Monday, 19 December 2016

My Favourite Books of 2016

2016 has been another up and down book year for me.  I have to admit that I gave up on a lot of titles that failed to grab my attention.  This is something that I would never have done in the past but my new philosophy is that there are far too many books out there that I do want to read to persevere with ones that I'm not enjoying.  There were a few highlight titles for me but sadly not enough to make my usual top ten, so instead here's my 2016 top five list.  These are in no particular order and have not necessarily been published this year.

1. Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens
Published by Puffin
A festive five star read! I absolutely adore this series and I loved everything about 'Mistletoe and Murder', from the perfect snowy Cambridge setting, to the ingenious murder mystery, to the wonderful cast of characters. I devoured this in one sitting.   
2. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury
Words cannot describe how much I love Sarah J. Maas. Her books are utter perfection and 'A Court of Mist and Fury' was probably THE book which most knocked my socks off in 2016.

  3. Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens
Published by Puffin
Robin Stevens is the only author to have two titles in my top five books of 2016. If you haven't read this series yet then what are you waiting for.
 4. Oblivion by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Hodder
The return of Katy and Daemon meant that this was definitely one of my most anticipated books of the year and also one of the best. It was fantastic seeing so many familiar faces again and this newest installment did not disappoint.

  5. The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May
Published by Gollancz
Utterly gripping, this was a fast paced page turner. Exciting, riveting and impossible to put down, I loved it. I wish there wasn't such a long wait though for the next book in the series.
Comment and let me know what your favourite books of 2016 were.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Review: Replica - Lauren Oliver

Replica by Lauren Oliver, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 11th October 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Lyra's story begins in the Haven Institute, a building tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida that from a distance looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, Haven is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed. When a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects - Lyra, aka number 24, and the boy known only as 72 - manage to escape.

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals for as long as she can remember. A lonely teen, her life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April. But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family's past and discovers her father's mysterious connection to the secretive Haven Institute. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two replicas and a completely new set of questions.

I was really intrigued when I first heard about this book because of the interesting and unique narrative structure.  It can be read as two separate stories or it can be read in alternating chapters by turning the book from front to back.  I decided on the latter because I was worried that if I read them separately, I might find the plot a bit too repetitive.  I think this worked well and I was pleased with my choice, although I'll admit that I did get a bit fed up with having to turn the book around every few minutes.  That aside, the structure was incredibly clever and provides two differing narrative viewpoints from the main characters Lyra and Gemma.

I enjoyed Gemma's half of the book the most.  The way that she develops as a character was really interesting and the way that she decides to investigate and unravel the secrets being kept from her was enough to keep me glued to the pages.  Her father has a mysterious connection to Haven, a secret research facility and Gemma is determined to find out what is really going on there.  I thought that her journey was fascinating and packed full of surprises.

Lyra was much more mercurial and enigmatic.  Her story starts off with her living at Haven until a pivotal event throws her existence into chaos.  I wasn't sure what to think of Lyra in the beginning until I gradually began to understand more about her and saw her start to open up a little.

I sped through the second half of the book which was particularly gripping and couldn't believe the revelations that came to light.  As this is the first title in a duology, the ending left the reader on tenterhooks and desperate for the follow-up.    

Cloning is a hugely pivotal theme in the book and I thought that Lauren Oliver did a terrific job of exploring the different layers and viewpoints surrounding this subject.  I liked reading about all the science behind it and haven't come across any books quite as interesting on this topic before.   

Monday, 5 December 2016

Review: Mistletoe and Murder - Robin Stevens

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens, published by Puffin on 20th October 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms - but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College.

Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident - until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course).

A new Wells and Wong mystery is fast becoming the highlight of my reading calendar.  This is one of my favourite series and each book is a genuine delight to read.  I usually devour them in one sitting - the perfect bun break treat!

The newest title is set around Christmas time in the gorgeous setting of snowy Cambridge.  Hazel and Daisy are spending Christmas with Daisy's Aunt and her brother Bertie.  They have no expectations beyond exploring their ancient surroundings and enjoying buns galore in Fitzbillies.  Well, that's not entirely true, as the two girls always have a nose for any possible mystery that might arise!  Instead of a quiet Christmas with family, they stumble upon a murder mystery after a terrible incident occurs.  Determined to investigate and solve the crime, they face competition from the Junior Pinkertons, Alexander and his friend George, who want to prove that they are the best detective society in Cambridge.

As usual, the mystery is fiendishly clever and such fun to untangle.  There are lots of clues presented along the way and suspects identified but I'm always in awe of Daisy and Hazel and their powers of deduction.  They make a great team.  People always seem to underestimate a pair of girls, which plays in their favour and allows them to investigate all kinds of different avenues.  Stevens, also uses this to highlight the differences between the two genders and the fact that even in the 1930s, women were still in an inferior position and treated as such by men. 

I loved the Cambridge setting.  I've never visited but would love to, so it was great getting to live vicariously through Daisy and Hazel.  Plus the ancient buildings sound gorgeous and are the perfect place for a murder mystery to occur.    

A five star fabulous read, I was head over heels for 'Mistletoe and Murder'.  I love the fact that it took place during my favourite holiday season and I can't wait to see our intrepid duo back together again for their next mystery.  This is one series that I hope will go on and on and on.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Review: Secrets in the Snow - Michaela MacColl

Secrets in the Snow by Michaela MacColl, published by Chronicle Books on 4th October 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Jane Austen's family is eager to secure her future by marrying her off. But Jane is much more interested in writing her novels, and finds every suitor lacking—until the mysterious Mr. Lefroy arrives. Could he be the one? Before Jane can find out, she must solve a murder, clear her family's name, and face a decision that might cost her true love.

This book has a beautiful front cover which drew me in, along with the fact that the story draws on the life of Jane Austen who I am a massive fan of.  'Secrets in the Snow' is a fictionalised account of a moment in Austen's life when she meets Irishman Tom Lefroy and solves a murder in the process.  It was an interesting mix of fact and fiction which is something that Michaela MacColl does really well.  I thought that the character of Jane Austen was brilliantly written and I felt that her personality had been captured beautifully.  She came alive on the page and I particularly liked how witty and insightful she is, as well as being incredibly observant of everything and everyone around her.

The story draws parallels with 'Pride and Prejudice', suggesting that Tom Lefroy and his family may have served as inspiration for the well loved tale of the Bennett sisters.  It is an interesting link to make and while we will never know if it is true or not, it was an intriguing angle to explore.  Incidentally, if you do want to read more about Jane and Tom, then 'Becoming Jane' is a fantastic book and looks at their relationship in more detail.   

