Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Frostbitten by Kelley Armstrong

When I started reading Kelley Armstrong, I wasn't really sure that I would be all that interested in the urban fantasy world. Little did I know that she would quickly become one of my favourite authors, so it is always a pleasure to immerse myself in her world again.

I love the fact that there are multiple characters who are all strong enough to lead the stories, and that there are all sorts of different paranormal characters meaning that some times the book might focus on werewolves, other times on witches and warlocks, or something else! You never quite know.

My teaser this week comes from page 151 of Frostbitten:

And of course every car had to end...in a fifteen-foot drop over ground whizzing past fast enough to make my stomach lurch. That leap between shaking cars set my stomach plummeting every time, no matter how much clearance I had. My first foot would land and it always slid a little, just enough to rip an "oh shit" from my lips before I found my balance.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mailbox Monday: August acquisitions

The last Monday of the month means that it is time to share the books that have come into my house during the month. This is only my second time of participating, but then I realised that I always share the books that I have picked up from the library but I wasn't sharing the other books, so now I am attempting to change that.

Mailbox Monday was originally hosted at The Printed Page, but now it is going on tour so this month it is being hosted at Chick Loves Lit, so head over there to share your links, or to see what everyone else has posted about this week.

The Fairest Portion of the Globe by Frances Hunter - I worked with the author's on a feature post and giveaway at Historical Tapestry and was also lucky enough to receive a copy of the book as well.

Resilience by Anne Deveson - I won a copy of this book from Allen & Unwin, an Australian publisher.

The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian - I was offered a copy of this book for review as a result of participating in the Amy Einhorn Challenge, and I was more than happy to accept.

The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott - I have thoroughly enjoyed all of this author's book so I was very excited to receive a copy of it from the publisher. I was a little surprised at the format it was in - A4 sized pages. One of these days I will do a TSS post about the various formats that you get ARCs in.

The Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn - Another author I thoroughly enjoy reading and there was no hesitation in saying yes to this review request.

Burning Up - Anthology featuring Angela Knight, Nalini Singh, Virginia Kantra and Meljean Brook. I won this at Meljean's blog.

The Fatal Fashion, The Thorne Maze and The Fyre Mirror by Karen Harper - I happened to make a comment on a review that I couldn't get the later books in this series from my local library. Next thing I knew I had received these three books! Thank you!

I'll be back at the end of September to share the books that came into my house during the next month.

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: Q is for Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine featuring The Queen's Pawn by Christy English

Some time ago now I guest posted at Aarti's blog, talking about how much I enjoyed reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine. The feature, which is no longer running, was called Rosie's Riveters and the idea was to focus on women in literature who we found riveting. Here is a slightly edited version of my post:

Who is your Riveter?

One of my great loves, genre wise, is Historical Fiction, and so for this week's Rosie's Riveters, I have looked to the past, and chosen the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine.

What book does she feature in?

My early introductions to Eleanor were in Sharon Penman's excellent novels. There is a particular focus on her relationship with Henry II in the trilogy that starts with When Christ and His Saints Slept, and then continues with Time and Chance and then Devil's Brood. In addition she is one of the supporting characters in the Justin de Quincey mystery series.

Sharon Penman is not the only author to feature Eleanor to some degree. Even when she is just a supporting character any mention of her will capture my attention. Other books that she has appeared in that I have read include the historical mystery The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin and also in Elizabeth Chadwick's excellent William Marshal novels, particularly The Greatest Knight.
Other authors to have written about her include Jean Plaidy, Judith Tarr, and Margaret Ball, and there is plenty of non-fiction written about her as well.

Do you love her or hate her?

Love her!

Describe her personality- how would you describe her to a friend?

I think that my impression of Eleanor of Aquitaine is of a woman who was beautiful, but also powerful and driven. Other adjectives I might use are passionate, political, single minded and formidable.

What makes her riveting?

Eleanor of Aquitaine is riveting to me because she was a powerful woman in her own right, who married two powerful men, was queen of two countries, and was mother to two kings. She was apparently a great beauty of her time and lived an adventurous and tumultuous life.

She was queen of France until she divorced Louis VII. Not long after she married Henry II with whom it would appear she had a very passionate union, both when they were happy, and when they were passionately against each other. With Louis she had two daughters, and with Henry she had five sons and three daughters. Two of those sons would go on to become King of England, Richard the Lionheart and King John and Eleanor acted as regent for a time for Richard while he was on crusade. Eleanor herself had gone to Jerusalem with her then husband Louis VII during the second crusade.

