Thursday, 14 March 2019

Review: From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

Publication date: May 22nd 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 330

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy-a.k.a. Sahil's twin brother? Dream come true x 2.
When mystery man N begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it's Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she's fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.
Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she's got is not the one she's scripted. But will it be enough?
Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

I absolutely adored "When Dimple met Rishi" and was so excited about reading this second novel from Menon, so it was perhaps those high expectations that left me feeling so disappointed and crushed after this book.

The biggest issue that I found was how unlikeable Twinkle was, and given that the entire book is told in her thoughts and feeling into her diary, that immediately becomes problematic. 
Even though you only have access to how Twinkle perceives everything, it becomes really clear really early on, that not only is Twinkle incredibly self absorbed, but she's also kind of a jerk, which makes a lot of the other character's responses to her hard to believe. Take Sahil - she treats him appallingly, and sure she has to answer for that a bit at the end, but on the whole Sahil just brushes is off and continues to make heart eyes at Twinkle which doesn't make any sense given how she's behaving.

It's a nice enough plot, a cool idea, and I liked a lot of the supporting characters, but my dislike for Twinkle coloured my entire perception of the book and left me feeling mostly frustrated and grumpy when I finished.

If you've yet to read any of Menon's work, I highly recommend checking out Dimple instead.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Standalone books I don't want a sequel for because they were perfect, but I still want to spend more time in the world

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

Well that title is a bit of a mouthful... And also is a little off-piste to what the topic actually is this week, which is standalone novels that I want a sequel for. But the problem is that a lot of the standalone novels that I love, I love because they are complete and whole entities on their own. I don't want more, but at the same time I wish I could go back and spend more time in the world... Dilemma.

Here are ten dilemmaful books that I both love and don't want more of at the same time. 

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Oh "the sky, and the sand, and the sea, and Corr." I would happily sell my soul for a chance to go back to Thisby, but equally I love this strange and perfect novel so much that it might break my heart to get more of this story. As it is now, it stands as this pinnacle of wonder and magic that I adore in so many ways, and return to often.
You can read my original review here, and see how my feelings changed on my re-read.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I just read this one a couple of weeks ago and I cannot get it out of my head. It was beautiful, startling, and utterly gripping. I can't shake the world from my head - the layered approach to the story, the characters that evolve over the course of the novel, the tightly compacted sprawling mess of world that is unknotted through these handful of interconnected characters. I love it.
You can read my full review here.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning... From the first, I was completely captivated by this lyrical, beautiful tale. There is nothing else quite like it. I could have spent so much longer exploring the circus tents alone, never mind spending more time with the characters. However as with everything on this list, it's another one that is perfect in its singular whole, and I wouldn't want to mess with that and risk being disappointed by a sequel.
You can read my full review here.

Fire by Kristin Cashore
After Graceling I never thought I could love another set of characters by Cashore in the same way as I did Katsa and Po. Then I met Fire and Brigan and I was utterly lost. This novel is gorgeous. A wonderful world, with complex and layered characters and such a stunningly beautiful story that weaves everything together. Yes we get a brief cameo for Fire in Bitterblue, but I want to just spend more time with Fire and Brigan in their day to day lives.
You can read my full review here.
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
It's been well over a decade since I've read this one, so I don't remember details, more a vague blurry feeling from when I read it. I loved it. It broke my heart, I sobbed over this book in a way I rarely do. It was perfect and strange and wonderful and I wanted more, but at the same time not, because I loved it as it was. I think it might be time for a re-read.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My first foray into Novik's writing, this one made a definite mark. It was such a twisty tale, one that refused to be pigeonholed. Every time I thought I had a grasp of the kind of story being told, she'd flip everything on its head and leave me scrambling. It was a really exciting and vivid world, with some really wonderful character development, and I'd love to spend some more time delving into spin offs without touching on the main story thread.
You can read my full review here.

