Friday, 1 July 2016

BLOG HOP: Daughter of the Sun by Zoe Kalo

I was given a free e-copy if 'The Daughter of the Sun' by Zoe Kalo (thank you!). All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Feisty Trinity was born during a solar-eclipse, and left as an orphan at a covenant to be raised by nuns. She's not your typical covenant-raised girl, and is known as being hot-headed and impulsive. But one day she's summoned by Mother Superior, saying that her grandmother had summoned her. Immediately whisked away to The Isle of the Cats, Trinity's whole life is turned upside down as she enters a world of intrigue, magic and, of course, ordinary teenagers!

The main thing that intrigued me about Kalo's book was the basis on Egyptology. (Apart from the cat part, of course!) There don't seem to be many novels YA or otherwise, centred around Egyptology, in spite of the plethora of Norse and Greek based books out there. I think every child excited when Egyptians are the topic at school (they're more interesting than doing Henry VIII for the millionth time!) and that excitement has extended into adulthood. But if you're looking to learn about Egyptology, this isn't really the book to go for. It contains its fair share, but it isn't by any means a way to learn about that period of history. I found this sort of disappointing, although that was a lot to expect.

Like many YA books, 'The Daughter of the Sun' is told from Trinity's perspective in first person. As always, it's a very engaging style of writing to use, and Kalo uses it to great efficacy. Trinity's a likeable character; however, in some ways I just didn't believe in her. The relative ease she moves from life in a convant to life in the 'real world' just didn't strike me as plausible. After three days or so, she's wearing a swimming costume and drinking beer! Although she was always a bit of a rebel, I don't think that sixteen years' worth of spartan and rule-bound upbringing would have had such little effect.

That said, overall, the book is enjoyable. It's pacy and interesting and (thank god!) not too predictable. I feel some of the other characters needed some more fleshing out, but maybe this will continue in the rest of the series. I actually want to read book two – it doesn't finish on a cliffhanger, it just sort of stops. So… what next?

Kalo's writing is nothing special or remarkable but the rapid storyline and fun characters means this doesn't matter.

Basically – a good YA read! Loved the basis on the Egyptians, enjoyed Trinity's 'transformation' (I'll say no more), and sped through on the backbone of a strong plot.

Three and a half stars.  

Title: Daughter of the Sun (Cult of the Cat series, Book 1)
Author: Zoe Kalo
Genre: YA mythological fantasy
Word count: 93,000 words
Release date: May 1, 2016

Daughter of the Sun, Book 1 - blurb
Sixteen-year-old Trinity was born during a solar eclipse and left at the doorsteps of a convent along with a torn piece of papyrus covered with ancient symbols. Raised by nuns in the English countryside, she leads a quiet life until she’s whisked away to the Island of Cats and a grandmother she never knew. 
But before they can get to know each other, her grandmother dies. All that Trinity has left is a mysterious eye-shaped ring. And a thousand grieving cats. As Trinity tries to solve the enigma of the torn papyrus, she discovers a world of bloody sacrifices and evil curses, and a prophecy that points to her and her new feline abilities. 
Unwilling to believe that any of the Egyptian gods could still be alive, Trinity turns to eighteen-year-old Seth and is instantly pulled into a vortex of sensations that forces her to confront her true self—and a horrifying destiny.

About the Author
A certified bookworm, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery… 
A daughter of adventurous expats, she’s had the good fortune of living on 3 continents, learning 4 languages, and experiencing a multicultural life. Currently, she’s working on a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature, which she balances between writing, taking care of her clowder of cats, and searching for the perfect bottle of pinot noir.
Connect with Zoe Kalo on the web: / Facebook / Twitter

Here's the Amazon Purchase Link: 

<div dir="ltr" style="text-align: left;" trbidi="on">
This Review is a part of the Blogger Outreach Program by <a href="" target="_blank">b00k r3vi3w Tours</a></div>

Saturday, 4 June 2016

26 Books: A Book Set in The Summer

This would have number 14 in Bringing Up Burns 2015

Right time of year! Just E this time.

