Posts Tagged With: book review

Madame Picasso by Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)

9780778316350.inddTitle: Madame Picasso
Author: Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)
ISBN: 978-0778316350
Publisher: Mira Books
First Published: 26th August 2014 (paperback / audio) / 1st September 2014 (Kindle)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):

The mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time.

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world. A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can’t help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso’s life.

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the 20th century.

Review:
Girard paints her canvas as bright as any Picasso work of art, infusing the story of Eva Gouel with the sights, sounds and smells of Paris and the scandalous folk involved in the cubist art movement in the early 20th century. It’s a fascinating and touching glimpse of the life of a muse that directly affected one of the greatest and most famous artists of his age; one whose legacy will live on forever, remembered as one of the forefathers of cubism.

Eva’s story is a poignant one which is, ultimately, tinged with sadness, but she lived her life to the full, and inspired many of Picasso’s artworks, and Girard presents her as a very real and very credible source of inspiration; a complicated woman from a traditional background who broke tradition at every turn with her unconventional (for the times) relationship with a man who was a known womaniser. Yet it seems Picasso really did adore her, and it is easy to see why.

Through Girard’s masterful strokes emerges a life less ordinary; the life of the extraordinary; a woman who deserves to be remembered and celebrated every bit as much as her larger-than-life artist lover. Read it, and find yourself plunged headfirst into a swirling palette of vibrant, colourful characters, and passions that burn so bright they cannot possibly last.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill (Early Review)

Cash-strapped, working for agencies and living in shared accommodation, Stephanie Booth feels she can fall no further. So when she takes a new room at the right price, she believes her luck has finally turned. But 82 Edgware Road is not what it appears to be.

It’s not only the eerie atmosphere of the vast, neglected house, or the disturbing attitude of her new landlord, Knacker McGuire, that makes her uneasy – it’s the whispers behind the fireplace, the scratching beneath floors, the footsteps in the dark, and the young women weeping in neighbouring rooms. And when Knacker’s cousin Fergal arrives, the danger goes vertical.

But this is merely a beginning, a gateway to horrors beyond Stephanie’s worst nightmares. And in a house where no one listens to the screams, will she ever get out alive?

Once again we have a dark and disturbing tale from the pen of Adam Nevill, and it’s one which took me on a roller coaster ride. It’s a difficult book to review without giving any of the plot away, especially at this early stage before publication, so for now I’ll be brief.

It starts with a rather traditional, chilling ghost story, as Stephanie spends her first night in her new room, and starts to experience sounds in her own room, and weeping in other rooms, which she’s sure are unoccupied.

The horror then becomes very real, as her landlord and his cousin show their true, terrifying, violent sides.

Throughout these experiences, Adam does something he did very well in Apartment 16.. he shows the absolute despair and depression felt as Stephanie’s world spirals out of her control, and she feels the full impact of having no-one, and nothing.

I’ll admit, as someone who’s read a LOT of horror in my time, I liked the creepy start much more than the violent aspect, but it was a necessary part of the story, and it didn’t overwhelm the scares.

The last third of the book was my absolute favourite though – I didn’t know where the book was going at this part, but for me it was the scariest part – I almost had to leave the light on a couple of times!

I’ve read Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16, and The Ritual previously, and to me, Adam managed to bring all the best aspects of these books together in this one. There’s something inside for all sorts of horror readers, along with a critical view of parts of society.

It’s the best I’ve read so far, and I will highly recommend you get hold of it on the 23rd, and read as you approach Halloween! I’d love to chat to some of you about it. :)

Published by PanMacmillan 23/10/14

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Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

extinction

Science Fiction is an area I dip into occasionally, and Gary Gibson was a new author to me, but when I was offered a copy of Extinction Game to review, something caught my attention, and so I agreed. I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d get to it, but I took a quick peek, and was soon hooked.

The story begins with Jerry Beche, who has managed to survive a deadly world-wide viral attack, and as far as he knows, he’s the only survivor on Earth. Until one day when he’s ‘rescued’, and taken to an island where there are others who have also survived the end of their own alternative Earth. He learns that there an infinite number of alternative Earths, and many of them have had their own apocalyptic event. A small group of survivors have been brought together and trained, and their role is to enter these Earths and rescue data, records, technology etc.

There’s a lot going on from this point – each world the teams visit has it’s own ending or strange future, and Gibson describes each one vividly, including the events leading up to the end of Jerry’s Earth. This was fascinating enough in itself, but we also explore the relationships within the team members, during their visits and in between. They’re an interesting group, with some handling events far better than others.

