Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

Huge thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review

This review is spoiler free!

Published: 11th September 2014

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 
While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

When I got my hands on an early copy of ‘Heir of Fire’ I couldn’t wait to get started. It was just a shame that around five pages in I realized that most of the events of the previous book was nothing but a hazy memory and if I wanted any clue what was happening I needed to go back and start at the beginning.

So I’ve spent and otherwise stressful few weeks happily ensconced in Celaena’s world, reliving her battle to become the King’s Champion, her slow uncovering of the rebels plots, the devastation and loss and the shock of revelations at the end of ‘Crown of Midnight’. It was quite the emotional rollercoaster, and I was expecting that pace to be maintained, thinking that this was the last book in the series. Thankfully I was wrong, and there are plenty of stories waiting for another book to tell them, but it meant that I spent a good portion of the book waiting for the pace to kick up a notch as it would in the final book in a series, and being disappointed.

Once I got around the fact that I was being an idiot and doing myself out of more books (Sarah has stated on her website that she’s always seen the series as a 6 book one.) I settled in and enjoyed the book.

This book was much slower than the first two, Celaena has taken quite the emotional beating by this point and it takes a long, long time for her to try and piece herself back together. There were a few points where her constant misery and self blame became a little bit much, but on the whole it was handled really well and it was so good to watch her try and reconcile all the parts of herself into one flawed whole.

Whilst Celaena is off learning and growing away from Rifthold, we still get peaks back to how everyone left behind is faring. Short answer? Terribly. The events of the last book have shaken everyone and their various relationships beyond repair, so it was a much darker book, no one trusting anyone and everyone feeling lost and isolated. The good part is that the treachery of the King is finally being recognised and more people are figuring out what he’s done, so there is a better chance of managing to right all the wrong’s. But watching everyone stumble around trying to deal with things on their own was truly heart breaking.

We are also introduced to a host of new characters which fleshed out the book and really gave more meat to what was once solely Celaena’s story. Rowan, a fae prince was one of my particular favourites, as was Manon another Ironteeth witch, and oh boy the witches. They were a fantastic addition to the story. I really loved all of Manon’s sections, which tie in beautifully with showing us what the King is planning next and pick up the thread that was introduced in the last book with Baba Yellowlegs. They are incredible, and I am so excited to see where that story takes us in the next book.

A lot of holes and questions that were raised are now being filled in, we’re given a lot of back story, particularly Celaena’s which was great to have. Maas has left it just long enough to really whet our appetites without drawing it so long that we’re frustrated, and she really should be commended for the brilliant pacing of each book, but also the series as a whole.

All in all this latest installment is a fantastic addition to the series. It expands the world, raises the stakes, and sets the bar even higher with a brilliant climax of an ending for the next book. Fans of the series will be thrilled with this book, and those who haven’t yet found the series, go out and get yourself a copy of ‘Throne of Glass’ and get on board.

A Book Blogger Ties the Knot (Or: How I managed to get as many books into my wedding as possible...)

When my other half proposed in February I knew that somehow we were going to get our two favourite passions into our wedding day – bicycles and books.
Which started, in amongst all the other stressing and panicking, a slow, careful deliberation about which of my many many favourite books I wanted to include in the day. Because when you read as much as I do, you inevitably amass a fairly huge pile of favourites.

I wanted to include favourite books from my childhood, recent favourites, classics I return to again and again, and books we both loved. And unfortunately there was a limit to how many books we could get in their various guises into the marquee. But we were creative…

So when we got married at the end of last month there were an absolute plethora of books in amongst the celebrations.

The tables had books wrapped around the vases on the tables, both to serve as names for each table, but also reading material if anyone got bored and to take away at the end of the night. There were book pages suspended from the bike wheels (of course there were bike wheels, he’s a cycling fanatic!) and the crowning glory? Miniature books decorating the cake. A labour of love done between me, my mother, and my long suffering Boy.

There were favourite cycling books, Terry Pratchett’s and Redwall as his contribution, but other than that I was granted free reign. And I loved it.

