Review Wednesday | Book Review – Alora’s Tear Volume 1: Fragments (Blog Tour)

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is no magic in Vladvir…

Tucked away in a quiet valley, the community of Tolarenz offers a refuge and safe haven for its people, keeping persecution at bay. One young citizen—Askon son of Teral—is destined to lead them, but first he must leave them behind: one final mission, in service of the king.

In the north, leering nightmare creatures known as the Norill gather. Their armor is bone and skin; their weapons are black and crude and cold. They strike in the night, allies to the darkness. It is to them Askon marches, his men a bulwark against the threat.

For there is no magic in Vladvir.

What Askon finds when he arrives seems impossible: smoke and fire, death and defeat, and all around a suffocating sense of dread. The Norill seek something they call ‘the Stone of Mountain,’ but in the half-remembered stories from Askon’s childhood, it was always ‘Alora’s Tear’: a gem with powers great and terrible. A gem that cannot exist.

Unless there is magic in Vladvir…

 

‘Fragments’ is the first book in the Alora’s Tear trilogy. I must admit that I was wary of this book at first – fantasy is a vast and densely populated genre, with a lot of tropes and clichés that just get boring. High fantasy in particular is one that I often struggle to get into – there’s only so many times you can read the same story over and over, just with different names; and none compare to The Hobbit. I was relieved, then, that ‘Fragments’ proved me wrong – I was drawn into the story very quickly; although this may be in part because it is established early on that Askon, our hero, is left handed!

The story flows very well, and although it is clear that it was always intended to be part of a series, it doesn’t feel like a sort of “build up book” – it is a book in its own right, not mostly filler as many first parts appear to be. I don’t want to spoil, as I feel that it may put some people off, but the book does twist at the end; you know the book is building up to something that you may have to wait until the next book for, but what that thing is changes entirely towards the end of the story. I found this very effective and as a writer I can appreciate the tactic; Barham drew me in and left me wanting so much more.

The characterisation is largely very good, and any minor aspects of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ were easy to overlook – as an English graduate and now a reviewer I find that I’m in the very annoying habit of nitpicking and this can get in the way of the story, but this wasn’t an issue here. The characters spoke realistically and Barham’s writing really did them justice. He brought them to life and his attention to detail is great. There were a lot of opportunities for cliché and I half expected medieval, confusing language but the novel manages to avoid this, which I personally am very glad of!

I think my main complaint is actually not with the text itself but the blurb (in italics above). It sets out a premise that doesn’t seem entirely accurate to the text – the magic (or lack thereof) in Vladvir isn’t really mentioned at all. The magical aspects are met by Askon sceptically, but I didn’t feel that it was really laid out in the text that there was no magic in this world; in fact as someone in a non-magical world elves and Norill seem like magical beings to me! I would assume there is magic in the world if not for the blurb, and I don’t feel like making the “magical state” of the world clear would really make a difference to my reading of the text – the events that occur are clearly unnatural for the world by the characters’ reactions to them, whether magic is present in the world or not. This was a great book and if you ask me this blurb doesn’t do it justice.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. It was a great way to get back into a genre I rarely seem to read any more (and to while away my new long commute to work!). I don’t tend to do star ratings on here, but that is the way of this blog tour so for the purposes of that I’ll rate it 4/5 stars. I definitely intend to read the sequels, The Elf and the Arrow and The Voice Like Water, so perhaps it’ll be bumped up to 5/5 once it’s in context – watch this space!

Buy the Alora’s Tear Trilogy:

Amazon (Paperback or Kindle)

UK

USA

Kobo

Kobo Store

iBooks

UK

USA

See you soon,

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Not this kind of elf. 


Review Wednesday | September Reads Round Up!

This month I have read a LOT. As of yesterday I’ve read 10 books, not including re-reading The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl (we all need ‘chick-lit’ sometimes. God I hate that term.) – while this may not be out of the ordinary for some, especially not in the book blogosphere, during my degree I think I struggled to read even 1 book a month for pleasure! Some of the books I’ve read this month I’ve already reviewed (Reasons to Stay Alive, The Red Tent and The Hidden People), but most are just stored in my brain, getting slowly forgotten. I have books that I read two weeks ago waiting to be reviewed, but at the rate I’m reading I can feel myself forgetting details about the earlier ones! A more organised blogger would get in the habit of writing down some initial thoughts as soon as they finished reading; I didn’t have that much foresight. I have decided, therefore, to give you a round-up of almost all of the books I’ve read this month, excluding those I’ve already reviewed.

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce Evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find out that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

White people going to a foreign land to ‘save the natives’ usually means trouble, and The Poisonwood Bible is no exception. The Prices are wildly unprepared and privileged, shocked by a society that they consider primitive. The book is incredibly well researched and sensitively written, however I would have liked to hear more of the Congolese voice as well as the white family’s perspectives. I feel like the narrative has become somewhat overdone now – white people learning about community spirit and love from a foreign, ‘simpler’ community is a trope that I have personally seen a lot of. I liked the book, and the setting was certainly interesting, but it was predictable.

