Monday, 30 June 2014

Review: 'When It's A Jar' by Tom Holt

This novel is one of the books in the gift bag I received at the Orbit Urban Fantasy evening this week and is the first one of the bunch that I'm reviewing. When deciding which one to read first I settled on this one because of the synopsis and boy am I glad I did. This was a hilarious read that I raced through.
Maurice has just killed a dragon with a breadknife. And had his destiny foretold . . . and had his true love spirited away. That's precisely the sort of stuff that'd bring out the latent heroism in anyone. Unfortunately, Maurice is pretty sure he hasn't got any latent heroism. 
Meanwhile, a man wakes up in a jar in a different kind of pickle (figuratively speaking). He can't get out, of course, but neither can he remember his name, or what gravity is, or what those things on the ends on his legs are called . . . and every time he starts working it all out, someone makes him forget again. Forget everything. Only one thing might help him. The answer to the most baffling question of all.
WHEN IS A DOOR NOT A DOOR?
One of the most important thing to know about this book is that it is incredibly funny. It is a typically British book in the sense that the humour is dry and almost completely relies on sarcasm. In a completely absurd storyline, that works perfectly. However, in a truly great book, humour needs to be contrasted against heart-felt moments, both of which need to be written well. This book lacked that something higher, in the sense that nothing was holy. Everything was open for sarcasm, not even God was safe. In order for a novel to have heart, something has to matter to the main character. There has to be something he believes in and is willing to fight for and unfortunately, upon reflection, I find it hard to think of what that could be for Maurice. Which is why it is good that Holt's writing style is hilarious. Situations that would otherwise just be lackluster are given a spark that light up the book. There's also some delightful social criticism in the book which I really enjoyed.

Since I personally am a very big fan of mythology and the whole idea of the Heroic Journey, I really enjoyed those aspects of the novel that dealt with that and especially how that would work in a contemporary, urban setting. The idea of a hero who just keeps going, mindless of logic and reason, isn't very realistic, so how do you deal with that in a contemporary urban setting? Holt definitely deals with this in an interesting way which I found very enjoyable and makes it a great example of Urban Fantasy.

The plot of the book is at times incredibly confusing. I think I won't be spoiling too much when I say that it concerns itself with the multiverse theory. Similarly to time-travel, I think multiverses can be  a recipe for narrative disaster. At times I found myself slightly lost as to whether we had been universe hopping or not, or whether that was the point at all. Only after doing some research on finish the novel did I realise that When It's A Jar is a sequel to Holt's 2013 novel Doughnut, in which some of the characters are already introduced. Although at times confusing, I am sure that a reread will clear a lot of things up. A bonus is that Holt's writing style, despite the aforementioned humour, is relatively clear and doesn't throw too many adjectives at the reader. However, the ending still leaves the reader slightly unhappy since there are quite some unanswered questions and, for me, there is also no resolution to the moral questions posed by multiverse theory. If a different universe offers you a better life, can you just leave your "own universe" behind without remorse?

And finally there is one thing that ticked me off towards the end of the book and that is Holt's treatment of his only female character, Stephanie/Steve. At the beginning of the novel she is a character with a lot of promise. She works in the army, she is independent, she has decided to go by Steve rather than Stephanie, all of which builds a very interesting character that I would've loved to explore more. However, in order to push Maurice onto his Heroic Path, Holt is only capable of making her a damsel in distress who is, in my opinion, never really saved, either from the author or the "bad guys". It's a shame to see an author who is so capable of creating good characters and put them in interesting situations not do the same for his female character. Although she occasionally appears, she is never quite saved.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Tom Holt's When It's A Jar is an incredibly fun read which you will race through. The plot constantly throws new twists at you and although it sometimes seems to lose itself in those twists it makes for a hell of a ride. Despite some let-downs here and there, I would definitely recommend this book to not just Urban Fantasy fans but to anyone who is looking for a fun and interesting book!

Stacking the Shelves & It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I just checked and I think I haven't done this meme in almost a month! Surely that is a crime! Thankfully I have so many books to talk about this week that I need this post in order to even know which ones I have. Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Stephanie over at Tynga's Reviews and It's Monday! What Are You Reading? by Sheila over at BookJourney.

2aaaStacking The Shelves [103]

Last week I went to an Urban Fantasy evening hosted by Orbit and was given an absolutely beautiful giftbag with all of the books below. I've included links to GoodReads because if I had to put in all of the synopses we'd never finish this post!

The Oversight (Oversight Trilogy, #1)Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)The Remaining (The Remaining, #1)Full Blooded (Jessica McClain, #1)A Dance of Cloaks (Shadowdance, #1)Fated (Alex Verus, #1)Fortune's Pawn (Paradox, #1)Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)When It's A Jar

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher, Night Broken by Patricia Biggs, The Remaining by D.J. Molles, Full Blooded Amanda Carlson, Fated by Benedict Jacka, A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish, Pawn by Rachel Bach, Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey and When It's A Jar by Tom Holt.

