Friday, September 28, 2012

The Assassin’s Curse Blog tour: Cassandra Clarke’s Top 5 Fantasy Heroines (+ Int’l giveaway)

Hi everyone

Today I’d like to welcome the lovely Cassandra Clarke, author of YA fantasy novel The Assassin’s Curse, to my blog today.

I was immediately intrigued when I first came across The Assasin’s Curse. There’s nothing more I enjoy than a good fantasy read, and this seems to certainly have it all: a kick-butt heroine, pirates, and an intriguing curse that needs to be broken.

Of course, the premise of her novel got me thinking about fantasy heroines – since Ananna sounds like the kind of heroine that’s right up my alley – I simply had to ask Cassandra about some of her favourite female fantasy protagonists. And boy, does her list include a fabulous selection.

Before I hand over the reins though, here’s some more info about the book. 

About the book:

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiancé.

But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.

And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result.

Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. 

Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

Add The Assassin’s Curse to your TBR pile on Goodreads.

Over to Cassandra
Top 5 Favourite Fantasy Heroines

This was a tricky list to write (I originally asked her to tell us about the fantasy characters that inspired her own).

I wouldn’t say there was any particular character who inspired me to write Ananna — the closest would probably be Anamaria from The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, although she had such a disappointingly small part!

So I decided to talk about some of my favorite fantasy heroines in general (and in no particular order):

1. Lyra Belacqua, from His Dark Materials: Lyra is a great character. She’s strong, brave, and intelligent, and even though I read those books in college (thus putting me several years older than her), I still related to her a great deal.

One of the the things I like best about Lyra is that Philip Pullman writes her as a girl — she never starts to feel like a de facto boy at any part in the story.

2. Luna Lovegood, from Harry Potter: I know Luna isn’t technically a heroine, per se, but I always wanted her to be! She’s my favorite school-age character in those books because she’s so clearly who she wants to be and never lets anyone change her.

As Harry points out, Luna is tough. In fact, she’s tougher than you expect and arguably tougher than a lot of the other kids at Hogwarts. She’s resilient, resourceful, and brilliant. Basically, I love Luna Lovegood!

3. Sophie Hatter, from Howl’s Moving Castle: Sophie is such a wonderfully unusual heroine. She’s not skilled at swordfighting or battle, but at making beautiful hats, and she only runs off to have adventures when a witch turns her into an old woman.

Sophie’s appeal comes from the fact that she’s so no-nonsense when it comes to dealing with Howl and his fire demon, Calcifer, but that she can’t turn that strength in on herself. And that makes her a very real, very compelling character.

Also, her interactions with Howl make up one of the best falling-in-love stories I’ve ever read in my life.

4. Meg Murray, from A Wrinkle in Time: This book has been one of my favorites since I first read it in junior high. At the time, I really related to Meg, who is described as awkward and unpopular and feels as if she will never measure up to her beautiful, brilliant parents (spoiler: she does).

However, she doesn’t let her insecurities hold her back when she learns that her brother is in danger. When I was thirteen, I found that quite inspiring, and now, as an adult, I find it admirable.

5. Morgaine, from The Mists of Avalon: My favorite characters are always the flawed ones, and Morgaine, as she’s written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is a beautifully flawed character. The novel is in many ways a tragedy, with Morgaine at its center as a tragic heroine.

Throughout the story she makes mistakes and must struggle with her divided loyalties. However, she’s also strong-minded and willing to stand up for her beliefs, which are dying out in the world. Morgaine held up that novel for me; I tore through it just to see how her story would play out.

A huge thank you to Cassandra for stopping by as well as to Strange Chemistry Books for allowing me to be part of this tour.

As an added bonus, Cassandra has also kindly offered one lucky reader a chance to win an annotated copy of The Assassin’s Curse. All you need to do is fill in your details below and tell me who your favourite fantasy heroine is.

You can find her on the following sites and social networks:

Goodreads
Her website
Twitter

Update: Giveaway has now been closed. Winner will be entered into a draw, where upon an overall winner will be announced.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book review: Tiger's Curse

Tiger's Curse
A shape-shifting tiger and his brother under a centuries old curse, a young girl destined to hold the key to breaking it, and a perilous journey filled with ancient magic, mysticism, romance and danger.

Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck (Hodder & Stoughton)
In a book world that is currently (and still) being dominated by vampires, werewolves, angels and now, even mermaids, Tiger's Curse, offers something that's refreshingly different.

And I for one enjoyed it tremendously.

