‘The Music Shop’ Review

‘The Music Shop’ Review

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This was an absolute gem of a novel. I’ve bought all of Rachel Joyce’s novels, and have only read the collection of short stories ‘The Snow Garden’ and the brilliant novel ‘The Unexpected Pilgrimmage Of Harold Fry’. Her other two novels are sat in my to be read pile, but when I saw this new novel in my local bookshop I decided to read this next.

What I really love about Joyce’s writing is her characterisation – her characters are so beautifully thought out and written that you can’t help falling in love with them. Joyce has a real understanding of how people work, and this really comes across in her writing. Another thing that Joyce is good at is throwing some killer plot twists in there when you least expect it, which go hand in hand with her understanding of her characters as people.

The plot was so cute and heartbreaking at the same time; another thing I should have expected from Joyce’s writing after reading ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry’. Joyce pulled you in with her characters and you really cared about what happened to them. At several points Joyce had me terrified her characters weren’t going to get the happy ending they deserved!

The pacing was perfect, and it was clear Joyce knew the story she wanted to tell inside out. There was an overall feeling of nostalgia to the novel; looking back at the history of vinyl, for one thing. The snippets from Frank’s past with his relationship to his mother Peg was heartbreaking, but also clear to our understanding of his relationship with others now.

This was a really beautiful novel – a definite must read if you love music. What I really loved was Joyce made reference to not only contemporary music of the time this novel was set, but other more classical examples as well. Overall this was a really good novel – Joyce is a shining example of how to do characterisation, and telling a more character based narrative. I would give it a 4/5 because the writing is phenomenal, and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

 

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/rachel-joyce/1069732/

 

‘The Goldsmith’s Daughter’ Review

‘The Goldsmith’s Daughter’ Review

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This was one of the many finds I made at YALC last year – Tanya Landman had been on one of the panels I’d watched, so when I saw this book in the Waterstones section afterwards I decided to give it a go.

One thing that Landman does beautifully with this novel is the setting. You get a very clear sense of place from Landman’s descriptive passages, and it created a really beautiful setting. I loved the whole Aztec setting, as well as the intrigue surrounding their different beliefs and Gods. It was a really intriguing concept and was done so well! I really liked how Landman portrayed her characters, as this helped to reinforce the sense of place you got from the narrative.

One thing that did bug me about this novel was the overall tone and narrative voice came across as a little stilted. It did reinforce the ancient feel to the story world, but at times this did jar with my reading. It meant that at points I found it hard to really get into the story, but the setting kept me intrigued through out the whole novel. This was more of a personal criticism as the tone just felt overly formal, but I guess it worked for Itacate’s character.

I loved the overall plot, with the invasion of the Spanish and Itacate’s slow questioning of the world as she knew it. Plus towards the end of the novel there were so many heartbreaking events that hit you one after the other! I thought Landman wasn’t going to give Itacate a happy ending, but this was pulled together in the end. The ending did feel a bit like Landman wasn’t sure how to end the story, but it did work.

Overall it was a nice novel, and I really loved the setting – but it’s not one of my favourite novels I’ve ever read. I was a little put off by the narrative voice but I would be willing to give another of Landman’s novels a try. I would give it a 3/5.

 

http://www.tanyalandman.com/

 

‘Gilded Cage’ Review

‘Gilded Cage’ Review

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I seem to be hounded by ideas that are similar to my own novel. I picked up ‘Gilded Cage’ in a local book shop back in Pembrokeshire, because the blurb sounded fascinating. I was met with a concept that sounded familiar to my own dissertation-turned-first-novel and it made me want to cry because it was so well done. It’s the overwhelming terror that what I’ve got to say isn’t original enough and has already been done before. But enough about my writing, this is about Vic James’ phenomenal debut.

‘Gilded Cage’ has a beautiful concept – a modern day Britain ruled by people who have powers known as Skill, with the normal Skilless people being forced into ten years of slavery during their lifetimes. This was done in such a beautiful way – James used various characters to tell the narratives from all points of view. What I find often happens when you have a story told from several characters points of view is that some of the plot often gets lost in translation between chapters, as you’re anxious to find out what the previous character was up to and either don’t invest in the next character or get distracted by them and completely forget about the significance of the previous character. This kind of happened in ‘Gilded Cage’ towards the middle of the book, but the key events that happened in each chapter were also threaded through some of the others so these chapters never lost their significance. Even chapters from Gavar and Silyen’s perspectives which only appear once or twice throughout the novel give us a key perspective to understand everything that’s going on in the story.

