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Saturday, 27 December 2014

Looking back at my writing year

I've been privileged to have read so many incredible books this year. Among my favourites have been The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, Hideous Creatures by S.E. Lister, and Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Thanks to my local library, I have been able to delve into so many different worlds upon which my imagination has thrived, and absorbed so much great writing that will hopefully help me in my own work. 

Speaking of which, it's crazy to think that I've put out two books of my own, completed some early drafts of a third (leaving to rest for a bit) AND started work on a fourth. I didn't think I'd be able to do so much, particularly since September when I started teacher training. I don't know if I'll be so lucky next year, when I know the course will get more intense, but I'm grateful for the time I have had this year to spend in other people's worlds as well as constructing my own. It makes me even more passionate that people, particularly students, come to value books and their imagination thrives as a result. 

I just want to thank everyone who has bought and read my books so far. I have cherished and appreciated your feedback and your sharing with the people around you, and I hope to bring you many more exciting stories over the years.

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #46 - The Traitor Queen, Trudi Canavan.

The last in the trilogy of "The Traitor Spy", The Traitor Queen is a fitting end to the reader's second glance into the world of Kyralia, Sachaka and beyond.

The underworld of the largely cooperative Thieves - as much as rival thieves can be cooperative - is broken. The underworld is now largely ruled by Skellin, the rogue magician, due to his supply of not only magic but roet. Cery, Gol and Anyi find what solace they can under the Guild with Lilia, a new black magician and novice, helping out where she can. Cery, Gol and Anyi know they can't stay there forever, though, and they figure out a way to try and lure Skellin to them in order to trap him.

Meanwhile, in Sachaka, Lorkin has returned from Traitors' Sanctuary. Predictably, he won't tell the Sachakan king anything, so Lorkin is thrown in prison until his tongue is loosened. Black Magician Sonea is sent to try and treat with the king - as a Black Magician, she is the only Kyralian whom the Ashaki might respect, though she is still a woman - and she brings Lord Regin along as her assistant - to whom she has also been softening and forgiving since his cruelty in their novice days.

The Traitors also reveal that they are finally ready to conquer Sachaka as their own and throw off the chains of slavery, something they have been aiming for, for a long time.


As a trilogy, I thought it was fairly enjoyable overall. Maybe I had too high expectations because the Black Magician trilogy was so fantastic, but each story in this trilogy - particularly this one - seemed a bit more flat and struggling. The Traitor Conquest seemed a bit too easy, even with the battle in Arvice at the end. I think I mainly kept going because of the characters and wanting to see how their stories end, but that was still mostly out of loyalty to the characters I first got to know in the Black Magician rather than this trilogy. There was just something missing that didn't draw me in as much. Still, the end of the book wrapped (most) things up well, with glimpses into further changes in the world of Kyralia in particular.

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #45 - Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

It's no wonder the critics have been heaping praise upon this book. It's the kind of book that once you start it, you devour, not wanting to put it down for even a favourite meal - unless you can eat and read at the same time. 

The first part of the book is told from the point of view of Nick Dunne in real time and his wife, Amy, in diary form. On the day of Nick and Amy's five year anniversary, Amy disappears. Nick obviously involves the police straight away but it becomes very clear to Nick that something is not right. He and Amy had been having problems and the treasure hunt she leads him on through notes she left behind (a treasure hunt is something Amy always does on their anniversary) leads him to believe that she wants to give the marriage another really good go. However, all sorts of things turn up that start to point to Nick as a suspect - he bumped up her life insurance, he ordered thousands of dollars worth of stuff on many different credit cards, he didn't even know his wife was pregnant - all of these things he is completely ignorant of and denies where applicable. And from Amy's diary, we learn about their relationship - it began oh, so very sweetly but quickly turned sour when they lost their New York jobs, their New York house and had to move to Missouri to look after Nick's cancer-stricken mother. 

Then, BAM. The twist. Now, I already knew the twist because I had seen the film and heard others discussing it before the film came out. But if I hadn't known, I think the second part of the book would have hit me like a demolition ball. Because Amy is live and so very smug due to her plan of framing Nick for her murder. Her reason? Nick was cheating on her for over a year with one of his students, and she could not let him get away with it. An earlier plan of hers was attempted murder, but that didn't go far enough in Amy's justice system. She wanted to see him burn before being sentenced to death. 

The plot of this book is obviously fantastic, if deeply disturbing and nasty - particularly the ending - but what got me was the writing. This didn't seem like an ordinary thriller, like a series of fast-paced events simply strung together into a whole. Character wasn't sacrificed for the sake of action. Flynn did an amazing job of making sure every character was three dimensional and necessary, even when they weren't on the page. Case in point are the secondary characters such as Nick's father - he is everything Nick doesn't want to be, and even though we don't see him in action very often he looms like a shadow. 

One of the most interesting revelations came when I read the Q&A at the end of the book with the author. She was asked if Amy has any good qualities, and she said yes - planning, patience, that kind of thing. They're just taken to extremes in Amy's case. It really got me thinking - it is tempting to think of Amy as a 2D villain, but she is so much more than that. She is exceptionally skilled, intelligent, patient, with many other gifts, but her nature and the way she was raised means she wields those gifts in an immensely cruel manner. 

Neither is Nick the classic, hapless, cheating husband. He admits than when he met Amy he was pretending to be something she wanted him to be - as was she. But the pretending could only last so long and when they began to reveal their true selves it was clear they were like poison to each other. But after all of this, they're stuck. The reader feels for Nick, is scared for him - we would only be terrified as he in his situation - and yet there is nothing to be done. As Go, Nick's sister, says - they are addicted to each other. They couldn't part even if they tried. 

The book leaves interesting questions for the reader. How much of ourselves is real, and how much is pretend? Do we know the ratio that we present to other people? Are we ever comfortable to be completely ourselves, even with a partner of loved one? Most of the time we would want to say yes, but if we are honest with ourselves, that wouldn't always be the case. 

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #44 - First Lord's Fury, Jim Butcher

The epic - and I mean, truly epic - conclusion to the immense Codex Alera series.

Tavi has overcome some truly remarkable challenges and tests since we first met him as a lowly country boy in The Furies of Calderon, most remarkably since most of them were without him having access to his furies. Since learning more and more about himself, what he can do, and the necessity of stepping into his rightful identity of First Lord, he has truly become a force to be reckoned with - something that no-one could ever have imagined of him, not even himself.

However, now comes the biggest battle of all. The war with the Vord has been waging for some time, but it is now or never. They have to be defeated, or Alera will be wiped off the face of the earth, leaving no trace but a memory, and even that will fade. Tavi - Gaius Octavian - knows it is up to him. He needs to get back to Alera from Canea as soon as possible. The legions are doing their best but even with the best of their tactics - and there are truly some amazing battles - the Vord simply outnumber them, headed up by the deadly, immensely powerful Vord queen. It all comes down to her - she must die, for without her the Vord masses are useless, or Alera will die.

 However, though the book is obviously battle-heavy it loses none of its potency in other areas. There are still so much to learn about the characters - Ehren, in particular, comes into the fore and we learn just how far Invidia Aquitaine will go to cling on to scraps of power - and the politics are still at play on both sides. The story is so huge and detailed on several complicated fronts through the familiar characters - though, again, Ehren takes part in the narrative itself -  it's remarkable to think how Butcher manages it, like a conductor of a great orchestra.

A fitting and triumphant end to a truly fantastic fantasy series. It's sad to say goodbye to it, in many ways.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #43 - The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

I can't remember the last time I eagerly anticipated the next in a series as much as this book. I loved The Cuckoo's Calling, Galbraith's fantastic debut, and wanted more of Strike and Robin as soon as I'd put it down. Thanks to my local library (yay for libraries!) I finally got my hands on it.

Strike has found himself with a lot more business since he famously solved the Lula Landry case of The Cuckoo's Calling and now even has a waiting list. However, when one day a woman invades his office asking him to find her missing husband he is faced with a dilemma. Potentially take on a case for free for someone he has no prior loyalties to, or shun her in favour of some better, well-paying client? He chooses the former and embarks on one of the more difficult cases he has come up against, delving into the exclusive, political, even dark world of publishing.

As with Cuckoo, the plot is well-paced, flows well, with more than a few parts finding me practically sticking my nose up against the book to make sure I didn't miss a thing. The scene of the murder, for one, is grotesque and horrifying but brilliant in its description. We meet a whole host of deliciously awful characters, as well as some who are downright pitiful, and get a deeper insight into Robin and Matthew's relationship. Who knows what will happen with them? As for the 'who-dunnit' reveal... maybe a more perceptive reader than me would have seen it coming, but it was excellently done and a thrilling surprise, not least because of the circumstances surrounding it (you'll know what I mean when you read it - I don't want to give anything away, here).

A hugely enjoyable read, and one of my favourite of 2014. Give me more, Galbraith!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #42 - The Rogue, Trudi Canavan

Book 2 of the Traitor Spy Trilogy. Lorkin is trapped - by his own choice - in Sanctuary, Skellin is nowhere to be found despite Sonea and Cery's best efforts, and two novices are about to stumble upon a great secret the Guild wants nobody to learn.

Lorkin is doing his best to learn more about the Traitors and their ways, with the intention of one day proposing an alliance. However, he is still met with hostility by certain Traitor members - most particularly, Kalia, whom Lorkin is working under.

