Thursday, 28 November 2013

Team Robot Blogger Award Shortlister Giving of Thanks

The lovely people at Angry Robot (and they are lovely) shortlisted me for their Team Robot Blogger Award. I may not have won, but the shortlisting itself made me all misty eyed. So in the spirit of giving thanks, I will respond with a round-up of all my Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry/Exhibit A reviews so far. May there be many more in the future*!

Guest posts and whatnot:
Strange Chemistry Launch
Extract: The Assassin's Curse
Q+A with Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cover Reveal: The Pirate's Wish
The Zenn Blog-a-palooza Tour
Q+A with Bryony Pearce
A post about St. Lucia

* I have reviews of Shadowplay and The Holders to come shortly. Plus many Strange Chemistry titles that will be read soon(ish).

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Falconer

Debutante, heiress, murderer… Aileana Kameron has not been quite the same lady she was the night her mother died. Whilst she must keep up the act during society gatherings and due her duty by her father, she is also battle the fae and hunt down the creature who murdered her mother.

I was looking forward to The Falconer; it has evil fae, high society and a kick ass cover but it didn’t quite meet the mark for me. Kam doesn’t put up much of a fight against the rules of society she hates so much. She runs round killing fae but she is still so, so concerned about her reputation. She has a good moan about it but I can’t recall a single thing she did to try and rectify it. I wanted her story to have some bearing on the way women had zero choices but it was much more about the action. Which is great if you like action fuelled books. Me, not so much. Not when there’s all this potential.

Set in Edinburgh in 1844, I wanted an atmospheric backdrop. Unfortunately, May relies too much on describing places by their street names, names that are still in use today. They were too familiar for me not to imagine the modern city and there wasn’t enough Victorian description to help offset that in my head. The only real period detail was the harsh rules for women.

I liked Catherine, Kam’s lifelong friend, who in her small part had more spine against her peers than Kam. I also liked Derrick, the mischievous pixie who lives in her closet and likes to get drunk on honey. The supporting male characters were a little bit clich├ęd and I felt the lady did protest too much. Too much denial can definitely make a plotline seem obvious.

The end was both sudden and confusing. I’m not entirely sure what happened and it was the kind of abruptness that leaves you checking for missing chapters. But, it was enjoyable enough to reach the end.

If The Falconer sounds more like your thing, it's published by Gollancz and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ Wondrous Reads | Winged Reviews

Shelve next to: Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman and Soulless by Gail Carriger

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A post about St. Lucia

Guest post by Dan Newman, author of The Clearing.

My novel The Clearing is set in St. Lucia, and for those of an adventurous nature, I can’t recommend the place enough; it’s really worth a visit... but you have to get out of the resort and into the heart of the island. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for swim-up bars and five star dining – and you’ll find that in spades in St. Lucia – but stay on the compound and you’ll miss the real St. Lucia... It’s a small island, so getting lost is only a temporary proposition.

St. Lucia has a fascinating history – I won’t go into it here – but suffice to say the English and the French battled for it repeatedly, flinging cannon balls and musket fire at each other while pirates and slavers quietly plied their various trades a few ports further down the coast. As a result, the island’s heritage is rich and varied. As kids we had access to great stretches of bush hiding all these overgrown military fortifications – built over time as the various forces tried to harden their positions. There were gun emplacements, underground bunkers, fortresses and prisons – all just sitting there in the forest, tangled in dense vegetation and quietly waiting for us to find them. On our porch I remember we had a collection of cannon balls, muskets and old shackles – and it was all there in bush for the finding. It was everywhere.

Of course, most of the fortifications have now had the bush peeled back, but it’s all still there, reclaimed by conservation groups and easily accessible on your day trip. A stint in St. Lucia isn’t complete without sitting on a three hundred year old cannon and thinking about the last time it was fired in anger...

