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Miss E. Potten "Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde" (Derbyshire, UK)

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The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly
The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly
by Dennis O'Donnell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.78

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, funny, brutal and honest... I loved it!, 30 Mar 2013
This is an autobiographical account of life on a psychiatric ward, written by a Scottish nursing assistant and literature buff, who moved from caring for dementia patients onto Ward 25 of his local hospital after a little persuasion from his friend Charlie, the charge nurse for the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit. He worked there for over seven years and wrote this book partly as a means of fighting the ignorance and fear that still surrounds mental illness for many people. As he writes in his introduction:

"I hope it will inform people about the nature of serious mental illness and how it is treated. I hope it will correct misconceptions, and show that people with serious mental illness can say or do funny things, sad things or bad things; be brave, resolute, irritating, selfish, generous, kind, cruel or petty just like everybody else. Mainly, though, I want it to celebrate a group of people who are misunderstood, mistrusted or viewed with apprehension - the patients."

I am a pretty devoted reader of anything to do with mental health problems, partially due to my own experiences and partially thanks to my interest in the social sciences generally, so this was a must-read for me. While there are many memoirs out there about the experience of depression, schizophrenia, addiction and any number of other issues, it's unusual to find a memoir by someone caring for those people in a professional sense. I must confess, while I don't have the same kind of fears and prejudices that I'm sure a lot of people sadly have about people with mental health difficulties, as 'one of their own' I DID have fears about what life was really like behind the locked doors of a psychiatric ward, because in the back of my mind I can't help but think that one day I could find myself in need of their help myself and I had all kinds of grim ideas about what they might be like!

Happily, just like Direct Red: A Surgeon's Story by Gabriel Weston made me feel better about the prospect of ever having surgery, 'The Locked Ward', despite its grim moments and the anger in the final pages over the decline in staffing and funding, was quite a reassuring book. It explains quite concisely what a modern psychiatric ward is like - how it's laid out, how it's run, what the daily routine is like - as well as introducing the reader to some of O'Donnell's most memorable patients. His dry Scottish wit is a perfect foil for the more brutal side of his work, and the warmth and compassion of not just him, but the majority of the staff on the ward, shines from the pages. Of course he's only human - as are his patients - and there are people he dislikes, people he is afraid of, and fellow orderlies who occasionally need to be smacked upside the head for making stupid remarks. But those aren't the people that really seem to stick for him - or for the reader. His affection for the eccentric, kind, kooky, spirited, gentle, stolid and sad people around him is truly heartening, and it's clear that the people underneath the illnesses were being heard, understood and befriended during their time on the ward.

This is where O'Donnell really shines, in my opinion: in being quite blunt about things like symptoms, medications, restraints and the unpleasant nature of some of his work, while never losing sight of the diversity and humanity of the people he helped over the years, their individual strengths and personalities, the way they kept fighting to claim those personalities back even after multiple admissions. The reader comes to care about some of the patients as much as O'Donnell clearly did, laughing at their more outrageous moments and sighing over their unhappiest ones. By turns moving, jovial, informative, funny, angry and earthy, this is a book I'll be heartily recommending to anyone with an interest in medical care and mental health, as well as those who fancy reading a mental-illness memoir told from the OTHER side, the side of a care provider rather than the patient. In fact, if I were a braver soul I'd be recommending it to EVERYONE - because the more books like this people read, the more they understand what mental illness means, the less stigma there will be towards the people battling their demons on a daily basis. That can only ever be a good thing.

On the Day I Died
On the Day I Died
by Candace Fleming
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.22

4.0 out of 5 stars A spooktacular Hallowe'en collection for young readers, 8 Nov 2012
This review is from: On the Day I Died (Paperback)
This was the perfect book to read on the run-up to Hallowe'en night. Not that I celebrate Hallowe'en, but I like to use October to read a few spooky novels all the same! In the finest 'Goosebumps' and 'Point Horror' tradition, this is a great book to scare the kids whilst also sending a little nostalgic chill down the spine of any adults who might find themselves perusing its pages...

'On The Day I Died' is really a book of short stories, set in a wider context to tie them neatly together so it still makes a coherent novel if you prefer to devour it whole. It begins with young Mike, making his way home late one night, being swept up in a bizarre set of circumstances which culminate in him sitting in a Chicago graveyard listening to a group of teenage ghosts telling their death stories. Each spirit gets their turn to talk about how they lived and died, their tales spanning from the mid-nineteenth century right through to 2012, and their deaths mostly occurring by supernatural (and ghoulishly unpleasant) means.

