April 27, 2011

All Things Scottish (especially Zachary) - Guest Post by Jeri Smith-Ready plus EXTREMELY Exciting International Give Away

Following the success of last year's Shade and on the run up to the release of follow up Shift, I am delighted to welcome author Jeri Smith-Ready as a guest here at The Mountains of Instead. I heart Jeri. She's fun, generous with her readers and writes excellent stories (she also put my name in an actual printed book, which helps). Best of all she adores Scotland.  Scotland, for those of you who don't already know, is the home of The Mountains of Instead and I therefore may be slightly biased, so I'll hand you over to Jeri so that she can explain herself why Scotland is a home worthy of the swoonsome Zachary:

Almost every place I visit ends up creeping into my novels eventually. Scotland, along with Greece and British Columbia, is one of my favorite places in the world, so it’s no surprise it’s become a part of the world of SHADE. I went there for a week during my semester abroad in London twenty years ago, and fell insanely in love—with the landscape, the people, and the food.

Okay, not so much the food.

The world of fiction is chockablock with Scottish heroes, mostly rugged Highlanders in historical romance settings, often clan chiefs with a foreboding castle and a penchant for strong drink.  These books sell well here in the States, because many American women have what we call a “thing” for Scotsmen.

(I’m told it doesn’t go the other way—American men aren’t particularly done in by a female Scottish accent. This bewilders me, especially considering my theory on why the accent is so attractive, a theory that I can’t really discuss on a YA blog without blushing.)

But I don’t write historical romances—I write paranormal YA. Which does lend itself to the cute, mysterious “New Boy in Town.”

Enter sixteen-year-old Zachary Moore. Not a Highlander, not chief of anything. Not much of a drinker. And he’s fresh out of castles at the moment.

He does, however, have the accent.

From SHADE’s second chapter, when Aura and Zachary first meet:

Excuse me, [he said.] Are you really Aura?”

I didn’t notice the “really,” because my ears had heated at the sound of my name spoken that way, his tongue curled around the R like it was a piece of candy.

What?” I said, eloquently.

Aura,” he repeated, pronouncing it Ooora (again with tongue curl). “That’s you, aye?” You like a female sheep. Wow, it’s true what they say about Scottish accents.

Um. Yeah, I’m—” I couldn’t speak my name without sounding lame and American.

I decided (for, I don’t know, bonus challenge character points or something) to make Zachary from Glasgow, though I knew it was a more difficult dialect to write. (I think someone on Twitter said, “Just don’t make him from Glasgow—that would be really tough.” Me: “Okay, I’ll make him from Glasgow.”)

I balanced his distinct regionalism by having his family move about quite a bit in the last several years, throughout the British Isles and…”other places” (I did say he was mysterious). Plus, Zachary tries his best to blend in while living in the United States. It’s not until Aura hears him arguing with his father (also a native Glaswegian) that she realizes how much Zachary moderates his accent around Americans. To her ears, it barely sounds like English.

Not wanting to fall into stereotypes, I purposely didn’t do a great deal of research into the “typical” Scottish temperament before writing SHADE. Yet I instinctively drew Zachary as fiercely proud, occasionally stubborn (okay, not occasionally), and deeply caring—traits which I later learned to fit the national character pretty well. Also, he’s punctual(Really, I was just painting the typical Capricorn—not that I believe in astrology, but sometimes it helps form a basic template).

Want to hear an incredible writing story? Zachary’s main distinguishing character trait, particularly in SHADE, is his patience. After all, he’s falling in love with a girl whose boyfriend died and became a ghost. Zach can’t afford to rush things. He’s forced to wait month after month for Aura to come round and realize what they could have together. So imagine my surprise when I discovered while writing SHIFT (Book 2) that the Moore/Muir family motto is Durum Patentia Frango, which is Latin for “Through patience I overcome difficulties.”

