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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Review: Darkness Falls

Author: Cate Tiernan

Release date: UK 5th January 2012
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 12+ / Adult crossover
ISBN: 9781444707007
Series: Immortal Beloved (2)


Review:

Darkness Falls is the second page-turning book in Cate Tiernan’s Immortal Beloved fantasy series. Set in the present day, it follows the lives of immortals who have the power to wield magic and cast it upon unsuspecting mortals.

This story continues Nastasya journey of self-discovery from the first novel. She is an immortal descended from of one of the Great Houses has taken refuge at River’s End - a sort of retreat for wayward immortals. Nastasya is trying to come to terms with her past and her true identity. She is increasingly consumed by guilt over her past choices.

The first part of the novel is a combination of Nastasya’s experiences in the present at the farm and flashbacks to her many lives that she has lived before. At 459 years old and looking like a perpetual seventeen year old, she has had to reinvent herself in new places over and over. For a long long time Nastasya had not reflected on her choices or considered the implications of them, she looked out only for herself. But at River’s End, Nastasya has learned that magic has a dark side.

In this novel we learn more about the self-interested decisions Nastasya has made. There is a very human side to immortals and they have weaknesses, fears and are easily tempted. The pace of the first half of the novel is slow and the reader explores Nastasya’s mind in much detail. We are cast into her desires, her fears and her snarky witticisms. I really enjoyed this character driven nature of the novel. The second half of the novel is faster paced and full of action. Nastasya crosses the threshold of no return and by doing so action sets the story on a rollercoaster ride. This latter half of the novel is very much a page-turner full of tension and impending doom.  The two halves work well together creating a tightly plotted story and winding journey for the reader.

I loved the historical details that Tiernan explored through Nastasya’s past lives. She has lived in so many countries and time periods and each of them had an authenticity and atmosphere about them. There are many elements of this series which I think have a wide ranging appeal: romance, the interpretation of good and evil, Nastasya’s feisty character and the mythology of Tiernan’s magic power houses. It all adds up to a compelling story which is at times tender and at others tense, Darkness Falls will appeal to fans of Maria Snyder and lovers of fantasy and paranormal romance. I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment.


Source: Proof copy sent by Hodder Books

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Event Summary: Philippa Gregory YA Launch

I had such a busy day yesterday. There were so many activities happening in the library in the morning and then in the afternoon I hopped on the tube and went to a special event at Simon and Schuster.

I was there with five other bloggers for the launch and cover reveal of Philippa Gregory’s new YA novel Changeling. The first in a four book series: Order of Darkness.

The event was the most formal blogger event I’ve been to and I found that I much prefer the formal style. I am a big fan of organisation and this event was expertly organised. We sent questions in advance and we were each given the chance to ask them press conference style. We were all a little nervous beforehand but Philippa put us at ease.

I’ve been reading one of her adult novels: Earthly Joys. It is set in the early 1600s and the main character – John Tradescant – is the Head Gardener of statesman Robert Cecil. I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between the mighty Cecil and his gardener. I got the chance to ask Philippa how a gardener could come to have such influence. She explained that in the world of court where all the players are false and effectively manipulators and liars, Cecil would have found John wonderfully different. He was a man of the earth and had a great deal of common sense. He was a practical and honest man. A complete contrast to court life. It was great to hear this because I have spent so long pondering how a gardener could grow to be so influential. Philippa also pointed out that Cecil spent a long time reflecting his garden and John would have designed it to allow his lord time for his personal reveries. Enlightening stuff!

Philippa talked about Changeling and gave us the context of the historical period. The people believe it is the End of Days – the coming of the apocalypse – after the successful invasion of the Ottomans in Constantinople. The lead male character – Luca - is charged with identifying events which may symptomatic of the end of the world: outbreaks of plague, village hysteria etc. Philippa’s lead female character Isolde is extraordinary of her time as she seeks to undo injustices that are done to her and regain her fortune.

As the closing question, I asked Philippa what she read for pleasure and not surprisingly she said history. It is her passion. She was inspirational talking about the period in which Changeling is set and really made it come alive for me. She also said that she believes in nourishing the subconscious mind so she reads the Classic English and American Literature Canon for pleasure and because she loves good writing.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for inviting me to the event. I was so inspired when I went away and it was perfect time as I had my writing class in the evening. What a day!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Review: Freak the Mighty

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Release date: UK 2004
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Usborne
ISBN: 9781856130608


Review:

Freak the Mighty is an endearing story of loyalty and courage.

