Monday, 25 August 2014

Book Review: A Lesson in Temptation by Audra North

Adam Harkness pulled himself out of poverty to become one of the world's most respected Finance professors, but at the cost of his personal life. When a well-meaning friend gifts him with a dance course, Adam decides to attend one class out of courtesy, but no more than that. He has work to do, after all - or at least, that's what he tells himself.

After being bullied in high school, Julie Stanton took refuge in her studies. But now that her hard work has paid off and Julie has found success in her job, it's time to focus on finding the same happiness in the rest of her life.

When Adam walks into the same tango class that Julie signed up for, she recognizes him immediately as the professor whom she had a crush on in college. Both Adam and Julie have proven themselves to be excellent scholars. But when the attraction between them turns into something more, will they be able to open their hearts and learn a new lesson - how to love.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting much from A Lesson in Temptation.  Lately a lot of the short romances I have read have been disappointing so I was unfairly expecting this to be as well.  Short romances are hard to get right because they essentially rely on one thing, chemistry.  You can have a perfectly written novella with well-rounded characters and an engaging storyline but if there is no chemistry in the romance then the novella is going to fall flat on its face.  A Lesson in Temptation wasn’t perfect I had issues with it but the one thing it had in spades was chemistry which meant that in the end I actually quite enjoyed it.

Audra North has created a nice little story with A Lesson in Temptation and for me it ticked a lot of the boxes.  I quite liked her writing style, it is easy and enjoyable.  This isn’t literary fiction by any means but there is enough description and world building to give this book some depth.  The storyline was sweet, it was about two people who struggle socially coming together and that really worked for me.  There was no over confidence, no swagger.  It was awkward and uncomfortable and nice.

The characters were also great especially Julie.  She wears her heart on her sleeve and goes for what she wants even though she is afraid and knows she might get hurt.  I quite admire that courage and wish more romance female characters had it.  I struggled a little more with Adam.   I liked him but at times thought he was the most boring man ever (which was kinda the point but still).  I was put off by his arguments for why he had to work all the time and never have fun.  They didn’t really make sense and it was all a little wishy-washy.  But as the story moved on and the romance developed he grew on me.

The romance itself was the star of this book.  As I already mentioned the chemistry was great but it was more than that.  The characters fit together so well, they were good for each other and belonged together.

A Lesson in Temptation was a really nice surprise for me.  it had everything I like to see in a romance book.  If you are a fan of the genre then I advise you to check this out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

3.5 stars

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Author's Website
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Published July 14th 2014 by Entangled: Edge, 116 pages, ebook ARC

Stanton Family Book 1

A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Review by Kate Phillips 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Doctor Who: Deep Breath Review

I have a love hate relationship with Doctor Who.   As a child it scared me so I could never watch it.  As an adult I loved the David Tennant years but after Billie Piper left I started to lose interest.  I really did like Matt Smith as the Doctor and I kept watching because of him but I felt the stories lost their depth and the companions never quite worked for me.  When Peter Capaldi was revealed as the next Doctor I was disappointed.  I wanted someone completely different.  I wanted a more diverse Doctor.  I like Peter Capaldi and I think he is nothing short of exceptional in The Thick of it but he wasn’t my Doctor Who.  Regardless of all that last night I eagerly sat down to watch ‘Deep Breath’ his first outing as the Doctor, at this point I am pretty used to walking away at the end feeling a little disappointed but to my surprise this time I didn’t.

Part of the reason I liked this episode of Doctor Who was the story.  Yes there was a giant dinosaur and yes there were a lot of cyborgs but I felt it was scaled back a lot and I liked it.  This was about feelings, about trust and in its own way love.  Not a romantic love but a friendship love.  It did it’s best to tug on the heartstrings; it wanted you to remember what you had lost whilst introducing you to something new.  What worked the most for me was that it didn’t expect you to love the new Doctor straight away but you were expected to understand that this isn’t going to be like the previous modern Doctor Who’s, and I think this show will be all the better for it.  There was also a lot of humour which really surprised me.  I don’t normally laugh all that much when watching Doctor Who but the humour in here was fun and silly which was exactly my kind of thing.  Unsurprisingly most of the humour came from Strax who I think should probably get his own show because he is hilarious.

All that being said there was a lot of hanging about in parts especially at the beginning and it needed a little more purpose in those opening minutes to really draw the audience in.  The first ten minutes left me cold and I thought I was going to hate it.  I felt that Capaldi was a little too Matt Smith like in that period too, making no sense and being all wobbly limbed.  Luckily it passed, and in its own way worked as one Doctor faded into another but it was touch and go there for a little while.  The cameo, which I won’t go into in massive detail because I don’t want to spoil it for others was a sweet touch but I am not 100% it was needed.  I felt the message conveyed in that moment would have been better coming from Capaldi.