The serendipity knocked me over! I’d originally chosen the name Moore not for its motto, but because
a) it sounded good with the name Zachary
b) I wanted to avoid a “Mac” surname because I already have a McAllister main character in my vampire series
c) Maybe, just maybe, I wanted to evoke James Bond actor Roger Moore. (Not that I see him playing Zachary’s secret agent father Ian Moore—I’ve always pictured no one in that role but Craig Ferguson.)
Speaking of the Moore/Muir clan, in SHIFT we finally get to see Zachary in a kilt, the colors of the family tartan.  He shows it off to a group of classmates at the Prom:

Zach's Tartan
The green is for the forests of the Highlands where my clan comes from.” Zachary pointed to the kilt’s vertical threads. “The yellow line is for the sun that shines once every three weeks.”
So what’s the blue?” asked Rachel Howard.

The blue is for the water. In Irish Gaelic, Moore and Muir mean ‘sea.’” He cocked his head. “But in Scottish Gaelic, it just means ‘big.’”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure he made that all up. Scotsmen have been known to have a little harmless fun with American gullibility. Not that I speak from experience.

When my husband and I first started dating, almost (yikes!) 19 years ago, I promised I would one day take him to Scotland (he’s a MacLeod on his grandmother’s side). Last week, I finally made good on that promise. We went to Glasgow to do research for the third book in the SHADE trilogy, SHINE, part of which takes place in that fair city.

I fell in love all over again, with the architecture, the people—and this time, yes, even the food! Glasgow was a feast for all five senses, and I’m still suffering from withdrawal. Luckily, we brought home lots of snack foods, like Tunnock’s Tea Cakes and Caramel Wafers, and Walker’s Highland Shortbread. It’s just not the same, though.

To lessen the pain of separation (or maybe to wallow in it), I like to look at my trip photos. Here are two of my favorites.

The first shows University of Glasgow beyond the Kelvin River, in the city’s West End, where we stayed during our trip (half a block from the delicious and gorgeous Òran Mór bar and cafe).

My Facebook friend Fraser, a native of Glasgow, took us to see the statue of the Duke of Wellington, who routinely wears a traffic cone on his head (not by design, but by local tradition of mischief, which sounds like something that would happen here in Baltimore). The duke wasn’t wearing the cone, but we found something even better: a Glaswegian unicorn!

We will go back soon. I know I said that about Vancouver seventeen years ago, but this time, I mean it. Scotland is lodged deeper in my heart than ever. One of these days, it might not let me go at all.

Thanks, Jeri, for such an entertaining and interesting post!  And now over to you lot because Jeri has questions she'd love some answers to:

If you’ve read Shade and/or Shift, what do you think of Zachary? Is he too perfect, or just perfect enough? If you haven’t read Shade, what are some of your favourite foreign settings or characters? Do you enjoy reading about places you've visited? Has a book ever made you decide to visit a new place?

Answer one or more of these questions, or ask Jeri a question, in the comments below to enter today’s give away. There will be two winners.

The Prizes:

1) a signed copy of Shift, plus a wee notebook with the Moore/Muir crest and “Spirit of Alba” tartan, courtesy of Jeri.

2) an unsigned copy of Shift, courtesy of Jeri’s publisher.

Additionally all commenters will be entered into a draw to win the Grand Prize - annotated copies of Shade and Shift, an early copy of Shine (book three of the series, of which there will be no other ARCS) and an Ipod Shuffle!

Open to international entries but comments will close after 24 hours - so get commenting!

April 26, 2011

Shift Blog Tour Announcement

I was lucky enough last year to read an early version of Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready.  As publication approaches, I'm now lucky enough to be taking part in an awesome blog tour promoting what I can promise you is a brilliant follow up to Shade.

