All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle (ARC Review)

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

About the author

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Mike Gayle was born and raised in Birmingham. After graduating from Salford University with a degree in Sociology, he moved to London to pursue a career in journalism and worked as a Features Editor and Agony Uncle. He has written for a variety of publications including The Sunday Times, Guardian and Cosmopolitan.

Mike became a full time novelist in 1997 following the publication My Legendary Girlfriend. Since then he has written thirteen novels and his books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Blurb

Hubert Bird is not alone in being alone.

He just needs to realise it.

In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment.

But Hubert Bird is lying.

The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul.

Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.

Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out.

Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all . . .

Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?

Review

I was so excited to start this book and it did not disappoint although I did struggle to get into it to begin with. This book was an emotional rollercoaster that also had some surprises thrown into the mix that had me very surprised.

The character of Hubert Bird is a wonderful one, you just can’t help but love him and also feel dreadfully sorry for him at times. Hubert came to England from Jamaica to find a better life and instead he found low paid work and racism. However, he also found Joyce. Joyce and Hubert loved each other through all the odds and their love remained strong, even when it meant Joyce’s family throwing her out and never allowing her back.

This story finds Hubert who has had one too many knocks in his life and so has chosen to isolate himself from everyone including his best friend Gus. Now Hubert spends his days with Puss the cat and a weekly phone call from his daughter Rose who lives in Australia but Hubert tells Rose he is never home and always out with friends so when she says she is coming home for a visit Hubert has to find friends quick so Rose doesn’t find him out.

In walks my next favourite character Ashleigh and her young daughter Layla. Ashleigh is a young single mother who goes knocking on Hubert’s door and she doesn’t give in till she has made Hubert her friend.

This story is so endearing and very true in so many respects, there are many lonely people in this world and because of the speed everyone lives their lives these people often get forgotten and left behind. This book highlights that things can be done to help these lonely people if people take the time to help.

Gayle’s writing in this book is beautiful and how he moves from the past to present is flawless. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is looking for a beautiful story with a wonderfully poignant meaning. I really enjoyed this book but it did take a while to hook me in, although once I was hooked I could not put it down. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder and Stoughton for the ARC.

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Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir (Review)

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

Review

The life of Anne Boleyn is well known and one that has always had me fascinated. I will be  honest I know I shouldn’t like Anne Boleyn because of what happened to poor Katherine of Aragon but I don’t think anyone can pin that all on Anne Boleyn because Henry VIII would have divorced Katherine in the end as he was quite determined to have a son.

The moment I started reading this book I could not put it down and I absolutely loved what Weir did with the story of Anne Boleyn and I ended up seeing Anne in a very different light. Anne Boleyn was a well educated and very refined young woman. Her experiences in the courts of Burgundy and France set her up wonderfully to be a star in the English court and of course the King could not help but notice her.

Anne was the victim of ambition, her family’s ambition and her own. Weir showed Anne determined to keep her virtue intact but wanting the crown more than anything. Anne could see she could help make changes in the church, she could help the people if she was queen. However, things were also against her.

I really felt sorry for Anne in this book, she thought she could make changes but instead things were twisted against her and she had no way of surviving. The other element I enjoyed was how Weir showed Anne’s relationship with her daughter Elizabeth and it was different to what I expected but made a lot of sense.

At the end of this book I will be honest I cried my eyes out and it really left me feeling quite cold at the end. I knew the outcome obviously but how Weir ended the book was astonishing and very haunting, it is something I will not forget.

Weir really triumphed with this book and I will admit it is one of my favourite reads for this year and I can’t wait to read the next one. I highly recommend this book to all historical fiction fans and give this book a massive 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Blackened Heart by Alison Weir (E-Short Review)

The Blackened Heart by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

Margery Otwell, a self-made gentleman’s young daughter, gets her first taste of courtly life when she takes up a position as chamberer to Lady Peche of Lullingstone Castle. Dances, music, feasting – and a seduction – follow, and Margery learns the rules of courtly love the hard way.

Saved from disgrace by the kindly Sir John Peche, Margery finds herself at court waiting on Queen Katherine. Little does Margery know that she is already a pawn in a game of power, irrevocably bound to the fall of the lady she will come to love as her mistress, Queen and friend.

