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The Twistrose Key
The Twistrose Key
by Tone Almhjell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical read for winter, 7 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Twistrose Key (Hardcover)
The Twistrose Key is about a girl called Lin who receives a mysterious key that leads her into a magical, wintry world called Sylver, where the beloved pets of children live again. Reunited with her recently lost Rufus, Lin must find the missing Winter Prince before Sylver is destroyed.

It's an exciting, fantastic quest and the world that Alhmjell has created is as enchanting and complex as Lewis's Narnia or that of Pullman's His Dark Materials full of Nordic atmosphere and beautiful illustrations - I loved the maps at the beginning. Lin is a great heroine, brave and full of compassion, and the themes of loss and grief are well explored. It's an exciting, well-paced story full of twists, turns and puzzles. It's the perfect book for curling up with on a winter's night with.


Longbourn
Longbourn
by Jo Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging read, 3 Jan 2014
This review is from: Longbourn (Paperback)
I have been intrigued by the concept of this novel since I first heard about it. It's a wonderfully gripping read - I couldn't put it down - and vividly depicts below-stairs life in Georgian England, bringing to light a whole other world and way of living, which I found fascinating. The details of the domestic chores are well researched and described, from the making of soap to the scrubbing of boots and cleaning of petticoats.

I knew little else of the plot other than it being 'Pride and Prejudice from the servants' view', and was pleasantly surprised by the coming of age / love story of housemaid Sarah, and the mysterious arrival of new footman James. Baker's writing is beautiful, although the omniscient third-person narrative drifts through various characters - I would have preferred it to be more sharply focused on Sarah.

I enjoyed the mix of characters and scenery, at one point flashing back to the war in Europe and touching upon the issues of slavery and plantations. It runs alongside the narrative of Pride and Prejudice very faithfully, but sometimes I felt that Austen's characters felt a little flat compared to Baker's original creations (who were complex and rounded) - Wickham in particular is made even more explicitly dastardly than Austen implies - and sometimes I found myself thinking 'Would Lizzie say/do that?!', although these occasions were few and I do understand that everyone is entitled to their own interpretations of beloved characters. It is interesting to read reviews that suggest it would be a better read with more references to the original characters / plot - on the contrary, I think it stands up as an engaging and thought-provoking historical novel in its own right, and would do so even without the links to P&P.

Overall, an enjoyable read that makes a refreshing companion to Jane Austen's novels.


Office Girl
Office Girl
by Joe Meno
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.88

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cute, Amelie-esque tale of lost 20-somethings, 12 Dec 2013
This review is from: Office Girl (Paperback)
I do like a book with a pink cover, it must be said. Joe Meno's Office Girl is a cute read that you can finish in a couple of days, and it follows the meeting of Odile and Jack, both disillusioned art school graduates (or not quite, in Odile's case), when they both end up working night shifts at an office that sells muzac to companies. Odile is reeling from an affair with a married man and Jack has just become a 26-year-old divorcee.

Odile has a notebook full of ideas such as 'dress up as a ghost on a public bus' and Jack has an apartment full of boxes of tapes of things he's recorded, such as the sound of snow or a balloon floating away. Together they start a quiet art revolution and tentatively fall in love. It's illustrated with photographs and little doodles reflecting the story.

I was torn between giving it three and four stars because I did quite like it, but at the same time felt it didn't match up to the things it reminded me of, such as Amelie, or Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (which also has a pink cover - read it!), and I didn't feel quite inspired by their art revolution - none of the ideas filled me with the same joy or wonder as, say, Amelie and the gnome she posts around the world. But it is nicely written and both Jack and Odile are interestingly observed, if perhaps a little too self-consciously quirky. I think if you like stories of aimless twenty-somethings who ride bicycles, then you'd like it.


The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell: Number 1 in series
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell: Number 1 in series
by Chris Colfer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Brings new life to fairy tales, 3 Dec 2013
I loved this book; it's fast-paced and funny and just utterly enjoyable. It follows the form of a classic quest adventure, as twins Alex and Conner fall through an enchanted fairy-tale book into the Land of Stories, and have to collect items for a Wishing Spell to get them home.

