18 December 2011

The Years of Magic by J. Lyndon Hickman

I haven't read The Years of Magic by J. Lyndon Hickman, but I read a review from one of my favourite bloggers over at The Bibliophilic Book Blog and I instantly fell in love with the book cover!

Here's the blurb as it features on Amazon:

It was when mankind discovered how to make electricity that the world as we knew it changed profoundly. Soon generated electricity lit our streets and homes, provided heat, brought us efficient communication, modern transportation, and the effort of electro-motive force. Yet, manmade electricity carried through the wires and cables with which we fenced the land; the power lines encircling our towns and our cities, had another consequence. Generated electricity banished things of folklore and legend. Witches, werewolves, demons whose evil spirits had roamed the earth throughout time were displaced, driven off by the pain of electricity. Unfortunately also displaced were the good, those angels which had appeared to guide mankind throughout history. Then one day, in our not-too-distant past, a brilliant scientist created a machine that brought manmade electricity to a halt. That day marked the beginning of the return of the evil, as well as the good, in a time that became known as the years of magic.

I haven't decided whether I'm going to add this to my TBR pile or not, but I just had to share the book cover with you. I think it's one of my favourites this year. Have you read it? How much does the cover of a book influence your decision to read it?

Carpe Librum!
12 December 2011

Review: Utopia by Thomas More

Utopia by Thomas More book cover
I have always wanted to read Thomas More's classic Utopia, and I'm pleased to finally have read it this year.  Like most people, I knew Utopia to represent the ideal or perfect society but didn't know much more about the structure of Thomas More's classic.

It's hard to believe Thomas More was born over 500 years before me, and yet his work has endured and is still relevant to us today.  Published first in Latin in 1516, I was surprised to learn that Utopia wasn't published in English until 1551, which was sixteen years after Thomas More's unjust execution for treason.

Utupia is a short novel, containing only 135 pages - and is broken down into two sections, Book One and Book Two.

Book One
Book One commences with a letter from Thomas More to his friend Peter Gilles, explaining why it has taken so long to transcribe 'this little book about the Utopian Republic'.  This letter is followed by another and then a discussion between Thomas More, Peter Gilles and a traveller by the name of Raphael Nonsenso.  Raphael is discussing his time spent living in Utopia with Gilles and More engaging in the conversation.  Book One ends with Thomas More asking for:
"a detailed account of it from every point of view, geographical, sociological, political, legal - in fact, tell us everything you'd think we'd like to know, which means everything we don't know already."
Book Two
Book Two is the detailed account of Utopia, written by Thomas More from memory of Raphael's account.

Fact or Fiction?
The correspondence at the beginning of Utopia, certainly set a particular tone that what was to follow had an element of truth, or plausibility about it.  This technique has been used countless times since, Bram Stoker's Dracula just one example.  

However, there were various clues early on that More's novel was instead a work of fiction.  Raphael's surname of 'Nonsenso', was a clue, as was the curiosity surrounding the location of the island of Utopia, and the story that just as Raphael was discussing its location a colleague coughed loudly, and More missed hearing the details.

Thomas More used the fictional novel as a means to discuss controversial topics and ideas at the time, in particular in relation to nobility and the class system in England.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Utopia, and I believe it is an accessible classic for almost all readers.  I think it is just as relevant and as important a piece of literature today as it was 500 years ago.  Have you read it and if so, would you want to live in Utopia?

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
08 December 2011

Interview with Barbara Forte Abate, author of The Secret of Lies

Barbara Forte Abate

Barbara Forte Abate is the author of The Secret of Lies which I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed.  You can read the full review here, where I gave it 4 stars.

Barbara, thanks for joining us today, to talk about your writing, and your debut novel The Secret of Lies.

Is it true that you originally started writing The Secret of Lies 20 years ago on yellow legal pads and then transcribed your writing onto a typewriter?
Yes, I really did and it was definitely slow going!  Even so, it felt like the only way to go. For starters, I didn't even own a typewriter so that alone narrowed down the possibilities of going another route. Besides which I wasn't especially confident starting out and so I was very secretive and highly protective of what I was up to. It took quite a long time to get past that insecure way of thinking in regard to my writing endeavours.  But then once I got to the crucial point of needing to borrow a friends typewriter, that was pretty much the end of the "closet writer era."