Review

My first thought about this E-Short was what a wonderful connection between the two main books about Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, it really helped bring the two books together.

I loved the character of Margery Otwell and really felt for her. She loved, she suffered but she always had hope in heart. Margery was lucky and because of Sir Peche she began serving Queen Katherine and in Queen Katherine she found a true friend who she would defend with her life.

This story really left me thinking and the story stayed with me for many days after reading it. For something so short it really was a moving narrative. Not much is known about Margery Otwell other than she was a lady who served Queen Katherine and Weir created a wonderful story for her which linked the reports about the black mass found on Queen Katherine’s heart at her autopsy. I give this story 4 out of 5 Dragons and I thoroughly wish it had been longer.

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Arthur: Prince of the Roses by Alison Weir (E-Short Review)

Arthur: Prince of the Roses by Alison Weir

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About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

Arthur, the first Tudor prince, is raised to believe that he will inherit a kingdom destined to be his through an ancient royal bloodline. He is the second Arthur, named for the legendary hero-king of Camelot.

To be a worthy ruler, he must excel at everything – and show no weakness. But Arthur is not strong, and the hopes of England weigh heavy on his slight shoulders. And, all the while, his little brother Harry, the favoured, golden son, is waiting in the wings.

Review

I will be honest I was very excited to find that there were e-shorts to accompany Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series, so I immediately downloaded the first two and read them.

This e-short is about Arthur and is written from his point of view. Arthur has a lot to live up to and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He was named after the great Arthur of Camelot who is legendary and his story inspires everyone, a lot for a young boy to think about growing up. He couldn’t help but feel pressurised without the knowledge of also been the oldest son and next in line to the English throne. Everything was stacked up against him.

I really liked how Weir had got into the head of Arthur. He was only young when he died and hardly lived life and Weir perfectly put this across. Weir showed a young boy who knew he would never be as good as his little brother and just wanted to be with his mother which wasn’t allowed.

This story really made me feel for Arthur and want to read a little more about him, in fact if Weir decided to do a full length story about him I would happily read it. I was disappointed with how short it was. I gave this e-short 3 out of 5 Dragons just because I found it too short and wanted that bit more. This was only 99p from Amazon which made it even better!

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Review)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

About the author

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Suzanne Collins (born August 10, 1962) is an American television writer and author. She is known as the author of The Underland Chronicles and The Hunger Games trilogy.

Blurb

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to out charm, outwit, and out manoeuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

Review

I was so excited when I saw this book was being released as I love The Hunger Games trilogy so I immediately preordered the book and started reading it as soon as it arrived on my doorstep. I will be honest I did not read it as quickly as I wanted but my course reading delayed things slightly, otherwise this book would have been finished in a very short period of time as I could not put it down.

It was so wonderful to revisit the world of The Hunger Games again and I was not disappointed. I know a lot of people have not been happy with this book but I think it is because they weren’t expecting it to be about a young President Snow and how he came to be. I also liked how different this book was from The Hunger Games, it was a lot more philosophical and thought provoking than the trilogy. It really made me think about the human condition and what a human can be capable of in the right conditions.

Seeing an early version of the Hunger Games before all the glamour and showbiz that appears in the trilogy was really interesting. The arena was a plain old beaten up sports arena and nothing fancy, it was a very different perspective. The tributes were also treated very differently and I felt really sorry for them, especially Lucy Gray.

Lucy Gray was an interesting character who I couldn’t help but feel sorry for. This poor girl  who loves music and is very gifted has the roughest ride possible. She also sings the song that we know so well from The Hunger Games. I really liked Lucy Gray and the Covey, they were interesting characters and I would have loved to have learned more about them.

Seeing Snow as an 18 year old boy and learning about how he lived through the war was also an eye opener that you do not see in the trilogy. The war was brutal for everyone and the things that people resorted to to survive were extreme and not something usually seen when the world is normal.

This story is primarily the development of the tyrant President Snow and how he came to be how he is. You can see how this 18 year old will make choices in his life to get where he wants to be. He won’t care who gets in his way or who gets hurt, the only thing that matters is that he gets to the top.