Don't they all look pretty? But that's not it! After the trip in London, I came home to Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill, which I've just read an absolutely loved! Expect a review tomorrow! And then at the Lowdham Book Festival I bought Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter. As a teenager I really didn't like Angela Carter, but now, at the ripe age of twenty, my eyes have been opened and I admire the woman!
Burning Your Boats: Collected Short StoriesOnly Ever Yours

Last week I read/reviewed:

  • The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (review)
  • When It's A Jar by Tom Holt (review)
  • Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill (review coming up)

This Week I'm reading:

  • Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter
  • A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish
  • and many others.
So, that's this post rounded up. My summer reading is definitely sorted and I just want to give another quick shout out to everyone at Orbit for all of the amazing books!

Spotlight & Release: 'Blue Midnight' by Tess Thompson

blue midnight tess thompsonToday is the release date of Tess Thompson's new novel, Blue Midnight, which starts a new series, this following the Lanigan family and starting off with newly divorced Blythe Heywood traveling to Idaho to search for Finn Lanigan, the man she met and fell for before she married. Filled with the complexities of marriage, motherhood and the unknown of a road not chosen.
“If you change your mind, here’s this.” Finn Lanigan kissed a young Blythe Heywood one last time under an Idaho star-scattered sky. It was the last kiss that ever weakened her knees, the last sky she noticed for over a dozen years. Then she left, returning to her fiancé, the wedding she’d committed to and the secure life she’d yearned for since she was a little girl. 
Thirteen years later, her husband leaves Blythe for his young associate. Devastated, she’s unable to imagine the next chapter of her life as she packs her family’s belonging to move across town. Unexpectedly, she finds the forgotten slip of paper in the back of drawer.
Finn Lanigan - 208-555-2004
Hadn’t she tossed it years before, in one of the moments that first year of marriage when she vowed to be the perfect wife and mother? Apparently not. Here it remained. Her road not taken.
Facing three weeks without her young daughters, Blythe sets out to find the man she left behind so long ago. With only the name of the small town where he once lived, Peregrine, Idaho, and the memory of their last kiss under a starry sky, she heads across the Pacific Northwest in search of him.
What she finds in the foothills of Blue Mountain challenges everything she thought she knew and is the very last thing she expected. Within days, her life changes forever. But it is her destiny and destinies cannot be denied.
The first book of the Lanigan Clan Collection, laced with Thompson’s multifaceted and diverse characters, “Blue Midnight” is a mature love story about second chances, family and the complexities of trust and vulnerability after betrayal.
About Tess:
Tess Thompson is a novelist and playwright with a BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California. In 2011 she released her first novel, Riversong, which subsequently became a best seller.
Tess Headshot 1Like her main character in the River Valley collection, Tess is from a small town in Oregon. She currently lives in a suburb of Seattle, Washington with her two young daughters, Emerson and Ella, and their puppy Patches. She is inspired daily by the view of the Cascade Mountains from her home office window.
Tess is working on her next novel and regularly blogs about her journey as a mother, author and friend at www.tesswrites.com.
Check her out on Twitter and Facebook
and the book on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles!

Sound interesting? Here's an excerpt from the first chapter!

I found it at the very back of my bedside table drawer, next to a forgotten bottle of nail polish. I’d forgotten to empty the drawers in preparation for the movers that morning and was doing so now, shoving most of the neglected or forsaken contents into trash bags. But this scrap of paper, it stopped me. Shaped like a duck’s beak and wedged between the bottom of the drawer and the back panel, with just its tip exposed, it wasn’t enough, really, to indicate something of any significance. But I knew. I knew in an instant. I stood motionless, taking in every jagged detail. Then, I tugged; it came loose easily. This small slip of paper with a man’s name and number scrawled in blue ink seemed benign enough. Finn Lanigan 208-555-2004. And yet, the pulse at my neck quickened. Heat traveled from my center to every limb. I sank on molten legs to the stripped mattress. I held this scrap of paper, torn from a bar receipt, between damp fingers and stared at it like the ghost it was.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Weekly Overview

Orbit BooksIt has been a busy week but unfortunately that didn't quite reflect itself on my blog. On Wednesday I attended Orbit's Urban Fantasy evening in London and on Saturday I went to the Lowdham Book Festival about which I still have to write a post. I did manage to read/finish three books this week, but I've only been able to review one so far. All of this will be coming up next week though!


Monday:


Wednesday:


Thursday:


Friday:


Saturday:


Wow, I actually posted much more this week than I thought I did! Anyways this was my week. How was yours?Week

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Learning from Literature - 'The Lives of Others' by Neel Mukherjee

Sorry for the arbitrary title, but I couldn't think of any other way of putting it. The other week I read and reviewed The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, an epically written Indian family saga. Apart from being a very good book, it was also quite complicated. At times Mukherjee used words that were unfamiliar to me and that really made this book a learning experience. Partially those words were simply Indian and therefore unfamiliar, but mostly they were simply new to me. While reading I highlighted all the worlds on my Kindle and that brought about the idea for this post.

