Thursday, 29 December 2011

What books I got for Christmas!

I hope you guys all had a fantastic Christmas and got some of the books on your wishlist! I certainly did so I thought I'd share them with you:



The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson


I really enjoyed this author's debut novel The Healer's Apprentice (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty) so I can't wait to get started on her second book. Although the cover's not quite so pretty as The Healer's Apprentice, it's still very enticing. I'm intrigued to find out who the man in the mirror is!

Before The Season Ends by Linore Rose Burkard


As you might know, I love a good regency novel  and I stumbled across this inspirational Christian regency. For one thing the cover's lovely but it sounds a bit like my favourite regency romance Arabella by Georgette Heyer too.


A Weekend with Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly




My friend bought this for me knowing I'm a big Pride and Prejudice fan- isn't the illustrated cover gorgeous?

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes




I'm a bit obsessed with the TV show Donwton Abbey, which is set in Edwardian times and  follows the lives of the Grantham family and their servants so I loved curling up on Christmas day with this! In fact, I had a very Donwton Christmas getting the second series box set too and watching the Christmas special in the evening. Does anyone else watch Downton? I know the second series is about to be broadcast in the US so if you're following it, then you're in for a treat.


What books did you get for Christmas?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas! I hope you all enjoy having fun and relaxing with friends and family as well as giving and receiving some great new books =)


I know I haven't been around the past two months much but now its the school holidays and the rush of Christmas shopping ect. is over, I'm going to make some time next week to get as many posts as I can written for when I'm back at school. Hopefully I'll have a challenge wrap up, best of 2011 and Christmas books post up then.

Thank you so much for all your comments, ideas and encouragement on my 'blogging slump' page- you're all wonderful! I've still been reading all my favourite blogs despite not posting myself and they've been an inspiration to get back in the blogging mood again.

Love Stephanie <3 xxx


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Book Review: Crossed by Allie Condie

Crossed (Matched, #2)
Goodreads description


In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.



My review


Crossed is the sequel to Matched, which was the first dystopian book I ever read and really got me interested in the genre! It's strange and unfamiliar world where the Society ruled everything in your life captured my imagination and I was rooting for the main character Cassia to step free of this. After enjoying Matched this time last year, I've been eagerly anticipating Crossed to read about the next step on Cassia's journey since then!

Beginning where Matched is left off, we find Ky in the Outer Provinces at a work camp pretending to be farmers to trick a group of people who the Society call the Invaders. Meanwhile Cassia is determined to do anything she can to find him even though it means leaving her family, friends, everything she has ever known and even risking reclassification to chase after him; the boy she loves. The thing that interested me from the start was the dual narrative with alternating chapters told from the point of view and Ky and Cassia that wasn't found in Matched, which I loved because it bought new life to the series and meant I could get to know and identify more with Ky's character. Although sometimes, it was a little hard to tell the difference between the two voices because they weren't as individual as they could have been.


Before I started reading, I had been expecting Crossed to pick up with more action after the scene setting and character building of Matched and was initially a little disappointed with the slow pace where not much seemed to be happening. However, I soon began to realise that a fast paced story wouldn't have done the characters justice or allowed for the beautiful prose full of description, and poems written by the characters that are found instead and make Condie's writing so special and captivating. Example of description:



'In the night, it feels like we’re running fast over the back of some kind of enormous animal, sprinting over its spines and through patches of tall, thin, gold grass that now glimmers like silver fur in the moonlight.” 

 It gave a sense of intimacy with the characters who are not only on a long journey through the canyons on the edge of the Society but are also on their own emotional and developmental journey. Also, it allowed time to give an impression of the world outside of the Society in the danger and splendour of the majestic canyons, contrasting with the safe but restricted Society setting found in Matched.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Cassia  experiencing the freedom, danger and horror of being outside of the Society and truly beginning to see the world the way Ky does instead of walking around with blinkers. Unlike some YA characters in sequels, she stayed authentic and with the same vulnerability and nativity that makes her so appealing and endearing yet developed so much as she faced the danger and uncertainty of the consequences of her rebellious actions. Her relationship with Ky takes on a new dimension where the lingering glances and suspense of whether they can ever be together turns into the longing to be reunited and barriers like differences in what they want to do in the future being placed between them to test their love for each other. It will be interesting to see how the love triangle with Xander plays out in the last book of the trilogy.

