Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

Available in bookstores nationwidecv_a_court_of_thorns_and_roses

New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas begins her new high fantasy-romance series with this novel, A Court of Thorns and Roses. Set in the fictional realm of Prythian, a land divided between the humans’ territory and the courts of the dominating faeries, this story explores love, selflessness, pain and desire.

Nineteen year old Feyre is unexpectedly plunged into a violent world, riddled with nightmares and whispers in the dark. The young huntress, whose family depends on her for their survival, is responsible for killing a magical creature named Andras. This wolf was the sentinel of Tamlin, a High Fae, and Lord of the Spring Court of Prythian. After committing this deed, Feyre is taken from her village into custody in the Spring Court by Tamlin and his companions, Lucien and Alis. There, she begins to fall in love with the captivating High Lord himself, a faery blessed with shapeshifting powers, military prowess and an exceedingly attractive physique.

No one is safe in the forests of Prythian. Danger lurks perpetually in the ‘labyrinth of snow and ice’. Feyre is eventually forced to choose between Tamlin and her duty to protect her human family and herself. Her fiery passion for her loved ones never ceases to grow. Playing with fire, however, can have dangerous consequences. The time will come when her emotions will have her answer to Amarantha, the tyrannical Faerie Queen of Prythian.

This book makes for an enjoyable read. Written in first-person, the story allows us to delve into Feyre’s inner thoughts and longings. I particularly admire Sarah J. Maas’s ability to engage with the reader’s senses. The novel flows with descriptive language, which conjures up images and sounds in the reader’s mind. We grow conscious of Feyre’s quickening heartbeat and anticipate each moment of her new life with bated breath. From blissful birdsong at dawn to the warm woven hues in Feyre’s paintings, beauty and magic illuminate and bring hope to the otherwise cold and perilous world of Prythian.

Sarah J. Maas’s first fantasy series, Throne of Glass, has been widely acclaimed, and I have no doubt that her latest novel too will attract readers of high fantasy, paranormal romance and young adult fiction, of the likes of Kresley Cole, George R.R. Martin and Cassandra Clare. Keep an eye out for this new novel if you dare. Books like these will always sweep you off your feet to some otherworldly place.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

A Court of Thorns and Roses
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408857861

The story of Hoopla – three at a time, by Mary McCallum

On my desk at Mākaro Press, I have the four winds, I have all the hoopla, I have a book my friend Vana gave me to write poems in. I’ve started writing in the beautiful handmade book, but not nearly enough. As a new publisher, I find there’s too little time to write, or to read books published by others. It’s all about the books I’m making.mary_mcCallums_desk

Of course Four Winds Press is one of those ‘other’ publishers, or was. And a small Wellington one too, founded by author Lloyd Jones. His vision was to publish essays by New Zealand writers in sets of three – small, smart, thought-provoking books. I collected them until they stopped, and still look for them in secondhand shops. They helped inspire the ‘hoopla’ on my desk: the series of poetry that I launch every year in April, in sets of three: small, smartly designed, thought-provoking collections of poems.

HOOPLA was named for its connotations of commotion, extravagance and play. And three at a time because we like them marching out together – supporting each other at launches and readings and in bookshops, making a splash. Deliberately, we have a late-career, mid-career and first-time published poet, and we make sure we spread ourselves geographically … always a South Islander.

On the bookshelf behind me as I sit at my desk is another series that has always inspired me: Faber poetry. Those plain, bright, font-driven covers I grew up with that – even now – look like they’re in loud and earnest conversation.

Our Hoopla series began in 2014 with the trio of Michael Harlow (Love absolutely I can), Helen Rickerby (Cinema) and Stefanie Lash (Bird murder). Three beautiful, provocative poetry collections in reds, yellows and blues on the themes of ‘love’, ‘film’ and ‘crime’.

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The three poets behind their collections. L-R Carolyn McCurdie, Jennifer Compton and Bryan Walpert.

