Review: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

h is for hawk by helen macdonaldFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: autobiography, natural history
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Grove Press
Date Released: March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer, Helen had never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk, but in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

My Review:

There’s an entire alphabet in this book. If H is for Hawk, then D is for Depression, F is for Father, G is for Grief. And M is for Merlin, S is for Sword, as in The Sword in the Stone, and W is for White, as in T.H. White.

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

On March 20, 2007, the author’s father, the press photographer Alisdair MacDonald, died suddenly of a heart attack while on assignment. H is for Hawk is the author’s journey from nearly unutterable grief to eventual healing. A healing birthed by the most unusual midwife – the care and training and partnership of a goshawk named Mabel.

It’s in the first wrenching depths of her grief that the author finds herself haunted by the work of an earlier writer. T.H. White, the celebrated creator of The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King, wrote a book titled The Goshawk about his rather inept and completely untutored training of a goshawk he named Gos, showing a surprising lack of imagination for an author whose most famous work is a feast of re-imagining.

Unlike White, Macdonald actually knows what she is doing. At least with the goshawk. She is a professional falconer, and has worked with birds of prey all of her adult life. But she never took on the training of a goshawk, a particularly fierce and vicious predator.

This story is not twee, nor is it cute like Watership Down. Fortunately, it is also not like so many works of the 20th century where real animals are celebrated and protected, but ultimately die in the end. (Think of Ring of Bright Water or even earlier works like Bambi and Old Yeller).

Training and caring for Mabel is a full-time job. And in the depths of her grief the author devotes all of her time to the bird, neglecting her job and the company of people. Mabel gives her purpose and keeps her separated from the human world that both hurt her and can heal her. She just isn’t ready to let it.

Reality Rating A-: Sometimes, I write mostly about the book. Sometimes, I write more about the ways in which the book made me think. There are rare times when I mostly write about the way the book made me feel.

Fair warning, this is one of the latter.

I chose this book for a couple of reasons. I also lost my father to a sudden heart attack. While that was over 20 years ago now, at the time it happened I was about the age that the author was at that time, and my father was also about the age that her father was at the time. There is one phone call and suddenly the world is a different and darker place. You get past but you don’t really get over.

Her journey took her much further into the black than mine did, and her method of finding her way back was very different, but the starting place was not dissimilar. I wanted to read how she managed, and sometimes didn’t.

Once and future king by th whiteThe other “hook” for me was T.H. White. I did not know much about him as a person, but The Once and Future King, which includes The Sword in the Stone, was one of my favorite books in my teens. I saw the Disney movie made from Sword when I was a child.

(The final section of  The Once and Future King is titled The Candle in the Wind. Thinking back, the title does resonate with both versions of Elton John’s song.)

White was a very troubled man. He suffered from what we would certainly call child abuse when he was very young, and was severely bullied and beaten in school. He was also a homosexual at a time when any practice was illegal, and was also a sado-masochist, a predilection which had the potential to cause him even more trouble than he already had. He was never a happy man.

While in The Goshawk he shows himself to be an inept falconer, he also attributes to the bird all sorts of motives that are much more human than avian. Even to a non-birder, his treatment of the hawk just sounds wrong.

At the same time, Macdonald’s analysis of the way that White turned his experience into Merlin in The Sword in the Stone really resonates. I will never see The Once and Future King the same way again.

goshawk by th whiteIn the interweaving of Macdonald’s multiple stories – her grief and basically lack of coping, resulting in a spiral into clinical depression – her reread and analysis of White’s Goshawk – and her ultimate re-emergence into life, there is also a celebration of the wild places that can be found in the most seemingly cultivated places, and her love and caring for the beautiful and fierce Mabel that ultimately sing out.

This is the story of one woman’s journey through the dark and dangerous places of her own heart – and her emergence into the beauty and wonder that surrounds her.

And Mabel is absolutely awesome.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Mark T Barnes on Creating Myths + Giveaway

pillars of sand by mark t barnesThis time, I’m just going to gush. I get some good books from Library Journal, and some not so good books from Library Journal. And every once in a while, I get one that absolutely blows me away. That was The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes. I adore epic fantasy, and Garden was one of the best I’ve read in a long time.

