Archive for March, 2014

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid is the second in The Austen Project series of novels which are modern retellings by contemporary authors of Jane Austen’s classics.  Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have the baggage of my knowledge and love of the original as I had with the first, I much preferred this second outing to Joanna Trollope’s updating of Sense and Sensibility.  Austen’s original story of Northanger Abbey tells the story of a sheltered young girl whose love of gothic novels leads her to make some very strange assumptions about the family of the young man she meets while visiting Bath.  During the novel she learns to separate fiction from reality and to develop a better understanding of human motivations.

What I liked

The updating.  I felt McDermid did a much better job than Trollope of bringing Austen’s characters into the 21st century.  They felt modern and fresh and their motivations seemed in line with a modern teenager or young person.  I could easily imagine sitting down to coffee with Cat and Ellie to discuss the latest novel.  And as evidenced by John Thorpe and Frederick Tilney, men who are too full of self-importance to consider the wishes of the women they are with are obnoxious in any century.  

As well as the characters, McDermid has done sterling work in updating the setting.  Transforming Bath into Edinburgh mid Festival worked incredibly well.  In their respective eras, both cities represent a cultural hotspot and a chance for our sheltered heroine to move into a wider world and social circle.  The Festival also allows McDermid to bring in events like dance lessons and a ball without their seeming too much out of place.

Cultural and social media integration.  This was something that was also better done in Northanger Abbey than in Sense and Sensibility.  Social media such as Facebook, email, texts and Twitter are an integral part of our characters’ lives and are used to drive the plot on in many cases.  The updating of the gothic novels much beloved by Austen’s heroine to Twilight and other contemporary vampire novels also works very well.

The narration.  Narration for Northanger Abbey is done by Jane Collingwood and was excellent.  Being a Scot I did appreciate her attempt at a Scots accent for the Scottish characters in the novel.  In particular she brings across Cat’s good nature and John Thorpe’s horribleness perfectly.  Here’s a sample:

What I didn’t like

Bella’s “voice”.  The way this character spoke really irritated me.  I’m referring to her word choice “totes,” “BFF”, not the narration.  On the other hand, the character is supposed to be superficial so maybe McDermid’s done her job too well.

Motivations.  In Austen’s original I assume money was a strong motivating factor in the relationship choices made by the characters.  In McDermid’s updating, at some points it seems finances are a contributing factor, and at other times not.  it just didn’t seem clear.

All in all I really enjoyed Northanger Abbey and gave it four stars out of five.

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This week I suffered every bookworm’s worst nightmare; I have a TBR list of over 100 books (some of which I have been offered free to review) and I could not interest myself in any of them.  This is because the book I really, REALLY wanted to read – AKA Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige – has not been released yet.  I’m sure you avid readers can empathise with my dilemma.  I flicked through several different books and just couldn’t get into any of them.  In the end I managed to break out of my reading slump by picking up a book that is completely out of my normal genre – I’m currently reading The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, a historical fiction set in Russia in the time of Catherine the Great.  So far I’m really enjoying it.  A full review will come soon.

[book-info title=”Attack the Geek” author=”Michael R. Underwood”]

One book I did manage to read this week was Attack the Geek by Michael R Underwood, which I received free to review from Netgalley.  This is a novella in the Geekomancy series which had been on my radar for some time.  I was intrigued by the magic system which, like Jim C. Hines’ Magic ex Libris books, is based on popular culture.  However, whereas Hines’ magic is book based, Geekomancy is more gamer/comic book based.  I’m glad I read it.  It made me realise that the series is not quite for me.  I have been known to play the odd game of Dungeons and Dragons and I enjoy a Marvel movie as much as the next girl, but the overload of geek references was just too much for me.  Personally I was also put off by the amount of needless profanity.  The characters were possibly interesting, but in a novella length book character development is very limited.  With less geek references and less swearing I might have been interested in reading more about them but as it stands, this series is  not for me.

I gave Attack the Geek two stars out of five.  Having said that, if D&D gaming is your thing you might love this series.  Other than that I would steer you in the direction of Magic ex Libris.

Added to my library this week

As I may have mentioned before, I am a big fan of the Quebecoise author Anne Robillard and her Chevaliers d’Emeraude and A.N.G.E. series.  These have slowly been converted into ebooks and book five in A.N.G.E. – Codex Angelicus – was released this week!  Excellent!  I’ve been waiting months to find out the next chapter in the saga of the Agence Nationale pour la Gestion de l’Etrange.  (National Agency for the Management of the Strange.)  I picked this one up in Kobo format as I have the rest of them there.   

To get through my reading slump I also picked up The Winter Palace by Eva Strachniak, also in Kobo format.  In case you’re wondering, no I’m not abandoning my Kindle.  I happened to have my Kobo with me as that’s what I use to read my Netgalley books.

