Meet My Character Book Blog Tour – Sophie Masson

December 16, 2014 at 4:15 pm (Favourite books, Publishing) (, , )

trinity-koldun-code-coverAuthor Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of numerous novels for children and adults, on such diverse topics as Ned Kelly, Shakespeare, Marie of France, and other novels set in France and drawing on Sophie’s French heritage. Her latest series, Trinity, is set in Russia, and book one, The Koldun Code, has just been published.

Sophie invited author Felicity Pulman onto the Meet My Character Book Tour, and Felicity in turn invited me. I love it, it’s kind of like a chain letter in reverse or something 🙂 I’ll be posting mine in a week or so…

You can read about Sophie’s character Maxim Serebrov, one of the main characters in her new book Trinity: The Koldun Code, on her own blog tour post, as well as learning about author Wendy James, who tagged Sophie (reading about her books inspired me to buy a few…), and the two authors she tagged.

Read more about Sophie’s work on her author site, and stayed tuned for Felicity’s tour entry soon…

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Australian Women Writers Challenge Update

July 16, 2014 at 9:20 am (Book reviews, Favourite books) (, , , )

Can’t believe it’s already July. I guess I couldn’t really update my Australian Women Writers Challenge because for the first several months of the year I was on a reading-for-pleasure ban while I finished writing Into the Dark. But that’s over now (for now at least), so over the last week or two I’ve been book-bingeing, and it’s been bliss! Staying up late into the night, snuggling up on the couch on the weekend, reading on the bus to work – and I even took an actual lunch break at my day job and went to a cafe so I could read a bit more 🙂

I read two sweet magical books by UK writer Sarah Painter, The Language of Spells and The Secrets of Ghosts, which I really liked, especially as they’re based around Bath and Avebury (in a sort-of-real-sort-of-made-up village a little like mine)… I found them on Kindle – they might have been suggested to me because I’ve bought (and adore) Sarah Addison Allen books… And I liked Cecelia Ahern‘s novel Love, Rosie, even though I didn’t love the way it was written (no slight on her writing skills, I love her books, it was just an odd/interesting writing style. I still stayed up really late reading it though!)

But I also read a few Aussie authors, not because they are Aussies but because the books looked interesting. So unintentionally I’ll succeed at my Australian Women Writers Challenge for the year 🙂

I really loved Felicity Pulman‘s I, Morgana, a magical tale that offers a new perspective on Morgana and the people of Camelot – you can read my review here

I read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, and really loved it too. Modern and set in the real world, but still really compelling. I’ll review it soon…

I bought that one after I read Free-Falling and Paper Chains by her sister Nicola Moriarty – I’d planned to go to a speaking event she was doing in Newtown, and although I didn’t end up making it there on the day, I was still happy I read her books. Which I’ll review for the AWWC too…

(Their other sister Jaclyn Moriarty is also an author, with a string of published books – I figured I should read one of hers too, and realised that I have – she wrote The Spell Book which I read a few years ago… And I just bought Feeling Sorry For Celia – gotta love the instant buying power of a Kindle! – so I can include her in this year’s challenge…

And the other day a Facebook friend mentioned she was reading The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon, and charmed by the name, I looked it up and figured I’d enjoy it. I didn’t even know Josephine was Australian (originally from Brisbane, she now lives on the Sunshine Coast) when I bought it, but I really loved it, and will write a review of it for my challenge soon too…

I’ll eventually get back to working more, but I’m really loving being able to read right now! xx

 

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I, Morgana – A Magical Book…

July 11, 2014 at 2:14 am (Book reviews, Favourite books) (, , , )

felicitybookI, Morgana is a new interpretation of the King Arthur story, and a rich new addition to the much-loved (and hotly debated) canon. Morgana, the daughter of a king, half sister of Arthur and a powerful presence in her own right, has been portrayed in so many different ways over the years, from evil witch to heroine priestess and everything in between, and most readers are invested in their own preferred version. This can make her tricky to bring to life, but Felicity Pulman has succeeded in creating a character and a book that remain true to the myth, while bringing new energy and new perspective to it.

Told from her point of view, this Morgana is closer to the vengeful, ambition-fuelled king’s daughter of TV’s recent Camelot series, determined to take the throne she sees as hers at any cost, than the wise priestess of The Mists of Avalon, whose motivation seemed more about the protection of goddess spirituality against the rising tide of Christianity than her own personal power. But while I have a soft spot for the latter, there is no less magic or complexity in this tale.

