Friday, 22 May 2015

Review: The Painful Truth - What Chronic Pain is Really Like & Why it Matters to Each of Us by Lynn R Webster

Publication Date: May 4th 2015
Publisher: Lynn Webster M.D

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

The Painful Truth is a deeply intimate collection of stories about people living with disabling pain, their attempts to heal, and the challenges that we collectively face to help them survive and, ultimately, live meaningful lives. As a physician who has treated people with chronic pain for more than 30 years, I reveal in the book the difficulties that patients face dealing with chronic pain in a society which is often shamelessly prejudiced against those who are in most need of compassion and empathy. I share how those biases also affect those who treat patients with chronic pain.

My normal reading involves around 95% fiction and 5% non-fiction, and of that non-fiction I never really branch outside historical or memoirs/biographies etc. So this book is quite a departure from my usual reading and as a result my usual reviewing. However when I saw this title come up on Netgalley, I had to read it.

I’ve been in pain since I was seven. I was officially diagnosed with Chronic Pain Syndrome when I was seventeen. I am now nearly twenty seven. I don’t remember a time when I was not in pain. Unfortunately the general attitude towards CPS is to tell the person suffering that they are making it up, that they should suck it up and get on with life, that they should stop complaining. There is very little sympathy, empathy or treatment available, and that leaves you with a pretty miserable existence being ostracized by people who don’t understand and passed from Dr to Dr as each one either tells you to stop complaining, or runs out of ideas of what to do with you.

So a book about CPS is an incredibly important thing, and one that I was thrilled to discover whilst browsing Netgalley. The book is split into two sections. The first has stories from patients of Dr Webster – their individual battles with chronic pain and the ways that it has affected their lives and how they have come to deal with it. Some of them are living virtually normal lives, vastly improved through various means to help deal with the pain, whereas others are still in as much pain as they were at the start but with a better understanding of what they are dealing with, and a supportive network of friends. The second looks at the stigma surrounding CPS and what needs to change for CPS to be recognised and helped.

The book tackles all different avenues of support – family, friends, medical, spiritual – and tries to offer something for anyone reading it. If you have CPS, it offers the knowledge that you are not alone, some new ideas and thoughts, and a sense that you are not stumbling around in the dark with something no-one can understand. If you know someone who has CPS it can offer you a better understanding of what they’re going through and what they might need to support them through it. And if you have never encountered CPS then it helps to shine a light onto a criminally overlooked problem that so many people dismiss as nothing.

It could have benefitted from a heavy edit, some of the stories tended to go in circles, information was repeated several times and there were far too many patient stories. It was interesting to read so many different stories, but after the fourth one I began to get depressed and to lose interest. I had to put the book down and come back to it at a later point. There is a difference between something that is difficult to read because of the subject matter and something that is difficult to read because it hasn’t been edited properly and as a result is far too dense. Unfortunately this came down in the latter camp.
I also felt that whilst these tales were interesting and offered so many different view-points and thoughts on CPS, they didn’t actually help someone who is reading it without having experienced CPS to understand what it is like for the sufferer.

It felt towards the end as though it could easily have been an essay on the dangers and problems faced with pain medication – opioid addiction and all that comes with opioids being the predominant medication used to treat pain. There was a very heavy emphasis on this, and whilst it was interesting to start with I did find myself losing interest after a while. I wanted to see more ideas of ways to tackle CPS rather than just have them glossed over and leave the focus so heavily on medication.

However despite these issues I was incredibly glad to have read the book and hope that more people will discover it and start to look at CPS. It is a problem that so many people suffer from and yet is ignored and trivialised. I hope that this book will allow more people to begin to talk about it, for more to be done to try and ease the suffering of those who are affected, and for those who have been diagnosed with it to know that they are not alone. It is an incredibly isolating condition and one that I hope more people will come to understand.

If your interest has been peaked, but you are not yet ready to delve into a medical text then I highly recommend watching the film ‘Cake’ starring Jennifer Aniston. I haven’t seen CPS depicted so accurately before, and I hope that it’s a sign of a change in people’s perceptions and awareness.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Publication Date: July 1st 2014 (This edition. First published in 1991)
Publisher: Random House
Length: 850 pages

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Unless you have completely avoided the internet for the last year or so, you will have heard the word ‘Outlander’ bandied about at some point. This is due to the insanely popular TV series on Starz that started airing its debut season in August 2014 and is currently airing the second half of the season on Saturday nights.