From Amazon I did pick up The Wife of John the Baptist, a historical fiction novel set in Biblical times.  I was asked to review this by the author, so expect a review soon.

This morning I received a lovely package from Tor-Forge which contained two gorgeous hardbacks:

IMG 1032

The Pilgrims is described as “ordinary alternate-world fantasy; with this first volume in The Pendulum Trilogy, Will Elliott’s brilliantly subversive imagination twists the conventions of the alternate-world fantasy genre, providing an unforgettable visionary experience.”  I look forward to reading this.

Lockstep: “When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.”  Space opera is not my usual genre, but this sounds intriguing.

Thank you Tor!

Upcoming releases this month

On 1st April 2014 we have my most anticipated book of the month – Dorothy Must Die.  This is the book that sent me into a reading slump because it wasn’t released yet and I didn’t want to read anything else because I wanted to read it so much.  Check out my review of There’s No Place Like Oz to see why I’m so excited about this book.  In short, it’s what happens in Oz when Dorothy goes bad.  I’ve preordered this in both Kindle and Audible formats.

The following week, on the 8th of April, Dreams of Gods and Monsters is released.   This is the third in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series.  It’s difficult to summarise this series, so I’ll direct you to my review.  I loved the first book, and haven’t been able to get into the second.  However, I still have Dreams of Gods and Monsters on Kindle preorder.  It’s not yet available to preorder on Audible, which would be my preferred format – Khristine Hvam’s narration is excellent.

The next book in the Austen Project, Val McDermid’s reimagining of Northanger Abbey is available in Kindle format on the 15th of April.  Interestingly the Audible pre-order is available this week.  I’m actually not familiar with Austen’s original work, so perhaps my expectations aren’t as high (and ready for disappointment as I was with the Sense and Sensibility updating)  I see this version is set in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders which is my old home, so I’m interested to see how it pans out.

What are you looking forward to reading in April?

Alienated by Melissa Landers tells the story of Cara Sweeney, teenage high school student and Aelyx a young L’eihr visiting Earth.  The concept is pretty straightforward.  Some years prior to the story, the people of Earth had made contact with an alien civilisation the L’eihr.  The two peoples have an amicable if distant relationship and in order to foster a greater understanding of their respective cultures a student exchange program has been initiated.  Cara and Aelyx are chosen as two of the six young ambassadors for the program.  I have to say I really loved this book and thought it was beautifully written.

What I liked

Character development.  Both Cara and Aelyx undergo a great deal of character development throughout the book.  Interestingly, Cara’s arc is almost the opposite of many young adult protagonists.  She starts the book confident and sure of her path but as she goes through the challenges of the exchange, her self assurance is given quite a beating.  However she still remains true to her word despite significant pressure.  Aelyx’s journey is more of overcoming prejudice – he starts off determined to hate his human hosts and has an ulterior motive for joining the program.  As he gets to know his hosts – especially Cara – his attitude changes.  

Grounded in realism.  OK, we are talking aliens here, but the basic concept and the reaction of the locals to Aelyx is all too familiar.  We may be in 21st century small town America with the townspeople protesting angrily at the presence of a L’eihr in their school, but we could just as easily be in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 with the first black students attending the high school.  The supernatural element is pretty low key in the book; much more emphasis is put on how Cara deals with the reaction of those against the program and of her growing relationship with Aelyx.

What i wasn’t so fond of

The romance.  I wasn’t really sold on this – I felt it moved too quickly from culture clash and prejudice to swapping saliva.  But then again, I’ve never been fond of teenage love at first sight romances.  

I will certainly be checking out the sequel whenever it’s available – I look forward to reading more of these characters.  I gave Alienated four and a half stars out of five. 

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher is the sequel to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a retelling of George Lucas’s space saga in the style of William Shakespeare.  I would strongly recommend picking this up as an audiobook rather than ebook or hard copy – Random House Audio’s production is top notch with an excellent cast.  It is far more like a radio play than an audiobook and the excellent cast does a wonderful job of telling the story.

What I liked

The source material.  The original Star Wars trilogy is a darn good story.  It contains a lot of strong themes which would have been as relevant in Shakespeare’s time as today: love, betrayal, youthful impetuousness, struggle against tyranny.  Doescher therefore has a strong base on which to base his adaptation.  It also isn’t too jarring, for example, when Han rails against Lando’s betrayal in Shakespearean language as it is a theme and emotion found in many of Shakespeare’s works.

