Sunday, 23 June 2019

Review: How to be Famous by Caitlin Moran

When this book originally came out I assumed it was non-fiction. Yes, I somehow missed the words 'a novel' in bright yellow font on the front. I also hadn't realised this book is the sequel to Caitlin Moran's earlier novel, How to Build a Girl, which I haven't read (something I'm about to remedy very soon!), but it does work as a standalone.

How to be Famous is about a girl called Jo who has reinvented herself as Dolly Wilde and now works as a journalist in London. This is the the 1990s and Britpop is at its height. She is in love with her childhood friend, but as he's now a huge star no one quite believes she knows him. She left home to get away from her family, but now her father's moved in - and expects her to take him to gigs. Her best friend is a singer/songwriter with writer's block, she's fallen into a nasty feud with a famous comedian, and has accidentally made a sex tape. What else could possibly go wrong?

I really enjoyed How to be Famous, which reminded me of Jilly Cooper's early blockbusters, Riders and Polo. I adore books about celebrities and I think it helped that I'm old enough to remember the 90s and got all the references - normally I have to check this stuff with my kids. The story is chock full of brilliant one-liners but also has pertinent things to say about fame and celebrities. It's a coming-of-age story, following Dolly's adventures, from where she feels she has landed in Wonderland to the painful lesson that the unwary can and will be exploited by those who have power. Does she have the strength to fight back? What do you think!

I loved the characters, particularly Dolly. Her breezy self-confidence reminded me of Margo from The Durrells. John, Dolly's rockstar boyfriend, is also very sweet. In short, How to be Famous is brilliantly written, screamingly funny and exuberantly filthy! A five-star read for me!

Thank you to Caitlin Moran and Ebury for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Review: Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson

I chose this book because I love Dorothy Koomson. The way she blends family drama and crime thriller ('emotional thrillers', the publisher calls them) is utterly brilliant!

Ten years ago Pieta (pronounced 'Peter') was kidnapped by someone calling himself The Blindfolder. If Pieta didn't keep her eyes closed for 48 hours, despite what he did to her, she'd be killed. Pieta survived, although she never told anyone what happened to her. But now The Blindfolder is killing off his past victims she may not have a choice.

Tell Me Your Secret is told from both Pieta's point of view and that of the police detective inspector (Jody) in charge of investigating the murders. There are also flashbacks to Pieta's experiences at the hands of The Blindfolder. Jody's chapters are told in a 'Dear Reader' kind of way, which I really liked. It gave a poignant edge to what could have been another 'flawed detective' character.

I loved the relationship between Pieta and her son, and I thought Pieta's monster boss was hugely entertaining. There's a couple of potential love interests too. Tell Me Your Secret has some great twists - they come thick and fast at the end, so pay attention! The book also makes a good point about how victims of crime are perceived - as 'victims' or 'fighters'.

Great cover, clever title, twisty emotional plot, terrific characters, edge-of-your-seat thrills, brilliant writing - have I missed anything out? Tell Me Your Secret is one of my favourite reads this year!

Thank you to Dorothy Koomson and Headline Review for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Review: Say No to the Duke (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #4) by Eloisa James

I adore Eloisa James's historical romances, so I was thrilled to receive an early copy of Say No to the Duke.

Lady Betsy has always felt Society judges her for the scandal of her mother running away with a handsome Prussian, but she gets her revenge on the gossips by behaving like the perfect lady at all times. These bullies have also told Betsy that no respectable gentleman would ever want to marry her, so she is determined to receive more proposals than any of them - and does so, culminating in a proposal from the handsome duke considered the catch of the Season.

Lord Jeremy Roden, a friend of Betsy's elder brother, is currently living at Lindow Castle while Betsy and the Duke flirt with each other. Recently returned from the war in the Colonies, Jeremy is suffering from PTSD and trying to keep out of everyone's way by hiding in the billiards room. Unfortunately, this is where the Duke chooses to propose to Betsy.

As with all of Eloisa's books, the story is as much about the interaction between the characters as the plot. I loved the way Betsy and Jeremy bounced off each other, how the duke was sweet but completely bemused by the pair of them, and especially by the duke's mother, who is desperate to win Betsy for a daughter-in-law. Even Betsy's maid is conspiring against her, forcing Betsy into huge pink dresses to make a favourable impression on the duchess. Because Betsy has played the part of the perfect lady for so long, everyone believes this is what she's really like. The 'real' Betsy would love to be as wild as her brothers, play billiards, and stride around in breeches rather than big pink dresses. And the only person who realises she hides behind a mask is Jeremy - because he wears one too.

I won't tell you the outcome of their wager but the only bit involving breeches was right at the very end of the story. And while it was a clever twist, I was disappointed there was no scandalous road trip, as suggested by the blurb. Lord Jeremy Roden isn't rakish either; he's rather lovely and I adored him all the more for it.