This was a hard one to find - most books change seasons. Actually, that's not true; there seem to be plenty, but they're all set in Winter! It's weird. So, a real challenge:

'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee (E): This was always going to be a disappointment. I think everyone knew this before even reading it. We were all prepared.

I just wasn't prepared in the right way. I thought it might be less well written, less refined, poorly edited, perhaps? But, I didn't expect to hate her.

Perhaps hate is a strong word. But what did she do to my beloved characters? I don't know this Scout. And where's Jem? Just absent. And Dill? No mention at all. And Atticus made me
want to cry.

Is Lee trying to show us, by choosing to publish this now, that things change and admiring good deeds is rubbish, because there'll always be a story behind them, a reason, a catch? Or was TKAM just written for fun, and this was her real novel, her real calling? Or the first hundred thousand words of dross that every writer comes out with? Or she was unhappy, or cynical, or bitter and she wanted her readers to know what the real world is like? Well, call me naive, but I just don't want to hear that. TKAM is a childhood classic, and I don't want that spoilt. What was this book? Atticus... I can't forgive him. I can't forgive Harper Lee. I hate it.

However, I'm glad to have read it, in spite of everything I've said. Admittedly, part of the reason was that I didn't want to feel left out of the hype of this release, but also because I 'owed it' to Harper Lee. I didn't like the story she was telling, but I care about her as an author (in that strange way that we can care about writers we don't have any real knowledge of) and I wanted to hear what she had to say.

I'm just not sure what it was.

Monday, 30 May 2016

26 Books: A Book with Pictures

This would have been number 22 from Bringing Up Burns 2015.

'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' by Arthur Riggs (E):

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was one of those books that was so hyped that I was desperate to read it. So, when at Mr B's, I immediately migrated towards it.

The cover screams 'horror' and 'nightmare' or even 'halloween.' Creepiness basically. I can't even remember if I read the blurb, but I didn't actually realise it was going to be fantasy. My favourite part was the beginning with Jacob and his grandfather and the idea that the monsters were a METAPHOR for the Holocaust. I was kind of hoping for some sort of novel where Jacob learns his grandfather's history, and there's some dark and horrible secret that was never told, and he took to the grave. Except that Jacob finds it out, through photo albums and diaries, and then has the dilemma of whether to tell anyway.

Oops. I'm telling you a different story. That's what I thought this should be. Riggs' book is actually very different.

It turns out that Jacob's grandfather's stories of monsters were all true, which I found sad as I just loved the metaphor he'd created. (which wasn't even a metaphor...) So, Jacob and his parents move to a small island where his grandfather had lived in an orphanage there. But Jacob can't find out anything this elusive building. This is, of course - for everyone who went into this without their eyes closed - a Home for Peculiar Children. They have various strange and, sometimes, life limiting powers and Miss Peregrine is there to look after them. In their strange dimension, they don't age, but they are protected by spells as there are people in the world looking to kill them.

I sort of enjoyed it, but something just niggled: it there was something wrong with it. Maybe it's just because it was so different to my expectations. I enjoyed the children's mad talents, and it was intriguingly peculiar. Riggs' writing style was actually beautiful; I was impressed this was his debut.

Plotwise... I just didn't become engaged. Again, this could be to do with expectations, but I don't think that was all. It was all leading to make a series, and I dislike books that are written like that. A book can also be a fully formed thing in itself, and should be written as such.

So, coming to the 'book with pictures' part, the photos were incredible. They really upped my enjoyment. And I liked the sort of ambiguity: they could be real, as in the children were really magical, but looked at with a skeptic's eye, there are ways they could have been manipulated. I really
enjoyed the extra photo section at the end. Actually, I loved the photos so much, that they've given this book an extra star, from two to three. Apparently Riggs found inspiration from strange photos of children, and that was wonderful. A book emerged from some real photos, watermarked and damaged as they were.

It was an enjoyable and I'm a big kid, because the pictures added so much to eat. As Alice said: “... what is the use of a book... without pictures or conversation?”

E xx

Let me know if you've read it too!

