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Review of ‘The Book of Life’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

Hooray, I’ve finally found time to sit down and read this enormous book and finish this trilogy! It feels like an achievement because these books are so unnecessarily long.

I enjoyed the first in the trilogy but I feel like the final two really needed a thorough edit. They rely on you having such an affection for the characters that you wish to read even the most mind-numbingly dull conversations and lengthy descriptions of situations where nothing really happens. This book is definitely better than the second in the trilogy which suffered from the author wanting to show off all her detailed historical research; however it is still far too verbose and just does not get to the point quickly enough.

I often find that when you read these epic fantasy trilogies that the conclusion feels too easy and the stakes aren’t high enough and there’s never any doubt that everything will be all right in the end. This book definitely suffers from this problem. Everything plays out in quite a muted way and the problems are solved fairly quickly and easily without much tension.

The trilogy also has too many characters and they are picked up and dropped with little explanation. Characters that I thought would be important such as Nathaniel and Sophie barely feature in this book. Characters who were terrifying in the first book such ar Satu are pathetic and easily foiled in this book. It feels like the trilogy was not entirely planned that well from the first book to the last in terms of some of the characters and their development.

I also found the pregnancy and childbirth and babies storyline weak. For most women, being pregnant with twins would be a major consideration and once they were born the mother would be exhausted and able to focus on little else. However, for Diana in this book, her children always feel like an afterthought. A few days are they are born she is jetting of to other countries to save the day and leaving them in the care of others. When they are born she doesn’t even try to feed them straight away. Surely she would want to know as quickly as possible if they could survive on milk or needed blood? None of the childcare elements ring true at all. The pregnancy and children just didn’t feel as important as they should have.

I read this book fairly quickly and easily so I must have enjoyed it, but looking back on it I find it hard to express why as I’m only really coming up with criticisms of it. I think the good faith engendered by my enjoyment of the first book encouraged me to finish the trilogy. I’m glad I did even though I found this book particularly exciting or memorable.

Review of ‘Shadow of Night’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC copy of this book.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long now. I read the first in the trilogy ‘A Discovery of Witches’ in 2014 and loved it, but shortly after I finished it I found out I was pregnant and my ability to focus on long novels vanished, so I failed to start the next book which I had been so excited to read.

It’s taken me a long time to plow through this book, it is sooooo long and such a little amount happens. The previous book ends with [spoiler alert] the two main characters Diana and Matthew travelling back in time to the Sixteenth Century with two aims: 1. find a witch to help Diana learn how to do magic; and 2. find a copy of an old book. The book is 630 pages long and we do not meet the witch until half way through and the book is not discovered until the final quarter of the book and even then they do nothing with it.

I spent the whole book waiting for something dramatic to happen but really nothing does except for a couple of pages where Diana’s life is under threat from Matthew’s sister. Any exciting action, such as [spoiler alert] Matthew stealing the book from an emperor, happens off the page. The rest of the book is just the author enjoying being in a historical setting and having Diana meet lots of real life historical figures, most of whom I had never heard of. It’s pleasant enough to read but just isn’t compelling and the central relationship between Diana and Matthew, even though they embark on a sexual relationship for the first time, is just flaccid.

It’s such a shame because I loved the first book, but this one is just rambling and could easily be condensed into 50 pages which actually advance the story. The rest is just historical filler. I may be proved wrong when I read the next book, maybe there’s a load more relevant stuff happening which I didn’t pick up on but will come back into the story, but it didn’t feel like it.

The other issue I had was the time travel. Diana and Matthew spend 7 months in the past and we’re supposed to believe that they don’t irrevocably change the future so that the world is completely different when they go back to the future? They don’t seem at all careful not to change things. It’s impossible to believe that past Matthew will never run into someone they influenced while they were in the past who asks ‘what happened to your wife Diana?’ or ‘I thought your were supporting the witches now, why have you changed your mind?’ when he will have no idea what they are talking about. It just doesn’t make sense. I hope this is addressed better in the next book and not glossed over.