Recounted by Morgana as an old woman filled with bitterness and regret, the story opens when she is a child, and she is revealed as clever, loving and strong, aware of her destiny and joyously embracing it. Her relationship with Merlin and their lessons together are a delight to read; her shapeshifting into other creatures beautifully written and evocative. She is a dutiful daughter, who takes her promise to succeed her father on the throne very seriously, and a loving big sister to an infant Arthur. Yet as she grows up she becomes twisted by what she sees as betrayal – by Merlin, by her mother, by her brother, even by the times in which she lives – and is transformed into a ruthless and cruel woman, unleashing chaos as a result of her desperation to rule, and responsible for all the tragedy that befalls both herself and the kingdom. This Morgana is much harder to love and empathise with than other versions of the character – she is selfish, arrogant, hard hearted and vengeful, the sole architect of her own unhappiness – but there are hints that she is not totally beyond redemption, in her love for Launcelot and her children, and her desire to help the mysterious woman she sees in the scrying pool, so in the end she is deeply flawed yet fully realised and compelling.

Felicity Pulman’s first adult novel is ambitious in scope, with new angles to the familiar story, new relationships between familiar characters and new motivations for familiar events, as well as fascinating new twists, such as Morgana’s ability to transport herself to other worlds, the possibility of travelling through time to save the past as well as the future, and a daughter conflicted between magic and religion. It is a beautiful, magical story that sweeps you away into another time and another world, and I was sad when it ended – but I’m very happy that the author has begun work on a sequel…

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Favourite authors…

April 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm (Book reviews, Favourite books) (, , )

gspells_booksA friend posted this challenge on my Facebook wall the other day…

The Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall. Tag at least 15 friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose. To do this, copy this intro and start your list.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple, but here is a start:

Anne Rice, Sarah Addison Allen, Juliet Marillier, Paulo Coelho, Shirley MacLaine, JK Rowling, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip Pullman, Joanne Harris, Jorge Amado, Michelle Lovric, Richard Dawkins, OR Melling, Jillian Michaels, Stephenie Meyer, Mitch Albom…

Anne Rice was my favourite author for years and years, and I still adore her books. She writes so vividly and lushly, so poetically, and her characters are so wonderfully flawed and fascinating. Visiting her house in New Orleans was amazing, because it was absolutely the way it was in my head in her amazing Lives of the Mayfair Witches series, and I adored being able to sit in the same cafe as the Vampire Lestat and nurse a cup of coffee like he did…

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favourite writers now – she writes so beautifully, so magically, and her books are such a joy to fall into…

Juliet Marillier is another favourite, perhaps my very favourite? Her books are so full of magic and mystery, intrigue and history, larger-than-life characters, the Otherworld, the magic of this world, just so beautifully rich and lush and magical…

I adore Paulo Coelho too, The Alchemist was hugely inspiring, and I love so many of his books (although his recent ones haven’t moved me as much, sadly)… Interviewing him was a joy.

Shirley MacLaine made me want to travel to Peru, and was really formative on my inner search many years ago. And while I concede that some of her theories and beliefs are a little too out there for me, I have boundless respect for the way she has challenged people spiritually and pushed our boundaries, and made all kinds of alternative spiritual searching acceptable. She’s certainly a trail blazer…

The Harry Potter series is one of my favourite ever – I love the books and the movies, and the beauty of JK’s writing. I also enjoyed her Casual Vacancy book, in totally different ways to Harry – and admire her greatly for writing what she wants to write after the success of Harry. It would have been easier to continue in her magical world, but she has been brave enough to follow her muse and not care about the response…

The Mists of Avalon is still one of my favourite books – it’s so beautifully written, so magical, and has opened so many people’s eyes to the spirituality and beliefs of pagan England. I love her characters, her championing of a woman who has been so vilified throughout history, and the incredible research she did to create a world that is so totally believable and heart-touching…

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials are also on my favourite books ever list – I love his writing, his characters, his subversive deeper meanings and dark truths. I loved the movie too, and so wish it had done better so there would be more…

I love Joanne Harris’s books like I love Sarah Addison Allen’s – so much magic woven into the stories, so much love and mystery and vivid sight-sound-taste-touch-feeling…

I read some of Jorge Amado’s books when I was in Brasil, which no doubt influenced my adventures there…

Richard Dawkins inspires me so much. I love that he sees so much magic in this world, that he loves the phenomena he describes even more because he understands how it works, like rainbows, and he brings so much passion and joy and enthusiasm to the magic of science that he can’t helpbut inspire others to love it too.

I read Michelle Lovric’s Undrowned Child while researching and writing Mermaid Magic, and adored her Venice and her mermaids, and the other books I’ve read of hers since. 

I read OR Melling’s The Chronicles of Faerie while I was researching and writing Faery Magic, and they were so beautiful, so vivid, so steeped in myth and legend and so deeply touching.

I love Jillian Michaels – she inspires me so much, her workouts had a huge influence on me, and I love her attitude and her advice, both in her podcasts and her books. She kicks butt, she doesn’t believe in excuses, and she’s an incredible motivator.