The blog tour started today and I've listed all the stops below.  Each stop features a unique post and also gives you the opportunity to win any of the following:

A copy of Shift
A signed copy of Shift as well as a wee Scottish notebook (in Zachary's tartan, natch)
A (very) Grand Prize comprising of annotated (by Jeri) copies of Shade and Shift as well as an advance copy of the third book in the series when it becomes available later this year (there won't be any ARCs so this is particularly juicy).  As if this isn't enough, you'll also get an ipod shuffle.  Good, eh? 

All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning any of these lovelies is to comment on any of the blog tour posts within 24 hours of them being posted.  This is excellent incentive to check out each post, as the more you comment the more likely you are to win (if that's still not clear, and it may not be as I'm notoriously bad at explaining things) then you can find more information here.

You can comment on my stop tomorrow, when I will be featuring a fabulous guest post from Jeri about her passion for all things Scottish (particularly Zachary, obvs) but get ahead of the rest and check out the first stop on the tour today where you can learn the title of the third and final book in Jeri's excellent YA trilogy.   

Then be sure to check out the rest over the coming days - they are:

Tuesday, April 26: 
Guest post: presentation of Logan’s “Sucks to Be a Ghost (Sometimes)” playlist

Wednesday, April 27: Mountains of Instead
Guest post by Jeri: All Things Scottish (especially Zachary)

Thursday, April 28: He Followed Me Home
Guest post by Jeri: Deleted Scene from SHIFT

Friday, April 29: What’s on the Bookshelf
Guest post by Jeri: Loving the Love Triangle

Sunday, May 1: Addicted 2 Novels
SHIFT review

Monday, May 2: Book Smugglers
Video guest post: Newgrange & the Mysteries of Ireland

Wednesday, May 4: Mundie Moms
Interview with Jeri

Thursday, May 5: Postmortem
Death Interviews Logan

Group Interview with Zachary by the "Fab 4"

SHIFT Review

Monday, May 9: YA Book Queen
Interview with Jeri

Tuesday, May 10: Book Junkies
Guest post by Jeri: SHIFT playlist and Writing with Music

Wednesday, May 11: For What It's Worth
Wrapup and grand prize give away

A Winner Has Won... Chime by Franny Billingsley

The winner (chosen by random.org) of the outstandingly quirky and orginal Chime by Franny Billingsley is

Congratulations, Isabelle - an email is on its way to you.

Thanks again to Bloomsbury for facilitating this giveaway.

April 21, 2011

From Both Sides Now (Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman)

Where She Went (If I Stay, #2)Where She Went
Gayle Forman
Doubleday Children's 2011

Where She Went is the follow up novel to last year's If I Stay (review here). This review contains spoilers for If I Stay so please, er, don't stay if you haven't read the first book.

Adam is living the dream. He's a successful rock star, has a stunning girlfriend and travels the world surrounded by his band mates and hoards of adoring fans. His music is critically acclaimed, his lyrics speak to thousands and he's basically where he always thought he wanted to be. So why does he find himself alone in New York, chucking back beer and anxiety medication? Why, indeed. The truth lies in a promise he made three years ago, to a girl whom he wasn't entirely sure was listening. Turns out she was listening, she remembered his promise and eventually, she took him at his word.

Where She Went takes place three years on from the phenomenally successful, not to mention powerfully written, If I Stay. Rather than stay with Mia, accident victim and erstwhile out-of-body experiencee, author Gayle Forman has switched her protagonist and readers find themselves following the rather changed Adam – Mia's former boyfriend turned tortured superstar. And boy, is Adam tortured. When we meet him again, he's twenty-one and floundering in a world that no longer seems to hold any meaning for him. Clearly depressed, he's isolated himself from his family, from his band mates and from the world at large, limiting himself to stage appearances and surly interviews as the only real touchstones in his rapidly darkening world. Even his relationship with a Hollywood starlet seems to only highlight his depression and at the beginning of the novel his future seems bleak. And short.

