The Duke and I {review}

Julia Quinn (Piatkus, 2006)

I went into The Duke and I with curiosity, but no great expectations – and Great Expectations it is not. But the Netflix adaptation is generating a lot of interest and I was intrigued! I haven’t had much luck with this method of choosing books in the past (The Witcher being a prime example, where the writing was so deeply awful I felt compelled to DNF for the sake of my remaining brain cells). However, despite some fairly glaring issues, I thoroughly enjoyed The Duke and I. If the book is anything to go by, the hype may just be warranted!

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room though: historical accuracy. The Duke and I is set in Victorian England and has caught a lot of flack for playing fast and loose with period details. It’s undeniably inaccurate. But then, it makes no real pretensions to accuracy. The dress and setting details are vaguely correct, but the dialogue and social conventions are not. Not at all. It’s an Americanised, sugary Hollywood version of Victorian England. And, normally, I’d be the first person to find that irritating. I’d be the first person pointing out all the errors. But I can’t here because I find I simply don’t care. That’s how good the story is.

The characters are likeable, intriguing, and multidimensional in a way I rarely find with romance. There is also a relatively detailed and rich backstory, for a romance. It was somewhat jarring in today’s day and age to find a female protagonist openly declaring that her ambitions run to marriage and children; and yet, while not politically correct by today’s standards, that is fitting within the period. Despite that, the female characters are outspoken, intelligent, well educated, and witty. They are not conventional. The Duke is brooding, sexy, intelligent, and flawed; somewhat reminiscent of Mr Darcy.

The romance is sweet, surprising in some ways, and yet follows familiar patterns to provide a satisfying degree of escapism. The ending left me with a smile on my face.

I loved the period dress, the ballroom and drawing room scenes. It gave the romance an air of “other”, a glamour. While no one could claim this is a work with much basis in historical fact, the setting definitely gave the book a little something extra. A little additional degree of escapism. It was a little spicy, without making me cringe too much.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Duke and I. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Perhaps I should care that it wasn’t historically accurate or literary. But I don’t. Would it have been improved by greater accuracy? Possibly, but I actually rather appreciated its frivolity. It made me smile. It was sweet, fun, and romantic. It provided a moment of much needed escapism. In fact, I highly recommend it!

☆☆☆☆

A Del of a Life {Review}

The lesson being: It’s not where you come from, it’s where you want to go.

A Del of a Life, David Jason

In all honesty, it’s impossible for me to review anything by David Jason impartially. I grew up watching Frost and Only Fools and Horses. He’s one of my favourite humans. I would read a book about his favourite uses for the word LOL, if he should ever stoop that low (which I’m sure he wouldn’t). How do you find fault with a legend? I don’t think I’d dare, even to myself.

I read his first autobiography with great joy. David Jason has had a fascinating life and worked with some of the greats in British comedy. He’s been in some of the most iconic British TV. A Del of a Life is a continuation of that story, an add on, but works perfectly well as a standalone. If you’re also a fan, or just like biography, I would highly recommend both books.

A Del of a Life is well written and has a strong voice. As you might expect, it’s also laugh out loud funny. I enjoyed the stories about David Jason’s career and glimpses into his life enormously. It felt like sitting down for a cup of tea with your granddad or favourite uncle, and listening to stories about their life. And, now into his ninth decade, he certainly had some insights worth sharing. Advice was couched in humorous tones, never arrogant, but given in the form of stories from experience; my favourite kind of advice!

I sincerely enjoyed this book. And I hope not just because I’m a fan. It was uplifting, brought the reader on a journey, funny, and smart. Not to mention, a thoroughly interesting read written by a thoroughly interesting man.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Unspoken Name {book review}

The Unspoken Name was one of my most anticipated reads this month. Sadly, while I can appreciate why other people enjoyed it, and it definitely had good points, I found the focus shifts jarring. I DNF’d it halfway through.