I mean, it's not every day you read about a young girl who has to journey to the heart of India to break a 300-year old curse, with only a white tiger for company.  

Yet, this is exactly what 17-year Kelsey finds herself doing after a summer job at a circus results in her travelling with a mysterious white beast who seems more human than feline, to a land lush with secrets waiting to be unravelled, and dangers just waiting around every turn and corner.

When Kelsey arrives in exotic India, she's soon taken on a wild traipse through the jungle where she discovers that  Dhiren, the tiger, is actually not a tiger, but an Indian prince who has been trapped in feline form for over 300 years.

With him only being able to shape shift into human every 24 minutes in the day, Kelsey and Ren are forced to navigate a labyrinth of never ending trips through derelict temples and mythical cities ruled by monkey gods, right into the pulsing beat of the wild jungles of India, where they're forced to come face-to-face with dark and magical forces in a quest to find a key to an ancient prophesy.

With the heat of the tropical forest running through their veins, it's only inevitable that passion and romance blooms between the two.

Between battling spell-binding magic , balancing their new-found romance and navigating through a mystical world where no lines are blurred between reality and illusion, Kelsey and Ren will have to keep their wits about them if they even have a hope of completing their task.

Let me start off by saying that this book was such a treat to read. The concept, the imagery and the beautiful descriptions made sure that I was kept glued to the pages of this book. 

I couldn't help but fall in love with the exotic descriptions of India; the vivid and phantasmagorical images searing through my head, while the fragrant spices, foreign dishes and depiction of run-down and ruined temples located in the green, green forests had me wishing I was in the midst of it all.

The dialogue, however, does often comes across as being a little stilted, especially in the first couple of chapters - but after a while - the book finds its rhythm and interaction between Kelsey, Ren and the supporting characters feel a lot more natural. Kelsey, for the most part, is quite a likeable protagonist.
Although she naively heads into the journey, she, for the most part, bravely endures the consequences her rather rash decision costs her.

I did, however, find myself a little annoyed with her towards the end. I often tend to have issues with heroines who aren't secure in themselves, and her how-could-he-possibly-love-me-because-I'm-so-ordinary-whinge was definitely one of the aspects of her personality that I could have done without. 

I mean really, that one's getting so old already, don't you think?

In a sense, I understand why she felt like she had to do what she did at the end of the book (which is the first in a series by the way), but if you're going to go that route (I'm being deliberately vague here), then do it with dignity sweetheart. 

Still, I definitely don't dislike her and hope that we'll see a more confident side to her in the next instalment.

Of course, Ren and his brother Kishan (can you smell a love triangle here? I can.) are equally interesting.

The myths and stories surrounding them only add to the puzzle and while I feel like I don't quite know them yet, I get the feeling that the next few books in the series will answer some much-needed questions I have about them.

Combined with the magic, myths and the origins of a terrible curse, Tiger's Curse is, if you look past its flaws, an entertaining, fun-filled and gorgeous fantasy read.  I would definitely recommend it to people tired of the same old formulaic paranormal reads.

I can't wait to get started on Tiger's Quest.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book talk: Reading to avoid reality

The gist of today’s book talk feature (I know, it’s been ages since I’ve done one, hasn’t it?)

Is it wrong to use fiction as a crutch to cope with all the negative things society (and life) keeps throwing our way?


I’ve been thinking a lot about the books that I’ve been reading lately and I’ve come to the following conclusion:

I’m addicted to the happily-ever-after kind of reads.

Now don’t get me wrong - books that are bitter sweet, leave me in an emotional mess or take me out of my comfort zone each have their own kind of allure and often have me waxing lyrical about them; but, today I'd rather  talk about my fixation with happy, sappy, make-you-feel-all-mushy-inside reads.

Just this morning I read a newspaper article that showed the graphic, disturbing and incredibly scary images of a young, beautiful woman who was hospitalised after being viciously assaulted and brutalised by a man she was supposed to be protected from.

Not long after that, I read another article about a blunder that led to a rapist being allowed to walk free. 

It seems that every single day there’s an article about violence and lawlessness increasing, and while I try to be a mostly optimistic sort, sometimes it really, really gets to me.

Compound these feelings with the days when my depression is looming around, and I feel like my insides are taking a one-way ticket to a black hole of nothingness. 

And that’s when I turn to reading.

Now those who know me are very much aware that I love reading, but what many don’t realise is that on the darkest of days, I clutch and cling onto the books that I read with relentless fervour.

I don’t just read to escape, I read because it’s my lifeline.