The secondary characters of Indie and Eli were introduced too, adding something new to the mix and making up for the loss of characters like Cassia's brother Bram left back in the Society. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Indie, who accompanied Cassia on her quest to find Ky,  because she came across as having a sly, secretive side that made my question her trustworthiness. As for Eli, he's adorable just like Bram in Matched with his cute courage and I hope we'll be seeing more of him in book three!

Matched left me with a lot of questions about the Society and I was really hoping that they would be answered but I turned the last page with most of them still unanswered and new ones formed. For example, the concepts of the Enemy and the Rising is introduced but it is not fully described who they are or what they really do or stand for. There were no huge cliff hangers at the end but no conclusion either, leaving the story perfectly set up for moving ahead with the plot. If Allie Condie intended this to keep readers intrigued to to read the last book in the series, then it certainly worked!

Verdict:  Crossed is a wonderfully written sequel woven with the same imaginative and enchanting prose descriptions that characterised Matched with determination, bravery, danger and love at all costs at its heart. Although, it didn't quite live up to my  high expectations and acts as a stepping stone middle book because the plot isn't driven forward much.  Despite this, I enjoyed it overall and look forward to reading the resolution for the characters in the final book- fans of Matched should definitely read it!


Rating: 3 stars


 Crossed is released in the UK on the 24th October. Thanks to Penguin UK for providing me a review copy of Crossed.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The dreaded blogging slump....

Since September, you may have noticed I've only posted a few times and that's because I've been experiencing a dose of the dreaded blogging slump! Over the past year I've seen other bloggers fall victim to it but as I was sat there happily tweaking my layout and writing a new review, I never imagined it would happen to me...

From the beginning of the school year, where I was planning to write up some new post ideas I'd had over the summer, I found myself busy with adjusting to more work for my GCSE years and instead of heading to write new posts, read other blogs or read I just wanted to relax in front of the TV and chill out. It sounds crazy for someone who loves reading and blogging so much, right?

Slowly I began to realise that despite the fact that I love blogging and all the other lovely bloggers, I sometimes felt that I *had* to read a book by a certain time to get a review up or that I had to update even though that might not be something I wanted to do. Other times I'll struggle to even write a review or I'll just feel like reading for the sake of reading instead of knowing that I'll probably be writing a review for it at the end. That's definitely not what I want my blogging experience to be like because then it becomes work when it should be fun. So that's why I decided to stay away from posting for a while until I fell in love with it again.

Don't get me wrong- I have missed it! I was lucky enough to the Bloomsbury launch of Velvet by Mary Hooper in London and met some UK bloggers whose blogs I really enjoy reading, one of whom was Becky from The Bookette and that reminded me of how much I missed ave missed the wonderful bookish community and particularly getting and giving comments and recommendations.

Whilst I haven't posted in a few weeks, I have still been reading, most particularly The Hunger Games series, which got me out of a mini reading slump too. I've been meaning to read them for absolutely AGES but all the praise they get made me just want to put off reading them incase they didn't live up to expectations and I'd have something to look forward to. Now I'm so glad I've finally read them because yes, I'm now another fan who thinks they're AMAZING! Thank you to everyone who's recommended them to me =)

I think that a brief slump happens to every blogger at some point but hopefully I'll gradually begin posting more frequently again soon and come back with refreshed creativity. Thanks for sticking with me!

Have you ever experience a blogging slump/burnout? How did you find inspiration and get out of the rut?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Book Review: Daughter of Xandu by Dori Jones Yang


Goodreads

Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.


My thoughts

The reason that made me want to pick Daughter of Xandu up is although I'm an avid YA historical fiction reader- as many of you will know- I've never read something set in the Mongolian empire before because of the typical setting being the Tudor or Victorian eras. So something different and fresh sounded a lot of fun! 

The narrator is the beautiful and headstrong Princess Emmajin  who is determined to be just like her boy cousins and dreams of doing the impossible: serving her country in the Mongol army when no women has ever done so before. All through her childhood, she has heard stories of glory on the battlefield that her ancestors experienced that have been told from age to age. It is a life like this that she craves instead of the seemingly dull and pointless frivolities and pampering of court life or the duties that come from marriage and children.

I loved the character of Emmajin and really connected with her character early on her book because although she has  seemingly impossible aspirations, she is not afraid to pursue them but keeps herself grounded, with the realisation that she may have to accept the life she has been born into lo. On one hand she is strong and fierce when practising horse riding and archery but she is also shy around some people, making her realistically flawed. She endures tough times to try and achieve her dreams but throughout the book she really develops  as a young women and she begins to see the world through different eyes  as she gets to know the initially distrusted strange foreigner Marco Paolo.

