Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movie review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Although the essence of the book is there, Insurgent diverges almost completely from the book. 

Disclaimer: This review originally appeared on Women24 as well as Women24's sister site, Channel24

Veronica Roth’s Divergent books is one of my favourite series to date.  Having devoured both the books and the Divergent film adaptation (which I surprisingly really enjoyed), I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the Insurgent movie would play out.

While it isn’t without its flaws, Insurgent is probably one of the better book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen.

I admit this grudgingly because I’m a book purist at heart and, as such, tend to appreciate films that remain as true to the novel as possible.

This is exactly why I spent half my time enjoying the cinematic and visual fest and half my time thinking “this is not how it was in the book.”

With Robert Schwentke in the director’s seat this time around, Insurgent isn’t so much of a direct adaptation as it is an interpretation of the novel.  In fact, Divergent’s film rendition is probably a lot closer to the book than Insurgent is.

The essence of the book is certainly there, and if you’ve read the book, you’ll certainly recognise many of the elements the movie includes.

What changes, however, is the following:

The dialogue and character interaction. 

This didn’t bother me as much as I expected to, but I think that it’s because so many of the actors and actresses I’ve seen in motion picture screenings based on books, fail to accurately capture the tone of the book dialogue (I’m looking at you Fault In Our Stars, which ironically enough, features Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who are cast in the role of brother and sister in this trilogy).

In fact, I dare say that Tris and Four (Woodley and Theo James) relate a lot better towards each other on-screen than they did in the first movie, where a huge chunk of the novel’s dialogue formed a large part of the film.

I have to go on to add that I was also impressed with Kate Winslet’s performance in the role of the cold and ruthless Jeanine Matthews.  While James and Woodley’s acting is certainly strong, Winslet, for the on-screen time that she gets, certainly adds an extra oomph that I really enjoyed seeing.

Something else that changes in the movie is that the people responsible for killing certain people in the books aren’t the same in the movie.  I’ll leave you to work out who I’m talking about (top tip: you should probably give the book a reread before you watch the movie).

The biggest disappointment for me though, is that with this interpretation of the movie, characters that played huge roles in the book are downplayed and relegated to minor roles, something which I felt, took the whole “team spirit” evident in the books away from the movie. Some of the characters that really made a huge impact in the book, were either not featured or just not given enough face time.

And, big surprise, many of those characters just so happened to be black. Oh, wait, that’s not a surprise at all.

The books clearly show how certain characters from various factions unite and stand together to fight, while in the movies, this is mostly glossed over.

Visually though, the movie was an absolute blast.

With 3D effects, CGI and beautiful and scenic panning, Insurgent certainly is an epic and cinematic  piece of entertainment that should definitely be experienced on the big screen.

If you can look past the niggles, I daresay you’ll probably enjoy it more than Divergent. 

My final take on it is that as a book adaptation it fails, but as an interpretation of the novel (and there IS a difference), it’s a pretty decent effort.

Go out and see the movie. You could do a lot worse

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book review: Unteachable by Leah Reader

What would you do if you discovered that the man you had a one night stand with, is also your new film studies teacher?
Disclaimer:

This review appeared first on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.
 

You can purchase a copy of the book via Raru.co.za


Unteachable by Leah Raeder(Published by Atria in 2013)
I am not a fan of New Adult fiction.  Really I’m not.  From what I’ve previously experienced, books belonging to this genre have shown itself to be incredibly problematic for so many reasons. 

The main problem for me, is that whenever I’m reading a book that falls within this category, I always feel like I’m reading the same book with just a different cover (although, I should add that even the covers tend to feel the same).

Thus, Leah Reader’s Unteachable is not a concept that hasn’t been done before.

In fact, in almost every genre, you’ll always find that one story that’s littered with some form of illicit romance (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*).

Not everyone gets this right though, and it’s particularly problematic within the new adult fiction market, simply because of how badly the relationship dynamic is portrayed.

When I first picked up Unteachable, I was certainly not expecting to be wowed, and yet, from the moment I started reading, Leah’s beautiful and exquisitely lyrical prose had me floating on a cloud of literary heaven.

I found myself swept up in the drama, (amazingly enough) rooting for this twisted relationship and really having an appreciation for the way that the icky subjects were handled.

In the beginning of the novel, we first meet 18-year old Maise O’ Malley at a carnival. Maise is bold, brash, sexually mature and completely owns her confidence.  She’s the kind of character that not everyone will warm up to at first, simply because she comes across as being incredibly abrasive and sexually aggressive.

Frankly, I found myself really liking her.

So, often when men are portrayed in this manner, they’re labelled as being cocky and confident, and yet, are still seen as likeable; but when the roles are reversed and you come across characters like Maise, who is so self-aware of the power her physical beauty holds over men, then labels like “slutty” and “vain” are quickly thrown around.

