Sunday, May 29, 2011

The top 5 fairytales I'm looking forward to reading

Note: This post was originally featured on Michelle's blog as part of her fairytale week feature.

For as long as I can remember, fairytales have always played a huge part in my life. Whether it was through TV, or through books, these (often) romantic tales of yonder, have perhaps caused me to view the world around me with rose-tinted goggles.  Not that I mind really. Nor am I making excuses for it.

In fact, naive as it may be, these fairy tales still have me believing in:

- the power of strong, forthright and virtuous heroes and heroines,
-  happily-ever-afters that keep me dreaming and believing in the potential of finding my own personal fairytale ending;
- and the wonderful storytelling that has always and will always keep me believing in a world where magic, mayhem and anything wonderful is often prone to occur.

In the spirit of Michelle's fabulous fairytale week (thank you so much for having me feature on your blog Michelle), here are 5 fairytale reads (not necessarily new reads) that I can't wait to read.  

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
I first discovered this author when a colleague of mine lent me a copy of Daughter of the Forest (a retelling of The Six Swans).

I fell in love with Marillier's writing almost immediately. Her heroines are absolutely incredible and she writes with a beautiful infusion of magic, myth and her own unique spin on folklore.

Because of this Daughter of the Forest is without a doubt, one of my favourite fairytale retellings.

One of her most recent books is Heart's Blood, which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Considering that Beauty and the Beast is my favourite fairytale, I have no doubt that Marillier's take on it will be an absolute sensory feast for the eyes and the imagination. 

The book focuses around a young man named Anluan who has been crippled since childhood as part of a curse that has been running in his family and his home for years.

Shrouded in doom and gloom,  Caitrin, a young scribe is sent to sort through old family documents at his home. Through this, she unexpectedly brings about changes that brings hope to a household despairing and living in dark shadows.

But, in order for Anluan's true freedom, young Caitrin must unlock the mystery behind the web of sorcery woven in the past before Anluan loses his life - and they lose their love.

I can't wait to immerse myself in Juliet's magical worlds and can highly recommend her novels to anyone who genuinely loves a good fantasy romance with strong, resilient heroines who know who to survive against all odds and the incredibly well-rounded men who complete them.
Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
A companion novel to Sisters Red (a novel which I enjoyed even though I did have a bit of a problem with Scarlett's character), Sweetly is a modern adaptation of Hansel and Gretel.

I love Jackson Pearce's writing and would really love to see just how she puts her unique spin on this timeless classic.

The book tells the story of Gretchen and her brother Ansel who, along with Gretchen's twin went looking for a witch in the forest and found a little more than they bargained for. 

Whatever it is they found, they lost along with their twin sister, who was never to be seen again.

Years after the incident, brother and sister find themselves moving into an almost ghost town into the heart and the home of a beautiful chocolatier who welcomes them with open arms.

When signs that the witch is still lurking around become more and more prevalent, with the help of Samuel Reynolds (wonder if he's related to a certain Reynolds in Sisters Red), Gretchen decides that it's time to fight back.

I can't wait for this one. Adventure, sinister activities and a little romance thrown into the mix? Oh, Yes please.

Plus, how creeptastically beautiful is the cover of Sweetly? I get the feeling this one's going to take us on one spookily atmospheric ride.  And I've always been a fan of novels with a slightly sinister edge to it.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
I've had this book on my list of to-reads for years.

It's a darker, gothic, violent, sensual and feminist take on classic fairytales which features retellings of classic tales like Bluebeard, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots (amongst other fairytales).

I'm not normally a fan of books that could in some ways be considered erotic fiction, but I do love dark, sensual and atmospheric tales and this one has been described as having all those elements and more.

The Bloody Chamber contains a collection of short stories that each explore women in different and often subversive roles (which many have claimed) - something which adds a whole new slant on the innocent fairytales that I've come to know and love.

I wish I could go into more detail about how the fairytale storylines each differ, but that would spoil the book for both you and me. One thing I have been warned about that it makes for grizzly reading in some parts, but the beautiful and alluring word imagery is what has made this novel a winner for many people who have read this book.