After I finished writing Seven Sacred Sites, I took a week off and read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series, one book after the other, reading all day, staying up half the night, gulping them down all at once. And I loved them. I love the way she writes, her characters, her stories, and the fact that other people hate them means nothing to me – I enjoyed them, and I love the movies, and hats off to her, Twilight was quite the phenomenon…

I still haven’t actually read Tuesdays With Morrie, although I have it, but I absolutely loved Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Such an amazing premise…

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A beautiful book that brings history to life

May 29, 2013 at 8:49 pm (Book reviews, Favourite books)

felicitycoverWhen a young girl moves from Sydney to Norfolk Island with her parents, they are all eager to learn more about their illustrious ancestor, a governor of the island from convict times. On her first day at her new school, sixteen-year-old Allie proudly announces her family connection to her classmates – and is hurt and angry when they inform her that he was a brutal tyrant. Vowing to prove the other students wrong, especially the boy she feels so drawn to, she sets off on a journey of discovery – and uncovers a haunting love story, a terrible secret, a mysterious ghost, an old diary that draws her into the past, a chapter of island history that still echoes through many of the current residents, and a lot about herself as well.

This is a gorgeous book and a wonderful story, full of mystery and intrigue that kept me up late into the night, desperate to know what happened. The slipping between past and present is well structured, and the two intertwining storylines are equally compelling. It covers a dark period of this country’s history, which makes for slightly uncomfortable reading, but it also emphasises the strength of those who have acted out against tyranny, now and in the past, and how their lives and choices continue to inspire, and affect people long after they are gone.

Capturing the spirit of teenagers and their voice can be difficult – not all YA authors are able to pull it off, but these characters, both the modern ones and those who leap from the page from the past, are fully realised and complex, at times as stubborn and rigid in their views as they are charming and charismatic, and always believable. The journey of the heroine, Allie, is beautifully written, her sense of isolation is tangible, and her realisations about life, love and friendship through discovering long-ago Alice’s story is really touching. It complements and contrasts well with the life of Alice, the brave daughter of the governor, who must choose between love and family. Both girls grow up a lot throughout the book, and a few of their experiences made me teary.

The author has an amazing ability to bring history to life and make it fascinating, and to weave into her stories all the small details of long-ago periods that draw you into the past and add an incredible richness to the well-researched facts. This is a captivating story for all ages, and would certainly brighten up school history lessons. I have long loved Felicity Pulman’s books, especially her enchanting Janna Mysteries series, and A Ring Through Time totally lives up to expectations.

For more on Felicity and her books, visit www.felicitypulman.com.au…

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Thyme For Trust… The final book in the Janna Mysteries…

January 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm (Book reviews, Favourite books, Interesting stories) (, , , )

A review of the final book in Felicity Pulman’s wonderful Janna Mysteries series… Definitely one of my favourites! They’re available in paperback in Aussie bookshops and from Amazon, and for Kindle and other eBook readers… xx

Thyme for Trust

The sixth and final instalment in the awesome Janna Mysteries.

I’m so sad that this is the last chapter of Janna’s story, but so happy that it was able to continue until its end, after a lengthy pause between books four and five. Thyme for Trust is a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful series, with all the questions raised throughout Janna’s adventures answered in smart, satisfying and non-predictable ways. The book opens with the Empress Matilda – who Janna so admires, and has helped in the past – trapped in Oxeneford Castle and laid siege by her bitter rival (and cousin) King Stephen and his men. In her own way, Janna too is trapped. While she has found her father and he’s welcomed her into his family, she is hated by her cruel stepmother and mean half siblings, and her life is in as much danger as that of the Empress.

While she fights her own war at home, Janna is also fighting to bring her mother’s murderer to justice, prove the innocence of her beloved, convince her father not to marry her off to an old but “suitable” suitor, protect her friends and help Matilda escape to safety. It’s a suspenseful, action-filled page-turner that also retains depth and emotion – all the characters are complex and well written, and even those ranged against Janna have their own motivations for their actions, eliciting at least a little sympathy from the heroine, and the reader.

Alongside Janna’s personal story is woven the dramatic real-life history of twelfth century English royalty and the bitter battles for the throne, which creates a rich tapestry of medieval life and adds colour, tension and realism. Yet it is Janna and her challenging, eventful and life-changing journey that most captivates. The author has created a wonderful character, brave, independent and strong in an age that expected little from girls, feisty and far from perfect, but enchanting all the same.

I loved that her quest to avenge her mother’s death was finally so close to completion, and also that she realised in that moment the toll it had taken on her and those around her, what it had cost her in terms of friendships, and the consequences of her actions on people she loved yet still wounded. I loved that she encountered some of her old friends and could see how much she had helped them, as well as accepting that they had changed and made her a better person too. I loved that she really did grow up over the course of the series, and was able to see the mistakes she had made, and to recognise that she still had much to learn. And I loved that the ending was realistic rather than happy-ever-after, and that although she found great joy, it came with sacrifice, loss and bitter grief as well.

In all, I loved that this final book so satisfyingly brought all six together, and while I am sad to farewell Janna and her world, I am so glad for the richness of her story and the magical journey it takes readers on. Thank you Felicity Pulman for a wonderful series…

And if you haven’t read any of this great series, here are my reviews of all six books… They’re available in paperback in Aussie bookstores and on Amazon, and as eBooks for Kindle as well…

Rosemary for Remembrance

The beautiful first book in a wonderful series.