What I found really interesting about this book is how firmly it is rooted in genuine Chicago history and culture, and within the horror genre as a whole. At the back of the book Fleming details her inspiration for each character's tale - old newspaper headlines, the criminal underworld, creepy old buildings, local mythology - and also mentions the old television series and classic horror stories that lent flavour to her stories. As a young teenager this section would have had me running to the library to see what kind of supernatural folklore exists around my own county!

I think Fleming has really delivered a little something for everyone here. Sure, the segues between stories are a tad awkward, but Mike's presence pulls everything together, and the stories themselves are varied enough to cater to every taste. There are aliens and evil artefacts, moments of madness and spooky old buildings, walking corpses and all-consuming flames - all the things that give a reader of ANY age that sickly but strangely delicious urge to shudder. The age guidance on the book suggests that it is suitable for kids of 11+, and I'd have to agree; there are some very bloody, macabre and frightening moments, more akin to the slightly more YA-oriented 'Point Horror' series than 'Goosebumps'. My advice? Grab yourself a bowl of popcorn and a cushion, and read on... if you dare!

Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Penguin Popular Classics)
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Jules Peabody Verne
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Not the liveliest of starts, but the second half was worth the wait!, 21 Oct 2012
Everyone knows the basic premise of 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' - but like so many novels that have made their way into the public consciousness (Frankenstein, anyone?) it's still well worth reading the original, because they're never quite what you think! Like a game of Chinese Whispers, things get so distorted and simplified along the way that nothing beats going back to the source... Really, the novel pretty much does what it says on the tin; it begins with Professor Lidenbrock, a geologist, scientist and all-round intellectual (the book calls him a savant)*, finding an ancient piece of parchment, inscribed in code, left in a book by the Icelandic explorer Arne Saknussemm. When he finally deciphers the code, he is astonished to find that the parchment contains the precise location of the starting point of a journey to the centre of the earth. His interest piqued, the eccentric professor immediately sets out for Iceland, dragging his long-suffering nephew with him. There he hires a guide, ascends Mount Sneffels, and determinedly follows Saknessumm's footsteps down into the bowels of the earth...

I made that sound like the start of the story, right? Indeed, the blurb of my Penguin Popular Classics edition states that "Their journey... begins on the summit of a volcano..." Well, yes, but what it DOESN'T mention is that 100 pages into the 250-page book, they are only just reaching the crater that marks the real start of their adventure. This is not a novel that plunges you head-first into action and excitement; it takes a LONG time to get going, and nearly half the book is taken up by the description of the trip to - and across - Iceland. Fortunately the pace soon picks up once the descent begins, and from that point onwards, the novel becomes a rip-roaring tale, crammed with drama and peril, excitement and discovery, all narrated by young Axel and sprinkled with scientific intrigue. It must be said that Verne doesn't always wear his science lightly - at times his novel reads more like a scientific-minded vintage travelogue - but then another dramatic event will occur, or another wonder will be uncovered, and the reader is captivated all over again. Not that the scientific elements are dull, particularly - in fact, Axel can become quite poetic about his pet subject, and some of the historical details are fascinating - but there is a liberal sprinkling of Latin names and geological jargon that requires a little care and concentration to grasp.

I think it was probably the three main characters themselves that made the novel for me (that, and the incredible prehistoric cavern with its glowing light and subterranean sea). While Axel is probably the weakest of the characters - he reminded me rather unfortunately of Fanny Price, constantly keeling over or going into a blind panic even as his middle-aged uncle strode calmly on - he has a gently wry sense of humour and describes his companions very astutely. He paints a wonderful picture of his uncle as the archetypal eccentric genius: determined, short-tempered, single-minded and completely ignorant of his own flaws. Their hulking guide Hans, in contrast, is always calm, extremely skilled and capable, strong and unshakeable; he is their rock and their saviour on many occasions, like some kind of Nordic Superman. It made me smile when Axel described his eyes as 'dreamy blue' - the sheer awe with which he reveres him borders on hero-worship at times!

Would I recommend reading this book? Well, yes, of course - it is a classic adventure story, and as I said before, it has worked its way into the public consciousness to such an extent that it really deserves to be enjoyed in its own right. It is not a fast-paced thriller, but it is one of the most famous fictional journeys in literature; it occasionally wears its scientific background heavily, but read in the right spirit is crammed with interesting nuggets of information; its narrating character is not the most witty or memorable of men, but he describes his surroundings beautifully. I'm not sure yet whether it's going to be a keeper for me, but I AM glad to have read it at last!