Overall, I loved this book and highly recommend it but I know some Hunger Games fans will not agree as it is rather different. I give this book a big 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop (Review)

The Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop

About the author

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Aesop (c. 620-564 BCE) was a Greek fabulist and storyteller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop’s Fables.

Blurb

Aesop’s animal fables are some of the earliest stories ever told, thought to have been composed by a slave in Greek antiquity and giving glimpses of a world that is harsh, pitiless and yet also eerily familiar.

Review

Having never read Aesop’s Fables I thought reading this little book of just some of them would be a good introduction to them and now I will be honest I desperately want to read the complete book.

I started reading this little book thinking that I would dip in and out of it but I could not put it down. I just loved every fable and could not believe how relatable they still are for the modern day. These fables will never age in my opinion.

Aesop was clearly a man who had met a lot of people and seen a lot of life to have come up with so many of these very true fables. I really loved how most of the fables used animals instead of people and these animals did not follow the traditional stereotypes of animals so in The Ageing Lion and the Fox the lion is sly and cunning and the fox is the clever one who works out what the lion is doing. Where usually we think of a lion as a brave and noble creature, Aesop is telling us not to judge a book by its cover.

I loved this little book and it took me a tea break to read it. The book made me laugh, it made me smile and it made me think. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir (Review)

Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon The True Queen

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

At sixteen years old, Catalina is alone among strangers. Six weeks from home across treacherous seas, everything is different: the language, the food, the weather. And Catalina can find no comfort in any of it. She misses her mother. She mourns her lost brother. She cannot trust even those assigned to protect her. The first of henry’s queens. Her story.

Review

I have been collecting the series of the Six Tudor Queens since they were first published and finally I have started to read them. Thankfully so far I have not been disappointed.

I have always been fascinated by the Tudors and I have fond memories of my big sister teaching me about Henry VIII and his six wives. Elizabeth I is my favourite Tudor and I am fascinated by her history. Due to this I could not resist a historical fiction novel by Alison Weir.

I love Katherine of Aragon. She was a queen who knew how to rule and her leadership won a war against Scotland. Henry would have done much better if he had followed her advice but sadly she was another woman who was ignored because she was a woman.

This novel is fantastic at portraying the life of Katherine and I love how most of the letters that are contained in the book are genuine letters, although the language has been modernised to suit a modern novel. The other element I love is that it contains songs that Henry VIII composed and performed because as we know he was a very accomplished composer.

To start with I could not get enough of this book and I couldn’t put it down but as it drew to the inevitable I had to keep having a break because I felt so sorry for poor Katherine. She was the perfect wife, who did everything that was expected of her and more apart from producing a male heir and for that she was punished most severely and unjustly.

Katherine was unbelievably strong and never stood down from her principles and the rights of her daughter Mary. She could have so easily stood down and possibly have had an easier life, but then she would have lost everything she stood for and a woman of Katherine’s character would never have lived with the thought of giving up.

This book was beautifully written and the detail included was excellent. I also liked the characters that Weir created for the ladies in waiting and maids because no real knowledge about those characters are known so that was pure Weir. Maria was an absolute favourite of mine. She was a woman of fire and spirit.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am very excited to start the next one in the series about Anne Boleyn who in my opinion helped change the course of history, although I don’t think she was a very nice person. I highly recommend this book to historical fiction fans and just Tudor lovers. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. It did not get the full 5 sadly because I did have to take a few breaks from it.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Review)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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About the author

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Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.

Blurb

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Review

I have heard great things about this book and so when lockdown began I ordered it so I could read it during lockdown and I must admit when I started reading it I couldn’t put it down.

This modern retelling of Homer’s Iliad is a wonderful love story that is full of magic and wonder. Patroclus is the complete opposite to Achilles. He is not strong, or talented in battle. He is not a typical Greek warrior and has never really been understood by the people around him, especially his father. Due to this I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Patroclus and I kept feeling sorry for him because through this story he always suffered in one way or another. However, what Patroclus was, was brave, loving, strong and a fierce friend, you could not ask for a more loyal man.

Achilles was his usual annoying self, he drives me mad in the Iliad and he drove me mad in this book. Achilles is a spoilt brat who is definitely a son of a god and because of this he has a massive chip on his shoulder. The one thing I did pity Achilles about is that he knows his fate and there is no mystery about his future. I find it hard to imagine living knowing exactly what will happen to you, it must be enough to drive you mad.