Yoda.  On my first listen through I was a little disappointed that Yoda didn’t sound too different from the other characters.  In the movies, he has a unique speech pattern and I was hoping that this would be reflected in Empire Striketh Back.  It was only on reading Doescher’s commentary that I realised Yoda was speaking in haiku!  Darn I wished I’d picked that up first time.  This is intended to reflect Yoda’s role as Luke’s master – or sensei – in the mystical force giving an eastern feel to it.  Brilliant. Appropriate and brilliant.

The production.  Random House Audio has gone full out to make this a radio play rather than an audiobook.  We have a strong cast, sound effects (including the iconic swish of the lightsabres) as well as snippets of John Williams’ memorable soundtrack.  It all combines to make it a wonderful listen.  

Doescher’s Notes and Commentary.  I the ebook edition I also possess, Doescher adds some commentary explaining some of the creative decisions he made while writing Empire.  This, combined with the teachers notes provides a fascinating new insight into the book.

What I didn’t like

There was nothing, I tell you, nothing i disliked about The Empire Striketh Back.  I already have The Jedi Doth Return on pre-order.  As the trailer says “these are the books you have been looking for.”

One of the upcoming books that has been on my radar is Danielle Paige’s debut novel Dorothy Must Die.  This is set in the world of L Frank Baum’s Oz in which a modern day Kansas teen is taken to Oz and tasked with bringing down the current despotic tyrant, our old friend Dorothy Gale.  The concept sounded intriguing and I have heard some excited buzz around this.

So you can imagine I was excited when I discovered that there is a prequel out called No Place Like Oz which tells the story of how plucky Kansas girl Dorothy became a tyrant.  At 132 pages it’s a pretty decent length for a novella.  The electronic copy also includes a snippet from Dorothy Must Die.

I loved No Place Like Oz and it’s really whetted my appetite for Dorothy Must Die.  It is based on the L Frank Baum stories rather than the 1939 Judy Garland movie – it mentions the Silver Slippers rather than the movie’s ruby ones (apparently it was felt red made a stronger visual punch than silver) and references characters such as the China Girl and Saw-horse who only appear in the books.  Some reviewers have been put off by the inconsistency of the dates; the Oz books were published in the early 1900s and Paige’s series is basing itself on them, yet she has the main character talk about things that would have been unknown in that period.  Personally, I was so sucked up into the story I neither noticed nor cared.  

For me, I found it important that Dorothy’s journey to despotism was a mixture of both character – Dorothy is portrayed as struggling to adapt to being a normal Kansas farmgirl again after having been the heroine of Oz – and magic.  I could easily see how Dorothy the heroine could turn despotic given this perfect storm – and I can understand why she has to die.

The snippet we get from Dorothy Must Die also makes me desperate to read more.  There are definite parallels drawn between our modern day Amy Gumm and Dorothy Gale.  Suspended from school, responsible for her addict single mum, no family or financial support, Amy has as much chance of escaping her Kansas backwater as Dorothy had of escaping her farm.  It’s clear that Amy too has a lot of strength of character.  I can’t wait to read her story in Dorothy Must Die.

Added to my library this week:

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back.  This is the sequel to Ian Doescher’s brilliant William Shakespeare’s Star Wars in which he retells Lucas Star Wars saga in the style (iambic pentameter!) of William Shakespeare.  I picked this up in both Kindle and Audible format.  I would seriously recommend picking up the audiobook rather than the book.  The fantastic cast really makes it come alive.  Enjoy.

 

[book-info title=”Words of Radiance” author=”brandon-sanderson-2″]

So, after 48 hours of audio, here is my full review of Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.  This is volume two in the planned 10 book series of The Stormlight Archive and is the sequel to Way of Kings.  There be spoilers ahead so please join me after the cut if you’ve read the book.

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This is going to be a short roundup as I’m still working my way through the behemoth that is Words of Radiance.  I won’t say too much more as I will be doing a full review shortly.  One thing I will say is, I’m REALLY noticing the lack of Whispersync for Voice on this book.  I have been experiencing it as a mixture of ebook and Audible audiobook and it is a real pain in the posterior to have to find my place each time I switch devices.  I know that’s very much a first world problem, but once you’ve grown used to the convenience of Whispersync for Voice, it’s hard to do without.

Added to my library this week

This week saw the release of Night Broken, the eighth book in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  While I love Briggs’ world and characters, personally I felt Mercy’s story had come to a natural end two or three books ago, but I will read it anyway.  It’s certainly getting good reviews on GoodReads.  I picked it up in both Kindle and Audible formats.

I only discovered very recently that Robin Hobb is releasing a new book in her Farseer universe. It’s called Fool’s Assassin.  I adored the Farseer and Fool trilogies, but I don’t have a clue where my hard copies are.  So this week I added the missing ones to my Kindle collection.