Inevitably, it transpires that the reason for Adam's misery is Mia who shortly after her recovery upped sticks to Julliard and broke off all contact. While Adam has honoured her decision, he hasn't actually coped with it. At first he channelled everything into his music but now even the music seems to be dragging him down and his spiral into depression, anxiety is entirely believable and entirely understandable. When he then comes across Mia in New York, his fumbling reactions, bitter responses and disbelief at her attempts at small talk are incredibly hard to read – every single actions seems laced through with pain and betrayal. Despite knowing Mia's own sad story, it is hard to watch the effect her actions, not to mention the accident prior to them, have had on Adam. He's not always likeable and certainly hasn't made particularly good choices, but his spiralling grief and desperation for the answers he absolutely deserves make Adam as compelling a character in Where She Went as Mia was in If I Stay.

Mia herself is largely seen through the rather cracked lens of Adam's perception, yet the constancy of her character surprised me. Even while reading from an opposing point of view, Mia is entirely as recognisable in her new guise as a healthy adult as she was as a bed-ridden teenager. It would be easy to dislike her, at points she's extremely unsympathetic but in the end Mia is written as a survivor and it's impossible not to admire her strength in doing what was right for her and for her alone. Certainly her actions with regards to Adam weren't particularly fair, but they were always going to be understandable.

Where She Went is a very different book from If I Stay but it is just as beautifully written, with Adam's narrative creating not just an entirely new story but also a different view of the events during and prior to If I Stay. Forman again uses flashbacks to look at both Adam and Mia's life before her accident and during her stay in hospital. The flashbacks and modern day narrative culminate in a scene on a bridge that is no less than stunning and the build up to (and fall out from) this pivotal moment are beautifully written. The only sections of the book that perhaps fall a little short of it's predecessor are the references to Adam's band, and particularly the lyrics that pepper this title. In fact, all references to the contemporary music scene seem a little forced and the lyrics are, in some places, a bit trite.

It could be argued that If I Stay required no sequel, but Where She Went should silence any naysayers as Gayle Forman has skilfully added to her original story to the point where it's hard to imagine one without the other. This title completes Mia's story as much as it tells Adam's and is at once a careful study of a very real relationship and an essay on the catastrophic effects of grief on the individual. With both books, Gayle Forman has certainly marked herself as a writer to watch in the future.

Where She Went is available now. Thank you to Emma from Asamum Booktopia for giving me a copy of this book.

April 19, 2011

In Celebration of MOI's Joyeux Anniversaire - a giveaway! (Yep, I'm running with the French thing. What?).

As promised, I've decided to run a giveaway for my one year blogoversary.  I will be giving away any book that I've read since starting this blog.  You can find lists of these books (along with links to reviews) on my Books of 2010 and Books of 2011 pages.  There's a lot of them - you have plenty of choice.  I'm not going to try and influence you in any way.  I mean, your life will be much improved by reading, say, The Knife Of Never Letting Go. Or Jellicoe Road. Or The Sky Is Everywhere.  Or Divergent. But, you know - it's up to you. Forget I said anything.

This give away is open to anyone resident in a country that The Book Depository delivers to and there will be two (yes TWO) lucky winners.

The first winner will be chosen at random (by a cat, small child or me after too much wine) from all those who fill in the form below.  Go - fill in!

The second winner will, however, have to work for their supper (supper in this case meaning, er, book).  Most of you, I'm sure, are aware of the existence of The Very Secret Diaries by a certain Cassandra Clare, yes?  If not, read them now.  They are exceptionally funny.  In order to be automatically awarded five additional entries, I'd like you to pick any character you wish, from the YA book of your choice and write them their very own Very Secret Diary.  It doesn't have to be long - but it does have to be funny.  While any who attempt this will get the extra entries, the person who makes me laugh the most will also win a book of their choice from the aforementioned lists. If you make me laugh so hard I cry, I might even chuck in something extra.

So there you have it, a straight-forward giveaway for those who wish it and a challenge for those who are up to it!  I await your response with interest.

MOI est L'Un! (see what I did there?)

