Not very original

‘The Gift’ – Alison Croggon

2-star-rating-1

The Gift - Alison Croggon

The Gift – Alison Croggon

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, a gift that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfolds. Now she and her teacher, Cadvan, must survive a punishing and uncertain journey through a time and place where the dark forces they battle with stem from the deepest recesses of other-worldly terror.

So, from the blurb, you can expect to think this book is different to many fantasy books already out there. But, I was sadly mistaken. This book is so similar to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that it just becomes frustrating. It took me ages to read The Gift and each time I picked it up, I was more saddened than the last that Croggon did not seem to write an original idea.

Ok, so let me give some examples. We have a journey that needs to happen, a pilgrimage through a fantastical world where Maerad and Cadvan are attacked by mystical creatures. They are taken to a secret world in the middle of a very large forest, meeting a race of elf-like people living in a beautiful city (sounds like a bit like the Elves in The Lord of the Rings, huh?). The final part of the novel is about Maerad trying to be accepted by the Bard council. And the leader turns out to be a corrupted Bard who has crossed paths with Maerad when she was a child. (Perhaps a bit like Sauruman in The Lord of the Rings?!) The book finishes with Maerad and Cadvan desperately trying to escape whilst chaos ensues, ending with the start of the next phase of their journey…. yeah, you get where I am going with this one.

Croggon began the novel with such promise and I was really excited to read this one; the trilogy has been sitting on my bookshelf for ages. But, as I started to see the links between the two plots, I grew disinterested in the plight of Maerad and Cadvan, and instead kept looking to see how many pages I had left to go. Why did I continue reading, if I was so disappointed? Aaah, because I was so curious to see how it would finish. In fact, the final few chapters started to get more interesting for me as Maerad is initiated and discovers the truth about how her mother died.

I will probably trudge through the next two books, to see how they run and whether Croggon develops more original material. As with any series, I am always keen to see how they pan out and what happens to the characters. However, if you are looking to read a fantasy novel, I would definitely steer clear of this. If you know about The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will find yourself making comparisons between the two.

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Tiresome

‘Inkspell’ – Cornelia Funke

1-star-rating (1)

Inkspell - Cornelia Funke

Inkspell – Cornelia Funke

The captivating sequel to ‘Inkheart’, the critically acclaimed, international bestseller by Cornelia Funke, an author who is emerging as a truly modern classic writer for children.

Although a year has passed, not a day goes by without Meggie thinking of Inkheart, the book whose characters became real. But for Dustfinger, the fire-eater brought into being from words, the need to return to the tale has become desperate. When he finds a crooked storyteller with the ability to read him back, Dustfinger leaves behind his young apprentice Farid and plunges into the medieval world of his past. Distraught, Farid goes in search of Meggie, and before long, both are caught inside the book, too. But the story is threatening to evolve in ways neither of them could ever have imagined.

So, despite me not overly enjoying the first book, ‘Inkheart’, I decided to give the second book in the trilogy a go. Unfortunately for me, this book failed to deliver and I found ‘Inkspell’ more tiresome than the first.

The story returns to the magical world of fairies and words. This time it all starts when Meggie reads herself into Ink world and this is where the trouble begins. The story world has gone out of control and I found it predictable when Meggie and Fenoglio realise that the only way to counteract the troubles, is to write new passages into the book and for Meggie to read them aloud. I think it is because I could see where the story was going, that I got bored of ‘Inkheart’ so quickly. Just like the first book, the passages are lengthy and it feels like it takes a while for it to get going. Despite this, I kept going with this read because I was curious to know what happened to characters. So, I guess the writer does well in this sense as Funke encourages us to care about the characters and their fate. Will they ever return to the real world?

There is a very helpful character list of the start of the book. There are so many characters that it does get quite confusing. Regular readers of my blog will know that I find too many characters makes quite onerous reed, so you can understand why perhaps I didn’t appreciate this book as much as other readers. 

I was really disappointed in this story and was hoping it would redeem itself in the second book. Alas,  I had trouble keeping focus on the story and yes, whilst I totally agree that the premise is magical and unique,  I feel that the delivery was poorly executed.  ‘Inkspell’ took me a while to get through but I still believe I will read the concluding story just so I can find out what happens to the characters. I know, however, that I can’t promise a glowing review!