Meanwhile, a female novice, Lilia, is befriended by another novice called Naki. Over a short period of time, Naki introduces her to the city's new vice, roet, and under the influence of roet later introduces her to black magic. Lilia wakes up the next day with blood on her hands and finds herself accused of murdering Naki's father, though this charge is later dropped after a mind-read. However, she is expelled from the Guild and imprisoned in the Lookout tower, where she is manipulated by Lorandra (Skellin's mother) into escaping.

In Sachaka, Ambassador Dannyl is trying to find more ways of researching for his new book about a history of magic. Eventually he is taken to Duna where he learns from the tribesmen about magic stones, and he hopes this will eventually lead him to learning more about the storestone, an ancient object of great power.


Though I felt it was off to a bit of a slow start, what with introducing new settings and characters, the book quickly picked up in pace and intrigue. The Lilia and Naki storyline was most compelling, not least for what we eventually learn of Naki and the secrets she hides. The reader gets an insight into Traitor society, too - they don't claim to be perfect, but they are a lot freer and liberated than the rest of Sachaka, who employ slavery and treat their women as property. It raises a host of questions about the last book, too. What will we learn of the storestone? What will become of Skellin and Lorandra? Will Cery, Gol and Anyi remain safe?

A very enjoyable read in the end, worth getting through the first few chapters for.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #41 - The Ambassador's Mission, Trudi Canavan

I have to admit, the death of a certain character (SPOILER ALERT: High Lord Akkarin) at the end of the Black Magician trilogy is one fictional death I have yet to get over. So it was bittersweet when I picked up this book, the beginning of a new trilogy in the world of the Black Magician trilogy.

Set twenty years after the Ichani invasion of Kyralia, Dannyl, one of my favourite characters from the Black Magician Trilogy, is trying to write a history of magic and intends to go to Sachaka - a land rife with Black Magicians - to continue his work. Lorkin, the son of Sonea and the late High Lord Akkarin, volunteers to go with him, partly because of a genuine interest in history and partly to escape the Guild to which he's been confined for so long. Sonea, now entitled the Black Magician, is reluctant to let him go, because she fears for his life - Akkarin had been a slave in Sachaka long ago and the Ichani, who invaded Imardin (and who are now dead) still have relatives there who will want to see Lorkin pay for the sins of his parents.

Nevertheless, he goes, and Sonea turns her mind to other problems. There is someone in the city called the Thief Hunter who is killing off thieves left, right and centre. Her hospices are becoming overrun by people addicted to a substance called roet. Cery, her childhood friend, investigates the Thief Hunter after his family are killed and Sonea helps in whatever way she can, though because of her knowledge of Black Magic, her freedom is limited.


While a very interesting story, which I'm sure will get more engaging in the next two books, I didn't find this book as much of a page-turner as the Black Magician trilogy. Perhaps that was because there was a lot more risk, chase, and discovery to make in the Black Magician trilogy, in terms of Sonea discovering her powers and becoming the first slum-dweller to make it into the Guild, traditionally reserved for the higher classes. Still, it was an intriguing plot and nice to greet some old favourite characters again. It will be interesting to see where the next book, The Rogue, takes us.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #40 - The Gospel of Loki, Joanne Harris

Yet another one of Joanne Harris' books I found and loved.

If you pick up this book and are expecting Marvel, don't. Much of mythology has its roots in oral tradition, meaning stories passed on over the years naturally evolve and are told in different ways. Marvel took what they wanted and ran with it. Joanne Harris did her research and did the same (I assume, anyway; I don't know Norse mythology at all).

It's not often that the guys painted as villains get their say, so I'm glad Harris chose Loki for her subject. Much of the beginning is scene setting - how the world was created, according to the Allfather Odin, and so on - which was interesting and necessary for scene setting and acclimatising the reader to the world of the Norse gods - but it's when I got past this bit that the story really hooked me. I mentally 'ooh-d' and 'ahhh-d' at regular intervals, and was mainly just really impressed at Loki and how he a) managed to orchestrate very tricky and clever traps for the gods to fall into and b) how he managed to get himself disentangled from whatever situation (mostly) in which he found himself ensnared.

The writing flowed along easily and the story was well-paced - I would compare it to floating in the river Dream often referred to in the story, although it's not the best analogy as Dream is a frightening place to be, by all accounts. I could have sat for hours at a time losing myself in Loki's mishaps and his triumphs, and would be so happy if there was another Loki-based story. I was wondering where Harris' other two books set against the backdrop of Norse mythology - Runemarks and Runelight, both really good stories - fitted into this, though perhaps the timing is unrelated.

Anyway, I would highly recommend the book and I'm so glad I got to read it at last.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #39 - Princeps' Fury, Jim Butcher

My overriding thought in this book was as follows: "How the hell are they going to get out of it this time?!"

The four books in this fantastic series leading up to this point have been full of tricky situations that Tavi, Amara and Bernard, and the First Lord himself, have fought their way out of - both with furies and with wits - but this is different. The Vord are back (well, they never really went away. They were just a little quiet for a while) and immensely powerful, with a weapon they hitherto never had.

And the power is split. Gaius Sextus is not in the best of shape; Tavi has taken a group with him to Canea to escort the Canim back to their homeland and hopefully lay low from any potential assassins since his announcement as the First Lord's heir. Not only are the Vord invading on two fronts - Canea and Alera - their is the ongoing battle with the Icemen as well - a conflict that has been fought for years and occupies some of Alera's most powerful legions.

The nature of this particular book meant it involved a lot more battle scenes, which were very well done, but also meant that the politics that have been so brilliantly worked on in the last few books are set aside. Alera needs to come together, and scrap the in-house politics, because in a few weeks, there may not be anyone to squabble anymore.

This book, like all the others, has been a great standalone story, but I can't wait to see how everything that has been raised in this book is brought to completion in the finale of the series.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #38 - Captain's Fury, Jim Butcher

Book 4 of the Codex Alera takes place two years after Tavi took command of the First Aleran and led his troops to their first victory against the Canim. Since then it's been a furious to and fro not just between the Canim and the Alerans, but pushing back against the rebellion of Kalarus. Tavi's Aunt Isana knows the time has come to tell Tavi of his true identity, but is terrified of the repercussions, not least because of her position as his mother, but also because Tavi will immediately become a target for those scrambling for the First Lord's seat.

Meanwhile, the First Lord himself has picked Amara and Bernard to come along with him on a secret mission to enter Kalare, Kalarus' domains, and essentially show Kalarus who is boss.

 This book goes into the politics of warfare at greater depth, and it's fascinating to translate the idea of these war committees into real life. Egos and agendas rage, and tough decisions about thousands of people's lives must be made. Tavi wants to save as many Alerans and Canim as possible - he suspects exactly why the Canim left their homeland in the first place, and it wasn't because Alera suddenly became oh-so-appealing - but Senator Arnos, officially in charge of the war committee, wants all-out bloodshed.

The character development I love most in this book is Kitai's. As we get to know her through Tavi, we learn more of her sharp and ready wit, her heart, her black and white view and her general bad-ass-ness. Similarly, Araris, who we met first as Fade, is finally allowing himself to drop his slave persona, as well (at least partly) letting go of his guilt and shame of the events in which Septimus', Tavi's father and the old Princeps, was killed. And for Amara, the veil is torn from her eyes as she sees exactly how far Gaius is willing to go in order to keep his realm together, at whatever cost. After implicitly trusting someone so much whom has sent her into mortal danger time and time again, this is a pretty significant part of the book, and it'll be interesting to see what she does from here.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #37 - The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

"...words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot."

Approaching a book like "The Miniaturist", which has been the subject of much hype this summer, is always a little bit tricky, because instead of just picking up a book because you liked the sound of it, there are pre-set questions in your mind, such as "Is it really worth all the hype?". It is so important to try and forget about this, though, because you won't enjoy the book as much as it is worthy of being enjoyed.

Nella Oortman, an eighteen year old girl, has come to Amsterdam on the brink of a new life. Naive, nervous, and with no idea what to expect, she arrives at the Brandt household, the owner of whom she recently married. She is met by the steely, cool Marin (Johannes Brandt's sister) and two servants - Cordelia and Otto. Confused by not being greeted by Johannes himself, Nella quickly learns that the life she expected is not going to be the life she will have. Johannes gifts her with a doll's house, a perfect replica of their household, as a "distraction" and Nella reluctantly proceeds to furnishing it. When she consults with a miniaturist, though, things quickly take a turn for the unexpected and fantastical.

It's no surprise that this novel has been getting rave reviews since it hit the bookshelves. Secrets, lies, feminism, money, power, religion, marriage... Burton weaves all of these threads, and more, into a rich, mysterious tapestry, of which the reader is only given a glimpse at the start before the lens zooms out and you figure out how the various colours blend together. You almost wish you never find out, though, as the book becomes deeper and sadder as it goes on. You feel Nella's frustration at her own powerlessness, at her lack of choice in her own life; you are provoked into anger by the hypocrisy and mercilessness of 17th Century Christianity; you wish for all the secrets to spill out into the open and yet remain behind closed doors at the same time because you don't know what would be less painful for the main characters. It really is a marvel of a story, and one that you wish to go on because you cannot bear to leave the characters to struggle on alone. Burton has created a wonderful work of art, here, and has depicted a vivid and imaginative version of life in 17th Century Amsterdam that displays itself richly in the reader's mind. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

How I will change this year...

