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Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Rewind: A Caravan Girl's Book Reviews

Dear Readers, Writers, and Precious Patrons,

Today on All Authors Blog's Friday Rewind, we bring you A Caravan Girl's Book Reviews from the February/March 2014 issue of All Authors Magazine.

Hyperbole and a Half

By: Allie Brosh

Available: On the Author’s website (which you should check out anyway because it is awesome) and other book selling places like Amazon

Published: 2013

Genre: Humour

My Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

Hyperbole and A Half is a blog written by a 20-something American girl called Allie Brosh. She tells fantastically funny, wise stories about the mishaps of her everyday life, with titles like 'Why Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving' and 'The God of Cake'. She accompanies these with naive drawings using Paint on her PC.
Brosh's website receives millions of visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of  per day. Now her full-colour debut book chronicles the many "learning experiences" Brosh has endured as a result of her own character flaws. It includes stories about her rambunctious childhood; the highs and mostly lows of owning a mentally challenged dog; and a moving and darkly comic account of her struggles with depression.
Poignant and uproarious - think Cyanide and Happiness but with story-lines, cake and dogs.

My Review:

I first heard about Hyperbole and a Half through a Facebook meme. I loved it instantly, so I sought out the author’s website where I discovered, much to my delight and joy, that Hyperbole had been picked up by a publisher and was now an actual book! And I could buy it! I was thrilled. Nay, I was ecstatic. And so I waited for it to be delivered for weeks and weeks. And then, finally, it arrived. And it was beautiful. It was like a rainbow of funny-sad-happy-quirky I could hold in my hands.

Hyperbole is witty, poignant, and it’s so true. You read it and you think, ‘That’s what I do! That’s me!’ Brosh takes completely average human experiences and writes about them in such a tender, loving way. Her cartoons – created on Microsoft paint and completely awesome – make these great stories brilliant. It’s amazing to me that she can make her cartoons seem so full of life, even though they’re relatively simple, in fact, almost childlike. I particularly liked her stories, The God of Cake, How a Fish Almost Destroyed my Childhood as well as her writing on depression. I can quite literally say that this book made me laugh and it made me cry – I know that’s a cliché – but it’s true.

Have I convinced you yet? No? Then I’ll leave you with this thought:

But especially this book. Read it.

Book Review: At Any Price (Gaming the System #1)

By Brenna Aubrey

Published: January, 2014

Genre: Romance

My Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

Achievement Unlocked: Geek Virgin   
When Mia Strong, proud geek-girl and popular gaming blogger, auctions off her virginity online, she knows she'll make waves. But what she will not be making is a love connection. Her rules are set in stone: One night. No further contact.

It's a desperate step, but it's the only way she can go to medical school and pay her mother's mounting hospital bills.

Difficulty Level: Millionaire CEO
Adam Drake, the enigmatic auction winner, is a software prodigy who made his first million at seventeen. Now, in his mid-twenties, he's sexy, driven and--as CEO of his own gaming company--he's used to making the rules. Before Mia knows what's happening, he's found the loophole in the rules of her auction. Every stipulation she's made to protect her heart gets tossed by the wayside.

She can't tell if he's playing her...or if he's playing for keeps.   
This New Adult contemporary romance is intended for readers over the age of 18 due to adult language, sexual content and adult situations.

My Review:

I first heard about Brenna Aubrey after reading an article about how she’d turned down a 6 figure book deal for At Any Price. I was, naturally, intrigued (as she possibly intended) and so I bought the book, even though I don’t usually read romance.

I’m glad I read it though, because I really enjoyed it. Sure, it was predictable. Sure, I figured out almost instantly the ‘twist’ in the story. Sure, it stuck to your typical romance plot (girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl spends time with boy and realises she might actually like him, crisis happens and girl is separated from boy, crisis is aborted and girl and boy admit they are in lurrrve.)

But despite the predictability of the book, it also surprised me. And this was for two reasons. Firstly, the book begins with Mia auctioning her virginity online. I hadn’t read the synopsis before I bought the book (yes, I bought it only to see what a six figure dollar book deal reads like) and so when I started reading I was stunned. Because I hadn’t expected the book to go there. But go there it did. The narrative explores whether Mia is engaging in prostitution (she maintains she is not) as well as the feminist theme of making money off your own virginity. I think it worked and I think it was an interesting take on the romance genre.

Another thing I liked about this book was that yes, Mia and Adam are two very attractive people, but they’re also complete geeks. Mia is a gamer and a blogger, and Adam is a game designer. This was refreshing for the obvious reason is that in my limited experience of romance, the female lead tends to be so over the top feminine. I liked that Mia was interested in stereotypically ‘male’ activities. And I liked that that is what Adam liked about her.