Young Janna lives in a tiny cottage on the edge of the forest with her mother Eadgyth, the village herbwife. But twelfth century England is a dangerous time to be a woman and a healer, and the oppressive influence of the new priest and the jealous male apothecary can be felt throughout. When Eadgyth dies suddenly, Janna suspects her mother has been poisoned, and vows to find the killer and avenge her death. But the villagers and the Church are set against her, superstition and fear has warped the small community, and several people have explosive secrets they’ll kill to protect. As Janna tries to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death and the identity of her mysterious father, she realises that her own life is in danger, and her quest becomes more desperate.

Although I had never considered these to be crime novels, Janna does have to solve a murder and several other mysteries, and reveals great detective skills. The writing is suspenseful and the plot twists intriguing, yet it is not limited to the crime genre – it is also a beautifully written story of Janna’s coming of age, and there are elements of romance, action and medieval English history woven in (some school teachers even use it as part of the curriculum). The characters are fascinating and represent powerful archetypes – the healer, the maiden, the crone, the protector, the innocent, the villain – as well as being totally engaging and true to life. I especially love the descriptions of English life in this period, the clash between the Old Ways and the Church, and the magical properties of the herbs that the wise woman and her daughter work with to heal people and protect their community. (Anyone who loves Juliet Marillier’s beautiful books will love the enchantment of these.)

And Janna is a wonderful heroine. Not perfect by any means – she’s hot headed and hot tempered, speaks before she thinks, and is so stubbornly independent that it’s often to her detriment. But she is kind too, and fiercely intelligent, with a thirst for knowledge and justice that compels her to leave all that she’s ever known and set off on the quest that will unfold over the next five books – to find her father, avenge her mother’s death, and discover her own heart… Each of the Janna Mysteries ends with the solving of an epic mystery – along with more questions, so you are left desperate to start reading the next one (even now, as I re-read them all)…

Although it’s many years since I was a “young adult”, this series will appeal to anyone who loves adventure stories with mystery, historical weight and a magical twist.

Rue for Repentance

The second book in a wonderful, mysterious series.

Felicity Pulman’s storytelling prowess continues in this epic story of love, revenge, mystery and adventure. Young Janna, who had to flee her home after her mother was poisoned, her cottage was burned down around her and the whole village turned against her, starts this book running for her life through the ominous forest. Disguised as a boy to protect her on many different levels, she finds herself teaming up with a fellow fugitive and being taken on as a worker in the fields of a manor. But there is mystery afoot, and she finds herself playing detective again as the scenes of several supposed accidents are each marked with a posy of rue. Can she find the culprit, and the motive, before the crimes escalate any further? What will she do when she discovers who owns the manor, and their relationship to her enemy? Can she make peace with the two men she cares about? And will she be able to save the life of an innocent child, or be blamed for the ultimate crime?

I first read the Janna Mysteries a few years ago, but on discovering that the final two books of the series have now been published, I’m re-reading the first four in preparation as I wait for them to arrive. And they’re just as involving, intriguing and suspenseful on a second read as a first. The author creates such a realistic world, filled with characters you care about, mysteries with many suspects, and a twist of enchantment that will draw you in to the lives and loves of these medieval country folk. Each of the books is unique, set in a totally different location and with many new (as well as old favourite) characters, and can be read on its own as a self-contained mystery. But as part of the series each has even more weight, and seeing Janna learn and grow through each adventure is a lot of fun.

Lilies for Love

The third book in the wonderful Janna Mysteries.

In this instalment young Janna, on the run from the ruthless man who plots to kill her to protect his secret, seeks sanctuary in the abbey. Despite her distrust of the Church and her dislike of the Abbess, she comes to like life among the nuns, and is surprised when she makes a friend, and finds a kindly old infirmarian who continues her education as a healer. While her main goal in being there – to learn to read so she can unravel the secrets of the letter her father sent her mother before she was born – seems thwarted, she finds a new sense of confidence and purpose in healing the sick and advising those around her, and she continues to learn much about herself and the world.

Janna is again faced with a murder and several other crimes to solve, and the pace is brisk and never dull, with much intrigue and mystery, and the introduction of a few shadowy, dangerous characters. Life behind the abbey walls is not quite as peaceful as you’d imagine, and there are a few sinister plots to unravel. The various nuns Janna comes to know are fleshed out with great depth – and the kindness, serenity and faith of some of them is well balanced with the petty jealousies and spiritual searchings of others in this group of women cut off from the world and dedicated, some more willingly than others, to God’s work. It’s a testament to the skill of the author that there are no caricatures amongst the characters, and that it never seems strange that a teenager is the one to seek justice, solve crimes and see to the truth of a situation.

Janna is also growing up, and in this adventure she comes to question her own religious beliefs, and those of her mother, and is shocked as she learns more about her parent’s past. She also comes into contact with the two men she cares most about, who she thought she’d never see again, and is torn between the longing in her heart for love and protection, and her determination to continue her quest to prosecute her mother’s killer and discover the identity of her father.