And it’s on these days that I particularly read the books that are ridiculously, improbably and downright unrealistically romantic, because I know this is where hope is.

I read the fun, make-you-cringe-but-laugh-out-loud reads because if I don’t, those suicidal tendencies that I’ve been battling with for a good number of years, will return with a vengeance.

I gush, I sigh,  I giggle and I squee at the shenanigans of the couple who are in love but who each need a good conk to the head in order for them to realise this. I revel in their happiness and pretend that it’s mine.

When I read such a book, it makes me believe in fairy tales and happily ever after.  Not that I haven’t before, it’s just that dipping into a happy and affirming read reinforces this belief. And it makes me feel better again.

It’s made me wonder, though.

Is it very worrying of me to use happy, shiny reads as a crutch to cope with reality? Is it pathetic of me to be so soft and sensitive?

I know it's not going to go away or get any better, but still I seek the safe solace that reading provides.

Sometimes I think that I spend most of my time just waiting for a chance to get back into the book I’m reading because being in fantasy land is so much better.

But, that's just me.

What are your thoughts on this?

Are you big on happily-ever-after reads? And do you use fiction as a means to escape from the every day things life throws your way?

Disclaimer: This originally appeared as a column on Women24, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Author guest post: For the Love of Fairy Tales by Adrienne Clarke

Hi everyone

Today I’d like to welcome Adrienne Clarke, author of To Dance in Liradon, a young adult fantasy novel in many ways inspired by the Scottish (and very fairy tale-ish ballad), Tam Lin, to my blog today.

I’m particularly excited about today’s post, because it’s all about one of my favourite book topics of all time: Fairy Tales.

I supposed I could go on about how much I love them and have been reading them since I was a little girl, but I think Adrienne captures the very essence of fairy tales in a much better fashion than I could ever dream of doing.

Everything she loves about fairy tales is everything that has always appealed to me, and I could hardly believe my good fortune when she approached me with her idea to write about her love of those tales of yonder.

But, before I hand over the reins to Adrienne, here’s some more info about To Dance in Liradon, her YA fairy tale which releases on the 19 September.

About the book: 
To Dance in Liradon
Seventeen-year old Brigid O'Flynn is an outcast.

A chance encounter with the Faerie Queen left her tainted in the eyes of the villagers, who blame the Faerie for the village’s missing women and children.

Desperate to win the village’s acceptance Brigid agrees to marry her childhood friend: Serious, hardworking, Connell Mackenna.


But when Connell disappears before their wedding Brigid's hopes are shattered.

Blamed for her fiancĂ©’s death, Brigid fears she will suffer the same fate as the other village outcasts, the mysterious Willow Women.


Lured into Liradon by their inhuman lovers, and cast out weak and broken, the Willow Women spend their lives searching for the way back into Faerie. 

When Connell suddenly reappears Brigid is overjoyed, but everything is not as it seems. Consumed by his desire for beauty and celebration, Connell abandons his responsibilities, and Brigid soon finds herself drawn into a passionate, dangerous world of two.


When Brigid discovers the truth behind Connell's transformation she’s forced to choose between two men and two worlds. Brigid’s struggle leads her into glittering, ruthless Liradon where she must rescue her true love from a terrible sacrifice or lose him forever.

You can add the book to your Goodreads TBR pile here.

Over to Adrienne:

My Love Affair with Fairy Tales 

My love affair with fairy tales began at the age of four.

I used to sit beside the swamp near our house, catch frogs, kiss them, and wait impatiently for them to turn into princes.


Unfortunately, the much wished for transformation didn’t happen, but I remained entranced with the idea of magic, filled with the certainty that somewhere out there magical spells, curses, enchanted princes and happy endings were regular and delicious occurrences.

As I grew older I continued to devour fairy tales: The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault and other folk and fairy stories from around the world.

I was struck by the powerful dichotomy of good and evil, the intensity of emotion that drove people to wicked deeds and selfless sacrifices.


Overflowing with jealousy, fear, greed, desire, and most of all true love, fairy tales are a study of the human condition.

When I began to write To Dance in Liradon I knew that my story would draw on fairy tale themes, but with a twist. I wanted to create two distinct but intimately intertwined worlds, Faerie and human. Both have the power to lure and enchant, but in very different ways.

The story unfolds when my heroine, Brigid, finds herself torn between these two worlds as she struggles to understand who she is and where she belongs. I love naming heroines, and I chose Brigid as a nod to the Celtic Goddess of Fire.