To see Leah Raeder tackling this sexist double-standard head on is nothing short of refreshing - and so very welcome.

When Maise meets Evan at the carnival, the attraction is immediate and intense. After hooking up, she’s convinced she’ll never see him again – and usually, that’s something she’d prefer.

Except, this time around, she can’t stop thinking about him.

When she enrolls into film school, she doesn’t expect to see him again, except that when she  finally does, she discovers that he’s her new film studies teacher. 

Of course they do try to stay away from each other, but the chemistry between them proves to be too irresistible; and before long, they find themselves hurtling headlong into a relationship punctuated with secrets, lies and more passion than both of them can handle.

It’s not long before life throws both of them yet another curveball and the two are left to pick up the pieces and examine their own pasts before they can even think of the possibility of having a future together. 

Leah Raeder’s Unteachable is truly an impressive book.  It’s well-written and deals with a variety of hard-hitting topics in a manner that is realistic, touching and daringly honest.

From issues of abandonment and drug abuse, to stalking and capturing the essence of a taboo romance, it is an excellent read.

It’s the kind of book that’s not meant to make you feel comfortable, but rather to reflect on the characters’ actions and how their home life impacts on the decisions that lead them on their way.

I’m not here to say that I was rooting for the student-teacher couple (even though this relationship is very well drawn out); instead I’m here to commend this book for highlighting the messed up dynamics of a story that touches on topics that are often swept under the carpet and diluted with water to make it more palatable.

Give it a read.  I, for one, am glad that I did.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Discussion post + Beastkeeper winner announcement: your favourite fairy tale recommendations

Hello book lovelies

I’m so sorry for only posting this now, but between letting my time run away from me and dealing with an unwelcome stint of flu, I really didn’t have a chance to sit down and write a new blog post.

Thankfully, I’ve got a bit of time right now, so in tonight’s post I’ll be announcing the Beastkeeper winner (yay), and featuring your fantastic recommendations in response to my quest for more retellings and modern adaptations of fairy tales.

I also have to mention that I’ve finally finished reading Beastkeeper (review should be up by end of the week or early next week for the absolute latest) and can tell you that you’re in for an absolute treat.

So without further ado, congratulations AnotherLibrarian – you’re the recipient of a book filled with beautiful and bittersweet prose, twisty, thorny imagery and the story of one brave and resilient young girl who refuses to give up in the face of life and magic’s harshest obstacles.

Please get in touch with me tammybell78(at)gmail(dot)com and provide me with your details so that I can order your copy asap.

You have 48 hours to respond, after which I’ll select another winner should you not have responded by then.

More giveaways will be coming your way shortly, so be on the lookout for that.

In the meantime, I asked you to tell me about your fairy tale favourites/recommendations and here are your awesome responses:


 Winner response: AnotherLibrarian


My favourite fairy tale is the Xhosa story of the Girl and the Mbulu - I heard it at a young age and it always stuck with me as it was so different from the stock European fairy tales I had read up until then.

My favourite retelling is Tinder by Sally Gardner - a retelling of The Tinderbox by H.C. Anderson

Carla

My favorite is indeed Beauty and the Beast! It was this realistic (not in the magic sense) story of the unlikely characters ending up together.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and never judge a person by what they look like. It’s such a lesson filled story and it is a very fun creative story too - best of all possible worlds!

TallStoryTeller

My favorite fairy tale is The Town Musicians of Bremen. I loved that it was animal focused and they totally owned those thieves and managed  to live happily ever after. Yay for happily ever after.

Recently I enjoyed a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman - Smoke and Mirrors and it includes a few fairy tale adaptions. My favourites: Snow, Glass Apples (Snow White) and Troll Bridge (Three Billy Goats Gruff).

Monique

My favourite fairytale is Rumpelstiltskin. I know he steals kids to eat them and all that, but come on, if you’re gonna make a deal with a little magical being, at least be ready to suffer the consequences. I'm glad the TV series Once upon a Time is showing Rumple in a slightly more improved light.

My favourite retelling is Nameless by Lili St. Crow. I'm also pretty excited to start reading the Grimm Diaries series. Of course, that has to wait until my boyfriend lifts the book buying ban.

Cyan

If we are broadening the scope to folk tales then, my favourite would be Graeme Base's interpretation of the traditional story 'The Tender-Hearted Aardvark,' but that's probably a little niche.

More broadly speaking I've always loved 'The 12 Dancing Princesses' because it spoke of defiant young women who danced in secret worlds that only the Hero (who is hero more because he follows fairy tale rules and is polite to old women at cross-roads than because of anything innate) could follow them to with the aid of magic.

I liked it because it was so every day, with the magic worked in as the backdrop to a story of a grumpy father with daughters who were growing up beyond his control.