MacColl's plot delves into a mystery surrounding Jane's cousin Eliza who is suspected of helping the French, England's enemy.  When a body is discovered, events take an even more serious turn but Jane is never one to back down and plunges headfirst into solving the case.  While the mystery itself may not have been terribly complicated and was fairly simple to figure out, the treat was in seeing how a determined Jane goes about getting answers, not letting any of the menfolk stand in her way.

This was another great book by an author who weaves together fact and fiction wonderfully well.  I would recommend to other Austen fans.    


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Review: Passenger - Alexandra Bracken

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, published by Quercus in 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
In one night, Etta Spencer is wrenched from everything she knows and loves. Thrown into an unfamiliar world, she can be certain of only one thing: she has travelled not just miles, but years from home.
Captain Nicholas Carter is tasked with delivering Etta to the dangerous Ironwood family. They are searching for something - a stolen object they believe only she can reclaim. But Nicholas is drawn to his mysterious passenger, and the closer he gets to her, the further he is from freedom.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by a desperate thief. But as Etta plays deeper into the Ironwoods' game, treacherous forces threaten to separate her not only from Nicholas, but from her path home - for ever.

A huge book at nearly 500 pages, this is one that I'd wanted to get my hands on for ages.  I was super excited to get a copy and dived into it immediately.  I can't believe that it actually ended up taking me ages to finish reading it though.  I picked it up and put it down over and over again, reading a single chapter here or there until finally finishing it.  I'm amazed that I managed to persevere with it because I kept thinking that it would suddenly grab me and hook me in and yet it never did.

I found the story very unusual and quite different to the subject matter I was expecting.  It was essentially about time travel and so was set in lots of different countries and different time periods such as New York 1776, Damascus 1599 and Paris 1880.  I personally found that this made the plot hard to follow and unnecessarily drawn out.  I think the main issue I had with the book was that I just didn't buy into the relationship between the two main characters, Nicholas and Etta.  Their journeys are linked as they search for an elusive missing object and as they begin to learn more about each other, they grow closer together.

I don't think that I will be continuing with the series as it was a relief to finally get to the end of the book.  It's such a shame because I had high hopes for it and it came with a stunning recommendation on the front cover from one of my favourite authors, Sarah J. Maas.  I have since read mixed reviews of 'Passenger' and the majority of them have been very positive, so if you like stories about time-travel then maybe give it a go.  Sadly, it wasn't for me.     

Monday, 7 November 2016

Review: The Amateurs - Sara Shepard

The Amateurs by Sara Shepard, published by Hot Key Books on 6th October 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
When Aerin Kelly was eleven, she idolised her seventeen-year-old sister, Helena, and they did everything together. But when Helena went into senior year things started to change. Rather than being Aerin's inseparable sister, she started to push her away. Then, on a snowy winter's day, Helena vanished.

Four years later, Helena's body is found. Wracked with grief and refusing to give up on her sister, Aerin spends months trying to figure out what exactly happened to Helena and who killed her. But the police have no leads. A young, familiar officer named Thomas wants to help and suggests she checks out a website called Case Not Closed. Hesitantly, she posts, and when teenagers Seneca and Maddox show up on her doorstep offering to help investigate she accepts in desperation. Both have suffered their own losses and also posted to the site with no luck, so they are hoping this case might be the one they crack. But as their investigation begins, it seems that maybe it's no accident that they are all together, and that maybe the crimes have something - or someone - in common.

This is a gloriously twisty who-dunnit.  One of my favourite kind of books to read, as I have so much fun attempting to unravel the mystery.  In this case, the puzzle of who killed Helena, Aerin Kelly's big sister and why.

Sara Shepard has followed in the footsteps of her hugely successful Pretty Little Liars series and written a story with the same sense of mystery and intrigue.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their toes and there are lots of tiny clues thrown in which you need to watch out for.  I love stories like this which keep me glued to the pages. 

Initially, I'll admit that I wasn't entirely sold on some of the characters.  There's Aerin herself, who desperately wants to find her sister's killer, Seneca who thrives on solving cold cases, plus Maddy, Brett and co.  They all grew on me however and I liked the way that they bounced ideas off each other and everyone helped to piece all the clues together.  They each had different motivations for wanting to investigate the case and it was interesting learning more about them as individuals and their own dark pasts. 

The second half of the book was even better than the first as secrets start to get spilt and peoples' true characters come to light.  The ending was a stroke of pure genius and was brilliant because I never saw it coming.  'The Amateurs' was a super read and I'm thrilled that there will be another instalment in the series next year.  There's no doubt that I will be lining up to get my hands on it.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Review: For Better or Worse - Lauren Layne

For Better or Worse by Lauren Layne, published by Headline Eternal on 30th August 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
When small-town girl Heather Fowler finally gets promoted from assistant to actual wedding planner, she's determined to make it as one of Manhattan's elite Wedding Belles. Unfortunately, her first client demands an opulent black-tie affair at the five months' time. Heather's days quickly become a flurry of cake tastings, dress-fittings, RSVP cards, and bridal tantrums. But what she's really losing sleep over is the live music blaring from her playboy neighbor's apartment all night.

Five years ago, Josh Tanner was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, complete with the penthouse and the migraines. But a grim diagnosis made him realize there is more to life than the corner office. If only he could convince his pretty, workaholic neighbor to let loose, too. As Heather lets down her guard, Josh is surprised when he starts falling for the sweet, vulnerable woman hiding beneath those power suits. Soon, it's Heather's turn to convince Josh to take the biggest risk of all: love.

‘For Better or Worse’ by Lauren Layne is the second book in the Wedding Belles series. I really enjoyed the opener to the series so I was excited about starting this one. The focus this time around is on Heather, who has always dreamed of living in New York. She is planning a wedding for a big name reality star and she is working towards what she hopes will be a much sought after promotion.

I thought Heather was a fantastic character. She is smart, witty and ambitious and very single-minded.  She is determined to achieve her goals and ambitions and achieve all of her hopes and dreams. Looking to side track Heather along the way is her next door neighbour Josh. I adored the banter between the two of them. Their first encounter is a fiery one and paves the way for sparks to literally sizzle every time they are near each other.

After their rocky start, I liked the way that Heather and Josh were first and foremost friends. The attraction that they share is obvious to see but they are good friends before something more in the way of romance develops. They gradually become entwined into each other’s lives and families but Josh is hiding a big secret about his past and you just know it’s going to throw things all out of kilter when it is revealed. 

The ending of the story is spectacularly good. It couldn’t have been more perfectly written and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.   

I can’t wait for the next book in the series about Alexis and Logan. This is the one I’ve really been dying to read. Lauren Layne has struck gold with the Wedding Belles series and her winning formula is sure to win her lots of new fans, as well as please all of her old ones.  

