Wednesday, 21 March 2018

My Lady's Choosing by Kitty Curran

My Lady's Choosing
by Kitty Curran

Summary: The romance novel that lets you pick your path, follow your heart, and find happily ever after

You are the plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society, courtship season has begun, and your future is at hand. Will you flip forward fetchingly to find love with the bantering baronet Sir Benedict Granville? Or turn the page to true love with the hardworking, horse-loving highlander Captain Angus McTaggart? Or perhaps race through the chapters chasing a good (and arousing) man gone mad, bad, and scandalous to know, Lord Garraway Craven? Or read on recklessly and take to the Continent as the “traveling companion” of the spirited and adventuresome Lady Evangeline? Or yet some other intriguing fate?

Make choices, turn pages, and discover all the daring delights of the multiple (and intertwining!) storylines. And in every path you pick, beguiling illustrations bring all the lust and love to life.

When I first read the synopsis of this book, I was desperate to read it. I used to love choose your own adventure stories when I was a kid, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. So the fact that this book was combining an old love with a newer one I've developed for regency romance, how could I not read it? It sounded fantastic.

Well...I liked it, but I didn't love it.

One of my issues with the book--the thing that stopped me loving it--really boils down to the reason I love regency romance books. They are addictive, they sweep you up into their (usually) predicable little worlds and distract you for a few hours from anything that's going on in yours.

But this didn't really have many of the qualities that makes me love regency romance. The choices and the flipping back and forth throughout the book was actually distracting and pulled me out of the story. It wasn't the kind of book I could relax and lose myself in.

The other issue I had was the writing. It wasn't my style at all. Partly because it was trying really hard to be witty and that's just not the kind of writing I like in a regency romance, but the main issue was mostly that it was written in second person.

I know that it's a choose YOUR own adventure story, but I didn't like that element. I would've rather it felt like the book version of the sims...where I'm making choices for another character and seeing how it plays out for them, but the you thing didn't allow any distance and I didn't like that (again, it kind of took me out of the story a bit -- which was odd considering the point was to place me into the story).

As for the stories themselves, the one I read was fun. Others less so (I appreciated that it included the option of a F/F romance) -- I found the Mac scenes totally grating, I couldn't finish that plot line because it irritated me (I'm Scottish, his dialogue should have felt natural for me to read but it just felt cliche and clumsy -- and it got to the point where I probably would've screamed if he said "lass" one more time).

Basically, the story did hook me in the end and there was definitely a lot to love about it, it really just was a case of the book not being my kind of thing even though in theory it should have been.

Overall, I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5 and I'd recommend it if you're just looking for something fun and a new way of reading regency romance.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief
by Elizabeth Wein

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family's ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather's death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. 

Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong.  

And then she notices the family's treasure trove of pearls is missing.

I was simultaneously excited and nervous to read this book for two reasons.

First, I rarely read books set in my country. Mostly because they tend to be written from an outsiders perspective and any I have tried have bugged me because of inaccuracies and lack of nuance (i.e. the author writes a Scottish stereotype rather than something that genuinely captures the heart of my home).

Secondly, I lovelovelove Code Name Verity so much (and the other books I've read of Elizabeth's) and I didn't think this book could possibly live up to the expectations that book set.

So I was wary going into it for those reasons. But also excited...because Scotland and more Julie.

My nervousness went right out the window with the first chapter. I loved this book. It wasn't quite the same emotional gut punch that Code Name Verity was, but it was really good and more than I hoped it would be.

It's one of the only books I've ever read set in Scotland that really felt right. Like you could just tell that the author either was Scottish or had lived here for years. She gets the people right, the way of talking right, the humour, the country...she got it all so right and that made me so happy.

As for the story...the story itself wasn't my normal kind of book plot-wise, but it was fun and entertaining. I mostly read the book for the characters and I loved the characters so much.

The book was also way more diverse than I was expecting it to be. It explores Julie's sexuality (which people had speculated about in some Code Name Verity reviews I've read) -- this book pretty much confirms she's not straight, and while the words aren't used she's pretty blatantly either bisexual or pansexual and I loved that, especially given the time period.