My favourite retellings include the Fables comic book series published by Vertigo, Ella Enchanted (book not movie) by Gail Carson Levine and Watching the Roses by Adele Geras

Monique


I love Beauty and the Beast. Some of my favorite YA retellings include Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Beastly by Alex Flynn and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.

PisceanDragon

My favourite fairy tale is the Little Mermaid, but I don't like the Hans Christian Anderson ending. I prefer the Disney happily ever after ending, the real ending just makes me cry.

I have enjoyed Marissa Meyer's retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Robyn McKinley, Jackson Pierce and Gregory Maguire are great too with their retellings. I am not sure if Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl counts, but that is my absolute favourite.

Cassey

The Little Mermaid is my favourite fairy tale hands down - even with the troubling change yourself to get a person message. But the traditional version does do what fairy tales did - before the happy after endings - teach us a lesson. I suppose that's why people enjoy them so much.

I've not really read many retellings 0_o, but my favourite to watch is Disney's Little Mermaid.

Nadine

My favourite fairytale has always been The Ugly Duckling. Even as a child I couldn't understand why no one could see that the swan baby was beautiful.

As far as fairytale retellings go..... Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is brilliant although I must admit it did make me feel like a horribly inferior being as far as my intelligence goes. Cinder surprised me and though I expected not to, I enjoyed it a lot.

And funny enough I was just thinking last night that as far as fairytale retellings go, the writers behind Once Upon a Time are doing a really imaginative job.

Sometimes I watch that show and I giggle at the poor dialogue or the sometimes poor execution of the whole thing, but I can't fault the storyline. The way they keep managing to thread it all together is actually quite fun and impressive.

So, now that you've shared your fairy tale recs, which retelling/modern adaptation are you really looking forward to reading this year? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (a repost)

Update: Recently reread this book because I'm finally reading The Evolution of Mara Dyer in preparation for The Retribution of Mara Dyer.

My opinion of the book is relatively unchanged and I'm really enjoying the second book in the trilogy so far.

Disclaimer:


An edited and slightly shortened version of this review appeared on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
What would you do when the line between reality and insanity begins to blur?

You can purchase a copy of the book via Raru.co.za


The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (Simon Pulse)
Michelle Hodkin’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of the most intense and creepiest books that I’ve read in a long, long time.

It’s a compelling and engaging story made all the more chilling by the fact the book, in some parts, are inspired by real events.

Having said that, you should probably know that The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Once I read the book, I could actually understand why it’s been getting such a lot of mixed responses.

The reason for this is that, Mara Dyer, for all of its gritty and edgy storytelling, is not a straightforward read.

The book has a habit of moving between what’s real and what’s not, so much so, that you’re often left feeling utterly bewildered by many of the events that take place within the book.

Personally, I think this technique worked brilliantly for the novel considering the fact that we, as the reader, bear witness to just how Mara, the main protagonist of the story, unravels throughout the novel.

The book kicks off when Mara, who is a high school student, wakes up from a horrific accident in which her boyfriend,  her best friend and her boyfriend’s sister have all died after an old, abandoned building (once an asylum) collapses on them.

With no recollection of the events that led to the demise of her friends, doctors suggest that she and her family move to a new city to start over in the hopes of helping her to deal with her trauma, her memory loss and the constant reminders of what she’s lost.

But starting over is anything but easy for Mara. For one, the dead faces of her friends start showing up wherever she goes and, for another, she seems to have developed an ability to see people’s deaths right before they actually happen.

It’s not long before Mara starts skirting on the edges of a breakdown, questioning her own sanity as she tries to decide what’s real and what’s not.

To complicate matters even further, her new school’s resident bad boy (who may have a few interesting secrets of his own) refuses to leave her alone.

What’s happening to her? Is she going crazy? Is there something more sinister at hand and most importantly, what is her fractured mind trying to hide regarding the truth of the events that led to the death of her friends?

Call me twisted, but I get a huge kick out of reading books that mess with my mind. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer? It’s definitely a book that plays on your senses and keeps you on edge throughout the entire novel.

The brilliance of this novel lies in the fact you as the reader, are every bit as unsure of where the lines between reality and hallucinations blur as Mara is. Just when you think things are clear-cut, reality shifts and makes way for disturbing revelations that are, in fact, not always hallucinations.

What’s even better is, that when you realise that some of the hallucinations are in fact an actuality, the book takes on a completely different dimension, adding a paranormal element that’s both insidious and fascinating in its pervasive and sinister creepiness.

In short, you’ll be reading every single page with an increasing impending sense of doom.

To be fair, I do think Mara is character that’s not necessarily easy to like. Personally, I loved her, but the fact that she’s a broken, angst-filled, tormented and at times, angry character who is given to bouts of woe-is-me moments,  won’t win her much sympathy with a few.

