Lazy Saturday Review: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira #YAreview

I started doing ‘lazy Saturday reviews’ as a way of getting reviews done in just 30 mins, and they proved to be quite popular. They are quick and snappy, and concentrate less on the plot and writing and more on my general feelings about said book. They generally end up being a bit of a rant. My fave!

bookishlyTitle: Bookishly Ever After
Author: Isabel Bandeira
Series: Ever After #1
Format: Digital ARC, 416 pages
Publication Details: January 12th 2016 by Spencer Hill Contemporary
Genre(s): YA Contemporary
Disclosure? Yep! I received an advance copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

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In a perfect world, sixteen-year-old Phoebe Martins’ life would be a book. Preferably a YA novel with magic and a hot paranormal love interest. Unfortunately, her life probably wouldn’t even qualify for a quiet contemporary. But when Phoebe finds out that Dev, the hottest guy in the clarinet section, might actually have a crush on her, she turns to her favorite books for advice. Phoebe overhauls her personality to become as awesome as her favorite heroines and win Dev’s heart. But if her plan fails, can she go back to her happy world of fictional boys after falling for the real thing?

Review

Oh, this book!

I was totally into it at first. I think any book-lover would find it hard to resist the premise of Bookishly Ever After, but unfortunately my initial love for it was short lived.

I liked that Phoebe is flying the flag for ‘kooky’ introverts. I liked that she’s a geek and OK with that. What I didn’t like was the painfully drawn-out he likes me, he likes me not… OMG he text me and so on and so on.

On one hand I had totally lost interest by about half way through, but for some reason I couldn’t stop. I did feel compelled to find out the outcome of all the will-they-won’t-they whiny teen angst, so I guess it was successful in that way, but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy the journey, or where the journey led. It was very bland for me.

I would like to say however, that I’m not really the target audience and I do have a love/hate relationship with contemporary YA at best. If I’d read this when I was in school, I probably would have empathised with the characters a lot more. It also didn’t help that the advanced readers copy I received was really distracting with missing words, jumbled up sentences and ADVANCE COPY plastered all over it. I really tried not to let that influence my feelings towards the book, but it made what was, for me, a slow-paced book even more tedious.

This won’t put me off reading other books by Bandeira in future; I enjoyed her fluid writing style, but not the story.

unicorn rating 2

 

 

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The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements [Out Tomorrow]

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Title: The Silvered Heart
Author: Katherine Clements
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 448 pages
Publication Details: May 7th 2015 by Headline
Genre(s): YA; Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

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The legendary figure of Kate Ferrars, the infamous highwaywoman, is brought gloriously to life in this gripping tale of infatuation, betrayal and survival.

‘The distant thrum of galloping hooves conjures nothing but doubt and fear these days.’

1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world Katherine Ferrars knows is crumbling under Cromwell’s army, and as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to do her duty and marry for the sake of family.

But as her marriage turns into a prison, and her fortune is decimated by the war, Kate becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets the enigmatic Ralph Chaplin, she seizes the chance he offers. Their plan is daring and brutal, but it’s an escape from poverty and the shackles of convention. They both know if they’re caught, there’s only one way it can end…

Review

The Silvered Heart was my first Katherine Clements read, and it certainly won’t be my last.

Lady Katherine is an intriguing character. She is an orphaned heiress who has been used to the finer things in life. But when it comes time to do her duty and marry for the sake of her family, everything she knows is taken from her.

She must leave her beloved mansion for Ware Park, where her husband Thomas, who appears cold and incapable of kindness, basically leaves her to rot. With the state of affairs as they are, Thomas is constantly away, and money is non-existent, turning Ware Park into a run-down, neglected palace, where workers go unpaid and starvation is just around the corner.

I felt for Katherine a lot, and found myself completely engrossed in her story. Her marriage was entirely love-less, and she goes from riches to rags and does it all alone, with the exception of friend and maid, Rachel.

I was very wary of Katherine as a heroine, though. She never seemed to know what she wanted, and a lot of the decisions she made drove me mad! I found her quite shallow and petulant at times, and it annoyed me that she thought she was cleverer than she actually was, but it made for a thrilling read.