Monday, 31 October 2016

Review: The Trouble with Mistletoe - Jill Shalvis

The Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 27th September 2016

Goodreads synopsis:

Willa Davis is wrangling puppies when Keane Winters stalks into her pet shop with frustration in his chocolate-brown eyes and a pink bedazzled cat carrier in his hand. He needs a kitty sitter, stat. But the last thing Willa needs is to rescue a guy who doesn't even remember her...

He'll get nothing but coal in his stocking. Saddled with his great-aunt's Feline from Hell, Keane is desperate to leave her in someone else's capable hands. But in spite of the fact that he's sure he's never seen the drop-dead-gorgeous pet shop owner before, she seems to be mad at him...

Unless he tempers 'naughty' with a special kind of nice... Willa can't deny that Keane's changed since high school: he's less arrogant, for one thing - but he doesn't even remember her. How can she trust him not to break her heart again? It's time to throw a coin in the fountain, make a Christmas wish - and let the mistletoe do its work...

‘The Trouble with Mistletoe’ is another cracker from the pen of Jill Shalvis and the second book in the Heartbreaker Bay series. Featuring cute animals, Christmas mistletoe and a sweet romance, it is the perfect wintery read for romance lovers.

The story centres around Willa, a local pet shop owner and Keane, the high school boy all grown-up, who doesn’t remember who she is. Willa has been scarred by her past and is afraid to let herself love. Keane has also had his own issues to overcome but is entranced by Willa and can’t stay away. The two were both such great characters that I was rooting for them from the very beginning. Willa in particular, radiated warmth from every page. I love the way that she tries to help other vulnerable young women by giving them a fresh start and somewhere safe to work. She and Keane have great chemistry and although their relationship doesn’t get off on the best foot, it doesn’t take long to see that they are made for each other.

It was great to revisit some familiar faces in the story and although it took me longer to fall for Keane the way that Willa does, he soon became part of the gang and was welcomed into the fold. Jill Shalvis has a wonderful way of creating such fantastic communities in her books. Friends become family and they always seem like they would do anything for each other.    

I can’t really say enough great things about Jill Shalvis’s books. If you are a romance fan then you need to discover her for yourself because her stories are the perfect treat tied up with a shiny ribbon on the top. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Review: Thin Air - Michelle Paver

Thin Air by Michelle Paver, published by Orion on 6th October 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
In 1935, young medic Stephen Pearce travels to India to join an expedition with his brother, Kits. The elite team of five will climb Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain and one of mountaineering's biggest killers. No one has scaled it before, and they are, quite literally, following in the footsteps of one of the most famous mountain disasters of all time - the 1907 Lyell Expedition.

Five men lost their lives back then, overcome by the atrocious weather, misfortune and 'mountain sickness' at such high altitudes. Lyell became a classic British hero when he published his memoir, Bloody, But Unbowed, which regaled his heroism in the face of extreme odds.

As the team prepare for the epic climb, Pearce's unease about the expedition deepens. The only other survivor of the 1907 expedition, Charles Tennant, warns him off. He hints of dark things ahead and tells Pearce that, while five men lost their lives on the mountain, only four were laid to rest.

But Pearce is determined to go ahead and complete something that he has dreamed of his entire life. As they get higher and higher, and the oxygen levels drop, he starts to see dark things out of the corners of his eyes. As macabre mementoes of the earlier climbers turn up on the trail, Stephen starts to suspect that Charles Lyell's account of the tragedy was perhaps not the full story...

‘Thin Air’ by Michelle Paver was an atmospheric and chilling read. Described as a ‘ghost story’, it was certainly subtly unnerving. You are never quite sure what to make of the things you see and hear. Are they real or are they signs of madness in the thin mountain air?

The story is about an expedition to scale Kangchenjuna, the world’s 3rd highest mountain. Set in 1935, Stephen, a young medic, along with his brother and a group of other men, set off to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them. A previous expedition in 1906 went terribly wrong when five men failed to return, so the omens don’t look good from the beginning. 

The action unfolds through the eyes of Stephen as he begins to seemingly lose his grasp on reality. The fact that he may not be a reliable narrator, means that the reader has to question everything that happens. Although I found the story quite slow in the beginning and I struggled a bit with the glacial pace, it did pick up as it progressed and the ending was brilliant. 

I enjoyed the details of how the men survive on the mountain and the sense of adventure and the great unknown that Paver creates.  Her writing is always very visual and descriptive and I could quite easily imagine the bitter cold and lack of air that the men have to deal with.

Although I don't think I found it as scary as some ghost stories I have read before, it was still quite spooky and after reading 'Thin Air', I don't think I'll ever look at a rucksack in the same way again!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Review: The Women in the Walls - Amy Lukavics

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, published by Simon and Schuster on 6th October 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Lucy Acosta's mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They're inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she's ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother's voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin's sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

‘The Women in the Walls’ was quite frankly terrifying and pretty gruesome. If you are a fan of the horror genre and are looking for a book which will make your skin crawl, then look no further. The release of this title is perfectly timed to coincide with Halloween, although I strongly wouldn’t recommend reading it without all the lights in the house being on and maybe someone to hold your hand!

Personally, I’m not a big fan of horrors and although I enjoyed Amy Lukavic’s debut novel ‘Daughters Unto Devils’, there was something decidedly unsettling about this story which didn’t sit well with me. The story itself centres around Lucy Acosta, who after the death of her mother has grown-up with her Aunt Penelope and Cousin Margaret by her side. Living on a huge estate, things start unravelling swiftly from the beginning. First the Cook is found hanging, then her Aunt disappears into the woods and then Lucy’s cousin starts acting out of character. It almost feels like there is a malicious presence lingering in the house.

Lucy is an interesting character but a lot of the time I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether I actually liked her or not. She has a difficult relationship with members of her family and hides a big secret which gave some further insight into her personality. However, I was never sure whether I could entirely trust her.

This was a fairly short book, so the story started off at a breakneck pace and never really slowed down. It’s not entirely clear what is happening until the second half of the story and by then you just want it to stop (or at least I did!). There are some incredibly gruesome moments in the book and I have to give a nod to Amy Lujkavic for the way that she describes these scenes in such detail that you will feel like every hair on your body is standing on end.

Having had some time to think about it, I feel that it’s probably more the fact that the genre didn’t suit me, than that this is a bad read. When I was a teenager, I never liked the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine either (I think I scare myself too much) so I was always going to struggle a bit with anything like this. If, however, you enjoy a story which will give you the frights then this might be just the one for you. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Blog Tour: The Beginning Woods - Malcolm McNeill

Today I'm hosting a stop on the blog tour for The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill which has just been published by Pushkin Children's Books. 