This plot was so tight knit, it is a true masterpiece. From the heartbreaking introduction of the Hadley family being split apart, right through to that gob smacking conclusion which draws all the plot points you didn’t even realise were significant together – it was so well done that I was absolutely gutted when I finished reading the epilogue. James has left herself so much more to do with this series that I really can’t wait to see what happens next. There’s something so original about this story that I found it really engaging – aside from the jealousy at how well done it was. James captured the individual characters perfectly and transferred the tone so seamlessly when changing to the different characters. For a little bit before the end you thought James had tied it all up so neatly that you couldn’t help but wonder where she intended to take it all next. Those plot twists at the end were so unexpected I was sat gaping at the page!

James’ style comes across in such a confident way you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative. I certainly can’t wait to find out what happens next to all of her characters! This was an absolute gem of a novel and I am so glad I picked it up. Not to mention the smug satisfaction you get from seeing your name as a character (albeit only breifly in the prologue, but when your name never appears anywhere, not even on those key rings you find in all the tourist shops, it’s funny to see your name in print) and mention of your home country (woo Wales!). There were so many other plot points that James had sewn through out the novel that I’m sure there’s plenty of material for her to cover in the next two novels in the series. I certainly can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

I would give this a 5/5 because it was absolutely brilliant and I really hope I can write something this amazing one day.

 

http://www.vicjames.co.uk/

@DrVictoriaJames

‘The Girls’ Review

‘The Girls’ Review

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This one I picked up as a recommendation in Waterstones. Emma Cline’s ‘The Girls’ is a loose fictional retelling of the Manson murders in America. Knowing nothing about these when the book was recommended to me, I was intrigued and decided to give it a go.

I have mixed feelings about this novel – it showed such promise throughout the whole narrative by building the tension to a beautiful crescendo, but the ending really let it down. There was a gritty quality to the writing that really gave you a clear sense of character and a clear sense of place. The novel was branded more as a coming of age story than as a direct link to the Manson murders, which I think worked in its favour and you could think of it as a completely different entity rather than an extended creative non fiction piece.

Evie Boyd was an interesting character, and the questioning of identity that she experienced is definitely something that all girls of this age can relate to. What made her such an interesting character is that she wasn’t entirely likeable at points, which made her seem so much more real as a character. Her fixation on Suzanne draws pity from you as a reader, as it is clear that she is interpreting events as she wants to interpret them rather than seeing them for what they really are.

Evie as an outsider worked in the novel’s favour – the Ranch would have lost some of its mystery if we were right in the action all the time. The tension was built up really well throughout the narrative with the slow escalation of events, and made you hungry to find out what would happen next. This was more an exploration of Evie’s evolution as a character, flipping between time lines of herself in the present day and herself as a 14 year old girl. Though the modern day sections did hint that some kind of plot twist was coming towards to end of the book, and it was a little disappointing when this didn’t materialise.

This novel was really well written, with some really poetic descriptions sewn throughout the story, but all in all it felt anticlimactic. I thought there was something more coming in the later passages, and it was disappointing when this didn’t happen. As beautiful as the writing in the rest of the novel was, the ending really let it down because after all that wonderful tension and plot points it all felt a bit ‘meh’, which was a real shame because it had been such a good book up until that point.

I would give it a 3/5 because it was a good book and was sitting firmly as a 4/5 up until that ending, which really let it down. There are so many psychological thrillers saturating the market at the moment that this really needed a killer ending to make it better than it was.

 

http://emmacline.com

 

‘Brave New Girl’ Review

‘Brave New Girl’ Review

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2017 has been a real treat for Rachel Vincent fans – Vincent has released 4 new publications all within the span of a few months, meaning that we’ve all been spoilt for choice as for what to read next.

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I decided to go with ‘Brave New Girl’, as I was really intrigued by the blurb. I loved the idea behind this one – all the futuristic technology and messing with genes and the idea of the perfect designer baby that could be cloned to produce workers… I just really loved the concept, and Vincent executed this perfectly. The setting was so well done and it was so easy to picture this world that Dhalia 16 lived in. I really loved this whole idea! This really reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and a film called ‘The Island’ featuring Ewan McGregor which has a very similar concept. If you liked those kind of stories you are definitely going to love this one!

