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Latitude (UK)

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This Shattered World (Starbound)
This Shattered World (Starbound)
by Amie Kaufman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and vastly original, 14 Jan. 2015
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This Shattered World, like the previous book, These Broken Stars, takes place on a world that is being 'terraformed', or, in other worlds, various scientific processes are under way to make the planet habitable for human beings and all the things we need - clean water, plant and insect life, etc. In Avon's case, it's not doing so well and is still an insect-less bog - and no one knows why.

The planet is settled by two groups: a military bunch who are off-worlders; and the 'natives' who were born on Avon from distant Irish ancestors. (Jubi)Lee is a soldier, and Flynn is a local.

Lee is very hostile to the natives as she thinks they are pointlessly violent - as she as seen on other terraformed planets - and Flynn's tribe is hostile to the military because, well, they're outsiders who don't have their interests at heart.

As the story develops, both Lee and Flynn realise that things are far less straightforward than they think and more to the point, Someone, Somewhere is manipulating them. More and more soldiers - and now natives - are succumbing to a temporary mental rage wherein they shoot people before heading east towards - well, towards what? This is the central mystery in the story.

This Shattered World, like its predecessor, is interestingly structured as its chapters are interspersed with occasional mini-chapters that are quite surreal, until you approach the end of the story and realise what they're about. The writing style is deft. I'd say, much improved on These Broken Stars, but I wouldn't like to imply that there are any deficiencies at all in the writing style and characterisation this time around, because there aren't.

Tarver and Lilac from These Broken Stars both make guest appearances in This Shattered World, but they are not central characters. This Shattered World has romance, but it is more hard-won and for that, more realistic if less romantic (despite the Romeo and Juliet references!).

My only criticism is an after-I've-read-the-book thought, and that is that we still don't know *why* the company behind the terraforming acts the way it does. They are a bit one-dimensional Uber Baddie. Whilst both books have been entertaining and vastly original in their own right, it would be good to get to the heart of the underlying problem in this fictional universe. I pondered whether this should make me knock a star off, but decided that the story flows so well even without this, that it's still a 5* recommendation to other readers.

Suddenly Last Summer
Suddenly Last Summer
by Sarah Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Modern romance, beautifully told, 16 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Suddenly Last Summer (Paperback)
I kind of read this book by accident, as it's the middle book in a trilogy in which the first and last books are uber-Christmassy, complete with snow and sparkly cover illustrations. I couldn't not read 'Suddenly Last Summer', though, as it's the story of Sean, Jackson's twin brother from the first book, and Elise, the snow resort's chef.

We know that Sean is a bit of a heart throb from the start, but his intensity about work is enough to cool any girl's serious ardour. Elise is the sort of girl who can flirt her eyelashes off, but there will never be any promises. In other words, two characters who seem slightly hard-of-feeling, but remarkably alike. But this is a hearty, passionate romance, so inevitably they crack each other's shells and we see that they are both deeply felt, driven characters underneath their respective veneers. The story's beautifully told, to reveal all that, layer by layer.

Another thing I liked about this book is that there's no doubt it takes place in the modern world. Yes, they've got brains, super jobs, style! and an idyllic location, but their dilemmas seem very real. Despite the romance there's no fluffy idealism and it's all the more effective for that.

Starry Night
Starry Night
by Debbie Macomber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2.0 out of 5 stars A bit too sweet and simple..., 16 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Starry Night (Paperback)
I was a bit surprised that I didn't enjoy this book as clearly the author has loads of fans and has written lots of books that people love.
I found the plot and the characters a bit unlikely, which was peculiar as I didn't think that when I read the plot synopsis on here and on the back of the book. Everything seemed to happen too easily and too quickly; so many secondary characters seemed to trust Carrie with incredibly important things even though they didn't know anything about her other than that she was a journalist.
In any other genre, I'd have said that the writing was suitable for middle-grade readers. I don't have any issue at all with simple language - in fact in can be very powerful if done well - but the tendency for characters to tell us exactly what they're thinking, several times per thought, to my mind isn't brilliant in a book for adults, even if it's supposed to be a light, sweet read. It lacked emotional resonance for me, but then perhaps I'm just a Nora Roberts/ Sarah Morgan junkie.

Christmas in the Snow
Christmas in the Snow
by Karen Swan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.75

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frocks, rocks, chocs and clocks, 2 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Christmas in the Snow (Paperback)
I bought this book from a promotional display in WHSmith - unusually for me - based on the promise of seasonal stuff and the synopsis on the back. I really should have read a few pages as this book was not for me.

Allegra is a financial expert dealing in extremely upmarket fashion brands - "frocks, rocks, chocs and clocks", as the book says.