Emmajin's relationship with Marco Paolo- the foreigner from far away Venice  in Christendom (Europe) she was asked to spy on by the Great Khan- was something that I really enjoyed seeing develop, grow and change during the course of the book. Their initial distrust of each other slowly changes and Emmajin is fascinated by his tales of Europe and his beloved Venice and he loyalty to her country is tested. It was lovely how they were from completely different backgrounds but they found so much in common and could really understood each other. The end to their story might not be all that realistic but for what was was described of the time before but it left me happy and that's what matters most. Before reading this book, I didn't know the first thing about Paolo apart from the fact he was a famous historical person so I'm happy to say I now know a lot more and it was really interesting to find out about his story! Oh, and did I mention he's handsome too?


The other characters in the story felt very real too and were well written even though there was quite a wide array. I really wish there could be a sequel to this book so I could read more about them!

The best historical fiction makes you feel like  the period the book is set in  so familiar and alive and that's what Daughter of Xandu succeeded in doing- excellently! Knowing nothing about the culture of the Mongol empire, I was fascinated to learn about the different traditions, the harsh life in army, the system of the royal family and the empire. Whilst the story was not loaded with description, the fact that Dori Jones Yang actually went to the places the book is set and hunted down the spot of the ancient site Xandu is clear. One part I especially enjoyed reading was the account of a ferocious battle between the Mongols and the Burmese, where they used elephants and other tactics. 


Verdict: Daughter of Xandu is an enthralling and fast paced tale that was special for me because of it's unique setting in Mongolia at the time of the great Kubai Khan featuring Marco Paolo, a strong willed heroine with a big dream, tons of adventure and of course romance. If you like historical fiction or even just a story with heart, then I'd definitely recommend it!


Rating: 5 stars

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Book Trailer: Velvet by Mary Hooper

If my review posted earlier this week of Velvet by Mary Hooper- which is published this week in the UK- intrigued you,  then check out this lovely trailer that captures the dark and creepy feel of the craze for spiritualism in Victorian London.




You can read the remainder of the Velvet blog tour at the sites below!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Book Review: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Beautiful DaysGoodreads description



For the bright young things of 1929, the beautiful days seem endless, filled with romance and 
heartbreak, adventure and intrigue, friendship and rivalry.
After a month in New York, Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur are small-town girls no longer. They spend their afternoons with Astrid Donal at the Greys’ lush Long Island estate and their nights in Manhattan’s bustling metropolis. But Letty’s not content to be a mere socialite. She is ready at last to chase her Broadway dreams—no matter the cost.
Cordelia is still reeling from the death of her father at the hands of Thom Hale, the man she thought she loved. Now she is set to honor Darius Grey’s legacy . . . and take her revenge.
Promised to Cordelia’s half brother, Astrid is caught up in a world of dazzling jewels and glittering nights—and the sparkle is blinding. Charlie Grey is a gangster playing a dangerous game; and for Astrid, Cordelia, and Letty, the stakes could be deadly.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes the second book in an epic series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age.

My Thoughts

Beautiful Days is the second in the Bright Young Things series set in 1920s New York and it follows on soon after the first book Bright Young Things end, continuing the story of Astrid Donal, Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur- a flapper, a heiress and an aspiring starlet. Anna Godbersen is the queen of this  glamorous era and she really knows how to bring the sparkling world of speakeasies, bootlegging and jazz to life through her descriptive writing.

We find the girls having spent an summer lounging around the pool together and Letty and Cordelia are not the small town girls they once were but have found their place amongst the numerous New York socialites who live for a night out at a club in a sparkly dress. However Letty soon realises that this empty life is not what she dreamed of and that she can't let her dream of becoming a famous singer slip away; Cordelia settles into the Grey family and embarks on a new plan to open a new club down-town along with her bootlegger brother Charlie and Astrid's tumultuous romantic relationship with Charlie continues on its ups and downs.

One of my favourite things was seeing each of the three heroines develop and change but like in Bright Young Things, I found myself identifying with and caring about Letty the most  because she works hard to chase her dream of seeing her name in bright lights come true even when it looks as there there's no hope. I felt that she was the least spoiled too, not being wealthy like Astrid and Cordelia and her trying to make her own way in the city made for the most interesting story. Each of the girl's stories was interesting in its own way though and what I like most of all about them is that they're depicted as going through the same problems and heartaches that girls experience today as they make their own way in the world.