The beginning of The Unspoken Name is captivating. It opens on a young girl, Csorwe, who has been raised in a religious house as a human sacrifice. We explore her feelings as the day of her death draws near, a death she’s been raised to expect and even believe in, and the intricacies of the rituals surrounding the culture. It’s beautifully written and utterly fascinating. Poignant without being sentimental. And slightly disturbing.

Then enters Sethennai, who adds a layer of mystery and intrigue. I was completely hooked as the story moved on and into an even more complex and beautifully imagined world. The worldbuilding in the beginning, the development of the characters, the mystery, is truly captivating. I was blown away. At the beginning of The Unspoken Name, it is difficult to believe this is a first novel, because it is just so accomplished.

And then, halfway through, the story changed completely. It still follows Csorwe, but the original focus on her relationship with her mentor, Sethennai, is gone. Now, she’s hunting for a relic – a relic which started off as an interesting point of sub-plot. So, it was fantasy, now it’s now a sort of fantasy Indiana Jones adventure. Then, suddenly, the relic has been found and its now a romance. This might have been acceptable if the three story phases were tied in together, or if it didn’t seem to just happen suddenly. I found all the chopping and changing too jarring. It was like the author couldn’t make up her mind which book to write.

Moreover, the character of Csorwe has changed so much by the time she’s doing her Indiana Jones thing as to be almost unrecognisable. It’s not just that she’s suddenly older. She’s like a different person: more confident, self-assured, and awkward rather than charmingly naive. Her touching loyalty to her mentor and the complex feelings about her past seem to have vanished completely.

The fine details of the worldbuilding, which is what made the beginning so special, also disappeared and plot holes started to appear. Why does the relic suddenly appear? How did they find it? We just jump to it and are expected to believe it was impossible to find, but has now been easily located. No real explanation. The Qarsazh are presented as prudish, prejudiced, overly religious, and highly structured. Yet, when one of the main characters starts openly and inappropriately flirting with one of them, this is completely accepted. They’re unfriendly one minute and relying on others like they’ve known them all their lives the next. We’re suddenly in a story which makes no sense and where nothing properly explained.

And then there’s Tal. Who is annoying as fuck. In the middle of a tense moment, he starts shouting, or mocking everything everyone says, or flirting with someone, and no one seems to notice he’s being inappropriate. He behaves appallingly in the beginning, is clearly an untrustworthy character, and yet suddenly becomes an ally. There’s no justice enacted or character growth to justify his inclusion as a protagonist. He’s just a distraction – and so annoying he actually set my teeth on edge.

Honestly, the book is well written. The world building is phenomenal. The characters and story are fascinating. The pacing itself is a work of art. But, for me, The Unspoken Name was confused. It was three books, sandwiched together into one. The plot holes and the characters made no sense by the middle. While there were things I liked about this book, ultimately I just couldn’t get passed the issues.

I really wanted to like this one, but it was a DNF for me.

☆☆

My Desert Island Books

In case you’ve been living on… well, a desert island! A desert island list is a game where you choose things you couldn’t do without if stranded on a desert island. Presuming you have food, water, shelter, and Netflix, of course… In this case, which books would you want to be stranded with? You get 5 picks.

My criteria was pretty simple: preferably a whole series in one book or set, because that would be more entertaining than one book, and definitely things I could happily read over and over again. I mean, you don’t know how long you’re going to be stuck there, do you?!

My 5 Desert Island Books

What would your desert island books be?

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes {Book Review}

Trisha Ashley | Bantam Press (2020)

Cozy romance is my guilty pleasure, and I adore all of Trisha Ashley’s books. The Garden of Forgotten Wishes was no exception; sweet, comfortable and satisfying, I’m already sure it will become a favourite re-read!

Perfect for it’s genre, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes was the ideal escapism. Book hygge. Trisha Ashley’s books are all set around the same fictional Lancashire village, so every time I pick one up it’s like returning to see an old friend when you catch glimpses of characters and places from previous books. The villages themselves, the worlds she’s created, are also chocolate box perfect. It’s an idealised, safe, version of reality; the one you wish you could live in. Pure escapism!

