Mini review: The Silver Chain (Primula Bond)

Mini review: The Silver Chain (Primula Bond)The Silver Chain by Primula Bond
Series: Unbreakable Trilogy #1
Published by HarperCollins UK on 04-07-2013
Genres: Erotica, Fiction, General, Love & Romance
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Bound by passion, she was powerless to resist.

One dark evening in London, photographer Serena Folkes is indulging her impulsive side with a night-time shoot. But someone is watching her – mysterious entrepreneur Gustav Levi. Serena doesn’t know it yet, but this handsome stranger will change her life forever…

Serena is fascinated by Gustav, the enigmatic owner of the Levi Gallery, and she soon feels an irresistible pull of attraction. The interest is mutual, and Gustav promises to launch Serena’s photographic career at his gallery, but only if Serena agrees to become his exclusive companion.  To mark their agreement, Gustav gives Serena a bracelet to wear at all times. Attached to it is a silver chain of which he is the keeper. With the chain Gustav controls Serena physically and symbolically – a sign that she is under his power.

As their passionate relationship intensifies, Gustav’s hold on the silver chain grows stronger. But will Gustav’s dark past tear them apart?

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★
Readability: ★

The Silver Chain was unfortunately not a book I could get along with.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that erotic fiction is a bit of a guilty pleasure, and the genre is usually great for a quick, light read.  It can be a little formulaic sometimes, but that in itself isn’t an issue – the characters, their individual romance, the issues they go through etc, are all different, even if the overall themes are similar.

Unfortunately, in The Silver Chain, none of those individual elements redeemed the book for me.  I couldn’t connect with Serena who acted occasionally strange.  Gustav is also quite hard to like, from his insensitivity to his relationship with his ex-wife.  The relationship was not particularly compelling and there were times in this book when I thought Gustav was just too damaged, and Serena would be far better without him! The sex scenes were not exactly sizzling either.

Buy it? This is a library borrow for me – but only if I couldn’t find anything else.
In a nutshell: I’ve read some great reviews for this one, but unfortunately I couldn’t get along with it.

Other Reviews of The Silver Chain: Basically Books | 1 Girl 2 many books | Madness and Folly

One Star

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 10-09-2013
Genres: Contemporary, Girls & Women, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?  Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Cath and Wren are twin sisters, who until now have done everything together, including write hugely successful Simon Snow fanfiction.  Now that they’re going off to college though, Wren wants them to be a little more independent.  She’s slowly become less of a Simon Snow fangirl and she wants to go and have the college experience – and that doesn’t mean sharing a room with her twin.

While Wren bonds with her new roomate Courtney, settles in to the party lifestyle, and generally loves college so far, Cath is finding it a little harder to adjust.  She’s always been the quieter twin, and she’d really rather stay in her room and write than try to figure out the chaos that is the dining hall.  Not to mention that her roomate sort of seems to think she’s a freak, and that Cath is worried about her father, who’s alone for the first time and hasn’t always had the most stable mental health.

“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”

Do you know how sometimes, a book just clicks with you, and you aren’t quite 100% sure why?  When you love a book, but can’t decide on the exact thing that takes it from a four or five star read to “Keep, recommend, re-read a thousand times” status?

When I first finished Fangirl, it was one of those books, but I think I’ve decided what it is that makes Fangirl a new favourite.  It’s not the plot, the characters, the romance or the writing (all of which I loved) – it’s the combination of those things, and the way that Rowell makes everything so easy to relate to.  I texted countless quotes from this to my partner and friends.  I want to buy everyone close to me a copy and say “THIS. THIS IS HOW MY BRAIN WORKS!”. 

Rainbow Rowell has managed to capture the fears of starting college perfectly.  She manages to include the little things like worrying about proper dining room protocol and the endless train of what ifs – like what if my roomate wants her boyfriend to stay here overnight?  On top of the little things, there are the bigger concerns, like her relationship with her sister, worrying about her father, and keeping up with both her work load and her Simon Snow stories.  And of course, there’s the romance!  Rowell has perfectly encapsulated Cath’s fears, and I think they’re something everyone (even those not as anxious as Cath) can understand.