Fans of romance will be glad to hear that more romantic attachments are formed although they are far from smooth. The attractive bootlegger Charlie and Astrid are still together but their relationship is complicated and though they clearly love each other, there are obstacles that they must get over. I get the vibe that there is something mysterious underlying their relationship that hasn't come to light yet so I'm looking forward to seeing how everything turns out for them in the next instalment in the series Cordelia is reluctant to let a man into her life after the heartbreak she last experiences but one young man manages to worm his way into her heart, creating another unpredictable storyline. Still, like I mentioned in my review of Bright Young Things, I didn't connect with any of the romantic interests very well and they didn't hold much appeal so the romance was too stale for me. 

Whilst the characters are developed well, it is the historical setting of the twenties that I love the most about the book with the gorgeous dresses, lavish houses, bright lights and glitz of Manhattan and Long Island as well as the dangers of gangs and the sadness and emptiness of the hedonistic lifestyles of social giants that lie behind the glamour. It just goes to show that there was a lot to the jazz age that comes to mind when we think of it.

Verdict: Anna Godbersen has topped Bright Young Things with its sequel, providing an escape to the roaring twenties with a thrilling plot and well developed main characters coming of age. However there is something missing which I can't quite work out. If you enjoyed Bright Young Things, then you'll love Beautiful Days too"

Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

I'm Back and Summer Reading!


I looked a bit like this a few weeks ago-
only it was a lot colder and less sunny!
Hey everyone! You may have noticed that I hadn't posted for a few weeks until yesterday and that's because I decided to take a bit of a break this summer to spend time with my friend from Italy who stayed for the month and get used to my new job. I had a really fun summer holiday in Cornwall and although I didn't get in nearly as much reading as I hoped, I did read some brilliant books. However I'm glad to say that I'm back now because I definitely missed blogging!

Here's what I read:

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Septys


Just Listen by Sara Dessen


Daughter of Xandu by Dori Jones Yang


Velvet by Mary Hooper 


Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman




Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen (review later this week) 



In other news, I did my first ever guest post over at Rebecca Books as part of her summer themed week last month on the topic of summery covers. Rebecca has a wonderful blog and this week had a great line up of posts so if you're interested, go and check out my post here.

I've got a few reviews planned but posts might not be as regular as usual in the next few weeks as I get used to the extra school work I'll be getting from starting GCSE courses. So, things should be back to usual soon but just bear with me for the moment!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

Goodreads description

Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry is scalding, back-breaking work and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet's very life is in danger ...A romantic and thrillingly exciting new novel from an acclaimed and much-loved historical writer for teens.

My thoughts

I first heard about Velvet when Mary Hooper was in the first stages of writing it, about a month before her previous book Fallen Grace was published as she visited my school and I loved the sound of the storyline of a young laundress mixed up in the Victorian spiritualism industry. Hooper is the author that introduced me to historical fiction (for which I’m eternally grateful!) so her books are automatically on my must-read list.

The story is told from the point of view of the heroine Velvet in the first person, an orphan who works as a laundress. I warmed to her character within the first few chapters because despite growing up in a home with an abusive father who regularly came home drunk and spent his wages on gambling, she still had the courage to believe that she could make a better life for herself and remained positive. I admired her strength and determination to live independently and better herself in an era where it was frowned upon for women, particularly in the working class, to have high aspirations. She also had a rather sweet innocence because of her inexperience in the ways of the world that led her to seem gullible sometimes, especially when it came to her encounters with mediums. At times I found this a little annoying but I had to remember Velvet’s background and the setting.

It was really clever how there are passages with Velvet’s employer Madame Savoya- the medium- with her clients that let the reader know the secrets of her work whilst Velvet does not because it gave a completely different viewpoint. Although the down side was that it made some of the plot a little predictable. Madame Savoya herself was an interesting character and she made me wonder how mediums like her could live on the riches conned from her poor clients without feeling guilty.

I was glad to find the historical detail that I love so much in Hooper’s writing because it gave the perfect sense of Victorian London, providing intriguing insights to life in that era without unnecessary details that weigh the narrative down. . The main focus is on the business of mediums and spiritualists who use the popularity of the spirit realm amongst the upper classes during Victorian times and the vulnerability of the bereaved to trick people into giving up their money. I really enjoyed learning about how this industry was conducted and the lavish lifestyles mediums led through it. There was also a harrowing passage that shows the atrocities of baby farms and the historical note at the end gives more information on this for readers who are interested in finding out more. As in her other books, famous Victorian characters appear in the book too such as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle and the baby farmer Amelia Dyer. It is clear that a lot of research has gone into creating this authentic atmosphere and it really pays off.

