Amy Reads Books

The Midnight Palace - Carlos Ruiz Zafón

It has become pretty clear to me that I will enjoy pretty much everything Zafon writes. Whilst occasionally his plots do appear to go a little bit 'everything and the kitchen sink' towards the end, I generally always enjoy myself reading his work.

The Midnight Palace is one of Zafon's early works, originally written for teenagers and is part of a companion trilogy alongside The Prince of the Mist and the recently translated The Watcher in the Shadows. This novel is set in 1930s India, and focuses on the separated at birth twins Ben and Sheere upon whose 16th birthdays a mysterious murderous figure lays claim to them.

As with much of Zafon's work the pacing throughout The Midnight Palace is good, with the plot gripping from the very beginning. Zafon crafts really excellent and creepy antagonists in all his work, and Jawahal is no exception. His characterisation of Ben and Sheere was great, especially when the characters are delivered such a surprise about their history. I also liked the way in which Ben's friends were all given unique perspectives and voices; I was especially a fan of Isobel.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is definitely one of my favourite authors, and I'm really excited to get my hands on The Watcher in the Shadows and the soon to be released Marina.

The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Lucia Graves

I really enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind, Ruiz Zafon's first novel published in the world of the Cemetery for the Forgotten Books and was really excited to be finally picking up The Angel's Game

Set in the same universe, but during the 1920s in Barcelona, this novel follows the tale of David Martin who is orphaned when still young and who is embraced by an eccentric aristocrat Pedro Vidal, promptly falls in love with Cristina-Vidal's driver's daughter-and enabled to get a job as a writer for a newspaper. However, problems soon arise when Martin is sacked from his job on the paper, ultimately agreeing to a strange proposal from the mysterious publisher Corelli, which places his and the people he cares for, lives in danger.

Ruiz Zafon's writing remains brilliant, he establishes Barcelona as something of a character itself, and his atmospheric writing really builds the tension. Whilst the novel is something of a slow burn in the beginning, and like The Shadow of the Wind clearly referencing Great Expectations, even more obviously this time as that novel is one of the first that Martin reads, the mystery and darkness of the novel really sets in towards the end and it becomes truly gripping.

I'm going to admit to not being entirely enamoured with David Martin, who seemed a little too self-assured and full of bravado for his own good. However, this meant he did not just crumble immediately as danger arrived which did make him a good protagonist. Elsewhere, Corelli made a truly creepy presence which definitely chilled the novel and then Isabella, a young woman who becomes Martin's assistant for a period, was a true bit of light in the novel and I absolutely adored her. I'll admit to not being as in love with the Cristina, Martin's long-standing love interest, as she just seemed a little bland to me.

The Angel's Game stands a novel by itself, in my opinion, so reading The Shadow of the Wind first isn't really necessary. Indeed, my knowledge of how aspects of that novel played out did mean that I knew what was going to happen to a couple of characters, which made the reading experience even more sad than it already was! However, I am greatly looking forward to reading The Prisoner of Heaven as soon as possible-Ruiz Zafon certainly seems to be becoming a favourite author

Noughties - Ben Masters

Noughties is the story of Elliot Lamb, who has just finished studying English at Oxford and is having a celebratory night out with all his friends-with the novel being split into Pub, Bar and Club. However, there is plenty of unfinished business between Elliot and his friends Ella and Jack in particular-and his ex-girlfriend Lucy is continually trying to get in touch with him.


Masters' writing is generally pretty good, he definitely brings to life the university experience and all the anxiety and nerves that come along with it-which I can imagine are exacerbated at the very top universities. However, the plot just wasn't really that strong and it felt as though a lot of the 'twists' weren't really tied up that well.
Interestingly, I felt that his characterisation was strongest when dealing with his female characters-surprising, considering Elliot's treatment of them-but I found Ella and Lucy in particular to be the most interesting characters. Especially the latter, who I just felt sorry for.

