Review of Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

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I was attracted by the cover, read the first couple of pages and scooped this offering off the shelves.

mothandsparkIn the country of Caithen, Prince Corin is tasked with freeing the dragons from their bondage to the Emperor. To help him in his quest, the terrifying beasts have allowed Corin a little of their power. But the history of the dragons’ slavery is shrouded in mystery and no one can assist in his quest to free them… until the arrival of Tam at court – a sensible doctor’s daughter, who discovers a remarkable talent.

It’s an intriguing premise – yes, I know that you’ve read the blurb above and thought, ‘what’s different?’. What’s different isn’t the fantasy element – it’s the romantic element. Think Jane Austin translocated into a fantasy setting and you’ve got the vibe of this book. While the fantasy storyline is the narrative that drives the novel forward, the courtship between these two passionate, intelligent protagonists provides the emotional tone. Romance can work brilliantly in speculative fiction, but all too often a trite, hackneyed boy-meets-girl setup frankly spoils what could be a quirky engaging story. Leonard manages to layer the romance into the story by making me really care about both protagonists before they got together.

As for the dragon component – these days they have to have something special. After the dragonriders of Pern and Smaug et al what does Leonard bring to the lair to make her dragons stand out? She writes them intelligently by keeping them very threatening, and although Corin is eventually able to ride one and even communicate with it, there is never a sense of being able to treat a dragon like a huge dog with scales.

Leonard manages to evoke the same threat and mystery about her magic with strong use of imagery and the sense both of her main characters, while able at times to harness aspects of it, are still very much floundering. Again, it underlines the sense of wonder and unease that all too often is missing in swords and sorcery fantasy, which I think helps to make this an enjoyable, engrossing read.

Any niggles? Well, there was a big build-up to the major climax with the dragons and despite there being plenty of tension and the stakes being very high, the actual denouement was slightly lacking in the full-on action I think this genre demands. However, this wasn’t a dealbreaker for me, as Leonard manages to tie up the ending satisfactorily.

I picked it up, wanting something a little less bleak after having read a string of grimdark fantasies and was prepared for it to be a frothy, fun read. Moth and Spark is certainly fun, but it also packs more of a punch than I’d expected and I shall be looking out for more books from this accomplished author.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – (1st September 2015)

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

TeaserTuesdays-ADailyRhythm3-300x203

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

MY TUESDAY TEASER from The Thousand Names – Book 1 of the Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexlerthethousandnames

Genre – Military fantasy

The lieutenant gave a delicate cough. Marcus had been with him long enough to recognize Fitz-speak for “You’re about to do something very stupid and/or embarrasing, sir.” P.33

To the people who made books live for me…

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This is a tribute to those people who helped spark my love of books by reading aloud to me.

Pile of Books @ Windham library

Pile of Books @ Windham library

First and foremost – my granny. She read aloud really well, having a beautiful, deep voice slightly roughened by smoking. I vividly recall her reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green and Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, sitting on the end of my bed as part of the bedtime routine, when she came to stay while we were living in Zambia. I can close my eyes, feel the slight pressure of the bedsheets tugging and hear her husky voice as I listened spellbound with the cool night air and the crickets sawing in the background. I could have listened to her all night…

I was also lucky enough to have a number of teachers who read aloud to our class. Mrs Parry read us stories about the Greek myths from a huge, foxed book that had me combing the library looking for more stories like those ones – and stumbling across an edition with some fairly graphic illustrations, when aged eight.

Miss Allson read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and I recall struggling not to cry when we reached the passage involving poor little Coyotito near the end. It was the first time I recall a story that so starkly examined racism and the sheer unfairness of poverty.

On a much lighter note, Miss Jorden read us the wonderful stories featuring Don Camillo, the hot-headed village priest and his regular run-ins with the equally hot-headed mayor Peppone, written by Giovannino Guareschi. I managed to get hold of these books years later and although I enjoyed the TV series, I still far prefer the ironic tone of the books. I, again, can close my eyes and hear Miss Jordon’s gentle voice pattering around the room on a sleepy afternoon and smell the classroom scents of chalkdust, ink and learning.

