Review: George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley by Helen Fox

Title: George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley

Author: Helen Fox

Genre: Children’s Books, Middle-Grade

Published by AG Books

Year of Publication: 2016

Rating: 2/5 stars

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Helen Fox, for sending me this book for review.

Towards the end of July, I received a message through my contact form from Ms Helen Fox, an author from the UK, who asked me to review her middle-grade book and I gladly accepted it. The book I will be reviewing today is entitled George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley and it was published in 2016.

This is the story of George, an orphan crow who loses his parents at the beginning of the book, but he soon finds shelter in the enchantingly beautiful Bloom Valley and his new friends keep him company and make him forget about his grief. Bloom Valley is not only a magical place, but a welcoming community comprised of hardworking and friendly animals. George learns a few things about the valley, its inhabitants and their customs. As time goes by, he becomes more courageous through a series of events which take place both inside and outside of Bloom Valley. The magical valley is said to be linked to a legend of a bygone kingdom, but George is a newcomer, so Thelma the spider, who is the head of the creatures, hesitates to tell him this secret; therefore George will have to learn about it the hard way.

I like the way Penny Wood, Bloom Valley and other lands were built with the exception of the legend. For example, Bloom Valley has villages, schools, a hospital where Tawny Owl takes care of her patients and the ambulance cart is pulled by four hares; there is a Music Hall which also serves as a court, the squirrels protect the ivy surrounding the valley like sentinels and all animals gather on every evening before sunset to sing their Good Night Song. Even if this beautiful valley is full of animals that welcome and help the ones in need, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any tensions between them. The ladybirds think they are discriminated by Thelma who protects the butterflies from harm: therefore Rosa the ladybird and her daughter Heather plot to kill the butterflies, especially Princess Estella, to hurt Thelma whom they despise to death.

Though Thelma has her reasons to protect the precious butterflies, I still don’t understand why the ladybirds, the grasshoppers and the wood flies want to destroy them. Those butterflies are harmless and not very intelligent if you ask me. I mean we seldom hear the princess speak and when she does, it’s not enough to be considered an important character in the story. When it comes to the villains, they are pretty cartoonish, especially Rosa and Heather who seem evil just for evil’s sake: they are vain, egoistic and manipulative. They hate everyone and feel they are persecuted because Heather attempted to drown Prince Orpheo, her secret crush and Thelma was apparently rude towards Heather, accusing her that she was bullying the butterflies. Ever since Rosa came to Bloom’s Valley, she had been questioning Thelma’s authority and dismissed the veridicality of the legend. On the other hand, Gaspar the grasshopper and his gang talk like old-fashioned gangsters, while Hugo the wood fly and his gang talk funny too but they are also pretty annoying. They seem like extremists or an anarchical group who love to fight no matter if they are right or wrong.

‘We mustn’t let the privileged walk over the ordinary. The spider needs to learn that the wood flies are as important as any of her creatures and we have a right to invade anywhere, if it means a better life for our people.” (Page 109)

But now, let’s return to the good guys. Though George talks a bit maturely for his age (yes, he lost his parents prematurely, but still), I like the fact that he easily befriends other inhabitants of Bloom Valley such as Bond the squirrel and head of the guards, Conti the tenor frog, Speedo the snail who loves entertaining and telling stories on the White Rock, Alphie a fellow crow, Thelma whom I’ve mentioned before, and also a character who doesn’t live in the valley, Plato the wise Owl. Though I felt sorry for George’s loss, I liked Plato a little more because he knows the entire history of the place, he has the role of a judge when an animal crosses the line and he has always something wise to say. Most of the other characters are developed and have a back-story of their own. The funniest characters are Conti and Speedo. Conti makes strange quacking sounds when he speaks, but he is one of George’s most loyal friends who would do anything for the crow; while Speedo is afraid of heights, but he is grateful for what George did to help him to fulfil his greatest wish.

Other positive aspects of this novel are the scenes from the first chapter which are filled with terror and grief and the way the animals see their fellow birds drop dead made me think of a shooting or a massacre seen from their perspective. The trial scene was very interesting with both female and male representatives of each family sitting in one of the three tiers and taking the role of the jury, while Plato the Owl was the judge. The writing was pretty good with visual and audible imagery added to the descriptions of all the places in the book. Also, the characters have great names such as Plato, Bond, Thelma, Conti, Speedo, Alphie, Orpheo, Swift, Gaspar, Willard, etc.

And now I’m going to reveal the main reasons for this low rating. After the consequences of the trial, the plot went in a very strange direction that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s true that the plot was pretty disjointed from the first chapters, but I thought it would get better eventually. Yes, I liked how George took action in a few scenes and saved the lives of innocent animals, but from those scenes to wood flies invading Bloom’s Valley just because of a lie that got out of hand it’s a bit far-fetched  I know that this is a fictional story, but that invasion felt surreal and unbelievable. The second part of the book was very confusing because no one told us why those butterflies are so important and why everyone wants to kill them. I understood that they have royal blood, but, in most cases, the villains attempt to destroy them just to take revenge on Thelma. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy twists in any story, but I didn’t understand the necessity of that invasion. Was it added just to show how spiteful the wood flies are and how brave the inhabitants of Bloom Valley are? Maybe the author wanted to show how easily a misunderstanding can lead to conflict and the intention might have been good, but the conflict ended abruptly and anti-climactic.  Furthermore, I wonder, how many wood flies does it take to injure or fight against larger animals like birds, squirrels or spiders?