This is another beautifully written book, with so much research put into the historical narrative – as the Empress Matilda defends her claim to the English throne from her cousin Stephen of Blois – as well as the herbal medicaments and potions that Janna dispenses to the sick, and the flowers which are used to symbolise so much in convent life. Suspenseful and intriguing, it’s hard to put the book down, and the resolution at the end, while wonderfully played out, only brings more questions, and an eagerness to quickly begin number four…

Willows for Weeping

Book four in a magical six-book series.

I love this series – it’s so magical and fun, with a good dose of mystery and a teenage protagonist who has to solve a crime (or two) as she continues her quest to find her father and avenge her mother’s death. At the end of book three Janna was surprised to find herself enjoying life in the abbey, where she had found friendship, learning and a sense of purpose as a healer. But her quest remains more important to her than her own happiness, and so, having finally learnt to read and with some new clues to her father’s identity, she leaves the security of the abbey and heads out on the road to Winchestre with some pilgrims, determined to track down her remaining parent. They’re a rag tag bunch, each having their own intriguing story, beliefs and motives, and Janna isn’t sure who she can trust (and she learns some hard lessons when she reads a few people the wrong way). There’s plenty of action – early on they stumble across a dead man carrying a message that could change the fortunes of the king, one of the pilgrims is murdered inside the circle of Stonehenge, and as Janna gets closer to the truth of the culprit, danger swirls ever nearer. As in all the Janna books, the heroine is smart, kind and fearless, yet she is also flawed, with a quick temper and a naivety that frequently gets her into trouble, but makes her all the more endearing. All the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional, making you feel deeply for them, and the historical figures and true events combined with the imagined lives of others creates a captivating story. As in previous instalments, the author manages to have all the mysteries solved by the end of each book, while also opening up new questions that leave you desperate to read the next one! I first read this book more than two years ago, and was devastated to learn that number five and six were indefinitely delayed. When it was announced recently that the final two in the series were about to be published, I read the first four books again in preparation, and they were just as enchanting and satisfying the second time around.

Sage for Sanctuary

The long-awaited fifth book in the Janna Mysteries series.

There were a few years between this book and its predecessor, and many fans have been waiting anxiously to discover what Janna would do next, and whether her quest to find her father and avenge her mother’s death would be fulfilled. None should be disappointed, for this is another beautiful, intriguing story, and adds so much more to Janna’s character, her choices and her life. It opens in medieval Winchestre, where Janna is awaiting the return of her father from Normandy. He is a wealthy and influential man whose identity she has just discovered, but he knows nothing of her existence. It looks like she will meet him soon – but within the first few pages Janna’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. Her purse, containing proof of her identity, her link to her father and all her money, is stolen, and she ends up having to work in a tavern just to survive. As the story unfolds there are many mysteries, and many dangers, that plucky young Janna must face. She becomes swept up in a royal scandal, the assassin who tried to kill her some time ago returns and tries again, and she finally meets her father – and her new family, who hate her with a passion that looks like it could lead to murder.

I was swept up in the action from the first page, and was excited that not only does Janna find her father in this book, she also realises which of the two men she has loved for so long is the one she truly wants – it would have been too cruel if we’d had to wait for the next book for that one! Janna’s decision is slowly and gently arrived at, and the process she goes through to realise the truth of her heart reveals a new maturity on her part. Of course there are many obstacles put in her way (and she may not be able to marry him anyway – a dilemma that is left for the next book), but she has decided at last. I was surprised to read one Amazon review that said her decision between Hugh and Godric was sudden and unexplained, for it was not at all. Janna does much soul searching before she realises who she loves and why, and throughout the story she learns much about herself and others, while also solving several crimes, continuing her herbal medicine work and becoming clearer about what she wants to do with her life. I loved this book as much as I loved the previous four, and can’t wait for the final instalment!

Thyme for Trust

The sixth and final instalment in the awesome Janna Mysteries.

I’m so sad that this is the last chapter of Janna’s story, but so happy that it was able to continue until its end, after a lengthy pause between books four and five. Thyme for Trust is a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful series, with all the questions raised throughout Janna’s adventures answered in smart, satisfying and non-predictable ways. The book opens with the Empress Matilda – who Janna so admires, and has helped in the past – trapped in Oxeneford Castle and laid siege by her bitter rival (and cousin) King Stephen and his men. In her own way, Janna too is trapped. While she has found her father and he’s welcomed her into his family, she is hated by her cruel stepmother and mean half siblings, and her life is in as much danger as that of the Empress.

While she fights her own war at home, Janna is also fighting to bring her mother’s murderer to justice, prove the innocence of her beloved, convince her father not to marry her off to an old but “suitable” suitor, protect her friends and help Matilda escape to safety. It’s a suspenseful, action-filled page-turner that also retains depth and emotion – all the characters are complex and well written, and even those ranged against Janna have their own motivations for their actions, eliciting at least a little sympathy from the heroine, and the reader.