Half of the words I know, I know because I read them in a book. I read at least two Jane Austen novels before deciding to look up what exactly a 'carriage' is. A lot of things made more sense afterwards. Although not every single word is crucial, sometimes understanding a word adds a lot of extra meaning.

Here is a list of some of the best new words I've learned from The Lives of Others.

  • Bathos: (in literature) an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous.
  • Intransigence: a stubborn refusal to change your views.
  • Naxalbari: a village in West Bengal, India, and the site of a left-wing poor peasant uprising in 1967. 
  • Naxalite: name for Communist guerrilla groups in India. Derived from Naxalbari.
  • Concertina: to collapse, to compress
  • Vivarium: an enclosure for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation
  • Axiomatic: self-evident, unquestionable
  • Gherao: a protest in which workers prevent employers from leaving work until demands are met.
  • Nadir: the lowest, or most unsuccessful point in a situation
  • Detumesce: to lose one's sexual arousal
  • Logorrhoea: a tendency to extreme loquacity
  • Dyspepsia: indigestion
  • Factotum: an employee who does all kinds of work
  • Salubrious: healthy
  • Scion: a young shoot or twig of a plant
  • Uxorious: having/showing a great fondness for one's wife
  • Fulcrum: a thing that plays an essential role in an activity, event or situation
  • Suppuration: discharge of pus
  • Senescence: process of deterioration with age
  • Dendritic: having a branched form resembling a tree
  • Apparatchick: a member of a Communist Party apparat.
So, those are the new words I learned. I do think I suffer from logorrhoea sometimes, so it's good to now have a name for that affliction. I think I might do this for more of my reads, if they have interesting words!

Have you read a book that introduced you to a whole new vocabulary?

Friday, 27 June 2014

Friday Memes and 'Only Ever Yours' by Louise O'Neill


Book Blogger Hop

It has been a crazy busy week, or at least that's how it felt, with an ill little sister, going down to London for Orbit's Urban Fantasy Evening and going to the Lowdham Book Festival tomorrow. I haven't really been able to join any memes, so today I will do my best to visit as any blogs as possible and make up for my lack of attention!

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was submitted by RAnn from This That and the Other Thing.

Do you follow a lot of blogs but read them rarely or do you follow a few and read regularly?

That's a very good question. I follow quite a lot of blogs, more than I could read while also doing a degree and having a job, so naturally I can't read all of them all the time. I do try to take time out, usually in the weekend, to make a conscious effort to visit a lot of the blogs I follow. Unfortunately that time sometimes gets interrupted or has to make way for other things. I like following blogs though because their posts will still pop up in my feed and I will always be able to come back to those posts, whereas if I didn't follow I wouldn't really know.

This leads me to a question of my own. I just finished a marvelous book, Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill, which I saw on someone else's blog and then contacted the publisher about. Without reading a review on that other blog I never would've known about the book, but since I forgot to note down the name of the blogger I can't thank them. Does that ever happen to you? And do you note those indirect recommendations down?

21805717
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill which I finished about half an hour ago. It's an amazing book that I seriously recommend to everyone! It reminds me of a modern-day The Handmaid's Tale, in all the right ways.
In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.
For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.
Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.
But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. .. 
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.
Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…
BB:
'The chastities keep asking me why I can't sleep. I am at the maximum permitted dosage of SleepSound, they say, eyes narrowed in suspicious concern.Are you taking it correctly, freida?Are you taking it all yourself, freida?Yes. Yes. Now, can I have some more? Please?'
The beginning already introduces the reader to quite a lot of the subtleties in the book, such as the fact that the girls' names are never capitalised, that they are constantly observed and that there are different categories.

F56:
'The rest of us exhale in relief as the chosen two walk to the top of the room as if their feet are made of lead. They step into the glass boxes flanking the chastity's desk, and magnified fotos of the two girls are projected, side by side, on to the mirror-board behind them, each image eight feet tall.'
This scene is an example of the many scenes which seem incredibly realistic despite being very alienating as well. We tell ourselves we'd never shame girls about their perceived imperfections by blowing up their images to life-size and comparing them to each other, and yet that is something we do every single day, to ourselves and to others.

So, those were my memes for today! Leave a link to your blog in the comments if you'd like me to drop by although I'll try to beat you to it!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Urban Fantasy Evening with Orbit and Little, Brown Book Group

Orbit BooksYesterday I had the absolute honour of being one of the bloggers invited to an evening organised by Orbit and Little, Brown Book Group which was all about Urban Fantasy. As a genre, I feel Urban Fantasy is at times quite overlooked. It falls very nicely between Paranormal Fiction and High Fantasy, creating worlds that are recognizable to the reader and yet still filled with fantastical creatures and stories. Personally I have to come to realise that it might very well be the genre I have always been looking for. The evening was hosted by the lovely Clara Diaz (Twitter), Jenni Hill (Twitter), Anna Gregson (Twitter) and Gemma Conley-Smith (Twitter) and we were even lucky enough to be able to meet two great Urban Fantasy authors: Amanda Carlson of the Jessica McClain-series and Benedict Jacka of the Alex Verus-series.

