A Book Review Blog

Category: Romance Page 1 of 5

Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

At the moment I seem to have hit a bit of a low point with the books I’ve chosen for myself, so it was with a fair bit of relief that I returned to a TBRindr pick. The fact that the blurb for Sorcerous Rivalry was promising both mage battles and some LGBT romance was all the prompting I needed, even without the colossal misstep that was Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

It’s a dangerous world for a mage in Sorcerous Rivalry. In the years after a Great Mage Hunt, the King’s long-time mistress and the seven children that she birthed are discovered to be powerful mages. Reshi, the youngest of those children, has managed to hide well enough that the kingdom still has no information on him. But when a Mage Hunter turns up in his small village asking inconvenient questions, Reshi finds himself running to ally himself with his scattered siblings. But while some of his siblings will agree to ally themselves with him, others are more interested in a familial battle royale.
I had a pretty good feeling that I would enjoy this, but I hadn’t expected to be quite as engrossed as I ended up being. Let’s start with the characters since they are probably the strongest aspect of the book. There’s the narrator, Reshi, a shapeshifter who just wants to be able to drink and dance the night away. He’s the kind of charming rogue that I can’t help but love, especially when he’s as damn flirtatious as he is. Then there’s the other main male lead, Kestrel, the mage hunter who scares Reshi from his chosen village of hiding. Kestrel, in contrast to our narrator, is stoic and serious, as dangerous as he is alluring. And of course, both of them have a whole bunch of trauma that they have to work through. As it so happens, this is exactly the kind of romantic pairing that ticks every box that I have. So as soon as the chemistry started to kick in, I was a goner really. The six siblings are all very well written as well, with most of them falling into some category of terrifying, but I won’t go into their pros and cons because that will lead to some major spoiler stuff.
The world looks to be pretty interesting too. While it doesn’t go super into details, there are some cool variations on standard fantasy tropes. For example, Reshi establishes pretty early on that his magical energy doesn’t replenish upon resting as you would expect it would. Instead, he must recharge by siphoning off energy from sleeping people, weighing up the risk of drawing attention by draining too much energy versus not draining enough and risk not being able to shapeshift. There are other details like that that get sprinkled throughout the narrative, which is a nice way to gradually learn about the worldbuilding.

I could never resist the romantic combination of incorrigible flirt and super stoic, so Sorcerous Rivalry was always going to win me over with the main characters. The rest of the cast is equally engaging and the world is enough of a variation from the standard fantasy setting to be interesting whilst still being reasonably familiar. I absolutely love this book and will definitely be looking at the sequel at some stage. 5/5

Next review: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Signing off,

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Having been thoroughly disappointed with my last read, I was hoping that my next Young Adult book would be more my style. I had read Meg Cabot books previously, specifically the first couple of volumes of both her Princess Diaries series and her Heather Wells series. The latter series I was quite fond of, and the former was far enough in the past that my recollections of reading it were hazy at best. So I had hopes that Abandon would at least be decent.