The magic fails to ignite

‘Inkheart’ – Cornelia Funke

1-star-rating (1)

Inkheart - Cornelia Funke

Inkheart – Cornelia Funke

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can “read” characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. This “story within a story” will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

I was really hopeful when I picked up this book. I had heard lots of good things about the story and knew that there was a film adaptation too. But, quite frankly, I was really disappointed with what ‘Inkheart’ had to offer.

Let me get this clear: the concept of the story is truly magical with the idea that Mo can bring characters out of books if he reads them aloud. This is great and the references to other works of fiction throughout the story really brought a smile to my face. Also, at the start of each chapter there is a short extract/quote from a children’s story and I really felt transported into the world of fiction. Coupled with the fact that the main characters are all book worms, I could really relate to their enthusiasm about looking after books.

So on paper, this should have been a perfect book, but quite honestly it just didn’t deliver. There was a lot of talking about what to do and not really much action. The plot development was predictable to the end and when I had figured out a solution, found myself wanting the plot to move on. Indeed, my mind often wandered when reading this and though I did read other books alongside this one, still found this quite tedious.

After all of the hype surrounding this book, ‘Inkheart’ certainly did not meet my expectations. As teenage fiction goes, I certainly think there are far better books out there to be read. This is part of a trilogy and whilst I did not like this book very much, am considering giving the next book my attention to see if the series improves.

What a sad Stravagante!

‘City of Swords’ – Mary Hoffman

4-star-rating

City of Swords - Mary Hoffman

City of Swords – Mary Hoffman

Desperately unhappy, Laura has resorted to secretly self-harming. But Laura is a Stravagante, somebody who can travel in time and space. When she finds her talisman, a small silver dagger, she stravagates with it to sixteenth-century Fortezza, a town similar to Lucca in Italy, where she meets her Stravagante, who is a swordsmith. But Laura also meets the charming and attractive Ludo, and falls for him. Their love for each other is tested when Ludo lays claim to the crown of Fortezza, and Laura finds herself fighting on the side of the Stravaganti opposing him.

So, Mary Hoffman brings the Stravaganza series to a close with ‘City of Swords’. It was a solid book but I do think that those who could access Talia at the end was just a little too easy for my liking; in my head, to be a Stravagante is something that is exclusive and a role the character had been chosen for, and I think this does get lost in the story.

But, my! What a sad Stravagante we meet in ‘City of Swords’! Laura is very different to the previous Stravagante and the issues Hoffman explore are quite thought-provoking and one that is every parent’s nightmare. The difficulty Laura faces in accepting her new role is unlike her predecessors and she often does not wish to return to Talia. I felt really sorry for Laura and her family after what she goes through and the twist towards the end of the book was really so unexpected, I felt like I had missed something earlier on! This twist really needed more attention and I think it would have been good if this had been introduced and explored earlier on in the novel.

Once more the story has a lengthy list of characters so it is either a good idea to read this book closely after ‘City of Ships’, or keep consulting the character list at the end of the book. I still found the characters and family loyalties a little confusing but liked the drama the extensive character list brought. Indeed, as the novel reaches its climax, it felt like there was tension and action from all of the the characters.

I really enjoyed reading this book and felt that the ending was nearly conclusive. Like so many films, Hoffman does not fully finish the story, leaving it open for further books in the series. I wish that it had been totally finished off because I would have found this far more satisfying, particularly as this has been quite a long series. What let it down for me is that it did seem a little rushed and I was keen to know what had happened to the Stravagante once they had returned to Islington after the final show-down.

True, the plot is a little predictable but this book is in keeping with the rest of the series. I think most of my enjoyment came from the fact that I knew this was the last in the series (I really hope Hoffman doesn’t open it up again) and the personal challenges that Laura has to face are almost reminiscent of Lucien’s in the first book. I would recommend it if you have already come this far in the series, just to see how it plays out, but don’t be surprised if you feel like the ending is a bit of an anti-climax.

