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Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Eliza Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich. But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth…Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival? And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?”

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley’s work, so despite the fact that this, her first historical fiction novel, is clearly intended for the child/young adult market, I was eager to read it anyway. This novel tells the story of Eliza Camperdowne, a young girl from a ruined gentry family who is her family’s only hope of achieving greatness under the reign of Henry VIII. After a failed betrothal to the son of the Earl of Westmoreland, Eliza is sent away to be educated in the art of courtly manners at Trumpton Hall, the home of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Trumpton Hall, however, is also home to Eliza’s confident, beautiful, reckless and often rather spiteful cousin, Katherine Howard. Katherine and Eliza instantly clash, and matters become worse when Katherine and the music master, Francis Manham, make Eliza the victim of a cruel joke. When the time comes for the girls of Trumpton Hall to be sent to court, however, it is only Katherine and Eliza who make the cut, and the two of them are forced to at least try and get along as they share accomodation and serve the same Queen, Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Unbeknownst to Eliza, who is struggling with her own feelings and engaging in her own flirtation with the illegitimate but charming servant of the King, Ned Barsby, and earning the admiration of Will Summers, the King’s Fool, Katherine is doing some serious flirting of her own. Eliza is both stunned and horrified when Katherine announces that she is to marry the King; Eliza herself had reluctantly decided to fight for the position of King’s Mistress, in order to help her family’s prospects. As a Maid of Honour, Eliza now has to work even harder to play the court game, and distances herself ever farther from her beloved Ned. When the whole thing comes crashing down around them with the discovery of Katherine’s adultery, it is Eliza who stays by her side, despite all their past bitterness and rivalry, and as Eliza achieves her happy ending she realises how foolish she was to have been jealous of Katherine in the first place.

This is a well-written story, very imaginatively written,  and it does evoke to some extent the dangerous, rumour-filled atmosphere of Henry VIII’s court in its latter years. I do feel, however, that the book was spoiled for me by some of the adjustments that the author chose to make to the historical facts. I do not blame Worsley for doing this, and in light of this novel’s intended audience I understand why the story was made simpler and some of the more lurid details removed. For example, instead of writing separately of Katherine’s affairs with the music master Henry Manox and her later, more serious affair with Francis Dereham, Worsley combines them into one person; a music master named Francis Manham who later attends on Katherine at court and continues a reckless affair with her there. Thomas Culpepper is not included in the tale at all, which I did find somewhat surprising even in consideration of the audience. When I removed myself from my mindset as an historian myself, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt it was an easy to read and engaging tale, and would be a good introduction to history for younger girls; I feel it would inspire many of them to pursue studies into the Tudor period, and this I think is the books most admirable quality – it serves as a source of inspiration.

 

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me”

REVIEW: I was lent this book by a friend when I was about fourteen, and couldn’t get past the first ten pages. When I went on a trip to Foyles with my boyfriend for my 21st birthday earlier this year (a wonderful day where he gave me money and basically let me run riot in a five-floor bookstore), I saw this book on the shelf and decided to try it again. Something about the way the blurb was written appealed to me, and having now read many more fantasy novels than I had when I first tried this one at fourteen, I thought it might now be more up my street. I’m pleased to say that I was right, and am very glad that I tried reading this novel again. Rothfuss’ writing style is brilliant; witty, gripping, descriptive and transformative. I felt completely immersed in the fictional land that Kvothe is part of, and fully believed in all of its legends and history. This is the first novel in a trilogy telling the story of Kvothe. When we meet Kvothe at the beginning of the story he is a humble innkeeper, hiding from his own notoriety and accompanied only by his closest friend, student and servant, Bast. Most of the novel, however, is taken up by Kvothe sharing the story of his past; when a Chronicler arrives at the Inn desperate to hear his tale, Kvothe is reluctantly persuaded to let the Chronicler record his words on paper. Kvothe has led a fascinating life, and the reader eagerly awaits to find out what lies behind Kvothe’s fame and the air of mystery surrounding him. We learn of Kvothe’s past as part of a touring troupe, and his early training by the arcanist Abernathy. His parents and the rest of his troupe are killed in a horrifying murder that Kvothe believes was caused by the legendary Chandrian, and he decides that he will not rest until he finds out the truth about this unspeakable legend. After extensive months of living on the streets, Kvothe finally earns himself a place at the renowned University, through pure talent; but University without money is not easy, and Kvothe’s financial struggles, his enmity with some of the masters, his quick advancement through the ranks and his rivalry with rich student Ambrose combine to make his University years both a fascinating story and a constant struggle. The arrival of the beautiful Denna in Kvothe’s life, however, only complicates things further, and I must confess that Denna was my favourite character in this tale.Beautiful, talented and as mysterious as Kvothe, she is a true match for him, but love does not come easy. At the point of the novel’s ending, dark forces are at work in the present day that are forcing people to confront the possibly reality of the Chandrian, and we are yet to get past Kvothe’s University days in his relaying of the past. I am eager to read the next installments in the series and found this book to be gripping and beautifully written.

