The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

“You can defend your kingdom, or you can defend your people, Majesty. You don’t have the manpower to do both at once.”

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Having won the enduring love of the majority of her people, but stirred up a hornets nest by stopping the shipment of Tear slaves to neighbouring Mortmesne, Kelsea Glynn finds her kingdom on the verge of invasion by a vastly superior force. With guerrilla warfare tactics only able to stall the inevitable defeat of the Tear, the Red Queen’s Dark Thing taking an unhealthy interest in her, and her nobles and the Church agitating at home, Kelsea is in need of a miracle. But her sapphires are silent, their only effects seeming to be a dramatic change in Kelsea’s appearance and a darkening of her own soul, the chances of a way out seem slim. And when Kelsea starts having visions of the life of a pre-Crossing woman, her concentration is taken away from the business of battle to the events of three hundred years ago…

I’m still loving this series. While I initially found the flashbacks to the pre-Crossing era a bit irritating, especially with the upsetting levels of sexual violence, I really came to appreciate the more rounded view they gave of pre-Crossing society and the formation of the Tear. It was especially interesting to speculate as to how this lined up with Kelsea’s own genealogy (seriously, who is Kelsea’s father?) and what events must have occurred to place a Raleigh monarch on the throne and the Church and the Arvath (does that word come from Our Father?) in a position of power sufficient to rival the monarch in a nation that was designed to be free from religion.

I’m hoping that The Fate of The Tearling the third novel in the trilogy focuses more on the Post-Crossing world, but I’m really looking forward to it. For a start I can’t wait to discover what caused the particularly interesting dynamic between the Fetch and Rowland Finn and who Kelsea’s father is. I can’t see any of the characters described in the novel so far being a likely candidate… though I do think that the Fetch might be of the Tear line as well as Kelsea… could the red haired woman he asked about be Jonathan Tear’s wife and thus his mother? It doesn’t explain what he’s being punished for though.

Speculation always welcomed.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

On her nineteenth birthday, the Queen’s Guard come to collect Kelsea, who has come of age sufficient to claim her throne, the throne of the Tearling from her Uncle who has held it as Regent since her mother’s assassination. Kelsea knows that she hardly stands a chance of surviving the journey to New London, and that even if she does, she is likely to be murdered soon after her arrival by one of the many enemies that lurk in every shadow of the Keep. Kelsea is strong, idealistic and has a vision of a better world for her people, but can she survive long enough to impose her rule? Especially since her first act as Queen seems guaranteed to provoke the mysterious Red Queen of neighbouring Mortmesne.

I’ll be honest, I avoided reading The Queen of The Tearling for a very long time because of the Emma Watson association. I don’t really rate her as an actress, and there’s nothing more annoying than trying to immerse yourself in the world of a novel with the face of a miscast actor jarring you out of the novel every time a character description comes up. Fortunately, despite the terrible name, Kelsea is a unique enough character to stand out from that starting association and the book grips you the rest of the way. Kelsea is not your typical Queen in waiting, painfully aware that she is plain and stocky, she lives by her wits and hides her inner turmoil about gaining the loyalty of her men behind a cast iron exterior. An idealist, she eschews pragmatic compromise, and while this wins the support of the reader and the common folk, it drives further conflict within the novel. It’s a common complaint about fantasy novels that they are often peopled with trope characters, or rely on the well mapped characterisation of one character to fill out the rest. While this may be true for more minor characters, there are some really engaging and well-rounded secondary characters here which suggest real potential for storyline development throughout the rest of the trilogy.

Something I particularly liked about The Queen of The Tearling was the world building. At first, it seems to be set in a generic, everyone’s swinging a sword and wearing body armour type fantasy universe, but as the novel progresses there are hints that it’s actually set in something of an uncanny dystopia. A rough historical sketch lets the reader know that the countries of the Tear and Mortmesne were established as a Utopian society following a sea crossing to uncharted territory. Drip, drip, drip with the odd notes of description then, bam! There’s a seven set of leather-bound Rowling, an ancient, pre-Crossing author in the library and you realise that The Queen of The Tearling is set in the vastly distant future, though how to Post-Crossing Utopia came to be mired with so many horrific problems, the most obvious of which is the trafficking of adults and children, can only be guessed at. Again, I’m seeing this playing a big role throughout the rest of the trilogy.

