A very disappointing instalment in the Shopaholic series

Shopaholic to the Stars (Shopaholic, #7)Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have never made secret of the fact I’m a huge fan of the Shopaholic series of books by Sophie Kinsella, I even named it my favourite book series in my 30 day book challenge. I’ve always found the lead character Becky to be a little misguided but always intrinsically good and with the interests of those she loves foremost in her thoughts.

In this seventh installment in the series we begin with Becky planning a move to Los Angeles with husband Luke and toddler daughter Minnie. Her husband Luke has been offered the opportunity to work with Hollywood actress Sage Seymour and suddenly Becky visions herself schmoozing with A listers and being a stylist to the stars.

That truly is the crux of this book, Becky and her incessant need to be famous, lots of the old characters are back such as best friends Suze and Danny and her aloof mother in law Elinor but fundamentally this is about Becky trying to blag her way into the world of Hollywood Styling.

As I stated earlier what always made the other books work was Becky’s underlying goodness. Her misadventures were always righted by her heart of gold. Unfortunately in this book her heart of gold seemed to have lost somewhere along the way. Instead she comes across as entirely brainless, a very inattentive mother, completely self involved friend and uncaring wife. Surely the thing about writing about one character in various books is that they progress, grow and mature as they learn from the series’ adventures. Sophie Kinsella seems to have taken Becky backwards in maturity, she is someone who is supposed to be a loving wife and mother yet she spends the whole book flitting from film sets to stars houses and running around worrying about what classes she can take at her ridiculously expensive spa. It made her quite unlikeable in this book and my empathy levels dropped as a result. I just kept thinking who the heck was caring for her daughter whilst she swanned around L.A.

This book has no comparison to the earlier books in the series, it wasn’t about Becky Bloomwood the harmless, hapless Shopaholic getting out of scrapes but being a good friend. Instead she was Becky Brandon, self obsessed wannabe who ignored her friends and family for a cheap 5 minutes of fame and whilst that would have washed were she a young singleton it just grates when she’s meant to be a grown adult.

Clearly the cliffhanger at the end and the last page stating “Becky will be Back” means that another book is in the planing but I’m not sure, if it’s like this one, I’d be rushing to read it. I would also urge Sophie Kinsella to now consider if it’s time to retire her Shopaholic after the next book if she isn’t able to grow the character in new directions without losing the soul of what made her so loveable in the first place.

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Archers next Clifton Chronicles instalment is engaging and gripping

The Sins of the Father (The Clifton Chronicles, #2)The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are few authors so renowned for writing big blockbuster family sagas as Jeffrey Archer and for the past few days I have been engrossed in the second instalment of his Clifton Chronicles, The Sins of the Father.

Initially it took me a few chapters to reacquaint myself with the lead characters in this story, Harry Clifton the lead character begins this book charged with a murder committed by another man whose identity he has assumed. He has left England and his love Emma Barrington, a woman who could well be his half sister and whom he has fathered a child with that he is unaware of.

When you write it like this it it sounds like a story from Jeremy Kyle, truly there seems to be very little concern in the book about the potential inscestual issues this brings up for the poor child. If however you can put this aside the bones of this book are truly outstanding.

It is an amazing tale, told in turn from the perspective of many of the main characters and covering the period through the Second World War. Set equally across America and England we follow Harry as he serves a prison sentence as Tom Bradshaw and begins writing a prison diary (reflection on real life there Mr Archer?), we follow Emma as she seeks to establish whether her love did actually die aboard the Kansas Star ship and her brother Giles as he heads off to war.

The reading of this book flew past, I felt I had barely begun and it was over, the short and snappy chapters along with the switching of narrators is highly engaging and a wonderfully enjoyable writing style. With two books still to read in the series and with a clear cliffhanger to spur us into the next instalment we are promised much more intrigue and exploration of the world of Harry Clifton. I personally am looking forward to instalment number 3 and sharing more of the saga Archer has to unfold.

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Such a frustrating book, didn’t know whether to love it or hate it

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh Allegiant, how you’ve frustrated me these past few days. That feeling of not knowing whether to throw you at the wall (thought I’d better not as my kindle would break) or embrace your twisted sentiment.

In advance of delving into Ali Condie’s Matched trilogy I thought I would finish the Divergent series first and was hoping it’s conclusion would be more satisfying than the conclusion of The Hunger Games which diluted it’s enjoyment book by book. I’d already become concerned when the second book in Roth’s series, Insurgent, proved less satisfying than the first. I prayed that the third would redeem itself.

