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The White Princess
The White Princess
Price: 1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Historical drama, 21 Feb 2014
If you’ve read any of the other books in Philippa Gregory’s 'Cousins War' series, then you’ll soon see that the White Princess is very much in the same vein. Each book in the series is told from the point of view of a woman at the heart of the royal court. Here, we experience events through the eyes of Elizabeth, Princess of York. Daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the young princess is no stranger to war, loss and hardship – having experienced the extreme highs and lows of being in a position of power throughout her father’s reign.

After her father’s death, his youngest brother, Richard III is King. Her two younger brothers are believed to have been murdered in the Tower of London. Her mother continues to plot and conspire with enemies both at home and abroad – determined that, one way or another, her children will find their way back to the throne.

As Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard grows, and his wife continues to fail to provide an heir, the princess reigns over the royal court like a queen. But when Henry Tudor invades to take Richard’s crown, Elizabeth must learn to adapt to a very different way of life. With her lover dead on the battlefield, she must play the role of a dutiful wife in a court where her heritage means that she will never be trusted, even by those closest to her.

This novel does a great job of exploring a marriage arranged for political reasons. In this case, their match has been made out of a need to protect their families and to win over the hearts of the Yorkist public. At first their relationship is portrayed as being driven by hate, fear and suspicion. As plots by York loyalists continue to abound, Elizabeth is viewed as a threat and tightly controlled by her husband and mother-in-law. But as her relationship with Henry grows, and her beloved children are raised in the ways of the reigning royal court, Elizabeth is forced to come to terms with what it means to be a Tudor.

Royal women at the time were used as nothing more than pawns in a strategy to get to the crown. Elizabeth is married to a king, but the people closest to her continue to conspire to get a York boy on the throne. If they are successful, Elizabeth would be cast down and her sons disinherited in the name of her father’s family. She is trusted by no-one, putting her in the most dangerous and precarious position of all. For her, there are no outcomes that can truly be a win, as someone she loves will have suffered.

Unlike some of the women featured elsewhere in the series, Elizabeth has very little power to control events. She is kept in the dark and must make her way through as best she can, doing anything she can to emerge unscathed. For this reason alone, I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as some of the others. The helplessness of her situation is quite frustrating. However, Gregory’s writing remains compelling and riveting and her characters are entirely convincing.

Divergent (Divergent Trilogy, Book 1)
Divergent (Divergent Trilogy, Book 1)
Price: 2.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, 17 Feb 2014
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In ‘Divergent’, people are divided into different factions – each with their own defining characteristics and responsibilities. When they turn sixteen, no matter which faction they have been born into, people have the chance to choose which group they want to belong to for the rest of their lives. The factionless – those that have failed at initiation ceremonies or been cast out of their community – belong nowhere and form a very defined underclass.

A test is supposed to reveal a dominant trait that will guide young people in their choice. But there are those that fall outside the group, and that display strengths that would allow them to fit into multiple factions. These are the divergents, and as Tris is about to find out, they are seen as highly dangerous, with the potential to upset the tightly structured order of society.

Despite showing an inclination towards more than one faction, Tris makes the choice to leave her family and become one of the Dauntless – those that are fearless and are charged with the protection of the rest. Once there, it’s clear she has underestimated their ruthlessness, and she must draw on everything she has to survive.

Tensions between the factions are also brewing and their leaders are becoming ever more corrupt. Although the factions have been designed to allow for a fully functioning, conflict free community, it’s clear that the lust for power can never be underestimated. Soon, Tris is drawn into the middle of a war that threatens to destroy everything.

The book is based on the idea that society runs from five basic principles and essential traits, each of which are dependent on each other to work effectively. For me, I found it very hard to believe that everyone wasn’t a divergent – as the factions seemed a bit too neat and separate for anyone to slot neatly into a place. There were also a couple of other niggling points where I just couldn’t quite get on board with the story line and where characters make decisions that seem a little far-fetched.

That said, it was so easy to get immersed into the world that Veronica Roth has created. The story is fast paced and full of action and I really enjoyed it. You might have heard that it’s being compared to The Hunger Games – and I actually picked up a free sample of the first few chapters at a screening of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It definitely falls in the same genre, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Wool (Wool Trilogy 1)
Wool (Wool Trilogy 1)
by Hugh Howey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 14 Feb 2014
This review is from: Wool (Wool Trilogy 1) (Paperback)
In Hugh Howey's breakout self-published fiction novel, generations of people live and die inside a giant underground silo. Their only glimpse of the outside world comes through a dirty camera lens. The worst punishment is to be put outside, where the air is so toxic that people are overcome by it in minutes.

The hills are littered with bones. But still, a seed of rebellion refuses to be put out. There are those that do not believe the outside world is as fatal as they've been told. Spurred on by drudgery, endless rules and conspiracy theories, these people will fight to the bitter end to uncover the truth.