Perhaps I'm giving away the fact that dark, twisty tales appeal to my inner being, but I really can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book.

Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of "The Little Mermaid" by Debbie Viguié, Mahlon F. Craft
And now, for something a little lighter. Next to Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid would probably be my second favourite fairytale of all time.

This YA retelling of The Little Mermaid caught my attention with its beautiful title (I'm a sucker for book with beautiful titles).

This book was released way back in 2006 and tells the story of a lone fisherman and his wife who raise a girl named Pearl, rescued from the sea.

Pearl is an unusual girl with silver hair, and wide, dark blue eyes - and as a young woman is shunned by most villagers.

The one person she does find a companion in is Prince James - but that friendship and budding romance is about to be tested when trouble emerges, an evil enchantment is unleashed and hints about Pearl's past threaten to come to the forefront.

Not a huge fan of the book's actual cover, but I must admit that I'm smitten by the sound of this book. I haven't actually read too many retellings of The Littler Mermaid and this one seems as good as any place to get back into the swing of LM retellings.
 
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
I was hugely disappointed with Sarah Beth Durst's retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, novel Ice.

I remember loving the fantastic world of glistening ice, her lyrical writing, but thought her story was structured in a way that was too fast-paced and not realistically portrayed enough for me (You can read my review here). 

Of course, I do love the story of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, so I really am looking forward to reading Jessica Day George's offering.

I haven't read too many reviews of this one, so am not quite sure what to expect, but I am optimistic and am hoping for the same kind of world building in Durst's Ice, but just with better storytelling execution.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is about a girl known to her family as Lass, who is gifted with the ability to understand animals. When a polar bear seeks her out and promises wealth to her family if she'll accompany him to his castle in return, she doesn't hesitate.

Of course, the bear  and his castle of ice is not all that it seems and soon, Lass discovers that the bear is really a prince who's been enchanted by a  troll queen and who might be forced to marry a troll princess unless she can come up with a way to free him.

Snow and Icy-landscape settings have always been some of my favourite kind of books to read so I'm really hoping that this one will not be as disappointing as I found Ice to be.

There are just so many beautiful fairytales (original and modern adaptations) that are out there, that it's really difficult to narrow them down to just these five. One thing I can say though is that as long as these stories are told, I'll always keep reading.

And mostly, I'll always keep believing. Such is the power of those enchanting tales.

So, what fairytale adaptations have you enjoyed recently? And which ones are you looking forward to reading? Would love to hear some of your recommendations below.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Side note: A slightly edited version of this review originally appears on the women24 website, which you can find here.

Women24.com is a South African women's lifestyle website where I work as an online journo and where you can check out a host of other book reviews that we feature regularly.
 

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
A terrorist attack which took place 5 years ago, a family's ongoing struggle in dealing with the tragic loss and the precocious 10-year old battling to make sense of it all.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (Orion)
10- year old Jamie hasn't cried since his older sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack 5 years ago.

To him, Rose is just a girl who has become nothing but a hazy memory belonging in a past that he has little to no recollection of. Yet, despite not remembering the events of long ago, living in the present proves to be no easy feat.

The ghost of his sister still haunts his family and her un-scattered ashes reside prominently on the mantelpiece in their living room area.

Ever since Rose died, nothing has been quite the same.  His mom has run off with another man, his older sister Jasmine (who is Rose's twin) has dyed her hair pink and stopped eating, and his father... his father has since resorted to the numbing effects of alcohol to drown away the sorrow.

And still Jamie doesn't cry.

Instead, Jamie is more preoccupied with trying to fend off the bullies at school, while trying to hide the fact that he's friends with Sunya, a sparkling brown-eyed Muslim girl.  And in between, he still harbours and unshakeable belief that the mother who abandoned them will come back to the family she walked out on and left behind.

Review:

When I first heard about My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, something told me that this book with its unusual title, would be a book that would surprise me with its unique brand of special.

And surprise me it certainly did.

I don't often read books where the protagonist of the story is so young, but Annabel Pitcher has created a character whose voice truly and realistically reflects that of a 10-year old.