But they're never just frocks, rocks, chocs and clocks. They're always Celine and Burberry and Blackberry and Dior and Estee Lauder. And then there's Kate Middleton hair, hip-to-waist ratios, fashionable-or-otherwise eyebrows and other details that show the main character, Allegra's competitiveness and focus on wealth and privilege. I'm guessing these things might sound glamorous to plenty of folks but to me they were, well, definitely not my cup of tea.

To be fair, the brand-name dropping thins out as the plot develops, but I didn't warm to any of the characters.

The book does have a coherent story and the writing style is what you expect. There's a bit of stereotype in there, but I guess if you're engaged in the plot and don't mind the name-dropping, perhaps that won't leap out. Definitely not for me, though.

Garden Spells
Garden Spells
by Sarah Addison Allen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of magic, not a hex in sight!, 1 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Garden Spells (Paperback)
I had no idea what to expect from 'Garden Spells' because it was a gift, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It's a very gentle story, and there are no hexes, pointy hats, wands, black cats or midnight incantations. It's about one woman in particular who has a very interesting relationship with her garden and she uses this to make a living by helping people get what they want in life. Other characters have their own, original, magical abilities, like Evanelle's rather humorous need to give people gifts that they need. Not what they want - but that they will need, soon!

It had occurred to me, as it obviously has other reviewers, that 'Garden Spells' has a flavour of Alice Hoffman's 'Practical Magic'. It didn't quite feel like a five-star read probably because of the freewheeling mildness of the pace - the plot climax was a little predictable but perhaps necessary for the story. Still an excellent read, though!

A Winter's Tale
A Winter's Tale
by Trisha Ashley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

4.0 out of 5 stars Simple tale, told with humour and charm, 27 Nov. 2014
This review is from: A Winter's Tale (Paperback)
It's light, it's funny, and the setting is just lovely. Who wouldn't want to inherit an Elizabethan pile in the Lancashire countryside?

There's a little bit of Elizabethan history in here, with references to the fate of an ancestor who got caught up in the witch-hunting mania of the age. Her ghost appears now and then, too, but this is not a ghost story as such.

The story revolves around Sophy, a woman brought up by her wild-child, commune-loving mother, but who is herself a true homebody who loves cleaning antiques and making patchwork cushions. She's courted by a (reasonably distant!) cousin, Jack, who was brought up at the house. He's handsome, rich and keen; so Sophy's dilemmas are a) is he too good to be true and b) regardless, is her her type? As the story progresses, we start to see the strengths of the other possible suitor, the head gardener, Seth, and I'm sure, before the book is half way through, every single one of us is shouting at the book for Sophy to make the right choice!

The other characters add texture and humour. The aunts, very different from each other but both undeniably products of an anachronistically posh up bringing; Melinda, who's pretty dumb but she does her bit, fawning over the fellas; Lucy, Sophy's all-too-sensible daughter and Anya, the dreadlocked gem who Sophy has known since girlhood.

It's not a taxing read. It's simple stuff for whiling away the hours. The humour can be charming, and sometimes a bit... too far. There are stereotypes in there as well as fully-made characters. Sophy is lovely, but she's not the go-gettiest person you'll ever come across in literature. The romance is slow, and chaste, but convincing. But nonetheless, it's a good, light, seasonal read.

Compulsion (Heirs of Watson Island)
Compulsion (Heirs of Watson Island)
by Martina Boone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely story set in the American Deep South, 27 Nov. 2014
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Compulsion is the story of Barrie, who has recently lost her mother and is in danger of losing the godfather who brought her up, a colourfully and lovingly illustrated transvestite man. She has arrived at her mother's ancestral home - which she has never seen - to live with her mother's sister, her aunt Pru. Here she finds that there has been a difficult relationship between three resident families, the Watsons, Beauforts and Colesworths, since the three families' ancestors were pirates on the South Carolina coast a couple of hundred years ago.

There's a growing-up-fast element to this story, as Barrie has to sort her head out whilst pressured by grief, family mystery, her aunt's delicate mental makeup, the ferocious interest of the local kids, the potential boyfriend and the new cousins who may not be as nice as they seem.

There's a supernatural element, too. Two of the three families inherit 'compulsions', which are magical skills (and not what we think compulsion means from reading too many vampire novels!). Barrie can find all sorts of lost things, and that comes in very useful. Eight Beaufort can sort of tell what people want (but not in an Edward Cullen way - ). In case you, like me, think (rather Englishly!) - 'what sort of name is Eight?' - he's the 8th man in the family with Charles on his birth certificate. That's one way to handle it, I suppose!

Once the rich southern US setting is established and we've worked out who all the characters are, we start an adventure to understand why the island is so strange, and if there's any truth to an old legend about American Indian, feather-clad, witchy types, ancient spirits and mysterious fire on the water. After that we segue into a crime mystery within the families, complete with drug runners, murders and chases.