I started teacher training this week. It's been a mentally exhausting week so far, but I've really enjoyed being back in an environment in which I'm learning again (yes, I'm a nerd.)

One of the things we've been advised to do as trainees is tell people a bit about what it's going to be like this year. Luckily, I am blessed in that my friends and family, if not directly connected to the education system, at least appreciate and sympathise with the rigours and difficulties of it. So thank you all, to begin with.

I suppose what I really need to say is that I'm not going to be around as much this year. If you ask me to do something midweek that is a) not Forte b) not Thursday dinners with my Community then I'm probably going to say 'no'. I'm really sorry. I would probably love to take advantage of cheap ticket Tuesday (the sad thing is that even though I'm a student again so can save money on the cinema, I'm so rarely going to have the chance to use it), and I probably would love to come round and eat all your food. But I won't, because I'll be swimming in lesson plans or Masters Assignments.

What about weekends, I hear you ask? Oh, weekends. I will miss thee. I am going to be extremely disciplined in having a day off (other trainees and NQTs will either produce shocked or pitying expressions at the thought of having even a day off a week) and on that day I will most likely be relaxing with John (the husband) or having introvert time. Again, I'm sorry, but as an introvert my energies will be sucked dry anyway and I will desperately need that day off to recharge. And as for holidays, if I'm not working, I will most likely be with my family (both Rossers and Finlaysons) as they are most excellent people for me to relax around.

Having said all of this, if you're a person I haven't seen for weeks when I would normally see you much more often, I give you permission to literally drag me out of my house on a day off. Tempt me out with the promise of tea or Avengers Assemble or anything that Jennifer Lawrence/Emma Stone/Joseph-Gordon Levitt is in. And food. Above all, food.

I will definitely appreciate the support that you lovely people will be giving me over the next year, and if I don't thank you enough for that, I apologise. I do not want to neglect my friends and family this coming year, but there are only twenty four hours in a day and I do not have a Time-Turner.

Teaching is something that I have entered into willingly, I know that, so I am going to try my best not to complain (above the usual amount people complain about their jobs, anyway. I won't be able to stay sane without a good rant now and again). No one is forcing me to train. I want to, and I embrace the challenges that come with it. I would just appreciate your sympathy in that, and your not being offended when I say that I can't do something. Because, believe me, I'd probably rather be with you than marking.

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #36 - Hideous Creatures by S. E. Lister

This really is a truly remarkable novel, which I truly hope begins snowballing in terms of how widely it is read.

Arthur Hallingham, the youngest son of an English earl, is on the run from his former life in England, though we do not find out for a long time as to why that is. He meets a mysterious man named Shelo, whom Arthur felt call to him from across the ocean. Together they set out to change the world, though Arthur is reliant on only breadcrumbs of information that Shelo chooses to share with him.

This is historical fiction with dark, fantastical twists. The writing coaxes you along, gently, offering you threads of information, neatly weaving them into a great, big tapestry you don't see clearly until the very end. The descriptions are elegant and lyrical, with almost throwaway phrases that don't seem to matter at first glance, but unawares they create vivid backdrop of the world the reader is drawn into.

When the story does reach its stunning, dramatic conclusion you wonder how you didn't figure it out before, because it makes so much sense, though it is painful and heart wrenching.

If you haven't read this amazing book, do. It's hard to believe that this is only a debut novel - it reads like the work of a much more experienced author. I can't wait for her next book, "The Immortals".

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #34 and #35 - Academ's Fury and Cursor's Fury

Books 2 and 3 of the excellent "Furies of Calderon" series by Jim Butcher.

Academ's Fury is set two years after the end of Furies of Calderon. Tavi has been at the Academy in Alera Imperia, and page to the First Lord, Gaius, who is suffering from sleepless nights and personal torment, though no one really knows why. Tavi still has not come into his furies but has made some excellent friends at the Academy, including Max and Ehren.

Meanwhile, Alera is set to face a much greater threat than ever before. The Marat tell Bernard and Amara of the vord, deadly creatures that can reproduce at terrifying rates, and destroy whole communities at alarming speed, both from outward physical destruction and possessing humans. Bernard, Amara and co set out to find the nearest vord nest, most particularly to eliminate the queen, without whom the vord cannot continue. The problem is, nests can spread and numerous queens can emerge. The vord are a dire threat indeed.

I really enjoyed getting more into the politics of Alera that Tavi's being in the city enabled the reader to experience, as well as still having the perspective of what was going on outside the main city. Butcher has constructed a world plausible and authentic down to the last detail, the bitter words spoken by two ambitious enemies. Minus the added element of the furies, you could be reading dramatisation of actual history. The politics and the intrigue make this series as entertaining and gripping as the supernatural and fantasy elements.

Cursor's Fury is set another two years after Academ's Fury has closed. This time, Tavi is fully-qualified Cursor, though still fury-less, and sets out on his first project. This is to a legion made up of men from all over the empire, never intended to see battle and one which made of the High Lords use to their full espionage advantage. However, reports come in of a mass invasion of the Canim, and the legion is sent to defend the borders. When the Captain gets severely wounded, Tavi has to take his place.

Meanwhile, through Isana's perspective, we get to know more about Tavi and the mystery behind his fury-less nature. Through flashbacks, we learn of Isana's love affair with a man called Septimus, the late Princeps, and Fade, the branded slave who is not actually a slave but an extremely talented swordsman who has followed Isana and Tavi since the battle that killed Isana's lover.

In this book we get to see Tavi come into his own. He is very good at what he does, which is strategise, look after and inspire the men, and put to use all of his talents that have been emerging since Book 1. Though he still struggles with the shame - as he perceives it - of not having furies, he finally begins to accept it and be grateful for what he does have - which is extraordinary mental skills, strategy, and leadership.

Just when you're beginning to wonder where the vord got to though, never fear. The book ends with Tavi's fear as to why exactly the Canim decided to leave their homeland, and realises it could only be for one reason.

Another excellent edition to the brilliant series. I highly recommend.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Tribute

Not a day goes by where I don't think about my Dad, but recently it's been more frequent, more concentrated. Maybe because it's the holidays, so there's more head space from not concentrating on work, but more likely it's to do with the fact that I've had my first birthday with him not being around, coupled with big life changes coming up (my teacher training) and he's not around to gently and patiently talk me through things.

I was also reminded that some people who were not able to attend Dad's funeral would still like to be able to access the tribute that I wrote and read out (how I did that without dissolving into a puddle of tears is beyond me, but I'm so glad I got through it). So, I'm typing it up here. 

~*~
As I'm truly my father's daughter, I'm going to be splitting up my talk into three parts, in order to effectively show why my Dad was amazing. 

Firstly, he was truly a man of God. My family have received to the tune of nearly two hundred cards, or thereabouts, and almost all of them, whether the sender was a Christian or not, referred to Dad's faith. Dad was a rock; strong and sturdy and able to withstand most any storm because he had built his life on the true rock - that is to say, firm faith in God. He did have times of momentary complaints, particularly these last few months, but who wouldn't have in his condition? Yet even in those times he held to be true that God knew what He was doing, and at the end of the day, that was all dad needed. As a family we were able to cope with Dad being ill that much better because if Dad was at peace within himself, we could be as well.

Secondly, his personality showed him to be humorous, matter of fact, and a man of simple taste. Buying his birthday and Christmas presents was always a bit of a headache. Forget trying to buy for the man who has everything - try buying for the man who genuinely doesn't want anything. He was happy with a second-hand paperback - though we usually defied his wishes and got him new editions - notebooks in which to write his sermons, and a bag of jelly babies. While reading back through phone messages from him, it was funny and touching to read things like: "the smells of Nan's cooking are wafting up the stairs,", "Granddad's roast lamb today, sweetie, are you jealous?", or, most often, "just had some of Nan's homemade rice pudding. Cracking." One or two days before he passed, when Nan had changed his sheets, he looked at Nan and said, "This isn't Lenor." While it was terrible to see him in the condition he was, those three words broke the tension as we could still see Dad in there. Indeed regularly through his illness he made jokes about it, saying "if you can't have a laugh, what can you do?"

Thirdly Dad was a huge family man and, together with our wonderful mum, did everything he could to make sure us kids had a great upbringing. He always said he would do everything he could to make sure we'd never miss out on opportunities that came our way. From driving me to orchestra and steel pans gigs, to taking my siblings to work, football, friends' houses, or whatever else, to helping us the best he could with school without being pushy. Indeed he was a great believer in education, striving to achieve his very best and helping my siblings and me in whatever career path we chose. 

I used to take my experiences with Dad for granted. It wasn't until I started working in a secondary school, encountering vulnerable and often fatherless children, that I realised how lucky Dave, Matt, Esther and I were with regards to how much Dad loved and supported us. He was extremely proud of his children and family. My siblings and I have a video message from Dad which we recorded about a week before he passed. It's short but nonetheless precious. We were able to see Dad through to the very end. He passed into the Lord's presence while surrounded by his family in the comfort of his own bed. 

At this point I want to make it very clear how grateful the family is to the NHS for everything over the past few years. From the oncologists, doctors and nurses who oversaw Dad's treatments, to the district nurses and those from the hospice who went above and beyond, to the incredible staff at the Edward Jenner unit. In your hands Dad benefited from not only your knowledge but your care and compassion, which was so precious and valuable to him and to us. 

