The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Reviewed by Lotte:

This Victorian, art inspired novel is based in 1980 London and centres around obsession – of art, lovers and peculiar possessions. It is both beautiful and disturbingly dark in equal measures, following the lives of very different characters that become entwined in the most unlikely way. It is also the story of an unlikely love and the plight of a woman destined to find her own way in man’s world.

This book just didn’t completely hit the spot for me. It had many elements that I enjoyed – dark and twisty hints, suspension, and what appeared to be a good plot, but I felt it didn’t quite deliver fully. I found myself hoping for so much more from the storyline because it had so much more to give. Large parts of the plot that would have had a great impact were swept over, leaving great gaps in both storyline and character reactions. Albie’s ending situation is one of those moments. The dynamics between the characters could have been embellished more too. I wanted to know and feel more of the unrequitted love between two people from differing worlds because I was drawn in my them. Even Silas, who had no functional relationships, could have been expanded upon more. Only some of his work was explained, like his mice collection, which was inherent to the plot, yet we were only told the story of a few of them. Maybe we could have a Novella (both a prequel and a sequel with these additions in!)

This book got really good from the 50% mark and I found myself falling into the world as the pace and storyline picked up. Initially I had found the prose pretty hard to follow but as I got used to the cadence of the writing I became more intrigued and compelled to continue reading. So weirdly, despite the lacking described above, I did feel suspense and enchantment. However, I wish the ending had been different! The book focuses on this style of artistry that shows the world in its messy, non-fictionalised way and yet it skims over the messy aftereffects in a dreary and predictable, fictionalised last chapter (again – sequel novella?!).

Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: 5 March 2020

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Reviewed by Sophie:

Well… I’ll be honest and upfront. This was a difficult one to get in to. I was truly perplexed until about 40 % into the book.

I then started to see that there was some plot.

I was confused by the characters. See no real need for the character of Silas at all until about 60% in.
I liked his obsession and how the author shows the instability of his mental state through him looking for signs that Iris is making contact with him. However, I feel that he has been made to be the typical strange stalker by his hobby and feel that this takes away from what happens.

The characters themselves I had no connection with and felt all of them to be very one dimensional and stereotypes of themselves; Albie the tough, scruffy urchin who has a soft heart; Louis the flamboyant artist who loves but wants to be free; Iris the model who wants to be loved but can’t and Silas the strange stalker. There are other secondary characters but to me there was no need for them.

The plot …… Well as I said I found it very difficult to find one until about halfway through and even then it didn’t pick up until 70% in and then it got going but unfortunately felt incredibly rushed.
I also felt the ending was poor and abrupt. After the build up throughout the book the actual action of the book was wrapped up quickly and with no explanation.

I still have no idea why the title is the dolls factory. There are many references to dolls and the fact that Silas could also be seen to make his own type of doll but I really don’t understand.

Overall, I think I missed why everyone has enjoyed this book.
Of the last 30% of this book was the whole book I would change my rating but it all just felt disjointed, as if it should behave been many different stories pushed into one

Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: 5 March 2020

A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Reviewed by Sophie:
(Contains Spoilers)

A book that made me smile and cry.

Firstly, I would like to thank NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

I have read a few of Veronica Henry’s books from this series and loved the feel of them. At first I was worried that the book would link to others from the series I hadn’t read, but it was a stand alone novel.

This book itself is a beautiful heartfelt piece of writing which was lovely from start to finish.
The characters felt real and I related to all in some way; each have their own stories to tell. Robyn and Jake, Shelia and Mick, Rocky, Tina and of course Gwen. The story mainly revolves around Robyn and Jake and their journey into their new lives getting married and becoming parents but then turns quite suddenly into Robyn’s story of getting in touch with her adoptive parents. Continue reading “A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry”

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Reviewed by Lotte:

I had heard good things about Hannah and I have to say her style of writing didn’t disappoint one bit. Her descriptions were simply beautiful and her use of language evoked such vivid images it was as if the characters and settings were playing out real-time. This was the story of a family trying to survive post Vietnam War with the father being a POW. They embark on a move to Alaska with the hope that it’ll be the fresh start. Within this book there are many love stories, with the Alaskan life as well as with each other. Ultimately the question became will this unrequited love prevail? I feel the book needs a censor warning though as it heavily contains references to veteran PTSD and physical abuse.