Tamora Pierce, Gerald Durell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ and ‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman stood for my childhood loves. Harry Potter made an obvious appearance, in amongst more recent favourites like ‘The Fault in our Stars’ by John Green, ‘Seraphina’ by Rachel Hartman and ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern. We had classics like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, ‘American Gods’ and ‘Neverwhere’ and of course the books I cannot live without like the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, ‘The Scorpio Races’ by Maggie Stiefvater and ‘Unspoken’ by Sarah Rees Brennan. And right at the top, a novel yet to grace the shelves until early next year, the debut by a very great friend, ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ by Sarah Benwell.

They were a talking point, a communal love that had people come racing over to me to tell me how thrilled they were that I loved this particular book and they loved it too. They sparked conversations about books people loved and if you like that you should try this. They forged beginnings of new friendships and I have loved hearing about books that people took away with them and what they thought of them. It was exactly what I wished for as part of my wedding day. A way to celebrate my love of books and sharing them with others, and also to celebrate the books that have brought me and the Boy together over the years.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: The Travelling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones

Laurie loves a challenge. Especially if it involves anything beautiful, baked and frosted. The brief is simple: With three other women, Laurie will board a London bus - kitted out as an English tea shop - on a deliciously different road trip of the USA. 
Their mission: To bring home-grown classics like Battenberg, Victoria sponge and scones to the land of cupcakes, whoopie pies and gold-leafed chocolate sundaes. 

And to show them how a real cup of tea is made. All of the women have their own secrets and heartaches to heal. As well as a grand appreciation of cupcakes, there's also the chance for romance...
But will making whoopee lead to love?

I am a big fan of Belinda Jones’ books. They’re fun, they’re romantic, they take you to new and exciting places, and they don’t always have the happily ever after that you expect. They’re a brilliant mix of the traditional romance that makes you feel all warm and fluffy inside, and real life that grounds them and shows you that not all happy endings are the stereotypical. However, much as I have loved her previous books, ‘The Travelling Tea Shop’ didn’t really hit the mark for me.

One of the biggest issues for me was actually something that I have loved about previous books, the info dumping of history and facts to liven up the tour and places visited. I think when you’re reading your first couple of Belinda’s novels you (tend to) really enjoy the extra information that’s imparted, but the more you read the more repetitive it gets. Yes some of the information was fascinating, but on the whole it felt like I was reading a travel brochure combined with a text book. It got incredibly old incredibly quickly.

I found Laurie quite hard to actually relate to or form a real opinion as she remained very one dimensional throughout. She just felt like a checklist of character traits- love life problems, check, neuroses, check, family history drama that she doesn’t want to get into, check. It felt like a well worn formula with very little new to freshen it up. I also found her romance later in the novel to be handled incredibly poorly. I realise that some of that was deliberate, but you want your reader to swoon at the romance, not cringe with second hand embarrassment.

The secondary characters were a bit mixed. I would have loved to see more of Gracie as she really breathed life into the mix, which was very much needed given how much Pamela sucked the life out of everything. I found her character to be the most hard to believe as she’s supposed to have been this big tv personality, yet she didn’t appear to have any personality to speak of. And then we come to one of the most horrible characters I’ve found in a book recently, Ravenna. I understood the basis of the character but it felt as though she’d been made into a Disney villain rather than a believable girl who was struggling with an abusive relationship.
There was the basis for brilliance with all of the characters it was simply that they remained flat and unrealistic which dragged the already slightly fanciful plot into complete fantasy.

There were still moments of brilliance where I laughed out loud or fell in love with the places described, but it wasn’t the perfect escapism I’ve become used to in Belinda’s novels and I felt let down as a result. For those looking for a cake filled fluffy read who aren’t too fussed on character development then this is a quick read that allows the reader to escape for a few hours. For anyone looking for more than that I recommend sticking with Belinda’s previous novels.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

Thank you to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Five strangers. Countless adventures. One epic way to get lost. 
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most. 

There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love. 
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.

I am a sucker for road trip stories so I was really excited about ‘Let’s Get Lost’ – it’s just a shame that it didn’t live up to the hype. The entire novel is centered around Leila, who breezes through four strangers lives at just the right time to magically fix all their troubles and woes. This could have been brilliant, but unfortunately Leila was nothing more than an attractive plot device. She had no substance, no depth, and whilst we do find out a little more about her in the final section and some of this lack of character is explained, it is not enough to redeem her.