Based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon, the novels have suddenly received a new surge of interest due to the tv series as a whole host of people turn to the books to fill in gaps, find out what happens, and generally sate their unquenchable appetite for the incredible love story between Claire and Jamie.

I was one of these people. I watched the first eight episodes and promptly demanded all the Outlander books immediately. Because reasons. I stormed through the first book and it both sated all my Outlander needs and made the wait for the second half of the season to air nigh on unbearable, because this series is incredible.

Let’s start with Claire, the driving force behind the story. She is an incredible heroine – headstrong, feisty, determined and full of love and loyalty. She is a modern woman thrown out of her own time and forced into a time and situation where her gender plays heavily against her. She brings modern thinking and ideas in like a whirlwind and sweeps everyone up along with her. It is because of her that the book is so compelling to read – she drives the narrative and you cannot help but fall in love with her and want to know how she survives and thrives in this alien world she has stumbled into.

And then of course there’s her counterpart… Jamie Fraser has now set a new standard for fictional heroes. He’s young, yes, and filled with the ideas and status quo of the period he has grown and lived in, but he is also loyal and gentle and prepared to listen to Claire as an equal and adapt and grow so that their relationship is a truly modern affair with both of them holding equal power instead of Jamie ‘owning’ Claire. He loves her – that much is obvious – but the depth of feeling and emotion depicted in the book swept me away. He is the epitome of the romantic hero, full of fire and daring and love and whilst he desperately wants to protect Claire he also acknowledges she is a strong and independent person in her own right. They compliment each other perfectly, which serves to make the romance and relationship one of the strongest in fiction and one of the highlights of the novel.

The first section of the novel is a little slow to get moving, but once you are into the bulk of the story and are following Claire through the trials and mishaps of being a very modern woman in a very unmodern time you become completely immersed and swept up in the tale. I couldn’t put the book down and stormed through it in a night. Gabaldon has a rare talent of combining compelling and interesting characters with a well-researched and thoroughly realistic look at life in 1743 Scottish Highlands and all that that entails. The politics, the clans, the day to day existence – it’s all beautifully rendered in a captivating story that thrills along at an incredible pace. It is a world populated with fascinating and realistic characters and I found myself utterly enthralled as it touches on everything from the bigger politics and shifts of a time when Scotland was desperately fighting to regain its independence to the smaller pieces of life, the superstitions and traditions. I love Scotland and this furthered my love of the country and its history and brought it to life for me in a way other fiction and mediums haven’t yet captured. Despite the magical idea of time travel this is a novel very much rooted in real life, and other than that one breach of reality to get Claire back to 1743 the novel feels real, which makes it even more terrifying to experience some of the scenes later on in the book wen hysteria and a lack of understanding whip events up into a frenzy of terror.

I cannot recommend this book (and subsequent series) enough. Coming to the series now you’re also spoiled for choice as the Starz production of the first book is lovingly brought to life with an incredible cast and absolutely stunning scenery. It’s such a faithful adaptation that satisfies long term fans as well and offers a second entry into the imaginative and captivating story that Gabaldon has created. If you’re still not convinced, check out myarticle detailing five reasons why you should watch the tv series here.

This is an incredible book, one that became an instant favourite and one that I will return to again and again. It is so many things and not just a romance, but the love story at its heart is one that will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Review: The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine

Publication Date: May 21st 2015
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Length: 336 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

What secrets are hiding in the heart of Paris?
At the famous Patisserie Clermont in Paris, 1909, a chance encounter with the owner's daughter has given one young man a glimpse into a life he never knew existed: of sweet cream and melted chocolate, golden caramel and powdered sugar, of pastry light as air.

But it is not just the art of confectionery that holds him captive, and soon a forbidden love affair begins.
Almost eighty years later, an academic discovers a hidden photograph of her grandfather as a young man with two people she has never seen before. Scrawled on the back of the picture are the words 'Forgive me'. Unable to resist the mystery behind it, she begins to unravel the story of two star-crossed lovers and one irrevocable betrayal.

