Harry Potter Studios – March 2014

The promised post from my visit to the Harry Potter Studios!

Musings of a geek girl

So I’ve finally started to do some of the things on my “30 before I’m 30” list, despite the fact I haven’t actually found 30 things I want to do yet! One of the things I’ve managed to tick off, was a visit to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studios Tour in Leavesden.

We are both massive Harry Potter fans (although I really do love the books more than the films, and still remember how I imagined things the first time I started reading them!) and really wanted to do this. We toyed with the idea of going up to London on the train, staying overnight and then travelling out to Leavesden. After looking how long it would take to drive in comparison with the cost of train tickets and a hotel, we decided to make it a road trip for the day, and save a London trip for another…

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The Time of Our Lives

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Imogen and her friends have had their fill of budget holidays, cattle-class flights and 6 a.m. offensives for a space by the pool.
So when one of the group wins a VIP holiday at Barcelona’s hippest new hotel, they plan to sip champagne with the jet set, party with the glitterati and switch off in surroundings of unapologetic luxury.
But as they mingle with movie stars, mafia bosses and millionaires, it becomes clear – with riotous consequences – that even in the most glamorous of locations, things can go wrong. Very wrong . . .
Hilarious and heart-warming by turns, The Time of Our Lives is Jane Costello at her very best.

My opinion: Jane Costello is one of my favourite authors, and when I saw that her new book was available as an ARC on Netgalley, I clicked Request straight away!

The story starts off with three friends on a grotty break for a hen do. After a number of unfortunate events, they vow to save up for a luxury holiday together!

Fast forward six years and they are finally going on a luxury holiday thanks to a lucky competition win and negotitation with the travel company to turn it from a romantic holiday for two into a luxurious break for three. The only difference is that they are all now nearing thirty, Imogen has a young daughter and a traumatic past, and Meredith is extremely pregnant. What could possibly go wrong?!

This is another fantastic book from Jane Costello and I honestly think that with every book I read, her writing just gets better and more hilarious!! I’ve read her last two books lying on a sunlounger in Gran Canaria and Rhodes, so reading this one in a very wet Wales was a different reading experience. Luckily this one transported me away to Barcelona with the girls, so that made it a lot better!

I was on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with this book. As can be expected from a Jane Costello book, there were loads of laugh out loud funny moments, but there were also a few bits where I could feel myself welling up. Although it had some sad moments, it wasn’t a depressing book by any means, but quite uplifting and a great story about friendship and coming to terms with the past.

A really great read, and I’m sure it will grace the side of many pools over the summer. I would definitely recommend this one and am just sad now that I will have to wait again for the next one!

My rating: A fantastic five stars!!

I received an advance copy of this book courtesy of Simon and Schuster UK and Netgalley in return for an honest review.

 

The Vintage Girl

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When Evie Nicholson is asked to visit Kettlesheer Castle in Scotland to archive the family heirlooms, she jumps at the chance. Evie’s passion for antiques means that, for her, the castle is a treasure trove of mysteries just waiting to be uncovered.

But in each heirloom lies a story, and in the course of her investigations Evie stumbles upon some long-buried family secrets. Add handsome, gloomy heir Robert McAndrew and a traditional candlelit gala to the mix, and Evie’s heart is sent reeling with an enthusiasm that may just extend beyond the Kettlesheer silver…

My opinion: As soon as I saw this book, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist it’s gorgeous cover and a story about castles, antiques and love!

Evie is an antiques dealer with a soft spot for items that tell a story, particularly moth eaten teddy bears and photographs, anything that gives a clue about the life of it’s former owner. This tends to get her into a spot of trouble with her boss though. She is offered the chance of a lifetime to go to Kettlesheer Castle in Scotland to go through their treasures to help save their home, and get back into the good books of her boss and save her own job.

Whilst at the castle, she gets a glimpse into how the other half live, a past existence and the secrets of a family. Due to the lack of mobile signal and internet up at the castle Evie ends up getting to know the very handsome Robert and ends up getting more out of her trip than she expected.

I really enjoyed this book and looked forward to picking it up whenever I had a spare moment. The story was well paced and I really liked that it had the antiques element in there as it made it a little different from other books that are out there at the moment. The writing was really good, but I have one nit-picky thing that annoyed me slightly about the book. There were lots of American spellings throughout the book (not a major issue, but I prefer when this has been picked up and altered for a British audience – particularly when set in Britain with British characters) and a few Americanisms crept in such as turn signal instead of indicator, resume instead of CV and Where’s Waldo instead of Where’s Wally. When these Americanisms crept in, they just didn’t ring true with the characters who were all born and bred Brits.

Like I said, that is a nit picky comment on something which annoyed me a bit, but didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. It was a great story and I will definitely read more books by Hester Browne.

My rating: Four stars

Arms Wide Open

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Jack and Meredith are non-identical twins. Their father died before they were born and now they both have to watch as their mother sinks further in to the grip of early-onset dementia.

Jack s career has crashed and burned, all that remains is a Maserati and a nervous disposition. Meredith s world is also crumbling the decomposing yogurt in her fridge a symbol of her newly-expired marriage. Her children, Jemima and Luke, offer little support, too consumed with the world of online dating and amateur taxidermy.

One day, a throwaway comment starts Jack wondering if their father really died. As they begin to untangle the revelations, the twins are forced to ponder both the past and the future: their memories of their mother, their hopes for finding their father, and the fear of what s in their bloodline.

