Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

cover44728-mediumTitle: Jane Austen’s First Love
Author: Syrie James
ISBN: 978-0425271353
ASIN: B00G3L7VES
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: 5 August 2014 (Paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Inspired by actual events. Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention

Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?

Review:
As a big, fat Austenite, I love reading novels written by the well-loved English novelist, but in recent years, I have also begun enjoying all the spin-offs, mash-ups, sequels, and semi-autobiographical material that has been released. This novel is inspired by actual events in Jane Austen’s teen years, and offers up plausible sources of inspiration for her wonderful writing which continues to delight readers to this day.

It’s an interesting look at a headstrong young woman, finding love for the first time, as well as the push to concentrate more on her writing, offering it up to a wider audience than just her immediate family to enjoy. I found this representation of her to be entirely believable and this little glimpse into her formative years is both fun and fascinating. At a time when women were entirely dependent on the men in their family for any kind of social standing, or a living of any kind, Austen struck out and earned a living with her wit and her winning way with words.

Many of the characters from Jane Austen’s established novels, as well as the plots for some of them, can be seen as having their seeds sown in this summer of social engagements surrounding the engagement of her elder brother. It’s a nice, knowing little nod for those of us who are familiar with these works, but is unobtrusive and as subtle as her own subplots.

This is a must-have addition to any Austenite’s collection, and will provide several sublime hours of entertainment in the reading, which will linger long after the last page has been turned.

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The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman


I first came across this this tale within one of my favourite books, Stories, which Neil Gaiman helped compile and edit. It’s quite a dark story, and wasn’t one I got on that well with. However, placing it into it’s own book, most importantly with the accompanying artbook, made the story more alive for me.

The main character is a small man, who is taking a journey. This is not purely a physical journey, as we’re aware there’s a simmering anger and obsession within him.

This book is designed to be an immersive experience – the combination of words, artwork and comic strips all blend into each other, enhancing the story to much higher levels. The art itself isn’t really to my taste, and I have to admit that if I was in a shop, I may not have bought this. As it was sent to me to review, I took the time read it, and as I’ve already said, I’m glad I did. I also love the dark image on the front cover.

Fans of Neil Gaiman should love the writing, and it’s a book to be explored. The art may not be to everyone’s taste, but it conveys the darkness of the story.

 

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The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale


The Bone Dragon introduces us to Evie, who’s recovering from an operation to remove a part of her rib. With the help of her uncle, she decides to keep this piece of rib, and carve a dragon from it. As she recovers, this little bone dragon comes to life, and takes her out on night time trips.

Over the course of the book, Evie’s past and life is gradually revealed to the reader, although it’s never totally clear; and it’s important to realise that Evie is the narrator of her story, so part of the experience is never knowing exactly sure what to expect, and what is truth.

For me, The Bone Dragon is a well layered book – I have seen some reviews saying it’s no more than a story of a depressed girl making a dragon. I guess that is the basis of the story, but they seem to have missed so much more. It can be read as a fantasy, as a tale of a dragon coming to life and trying to help Evie to heal, in many ways. Alternatively, it can be read as a personal story, dealing with healing, friendship, family, and revenge.

There is a darker side to the story too, Evie does learn to heal, and to develop her relationships, but there’s also a darker side to how she deals with her past. As for her past, it is a difficult one, but never is it presented in a graphic way – the author hints at what happened to Evie, and how it makes her feel. This to me is important, as this can be read by teenagers and adults alike.

This is a story about a teenager, and it is a YA book, but as an adult I found so much within it’s pages. It stirred memories of teenage feelings, whilst bringing out the nurturing adult in me. Evie is a troubled but lovable character, who I wanted to know and help.

I heard about this book a while ago, but have put off reading it. After meeting Alexia at YALC, suddenly it appealed, and I’m so glad I read it. Alexia has just signed a contract for her second book, and I will be first in the queue to read it.