So while I think this book did a lot of great things to subvert the romance genre, at the same time I was a little disappointed in the way it depicted power. Power is mentioned several times throughout the story, and while Mia is constantly maintaining that she has all the power, it’s quite obvious that she doesn’t. Adam has the millions. Adam has purchased her virginity. Adam has more or less purchased her. This is definitely a running theme throughout the story and the author explores the power dynamics thoroughly. I can’t help but wonder, however, whether the story could have been more interesting if the female lead had all the power to begin with. If she were the creative, rich, powerful billionaire.

Still, for a non-romance reader, I enjoyed this book.

Book Review: Final Reckoning 

By: Tony Bull

Available: Amazon 

Published: 2013

Genre: Thriller

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

Former SAS soldier Greg gets a call from his past.
Isle of Wight police want to talk to him about a human skeleton found during extensions to Seastone marina. After Greg contacts them they lose interest, but retired DCI Ray Tindall is convinced there's a connection with 'The Vanderling Associates', a criminal gang he pursued unsuccessfully throughout his career. 
Despite the risk of exposing another skeleton - the one in his own cupboard - Greg allows himself to be dragged into the ex-DCI's investigation, and finds all his old skills returning as he uncovers evidence of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, money-laundering and murder, before a long overdue final reckoning with his old enemy, Sir Robert Clarmont Brown.

My Review:
There were several things I enjoyed about this book. Firstly, I enjoyed the authors writing style and characterisation. By the end of the book I felt I knew Greg very well. Because I cared about him, I cared about what was happening to him.
Secondly, I liked the premise. Nigel Heapes disappearance happens in suspicious circumstances and many townspeople suspected Greg of doing away with him. The exploration of his disappearance and the ultimate conclusion was surprising.
The only thing that made the story difficult to read - for me anyway - was its length. The story chronicles Greg's life from eighteen to the present day, skimming over his time in the army. In this respect the synopsis was misleading because the events mentioned in the synopsis don't occur until 50% of the way through, when the story refocuses on Nigel Heapes disappearance. Because this is the crux of the story, more focus on the mystery and less focus on Greg's earlier life would have quickened the pace. Greg's back story was an interesting one, certainly, but making the story tighter and cutting it down a bit would have made it more enjoyable.

My issue with the length of the book aside, I did enjoy Final Reckoning for the most part. The author told the story well and by the end, the pace had picked up and I enjoyed uncovering the mystery with Greg.

Book Review: Secrets of the Realm 

By Bev Stout

Available:  Amazon

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical

My Rating: 2.5 Stars
Synopsis from Amazon:

Blamed for her uncle's death, fifteen-year-old Annie is on the run. Knowing the perils she will face on the streets of 18th century London, Annie disguises herself as a boy. 
Her life changes course when she becomes Captain Hawke’s cabin boy. Not only must Annie work alongside the Realm's motley crew of outcasts and gentlemen, she must also keep her superstitious shipmates from discovering she is a girl. 
Annie vows she will never leave the Realm, where dreams are chased, shattered lives can mend, and secrets are stowed like keepsakes in an old desk drawer. But, when Annie’s past catches up with her, can she stay on the Realm? More importantly, will she have a choice?


My Review:


Secrets of the Realm begins with an exciting premise. Annie Moore masquerades as a boy on board the Realm, a merchant ship bound for the American colonies. Whilst the girl-dressing-up-as-a-boy scenario has been done many, many times, it can still be effective. In this case, the story started with great promise and I eagerly continued reading. 

There were a few things the author did well. The book was well written and the author obviously researched, or had personal knowledge, of ships and the sea. In terms of its historical accuracy, this too appeared to be well researched (for the most part). All these elements combined helped to give the book an authentic feel and vastly increased my enjoyment of it.

As I kept reading, however, I started to become a little frustrated with the narrative. And this was due in a large part to the character of Annie herself.

Because firstly, the fact that Annie runs away at all strikes me as odd. She's the maid and companion of Abigail Spencer, the daughter of a powerful and wealthy man. Sure, she was afraid of her aunt, but why wasn't her first course of action to go to Abigail and ask for protection from an abusive relative? By the end of the book it's evident the Spencer's would do anything for her, so why didn't Annie think of getting their help initially? There is some attempt to explain this, but I didn't find it convincing.

And when Annie is returned to the Spencer's, she acts like a spoilt brat, staying in her darkened bedroom all day and throwing food at the chambermaid. It was at this point that I really didn't like her. She has been accepted into a kind and loving family who she's known far longer than any of her shipmates, and yet she throws their kindness in their faces and sulks for five weeks. I also found it hard to believe that such a rich and important family as the Spencer's would indulge such behavior from a girl who started off as a servant in their home.
Yet whilst the lack of introspection on Annie's part made her difficult to like, the overall story did work. The writing was excellent and it felt historically authentic - mostly. For readers who are looking for a fun, easy read where nothing dark or terribly bad happens, you'll enjoy this.