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Poldark: Demelza by Winston Graham

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Demelza Carne, the impoverished miner’s daughter Ross Poldark rescued from a fairground rabble, is now his wife. But the events that unfold during these turbulent years will test their marriage and their love to the limit. Demelza’s efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry – and her husband – bring her confusion and heartache, despite her joy in the birth of their first child. Meanwhile, Ross begins a bitter struggle for the rights of the mining communities – and sows the seed of an enduring enmity with George Warleggan.”

REVIEW: I enjoyed the previous novel in the Poldark series, as many of you would have seen in my previous review, and was looking forward to reading the second. I found this novel, which focuses on Demelza, to be even more enjoyable and doubtlessly my favourite in the series thus far. The story picks up not long after the end of the last novel, with the birth of Ross and Demelza’s first child; a daughter named Julia. Although Julia brings joy to them both, this novel sees much suffering not just for our two main characters, but for more minor characters that we have come to know and like, and even for some new figures in the tale. Demelza struggles to follow the etiquette required of the gentry, with a roaring success at her first public assembly but huge embarrassment at her baby daughter’s christening. Her struggle to fit in grows as Ross’ hatred for the gentry increases and he begins to break away from the established mining communities run by people like his debt-ridden cousin Francis and the powerful upstart George Warleggan in order to form his own, based on the needs of the miners and the families that live on his land. The couple are also placed under strain when Demelza secretly reunites their beloved cousin Verity with the disreputable Captain Blaney, a decision that Ross is furious about, but which soon turns out to be the right choice (at least thus far). Tragedy also strikes with the death of the imprisoned Jim Carter, kept in filthy and diseased conditions while serving his time in prison, which drives his widow Jenny to attempt suicide. My favourite sub-plot in the novel, however, was the story of Mark Daniel, a miner who meets a beautiful young actress who travels with a company of players and marries her. Despite the fact that he builds her a house from scratch (which is extremely romantic, I feel), Keren is dissatisfied with Mark, finding her new life dull and lonely as she is shunned by the rest of the community. Restless and passionate, she begins a secret affair with the new surgeon, Dwight Enys, a great friend of Ross’; when she is discovered by Mark, however, he murders her, and with Ross’ help is forced to start a life on the run. This particular plot unfolded slowly and was full of suspense, building up to the dramatic climax of Keren’s death, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The ending of the novel, however, brings the biggest tragedy of all, and this one I won’t mention as it would be too much of a shame to spoil it. Despite the heavy nature of this novel, which contains far more heartache for the characters than the first book did, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was gripped throughout. I look forward to eventually reading more of the series.

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The Beast Within by Serena Valentino

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “How did a prince, once beloved by his people, become a bitter and reclusive monster? A young, handsome prince lives a life of extravagance before he is forced to pay the ultimate price for his ugly deeds. This is a story of vanity and arrogance, of love and hatred, of beastliness and, of course, beauty.”

REVIEW: I was so excited to begin reading this book; anyone who knows me will tell you that I am completely Disney obsessed and that my life pretty much revolves around Disney movies, music and merchandise – so you can imagine how excited I was to add a Disney book to the list! Valentino’s retelling of the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ takes us back in time as the Beast remembers his past life as the Prince, before a curse was cast upon him; through this, we are able to see the heartless, arrogant human being that he had become, and can trace the actions that lead him towards becoming the Beast. It was an interesting retelling, with elements that I had not expected to find in the Beast’s backstory – for example, his close friendship with Gaston, the true villain of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale, while he was a Prince. There was also the addition of the four sisters; in the Disney film, we are told that the Beast was cursed by an old beggar woman after he refused her shelter on a stormy night, upon which event she turned into a beautifuul sorceress, cursed him into becoming the beast, and gave the stipulation that the only way the curse could be broken was if the Beast found true love with someone who could love him in return. In this novel, the Beast is cursed when he spurns a beautiful girl that he is due to marry when he finds out that she is the daughter of a pig farmer; the girl turns out to be one of four powerful sisters, three of whom torment the Beast throughout the time of the curse. Circe, however, the Beasts’ spurned love, grows to feel some sympathy for him, while her cruel sisters are merciless in their attacks on the Beasts, whose despair grows as he remembers his past misdeeds and begins to find himself falling for Belle. The three sisters, reminiscent in my eyes to the witches of ‘Macbeth’, are eventually stopped from continuing the curse by Circe, who brings the Beast back to life after his death at the hands of Gaston, and gives us the true ending that we all know and love from the film; the Beast turns back into a human, as do his beloved servants, and is allowed to marry Belle. I was unsure about some of these elements of the story at first, perhaps because it makes the tale so much darker than the Disney original , but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the story as it added something new to a tale that any other Disney lover, like myself, knows like the back of our hands! I’m really looking forward to reading some more of Valentino’s books (I’ve already bought ‘Fairest of Them All’ and am planning to order ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ as soon as it comes out in the UK) – my only complaint is that I wish they were longer, as I really enjoy Valentino’s writing and think she could easily make the books last for a good hundred more pages without them being boring.

