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Price: £5.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but didn't pull me in, 27 April 2014
This review is from: Sisterland (Kindle Edition)
Identical twins Violet and Kate have grown up as two halves of a whole. With an often absent father and a mother suffering from some sort of implied depression, they are left to find their way through their adolescence together. But Violet and Kate also have a physic gift, with an uncanny ability to see what isn’t there and to predict what’s coming. As children, this gift binds them together, but it also drives others away.

As the twins grow up, their lives take very different directions. Kate changes her name and does everything she can to blend in and conform. She aims to be the model friend, mother and wife. She sees her psychic abilities as the root cause of everything bad that has happened in her past, and she does all she can to supress them. On the other hand, Violet embraces her differences. Exuberant and eccentric, she makes a living as a psychic and has no inhibitions when it comes to embracing life and exploring her sexuality.

Their wildly different choices have been the cause of strained relationships between the sisters their whole lives, but they are still linked by the unbreakable bond of sisterhood. When Violet predicts a catastrophic earthquake and is catapulted into the public eye, Kate is drawn back into the world that she hoped to have left behind. As the date of the event draws near, tensions rise. For Kate, the cracks in the life she has built will be revealed. For Violet, her life is about to be put under a microscope by the media.

Whether you believe in the twins’ powers or not is up to you. The most important thing is that they believe in them, and this shapes the people that they become. Their belief in Violet’s prediction changes their lives, and it becomes almost self-perpetuating. It raises the question of whether believing in something hard enough can ever make it true? And how much of our destiny is down to the choices we make and how much is down to forces outside of our control?

Identity is a major theme, and Kate in particular struggles to be comfortable and confident in her own skin. Her insecurities have defined her throughout her entire life. Throughout the book, Sittenfeld constantly brings us back to how our own perceptions of ourselves can shape who we are and where we end up.

As with all Sittenfeld’s previous novels, Sisterland is extremely well-written and entirely readable. However, I struggled slightly to connect to the subject matter. I found Kate’s story quite frustrating at times, and as we see things entirely from Kate’s point of view, I found it hard to relate to Violet.

Frog Music
Frog Music
Price: £3.66

4.0 out of 5 stars A vibrant assault on the senses, 27 April 2014
This review is from: Frog Music (Kindle Edition)
‘Frog Music’ takes us back to the brothels and backstreets of San Francisco, and to the sweltering heatwave and smallpox epidemic that characterised the summer of 1876. The novel opens with the murder of Jenny Bonnet. The only other person present at the scene of the crime is her friend Blanche, one of the star performers at the infamous House of Mirrors bordel.

The rest of the novel flits back and forward in time. In one narrative stream, we learn how Blanche and Jenny first met, and how their chance meeting and friendship may have led to the shooting. In the other strand, we follow Blanche’s wild search for the guilty party after Jenny’s death.

Famous for her ability to capture the hearts, minds and bodies of men, Blanche lives with her ‘maque’ Arthur in a Chinatown apartment, performing twice a week in a titillating dance show of risqué burlesque. We quickly learn that Blanche’s baby son is being raised out of town, and is seen by his parents only rarely, allowing them to carry on with their own lifestyles without worrying about his upbringing.

But when Blanche happens to run right into the infamous Jenny Bonnet, it’s the catalyst that will change everything. Known about town for her habit of wearing men’s clothes and her trade as a frog catcher, Jenny asks the questions that others don’t, forcing Blanche to re-examine her life, her lover, motherhood and her future. Ultimately, this chance encounter sets in motion events that will lead to Jenny’s untimely death.

Emma Donoghue spins us back and forth, weaving an intricate and perfectly conceived murder mystery. We’re right there with Blanche as she clings to any shred of evidence, caught up in a web of confusion as she struggles to point her finger at the right culprit. The author also touches on some important themes about labels, identity and nationality, but in a subtle way that doesn’t throw them in your face at the sake of the story. I loved the constant presence of music throughout the novel, it felt like it gave the book an added dimension and really helped to bring San Francisco to life – I just wish I understood more French!

