Monday, May 27, 2013

Book talk: Things Books Have Taught Me

Ask any book lover what literature and reading means to them and they'll tell you that it's so much more than just a leisurely activity that transports you to another time and place.

Oh, there's no doubt that this is indeed what books, depending on how good they are, often manage to do, but  more than that, it's also all about what the journey teaches us along the way.

Regardless of whether the book is set in a fantasy world or a more contemporary background -  the truth is that books that we can relate to have a bigger impact on us than we think.

Just take a few minutes to think about it.  Why is it that so many of our favourite quotes are from books?

And not just that, but why do so many of them stay with us even though years have passed since we've read them?

I can't speak for all bibliophiles out there, but I do have a general theory about this.

It's because those thoughts resonate within us; they connect and speak to us in ways that often confound us - and usually – somehow, at the right moment and the right time.

I know this all sounds rather twee, but I think that many literature lovers will agree when I say that there's usually always a line or two in a book that makes us all go, "That. That right there, is a feeling I've known all my life."

It's not just all pretty words and lyrical prose - there are details in the plot and in the development of the characters that have us drawing from and relating to their experiences, and whether it's just the act of reading or holding a physical book in your hand, one thing's for sure - books  will change your life.

Here's some of the most important lessons I've learnt from and about books.

Imagination trumps reality.

Because reading the news on a daily basis would be soul-crushing if we didn't have book worlds we could escape to.

Believing in fairy tales is a necessary ingredient to life.

Although some of them may be dark, many of them teach us that hope is a powerful force that prevails even in the midst of darkness.

To quote Neil Gaiman:

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

There's no friend more constant and non-judgmental than that of a book.

For every character that screws up, there'll always be a reader who says: "Oh my gosh, I did that too. I'm so glad I'm not the only one."

Because, as a quote from my favourite book, The Sky is Everywhere, says:

“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."

Besides, perfection's overrated - and it doesn't exist.

Underdogs do win. And they even get the girl/guy.

It may take you longer to get where you need to be than it does for others, but with a little perseverance, you'll eventually get to your intended destination.

Characters like these have taught me that life's not a race and making a competition out of it invariably only results in jealousy and insecurity.

You've got to die a little before you can live.

Yeah that character who goes to hell and back? That's both you and me. Our messes and troubles may not be as easily solvable or as quickly resolved as those of the heroes and heroines in our favourite books, but they do provide one hell of a learning curve.

And if they can tough it out, then so can we.

Libraries are the best kind of refuge (sometimes the only kind) you need when everything goes to hell.

There's no better place that offers you the choice of comforts from a wide collection of books, each begging to be the one to soothe that raw and gaping wound.

Armchair travelling is just as awesome, if not better, than physical travelling.

It's also cheaper, has no time limit and can be experienced over and over again, at your own leisure.

There is such a thing as happily-ever-after.

Well there is if you stop looking for it, keep believing in it and, most of all, actually wait for it to find you. 

In the meantime, while you're waiting, just keep reading. Why do you think so many of us love reading books with happy endings?  It keeps the hope alive (Not that books with bittersweet / sad endings aren't worth reading too).

I could go on and on - but the truth is that as long as I'm reading books, I'll always be learning something new; and the feeble list above, is but a brief glimpse into the psyche of a bibliophile whose life has been altered by her love of books and reading.

What have books taught you? I’d love it if you shared 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.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Excerpt & Giveaway: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

It’s the book that has been making waves (yes, I went there), all over world. Already out in some parts of the world, Rick Yancey’s YA dystopian novel is all about surviving in a world invaded by aliens.

Featuring a gutsy heroine, it’s also the first book in a trilogy, and from what I can gather, has already been optioned for film rights.

I’m currently reading it and can assure you that, so far, it’s definitely proving to be worth the hype and so much more. I’ll be featuring a review in the next two weeks or so, but if you can’t wait that long, thanks to the fabulous publishers, I’ve got an excerpt for you below (synopsis precedes the extract).