I begged 47North for a review copy of book 2, The Obsidian Heart, because I couldn’t bear not knowing where the story went after the towering cliffhanger I was left with. It was every bit as awesome as Garden, and now we have The Pillars of Sand. Read today’s review to see just how much I loved it.

Making Your Own Mythology, by Mark T. Barnes.

Myths are ancient stories shared through generations, both within and across cultures. While history relates the facts of the past, myths reveal the truths of personalities, beliefs, hopes, and fears of times gone by. Myths help us understand why we are who we are, in the context of our journey through history and cultural transformation.

Fantasy worlds in particular benefit from a strong and original mythology as part of the world building process. Not only do they add depth and texture to a story, they provide a framework for the reader to know why things are the way they are. It’s important for our characters to reflect in some way the thinking of their age, which has been formed from cultural mores and social interactions over hundreds of preceding generations.

It’s important to find the obvious in our mythologies and do something different with them. Readers may know the content of many myths, morality tales and fairy tales already, so reward them with something new. Find the anchor points a reader will care about, and identify with, and build a mythology around them. Look at the important concepts of our own culture: how we view birth, life, and death. Love and hatred, romance and vengeance. What do we fear? What do we despise, and why do these things have such a visceral effect on us? Look at topical issues that are important to us today, and weave those into a mythology to make it meaningful and impactful.

Mythology in fantasy literature can also have us think about our own origins as well as the stories we’re leaving behind for generations to come. The myths we make will inform others what we valued, what we feared, and helps them learn the truths of who we were and the mark we left a changing world.

The world of Īa in the Echoes of Empire series has a layered history. All the great world events lend to myths, and how those myths are remembered and used. In the EoE series I tried a few new things:

  • No orthodox religion or deities of any kind. The native inhabitants of Īa practice a form of natural reverence. With the introduction of humans who came from a technologically advanced society with less of a focus on religion, there came the concept of Ancestor worship. As people we have strong feelings towards the people in our lives, and time and new circumstances altered how the dead are perceived.
  • No heaven or hell. There’s no great reward for being ‘good’, nor damnation for being ‘bad’. Such reference points are meaningless when a person is capable of thought, free will, and change. The dead go to a place called The Well of Souls where they continue to be the people they were in life, sans a body. Knowledge of the Well of Souls and the ability to communicate with the dead has taken some of the fear from death.
  • The world is alive and conscious. There have been many empires and civilisations resting one atop the other like sediment. In the distant past the high water mark of a dead civilisation managed to communicate with the mind of the world, changing forever their view of their place and status. Technological industrialisation was bypassed in favour of arcane industrialisation, where energy sources were renewable gifts from the world itself. Humans changed this paradigm, and their defeat in the old wars became a parable for how civilisation should work with a world that knows what’s being done to it.
  • Power perceived is power achieved. The Insurrection and The Scholar Wars showed the world that the arcane sciences are devastating and that not all who hold power, should. Centuries after The Scholar Wars there are still prejudices and laws in place against some uses for the arcane.
  • Tales of ethics and morality. The wars of the past and the blood that was shed has led to the Avān, one of the world’s predominant cultures, forming a rigorous code of conduct and caste system in order to protect themselves, from themselves. Other cultures have beliefs based on great acts of invention, or heroism, or generosity. The greatest heroes in the EoE world are scholars, philosophers, courtesans, etc. Generally people who have tried to make the world better through less destructive means than war.
  • The lessons of war and envy. Though the humans were defeated in the old wars, the Elemental Masters of the time took notice. Indeed it was the introduction of advanced technology that inspired some of the Elemental Masters to try new things with the arcane, and to start truly bridging the gap between arcane science and technical science. This also introduced the concept of Wars of the Long Knife (Wars of Assassins), trial by single combat or arcane power to resolve disputes, government sanctioned and arbitrated House wars, etc.