Speak Easy, Speak Love by George McKelle
Much Ado About Nothing, set in 1920s America. I didn't think this could possibly work, but work it did, and swiftly turned into one of my favourites.
It's a wonderful retelling, full of favourite moments from the original, as well as fresh twists and new perspectives. I loved these characters so much, and was sad when I reached the end of the tale. Sure, that was the end of the play, but part of me really wanted to spend more time with these people, after the final act.
You can read my full review here.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
I adore all of Sarah's books - they're sassy, filled with brilliant characters and wonderful twisty plots. "In Other Lands", her most recent novel, is a standalone that combines all of the above, with a brilliant Harry Potter esq vibe magic school. Don't worry, nothing that similar, but that gives you a feel for the scope and design behind the book. Years of schooling crammed into one book, the story doesn't feel rushed, giving you a wonderful view in on Elliot's life and world. Plus amazing romance, glorious characters, and an all round amazing story. I adore this book and I want more.

The Game of Love & Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Oh this book. It's such a beautiful story, and one that haunts me to this day. I adored Flora and Henry, watching them come together and find themselves, each other, and their places in the world. The concept is stunning and Martha writes with a deft poetical magic that left me captivated and spellbound.
You can read my full review here.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Quiet, haunting, this was such an unexpected delight when I found this one. Eowyn's debut was absolutely spot on, filled with desolation and loneliness, but suffused with a perfect, impossible to capture, magic. Even though it's been years since I've read this one, it's a story that hit some nerve within me and stayed embedded in my heart long after I finished it. One day I'll go back and recapture that.
You can read my full review here.

There you have ten of my favourite standalone novels that I both want more of and really want them to be left solitary and perfect. It's a confusing state! Tell me some of yours in the comments below!

Friday, 8 March 2019

Review: The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis

Publication date: January 28th 2014
Publisher: DC Comics
Pages: 864

Planetary has been hailed as a timeless story that turned modern superhero conventions on their heads.Written by Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan) and with stunning art by John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men), this critically acclaimed, landmark series took a look at the inter-dimensional peace-keeping force known as Planetary.
The trio on the ground includes Elijah Snow, a hundred-year-old man, Jakita Wagner, an extremely powerful woman, and The Drummer, a man with the ability to communicate with machines. Tasked with tracking down evidence of super-human activity, these mystery archaeologists uncover unknown paranormal secrets and histories, such as a World War II supercomputer that can access other universes, a ghostly spirit of vengeance, and a lost island of dying monsters.

Oh Warren Ellis how good you are at wrecking me with your stories. I was first introduced to Ellis' work in "Transmetropolitan" (if you've not yet discovered this series of comics, do yourself a favour and get on that asap) and was curious to work my way through his other work. The Planetary Omnibus not only collects all of the Planetary comics in one place, but adds in three standalone stories, a whole host of artwork, and the original writing Ellis did when conceiving of the first comic to be sent to John Cassaday for artwork.

It's a hefty tome, but one that is well worth investing the time (and wrist strength) into reading. There are some wonderful character appearances - the different iterations of Batman was definitely a favourite, along with a sneaky sort of cameo from Spider Jerusalem - protagonist from Transmet.

I didn't find that it hit me with the same emotional impact as Transmetropolitan, but it was still an excellent story with some amazing characters. I was a little bit gutted to realise I'd run out of comics and had only special extras left to read...

It's a dark story, one that showcases Ellis's signature snark filled humour along with his sucker punches of emotion. One minute you'll be laughing, the next breathless from the impact of a well placed emotional blow. 

It's beautiful, extraordinary in its scope and concept, and a wonderful collection to read. If you've never really gotten on to the comics train, Ellis is a great place to start. His work is a brilliantly crafted pantheon of stories and characters that I love to come back to again and again, now I'm on to find out more about The Authority, who crop up in one of the cross over mini arcs...

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Blog Tour - Review: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

Huge thanks to Gollancz for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Publication date: March 7th 2019
Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 352

In this sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller, Camille, her sister Edel, and her guard and new love Remy must race against time to find Princess Charlotte. Sophia's Imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep the rebels from returning Charlotte to the castle and her rightful place as queen. With the help of an underground resistance movement called The Iron Ladies-a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely-and the backing of alternative newspaper The Spider's Web, Camille uses her powers, her connections and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orleans.

