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Georgiana89 (London)

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A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses)
A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses)
Price: £5.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Quite different from book one, but possibly even better, 3 July 2016
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I read the first book in this series, loved it and immediately started on this sequel. While they were both great, on balance, I think I enjoyed this one even more.

This sequel keeps some of what made the first book so enjoyable - the heroine, the world-building - but it was very different in tone and Feyre aside, focussed on quite a different group of characters. Though there were still some great action scenes (particularly towards the end), on the whole, it was slower paced and more focussed on character development and interaction than danger and wild plot swerves. I often find that a little frustrating in books, but here, I was enjoying the characters and the writing and the ultra-slow burn romance so much that I was absolutely happy to just go with it.

Without giving away too many spoilers, it's nearly impossible to review this novel without pointing out that Tamlin is barely in this installment after the first hundred (of about six hundred) pages. Instead, Rhysand, who was more of a side character last time around, comes to the fore. On one level, this was absolutely fine by me - he was one of my favourite characters in the first book and he was great in every scene he appeared in here. Even so, I found it a little jarring for such a central character as Tamlin to be pushed aside, and it did seem to make a mockery of Feyre's supposedly all-consuming love for him. It also meant we didn't get to see much of Lucien, which was even more of a loss. In addition, both Tamlin and Rhys seemed to have had a bit of a personality transplant at times. It was just about internally consistent, but felt a little disingenous.

To be honest though, I didn't really care, as I was so swept up in the story and the romance and so besotted with Rhys, who's shot straight up my favourite character list. And it was wonderful to see courts other than the Spring Court and learn more about the history of the world. There were also some incredibly steamy scenes - I loved these, but I'd repeat my "not sure this is really YA" warning that I gave for book one tenfold!

I always find it harder to put my finger on precisely what I loved about books I really enjoyed than to pinpoint what I didn't like about books that disappointed me, and I'm struggling here. Though on an objective level, this book probably had some issues with pacing and with inconsistent treatment of characters, overall, it just sucked me in and blew me away. I read its hundreds of pages practically in one sitting and am desperately awaiting book three.

A Court of Thorns and Roses
A Court of Thorns and Roses
Price: £5.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing mix of fantasy and romance, 3 July 2016
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I was very disappointed with the author's Throne of Glass and have never bothered to read its sequels, so despite the interesting premise, it took a lot of recommendations and persuasion to get me to read this. All I can say is that I'm so glad I did. If you like fantasy and romance, this really has it all: a strong and fleshed out heroine, a sexy and mysterious love interest, a well-developed worlds, and lots of danger and action and twists and turns.

The book is almost in two halves. The first focuses on Feyre, a human huntress, being taken into captivity by a fairy, Tamlin, in payment for having killed his friend while he was in wolf form. His lands are magnificent and he is charming, but some sort of curse affects both the land and its inhabitants, most notably by making it impossible for the fairies to remove their masquerade masks. A very slow burn romance starts, which is believable and manages to avoid too many insta-love cliches. Bits of this section may feel a bit far-fetched or convenient (most obviously, why would someone let their friends killer live in comfort rather than punishing them?) but at the half way mark, there are lots of revelations that put a different spin on what's happened so far and make it both make more sense and be more intriguing.

I can't talk too much about the second half without giving lots of spoilers, but suffice to say things get darker and more action packed, and though there's still a romantic current running through everything, the main focus turns away from will-they-won't-they romance to quests and danger. And though it never (in this book, anyway) deteriorates into a full-blown love triangle, an interesting new male fairy, Rhysand, is introduced, who is one of those characters I love who tread an unsteady line between villain and love interest.

The two halves of the book feel really very different. I suspect some people may like one half better than the other, depending on their preferences. I loved both, but would have liked to see the action, the romance and the mystery slightly more evenly spread across the book as a whole.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that though this seems to be marketed as a YA novel, it's sex and violence levels are rather higher than I'd usually expect in something aimed at that age group. It's definitely targeted towards the upper end of the teen market. As an adult who happens to enjoy reading YA but likes a bit of heat, this was absolutely fine by me (a bit of a bonus in fact!) but it's worth being aware of if you don't like that sort of thing.

