Thursday, November 29, 2012

Author guest post: Cat Hellisen on finding inspiration for her book settings

Hi everyone

Today I’m really excited to welcome Cat Hellisen, author of YA fantasy novel When the Sea is Rising Red, to my blog today.

The reason I’m so delighted to have her featured on my blog today is because not only is Cat and incredibly gifted author whose novel just happens to be one of my top reads of 2012, but also because the settings of her novel is, on so many levels, so very recognisable to me.

Photo:Nerine and Thomas Dorman
Imaginative book worlds are always such a treat to immerse one’s self into, but they’re made even more phenomenal, when the author takes elements from the city she lives in (a city which I hail from and reside in too), and incorporates it into a her fantasy novel,

After I’ve read When the Sea is Rising Red (do please check out my review of the book), I simply had to ask Cat if she’d give us a little insight and background into her book world.

So, without further ado, I’m handing over to Cat and let her do all of the talking…

How Pelimburg grew up on Cape Town's beaches.
 
When I wrote my first book set in the Hobverse, I was still living in Johannesburg and dreaming of going back to Cape Town where I was born.

That first story was set in the sprawling mining city of MallenIve, but I missed my home, and out of my longing Pelimburg was born.

Later I wrote a book set in that dream-city, and it seems almost fitting that the new book sold after I returned home. In When the Sea is Rising Red, the character Felicita describes Pelimburg as “a city of rain and mist and spray”, a grand thing slowly decaying. That's not the Cape Town of today. 

Old Muizenberg Buildings
The inspiration came from my childhood, of the faded grandeur of the narrow Victorian façades in Green Point, the long beaches of Muizenberg, the hill-side houses of Fish Hoek and the harbour and mountains of Simon's Town. 

Image from: Hilton Teper
One of the first places Felicita runs to when she tries to escape her tightly-controlled life is the promenade I loosely based on Sea Point's (then) crumbling promenade that runs along the rocky little beaches.

As a young adult I lived all over Green Point and Sea Point, before the big boost turned Green Point into the re-invented place it is today.

Like Mouillie Point, it's losing anything that gave it any charm and is being turned into an extended soulless wing of the Waterfront Empire of the Wealthy. But that's not how I remember it. 

Some of my favourite moments came from getting off the last bus home to Sea Point, leaning my elbows on the promenade railings and smelling the night sea while the fog horns sounded blearily.

Or of sitting on the rocks sharing my fish and chip gatsby with the gulls. Walking the dog at 6:30 in the morning and surprising a large bull seal in the mist. Those are the images and feelings that informed Felicita's first tentative exploration of her city.
Cape Point
Pelim's Leap is one of the pieces of landscape that plays a significant role in the story as the place where Felicita fakes her suicide.

This one is easy to dig up the inspiration behind, as anyone who has made the often wind-ripped trip to Cape Point will know.

I did leave out all the baboons, though.

What with selkies and unicorns and jackals and gulls and penguins, I was worried that book was going to turn into more of a zoo than a story.

I would have liked to add in porcupines, hippos, baboons and all the birdlife I love, but I think it might have been a bit much.

Simon's Town: Image from Daguero
The harbours in Cape Town all played their part in the shaping of Pelimburg – from the V&A with its huge industrial harbour, to the smaller fishing harbours of Kalk Bay and Simon's Town. Simon's Town in particular is the one I was thinking of when I was writing about the music of the masts – that eerie whistle that hums and shivers right through your skull as the wind blows.

Pelimburg is not a transplanted Cape Town – for a start, we definitely don't have navigable shipping rivers - but my home is a great place to get source material and I loved embroidering the little pieces of Cape Town into my made-up city, stealing sights and sounds and smells and working them into the bizarre tapestry of Pelimburg.

I'm sure that readers familiar with Cape Town will recognise little places here and there, and I love that connection. I wanted my made-up city to feel real, no matter how strange it was, and I didn't want to write just another medieval-lite fantasy setting.

Hopefully, I achieved that and one day I hope to be able to share the other books and the other cities, like the monstrous city MallenIve, “known for her vices and pleasures” with my readers. 

About When the Sea is Rising Red

After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege.

She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind.

Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik.

Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven's death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic.

Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg's caste system, and the whole city along with it.


Where you can find Cat:

Twitter
Facebook page
Website
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You can also purchase a copy of the book over at Kalahari.com, Exclusive Books, The Book Depository or Amazon.com.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book review: Mistwood


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

Mistwood

A beautifully written fantasy novel featuring a bold, fearless heroine who inadvertently gets caught up in a battle fraught with intrigue and murderous intent.