Alongside Janna’s personal story is woven the dramatic real-life history of twelfth century English royalty and the bitter battles for the throne, which creates a rich tapestry of medieval life and adds colour, tension and realism. Yet it is Janna and her challenging, eventful and life-changing journey that most captivates. The author has created a wonderful character, brave, independent and strong in an age that expected little from girls, feisty and far from perfect, but enchanting all the same.

I loved that her quest to avenge her mother’s death was finally so close to completion, and also that she realised in that moment the toll it had taken on her and those around her, what it had cost her in terms of friendships, and the consequences of her actions on people she loved yet still wounded. I loved that she encountered some of her old friends and could see how much she had helped them, as well as accepting that they had changed and made her a better person too. I loved that she really did grow up over the course of the series, and was able to see the mistakes she had made, and to recognise that she still had much to learn. And I loved that the ending was realistic rather than happy-ever-after, and that although she found great joy, it came with sacrifice, loss and bitter grief as well.

In all, I loved that this final book so satisfyingly brought all six together, and while I am sad to farewell Janna and her world, I am so glad for the richness of her story and the magical journey it takes readers on. Thank you Felicity Pulman for a wonderful series.

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A magical book series by Debora Geary

December 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm (Book reviews, Favourite books) (, , , )

A Modern Witch series by Debora Geary

I bought a Kindle when I was teaching myself to convert Faery Magic and Mermaid Magic into eBooks. And I’m so glad I did, because without it I would never have discovered Debora Geary’s wonderful A Modern Witch series. She has created a beautiful, magical community made up of funny, warm, occasionally crotchety but always endearing people who happen to have witchy powers, set in the modern-day real world. There are no grand battles of good vs evil, no violent clashes, suspenseful horror or nasty villains. Instead the reader is submerged into a place of friendship, family and community.

Each witch is unique and fully realised, and the descriptions of their connection to nature and their workings with the element they have an affinity with are beautiful. Each character’s discovery of their power and how it impacts on their life and personality will resonate with everyone who works with magic in some way (and oh how you’ll long to be able to go the extra mile, as these characters do, flying on broomsticks and teleporting with an internet spell).

The magic in this series is based on what real-life witches do every day – healing and spellwork, rituals for the sabbats, sharing and learning and personal growth, all beautifully told – with a little bit of fantasy thrown in that you’ll ache with longing for it to be true. I laughed a lot, and was moved to tears a few times too, totally absorbed into these witches’ worlds, their emotions, their personal growth and their magical challenges.

The first book, A Modern Witch, focuses on Lauren, a successful Chicago real estate agent, happily climbing the professional ladder and proud of her practical, sensible nature. When a witch-fetching spell fetches her while she’s online grocery shopping, she’s adamant there’s been a mistake. Witches don’t exist, right? And she doesn’t have time for such things. But as she and her yoga-loving, non-magical best friend discover, life is full of surprises – and their welcome by the west coast witching community turns both their lives upside down, as well as reminding them of the everyday magic of family, friendship and community.

I love that Lauren doesn’t fall for the handsome witch who’s training her, as some other author may have done, and that the story focuses not on her love life but on her journey of self discovery, as she learns about her limits and faces up to the challenge and responsibility of being a frighteningly powerful mind witch. I was completely absorbed by the story, as well as by the mix of traditional witchcraft, as taught by healer Aunt Moira from a small coastal community in Nova Scotia, with the new style of magic and technology that San Francisco matriarch Nell and her siblings, triplet daughters and precocious four-year-old witchling son practise in life and within their online gaming empire. This book was so compelling that I bought the next one the minute I finished it (one of the joys of a Kindle!). Despite the author’s offer to send the next instalment for free if you write a review, I didn’t want to wait even that long to start reading it…

The second book, A Hidden Witch, opens in Nova Scotia, where Aunt Moira’s granddaughter Elorie helps her train young witches in the Old Ways, despite having no magic of her own. It has been hard for Elorie to live at the heart of the witchy community without any powers, but she has made peace (of sorts) with her life as an artist and a trainer. But the modern world and the witches so at home in it are about to turn her life upside down (yes, this transformation of the central character in each book is a theme!), in wonderful, magical ways. The awesome characters from the first book are a big part of the story, and we learn more about their talents, their challenges and their lives, and we meet new characters too, as Elorie goes on her own incredible emotional journey.

In the third book, A Reckless Witch, the San Francisco community happen upon a totally wild, totally untrained and totally reckless orphan, Sierra, who’s quite happy to wreak havoc on the world with the weather witch skills she has but doesn’t understand. They want to help her, to teach her and nurture her, but after years of anguish being passed around foster families, Sierra is full of anger and deeply mistrustful. Like each of the books in this series, this one is woven loosely around a single character’s oft-fraught journey to come to terms with their power, but the stories of every other character in the book are also fascinating.