(A also read 'The Promise' by Nicola Davis, which we both agreed was a brilliant book)

Friday, 27 May 2016

26) A Book Based on a True Story

This would have been number 26 (!) in Bringing up Burns 2015

'The Son' by Philip Meyer (J): Gripping, horrifying and very informative. I think the multiple interwoven voices telling the story worked, and I was reasonably convinced by them , except perhaps for the only woman's voice. Then my other criticism would be that there were not enough women's voices (and it is clear that in the rape of Texas men and women were present all the way through) but if Meyer doesn't write women well, perhaps this is a good thing.

'1001 Nights Without Sex, The Curse of the Single Girl' by Suzanne Schlosberg (E): 

Well, I picked this very very quickly as I am terrible at choosing. Quick explanation - had got no books when at the library due to being overwhelmed. The person I was with, basically, bored and told me we were going NOW. So I cry: what shall I get? She suggested I take something from the 'recently returned' shelf, as other people had obviously enjoyed them.

Hahahaha. This was as terrible as it sounds. Absolutely ridiculous. Uninteresting, solipsistic, and I really didn't even like Suzanne Schlosberg. Not really anything going for it. Never mind. You win some, you lose some. Just wish I hadn't wasted the time.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

26 Books: A Book at the Bottom of Your TBR Pile

This would have been number 8 for Bringing Up Burns 2015

'Being Elizabeth Bennett' (E):

I guess this was at the bottom of my reading pile for a reason.

My God.

I've read plenty of 'option books;' there was a set I really liked when I was younger... was it 'Fabled Lands?' Something like that. So, I actually quite enjoy it as a format, if done well, even though a lot of people find the format itself an issue.

This wasn't the format. It was just ridiculous. I now that it was meant to be ridiculous, but this just transcends ridiculousness. You also had to keep track of all these accomplishments you had (like knowing things about ribbons etc) and your connections and blah blah. Now, this still could have been promising, but...

I failed on my first go by the third choice by becoming horribly scarred so no one would ever marry me. The second one went on a teeny bit longer, and I was married off and happy within about five minutes. The third time went on longer, but it was just tedious. And then I died.

I decided I'd given the book enough time by that point. Terrible. I love Austen, and I like those kind of books, so if I don't like it: please trust me. Don't buy it. (I was, unfortunately, given it, which is the only reason it was on my TBR list at all.)

Can you give something zero stars?

"Who is Ozymandius' by John Fuller (J): Giving up really rather than finished. I found it worthwhile and interesting for the first third, and then it felt as though the ideas had run out and it was just a list of other things about other poems strung together to make it long enough to publish:(

'Dominion' by CC Samson (A):

I don't think this was bottom of A's reading pile exactly, but it wasn't something she was desperate to read! It was set for book club, and not the kind of book she's necessarily enjoy. Let's see what she thought!

'A gripping yarn! It's a rewriting of the WW2 and taking an alternative path as if Churchill hadn't become Prime Minister and the UK acquiesced to Hitler at the (non) start of WW2. Britain became a Dominion of Nazi Germany, and this is the story of a spy/resistance fighter in the context of an occupied England. David is a civil servant who becomes embroiled with an old school friend 'Frank' who has has a secret from is USA brother, which might save the resistant/the US in terms of fighting the Germans.
Descriptions of 1950's England and poverty and despair. David's drama as a spy was well done.

Poor - the actual premise of the novel, being that Frank had something the Nazi's really felt was worth knowing. Characterisation = poorly/crudely/comedically drawn Scots, and the health worker of France.

Monday, 23 May 2016

26 Books: A Book you were Supposed to Read at School... but Didn't.

This would have been number 19 in Bringing Up Burns 2015.

'Catch 22' by Joseph Heller (J):

Well I probably missed the point. I chose Catch 22 as one of my '26 books to read in 2015' and it was the ' book from my shelves that I haven't read' until I realised I don't have it (where did it go; whose shelves am I familiar with seeing it on?) so I got a very cheap Kindle edition (notable for its typos). So, it turned into a book I was supposed to have read at school, because it sounds like the kind of book that one would read at school. I read about a hundred pages, and then decided that my life's too short to waste on something I just didn't want to come back to. Reading is for fun (in some sense, it can be gruelling, but if I don't want to know what happened next or am annoyed and after a good chunk of the book this hasn't worn off, then STOP!).

