Friday, 19 September 2014

Alice Hoffman is coming to an E-Reader near you

Celebrate Alice Hoffman

Today, eight of Alice Hoffman’s first novels will be available for the first time on ebook, including New York Times and national bestseller, Seventh Heaven. One of the most prolific American authors of magical realism and contemporary literary fiction, Hoffman’s works have none-the-less found readers in all genres who connect with her deeply moving stories about relationships, family, identity, and survival.

Commemorate classic works by Alice Hoffman

September 23rd will be an exciting day for readers everywhere. The release of these novels is an opportunity to celebrate one of the most influential authors of the 21st century, and share in the imaginative vision and powerful prose of Alice Hoffman.

What you can do:

v Share this video, featuring Alice Hoffman discuss the transformative power of imagination and how it influences her fiction.
v Review her free egalley copies of her novels, Property Of and Seventh Heaven, now available exclusively on NetGalley.
v Write about your first experience with the author, or invite your readers to tell you about the first Alice Hoffman novel they read.

About Seventh Heaven and Property Of

A bestselling novel of suburban daydreams and the magic of one woman who makes her own way in the world 

On Hemlock Street, the houses are identical, the lawns tidy, and the families traditional. A perfect slice of suburbia, this Long Island community shows no signs of change as the 1950s draw to a close—until the fateful August morning when Nora Silk arrives.

Recently divorced, Nora mows the lawn in slingback pumps and climbs her roof in the middle of the night to clean the gutters. She works three jobs, and when her casseroles don’t turn out, she feeds her two boys—eight-year-old Billy and his baby brother, James—Frosted Flakes for supper. She wears black stretch pants instead of Bermuda shorts, owns twenty-three shades of nail polish, and sings along to Elvis like a schoolgirl.

Though Nora is eager to fit in on Hemlock Street, her effect on the neighbors is anything but normal. The wives distrust her, the husbands desire her, and the children think she’s a witch. But through Nora’s eyes, the neighborhood appears far from perfect. Behind every neatly trimmed hedge and freshly painted shutter is a family struggling to solve its own unique mysteries. Inspired by Nora, the residents of Hemlock Street finally unlock the secrets that will transform their lives forever.

A tale of extraordinary discoveries, Seventh Heaven is an ode to a single mother’s heroic journey and a celebration of the courage it takes to change.

The mesmerizing debut of a major American writer

On the Night of the Wolf, the Orphans drive south on the Avenue, hunting their rival gang, the Pack. In the lead is McKay, their brooding, courageous President. Left waiting at the clubhouse is the Property of the Orphans, tough girls in mascara and leather who have declared their allegiance to the crew. Tonight, a new girl has joined their ranks. She waits only for McKay.

Drag races, dope, knife fights in the street. To the seventeen-year-old heroine of Alice Hoffman’s stunning first novel, the gritty world of the Avenue is beautiful and enthralling. But her love for McKay is an addiction—one that is never satisfied and is impossible to kick. Deeper and deeper she falls, until the winter’s day when she decides to break the spell once and for all.

A strikingly original story about the razor-thin line between love and loss, Property Of showcases the vivid imagery, lyricism, and emotional complexity that are the hallmarks of Alice Hoffman’s extraordinary career.

Alice Hoffman Quotes

"Magic in fiction is a long tradition. One of the reasons we like fables and fairy tales is that they’re emotionally true, and page-turners at the same time."
“Shut up and do not think. All the theorists agree: shut up and keep the words from being said. And all of the scars will remain invisible; and all of the scars will remain under the skin. Where they belong.” Property Of

“Sometimes the right thing feels all wrong until it is over and done with.” 
Practical Magic

“You build your world around someone, and then what happens when he disappears? Where do you go- into pieces, into atoms, into the arms of another man? You go shopping, you cook dinner, you work odd hours, you make love to someone else on June nights. But you're not really there, you're someplace else where there is blue sky and a road you don't recognize.” —Here on Earth

Reviewers on Alice Hoffman’s work

“Alice Hoffman hits bull’s-eyes on the incomprehensions between the young and the old, on the magic and pain of ordinary life. She is erotic and romantic . . . funny . . . clever and humane.” —The Times (London)

“With her glorious prose and extraordinary eye . . . Alice Hoffman seems to know what it means to be a human being.” —Susan Isaacs

“A remarkably envisioned novel, almost mythic in its cadences, hypnotic . . . The imagining is true, the writing lovely.” —The New York Times

“Showing the magic that lies below the surface of everyday life is just what we hope for in a satisfying novel, and that’s what Ms. Hoffman gives us every time.” —The Baltimore Sun
“One of the best writers we have today—insightful, funny, intelligent, with a distinctive voice.” —The Plain Dealer

“Miss Hoffman heals wounds with the gentle touch of an angel.” —Joseph Heller

“Hoffman is operating in Kafka’s realm, in the territory of I.B. Singer, and of Tolstoy’s folk tales. . . . She has tapped some timeless quality of human experience.” —Newsday

“A reader is in good hands with Alice Hoffman, able to count on many pleasures. She is one of our quirkiest and most interesting novelists.” —Jane Smiley

“Alice Hoffman is the American Brontë.” —Michael Malone

“Haunting . . . Alice Hoffman is a daring and able writer.” —The New Yorker

“Like Anne Tyler, Hoffman spins a story enchantingly, with the undeniable force and vividness of a dream, and a dream’s own logic.” —Ms. Magazine