It is the story of Maxwell and Kevin: two boys who are larger than life. Maxwell is growing into a big lad. He is much taller than the other kids in his class. People call him retarded and they are all waiting for him to “go bad” because the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. In kindergarten he was known as Kicker. But now he’s in the eighth grade and he’s shut out the event that traumatised his childhood.

Kevin is small for his age. He has a disease which means he’s stopped growing on the outside but not on the inside. Kevin is a genius. He has a vocabulary far more advanced than his age and he loves looking up new words in his trusty dictionary.

Maxwell and Kevin become great friends and together unleash their imaginative powers to become Freak the Mighty.

I read this book in a single sitting. It is short and has a wonderfully direct narrative voice which speaks to the reader. Maxwell tells the story of Freak the Mighty. We learn how he and Kevin become friends and their bond is heart-warming. Philbrick’s characterisation was excellent – Kevin’s dialogue had me laughing out loud – I was utterly involved in the characters’ stories and really felt the emotions of every step of their adventure.

Freak the Mighty is touched with tragedy and heartbreaking sorrow that is a part of life. It brought me to tears but it also celebrated how important a true friendship can be to transform a person beyond their fears. A wonderful and moving story.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Review: Alone in Berlin

Author: Hans Fallada

Release date: This edition 2010, first published 1947
Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141189383

Review:

Alone in Berlin is a complex novel set in the Second World War. It is a tale of human reaction and perseverance in a time when the people of Berlin had little control over the events dominating their lives.

I have to begin by saying this is not a book I would ordinarily read. It was selected for the staff book group which is why I braved it. People read for all different reasons and that is something that I have learnt through the experience of being part of this group. I read to escape. I like going off into fantasy worlds and leaving the real one behind. I am all about the happy ending and I’m a hopeless romantic. Does Alone in Berlin fit within those reading preferences? No, it does not. So this was a challenge for me.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints. We’re not talking two or three here. We’re talking many, many different characters. Their lives are all intertwined in some way. They may live on the same street or apartments, work in the same factory, be married, be related, be investigating a crime but in some way or another they are connected. And I suppose, you could say that in times of war all people are connected by the turmoil, violence, fear and powerlessness that overshadows their lives.

There is no one main character but there are some significant characters who shape events in the lives of the others. Take Otto Quangel for instance. He is a foreman at a factory. He’s a loner and has no real connection to other people except for his wife. Until the death of his son, he is in support of Hitler and the Nazi party. But when his son’s death affects his relationship with his wife, he feels anger towards Hitler and begins a rather odd and ineffectual campaign against him. Otto’s actions affect his wife, his future daughter-in-law, the people of the factory, the people in the apartment building and so on. And yet, Otto’s actions do not have the effect he is hoping for.

At first I found following the many different characters really frustrating. But I really did like the author’s voice. It was a little sarcastic yet very direct, as if he was telling just you the story. I also felt irritated the characterisation of the characters in the SS and Gestapo. They were almost one-dimensional and caricatured in the beginning. I didn’t expect to like them but I did expect them to be multi-layered. I just don’t believe there are that many people who enjoy mutilating and torturing other human beings. But perhaps the author was suggesting that is what war does to people. Makes them inhuman and desensitized to violence? Food for thought.

I am pleased that I kept reading. I did get drawn into the characters’ stories. I wanted to know how it ended. Alone in Berlin definitely evoked strong emotions from me. At one point I felt physically sick and yet there were times when I smiled and even laughed. I expect there will be some interesting discussions at the book group. A thought-provoking and challenging read.

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo.


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Song Quest: Back in Print!

Woo hoo!

Song Quest is back in print today!

Horray for:
  • Blogger power
  • Awesome fantasy novels
  • Publishers who rock my socks off
  • Authors who transport you to another world and also happen to be lovely people
Huge congratulations to Katherine Roberts on the release of her brilliant new book Sword of Light.

Two books. One fantastic writer. One happy blogger.

Now readers: Go and buy them.

Thank you.
Mwah!