“Stop it! What are we fighting for? Our leaders lied to us. They have led us into death and destruction. I don’t want to die. No one wants to die.” (Page 113)

As for the legend of the lost kingdom, it is a strange mixture of fairy-tales, Greek Myths and witch stories that confuse the reader even more. “I am the High priestess of the Council of Tartarus. At long last, we now have your land and shall reign over it for many years to come.” The High Priestess, circled the valley on her broomstick examining the surroundings. Then she raised her wand and cast her spell. (Page 128)

Unfortunately, this is not the only identity crisis this novel has. Besides the confusing legend, the book wants to be a fable comprising of themes such as grief, environmental issues, friendship, animal rights, gender equality, the problem of refugees and conflict. I would be all for those themes if they were woven well into the story, not forcefully stuffed into the plot confusing the reader. Because this book is targeted towards younger readers, it’s a no-brainer that morals play an important part into the story. However, I felt that the book was a bit too preachy at times and I’m not sure how kids would react to that. Also, even though I liked a few characters, the story was pretty hard to get into, not only because of the plot but also because of the dialogues that didn’t sound natural. Kids have shorter attention spans than adults; therefore if the story doesn’t keep them engaged, they abandon it and read something else.

“It’s all the humans’ fault”, an old crow said. ‘Mindless young folk throwing live cigarettes on the forest floor. No respect for nature, no regret for lost life. Don’t they listen to their parents and school teachers who tell them that without nature there won’t be life? Look at what they’ve done to us, the misery they’ve caused.” (Page 33)

In the end, I will let you decide if you want to pick up this book or not. Personally, I felt very confused and disappointed after finishing it.

Review: Social Anxiety by Grant Anderson

 Stories of Those With Social Anxiety And How They Overcame Shyness

 

Title: Social Anxiety

Subtitle: Stories of Those With Social Anxiety And How They Overcame Shyness

Author: Grant Anderson

Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Self-Help

Year of Publication: 2015

Rating: 5/5 stars

In a world where social interactions are crucial, whether you are involved in your school or college projects, at work with your colleagues or practically anywhere else, you need to have social skills if you want to be noticed. But what happens with those people who don’t feel comfortable around new people or in social situations that seem normal for most of us? Things, like speaking in public or eating with your boss and colleagues, are very challenging and stressful for those suffering from social anxiety disorder, those who feel more comfortable avoiding certain situations than confronting them.

As a shy and socially anxious person myself, I picked up Grant Anderson‘s book Social Anxiety: Stories of Those With Social Anxiety And How They Overcame Shyness hoping that I will learn how to be more confident and, if possible, not make a fool of myself that often when I’m speaking in front of a group of people, as it usually happens. However, the best part about reading this book is that the author himself suffered from social anxiety, but he worked very hard to overcome his biggest fears. So come with me on a journey where you will learn more about this life threatening disorder because it can easily ruin your social life and I guess that nobody wants that.

Mr Anderson’s book comprises of an introduction, four chapters with several subchapters, a conclusion and two bonuses. Because this is a nonfiction book, I’m going to briefly present the chapters and the sub-chapters in order to let you decide if this book is for you or not. In the Introduction we learn that millions of people suffer from social anxiety, being unable to control their fear regarding social situations and to live a normal life. As I mentioned before, the author himself suffered from this disorder, but he sought professional help, tried many methods of treatment and reduced his anxiety. Now he is a psychologist who supports people who are struggling with the same problem as he did. Anderson shares with the readers what he knows about social anxiety and how other people learnt to break free from it.

The first chapter is An Introduction to Social Anxiety, a mental disorder that usually occurs between adolescence and early adulthood and it seems to be a result of a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors linked to the way a person’s brain is wired, emotional traumas or “being overprotected as a youth and not forming proper skills to deal with social situations” (Loc. 124). The psychologist also presents a few lists of the main triggers of social anxiety, emotional symptoms, physical symptoms and behavioural symptoms from which you can highlight the responses your mind and body gives you in certain stressful social situations you encounter. I have to say that it feels a little strange when you read about things you experienced several times in your life, but admitting that you have a problem is part of the process, as Mr Anderson wrote. He also advises us to seek professional help in order to understand how severe our disorder is and what type of treatment works for us.

In the second chapter, the author presents the methods of treatment and medication for social anxiety disorder. The methods of treatment the psychologist talks about are: Challenging Negative ThoughtsLearning to Control Your Breath, Facing Your FearsBuild Stronger RelationshipsChange Your Lifestyle and CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In the third chapter, you can read about Social Anxiety Setbacks and Maintaining Your Progress. Your problem will not go away in the first sessions of therapy or in a few days after you begin practising the techniques mentioned above. Though the skills you achieved through time can keep your anxiety under control – if the treatment is constant – the slips or setbacks will occur, but you can overcome them by analysing each thought rationally and seeing if it is worth worrying about your fear or dark scenario. Avoiding negativity in these situations is very important for your progress. The fourth chapter is about Social Anxiety Triggers And Stories on How People Were Able to Overcome Them and there is also a Conclusion and two bonuses at the end of the book, which I’ll let you discover on your own.

To wrap it up, this book was amazing and I’m glad that I read it at the perfect time in my life. Even though I knew a few techniques to control my anxiety, the down-to-earth language used by the author, the style and the examples he gives, they really make me feel better and makes me believe that my fear of public speaking can be defeated through perseverance and support.   

Review: Passion, Power & Sin by Mike Wells

 

Book 1 of Passion, Power & Sin

 

Note: Passion, Power & Sin is a freebie as well as all of Mike Wells’ first instalments in his series!