Review: 'Age of Iron' by Angus Watson

Age of IronI am absolutely thrilled to be today's stop on the blog tour for Angus Watson's Age of Iron, which was released on the 2nd of September. There is always a danger when books are compared to contemporary tv shows (Game of Thrones in this case) that they are an inevitable let down because they're not as rich or as visual as the show is. Thankfully that wasn't the case with Age of Iron and I really enjoyed it. Many thanks to Orbit for sending me a copy of the book for this review.
Bloodthirsty druids and battle-hardened Iron Age warriors collide in the biggest epic fantasy debut release of 2014.
Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar's army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people. 
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar's most fearsome warriors, who's vowed revenge on the king for her sister's execution. 
Now Dug's on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join ­- and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that's going to get them all killed . . .
It's a glorious day to die
I am currently studying to become a Medievalist and I can't count the amount of times that people have thought that the inhabitants of Britain still lived in caves during the Iron Age. Instead of continuing this ignorance, Watson's story is ultimately human and neglects many of the stereotypes that unfortunately cloud many fantasy/historical fiction novels, especially regarding women when in fact women enjoyed a lot of rights before Christianity came to Europe. My favourite character in Age of Iron was therefore probably Lowa. She is strong, emotional, full of action, sexual and her position within the novel is never questioned. Watson writes her as a key character who drives the plot. This might sound normal, but many novels and films actually suffer from strong female characters who are only there as guides. They are the ones who are clearly capable of great deeds and yet they have to stand aside for a male character to take up the spotlight they were more than capable of filling. Although Dug is arguably the main character in this book, Lowa has her own path and follows that. The same counts for most of the other characters, all of which had their own story lines which seemed to come together quite beautifully in the end.

Watson's writing is evocative and this is really what brings to life a landscape that is unfamiliar to many readers. Everyone has probably seen a Marie Antoinette movie or knows what Henry VIII was like, but what exactly would a castle from the Iron Age look like? Since there was hardly anything to base his story on, in the sense of historical evidence, Watson was given licence to invent freely and he does exactly that. His world-building is vivid and imaginative, without seeming ridiculous. He creates a scene landscape feels both familiar and yet different enough to tickle the reader's curiosity. He also deals very adequately with the tradition of Druidism, which is, too often, ridiculed. Even among Druids there are wise ones and ridiculous ones and Watson offers us everything. Although I am not quite convinced at the choice of names for the characters, I can't really suggest any ones which would have maybe been more accurate.

Clocking in at 560 pages, Age of Iron is a whopper. However, the pages flow by and the story sweeps you along. Although I needed the first chapter or two to settle into Watson's style and the story but then I was off and didn't really stop until I reached the end. The novel takes a lot of unexpected turns and the switching of narrators between chapters means the reader gets to see the story from a lot of different angle. Naturally back in the day they didn't have any way of staying up-to-date with their companions so the switching really helps to make sure the reader stays attached to all the different characters and it also does a lot to up the suspense.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!!!

I absolutely loved Age of Iron. I raced through the novel and didn't want to put it down. Each of the characters had something endearing which means that there is not a chapter that feels like a waste. I would recommend this to history fans and readers who are looking for a read with strong female characters.

Check out the rest of the blog tour on the poster further up! Age of Iron by Angus Watson (Orbit) is now available as a paperback and eBook (at AmazonBarnes & Nobles and many other places).

Friday Memes and 'Age of Iron' by Angus Watson

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowLast Friday before university starts again!! I can't believe it's my last year already, which is just waay too scary to think about because I don't want it to end. But let's get to the memes rather than lose ourselves in university nostalgia!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was submitted by Take Me Away...:

Blogger pet peeves? (Like when I've drafted an entire post, ready to publish it, and I see somewhere I've left out a html code... When I didn't even do my post in html)

I'm quite bad when it comes to html so sometimes I forget to remove the white background when I copy a blurb from Goodreads and I just hate seeing it on my blog because it clashes with the background! But my major pet peeve is actually something that is probably more my fault than anyone elses: how does one schedule a post? I still don't know!! Whenever I try to schedule a post, it simply doesn't get published and I come back after a day of work without anything having been posted!

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer and this week's question was suggested by Stephanie over at Books Are Cool:

How important is a book's cover to your overall impression of it?

That's a very good question! There is the famous saying 'Don't judge a book by its cover' and although it does make sense it doesn't ring quite true. I think a cover is an incredibly important part of the book because it often shows you which aspects of a book are considered important by its publisher. For example, in romance novels you always know what to expect because of the fainting women and the brooding, strong men on the cover. Also, if I don't like a cover I'm less likely to want to read it if it doesn't draw me in.

Age of IronThis week I'm using Age of Iron by Angus Watson for Book Beginning (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice). I am today's blog tour stop for this book, so drop by my review here!
Bloodthirsty druids and battle-hardened Iron Age warriors collide in the biggest epic fantasy debut release of 2014.
Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar's army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people. 
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar's most fearsome warriors, who's vowed revenge on the king for her sister's execution. 
Now Dug's on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join ­- and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that's going to get them all killed . . .
It's a glorious day to die
'"Mind your spears, coming through!"Dug Sealskinner shouldered his way back through the ranks. Front rank was for young people who hadn't learned to fear battle and old men who thought they could compete with the young.' p.1
I really liked this beginning because it shows Dug's dry wit quite well, while also showing his sense of realism. The beginning did take me some time to get into the book, but after the first chapter or two, I was pretty much sold.

'Even in Maidun's army wanton murder was frowned upon. Unless it was Zadar's idea.' p.56
I just thought this was another great example of the humour in the book. It's almost morbid at times but it is also something that will make you laugh. And these two sentences already tell you quite a lot about the bad guys!

So, that was my Friday! Have you got any pet peeves? And do you care about covers?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Best Dumbledore Moment

I'm currently on my third day of full-time working after an exhausting weekend and I can feel my attention-span decreasing by the hour, as is my capability of being really enthusiastic. However, Harry Potter can always get my spirits up, so I am actually excited to get to it! Harry Potter Moment of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts and this week we're picking:

Best 'Dumbledore Moment'!

Why are all these moments always so hard to pick? But I definitely think my favourite moment was when Dumbledore took on the Inferi in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince! He had already drank all of that poisonous liquid (I have forgotten the name for it, in case it had a name) and he was clearly weak and then he still managed to save Harry and perform some of my favourite magic in the whole series!

