Year One by Nora Roberts Review

When I first heard about Nora Robert’s new book Year One I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Years ago I went through a Nora Roberts reading stage where I devoured all her romantic suspense novels but it’s been a while since I’ve read any of her books. When I heard that this book was a departure from her usual romance stories and was about a killer virus taking out billions of people and leaving a dystopian wasteland in its wake, I was even more intrigued.

Year One by Nora Roberts
Year One by Nora Roberts, ISBN 9780349414942, Pub Dec 2017, 419pp

I was then lucky enough to win a proof copy from Good Reading magazine and Hachette Australia but I would have bought this book otherwise.

Year One starts with a riveting opening:

“When Ross MacLeod pulled the trigger and brought down the pheasant, he had no way of knowing he’d killed himself. And billions of others…”

As the world’s population rapidly depletes, a new order rises. People who had previously had slight magical impulses now grow into their power, revealing all sorts of beings from witches to fairies to shapeshifters and elves. Some normal humans survive as well. But for every good Uncanny (as they call the magical people) and for every good human, there are plenty of bad people who want to kill and let chaos reign.

The story follows quite a lot of different characters as they leave New York in search of other people and safety. The cast of characters grows and was at times hard to keep up with. But the scenario is intriguing and a bit different from the normal zombie apocalypse dystopian route. There are no zombies in this book!

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Why I Love the A Court of Thorns and Roses Series

I came to this Young Adult fantasy series very late but I’m glad I finally made it. While I jump on the occasional YA reading bandwagon (Twilight, His Dark Materials and The Hunger Games), I consider myself a bit long in the tooth now to read this genre and I don’t really read much fantasy. But maybe a good book is a good book no matter how old you are or who the target audience is. And so when I recently joined the Bookgramming community on Instagram and saw all the love for the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J Maas, I was intrigued to find out more and went and bought the three book box set.

I consumed all three books in the series–A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury and A Court of Wings and Ruin–in a week. Now I finally get all the hype and all the love for this series. I can see why teens and women alike are filling their Instagram feeds with photos of these books and I’ve happily joined this reading cult.

For the uninitiated, don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers. But I will say this is a fantasy series about the world of humans being divided by a great wall from the world of faeries after a great war 500 years ago. The main character Feyre is a human huntress who is struggling to feed her starving family (a crippled father and two older sisters). She reminded me of Katniss from The Hunger Games in that she is a bit ragged around the edges, smart and tough. Feyre kills a huge wolf she suspects might be a faerie who has come illegally through the wall. This sets off a chain of events that sees her whisked away over the wall into Prythian, the land of the Fae, as punishment for her crime.

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The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman: A Review

There must be something in the water in Oxford. It was once the literary stomping ground of writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia series) who formed part of a writer’s group called the Inklings and met regularly at the Eagle and Child pub to discuss their writing. And Lewis Carroll was inspired to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while living in Oxford. Now Philip Pullman, who resides in Oxford, can easily be added to this rich literary heritage as an author who creates such detailed, fantastical worlds.

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
The Book of Dust Vol One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, ISBN 9780857561084, 448pp, pub Oct 2017

Philip Pullman has just released The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage (what a mouthful). It is set in an Oxford that’s similar in appearance to the one we know, but is quite different. Pullman’s Oxford still has students, academics, colleges and pretty countryside but there are some magical differences. Every person has an animal companion called a daemon who is an extension of themselves and can talk, think and feel. Children’s daemons can change into all sorts of animals, reflecting their moods and needs, but once maturity hits the daemons settle into a particular animal form. In this alternative world there are also witches and other mythical creatures.

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Warm Bodies: A Review

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (kindle version, 258 pages, pub April 2011)
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (kindle edition, 258 pages, pub April 2011)

Ah, romances between paranormal creatures and young women. There have sure been a lot of books falling into this genre over the years. Vampire romances, witch romances, werewolf romances, alien romances … and now zombie romances. I read Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion because I wanted to go and see the movie (which I still haven’t seen yet) and because I was curious about how a zombie (a rotting, brain-eating, moaning corpse) could be made to be desirable. I’m not sure too many people would fantasise about this particular creature.

