Posted in Book Review

The Labyrinth of the Spirits – Carlos Ruiz Zafon – 3* Review

Barcelona, 1957. Daniel Sempere runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop, is happily married and has a son. No longer the child who discovered the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, he is still haunted by the mysterious death of his mother when he was six years old. Meanwhile, his best friend and accomplice, Fermin, is about to marry the love of his life. But something appears to be bothering him. One morning, when Daniel is alone in the shop, a mysterious figure enters and buys a precious copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Then, to Daniel’s surprise, the man inscribes the book with the words ‘To Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from the dead and who holds the key to the future’.

That night Fermin confesses that he was once in prison and that he had to fake his own death to escape. Now his former cellmate has reappeared with a possible key to the hidden treasure. But is it a trap? And why is Daniel’s wife meeting someone in secret? And who was the sinister figure Daniel’s mother went to meet on the night of her death…

The Labyrinth is a stunning Russian doll of a novel, an addictive story that will lure you into a world of plots within plots, where even the shadows have a story to tell…

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My Thoughts… 

Although it states you can read this book as a standalone, I found it difficult to get into the story and empathise with the characters. The sheer length of the book demands that you feel something for the characters and I couldn’t. The language and imagery are noteworthy, but it isn’t enough if you can’t grasp the plot and what motivates the characters.

So this is one I didn’t finish. If you’re familiar with the author’s other books you should enjoy reacquainting with some characters and the storyline and style may appeal. It’s not a story you can dip into you need to be a fantasy fan, and the fantasy created by the author needs to be one you can relate to, I wasn’t able to.

I received a copy of this book from W&N Orion Publishing Group in return for an honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Blog Tour: Guest Post -Moonlight on the Thames – Lauren Westwood – 5* Review

Christmas is a joyous time, but not everyone is merry and bright. Nicola is a star at the top of the corporate ladder, but her personal life is a disaster. Her office affair has run its course, and the last thing she wants to think about is Christmas. A night of cancelled trains and festive Christmas carols at Waterloo Station is the last straw… Dmitri loves conducting his pop–up choir during the festive season, meeting people, and spreading joy and cheer around London. But he carries deep secrets from his past that robbed him of his dream to become a concert pianist. Can two lonely hearts and souls be unlocked by music and moonlight and will they discover the healing power of love?

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 Guest Post – Music, Moonlight and Inspiration – Lauren Westwood

As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my inspirations from. The simple answer is that inspirations come from everywhere! For me, usually, a book will start out with just a simple idea or image, or some kind of trigger event from real life. For Moonlight on the Thames, the opening scene was inspired by a real choir who were performing last year at Waterloo Station during the Christmas season, and a real delayed train. I’m happy to say that unlike my main character, Nicola, I did not create a scene (nor, unfortunately, did I meet the love of my life as a result). But thanks to that night and that choir, my book was born.

To create the two main characters, I also drew on my past. Nicola is a high-powered investment banker, and over the years I’ve dealt with a lot of those in my day-job as an in-house lawyer. I thought it would be interesting for the heroine to be the ‘alpha’ character in the book, though this was somewhat risky. She’s not instantly likeable, but I’m hoping that she’s interesting and different enough for people to stick with her, find out why she is like she is, and see her story unfold.

In contrast, Dmitri is more likeable upfront, but he too has secrets from his past that adversely affect his whole life and forced him to give up his career as a concert pianist. Many years ago, I studied music at university, and though I was not suited for a life as a performer, I did encounter some brilliant musicians who inspired me to want to write about music. There is truly an agony and ecstasy about being a musician, and it takes a very particular personality type to be able to achieve the focus and sacrifice that is required.

The piano music that Dmitri plays in the book was also an inspiration for the tone of the book and also some of the scenes. It was great fun trying to search out the perfect pieces that evoked the mood and emotion that I was going for. And while it is hard to ‘describe’ the effect of music in words, I have put together a playlist to accompany the book that hopefully allows the music to speak for itself. The link is here: http://www.laurenwestwoodwriter.com/playlist.

Finally, I also drew inspiration from a trip I took twenty years ago to Russia. There is something incredibly poetic about the country, its past, its people, its music and literature, that resonates with me. Growing up in America in the 70s and 80s, we were brainwashed into thinking of Russia as ‘the evil empire’ governed by dictators whose fingers were on the red button (hmm, who does that sound like nowadays?) So, it was interesting to travel there myself, form my own opinions, and meet some of the people. I also really like Russian literature, and I have a lovely illustrated book of Russian fairytales with lacquer box designs that inspired the retelling of the Firebird that is in the book.

So, all in all, Moonlight on the Thames was a fun book to imagine and write, and I really hope that readers will enjoy it. I am grateful to Aria for the lovely cover, and also for believing in my somewhat dubious interpretation of an ‘escapist Christmas romance’ that also covers many darker, more serious issues.

If you do read Moonlight on the Thames, please do leave a review or a rating where you purchased it. This helps so much to spread the word to people who might not otherwise find the book.

Most of all, best wishes for the rest of the year and the holiday season.

My Thoughts…

‘Moonlight on the Thames’ is not the lighthearted festive read the title suggests but it does have romance, a fairytale quality and a Christmas message.

Nicola’s successful career masks an empty life and deep, damaging secrets that seem worse at Christmas time. Dimitri’s giving nature is especially evident at Christmas, but he is finding it increasingly difficult to hide the despair and guilt he feels. The couple’s meeting is festive, and Nicola is more ‘Scrooge’than ‘Santa Claus’, but their serendipitous meeting makes them both look at their empty lives.

Poignant and romantic this festive tale focuses on those less fortunate at this time of the year. Dimitri and Nicola’s life are both blighted despite their outward success, and this story explores their inner turmoil and seemingly unlikely romance. Both protagonists are authentic and flawed and carry a damaging amount of emotional trauma but their courage and need to find more in their lives lets both characters develop in a believable and heartwarming way.

Music in all its forms underscores this story and gives it a uniqueness not usually found in festive reads. There are no sugar-coated platitudes in this story, just two people trying to make the best of shattered lives but the outcome makes all the angst worthwhile and leaves an important message in the readers’ minds.

I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

Lauren Westwood writes romantic women’s fiction and is also an award-winning children’s writer. Originally from California, she now lives in England in a pernickety old house built in 1602, with her partner and three daughters.  

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