Living in France has made me want to read more books set over here – I want to immerse myself in as much of the country and culture as I can and that means involving it in my reading as well. And truthfully the books I’ve read so far have been fantastic. I’ve loved exploring different parts of the country and different time periods when I delve into a new book – which was what made me pick up this one. I mean the fact that it is set in a patisserie alone was enough to tempt me, the cakes that come out of some patisseries are incredible, they are works of art. So I was curious (and mildly hungry) when starting this one.

The story is split over two timelines, Gui’s in 1910 and Petra’s in 1988. I’m always a little wary of split timeline narratives as one narrative invariably ends up suffering. Sadly this was true for this novel, which knocked it down from five stars to four as, whilst Petra’s narrative was interesting it was very slow and dragged from the pacing and intrigue contained in Gui’s narrative. I wanted to be in Gui’s world, to find out what would happen and to spend more time in the patisserie, so it was always frustrating to be dragged back to Petra’s story where nothing much seemed to happen and she spent a vast amount of time not really accomplishing anything. Her timeline does pick up the pace to match the frenetic conclusion to Gui’s and the final part of the novel was much tighter and worked well as a whole. However the lack of real conclusion to a couple of Petra’s narrative threads left me feeling a little frustrated.

There wasn’t a huge amount of depth to the secondary characters and at times even with the primary characters. It felt as though I were skating along the ideas and possibilities of the book without ever being allowed to grasp at the depths of emotions it could contain. However rather than having a huge negative impact on my feeling during reading, it kind of works. It reads like a movie, you can smell and taste and feel everything and it is so deliciously descriptive in its surrounding, that the lack of real emotional depth of the characters doesn’t prove to be too much of a setback. What did frustrate me though was how childlike Gui proved to be at points. Whilst the majority of the novel was spent with him as an intriguing and fascinating character and our insight into this world, there were moments where he regressed and became childishly quick to anger and misunderstand. Sadly that diminished my love and respect for him as a romantic lead, but luckily these moments were relatively rare and didn’t impact my overall feelings on the novel too hard.

These frustrations and gripes aside, I adored this novel. It was a wonderful story that revealed little pieces of the whole in such a tantalising way that you were constantly kept guessing and wondering how the story would resolve. It was a wonderful mix of intrigue, race against time, love and historical novel and it brought all the threads together seamlessly. The language is rich and evocative and I could visualize the patisserie and the pastries Gui and the other chefs were creating so vividly that it was almost cinematic at moments. It’s a wonderful novel, full of little delights and sadnesses that left me filled with bittersweet contentment and a longing for Paris and pastries. Whilst it wasn’t a outstanding favourite it will definitely be a novel I return to and fall back into the magic of Paris that Laura Madeleine has created. Fans of Daisy Goodwin’s historical novels will love this.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Top Ten Non-Fiction Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful folks over at The Broke and the Bookish

This week is a top ten freebie week, which is always exciting! I talk about fiction books 90% of the time over here, so I decided to branch out and talk about some of my favourite non-fiction books this week. I don't read a huge number of non-fiction books - I'm very picky - but I have some firm favourites that I love returning to. Funny, moving, and some exquisite travel books, this list has a little bit of everything!

1. Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Eloisa James and her family uprooted themselves for a year from America to Paris, and this book is a collection of events, memories, musings and snapshots of living in the capital of France and the unexpected beauty you can find in a strange city. This book helped me in my own transition and reminded me to look for the beauty in the little things and to appreciate the incredible experiences on offer. Written in little bite size chunks, this is a wonderful book to dip in and out of.

2. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I have never laughed so hard when reading a book. I genuinely thought I might have cracked a rib at one point. When reading this on lunch breaks at the office I had to remove myself to my car to read because of the weird looks I received... This book is a masterpiece, and Lawson's humour is unparalleled. An incredible account of her life, this book is insane, brilliant and hilarious.

