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The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

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“Two stubborn lovers, protecting each other from the very same threat.”

 

RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse – one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with the enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner, caught between loyalties to people she loves.

Refusing to be a pawn, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.”

REVIEW: After thoroughly enjoying ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’, I was really excited to get started on its sequel, ‘The Rose and the Dagger’. Having been torn from her husband Khalid, Shahrzad finds herself by people whose only mission seems to be to kill him and ruin his empire, and by those who do not understand her love for him and judge her for it. Not to mention the fact that her childhood sweetheart, Tariq, is still bitter over being rejected in favour of Khalid and is still cold towards Shazi. Her relationship with her younger sister is also strained, and her father’s descent into madness as a result of meddling with magic is also difficult for her to deal with. The relationship between Shazi and Khalid, however, stays strong despite their separation and is in some ways more believable than it was in the previous novel.

I did find the novel as a whole less gripping than its predecessor, but still enjoyed the many twists and turns that occured throughout, particularly towards the ending. I also really felt the emotion in Ahdieh’s writing with the death of Rahim, lover of Shazi’s sister, which was truly heartbreaking and very well-written. Overall, however, I did not find this book as memorable nor as exciting as the first, but I enjoyed the satisfaction of the happy ending and am sad that there will not be further novels following Shazi and Khalid’s story.

 

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself. But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in the way, and only by believing in each other – and the power of their friendship – can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side”

REVIEW: This book was both easy to read and difficult to put down, and deals brilliantly with the issues surrounding self-discovery, family and sexuality that are often the most questioned in the minds of teenagers. Although the characters of Aristotle and Dante are extremely different, both boys are in the midst of a struggle to discover who they are and want they want to get out of life. As the friendship between the two boys begins to blossom into something more, deeper and darker issues begin to emerge that threaten to tear them apart for good – for example, when Ari saves Dante from a near-fatal car accident or when Dante is beaten by a homophobic gang of boys. Despite their rocky relationship, Ari and Dante are constantly helping each other to see different ways and forms of life, and their bond is sealed with the friendship that develops between their parents and by the love that they both develop for Ari’s adopted dog, Legs. What I enjoyed most about this book, however, is the fact that it deals with something that the majority of books for teenagers often skirt around – homosexuality. It is refreshing to read of something other than a heterosexual relationship developing in YA fiction, and although this has become more popular lately with works such as those by David Leviathan, it is still fantastic that authors like Saenz are trying to make homosexuality and more acceptable and topical norm in teenage society. For this reason alone I think Saenz deserved all the credit he received from organisations like the Stonewall association, and am very proud to be a part of spreading the word about this angst-filled, but also humorous, novel.

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Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor

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RATING:3/5

BLURB: “Alyss of Wonderland’s rule has just begun, but the Queendom is already under threat. Someone is using the brutal Glass Eyes and attacking Wonderland on all sides. It can only mean one thing: the evil Redd Heart has returned…”

REVIEW: This second novel in Beddor’s Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired ‘The Looking Glass Wars’ trilogy was, I found, much more complex than the first. Rather than having one plot, it seemed to have several smaller sub-plots that combined together to make a gripping but also rather tangled story of Alyss’ first few months as Queen of Wonderland. Firstly, of course, is the story of Alyss trying to fit in with her role as Queen, learning once again to manipulate her powers of White Imagination, dealing with an unruly populace, and attempting to determine and control her feelings for the much-changed Dodge Anders. On the opposing side, however, is the tale of Redd Heart, who has retreated to our world and is attempting to build up her armed forces enough to take on Alyss, while also trying to complete her own unfinished Looking Glass Maze which, she believes, will make her far more powerful than Alyss. The introduction of a more personal story for Hatter Madigan was one that I really enjoyed, and I felt that it added an extra dimension to the novel, dealing with themes of love and sacrifice that make the novel far more touching. The addition of King Arch of the Boarderlands as a second enemy to Alyss and Wonderland was also inspired, making the novel even more full of conspiracy and treachery. This is a great follow-up to the first book, and I am really looking forward to reading the last book in the series!

