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Remix
Remix
by Non Pratt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally true YA novel about love, friendship and music festivals, 3 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Remix (Paperback)
16 year-old Kaz and Ruby are best friends who’ve both have recently undergone bad breakups – Kaz got dumped by Tom, who she always thought was going to be the love of her life while Ruby dumped her evil ex Stu after he had a one-night stand. But for 3 days the girls can escape their problems because they’re going to Remix – a music festival featuring Ruby’s favourite band, Gold’ntone. Only it’s not that easy to have fun when both girls have been keeping secrets and they’re about to discover that even the closest of friendships can be pushed to breaking point …

Non Pratt’s second YA novel is an emotionally true story about friendship and love set against the vibrant backdrop of a music festival. At the core is Kaz and Ruby’s friendship and all the love and frustration that comes with caring for each other. Each girl is shown as being vibrant and talented in their own way (although I was a little disappointed that Ruby’s gift for art apparently means she’s not great at exams) but for all their closeness, they still don’t confide their deepest emotions to each other, particularly where boys are concerned. I also liked the rivalry that develops with the introduction of Lauren, a girl who Kaz hits it off with even though she’s dating Tom but who Ruby takes an instant dislike to. The best reason to read this book though is because of the attitude towards sex – there is no moralising here and Pratt does well at showing that it’s possible to have good sex for bad reasons and terrible sex for terrible reasons and neither deserves condemnation. At the same time, a storyline involving Ruby’s gay brother Lee shows that love and sex don’t always go hand in hand and I particularly liked the fact that Pratt doesn’t sugar coat the fact that love doesn’t always equal sexual attraction and people can behave in a selfish and self-destructive way. The depiction of the music festival feels plausible, particularly the prices charged for junk food and the lack of sleep and the way people react to the music and the bands. I felt that the ending was a little too open-ended and lacked resolution for some of the characters but that wasn’t enough to detract from a strong second book. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Pratt does next.

Review copy from publisher.


The Sin Eater's Daughter (Sin Eaters Daughter Trilogy 1)
The Sin Eater's Daughter (Sin Eaters Daughter Trilogy 1)
by Melinda Salisbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent YA fantasy debut novel, 26 July 2015
17-year-old Twylla is the living incarnation of the goddess Daunen. Taken from her mother (a Sin Eater tasked with eating funeral feasts for those who die so that their spirits can pass to the next world) and younger sister, she lives with the royal family in a castle and is betrothed to marry Prince Merek. But Twylla’s world is one of terrible duty as well as enormous privilege. Her skin contains a poison that kills anyone she touches – anyone except the royal family – and the Queen makes her use that gift to execute those guilty of treason.

When Prince Merek returns to court after several years travelling, Twylla hopes she can get to know her fiancé better but then a new guard – Lief – is assigned to protect her who shows none of the deference that should be given to Daunen Embodied, instead treating her as a woman. Torn between duty and her growing feelings, Twylla knows that she’s treading a dangerous path, especially as the Queen will kill anyone who threatens her court …

Melinda Salisbury’s debut YA fantasy novel is an intelligently constructed story about first love and betrayal that subverts many of the genre’s clichés. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Salisbury makes women important in her society – the Queen holds political power in the kingdom (with the king reduced to consort) and the Sin Eater holds religious power (if she refuses to eat the dead’s sins then they are doomed to roam for eternity). Twylla’s story arc involves learning lessons from both of these women but at the same time forging her own path. Although the inevitable love triangle element between Twylla, Lief and Merek is skewered in one direction, Salisbury throws enough curve balls so that it doesn’t go as you’d imagine. That said, I did find Twylla an infuriatingly passive character who spends much of the book accepting and doing what she’s told (although this is acknowledged in the story) and the Queen suffers from being two-dimensional as a villain and loses all credibility in the final scenes. I also felt that the on-going significance of the myth of the Sleeping Prince didn’t properly integrate within the wider storyline and as a result, for me, felt rather underdeveloped. That said, the book held my attention from beginning to age and on the strength of this I would definitely check out Salisbury’s next novel.


Burial Rites
Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Strong and assured debut novel, 16 July 2015
This review is from: Burial Rites (Paperback)
It’s 1829 in Iceland. Agnes Magnusdottir, Fridrik Sigurdss and Sigridur Gudmundsdottir have been found guilty of the brutal murder of two men. Each has been sentenced to death but the authorities are waiting for the supreme court in Copenhagen to ratify the sentence. To save money, the District Commissioner, Bjorn Blondal, decides that Agnes should stay with Margret and Jon Jonsson’s family under the excuse that being good Christians they could encourage her to repent the crime that she’s never admitted. At the same time, Agnes has asked for the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur ‘Toti’ Jonsson to hear her confession, although both Blondal and Toti’s father doubt his ability to do so, given his youth and inexperience.

