Monday, February 24, 2014

A Magical Fantasy Adventure

White Hart (White Hart, #1)White Hart by Sarah Dalton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautifully written, well crafted and devised fantasy novel aimed at the 13+ market. The detail is rich, the setting beautifully realised and the characterisation excellent. We are introduced to Mae - a half-wild young woman who lives with her father on the very edges of civilisation. Her past times are climbing trees, riding her stag Anta and basically avoiding the trappings of femininity. But she has a secret - she is Craft-born, having a magical connection with elements and with it, power. Alas, such talent is what the kingdom needs and she finds herself unwittingly caught up in grief and thrown into the horrors of the deadly Waerg wood, where she shall have to face disaster and death at every turn, and something even more dangerous: heartbreak.

The plot takes off early, and never lets go. I loved Mae's personality - so stubborn and single-minded that she was responsible for a number of her own self-injury (physical and emotional) and over-complicated an already complex situation. Several times you wanted to shriek at her "just admit to it!". The character of Cas too was excellent - the pampered prince who, at first glance seemed just that but when one looks deeper, is revealed in his many layers. Likewise, Sasha.

The ending? Well, I would have preferred it without the cliff-hanger, personally. That seemed a little abrupt and sudden as though the author were going "oh, so you think the story is over now. You're WRONG!"

I wish I didn't have to wait to find out what happened next...

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Faeries with a Twist

Faery SwapFaery Swap by Susan Kaye Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost missed the chance to read this book, as the Netgalley invite had somehow found its way into my "spam/trash" folder (thanks gmail - not) but I am so very glad I found it! It was a quick and most entertaining read, devoured within approximately 24 hours and now being happily digested.

The writing style is excellent - rich in detail and strong in characterisation. Finn and Erin, American children suddenly plunged into England (I loved the interjections with English slang etc) and then - just as Finn has started to settle down and see his sister off to school, a faery possesses his body and sends him away to the land of the Fae. But is Finn deterred? Well, slightly, but he is also very determined and will not let his sister be left alone.

Each chapter focuses on one of the two main characters - Finn and Zaneyr (the faery prince who "steals" his body). Together it weaves the story and brings us to a conclusion that is both satisfying but also makes us wish for more.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Share the Love: Some of my favourite Indie Authors

Two years ago, we began the Christchurch Writers' Guild with the  intention of supporting local Indie (and non-indie) authors with reviews, critiques and encouragement, thus I would like to take the time to share with you the works from two of our published authors:

Beaulah Pragg

Beaulah is an author and graphic designer devoted to encouraing writing in the community. She runs classes with teenagers, and adult, students as well as giving presentations on digital publishing. Her favoured genre is fantasy.

Her first book: "The Silver Hawk" was published via Amazon's CreateSpace. Here is my GoodReads review:

The Silver Hawk (Chronicles of Tyria, #1)The Silver Hawk by Beaulah Pragg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 The plot is refreshing, and Pragg has some clever ideas: the concept of the two siblings - Mikael and Maat, watching a civilisation that they had created and in which they had "cast" themselves as gods, is extremely nifty.  It also works well for the narrative, allowing the plot to skip several years in a heartbeat and follow the progress of various characters and their exploits.

The politics are nicely complicated - Pragg has devoted a lot of care and attention to detail in the development of her world. Her characters, also, feel very real, almost tangible.

 There are a couple of interesting twists and an ending that was complete-but-not-quite, it is definitely designed to make you seek out more.

I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

You can read all of this novel (the revised version), on Wattpad here.

Kevin Berry

Kevin is a software engineer who devotes a lot of his time to writing and editing. He has co-authored three fantasy novels with his now-ex wife (although they still write together) as well as two "new adult" titles in the Aspie-New-Adult genre.

The fantasy novels - published under "KD Berry" are published via Bluewood.

Dragons AwayDragons Away by K.D. Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a light and engaging fantasy novel, with fun characters, clever language and oh-so-many puns. You'll laugh, you'll groan, but you probably won't cry. It's not that kind of book. There are dwarves, there are goblins, there are dragons, there's a half-ogre scholar (who can't read but speaks 16 languages) and a benign king. There's also a mad king and his terrifying wife. The use of language is very clever - even if there are too many puns, and the plot, whilst not entirely new, is fresh and fun. Highly enjoyable.