Also, you should be warned that because the subject matter is dark, and we’re dealing with the unravelling of a young girl’s mind, reading about the trauma she experiences, and bearing witness to some of the very weird events that happen around her, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer does not make for a happy read.

Of course, I am a firm believer that books that border on the twisted side, should have a little light in them to balance things out and luckily for us, Michelle Hodkin more than obliges when it comes to the romantic element of the story.

Boy, were some of those scenes just swoon-worthy! And Noah Shaw, Mara’s love interest,  is a bona fide bad boy completely worth crushing on.

I love a good, realistic pacing of romantic moments between characters, and Michelle has managed to pace the romantic sub-plot in a way that’s funny, realistic, steamy and sweet.

Of course, the most interesting aspect about the novel is Mara. Her journey isn’t just interesting because she seems to be falling apart, but when the reason for the deaths of her friends are revealed, you’re left reeling because the twist that comes with the revelation is definitely not what you’ll be expecting.

Of course, the fact that she’s based on a girl that’s very real will have you wondering, just what part of the book is the closest to the truth and what part is fiction (Michelle is very clever in the sense that she doesn’t reveal all about what is true and what’s not, leaving the reader to decide between that which is fact and that which is fiction).

So, does the revelation about herself make up for the moments of Mara perceives as insanity?

Well, based on the cliffhanger ending, I’d say that the reader will only find out how Mara deals with everything she learns and has learnt about herself, in the next book, The Evolution of Mara Dyer.

Do yourselves a favour and get yourself a copy - this may prove to be one of the most disturbing and interesting books you’ll read this year. I can’t wait for the second one!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Author guest post: At the heart of climate fiction by Kat Ross

Today I’m featuring quite an intriguing post on a sub-genre of science fiction that everyone is probably familiar with, but which is rarely talked about in a way that other dominating genres are discussed.

Cli-fi. Or climate fiction, if you will.

While I do believe that cli-fi features a fair amount of elements that are similar to the dystopian sub-genre of sci-fi, climate fiction seems to focus more specifically on the impacts of climate change and it’s relation to the psychological effect it has on the human psyche.

Granted, dystopic fiction has this as well, but I’ve always found it to be much more action and plot-orientated than character driven.

At least, that is my basic understanding of one of the many differences between the two sub-sections within the science fiction genre.

Admittedly, this is a genre I don’t read nearly enough of (and as such, my understanding is rather limited – something I plan on fixing asap), which is why I’m so thrilled to have Kat Ross, author of the YA cli-fi novel, Some Fine Day, on my blog today.

In today’s guest post, Kat elaborates a little on the genre and tells us how her novel was borne out of her fascination with all things climate related.

Before I hand over to Kat, check out some info on her book below.

About Some Fine Day:
A generation ago, continent-sized storms called hypercanes caused the Earth to flood. The survivors were forced to retreat deep underground and build a new society.

This is the story that sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist has heard all of her life.

Jansin grew up in a civilization far below the Earth’s surface. She’s spent the last eight years in military intelligence training.

So when her parents surprise her with a coveted yet treacherous trip above ground, she’s prepared for anything. She’s especially thrilled to feel the fresh air, see the sun, and view the wide-open skies and the ocean for herself.

But when raiders attack Jansin’s camp and take her prisoner, she is forced to question everything she’s been taught.

What do her captors want? How will she get back underground? And if she ever does, will she want to stay after learning the truth?

Some Fine Day is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find more reader reviews on Goodreads.

SA readers - Raru has got this book for such a great price.

You can check out the trailer here.

Over to Kat….

On writing cli-fi

So I was reading The Onion (America's Finest News Source!) a few years back and they had a very funny and macabre story about a "hurriphoonado" tearing through the northern and southern hemispheres, and it got me thinking.

As a journalist, I'd covered climate change issues for almost a decade, and every year, the warnings from scientists became increasingly dire.

There seemed to be such a profound disconnect between what they—the smart people—were saying and what policy-makers were doing about it (ahem, such as the U.S. Republican Party's shameful denialism).

So I wrote a story that asks: what if we did nothing until it was too late? What if the worst-case scenarios actually come to pass?

In Some Fine Day, massive, permanent superstorms stalk the planet's surface, and the last remnants of civilization had no choice but to relocate deep underground.

This idea was partly inspired by H.G. Wells' Time Machine, in which he imagines a distant future inhabited by two species: the crude, violent troglodytes called Morlocks, and the innocent, indolent Eloi.

So many story ideas start with a musing "what if," and here was another one of mine: What if it were the other way around?

What if the technologically advanced race lived deep in the Earth, while the primitives were left to fend for themselves on the surface?