As you’ll see in my novel, The Clearing, the island also has its share of large and very old plantations. These were the life-blood of the island, and the expression isn’t just for effect: thousands of slaves were brought to St. Lucia and forced to labour on these great plantations. The culture that developed there borrowed from African traditions and those of other places where slaves were collected en route... and merged with the native Arowaks and Caribs. This lead to unique practices such as Obeah, which is a powerful force on the island that can be put to use for good or bad...

But I digress. Many of the big plantations are still in operation, and many of them offer tours, which is something that can really get you in touch with the island. Most provide lunch of local fare – often grown right there on the estate – and the owners are always happy to tell you grizzly tales of old plantation life. (Go ahead and ask them about the Bolom... and watch their eyes when you do.) Who knows, you may even visit the fictitiously named Ti Fenwe - the real-life estate featured in The Clearing, and not even know it...

But fear not. St. Lucians are just about as welcoming a people as you’ll find anywhere in the world, and - like I said at the beginning - on an island as small as it is, you really can’t get lost for too long.

Thanks to Dan for stopping by and making us all want to go on holiday to St. Lucia! His debut novel, The Clearing, is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Exhibit A.

In 1976, four boys walked into a jungle. Only three came back alive.

Follow @DanNewmanWrites

Sunday, 24 November 2013


AKA Showcase Sunday

Things are fortunately starting to slow down on the book front in the run up to Christmas. Which is good because my reading has slowed right down too. I'm looking forward to my two weeks off to bury myself in books and cheesy telly. Yes, it's only a month away, we're allowed to start talking about it!

This is whole two weeks' worth. Haven't I been good? S. is a thing of glory, I keep opening it up to look at it...I'm not sure I want to read the main text, I'm trying to work out if I can just read the marginalia and all the bits and pieces that will fall out if I'm not careful.

For review:
Valour's Choice by Tanya Huff (Titan)
The Better Part of Valour by Tanya Huff (Titan)
Wolf by Mo Hayder (Transworld)
Autumn Rose by Abigail Gibbs (Harper Voyager)

Pies and Puds by Paul Hollywood

S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Popcorn Moment: Catching Fire

I had mostly forgotten the plot of Catching Fire, only really remembering that I thought it was kinda the same as the first book. So I can't really do a comparison but bits kept coming back to me and I think it stays pretty faithful to the book. If anything, the focus is a bit more on the rebellion than Katniss's personal circumstances. For many, it's going to be a slow start as it felt very little time was spent in the arena but overall I really enjoyed it. Maybe that works better for those who found the books a bit samey?

Jennifer Lawrence's finest acting moment is the face she pulls when Joanna takes her clothes off in front of her. It's priceless. Of course, she's the star of the show and her performance is faultless. I liked Peeta a lot more this time round. I don't think I ever warmed to him in the books, but when Katniss goes from awkwardness to genuine care, I started to come round to him. Gale's just hanging around at home seeming a bit useless (I guess he was made more enticing in the books than the films). There's another lovely moment with Cinna...oh and THE DRESS! I want her Mockingjay dress!

Was the ending sudden in the book? I read them all in one weekend so I really can't remember if it had an annoying end point. I know most of you will have read them and it's probably a moot point...but I think the end going to be a bit crap for non-bookish cinema goers.

I had an extra special effect during the baboon scene, where a man started crawling around on the floor. I think he was picking up food that he had dropped but he got a bit too close to comfort. I at least hope he wasn't re-enacting the scene. Ah the joys of watching a film in a room with a bunch of strangers (when can we have new films streamed direct into our homes?).

Preview tickets provided by O2.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Elements of Eloquence

The Elements of Eloquence; its very title an example of the first chapter’s rhetoric, alliteration. This charming little book from the man who brought you The Etymologicon and The Horologicon reveals the secrets of all great poets (and songwriters) with tongue firmly in cheek. Whilst we all learned about alliteration at school, the rest of rhetoric has been thrown out with the bathwater.

