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5 Star Book Review

Book Review: Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Killing and Dying

Title: Killing and Dying

Author: Adrian Tomine

Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel, Short Stories

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

Killing and Dying is a collection of six short stories about relationships, identity and loss – and indeed, the title can apply to all three at time.

It is quite an eclectic assortment of stories.  In the first story, A Brief History of the Art Form Known as “Hortisculpture”, a man puts his marriage on the line chasing his obsessive vision of selling plant sculptures.  In another, a girl who shares an uncanny resemblance with a porn star tells the story of how it has affected her life.  The stories are very different, but they all share a kind of rawness – real people dealing with real problems.

My favourite story in the collection was Killing and Dying – for whatever reason it seemed to impact me the most.  In the story, a cynical man’s daughter takes classes in stand up comedy.  He fears she will be humiliated, as she stutters under stress, but when her mother passes away he decides to support her nonetheless.  The ending in particular was very moving, and the story as a whole was certainly worthy of its name on the cover.

Go Owls, the longest story in the book, was also very powerful.  It is about a girl and older man who meet at a support group, which quickly develops into an abusive relationship.  It is easy to overlook the early signs of abuse, but reading it through a second time it is apparent from the start that the older man has some issues.

This is an almost flawless collection that approached the graphic novel in a whole new way.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Adrian Tomine’s work – I think he is a genius.

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5)

Emma

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August 8, 2016
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Book Review: One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah CrossanTitle: One

Author: Sarah Crossan

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

‘Deep down everyone wants to be a star and normal is the road to nothingness.’

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

Conjoined twins Grace and Tippi share everything together – they can’t imagine it any other way.  But when their health becomes at risk, being apart might be the only thing that can keep them together.

Beautifully moving, One is a truly epic piece of contemporary fiction.  Told from Grace’s perspective, the book offers a wonderfully realistic insight into what life is like for conjoined twins.  The best thing about the story is how the one thing everyone thinks is the worst thing – being conjoined – is really the girls’ smallest concern.  They have much bigger problems – school, relationships, their dysfunctional family.  It really challenged my assumptions in this way.  That isn’t to say the girls don’t have issues of their own to face – the hardest decision of all must be made by Grace and Tippi, a decision that put me on the edge of my seat for much of the book.

I liked that Tippi and Grace, although always together, had very distinctive personalities.  Grace is quieter and bookish, whereas Tippi is much more outspoken.  The yin and yang of the twins’ personalities actually reminded me a lot of Jacqueline Wilson’s Double Act, which I remember finding fascinating as a young reader.  It is immediately clear that Sarah Crossan has done a lot of careful research to be able to approach the topic with such sensitivity – she certainly does it justice.  In fact, she states at the end of the novel that her characters were based on two real life sisters.

What really makes One stand out is its unconventional format.  The words run down the page like verse, making every word more significant and powerful and making the one page that diverts from this rule completely devastating… there’ll be no spoilers here though!

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Emma

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July 31, 2016
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Book Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle StevensonTitle: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Young Adult

Format: Paperback

“Nimona!”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY| The Book Depository


review

Ballister Blackheart is a supervillain, and with his new shapeshifting sidekick Nimona in tow, they are an unstoppable force of evil, set on bringing down his rival Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution.  But with Nimona’s mysterious magic powers getting out of control, and the Institution not the lawful good they seem to be, friendships – old and new – will be tested, as the true villains are revealed.

This book is nothing short of fantastic.  Noelle Stevenson has managed to successfully write an extraordinary graphic novel with hilarious dialogue, gorgeous drawings and a gripping plot.  It’s a true talent to have readers laughing through some pages and to be on the edge of their seats through others!

The story features dragons and laboratories, perfectly combining elements of science fiction and fantasy into an engaging plot of some considerable length for the genre.  I found this allowed the relationships between the characters to be thoroughly developed, and I particularly loved the history between Ballister and Ambrosius – their rivalry, and Ballister’s inability to let go of the past were some of my favourite themes in the book.

But Nimona herself steals the show!  She is witty, mischievous, and the deliverer of some of the greatest lines I’ve read this year.  Her injection of humour in the story balances out the stern-faced Ballister perfectly.

I can’t recommend it enough – go, get your hands on a copy!