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The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “You think you know the true story of Alice in Wonderland? Well think again. Alyss is destined to become Queen of Wonderland…until her parents are murdered. She flees to safety in our world. Years pass. Now it is time to return.”

REVIEW: I absolutely love twisted versions of fairytales (as long-term followers of this blog may by now have realised!) and was greatly looking forward to reading this trilogy. The first book in the series opens with the birthday party of the young heir to the throne, Princess Alyss Heart, a celebration that travels throughout Wonderland. However, the festivities are soon ruined by the invading forces of Alyss’ vindictive Aunt, Redd Heart, the sister of Queen Genevieve and, as she believes, the rightful heir to the throne of Wonderland. As both of her parents are murdered by Redd and her army, Alyss escapes with the head of the Millinery Army, Hatter Madigan, into the real world. Here Beddor cleverly links the story of Princess Alyss with the tale of Alice in Wonderland that we all know and love, as Alyss is adopted by the Liddell family and becomes the inspiration for a work of fiction written by Reverend Charles Dodgson (pename Lewis Carroll). She even catches the eye of the young Prince Leopold and is all set to marry him when she is abruptly returned to Wonderland by her childhood sweetheart, guardsman Dodge Anders. Thirteen years have passed in Wonderland since her disappearance, and Redd’s control over Wonderland is completely Totalitarian and fully established, sharing similarities with real dictatorships throughout history. From this point on a battle exists between Redd and the Alyssians, the resistance movement that has now rallied around Alyss, as Alyss tries to find the Looking Glass Maze –  a maze which, if she successfully navigates it, will make her powerful enough to destroy Redd and take back the throne of Wonderland. The book is brilliantly written, with links to all of our favourite characters from Lewis Carroll’s original tale. Beddor makes Wonderland a dark and mystical place that entrances the reader and grips them from the very first page. I have almost finished the second book in the trilogy and look forward to seeing how if it will conclude as well as this first book did!

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Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Hardy’s atmospheric, moving story of star-crossed lovers shows human beings at the mercy of forces far beyond their control, setting a tragic drama of human passion against a background of vast stellar space and scientific discovery. ‘Two on a Tower’ tells the story of Lady Constantine, who breaks all the rules of decorum when she falls in love with the beautiful youth Swithin St Cleeve, her social inferior and ten years her junior. Together, in an ancient monument converted into an astronomical observation tower, they create their own private universe – until the pressures of the outside world threaten to destroy it.”

REVIEW: Thomas Hardy has been my favourite author ever since I read what is now my favourite book, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, just over three years ago – consequently, I was greatly looking forward to reading ‘Two on a Tower’, one of Hardy’s lesser known works. The novel did not disappoint. The love affair that develops between Lady Viviette Constantine and Swithin St Cleeve is slow to develop, at least on his part, but this gives their love a greater realism than is seen in the majority of classic novels; the slow-burning nature of their affection also makes Viviette’s confession of love (and Swithin’s reciprocation) much more satisfying and exciting for the reader, as does the forbidden nature of their affair. Despite being a promising astronomer, Swithin is an orphan of low social rank with hardly a penny to his name, while Viviette is the neglected wife of an absent yet bullying Lord Constantine, making her the Lady of the parish. Socially, the two could not be more different, yet, a shared interest in astronomy brings them together in the most believable of ways. I was hugely impressed with Hardy’s knowledge of astronomy and astronomical terms, and loved how the movements of the stars and planets almost seemed to become characters themselves in the plotline, often reflecting the moods of the characters in hugely symbolic ways. Being of such different ranks and ages, however, means that the love that Swithin and Viviette share does not fail to undergo numerous hardships, even after their hasty, secret wedding in London. It is impossible to say more without ruining the novel, but it is safe to say that, as in the majority of Hardy’s works, there is no escape from tragedy for the star-crossed couple, and the ending had me in floods of tears. I would highly recommend this book to fans of Hardy, Victorian literature and romance. 

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Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks

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RATING: Considering the highly personal nature of this book, it doesn’t feel right to give it something as trivial as a rating. If I did, however, it would be 5/5.