3. The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour
I discovered this book whilst researching for my non-fiction writing module at university and was utterly engrossed from the very first page. Belle's writing is blunt, compulsive and intriguing. Utterly filthy and incredibly factual. This was my first real foray into non-fiction writing and I absolutely loved it. Infinitely better than the tv show they made from it, this is an eye opener of a book.

4. Immoveable Feast by John Baxter
When Baxter fell in love with a French woman, he moved to Paris to marry her. Her family set him the ultimate test - to cook Christmas dinner for the family of eighteen. The book follows his year long adventure collecting recipes, travelling France and making some truly outstanding food. This is a feast of a book, delving into an incredibly important element of life in France - the food.

5. Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke
For anyone who is living, is going to live or who has lived in France, this book is a must read. Funny, bitingly true and full of useful tidbits of information, this book helped make the transition to living in France easier and provided me with a lot of insider information I never would have learned otherwise.

6. Perfection by Julie Metz
Also a find for my non-fiction module, I have very vivid memories of reading this curled up in front of the fire drinking copious amounts of tea whilst having my heart slowly broken. It was beautiful, terrible, brilliant and heart breaking. One woman's account of how her life fell apart when her husband died, and then shattered when she discovered he had a long term mistress. This is a quiet and tragic book.

7. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
Another book from Baxter, again set in France, but this time exploring Paris by foot. Paris is an incredible city and Baxter explores it in ways that most people would pass by entirely. Whether you're preparing for a trip to Paris, or simply want to explore the city in the pages of a book, this is a gorgeous book filled with the elegance of Paris and a plethora of stories that have unfurled within its streets.

8. A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
A collection of non-fiction by Terry Pratchett, this book dips back and forth in time and writings and is an absolute must for Pratchett fans. His writing is fantastic, regardless of whether he is taking you through Discworld, or talking about his process. This is a wonderful collection of pieces.

9. As You Wish by Cary Elwes
If you love 'The Princess Bride' this is a must read. Twenty five years after the film was made, Cary Elwes has collected together tales from the majority of the cast of filming this incredible cult classic. A book infused with love and adoration for each other and the source material, this is an incredible book that will make you fall in love with the film all over again.

10. My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
This was such a big part of my growing up. My Mother used to read it to me (and she did all of the voices) and I have incredibly fond memories of listening to the Durrell family's exploits. It's an absolutely incredible and wildly funny book that I love going back to again and again.

So those are my top ten non-fiction books. Are you a fan of non-fiction? Or are you tempted by any of these? Let me know in the comments below and link me to your own top ten lists!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: Liberty's Fire by Lydia Syson

Publication Date: May 7th 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Length: 348 pages

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

Paris, 1871. Four young people will rewrite their destinies. Paris is in revolt. After months of siege at the hands of the Prussians, a wind of change is blowing through the city, bringing with it murmurs of a new revolution. Alone and poverty-stricken, sixteen-year-old Zephyrine is quickly lured in by the ideals of the city's radical new government, and she finds herself swept away by its promises of freedom, hope, equality and rights for women. But she is about to fall in love for a second time, following a fateful encounter with a young violinist. Anatole's passion for his music is soon swiftly matched only by his passion for this fierce and magnificent girl. He comes to believe in Zephyrine's new politics - but his friends are not so sure. Opera-singer Marie and photographer Jules have desires of their own, and the harsh reality of life under the Commune is not quite as enticing for them as it seems to be for Anatole and Zephyrine. And when the violent reality of revolution comes crashing down at all their feet, can they face the danger together - or will they be forced to choose where their hearts really lie?

Ever since I moved to France I have been reading more books set in France. It’s such a wonderful step away from the usual UK and US YA fiction we see so much of, and I’ve been loving seeing so much more of the culture and history I’ve been thrust into. The history is something that particularly fascinates me as my knowledge of French History is woefully inadequate and I’m working hard to try and rectify it. So over the last few weeks I have slipped into 1910 (‘The Confectioner’s Wife’ by Laura Madeleine) and 1814 (‘A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin’) so I had a little idea of what might be happening in 1871 but it was incredible to step into ‘Liberty’s Fire’ and have Lydia Syson bring this fascinating period to roaring life.

