Book Review: The Seeing Stone (Arthur Trilogy #1) by Kevin Crossley-Holland

23 Feb

Arthur and the Seeing StoneArthur de Caldicott lives in a time of change: Richard the Lion-Heart has just died, replaced by the cruel King John, and it will be the year 1200 soon–a time of new beginnings. And Merlin has just given him a seeing-stone that shows him the story of King Uther and another Arthur who is himself, but who isn’t. If only Arthur could figure out what it all means…

Not the best of summaries, admittedly, and I don’t think it conveys how much I LOVED this book. I almost didn’t read it, to be honest. Almost. It started with present tense, which all regular viewers know I HATE, and present tense popped up throughout the book as well, but it was done sensibly as a way to distinguish between the stone and real life, and as such I didn’t mind it so much.

This book is written as the diary of 13-year-old Arthur, and what I loved most was that it detailed the way of life for the people of 1199. The division between rich and poor, the cold and hunger, the way 60 people gathered in one place was an awful lot, the hard work people had to go through just to survive, the unfaltering belief in religion, the strange medical remedies, the struggle of babies to reach their first birthdays. All this from the hand of a 13-year-old struggling to come to terms with the unfairness of the world, all the while mesmerizing us with the magic of the stone and the parallels between the Arthur we know from other stories and the unique life of this Arthur.

Honestly, it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read so far this year, though I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a plodding sort of plot without many action scenes (though I suspect the sequel will have more). I was just loving soaking up life in 1199!

The cast of characters was hugely entertaining too. Arthur himself is curious and quick, and grows a lot over the course of the book. Gatty is so resilient and wise beyond her years. Nain is funny; Sian is cute; Merlin is quirky. Even the animals seem to jump from the page.

As a retelling of Arthurian Legends, I can’t say I’ve read enough in that area to make a comment. I can say I enjoyed it immensely as a historical fantasy, and that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys that genre. I was so disappointed when I finished this book and couldn’t get straight into the next because I realized I bought Book 3 rather than Book 2!

Book Review: I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

22 Feb

I CorianderCoriander Hobie is the daughter of a wealthy London merchant and a beautiful woman respected for her potions that make people feel well. But from the time Coriander receives a mysterious pair of silver shoes, everything starts going wrong. Her mother dies; her father marries a horrid woman who brings in an even more terrible holy man who calls her “Ann” and beats her; her beloved Danes is sent away, and Coriander is locked in a chest. That’s when something strange happens: Coriander is taken to another world, and it’s there that she learns secrets that could change her life.

Okay, okay, so there are a lot of your typical fairy tale elements here. The evil stepmother, love at first sight, a helpful fairy guiding the MC along… but it was enjoyable all the same and I think younger readers would get a kick out of it. Beautifully written as all of Sally Gardner’s books are, with those details that take you back in time and put you right in the story.

I will say, the plot got a bit weird for me after Coriander was locked in the chest. The little love story weirded me out, particularly when Coriander went back as a 15-year-old or whatever who should still have had the mind of a 12-year-old because of the weird aging thing (in my opinion!). The plot got a little twisty and I felt like some of the various strands could have been cut out and more details added to the more important ones… but again, a younger reader going into this book with a less analytical eye will have no trouble suspending their disbelief and enjoying the story as-is.

Loved Coriander’s character and the way she ended up talking back to the crooked man. Do NOT call her Ann. ;)

Would recommend to anyone with a love of fairy tales!

Book Review: The Pindar Diamond (Aviary Gate #2) by Katie Hickman

21 Feb

ThePindarDiamondBefore I start with my usual summary, I feel I should mention the grand mix-up that led to this book. It’s a Bookfest acquisition and was on the Children’s Books table. The cover does look like YA, doesn’t it? Upon reading it I can tell you I wouldn’t be giving it to a young teen, at any rate, due to content. But it was still enjoyable, even if I haven’t read Book 1! There’s no number anywhere on it, either, so I didn’t know it was a Book 2 (though to be honest, I wasn’t confused for the most part and it can read like a standalone novel). So know that when reading this review, I’m reviewing it as standalone. I DO want to read Book 1 though!

Right– so the book follows the lives of several different people whose lives are all intertwined, even if they don’t yet know it. Largely taking place in Venice in the time of gambling houses and courtesans and the plague, it’s a dark, twisting tale of love, heartbreak, and greed.