For those looking for a bit of romance, there is a smidgen that was enough to keep me satisfied but it’s really a background story that doesn't get developed much in the story and left much to my imagination at the end. 

Verdict: Mary Hooper has again transported me back in time with Velvet’s relatable characters, wonderfully compelling writing style and fascinating insights into the spiritualist world of Victorian London. Despite this, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that it didn't top Fallen Grace as I was so hoping it would but if you haven't read this or anything else by Mary yet, I recommend you do!



Rating: 4 stars


Thank you to Bloomsbury for providing me with a copy for review.


If you like the sound of Velvet, check out the first post on it's blog tour to celebrate the UK release this week over at Wondrous Reads for an interview with Mary.




Friday, 5 August 2011

Book Review: Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Goodreads description

Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise's parents died when she was too young to remember them. There's always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor. 

When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish. Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the barn...

Review

Although I've heard great things about  Suzanne LaFleur's debut novel Love Aubrey Eight Keys is the first book of hers that I've read and I was eager to try what sounded like a wonderful story aimed at a young audience of pre and early teens.

The main character, eleven year old Elise, has lived with her aunt and uncle ever since her parents died at a young age and they love her as their own but Elise still has questions about her family. She has also had her best friend Franklin by her side for as long as she can remember and at the beginning of the book she is looking forward to starting at the same middle school as him. However, Elise suddenly finds him babyish but as her twelfth birthday approaches, she has many life lessons and family secrets to discover.

What I love about this book is that  because it's told through the eyes of an eleven year old there is a simple quality of beauty to it, and the story is just allowed to unfold naturally without complications or description that would distract from the cast of characters or the issues of friendship, identity, fitting in and growing up that are sensitively explored.

The relationships that Elsie has built up are the most important element of the book and my favourite was the lifelong friendship between her and Franklin. They share the special bond of sharing their childhood together- playing, exploring, laughing, crying- that not many people are lucky enough to have experienced. The change in the way Elsie feels about their friendship is something that I think many teenagers will be able to understand to but I felt very sorry for Franklin about the way he was treated because he showed an unselfish loyalty that rose above the thoughts of others. It was a lovely reminder of the value of true friendship and how we should appreciate it!

All of the rest of the characters from the bully Amanda and Franklin's overprotective mum to Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hugh were portrayed realistically with differing personalities and authentic scenes and dialogue.  For a reasonably short book with just over 200 pages, the core characters were also surprisingly well developed. It was clear that despite losing her parents, Elsie was surrounded by people who loved and cared for her and the story's events showed that family is life's gift to us and so must be treasured.

Moving to middle school is something that every teenager has to go through and everyone can relate to wanting to change yourself to fit in with other people. Elsie's experience of bullying is horrible but it carries with it the message of learning to be yourself and demonstrates the painful situations that can arise from growing up.

Using the idea of the eight keys to unlock the mysteries behind Elsie's family was a very creative and inventive way of dealing with the theme of growing up and finding yourself. It also bought an element of mystery into the book and try as I might, I was just as clueless as to what was in the eight rooms that her dad has left behind for her as Elsie was. . This part of the book was done really well and I really liked the originality and unpredictability of it.

Verdict: Eight Keys is a brilliantly moving and emotional story that shines in its simplicity and shows the importance of discovering your identity in growing up and loving your friends and family. I would recommend this thought provoking book to other people- particularly pre-teens- and look forward to enjoying more of Suzanne LaFleur's books in the future.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Coverlicious: Entwined by Heather Dixon (Beautiful Cover Dresses)

Coverlicious is a semi-regular feature on my blog featuring anything to do with covers from covers I love to covers to lookalike covers! This post is part of a series called Beautiful Cover Dresses.

This post's feature:


Entwined by Heather Dixon

I ADORE this cover! I know I say I love a lot of covers but this ones up there with the very best and it was the cover that first attracted my attention when I saw it last September. Seriously, I would have bought it for the cover alone but thankfully, the story is great too because it's a retelling of the fairytale the Twelve Dancing Princesses. How could anyone resist such a pretty cover?

The ball gown

First off, the ball gown the girl (Azalea) screams 'Princess' with it's flowing white netting layers and the cute oversized bow. Though gorgeous, it looks really hard to walk in let alone dance and it has a slight greyish and tattered look, which could represent the financial struggles of the royal family of the story.

