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Book Club No.18

Hello book worms! Apparently it's been a while since the last Book Club post and really that's down to a bit of a hectic Christmas and also me being a bit rubbish when it comes to reading, to be honest. But since Christmas time, I've definitely fanned my reading flame once again and if you follow me over on Goodreads, you may have seen some of the delights I've been sinking my teeth into since October time. So here's three of my recent reads that I want to give you the low-down on - some good, some not so good!

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
First up let's talk about one of my favourite animated films and where it originally comes from. When you hear "Howl's Moving Castle" most people automatically think of the Studio Ghibli powerhouse of a movie (which is one of my favourite Ghibli films if I had to choose!) and believe it not, it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered it was in fact originally a book by Diana Wynne Jones - a UK based author. There are actually 3 books to the Howl's Moving Castle series but it's no surprise that the first book is the main influence for the film version so many people know and love.

So let's talk plot. The book focuses on a character called Sophie Hatter. Sophie is the eldest of 3 daughters who live with their step-mother after their father passed away. She sees herself as the 'boring' one as she's the eldest and doesn't feel that she has some grand plan for her future and that fate has sealed her life with some pretty shoddy luck whilst her younger sisters seem to be making headway in life. On a pretty average day working in the hat shop owned by her father and now step-mother, Sophie is put under a horrible curse by the Witch of the Waste which transforms Sophie into an old lady with the aches, pains, and immobility of being elderly to boot. The only way she can break the spell is to seek the assistance of the Wizard Howl who lives in a castle that moves around high up in the hills in the countryside surrounding her hometown. The story follows Sophie's journey to meeting Howl, making a deal with a fire demon, working with wizards and finding out secrets about Howl and truths about herself that she never expected to uncover. The story overall is great. As I was a reader who was already fully aware and expectant of the story I had seen in the movie, I was so pleasantly surprised with the book.

As you'd expect, the movie elaborates on some parts and completely bypasses others. For instance, a big part of the books narrative is that Howl is actually a sorcerer from Wales, Britain, and that he in fact has family back in Wales. Jones was whisked away to Wales when she was just 5 years old when WWII was declared and thus I imagine this played a part in the development of this part of the story. If you've watched the Ghibli movie, you'd know fine well that Wales isn't really a focus at all so those extra twists and turns in the story were certainly welcomed. I still felt the fantasy and adventure throughout the plot just as much as the film; rooting for Sophie but also at times feeling annoyed with how stubborn and sarcastic she could be about everything. I particularly enjoyed how well you got to know many of the characters and their personalities, particularly Sophie's sisters as they are seem to be just 'add-on' characters in the movie adaptation. My one disappoint in the book was that I felt that the ending was much more abrupt than I could have anticipated - it seemed like the last chapter rushed to tie up loose ends and whilst I am sure the next two books in the series create even more adventure and excitement to suck the reader in, the quick ending that suddenly resulted in romance was a bit lack lustre for me after such a page-turning read all those chapters before it. You can pick up a copy of Howl's Moving Castle for less than £5 here!

The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan
If you've been a reader of my Book Club posts for some time, you may well remember just how much I raved about the first book in this series, A Place Called Perfect, back in September 2017 (go and read that post for a little more insight into what the series is about!). Like many people who praised that first book, I was ecstatic to see the second one was released late last year and knew I'd have to read it as soon as possible. The Trouble with Perfect picks up right where A Place Called Perfect left off - with the townsfolk rebuilding the town and making it a safe haven for all. The creepy macabre eye plants that were a centre-piece in the first book are firmly cemented in equal importance in this second story and we once again follow Violet and Boy on an adventure to fight evil. It all starts with the eye plants going missing - with Perfect/Town now using them as their security system to keep everyone safe - and suspicions are raised about Boy not being as good as he seems. Once Violet begins to investigate further because she just can't accept the idea of her best friend doing anything bad, she unravels much more than she could have ever expected and it's down to her and her friends to save the townspeople once again.

This second book was just as much of an easy reading page turner as the first. I warmed to Violet so much more this time around and found that I was desperate to know how the story was going to develop every time I picked it up. I loved the fact that a diverse range of characters are included in this one too, giving a platform for more timid or quiet characters that doesn't usually happen in YA fiction. Like many reviews I've read so far though, I did find the story predictable and I knew what the major twists were well before they were revealed in the plot. I've put this down to an adult mind reading a book targeted at 13-year-old's however, and at no point would I say that it's a reflection of poor writing on Duggan's part as I still thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover. If anything, knowing exactly what was going to unfold made me feel almost more submersed in the story as I was keen for each big reveal to happen so I could see how all the main characters would react. A little like Howl's Moving Castle though, I found the ending felt a little bit rushed as suddenly there was a lot of action and a major plot point (or at least something I considered major) happened towards the end and it was almost glossed over. This could just be down to the "a few months later..." style writing towards the end but, the incident in question deserved so much more page time in my opinion as it could have really tugged on the heartstrings. I hope by the way the book ended that Duggan will release a third and final one to make it a fantastic trilogy, but if you haven't read this yet, you really need to get your hands on it. Pick up The Trouble with Perfect for £5.37 here.

The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb & Allison Mann*
It's been a wee while since some non-fiction graced a Book Club post, but a recent read of mine in that category was The Girls Are Gone by Michael Brodkorb and Allison Mann. I was kindly sent this book to review honestly and after reading the synopsis, I was so intrigued to find out more. So, this intriguing "plot". The Girls Are Gone focuses on a trial court case from 2013 revolving around the Rucki family in the States. After father David Rucki and mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki agreed to get divorced to try to back out of some money issues they couldn't resolve, their family situation snowballs into a lot of involvement with the social services and their 5 children, investigations into allegations towards the father David Rucki made by the children, and eventually the full investigation of 2 of the 5 children disappearing and David Rucki's efforts to discover where his two daughters had disappeared to. The whole book is full of transcripts from the court dates, information from the professionals involved in the whole case, and Brodkorb and Mann researched and collated information on the case and family involved for over 2 years so it's a very well prepared true crime book.

But now, I have to point out the flaws. Something I noticed straight off the bat with the writing style is that Brodkob and Mann don't come across as very impartial. Although as a reader of the case it's undeniable how much Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was at fault at many points of the case development, David Rucki is painted as a saint to the point where it made me suspicious as a reader that actually he couldn't possibly have been that innocent/faultless given the situations he would have found himself in. The bias aside, the writing also totally lost me as a reader partway through. The case itself was very interesting and gripping from the start - as someone who had previously not heard of the case, I was hooked as soon as the details of the divorce were revealed in the first two pages because as I mentioned earlier, everything just snowballs dramatically from there on. But. But this interest just can't be maintained. As the book crams in *so* many transcripts from the court, you kind of get lost in legal language and it just gets monotonous to read. More direct words from the children of the Rucki family themselves would have really elevated the whole book but I suspect this wasn't an option for the authors to obtain and execute. If you're a fan of true crime and want to read something a little different to your typical serial killer/murderers books, maybe give this one a go but, if legal babble and day by day accounts of a case aren't your cup of tea, you won't enjoy this one. The Girls Are Gone is available here.

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