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Emma

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July 11, 2016
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Book Review | Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Title: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Author: Ben Clanton

Genre: Fiction, Children’s Book, Graphic Novel

Source: Net Galley (I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review)

Publication Date: October 2016

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


_review

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is a fun graphic novel aimed at children. It includes three stories following Narwhal and his new jellyfish friend, and a fact page for each character.

Narwhal is a carefree spirit who balances out the reluctance and scepticism of Jelly. He teaches Jelly to step out of his comfort zone and also shows him how to use his imagination.

My favourite of the three stories was Narwhal and the Best Book Ever!, in which Jelly quizzes Narwhal on why he is reading a book with blank pages. Narwhal explains that it is an imagination book and you have to pretend. I absolutely love the premise of this, and the story continues with Narwhal helping Jelly to conjure up some interesting scenes. I really think this would generate some interesting conversations between adult and child if read together.

The drawings are simple but really quite adorable, and would appeal to adults as well as children. This is a smart little book that gets the balance right between factual and fun, and as a twenty-something year old I can honestly say I had a very enjoyable ten minutes reading it.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Emma

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May 18, 2016
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(ARC) Book Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

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Title: Sleeping Giants

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Genre: Adult, Science Fiction, Thriller

Format: eBook

Publication Date: 21st April 2016

Source: Net Galley (I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon 


_Summary

(from Goodreads)

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved – the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unravelling history’s most perplexing discovery-and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

_review

What a fascinating piece of science fiction!  I don’t recall ever having read a book like it before.  Instead of the usual method of storytelling, the entire book is a series of journal entries and interviews conducted by an anonymous interviewer.  It took me a little while to get into this structure – on occasion, if I wasn’t being attentive, I forgot who was actually being interviewed and had to flip back the page to check, but this didn’t detract too much from the experience of reading the book.

– I believe the words he used to describe you were: obdurate, volatile, and irascible.  He has quite the vocabulary.

– He plays a lot of Scrabble

The characters were all very unique in personality and style of speech.  My favourite character was Dr Rose Franklin, the physicist in charge of the project, who had a kind and bubbly personality.  It was easy to sense her enthusiasm in the interviews, and it was obvious that the interviewer was fond of her.  In fact, as the story continues, it is clear that the interviewer has formed a connection of sorts with all the main characters, which I liked as he gives next to nothing away about himself.  This is the first book in the series, and I hope to learn more about the interviewer later on – such a manipulative and intelligent person demands a truly epic backstory!

– War brings out the worst, and sometimes the best, in people.

The project was very interesting, and it was exciting to see the characters try to figure out how the pieces of the giant worked, and how far everyone was willing to go to succeed – Vincent’s surgery in particular made me wince!  An added element that made the book interesting was seeing the political ramifications of their actions, and watching the interviewer calmly pulling strings to make events tilt in his favour.

It is barely a criticism, but there was a lot of technical jargon in some of the interviews, which did make my eyes glaze over at times.  However, in their context, I didn’t mind too much.  It just increased the realism of the project, and gave the whole thing a very authentic feel.  A second criticism is that I felt there was a lot unsaid about the character of Mr Burns, a mysterious man who knows an awful lot about the interviewer and project.  I naturally assume his character will be built on further in subsequent books, but his role in the first book felt disjointed.

It isn’t often that a book is all I can think about, day and night, but Sleeping Giants achieved that.  Sylvain Neuvel is a talented writer who clearly did a lot of research to produce such a technical and thorough account of a truly believable yet ficticious event in human history.

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Emma

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April 14, 2016
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Book Club Review: The Probability of Love at First Sight

The Probability of Love at First SightTitle: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Author: Jennifer E. Smith

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary

Format: Paperback

Source: Amazon

‘It’s not the changes that will break your heart; it’s that tug of familiarity.’

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon


_Summary

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Imagine if she hadn’t forgotten the book. Or if there hadn’t been traffic on the expressway. Or if she hadn’t fumbled the coins for the toll. What if she’d run just that little bit faster and caught the flight she was supposed to be on. Would it have been something else – the weather over the Atlantic or a fault with the plane?