The Past – Tessa Hadley

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Three adult sisters and their brother meet up at their grandparents’ country home for their annual family holiday–three long, hot summer weeks. The beloved but crumbling house is full of memories of their childhood–of when their mother took them to stay with her parents when she left their father–but this could be their last summer in the house, now they may have to sell it. And under the idyllic pastoral surface, there are tensions.

I saw this novel in the window of Waterstones, with a lot of positive reviews. While it was a good book, with well developed characters, I was slightly disappointed. I feel like it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Hadley introduces flashbacks quite far into the book, and while they do provide some extra insights into the siblings’ characters much of the content doesn’t really do much for the present day plot, causing a disconnect between the two periods.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education – Raphaelle Frier (ARC)

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Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education. When she was just fifteen-years-old, the Taliban attempted to kill Malala, but even this did not stop her activism. At age eighteen Malala became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ensure the education of all children around the world.

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is a childrens’ biography of Malala Yousafzai. The book explains Malala’s run-ins with the Taliban and the situation in Pakistan honestly and plainly, managing to find a good balance between being truthful and child-friendly. Malala is an incredibly important figure and role model for children all over the world, and I imagine that this book would be an excellent way to introduce her story to young children. The one issue I have is that reading this book on Kindle meant that the pictures were in black and white and often in the wrong place.

These next three are books I got free in the Kindle Store. Finding books for free on Kindle can be quite hit and miss, and this was certainly the case with these!

Silence – Natasha Preston

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For eleven years, Oakley Farrell has been silent. At the age of five, she stopped talking, and no one seems to know why. Refusing to communicate beyond a few physical actions, Oakley remains in her own little world. Bullied at school, she has just one friend, Cole Benson. Cole stands by her, refusing to believe that she is not perfect the way she is. Over the years, they have developed their own version of a normal friendship. However, will it still work as they start to grow even closer? When Oakley is forced to face someone from her past, can she hold her secret in any longer?

This book sounded interesting to me, however was largely disappointing. I feel like this was one of those books with a really strong idea that was destroyed by a poorly developed love story. It actually started off quite strong before the romance aspect came into play, however quickly became predictable and dull.

Honeymoon For One – Lily Zante

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When her fiancé dumps her, Ava cancels her wedding — but decides to go on her Italian honeymoon solo. Alone in Verona, the City of Love, Ava hopes to find inner peace and a clarity of mind but she is surprised to find herself drawn into yet another romantic encounter with the mysterious Nico.


Is she ready to handle even more heartbreak so soon?   

I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from this book. I downloaded it as a kind of filler between other books – I wasn’t able to buy more and was waiting on some ARC requests. While it wasn’t badly written, it was a typical cheap romance novel. I feel like it could have easily been improved by better scenic descriptions and a more realistic timeframe.

The Tinkerer’s Daughter – Jamie Sedgwick

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Breeze is an outcast, a half-breed orphan born into a world torn apart by a thousand years of war. Breeze never knew her elven mother, and when her human father is recalled to the war, he leaves her in the safest place he knows: in the care of a reclusive tinker. The tinkerman’s inventions are frightening at first – noisy, smelly, dangerous machines with no practical use – but when the war comes home, Breeze sees an opportunity. If she can pull it off, she’ll change the world forever. If she fails, she’ll be considered a traitor by both lands and will be hunted to her death.

Again, I wasn’t expecting much from this. I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised. The plot was actually largely very good, with mostly good writing. There were some continuity errors and aspects of the plot that were jarring, but it was a fairly well-written steampunk fantasy novel and I was impressed considering that it was free.

That pretty much sums up most of what I’ve been reading this month and what I’ve thought. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you like the round-up format or prefer full reviews?

See you soon,

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Me Monday | Life Update!

A few days ago marked the 6 month anniversary of this blog! I realise that I’ve missed several Mondays’ worth of posts lately, and haven’t really given any personal updates on the blog itself, so hopefully today will make up for it a little.

What’s New?

I am considering upgrading the blog soon – I’d love my own domain and I feel that it would be more professional and motivate me to produce better content. I’m biding my time until I get a new job though!

I said I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo… then got an idea. Review Wednesdays may be few and far between this month as I’m taking more time to write than read. I may share snippets if I feel like it but so far I’m very, very far behind so there’s not much to share!

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Health wise I know my last update (The Truth) was well, not good to say the least. I was getting some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sorted but, perhaps ironically, by the time the letter came through at the start of September I wasn’t actually well enough to make the phone call to book my first appointment, so I missed my chance there. I’m doing okay without, though – I’ve never had therapy before and although I’m sure I would benefit from it I am able to cope without. At the moment things are ok, and looking up all the time, so I think I’m fine without for now. Onwards and upwards!

Other than the above, my life is pretty dull at the moment really! There are a few blog opportunities coming up though, and I am looking forward to Christmas and my birthday (cough 54 days cough).

To Be Read

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I have an ever-growing to-be-read pile at the moment! It feels like I finish one book and buy at least two more! Here are some of the physical ones I have:

-A Monster Calls – it feels like I bought this an age ago, and still haven’t read it! I’ll get to it eventually!

– Daughters of the Witching Hill – I bought this just before Halloween but didn’t get the chance to read it then.