11737387The evening started off with a look at Orbit's Urban Fantasy Catalogue. Including authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Jim Butcher and Charles Stross, the catalogue offers a great variety of authors, settings and characters. Whether you're looking for mages in London or jinns in Pittsburgh, there is bound to be a book amongst Orbit's upcoming releases for you. It was great to see how passionate the editors were about all of the authors and books. Personally I was most excited by the additions of mangas such as Gail Carriger's Soulless series, which look absolutely stunning, and even the manga adaptation of Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices.

Being able to discuss Urban Fantasy with two authors who write in the genre was a real treat. Not only were there readings from the first books in their series (Full Blooded and Fated respectively), but we were also able to discuss certain genre traits with them. For example the choosing of the setting. Both authors preferred to write about places they knew rather than invent a new city. We also discussed the snarky sense of humour that seems intrinsic to most characters in Urban Fantasy books. Eventually we agreed that the recognizable setting, contrasted against the fantastical elements, brings out the heavy sarcasm both in authors and readers. Personally it is one of my favourite things about Urban Fantasy and is also one of the reasons the characters are so relatable for most readers.
11823873
It was also really interesting to be able to talk to "the other side". As a blogger, you sometimes worry about how and whether your reviews matter to the publishers. Whereas we worry about whether 3 or 4 star ratings are seen as favourable or not, publishers want to get the book out to as many people as possible. I was also greatly comforted to know that being rejected for a book on Netgalley isn't in fact a rejection of you as a person. The fact that the editors' passion for reading is as strong as the bloggers' definitely makes me less nervous about potentially contacting editors and publishers.


Besides receiving an amazing gift bag and being able to have some really interesting conversations, I also met some great bloggers, among whom were Stevie, who runs the Youtube channel SableCaught where she reviews books and discusses literature, and Megan, who writes great reviews over at The Book Addicted Girl. However, there weren't just bloggers. Theresa and Carol, both part of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group, had some great insight into the genre and many of its authors. Props should here be given to the hosts who looked beyond book blogging and also invited Kirsty and Becca, who study Publishing. By inviting such a diverse group of people who all share similar interests but have very different backgrounds, you get a lot of interesting conversations going.

Overall, it was an amazing evening. I really enjoyed myself and it has definitely increased my interest in the genre even more.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

#BookADay - Never Finished: 'The Italian' by Ann Radcliffe

Borough Press
I only just spotted The Borough Press' #BookADay hashtag on Twitter and decided to check it out. Seems like I still have a few days to join in on some new topics. Today's question/topic is books we never finished.

For me there will always only be one book I really couldn't finish, although I know there are others, and that is Ann Radcliffe's The Italian. I decided to read some of Radcliffe's books after reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, in which she mocks the Gothic genre, but I simply couldn't do it.
From the first moment Vincentio di Vivaldi, a young nobleman, sets eyes on the veiled figure of Ellena, he is captivated by her enigmatic beauty and grace. But his haughty and manipulative mother is against the match and enlists the help of her confessor to come between them. Schedoni, previously a leading figure of the Inquisition, is a demonic, scheming monk with no qualms about the task, whether it entails abduction, torture—or even murder. The Italian secured Ann Radcliffe's position as the leading writer of Gothic romance of the age, for its atmosphere of supernatural and nightmarish horrors, combined with her evocation of sublime landscapes and chilling narrative.
93136Ellena was such a victim, feinting all the time and constantly desired by everyone, and Vincentio is constantly growing poetic over the moon. Of course the Inquisition is involved, of course there is a scheming mother, and why did i ever think there wouldn't be an abduction? The problem with this was probably that I had just come off a Jane Austen high and changing to Radcliffe's melodramatic style went against everything I just enjoyed. I don't think there's an iota of social criticism in Radcliffe's novels.

However, I try and keep an open mind and will try this novel again. But probably not until I've read everything else there is possibly to read!

Review: 'The Lives of Others' by Neel Mukherjee

I requested this novel on Netgalley after reading its synopsis and thinking to myself that it sounded like a sweeping historical novel. India's history is fascinating, especially in the last century in which it seems to have developed exponentially. I was right on one front, this novel is definitely sweeping and it is one of the most engrossing I have read in a very long time.

'Ma, I feel exhausted with consuming, with taking and grabbing and using. I am so bloated that I feel I cannot breathe any more. I am leaving to find some air, some place where I shall be able to purge myself, push back against the life given me and make my own. I feel I live in a borrowed house. It's time to find my own. Forgive me.' 
Calcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is this note . 
The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. More than poisonous rivalries among sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business, this is a family unravelling as the society around it fractures. For this is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change: the chasm between the generations, and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider. 
Ambitious, rich and compassionate The Lives of Others anatomises the soul of a nation as it unfolds a family history. A novel about many things, including the limits of empathy and the nature of political action, it asks: how do we imagine our place amongst others in the world? Can that be reimagined? And at what cost? This is a novel of unflinching power and emotional force.
This novel is immense, encompassing generations and nation. Although Mukherjee hasn't written a historical fiction novel in the sense that the plot doesn't revolve around a historical event such as the Indian Independence in 1947 or the subsequent Partition between India, Pakistan and then Bangladesh, The Lives of Others still picks up on how all of these changes affected a family. I would, therefore, very much class it as a family saga in the way that Tolstoy's War and Peace is, for example. We have three different generations, we have social codes, we have change, uprisings etc. which makes for an incredibly interesting read. Although initially it is hard to get to know all the characters and care about them equally, Mukherjee manages to, throughout the novel, continually give the reader slips of information regarding everyone and how they stand in relation to each other. This means that at the end of the novel you feel like you might finally understand all of them and then the it ends. Of course you can't care about all characters equally, but there is such a variety of emotions and events in the Gosh family that there is bound to be something for everyone.