The other characters are, on the whole, a continuing mess of clichés. There is Hudson whose main feature is how completely and instantly he falls in love with Leila. Again there is no depth, he is a cut out caricature and I felt that the entirety of his section, but particularly the ending, were trite and ridiculous. I love a good love story, just look at the number of romances I read! But I like to have some reality mixed in, and characters that actually have something that connects them, not a bunch of clichés and stereotypes.
Bree followed in a similar vein, with yet more stereotyping. Actually I found Bree’s section the hardest to read, I felt like I was watching a slow motion car crash and just desperately wanted to look away.

I was slightly more taken by Sonia and Elliot’s stories, because they actually felt a little more real, a little more human and a lot more interesting. However whilst Sonia held my attention right the way through, Elliot’s section and the message it was giving was ruined by the ending. That said, by the time I reached Sonia’s story, the formula of ‘Everything is terrible, Leila breezes in and fixes everything’ was getting decidedly old by this point.

I wanted to love this book, I kept reading and hoping desperately that it would get better, but unfortunately it never really took off for me. The characters were weak and experienced no real development, just a straight pattern formula that became decidedly tired by the end of the book.

It’s a shame because there are some moments that are brilliant, where the writing really shines and the humour is laugh out loud. However it is too sporadic to really stand a chance of redeeming the book.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Review: City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

Thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Set against the lush, exotic European colonial outposts of the 1920s, New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn delivers the captivating tale of one woman who embarks upon a journey to see the world—and ends up finding intrigue, danger and a love beyond all reason. 
Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke never expected to see her husband, adventurer Gabriel Starke, ever again. They had been a golden couple, enjoying a whirlwind courtship amid the backdrop of a glittering social set in prewar London until his sudden death with the sinking of the Lusitania. Five years later, beginning to embrace life again, Evie embarks upon a flight around the world, collecting fame and admirers along the way. In the midst of her triumphant tour, she is shocked to receive a mysterious—and recent—photograph of Gabriel, which brings her ambitious stunt to a screeching halt. 

With her eccentric aunt Dove in tow, Evie tracks the source of the photo to the ancient City of Jasmine, Damascus. There she discovers that nothing is as it seems. Danger lurks at every turn, and at stake is a priceless relic, an artifact once lost to time and so valuable that criminals will stop at nothing to acquire it—even murder. Leaving the jewelled city behind, Evie sets off across the punishing sands of the desert to unearth the truth of Gabriel's disappearance and retrieve a relic straight from the pages of history. 
Along the way, Evie must come to terms with the deception that parted her from Gabriel and the passion that will change her destiny forever...

It is no secret that I adore Deanna Raybourn’s books. They are well written, brilliantly researched and beautifully constructed, funny, smart, clever and entertaining and always, always have a fantastic heroine at their heart. What’s not to like?

I have to admit that ‘A Spear of Summer Grass’ was not quite as much my cup of tea as the Lady Julia mysteries, but with the release of her latest offering ‘City of Jasmine’ I am more on board with these latest 1920s standalones than ever. The brilliance of them is that each one is set to stand on its own two feet, and does so marvellously, but at the same time with each new release (just wait for Raybourn’s next novel set for release in September this year ‘Night of a Thousand Stars’) they become more and more entwined. You see familiar characters, minor cameos and it gives these fresh novels a sense of wonderful familiarity.

I will admit that I think that my enjoyment of ‘City of Jasmine’ was heightened by not reading the prequel novella ‘Whisper of Jasmine’ until afterwards. Because I hadn’t read it first it meant that there was a wonderful twist at the end of City that I wouldn’t have experienced with the same awestruck delight had I read Whisper first, so if you are trying to decide whether to read this novel, I highly recommend doing it that way around to start with – particularly if you are a fan of Raybourn’s other novels.

