Book Review: The Glittering Court, by Richelle Mead

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_glittering_courtThe Glittering Court is a Cinderella story in reverse. It is the story of Lady Witmore, a countess whose family fortune has depleted. Faced with an arranged marriage, to a bit of a “wet blanket”, and the prospect of a a future spent with a domineering mother-in-law, the Countess takes matters into her own hands. Assuming the identity of her ex-serving lady, she becomes Adelaide Bailey, and runs away to join the Glittering Court – a school set up to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies, fit to send into the “New World” as potential wives.

With her high-class upbringing, one might suspect Adelaide would excel at her studies – and indeed she could – but there is a fine line to tread if she wishes to keep her identity a secret. Also, despite her knowledge in the higher classes, her basic training is, well, something of an embarrassment. She cannot sew, but knows the correct silverware to use. So, while the other girls receive a crash-course in behaving noble, Adelaide hones her skills of deceit, and picks up a few more along the way. She makes friends too: Fierce and determined Tamsin and beautiful and intelligent Mira, a Sirminican refugee. And, of course, there is rivalry, with Clara, the resident “queen bee”, who is determined not to be out-staged.

Her deceit becomes more complicated when we discover her true identity is known to one person, the intriguing Cedric Thorn. He has secrets of his own, as Adelaide discovers, secrets that could have him killed. The two set up a scheme to make the best of her deception, and free them both from the binds of the society they are soon to leave behind. Settling in Adoria brings more complexity, however, as Adelaide quickly catches the eyes of a promising suitor, just as she is falling in love with someone else… someone who could create scandal and force her to leave behind, entirely, her former comfortable life. Is she ready to forego a life of comfort and good food, in favour of love and hard work?

The Glittering Court is a complexly woven story, with deception, secrets, social politics, romance, blackmail, scandals, adventure… there is never a dull moment to be had. Adelaide is, despite her upper-class upbringing, far from being a rich snob and very, very determined. Her friends are equally personable, unfortunately, they fade somewhat into the background as the story’s journey takes new twists and turns. Her rivalry with Clara, likewise, dissipates into the greater scheme of things. Despite this, many of the earlier threads are tied up later in the book, with enough left hanging to leave the reader anticipating the follow-up.

This isn’t Vampire Academy (although the teen girl politics are similar in the earlier part), and it bears more semblance to a historic novel than fantasy (albeit historic set in a world reminiscent, but dissimilar to our own). It should appeal to fans of Kiera Cass’s Selection novels. It is richly written, compelling and engaging. The cast of characters is rich – although not especially diverse (Mira notwithstanding), which I guess fits the setting – it’s a very “white colonial” style plot. A highly enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Glittering Court
by Richelle Mead
Published by Razorbill
ISBN 9780670079360

Book Review: I’ll give you the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

Available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_Ill_give_you_the_sun

I’ll give you the Sun is a tale resplendent with eloquent prose, with rich and evocative metaphor, engaging characters and an enveloping plot.

It is a tale of love and broken friendships, of betrayal and forgiveness, of misunderstandings and shattered dreams. It is also the tale of two twins, Noah and Jude, with the plot interweaving the two.

Noah’s, written at the age of 13, speaks of first love, love that, if not precisely forbidden, differs from the generally accepted social norms, and of his hopes and dreams of becoming an artist.

Jude’s thread, written 3 years later, speaks on the aftermath of the tragic event that more-or-less tore their already fragile family relationships apart. She has been hiding from herself, living a life in the shadows of regret.

Together the two entwine into a tale filled with bittersweet, seasoned with humour, filled with larger-than-life characters and ultimately leading to redemption and acceptance.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

I’ll Give You the Sun
by Jandy Nelson
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406326499

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: The Best of Twisty Christmas Tales, edited by Peter Friend, Eileen Mueller and A. J. Ponder

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.

cv_the_best_of_twisty_christmas_TalesThis delightful collection will certainly awaken your child within and spark your Christmas spirit. There are around 30 stories from an eclectic array of authors: familiar names like Joy Cowley and David Hill, along with a number of rising talents. The stories are charming little bites, perfect for a younger reader, or to read aloud with your family. Christmas is truly brought to life. Stories are based in the cold clutches of Antarctica, in places out in space, and in various fantastical realms, but the New Zealand flavour is alive and well in these tales.

In “Cole’s Christmas Spirit,” by Shelley Chappell, a young English boy is shown the joy of a summery Christmas. Within A.J. Ponders “Dear Santa”, a homeless boy sends letters to Santa, his hopeful innocence simple, yet heart-breaking and bittersweet. We meet “Bandit” in Lorraine Orman’s tale about a mischievous cat, whose thievery turns him into an unlikely saviour. David Freer’s “How to Train Your Princess” is cheeky and smart. And if you like dragons, there are many in Eileen Mueller’s “Rumbled”. Joy Cowley lends a kiwi edge to the classic Nativity story in this reprinted version of her picture book “A Kiwi Christmas”.

Other favourites include, “Bells” by Lee Murray, an amusing tale in which the police get involved. And in “Santa’s Sack”, Simon Fogarty channels the spirit of Roald Dahl with a wickedly twisty tale about a bratty sister getting her comeuppance.

Some of the stories are short and sweet, others twisted and fun. Some will make you laugh out loud, others give you a warm and fuzzy fluttering feeling. It all comes packaged up in a neat little paperback, with a colourful and quirky-fun cover, interspersed with wonderful illustrations. Not only that, but by purchasing a copy, you are helping support the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand, and discovering some rising new talents.

Overall, an awesome Christmas gift for the child in your life.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Best of Twisty Christmas Tales
edited by Peter Friend, Eileen Mueller, and A.J. Ponder
Published by Phantom Feather Press
ISBN  9780994115508