January and the Single Heart by Vi Zetterwall

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This was a bubbling romance novella with a real feel-good vibe resonating throughout. It made me smile with scattered bouts of humour and made good use of strong supporting characters. I particularly enjoyed the scent of mystery produced by a strange ‘love coin’ in what was otherwise a normal office romance story.

What I liked most about “January and the Single Heart” – the part that really made me swell with happiness and experience the fabled ‘warm glow’ that comes hand in hand with a nice book – was the author’s use of stereotypes. The love interest of the romance novella, Glen the accountant, was the typical, run of the mill “Mr Right.” He was charming, he was a good listener, he certainly wasn’t ugly and he enjoyed drinking imaginary beverages at tea parties hosted by youngsters. All of this is common – nay, expected – in a would-be book-boyfriend, and at the start I was a bit disappointed to discover that Glen was going to be just like a million other fictional men.

But, as it turned out, I was joyously wrong! Glen’s character was different from the usual, adorable hunk. He started off as a stereotypical, unoriginal, perfect love interest with the standard “dark secret.” But as the book went on, Glen began to grow apart from all the other Prince Charmings that frolic in the world of literature. He started to develop his own little quirks and idiosyncrasies. For example, he would buy a new book every Friday and read it at the local eating house. Once he rescued a rather mangled cat from the alleyway behind his apartment. Another time he talked to a notoriously grumpy, elderly relative for half an hour, and when he left, the archaic aunt was smiling. I found that it was these small, extra nuggets of detail, combined with the perfection that already surrounded the stereotypical Glen, that made me like him and therefore like the book. He was a surprisingly developed character with depths that made him stand out from the normal, nice character that usually haunts romance novellas.

Though I admired the character of Glen a lot more than I expected to, the protagonist Jan was a big disappointment. Hers was a boring, colourless narrative, devoid of emotion and filled with irritating phrases like ‘gawd’, ‘yow!’ and ‘sumthing’. I wanted to know more about her backstory and more about her personality, but apart from being told the generic “blonde, pretty, likes hiking”, I was let down hugely on that front. The plot was also suspiciously lacking in twists and turns. There were no bumps in the proverbial road, no competition and nothing to disturb the budding romance between Jan and Glen. The ending was also painfully predictable.

That being said, however, the book certainly did the genre proud by doing exactly what it was supposed to: it made me smile. It was a perfect feel-good read and, despite my grumbles about narrative and plot, I definitely enjoyed reading “January and the Single Heart.” It was a nice read, an entertaining read, and I think that one can easily overlook the flaws and settle down to enjoy the story. I would recommend this book to all who want to sit back, relax, and appreciate a good old-fashioned romance novella.

 

Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz

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Russian Roulette was a stunning novel by Anthony Horowitz, master of action and suspense. I am a big fan of Mr Horowitz, so when I realised that his new book had hit the shelves I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Russian Roulette is part of the Alex Rider series – a childhood favourite of mine. However, there are a few, small differences. It is a prequel, written in first person instead of the usual third and, for a change, it isn’t about young Alex. Instead, the story follows that of his nemesis, Yassen Gregorovich, an assassin from Russia whose path is inexplicably linked to Alex Rider’s.

I loved this book. I devoured it in a day and was left with that happy, tingly feeling that often follows a good read. It was full of action and intrigue and stunning description, everything that I expect from Horowitz. It also had a darker undercurrent that I wasn’t accustomed to. All of Horowitz’s Alex Rider villains have been outlandish and larger than life; their evil plans often followed the same, surreal patterns. However, Russian Roulette had a whole new vibe. Perhaps it was because there was a new protagonist on the scene. Perhaps it was because Horowitz was writing for the Alex Rider fans who, like me, had grown up a little. But whatever the reasons, Russian Roulette was a dark, menacing read. It was also surprisingly realistic. There was on the whole more gore, more cruelty and more violence, which I think the book needed in order to break away from the somewhat more childish universe of Alex Rider.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The plot was fast paced and the writing was succinct. There were new characters and old ones, new cities and past haunts. It was a jam packed blast through the past, which was a real treat for Alex Rider fans. This book was really a gift to fans from the author. It was written for us – full of references only we would understand, and it answered many questions that we had been wondering about for ages.

I would recommend Russian Roulette to anyone. Though it was aimed at the many lovers of the book series, it was also thrilling enough to be a stand-alone novel in its own right. Yassen Gregorovich was a lovely protagonist who the reader really connected to, despite the fact that he was an assassin. Tip of the hat to Anthony Horowitz.