Malcolm has written a fantastic piece which I hope you will all enjoy reading.  

Mistakes in the life of a writer

There’s a guy who takes a wrong turn and gets himself lost in a desert. He struggles across it. Has a grim, horrible experience. Finally gets near the other side, cursing his stars. Sees a caravan parked by a road and heads for it.

What kind of dumb jerk, he thinks, struggling up the last dune, ends up in a lousy desert. Sure hope I don’t make that mistake again!

At the top of the dune, right by the road, there’s a sign facing away from him. He looks back at it as he goes past.

Do not enter the minefield, it says.

That’s a bit like how I feel. I’m forty, and I’m looking back at my life. And I feel like way back there in the distance I made a very large mistake, but somehow, within it, I didn’t put a foot wrong. This large mistake of mine had space inside it for good things to happen. It wasn’t all bad. Still, I don’t want to get carried away and fall in love with my mistake. It was still a mistake.

This had nothing to do with being a writer. It was about being an actor. But it applies, because there’s something similar about both these “roads”. The act of earning money is a response to certain necessities and practical problems. A job or a career in that sense is intended (in part) to make these issues go away, or at least easier. Becoming an actor or a novelist is likely to do the opposite, and intensify them. So it’s important not to add to these issues unnecessarily, by making mistakes, because there will be enough of them as it is.

I’m going to call my mistake: The Mistake of Lack of Knowledge of my Temperament.

It’s easy to forget about your temperament, when making life choices. Remember your GCSE / A-Level in Self-Awareness? Me neither. My school, though, to be fair, did give us something called a Vocational Guidance Report. Reading it now, I wish I’d paid more attention to the dark significance of sentences like: “ … you need to choose an area in which the work load is, at least in part, determined by yourself.” Which roughly translates as: “Whatever you do, don’t become an actor.”

I became an actor. When I decided to follow this path in life, I imagined that because I was so good at acting, so modest, and so much in love with acting, that I stood as much chance as anyone. Wrong! And look, there I am now, twenty two and taking a left instead of a right, entering the vast desert that was London as a jobbing actor, and no matter how much I howl at my past self, there is nothing I can do to prevent the next seven or eight years from unfolding in the way that they did, that is to say—disastrously, that took another seven or eight years to recover from.

Why was I wrong? Because being good at acting does not mean you will be good at being an actor. There is no connection between the two skills—none. So I failed to be an actor. And I should have known I would fail, if I’d listened to that sentence buried deep within the Vocational Guidance Report.

Doing plays at school and university, I discovered, was like being an actor with all the unpleasant bits stripped out—it’s no wonder it’s so enjoyable—and in a sense this makes them a poor and misleading preparation for the life of an actor, which (for most of us) is fraught with stress, difficulty, uncertainty, and compromise. Love of acting alone will not carry you through: if you are temperamentally unsuited to this life, you will suffer the same fate as me.

The life of an actor is like that of a shark. Not only do you have to be constantly seeking work, you have to be built for the task—there has to be something fundamental about your nature that makes you good at it. You have to be able to smell work a hundred miles away, swim towards it with thrashing energy, and swallow it whole before some other shark gets it (and there are thousands of other sharks, all zooming desperately towards the same unsuspecting work). You have to be active, determined, social, tough, and self-confident. Because who gets the work? The actor who is.

I was none of these things. I was a dreamer, an observer, a listener—in other words someone passive. I was a good actor, but I was terrible at leading the life of an actor. I simply did not know how to do it. It wasn’t in my nature. I wasn’t a shark: I was a sea cucumber. If you can imagine a sea cucumber competing with a shark for a morsel of grub that lies one hundred miles away, writhing its body on the ocean floor while the shark disappears from view, you will understand what it was like for me to compete with another actor for work.

This mistake of mine was not abstract. It had serious and lasting consequences, and filled my life with an extraordinary number of problems—all of which were direct or indirect consequences of the fact that I never had enough money. Being poor is no joke. You can manage it with a kind of bravura when you’re young and on your own. It can be both a misery and an adventure. But increasingly a kind of pressure begins to apply. At twenty, you think you’ll be poor for a while—OK, that’s just how life starts out. At thirty, you begin to think maybe this is it—you’re just going to be poor.

Anyway, I gradually came to the understanding (I had it beaten out of me) that I was in the wrong profession. From my mid to late twenties I focussed more and more on writing, which I was very much suited for, as the Vocational Guidance Report had told me.

Well, all I’m saying is that it’s important to be aware of what you’re getting into. You may love writing, you may be good at—but are you temperamentally suited to the life of a novelist? You need to ask yourself this question.

I know, I know. There’s no such thing as “the life of a novelist” (although, there clearly is such a thing, as many people lead it, and they do not all consult one another to make sure their lives are different in every respect—in fact the opposite is true). But let’s assume you’re doing an undemanding nine to five in your early twenties, you have an average amount of willpower and require a normal amount of sleep. I’ll give you a bonus and assume you have no dependents. Your life might look something like this:

You do an eight hour day at work. During the day many people look forward to going home and relaxing—you don’t get to do this, because when you go home you have to write. By the time you get home it’s six o’clock. You’re tired, but you still have to cook dinner, and maybe go shopping first. You cook and eat a simple meal very quickly, and by the time you are ready to write it is maybe seven, that is if there are no delays or distractions, and there will be, because you’ll say to yourself, “I’m tired, I need a bit of a rest before I begin.” If you watch a bit of TV there might be something good on TV, so maybe you don’t get started til eight. Much past that and you are too tired to begin, and you decide to go to bed early, get up early and do something before work. (But if you do this, you will be even more tired the following evening.)

Anyway, you start writing at seven. It takes you about half an hour just to get your mind settled. It is evening and this is when people might email or message or call, so you have to keep your phone off, and this means your friends are interacting with each other without you, which will have predictable results over the years. Before you know it, it is nine o’clock and you are beginning to feel very tired, because you have been up since seven. You’re fighting off all kinds of distractions, as well as the impulse to just stop and relax. But you can’t stop, because it’s important to keep up a feeling of momentum and moving forward. Sometime between ten and eleven you stop, and you’re exhausted. If you’re really into it, if you’re really steaming along, which happens maybe once a month, you might keep going until midnight. Anyway, you get something done, or not, and six months later it could all be in the bin. You go to bed. The next day is the same.

Between all this you have to find time for all the little tasks that life requires to simply keep ticking over. And because you can only just manage to do those and nothing more, all your life does is tick over. So, you have to be able to hold your nerve, and look a certain kind of future in the face.

That’s just the working week. What do the weekends look like?

