How (Not) To Marry A Duke by Felicia Kingsley – Book Review

See my review of How (Not) To Marry A Duke by Felicia Kingsley, a hate-to-love romance set in modern day British aristocracy.
Click the cover to read the book’s description.

I received this book from Aria and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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A gentle reminder two stars still means ‘it was okay’ by the Goodreads standard.

The premise for this book was interesting and the majority of my issues with it congregate toward the very start and the very end of the book, because the in between was pretty good and would have easily received 3/3.5 stars from me but, I did have my problems.

Like I said, it was an interesting concept, it was light and quite funny at times and, well it must have been compelling since past the 30% point I couldn’t put it down. By the end, I really routed for Ashford and Jemma because opposites attract has never been truer than when applied to them and, they worked. Inexplicably, they worked.

My issues as I said, began at the start, the first one being Derek’s part to play; I may be naïve to think this but no solicitor, or legal professional, would risk their integrity and livelihood to play matchmaker and disclose confidential client information and advise his clients to commit fraud. I’m sorry but lawyers are smart people, and that is dumb as f***. I know many, many solicitors and they wouldn’t dream of giving such negligent advice, let alone to a friend of theirs. I would have bought the whole scheme more if they had dreamed it up themselves.

The second issue I had was the portrayal of almost every character as some daft, caricature of an outdated stereotype. Carly and Vance’s hippy lifestyle, which hey, could well be accurate but I felt it was overemphasized and overdone; Ashford’s arrogance and ignorance (‘“We’re talking about three million pounds!” I complain.’ I’m sorry but one does not simply complain about discovering they are in £3m worth of debt. No one does, I don’t care how rich you are); and Delphina. Delphina, in general, was the absolute worst example of a caricature but even worse was the injustice I felt was done to poor Jemma.

Never mind the fact she was repeatedly treated like crap, and never actually got her sweet revenge by rubbing her millions in their snobby faces and proving someone can be wealthy and not act like they were born to the celestials, but I felt an injustice was done to working-class women in her portrayal. I felt I understood Jemma’s character, her roots; I come from a Labour-supporting, working-class city with roots as deep in football support as they are in tradesmanship. I know and am related to people like Jemma, who like what she likes and have the same take-me-or-leave-me attitude and don’t pander to those who feel as though they are above them, so her continuous abuse at the hands of the upper class meant something to me and I rooted for her. However, her consistent portrayal (both in thought and in action) as a childish, ill-mannered bimbo was just plain insulting. Living in the working class parts of London (which isn’t cheap even then), of any city doesn’t automatically make you incapable of holding a civil conversation, eating anything other than fried chicken and ignorant of the value of newspapers, even if you don’t enjoy them yourself. It just doesn’t, and whenever she did succeed at something it was never treated as an accomplishment, just a fluke or a lucky break as if no one like her could ever do such a thing based on skill. Even Ashford’s recognition is plain patronising and condescending. I get that everyone is different but I stopped relating to her the second I realised that unlike I first thought, she wasn’t the only real person in the book, she was yet another caricature.

As I said, the story improves and even though the plot cycles through (and references) the timeless tropes and themes of Pride and Prejudice, Taming of the Shrew, Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries, I really did enjoy that part as we actually saw some great character development from our two main characters (even if Ashford never completely stops being an absolute asshole).

But the ending* spoiled it for me and took it down to a 2-star rating because it just made me angry. Not a bad book but for me, it was personally problematic.

*SPOILER ALERT

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Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking – Book Review

Hocking, A - Between the Blade and the HeartI received a copy of this book from the publisher, Pan Macmillan, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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So while I was checking who the publisher was for the opening line of this review I saw NetGalley’s description of this book started with these words: ‘Game of Thrones meets Thor: Ragnarok’.

Um, no? I feel like this is a severely misleading description if anything this book is Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Shadowhunters and well, every mythological being out there, apparently. I found this book quite disappointing really. It wasn’t bad, it was actually alright but it lacks focus on its concept and if you’re going into this expecting a Norse-inspired YA fantasy you’re going to be disappointed.

So far as I can tell the Valkyries in this book resemble those from mythology only in name, fierceness and weaponry. Their purpose and values are completely unique to this world and that is perfectly fine, they just don’t line up with the mythology and I think it might have been better if they had had a different name all their own. The atmosphere and setting of the novel is a very grungey, steampunk, overcrowded city complete with hover crafts, dark, gritty alleyways and underground markets just ’cause. The scene setting is actually really good, and the world building as good as it could be with the complete overload of inspirations it had.

