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Claire Simmonds

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The High King's Tomb
The High King's Tomb
by Kristen Britain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Still unoriginal but entertaining, 16 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The High King's Tomb (Paperback)
As usual with these books I'm going to start with the list of new-found nicked ideas. So in this one you have pirates who carry around cursed gold and live unnaturally long lives, a chapter called 'Avatar' and the mention of dragons that used to be around but are now just myths... Along with all the others that have been around since the beginning of the series. Oh dear.
But finally there is the glimmer of some original ideas which are creative and in some cases outstanding. I particularly loved the description of the tombs, which we see more of in this book. There was one part which I thought was pushing the believability a little too far in terms of Karigan's character and abilities, but this is a fantasy so I suppose anything is possible.
I still love this series and am now starting the 4th book, which is currently the last. I have no idea when the 5th instalment is out so it looks like I'll be waiting a while, which makes me a bit sad.


The Darling Strumpet
The Darling Strumpet
by Gillian Bagwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise!, 16 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The Darling Strumpet (Paperback)
To be honest I wasn't expecting much from this, I only chose to try it as I've never read about Nell Gwynn and didn't know much about her. There are so many second-rate historical fiction authors out there, who churn out saccharine, boring bonkbusters without an ounce of research. Thankfully I was proved completely wrong with this book.
What you get is a very well-researched, readable novel, written with care and accuracy. Bagwell has managed to pull off something clever and unusual in that her dialogue is true to the period and yet is never cloying or irritating. Also she has to be commended as a lot of American authors who set their stories in historical Britain make laughable attempts at recreating the speech of the time, or just don't bother. There was ONE (just the one) 'fall' instead of 'autumn' and ONE 'ass' instead of 'arse' but apart from that the writing was true to the period and believable.
It's hard to believe this is Bagwell's first novel actually - her descriptions, particularly of 17th century London are crystal clear and really transport you into that time. She's not taken too many liberties with the realities of Nell's story - although I found the first few chapters of the book where Nell, aged ten, becomes a prostitute a little hard to stomach. But such things happened, and it is to Bagwell's credit that she isn't afraid to deal with this part of Nell's life.
The reason for four stars and not five is because the middle part dragged a little for me. I loved the parts at the theatre when Nell made it from orange seller to popular actress, but got a little bored (and confused) when all these dukes and earls turned up and took turns to sleep with her.
The last third of the book is relentlessly depressing - ultimately her story is not a happy one - but by then I'd become so emotionally involved with Nell that I just had to keep reading.
This book has made me want to find out more about her, and am now looking for a decent biography so I can separate the facts from fiction - Bagwell admits that where the facts ran out she had to use her imagination to suit the story. But overall a moving, impressive read.


Mightier Than the Sword
Mightier Than the Sword
by Clare Bevan
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent children's book, 16 Jun. 2012
This is a fantastic children's book, and I wish it was better known and that more people could share the magic it creates. The protagonist, Art, is a young boy who is wheelchair-bound, who finds writing his main outlet of energy and creativity. His imagination leads him to believe that he is the Pendragon, King Arthur resurrected, and that several of his friends and acquaintances are all part of the legend. He is given a fountain pen which he calls Excalibur after Arthur's famous sword in the stone, and begins a game that ends up very real. Maybe he really is the great man himself??? Touching, comic and exciting, it's also a lovely way to get children interested in writing, as well as reading - the pen is mightier than the sword.


The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England
The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England
Price: £4.99