A little rant.

Back to the book.

I think I understood that it is highly ironic. Every sentence is tortuous and contradictory. It illustrates the life of members of a USAF bomber group in 1944/5 Italy, and the essential conundrum of their lives, which is that they all don't want to be there, they don't want to continue to risk their lives, they are waiting to serve their time and go home, and the central character is trying to get out of further bombing missions by pretending to be 'crazy' but this doesn't work: If you are willing to fly missions, you are crazy. If you don't want to fly missions you are not crazy because that's common sense. You would get signed off having to fly if you are crazy but to declare yourself crazy is self cancelling (see beginning of sentence). This is Catch 22.

Last year I read Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy. It's about the same period, it has a similarly cynical attitude to war and to WW2 in particular, which is especially interesting because this is the war that is generally given as being sainted, almost a holy war because the Nazis were so evil, and because of the holocaust. What we all miss in that long after the event interpretation, is that this was accidental. WW2 was actually just like most other European wars, about territory and alliances. Yes the Nazis were spectacularly horrible in a way that Western civilIsation needs to continue to learn from, but that wasn't why Britain and the US fought them. So it's interesting to read contemporary accounts that weren't pro-establishment. I found Evelyn Waugh much more interesting (if a little turgid) than Heller's really dated comedy method. It was just tedious!


'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare, illustrated by Richard Appignanesi (E):

I found it really hard to think of one for this actually!

So, I was meant to read Hamlet in English for A2 and I didn't. Before everyone jumps down my throat, it wasn't my set text. My set text was The Duchess of Malfi, and our teacher suggested we read other plays written the same period as recommended reading so that we would know the context. Hamlet was one he suggested.

Ive read loads of Shakespeare, so I decided to read the other ones and skimmed Hamlet. I knew the story of Hamlet anyway, so it seemed pointless.

Basically, there's my excuse: it's not quite as bad as it sounds. I've watched it loads!

Okay, onto the book. I decided to read the Manga adaptation because I thought it would be pretty fun. I do like Manga, but I didn't like this. It sounds weird to say I don't like the style, when it's Manga, and I like Manga, but I didn't like this particular one.

Also, I don't think the balance of text and images were right. It was often confusing what was to be read next. 

Oh yeah, and the whole Manga thing. It was set in some future world where they have plugs in the sides of their necks, and connect up to something. But they never even explained what all this was! What was the point of putting it in? Or maybe it was supposed to be this great enigmatic mystery; but that doesn't work either because they only did it about twice at random times. It felt like the author just wanted to add in something to make sure we knew it was set in a future world. We knew, okay?

I've read a graphic novel of King Lear before, which was absolutely fantastic, but this doesn't come close. I think I might try some non-Manga Shakespeare from now on.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

26 Books: A Book Set Somewhere You've Always Wanted to Visit

This would have been number 10 in Bringing Up Burns 2015.

This was quite a hard one actually! I liked A's take on it best.

'The Road to Oxiana' by Robert Bryson
Just to make this totally clear, this is complete cheating because Joe read it in May 2016. He wanted it up here, and I told him it was last year's books, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. So, here it is, in wonderful cheating glory :)

This is a travel book, as the title suggests, and it is not by a relation of the 19th century poet of the same name, as both I and the person who gave it to me imagined. Robert Byron was a wealthy (Eton and Oxford) early 20th century man with no need to do anything to make his living, and having an interest in architecture inspired by his mother. He took it upon himself to find out about Islamic architecture, and in particular that of the very early flowering of highly decorative scripts (he usually refers to these as Sufic, so presumably inspired by people of the Sufi part of Islam?) made into the surfaces of mosques and tombs and memorial towers in the 11th and 12th centuries CE in Persia and Afghanistan. 

Getting into and getting about that part of the world then seems to have been as difficult in the 1930s as it it has been in much of recent times. There were the same political and administrative blocks to get past, the considerable risk of violence in Afghanistan, and also a lack of any surfaced roads between Damascus and Kabul. Much of the travelling was done in a Chevrolet truck, some on horseback and the rest in a series of cars which were regularly stuck in mud or sunk in rivers, which seem to frequently flash flood. Byron himself is very sanguine through all this, keeps his reading up (Proust and the like), and writes in great detail and with huge appreciation about each of the many mediaeval monuments he finds. I kept looking them up on google images, and his descriptions are accurate. Some, sadly, particularly in Afghanistan, have deteriorated in the last 80 years.