Like most cozy romance, everything about The Garden of Forgotten Wishes, from the return to the world of Winter’s End to the familiar unfolding of the plot, is also predictable and safe. There are no big twists or surprises. This is not reading on the edge of your seat. It’s a warm hug of a book.

However, unlike some of Trisha Ashley’s other titles, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes is a slow burner. It’s almost overburdened with world building detail; we savour the process of making homemade ice cream, the colours of the art on the walls, and the developments in the garden. Since the plot is so predictable, and you’re returning to a familiar world, this works. It shouldn’t, it probably wouldn’t in any other kind of book, but here it does. It’s this immersive exploration of a much-loved world which fans crave. I thoroughly enjoyed all the gardening details, the details of village life. That being said, if you hadn’t already fallen in love with this world, I think the pacing might be too slow.

The other thing I love about Trisha Ashley’s books is the characters. Her protagonists are all strong, independent, capable women. They’re rarely young women, which is also a refreshing change of pace. All her characters are imperfectly authentic. They have flaws and back story, and the drama develops from this conflict between character and history. They’re easy to love because they’re ordinary. There’s nothing complex about them, and yet they feel very three dimensional.

All in all, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes was the perfect cozy read, the antidote to the craziness of the world right now and the grey English weather outside. Chocolate box English villages, sweet and slow burning romance. This is the book equivalent of a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Christmas Books – Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday, hosted over on That Artsy Reader Girl, is a weekly bookish list challenge. And this week’s prompt is a Christmas freebie. So, this is my Top 10 Favourite Books To Read Around Christmas.

A Christmas Carol is a classic. It’s basically the ultimate Christmas read, right?!

I love reading ghost stories this time of year, and Ghost Stories by Mark Gatiss is a great little spooky collection!

Probably my favourite ghost story collection is by Roald Dahl. The Book of Ghost Stories is kind of a classic Christmas read for me at this point! That being said, I’m hesitant to recommend it given what’s come out about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism… He seems like a twat basket. And I’m not linking it for that reason. But this book is on my list.

Cozy Christmas romances don’t get much better than A Winter’s Tale! I live for the cozy this time of year.

Sarah Morgan might be the queen of cozy Christmas romance. I love her Christmas books!

Another classic Christmas read! Twas the Night Before Christmas was read to me as a child, and I still read it every year!

The Box of Delightshttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolves-Willoughby-Chase-Chronicles-Book/dp/0099572877 opens with what I think is the most satisfyingly Christmassy setting ever. For that alone, it made the list.

Slightly spooky, wintery goodness. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, while not specifically Christmassy, has a pretty incredible wintery setting. And its a little scary, so its definitely on my list!

I just adored White Boots as a child and its still the perfect Christmas read for me!

I love Agatha Christie, and Christmas really isn’t complete for me without a cozy Christmas detective mystery. I always get a few vintage mysteries for Christmas. But, of course, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is my favourite!

What’s your favourite Christmas read? Do you read any of the ones on my list?

The Court of Miracles {book review}

Author: Kester Grant | Publisher: Harper Voyager (2020)

I was really unsure when I picked this up whether or not it was going to be “my thing”. Honestly, the synopsis just doesn’t do it justice! I was totally gripped from start to finish. The Court of Miracles is definitely one of my top reads this year.

The book is set is an alternate reality where the French Revolution failed, which led to the revolutionaries and the poor being mercilessly hunted and forced underground. They formed a secret criminal society to survive. The world the characters inhabit is grotesque, brutal, and gritty. It’s a sort of magical realism, but not quite your typical fantasy.