I loved that she became this great, almost mythological figure of a cold-hearted highway woman, and all the excitement and danger that came along with it.

The Silvered Heart is an epic tale of betrayal, double-crosses, plots and politics, and one that really gives us a vivid picture of that period in history. It’s also the story of one woman who will do anything to get what she thinks she deserves. A great read!

unicorn rating 4

The Silvered Heart is available in paperback from Waterstones tomorrow!

What She Left by T.R Richmond (Out next week!)

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Title: What She Left
Author: T.R Richmond
Series: N/A
Edition: Advanced Review Copy, 380 pages
Publication Details: April 23rd 2015 by Michael Joseph
Genre(s): Crime; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

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Gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

When Alice Salmon died last year, the ripples were felt in the news, on the internet, and in the hearts of those who knew her best.

But the person who knows her most intimately isn’t family or a friend. Dr Jeremy Cook is an academic whose life has become about piecing together Alice’s existence in all its flawed and truthful reality.

For Cooke, faithfully recreating Alice’s life – through her diaries, emails and anything using her voice – is all-consuming. He does not know how deep his search will take him, or the shocking nature of what he will uncover…

Review

I was really looking forward to a gritty crime thriller after a string of YA reads, and I thought What She Left would be just the thing, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up my expectations.

Alice Salmon was a good-time girl who liked to party a little too hard. When she’s found dead in the river, no one is quite sure what to believe; suicide, a tragic accident, or something more sinister altogether. What She Left pieces together Alice’s life and repercussions of her death on those that knew her.

The premise of this book is great, and I can see what the author was attempting, but it really didn’t work for me, and I put it all down to the format. We only discover what has happened to Alice through her digital and recorded footprint; her facebook posts, her tweets, email conversations, blog and diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles.

The idea is that Professor Cooke, of whom we’re not quite sure of his true intentions or of his relationship with Alice, is collating all of this information as some kind of experimental research – can we really know someone solely from what she left behind?

It’s an interesting hypothesis, and I was really determined to get to the end and find out what did happen to Alice, but let me tell you, it was such a chore. Using such a huge range of formats made What She Left feel very disjointed to me, and so much of it I just wanted to skip.

Also, I felt like all the letters were completely unbelievable. They made no sense, as the actual content of them seemed like nothing anyone would write to someone else. They tended to rehash whole conversations, and jump from one event to the next telling only half the story of each. It was so frustrating.

I thought the format got in the way of me getting to know the characters too, which considering that the idea was for Alice’s digital footprint to tell us who she was, was quite ironic. Her diary entries told me very little of her actual personality and essence, which made it hard for me to care what had happened to her. But saying that, I did keep on reading, so I guess the author was successful in that respect.

I didn’t hate this book, I just wish the format had worked better. Maybe it’s just not for me, as I’ve seen some good reviews of it already. If you like the idea of a story told through various mediums, then you should give it a go.

unicorn rating 2

The hardback is available to pre-order from Waterstones now.

Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake by Sue Watson

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Title: Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake
Author: Sue Watson
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 232 pages
Publication Details: October 17th 2014 by Bookouture
Genre(s): Romance; Christmas/Holiday
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review. Many thanks to Bookouture.

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For Tamsin Angel, Christmas is always the biggest and best… chic parties and a little showbiz sparkle are a must. This year though, things aren’t going quite as planned…

With bailiffs suddenly at the door and her husband nowhere to be found, it looks like Christmas just got downsized. Moving into her sister’s one-bedroom flat, she wonders whether things will ever be the same again.

After losing her husband on Christmas Eve, Sam Angel has rebuilt her life around her son Jacob and her new business – The White Angel Bakery. She’s also found herself a very handsome, loving boyfriend, but is struggling to let go of the past.

Thrown together with a sprinkle of Christmas magic, Sam and Tamsin might just learn a little more about each other – and themselves. But when disaster strikes at the bakery, will they be able to save the day in time for Christmas?

Review

Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake is a humorous festive read about family, making the most of bad situations, and letting go. Queue a high-pitched rendition of Let It Go!

I wasn’t instantly hooked on this book, but after a few chapters of switching narratives between Tamsin and Sam, I became accustomed to the structure and started to enjoy it.