Friday night comes round. You have a choice—either you write, or you go out with friends for a drink or a meal. Weekends are important for writing, though, because they are the only time in the week when you’re not tired. You have to “protect” the time. So you can’t afford to feel awful. You watch your friends getting plastered. You go home long before anyone else, feeling a bit surly, but OK, you don’t like getting plastered anyway, though you do start to wonder what sort of things happen beyond midnight. Your friends spend the weekend relaxing and recharging, pursuing hobbies, or going to events. You spend it alone at your desk, doing something that is frustrating and difficult and only occasionally rewarding. Again, in six months, it could all be in the bin.

In general the effect of this over the years is one of curtailment. Your life could still flower, but only if you’re aware of these pressures and can take steps to limit their impact. If you’ve chosen an undemanding career that allows you to devote time and energy to writing, then you are unlikely, by the time you are thirty, to be in work that you would have chosen to do for so long, had you not tried to become a novelist as well. You might start to have doubts, and be plagued by thoughts about what you “could have done” by now. Your friends will be “drawing ahead” of you, moving up the property ladder (or just getting on it), starting families, getting their promotions and so on.

Bear in mind that even if you do get published, you are still likely to be in need of work. Because writing novels is not a career, or even a job—it’s an activity. When your irascible uncle asks you what you want to be when you grow up, and you say “I want to be a novelist,” and he says, “Answer the question!” then yes, it’s true, you should in a sense ignore this “realism”. But it’s also true he has a point, and you should pay close attention to what he has to say.

I had no idea whether I was good at writing novels or not. But I knew I was happy in my own company. I knew I had a resilience to having no money, because I’d never had any. And I had no other hobbies or distractions, now that I was drifting away from acting. Whatever free time I had, I could use all of it on writing, if I wanted.

So I took to it—like a sea cucumber to water.


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Review: The Deviants - C.J. Skuse

The Deviants by C.J. Skuse, published by Mira Ink on 5th September 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Growing up in the sleepy English seaside town of Brynston, the fearless five – Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane – were always inseparable. Living up to their nickname, they were the adventurous, rowdy kids who lived for ghost stories and exploring the nearby islands off the coast. But when Max’s beloved older sister Jessica is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.

Now years later, only Max and Ella are in touch; still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. Their lives are so intertwined Max’s dad even sponsors Ella’s training for the Commonwealth Games. But Ella is hiding things. Like why she hates going to Max’s house for Sunday dinner, and flinches whenever his family are near. Or the real reason she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level.

When underdog Corey is bullied, the fearless five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them. But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?

I loved C.J. Skuse's previous book 'Monster' which was one of my top reads of 2015. I was so excited to read her new novel as the premise sounded utterly brilliant - the Famous Five with a twist.  I thought that 'The Deviants' was a brave book to write and tackled some extremely difficult issues, but while I can admire Skuse's writing and choice of subject matters, I can't say that this is a book which I ended up loving.  Don't get me wrong, it was very good but I also found it extremely dark and hard to read at times. 

The novel's main protagonists are teenagers Ella and her boyfriend Max.  They have grown up together and have been a couple since they were thirteen.  Although they practically live in each other's pockets, Ella has a big secret she's hiding which threatens to change everything forever.  Along with Ella and Max, there's also their old friends Fallon, Corey and the mysterious Zane.  They used to do everything together until Max's sister Jessica died and things changed between them.  Brought back together, the gang are reunited in their thirst for revenge, but secrets begin to spill out and it's obvious from the start that Ella knows more than she's letting on about Jessica's death. 

I thought that the story started really well and I was intrigued about the direction in which Skuse was going to take the characters.  The first few chapters flew by quickly and I knew that there were going to be some twists and turns ahead.  Everything got very dark in the second half of the book and it dealt with an extremely heavy, hard-hitting topic.  To be completely honest, I'm not sure if I was quite in the mood for something so serious.  It was pretty graphic at times and quite a turbulent ride for the reader.  The ending totally took me by surprise (which seems to be Skuse's trademark) but with reflection, I think I would have actually liked her to have gone in a slightly different direction. 

Overall, 'The Deviants' didn't quite meet my extremely high expectations, possibly because it was turned out to be very different to what I was expecting.  That's not to say that this wasn't a good book but I did find it tough going at times.         

Thursday, 25 August 2016

News: Hashtag Reads - Simon and Schuster

One of my favourite publishers is Simon and Schuster who have provided readers with some of the best YA titles of recent years. Today is the launch day of the very first newsletter for their online community Hashtag Reads.

Hashtag Reads is home to some of the best-loved YA authors including Cassandra Clare, Gayle Forman, Paige Toon, Morgan Matson and Darren Shan. It’s a great place for readers to find out about the latest YA reads, hear more from their favourite authors, read exclusive material and enter the hottest competitions.

You can find them online via:
Twitter: @hashtagreads

Sign up to the Hashtag Reads newsletter using the handy form below and you will automatically be in with a chance to win your height in books. Wow! That's one prize I would absolutely love to win!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Review: The Boy Most Likely To - Huntley Fitzpatrick

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick, published by Electric Monkey on 9th June 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To find the drinks cabinet blindfolded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house.

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To . . . well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard . . .

I was really looking forward to read 'The Boy Most Likely To' the follow-up to Huntley Fitzpatrick's novel, 'My Life Next Door'.  I loved the latter which featured the romance between Samantha and Jase and I was excited about picking up with all the characters again.  I was however, a little worried about the fact that the story this time around focuses on the relationship between Jase's sister Alice and Tim who we were previously introduced to.  Alice I liked but I didn't feel the same about Tim.  I just had my fingers crossed that he would begin to grow on me. Sadly that didn't happen and while I enjoyed elements of this book, Tim failed to win me over. 

Alice has a lot on her plate and has taken on responsibility for helping to keep her family together while her father is in hospital recovering from an accident.  She is trying to finish nursing school, at the same time as supporting her mother with babysitting and keeping track of the family finances.  She definitely doesn't have time for romance and certainly not with Tim who comes with his own set of issues.  Whereas Alice is extremely adult in nature, Tim is the complete opposite.  He is royally screwing up his life and seems much more immature. 

There is a pivotal event in the book which begins to change Tim's outlook on life.  I won't spoil it and mention what it is but I didn't like this element of the storyline and I found it quite contrived.   

I was also slightly disappointed that we didn't get to see more of Jace and Samantha.  They appeared at various moments in the book but they were always in the background and didn't feature in the main plot at all.  I would have much preferred a follow-up to their story, rather than Alice and Tim.

What I did love was the Garrett family.  The children are all adorable, especially George who is so sweet and asks the best questions.  I enjoyed reading about them and they pop up a lot throughout the story. 