For a long time Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry for aiding their son in a rebellion against Henry and was released only for limited periods of time.

What do you most admire/despise about her?

From this distance it is probably hard to know what Eleanor was truly like, but she is certainly a woman who left her mark on history when so many women were defined by their marriage and many were just footnotes in the notes. She managed to hold onto her lands, managed to get out of an unhappy marriage during a time when divorce was very difficult, and managed to leave a lasting impression through the ages.

If there is one thing that I would say that isn't a point in her favour it is that it appears that Eleanor wasn't the most maternal of women, although when you look through the family history, it appears that being a Plantagenet was to be quite a volatile character. I remember reading a quote once, but I can't remember who said it, something along the lines of "if you want to read about dysfunctional families, look no further than the Plantagenets".

Would you recommend reading the book in which the Riveter features?

I would absolutely recommend reading any of the books that I mentioned above, not only because Eleanor features in them, but also because they are excellent books in their own right.

Any parting remarks?

My image of Eleanor of Aquitaine has I think been irrevocably influenced by the experience of watching a movie from 1968 called Lion in Winter. Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for her performance as Eleanor and other cast members included Peter O'Toole and a couple of young actors called Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

I thought I would share a YouTube video of Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine. The film is set in Chinon at Christmas in 1183. Eleanor has been released from prison for the holidays, and the whole family is involved in scheming and plotting, and maneuvering to be the next person to wear the crown.

Hopefully it is clear that I would be pretty happy that this year has jokingly been dubbed the Year of Eleanor with plenty of books being released about this fascinating woman. I was therefore looking forward to reading The Queen's Pawn by Christy English, especially seeing as I had also enjoyed the interactions that I had had with Christy and witnessed her having with other bloggers and readers. When reading the book coincided with it being time to do Q for the Alphabet in Historical Fiction, I knew that this was the post I wanted to write. It is therefore unfortunate that I didn't really enjoy this book all that much.

Here's the blurb from the back cover:

A historical novel of the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine and the one person she loved more than power-her rival for the throne. 

At only nine, Princess Alais of France is sent to live in England until she is of age to wed Prince Richard, son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alais is an innocent pawn on the chessboard of dynastic marriage, her betrothal intended to broker an uneasy truce between the nations.

Estranged from her husband, Eleanor sees a kindred spirit in this determined young girl. She embraces Alais as a daughter, teaching the princess what it takes to be a woman of power in a world of men. But as Alais grows to maturity and develops ambitions of her own, Eleanor begins to see her as a threat-and their love for each other becomes overshadowed by their bitter rivalry, dark betrayals, conflicting passions, and a battle for revenge over the throne of England itself.
As soon as I started this book I had a feeling that it wasn't going to go all that well, simply because the narrative is first person with alternating perspectives. First person I can just cope with, although I do prefer other styles of narrative more, but I really am not all that keen on alternating perspectives.

One of the major issues that I have with first person narrative is that you can't hear what the other character is thinking. In this case, the author tried to get around this by having all of her characters be expert at reading the facial expressions of the others. Now, I agree that at times it is possible to read the emotions of other people by looking in their eyes, but in one chapter alone this happened more than 15 times - one chapter only, and that was a chapter that I just randomly chose. I didn't go looking to find the worst chapter as an example. They had squab for dinner nearly that many times as well!

" I saw the danger in his eyes for the first time." page 255
"He saw the honest pleasure on my face; that was what moved him more than my contrite words." page 256
"....I saw in his eyes that he would exact this price." page 256
"Henry look into my eyes. What he saw there must have satisfied him." page 257
"He looked down at me, and though his face was soft with love and spent desire, I saw his intelligence there shining back at me. " page 258
He kissed me, but his gray eyes were solemn - page 258
The knowledge did not show in his face, but only in his eyes. - page 261
I allowed him to see my intelligence so that he would know that I was not too simple to understand him, but that I kept my own counsel. - page 264
He looked at me, his gray eyes seeing me as if for the first time - page 264
I saw in that moment that Henry remembered the words he had spoken to me by the riverside when he had placed that crown of flowers on my head. - page 264
...it seemed I saw my own thoughts in his eyes, mirrored back at me. - page 265
Henry seemed to see this in my face.... page 266
I watched him, his eyes on me. I saw the wheels turning in his mind. - page 268
I could see nothing of his thoughts on his face - pages 269
Henry saw my fear, and how deep it ran - page 270
Henry look at me for a long moment, drinking in the truth from my eyes. - page 271
He saw this truth in my eyes, even as he stared down at me, and I saw the truth in his. - page 272

Every now and again there would be a couple of pages without this kind of eye reading but then it would start again and it would throw me out of the story every time.