Thank you to everyone in Dad's life; to his friends and colleagues at Lakers, to this wonderful church family, and everyone else who knew and loved Dad. Thank you for your support and prayers throughout this difficult time.

We are devastated to no longer have Dad with us but we are so grateful for the time we had. We thank God and give glory to Him for watching over Dad and giving him the strength to carry on. We take immense comfort in knowing that Dad is in the presence of not just his God and Saviour, but other illustrious figures he looked forward to meeting; Moses, Paul, Elijah, Charles and John Wesley, and goodness knows who else.

We thank God that though this goodbye is difficult it is temporary, and we have a hope that cannot be shaken. One day we will meet Dad again, and we'll be in God's presence to boot. What a precious and sweet thought that is. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #33 Raging Star, Moira Young.

The epic conclusion to the Blood Red Road trilogy, and it was worth waiting the weeks I had to wait to read it. We left Saba and co fleeing from Ressurection, New Eden’s HQ-cum-prison. A lot of the gang are dead. They have no idea what to do now except resist in any way they can. The book opens with them daring to blow up a bridge, though it’s seriously bad timing and a lot of people die. Saba loses her nerve. The others begin to think they can’t trust her. Then, Saba has a revelation. They can’t fight DeMalo and his visions with violence. They have to use what he ignores as weakeness – love. In New Eden, families are torn apart. DeMalo is building his world on a weak foundation of broken bonds and fear. Saba decides to use this to bring him down.

Yet, she struggles. She struggles with her passion for DeMalo. She knows him to be evil but can’t resist his attraction and his grand vision for the world. It’s her love for Jack, her family, and the rest of the population – the population not lucky enough to be DeMalo’s ‘Chosen Ones’ – that keeps her in check. She’s determined to fight for freedom and a share of New Eden for everyone, whatever it takes.

I was worried that this book was going to suffer from end-of-trilogy syndrome, like Mockingjay and Allegiant. It’s not my favourite of the trilogy, but it doesn’t feel rushed and the conclusion is a satisfying one. As a YA series, it’s one of the best I’ve read. I highly recommend.


Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #32 The Fault In Our Stars, John Green.

I could talk for England about this book. I feel like I have done already. I’ve bought copies for people, lent my copy out to friends, and it is now currently working its way around some of the teenage girls at school. There is a bit in TFIOS about reading a book that fills you with evangelical zeal and you have to get everybody to read it before the world can be put right. That’s how I feel about it.
The basic plotline does not do justice to the epicness of the story. Girl meets boy. Girl has cancer. Boy in remission from cancer. They fall in love. Go. You know it’s going to end badly. You wonder what you’re doing to yourself. But it’s worth it.

Hazel and Augustus are my favourite ever literary characters. The first time I read this book I was in Pret A Manger in Canterbury, having just borrowed it from Canterbury city centre library, and I had to leave the café because I was laughing so much. Yes, the cancer hangs over Hazel and Augustus’ heads as an ever-present threat, but they really get how to be young and alive while still remaining genuine and real. Their courage lets up. They have bad days and they’re not afraid to show it. They are just ordinary kids living with a horrible disease. They don’t let it define them.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Oh, and with regards to the film? In my opinion it’s the best book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever seen. The bits they cut out don’t make the film lose out in quality or detract from the story. Read it, watch it. It probably will break your heart, but it’s worthy for that to be okay.


Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #31 Sabriel, Garth Nix

Yet another great find, lent to me by the friend who has really good taste in books. Sabriel is the daughter of a necromancer called the Abhorsen, but what is different about this necromancer is that he does not raise the dead. He keeps them beyond the gates of death and stops them from reappearing in the natural world.
Sabriel, whilst at boarding school in Ancelstierre, realises that her father is missing. She knows it can only be something particularly disastrous that has happened to him so she leaves school to cross into the Old Kingdom to try and find him. With the help of a strange, snarky cat called Mogget, and Touchstone, who was trapped as the figurehead of a ship for a few hundred years, they find out what happened to her father. 


This is a great, easy read. I must confess I was put off at first when I discovered that the context of this book was necromancy, having never gone in for anything that dark in terms of themes before, but my misgivings soon gave way to being swept up in the story. I really enjoy the characters, particularly Mogget – his sarcasm and condescension are very entertaining – and it’s a really good, well-paced plot. A really good tale for lovers of fantasy. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

About the Strike

It's 07:32 and I'm sitting in a classroom at my place of work. About ten minutes ago I approached the front gate, in front of which were standing a few teachers. Behind them were placards resting against the bars. I got handed a piece of paper which explained why they were striking.

Reading the piece of paper saddened me. As someone who is married to a teacher and, in my job, supports teachers in a variety of lessons, I can see the strain they are under, and even that word is an understatement.

I am getting really sick of people who say that teaching must be such an easy job - you only have to be in school between 9-3:30, and you have all the holidays on top of that. What right have teachers to complain?

They have a right because the average teacher is now working 60 hours per week, yet their paid hours are perhaps fewer than two thirds of that. As a teacher, you never switch off. There is always more lesson planning to be done, more books to mark, more emails to be answered, more data to track, more more more. And that's besides the teaching - getting a class of nearly thirty students to be engaged and quiet for nearly an hour? I'd like to see the critics try to do that, especially when a lot of students are switched off before they even enter the classroom because they don't like the subject. I'd like to see the critics experience the holidays of a teacher, because they're never just holidays. They are desperate respite times during which teachers try to catch up on every part of their job that is not the actual teaching. I spoke to a teacher who spent six hours of his bank holiday marking non-stop.

Good luck to all the teachers - and every other public sector worker - who are striking today. Let's hope Gove will finally listen, even if that hope is a small one.

Monday, 9 June 2014

RE: hitRECord

Today I received what is probably the most exciting post I've ever received in my life.

It was my contribution royalties from hitRECord's first ever TV show.

What is hitRECord, I hear you ask? And what's this about TV?

hitRECord is an amazing online community. It was founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and it is a place where artists from all over the world can come and make art together - writers, actors, animators, illustrators, etc etc.

Last year, a new American cable channel called PIVOT teamed up with hitRECord to make a season of eight television episodes, each regarding a theme. A lot of work went into it over the course of nearly a year, and it aired in the USA in January. The first episode is free on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fl_wdODKGtM

I contributed ideas to each of the episodes, and I'm thrilled because two of my ideas ended up in two of the episodes, RE: Money and RE: Patterns. I'm including the link to the opening monologue for money - listen out for my name "bfinlayson" around the 1:08 mark :) :) :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SuQtXplXDs

hitRECord is not about the money. It's about making art together. That said, hitRECord pays its contributing artists for their work, because that's just fair and right, isn't it? And let me tell you - there are some AMAZING artists on that site.

Go. Explore. Join. Help us make hitRECord on TV season 2 :)

Until next time!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #30 - The Furies of Calderon, Jim Butcher

A few different people had recommended this book to me. Once I got hold of a copy from a friend, I could soon see why.

The population of Alera contains those with special abilities. They're called "crafters" and they can control elements - earth, air, fire, water, and metal, through a bond with an element's "fury". We meet Amara, a windcrafter, who is on a training exercise with her mentor, Fidelias. They are both Cursors, spies and messengers for the First Lord, Gaius. However, Amara soon finds herself tricked and betrayed by Odiana, a water witch, and Fidelias himself. She manages to escape and tell Gaius, who then sends her to the city of Garrison to spy out the land.

The story then switches to a certain steadholt in the Calderon Valley, owned by Bernard, who lives with his sister and their nephew, Tavi. Tavi is fifteen and furyless, which is pretty significant. When Tavi and Bernard set out to find a lost sheep, they come upon a Marat warrior. The Marat are a race who have fought with Alerans in the past, and the fact that they are in Alera is pretty alarming.

Fast forward and we find that Aquataine, one of the Lords, is the one organising the rebellion against Gaius. Epic battles ensue, and Gaius' side wins, though very narrowly.


The world building and history making in this novel is fantastic. Butcher sequences together complex politics and intertwining storylines brilliantly, so much so that it feels like you're reading something straight out of the Ancient Roman Empire - furies aside. The characters are diverse, genuine, and real, in that some are bent towards goodness and some towards evil, but are completely human in their actions and motivations. By that, I mean there aren't the typical all-good and all-evil - each of the characters has light and dark within them, and they choose their courses of actions - particularly Fidelias - for specific reasons.

This is the start of what is sure to be a brilliant series, and I'm very excited to see how the characters and politics - particularly the furyless Tavi -play out.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #29 - The White Princess, Philippa Gregory

Last in the series of the "Cousins' War", 'The White Princess' brings together the fascinating conclusion of the series detailing the Wars of the Roses and the reign of the Plantagenets, with the victory of Henry VII over Richard III at Bosworth.

The story begins with Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, lamenting the loss of her lover, Richard III. She knows that she has to marry Henry, as part of a deal struck between her mother and Henry's mother, though the task is abhorrent to her. It seems equally so to Henry, who rapes her before they get married in order to see whether she is fertile or not. He would not waste his hard-fought victory, after being in exile for most of his life, on a barren wife. To the great relief of everyone involved, Elizabeth gets pregnant and gives birth to Arthur, who would later become betrothed to Catherine of Aragon. More babies follow, and the gentle softening of Henry and Elizabeth to each other, until they reach the point where they feel at peace and content with one another, and there is even love on Elizabeth's side, which she would have sworn at the beginning of their marriage would never be so.