This was a beautifully written novel with a strong sense of character and setting. All of the characters were intriguing in their own way, but truthfully I was more caught up with the nun’s story than anyone else’s (which bodes well for me–it sounds as though she may feature in Book One and if there is a Book Three, my guess is a part of the story might be hers as well… maybe!).

Venice of old is a dangerous place and I feel as though the author captured all the nitty-gritty details of life there–from the convent to the courtesans and gamblers.

I feel as though I can’t comment much on the plot, other than that all the different threads came together quite well (though I could certainly see where the story was going long before the reveal, which might have helped in a way because I kept yelling at the characters when they missed chances to meet!). As a sequel, I’m not sure how good it is, but I have been convinced to read the first book so that’s something, right?

Sorry this review feels scattered — this is why I should review books after I read them, not three books later! ;) This is recommended, though perhaps start with book one first!

Book Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) by Naomi Novik

25 Jan

Throne of JadeWhen Temeraire is summoned to China to help with trade negotiations there, Captain Laurence naturally goes with him. But as the long journey ensues, it becomes clear that Laurence is not the first choice of the Chinese. Threats and assassination attempts, hidden behind a veil of polite ceremony, make Laurence all the more convinced that he and Temeraire need to return home. However, dragons are treated much differently in China than they are in England, and Temeraire might want to stay…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as the first. The writing was as perfectly wonderful as it was before, and I loved the interaction between Temeraire and Laurence and watching their relationship unfold, and I felt immersed in the Napoleonic era, but the plot just didn’t do it for me.

The beginning felt promising: we’re going to China! Except it takes practically a year to get to China, and boy does the book let you know it. China didn’t actually show up until the last third of the book, and so the time spent there was rushed. I would have much rather skipped a lot of time at sea, which bored me a bit anyway, and spent more time discovering things in China. It was so interesting, the differences in the treatment of dragons, and I would have loved to explore those differences more in-depth, with more interactions with these other dragons.

That said, it’s not a bad read and I’m told the remaining books are just as brilliant as the first, so I’ll be continuing the series at some point soon!

Brisbane Bookfest January 2015 Haul!

24 Jan DSC01179

Anyone who knows me knows how in love I am with Bookfest. It’s a biannual event in Brisbane (and other Queensland cities) hosted by Lifeline in which the convention centre is filled with books. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of books arrayed on dozens of tables, all at cheap prices. There are three different sections: books for $1, books for $2.50, and higher quality books that are “price as marked” — usually $5 for your standard paperback.

If you thought it sounds a little bit like heaven, well, you’re not far off.

I always start in the cheapest section and work my way up. This year in the $1 section I found six really awesome children’s anthologies/classics–oversized hardcovers, illustrated, amazing covers. I remember my grandmother used to have a cupboard stocked with anthologies like this, and I could spend hours looking through them. These finds included:
DSC01188DSC011821. Treasure Island
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
3. Collier’s Junior Classics Volume 7: Legends of Long Ago
4. Collier’s Junior Classics Volume 9: Call of Adventure
5. The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls 3: Folk and Fairy Tales
6. The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls 4: Stories and Songs from Many Lands

The cheaper section didn’t have a great deal else that interested me this time. I’m a bit late to the game as due to work commitments I wasn’t able to get there this past week, so some areas had been picked over. I did find quite a bit in the next two sections though, including several sequels to books already on our shelves:

7. The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
8. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones
9. The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
10. Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
11. Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

And then there were the books that were new finds for me:

12. Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
13. The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman
14. Clovermead: In the Shadow of the Bear by David Randall
15. I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
16. A Perilous Power by E. Rose Sabin
17. Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley Holland
18. Arthur: King of the Middle March by Kevin Crossley Holland

And then those books that I purchased for my husband (he always says I score some winning titles with him when I go to Bookfest by myself… mostly he just doesn’t want to spend 3+ hours there with me!):

19. The Army of Five Men by Shaun Hick
20. Shadow Maze by Jonathan Wylie
21. Fortress in the Eye of Time by C.J. Cherryh
22. The Anvil of Ice by Michael Scott Rohan
23. The Wounded Guardian by Duncan Lay
24. Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell
25. Emperor: The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

All of these cost me $93.50 and I did the most damage in the high quality section… oops! If you’re thinking about heading to Bookfest for the first time, remember to bring a rolling suitcase or something similar, especially if you’re taking public transport after putting a dent in your wallet. I like to take a suitcase and a green bag–that way I can put already purchased titles in the suitcase, but I can use the green bag to carry books I’m thinking about while I’m shopping around each section. Of course, this time it got a little out of hand and I was filling up the green bag AND my arms…

DSC01179

Can’t wait to dig my teeth into some of these books. Look out for the reviews here later!