Dhalia 16 was a cute character to read about – mainly because of so much innocence that was conveyed through her character’s perspective of the world around her. All of the clones grow up believing 100% that everything they’ve been taught about their way of life is correct, and no one questions whether this is really true. There was a little aspect to the narrative that was a little slow or stilted, which I think was mainly down to Dhalia’s characterisation – but Vincent captured this sheltered individual perfectly and how she described things later on in the novel made it clear she comes from a completely different world to us. I found it strange that I had a feel of the narrative coming across as slow at points because that wasn’t for a lack of plot – I really do think this was more down to Dhalia’s character, and this was a necessary evolution of the plot as she lives such a sheltered life with everything planned out for her. She’s never had to make any real decisions that affect anything in her life on a major scale, as have neither of her clones.

I really loved the plot development, and the innocent romance between Trigger 17 and Dhalia 16. Things plotted out nicely along the narrative timeline and things escalated to a point I hadn’t seen coming – I’d expected a typical dystopian world outside of the sheltered one that Dhalia 16 knew, and we somewhat got overtones of that but in a more futuristic setting – maybe before the crux of the story world falling around our protagonist. I was still hooked to the page though, as the story was unraveling at a brilliant pace that fed you all the information you needed just at the right times.

Don’t even get me started on that ending – I was left gaping at the book at what Dhalia 16 discovered just before the end of the last page. It threw me off a bit because the pacing had been pretty standard up until this point and then Vincent throws a massive plot twist right at you that left me hungry to know more – plus from the excerpt of the next novel in the back of the book I was even more curious as to what to expect from the sequel.

Overall this was a brilliant concept that I absolutely loved, and I can’t wait to find out what else Vincent has in store for Dhalia 16. I would give it a 4/5, and you should definitely give this one a go if you like this type of fiction.

 

@rachelkvincent

http://www.rachelvincent.com/BNG.php

‘Into The Water’ Review

‘Into The Water’ Review

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I’m going to say it, and you may hate me for this – but I didn’t like ‘The Girl On The Train’. Undeniably it was well written, and the perspective of Rachel as an unreliable narrator was intriguing, and the plot twist at the end when the who dunnit was revealed was spectacularly plot twisty and I didn’t see that coming – but I still didn’t love it as a novel. Compared to all this massive hype it had been getting as a novel, it just didn’t live up to my expectations. It had been described as the next ‘Gone Girl’, a novel I loved because of the delicious motives of its characters, but ‘The Girl On The Train’ didn’t grip me like Gillian Flynn’s novel did. I had expected something amazing because of all the hype, and ‘The Girl On The Train’ just didn’t deliver. I did arrive late to the party, but still. So I didn’t have high expectations wandering towards ‘Into The Water’ – a thing which probably counted in its favour as I have heard literally no hype about it since before its release. Not to mention it must be incredibly hard to deliver up to everyone’s expectations after your debut novel does extremely well.

‘Into The Water’ was everything I had expected from ‘The Girl On The Train’ and hadn’t got – it was shrouded in a mystery that I desperately wanted to know the answer to, and left me suspicious that we weren’t being told the whole truth right up until the very last page. It was beautifully plotted and well executed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Psychological thrillers have really taken the literary world by storm at the moment, and Paula Hawkins’ second novel didn’t disappoint. As someone who wasn’t particularly enraptured with her first novel, I really think Hawkins upped her game with this small town mystery.

Reminiscent of Midsommer Murders, it does follow the stereotypical pattern of the murder mystery – but then again when you pick up a novel from this genre you are going to expect it to follow certain patterns. There was a bit of a cluttered menagerie of perspectives, but it worked – Hawkins drip fed us all these crucial details chapter by chapter from the characters at the heart of this story. Some characters earlier on in the novel, you are left questioning “Why are you here?”, but towards the end of the novel these characters make perfect sense and are crucial to piecing together what happened to some of these women at the Drowing Pool.

I’ve always been a sucker for mythic settings, which is exactly what Hawkins was aiming for when including the ancient history of Beckford in her story – the deaths of women have been happening here for centuries, is there really anything amiss with these ones?

Overall I was really impressed with this novel – Hawkins left me guessing right up until the last page, delivering her conclusion beautifully. Personally, I so much preferred this to her debut novel, and I think this shows that she has so much more promising things to come in her literary career. If she can deliver a novel like this after all that hype, this is definitely good news for the stories to come! I would give it a 5/5 because I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, and like her character Nel I was so drawn to the stories of the women of the water.