Some of the story elements in To Dance in Liradon were inspired by the Scottish ballad Tam Lin. What I love most about this story is the fact that the girl rescues the boy. There should be more stories, I think, with female rescuers, and I’m proud to say that To Dance in Liradon is one of them.

Why do fairy tales continue to inspire? 

I think one reason is they appeal to our desire for fair play. In a world rife with injustice of all kinds, fairy tales satisfy our desire to see evil punished and virtue rewarded. There is very little ambiguity in fairy tales.


The reader is never left wondering about the outcome. Endings are meant to be clear and satisfying. And yet...the fairy tale world is not as simple as it seems.  Although celebrated for their happy endings, fairy tales’ darker elements are what make them so compelling.

Most fairy tales evoke a feeling of unease; a sense that once you’ve broken through that wall of thorns, bitten the poisoned apple, or donned that pair of glass slippers you’re never quite the same.

Like Sleeping Beauty you’ve woken from a deep sleep into a new world full of light and shadows.


In my opinion, the best stories are those that drive us to look deeper into the magic mirror and ask: Who am I? They show us ourselves, in all our flawed, uncertain beauty.

While trends in art and literature are sure to come and go, I’m convinced of the enduring power of fairy tales. Whether set in a land far, far away, on the streets of modern day New York, or in an alternate steampunk reality, fairy tales have the power to twist themselves into new and exciting forms, and I for one will still be reading.

Do you have a favourite fairy tale? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


You can catch Adrienne:
On Goodreads
Her Website


To Dance in Liradon will be released from Soul Mate Publishing on September 19th.

Available at:

http://www.soulmatepublishing.com

http://www.amazon.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Of Genies, Goblin Kings & Brazilian Sambas

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.

It’s been ages since I’ve really had a chance to do one of these (sigh, life seems to interrupt more often than I’d like these days), so I thought I’d highlight not just one pick, but three.

First up is:

The Art of Wishing  by Lindsay Ribar

Publication date: March 21st 2013 by Dial Books For Young Readers

He can grant her wishes, but only she can save his life.

Margo McKenna has a plan of attack for everything, from landing the lead in her high school musical to dealing with her increasingly absent parents.

But when she finds herself in possession of a genie's ring and the opportunity to make three wishes, she doesn't know what to do.

Especially since Oliver--not blue-skinned, not bottle-dwelling, but a genie nonetheless--can see more than what she's willing to show him.

With one peek into her mind, he can see the wishes that even Margo herself doesn't know she wants.

But Oliver comes with more than just mind-reading abilities, a flair for magic, and the prettiest eyes Margo's ever seen.

Someone from his past is hunting him--someone bent on killing him, along with all the other genies in the world, for the sake of honor. And as Margo soon discovers, it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.

Eek. Can we all shout GENIES? I mean, how refreshing is that? Sure, Jackson Pearce has done it, but that was a while back, and since then, the book world has been dominated by every other paranormal creature that’s become way too much of a staple in the market.

So Genies? Bring ‘em on I say. And how exciting does this one sound.  I love the concept and the cover… and… and… is it wrong that I now want to start singing Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle, even though this one isn’t a bottle-dwelling one?


The second book on my WoW list is: 

Greta and the Goblin King by Chloe Jacobs 

Publication date: November 13th 2012 by Entangled Publishing, LLC

While trying to save her brother from the witch three years ago, Greta was thrown into the fire herself, falling through a portal to a dangerous world where humans are the enemy, and every ogre, goblin, and ghoul has a dark side that comes out with the full moon.

To survive, 17-year-old Greta has hidden her humanity and taken the job of bounty hunter—and she’s good at what she does.

So good, she’s caught the attention of Mylena’s young Goblin King, the darkly enticing Isaac, who invades her dreams and undermines her determination to escape.

But Greta’s not the only one looking to get out of Mylena.

The full moon is mere days away, and an ancient evil being knows she’s the key to opening the portal. If Greta fails, she and the boys she finds stranded in the woods will die. If she succeeds, no world will be safe from what follows her back . . .

Ok, so how many of you were obsessed with Labyrinth when you were younger? Remember David Bowie in those tight, stretchy breeches?

Well, he was the start of many goblin-esque fanaticism from my side, which is why, when I stumbled upon this little gem, I couldn’t help but rub my hands in glee.

Another reviewer named Heather, on Goodreads describes it as, and I quote: “Hansel and Gretel meets Alice in Wonderland meets Labyrinth…”

… Now tell me that didn’t get your attention? I can’t wait to read this one.
 
Finally, we have:

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Publication date: March 1st 2013 by Scholastic

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. 