This year, the colours are oranges, yellows, and greens, with a touch of bone. The poets are Jennifer Compton (Mr Clean and The Junkie), Bryan Walpert (Native Bird) and Carolyn McCurdie (Bones in the Octagon), and the themes are ‘vice’, ‘settler’ and ‘south’ (in that order). What a whanau! They cry out (I believe) to be bought, borrowed, held, read, re-read, read from, heard from, collected.

You can find out more about the series on our website and order there, or better: go and ask your local independent bookstore to order the books in (if they haven’t already).

Meanwhile, I am not writing enough in Vana’s book. Nor anywhere else for that matter. I miss it and will redress the balance soon. But it’s early days with Mākaro and it needs me. This too I know … collaborating in making books out of a tendril of an idea or a digital file or dog-eared manuscript is in itself a fabulous creative act. Like an excellent series of books, it gathers its power from the numbers involved, and from its own collective joy.

by Mary McCallum
Publisher, Mākaro Press

Book Review: Season of Salt and Honey, by Hannah Tunnicliffe

cv_season_of_salt_and_honeyAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

The author of this book, Hannah Tunnicliffe is a New Zealander, but has lived all over the world. She currently lives in New Zealand and is the founder and co-author of a blog called Fork and Fiction, which encompasses her two loves – books and food. This is Hannah’s second novel, her first being The Colour of Tea.

Okay this is a love story and follows that trope for part of the book, but it also involves an Italian family and recipes for gorgeous Italian food. I was salivating while reading the recipes. Having travelled through Italy, sampling food and wine wherever we went, I really enjoyed this book. It is light, sad in places and funny.

The heroine in this story goes by the name of Francesca (Frankie) Caputo. Frankie is the eldest daughter of Italian parents who immigrated to the United States. Her sister Bella (Isabella) is estranged from the family. Frankie’s parents, being Italian, of course means a rather large extended family; aunts, uncles and cousins. They at times seem interfering and just far too intrusive with family gatherings always being incredibly noisy, to the point where you can’t hear yourself think and lots of lovingly prepared food.Frankie meets the boy of her dreams – Alex Gardner. They plan to marry and live happily ever after, but a freak accident while surfing changes these plans and throws Frankie’s life into turmoil.

The story continues with Frankie sad, grieving and not coping with friends and family’s well intentioned “help”, and driving out to Alex’s favourite place to escape – an abandoned cabin owned by the Gardner family. Her neighbours are curious about her and slowly she starts to recover becoming part of the local community. She discovers things about herself that she wasn’t aware of before. Frankie becomes stronger, dealing with situations that before she found difficult.

I found myself hooked on this book to the point that I couldn’t put it down. Would I recommend this book? Well yes, because it’s a bit of escapism, with a nip or two of sadness saving itself from any danger of similarity to other stories, with wonderful colourful characters and of course, mouth-watering recipes.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Season of Salt and Honey 
by Hannah Tunnicliffe
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781742612416

Book Review: All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully, by Carrie Hope Fletcher.

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Available on Thursday 28 April from bookstores nationwide.

YouTube star Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book, All I Know Now, is the growing-up guide that she wished she had when she was a teenager. Everyone needs a role model; someone to help guide them down the path to becoming a grown-up, and Carrie has proven herself to be worthy of this role.

Carrie Hope Fletcher is an actress, singer and internet star; her YouTube channel, ItsWayPastMyBedtime, has reached over 560,000 subscribers. She is currently playing Eponine Thenardier in the West End production of Les Miserables, which was her dream as a child. Her videos have become increasingly popular over the past four years, and she has become an ‘honorary big sister’ to the hundreds of thousands of people who follow her. With her great sense of humour, kindness and love of all things tea, cake or Disney, it’s easy to see why so many young people go to her for advice.

