Once Upon a Time: Join the Quest!

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Yesterday I came across a new challenge on the lovely Lynn’s blog, and while I have done pretty rubbish in the challenges I set myself at the start of the year, I’m signing up.

But it’s OK, because Once Upon a Time uses the term ‘challenge’ pretty loosely and you can sign up just for ‘The Journey’….

Once Upon a Time is brought to us by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings, and is in its 8th year. It’s ‘a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum.’ It runs from March 21st to June 21st and you can sign up for minimal participation (1 book) in ‘The Journey’ or five other quests. Check out the original post on Stainless Steel Droppings for more info or to sign up.

I’m going for Quest the Third because I’ve been wanting to reread some Shakespeare for some time, and this is the perfect encouragement.

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Fulfill the requirements for The Journey or Quest the First or Quest the Second AND top it off with a June reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream OR a viewing of one of the many theatrical versions of the play.

So I’ll be doing The Journey (1 book min.) – even though I have quite a few books that would fall into these categories on my TBR list – because I just don’t want to commit to more given my bad start to the year where other challenges are concerned, and reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June. Fun!

Be one of us…

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Werewolves, Ghosts & A Christmas Ball: The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice

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The tale of THE WOLF GIFT continues . . .

As lush and romantic in detail and atmosphere as it is sleek and steely in storytelling, Anne Rice brings us once again to the rugged coastline of Northern California, to the grand mansion at Nideck Point—to further explore the unearthly education of her transformed Man Wolf.

The novel opens on a cold, gray landscape. It is the beginning of December. Oak fires are burning in the stately flickering hearths of Nideck Point. It is Yuletide. For Reuben Golding, now infused with the wolf gift and under the loving tutelage of the Morphenkinder, this Christmas promises to be like no other . . . as he soon becomes aware that the Morphenkinder, steeped in their own rituals, are also celebrating the Midwinter Yuletide festival deep within Nideck forest.

From out of the shadows of the exquisite mansion comes a ghost—tormented, imploring, unable to speak yet able to embrace and desire with desperate affection . . . As Reuben finds himself caught up with the passions and yearnings of this spectral presence and the preparations for the Nideck town Christmas reach a fever pitch, astonishing secrets are revealed, secrets that tell of a strange netherworld, of spirits—centuries old—who possess their own fantastical ancient histories and taunt with their dark, magical powers . . .

Before I start this review I have some confessions to make. Firstly, I requested this from NetGalley thinking I would have time to read the first book in the series beforehand – I did not. And secondly, those of you who have read some of my previous posts will know that I just was not in the mood to read ANYTHING for like two weeks. Major book funk.

So, it’s quite hard to review this objectively. It has never taken me so long to read a 400 page book, and I honestly don’t know if it was because of my book funk, or because I just couldn’t get into it.

But, I can tell you one thing for sure, Anne Rice writes beautifully.

From what I’ve read about the first book, The Wolf Gift, Reuben, a young reporter heads to the magnificent mansion Nideck Point to interview a woman about the estate. While he’s there he is attacked by a group of Wolf Men and in turn, receives the Wolf Gift himself, becoming one of them, The Morphenkinder. He struggles with his new animalistic, vicious side throughout.

In The Wolves of Midwinter, Reuben is now the owner of Nideck Point, pursuing his love for Laura (who is in the midst of also becoming one of the Morphenkinder), and trying to keep the wolf attacks underwrap from the village.

There were things I liked in this book that convinced me to not give up on it despite really not being in the mood to read. For one, being set at Christmas is a big win for me this time of year. In the hopes of being accepted by the village, The Morphenkinder plan a grand Christmas ball. The descriptions of the lavish festivities, decorations and food had me seriously pining for Christmas and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

However, I was expecting something terrible to happen at the ball when it eventually came about, but it didn’t.

And that’s kind of the way this book went for me. I kept expecting things to happen but they just didn’t materialize. The main conflict in the story was that of Marchent, a ghost (who I assume was a main part of book 1) whom the Morphenkinder are being haunted by. They clearly loved her once, and seeing her ghost upsets them, especially Reuben who tries to help her despite being scared of her appearences. But that never really went anywhere either.

And then there’s Reuben’s Dad. I really enjoyed their relationship and thought it was quite refreshing to see a man’s relationship with his father in a genre like this. It doesn’t seem to happen very often. But, I found the rest a bit predictable – Reuben’s dad comes to stay with them at Nideck Point and he finds out that they are Werewolves. Didn’t see that one coming. And again, not much happens. It turns out that his dad already knew what he was and doesn’t care!