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Serpents in the Garden by Anna Belfrage (The Graham Saga #5)

Serpents-in-the-GardenTitle: Serpents in the Garden (The Graham Saga #5)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321737
Publisher: SilverWood
First Published: 27 February 2014 (Kindle) / 1 March 2014 (Paperback)
No .of pages: 396

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
‘Serpents in the Garden’ is the fifth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham. After years of hard work, Matthew and Alex Graham have created a thriving home in the Colony of Maryland. About time, in Alex’s opinion, after far too many adventures she is really looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet. A futile hope, as it turns out. Things start to heat up when Jacob, the third Graham son, absconds from his apprenticeship to see the world – especially as Jacob leaves behind a girl whom he has wed in a most irregular fashion. Then there’s the infected matter of the fellow time traveller Alex feels obliged to help – no matter the risk. Worst of all, one day Philip Burley and his brothers resurface after years of absence. As determined as ever to make Matthew pay for every perceived wrong – starting with the death of their youngest brother – the Burleys play out a complicated cat and mouse game, and Alex is thrown back into an existence where her heart is constantly in her mouth, convinced as she is that one day the Burleys will achieve their purpose. Will the Burleys succeed? And if they do, will the Graham family survive the exacted price?

Review:
I only came to this series of books at the fourth novel (see my review HERE) but found it surprisingly easy to pick them up from this point and not be lost to what went before (indeed, it has made me resolve to go back and read the others on account of the story and writing being so good!).

This is the fifth book in The Graham Saga and it is every bit as good as the previous installment – I suspect the whole series is of the same level, as Belfrage’s writing has thus far been of a consistently high calibre that should be the envy of many other authors: She achieves, seemingly with ease, what all writers strive to reach, but is often out of their grasp.

Our favourite characters return; Alex and Matthew Graham continue to carve a life for themselves and their ever increasing family in The New World, but their past is catching up with them and old feuds are resurrected by the return of the Burleys (ooh, how much would I like to get my hands on those guys and wring their necks myself?!); their third son runs off to sea, but not before creating complications with the girl he loves; and other family trials are threatening to tear the family apart. Is there anything life won’t throw at these good people? It makes for gripping reading and I found myself often on the edge of my seat, never wanting to put down the book, even when other things in life demanded my immediate attention – that’s exactly what a good book should do to readers!

I find myself wondering if Belfrage can put a foot wrong with this series? It would seem not, and I, for one, am incredibly glad we have another three books of the saga still to be published – I can hardly wait to get my hands on them! Till then, I shall content myself by going back to the beginning and reading the series from the very start…

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

See my interview with Anna Belfrage HERE.

See Anna Belfrage’s guest post HERE.

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Cloaked in Danger by Jeannie Ruesch

cloaked-in-danger-by-jeannie-rueschTitle: Cloaked in Danger
Author: Jeannie Ruesch
ASIN: B00F93X7ZI
Publisher: Carina Press
First Published: 24 January 2014 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 280

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Aria Whitney has little in common with the delicate ladies of London society. Her famous father made his fortune hunting archaeological treasures, and her rustic upbringing has left her ill prepared for a life of parties and frippery. But when Gideon Whitney goes missing in Egypt, Aria must embrace the unknown. Armed with only the short list of highborn men who’d backed her father’s venture, she poses as a woman looking for a husband. She doesn’t intend to find one.

Adam Willoughby, Earl of Merewood, finds London’s strangest new debutante fascinating, but when he catches her investigating his family’s secrets, he threatens to ruin her reputation. He doesn’t intend to enjoy it so much.

When their lustful indiscretion is discovered, Adam finds that he regrets nothing. But now, as Aria’s father’s enemy draws near, Adam must convince his betrothed that she can trust him with her own secrets…before it’s too late.

Review:
I don’t often read romances, and this does fall into the romance category, but the romance element is an integral part of the plot, without which the story could not progress, and I kind of like that sort of thing.

Aria is a feisty character who cares not a whit about her reputation,only about finding her missing father, but then she finds more than she bargained for – she finds herself embroiled in a romance, and that was very much not in her plans! Lord Merewood is more than a match for her outgoing character, and finds her alluring, possibly because of, rather than despite her unconventional nature.

There are some steamy moments, but there’s just enough to get you a little warm under the collar without bordering on the obscene – this is no erotica, it’s far classier than than and titillates without venturing into territory that might make some readers feel uncomfortable.

And then there’s the mystery and adventure element. There’s enough to keep one intrigued and keep one flicking through the Kindle pages to the very end. Ruesch has a great future in historical romances, as she fills her pages with colourful characters and enigmatic portrayals of Regency society. Drama and passion abound in equal measure as Aria is hurled into a whirlwind of ballrooms and mystery.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

See my interview
with the author,

Jeannie Ruesch, HERE.