About The 5th Wave
The 1st Wave took out half a million people.

The 2nd Wave put that number to shame.

The 3rd Wave lasted a little longer, twelve weeks... four billion dead.

In the 4th Wave, you can't trust that people are still people.

And the 5th Wave? No one knows. But it's coming.

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs. Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth's last survivors.

To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope.

Now Cassie must choo
se: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death.

Add it to your TBR pile:

Check out the excerpt below:

THE 1ST WAVE took out half a million people.

The 2nd Wave put that number to shame.

In case you don’t know, we live on a restless planet. The continents sit on slabs of rock, called tectonic plates, and those plates float on a sea of molten lava. They’re constantly scraping and rubbing and pushing against one another, creating enormous pressure.

Over time the pressure builds and builds, until the plates slip, releasing huge amounts of energy in the form of earthquakes.

If one of those quakes happens along one of the fault lines that ring every continent, the shock wave produces a superwave called a tsunami.

Over 40 percent of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of a coastline. That’s three billion people.

All the Others had to do was make it rain.

Take a metal rod twice as tall as the Empire State Building and three times as heavy. Position it over one of these fault lines. Drop it from the upper atmosphere. You don’t need any propulsion or guidance system; just let it fall.

Thanks to gravity, by the time it reaches the surface, it’s traveling twelve miles per second, twenty times faster than a speeding bullet. It hits the surface with a force one billion times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Bye-bye, New York. Bye, Sydney. Good-bye, California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia. So long, Eastern Seaboard.

Japan, Hong Kong, London, Rome, Rio.

Nice to know you. Hope you enjoyed your stay!

The 1st Wave was over in seconds.

The 2nd Wave lasted a little longer. About a day.

The 3rd Wave? That took a little longer—twelve weeks. Twelve weeks to kill . . . well, Dad figured 97 percent of those of us unlucky enough to have survived the fi rst two waves.

Ninety-seven percent of four billion? You do the math.

That’s when the Alien Empire descended in their fl ying saucers and started blasting away, right? When the people of the Earth united under one banner to play David versus Goliath. Our tanks against your ray guns. Bring it on!

We weren’t that lucky.

And they weren’t that stupid.
How do you waste nearly four billion people in three months?

Birds.

How many birds are there in the world? Wanna guess? A million?

A billion? How about over three hundred billion? That’s about seventy-fi ve birds for each man, woman, and child still alive after the first two waves.

There are thousands of species of bird on every continent. And birds don’t recognize borders. They also crap a lot. They crap five or six times a day. That’s over a trillion little missiles raining down each day, every day.

You couldn’t invent a more efficient delivery system for a virus that has a 97 percent kill rate.

My father thought they must have taken something like Ebola Zaire and genetically altered it. Ebola can’t spread through the air.

But change a single protein and you can make it airborne, like the flu. The virus takes up residence in your lungs. You get a bad cough. Fever. Your head starts to hurt. Hurt bad. You start spitting up little drops of virus-laden blood.

The bug moves into your liver, your kidneys, your brain. You’re packing a billion of them now. You’ve become a viral bomb. And when you explode, you blast everyone around you with the virus. They call it bleeding out.

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship, the virus erupts out of every opening. Your mouth, your nose, your ears, your ass, even your eyes. You literally cry tears of blood.

We had different names for it. The Red Death or the Blood Plague. The Pestilence. The Red Tsunami. The Fourth Horseman.

Whatever you wanted to call it, after three months, ninety-seven out of every hundred people were dead.

That’s a lot of bloody tears.

Giveaway
And now, for the best part:

Thanks to the fabulous team from Penguin, you can win 1 of 3 copies  of The 5th Wave. The giveaway for the 3 copies is open to South African bloggers only, but I’m throwing in an additional copy in order to give international readers a chance to win.

I’ll be ordering the copy from The Book Depository, so make sure it ships to your country before you enter.

