Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
After That:
Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb
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Whispering to Witches, Anna Dale
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, JK Rowling
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Lord John and the Private Matter, Diana Gabaldon
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   Sarah Waters
Rating: 10/10

Sarah Waters is a goddess. Tipping the Velvet, despite occasionally descending into Victorian melodrama, was so well-written you couldn't stop reading and Fingersmith just takes this to the next level. It is perfectly written, drawing you in straight away, dragging you along and convincing you of just what she wants you to think.

Which is the simplest way of saying that this book has plot twists. Twists that leap out at you and make you nearly drop the book. Can't give them away, naturally, but they're so devious and well-placed that you always get stunned.

The book also touches on the wrongs of women and the general idiocy of Victorian doctors, including a wonderful line about how reading addles the brains of women. It might start off as rosy coloured as the thieves in Oliver! but it quickly cuts through this into the harsher side of this life.

Not a particularly thorough review, but part of the reason I love this book is too closely linked with the twists and turns of the plots. The writing is spot on, the characters ring true and there's just the right amount of romance, mystery and melodrama. A near-perfect book.
14th September 2004 in Fiction
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   Patricia Elliot
Rating: 8/10

Another book which has links in fairy tales yet takes them to a darker place than the versions you get told as a child. The stories used in this story are The Ugly Duckling and, marginally, Swan Lake, both of which fit well and come from unlikely places. The use of them is marginal at first, as there is also a lot of bird related folklore within the story, most of which has routes in old British beliefs, apparently.

The setting is gothic and has elements not really suitable for younger children: a tyrannical regime; a seeminly nice steward who molests the servant girls; and just generally twisted ideas and treatment of people. It is a dark book with very little humour, but it doesn't need humour or comedy. It has a sad, bittersweet ending to it and a nice lot of twists.

The writing is wonderful, the atmosphere always feels oppressive and, whilst it isn't a happy children's book it is really good for those who like darker stuff. There are moments where it slows down a little, but it is a good book and well worth the read.
14th September 2004 in Children's
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The Ruby in the Smoke
   Philip Pullman
Rating: 8/10
I've insulted Philip Pullman quite a bit in the past, calling him pretentious, up himself and generally disliking the various "ooh, look what I thought up" tangents of Amber Spyglass, which I didn't finish, but I'll give him this: he can write. The Sally Lockhart books prove this, being the books written before he went off on one in His Dark Materials and just being really good reads: good characters, good prose, good plots, all really good generally.

The book is set in 1872 - it has a little history overview at the beginning, which I liked - and focuses on a girl who has very little standard education but quite a lot of experience in those things which girls shouldn't have any knowledge of. Pullman does always create good women, and Sally is certainly one of them; all the other characters around her are well drawn, even the villainous Mrs Holland getting a proper reason for why she acts as she does.

So, though Amber Spyglass left me cold, this did help to remind me why I loved Northern Lights and redeem Philip Pullman in my eyes as a wonderful story teller, who can write prose I can actually envy.
28th May 2004 in Children's
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The Virgin Suicides
   Jeffrey Eugenides
Rating: 8/10

This is a very interesting read, I'll give it that, and whilst I do sound relatively muted over it that's because I'm still mentally digesting it all. The ending was not what I was expecting, and I actually had to reread one paragraph a couple of times to let it all sink in.

The book doesn't really offer any answers. It isn't as ambigious as I was dreading, nor is it as dark as it could have been. It does, after all, focus on the suicides of five teenage sisters and it does, at times, get fairly graphic (or maybe that's just my squeamish side showing through). There is dark humour to it, and I found myself wondering who was going to kill herself next, which sounds morbid but is pretty much what you do. You try to work out what happened, because you know from the first sentence that it isn't going to end well.

The writing is near-perfect, never feeling too knowing and going off on digressions that make sense, helping to create the sense of community within the books and subtly hinting at what could be wrong, what could have lead to the multiple suicides. As I said, it doesn't really offer any clear, cut and dry answers - like you might expect if, say, Poirot were on the case - but it does present some possible solutions, and it all builds to a believable ending.