We commence immediately after the conclusion of book 2 where the factionless and their leader Evelyn have taken control of the city. Suddenly the factions are in danger and it appears one dictator has been swapped for another, so a group come together and form the Allegiant, with a view to reinstating the factions.

From here I became frustrated as the book seemed to them become a never ending round of people trying to usurp one leader for another, then for another and another. We take a journey outwith the city Tris and Tobias call home and they travel to a world where it seems more of the same is on the cards.

The characters seem to stall a little in this book, their dialogue seems less mature than that of the earlier books and their relationship scenes seem childlike and immature. That said however the ending that Roth have them still had me choked with tears and I liked how she left a real message at the end of the book, concluding it really nicely with a message for life.

I’d like to say I loved this book, I didn’t, but neither could I say I entirely hated it either. It was a difficult one, I had to force my way through it at points then suddenly there would be a little spark of genius and I’d read intently for a chapter then that spark would fade. It has been a challenging read, not entirely in enjoyable but I’m glad Roth has concluded the series and won’t be trying to dredge another book from her increasingly tired story.

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A poor book in the Carrington’s series, lacking in heart

Ice Creams at Carrington'sIce Creams at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So for a little light summer reading and to fill the days till I can dive into the new Robert Galbraith novel, I decided to spend some time with the fourth and latest instalment of Alexandra Brown’s Carrington’s Department Store Series – Ice Creams at Carrington’s.

I know summer is the time for a little light reading on the beach and lazy days but I really struggled with this book. We are reunited with all our favourite Carrington’s characters from the series, heroine Georgie and her boyfriend, and owner of Carrington’s, Tom along with her best friends Sam and Eddie.

It should have been a joy, as the story is based around Georgie trying to arrange the Mulberry on Sea summer regatta but instead I became disillusioned as our heroine appeared to drift further away from her down to earth roots and become somewhat of a want to be ‘it girl’. No more are the stories focused around our hard working heroine working in her beloved department store, instead she was attending parties on yachts which had me visualising scenes from Revenge with Georgie in the Emily Thorne role. If not on yachts she was being flown across the world to hoi polloi “Sex & the City” style with her best friend Eddie.

I became even more disheartened that Brown’s characters seemed to be becoming more and more stereotypical, her best friend Sam’s descent into motherhood blues whilst her other friend Eddie seemed to be nothing more than a poster boy for what narrow minded people view gay men as. He grated on my nerves throughout. It also was the shameless use of words such as ’emosh’ instead of emotional or ‘amazeballs’, I mean really what age are your target audience 14?

All this capped off with the interviews at the end of the book staged with her fictional characters – they aren’t real people!

Disappointed and let down, think it’s devastating that what started as such a lovely personal series is drifting into a stereotypical chick lit novel which seems to think the way to boost readership is to have our heroine whisked off to a more glamorous life. My question would be that whilst Georgie seems to be getting all she want is it at the readers expense?.

Clearly the next book has already been planned, I just pray it returns the lovely Georgie to a more down to earth scenario focused on her lovely little department store.

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Cass concluded her Selection series at the right point – if a little flimsily

The One (The Selection, #3)The One by Kiera Cass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d been desperate to read the concluding chapter in Keira Cass’ trilogy ‘The Selection’. The dystopian story of a society where people are branded into castes or classes and forced to remain in that forever I has fallen in love with the fairy tale story of how America Singer is entered into a competition where the prize is to win the hand in marriage of Prince Maxon.

Books 1 & 2 had been largely about the growing relationship between America & Maxon, the competition and it’s entrants and a little bit about the civil unrest growing in the fictional land of Illea. In the concluding book we know that Maxon must make his choice of wife and we pray his choice will be America – or do we? We still have America’s childhood friend and first love Aspen in the background.

This book has so many similarities between recent young adult series it’s scary. The fractured, segregated unhappy population forced to watch a public competition a la Hunger Games. The two heroes forcing us to wonder whom America will choose is very Twilight, Team Maxon v’s Team Aspen mirroring Meyers books. It has all the things we loved about those books.