Title: Passion, Power & Sin

Subtitle: The Victim of a Global Internet Scam Plots Her Revenge

Author: Mike Wells

Genre: Financial Thriller

Year of Publication: 2014

Self-Published

Series: Passion, Power & Sin

Rating: 3.5/5

Have you ever wondered what would you do if you fell behind on your mortgage and you were to lose the house of your parents? This is the situation Heather Bancroft from Passion, Power & Sin has to face. Because she is in desperate need of money to save her North-Carolina house, the twenty-four-year-old woman moves to New York City hoping to get a good job fast, solve her financial issues and live a far better life than she did at home. Unfortunately, she ends up having a poorly paid job at a PR firm where her bosses belittle and treat her like their servant. Being stuck in a rut and with the approaching foreclosure procedure, Heather takes a leap of faith and enters into the world of illegal gambling with the help of an anonymous Friend in Need who sends her strange emails with obscure betting information and accurate predictions.

“If these predictions kept coming in as steadily as they had been, and she could keep betting on them, she might be able to save her mother’s house.” (Loc. 2613)

At first glance, Heather is clearly naïve and a dreamer, but she’d rather gamble and win a significant amount of money than asking her wealthy boyfriend David Windsor to help her, which is a sign of pride because she would feel humiliated and in more debt to do such a thing. However, even if Heather is an independent woman who wants to take matters into her own hands, she also makes mistakes, some of which are pretty stupid, but, I can’t blame her because she is in a desperate situation and she needs money fast regardless of her safety. For example, one of the emails she receives force her to go to a well-known metropolis, where she wants to bet on a sporting event, but she ends up tangled in the underbelly of that city. Though this part of the story was the most gripping and suspenseful, I think that your safety is more precious than anything else in the world and it’s not worth risking it. Though it’s pretty hard to root for Heather because she got involved in illegal betting, even if it was for a noble cause, I wanted to see her safe and I was curious to read about how much money she would win in order to save the house.

I love the way we enter into Heather’s mind and we observe how the psychology of addiction works. Though Heather does this questionable activity to save her family from debt, we cannot overlook the thrill she gets and the addictive effect of gambling just like in the case of narcotics or alcohol.  Similarly to a drug addict, Heather hides her shady activities from everyone else, including her roommate Percy or her boyfriend David. This book outlines scary yet fascinating aspects of the human mind; motivation and what despair can do to you. I also think that this story is pretty realistic because any naive or desperate person under financial pressure can fall victim to an Internet scam which may seem benign at first, but very nasty later.

I enjoyed the pacing of this novel, the suspenseful moments that drove me crazy with anticipation, the characters are morally grey and pretty realistic, the simple writing that makes the book easy to read and vivid descriptions of New York City and of another famous metropolis whose culture is very different from the one Heather grew up in. As for what I didn’t like about this book, I anticipated a twist by the end of the novel to turn everything upside down and to prepare the reader for the sequel. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any resolution for the first instalment and I was a bit disappointed. Also, I couldn’t find a section of the blurb in this book. Therefore, without a clear-cut resolution, the story was left hanging in mid-air as well as my expectations. However, I’m still interested in picking up the second book just to see what happens next to Heather.

Did any of you read this book? What do you think about it?

Review: Four Plays of Aeschylus by Aeschylus and E. D. A. Morshead

Title: Four Plays of Aeschylus

Author: Aeschylus

Translator: E. D. A. Morshead

Genre: Tragedy

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2012

Public Domain Books

Rating: 3/5 stars

Though I’ve already written a review in Romanian for Prometheus Bound, it would have been strange if I didn’t write something about the entire volume that includes four of Aeschylus’ tragedies: The Suppliant Maidens, The Persians, The Seven Against Thebes and Prometheus Bound.

What you need to know about Aeschylus is that he is one of the three emblematic figures of Greek tragedy along with Sophocles and Euripides. It is said that Aeschylus wrote around one hundred plays during his lifetime, but only seven survived the test of time, four of which I’ve mentioned above, while the other three form the Oresteia Trilogy. Aeschylus is also known for introducing the second actor on the stage. He gradually diminished the role of the chorus and he shifted the focus from the lyricism of the composition to the dialogue – an important change that gives the tragedy its dramatic characteristics we all recognize even today. For his artistic achievements, Aeschylus is also called the Father of Tragedy and he is praised by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his famous work, Poetics.

The Suppliant Maidens (Ἱκέτιδες) is the earliest play of Aeschylus’ that survived to the present day, but it is less known in contrast with his other works. I actually read this one last because the subject didn’t appeal to me that much and I found the play pretty mediocre in theme and ‘action’. The subject has its roots in Greek mythology and it is the story of Danaus’ daughters who flee from Egypt to Argos, in order to avoid their incestuous marriages to the sons of Aegyptus, who were their cousins. The maidens (escorted by their father) find shelter in Argos hoping not to be captured by their suitors. In order to help the newcomers, Pelasgus (the King of Argos) asks his people to vote and their decision is crucial for the maidens’ destinies. Though the other two parts of the trilogy are lost, there are some scarce references to what happens to the maidens in Prometheus Bound and in one of Horace’s Odes.