I was a tiny bit let down by the climax, but I don't regret reading the book. If you can get past the details of just how they're topping themselves, this is a book worth reading, even if all you do is admire how well-written it is.
21st May 2004 in Fiction
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A Hat Full of Sky
   Terry Pratchett
Rating: 8/10

Though set in the Discworld, this is very much a children's book. The main character is a twelve-year-old witch-in-training called Tiffany Aching, who was last seen attacking the Queen of the Fairies with a frying pan in The Wee Free Men. As a character, Tiffany is wonderful, the sort of girl sensible ones want to be like: clever, not easily lead along by the crowd and generally viewing everything from a girl's point of view whilst having some definitely witch-y ideas.

The main plot is that something steals her body and acts upon all her baser wishes, those greedy, selfish issues that witches try to avoid. Tiffany has to learn that witchcraft isn't all magic and fixing everything, but that a lot of it is about how you treat other people. Granny Weatherwax turns up and gives advice, whilst being undisputably Granny at the same time. My one complaint with this is that there's no Nanny Ogg tagging along, being a disgusting old baggage, but otherwise this is entertaining and interesting, as we're seeing witchcraft from the point of view of someone who's new to it.

There are also, of course, the Nac Mac Feegle, getting 'pished' and fighting the big jobs. They don't provide as much comic relief as they did in Wee Free Men - which had me laughing out loud - but this is a lot more grown up than that book was. As all the Discworld books are starting to deal with more humane/moral issues, so does this one, with a lot more character thoughts and interactions than you'd usually expect from a children's book. Certainly, everyone's reactions are credible and even the bad ones have explanations based in reality.

To sum up: this is a really good book, for children and for Discworld fans in general. It does have more depth than most children's literature seems to, whilst being a damn good read and having some interesting ideas on what makes a Bad Guy of the Piece (that's the only way to sum that up without spoiling things, but you should know what I mean if you read it). Oh, and Death turns up, in all his glory. Couldn't have a Discworld without Death.
17th May 2004 in Children's
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we are the new romantics
   Niven Govinden
Rating: 8/10

Bought this book on the grounds of a decent (enough) review in the uni paper, and because it was slashy (am a slash fan, it colours what I read). The book turned out to be surprisingly good, very funny in places and with a weird way of revealing back story and history slowly, often hinting at things which don't explained for a while or until the next narrator takes over.

It's told from two POVs: Amy, who I wasn't especially fond of, interesting though she was; and DJ, who I loved and found much funnier to read. It doesn't feel fractured when told in this way, and you get to see events from both viewpoints without it feeling repetitive and clunky. Often one person will detail the build up and the next will deal with the climax/the aftermath - and there's quite a lot of aftermath.

The extremely camp Marilyn (nee Martin) did wind me up a little, but that's mostly because extremely camp people wind me up. There was one moment in the book when I swore at the author and something he'd done, but mostly I was swearing at Marilyn. But maybe that's how I was supposed to react; at least I hope so. Sign of a good book when I start yelling at fictional people.

This probably isn't a book for the prudish, the easily shocked by bad language or those with strong morals, as DJ steals anything he can and lifts money from the till whenever he leaves a job. Also much taking of the drugs and drinking of the alchohol.

The ending is fairly muted and not what I was expecting, yet believable for all that. It was one of those endings when you know it couldn't be any other way, but you wish it could have been. Like life. Ooh, deep review. Basically, this is a really good read for when you don't want to get bogged down in the heavy literature and just want some fun.
16th May 2004 in Fiction
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   Garth Nix
Rating: 10/10

Garth Nix is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, he's just that good. This is the sequel to Sabriel, set about 18 years after the events of that book, and focuses on Lirael, one of the Clayr who doesn't have the Sight, which is the common gift of all the Clayr. But, natch, she has other talents, like being a much better Charter Mage than the rest of them, and though we're first properly introduced to her whilst she's contemplating suicide, it's not that depressing a book.

Also introduced are Sabriel and Touchstone's children, the most important of the two being Sam, Abhorsen-in-Waiting with a worrying fear of Death, which is only increased after his run in with the Villain, a Necromancer called Hedge (and, honestly, if you're going to be evil, Hedge?!).

That minor quibble aside, this book is amazing. It expands the knowledge/history of the Old Kingdom, hints at the origin of both the Charter and Mogget, has lots of adventure, fights and near deaths and is generally just really, really good. I don't think I can commend Garth Nix enough, and the only problem with the book is that you finish it and want to read Abhorsen, the last in the trilogy. Bloody brilliant.
3rd May 2004 in Children's

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