So they are more writing issues than story so in order to be fair I did enjoy the storyline. Princess Alais is the daughter of the French king Louis VII, former husband of the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alais has grown up hearing nothing good about Eleanor and so when it is determined that she is to marry the English prince Richard, and that means that she is to go and live in England with Eleanor, she is a little fearful.

It turns out that Eleanor accepts her pretty much instantly as her daughter. If there is a female equivalent to a bromance, then that would be close to how these two feel about each other. After spending some time with some nuns where she turns out to have a talent for painting in manuscripts, Alais returns to Eleanor and finally meets the man who is to be her husband, and she develops strong feelings for him. Richard is however a man of his times, and when Alais finds out something about him, she feels very betrayed, and acts on the attraction that she feels to Henry II, Richard's father.

The characters in the novel were all manipulative, some more than others, and the quest for power, and controlling those who appeared to be in power was all consuming. This by necessity meant that the characters weren't particularly likable. When the betrayed becomes the betrayer, and the betrayer is in turned betrayed it makes for very tense times in the courts of England.

Normally if you see mention of Alais, she is a secondary character, so it was quite interesting to learn more about her background, and what her possible motivations might have been, and there was sizzling chemistry between her and Henry.

Henry II is a ruler that I find extremely interesting to read about, particularly in light of his relationship with Eleanor (the words volatile and complicated come to mind), and I do think that the various facets of this aspect of his later rule was shown well.

In the end, this wasn't a book that worked for me, and I can't tell you how disappointed I was when I realised that that was going to be the case.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, August 29, 2010

TSS: The Night Villa by Carol Goodman

I had a very odd experience this week, and it is one that I can't remember having before.

Firstly, to put it into context, I borrowed this book through Inter Library Loan, which at my library means that it is covered by a lovely green cardboard cover (for an example see this post). I had the book in my bag, and the cover started to come loose, and so I could read the previously covered over back cover copy. This is what I read:

Recovering from a shocking act of violence, Cory Chase, classicist and mythographer, decides that taking part in The Papyrus Project, which aims to restore the charred scrolls of Pompeii, might offer her a much needed escape. That is until she suspects that the Modern Pythagoreans, a cult who believe that a lost manuscript of Pythagoras may still exist, are also interested in the scrolls.

Suddenly Cory finds herself following a trail that leads her through Southern Italy, Sicily and to Pythagoras's birthplace, where she is pulled into a terrifying underworld of conspiracy to reignite an ancient cult that once rivalled Christianity in the Roman World...
Now in the early part of the book there is an incident where the main character finds herself in hospital and at one point she is asked to identify herself.

"Sophia Anastasia Chase," I told her, surprised my lips could still fit around the syllables.

Did you notice anything odd? Hopefully you did!

The main character in the book is named Sophie Chase. The main character in the back copy blurb is Cory Chase. Now to be fair there is mention of a Cory in the book, but it seems like a pretty big mistake to make at a publisher. Even more surprising is the fact that two years after being released the incorrect synopsis is still on Amazon.co.uk. There may have been later editions which have the correct details, but I didn't go looking for them.

I can't remember seeing such a blatant mistake before, although on Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich the inside jacket copy refers to an event that doesn't even happen in the book. So this week, I thought I would ask the question "What's the worst mistake you have seen in a book description from a publisher?"

This book was the last book left in Carol Goodman's back list. Now I will have to wait patiently for each new book to come out from her, although I did notice on her website that she has released an urban fantasy novel that she has written in conjunction with her husband under the name Lee Carroll. I have no idea if that book will be released here or not, but if I can get it I will give it a go, because I generally enjoy Goodman's writing.

It's  probably a good thing that this was the last of Goodman's books that I have read and not the first, because if it had of been the other way around I may not have read anymore from her because The Night Villa is my least favourite Goodman novel.

The novel starts with Classics Professor Sophie Chase as she is accompanying one of her students to an interview for a summer internship. Sophie herself had decided not to go on the trip to Italy, but when there is a terrible tragedy, she changes her mind. The aim of the trip is to try and find out more about Villa del Notte (The Night Villa) which was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the first century, specifically to try and locate some scrolls which may be previously undiscovered writings of Pythagoras.

Threaded throughout the novel there are both the modern narrative focusing on the excavations and other work being done, Sophie's personal history and her connection to members of a Pythagorean cult known as Tetraktyans, as well as a historical narrative which shared a little bit of what it would have been like to be living in the shadows of Mt Vesuvius on that fateful day.