E. D. A. Moreshead wrote about The Persians (Πέρσαι) that it “was brought out in 472 B.C., eight years after the sea-fight of Salamis which it commemorates” (p. 5), a play that had a great significance for those who fought against the Persian Empire in the Battles of Termopilæ, Marathon, Salamis and Plataea. The Persians might be the second play of a trilogy “standing between the Phineus and the Glaucus” (Idem.), Phineus being a prophet like Tiresias, who foreshadowed the conflict that is depicted in The Persians. I won’t spoil your read, but I will only add that, through this play, Aeschylus sends a patriotic message to his fellow Athenians and he revives their past victories against the Persians or the triumph of civilisation against barbarism, as Ovidiu Drîmba writes in his study of the history of theatre.

The Seven Against Thebes (Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας) depicts the siege of Thebes along with the cruel fate of the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, who were cursed by their father, the late King Oedipus, for not taking care of their blind parent and for their selfishness and thirst for power. From my point of view, the most lyrical and heartbreaking parts of the play are those recited by the Chorus of Maidens, who depict the terrific battle scenes and address helpless and desperate prayers to the gods to protect the city and not let it fall into the hands of their enemy. The irony is that the name Thebes doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, but Cadmea or Cadmus. The one that gave the play the name we all know was actually Aristophanes, who referred to it in his comedy Frogs as “the Seven against Thebes, a drama instinct with War, which anyone who beheld must have yearned to be a warrior” (p. 6).

In Prometheus Bound (Προμηθεὺς Δεσμώτης), Titan Prometheus is punished by Zeus for creating the first humans, for stealing the Sacred Fire from Mt. Olympus and for giving it to the earthlings to start the process of civilisation. Though Prometheus is bound to a rock on Mt. Elbrus and Zeus uses various types of torture to make the titan repent, Prometheus stands tall and doesn’t have any reason to be ashamed or to apologize for what he has done. He has the power to predict the future and that future will not be a bright one for Mighty Zeus. Prometheus is not afraid of Zeus because he is immortal; therefore, all he has to do is to endure all the torture until his saviour will fulfil the prophecy. Unfortunately for us, the second and third plays of the Promethean trilogy are lost, but we can find out who the saviour is by reading the Greek myths.

Overall, the plays were very interesting, due to their unique structure and well-known characters from history and myths, but the language was pretty old and sometimes difficult to understand – a factor that made the reading too slow for my liking. I’m sure that I would have enjoyed this volume a little more if the writing had been a bit more modern, but this is a matter of taste.

 

Review: The Black Death and The Dancing Mania by Justus Friederich Karl Hecker

Title: The Black Death and The Dancing Mania

Author: Justus Friederich Karl Hecker

Translated by Benjamin Guy Babington

Genre: Non-Fiction. History, Medicine

First Published in 1832

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2011

Published by Cassell & Co.

Rating 5/5 stars

Ever since I’ve heard about the Black Death and the Dancing Mania — in history class or in the Horrible Histories TV series — I wanted to understand better how they appeared, why, which were the symptoms of these odd diseases and how they died out.

The book I’m going to talk about today comprises of two studiesThe Black Death and The Dancing Mania — written by the German Professor of Medicine Justus Friederich Karl Hecker, also is considered the father of historical pathology. In these two works published in 1832, the  physician analyzes the main characteristics of the two pandemics, the causes which led the way to their spreading, the diseases viewed from the religious perspective, their various forms, the cures or procedures used by famous doctors of the Middle Ages and the way in which these diseases affected the human mind.

Even though Prof. Hecker doesn’t say anything about rats or fleas — which carried the plague from Asia to Europe and Africa — he gives an account of how the plague manifested itself in different countries of the world. Documents show that some people died from respiratory problems while others had blisters and buboes on their skin – located especially in the axilla and in the groin area – or other victims bled through the nose or other anatomical orifices. Through incisions and the opening of the buboes, some patients recovered, but these procedures took place towards the period when the epidemic began to decrease.

From a psychological and religious point of view, people saw the Black Death as a punishment sent from God, in order to make them pay for their sins. Medieval people, especially those from the lower ranks of the feudal system, were strong believers in supernatural phenomena because they were illiterate and poor, living in filth and ignorance. They were rude and their minds were subdued by the Church, which was very powerful. Meanwhile, the kings and noblemen lived in luxury and debauchery without caring too much for their subjects.

Due to the circumstances mentioned above, it is impossible to know the exact number of plague victims, but in the main European cities somewhere around ~10.000 and 100.000 people died. Because of this huge number of deaths, the deceased were randomly buried in large pits or in layers or even thrown into the river – such was the case in Avignon. Hecker writes that some plague victims were buried alive because of the general hysteria regarding the pandemic. Eventually, the pestilence died out and most of the towns and cities were depopulated or some were even abandoned because people had fled after the disease broke out, leaving behind sick children, parents, relatives and friends.

The Dancing Mania appeared in Western Europe and it probably had its roots in the human psyche. It might have been a negative mental response to the Black Death. During convulsions, the victims moved uncontrollably as in a dance, had hallucinations regarding religion, shouted and eventually fell with exhaustion or even dropped dead. People used to gather in public places to see the gruesome scenes and some of the spectators caught the mysterious dancing virus; therefore they joined the group affected by the disease. Priests began to perform exorcisms on the people possessed by the strange illness – known also as St. John’s Dance or St. Vitus’s dance – and that proved to be effective. The physician believes that the Dancing Mania might be an ‘ancestor’ of epilepsy, chorea and of hysteria. A particular branch of this unusual mania manifested itself in Italy — spreading from Apulia to the entire country — and it was called Tarantism, the cause of the illness being the bite of a tarantula.