In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that's sure to make her legendary.

But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June's best friend, Gil).
 
But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government's strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki.

Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Ok, I have to confess that the blurb confuses me a little especially considering that the title is The Summer Prince while the blurb mentions Summer King, but when I read “amber eyes, and lethal samba”, in conjunction with the fact that this futuristic novel is set in sultry Brazil, well guess who added this to her TBR,  pile?

Also, I suppose there must be a reason for the title, so I’m not going to let that little detail stop me from squeeing over this book. I’d be very interested to see how this novel plays out. Can you imagine the writing?

And did I mention this book is set in Brazil? So much win if you ask me.
 
That's it from me for this week. What's on your Wow list? Feel free to share your list of links below.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book review: Abandon

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

Abandon

A new and altogether unique retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth, as told through the eyes of Meg Cabot.

Abandon by Meg Cabot (Macmillan Children’s Books)
Lately, there seems to be a spate of modern adaptations and retellings of myths and fairy tales emerging in the world of literature.

New takes on old stories, are certainly nothing new, but 2012 just seems to be a year filled with explosive new versions of these timeless tales.

I, being a huge fan of the above-mentioned genres, am definitely not complaining.

From retellings of Beauty and the Beast and Achilles and The Trojan War, to various takes on Russian fairy tales and my ultimate favourite, Hades and Persephone, I’ve been soaking up all the refreshing new takes with wild abandon.

Of course, you can imagine my glee when I first heard that Meg Cabot has also decided to jump on board and put her own spin on the Hades and Persephone myth.

Having never read any of her books before (tragic, I know), I wasn’t actually quite sure what to expect when I first started reading, but luckily for me, Abandon turned out to be quite an interesting read.

I suppose the first place I should start is by saying that I really love Meg Cabot’s writing.

She’s got such an easy, readable style that it’s hard not to get sucked into this story, and chances are if you’re a first time reader of Cabot’s novels, you’ll probably enjoy this one as much as I did too.

The first in a trilogy, Abandon tells the story of Pierce, a young girl, who after being revived from death, is never quite the same again. During the time of her death, Pierce manages to find herself in the Underworld, where she meets the dark and dangerous John Hayden.

Both terrified of him and intrigued by him, Pierce manages to escape and proceeds to move back to the island that her mother grew up on.

Unfortunately for her, it turns out that not only does John still watch over her, but darker and much deadlier forces are swirling around, waiting for the perfect opportunity to harm her,

Soon Pierce finds that perhaps the one place she fears the most, is the one place that can probably offer her the very protection that she needs; it’s just too bad that no one can protect her from falling for the dark deity that resides in the Underworld.

While not without its share of flaws, Abandon makes for an interesting read.

One of the most important things readers should probably know is that this novel, while loosely based on the myth around Persephone, is definitely not a fully-fledged adaptation of it. What Cabot does is use the basic fundamentals of the story, incorporates it into Abandon and makes it her own completely.

Still an adaptation of sorts, just not a very traditional one.

Pierce with her save-the-world tendencies and John with his dark and broody persona, are both characters that, while likeable enough, aren't fully fleshed out yet. I suspect that this is deliberate on Cabot's part and works well as a ploy; because at the end of the day, John and Pierce's story is one the reader becomes invested in.

Whatever we don't know now, Meg has guaranteed that we'll want to keep reading in the next book.

The relationship between John and Pierce can best be described as being stormy and tempestuous. Told through flashbacks, we are given a glimpse into how they first met, right up until how she ended up in the Underworld.

We actually don't get to see a lot of John in this novel, but when we do, he tends to leave us wanting more. He is made of mystery and secrets, and it's that aura that attracts both Pierce and the reader's attention.

Her perception of him tends to leave the reader a tad bit frustrated because the part of her that fears him tends to cloud her judgment. 

When she eventually does see beyond his fiercely brooding nature, we finally get a glimpse of the man that hides beneath the aloof exterior. Still, there's so much that we don't know, and I for one, am looking forward to getting some answers in book two.

What made up for the issues I had with this book, were the book's settings. Set on Isla Huesos, which translates to Island of Bones, the eeriness of the island mirrors the story perfectly.

Think graveyards, and tropical thunder storms.  Add furies on a quest for vengeance, and events like coffin night and days celebrating the dead and you'll have a good idea of the kind of atmosphere you can expect.

All in all, Abandon is a great set-up, filled with enough interesting characters and an interesting back story to keep the reader intrigued. I'm definitely looking forward to Underworld, the next book in the trilogy, which is also out now.