Saturday, 27 November 2010

101 Fantasy Challenge: It's gone perpetual...

I've started seeing a lot of Christmas themed blogger challenges and, even scarier, a lot of 2011 challenges - I can see myself getting carried away with that before long!

The 101 Fantasy Challenge is hosted here on it's very own blog and is run by Michelle from over at The True Book Addict. When I joined up, the idea was to pick a number of books from the list of the top 101 fantasy books, as voted for by bloggers, to read before the end of this year. After some deliberation and input from those who'd joined up to the challenge, Michelle decided to make the challenge perpetual, i.e. read through the list at your own pace.

Current progress:

Read 31 (including all of the top 10, which is essentially the Twilight saga and Harry Potter)

Owned but unread 15

So if I read through the ones I own but have yet to read, I'm almost half way there :) I'll be keeping track of my progress on my Challenges pages, which you can get to by clicking up at the top.

Go ahead and sign up if you like fantasy - there are some great reads on there!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Review: 'Spy Glass' by Maria V. Snyder

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: The publisher - Mira Books

Genre: Fantasy; (possibly) YA

Published: by Mira Books in September 2010

The Synopsis

As per usual, I am going to refrain from posting the synopsis so that I don't ruin the first two in the series for anybody tempted to pick these up - if either you've read Storm Glass and Sea Glass and are yet to get round to Spy Glass or are just not that bothered about spoilers, check out the book on GoodReads here.

The Review

I'm always wary of final books in any kind of series, be it 3 or 13 books, because by that point I've already invested a lot of time in the characters and have usually come to love some or all of them. I worry that the author will throw a curve ball that I won't like and that it will taint my views of the previous books or that the ending won't be one that works or that they will try too hard and rush things in an artificial finale. That said, I'm not much of a worrier, honest!

To her credit, Snyder falls into none of these traps and I loved the final book of this series. It's fast-paced and ties together the characters, countries and their pasts without seeming strained. What I found amazed me the most was how, when I finished the book with a tear in my eye (not always hard to produce...), much I loved the ending. If I'd been told the ending while reading the beginning of the series, heck, even the beginning of this book, I would have been disappointed, I think. But the story is so well drawn and the characters so well woven that I found that it was exactly the ending I wanted by the time it came around!

Which relates nicely to one of the best things about this, and Snyder's other, book(s). The characters are just fantastic - they're intriguing and surprising and grow as you're reading. Opal in particular has become a lot more worthy of her role as lead female and has lost a lot of the petulance that seems to cling to her in Sea Glass. Even better, my favourite character from the Study series returned to this one so I was a happy girl!

Also, on a more serious(ish) note, I respect Snyder for using the often frivolous fantasy genre to look at some challenging socio-political issues. Admittedly, I could be over-analysing but I have got the impression before that there is a lot more than meets the eye to some of the trilogies' mechanisms (for example, capitalism v communism). Without revealing too much (I hope), Opal finds herself in an extremely patriarchal (bordering on cultish) society and looking at the plight of the repressed masses when in the thrall of a man who is, to all intents and purposes, a dictator. It's disturbing and in some ways abhorrent and the scariest thing is, it has at some places and in some times been some people's reality. You could quite easily read these books without looking at them in this way but I think it adds something to the story that is unique, refreshing and intelligent. As I said though, it wouldn't be the first time I've over-thought something...

Overall: I definitely recommend this series to fans of fantasy fiction - there is a light-hearted wit running through the book but the events are often harrowing, which is a welcome contrast. It has action, romance, magic, political intrigue and scandal - what's not to love?! Go grab a copy of Storm Glass and get going - you won't regret it!

Yes, I admit it - I'm woefully disorganised!

Golly - has it really been a whole week since I posted last?! Since that I've revised for, and sat, an exam, which was obviously delightful!! Don't you just hate it when life gets in your blogging way?