In the last chapter, Professor Hecker reveals other lesser known mental disorders, convulsions and hysterical fits which alarmed people from certain communities during the seventeenth and nineteenth century. The examples the author gives show that women were most affected because: “Now every species of enthusiasm, every strong affection, very violent passion may lead to convulsions — to mental disorders — to a concussion of the nerves, from the sensorium to the very finest extremities of the spinal cord” (Page 127). It sounds a bit like hysteria, doesn’t it?  Well, I’m not a medical student to tell if Hecker was right or wrong about those mysterious diseases, but we mustn’t forget that the affected women usually belonged to the lower class. Who knows how hard and how many hours a day they were working and in what terrible conditions they lived?  In this chapter you will also find three awkward manias which resemble St. John’s Dance, fanatical sects, such as the Convulsionnaires in France and the Jumpers in Britain, religious ecstasy and the terrifying treatments of the convulsive people.

I will end this review here, hoping that it was an interesting read for you and I invite you to look through these two fascinating works of Justus Friederich Karl Hecker, if these subjects interest you

Review: The Essential Book Blog: by Ken J. Howe, Saul W. Tanpepper, Michael Guerini and Cheryl L. Seaton

The Complete Bibliophile’s Toolkit for Building, Growing and Monetizing Your On-Line Book-Lover’s Community: A Guide for Writers and Readers 

Volume 1 of Brainstorm Guides

 

Title: The Essential Book Blog:

Subtitle: The Complete Bibliophile’s Toolkit for Building, Growing and Monetizing Your On-Line Book-Lover’s Community: A Guide for Writers and Readers

Authors: Ken J. Howe, Saul W. Tanpepper, Michael Guerini and Cheryl L. Seaton

Genre: Non-Fiction, Blogging

Year of Publication: 2012

Published by: Brinestone Press

Series: Brinestone Guides

Rating:  4/5 stars

After writing book reviews and other articles for eLitere.ro for three years , I decided that it was high time to build and manage a blog of my own, not only to review books I enjoy or dislike but to befriend other book bloggers, to build a community of readers and to take my passion to a whole new level. Therefore, with this plan in mind, I began doing a bit of research and I found the book I’m going to talk about today: The Essential Book Blog written by Ken J. Howe,  Saul W. Tanpepper, Michael Guerini and Cheryl L. Seaton.

The structure of the book is as follows: an introduction, eight main sections in which the topics of this guide are discussed, parts which include subtopics marked by capital letters and those subtopics contain smaller subdivisions marked by numbers and low case letters; the eighth part includes three appendixes, there’s a small section informing the reader about the authors who wrote and contributed to this book and there’s a note regarding services and products mentioned in the guide through hyperlinks.

In the Introduction, we learn that this guide is not only for amateur and semi-professional book bloggers, but also for authors who want to familiarise oneself with the book-selling industry, which is constantly changing as well as the way we read, books, but also the book community of readers itselfBook reviews play an important role in the reading community and that’s why they “are the foundations upon which people discover, share, and sell books in this new digital publishing era.” (Loc. 234) In other words, book reviews are crucial for any writer because they have a great impact on the best-seller charts through the power of the Internet, a blog and Social Media. Whether you write book reviews for pleasure or for profit, this guide will help you understand the process of book reviewing and give you the resources to succeed in your book blogging journey.

If bibliophiles of the past gathered in small groups in cafés, parks or private homes where they could share their reading experiences, now, thanks to the Internet, there is a plethora of websites, blogs, social platforms and groups dedicated to certain books (fandoms I would add), where book lovers can share their opinions about their favourite books with other avid readers from around the world, regardless of their background, nationality or religion.

“Along the way, these new book-lovers are forging new friendships, interacting with other readers and authors in ways never before possible and only imagined, and, most exciting of all, becoming part of a worldwide marketplace where the pleasure of reading and sharing books can also be income-generating.” (Loc. 261-263).

This book teaches every reader (reviewer, blogger or author) “the fundamentals of book sharing through the art of book reviews” (Loc. 274) from how to write a review, to reach out to other reviewers, to create an online presence, to grow your community, getting (free) books to review and earn money ethically while pursuing your passion. And authors will learn how to get more reviews by reaching out to potential readers through book reviewers.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot because the writing is plain and simple, sometimes humorous, the explanations are clear and the writers give tons of useful tips on building your blog, writing reviews, getting traffic and exposure, making your blog profitable and so on and so forth. There are a lot of things I’ve learned from this guide and I will surely reread some of the sections and apply some of the tips to my blog to make it more user-friendly for my followers and potential readers. The only downside of this guide is that it was published a few years ago and some pieces of advice might be irrelevant in the future because the Internet is constantly changing too through new trends and Social Media. Also, some of the links from the book don’t show the source anymore. However, the overall experience of reading this book was amazing and I highly recommend this guide to new book bloggers.

Before I wrap it up, tell me how is your blogging journey so far?

 

Review: Forbidden by Mike Wells and Devika Fernando

 Book 1 of Forbidden

A Novel of Love and Betrayal

Title: Forbidden

Subtitle: A Novel of Love and Betrayal

Authors: Mike Wells, Devika Fernando

Genre: Romantic Thriller

Year of Publication: 2015

Self-Published

Series: Forbidden

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Note: I purchased this book as a freebie. However, this aspect didn’t influence the review I wrote or the rating I gave this book.  In this review, you will find only my honest thoughts and opinions about the book I’ve read!

For today’s post, I’ve decided to share with you the review I wrote for Forbidden, the first instalment in a romantic thriller series written by Mile Wells and co-authored by Devika Fernando. When I read this novel, there were only three books in the series, but the authors announced the release of the forth one in late June. There are some mixed opinions about the first book out there, but, in the end, you will decide whether it’s interesting enough for you or not. My opinions and rating are somewhere in the middle because this novel wasn’t that bad, it was pretty much an easy read, but I wanted a little more from content.

