be friend or foe: three brothers face a depressed dragon with a legendary treasure; an ancient crow brings a child’s wishes to life; and one young girl discovers dragons aren’t always the enemy.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes: a miser is in danger of losing everything one cold night; a struggling mirrorsmith meets an invisible recluse; a boy must relive the fairytale based on his ancestor’s life; a child is rejected because of his love of drawing cats; and an evil witch is sealed in a glass coffin.

Be transported to new worlds and enjoy fresh twists on old favorites.

My short story, Cursed Glass, retells a lesser known Grimm tale and explores inner conflict and redemption.

Each story is accompanied by an image drawn by our illustrator, Heidi Hayden. Of Legend and Lore will be released by Rowanwood Publishing on 26th February 2018 – Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

Find out more about the Just-Us League here. We’re an international group of writers with a shared love of storytelling. This is the fourth anthology published by the group.

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Book to Film Adaptations Coming in 2018

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Unsurprisingly, many book to film adaptations will be gracing the big screen this year, and hoping to be a hit with fans and newcomers to the stories alike. As this is often met with mixed success, it will be interesting to see which of these adaptations are a hit and which don’t quite hit the spot. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather ones I am excited to see or have caught my eye. The release dates refer to UK cinema release dates unless otherwise stated.

Ophelia

Initial Release: 22 January (US)

Based on the Shakespearean character and the novel by Lisa Klein, Ophelia is a re-imagining of the classic tragedy, Hamlet. It premiers at the Sundance Film Festival on 22 January.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Release Date: 26 January

Delayed by nearly a whole year as a result of Dylan O’Brien’s injury during filming, The Death Cure is finally here! This film is based on the final book in James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. After the dramatic changes they made to The Scorch Trials (especially the ending) I am both intrigued to see what they’re going to do with this film, and filled with trepidation…

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A Wrinkle in Time

Release Date: 23 March

I have never read this book, but there is a lot of hype around the film adaptation. First published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle follows Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallis as they seek to rescue Meg’s scientist father, who has mysteriously disappeared.

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Ready Player One

Release Date: 30 March

Ready Player One by Ernst Cline is another book I haven’t read, but I’ve seen the trailer and it looks pretty awesome! This book really should be on my TBR as its right up my street. Maybe I’ll get around to reading it before the film is released. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, I have high hopes for this adaptation. Wade Watts adventures into a virtual reality world to find the Easter Egg the world’s creator left behind after his death.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Release Date: 20 April

I have heard of this book before but never read it. It is set in 1946 and written in letter form through the letters Juliet Ashton exchanges with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society members. It’s rather impossible to ignore the fact that the cast list includes many Downton Abbey alumni.

Mary Queen of Scots

Initial Release: 2 November (US)

Depicting Mary Stuart’s attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I of England, this film is based on John Guy’s biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots. Watching the television show Reign got me interested in this period of history, but anyone who has watched Reign will know it is by no means historically accurate or particularly well done.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Release Date: 16 November

I absolutely loved the first Fantastic Beasts film. As these films are inspired by ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ by Newt Scamander, a kind of encyclopaedia of magical creatures, we’ll be coming to the film not knowing what’s going to happen, which is rather different to how it felt watching the Harry Potter films having read the books.

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Mortal Engines

Release Date: 14 December

I didn’t read this book when I was younger, which was possibly a bit remiss. I loved Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit so I’m really excited to see his next project.

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What adaptations are you excited to see this year?

Book Review: The Princess Companion by Melanie Cellier

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36562225The Princess Companion by Melanie Cellier

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Fairy Tale Retelling

Publishing Info: 2016 by Luminant Publications (ebook)

Pages: 334

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

One dark and stormy night, lost and alone, Alyssa finds herself knocking on the door of a castle.

After a lifetime spent in the deep forest, Alyssa has no idea what to expect on the other side.