“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

The plot line is basically a coming-of-age story, with Cath adjusting to college, worrying that Wren is maybe adjusting a bit too enthusiastically, the twins’ relationship, their new love interests, and their’ father’s instability.  What really makes the story, is the characters.  Cath and Wren are very relatable, in totally different ways.  Although there will be times when one or the other baffles you (as their behaviour is sometimes pretty opposite, logic says you won’t always love both!), there will also be moments you can completely relate to.  Whether it’s hitting the party lifestyle or holing up in your bedroom, Rowell has captured the sometimes slightly skewed adjustment of first year students.

I freely admit, not only did I love Fangirl, but it also reminded me how much I love fanfiction, and being a crazy fangirl about the things that are important to me.  You know those quotes people always pin about being a geek? (You know the ones, the John Green and the Will Wheaton quotes and so on).  Fangirl is like an entire book that says the same things: that being enthusiastic is okay.  Not just okay in fact, but fun.  That being a geek makes you you, and the important people will understand if you absolutely need to go to a midnight release or spend hours reading every Game of Thrones conspiracy theory or whatever else it is you want to do to celebrate whatever you’re passionate about.

 

“What’s that thing you wrote about Simon once, that his eyes followed Baz ‘like he was the brightest thing in the room, like he cast everything else into shadow’? That’s you. You can’t look away from him.”

While I liked Eleanor and Park, I loved Fangirl. I loved the characters, the slow-building romance, the snippets of Simon Snow stories that made it feel like a real fandom.  I loved that Rowell had included sex, and partying hard, and plagiarism concerns, that the girls didn’t always get along perfectly and that Cath was anxious and geeky without being a pushover.   It’s never explicit, and yet it doesn’t shy away from those real concerns, those things that happen at college.  I think the reason Fangirl stands out, to me, is because it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter version of something else; it’s unique, and it’s relatable.  It reads like it could literally be a story about one of the bloggers you follow.

Buy it? Definitely one worth buying – a new favourite.
In a nutshell: Fantastically relatable characters, a perfect reflection into starting college and the mind of a fangirl.

Other Reviews of Fangirl: Wondrous Reads | Daisy Chain Book Reviews | Recovering Potter Addict

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)

Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Orion Books Limited on 1-2-2013
Genres: Fiction, General, Love & Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Eleanor & Park is one of those books I was hearing about for months, and then couldn’t resist reading out of curiosity.  I’m glad I did, because I ended up loving it.

Eleanor is the new girl.  With her curly red hair and a curvy figure, Eleanor stands out to everyone on her first day on the school bus, and no one moves over to let her sit down.  Eventually Park grudgingly lets her sit with him, though he’s decidedly unhappy about potentially disturbing the status quo.  In 1986, Park is the only half-Korean student, and although he seems to have found his place in the social hierachy (and it isn’t at the bottom) by letting Eleanor sit down he’s risking status he doesn’t have to spare.  Despite a less than amicable start, the two slowly go from pointed silences, to an unexpected friendship, and eventually a budding romance neither of them can quite understand.

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

Eleanor & Park is told in third person, from two alternating view points; his and hers.   Park is the more romantically minded of the two, whilst Eleanor is the more cynical and sarcastic.  Park has a pretty normal home life: a close family, parents that are still in love with each other but a slightly difficult relationship with his dad.  Eleanor on the other hand, has an awful home life.  She lives with her mother, her five siblings, and her stepfather Richie.  Their family doesn’t have much money, and Eleanor and Richie have an awful relationship, but Eleanor loves her siblings dearly.

“He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.”

I loved watching the relationship between Eleanor and Park grow, fuelled by comic books and music.  The pop-culture references in their relationship keep the story light and interesting, without making you feel like you needed to be an 80’s geek to keep up.  I personally thought the relationship was wonderfully done.  I’ve read a few reviews where people said they felt it was too sudden, but I thought it was beautifully portrayed.  Rowell has captured those feelings of early love – the excitement, the nervousness, the intensity.  The push and pull of those first few weeks of will-they won’t-they, the phone calls and the hundred times a day you think “I can’t wait to tell him/her about….”