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Poldark: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Tired from a grim war in America, Ross Poldark returns to his land and his family. But the joyful homecoming he had anticipated turns sour, for his father is dead, his estate derelict, and the girl he loves is engaged to his cousin. However, his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district leads him to rescue a half-starved urchin girl from a fairground brawl and take her home – an act which alters the whole course of his life…”

REVIEW: I never got around to watching the ‘Poldark’ series when it aired on TV, and I always prefer to read books before I watch their adaptations anyway, so I was looking forward to reading at least the first two novels in the series so that I could catch up on the TV programme. This first book in the series definitely did not disappoint and it was the fastest I’ve read a book in a while, plus it managed to keep me awake on my morning commute, an impressive feat to say the least. This novel introduces us to Ross Poldark, a dark, brooding soldier with both physical and emotional battle scars, who also happens to have a warm heart and an understanding, generous nature. When Ross returns to his ancestral home, Nampara, he finds the estate left in ruins by its reckless servants after the recent death of his father, and is also devastated to learn of the engagement of his beloved, Elizabeth, to his cousin Francis, despite the fact that before he left for the war an understanding had been between them that she would wait for him and one day be his bride. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Ross throws himself into improving the estate, also involving himself heavily in helping his tenants and the local people; particularly young Jim Carter and his wife Jinny Martin, two characters whom the reader finds themselves growing strongly attached to despite them being on the sidelines of the plot, as they suffer misfortunes and gratefully receive the help of Ross at every turn. In his efforts to aid people, Ross accidentally ends up rescuing a young girl named Demelza Carne. Beaten by her father and forced to care for five brothers, Ross is upset by Demelza’s plight and takes her (and her mongrel dog, Garrett) into his home as kitchen maid – a decision that will have far-reaching consequences, however, as Demelza grows up and begins to prove herself a match for Ross, gaining his love and desire as much as he tries to resist her. The relationship that blooms slowly between Ross and Demelza is central to the novel, as is the story of the poor tenants like Jim and Jinny; one of the other lesser characters whom I truly admired, however, was Ross’ cousin Verity, who defies her family in the name of love and proves a true and loyal friend to Ross during his darkest times. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to finding 0ut how the lives of many of the other characters in the novel have progressed in the next installment.

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Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “When shy, awkward Helen Hamilton meets Lucas Delos for the first time, she thinks two things: the first, that he is the most ridiculously beautiful boy she has seen in her life; the second, that she wants to kill him with her bare hands. An ancient curse means Lucas and Helen are destined to loathe one another. But sometimes love is stronger than hate, and not even the Gods themselves can prevent what will happen next…”

REVIEW: I first read this book and the second in the trilogy a few years ago, but having never gotten around to reading the third, I recently bought the whole set second-hand on Amazon and decided to read them altogether and refresh my memory of the story. In the first installment of the series, ‘Starcrossed’, we are introduced to Helen, a beautiful and intelligent young girl who isn’t entirely ordinary. It is only with the arrival of the Delos family, however, that Helen’s unusual powers begin to manifest themselves properly; particularly when she is faced with the handsome Lucas Delos, who she hates and wants to murder on sight. Lucas and Helen’s relationship slowly develops, however, as more of Helen’s true character reveals itself, and the two find their hate for each other overcome by much stronger feelings of love. Helen discovers that the Delos family are Scions, descended from the Greek Gods and members of the House of Thebes; and, more importantly, Helen appaears to be a Scion too, albeit a Rogue one from an unknown House. As Helen begins her training to hone her powers with the Delos family, all of whom she gradually grows closer to – even Hector, the temperamental cousin of Lucas  -and develops a stronger bond with Lucas, she becomes a target for Creon, son of the aggressive and reclusive Tantalus, and requires almost constant training and protection. Things take a turn near the end of the novel, however, when Helen’s absent mother arrives and announces herself as Daphne of the House of Atreus, also dropping the bombshell that Helen and Lucas are first cousins and therefore can never be together. By the end of the book things are left in a sorry state, with Lucas and Helen forced to be apart, Creon defeated but at the expense of Hector becoming an Outcast, and Helen finding out that she must descend to the Underworld in her dreams in order to destroy the Furies and end the wars between the Houses. I’m really looking forward to reading the next installment in the trilogy again; my only complaint regarding the novel is that Helen and Lucas’ relationship can sometimes feel a little bit cliche, mimicking the pattern of many young adult novels that choose to make the relationship a forbidden one based on some kind of supernatural occurence. Overall, however, I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to finding out what happens at the end of the series.