My opinion:

I really enjoyed Tom Winter’s first book, Lost and Found and jumped at the chance when I was offered an advance review of his second book, Arms Wide Open, which will be published in April 2014.

Meredith and Jack are non-identical twins from a dysfunctional family. But hey, what family isn’t dysfunctional I hear you ask? Meredith is a single mother of two typical teenagers whose husband left her for another woman some time ago. She still hangs on to the hope that he will come home to her and fills her time as best she can without ever accepting that he is gone. Meanwhile, her 15 year old daughter has decided to foray into the world of online dating, but thinks it’s a great idea to pretend that she’s in her twenties when talking to men. Jack has led a fairly charmed life, with lots of money and a sports car, but unfortunately no job to go with it. Their mother is ill and seemingly ungrateful towards her frequent visitors.

As with any family, things are not quite as they seem and there are quite a number of skeletons in their closet that need to be brought to the fore for anyone to ever understand how they have got to where they are today.

I was a little disappointed with this book to be honest. I had high hopes for this book after Lost and Found and this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way. I found this story a little depressing and didn’t really feel a connection to any of the characters. The writing was of a high quality, and the characters were well thought out, I just couldn’t like any of them. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite do it for me, but I think that others will enjoy it.

My rating: Three stars

I was provided with an advance review copy of this book by www.lovereading.co.uk in return for an honest review

The Storyteller

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Sage Singer befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – is it murder, or justice?

My opinion: This book is the first I’ve read by Jodi Picoult, even though I’ve heard lots about her writing. I picked this one up as it was really cheap on the kindle and thought that the storyline sounded very intriguing!

Sage is a young woman who has ended up leading a nocturnal existence due to her lack of self confidence from scarring on her face and a number of other life events that have knocked her back. She is an incredible baker and works the night shift at a local bakery, preparing all of the goods for the next day. She meets and befriends an old man called Josef, a local pillar of society and all round good guy.

Only appearances can be deceiving. When Josef decides to open up to Sage about his military past in Germany during the Second World War, she uncovers who he really is and has to make a difficult decision about whether or not to grant his wish to die when he was the cause of so many others’ deaths.

I was hooked by this book and really liked the way it was written. Throughout the book we learnt the stories of Sage, Josef and Sage’s holocaust survivor grandmother. It is also interspersed with a fictional fairy tale with a different view point of the happenings in Jewish communities. World War Two is one of my favourite periods to read about and this book gave me a different window into what happened.

It was well paced and the writer dealt with a difficult subject very well. The characters were well rounded and Sage was particularly a great character. I have already recommended this book to a few people and will continue to do so. I also think this would make a great film and expect to see it hitting our cinemas over the next few years.

My rating: Five stars

Skeletons

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Jen has discovered a secret. It’s not hers to share, but is it hers to keep?

If she tells her husband Jason, he might get over the shock but will he forgive her for telling the truth? She might drive a wedge through their marriage.

If she tells someone else in Jason’s family – the family she’s come to love more than her own – she’d not only tear them apart but could also find herself on the outside: she’s never really been one of them, after all.

But if she keeps this dirty little secret to herself, how long can she pretend nothing is wrong? How long can she live a lie?

Jen knows the truth – but is she ready for the consequences?

My opinion: I was really pleased to get the opportunity to get to read this book as it seemed like it would be a real gripping read that would get under the skin of a family to uncover all sorts of things.

The Mastertons are a perfect family. Charles and Amelia have three grown up children, three grandchildren and another on the way and are about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Amelia is a doting wife to successful businessman and minor celebrity Charles, and in the eyes of daughter in law Jen they are how a family should be. Close knit, enjoying each others company and open and honest with each other.

But Jen finds out that all is not as it seems when she stumbles upon a secret that has been kept for 25 years. Not only has she discovered a secret that will change her view on her husband’s family, but has to decide what to do with this information.

I really enjoyed this book and loved getting to know the ins and outs of both sides of Jen’s family life. I really like a story that digs deep into a family’s dark side and exposes the seemingly perfect family unit for what it really is. You can probably tell that I have a complicated family.

I did find that the story was a little slow in places, but I think that it was a slow burner with a good build up to the ultimate ending. I couldn’t really see where it was going, but think I would have liked more of a shocking twist at the end.

All in all, a good book and I will definitely look to read more by the author.

Skeletons will be published by Penguin UK on 27th March 2014

My rating: Four stars

I received an advance copy of this book courtesy of LoveReading and Penguin UK in exchange for an honest review.

The Shock of the Fall

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I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

My opinion: I don’t really know where to start with my review on this one. In a good way.

Matthew Homes is a 19 year old who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He narrates the story as we move with him between present day where he is trying to capture the events of his life on paper, and his past which is he is trying to make sense of and come to terms with.

At the start of the story, Matthew is an ordinary young boy with an older brother named Simon. Within a few pages, he becomes an only child when Simon is killed in an accident, an event which will shape the rest of Matthew’s childhood and teenage years.

Although this book deals with a very tough subject, it is a very light and easy read. The narration style really helps with this as we are just getting to know Matthew and his life events unfold quite naturally. The writer deals with sensitive subjects extremely well and captures Matthew’s descent into his state of poor mental health in an honest way.

I can understand why this book won the Costa award as it is a fresh way of dealing with the subject of mental health, and the author should be commended for bringing the issue to the fore. I would definitely recommend this book and hope it goes on to attain even more plaudits as it truly deserves them.

My rating: Five stars