I found the pace of the story slightly out of sync for me. The first half felt slow and hard to get through, with the focus being on building the world and the details needed for the story to really start. The second half was paced much faster, which I much preferred. It felt like this was where the main part of the story was and I was eager to keep reading. In a way I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more time spent on these latter events, rather than all the build up at the beginning.

Despite being keen to keep reading and finding out what comes next, there were some discrepancies in the storyline that I found hard to overlook. Like why they mentioned only making one mistake in Alaska because the second will kill you, yet Hannah then writes this major life changing event in which the characters knowingly made more than one mistake and practically did the opposite of every warning that had ever been given (desperately avoiding spoilers here!). Then there were the inconsistencies, for example, when the other towns-people acted to help Leni and Cora but then later on in the book, fail to follow through on their promise. And finally the secrets that were kept at the end didn’t feel real to me. Like Large Marge holding on to that knowledge without telling those close to her who would have been hurting desperately. It just didn’t quite fit into the narrative and sense of unity that Hannah created within the Alaskan community.

I did enjoy this book and it was definitely worth it in the end but I couldn’t quite give it four stars.

Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: 30 January 2018

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

Reviewed by Mark:

The Last Emperox is Scalzi’s concluding volume to his Interdependency trilogy, wrapping up the story that started in The Collapsing Empire and continued with The Consuming Fire. The flow streams between planets of the Interdependency are slowly collapsing, isolating star systems and consigning their inhabitants to a slow death. With time running out, Emperox Grayland II must wrest control from her enemies in order to save as many as possible, sending millions to the only planet with a breathable atmosphere: End. With political machinations abound, there are few options left to her, but her enemies know it is only a matter of time before they succeed. Or will they?

Fans of Scalzi will not be disappointed in his telling of this story, done with all his usual aplomb. The Last Emperox concludes well, though sometimes feels a touch rushed, and it leaves the door open to further tales in this setting – some of which could prove very interesting indeed, should he decide to tell them. In short, this is a fun trilogy that begs you to read just one more page. It’s over before you know it, and enjoyable throughout. Scalzi sure knows how to entertain.

Author: John Scalzi 
Publisher: Tor UK 
Release date: 16 April 2020

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Reviewed by Lotte:

How can you really enjoy a book but really dislike every single character? For me, that was exactly how I felt about this book. This novel by Tyce was full of suspension and plenty of plot twists – some predictable but many totally unexpected until the last minute. This is the story of Alison whose personal life seems to be falling apart whilst her career begins to take off. As details of her most recent case unveil themselves so do the flaws and apparent misdemeanours in her personal life. Slowly her life and the lives of those around her unravel to a point beyond recognition, that is until the pieces start to fall in place and it all begins to make sense, in a dark, disturbing way

I think I disliked Tyce’s characters because they were incredibly human, flawed and messy, which becomes uncomfortable. But this may also have contributed to me really enjoying this book – it was real. And the twists and subversive actions were subtle enough to feel believable too

In terms of plot twists, Tyce certainly knows how to throw a curveball just when you think you’ve figured out what is happening. The suspense she creates and the revelations of yet more intricately placed surprises was incredibly clever. Plus all the loose ends that Tyce left throughout the book were all neatly tied up by the end. I do love a book that makes sure it explains all its unanswered mysteries.

The pacing of this book was great too. I felt drawn to reading chapter after chapter, not wanting to put the book down, yet wanting to make it last. I choose to read this book at the same time as a friend and couldn’t wait to discuss it with her. So many facets and talking points! All in all, a really good book!