Syson offers four distinct views into the events of the novel from four very different backgrounds. Jules the American photographer who has no lack of money and has been able to survive the events with very little issue. Anatole his friend, a boy from the country recently moved to Paris who plays violin for the theatre. Zephyrine, whose Grandmother passes away at the start and is at the lowest rung of the ladder – destitute and desperate for the equality the commune can provide her with she throws herself into it without a backward glance, taking Anatole with her. And Marie, an opera singer in the same company as Anatole. Her brother is in the French army and she doesn’t understand or embrace the idea of the commune, in fact she appears downright terrified of it for the most part. Each of these characters with their entangled stories and relationships offer insights into every aspect of the revolution and the commune created in Paris. You see it from both sides, those for and against. Those with money and a way to live and those with nothing who are desperate for some equality. I loved seeing how each of them reacted to the events that unfold, and how they each scramble to try and survive.

The events of this period are absolutely devastating, and Syson has captured that feeling of jubilation followed by horror and devastation perfectly. It is brutal and horrific at points, painted with such vividness with Syson’s beautiful prose. I felt as if I were living it myself, shown these tangled threads of stories and following each character through their struggles. It was heartbreaking but also uplifting and Syson perfectly combines her research and historical pin points so that you come away knowing more about these three months – a period of history I was sadly ignorant of before. But it isn’t just a history lesson, she weaves a compelling tale of love and friendship and survival with a wonderful cast of characters.

I only had two issues with the story. The first being the pacing. Whilst I loved all the details and the measured pace so that we really got to know the characters and their relationships with one another, the pacing did become a little slow at points, almost to the point where I wondered if there would actually be a climax. It didn’t feel so much like a slow build to a pinnacle of tension where everything exploded, it felt more like a meandering build which worked in some places and frustrated me in others. However when events finally come to a head it is action packed, tense and utterly gripping and enthralling. I could not put the book down until I had learned what had happened to each of the characters.

My second problem was with the relationship. I wasn’t sold on the relationship between Anatole and Zephryine. It was very sudden and I didn’t connect with it in the same way as I did with the relationship between Anatole and Jules. As a result I became more invested in their side moments than the majority of the scenes that occurred between Anatole and Zephryine.

However these were only minor quibbles in a truly extraordinary book. Syson brings this pivotal moment of French history into glorious life and explores it from four unique view-points and I loved these characters and their stories as much as I loved finding out more about the history of France. Syson sets up a vivid peek into this world and then builds into a staggering conclusion with a truly incredible tale.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Beneath the Surface of Blogging with Kat from Perks of Being a Book Nerd

This week for this series of feature posts, I am lucky enough to be able to introduce Kat from Perks of Being a Book Nerd.
She's been blogging on her own site since October 2012 and has been kind enough to take some time out to answer some questions about book blogging, the ups and downs and how she tackles blogging slumps.

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?

Well, to be honest, I’d tried setting up a blog three times before I settled. I’d wanted to do it for so long, but I just... I knew that if no one read the posts, I couldn’t be bothered to continue. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago, I’d read Obsidian by J.L.Armentrout? Another blogger called Kat (also my name! :) ), got me wanting to try it properly. Then I started helping another blog out and that made me more determined to want to create my own. (They didn't like that so much.) Then when I read "Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell, you know how Cath blogs? It made me so much more eager to continue. I guess you could say it was a struggle.

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?

Mostly I just wanted to review for my own sake, but when I gradually started getting views, I got hooked on that feeling - when people actually take an interest.

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?

Definitely when readers comment. It makes me smile, because I know then that people ARE reading my posts and are caring enough to let me know.

And the most frustrating?

Probably the same as most other bloggers, when you spend so long on a post and then nobody reads it. It makes me to just want to quit. I lack confidence in everything, so unless someone tells me to keep going or comments, I just... It takes a lot to keep me going.

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?

As with what I said above, it doesn’t take a lot for me to want to give up, but reading is more than just a hobby for me. If I didn’t read, I’d be lost. Also, it helps with my writing, too. I often get reading ruts where I won’t be able to finish a book for weeks. Actually, i’m going through one right now, which sucks. But I still try and post cover reveals and things like that just so my blog isn’t empty. I’ve also found lately that even when I have finished a few books, I just can’t be bothered to write a review. I feel so bad for it, but it’s more... I find the words don’t want to come out. I’d rather just put “this was good. Go read it.” lol. Man, I feel terrible.