Writing Update: Balancing Character Development and the Passage of Time

10 Jan

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I did a writing update. As part of my goal to finish this book this year and be happy with it, I mentioned that I would keep updating here in order to remain accountable for my progress. So here goes.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been pretty good about writing every day, even if it’s just a few words here and there. Last week I made a huge effort to get Chapter 8 finished, and I did finish it. But I wasn’t happy with it. So I opened a new document and started typing, and I’m happier with the result–but now I’m not sure how to incorporate it!

One of the issues I’ve been struggling with is how to balance character development with the passage of time. To give some context, Main Character is being taken from Point A to Point B by some people she does not like under some unfortunate circumstances. It’s quite a lengthy journey, but of course the journey itself is not the main point of the plot. I need MC to get to Point B, but it really needs to be done in as few pages as possible to make room for some of the more important stuff.

That said, her interactions with Characters B and C on the journey are much more critical now than they were in previous drafts. She needs to get from “I Hate These People” to “I Am Going To Do This Thing That Is Drastic For My Character In Order To Save These People’s Lives.”

I wrote that drastic thing as an experiment to see if I liked the plot going in a different direction, and I love it. The problem is getting there!

In trying to find a balance, I’ve written almost a general overview of what happens during a day on the road, interspersed with specific anecdotes that I hope do something toward developing my characters and their relationships. Example: “Every day XYZ happens. This one time during XYZ, ABC happened which made me feel DEF about Character B.” Only, you know, obviously it’s all tied up in pretty sentences and witty dialogue. ;)

Part of me wonders if I should just finish this “bridge” to that experiment that I’ve already written and stop worrying about whether or not there’s enough development and come back to it later–but the other part of me says I did want to be happy with it, and I should work on it until it’s up to snuff! Trying to toss aside that NaNo mindset, I guess.

As a side note, I very happily rediscovered some old, discarded scenes from YEARS ago that I plan on using now (or at least, plan on using the ideas if not the actual writing!). You’ve probably heard it a million times, but don’t ever throw anything out. You never know when it might be useful later.

So. Anyone else have projects that they’re working on or issues that they’re struggling with? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Book Review: Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey

8 Jan

arrowsofthequeenWhen 13-year-old Talia is informed that she’s going to be married off, she runs away and wishes she could be chosen to join the Heralds like the ones in the tales she loves. But when a white horse sweeps her off her feet, she can’t believe that she has actually been chosen. Talia soon learns that there’s an awful lot to being a Herald, especially to being one of the Queen’s top advisors. And she needs to learn fast, because there’s a deadly plot brewing which could affect the future of the realm, and it’s up to Talia to stop it.

I’m afraid I’m about to voice an unpopular opinion! I didn’t really like this book. :(

The plot is there–it’s a bit different, interesting, exciting, page-turning. The characters are there too–there’s a whole cast of them with fun back stories and personalities.

But honestly? This read like something I might have written when I was thirteen. I think the third person omniscient is what initially sparked this opinion, because third person omniscient has been beaten out of me with a stick. It cheapens the writing by making it seem as though the author could think of no other way to reveal whatever information Characters B and C and D are revealing. I prefer to be in the main characters head, watching for other character’s reactions and figuring things out with the main character. There’s no suspense with third person omniscient, making me a less eager reader.

And at the beginning, the way they just went on and on about “Oh, if you don’t know, we can’t tell you” made it seem like the author hadn’t quite decided WHAT was going on until the point at which someone COULD tell her what was happening. But at the same time, I felt like Talia was a bit stupid for not understanding what was happening in the first place. Of course, when the reader knows stuff the main character doesn’t because the reader already learned it from Characters B, C, and D, feeling like the main character is stupid tends to happen.

I feel like there was so much to this world that could have been explored–and, given that there are roughly a million other books written in this world, maybe they are there–but not enough detail was given. Then again, this book is marketed toward younger readers, so maybe if I’m craving that sort of detail I should pick up something older.

Anyway, this book wasn’t a total miss, I was just expecting a lot more depth and a different writing style. Still worth checking out as it comes highly recommended by others!

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