A promising debut novel

‘Charlie Briggs and the Witch’s Emerald’ – Karen Pink

2-star-rating-1

Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk

Charlie Briggs and the Witch’s Emerald – Karen Pink

Eleven year-old Charlie thinks middle school would be much better if he could just raise his popularity a notch or two. But getting the student body to forget about his past admission of seeing clips of the future is easier said than done. Adding to his social complications is his sister (his TWIN sister) Mia who not only is smarter and better looking than him, but is pretty much top of the social ladder at their peer pressure focused middle school (and likes to boss her brother around wherever she sees fit). 

But life is about to change drastically, for the both of them, whether they are ready for it or not. 

Dragged unwillingly one night into an unknown world of adventure and danger, where the earth crawlers are vigilantes and vampire wasps are after your blood, it is up to Charlie and Mia, along with the help of a very stern dragon guide, to help save the princess and change the destiny of Atronia forever. 

Will Charlie be able to forget his innate craving for popularity and realise that worthiness is not measured by a boy’s number of social networking friends, but by the belief that he holds in himself? Will Mia learn to be less of a control freak, and understand that her way is not always the best way? Will Kavator learn to let go of a deeply rooted guilt that threatens to stop him from caring for anything else ever again? And just who is the mysterious person following them at a comfortable distance? Ultimately, will the three manage to pull together and show a united strength when facing their darkest hours at the mercy of the King’s nemesis, Morvoina? 

With an entire hidden world depending on Charlie and his ability to undertake a journey of such greatness, it is up to him to live up to his promise and save the princess. 

Life as a middle school student has never been so heavy.

This debut novel from Karen Pink contains lots of elements that will delight young readers – dragons, evil witches, and giants, to name but a few. However, the delivery of the plot didn’t quite keep up the pace and I felt there were plenty of places that Pink could have expanded on.

The main character, Charlie, is a stereotypical outsider at school and the complete opposite to his popular twin sister, Mia. Charlie is desperate to beat the bullies at school and it is only until he is magically transported to another world, Atronia, that he finds himself a real hero. From the beginning we are shown that Charlie has visions and this has plagued him throughout his young life. What would have been great was if Pink had given a bit more background about this magical powers, particularly with how the book concludes, setting it up for a follow-on story.

I liked the different fantastical elements that Pink included and am sure this will satisfy young readers. The descriptions are very colourful and it reminded me of a computer game. However, these descriptions did lessen the pace of the story and at times I found  myself wishing that the plot developed sooner. Sometimes the narrative is a little too wordy and focuses on the intricate details whilst at other times I wanted to have more information about other parts of Atronia, such as when the giants are talking together or snapshots of the princess’s imprisonment.

Pink has set up a successful fantasy world and it would be interesting to see where the next book takes Charlie and Mia. It is a simple read and though I found it lacking in places, think it will suit its young readers as intended. The characters were sweet and likeable and it was lovely how good triumphs over evil at the end and that Charlie is recognised for the hero he has been.

My two star rating reflects how I sought more of a pacey novel and hope that the author can deliver this in the next part of this story. There were peaks of excitement in the narrative and it was disappointing this did not continue throughout. Nonetheless, I believe that the intended audience will enjoy this read and immerse themselves into the wonderful creatures of Atronia.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Rich and intense

‘The Avatar of Calderia: Awakenings’ – David M. Echeandia 

3-star-rating

The Avatar of Calderia Book One: Awakenings - David M. Echeandia

The Avatar of Calderia Book One: Awakenings – David M. Echeandia

A Dark sorcerer is Awakened from eight hundred years of ensorcelled slumber, unleashing an ancient and terrible scourge upon the land as he uses his malevolent powers to enslave a continent and create an empire built on blood magic and death.

Across the Luminous Sea in Calderia, a crown prince grows to manhood, unaware that he carries within him a seed of divine power that must now be Awakened, if his people have any hope of surviving the evil sorcerer’s coming invasion of his homeland.

But to do so, the human prince must help forge an alliance with other warring nations, including his blood enemies, the Elves, and their warrior princess who wants him dead. Somehow, these sworn foes must join forces, gathering other companions as they undertake a perilous journey to find a hidden talisman, solve an age-old mystery, and save their world from oblivion.