The novel follows two alternating plotlines and perspectives: Eleanor’s rebellious teenage years and Jayne’s story from the day she met Lady Eleanor Sotheby onwards, a shocking and life-changing discovery she has never imagined. Though the two plotlines are strongly linked to each other due to Eleanor’s presence, I think that Eleanor’s dark past is more interesting than the present because it’s more suspenseful and its pace is more dynamic than the other plotline which has a steadier pace and some of the events are pretty predictable if you ask me.

At first glance, Eleanor may seem cultured and posh, but her true temper leaks out when things don’t go her way, just like in her early life. She is ambitious, snobbish and now she cares what other socialites have to say about her or her daughter’s reputation. Eleanor is a morally grey and complex character and the way she acts reminds me of another unlikable yet well-built character, Kathy Brogan from Black Widow. Eleanor is also in charge of Jayne’s transformation into a cultured young lady to make her adapt much easier to the new lifestyle and challenges she has to face.

“And what was acting, anyway? Nothing more than being a good liar, and she was very accomplished at that. She had been “acting” ever since she could remember.” (Loc. 591)

 But how Eleanor became a filthy rich widow who has so many connections in socialite circles? Dark secrets should always be buried in the past and Eleanor guards them well because no one should find out how her life was like before becoming Lady Sotheby. She had to take many risks that suited her rebellious nature, but Celeste and Jayne don’t need to know that because the truth would shatter the picture perfect image of this rich widow and she can’t allow that to happen. Therefore, lies are a useful tool to paint the truth in brighter colours.

The rest of the characters are not complex as Lady Sotheby, but we can easily recognise who is Jayne and who is Celeste because Jayne is sweet, caring, introverted and a girl who works hard to support her loved ones despite her frequent asthma attacks, while Celeste is stubborn, spoiled, posh, self-absorbed, loves parties and speed. And talking about the two girls, one of my favourite scenes is when Jayne and Celeste meet, shock, curiosity and emotions overwhelm each other; it was a truly touching moment.

“This wasn’t her exact reflection she was looking at—this was a version of Jayne dressed in expensive designer clothes, with a fashionably short haircut, and decked out in expensive jewelry.” (Loc. 392)

To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled with the beginning of the book, but the hook came along with Jayne’s journey to Nice to meet Celeste. Though Jayne is a sweetheart and I liked her as a character, I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes because I couldn’t be that selfless to help Celeste, whom I’ve recently met just because she did a mistake that threatens her reputation and Lady Sotheby’s ambitions. However, the book is interesting because you get a glimpse of how the lives of rich people really are, besides the glamour and the influence they have in their exclusive circles.

The writing is beautiful in the main story with an overall steady pace and realistic in Eleanor’s shady story building the suspense. I enjoyed most of the novel and the characters though I would have liked this first book to be longer because it ended a bit abruptly for my taste. I might pick up the second book someday, just to see how Jayne and Robert’s relationship develops, but only time will tell if I will still be interested in reading it.

Review: Madeleine’s Christmas Wish by Ella Quinn

Book 6 of The Marriage Game

 

Title: Madeleine’s Christmas Wish

Author: Ella Quinn

Genre: Historical Romance

First Published in 2014

Published by eKensington Books

 Imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp.

Series: The Marriage Game

Rating: 2/5 stars

Note: I purchased this book as a freebie. However, this aspect didn’t influence the review I wrote or the rating I gave this book.  In this review, you will find only my honest thoughts and opinions about the book I’ve read! This book contains adult themes and language!

Let me tell you from the very beginning that there will be a few spoilers in this review. Madeleine’s Christmas Wish is the sixth book in the historical romance series The Marriage Game, which is written by Ella Quinn. As some of you may already know, I tried to read this book some months ago, but I couldn’t finish it. However, I didn’t want to give up on it that easily, therefore I gave it a second chance.

The story is set during Napoleon’s exile, a period of turmoil in France. Madeleine (Countess of Beaune) volunteers to go to England in her sister’s place, in an exclusive brothel, in order to spy on the English soldiers and to collect useful information for the French Government. It sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? However, after arriving in England, Georges (Marquis Cruzy-le-Châtel, Madeleine’s childhood friend and betrothed) receives information about Madeleine’s arrival in England and quickly rescues her from the hands of the smugglers. Though I understand that Madeleine wants to return home for Christmas, this part of the plot doesn’t feel right in my opinion because the way Georges acts cancels the reader’s expectations nourished by the first pages of the book.

Though Madeleine is saved from harm’s way, I would have preferred Georges’ intervention to take place later on in the book because it would have been a more realistic approach to the story and it would have made the book more complex. After the premature rescue, the plot was a bit less appealing to me and the only real tension was Madeleine’s wish to keep her family safe from the general crisis in France and Coupe, a strange man who supervised the wine business after Madeleine’s father had died mysteriously a few months before.

I liked Madeleine, who is stubborn, intelligent, confident (most of the time) and selfless, especially when it comes to her family and the family business she administrates. She is also ironic and not afraid to refuse Coupe’s marriage proposal. Georges, on the other hand, is a patriot, he hates Napoleon, he is a spy who works for King Louis, but also a sly seducer who, despite Madeleine’s conditioning (not having sex with her until her family is safe), he tries to tempt and play with her sexual instincts until the big night. However, his most artful move is accepting to help and escort Madeleine to France only if she becomes his wife first. This sounds like blackmail to me! However, the scenes where Georges seduces Madeleine are well-written and pleasant to imagine, but because of those naughty little scenes, I don’t recommend the book to readers under the age of 18.

