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The Silversmith’s Wife by Sophia Tobin

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “The year is 1792 and winter hangs heavy in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets, and another eye on the back doors of the great and the good. Then in the dark he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the local silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide. At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith’s wife. Withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt, hers is a story of murder, love and buried secrets…”

REVIEW: I don’t often read historical fiction books in this particular style, as any books I have read previously that combine history with crime I have tended to find quite dull. This book, however, enthralled me from the start and had me gripped the entire way through – and not just because I wanted to find out who had murdered the silversmith Pierre Renard, either. The novel tells the story of how the circle of silversmiths in London society cope with the death of one of their most prominent. charismatic and charming figures, who also happens to be one of the most hated men in London. The book focuses mainly on the stories of Mary, Renard’s widow, whose grief and suffering for the disabled brother that Renard took from her in the early years of their marriage has earned her a reputation as being half mad and alienated her from society; Harriet, his mistress, a young and beautiful gentlewoman married to a man who aggressively pursues the company of young boys to his own wife; Joanna, Harriet’s servant, who is struggling to cope with the death of her lover and the loss of her child many years before; Alban Steele, a visiting silversmith who has spent most of his life in love with Mary from afar; and Digby, the night watchman in Berkeley Square, whose hatred for the rich and obsession with both drink and Pierre’s death makes him very difficult for the reader to like or empathise with. Each character is written in a manner that is extremely compelling, and the reader develops their own type of attachment to all of them – even the spoilt, frivolous Harriet, whom we soon develop an almost paternal attraction to. The personal lives of these characters add intriguing levels of depth to the main vein of the story, that of trying to find the murderer of Renard, and are cleverly added to with the revelations from Renard’s diary at the beginning of each chapter. The reader soon finds themselves strongly sympathising with these characters for their various plights – I felt a strong sense of empathy towards Mary in particular, and was glad when she finally found happiness with Alban Steele towards the end of the novel. The revelation of Renard’s killer was very well done and a great surprise to the reader, which is of course what one wants from a murder mystery! The only problem I had with this book is that I felt there were still some loose ends that needed to be tied up, particularly with Harriet, whom I would have liked to have found out more about. There is a sequel, however, which I’m sure will answer many questions and which I am greatly looking forward to reading!

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The Departure by Neal Asher

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “The Argus Space Station looks down on a nightmarish Earth. And from this safe distance, the Committee enforces its despotic rule. There are too many people and too few resources, and then need twelve billion to die before Earth can be stabilised. So corruption is rife, people starve, and the poor are policed by mechanised overseers and identity-reader guns. Citizens already fear the brutal Inspectorate with its pain inducers. But to reach its goals, the Committee will unleash satellite laser weaponry, taking carnage to a new level. This is the world Alan Saul wakes to, travelling in a crate destined for the Calais incinerator. How he got there he doesn’t know, but he remembers pain and his tormentor’s face. He also has company: Janus, a rogue intelligence inhabiting forbidden hardware in his skull. As Janus shows Saul an Earth stripped of hope, he resolves to annihilate the Committee and their regime. Once he’s discovered who he was, and killed his interrogator…”

REVIEW: As those of you who frequently follow this blog may have noticed, I am not normally a science fiction fan. I was encouraged to read this book by my boyfriend, who doesn’t often find books that engage him – but he insisted that this book was unputdownable and, out of curiosity, I had to give it a try. He was definitely write. ‘The Departure’ is the first volume in The Owner series, and sets the reader up with an image of an Earth that is worryingly not too difficult to imagine. We are introduced to this dystopia with small sections of information at the beginning of each chapter which tell us about the disintegration of institutions such as the NHS, and these paragraphs really help to set the scene and give the reader a greater understanding of the world in which Alan Saul, the protagonist of the novel, finds himself. Saul is an interesting and extremely complex character, and the reader can flit from admiring him to hating him in the space of just a few sentences. Yet at the same time we ultimately want him to triumph over the corrupt Committee, whose goals at diminishing the human population are basically reverting to a very slow and torturous form of genocide. The reader sometimes appears to be represented in the novel by Hannah Neumann, Saul’s ex-lover and later companion who is often horrified by his apathy to killing and seems to represent the moral dilemma in which Saul finds himself. The relationship between Saul and Hannah is an interesting one, one which fails to develop into romance but in which it is clear that feelings between them remain and that they need each other in order to achieve their ultimate goal of defeating the Committee. Saul’s struggle against authority is mirrored by the shorter story of Varalia, whose tale also appears in short segments throughout the novel Varalia is a highly intelligent woman sent up to Mars during the earlier period of Committee rule and who now realises that she needs to rebel in order to save those stationed on Mars from starvation and eventual death. The relationship between Varalia and Saul, who are clear parallels to one another, is one that the reader can work out for themselves even before we are told, but it is still exciting to uncover the mystery of the connection between the two. It is difficult to say more about this novel without giving away too much, as this is a fast-paced tale with many twists and turns that often leave the reader shocked and almost breathless. The brutality of this cruel new world and the revolutionary battle against it makes it hard to put the book down even for a moment, and I found it to be truly gripping. I would highly recommend it to science fiction fans – and if, like me, you were not previously a fan of science fiction, this would be a good book to get started on; it will definitely give you the sci-fi bug! I am greatly looking forward to reading the further books in the series.

