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Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: ‘This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived ‘a life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy’.

REVIEW: After a month-long summer break indulging myself by re-reading Harry Potter, I’m back, and with a book that is currently one of my favourites I’ve read this year. Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Jane Austen is one of the best biographies I’ve read in a long time, showing us a completely new side to a woman who is generally believed to have written incredible novels, but otherwise been rather dull. Worsley focuses on the places that Jane called home throughout her lifetime, and how these places inspired her novels, hindered or encouraged her writing, and to what extent they can be perceived as a true home. Despite being a big Austen fan, I had not previously realised just how many times Jane and her family moved around, often dependent on the charity of relatives – particularly her many brothers. After the death of her father, Jane, her beloved sister Cassandra and her mother moved from place to place, two spinsters and a widow with little money to call their own, until they finally settled at Chawton, one of the places most associated with Jane Austen. Between her childhood home at Steventon and her final home at Chawton, Jane moved between a great number of cities including Southampton and, most popularly, Bath. However, as Worsley explains, things could have been very different for Jane had she chosen to marry. Modern readers of Austen’s novels tend to picture her as somewhat frustrated, able to write such beautifully romantic plots into her novels because she longed for such a life herself. Although suitors of Jane’s such as Tom Lefroy and Harris Bigg-Wither are relatively well known, Worsley reveals the real story behind these two relationships, as well as revealing a further three prospective suitors for Jane’s hand in marriage. Had Jane accepted one of these offers, her life would surely have been more comfortable, and she may well have been able to provide for her sister and mother also. Yet, Jane did not settle for any of these suitors – it seems that, perhaps, she was as much in pursuit of real love as the characters in her novels were. This biography therefore shows us the real story behind many of the modern perceptions of Jane Austen, and was written in such a beautiful narrative style that it felt like a novel, making it incredibly easy to read for a work of non-fiction. The book has clearly been thoroughly researched and, despite of course knowing how Jane’s tale would end, was so well-written that I found myself very emotional at the end of the book when Jane’s story came to a close. By introducing us to this hidden side of Jane, witty, fun, sarcastic and full of imagination, Worsley allows us to feel close to Jane; she makes her so accessible that the reader actually feels grief when reading of Jane’s death, despite it having taken place exactly two hundred years ago. This is an incredible biography and I would highly recommend it.

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The End of Oz by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Ding Dong – Dorothy is Dead. I watched as the Emerald Palace crumbled to the grouns, burying Dorothy, the Girl Who Rode the Cyclone, under the rubble. And now that the rightful ruler, Ozma, has been restored to the throne…Oz is finally free.

My name is Amy Gumm. You might remember me as the other girl from Kansas. When a tornado whisked me away to the magical land of Oz, I was given a mission: Dorothy must Die. But it turns out girls from Kansas are harder to kill than we look. Now the Road of Yellow Brick is leading me away from Oz to the dark world of Ev, where I have a new, powerful enemy to deal with: The Nome King. And – surprise – he has a gingham-clad bride. With my magical shoes and a shrinking group of allies, I have one final chance to fulfill my mission, and save not only what’s left of Oz, but Kansas, too. As the line between Good and Wicked blurs even further, I have to find a way to get rid of Dorothy once and for all – without turning into a monster myself.”

REVIEW: Although I have always loved the premise of this series, the books have been a little bit up and down for me, often seeming rushed and a little cliche. Yet, it is a credit to them that I have always been hooked and wanted to know what happens next, even if I have found flaws in the book. ‘The End of Oz’ is the final book in the ‘Dorothy Must Die’ series and picks up right where the previous book, ‘Yellow Brick War’, left off. At this stage in the story, Dorothy is believed dead, Ozma is the ruler of Oz and Amy was trying to start over at home with her mother in Kansas. But with the arrival of the Nome King, everything turned upside down, and Amy is now back in Oz with her high school enemy Madison and love interest Nox. As the yellow brick road leads them into Ev, they discover that not only is Dorothy alive, she is engaged to marry the Nome King. Having the perspective of Dorothy in this novel is interesting, and the reader ends up finding her strangely likeable; doubtless, she is evil, but she shows some compassion, and is highly intelligent. We are, of course, still rooting for Amy, particularly as the relationship between Amy and Nox begins to blossom. As I have mentioned in reviews of the previous books, the developing relationship between Amy and Nox is probably my favourite part of the series, due to the fact that it has not been rushed and has been slowly built upon throughout the books, making it more believeable. I especially loved it in this book, when the two finally admit their feelings for one another. As the race to kill Dorothy becomes more and more urgent, the group face ever more threats, and the introduction of the character of Lanadel as their ally adds to the enjoyment of the novel. I don’t want to give away too much, as I really enjoyed the ending and felt it was a fitting way to end the series – though a suggestive cliffhanger hints that it may not actually be the end after all. Although once again, I felt that the story was rushed in places, I really enjoyed it and felt that it provided the perfect ending to the series.