Before the Romantics came along, the figures of rhetoric were studied extensively and used by the likes of Shakespeare to make some of the greatest lines in literary history. Shakespeare was not a genius, he just learned what makes words sound good and memorable. And that is where this book sets off, picking apart poems, songs and political speeches (but don’t worry, only tiny bits of them) and pointing out what technique makes them work. All in a friendly, and at times amusing, tone.

Whilst it’s a book that can be dipped into now and then, the chapter structure tricks you into reading more than you intended. There are 39 chapters, to deal with 39 figures of rhetoric. Each example ends with an example of the next term. So one chapter ends:

“Striking down and blind” is, by the way, an example of syllepsis.

And, of course, the next chapter is syllepsis so you think you might as well spend a few more minutes finding out what that is and next thing you know, it’s the middle of the night and you’ve finished the whole book.

I actually tried writing a review in poetry using all the techniques but it started to get a bit silly:

The Elements of Eloquence, an entertaining endeavour.
Book yourself in for a weekend alone with this book.
Read these words; read to be educated and read to chuckle.
I wonder…
Read, I tell you, read!

You see where that was going. But I did fit in alliteration, polyptoton, antithesis, aposiopesis and diacope. The personification in iambic pentameter didn’t make the cut… I’m not a natural at poetry but after reading this book, it’s become a lot easier to see why some poems, and quotes, work better than others.

One thing I did learn, it that I’ve been using ellipsis all wrong. I don’t think anyone noticed though.

If you enjoyed Mark Forsyth’s other books, you’re bound to enjoy this one and it’s the perfect gift for any word geeks. Although if you’ve got a PhD in English language, you may already know a lot of this, but I would hope it’s still got enough enjoyment factor to it. I think it could also have its place in the classroom. There should be room for learning to be fun too.

The Elements of Eloquence is published by Icon Books and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. If you'd like to have a go at some poetry, there's a chance to win a copy and some fridge poetry magnets over on Mark's Tumblr (closes 9th December 2013).

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Shelve next to: The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth + The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Win The Fall of the Stone City!

Instead of an incoming post this week, I'm giving away one of the books I was sent. I read and reviewed The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare last year. The paperback is due for release in the UK this December and I have a spare copy to offer one winner. It's a slim volume so it's open internationally. If you get post, you can enter.

This book is a translation (the original is in Albanian) so I will be giving extra entries to anyone who has been doing my translation challenge this year. Sorry I haven't been doing much for it!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Ghost World

What’s this? Another graphic novel? Two in one month? What’s going on? Well Ghost World was selected for book group as something a bit different; we like a bit different at our book group (check out the blog if you’re local). I missed the discussion (I was busy eating free food) but it seems most people came to the conclusion that is wasn’t a good introduction to the world of graphic novels. I think it might really be a bind-up of several comics following the same two girls, and it ended up with a bit of a vague narrative.

The story is basically two teenage girls hanging around their haunts, chatting about the things that teens chat about, peppered with lots of swearing and some unsavoury characters. It's a mostly mundane existence that many will relate too, even if you were never quite like them. It’s not a rose-tinted view of adolescence and I can see teenagers loving it. But maybe I’m a bit too old to really appreciate it; and I say this from someone who likes graphic novels (even if I don’t read them all that much).

I think my favourite scene might be when Enid tries to fantasise about Mr Pierce but she keeps changing her mind about what the scenario is. There’s also a fairly genuine feeling first time scene. Yes, this isn’t a book that shies away from the fact that teenagers have sex.

Sometimes I can forgive a less than captivating story if the artwork is stunning. Unfortunately I didn’t rate the drawings at all in Ghost World. Half the characters look pretty creepy; which I suppose could be them seen through the eyes of our protagonists, who seem to hang around with plenty of people they find creepy. But it didn’t leave me starting at the page in appreciation. There were also no whole page illustrations that would be typical in a graphic novel meant as a graphic novel from the beginning.

