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As the title suggests, a variation on the Cinderella story from the point of view of one of the stepsisters. As it happens, I'm not actually convinced by the title, which sets the wrong tone - one expects something with more of a 'chicklit' flavour, I think... it does make more sense as you approach the end, but I'm not sure that's worth the cognitive dissonance through the rest of the book.

I did like the early modern Dutch setting (very skilfully evoked) and the emphasis on art. I was not so happy about the increasing vilification of the stepmother - if one has to redistribute the villainy in Cinderella, why does it have to be among the women? I'd have liked to see some more interrogation of the systems that put them in this situation in the first place; Maguire does make an effort, but it feels very half-hearted.

Nice try, but always felt it could have been done better.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9981161
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A rather charming collection of very short pieces, fact, fiction, and somewhere in between. Largely sitting technically within the sci-fi genre, this is a particularly accessible bunch. My favourites were probably 'F is for Fairies', 'Neptune', and 'The Mask'. I'd like to read the wider story around the latter.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8152038
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'And "proliferation" became the word of the day...'

Very different from the film. This is not such a bad thing; I am finding the oeuvre of Roger Moore rather slow going. (No quibbles about his performance, but the actual films are terrible.) There is a villain called Hugo Drax, and that is about the only similarity.

Ian Fleming's tedious style aside (a series of info-dumps linked by occasional bursts of action), book!Bond is much less slappable than film!Bond.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/11193534
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'B' in the alphabet roundabout... only four more to go. I didn't really get on with this, which I think is partly due to the very boring style of the translation (can't comment on the original, obviously) and partly to coming in late in a series I'd never read before, and not finding the characters very sympathetic. I did start to get interested towards the end as the plot came together, but were it not for the fact that this is a ring book I'd probably have given up a long time ago. The animal violence scenes, while effective, weren't tied in well to the rest of it, and seemed to have been put in only to shock; similarly, I wasn't convinced by the cult aspect. Not inclined to find the rest of the Wallander series, I have to say.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7728233
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An author I'd never heard of, a book bought on impulse from an 'ALL IN THIS BOX £1' box, an intriguing and pleasantly creepy story. Set in what was contemporary Cambridge (this was published in the mid eighties), this has a vaguely old-school M R James 'academic ghost story' vibe, with a side of Turn of the Screw, but with rather more sex. Subtext becoming text, if you see what I mean. Stays this side of the overtly paranormal, though, which is very effective. Gorgeously atmospheric, with a real sense of time passing. And so refreshing to find a happily bisexual character.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/11195234
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I have heard a lot about this author; she seems to divide opinions. I came away from this book without much of one - I didn't hate this, but it wasn't exactly gripping. The basic concept - a big-city attorney defending an Amish girl accused of infanticide - could have been very interesting, but Picoult never seemed to develop any of the themes as much as they deserved. There was some sloppy writing in there - plot elements introduced a little too early and then presented as a big surprise - and I never quite saw the point in switching between first and third person narratives.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9730440
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Picked up on a whim from the library's 'recently returned' shelf. I have read about three of Heyer's Regency novels, and the last two were some years ago. This was rather fun; nobody I wanted to slap too hard, anyway, except for Perry, but I think that's deliberate. There are a couple of Heyers in the Relate shop; might pick them up.
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A creepy and depressing novel about childhood trauma and gender roles. While it was cleverly done and kept me reading to the end, and while I didn't get the secret of the First Audrina (feel like I should have done, though...) I feel somehow unsatisfied.

Clever, but not going to stay with me.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9697475
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A charmingly naive (or, if I were in a bad mood, 'painfully earnest') little story set in a future where the USA's first gay Jewish president has just been elected. If all books are really about their own times, however, this one is about the Bush years, the gap between the Florida recount and Obama. The plot is centred around a very similar recount, and a teenager's involvement in same.

I appreciated the idealism, but it seemed very polarised. Thinking from a political system where (for example) all three main parties have come out loudly in favour of same-sex marriage, the 'us and them' mentality feels very contrived. Politics: always more complicated.
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I'm sure I've read one of the alphabet series before, but it was a long time ago. Anyway, I like Kinsey Millhone and the way she does things. This was a clever plot, too, with a genuinely surprising ending. Perhaps I'll look out for A, B, C, D etc.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7469428
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I can't believe I'd never read this. I knew the basic gist of the plot, and most people I've spoken to did it at school. I'm rather glad I didn't, for I don't think I'd have enjoyed it nearly as much. I've been putting off reviewing it, because I honestly can't think of what to say. However, it's a book club choice, so I will eventually have to pick a single word to describe it -

which is -

- gripping

Not the first few chapters; it did take me a while to get into it, though I can see that the slow start is essential background-painting - but once the plot really kicked off I was very reluctant to put the book down. Unreliable narrators again: telling an adults' story through a child's eyes is a very effective trick if you can pull it off, and here it really works, trading off the different levels of cynicism. Favourite book of the year so far.
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Unusually for a Howatch, I let this lie for several months after I'd read the first section. This is the first of her super-epic-historical-romans-à-clef, and it seems she hasn't quite got into the swing of things yet. The historical period in question is the reign of Henry II and his two sons; Howatch has translated them to turn-of-the-century Cornwall, and made the realm of England a mouldering folly of a country house. Helpfully, she has included quotations from actual history books so you know who she's really talking about - it would have been useful if she'd kept that up in later books which would have made me feel less stupid. As the beauty of this particular style is how she translates the people, places and incidents, I don't want to give too much away, but I was particularly struck by how she manages Philip, the Richard I character, which is very bold but yet makes perfect sense in context.