Overall, I think if I’d read this at a different time, and after having read the first book (usually helps) that I might have liked it a bit more, but there just wasn’t enough conflict or surprise in this for me. I loved Anne Rice’s style, and the beautiful way she has of describing her opulent worlds, but the story fell a bit flat.

Disclosure: I received a copy from the Publisher via Netgalley for an HONEST review. Many Thanks!
Details: Hardcover, 400 pages. Published November 7th 2013 by Chatto & Windus (Random House UK)
My Rating: 3 out of 5 Unicorns
If you liked this try: Second Nature by Alice Hoffman

WWW Wednesday (02/10/2013)

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To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading:
Zom-B Underground (Zom-B #2) – Darren Shan
15716836This is the first book I’m reading for Horror October. I’ve been a fan of Darren Shan for a long time but I definitely prefer his adult books to his kid’s ones these days.

Waking up in a military complex, months after zombies attacked school, B has no memory of the last few months. Life in the UK has turned tough since the outbreak, and B is woven into life- and battle- in the new military regime quickly. But as B learns more about the zombies held in the complex and the scientists keeping them captive, unease settles in. Why exactly was B saved? And is there anyone left in the world to trust?

I’m also reading Words Once Spoken that I requested from NetGalley because I loved the cover. Only just started it.

Recently Finished:
The Polaris Whisper by Kenneth Gregory. I LOVED it. My Review is Here.

Up Next:
Any of the books on my Horror October list here. I’ll probably get stuck into Doctor Sleep or The Coldest Girl in Cold Town.

As ever, if you leave a comment your link or books I will take a look 🙂

Winter is Here: The Polaris Whisper by Kenneth Gregory

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It is a dark time. For decades Hakon the Black, the most feared Norse Lord of the ninth century, has conducted bloody and gruesome raids throughout Europe, and laid his claim upon the seas. But it is also a time of hope.

In the frozen wastelands of the north, Vidar searches for the Vestibule of Light. Alone, freezing and exhausted, he pushes on through the endless winter in the belief that once his quest is complete, he may return to the life he has left behind, and to Niclaus, the son he was forced to abandon. For Niclaus has a greater destiny – one foretold by Cado, the enigmatic Small Walker – and Vidar is but one player in the boy’s life. Cado has enlisted the help of protectors from all corners of the Earth to shield Niclaus: men whose worlds are connected by only the loosest of threads.

But as Niclaus becomes older, and the various worlds begin to converge, will Vidar and Cado have to make sacrifices beyond imagining to protect those they love.

I struggled with this book in the very beginning. I didn’t know it was going have a shifting timeline (one of my book turn-offs on this week’s TTT!) and it took me a lot to focus on it and figure out what it was actually going to be about. But how glad am I that I stuck it out? VERY, that’s how glad.

The Polaris Whisper spans from around 800 to 840 AD, so it’s not a huge shift between time per chapter, but it still took me a while to get used to it. It is also a book with many characters and story strands, but once they all started coming together I had to keep reading to find out how it was going to pan out.

There’s the two monks of Ceanannus Mór in 802 AD who start off as BFFs but a strain is put on their relationship when Tomás meets mysterious ‘Small Walker’ Cado and begins working with him on a secret project. And then around 830 there’s Vidar who gave up his son Niclaus to fulfill a quest to find the Cave of Light not knowing whether he will return. And in 840 AD Niclaus and his friends prepare for ‘The Trial’, an almighty 3 day race over perilous snow and frozen lakes in which the winner will be named as Ugter – the new village leader.

It doesn’t really sound all that exciting does it? But it is! With gory Ice Bear and Wolf attacks, the mounting unease between the small walkers and tall walkers, a cute little romance, viking raids and the imposing Norse Lord Hakon – once I got into The Polaris Whisper I was hooked.

The setting didn’t hurt either. Descriptions of the Fjords and the frozen wastelands were both harsh and beautiful and I found the writing throughout pretty much perfect.

I was particularly interested to know more about Vidar and his quest and couldn’t wait to get back to him every time it wasn’t his chapter. The Vestibule he was looking for was drenched in mystery and magic and I was urging him on to find it each time.

I also loved Cado, the Small Walker. He was definitely the glue in this story, eventually tying all of the characters together. He was also the main source of intrigue and excitement as we learn more about him and the secret magical powers he yields.

