Archive | February, 2014

Book Review: The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

28 Feb

ImageWidge is an orphan who would do anything to get out of the orphanage and into a family. When he’s first whisked away, it’s to be the apprentice of a harsh man who teaches Widge how to read and write in a shorthand script that he invented. When he masters this skill, Widge is taken to a new master who wants to use his skills to copy Shakespeare’s new play, Hamlet. But when Widge sees the play, he’s entranced–and when he meets the players, he knows he can’t betray them. But his new master will stop at nothing, and if Widge won’t steal the play, someone will have to. The question is, who?

This book was well written in that the prose flowed and the dialogue was true to the era. I quite liked running through the streets of London with Widge and trotting around the Globe and crossing the Thames.

That said, I wasn’t a huge fan of Widge himself, or any of the characters really. They just didn’t feel deep enough for me to want to follow their adventures. There are a few “revelations” about a couple of them that I sort of shrugged off because I didn’t feel that I knew any of the characters well enough to really care. This was the biggest turn-off for me, as character-driven stories are my favorite.

The plot was a bit simple as well, but I let this slide as it is not a book intended for a well-read 24-year-old. Actually, I think the book would be wonderful for younger kids as an introduction to Shakespeare. All in all, it was a pretty fun adventure, and I’ll probably pick it up when I have my own kids and read it to them. I think younger readers would certainly get more enjoyment out of it than I did.


Book Review: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

9 Feb

Summers at Castle AuburnCorie is the bastard daughter of a high lord, a village witch and the sister of the future Queen of Auburn. She spends her summers at Castle Auburn learning to be a lady. She can mix potions and dance at fancy balls. For a while, she loves the time she spends at Castle Auburn, but soon the reality of her life there catches up with her. Suddenly, she sees her sister’s engagement to Prince Bryan as disastrous; she realizes the aliora are not pretty court decorations, but people too; and she herself is seen only as someone to make a marital alliance, no matter how old or boring the intended man is. Worse, there’s no escape for anyone–at least, not at first glance.

This is one of the books I picked up at Bookfest that I’d been wanting to read for years. I think it initially popped up as a recommendation for people who enjoyed Crown Duel, which is one of my favorite books. I could see some similarities, though I will say that this is one of those slower books that probably isn’t for everyone. The pace is somewhat plodding (particularly in the first third), the plot is slow to reveal itself, and there isn’t a lot of action. I don’t say these things as criticisms, as I tend to enjoy this sort of story, but I recognize that not everyone does.

First, the good: the setting was beautiful and magical–perhaps not as well-described as some, but I thought the addition of the aliora was an interesting one. I wished Corie had been able to see their home, Alora, just to see what she thought of it, though I suppose that would have had little to do with the actual plot.

I also quite liked Corie and Elisandra. It did astound me that Corie’s naivete could last so long, but I liked how headstrong she was and that her naivete sometimes made her see things a lot more clearly than others. I mean, why shouldn’t her sister just wander off and live in a cottage with her rather than marry Prince Bryan? As for the others, I loved Elisandra’s calm, cool collectedness, and I love that she was the one to, ah, “deliver the gift” in the end, let’s say. Kent was level-headed and a nice foil to Bryan, and Roderick was as steadfast as you’d hope a guard to be.

That said, there’s a reason I gave this book just 3 stars. The ending.

The ending felt like it had been slapped on just to stitch a few things together without a thought about what had happened in the rest of the book. I was fine with Bryan’s ultimate demise as that needed to happen, and I’d actually seen it coming from the time Elisandra asked Coriel about the various herbs in her satchel.

