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Iset (London, UK)
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Yankee Candles Jar Candle (Large) (Christmas Eve)
Yankee Candles Jar Candle (Large) (Christmas Eve)
Offered by Love Aroma
Price: £19.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Festive nostalgia, 11 Dec 2014
A brilliant festive scent of candied fruits and a dash of cinnamon, this takes me right back to winters past and favourite seasonal treats. It has a strong throw as well, reaching all through the house, and this lasts hours even after extinguishing. Makes for a great gift too.


The Fate of an Emperor (Overlord Book 2)
The Fate of an Emperor (Overlord Book 2)
Price: £1.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The fate of an Emperor, 7 Dec 2014
I hadn’t read the first book in this series, going into this second book, so I approached it as a complete newcomer. Was I at a disadvantage? For the most part, no. The plot works as its own standalone story, and not having read the first book didn’t lessen my enjoyment of this one. It is not necessary to have read the first to feel the tension and excitement in the second. I also got a good idea of the plot of the first book from character comments, so I was easily brought up to speed with overall events and plot. However, where I was a little bit left behind was on the familial relationships. I definitely got the feeling that I had probably missed out on this being explained in the first book.

The story is told in first person mostly by Zabdas, and occasionally by his granddaughter Samira, jumping back and forth between two points in time – Zabdas as a young man c. 260 CE, and Zabdas as an old man c. 290 CE. I’ve had too many run ins with first person historical fiction recently that has just been fluff and filler, or, worse, a character whose head I just hated being inside – thank goodness The Fate of an Emperor breaks that bad streak! Throughout, I was barely aware of it being in first person; I felt just the same as when I read a third person historical where the reader is sat on the shoulder of the main character. And I enjoyed the story being told through Zabdas. Sometimes the best story about a figure that looms large in history is told through the eyes of another; this is something that the late Mary Renault did to perfection in The Persian Boy, and J D Smith does it here. It really felt like it worked as a narrative choice, to tell the story of an extraordinary historical woman from the perspective of a man who was close to her. I found myself appreciating that angle on it. That said, I struggled a little bit to get a handle on Zabdas’ personality, he came off a little bit of a blank slate. In his defence, there are mitigating circumstances though – as a young man he’s still a little wide-eyed, he’s moving in a cast of some of the most important personalities of the time, and the book is a little on the short side which obviously means less time to develop characters.

I enjoyed both strands of the plot, but I must admit towards the end being a little impatient with the 290 CE chapters, purely because I had become thoroughly engrossed in the 260 CE chapters. The young Zabdas plot had some great excitement and tension, and really ramped up at the mid-point and towards the end. By contrast, the old Zabdas plot moves at a slower pace, and Samira is no Zenobia, as Zabdas himself observes. It might seem as if the latter strand serves only as a vehicle for the former, and on many occasions it does, but it does have its own slowly advancing plot, and I think the author made the right decision to interweave the two stories like this. As readers we often like to know what happened next to our favourite characters, but their endpoints are often less exciting and extraordinary than their earlier adventures. I’m not convinced the 290 CE story could stand on its own… but by cleverly interweaving it with the earlier plot, the author gets to tell both tales, and we as readers get to have our cake and eat it too. The down side is of course that some tension is lost from the main plot with younger Zabdas, since we know that he is going to make old bones no matter what perils his younger self faces. But I think the author made the right call.


Funeral Games: A Novel of Alexander the Great: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
Funeral Games: A Novel of Alexander the Great: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
by Mary Renault
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Funeral Games, 7 Dec 2014
I’m actually marking Funeral Games down from the first two books in Mary Renault’s trilogy; Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy. The difference? Renault jumps about a lot in time here. Of course her previous novels did this too – all of them were selective in their scenes, not comprehensive – but this time round Renault covers a much wider span of time, the events of thirty-seven years in total, a wider range than the first two books combined. And historically those thirty-seven years were chock full of conflicts, plots, and sudden reversals of fortune as Alexander’s generals duked it out for a slice of his empire. As a result, Renault ends up jumping from event to event, and some scenes, especially in the second half of the book, feel abbreviated, and the characters sketched rather than fully, immersively formed. That was my single major problem with Funeral Games. It was difficult to get into the story in the same way I had with The Persian Boy or Fire From Heaven, when Renault had to sketch the huge cast of characters that pop up over these thirty-seven years and resort to a tiny brushstroke here and there to try and convey much more about these characters.