Jamie is charming, adorable, precocious and incredibly inquisitive. He speaks with the voice of a boy who knows that his family is broken, but is also still on the verge of discovering and understanding the psychology behind his family's grief.  In short, he is a character that is easily loveable and gains the reader's sympathy right from the start.

I normally find it very hard to relate to child protagonists, but Jamie catapulted his way straight into my heart.

I was rooting for the boy who was trying so hard to be brave in the face of being bullied and my heart ached for his unwavering, if somewhat misplaced belief that his mother would return.


The wealth of emotions that I felt throughout reading this beautiful story was, for me, an accurate reflection of just how much insight Annabel Pitcher had into the various characters and their stories.  I raged at the drunken father and wanted to strangle the mother who abandoned her two children without a second thought.

The sense of parental neglect is incredibly poignant, but, shows an accurate understanding of just what people do when they're drowning in the whirlpool of their own grief.

Still, it isn't all doom and gloom.

There are some wonderfully touching and humorous moments between Jas (Rose's twin who survived) and Jamie.

Jasmine was another character I came to adore and I loved how, in spite of her becoming the caretaker of their household, looking after Jamie wasn't a chore for her, but an act of a sister who truly loves her little brother.

The bond between the two of them is incredible and will definitely have you choking back a few tears. And despite her goth-girl exterior, it soon becomes obvious that Jas is just a 15-year old girl who is confused and bewildered by the responsibility that she has to assume, when it becomes obvious that their father is in no position do to so.

Of course, this review wouldn't be complete without me mentioning his forbidden friendship with Sunya, the twinkly-eyed Muslim girl.

As you can guess, the fact that Rose was killed in a terrorist attack didn't go down well with his parents, especially Jamie's father, who harbours a deep-seated hatred for all Muslims.

Jamie, as he gets to know Sunya, comes to learn that a parent's prejudiced indoctrination can often lead to one missing out on wonderful friendship of his/her life - and watching the growing and beautiful bond between two souls who are both bullied at school come to life, adds to an already exquisite and intricately layered book that every mother, father daughter, sister and brother should read.

A beautiful, hopeful and altogether wonderful read.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book review: The Killing Place

Every now and then, I branch out of my usual genre and find myself reading books I normally wouldn't read. The Killing Place is one of them. Also, please note, that the American version of this book is titled, Ice Cold.

Side note: Side note: This review originally appears on the women24 website, which you can find here.

Women24.com is a South African women's lifestyle website where I work as an online journo and where you can check out a host of other book reviews that we feature regularly.


The Killing Place
A fast-paced and bone-chilling new offering from the best-selling author of the Rizzoli and Isles series.


The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen(Bantam Books)

Forensic pathologist and medical examiner Dr Maura Isles is at a medical conference in Wyoming when she joins up with an old acquaintance and his group of friends for a spontaneous getaway.

Not being the sort to usually be so impulsive, she quickly ends up regretting her decision when their SUV stalls and lands in a ditch in a snow-blanketed and mountainous area.

With no other option but to seek refuge, the group of 5 stumble upon the village of Kingdom Come. But something is wrong here.

For one, the locked-in and isolated village seems to be an abandoned cluster of 12 uncanny and eerily identical homes. Even more peculiar about it is that the houses show no signs of any outward forces of violence.

But meals sit untouched, animals left for dead and cars are parked in the garages of these houses with no signs of any people living there. What happened to the people of Kingdom Come?

And are they destined for the same fate?

Because unbeknownst to them, there's someone out there aware of their presence. Someone whose intentions may not have their best interests at heart.

When detective Jane Rizzoli receives word that her friend, Maura is missing, she and her husband head to Wyoming to investigate.

Determined to discover what has happened to her, the investigation soon plunges Jane into a world of a twisted, religious cult, where gruesome facts come to light and shocking discoveries lie buried beneath the snow.

One thing is certain, Jane will need all her wits about her if she wants to even have a hope of finding Maura alive ever again.

Thoughts:

it's been a good while since I've read a crime thriller, so I was rather intrigued when Tess Gerritsen's latest novel, The Killing Place, arrived on my desk a while back. Having never read any of her previous novels (she's got quite a few in the Rizzoli and Isles series), I wasn't sure what to expect.

