Sunday, 29 May 2011

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

I must confess this is not my usual sort of book. If it had been two or three years ago I probably would have run a country mile from anything that looked so girly and twee. But after hearing a few good things about Sarah Addison Allen's first book, and finding myself in the mood for a bit of a fairytale I popped it in my basket and clicked 'buy'.

Bascom, North Carolina is a small southern town where the local families are steeped in mystery and legend. And no family more so then the Waverleys, whose seemingly magical home and garden seems to breathe with a life of it's own. Claire Waverley had a rather unorthodox childhood, hopping from state to state with her wild child mother, she never felt like she belonged anywhere. Then when her mother falls pregnant again with Sydney she finally heads home to Bascom and the Waverley home where Claire's grandmother takes them in and teaches Claire the magic of the Waverley garden. Now all grown up Claire runs a catering business out of her home, using the secrets her now passed Grandmother taught her. Sydney, taking after her mother and running away at 18, is now trapped in an abusive relationship and has spent the last 3 years amassing enough money so her and her 5 year old daughter, Bay, can escape. And she plans to head home to Bascom, the only safe place she can think of. But Claire likes her ordered quiet life and she is not ready to start letting people in, least of all her new neighbor Tyler who, it seems, has fallen hard for Claire.

I really took to this book to begin with, the wonderful little southern town setting immediately sucked me in with it's colourful characters, wonderful smells and balmy weather. And (as a massive foodie) I loved all of Claire's references to the herbs and flowers she used in her cooking and the effects they have. Especially when she starts using her skill to try and discourage Tyler's romanic feelings towards her, with little experience of that sort of thing needless to say her attempts never quite work out how she would like.

"Two more bites and he'd cleaned his plate.
She looked at him expectantly. 'Did you like it? How do you feel?'
He met her eyes, and she almost feel off her stool from the force of his desire. It was like a hard gust of autumn wind that blew fallen leaves around so fast they could cut you. Desire was dangerous to thin-skinned people.
'Like I want to ask you out on date'
Claire sighed and her shoulders dropped.

On the flipside to Claire's amusing boy antics, Sydney's homecoming isn't quite a joyous affair when her old school friend Emma does everything she can to socially snub Sydney, terrified she's got designs on her husband Hunter John (and Sydney's old high school boyfriend). Sydney of course is more worried that Bay's father will turn up any moment to drag her and Bay back into a life of misery and abuse. Not exactly fun times. That said I actually really liked following Sydney, her optimism and enthusiasm never seemed forced or insincere despite the huge fear she's hiding from everyone. 

It turns out all the Waverley women have their talent. Sydney's is hair, she can cut you the perfect do and afterwards your luck will skyrocket. Bay has already embraced her gift of knowing exactly where everything belongs. Not just cutlery and towels either, she can tell immediately that Tyler belongs with Claire, not that Claire listens. My favorite Waverley has to be Evanelle though. A distant cousin and an old lady with a wicked taste for ogling young men's behinds. Her talent is giving items someone will need. She never knows what they will need them for, or even when. But if Evanelle gives you something you know that it'll be essential at some point. 

"Fred found himself laughing. 
'Even in 1953 giving someone condoms wasn't so bad, was it?'

'It wasn't the what, it was the who. I told Luanna that I had something to give her in church the next day. I was trying to do it private. She was with her friends and said, real uppity-like, "Well give it to me, Evanelle" Like it was her due. You know Clarks and Waverleys have never gotten along. Anyway, I gave them to her, right there in front of her friends. Oh, I'm leaving out the most important part. Luanna's husband lost his private parts in the war. My name was Mud, but it got even worse when Luanna got preganant a year later. She should have used those condoms.'"

She's a no nonsense old lady with a dirty mind and masses of compassion and therefore the character I enjoyed following the most. Especially towards the last half of the book where I started to find the main story was being pushed along to it's conclusion as swiftly as possible. I didn't really enjoy the last few chapters because it was like Addison Allen had an idea of where she wanted all her characters to be at by the final page but couldn't figure those extra 50-100 pages to get there in a way that felt natural (not really the right word for a book containing a magic apple tree I know) so at the end I did feel somewhat short changed by the "everything is now resolved in a few pages" type of ending. However I had enjoyed the story and the great characters so it felt like a small price to pay. A short but delightful book.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

Firstly I have to explain that I was late in coming to these books, and yes I know "Holly how on earth did you miss these for so long? Where was your head,? It was up your bum again wasn't it?" But that lateness to the party meant I could gorge myself on all three at once with none of that waiting a year for the next book to be published (oh how that kills me).