 

http://paulahawkinsbooks.com/

@PHawkinsAuthor

‘Resurrection’ Review

‘Resurrection’ Review

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Three years ago, the Skulduggery Pleasant series came to a beautiful end – I was terrified that Derek Landy wasn’t going to give us the happy ending we all wanted for Valkyrie and Skulduggery, but thankfully they survived to live another day. You cannot imagine my excitement when I found out last year that there was going to be a second series coming out this year. And Landy did not disappoint.

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I was a little worried before I sat down to read Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection because every other time I’ve gotten this excited about something I always ended up feeling a little disappointed. However Resurrection took me right back to when I was reading the first book at 13. There is just something about the comedic aspect to Landy’s writing that completely draws you in – the overall tone was exactly like the original books and had me giggling to myself within minutes. Landy just has a way with description that makes the page ooze with sarcasm, and you really can’t help but laugh. That’s partly why I’m still reading these books at 23 – there is something completely timeless about the narrative that makes it something for everyone to enjoy.

Now that Valkyrie is 24, there was a more serious aspect to Landy’s writing that we had a glimpse of in his second series Demon Road. Valkyrie wasn’t the sarcastic little girl she was before the Darquesse events; she had been forever changed by the horrors that were unwittingly inflicted at her hands. I loved this traumatised aspect to her character – the way that Landy described her depression was just perfect and it really made her character seem so much more real. It made you really feel for her as a character, especially towards the end of the novel where she starts thinking about how she should have spent more time with her family. It’s so nice to see her character still evolving!

All the old characters that were included were once again fabulous – I love love LOVE Skulduggery’s sharp wit and it never fails to make me laugh. It was nice to see some newer characters too – Omen was pretty awesome, and someone that readers can identify with. Landy didn’t solely tell the story from Valkyrie’s point of view, and used these other chapters to weave in some juicy little plot threads that I’m sure he’ll pick up later in the series. I was intrigued by Sebastian, as well as the very hilarious and pretty spot on fictional version of Donald Trump – Landy’s satirical wit was definitely at its finest here! I’m curious to see where Landy is going to take us next with some of these plot threads. Though I do hope that we get to see Tanith Low sometime!

The plot was pretty spot on. I was gripped from start to finish, and the plot twist around Lethe was pretty damn awesome. Landy has done a superb job with easing us back into Skulduggery and Valkyrie’s world, and in the best way possible – throwing us right into the action, it really makes you crave reading more from this story world. You have no idea how excited I am for the next book in the series!! I’d give it a 5/5 because Landy is just awesome and it consistently shows in his writing.

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Last Friday I was also fortunate enough to get to see Derek Landy in Birmingham Waterstones! He was so funny, and discussed some things from Resurrection and how version 2 of the series is going to be more like a tv series than like films as he’d planned the original series – it should be more detailed, and Landy already an idea of how the series is going to end before he’d even written Resurrection. Omen was his favourite character to write, which was pretty awesome – Omen is aimed at the people who have grown up reading about Skulduggery and Valkyrie, and is such a likeable character! However Landy stressed that it is still very much Valkyrie’s story, which was nice to hear – Landy discussed how he felt it important to include Valkyrie’s depression and PTSD, and I wholeheartedly agree with him because it made her character more well rounded and realistic. Landy came out with a brilliant quote as well in reference to showing more diversity and stuff in characters: you are the change you want to make. I think that is an absolute brilliant snippet, and is definitely true!

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Plus meeting Landy was amazing, although a little awkward – the guy in front of me in the queue’s phone died, and he asked if I could take a picture of him and Landy and send it to him over Facebook. If that had been my phone I would have been mortified that I couldn’t get a photo, so said yeah sure – then the lady who was helping out Landy with his signing offered to take the photo and then asked if I wanted to be in it as well (she’d missed the exchange about the dead phone) and I had to awkwardly explain in front of Landy that I didn’t know this stranger and was just doing him a favour, and then Landy told me I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book because now the guy was going to get my number – I am so wonderfully awkward that I didn’t know how to say “Noooo no no no I was just being nice!” without making a complete tit out of myself. After last year’s dilemma when I met Maggie Stiefvater for the first time and the first words that left my mouth were “I STALK YOU ONLINE” I wanted to at least portray that I am not a psychopath. In retrospect it was really funny because after I’d had my photo Landy grinned and said “You two go exchange numbers you crazy kids!” Landy was just as funny in person as his narratives are, and he was such a nice guy! I’ll definitely be bringing all of my Landy novels to be signed next time I get the opportunity!

imageI am so glad I didn’t embarrass myself like last year in YALC (sorry Maggie I’m not creepy I swear)!