Lost and trapped

To me, the girl looks lost as she explores the palace gardens and the twelve sisters did get lost because the gardens were so big but I think it also represents how lost Azalea is emotionally.  The cover has a sort of eerie element too because it's quite dark and the silver leaves look like they are trapping the girl as they entwine around her. This is really clever because I think it's supposed to represent the silver forest the girls disappear in to dance.

Castle

Castles and palaces always remind people of fairy tales so I'm glad that there's one on here in the background. It looks grand with the tall spire but also magical, which it is in the book.

Original photo

I was browsing on the photo website We Heart It and I came across the photo below, which is clearly the image that has been used for the Entwined cover.


Princessb_large

I love the way the elements in the photo are laid out and I wish more of the simplicity had been kept because despite it being beautiful, I do think the cover for Entwined is a touch busy with the swirly cover across the middle and all the silver leaves (which are embossed on the actual cover.)

Better in real life

I got this book as a birthday present and it was the last one I opened as it arrived on the day and it's even better in person. The back cover is also lovely because it features the palace image and even inside, each chapter page is decorated with the silver leaf patter.

What do you think of this cover? Does it make you want to read it? Do you think it's too busy?

Friday, 29 July 2011

Book Review: Entwined by Heather Dixon

Entwined
Goodreads description:

Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it.
The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.
Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.
But there is a cost.
The Keeper likes to keep things.
Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.


Review

I love fairy tale retellings and I've been wanting to read Entwined ever since I first heard of it last September so I was happy to finally sink into it. The tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is familiar to me and I've read another retelling of it called Princess of the Midnight Ball so I was was hoping that I enjoyed this version of the story just as much.

Azalea and her eleven sisters have been plunged into mourning after the death of their mother when giving birth to her youngest daughter Lily. Forced to sport black dresses and banned from, balls, going into the palace gardens except on royal business, seeing suitors and worst of all, dancing, the girls find life dull. That is until they discover a magic staircase in their room leading to a beautiful underworld pavilion where they can dance all night under the watchful eye of the handsome Keeper and wear their dancing shoes to rags to the bewilderment of their servants. However, the Keeper has more to him than meets the eye and the girls realise too late that they have become entangled in something more than they bargained on and danger is hot on their heels.

Entwined is told in the third person through the eyes of Princess Azalea and through the narrative, a beautiful world is spun and the vivid imaginings of the palace and magic captivated me. Heather Dixon has bought a unique spin to the fairy tale and added a fresh and creative dimension that has really made it her own. I loved her descriptions of the kingdom from the grandeur of the palace gardens to the scary silvery shadows of the magic pavilion where the girls go to dance. Oh- and the dancing! I really can't dance myself but I could picture the graceful and elegant movements of the girls gliding and swirling across the ball room. There was also a good balance of old traditions, formal dancing at balls and modern behaviour without it seeming out of place.

The close bond between the sisters was adorable to see and was a joy to read about when so many YA book families are dysfunctional. They comforted each other after the death of their mother and were always looking out for one another. You might think that with twelve girls to contend with, characteristics wouldn't be a strong point but I'm happy to say that each of the girls had a distinct personality and I knew who each one was even though they didn't get equal page time. There was cheeky and fiery. Bramble who's always cracking a joke, responsible and kind Azalea. However the family were not without their problems and Azalea had many worries to deal with from the burden looking after her sisters to the government choosing a suitable husband for her.  The girl's relationship with the King evolved really well throughout the story with him developing a lot as a father and it was lovely to see the family overcome their problems together. One addition I especially loved was that the girl's flower names were arranged in order of their age  so Azalea's name was A as she is the eldest and I was referring to the alphabet constantly to see how old one of the girls were. I would have been lost without that...

Now a fairytale wouldn't be complete without a smidgen of romance, right? There were several romantic interests in Entwined for the eldest of the sisters and each one romantic in their own sweet way! It took nearly the whole book for the relationships to develop but this was part of the beauty of it because there was no love at first sight and made for some very humorous scenes!

One thing to note is that the plot is quite slow moving and although this allowed for the excellent character and relationship development, it did affect my enjoyment slightly.

Verdict: Entwined has everything the perfect fairytale needs- a gorgeous setting, endearing characters, an evil villain, cute romance, humour and a happily-ever-after! It was an enchanting and heart warming break from reality that made me lose myself in the world of princesses, dancing, magic and family love. Not only did I love the story but also Heather Dixon's writing and I'm looking forward to seeing what she writes next. I'd especially recommend Entwined to fairytale and fantasy lovers and wish it would be made into a movie.

Rating: 4.5 stars