It's true!  The Mountains of Instead is officially a whole year old!  Nope, I can't believe it either.  When I first started blogging, I wasn't convinced that I'd stick at it a month never mind twelve of them.  Nor was I convinced that anyone other than my mum would actually read my reviews.  Yet here I am and here you are and isn't it all terribly jolly?

Over the past twelve months, I've had a ball.  I've made awesome book buddies and some fabulous friends who I look forward to staying getting to know even better over the next twelve months.  Without wanting to make this into to an Oscar type list of schmaltz I would be remiss not to shout out to the fabulous Emma of Asamum Booktopia, Andrew of The Emancipation of Pewter Wolf (not least for allowing me to try out my dodgy editorial skills on him), Michelle of Fluttering Butterflies and also Carla of The Crooked Shelf who so kindly took time out to advise me before I'd even posted my first review.  On the international front, Nomes of Inkcrush, Adele of Persnickety Snark and Tammy of The Book Fairy's Haven have all made me feel part of the larger community.  Finally, I've also found my own personal book twin - thank you Lauren (I Was A Teenage Book Geek) for having such exceptional taste in books!

As if all these lovely people weren't enough, blogging has also allowed me to rediscover my love of writing, helped me hone old skills and acquire useful new ones.  I've read so many books that I probably wouldn't have picked up otherwise and discovered many, many amazing writers including my now favourite of all time, Patrick Ness (read his stuff, people - READ IT!).  Most excitingly, via blogging, I've managed to sneak my way into the acknowledgements of a book and may well be responsible for sneaking the word "bawbag" into a YA novel (I have no official confirmation of this, thus far, but am keeping my fingers crossed).

Then there's all of you.  Every single person who takes the time to read through the reviews that I post, make a comment, Tweet about them and - best of all - lets me know they've bought a book based on my recommendation: you are the reason that I, who stick at nothing, have stuck at this. Thanks - you all rock. And because you do, there's a blogoversary giveaway coming later today - I've decided it requires it's own post so keep yer peepers peeled as it could be a lot of fun.

Finally, on a rather less chirpy note, I'm having major computer issues.  I was in the process of transferring all of my files to a new computer when I, er, lost them all.  ALL. OF. THEM.  Including the dozen reviews I had lined up to post over the next month.  Therefore, things may seem a little quieter here while I try and recover things/have tech-y people do tech-y things etc. However, never fear there are some great author posts coming up soon so again keep an eye out and, above all, enjoy!

April 10, 2011

What Dreams May Come (Review: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare)

City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments, #4)City Of Fallen Angels
Cassandra Clare
Walker 2011

City of Fallen Angels is the fourth book in The Mortal Instruments series. If you have not read the previous three books then don't read this, read them, as this review contains spoilers for all the previous titles. It may, depending on your personal preference, also contain very mild spoilers for City of Fallen Angels itself.

Six weeks on from the events of City Of Glass, Clary, Simon and the Lightwoods are back in New York looking to the future after the traumatic events of the Mortal War. All is going well; Jace and Clary are enjoying being together while she trains as a Shadowhunter, Simon is adjusting relatively easily to his vampiric existence while juggling two delightful ladies and Magnus and Alec are off traveling. In fact, things are so positive that Luke and Jocelyn are evening planning their wedding – it's all coming up roses. Except it's not because, really, how could it possibly after such traumatic recent events? Each character is struggling to come to terms with what happened to them and they're not all handling it terribly well. Add to this the murky deaths of several members of Valentine's Circle and a few dead babies (seriously) and things are starting to look seriously grim.