Author: Harriet Tyce
Publisher: Wildfire
Release date: 21 February 2019

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Reviewed by Sophie:
(Contains spoilers)

I’ve heard so many different opinions about this book so when a friend suggested it for our #lockdown read I was ready to form my own opinion.

This book frustrated me from start to finish… But I couldn’t put it down. I even read on after I had put my baby girl to sleep and should have been sleeping myself, just to know what was happening. Continue reading “Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Reviewed by Sophie:
(Contains spoilers)

I was disappointed with this book. It was full of excellent plot ideas and the author could have chosen to go down anyone of them and it would have been interesting. However, I felt that they were poorly mashed together; none of them explore well enough to make it a good read. I wanted to become close to the protagonist but dispute feeling some sympathy this was quickly dropped.

I did enjoy the lack of speech marks l, which created an inner monologue style of writing. This was the only real part I enjoyed. Continue reading “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Reviewed by Lotte:

This was the story of a young girl who discovers she can taste emotions in food, right down to where and the situation in which the food was made. From here the story shares her struggles with this, the secrets she stumbles across and then the unfolding of other family members potentially having gifts too.

This book contained so much promise with an excellent premise, but I felt it was poorly executed. For a start it felt like multiple books crammed into one, as if the author had many ideas so tried to incorporate them all, which only left it feeling like it was all half done.

So firstly, we read of Rose’s gift and although there were reactions to her struggles and refusal to eat certain food, there was even more left unsaid. Characters picked up on it in different ways but seemingly lost interest and left her to it. And that’s without mentioning the implications of said ‘gift’. This just felt unbelievable for me, given Rose’s age.

Bender then sets out multiple avenues that the story could follow throughout the book with none of them coming to fruition. The initial way was a way in which Rose’s gift could be used for good with a friend and how that then twisted into dependency. This is where I thought the story was heading and I was excited by that prospect. But it was not to be. Then it looked like she might use it to unearth secrets like when she discovered her mum’s additional activities. This seemed like an unnecessary part of the story as nothing came of it. It only added to the lack of believability.

Then the story twisted to the brother’s problem which just seemed weird and disconnected from the theme…he became an inanimate object, a chair. Seriously? I did not understand this at all! We begin to learn of perhaps a family trait – we know of Rose and her brother, then we find out about her Grandfather and potentially her father. Again, I thought this was finally where we were heading. But it turns out the Dad refuses to work out what his gift might be, he only shares a small amount about the grandfather and nothing really of the brother.

Eventually Rose finds a path for her life and a potential career but we’re now at the end of the book and so following the same theme, this aspect is unexplored too.

This book was about everything and nothing. This particular lemon cake was indeed sad.

Author: Aimee Bender
Publisher: Windmill Books
Release date: 1 September 2011

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales by Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

Reviewed by Lotte:

What a deliciously wicked collection of dark and twisty fairy tales. O’Regan and Kane have done it once again, sourcing the most excellent takes on new and re-imagined fairy tales written by renowned authors such as Neil Gaiman and Christina Henry. This anthology contains 20 short stories that are based loosely around the theme of curses. These authors have taken this cue, warping and twisting stories so good that even the re-imagined ones bear hardly any resemblance to their originals.

I think I can honestly say I found each and every one of these stories both enchanting and captivating. They were each written in the individual author’s style and covered a different take on the cursed theme. No two were the same yet I was equally drawn into them all. Some were beautifully written about magical curses turned sweet and others were disturbingly cold and wretched.

Even the placement of each story was well laid out, with each varying greatly from the last, meaning they didn’t mash into one. My particular favourites have to be Christina Henry’s ‘As Red As Blood, As White As Snow’, Neil Gaiman’s ‘Troll Bridge’, Jen Williams’s ‘Listen’ and Christopher Golden’s ‘Wendy, Darling’. Using poems my Jane Yolen to bookend this anthology was a lovely touch. I would highly recommend delving into this if twisted tales are your thing!

Author: Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane
Publisher: Titan Books
Release date: 3 March 2020