Time And Time Again by Ben Elton

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Hugh Stanton is an ex-solider and celebrated adventurer, who in the wake of the death of his wife and children is invited to conduct a mission the likes of which he could never have imagined. He must change history and abandon the world that he lives in to do so. A war must be stopped, and Stanton is the one to do it. But can a single bullet really change history, and thus, the future?

I thought that the concept of Time And Time Again was great and it certainly got me thinking. It poses the question that if you had once chance to change history, where would you go and what would you do differently? In this case, it was World War One. I found the prospect of going back in time in order to prevent a horrendous war an interesting and complex one. As a concept, it has so much potential, and certainly, there are parts of the novel which live up to that. However, overall I found this novel to be quite disappointing.

The mission that Stanton is sent to do is interesting, and the best parts of the novel are when he is in the midst of completing it. There are a number of fast paced scenes right in the middle of the action which are very enjoyable, and those are the parts where the novel shines the most. The aspect of the novel where he tries to cope with the problems of time-travel, and tries to stay under the radar whilst trying to complete a mission that will change the fate of the world, are also well orchestrated. The complications of time-travel are well addressed as small, seemingly harmless actions cause ripples and impact the world in ways that Stanton could not have expected. However, these are soon taken over by personal affairs that, due to the nature of the characters, fall short of the quality shown in the midst of the action.

The main let-down of the novel was the characters. I did not find Hugh Stanton to be particularly engaging, and struggled to empathise with his character. He was built-up to be highly intelligent and dangerous, but other than on a few occasions did I think that his actions backed this up. His character development also felt quite rushed, as he changes his reaction to the death of his wife and children very quickly. I understand that this is to move the plot along at a quicker pace, but the transition did not seem very smooth. I also struggled to relate to Cambridge Master and Professor Sally McCluskey – a huge personality, mentor and friend to Stanton. I did not think that her actions or trains of thought reflected her educational standing, and thus found her quite unbelievable despite being quite entertaining. The character Bernadette Burdette also started out with a lot of potential, appeared interesting and bold but resulted in being quite vapid and was not done the justice that she deserved. There was too much sex and not enough personality displayed with Bernadette, which was disappointing because she could have been so much more as she was initially presented as being sharp and intelligent but ended up being quite irrational, as she blatantly disregarded obvious dangers only to repeatedly be drawn in by physical attraction.

The last few chapters of the novel almost saved it for me, as a new dimension was added to it which adds some poignancy to the story-line, and provided a deeper meaning for what was happening but overall, I was disappointed with the novel. The story-line has so much potential but, for me, the characters let it down. Despite this, there were some action scenes which I enjoyed, but between those it was unrealistic and lacked heart.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany

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I have been a massive fan of Harry Potter for years, and when I finished reading the Deathly Hallows I was distraught at the prospect of not having any more Harry Potter to read, despite the series ending in a full and satisfying manner. It was perfection, and something that as a reader I have never been able to match since. So when The Cursed Child was announced to be released as a script a number of months ago I could hardly contain my excitement. There is nothing more comforting than slipping back into the world of a book series that you love, in particular a world that is so complex and enthralling as the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Of course, I had my worries about whether or not it would do justice to the previous Harry Potter books or that it would not produce the same child-like wonder as the others. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.

The Cursed Child is different to the other HP books in the series due to the fact that it is written in the format of a play, so there are stage directions and everything is worked in order to suit a stage and a live audience. The play-format did not take too much away from the story-line, and in fact I rather enjoyed imagining how the cast and crew would work around some of the more magical scenes within the play, which I very much hope that I will get to see one day as some of it sounded absolutely marvellous. It is also more character driven, and thus the core of the play really focuses on relationships and character development as opposed to a pitch-perfect plot.

In the months running up to the book release I had numerous different ideas of what direction I thought the book might go in, which characters would be included, of how Hogwarts may or may not have transformed but I can honestly say that I was not expecting the storyline to go in the direction that it did. I was slightly disappointed to find that there is not a lot of school-focused activities which I had been looking forward to, and it looks to the past quite often as opposed to focusing on the present which I had not expected. However, the plot creates a new dimension to the series as a whole and what does happen is enthralling in its own right. The story develops organically and there are no aspects of it which I found to be unrealistic. The things which made the previous books so magical are mostly there too, although I would imagine that it would be even more magical at the actual stage show.