Just look at that gif, doesn't it make you shudder? This scene is also helped by some amazing music of course, but the cinematography really made me love this moment. It was already amazing in the book, but it was bad ass in the movies! I even preferred it over the Dumble-Voldy fight in Order of the Phoenix which I definitely preferred in the books!

So, what's your favourite Dumbledore moment?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Spotlight: 'Moral Order: The Rise of Luca C. Mariner' by Phil Pauley

Moral Order: The Rise of Luca C. MarinerI'm honoured to  be part of the blog tour for the launch of Moral Order: The Rise of Luca C. Mariner by Phil Pauley, hosted by Authoright. This book sounds absolutely amazing and yesterday was its launch day!
Society has been ripped apart by environmental decay and the battle scars of progress. Solar storms, extreme weather, barbaric tribes and outcasts rule the planet. In the 22nd century, no one lasts in the Wilds for long. 
Shielded from this world, teenager Luca C. Mariner lives a privileged existence in one of the last remaining Megacities. Yet his tranquil life is about to be shattered as Luca and his friends are thrown into the brutal reality of the Wilds when Earth is attacked by a merciless alien alliance. Luca, fragile humanoid Ceiba and feisty Asia-Mae are catapulted into a thrilling adventure of intergalactic and deep sea mystery. They must battle against time and use their strength of friendship to become leaders of a new resistance. But is it too late to restore moral order across the universe and ultimately save humanity from imminent collapse?

Doesn't that sound really interesting? I really like the sound of how Pauley uses contemporary themes such as the environmental crisis as a base for his book. He was also kind enough to allow me to post a QA, but first, some info about him.

Phil Pauley
Phil is an internationally recognised conceptual designer and futurist. His innovative designs have been featured heavily on a number of high profile technology, lifestyle and popular science websites, blogs and news sites. Phil works developing innovative initiatives to tackle corporate, social and global issues. 

Authoright Twitter:


Why did you choose to write for the YA and Sci-Fi genre?

Most of my designs are near-futuristic which appeal directly to the younger age group so it was a natural audience and genre to select.

Are the names of your characters important/ meaningful in some way?

LUCA means “last universal common ancestor” which refers to the most recent organism from which all organisms now living on Earth descend. Most of my characters have names with a deeper meaning.

How much of an influence is your professional career on your writing?

My conceptual design (and digital learning work to a degree), especially my subsea habitat designs are also my passion from which the book has evolved.

What authors/books do you feel have influence your writing?

Jules Verne has always been a strong influence as is most recently, JK Rowling

What’s your must-have snack to have on hand when you’re writing?

I’ll eat anything and everything, especially chocolate but I do like strong cups of tea!

Do you have any writing tips for budding authors?

Everything I do is rooted in a deep-seated passion for a subject. Find what inspires you!

What books do you enjoy reading? What are you reading now?

I like most books featured on and I am currently reading The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism

What do you hope to achieve with Moral Order?

I hope to ignite a spark of enthusiasm about inspiring collective action towards caring for our planet...

What’s next for Moral Order?

I’m preparing to complete the second book.

Do you prefer writing or designing?

Designing a concept with a pencil and blank sheet of paper is effortless and is something that has always come naturally for me. Creating a book series is a new skillset that I am still trying to come to terms with.


I think that as a concept designer, Pauley's world building will be exceptional!

Check out the other dates of the launch tour to the left!

Moral Order: The Rise of Lucas C. Mariner by Phil Pauley (published by Clink Street Publishing, RRP £8.99 paperback, RRP £2.99 ebook) is available 16th September 2014 at online retailers including ordered from all good bookstores. For more information, please visit, .

Tomorrow's post will be over at Manic Readers,!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Friday memes and 'Storms of Witchcraft' by Emerson W. Baker

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's my birthday!! I'm officially 21 which means I'm not allowed to legally drink in America, not that that does me any good over here in the UK. It does feel like I'm not at an 'officially grown up' age, so I'll try to be a bit more adult ;) No promises though. Now, let's get onto these memes!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and this week's question was suggested by Jess over at GREAT Read and is:
Before blogging (dark times people!) how would you find out about new books or did you?

I actually am not quite sure, it feels like such a long time ago! I got most of my books from family, I think, and because I wanted to study English I looked up a lot of lists of books to read which meant I tried to read Catcher in the Rye at twelve, which wasn't a good idea. The first Twilight book on the other hand was a bit more of a hit at that age, although when I was fifteen those two switched around and Catcher in the Rye became a new favourite. OK, got side-tracked there. I got most of my new books from just seeing them in stores and since I tend to be wary of books that get hyped I missed out on most of them even then!
Book Blogger Hop
Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was submitted by Camille over at Girl meets Books (great blog name!):
What books would you want to read again for the first time?

Ugh, which wouldn't I? I watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night and realized I would love to read the Harry Potter books again for the first time and just be completely new to J.K.'s whole magical world. It was just such fun! I would also love to read Wuthering Heights again because I think I have decided on it being my all time favourite book and I would just love to experience that rollercoaster all over again. There are lots of other ones as well, like Pride & Prejudice, Frankenstein, Special Topics of Calamity Physics and more.

This week I'm using a book that has me slightly obssessed and fascinated for Book Beginnings (hosted over at Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (hosted over at Freda's Voice). That book is A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson W. Baker. This isn't the whole blurb, but it's a bit long:

Beginning in January 1692, Salem Village in colonial Massachusetts witnessed the largest and most lethal outbreak of witchcraft in early America. Villagers--mainly young women--suffered from unseen torments that caused them to writhe, shriek, and contort their bodies, complaining of pins stuck into their flesh and of being haunted by specters. Believing that they suffered from assaults by an invisible spirit, the community began a hunt to track down those responsible for the demonic work. The resulting Salem Witch Trials, culminating in the execution of 19 villagers, persists as one of the most mysterious and fascinating events in American history. 
Baker shows how a range of factors in the Bay colony in the 1690s, including a new charter and government, a lethal frontier war, and religious and political conflicts, set the stage for the dramatic events in Salem. Engaging a range of perspectives, he looks at the key players in the outbreak--the accused witches and the people they allegedly bewitched, as well as the judges and government officials who prosecuted them--and wrestles with questions about why the Salem tragedy unfolded as it did, and why it has become an enduring legacy.
I'm fascinated by witchcraft and Baker's account is really interesting. I've already learned so much about not only the Salem trials but also about Puritanism, Massachusetts' history and other, fascinating, witchcraft cases and I'm only a third in.