There's a lot in this book, as you can probably tell from all that. The beauty of it is in the setting and delicately described supernatural elements. The romance is very much a teenage one, with caution and newness and insecurity, but then our protagonists are only seventeen, so that's right. The last eighth of the book has a slightly more predictable flow than the earlier part, but sometimes we want things to go a certain way because that's what the genre demands.

All in all, it was a refreshing read and I read it in under 24 hours. Lovely book. Give it a go.

River Road
River Road
by Jayne Ann Krentz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Steady she goes..., 22 Oct. 2014
This review is from: River Road (Paperback)
This is the first Jayne Ann Krentz book I've read - I finally caved after months of Amazon recommending this author in response to the large number of Nora Roberts books I've read.

I wasn't a huge fan of River Road. The writing style is very simple - which isn't always a bad thing, but there were occasions when it jumped out at me. The plot isn't complex, either - which, again, isn't always a bad thing. But there's also a tendency to recap everything that's happened from every character's point of view, so it can be very repetitive, especially if you're a fast reader like me.

Although I realised I wasn't going to love this book, I was getting on all right until I got to the plot elements about business and more detail on the private detective's computer programme. This is where I have to agree with other reviewers that things were rather unrealistic.

There was a lot I liked about the general gist of the story, though, so there's a good chance that I might enjoy other books by this author, especially if they don't feature modern business and police work. Let's face it, the back catalogue is massive so there's bound to be something I like!

Clariel (Old Kingdom Chronicles)
Clariel (Old Kingdom Chronicles)
by Garth Nix
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Companion book/prequel to the Old Kingdom series, 6 Oct. 2014
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Clariel is another character in Nix's Old Kingdom series, born and raised 600 years before Sabriel. The only child of famous goldsmiths, Clariel is obliged to uproot from the forest where she spent her childhood and move to a great city, a world of materialism and apparent sophistication that doesn't suit her. To make it worse, the 'sophisticated' city no longer respects Charter magic, or considers the dead and Free Magic characters (key elements of the previous Old Kingdom books) to be a threat to their modern world. The king has given up ruling in the hope that this will force his granddaughter to turn up to relieve him of duty, and the Abhorsens (the mages that form a central part of the previous books) have given up mageing in favour of country life and hunting. So, all in all, the city folk are feeling pretty smug when in reality they are no longer protected from their world's dangers.

Clariel's character is a strange one. She doesn't especially like people, and isn't really interested in people liking her. Whilst we can empathise with her 'fish out of water' feeling, her singlemindedness at all costs - and those costs are high - makes her less likeable. By the time Old Kingdom fans have worked out who Clariel really is, we understand why. Unfortunately for me this made the book less enjoyable as we know how things will go and they're not necessarily what we'd have wanted for an 18-year-old lost in a strange city. Having got to that realisation, however, it would have been good to see a bit more of how she got from where she is in this book to where she is in Lirael (trying not to give out spoilers!), whereas it's just hinted at in a short epilogue.

I don't think it's actually possible for Nix to write a bad book, but I expected a fabulous, amazing, book-of-the-year read, and it wasn't that. Not a waste of reading time, though, and essential reading for Old Kingdom fans as a 'companion' book rather than part of the series per se. I'm simmering with excitement for the forthcoming book, though, which apparently takes us back to Nick Sayre and Lirael. Hurrah!

The 100 (100 Book 1)
The 100 (100 Book 1)
by Kass Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, not brilliantly executed, 22 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: The 100 (100 Book 1) (Paperback)
This book's written in two time streams; the present, where all but one of our characters are on the planet; and the past, where everyone was on the spaceship. The effect is that we are being given everyone's back story before the plot kicks off on the planet... and then virtually nothing happens on the planet.

The characters are under-developed and similar to each other. Most of the interactions are romantic ones - and, whilst I love a good romance, somehow these lack emotional impact. The supposed perils on the spaceship fall a bit flat because the real danger doesn't appear until the the last few pages. The planet, which they had believed uninhabitable for 300 years, seemingly presents few problems until a suggestion in the very last sentence in the book.

If you've read the other reviews you'll be aware that the book is very different from the TV series. Trying to avoid giving spoilers for TV fans who come to the book... very little of the action you see in the TV series is in the book. In fact, I think it's fair to say that the TV series was 'inspired by' this book, rather than being an adaptation of it. I've always preferred books to their TV series, even when they're very different, but in this case, I'm afraid all the depth and subtlety is in the TV series, not the original book. I guess I conclude that 'The 100' is a great idea, not brilliantly executed or developed in writing. I've added an extra star to the rating just in case I've been led too far astray by the TV series.

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