I’ve invested so much time in this series that I’m definitely going to read the next book. I hope I’ll enjoy it better as it’ll be set in the present and hopefully will have more plot tension as it has to conclude the story.

 

 

Review of ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’by Jennifer E Smith

imageThanks to NetGalley, Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ follows high school sweethearts Aidan and Clare on their last night before leaving to go to university on opposite coasts of America. They revisit places which have been significant to their relationship as they try to come to a decision about whether to stay together or split up.

I really enjoyed this as a concept for a book. It’s a dilemma which thousands of kids have to go through every year but about which I don’t recall reading before.

I did find that for two teenagers the characters had a little more prescience than I would expect. They understood how unlikely they would be to make it as a couple and the damage they could do to their relationship and their college experience by trying to stay together. I’m not sure teenagers are that thoughtful, I remember starting uni and there were loads of girls who arrived with boyfriends at home and within the first month only one of these couples were still together.

However, I do think the book captures the pain and confusion of this situation perfectly. The staying up all night talking things through is exactly what happens in these situations. I went through something similar with my then boyfriend now husband before leaving to study in America for a year in 1999 and this brought all those memories back.

Overall, I found this a sweet, enjoyable read which benefited from a simple concept and sparse narration.

Review of ‘A Nantucket Christmas’ by Nancy Thayer

Nantucket ChristmasWarning: contains spoilers.

Thanks to BookBridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

I don’t like to be mean about books, I certainly don’t have the skill or patience to write one, but I don’t have much good to say about this one. It reads like it was written for a five year old. It has such a simplistic approach to life.

It’s Christmas and Nicole must spend her first Christmas with her new husband’s adult daughter Kennedy. Kennedy wants her parents to get back together and therefore doesn’t like Nicole. She feels this way for 90% of the book and then a baby is born, a stray dog turns up and whoosh all of a sudden everybody’s problems are solved and they all love each other.

It is ridiculous, trite, predictable and facile and unfortunately didn’t even manage to evoke the warm festive feelings you hope for from reading this type of book.

Review of ‘A New York Christmas’ by Anne Perry

A New York ChristmasThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

At this time of year I like to read books set at Christmas to help get me in the mood for the forthcoming festive season. However, despite its title, this book has very little to do with Christmas, it has a bit of snow in it, but could really be set at any time of the year.

This is a very simple crime novella. It’s incredibly easy to read but lacks any depth. Once the murder occurs it is immediately obvious to the reader who the culprit is and this makes the lead character, Jemima Pitt, look incredibly naive, stupid and overly trusting, because she doesn’t immediately realise who did it, so it’s hard to have much respect for her.

Jemima has accompanied her friend Phinnie from London to New York for her society marriage to a rich business heir. Whilst she is there Jemima becomes embroiled in a search for and a murder involving Phinnie’s estranged mother. There is also a very simplistic and utterly predictable secondary love story.

Reading this book was a fairly pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but the book is thoroughly lightweight and forgettable and the crime element lacks any tension or suspense.

Review of ‘Day 21’ by Kass Morgan

Day 21Thanks to Bookbridgr and Hodder & Stoughton for the ARC of this book.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

I finished The 100 at the weekend, it ended with a huge cliffhanger so I wanted to move on the next book straight away. This book also ends with a bit of a cliffhanger but it has a feeling of greater resolution which I thought was missing at the end of the first book. However, I’m not sure that the resolution was a good thing because, in contrast, this book felt a little too much like the relationship loose ends had been tied up a little too conveniently and it ends with everyone holding hands with the person they love. It’s a little twee.

Overall, I found this book as quick, easy and readable as the first in the series. However, it was not quite as compelling. The story on Earth did not move along as much as I had hoped and again the book felt a little too much like set-up for the next in the series. The middle section was a little repetitive and felt a little like filler.