He also seems to have been a pretty decent linguist, at least in the language of Persia/Iran (Farsi, I guess) and reports many conversations verbatim, many of which are very entertaining. He was of course a man of his time, and freely uses race terminology in a way that is quite uncomfortable reading. My guess is that he was probably more liberal than many contemporaries though, as he doesn't go far out of his way to make negative comments based on race. He comes across very few women (how different would that be today, I wonder, and suspect not much different in Afghanistan at least) and occasionally comments on this. He is quite interested in current local politics, and dislikes the modernising intent of the then Shah of Iran/Persia, whom he refers to as Marjoribanks throughout, supposedly so that if his writings were found no one would realise he was being disrespectful. 

I have a prejudice against travel books, and this was a pleasant surprise, engaging, informative and fun. I finished it wanting to travel in that part of the world, though I guess that Afghanistan would be frightening and probably dangerous.

'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by Neil Gaiman (A):

Where would you want to live but somewhere magical?

'Butterflies in November' by  (Translation) (E):

I have always wanted to visit Iceland. Well, that's a slight exaggeration of course. Since I've know what they are, I've always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis. So, any country where you can see them. But then I got into 'The Princess Diaries' by Meg Cabot (I was thirteen at the time, in my defence!), Mia had this obsession with Iceland. She had all kinds of cool facts about it: for example, that when the opera had a specific Russian opera visiting them (can't remember what it was), that ninety eight of the population went. Ninety eight! Mia figured this was because there was nothing to do. (I have no sources for the percentage and it may be complete bollocks.)

Anyway, my longing to visit Iceland grew and grew until it had to be the place I would visit. Sadly, I've never been. But My brother and DJ Lush (his partner) went and had a great time (although I'm not sure they packed well enough for the cold!), so I've been vicariously.

When I went to the wonderful Mr B's (again, I'm really) not being paid to advertise them, I had this list in mind, so I needed a book set in Iceland. I'd already read 'Burial Rites' (read it: amazing!), so I just asked them to find me something set in Iceland. A few minutes later and I had a choice! Brilliant service. This one looked quite fun, so I went for this. 

First of all, this book is first person, narrated by someone whose name isn't revealed. It's an odd way to write but there's always an authorial reason for it, usually because the character feels unnoticed. I don't this protagonist necessarily unnoticed, she just feels lacking in identity. We never learn her name. 

This is the story of a woman who, to be quite frank, has a crap day. She got dumped twice (her husband and her lover); she murdered a goose; and her best friend (-Perhaps a hint of something autobiographical) has been taken to hospital. She, agreeably, says she will look after him over the weekend. She promises herself a six week break, travelling around Iceland. But then the weekend turns into three months - the time her friend will be in hospital. And the trouble with Tumi... well, he's a lovely boy, but he's deaf-mute, only speaks minimal sign language (which she doesn't speak), he has to come with her on the trip (his mother is very blasé about it), and also he's incidentally been promised a pet. So, they have to find a pet than can travel, shattering Tumi's dreams of a horse. And one of the key reasons her husband broke up with her is she cannot deal with the idea of children.

It's really not going well.

It's a real mix, this book. It's very funny in places. The people she mets upon the way are often laughable, to the point of being caricatures. In this zany book where 'nothing is as it should be any more' and butterflies are flying in November, there a lots of powerful moments. Yes, it great fun when she wins two lottery tickets and they splurge out on fun things; it's cool (literally!) when they go swimming in the icy waters of Icelandic lakes; the contrast between her life in Reykjavík and the countryside.

But there are serious issues here: what does it mean to be a mother? What really makes a marriage? (Her husband says that it does not include '[coming home] On Tuesday [and] you've cooked a four-course meal on a total whim, a Christmas dinner in October.') What importance is your job; how much does it affect your quality of life? (That's an interesting one - the author works partially as a translator, and that is the character's mine job.) And there are the flashbacks to her childhood, which are very touching.