To celebrate the release of the sequel to the hugely popular 2018 book "The Belles", Gollancz have organised a blog tour of reviews. Don't forget to look out for the other reviews this week! I really loved "The Belles" so I jumped at the chance to take part, and was incredibly excited to find out what happens next to Camille, Edel, and Remy.

This was a good follow up novel - Clayton takes the world and characters she introduced us to in the first, and builds on that foundation to provide an exciting conclusion. Camille particularly becomes a more interesting protagonist, fueled by her anger from the events of the first book. However, I would have liked to see her grapple with more inner conflict. Yes she was fighting for what was right, but she never really has any inner turmoil to overcome, which at times can be slightly frustrating, as you're only ever given her own thoughts and feelings to experience.

The first half of the story takes its time, which slows the pacing down hugely. After the cataclysm of events at the end of the first book, I really wanted to drive straight back in, not hold back for as long as the story does. This lack of urgency, and a general feeling of the characters succeeding at all they attempt, means that there are points where the emotional resonance I'd hope for is missing, and I found myself coasting through some parts, rather than being fully engaged.
That said, you get an exciting (albeit slightly rushed) ending that really pays off a lot of the build up. I had a few minor gripes about how some things ended, but those are for a more spoiler filled review at a later date.

I'm really hoping that Clayton is going to give us a spin off book about the Iron Ladies, because I didn't feel like we got nearly enough time with them and I'd love to know more about them.

This is a solid conclusion to the story, one that offers some more insights into this curious world, and leaves you feeling pretty satisfied with the final act. I was a little disappointed with some elements, but this duology is still definitely one I'd recommend. If you've yet to read The Belles, pick up a copy as soon as you can! And if you read and enjoyed it last year, this conclusion is worth the wait.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Publication date: September 9th 2014
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 336

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theatre troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.
Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I popped into my local bookshop, "Mr B's Emporium of Books" and ended up looking at their staff recommendation shelves. One member of staff had picked four books, three of which were long standing favourites of mine, and one that I'd never come across before. Naturally I bought it.

And then I fell into this incredible story, and wasn't seen for several hours. I devoured it, I resented any time I had to spend away from it, I cried over it and laughed over it and felt myself unspool and reform slightly different after reading this. In short, all the signs of a truly excellent book.

It's a story about the end of the world. But it's also the story about a new world forming. It's about what really matters once you break down all of the pre-constructed ideas. But most importantly it's about people and relationships. Instead of falling into the trap of telling a world ending story on a world ending story scale, "Station Eleven" hones in tightly on a small group of people who are connected - some in obvious ways, others that you have to wait a while to find out how. It's about their stories in the years before the collapse, in the hours leading up to it, the days and years following. How each person adapts and responds to it - what makes them human coming to the fore.

I loved how each person ties back to Arthur, how everything revolves around his perfectly normal death - the lynch pin that everyone else spins around. A defining, linking point of kinship. Each little thread that overlaps, doubles back and loops on itself until you have a gorgeously constructed, tightly woven tapestry.

The writing is gorgeous, carefully constructed, haunting and engaging - I couldn't get enough of this beautiful piece. When I finished it, I simply sat staring into space until my husband asked me if he could do anything. I simply handed him the book and told him to read it. He did. He loved it too. And it prompted some really fascinating conversations about the book.

I can't believe I missed this book when it first came out, but I am oh so glad I've read it now. I can understand why that staff member put it up there with some of my other favourites, I'd put it there too.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Books I'm Squeeing About in March

Only a few books that I can't wait for this month, although I'll probably find some more as the month goes on... However here are the three books releasing this month that have piqued my interest and I can't wait to read. Including two story continuations from favourite books from last year!