Hadley isn’t sure if she believes in destiny or fate but, on what is potentially the worst day of each of their lives, it’s the quirks of timing and chance events that mean Hadley meets Oliver…

Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

_review

This book had quite an impact on me.  It was not just a nice little love story, but also dealt with a range of other topics.  At a time of great vulnerability and change in both of their lives, Hadley and Oliver’s meeting is life-changing.  There is no doubt that there would be a completely different story to tell if Hadley had made her plane on time; I love this “sliding doors” concept.

I figured that the main theme of the book would be Hadley and Oliver’s blossoming relationship, but this wasn’t the case.  Though there was a lot of fun in reading the teenagers’ interactions on the plane, the story quickly progressed from this.  Much of the book is about Hadley coming to terms with her father’s impending wedding to a woman she doesn’t want to like, and I felt that issues of family and parent-child relationships were just as dominant a theme.  I haven’t read a book before that tackles the divorce issue quite in this manner, and I thought it was done exceptionally well.  With the help of Oliver’s advice, Hadley is able to work through her emotions over her father leaving, and I was very moved by the results.

There’s always a gap between the burn and the sting of it, the pain and the realization.

For such a short book, this story offers a lot to the reader.  Other than the surprise of Oliver’s reasons for returning to England, the plot was relatively predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless.  I would say it is a commendable thing to be made to feel so invested in a character’s life in the space of so few pages – I was hooked from the beginning, and my only criticism is that there wasn’t more to the story.

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Has anyone else read this book?  What were your thoughts?

Emma

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March 1, 2016
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Book Review: Batgirl Volume 4 (New 52 Series)

Batgirl Volume 4 (New 52 Series)

Title: Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted

Author: Gail Simone (writer) et al.

Genre: Comic/Graphic Novel, Superhero

Format: Hardback

First Published: 2014

INFO | Goodreads 

BUY | The Book Depository


_Summary

Batgirl struggles to continue fighting crime after being emotionally drained by the death of her brother, James, Jr. With her relationships with Batman and her father strained, Batgirl must face one of Batman’s most ruthless villains, The Ventriloquist, alone.

Review

I haven’t reviewed a DC comic in a while, but this volume was too good to pass up a chance to rave about it.  I thought it might be hard to follow on from Death of the Family (I binged on the Batman, Batgirl and Nightwing volumes), but I was pleasantly surprised to see the introduction of a brand new villain.

ventriloquist

The Ventriloquist is adapted from a male character of the same name in the older Batman comics, and for the New 52 series, the character has been made female, with an Alma from F.E.A.R. feel about her.  She operates a dummy called Ferdie, who is a bit of a ladies man, and has the ability to move on his own without Shauna’s aid.  The magic at work here isn’t explained, so I don’t know how exactly Ferdie was able to move – he frequently wanted to cheat on Shauna too, so I don’t know if this was an extension of the multiple personality disorder from which she suffers, or if he was actually a living entity.  Either way, they were a creepy duo!  I have read that fans of the original Ventriloquist prefer the original, but as this is my first encounter with the character, I have been nothing but impressed.

Another major theme of this volume was Barbara overcoming the guilt associated with losing her brother.  She feels she is no longer worthy of being Batgirl, and refuses to wear the suit.  The events of the third volume spill over into the storyline here, as her own father vows to capture Batgirl and seek revenge, building up to a very exciting final encounter between father and daughter (see front cover image)!

Barbara Gordon remains one of my favourite DC characters even without her Batgirl alter ego.  This volume in particular we see her dealing with a lot of complex emotions, and also see her in love, trying to do normal teenager things with a boy she likes.  It was good to see these vulnerabilities in her character, as they show what she has had to sacrifice to be Batgirl.  Volume 4 is definitely the most action-packed yet, and I cannot recommend the series highly enough.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Has anyone else read Batgirl – the New 52 series or earlier?  What comics do you think I should try next?

Happy reading!

Emma

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January 30, 2016
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Book Review: Username: Evie by Joe Sugg

25898265

TITLE: Username: Evie

AUTHOR: Joe Sugg, et al.

GENRE: Fiction, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Science Fiction

FORMAT: Hardback

INFO | Goodreads 

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon


_Summary

Loner Evie is left a unique gift by her late father: E.Scape, a virtual reality which can be shaped by the visitor, offering Evie an escape from her school and home life. However, when the virtual world begins to erupt into chaos, Evie soon learns that she is not the only one shaping the landscape.