Though Gregory uses many sources for her writing, she notes that still much of it is speculation, simply because there are certain things we can never know the truth about. She takes one plausible view and builds on that, and the story is no less intriguing or fascinating for it. And though it's fiction, the knowledge of history imparted is really interesting. For example, I had never known that Henry VII's reign was so fraught with paranoia, that plots seem to abound in every corner to put the Plantagenets back on the throne, including rebels presenting boys who claimed to be Richard, the younger of the Princes in the Tower who went missing. To this day no one knows for sure what happened to them.

Romance, political intrigue, interesting characters, and an easy flow - this novel has them all. A brilliant read, and a fantastic end to a brilliant series.

Until next time!

 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #27 and #28 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince/Deathly Hallows

I finished the Harry Potter series on Tuesday evening. Books 6 and 7 are slowly making their way up to the top of my favourites in the series; they're so much more interesting than I thought.

First, book 6. Essentially, book 6 is a huge set up for book 7, and much of what we read in book 7 only makes sense because of book 6, but Half-Blood Prince is a fantastic book in its own right. We delve into Voldemort's past; Harry, Ron and Hermione make huge leaps in their magical education (their lessons are some of my favourite bits in the whole series); there is Quidditch galore, and characters like Luna and Ginny really come into their own.

Secondly, book 7. I felt a similar mix of anticipation and excitement as I did when I first read "Deathly Hallows", as it had been a good few years since I'd picked it up. As I was reading it I was disappointed with some of the choices the film made when adapting the book. Not because of the things missed out, but the things they had changed. Kreacher's arc, for example; in the book, you pity him so much more because of what he's gone through, and it's heartwarming to see how he eventually begins to trust Harry, Ron, and even Hermione, and pay respect to them because they are kind and respectful to him after hearing his story (Hermione was anyway, but that's a different story). The other major change, which I think was unnecessary, was with Grindelwald. In the book he tried to protect Dumbledore and humanity at large by lying that he never had the Elder Wand, though in the film he freely admits it. 7 overall is a brilliant read, and though there is a lot of camping and not much happening once they've stolen the locket from Umbridge, in my opinion it is no less interesting. Finding and destroying Horcruxes was never going to be easy, and Rowling does well in getting her readers to understand Harry, Ron and Hermione's boredom and frustration without getting bored themselves.

The deaths were obviously very hard to come to terms with all over again. Yes, the wizarding world was at war and Rowling does not kill needlessly; she just shows the stark realities of war and how those whom are most precious to us can be lost. The way she treats the deaths shows that she was probably every bit as heartbroken as us to say goodbye to those characters, yet we had to.

The epilogue was very polarising. Personally, I loved it. It was great to see the way the characters ended up, and the bit in which Harry talks to Albus about Sorting and his name was brilliant. It shows that Snape, the unsung hero, was not forgotten, which was extremely important. Despite what Rowling recently said about Ron and Hermione probably not being the best choice, I disagree and think that the pairings were perfect. Feel free to disagree with me!

Until next time :)

Empty Shelf/Mad Review Challenge #26 - Rebel Heart, Moira Young.

Rebel Heart is the sequel to the internationally acclaimed bestseller, Blood Red Road, by Moira Young. Having just defeated the Tonton and Vicar Pinch, Saba and crew (her twin brother Lugh; Emmi; Tommo and more) head out West in the hopes of finding a new life. Saba is loathe to leave Jack behind, but he says he needs to go back out East in order to tell his friend, Ike's lover/partner that Ike is dead.

As Saba and co head out East, they come across a disturbing sight - a family being thrown off their land, though it is clear that only the adults are intended for death. The children are to be taken away as slaves. The further west they go, it is clear that this is becoming a common occurrence, and they come across a whole camp of people thrown off their land. The Tonton, it appears, have not gone, but are resurrected and under new leadership of a man called the "Pathfinder" who hopes to create a "New Eden."

Some time into their break at the camp, Saba is visited by Maev, leader of the Free Hawks. Apparently Jack has joined the Tonton and cleared the Free Hawks from their land. Saba is confused by this and decides to go East, after piecing together bits of information for Maev and deciding that Jack is sending a message in code to her. She leaves secretly but the others soon follow her, much to her dismay, as she knows she is heading into danger.

This book is every bit as exciting as the first; well-paced and original. Certain people may criticise it because Saba, one of the most interesting and well-written characters in YA fiction, makes one of her main objectives to find Jack. However, in pursuit of Jack, we come across and learn much about their world, including the "Wreckers" of the distant past - us - who effectively destroyed the world. The Pathfinder is about creating this world again - hence the New Eden - though only certain people are permitted to have a place in this new world, bringing up issues of justice, class, and whether or not the choices we make are "right" in the eyes of other people.

I'm certainly hoping there's going to be another book in this series. It's refreshingly original and offers a frightening vision of the future that is not altogether impossible, particularly if humankind keeps being as careless and destructive as we are at present.

Until next time!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #25 - When You Were Older, Catherine Ryan Hyde

When You Were Older is the moving tale of two brothers set pre and post-9/11.

Russell Ammiano is living the dream in New York City. He has a great job working for an advertising company in the Twin Towers. On the 11th of September he is doing his best to get out of the door for an important work meeting when the phone rings with news of his mother’s death. Soon after that, he watches the planes crash into the Twin Towers, bringing destruction and despair not just to the city, but to the world.

He hitchhikes his way to Kansas where he finds his mentally disabled brother, Ben. Ben, a creature of habit, we learn is mentally disabled because of an incident when he and Russell were teenagers. Their dad had taken them out fishing, gotten drunk, and one thing led to another. Their dad drowned and Ben transformed from a manipulative bully to a simple creature of habit, who does not currently understand why his mother is not coming home.

Russell finds it very difficult adjusting to life in Kansas when he tried so desperately to leave in the first place. Apparently he had not been to Kansas in six years, leaving his mother to cope with Ben on her own. The one bright spot in Russell’s life comes in the form of a young Egyptian woman, Anat, who works in her father’s bakery. They try to start a relationship, but issues of culture and faith brings a lot of strain, not to mention that the bakery is being targeted by vandals in the wake of 9/11.

The story is well-paced and plotted, with regular flashbacks to inform the reader about Ben, his and Russell’s relationships, and just why Russell did not want to come back. The characters are well-fleshed out and Catherine Ryan Hyde deals well with the sensitive issues she brings up; culture, faith, disabilities, and facing everyday problems.

It was an enjoyable read with a nice, happy ending. It’s the sort of book you can read easily in just a couple of sittings, but probably not one that I feel compelled to take up again.


Until next time!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #24 - Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Clearly, I'm running out of new things to read. No matter, though, I was glad to pick this up at my mum's. Though I always thought that "Mockingjay", the last of "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, was the weakest - disappointing after such a strong start - I still very much enjoyed reading it again.

Mockingjay opens with Katniss Everdeen standing in the remains of District 12, her home, that was bombed with firebombs by the Capitol after Katniss pulled a very daring, very dangerous stunt in the Quarter Quell - namely, fixing an arrow with some wire that was attached to a tree due to be hit by a massive bolt of lightning, then firing said arrow towards the top of the Dome, thus causing the ceiling to shatter.

She and the remaining refugees from 12 have been taken in by District 13, a District that was supposed to have been obliterated in the "Dark Days" by the Capitol. They want her to truly become the Mockingjay, the poster girl of the Rebellion, and she, thus far is being uncooperative, though she soon relents and agrees. Her conditions? Mostly deemed fair by 13, but then she asks for immunity for the victors who are trapped in the Capitol, namely Peeta.

Katniss is in a state of mental disorientation for pretty much the first half of this book, which goes some way to explaining why the writing and Katniss' doings were so spare. The second half of the book is like a final Hunger Games, during which the District 13 soldiers, having won over/subdued the Districts, have to battle through the Capitol itself. They have to be extremely careful, though, as the Capitol is laced with pods that release a variety of horrors when activated.

After such thorough and careful world-building in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the descriptions on a whole in this book seem rather half-hearted. I guess because of Katniss' state it didn't make sense to document most of what she was seeing around her - after all, 13 is mostly an underground city/huge bunker - but it was strange to see the writing rushed rather than fast-paced. Still, it was as equally thrilling and page-turning as the first two, with no doubt a very satisfying end for most of the major characters - most notably, and surprisingly, the fate of Coin, the President of 13. It's great to see such a positive, strong and well-rounded role model for teenage girls, who will hopefully take Katniss as an inspiration for building their lives and identity solely on themselves and who they are fighting for (love triangle notwithstanding.)

Until next time!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #22 and #23 - Continuing with Harry Potter

The last week or so has afforded me ample time for reading, and I've got to be honest - losing myself in good books has held me together the last few days.

I've been continuing with Harry Potter and devoured both "The Goblet of Fire" and "The Order of the Phoenix" this last week.