This is easily one of the best books in its genre that I've read for a while. The main character, Jules, is easy to relate to - she's strong, independent and she doesn't give up. Having become part of a team responsible for policing the silo, she's forced to confront her own doubts and to decide whether or not to follow her convictions.

The concept of living in such a confined by well-equipped space underground is also really interesting, and very relevant, especially when you think of the recent spate of people attempting building their own personal bunkers to protect against the end of the world.

Paranoia is a strong theme throughout the book. The strong temptation of the unknown, the constant work involved keeping the silo alive and the confined living and working spaces mean tensions run high. When conflict does break out, it's violent and bloody. To deal with this, any attempt to cross the boundaries set by the silo is swiftly punished and those that ask too many questions are quickly suppressed.

Despite the fact that everyone lives within the tight confines of the silo, very clear divides have emerged, with certain industries literally at the bottom of the pile, and the more respectable people based nearer the surface.

IT is an especially ominous industry - and in this book it soon becomes clear that they hold all the power. Key to this is their ability to control communications and the spread of information - a fact that remains very true in our own world today.

Overall, it's a quite disturbing picture of what our world could look like in the event of a disaster, man-made or otherwise.

The Book Thief
The Book Thief
Price: 2.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and hard hitting, 11 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Book Thief (Kindle Edition)
The Book Thief opens with a crowded train, snow and the death of Liesel’s younger brother. This is the first death to touch her life. There will be many more. This is also the moment when she steals her first book, a gravediggers instruction manual.

When war breaks out, it will affect everyone living on Himmel Street - including Liesel and her new foster family. It will drive wedges between fathers and sons, and cause others to give up all hope. It will make people keep secrets from their best friends. It will force families into impossible dilemmas, as they have to choose whether or not to sacrifice their principles by staying silent and protecting themselves and those that are dependent on them.

Unlike other books set against the backdrop of WW2, The Book Thief moves away from the action of the battlefields and instead takes us inside a typical German home, on a typical German street. Rather than being a story about war, it’s a story of how war and events impacted on the life of individuals.

Told from the almost omniscient viewpoint of Death himself, each section of The Book Thief begins with a series of facts that give clues of what is to come. A narrative is then woven around these facts to create a rich and intricate story.

We see everything from a joint perspective – as Death tells of the millions of souls lost to the war, a young girl grows up and experiences everything first hand. This really helps to hammer home the poignant and horrifying reality of war.

Books and words are a constant feature throughout the novel. They help Liesel to come to terms with loss, they help her to overcome her fears and they help her to bring comfort to others. Most importantly, in my opinion, they form the fundamental basis of new bonds and relationships with the people in her life.

Finally, I can’t write a review of this book without mentioning the beautiful language used throughout. Markus Zusak is a real master of words, and each sentence and description is beautifully crafted. Every phrase is chosen to conjure up a vivid image, colour or scene that the author wants us to see, and it feels like he really wants you to take your time to immerse yourself in the world that he created.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The film version of this book is coming out later this year, but give the book a go first!

Angelfall (Penryn and the End of Days Book One)
Angelfall (Penryn and the End of Days Book One)
Price: 4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 7 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The world has come to an end. Violent armies of angels have taken over the earth, destroying anyone who stands in their way. On the ground, street gangs run the cities. Food and other supplies are scare and people are resorting to the most extreme measures to stay alive. Angel parts are valuable currency and secret resistances are building.

Angels are taking young children. No-one knows where they are, but they are never seen again. Following a chance encounter with a group of warring angels, Penryn's younger sister is taken. Determined to find her, no matter what the cost, all that Penryn has to go on is a fallen angel left behind after the conflict, Raffe.

It was quite refreshing to have a lead character that is just a normal person. Penryn isn't `special', she's not `the Chosen One' and she doesn't develop special powers. She's just a girl that has to adapt to extreme circumstances. There is, of course, a romantic element to the story, but for a lot of the book she relies on her own strengths and wits to stay alive and to get out of trouble. She's not overly mollycoddled and she's not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Although the enemy here are angels, there isn't a strong religious element. God isn't present, he `talks' through one representative. However, many of the angels seem to be agnostic and doubt whether God exists at all. They are very much a warrior tribe, and they should be seen as one.

I did have a few minor issues with this book. I understand that world that Penryn and her family are living in is supposed to be a war zone. Still, I find it hard to believe that in just a few short weeks people would have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Penryn makes her way into the woods, which are full of animals, relatively quickly from where she is. She also finds a stash of food in an office building at one point, suggesting that there is food to be found still. So the repeated mentions of cannibals felt like they were added in more for dramatic effect than anything else.