Mistwood by Leah Cypess (Greenwillow)
It's been a good while since I've read a fantasy novel, so when I found myself browsing through my bookshelves not too long ago, the first book my eyes landed on was Leah Cypess' Mistwood.

With its pretty purple cover, which features a green-eyed girl and a castle shrouded in mist, this book just had read me written all over it.

And am I glad I picked it up, because, while not without its flaws, Mistwood proved to be an exquisitely written and complex novel consisting of an intriguing cast of characters, a unique plot and a magical setting filled with secrets it refuses to give up very easily.

Isabel is not human. 

She's an immortal shifter, bound by duty to protect every Royal King of Samorna. Living in the magical and mystical woods of Mistwood, she only leaves the forest when she's needed.

When Prince Rokan first stumbles across her, the young woman he brings to the Royal courts is wild, feral and mistrustful of everyone around her. Complicating matters further is that Isabel can’t remember anything about her past.

Knowing very little about her heritage, the power she possesses and even less about her history with previous members of the Royal court, Isabel is not entirely sure what she’s gotten herself into.

However, bound by a bracelet, she finds herself compelled to protect Prince Rokan, even though she suspects that he may be lying about the very reason he brought her to the Samorna court.

With only days to go before his coronation, Rokan not only needs her ability to sniff out danger, but also relies on her to remain in his service, showing complete loyalty to him and only him.

What he doesn’t realise is that the deadly secret he is harbouring, may not only prove to be his downfall, but will impact on isabel’s life in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine.

If you’re a relatively new fan of fantasy fiction and are looking for a read with a plot that isn't as complicated as the Game of Throne series, but interestingly layered all the same, then Leah Cypess’ Mistwood is a good place to start.

While often categorised as a YA fantasy novel, the book’s plot, characters, structure and writing style is executed in such a way, that I think this is one of those novels that actually has major crossover appeal. 

Think of how universally appealing the Terry Pratchett books are to both adults and kids alike, and you’ll be able to get just what I mean when I say that Mistwood is a novel that falls under the same category.

Exquisitely written, Leah’s descriptions of Mistwood and life inside the Royal throne of Samorna are nothing short of magical.

From the ornately decorated castle to the colourful cast of characters - each with very distinctive (and not always good) traits - Cypess manages to pull the reader into a book world that is at once magical, treacherous and mythical.

Leah's writing has somewhat of a lyrical quality to it. Combined with the interesting character dynamics, her mystery-tinged fantasy style is a perfect fit for Mistwood, especially considering the fact that a plot to overthrow the crown prince forms one of the most dominant arcs within the story.

What's especially fascinating about this novel is that Leah turns the character stereotypes on their head, making sure that Isabel's bold and dominant character is felt throughout the novel. 

As a shifter, Isabel is ordinarily not ruled by human emotions. While she's excellent at sensing an impending physical attack, she often takes a little longer to decipher the real intent behind people's motives.

What she doesn't realise is that for all of her claims of being the shifter, being around the Prince and the people of the court, exposes her more human side, resulting in her slowly changing, adapting and showing a far more vulnerable side to her than she realises.

Her relationship with Prince Rokan is certainly an interesting one. For a prince, Rokan often tends to err on the side of caution and insecurity, often making decision based on his emotions than on level-headed and logical thinking.

Isabel acts as his protector and often steps in to rescue Rokan on more than one occasion.

For me, reading a book like this is such a nice change from the "knight in shinging armour rescuing the damsel in distress" type of reads that so often presents itself within the fantasy genre.

Leah created a protagonist who is not only more than capable of defending herself, but is willing to risk dying to protect what she is bound to protect. 

That there is the beginning of a romance between the two characters  slowly but surely surfaces, but this aspect is so subtle that it actually takes a backseat to the actual story. The additional cast of characters, including Clarisse, Rokan's sister, also add a dynamic that only serves to add depth to this intriguing novel.

In fact, Clarisse is a character that readers will find themselves not quite sure of. At times, you'll even find yourself suspecting her of double-crossing her brother, such is the fickleness of her nature.

The one criticism I have about Mistwood, is that the plot becomes a little muddled towards the end. While events between past and present seem to be related, it often comes across as being a little disjointed.

I think the best way to not let yourself be confused by everything that happens, is to actually read it in one sitting.