Not all cli-fi takes such a dystopian view of the future (see Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy).

But let's face it: the prospects right now aren't looking good.

Very few countries are stepping up to the plate on the kind of drastic emissions cuts that climate scientists say we need to avert disaster.

Although my book falls squarely into the cli-fi sub genre, I don't use the phrase "climate change" once.

I didn't think it was really necessary, and I didn't want to distract from the story. The last thing anyone wants to read is a preachy "issue" book—unless of course you've gone out to buy one on purpose!

As Atwood said recently, "It’s rather useless to write a gripping narrative with nothing in it but climate change because novels are always about people even if they purport to be about rabbits or robots. They’re still really about people because that’s who we are and that’s what we write stories about."

So in the spirit of books with a great storyline and characters, here's a few of my favorite cli-fi's:





 


 
Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich














The Carbon Diaries 2015, by Saci Lloyd














Survival Colony 9 by Joshua David Bellin










 


For even more suggestions, Goodreads also has a shelf devoted to climate fiction.

Thanks for stopping by Kat.

For more info on Kat, see below:


Kat Ross was born and raised in New York City and worked several jobs before turning to journalism and creative writing.

An avid traveler and adventurer, she now lives with her family—along with a beagle, a ginger cat, and six fish—far enough outside the city that skunks and deer wander through her backyard.

You can find Kat on Twitter and her website.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book review: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The wildly successful follow up to Rick Yancey’s award-winning dystopian fiction novel, The 5th Wave. 

Disclaimer:
This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.


The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey (published in 2014 by Penguin Books)

Please note: Given that this book is the second book in The 5th Wave trilogy, there will be some spoilers for the first book.

You can purchase a copy of both books on Raru.co.za

What a phenomenal, phenomenal sequel.  I loved the first book and as such, had high hopes that The Infinite Sea would be just as good, if not better than The 5th Wave.

And, boy, was I completely blown away!

While I do think that The 5th Wave is still slightly better than The Infinite Sea, the unpredictable plot twists, character motivations and alien machinations had me both savouring and devouring this book.

Every theory I had was blown out of the water.

Just when I thought it was headed in one direction, something completely out of left field would leave my jaw hanging.

For me, these are the best kind of books to read, because it shows that the author is truly thinking beyond the reader’s ability to predict obvious plot lines. 

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of this review, you have to know that this is not a series or trilogy that can be read as a standalone. You have to read the first book in order to be able to understand the events that unfold in this book.

Oh, and if it’s been a while since you’ve read The 5th Wave, I would highly, highly recommend that you give the book a reread before you dive into this one. 

When I first started The Infinite Sea, I quickly realised that while I knew the characters, I couldn’t remember some of the events and how each protagonist fit into the whole scheme of things, which is why I decided I needed to reread the book before I started on The Infinite Sea.

And I am so glad that I did, because it made it a lot easier to follow events in the second book.

The book switches between multiple points of view and reveals quite a bit of back story behind some of the characters - something I loved about the book, but which I know can be a little confusing.   

When we last left off, Camp Haven (the alien death camp where Sam, our main protagonist Cassie’s younger brother was being held), was completely destroyed by the human/alien hyprid Evan Walker.

With his help, Cassie, Sam and Ben manage to escape the death trap with Ringer, Dumbo, Poundcake and Teacup, and end up in a rat-infested hotel, taking some time out to regroup and allow Ben to heal properly after being shot.

From EMPs, to a global tsunami, viral plague and deadly silencers, this rag-tag group have, in spite of everything, managed to outwit and outsmart the lethal attacks systematically set out to destroy the inhabitants of earth.

In The Infinite Sea, our protagonists are faced with a whole new set of challenges. With Ben severely injured, Evan missing and presumed dead, the group decide that the next best thing to do would be to split up and send someone ahead in search of other survivors.

Except, everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

With barely any trust remaining between the humans, the youngsters soon find themselves being separated and fighting for their lives once again. 

And no matter how hard they try to avoid trouble, the others are onto them and are willing to sink to even lower depths to cleanse the earth of humanity for good.

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave books are really shaping up to be one of my favourite dystopian novels in a trilogy yet. 

Everything about this series is pretty phenomenal.

From the characters (he has some of the most well-rounded and kick-ass female characters I’ve ever come across in books), to his plot lines and twists (it’s really, really hard to predict what will happen in his books), Rick offers the reader a one-way trip into a world that will keep you reading right until the end of the page and longing for so much more.

His writing in this book is as excellent as it was in the first book - stark, yet beautifully lyrical – using contrast and juxtaposition that actually really works well in such a bleak setting.

He truly captures the essence of hope and hopelessness and despair and resilience of the human spirit in the midst of apocalyptic circumstances. 

And trust me, these are characters that have every single reason to give up, especially after they discover just what it is that the others are doing with young children.