Anyway, I've swept through the amazingness that was Spy Glass - the last of the Glass trilogy by Maria V. Snyder, have craftily purchased my co-habiting laptop hog of a boyfriend a new distraction and shall be reviewing and raving about the final instalment later. I could, of course, have waited to post until that time but I felt guilty and it was distracting me at work (not that I'm not eternally focussed, you understand...) so this is like a "holding post".

Stick with me peeps, I WILL do better - in fact, consistent blogging may well be a New Year's Resolution!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Double Review: 'Storm Glass' and 'Sea Glass' by Maria V. Snyder

Once again, I've been dawdling - you know what it's like when you're on a course about "Financial and Business Skills", you just get swept up in all the fun and forget everything else! Ok, so that isn't quite the case but I have had 'homework' for the first time since I was at uni so that's been taking up my time nicely...ANYway on to the review.

Cumulative Rating: 4 stars

Format: Both eBooks

Source: Bought from Waterstones website

Genre: Fantasy; (possibly) YA

Published: By Mira Books in July and September 2009 respectively

The Synopses (Is that the plural of a 'synopsis'? Interesting...)

Storm Glass: Untrained. Untested. Unleashed. With her unique magical abilities, Opal has always felt unsure of her place at Sitia's magic academy. But when the Stormdancer clan needs help, Opal's knowledge makes her the perfect choice - until the mission goes awry. Pulling her powers in unfamiliar directions, Opal finds herself tapping into a new kind of magic as stunningly potent as it is frightening. Now Opal must deal with plotters out to destroy the Stormdancer clan, as well as a traitor in their midst. With danger and deception rising around her, will Opal's untested abilities destroy her - or save them all?

Sea Glass: This is obviously the second in the Glass Trilogy so, in the interests of not spoiling the first one for you - if you want it read it, head here to GoodReads. Otherwise, go buy the books right away :)

The Review:
Not long ago, I read the Poison Study series with Poison Study, Magic Study and Fire Study reviewed on this blog (just click on the names).

I really enjoyed them so when I was offered a review copy of Spy Glass (the third in the Glass Trilogy) I was excited but couldn't bear to read it in isolation so I snatched up the first two and have finally got round to reading them, obviously back to back as is my usual unrestrained style.

Firstly, I definitely wouldn't say that to have to read the Study series before you read this but it does, I think, make the experience a lot more rounded and gives you much needed background on a lot of the characters, political intrigue, history and the magic. Although if you don't want to or don't have time, don't feel you have to - this series is fantastic in isolation too!

As before, I love the magic in this series - the whole world is coated with power from which some can draw. Those that can, are magicians. Opal Cowan is unique in that she can only draw power to glass - creating 'glass messengers' that magicians use to communicate with each other (think glass magic meets mobile phone technology...). Her abilities make her both revered among older magicians and an outcast among her peers. She struggles with being a one trick wonder and trying to find her place in the magical community.

Admittedly, at times, Opal can be a tad on the whiny side and it is a bit off-putting earlier on in the first novel but, I promise, she does get better. I love that she reacts to her experiences like a 'real person' - her relationships seem more realistic than those often found in fantasy novels aimed at younger readers as they are more complex. I've read criticism of the love triangle but I think it works and helps bring Opal to life more. The development of Opal throughout the books is fabulous and I find that the stories shift to reflect that.

Lastly, the dialogue in particular is perfect in this novel, if heavy on the sarcasm. There are moments when I've actually chuckled to myself and that kind of light relief is necessary when you have torture and murder lurking around! The stories get dark but are so involving that I was absolutely hooked.

Overall: This is sharper and snappier than the Study series and is greatly entertaining. There are some of what the film/TV industry call 'adult themes', as before, which make the series more gritty and exciting than the more commonplace fantasy offerings - I've yet to finish the series but I love the way its shaping up!

You can read another (less waffly) review of Storm Glass here over at e-Volving Books.
I'm currently reading Spy Glass so should be reviewing it over the weekend! And now, off to enjoy some Jonny Depp in Alice in Wonderland - Jonny Depp in full Blu-Ray loveliness? Yes, please!! :)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

**e-Volving Books: SPOTLIGHT feature**

As I've mentioned a number of times since my birthday, I'm a huge fan of my Sony eReader Touch (for my initial excited post, click here). I often think that there's a degree of bookish..not snobbery but something similar..when it comes to those of us who go for ebooks; as though we're dragging the tradition of reading through the mud.

I love my eReader (and so do my handbags), which is why I also love this awesome blog:

This week, she's started an amazing new feature entitled 'Blogger Spotlight' where she will be interviewing other bloggers who, like her, have a mega appreciation for the electronic word! It's a fantastic idea and her blog is packed full of articles, features, ereader help and reviews and you should definitely be heading over maybe when you've read to the end of this post!)

It is with no small amount of excitement that I can proudly say that this week the FIRST featured blogger is LIT ADDICTED BRIT!! Check out the interview here and share the love for all things 'e'!! If you fancy being a featured blogger, check out her blog and drop her an e-mail!

Thanks Dee!!!!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Bonfire Night and no serious hopping...

...except for in glee at my excitement at Bonfire Night!!

I loved the Book Blogger Hop question this week about how it feels to lose followers and whether or not we, as fellow bloggers, ever stop following another blog but can't commit to hopping because in England, it's Bonfire Night (yey!) so am bowing out. As it happens, I hate to lose followers but hope they blog off somewhere happy :) I do occasionally stop following blogs but only if I find that for at least a couple of months, I'm not giving their posts the attention they deserve. Often that's because I find meme reading a bit repetitive and the odd few do nothing but...I love blogging because of the originality of some bloggers and if I find I'm missing that, I'll eventually drift off.

I've always been a huge fan of Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night, if you prefer) - I love getting wrapped up in full winter garb with a hat, scarf, gloves and big coat; I love drinking over-priced hot drinks (usually mulled wine for me!) and eating bonfire toffee; most of all, I love 'ooh'-ing at pretty fireworks and getting too hot near the huge fire and then freezing on the way home! It's all so romantic and beautiful.

Which is weird considering its sinister origins I think...Guy Fawkes and his friends try to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 but get caught. Mr Fawkes was later hanged along with some of his co-conspirators and, to celebrate (?!) the thwarting of the plot and aversion of disaster, we light fireworks and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes (or other historical figures...) on a huge bonfire because that's what people did to celebrate on 05 November 1605 (minus fireworks until circa 1650) - nice, huh?

Regardless of that, I love it and can't wait!!

Happy hopping those that are taking part and lovely Fridays to all those that aren't!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Non-fiction Review: "Faux Amis" by Ellie Malet Spradbery

This is a first for Lit Addicted Brit: a review of a non-fiction. The main reason for this is that I don't tend to read a great deal of non-fiction. I'll read newspapers and law journals but, aside from that, most of my outside-of-work "learning" now is via televised documentaries. I think I should probably be ashamed about that. So anyway, on with this 'first'!

Rating: 2.5 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewer program

Genre: Non-fiction - Language

Published: By Matador in 2010

What the blurb said:

A light-hearted exploration of the French language and culture and, in particular, words and phrases that could trip up the unwary linguist.

After reading this book of False will be better able to avoid those awkward pitfalls and misunderstandings...An ideal companion for readers of French as well as travellers in France.

What I would say:

I was way more excited than I should admit when I saw this book on LibraryThing - when I was at college studying for a French A-Level (I don't know the American equivalent, sorry!), my teacher used to have us in stitches with stories of 'faux amis'. Literally translated, they are 'false friends', i.e. words that are spelt like English words but actually mean something completely different. Take, for example, une histoire - looks like 'history' but actually means, somewhat appropriately, 'a story'.

Back then, my teacher's point was to stop us being lazy and assuming we could translate things without checking. Later, I learned it was necessary to avoid major restaurant embarrassment after I ordered 'steak tartare' expecting a steak and receiving a lovely pile of raw diced beef with a raw egg yolk on top - not appealing to a new-to-France 17 year old...