Still despite this issue, Mistwood with its plot twists and turns, devious sorcery and political treason at hand, proves to be a great fantasy read that will keep you engaged with both the plot and characters right unto the end.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book talk; The Quirks of a Book Nerd

The thing I love most about books and reading, is that it has resulted in me developing a lot of eccentric and bookish habits.

I've been thinking about the fact that we read so much and focus so much on the lovely interior and world within the books, that we forget how we appear on the outside.

In fact, I can say with certainty that we often have no idea just how far their influence stretch to and beyond our daily lives and how it shapes our day-to-day routine.

And so, it's with this in mind I've come to realise the following about myself:

1. If I take a break, I have to stop when a new book chapter ends or starts. I hate bookmarking in between chapters because it makes me feel like I'm reading something incomplete.

2. If I buy a book series, they have to be in the same format and have the same covers. I recently bought The Hunger Games box set and gave away my original copy because it didn't match up with the rest.

3.
I am a complete and utter sucker for a pretty book cover and (will sometimes spend money ill-advisedly I might add!) to splurge on a book because the cover entranced me.

4. I get excited about a book, buy it, and once I do, end up not reading it immediately. It's as if I first need to satisfy the need to have the book on my book shelf, let it soak in a little, and then maybe a month or so later, finally pick the book up. There are of course, exceptions to this rule.

5. Perversely enough, when I'm in the mood for a book, I tend not to be in the mood for one of my own, unread books on my shelf, and end up buying another one.

Sometimes, I'll even read that one immediately and sometimes, I'll end up picking up a book from my shelf after adding the one that I just bought. (I know. I'm a walking contradiction).

6. I've only recently learned how to abandon books I don't like because there are simply too many books and too little time! Still working on the guilt issue though.

7. I know books are subjective and I know that I've written a column about how I don't need to love the book that you do, but secretly, it still annoys me when people don't recognise my favourite book for the awesomeness that it is (feel free to throw rocks at me if you want).

8. You are instantly my new best friend if you end up loving a book that I recommended to you. If you hated it, I don't want you to tell me (oh alright, you can tell me).

9. I am the ultimate book hoarder. I hate letting go of books. Also, how can I let go of books when I'm planning to build a library bigger than the one that the Beast gave Beauty? Tsk.

10.
If I lend you books, I'm secretly hoping you'll read the book in a day so that I can get it back immediately. I have book separation anxiety issues, ok? They're my babies.

11. If my book comes back to me in a bad condition, I make a mental note to never pass another book the offending person's way, and then ask them to buy me a new copy.

And finally...

12. If I love an e-book, I absolutely have to buy the physical book as well.

Right, now that I've confessed my oddball habits.

Actually, I have so much more to add, but think it would be more fun to hear about yours. 

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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Mortal Instruments Movie trailer

Right.


I'm not going to do any talking. I'm just going to post the official trailer for The Mortal Instruments movie right here. Right now.


Can we say *squee*

*Dies of excitement*



P.S. You're welcome. * Cheeky Grin*

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book review: Vixen

Disclaimer: This review can also be seen featured on  Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.
 
Vixen
The rip-roaring 1920s comes alive in a novel that focuses on three girls trying to make it into the high-flying world of Chicago's jazz-fuelled and Flapper society.

Vixen by Jillian Larkin (Corgi)
When I first picked up Jillian Larkin's Vixen, I must confess that I did so rather grudgingly.

While I do love my fair share of historical fiction, I find that I don't read the genre very often; something I really should change.

When I chose to read Vixen, it was with the intention of just filling up a reading void while on a break from my usual favourites.

My expectations of Vixen were very low to begin with, so you can imagine my surprise when I found that I had to swallow all my preconceived notions as I found myself not only being completely enthralled by the story, but also being thoroughly, thoroughly invested in the lives of the characters.

In short, Vixen is an absolute gem of a novel.

I had no idea that books set in the sexy and jazzy 1920s could actually make for such a titillating read. Having not really been a fan of Flapper period-based novels, Vixen is the book that now has me wanting to read more books set in this period.

Chicago 1920. 

It's a metropolis of unlawful activity.

From illegal speakeasies and alcohol consumption, to the Mobsters who rule the dark, smoky and sensual underbelly of the city, Vixen explores the era when the Prohibitions Act was alive and well, in all of its glittery, seductive and seedy opulence.

You'll fall in love with the glamour and the ra-ra-ness of it all.