Seeding the histories of our fantasy worlds with pivotal moments and people, and having those nexus points reflected throughout the years to follow, gives our worlds depth and texture. Whenever I pick up a fantasy novel I look forward to seeing where the writer is taking me, and how well their characters and story are in touch with their myths, legends, and origins.

mark t barnesMark Barnes lives in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of the epic fantasy Echoes of Empire series, published by 47North. The series includes The Garden of Stones (released May 2013), and The Obsidian Heart (released October 2013). The Pillars of Sand is the third of the series, due for release in May 2014. In April 2014, The Garden of Stones was selected as one of five finalists in the 2013/2014 David Gemmell MORNINGSTAR Award for Best Newcomer/Debut, with the winner to be announced in London in June 2014.
You can find out more at www.marktbarnes.com, his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/marktbarnes.author, or follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTBarnes.

~~~~~~GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Mark and his publisher, 47North, are generously giving away 5 NetGalley copies of each book in The Echoes of Empire trilogy! If you love epic fantasy, this is your chance to start (or complete) the series.
Because the copies are NetGalley downloads, winners will need to join or be members of NetGalley (which is free).
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Guest Post from Author Meg Benjamin on Scary Stories + Giveaway

happy medium by meg benjaminToday, my guest is Meg Benjamin, the author of the Ramos Family/Medium trilogy. Whatever you call the series, the books in that series (Medium Well, Medium Rare and the subject of today’s review, Happy Medium) are chillingly delicious paranormal romances.

But Meg’s post today is all about why she chose to take this walk on the spooky side.

Happy Medium: Bringing the Scary
by Meg Benjamin

I’m a newbie in the paranormal romance game. Paranormal romances work with a different set of emotions from, say, contemporary romance (where I’ve hung out up until now). Vampires can be scary but also very sexy. Werewolves can evoke that primal dread of being attacked by an animal. Zombies don’t do much for me in the romance department, but they’re really good at evoking horror. The same is true for the wide range of other paranormals, from Eve Silver’s Egyptian demi-gods to Laurell K. Hamilton’s fairy kingdom.

And then there are ghosts. For me, ghosts have a pretty straight-forward effect. They’re all about fear. If you think about classic ghost stories, the old-dark-house-in-a-thunderstorm type, it’s all about what happens on the periphery. The feeling of being watched, of sharing space with something or someone you can’t really see. Until, of course, you turn the corner and…gotcha!

I’ve always been fascinated by ghost stories, and I toyed with the idea of doing one of my own for a long time before I finally got around to it with my Ramos Family Trilogy for Berkley Intermix (the third book in the trilogy, Happy Medium, is now available). It may seem strange to go from writing about romance in the Texas Hill Country (as I did in my Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing) to writing about haunted houses in San Antonio, but it’s not really that much of a stretch. I love ghost stories, particularly ghost stories that aren’t entirely serious. Even my contemporaries had a touch of threat (I love my villains) and that threat becomes simultaneously scarier and more elusive in ghost stories. Like I said, it’s all about the unknown.

My setting is the King William District of San Antonio, one of the most historic parts of the city. If a ghost is going to hang out anywhere in the San Antonio area, I’d say King William is a very likely spot, given the stately, slightly spooky homes, the San Antonio River with its hanging cypress trees, and those long afternoon shadows you get in South Texas.

My hero is Ray Ramos, the youngest sibling in the family. He has a good business renovating houses, but he’s up against a real money pit of a mansion in King William. He needs a quick infusion of cash to finish the repairs, and he gets it by renting the house out as a séance location for a television medium. Unfortunately, Ray and the medium’s assistant, Emma Shea, discover the house doesn’t just look haunted—it’s actually the home of a very nasty spirit with a real yen for Ray. Between trying to keep out of the ghost’s clutches while doing a bit of clutching themselves, my H/H are kept pretty busy.

Here’s a taste of Happy Medium:

“Join hands everyone,” Gabrielle intoned in her most resonant medium voice.

Ramos gave her a piercing look, then took hold of her hand, extending his other hand across the table to Emma.