I think part of the reason I enjoyed Deep Breath so much was Ben Wheatley’s direction.  At this point in his career I think pretty much everything he touches turns to gold. There is not a more exciting or promising director working in this country at the moment.  He is a master of subtle darkness and always manages to give me the hibby jibbies with seemingly very little effort.  A great example of this came right in the middle of this episode when Clara had to hold her breath and try to escape from the badies without them realising she was human.  It was dark and it creeped me out and I loved it.  It will be interesting to see where the rest of this series goes without Wheatley behind the camera I hope it manages to keep the darker tone that he has already established.

At the end of the day Deep Breath was always going to hinge on one thing, Peter Capaldi.  If he didn’t quite fit then this was never going to work.  I already mentioned the shaky start but once that had passed Capaldi really came into his own.  His Doctor although confused turns out to be a completely different creature from his predecessors.  Older, wiser and darker Capaldi plays his part with an air of madness that I really quite enjoyed.  He is an unpredictable borderline unstable Doctor, who you can’t be sure will always do the right thing.  He bullies a tramp out of his coat! Not very Doctor like at all.  This unpredictability is what really sets Peter Capaldi’s Doctor apart from the others, and at this point it feels like anything could happen.

Jenna Coleman managed to impress as well.  I have not always been a fan of Clara but felt that she was given a little more depth here.  To be honest I think this episode was more about her than anything else.  Emotionally she was given a lot to do she was grieving for the man she lost and trying to come to terms with the person he had become.  A man so different from the one she knew.  She has moments of sadness, fear, rage and selfishness and it was all delivered brilliantly from Coleman.   I loved the scenes between her and Capaldi, there is some great chemistry there (not of the sexual sort) and a lot of bickering.  For me this episode was about the trust between them and if it could still exist after the regeneration.  It was touch and go for a while and wasn’t easy at all which was a great decision from the makers.  I think I am going to like them together now that the dust has settled.

The supporting characters could have been given a little more to do.  Strax was great but Madame Vastra and Jenny could have used a little more purpose.  I thought Peter Ferdinando was superb as the big bad of the episode.  He could have gone overboard with the menace but didn’t, I think he was great.  A lot has been said about how the threat wasn’t big enough in this episode but I am going to have to disagree.  The threat needed to be big enough to challenge the bond between The Doctor and Clara and it managed that.  Any bigger and it would have overshadowed their relationship which would have been a shame.

This morning when I checked my twitter I saw quite a bit of negativity about Deep Breath but I am afraid I cannot join in.  I really liked it and thought it was the best Doctor Who episode I have seen in a good long while.  It ticked a lot of my boxes and I really cannot wait to see where it heads off to next. 

Review by Kate Phillips

Friday, 22 August 2014

Why I think the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is great

 So…I want to talk about the ALS ice bucket challenge something I feel passionately about.  I know you are probably wondering why I am talking about this, yes I know it has been going on for a while now and yes, I am aware that people are getting a little fed up of it but I really have to beg for you to be patience for just a little while longer because I think this is actually very special and here are my reasons why:

1) It is for a good cause.

Okay so this one’s a given.  The ALS Ice bucket challenge exists to raise money for a charity that normally doesn’t get very much and it’s working.  At the time of writing donations to the charity has hit $53.3 million.  To put that into perspective in the same time period last year (July-August) the charity had received $2.2 million in donations.  That is an insane increase and it is all because of the Ice Bucket Challenge.  ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease is a devastating condition.   It is a degenerative motor neuron disease that leads to total paralysis.  The life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years from diagnosis which is shocking.  There is currently no cure. 

Before the ice bucket challenge I knew nothing about ALS, I hadn’t even heard of it.  Now I know what it is, I have donated money to the charity and have poured ice water over my head to help raise money and awareness of it.  Anything that can educate people in such a short time and raise money has to be great.

2) It’s fun!!!

I have had a great time watching other people’s challenges.  There have been some great ones, some failed ones (that are also great) and some painful looking ones.  It has also been fun watching some of my favourite celebrities take on the challenge.  Some of my favourites have been Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Victoria Beckham and Luke Evans.  Despite what it might look like taking the challenge is also fun too.  Yes it was cold and my jeans felt like they were super glued on afterwards but I actually quite enjoyed it and laughed a lot.  My friends who filmed and poured also enjoyed it (because they are evil).  In the picture below it might not look like I am having a good time but I assure you I am, that weird look on my face is a smile…ish.

3) It is something everyone can take part in.

I have seen every type of person take this challenge.  Bed bound ALS patients have taken it, movie stars have taken it, my friend a social worker has taken it, police officers have taken it, me a coffee shop worker in the UK has taken it, the ex-president of the United States has taken it.  I could go on and on but my point is that this is accessible and anyone can do it.  You don’t have to be famous and rich, you don’t have to be fit enough to do a fun run or challenge and you don’t have to give up a huge chunk of your time.  It is something we all as a global society can do together.  All you need is a bucket, some ice, a donation (small or large) and something to film it on and you are good to go.