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
March 1st 2019

Keralie Corrington is a talented pickpocket in the kingdom of Quadara. She steals under the guidance of her mentor Mackiel, who runs a black market selling their bounty to buyers desperate for what they can't get in their own quadrant. For Quadara is a nation divided into four regions, each strictly separated from the other. Toria, the intellectual quadrant values education and ambition. Ludia, the pleasure quadrant values celebration and passion. Archia, the agricultural quadrant, values simplicity and nature. Eonia, the futurist quadrant values technology, stoicism and harmonious community. Four queens, one from each quadrant, rule as one. When on Mackiel's orders Keralie steals a particularly valuable item from a messenger, what seems like a routine theft goes horribly wrong. Keralie discovers she's intercepted instructions to murder the queens. Hoping that discovering the intended recipient will reveal the culprit-valuable information that she can barter with-Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt, the messenger she stole from, to complete his delivery and uncover the would-be murderer. But with Keralie and Varin each keeping secrets-and the lives of the queens hanging in the balance-everything is at stake, and no one can be trusted.

This does feel like it has echoes of several other books, but I'm a sucker for fantasy world building, thievery, and murder plots, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how this one stands up to my excitement.

The Queen's Resistance by Rebecca Ross
March 7th 2019
Finally, Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is settling into her role as the daughter of Davin MacQuinn, a disgraced lord who returned to Maevana to reclaim his house. Though she’s just survived a revolution, one that will finally return a queen to the throne, she faces another difficult challenge. She must prove herself trustworthy to the MacQuinns. But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s house as well as her country. And then there’s Cartier Evariste, a wholly separate factor in her new life. Now known as Aodhan Morgane, Cartier is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia as a master of knowledge and his current one as the lord of a fallen house. During his castle’s restoration, he discovers a ten-year-old boy named Tomas, whose past and parentage are a complete mystery. So when Cartier’s former pupil Brienna is as fond of Tomas as he is, he lets his mind wander – what if he doesn’t have to raise him or his house alone? As the Lannon trial rapidly approaches, Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside to concentrate on forging alliances, executing justice, and ensuring that no one interferes with the queen’s coronation. But resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces. And nothing makes a person more vulnerable than deep-seated love.
Finally! I feel as though I've been waiting for this one for ages! I absolutely adored the first book in this series "The Queen's Rising" and it went straight onto my favourite reads from the year, with a very impatient and excited need to get hold of the second book immediately. Finally the time has come - read this series!

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
March 7th 2019

Camellia Beaureguard is a Belle. She can make you beautiful. Though there is always a cost. With a price on her head, the evil Queen Sophia out for blood, and no idea who to trust, Camellia must race against time to find the ailing Princess Charlotte, who has disappeared without a trace. Sophia's imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep Camellia, her sister Edel, and her loyal guard, Rémy, from returning Charlotte to the palace and her rightful place as queen. With the help of a secretive resistance movement called the Iron Ladies - a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely - and the backing of underground newspaper the
Spider's Web, Camellia must use her powers, her connections, and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orléans.

The Belles was one of my surprise loves of last year, and it left me on a desperate cliff hanger needing to find out what happened. It's stuck with me for a year, and now it's nearly time to see what happens next. I really recommend picking up The Belles if you haven't yet.

Are any of these catching your eye? And are there any you think I should pick up this month? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Places I want to visit after reading about them

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fabulous Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in with future topics here!

I've gotten a lot of my wanderlust from reading - there's nothing like a well written book that opens up new places and makes you want to go and visit them for yourself. Some of them I've already managed to visit, but there are still plenty on my wish list!

Here are five places that I would absolutely love to visit, and the books (and in one case TV show) that have inspired that.

"I Love Capri" by Belinda Jones

One day, I will get there. This book has inspired my desperate yearning to visit Capri for nearly twenty years. I loved all of Belinda's books and exploring these romantic and beautiful places, but something about this book and the descriptions of Capri, has set off a desperate desire to see the place for myself. Who knows, maybe this year will finally be the year I escape to Capri...

New York
"City of Bones" by Cassandra Clare
This was the first book where I really felt an attachment to this city, where I found myself wanting to experience this slightly crazy place for myself. The seeds were planted many years ago reading "Drina dances in New York" by Jean Estoril - as well as wanting to sail there instead of flying, but that's beside the point... But it was with this book that that really flowered into a desperate need to see this city for myself instead of through the eyes of other people.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden
Ok, Japan is quite a large area compared to the other more specific places on this list, but it's more a specific event that I want to experience, and this book was the start of that. I desperately want to see the cherry blossom trees one spring. Every description, every instance in fiction, cements that desire, and the certainty that it would be one of the most beautiful things to witness.