I found the ending a bit confusing too and had to go over it a few times. Not quite sure what the relevance of the mysterious graffiti artist was…

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Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lazy Days

Bror Telemann is on holiday in Germany with his wife and children. His wife Nina, loves Germany. He doesn’t. He does like theatre and Nigella Lawson though. Whilst the rest of his family enjoy the sights, he lets his mind wander to thoughts of theatre… and Nigella.

I’m not really sure how to go about writing this review. It’s an odd little book. Odder than Doppler, but still highly enjoyable. I do now think that “thinking about theatre” is a euphemism! Every time Telemann is caught thinking about Nigella, he tells his wife he’s just caught up in the theatre.

It’s very conversational prose. There’s no speech marks and a lot of speech, if that’s something that bothers you. But somehow it added to the realism of a family on holiday and their pointless conversations. Apart from a couple of events, the whole things came across as a believable holiday; one where someone doesn’t really want to be there but is putting up with it. If you’re not enjoying the place, you probably would spend a lot of time in your head.

It’s slightly prophetic too. The original Norwegian text was published in 2009, before this year’s shocking pictures of Saatchi attacking Nigella over a disagreement. Telemann gets it in his head that Saatchi is an abusive husband and in his fantasies he must rescue her. It gives that portion of the book a sad tinge whilst the rest is filled with offbeat humour.

Lazy Days has been translated into English by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw and is published by Head of Zeus in the UK. It's available to buy now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Shelve next to: Doppler by Erlend Loe

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor’s the new girl. Everyone on the school bus has their designated seat and no one’s moving. Except for Park, who begrudgingly offers her the seat next to him. Park doesn’t know why she makes herself such an obvious target with her weird clothes but Eleanor doesn’t have much of a choice. Slowly a friendship forms during their time over the bus, sharing comics and then music. But Park’s scared of being unpopular and Eleanor, well she has a lot of to be scared of.

Park is the kindest teenage boy ever. He is quite probably a fantastical creature that doesn’t exist in the real world but we can hold out hope. The smallest acts of kindness throughout the book were the things that got me welling up. Most dramatic hand holding scene ever. Those little moments between them on the bus (and I can remember the horror of the school bus for those of us who weren’t popular) were just awwwww. I also loved Park’s parents who were good and kind even if they didn’t always seem that way. But that’s often how teenagers see their parents anyway.

What I really liked was the delicate social hierarchy of school life. The kids that are scared of being friends or just extending a moment of kindness, are scared that it will topple them from their place in the middle. This is such a huge truth that is often skipped over in YA. Everyone’s so busy trying to make sure they aren’t the ones at the bottom, that standing up for someone less fortunate is an act of bravery. It’s interesting how Eleanor starts off unattractive and becomes beautiful through Parks eyes but he is presented as gorgeous, only to reveal he doesn’t feel that way at all about himself.

For some reason, before starting this book, I thought it was going to be light and breezy. Eleanor’s home life is awful and it’s so sad to think that people live that way. She lives in a room with her 4 siblings, her mother is living in fear of their stepdad and Eleanor just doesn’t feel welcome or safe in her own home. Her stepdad’s abusive nature is that soul destroying kind that never escalates enough for someone to intervene but slowly wears the family down. I sometimes felt Eleanor came across a bit distant and maybe her interactions with her family were unemotional. Perhaps she has just become immune to it all but it did make me feel like I shouldn’t care about them. The plot dragged a bit in the middle because of this, Eleanor and Park were at a standstill in their rather chaste and sweet relationship and it needed something a bit more dramatic.

Actually, having a look at the cover blurb of my copy, there is only a “not suitable for younger readers” warning and nothing to even hint at the content. Both the design and words makes me think, cute boy meets girl story. It really is rather sad, peppered with acts of kindness that give you hope.

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Also reviewed @ Alexa Loves Books | Bookshelf Fantasies

Shelve next to: Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky + Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O'Porter

Source: Purchased