Think about fabulous descriptions of the gorgeous fashion to the ostentatious parties thrown by the flashy nouveau riche, and you'll definitely have a sense of just what you can expect from this smoky and swoon-worthy historical read.

The story focuses on 3 different young girls: Gloria, Lorraine and Clara.

At the age of 17, everyone thinks that Gloria has it all. She comes from one of the most prestigious families in Chicago, is a gifted student and is engaged to Sebastian Grey, one of the city's ultimates in Blue Blood breeding.

Despite it all, our dear Glo longs for more than the life she's living. Stifled by the stiff and rigid rules she's forced to live by, Gloria yearns to be part of the flapper lifestyle. From the sleek and bobbed hairstyles to the sensuous jazz music that forms part of the nights at local speakeasies, Gloria wants to have fun.

Clara, Gloria’s cousin arrives in Chicago to make sure that the wedding of the year goes off without a hitch. Presenting herself as the picture-perfect good girl, Clara hopes to make a brand new start away from a past filled with nothing but heartache, secrets and pain.

Finally, there’s Lorraine, Gloria’s loud and outspoken best friend. Tired of living in her friend’s shadow and desperate to get the boy of her dreams to notice her, Lorraine will do anything to get her way.

Combine three girls who each have different ambitions and aspirations, add a cauldron of scheming, forbidden trysts and run-ins with mobsters and you’ve got yourself one dazzling and dishy read.

Switching between the three girls’ point of view, we as the readers, are given a chance to get to know each character very well. The dynamic and different personalities are rather striking in their differences, and is one of the biggest aspects that lend this novel its packing punch.

The underlying tensions, jealousy and catfights give you an idea that these girls won't let anyone stand in their way. Lorraine in particular, is nasty and spiteful. Yet, for all of their flaws, Lorraine's in particular, you can't help but root for each and every girl to find what she's looking for.

At the end of the day, underneath all the so-called superficial layers, these girls are incredibly soft, vulnerable and just want to follow their dreams. Sure they often tend to be misguided and do incredibly stupid things, but that's what forms part of their charm.

An added interesting aspect of the novel is the interracial romance between Gloria and one of the black jazz musicians she meets at a speakeasy.

The 1920s was a period where the drinking and distribution was not the only thing that was considered illegal, but where relationships between people coming from different ethnic backgrounds were more than frowned upon.

And Larkin handles the simmering and sensual tension between Gloria and Jerome with a subtle intensity that will have you cheering and hoping for a happy ending for the two.

Clara herself proves to be an especially interesting character. Watching her suppress her natural persona and putting on act will leave you wondering just what the secret is that she's so desperately trying to hide.

Added to the drama is the fact that Marcus, the boy Lorraine is trying so hard to catch, starts showing an interest in her.

Naturally you can only imagine the big hoo-ha that ensues.

There are so many fabulous things about this novel, that it's really hard to go into everything in any more details than I already have.

The one thing I can tell you is that when you read this, you should be prepared to be dazzled by the intoxicating settings, the beautiful writing and the devious twists.

Oh, and the best thing about this? It's part of a trilogy.

And with the way things ended in this novel, I can't wait to see how these girls fair in the next two books.

Read it.

It's fabulous and all that jazz.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book review: Adorkable

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

Adorkable
Embrace your inner geek with this phenomenal and adorably adorkable read.

Adorkable by Sarra Manning (Atom)
When I first stumbled across Adorkable, my first thought was that there is absolutely no way a book with such a fabulous title could be anything but fabulous. 

Having seen so many rave reviews for it, I couldn’t help but actually resort to begging the fabulous publicist (thank you Candice) from Penguin Books to send me a copy for review.


Let me tell you this: Adorkable, is hands down, the best book I’ve read this year so far.

To give you some idea of the reasoning behind the conclusion of just why this book is so incredible, let me start off by quoting the Adorkable philosophy that the book kicks off with:

“The Ad♥rkable Manifesto

1. We have nothing to declare but our dorkiness.
2. Jumble sales are our shopping malls.
3. Better to make cookies than be a cookie-cutter.
4. Suffering doesn’t necessarily improve you but it does give you something to blog about.
5. Experiment with Photoshop, hair dye, nail polish and cupcake flavours but never drugs.
6. Don’t follow leaders, be one.
7. Necessity is the mother of customisation.
8. Puppies make everything better.
9. Quiet girls rarely make history.
10. Never shield your oddness, but wear your oddness like a shield.”


With a book that starts off like that, you can only be assured that you’ll be in for the reading journey of your life. 