My main problem with this novel as that the protagonist just didn't appear to have any redeeming features. Whilst he occasionally acknowledges the fact that he has a chip on his shoulder about attending state school before going to Oxford, and that he doesn't always portray people well-Elliot just did not seem like a good person. I felt that it was unclear whether Masters intended this increase in snobbery to be a warning about the current university system or not. Instead, I just became distracted by the similarities between Elliot's experience and that of Ben Masters himself-both from the Northampton area and both studying at Oxbridge-that I began to worry that the novel was almost autobiographical and that maybe Masters was kind of a jerk as well.

Mockingjay  - Suzanne  Collins

I was a little dubious going into Mockingjay, as a lot of people seemed to be pretty negative about the series end. So I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

The plot is a step away from the Capitol and the arena. Unlike the other novels, no Hunger Games takes place. Katniss now lives with other refugees from the destroyed District 12 in District 13 where she is being trained as a 'Mockingjay' in order to bring together all the other Districts against the Capitol. The novel has a lot more of a political aspect compared to the other novels, and was kind of reminiscent of Patrick Ness's The Ask & The Answer which I really enjoyed. Collins was also fearless when it came to killing off characters-this finale is a lot more violent than even the first two.

In terms of the characters, Katniss remains a compelling protaganist. Although understandably a little less hard, having survived two Hunger Games, she is still far from a pushover. The majority of the criticism I've read is regarding the apparent love triangle issue. As I said when I read Catching Fire, I didn't really connect to Gale at all, and in this novel he seems even more to fulfil the 'friendzone' type guy. His actions within the novel further alienated him as a character from me. I also really liked the development of Finnick, into more than just an arena heartthrob. 

My only major problem with the novel was the Epilogue, which I just didn't really think needed to be there at all. I do feel as though a lot of Young Adult romances are portrayed as being forever, which is rarely the case and this epilogue plays into that. All in all, I was pleased with this wrap-up to the trilogy

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a writer who I'd heard only good things about, and when Me Talk Pretty One Day was part of the crazy Kindle sale I picked it up. The book is a collection of essays which are auto-biographical tales of Sedaris growing up, his bouncing between careers and finally moving to France with his boyfriend.

I'm going to admit that I didn't really enjoy the first half of Me Talk Pretty One Day, especially when it moved beyond young Sedaris. The timelines of the essays seemed to jump around all over the place, and with a couple of exceptions I didn't really find them funny or moving.

However, once we moved to the second part of the book-where Sedaris begins preparing to and then moving abroad I found it a lot more entertaining. From his struggles of learning the French language to a memorable description of encountering an American couple on the Metro who assume that he is a French criminal; that half of the book was a lot more entertaining.

I don't know if I'll be rushing to try another Sedaris book any time soon; but I'm not going to say never

An Abundance of Katherines - John Green

This is Green's second novel and follows child prodigy Colin Singleton as he attempts to formulate a theory which predicts the outcome of relationships, having been dumped by his 19th girlfriend-all of whom have been called Katherine. Meanwhile, his best friend Hassan pulls him on a road trip in attempt to help him move on.

Having recently been broken up with myself, An Abundance of Katherines is pretty much the best break-up book ever. Green (who apparently has been dumped 53 [!] times)perfectly captures the feelings of loss and confusion that come with having a relationship end. Whilst the novel isn't that long, it moves along nicely, becoming an almost pre-college coming-of-age story as Colin, Hassan and new friend Lindsay Lee Wells attempt to make sense of what they want their futures to be. I also loved the footnotes that came throughout the novel, adding extra information and context to Colin's habit of randomly fact dropping in conversations.

Character-wise, I'll admit that Colin is probably my least favourite protagonist from a Green novel. He was incredibly self-involved and a little arrogant and judgemental around other people-and it takes a lot for him to realise this. I did spend a lot of the novel wanting to smack him the head. However, Hassan, his overweight Muslim best friend was hilarious and should probably win a prize for being so understanding. Lindsay was also a great character, much more than just a love interest, she felt really wholly established.

An Abundance of Katherines was the right novel at the right time for me; there's nothing like seeing your experiences represented in literature. And if Colin can convince 19 girls to go out with him, then I think there's hope for us all.