Abandon follows Pierce Oliviera, a teenager who had a near-death experience. Following her parents’ divorce and a mysterious incident that caused her to be expelled from her previous school, she moves with her mother to Isla Huesos in Florida. Wanting a fresh start, Pierce can’t help but be fearful, because when she came back to life, she brought something strange and possibly cursed back with her.
I wanted to like this. I’m something of a Greek myth buff, and while the Persephone myth isn’t my favourite, I was interested in seeing how it would be reinterpreted. But Abandon just seemed to defy my efforts at every turn.
First of all, since I’ve mentioned that it’s a re-write of the myth of Persephone’s kidnap/marriage to Hades, of course there will be a death-god figure for Pierce to both run from and fall in love with. That relation could be interesting, if you went for the whole “I love the person, but I can’t give up my life or family to be with them” angle. But despite the in-depth descriptions of John’s good looks and the attempts to do the whole “they bicker, so they must be in love!” trope, there is so little chemistry that it all falls flat. And honestly, you have to be concerned when your main character’s attempts to reach out emotionally to him devolves to her consciously using tactics learnt from working with wild animals. If you’re treating someone you’re attracted to like some kind of humanoid badger, then you have issues. Additionally, they don’t seem to have actually spent more than a few hours in each other’s company over all their encounters, and yet they’re quite happy to talk about loving each other. I can barely get a general impression of someone in a few hours, let alone fall in love, so it smacks of obligation more than anything.
This lack of chemistry stems largely from the second issue that I have with Abandon. Pierce doesn’t really seem to have a great deal of personality beyond the fact that she died and now has a magic necklace that warns her of danger. And considering that a huge chunk of the plot doesn’t deal with supernatural stuff, but her attempts to settle into a new school following some severe traumas, that’s a problem. She just sorts of gets carried along by events there, and all that I could take from those sections is that she’s drawn to meddling in other people’s problems without permission, and isn’t especially suited to it. After a while, her incessant whining that somehow people think you’re crazy when you tell them “I can protect you from the evil!” get really annoying, along with her repeated exclamations of “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”. I don’t care if it’s even a little bit sarcastic, it soon starts to grate on your nerves. It wasn’t long before I had concluded that I couldn’t care less what happened to her, which is the kiss of death for a first-person narrative.
The third issue that I have with Abandon is that it takes far too long to get Pierce’s backstory over and done with. So, there are two main issues that have impacted on Pierce’s life within the past two years that are deemed to be important: her near-death experience where she met and escaped from the Love Interest, and an incident at her former school involving scandal and one of her teachers. What I would have done is maybe dedicate a couple chapters to each event and intersperse them with present-day events, but focus on the entirety of the event at one time. Cabot instead decides to drip feed both of them over the space of two thirds of the book, with both events frequently interrupted by mundane bullshit like school assemblies and queuing for ice cream. This is aggravating to the extreme, as it’s obviously meant to raise tension, but there’s a massive flaw that means that whatever tension is achieved falls flat. The events themselves are easy to work out. The scandal at her old school for instance? As soon as I heard that a teacher was involved and that Pierce had gotten herself in hot water by trying to get evidence against him, I knew that it would involve the teacher being pervy with his female students. And wouldn’t you know, I was absolutely right. Now, compare Abandon with a property that takes this tired “Hot for Student” scenario and makes it work, namely the game Persona 5. Being a video game, it amps the tension by making it the focus of the consumer’s attention and it raises the stakes with elements like a time restriction. It also spends a decent amount of time actually building up the secondary characters, so that when they start being harmed because of the teacher’s abuse of power, you actually give a shit. In comparison, Abandon spends so much time stalling that you’re praying to get the backstory over and done with, rather than being left on-edge to find out how it all turns out.
The fourth issue that I have is the role of the Furies. The Furies are depicted as enemies of John, and by extension Pierce, because they are damned souls who are angry at their treatment. This bugs me for two reasons. Firstly because according to Greek myths, the Furies were deities of vengeance who would target those who committed crimes like matricide or swearing false oaths. They’re vicious, but their targets have traditionally been guilty in some fashion, they’re the idea that certain crimes won’t go unpunished even if mortal justice proves inadequate. To make them mindlessly evil is disingenuous to their mythic origins. Secondly, it seems weird that these all-powerful beings who exist solely to torment the deity running the Underworld are just the souls of evil people. If it’s such a problem that Furies are actively possessing and corrupting living people to carry out their plans, then surely you would try and find out what the fuck it is that Hell is doing to make these things and stop it, not just keep shipping souls in to become new Furies only to wonder why your quality of life has plummeted. There’s a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest that states “Hell is empty and all the devils are here”, but I somehow doubt that it was meant to be taken literally.
Fifth issue is a bit of a spoiler. So it turns out that Furies have been targeting Pierce, and John is concerned that he can’t protect her. His solution is to kidnap her again. But it’s okay this time, because it’s for her own good, and hey, if she gives it time then maybe she’ll come to like being in the Underworld. Seriously, what is it with my reading list at the moment? I can’t seem to get away from YA books that try to tone down kidnapping at the moment. I explored my issues with this last review, so just assume that it applies here too. Also, it ends having resolved absolutely fuck all of the issues that had been brought up. What was the point of spending so much time with the nasty popular kids in order to help her cousin work through some undefined issues that he has with them, if the main character is ripped out of the world before anything happens with it?
The last issue is just something that bewildered me to the point of exasperation. It turns out that Furies like tassels, so whenever they turn up in the narrative they signal oncoming danger. Let me state that again for the record. Tassels are a legitimate harbinger of doom. I don’t think I need to point out the idiocy of that.