A number of new characters are introduced into the play, and a surprising number also return in some capacity too which was lovely. The characters, including Harry, Ron and Hermione are instantly familiar to the reader, despite their new challenges. Harry is over-worked and unsure of his abilities to be a good father, particularly to Albus with whom he has a turbulent relationship and who seems to consistently stray from the expectations that one would have for the child of The Boy Who Lived. Ginny is often a voice of reason, and there is a lot more of her and Harry’s relationship in the play which is great, although it does mostly consist of her telling Harry off for how he deals with his problems. Hermione has become even more of a powerhouse, there is Ron who consistently provides laughs and Draco who shows surprising growth as he battles with personal issues amongst other problems. The play also introduces the children of the initial main characters, with a particular focus on Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. I absolutely adored Scorpius as a character; for me he was the highlight of the play. He brings humour but also some humility, and since J.K. Rowling has announced that there will be no more Harry Potter, I am somewhat saddened that we will not be seeing more of Scorpius Malfoy.

I loved The Cursed Child, it instantly brought me back to those years when I read the previous books for the first time. I fell in love with the characters all over again, and was mostly happy with how they all turned out. The children, Albus and Scorpius, were brilliant and provided most of the best parts, whether it was through their adventures, humour or simply their relationship which was perhaps the most touching part of the play. However, The Cursed Child is not without its flaws, and as much as I adored it I don’t think that it was quite as rich as the rest of the series, but this is partly down to the fact that it is a script and therefore not as long and intricate as the novels. Although I have not seen the play, I would say that in order to gain the full experience that it would definitely have to be seen on stage, but the nostalgia and closure that it provides certainly makes it worth the read. It is a total delight and while it feels separate to the other novels, it brings back to life the essence of them which we all fell in love with in the first place.

The Honours by Tim Clare

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‘’Over the tone in her ears rose his guttural war cry, so pained and naked that it sliced through her anaesthetised dullness and her heart wanted to split down the middle and the only way she could stop terror from ripping her apart was to scream too.’’

Delphine Venner is a thirteen-year-old girl living in 1935 Norfolk. War is looming, and Delphine is the most unlikely wannabe soldier as she spends her days daydreaming about guns and what it would be like to fight on the front line.  When Delphine is forced to spend some time living at Alderberen Hall in an attempt to aid her father’s unstable mind, she becomes determined to uncover the secrets of the estate and those who inhabit it. Delphine is convinced that the Hall’s elite society are planning something terrible and the deeper that she explores within the house via the secret network of hidden passages woven throughout the estate, she begins to uncover a world far more frightening than she could ever have imagined.

The Honours is an incredibly exciting novel that follows the attempts of the young heroine to unravel the secrets that surround her in a setting where everybody seems to ignore her, and nobody but her seems to notice that their world is about to be tipped upside down. It mixes together multiple genres such as historical, fantasy, detective and coming-of-age whilst being beautifully written and surprisingly poignant at times. It is set predominantly in Alderberen Hall, where the elderly Lazarus Stokeham, 4th Earl of Alderberen, is playing host to a number of extravagant characters for the use of The Society for the Perpetual Improvement of Man. The residents are undergoing a programme overseen by the mysterious Ivanovitch Propp, who claims that by following his programme they will be absolved of their issues. Delphine overhears Lord Alderberen and Mr Propp having a heated conversation and becomes convinced that they are Bolshevik kidnappers, and sets out to prove this. The setting of the Alderberen country house is brilliant; it adds to the mystery of the novel as the estate itself is full of hidden passage ways and her suspects are in close quarters, allowing Delphine to explore and investigate to her advantage.

The fantasy aspect is very well woven into the second half of the novel, with little hints of it scattered throughout prior to it coming into full-force. As soon as the real action starts happening, the story is propelled into a whirlwind of drama and conflict, red-herrings and unusual monsters. A new dimension is created as so many things start happening at once, and it is almost impossible to tell where everything is going to lead. The characters really come into their own in the second half of the novel too, as their world changes beyond recognition and they are left wrestling with forces that they could never have imagined. There were characters who had otherwise appeared completely unlikeable but at this point were able to expose a part of their personality that made them appear less one-dimensional, thus giving more depth to their character.

There are a number of very interesting characters within this novel, including the contemptuous Dr Lansley, Ivanovitch Propp, Delphine’s fragile father and her gamekeeper-turned-mentor Mr Garforth – all of whom are very well-built characters, and add to the suspense as you become invested in their outcomes. The highlight of the novel, however, is Delphine herself. She is very brilliantly realised, and has the tenacity and curiosity to pull off the role of the investigator and the fighter that she becomes, whilst staying true to her age. It is often difficult to tell whether or not Delphine is jumping to conclusions in her investigations, as she has a wild imagination that always keeps the reader guessing. Her relationship with gamekeeper Mr Garforth was charming, and one of the highlights of the novel.