Surprisingly enough, I loved the book.

As far as book series' go, my obvious concern was how well I'd be able to relate to the characters considering that they probably wouldn't be as fleshed out in this novels  in comparison her previous and earlier works.

Yet strangely enough, even though I didn't know the characters that intimately, it never detracted from the actual reading experience. In fact, the plot line was such an interesting one, that the book kept me glued to the pages in spite of any initial reservations I may have had about the book.

Also, the book progresses at such a level, that you actually find yourself not bothering to want to know the ins and out of their personality traits, but rather more about their actions and how they respond when they are in fight, flight and survival mode. And for me, that's usually the mark of a fantastic crime/thriller author.

Tess easily sweeps you in and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of fear and suspense, toying with your emotions even while the characters in the book are the ones who are forced to make decisions that may save their lives or kill them.

What I especially found interesting was how this was emphasised during the group's stay at one of the abandoned houses.

Not only were they forced to rely on each other to survive, but they were forced to hold onto their sanity while doing so too.

There's this sense conveyed that something as simple as the low moan of the wind will have someone's back up and the creak of the door will bring out the full force of paranoia - and you as the reader are forced to feel these feelings along with the characters every single step of the way.

The religious cult aspect of the novel added an extra creep factor to the novel  that surprised, horrified and left me feeling sympathetic to the victims who were part of this cult, but even more so for those who were cruelly cast out and left to fend for themselves.

The most surprising aspect of all though, was the ending and who the actual villains of the story ended up being. I got the sense that even though the ending boiled down to a confrontation between 1 person and Rizzoli and Isles, there was more than just one villain in this story.

What is clever about this is that you're lulled into a false sense of complacency about just who the villain is, and end up being completely blindsided by the final confrontation, that you're almost disappointed at who the actual villain is.

Still, I can hardly complain. This novel had so many twists and turns it kept me entertained throughout the entire novel. And has renewed my love of crime thrillers.

I'll be going back to read the rest of the books in her series - there's not doubt about that.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Night Circus

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine. The idea behind this meme is to highlight up and coming releases that we just can't wait to read.

This week's pick is:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Publishing date: September 2011
I'd go on and on about the many ways in which I'm looking forward to reading this, but I really think the book just speaks for itself.

Here's some more info about it. 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it.

It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.


But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors.

Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.


True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Sounds breathtakingly magical doesn't it? I can't wait for this one.


How about you? What's on your WoW list this week?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book review: The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere
And then grief was captured and bottled in the soul of a beautiful companion pony who was more of a racehorse than she ever thought she was.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Walker Books)
17-year old Lennie Walker is a Heathcliff-obsessed bookworm and music geek.

She's also younger sister to the vivacious and sparkly Bailey - and is more than content to follow and live in the shadow of the sibling she adores.

When Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie's world loses its safety thread... and the girl, who has always been happy to be backstage, is suddenly thrust into the central hemisphere of her own life.

Weighed down by the gravity of her grief, Lennie doesn't know which way to go and in the midst of her confusion, she suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself having to deal with the attentions of two very different boys.

Toby is the boy who was Bailey's boyfriend. He's also the boy whose grief is an echoing symphony of her own. 

Joe, on the other hand, is the new boy (from Paris) in town with a heartbreakingly beautiful grin, gorgeous long lashes and a musical talent that makes Lennie's soul sing.

For Lennie, the two couldn't be more opposite to one another. One serves to take her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it.

And in the midst of all the chaos, confusion and resounding notes of desolation,  the paths of Lennie and both boys will impact and collide, sending Lennie on a journey of new awakenings and discovery; teaching her that moving on doesn't necessarily mean letting go.

Review:

How do you review the world's most beautiful book?

And how do you find a way to capture the fragile essence, the melancholy nuances and the heart and soul of a girl so crippled by her grief that it robs you, the reader, of every single word you've learnt and uttered throughout your entire life?

How do you capture that on paper?


The truth is you can't. You can't because Jandy Nelson already has.