Overall, a really great read and I went straight on to book two.

The Serpent: Gameshouse Novella 1 (The Gameshouse)
The Serpent: Gameshouse Novella 1 (The Gameshouse)
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great premise and intricate plot let down by detached, emotionless narration, 27 Jun. 2016
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On paper, this book seemed to have everything I love: a Renaissance Venice setting, political scheming, a strong antiheroine, hints of mystery and magic in an otherwise realistic setting and dark, sinister undertones.
The overall concept - a games house that exists outside of time and space where players play games centred on human affairs - was unusual, intriguing and mostly well-executed. And it was written by Claire North, whose "First 15 Lives" I absolutely loved.
But despite all the promise and despite some clever moments, I found it incredibly slow-going and it struggled to engage my attention. The main problem was the rather odd second person narrative style which slowed the action and left me feeling very detached from what was going on. And most of the time, neither the main character nor the narrator gave any real sign of emotion, so I didn't feel any either. This problem was so pronounced I almost gave it two stars, but the interesting premise, setting and plotting saved it from that, while still not being enough to make it a really enjoyable read.
Part of me wants to read the sequel to see where it goes and to give it another chance, but I'm struggling to motivate myself to do so.

Number 11
Number 11
Price: £4.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sort-of sequel to one of my all time favourite novels. Up and down but worth a read, 26 Jun. 2016
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This review is from: Number 11 (Kindle Edition)
Two of the key themes of this book are childhood memories and political awakenings. I remember vividly reading Coe's masterpiece, What a Carve Up, aged about 13 and being completely swept away be it. I don't think it affected my politics quite as much as Coe would probably have liked (I'm afraid I generally vote Tory) but some of its specific messages - on farming practices, on opinion columns etc - have really stuck with me. And just as importantly, so have some of its plot twists and some of its best jokes and one liners. It's fair to say it's one of my favourite books and when the Rotters' Club is added to the mix, I consider Coe one of my favourite writers, though I've found many of his recent books good but a bit disappointing.

I didn't realise until I started reading this that it was an indirect sequel to What a Carve Up. While that's basically an attack on the Thatcher and early Major years through the lens of a loathsome aristocratic family, this focuses on the late Blair and coalition eras. The Winshaws of the earlier book don't make an appearance (for reasons obvious to anyone who's read it!) but most of the villains of the piece are their literal or spiritual heirs.

This book contained plenty of what made its predecessor so great: vicious political satire, intricate plotting, hilarious moments nestled alongside heartbreaking ones and unconventional, non-linear ways of telling the story.

There were definitely moments that made me feel Coe was finally back to his old standards, from a humourous but ultimately tragic tale of someone on I'm a Celebrity, to a Sherlockian story of someone murdering stand-up comedians, and perhaps most strickingly, an over-exaggerated but weirdly believable story of a private tutor to the super rich.

But then there was a slow story of someone's trip to visit their grandparents in Birmingham and an utterly bizarre story about someone obsessed with tracking down an old film. And while there were some laugh out loud moments, there weren't quite enough. And some of the characters felt like caricatures and some of the politics felt like cheap points and rather lacked nuance. To be fair, What a Carve Up's politics and characters weren't exactly subtle and balanced either, but somehow that felt a little more rounded and the characters were a bit more memorable.

Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty enthusiastic about most of the book, right up to the utterly ridiculous ending, which took a bizarre and completely unexplained turn to the supernatural and came close to ruining the whole thing.

On balance though, I'd still highly recommend this unless your political sensibilities run completely counter to Coe's or you really can't cope with unconventional narratives. Not quite as good as his best works, but more interesting and ambitious than most recent works. I'm still hoping for a book from him that will blow me away again though.

This Savage Song
This Savage Song
Price: £3.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Something that's half paranormal and half dystopian somewhere coalesces into something totally original, 26 Jun. 2016
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This review is from: This Savage Song (Kindle Edition)
I found some of Victoria/VE Schwab's earlier books enjoyable but ultimately a little disappointing. But I've kept reading them, and they keep getting better and better. With this, I felt like she finally completely hit the mark. This was page-turning, dark and fascinating from start to finish.