Abandon is a book that I wanted to like, but it manages to brain itself at every hurdle. The main character is a charming mix of annoying and boring. Her relationship with the love interest lacks any chemistry, having spent at most a few hours in each other’s company over the entirety of their encounters and at times she treats him more like a wild animal than a person. The backstory is spoon-fed to the reader at such an excruciatingly slow pace that whatever tension the author hoped to create is destroyed. The present-day plot is boring and more or less entirely pointless by the end. The mythology that it reports to take inspiration from is cherry-picked and not especially well. It tries to justify kidnapping by the time it ends, and TASSELS of all things are harbingers of doom. Do not bother. 1.5/5

Next review: Junky by William S. Burroughs

Signing off,

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’ll admit, when I got the Humble ebook Bundle I didn’t have any idea of what I was getting into with Shards of Honor. I’d vaguely heard of the Vorkosigan Saga and generally they seemed good things, but I’d never really looked into the series enough to get a solid idea of what it was all about. I figured from the blurb that it would be military science-fiction of some sort, but not much beyond that. More or less completely blind going in. Nice.

Shards of Honor follows Cordelia Naismith, the captain of a scientific survey crew who becomes the prisoner of Aral Vorkosigan, a man of sinister reputation and the former commander of the soldiers who attacked her crew. But despite the initial mistrust, the two find themselves growing unexpectedly attracted to one another, and must face the possibility of being forever parted when their planets threaten to go to war.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to like Shards of Honor when I first started reading it, as the narrative kind of throws the reader in at the deep end. I hadn’t gotten further than maybe the first couple of pages in and it’s throwing around new terms for planets and space-age weaponry with gay abandon. More than a little off-putting at first, not unlike trying to get your head around Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange for the first time. But like the aforementioned Nadsat, your head does manage to wrap itself around the more unusual terms with surprisingly little extra information.
Having adjusted myself to being thrust into the plot with a lot more speed than I am accustomed to, I realised that despite my initial reservations I was really enjoying myself. While the easiest way to describe the novel is military science-fiction with romance, Shards of Honor takes those base elements and does some really interesting things with them. So, first the military bit. I’m actually kind of surprised at how little fighting is actually shown directly. Possibly this is due to the main character being more or less a non-combatant, but the parts of war that are shown most often can be boiled down to internal politics and large scale battle strategy. Considering how much I love some politics and back-stabbing, I was totally in my element. Additionally, it was good to see that the sides aren’t easily delineated into purely good or malign. While the invading Barrayaran army is mostly in the wrong, it has a mix of Caligula types versus more noble types like Vorkosigan. Similarly, while there are perfectly reasonable people on the side of Escobar and Beta Colony like Cordelia, there are a surprising amount of people unwilling to look beyond basic propaganda messages. And no-one gets out of war unscathed, even or perhaps especially those who got what they wanted from the conflict. I am definitely looking forward to reading more about this world.
Second, the romance. I was pleasantly surprised that the novel focused on a middle age romance. While I’m a sucker for most kinds of romance, I don’t think I’ve really seen much in the genre where the people involved aren’t in their mid-twenties or younger (aside from the supernatural stuff, but even then no-one thinks or looks over thirty). It was refreshing to see the romance unfold with more maturity and a more thoughtful pace. It’s established pretty quickly that both Cordelia and Aral have been badly burned by their romantic attachments in the past, so their connection is less outwardly passionate, but no less powerful for it.

