About Me

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United Kingdom
I'm a librarian based in the UK who loves books. I'm happiest when I'm either talking about them, reading them or buying them. This blog is dedicated mainly to my addiction to YA fiction but you will also find some adult and non-fiction book reviews as well.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Review: The Crystal Maze Challenge - Neale Simpson

The Crystal Maze Challenge by Neale Simpson, published by Headline on 17th October 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Packed full of over 100 new games, mind benders and riddles, with this book you can now play the ultimate game show in the playground of your own home. Join ranks with family and friends as you travel through the four iconic zones - Aztec, Industrial, Future and Medieval - guided by Maze Master Richard Ayoade. Some games are quick, so you can have a spontaneous game if you fancy, whilst others require a bit more preparation but they can all be played with household items!

Test your skill, mental and physical abilities as you try to leap around your living room without touching the floor, solve puzzles and brainteasers, and complete treasure hunts around the house, all the while trying to win the crystals before heading to The Crystal Dome ... and remembering not to leave anyone locked in any cupboards!

I love watching the Crystal Maze on TV so I thought that this book was going to be a brilliant and fun read.  My favourite parts of the book were some of the interviews that featured with the creators, the original Maze masterminds and the best quizmaster of all, Richard O'Brien.  I would have loved to have seen more of this.  It could have included features on the other quizmasters: Ed Tudor-Pole, Stephen Merchant and Richard Ayoade, as well as interviews with some of the contestants on the show. 

The majority of the book contained features on how to recreate some of the many games which appear on the show, as well as how to set up your own Crystal Maze at home.  While a few of these would definitely be possible, others just seemed like they would take you forever to recreate, by which time I'm not sure you would have much excitement left to actually play the game. 
Some Crystal Maze mad-fans might still enjoy this but I finished it feeling disappointed and ready to instead re-watch one of the classic episodes of the show which never fail to provide me with an hour of pure entertainment.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Review: Undercover Princess - Connie Glynn

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn, published by Penguin on 2nd November 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
When fairy tale obsessed Lottie Pumpkin starts at the infamous Rosewood Hall, she is not expecting to share a room with the Crown Princess of Maradova, Ellie Wolf. Due to a series of lies and coincidences, 14-year-old Lottie finds herself pretending to be the princess so that Ellie can live a more normal teenage life.

Lottie is thrust into the real world of royalty - a world filled with secrets, intrigue and betrayal. She must do everything she can to help Ellie keep her secret, but with school, the looming Maradovian ball and the mysterious new boy Jamie, she'll soon discover that reality doesn't always have the happily ever after you'd expect...

Before I started reading this book I had some trepidation about the fact that it was written by a Youtuber.  I'm not terribly familiar with Connie Glynn's videos but I curious to see if she could turn her talents to writing.  I loved the initial idea for the story and it ticked lots of my 'happy' boxes.  It was set at a boarding school, it featured a Princess and it had an utterly gorgeous cover.  I was excited before I'd even read the first page. 

The story centres around teenager Lottie Pumpkin, who is starting her first year at Rosewood Hall, a boarding school that she has always dreamt of attending.  As a bursary student, Lottie worries that she might not be able to fit in with the other girls but she never could have imagined that the reason why they might treat her differently is because they think she is a the Crown Princess of Maradova.  Lottie's roommate Ellie, is the real Princess, a secret she agrees to keep hidden.  Lottie soon finds herself thrust into another world filled with danger, excitement and betrayal.

I thought that the two main characters were very well written and I loved the friendship which develops between Lottie and Ellie.  Although it gets off to a slightly shaky start, they become extremely close and I liked the way that they had each others backs and were willing to stand up for each other.  Their close friendship leads to a surprising twist which I won't reveal, except to say that it certainly added an interesting slant to the story.  Another character that I loved, was Jamie, who has quite a mysterious background but who we gradually get to know more about.  He added a nice touch of romance to the story, which I hope Connie builds on as the series progresses.    

I mistakenly thought that this was a stand-alone but 'Undercover Princess' is actually the first in a series.  It's aimed at a YA audience but I tend to think that it's better suited to middle-grade because the characters are only fourteen which is a lot younger than most of the YA books I read.  There are a lot of big events which happen very quickly in the story and that also surprised me when I discovered that it was a series.  However, I think it was a great start, very enjoyable and with plenty of potential for book two.  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Lottie next.         

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Review: Chasing Christmas Eve - Jill Shalvis

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 27th September 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Run for the hills temporarily. That's Colbie Albright's plan when she flees New York for San Francisco. Wrangling her crazy family by day and writing a bestselling YA fantasy series by night has taken its toll. In short, Colbie's so over it that she's under it. She's also under the waters of a historic San Francisco fountain within an hour of arrival. Fortunately, the guy who fishes Colbie out has her looking forward to Christmas among strangers. But she's pretty sure Spencer Baldwin won't be a stranger for long.

Spence's commitment to hiding from the Ghosts of Relationships Past means he doesn't have to worry about the powerful - OK, crazy hot - chemistry he's got with Colbie. Just because she can laugh at anything, especially herself...just because she's gorgeous and a great listener...just because she gets Spence immediately doesn't mean he won't be able to let Colbie go. Does it?

Now the clock's ticking for Colbie and Spence: Two weeks to cut loose. Two weeks to fall hard. Two weeks to figure out how to make this Christmas last a lifetime.

I know I've said this many times in the past but I truly think that 'Chasing Christmas Eve' may be my favourite Jill Shalvis book yet.  It ticked every box for me and was an absorbing and happy read from start to finish - a real treat to be devoured in one sitting.  I loved it!

The romance between the main characters Colbie and Spencer made me so happy.  I'm sure I was smiling the whole way through the book.  They are both very similar in personality and temperament, as well as backgrounds.  They have both found incredible success in their respective fields but are struggling to deal with everything that goes along with that.  Although it's usually opposites attract, in this case, their similarities are what bring them together and help them to better understand each other.  They have such a short period of time together, that the Christmas Eve deadline is a barrier they must overcome.  Although there are obstacles in both their home and work lives, I enjoyed seeing them trying to work things out and had no doubt that they would get the perfect ending.   

I loved the fact that Colbie's occupation is a YA author.  She is forever scribbling down ideas for her stories on bits of paper and loves nothing more than surreptitiously eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations - perfect fodder for her books.  I thought that the opening chapter was great and so funny when she is at the airport and has an unfortunate encounter with airport security. 

Set in San Francisco, I enjoyed the setting immensely as it's somewhere that I would like to visit one day in the future.  It also features the rest of the gang from the series and I loved getting to see all of my favourite couples again.   

Jill Shalvis writes the BEST romances and this one was hot and sizzling!  I am so thankful that I discovered this author because she has quickly become one of my favourites, particularly when I am in the mood for a romance with real emotion and a heart of gold. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Review: Tarnished City - Vic James

Tarnished City by Vic James, published by Pan Macmillan on 7th September 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Luke is a prisoner, condemned for a murder he didn’t commit. Abi is a fugitive, desperate to free him before magic breaks his mind. But as the Jardines tighten their grip on a turbulent Britain, brother and sister face a fight greater than their own.

New alliances and old feuds will remake the nation, leaving Abi and Luke questioning everything – and everyone – they know. And as Silyen Jardine hungers for the forgotten Skill of the legendary Wonder King, the country’s darkest hour approaches. Freedom and knowledge both come at a cost. So who will pay the price?"

'Tarnished City' is the second book in the Dark Gifts trilogy.  You definitely need to have read the first instalment of the series because the story follows immediately on and just wouldn't make sense without already knowing about what has happened previously.  I loved the first book and had my fingers crossed that this one would be just as good.  While ultimately I don't think it turned out to be quite as absorbing as 'Gilded Cage', it was still hugely enjoyable. 

The story begins with Abi determined to rescue her brother Luke, who has been condemned of a crime he did not commit.  Meanwhile, the Jardines are desperate for power over the country and a terrible fate for the people of Britain hangs in the balance.  There are some truly dark themes in this series and some parts of the story are pretty shocking.  I found that this just drew me even deeper into the lives of the characters and I was on the edge of my seat for a good part of the book. 

I like the way that people in the series seem to be constantly changing.  Good and evil are interchangeable and this led to my feelings about various people in the story fluctuating throughout.  This was particularly true of the Jardine brothers who are incredibly difficult to read and often seemed to have an agenda of their own.  It's also true of the character of Dog who I initially felt sorry for but who I came to dislike immensely. 

Whereas I loved the first half of the book which was really fast paced and gripping, I found the second half quite a bit slower and the action seemed to drag at times.  I think it suffered slightly from being the middle book in the series but I'm confident that Vic James will wrap everything up with a shocking finale when  'Bright Ruin' is published next year. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Review: The Alice Network - Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, published by HarperCollins on 6th June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.

I've read a few of Kate Quinn's previous books and really enjoyed them, so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of 'The Alice Network'.  I used to read a lot more historical fiction than I do now but I still enjoy delving into the past and revisiting key historical periods.  This is also a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, so I was intrigued to see what it was going to be like.

Set in 1947, the opening part of the story is told from the perspective of Charlie St Clair, an American girl travelling with her mother to have her unplanned pregnancy taken care of.  Headstrong Charlie however has other ideas.  She wants to use the opportunity for the trip to track down her cousin Rose, who disappeared during World War II. 