Gabrielle’s fingers were faintly damp, but Ramos’s were dry and hard. His calluses rubbed against Emma’s palm. For a moment she felt something like a mild electric shock tingle through her fingers. She pulled her hand away, staring.

Ramos stared back, his eyes wide.

“Take his hand, Emma.” Gabrielle frowned. “We need to get on with this.”

Emma extended her hand again, touching her fingers cautiously against Ramos’s palm. Nothing. Maybe she’d imagined the whole thing. Probably she’d imagined the whole thing.

Gabrielle raised her head, gazing up into the dim shadows overhead. “Is there anyone here? We call on you to come forth.”

Across from Emma, Ramos rolled his eyes. He had that sour look again. Just hold on a little longer, and we’ll be out of your way.

“Come forth,” Gabrielle whispered.

Ramos looked at her, then shook his head slightly.

And the candles went out.

Emma’s head shot up, and she turned toward the fireplace. There hadn’t been any flickering, any feeling of a breeze. One moment the candles had been burning, and now they weren’t. She gaped at Ramos, who was gaping back at her, his forehead furrowing. Somewhere overhead a door slammed.

At the head of the table, Gabrielle seemed not to notice. “Spirit forces, we call to you,” she crooned.

Something touched the back of Emma’s neck, a quick brush, so light she wasn’t sure she’d felt it. Then it came again, more definite this time, fingertips along the edge of her shoulder. She whipped her head to the right, but she couldn’t see anything in the gathering darkness.

Ramos’s hand jerked against hers. She turned back to him, but he was watching Gabrielle.

No, not Gabrielle. Beyond Gabrielle, toward the fireplace. The mantle glowed dimly in the twilight, as if there were lights beneath it. Then, one by one, the votive candles thumped to the hearthstone in front of the fireplace, bouncing lightly. Another door slammed upstairs.

Meg BenjaminAbout Meg:
Meg Benjamin is an author of contemporary romance. Her Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing is set in the Texas Hill Country and her Ramos Family trilogy for Berkley InterMix is set in San Antonio’s King William District. Meg’s books have won numerous awards, including an EPIC Award for Contemporary Romance, a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Indie Press Romance, the Holt Medallion from Virginia Romance Writers and the Beanpot Award from the New England Romance Writers. Meg lives in Colorado with her DH and two rather large Maine coon cats (well, partly Maine Coon anyway).
Her Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com and her blog is http://megbenj1.wordpress.com/.
You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/megbenjamin/), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1).
Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at meg@megbenjamin.com.

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

And if you want your very own taste of scary, Meg will be awarding an ebook copy of the complete Ramos Family Trilogy to one randomly drawn commenter during this tour.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post. For more chances to get your own copies of this terrific series, visit the other tour stops listed at Goddess Fish Tours.

VBT_HappyMedium_Banner

Review: The Warrior and the Flower by Camille Picott + Giveaway

warrior and the flower by camille picottFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
Series: 3 Kingdoms #1
Length: 307 pages
Publisher: Pixiu Press
Date Released: March 20, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Yi, a retired soldier, has lost everything he loves — his wife, his daughter, and his home. He seeks refuge from his heartache by plunging into a secret mission for the World Emperor. The assignment takes him to the doorstep of a brothel, where he witnesses the madam beating a young girl. Drawn by the child’s striking resemblance to his lost daughter, Yi rushes to her defense and negotiates for her purchase — after all, how hard can it be to care for one little girl? But between the child’s inquisitive nature and the dangerous secret she carries, he gets more than he bargained for.

My Review:

There obviously isn’t enough Asian-inspired fantasy, because The Warrior & The Flower is not just a captivating epic fantasy, but everything feels fresh and new because of the setting. So if you enjoy epic fantasy but are starting to feel like everything is a bit too similar, try The Warrior & The Flower.

So what do we have? The story feels like a classic; the warrior with nothing left to live for finds new hope and purpose by adopting a child. But it’s so much more than that.

The warrior of this tale, Yi, has lost his wife and child in the endless war between his people and the Sky Kingdom. The attack on his home is not random, he was guarding a strategic military asset, but his guardianship was a secret, which means that someone at his Emperor’s court has betrayed both the Emperor and Yi.

