The Verdict: Tristan and Iseult by J.D Smith

I have adored the tale of Tristan and Iseult since I stumbled it across it when looking into Arthurian legends. I bloody love Arthurian legends btw. Soon after becoming aware of the story I found an old Puffin version by Rosemary Sutcliff that I’ve loved ever since. Her retelling has always been the only one for me…but recently I discovered this…

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In a land of fog and desperate tribes, Tristan fights to protect western Briton from Saxon invaders. In the wake of battle, he returns to Kernow bearing grave news, and the order of power shifts. As Tristan defends the west, his uncle, King Mark, faces enemies to the east beyond the sea: the Irish Bloodshields. Mark is determined to unite the tribes of Briton and Ireland and forge an alliance that would see an end to war and the beginnings of peace. Iseult, the daughter of Irish kings and a woman of the blood, resigns herself to her inevitable fate: marriage to Lord Morholt. A bloody duel changes her course, and she finds herself stranded on the coast of Kernow bringing with her the possibility of peace. But when she loses her heart to one man and marries another, her future and that of Briton flutters grey. Three people and a hope that will never fade, this is a story of promise; the legend of love. Image and Synopsis from Goodreads.

Due to the aforementioned circumstances I’m sure you can understand why I went into this a bit sceptical. At first I found that the simple, almost brisk sentences came out a bit wooden but after a few paragraphs the style really started to flow and I started to enjoy it, a lot.

It captures the time and essence of the story I know and love really well.

The book is written from both Tristan and Iseult’s point of views – each having alternative chapters – which I thought would annoy me but it actually turned out to be really great. This way Iseult is able to show us in the very beginning how revolting Morholt, her husband-to-be really is, which kind of helps us realise later why she agrees to marry King Mark when she is clearly in love with Tristan- his Nephew and chosen heir to the throne. Going from something so bad to something ‘safe’ can’t be too bad after all can it?

I did wish that the two characters had more distinct voices though, as they both sounded the same in my head and I had to constantly remind myself whose chapter it was. However, Smith builds up the lust and romance between Tristan and Iseult beautifully. I was absolutely hooked and invested in the story which is probably why I got so angry that Tristan encouraged her to marry Mark in the first place…I mean, the King loves him, all he had to do was say! I’m not sure I was totally convinced that he did it due to his guilt of the King’s son Rufus’ death. But hey ho.

Alas, King Mark and Iseult are married and clearly everyone, apart from the King is miserable. The King in fact just seems to swan off a lot on King-like business leaving Tristan and Iseult alone with a million will they-won’t they moments which was INFURIATING to say the least. Not in a bad way. In a I have to keep reading way.

And then. THEN, we skip to 20 years ahead…are you shitting me J.D Smith?

Anyway (deep breaths), without giving too much away, this is a pretty different retelling than the Suttcliff version and I do think it lacked a certain proportion of passion and excitement due to some choices Smith made with the material but I don’t mean that to sound so bad.

It is a quick, enjoyable read that has captured the essence of the medieval, Celtic folklore that the story originated from, whilst also creating more contemporary feel to it.

I’m tempted to give this 4 out 5 because I was hooked all the way through, but the last third of the story let it down for me so I have settled on 3/5 unicorns. If I could bring myself to chop one in half, I would.

Tristan and Iseult by J.D Smith is published by @TriskeleBooks

The Verdict: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Click to view on GoodReads.
Click to view on GoodReads.

An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. Born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora dodges both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains, neither blind nor a priest. A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected family of orphans “Gentlemen Bastards.”

I don’t really know what to think of this book. I did enjoy it, but I also nearly gave up on like 3 different occasions. It was quite hard-going yet compelling at the same time. Don’t ask me how that works, but it just does. And at over 700 pages it’s not the quickest of reads.

I’ve read a few reviews that liken TLOLL to Ocean’s Eleven and The Godfather – two films I have never seen so I don’t know about that but I did make some of my own comparisons. It reminded me more of a cross between Oliver, Robin Hood and Spartacus(Blood and Sand) for all of the obvious orphans, thievery and Capas/crime bosses references.

The world Lynch has created is truly unique and really it is a unique experience to read too with all of the crazy tangents and flashbacks. I loved the whole Venice Renaissance feel it had and the place names and descriptions were perfect in creating an off-kilter reality. It is in the realm of fantasy but there is nothing too outlandish making it still normal enough to feel real.

The Gentleman Bastards themselves are witty and intriguing but I didn’t really warm to them all that much which made it hard for me to root for them. When Locke gets thrown into the sea in a cask of horse piss I thought it was hilarious, but I didn’t really care if he survived or not.

TLOLL is a witty, action-and-violence-packed swashbuckling adventure for adults that is written with remarkable detail and imagination, I just wish that I could have found it an easier read. It’s definitely worth a try though, especially if you enjoy crudeness, violence and inventive swearing!

3 unicorns out of 5 unicorns! 🙂

This copy is published by Gollancz, 2011.

Favourites Friday #3: Why I love James Frey, controversy be damned!

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Click to view on Goodreads.

I love James Frey. I love what he says and how he says it. There, I said it.

I thought I’d go for something a bit different for this week’s FF. It’s definitely not YA, or Paranormal, or Fantasy! But here are some of the reasons why James Frey is one of my favourite authors.

At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his front teeth knocked out and his nose broken. He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks. An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing.
-A Million Little Pieces (Goodreads synopsis)

I didn’t know anything about A Million Little Pieces before I picked it up. I didn’t know it had been marketed as a memoir rather than fiction so I totally missed the whole hype and scandal because I never thought it was anything other than fiction; Fiction that I fell in love with instantly. There’s something about Frey’s streamofconsciousness style that I just can’t get enough of. It’s simple and fierce yet really beautiful in some way. The idea that someone who is beyond broken is doing everything he can to stay alive, and still manages to find beauty in the world and some kind of hope and faith is what really beguiled me. This book is also completely and utterly heartbreaking. You’ve been warned.

I felt exactly the same about follow-up My Friend Leonard too. ‘A heartrending story of a friendship between a newly-sober James and the charismatic, high-living mobster he met in rehab, Leonard. I haven’t reread it as many times as AMLP but it’s still up there in my favourites list.

Then, when Bright Shiny Morning came out I bought the huge hardback edition and was so excited to read it, but it was such a let down. Sad Panda. I was so disappointed that I didn’t even finish it, (I should really give it another go though) so I didn’t know what to expect when I heard his next book was titled The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

As I was waiting for the book to be released everything went a bit crazy.

He’s been called a liar. A cheat. A con man. He’s been called a saviour. A revolutionary. A genius. He’s been sued by readers. Dropped by publishers because of his controversies. Berated by TV talk-show hosts and condemned by the media. He’s been exiled from America, and driven into hiding. He’s also a bestselling phenomenon.

I have no doubt that the above quote (which is used on Goodreads as the start of The Final Testament synopsis) was just another promotional tool to create this ‘character’ of James Frey. But for a few weeks everywhere I turned, Frey was being called the most hated writer in America, which just made me want to love the book even more. And I did.

What would you do if you discovered the Messiah were alive today? Living in New York. Sleeping with men. Impregnating young women. Euthanizing the dying, and healing the sick. Defying the government, and condemning the holy. What would you do if you met him? And he changed your life. Would you believe? Would you? This is The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why this book created such controversy. Having a protagonist who many perceive to be Jesus reborn who insists that he’s just a man and that religion does nothing but spurn hate and will be the ultimate undoing of the world will do that. He also sleeps with almost everyone he encounters, not forgetting the men…shock horror! But seriously, come on. James Frey is a writer. It’s fiction. If you don’t like the subject matter don’t read it, but leave the poor man alone.

The Final Testament has its flaws. It gets pretty ridiculous and it repeats itself a tad (love is all that matters, yadayadayada), but I felt the same way reading this as I did AMLP- It just spoke to me. I get what he’s trying to say and I like it.

‘I had spent my life worshipping death, fearing it, obsessing over it, and living my life according to what a book says will happen when it comes…I came to understand that it’s no way to live, and that living is all we have and all we will ever have, and that is not to be wasted. That love is life. That life isn’t worth living without love. And that the Catholic Church, filled with celibate men who have no experience with it, has no right telling other people how to love or who to love or what kind of love is right or wrong.’

True Dat.