So that's the point of the book. I was looking forward to a better look at these common miscommunications and perhaps a couple of amusing scenarios to chuckle over. I was promised a "light-hearted exploration", after all! What I got was a book of lists of words. Yes, it's functional and is very helpful to someone at an intermediate level of French speaking with a love for words. But that's it: no anecdotes; no explanations. Just translations. It's great as that - my disappointment stems from what I expected and what I think the book could have been. And that's entirely my own fault, not the author's!

One high point was the section at the end on how to say some quintessentially English phrases in French, like "It's not my cup of tea" (Ca n'est pas ma chose favorite) and "a hoo-hah" (un brouhaha) - ok, so that's nerdy...but I liked it...

Overall: I really wouldn't recommend this to an absolute beginner but it is a handy tool for an intermediate French speaker. It's a very niche book and I can't see it appealing to a reader with just a passing interest in languages but it is great as a pocket-sized resource.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Review: 'The Study Train: Volume 1 - Reunion of the Untouchables' by Kurt Frenier

Rating: 3 stars (for me) OR 4 stars (for someone younger)

Format: eBook

Source: Direct from author

Genre: YA/ Fantasy

Published: By Strategic Book Group in 2010

What the book's about:

Sixteen-year-old Ethan is a lonely and beaten-up teenager, living in a small village in Switzerland. He is disconnected from his parents, hates his life, and escapes in his hidden dream world – the old ruins. One day, he gets a mysterious invitation to join what seems to be an educational train built to create ‘new world leaders’. Ethan reluctantly accepts.
From the moment he steps on the StudyTrain, something happens to him. He meets people he admired and likes, and that like him! Lord Althulos, guardian of the train and headmaster of the school, is the father figure Ethan never had. All seems peacefully and quietly going his way, as if the odds have turned.

Pretty soon, Ethan discovers the wonders of the 500-year old train. The Delivery Room in particular, where all the knowledge of the world and of all the previous students-now-world-leaders is saved, opens Ethan’s eyes.

What I would say:

As a first, I've given this book two ratings. I realise this might seem bizarre because I've given it a rating for my appreciation of the book that is line with other books I have read and enjoyed recently. However, objectively, this book is aimed at someone slightly younger and I didn't want to give the impression that this book wouldn't be great for them or that I didn't enjoy it. Obviously this is where the old rating system is somewhat flawed because a reviewer could always say "It's a 1 from me but I'm sure other people might think it's a 5...". So I shall explain...

The premise of this story is not too dissimilar to Harry Potter in that Ethan is marginalised and lost before being taken to a magical education establishment and taken under the wing of a benevolent 500-year-old (and please don't crucify me for not knowing how old Dumbledore is!). While the comparison is an obvious one, the book is distinct enough that it doesn't feel like an imitation, just nicely reminiscent.

The good vs. evil theme is as prevalent as ever but what is rather unique for a book aimed at a teenage audience (I think...) about this book is that this time-old battle is waged within one character (Ethan) as he tries to decide whether to use his newly discovered powers for good or to succumb to the Dark Fire Inside. The Untouchables attempting to lead Ethan astray lend a much needed darkness to the book and break up the Malory-Towers-esque boarding school feel brilliantly. It was probably the bad guys that actually drove the story on so quickly and so well! One minor point was that Ethan himself could be a tad petulant but that will probably resonate perfectly with an angsty youth!

My favourite thing about the book was that, as with HP, the book implies that all this could be going on right under our very noses (or indeed above our very heads) and is perfectly lovely in all its magicality. The StudyTrain also takes credit for the successes of a host of historical figures, Martin Luther King Jr by way of example, and educates the 'chosen' in becoming such great political inspirations and leaders. I really enjoyed that aspect although I'm sure conspiracy theorists would have a field day!

The book is complete as an isolated novel but obviously leaves the way clear for one or more sequels. I would probably pick the sequels up since the book really didn't take very long to read but, as I said, I'd be more likely to buy them for an unsuspecting teenager and then force them to tell me all about it....vicarious reading is ok, right?

Overall: This is a light read that I would definitely recommend to a teenager (if I knew any well enough!) - it's fun and full of action and intrigue and great for a "light bite".