“And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?”

Park was a wonderful love interest.  At the beginning of the novel, he’s just like everyone else: he doesn’t want to risk becoming the next victim of bullying so that the new girl can sit down.  He thinks she’s weirdly dressed and awkward, but eventually he lets her sit down.  As the relationship grows, Park becomes less interested in what everyone else thinks, and more interested in Eleanor, and sharing with her things he knows she’ll love.  Eleanor is very easy to relate to, with her self-confidence issues and her love for her siblings.  She has feelings she can’t get her head around, and she finds it hard to articulate things romantically the way Park seems to find easy.  Whilst I found it easier to connect with Eleanor, Park is ultimately the character that sold the story for me because he is, lets be honest, pretty swoon worthy.

Eleanor & Park reminded me in some ways of Pushing The Limits, but one of my biggest complaints with Pushing the Limits was the adults.  I felt like they were two-dimensional, almost cartoon villains.  Thankfully, this is not the case in Eleanor & Park.  Although we have some awful adults, we also have some great ones to balance that out, to show that it isn’t always a case of teenagers on one side of a line and adults on the other.

The ending for me was the only tiny disappointment, because although I liked getting an ending for Eleanor and Park, I’d have liked to see more about what happened with Eleanor’s mum and Richie.

Buy it? This is definitely one that’s worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A beautifully developed romance with fantastically interesting characters and fun pop-culture references.

Other Reviews of Eleanor & Park: Helen’s Book Blog | 2 geek girls Review books | Pretty Books

Worth mentioning:

I’ve read a few negative reviews of Eleanor & Park, particularly regarding Park’s race and the historical context, and while I’m not sure I necessarily agree, those reviews really made me think (try this one for an example).  I absolutely loved Park as a character, but at the same time, I felt like he was labelled as ‘a misfit’ partially just so that he and Eleanor could share that.   Rowell has been quoted as saying that “The neighborhood Eleanor and Park live in is the neighborhood I grew up in. And at that time, it was white and racist”.  Despite that, Eleanor is the one who gets abused, because she’s bigger, she dresses unusually and she has bright red hair.  Park, despite getting some ignorant comments (such as being referred to as Chinese or assuming he knows all about Kung Fu), fits in reasonably well.  He’s not overly popular, but a popular girl is interested in him, he has a civilised relationship with the loud mouth on the school bus, and he wears eyeliner and reads comic books without being bullied every day.  I know plenty of kids who were treated worse for dressing ‘emo’ or being a geek when I went to high school more than fifteen years later, so Park’s social stability in a time frame known for racism felt a little strange to me.  In all honesty, most of the negativity towards Park’s race felt like it came from Park himself, which is a completely different issue (and one that wasn’t explored in my opinion).

I feel a little like Park’s race was treated as more of an afterthought than a relevant element of his character.  That may be because Rowell didn’t want to go in depth into racism in a YA book, which is a perspective I can respect, even if I don’t necessarily agree.  It may be because it is meant to be a minor part of his character, rather than the defining characteristic, which I agree it should be but this feels like a very open-minded perspective for a racist community.  It may be because it’s not relevant to the plot; after all the romance is the most important element of the story (although if that’s the case, I’m not sure I understand the need to set it in 1986).  It may simply be that I’m being swayed by some well written critical reviews.  I’m not honestly sure, but what I do know is that if I’m being completely honest, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story so much as change how I thought about the book after finishing.  Most of these thoughts didn’t really materialise until after reading some negative reviews of Eleanor & Park, so they won’t be affecting my review rating.  I still very much enjoyed the romance, the characters and the story itself; it’s just something I’ll be paying closer attention to when I re-read the book.  And I admit, I have no doubt I’ll re-read the book eventually because I really enjoyed it.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Truth about You and Me (Amanda Grace)

The Truth about You and Me (Amanda Grace)The Truth about You and Me by Amanda Grace
Published by Flux on 01-09-2013
Genres: Adolescence, Dating & Sex, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 229
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Smart girls aren't supposed to do stupid things.

