Friday, 28 August 2015

Review: Investigating Sherlock by Nikki Stafford

Publication Date: September 1st 2015
Publisher: ECW Press
Length: 240 pages

Thanks to Netgalley and ECW Press for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

He’s been depicted as a serious thinker, a master of deduction, a hopeless addict, a bare-knuckle fighter. His companion is a bumbler, a sympathetic equal, someone helpless in the face of his friend’s social inadequacies. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson remain the most-adapted fictional characters of all time. In 2010, when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stepped into the roles, they managed to meld many previous incarnations into two glorious performances. Over Sherlock’s first three seasons, the Emmy-winning series has brought new life to stories almost 130 years old and, with its Holmes and Watson for the 21st century, created a worldwide fandom unlike any other.
Investigating Sherlock, written by bestselling author Nikki Stafford, examines each episode through in-depth and fun analysis, exploring the character development and cataloguing every subtle reference to the original stories. With biographies of Cumberbatch and Freeman, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle, Investigating Sherlock is the ultimate guide to the great detective.

I am a huge fan of the BBC Sherlock series, so I was incredibly excited to dig into this unofficial companion guide, and whilst it was an interesting enough read, it failed to really grab me and inspire me in the way I was hoping.

For massive fans of both the TV show and the original stories, this companion won’t provide anything new. The extra information is taken from DVD commentaries and well publicised interviews, as well as information, stories and characters all available through Doyle’s original stories. So if you’ve combed all of the original source material and are an active fan then this book will provide nothing new. It’s an interesting enough read (although some of the delivery of the additional information does come across as a little condescending and pompous) and for those who haven’t seen the episodes or read the stories in a while, this will be a good book to dig into.

However I did have a few problems with it. The writing is a little bit scattered, as if the author is following a train of thought and skips all over the place back and forth between different topics, particularly at the start. As a result it doesn’t feel like a cohesive piece, and the topics aren’t as accessible to the reader as they could have been made.

It was also alarming to discover that some of the ‘facts’ weren’t actually correct and a simple re-watch of the episode could have resolved them. But my biggest frustration was the way fandom was handled. Most shows and movies have a fandom these days, but Sherlock has one of the biggest and most vocal. It felt strange then to be reading a book claiming to be investigating the tv series and all that surrounds it, that all but ignored fandom (apart from one or two very brief nods to theories that the author has enjoyed and some disparaging comments about shippers) when fandom has played such a huge role in the success of the show. The creators themselves have commented on the impact that fandom has had and the show’s worldwide popularity as a result, so to all but ignore it seemed a little odd – a dirty secret that should really be swept under the rug.

The book reads like an essay of one individual’s thoughts on the series and how they feel the episodes portray characters and readings of scenes, and as a result they discard and ignore any ideas or theories that don’t fit in with their mind-set. No-where is this more apparent than in the examination of the final episode of season three, and anyone who disagrees with the authors thoughts may find this more than a little frustrating.

The book has several interviews with long time Doyle fans, backstory on Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Arthur Conan Doyle. It also looks at each episode in detail, giving opinions, comparisons to the original stories, errors and additional facts, plus a couple of additional essays including one on Sherlock’s self-proclaimed status as a sociopath. It’s an interesting read, but as I said, doesn’t really add anything new. So if you’re looking for more theories, more discussion and a more intense break-down of scenes, characters and episodes, you’re more likely to find it for free on tumblr than in this. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Review: Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis

Publication Date: September 3rd 2015
Publisher: Chicken House Books
Length: 368 pages

Huge thanks to Chicken House for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

While on holiday in Montana, Hope meets local boy Cal Crow, a ranch hand. Caught in a freak accident, the two of them take shelter in a mountain cabin where Hope makes a strange discovery. More than a hundred years earlier, another English girl met a similar fate. Her rescuer: a horse-trader called Nate. 
In this wild place, both girls learn what it means to survive and to fall in love, neither knowing that their fates are intimately entwined.