Don’t worry. You get a pretty good idea of just how awful they are at the beginning of the book already.

Made you curious, didn’t I?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Author guest post: Into The Dark; or Retellings for Children and Grown-Ups by Cat Hellisen + win a copy of Beastkeeper (Open internationally)

Today I’m thrilled to have the lovely Cat Hellisen on my blog today. Cat, whose book Beastkeeper, a middle-grade retelling of Beauty and the Beast, is officially out in the wild today (yay! Happy book birthday Cat), has kindly taken the time to write a guest post about one of my favourite topics of all time.

Fairy tales and retellings.

Because who doesn’t love a new twist on a good ol’ timeless tale that spans over and beyond centuries upon centuries?

And with Cat’s book taking a whole new approach to Beauty and the Beast, well, I thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate her book’s release by featuring a post written by her on her love of fairy tales and how Beastkeeper eventually took shape.

Before I hand over to Cat though, here’s some info about her fabulous new book (which I’ll be reviewing soon) 

About Beastkeeper
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun.

She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world.

Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too.

The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever..

Add to your Goodreads shelf

Purchase a copy from the following retailers:

Exclusive books
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Raru

Over to Cat
Into The Dark; or Retellings for Children and Grown-Ups
As a child I was spoonfed stories and poems with my porridge. I drank in wonder with my morning glass of milk.

My family owned a fat book of nursery rhymes with annotations on meaning and origins, and a delightful collection of illustrated Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales.

These books, with their bright words and eerie colour plates, were the diet I grew strange on. Naturally when I turned to writing, they curled through my own work; their tendrils drew my words together.

Even (especially?) as an adult, I've not left fairy tales behind.

A few years ago I took part in an online course (I'm a big fan of always learning, this is the one - https://www.coursera.org/course/fantasysf) and it was interesting to look back on the seemingly simplistic fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers, and see just how dark and adult the imagery actually is.

Children can take a lot more darkness than we give them credit for. They are not simpletons with no understanding of the complexity of human relationships; they pick up on subtleties that adults assume they miss.

But at the same time, a child is not a mini-adult. They have their own, far stranger, take on day-today life. Their heads are still free, magic is still real. Neil Gaiman knows this – just read Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

My favourite retold stories draw on all that half-remembered darkness of childhood fairy tales.

Even at the heart of some least-likely candidates, the children's stories are waiting for us (read Clive Barker's Weaveworld as an example of what a fantastical horror writer for adults does with those fragments of buried tales and myths).

Retellings can also take a well-known classic and shine away the patina of stale repetition, and give us something new.

An excellent place to look for retellings of your favourite tales is SurlaLune (beware, this site is dangerous, you may end up never leaving).

Have a look for the tale that interests you, and find modern interpretations – here's an example using the Wild Swans, a story that horrifies and fascinates me in equal measure – http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/sixswans/themes.html.

Some feel like palimpsests, where only faintly under the new story can you see the traceries of the old, while others are more rigid in their interpretation.

When I set out to write Beastkeeper (A Beauty and the Beast, but only if you squint), I had no particular reader age in mind. I wrote a book I wanted to read. In my head, it was something of a meeting between Angela Carter and Diana Wynne Jones (both authors I really recommend you look into if you haven't already, as they are fantastic).

I began with an image of a 12-year-old girl watching her family fall apart, wanting so badly for there to be a spell, a miracle that could take her out of the reality....and then I gave her magic.

Not in the way she wanted it. I gave her wicked grandparents, parents who were beasts, curses that were driven by love and jealousy. I took a lonely girl and made her lonelier, and I watched to see what she would do.

However the tales are retold, we return to them because they are the secret dreams of where we began, ripe with poisoned apples, healing kisses, beastly humans and human beasts.

Through them we remember magic.

About Cat:
Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and young adults. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.

She originally studied graphic design at Technikon Witwatersrand, before realising that she had no interest at all in the world of advertising.

She began writing seriously at age twenty-five but it was not until 2010 that she sold her first full-length novel, When the Sea is Rising Red.

Her children’s book Beastkeeper, a play on the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, is out now!

Where to find Cat online:

And now, time for a giveaway.

I’m offering one lucky reader a chance to win a copy of Beastkeeper. The giveaway is open internationally, but please do make sure that the Book Depository ships to your country, as that is where I’ll be ordering the book from.

All you need to do is leave a comment telling me what your favourite fairy tale of all time is, and why you love that specific tale so much.

Bonus entry if you also recommend some great retellings you’ve read.

Giveaway closes on 18 February.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mini book review: Banished by Liz de Jager

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on Liz de Jager’s Banished. 

Summary from Goodreads (published by TorUK in 2014) 
Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives.

And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in.