All I Know Now serves as both an advice guide and a memoir; Carrie shares stories from her childhood and talks about her early acting career. She describes her favourite moments and most epic fails, in hopes that her readers will learn from them as she has. The book mainly focuses on the questions that Carrie gets asked the most frequently by her viewers: how to deal with broken hearts and being bullied, how to make new friends and cope with stress. It also features a section on ‘Internetiquette’, which is especially useful; Carrie explains how to avoid Internet disputes, and offers tips on how to navigate Twitter. She expresses her annoyance with Excessive Complainers, and lists tips on how to keep calm in stressful situations. The book is, overall, a goldmine of wisdom, funny stories and ideas that will make you stop and think.

All I Know Now is the ultimate guide to surviving the Teen Age; it’s for those who need inspiration, those who want to reach their goals but don’t know how, and those who just need some words of comfort. I highly recommend that you read this book; it’s best read over the space of a long, rainy afternoon (tea and cake optional).

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon (teenager)

All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully
by Carrie Hope Fletcher
Published by Sphere
ISBN 9780751557510

Buy this book at your local bookshop.

Book Review: Last Night on Earth, by Kevin Maher

Available in bookstores nationwide.

From the blurb I was hoping for something a little like Ben-cv_last_night_on_earthElton-meets-The-Rosie-Project − black humour intermingled with the heart-warming relationship between (slightly) estranged father and daughter, and maybe a touch of romance. This was not that book.

It was far more complex than that.

It opens with baby Bonnie’s dramatic entrance into the world. Told with visceral and gripping detail, it is almost as though I were there, sharing the excitement – and distress – with Shauna and Jay. It is this birth that marks the beginning of the end for their relationship. Bonnie, born with her cord around her neck, is deprived of oxygen for too long, and her prognosis is not good: “Potential developmental issues.”

We are then taken on a chaotic journey, switching helter-skelter between past and present, between Shauna, Jay and a scattering of other characters. Tossed back into Jay’s past, where we meet his mother − trapped in the early stages of dementia. Jay mentally “pens” letters to his mother, in painfully intimate details, of his early days in the
city, of nights misspent, of his budding career in the “fillum” industry.Then to the present, where Jay struggles being a part-time dad, living − for the most part − a bachelor lifestyle, and watched over by his guardian angel, The Clappers, who is of robust nature, and a tendency to get straight − and rather bluntly − to the point.

Here, Jay’s life spirals into further chaos, disorientating the reader as much as the character. It is madcap and fast-paced, the kind of book where you feel like you’re clutching at the edges trying to keep up with what is going on; where you have just settled into one track, only to find yourself hurtled headlong onto the next.

There is humour here − but of the bleakier, shadowy kind. The kind that makes you laugh, then feel guilty for laughing, like you’ve commited some sort of emotional crime. Some of the characters are memorable − I particularly liked Jane, possibly because of her interview with Kirsty Jackson, a high-flying celebrity with far-too-many restrictions on her interview questions. Jay’s mother’s odd quirks too, make her stand out amongst the rest of the (rather large) cast. I also found Shauna’s therapist, Dr Ghert, with his rather unconventional treatment techniques, to be memorable − if not likeable.

Bonnie, the little girl who is the light of Jay’s life, feels almost like a non-character in comparison to the others in this story. Certain little mentions are made of her delightful quirks − of moving her cot so that she can roll into Jay’s bed, for example − but for the most part she feels more like an accessory than the keystone character of the plot. Her potential development issues are never expressly dealt with − apart from two: her lack of speech and poor motor control (told, but never really shown). It is never made clear whether her early trauma has left her mentally impaired − perhaps that is intentional − although it would have been nice to see her fill a more important role. I was hoping for more father-daughter interaction, and feel somewhat cheated at the lack of this.

There are chapters in present tense, in past tense, in first person, in script. Speech marks are non-existent. Dramatic events happen with a derailing jolt, then are over and, for the most part, ignored for the rest of the prose. The writing is borderline stream-of-consciousness and lightly seeded with words in dialect. Other things happen, including characters appearing that I would swear had not been foreshadowed or even hinted at, being treated as if they’ve been there all along. It is a strange, experimental kind of book, which made for a rather bemusing read. This is the sort of book that you have to sit down afterwards and then mentally dissect to try and figure out what the heck was happening.