The fourth book, A Nomadic Witch, is due out around May this year – this one centred on Marcus – and five more are planned, which means these memorable, magical characters will be casting their spell for years and years. There’s also a wonderful spin-off trilogy, Witches on Parole, which has given some more characters their own book as well as introducing great new ones. The first one, Witches on Parole: Unlocked, is out now, with the second, Witches on Parole: Unfettered, out in late January and the third in February (hooray!). At least two more spin-off trilogies are planned too, and with a whole world of fascinating, complex and magical witches to profile, Debora will be weaving wonderful, compelling stories for a long time to come…

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Wonderful books: The Janna Mysteries (2)

October 17, 2011 at 3:23 am (Favourite books) (, , , )

I reviewed books one to three of The Janna Mysteries by Felicity Pulman here

Here are books four and five, with the sixth to come soon…

Willows for Weeping

Book four in a magical six-book series

I love this series – it’s so magical and fun, with a good dose of mystery and a teenage protagonist who has to solve a crime (or two) as she continues her quest to find her father and avenge her mother’s death. At the end of book three Janna was surprised to find herself enjoying life in the abbey, where she had found friendship, learning and a sense of purpose as a healer. But her quest is more important to her than her own happiness, and so, having finally learnt to read and with some new clues to her father’s identity, she leaves the security of the abbey and heads out on the road to Winchestre with some pilgrims, determined to track down her dad. They’re a rag tag bunch, each having their own intriguing story, beliefs and motives, and Janna isn’t sure who she can trust (and she learns some hard lessons when she reads a few people the wrong way). There’s plenty of action – early on they stumble across a dead man carrying a message that could change the fortunes of the king, one of the pilgrims is murdered inside the circle of Stonehenge, and as Janna gets closer to the truth of the culprit, danger swirls ever nearer. As in all the Janna books, the heroine is smart, kind and fearless, yet she is also flawed, with a quick temper and a naivity that gets her into trouble but makes her all the more endearing. All the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional, making you feel deeply for them, and the historical figures and true events combined with the imagined lives of others creates a captivating story. As in previous instalments, the author manages to have all the mysteries solved by the end of each book, while also opening up new questions that leave you desperate to read the next one! I first read this book more than two years ago, and was devastated to learn that number five and six were indefinitely delayed. When it was announced recently that the final two in the series were about to be published, I read the first four books again in preparation, and they were just as enchanting and satisfying the second time around.

Sage for Sanctuary

The long-awaited fifth book in the Janna Mysteries series

There were a few years between this book and its predecessor, and many fans have been waiting anxiously to discover what Janna would do next, and whether her quest to find her father and avenge her mother’s death would be fulfilled. None should be disappointed, for this is another beautiful, intriguing story, and adds so much more to Janna’s character, her choices and her life. It opens in medieval Winchestre, where Janna is awaiting the return of her father, a wealthy and influential man whose identity she has just discovered, but who knows nothing of her existence, from Normandy. It looks like she will meet him soon – but within the first few pages Janna’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. Her purse, containing proof of her identity, her link to her father and all her money, is stolen, and she ends up having to work in a tavern just to survive. As the story unfolds there are many mysteries, and many dangers, that plucky young Janna must face. She becomes swept up in a royal scandal, the assassin who tried to kill her some time ago returns and tries again, and she finally meets her father – and her new family, who hate her with a passion that looks like it could lead to murder.

I was swept up in the action from the first page, and was excited that not only does Janna find her father in this book, she also realises which of the two men she has loved for so long is the one she truly wants – it would have been too cruel if we’d had to wait for the next book for that one! Janna’s decision is slowly and gently arrived at, and the process she goes through to realise the truth of her heart reveals a new maturity on her part. Of course there are many obstacles put in her way (and she may not be able to marry him anyway – a dilemma that is left for the next book), but she has decided at last. I was surprised to read one Amazon review that said her decision between Hugh and Godric was sudden and unexplained, for it was not at all. Janna does much soul searching, and learns much about herself and others, while also solving several crimes, continuing her herbal medicine work and becoming clearer about what she wants to do with her life. I loved this book as much as I loved the previous four, and can’t wait for the final instalment!

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Wonderful books: The Janna Mysteries

August 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm (Favourite books) (, , , , )

Felicity Pulman is an Australian author who’s written many beautiful books, including the Shalott Trilogy and the amazing Janna Mysteries. They’re full of beauty and wonder and magic and history, and while they’re considered young adult books, they enchant people of all ages…

Rosemary for Remembrance

The beautiful first book in a wonderful series.

Young Janna lives in a tiny cottage on the edge of the forest with her mother Eadgyth, the village herbwife. But twelfth century England is a dangerous time to be a woman and a healer, and the oppressive influence of the new priest and the jealous male apothecary can be felt throughout. When Eadgyth dies suddenly, Janna suspects her mother has been poisoned, and vows to find the killer and avenge her death. But the villagers and the Church are set against her, superstition and fear has warped the small community, and several people have explosive secrets they’ll kill to protect. As Janna tries to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death and the identity of her mysterious father, she realises that her own life is in danger, and her quest becomes more desperate.