Having been thinking a lot recently about unreliable narrators, it struck me how efficiently Howatch leads one up the garden path. One is inclined to trust the narrator; one does tend to identify the narrator, and the way she closes the door at the end of each section and lets an antagonist loose on the person who's just spoken can be quite a shock. She is good at characterisation, but bad at distinguishing voices (if I had a quid for every character in this book who says 'of course I realise that...' I could buy a couple of pints at least, and if I included her entire oeuvre it would be a couple of rounds).

But that's not news. What has struck - and disappointed - me in this particular book is the lack of resolution. A couple of times I have caught myself thinking 'oh, I must finish Penmarric...' before realising - I have. Perhaps finishing with King John was not a good idea.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10056864
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An utterly unmemorable book. I didn't exactly dislike it, but it didn't grab me, and it was a bit of a struggle to plough through to the end. The plot was unconvincing, the characters less so, but difficult to relate to, and OK, I admit it, I'm not a dog person.

The author obviously has a very defined sense of place, but, not knowing the Cotswolds, I was unable to plug into this, and it all rather passed me by. Perhaps if I knew the area I'd have enjoyed this more. As it was, it all felt very flat.

I did pick up the next one in the series to try to work out what I felt about this book, and discovered within a few pages that my prevailing emotion was boredom.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8101473/
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Now, this takes me back. This is another one in the Favourites roundabout (and if it looks like I'm only reading things from BookCrossing, that's because they're the only ones I've got the brain to write up at the moment).

I first read this at school - sixth form, it must have been, from the shape of the library in my mind's eye - and enjoyed it then. It was interesting to revisit it, and to find that on the whole it's very much as I remember it.

This is set in one of those dystopian societies that look very neat and tidy on the surface, and then turn out to be a little too neat and tidy when you dig a little. The titular Giver holds all the world's memories - because the world has decided it's easier without remembering things like love and war, but somebody has to have them - and is passing them on to Jonas, the new Receiver. As before, I found this concept intriguing, and was hooked on the gradual deconstruction of the society. As before, I found myself getting rather bored with the end of the story. It was quite late at night, I will admit, but it did feel as if it finished two chapters too late - though this time I picked up on the ambiguous nature of the ending.

Interesting to revisit a book I'd enjoyed before, and to see how my relationship to it has changed over the past ten years (very little, as it happens).

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10359233
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'N' in the Alphabet roundabout. A teen book, and none the worse for it. The plot hangs on the real-life murder of Grace Brown, and incorporates the victim's letters into the text - though in such a sensitive manner that it's only just occurred to me how terribly that might have turned out.

The narrator is a waitress at the Glenmore Hotel, where the tragedy is centred, working to support her father and sisters, and to raise enough money to take up a place at college in New York. I think I have been rather spoiled for stories in which the heroine's vocation is to write (I will wibble more about this on the Other Blog) because here was someone for whom this was more of a challenge than usual, and I was just rolling my eyes. A pity. Also, I saw straight through the love interest, but this may have been the intention.

Nothing particularly special, but a good enough read, with a pleasing resolution.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10491432
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Another one in the BookCrossing Favourites of 2011 ring, and I'm in two minds about it. Set largely in a mission hospital in Ethiopia, the story of conjoined twins raised in an adopted family following their mother's death and their father's disappearance, moving and aggravating by turns. On the one hand, I really didn't need to read fifty pages of birth trauma (not to mention various other gory chapters through the book); on the other, it has left me feeling generally more hopeful about the world and (as often seems to be the case with my reading these days) has demonstrated to me how little history I know outside my own bubble.

It has some interesting things to say about family, race, nation and class, and some horribly unexamined assumptions about gender (I'm not sure how much of this is the narrator and how much... isn't). The more I think about it, I am really quite angry at how the infliction of FGM was gendered female, and the healing of fistulas was gendered male.

On the whole I would recommend it, but (and this is a significant 'but') only if you can stomach the narrative of men knowing better than women what ought to be done with women's bodies, and certainly not if you have a birth trauma or surgery trigger.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8497585/
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The story of the discovery of a rare book, and the resulting mystery, intrigue and murder in mid-century Spain. An absorbing read, with many threads to follow and many subplots coiled up inside each other. I guessed the identity of Laín Coubert very early on, but it was worth keeping going to the end even so.

I'd have liked to see the female characters do more, though, rather than have the plot simply happen around them. And, as is often the case with books set in a time/place I don't know much about, I was left thinking 'I really must find out more about ...'

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10179767/
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A waterproof book for reading in the bath - so I did. It was a fairly average tale of a woman discontented with her life and unable to leave an unsatisfactory man. Shocking proofreading, I may say. Rather fun, though.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7685703/
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A beautifully spare love story, giving just enough detail, and drawing the reader in with clever use of second-person pronouns - and never, so far as I can see, revealing the gender of the other party, the more readily to allow identification. To Levithan's great credit, the dictionary conceit didn't pall (and I say this as someone who's tired of dictionary definitions popping up on flyleaves and elsewhere one might expect an edifying quotation or whatever). An engaging, bittersweet book.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10445128
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Does what it says on the tin. A ghost story in the classic style - one might be forgiven for thinking one had picked up a book by M. R. James or somebody of that ilk. It's all there: the academic setting, the mysterious object, the backstory that is never fully revealed. And the very nineteenth-century nested narratives - I've not seen so many stories-within-stories since Wuthering Heights.

And then Susan Hill drags you kicking and screaming into the present, and it's as creepy as hell. I don't think I'll be visiting Venice for quite a long time.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10506283/

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