-Suite Francaise – “If in doubt, read historical fiction” is slowly becoming my life motto. This has a really interesting back story so will hopefully be a good read!

-Humans – I know, I know, another Matt Haig. This came into the charity shop where I work and I had to pick it up. I am intentionally putting it at the bottom of the pile to mix my reading up, so it’ll be a while before I get to it!

-Reckless – I got this around the same time I got A Monster Calls, but I don’t really know what to do with it. I realised when I got it home that it’s actually an uncorrected proof, and much shorter than the published copy. I think I’ll probably get a copy of the published edition and possibly read both to compare, but I just don’t have the time or drive at the moment to read the same book twice!

So that’s me, pretty much.  What’s going on with your life? Are you on top of your TBR? Give me an update of your own!

See you soon,

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Fandom Friday | The Stages of NaNoWriMo

It’s officially National Novel Writing Month! NaNoWriMo is the writing challenge to top all writing challenges: 50,000 words in 30 days. The challenge was created to inspire and encourage writers to stop putting it off and get that first draft written. I’ve started the challenge several times, and won twice – and although I’m not doing it this year I am excited to see what my friends come up with and cheer them on.

This is not an easy feat, and can definitely be a struggle! Here are some of the stages I’ve noticed over the years;

  1. Remembering NaNo is coming halfway through October…and having no ideas whatsoever. nano1
  2. Getting a great idea, planning it out and actually feeling prepared to start.

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3. The 1st of November hits, and you’re ready to go…

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4. …and you’ve suddenly never been so popular. Everyone wants to cut into valuable writing time spend time with you.

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5. You actually get ahead of your target and it feels so gooooood…

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6. …and then you discover a huge plot hole and have to redo a huge chunk.

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7. But you keep going. You skip showers, binge eat junk food and set up a caffeine IV drip. You don’t see anyone for days and your room/office starts to smell, but you’re determined to keep at it. Even when you’re not writing, you’re thinking about your novel.

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8. You get really close to quitting a LOT.

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9. But finally reaching the finish line feels amazing. You’ve done yourself (and your characters) proud – now go brush your teeth.

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Winning NaNoWriMo is so rewarding and all of the blood, sweat, tears and cancelled social events are worth it in the end! It’s so easy to give up, especially if you get busy or come across problems with your work, but being able to say you did it feels so good. Keep going, and remember that this is only the first draft – it doesn’t have to be perfect. It is also worth saying that you should be realistic; look after yourself, and if the default 50,000 words is too much you can set a smaller target on the website. Don’t doubt yourself, you can do this!

Are you doing NaNo this year? What’s your novel about? If not, have you done it before and what advice do you have?

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Radium Girls (ARC)

I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a narrative non-fiction depicting the struggles of a group of women known as ‘Radium Girls’. These women painted luminous watch dials during World War One and the 20s – using paint with radium in it. They were taught that in order to produce the best quality and quickest work they should use the ‘lip, dip, paint’ method – put the brushes in their mouths to get the sharpest point.

The result of consuming so much radium, and in many cases for several years, was shocking. These women began to quite literally fall apart – radium hit hard and fast, attacking women around my age; women who should have been starting their lives, not facing the idea that they could be at the end.

This book was incredibly difficult to read, but completely worth it. I don’t think I’ve read anyone this hard to get through in a long time; these girls’ stories are so important but emotional. I ended up taking breaks between chapters in order to ground myself and process everything properly. The actions of the USRC were deplorable and seemingly never-ending; even with Catherine Donohue on the brink of death the radium company continued to appeal her court case. What started as simple denial, and even ignorance as to the actual effects of radium, turned into vicious and dangerous practices, knowingly putting more and more girls’ lives at risk for the sake of the business.

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A scene described in the book, I found this photo on Google Images [x] while looking for the cover image. Catherine Donohue lies on her sofa – Charlotte Purcell is by her feet, identifiable by her missing arm. Pearl Payne holds Catherine’s hand. All of these women were suffering from radium poisoning.

In terms of the writing, the book starts with a disclaimer from Moore, discussing her need to accurately depict the girls and do them justice. I believe that this was done very well, however it doesn’t always read smoothly – Moore has clearly done her research, and that can be difficult to weave into a narrative; particularly a non-fiction one. For the most part though, the ‘cast’ as it were –I’m reluctant to call them characters, as they were very real people and this should be remembered in reading the book – are written very sympathetically and certainly had me hooked. The facts can get heavy, but this is necessary. I can’t push enough the fact that this isn’t a story; this really happened, and the facts and figures make the emotional aspects all the more shocking – think of this as a documentary on paper.

I am in mourning for these girls. The work they did aided so many soldiers, but their pain and suffering was horrific and largely unnoticed or even ignored at the time. It can be said that they did not struggle in vain, however – they paved the way for so much progress. As Moore discusses at the end of the book, the dial painters changed workers’ rights, provided a starting point for research on other occupational hazards and dangerous substances and even potentially influencing legislation on nuclear warfare. This book brings their story to the world again and gives them a voice almost 100 years after the events began. I certainly won’t forget it any time soon.

See you soon,

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