The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine

The Ghost Tree is the most recent book by Image of bookBritish author Barbara Erskine. Ruth returns home to Scotland to visit her sick father who dies shortly after. When sorting out his possessions she comes across old items belonging to her late mother and starts to unravel a mysterious family history.

Given that this book was about family history, British history and had a bit of the paranormal thrown in it was ideal for me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, getting through it in just two days and hardly putting it down. I found all of the characters to be really well written, even the ‘baddies’ had some depth to them and weren’t two dimensional like they so often are in books.

This is a book about Ruth and her ancestor Thomas, and it swapped between the two almost seamlessly. I found I was completely engrossed in the book, always wanting to know what was going to happen next, and not appreciating having my attention pulled away from it.

I liked the fact that the paranormal side of it wasn’t easily accepted, Ruth is reluctant to believe in it and uses logic and reason to argue against it being true. For me this made the character of Ruth easier to relate to and made it less of a science fiction book and more historical fiction.

I was worried that the ‘present day’ storyline would take away from the historical one, however I feel that it managed to balance the two very well. I also enjoyed the authors note at the end, untangling the fact from fiction as Thomas was indeed a real person, and the author is in fact distantly related to him.

I have never read any books by Erskine before but if they are all as well written as this I will have to change that. Are you familiar with Barbara Erskine? Are there any of her books you would recommend?

Read other reviews of the book at the blogs listed in the image below that will be published on the dates listed.

Thank you to Love Reading and Harper Collins for my copy of the book to read and review.

Exciting News

I’m excited to share that I am now a LoveReading Ambassador! I’m currently LoveReading Ambassador iconreading a book and will be taking part in an ‘online tour’ where myself and other book review bloggers review The Ghost Tree. Look out for my post on Sunday 24th March!

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The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

The Bone Garden is written by Tess Gerritsen.  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  I had assumed that it would be in the series that the TV show Rizzoli and Isles was based on but it was only very loosely linked.

Image of bookThe Bone Garden follows the story of, you guessed it, some bones found in a garden.  It flits between the present and the early 19th-century.  Sometimes moving between eras can be confusing and cause the reader problems following the story, but in this case I actually found it very easy to move from the present to the past and back again.

There were lots of characters to keep track of but I found that this wasn’t too difficult.  I felt a connection to the four main characters (two in the past and two in the present), and although some of the more peripheral characters were rather two dimensional, the main ones had different facets to their personality and were complicated as all humans are.  The characters were described well, both their physical appearance and also their personality.

The handling of the different classes in Boston in the early 19th-century was also interesting. Nowadays it seems Americans are proud of their Irish ancestry and I was quite surprised to see how Irish immigrants were treated and looked on back then. Although unfortunately this is not dissimilar to how immigrants are treated now in many countries, no matter where they’re from. It was interesting to see how things have changed, yet not changed at the same time.

It was quite graphic in parts, the autopsy training scene and various descriptions, however it felt as though it was required and a natural part of the story.

I found the details around how medicine was in the early 19th-century really interesting, the things that we take for granted now had not even being thought of then.  I also really liked the inclusion of a real-life person, Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes.  It has sparked an interest for me and I will be researching him and his impact on how medicine is practiced now. 

Overall this was a great introduction to Tess Gerritsen and I am eager to read more of her books.

Which books are you grateful for?

A friend introduced me to an interesting Instagram account today, it’s @gratefulness_org and is called A Network for Grateful Living. The most recent daily question that had been posted was “For which books am I truly grateful?”

I’ve thought about this all afternoon and I have come up with the following: Photo of Instagram post

A long walk in the woods by Bill Bryson – This was my introduction to Bill Bryson and I now love his books, this one is my favourite though.  The journey and the experiences had whilst walking the Appalachian Trail were so well described that I don’t feel the need to watch the film, I can picture it in my head.  Definitely a book that I dip in and out of when I want to escape and imagine going on an adventure.

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I’m not sure why it took me so long to get round to reading this, but I finally read it last year.  It was absorbing and disturbing in equal measure.  It’s a book that is still so relevant now and it brought my inner feminist to life. One to re-read regularly.

1984 by George Orwell – I read this for the first time a few years ago and it is one of my favourites of all the books I have read.  It amazes me that something written in the 1940s is still so relevant now and opened up different viewpoints to me with regards to politics and ways of looking at the world.

Which books are you most grateful for?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut book by Gail Honeyman, a Scottish author.  It was written after Honeyman read a newspaper article about loneliness and it quoted a woman who said that she rarely spoke to anyone between leaving work on the Friday and returning on a Monday morning.

