Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Review: Masquerade by Joanna Taylor

1786 : Regency London. Everyone is hiding something. But someone is hiding everything.

Lizzy Ward never meant to end up working the streets of Piccadilly. So when a mysterious noble pursues her, it seems her luck is changing. But though Lord Hays offers to grow Lizzy's fortunes, his price is unexpected. She must masquerade in the sumptuous gowns and social mask of a true lady.

With the stakes so high, love is out of the question. But as Lizzy navigates the fashion and faux-pas of the London elite, she finds her tough facade failing her. Lord Hayes wants to show her that nobility is more than skin deep . . . and as the connection between them grows, it's no longer certain who's wearing the mask. As the street-girl and the lord collide, Regency London is poised for scandal . . .  

It was only after finishing this book that I found out it is essentially a scene by scene retelling of Pretty Woman set in the 1800s. While I picked up on the street girl/gentleman comparisons I have to admit that I've never actually seen the film the whole way through. Therefore I enjoyed this book for what it is - Lizzie's journey from rags to riches. Edward was dashing from the start, but never had me entirely convinced. Lizzie on the other hand I loved. The story is told from her perspective and you really feel for her. Packed with period detail, this was a true Georgian fairytale. 4/5 stars.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Review: Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

Abandoned on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy is taken in at nearby Hatville Court. But the masters and servants of the grand estate prove cold and unwelcoming.  

Amy's only friend and ally is the sparkling young heiress Aurelia Vennaway. So when Aurelia tragically dies young, Amy is devastated.  

But Aurelia leaves Amy one last gift. A bundle of letters with a coded key. A treasure hunt that only Amy can follow. A life-changing discovery awaits... if only she can unlock the secret.

I've been excited to read this book ever since I first heard about it. For a debut novel it is very impressive, full of wonderful characters with a plot that will keep you reading.

I did find Amy as a narrator a tad overdramatic, but you can't help but feel for her - especially considering her history. I found myself questioning her unwavering loyalty to Aurelia at times, and my opinion of Aurelia constantly changed throughout the course of the novel. All we know of Aurelia we learn through her letters and Amy's memories of her - yet she has such a strong presence in the story that she is still very much a character. Henry Mead was delightful, but I had also hoped to see more of Quentin Garland - however much of a scoundrel he may be he definitely had more to offer the story. My favourite character though has to be Mrs Ariadne Riverthorpe. Full of witty retorts and brutal honesty, revelling in scandal and causing a stir, she was just brilliant.

The 'treasure hunt' itself wasn't as compelling as I was expecting, and it's made clear relatively early on what the great secret is going to be. The real story is Amy's journey from shrinking unwanted orphan to a bright and confidant young woman, and I left the novel feeling as if I had taken that journey with her. The 'treasure' Aurelia leaves for Amy is not just her secret but the ability for Amy to build a life for herself and make her own way in the world.

The Epilogue written from Lady Vennaway's point of view worked really well, and while it didn't quite redeem her actions towards Amy it went some way to explain why she was so averse to her.

At 550 pages this book is definitely on the long side, and it is a little drawn out in places, but don't let that put you off! This is a coming of age story of friendship and family, so gently compelling that I raced through it in a couple of days.

4/5 stars - It's easy to see why Amy Snow won Richard and Judy's Search for a Bestseller competition! I'm certainly looking forward to reading more from Tracy Rees.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Film Review: SPECTRE

Regular readers of my blog may well know by now that I am a huge fan of James Bond. I have been waiting for this film for so long. As soon as the credits rolled on Skyfall I was already longing for my next Bond fix. The past three years I've followed every rumour and development with bated breath. It's only natural then that I saw SPECTRE on it's opening night. I was buzzing about it beforehand and haven't stopped talking about it since!

**I try to keep all of my reviews spoiler free, but of course if you don't want to know anything at all about the film, it's perhaps best you stop reading here!**

Fair play to the lad who turned up in a tuxedo to watch it! It was either his own choice, a dare, or he had a fancy dinner party beforehand, but either way it made my evening before the film had even started!

Sam Smith's theme song, Writing's on the Wall, which I wasn't all that keen on on first listen, has really grown on me, and it fitted the opening credits perfectly! The rest of the soundtrack is gorgeous too, and it was no surprise to learn that Thomas Newman was behind it - he also scored Skyfall.

The whole film is beautifully shot - particularly the opening sequence in Mexico which is just stunning! In true Bond style there's plenty of exotic locations and beautiful scenery to complement the storyline. The major plot points I actually found pretty predictable, but this didn't affect my enjoyment one bit! Tanner, Q, Moneypenny, M and Bond make quite the team, the five of them against the rest of the world, and I loved how the other four fought Bond's corner when he was unable to do so. Ben Whishaw as Q was a risk that has more than paid off - over the course of his two films he's really made the role his own and earned himself legions of fans in the process. Naomi Harris's Moneypenny has real chemistry with Bond, something teetering on the edge between friendship and flirtation, and the scenes between the two of them never fail to make me smile. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really miss Judi Dench. It's not that I don't love her - I adore her - I suppose we simply aren't given time to miss her! I'm still not entirely sold on Ralph Fiennes as M, but he's growing into the role, and Dench's M wouldn't have fitted this film at all.

SPECTRE views almost as a love letter to classic Bond. It's packed with homages to previous films, and whilst the links between SPECTRE and Daniel Craig's previous films are made obvious, there are plenty of subtle nuances to Bond of yesteryear. A more seasoned fan would certainly spot even more than I did, and I'm sure I'll pick up on more when I see it again! The quips and banter which started to make a return in Skyfall are also cranked up a notch, bringing light relief without it being cheesy. Even the gadgets are starting to make a return; after being told in Skyfall that they don't really go in for 'exploding pens' anymore, Q must have had a change of heart as he hands Bond a watch with a 'loud alarm'. Interestingly my sister preferred Skyfall (as a psychology student she claims she found it more interesting), whilst I preferred SPECTRE. To compare the two, however is fruitless as they are so different, and each brilliant in their own right. Skyfall is darker, more personal between Bond, M and Silva, but to me SPECTRE feels like a full return to form for the Bond film as a genre.

Christoph Waltz was perhaps a predictable choice for a villain, but a reliable one. He was perfectly suited to his role as Franz Oberhauser - he plays crazy well! I can't say much more about him without giving anything away, but as soon as I saw a certain sidekick of his on screen I knew my suspicions were spot on!

I can hardly write a review without also discussing the 'Bond Girls'. I expected much more from Monica Bellucci given how hyped her role was (although I love how Daniel Craig defends her character as someone Bond's 'own age' rather than an 'older' woman). Lea Sedoux as Madeline Swann is just amazing, and my sister and I spent the majority of the film in envy of her wardrobe! How she managed to pack a suitcase before going on the run with Bond I'll never know. Sedoux and Craig had real chemistry and I was interested to see how Madeline and James' relationship would work out.

I'm fairly certain this this will be Craig's and Mendes' last Bond film, and for that I am very sad. They have become a kind of dream team, and between Skyfall and SPECTRE they have put Bond back on top where he belongs. But if they were aiming to leave on a high they are most certainly able to do so. SPECTRE is a masterpiece in cinematography, in screenwriting, in all things Bond.

***Credit to Sony Pictures for the images in this post!***