Clary, herself, is probably the most positive of the entire cast of City of Fallen Angels. Finally able to embrace her Shadowhunter self, she looks to the future with hope. However, once she realises all is not entirely well she emerges again a most tenacious character, holding on to what she believes to be right regardless of how things may seem on the surface. Her interactions with Jace continue to set scenes alight, particularly as their roles in the relationship subtly change. Another character who seems to be attempting to look on the bright side is Alec, off traveling with Magnus – but don't worry, he's soon sulking in corners again. Really, no one ever wants to have the how-many-people-have-you-been-with conversation, particularly not if one of you is immortal – it's never going to make you feel all that great. Great kudos must go to the fabulous Isabelle, fast becoming one of the strongest characters of the series. Ferocious in her loyalties and almost heartbreakingly vulnerable in her love for friends and family she is, again, afforded some of the best lines of the book - her worry for her brothers and their respective hearts beautifully expressed with her own particular clearness of thought and word.

City Of Fallen Angels, however, belongs mainly to Simon and Jace with their viewpoints carrying most of the narrative and their stories being of most importance. Simon has spent six weeks attempting to maintain his normal life but cracks are starting to show. Slowly, he becomes aware of the realities and practicalities of his vampiric nature and realises that things are going to have to change. Not only that, but he's coming to the conclusion that vampirism isn't actually the worst curse upon his head as the Mark of Cain starts to make it's presence felt. These things, as well as his hot commodity Daylighter status put Simon on a steep learning curve and his agonising is extremely well-written. Simon has always been the good guy, the regular Joe and suddenly he's having to embrace a life as an outcast, aware that he is different and of his changed status with his friends, even if they don't see it themselves. One exchange with Magnus, in particular, is gut-wrenchingly sad.

And then there is Jace. With his multiple surnames and shattered past, as well as his propensity to think the worst of himself, he should really be in therapy every day of the week. Instead, he is desperately trying to be the person whom he believes Clary deserves while hiding away the problems he's having – not least some really, very bad dreams. Even more than in the previous books, Jace seems apart from the others. Previously strong, handsome and devil-may-care he's now strong, handsome and yet horribly vulnerable and worried. He's still good at his job, swooping into battles like some angelic superhero but he's deeply tormented. The path that Cassandra Clare has set him on is a cruel one and it is unsurprising that the next book in the series is titled City Of Lost Souls because, throughout City Of Fallen Angels, Jace seems completely lost – sometimes to those around him, but mainly to himself. It's very sad, but Clare has always written Jace best when he's a little broken and this is no exception.

City of Fallen Angels is a tour de force. The plot is extremely pacy and often almost overwhelmingly tense yet never lacks coherency. The villain of the piece lacks Valentine's insidious inhumanity, more akin to one of Buffy's Big Bads, yet is no less frightening. Clare holds nothing back in her imagery and the scenes that involve infants are extremely disturbing (and treated appropriately throughout). The final set piece is breathlessly exciting, dragging the reader through a range of possible conclusions only to end on one of the finest cliffhangers I have ever read. Cassandra Clare is often brutal, meting out blow after blow to her characters – almost as if she bore her own Mark of Cain and they'd all pissed her off – but never without reason or pathos. There are many ways in which this series could progress but to second guess such a cruel mistress would be unwise. Instead, I advise you all to read this with a stiff drink on hand and prepare to wait out the long months before the next installment in the fantastically accomplished Mortal Instruments.   

April 07, 2011

Almost, At Times, The Fool (Review: The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta)

The Piper's SonThe Piper's Son
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick Press 2011

Tom is a man floundering. From an erstwhile inseparable family and indomitable group of friends, he finds himself seeking oblivion – something he's been finding pretty successfully for the last year. When a knock on the head unwillingly places him with Georgie, his aunt and working next to some familiar faces, he's forced to confront his recent past, his future and everything he has lost along the way. Georgie, herself, did not expect to find herself pregnant at 42, she certainly didn't expect the father of her unborn child to be an ex of seven years. She didn't expect to find her 21 year old nephew on her doorstep and above all, she never expected to find them at the centre of a family grieving for one of their own and unable to find a way back to each other. Returning to the community and families of Saving Francesca, The Piper's Son follows Tom and Georgie along an intertwining and bumpy road, never hinting at what their end destination may be.