I’ve already borrowed the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling, book two of the trilogy, The Invasion of the Tearling from the library and am really looking forward to the release of book 3, The Fate of the Tearling.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

“The Bloodwitch named Aeduan was no longer bored. No longer bored at all. And now he had work to do.”
 Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten my teeth into a decent fantasy novel. I’ve mostly been reading other genres, checking Patrick Rothfuss’ blog to see if he has any intention of ever finishing The Kingkiller Chronicles, deciding he hasn’t, then reading other genres. That’s the problem with fantasy series, unless the series has been completed before you begin reading (thank you Tolkein, Lewis et al) you can end up committing to a series and waiting a decade* to read the next flipping installment. By which time you’ve forgotten all the minutiae of the author’s world building and the theories you’ve woven around them.

Despite this, I received a copy of Truthwitch, the first book in Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series in my Illumicrate a few months ago and since I was clearing my bookshelves out, I thought I might as well give it a go. Now I’m back at square one and waiting until 2017 for the next book in the series to come out.

By the end of the opening sentence of Truthwitch, threadsisters Safi and Iseult are already in trouble. The kind of trouble that involves holding up the wrong carriage, telling the wrong lie and becoming the main obsession of a Bloodwitch trained as an elite fighter Carawen Monk who knows that you’re a heretic Truthwitch and wants to sell you to the highest bidder… and from there, things only get worse for the threadsisters and more exciting from the reader. Well-paced, packed with interesting characters, dripping with tantalizing titbits of in novel mythology and set in a world poised on the brink of war, Truthwitch really whets your appetite for the rest of the series.

The thing I really liked about this book was the description of the witcheries. Truthwitches, Firewitches, Waterwitches, Earthwitches, Cursewitches, Threadwitches, Glamourers, Wordwitches and more, each with their own abilities and weaknesses. If you’ve ever liked that game where you consider what superpower you’d choose if you could, then you’ll probably like speculating on which witchery you would like best. Threadwitchery sounds like a pretty interesting one to me, in many ways more useful than Truthwitchery which would do you a lot more harm than good in Safi’s world if you couldn’t fight as well.

Some readers might be put off by the fact that this book has been a bestseller in children’s book lists (I’m never sure why this does put people off, but hey ho). What I would say is that this didn’t strike me as a children’s novel at all. Apart from some pretty explicit violence and injuries, there are some quite steamy sections. I’m not sure who it was said that dancing is a vertical representation of a horizontal desire, but the Truthwitch Safi and Merik dance scene illustrates this perfectly. I look forward to seeing the Nubrevnan four-step on the next series of Strictly…

My current series predictions: Without naming names, because spoilers, Good will naturally triumph in the end, though not without some major character losses along the way. One character who seems evil now will turn out to be good at heart (with possibly a sibling relationship?), and there will be some real shadiness among background characters who’ve seemed benign.

*It’s okay, Patrick. I know it’s only been five years. Just know that I’m watching you from the shadows of the internet…

Blogging Hiatus

I’ve been taking a bit of a hiatus lately. Since Phoebe came along I haven’t had as much time to read as I’d like, and I’ve been having way too much fun with her to really care about that. It has meant that my blogging suffered though…

I’ve found myself in this strange situation where I was feeling like I should be reading regularly and posting regularly, even if the books I’d read were just a bit blah and I had nothing to say about them. This feeling was going on to the point where I felt like my blog was just another obligation and not somewhere I could enjoy talking about books that had actually had an impact on me with people who have similar interests.  So I kept thinking about that, and it put me off reviewing some of the books that I had read… and before you know it, vicious circle. So I decided to just pause and see how I feel about carrying on with it.