Goodreads

About the author:

David M. Echeandia

David M. Echeandia

“I was raised on the East Coast, enduring the freezing winters and loving New York pizza by the slice, the kind you fold in half and start eating with the hot melted cheese dripping down into your mouth. Now a psychologist, I live here in the California sun with my wife and daughter, and assorted pets. I don’t regret leaving the cold weather behind, but I do still miss the pizza.

I have been enamoured with science fiction/fantasy since I was (as my southern grandmother used to say) “knee-high to a grasshopper.” Thank the gods for ebooks, because I ran out of room to store my collection many moons ago. I enjoy reading, RPG’s, canning homegrown preserves, old time radio, more reading, and Scottish Highland Games (middle name is McMaster). I actually had a kilt of my clan tartan made, and I’ve been promising myself to learn how to play “Scotland the Brave” on the bagpipes. Perhaps one day…”

Author links:

Facebook / Twitter / Web

Review:

This book is what I would describe as a classic fantasy. It has very dense and lengthy descriptions and the plot felt very Lord of the rings-esque. And whilst the story did feature expected elements of a fantasy novel,  such as magic, sorcerers and elves to name but a few, it was very sexually explicit in places and this made it quite uncomfortable to read.

I initially found this quite a complicated plot to get my head around. As it is so in-depth, there are a lot of characters and with the unusual names, I did find myself getting lost with where loyalties were directed. I think this did lessen my enjoyment of the story and wonder that on reflection it would have been helpful if author had included a character list at the end of the story.  That being said, I enjoyed reading about the quest unravelling and was keen to see the chosen two begin their adventure to save the kingdom. We are given a lot of history about the characters and I felt this made them more interesting to read about. However,  sometimes the histories that were recounted were a little long winded,  but I guess that does fit in with author’s descriptive writing style.

I enjoyed reading about the prince and princess, particularly as they are forced to get to know one another. I think I can guess how their relationship will develop in the next story, but I liked the stubbornness that both showed towards each other. It will be interesting to read what role they play as they continue their quest and I hope the author throws in some surprises along the way. I was glad this book included the start of their journey together and found their initial discoveries enjoyable to read, clearly setting them up for the next stage of their journey.

My rating was really difficult to decide as I felt that in some places it was worthy of more than 3 stars, but at other times I found my mind drifting. Whilst the writing is very vivid,  there were times when I felt sections could be condensed and the pace could have picked up more.  I was also really surprised that author did not choose to close the story on the characters on the quest; readers have no idea about their progress and are instead left with a rather ominous finish. Effective maybe, but I did want to know what was happening to the prince and princess as a final update. I enjoyed the fantastical elements in this story but wished Echeandia had moved further away from Tolkien. Whilst it does work, I don’t think it was quite original enough and this is what gives this book a solid three out of five stars.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Give-away:

Author David M. Echeandia is giving away two $20 Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Cards (winner’s choice) to two lucky winners! Enter with Rafflecopter.  The giveaway runs 5/3/14 – 20/3/14 (Midnight Eastern Time).

Excerpt from the novel:

Killian moved forward to the edge of the clearing, then turned and looked at Ellianthia, holding out his hand.  After some hesitation, she inhaled deeply and walked over to his side, raising her hand tentatively to press her palm to his.  The Elfin princess looked up at him, his flame-red hair gleaming in the sun, his blue eyes clear and bright with excitement.  What kind of power did this human possess, that he could so easily enter this sacred place, this Elfin sanctuary where even Mellisandria, an ancient Wise One, trod lightly?  She gripped his hand more tightly, wondering what might happen if she let go.

They walked directly to the mound, hearing no sound save that of their own footsteps, the pounding of their hearts, and the rustle of the grass as they brushed against it in their passing.  When they reached the mass of tangled vines and stood before the Stone, he felt humbled by its megalithic size and grandeur.  The surface visible beneath the branches and the blossoms appeared smooth and flawless, with no sign of weathering, as if time had stood still for ages here in this place of power.