A Discovery of Witches  - Deborah Harkness

I bought A Discovery of Witches after perusing a Kindle sale a while ago and the description sounded like a more fantasy based Dan Brown novel; a mysterious manuscript plus witches, vampires and daemons. However, whilst the original premise was pretty interesting the execution was just not so good.

Diana Bishop is a celebrated historian doing summer research at Oxford University, who also happens to be a the daughter of two incredibly powerful witches. Her re-calling of a mysterious manuscript triggers a series of events, including meeting the thousand-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont; and throws her into the wrath of the Congregation, the supernatural government.

On the positive side, Harkness's creation of the world where humans and supernatural creatures live alongside each other was really interesting-as was the glimpses into the history of supernatural creatures. For the most part I quite liked Diana, who wasn't the damp squib that I was worried she'd be. Plenty of the female side characters; such as Ysbeau-Matthew's mother, Marthe-Matthew's housekeeper and Sarah and Em, Diana's aunts; are all pretty well written.

However; perhaps my main source of irritation with this novel was that my edition was around 586 pages long and *nothing* happened. It simply appeared to be a very long introduction to the world and characters, setting up for the sequel where it would appear is where the action actually takes place. Further, I do have issues with the portrayal of the relationship between Diana and Matthew, which seemed incredibly reminiscent of Edward and Bella. Although Harkness does attempt to explain the protective/controlling aspects of their relationship as being inherent to the vampire psyche, I still found it pretty uncomfortable. 

Whilst A Discovery of Witches isn't the worst thing I've ever read, and kept me pretty engaged for a pretty 'blah' plot. However, I don't really care to carry on with the trilogy any time soon.

Random Acts Of Heroic Love - Danny Scheinmann

Danny Scheinmann's debut novel, Random Acts of Heroic Love , is a dual narrative tale. One part takes place in 1992, where Leo Deakin wakes up in hospital in Latin America to discover he has survived a bus crash which killed his girlfriend, Eleni. The second is the tale of Mortiz Daniecki who-against the backdrop of 1930s Germany-is telling the story of his experience in the First World War fighting for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sustained by his love of Lotte.

This novel is both heartbreaking and hopeful, and I did enjoy it. As is often the case with dual narrative novels, I found myself more interested in the story of Moritz, mainly because I know very little about what happened to POWs during the First World War that were captured by the Russian forces. It was a really interesting and eye-opening part of the book. The slightly more up-to-date section was equally compelling, but almost harder to swallow as Scheinmann really does get deep into the head of someone suffering with severe grief.

The hope/grief divide does also effect the way the two main characters come across. Mortiz is generally more likeable as his hope drives him through severely challenging circumstances, whereas-much like Leo's friends-I found myself gradually losing patience with Leo as he continually refused to acknowledge his damaging behaviour. Elsewhere, characters like Keraly in Moritz's story was a character that certainly grew on you and Hannah, Leo's longtime friend, was probably my favourite-her own struggles with loss showed a totally different way of coping.

The only slight problems I had with this novel was occasionally the writing-especially in the Leo sections-became a little bogged down in metaphor and similes which weren't always necessary. Also, I'll admit as a totally non-sciencey person the long theoretical physics lectures were a little tiresome for me. All in all, though, this is a really great debut novel and I'm excited for when Scheinmann's next work is released. 

Before I Go to Sleep - S.J.  Watson

I think my experience with Before I Go To Sleep was definitely a case of overly high expectations not quite being met. The novel is S.J. Watson's debut and seemed to win all sorts of critical acclaim, including Crime Thriller of 2011. It follows Christine, a woman who wakes up everyday having no idea who she is following a traumatic injury. She lives with a man called Ben, who tells her she is her husband, and she is called daily by a Dr Nash, who tells her that he is her doctor and that she has been keeping a journal recording her experiences.

The general plot synopsis sounded really interesting, the idea of someone literally starting from scratch every day could have some really interesting implications. However, I did not really feel that there was much of a build up of tension until around the last 100 pages; prior to that I didn't really connect with the plot of the novel, it did just feel a little repetitive. 

In terms of characterisation, understandably Christine was something of a void as she obviously doesn't know anything about herself. In terms of the other characters, Watson did do a good job in building mistrust towards pretty much everyone else in Christine's life as she also struggled to work out who was telling the truth.