"Dragonfly in Amber" by Diana Gabaldon
There have been several books exploring Versailles, but none has stuck with me like this one. I want to see this incredible place for myself, wander the halls, see all the opulence, and then find myself an incredible dress to waft around pretending I'm royalty for a while...

New Orleans
TV: The Originals / "The Casquette Girls" by Alys Arden
It just looks and sounds like such an incredible city, and I want to meander the French Quarter for myself. Over the course of five seasons of the show, New Orleans came to feel a bit like another home - and I wanted nothing more than to go and explore these streets for myself. Reading The Casquette Girls only cemented that feeling.

And five that I've managed to tick off already.

"Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor

Although I was incredibly sad not to be able to visit Poison (it's now a karaoke bar) it was still incredibly exciting to wander the streets of Prague and try and find some of the places that Karou goes to.

"Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins
Anna exploring Paris was exactly what I needed to make living in France less scary. So when I had the chance to take a few days to explore the city for myself, I was incredibly excited. Seeing all these places that Anna had described for me, and chasing in her footsteps was such a fun experience.

"Dragonfly in Amber" by Diana Gabaldon
Alright, technically I had already visited Edinburgh (a lot) before I read "Dragonfly in Amber", but I happened to read this book whilst I was staying there. I read the chapters set in Holyrood Palace, and then spent the following day wandering the Palace for myself. There's something incredibly exciting about being able to find the places in reality after reading them in fiction.

Too many books to count...
Venice has always been on my desperate wish list. From exploring it in Belinda Jones' "The Love Academy" to more recent excursions in "The Book of Life" by Deborah Harkness. It was one of those magical places that I was terrified couldn't live up to my imaginings. Yet it did. It was an astonishing, incredible, wonderful place to visit. Full of colour and life and magic, it opened up before me as though lifted from my dreams.

"A Game of Thrones" by George R R Martin
Alright, technically this is based on the TV show, I admit. But after seeing so many of these incredible places stand in for locations in Weteros and Essos, I was desperate to see them in real life. It was incredible and really surreal to find the steps outside the sept of Baelor, to see the view from the blacksmiths that Gendry worked at, and to visit the insanely beautiful and peaceful island of Lokrum to find the Qarth garden party.

There you have mine, now tell me some of yours! What are some places you've been inspired to visit because of books you've read? And are there any you'd still love to go to? Tell me in the comments below!

Friday, 22 February 2019

Review: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Publication date: June 16th 2015
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Pages: 378

On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Asia, Rachel should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, a wedding dress she loves more than anything found in the salons of Paris, and a fiance willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance in order to marry her. But Rachel still mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won't be able to walk her down the aisle. Until: a shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendor beyond anything she has ever imagined. Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics; Colette, a celebrity girlfriend chased by fevered paparazzi; and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet: her father. Meanwhile, Singapore's It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband. A romp through Asia's most exclusive clubs, auction houses, and estates, China Rich Girlfriend brings us into the elite circles of Mainland China, introducing a captivating cast of characters, and offering an inside glimpse at what it's like to be gloriously, crazily, China-rich.

Well that was a waste of time.

I felt mixed about the first book in the trilogy "Crazy Rich Asians", where I both guiltily enjoyed it and felt like it lost the plot towards the end of the book. However, I enjoyed the film a lot more than the book, and it was that that made me want to have a look at the second novel and see what happens next in this crazy world.

Ultimately? Nothing. It felt like a complete waste of time, where the majority of the plot is crammed into the first bit of the novel, and the final fifteen percent, whilst the middle is just one long protracted look at all these very rich people and the clothes they're wearing.

I really loved the sparkling wit and the relationships of the first book, but that was all entirely absent in this second trip out. I had to push myself to keep reading and finish the book, and by the end was just incredibly relieved it was over at last. I didn't like the characters, they were flat and stilted this time and without that emotional connection any desire to see what happens was crushed.

Will I go back for the final book? Probably. But I imagine it will take a long time for me to forget the sheer awfulness of this one before I gear myself up for the final instalment.