The Godsend
The Godsend
by Bernard Taylor
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage 'cuckoo in the nest' horror for Hallowe'en, 17 Oct 2012
This review is from: The Godsend (Paperback)
Alan and Kate Marlowe have the perfect family life. They have a lovely home in a small Somerset village, Alan enjoys his work as a commercial artist, and they have plenty of time and love to shower on their four children, Lucy, Sam, Davie and newborn Matthew. When beautiful baby Bonnie is abandoned by her odd young mother, it seems only natural to welcome her into their home too, where she quickly settles into her role as the perfect daughter and the perfect sister. In fact, when Matthew dies suddenly in his crib, the couple are glad to have little Bonnie to occupy their time. Then the next child meets with a tragic accident... and the next... Finally the truth begins to dawn on Alan - but can he convince Kate of his sanity and break through her blind maternal devotion in time to save their last living child from Bonnie's murderous plotting?

As far as scary books go, this was perfect for me. It's probably not one for parents of young children - that would be prime nightmare fodder, right there - but for anyone wanting some suitably macabre Hallowe'en reading without the blood and gore, you could do much worse than this creepy little slice of vintage horror. Of course, the demonic child/cuckoo-in-the-nest device is hardly a new one - I'm thinking of classic stories like Omen and The Midwich Cuckoos here - but the Marlowes' story is still deliciously compelling, if a tad predictable. It has a quiet kind of menace, devoid of technicolour splashes of crimson blood and overwrought, wailing grief; I think that in a way, the gentle pastoral setting and very close, loving family dynamics evoked by Alan's narration only make the dark plot all the more devastating.

The novel was by no means perfect, don't get me wrong. The opening is quite slow, with a significant amount of time elapsing before anyone starts to link the 'accidents' back to Bonnie and her unusual arrival in the household. The writing itself is a little heavy on the dashes and commas, with some awkward grammatical moments and a few irritating typos. While the VERY end is sort of perfect, right out of the Horror Writing Handbook, the gap between that and the climax a few pages earlier is frustratingly devoid of plausibility; without spoiling anything, it felt like there should have been serious consequences to the climactic moment, but Taylor skips right over the immediate aftermath. I also wanted him to offer some kind of theory or revelation as to the identity of Bonnie's strange birth mother, but this was left a mystery. These minor issues aside, however, I found this to be a very diverting read; I was turning the pages faster and faster as the day went by! Bonnie is so carefully drawn, beautiful and manipulative and completely beguiling even as she tears the Marlowe family apart, and her power over kind-hearted, grieving Kate is pitch-perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed it without feeling like it would haunt me for the next ten years (Pet Sematary, I'm looking at you); what more could I ask for?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 19, 2014 11:54 AM BST

Wedding Babylon
Wedding Babylon
by Imogen Edwards-Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.35

4.0 out of 5 stars Whatever happened to a few friends and a slice of cake?!, 3 Oct 2012
This review is from: Wedding Babylon (Paperback)
Another hit from the guilty pleasure that is the Babylon series, in which Imogen Edwards-Jones teams up with a bunch of top players in a given industry, extracts their best tips, tricks, behind-the-scenes secrets and scandalous stories, then packages them all up in a neat week-in-the-life semi-fictional demi-novel for our entertainment. Oh, how I love 'em...

This installment, as the name suggests, is all about the wedding industry, as seen from the perspective of a top London wedding planner. Babylon enthusiasts can probably already guess the rest - the helter-skelter pitch through dress fittings and flowers, bridezillas and warring relatives, celebrity nuptials and wedding day mishaps. Alongside the day-to-day running of the business and the memorable weddings the planner has survived (or heard about through the grapevine), there are also plenty of interesting details that go beyond the obvious: How finely tuned do even the most dull and practical of details have to be? How does a planner network with all the other companies that make up the wedding industry? Which readings are guaranteed to bore your vicar to tears? And what the hell is a bridal potty? As always, this book gave me a renewed respect for the hard work going on behind the scenes in the service industry, showing the reader all of the lovely highs but also the stressful lows, the egos and the tantrums, deftly demonstrating just how far these professionals have to go to serve the ridiculous demands and passing whims of their high-maintenance clients.

For me, it seems like Edwards-Jones is becoming better and better at this formula, streamlining her books with each new release. I find that the newer books (like this one, and Beach Babylon, which I read last year) seem to feature more likeable narrators, and offer more detail and genuine insight into their chosen industries to balance against the gleeful gossip and outrageous horror stories. I think I'd be torn between wanting to read this book before my wedding (for the tips) and wanting to stay the hell away in case I had nightmares! Great literature it ain't - it's very easy reading and some of the dialogue, in particular, is horrendously clunky - but it's super-fun, extra-frothy and an absolute pleasure to come back to at the end of a long day at work!

Blindsighted: (Grant County series 1)
Blindsighted: (Grant County series 1)
by Karin Slaughter
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling and thought-provoking read for the strong of stomach, 29 Sep 2012
I accidentally read one of the later books in this series, Skin Privilege, back in April, and really enjoyed it, so I decided it was time to start at the beginning and catch up on the characters' back stories... This novel introduces Sara Linton, Grant County paediatrician and coroner, as well as the other two key players in the series: her ex-husband, Chief of Police Jeffrey Tolliver, and his feisty young detective Lena Adams. Where 'Skin Privilege' focussed on drug running and authority corruption, 'Blindsighted' highlights sexual violence, manipulation, and what happens to individuals, couples and families in the aftermath of rape.

It opens with Sara finding Sibyl Adams, Lena's blind twin sister, raped, drugged and mutilated, in the bathroom of the local diner. Despite her best efforts, Sibyl dies in her arms. A familiar and well-loved face around town, her death throws the locals into turmoil, raising old demons, causing huge professional and personal conflict for Lena, and pushing Sara and Jeff together as they struggle to find a lead that might help them track down the killer. When the mysterious predator strikes again, drugging and crucifying a young student, the race is on to stop him before he can strike a third time. As a reader, as a woman - as a human being - this is brutal, thought-provoking and disturbing material, but once again I found that once I was wrapped up in Slaughter's claustrophobic small-town web, it was very hard to wrench myself free.

Although Slaughter doesn't hold back with the grisly description and clinical details of the crimes in her novels, I think their strength really lies in her characters. They are not secondary to the violence being committed, nor are they shallow vessels for justice. Changing the third-person viewpoint every so often allows the reader an insight into each of the main characters and their motives, and the author explores their personal journeys and complicated relationships with such warmth that we can't help but invest in their wellbeing and success. Her female characters are particularly well-drawn; Sara is a strong woman who has overcome a tragic past to stand tall at Jeffrey's side through everything the novel throws at her, and Lena is certainly a tough cookie, but in a more headstrong and stubborn way. Jeffrey is almost the weakest of the three, in a sense, despite his role at the head of the investigation!

Overall, despite the odd couple of slow moments (where Slaughter became a bit too character-centric and seemed to forget about all the urgent and exciting things she'd set into motion that I wanted to get back to!), this was another well-plotted, emotive and gripping read that I ended up liking more than 'Skin Privilege'. Gruesome truths are revealed with expert timing for maximum visceral impact, the autopsy scenes are painstakingly authentic, the relationships between characters are sympathetic and very astutely observed, and I learned some fascinating details about belladonna (the killer's drug of choice) as well. If I can learn something interesting while I'm being entertained then so much the better! Recommended for crime/thriller fans with a strong(ish) stomach and a keen interest in the bizarre and bleak world that is the criminal mind...

On The Island
On The Island
by Tracey Garvis Graves
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect book for a little summer escapism, 19 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: On The Island (Paperback)
I actually thought 'On the Island' was a young adult book when I ordered it, but it definitely isn't! Anna is a thirty year-old teacher accompanying her new student, seventeen year-old cancer survivor T.J., to his parents' holiday house in the Maldives for some summer tutoring. As it happens, books are going to be the least of their worries, as their plane crashes between Malé and their final destination, leaving them marooned on one of the many uninhabited islands dotted across the vast sweep of the Maldives.

About two thirds of the novel consists of the trials and tribulations of desert island life for T.J. and Anna, and I was thoroughly absorbed in their daily experiences. Watching these two all-modern individuals learning the skills they needed to survive was fascinating, and made me wonder how I would have coped in their shoes. The intense microcosm of island life neatly paved the way for the romantic element of the book. Some readers might wonder about the appropriateness of a relationship between a student and a teacher, but actually, in this unprecedented situation it's hard to imagine how a bond WOULDN'T form between T.J. and Anna. As the weeks turns to months and then to years, their boundaries inevitably start to crumble, they get closer with every shared difficulty and joy, and as T.J. becomes a grown man it might be considered odd if their relationship didn't become more complicated at some point. I was definitely rooting for them, as mutual tenderness and respect, growing love and a unique shared experience cemented them together into an inseparable couple.