What made you decide to bring it out again and publish it in 2010?
Well, the manuscript was never actually put away.  There was never a point when I stopped working on The Secret of Lies. It went through 4 titles and so many rewrites that I stopped counting for fear of becoming overwhelmed by horror and depression. Once I'd finish yet another rewrite I would set it aside to simmer while I worked on one of my other novels in progress, and in that way would alternate projects, perfecting, polishing, and basically learning to write. Fast forward (though actually not so fast) to 2010 and it felt like, okay, enough already, it's time. 

When you write now, do you write straight onto a computer, or do you still prefer to write in longhand first?
First drafts are always longhand. It feels so much more up-close and personal and staring at the white screen is just intimidating - maybe even a little hostile. Once the initial draft is down I become far more modern and switch to the computer. I edit long and hard and I'm sure I don't have to tell you the supreme joys of cut, paste, and delete! 

I read on your website that you like to keep a pen and paper in every room so that you can capture ideas as they come to mind.  Do you have a love for stationery and journals, or do you have a soft spot for yellow legal pads? 
I do have a strange affection for pens and paper, so much so that I tend to squirrel away the pretty stuff because it's "too nice to use."  I'm trying to get over that, but it's taking some time. It's pitiful really that I can't trust my head to hold onto an idea long enough to walk over to my desk and jot it down, hence the notebooks.  But no, nothing fancy.  Dollar store pads small enough to tuck into a pocket are my favorites. Since they're cheap and generic I feel free to scribble at will - something I find hard to do if my paper is too pretty. I also have a love of stationery, and love to linger in stationery stores, admiring the pens, paper, journals and all the accessories etc.

The Secret of Lies features a romance between teenagers, one of whom is deaf.  This was one of my favourite elements in the novel; what was your inspiration for the deaf character of Jake and his relationship with Stephanie? 
I'm so thrilled to hear that Jake and Stephanie's relationship was one of your favorite elements of this story, because it was absolutely one of my favorite to write. Jake is actually the only character wholly inspired by a real person. I discovered him on a weekend camping trip I took with one of my best friends and her family when I was 16 (hence, a very long time ago!) and from the moment I saw him setting up camp with his family I was smitten. 

For the next 3 days I tried in vain to orchestrate chance meetings, imagined the perfect conversations we would have if I could just summon the courage to speak to him, thought I spoke endless volumes with my eyes...and it wasn't until just before he drove away on Sunday morning that I saw his father speaking to him using sign language.  Talk about an 'Ah Ha' moment! I did think about this mysterious boy for a long time afterward, yet I don't conscientiously recall inviting the far away memory of him into The Secret of Lies.  He pretty much just walked in on his own.

I also enjoyed your strong and deeply layered female characters in the novel.  Can you tell me more about the inspiration behind these characters? Are there women - authors or literary figures - you look up to in your own life? 
I generally find it impossible to bring real people into my stories because they inevitably become distracting and it's just too hard on the process of imagination. Certainly there are things we pick-up from people passing through our lives, even when we don't realize it, so there are always those elements.  I start out writing my characters as people I think I'd like to know and then somewhere along the way they take over and show me who they really are. By the time I type 'The End' I have grown very attached and care for them deeply. It's a crazy, altogether mysterious process, and I can't say I wholly understand it. I'm just continually amazed by what goes on in my otherwise quiet mind.

What was the best book you read in 2011? 
I'm so tempted to cheat and name several because it's so incredibly hard to name one!  No, honestly - I mean really really hard. But hum-mm....I think I'll have to say Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I just finished this book recently and it was such an incredible masterpiece of a story. And truly, isn't it just such a thrill to come across a book that grabs you from the start and holds you by the throat even after you've read the last page? I know so many people who say they don't read - ever. And I think how sad...how impossibly sad.

What do you have planned for 2012? 
Writing.  Always writing! I'm this close to finishing up my latest novel and sending it off to my agent. She's been waiting a while, so I'm anxious to check this off my list as "goal accomplished." Then I'll start something new. I'm a slow writer so starting a new project is a long term commitment.