Book of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineI have to admit that I found this book difficult to begin with.  Not because it isn’t well written, it is.  But because the main character, Eleanor Oliphant, is difficult to connect to.  This is of course the point of the character, but it still meant that I struggled to sympathise with her or like her very much at the beginning.  Gradually you get to know her though, especially through her relationship with others, and you see that she is just a confused, lost person who is trying to fit in as best she can.  It was a little over half way through the book, when we reach the second section, that I finally began to connect and fully empathise with the character.  Watching her grapple with feelings and emotions and facing her past made her more human and relatable.  I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of this book, in fact I read it in one sitting, not getting the early night I had planned but I was just completely absorbed by it and had to read what happened next and then finish it.

The overarching theme of this book is loneliness.  It takes quite an extreme approach to it, but it was effective nonetheless.  It also reminded us that we don’t know what people have experienced in their past or what they are currently going through and we shouldn’t judge a person based on our own preconceptions – something that was addressed well with an encounter on a bus. 

It did feel as though the second half of the book was too quick, the speed at which Eleanor is meant to deal with her past issues when she finally faces them was extremely fast.  Having said that Honeyman was clear that Eleanor still had more work to do, and although the ending was a bit of a surprise (more so how easily Eleanor dealt with a revelation) you could tell that it wasn’t the end of her journey and she still had a long way to go.

I did enjoy this book and am pleased I read it, I can also see why it was a Costa Book Awards winner in 2017.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a novel by Heather Morris.  It follows Lale from his journey into the concentration camp, through his time there and how his story ends.  I was surprised when I saw on the front of the book that this is based on a true story.  Lale was a real person and the book was created after Morris sat with him and spoke of his time in the concentration camp numerous times.  This novel was initially written as a screenplay but, although I’m sure Morris was disappointed, I’m pleased that it didn’t get picked up and was converted to a book, I feel like we heard so much more about Lale’s life than we would have done in a movie or similar. 

It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed a book about someone’s experience in a The Tattooist of Auschwitz bookconcentration camp, but I did.  Obviously there were parts of the book that were harrowing and shocking, I was quite surprised at how naïve I was about what happened in the concentration camps, but overall I found the book uplifting.  It showed the inner strength that Lale, and many others, had and demonstrates what people are capable of, both negatively and positively.

I found the book to be really well written.  In my head the images of the camp and the people were clear, and the characters were written so well that I felt invested in those I read about and truly cared about how they were.

The edition of the book that I read had an epilogue and additional information that told you the outcome of Lale’s life (and those of some of the other main ‘characters’), it had photos from his life which were incredible to see, and there were also diagrams of how Auschwitz was laid out which I found it very similar to how I had imagined it from the book. There was also an afterword by someone who was very close to Lale and Morris wrote about a trip she took to both Auschwitz and his hometown.  All of these came together to bring Lale into the real world, rather than just a character in a book he was a real person, which gave the experiences detailed in the book that much more depth and feeling.

I highly recommend this book to read, to learn more about an important time in our history and get an understanding of what so many people went through (no matter how small that understanding is), it’s inspiring and a book I shall definitely be reading again in the future. 

Roar by Cecelia Ahern

Roar by Cecelia Ahern is a book of 30 short stories about modern day life as a woman.

Cecelia Ahern is an Irish novelist who is known for books such as ‘P.S. I Love You’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’.

I didn’t really know what to expect with this book, I have to admit I’ve never read any books by Cecelia Ahern before (I try to avoid books that are going to make me cry) so it was with some trepidation (I really didn’t want to cry) that I read this book.  It’s also been a while since I’ve read short stories, having had a long phase of just novel reading lately so this was a real change of pace for me.

I expected it to take me some time to get into the book, to find short stories unfulfilling.  I assumed that with the stories being short I wouldn’t be able to connect to the characters and so wouldn’t care about them.  I was completely wrong.  As soon as I started reading I was enraptured.  The stories, no matter how long or short were completely engaging and I wanted to keep reading and find out the outcome of each story, and the next story, and the next.  It was rather clever of Cecelia Ahern to not give a name to the main character in each chapter – it made it that much easier to relate and put myself in the characters situation.

I found this book to be incredible.  Each story had its own metaphor and there was a moral or lesson at the end of each chapter.  I found it so easy to read, quite often picking it up to read just one story and finding myself reading three or four.  I found every single story relatable, even the ones that on the face of it I would expect to have nothing in that was relevant to me.  Some obviously touched home more than others, but each left me feeling more empowered and self-aware in their own way.

I was surprised, and pleased, to find that Cecelia Ahern has published other books of short stories and they will definitely be added to my ‘to read’ list.

It is such a lovely, positive and uplifting book.  I strongly recommend reading it, especially if you are a woman who… well, if you are a woman.

Thank you to LoveReading and Harper Collins for my review copy.

The book is released on 1 November 2018 (Hardcopy and Kindle) and then 2 May 2019 (Paperback).

The Humans by Matt Haig

Professor Andrew Martin is gone, and his body has been taken over by an alien.  This alien has been sent to earth by his planet because Professor Martin made an incredible mathematical discovery that could change the world and the alien race don’t believe humans can cope with the advances this will result in. After all, we are a selfish, greedy, violent species.