Charlie's quest brings her into contact with Eve Gardiner.  The story jumps between the two women, as well as different time frames, to show Eve's life as a spy against the Germans in France in 1915, when she was part of the infamous 'Alice network'.  To start with, I didn't particularly take to Eve but as I learnt more about her and her past, I came to admire her enormously.  We see her taking huge personal risks to help the war effort and her bravery and strength are traits which shine through again and again.  I loved the stories of both women and the way that they intertwined.  Kate Quinn did a brilliant job of blending everything together so seamlessly which made the whole book a real joy to read. 

'The Alice Network' is a tremendous story and an example of historical fiction at its very best.  Tense, gripping and exciting but also with moments of true horror, it had me utterly engrossed.  Love, loss, life and sacrifice all feature heavily within the pages, making it an emotional read from start to finish.  I implore you to pick up this book because it deserves all the plaudits it has already got and more.      

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review: The Potion Diaries: Going Viral - Amy Alward

The Potion Diaries: Going Viral by Amy Alward, published by Simon and Schuster on 24th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Having managed to find her great-grandmother's potion diary, escape Emilia Thoth, save her grandfather's memories AND become a Master Alchemist, surely it's time for Sam to have a good, long rest? And maybe, just maybe, a date with her boyfriend Zain?

But now that Evelyn is married and showing symptoms of the Gergon illness, it looks as though Sam's adventures are just beginning...

'The Potion Diaries: Going Viral' continues the series about Sam Kemi, Master Alchemist, as she is called upon to once again save the day.  A strange virus is spreading through the city; Princess Evelyn has disappeared and no one seems to know how to stop events from endangering all of the Talented.  It's up to Sam to work out what's going on and to put things right.

A sub-plot in the book is the fact that Sam is the subject of a documentary being made about her.  As well as following her as she travels to the far-flung country of Zhongou to try to find a cure for the virus, the crew are also interested in the continuing romance between Sam and her boyfriend Zain...if they can ever find the time to go on a date.

When this series started, I thoroughly enjoyed the opening instalment.  It was fun, inventive and entertaining and with a main character that shares the same name as me, what was not to like!  The second book in the series was also pretty good but I felt like 'Going Viral' let the side down somewhat.  Yes, it was fairly entertaining and a quick, light-hearted read but I thought the plot was lacking any real sense of danger or excitement and didn't have enough substance, while although I really like Sam and Zain as a couple, the romance in this title was sadly lacking.  Please Amy Alward, give us more of our favourite ship!

I originally thought that this was going to be the last book in the trilogy but I discovered recently that there is another one scheduled for publication next year.  Maybe the series can still go out on a high.  I'm certainly hoping so. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Review: Even the Darkest Stars - Heather Fawcett

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett, published by HarperCollins on 5th September 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village and demands to hire Kamzin for his next expedition. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself—even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas.

The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected—or prepared for—with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and even worse at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth of their mission and of her companions—while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.

'Even the Darkest Stars' is the first in a new fantasy duology and is the debut novel of author Heather Fawcett. This book swept me away on a cloud of adventure and danger. I loved it!
I actually found the first few chapters quite slow and I wondered initially whether this was going to my kind of book.  I was dubious about the characters and the plot and very nearly put it to one side.  Thank goodness that I didn't because a couple of pages later and everything clicked into place.  The action kicked up a notch and I was absorbed completely from that moment on.  It was fabulously entertaining for the rest of the book. 
The main character Kamzin, agrees to lead the Royal Explorer, River Shara, on an expedition to Raksha, a tall and deadly mountain.  He is seeking a talisman that the Emperor has requested he retrieve.  Kamsin was a fabulous character.  She thrives on adventure and exploration and dreams of scaling new and undiscovered territory across the Empire.  She can be hot-headed at times and doesn't like being told what to do, but she is incredibly loyal and won't back down from a challenge.  I thoroughly enjoyed following her journey and I absolutely adored her Familiar, Ragtooth the fox. 
The story was fast-paced and thrilling and there are lots of climactic moments in the book that have you on the edge of your seat.  There is always some kind of danger or peril lying in the path of the characters that they must face and overcome. The book is quite light on romance, although there are hints of it between Kamzin and River and also between Kamzin and her best friend Tem.  I'm quite glad that this took more of a back seat to the main plot as I think it may have distracted from the action otherwise.  
The ending was brilliant and really twisted everything and turned it on its head.  I still think there's more to it than first meets the eye but it has left me desperate for the next book in the series now.  I don't always enjoy fantasy but I really, really loved 'Even the Darkest Stars'.  I read it in one sitting on a wet, rainy Sunday where I ended up dreaming about wintery mountains and a dark and magnetising magic. 

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