Madelyn Hawkins is super smart. At sixteen, she's so gifted that she can attend college through a special program at her high school. On her first day, she meets Bennett. He's cute, funny, and kind. He understands Madelyn and what she's endured - and missed out on - in order to excel academically and please her parents. Now, for the first time in her life, she's falling in love.

There's only one problem. Bennett is Madelyn's college professor, and he thinks she's eighteen - because she hasn't told him the truth.

The story of their forbidden romance is told in letters that Madelyn writes to Bennett - both a heart-searing ode to their ill-fated love and an apology

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★

Maddie Hawkins is a 16 year old in a fast track programme, attending some college classes early. Whilst there she meets, and falls in love with, Bennett…her teacher. Afraid of owning up to the fact she’s only 16, she deliberately avoids mentioning her age to Bennett, who nonetheless says they have to wait until he’s no longer her teacher, regardless of the fact he believes she’s of age.

The Truth About You and Me had the misfortune to be read very soon after I first read Drowning Instinct.  I say unfortunately, because I really liked Drowning Instinct so I had really high hopes for The Truth About You and Me.  While I didn’t dislike The Truth About You and Me, it didn’t live up to my hopes, and I found it virtually impossible not to draw comparisons between it and Drowning Instinct, which I much preferred.

The Truth About You and Me is written in the format of letters from Maddie to Bennett, in second person, so it reads as if you are Bennett.  It’s an unusual format, and I really liked the novelty at first.  Unfortunately, once the novelty began to wear off, the format didn’t really work for me.   The past-tense letter format made it a little more difficult to get really caught up in the story, because it’s hard to feel any urgency.  There’s an awful lot of telling rather than showing, which makes it hard to get lost in the story.  The second person format also began to feel a little awkward at times, because Maddie’s telling Bennett about events he would have known about (having been there).

Maddie was ultimately a frustrating character.  She’s pushed academically by her parents, and we’re told often how smart she is.  Unfortunately, that just didn’t come across to me.  She falls in love with Bennett, and from there it’s hard to see her as smart at all.  She becomes quite stereotypical and vapid, and despite the fact she claims to love Bennett, she knowingly puts his career at risk by hiding her age.  Bennett was nice enough, and I liked the way it ended, although I felt the conclusion was written in such a way as to be skewed against Bennett.

Although I found the characters and the format lacking, I did enjoy the plot, and Amanda Grace’s writing is beautiful.  I easily finished The Truth About You and Me in a day.  It wasn’t really that I disliked The Truth About You and Me so much as that I just didn’t overly like it.  It was an okay read, and I’m not sorry I read it, but it isn’t one I’m likely to re-read or purchase.

 Buy it? This is a library borrow for me.
In a nutshell: This was okay, but ultimately disappointing.

Other Reviews of The Truth About You and Me: Little Book Star | WinterHaven Books | Lose Time Reading

One StarOne Star

Early Review: Cruel Beauty (Rosamund Hodge)

Early Review: Cruel Beauty (Rosamund Hodge)Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by HarperCollins on 28-01-2014
Genres: Family, Fantasy & Magic, General, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Amazon
Goodreads

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

I was cautiously optimistic about Cruel Beauty.  Optimistic because it sounded wonderful and I’ve heard great things about it, but cautious because I wasn’t sure whether it would live up to all the hype.  While I hoped I’d enjoy it, I never dreamed it would be a new favourite, and I certainly didn’t expect to absolutely love it the way I did.