I thought the contrast between the sister’s personalities worked well, making this a realistic, enthralling story full of drama, sarcasm and just enough Christmas magic.

I liked Sam from the start. With her no-nonsense and sarcastic approach to life. She’s finding it hard to move in from the death of her husband, but she’s determined not to let it hold her back.

Tamsin was a little harder to warm to, being a designer-loving, party-planning, living-beyond-her-means type who is all about perfection and hiding her Northern accent and real self from her circle of fake (in every way) friends. But, as the story went on and Tamsin loses everything she thought she loved, apart from her sister, I definitely warmed up to her.

I also really loved the Cheshire setting as that’s my home county- although not the posh part, blates- so that was an extra bonus.

Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake felt like an honest, and often funny portrayal of two sisters who are trying to get through the bad times by creating a little bit of Christmas cheer.

unicorn rating 3

Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake is available in paperback from Waterstones now.

The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones

barefoot
Title: The Barefoot Queen
Author: Ildefonso Falcones
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 656 pages
Publication Details: November 25th 2014 by Crown
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the publisher/author in exchange for an HONEST review.

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It’s January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona’s-a young, rebellious gypsy-the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever.

Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. They soon find themselves in Madrid-a city of passion and dancing, but also a treacherous one full of smugglers and thieves. Caridad and Milagros must help in the gypsy’s struggle against society and its laws in order to stay together; it’s a dangerous battle that cannot, and will not, be easily won.

From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe

Review

When I requested this from Netgalley I’d been reading YA after YA and felt like I needed to get stuck in to a grown-up book to break the monotony, but by the time I got round to starting this 600+ page book, I wasn’t really in the mood to be honest. Therefore I’m not sure if my enjoyment of it – or lack of- is down to that, or something more.

The Barefoot Queen started so promising. I flew through the first hundred pages eager to find out what would become of Caridad, a former slave whose master died on the ship The Queen, which took her to Cadiz.

I thought the writing was beautiful and it started off at a good pace…but then I got lost. It didn’t take me long to realise that Falcones was going to throw in unnecessary details, backstories and cultural observations that added nothing to the story in my opinion. It just got too bogged down and I struggled to get through.

I really agonised over what to rate this book because there were parts of it I loved, and in essence it’s a great story that deserved to be told. It was just a slog. I felt sorry for Caridad who finds herself in Seville completely clueless as to what to do with herself after a lifetime of slavery. She needs to find work, but only knows how to labour on a plantation, and who’s going to hire a negro woman with no master?

When she meets gypsy, Milagros, the two discover just how dangerous it is to be a woman in 1700’s Spain.

Again, I wanted to like this book. It’s an epic tale of two women’s bravery and is clearly well researched. I just wish Falcones had pulled it back a bit, and not got so bogged down in detail. The pace was too slow for me…that’s what binge-reading YA books does to you.

Overall, I wouldn’t want to put people off this book as it’s an important and interesting story if you don’t mind a bit of a slog. It’s also extremely violent in parts, and you won’t come away from this book without a twinge of sadness and despair for these poor characters who really go through the ringer.

unicorn rating 2

The Barefoot Queen is available in hardback and paperback from Waterstones now.

Frighteningly Festive: Dying For Christmas by Tammy Cohen

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Title: Dying For Christmas
Author: Tammy Cohen
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital ARC, 274 pages
Publication Details: November 20th 2014 by Transworld Digital
Genre(s): Thriller, Crime
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the publisher/author in exchange for an HONEST review.

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I am missing. Held captive by a blue-eyed stranger. To mark the twelve days of Christmas, he gives me a gift every day, each more horrible than the last. The twelfth day is getting closer. After that, there’ll be no more Christmas cheer for me. No mince pies, no carols. No way out …

…But I have a secret. No-one has guessed it. Will you?

Review

This was my first read of Tammy Cohen, who has also published books under her full name Tamar Cohen. The name stood out to me and I only realised after finishing the book that she teaches at the local university here. How weird is that?

Anyway, Dying For Christmas is a psychological thriller/Crime drama with more twists and turns than Alton Towers. And to carry on the theme park analogy, my enjoyment of it rollercoastered a lot too.

The story is told in two halves, the first detailing Jessica Gold’s kidnapping and captivity, and the second following the case after her release.