Rules:

1. This giveaway will run from now until the 15th June.

2. Winners will be announced on my blog and will be contacted via e-mail. Once you’ve been notified, you’ll have 48 hours to respond. Failure to do so will result in another winner being selected.

3. In order to quality for this giveaway, you have to (and this is NB):
    a) Have a book blog, and/or
    b) Have a profile on Goodreads, and/or
    c) Be on any other online platform where you’ve previously reviewed a book before.

4. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me about the book you consider to be your favourite this year, so far. When commenting, please provide me with a means of contacting you. 

You get a bonus entry if you tweet about the giveaway (please include my twitter handle:  @Tammy24_7).

And that’s it!

Trust me, you’ll definitely want to read this! So go forth and enter book worms!

Update: This giveaway is now closed

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Book review: From What I Remember

From What I Remember
Sometimes the best things happen when everything goes to hell and you're left stranded in a place with the last person you want to be with.

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

From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas (Electric Monkey)


One would think that, based on From What I Remember's cover, that the book is all cotton candy and fluffy goodness.

Well, you'd be right in a sense.

But you'd be wrong in assuming that it's just that and nothing more.  Because the truth is, that From What I Remember is one of those books that end up really surprising you with its layers.  And I mean that in the best way possible.

It's like biting into an already iced cupcake and discovering a hidden, gooey centre that will have you chewing the cupcake for much longer than you originally thought you would.

Between all the fun shenanigans and road-tripping mayhem and madness, I found myself not only giggling my way through From What I Remember, but genuinely feeling a kinship with the characters too.

Not only that, but I was also left feeling rather nostalgic, because reading about the characters experiences, had me wishing I could redo my last few years and high school - except I wouldn't be the chronically awkward wallflower who spent more time hiding from her peers instead of going out and grabbing life by its lapels.

And this, in essence, is to me what the book is about.

Written by Stacy Kramer (who by the way, just so happens to be a screenplay writer) and Valerie Kramer, From What I Remember is a delightful, laugh-out-loud read that introduces us to a cast of colourful characters; characters we've all come across at least once in our lifetime.

The four main characters in the story are as follows:

There's Kylie - hardworking, studious, movie-addict Kylie.

Being a scholarship student, life isn't exactly easy for her, and because she's surrounded by rich and entitled teens, she has to work extra hard for any form of recognition.

Not that that helps her in the long run.

With only a wealthy and gay cross-dressing film nerd for a friend (who is just as much an outcast as she is), Kylie is the awkward turtle of awkward turtles when it comes to any form of social interaction; not to mention having the dubious honour of being the school's social pariah.

Between being left with the responsibility of looking after her brother (who has Asperger's syndrome), and pursuing her dream to become a screenplay writer with only Will for company, Kylie's life is filled with a routine that's monotonous, but safe.

Will, on the other hand, is loud, flamboyant and flaunts his homosexuality in the only way that he knows how: by dressing up in the most fabulous and outrageous clothes he can find.

While he desperately tries to get Kylie to believe in herself, Will is forced to deal with his own issues on identity and fitting in. And while the two of them are fiercely protective of one another, it becomes clear that the world is not a bubble, and sometimes the best way to experience life, is to go wherever life decides to take you.

On the flipside of the coin, and at the top of the social food chain, are golden boy Max and his girlfriend, mean girl Lily.

Max has it all - the classic good looks, the popularity, the wealth and all the best opportunity that life could offer him.  With queen bee Lily at his side, it looks like he's pretty much set for everything fabulous and so much more.

And yet they too, have their own share of issues to deal with - issues that make them as relatable as Will and Kylie are to the reader.

Now you might be asking the following: just how do these teens' lives cross and collide with one another?

The trouble all starts with one final assignment before graduation.

When Kylie and Max are paired up to work on said task, neither of them anticipate that it would lead to Kylie chasing after a punk who steals her laptop and Max following after. Nor do they expect to end up in Mexico without passports.

As a result, they do what any teens stranded in a place, with no means of getting back before graduation day, does: they make the most of their time getting to know the locals and party up a storm. 