This was a strange merging of two of the most over-done genres in YA - vampires/urban fantasy and dystopia, but the author proved that with enough imagination and writing skill, you can make anything feel fresh and imaginative and despite surface similarities to other works, this felt very unique and different to anything I've read before. The different types of monsters were well-thought out and described. The two main characters were well-developed and nuanced and enjoyably dark though still very likeable. The family dynamics were fascinating.

The basic plot is that Verity City is overrun with monsters that are created by human's violent acts. There are three types: Corsai's, which are flesh eating ghouls, Malchai, which are basically vampires, and Sunai, which are completely original creatures (I think) which can only harm murderers and kill them by playing music which causes their souls to leave their bodies. The city is divided into two. On the north side, the Harkers keep the monsters under control by fear and charge the citizens protection money. On the south side, the Flynns hunt the monsters down. The two sides have an uneasy treaty following previous conflict. The story focusses on the story (half Romeo and Juliet, half undercover spy tale) of Harker's underloved daughter and Flynn's adopted Sunai son. There's glorious uncertainty about who to trust and who's really good or evil.

If I was to pick a fault with the book, I'd say that the ending was a little grimmer than I'd ideally have prepared and there wasn't as much romance as I'd have hoped. Nonetheless, I'd hugely recommend this to anyone looking for a dark and original YA read.

The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last
by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An interesting concept utterly squandered, 1 May 2016
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This review is from: The Heart Goes Last (Hardcover)
I love Margaret Atwood and though I enjoy her more realistic work too, I think she's at her best when creating imaginative dystopias. It's an over-crowded genre at the moment with a million and one ill-thought out Hunger Games ripoffs, but I was sure that Atwood could still bring something original, intelligent and imaginative to the mix.
The opening few chapters were chilling and brilliant. Instead of the machinations of evil governments or corporation, we are presented with a world much like our own in which the recession has got worse and previously middle-class families are sleeping in their cars, not getting enough to eat and resorting to petty crime and casual prostitution, while at the mercy of criminal gangs and vicious thugs. Unlike most visions of the future, which are so removed from real life its hard to feel scared, this felt very believable and was an uncomfortable but enthralling read.

The central couple are at the absolute end of their tether with this lifestyle when they are invited to live in a compound where they will spend one month in a prison and one month in an idyllic but closely controlled 1950s style town, swapping with another couple. It was obvious that even with the prison angle factored in, this was too good to be true and I was intrigued to learn more about the compound and see where this was going.

Sadly, from there on in, both interesting concepts - the anarchical society and the prison/paradise split - were utterly squandered. The prison didn't seem that different to the outside and the implications weren't really explored. I'd assumed the couple would be swapping with wealthy criminals, which would have created a fascinating moral dilemma, but instead, it was just constantly rotating ordinary people. No convincing explanation was given for how the system was supposed to be profitable. All sorts of random dystopian cliches of organ donations and sex slaves and brainwashing were thrown incoherently into the mix. The central plot - in which the husband and wife from the main couple fall in love with the couple they switch with - was contrived and had the feel of one of those 1970s farces that rely entirely on misunderstandings, only without the humour. The twists and turns were unbelievable and it was hard to understand anyone's shifting motivation or the choices they made.

About halfway through, completely bemused by yet another unemotional reaction to a crisis, another unlikely plot twist, and another random change of heart by a character, I wondered if I was missing something. Like the ending would reveal that the characters were robots or had been drugged or hypnotised for most of the plot. It's not to be. The characters' actions simply don't make sense and there's no compelling rationale for they they don't make sense. From that point onwards, I had to force myself to the end as things got sillier and sillier.

Throughout, I felt the author couldn't quite decide whether this was supposed to be dark comedy or serious social commentary, and while I'm all for using humour to make serious points, this trode an uneasy line between the two and didn't really work on any front.