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The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager, into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader. And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies – chief amongst them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them. To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable – naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne. So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea – and the Tearling itself – will be revealed…”

REVIEW: The first two books in this trilogy took up the top spaces in my Top Ten Books of 2015, and I was so excited to read the third and final installment this year. I am glad to say that it did not disappoint, and will be very high up on my Top Ten Books of 2016 (keep your eyes peeled!). ‘The Fate of the Tearling’ begins right where its predecessor, ‘The Invasion of the Tearling’, left off, with Kelsea being transported to the Red Queen in Mortmesne after sacrificing herself and her powerful Tear sapphires for the safety of the people of the Tearling. Kelsea is sure that the kingdom is in safe hands under the Mace, and believes that she is being taken to the Red Queen to die. The Red Queen – or Evelyn, as Kelsea knows her from her visions – however, proves to be rather more vulnerable than Kelsea anticipated, her fear of Row Finn driving her to paranoia and leaving her on the verge of madness, and the two form a strange bond that is almost close to friendship, despite Kelsea being kept as Evelyn’s prisoner. As this story continues, we also see much of the Mace and Aisa, his newly recruited guard, who is determined to become a member of the Caden but is shadowed by her own morals and demons. The Tearling begins to turn in on itself, with the priests of the Arvath waging war against the Queen’s government, who are too occupied with trying to find and rescue their Queen to deal with the true depth of the danger they are in. Kelsea’s visions also teach us more ab0ut Lily, who appeared previously in her visions, but this time through the eyes of a young woman named Katie Rice. Katie was a woman who settled in the Tearling after the Crossing, living under the leadership of the famous William Tear and eventually becoming the Head Guard to his son, Johnathan. Her loyalties to the Tears, however, conflict with her friendship with a young and mysterious Row Finn, whom Katie despises and yet is powerfully attracted to. All of these storylines combine to ensure a fantastic end to the trilogy, which I in no way wish to spoil for anyone. The twist at the end of the novel combines both Kelsea’s visions of the past and the present threats experienced by the Tear and, although the ending still leaves the reader with questions, it is somehow a satisfying conclusion to such a gripping and complex trilogy.

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The English Girl by Katherine Webb

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “1958. Joan Seabrook, a fledgling archaeologist, has fulfilled her lifelong dream to visit Arabia by travelling from England to the ancient city of Muscat with her fiance, Rory. Desperate to escape the pain of a personal tragedy, she longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin, and unearth the treasures it is said to conceal. But Oman is a land lost in time – hard, secretive, and in the midst of a violent upheaval – and gaining permission to explore Jabrin could prove impossible. Joan’s disappointment is 0nly alleviated by the thrill of meeting her childhood heroine, pioneering explorer Maude Vickery, and hearing first-hand the stories that captured her imagination and fuelled her ambitions as a child. Joan’s encounter with the extraordinary and reclusive Maude will change everything. Both women have things that they want, and secrets they must keep. Ad their friendship grows, Joan is seduced by Maude’s stories and the thrill of the adventure they hold, and only too late does she begin to question her actions – actions that will spark a wild, and potentially diastrous, chain of events. Will the girl who left England for this beautiful but dangerous land ever find her way back?”

REVIEW: As many of you will know, I am a huge fan of Katherine Webb’s novels and, despite my constant annoyance over the ridiculous price of hardbacks, decided I simply couldn’t wait for ‘The English Girl’ to be released as a paperback, and bought it as soon as I could. Although not my favourite of Webb’s brilliant books, ‘The English Girl’ certainly retains her creative, descriptive writing style, which gives the reader the sense of being within the book itself, and has the usual shocking twists and turns which make the book fascinating to read but difficult to summarise in a review without giving away too many spoilers. ‘The English Girl’ tells the story of Joan, a young woman who is grieving after the death of her father and longs to escape the confinement of being at home with her widowed mother. Her father’s tales of Arabia gripped Joan’s imagination from childhood, and upon discovering that her brother is going to be stationed in Oman, she embarks on a long-awaited trip to visit the land of her father’s stories and visit her brother Daniel, accompanied by her fiance, Rory. Joan is amazed by the beauty of Muscat, and although she is initially disappointed by her first meeting with her idol, Maude Vickery, the first female explorer to cross the dangerous desert territory of Oman, the two soon form an unusual friendship that leads to Joan becoming far more involved in the ongoing conflict that she ever could have anticipated. A shocking discovery alienates Joan from Rory and increases her desire for freedom and adventure, leading to her forming a friendship with Charlie Elliot, one of Daniel’s comrades and the son of another famous explorer, Nathaniel Elliott, whose name sends Maude Vickery into a strange mixture of sadness and rage. Joan becomes closely involved with the rebels in Oman, encouraged by Maude Vickery, and finds herself becoming entangled in a web of espionage far bigger than she could have imagined, taking risk upon risk in order to be able to explore more of the land of her dreams. The story also uses a split narrative to tell the story of Maude in her younger years, leading up to the tale of her exploration and the reason she hates Nathaniel Elliot so deeply. There are many twists towards the end of the book that I will not write about, for fear of giving away spoilers, but the ending was extremely well-written and brought together the past and present threads of the stories in an unexpected yet seamless way. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and grew very attached to Joan, the protagonist, on her quest for an adventure. I would highly recommend this novel.