This was a surprising novel, one I knew very little about going in, but everything I had heard had more than caught my interest and I was very intrigued going in. The novel gets off to a fairly slow start. I found I was more interested in Hope’s story than Emily’s, and whilst it was enjoyable, it wasn’t quite piquing my interest as I’d hoped. However it is a sly and crafty novel. It creeps up on you, its slow pacing and quiet tones mean that you don’t realise just how deeply you’ve come to care and love these characters until something happens and you find yourself sitting on the floor in floods of tears at three in the morning because it just broke your heart.

And whilst it was busy distracting me with surreptitious feelings, I realised that I had somewhere along the way become more invested in Emily’s story as opposed to Hope’s. Hope’s was interesting and I did enjoy it, but it felt like we didn’t get nearly as much time with Hope and Cal. Whilst we got to see Emily and Nate’s relationship develop and evolve over the course of several months, we only spent a few days with Hope and Cal, and by the end that discrepancy really showed. I was much more invested in Emily’s storyline and I found myself really caring for and rooting for these characters, whereas I wanted it all to turn out ok for Hope and Cal, but it wasn’t the same level of emotional investment.

The slow development of Emily and Nate’s relationship was so well handled. I found myself with a set of expectations for Nate when he is first introduced, and he spends the entire novel shooting them down and being a completely different kind of hero, in the best possible way. It’s a soft, slow build of a relationship that left me feeling more than a little mushy and teary by the end. He and Emily quickly cemented themselves as one of my favourite fictional pairings.

However the last section of the novel didn’t work as well for me. Suddenly both storylines pick up the pace, everything happens at once and Lucy uses a sneaky trick of playing on the readers expectations, which is cleverly done but not something I’m a fan of in most stories. It just felt like so much time was given to developing the story and then the last part was just BOOM, and we’re done. I wanted more of a payoff after coming to care so much about these characters.

So with the slow start and slightly off ending, no matter how much I loved the rest of the book I didn’t feel I could give it a full five stars, however it is definitely a solid four. A surprising read that really crept up on me when I least expected it with a beautiful love story woven through its pages.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Publication Date: September 1st 2015
Publisher: Penguin Group
Length: 352 pages

Huge thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Group for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

I think it’s safe to say that Deanna just gets better with every book she writes (and considering how much I love her earlier novels this is saying something.) and the first Veronica Speedwell adventure is truly fantastic.
Whilst I loved the three book foray into the 1920s, ‘A Curious Beginning’ takes us back firmly to familiar Victorian territory.

Comparisons will obviously be made between this and Deanna’s previous books set in Victorian England, but the truth is they couldn’t be more different. ‘A Curious Beginning’ takes all the best bits of Lady Julia and adds to them to create a very different beast of a novel.

Veronica herself is much less of a quiet late bloomer. Strong, feisty, determined, this is a woman who has not been coddled and instead has grown up knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it. She’s independent and spirited and travels around the world catching butterflies (and gentlemen) – in short Veronica doesn’t need anyone to look after and protect her thank you very much. Plus she has the art of travelling light down, I want tips.
But she still ends up stuck with Stoker, a dark, brooding and decidedly grumpy gentleman with quite the past. Although she finds his attempts at kidnapping endearing rather than terrifying, an unlikely friendship is born.

UK Cover
Whilst there is a whodunit element to the story, there is so much more going on between the covers. There’s the mystery of Veronica herself and why people keep trying to kill her, the mystery of Stoker and his troubled and dark past, the whodunit of the murder, plus a stay in a travelling circus all thrown into the mix to make a truly enthralling story. It’s a mixture of so many things blended together seamlessly to create a truly satisfying whole.

Deanna’s writing is at its best, full of the evocative prose that really draws you into the story. Her characters are truly fascinating, with just enough intrigue and questions that herald a truly intriguing series to come.