Thomas Finch Mackee is a bit of a knob – he'd be the first to admit it, and the last to care. In fact, when we meet Tom in The Piper's Son he's stopped caring about anything and anyone, including himself. Gone is the exuberant, caring (if somewhat obtuse and tactless) boy that danced with abandon to I'm Your Venus in Saving Francesca. In his place is a young man completely lost to the world. He's treated his friends so badly that he can't see a way back to them and his family are in such a mess that he'd rather avoid contact than witness their pain. So yes, Tom's a dick, but he's got some pretty good reasons to lash out and the more you read, the more you realise that he's a dick with heart. And Tom's heart is, when you glimpse it, full to the brim with feeling. As the story progresses, despite his continual defensiveness there emerges a man whose love for his family and friends is overflowing, fierce and strong – he just needs to learn how to tap into it again. For, more than any character I've read before, home is very much where Tom's heart is.

Georgie is a less accessible character – not only for the reader, but for her own peers and family members. Struggling to hold herself and her family together after the death of her brother, Joe, she's also dealing with a surprise pregnancy – an unborn child that she is struggling to reconcile herself with. In many ways, she is Tom's opposite – she's certainly able to articulate things better, but often chooses to shut down, drawing an uncrossable line between herself and the rest of the world. Her character progression is both subtler and less complete than Tom's but all the more believable for it. The rest of the Finch Mackees are a complex and endlessly readable creation. A family of intelligent, difficult, loud-mouthed extroverts, it is clear instantly how muted they have been by their communal grief. Mourning not only Joe but also a long lost father they are completely undone. The deafening silence of this undoing is witnessed by their friends, who watch helplessly, completely unaware of how to piece this once vibrant family together again. And yes, there are some familiar faces in this group of friends. For those who have read Saving Francesca, many of Tom's school friends appear and are as pivotal to Tom in his story as they were to Francesca in hers.

The Piper's Son is an extraordinarily well written novel. Marchetta's previously seen skill for characterisation and dialogue moves up to a whole new level and I found myself savouring each word and often re-reading passages instantly, struck by the beauty of her writing. Stylistically it probably owes more to Marchetta's tour de force, Jellicoe Road than it's companion novel Saving Francesca with the themes explored being done so through adult eyes. In The Piper's Son, Marchetta skillfully explores the ties that bind us, those of both blood and water and as with Jellicoe Road (and to an extent Saving Francesca) it is her subtle working of group dynamics that turns a simple story of one families grief into an exploration of friendship, fear and love. The community that she has created in The Piper's Son is one of interwoven generations, shared history and huge depth of feeling. She recognises, vitally, that it isn't always necessary to like your family, nor your friends and that sometimes what is lost can never be found, what has been wronged never righted. Yet The Piper's Son isn't depressing, rather it's gloriously vivid, beautifully nuanced, often funny and above all real. Melina Marchetta writes her characters right down in the dirt and trust me when I say you will want to get right down there with them. As with Jellicoe Road (review here) I highly, highly recommend this title – read this, then go out and order everything else that this amazing author has ever written. You will not regret it.

April 06, 2011

A Winner Has Won!

The winner of Dark Mirror by Mary Jo Putney is 

Samantha J 
(chosen by Random.Org)

Well done Samantha, an email is on it's way to you.

Thanks to all who entered and an extra special thank you to St. Martin's Griffin for facilitating this give away.

Win a copy of Chime by Franny Billingsley

I recently reviewed the captivating and ingenious Chime by Franny Billingsley (review here) and am delighted to have two copies to give away, thanks to Bloomsbury.  I can't recommend this book enough, particularly to those of you who love to play with language.  

To enter, just fill in the form below (UK entrants only, at the request of the publisher) and keep your fingers crossed.  This giveaway is open until 20th April, 2011 and you do not have to be a follower of this blog to entry.