I absolutely loved this book and I can see people not from a classics background reading this book and falling in love with the mythology of ancient Greece. I highly recommend this book to everyone who likes historical fiction or a love of the classics. I loved the style of writing that Madeline Miller has and I can’t wait to read more of her books. I have given this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

About the author

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Ian Lancaster Fleming was a British author, journalist and Second World War Navy Commander. He was a grandson of the Scottish financier Robert Fleming, who founded the Scottish American Investment Trust and the merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co.

Fleming is best remembered for creating the character of James Bond and chronicling his adventures in twelve novels and nine short stories. Additionally, Fleming wrote the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two non-fiction books.

Blurb

“With the proceeds from his latest invention, Crackpot Whistling Sweets, Commander Caractacus Pott buys his family their first car. It looks like a wreck, but once restored it turns out to be no ordinary vehicle: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a magical car which can fly, swim and even think. Chitty and the eccentric, plucky Pott family set off on a succession of increasingly perilous adventures that take them across the English Channel and all the way to Paris.

Review

I will be honest I have never read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but I absolutely love the film and watched it again over Easter which made me think it was high time to read the book. Thankfully I had some Waterstones points to order the book.

I was so excited when I started reading this book and it was just perfect, I loved everything about it. The first thing that I did notice was that the book and film are completely different. Now I know that there are always differences between the book and film but this was major, it was like Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes who wrote the screenplay only read the first few chapters of the book and did not bother with the rest of the book.

Thankfully, I did love the book just as much as the film. I also loved the background information that you got in the introduction about the original Chitty Bang Bang built by Count Zborowski.

The Pott family are just adorable, the perfect eccentric family. Caractacus the father is an inventor and explorer but he is much more interested in his inventing. Mimsie is the mother who lets Caractacus get on with his inventing and supports whatever he suggests. The twins Jeremy and Jemima love their crazy family and also fully support their father. The twins also go to private school so their adventure with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has to be during their school holidays.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a magical car that is part of the family and you can’t help but feel for the car when you read about her. She comes across as that wonderful favourite family pet.

The story is beautifully written and it does feel like a James Bond story but for children which I love. I adored this book and highly recommend it for children and adults. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett (Review)

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

About the author

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Sir Terence David John Pratchett OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015) was an English humorist, satirist, and author of fantasy novels, especially comical works. He is best known for his Discworld series of 41 novels.

Blurb

In the beginning, there was nothing but endless flatness. Then came the Carpet…

That’s the old story everyone knows and loves (even if they don’t really believe it). But now the Carpet is home to many different tribes and peoples and there’s a new story in the making. The story of Fray, sweeping a trail of destruction across the Carpet. The story of power-hungry mouls – and of two Munrung brothers, who set out on an adventure to end all adventures when their village is flattened.

It’s a story that will come to a terrible end – if someone doesn’t do something about it. If everyone doesn’t do something about it…

Review

It was so good to read a Pratchett book again as it has been way too long. During the lockdown to read a book by one of my favourite authors was like a warm comfort blanket wrapped around me. The Carpet People was written by a 17 year old Pratchett but this edition is the one that he republished after going through and making a few changes.

I really enjoyed reading this book as it was full of the typical humour of Pratchett and although it was not as refined as his Discworld novels it was still a joy to read. I loved how this book made my imagination run wild, it reminded me of the Borrowers, a race of people that live in the carpet.

The fascinating world of the carpet is brilliant with all the different tribes, kingdoms and an empire. I loved how the individuality of the people came through. I also loved how the women decided to do battle and fight for women’s rights at the end.

I have seen some pretty bad reviews about this book and it really surprises me as I know this book has a few flaws with characters randomly disappearing but since this was one of Pratchett’s first books it is bound to have some flaws as Pratchett was starting to find his feet as an author. Obviously if you compare it to the Discworld books it is lacking slightly but it is still a highly enjoyable story to read which will give you a good giggle.

I highly recommend this book to all fantasy and comedy lovers, it is a quick read that will make you laugh. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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