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Life Lessons from a Greyhound by Angela Reed-Fox

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Fancy some life coaching on the cheap? Read on for the pearls of wisdom handed on to me by my rescue dog, Sean. I didn’t think I needed much help with running my life – least of a all from a two-year-old greyhound who was considered too rubbish to race; a dog whose only experience of life was the boredom of long hours spent alone in a bare kennel with occasional minutes of running around in circles; a dog who didn’t even know his own name. How wrong I was…it was life-changing. My perspective on swans, cats and other aliens has completely changed, as has my view of the present tense (and the importance of it). Sean and I have not known each other very long – but so far, it’s been a blast.”

REVIEW: As a few of my lovely friends who are kind enough to read this blog will know very well, and as the rest of you will probably not, I myself have a rescued retired greyhound. His name is Ginger and we got him when he retired from racing at the age of five. We’ve had him nearly three years now and it’s not an exaggeration for me to say that he is my life. I absolutely adore him and he’s taught me so much; he’s my best friend, my cuddle monster, my thunder buddy, and possibly the biggest wimp on the planet. Like Sean, the dog owned by the author of this book, the first years of Ginge’s life saw him alone and in kennels, and as well as being fun and entertaining this book also aims to raise awareness for how many greyhounds are left without a home, unwanted, whether because they are not strong enough to race or breed or because they have raced for years and are now too old and weak to run any more. The fate suffered by many greyhounds is truly horrific, and if I go into it in too much detail here then I will be greatly upset by it – though do leave a comment if you wish to have some more information about greyhounds generally, greyhound racing or how to find greyhounds for adoption and rehoming, I would be all too happy to help. The main objective of this book, however, is to transform the funny quirks that greyhounds have into life lessons for us humans, and it is done with both comedy and emotion, offering up advice that made me laugh and also made me go over and give Ginger a big cuddle! This is a great book for any dog lover, but I would definitely highly recommend it to any greyhound owners and to anyone who wants to learn more about the breed as a fun and witty introduction.

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S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Ancient Rome matters: we still judge ourselves against its history of empire, conquest and excess, and its debates about citizenship, terrorism and the rights of the individual influence how we think about civil liberty today. Covering a thousand years of Roman history, SPQR reveals in vivid detail how Rome grew from an insignificant village in central Italy to the first global superpower. As well as casting fresh light on Roman culture from running water to democracy, and from slavery to migration, Mary Beard shows us how the Romans thought about themselves and their achievements”

REVIEW: I have always been interested in Ancient Rome but have never actually read much on it; I love Mary Beard’s documentaries so when I heard about this book, which is an overview of the history of Ancient Rome, I thought it would be the perfect introduction. This book was easy to read, the facts made both interesting and simple so that it was engaging and also the perfect way to be introduced to the complex political, social and cultural history of Ancient Rome. Even the sections on Roman wars, a subject I tend to find quite dull, were written so that I found them much easier to understand and also far more fun to read about than I would normally. The whole book was gripping and fascinating, presenting the facts in a way that linked them to our modern world, which also made it much easier to relate to. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to the world of Ancient Rome, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Sisters Marianne and Elinor couldn’t be more different. Marianne is desperately romantic and longing to meet the man of her dreams, while Elinor takes a far more cautious approach to love. When the two of them move to the country with their family, miles away from London, there is little prospect of them finding anyone at all. But then they meet their new neighbours, including kind Edward Ferrers and the good-looking, dangerous Willoughby – and it seems happiness may be just round the corner after all. Things aren’t always as they appear to be though. Soon, both sisters will need to decide who to trust in their search for love: their family, their new friends, their heads – or their hearts?”

REVIEW: Despite this being one of my favourite of Austen’s novels, I have only read it once and I was quite young at the time, so despite having watched the film pretty much constantly since then I decided I needed a refresher on the original story. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ tells the story of Elinor and Marianne, two very different sisters who are forced into near poverty when their father dies and their home passes to their older brother and his domineering wife, who is determined to force the girls, their mother and their younger sister Margaret from their home. Upon moving to the countryside, however, Elinor and Marianne find themselves with a new circle of friends, many of them comical (I personally find Mr and Mrs Palmer very amusing), and with new love interests. Elinor is introduced to Edward Ferrers, the brother of her sister-in-law, and the two of them develop a warm relationship based on shared interests and understanding. Headstrong Marianne, however, enters into a much more dangerous relationship with Willoughby (who reminds me very much of the notorious Wickham from ‘Pride and Prejudice’), falling completely in love with him and embarking on a passionate courtship that eventually ends in heartbreak. The contrast between Elinor and Marianne really adds to the story, and it is heartwarming to see how their understanding of each other grows throughout the novel, changing their relationship with each other. Of course, being an Austen novel, despite the ups and downs of their romances the two girls both eventually find love; Elinor with Edward, and Marianne with the kindhearted Colonel Brandon, her champion from the beginning of the novel. This is a lighthearted, romantic and often amusing tale, with just enough scandal and drama involved to make it gripping – a true Austen masterpiece.