Good luck!

April 05, 2011

Come To My Arms, My Beamish Boy (Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley)

Franny Billingsley
Bloomsbury 2011

Briony is a wicked girl, of this she is certain. Her ability to see the strange creatures in the swamp surrounding her home and her tendency to favour her wicked left hand would have had her convinced that she was a witch even without evidence of many her wicked deeds confronting her daily. However, being a witch isn't really the done thing for a clergyman's daughter, what with the evil and the possibility of hanging and such, so Briony keeps her wickedness under wraps and resigns herself to a life lacking in feeling (witches don't feel, of course – they're too wicked) yet full of care. Things aren't going too badly until the enigmatic (not to mention handsome) Eldric appears, tempting Briony back to the swamplands she so loves, and the imagination she has deserted for fear of her own abilities. As she is quick to point out, it's all hugely unlikely to end well...

Briony is a singularly unique protagonist – I've rarely read such a curious character, nor a more compelling one. The objectivity with which she tells her strange story is remote without ever seeming cold and when her objectivity fails her, often in relation to her beloved swamp, a girl full of vim, vigour and joie de vive is glimpsed. Briony, of course, is quick to renounce that side of herself mainly consigning such character traits to her general witchified wickedness. However, her growing friendship with Eldric brings out more of what she refers to as her wolfgirl and it's hard not to share in her exhilaration at being set free from her previously rather austere existence.

Eldric himself is another fascinating character. Briony often refers to him as a man-boy and this description is apt. He swings from utter irresponsibility to complete kindness and care to anger to loss to love and the scenes with him and Briony both present give Chime it's beating and vital heart. Briony's twin sister Rose makes up the inner cast of the novel it is clear instantly that Rose is somewhat different. She Bartleby's around the place, preferencing the actions of herself and those around her as she sees fit, screeching at sudden change, obsessing over the village fire station and admiring her own exceptional eye for colour. She's a wonderful character – something that is achieved without the difficulties of her particular condition (which in a contemporary times would, I suspect, be written as an Autistic Spectrum Disorder) being lightened nor compromised.

The world in which these characters exist seems to be Victorian England – but it is an England where the supernatural is respected and feared, with the Old Ones being acknowledged and witches regularly hanged. Oddly, this works well, never resulting in the incongruity that could so well have arisen. The plot of Chime is at once extremely simple and highly complex with duel stories running through the narrative. Primarily, the book focuses on the mysterious death of Briony's Stepmother and the odd illnesses that have plagued the household before and since but a secondary plot runs concurrently, surrounding the future of the Swamp and it's Old Ones – the strange and often frightening creatures that abide therein. Both story lines, while well drawn, mainly serve as a backdrop to Briony's own gradual and often painful self-realisation.

Mainly, though, the strength of Chime is in the extraordinary writing. Franny Billingsley is clearly a writer who loves language and this is reflected in the musical, almost non-nonsensical words and phrasing that leap and fizzle from the pages of this title. Fans of Carroll's Jabberwocky would be wise to seek this out, as Billingsley plays with language in a similarly bizarre, enticing, lyrical way:

Hurrah for the smell of gravy, all blood and butter and yum!
Hurrah for the smell of pork, all sizzle and dark and chomp!
Hurrah for a snickly boy, all round and grubby and snug!”

Writing like this is an absolute joy to read for anyone who is fascinated in the teasing and pulling of words and each character possesses unique but equally beautiful turns of phrase. If, towards the end, the plot becomes ever so slightly lost under the weight of this mesmerising language it doesn't lessen the effect of the story as a whole – rather gives depth to an already addictive world. Chime is a book that has taken anciently old ideas and woven them into a world made original not only by the strength of it's characters but by the beauty of truly accomplished and original writing. Highly recommended to anyone who loves a good story and particularly to those who long for a completely immersive experience in the words they are reading.

Chime is available now. Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this title to review.