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Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “As the crown princess, Rose is never without a dance partner. She and her eleven sisters are treated to beautiful gowns, slippers and dances at party after party in their father’s palace. But their evenings do not end when the guests return home. Instead, Rose and her sisters must travel deep into the earth to the wicked King Under Stone’s palace. There the girls are cursed to dance each night, even when they grow exhausted or ill. Many princes have tried – and failed – to break the spell. But then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure. Together they begin to unravel the mystery. To banish the curse they’ll need an invisibility cloak, enchanted silver knitting needles, and, of course, true love.”

REVIEW:  I always enjoy a fairytale retelling and this novel, based on the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, is an imaginative and engaging story based on this classic tale. The story focuses mainly on the characters of Galen and Rose. Galen is a young, orphaned soldier recently returned from war who seeks out his Aunt and Uncle to give him a new home in the Kingdom of Westfalin. Galen is welcomed with joy by his Aunt but with much more reservation by his Uncle, still wounded over the loss of his own son in the recent wars. He is reluctantly offered a job with his Uncle as an under-gardener at the palace, tending the beautiful and infamous gardens of the deceased Queen Maude. These gardens are now roamed by her twelve beautiful daughters, and Galen develops a particularly strong attachment to Rose, the eldest daughter. But the twelve sisters are hiding a dark secret which they cannot speak of, and which is constantly perplexing their father and the members of their household. Every night the girls appear not to move from their beds; but every morning, their dancing slippers are worn threw and their gowns strewn across the room. Increasingly growing in despair, particularly after their nightttime exertions begin to make the girls unwell, their father the King announces that any prince who can solve the mystery may choose one of his daughters to marry, and will rule Westfalin alongside her upon his death. Many Princes try and fail, but as they all soon after find themselves killed in supposed accidents, the girls find themselves under an increasing suspicion of witchcraft that places the whole kingdom of Westfalin under an interdict that forbids any religious ceremonies. Galen is the only person left willing to try and find a way to stop the curse, due to his growing love for Rose, and this leads him along on a terrifying adventure with the twelve princesses from which there seems to be very little likelihood of escape.

This is a well-told, entertaining and beautifully written story which truly captures the atmosphere of a fairytale. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and am very much looking forward to reading more of Jessica Day-George’s fairytale retellings.

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The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries may have started as a school project for Lizzie, but it is soon much more. Overnight, Lizzie is an internet celebrity as people watch her vlogs, then debate, tweet and tumblr about her and her sisters, beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. Then rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his friend William Darcy, and things really start to get interesting. But not everything happens on screen…Lizzie has a secret diary. This secret diary”

REVIEW: The book is meant to work alongside the popular You Tube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is based upon Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I absolutely love The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and watched it avidly when it was first on; I remember being devastated when it was over and despite the many literature-inspired web series I’ve watched since then, none of them seem to quite live up to this one. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet works alongside the web episodes, with a diary entry corresponding to each, giving us more of an insight into Lizzie’s thoughts and feelings during the notorious events of this hugely popular and often remastered tale. I enjoyed reading this diary as much as I enjoyed watching the web series, and within the diary you get a real sense of Lizzie’s amazement as her vlogs begin to take off and things with the irritating and arrogant William Darcy begin to develop into something very unexpected. I would definitely recommend this book as a fun, light-hearted, easy to read accompaniment to any fans of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – and to those who haven’t yet seen the web series, I ask you, what have you been doing with your time?! Go and watch it, now!