Some of the language and descriptions were a bit overdone for my liking, and I felt like the author was trying a little bit too hard to be witty. Plus, as with pretty much all YA books, there is the typical instant and overwhelming physical attraction to the romantic lead. That said though, it's a pretty good effort, and I'll be reading the rest of the series.

The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project
Price: 1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable, 7 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Rosie Project (Kindle Edition)
Don Tillman is lonely. He has just one real friend, he lives his days according to a precise routine and his life is firmly rooted in facts and evidence. Despite the fact that he works as a genetics professor, he also seems completely unaware of the fact that he displays all of the symptoms of Asperger’s.

Following some thorough research, he has decided that he needs to find himself a wife. An extensive paper survey seems the most efficient way to whittle out the undesirables – those being women who smoke, who are vegetarians etc – without the inconvenience of meeting people face to face.

When Rosie turns up at his office, searching for her biological father, Don initially mistakes her for a candidate in the Wife Project. What he doesn’t know is that Rosie will have the effect of a hurricane on his perfectly ordered life. She is everything that he’s not looking for, but in working with her to find her father, Don’s world starts to open up in ways that he could never imagine.

He comes to understand that in some ways, he has been holding himself back. He sets out to teach himself how to act in social situations, rather than shying away from them. He tries new hobbies, travels and stays up late. But most importantly, he teaches himself how to have real relationships with the people around him.

Throughout the book, Don experiences a real journey of change. He starts out by just going through the motions of how he thinks he should be acting in certain situations. Sometimes he ends up hilariously wide of the mark, sometimes he just can’t understand where he’s going wrong, and sometimes he manages to get it just right. But by going through the steps, somewhere along the way he learns how to love, how to break out of his comfort zone and how to really make the most of his life – albeit in a very unique and different way.

As a narrator, Don offers a unique and entertaining view on life and all of its many intricacies. His character is the star of this book, and really is incredibly well written.

This was a really sweet, entertaining and thoroughly readable book. It doesn’t set out to be particularly deep or profound, but at the same time it’s so much more than just a beach read. One thing I would say is that it was a very quick read. I wanted it to go on longer, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

White Horse
White Horse
Price: 3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting take on the apocalypse, 6 Feb 2014
This review is from: White Horse (Kindle Edition)
I bought White Horse as I’d loved books like Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series. I’m also a massive fan of shows like The Walking Dead. From the description, this book seemed to have aspects of all of the above, and I was really looking forward to getting started.

White Horse flits back and forth between times, revealing Zoe’s story before and after the outbreak of a deadly disease that kills off a large amount of the population and causes random and extreme genetic mutations in others. Together, these two narratives weave together to build up a greater picture of events and Zoe’s role in them.

In the past, we follow Zoe’s everyday life in the run-up to the outbreak. In her therapy sessions, she obsesses over a sealed jar, unable to decide whether or not to open it. This jar comes to represent a sort of Pandora’s Box – and the pervading question left hanging for most of the novel of whether this jar truly represents something evil, or whether this is all simply in Zoe’s mind?

In the present, Zoe is making her way to the coast, hoping to find a man that is almost certainly dead. He is also the father of her unborn child. Along the way, she encounters a motley band of characters, each severely damaged in their own way, some of whom pose a very real threat in a world that is now entirely without rules.

The premise behind this was good and I felt like the story had real potential, but some parts of the plot were just a bit bizarre and I couldn’t quite make myself believe in them. I think having more of a focus on explaining the background to events, the details of the disease and the state of the physical world that Zoe finds herself in would have helped to make things seem more plausible.

The way that White Horse is written is also very different from other books in this genre. Zoe’s desperation to hang on to her sanity and her morality while her life is falling apart is a constant feature. The therapy sessions in Zoe’ past meant that she came across as quite an unreliable narrator, and I could never really be sure whether things were true or just her beliefs. This really added to the feeling that this was a place where the world has been turned upside down. However, for me, the language and descriptions were a little too woolly and passive for my liking.

I also didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I felt like I didn’t always completely understand their actions, which meant that I couldn’t truly emphasis with them. I know that this is now part of a planned trilogy, so maybe characters will be given a bit more depth in later novels.

If you like apocalypse fiction, give White Horse a go - but be prepared to be taken out of your comfort zone a little.

Price: 3.60

3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted more, 31 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Hidden (Kindle Edition)
I really wanted to love this book. I’ve read all of Marianne Curley’s other work and really enjoyed them, but for me, this one fell short.

I liked the story, which follows a hidden angel living on earth, and relentlessly pursued by two different forces – light and dark. On one side is Nathaneal, an angel with whom Ebony shares a powerful and instant emotional connection. On the other is the alluring and manipulative Prince Luca, a dark angel determined to make Ebony his bride. Ebony has the power and free will to choose either one, but her upbringing creates conflict, as her instinct is to reject her destiny for her human life.