Although I had never considered these to be crime novels, Janna does have to solve a murder and several other mysteries, and reveals great detective skills. The writing is suspenseful and the plot twists intriguing, yet it is not limited the crime genre – it is also a beautifully written story of Janna’s coming of age, there are elements of romance, action and medieval English history woven in (some teachers even use it as part of the curriculum), and fascinating characters that are archetypally powerful – the healer, the maiden, the crone, the protector, the innocent, the villain – as well as totally engaging and true to life. I especially love the descriptions of English life in this period, the clash between the Old Ways and the Church, and the magical properties of the herbs that the wise woman and her daughter work with to heal people and protect their community. (Anyone who loves Juliet Marillier’s beautiful books will love the enchantment of these.)

And Janna is a wonderful heroine. Not perfect by any means – she’s hot headed and hot tempered, speaks before she thinks and is so stubbornly independent that it’s often to her detriment. But she is kind too, and fiercely intelligent, with a thirst for knowledge and justice that compels her to leave all that she’s ever known to set off on the quest that will unfold over the next five books – to avenge her mother’s death, find her father, and discover her own heart… Each of the Janna Mysteries ends with the solving of an epic mystery – along with more questions, so you are left desperate to start reading the next one (even now, as I re-read them all)…

Although it’s many years since I was a “young adult”, this series will appeal to anyone who loves adventure stories with mystery, historical weight and a magical twist.

Rue for Repentance

The second book in a wonderful, mysterious series.

Felicity Pulman’s storytelling prowess continues in this epic story of love, revenge, mystery and adventure. Young Janna, who had to flee her home after her mother was poisoned, her cottage was burned down around her and the whole village turned against her, starts this book running for her life through the ominous forest. Disguised as a boy to protect her on many different levels, she finds herself teamed up with a fellow fugitive and taken on as a worker in the fields of a manor. But there is mystery afoot, and she finds herself playing detective again as the scenes of several supposed accidents are each marked with a posy of rue. Can she find the culprit, and the motive, before the crimes escalate any further? What will she do when she discovers who owns the manor, and their relationship to her enemy? Can she make peace with the two men she cares about? And will she be able to save the life of an innocent child, or be blamed for the ultimate crime?

I first read this, and the others in the series, a few years ago, but on discovering that the final two books of the Janna Mysteries have now been published, I’ve re-read the first four in preparation. And they’re as involving, intriguing and suspenseful on a second read as a first. The author creates such a realistic world, filled with characters you care about, mysteries with many suspects, and a twist of enchantment that will draw you in to the lives and loves of these medieval country folk. Each of these books is unique, set in a totally different location and with many new (as well as old favourite) characters, and can be read on its own, as a self-contained mystery. But as part of the series it has even more weight, and seeing Janna learn and grow through each adventure is a lot of fun.

Lilies for Love

The third book in the wonderful Janna Mysteries.

In this instalment young Janna, on the run from the ruthless man who plots to kill her to protect his secret, seeks sanctuary in the abbey. Despite her distrust of the Church and her dislike of the Abbess, she comes to like life amongst the nuns, and is surprised when she makes a friend and finds a kindly old infirmarian who continues her education as a healer. While her main goal in being there – to learn to read so she can unravel the secrets of the letter her father sent her mother before she was born – seems thwarted, she finds a new sense of confidence and purpose in healing the sick and advising those around her, and she continues to learn much about herself and the world.

Janna is again faced with a murder and several other crimes to solve, and the pace is brisk and never dull, with much intrigue and mystery, and the introduction of a few shadowy, dangerous characters. Life behind the abbey walls is not quite as peaceful as you’d imagine, and there are a few sinister plots to unravel. The various nuns Janna comes to know are fleshed out with great depth – and the kindness, serenity and faith of some of them is well balanced with the petty jealousies and spiritual searchings of others in this group of women cut off from the world and dedicated, some more willingly than others, to God’s work. It’s a testament to the skill of the author that there are no caricatures amongst the characters, and that it never seems strange that a teenager is the one to seek justice, solve crimes and see to the truth of a situation.

Janna is also growing up, and in this adventure she comes to question her own religious beliefs, and those of her mother, and is shocked as she learns more about parent’s past. She also comes into contact with the two men she cares most about, who she thought she’s never see again, and she is torn between the longing in her heart for love and protection and her determination to continue her quest to prosecute her mother’s killer and discover the identity of her father.

This is another beautifully written book, with so much research put into the historical narrative – as the Empress Matilda defends her claim to the English throne from her cousin Stephen of Blois – as well as the herbal medicaments and potions that Janna dispenses to the sick, and the flowers which are used to symbolise so much in convent life. Suspenseful and intriguing, it’s hard to put it down, and the resolution at the end, while wonderfully played out, only brings more questions, and an eagerness to quickly begin book four…

 

 

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