'Tucked away in a corner of the Peabody Essex Museum in the City of Salem sits one of the great artifacts of early American history: a small oak valuables cabinet. - Introduction'In the middle of January 1692, strange events began to take place in the Salem Village parsonage. Reverend Samuel Parris and his wife, Elizabeth, began to notice that their daugter, Betty, and niece, Abigail William, were behaving oddly.' - p.14
I decided to give you the beginning both of the intro and the actual book because it shows two examples of why the book is so interesting. Baker approaches the trials from a lot of different angles, such as for example the cabinet, while also giving quite detailed accounts of what the documents tell us. It's simply really interesting!

'Even the climate seemed to be part oft he conspiracy against New England. The 1680s and 1690s were part of the Maunder Minimum, the most extreme weather of the Little Ice Age, a period of colder temperatures occurring roughly from 1400 to 1800. Strikingly cold winters and dry summers were common in those decades.' p.58
Climate and environment are really important contributors to culture and this makes the book even more interesting because currently out climate is changing quite a lot as well. I'm not suggesting we'll soon have new witchcraft trials, but I can imagine some of our current world problems can be brought back to it.

So, that was my post for today, now I'm going to go blog-hopping!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Least Favourite Book

Thursday means Harry Potter, and Harry Potter, in my world, means happiness. I have been craving going on Pottermore for ages now and since I've gone back home for my birthday tomorrow I don't have to be at work so I'm going to spend the day pottering around there! (See what I did?!). Anyways, Harry Potter Moment of the Week is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts and this week's question is hard:

Least Favourite Book

I actually genuinely don't know. I haven't read the books in so long that all I have to go by are the movies. What I do remember is that every time a book came out I was incredibly excited and I loved it, no matter what. Every new story about Harry Potter was all I wanted and more so I don't think I ever read one that was disappointing, so I won't be able to pick one like that. Hhmm, plot-wise I always felt Goblet of Fire was my least favourite because it distracted so much from Harry's personal problems but then I really enjoyed how their personal relationships grew in that book because at that point it definitely changed from school friends to intense friendships, if you know what I mean. AAAGGH, I don't know what to pick. So here's a Buzzfeed post about '26 Times Tumblr Had Serious Questions about Harry Potter' and it's hilarious so definitely check it out. I was laughing out loud about halfway through!

Do you have a least-favourite book?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Manga Review: 'Les Misérables ' by Victor Hugo, SunNeko Lee

I have slowly been expanding my horizons, genre-wise, and next to comics I also decided to pick up mangas. The first one I picked up was UDON's Les Misérables and it may not have been the best decisions. I will not discuss the plot of the manga in depth, since I assume the plot of Les Misérables is relatively well-known.
The first release in UDON's new Manga Classics line! 
Adapted for stage and screen, loved by millions, Victor Hugo's classic novel of love & tragedy during the French Revolution is reborn in this fantastic new manga edition! 
The gorgeous art of TseMei Lee brings to life the tragic stories of Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert, and the beautiful Fantine, in this epic adaptation of Les Miserables!
Now, first I have to state that my reservations about this manga has, to a certain extent, nothing to do with the manga itself. Les Misérables has always been a novel about which I have had serious doubts because of Victor Hugo's writing style and because of some of the main characters. I even found the film very hard to sit through. Jean Valjean was never an interesting protagonist to me and I always hoped for Fantine to be able to do more in the narrative except suffer. UDON's version sticks close to the novel, as close as is possible when adapting such a gargantuan work into a manga. Naturally some side-plots had to be cut, as SunNeko Lee explains at the end of the book, but in many ways I think Hugo's work benefits from some trimming.

As a complete novice to manga reading, UDON's Les Misérables was quite an eye-opener. To my shame I have to admit I started reading it at the "wrong" side of the manga, i.e. the side that Western books are read, from left to right. After two pages I realised my error because starting with a flashforward to the very end doesn't make any sense and I restarted, properly this time. I am extremely happy UDON decided to stick with the way mangas are classically written, because by combining something as European as Les Misérables with Asian elements shows that there is absolutely no problem in putting the two together. The medium fits the story as well as any other and that is a really important thing to realize. TseMei Lee's illustrations were also beautiful, even though I have to admit that manga-style might not be entirely my thing. The art really matched the story and caught some of the aspects of the story beautifully.

I quite enjoyed SunNeko Lee's adaptation of the writing. Naturally a lot of Hugo's prose had to be scaled back to fit into the frames but Lee preserved a lot of the momentum that his style has. And by being able to cut out a lot of the description, which TseMei Lee picks up in her illustrations, the narrative flows a lot easier than it does in the novel. Once again, the scenes around the barricade were my favourites and I was pleased to see that they chose to show, rather than tell in some instances. Again Eponine was one of the most tragic characters although I wish her motives and personality were allowed to shine a bit more.

I give this manga...

3 Universes.

Overall I enjoyed reading UDON's Les Misérables despite not being a big fan of the original story. I appreciated how the medium changed the way the story was told, but I'm not entirely convinced yet that mangas are something for me. I would definitely recommend Victor Hugo and Les Misérables fans to check this edition out, but I'd also suggest it to anyone wanting to branch out from their usual reading.

Monday, 8 September 2014

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

I haven't done this meme in ages and I have definitely been feeling the effects of it! They really help to get the books that come in all on a row, quite literally, and that makes it a lot clearer for me what I have to read! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted over at Book Journey while Stacking the Shelves can be found over at  Tynga's Reviews .