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the medieval guide, and not to be read on kindle!, 16 Jun. 2012
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Not everyone can be interested in all aspects of Elizabethan life (not the casual reader anyway). Mortimer obviously is, and covers all topics, from chopping off hands to Shakespeare's sonnets, in detail. Detail is often a very good thing, and some little fascinating nuggets of information are what make this book enjoyable. However, there are some instances where we find out (in seemingly endless lists) exactly what Mr. and Mrs Elizabethan had in their house at the time of their deaths, or exactly how many eggs, quails, eels etc were stored in a kitchen. I am interested in social history, and enjoy learning about day to day life for the 'normal' people of the time, but I found myself skimming the long, long lists of how many pewter jugs they had, how many sheets etc. There are just too many of these - lines and lines of every single household object, which we've already learnt about as the person mentioned in the paragraph before had exactly the same things. So I knocked a star off my rating for that, sorry if that's a bit harsh.
I didn't enjoy this book as much as Mortimers previous 'Medieval' offering, maybe because I knew more about the Elizabethan period initially. It was repetitive, and not as descriptive - because of the religious turmoil at the time, almost every chapter included some mention of faith, which I'd already read about in the chapter 'Religion'.
I'm sounding a lot more disgruntled about this book than I actually am. I think because I enjoyed the medieval guide so much more that I was expecting a great deal from this one. It is actually a very good, enjoyable, informative read. It just dragged sometimes - but everyones view is going to be entirely personal to them as no-one is interested in the same things. Unfortunately for me all the topics I wasn't so excited about were all put next to each other in order of chapters - I enjoyed the latter half of the book much more. I loved the chapter on poetry and the theatre (being an actress) - some lovely choices of quotations and examples.
Finally, a note for Kindle users. The pictures included with the book are all shoved at the end, are all black and white and teeny tiny. I've said this before about other Kindle books, and I hope one day they'll update their software so that Kindle users can view any illustrations or visual material how it was supposed to be shown, on a full page!


Fifty Shades of Grey: Movie Tie-in
Fifty Shades of Grey: Movie Tie-in
Price: £4.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book I've ever read, 16 Jun. 2012
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I am baffled. This is the book that is number one bestseller on Amazon? This is one of the best romances of our time?? This got published???!!! Honestly I am actually angry.
It is so poorly written and edited, to the extent that some paragraphs are repeated word for word about three times in fairly close succession. And if I had a pound for every time I read 'oh my' I would be probably be able to buy a new house. I'm no writer but if this is all it takes to get published there is hope for us all.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, appealing about the characters, the 'story', even the famous sex scenes which were sometimes laughable, sometimes deeply f***ed up - there's no other expression for it.
In fact the Grey of the title, Christian Grey, inexplicably rich and successful, 'impossibly' attractive, and almost totally void of any 'romance' is in his own words 'fifty shades of f***ed up'. See what the author did there? He is a control freak, manipulative, cruel, selfish and clearly psychologically damaged to a dangerous extent, and yet the (pathetic) main character falls in love with him? Accepts that he enjoys causing her pain, both physically and emotionally? Agrees to become his 'plaything'? It reeks of abuse. I don't care that the author was hinting that he had a troubled childhood, a man who treats women like dirt is not a romantic figure.
Although he clearly is for thousands of women who enjoyed this book. Like I said - baffled.
And as for the writing, I'm wondering if the people who enjoyed the book have never read a book before. How else would they think it was well written?... It is so poorly written and edited, to the extent that some paragraphs are repeated word for word about three times in fairly close succession. And if I had a pound for every time I read 'oh my' I would be probably be able to buy a new house.
The main female character is so full of anomalies and conflicting statements. One minute she 'simply couldn't eat any more' the next, she is 'starving hungry'. That's a minor one, but it gets worse in terms of her thoughts and personality. And she's incredibly irritating. Just because someone is innocent to the extent of being a virgin, it doesn't mean she'd accept being mistreated just to get sex. Does it? Maybe I'm just a prude. But inevitably it was the writing that made me give up halfway through and skip straight to the end. The main reason was that it is so poorly written and edited, to the extent that some paragraphs are repeated word for word about three times in fairly close succession. And if I had a pound for every time I read 'oh my' I would be probably be able to buy a new house.
I am so glad I only spent a couple of quid on this, and have absolutely no desire to get the next books in the series. Utter twaddle, that makes me worry about the future of writing and publishing. Oh my.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 29, 2012 1:06 PM BST