I loved The Honours, it reminded me of the type of book that made me fall in love with reading in the first place. It has a solid, likeable protagonist and is paced well as there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. It expertly mixes together the genres of historical fiction and fantasy, taking the reader into places that they could never have expected whilst staying true to the time. The only real criticism that I can think of is that there are a few characters or relationships that I would have liked to have been explored further – for example, I very much enjoyed Professor Algernon Carmichael as a character but did not feel as though there were enough moments to let his personality really shine through. Overall, it is a real rip-roaring mystery that grips the reader from start to finish. I highly recommend reading this book, and cannot wait to see what else Tim Clare has in store for us.

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure

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‘’An image of strength, but also of abandonment and vulnerability. This idea appeals to me; you can’t expect to look forward if you’re not prepared to expose yourself to chance, risk, even danger.’’

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure follows the story of the French mathematical genius Cédric Villani as he attempts to solve the Boltzmann equation, and wrestles with Landau Damping, which will eventually prove him worthy of the most prestigious prize in mathematics. It is a tale of obstacles and solutions, partnerships, self-doubt and leaps of faith.

Despite not being particularly gifted in mathematics myself, I really enjoyed this book. I could not understand the vast majority of the equations, and even after having read the novel I still do not have much of an understanding of the Boltzmann equation or Landau Damping but that does not in any way detract from the appreciation of the work that Villani has composed. It is interesting enough to watch the work unfold, and become the award-winning research that it came to be through perseverance and collaboration.

Do not be put off of this book simply because its primary focus is mathematics because aside from the mathematical prowess displayed within the novel, it has so much more to offer. Cédric Villani is an incredibly engaging narrator, with a beautiful turn of phrase. He combines his love of mathematics with a love of poetry, music and a child-like admiration for those who have inspired him which is an absolute joy to read. Villani often details the history of those he is inspired by, and there is the added accompaniment of charming illustrations of the people that he comes into contact with. There is also some humour in there too, for example when Villani describes himself as ‘’untroubled by the thought of crime’’ as he steals some tea bags from the common room of the School of Mathematics.

I found this book to be an unlikely inspiration, and often found myself engrossed and entertained by the chase of a solution. I particularly enjoyed how Villani intertwined normal everyday life with the abstract world of mathematics, and found his character to be the most charming aspect of the novel. Birth of a Theorem is undoubtedly one of the best science books that I have read, and I would recommend it to anyone whether you are mathematically inclined or not.

Idiot Verse by Keaton Henson

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Keaton Henson’s music is enchanting in its intimacy. It makes you feel as though you are trespassing, as he reveals the bare bones of himself. And his poetry is no different.

This collection of poems and drawings was composed over the past three years, and are stories of ‘’lost love, touring, reclusion and new found renown.’’

The poems tend to be melancholic, personal affairs as opposed to writing about wider issues, and in that way is reminiscent of his lyrics. They are honest and heart-felt, with many beautiful lines such as:

‘’I’m smoking a lot / and starting to doubt / If I’m breathing you in / or smoking you out.’’

‘’Teach me of how it must feel to be home / And love a place so much you’re never alone / To take it for granted, and walk in its days / But need it like sleeping when you’ve gone away.’’

and

‘’Those whose words need breaking down / Like prose discarded, written late / With hair unclean from fingertips / I love those who aren’t afraid to hate.’’

I enjoyed all of the poems and many of them resonated with me, so I am sure to be re-reading them time and time again. Highlights of Idiot Verse for me include I’m With You, On Touring, The Pugilist, Hiding It, Richmond, Insomnia, and New Year’s Eve With Tennyson.

The beauty of Idiot Verse lies in its heart-breaking honesty, particularly in poems such as On Touring and Hiding It.

However, while the poetry itself is undoubtedly beautiful and moving, it may be appreciated more by fans of Keaton Henson or those who enjoy a melancholic style than by more ardent poetry readers.

The Amber Shadows by Lucy Ribchester

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‘’It was frightening how close the horror of possibility could loom when the air was turned by a single thought.’’