The main thing that the team, which is funded by a wealthy benefactor, is looking for are scrolls that may have been written by Pythagoras, which explains why the cult might be interested in obtaining the scrolls by whatever means possible, but other parties also interested also include the Church, and Sophie herself who has previously written about a young slave girl called Iusta who history showed had been the subject of a very unusual court case.

I have mentioned before that I find Goodman to be a bit formulaic in that the main female character is usually a widow or divorcee who has an unusual interest or occupation, and who finds herself searching for the truth about events that happened some time ago and as a result finds herself in danger. Whilst some times that formula means that I know what to expect and I can find the reading experience very comfortable, this time that wasn't quite the case for me, as it felt like hard work reading through the novel. Part of the reason for that is that I think that there is an assumed level of knowledge related to the particular themes, this time mythology, and I don't think I knew enough of the mythology to appreciate some of the story.

I was very interested in reading this book as soon as I heard what it was about, mainly because I loved the idea of reading a book set in the location near Capri/Naples/Herculaneum, and the location was nearly enough to make the story more palatable, but in many ways the book seemed to still have quite a few unanswered questions by the time we get to the end of the book and the setting wasn't enough to make me turn a blind eye to those flaws.

In the end I didn't feel that I could give this book a rating of more than 3/5.

So, have you seen many mistakes of the nature I described above?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Library Loot: August 25 to 31

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and myself that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Yay! Library Loot! This week I got a combination of books and music, but before I share that, I just wanted to remind you that we are currently looking for a new Library Loot button. If you have graphic skills that you wouldn't mind using for Library Loot purposes, then all the details can be found here.

You may notice that my loot is heavy on romance this week. It is interesting how some times it works out that way! Here are the books that I borrowed this week:

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt - I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books I have read from this author, and I expect that this first book in a new series not to be any different.

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane - I heard some talk on Twitter predominantly about a man called Terrible. Once I found out which book it was from I had to borrow the first book in the series.

Dream Chaser by Sherrilyn Kenyon - Next book in the Dark Hunter series. I am working through this series in anticipation of reading Ash's book very soon!

I have been listening to the two albums that I picked up all this week and whilst they are both very different, they are both very enjoyable reads!

April Uprising by John Butler Trio - I watched Who Do You Think You Are? about John Butler, and it was a fascinating story, especially when he ended up in Eastern Europe with his family having been involved in a famous uprising, and as soon as I saw the title I knew that that experience had a least provided some inspiration for the album. Here is the song Revolution:

For Your Entertainment by Adam Lambert - I like both of the singles off of this album, so I wanted to listen to the whole album. I want to get Whataya Want From Me as my ringtone, if only because it would entertain me every time the phone rung!

What loot did you get from the library this week. Leave your link below so we can all come and see!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Night Villa by Carol Goodman

This week my teaser comes from The Night Villa by Carol Goodman. Once I have read this book I will have read all of the books on her back list. They are some times a bit formulaic, but generally they are pretty good reads.

The teaser comes very early in the book and so at this point we didn't really know a lot. It is from page 9:

Agnes smiles shyly at my praise, her newly glossed lips pink and innocent. I smile back, glad I've managed to reassure her without having to admit that it's not her crazy ex on the phone. It's mine.
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

TSS: The Post Election post

Yesterday Australia went to the polls to vote for the Federal Parliament. I am not sure that I can give a very good, simplified, summary of our political system, but I will try.

Our political system is based on the UK system of parliament. The parliament itself has a two house format. In the lower house we have the members of parliament, and the upper house is the Senate. For the lower house, we vote for our local member of parliament for our seat and whichever of the two major parties has the most seats get to become the governing party. Whoever is leading the party in the lower house gets to be our Prime Minister. For the upper house, there are a number of senators per state and we vote by state.

Around 8 weeks ago, the man who was Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was removed as leader of the Labor Party, and we had a new prime minister, our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Soon after, a Federal election was called and after around 6 weeks of listening to campaign ads, interviews, and political rhetoric, yesterday Australians lined up to vote.

Luckily, I have never had to queue for hours to vote, and the short wait yesterday was made better by the prospect of a sausage sizzle and a chat with friends after the deed was done.
Image from SMH.com.au
One of the things that is a little bit unusual about the Australian electoral process is that it is compulsory to vote in elections here. If you are eligible and don't register to vote, or if you are registered to vote and you don't do so, then you can be fined. Once you have your name crossed off the electoral list, you can choose to enter a donkey vote (maybe as a protest vote or possibly a can't be bothered vote), and it seems as though we have had a relatively high number of those votes in this election. Personally, I don't understand why you would donkey vote, but lots of people have done it, including people I know.

Some historical milestones - this election brings us our first Muslim members of parliaments (I can't find a link for this one but it is being reported on the news), our first indigenous member of parliament (maybe anyway - the votes are still being counted in that seat), our youngest parliamentarian ever, first Greens MP to be elected in a full election (one had been won had a by election which is when only one seat has to vote due the early departure of the sitting member for whatever reason) and, most importantly, our first hung parliament in more than 70 years. It's difficult to imagine that at this stage we don't know who is leading our country, and the power to make that decision appears to lie with four independent members who will decide which party they will side with.

No matter who you voted for yesterday, one of the things that I think that some times get lost in the political headlines, or at least taken for granted, is that as Australians we have a say in who leads our country, and that we get to express that right safely. Other people around the world are killed when they are trying to take up their democratic right to vote, but for us here it is occasionally an inconvenience, but nothing more.

Maybe part of the reason why I found myself thinking about that more than normal yesterday is because I am currently reading The Dead of the Night by John Marsden, the second book in the Tomorrow series. In that series, Australia is invaded by an unnamed armed force, and the people are rounded up and imprisoned. We have been lucky and never actually faced this threat since European colonisation (an important distinction, as some indigenous Australians see the European colonisation of the country as an invasion) although it did come close during WWII, and I hope to goodness that our country continues to be safe and prosperous whoever is our leader once all the votes are counted, and the negotiations with the independent members are completed.

Hopefully, we will know who our Prime Minister will be soon whether it be Julia Gillard (leader of the Labor party) or Tony Abbott (leader of the Liberal coalition). I know who I hope it isn't, but I guess we will have to wait and see what happens.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Library Loot: 17 to 23 August

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and myself that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I can't remember being this late putting up my library loot post ever! Every night I have sat down to do it, but ended up needing to go to bed because I was so tired! I haven't done any blogging at all, and there is lots I need to do, and I haven't done any blog hopping either!

I am hoping to catch up a bit over the weekend, but in the mean time here is my library loot, albeit a bit late!

The Memorist by M J Rose- Recently I read the third book in the series, and then the first book in the series, so now I am planning to read the second book. I don't often read a series out of order.

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith - Yes, I have borrowed it again. Maybe I will read it this time.

The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall - I have read a couple of books from Kate Furnivall before and really enjoyed them. This is the prequel to the first book I read which was The Russian Concubine. I am looking forward to reading it.

A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James - The first book in a new series from Eloisa James.

Claire has Mr Linky this week, so head on over and share your loot for this week.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Finally, finally I am getting around to reading the next book in The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner.

My teaser comes from page 1, mainly because I have literally only read that first page. Doesn't stop me from being excited at the prospect of reading this book!

Costis couldn't explain his actions. He rubbed his face with his hands and tried again to conpose his anguished thoughts into cold words and orderly sentences.
I liked the first book (The Thief) a lot, and really, really liked the second book which is The Queen of Attolia, and I have high hopes for this one!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Young Adult Appreciation Month: Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

For the last month or so, The Book Smugglers have been celebrating all things YA as part of their second annual Young Adult Appreciation Month.

Last year, I posted about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and talked about the fact that I hadn't really read a lot of YA historical fiction, or YA by Australian authors. Over the course of the last year, I have read a few more YA books by Australian authors, and it is one of those books that I wanted to concentrate on today.

I already know that there is a fair amount of love around for the Tomorrow series by John Marsden. I had already had a few conversations with people who were either shocked that I hadn't already read this series, or who insisted that I really, really needed to read it (or in some cases had both reactions!)

As soon as The Book Smugglers put out the invitation for other people to do a post today for YA Appreciation Month, I instantly knew that this was going to be the book that I talked about, because I enjoyed reading it so much.

Tomorrow, When the War Began

The astonishing adventure begins.

Ellie and her friends leave home one quiet morning, wave goodbye to their parents, and head up into the hills to camp out for a while: seven teenagers filling in time during school holidays.

The world is about to change forever.

Their lives will never be the same again.

Would you fight? Would you give up everything?
Would you sacrifice even life itself?

Tomorrow, When the War Began asks the biggest questions you will ever have to answer.