I love that there was subtle romance in the book, it was just a subplot rather than the focus. I love that it doesn't romanticize the age gap between a teenager and older guy, instead it highlights it as being creepy. I love that Julie's attraction to girls was treated no differently than her attraction to guys.

There was also disability representation in the form of Julie's friend, Mary, and I thought it was handled really well because the book didn't shy away from Julie's ignorance regarding Mary's disability and it didn't make Mary out to be this perfect person who was just there to inspire able bodied characters. Mary was flawed, kind, capable, ignorant -- she was complex. It felt more honest because of that.

I really, really loved that the book included some of the Scottish Traveller community too. Growing up in Scotland, Traveller's show up in town every now and then (usually annually) and my friends and I always loved it when they did. It was new friends for us to hang out with (and we did make a lot of friends and they were some of the kindest people I've ever known)...but their arrival was always met with suspicion from our parents and warnings for us to stay away. The ignorance and discrimination never really registered with me for what it was when I was younger, and it still doesn't make sense to me now.

My point was, I loved that Scottish Traveller's were represented in this book and it showed them in the positive light I've always thought of them. I loved that it showed the discrimination and hate they used to have to put up with, and still do put up with to this day. I love that the book didn't try to justify that unfounded and irrational hate and suspicion people have for them. Euan and Ellen were probably my favourite characters other than Julie.

Basically...there was so much I loved about this book. I loved the writing and the representation, I thought the story was fun and I really, really, really loved getting to see more of Julie (and Jamie) as characters, and what her life was life before she met Maddie in Code Name Verity.

I'd rate the book 4.5 stars out of 5. The only thing holding it back from 5 is because...well, it wasn't Code Name Verity, that book burrowed a painful hole into my heart and made itself at home there and so that's the story that Elizabeth's other books get measured against (so far, they've all held their own pretty well, even if CNV is still my favourite).


Side note: the book does include slurs against the Traveller's (though mostly they're called Travellers and the slurs are used in scenes where people are showing their ignorance and discrimination of the people, rather than casually or in a way that comes across as okay). I thought I should mention that because I know it does bother people.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife
by Jennifer Worth

Summary: Call the Midwife' is a most extraordinary book and should be required reading of all students of midwifery, nursing, sociology and modern history. It tells of the experiences of a young trainee midwife in the East End of London in the 1950's and is a graphic portrayal of the quite appalling conditions that the East Enders endured.
I made the mistake of reading this book after I'd watched the TV show.

The problem with that is that the TV show is a really, really good and faithful adaptation so while I was reading, it felt like I had already read this story, and this was one of the rare occasions where the book didn't add much more to it than the show gave.

The only thing I got from the book that there was less of in the show was hindsight...the book includes a lot of information about how midwives and nurses were trained to treat patients back then, but Jennifer Worth also talks about the things they got wrong. Like having mothers on bed rest for weeks when now they know that it's best for them to be up and about as soon as possible to prevent complications. There's a little bit of this in the show via the narrator, but there's more of it in the book.

There were also some more graphic descriptions of child birth that obviously couldn't be shown on the show. It was actually pretty interesting to read about (I'm not squeamish about that sort of thing, if anything it's reassuring knowing what our bodies are capable of). It left me kind of in awe of the women throughout history who were having children before all of the medical advancements we have now (and the option of pain meds).

This review is a bit waffling and I'm not sure where I'm going with it really (out of practice), but I guess what I'm trying to say is that the book is really fascinating and informative and it pulls that off with so much heart and personality. It's hard not to love and care about the people from Jennifer Worth's stories when she talks of them with such warmth and realness.

I did genuinely love the book. I just wish I'd read it before seeing the show. The show is fantastic too -- the cast is excellent and it's so honest and heartwarming and heartbreaking and eyeopening, and I love seeing what it was like for women like my granny back then, and how the NHS and nursing and midwifery have evolved over time.

I really recommend checking out both, but maybe start with the book.

"Now and then in life love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul all unprepared..." - Jennifer Worth



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