What she finds is two unruly young princesses and one very handsome prince. When Alyssa accepts the job of Princess Companion she knows her life will change. What she doesn’t know is that the royal family is about to be swept up in unexpected danger and intrigue and that she just might be the only thing standing between her kingdom and destruction.

This retelling of the classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, reimagines the risks and rewards that come when one royal family goes searching for a true princess.

Danger and romance await a woodcutter’s daughter in a royal palace.

 

I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to like this book. I thought it was probably just the sort of thing I’d be drawn to but inevitably be disappointed by. Therefore, I was very pleased that I enjoyed this read. The book is a retelling of The Princess and the Pea, and I liked that it drew elements of inspiration from that story but didn’t rely heavily on it. Cellier took the concept of the fairy tale and made her own story with it.

At first I wasn’t sure about the story, it did take me a few chapters to get into it. Alyssa’s character was one of the best parts. I found her very likeable and enjoyed reading her narrative. The royal family were all great characters too. Though I found the prince’s strange turns of mood towards Alyssa a little confusing. I guess he was perhaps going through some internal conflict over his feelings towards her since she is only a woodcutter’s daughter, but that didn’t come through as well as it could have. There were a lot of side characters, who were mostly well crafted and likeable. I felt Alyssa’s aunt and cousin, Harrison, were a bit neglected in the last third of the novel.

At the beginning of each section of the novel there are some odd chapters told from the point of view of another character. The switch to third person (from Alyssa’s first person perspective) was a little jarring, but not totally off putting. What was more irritating was that at the end of these third person chapters there would be a strange head hop for the last paragraph, where it switched to another point of view just for a few sentences. This was an odd decision for me. I could see why she included those third person chapters, but the strange and confusing head hopping at the end of them was a bit odd.

The last quarter of the book wasn’t as polished as the rest. Cellier is better at writing the slow paced scenes. A couple of the ‘action’ scenes were described a bit too mechanically, and didn’t have the tension and excitement I would want to experience while reading an escape scene for one example. The ending was also a bit rushed compared to the steady pace of the rest of the book.

Although I only gave it 3 stars, it was entertaining. It was simply a good, easy read, which sometimes is all you’re after from a book. I would consider reading more books by Cellier. The Princess Companion is the first in a series of connected books which feature the other princesses from The Princess Companion.

Book Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

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8807977I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: 2011 by Penguin (first published 2010)

Pages: 374

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books–but we are real.

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in. we have lived among you without you knowing.

But “they” know. They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. They killed them all. I am Number Four. I am next.

 

This is one of those rare occasions where I actually watched the film before I read the book. The film came out a few years ago now and I’ve watched it many times. I heard it wasn’t as good as the book (what a surprise) but just really liked the characters. I was therefore hopeful about the book. Even so I put off reading it for a long time, even though it was on my shelf waiting, because the experience of reading a book after seeing a film adaptation just isn’t the same. You already have expectations of what’s going to happen. Nevertheless I did enjoy reading I Am Number Four, and am keen to read the rest of the series to find out where the story goes.

At first I found it hard to read. I couldn’t get into the style of writing. There were a lot of clipped, short sentences and it read a little odd, almost like it hadn’t been edited yet. In the end though I decided it was deliberately written that way, because the style was consistent. I did eventually get used to it though.

The plot isn’t really anything new, unfortunately. Aliens arrive on Earth and guess what, the bad aliens want to (insert bad thing here) take over/destroy the planet. I liked the idea that Number Four and the others had to be killed in order because of the charm protecting them. There wasn’t much unique or new about the plot though.

One thing I did like about the book compared to the film is that there was a lot more information about Lorien, the planet John and Henri came from. I felt like I cared more about their mission when reading the book because I got to see what Lorien was like and the invasion of the Mogadorians. Along with some other back story and detail.

The characters were the best part of this book for me. I really liked John as the narrator but there is also a great cast of characters alongside him. For some reason the animal is always one of the best characters. I loved the dog, Bernie Kosar.