The two major storylines are those of the family house and the people there, contrasted with Supratik's Communists efforts to improve the lives of the poor. This immediately juxtaposes two different sides, that of the conservative, older members of the family, and that of the young Supratik and thereby shows the age-old battle between renovation and those holding onto their traditions with all they have. In a culture that is still very dictated by social laws regarding seniority and hierarchy, the idea of communism that levels all social difference is like a fox in a chicken coop. Although at times the political talk may seem extraneous, a similar thing happens with a different character's mathematical interest, it informs the characters and is therefore necessary.

Mukherjee's writing style is a marvel. Not only is he incredibly loquacious, but also very eloquent. He makes subtle changes in his style when narrating each character's thoughts and actions which means that each character takes shape in his or her own way as well. He uses words I have never heard of, yet each makes sense in its setting. He also introduces a lot of Indian words, mixing them into speech quite easily. Thankfully there's a dictionary in the back, alongside an explanation of how relational hierarchy works in India. Writing in English, Mukherjee masterfully manages to bring India to the reader. His descriptions of landscape and the city are beautiful, ranging from the disgustingly detailed, in the best way, to the ultra-romantically sweeping. Similarly his dialogue seems very true, allowing him to portray realistic family relationships. Just because they're family, doesn't mean you understand them or get along with them.

At his best, Mukherjee reminds me of Salman Rushdie. Although it seems easy to compare these two authors based on the fact they're Indian, their novels and styles actually share certain qualities. Looking at the 1983 novel Shame, Rushdie shows himself excelling at creating family patterns and showing traditions in an endearing and alienating light at the same time. He also writes without holding back, going to the extremes in his descriptions and characters and sometimes maybe even to far. Mukherjee does the same in The Lives of Others, although he replaces magical realism with a stronger sense of realism. Questionable behaviour is universal, not only in the Gosh family but in everyone, and Mukherjee doesn't shy back from alienating his characters from his readers, may it be temporarily. His world is, at times, ugly and because of that incredibly honest. Spreading across 528 pages, Mukherjee bravely describes the downfall of a family in a world that doesn't stop changing around them.

I give this novel...

5 Universes.

Although I usually save this rating for already established classics, I feel like it is only a matter of time till this novel will be ranked among them as well. Novels such as these don't simply come into existence, they are a labour of love and a result of a lot of social change. As such, The Lives of Others is a mark of its time and, as such, highly educative while sucking the reader in until the last page of the epilogue. I'd recommend this novel to people who aren't afraid to commit to a novel and want to be challenged by what they read. The experience you'll get is worth all the trouble the first few chapters might give you.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Tour: 'Running Through A Dark Place' by Michael J. Bowler

Today I'm part of the blog tour for the amazing Running Through a Dark Place by Michael J. Bowler. 
King Arthur and his extraordinary young Knights used ‘might’ for ‘right’ to create a new Camelot in the City of Angels. They rallied the populace around their cause, while simultaneously putting the detached politicians in check. But now they must move forward to even greater heights, despite what appears to be an insurmountable tragedy. 
Their new goal is lofty: give equality to kids fourteen and older who are presently considered adults only when they break the law. Arthur’s crusade seeks to give them real rights such as voting, driving, trading high school for work, and sitting as jurors for their peers charged with criminal behavior. 

Understanding that the adults of California will likely be against them, Arthur and his Knights must determine how best to win them over.
 
However, before the king can even contemplate these matters, he finds himself face to face with an ally from the past, one who proves that everything isn’t always what it seems – even life and death. 
The Knight Cycle Continues…



About the Author:
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of four previous novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Reader’s Favorite Silver Medalist), Children of the Knight (Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medalist), and Running Through A Dark Place––who grew up in San Rafael, California.
He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.
He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.
He has already written the final installments that complete The Knight Cycle and all will be released in 2014.

Find Michael online on:

And especially for you, an excerpt from Chapter 1:


 ONCE upon a time in the City of Angels, a boy fell… and the city fell with him.