Jordan is a welcome human addition to the story. Following a near death experience, he is drawn into the circle and tasked with helping Ebony to accept the truth about who she is and where she belongs. He has his own issues, in particular his relationship with his childhood friend-turned-enemy, Adam Skinner. I’m sure we’ll hear more about him and that their story will merge with main events even more as this trilogy progresses.

However, Amber - Ebony’s best friend - feels flat as a character, as do her parents. I didn’t feel any emotional connection to them as characters and the circumstances of certain events felt a little contrived. I think the main reason for this is that the dialogue and descriptions sometimes feel slightly stilted and forced. There is a massive overuse of slang words like ‘man’ and ‘hun’, and for me this began to grate a little after the first few chapters.

The relationships between Ebony and the various guys that surround her are all a bit too predictable as well. I kept waiting for something else to be revealed that would upset the apple cart a bit, but nothing really did.

Out of loyalty, I’m withholding further judgement until I read the next instalment in this series.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Price: 5.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - witty and entertaining, 30 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Bernadette Fox has disappeared. Everyone assumes she is dead, or gone for good. But her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, is determined to do everything she can to find her.

Over an eclectic collection of notes, letters, private emails, articles, blog posts and reports, we gradually gain a unique insight into all of the characters, their motivations and their emotions. These are interspersed with commentary from Bee, as she attempts to piece everything together. These all come together to form a bigger picture of the string of events that took place in the run-up to Bernadette’s disappearance - and to help us, and Bee, solve the mystery as to where she is now.

The format of the book is really interesting. It’s quite hard to describe the plot for this exact reason. It didn't feel as if I was reading a story, instead, it felt like I was putting together a case and a narrative from the raw material. Only in this case, the raw material is incredibly witty and expertly crafted to give away just the right information at any given point in time. Each character has their own voice, and this voice is real, rounded and completely convincing. I think one of the real skills on display here is the ability is to flit from character to character, switching between different perspectives from page to page.

The overall narrator, Bee, is strong willed, independent and funny, and her mother is wonderfully eccentric and entertaining. I wanted to know them. The story does veer into the ridiculous at some points, but this only adds to the overall charm of the book and it somehow manages to also stay believable. It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

Switched: Book One in the Trylle Trilogy (Trylle Trilogy 1)
Switched: Book One in the Trylle Trilogy (Trylle Trilogy 1)
Price: 0.94

3.0 out of 5 stars A good time-filler, 24 Jan 2014
I have a weakness for a good fantasy series, and when Amanda Hocking catapulted into the book world as a shining example of self-publishing, I couldn't resist checking out the first book in her Trylle series.

Wendy, having turned sixteen, has just found out that her parents are not her real parents. In fact, she's not even human. She's a changeling, swapped at birth with a human child born into a rich family. Now that she's old enough to be independent, she's expected to take her trust fund and return home to her own kind.

`Home', for Wendy, is a palace, and she soon finds out she's not just any changeling - she's a princess, and she's supposed to behave like one. Her mother, the Queen, is cold, critical and too preoccupied trying to protect the kingdom from a rival kingdom to spend any time with her returned daughter, instead preferring to dish out instructions from afar. Confused and angry, Wendy turns to her tracker - a sort of bodyguard tasked with her protection - Finn (cue mandatory forbidden love story here).

As to be expected, when this new life is thrust upon her, Wendy rebels, and is desperate to return home to her adopted brother, Matt. She also wants to help Rhys, the baby she was swapped for and has since been living as part of an underclass in Trylle, return to his true family.

There are also other factors beyond her control. A different troll faction is determined to have her under their control, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop events from escalating. There's a fairly good battle scene and the revelation of some supernatural troll powers that build up to a fairly satisfying ending. The author also makes sure to leave a decent cliff-hanger to persuade me to read the sequel, although admittedly I waited a long while in between.

I think this novel could have benefitted from a lot more character development. Lots of the decisions characters make throughout the novel seem highly unlikely, meaning that it's hard not to take a critical step back. Likewise the dialogue and relationships between the central characters didn't quite ring true for me.

For instance, I just don't believe that someone who has suddenly found herself a princess in a land full of trolls would ask so few questions or accept and believe so many things at face value. It takes her most of the novel just to understand some of the most basic things about her new `people'. Just what is she doing and talking to people about all day?!

The romance story plays out in a fairly typical Y/A fantasy fiction style, with trembling knees and intense bursts of forbidden passion. The object of her affections, Finn, does at least have something about him though, which makes it slightly easier to tolerate.

Overall, I think the book has an interesting premise, and it takes Y/A fantasy fiction in a new direction. I'm just not sure that it lived up to its potential. It felt more like something to fill the time with than a novel I'd change my plans to finish.

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