That said, Blanche as a character really annoyed me. Even though we spend the entire book inside her head, I just couldn’t connect with her. Yes she comes across as witty and feisty, but she’s also sly, callous and selfish. Throughout the book, she just seemed to make one stupid mistake after another. She was certainly a strong character and well written, but I just found her quite frustrating. I didn’t feel she really grew or developed over the course of the book in the way that she should have.

Jenny, on the other hand, I though was a great character, but I would have loved to go a little deeper into what made her tick. We find out clues and titbits of her life along the way, but we find these out with Blanche after Jenny’s death, leaving little room for any type of resolution.

I felt like I was one of the few people out there who didn’t absolutely love Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, so I was really happy to be pleasantly surprised by this!

Watch Your Back (Romantic suspense Book 15)
Watch Your Back (Romantic suspense Book 15)
Price: £3.66

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, as always, 27 April 2014
Karen Rose’s books are always really readable and entertaining, and the same is true for ‘Watch your back’. The story races along, throwing in twist after twist, and everything comes together nicely to give us a satisfying conclusion. As well as the main crime story, there’s the usual romantic arc – in this case with a classic strong and loyal man looking for true love, and an independent and feisty woman who’s forced to accept his protection. If you read Karen Rose’s books, you know what to expect, and you won’t be disappointed by her latest offering! If you haven’t you might like to read some of her previous novels first, there are a lot of characters that have popped up before and a lot of past storylines are also alluded to.

Cuckoo in the Nest
Cuckoo in the Nest
by Michelle Magorian
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Cuckoo in the Nest, 25 April 2014
This review is from: Cuckoo in the Nest (Paperback)
This is a really great children’s book by any standards. In the aftermath of war, Ralph is growing up with ambitions that his father can’t understand. His longing to make a living in the theatre sets him apart from the rest of his family. As he grows up, becomes more independent and starts to make decisions for himself, he has to try to strike a balance between his new life and his past. The beauty of Michelle Magorian’s writing is the way that she makes relationships between her characters seem so real. Even years after reading, this book sticks in my mind, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

The Secret Island (Secret Series)
The Secret Island (Secret Series)
by Enid Blyton
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect adventure story, 24 April 2014
I’ve always been an avid Enid Blyton fan, and even though her Famous five series will always be my favourite, I always loved this book. I loved the idea that children could run away and build a home for themselves on a hidden island, away from adult eyes. It’s a real adventure story and I can’t recommend it highly enough for kids everywhere, even this long after it was originally published.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things
The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary story of a changing city, 24 April 2014
Born with webbed fingers, Coralie has been raised to be a human mermaid in her father’s museum for the strange and the unusual. From an early age, she’s been trained to hold her breath, withstand extreme cold and swim for miles in the Hudson River. Now eighteen, she performs in a tank for people who come to view her and a whole host of other living wonders for their amusement. Her father, the cold and detached Professor Sardie, rules every aspect of her life, and ruthlessly exploits his star attraction to help bring in business. As the large amusement parks of Coney Island threaten to tempt away his customers, the Professor’s methods become more and more extreme.

Eddie, born in Ukraine and driven to New York with his father after vicious pogroms killed his mother, has spent his life railing against the expectations of his Jewish faith. Now a photographer working for the New York newspapers, he sees first-hand some of the city’s most horrendous crimes and events, including the notorious Triangle Fire. But Eddie also has a skill for finding people that are lost, and when he’s approached by a man hoping to find the truth of what happened to his missing daughter, his world and Coralie’s are set to collide.

But while Coralie and Eddie and their romantic story-arc take centre stage, the story that I fell in love with was the story of New York itself. The novel is set in a time when parts of Manhattan and the surrounding areas are still wild, when the vast space that we call now call New York City was made up of valleys, marshes and rivers and individual towns and villages.

The novel vividly captures a place just on the cusp of modernity, when everything was new and exciting and changing. It brings to life the political movement of the times, with people campaigning for better workers’ rights and standing up to a corrupt upper class. Buildings are getting bigger and the entertainment parks of Coney Island are growing ever more ambitious, using new technology to offer people new experiences and sights they’ve never seen before.