I think I would have disliked the romance if I hadn’t seen the film. Having seen it many times the idea of John and Sarah being together was quite ingrained in my brain. When you read the book though there is some insta-love vibes going on which I usually hate.

A lot of the end fight sequence was hard to follow, especially one part where John was facing off a particular Mogadorian. I just couldn’t follow what was happening very easily which took all the tension and suspense out of the scene. It was too messy. The whole end ‘battle’ scene was a bit too chaotic.

Overall I liked it, but there are some problems with it. It’s hard to imagine what I would have thought about this book if I hadn’t seen the film. I have a feeling I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. Whereas having seen the film I was already invested in the characters and their story. I will probably pick the next book up out of curiosity.

Film Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi

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HO00005086Film Review: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

Release date: 14th December 2017

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson

Runtime: 152 minutes

Genre: Science-Fiction

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Fans have been divided over this film, but I have to say I loved it. No, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It was a little different from other Star Wars films. Yes, that is a good thing from my point of view! I’ve liked (to varying degrees) all of the films. I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, but it did recycle major plot elements from the original trilogy too much. It didn’t stand on its own two feet. This film did.

It was rather long. It did feel a little episodic, almost like a TV series squished into a film. However, that didn’t really bother me. I just enjoyed the story. There were a lot of twists and turns and although some parts were a little predictable, there were parts that I didn’t see coming and broke from the mould, which I really liked about this film.

Visually and musically it’s stunning yet again. The soundtrack of John Williams is part of what really makes these movies great for me. Some interesting new worlds were explored in this film which made for some new captivating visuals and designs.

In terms of characters, I really liked all of them. Snoke has been very underdeveloped, so I’m hoping we’ll hear more about him in the next film. Rey and Finn are once again great characters. I’m not such a fan of Poe, but I don’t dislike his character. Some new faces joined as well, such as Rose and Holdo, and they fitted in well with the story. A lot of people complained that Kylo Ren was too whiny and teenager-like in The Force Awakens, but I think that actually means that we can clearly see a character arc in him. He has changed since the last film which is so good to see, and this film explored the conflict inside him more.

I thought the main returning characters – Leia, Luke etc – were handled well. I’ve seen a lot of people expressing views that they wished they’d just left them alone. I’m glad they’ve been included in this trilogy because I like how it continues the story. It was interesting to see an older Luke, how he has changed over the years and his own internal conflict.

Many questions are still left unanswered. Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Really we know little more about him after this film. Rey’s past is also still shrouded in mystery. The Knights of Ren have been mentioned in both films but we still don’t know much about them. I hope they won’t forget to wrap up all the subplots and unanswered questions in the last film.

Now we just have to wait another two years for the concluding chapter in the trilogy…

Top 5 Wednesday: 2018 Reading Resolutions

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The first T5W of 2018 is about our reading goals for the next year. I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but it was actually interesting to sit and think about where I want my reading to take me over the next 12 months. T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

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1) Read more. In 2017 I read 38 books, but a lot of these were from my degree, when I had to sit and read them really quickly. When I don’t have that kind of deadline, it usually takes me 2-4 weeks to read a book. I want to spend more of my spare time reading, as I’ve not been spending as much time doing it as I used to.

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2) Read some classics. After spending 3 years slogging through classics (most of which I wouldn’t have chosen myself) I got kind of fed up of them and haven’t touched them since I finished my degree in June 2017. Months later, I finally feel like reading them of my own free will! So I want to get back into some classics of my own choosing this year.

3) Time for some contemporary. I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and would like to read a few more contemporary/general fiction books.

4) Review the books I read. I don’t get round to reviewing a lot of the books I read. This year I want to blog reviews of as many of them as I can. I enjoy thinking about what I’ve read and sharing my thoughts, so really I ought to do it more.