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A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Gina Bellamy is starting again, after a few years she’d rather forget. But the belongings she’s treasured for so long don’t seem to fit who she is now. So Gina makes a resolution. She’ll keep just a hundred special items – the rest can go. But that means coming to turns with her past and learning to embrace the future, whatever it might bring…”

REVIEW: I have read one of Lucy Dillon’s books before and absolutely loved it; Dillon is excellent at crafting beautifully written, heartwarming stories about the importance of love and friendship, stories that are sometimes, like this one, incredibly bittersweet. I also love how all of her books are interconnected; all set in the rural village of Longhampton, many of the characters from other novels reappear, linking all the novels nicely in together; for example, Gina’s lawyer in her divorce case is a character named Rory, who featured in a previous work of Dillon’s. This adds a little something extra for the reader, and allows them to feel as though Longhampton is their home, as well as the home of the various characters they have become attached to. This particularly novel opens at a dark time in Gina Bellamy’s life; she has moved in to a small flat in Longhampton after finding out that her husband is cheating on her, and is in the process of going through a divorce. It has been a hard few years for Gina, who has lived through breast cancer, lost her beloved stepfather, and lost her first love in an incident which is unfolded gradually to the reader and remains a mystery throughout the book – this is a beautifully written and vital part of the plot, so I will not spoil it here. In order to shape her recovery, Gina, with the sceptical help of her best friend Naomi, decides to remove all of her treasured items from her life and keep only one hundred special items, thinking about things that truly make her happy or improve her life. She also throws herself into the renovation of her dream home, where she meets career-driven Amanda and her laid-back photographer husband, Nick, who have big plans for the property. Gina’s life is thrown in to some chaos, however, when a timid abandoned greyhound named Buzz becomes her responsibility – and it is from this point onwards that I truly fell in love with the book. As I have previously mentioned, I myself own a retired greyhound, and he is the centre of my world. I adore him and often wonder how I ever lived without him, and it upsets me so much to think what he went through in racing kennels before he became the soppy, cuddly, sofa-hogging mischief-maker that he is now. Much like my own greyhound did with me, Buzz begins to change Gina’s life. Her reluctant fostering of him slowly turns into adoption, and it is truly heartwarming to read of Buzz gradually coming out of his shell and beginning to trust and love Gina; and also to read of how Buzz changes  Gina’s outlook on the world, encouraging her to find  happiness in the small things. Buzz stole the show in this novel for me, as a greyhound lover, and I was pleased at how Dillon used his character to address the suffering faced by both racing and non-racing greyhounds every day of their lives, and how many of them are often not lucky enough to find a loving, happy home (she even includes a list of reasons to adopt a retired greyhound in the back of the book, and I can fully endorse them all!). Gina’s life is beginning to look up, particularly when Nick and Amanda’s fractious marriage breaks down and Nick confesses his feelings for her. The end of the novel, however, provides a shocking twist and is possibly one of the most bittersweet endings I have ever read in a novel, as Gina discovers that her breast cancer has returned. As a dog owner, I couldn’t help myself sobbing at the anxiety Gina feels over who will look after Buzz if something happens to her, and at the unfairness of Gina’s happiness being marred the untimely return of her illness. The book is left on this strange, bittersweet note, and although it made me cry, it also warmed my heart, and made me think carefully about what makes me happy, and what is most important. I encourage you all to read it; I’m sure it will make you do the same.