The cheers rose into the clear night sky, strong and resonant with youthful energy and exuberance. Atop the white mare Llamrei, viewed from above by the piercing green eyes of the muralled Lance, Arthur’s hands enfolded those of young Chris, and together they gripped the hilt of Excalibur. The fabled blade pointed heavenward, as though beseeching God for a miracle. The cheering subsided, slowly and gradually, as the enormity of this night settled over the hundreds of youth and local citizens. Chris’s long blond hair was matted with sweat, his soft features streaked with drying tears as his blue eyes tilted upward, along Excalibur’s length. Arthur gazed down at the boy and marveled at the resiliency of youth. 
Less than twenty minutes prior Chris, and the world, had watched their beloved Lance slip away from them. Arthur’s tunic was stained by the blood of his son, a miraculous gift of a boy who had saved the king’s life at the cost of his own. Arthur suddenly became aware of the silence around him. He lowered Excalibur and gently removed it from the small hands of the little boy before him. Sheathing the sword, he gazed out at the crowd. All eyes focused on him, eyes that were expectant, uncertain, eager and sad. Many stared at the amazing mural Arthur’s knights had created, a mural celebrating the gift to them all that had been his chosen First Knight.
But Arthur knew the road ahead would not be as simple as he’d just laid out for his children. They were lost, and it was his job as the adult to guide and comfort them. But he knew the truth. Without Lance, how far could the crusade continue without collapsing in upon itself? He recognized the vacuum that losing Lance created, a vacuum impossible to fill with anyone else. Still, he had to push onward. These remarkable youth had already come so far, had accomplished so much, had devoted their very lives to his cause. He had to find a path forward.
He turned and glanced over his shoulder at Jenny, the woman who had stolen his heart. She offered a sympathetic smile of support, but it did little to mask her own sorrow. Her soft features were clouded with sadness, and a light breeze wafted her long blonde hair in small wisps across her eyes.
Then Arthur looked at the officials standing on the steps of City Hall. They were eying him with uncertain caution, knowing he had the power over this assembled multitude, and their faces reflected a deep fear that he would use it against them in some fashion.
But Arthur was a man who believed in using might for right, who sought peace and justice over all else. Never would he incite his youth to anarchy, even against so corrupt a mayor as Villagrana, who eyed the king with an expression Arthur couldn’t quite discern. Normally the man’s face showed nothing but contempt. But now it was different, as though what happened to Lance had somehow broken through the prison walls around his heart and released some of its dormant humanity.

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Guest post: Michael J. Bowler - 'The Dark Places We Run Through'

The Dark Places We Run Through

My Knight Cycle series of books is, first and foremost, a fable, a fantasy of “An America that could be” if only two simple precepts were actually fostered by all adults – “the best interests of children” should be the overreaching goal of a civil society, and a successful society is one that lives in balance. Sadly, neither of these principles exists in America today except within small enclaves. They are certainly not present in politics or public policy, education or the media, or in corporate offices. The end result has become a country of lost, mentally ill, or neurotic kids who have no real rights except the right to be sent to prison if they get involved in a crime. In some states, that right to prison has no age limit.
Adults used to understand that children and teens needed parenting and mentoring, and that kids needed good role models and positive examples. Adults used to know instinctively that kids never got things right all the time, that they needed second, third, maybe even fourth chances in life to get themselves together. Not anymore. Now when kids screw up, the adults give up on them immediately.

In Children of the Knight, readers meet a host of cast-off and marginalized kids in Los Angeles, kids discarded by society for not fitting into the very narrow niche adults today seem to insist upon. Readers also meet a resurrected King Arthur, fulfilling his once and future king status by returning to help the children of Britain’s most prosperous, but careless,child - America. He unites kids of all ethnicities and races and sexual orientations. He doesn’t focus on where they have been in life so much as where they could go. He believes in the power of redemption, of second chances, and these are overarching themes of the entire series.

Book II – Running Through A Dark Place continues the crusade to better the lot of children in America, to bring to the people those two precepts I articulated in the first sentence. This second book, and the third – There Is No Fear – illustrate clearly that children are not adults and should never be treated as such. They stumble, they fall, they make bad choices, they are impulsive. But they always deserve a second chance. Sadly, as depicted in The Knight Cycle, many kids have never had a first chance, let alone a second. The campaign Arthur and his Knights launch in Running to get kids fourteen and older adult rights exists not because Arthur and Jenny and the other adults really believe kids can think like adults. They understand the essential difference in the thinking processes of adults versus teens, even without all the scientific data on brain development at their fingertips. Such understanding did, after all, used to be called common sense.

Rather, the campaign is launched to force California voters – that means adults - to take a long hard look at Proposition 21 and other laws that put children as young as fourteen into adult court for the express purpose of sending them to prison, and in a broader sense the campaign exists to confront the unfairness, the idiocy, the fallacy that children can think like adults one minute, but not the next. And the stupid notion that, based on current law in California and America, the only time kids apparently can think as adults is when they do something wrong, never when they do something right. And further, when kids do something wrong, America’s answer is to throw them away into prison, out of sight, out of mind. Some solution, huh?
For those who have read the first book, and for those who have not, it’s difficult to discuss the plot of Running without giving away a major spoiler. But something so monumental happens in Chapter 1 that the whole world is fundamentally changed, and so is everyone in Arthur’s Round Table. This event precipitates great joy and great sorrow. Running Through A Dark Place is a tale of loss, happiness, courage, and fear. All of us as kids ran through some dark place or other. That’s part of growing up. For many of us, those dark places were internal. For too many children in America today, those places are both internal and external.