This is one of those books that is difficult to discuss without giving away spoilers and ruining the enjoyment for others, so forgive me for not going into detail here. What I can say though, is that Dying for Christmas was a quick, enjoyable read but not without its flaws.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the constant switching of perspective from Jessica and Kim, the detective leading the investigation into Jessica’s disappearance. I found myself skipping the parts about Kim and the strain her job is putting on her home life – I didn’t warm to her for some reason, and didn’t really care what was happening outside of the investigation.

I also didn’t like how cynical Kim was about the disappearance. All of the evidence suggests that the kidnapper is psychotic, but all of a sudden Kim seems to have doubts after obsessing over finding her. It didn’t ring true to me.

All of that aside, this book was full of twists and turns which makes a great read, even if I did feel a little cheated in a way. I never knew what to expect and the surprises kept on coming right through to the end. Dying for Christmas is not your average festive read, but certainly an interesting and clever one.

unicorn rating 3

Dying for Christmas is available in paperback now from Waterstones. Click here for details of 30% off!

A Vestry, Edgar Allan Poe, and a Mischievous Crow…

Wakening the Crow by Stephen Gregory

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Title: Wakening the Crow
Author: Stephen Gregory
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 256 pages
Publication Details: November 11th 2014 by Solaris
Genre(s): Horror; Gothic
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review.

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With the looming shadow of Edgar Allan Poe falling over one family, Gregory takes the reader into a world of uncertainty and fear.

Oliver Gooch comes across a tooth, in a velvet box, with a handwritten note from 1888 to say it’s a tooth from the boy Edgar Allan Poe. He displays it in his new bookshop, and names the store Poe’s Tooth Books.

Oliver took the money from his small daughter Chloe’s accident insurance and bought a converted church to live in with his altered child and wife. Rosie hopes Chloe will came back to herself but Oliver is secretly relieved to have this new easy-to-manage child, and holds at bay the guilt that the accident was a result of his negligence. On a freezing night he and Chloe come across the crow, a raggedy skeletal wretch of a bird, and it refuses to leave. It infiltrates their lives, it alters Oliver’s relationship with Rosie, it changes Chloe. It’s a dangerous presence in the firelit, shadowy old vestry, in Poe’s Tooth Books.

Inexorably the family, the tooth, the crow, the church and their story will draw to a terrifying climax.

 Review

Everything about this synopsis intrigued me; the bizarreness of basing a story – and indeed a horror bookshop – on the discovery of Poe’s tooth, the idea that a manky crow can have an impact on the character’s relationships, and the gothic setting. Sounds good right?

Well, I’m pleased to say that it was…for the most part.

Oliver Gooch is a very strange protagonist and narrator. From the start it’s evident that he’s not altogether what you would call a loving father and husband, or even a good, decent person. Honest maybe, but loving, no.

He frequently refers to his daughter as fat, disgusting and petulant, and his wife as not much better, but all of this adds to a growing unease.

Previously a mobile library driver, Oliver is now about to open his own horror bookshop in the church they have recently bought to also live in. The money came out of a tragic accident when Chloe got stung by a wasp in the mobile library, ran out into the road and suffered a head injury which changed her completely.

Now mute and compliant, with a constant sweet smile upon her face, Chloe is a different daughter entirely, and Oliver is relieved. So much so that he fears the day that she might actually recover.

Stephen Gregory does a great job of creating suspense here. The more we are led through this story by Oliver, the more disturbing it gets. He sees himself as becoming the Poe-like character he dreams of; he stops washing;  he drinks constantly, and tries to ‘write’. He seems to think that the more dishevelled he becomes, and the more grim the bookshop appears, the better. But all of this is at the expense of his family.

The only problem I had with this book was that I couldn’t understand Oliver as a character. I almost felt sorry for him at times, but it’s hard to empathise with someone who laughed at their daughter when she got stung by a wasp, resulting in her being brain damaged. I always felt like there was a good person trying to get out of him, but it never came.

I also expected more of a climax to the story, but overall this was a great read for a dark and stormy night, filled with gothic imagery and a overriding sense of unease.

unicorn rating 3

Wakening the Crow is available from November 11th, or to pre-order now at Waterstones