Growing DisenchantmentsGrowing Disenchantments by K.D. Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another entertaining read from this duo. Kevin and Dianne Berry write the most amusing fantasy I have read in a long time. Packed with puns and interesting characters, it keeps you hooked. This novel takes place in the same city as "Dragon's Away" but unlike the former, it remains within the city - no travelling required. Instead we have several wizards  of varying talents and skills, talking furniture, animated statues, a thief, a time traveller and a mischevious imp. Some of the characters don't receive quite as much "screen time" as I might have liked, but overall it proved to be a most entertaining read and I hope to see more from this duo.

Fountain of ForeverFountain of Forever by K.D. Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another fun fantasy adventure! With loads of quirky characters, a plot that will keep you bouncing around merrily and a healthy dose of humour that is funny, without being silly. Fans of the earlier novels will delight in the return of CIA time-traveler, Merrivel, and those new to the series will want to read more!
Highly entertaining.

My one complaint with the "Bluewood" titles is that the covers are, frankly, quite terrible. They look like they're self published (when they're actually indie-published) and photoshop cut-n-paste efforts, and as for the shadows on the text... *shudders*. But DO NOT judge a book by it's cover - these are highly entertaining reads and remind me of Diana Wynne Jones with a touch of Pratchett - and you cannot get a higher compliment than that!


His two Aspie-New-Adult titles are a different style entirely being much more serious and feeling more personal, although with a hearty dose of OTT craziness and "I cannot believe they did that". Also, the covers are MUCH better.

StimStim by Kevin Berry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly enjoyed the story of Robert, a university student with Aspergers Syndrome. Robert's story is candidly told - his view of the world clearly described and just a little bit different. Some parts will have you gritting your teeth ("I can't believe he just said that!"), and others snorting with laughter. It is also deeply poignant, and very moving, especially as you watch Robert and Chloe's friendship grow, and also experience the understanding of their NS flatmate, Stef.

Berry has captured Robert's voice extremely well - with his precise, slightly formal way of speaking; his straightforward (analytical) way of thinking; his honesty-to-the-point-of-innappropriate; his little quirks - it is the sort of book that could only be written by someone with a deep insight into the aspie mind.

I would highly recommend this to everyone over the age of about 16/17 - NS or aspie: for the former it will offer a deeper insight, and for the latter, open the awareness that you are not alone.

KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope by Kevin Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The enjoyable follow-up to Stim, Berry's first Aspie romance novel, and this one certainly proves a worthy sequel. This time we see into the head of Chloe - fellow Aspie, but also possessing of a whole plethora of other diagnoses. Coupled together with the most devastating earthquake the city has ever seen, and a forced break from her medication, madcap craziness must ensure. Chloe's narrative is not dissimilar to Robert's, with her frank honesty and candid narration. This tale will certainly help those of the NS to better understand their Asperbergers peers.

A quick, page-turning read, with a witty narrator who just seems real. Another gem from Kevin Berry.

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Elaborate, Rich and Beautiful

Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy, #1)Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautifully written and gloriously evocative. This is an engrossing and epic read, that once started you will never want to put down. Alas, now it is completed I am left feeling bereft and longing for the sequel.

From the beginning you are instantly plunged straight into the world - at over 400 pages long, I thought it would move at a slow pace but within the first few pages the action happens and our heroine is swept away to a life she never asked for.

Whilst as other reviewers noted, it does avoid some of the teen-fantasy tropes: "Mary Sue" protagonist, love triangle, "white knight", loe-at-first-sight and all those cliches, it does have one that I have seen frequently in books: the two main protagonists that hate one another. However, that is no flaw and it just beautifully enhances the characterisation, with the verbal clashes between the two being both amusing and insulting. The little hints at the origins of the "trolls" is quite entertaining too.

I loved the fact that the troll people were (for the most part) broken but beautiful - especially in the case of Marcus whom I hope finds some happiness - or just pure malevolence. Also, that once she heard her arguments for helping them, Cecile then set out to find evidence of her own, to find proof before coming to a conclusion, instead of just allowing herself to become a blind tool.

Overall, it is a brilliantly crafted and rather epic read, but every word is worth it and I savoured it slowly, deliciously. The writing style is wonderful - Jensen has mastered the immersive prose that enlivens all the senses and truly sweeps you away into the beautiful, dark underworld of Trollus.

Allegedly for young adults, it does contain a few darker moments, some quite complicated politics and, is of course, got a strong basis in romance, and I would probably recommend it for the more "mature" teen (in reading level if not in age).

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