And I’m back, though with a slightly different attitude to reviewing and a new reviewing policy to follow. I won’t feel the need to review every book I read, just the ones I have something I want to say something about so I’ll be sparing you my thoughts on Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser…’s Wife of Bath tendencies.

Unforgiven by Lauren Kate

When I finished the four main books of Lauren Kate’s Fallen series, I said that while I liked the main books, I wouldn’t read any of the spin-off books like Fallen in Love… And then came Unforgiven, billed as book five of the series.

Though it’s listed as a core book in the series, Unforgiven deviates from the main Daniel/Lucinda story to follow Cam, the bad boy angel, as he finds a hope of redemption from Daniel and Lucinda’s happy ending and begins to wonder what happened to Lilith, the woman he jilted because he couldn’t marry in a church.

Maybe I’m getting a bit old for these books, but I was distinctly underwhelmed by Unforgiven. Making a deal with the devil to rescue your lost love from her very own personalised hell sounds like an idea with huge potential, but in reality, it is executed like the plot of a D-list teen movie. While Lilith is an interesting enough construction, Cam’s character- one of the more stand out features of the first four Fallen books- is wiped away almost entirely as he becomes a wet-blanket, Daniel mark two. Much of the original information about Cam and Lilith’s story from the earlier novels is rewritten to fit the needs of this novel, but this then renders the information in the earlier books (remember Lilith, Luce’s nemesis at the school for Nephilim?) meaningless. In the effort to create a middling love story, the contest for Lilith’s soul seems to get lost among the Battle of the Bands plot, and this is only made worse when Roland and Arianne show up in an attempt to link the novel in more closely with the rest of the series.

It seems to me that any book which sees the main protagonist go up against the devil needs to see one hell of a protagonist, and the devil should be the ultimate big bad. In Unforgiven, Lucifer is no more menacing than your average school bully and a great deal less imaginative. If your biggest problem when dealing with the devil is that he’s made you put on weight and your hair thin prematurely, then you’re getting off pretty lightly.

Cam should probably be glad that he wasn’t locked in a room and forced to read Fallen and Unforgiven fanfiction for all eternity…

 

The Best Book Subscription Boxes

If you’ve dipped even your little toe in the murky waters of social media recently, I’ll bet that you’ve seen an advert for some kind of subscription service. From make up to meat, surprises to sanitary towels (no, really) it seems that there’s a subscription box for almost everything, though until recently a monthly box for book lovers has been a pipe dream for those in the UK.

But no more! There are now a wide range of book subscription services for bookworms in the UK, so you don’t have to pay a huge postage fee to enjoy a monthly book box from across the pond. And, dare I say it, it seems to me that UK bookworms actually have a more grown up selection of book subscription packages to choose from?

I’ve selflessly gone out of my way to test a few of these (best month ever) and am able to give you a round-up of the best book subscription boxes the UK has to offer. Curated by small teams of imaginative, talented and hardworking bookworms, they really are all fantastic:

Bookishly

bookishly subscription unboxing review

If you’ve ever had wall art envy for an amazing framed literary quote, you’ve probably come across a print from Bookishly. They’ve recently branched out from creating word art with Vintage books and have created a book club that sends out a monthly package containing a vintage book, a luxury tea sample from Jenier World of Tea and a curated item of stationery. If you know a bookworm who loves to curl up with an old book and a cup of tea before writing a thank you note on beautiful stationery, then the Bookishly book subscription is the gift for them. Or you, if you fit that description.

 

Illumicrate

illumicrate subscription unboxing review

Curated by Daphne at Winged Reviews, Illumicrate is the new heavyweight on the book subscription box market and it really packs a punch. Filled with items that match the Illumicrate ethos of “fun, beautiful and geeky” this larger subscription box is released monthly. The perfect gift for a reader who is passionate about their contemporary and young adult literature, the former teacher in me also thinks it would be the perfect way to lure a reluctant reader into exploring literary worlds.