Tomorrow, When the War Began was originally published in 1993, and apparently quickly became part of the syllabus for Australian school kids. That is a few years after I finished high school, so I didn't have the pleasure of reading it then, but I can definitely see why teachers would want to include it. The story that is told is universal yet the language that is used is quintessentially Australian. It is full of action, and yet there are moments of quietness that are full of strength and poignancy.

The book begins when Ellie and her friends decide to go for one last camping trip before school goes back. On the camping trip with Ellie is Corrie and her boyfriend Kevin, Fi, Homer, Lee and Robyn, The plan is to trek up Taylor's Stitch, and then into Hell for a few days of being immersed in nature and away from parents and responsibilities - a time to be young. Little do the teenagers know, they are going to be forced to make very grown up choices very soon.

The first section of the book presents an idyllic glimpse into this particular group of teenagers life in Australia, which I am sure is representative of a country lifestyle more so than a citydwellers. There is no way known my parents would have let me driven out into the country for a weekend away without any supervision, but I suppose a big part of the reason for that would be that I would have had to have driven a couple of hours away from home. Not all of the parents are happy about this trip away, but after some cajoling and sweet talking (as kids manage to be able to do) they are allowed to go.

One night Ellie witnesses a number of jets flying above their campsite without having any lights on. It is only when the group return home that it becomes really clear that there is something really wrong. Their parents and family are nowhere to be found, there are no working phone lines, and it is not possible to access any news services.

The group quickly realises that they need to go into survival mode as well as trying to figure out what is going on. It is here that the key differences in each of the characters come to the fore. Some people naturally lead, others follow but each of them brings something to the group. The group itself rapidly evolves from kids having fun, to young people who are undertaking guerrilla warfare against the invaders.

I have seen references to this being dystopian, but for me, it is almost a step before dystopian that I don't really have a name for. The reason why I think this is that this novel is set at the very beginning of an invasion into Australia. We don't know who it is who invading, we just know that they have come well prepared and well armed. That said, if you liked The Hunger Games or other books in that dystopian genre, you may well really enjoy this book too. I most certainly did.

The Australian countryside is beautifully presented in this novel, and I definitely would love to go and see some of the places mentioned (if only it didn't involve serious exercise!). Luckily others have taken the time to share images  (down towards the bottom of the linked page you will see the links) and some of those sites I expect will be showcased in the movie version that is being released in Australia and New Zealand in the next few weeks. I am very excited at the prospect of seeing this movie and have already lined up a couple of my friends to go and see it with me. Unfortunately,  I don't think that there is an international release date.

I don't rate that many books as 5/5 reads, but this book will definitely be on my list of top reads for the year, and I am planning to continue reading the series soon.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

If you have already read this book you might be interested in watching John Marsden answering the question - Who are the Invaders?. I am not totally sure what the subject of the program that this segment was part of was meant to be, but I suspect it was to do with multiculturism or racism.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: P is for Pendragon's Banner trilogy by Helen Hollick

I don't know how it happened really, but some how the whole world of Arthurian literature has really passed me by. Before starting this trilogy, the only Arthurian novel that I had read was actually a romance version, which didn't really work for me. Maybe it was because I didn't tend to read a lot of fantasy for many years, or maybe it was that the story is so familiar that I didn't feel like I needed to read the books. I am not sure that I really was even all that aware that you didn't have to read fantasy to read about Arthur but rather historical fiction which is the case with the excellent Pendragon's Banner trilogy by Helen Hollick. In the end it was more that I had read and enjoyed another book from her and wanted to read more that made me want to pick up the first book in the trilogy.

Below I am doing a mini reviewing of each of the books in the trilogy, and showing the covers that I had on the books I had. Two of them were from the library, whilst the second book was sent to me for review from Sourcebooks (yes, I might be a bit late with the review)

The year is 450AD. Uthr Pendragon's ship arrives at Gwynedd, kingdom of his old ally Cunedda: together, Uthr and Cunedda intend to oust the tyrant Vortigern.

But when tragedy strikes, the British are left at Vortigern's mercy in a country in chaos. It is a boy, Arthur, who is destined to lead them from this darkness into a new age of light. Protected since birth by a false identity, he is revealed as the new Pendragon.

But Arthur must serve a hard apprenticeship in the army of his enemy before he can lead his country and his goal, to regain his kingship and win the hand of Cunedda's daughter Gwenhwyfar in marriage, seems to become ever more distant. And the beautiful and spirited Gwenhwyfar, pledged to Arthur since childhood, finds herself a pawn in political games controlled by powerful figures. Ever a fighter as a tomboy child, as a woman she must call once again on her strength of spirit to defend herself against her adversaries.