The first half of the book felt much better written than the second half, largely because it spends a lot of time on the immediate aftermath of Alexander’s death, and Renault can lavish more pages on events and developing the characters involved. It distinctly feels like a more coherent narrative. This section of the novel retains Renault’s signature deft touch at characterisations and breaking down complex events into something lucid and understandable on a human level, without detracting from their complexity. In the second half, where many more years are spanned and characters far apart in location, there is a greater degree of summarisation going on.

A positive addition is that we get inside the heads of some of the people most closely connected to Alexander – family members, and the comrades who knew him the best. Through their eyes we finally see Alexander, how and why he was revered after his death, and how some who fought to carve up his empire for themselves failed spectacularly. A sense of ominous foreboding and unease permeates the whole book as the empire crumbles, and some of Alexander’s old friends try to preserve it and his memory, others make a grab for power, and others simply see the writing on the wall. The character of Ptolemy provides what I felt was Renault’s opinion on the failure of Alexander’s empire – the nature of Alexander was a mystery, he says, that could inspire great deeds and achieve the unachievable, and with his death they are all left merely fallible men.


A Song of Ice and Fire (5) - A Dance With Dragons: Book 5
A Song of Ice and Fire (5) - A Dance With Dragons: Book 5
Price: £12.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelations and cliffhangers, 7 Dec 2014
Writing a review of George R R Martin's A Dance With Dragons is something of a challenge. I’m certain that everything there is to be said about how great this series is has been said before by thousands of other reviewers, and keeping a review spoiler-free in a series know for throwing all your expectations out of the window is no mean feat.

One gets the feeling whilst reading A Feast For Crows that much of the action of the unfolding plot takes place in A Dance With Dragons, and that feeling pays off here. There's a fair bit of shaking up the plot here, without getting into specifics, and that really satisfied the "unfinished" feeling I got from A Feast For Crows. From that point of review, they’re sublime twists… or frustrating if you’re waiting for The Winds of Winter to come out, because several of them leave us hanging on massive cliffhangers. Frustrating, but genius on Martin's part.

That said, at least one of the twists did not feel as well set up as some of Martin's previous surprises, as if it hadn't been as carefully planned out ahead of time. But overall Martin's consistently high quality writing won me over on this one.


Katherine Howard: A New History
Katherine Howard: A New History
Price: £3.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new history?, 7 Dec 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Conor Byrne’s new history of Katherine Howard, fifth queen of Henry VIII, is certainly an interesting read, with many spark points for debate within, but is something of a mixed bag for me. More positives than negatives, to be sure, but I had a few niggles with it.

I had a difference of opinion with the writing style, shall we say. Byrne’s style in this work feels like it adheres impeccably to conventional, established models of academic publications, perhaps in an effort to ensure the work is taken seriously by its peers. Or in other words - I'd prefer it was more plain-spoken.

Byrne argues that past examinations of Katherine’s life have fundamentally misunderstood it by neglecting to take into account contemporary negative attitudes about women and instead taking at face value the accusations against Katherine. Instead, Byrne proposes that the accusations against Katherine in fact prove nothing, or are unreliable because they were extracted under torture, and it is perfectly possible that Katherine was entirely innocent of the charges against her. Byrne also tackles other contentious points such as Katherine’s date of birth, possible surviving portraits, and the nature of her early relationships.