With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies.

As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

You can purchase a copy of the book on Raru.co.za


My thoughts:

What a fun, jam-packed with action little read. I've always been a fan of fairy books and Banished, despite its flaws (I feel as if this needed more of an edit as some sentences were rather clumsily constructed), proved to be right up my alley.

Kit Blackheart is probably one of the most phenomenal and butt-kicking female characters I've come across in urban fantasy - I often had to ask myself how this little daredevil was still alive, given all the unwise risks that she took.

There were quite a number of surprises in this book, and I particularly loved how Liz cleverly diverted my attention from figuring out who else was involved in the plot.

From the start Liz gives us an inkling of an attempted coup being plotted, but there is a twist that I admittedly didn't see coming (although, with hindsight, it's one that I probably should have seen).

The cast of supporting characters were certainly interesting in their own way, although Kit is definitely the one that stood out most for me.

Not quite sure how to feel about the romance between Kit and Prince Thorn, the fae prince she rescues (and mostly keeps having to rescue, although Thorn is definitely no shrinking violet), but it would be interesting to see how things develop in the second book and beyond.

The world building in this book is pretty incredible as well. There are all manner of fae creatures and Liz liberally peppers her book with information and history of said otherworldly beings at the beginning of almost every chapter.

My copy of Vowed, the second book in the Blackheart Legacy series is sitting on my desk waiting to be read, and I really hope it will follow the format that is employed in Banished.

All in all, Liz de Jager’s Banished is a book that's a) worth checking out, and b) worth continuing onto the next book.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book talk: What's your favourite word?

What would stories be if they had no words to form them?

A lovely friend and colleague of mine recently wrote a post about her top 5 favourite words.  I couldn’t help but geek out when I read her article.

You see, as a bibliophile and word nerd, it’s simply not possible for me to love books and ignore the prose within them (yes, yes, I can all hear you saying ‘duh’, but bear with me, I do have a point to make).

Sure, we all read for the characters and the story and the adventures that liberate us from reality for the duration of the book, but what would those stories be if they had no words to form them?

And what would conversations be if we didn’t have them?

Words are beauty and cruelty. They can be used to mock, or be used to seduce. They can cajole, lure and manipulate, and they can move you to tears, evoke a sense of wonder and most importantly, breathe life into your imagination.

There is power and magic in words. And there is a good reason that the old saying about pen being mightier than the sword exists.

We have a pretty formidable weapon we can wield, and often we opt to use it to hurt and silence voices already struggling to be heard. 

In the spirit of all things wordy, I thought I’d share 5 of my favourite words. In no particular order, they are as follows:

 Gossamer
- a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.

Because the word brings to mind fairies flitting about in gauzy little outfits and dragonfly wings.

Miasma
- a dangerous, foreboding, or deathlike influence or atmosphere.

This can also refer to "noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; poisonous effluvia or germs polluting the atmosphere,” but I much prefer the above-mentioned definition.

Petrichor
- a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.

I’ve always associated this with romance and new beginnings, and because every time I see this word, I can immediately conjure the actual scent of the rain, following its downpour.

Mellifluous
- sweetly or smoothly flowing; sweet-sounding:

The definition is exactly what it feels like when you say the word out loud, don’t you think?

Melancholy
- a gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression.

I’m a sucker for sad and beautiful words and things, and melancholy pretty much embodies this in every way. I’m all about the angst, yes.

I asked some Women24 book club newsletter readers to tell me about their favourite words; this is how you responded:

Leighanne

Pareidolia - I just love that there's a word for the experience we have all had at sometime or another - seeing or the ability to see a human face in inanimate or abstract objects.

I have often 'seen' beautiful women, feuding lovers, horses in the rust patches of my dad's car, the peeling paint from a wall or water splashes on the bathroom floor after a shower.

Wendy

I love the word Soliloquy – it sounds so mysterious and intriguing.

(I like the fact that few people know what it means *blush* ‘cause I do. How’s that for a 3-year old rationale? LOL!)

Carol


Scintillating – because it conjures up all things bling, bright and beautiful.

Michelle

Superfluous - unnecessary, especially through being more than enough.

I am not exactly sure why this is one of my favourite words but I really like the flow of the word; and the fact that it has too many vowels shows the meaning in my opinion.

Lusanda

Vociferous is my favourite word only because it sounds very forceful - carries a lot of weight without one even having to know what it means. Just pronouncing the word gives me goosebumps. Weird I know.

What's your favourite word and why? Leave a comment and let me know.
 

Disclaimer:
This column originally appeared as part of Women24’s monthly book club newsletter. Keen to receive this as a monthly newsletter in your own inbox? You can subscribe here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book review: My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by Stephanie Perkins

A delicious little read that will make you feel all the fizzy and cotton candy feels.

