Thursday, 27 November 2014

Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.
Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence... and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.

This book was intriguing, with a brilliant premise, but unfortunately the execution was lacking and turned the concept into something more problematic.
With such a brilliant and horrifying idea at the heart, it was incredibly frustrating that half way through a love interest was brought in for Violet which then became the focus. The love interest itself was problematic – there was no build up of the relationship, no real relationship to speak of that the reader can see develop. Just a few stolen moments and then suddenly, ‘we’re in love!’ which has been done to death in fiction, particularly at the moment. It then provides a truly ridiculous springboard for a climactic end to the book, another cliff hanger for the sake of trying to keep readers hooked rather than a natural end to the book with a lead into the next one. The romance really slows down the story and takes away from the focus of the story which could be brilliant with a bit of work.

The premise is horrifying, twisted and dark, but also has the opportunity to handle a lot of issues that most books shy away from. It gives an opening to look at agency, consent and a lot of the issues that come with that. Instead it cotton coats those things with a light fluffy romance that ultimately takes away from the main story and everything that it could become.

As with so many books, there is so much potential, and it just isn’t fully realised. Instead making it more marketable with a romance. I really hope that with the following books the romance is pushed to one side and the social system and problematic issues with the Surrogates is addressed. Before the romance comes in the book is fantastic. It’s engrossing and horrifying, but also incredibly compelling with some wonderful characters. The class system and the way the Jewel is made up is fascinating and I loved the expansion of the world as Violet was trotted out and put on show – I wanted more of that!

It’s a light and quick read and shares a lot of similarities with so many other books in the Young Adult market at the moment – The Selction by Keira Cass and Wither by Lauren DeStefano with shades of The Hunger Games creeping in with other elements. You can see the Capitol creeping in once Violet reaches the Jewel and is repackaged and sold.

Definitely an intriguing read, but not without its problems. Fans of the three series mentioned above would probably enjoy most of the elements, but be warned about ridiculous romance subplots and frustrating cliffhangers.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review: Vowed by Liz de Jager

The Blackhart Code:
Don't let the monsters grind you down
A Blackhart can see the supernatural behind everyday crimes. But some crimes hide even greater evils…

Kit Blackhart must investigate why children are disappearing from a London estate. However, their parents, police and fae allies claim to know nothing. And as yet more children disappear, the pressure mounts. Luckily, or unluckily, government trainee Dante Alexander is helping Kit with the case. Yet just as her feelings towards him begin to thaw, his life falls apart. As Kit struggles to unravel his problems and dangerous secrets, she meets fae Prince Thorn in her dreams – but their relationship is utterly forbidden.
Then Kit digs too deep, and uncovers a mystery that’s been hidden for one thousand years. It’s a secret that could just tear down our world.

I read the first book in this series, ‘Banished’ in March this year when I was stuck in hospital. I happened to have it on my kindle and devoured it in a matter of hours. I loved it. It was fast paced and funny and had such a fantastic plot that twisted and turned and kept me on my toes the entire time. The characters were brilliant and it was bursting with imagination and brilliance. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on the second book and get right back to where we’d left off with Kit and her friends. Only it didn’t quite turn out like that.
Yes there was still the characters I loved, plus a few new ones, and there was still the magic underside to the world we already know, but it didn’t quite have the same sparkle as the first book. The biggest problem was pacing. Whereas the first book keeps you on your toes with an array of pitstops on the ultimate quest as you race to figure out what’s wrong, this installment felt slow and sluggish. At five hundred pages it’s vying against a couple of the Harry Potter’s for sheer volume of story, but there is a distinct lack of meat to keep you interested for those pages.

I know the point is for the reader to experience the frustration along with Kit as she tries to solve the case with little to nothing to go on, but instead it merely prompted me to put the book down every few pages and go and have a break. An interesting story, no matter the length, will have me glued to the book and finished in a few hours, this book took weeks to plough through. The problem was it felt like a filler book. Not enough of a plot to sustain the length of novel before we get to the next book, with presumably a lot more action as it all kicks off. Quiet before the storm books are great when they’re done well, but this one just didn’t quite manage it. I wanted the action to be driven forward, not to watch as Kit ate breakfast, went clubbing and managed to get very little sleep.

Which was just disappointing given how much I loved the first book.

This is still a fantastic series from a brilliant new author, but unfortunately this isn’t as strong as her debut, I’m sure though that with everything being amped up for confrontations in the next book, the next installment will be back on top form and a breathlessly brilliant ride.

Fans of Cassandra Clare, Harry Potter and Laini Taylor should definitely check out the first book ‘Banished’, but maybe hold on for the second one until you can go straight from the quiet slow pace of the second book and race into the third.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Review: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA gives a rich and hilarious new meaning to complaints about “The Boss from Hell.” Narrated in Andrea’s smart, refreshingly disarming voice, it traces a deep, dark, devilish view of life at the top only hinted at in gossip columns and over Cosmopolitans at the trendiest cocktail parties. From sending the latest, not-yet-in-stores Harry Potter to Miranda’s children in Paris by private jet, to locating an unnamed antique store where Miranda had at some point admired a vintage dresser, to serving lattes to Miranda at precisely the piping hot temperature she prefers, Andrea is sorely tested each and every day—and often late into the night with orders barked over the phone. She puts up with it all by keeping her eyes on the prize: a recommendation from Miranda that will get Andrea a top job at any magazine of her choosing. As things escalate from the merely unacceptable to the downright outrageous, however, Andrea begins to realize that the job a million girls would die for may just kill her. And even if she survives, she has to decide whether or not the job is worth the price of her soul.

I saw the movie before I read the book, and this is one of the few cases where the movie is better than the book. So if you’re thinking about reading this after seeing Anne Hathaway turn from slouchy to glamorous, I’d really save your time.

The movie worked to make the characters likeable, both Andy and Miranda, and for there to be progress, character development, and you know, an actual plot. The book really didn’t bother. Andy remained aloof, sarcastic and whiny throughout the book and it never really felt like she grew as a person, or developed at all over the course of the year. She maybe had slightly better dress sense by the end, but there was no development, she just whinged at everyone, pushed her friends and family away and didn’t really try to integrate or work particularly hard at Runway. Yes her job was demeaning at points and yes Miranda had unrealistic expectations, but Andy never even really tried. She went out of her way to try and be obnoxious and get one over on Miranda the entire time, only for it to backfire and cause her more work as a result. It was painful to read.

Similarly Miranda had a softer redeeming side that we saw in the movie, as opposed to being stone hearted, completely un-relatable and unreasonable throughout the book. The characters were downright unpleasant at points and there was nothing redeemable about them.

It was also incredibly repetitive. The same things, over and over again, with Andy making the same mistakes, the same obnoxious better than this attitude, which meant that nothing ever went right. This was supposed to convey the craziness of the working environment, but actually just backfired and made the book seem incredibly dragging and repetitive.

I was stressed the entire way through. I had to speed read this book, not because I was enjoying it but because it was so stressful to read that it was just easier to get it over with rather than sleep. It’s long, it’s not a particularly great book, and a constant adrenaline hit of stress does not make for great reading. You can’t sustain that level of tension for that length of time successfully with a reader, it just doesn’t work.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke

Paul West arrives in Paris to start a new job - and finds out what the French are really like.
They do eat a lot of cheese, some of which smells like pigs' droppings. They don't wash their armpits with garlic soap. Going on strike really is the second national participation sport after petanque. And, yes, they do use suppositories.

In his first novel, Stephen Clarke gives a laugh-out-loud account of the pleasures and perils of being a Brit in France. A Year in the Merde tells you how to get served by the grumpiest Parisian waiter; how to make amour - not war; and how not to buy a house in the French countryside.

I’ve read a few other books by Stephen Clarke and really loved them; his writing is eloquent and frequently laugh out loud funny, and he tackles his subjects with both wit and an obvious deep love of the country and culture that he is writing about. It’s just a shame that he didn’t bring any of that to ‘A Year in the Merde.’
When I picked it up I didn’t realise it was a novel, so was expecting more of a travel memoir recounting a lot of the pitfalls of moving to France that people experience. What I got instead was a truly awful main character who is not only feeling displaced by his move to Paris, but is downright rude and obnoxious and makes no effort whatsoever to be anything other than disparaging and condescending throughout his stay.

Truly, other than a few more readable moments this was a disaster from start to finish. The humour was thin on the ground, and the book was instead populated with awful comments about the French culture and the people. Paul is a thoroughly unlikeable character who spends his time sulking, whinging, and taking women out for drinks and not understanding why some alcohol and half a hour of conversation don’t result in immediate sex.

It was demeaning and quite frankly disgusting in places and I’m not quite sure why I kept reading.
The drama was propelled by his caricature pantomime baddy of a boss who is doing all sorts of shady dealings and Paul just sits back and lets it all happen. There is no driving force, it is simply the ramblings of a man who couldn’t be arsed to do anything with his job in a new country.

It only vaguely tackled a few of the difficulties that people find when moving to France for the first time, and that wasn’t really enough to redeem it. It certainly doesn’t tackle the perils of being a Brit living in France. If you’re looking for an interesting insight into living in Paris, I recommend ‘Paris in Love’ by Eloisa James. I would also recommend some of Stephen Clarke’s other books, but steer as far away as possible from this pile of merde.

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.