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Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary


After reading a lot of crime novels a few years ago, it became something I tended to avoid. Occasionally though, a review copy arrives which captures my attention, and I discover a book which offers something more. Someone Else’s Skin was one of those books.

The main character is Marnie Rome, a detective whose own parents were murdered. There’s something compelling about Marnie, a character you can’t quite make out – she is of course struggling with her parent’s death, and she can be quite harsh to her colleagues, and yet there’s something very likeable about her as well. I’m really hoping that Sarah is given the chance to write more in this series, as I feel there’s a lot more to come.

The initial crime happens whilst Marnie is investigating another – as she and her partner arrive to interview the resident of a woman’s shelter, they discover another woman’s husband lying stabbed on the floor. The setting of a woman’s shelter is an interesting one, and allows Sarah to explore to feelings and actions of all involved, and it’s this which adds depth to this story.

This is a well written, polished debut, combining good story telling with characters which grab hold.  Published in Feb 2014, this is one to look out for!

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A Newfound Land by Anna Belfrage

a-newfound-landTitle: A Newfound Land (The Graham Saga #4)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321355
Publisher: SilverWood
First Published: 30 October 2013 (Kindle) / 1 November 2013 (Paperback)
No .of pages: 398

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
It’s 1672, and Matthew Graham and his family have left Scotland. Having taken the drastic decision to leave their homeland due to religious conflicts, Alexandra and Matthew hope for a simpler, if harsher, life in the wilds of the Colony of Maryland. Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as you want them to, and the past has a nasty tendency to resurface at the most inappropriate moments. Both Matthew and Alex are forced to cope with the unexpected reappearance of people they had never thought to meet again, and the screw is turned that much tighter when the four rogue Burley brothers enter their lives. Matters are further complicated by the strained relations between colonists and the Susquehannock Indians. When Matthew intercedes to stop the Burleys from abducting Indian women into slavery he makes lifelong – and deadly – enemies of them all. Once again Alex is plunged into an existence where death seems to threaten her man wherever he goes. Will Matthew see himself – and his family – safe in these new circumstances? And will the past finally be laid to rest? ‘A Newfound Land’ is the fourth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Review:
Although this is the fourth novel in The Graham Saga, I was surprised at how well it copes as a stand-alone story. Of course, there is a progressive story arc that obviously stretches over the whole series, but it’s incredibly easy to slip into the action, even at this stage in the story, and pick up where the previous novel left off without being intimately acquainted with the events that have already occurred. The aforementioned events are alluded to in such a way that there is a seamless enjoyment to be had here.

The female lead, Alexandra Lind, is a feisty, modern woman, very much of her time, so there are always going to be problems for her blending in entirely with the 17th century, when women didn’t really have a voice or any rights. By this point in the saga, she has carved her niche in her new world, but there are still elements that rankle her, usually to do with equality issues. This makes for a wonderful friction between Alex and her husband of now some fourteen years, as he is very firmly of his own time, some 400 years behind hers. This often serves to highlight elements of an earlier time that still have relevance today, and means the reader has cause to think about their own feelings on the subject, asking themselves how they would cope under similar circumstances.

There are definitely parallels to be made to another popular time-travel romance series (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon), and this will definitely appeal to fans of that series, but it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy or something that is trying to be like another book. Instead it freely pays homage to it while very definitely being its own thing.

The writing is both tight and evocative, plunging the reader into the past and forcing one to consider the harsh realities of frontier living, whilst also feeling very grateful for the modern conveniences now absent from the heroine’s life. The characters jump off the page, almost living and breathing in front of one’s eyes, ensuring total immersion on Belfrage’s time travel drama, leaving one breathless when one reaches the conclusion.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite at the request of the publisher

See my interview with Anna Belfrage
at Kincavel Korner

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Early Review: The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

almost

Seventeen-year-old Riven is as tough as they come. Coming from a world ravaged by a devastating android war, she has to be. There’s no room for softness, no room for emotion, no room for mistakes. A Legion General, she is the right hand of the young Prince of Neospes, a parallel universe to Earth. In Neospes, she has everything: rank, responsibility and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to find his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited back to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

I was captivated by this one when I saw the cover reveal, and was lucky enough to receive an early copy to review.  At the heart of the story is Riven, who’s been brought up on a parallel world to be a soldier. She’s highly trained, and hardened to any emotion which may get in the way.