And of course, on the other side of the world, Will and Lily are both left wondering where on earth they are.

Now with a concept like that, how could this book be anything but fun?

For me, From What I Remember was such an incredible joy to read ; a joy I certainly didn't expect to feel when I first picked up this book. 

I went into this book thinking that it would be nothing but a sugary antidote to all the angst-ridden novels I've been reading lately, only to come out applauding Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas for not only creating characters that are funny, flawed, entertaining and surprisingly well-rounded, but for the heart-warming message about what it really means to have the courage to follow your dreams.

Kylie is the kind of character that you can instantly relate to. She's got so much going for her, but is so insecure about herself, that she doesn't realise how awesome she really is. 

Even though my school days are behind me, there are still days that I feel exactly the way she does, which is a big part of the reason I couldn't help but encourage and root for her all the way.

For someone who is so likeable and self-sacrificing, you just can't help but want the best for her.  Her fiercely protective and loving behaviour towards her younger brother, Jake (who has Asperger's) is incredibly moving too.

What I also loved about the novel was all the colourful descriptions of life in Mexico. Think Sangrias at Sunset, hot and spicy Mexican food and drunkenly fabulous fiestas where people revel in life and go from one house to the next to partake in festivities.

One thing is clear from this novel - the Mexicans definitely don't need an excuse to party.

It's this backdrop that makes for the perfect unfolding of the spicy-sweet and budding romance between Kylie and Max. Yes, Max-with-the-mean-girl-Lily-for-a-girlfriend Max. Perhaps this concept is clich├ęd, but  there's no denying how much fun it is to read about these kind of situations.

Plus, the chemistry between Max and Kylie is just too hard to ignore.  As for how Lily and Will fit in (you're going to love the outrageously fabulous Will) with the story - well, you're going to have to read the book to find out more.

The one thing I can tell you is that after reading From What I Remember,  you're going to be wishing for your own, fall-in-love-in-a-foreign-country story.

Be prepared - this book will take you on the trip of a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book review: Dead Beautiful

Dead Beautiful
A language long forgotten, hauntingly beautiful settings and a girl who just can't resist the impulse to dig up secrets from the grave, makes Dead Beautiful one compelling read.


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

Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon (Usborne)
I'm not quite sure when I first came across Yvonne Woon's Dead Beautiful, but I vividly remember being sold on the basis of the book being set in a cold, snowy small town - where a prestigious and old Gothic boarding school shrouded in secrets and clandestine activity, forms part of the book's main backdrop.

While good characterisation and an intriguing plot obviously make up a good part of defining whether or not a book is good or bad, there's nothing that adds more to the depth of a novel than an author setting the tone and mood of the book with fantastic - in this case, dark, lush, beautiful and sinister - settings.

And Dead Beautiful, in spite of falling prey to some of the more stereotypical elements that the Young Adult genre is so often prone to, is certainly one of the most beautifully descriptive novels I've read this year.

The novel kicks off when we're first introduced to Renee Winters, a teen living in sunny California.

Living the laidback life, and having just caught the attention of the popular boy she's been crushing on for ages, things couldn't be going better for her.

Well, at least not until one afternoon, when driving through the scenic parts of Cali, an unusual force of compulsion leads her into the heart of the Redwood Forest where she discovers the dead bodies of her parents.

Bewildered with grief, she soon receives a visit from a grandfather she barely knows; a grandfather who soon whisks her away and sends her off to Gotfried Academy, an isolated boarding school situated in the cold, wintry town of Maine. 

Upon her arrival, she soon discovers that the school she's attending is far different to the one that she's previously attended.

With crude sciences, horticulture, philosophy and Latin forming the greater part of her studies, Renee soon finds herself in a world shrouded in secrets, curses and ancient rituals that haunt the very hallways of Gotfried Academy.

Of course, the dark and gloomy world of shadowy things wouldn't be complete without the presence of a beautiful, aloof and mysterious boy in the midst of the confusing new place that she's in.