Although this book is #4 in The Wildes of Lindow Castle series, you can easily read it as a standalone. It would suit readers who enjoy the 'fairy tale' kind of historical romance and authors such as Julia Quinn. I loved the characters, especially the banter between hero and heroine. Say No to the Duke is my favourite book of the series, and one of my favourite reads this year too.

Thank you to Eloisa James and Piatkus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Review: The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

I chose to read The Last House Guest because I love Megan Miranda's books - and this is my favourite so far! I think it's because her stories take me into a completely different world and lifestyle - in this case, the fictional harbour town of Littleport in Maine, USA.

Littleport is a popular holiday destination for the wealthy, some of whom stay for the entire summer. Once such family are the Lomans, who have also been buying houses to rent out, causing resentment amongst the locals. Friendships between these two very diverse communities are unheard of, yet Avery Greer and Sadie Loman have been friends for over a decade, fascinated by each other's life. Is there something more sinister behind their friendship? When Sadie is found dead, Avery is determined to find out the truth.

The clever thing about this story is that nothing is quite as it seems. The more Avery investigates, the more she discovers that her assumptions about people and events are quite wrong. And why, exactly did Sadie chose her for a friend?

I loved the contrast between the powerful Loman family, who employ Avery to manage their rentals, and the local families who are slowly being driven out of business - and understandably feel resentful. There are lots of young, attractive characters, all of whom seem to have something to hide. I think this was another reason I really enjoyed the book. Each clue is hiding in plain sight but it still drove me crazy trying to work out 'whodunit'. Even though I read lots of crime fiction, I didn't guess who it was! And I loved the epilogue!

This won't appeal to anyone looking for a gritty psychological thriller. It's more of a suspense/mystery and the tone is almost YA/New Adult in places - which is exactly what I liked about it! So if you're looking for a slice of holiday escapism, dished up with a fiendishly clever puzzle, this is the book for you. Thoroughly recommended! 

Thank you to Megan Miranda and Corvus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Thursday, 6 June 2019

Review: Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke

Pan's Labyrinth is one of my all-time favourite films, so I was thrilled to get my hands on this new collaboration between the film's original writer/director Guillermo del Toro and bestselling children's author Cornelia Funke (best known for her Inkheart trilogy). I usually avoid movie tie-ins, because the writing quality is never great, but this retelling was utterly brilliant. With the beautiful illustrations, it would make a lovely present.

The story is set in Spain in 1944, five years after the Civil War. Ofelia is a thirteen-year-old girl whose widowed mother has recently married Capitán Vidal - a sadistic psychopath desperate for a son. Vidal is deeply resentful of the generals who have stationed him in a remote mill house, far from possible military glory. He is determined to wipe out the few remaining rebels hiding in the forest - success being the best form of revenge. Ofelia, immersed in her world of fairy tales, is oblivious to this. She misses her real father, instinctively hates Vidal, and is worried about her mother, who is in the last few weeks of a difficult pregnancy. To escape from this, Ofelia takes refuge in the forest, where she discovers a centuries-old labyrinth, fairies, and a sinister faun. The Faun tells Ofelia she is a reincarnation of the lost Princess Moanna, and if she wants to return to her former life in the Underworld, she will have to complete three tasks...

I loved this book, especially the amazing world Guillermo del Toro has created. If you enjoy old-style, traditional fairy stories, you'll recognise all the well-loved tropes, such as the impossible task and the dangers of eating fairy food. But the sheer brilliance of Pan's Labyrinth is that right from the start it works on so many different levels, depending what you want to believe. It can be a straight-forward urban fairy tale or an alternative world that Ofelia has created to cope with the horrors of real life. It reminded me of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz, David Bowie's Labyrinth, and The Life of Pi. The historical aspect, showing the reality of war, and that humans are far more capable of evil than mythical characters in a story, adds another dimension.

I loved that there are shorter tales woven throughout the text, explaining the grim stories behind some of the objects mentioned, such as Vidal's pocket watch, along with the history of the labyrinth and the mill pond. From a reader's point of view, it's like opening a present and finding another present inside, and then another one, and so on. The way all these stories are linked is pure genius!

Would you like it?  Well, Pan's Labyrinth is a dark fantasy/urban fairy tale with a sprinkling of horror. Despite the cover, this is a story best suited to adults or teenagers because there are several gory scenes. Fans of the film will love it, because the mini tales add another layer to the familiar story. Although there is no romance, I can also see it appealing to fans of urban fairy tale authors such as Holly Black.

One of my new, all-time favourite reads! I'd give this a hundred stars if I could!

Thank you to Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke and Bloomsbury for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.