This is a fantastic start to what is sure to be a glorious new series. Julia has competition in my heart for most awesome Victorian lady sleuther… Suffice to say I loved it. Once I started reading I could not stop. I loved this thrilling new world of Veronica and Stokers – an unlikely and truly fabulous pair, and I cannot wait to see what adventures the two of them get up to next.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Review: A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Publication Date: September 1st 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books
Length: 240 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Pram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.
Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

Lauren DeStefano’s writing is incredible. She writes brilliant, stunningly beautiful, unique stories and her writing just gets better and better with each published novel. So I knew that regardless of the age range this book was being pitched towards, I was going to love it. And I was right.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is like nothing you will ever have read before, or indeed anything you will ever read again. The prose is haunting and lyrical, filled with unexpected pieces of beauty and my copy is littered with highlighted quotes that I fell in love with.

“She knew that the dead hid pieces of themselves in the world. They buried organs in the living. They stuffed memories into trees and clouds and other innocuous things.”

It tackles difficult subjects, most pre-dominantly that of death with a deft and gentle hand. The story is at times creepy and downright terrifying, but it is pitched just right for middle grade readers. It offers a piece of solace for anyone who has suffered a loss, and offers a window for younger readers to talk about it and see it depicted in fiction. It is a unique book in that regard, and one that handles the subject extraordinarily well. It’s particularly poignant after reading the authors note about how this book came about.

I devoured this book in one go, falling in love with Pram and her little space in the world. The writing is, as I’ve said, stunning. 

“To lose one’s mother was to lose the beginning of one’s life story.”

The characters are fascinating and vividly drawn. I found myself being moved by this books in ways I wasn’t expecting, drawn in by the quiet and melancholy moments, the terrifying elements and the heart-warming relationships. It is an unexpected book, but utterly beautiful, and anyone who has ever suffered a loss (or indeed loves great writing) should pick this up. Do not be fooled by the middle grade age tag, this is a gem of a book that anyone will love.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Review: The Next Together by Lauren James

Publication Date: September 3rd 2015
Publisher: Walker Books
Length: 356 pages

Huge thanks to Walker Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

How many times can you lose the person you love? 
Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again, century after century. Each time, their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated. 
Spanning the Crimean War, the Siege of Carlisle and the near-future of 2019 and 2039 they find themselves sacrificing their lives to save the world. But why do they keep coming back? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace? 
Maybe the next together will be different...
A powerful and epic debut novel for teenagers about time-travel, fate and the timelessness of first love. The Next Together is told through a mixture of regular prose, diary entries, letters, "original" historical documents, news reports and internet articles.

This book has been one of my most anticipated reads of the year. That cover first caught my eye way back in the spring, and then the blurb followed and I was absolutely desperate to get my little mitts on it.

And it definitely lived up to expectations. It’s a wonderful story with (despite being about the same people) remarkably varied characters. You could immediately tell which time frame and which versions of Kate and Matt you were with, without any prodding from the time line headings, simply because of how unique they were. Lauren does a fantastic job of bringing different character facets to the fore for each so that they are in essence the same characters, but you see so many different sides to them. I loved seeing the different challenges each variant couple faced, and seeing how the time period played into that.

Whilst I loved all of them, my favourites were definitely 2019 Matt and Kate, simply because you got to know them so much better than any of the others. You really saw the bulk of their relationship, the quirks, the humour and how much they loved each other shining through in that time line above all the others.

It’s an engrossing story, and one that I couldn’t put down once I’d started. I loved the different periods, the different elements of the relationships, the slow unveiling of the twists. It’s a beautiful slow burn of a book and it was wonderful to see how the different threads played into each other and interlinked. It’s a fascinating, well written and original book. It’s a wonderful mix of historical, contemporary and dystopian fiction all rolled up into one story and really does have a bit of something for everyone.

I did however have a couple of niggles which stopped this being a full five star read for me. The first may well be resolved in the finished copy, something I am very eager to nab a copy once it hits the shelves so I can see. Towards the end of the book both Kate and Matt start to reference another time thread at Bletchley Park. Obviously it’s clear that there are numerous more time threads than the four depicted in the novel, but it seemed strange that Bletchley Park is referenced numerous times with no reference to any other time lines that we haven’t seen. It made it feel almost as though in a previous draft Bletchley Park was one of the threads, so it was quite a strange jolt to suddenly start having these references to it out of the blue.