The Jonssons are unhappy about their houseguest because of the gossip it leads to in the village and the influence she could exert over their young daughters, Lauga and Steina whilst Toti unsure how best to help her. Agnes though, is slow to engage with anyone, keen to keep her own secrets. But the longer she spends with the Jonssons, the more they come to know each other and slowly the truth of her role in the murders begins to emerge …

Hannah Kent’s critically acclaimed, assured debut novel uses real life events to sensitive and emotionally satisfying effect. I think Kent does Agnes justice by allowing her to express her story in first person whereas the rest of the book is in third person. Kent has heavily researched the case and incorporates extracts from historical documents within the novel – I particularly enjoyed Blondal’s real letters, which Kent judiciously uses to give a sense of his character. The murder is very much in the background with Kent focusing more on Agnes’s upbringing and how it informs what has happened to her, particularly the hardship and hypocrisy at play in small Icelandic villages. I believed in her developing relationship with Toti and with Steina – people with whom she has a fleeting connection from past encounters – and there’s a real sense of the need for emotional connection on the part of all the characters. The book comes with bonus material – an article written by Kent for The Guardian explaining how she came to write the book and more explanation in a Q&A section for book groups. All in all I thought this was a great debut and I really look forward to Kent’s next book.


Under Ground
Under Ground
by S. L. Grey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.69

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Predictable, tension-less thriller with dull characters and a contrived plot, 15 July 2015
This review is from: Under Ground (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It’s the near future. A super-flu virus has swept from China across the world, causing high levels of death and casualties. As people flee the cities in search of safety, those who had the foresight (and the money) already have somewhere to go: The Sanctuary – 9 self-sustaining luxury flats set in a former bunker in the backwaters of Maine that comes complete with medical centre, swimming pool, gym, hydroponics, generator and chicken coops.

5 very different families have invested a lot of money in The Sanctuary but arrive to find that the facility isn’t ready. Developer Greg Fuller has brought in project manager, Will Boucher to try and finish the apartments but with the super-flu taking hold, the families have no choice but to lock themselves inside. When one of the residents is brutally murdered, the rest realise that there’s a killer in their midst who hasn’t finished yet …

I picked this up because of the premise but S. L. Grey (the pseudonym of Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) has delivered a real disappointment. The “characters” are actually caricatures painted in the broadest of token terms – there’s the rich bitch couple, the half-Korean tech genius kid, the red neck/white trash family (complete with gun toting males and a bible quoting mother), the industrialist with a dark secret and the tragic widowed father unable to bond with his daughter or South African nanny. None of them are believable and with the possible exception of the nanny, Cait, they generally behave in ways that defy credibility given their situation (particularly Leo and Caroline – the privileged couple who pop champagne in between taking pops at each other). The set up that sees them stuck in the bunker is incredibly contrived, as is the development that sees their situation get worse (and which, even on a re-read, makes absolutely no sense at all) and there are predictable scenes (including a sign-posted attempted rape) that made me yawn. It’s almost impossible to care about the victims and the survivors (notably teens Jae and Bonnie) have no chemistry with each other. The plot unfolds with minimal tension precisely because you can’t care about the characters or their predicament and the revelation of whodunnit (when it comes) is clichéd in the extreme. Ultimately, I thought this book was a wasted opportunity and will not rush to check out Grey’s next collaborative effort.


Arsenic For Tea: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
Arsenic For Tea: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
by Robin Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

5.0 out of 5 stars More murder and mayhem for Wells and Wong in a crime sequel for readers aged 9+, 14 July 2015
It’s 1935. A term has passed since MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE with no criminal activity at all (well, apart from the frog in Kitty’s bed). Daisy has invited Hazel, Kitty and Beanie to her family home for the holidays, Fallingford, as her mum has organised a party for her 14th birthday. However it soon becomes clear that Lady Hastings isn’t remotely interested in her daughter – she’s far more enamoured with Mr Curtis, an oily antiques expert who’s agreed to take a look at some of the artefacts in Fallingford, much to the displeasure of Daisy’s dad, the affable Lord Hastings. When Mr Curtis falls fatally ill after Daisy’s birthday tea, Wells and Wong are quick to take on the case but the more the girls investigate, the more they realise that the culprit may well be one of Daisy’s own family …