It also laments a lost way of life, as the concrete of the city spreads relentlessly onwards and outwards, taking with it an old way of life even as it opens up a new one to a younger, more adaptable generation.

This contrast between the past and the rapidly encroaching future is constant throughout the novel. The hermit and his wolf dog, living alone in a shack in the woods near the river, represent a kind of wildness that will never be seen again in the city. In the same way, the Professor’s museum, with its creatures in jars and sideshow of freaks and wonders, is outshone by the ambition, size and scale of the attractions at the new amusement parks. There’s a sense that a way of life is being somehow lost in the face of a dizzying and unstoppable force for change.

The fictional characters in Alice Hoffman’s latest novel are set against the backdrop of a very real city and real historical events, and it’s this that really made the book for me.

One-Pot Chilli Growing Kit
One-Pot Chilli Growing Kit
Offered by South Devon Chilli Farm
Price: £8.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to grow, 17 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this as a stocking filler for my partner, and it's grown amazingly well! It produces a huge amount of chillies and we're now onto our second harvest. As someone that struggles to keep plants alive, I was really surprised by how easy it is to grow. It take minimal looking after and the occasional watering is enough to keep it thriving. They chillies themselves are really tasty, to get them a bit hotter we didn't water it for a few days before picking.

Bellman & Black
Bellman & Black
Price: £3.66

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spooky gothic suspense, 17 April 2014
This review is from: Bellman & Black (Kindle Edition)
At the age of ten, William Bellman makes a perfect shot with a catapult. His target, a rook, falls to the ground. As an adult, William Bellman seems to live a charmed life. His drive, determination and willingness to learn have helped him to make his fortunes and build a happy, healthy family around him. It seems as though nothing can go wrong. But then one horrific, unstoppable incident has a devastating effect on the world that William has created. And a chance encounter with Mr Black, a promise of a business deal made in darkness, casts a shadow over his future that he can never shake off.

Business wise it seems that he can’t fail. From the mill, where he started his career, to the Bellman and Black emporium of mourning that he creates, William has an unerring sense of how to succeed. He fills every minute of his day in a frenzy of activity, trying to block out the darkness by sheer force of will. But as his life goes on, we end up longing for him to turn the same attentions and intuitions to his personal life.

The shadowy figure of Black is present throughout the entire novel, lurking in the background as an indistinct but threatening presence. We see very little of him, but he fills William Bellman with dread, playing with his sanity and pulling him down towards the edge.

Rooks are another constant throughout the book. One is present everywhere and at every time. They are older than men, a part of the land. Rooks are thought and memory. William’s catapult shot has never been forgotten. Their presence means different things to different people, but for William, they have embodied darkness and incited panic ever since childhood.

Black is the dominant and prevailing colour – it’s the dye in the wool, the rook’s wing, the colour of a business suit, a horse drawn carriage, the night sky and the colour of mourning and death. Together, this helps to create a disturbing gothic undertone, the hint of a ghost story and a rich and pervading atmosphere of mystery and dread. I found it impossible to put down. For me, it was reminiscent of novels like the ‘The Woman in Black’, drawing on a Victorian age of superstition and suspense, never quite explaining and leaving me with a chill down my spine.

The Son
The Son
Price: £3.66

50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping new thriller, 10 April 2014
This review is from: The Son (Kindle Edition)
When Sonny was a teenager, his father took his own life. His suicide note revealed that he was a mole in the Oslo police force, passing information to the mysterious and shadowy figure of the Twin, a dangerous criminal with a network of resources at his disposal. This shattering revelation set his family on a path of destruction and ruin.

Now a heroin addict, Sonny has been in prison for 12 years. Since his incarceration, he's gained an almost mythical status amongst his fellow inmates as a receiver of confessions and a cleanser of souls. But when one of these confessions strikes particularly close to home, it throws everything that Sonny has ever believed about his father's death into question.