Like I said, I love this author, so I was very disappointed and completely bemused, especially as the opening chapters showed Atwood still has a huge talent and imagination. On the whole though, this was no better than the hordes of trashy dystopian novels available today and worse than many of them - unbelievable from such a noted writer.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book Life After Life should have been, 1 May 2016
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This book has the same basic premise as Life after Life, once that's rather different from usual stories of reincarnation or time-travel: whenever the main character dies, they are born again in the same time and place and relive the same life again. I felt this book did a much better job with this premise, both in terms of building up the rules and mythology and really imagining what it would be like to be a child again with all the memories and knowledge of adulthood in your head.

The first half of the book mostly play this straight, going through the first few lives more or less sequentially, exploring different choices and showing what it's like to live that way. I really enjoyed this. Too many books don't properly explore their unique premise before launching into an adventure narrative. The second half becomes much more dramatic, focussing on a showdown over several lives with someone with the same ability as Harry. It's also very well done.

I did have a few questions, most notably how anyone can claim the linears (those who don't reincarnate in this way) only get one shot at life, when they are appearing in each life and making different choices. The only real difference seems to be how much of a memory of earlier lives they do or don't have. Any similarly, I couldn't understand how all of the Ouroborns (those who do) were consistently on the same timeline as each other in each successive life, despite potentially dying decades apart. Still, books are at their best when they get your mind whirring like that and overall, I'd highly recommend.

by Nick Harkaway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Some brilliant characters and plot points almost lost amidst all the unnecessary diversions, 1 May 2016
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This review is from: Angelmaker (Paperback)
The two main characters in this book formed one of the best pairing I've ever come across: a once sexy and lethal WW2 lesbian spy coming to terms with being an octogenarian and regretting some of the choices she's made and the son of a notorious Reggie Kray-esque gangster trying to escape his father's shadow and make a living as an honest clockmaker. And the central plot, focussed on their adventures with a WW2 doomsday device, a sinister cult and a South-East Asian dictator was brilliant.

If the book had managed to stay focussed on these two main characters and this central plot it could have been an amazing read. Frustratingly, however, it got incredibly bogged down in sideplots, minor characters, overly long descriptions and pointless anecdotes. This was a very long read and could easily have list a hundred - perhaps even two hundred - pages without much detriment. The other strange thing was the tone. It felt as though the author couldn't decide quite how serous or otherwise this was meant to be, and as a result, scenes of brutal torture sat uneasily alongside whimsical meanderings and gentle surrealism. As a result of these two issues, I nearly abandoned the book about a third of the way in. I persevered and I'm glad I did, but I found it hardwork to get through, with the good ultimately only just outweighing the bad.

Eligible: The book of the summer
Eligible: The book of the summer
by Curtis Sittenfeld
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable enough romance but a big let down compared to what I'd expect of Sittenfeld, 1 May 2016
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Sittenfeld is one of my very favourite authors so I was looking forward to reading her latest release. I was a little wary about the concept of a Pride and Prejudice retelling - it's hardly a very original idea - but it seemed perfectly suited to an author who's exceptionally good at writing about class and tricky romances.
I'd have bought this on release date come what may, but by pure coincidence, release date coincided with me being on holiday in Thailand. And as a beachread, this was a perfectly entertaining and romantic bit of fluff which I read through quickly with a smile on my face.
But a million and one chicklit authors could have given me broadly the same experience. I expect more in terms of plot, characterisation and writing style from a writer like Sittenfeld.
Unlike some looser adaptations that basically only focus on the "golddigging mother, hate-to-love relationship and man with massive house" aspects of Austen's work, this attempted to take each plot point from the original and update it. There was certainly some ingenuity in how she pulled this off, but the result is that if you're familiar with the original, there was no element of surprise or tension and if you're not, there was little point to the exercise.
In an attempt to make the Bennett sisters' dilemmas modern and relevant, there was a whole checklist of Big Issues that came up: IVF, inter-racial marriage, reality dating shows, trans relationships, assexuality etc. Any one of these could have made a fascinating premise for a story. With all of them thrown into the mix, it felt like the author was working from a checklist or producing a sex education pamphlet, and none of them got the depth the deserved.
And underneath all that modern glossing, the problem remained: Pride and Prejudice is very much a novel of its time. For the original Mrs Bennett, it was perfectly sensible to agonise over her daughters' marriages - the equivalent of pushing them to get into a good university. And it's perfectly normal for all the girls to be living at home and not working. Here, the mother comes across as old-fashioned, unreasonable and unbearable and most of the sisters as pretty pathetic.
Probably the biggest disappointment though was the central romance. I was seriously underwhelmed by the sexual tension or lack thereof between Lizzie and Darcy and didn't massively warm to either of them as individuals or as a couple. I'm really struggling to see where this went wrong, as Sittenfeld has brilliantly pulled off what I always like to think off as "Darcy scenes" (ie. suddenly realising how eligible someone actually is and that you might be in love with them and they with you) in both Prep and American Wife.
Plot wise, the author was clearly hamstrung by the parameters she was working within, but I found it odd that her usual way with words and clever storytelling devices seemed to have deserted her. I genuinely didn't find this notably better written than any other romantic beachread.
Overall, I'm a little mystified by this book. It feels like it was either a publisher forcing the author into doing it or the publisher humouring a successful author with a pet project.
I wouldn't actively advise people to avoid this book. As I said, it's enjoyable enough as a bit of fun. Just don't expect anything that reaches the heights of either Austen or the rest of Sittenfeld.