In the end, this book was a lot different to what I was expecting. I expected more of the Norse mythology in there for sure, but the direction it actually went in was welcome too.

And, I can’t talk about it because this is a spoiler-free zone but THE ENDING. There is a proper twist/revelation at the end which is amazing. I’m not sure how I didn’t see it coming, but I didn’t…I literally had my mouth open for quite some time, actually it still is a little bit. Not attractive. Please tell me there’s more???

I think this will be a favourite Winter Read of mine for some time. Wolves, Racing Sleighs, Reindeer…what’s not to like!?

Disclosure: I received a copy from the author/publisher for an HONEST review via NetGalley. Many thanks!
Details: Paperback, 457 pages, published September 25th 2013 by Blackstaff Press Ltd
Unicorn Rating: 4/5
Is it a keeper? YES! I will be buying a physical copy ASAP!
If you like this try: Game of Thrones!?

Chastity & Chainmail: Daughter of Camelot (Empire of Shadows #1) by Glynis Cooney

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Filled with terrific suspense and budding romance, Daughter of Camelot is a fast paced adventure set against the turmoil at the end of the Arthurian era.

Raised in the shadow of a fort dedicated to training Knights of the Round Table, Deirdre thirsts for adventure.

Instead, at 14, she is sent to court to learn the etiquette and talents of a young woman.

Court life, however, is more fraught with danger than she expected, and Deirdre finds herself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches deep into the very heart of Camelot.

All Deirdre thought she knew and believed in—loyalty, love, bravery—is challenged when she embarks on a quest to defy Fate and save the King.

I’d actually say that Daughter of Camelot is quite a gentle-paced book but I don’t mean that in a bad way. I was never bored. I read most of this on Sunday afternoon and it was a perfect read for a lazy day. I loved it.

Deirdre is everything I like in a protagonist. She’s bored and down-right aggravated by the limitations of being a girl in those times. She has little interest in being just a wife or mother and her ambition knows no bounds. She seeks a life of excitement and meaning and growing up surrounded by boys in training to be knights at a nearby fort only makes her desire for adventure stronger.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the darker elements of the story. For one, I wasn’t expecting Deirdre’s new life at court to be so intense. Just like Deirdre herself, I imagined she would go there as a guest to the king & queen and flit around in pretty dresses wooing noble knights and attending parties but that was far from the truth!

With growing worries about the allegiances of the court – For King Arthur or against him- the obsessive practices of Christianity imposed by the unsavory King Maelgwyn, and sexually aggressive knights hoping to sully Deirdre’s reputation, her new life was far from simple. And just one mistake gets her banished from the castle, leading her to take up Sir Einion’s invitation to join him at Din Arth.

I quite liked Einion as a love interest, but after seeing how awful all of the other knights behaved it was definitely hard to trust him. I think it’s clear from the start that Deirdre’s best friend Ronan would be a better pick for her and I enjoyed seeing how the relationships developed.

As Daughter of Camelot neared its end I did think that perhaps it was unnecessarily long, especially for its target audience, but then it did had a lot of scope. My one issue with it though, was that I felt the final battle was a bit of an anti-climax. But it certainly wouldn’t put me off reading the next in the series, quite the opposite in fact.

I’m a fan of Arthurian Literature and obvs a fan of YA Lit so it didn’t take much for me to love this book but I think anyone who enjoys being swept along on a medieval action-adventure will find a lot to like here.

Details: Paperback, 421 pages.
Expected publication: September 24th 2013 by Mabon Publishing
Unicorn Rating: 4/5
Is it a keeper? Yes!
If you like this try: The Seeing Stone – Kevin Crossley-Holland

Coming Up: Daughter of Camelot (Empire of Shadows #1)

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Title: Daughter of Camelot (Empire of Shadows #1)
Author: Glynis Cooney
Details: Paperback, 421 pages
Expected Publication: September 24th 2013 by Mabon Publishing

Filled with terrific suspense and budding romance, Daughter of Camelot is a fast paced adventure set against the turmoil at the end of the Arthurian era.

Raised in the shadow of a fort dedicated to training Knights of the Round Table, Deirdre thirsts for adventure.

Instead, at 14, she is sent to court to learn the etiquette and talents of a young woman.

Court life, however, is more fraught with danger than she expected, and Deirdre finds herself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches deep into the very heart of Camelot.

All Deirdre thought she knew and believed in—loyalty, love, bravery—is challenged when she embarks on a quest to defy Fate and save the King.

Synopsis & Image from Goodreads. Click the image to fly there.

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