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Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine people all book into the Tranquillum spa for a wellness retreat. From the family looking to escape the pain of their son’s death, to the lottery winning couple who found that money wasn’t everything, to Frances, the romance novelist who fell for an internet scammer, they all have their own reasons for needing to escape from it all. However, soon after arriving it becomes apparent that the retreat will contain some extreme and unusual practises. Masha, Tranquillum House’s owner is fanatical about her techniques and some of her wellness strategies seem unusual to say the least. The 5 day silence and fasting seem just about manageable to the guests, but as Masha becomes more out of control, the guests begin to worry for their safety.

I’ve read a few of Moriarty’s previous novels (Big Little Lies is amazing!) and thought this one sounded interesting, although a little different from her previous books. It was a gripping story and there was a pleasing twist towards the end. I particularly enjoyed the characterisation within this novel, and the fact that we are given multiple protagonists mean that we are able to empathise with almost all of them.

Definitely a book I’d recommend, although please note that there are storylines around the impact of suicide and child death, which could be upsetting for some.

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The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Last year I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for the first time, and enjoyed it, so I decided it was time to try reading some of her short stories. The Birds is probably most famous for having been adapted into Alfred Hitchcock’s movie (although re-imagined may be a better word as the story-line and setting are vastly different).

I first watched The Birds many years ago and loved how it managed to turn the everyday and ordinary into something frightening; the original short story, despite being very different, also manages this, and builds an effective sense of fear from every-day settings and creatures. It was well told and I really enjoyed it.

There are five other short stories in the collection, all containing similar themes of nature, violence, and feeling out of place. My particular favourites were The Apple Tree, which tells the story of a widower’s struggles against an almost sinister apple tree in his garden; Kiss Me Again, Stranger, where the narrator has an encounter with a young woman which also turns out to be a lucky escape; and The Old Man, which had a twist at the end that left me wanting to re-read the story from the start again.

A thoroughly enjoyable collection of short stories: well worth a read.

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A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

Is there a story that represents the Christmas mood more than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens? This story, along with several of Dickens’ other pieces of Christmas writing, can be found all together in this beautiful Penguin clothbound book.

Whilst the other stories and non-fiction pieces of writing are of interest, A Christmas Carol is by far the best story contained within this collection. It follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a lonely Christmas-hating miser, who is visited by four spirits, each looking to change his perspective and enable him to become a kind and charitable man. They take Scrooge on a journey through his past, present, and future, teaching him many valuable lessons about the impact he can have on those around him, especially the needy.

I’ve read this story more times than I can count, and yet it still resonates strongly. It has an important message to give, and one that is as relevant now as it was in the mid 19th Century when it was written. It is a story that I highly recommend: particularly enjoyable as a festive story.

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The Writers’ Map

I love stories that are accompanied by beautifully illustrated maps; there’s something really enchanting about charting the story on a visual page, especially when it is set in an imaginary land.

This book collects together different perspectives on the important links between maps and writing, from authors and illustrators, as well as designers who created maps for film adaptations of well-known texts. It is packed full of colour illustrations of maps, both old and new.

If like me, you’re fascinated by maps within books (my favourite I think has always been the map of Narnia, which I must have spent a lot of time looking at as a child), then this is a brilliant non-fiction text to read. It has also given me at least half a dozen books to add to my ‘must read’ list, simply based on what I’ve read from the authors within this collection (and the maps I’ve seen).

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The Tattoist of Auschwitz

Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in world war 2, this was a powerful story.

The narrative follows how Lale did all he could to survive in the hellish conditions, training as the tattoist of Auschwitz. One day he falls in love with one of the women he is asked to tattoo, Gita. Against all odds, they both survive to meet up after the war has ended.

This book is a fascinating, but at times a difficult read, simply because it is so tragic; the real-life events described are so horrific that they make for tough, but important, reading. I cried at several points when reading this. It was a highly moving story and one I would strongly recommend. It has topped bestseller lists in 2018 and it is easy to see why.