Yi either wants revenge, or death. Possibly both. Instead, he has his duty. A duty which requires him to travel back to court. Along the journey he rescues the child Tulip from a beating which would have killed her.

Tulip is a very precocious eight. The only world she has ever known is the Empire’s pleasure city, and her home in the brothel where her mother works.

But Tulip is much more than just a child; she also carries a secret, the import of which is not known to her. All she knows is that she can call the lightning.

It’s not until she is taken out of her setting, and brought to court, that she discovers who and what she is.

All she wants to be is Yi’s daughter, and she’s afraid that her secret will take that future away.

Escape Rating A: This story is captivating on so many levels. Yi starts out his journey at such a low point in his life, that watching the character emerge from his despair would make a terrific story all by itself.

Yi begins his journey not wanting to feel anything. He believes that it would be a betrayal of his love for his family to be anything other than a stone-faced and stone-hearted warrior. He doesn’t want to get involved with anyone or anything, including the old friends who come to drag him out of his depression.

Tulip changes everything. He starts out simply rescuing her, but then discovers that he has acquired an obligation to keep and care for her. He doesn’t want to care, but she melts his heart, bit by bit. Her uncanny resemblance to his dead child makes it both easier and more difficult for him. He is drawn to her, but feels like any consideration is a betrayal. And he has to learn how to care for a child; his wife raised their daughter, and he is often befuddled.

When they reach court, entirely new facets of Yi’s position, and the story, are revealed. The political infighting and backstabbing pushes the story along at a breakneck pace. Yi is more than a warrior, and his trusted position makes him both a target and a force for change.

Yi’s change of heart, or Yi finding his heart, reminded me a bit of the plot of the video game, The Last of Us. Hard-hearted warrior finds new life through caring for a child who is more than she seems. Classic, yes, but done excellently in The Warrior & the Flower by showing Tulip’s refreshingly candid point of view.

The story ends with Yi and Tulip beginning another journey together. I can’t wait to find out what they discover.

warrior

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Camille is giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem and the jinni by helene weckerFormat read: paperback provided by the publisher
Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Length: 486 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Released: April 15, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

My Review:

The Golem and the Jinni is so many different things, all at the same time. It’s been called magical realism, but that’s one of those terms that you have to define before you even begin.

It’s main characters are two beings that most people would say are creatures of myth and legend, but who find themselves in the midst of New York City in 1899.

I’m sure there’s an allegory, or any number of them, in that the story centers around the immigrant neighborhoods of the time, and that one creature is from Jewish legend, while the other was born out of stories of the Arabian Desert.

There is an opposites attract element, as Chava the golem was built out of clay, while Ahmad the Jinni is a fire spirit. Although I say “opposites attracting” this isn’t a romantic story, except in the broader definition of “Romance” as “Adventure”. Chava and Ahmad have adventures that inevitably lead them towards each other; because only they can understand what it feels like to be so completely different from everyone around them.

And that also reflects the immigrant experience.

What is felt strongly in this tale is both journeys of self-discovery. Chava starts out as a blank slate; she was created with certain characteristics, but has to learn how to be her own person. Even though she can’t change her essential nature, she still does change. The curiosity she was made with give her the ability to grow, even as she is forced to hide her essential nature.

Ahmad is let out of his bottle, just like the jinn of the stories. He has no memory of how he got to New York, the centuries he has spent imprisoned, or even how he was captured. But he knows who he is, or who he was. Even though he is out of the bottle, he is still forced to remain in human form by the original curse. So Ahmad also has to discover how to be what he is now, and let go at least some of his bitterness that he is no longer all he used to be.