First Rider's Call
First Rider's Call
Price: £7.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of the same, 16 Jun. 2012
Yet more (even stronger) allusions to LOTR among others - one scene was practically identical. The herione is permitted to look into a bowl filled with 'magic' water that's owned by a tall, mysterious creature in the middle of the woods to find out her destiny. Sound familiar? Heroine starts to be 'possessed' by 'dark' powers and can barely remember her life before... Blalala. Long dead men rise from barrows to wreak havoc upon the earth, called by their 'master'... Blatant plagiarism, but hey ho I still really enjoyed the story, more even than the first, which is unusual for me in a fantasy series. Like the first I finished this one in a day.
This series will win no prizes for originality but I have to admit I am loving it and can't wait to read the next book. Maybe because the heroine doesn't drip around in a dress, and she's very reluctant to actually be a hero. She even admits that the only reason she does anything brave is through fear, which is very refreshing in a fantasy novel - I'm fed up with these almost impossibly strong women, I like that Karigan shows her human side. She falls in love and is annoyed with herself for doing so, she gets injured (a lot) and doesn't miraculously heal, she's battered mentally as well.
I love the involvement of ghosts and the inclusion of time travel, and as the story has progressed so have the characters come to be more rounded and real. Britain is still in the process of writing this series, so I hope as more books develop she starts to have the confidence to stop copying other writers. She has the bones of a classic series in the making, but unfortunately not enough experience yet to make it truly stand out.


Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read, 16 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
I'm not good enough with words to describe why I love this book. It's just simply the best book I've ever read and the only one where I've never been bored in places while re-reading. In fact I loved it even more the second time. Even though I knew what was going to happen as the Tudors have been done to death, this book makes the events seem as if they happened last week. It is truly a masterpiece and people will be reading it in two hundred years, like we read Dickens and Austen, but these future generations will still feel like Cromwell, Henry and Anne are people they just met. Honestly, I could go on about this book for ages but I will run out of room. Anyone who didn't enjoy it obviously just didn't 'get' it (the writing style takes a bit of getting used to), and I feel sorry for them that they missed out on what I believe is the best-written, most descriptive, moving, humorous, nervy, gruesome book around. It is full of multi-dimensional 'real' characters, most of whom you shouldn't really like but genuinely end up caring about intensely (Cromwell included - he's a b****rd sometimes but so human, so believable). I'm just about to start reading the sequel after a re-read to keep me up to date, and I will genuinely be upset when it's over and I'll have to wait for the final part of the trilogy. God knows what I'll be like when the final book comes to an end!


The Sticklepath Strangler (Medieval West Country Mysteries)
The Sticklepath Strangler (Medieval West Country Mysteries)
by Michael Jecks
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly good, 10 Feb. 2012
This was the first Jecks novel I'd come across after having it lent to me. It was a great introduction and I now can't wait to read the whole series! It was easy to read, the characters were well crafted, the dialogue believable with any anachronisms used sparingly and to good effect. The plot was superb. The revelation was a total surprise - rather unsettling. No-one in this novel is what they seem. All the twists and turns were remarkably well-handled, with several red herrings and lots of revelations associated with various characters.
It didn't bother me that there were a few small references to the book that preceded this one in the series. Although a murder was briefly mentioned there were no spoilers - if anything it's simply made me want to read it. There is clearly no need to read the series in order, the description of the main recurring characters are solid and realistic enough without needing to jump straight back to book 1.
Some reviewers were unhappy with some of the themes covered. True, the butchering of children and cannibalism aren't the nicest of topics, but the description of the bodies was not unnecessarily gruesome or disrepectful, and I felt that the consequences of the murders was dealt with well, especially the reactions of the villagers. In the 13th century people were genuinely god-fearing, and their belief would not let them contemplate the fact that 'one of them' could kill and eat children, so naturally they were convinced something supernatural would have to have been involved. Their system of 'justice' shown at the beginning of the story would surely have been a natural reaction true of the time, especially during famine, but barbaric and unfair to us today. Jecks has done his research very well and is well within in his rights to include a possible supernatural element - it sums up the panic felt by the people of the village, and yet the whole thing is kept grounded by the main characters firm disbelief, echoing no doubt the thoughts of the reader. However some of the spooky descriptions of the village are so convincing that you may well believe something unearthly really is going on.
My favourite aspect was the build up of tension - the dogs constant howling towards the end of the novel was a brilliant idea - as each character was getting affected and you wondered what each of their reasons were. At one point I even thought everyone was guilty and it was some sort of cannibal village! The way Jecks keeps you guessing at the real murderer/s? - no spoilers here - is that good.
I now want to read the whole thing again so I can see if there were any clues that I missed. This was truly one of the best murder mysteries I've ever read, regardless of the historical genre. Great sense of the era and place, great characters, brilliantly complex and well thought out plot. 10/10.