Book to movie adaptations, even if they are good, will never be able to include everything. It's a mark of how long it's been since I read the book because I had completed forgotten about a few major things in "The Goblet of Fire" - Winky, the house-elf, S.P.E.W., and a great many others. And of course, with The Order of the Phoenix, there was savage pleasure in remembering how great a character Umbridge was in her sheer awfulness - honestly, there was no character I wanted to see an end to more than her. The DA will always be one of my favourite parts of the whole series.

I had a bit of a maybe-inappropriate HP geek moment on Monday. I had a fleeting thought that I would be able to see Thestrals now (if they were real, that is). I told my sister, becuase I felt a bit guilty, but was reassured when she told me she had thought the same thing.

Can't wait to get to the last two books now.

Until next time!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #21 - "Every Day" by David Levithan

While I was waiting for my little sister to have her hair done this morning I wandered to the local library and picked up this book in the YA section. I've been loving this genre ever since I picked up "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green last year, and this book is no exception.

"Every Day" tells the story of 'A', someone who wakes up every day inside another person's body. It's been happening ever since he can remember, and the best he can do is just to try and live that person's life as routinely as possible, without doing anything out of the ordinary that might alert their family or friends to anything unusual.

One day he wakes up in the body of a boy called Justin. 'A' learns to dislike Justin very quickly, not least because of the way he treats his girlfriend, Rhiannon. Though 'A' knows it's out of character, he treats Rhiannon kindly and even suggests they cut class and go somewhere. She suggests the ocean, and that is the start of a very quick fall into love on 'A's part. The problem? He knows he'll go to sleep that night and wake up the next day somewhere else, as someone else.

He's never been in love before. Crushes, sure, but nothing like this, and he begins to break his own rules. He uses his new bodies to reach Rhiannon. Eventually 'A' tells her what he is. Though she's shocked and disbelieving eventually she comes to terms with it, and they embark on some semblance of a relationship. However, they both know it can't work out. They do their level best, though.

This novel is clever, funny, and deeply moving. Through the different bodies that 'A' inhabits we discover so much of the human experience at 16. He inhabits drunkards, addicts, depressives, the gender-questioning, and sometimes just very ordinary people. He tries to leave the bodies exactly as he found them, though sometimes he cannot help but intervene. The ending is fitting and as hopeful as you can expect it to be with 'A' being what he is. It's hard to let 'A' and Rhiannon go, particularly as a couple, but you know you have to. Like so much of the human experience at 16, you have to learn to let go, however painful.

Until next time!

Empty shelf/Mad Reviewer #20 "Blood Red Road" Moira Young

Reviews for this book regularly include things along the lines of "if you're a fan of The Hunger Games you'll love this", though as far as I can see there are only three similarities - a dystopian setting, a kick-ass lead, and an unwillingness to let its readers put it down.

This book is unlike anything I have ever read in the YA market. Set in America, post-war, the story is told first-person by Saba, a fierce eighteen year old, twin sister to Lugh and older sister to Emmi. They live in a place called Silverlake, a barren wasteland, with their father. One day, four men come to see them and end up killing the father and kidnapping Lugh - why, we don't yet know. However, with little thought for her own safety, Saba sets off to find him. Her sister Emmi ends up following and they get kidnapped, too, by a couple called the Pinches who exploit Saba by way of cage-fighting in a place called Hopetown. It is here that Saba meets a man called Jack and a group of women called the Free Hawks who engineer an escape for the enslaved cage fighters, while burning Hopetown to the ground.

While retaining the familiar elements of YA dystopia, the story feels new and fresh, not least because of the dialect in which Young writes. Young was a singer and actress before turning to writing - this is her first book - but you can see that she is in her element, weaving a story together with the prowess of a much more experienced writer. The characters are tough as rock but not lacking humour; the comraderie is genuine and moving; and the settings unfold in your mind like great vistas you know would be just perfect for the cinema screens. In fact, I'm wondering when the movie adaptation will be announced - there is sure to be one with this level of rich material.

I highly recommend.

Until next time!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenger #18 and #19

Over the weekend I read both "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "Prisoner of Azkaban". It's crazy, you think you know a book or a film and you go back and read them again, and there's so much more you pick up.

At the final ever Harry Potter premiere J.K. Rowling said whether you return by book or by page, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. And it sounds silly, but I really did feel like that. It is a great comfort re-reading these stories that meant so much to me growing up, and still do. To familiarise myself once again with the great characters, and once again feel the thrills of  Harry's adventures, such as discovering the true identity of Tom Riddle, not to mention those great Quidditch matches, was brilliant.

It was sad, though, reading the Prisoner of Azkaban, knowing all along that Sirius is innocent, Pettigrew was going to escape, and Sirius was going to die before his name got cleared. Nevertheless, it's been so long since I last read these books that it almost - almost - felt like it was the first time reading them.

Until next time!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #17 - "Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone" by J.K. Rowling

To me this kind of feels a bit like cheating, as I've read this book before (I'm trying to just read books this year that I haven't read) but I picked this up at the weekend when I went home to visit my mum and her husband. I was helping them move and they had found a few of my Harry Potter books that I had misplaced when moving my stuff out.

It was so good to start this series again as an adult. There was a writer who, a few weeks ago, told J.K. Rowling that she should stop writing for adults to give other authors a chance - but by all means, she could keep on writing for children. As if writing books for children were any less important. This writer was also dismayed that adults were reading Harry Potter for themselves instead of just reading them for the benefits of their children. This writer did admit after that she had a touch of the green-eyed monster, but still. Not cool.

Because it's been so long since I read the books it was almost like starting again from scratch. Yes, the main events were still in my head but there were several parts of the writing that I had never noticed before. For example: "...for neither as a cat nor as a woman had she fixed Dumbledore with such a piercing stare as she did now." This phrase almost seemed jarring with the sentences before and after it, it's such an elegant composition of words (I know that sounds awfully pretentious, but that's what I thought!). The whole book was so fluid and easy it's almost difficult to believe that this was her debut novel.

It was wonderful meeting the characters again from scratch and reading the descriptions of them, as they must have been in Rowling's mind. Knowing how the characters end up, it was also really interesting to see them at the beginning of their arc, and how much they grow just in this short book (only 256 pages).

If I get far enough ahead of myself in my reading challenge again (I'm aiming to read a book a week and am currently 3 books ahead of time) I'll continue this series. It's still got it.

"After all this time?"
"Always."

Until next time!


Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #16 - "blueeyedboy" by Joanne Harris.

This author really knows how to pack a punch.

On the back of the book under the blurb there is an extract from the Mirror's review:
"...beware unreliable narrators along with a huge plot twist at the end."

Even with this and several other hints, nothing could have prepared me for what was in store.

"blueeyedboy" is the online name for the main narrator of the story, B.B. He is forty two and lives with his mother in Malbry, Yorkshire, with the bulk of his life played out in "fics" that he writes on his webjournal, "badguysrock". He has several regularly posting fans who are, for the most part, certain that what he writes is just really good - if disturbing - fiction/ However, one of his readers, "albertine" knows the truth. She and blueyedboy go way back and are entangled in each other's lives in very complicated ways.

The story is brilliantly paced and plotted, not to mention thrilling. It will keep you sat at the edge of your seat because there really is no guessing what happens next. All of my theories were wrong, and when I did find out, I just stared at the book for five minutes before heading back a few pages, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It was very similar to the way I felt reading "Gentlemen and Players" (by the same author) - there seemed to be no warning for what was going to smack you in the face.

And then, just when I thought I had recovered from that blow, Harris smacked me again with something else. At this point, though, I was just in a hurry to finish the book - simply to see if Harris wanted to mind-screw her readers with anything else - before I could sit back and properly process it.

I would recommend any of Joanne Harris' work, to be honest, but there was just something about this that makes me want to go and shove it under people's noses until they sit down and read it (though I won't do that). It really is that good and will probably still play on your mind for a while after you've finished. Utterly fantastic.

Until next time!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Review Challenge #15 - The High Lord by Trudi Canavan.

The last of "The Black Magician" trilogy by Trudi Canavan goes out with a bang.

We pick up with Cery, a slum dweller who has risen to the rank of Thief among the Thieves - as opposed to just serving them before. He is hunting mysterious murderers in the city - their victims are found with only shallow cuts yet all energy has been drained from them.

Soon after we meet back up with Sonea, relieved by her defeat of Regin, her adversary for the past couple of years as a novice. She has found out a little more of her High Lord and Guardian's habits, but not enough to understand why he is using black magic. However, Akkarin eventually trusts her with his story and from then on she begins to gradually put more and more trust in him.

She learns that Akkarin has found out that the Ichani, outcasts of the Sachakans - a country with whom Kyralia was at war - are planning to invade Kyralia once they have found out the Guild's weaknesses. Though the Ichani are few they practice black magic and are immensely powerful as a result.

This book certainly seemed to be the most ambitious of the three - after all, "The Magician's Guild" and "The Novice", while leading up to "The High Lord" had slightly more insular plotlines, though they were still really good books. However, "The High Lord" had so many different threads and characters to follow it could easily have turned into a confusing mess. Thankfully, it wasn't, and I found my brain struggling to keep up with my eyes as I tried to read as fast as I could, eager to get to the end of the fast-paced battle and conclusion.

I was really saddened by the ending, not least because of (SPOILERS) the deaths of certain characters. The characters who died...their deaths make sense but when you have invested in them and their stories it's really hard to let them go.

Anyway, I highly recommend this whole series to any lovers of fantasy, and magic in particular.