The Norse influence is very limited and this book includes all manner of immortal, mythology beings including angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, goblins, cyclopses, ghosts, witches, devas (whatever they are), demigods, real gods, giant spiders, shapeshifters, sorcerers and pretty much everything in between. It’s too much, and frankly, I just wish the bad guys had had one overarching theme. On top of this, while a lot of the names used were German-inspired we also had them side by side with things named in different Norse languages, Latin and probably many others I’m too uneducated to recognise. It was just too much.

It’s our main character, Malin’s (and her fellow elite warriors the Valkyries) job to kill these many, many, many immortal beings when their time is dictated by some other faceless, immortal beings for reasons unbeknownst to us and her and she is aided by her human-come-sorceress-in-training best friend, her knowledge father figure mentor and this other dude she just met – but wait! She has to do all this world-saving and keep up with school work and exes and mother issues like any other teenager?! However, will she cope at being so awesome? (Do you see where I am getting Buffy from?)

Much like Buffy, I found it hard to keep my attention with this book. I mean it was interesting but, as with Buffy (when my best friend made me watch it, appalled I had missed it in my childhood despite it predating us both) my mind would wander and I’d hit pause to go do something else pretty easily.

Overall the writing was good even if a few sentences kind of felt like a thesaurus had coughed them out:

“Many immortals took umbrage with the idea of being “returned”, which was teh vernacular the Riks used for killing.”

And I feel when you are going to reference literature or mythology as part of your world building it’s important to decide once and for all if it’s also canon in your world or not. For instance, there was a place called ‘the Ninth Ring’ and one of the characters then explains it refers to Dante’s Inferno. It’s a place name. Your readers can get that reference themselves and it’s clever. When your characters get that it’s cheesy. I also didn’t get how the characters could refer to anything as mythology when it all lived right next door to them, quite literally. Or question if the Vanir gods are real when according to their own job description, they work for them. It was confused as hell.

My final peeve, is that I saw yet another example of what I’m tentatively going to refer to as a trope, since I’m not sure it is and I have not heard it discussed before. In the last few YA books I’ve read with a bisexual main character, I’ve noticed a trend that every single one seemed compelled to include two romantic rivals, one female, and one male as if it was necessary to validate their characters bisexuality? Just gonna say now, it isn’t. It makes sense in some books but on most occasions, it feels like the author is just trying to prove their character is bi to the reader. When a character makes it clear they are straight or gay in a book I don’t go looking for proof, I accept it because it’s a book, why would it lie? So, why do I need proof for bisexual characters in the form of forced, and often utterly incompatible love rivalries that add naught to the story except annoying inner turmoil for the main character as they decide who they like better? Please just stop, it’s dumb and borderline offensive.

I think this book will really appeal to a lot of people, as many people do really like the meshing of different mythologies and legends and overall it isn’t horrible, I’m just not one of them and I won’t be reading the sequel.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan – Book Review

Sullivan, M - Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreI received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I was having a hard time figuring out if I liked this book or not. The story was intriguing and definitely kept me hooked, I thought it was well written and the author painted the town so well, I could really picture and imagine the place. I just really hated the lead character.

I liked her to begin with but as I learnt more about her I just found her annoying. I understood she went through a terrible trauma. I understood these fears and trust issues she had. Like I got it, it was repeatedly fixated on by her. I just didn’t understand why. 

I mean so many people have been through similar and worse experiences than her and recovered, led full lives, yes there are some that can’t but considering she was presented as such a “strong” character – or perhaps I misinterpreted that – I feel like she was just holding onto the past and using it as an excuse to treat everyone around her like crap.

David deserved better, I genuinely don’t see how what he did was that wrong and she majorly over-reacted, her Dad maybe could have handled things better but really? Lydia didn’t even try. The more I learnt about Joey the sadder I felt that this awesome guy thought he only had self-pitying, mopey, grudging Lydia in his life. She didn’t really even do that much for the progression of the ‘investigation’, she was sort of being dragged forward through it by the other more interesting and less annoying characters.

Much of this is really my own opinion as I imagine to a different reader Lydia’s reactions to – well, everything might seem rational but I think her actions through the book really could have been rectified by a simple apology to the people she treated badly, but they didn’t even get that.

Despite all Lydia’s flaws, I liked the writing, the ending was nice and neat and didn’t leave me with a huge amount of unanswered questions – which for books in this sort of genre, is preferable to me and I really rather liked Lyle and the bookstore.

True Fire by Gary Meehan – Book Review

Meehan, G - True FireNote: This is all older review of mine (pre-blog) and reading it back I think I must have had a bad week or been really hyped up on sugar or something because I’m sure I don’t always sound this judgmental (I hope?).