What I didn’t like was the relationships. I know, I know, I just wrote about never reading a book where the author got this wrong. But this was crazy. I felt no chemistry between either of the couples–Elisandra/Roderick or Corie/Kent. Rather, I think I would have liked it more of the boys had been switched around. Granted, the little hints dropped here and there meant that I did see it coming, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

And while I can get over the whole Elisandra/Roderick thing, it drives me mad to think that this was Corie’s ending. She had spent so many years unhappy at Castle Auburn, saying she was never going to marry, least of all marry a noble which would mean spending so much more time at a place she didn’t like. And then she goes off and marries the king after thinking about it for three seconds? She herself says she’d never even thought of it as a possibility. And the last line, “I was content?” I don’t believe it. There was nothing to suggest that much had changed at Castle Auburn.

So, all in all a good enough story with an enraging ending–and not a good sort of enraging either. But worth a read if you like castle politics.

Book Blogger TMI Tag

6 Feb

How old are you?  
This month, or next month? Because I can give you a different answer for each.

What book are you reading?  Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn. I’m just over a third of the way through, and I’m really enjoying it! If you caught my Brisbane Bookfest post, you’ll know that I’ve been looking for this book for ages. It was one of those that I found randomly on Amazon, felt guilty about buying on Amazon when I worked at an independent bookstore, but for some reason couldn’t get through our distributors, then I moved to a new country where it wasn’t in stores and cost a fortune to ship from Amazon… but it must have been meant to be, because there it was hidden among a million books at bookfest, just ready to be snatched up.

 What are you wearing?  
Pajamas. Summery ones. Because I’m in Australia and it’s summer.

  I had to look up what this meant. At first I thought it was Other Than Pie, but that didn’t make much sense on a book blog survey. So then I thought maybe there was another o missing, because “Order the Phoenix” didn’t make much sense either. Then I looked it up and found it means “One True Pairing.” Are there rules for this? Are you supposed to pick characters that don’t end up together or characters that do? I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a relationship that I’m like “Grr, no, you belong with him!” Hasn’t the author already written pairings? Why would they be wrong? (Don’t even get me started on the Ron/Hermione thing going around. Seriously.)

I guess the relationship I like best is Will and Lyra from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. If you don’t know why, you should read the books, but here’s a taste. Let’s just say we used bits and pieces of this in our wedding vows:

“Oh, Will,” she said, “What can we do? Whatever can we do? I want to live with you forever. I want to kiss you and lie down with you and wake up with you every day of my life till I die, years and years and years away. I don’t want a memory, just a memory…”

“No,” he said. “Memory’s a poor thing to have. It’s your own real hair and mouth and arms and eyes and hands I want. I didn’t know I could ever love anything so much. Oh, Lyra, I wish this night would never end! If only we could stay here like this, and the world could stop turning, and everyone else could fall into a sleep…”

“Everyone except us! And you and I could live here forever and just love each other.”

“I will love you forever; whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again…”

“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you…We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pin trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams…And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight…”

Blogger or WordPress?
  Wordpress. I was on Blogspot or wherever for a while before being converted over here. Let’s just say WordPress allows people to find my blog a lot more easily than Blogspot ever did!

Going outside being active or staying in and reading a book?  
Staying in and reading a book pretty much always, unless there’s adventure to be had.

What is the last book you read?  Shattered Veil by Tracy E. Banghart (I know, I’m falling behind on my book reading goal! So much has been going on.)

What is the book you’re going to read next?
  One of my other Bookfest books, that’s for certain. I’m debating between Painting Mona Lisa and Set in Stone at the moment, but that could change.

Ebooks – yes or no?
  Ugh, okay, so here’s the deal. I am a book lover through and through. And by book, I mean print book. I railed against e-books for years. Then I decided I should actually try reading one, and I still didn’t like it. However, I do see their uses—I’m planning on getting my own e-reader rather than stealing my husband’s before we go to Europe, so that  I can have a few books without having them take up room in my backpack. Plus, I have absolutely been loving NetGalley and the ability to read books before they’re released, provide reviews, and help promote the books. But I will never ditch real books. A home is not complete without a library, and I don’t mean a little square electronic device.