The final book I picked up was The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfarer by Mg Buehrlen.  The synopsis is: For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

This sounded intriguing and it was only $5 on Kindle.  For me that is a sweet price point.  $5 and under I’m willing to give it a go if the premise is intriguing.  More that that and I need to either be very, very intrigued by the premise, already know and like the author or see a strong recommendation by a reviewer whose opinion I trust.  What’s your sweet spot?  Let me know in the comments.

[book-info title=”Words of Radiance” author=”brandon-sanderson-2″]

First of all my apologies about the incomplete Alienated review that went – briefly – live this morning.  I have been so  engrossed in Words of Radiance I didn’t get around to writing the Alienated review in time.  It will be written after Words of Radiance.

So, Words of Radiance.  I am approximately 40% of the way through the 48-hour long audiobook version of Words of Radiance.  Here are my initial thoughts on this first half.  A full review will come later.  There are some spoilers ahead so I’ll add a cut to be sure.

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The biggest release for me this week is Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance.  This is the second in the Stormlight Archive, Sanderson’s proposed 10 book epic fantasy series.  That was my biggest issue with The Way of Kings – Sanderson has planned it to be an epic tale right from the beginning so the large scope is readily apparent.  I’ve much preferred tales which have “grown in the telling” as the saying goes.  The Wheel of Time, for example, starts off focussed on our heroes from the Two Rivers and it’s not until later on in the series that we have epic battles and world changing consequences.  

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Way of Kings, although in all fairness I used Tor.com’s excellent Way of Kings Reread and Where We Left Our Heroes article to catch up with it.  I am enjoying Words of Radiance which I am listening to in audiobook format rather than reading.  I do enjoy Kate Reading’s and Michael Kramer’s narration.  However, this audiobook weighs in at a hefty 48 hours and 15 minutes.  I don’t expect to read much else in the next couple of weeks, so please don’t expect many other reviews over the next few weeks.

I understand that as Way of Kings was Kaladin’s book, this second entry focusses more on Shallan.  I look forward to hearing more about her and Jasnah.  Given the title I also imagine the Knights Radiant will play a large part in this book.  I shall, of course, give you a review of Words of Radiance once I’ve completed it.

In other news, Tor.com has started a reread of the Harry Potter books.  Check it out here.  These rereads are always excellent.  Generally, these are written by people who are already familiar with the books, who are rereading it for the umpteenth time.  They are usually expert at highlighting the key themes and foreshadowings of the specific chapters and I’ve often picked up a lot of nuances I’d missed on my own readings.  A notably different kettle of fish is the read of A Song of Ice and Fire by Leigh Butler.  This is Leigh’s first time reading Martin’s opus and so we get to experience her reactions to such significant events such as The Red Wedding.  It’s also fun to see which of her predictions are correct and where she is a little wider off the mark.  If you’ve not checked out these rereads I encourage you to do so.

Added to my library this week

In addition to Words of Radiance in Kindle and Audible format mentioned above, I also picked up Grave Assassin, the first in the His Fair Assassin series by Robin Lafevers.  I had been keeping an eye on this – assassin nuns sound intriguing – and this week it was on special offer on Kindle and with the special Whispersync for Voice deal, I was able to pick up the Audible format for a couple of dollars too.  Bargain!

Well, that’s all for this week folks.  You’ll hear from me again at some point once I have absorbed the Words of Radiance.

Through Netgalley I was offered an advanced reader’s copy of YA time travel novel The Here and Now by Ann Brashares.  It tells the story of Prenna James, a time traveller and refugee in our time from a future in which global warming and plagues have left the world devastated.  She and her community of fellow refugees must live by strict rules for their protection and that of those native to their adopted time.  One of these includes refraining from an intimate relationship with a local.  Naturally Prenna meets a boy…

In general, I found The Here and Now to be a very fun, if light, read.  The time travel refugee concept was interesting but so much more could have been done with it.  The whole concept of time paradoxes (you know, the old chestnut, you can’t travel back in time and kill your own grandfather) was ignored and the issue of Prenna’s adaptation to the new society was glossed over.

What I liked

The concept.  The idea of refugees escaping back in time from a devastated future was very interesting.  The list of rules by which they must live is very interesting, too – I did struggle to understand how Prenna could not see their necessity.  The introduction of Poppy and Andrew Baltos added an extra layer to the time travel storyline.

The Prenna/Ethan romance.  I really enjoyed this – I liked the way it was built up and how they supported each other.  

What I didn’t like

Scratching the surface.  I know this is young adult literature, but I felt the book lacked depth.  So much more could have been explored with time travel paradoxes, the whole source of the plague and environmental issues.  I had the impression that Prenna never really understood the need for the rules, and also why the time traveller community was reluctant to become involved in society.  The whole question of who is at the source of the fork in time could have been expanded much more.

All in all though, I did enjoy The Here and Now and gave it three and a half stars out of five.

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