BLURB: “By their early thirties, Nicholas Sparks and his brother Micah are the sole survivors of their family. So when a striking travel brochure filled with the most exotic places on earth lands on Nicholas’ mat one morning, an adventure is decided upon.The two brothers embark on a three-week trip around the world. A milestone in their lives and a celebration of their family, it is also a journey of thrills, moments of joy and awe-inspiring sights. They take us through the lost city of Machu Picchu, the deep Australian outback and the vibrant and vast Indian subcontinent, recalling their rambunctious childhoods and the tragedies that have shaped their lives and tested their faith”

REVIEW: I have always admired Nicholas Sparks as an author; and, after reading this extremely moving memoir, I can now say that I also admire him greatly as a human being. I knew little about Sparks before reading this autobiography (of sorts), which was recommended to me by a friend who is a huge Sparks fan. This book definitely sparked a great deal of excitement in me with its descriptions of the exotic locations visited by Sparks and his brother on their three-week journey, which takes them to places I have always dreamed of seeing – now, thanks to Sparks, my imaginings of these places have come to life and my desire to see them is even greater. My own love of travel meant that I automatically connected with this book, and the early anecdotes about Nicholas’ life with his unconventional parents, rebellious brother and sweet sister often had me smiling or laughing aloud. Ultimately, however, the book is about so much more than a journey around the world; this memoir tells a true story of personal loss and grief that I myself could hardly begin to comprehend. The reader discovers that, although several years apart, both of Sparks’ parents died young in sudden and unexpected accidents that left the family reeling. His second son, who still remains undiagnosed, was identified as having a condition akin to Autism, which led to much stress and tension within the family unit. Most heartbreaking and tragic of all, however, was learning of his sister Dana’s brain tumour, developing just before the birth of her twin boys and meaning that she never lived to see them fully grown. The grief that Sparks still feels for the lost members of his family rings so true and pure in this memoir that it made me sob to read it – and yet I am glad I did. Both Nicholas Sparks and his brother Micah describe how these events changed their outlooks on life completely, shaping their faith and their attitudes, and once I had closed the book I completely understood this. This book teaches us not only about the nature of grief and the cruelty of the world, but also that we should value every minute that we are given with the ones we love – which, I do believe, is a very valuable thing to be reminded of. 

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Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Elizabeth of York would have ruled England, but for the fact that she was a woman. Heiress to the royal House of York, she schemed to marry  Richard III, the man who had deposed and probably killed her brothers, and it is possible that she then conspired to put Henry Tudor on the throne. Yet after her marriage to Henry VII, which united the royal houses of Lancaster and York, a picture emerges of a model consort – mild, pious, generous and fruitful. It has been said that Elizabeth was distrusted by Henry VII and her formidable mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, but contemporary evidence shows that she was, in fact, influential”

REVIEW: As much as I have read about Elizabeth of York in the past, I have never before read a biography wholly dedicated to her, and as a fan of Alison Weir I was doubly excited to read this one. Weir’s research is thorough and her love and admiration for her subject clearly shines through, undoubtedly influencing the readers own views on Elizabeth of York and the difficult life she led on her road to power. Sometimes biographies such as this can be difficult to get through and dull to read, but this was as easy as reading a novel – an impressive feat, considering the high level of detailed information that was supplied by the author. I really enjoyed reading this and learning more about Elizabeth of York, but I did have one point of contention. Weir discusses the notorious mystery of the Princes in the Tower at length, as these young princes were the brothers of her subject, Elizabeth of York, but throughout the biography she seems fully content to stick staunchly to the view that Richard III was responsible for the murder of these two young boys. No other possible perpetrator was considered, and although this is clearly because Weir is openly convinced of Richard’s guilt, I feel that as a historian she should have perhaps considered the possibility that Margaret Beaufort was the murderer (as is my own belief), or any of the other possible villains, in order to widen the perspective and context of her research. It may be, of course, that this was only a problem for me because I do not believe in Richard’s guilt; I did, however, feel it was worth mentioning as it was the only problem I found in what was otherwise a witty and engaging biography of a woman who deserves to be remembered as a woman in her own right, rather than just as the wife and mother of two infamous Tudor Kings.