 

Owl and Bear Gift Company

owl and bear gift company book subscription review

If you’re looking for a special gift for a loved one but don’t necessarily share their literary tastes, the Owl and Bear Gift Company Book Subscription service can help you out. Specialists in genre book subscriptions, they have a package to tickle every bookworm’s fancy whether they are young or old, or if their passion is for horror, thrillers or romance. If you’re not even sure exactly what kind of books your intended recipient prefers, they can still help you out with their bespoke subscription service which builds a package based on the recipient’s favourite authors.

 

The Willoughby Book Club

willoughby book club subscription review unboxing

Founded by Adam and Chloe Pollard in 2012, The Willoughby Book Club provides a personalised book subscription service with some really clever package options. Not only do they provide a Contemporary and Classic packages for those who want to hone their reading in a particular direction, they also provide hobby subscription packages for cooks, gardeners and natural historians. The Willoughby package I like the sound of most is, sadly, not for me… The Couples Book Club package which sends out two copies of the same novel so that you can read it together and discuss it. My boyfriend may make wonderful cups of tea and buy me the books I am embarrassed to be seen with in bookshops, but a reader he is not! Still, I think it would make a great gift to share with a close friend and it really is a genius idea.

The Best Love Letter in Literature

If you took a straw poll to determine the greatest love letter in literature, I’d wager that Frederick Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot towards the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion would come out on top.

Estranged former lovers, Anne harbours a massive flame for Frederick Wentworth but has resigned herself to the fact that he doesn’t feel the same after she gave him up eight years before. Until she receives this hastily written, unsigned letter which is personally delivered with a meaningful look….

Frederick Wentworth's Letter to Anne Elliot

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan


For the Classics Challenge 2016, February edition, I decided to hunt through my to read pile (part of my bid to spend less money on books by reading the ones I already have, rocket science, I know) and came up with Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. I may or may not have been swayed to choose this modern classic, ranked 41 in Le Monde’s 100 books of the century, because its short length matched the shortness of the month….

Bonjour Tristesse, narrated by seventeen year old Cecile, tells the events of a summer she spends on the French Riviera with her vain, self-indulgent father and his mistress, Elsa. When Anne, a family friend, comes to stay and threatens Cecile’s cosy, vapid existence and bourgeoning love affair with a local boy, she begins plotting to be rid of her.

As classics go, this novel is small but perfectly formed. Although she initially appears naïve and innocent, Cecile is one of the most detestable narrators I’ve ever encountered- loaded with a raging Electra complex, vindictive and self-excusing. The skill with which Sagan manipulates the reader’s feelings from supporting Cecile and seeing Anne as the villain of the piece at the novel’s opening to a total inversion of this by the end. When you consider that Sagan was only 18 when she wrote this novel… pretty incredible.

If you’re looking to dip a toe in the classics with an accessible read, or a fan of unreliable narrators and characters that you love to hate, this is a great read for you.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” Persuasion by Jane Austen

In the past, I may have compared Jane Austen to porridge. Not that I have anything against porridge per se, or Jane Austen really, but there are only so many marriage plots that you can really embrace before you feel a little jaded.

My not-quite-antipathy of Jane Austen has been compounded by the fact that I found Northanger Abbey one of the most irritating books I’ve ever read. But after being given a beautiful folio box set of Austen’s collected works for my 30th birthday, and deciding that Daniel Defoe’s The Storm (a groundbreaking work of 18th century journalism… apparently) was a little too dry to start off the 2016 Classics Challenge, I decided to try Persuasion to see whether Austen, or I, had improved with age.

And, do you know, maybe we have? For one thing, I enjoyed it. While, as with many a marriage plot, the story is fairly light and predictable, Jane Austen’s claws are out in a way that they just aren’t in her other books. Pretentious and vapid characters are mercilessly mocked, while the Cinderella-ish, sensible and practical heroine (who is feared to have lost her bloom at twenty-eight… I know…) gets her happy ending (and her bloom back).

Any Austen novel will always be considered among the classics, but I really do think this has a little more zest than her other books. Though it still has characters rigidly observing and believing in the class structure of the time, it doesn’t pull any punches on the subject of snobbery and seems quite forward thinking for the time, at least where the “ideal marriage” and roles of women are concerned.