What I deeply appreciated about this book was the fact that Graves doesn't resort to a cliched 'And then a plane flew over and we waved and got picked up' way of ending her characters' island stay. Instead she cleverly ties it in with real-life events and orchestrates a far more gritty and interesting escape. The last part of the book follows Anna and T.J. back to 'real life' - something usually missing from stories like this - and explores how they adjust to being back in America with their families around them, modern conveniences at every turn, and the press desperate to hear their story and dissect the propriety of their relationship. This section wasn't quite as gripping or immersive, but it rounded off the novel in a far more satisfying and realistic way than if it had simply ended at the moment they got off the island.

I only really had a couple of little niggles while I was reading. One was that the dialogue was slightly clunky at times, particularly because of the frequent overuse of names. My other tiny gripe was with the occasional over-idyllic moments, like the dolphins that come to play in the lagoon and befriend T.J. and Anna. Not that this is completely out of the question, of course - but it did smack a bit of a child's fantasy desert island at times! Other than that, however, I found this to be a stellar bit of storytelling and a great read for a dose of holiday escapism. I was genuinely caught up in T.J. and Anna's fight for survival and their budding romance, and their isolation meant that every moment of happiness, sadness or fear cut that much more deeply, both for them and for the reader. I teared up a few times, and smiled along with them in others. This will definitely be a keeper for me - in fact, reading it outside on a hot sunny day might have to become a new summer tradition!

The Fearful (Definitions)
The Fearful (Definitions)
by Keith Gray
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Move over Nessie - there's a new monster in town..., 1 Sep 2012
"... and the first-born of Mourn Home, my son William, will follow me at that time he turns sixteen. This will be the precedent for all Mourners and their sons, for there must always be a Mourner for Moutonby's lost children...."

In 1699 a monster rose from the depths of Lake Mou, Yorkshire, and snatched five schoolboys from the shore... or so local lore says. A handful of Moutonby's residents still believe, but everyone else is now firmly living in the modern world - including Tim. Which is a bit unfortunate, as Tim is due to take over from his father as Mourner in a few days' time. It will be his job to keep Mourn Home running (it's now a failing guest house), and to protect the town from the Mourn of legend by appeasing it with weekly Feeds, carefully honed rituals and constant vigilance. But just as Tim has made the decision to escape his fate and his family's obsession, a boy disappears out on the lake. Now Tim must make up his mind once and for all, and make the hardest choice of his life: throw away his future by staying put, even if the Mourn doesn't exist - or risk everyone's safety by leaving if it does?

This is quite a complex little novel, filled with philosophical twists and turns as Tim struggles with his doubts about the Mourn's existence. Along the way Gray raises many questions about the nature of faith and belief. Is circumstantial evidence ever enough? Can we ever truly believe when we have never seen something with our own eyes? Does faithful duty win out over personal fulfillment? Has modern life taken away our capacity to believe - or helped us overcome the superstitions of our ancestors? 'The Fearful' could be read as a story about religion, as a philosophical and ethical debate, or simply enjoyed as an exciting children's thriller about a monster in the water.

Personally, I read it as a little of all three. Gray definitely managed to keep me wondering, posing a genuine 'Is there or isn't there?' conundrum that had my brain cells ticking over even when I wasn't reading. He makes up for the slightly slower sections with some nail-bitingly dramatic scenes, and there are some beautiful little touches in his prose that made me wish I'd written them! He evokes the stifling fear of the Mourn brilliantly, with a constant feeling of claustrophobia hanging over Tim's lakeside existence. Monsters aside, the Milmullen family is warmly written, and Tim's coming-of-age story is very relatable - being fairly local to me, the teenage slang and even the school routine was almost exactly as I remember mine, which was refreshing! I think the only thing that really disappointed me was the ending, which proved a frustratingly inconclusive anti-climax and seemed more tailored to the religious themes than to creating a cracking finale to a YA novel. Tentatively recommended.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Penguin Popular Classics)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Penguin Popular Classics)
by L. Frank Baum
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars SO much better without all the singing!, 29 Aug 2012
Why have I never read this book before?! Okay, I'll tell you why I've never read this book before - I HATE the movie. There, I said it. Get the lashings over with now, because I doubt I'll be changing my mind any time soon. The music! The stupid man in a lion costume! The wrong-coloured shoes! No no no.