Until next time!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #14 - "The Novice" by Trudi Canavan.

"The Novice" is the second in "The Black Magician" trilogy. Sonea, having discovered her magical powers, has been accepted into the Magician's Guild and has been taken on by an official guardian, Rothen, a Higher Magician and a teacher of alchemy. He is also one of few magicians who is not offended by Sonea's humble origins.

The story has two distinct lines to it. Firstly, that of Sonea who, though she has been accepted into the Guild, is not looked upon kindly by the other novices, or even some of the teachers. Regin is the worst of these, who makes it his life mission to make Sonea's life completely miserable. Worse, he knows she will not say anything unless she has to, because she does not want to risk yet more animosity and her teachers not believing her. Secondly, that of Dannyl. Dannyl was another magician who is quite happy with Sonea's initiation into the Guild. He is sent off as an ambassador to Elyne and, instructed by Lorlen, the Administrator of the Guild, to dig into the Akkarin, the High Lord's past. Dannyl does not know why, but Lorlen clearly wants to find out from where Akkarin discovered the ability to perform black magic. 

There is an interesting twist halfway through the book, and one I originally expected to be saved for the third book - Akkarin finds out that Lorlen, Rothen, and Sonea know about his use of black magic and that Lorlen suspects the spate of murders happening in the City are down to Akkarin. As a result, Akkarin removes Sonea from Rothen's guardianship and places her under his own - something which attracts jealousy and more awful pranks from the other novices. Sonea and Rothen are forbidden to speak to one another, as are Lorlen and Rothen. 

All is not lost, however. Sonea finds some measure of victory against Regin. After some particularly nasty attacks - twenty novices against Sonea, at one point - Sonea snaps and formally challenges Regin to a battle. This is obviously of some interest to the Guild, to see how the slum girl fares against a boy of the Houses - the nobility of Kyralia. Happily, she wins and proves to everyone - but especially to the Higher Magicians - just how powerful she is, though she herself is not as aware of the true extent of her power as the Higher Magicians. 

This all makes for some very interesting questions for the third book. What exactly are the High Lord's plans for Sonea? Surely he won't let her power grow to the point where she can challenge him? Will he tap her power and make himself near-enough invincible? What will happen between Regin and Sonea, as surely we won't see the last of that nasty piece of work. 

This book was a brilliant read, and kept me up later than was advisable most nights. It's great when a book does that, though. It was so satisfying, in particular, to read about Sonea's victory against Regin, as he really had been a complete douchebag to her throughout the entire story. I'm really looking forward to the next one. A friend hinted that it's a really brave ending and there are lots of questions that I'm looking forward to being answered.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #13 - "The Magician's Guild" by Trudi Canavan

During the annual Purge - an event in which the Magician's and Guard of Kyralia drive out miscreants and criminals - Sonea, a 'dwell' from the city of Kyralia's slums, discovers something extraordinary about herself. She has amazing potential to do magic. She hurls a stone at the Magicians' barrier and it passes through, knocking unconscious one of the Magicians. Startled at what she has done, and afraid of how the Magicians might respond, she hides with the help of her friends Cery, Harrin and others.

The first half of this book is taken up with a massive manhunt to find Sonea. The Magicians don't want to hurt her - rather, they want to find her so they can examine her powers and teach her how to control them before she becomes a danger to herself and others around her. She does not know this, though - all that she knows and believes of the Magicians are that they are powerful, cold, and uncaring of Kyralia's poor.

Eventually, though, the Magicians do find her, just as she is about to accidentally lay waste to a large part of the city. Rothen, a kind and mature Magician, takes Sonea under his wing and tries to convince her to stay.

Fergun, another Magician, has different plans. He was the one that Sonea knocked out with her accidental missile and consequently wants to humiliate her and arrange for her to be kicked out of the Guild with her powers blocked. He feeds her with charming lies but, when she wants to refuse, he blackmails her, revealing that he has in captivity her friend Cery.

I read this book in a handful of days. It was a really well-written, absorbing read, even with pretty much the first half of the book taken up with the search to find Sonea. During this time, however, we learn a lot about the characters. Canavan has a lot of different characters thrown into the mix here, a lot of whom we quickly become attached to. There are some familiar themes here as well, which all - and especially teenagers - can relate to. Power struggles and accepting those in authority; injustice; misuse of power; but also much more positive aspects such as friendship and loyalty, no matter which side of the law you are on.

I'm really looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy and finding out what happens with the characters, particularly with the development of Rothen and Sonea's relationship as guardian and novice.

Until next time!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #12 - Holy Fools, Joanne Harris.

Ever thought life in a convent was quiet or boring? Joanne Harris is about to change your mind on that.

This is the story of Juliette. She was once an actress and rope-dancer is a travelling company of players, but through a dire set of circumstances she was forced to flee and decided to hide out in a convent under the name Soeur Auguste. She has a daughter, Fleur, who lives in the convent with her and the sisters. However, her contented life is about to be turned upside down.

The Abbess dies and a new one is brought in, She is only eleven or twelve years old, however, and brings with her a man whom she says is her confessor. Juliette knows him better as LeMerle, the head of the various travelling companies she used to go on the road with. She knows that LeMerle is not here having changed his ways and seeking a new life in the Church. She knows he is up to something, but has no idea what.

I always learn so much about writing whenever I read a book by Joanne Harris. 'Holy Fools' is just one example (among many) of how well she does plot. This book feeds you in titbits, tantalising rather than frustrating, and when you think you have finally figured out the puzzle Harris hits you with another surprise.

Another reason why the book is so good is because of the dual narrative. Dual narrative is such a tricky skill to master and I've read more than one book in which I couldn't distinguish between the two voices. I've thought I was reading from one person's POV when actually I've been reading the opposite. Happily, that's not the case here. Juliette and LeMerle have distinct, strong voices and Harris switches between them with ease. Each character, even the minor ones, are developed with a strong sense of self, and everyone is needed to play their part in this story.

I won't give away the ending but it is great. It builds up towards the finale with increasing urgency and speed, shown by the short lengths of the chapters, and goes off with a bang. Even in the aftermath it doesn't fall flat. The loose ends are tied together well making for an ending that could be seen as both satisfying and uneasy, depending on your point of view and opinions of the characters.

A hugely enjoyable read, I thoroughly recommend.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Music - a poem

The sweet, soft sound
Of music.
It flutters,
Drifting down like dappled light,
Trilling,
Like birdsong.

What pleasure it awakens,
What joy!
The heart rejoices
And mourns
At its profound display.
Its rises and falls,
Its perfect cadences,
Disturb our solitude,
Daring us, begging us.

Wake up! It screams, Wake Up!
Dare to dream, dare to live!
Dare to love.
Free.
Like me.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #11 - The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."

Santiago, a young shepherd boy, is someone who likes to be on the move. He travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert searching for treasure buried in the pyramids. Along the way he meets many people who help to point him in the right direction and, more importantly, seek to instruct him about life and finding himself so he is more able to find his treasure.

There are some beautiful ideas and images presented in this book, namely the 'Personal Legend'. We each have our own Personal Legend - kind of like fate - that only we can live out, and it is those who live out their Personal Legends who become truly happy.

One of the people that Santiago meets is a merchant who deals in crystals. He is a devout Muslim and talks to Santiago about going on pilgrimage to Mecca, though he seems to have no intention of actually doing it. He says, "...it's the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive...I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living." Later in the book, Santiago remembers this and is sad, because it is in his journey to find his treasure that he learns much about the world and himself - something that is not an option to the merchant because the merchant is not brave enough to try and live out his Personal Legend.

In the desert Santiago meets the eponymous Alchemist. He tells Santiago of the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life, but warns him that those whom have tried to make a Philosopher's Stone just to learn how to turn metal into gold have failed. They only wanted the treasure instead of trying to live out their Personal Legend - i.e. living their lives to the full. (This part makes more sense in context!) The things that the Alchemist stresses to Santiago as being more important are learning the Language of the World and connecting with the Soul of the World. He also teaches him to listen to his heart and pay heed to omens.

My favourite part of the book is in which Santiago is trying to turn himself into the wind, otherwise he'll be put to death by desert soldiers. He converses with the wind, the sun, and the hand that wrote all, and talks a great deal about love, which I found wonderfully uplifting and challenging at the same time:

"Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World...when we love, we always strive to become better than we are."

Simply put, this book is wonderful. Through the eyes of a young, adventurous shepherd boy, we learn a great deal about the world and spirituality, and are challenged to answer the questions that the Santiago is asked for ourselves.

In the end, the boy find his treasure. But that was not the most important thing. The important thing was his journey, because without his journey - in other words, living out his Personal Legend - he wouldn't have found his treasure, and he wouldn't have learned and connected with the world - not to mention the "hand that wrote it all".

Until next time!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #10 - The Chance, Karen Kingsbury

"...a fervent message about love and reconciliation." writes Publishers Weekly. This book certainly is that.

Ellie Tucker is an ordinary teenager from Savannah, Georgia, when her life is turned upside down. Her father discovers her mother's affair and resulting pregancy, and kicks Caroline (the mother) out. He then decides to move himself and Ellie to California, accepting a job on a military base. The news wrecks Ellie and her best friend, Nolan Cook. The night before Ellie leaves, she and Nolan write each other letters, lock them in a box, and bury the box in their favourite spot of the local park. They promise to meet each other on June 1st, 2013.

