Thursday, 30 June 2016

Monthly Recap: June


It's the last day of June! I haven't done a monthly recap post before but I think it's a good way to keep track of what I've read and reviewed each month.

# Books Read in June 5

Books Read in June:
Phyllida in Form III by Evelyn Smith (****)
Magnum Bonum by Charlotte Mary Yonge (***+)
The Star Bell by Stephanie Ricker (****+)
The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi (***)
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters (****+)

Reviews Posted:
The Rakshasa's Bride by Suzannah Rowntree (****)
Escape from Rome by Caroline Lawrence (****+)
The Star Bell by Stephanie Ricker (****+)

Non-Review Posts:
TTT: Most Anticipated Books for the Second Half of 2016
TTT: Best 2016 Releases So Far
Classics Club Spin (Again)

Classics Club Progress:
I didn't finish anything this month, but I'm still reading Lark Rise to Candleford (my Spin book), and also Watership Down, and hope to pick up the pace a bit soon.

Currently Reading:
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbes
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland (re-read)
The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson

What I Intend to Read in July:
(I probably won't get to all of these, but I like to be optimistic.)
Five Magic Spindles by various authors (I've pre-ordered it on Kindle)
Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag
Monks-hood by Ellis Peters
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee



Book Review: The Star Bell by Stephanie Ricker

The Star Bell is the third book in The Cendrillon Cycle. The first two, The Battle of Castle Nebula and A Cinder's Tale, were both excellent reads, so I was greatly looking forward to reading this one, and I wasn't disappointed.

(This review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series.)
 
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General Impressions: This book was quite a bit longer than the two previous books. This I think was a good thing, because it meant there was a longer time to enjoy the book. It also allowed for more development of the story, especially plotwise, and greater worldbuilding.

I have to say that I don't think I enjoyed this one quite as much as the previous books, although I couldn't say exactly why - I think it just had a lot to live up to. However, that doesn't mean that I was disappointed in it - The Star Bell is still a really good book, and I very much enjoyed reading it.

Onto some specifics:

Characters: The main characters are Elsa, Bruno, and Karl, who are of course already known to readers of the previous two books. As in A Cinder's Tale, one of the things I really liked about this book are the close relationships between the characters, particularly Elsa and the rest of her (now ex-) cinder crew. Although this shows a bit less in this book since some of the characters are not around all the time, it's still there; we still get to see all of the old characters again, and there are some good new characters too. All of the major characters are interesting and well-drawn.
 
Plot: Since this book was longer than the others in the series, this allowed for much more plot development. This was definitely well done; the story kept my interest all the way through, and there were certainly some unexpected twists and a few tense moments where I was anxious to keep reading to find out what would happen next.

Worldbuilding: This is one of the highlights of this series for me, and one that is developed further in this book. The world the stories are set in is detailed and believable, but things are explained throughout the story so you don't have to wade through long descriptions or explanations. Often we are finding out things along with the characters, especially since this book includes the exploration of a new planet. I think the worldbuilding really contributes to the entertainment value of the book, and there are some little touches that make the world even more believable - for example the changing of figures of speech to represent things the characters would be familiar with - "snowflies in the stomach", "chuck the engine out with the synth-oil", "wild hunds couldn't keep me away," etc.
 
Romance: I liked how the relationship between Elsa and Karl developed slowly; at the beginning they still don't know each other very well and aren't sure how they feel about each other or whether being in a relationship is what they want, although there is clearly a sense of attraction and the possibility of romance. The development of this through the novel is slow and it isn't the main focus of the novel, but it is still there, and I liked how their story unfolded.

The Ending: This was good. I won't say much about it obviously, but I will say that the ending satisfactory as an end to the story, but is open enough that you still want to read more to find out what happens next (hopefully a sign that the series is going to continue!).

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series first, but if you've read those then I would definitely recommend reading this one!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Best 2016 Releases I've Read So Far

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is favourite 2016 releases so far. As with last week, this isn't going to be a very long list; I've only read two 2016 releases so far, both of which were published last month. Fortunately, both of them were really good!

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Escape from Rome by Caroline Lawrence

The first book in a new series, Roman Quests, which is a sort of spin-off of the Roman Mysteries series. I really enjoyed this and you can read my review of it here. I'm now eagerly anticipating book #2 in the series, The Archers of Isca, which comes out in October.
 