A bit of a slow burner at the start, but well worth the short period of confusion at the beginning. Shards of Honor is probably quite a good introduction to military science-fiction, if my reaction was anything to go by. I would definitely look into getting more of the Vorkosigan Saga as a result anyway. 4.5/5

Next review: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

First of all, just an apology for taking so long to review this one. It has been a hectic three weeks, as I have just moved into my first home. As you can probably guess, this is a long process of settling in, and as of yet I haven’t had as much time to sit down and read as I used to have.
As for Birdsong itself, I picked this up because I had previously read it in high school, but couldn’t really remember it terribly well. I remembered snatches of it, and have found reviews to be generally positive, so I found myself wondering if I would enjoy it the second time around.

Birdsong follows Stephen Wraysford, a strange and intense young Englishman, in the years of the First World War and those immediately preceding it. The narrative starts with his passionate and scandalous affair with the wife of his host whilst visiting France on business. Following that are the years spent in the front line of the Western front and his growing apathy towards the war effort. Additionally, there are sections set in the late 1970s, with Stephen’s granddaughter attempting to piece together his life whilst also trying to deal with her complicated affair with a married man.
Re-reading Birdsong, I realised why I could only remember parts of this book. It is somewhat uneven in tone and quality. The narrative can be roughly divided into three strands, all of which have their own separate issues. The first is the pre-war section, with the focus on Stephen’s affair. This is by far the best part of the novel, with an engaging and intense affair between two very suppressed, unhappy people. The second strand is the 1915-1918 period, which I found to be mostly positive, but not as engaging as the pre-war strand. While the mood is appropriately grim and deeply uncomfortable, I found it made less impact than it possibly could have done, because while the slaughter of trench warfare is very well expressed, it’s difficult to keep track of the cast of characters when almost none of the average soldiers get character development beyond being given a name. While the sheer amount of bloodshed and the awful living conditions are impressive and sobering to read about, it lessens the impact when it’s happening to a cast of cardboard cutouts. The third strand is the 1970s section about Stephen’s granddaughter Elizabeth, and honestly it’s a complete waste of space. If there is a particular era of films that I remember disliking from my university studies, I found that they all seem to have been made in the 1970s. There’s something about that decade that lends itself to ennui and a conscious level of detachment, and it’s really quite grating to me. In terms of the plot itself, it’s only really relevant in its penultimate chapter, where you get some closure in regards to what happened to Stephen after the war. As for the rest of it, it follows a woman who has by all standards a wholly uninteresting life. Sure, she’s having an affair with a married man, but compared to her grandfather’s affair it comes off as boring, because no-one seems to want to upset the status quo. Her quest to piece together Stephen’s life could have made a good story by itself, but here we know far more about what she’s researching than she does for pretty much the entirety of her plot. It was an exercise in wordcount padding.

A powerful novel let down somewhat by some poor characterisation and an entirely useless and irritating plot strand set in the 1970s. While still powerful, it does hit harder when you give people more character than just a name before sending them to be mowed down by machine-guns. The less said about the 70s sections the better really. 3.5/5

Next review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Signing off,

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

I started Keeping It Real with some rather mixed expectations. On the one hand, I had picked the book up in Forbidden Planet, saw the blurb and liked it. I mean, from the description, it sounded kind of similar to the setting of the Shadowrun games, but with more of a romantic slant to it, so what’s not to like? On the other hand, my occasional guest poster has since read another of Justina Robson’s books in the meantime, The Glorious Angels, and he absolutely despised it. I think it’s the first time that I’ve ever actually seen him get disgusted that something like it got published, especially by Gollancz, an imprint that he seems to rather like. And having read some of that, I could see why. So what enthusiasm I had for the book initially had waned somewhat, but I still figured that I’d give it a go. What could go wrong?

Keeping It Real follows Lila Black, a secret agent who is assigned to her first mission after being rebuilt into a cyborg body. She is assigned to protect Zal, an elven singer who is causing controversy by being the decadent rock-star that the Elf realm is entirely opposed to. But there is more to this musician than he will admit to her, to the point where the fate of all the other realms may hinge upon his safety. The fact that there is some magically-enhanced sexual tension brewing between the two will only make Lila’s job more difficult.
I really don’t know why I still entertained a shred of hope that Keeping It Real would be in any way good. I want to try and talk about its failures in a structured way, but honestly there’s a lot to cover. Let me just say to start with that my overwhelming impression of the book is that this is the result of telling an alien the basics of writing and certain genres, then telling it to have a go. The elements of a good or at least passable novel are in there, but they only seem to be there in order to push the plot along. The characters for example. I tried so hard to warm to them, to relate to them, but all seemed absolutely futile. Characters will be going along quite happily, sticking to the logical path for their attributed characteristics, only to then go and do something monumentally stupid or weird in order to push the plot along. Then they’ll go right back to how they were, as if this were totally normal behaviour. As a result, this makes both the political intrigue and the sex scenes fall totally flat. For the political intrigue, the fact that I had no idea what anyone actually wanted or why made the latter chapters where Lila is pretending to be controlled by a ghost living in her body tedious and confusing; if I can’t pick out a motive, connect it to a personality and understand why the two work together, then political intrigue turns into needless complexity. Normally I like intrigue. Normally I don’t find myself urging the protagonist to just break the antagonist’s neck because that’s the quickest way out of this interminable situation. And as for the sex scenes. I should not be bored by a sex scene. Even badly written sex scenes have an element of humour to appreciate them with. The absence of personality from an otherwise decently written sex scene is an absolute kiss of death. It makes you pick holes in the entire scenario. The first one is particularly confusing to consider. Lila and her travelling companion are in a rush and being actively pursued, so why would they pick that exact moment for sexy times? For that matter, why with each other considering that said travelling partner is the reason that she is mostly robotic in the first place? I can appreciate putting differences aside when your goals are the same, but this is ridiculous unless it’s hate sex (this isn’t). And then it makes me think of more general questions about Lila having sex in the first place. Why would the government agency that put her back together include a fully functioning vagina alongside an arsenal of weaponry in each limb? That is, quite honestly, the last thing I think someone would include in their design for a walking death machine. Additionally, she’s powered by a mini nuclear reactor, presumably somewhere in her abdomen. Does that not cause concern for any sexual partners, or does it take more exposure for that particular issue to become evident? In a more engaging book, I wouldn’t be thinking about all the downsides of putting your dick next to a nuclear reactor, but here I am.
Additionally, the plot has an unpleasant habit of introducing setting and character details just as they become narratively important, almost like the author forgot until the last minute. Sure, I don’t mind the odd surprise cropping up in a narrative, but it has to be properly set up first. The gun needs to appear in act one before you can fire it in act two, otherwise it just looks like the author is making shit up as they go along. For example, I mentioned above that Lila is possessed at one point. Whilst possessed, she destroys a little flower belonging to the ghost possessing her. Said flower was never mentioned before this point despite the rest of his earthly possessions being detailed, and yet it is monumentally important both in terms of the ghostly possession itself and in a more social context. That’s just poor writing.

Don’t bother. The characters are flat and do hugely stupid things that are out of character for any sane person, purely to move the plot along. The political intrigue is tedious because the motives are difficult to determine or so asinine as to be not worth mentioning. The sex scenes are competently written but devoid of any feeling, meaning you pick holes in the whole premise of the scene and the characters therein. And the plot introduces important elements mere moments before they come into play. It’s so poorly constructed that I marvel that it was ever picked up in the first place. 1/5

Next review: Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner.

Signing off,

Beauty by Robin McKinley

If someone were to ask me what my favourite fairy tale was, I would answer “Beauty and the Beast” every single time. As such, whenever I saw Beauty on the shelves at whatever bookshop I happened upon, I found myself seriously tempted. It was quite some time before I finally caved and bought the damn thing, which is surprising considering how weak my willpower can be. After a couple of novels that were less than great, I was really hoping that I could rely on a retelling of my favourite fairy tale to get me back into a positive state of mind.

Beauty grows up finding her nickname more of a burden than anything else. Adopted as a result of a precocious outburst after her father tried to explain the meaning of her birth name, Honour, when she was a small child, it is something of a cruel irony that she instead grows up to be plain at best, especially when compared to her stunning older sisters. She dreams of becoming a scholar while her sisters look to good marriages, but they find that their world is soon to change. A storm ruins their merchant father’s fortunes, forcing them to leave for the country and a humble life in a farming village. While in the country, Beauty’s father becomes lost in a storm and takes shelter within a mysterious castle with seemingly invisible servants. But after he unwittingly abuses the hospitality offered to him, he must make a deal with the castle’s bestial owner: in one month he must return to the castle, where either he or one of his daughters must stay as prisoner.
So, first thing’s first, the story. If you’ve ever seen an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, whether it be the Disney adaptation or one of the many modern retellings that seem to exist, then you have a pretty good idea of where the plot will be headed at any one time. There’s not much in the way of surprises when it comes to Beauty, but honestly, were you really expecting any? If you aren’t a fan of the original fairy tale, then Beauty probably won’t change your mind. With that out of the way, on to the specifics.
Beauty is narrated by the title character and while I admittedly had a seriously positive expectations of her before I started the novel, I found that they were more than met here. While I have always identified with her book-worm nature, ever since I was a little girl, I was rather intrigued by the way that her bookishness is conveyed here. Normally you’ll get bookish characters turning to classic works of fiction purely for the pleasure of reading, and while I don’t mind that at all, I was quite pleased to see Beauty view her reading in terms of academic study as much as she does it for the fun of it. It gives her a much more practical and sober tone of narration, which was a far cry from the more whimsical tone I had expected. Additionally, I like that she isn’t a beautiful girl like she is in other adaptations. While she tries not to let it bother her, it is a real sore spot for her and it made her feel all the more relatable; I think most women go through at least one point where they look around and don’t feel pretty enough, and that feeling is captured almost painfully well through her fights with the servants trying to dress her in pretty clothes.
Oddly enough, I found that I liked the Beast less than I had initially thought I would. To put it simply, he didn’t really seem all that bestial, which seems to be missing the point somewhat. When Beast was consistently polite and good-natured towards Beauty, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Because while the romance between him and Beauty does still develop at a nice gradual pace as she learns to look beyond his outer ugliness, it doesn’t feel like there’s as much character development for the Beast himself, it’s all on Beauty’s shoulders. Admittedly, it might be because he’s quite a bit older than Beauty here, but I’ve always thought that Beast’s sullen and bad-tempered nature is kind of necessary for the stakes to feel real. I’ve always seen his temper and mood swings as a kind of emotional defence: if she doesn’t reciprocate because of his looks, then he can convince himself that he didn’t care about her opinion in the first place, and if she’s chased away by his personality he can attribute it to physical appearance. It’s an issue for him to work through as a character arc. When Beast is always kind, it feels more like a waiting game, something that would happen at some point regardless. It by no means ruins Beauty, but I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t a little disappointed.
Finally, I feel that I should return to the story, and mention the ending in particular. It’s no secret that a lot of fans are disappointed by Beast turning back into a human. After developing so much affection for him as a Beast, the reaction to the spell being broken tends to be, to quote Greta Garbo, “Give me back my Beast!” Beauty is no exception, but I don’t think anyone was expecting anything different here. I will mention that the ending seemed a bit brief for my tastes, but it still isn’t a bad ending considering the constraints set by the original fairy tale.

A solid, well-written retelling of Beauty and the Beast. For people who love the original tale, I can’t see this being poorly received in the slightest. Beauty is a wonderful narrator, with a scholarly and vulnerable character that is really endearing. The Beast was perhaps too tame for my liking, but I feel that this will be a matter of personal preference, so make of that what you will. The ending disappoints with the Beast’s curse being lifted, but then everyone was expecting that anyway, so it doesn’t really feel like a wholly valid criticism. 4/5

Next review: The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Signing off,

Envy by Sandra Brown

I can’t remember picking up Envy to buy, but I have a pretty good idea what attracted me to it initially. The way that the blurb played out, it sounded like it would have a lot of suspense and intrigue. All in all, it looked nice and sinister to my jaded little eyes.

In Envy, the reader follows Maris Matherly-Reed, a New York editor who seems to have the perfect life. Working with a plethora of talented writers as part of her job at her father’s publishing house, and married to a remarkably handsome and talented man responsible for the creation of her favourite book. Yet when she picks up the prologue of Envy from the slush pile, she finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew as she gets more deeply involved with the story of friendship turned destructive and its mysterious author, Parker Evans.
I feel more than a little torn about Envy. On the one hand, there is a lot to be commended. For one thing, the characters are all vividly portrayed and distinct. My personal favourite was Parker, but that may just be because I have a real soft spot for curmudgeonly characters with a heart of gold, regardless of how tarnished that gold is. The plot is also written in such a way that it keeps the tension high throughout, which is probably the main thing that saves the plot of Envy from sinking under its main problem. My main issue with the book that leaves me torn is that I had guessed the basic structure of the plot probably around the point that I finished the third or fourth chapter. Admittedly, my predictions about the finer points of the conclusion were a bit off, but having guessed the general shape of the plot so early, it was difficult to keep feeling quite as tense as I had hoped. So while I feel justified in saying that I found Envy to be a highly enjoyable book, I find myself wondering if it actually works as a thriller, simply because of the demands of the genre. If your genre dictates that you need to create suspense by introducing threat while withholding crucial plot information, then I don’t think that this works terribly well, simply because it’s almost painfully easy to figure out what the likely outcome of these circumstances are. While I wasn’t expecting certain particulars of the finale itself, I don’t think that works in its favour either, because the information withheld from the audience feels kind of cheap compared with the twists that had come earlier, predictable as they may have been. So yeah, I have a weird situation where the novel doesn’t work as a thriller right up until the very end, at which point it stops ringing entirely true. I will say that despite the shortcomings, I did enjoy the experience and would probably read it again if I were looking for some high quality popcorn reading.

If I were to sum it up, I would say that Envy is a thriller that surprises far less than it probably should, but it’s well written enough that you can kind of gloss over it. Maybe not for those who are looking for more tension, but still a solid enough effort. 3.5/5

Next review: Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi

Signing off,

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

So, here I am, going back to the roaring twenties again. I know, you’re probably all sick of it by now, but there’s something about the time period that I am inexorably drawn to.

Bright Young Things follows three young women trying to find their way in New York in 1929. There’s Letty Larkspur, fresh off the train from Ohio and desperate to leave her old life behind by chasing her dream of being a famous singer. Cordelia Grey, who travelled down from Ohio with Letty, is looking for her long-lost bootlegger father and finds herself falling for the one boy he wants her to stay away from. And finally, there’s Astrid Donal, a young flapper trying to navigate high society and her complicated feelings for her boyfriend, Charlie Grey.
After Das Boot, I needed something lighter and this may have been just about the perfect choice. Bright Young Things encapsulates just about everything that I want when I pick up a novel about 1920s America. There’s a nice balance between the hard graft and sleaziness of your average working girl, and the backstabbing glamour of the upper classes. The emphasis on the bootlegging is a nice touch, as the presence of alcohol despite Prohibition is generally glossed over in novels that I’ve picked up previously. I also like that not all of the main girls want to be famous in some capacity. It’s frustrating, I want to be more specific, but I like the book too much for my thoughts to coalesce right. I’m just really glad that I picked up Bright Young Things and I would be more than happy to pick up the next installment of the series.

Pretty much a perfect 1920s novel, with a nice blend of rich and poor, criminal and legitimate elements. Definitely one to pick up if you’re interested in this period of history. 5/5

Next review: Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce

Signing off,

Last Dance With Valentino by Daisy Waugh

I cannot for the life of me remember buying Last Dance With Valentino, but I’m pretty sure it must have come from the second-hand book stall that they had at uni. It seems like the sort of thing that I’d pick up on a whim and judging by the order of the reading list, that makes most sense. As for why I picked it up, it’s probably to do with my weird sort of fascination that I have with the interwar period. There’s something about that whole doomed youth thing, living on the edge because they’ve survived what they think must be the worst that life can throw at them, unaware that worse is around the corner. Plus, you have to love the whole early Hollywood glamour thing.

Last Dance With Valentino follows a young Englishwoman named Jenny Doyle in the ten years after she comes to America with her father in an attempt to escape the hardships of Britain in World War I. The storyline focuses on her decade-long love affair with an Italian immigrant dancer Rodolfo Guglielmi, who later becomes beloved by millions as the silent actor Rudolph Valentino. It switches between two plotlines, one starting in 1916 where their budding love affair meets with a series of tragic events stemming from their involvement with the de Saulles family, while the other starts in 1926 and focuses on the pair trying to reignite their relationship, unaware that further tragedy is on the horizon.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t really familiar with Rudolph Valentino or his work, but I’m sort of fascinated to find out what a sex symbol from the 1920s must have been like. Because I didn’t really get to see much of Valentino considering that he’s our narrator’s love interest. Instead of a tragic love story, it seemed more like an experiment on how much misery the author can pile on one person within a set ten year period. Honestly, it got really tiring because there’s only so much suffering that one character can go through before you need something to lighten the mood. And there wasn’t really anything like that in Last Dance With Valentino. It was more moving from one source of unrelenting misery to another source of unrelenting misery. I think the author tried to add light moments in the form of Jenny getting work as a photoplay writer and being surprisingly good at it, but when you compare it to the death, abuse and addiction problems that she has to deal with it seems utterly paltry in comparison. Honestly, it’s a real shame, because the author does have a fair amount of actual writing talent, with a really good ear for dialogue and great skills with settings. But the balance just wasn’t right for me.

Not really my sort of thing. An interesting enough premise, just spoiled by the fact that there’s a bit too much tragedy to get you properly invested. If you don’t have the bright moments as contrast, the dark tragic moments just make everything a murky shade of grey. Well-written, but I wouldn’t read it again. Maybe something to pick up if you’re a fan of silent movies. 3/5

Next review: The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

Signing off,

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

I picked up Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe for two reasons. First, it looked adorable and easy to read. Second, it included recipes for cake. What possible reason could I have for turning down cake (apart from diet, but I’d rather not be reminded of that)? Besides, it was a cheap charity shop purchase, there wasn’t much for me to lose.

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe follows Issy Randall, an admin clerk at an estate agents who is just sort of bumbling through her life. That all changes when she loses both her job and her boyfriend in one fell swoop. After a few weeks of moping around, she finds herself looking around a shop for rent more or less on a whim, and decides to set up a bakery/cafe. She soon finds that this venture may be a lot more complicated than she ever thought that it could be.
I was expecting this to be harmless and fluffy, and I got exactly what I expected. There’s some romance and some angsty moments that come with it. There’s the whole plucky lady underdog story which is nice, especially with some of the detail provided about actually running a business. The characters are pretty vivid, if a little on the simple side. Really, this is kind of a difficult book for me to review, because it is pretty much exactly as I thought it would be and I honestly don’t know how to expand on that. Usually my thought process will compare and contrast my expectations with the actual results, picking out things that stood out to me, good or bad, as a result. Here, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe not only matched the blurb better than I’ve ever seen in a blurb before, but it fit the sort of cute and charmingly vintage but spunky feel that chick lit books seem to be best known for. It’s that everywoman thing that many of them aim for, the woman who isn’t stick thin and hates it in themselves while loving it in all of their equally curvy or chubby friends, the woman dissatisfied with her life but too nice to make a fuss until everything piles up too much. Someone relatable, or at least someone intended to be relatable. It’s the sort of thing that, if I turned my brain to it and really focused on it, I could find incredibly artificial and weird, and I think part of me objectively knows that there are particular elements that will always find their way into chick lit because they’re deemed relatable and will therefore sell. But honestly, when I pick up chick lit, it’s because I’m drained from whatever I was reading before. So really, if you’re looking for something cute and non-threatening, then you can certainly do a lot worse than this.

This is the sort of book that you will immediately know whether it will appeal to you or not. If you like cute things and romance, then this will work for you. If you’re looking for something to relax with, then this isn’t taxing in the slightest. If you want something with more depth, you might want to look elsewhere. The recipes also seem pretty solid, if the one that I’ve tried is anything to go by (although it is ugly as sin). 3/5

Next review: The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

Signing off,

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