Golden Tarot
Golden Tarot
by Kat Black
Edition: Cards
Price: £26.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The deck for me, 27 Jan. 2012
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This review is from: Golden Tarot (Cards)
This was the first tarot deck I bought, after studying Rider-Waite about three years ago. I'd been recommended to go for the Rider-Waite for its simplicity and as a starting point, but I was just drawn to this deck and knew I had to have it. After owning these cards for some time I have built up a relationship with them, so hopefully this review will be more useful than pure first impressions.
For a start they are beautifully packaged and designed. Very few of the artworks used are instantly recognisable, and I find it a thrill when I visit galleries or go on holiday and suddenly see one of the familiar faces looking back at me, in an entirely different context.
I'd just returned from a holiday in Italy when I was introduced to tarot, and this deck resonated with me due to its use of medieval and renaissance art, which I'd encountered a lot out there, and love. To see so many beautiful images combined, and so carefully, is great. I sometimes just look at them for their beauty rather than for any messages they may have. But when it comes to readings they are accurate and tell their meanings in simple, often obvious ways. Although loosely based on Rider-Waite some of the cards are quite complex, so not ideal for a complete beginner that has no clue about tarot and wants to learn from this pack.
The little (very little) book that comes with the deck is basic but insightful, and is just enough to get you started before you start to build up your own interpretations. I am not naturally 'psychic' but since using the cards my ability has increased, and my readings (once for willing guinea-pig friends, but now for anyone who asks) often take me by surprise with how accurate some of the images I get are.
Black's second deck, the Touchstone tarot, is produced along similar lines. It's also beautiful but hasn't quite the connection with me that this one has. Of course that's just personal preference, but this will always remain my favourite deck that I use (probably too often, the gold has faded a bit) and I'm glad that they are so popular and that other people share my love for this deck.


Sentence of Marriage (Promises to Keep Book 1)
Sentence of Marriage (Promises to Keep Book 1)
Price: £0.00

74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly a masterpiece BUT..., 27 Jan. 2012
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This is the first of four books (currently) about the same families living in the rural Bay of Plenty in newly colonized New Zealand. Parkinson is already working on the fifth, set during the first world war. I bought it as I've just returned from NZ, and the book was free to download. I've since gone on to purchase the other three books for about £2 each and am enjoying the series, although have not been blown away. While definite value for money I wouldn't have spent much more on them.
Parkinson has a lovely way of writing, especially conversations between characters. They are realistic and not rushed. I'd say that 85% of the books are made up of 'talking', which is easy to read, but hardly constitutes a great writer.
The main characters are well-developed, not always likeable and varying enough to maintain interest. But crikey there are some cliches. You've got the 'strong' female protagonist, the irritating but likeable friend, the slightly dim but dependable love interest, the 'nasty' love interest, and the evil step-mother (yes really). As you move into the later books the list increases. You can also see all of the plot 'twists' coming a mile off. In the fourth book I predicted a later scene almost word for word.
Although the writing itself doesn't feel rushed, the pace is far too quick, with entire years passing by in about 10 pages. The couples have so many children its difficult to keep track of who belongs to who, and as time rushes by so quickly you get no clear image of the characters. The prose, of which there is not a lot, can be rather boring sometimes and I've found myself skim-reading some parts.
BUT there is something about these books that keeps me reading, often well into the night. Despite the obvious flaws, they are intensely readable. The emotion is what draws you in, with some moments being extremely well-handled and intensely moving. Some of the descriptions of what Amy goes through are surprisingly graphic in terms of violence and sheer unpleasantness. Some parts left me feeling physically sick.
There is some sexual content in all the books, although its never added just for the sake of it, and is sometimes racy but never explicit.
Overall an enjoyable series, but with a good editor it could have been great. If anything it's nice to learn a bit about the social history of NZ, even though the majority of places in the books are fictional. Parkinson's done her research, but needs to work on her writing style if she's to win a large fan-base. It is her first novel however, so kudos for that, I know I couldn't do any better!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2013 11:37 PM GMT


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