I did guess the final plot twist quite a bit before Christine did; I did feel that Watson let a few too many plot holes and questions arise to make that really shocking. However,Before I Go To Sleep is in no way a bad novel, and it will probably make a highly entertaining film (starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth & Mark Strong no less)-it just is by no means the most successful thriller I've read

Night & Day (World's Classics)

Night & Day - Virginia Woolf This is Virginia Woolf unlike Virginia Woolf. I read this before any of her main works and it is really different; with perhaps more of an emphasis on plot. But still very good.

Crimson Rooms

The Crimson Rooms - Katharine McMahon I resorted to a Random Number Generator to pick what to read next. And it pulled out this books number.The blurb sounded pretty promising, but I soon as I started it, alarm bells started ringing. I couldn't connect to Evelyn, the protaganist; Meredith was portrayed as manipulative & horrible in a totally stereotypical way...I think this tried to be a Sarah Waters novel...but didn't quite manage it.Who knows, it might suddenly all click into place, but 150 pages in and I just cannot go on.

The Duchess of Malfi: John Webster (Revels Student Editions)

Duchess of Malfi - John Webster, John Russell Brown The Duchess of Malfi was one of the texts I read for AS English Literature, and I loved it.The plot is slightly crazy; with The Duchess' husband having just died and her brothers the Cardinal and Ferdinand both petitioning her to re-marry a certain type of man. However, the Duchess is in love with Antonio, one her servants. Ferdinand, the Duchess' twin (who has some *complicated* feelings towards his sister) hires Bosola to spy on the Duchess; and he discovers that not only has the Duchess secretly married Antonio and is pregnant by him.As it is a Jacobean tragedy, all manner of crazy things happen, and invariably most of the leading characters end up dead, or crazy.I loved the Duchess as a character; it was such a surprise to read such a strong female character created by Webster during the Jacobean era. She is maybe one of my favourite characters that I have come across in English Lit classes.

Anna Karenina (Penguin Red)

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volkhonsky It's been a while since I read Anna Karenina; but I adored it, and the characters of Anna, Vronsky, Kitty and Konstantin have remained with me.When I read it, I remember really loving Anna, I get the feeling you're probably supposed to dislike her for abandoning her family on the chance to explore and affair with Vronsky, which ends with her becoming hideously paranoid about his fidelity. However, I found the passion displayed in their relationship far more interesting than that of Kitty and Konstantin, who were sweet...but little more.I really enjoyed reading this novel, Tolstoy's ability to craft varied and vivid characters is very clever, although I must admit, his political views of the peasant situation could be viewed as being a little shoe-horned in!!

Matilda Pb

Matilda - Roald Dahl,  Quentin Blake This was a book I read as a child, hundreds of times-to the point that the cover fell off. The story of a girl who reads to escape and who also has magical powers was something that my younger self loved. This is truly one of the most fondly-remembered books of my childhood.

The Lottie Project

The Lottie Project - Jacqueline Wilson, Vicky Ireland This gets a high rating because I think it was one of the first books that I really, really loved due to its combo of Victorian history and modern story-lines. It also got me ADDICTED to Wilson's novels.

Hamlet (Norton Critical Editions)

Hamlet: An Authoritative Text, Intellectual Backgrounds, Extracts from the Sources, Essays in Criticism (Norton Critical Edition) - Cyrus Hoy, William Shakespeare Hamlet was a text for my AS Level coursework, and I only had some limited exposure to it before; I knew the plot and that was about it.Shakespeare paints a wonderful picture of a corrupt government led by Hamlet's uncle/new father Claudius. Whilst I did think Hamlet did dither a bit too much, I wouldn't doubt I'd have a similar view were I told by a ghost of my father that I need to kill my uncle. Yet Hamlet is wonderful because of this, I think, through Hamlet's pondering we get some of the best soliloquies written and we also get the wonderful 'Mousetrap' scene; which is one of my favourites, alongside the Rosencrantz/Guildenstern/Hamlet/Horatio scene.Plus, this version came with loads of handy critical essays in the back to help with things like coursework.