5) Take a chance on me. With the Mamma Mia Here We Go Again trailer coming out, this song just popped into my head. I want to take a chance on books more this year. I want to not just keep reading safe books by authors or in genres I know I love. I want to step out of my comfort zone and read some books I’m not sure whether I’ll like, because I might just find a gem I might not have looked at otherwise.

Books I Want to Read in 2018

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I don’t usually plan what I’m going to read. I like to see what takes my fancy. But these are some of the books I am desperate to read in 2018.

Series I want to continue

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Ringer by Lauren Oliver: The concept of this series – having the two stories in one – really caught my attention, but it’s also the story and characters that make me want to read the next book.

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: After finally getting round to reading the first book in Clare’s Infernal Devices series at the end of 2017, I am excited to read the second in the series!

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo: I enjoyed the first and second books in this trilogy, so am eager to read the final instalment. I hope it makes a good ending.

 

Series I want to start

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Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin: As soon as I read the blurb for this book, I wanted to read it. It’s been sat on my kindle for a few months but I just haven’t got round to it yet. I will definitely be reading it in 2018 though!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Mass: Another one that has been sat on my kindle for a while. I’ve heard so much about this series and there are quite a few books in it now. I really should get around to reading it.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer: I have wanted to read this book since it first came out, and have finally got a copy. I haven’t read many fairy tale retellings, but this one caught my eye. Combining a fairy tale retelling with sci-fi just sounds like something I would love. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

 

Classics I want to read

After reading so many classics during my degree, I had really had enough of them by the time I’d finished. Now I have reached the point where I feel ready to get back into reading some classics in 2018.

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The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: Having enjoyed the TV adaptation of The Moonstone, I am interested in reading one of Wilkie Collins’ works.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: Eventually I will read all of Austen’s novels. So far, I have ticked off Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility. I’m planning to read Mansfield Park next.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy: I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles a few years ago and loved it. I was totally enchanted by Hardy’s style of writing.

 

What are you looking forward to reading in 2018?

Top 5 Wednesday: Top 5 Books of 2017

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2017 has been an odd year for books for me. I haven’t actually read many I’ve loved. During my degree I spent so much time reading the literature on the course that I haven’t had much opportunity in the last three years to read books of my choosing. Saying that, a couple of the books on this list I read as part of research for my degree, so it did bring me to some books I’ve loved. These are my favourite books from this year. T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

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1) Replica by Lauren Oliver

This was the first book I read in 2017 and has remained one of my favourites. The format of it, with the two stories in one, was a really interesting way to tell the story but also so much more than just a gimmick. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book – Ringer – which came out a couple of months ago.

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2) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book was a really important read for me. As much as I love a good fantasy adventure, I also like reading a book that makes me think. The writing in this just totally drew me in, the metaphors working so well with the subject being conveyed. It didn’t shy away from its tough subject matter, and I have a lot of respect for this book.

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3) Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Having finished reading the Mortal Instruments series last year, I was eager to get started on another of Cassandra Clare’s series – the Infernal Devices. Reading this book just reminded me why Clare is one of my favourite authors. I was once again instantly absorbed and captivated by her writing, world and story.

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4) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

I know I know. But there is a reason for this book making my list. When I was a child, my mum read the books to me. My dad worked in London and when he would get home from work she would sit and read the Harry Potter books to us – even the last couple when I had grown a bit older! It was a traditional thing that begun with the first book. Reading the series as a family is a very fond memory, however it meant that they were read to me, and I never read them myself. This year I decided to change that and have read the first three books in the series for myself! It was so wonderful to return to the wizarding world.

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5) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’ve had a bit of a year of re-reading books. Earlier this year I re-read the whole Hunger Games series and fell in love with it even more (which I didn’t think was possible). I don’t often re-read books. There are so many out there, I want to read new ones! Even though I knew what would happen, I was still totally gripped by these books. How can a story I know so well still be unputdownable? That just emphasises why this is one of my favourite series.

 

What are the best books you’ve read this year?