A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of Magic #2)
A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of Magic #2)
by V. E. Schwab
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a middle book, but much stronger than the first installment, 10 April 2016
The first book in this series was a bit of a disappointment to me for reasons I couldn't quite put my finger on. I was excited by the premise and there were loads of great reviews, so I went in with high expectations. And once I started, there were some interesting characters, some good worldbuilding and a busy plot. But for me, something was missing. I didn't quite fall in love with the characters, there weren't quite enough shades of grey or surprises, and I'd have liked a little more romantic tension. So I gave it three stars, but desperately hoped there'd be a sequel and it would be better, because there were clearly all the ingredients for a great series here.

I picked up this second installment almost as soon as it came out, and I'm delighted to report that I enjoyed it much more than its predecessor. All the things that made that one good - the interesting worlds, the carefully designed magic, the two main characters - are present and correct, but here, the worlds feel more developed and the characters more fleshed out and less clearly delineated as "goodies and baddies." There's also a new character - Alucard Emery: ultra-charming, ultra-deadly bisexual nobleman turned pirate - who shot straight up the ranks of my all-time characters lists.

The tone and pace of this book is very different to the first. Where that was a frantic battle to save the world, this is much more focussed on characters and their smaller, more personal dramas. The first half of the book focusses on Lila finally fulfilling her dreams of becoming a pirate, on Alucard's ship, while Rhys and Kell prepare for the Element Games (an international magical championship that the Red London royals are hosting) and deal with their magical bond and the king and queen's growing distrust. It's fair to say that for most of this section, nothing of substance happens, but the little conversations and minor events and tensions are strangely compelling. Things heat up a bit when Alucard and Lila return to Red London for the Games, but the focus is still very much on individuals trying to succeed and deal with their emotions and differences (albeit with added vicious magical duels) rather than matters of life and death. It's absolutely worth it for the scenes when all four key characters finally meet.

The focus throughout is very much on Red London and the other parts of that world, rather than the jumping between different worlds that characterised book one. However, we do get a few chapters on each of the Londons interspersed amongst the main plot, and it quickly becomes clear that things are afoot in all of them. The scenes in Grey London, in particular, reminded me of the way the characters in Game of Thrones fight over petty issues, heedless of the fact that there are white walkers waiting to attack. It seems clear that book three is going to be back to the grand and deadly scale of book one - hopefully while keeping everything that made this one great intact.

Overall then, there's a degree to which this installment was more an exercise in dealing with the repercussions of book one and getting the characters in place for book three than an plot-heavy novel in its own right. Nonetheless, the writing and worldbuilding and character development made what could have been quite a slow book a real joy to read. I'm looking forward to Book Three. If it can keep the character focus of this installment while returning to the drama and wild plotting on book one, it could be a really amazing read. I just hope it has lots of Alucard, as I think he's really the factor that tipped this from good to great for me.

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