There are certain details I did not like. Besides the issues I have with the plot, I also felt that the story needed more depth, such as a little more historical background to support the story and to make it more plausible. There was a war, in which both Georges and Armand fought, but the name of the battle is not mentioned anywhere. If it was that important for the plot and for the characters, why doesn’t it have a name in the story?  Also, we needed more back-story for the characters’ lives. For example, I wanted to know more about Madeleine and Georges’ childhood or how life was before the revolution – presuming it’s about the French Revolution. Theoretically, Coupe should have been an important character because he is the villain of the story. Unfortunately, he appears briefly in this book and we hear him speak more only during the confrontation. I personally found him more like a caricature of evil rather than a man who had his reasons to justify his wrongdoings.

The writing was overall good and it had a nice Jane Austen feel to it. However, I sometimes found some strange word choices and a few editing mistakes. As I said before, the few erotic scenes were depicted vividly, as well as the feel of the Christmas markets and the last scene which I won’t give away. I also craved for a little more introspection on the characters’ part, but this is my personal taste.

Overall, I felt Madeleine’s Christmas Wish lacked the sparkle readers like me seek and I’m disappointed that it didn’t have all the ingredients to make this book enjoyable, despite its potential.

 

Review: Aucassin and Nicolette translated by Francis William Bourdillon vs. Andrew Lang

Title: Aucassin and Nicolette

Original Title: Aucassin et Nicolette

Author: Anonymous

Translated by Francis William Bourdillon / Andrew Lang

Genre: Cantafable, Humour, Satire, Parody

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2011 / 2013

Published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. LTD / Delphi Classics

Rating: 3/5 stars

I’ve been thinking for a long time about writing a review about a tale I accidentally found on Amazon. Thus, I want to share with you some information and interpretations regarding this French medieval story most of you probably haven’t heard of.

Aucassin and Nicolette is an anonymous Old French chantefable (creation comprising prose and verse), probably from the 12th or 13th century; its only remaining source is a manuscript kept in the National Library of France, in Paris. The story fascinated authors such as Andrew Lang and Francis William Bourdillon, who translated the chantefable in English. I read both translations and I found them very good and similar, but I prefer Lang’s version because it’s more melodious and it sounds a little more old-fashioned than the other one. However, in this review, I will quote and use some of Bourdillon’s explanations from the preface of his edition and a few critical ideas from the Dictionary of the Middle Ages.

Bourdillon thinks that sometimes we need to leave modern complicated novels behind and turn to old and simple tales, which we may find “more moving, more tender, even more real, than all the laboured realism of these photographic days.” (Loc. 10) He compares Aucassin and Nicolette with Romeo and Juliet, Cupid and Psyche and other classic romances, but the things that make this Old French chantefable stand out are the “perpetual touches of actual life, and words that raise pictures (…)” (Loc.12). The translator speculates that the plot is not original because the particular form of this tale pre-exists in the Arabian or Moorish culture. Thus, Bourdillon suggests that the story probably comes from Spain, the place where two religions and mentalities met. To be more exact, the plot doesn’t seem to take place in Provence, where Old French literature flourished, but in Spain. The British poet argues that Carthage doesn’t refer to the Tunisian city, but to Cartagena (a port in South-East Spain), Valence is not the city situated on the Rhône River, but Valencia and the fictional name Torelore – the place where Aucassin and Nicolette shipwrecked – could be Torello.

That being said, let’s take a look at our protagonists. Aucassin is Count Garin or Warren of Beaucaire’s son, who should fight against Count Bulgarius or Bougars of Valence, his father’s enemy. However, the lad refuses to become a knight and save the besieged city because he has fallen in love with Nicolette, a christened Saracen girl, who was taken from Carthage as a slave and brought up in a culture different from her own. Unlike the other knights, Aucassin doesn’t care too much about duty or glory; he is constantly daydreaming about his sweetheart and laments when the two lovers are separated from each other by their parents.

A thing I haven’t expected to read in a 13th-century tale is the young man’s ideas about religion which are very modern for that time if you ask me. During an argument with the Viscount, Nicolette’s ‘father in God’, Aucassin says that he would rather go to hell than to heaven because in hell he would find all the great knights, courteous ladies, lovers, artists, princes and all the riches of the world. Well, you have to admit that he is certainly not your typical medieval Christian! Actually, if you look carefully at his name, Aucassin sounds pretty Moorish, unlike his sweetheart’s Christian name. Bourdillion writes that Aucassin could be related to the 11th century King of Cordova, Alcazin, whose name was turned into French.

Now let’s turn our attention to the relationship between the young man and the beautiful maiden. If Aucassin doesn’t like to fight against his father’s enemies, maybe he is better at fighting for his love interest, right? Unfortunately, he is more of a philosopher than a man of action, though you might expect more motivation in this case. Even though he goes to Nicolette’s house, fights and captures the Count of Valence just for the covenant’s sake or looks for his beloved into the forest, the young lady is the one n charge of their relationship. For example, she runs away from home in order to save herself from Count Beaucaire’s rage and determination to kill her. And, in order to return to her lover’s land, she dresses up as a troubadour. No damsel in distress has the courage and wit to do such a thing; at least I haven’t read of such women in medieval literature. It is true that Nicolette has sugary soliloquies like her lover and the narrator praises her beauty excessively, which matches perfectly the medieval female ideal – the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman with a light complexion and small, delicate hands.