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Splendid by Julia Quinn

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “American heiress Emma Dunster has always been fun-loving and independent with no wish to settle into marriage. She plans to enjoy her Season in London in more unconventional ways than husband hunting. But this time Emma’s high jinks lead her into more dangerous temptation…

Alexander Ridgely, the Duke of Ashbourne, is a notorious rake who carefully avoids the risk of love…until he plants one reckless kiss on the sensuous lips of a high-spirited innocent. Soon sparks – and laughter – fly when these two terribly determined people cross paths during one very splendid London spring Season…”

REVIEW: This is Julia Quinn’s debut novel which I have, ironically, discovered only after reading many of her later works. The raw talent that Quinn possesses for writing Regency romances sees its establishment in this novel, which was just as entertaining and easy to read as all of her later novels, if perhaps a little less polished. Quinn’s first novel tells the story of the ‘splendid’ Emma Dunster, who travels to London to spend the social Season with her beloved cousins, Belle and Ned, in the very heart of the great city. Emma makes a huge impression on London society, but on none more so than the dashing and standoffish Alexander Ridgely, whose interest in Emma begins during an unlikely encounter in which she saves his nephew whilst dressed as a serving maid. Alexander and Emma’s relationship is one that blossoms gradually throughout the novel, with moments where the reader truly wants to knock some sense into them and get them together sooner! Yet the friendship that develops between them is both surprising and tender, although heavily tinged with desire, and this makes the later romantic relationship that develops between them far more believable than it might if Emma were simply seduced. The relationship between Alexander and Emma is the main focal point of the novel and one that is both gripping and entertaining throughout. The other more minor characters in the novel are also very well written and provide a brilliant humorous element to Alexander and Emma’s relationship – in particular, Alexander’s mother and sister, and Emma’s cousin Belle, all three of whom constantly conspire to bring the couple together in increasingly scandalous ways. The only part of the novel that falls short, however, is the ending. It is only at this point that the reader begins to recall that this is Quinn’s first novel, and by the ending it appears that she is trying too hard to create a shocking plot which simply ends up being unrealistic. The kidnapping of Belle by an unwanted admirer and the subsequent rescue attempts – which are often thwarted through crossed wires and changed plans – is an entertaining part of the book but one that seems to have little bearing on the rest of the story and almost appears as an afterthought, added on even after the marriage of Alexander and Emma; which, in my opinion, would have been the obvious concluding point. I greatly enjoyed this book all the same – Quinn’s books are the perfect form of escapism and great for some light relief when life is becoming stressful. However, I would warn those who have only read her later novels to bear in mind that this, as Quinn’s debut novel, can at times fall short of the standard we are used to from her fantastic works of regency romance.

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Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings…until she meets Peter Pan in the forbidding woods of Neverland. Immediately, she falls under his spell – holding him like a secret in her heart. Peter is unlike anyone she has ever known. Reckless and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. She will risk everything – her family, her future – to be with him. But Tiger Lily soon discovers that the most dangerous enemy can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.”

REVIEW: This twist on the classic tale of Peter Pan had me hooked from start to finish and I read the entire book in one sitting. Anderson turns the character of Tiger Lily, a mere footnote in the pages of J.M. Barrie’s book and the majority of the film adaptations into a protagonist in her own right, introducing the reader to a brave and admirable young woman who makes her own way in life regardless of the disdain of the rest of her tribe. Tiger Lily was raised by the leader of the tribe, Tik Tok, an extremely interesting character who seems to represent the transgender community in a way we rarely see in young adult fiction; he is a male noted as being extremely feminine, preferring to wear his hair long and dress in clothes usually prescribed to the female members of his tribe. The fact that he retains a position of power despite his differences is something I felt was really inspiring and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his character, only wishing that we could have learnt more about him and his backstory. Tiger Lily may be the protagonist of the story, which initially revolves around her relationship with the parental Tik Tok and her closest friend, a young boy named Pine Sap who is clearly in love with her  – but the story is, in fact, narrated by a far more famous character; Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell follows Tiger Lily from the beginning to the end of the story, as an almost unnoticed companion whose devotion for Tiger Lily – and later for Peter Pan – comes through with every word. Through Tinker Bell we learn of Tiger Lily’s daring exploits, such as her saving of the shipwrecked Englander Phillip and her later friendship with Peter Pan. Upon meeting Peter, Tiger Lily soon becomes lost in spending time with him and the Lost Boys, partly to escape her fears of the marriage that has been arranged for her with Giant, a frightening and violent older member of the tribe. The love that blossoms between Tiger Lily and Peter is gradually built up and extremely well written despite being told through the jealous eyes of Tinker Bell, who has also fallen for Peter but loves Tiger Lily too much to prevent her from losing out. Peter is also written extremely well – vulnerable yet arrogant, he is the perfect combination of wild and daring hero and frightened little boy, so that the reader can understand why Tiger Lily so wants to care for him. Things change dramatically with the arrival of Wendy, however, and as the Englander Phillip makes drastic changes to the lives of Tiger Lily and the rest of the tribe, Tiger Lily’s world begins to fall apart. This book is one of the best reimaginings of a classic story I have ever read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Each and every one of the characters was engaging and often bought a unique element of suffering to the story that made the reader keen to learn more about them. I would highly recommend this book not only to fans of J.M. Barrie’s original but also anyone looking for an adventurous, exciting, easy read that can be enjoyed at leisure.

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