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Reviews Written by
Claire Simmonds

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A Creature I Don't Know
A Creature I Don't Know
Offered by Leisurezone
Price: £7.14

4.0 out of 5 stars The Beast Is A Creature I Don't Know, 8 Jan. 2012
This review is from: A Creature I Don't Know (Audio CD)
was my first reaction on my first playing of Laura Marling's third studio album. I 'discovered' her about a year ago and quickly gobbled up Alas I cannot Swim and I Speak Because I Can. Her songs resonate with me and I'm in awe of the quality of her lyrics and melodies at such a young age. Those first two albums I can play over and over again, usually singing along while I'm driving! The songs are full of innocence, youth and vitality, but underneath it all is a dark (very dark) side thats stops her music from being twee.
The big difference between her earlier songs and this new album is that she's released her dark side - majorly. Sometimes the deeply insightful and often frankly disturbing lyrics take over and there is no real melody, and I needed a few listens for some of the songs to grow on me. As individual pieces they work fine, but somehow together as an album they don't gel especially well. Now however I do like them all except one. The one song I cannot bring myself to like no matter how many times I've listened to it is The Beast. To be honest - and I hate being negative about anything LM does as I think she's cracking - it sounds like a mess of mashed up tunes and rambling moaning. I understand that for a lot of people its the stand out track,and I'm not taking away the fact that its a brave choice to put on an album, but not for me I'm afraid.
The other songs are far more her style - or rather like her old style but just developed a bit which is only natural. Occasionally on this album she does this odd speak-singing thing that luckily for her she can pull off - but I can see a lot of people who like her melodic smooth voice feeling a bit short-changed.
For me her talent lies in her ability to combine wonderful heart-felt lyrics with soaring or jaunty melodies. As for the other tracks there are no stand-outs - they are all different, unique and good in different ways. Sophia is possibly my favourite as I think it's the best-crafted song on the album, but all of them are sung along to in the car like the first two albums - I just skip The Beast.

Dissolution (The Shardlake Series)
Dissolution (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 21 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Clearly lots of people love this book. I was really expecting to, being a fan of historical novels, and loving a good mystery. However I was a bit underwhelmed. The historical detail was good, although more could have been done to build up the atmosphere and attitudes of the period. I guessed 'whodunnit' quite early on, although the characters back-story was a good revelation. A pretty standard murder mystery, that just happened to have a historical setting, with a fairly bland protagonist, and forgettable and inter-changeable suspects. Kept me entertained but didn't make me want to read the rest in the series. In my opinion definitely not the classic that people rave about, sorry!

The Captive Queen
The Captive Queen
by Alison Weir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glad I stuck with it!, 21 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Captive Queen (Hardcover)
Having enjoyed both Alison Weir's previous attempts at fiction, and being engrossed in her historical biographies, I felt I owed it to her to read this, even though it's set in a different historical period that I'm not very knowledgeable about. When I started it I must admit that it seemed a pretty bog-standard, 'woman constrained by the time she's living in' etc. type thing. I almost gave up a few chapters in. Nothing was really happening, the characters weren't particularly likeable, and the relationship between Henry and Eleanor seemed to be a writing-by-numbers excuse for lots of sex scenes.
When the children start arriving is when it starts to get interesting. It was more her relationships with them than with Henry that initially kept me reading. You understand and get to know her character, and she is ultimately empathetic and likeable. As her relationship with Henry starts to deteriorate you are sucked in without realising. I started to wish I could jump into the book and stop Henry making some incredibly bad decisions - which again brought me closer to Eleanor's point of view. I was in tears at some parts of the book - the emotive and sometimes very poignant descriptions and dialogue are incredibly moving towards the end, especially when you think about how every relationship she values has changed. You begin to see why Weir made the choice to include so much passion at the start of the book. The contrast is heartbreaking. The realities of how feelings change after long years together rings true, and I'm sure many women will recognise Eleanor's longing for the past. Weir doesn't shy away from reality.
One thing I did not like is where it is clear that she has tried to put historical speech - that through her research she discovered was actually said - into the modern text. Even though she's clearly done her best to make it flow, it doesn't sound believable or natural when put into this context. Ironic, as those speeches are not fictitious! However, the research is otherwise excellent. A huge amount of love and time has clearly gone into this book and it deserves to be read fully and not be given up on.

Sacred Hearts
Sacred Hearts
by Sarah Dunant
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her best novel so far, 19 April 2010
This review is from: Sacred Hearts (Paperback)
I had read Sarah Dunants other two Italian novels previously and loved them, especially The Birth of Venus. I wasn't expecting to like this one as much, as I couldn't see how a bunch of nuns could be diverse and interesting enough to carry a novel. I was so wrong! This turned out to be my favourite of the three. The characters of Serafina and Zuana are brilliantly written, and the stifling atmosphere of the nunnery made it a really intense read. Everything, down to the tiniest details, has meaning and adds something to the world she's created. It's obviously been extensively researched, and it's clear that Dunant has a real love for this period of time, and for Italy itself. That, combined with excellent writing, a great mix of characters, and a bitter-sweet story makes for one of the best books I've read this year. The atmosphere and tension it creates will blow you away. Definitely 5 stars!

Alice Hartley's Happiness
Alice Hartley's Happiness
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice change, 31 Mar. 2010
I am a huge PG fan and have devoured all of her historical novels. I'd heard about Mrs Hartley and the Growth Centre, and when it was republished under this title I thought I'd give it a go. I'm really pleased I did! This is a funny, at times hysterical, novel which is very silly and clearly written with tongue firmly in cheek. I disagree with the negative reviews on here that it's not up to her usual standard (in fact I believe this is better written than some of her more recent historic books - they started to drag and are a bit repetitive in my opinion). It's just different. If you are a fan of historical fiction then don't be misled by the cover (the corset and everything!), and I'd recommend you avoid it. But if like me you think PG is one of our best writers and you think it's refreshing when authors branch out a bit, then give this a try.

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