2aaaStacking The Shelves [103]

On Saturday I had the luck (or misfortune, depending on how you view it) of finding another Oxfam Books & Music shop in Nottingham and of course I walked away with two books. Now, one of them is a strange yet interesting one, while the other was a no-brainer.

The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon WitchcraftThe Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland
This book is a real breakthrough in the field of witchcraft where secrecy is the general rule. Here the author withholds no secrets so that anyone can practice.

Am I planning to become a witch? No. Or at least, not necessarily. I don't really understand the whole Wiccan thing, partially because I simply haven't looked into it, but also because it seems a bit...abstract. But I am interested in Anglo-Saxons and although this is, apparently, from a lot later, it's always interesting to look into things that claim to be Saxon. And ever since Harry Potter came into my life magic is something I have wanted. I can't wait to crack into this one, even if it's just curiosity.

Beowulf: An Adaptation by Julian Glover of the Verse Translations of Michael Alexander and Edwin MorganBeowulf: An Adaptation by Julian Glover of the Verse Translations of Michael Alexander and Edwin Morgan.
The poem 'Beowulf' is one of the glories of European Literature. It was composed in Anglo-Saxon verse early in the eighth century and has come down to just one surviving manuscript. This is the text that Julian Glover has taken for this book.

I am a sucker for anything that has to do with Beowulf because it is one of my favourite literary texts. And when I saw this cover, the cover to the right is the one I have as well, I just wanted it. And what I've read of it so far it looks really interesting. And there are some beautiful illustrations in there as well.

Besides that I also discovered Oxford University Press on NetGalley and requested three books. Below are the covers and titles. I can't wait to dig into these!

Once Upon A Time by Marina Warner, A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson W. Baker, Twelve Voices from Greece & Rome by Christopher Pelling & Maria Wyke.

I'm going to be so intelligent after I've read these books. For Stacking the Shelves, here's a round-up of what I managed to review last week. Some of these books I actually finished quite some time ago but never got round to reviewing:
So, that was my meme post for today! How about your Mailbox, is it full?

Review: 'Arrow of the Mist' by Christina Mercer

I repeatedly spout about how fantasy is my favourite genre and yet I find it really hard to find fantasy books I genuinely enjoy. Whether that is because I am hesitant to pick up books in the fear of being disappointed or simply have bad luck picking books, it has resulted in me missing out. Then this book came to change that.
Terror strikes the Celtic inspired kingdom of Nemetona when barbed roots breach the veil of a forbidden land and poison woodsmen, including 15-year-old Lia’s beloved father. Lia and three others embark on a quest to the forbidden land of Brume to gather ingredients for the cure. But after her elder kinsman is attacked and poisoned, she and her cousin, Wynn, are forced to finish the quest on their own.
Lia relies on her powerful herbal wisdom and the memorized pages of her late grandmother’s Grimoire for guidance through a land of soul-hungry shades, trickster creatures, and uncovered truths about the origin of Brume and her family’s unexpected ties to it. The deeper they trek into the land, the stronger Lia’s untapped gift as a tree mage unfolds. When she discovers the enchanted root’s maker, it forces her to question everything about who she is and what is her destiny. Ultimately she must make a terrible choice: keep fighting to save her father and the people of the lands or join with the power behind the deadly roots to help nature start anew.
Middle-Grade is a sub-genre which is often very hit-or-miss for me. Authors sometimes don't manage to find a balance between both guiding their younger readers through their narrative while not treating them as fools. Mercer manages to combine both light and dark elements in her story that doesn't lie about the bad things that happen or pretend everything in the world is dark. Before I go into the characters more, I want to take some time to comment on how glad I was about the respect for nature within this book. It may seem a strange thing to praise, but it is one of the things I adore about Fantasy. A lot of recent books, especially YA, are set in towns, in metropolitan cities, inside houses, where nature is reduced to a park here or there. Mercer's book is infused with nature, with trees, herbs and animals, all of which form a crucial element of the world in which Lia lives. The respect with which she treats her surroundings and her wonder for nature are traits that while reading are transmitted to the reader and they are some of the best things you can take away from a book.

I myself am very interested in Celtic mythology and I loved seeing the strong influences the culture had on Mercer's novel. Naturally she adapted it to her target group, but it is clear that she has done the necessary research to not present druids as nutcases, as unfortunately often happens by accident, but simply as people in touch with nature. And this is also where I want to recommend Mercer for choosing a female protagonist. Fantasy novels have always had the benefit of strong female characters and it is great to see that tradition continued into the Middle-Grade part of the genre. Lia is a great example of a good female character that everyone should be able to empathize with. She is passionate about what she does, she is kind but not so self-sacrificing that she becomes a doormat, and she even has the time to cast her eye at a good-looking fellow, who in his own right has skills that would guarantee him a position in the novel. It is nice to see a story in which neither of the "romantic" characters are just there for the romance. Lia carries the novel without problem and never once do you question why the other characters follow her lead.

Mercer's writing is beautiful and moves very easily from comedy to tension to drama. She has also chosen to reflect her choice of Celtic inspiration in the way the characters talk. In the beginning I feared she was leaning on Disney's Brave a bit too much, but those worries disappeared relatively quickly. Although there are similarities between the film's main character and Lia, the comparisons end there and Mercer clearly crafts her own story which is filled with interesting twists and beautiful imagery. There are moments in the book which are absolutely gorgeous, which give Mercer the chance to really showcase her ability to play with words. It was enjoyable to me, who is clearly outside of the Middle-Grade target group, while never seeming to be out of range for younger readers.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

I really enjoyed reading Arrow of the Mist although I had worries originally because it was Middle-Grade. It's a great book that I would definitely recommend to anyone with children. It's a great introduction for younger readers into the possibilities of Fantasy. This book would be perfect for anyone looking for a fun Fantasy read with lots of possibilities. And with a sequel already out, it's clear that there is a continuing, interesting story here.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Weekly Overview