My second niggle was with the end, and in the interest of spoilers I’m not going to mention it here. However if you’ve read the book and want to talk about it feel free to message me! I’m hoping that since there is a second book titled ‘The Last Beginning’ listed on Goodreads, that my ending related niggles will all be resolved, but until that point that end just left me feeling a bit strange. It was a bit abrupt and I needed a little bit more of a resolution.

My third niggle (regular readers will have guessed this one already…) was that some of the language and dialogue in the historical time lines felt very modern. It wasn’t too jarring, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as some other historical books I’ve read, but it was still there, and it still bothered me.

However, those points aside, I really loved this book. It’s a beautiful love story, incredibly tense and with wonderful variants of the same people so that each thread genuinely felt like it housed its own people, which I loved. It’s a very engrossing read, and a truly wonderful debut, and has left me desperate for Lauren’s next novel which is FAR TOO FAR AWAY RIGHT NOW.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Review: All of the Above by James Dawson

Publication Date: September 3rd 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Length: 304 pages

Thanks to Netgalley and Hot Key Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who's the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the 'alternative' kids take Toria under their wing. And that's when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band - and it's instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there's Polly ... love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles. 

This is my first foray into James Dawson’s fiction books, having only previously read ‘This Book is Gay’ and I have heard nothing but good things about his writing. So I was eager to try out his latest book and did really enjoy it, but unfortunately not quite as much as I’d hoped it.

It was a good, engrossing and quick read that tackled a whole variety of subjects and issues – all fantastic things, and I stormed through it in one sitting. It really tackles everything: eating disorders, sexuality (including asexuality, hurrah!), death, growing up and all the changes that comes with that. It is stuffed with everything, which can be a little over whelming at points, but it is SO GOOD to see books tackling all of these things.

I frequently found myself laughing out loud, it is packed with humour sprinkled liberally amongst the more poignant moments and felt like an incredibly real book. These characters and their problems felt real, they felt like actual people to me and I found myself caring about them, crying and laughing and rooting for them to work everything out.

However there are problems. This is going to sound really silly, but very early on Toria complains that she can’t get out of bed because she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Now as someone who has this I am always eager to see it represented more in fiction. But this wasn’t representation, it was a throwaway comment that really frustrated and in some ways even upset me. It felt like a slap in the face. You wouldn’t say that you had any other number of health problems to get out of doing stuff, so why CFS? It adds to the all too prevalent image that CFS is a joke, something that isn’t real, that any person who is tired has it. Which for those of us that do have it, is basically a slap in the face. Unfortunately this happens within the first quarter of the novel, and so whilst I had gotten off to a great start with it after this comment I never really re-found the same love for the book that I had had up until that point.

My second problem was how some of the issues tackled really felt shoe horned in, the way Toria talks about them makes it feel as though the book is screaming LOOK I AM TACKLING ALL OF THESE THINGS. Now that could be that I just wasn’t getting along with Toria and that was colouring my perception, but the way some things were handled just wasn’t working for me. I appreciate that in real life all of these things come up, sometimes all at once, sometimes in pieces, and I loved that this book was attempting to encompass all the things, but the writing style meant that it did across as slightly preachy and full of itself for being so avant-garde and tackling all the taboos at once.

And my third and final issue is cheating. Again, it happens, and this book was aiming to offer a view point on teenage life and all the struggles that can come with that. So in a way, yay for inclusion! But on the other side, I struggled with how the cheating was handled. But that is just a personal preference.