I’m enjoying the Clarke/Bellamy relationship; although their conflicts are resolved a little too easily in general. I hope that the characters of the Earthborns are fleshed out a bit in the next book as they felt a little cardboard in this book.

I was glad that the book ends with the rest of the colony coming down to Earth as I felt the split narrative did not work completely. I didn’t really care about what was happening in Space, I just wanted to read about the characters on Earth. I can see why the TV series has eschewed the character of Glass, as she is definitely the least likeable of the main characters.

This series is perfectly fine, it’s fluffy, easy to read teen girl junk food, but it doesn’t have much depth and while it’s enjoyable enough while you are reading it, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to buy the next in the series.

Review of ‘Panic’ by Lauren Oliver

PanicThanks to Bookbridgr and Hodder and Stoughton for the ARC of this book.

WARNING: this review contains spoliers.

I was excited to read this book because the blurb sounded quite similar to The Hunger Games. However, I was very disappointed; Panic never comes anything close to having the pace, tension and compulsion of The Hunger Games. To be fair very few books do, even The Hunger Games‘s sequels don’t come close to it. Yes, Panic is about a group of teenagers playing a game with potential fatal results, but the crucial difference is no one is making them do it, they can stop at any time and if any of them had any sense they would stop.

It took me ages to finish this book, not because it’s a difficult read but because it was so unengaging. The characters are flat and one dimensional and the setting is lifeless. It takes about 250 pages before anything remotely interesting happens in the plot. The idea of the game panic is stupid and doesn’t really make sense as a concept. It’s impossible to empathise with the characters because they have no depth beyond their motivation to participate in the game. The book is humourless but also lacks the extreme sense of desperateness which makes proper dystopias so compelling.

I completely guessed the big plot twist of Bishop being a judge early on in the book. The other characters never even ask him why he’s not playing panic so it’s obvious that he must be involved in some way and the other characters seem very stupid.

The book has an oddly hopeful ending, considering its dour premise and the unfortunate circumstances of many of the characters. Why should these people have happy, hopeful endings? One of them sets fire to a house and could have killed several people; another puts a bomb in a car in order to kill someone in revenge and only doesn’t go through with it because he is kidnapped and tied up not because he realises it’s the wrong thing to do. There are no consequences to their actions. I didn’t like any of them enough to be relieved that they had a happy ending.

This was a most disappointing read, goodness knows how it managed to get the ‘this book is brilliant’ quote from The Guardian on the front cover. It is not brilliant, it isn’t even average; it is sub-par, dreary YA fiction and I don’t think I’ll bother with any of Oliver’s other work.

Review of ‘The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight’ by Jennifer E Smith

CoverI’ve been a bit quiet on the review front recently. I had some momentous news a month ago and I’ve barely read anything since. I’ve wanted to but I’ve just found it really hard to concentrate on reading. Determined to get over this reading slump, I decided to pick up a really easy, short YA book which would get me back in the swing.

I chose ‘The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight’ by Jennifer E Smith, which I had received as an ARC copy from Headline via Bookbridgr. I could tell from the title that it was going to be just the right type of light fluffy read I was looking for.

The book is about Hadley, a teenage girl who is travelling to London to attend her father’s second marriage to a woman who she has never met. On the flight she meets hunky English boy, Oliver, and as you’d expect they hit it off pretty well.

This is a very predictable YA love story, but it is enjoyable in it’s predictability. It’s incredibly easy to read and has a touching, satisfying ending. It’s forgettable but very sweet and likeable.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the details in the description of the flight, it felt like it could have been better researched. For example, on trans-Atlantic flights everyone gets their own TV screen and you don’t have to pay for alcohol. However, this is my only criticism; the book generally does exactly what it sets out to, it made me cry and it made me smile.

Review of ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness

WitchesThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy of this book.

I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw it described as “Twilight for grown ups”. I have not been this engrossed in the world of a novel for a long time! It definitely has a lot in common with the Twilight books but it has a lot more depth, with interesting themes of literature, history and science.