You can tell that Chris Colfer loves fairy tales as much as Alex, the bookworm twin, does, and has done his research - it's jammed full of characters and stories - but he manages to look at them with fresh eyes and bring new meanings to the stories that I hadn't thought of before, asking questions such as `Why did the Evil Queen become evil?' and `What's it like to wake up to a kingdom after having been asleep for a hundred years?' and `Why are there so many Prince Charmings?' (they're brothers!). It's all very clever and you won't be able to guess how it ends, and I loved the relationship between the siblings and the lessons they learned along the way. I can't wait to read the next one!


Geek Girl (Geek Girl, Book 1)
Geek Girl (Geek Girl, Book 1)
by Holly Smale
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Adorkable, 4 Nov 2013
Harriet Manners is clumsy, clever, doesn't care about fashion and is prone to hiding under tables when she's anxious, which is often, so how will she cope when she is spotted by a top modelling agency and propelled to the giddy heights of fame? She's a great protagonist - I loved her geeky little facts and the fact that she cares more about her friend Nat than about chasing boys - although there is one rather cute boy introduced in the book. The characters are larger than life, and although as an adult reader I found her man-child of a dad a bit OTT, I think it's perfect for the age range.

I also liked how the themes of the book are explored, the ideas of identity (will Harriet lose hers by becoming a model? Does she want to?) and kindness, as Harriet and Nat are bullied by the awful Alexa, and need to work out how to face up to her without becoming mean girls themselves. As I was reading, I kept thinking - is Holly Smale the next Louise Rennison? Geek Girl has a similar vibrant, irreverent, in-your-face humour to the Georgia Nicholson series, and with the next book already out with great reviews, and Geek Girl on the shortlist for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, I can see this becoming absolutely huge.


Liar and Spy
Liar and Spy
by Rebecca Stead
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.24

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just brilliant, 1 Nov 2013
This review is from: Liar and Spy (Paperback)
This book is just fantastic - I'm so glad it's won the Guardian Children's Book Award.

Georges (the `s' is silent) and his parents have just moved from their lovely big house to a smaller apartment, because his dad was made redundant; his mum is mostly absent working double shifts at the hospital, although she leaves him little messages in Scrabble letters by his bed when he's asleep. He's lonely at school too, where he's teased and bullied by the popular gang. So when he meets a boy his age in the apartment building, Safer, and joins his `spy club' (just the two of them), things seem to be looking up. The spy club's mission is to track the mysterious Mr X, who lives in the apartment above Georges', always wears black and carries large suitcases, and is clearly Up To No Good. But as the spying becomes more intrusive, Georges doesn't know if he wants to be involved anymore.

This is a brilliantly written story, Georges' voice is so authentic and its full of details that really get you involved in his world - the trips with his dad to their favourite Chinese restaurant (where the fortune cookies have the strangest messages), the escaped parrots who have built a nest in the eaves of the building opposite, Safer's `eccentric bohemian' family and little sister Candy - while the suspense of Mr X's secret keeps the pages turning and the tension high. The themes of truth, lies and make-believe are well explored, and the bullying storyline is brilliantly done; the book has wonderful messages about looking at the big picture vs the little picture, and how to stand up and make your own rules. I wish it had been written when I was at school! Definitely one to be enjoyed by all ages.


Ketchup Clouds
Ketchup Clouds
by Annabel Pitcher
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.36

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A powerful story, 29 Oct 2013
This review is from: Ketchup Clouds (Paperback)
I was a bit doubtful about reading this novel - the idea of a teenager writing to a prisoner on death row to confess her own guilty secret sounded as though it could be sensationalist, but Annabel Pitcher handles it well, sensitively balancing the darker themes with the more normal and often humorous elements of an otherwise normal teenager's life - school, homework, family drama, sneaking out to parties with her best friend and falling in love for the first time. I liked the background threads of her parents' arguments about money, her ill grandfather, and her youngest sister, Dot, being deaf - these all added in to the chaos of family life and made Zoe feel grounded as a character.

The epistolatory form works well, as Zoe (not her real name) writes to Mr Harris and narrates two stories, both what is happening to her currently, one year on, and the year leading up to her crime. I did cringe slightly when she was overfamiliar with him, imagining how he felt when he murdered his wife and commenting on the personal details of his case, but perhaps she is just a teenager with an active imagination (despite her mother's wishes for her to be a lawyer, she wants to be a writer) and a lack of tact. Indeed, Zoe isn't a wholly sympathetic character, which I liked - she seems like a real, normal, sometimes selfish teenager.

