Monday, 16 September 2013

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

If I had been asked to think up a title for this book I would have gone with “The Amazing Misadventures of a Post-Apocalyptic Teenage Midwife!” and the exclamation mark would have been non-negotiable. But that’s probably one of the reasons I’m not a successful author and Caragh M. O’Brien is (other reasons include a severe procrastination and a fear of post-it notes)

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother's footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.(Courtesy of Goodreads)


I do love my Post-Apocalyptic stories but a lot of the time you tend to get stuck with the same beautiful rebellious people who enter stage left ready to fight for Truth, Justice and Freedom for all! The actual logistics of maintaining Truth, Justice and Freedom for all in the aftermath is usually someone else’s problem, what do you expect? We blew up the bad guy, job done, applause accepted.


Gaia Stone is not beautiful, in a society that strives for perfection in everything (even genetics) her scarred face and position outside the wall in the shanty town of Wharfton mark her as not only unremarkable but a target for disgust and ridicule. She’s not even burning inside over the injustice of these babies being taken away from their mothers and handed over to the privileged few inside the walls; who have riddled their own children with genetic deformities thanks to their own decades of snobbery and generations of inbreeding. She doesn’t like it but she believes they’ll be better off where there are schools and plentiful food and water.


No, if the Enclave’s Protectorate hadn’t bothered to arrest her parents and threaten to execute them for no apparent reason, then Gaia Stone would have dwindled out all her days in Wharfton, delivering babies, advancing the unlucky few to the Enclave and being generally ignored or teased about her face. But her parents are taken and her decision to go find them forces Gaia to become someone incredible.


She makes plenty of mistakes, has tendency to barrel into situations when she thinks she can help and is not above falling prey to hopelessness and despair. And yet it’s these qualities and more that encourages so many people to help her along her way, she has a gift for inspiring the best in people. And none more so than the Protectorate’s advanced and disowned son Leon Grey, Captain of the Guard and all round mysterious hot loner dude.


It would have been so easy to just make Leon a nicer, funny, more likeable boy but Ms O’Brien doesn’t do easy, she does tough, like Grandma’s roast beef tough. He can be cold, secretive and refuses to sugar coat anything even when faced with the sight of a young shackled girl begging him for help. But there’s a crack of compassion in him that only Gaia manages to worm inside and pry open and when she does it’s almost magical. That boy is responsible for one of the most romantic fruit based gestures I have ever read (admittedly the competition is limited).


I’m now well on the way to finishing the third and final book and I cannot describe how exciting the Amazing Misadventures of a Post-Apocalyptic Teenage Midwife! can be. Also turns out I’m learning quite a bit about midwifery, weirdly it’s given me a new respect for midwives everywhere, although I doubt the ladies on One Born Every Minute ever had to deliver a baby while on the run and being chased by Enclave guards. Much respect if you have though.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Emperor's Edge Novels By Lindsey Buroker

Firstly let me just say that I stumbled on Lindsay Buroker by accident. Like a morosely drunk bridesmaid who went looking for a place to cry and instead found Narnia.

Upon finishing the very wonderful The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke I decided I wanted more and I wanted it immediately, but searching ‘The Assassin’s Curse’ in Goodreads (I forgot her name and I’m lazy) brought up instead a short story by one Lindsay Buroker. What is this? An Emperor’s Edge novella?

And that’s all it took, Emperor’s Edge, the phrase alone conjured up hopes for adventures, questionable miscreants, political machinations and loveable rogues. So I dived into book one, actually called The Emperor’s Edge (which is free in e-book form) and was utterly hopelessly lost in love.