I’ve known kids who have gone through such dark times I am amazed they survived, let alone went forward to succeed at anything in life. As with Arthur’s kids, those I knew were mentored by good adults who helped them overcome the darkness and step into the light. Adults who really care about the future will always step up in some way to help kids who stumble. But we need more of them and less of the ones who want to do the throwaway routine. Human children are not trash. They are not something to recycle. They are forever in need of forgiveness and love and support.

For those who read Children of the Knight and perhaps thought it unfinished, that there were many aspects of society touched on, but not explored, in part that’s because it was never intended as a stand-alone book. For reasons unknown to me, I wasn’t allowed to indicate it was the beginning of a series. Hence, the seemingly bleak ending confounded many. Hopefully, some of you might give Running Through A Dark Place a chance. But even in Book II, the story remainsunfinished. Some elements that began in Children of the Knight, and those that begin inRunning, don’t get resolved until the final book. It’s a journey, an epic coming-of-age tale involving a lot of kids, and adults, who are given a second chance, and who make something worthwhile out of that chance. Despite what the conclusion to the first book might indicate, the tag line on the cover of Running is something I’ve learned from every kid I’ve ever known – hope endures.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Friday, University and Bradbury



Got my results back from Uni and I did well. My results aren't quite as amazing as I'd have wished, but they're good. I was incredibly scared because I want to apply to Master programs this autumn so I really wanted to do well. But now that I have my results the second year is really over, which is just so strange. Only one more year to go! Anyways, today is also a Friday and here are the memes! Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer and this week's question came from Becca over at BS Book Reviewers.
Do you prefer Nook, Kindle, other reader, or paper books?

It really all depends on the situation for me. I used to fly to the Netherlands every second weekend to visit my Mum, which meant that for a while my Kindle was the best option to read anything on because I could always have it with me. Its portability is still one of the reasons why I absolutely love my Kindle. However, at University I find I'd much rather have a paperback version of the books we're reading. It's nigh impossible to "flip" to a specific page on a Kindle and it's harder to make notes as well, if you're open to writing in books.
Fahrenheit 451

Something I really love about reading more on my Kindle is that it is still something special to go into a bookstore or buy a paperback or hardback. As a child I loved getting physical books and I am really happy the excitement over books still hasn't gone away.

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice. This week I'm using my next Classics Club read which I'm hoping to start after I finish H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and that book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Talk about a classic, right?

The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.
BB:
'It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.' p.1
Can it get any more iconic? Also, (seriously) damaging books is a big no for me. I do break the spines of and write in paperbacks that I use for University, but I'd never rip out pages, burn a book or anything! 

F56:
'Something inside had jerked him to a halt and flopped him down. He lay where he had fallen and sobbed, his legs folded, his face pressed blindly to the gravel.Beatty wanted to die.' p.56
I think Beatty is the main character, I like keeping myself ignorant of plots etc. until I read the book, and I really like the description here. Sometimes it does feel as if something inside you jerks you to a halt or ahead and I guess it can also floor you!

So, what do you prefer, reading-wise? And question of my own: do you prefer paperback over hardback?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Hermione's Best Moment

I have been terrible at blogging this week despite all of my best intentions. I just seem to have so much more to do than I expected and then there's the World Cup to take into consideration. It's fair to say that with three matches a day to watch, I have significantly less reading time. But I will always make an exception for Harry Potter! Harry Potter Moment of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts. This week we're picking:

Hermione's Best Moment

There are so many to choose from! I love how Hermione didn't fall into the unfortunate "Strong Female Character" trap that I've recently started seeing. She was strong, complex, interesting etc. but she actually served the plot in a number of ways on not just to fill a quota or make the main male character a hero. Anyways, let's pick a moment or three!

This was when I fell in love with Hermione (in the movies, in the books it was love at first sight/read). I can really relate to that need to show what I know.


But the moment, or rather story-line, where I became truly aware of how amazing she was, was when she founded S.P.E.W. in Goblet of Fire. I mean
"You know, house-elves get a very raw deal! It's slavery, that's what it is! That Mr Crouch made her (Winky) go up to the top of the stadium, and she was terrified, and he's got her bewitched so she can't even run when they start trampling tents! Why doesn't anyone do something about it?"
I have a soft spot for social radicals and the fact that Hermione is all about supporting minorities and standing up for their rights made me love her so much more. Although it was, of course, in some ways a bit silly, knitting her own hats and hiding them, it just showed how big of a heart Hermione had and how she was one of the most active people in the HP gang. Let's not forget how crucial she also was in the creation of Dumbledore's Army!

And of course this...
We all wanted it to happen and then it did!

So, what is your favourite Hermione moment?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Waiting on Wednesday - 'A Sudden Light' by Garth Stein

Waiting on Wednesday is  a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine. I haven't done this meme in ages but I just picked up a book from Netgalley and I really want to share it with everyone!