Honey Deschamps is a typist in Hut 6 at Bletchley Park decrypting signals from the German Army. At the end of one of her shifts, she is approached by a man named Felix who says that he has a package for her. The parcel is posted from Russia, and that is not the last parcel that she is to receive. Honey believes that she knows who is sending her the packages, and sets out to prove this while secretly trying to decrypt the codes inside of them as she tries not to get caught hiding messages by the authorities. The deeper Honey delves into these hidden messages, the closer she gets to the truth and ultimately, something more dangerous than perhaps she had been expecting.

The Amber Shadows is Lucy Ribchester’s sophomore novel, and having read and loved her debut novel The Hourglass Factory, I was very excited to tear my way through her latest work. Despite not being particularly fast-paced until nearer the end, it is a great mystery steeped in history and with enough intriguing occurrences to arouse suspicion and keep the reader questioning everyone Honey comes into contact with.

A fair portion of the novel deals with Honey trying to piece together her past through the parcels being sent to her as she believes that they are being sent by her estranged father. Her memories of her father are not in fact memories, but stories told to her by her older brother Dickie. Could these parcels be a message from her father, trying to tell her something? Honey gets so caught up in her fantasies about what the messages may mean that the reader starts to wonder what the truth may be, as there are small conflicting bits of information laid out before her.

The novel very smartly deals with many issues which would have affected women during wartime and that period of time in general, for example the status of women in the work place, pay differences between men and women and the methods used to deal with women who were deemed unsuitable for the workplace – all of which will leave you feeling angered. Not only does it touch on women’s issues, it also creates a vivid atmosphere of wartime England during the blackout. It feels dark, and frightening. A veil of secrecy shrouds the entire novel.

The only issues I can think of with this novel are fairly small ones; for example there are a couple of unrealistic interactions, but they are not substantial enough to impact the storyline in a significant manner. Another is that although I could not have guessed the details of the answer to the mystery, it did seem fairly obvious to me from quite early on in the book who was involved – but that didn’t alter the excitement of the conclusion. Lastly, I would really like to know what happens to one of the characters. Their part in the story, unfortunately, is not wrapped up.

I really enjoyed The Amber Shadows, not only because of the intriguing mystery but because it very successfully transports you back in time to the Second World War. The atmosphere draws you in, and keeps you guessing. There is a fine line between reality and Honey’s fantasies in the novel; whether it be stories about her family or how she relates herself to the movies she watches, it is often difficult to tell which parts to believe. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mystery’s or enjoys fiction based around Bletchley Park.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

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4/5

‘’However and whatever we decide we want our future to be, we must be remorseless – in our kindness. We must be iron – in our demand that life be joyful. We must not dare waste a second of our only, exploding existence, thinking that, ‘it will be better … later’ is ever a fit thing to say. If we say these things cannot be done, we are in denial of humanity. We are perversely proud to be small. And we are not. Trying. Hard. Enough.’’

Before reading Moranifesto I wasn’t particularly familiar with much of Moran’s writing; I had read the article My Posthumous Letter To My Daughter after it went viral and I had seen the astoundingly hilarious Raised By Wolves, which was the catalyst for me wanting to explore more of Moran’s work. After reading this collection of articles, I cannot wait to go out and buy some more of her books (but I am not willing to pay for a subscription to The Times to read her articles – sorry).

Most of the articles mesh together to create her political ‘Moranifesto’, but it is also split into two different parts: the funny, light side which includes articles on Benedict Cumberbatch, why printers are evil and how she has become 35% famous. The other side tackles serious issues such as feminism, why the rich are blithe, the state of current politics and the refugee crisis.

The most striking thing about Caitlin Moran is how incredibly relatable she is. Her writing is intelligent and straightforward, but simultaneously she comes across as sincere and the type of person you could have a conversation with down the pub. This is probably because, as she points out in a number of her articles, she is one of us. Brought up in a large, working-class family – Moran knows the problems that the average person will face, and hilariously points out the absurdities that come along with it. She recognises and brilliantly deconstructs the reasons why people are disillusioned with politics, how rich people have a blithe attitude towards the problems of those who don’t earn a fraction of their pay-check, and how working-class people are very often underestimated. Not only are her articles very often spot-on about issues, some of them are also particularly moving – especially those talking about the refugee crisis. She does all this, and makes you laugh out loud along the way.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Moran says, but her arguments are well-thought out, well-intentioned and hilarious – even if they are not always entirely practical. But what she does do is this: she recognises that things are not great right now, but she also recognises that things are not fixed, and it is us who are capable of creating change.  All of this combined with articles in homage to David Bowie and the national euphoria incited by the 2012 Olympics, I wholeheartedly recommend the Moranifesto.