It's been the first week I've properly returned to blogging and I don't think I've done too badly. I've really enjoyed getting back into the memes and getting some reviews up. It can feel a bit like a chore sometimes when you're at the start of a post. But then once you start writing it just sort of flows. Here's a round-up of my week:

Ok, I'm not too disappointed about this week. Three reviews a week is a definite step up from two posts a week since the holiday! How was your week? Do you have a favourite post of the week? Leave a link in the comments :)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Review: 'Nyctophobia' by Christopher Fowler

21412133I requested this novel on a hunch from Netgalley, thinking I didn't know the author, and it has been one of my best hunches to date. This book was on my mind from the moment I started reading it and had to put it down for work till now.
An original thriller from bestselling author Christopher Fowler that reinventing the haunted house story.
There are two things you need to know about haunted houses. One, there's never been an actual authenticated haunted house. Two, it's not the house that's haunted, but the person. 
Callie is a young architectural student who marries Mateo, a wine importer, and moves to a grand old house in Southern Spain. Hyperion House is flooded with light, it also has a mute gardener, a sinister housekeeper and a sealed, dark servants' quarters that nobody has the keys for. And although initially happy, and taking care of Mateo's daughter, Callie can't help being drawn to the dark empty rooms at the back of the house, and becomes convinced that someone is living in there. 
Uncovering the house's history, she discovers the shocking truth. As Callie's fear of the darkness returns, she comes to understand the true nature of evil.
The novel couldn't work if Fowler didn't get the haunting aspects of the plot right and thankfully he does. One of my favourite movie genres is psychological thrillers, always thrillers over horrors. Blood scattered across walls and detached limbs gross me out and make me look away, but they don't scare me deep into my soul. In movies a lot can be done visually, of course, and in a novel all this happens in your mind, making the reading experience even more intense. If a thriller is well-written, it balances on the fine line between reality and fantasy that makes you doubt everything. And doubt, in my mind, is one of the strongest emotions humans feel and it is exactly the emotion that is triggered by the dark, because we don't know what's hiding in the corners. Nyctophobia is fear of the dark (nice segue, no?) and the whole novel is infused with the play between dark and light and reality and fantasy. It's also the only phobia that can be transmitted and this novel will most definitely make you reconsider sleeping in the dark.

Fowler's story gets a lot of its strength from its originality. I can hear you thinking 'haunted house, how is that original?' but Fowler brings some innovation to the old trope which largely comes from research. I have a pretty big love for architecture although I know nothing about it and I loved how much attention there was in Nyctophobia for the haunted house and its construction. At times the characterization is a bit sketchy but it is important to remember that a lot of the narrators in these kinds of books are unreliable narrators, in the sense that their own vision of events is skewed which adds to the mystery of the book. The first half of the book was very strong, clearly setting up the story and separating itself from many of the 'haunted house' cliches, but the third quarter wasn't quite as strong. However, the ending made up for any of the slack in the previous part and I was quite happy to both have some of my suspicions confirmed and to still have some surprises waiting for me.

On a quick side note, I was quite happy with the female main character. Callie has a troubled past which she has largely conquered but by which she is still haunted. She is educated and independent, but also desperate to please. Despite having problems with her mother she manages to be a good step-mother to her husband's daughter. What I am trying to get at is that Callie is quite a multi-dimensional character, she is not just a wife alone at home or just a mother trying to protect her kids, as we unfortunately often see in thrillers. Although I didn't agree with all the choices she made, I empathized with her and was happy about her as a character.

I thought I had never read anything by Fowler before until I saw a list of his previous books at the back of the book and saw he also wrote the Bryan & May series of which I reviewed one not too long ago. I never would have guessed these two books came from the some man. On the one hand, both are "mystical" if you want to be vague about it, but Nyctophobia is very different, not only in its female protagonists and non-British setting, but also in how it moves. Fowler's writing style is much more personal and on the one hand it feels like he takes his time with developing the story but on the other hand there is a quick pace to the book that heightens the tension.

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

I really enjoyed Nyctophobia, it is the best thriller I have read in ages and will read for a while. The main characters are really interesting and this is a take on the 'haunted house' trope that is truly refreshing and different. It hit all the right buttons and I will most definitely be rereading it soon. I recommend this not only to thriller fans but also to people looking for a story that is completely engrossing.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Friday Memes and 'Nyctophobia' by Christopher Fowler

It's Friday (Friday, gotta get down on.... ok) and I have the day off to spend it blogging, so I can't wait to visit everyone else's blog. Next week Friday it's my birthday so who knows how active I'll be then, probably a lot since I don't really have a life, but I'm going to enjoy today! So let's kick this post off. Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question is:
Are you also a writer and what genre or did you ever consider writing?

This is so weird because I actually just posted a short story of my own yesterday! Hop over here, it's called The Mermaid, if you want to waste some time. I'm an aspiring writer, which can be both good and bad. Reading is a major benefit because it introduces you to so many different styles of writing and using words, but it can also be majorly depressing when you see how skilled some people are with words. I tend to write short stories but I've just got an idea for a novel about dragons. If only it was as easy to write it as it is to imagine it in your head, we could all be authors! As you may have guessed I tend to write a lot of fantasy, or fantastical, fiction, but there are a lot of realistic touches to it.

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was submitted by Elizabeth over at Silver's Reviews.
How many bookcases do you have, and are they all in one room or different rooms?

Since I'm currently moving quite frequently my books are all over the place. I currently have two bookcases in my room, below are the pictures, and these hold my "important" books, i.e. the ones I always want to have with me and the ones I need for university.