Mr Crawford read Animal Farm by George Orwell to us and a selection of poetry, which he recited beautifully, managing to imbue the likes of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ and ‘Roman Wall Blues’ by W.H. Auden with passion and understanding.

I recall being entranced by Mrs Jefford’s rendition of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth, furiously drawing black and white doodles as I drank in every word… I don’t know if teachers regularly read aloud to children older than eleven, these days. I hope they do.

So I want to voice my gratitude to all the adults who read aloud to me all those years ago. Although I was one of those children who effortlessly learnt to read at a very early age, it mattered to hear other people read aloud to me, opening me up to literature I probably would never have otherwise encountered. Thank you…

I have always made an effort to pass on the baton, having read to both my children until they got to a point they’d rather I didn’t. And now I read aloud, sometimes until my voice goes, to both grandchildren who love listening to all sorts of adventure stories.

Who read to you when you were a child? What did they read? Do you read aloud to anyone in your life? I’d love to hear from you…

1 Event That Will Help You Expand Your Readership: Meet and Greet

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1 Event That Will Help You Expand Your Readership: Meet and Greet

sjhigbee:

I LOVE this idea for reaching out to fellow bloggers, courtesy of Danny from Dream Big Dream Often. Why not join in?

Originally posted on Dream Big, Dream Often:

imagesWhat day is it??!!  Meet and Greet Day!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!  So don’t be selfish, hit the reblog button.
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags (i.e. reblogging, reblog, meet n greet, link party, etc.), it helps, trust me on this one.
  4. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new bloggers to follow.  This helps also, trust me.
  5. And if you leave a link and don’t follow me, how about ya show ole Danny some love?

Now that all the rules have been clearly explained get out there and meet n greet your butts off!

The Social Media post will publish…

View original 16 more words

Review of The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

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Being a shallow soul, I hefted this substantial tome off the shelves because of the very cool cover and lugged it home, because the first couple of pages were evidently well written and intriguing. Would my slavish attraction to star-spattered covers pay off this time around?

thesevensistersMaia D’Aplièse and her sisters gather together at their childhood home of Atlantis – a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva – having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalising clue as to their true heritage – a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Jio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began…

This sprawling saga has two narrative timelines. The first features Maia, eldest of six adopted sisters struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their beloved father, aggravated by his odd request to be buried at sea without any family present. The second timeline delves back into the past as Maia discovers who her genetic family are and what befell her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother so that she ended up in an orphanage, being put up for adoption as a tiny baby.

I haven’t encountered Riley’s writing before, but it didn’t take long to realise I was in the experienced hands of a gifted storyteller who knows her craft. Interweaving two narratives throughout such a long book so the reader isn’t skimming one storyline to get to the other takes a significant amount of technical skill. And Riley manages to braid the two timelines together without any jarring or stuttering in the impressive pacing of this engrossing tale.

She also whisks the reader around the world. We start in luxurious surroundings on Lake Geneva, then we’re taken back to Rio in the 1920’s to the sumptuous life of coffee baron’s daughter Izabela Bonifacio and on to bohemian life in Paris during the same period. The historical plotline heavily features the creation of one of the most famous landmarks in the world – the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, where Riley has managed to interleave fact and fiction very deftly.

The 600+ pages whizzed by as I became caught up in the plight of Izabela, humbly grateful I hadn’t been born a beautiful, rich young heiress at that particular time. Riley gives us a heartrending insight into her plight. It shows, once more, just how bleak women’s lives are when they aren’t permitted equal rights. During narrative twists and turns I waited to get impatient with Maia’s passive attitude to life… to become tired of Izabela’s struggle between heart and head… and it didn’t happen. Storylines that regularly have me switching off and putting a book down never to return, held me right to the end.

Did Riley succeed in corralling her wide-ranging narrative into a suitably satisfying ending? Oh yes – which is much trickier than it might seem, given that I would have also flung the book across the room in disgust if the conclusion had been too tritely satisfying.