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (Macmillan Children’s Books)
My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins (who also contributes to this anthology), is a delightful, adorable and quirky little read.

It's the kind of book that proved to be exactly what I needed to kick start 2015 – and it’s a read that I’d recommend to anyone in search of a feel good, pick-me-up read.

Don’t be fooled though – while these stories can be described as being fluffy, they’re little shorts with plenty of substance and enough heart to soothe any angst-ridden soul.

There’s a little something in here for everyone; from contemporary and magic realism, to urban and paranormal fantasy, this collection of YA novellas is wonderfully diverse and beautifully written. 

Below, I share just a few quick thoughts about each novelette.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell – Ah, Rainbow Rowell. Can you ever do anything wrong in my eyes? I think not. 

What I loved about this story is how much it just reinforced my love for Fangirl. Rainbow is the queen of eccentrically cute dialogue and as with Fangirl, she absolutely nails the character voices in Midnights. Noel and Mags are made of epic adorableness.

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link – Ooh, this one has got to be my favourite. I know, I’m surprised as well, as I was fully expecting to love the Laini Taylor one more.

Given that this is somewhat of a fractured fairy tale, which includes (if you squint) elements of The Snow Queen and (more obvious) a retelling of Tam Lin (one of my favourite Scottish ballads of all time), it hardly comes as a surprise that I’d adore this one.

Strangely enough, I was first put off with the rather stilted, staccato-like sentence structure, but the more I read, the more lyrical and beautiful this story and imagery became. I’ll definitely be revisiting this story over and over again.

Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Peña  - A fabulous interracial romance (male protagonist is half Mexican, female protagonist is white), by an author I haven’t heard of before? Talk about a fabulous new discovery. 

I loved the writing, I adored and felt for the characters (starving Mexican scholarship boy who loves music, meets wealthy girl desperately trying to get out of a relationship that’s going nowhere) and just generally fell in love with the flow of the story.

Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han - Oh what a bittersweet but exquisitely written little read. There’s just something about an awkward misfit pining for a boy she can’t have (in this case an elf, because elves aren’t allowed to be with humans), that makes my soul ache. 

Seriously though, why haven’t I read any of Jenny Han’s books before? I’ve heard loads of fabulous things about her, but have never gotten around to reading any of her other books, something I plan on rectifying as soon as possible.

It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins – Oh my gosh. This little short is made of all the fabulous things. Diverse characters, deep family themes AND  two protagonists that will make your face light up like the Christmas tree that features in this story. 

I’ve only read Anna and the French Kiss so far, but I reckon it’s time that I hurry up and get around to reading the rest of her books. This novella only served to remind me why I was so charmed with her writing first time around.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan – A Jewish Santa sneaks into the house of his boyfriend in order to surprise his boyfriend’s younger sister.

This short story is told from the perspective of our would-be Santa and has a rather melancholy touch in the sense that you, like the boyfriend (who remains nameless throughout the tale), feel very much like an outsider looking in. 

I really loved this one and actually wished that this one could have been longer.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black -  It’s Holly Black at her urban fantasy best in this short story about a hooved boy – a satyr if you really want to go into specifics – wished to life by one feisty girl with an extremely vivid and dreamy imagination. 

My favourite kind of character, really.

What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? – by Gayle Forman – Now this one was absolutely fabulous. I admit that I struggled with this in the beginning – I wasn’t particularly a fan of the writing – but then, what Gayle did next was awesome.

She flipped roles in every sense of the word. White, Jewish scholarship girl and a wealthy black boy? Not only does this go against every single stereotype about both the Jewish and Black community, but it’s done in an incredibly believable manner.

The chemistry between the two? So palpable.  It filled my heart with all the happy feels.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire – Ha! All the giggles were had with this one. How could it not when you have a borderline delinquent pining after the local pastor’s daughter? Super cute and filled with all manner of hilarious shenanigans.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White – The magical power of food is at the heart of this novella set in a small town off the beaten path. I loved that this introduced such a variety of colourful characters, and was genuinely moved by the family dynamics and themes of acceptance in Welcome to Christmas, CA.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter – An account of two girls swapping plane tickets should be an improbable notion, but somehow  Ally Carter had me reading this one right until the end. 

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer  by Laini Taylor – Gorgeous, lyrical and all sorts of dreamy, this magical little tale is exactly the kind of story that one can expect from Laini. Her ability to weave and meld words together is an experience that leads the reader into a shimmering daze that is both dazzling and unsettling.

She juxtaposes images, plays with folk tales and sings it to the tune of her own, melodic voice. 

All in all, this anthology is a collection that is well worth the read, and one that I’ll definitely be rereading again and again.

Don’t wait for the next festive season to come around – get this one now; it’s really one you can and should read at any time.