The similarities to the Twlight series include:

  • Overprotective male vampire protagonist
  • Seemingly normal, slightly whiny, female protagonist who actually has stunning abilities which could save the world
  • Loving vampire family
  • Vampire doctors
  • Questions over whether vampires can procreate
  • Lots of kissing but no sexual consummation of relationship
  • Evil authoritarian powers trying to divide the main couple and the question of whether to turn the female into a vampire in order to solve this problem

I also thought the book had a lot in common with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, with its authoritarian male love interest and intellectual middle-aged female lead. That comparison is likely to grow even stronger in the next book which appears feature time travel more heavily.

I absolutely loved the first two thirds of this book when reticent witch Diana meets ancient vampire Matthew. The love story builds slowly and beautifully. The story is told mostly from Diana’s point of view but there is the occasional chapter about Matthew written in the third person, which helps to move the story along and breaks up the repetitiveness of Diana’s thoughts.

I found the last third slightly less compelling. This may be because it’s less interesting to read about a couple who has got together and is happy, but also because there are a lot more characters in this section, so the story is less focused. Also, I did not enjoy the out-dated gender politics which come to the fore at the end of the book. It’s fine for a 1,500 year old vampire to believe that he should be in charge and single-handedly make all the decisions but it’s not OK for a 21st century woman to agree to these conditions so quickly and happily.

I also loved the settings for the first two thirds of the book. I thought academic Oxford and ancestral France were beautifully drawn and really atmospheric and also grounded in reality despite the fantastical storyline. However, the haunted Bishop house in Madison was a less convincing setting as was the plot line in this section setting up the next book, which involves time travel. I don’t think the mechanics of the time travel were explained well enough, people seem to travel back into their own bodies, yet they can still travel back to before they were born?

That said, I still have high hopes for the rest of the series. The writing in the first half of this book is masterful and the storyline is intriguing and I can’t wait to read more.

Review of ‘Top Secret Twenty-One’ by Janet Evanovich

Top Secret 21Thanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy of this book.

I could probably just refer you to my review of Sizzling Sixteen by the same author, because essentially all the books in this series are the same. Unfortunately, this means that all the books have the same flaws: repetitive plots and a lack of character progression. However, I did feel that this book had a slightly more cohesive and interesting storyline than the previous Evanovich book I read, with a nice side trip to New York and Atlantic City involving Russian terrorists on top of the usual mooching around looking for idiots in Trenton.

I really think that by the 21st book in this series, Stephanie Plum should have evolved a bit, but she is still bumbling around making the same mistakes, still unable to choose fully between Morelli and Ranger, the two men in her life. At one point Stephanie ponders why her life has been drifting for so many years. If Evanovich realises this problem, why has she done nothing to rectify it? I just wanted to shout at the book, ‘Maybe, if you thought about more than what the men look like and picked a man with slightly more conversational skills than ‘Babe’ or ‘You’re a cupcake’, you’d find someone with whom you had a deeper connection and you’d be able to grow up and move on with your life’.

This book could probably be condensed into a fairly interesting 50 page novella, if Evanovich cut out all the filler:

  1. I don’t need to know what everyone is wearing
  2. I don’t need details of everything the characters eat or to know every time they are hungry (which is basically all the time)
  3. I don’t need a detailed description of every turn they make on their car journey, or where they park, or what car everyone drives
  4. I don’t need a detailed description of every place they visit where they fail to find the fugitive.

I don’t often appreciate the humour in Evanovich’s books, most of the time it is too stupid and falls flat. However, there was a Despicable Me inspired section with chihuahuas referred to as minions which made me smile in this book.

There’s not much to say about this book. Fans of Evanovich will enjoy it as another standard addition to the series but it’s as lacking in substance as the other books in this series. I keep picking them up, hoping they will have improved, but they don’t and I won’t bother reading any more in this series.