The Seven Sisters is the start of a series, where Riley will be examining each of the sibling’s backstory and their reaction to Pa Salt’s unexpected demise and I will be eagerly looking out for the next one. If you tastes run to family sagas, complete with enjoyable backdrops and a dollop of historical detail, then this comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

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We have always pre-ordered the latest Terry Pratchett novel since… forever. Pratchett’s world have developed and expanded through most of my adult life and while I love some more than others, I’ve never disliked any of them. And now, I have just finished The Shepherd’s Crown with a real sense of sadness. For Pratchett hadn’t finished saying what he had to say – and there is a sense of pent frustration and energy throughout this last Tiffany Aching adventure which he completed during the final year of his life.

theshepherdscrownDeep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

I’ve always enjoyed the Tiffany Aching books, set on the chalk uplands – a landscape I know and love. And the bonus is there are a hatful of my favourite characters who make an appearance in this delightful, moving addition to the canon. Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, Miss Tick, Magrat all feature, along with a couple of Tiffany’s former adversaries, Miss Earwig and the terrifying Queen of the Elves. And of course the Nac Mac Feegles, the tiny, blue-skinned warriors who shadow Tiffany and guard her wherever she goes. Even in places she’d rather they didn’t…

The emotional scene near the beginning had me on the edge of tears. And in other parts of the book, I was laughing out loud – there are only a handful of books that have elicited that response from me. While I was looking forward to reading this one, I wasn’t expecting it to pack such a punch. But the story sings off the page as classic Pratchett at his best.

Tiffany is suddenly pitchforked into a role of major responsibility. A role where she is challenged and not only by those who don’t wish her well. But in addition to the threat from Fairyland, there is also the constant pressure to be the very best witch she can be in a world that is suddenly changing. A world where goblins are no longer smelly nuisances, but valued engineers, a world where railways and claques have shrunk distances. A world where a young man named Geoffrey, accompanied by his goat Mephistopheles, turns up requesting to be trained as a witch.

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other.

Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists…
10/10

POEM – The Creep’s Carriage

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This poem was written after the discussion about bringing in women’s carriages on trains, due to the rise in reported incidents against women. Then someone suggested a creep’s carriage – and this poem kept running around my head this morning while I was trying to edit. So I let it loose…

They say women should be herded into
separate carriages for their own good.
To keep them safe from the slimy creeps who
won’t leave them alone to travel in peace.

Why don’t we pen up the vile creeps instead?
Give them vomit-curry coloured tickets
showing their creep-class status, to be led
by guards straight to the creep’s carriage.

Who will qualify to travel creep-class?
If you’ve ever groped, stroked or touched, then in
you go. Let’s ditch words like bother or harass –
if you’ve unzipped your fly to have a wank,
you’ve applied for creep-class. Shouted ‘fuck!’
loudly, watching the old bag’s face as she shrank
into her seat, while grinning with your mates –
you’ve complied with creep-class T’s and C’s.
Rating a girl’s tits or her face, demanding dates,
taking pics and posting them online – I’m pleased
to say you have fulfilled the terms that rates
you as entitled to travel creep-class.

Have a journey full of fear and heartache.

Review of KINDLE ebook Hexomancy – Book 3 of the Ree Reyes series by Michael R. Underwood

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This is the third book in an urban fantasy unashamedly wallowing within the new cool version of geekiness made popular by the likes of The Big Bang Theory. So if you enjoy gaming, are happy to join in debates as to the relative merits of the Green Lantern versus Spiderman and will happily spend a week-end watching Firefly, while ranting about the idiots who cancelled the series in the first place, you’ve found your spiritual home. Because the funky aspect of this magical system is that Ree and her team can draw their magical powers from their enthusiasm and knowledge of pop culture.

HexomancyWhen Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until they have exacted revenge on certain Geekomancers.

It took me just a while to find my bearings as this book evidently picks up where Celebromancy left off. But given that I’d just jumped bang into the middle of an on-going series, I’m not going to grizzle too much about that one – apart from anything else, it didn’t take too long to sort out what was going on. But I will issue a word of warning – if constant allusions to music, films, TV programmes and the characters peopling them annoys you, then steer clear. As it happens, even when I didn’t know or get exactly who it was being referenced, Underwood is sharp enough to spell out the magical power they are invoking.

