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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.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Review: S.T.A.G.S - M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett, published by Hot Key Books on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin' shootin' fishin'. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry's parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports - hunting, shooting and fishing - become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school...



Review:
I've wanted to read 'S.T.A.G.S' for ages.  As soon as I heard about it I was interested and intrigued.  I was expecting this to be an edge of your seat thriller, set at a creepy boarding school but that's not quite what was delivered.  My overall impression at the end was that this book could have been so good but sadly veered towards being a bit safe rather than pushing the boundaries.

The main character Greer is first introduced as a new scholarship student at St Aidan the Great boarding school.  Isolated and friendless, she struggles to fit in, until she is invited by the Medievals to an annual weekend of huntin', shootin' and fishin'. The Medievals rule the school and as Greer already has a crush on Henry, she agrees to go along.  Henry's home, Longcross, is actually the main setting for the story, rather than the school itself, which was a shame as I love boarding school stories. 

Greer is joined by two other pupils of the school, as they begin their weekend with the Medievals, without any parental supervision.  She admits at the very beginning of the book that she, along with the other two, are murderers.  You don't know yet who they are supposed to have killed but as the story unravelled, I had a very good idea who it was going to be.  

I would really have loved to have seen a lot more action, danger and excitement than there actually was.  It felt all the time like the author was playing things safe.  There's a reference in the book to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None which is bone chillingly scary because the characters get picked off one by one and meet some awful fates.  I was expecting 'S.T.A.G.S' to be along these lines but instead it felt a bit like extreme bullying but not life and death by any means. 

The book was an enjoyable enough read and the ending was very good but it could have been a lot more tense and thrilling than it turned out to be.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: Domina - L.S. Hilton

Domina by L.S. Hilton, published by Bonnier Zaffre on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Judith Rashleigh has made it. Living in luxury amidst the splendours of Venice, she's finally enjoying the life she killed for.  But someone knows what Judith's done.

Judith can only save herself by finding a priceless painting - unfortunately, one that she's convinced doesn't even exist.  And she's not the only one seeking it.

This time, Judith isn't in control. Outflanked and out-thought, outrun and outgunned, she faces an enemy more ruthless and more powerful than she ever imagined.

And if she doesn't win, she dies.


Review:
The opening prologue of 'Domina' knocked my socks off and led me to expect great things from the rest of the book.  Sadly, the reality was that I felt quite disappointed by the time I got to the very end.

An early disclaimer to this review is that I have not read the first book in the series, 'Maestra'. I didn't think that it would matter and I thought that I would be able to follow the plot regardless, but there were so many references to things that had previously happened to the main character Judith, that I struggled to get to grips with everything.  I would definitely advise starting at the beginning of the series.

I assumed that this would be a tense and taut thriller.  Exactly what I was in the mood for.  It turned out to be much slower and more sedate than I first thought and quite a struggle to get through.  I was excited to see that it was partly set in the art world which I was expecting to be really fascinating but instead it almost seemed to hold back the pace of the plot with too many details and references for my taste. What I also didn't like were the lurid sex scenes and the overly graphic nature of the book. 

The main protagonist Judith was an extremely love/hate character.  I actually quite liked her in the beginning but my respect for her dwindled as the story progressed and I didn't know what to make of her by the end.  I liked the flashbacks to her early life with her mother as I thought these helped to show how she had developed the fighting side of her character. 

The story ended on a cliff-hanger which made me wonder a little about what was going to happen next.  Although I don't think that this series is for me, I may be tempted to read the final book in the trilogy 'Ultima' but only if I get around to reading 'Maestra' first. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Review: SweetFreak - Sophie McKenzie

SweetFreak by Sophie McKenzie, published by Simon and Schuster on 24th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Carey and Amelia have been best friends forever. Then Amelia starts being trolled by SweetFreak, a mysterious and hateful online account, and Carey is accused of being behind the vicious comments.

Shut out by her other friends and shunned by Amelia, Carey is determined to find out who's really sending the messages. But as the online threats spill over into real life, events start spiralling out of control...

Can Carey expose the real SweetFreak before it's too late?



Review:
'SweetFreak' was another good read by British author Sophie McKenzie, although I didn't love it as much as I was hoping to.  I found it a fairly quick read and finished it in one sitting.  It had a fair amount of drama, but it wasn't as tense or as gripping as other YA novels that I've read lately.  Please don't take that to assume that I didn't enjoy it, I did, but I've also read better edge-of-your-seat thrillers than this.

Best friends Carey and Amelia are at the centre of the story.  Amelia is sent disturbing messages online and Carey ends up accused of being the culprit, something which she vehemently denies.  Carey has to prove who the mysterious SweetFreak is and clear her name in the process. 

Although this book was described as CyberBully meets Gone Girl, I just didn't find it as exciting as I was expecting it to be.  I guessed the culprit quite quickly and although there were some further twists near the end of the story, I didn't feel any sense of real danger. 