Killian did not know what he was meant to do next, but he felt drawn to walk around the Stone while it waited for him to unlock its mystery.  Still leading Ellianthia by the hand, he had paced perhaps a quarter of the way around its base before he found that same palm-sized circle that he had seen in his vision, positioned partway up the side of the monolith.  Knowing instinctively that this was what he had been seeking, he raised his hand toward the circle and looked at Mellisandria for final confirmation that he should proceed.

“It is your destiny,” she said, nodding once.  With that, he stepped forward and placed his palm flat upon the circle.

At the instant of his touch, a brilliant flash of golden light erupted from the circle, encasing the Calderian prince and the Elfin princess. Then several gasps arose from the observers, Ellianthia’s loudest and nearest of all, for Killian’s eyes were two luminous orbs glowing with divine presence, as if the gods themselves had entered his body and now looked out through their Avatar upon the awestruck mortals gathered there.  In that moment, any lingering doubts that he was indeed the chosen vessel of the deities vanished from the minds of all who had witnessed it.

Almost immediately thereafter came a deep rumbling that shook the ground and rattled the lofty branches of the trees around them.  A strong gale sprang up, whipping hair and clothing about, and making them blink from the force blowing against their faces.  The deep vibration seemed to be emanating from within the Stone itself as, before their wind-stung eyes, a vertical crack appeared in that flawless gray surface.

Soon, the crack became a narrow crevice running down from top to bottom, then widened steadily into a rift that grumbled and creaked with every inch of movement, cleaving the granite and snapping the vines that covered it.  Then two stone doors, each some five feet in width, pivoted as if on hinges and swung outward, revealing a dark, mysterious opening into the monolith.

Killian glanced at Ellianthia, who was staring back at him with the same expression of shock written on the faces of the other Elves and humans waiting behind them on the edge of the clearing.  Though the glow in his eyes had dimmed, he was undeniably the prophecy fulfilled, for all could see that the “One who will come to split the stone” stood before them.  She tried to pull her hand away, but he shook his head slightly and pointed toward the opened doors, knowing that their presence was required there.  Gathering his courage, he led her inside.

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A re-energised Stravaganza story

‘City of Ships’ – Mary Hoffman

5-star-rating

Image courtesy of goodreads.com

City of Ships – Mary Hoffman

Isabel Evans has just made a very surprising discovery: she is a Stravagante, somebody who, with the help of a talisman, can travel in time and space to the country of Talia in a parallel world. When faced with the extreme danger that Talia presents, the normally shy and quiet Isabel is forced to dig deep and find strength she never knew she had, as she is plunges into a world of pirates, ferocious sea battles and deadly adversaries…

Just when I thought Mary Hoffman had covered all original ideas for the Stravaganza series, ‘City of Ships’ brought a fresh and interesting plot that I really enjoyed. This time set in a coastal town featuring pirates and a pending attack, ‘City of Ships’ felt more of a unique story compared to the rest in the series. I can’t guarantee this review won’t contain any plot spoilers, so if you are reading this without having read the earlier books in the series, then I definitely recommend that you check out my other reviews, for Mary Hoffman.

The town of Classe felt different to the rest of the cities in Talia and this might be because of the pirates and sea-faring espionage. The pace seemed to move a lot quicker and there was always the sense of impending danger to what appears quite a vulnerable province. I enjoyed the battle scenes on the sea because it was so different to the previous duals and sword fights in Talia but, admittedly, I did find it difficult to keep track of which ship was on which side.

Another refreshing part to this story is how the talismans have evolved. The present day Stravagante work more as a team and want to help their newest recruit, Isabel, understand as much as possible about Talia. Indeed, Hoffman throws a few surprises in along the way and whilst I don’t want to ruin it the for other people, I have to stay it made the book just that even more fantastical and enjoyable. I enjoyed the freedom that the Stravagante seem to have and the unpredictability of the journeys means that I just cannot predict how the sixth (and final?) instalment will develop.

I’m relieved that ‘City of Ships’ had more of a unique plot as I always feel that a long series is in danger of becoming repetitive. Instead, this was exciting and unpredictable, both for scenes set in England and Talia. I have enjoyed how this series has developed and certainly felt that this is more of a stronger plot than some of the others. Time travel meets war and tension, this book is a great read.