Fast forward to eleven years later. Ellie has a daughter of her own and hasn't spoken to her father in years. Nolan Cook is a star NBA player and, apparently, has never forgotten about Ellie. Various characters and threads come together in a heartfelt and moving conclusion. Ellie and Nolan are engaged, Caroline and Alan (Ellie's father) begin to reconcile, and the hurts of long past begin to heal.

This was a really enjoyable read. Kingsbury writes easily and from the heart, and the pieces of the puzzle come together really well. As Christian fiction, there's a lot of well-known Bible verses and Christian jargon, but Kingsbury manages to keep it from being cheesy, particularly as each of the main characters has a period of questioning God and their faith, for obvious reasons. It's a story in which Kingsbury really wants to show the heart of God, and how she believes that He wants to heal hurts and hearts and bring love and reconciliation.

I would recommend it as it's a lovely story, well-written and absorbing, and gives you a lift after turning the last page.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #9 - Song of the Lioness, Tamora Pierce

Song of the Lioness is a quartet of four stories: Alanna: The First Adventure, In The Hand Of The Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like A Man, and Lioness Rampant. It follows the adventures of Alanna of Trebond and her quest to be a knight.

I loved this book. After finishing the 'Inheritance Cycle' it felt like a breath of fresh air; a really easy read but no less exciting or absorbing.

We first meet Alanna when she is ten or eleven and her father is sending her and her twin brother, Thom, away - Alanna to the convent to learn to be a lady, and Thom to the palace in Corus to start page training. Neither of them want to do what they're told - Alanna wants to be a knight and Thom wants to learn sorcery - so Alanna has the idea that she dress up as a boy and they can swap places. Thom then goes to the convent - as a boy - to learn sorcery from the masters there and Alanna becomes Alan and goes off to Corus to start page training.

Alanna is a great character and role model for teenage girls. She's feisty, tough, smart, intuitive, and doesn't let being the only girl in a training camp full of boys deter her. In fact, I don't think there's a character in this who I didn't like. From George, the King of the Rogues, (the city's network of thieves), to the villain, Roger Duke of Conte, each person brought a new and interesting element to the stories.

The four stories themselves are quite short, the longest being a little over two hundred pages, but neither plot nor world-building - a tough skill to master in fantasy - suffered because of it.

This is definitely a series of books I would recommend for teenagers, and will be doing so at my school. Girls need role models like Alanna - tough, clever, and someone who doesn't let romances with boys define her life, something many a teenage girl needs to be empowered in!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #8 - "Inheritance" by Christopher Paolini.


It's been a long road to this point...2868 pages in fact (according to Yahoo Answers) and 880 of those from Inheritance alone.

Side note - this review has some spoilers in it, so be aware!

"Inheritance" opens with a siege of Belatona. Ever since "Eldest", the second book in the series, the Varden - rebels to the Empire - have been slowly progressing from Farthen Dur in the Beor Mountains to further up within the Empire, joining with the forces of Surda along the way. As it's the last book we know there is going to be the ultimate face-off with Galbatorix, the mad and evil king, at some point, but plot and sub-plot abounds long before we get there.

One of the most interesting of these provides a solution to the problem that Eragon and Saphira knew they would have to face. If Galbatorix is slain, what becomes of them, then? As far as they know, Saphira, Thorn (the dragon of Eragon's half-brother, Murtagh) and one as-yet unhatched dragon are the last of their race. Happily, SPOILER ALERT, they find this is no longer the case. Acting on cryptic advice from a werecat called Solembum, Eragon, Saphira, and Glaedr (no longer in dragon form, but in his heart of hearts form) travel to Vroengard - more specifically, to the Rock of Kuthian on that island. After discovering their "true names" - this is a pretty big deal in the Inheritance Cycle, as names equal power, and if anyone were to ever discover your true name you would be at their mercy - they open the Rock of Kuthian - or Vault of Souls - and make an incredible discovery. There are more dragon eggs and Eldunari (heart of hearts). Obviously they are overjoyed as, firstly, the eggs mean that the dragons can rise again and the extra Eldunari give Eragon more of a fighting chance against Galbatorix (Eldunari hold huge amounts of energy, and energy is needed for magic).


One of my other favourite strands of this book involves Nasuada, the leader of the Varden. She is abducted by Murtagh and taken to Galbatorix's court where he tries to break her and make her submit. We already knew Nasuada was a badass, but her holding out against Galbatorix's physical and mental torture makes you admire her even more.


Eragon's final showdown with Galbatorix is also suitably epic. Galbatorix's plan for Alagaesia is to limit the use of magic so no one will be at the mercy of a magician. A noble plan, if you didn't know how nuts and evil Galbatorix was. The reason he is able to do this is because he has discovered the "true name" of the ancient language.


(Basically, before the ancient language came along, magic was very difficult to use safely as there wasn't really anything one could do to control the release of it. One of Eragon's most important lessons was to only use the ancient language for magic, as to do otherwise could prove fatal.)


Anyway, Galbatorix has discovered the "true name" which means he is able to control who can do magic and when and how much, making Eragon's final battle with him even more hopeless than it was already. I won't say how Eragon finally beats him, a) because it's quite complex and I wouldn't be able to explain it very well b) it's just a really interesting bit of writing. However, beat him he does and then it falls to Paolini the immense task of tying up many loose ends. I won't give away the ending but I can say it's actually quite sad and, in some ways, frustrating too, though I'm sure Paolini had very good reasons for choosing the ending he did.


It feels strange that this series is over. I haven't had this feeling since the Harry Potter series ended, like I know the books can't carry on forever, but if they did I would read them because I've spent so much time investing in the characters.


The Inheritance Cycle is an incredible achievement and, finding it difficult to come to terms with its ending myself, I can't imagine what it must have been like for Paolini. I'm sure it's a series I'm going to come back to again. I would highly recommend this series for lovers of fantasy.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #7 - "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

"The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms...This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase...the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh." 

The scant knowledge of Thomas Cromwell I had prior to reading “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel mainly came from watching “The Tudors”, the television show. Cromwell is barely mentioned in history lessons – at least, history lessons I've been in as a student and as a teaching assistant – because, of course, there is Henry VIII, there is Katherine and Anne Boleyn (not to mention the other four wives), and there is even Cardinal Wolsey. So I am very glad that Mantel took the time to write of this intriguing, illustrious, and – in many ways – frightening period of England’s history from an otherwise unheard-of point of view.

Considering Cromwell's humble origins – he was the son of a blacksmith who regularly beat his son, near enough to death on occasions – it is staggering that Cromwell rose so high, practically second in all but name to King Henry – obviously infuriating to the nobility – and that he became someone upon whom the King so thoroughly relied. In “Wolf Hall” Cromwell regularly references to his time abroad as a young man. He did many things, including soldiering, learning the banking trade in Italy, and training as a lawyer, but no matter all his skills and talents, it all comes down to the question of blood to certain of the King’s friends, beautifully demonstrated by this: “There cannot be new things in England. There can be old things freshly presented, or new things that pretend to be old. To be trusted, new men must forge themselves an ancient pedigree, like Walter’s, [his father], or enter into the service of ancient families. Don’t try to go it alone, or they’ll think you’re pirates.”

However, Cromwell seemed to refuse this and did go it alone. He was the protégé of Cardinal Wolsey and stuck by him all through his master’s and mentor’s fall from grace, something for which King Henry commends him, as though he – the King – has forgotten it was him who was bent on destroying Wolsey, thanks to a certain Anne Boleyn. It is Cromwell, not Wolsey, who manages to get the divorce that Henry so desperately wants so he can put off Katherine of Aragon and get Anne Boleyn. It is Cromwell who ever so gently suggests reformation of the Church to Henry, enticing him with both power and financial gains – in the novel, Cromwell suggests that the clergy own a third of England altogether – while acknowledging privately that the English deserve to be able to read the Gospel in their own language. He is not so zealous as Tyndale – the translator and peddler of such a text, and hounded out of England for it – but Cromwell is evidently anxious for ordinary people to be unburdened and unshackled by Rome. After all, asks he, where in the Gospel does it refer to Popes? Where do the clergy own estates? Why must ordinary people bankrupt themselves to shorten Purgatory? In fact, where is Purgatory at all?

Mantel has worked so brilliantly to craft a character hitherto unknown to those whom might would not think to seek him out in the history books, a man so brilliant that one might not lament another such as him being alive and working in our government today. He knows how deal in both money and favours, how to keep his concerns private while discreetly ferreting out the business of others - how to navigate the Tudor court, in short. No mean feat for any person. And not only Cromwell has she portrayed so brilliantly, but others to whom we might not pay much heed. Mary Boleyn is a prime example, and one whom I ended up feeling very sorry for. Used by her father and King Henry as and when she was needed, she still had the sense to keep her mouth shut and not complain, because what could she, a poor and feeble woman do?! Politics and scandalous relationships exist everywhere, but I am glad we do not have the Tudor brand of it any more. Or do we? If we do I am lucky to have not come across it.

Anyway, I digress. To sum up, “Wolf Hall” is staggering, brilliant, and well worth the time needed to invest in it. For those who want to write, read this. For historical fiction lovers, read it. And to anyone else who just loves a good book, read it. (I think) you won’t regret it.


Until next time!