I was expecting some sort of angst-ridden, Twilight-style romance but instead got something that had a bit more substance. Warm Bodies tells the tale of a zombie called ‘R’. Like all zombies, he has no memory of who he was when he was alive or what his name was. All he recalls is the letter ‘R’. R is more articulate than most zombies in that he can string together a few words at a time. Most of his kind just stand around moaning at each other. He lives in an abandoned airport on the edge of a post-apocalyptic city. The airport houses a big nest of zombies and R calls a 747 his home. On the outside he likes hunting for humans and eating their brains, but on the inside he is capable of deep thought about his situation.

One day R goes on a raid in the city and eats the brain of a young man. In doing so, he finds himself seeing the young man’s memories and hearing his thoughts. Then he does something extraordinary – he saves a young woman from being eaten by the other raiding zombies. The woman, Julie, is the ex-girlfriend of the man whose brain he just ate. He takes her back to the airport and an unlikely relationship develops between them.

Julie is a tough cookie and hates zombies but she can see that R is different. As they begin an unlikely friendship, the world around them begins to alter. For if R is capable of suppressing his zombie-like tendencies, is it possible that other zombies will follow? And can they convince the humans barricaded behind the walls of the stadium that there is still hope for the world?

Warm Bodies is imaginative, funny and touching in equal parts. I can’t say I’ve ever had an interest in zombies as a subject matter, but I really liked this book. Now I have to see the movie.

You’re never too old for fairy tales

Snow White and the Huntsman movie poster

I went to the movies and saw Snow White and the Huntsman the other day. It was the perfect combination of fantastical special effects and very scary acting from Charlize Theron. It seems like re-worked fairy tales are all the rage at the moment. From the other Snow White movie to the TV series Once Upon A Time to books like Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (a retelling of Rapunzel). There’s even going to be a Sleeping Beauty movie told from the perspective of the evil Queen, played by Angelina Jolie (Maleficent). As well as a reworking of Hansel and Gretel as witch hunters (coming out in 2013 starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton).

Perhaps fairy tales never go out of style. They are always there waiting to be retold. In our shaky economic times, it’s nice to escape into worlds of pure fantasy.

When it comes to my favourite fairy tales, growing up I always liked the original tellings that were a little on the dark side. The one that still breaks my heart is The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. I always thought it was tragic that the Little Mermaid gave up the sea and her voice for a pair of legs so she could be near the prince she loved. And every step she took felt like stabbing knives. Then the Prince ends up marrying someone else. Her only chance of becoming a mermaid again is if she uses the sea witch’s knife to kill the prince. But she can’t and tosses herself into the sea instead. No wonder Disney dramatically changed the animated version …

There were also many fairy tale movies that I loved when I was growing up. In fact, I still love them:

Labyrinth – A very young Jennifer Connelly wishes that her annoying baby brother would be taken away by the Goblin King, played by a very creepy, big-haired David Bowie. It is just a comment made in the heat of the moment, but the Goblin King hears her and takes her brother away. To get her brother back she must set off into the treacherous Labyrinth that surrounds the Goblin King’s castle before time runs out. Along the way she meets lots of colourful characters from Jim Henson’s puppet workshop. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still know all the words to all the songs.
The Princess Bride –This film is based on the book written by William Goldman. It has all the fairy tale elements you could hope for: a princess called Buttercup, an evil prince, a giant, a swash-buckling pirate hero, sword-play, romance, magic and lots of classic one-liners from the likes of Billy Crystal.
Ever After – Drew Barrymore stars in this retelling of the Cinderella story. I put this DVD on from time to time when I want to watch a light, non-taxing film.
Ladyhawke – A classic film starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Two lovers have been cursed by a powerful Bishop. The man is a wolf by night while his love is in human form. And she is a hawk by day while he is a man. They seem doomed until a young thief played by Matthew Broderick agrees to help them lift the curse.
Enchanted – I thought this was a clever reworking. Amy Adams plays Princess Giselle who is transported from her cartoon fairy tale world into the harsh streets of real world New York. Hilarity ensues – especially the scene where she gets rats and pigeons to help her clean her rescuer’s apartment.

To wrap up this homage to fairy tales, go and visit the blog of Emeline Morin. I stumbled upon her blog this week. It is devoted to fairy tales and their reworkings. I particularly like the beautiful artwork in this post.

What’s your favourite fairy tale?