Ree is an engaging, likeable heroine, with an interesting backstory. She is a ‘glass half full’ lass, rather than the tortured, angsty type, so the overall tone is fairly upbeat despite the various disasters and mayhem that befalls them. I enjoyed her positive energetic outlook and the buzz of the bar, Grognard’s, where she works as a waitress is effectively captured. That said, it isn’t all a bundle of laughs. Underwood handles the building threat well, and the action scenes whip through with plenty of tension – more so, because he isn’t afraid of offing significant characters. There was also a couple of pleasing story twists I didn’t see coming.

All in all, this is an enjoyable addition to the genre – and while I can readily see that the continual mention of games and TV programmes might not be to everyone’s taste, I found this particular magical system loads of fun. Though I have a hunch I would have got even more out of Hexomancy if I’d done the sensible thing and started this series with Book 1.

My copy of this book was provided by the publishers through Netgalley, while my review is entirely my own work and opinion.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday (August 25)

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My choice of the day:

insearchofgodsandheroes

Malo chuckled and the grating sound resonated through the room. “That snivelling creature would lick my arse and call it honey if he thought it would gain a flyspeck of your favour.”

from In Search of Gods and Heroes (Children of Nalowyn Book 1) by Sammy H.K. Smith, a classic fantasy adventure where gods and demons actively interact and at times derail the mortals who believe in them.

Favourite Dragons in Literature

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I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time and decided to give a quick roundup of my favourite dragons. I happen to have a really soft spot for these critters and am always fascinated how different authors approach them. So, in no particular order…

Tintaglia from The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobbdragonkeeper
I love this superbly arrogant blue dragon and the whole backstory of how the dragons come back into being, starting with the Live Ship Traders trilogy and then continuing through the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet. I’m not in the business of giving spoilers, so I won’t say too much more. But if you have a weakness for dragons and enjoy a really intelligent, nuanced world featuring them, then consider reading Hobb’s books.

TheWhiteDragon(1stEd)Ruth from the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey
This clever blend of science fiction and fantasy features dragons used in the fight against Thread, a terrible alien infestation that periodically threatens to wipe out the colonists. The alliance between riders and dragons is very close and a number of dragons are featured throughout the series, but the little white, Ruth, stole my heart. This classic series has stood the test of time and is highly recommended for anyone who has not yet encountered it.

Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowellhow to train your dragon
Yes, I know these are children’s books. Yes, I know you’ve probably seen the films. But if you have, don’t go away with the idea that Cowell’s version of Toothless is remotely like the cool, sensible creature depicted in the films. Toothless in the books is snarky and disobedient, only coming to Hiccup’s rescue when their lives depend upon it. Indeed, the relationship between the Viking youngsters and the dragons in the books is far more nuanced and chaotically funny than the rather tepid versions depicted in the films. Reading sessions of these books with grandchildren regularly descend into giggles.

TemeraireTemeraire from the series by Naomi Novik
This alternate historical series is starts off during the Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used as men of war by both the English and French. Temeraire is a dragon that hatches prematurely so that his rider and lifelong companion is William Laurence, a Royal Navy captain. Novik has moved the story arc on, having her intrepid duo ranging all over the globe during their enjoyable, well written adventures.

The Blessed Penn from Tooth and Claw by Jo Waltontooth and claw
This marvellous gem from Walton, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004, is set in a world not dissimilar to Anthony Trollop’s Framley Parsonage. But you don’t need to have read Trollop’s book to appreciate Tooth and Claw, which inserts dragons and their need for meat and ambition into a world bounded by Victorian sensibilities. It is wonderfully observed, full of delightfully witty touches and one of my most memorable reads.

Other strong contenders – I love Gralen from White Mountain by Sophie E. Tallis, whose strong, outspoken character provides some delightful moments in this enjoyable epic fantasy read. I also really enjoy Jack from The Future FallsBook 3 of The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff – though I am cheating a little here, because he is somewhere between a dragon and a person. The other dragon series worthy of mention is Stephen Deas’ riveting, if disturbing series The Memory of Flames, where the rather unpleasant humans have been subduing the dragons by magical means…

What about your favourite dragons in literature? Who have I left off this list that has you wincing in disgust? I’d love to hear from you!