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That took way longer than it should have.

My overall feeling on the book is meh although once I start getting into the good and bad points it will sound like I hated it, I didn’t hate it or even dislike it, it was just meh.

The book came to me with a sticker on it claiming ‘If you liked Throne of Glass you’ll love this’ or something to that effect. Throne of Glass is actually a series I really liked (mainly because of Rowan, no shame), though the first book Throne of Glass was not my favourite of the lot I thought hey, maybe this book will be pretty good if it has been likened to it, but then again how many books are ‘the next Harry Potter’. To sum up, the only way it’s like Throne of Glass is that the main character is female and shares some characteristics with Calaena depending where you’re at in the Throne of Glass series.

Queue biting sarcasm. The story starts with you (the reader) finding out that Megan (our fearless heroine) has gotten pregnant at 16 by her twin sisters boyfriend’s brother basically just because he was there plus mild (not that mild) peer pressure from her sister and that old nugget about ‘it can’t happen your first time’, before her village is promptly burned to the ground by soldiers who are men but also witches because reasons and her family slaughtered or missing.

She escapes due to her brilliant prowess and skill at hiding in wheat fields and finding underwater caves (which is an actual skill since she knew about it from a story her grandfather told her during childhood and not from anything like a map or history or a plausible story on how her grandfather supposedly found it originally and conveniently packed full treasure and money and a sword of unknown origin, waiting to be found by the first desperate, bereaved, pregnant child 16 year old brave enough to swim under a waterfall and find it). She then goes on a well thought out and completely realistic mission to save her sister from the witches with the help of a middle-aged exiled countess who shows up right after all the carnage with a bow which is not at all suspicious to Megan even though at this point, just a few chapters into the book, she has already come to the YA-trademark conclusion that all this is about her.

Things I didn’t like:

Essentially no world building, and what we do get comes in fits and starts and is jumpy, you’re really thrown in at the deep end of this not all that elegant world which is okay for some books if they’re well written enough to integrate it throughout the novel afterwards or one of the many other ways you can world build in a novel that don’t actually require amazing writing that YA novels use all the time because *begins to protect head from books being thrown* it’s not exactly a genre renowned for authors that are actually great writers. (I’ll add in here that I hate the idea behind the genre YA but it’s so mainstream at the moment there’s no way to avoid mentioning it as a group). However, one thing YA authors are great at (Maas and Cassandra Clare being key examples) is creating characters the reader loves so much they are blind to any poor writing until some cruel person points it out to them. Unfortunately, none of the characters did this for me they, like the book were all sort of meh, with the exception of one. We sort of find out why the ‘witches’ are just soldiers throwing their weight around but they insist on still referring to them as witches for no reason at all.

It bothers me that the writing level is aimed at a YA audience which is generally at 12-18 age range (depending who you talk to) and the main character is definitely kind of pressured into sex but little time is given to it and she doesn’t seem that bothered or affected by the fact except for her minor qualms about society’s view on her illegitimate child? It just seems like a bad message and easily led person shouldn’t hear.

Megan is a pathetic excuse for a heroine, she can’t do much at the beginning of the novel but she throws a lot of empty threats around like ‘God help anyone who stands against me’ and the like even though she’s a defenseless 16-year-old pregnant girl with one friend she’s known for five minutes. I’m also amazed she didn’t miscarry based on the events of the first 5 chapters alone let alone the rest of the book, can you even ride a horse whilst pregnant?

Though by far the best character in the book, I don’t think the author knew what to do with Damon. Clearly, a love interest is on the horizon because it’s on the YA non-negotiable checklist but I had no idea where that crazy train was going.

It’s a petty complaint but the cover looked cheap and that is a big-ish deal to me, I like my books to look pretty on my shelf after I finish them.

Totally saw the ‘big reveal’ coming, only pity was that there was no ‘I’m the bad guy and here’s my soliloquy on why I’m evil and what my master plan is’ moment and that’s the best part of that cliche plot line.

The things I liked list is much shorter. I liked that Megan was not given auto-super powers even though she is still a little dim, the book is thankfully quite short with a large font, the prophecy is nice and easy to interpret unlike others I’ve read and Damon. Though he was far from a perfect character he was the best one and he was quite funny, I don’t think he was given nearly enough credit and he as a character was wasted on his arc. I don’t get what Meehan’s trying to achieve with his cloak and dagger riddled love life.

Overall, meh. Probably won’t read the rest of the series.