Despite the two of them not exactly getting off to the right start, Renee can't deny the fact that she's both attracted to and intrigued by the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Dante.

Soon, the two can barely stay away from one another.

Yet, things are not as clear cut as they seem - and as the budding relationship grows, so too does the knowledge that they're treading into dangerous and unchartered territory.

Not only is Dante hiding secrets of his own, but it's those very secrets that has a lot to do with the reason that romantic relationships have pretty much been outlawed at Gotfried Academy.

And with students disappearing and creepy and strict Monitors lurking about campus at night, the school has never been more on alert.

In the midst of it all, Renee, who has never been one for adhering to rules, is more determined to find answers to all of her questions - particularly when she discovers that there may be more to her parents' death than everyone has led her to believe.

I know. I know.

The book sounds like something we’ve all read before, doesn’t it? And yet, despite my cynicism, I decided that read it I must.

And believe it or not, Dead Beautiful ended up surprising me in so many ways.

Based on the book's title, I was initially under the impression that this book was just another book about vampires, but while it does deal with the concept of being undead, it does so in a way that I haven't come across very often, if not at all.

While this is no perfect read, Dead Beautiful certainly proves to be a book that is not only very beautifully written, but it's also one that immerses you into an ancient world of Latin and classical philosophy - subjects I've always been interested in.

Many readers have criticised this book for a) having such a slow start, b) taking too long to get to the point and c) being weighed down by laborious descriptions, but I tend to have an odd habit of enjoying aspects in novels that are problematic to others.

Because I’m a huge fan of lyrical writing and detailed narrative, I found myself really enjoying the slow build-up to the eventual and main storyline of the novel. 

In fact, while I thought the characters were rather staid in their typecast roles, it was the actual concepts being explored within the novel, as well as the writing, that really had me glued to the book.

The romance between Renee and Dante is pretty standard fare, and as characters, they are not altogether memorable; but, combined with themes that explores both the transient nature of the soul (based on philosophical principles) and interesting and ancient burial rites, Dead Beautiful proves itself to be one of the more eloquent and intelligently written YA paranormal novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

If I could give you advice regarding this book, it would be to tell you to read it for the wealth of interesting ideas presented in the novel, not for the characters.

I'm looking forward to reading Life Eternal, the sequel to Dead Beautiful.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Author guest post: Ciye Cho on Mermaid mythology


For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a huge fan of anything myth-related. Be it vampires or fey, goblins or werewolves; you name it, I’ll read it. 

Which is why, when author Ciye Cho asked me to review Luminaire, the second book in the Florence Waverly series (which is all about a human living amongst the magical merfolk), I not only jumped at the chance, but decided to use the opportunity to find out whether or not he’d be keen to write something on merfolk and mermaid mythology.

Luckily for me, Ciye was most obliging and only too happy to write about a creature of myth that definitely counts amongst my list of favourites.  

For those of you who haven’t heard of the series, Florence, book one, deals with a young, introverted and  teenaged girl, Florence, who finds herself in a strange, magical and underwater world after being kidnapped and dragged below as a gift to a Mer Prince.

What follows is a treacherous journey through rough waters, dealing with hostile and unwelcoming merfolk (particularly the Prince’s attractive brother) and a situation in which Florence unwillingly becomes a pawn in a large play for power.

To find out more, you can read the synopsis and add the book to your TBR on Goodreads.

Below is information about book two, followed by Ciye’s guest post.
 

About Luminaire (book 2):
Being the only human in a world of merfolk... isn't easy. Florence Waverley chose to stay in Niemela, but things have gone awry.

Secrets have risen and the prince she cares about has pulled away. All the while, dark dreams warn her of a tragedy that only she can stop.

But in order to save the merman she loves, Florence will have to enter the Life Path tournament: a brutal test of fear and madness.


The tournament is a rite of passage--a maze where young mermaids and mermen battle to find their purpose.