This book took me a long time to finish which is unusual for me as I normally read very quickly.  I think I was really looking for something which was a bit more light-hearted for summer and this most definitely wasn't it. 

Review: And I Darken - Kiersten White

And I Darken by Kiersten White, published by Corgi Childrens on 7th July 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

'And I Darken' is the first in a new trilogy by author Kiersten White, who has reimagined Vlad the Impaler as a female called Lada and has set about breathing new life into a series of historical characters. 
I loved the start of the book.  I was absorbed by the story and the characters and I couldn't put it down.  I'll admit that my interest waned a little in the middle when I felt the pace of the story got a bit bogged down but then it picked up again at the end and I was sucked back in. 
I haven't seen a female heroine like Lada before in YA.  She is most definitely an anti-princess.  She refuses to be beholden to anyone, she fights as well as any man and she is determined not to let anyone control her or own her.  Occasionally, I found her quite difficult to like.  She's so tough and prickly that it's hard to get past the armour she surrounds herself with.  Her achilles heel (if indeed she has one) is her love for her younger brother Radu. 
Radu was my favourite character in the book.  There is a lgbt angle to his storyline which was well written and depicted.  He spends a lot of the story conflicted about his feelings but I really felt that he came into his own in the second half.  He and Lada have a complex relationship which only becomes more complicated when they meet Mehmed, the son of the Sultan. 
Brutal and bloody, 'And I Darken' pulls no punches and spares you nothing.  It's very in your face.  It blends historical fiction and fantasy together brilliantly and is an extremely intriguing opening to the series.    

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Review: Run - Kody Keplinger

Run by Kody Keplinger, published by Hodder Childrens Books on 14th July 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and an alcoholic mom. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn't care what anyone thinks.

Agnes Atwood has never stayed out past ten p.m., never gone on a date and never broken any of her parents' overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally-blind daughter, but Agnes isn't quite sure what they are protecting her from.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it's the sort of friendship that runs more deeply than anything else. But when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, police sirens wailing in the distance, Agnes is faced with the biggest choice she's ever had to make. Run, or stay?

I normally always enjoy a new Kody Keplinger book.  Her writing is refreshingly real and honest and that's something that really appeals to me.  I have to be totally honest myself though and admit that 'Run' didn't really do it for me.  I didn't out and out dislike it but it didn't compare well with some of my favourites from her other titles, such as 'The Duff' which still holds the top spot.

The story is about two girls who could not be more opposite but who end up becoming best friends.  Bo is the wild girl about town who has a big reputation but is it all talk?  Agnes is visually impaired and has always been the one to follow others.  She is not a risk taker or a rule breaker but her relationship with Bo might well change all of that. I did like Agnes but Bo was a lot harder to warm to.  I felt that she took advantage of their friendship a lot and never fully developed into someone who I could end up rooting for. 

I also wasn't particularly keen on the format of the book which jumped backward and forward a lot of the time.  I usually prefer a much more linear structure and found myself losing interest a lot of the time.  As well as the timeframe, the narrative also alternated a lot too.  Bo and Agnes both get to tell the story from their own points of view.  I found Agnes's chapters fairly enjoyable but I ended up skimming through some of Bo's narrative. 

The ending was unusual and wasn't really what I was expecting.  Frankly it just fell flat and for me, the book didn't finish on a high note.  It's a shame because I have enjoyed most of Kody Keplinger's books in the past.  I'm going to chalk this one off and move onto anticipate her next offering.    

Review: To Have and To Hold - Lauren Layne

To Have and To Hold by Lauren Layne, published by Headline Eternal on 26th July 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Discovering her fiance is a con man moments before they exchange vows devastates LA celebrity wedding planner Brooke Baldwin. With a fresh start in New York and her first Wedding Belles bridal client, things are looking up. Until she meets the uptight businessman who's holding the purse strings...

Seth Tyler wishes he could write a blank cheque and be done with his sister Maya's wedding, but micromanaging the event is his only chance at proving that Maya's fiance is a liar. He needs the help of her stunning, sassy wedding planner who he finds both irritating - and undeniably tempting.

Can Seth persuade Brooke to unplan a wedding? And, more importantly, how will he convince her that the wedding she should be theirs?

'To Have and to Hold' is the first book I've read by Lauren Layne and kicks off her brand new series, The Wedding Belles.  An indulgent treat, this was exactly the kind of book that I was in the mood for.  It was sweet and romantic and reminded me a lot of some of my favourite Jill Shalvis titles.  I'm so pleased that there is a whole series about the Belles to look forward to.  I'm going to be reading them all!

Brooke is a wedding planner who has recently moved to New York and has got a job working for the Wedding Belles - a service which helps brides to plan their dream weddings.  She's been hurt in the past but wants to put all of that behind her and move on with her life.  I liked the steely centre that Brooke has and the way that she is always looking for the positives in a situation.  She is one tough lady but she 's also a real sweetheart and I'm sure readers will identify a lot with her.  In the course of helping to plan the wedding of Maya Tyler, she meets his brother, handsome businessman Seth.  Although she is instantly attracted to him, he is much more of a closed book.  He is gruff and appeared controlling at first, but it soon becomes evident that he is just trying to look out for his sister and ensure that she doesn't get her heart broken.  Once you get past his tough exterior, he is a real softie underneath. 

Brooke and Seth both have issues to deal with and there are some ups and downs as they traverse the numerous obstacles in their path.  I never doubted though that they would perfectly compliment each other if only they could truly open up their hearts. 

I thought that the book was sweet, sexy and romantic and very well written.  The characters were rounded individuals who I really liked and there were some intriguing secondary characters too, who I'm hoping to see more of in the future.  They all seem to have their own stories to tell. 

The ending genuinely made me cry and Lauren Layne made me a very happy reader indeed.   

Bring on more of the Belles!  'For Better or Worse' is next in the series and I can't wait.    

Monday, 8 August 2016

Review: Sweet Little Lies - Jill Shalvis

Sweet Little Lies by Jill Shalvis, published by Headline Eternal on 28th July 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Choose the one guy you can't have... As captain of a San Francisco Bay tour boat, Pru can handle rough seas - the hard part is life on dry land. Pru loves her new apartment and her neighbors; problem is, she's in danger of stumbling into love with Mr. Right for Anybody But Her.

Fall for him - hard... Pub owner Finn O'Riley is six-foot-plus of hard-working hottie who always makes time for his friends. When Pru becomes one of them, she discovers how amazing it feels to be on the receiving end of that deep green gaze. But when a freak accident involving darts (don't ask) leads to shirtless first aid, things rush way past the friend zone. Fast.

And then tell him the truth. Pru only wants Finn to be happy; it's what she wishes for at the historic fountain that's supposed to grant her heart's desire. But wanting him for herself is a different story-because Pru's been keeping a secret that could change everything...