So all in all a really mixed read for me. It was a good book, a very good book, don’t be fooled by my gripes, and one that I would definitely recommend. It’s also made me very curious to go and read James Dawson’s other books, because his writing is smart and funny and filled with diverse and interesting characters – all very good things.
Personal preferences meant that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to, but it was still a very engaging and good read.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Review: When A Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare

Publication Date: August 25th 2015
Publisher: Avon
Length: 384 pages

Huge thanks to Avon and Edelweiss for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shyly pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.
A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.
Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

As a first foray into Tessa Dare’s writing this book has certainly set the bar high and made me fall in love with another Scottish Highlander to boot. I’d been feeling a pang for more books set in Scotland ever since reading ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon earlier this year. And whilst I knew that this book would be an entirely different kettle of fish, I was also mightily intrigued by the blurb and kept hearing good things about a) this particular book and b) Tessa’s writing in general. So I went to investigate. And loved it.

It’s that rare and brilliant mix of butterfly inducing romance, historical detailing, humour and downright sexy shenanigans, where everything comes together seamlessly and I found myself sighing and sniggering from page to page. Within the first few chapters I knew I was onto a winner, with Maddie’s clear and amusing voice and the ridiculous letters she sends to her fictional Captain. Maddie is just such a likeable heroine (and hooray for a heroine who has social anxiety and suffers from panic attacks and isn’t miraculously fixed by love!) She’s kind and generous and self-deprecating and funny and I absolutely adored her.

“Madeline Eloise Gracechurch: Stealth Cuddler.”

And then there’s surly with a secret squishy centre Logan MacKenzie who is the perfect foil for Maddie. I loved watching the two of them spark off each other, come to terms with their feelings and their faults and start to build up a genuine relationship. There are some truly hilarious moments countered by some sentimental and moving ones, and I really loved watching these two start to care for each other. Plus it’s been a while since I’ve had genuine stomach swoopage when reading, and oh boy did these two have it in spades. Particularly when they stop being idiots and actually admit to each other how they feel – Tessa certainly knows how to create some breathlessly wonderful declarations and make out scenes.

There are some slightly more modern turns of phrase that were a little jarring and frustrating, but nothing too large to really throw me out of the story and irritate me.  However once I got going I couldn’t put the book down, it was exactly what I needed. Light hearted, fun, with some deeper subjects and heartfelt moments, this book has cemented Tessa Dare as a new favourite for historical romances, and I cannot wait to read more from her.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Publication Date: July 7th 2015
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Length: 410 pages

Huge thanks to Allison & Busby for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.
In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.
Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar... but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.
Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life - and soon both heretics and books will burn...

This book was terrifyingly brilliant. In an alternate world where the Great Library of Alexandria still stands, the library rules all. It controls knowledge in ways that were both outlandish and magical, but also not that far removed from what we experience today. The book offered a seamless blend of that – things magical and extreme and things that struck remarkably close to home and made reading this even more alarming in places.

I took my time reading this because I loved being immersed in this world, I loved letting the story unfold in small pieces rather than storming through it all in one go. However my restraint broke around two thirds of the way through and I ended up not moving between then and the final page. It was addictive, it was brutal, it was incredibly well written and utterly compelling. It grabs you right from the first page with one of the most intense and adrenaline filled openings I've read in a while, and whilst the tension eases off at points it never fully releases you from its grip. The story grabs you by the hand and demands you pay attention to it.

I loved that the story was led by a male protagonist. I adore my female protagonists like you wouldn’t believe, but it’s refreshing to read a book with a male lead every now and again and this was a truly fantastic one. The characters were complex, varied and so diverse. I loved that the characters unfurled piece by piece as we got to know them. No one was black and white, everyone was complex with shades of grey, and you never fully understood or knew the characters. Like people they were always shifting, changing and had backstory and secrets that crept in to tease and tantalise.

There are echoes of Harry Potter – accepted to an elite school, sent off by train, almost magic like moments – so if you’re a Potter fan you are going to love this one. Plus if you like books in general you’re going to be utterly smitten, they are treated with the love and reverence they deserve.

It’s a truly fantastic book. Alarming and twisty, I loved this alternate view on the world and how everything changed as a result. It’s a brilliantly crafted story filled with complex and wonderful characters, heart breaking moments, brutal and terrifying moments, books, love, fights. It is stuffed with magic and wonder, and marks the start of a truly addictive series.