I remember picking up The Knife of Never Letting Go numerous times in bookshops and lingering over it in on Amazon but never taking that final sweet step to owning it. And then one day, when I was at the end of my monthly book buying funds, and I was running around the local library in my lunch hour looking for something free to read, it again caught my eye. And thankfully this time I saw sense and booked it out.

It had me at the first page.

"The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.
About anything.
"Need a poo, Todd."
"Shutup, Manchee."
"Poo. Poo, Todd."
"I said shut it." 

I mean who wouldn't crack a smile at a beginning like that? Needless to say I was hooked in for the long haul.

And. Wow. What a story, a wonderful, incredible and huge story that revolves around two of the strongest and most real characters you'll ever care to know. I fell in love with Todd and Viola and even now I'm finished I still find myself thinking of them and wondering what they could be up to. Ness has made these characters real to me and that is a sign of a great storyteller.

The tale begins in a small town of men. Todd, the youngest in Prentisstown a place where you become a man at 13, is always under the impression he's missing out on some big secret. And keeping secrets is no mean feat on a planet where every man's thought, feeling and desire is broadcast in an endless noise to the minds of those close by. As far as Todd knows the world is empty outside of his small town and all the women, now gone, victims of some virus released in a war with the planet's native species known only as Spackle.

Then in a single day all of Todd's certainties suddenly explode when he stumbles across a girl hiding out in the swamps, where did she come from? Why can't he hear her noise? What follows is an humongous adventure that sees the two running for their lives, becoming pawns in a power struggle between a mass murder and a terrorist and finally fighting in an all out war while ships filled with thousands of settlers are floating through space towards it all. And throughout all of it Todd and Viola learn to lean on each other as they try to figure out how to save a world that's suddenly trying to destroy itself.

"She tried to kill you, Viola. She tried to blow you up... You don't owe her nothing,' he says.
But I feel his arms on me and I'm realizing things don't seem so impossible anymore. 
I feel Todd touching me and there's anger rising in my gut but it's not at him and I grunt and I pull myself up again, leaning on him to keep me there as I stand. 
'I do owe her,' I say. 
'I owe her the look on her face when she sees me alive." 

What I loved most about these books were the characters (I can't call them secondary), Ness writes great people and I constantly found myself reevaluating my impressions of them. None more so then with the violently arrogant character of Davy Prentiss, who slowly turns from this figure of total terror into a scared young man who desperately wants nothing more then an approving word from his father. Ness manages to redeem murders and vilify life savers and at no point do their actions ever feel unnatural or for the sake of plot only.

I also have to give him kudos for the style, the stories are told in the first person and with each successive book another character's perspective is added. This has been tried before and I usually find it to be lazy way of upping an authors word count, it tends to dilute the story and the characters, but not here. Ness writes each character with such a solid sense of who they are that they could just be thinking about eating breakfast and I would have found it engrossing because it was them thinking it. I didn't ever get the sense that Ness was pushing himself or his views on me, the reader, I was only ever aware of the characters and in a story that deals with gender inequality, torture for the sake of information, terrorism and humanity's prevalence towards violence over peace regardless of the consequences, that is no mean feat.

"Choices may be unbelievably hard but they're never impossible. 
To say you have no choice is to release yourself from responsibility and that's not how a person with integrity acts." 

I don't want to go to far into the plots of the books because I came to them completely clueless and it was a joy to uncover this story with no idea of where it was going to turn next. All I can say is that it ends well, there is nothing more important for me than a satisfying ending and Men of Monsters has it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Inevitable "Hello" First Post


My name is Holly and I read. A lot. And I thought I should probably do something with that so here it is. This is the start of my own story blog. I say stories and not just books because I'll more then likely veer into a number of different types of tales from time to time. Hopefully I can recommend some great things to you guys and maybe pick up some myself?

I'm going to try and venture out of my reading comfort zone a lot more which is currently stuck orbiting the major wormholes of YA, historical mystery, urban fantasy and adventure genres. But don't worry they will be well represented, I promise. In addition I'm also going to be raiding my better half's bookshelves (with his permission of course) to bring a gentlemanly taste to the blog.

So here goes...