The unusual twists and unspecific elements found in this story made critics see this tale as a parody of the epic, romance and saint’s life. Actually, this chantefable satirises many Old French genres, such as amor de lonh or distant love; here, the maiden is the one who searches her lover, not vice versa. Karl Uitti writes in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages that Aucassin and Nicolette combines elements from various Old French genres, such as ‘chanson de geste’, ‘lyric poems’ and ‘courtly novels’. He states that the term ‘chantefable’ appeared for the first time in the last line of this tale: “No cantefable prent fin”.

Some situations, such as the pregnant king in childbed and the rival armies, who fight against each other with baked apples, eggs and cheese projectiles, are truly hilarious scenes that reminded Lang of Rabelais’ grotesque humour. In real life, people fought in wars over food, not with food. If Aucassin and Nicolette’s romance was not enough to exemplify gender role reversals, the author threw in another one: the king lays in childbed and the queen is at war with the royal army. However, if we leave behind the comic aspects of the scene, we could follow Bourdillon’s interpretation of this strange behaviour. According to his research, in many cultures, there was a custom named Couvade, in which the father mimicked labour pains to sympathise with the mother and to protect her and the newborn against evil spirits. As a matter of fact, Strabo took notes of this ritual in his writings too.

In short, everything seems to be upside down in Aucassin and Nicolette, from the protagonist’s antiheroic character, the lady’s determination to be with him, their “against the grain” relationship, to the bizarre and funny situations they encounter.

 

Review: Enchanted by K.K. Allen

Book 1 of The Summer Solstice

 

Title: Enchanted

Author: K.K. Allen

Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult

First Published in 2014

Self-Published

Series: The Summer Solstice

Rating: 5/5 stars

Note: I purchased this book as a freebie. However, this aspect didn’t influence the review I wrote or the rating I gave this book.  In this review, you will find only my honest thoughts and opinions about the book I’ve read!

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite themes is family secrets and boy what a life-changing secret the protagonist is about to discover in the book I’m going to review today! Enchanted is the first instalment in K.K. Allen’s Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy trilogy entitled The Summer Solstice. In this novel, we follow Katrina Summer’s story, a teenage girl who is unaware of the special bloodline she comes from for almost sixteen years. After her mother’s unexpected death, Kat moves to Apollo Beach, Florida, to live with her estranged grandmother Rose, she has never met before, a respectable yet mysterious lady, who acts cold towards her at first, but things will change as they get accustomed to each other. As Kat’s sixteenth birthday approaches, she experiences strange visions and vivid nightmares whose hidden messages she’s unable to grasp.

At first, Katrina is an insecure teenager and she feels a little awkward in the wealthy neighbourhood she moves in because she used to live a modest life in a bubble her overprotective mother built for her in order to hide the truth from her. Kat was also in foster care for a while and she went to public school, but she was laughed at and considered a weirdo. As time goes by in Apollo Beach, Kat befriends Alec Stone, the cute boy next door who helps her adapt to her new life, but she can’t tell him anything about her visions or her secret powers because it would reveal the true identity of the inhabitants of the community. Encouraged by Rose and her friend Charlotte, Kat learns about the family history of The Summers and she’s trained to control her powers. Of course, like any teenager, Kat makes some mistakes that almost cost her life and her visions and nightmares gradually come to fruition like horrible prophecies or trials she must go through in order to show her ability to right the wrong and to become a better person. Kat will also meet a lot of outlandish people through her wealthy grandmother, who is an important figure in the community and most people admire her for her involvement in keeping the town healthy and safe. Kat basically enters into a period of transition from the quiet and uneventful life she has lived with her mother, to the one that leads to her life-purpose: “there is a circle of life before you and it all begins on the day of your sixteenth birthday.” (Loc. 999)

I know that this review is a bit vague, but you need to discover the book at your own pace and I assure you that you won’t regret a single second that you have read it. However, all I can say is that reading about the stories and legends Grandma Rose told Katrina gave me chills down my spine. To a certain point, I felt confused and my head was full of information which is actually a good thing because I felt that the author did her research well. Though Kat considers her grandmother to be a bit insane when the woman talks about the special powers her granddaughter has inherited from her ancestors, in the end, all makes sense and the only thing Kat has to do is learn to master elemental magic and accept her new identity.

The writing is beautiful, visual and full of colour while the story is suspenseful and a real page-turner that doesn’t let you put the book or your reading device down. The characters are well fleshed out, the situations are realistic with the exception of the visions and nightmares that torment Kat, which make your heart skip a beat; Kat and Alec’s relationship is sweet (not excessive like in other books) and you root for them and, you cannot help yourself but love Grandma Rose even when she is stern with Kat. Charlotte is also a lovable character, even more than Rose, because of her kind and affectionate nature that makes me think she is a mother figure to Kat.

In short, the experience I had with his book was amazing and besides a few editing slips, I don’t have anything bad to say about it. The parts about magic and the stories about The Summers’ family history and Kat’s ancestors are truly fascinating and I had to pause for a minute or two to take it all in. The descriptions of Apollo Beach and Tampa Bay were so vivid that I was transported there through K.K. Allen’s writing. I highly recommend this young adult contemporary fantasy novel to anyone who loves elemental magic, myths and family secrets. There are still some unanswered questions and some fresh ones at the end of this first instalment, but there are two more books to satisfy one’s curiosity. I would really like to pick them up somewhere in the near future.