Full of the romance and excitement of Arthurian Britain, and a throng of colourful characters, The Kingmaking brings alive in all its glory and splendour an era long shrouded in the mists of myth and mystery.
I wasn't 100% sure what to expect when I started reading this book. Vaguely I was expecting the story that we have heard before - Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. What I got was so much more.

When the reader meets this Arthur, he is a young boy who believes that he is a servant to the powerful lord Uthr who comes to Britain as part of a campaign to reclaim his throne. Uthr's mistress is the evil Morgaine, who doesn't understand Uthr's attachment to the young boy, but who is nonetheless jealous of the relationship. When Uthr is killed, the truth is revealed and Arthur's true identity is revealed. The antagonism between Arthur and Morgaine continues, but now he has an ally in the daughter of his host Gwenhwyfar, and he is coming into a position of power.

After initially not liking each other at all, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar forge a strong emotional bond. However before they can be married, Arthur must learn how to lead men, how to fight in battle. In short, he must learn how to be a king.  To some degree the legends about Arthur show him to be the ultimate in honour, but the Arthur that Hollick brings us is one who is far from perfect. He drink too much, enjoys the women a little too much, is brash and abrasive and determined to be the King of Britain at almost any cost. Yet he also is extremely brave, strong and charismatic, and it is these qualities that leap off of the page.

The intervening years are not kind to Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. She is a political pawn, and finds herself in betrothed to a man not of her choosing. Misunderstandings ensue and Arthur finds himself manoeuvred into a marriage with Winifred, daughter of his chief rival. The marriage is doomed from the start, with the young couple barely able to be civil to each other, and when Gwenhwyfar reenters the picture it is only a matter of time before the marriage is over.

I have mentioned some of Arthur's qualities, so it is only fair that we spend a little time on his fair lady. Gwenhwyfar has grown up among a passel of brothers, the indulged sister and daughter, and is something of a tomboy. That grounding forms the basis of a warrior like princess, one who will literally stand by her man regardless of the danger that might place her in. Like Arthur, she is written with flaws - impatient, easily angered, and her relationship with Arthur is definitely volatile. She does also inspire great loyalty from many of the secondary characters.

If there is one small flaw in this novel it is that the bad guys are a little bit one dimensional, but it is a small issue in an otherwise excellent novel.

Rating 4.5/5

Three years have passed since the mists cleared to reveal the Pendragon Banner triumphant. Arthur is king. but the crown, once one, must be defended.

He is a man about whom legends will be told. With his loyal and fiercely valiant wife Gwenhwyfar by his side, and three sons to his name, twenty-four-year-old King Arthur takes on the burden of a country battling for its very soul.

But before the harpers sing of glory, before the tales of brave daring and skill, a young man must win his place as the greatest warrior of all Britain...and the greatest king of all time.

As soon as I started reading The Kingmaking, I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to not finish this trilogy. Usually when I finish a book, I will start a post in draft and write a few thoughts about the book which will be the basis of my review if I ever actually get around to writing it. When I finished this book, I wrote only one word, which isn't overly helpful as I try to write this review now, but I do believe it probably conveys my thoughts about this book fairly well. What was the word?


Arthur is now king of Britain, but that does not mean that he is living a settled life. As head of the Artoriani, he needs to be constantly on the move dealing with any security threats from their enemies, making peace with some of them, constantly on the move. He is always manoeuvring politically. For his wife Gwenhwyfar and their children, this means that they too are in effect without a home to call their own.

In other domestic matters, Arthur is also under pressure. His ex wife Winifred is still doing her best to undermine both Arthur himself, and the peace and security of the country in order to manipulate the political situation to her own advantage. If she cannot be the wife of a King then she will be the mother of a king. She is therefore doing everything in her power to ensure that her son, Cerdic is declared the rightful heir to Arthur despite the fact that he has children with Gwenhwyfar.

Between those lords who oppose Arthur because they have their own ambitions, his scheming ex wife and those who would like to return the country to Roman ways, Arthur has a lot on his plate. For a man who is at his best when leading his warriors in battle, this can be a difficult day to day existence.

Once again, there is no whitewashing of the kind of man that Hollick's Arthur is for modern sensibilities. He continues to cheat with various women, he can still be bad tempered, impatient and impetuous, and his relationship with Gwenhwyfar continues to be volatile. When tragedy strikes, it could bring the royal husband and wife together, or it could tear them even further apart.

This Arthur is a warrior king, and the author does not spare the reader when describing the battles, verbal and physical, that are portrayed within the novel.