That book is A Sudden Light by Garth Stein. I swear this got recommended to me during Armchair BEA and then I found it on Netgalley. I kind of forgot about it until I reread the synopsis yesterday and was blown away again! I think I might just start it now. It comes out on the 30th of September, 2014.


When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.
In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.
But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.
A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

A house built out of massive trees with a ghost in it... How would anyone not want to read about that? So, what are you waiting for?

Monday, 16 June 2014

Review: 'Lore: Tales of Myth and Legend Retold' by a.o. Brinda Berry, Karen Y. Bynum, Laura Diamond

Myth and legends are amongst my favourite reads although I find them very hard to classify. They seem to combine literature and history beautifully. As Galadriel says in the Prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring film: 'history became legend, legend became myth'. 
THIS IS AN ANTHOLOGY OF NOVELLAS. A collection of six folklore retellings that will twist your mind and claim your heart. SHIMMER: A heartbroken boy rescues a mermaid... but is it too late to save her? BETWEEN is about a girl, a genie, and a ton of bad decisions. SUNSET MOON: Eloise doesn't believe in Native American magic--until the dreamcatcher spiders spin her down an unknown path. THE MAKER: An incapacitated young man bent on revenge builds a creature to do it for him. A BEAUTIFUL MOURNING: The story of a Maya goddess torn between duty and love, and the ultimate sacrifice she must make to achieve true happiness. THE BARRICADES: When a human girl risks everything to save the life of an Eternal prince, will their feelings for each other change the world they know, or tear it apart? 

There is one aspect of this anthology that stands out above all the others and that is its diversity. As the synopsis might already betray, the editors managed to collect six retellings of folklore from all over the world. There is the selkie and fae mythology from Ireland and Northern Europe in Shimmer, Brinda Berry, and The Barricades, Cate Dean, there is Arabian influences mixed with a lesbian romance in Between, Karen Y. Bynum, Native American folklore in Sunset Moon, Laura Diamond, a modern twist on the Yiddish Gole in The Maker, Jayne Knolls, and finally a throwback to Mayan culture in A Beautiful Mourning, Theresa DaLayne. Although it can be argued how successful each adaptation or retelling is, there is no doubt that the editors and authors put some thought into making this anthology reflect as many different cultures as possible. Published in April, this anthology's publication slightly predated the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, but would have served as an amazing example of how different cultures can be combined into one book and how each character, may they be male or female, black or white, is relatable and important.

My favourite story was Cate Dean's The Barricades, which focused itself on one particular moment/night rather than try to make weeks or months pass. This allowed to story to have a sense of immediacy while Dean also managed to create a context and background for the narrative. A close second is Diamond's Sunset Moon, which mixed Native American culture with a very close look at juvenile detention and how a young person's life can completely spiral out of control.  Bynum's Between was a story I wished had more time to develop its narrative by informing the reader of more contextual information. I did find myself engaging with it though, although maybe not directly sympathizing with the characters. Berry's Shimmer played very nicely with the different archetypal mermaid figures that exist while also mixing in a romance story. At times the romance did feel forced though, which was a shame. DaLayne's A Beautiful Mourning was very interesting, mainly because I know next to nothing about Mayan religion and all the characters were therefore new to me. Knolls' The Maker was perhaps my least favourite story because I found it very hard to identify with most of the characters. They seemed to be stuck in their roles and therefore slightly two-dimensional.

Naturally every reader will have their own favourites in an anthology. A potential problem with these "stories" is that they are technically novellas. At times it feels the authors got stuck between writing a short story and a novel in the sense that they never quite knew when to add depth to their stories and when to move quickly. Overall, however, it has to be said each story was enjoyable. I did race through the anthology, each story making me wonder how the author would develop it and bring it to an end. However, none of the novellas really grabbed me in the way some short stories can. An issue may have been that the novellas seemed to be stuck between retelling legends and writing YA romance. Legends in themselves, in my eyes, often relate to larger world problems, to history, to culture etc. and don't restrict themselves to love. Although these novellas pick up on a lot of very interesting themes, each was infused with a lovestory which I at times found forced or unnecessary. Overall, however, it was a very interesting and enjoyable anthology, perfect for the summer.

I give this anthology...

3 Universes.

Anthologies can be a hit and miss, depending on the overall quality of the novellas. Although there were some flaws, each author definitely did what the anthology set out to do: retell myths and legends. Simply for its diverse approach this anthology should be praised, but the effort of the authors to bring potentially archaic story lines and tropes to a younger audience should also be appreciated. I recommend this anthology to fans of YA romance, legends and anthologies.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Weekly Overview

World Cup has started, which means now my time is spread between reading, watching football, talking about football and potentially crying about books and football. I didn't get a lot reviewed this week but that's because I've been reading quite a lot of big books, so hopefully they'll all be finished soon in which case you'll be bombarded with reviews.
The Birds: and Other Stories
Tuesday:
Wednesday:
Thursday:
Friday:
So, hasn't been a very spectacular week but it'll improve for next week I'm sure. How about your week? Did you post a lot of reviews or are you also still in the midst of your books?