Obviously I would recommend this to Jane Austen fans, but for anyone who wants to read probably the earliest, and most certainly one of the best, fictional love letters in English literature needs to check this out.

 

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

A review of Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, aka Outlander number 3, in which I visit the Outlander series once more, with spoilers.

And now that little disclaimer is out of the way…

I’ve decided that if you’re going to buy into the love story of Jamie and Claire beyond book one in the series then you have to do so with total moral ambivalence. They are a pair of absolute wrecking balls, so focused on themselves and each other that they trample on the lives of everyone around them, especially those closest to them, with barely a backward glance.

Jamie wakes up lying on the battlefield after Culloden, Jack Randall’s head on his thigh. Well of course he does, sometimes the love stories with sudden, tragic endings are the most compelling, but it wouldn’t be much of a reunion with Claire if he expired in the opening pages. More interesting from my point of view was how Jack Randall’s corpse came to be lying on Jamie- did Jamie finally take his revenge or did Jack Randall save Jamie on the battlefield, thus throwing in yet another example of the Outlander series perpetrating the myth that sexual violence has anything to do with love? Well, finishing off this paragraph of spoilers with another spoiler… reader, you won’t find out in this novel. But I daresay it will come up again later in the series.

It looks as though he’s going to be executed, but his life is spared by the brother of John William Grey, the young soldier who tried to rescue Claire from the rapacious Scot in Dragonfly in Amber. From there we have a whistle stop tour of Jamie’s last twenty years without Claire, with such highlights as seven years in a cave, a spell in prison, fathering a child in a sex scene with a seventeen year old girl called Geneva which raises even more question marks about the sexual politics of the series, before heading back to Scotland with a pardon to take up a career in sedition and smuggling. Oh, and marrying Laoghaire. Remember her? The one who tried to get his one true love burned as a witch? Yeah, he married her.

So when Claire arrives back in the 18th century, after a few cursory glances into her last twenty years for good measure (which knock Frank of his pedestal and bring out the Randall genes, in case anyone had been left feeling sorry for him…) she’s roughly the same age as Jamie again, removing our prospect of a January/May romance and allowing her to favourably compare her appearance with that of every woman she comes across. And she used to be such a strong character.

It isn’t long before the cat is set among the pigeons by Laoghaire (Jamie’s second wife) catching him in bed with his first wife and taking a gun to him. Fair enough really. And it explains why Mr Willoughby, Jamie’s pet Chinaman (yes, he’s taken in a Chinese man that he found at the docks, adopted a paternalistic attitude towards him and given him a pet name… let’s not start with the imperialist, race relations connotations of this) keeps calling Claire honoured first wife.

Aaaanyway. To buy himself out of marriage with Laoghaire, Jamie needs to sell some treasure that he’s found and left in the middle of the ocean on at LEAST three separate occasions, meaning that his young nephews have to risk their lives to retrieve it when the family needs money every now and again. Why wouldn’t you just keep it hidden in the priest hole or his cave? This time, when his youngest nephew tries getting some treasure to buy off the lady scorned, he finds himself kidnapped by pirates meaning that Jamie, Claire and Fergus (with his fifteen year old wife) have to chase him around the globe to get him back.

I found this to be the weakest book in the series so far. A bit like the last novels of the Hunger Games, it feels a little like this was planned and written after the success of the initial novel so the plotting isn’t as considered as that of a novel which was conceived as a part of a series (like the Harry Potter books). Although the novels do refer to one another, it feels as though Jamie and Claire are now causing a lot of the problems they find themselves caught up in rather than finding themselves the pawns of fate. The reappearance of Gellis Duncan was problematic for me as well, and the whole forensic anthropologist moment with the skull at the start of the novel was just trite.

The Drums of Autumn is the next book in the series, which apparently will see Jamie and Claire’s abandoned daughter travel back in time to save her parents’ happiness. Looking at the dates and location I can only presume that the wrecking balls are instrumental in starting the American War of Independence… I think I’ll be taking a break before reading it.