I like the way that McKenzie has explored themes of online and offline bullying and the abuse of social media.  It's all too easy now for people to hide behind their computers and I think the book did a good job of showing the harm that online bullying can cause to a person.  This is something which is really topical and I thought that the author very effectively highlighted the danger of this.

'SweetFreak' is probably better suited to slightly younger teenage readers but I think that anyone who is a big Sophie McKenzie fan will still enjoy it.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Review: Lost and Found Sisters - Jill Shalvis

Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 20th June 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.'s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she's looking for a missing piece she can't find?

The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn't quite fit in right away, she can't help but be drawn to the town's simple pleasures...and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.

As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there's another surprise in store for her. She must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have - and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she's searched so long for.


Review:
'Lost and Found Sisters' is yet another gem from prolific author Jill Shalvis.  She is my go-to author when I'm looking for a heart-warming and emotional read and this book definitely didn't disappoint me on both fronts. 

The story centres around LA chef Quinn Weller who at the beginning of the book discovers a huge secret about her past which ends up changing her whole life.  Cue Quinn deciding to head to the small town of Wildstone which holds more revelations waiting in store for her.  As she begins to settle into Wildstone, she meets handsome 'handy-man' Mick and it seems that romance might also be on the cards. 

Shalvis is the absolute master of writing about small town communities so brilliantly that you can't help but wish that you lived there too.  There's a real sense of community spirit about Wildstone and it almost becomes a character in its own right.  I could definitely understand how it drew Quinn in, even though it took her a while before she realised just how much she had fallen for it. 

The book deals with the theme of grief and bereavement and shows how it's possible to experience great tragedy but also to move forward with life and everything that it holds.  It was interesting to see Quinn start a new life based on her own choices and decisions, rather than following the path that someone else has chosen for her.  She was a great main character and I was rooting for her the whole way through. 

I love a new Jill Shalvis book and this one was packed full of real emotion and romance and a sense of the importance of family.  I enjoyed it enormously and found it a truly memorable read.         

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Breaking - Danielle Rollins

Breaking by Danielle Rollins, published by Bloomsbury on 10th August 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Charlotte doesn't fit in with her two best friends, or with anyone else at The Underhill Preparatory Institute, her cut-throat school for the rich and gifted. But when those best friends die suddenly, Charlotte doesn't know where to turn.

Were they keeping secrets? Could Charlotte be the reason they did it? Because Charlotte has a secret of her own, and now she must decide how much she will risk to discover the truth.


Review:
'Breaking' was a brilliant read, very fast-paced and exciting with a killer twist at the end. 

The story is set at a boarding school called Underhill Preparatory Institute.  Main character Charlotte, is a pupil at the school but has never been good enough or clever enough to satisfy her mother who is always pushing Charlotte to study more and get better grades. Although the relationship between her and her mother is strained, she has her two best friends by her side and with them she feels like she finally has a family. 

Her best friends however, both die in strange circumstances.  Charlotte is desperate to find out what really happened to Ariel and Devon but her investigation puts her in danger, as she begins to get closer and closer to the truth.  The tension builds gradually, as flashbacks reveal more about the three friends and clues are revealed that point to the fact that there may be more to their deaths than first suspected.

Gorgeous Jack who was dating Charlotte's best friend Ariel, has a bigger role to play in the second half of the book and I thought he made a great supporting player.  I was never quite sure whether he could be trusted or not and how he was involved in the mystery surrounding the school. 

The last few chapters had me absolutely hooked and I had to stay up late to finish the story.  The end has left me with high hopes that there might be a sequel.  If so, I most definitely want to read it, as well as any other offerings by Danielle Rollins in the future.  An addictive read with a killer twist that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, published by Gollancz on 29th May 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Toby's life was perfectly normal . . .
Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House. Isolated from the outside world the inhabitants of are watched for any signs of a mysterious illness . . .

Clara was a girl who had everything. Adored by her friends and her family, her life was destined for greatness. Now, Clara is the newest resident of the Death House and she's determined not to allow her life to end there.

This is Toby and Clara's story.


Review:
I loved Sarah Pinborough's previous YA novel, '13 Minutes' so I was excited to get stuck into her latest offering.  The premise sounded extremely intriguing and immediately piqued by interest.

The story is set in a world where children undergo a mandatory blood test to find out if they are Defectives.  If so, they are separated from their family and taken away to live in The Death House.  Although the whole concept was fascinating, I wanted more background information.  What are the Defectives, how did the problem start and how was the testing devised?  Answers to these questions weren't given which left me quite frustrated at times. 

The main character in the book, Toby, is one of the oldest in the Death House.  He seems to have accepted his fate and is just waiting for his time to die.  It's not until new girl Clara turns up that Toby finds he may have something to live for after all.  Clara is like a breath of fresh air.  She and Toby have an instant bond and begin to spend their nights awake together.  Their feelings for each other grow throughout the story, as their relationship strengthens because of their shared experience in the House. 

The theme of death seems to be one that is a recurrent in a lot of YA novels at the moment.  I think in the case of 'The Death House' it had even more impact because some of the children featured are so young.  You would expect them to have their whole future ahead of them and instead they are just waiting for the end to come. 