It is also a place where Florence will face grave danger: mermaids with evil magic, tunnels filled with sea fire, and guardians who wish to use her as a pawn in their secret plans.


But will Florence be strong enough to survive the tournament... or will she perish inside it?

Everything hangs in the balance: her life, her world, and her love.

You can add Luminaire to your Goodreads TBR pile too.

Over to Ciye:

6 things you might not know about mer mythology

Mermaids have lived on in our imaginations for centuries. However, the myths behind these fantastic creatures have evolved over the years in strange and wonderful ways.

The following are some tidbits that you might not know about mermaids and mer-creatures.

1) The Real "King Triton"

King Triton was the tough-but-kindly father of Princess Ariel in Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

However, Triton was originally a character from Greek mythology. And according to the myths, Triton was the 'messenger of the sea' and the son of Poseidon.

Triton had the torso of a man and the tail of a fish, just like his cartoon namesake; however, the Greek version had an oceanic pallor and hair that was sea green. He carried a trident, just like his old man, but he also had a unique gadget of his own: a conch shell that could control the waves.

Triton had many children (the number varies according to which tale you dig up), but the most interesting of his offspring had to have been the Tritons: a race of mer-like creatures who were minor gods and goddesses of the sea.

All in all, the Greek Triton was fearsome and unknowable. (And he certainly didn't get his advice from a red crab.)

2) Undines and sleep apnea

The Undines were a bunch of water elementals rumored to live in waterfalls, rivers, and (in some texts) the oceans. They were described as soulless creatures who had great singing voices. Oh, and they were supposed to be able to gain a soul if they married a man and had his baby.

"Sleep of Ondine" is a German fable depicting an Undine who married an ordinary Joe and settled down to have a family with hi

m. According to the story, her life was pretty peachy for a while; until, one day she found her husband cheating on her with a woman in a barn. Incensed by his cheating (in a barn, no less!) she cursed him on the spot and told him that he would die the moment he fell asleep.

To this day, I don't think there's ever been a more terrifying case of sleep apnea. (Unfortunately for him, caffeine wasn't around in those days.)

3) Daughters of Air (Warning: contains minor spoilers regarding The Little Mermaid.)

"The Little Mermaid" is one of the most treasured fairytales; however, some controversy surrounds its original ending. In the widely published version, the little mermaid dies and dissolves into foam, but is saved by angelic beings known as the "Daughters of Air." They tell her that she can gain a soul if she does 300 years' worth of good deeds.

However, it is believed that Hans Christian Andersen's original manuscript did not include the "Daughters of Air" sequence, and many scholars feel that this 'happy ending' was a last-minute addition.

Indeed, the overall work seems more like a tragic love story than anything else - which might be why many adaptations purposefully omit the Daughters of Air.

4) Human on the outside?


Some of the earliest merfolk in mythology were not too dissimilar from you and me. In fact, the earlier eras of mer myths were often populated by leggy mermaids.

For example, the mermaids in "One Thousand and One Nights" lived underwater in a mirror version of our world; and get this: they were anatomically just like us.

Except of course, they could breathe H2O.

5) Mixed-up mer


While most people think of mermaids as being half human and half fish, not all mermaids in mythology follow the whole 'torso on top; tail at the bottom' configuration.

Take for example, the fully-scaled mermaid or the double-tailed mermaid. (Cool fact: The Starbucks logo is based on a woodcut of a double-tailed mermaid, and if you look carefully at it, you can see two tails.)

6) Ye Olde Mermayde!


The word 'mermaid' comes from two Old English words: mere (sea) and mayde (maiden, as in a young woman or girl).

Thanks for stopping by Ciye. It was such a pleasure to have featured this post on my blog today.

You can look out for my review of Luminaire coming up soon!

About Ciye
Ciye Cho lives in Australia and works as a graphic designer. He writes YA novels in his free time--and his head is often lost in the clouds or someplace far from reality...

Where you can find Ciye
:

His website

Goodreads
Twitter