On the left is a tiny bookcase which stands on my floor which has all the Oxford Universiy Press books which I have been reading, while the one on the right are two shelves on my wall where I save my "antique" books. They're not all technically antique but overall each of them is at least three times older than me and I'm twenty. Next to that I also have books stored in two drawers under my bed back in London. I might actually have to dig into those when I'm back next week because I'm missing some books.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Gillion over at Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda over at Freda's Voice. This week I am using Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler because I'm currently completely obsessed by it. I'm writing this on Thursday, a third into the book, but who knows where I'll be at on Friday! It's a really interesting story so far and it's even catering to my architecture kink!
An original thriller from bestselling author Christopher Fowler that reinventing the haunted house story.
There are two things you need to know about haunted houses. One, there's never been an actual authenticated haunted house. Two, it's not the house that's haunted, but the person. 
21412133Callie is a young architectural student who marries Mateo, a wine importer, and moves to a grand old house in Southern Spain. Hyperion House is flooded with light, it also has a mute gardener, a sinister housekeeper and a sealed, dark servants' quarters that nobody has the keys for. And although initially happy, and taking care of Mateo's daughter, Callie can't help being drawn to the dark empty rooms at the back of the house, and becomes convinced that someone is living in there. 
Uncovering the house's history, she discovers the shocking truth. As Callie's fear of the darkness returns, she comes to understand the true nature of evil.
A lot of my favourite movies are thrillers and so far Nyctophobia has all the right ingredients to raise my hairs, in a good way.

'The taxi driver spoke no English, but was kind enough to be unhappy about dropping me off in the middle of nowhere. He had the most sunburned face I'd ever seen, walnut-covered, with a chap white sailor's cap perched on top, more like a Greek sailor than a Spaniard. 
I looked out and saw the road, rocks shimmering in the heat haze, a dense dry row of gnarled olive trees. It looked like we'd driven into the middle of a spaghetti western. I half-expected to see buzzards circling the cliffs.' p.1
I really love how descriptive Fowler is. You can just see him setting up the scene, the abandoned landscape, the strange people, the lone heroine. But she's not as alone as she thinks...

'Celestia was a tall, elegant Englishwoman, a former artist's agent in her early seventies who had passed most of her life in Marylebone. She had moved here to Gaucia because of a divorce, a devotion to bullfights and a passion for chain-smoking cigarillos. She knew everyone in town, including the man who had once robbed her house. She have his children money to show that he had been forgiven, and her displays of largesse brought a certain amount of distant grave respect. She told me she did not miss Marylebone in the slightest, because who in their right mind would, but she did on occasion miss England.' p.56
I know this is technically too long but I didn't want to cut the brilliant character description short. I am, quite seriously, falling in love with this book. Celestia sounds like an amazing character and I can't wait to read more about her.

So, that was my post for today. I can't wait to see all your book shelves!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Own Writing: 'The Mermaid' by Juli Rahel

The Mermaid

It was late when Thornton stormed in through the door, shaking his head as if to rid his hair of water. Without a word he shed his coat onto the floor next to the door and sat down in front of the fire, warming his shaking hands by holding them as close to it as he dared. From my corner it almost looked as if he was trying to tame the fire, yet it happily continued to blaze heat into the room. Thornton had always been one of William's quieter friends, yet this brusque and taciturn entrance was quite contrary to his constant insistence on politeness and etiquette during his other visits. He had said not one word to William and Henry who sat at the back of the room and he hadn't noticed me closer to him between the door and the bookcase, although he usually showed off his cultured and practiced kindness by paying attention to poor little me. William stood up and the shuffling of his chair seemed to give Thornton such a fright that he almost toppled head-first into the fire.
'Dear God, William, do you have to give a man such a scare?' he exclaimed after regaining his composure. His voice was rough and scratchy, as if he had not used it in a while and had quite forgotten how. As he turned around the fire drew shadows on his face until one half was lot up with bright light and the other half was plunged in darkness. His eyes were open wide as if he was surprised, but his mouth was drawn into a grimace which gave his whole face quite a scared expression. I didn't like this look on him because it was so in contrast with his usually perfect gentleman behaviour and yet there was something fascinating in seeing this otherwise so composed man in pieces. I decided to remain quiet in my corner, as I usually was, and observe everything that would come to pass. William had pulled up another chair to the fire and sat opposite Thornton, looking at him concernedly.

'You look like a man who has a tale to tell and yet doesn't know where to start.' said William after a while. Clearly he could read his friend better than I could because to me Thornton looked like one struck dumb, rocking back and forth on his chair like a scared child.
'Henry, bring the liquor. I think Thornton here needs some liquid courage before he begins.' William loved nothing more than a good tale. As children we used to listen to our governess read u stories from books and after she left I would make them up. William would spend hours lying on my bed, listening to my every word. But as he got older and was allowed into a world that seemed to belong exclusively to men, he moved away from me and my stories until I became a shadow that came with the house, something a little cumbersome whose care he had also inherited upon Father's death. But the prospect of an exciting tale still had him rubbing his hands in glee, his eyes twinkling with delight, or maybe that was just the reflection of the fire. Henry arrived with the bottle of port from the kitchen and another chair. The three men looked like a group of conspirators who huddled closer together so their secrets remained secret. But the walls of this house had sharp ears and over the years I had become part of those very walls. Thornton gulped down a glass of port, which was immediately generously refilled. Finally, he took a deep breath and began to speak.

'It all started with me making my way to your house, William, since we always gather here at nine for a drink and a game of cards. On walking out my door it felt like such a pleasant night that I felt like such a pleasant night that I felt quite recovered from an earlier headache and happily went on my way. The air was fresh but pleasant for a November evening and the moon was giving plenty of light, which was fortunate because I had neglected to bring a lantern with me. As you know I usually avoid the moors between our houses because I think it a morbid and wild sort of place. But something, I don't know what, came over me tonight and I found myself taking the shortcut through the moors. It was eerily quiet and I was beginning to be wary of the place but then I reached the lake. It's only small but it seemed to me perfectly round, much like a mirror and equally smooth. I found myself just standing there, right at the shore, and staring into the lake. Once again I worries because didn't seem in control of my body. I couldn't come a muscle and my heart was madly beating. But then I saw something moving at the opposite end of the lake. Remember, William, on our Tour to the Adriatic, when we saw a shark swimming, its fin the only thing visible above the water? It was like that. A large finned fish was slowly swimming towards me in a straight line and the strangest thing was that a feeling of absolute calm beset me, I fear I was even smiling like a fool. When the fish was only a few feet away from me, I was now kneeling at the water's edge, it raised its head above water and turned, may God be my witness, into a woman. Or at least half a woman.'