'Sweet Little Lies' is the first book in Jill Shalvis's new series Heartbreaker Bay.  With every book I read by this author, I become more and more a fan of her stories.  I adore her Lucky Harbor series and this was in a very similar vein.  It was feel good, romantic, uplifting and a perfect read to pick up and devour while snuggling into your favourite chair with a big cup of tea.  I am so pleased that Shalvis has such an extensive back catalogue of titles because I seriously want to read them all!

The main character Pru, has spent a large proportion of her life trying to make amends for the terrible series of events that her parents caused.  Her need to give to others and her selflessness lies at the core of her being.  She is always thinking of how she can help people and often puts their needs before her own.  She was a wonderful character and one that I immediately found myself liking and rooting for.  Her latest wish is that handsome bartender Finn will find true love. 

I adored the romance which begins to flourish between Pru and Finn.  She gives him fun and warmth and adventure and in return, he gives her stability, trust and support.  They really compliment each other and I definitely fell for them as a couple.  I cared about what happened to them and I couldn't wait for them to realise that they were just perfect together.  There are some pretty hot and steamy scenes between the two of them and you will be guaranteed to get very hot under the collar. 

The ending was beyond perfect and for some reason reminded me a little bit of Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' which is one of my favourite classics.  I also have to give a shout out to Thor the dog who was utterly adorable and a complete sweetie.  If you haven't discovered Jill Shalvis yet then you need to remedy that immediately.  She's my new go-to author for heart warming romances which leave you feeling all fuzzy inside.         

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Review: With Malice - Eileen Cook

With Malice by Eileen Cook, published by Hot Key Books on 9th June 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn't just an accident.

With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn't the one to blame?


I love a good YA thriller and 'With Malice' by Eileen Cook ticked lots of boxes for me.  It actually reminded me of '13 Minutes' by Sarah Pinborough in the way that the main character gradually has to regain her memories of a pivotal event and how the storyline unfolds like a puzzle - piece by piece. 

The central protagonist, teenager Jill, wakes up in hospital after a terrible car crash which happened during a school trip to Italy.  She has lots of questions about who was involved and what caused the crash and is shocked to discover that she was the one driving the car.  Was she responsible?  As readers, we are left as clueless as Jill.  Her memories and dreams begin to construct events but are they real and can they be trusted? 

The plot unravels slowly and I found the pace of the book a little frustrating.  Small fragments of information are drip fed to readers by the police interviews which feature throughout the story and by the online comments.  These are left by friends, acquaintances and members of the public who comment on what has become an international incident.

I really liked 'With Malice', although I felt that the ending let it down.  The big finale wasn't as dramatic or as satisfying as I was expecting and it was somewhat of an anti-climax after the brilliant build-up which preceded it.  It was also very ambiguous which isn't something I normally like.  You are left to draw your own conclusions in the end about what you believe is true or false.  

This was a fairly quick read which overall I really enjoyed.  There were a few things about it which bothered me and some loose plot threads which could have done with tightening up but that aside, it was just the kind of thriller that I like.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review: Slave to Sensation - Nalini Singh

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh, published by Gollancz in 2010

Goodreads synopsis:
In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of "rehabilitation" - the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was...

Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy coexistence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion - and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities - or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation.

'Slave to Sensation' is the first book in the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh.  I have wanted to read this series for such a long time.  I first saw it highly recommended by another blogger, but as I always have such a towering TBR pile, it's taken me this long to get around to giving it a try.  I'm a massive Christine Feehan fan, so I thought that it would probably be quite similar to some of her books.  There were certain aspects which definitely reminded me of Feehan's writing and plots. 

There are two different groups in the book - the Psy and the Changelings.  Sascha is a Psy - people who cannot feel emotion and have certain psychic powers and controls.  What is apparent about Sascha from the very start, is that she is different.  She experiences and feels things that she shouldn't feel and this alone is enough to place her in grave danger.  She was an interesting character and I enjoyed finding about more about how the Psy live. 

Her opposite in the book is Lucas, a Changeling.  He can change into a panther and is determined to find the Psy who is responsible for killing his packmates.  He was hot, hot, hot!  He recognises something in Sascha from the start and their developing relationship was one of my favourite aspects of the story. 

I love paranormal romances and this one came laced with an edge of danger and suspense which kept me glued to the pages.  I was really impressed with this opening instalment to the series and I'm dying to read the rest of Nalini Singh's books now.  If it's as good as this one then I'm going to be in for a real treat!  


Monday, 27 June 2016

Review: Unrivalled - Alyson Noel

Unrivalled by Alyson Noel, published by Mira Ink on 10th May 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Everyone wants to be someone. Layla Harrison wants to be a reporter. Aster Amirpour wants to be an actress. Tommy Phillips wants to be a guitar hero. But Madison Brooks took destiny and made it her own a long time ago. She’s Hollywood’s hottest starlet, and the things she did to become the name on everyone’s lips are merely a stain on the pavement, ground beneath her Louboutin heel.

That is, until Layla, Aster, and Tommy find themselves with a VIP invite to the world of Los Angeles’s nightlife and are lured into a competition. The prize, or rather the target? Madison Brooks.
Just as their hopes begin to gleam like stars through the California smog, Madison Brooks goes missing. . . . And all of their hopes are blacked out in the haze of their lies.

This was quite a different change of pace to Alyson Noel's previous books that were much more on the spiritual/paranormal side of things.  'Unrivalled' is a contemporary YA about a group of young adults vying for the same huge cash prize by promoting a series of nightclubs.  Each have their own reasons for taking part and wanting to win.  They get points based on how successful their night club is and each of them tries to get Hollywood IT girl, Madison Brooks, to grace their club.  That is the sure fire way to score some big points. 

The story actually starts one month prior to the rest of the plot. Madison Brooks goes missing but who the mystery surrounds who is responsible for her disappearance.  The rest of the book unfolds with the three main characters Tommy, Aster and Layla, each becoming untangled with the seemingly glamorous but ultimately seedy, Hollywood night club scene.  I have to say that I wasn't particularly a fan of any of the characters.  They all seemed pretty shallow and certainly not that likable.  I didn't care an awful lot about who won the competition and the Madison Brooks element of the plot was intriguing but not enough to keep me engrossed in the story.

I'm sad to say that I just don't think this title was very good.  Although it was compared to Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl it was a poor imitation of both of those series and isn't one that I'm invested in enough to want to continue reading.    

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: Soldier - Julie Kagawa

Soldier by Julie Kagawa, published by Mira Ink on 5th May 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
When forced to choose between safety with the dragon organization Talon and being hunted forever as an outcast, Ember Hill chose to stand with Riley and his band of rogue dragons rather than become an assassin for Talon. She’s lost any contact with her twin brother, Dante, a Talon devotee, as well as Garret, the former-enemy soldier who challenged her beliefs about her human side.