I get that the donation part might be a worry.   I know money is tight right now I myself could only give a little but my mum matched my donations after she saw my video and some of my friends donated too.  Three of the people I nominated took on the challenge and also donated and so have the people they challenged and hopefully the people they challenge will do the same.  You don’t have to give a lot to make an impact.

4) It is social media doing a good.

I actually think this one is important so bear with me if I rant.  I love social media, I am on it a lot (too much).  I blog, tumblr, pin, tweet and Facebook pretty much every day.  I like it, it allows people to communicate on a global scale, it allows freedom of information and informed discussion, it allows people to share their passions and educate themselves and others.  But with the good comes a lot of bad and the bad is mostly all you hear about.  There are trolls intent on bullying, manipulating and belittling others.  There are predators, scammers, hackers, thieves, liars and cheats.  But finally social media is in the news for a good thing.  Simply put there would be no ice bucket challenge if it wasn’t for social media, without twitter, Facebook, YouTube, instagram and whosay this money would have never been raised. I know the Ice Bucket challenge has taken over your feeds, I know it is all anyone ever talks about and I know there are other, important things going on but it is nice to see this medium used for something so very good and positive.

Soon this will all be over and the Ice Bucket Challenge will be a memory.  Hopefully the money raised will go on to make a difference to the research and treatment of ALS and help those with the disease and those who will have it in the future.

Before I go I want to say something to all my fellow internet users.  This is something to be proud of, we did something right and we should hold our heads up high because what we have achieved and the money we have raised has been mind-blowing.  So to the non-famous people, famous people, the people who tried but (sometimes hilariously) failed, the people who watched and donated, the people living with ALS and the people who will go on to do the challenge and donate, well done.  We all did this together and it was an honour to be a part of it.  If you are fed up with this challenge I hope reading this has changed your mind and I hope that you choose to take part in some way, if not well then it will be over soon but hopefully not forgotten.

I cannot begin to imagine what living with ALS is like, it is beyond contemplation for a lot of us.   The video at the bottem of this post should give you some idea and I hope some incentive to take part.  Too find out more about ALS, the ice bucket challenge and to donate please visit:


Book Review: Amity by Micol Ostow

Connor's family moves to Amity to escape shady business deals. Ten years later, Gwen's family moves to Amity for a fresh start after she's recovered from a psychotic break.

But something is not right about this secluded house. Connor's nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons and destruction. Dreams he kind of likes. Gwen has lurid visions of corpses that aren't there and bleeding blisters that disappear in the blink of an eye. She knows Amity is evil and she must get her family out, but who would ever believe her?

Amity isn't just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a bloody end as she's done before. As she'll do again.

Alternating between parallel narratives, Amity is a tense and terrifying tale suggested by true-crime events that will satisfy even the most demanding horror fan. 

"Here is a house; not sane, not sentient, but potent, poisonous, 
drenched with decay."

I really like horror which is weird because I scare easily and I let myself get so freaked out I sometimes can’t sleep at night after reading or watching a horror.  Every noise I hear has my imagination running wild.  The stories about Amityville and the infamous house there do scare me, I guess this is because they are supposedly true (did you know the owners who suffered through the most famous haunting there both took lie detector tests and passed?) and because a few years back I experienced something pretty damn frightening.  So I was kind of dreading reading this book but at the same time quite excited.

Amity is a strange book.  It is about some really freaky stuff but it didn’t actually scare me.  There were times when it bored me a little and other moments where I felt it went too far but for some reason it gripped me.  when I had to stop reading to get on with real life I couldn’t stop thinking about it, this books deranged darkness seemed to reach out and touch me which was more than a little uncomfortable.

Micol Ostow has done a great job at mixing fiction with the history and past story of the actual house in Amityville.  It is a clever book not only in terms of its mix of fiction and fact but also in the choice of its narrators.  Amity is told by two teens, Connor and Gwen who live in the house 10 years apart.  Both have a history of violence and mental instability which makes the reader question whether what is happening is real or not.

The writing is atmospheric and eerie.  Ostow has done a good job at building this famous and legendary house and making it feel, sometimes literally, alive.  She knows how to make the reader uncomfortable and uses this talent to good effect.   There is no holding back and although this is a YA book I wouldn’t give it to someone under the age of 15 without having a parent check it first, some parts are truly grim.

The weakness in this book comes from the characters.  Connor is just impossible to like and his reaction to things, especially in the beginning, were unbelievable.  Gwen was better I quite liked her but felt the more ‘magical’ elements to her personality were not needed.  One thing I did like was that Connor was physically and mentally stronger than Gwen yet she is the one with the most courage and power to resist Amity.   Beyond doubt the main character is Amity itself.  The house is manipulative and deranged in the most glorious yet disturbing of ways.

What Amity lacks in good characters it makes up from an eerie storytelling.  I didn’t love it but thought it was a clever way of bringing an old legend to a new and young audience.

3 stars

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 Expected publication: August 26th 2014 by EgmontUSA, ebook ARC, 368 pages

A free copy of this book was provided for review.

Review by Kate Phillips