As well as this, they have to deal with the Authority, the organisation who brought them all together. Who exactly are they, and why do they need the data and technology? Also, where exactly did the ability to enter these other timelines come from?

The mix within this book was just right for me, and I read it within a couple of days. I wanted to find out as much as I could about the alternative worlds, and how it was possible to visit them, but I also found myself invested in the individuals involved, including Jerry. The balance is good, the SF aspect is there, but never weighs down the overall story, and it’s good to see characters being just as important as plot.

I’m going to recommend this one, but maybe especially to those, like me, may be a little wary of Science Fiction. I’m definitely putting some of his other books on my wishlist, and will wait rather impatiently for the sequel.

Visit Tor UK’s blog for some words from Gary, and a free extract.

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The 100 Day 21 by Kass Morgan

This book has to be read after The 100, and if possible, I’d recommend reading them close together. In case you’ve stumbled upon this review, the premise behind The 100 is that it’s set years after a devastating nuclear war on earth, with the last of humanity living on a large spaceship. Those under 18 who commit crimes are kept in Confinement, and then retried on their 18th birthday. 100 of these are sent on a dropship to Earth, to discover whether it’s habitable again.

This book picks up the story 21 days after they’ve arrived, a length of time which could be important if the effects are radiation start to show themselves. At the end of the first book, the teens have discovered that they’re not alone, and that their are in fact other people still living on Earth. Day 21 focuses on the conflict between these two groups as they interact. As with the first book, we still follow Glass, which allows us to keep up with events on the main ship.

I was a little disappointed with the first book, as my expectations were different having heard the TV show discussed on twitter. With this sequel I knew what to expect, and I enjoyed it a lot more. I already knew the characters, and the Earth-born added an extra desirable layer.

As I said in my review of The 100, this is more of a YA read with a touch of SF, whereas the series sounds much darker. If you enjoyed the first book, you definitely need to pick up this sequel. If you weren’t sure about the first, I’d still say give this one a try, as I found it the better book of the two.

 

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The 100 by Kass Morgan

There’s an important issue to mention at the start of this review.. I had heard about the TV series on twitter, and as far as I can tell, this book and it’s sequel are completely different. The show appears to be rather dark, whilst the books are a much lighter YA read.

So…the book is set years after a devastating nuclear war on earth, with the last of humanity living on a large spaceship. Those under 18 who commit crimes are kept in Confinement, and then retried on their 18th birthday. 100 of these are sent on a dropship to Earth, to discover whether it’s habitable again.

The story follows a few of these 100, using short flashbacks to gradually reveal their past. Relationships are explored, both with each other, and in their flashbacks, as they attempt to deal with their new existence.

I’m rather torn about the book, and this may have come down to expectation, as I heard about the TV show first. To me, this is more of a book about teen relationships, and how they deal with these, rather than a SF book about living on a spaceship, and rediscovering Earth. I’m personally not keen on flashbacks, but they are short, and it’s probably the best way to tell the story. Accepted for what it is, however, it’s an enjoyable, rather addictive book. It does end with a cliff-hanger ending, and I was keen to move onto the sequel to find out what came next.

If you have no pre-conceptions, and you’re looking looking for a YA with a touch of SF, then you may enjoy this.

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Revenge and Retribution (The Graham Saga #6) by Anna Belfrage

02_Revenge-RetributionTitle: Revenge and Retribution (Graham Saga #6)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321751
Publisher: Silverwood Books
First Published: 29th June 2014 (Kindle) / 1st Jul 2014 (paperback)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):
‘Revenge & Retribution’ is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them. On a sunny May afternoon, Philip finally achieves his aim and over the course of the coming days Alex sees her whole life unravelling, leaving her family permanently maimed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Review:
Just when you think Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga can’t get any better, she releases a sixth title in the series and knocks your socks off all over again!

I came to the series at the fourth book, and was instantly hooked. Ever since then, I’ve been champing at the bit to get at the next book, and the next book, and the next book. This sixth installment definitely satisfied my seemingly insatiable appetite for continuance of this family’s story. The characters we already know and love, as well as those we love to hate, are all here, but as ever, nobody is safe – as with any good author, we live in constant dread of losing one of our favourites, so that my fingernails were continually bitten down to the quick as I turned the pages.