As the back cover of the book says: “Welcome to the dorkside. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

In fact, I love this book so much, that I fear that my review won’t do the contents of this adorable, clever and thoroughly witty and engaging book the justice it deserves.

Written in the form of a dual narrative structure, Adorkable focuses on two teens who are complete polar opposites to one another, and have nothing in common except a pair of cheating exes (who, by the way, have since hooked up).

Jeane is your ultimate geek. Not only is she a jumble sale fanatic and blogging extraordinaire, she also has her own lifestyle brand (called Adorkable), more than half a million followers on Twitter and is an active promoter of feminism amongst her more apathetic peers.

What she doesn’t have, is friends.

Michael on the other hand, is everything that Jeane is not (nor wants to be).

He’s the ultimate golden boy of his school. He’s popular, wears the latest and most fashionable clothing (Mass market produced clothing as Jeane like to label it), is an all-round sports star and manages to maintain good grades while having an active social life.
 
In short, he has it all.

Now, from what I’ve described so far, I realise that this may sound like your average popular boy meets geeky girl , sees beyond her exterior and eventually falls in love with her story, but don’t be fooled.

Because it’s about the furthest thing from what it is.

You see, as clichéd as the concept may sound, it’s what Sarra Manning does with it that makes this novel so utterly, utterly fabulous.

Not only does she take a well-known and common concept and completely turn it on its head,  but she does so in a humorous, snarky and incredibly thoughtful way, that she not only gives depth to the book, but also to the very characters she’s created.

Jeane for all of her quirkiness, is actually not a very likeable person.

Sure, she wears the most eccentric of clothing and dyes her hair the most outrageous colours available (she loathes conformity, our Jeane), but she’s abrasive, rude, obnoxious and has a superior “geeks against the rest of the (dumb) population” complex going on.

She doesn’t mince words, constantly argues and picks fight with her teachers and has a no-tolerance policy against people whom she considers three numbers short of being classified as a bone fide moron with no brains.

Here’s the kicker though.

Jeanne may be an infuriating character, but Sarra manages to not only make you care about her, but also to downright love and root for her despite her blatant obnoxiousness.

You can’t help but love her, because not only can you sense that underneath all the tough-as-nails, I-don’t-need-anybody-on-my-side attitude, there’s a desperate feeling of loneliness that constantly lurks underneath the surface.

She may be an emancipated teen making a ton of money because of her lifestyle brand, but she doesn’t have much of a relationship with her parents and her sister is on the opposite side of the pond.

Adorkable and her dare-to-be-a-rebel-against-the-confirmist-society attitude is all that she has, and makes up the entire philosophy behind her company. In reality, she craves for that special human connection that’s so desperately missing from her life.

See? You can’t hate someone who hides behind a defensive exterior in order to shield herself (and her fabulous self – because she is an awesome character) from the world.

When she starts spending time (read: making out sessions galore) with the gorgeous Michael (who, may I had, is one of my favourite book boys), she soon begins to learn that there’s more to Michael than just a pretty face. And that she may be missing out on something she’s always disparaged.

For his part, Michael is one of the most genuinely likeable male characters I’ve come across. For all of his status as the It-boy of his high school, he’s friendliness and willingness to go out of his way to help Jeanne (despite her initial putdowns), speaks of a boy with heart, empathy and incredible insight.

He’s the sweet to Jeane’s sour and balances her out perfectly.  The chemistry and the attraction between the two of them is palpable and watching their relationship unfold is such an absolute treat. I have to add at this point, that Manning also doesn’t shy away from sex in this book.

I often find that many authors, especially within this genre, tend to tiptoe around it (to be fair, with all the wails and battlecries calling for ridiculous censorship of books, one can hardly blame them), but Sarra manages to not only make it sweetly awkward and real, but also very, very sexy too.

Apart from the relationship between the two and witnessing how Jeanne comes full circle from a dark place in her life, Adorkable is not just a book about two polar opposites coming together.

Instead Adorkable is a book for the disenfranchised.

It’s for those who feel like they don’t belong, and for those who are trying to find their identity in a society filled with pressure to conform to the expectations that has unwittingly been set out for us. It’s a book that wholly embraces feminism and a novel that celebrates you for being you.


In the end, no matter what you where, what flaws you have, and how you learn from mistakes, it’s a book that celebrates every single person who has ever felt the desperate need to belong.

Read it please. The space on this page is just not enough to tell you how wonderful this book is (and there is so much more I want to say about it).