The Verdict: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares

Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York?Excerpt & Image from GoodReads7741325

I was a little, tiny bit disappointed about Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, I did, but it just didn’t live up to the standards of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Once again Rachel Cohn & David Levithan collaborated on this with Rachel writing Lily’s chapters and David writing Dash’s. I wonder if they’ve ever thought about doing it the other way round??

Dash’s is 100% Levithan – Cute, geeky and sensitive in a hot way, and pretty metrosexual. I haven’t read any other Rachel Cohn so I can only compare Lily to Norah…I was expecting a similar character- quirky, insecure and feisty- but she was just a bit of a let down. I’m glad she was different, don’t get me wrong, she’s not supposed to be Norah but I think the main reason I didn’t LOVE this book is because me and Lily just wouldn’t get on. She wears her school uniform in the Christmas Holidays (who does that?). She is just SO nice it’s sickening. She doesn’t even approve of swearing. I don’t think we could be friends. And I don’t think she’s a good match for Dash.

Lily does love Christmas though, as do I, so you’d think that would endear me to her. But no.

I love Christmas. I love everything about it: the lights, the cheer the big family gatherings, the cookies, the presents piled high around the tree. The goodwill to all. I know it’s technically goodwill to all men, but in my mind I drop the men because that seems segregationist/elitist/sexist generally bad ist. Goodwill shouldn’t be just for men. It should also apply to women and children, and all animals, even the yucky ones like subway rats. I’d even extend the goodwill not just to living creatures but to the dearly departed, and if we include them we might as well include the undead, those supposedly mythic beings like vampires, and if they’re in, then so are elves, fairies and gnomes.

She is so different to Norah that I couldn’t even picture her as Kat Dennings whom I’m a bit obsessed with so that was disappointing too. She just didn’t fit.

There are definitely flashes of brilliance though. One of the first things I didn’t like about the story is that Lily is basically a fraud. Dash has found the notebook and is traipsing all over New York during the holidays to fulfill these dares, and here he is thinking he’s met this quirky, clever, slightly insane, out-spoken girl (he’s clearly picturing Kat Dennings too) when really the whole thing was her brother’s idea and she’s just sort of going along with it. But then, I guess that’s what it’s like when when you’re just getting to know someone. You find out one thing about them and it defines who they are to you. If you ask me, first impressions are worthless.

I mean like most guys, you carry around this girl in your head, who is exactly how you want her to be. The person you think you will love the most. And every girl you are with gets measured against this girl in your head. So this girl with the red notebook- it makes sense. If you never meet her, she never has to get measured. She can be the girl in your head.

I think Dash would agree with me.

I wanted to write it down. I wanted to share it with Lily, even if Lily was really just the idea I’d created of Lily, the concept of Lily. . . I sat back and let my thoughts flow out. Not directed at her this time. Not directed at all. It would be just like water, or blood. It would go wherever it was meant to go.

Overall Dash & Lily is a really enjoyable read, just don’t expect it to be as poignant (I really hate that word but there’s no better in this case) or as beautiful as Nick & Norah.

I give Dash & Lily's Book of Dares 3 unicorns (out of 5 unicorns). It would be 3.5 unicorns but I can't cut a unicorn in half, that would be devastating.

This edition was published by Mira Ink, Oct 2012 and belongs to Dora. Thanks Dora 🙂

The Verdict: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Click to view on GoodReads.
Click to view on GoodReads.

There are just many things to be said about Bitterblue but let’s start with the basics. It’s the third book in the Graceling Realm Trilogy by Kristin Cashore and it looks beautiful.

In Graceling, we entered a world of seven kingdoms where some people are born graced with any number of unique skills or abilities and where we first meet Katsa, seemingly graced with the skill of killing and under the command of King Randa. Katsa becomes increasingly frustrated and depressed about being used in such a cruel way and when Prince Po comes along their journey together slowly reveals just how corrupt the seven kingdoms really are. In Fire, we’re transported to The Dells, a kingdom of ‘rainbow coloured monsters and underground labyrinths’ where Fire, the last human monster is both hated and obsessed over, constantly assaulted for being so irresistible and who refuses to use her mind control to steal people’s memories and secrets.

By the time we come to Bitterblue, it is several years after King Leck’s tyrannous and torturous reign in Graceling and we follow the young Queen Bitterblue as she attempts to rebuild her kingdom; a kingdom that is still deeply affected by her father’s spell over them. But how can you rebuild something that is based on lies and secrets and despicable acts? Especially when the people who were most under Leck’s spell are the ones closest to Bitterblue?