The second in Robin Stevens’s middle grade crime mystery series is another murderous delight that riffs on the traditional mystery setting of a murder in a remote country house and which sets the intrepid schoolgirls on a path that unveils some uncomfortable truths for Daisy. Adult readers should enjoy the nod to Dorothy L. Sayers (Daisy’s Uncle Felix definitely tips a monocle at Lord Peter Wimsy) but there’s also a strong coming-of-age vibe here that has universal appeal as Daisy is forced to confront the state of her parents’ marriage while Hazel develops a crush on a friend of Daisy’s brother Bertie. Stevens does particularly well at showing how this creates conflict between the girls and I found the reactions of each character to be very believable as they confront each other on their prejudices and ultimately, have to confront themselves. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Uncle Felix who’s clearly got his fingers in a number of mysterious pies but I also had a lot of love for Lord Hastings, who’s shown as a bit of a duffer with a fondness for silly practical jokes and who clearly adores his only daughter. The mystery itself plays out with plenty of twists and turns and I enjoyed the help that the sleuths get from an enthusiastic Kitty and Beanie. I didn’t find the crime here to be particularly violent, but parents with very sensitive children may want to be aware. All in all, I’m really looking forward to reading the next in this entertaining series.


Rexel JOY A4 Journal - Pretty Pink
Rexel JOY A4 Journal - Pretty Pink
Price: £7.30

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent notebook, 14 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a decent notebook - the paper's thick enough to take rollerball ink on both sides without becoming illegible. The cover is a very bright pink so if you're not a pink fan, you may want to look at other colour choices. There's an elastic band built in to keep it closed and a narrow ribbon to keep track of where you are. All in all, it does what it's supposed to.


Murder Most Unladylike: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
Murder Most Unladylike: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
by Robin Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Agatha Christie meets Enid Blyton in a cosy crime thriller for children aged 9+, 2 July 2015
It’s 1934. Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are pupils at Deepdeen School for Girls, a boarding school where they have established their own secret detective society. Unfortunately cases are a little thin on the ground and to date, their only success has been in searching for Lavinia’s missing tie. But everything changes when Hazel finds the body of Miss Bell, the science mistress, lying in the gym, only for the corpse to go missing when she runs to get help.

Daisy is the only person who believes Hazel and both girls are determined to prove that the murder happened and find who dun it. However, conducting a secret investigation is a stressful matter as the girls bicker over suspects and motives and Deepdeen’s darkest secrets are revealed, threatening the lives of both would-be detectives …

Robin Stevens’ debut novel (the first in a series) is a delightful crime thriller for children aged 9+ that reads like Agatha Christie meets Enid Blyton. Stevens clearly loves the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and it shines through this book with the neat puzzle of the central murder and a full cast of potential suspects, each with their own motives and suspicious behaviours. Daisy and Hazel are an interesting duo – both come from a life of moneyed privilege but while Daisy is very much part of the English establishment, Hazel (with her Chinese parentage) will always be an outsider. I particularly liked how Stevens shows the casual racism at play in 1930s society and how that hurts Hazel, who tries so hard to fit in. I also liked how the tensions that develop between the girls magnifies their own insecurities and forces them to examine themselves and their own actions. Daisy and Hazel are given a fun array of classmates - my favourite being the hapless Beanie and also the younger girls who hero-worship Daisy and serve as her willing minions – but the teachers are equally entertaining and there’s a lot of truth in the depiction of the girls’ collective crush on their art teacher, The One. For all that this is a murder mystery, there really isn’t a lot of violence - beyond the murder anyway - although Stevens does ratchet up the tension and suspense in the final quarter as she brings events to a head. Ultimately, this is a really fun read and I can’t wait for the next book.


Foreign Gods, Inc.
Foreign Gods, Inc.
by Okey Ndibe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine debut on culture, corruption and a touch of magical realism, 25 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Foreign Gods, Inc. (Paperback)
Originally from Nigeria, Ikechukwu “Ike” Uzondu has lived in America for the last 10 years. A cum laude graduate in economics from Amherst College, he dreamed of finding his fortune and a green card by working for a big western bank. Rebuffed for his accent, he instead found himself driving cabs and marrying the demanding Bernita who wanted shopping and sex and belittled his aspirations. Now divorced and bitter at how his dreams have been dashed, he seeks salvation through the art gallery, Foreign Gods, Inc, which sells indigenous god statues from around the world to those with wealth to burn.

Ike is sure that the gallery will pay big money for the statue of his Nigerian village’s war god, Ngene. All he has to do is return home to steal it. But that’s easier said than done for Ike’s uncle is Ngene’s high priest and he’s estranged from Ike’s born-again Christian mother and sister who are in thrall to a charismatic pastor and convinced that there’s a plot to kill them ...