So, as you might imagine, it was a very pleasant surprise when I found myself, twenty pages into the book, sitting with a gentle smile on my face thinking, "Yeah, just one more chapter before I go do something useful." This is actually a really lovely little book! It is charming and whimsical and full of polite conversation and intriguing creatures, just as a children's classic should be. As Dorothy and her friends wend their merry way towards self-knowledge and magical wish fulfillment, they meet with all kinds of nice people, bizarre monsters and tricky situations, but you know that everything's going to be okay in the end because BAUM SAID SO.

That said, it's not all sunshine and roses in the Land of Oz, oh no... What Baum omits by way of serious peril for his leading characters, he makes up for with the macabre ends he concocts for the naughty beasts that threaten them. If it's not being thrown off a cliff and dashed into little pieces, it's being chopped in half by the Tin Man's axe. All the kinds of deaths that make me shudder and put down my lunch for a moment. But then everybody skips on and is very jolly to have survived another menace, so that's okay.

Needless to say, the book was a wonderful little read, despite the fact that I had "We're off to see the wizard" stuck in my head THE WHOLE TIME. Baum's imaginary world was a delight to explore, twisting old fairytale cliches into something new and unique (like the mischievous Winged Monkeys and their three wishes taking the place of the traditional genie, for example), and Dorothy's well-mannered sweetness was like a soothing balm for my summer-holiday-frazzled nerves. Roll on book 2 - I think I'm hooked!

Fallen in Love
Fallen in Love
by Lauren Kate
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Happy Valentine's Day? Er, not so much..., 23 Aug 2012
This review is from: Fallen in Love (Hardcover)
Oh deary me. Billed as a romantic collection of love stories from Kate's Fallen universe (slotting in neatly between 'Passion' and Rapture'), for me this was the Valentine that didn't deliver. The date that brings you hazelnut chocolates even though you have allergies. The one who gives you a book of cuddly dog pictures even though you're a cat person. The one that tries, but somehow manages to completely and repeatedly miss the mark.

The lovely-as-ever cover pretty much sums up the premise with the tagline, 'A Fallen Novel in Stories'. The book is made up of four interlinking Valentine's Day tales, two of which were good, and two of which weren't so good (if Amazon allowed half-stars, I'd have given it a 2.5 star rating - half good, half bad!). The first, that of Shelby and Miles, was pretty good. They're such loveable and amusing characters already, and the story takes the spark we saw in 'Passion' and gently fans it into a sweetly romantic flame. The second, Roland's story, was a duff one for me. He's such a cool and confident character, it was a bit of a disappointment to see him turning into a fawning stalker over a girl from his past. Arriane's unexpected angel-demon lesbian love story was a pleasant surprise at first, until I realised that three pages in she, too, lost 90% of her humour and energy, and became some kind of melodramatic Wuthering Heights-esque wench instead. Finally we returned to Luce and Daniel, where the book picked up again with their familiar brand of true love, eternal longing, and grand romantic gestures (and the return of the deliciously acerbic gargoyle Bill). At least we started and ended on a high note, right?

Ultimately I think Kate made the same mistake here that she did in 'Passion' - she tried to tell too many stories in one book, and it ended up falling flat. I also can't understand divesting her most brilliant characters - the ones who offer light relief to counterbalance the intense romance of Daniel and Luce - of so much of their strength, humour and charm. Instead they get dragged down into heartbreak and overly dramatic confrontation, their tales becoming a jumbled torrent of clunky philosophy and highly-strung emotions. Not exactly a happy book for Valentine's Day! Oh, and one more thing - this quote bothered me: "Why, I was younger than Lucinda when I was a mother made... Seek happy nights to happy days..." Is it just me, or is that Shakespeare's Lady Capulet, then the Nurse, quoted pretty much word for word? This Romeo and Juliet fan was not amused.

I guess in the end, this is probably one of those books that you're better off reading for yourself. Personally, I was very disappointed, and would have been even more so had I splashed out on a hardback copy for some romantic Valentine's Day reading. I think it's more of an add-on to the series than a vital part of it (though I haven't read 'Rapture' yet, so please correct me if I'm wrong!) - perhaps it's one for die-hard fans only? Despite all this, I'm still really looking forward to Luce and Daniel's grand finale, where I've heard Kate is finally back on the top form she displayed in 'Fallen' and 'Torment'. Fingers (and wings) crossed!

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