I don’t really want to say more because it is such a delicious book to go into when you don’t really know anything beyond the blurb. I shall simply say that it is just a brilliant as Raybourn’s previous novels. I adored Aunt Dove and Evie and had my heart in my mouth throughout most of the book. It is a fantastic romp with some darker moments as well. The scene setting was sublime and I absolutely loved the tie ins that start to weave all the stories together. If you weren’t such a fan of ‘A Spear of Summer Grass’ I highly recommend trying ‘City of Jasmine’ because Raybourn really seems to hit her 1920s stride with this novel. And also if you were a fan of the film ‘The Mummy’ I have a feeling you’ll love this one. A perfect piece of fast paced escapism with another feisty heroine.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Review: Queen of Someday by Sherry D Ficklin

Publication date: 7th October 2014

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

Before she can become the greatest empress in history, fifteen-year-old Sophie will have to survive her social-climbing mother’s quest to put her on the throne of Russia—at any cost.
Imperial Court holds dangers like nothing Sophie has ever faced before. In the heart of St. Petersburg, surviving means navigating the political, romantic, and religious demands of the bitter Empress Elizabeth and her handsome, but sadistic nephew, Peter. Determined to save her impoverished family—and herself—Sophie vows to do whatever is necessary to thrive in her new surroundings. But an attempt on her life and an unexpected attraction threatens to derail her plans.

Alone in a new and dangerous world, learning who to trust and who to charm may mean the difference between becoming queen and being sent home in shame to marry her lecherous uncle. With traitors and murderers lurking around every corner, her very life hangs in the balance. Betrothed to one man but falling in love with another, Sophie will need to decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to become the empress she is destined to be.
In a battle for the soul of a nation, will love or destiny reign supreme?

“For all you hardworking history teachers who want to hit me with a book after reading this. The line forms here. No pushing. Everyone will get a turn.” Any historical fiction book that begins with an author’s note like this should immediately ring alarm bells. I appreciate messing around with historical timelines to make a more thrilling story for the reader, so long as it is clearly stated that historical tampering has happened. However, ‘Queen of Someday’ not only doesn’t follow any sort of historical timeline for Catherine/Sophie, any sort of research of the period and dialogue appears to have been cursory at best.

When I pick up an historical novel, I expect realistic dialogue for the time period and realistic characters. I do not expect modern throwaway conversations or characters that are attempting to fill the ‘feisty heroine’ cut out and therefore act in ways that would never have been lauded and celebrated in this particular time period. It immediately throws me from the story and stops me from enjoying the book.

Trying to jam several different parts of Catherine’s life into this one short book causes even more problems. All historical accuracy is thrown over for unbelievable romances and one dimensional characters. Which is tragic because this could have been something brilliant. With a clearer cut plot and with fewer romances that have no spark to speak of, there could have been more time spent on character development which could have saved this novel.

I wanted to love this book. I love historical novels and when they are done well they can be some of the best form of escapism. But sadly there were just too many pitfalls for me to take any sort of enjoyment from it. Badly researched with too many aspects of Catherine’s life smushed into one small chunk of her life to try and provide more of an action packed storyline, and with one dimensional characters that never grabbed me or really came alive.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit--more sparkly, more fun, more wild--the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighbourhood.
When Cricket--a gifted inventor--steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

So you know how much I loved ‘Anna and the French Kiss’? I have a terrible confession to make, I really didn’t enjoy ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’. And I feel terrible because everyone was saying how if I loved the first one then the second one was just going to blow me away, and really how couldn’t I love the second one given my feelings about the first? But whilst there were some awesome elements to Lola, she just didn’t do it for me in the same way that Anna did.

The problem for me was Lola herself. Whilst Anna was an engaging and fantastic narrator, Lola came across as incredibly immature and a little whiny. I loved the idea of Lola, she was feisty and didn’t conform and had her own very unique sense of self and didn’t let anybody crush that or take it away from her. All fantastic things that I really loved, but they just didn’t come across as they should have done. It was all very dramatic and over the top, completely over blown until it stopped feeling like it could be real, it was almost a caricature of the ideas.

Lola is desperate to be seen as unique and mature, but the overblown costumes actually detracted from that. I think there was a balance of costuming that could have really made the idea work, but there were moments that tipped her over from spunky individual, to young teenage girl craving attention. Which only served to highlight the terrible relationship with her boyfriend, Max. I didn’t see the attraction of Max at all, the whole way through the book he gave me the creeps and I just desperately wanted to get Lola away from him, so again a lot of the tension and drama of the story vanished with my dislike of this character.