Each of them has a mentor, a guide to the immigrant community they find themselves in, a person who also knows their secret.

Ahmad has to learn that his actions have consequences. Chava was born afraid of the consequences if she ever loses control of her actions.

They both believe that their meeting is chance. They’re wrong. Fate is directing both of them toward the fulfillment of an ancient curse.

Escape Rating B+: The evocation of New York City at the height of the melting pot is a big part of what makes this story special. You can feel the rhythm of the city, and the way that Chava and Ahmad fit into their respective ethnic enclaves conveys both the universality of their experience, and the seemingly subtle but often impossible to traverse cultural divides between the various immigrant communities.

They are each avatars of their people’s respective mythologies, and yet they have more in common with each other than with the groups that created them.

Chava tries her best to fit in, Ahmad barely gives lip service to the idea that he should. She is restrained, he is self-indulgent. Their respective stories of learning and adaptation bring the city alive.

But we needed a villain in order to bring the story to crisis and close. The insinuation of that villain, and the way his quest tied up all the loose ends, stole a bit of the magic. While Chava and Ahmad seem meant for each other because of their mutual otherness, discovering that it was literally true subtracted rather than added to the tale. But so much of the story is just fantastic, that I was glad to see these two reach beyond their mythical and mystical past to find a future together.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Written in RedFormat read: ebook.
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook.
Genre: Urban Fantasy.
Series: The Others #1.
Length: 433 pages.
Publisher: NAL.
Date Released: March 5, 2013.
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBook Depository.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Thoughts:

Anne Bishop is a truly terrible writer. There is really no way to get around that fact. She’s overly fond of pig latin italics and Portentously Capitalized Common Nouns. You know going into her books that there will be utterly painful dialogue, rampant goth sensibilities, a whole lotta weird sexual shit, lazy world-building, and the Mary-est of Mary Sues.

Acrackedmoon provides this fantastic summary of Anne Bishop’s defining work – the Black Jewels trilogy:

It’s got dragons and unicorns and they all love her, and then when the cock-ring becomes too much he bites someone’s clitoris off.

Despite all of these blatant issues, Bishop somehow manages to remain hella entertaining. And so I picked up a copy of Written in Red. Maybe she’s turned over a creative leaf, maybe there will be something different in this series, maybe….. and I’m proven wrong in the prologue. Time to settle in and count the Bishopisms.

  • Pretentious Italics? Check! The “Others” call themselves the terra indigene. In every other sentence. Much the way we homo sapiens always refer to ourselves by genus and species classification. The protagonist has her own special designation of cassandra sangue – something repeated in as many conversations and internal monologues as possible. This here is some serious shit. Meg = Blood + Prophecy. 
  • Capitalized with loving care? Absolutely! The Others and their stuff are Too Important to demean with lower case. Understand me bitches?
    • Wolf, Crow, Hawk, Coyote, Grizzly, Elemental, Winter, Air, Spring, Fire, Earth, Water, Courtyard, Wolfgard, Chambers, Corvine, Hawkgard, Crowgard, and Pony Barn are adoringly capitalized at every opportunity.
    • As is Meg’s third synonymous designation, “The Thousand Cuts.” Why give a protagonist one title when she can have three! Blood prophet vs cassandra sangue vs The Thousand Cuts. Which do you prefer? No matter, you’ll have the opportunity to see them all overused.
  • Goth Glitter? Check! Our three main Vampire Sanguinati characters are Vlad, Nyx, and Erebus. All of whom are, incidentally, tall, dark, sexy – and can literally transform into smoke.
  • Bizarre sexual dynamics? Double check.
    • First up we have Meg, who experiences “ecstasy that is similar to prolonged sexual pleasure” anytime she verbalizes a prophecy from a cut. If she dares to keep the visions to her herself, she’ll suffer indescribable pain and not a smidgeon of pleasure. Do you understand? MASTURBATION IS BAD!
    • Just in case there isn’t enough creepy for you, consider the obvious set up for a werewolf Wolf /vampire Sanguinati love triangle in book 2. Meg’s pain when she cuts, or screams of fear when attacked, are excruciatingly arousing to The Others. Who spend an inordinate amount to time considering humans as “meat” and “prey.” Because nothing is sexier than knowing if your ladylove bleeds, she’ll suffer agonizing pain, orgasm, and then you can eat her.