There are so many things I love about this book. I enjoyed Fire, but as soon I opened this it felt like I was coming back home. I was eager to meet up with Katsa and Po again and it didn’t disappoint despite the fact that they weave in and out of the narritive. I think Cashore could easy have ridden the wave of their romance and made that the main strand of this book but I think this portrays a much more realistic and exciting relationship. It’s certainly refreshing to see these characters living their own lives, putting the important things first and not just glaring at each other with puppy-dog eyes. They are definitely not the puppy-dog eyes types!

I love how this story slowly builds momentum. We find the clues as Bitterblue finds them -one by one- linking what really happened during Leck’s time to just how many secrets and lies are being maintained within the city walls. I found myself even more confused than Bitterblue as to who to trust and who to investigate. However, I did feel like there was a lull in the middle where the pace could have been picked up and I just wanted to grab Bitterblue and shake her yelling ‘haven’t you learnt by now you can’t trust anyone, get on with it!’

I enjoyed the mix of the old and new here too. Whenever I think of Kings, Queens and castles, whether it’s in this universe or a fictional one I think of times gone by, but Cashore’s world is full of modern themes making no fuss over boys and girls fighting each other, same-sex relationships, sex before marriage, birth control, or a Queen who wears trousers and slips out of the castle at night to smooch with a thief. And is it just me or is it completely devoid of religion? Hallelujah!

Cashore has created an in-depth world of strong, kick-ass girls, epic sword-fights, passion, and intriguing mystery. Essentially, Bitterblue and those before it are about the abuse of control and power, facing up to horrible truths and having the strength to overcome the impossible.

Bitterblue is published by Gollancz and I received a copy in exchange for a review as part of their Gollancz Geeks Blog.

The Verdict: Soulless – Gail Carriger

Cheap clothing is no excuse for killing a man! Click to view on Goodreads
Cheap clothing is no excuse for killing a man!
Click to view on Goodreads

Synopsis: First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire – and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

As I mentioned before, I don’t really know anything about Steampunk. Other than the fact that it’s everywhere at the moment, I like the clothes but would never be able to pull it off and that there seems to be a whole lot of what I can only describe as gold binocular type goggles and mechanical Blimps, or Glassicles and Dirigibles as I now know them to be (see, learning). That being said, I actually really enjoyed that element of the story. It brought a new dimension to your average ‘Paranormal Romance’ genre.

Soulless is basically a sort of Victorian mystery-cum-paranormal-romance in which Miss Alexia ‘I’m the one with no soul’ Tarabotti accidentally kills a feral, unregistered vampire with her parasol. Oh, how very uncouth! This results in her spending more time with Lord Maccon of BUR – The Bureau of Unnatural Registration – whose job it is to investigate such improper occurrences. Chaos and an unlikely romance ensues. Obviously.

After the initial LOLs from the almost farcical “Victorian” language Carriger uses,(can you image a vampire saying ‘she is trying to make a funny’? No, me neither) there’s actually a lot to like in this book. Lord Maccon for one. Hot, Scottish (‘of all barbaric places’) Werewolf type who I like to picture as Simon from Biffy Clyro:

Simon 'Sexy Jesus' Neil AKA Lord Maccon.
Simon ‘Sexy Jesus’ Neil AKA Lord Maccon.

AND we later come across a character named Biffy! Coincidence? I think not!

The fact that pale girls with some flesh on their bones are the desirable ones is also a confidence booster, good work Victorians. And well , it’s all pretty funny really. I’m still not entirely sure if I was laughing at it, or with it. Probably a bit of both, but either way it brought a smile to my face.

I made some really in-depth review notes for your perusal:

Don't call him your mistress!!!
Don’t call him your mistress!!!
Excellent Vocab!
Excellent Vocab!
Angry-sticking-up-for-his-but-not-his-woman-hot-Werewolf-action!
Angry-sticking-up-for-his-but-not-his-woman-hot-Werewolf-action!

I’ll definitely have a go on the next in the series! I give it 4 Unicorns. (Out of 5 Unicorns, BTW)

Soulless is published by Orbit.