The ending of the book completely took me by surprise and was quite shocking.  I hadn't seen the twist coming and it was so sad and tragic.  I finished the story with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart.     

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Review: Madame Bovary of the Suburbs - Sophie Divry

Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry, published by MacLehose Press on 27th July 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
The story of a woman's life, from childhood to death, somewhere in provincial France, from the 1950s to just shy of 2025.

She has doting parents, does well at school, finds a loving husband after one abortive attempt at passion, buys a big house with a moonlit terrace, makes decent money, has children, changes jobs, retires, grows old and dies. All in the comfort that the middle-classes have grown accustomed to.
But she's bored.

She takes up all sorts of outlets to try to make something happen in her life: adultery, charity work, esotericism, manic house-cleaning, motherhood and various hobbies - each one abandoned faster than the last. But no matter what she does, her life remains unfocussed and unfulfilled. Nothing truly satisfies her, because deep down - just like the town where she lives - the landscape is non-descript, flat, horizontal.


Review:
What initially drew me to this title was the idea of it being a contemporary reimagining of Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' which is one of my favourite books.  This isn't a direct retelling as the author takes her main character in a slightly different direction to Flaubert but there are a lot of similarities.  Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, this was a story that I could identify with at times and which charts the path of one woman's life from cradle to grave.

The book had an extremely unusual and unique narrative style which at first I wasn't sure I was going to get on with.  It employs a second person narrative which I'm not entirely sure I've come across before but Divry uses it so effectively that it just fits the story beautifully.  It almost seems to speak to the reader and I think this works well with the idea that the main character, M.A. shares a fate which could belong to any one of us. Her story is universal.  

Never properly named, M.A. is seen growing from childhood into adulthood and traversing the various stages of life's well trodden path.  She grows up longing to move away from her parents and her childhood home and embark upon a new adventure.  She goes to university, she has her first boyfriend, she marries, has children and does everything that is expected of her, even while she wishes for something more.  Something which she can't quite name and always seems to be just out of her reach.  The circle of life is effectively portrayed as she grows older and morphs into the role that her parents once had. 

This was a very different read to the one that I started out thinking it was going to be and while it reflects many aspects of the original, it is also exquisitely unique.  I love the way in which Divry presents the character of M.A. and her search for more out of life.  She is never content with what she has and always appears to be looking towards the next thing and the next without ever truly being satisfied.  This is a book that I would highly recommend by an accomplished author who I will be keeping my eye on in the future.        

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review: The Girl From Summer Hill - Jude Deveraux

The Girl From Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux, published by Headline Eternal on 2nd May 2017

Goodreads synopsis:
Enter Elizabeth Bennet. Chef Casey Reddick has had it up to here with men. Arriving in the charming town of Summer Hill, Virginia, peace and quiet on the picturesque Tattwell plantation is just what she needs. But the tranquillity is broken one morning when she sees a gorgeous naked man on her porch.

Enter Mr. Darcy. What Tate Landers, Hollywood heartthrob and owner of Tattwell, doesn't need on a bittersweet trip to his ancestral home is a woman spying on him. His anger, which looks so good on the screen, makes a bad first impression on Casey - and she lets him know it.

The plot thickens. Sparks fly when Casey is recruited to play Elizabeth Bennet opposite Tate's Mr. Darcy in a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. As they spar on and off stage, Casey begins to think she's been too quick to judge. But then Tate's handsome ex-brother-in-law, Devlin Haines, who is playing Wickham, tells Casey some horrifying stories about the man she's falling for. Casey needs to figure out who to believe. Is the intense, undeniable chemistry between her and Tate real, or is this just a performance that ends when the curtain falls?

Review:
This is the first book I've read by author Jude Deveraux.  I was sold on the description of this as a modern day retelling of 'Pride and Prejudice', which is one of my favourite classic novels.  Set in the small town of Summer Hill, it draws on the idea of a group of local townspeople staging a production of the novel.  Cue all the main characters who fit neatly into the roles of Austen protagonists.  I thought that this was a great twist and I applaud Deveraux for having a go at tackling a contemporary version of such a beloved story. 

Casey, the main character, is a chef but also ends up playing the part of Elizabeth and acting opposite Hollywood heartthrob, Tate Landers, as Mr Darcy.  The opening scene in the book between Casey and Tate is one of the best starts to a romantic novel I have ever read.  Sparks fly between the two from their very first encounter and I have to say that it grabbed my attention in all the right ways.  I was definitely keen to read on and see how the rest of the story was going to unfold. 

'The Girl From Summer Hill' was a fun, light and enjoyable read.  There weren't too many surprises along the way and obviously it wasn't hard to work out how everything was going to end but I enjoyed it regardless.  I adored the setting as small town communities are something that always appeal to me and I thought that the love/hate relationship between Casey and Tate was brilliantly written and fun to read about. 

I'm excited that this is the first in a series and I'm looking forward to reading more by Jude Deveraux.
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