I thought that in each case Byrne argued his interpretation well, although sometimes I didn’t entirely buy into it. For example, Byrne concludes that a particular portrait is of Katherine, whilst two others that have previously been proposed to be of her are in his consideration not. Whilst I found his arguments reasonable, the key thing was that it relied on the fact that Katherine was seventeen years old when it was painted during her tenure as queen. This in turn relies on Byrne’s previous argument that Katherine was born in 1524, not 1521 as is commonly accepted. The crux of Byrne’s argument there is that Katherine was never placed as a maid of honour in her cousin’s household when Anne Boleyn was queen 1533 – 1536, something which her Howard relatives surely would have taken advantage of if she had been old enough. I feel this is quite a reasonable and likely conclusion, and I tend to agree with Byrne that Katherine was likely born in 1524. However, without any definitive proof, it makes me feel uneasy to extrapolate further about the portraits when that itself relies on the hypothesis about the birth year.

Throughout the book, I got a sense of déjà vu that I just couldn’t shake. I believe that’s because I read Joanna Denny’s biography of Katherine years ago. Whilst Denny has been frequently criticised for the errors in her work and her obvious biases, she did make some interesting points about Katherine; specifically, making the case that Katherine was born in the later date of 1524 and describing her early encounters with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham as quite possibly abusive. Byrne’s work, though well-argued, therefore didn’t exactly feel like “a new history” to me. But Byrne is correct in his indictment of many established historians of the period who seem, strangely, to have wholesale accepted the premise of Katherine as a vain, silly girl, without considering the very obviously questionable nature of the supposed evidence brought against her.

The piece is a little on the short side, and I agree with other reviewers that there is a degree of redundant repetition, but on the other hand it is as immaculately referenced and presented as one would expect. It just feels a little staid and unremarkable, and truthfully doesn’t add too much new to the field, even though it reminds the reader of some excellent and important points to consider when approaching Katherine’s life and is genuinely cogently put together and argued.


Yankee Candle Icicles - 22oz Large Jar
Yankee Candle Icicles - 22oz Large Jar
Offered by yankeedirect
Price: £13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Festive, 7 Dec 2014
This is a great festive scent, blending cool peppermint with warm cinnamon, fruits, and just a hint of mulled wine. It strikes just the right balance between foody and fresh fragrance, and unlike some Christmas scents it isn't overpoweringly spicy either. It had great throw, and burned cleanly throughout. Definitely one I'd pick up again.


Yankee Candle Christmas Garland 22oz Large Jar
Yankee Candle Christmas Garland 22oz Large Jar
Offered by Yankee Aroma Direct Ltd
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Christmas garland, 6 Dec 2014
Evergreen firs and pine freshly cut, this is a lovely green, woodsy scent, and the throw is excellent, permeating through the whole house. As ever, Yankee Candles burn cleanly, without giving off any black smoky or oily residue, and for the most part evenly. There was admittedly a scrap of wax leftover, but very little. A lovely wintry scent.


Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle, Fireside Treat
Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle, Fireside Treat
Offered by Express Essentials
Price: £16.35

5.0 out of 5 stars Toasted marshmallows, 5 Dec 2014
A deliciously scented candle, just the thing for cold and wintry evenings. The large jar lasts several weeks when burned in the evenings, and throughout burned cleanly with no smoke or tunnelling, so now wax wastage. It has that foody scent of toasted marshmallows that is great in the kitchen, and this is a candle I'd consider buying as a gift for others.


Yankee Candle Angels Wings Large Jar
Yankee Candle Angels Wings Large Jar
Offered by Cathsdirect
Price: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle vanilla, 4 Dec 2014
This is a lovely vanilla scent, but it is rather on the subtle side, and was far more noticeable in smaller rooms. Nevertheless, a gorgeous fragrance, and the large jar lasts a very long time over multiple burnings.


Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle, Christmas Cookie
Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle, Christmas Cookie

5.0 out of 5 stars Christmas cookie, 3 Dec 2014
Delicious freshly baked cookies, a great foody fragrance. Had excellent throw, and lived up to its billed burn time. Nice even burn too, no tunnelling, and very little wax leftover.


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