  • Aus Written in RedMary-Sue? Check! Meg is beautiful, kind to everyone, the most powerful prophet ever, and has a special scent that just drives all the Other boys wild. Everyone loves Meg upon meeting her, giving her unheard of privileges and special treatment. Oh, this area that NO ONE IS EVER ALLOWED IN EVER? Meg’ll get a pass within 30 seconds! Oh, these Others who don’t give a fuck about anything? Instants BFFs! They’ll destroy civilization for their precious Meg.
  • Lazy-World Building? With bonus racism! The Others are all basically First Nations, except they are monstrous killers who literally slaughter and eat the European colonists. They only let them live so they can take their stuff. Because First Nations people would never be able to invent anything so complicated as  jewelry, dog beds, or cartoons. Tor notes that there was potential for a fascinating look at colonialism and a world were the Native populations won – but this is Anne Bishop. She’s not tackling sensitive issues. She’s wallowing in The Erotic Pain of the Thousand Organism Cuts while the Others devour the special meat of their enemies.

Escape Rating: D+ because there is nothing good about this book – and yet I read it all the way through. Anne Bishop remains inexplicably entertaining, despite showing no growth as a writer, or creative process deeper than a 13 year old’s livejournal.

Written in Red will pair well with a drinking game. Take a shot every time someone does something stunningly out of character because of Meg. Or every time Meg does something that would have gotten anyone else brutally killed, but is instantly forgiven.

A Murder of Crows will be released in 2014, during which I expect Meg will be threatened with rape, get laid, and instigate a war. Which will be decidingly won in Book 3 after the death of some redshirts nobody cared about anyways.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Real Men Don’t Break Hearts by Coleen Kwan

Format read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Real Men #1
Length: 235 pages
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Date Released: December 10, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Ally Griffin is horrified to learn her new landlord is none other than the infuriating playboy Nate Hardy—the man whose wiles she just knows got her jilted at the altar six years ago. Add to it that her ex-fiancé Seth is showing up in her hometown of Burronga, Australia, to marry his beautiful new bride…for real this time. But the kicker? Everybody’s treating Ally as though she’s still heartbroken. She’s just fine, thank you very much, but could The Jilter have the decency not to hire her sister as his florist?

Nate Hardy is tired of his high-flying city career and bachelor lifestyle and is looking for something more real. The last thing he needs is to find himself undeniably attracted to Ally, the woman with whom he never saw eye-to-eye. But is he even capable of what Ally wants and deserves?

As Ally tries to pull her life out of the rut it’s fallen in, she doesn’t count on Nate stirring up her emotions. A short-term fling with the resident bad boy is practically irresistible, but only if she can guard her heart…

My Review:

Real Men Don’t Break Hearts by Coleen Kwan is simply a light and fun contemporary romance from Down Under.

It’s never a good day when you discover that your ex-fiance is coming home to get married. Especially when he’s coming home to marry someone rich and famous.

Not that Ally wants him back. Not marrying Seth was probably the best thing that happened to her. It’s just that, well, the rent on her gift shop is two months behind. And when Seth left her at the altar, her dreams of a future pretty much got left at the altar as well.

Six years later, she still hasn’t found any new dreams. The gift shop isn’t even her idea. When her Nana’s health started to fail, Ally was the one who was available to take over the shop. It might be in her name, but it’s still really Nana’s shop.

Ally wanted to open a coffee shop. Or go to University. Instead her life is on hold.

Then it all blows up. Her elderly landlord sells the building housing her shop and her apartment to Nate Hardy, the town’s former bad boy. Her ex-fiance’s best friend. The man who had to deliver the bad news to her that her wedding was off.

Ally’s sure that Nate never liked her. That he’s the one who convinced Seth to dump her. That he was happy when Seth left her. And now he’s back in town, and she’s sure he must be thrilled that his buddy can rub salt into her supposed wounds. No one knows that those wounds aren’t quite the ones that everyone thinks they are.