The Humans was published in 2013 and written by Matt Haig. Matt Haig is a British novelist who has written for both children and adult books, fiction and non-fiction (Reasons to Stay Alive is in my ‘to read’ pile). 

I’m really struggling to express how this book made me feel and what I thought of it. Not great for a book review really. When I started reading this book I expected a standard sci-fi book. Alien comes to earth and strange things happen. The end. This book is so much more. It’s been a week and I keep finding myself thinking about it. The Humans is an incredible novel exploring what it is to be human. It points out our failings, but also the good in us. With everything that is currently going on in the world, this is a beautiful novel that gave me hope in humanity and reminded me that there is good out there. 

It was strange reading a book where the narrator didn’t have his own identity or name, but it worked. I struggled to put it down and constantly wanted to read more. Exploring the different relationships Martin had, and other people’s perception of him made me reflect on my relationships and how I could be perceived. 

Of all the books out there asking what it is to be human and the meaning of life, I never expected a sci-fi book about an alien to be the one that came closest to answering those questions. 

This was beautifully written and I genuinely felt moved by it. I honestly think that this is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time and I’m sure it will be one that is re-read. 

First Man In by Anthony Middleton

I got introduced to Ant (as he is known) on the most reason series of SAS: Who Dares Wins. When I saw that he had a book coming out I was quite interested to read it and learn about his time in the military so I made sure to reserve it at my local library.

The front of the book states “Sniper. Soldier. Survivor” I was intrigued about what I was going read. Is he going to talk about his work as a sniper, what it was like to be a soldier or how he survived fighting in the military? I was slightly disappointed by what I found. Yes the book is an autobiography, yes Middleton talks about what it’s like to take a life (right at the beginning in fact), but the stories are all based around examples of leadership. There doesn’t appear to be any depth to the stories – I think I may have been spoilt by what I’ve read of Bravo Two Zero. 

Don’t get me wrong, the book is very good – it reads like Middleton is talking to you and giving advice, it’s about the qualities of a good leader and how to be one. But rather than be a ‘full’ autobiography, it’s just a handful of examples from Middleton’s life where he has shown good leadership skills, in fact each chapter ends with bullet points summarising the lessons in the chapter. This is less an autobiography and more a self help book for someone trying to learn how to lead – and even then some of the advice is… well, different to that given in other books (stand looking in a mirror and list every negative attribute you have, really tear yourself down etc…).

Middleton is honest and upfront about the mistakes that he has made in life, and shows that it is possible to turn your life around. I was quite surprised by a lot of what he’s gone through and he didn’t shy away from sharing incidents that paint him in a less than positive light. 

However I feel short changed. I don’t think this book should be advertised as an autobiography, it doesn’t feel like there is enough there. It is definitely a book for the self help section. It was easy to read and I read it quickly but it’s not a book that I feel compelled to buy so that I have my own copy, nor one I want to read again. 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I haven’t written a book review in forever. If I’m honest, trying to write a review that sticks to recommended guidelines etc seemed too much like hardwork. I’ve been reading a lot, and loving books, but I just haven’t wanted to write a review (even though I’ve wanted to tell people what I thought of the books). Having thought about it I decided that I’m just going to write my reviews however I want. I don’t get paid to do this, there probably isn’t anyone reading this blog, so I’m just going to write what I think and post it. At the very least I’ll have a record of what I thought of a book.
So, my first review in a long time, is on American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

This isn’t a book that I would have chosen to read, in fact I only read it because it was the book for June in an online bookclub I’m in. It didn’t appeal to me, I live in England and as much as I enjoy reading books based in America, I expected this to be about the history of America etc. It isn’t. It’s predominantly set in the present and it covers mythology from a huge number of countries, cultures and religions. I absolutely loved it and was completely absorbed by it. In fact I want to read it again, unfortunately the library won’t let me renew the lending because it’s got reservations. It will definitely be something that I come back to and read again.

It’s long, and there are lots of characters. I think that the next time I read the book I might have a little notepad and pen so I can note down the character names and descriptions, this will make it easier to remember who a person is when they come back into the story later in the book. It will also allow me to research the god or myth that they represent.  

I really liked the character of Shadow and was rooting for him throughout, and I enjoyed how things unfolded in the book. The version of the book I had also included a short novella linked to the book, Questions and Answers with the author, an essay by the author, and questions for a bookclub, all of which were very interesting to read and added to the quality and enjoyment of the book.

I did not know that there was a TV show based on the book until after I started reading. I’m a little hesitant to watch the show simply because I enjoyed the book so much and I don’t want it to be ruined.

This is a book that I would highly recommend, and an author that I am going to look into more. I was surprised to see that he is from England and not America, although I obviously can’t guarantee that I would think the same if I lived in any of the locations from the book.

Definitely on my ‘to read again’ list, which isn’t that long (unfortunately my ‘to read’ list is very long) and one that I look forward to revisiting.