When the Prince becomes ill, he sends her Earth to track down his brother, and this is where the majority of the story takes place. It’s an action packed, fast paced SF tale, with lots of amazing technology and enemies. I love the idea of The Vectors, who are dead bodies controlled by nanorobots – almost indestructible, and working on orders alone, with no emotion.

Towards the end, the story switches to Neospes, a world parallel to ours, and very different. It’s well thought out and described, and it left me wanting to find out more.

There’s also romance, something I tend to avoid – it’s done fairly well in this book, and is an important aspect for Riven, but there were times when the writing seemed a little overdone – but then I’m approaching this book as a 40-something, not a teen.  :)

Overall, this for me is one of the best offerings from Strange Chemistry – SF seems to be a building trend in YA, and this is a brilliant example of how it can work. Put this one on your wishlist!

Published Jan 2014 by Strange Chemistry

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Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep – the long-awaited and highly anticipated sequel to The Shining. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely!

The Shining has to be my favourite King book, a book that scared silly as a teenager, and then lived up to a second reading when older.  King himself says he’d often wondered two thing: what became of Danny, and what have happened if his father had found Alcoholics Anonymous and lived a different life?

Doctor Sleep looks at both these issues, as the grown-up Dan faces his own alcohol demons, and then learns to tame them with the AA. We get a glimpse of life for the younger Danny, as he and his mother recover from the events of The Overlook, his struggle with alcohol, and then story focuses on a sober Dan. He settles into a job in a nursing home, where he provides help and support to the dying in their last moments.

He then meets Abra, who has the shining far stronger than he ever did, and also comes to know The True Knot, a group of people who travel around searching for people with the shining for sustenance – they kill them, and gain power from the ‘steam’ they give off as they die.

If you’ve not read The Shining, I would highly recommend it before picking up Doctor Sleep – it is possible to read this one on it’s own, but you’d get far more from it after The Shining. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to re-read The Shining if it’s been a while.. as long as you remember the main points (and who wouldn’t with a story so powerful?) you’re good to go!

From my own point of view, I didn’t find Doctor Sleep as scary – the beginning part is the closest to The Shining, and rather unsettling, but King then takes it in a different direction. To me this is a good thing, as this needed to be a sequel which can stand up on it’s own merits, rather than a rehash of The Shining. Dan is a great character, despite his faults and struggles, and Abra is a strong, likeable character.

I stopped reading King for a while, as I couldn’t get into his books, but that has recently changed. Full Dark, No Stars in 2010 showed a King who was back on form (for me, anyway) and this continued with 11.22.63. Doctor Sleep continues this trend and I’m back to waiting impatiently for the next book!

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Among Others by Jo Walton

Title:  Among OthersImage
Author:  Jo Walton
ISBN: 978-1472106537
Publisher:  Corsair

First Published:  Mar 2013 (Paperback)
No .of pages:  416

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” Fifteen-year-old Morwenna lives in Wales with her twin sister and a mother who spins dark magic for ill. One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori crippled. Devastated, Mori flees to her long-lost father in England. Adrift, outcast at boarding school, Mori retreats into the worlds she knows best: her magic and her books. She works a spell to meet kindred souls and continues to devour every fantasy and science fiction novel she can lay her hands on. But danger lurks… She knows her mother is looking for her and that when she finds her, there will be no escape.

Review:
The best description of this book is a quote on the back cover from Patrick Rothfuss “Funny, touching and gently magical”.  I couldn’t have summed it up any better. 

Whilst the synopsis tells us of a great tale of good versus evil, of magic and spells and of a long standing magical battle; the book is much more understated.  It is written as a diary from Mori’s point of view where the magic almost takes a back seat to the everyday, general goings on of a teenage girl.  There is a very fine balance between Mori’s coming of age story and the magic and mystery of the world she has grown up with and Jo Walton has achieved it perfectly.  We are with Mori through her struggles with family and school life as well as attempting to negotiate the minefield which is the opposite sex, whilst at the same time and almost as casually, she is attempting to understand the murky and tangled world of magic and spells that has been with her all her life and led to the loss of her sister.

Jo Walton has managed to take a magical story and bring it right back to an everyday setting to which we can all relate.  This book is not a rip-roaring adventure of magical hijinks and escapism.  It is more an everyday world with a magical undercurrent.  The pace is slow but continuous and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish.

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