She throws soap at him. She throws him out of her shop. Ally now is nothing like the little goody-two-shoes Nate remembers.

And he can’t get her out of his mind.

Nate isn’t the bad boy that Ally remembers, either. He’s not a boy any more. He’s also not bad. He’s come back to town to re-open his brother’s landscaping business. To make up for a lot of past mistakes. To make a fresh start.

And she can’t get him out of her mind.

Maybe they can both finally leave the past behind them. Maybe they can make a fresh start…with each other.

Escape Rating B+: This is a lovely contemporary romance that will put a smile on your face when you finish. You might have a couple of tissues by your side, but that’s okay. They won’t be too damp.

Nate is a former bad boy who grows up and comes home to find out what he wants to do with his life and who he wants to be now that he’s grown up.

Ally has been wounded and her family has been protecting her for too long. She needs to take charge of her own life and decide what she wants to do instead of just drifting. The wounds were very deep, even more so because she’s kept them secret for so long.

They find each other at the right time. Their relationship starts out as “friends with benefits”, then they go through a certain amount of misunderstandammits as they start negotiating towards more.

Their reasons for their caution with each other are well-done. They have history but six years is long enough to put it behind them, if they work at it. Which they do.

Read Real Men Don’t Break Hearts for a sweet and well-earned happy ending.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Seasons’ Greetings

Hot Holiday Hop

The Hot Holiday Hop is organized by Romance at Random, sponsored by Random House

The prizes are

  • Grand Prize $25 Gift Certificate to a retailer of your choice!
  • 10 print copy winners of RELEASE ME, must be 18 or older!
  • 15 Net Galley Preview copies of RELEASE ME, must be 18 or older!

Here’s how to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Hobbit Day

September 22 is Hobbit Day. Remember? The beginning of The Lord of the Rings, the very first part of The Fellowship of the Ring, starts out in Hobbiton. It starts with Bilbo and Gandalf discussing Bilbo’s upcoming eleventy-first birthday. A birthday he shares with his nephew Frodo. Frodo will be thirty-three on that day, his “coming-of-age”. In hobbit legal terms, Frodo will be an adult.

J.R.R. Tolkien named that birthday as September 22. Then he backtracked and said that the Shire Calendar might not be quite the same as the other Western Lands, and maybe the date was off a little. But the American Tolkien Society went with the text as written, and declared that September 22 was THE day in 1978.

Hobbit Day made me look back at the books and what they mean to me. I read The Hobbit for the first time when I was 9, give or take. And read The Lord of the Rings in the next year or so after. A friend’s older brother loaned them to me. Eddie, wherever you are, I still remember you fondly for that.

I sometimes wonder how many other kids read Narnia after LOTR? It’s supposed to be the other way around. Narnia was way more age appropriate when I was 10 or 11. I know I didn’t get everything that was going on in LOTR the first time I read it. Didn’t matter. I kept re-reading it. All the way through the rest of grade school. And high school. And college. I lost count somewhere after the 25th re-read. I kept re-reading because I got more out of it each time. I understood more as I grew up.

I got more annoyed too. I loved the story. Still do. But there was no one for me to identify with. There are no strong female characters except Galadriel. I wanted to write a new version with at least one girl added to the fellowship. Fantasy has changed since Tolkien, and now women are heroes. But before Tolkien, fantasy wasn’t even considered literature. As always, today’s writers stand on the shoulders of giants. Tolkien was one, even if he didn’t intend to be.

There are recommended ways to celebrate Hobbit Day. Hobbits regularly eat 7 meals per day. They also walk barefoot–all the time–even outdoors.

A movie marathon would be good, too. Peter Jackson’s vision of Tolkien’s world was pretty close. When I saw the opening scene of Fellowship, Hobbiton came to life, and I teared up. My fantasy was suddenly in front of me. But movies are always compromises. Please never judge a book by its movie.

The best celebration of Hobbit Day would be to visit Tolkien’s world as he wrote it. If you have read them before, maybe it’s time to read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit again. If you have never had the pleasure, I envy you the journey of discovery that awaits you. Me, I plan to dip into some of my favorite scenes again.

Tolkien was right. The road does goes ever on and on. I still love to travel a bit of it with him.

Happy Hobbit Day!