Overall, this is not a book for the faint-hearted, but if you are someone who loves a mental challenge and a literary rollercoaster ride, then jump aboard!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Last Night on Earth
by Kevin Maher
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9781408705087

Book Review: Watched, by Tihema Baker

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_watched

This is the first novel from Tihema Baker, but certainly not the last. This book needs a sequel.

The ‘Watched’ are those who have been gifted with superhuman powers. They are selected to be removed from their current surroundings and circumstances to a training area where their full powers will be developed under controlled conditions.

The two boys Rory and Jason, who are central to the story, are best mates from difficult backgrounds,and have formed a strong bond of friendship. This will be tested as the story develops. We find that there are factions both in the training camp, and in the “real” action which takes place towards the end of the book.

This is a science fiction / dystopia story, of which there are a lot around at the moment.The plot, while stretching the imagination, mostly works. I think that teenage readers will find the dark and dyfunctional themes appealing.

I would recommend this book to readers who are keen on science fiction, dystopias and superheroes – this novel has them all. It’s pretty good for a first novel, and I expect that we will see more from Tihema.

by Sue Esterman, Information Services Manager, Scots College

Watched
by Tihema Baker
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775501688

Book Review: The Doll’s House, by M J Arlidge

Available from booksellers nationwide on 24 April 2015

cv_the_dolls_houseI now know exactly what I will be doing in early September this year: reading the coming Liar Liar, 4th in the Helen Grace series, which started with Eeny Meeny, then Pop Goes the Weasel, and now The Doll’s House – by UK author M J Arlidge, due for release on 12th February. I love this author’s style.

The accidental discovery of a young woman’s body in wet, cold, beach sand, having died of starvation in the darkness, begins DI Grace and her team’s investigation, leading them to trace the body’s identity and background.

At the same time, a parent reports the disappearance of their daughter Ruby, who shares the same hair and eyes.

Grace’s intuition tells her there is a link between the two cases, and when one of her team finds two old case files of similar missing persons, she realises the body uncovered on the beach is the first of three, all sharing distinctive features. Further examination of the beach reveals the two bodies – also having died of starvation in darkness, and over a four-year period. Another serial killer is out and about.

In the meanwhile, Ruby is being held in an isolated room, in darkness, occasionally visited by her captor, who seeks to replicate in Ruby the long gone love of his life, his sister Summer. He fantasises that the “Summer” living in the room below ground (set up to replicate their childhood safe place) is still having difficulty “adjusting” to being together again.

Forced to dress in clothing not of her own choosing, only being fed when she “behaves”, Ruby finds a stash of secret notes in a hiding place behind a loose brick, all written by the three previous captives. She learns to play her captor for small allowances – things she can turn to tools for an escape bid.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, DI Grace’s desperation for finding a trace of her missing nephew* leads her into breaching procedures, snooping through the national police database, and at last finding an entry under his name. A colleague helps track the full file. Grace is caught in a set-up created to rid the team of Grace and the overshadowing glory cast by her earlier successes.

The investigation is ensnared in false leads, but with assistance from a former nuisance, Grace finally has the full picture – where Ruby is most likely to be held, who the captor is, his motivation…and his intent.

The serial killer has found another candidate to become his Summer. Enraged by Ruby’s escape attempt, and realising police are watching his place of work, he tries to dispose of both Ruby and the doll’s house in which he has been holding her.

‘Read carefully, I will say only “zis”‘ … a lone Kawasaki motorbike is faster than a patrol car, and the absence of backup creates an urgent need to go it alone.

Published by Penguin,  this is joining one of my crime authors’ collections on my shelves.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

The Doll’s House
by M J Arlidge
Digital Audiobook ISBN: 9781405921008
Paperback ISBN: 9781405919197
ePub eBook ISBN: 9781405919203