Okey Ndibe’s debut literary novel is an interesting tale of crushed dreams, corruption and the way in which capitalism destroys those it comes in contact with, all underpinned by a magical realist vibe. It took a while for me to warm to Ike, partly because his alcoholism and gambling come across as plot necessities rather than intrinsic parts of his character and also because he’s naïve for a supposedly highly educated man and makes some stupid decisions, most notably in his scenes attempting to negotiate with the gallery owner. However the chapters set in Nigeria really held my attention. I loved the dialogue between his various Nigerian characters and whilst the depiction of Nigeria’s endemic corruption follows a well trodden literary path, I believed in the relationships Ndibe creates and particularly those between him and his mother and uncle and the tensions that exist between them. Ndibe weaves in the magical realist elements with an assured hand and I enjoyed Ike’s uneasy reaction to the idol he has come to steal and the way Ndibe keeps it open as to whether this is truly a god at work or the product of Ike’s own guilt at his actions. Ultimately there was enough here to hold my attention from beginning to end and I would definitely check out Ndibe’s other work.


Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband
Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband
by Natalie Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

2.0 out of 5 stars Great hook, shame about the execution, 21 Jun. 2015
Lizzie Prain never set out to kill her husband Jacob. Sure, she bashed his head in with a spade but she didn’t plan it. It just happened. Now that he’s dead though, she’s got to do something with the body and eating him seems a fitting tribute – at least it means he’s not going to waste and no one will have to stumble over the gruesome remains of his body. It’s not easy to eat a human being, however, and Lizzie has to find a way to make herself go through with the plan while simultaneously convincing her friends and neighbours that Jacob has left her ...

Natalie Young’s literary novel has a great hook - the idea of killing and eating your spouse has such smashing allegorical potential – but despite some good lines, the execution left me colder than a corpse. The main problem for me is that Lizzie is, for the most part, such a dull and lifeless character. Young alludes to her deprived childhood and inability to commit to a career but there’s little depth brought out in her marriage with Jacob (who at best, is distant and at worst, woefully underdrawn). She’s a character who’s constantly running and who has an inability to confront anyone or anything but that by itself doesn’t explain why she takes such a drastic step and the act of eating Jacob brings little insight to either him or her. There’s a flirtation with Tom, a young man who works at the local garden centre, and in theory the suspicions of an elderly neighbour should add tension (but doesn’t). Perhaps the one thing that annoyed me most about the book though was the way in which almost everyone takes Lizzie’s word for the reason behind Jacob’s disappearance. It simply didn’t ring true to me – most notably in the case of Jacob’s sometime art dealer (and maybe mistress) Joanna, who engages in a bizarre exchange of correspondence with Lizzie that doesn’t appear to make her the slightest bit suspicious as to Lizzie’s mental state. I did like the motivational notes that Lizzie writes to herself and there’s a grim humour in the clinical way she works out how to hack up and best cook her late husband’s various parts but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention and as such, I’m not sure I’d check out Young’s other work.


Shanghai Sparrow
Shanghai Sparrow
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative steampunk adventure with a lot of promise, 8 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Shanghai Sparrow (Kindle Edition)
15-year-old Evvie Duchen is a survivor. She has to be. An orphan who escaped the house of an uncaring uncle who wished to marry her off to a paedophile, she’s been forced to fend for herself. Fortunately, her pick-pocketing and con skills drew the attention and protection of Ma Pether, who sets her to work scouting out houses for burglary. But Evvie’s luck runs out when she meets Mr Holmforth, a dedicated servant of Her Majesty’s Empire who thinks that Evvie has what it takes to preserve the Empire and, coincidentally, further his own career aspirations.

Evvie’s sent to a school for spies run by the cold and unforgiving Miss Caingrim. Competition is stiff and Evvie’s low status makes it difficult to make friends but Holmforth has prescribed a vigorous curriculum for her, including Cantonese lessons and scientific research that will take Evvie to the darkest corners of Shanghai where her actions will change the world and beyond …

Gaie Sebold’s third novel is a delightful steampunk adventure (the first of a new series) that explores the Empire’s dark underbelly both in London and through its territories in China. What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it’s a romance free zone – Evvie has a tough life and while it touches at times on melodrama, Sebold leaves you in no doubt as to the emotional impact it has on her. Holmforth is also an interesting antagonist – acting in what he sees as the best interests of the Empire and yet also torn by the fact that as a bi-racial man he will never be accepted by those he serves. Sebold marries her industrial steampunk world with a parallel tale of faerie that has a lot of potential and which I would have enjoyed seeing more of here. My main criticism though goes to pacing – the book is very uneven in places with some events being rushed and others happening off-page. This is actually one of those books that could easily be twice as long without losing any quality or dragging and it would have made the world even more absorbing than it is. I would have particularly liked to have had more scenes set in Shanghai and more showing Holmforth’s character (especially his family background which is skated over in broad terms). That said, there’s a lot of promise here and I really look forward to reading the sequel.


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