Here Thornton's tale was interrupted by Henry guffawing. I suspect he had been drinking more than his fair share of the port.
'I'm sorry, old fellow, but are you really claiming you saw a mermaid in our own damnable marshes?'
He laughed again and refilled his glass, confirming my suspicions. Thornton wasn't laughing and neither was William, who was anxiously looking back and forth between his friends. On the one hand he looked like he wanted to laugh, but on the other hand he probably wanted to hear the rest of the story. I myself desperately wanted, no, needed Thornton to continue because I hadn't been this interested in something since William had brought home his books from university. Hardly anything ever happened in this house which only held me, a cook and Jane, the maid. From the top-window I could look into the village on a bright day, but it suffered from the same curse as the house. The moors were this place's and my salvation. To indifferent visitors they always looked the same, but I, who watched the moors every day, noticed the smallest changed. I could smell it when the wind changed, feel it when the sun shone strongest and knew which way the birds would fly. Whenever I could, I would walk into the moors.Once their stern honesty and raw beauty hid me from curious eyes I would run, jump and scream my lungs out. I knew the safe paths and those that looked safe and could have distinguished them blind-folded. But I had never seen a mermaid in the lake. Thornton continued after William urged him on and Henry grumbled an apology.

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Favourite Editions of the Books

I haven't done this meme in a few weeks and I have been missing it. And since this is the week in which the Hogwarts Express left for Hogwarts I have been extremely nostalgic so therefore it is high time to return to the Harry Potter Moment of the Week meme, hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts. This week we're picking:

Our Favourite Editions of the Books

This one is probably a bit of a no-brainer but I absolutely love my own editions and couldn't imagine reading others. Although they are in German and I'd love to read the books in English, I will always love my own editions the most. I already posted about my own editions when we had a similar question, so I won't go into more detail about them.

Instead, I thought I'd post some great editions I had seen out on the interwebs. Just look at the one on the right, looking all kinds of old and everything! It would fit right next to some fairytale books. I can totally see myself getting this edition for my future kids and just be like 'Yeah, Harry Potter has secretly been passed down for generations.'

Also, I don't know who made these editions, I think it's Bloomsbury, but just look at the cover for Prisoner of Azkaban! It's absolutely stunning. I love how it is on the one hand quite simplistic but then the drawings are absolutely stunning. And the way it is contrasting Harry's Patronus against the Dementors is a great reimagining of the scene in the book. So yeah, I can also see myself getting this one. If I'm honest I will probably end up with a collection of Harry Potter editions and no friends by the end of my thirties!

So, how about you? Do you have a favourite edition that is not your own?

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Comic Review: 'Spider-Woman: Agent of S.WO.R.D' by Brian M. Bendis & Alex Maleev

Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D.I never used to read comics as a child, unless Donald Duck counts, because somehow they weren't really on my radar. However, I would categorize myself as a massive geek, which means that the projects Marvel has brought to the silver screen in the last few years have brought me a lot of joy. I love the mix between fantastical, sci-fi and so much more that you find in superhero movies. Although at times I think that superhero narratives allow for lazy writing and characterization, Marvel has been doing really well. I decided to expand my knowledge of superhero and Marvel knowledge and picked up the Spider-Woman comics.
The team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev return to a Marvel comic for the first time since their Eisner award-winning run on Daredevil. Ripped from the pages of Secret Invasion and New Avengers, this explosive chapter follows the new adventures of Jessica Drew, aka: Spider-Woman, as she rediscovers her life in a world she did not make. Collects Spider-Woman #1-7.
I saw a post about Spider-Woman and wondered about her and her story. I was afraid she would be a female version of Spider-Man. However, I was thrilled to find out that Jessica Drew is her own character through and through. This run of comics, seven issues in total, is set after Jessica's body and life had been taken over by the Queen of the alien Krulls. Upon returning she doesn't know who her friends are and what she can do. I really enjoyed this as a starting-point for a "superhero". The superheroes we tend to see are conflicted but also surrounded by people who want to help, they have friends in places they never expected them and they get to prepare for their big battle. Jessica however starts from nowhere and it's not quite clear where she is at the end. It makes her very relatable. Although she has a terrible history, she never quite gives up and as such she is quite an inspiration. I will later be writing a more in-depth post about her as a character.

Bendis has given Jessica a very strong voice that consistently talks to the reader and brings her experiences very close. Of course a comic can't rely on interior monologue the way a novel does, but Benis manages to just have the right amount of Jessica's thoughts in there. I was also really glad to find out the dialogue wasn't too cheesy. Sometimes I come across panels from older comics and the dialogue is so cliche it is impossible to get through with a straight face. Although I've seen some controversy around Bendis and the way he treats women in his comics lately, I was extremely pleased with how he portrayed Jessica in this comic. She is blase, scared, strong, powerful and human all at the same time and it is in multi-dimensionality that characters gain depth and thereby become sympathetic.

Alex Maleev's drawing style is absolutely gorgeous and was definitely one of the major draws for me. Maleev and Bendis were going for a style that would also translate well into the show they made based on this series and it really does look 3D, in the best kind of way. They have combined depth and colour in a interesting and captivating way that makes Agent of S.W.O.R.D really special. Dealing with superheroes, supervillains and aliens, you don't want your illustrations to look too plain or ordinary since your characters are everything but ordinary.

I give this series...

4 Universes.

I am definitely going to read these comics again and they were crucial in solidifying my love for Jessica Drew, a.k.a Spider-Woman. On the one hand it's quick entertainment, compared to plodding through a massive novel, but it's a great launching platform from which great debates can be had. Definitely check this out if you're a comic fan because everyone needs Jessica Drew in their life!