Homicide Inspector Simon Kefas was once Sonny's father best friend. On the surface, his current cases are random acts of violence, driven by petty theft or drugs. But as Simon investigates, he begins to suspect that the perpetrator is driven by a much more powerful motive. And he isn't finished. When the crimes of the present become caught up with the ghosts of the past, Simon may be the only one that can help Sonny to uncover the truth he needs.

`The Son' is filled with a whole cast of unsavoury and untrustworthy characters and layer upon layer of deceit. But somehow, Jo Nesbo manages to turn our perceptions of good and bad completely on their head, as the lines between justice and law and right and wrong become increasingly blurred.

This theme of vengeance, retribution and justice is constantly present throughout the book. People can never truly seem to escape the sins of their past, and we're start to question whether they should. And if they deserve to be punished, what should we think of the person doing the punishing? In fact, there's a general sense throughout the book that sometimes, crimes can be are both justified and inevitable.

By contrast, the law is presented as increasingly untrustworthy, with prison governors and police officers under the pay of crime lords. I know that a corrupt police force isn't anything new in this genre, but in this case I was literally left questioning the motives of every single character that crossed the page.

`The Son' is packed full of action, with multiple crime scenes and twist after twist - swiftly followed by another twist! As a reader, we're thrown from one situation to another, keeping up a relentless pace that culminates in a dramatic and explosive conclusion. Almost everyone we come across has their own agenda - having either committed some kind of crime, made an enemy of someone or joined a clandestine alliance of some sort.

This kind of plot device worked well in terms of making it harder for me to predict what was coming next, but there were also a lot of characters to remember and keep track of. This had the effect of being quite confusing. On top of that, we're also left almost entirely to our own devices to put together clues and work out people's motives. At one point, I was left totally clueless as to how events had got to a certain point, but just had to carry on reading, hoping that the author would eventually explain everything. Luckily everything became clear in the end, but I did feel a bit lost at some points.

That said, I really enjoyed it. It got to the point when I was actually glad when my train got delayed because I literally could not put it down!

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Price: £2.29

2.0 out of 5 stars Not quite there, 8 April 2014
When seventeen year old Violet and her twin brother Luke run out of money, they are forced to rent out their guesthouse to make ends meet. When the charismatic River West moves in, it seems like the answer to all their problems. But where River goes, bad things follow. As Violet starts to connect the dots, she realises that River might be just as dangerous as he is charming.

From here on out, Violet goes back and forward between hating River, mistrusting him and believing he’s the devil incarnate to being powerless to resist him and falling into bed with him at the slightest provocation.

In the bulk of this book, the story progresses along quite nicely, with just the right amount of spooky, slightly creepy mystery. I like the fact that characters have a dark side, and one of the challenges facing the main characters is if they can resist this dark side or if they will fall victim to temptation. The author also manages to create an entirely realistic town, slightly isolated and slightly superstitious. The whole setting of the rambling mansion, the fog, the cemetery and the woods create an eerie gothic feeling that I really liked. The scenes where the children, fearing the devil will come to steal kids away in the night, stand guard in the cemetery was particularly well done.

However, the ending ruined the book for me a bit. By the turn of the last page, it had changed from a supernatural novel with a twist to one that was really obviously leading up to a sequel. The mystery that I liked throughout the book goes, and it turns into more of a ‘fight to the death’ cringe-fest.

The teenage heroine of this novel is also quite unbearable. She’s a snob and doesn't seem to like anyone at all – not her twin brother or even her only friend, Sunshine, who Violet basically seems to think is a vacuous, lazy airhead whose only focus is on attracting boys.

She mentions the fact that her family used to be wealthy in what seems like every other sentence. She uses phrases like ‘ex-illustrious’, ‘hence’ or ‘panther hips’ (really?!) and quotes poetry because she reads more books than everyone else. She doesn’t work, clean or mend anything in their house, or do anything else that the ‘lesser people’ do. In fact, all she does is paint, because she’s an artist. Except that two pages later we’re told she no longer paints and hasn’t done in a while. So essentially, she does nothing, all day every day except wait for their money to run out.

As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t enjoy this book. It has promise, but it just isn’t there yet for me.

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