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The Star Bell by Stephanie Ricker

This was the third volume in The Cendrillon Cycle, after The Battle of Castle Nebula and A Cinder's Tale. I've really enjoyed all three of these. I'm hoping to post a review of this one in the next few days.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Most Anticipated Releases for Late 2016

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For the Second Half of the Year. I'm not very good at keeping up with new releases so there are a lot fewer than ten books this week, but there are a few coming out later this year that I want to read, so I've decided to participate anyway.
 
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (releases July 31)

I haven't been following this particularly closely, and I do have a few doubts about it. Buuuut it's a new Harry Potter book, so of course I'm going to read it. :)
 

The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence (releases October 6)

This is book #2 in the Roman Quests series. I read the first one last month and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to reading this one when it comes out.
 

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (releases November 1)

I quite enjoyed Dear Mr Knightley and Lizzy and Jane, perhaps not quite as much as lots of other people seem to have done, but enough to make me want to read more of the Katherine Reay's books. I probably won't be rushing to get it when it comes out (I haven't got around to The Brontë Plot yet) but I do intend to read it at some point.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Book Review: Escape from Rome by Caroline Lawrence

 


Summary (from Goodreads): The year is AD 94. When the evil Emperor Domitian sends soldiers to seize his family's home in the middle of the night, Juba must escape with his brother and sisters, and journey to distant Britannia on the edge of the known world.

His task: To avoid capture and death.
His quest: To find a safe haven in Britain.
His destiny: To save the children.






I really enjoyed this book.

It has the distinction of being one of the few books I've read in recent years which I actually knew about prior to publication (although I didn't realise it was out until I came across it at the library last month). It's the first in a new series, which is a (sort of) sequel to the Roman Mysteries series, which was one of my favourite series when I was younger. It's been seven years since the last book in that series was published, so obviously I was very much looking forward to reading this one, and it did not disappoint. I think I liked it even better than most of the Roman Mysteries books.

What I liked about it:
The characters. I liked the characters a lot. They were all well-drawn with interesting and unique personalities, and they all developed a lot during the course of the story. Ursula especially I liked; she is kind-hearted and likes animals (like Nubia in the Roman Mysteries series), but is also pretty fearless and much more confident than Nubia. Juba and Fronto also were well developed and the other characters the children meet along the way, Castor and Bouda, I also liked a lot (as characters).
The story. The plot was quite character-driven, as the major plot points mainly rested on the children having to make difficult decisions, about whether to do the right thing or not. But there is also a fair amount of action and enough tension to keep the story moving.
Plus the reappearance of some old friends from the Roman Mysteries series definitely added to my enjoyment of the book. However, there is no need to have read the series to understand or enjoy this book.

Overall, I really did like this book, more than I thought I would! Now I have to wait until October to read the next book in the series.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Classics Club Spin (Again)


It's time for another Classics Club Spin. Last time I did finish my book but was a few days late in doing so; hopefully I'll do better this time.

Five books I'm slightly intimidated by:
1. Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
3. Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
4. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Five books I've been meaning to read for ages:
6. Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
7. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
8. Elizabeth Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
9. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
10. The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfeild

Five books I can't wait to read:
11. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
12. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
14. Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery
15. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

Five books I'm neutral about:
16. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
17. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
18. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
19. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
20. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Book Review: The Rakshasa's Bride by Suzannah Rowntree


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Summary (from Goodreads):
Preeti Kamla has the evil eye. It’s the only explanation for the tragedy and disgrace besetting her once wealthy family. But when a handsome stranger in the village square tells her he has broken her curse, Preeti almost believes him.

Until a twist of fate whisks her away from everything she knows, and the gruesome Demon Rajah claims her as his bride.

A rich and romantic retelling of Beauty and the Beast in the style of a Bollywood epic. Novella, approximately 18,000 words.



So, I knew basically nothing about this book going in, other than that it was a fairytale retelling. I realised maybe halfway through that it was supposed to be Beauty and the Beast. It's also a Christian allegory, although this is fairly subtle, and I didn't realise this either until a fair way in. Of course after I realised these things I knew roughly what was going to happen, but I still wasn't sure what route the author was going to take and so the ending wasn't that predictable, and I felt there was an interesting twist. I thought it was an interesting, although very quick read; I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it, but it certainly made me think, even a while after I finished it, and the story was well written and engaging. Overall I'm glad I decided to take a chance and read it, despite not knowing much about it.

This book counts towards the Once Upon a Time challenge, in the Fairytale category.