There’s always the risk, with an ongoing series, that things will go a little stale, that readers will become bored with the constant drama thrown at the characters, but that is not the case here – I honestly feel that Belfrage is incapable of disappointing with this series as it just seems to keep on giving in terms of plot, character and writing. The witchcraft accusation, coming at a time when to be found guilty of being a witch was to be put to death, is a natural progression and adds some incredibly tense moments, which, when coupled with everything else that is going on at Graham’s Garden, make for a life that is still fraught with danger from all angles, even in a land of opportunity.

This is an unmissable chapter in the saga which will please the fans no end. It’s rare that I give top marks to a book, but in this case, I couldn’t give it anything less.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island’s most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city’s façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

Despite hearing about Victoria Hislop, I hadn’t read any of her books. This one arrived to review, and I was intrigued by the idea that she had based her historical story in an existing ghost town. Varosha, within Famagusta, was well known for it’s desirable high rise hotels, and famous visitors. After the population fled, the area was fenced off, and remains that way even today. Apparently the hotels are now crumbling away, and nature is reclaiming the area. I would love to go and see it.

Hislop’s story tells of the rise of the hotels and their owner, and of various visitors to, and residents of the area. She then takes you through the conflict, and it’s effects on them all. The power behind this book is the story telling – I wasn’t sure what to expect, and didn’t know if I would read it, but once I started, I couldn’t give up. The characters creep up on you, and simply had to know what happened. The descriptions are vivid and easily imagined. Highly recommended, and I will be looking out for more from this author.

 

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

This is quite a difficult book to review – there are things I want to talk about, but I don’t want to give away key points of story. Red Rising is set on Mars, in a far distant future. We’re introduced to Darrow, who’s a miner working under the surface.. mining for the elements which will help terraform the planet for humans to live on. His people have lived in the mines for generations, working as humanity’s last hope.

Until Darrow makes a discovery that this is all a lie.. Mars has been habitable for years, as have other planets, and his class, called the Reds, are simply used for slave labour. Don’t worry – that’s all on the back cover!

From here, through a series of events, Darrow is chosen to be disguised (which turns out to be an understatement!) as a Gold, the highest class. He’s taught how to be chosen for training in their command school, so he can eventually infiltrate and lead a rebellion. However, no one really knows what happens in the school, and it’s certainly not what you expect.

I will say now that my biggest problem with the book happens during the change.. there is a lot of world building during the first section, interesting characters, and emotional writing. As Darrow enters the school however, you forget they’re actually on Mars, and the book has a different feel. Plus it’s a confusing feel.. in one way it’s more YA then the beginning of the book, but it’s also harsh and violent. To me, it was as if the author wasn’t fully clear who he wanted his audience to be, and what direction he really wanted to take this first book.

However.. both parts of the book are actually really good, and I think the series has great potential. Now that the school aspect is over, there is so much scope, and I’m really excited to see what happens next. I believe the initial world building will pay off, and the author has already shown he can bring the unexpected.

Pierce has taken aspects of ancient Earth culture, and blended them with aspects of other books. Yes, there are aspects of The Hunger Games and of Ender’s Game, and even Lord of the Flies, but these are combined with echoes of Roman gods and ancient wars. They are the building blocks, which have been twisted and developed into something new. Despite my reservations early in the book, there proved to be a lot to love, and this morning I feel rather bereft now the book is finished. I look forward to getting my hands on Golden Son, and finding out where the journey is going to take me next.

Red Rising is one of the many excellent books brought to you by Hodderscape

 

 

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The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

kingfisher clubTitle: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
Author: Genevieve Valentine
ASIN: B00GEEYWEG
ISBN: 978-1476739083
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
First Published: 3 June 2014 (Kindle) / 24 June 2014 (audio) / 3 July 2014 (hardback)
No .of pages: 289

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself.

Review:
This slick reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses plunges the enigmatic sisters into the heady world of flappers, jazz music, and prohibition era New York City, and it couldn’t have worked better.

The captive heroines are each given their own distinct character, and their story is interwoven with illegal booze, shady dames, even shadier men, and the smoky, mysterious atmosphere of underground clubs. The desperation of the girls drips from every page, and their plight of being held virtual prisoners by a domineering father they never see, makes their precarious little freedoms all the more frenetic.

It retains the fairytale qualities of beautiful damsels in distress (even if the damsels in question are more than capable of taking care of themselves), and help from the most unlikely of quarters. It’s an interesting update on a classic tale, and it doesn’t drag on too long before hitting you with a payoff worthy of The Brothers Grimm – I think they would have approved with how Valentine has handled their original story.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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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.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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