Review

I was a little sceptical of this book as I originally saw it in Sainsburys, of all places, and I often consider graphic novels not mainstream enough for supermarket shelves. Nonetheless, the title and author (a successful YouTuber, no doubt the reason Sainsburys sold it) captured my attention, and I finally managed to get my hands on a copy.

Evie, the protagonist, was a lovely character – timid and kind, she was easy to love from a reader’s perspective, but these traits made her less popular with the kids at school, including her outgoing cousin Mallory. I was a bit unsure as to why exactly she was the most hated person in school, so perhaps a little more backstory would have helped here.

When Evie’s father passes away, she is forced to live with her awful cousin, and that is when she discovers her father’s parting gift: E.Scape. Upon her arrival in the virtual world, she is greeted by the striking character Unity, an amalgamation of all that is living in E.Scape. I thought Unity was a great addition to the story; she was a unique character who watched the events unfold from a distance, like a neutral overseer of the world, and was easily my favourite character.

During her time in E.Scape, Evie is forced to step out of her comfort zone, and tie up loose ends from the death of her father, finding the confidence to stand up for herself and fight for what she believes in. She even teams up with a mysterious disfigured boy along the way, and they form a friendship – this boy resembles the only person at school who shows an interest at her, and I liked that in the virtual world Evie was able to work through her feelings for him. This does however lead to a slightly embarrassing ending, but it didn’t spoil the book at all.

The story works very well as a graphic novel, and although the style of art wasn’t completely to my taste, it seemed to fit the mood of the story. One of the parts of the story I didn’t particularly like was that Evie sought solace in the fridge when she was stressed. It just seemed really quite random, and I didn’t understand why her bedroom wasn’t a sanctuary for her, while the fridge was. Maybe there was deeper meaning, but I just found it odd.

In some ways it feels that the book could have been a lot longer – E.Scape was a world of endless possibilities, and I would have like to have seen Evie spend longer in there before things went wrong. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it very much as an action-packed piece of science fiction, and a good debut from Joe Sugg. Despite my list of criticisms, I still think it is worthy of five stars.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Joe Sugg has over five million followers on YouTube.  I’ve never watched any of his videos, but his channel can be found here if anyone is interested.

Emma

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January 12, 2016
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Book Review: The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

The Little Bookshop on the Seine

Title: The Little Bookshop on the Seine

Author: Rebecca Raisin

Genre: Fiction, Chick Lit, Christmas, Contemporary, Romance, Cultural (France)

First Published: October 2015

‘It was easier to hide behind the cover of my books, and I found happiness there.’

INFO | Goodreads 

BUY | Amazon


_Summary

Small town bookshop owner Sarah Smith is asked by her heartbroken Parisian friend to do a bookshop exchange. With her boyfriend caught up in his job as a reporter, Sarah decides to step out of her comfort zone and move to Paris in search of adventure.

_review

Not usually one for chick lits, I was encouraged by fellow book club members Jess (The Teacup Library) and Emily (The Geek Undergraduate) to consider this book for our Christmas read.  I am pleased to say that I have been truly converted by the experience, and have so many good things to say about this book.

Firstly, let’s talk characters.  Sarah is our narrator and is exactly my kind of protagonist. She is shy and bookish, with a romantic view of the world.  Her beautiful descriptions of Paris read like something out of a travel guide, and will trigger wanderlust in everyone who reads them.  Rebecca Raisin writes with great knowledge and passion about the city and culture, and it is easy to be transported to the busy little bookshop on the Seine.  Much to my delight, Sarah’s transition to the new shop is not easy – the challenges she faces with finances and staff are very real, and I love to see characters problem-solve.  For Sarah, getting things in line at the bookshop were a major part of her character development, and certainly made things more exciting!

Ridge (Sarah’s partner) isn’t my cup of tea, but I can appreciate what Sarah sees in him – he shows a great deal of affection towards her, and seems genuinely guilty for not being around more. I like that there is a lot of mystery surrounding his work and schedule, and this fuels Sarah’s and the reader’s fear that he is being led astray during his long stints away from home. I was quick to believe that he could be unfaithful, but this became less likely as I read on, as I trusted in Sarah’s judgement of him.  Even so, I was unsure which direction their relationship would take – with her new found confidence, Sarah must choose whether to let the love of her life go, or to learn to live with his hectic lifestyle.  This builds up to a nice little twist at the end which I wasn’t expecting.