Nyx has spent her whole life preparing for marriage to a monster.  She’s known for years that she has to marry the Gentle Lord as payment for a trade her father made before her birth.  She’s been trained in the Hermetic arts in the hopes of one day killing him, knowing it’ll likely take her life as well.  She’s an absolutely fantastic character, and one you can’t help but love.  She’s feisty, determined, sarcastic and witty.  She’s a dutiful daughter and a willing sacrifice.  Despite all that, she’s by no means perfect.  She gets angry, and bitter, and sometimes she hates everyone for expecting so much of her.  She’s impulsive and sometimes she wants to defy her duty and do her own thing.  She’s completely believable and three-dimensional which is what makes it so easy to like her.

Ignifex, as he’s known to Nyx, is the Gentle Lord.  Ruler of the kingdom, commander of the demons and master of evil bargains, Nyx doesn’t know what to expect, but it certainly isn’t a suave (but arrogant), handsome gentleman.  Ignifex has a sharp tongue and a sharper wit, and above all he’s entertaining to read.

There is a love triangle in Cruel Beauty, but it didn’t particularly bother me, perhaps because I thought it was obvious where it was going!  The third member of the triangle is Shade, a mysterious prisoner in Ignifex’s house, who seems to want to ally himself with Nyx but is incapable of betraying Ignifex.

I really enjoyed the romance in Cruel Beauty.  Whilst some of it was a little rushed, I enjoyed Nyx’s developing relationships with both Ignifex and Shade.  Ignifex is her husband, but he’s also an evil demon responsible for countless deaths, including that of Nyx’s mother.  Despite knowing that logically, Nyx can’t seem to help her attraction to him.  She can have fun with him, and show the darkest parts of her soul to him – but she also knows she has to kill him.  Shade is the innocent, gentle prisoner, but whilst Nyx is attracted to him, she feels guilty for desiring someone other than (or at times as well as) her husband.  At times distracted from her mission and her morals, the romance is a large part of the story, but in a good way.  It’s clear from the synopsis and the fact that it’s a fairy tale retelling that the romance will be key, so it doesn’t feel like it takes over the story, just that it was always supposed to take a central role.  It’s refreshing to read about a YA heroine who admits to her feelings for both men, and who doesn’t justify hand-wringing and indecisiveness by instantly announcing that she’s in love with both and can’t help it.

As well as the romance, we see a lot of Nyx’s familial relationships which were really well done.  Nyx has a twin sister, Astraia, and while it’s clear she loves her twin dearly, Nyx can’t help but also resent her for the fact Astraia will get to live a free life while Nyx goes to her doom.  Nyx sometimes hates Astraia, and more than that she hates herself for feeling that way, after all, it isn’t Astraia’s fault.  Nyx’s horribly confused mixture of love, protectiveness and resentment towards Astraia are wonderfully described.  The relationship between the twins is completely believable, and I found myself feeling exactly the same way towards Astraia that Nyx did!

The world-building in Cruel Beauty was the weakest part of the story for me.  While I really enjoyed the story, I didn’t ever feel like I could get completely lost in the world.  Elements of it such as rooms in Ignifex’s house and the graveyard were easy to picture but whilst the descriptive writing of concrete settings was fine, I struggled with the more abstract setting of the world itself.  I felt like the mixing of Greek mythology and other rituals took over a little in terms of world-building, so while I learnt a lot about the history of the world I couldn’t (for example) picture the architecture of the buildings or the town layout.

Despite my issues with the world-building, I absolutely loved Cruel Beauty.  The characters, the storyline, and the way Rosamund Hodge has managed to delicately weave the mythologies kept me captivated.  Cruel Beauty takes the story of Beauty and the Beast and adds wonderful elements such as Greek gods and ancient myths to produce something beautiful.  Despite the recognisable elements, Cruel Beauty feels fresh and exciting, rather than like a true retelling.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would happily re-read it.  In fact, I fully anticipate that the next time I read it, I’ll pick up on more details I hadn’t noticed this time!

Buy it? This is a new favourite, and one that’s definitely worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A beautifully written, lush debut with a fantastic feisty heroine.  One to savour.

Other Reviews of Cruel Beauty: Readers in Wonderland | Good Books and Good Wine  | Happy Indulgence

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star