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?

I haven’t consciously taken a break, but I did go through a stage of scheduling my promo posts so that I didn’t have to do anything for a few weeks. It was weird when I made myself review, I wondered if anyone would read it or not.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?

I’m not the greatest at giving advice, but what I’ve heard from other people is that if you don’t want to blog, or can’t find the will to review: don’t. Take a break. It’s a hobby, not a life support. I mean, I love reading, and so does anyone reading this, but if the words aren’t sinking in then it’s pointless trying to force it. I find that sometimes if I can’t read, I can actually write better (not reviews, but my own stories) which is weird, but it’s like my mind is giving room for the stuff I’ve been neglecting.

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?

*laughs* I can’t say I have much of a life outside of those. I mean...Yeah...No I don’t. I write (non-blogging) and I go to town, but besides that...not much to juggle. Maybe I should make something up? Yeah, I have a super busy life. *nods* uh-huh.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?

I’ve found the blogging community can be a little like school. I try not to get too involved because I’m not good at discussions. But I’ve definitely noticed a lot of competition with how many hits someone has or how many followers.

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?

Pretty much what I said before: if it doesn’t feel right, don’t. Blogging is one of those things that you either want to do it or you don’t. You don’t have to quit, but take a break if you have to. It’s still going to be there when you’re ready. Maybe I should listen to my own advice?...

Thank you so much Kat for taking the time to come over and talk about blogging! It's really exciting that people are starting to talk more about other aspects about book blogging, and the struggles that everyone goes through with doing it.

Don't forget to check out Kat's book blog 'Perks of Being a Book Nerd' And follow her on twitter!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review: Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt

Publication Date: May 19th 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Length: 400 pages

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

Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.
Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can't protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.
And in her family's line of work no one can be safe forever.
All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.

This blurb had me incredibly excited and envisaging something close to The Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black but with less magic and more body parts, but alas, it was not to be.

The problems with this one all came down to pacing and character. In that there wasn’t really any and it was all over the place. It felt almost as though it were two different stories. The first one, Penelope Landlow, crushing on a guy, never allowed to be touched, daughter to the boss of the family. The second one, Penelope Landlow, girl living in New York, never allowed to be touched but doesn’t care about it, who is finding her own way in the world and falls in love. Sadly the two different plots don’t really mesh and what you’re left with is this incredibly bizarre mix of ideas and frustrations.

Penelope is an incredibly weak character. She comes across as much younger than she actually is, whines about how no-one tells her anything and ends up being one of the most dense characters I’ve come across in fiction. She doesn’t put anything together until it’s pretty much too late and you’re left feeling incredibly frustrated and wanting to shake her. In part because the plot twists are no real twists at all and are in fact incredibly obvious right from the start.

The characters are all under developed, motives are squiffy at best, and nothing really makes a whole heap of sense. None of the characters felt real or particularly likeable, the dialogue was awkward – particularly anything involving Carter, Penelope and Garret, and decision making felt like it was being made by pulling random nonsensical ideas out of a hat at points. Penelope’s decision making skills were that bad.

Then of course there’s the crime family element, which had me so hooked from the blurb. Only we don’t really get anything to do with the family. There are some odd moments of boredom and statistics, and a few menacing guys with guns, but it didn’t feel real. It didn’t really make any impact on the story, it felt more as though it was a plot twist thrown in to make the story cool. It felt at times that Penelope’s illness was used as a get out clause so that everything could remain underdeveloped and just be a background idea. Penelope is kept away from the business and never really makes any effort to change that. It feels like life just happens to her and she expects the men around her to protect her – an ideal that changes a little as she experiences some character growth towards the end of the book, but not enough to redeem her.