The final book in the series didn’t waste any time in getting started, it dove straight in with no plot recaps, immediate action and it took me a chapter or too to reacquaint myself with who was whom and where we had left the action. Once if caught back up though I immediately became aware that in this book the focus would be equally on the civil unrest outside the palace as much as it would on the competition for Prince Maxon. As a result it meant we got to see a little more out with the palace walls and began to question the existing status of the country more as the book progressed.

I have a definite sense this series had run it’s course, there is no way we could have got more books from the concept, there’s only so many balls and functions that America could attend in pursuit of her prince and those secret trysts were getting ‘Old’. So much of this series has been about the lavish life in the palace but it was losing it’s readership appeal and it’s appropriate the series concluded. I also feel that that the ending of the book was lovely but I felt that Cass could have gotten another hundred pages or so from her characters. The events which shaped the books conclusion seemed to be shoehorned into a chapter, maybe 2 (they’re short chapters) and I believe more drama and suspense could have been wrung from the events to give a less floaty and flimsy feel. It was all a little too quickly and neatly handled with no real grit about it.

All in all I’ve enjoyed my time with America and it was a great, if not original, concept. The books stand together as a great series for young girls and I’d recommend them to young adult readers who like their dystopian books with a large spoonful of sugar.

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Parks delivered a somewhat staid and boring read but with a redeeming end

The State We're InThe State We’re In by Adele Parks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been an avid reader of Adele Parks for many years and after reading her last novel Whatever It Takes and finding it somewhat lacking it’s usual sparkle I so wanted The State We’re In to be good.

This was an unusual story, we start off in 80’s London with the stories of Clara and Eddie, both of whom are young married and unhappy. We are given the outline of a brief affair between them and from there we jump forward to 2005 where we meet Jo.

Jo is a romantic and single 30 something who having failed to find her happy ever after decides to jet off to Chicago to stop the wedding of the fiancé she jilted at the altar many years before. On the flight she meets Dean and decides to open her heart to him.

It is such a difficult book to critique because it went through peaks and troughs but for me there were too many slow moments. I just couldn’t get into this book. I had to keep forcing myself to go back to it. I’d read a few pages then lose interest again, this continued until around 70% of the way through then I finally found my groove with the book and from there to the end I really enjoyed it.

It had a very good ending but I won’t give any hints, it is a trawl though to get to the ending and I can’t say it’s left me feeling overly positive towards the work of Adele Parks, she seems to have written a heroine who lacked any real depth of emotion for much of the book. She came across as too flighty, too flimsy and that made it difficult to fall into the story with any enthusiasm.

I liked it but I’m glad I’m finished as it did feel like a long slog.

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A disappointing sequel to Divergent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved Divergent, the first novel in Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy but then I also felt the same way about The Hunger Games and then became just that little bit more disappointed as the series unfolded. I truly hoped that Insurgent would grow in story and strength and drive me to the last book in the series. I was to be honest a little bit disappointed.

Firstly there is no gentle lead into the book, it dives straight in with no recap of the events of Book 1, which means if like me you’ve had a break between books you may need to recap on who’s who in the surrounding characters. This meant I spent the first chapter or so trying to reestablish my understanding of who did what to whom and where allegiances lay.

Secondly I really went off the Hunger Games series when it became too military in it’s nature, all guns and war and fighting and unfortunately Insurgent suffers this same fate. The book is truly just one big series of people picking sides, deciding who will fight who and then people getting shot/injured/captured, delete as appropriate. There were pages where I’d find my mind wandering as Tris suffered yet more angst about who she was shooting, how this tore her apart and what faction she was aligning herself to now. Then I’d snap back to focus and find I hadn’t missed that much.

The book had some redeeming features, it had a brilliant ending that has left me with enough curiosity to read book 3 because I do need to know more about how the series will conclude. Also some of the quieter moments of the book when we stop talking about guns, fighting and war for a few pages and focus on life inside the factions are actually quite nice. It’s a shame that more time wasn’t spent on this instead of the ongoing dramas between Tris & Tobias.

It is clear we are reading a Young Adult novel as the constant need for them to stop all action as soon as they get even remotely intimate is really annoying. It makes their relationship feel transient and less important, like they just skirt around each other and moon around in the middle of a huge war whilst failing to move their relationship beyond petty squabbles and lack of trust.

It is a 3 out of 5 book but only just, I give it this mark in hope that book 3 will make the drawn out nature of this book apparent by explaining why it had to be written the way Roth did. Too much action and not enough emotive writing means it fell short of expectation.

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