Once again, the writing is compelling, the story is one that keeps your attention, and the book is an excellent read as a result.

Rating 4.5/5

Britain lies uneasily at peace, and Arthur Pendragon, King of Britain, is secure in his stronghold in the heart of the Summer Lands. Ever the fighter, he defies the advice of his wife Gwenhwyfar to sail for Gaul to defend his territories in Less Britain, leaving his country vulnerable and leaderless.

When word comes that the Pendragon has fallen in battle, Gwenhwyfar, at Caer Cadan with their small daughter, faces overthrow by the powerful council headed by Arthur's uncle, anxious to reassert Roman ways. She must struggle to assure a future for herself and her daughter, opposed also by Arthur's ambitious ex-wife Winifred, keen to advance her own son, Cerdic, as the rightful heir.

But, unknown to Gwenhwyfar, events abroad mean a far mightier battle for the Pendragon throne - and the very future of Britain itself - lies ahead.

In this final part of the Pendragon's Banner trilogy, Britain has been enjoying a period of relative stability under the guiding hand of Arthur. Even at home  he and Gwenhwyfar are happy, that is until Arthur agrees to travel over to Gaul to fight against the Gauls. With Gwenhwyfar and their young daughter agreeing to remain in England, and with Arthur's uncle at the head of the governing body, Arthur travels over the sea in good faith, not realising that he has been duped into a confrontation that is far more than just one battle, and that will take him far from home for a very long time.

With his army bolstered by large numbers of inadequately trained men, Arthur faces battle in unfamiliar territory. When he is critically injured in battle, his men return to Britain believing him to be dead, leaving a grief stricken Gwenhwyfar to pick up the pieces.

Here a face from the past returns and is the person who looks after Arthur, nursing him back to health, but it is not the Arthur of old. His injuries are so severe that he can not remember exactly who he was or the position he held, to the point of even not remembering his wife.

Gwenhwyfar refuses to believe that Arthur could be dead, but her position of Queen without him by her side is tenuous to say the least. Arthur's uncle Ambrosius wants to be the next leader of the country, but also jockeying for position is Arthur's former wife Winifred and their son Cerdic. For Gwenhwyfar, it seems the only option available for her is to move on. She needs a new man in her life to safeguard her own position and also that of her young daughter. But moving on is difficult when you don't quite believe that you have to.

During the part of the novel where Arthur had lost his way, it also seemed to me that the novel lost a little direction too, but once a somewhat humbler Arthur returned to his home the pace picked up once again

Even after the return of Arthur the jostling for position of heir continues, and it is inevitable that strong feuds, betrayals, and
Once again, the events portrayed in the novel can be violent and disturbing, and yet at other times, moving and powerful. The one thing that I couldn't do was read any of the books in the trilogy without being emotionally involved.

Rating 4/5

As you can see from the images I have used, the covers of the editions that I have read were from different eras, so just for fun I thought I would share the US covers for the recently released editions from Sourcebooks:

And the newly redesigned covers for the UK:

If I have to give a one sentence summary for the trilogy as a whole, I would say "For all that I thought I knew the vague details of the Arthurian legend, the Arthur that I met in the pages of this trilogy was a very human man, and it is a telling that I will not forget any time soon."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Library Loot: 11 to 16 August

Before we get into Library Loot proper for this week, just a reminder that we are looking for someone who is not graphically challenged (like me!) to create a new Library Loot badge.

Full details are available at Claire's blog. Now onto Library Loot for this week.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and myself that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I am pretty happy with my loot this week, as it includes some books that I really, really want to read!

Here's my loot:

Season  of Storms by Susanna Kearsley - I have really enjoyed everything I have read from this author, so I am excited at the prospect of reading another book from her.

Soulless by Gail Carriger -  I've been thinking about reading this one for a while now, so I finally requested it from the library.

Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons - I added this to my list as soon as I started hearing people rave about it, but it has taken a while to come in at the library.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett - Another Inter Library Loan. My library seems to be a bit hit and miss in terms of having the early Pratchett's in stock.

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland - I really enjoyed Diamond Dove when I read it a while ago, so I am looking forward to reading this one.

Ravishing in Red by Madeleine Hunter - the first book in this author's current series. It has taken ages for this book to come in.

The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick - My son borrowed this one. Okay, no he didn't. I borrowed it but I used his card because mine is all full! I've told him to make sure that he takes it back on time though.

What loot did you get this week? Leave your link below so that we can all come and have a look and see what you got.


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