The worldbuilding is phenomenal. There is actually very little description of places or things, and yet it has a really strong sense of place. It’s dark. Unpleasant. Frightening. And there is a sense of history and reality, which grounds the book and stops it becoming too fantastical. The little touches, like using real places, give the book an air of authenticity. Despite being quite an unpleasant world, one you definitely wouldn’t want to visit, there is a swashbuckling quality to it which lends the whole book a sense of whimsy and playfulness.

The light touch on descriptive language means the plot moves at a fast lick. And it has more twists than a mountain road. I was hooked right to the very end.

The plot itself is dark. Really, really dark. It can be a little heartrending. It doesn’t shy away from the kind of themes you’d be more likely to find explored at this level in straight modern fiction: loss, rape, drugs, sex trafficking, and child abuse. And, although there is ultimately hope and redemption, the characters never get an easy ride.

All of which makes it sound like a depressing or heavy read – which it really wasn’t. The Court of Miracles is ultimately an adventure and a fantasy. The fine line between completely bumming out the reader with serious subject matter, getting across a point, exploring important themes and questions vs entertaining is walked masterfully. Despite some of the more serious and grotesque aspects of the worldbuilding, of the plot, the book is fun – even humorous. The first person narrative is clever, immersive, and skillful.

The characters… oh my gosh, can we talk about Eponine? I love a strong female protagonist and she is all of that and more. She’s sassy af. Strong. Brave. Talented. Flawed. Real. Ruthless and yet human. I want to be her. I want to be her friend.

Tiger is the most repugnant and terrifying character. Like Jabba the Hutt, but more unpleasant. A book really isn’t satisfying for me without a good counter to the heroine. And what makes Tiger so horrifying is that we understand him, we see him on the news and we really fear what he represents. We almost relate to him. There’s no magic here, just straight up human evil. And, in a way, that’s more frightening.

If you liked Christina Henry’s Alice, I think you’ll definitely like The Court of Miracles. I’d say it’s also one for fans of Saba Tahir and Leigh Bardugo.

The Court of Miracles is ultimately an exploration of evil and humanity. It’s the story of what a person can achieve with grit and inner strength. It’s about hope and love and loyalty.

This was one of those books that I never wanted to end and found impossible to put down. Highly recommend it!

☆☆☆☆☆

A Little About Me…

Since this is a new space for me, I thought I should tell you a little something about myself!

I’m not really new…

This is actually my second book blog. I began book blogging in… I want to say 2018… as Mim Inkling. And then I quit. I was busy – new muggle job, moving across country, wedding planning, a new side hustle… And I thought I should be focusing on more practical outlets. Honestly, I just really missed it! The bookish community, the great book recommendations, and the creativity of blogging. I had a blast doing it! Eventually, life quietened down and so, here I am again for round two. I’m really going to try not to quit this time!

Where I’m from… I’m English and I currently live in a tiny village in Cheshire, on the border of Wales.

What I’m going to blog about… books. And I’ll share some of my writing. That’s about it! If you want to follow me, I’m on Instagram as @onceuponanelderberry – I’d love to connect with you over there!

Three random facts… I’m a qualified information law specialist, I have a dog called Rubeus, and my favourite ice cream is salted caramel.

Dream job… Writer.

If I could live anywhere… I’d like a house in Wales. I’d probably also spend part of the year in Cornwall, Norway, Sweden, and the US, given a choice.

My favourite book… Such a difficult question! I’m going to cheat and go top three: Pride and Prejudice, Chocolat, and The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

The fictional character I would most like to be… Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. She’s badass!

Favourite book heroine… Elizabeth Bennett. Always and forever.

Fictional character I’d most like to date… Heathcliff. Honestly, he was just too sexy!

Favourite series… Again, far too many! Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, Harry Potter, all of the Hercule Poirot books (if that counts as a series), Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy, The Invisible Library series…

Book setting I’d most like to visit… The invisible library is pretty high up the list! The Shire would be quite cool. The entire Harry Potter world, obviously.

The last book I read was… something trashy and satisfying by Katie Fforde. I love a good cozy romance!

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