I should have realised that when I purchased the book in its beautiful, bound journal format (which is the UK edition by the way) that I would be dealing with an extraordinary book.

When I first opened the pages and saw that the font was blue and that there were random and interspersed notes of scribbled and handwritten poetry scattered throughout the book (on pages that were made to reflect what Lennie's thoughts were written on at a specific point in time), well, I was in instant book love.

Never in my entire life have I been so swept away by such tremendous feelings of raw and uncensored grief.

The rush of sweet affection, tangled lust and achingly tumultuous emotions made me weep with the sheer force of the beautiful characters, the phenomenal writing and the poignant themes of love and loss that is captured so spectacularly within this book.

I rarely say this about books, but if there is one book that I wish I had written, then it is this one.

It's the book that I can't believe I've only read now and it definitely has earned itself a top spot in my favourite reads of all time list.

Lennie is a character I love very deeply.

She's a bookworm, a music geek, a die-hard romantic and beautiful poet at heart.  She's the kind of character that I wish I was and like to pretend to be.

Most of all, she's the kind of character whose remarkable soul is so big that trying to recapture her in a book review is just too small of a place for her to live in.

From the very beginning of the book, her beautiful voice lures you in and compels you to remain with her as she journeys her way through her:

- devastating loss,
- her various different relationships with the people just as affected by Bailey's death as she was, her sexual awakening and confusion about her feelings for two different boys and;
-learning to come to terms with the fact that Bailey's no longer there.

Her grief is a tangible and visible force that grips you, shakes you to the core and refuses to let you go.

 You'll ache for the girl who has always seen herself as a companion pony to her sister's racehorse status and you'll weep for the girl who says that "the world is not a safe place" and who scatters poetry in the wind in order to keep the wild and untamed spirit of her sister alive.

And then?

Well your heart will just break a little more when, Toby, sweet Toby with his Leonine features, makes her confused heart thump just a little louder and whose grief serves as a magnetic force that she can't help but gravitate towards.

And you'll swoon when she meets Joe Fontaine - the boy who bat.bat.bats his long luscious lashes at her and whose guitar notes change the colour of the flowers.

He's the boy whose music takes her out of her sorrow and who makes her mouth curve into a smile even when it's the last thing she wants to do.

What makes this book so wonderful, is the fact that the emotions and the love-triangle were both captured in such an authentically realistic manner.

I've really started to abhor the kind of love triangle where the ultimate choice is made rather obvious, but The Sky is Everywhere really keeps you guessing for a good while. It's just that authentic.

Of course, being a sucker for musically talented fictional boys, Joe certainly earned himself a spot amongst my top favourite fiction crushes.  But that's not to say I didn't love Toby - because i did. 

And yes, Lennie probably makes a few mistakes that she really could have avoided, but it those things only served to show what an immensely vulnerable, hurting, grieving and songbird soul she is.

And it's those moments that really show how her grief has thrown her for a loop and a half.

This marvellous book also boasts a host of wonderfully eccentric characters (namely Lennie's whimsical garden-keeper Gran and her pot-smoking Uncle Big), who are each trying to deal with their grief while trying their best to reach out to the girl who is determined to isolate her emotions from all of the world.

I wish I could tell you in a detailed account how much these characters, each in their own way, crept in my heart, but I believe that The Sky is Everywhere really just speaks for itself. 

In essence, this book isn't just about loss  - it's about love, it's about the life-giving force of family ties and it's about embracing life in all its glorious, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and colourful splendour.

At the end of it all, I think this quote (It's my new favourite quote) sums it up best:"Life's a freaking mess. In fact, I'm going to tell Sarah we need to start a new philosophical movement: messessentialism instead of existentialism: For those who revel in the essential mess that is life.

"Because Gram's right, there's not one truth ever, just a bunch of stories, all going on at once, in our heads, in our hearts, all getting in the way of each other. It's all a beautiful calamitous mess. It's like the day Mr. James took us into the woods and cried triumphantly, "That's it! That's it!" to the dizzying cacophony of soloing instruments trying to make music together. That is it."
- Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere