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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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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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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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The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “It has been a year since Gemma Doyle first arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy, and much has changed.Having bound the wild, dark magic of the realms to her, Gemma has formed unlikely and unsuspected friendships with Ann and Felicity, and Kartik, the exotic young man whose companionship is forbidden. She has also come to an uneasy, tenuous truce with the fearsome creatures of the realms. But now, the time has come to test the strength of these bonds. As her friendship with Felicity and Ann faces its gravest trial, and with the Order grappling for control of the realms, Gemma is compelled to decide once and for all which path she is meant to take. Her destiny threatens to set chaos loose, not only in the realms, but also upon the rigid Victorian society whose rules Gemma has both defied and followed. Where does Gemma really belong? And will she, can she, survive?”

REVIEW: I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this trilogy, and found the final installment just as gripping and tense as I did the first time around; even though I knew what was going to happen I still found that I couldn’t put the book down and found myself sobbing at the end just as I did the first time. In this book, the magic is loose in the realms and despite Gemma’s alliances with many of the creatures, there is civil war within, particularly between the forest folk and the untouchables. Gemma is also preoccupied by visions of a woman named Wilhemina Wyatt, who seems to be trying to tell Gemma something important about the Order from beyond the grave. This book has an extremely lengthy and complex plotline, full of magic, desire, betrayal and friendship, and I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the ending for first-time readers. All I will say it that after reading it a second time I have confirmed for myself that this series is one of my favourite of all time, and I would highly recommend it – though be warned, the story is often dark and the ending will break your heart!

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Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “A Spanish Princess. Raised to be modest, obedient, and devout. Destined to be an English Queen. Six weeks from home across treacherous seas, everything is different: the language, the food, the weather. And for her there is no comfort in any of it. At sixteen years old, Catalina is alone among strangers. She misses her mother. She mourns her lost brother. She cannot trust even those assigned to her protection. Katherine of Aragon, the first of Henry’s Queens. Her story.”

REVIEW: This is the first in what will eventually be a full series of six novels, all penned by Alison Weir and each novel focusing on one of Henry VIII’s six wives. As a huge fan of Weir I have been eagerly anticipating the beginning of this series, and was even lucky enough to attend the book launch for this first novel at Foyles bookshop in central London, where I had my copy signed by Weir herself. Weir is clearly fond of Katherine as a historical figure, and even named her daughter after her, and this allows her to portray Katherine with the empathy that she deserves as a woman of rare bravery, dignity and faith even in the most terrifying of situations. As an avid admirer of Anne Boleyn – I recently wrote my undergraduate dissertation on how she was portrayed in religious texts during the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I – many people might expect me to dislike Katherine, or at the very least feel indifferent towards her.

Yet, I have always admired Katherine for the qualities I have just mentioned and for many more, and I enjoyed this book all the more because Weir allowed these qualities of Katherine’s to shine through. Katherine was not a weak and feeble woman who stepped meekly aside when Henry grew tired of her; she was an intelligent, passionate woman who fought fiercely for the rights of herself and her daughter Mary even once she was no longer the King’s wife, and all the while was gracious and warm to those around her, keeping true to her deep Christian faith.

The novel begins with the final part of Katherine’s – then known as Catalina – journey, and her arrival in England to wed the young Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne. But as we all know, Arthur was not destined to become King; frail and unhealthy, Arthur died shortly after the marriage and Katherine was left adrift in England for many years before her marriage to the then young, handsome and athletic Henry VIII.

Although there has been much debate surrounding whether or not Arthur and Katherine’s marriage was consummated, as was claimed by Henry during the divorce proceedings, Weir puts forward the idea, based on new and carefully evaluated evidence, that it was not so as Arthur was feared too unwell to perform – something I have always felt was highly likely.The rest of Katherine’s story, however, is much better known; years of failed pregnancies, the horror of the divorce and her replacement by Anne Boleyn, her separation from her daughter and years spent being moved from pillar to post until her death in 1536.

Yet what is spoken of somewhat less, and what Weir makes a great deal of in this novel, is the love between Katherine and Henry. We all know that Katherine was devoted to her husband, but what finds us less often in both historical fact and fiction is that Henry truly did love his first Queen; the need to secure the succession and the passionate love he developed for Anne eventually forced them to grow apart, but all evidence seems to suggest that for much of their marriage Katherine and Henry were happy. It is heartwarming to read something that shows this side of the relationship, though it makes it all the more heartbreaking to read of Katherine’s fall from grace, and the pain and ill health she was then to suffer. Weir truly makes the reader feel as if they know Katherine personally, and we grow very attached to her – an impressive feat to accomplish when writing about a real historical figure.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am so excited to continue to read what promises to be a fantastic and brilliantly researched series.

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Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “It’s the end of the year, and Gemma’s looking forward to living it up in London. Balls, fancy gowns and dancing with the handsome Simon Middleton beckon. Best of all, it’s time away from Spence Academy – and from the realms. But the lure of the enchanted world is strong, and the magic flows freely. Gemma’s visions intensify¬† -visions of three girls dressed in white, suffering horror and menace. Clearly all is not well in the realms – or out of them.”

REVIEW: I remembered this book fondly as my favourite in the trilogy, and so far this still remains the case. The novel opens just as the Christmas holidays are approaching at Spence Academy, after a prologue which teaches us more about the mysterious Kartik and sets the scene for a suspenseful tale. Gemma and Felicity are anticipating their London season and, with the invention of an aristocratic relative and Russian royal heritage, Ann is able to join them despite her humble origins. Despite the exciting events that hold their attention back in London, including their reunion with the disgraced Miss Moore, the opium addiction that is slowly destroying Gemma’s father, and the attentions she receives from Simon Middleton (which cause Kartik to feel some jealousy!), the lure of the realms and the girls’ longing to see their departed friend Pippa proves too strong, and they soon find a number of opportunities to slip away and return to the realms. With the magic set loose after Gemma’s destruction of the runes, however, all is not as it was in the realms – including Pippa, who seems to be turning into something much darker than any of them expected. The mystery of the realms deepens when Gemma meets a young girl named Nell Hawkins, driven mad by the deaths of her friends at the hands of a creature from the realms. Gemma suspects their new teacher, Miss McCleethy, but struggles to decipher Nell’s clues to finding the mysterious Temple – which, she is told by Kartik – will allow her to bind the magic to the Order forever. Gemma and her friends’ search for the Temple leads them into many dangers, and introduces them to many of the creatures of the realms, adding a new dimension to the story as we see the contrast between the rigid rules of London society and the untamed magic of the realms. This is a brilliant novel and has, in my opinion, the best plot twist of the series, which is what makes it the most enjoyable of the three for me. I would very highly recommend it.