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 Plaza...in 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.  
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