Where do you prefer to read?  
At home, on the couch or in bed. I struggle to read in any public setting, whether it be on a bus, in a park, or even in a library. I get too distracted by people. I need a quiet space to read, without people intruding on my bubble.

Who is the last person you tweeted?  
I don’t tweet—well, my blog is hooked up to a twitter account, but it just posts my new blog posts automatically, I don’t actually tweet anyone.

Whose blog did you look at last?  Kathryn at Nine Pages, who tagged me in this survey!

 Who is your favorite blogger?  
You want me to choose?

Who is your favorite book-tuber?  
I’ve always thought about trying to become a booktuber but I never actually sit down and make videos. I don’t watch many either, that’s probably part of the problem. As such, I can’t say I have a “favorite” but I am intrigued by the whole concept!

What do you do when someone tells you reading is boring?  “You just haven’t found the right book yet!”

Who is the last author you spoke to?
  Actually spoke to? I can’t remember, probably someone who popped into the bookstore where I worked. But I’ve commented on Tamora Pierce’s facebook statuses much more recently than that!

Who is the last person you texted?  
Cal. He’s the only person I text.

Who is your all-time favorite book character?  
Oh goodness. I have a huge number of book crushes. There’s Numair from Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce, Vidanric from Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, and Christopher Chant from Chronicles of Chrestomanci.

United Kingdom YA or United States YA?  I think it’s pretty evenly split now, but back in the day I leaned toward UK. There was J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones, Anne McCaffrey (lived in Ireland anyway), Eva Ibbotson… probably others I can’t think of right now. Now, it’s pretty evenly split, but I have a soft spot for British YA.

What is your preferred drink whilst reading?
  Tea.  Any kind, though I particularly enjoy mint green tea.

If you hated reading, what would you be doing instead?  I wouldn’t hate reading. Problem solved.

How many bookshelves / bookcases do you have?  
We only have two huge ones that are built in. They span almost an entire room. I’m not sure if they’d hold all of my books if I brought them back from the US, but they serve us well at the moment.

If you had the choice to meet all of your favorite book bloggers or all of your favorite authors, which would you pick? You can only pick one.  
Authors! Most of the bloggers I follow are my real-life friends, and I see them often enough. 😉

Insta-love: yes or no?
  No. I prefer hate-then-love. It seems more believable that way. See: Meliara and Vidanric.

Favorite author?  
Tamora Pierce. I love more of her books than I love any other author’s books. Plus, she’s pretty darn funny.

What is the number-one book on your wishlist?
  Exile by Tamora Pierce. It isn’t finished yet. It’s about Numair, though, and I love Numair. I’ve been waiting for it since it was first listed on her website, back in… 2006? (!!!)

Do you prefer books with female or male protagonists?  
Female, hands down.  I have, of course, enjoyed some books with male protagonists—Harry Potter, anyone?—but of those, I tend to prefer male protagonists written by female writers.

Which is your favourite book-to-film adaption?  I live by the philosophy that the book is always better than the movie. I’ve been dithering over this question for a little while… I can remember a movie that I walked out of thinking, “Awesome! They used so many direct quotes from the book!” but for the life of me I can’t remember which one it was. So rather than take a stab in the dark, I’m going to go a different route entirely and say Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was pretty good, and I seem to remember liking The Thief Lord as well.

What is the last song you listened to?  Do you want to build a snowman? Or ride our bike around the halls? I think some company is over due, I’ve started talking to the pictures on the walls! Hang in there, Joan. We used to be best buddies and now we’re not…

Which do you enjoy reading more – negative reviews or positive reviews?  Honestly, I prefer critical reviews, whether they be negative or positive. I like knowing why someone thinks what they do. “THIS WAS THE BEST BOOK EVER” doesn’t tell me anything, and “THIS BOOK WAS SO AWFUL” doesn’t tell me anything either.

Who are you going to tag?
  So many people have already done this, so I’m going to take the easy way out and say, “Anyone who wants to do this survey!” I’d love to see your answers to these questions!

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