The romance was not really a romance at all. It starts as a straightforward boy and girl, but then of course half way through there has to be a second boy introduced to make things more complicated. Oh for the love of all that’s good will someone give me a young adult novel without a love triangle being thrown in?
Romance with the first boy is awkward and cringey at best, with words like marriage being thrown about when they haven’t even kissed. Then second boy comes along and literally stalks her. Repeatedly. Twenty four hours with him though and she’s in love. It was so unbelievably frustrating and aggravating to have such awkward and instalove romances being thrown about.

This could have been a really fantastic story. Penelope had all the makings of a great character and combine that with the crime family, being the boss’s daughter, plus her auto immune disorder and this could have been something amazing. Instead we’re given a whiney heroine who is perfectly ok to let the men around her rule her life and wait for them to come and save her, despite the odd temper tantrum that she isn’t allowed to do anything. She never actually tries to seize control or act, or in some cases even think and put the pieces together. She is someone who seems to just let life happen to her. We’re then also given a brilliant idea of this crime family who deal in organ transplants and it’s all shoved aside in favour of the awkward romances. I wanted to love this, I was so excited for it, but instead it ended up being a frustrating story that didn’t even come close to the potential set up in that blurb.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

Publication Date: May 19th 2015
Publisher: Macmillan Tor/Forge
Length: 352 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Tor for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.
After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible—until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads—or their hearts...

I was all kinds of excited when this book first popped up on my radar. Regency period? A favourite. Romance? Yes please. Young ladies sent to a reformatory school which is actually a front for a training school for spies and espionage? Give it to me now.
It all started off so well, but unfortunately there were all kinds of problems littered throughout that stopped this book being the read I’d hoped it would be. 

Let’s start with the biggest thing for me. I am a huge stickler for historical accuracy. If you’re going to write a book and set it in a particular time period then for goodness sake get the etiquette, speech and ideas right. This felt like a contemporary novel dressed up in pretty dresses to look like an historical one, without any of the constraints of the time period. It felt like it was attempting something along the same lines as Gail Carriger’s ‘Finishing School’ books, but whilst Carriger adheres to the rules of the period and then plays with the ideas and brings in humour, ‘A School for Unusual Girls’ just ignored all of the rules and as a result really frustrated me (and anyone else who expects some modicum of historical accuracy when reading an historical novel.)

The second big frustration was two-fold – the lack of any real depth to the characters and the instalove. These were kind of combined as the lack of depth contributed to the love story feeling forced and out of place. Georgia knows the man for all of four days before she decides she’s completely in love with him (and vice versa) and that’s what sets off the chain of rather obvious and ludicrous events of the second half. The girls at the school were fascinating and I wanted to know more about them, but aside from Tess they are largely relegated to the background, presumably so they can be trotted out in future books and not have the reader know a huge amount about them.
The whole thing just felt like an exercise in frustration. It was full of great ideas poorly executed. A mixture of truly interesting characters and then our heroine who seemed largely unable to function like a coherent human being. For someone who is supposedly intelligent and logical she really doesn’t show it. It feels like it’s going to be a novel based in reality and then there are vague allusions to the supernatural and premonitions which felt forced and jarred me because where? What? Why? They are thrown in and then the reader is given nothing more – no explanations or anything. That actually drove a huge amount of the irritation for me. Georgie is thrown into this school against her will and then no one will talk to her or explain anything to her and she isn’t really given a choice. If the idea behind the school isn’t spoiled in the blurb then this refusal to answer questions might prolong the tension, but as it is it was just irritating in the extreme.

Then there were the niggly errors, like a two days passing and then characters referring to the events from two days previous as yesterday which made the whole thing infinitely more confusing and frustrating than it needed to be. There were also problems with tenses and grammar in some places – all things that could have been easily rectified in edits.

I was so excited to read this novel, I had such high hopes and expectations, but unfortunately it failed to live up to any of the expectations. It suffers from the problem that a lot of start of series novels seem to find themselves in, they are so busy building up the set up that they don’t focus on becoming an interesting story in their own right, they are effectively a prequel for the second book where the story will hopefully start to kick off.

There were some interesting elements – the premise, some of the other girls, the alternate history – but unfortunately they are buried in amongst so many errors and irritations. I may look out for the next book, but my interest hasn’t been held and I will most likely avoid the second book in the series unless I hear that it has improved drastically on this one.