Book 2
Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire's most notorious assassin, is in town. He's tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills... or someone wants her dead (Courtesy of Goodreads)

Even just re-reading that blurb a whole year after I started this series gives me a wobbly thrill. Never before have I wished I could forget everything I knew about a book just so I could enjoy it all over again (I’m sure I have and I’m exaggerating but, seriously, I can’t think of any other books that make me feel that way right now, they have all ceased to matter).
Book 3

Each book follows the thoughts of Amaranthe and, from book 2 onwards, one of her rag-tag team of freedom fighters which allows each story to open up so much more to the reader than a single point of view could manage. It also makes for spectacular segways when the team splits up (either by Amaranthe’s design or more usually when something explodes or goes horribly wrong).
It’s difficult to do these stories justice, I could go on about how wonderfully entertaining Amaranthe is with her diabolical plans and optimistic intentions, how brilliantly refreshing the enemies and problems they face are or how perfectly formed her team of noble miscreants become over the course of their many adventures.
Book 4

And ADVENTURES! Oh how I love books with actual adventures. Proper swinging from ropes, blowing up lairs, facing down beasts, royalty rescuing (or kidnapping), train hijacking, cross dressing adventures! Where grandiose plans go awry and last minute heroics and all the luck in the world is only enough to scrape free with your life. And maybe your boots. Possibly someone’s underwear.

Speaking of delicates, there is also romance to be had. Because it is not a proper adventure if there are no heart stopping moments that make you want to stand up on the bus and yell at your kindle “I demand you two to bloody well kiss!”. Possibly to the astonishment of your fellow passengers.
Sicarius would have been an almost impossible character to romanticise, he has killed and kills a lot of people, most are deserving but some are not, hardly a man you would like to get snuggly with (unless you’re one of those psychos who writes love letters to death row inmates, you should talk to a friend, choose a nice hobby, get a pet).
His face is a blank page, he is a brutally economical with his words and would easily slaughter dozens of people if they had the misfortune to stand in his way. But somehow, over the course of the stories Ms Buroker manages to build a real person out of all the little moments and snippets he shares with everyone and she does it properly by making his faults real, serious issues that Amaranthe has to acknowledge and accept, rather than just saying “oh he had a tough past but he is super dreamy. Swoon!” I love these two, they are not perfect for each other but they are for each other, and that is better.

Book 7
Book 6
As I said the first book is free to download and if you like what you read then you have the joy of reading all 7 books plus all the short stories in between (which you should, every word of them only adds value to this Universe) and when you are done and you look back with fondness on all the shenanigans, mishaps and derring-do’s … well then you can come join me while I wait for whatever Ms Buroker writes next. Bring snacks.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Oh if only I was a super whiz on the sewing machine! I would be able to make all the beautiful things I see everyday on those richer  more exfoliated people on the that big shiny screen. And when I finally develop the skills for frills one of the first books I'll be picking up is Ms Gregory's Sew Iconic so I can have all the Hollywood haute couture for myself.
Inside she's broken down ten of the most recognisable movie dresses into simple easy to follow steps and it will even include a CD so you can print out the patterns as well as online videos for those tricky techniques that translate better when shown. She also gives thorough advice on what fabrics to use and even how to accessorize your finished piece!
Of course the expected dresses like Marilyn's white billowy halter from The Seven Year Itch and Audrey's little black party frock in Breakfast at Tiffany's are here, but Ms Gregory has also included some of the most beautiful and (I think, more importantly) mostly wearable dresses from the following movies.
The Racing Dress from Pretty Woman.
The Green Silk Draped Dress from Atonement 
The Grecian Blue Gown from To Catch a Thief.
 The Exquisite Chanteuse dress from Gilda (love, love, love)

Some veer to the fancy dress end of the spectrum including the Flapper Jazz Singer dress from Chicago and the Red Satin and Black Lace Gown from Titanic, but that's not a bad thing and the 20's look is coming back into fashion now thanks to the success of the The Artist. In fact the boxy beige 60's shift from the The Thomas Crown Affair I found to be the only miss in a book filled with beautiful hits.
However before I can even think about attempting these beauties I will need to devote some time to brushing up on my darts, bias hems and ruching rather then just being distracted by the lovely Great British Sewing Bee's Patrick Grant when he'll be gracing our screens later this year. sigh.
Advance pdf copy was kindly provided but NetGalley for review purposes only. No pretty dresses were received in return for the review.