As Ember and Riley hide and regroup to fight another day, Garret journeys alone to the United Kingdom, birthplace of the ancient and secret Order of St. George, to spy on his former brothers and uncover deadly and shocking secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragonslayers alike and place them all in imminent danger as Talon’s new order rises.

'Soldier' is the third book in the Talon saga.  I really enjoy this series and I continually marvel that Julie Kagawa seems to be able to turn her hand to any subject she fancies and turn it into an amazing story. The first two books in this series were beyond fantastic, so I had high hopes about this one.

Once again we get different insights from multiple characters,  Ember, Riley, Garret and Dante all narrate various chapters throughout the book.  Ember is still torn between her dragon and human sides, Riley is desperate to convince Ember that she belongs with him, Garret is searching for the truth, wherever it may take him and Dante is involved in a terrifying Talon experiment which spells danger for them all.  A lot more is revealed about Talon and the Order of St George in the book, which I enjoyed finding out about.   

Julie Kagawa most certainly isn't afraid to make difficult choices with her characters or place them in all manner of dangerous situations.  One of these left me absolutely stunned, although looking back at it now, I can see why she made the decision and how this will allow other characters to get their own resolutions.   

Fast-paced action throughout kept me turning the pages well into the night.  This is definitely a title you will want to read in one sitting.  The story was thrilling and exciting and crammed full of tense, nail-biting moments and explosive revelations.  There is one almighty big secret revealed at the very end which will have you in despair at having to wait for the next instalment of the series. 

I am so anxious to find out what will happen next that I just can't bear it.  Here's hoping that the wait for book four, 'Legion' won't be a long one. 


Monday, 20 June 2016

Review: London Belongs To Us - Sarra Manning

London Belongs To Us by Sarra Manning, published by Hot Key Books on 2nd June 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Sunny's always been a little bit of a pushover. But when she's sent a picture of her boyfriend kissing another girl, she knows she's got to act. What follows is a mad, twelve-hour dash around London - starting at 8pm in Crystal Palace (so far away from civilisation you can't even get the Tube there) then sweeping through Camden, Shoreditch, Soho, Kensington, Notting Hill . . . and ending up at 8am in Alexandra Palace.

Along the way Sunny meets a whole host of characters she never dreamed she'd have anything in common with - least of all the devilishly handsome (and somewhat vain) French 'twins' (they're really cousins) Jean Luc and Vic. But as this love-letter to London shows, a city is only a sum of its parts, and really it's the people living there who make up its life and soul. And, as Sunny discovers, everyone - from friends, apparent-enemies, famous bands and even rickshaw drivers - is willing to help a girl on a mission to get her romantic retribution.

I thought I would enjoy this title a lot as I've really liked all of Sarra Manning's previous books.  Unfortunately it just didn't grab my attention and it seemed too much like other stories I've read before.  Maybe I wasn't in the mood for contemporary YA when I picked it up, but for me, it was more of a miss than a hit.

The main character Sunny spends most of the book, which takes place throughout the course of one night, on the hunt for her runaway, potentially cheater, boyfriend.  Her travels take her to numerous well-known areas of London, including Mayfair, Soho and Camden (Ahh Camden, I know it well).  What frustrated me was that I wanted to shout at her not to bother, to forget all about Mark and go home instead, rather than traipse all over London for someone that she shouldn't waste her time on.  On the other hand, I did enjoy being reminded about how diverse and varied London is and how much the City has to offer.  It's one of my favourite places to visit so it was fun to see some of the areas I haven't been to before. 

The ending was a bit too clich├ęd for my tastes and I felt that it didn't really offer anything new to the reader.  It's such a shame because the book sounded good and I thought it would be great fun, but in the end it fell flat for me and was a struggle to finish.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Review: V For Violet by Alison Rattle

V For Violet by Alison Rattle, published by Hot Key Books in April 2016

Goodreads synopsis:
Battersea, 1961. London is just beginning to enter the swinging sixties. The world is changing - but not for sixteen-year-old Violet. She was born at the exact moment Winston Churchill announced Victory in Europe - an auspicious start, but now she's just stuck in her family's fish and chip shop dreaming of greatness. And it doesn't look like fame and fortune are going to come calling anytime soon. Then she meets Beau. Beau's a rocker - a motorcycle boy who arrives in an explosion of passion and rebellion. He blows up Violet's grey little life, and she can't believe her luck. But things don't go her way for long. Joseph, her long-lost brother, comes home. Then young girls start going missing, and turning up murdered. And then Violet's best friend disappears too. Suddenly life is horrifyingly much more interesting.

‘V For Violet’ by Alison Rattle is set in the 1960’s. I’ve been trying to think and I don’t think I’ve actually read anything set in the sixties before. It’s not my favourite period but it was an interesting choice and worked well not only with the overall themes of the book but also in terms of showing what post-war society was like for a lot of teenagers. I’m doubtful that the historical setting will appeal to all readers however.  

The main character Violet has finished school and is working in her parents fish and chip shop. She’s afraid of being left behind by her best friend who has a job in a factory, new friends and a fella on her arm. When Violet meets the dangerous and exciting Beau, she discovers the possibility of a romance of her own. However, she also has family problems to deal with when her long presumed dead brother returns, at the same time that girls from the area start turning up dead. I really liked Violet and I could identify with some of the feelings she had at the start about finding her place and the worry she has about what’s coming next. Having left school behind, the real world is opening up to her and that can be scary. She grows a lot as a character throughout the story and I think even surprises herself by the end. 

Unfortunately the overall book was a bit hit and miss for me. There were parts I liked and thought were well done and there were other aspects of the story that felt a bit rushed. It seemed like Alison Rattle was trying to work a lot of different threads into the story and not all of them were given enough attention. The mystery element of the book was probably my favourite part but I was disappointed with the outcome. I don’t want to spoil anything about the plot but I thought this could have had much more impact if a different direction had been taken in terms of the murderer. The romance between Violet and Beau was okay but I didn’t feel any real sparks between them and Beau came across as a bit one-dimensional at times. The storyline with Violet’s brother could have been quite powerful but again, I think this wasn’t given enough attention until near the end of the book and by then I didn’t feel invested enough in the conclusion.

What I do like about Alison Rattle’s books is that they are all so different and she doesn’t restrict herself to one particular time-frame, setting of theme. You never know what to expect from her stories. Although this wasn’t a huge hit with me, I have enjoyed her writing in the past, so I'll put this title to one side and will look forward to whatever she has in store for readers next.     

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