I also struggled with the portrayal of Lola’s family life. The demands that she had to call and check in with her parent’s every hour? I felt like they were treating her like a much younger girl and it made a lot of the book feel less realistic. I know why it was done like that, but instead of adding to the story and making me feel for Lola, I just found it frustrating and threw me out of the story instead.

Cricket was essentially the redeeming factor of the book. I loved him. He was sweet and funny and added a much needed breath of fresh air to the story. When Lola had such an extreme reaction to Cricket’s return I was expecting to hate him, for him to have done something so awful that I wouldn’t be able to like him. But it turned out that he hadn’t really done anything, just been a boy and not communicated, but nothing so terrible that it deserved the reaction Lola gave. And I loved him. I just wish that I could have connected to Lola in the same way.

So whilst this book didn’t even remotely compare to ‘Anna’ I did still enjoy it, just not nearly as much as I was expecting to. I’m still very excited for the third book ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ which is out next month. If you enjoyed ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ though I do recommend giving Lola a go, because I am definitely in the minority who didn’t enjoy it and even if you don’t connect with Lola, you’ve still got Cricket and the reappearance of Anna and St Clair to see you through. And we've got the setup to see all of the favourites back in the next book.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend. 
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

I needed this book. In fact I probably needed this book a few months ago when I first moved to France, but hey, better late than never. This book just called out to me in so many ways, it made me laugh and cry and repeatedly put Anna in situations that I’ve been in and I felt for her so much. I moved to France at the end of October last year. I had mildly more control over it than Anna does in the book, but I spoke about the same amount of French as she does, and the entire thing terrified me.
It is so reassuring when you’re reading a book and you see situations and scenarios that are close to you, and you’re able to read them and go ‘hey, this is ok, I am not being ridiculous for feeling like this!’ And when Anna spent her first few weeks hiding in the school and not exploring Paris, and eating bread and fruit because she was too afraid to try and order food in French, I wanted to hug her and tell her I know exactly how you feel and I promise you it gets better.

This book basically felt like a mutual hug. I wanted to hug Anna, and it felt like in return the book was hugging me and telling me that it would all be ok and I would love this strange, crazy city and understand this language and that the experiences would be something I would look back on and cherish. So my review is pretty much guaranteed to be a love letter to this book that felt like a life raft at just the point that I needed it.

I loved Anna. Occasionally I wanted to shake her, but that was more that as I’m a bit older than her character I remember all too well the feelings and mistakes and I could see them coming and wanted to help her avoid them, so it was an odd mix of teenage me going ‘yup, totally understand and am with you on this one’ and adult me going ‘you idiot, you just need to communicate!’
She was funny and snarky and yes, a bit of a moron over boys, but at that age most girls are. I felt for her, I understood her frustrations and anger and heartache, and I wanted to hug her. She was such a fantastic character, brilliantly brought to life and full of such vivacious energy. She all but fell off the page and into my head, bringing all of the other characters with her. Particularly St. Clair.

Oh St. Clair, you and I totally need to talk. The stringing along of the girl and the girlfriend? Bad move, very bad move, but again given all the circumstances and happenings, I get it. So I was a bit torn by him. Yes he was dreamy and lovely and funny and I wanted to smush him and tell him things would work out in the end. But at the same time I wanted to throw things at him for being an inconsiderate arse.

There were points where I would have really liked a little more of some of the supporting characters, but on the whole I thought they were fantastic. They created such a brilliant group of friends to guide Anna in her first French foray, and I can’t wait to see more of Josh and Isla in the final book of the series.

It wasn’t just the characters that made me fall in love though, it was the setting as well. I’ve been lamenting the lack of English language books set in France, so it was fantastic to finally have a well written book that explore the city. Having it set in Paris, with the language and the exploration really lifted the book from an ordinary story into something more. There was an added element of magic and romance and I loved exploring the city with Anna.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s got brilliant characters, a wonderful setting and just such a well written and enjoyable story. It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in and a very quick read – almost too quick, I want to go back and re-read it, I miss the characters already!
And for anyone who is feeling like a fish out of water, and experiencing being in an unfamiliar place, it is even more of a must read. I think it may even be about to turn into one of my chicken soup reads.