The past thread mainly concerns Zoe meeting two separate boys at a party and the situation she finds herself in about choosing between them. One weak point here is that it is abundantly clear to the reader which boy she `should' be with - the other is depicted as quite sleazy and gross (when we first meet him he is drunk and burping - nice), a typical lad, and also does something Very Bad to Zoe when they first meet, which she apparently forgets about; his only redeeming feature seems to be that he is popular. It makes you not care particularly about this character, and also makes you hope that Zoe's crime has something to do with him rather than a character you care about.

I can't really reveal much more as one of the best things about this book is the suspense and slow revealing of the truth; Pitcher's writing is gorgeous, with some mind-blowing imagery, as Zoe's emotions are beautifully and honestly realised. It's a page-turning read and although I didn't completely love it, I recognise Pitcher's talent and the powerful story she tells.


The Circle
The Circle
by Dave Eggers
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling, throught-provoking, un-put-down-able, 28 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Circle (Hardcover)
Dave Eggers' latest novel is an unputdownable, addictive read - I haven't been this gripped by a book in ages. It centres around Mae Holland, an average 24-year-old woman who manages to get a hallowed job at The Circle.

The Circle started as one man's vision - the original founder, Ty Gospodinov, is a reclusive, super-intelligent Mark Zuckerberg-type figue - to unite everyone's online profiles into one 'TruYou', eliminating the annoyance of multiple usernames and passwords, as well as online anonymity and trolling, and has become the world's most powerful internet company. It's a utopian paradise - sprawling, beautiful campuses which invite the world's most influential people to come and talk, locally sourced food, an on-campus vineyard, facilities for every sport and every extracurricular activity imaginable, and night-long parties.

Quickly Mae gets deeply involved in The Circle and developing its ideals of transparancy and information-sharing - imagine a world where everything is shared, there are no secrets and all knowledge is accessible by everyone? Mae can't see why anyone would object to this safe, enlightened and idealised future, yet her ex-boyfriend Mercer, her parents, and even mysterious man she meets on campus - employee? interloper? - seem resistant, and even predict trouble, which soon creeps sinisterly in. Eggers explores the possibilities of this near-future in his masterful and mind-bendingly imaginitive way, making for a thrilling, unflinching and often claustrophobic read and reflection on our times.


In Bloom
In Bloom
by Matthew Crow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new favourite, 19 Sep 2013
This review is from: In Bloom (Hardcover)
This book is an utter masterpiece. Matthew Crow has created the very real and very funny voice of fifteen-year-old Francis Wootton, who believes he is a tortured genius, destined for better things than Tyne-and-Wear. He thinks this might just be his year - but then he is diagnosed with leukaemia.

I loved the characters in this book - not just Francis, but also his no-nonsense mum and his gay older brother Chris, who still comes round to raid the kitchen cupboards and (grudgingly) lets Francis borrow his band T-shirts. And then there's Amber, the girl he meets on the cancer ward - fierce, funny, unsentimental, Francis's complete opposite, but possibly his perfect match...

The book accurately captures the feelings of first love, while the pop culture references are perfect (it also has an excellent soundtrack. Crow portrays Francis's fears, and the sometimes ugly side of life, sickness and death sensitively but never sentimentally. It's a magical, glorious, life-enhancing and emotionally gripping read that will make you cry both with laughter and with heart-broken, heaving sobs. I wouldn't be surprised if it became the next The Fault in Our Stars, or Eleanor & Park. I promise you won't regret buying it.


The Hours of Creeping Night - A collection of dark speculative short fiction
The Hours of Creeping Night - A collection of dark speculative short fiction
Price: 1.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding writing, 13 Sep 2013
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The writing in this short story collection by Sophie Playle is stunning - detailed, sensual and chilling. The themes are Angela Carter or Tim Burton-esque, yet original and diverse. Most, such as 'Bump in the Night' and 'Bad Thought', are truly dark and unsettling. I'm glad I read them in the daytime.

The stories are short, but in a few brief pages she can make you care deeply about a boy made of junk, with 'coat-hanger fingers on his clock-face hands'; re-create Hansel and Gretel into a tale more terrifying than the original; or vividly conjure up lesser-known monsters such as the Wendigo, a creature of ice, mud, blood and teeth. I'd love to see a full-length novel from Playle.


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