The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro – Book Review

The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard ShapiroI received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The description given on NetGalley for this book, I found slightly misleading, simply because when the phrase ‘life-altering news’ is used I don’t automatically assume it’s a cancer diagnosis. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have requested the book because after A Monster Calls and (most of) A Fault in Our Stars (though both are good books) I had decided that novels centred around cancer just weren’t what I wanted to read. I read for fun, and it just kind of depresses me.

As the story progressed I noticed a lot of ‘life lessons’ being thrown about (all under the general umbrella of ‘make the most of life while you can’), it would have been hard not to notice them honestly, as they were all explicitly spelled out, sometimes more than once, leaving the reader nothing more to infer or figure out for themselves. This is something I’d expect for a graphic novel aimed at young readers but given the heavy subject matter, I don’t think I’d like the age group this level of reading was appropriate for reading this particular story. Especially since the only reason the band enters the competition is so, the lead singer can impress his one true love – the most popular girl in school with a ‘loser’ boyfriend – which is an odd cliche to include in a story about overcoming stereotypes?

This said I liked the music references in the story – even though I think I have a slightly different definition of ‘rock’ than the author.

Anna by Amanda Prowse – Book Review

Prowse, A - anna

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Just a gentle reminder that 2 stars on Goodreads mean ‘it was okay’.

Okay, I have mixed feelings about this book that left me feeling a bit …

I’ll start with the parts I liked. The cover is very pretty and I will go to my grave before admitting seeing a photo of how gorgeous the paperback edition is on Instagram was about 80% of the reason I requested it. I liked it was relatively easy to read and fairly well written, the characters were well-rounded and I could clearly see them and their mannerisms in my mind’s eye. I also loved the idea that there were two whole books told entirely from one half of the prospective couple’s perspective – something I feel should be done in more genres.

With a cover as pretty as that I had set myself up for a nice, easy, cheesy love story which was really what I needed at the time of this reading because I was ill and just wanted a fluffy, girly book. I didn’t get this and that’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it did re-teach me the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover lesson’ once again – will I ever learn? Probably not.

Now I can and will never use subject matter as a reason to dislike a book of this genre because whilst I don’t enjoy reading about this kind of angst and all the horrible things that can happen to people in this world because I use reading as an escape from those things, I understand that some people do and that’s fine.

Things I can use as a reason include pacing and characters. This book covered a lot of time, and in order to do it had huge time leaps varying from months to years and it just made the whole book feel rushed and left me wanting more detail in places. I would have preferred for the book to start at say, when Anna starts working or leaves the home and then revisit the early parts in flashbacks or something similar. It just would have felt … neater, but that’s just me. I just felt like I was being ushered around a store, able to browse things but not really pick them up and examine them.

Anna was the main character I took issue with and that was a problem since it was all told from her POV. It wasn’t so much in the beginning when she didn’t speak as much but as time wore on she just got repetitive and annoying. When she was sad she whined and when she was happy she was really, really happy! So happy! So, so happy! That everything she said, ended in exclamation points! I’m being harsh and man, I felt bad for her at times I really did – I’d have actually stabbed Theo at points – but other times I wanted to slap her and tell her to get a grip.

Hers and Theo’s marital problems got real old, real fast and I found myself skimming most of their rows and not really missing anything new.

To sum up I get why this book literally has no bad reviews (as of the time of this writing) but it wasn’t for me. I’ll probably read Theo’s side just because there were a lot of blanks regarding him I’m assuming so the second book would sell but in all honesty, I just want a more satisfying ending than the one provided.

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin – Book Review

Carlin, L - The Wicked ComethSo I finally gave in.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

🌟🌟 – DNFed at the halfway mark. If I’m at the 50% mark in any book and still don’t care how the book ends, I can’t justify any time spent on it from there. I also feel the need to point out that 2 stars on Goodreads means ‘it was ok’ so you know, I didn’t dislike it.

I’m willing to come back to this book at another time because I honestly think it’s a good idea, it presents interesting and quite striking depictions of poverty, social mobility (which is a really important issue to me), and sexuality and I appreciated that when Hester got knocked over by the carriage and the handsome doctor helped her out they didn’t instantly fall in love because I definitely would have finished it there and then.

I think my main issue with getting into the story is that it’s in the first person which I generally dislike as a mode of storytelling – the writing itself is very good but just not for me.

I’ll admit I didn’t get the romance arc, I didn’t see any specific catalyst to it but the way it was written, explored and understood was quite interesting. I did skip to the last chapter because of a mild curiosity to how it worked out for them – though had it not been explained in that chapter I probably wouldn’t have looked further.

Overall, I totally get why it has such amazing reviews but it’s just not my cup of tea.