I was led to assume – probably from other books I have read – that things would fall apart with Ridge and she would get swept up by a certain sexy Parisian writer. It just wasn’t about that at all, and I can only applaud author Rebecca Raisin for producing a strong character in a strong and healthy relationship.  The characters show that communication is key, and the moral of the story is that by being honest with each other, Sarah and Ridge are able to talk openly about their feelings.  This was so refreshing – how many books have I read where couples just don’t talk to each other like normal people?

‘I had to remember my life wasn’t a romance novel, no matter how much I wanted it to be.’

This book is about love and romance but even more so it is about friendship and independence. It was a huge deal for me that Sarah gained confidence in herself and gave time to form friendships and focus on business in the bookshop.  I found the bookshop staff to all be unique with distinctive personalities and backgrounds.  I developed a soft spot for TJ, and was pleased that Sarah was able to make more than one male friend who had no interest in pursuing something romantic with her.

My only criticism is that I felt the ending was slightly rushed.  I loved how loose ends were tied up, but after the whole novel had been so steadily paced, it did feel that suddenly a lot of events happened at once.  I’m probably just nitpicking now!

I’m glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone like Sarah and picked up a chick lit this Christmas.  I’ve discovered a wonderful book and a brand new author I’ll be reading more of in the future!

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)


Thank you for joining us for this month’s book club!  If you are interested in Rebecca Raisin’s work, she was kind enough to participate in a Q&A earlier in the month, available to read here.

Happy reading!

Emma

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December 31, 2015
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Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce

Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary

The people he met, the places he passed, were all steps in his journey, and he kept a place inside his heart for each of them.

INFO |  Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


_review

Harold Fry receives a letter one morning from an old friend who has terminal cancer – she is saying goodbye.  On his way to post his reply, he makes the decision to keep walking, in the hope she will stay alive to wait for him.

It has taken me a while to get through this book, but I think that reflects more on my busy timetable than the story itself.  It is a very well-paced book, and Rachel Joyce is careful to reveal the plot slowly, in tandem with the steps Harold takes in his journey.

Having been fortunate enough to experience my childhood years with both sets of grandparents alive and well, I could see parts of them in the characters of Harold and Maureen (his wife).  As a result, it was impossible to feel anything but affection towards Harold, even as his past came to light.  I think even without that connection, I would have rooted for Harold.  I felt his struggle every step of the way, every blister, every act of kindness given and received.

Inevitably, at a point in Harold’s walk, he is joined by a number of followers, all misunderstanding his reasons for walking, but with their own stories to share.  As a pretty introverted personality myself, I could really sympathise with Harold’s reaction to these people, and felt awful for him when outspoken follower Rich began twisting the situation for his own gain.  They wore him down, and I couldn’t help but wonder if without them he would have reached Queenie sooner, and their final encounter might have been different.  Even so, this just reinforced what the walk meant to Harold – it became not just about reaching Queenie, but about helping other people to amend for his mistakes in the past.

It must be the same all over England.  People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters.  And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.

Much of the book also takes place in the part of England in which I live.  All those fields and small villages passed through felt so familiar to me, and added an additional sense of intimacy between me and the events of the story.  Harold is a typical Englishman in his mannerisms – his awkwardness and constant apologising reminded me of my own behaviour!

Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways.

Harold made this book for me, and I feel honoured to have been by his side for the whole journey, right up to the shocking encounter with Queenie that left me really shocked.  The book also carries a really great message: it is never too late to change your life.  Why accept unhappiness when life is so short?  After finishing the book, I’ve been left feeling really inspired.  I think it is too easy to get caught up in life’s routines, and I can see the appeal of Harold’s pilgrimage – how liberating it must be to leave all responsibility behind!  After reading about his epic journey across England, I think I am going to dig out my old plans to walk up Mount Snowdon… if Harold can walk, then so can I!

Nothing is perfect, and I won’t lie – once or twice I found myself thinking “is he there yet?”  Nevertheless, for bringing me to tears, and being a bittersweet but ultimately uplifting story, I really feel it is worthy of a five-star rating.

★★★★★ (5/5)

Emma

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November 11, 2015
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