Anything else you'd like to add? 
When I think about all the bumps and bruises that come along with writing a book, the fact remains that regardless of how a book becomes a book, the final essential link feels to be the reader who comes along to turn the pages, enabling all that's between the covers to come out and walk around for awhile.  

I so enormously value the connection between reader and author, and I absolutely want to take the opportunity to thank you for reading and reviewing The Secret of Lies, Tracey! It's been such fun chatting with you!

It's a pleasure Barbara, thanks for being my guest! 
06 December 2011

Review: The Secret of Lies by Barbara Forte Abate

The Secret of Lies by Barbara Forte Abate book cover
* From author for review *

The Secret of Lies opens with Stevie (Stephanie) running from her home on the farm and her new husband; believing it's too late to turn back. Stevie's on the road and staying at a motel, when she begins to think about the past.

The dreary surrounds of the motel fades away and the reader is transported to Stevie's teenage years in the mid '50s with her older sister Eleanor. Each summer Eleanor and Stevie stayed with their Aunt Smyrna and Uncle Calvin in their beach house on the coast.

I enjoyed reading about Stevie's summers at the beach, particularly about the friendship developing over the years with fellow summer visitor and deaf neighbour Jake.  

These early chapters are carefree and take on a coming-of-age tone as Stevie and Eleanor live out what appears to be a 'normal' sisterly relationship. However; their relationship begins to drift away one summer when Eleanor is 17, and what occurs in that summer will haunt Stevie and her family for years to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of Lies, and towards the end, had completely forgotten that Stevie had run away and that this was a flashback; so immersed was I in the story. The circumstances of the 'event' (no spoilers here) and the lies that resulted - from which the novel takes it's title - were well written.

There was a small mystery going on in the novel, and although I did figure it out (this never happens to me, so I was pretty pleased) there is a slightly ambiguous ending, which is appropriate. My only criticism of the writing was the author's misuse of the word 'then' in place of 'than'. It occurred on almost every page and should have been corrected at the edit stage.

Although Stevie's mother was a minor character, she was a strong and hard-working woman and I admired her fortitude and resilience. Aunt Smyrna was a significant character in the novel and her gradual decline in the first half of the book was difficult. When juxtaposed with Eleanor's character - youthful, beautiful, falling in love - it made for quite a clash and interesting reading. I certainly admire the author's ability to write strong, individual characters; each with their own complexities.

This was the story of a family torn apart by lies in a time where secrets were better kept hidden. But it is also the story of how Stevie navigates her way through the grief to find love and forgiveness. I thoroughly recommend it!

Read my interview with the author, Barbara Forte Abate here.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
03 December 2011

New Look!!

I thought it was time for a new look, so I hope you all like the new look bookish wallpaper; I absolutely love it! I redesigned my Twitter profile today so now they're both the same.

Long overdue, but I'm enjoying the fresh new look and the change.

That's my four bucks!

Review: The Ice Cradle by Mary Ann Winkowski & Maureen Foley

The Ice Cradle is the second in the Ghost Files series by authors Mary Ann Winkowski and Maureen Foley; the first being The Book of Illumination. Anza O'Malley and her son Henry return in this novel, when Anza accepts a bookbinding commission on a small island community, Block Island.

One of the elements I really like about this series is the main character's occupation of bookbinder. Weaved throughout the story are references to bookbinding techniques and materials that are irresistible to book-lovers and bibliophiles.

Anza has been hired to preserve, bind and exhibit the letters, reports, photographs and artefacts surrounding the sinking in 1907 of the passenger steamship Larchmont just off the coast of Block Island. Of the 200 passengers, only 19 survived and those with an interest in preserving history will enjoy these elements of the story.

When Anza arrives, she walks into an island divided over wind turbines. She learns that half of the island's residents are in favour of the construction, the other half against, and a ghost informs her that they plan to build the turbines right where the wreckage of the Larchmont lies on the seabed!

All this is happening at the same time her young son sees his first ghost, and Anza is trying to find reasons local fisherman doesn't stack up to Henry's Dad.

This is a fabulous read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although you will need to be open to paranormal themes to enjoy this one. The Ice Cradle is terrific as a second installation in the series but also works as a stand alone novel. Light and easy, with a feel good ending, most readers will enjoy this one. I look forward to the next in the series!

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!