Overall, though, it is an quirky fun book at heart. It's quite simply, and somewhat touching. It ends with 'Forty-Seven Cooking Recipes and One Knitting Recipe.' There's a word of caution in there -
'certain of these dishes may work better on the page than on a plate...' Prime example" 'Undrinkable Coffee.' Hmmm.

She goes to a medium at the beginning of the novel, who gives her these words of advice:

"'s all threes here. Three men own your life over a distance of 3000 km, three dead animals, three minor accidents... animals will be maimed, but the men and women will survive. However, it is clear that three animals will die before you meet the man of your life... and it would be good to buy lottery tickets... two..."

And it all seems pretty apposite...

I'll stop going on; I seem to have much more to say than I thought!  Sorry for such a long review. And even despite the rain and the cold and the desolateness, I still definitely want to go Iceland. One day.

And, as always, thanks to Mr B's, and a shout out to Brian Fitzgerald, as translators are always underrated.


Saturday, 14 May 2016

26 Books: A Book You Started but Never Finished

This would have been number 11 in Bringing Up Burns 2015

'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte (E):
(read November 2015)

I must be one of the only people who hadn't read 'Wuthering Heights.' I expect you're shocked. I'm sort of shocked at myself! But I've tried it a few times, and just really not got into it. I think I've barely made it past the first chapter or so before – and believe me I've tried. It's been a matter of pride somehow – why can't I read 'Wuthering Heights?'

So, this obviously had to be my choice for 'A Book You Read But Never Finished' in the 26 books category. Had to be. This was it. I'd have to keep ploughing on and just do it. (And believe me, this is really unusual. I generally will not leave a book unfinished, even if I think it's dreadful. It wastes so much reading time.)

And I did it! *cue cheering*

Only problem was…

(Oh God, I hate saying this about books that are classified as classics and EVERYONE loves.) I just didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped. After all this time, and all the hype, I thought it had to be just fantastic. But… I did still struggle to get through it. Oddly enough, when I changed from a nice new paperback we had around to my mum's completely falling to the pieces god-knows-how-old-it-is one, I found it easier. Do you find books easier/harder to read based on type setting etc. I've never noticed it before.

Anyway, the book. I loved the wildness of the setting, the way the outside world seemed to be creeping inside the people and almost making their madness. I'd love to go up to Yorkshire and see the Bronte house and the museum and the moors. (One day, one day…) I guess my problem was that
I didn't like the characters. I can tolerate characters that I don't like in general, but this really stemmed by enjoyment of it. Heathcliff was just so… nasty, that I found it hard to believe Cathy's infatuation. I understand why he was nasty; Bronte has built up his story enough. But the Cathy that we, the readers, know just (in my opinion).

It's a deeply sad book as Heathcliff becomes increasingly like the man that he hates; he becomes what he had been brought up with.

It's a dark novel, very dark. I hate admitting it, but it was hard to get through, mostly because of the language. (Shock! Horror! Blasphemy!) It feels like a debut novel, and I wish Emily had written more, because I believe she could have improved and written something I didn't have to force myself to read!

Really, disappointed. With me, and the book. I struggled so much with it, and it's such a popular book that I must have just missed something.

Sorry Bronte fans. (ie the rest of the world).

But I also won - I conquered 'Wuthering Heights!' One point to me! But I feel like I've failed it; my inadequacy as a reader meant I didn't enjoy it. So maybe we're even?

'A Fraction of the Whole' by Steve Toltz (J):

What a terrible annoying book (sorry Steve). I attempted to read it first a few years ago when it was one of the Booker shortlist, and gave up after two chapters as I disliked the characters and didn't understand what they were doing or when. I reread (about 80% of it) when it came up in our book club last year, and felt obliged to read more of it. Even then, I couldn't bear it after a while, and so having got 60% of the way through, skipped to the last couple of chapters to find out how things resolved.
I REALLY didn't like the characters, not any of them, and if Australia is anything like this (of course it isn't) then it must be a terrible place to live. My overriding sense was that the author must be extremely depressed to write like this.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

26 Books: A Book You Loved. Read it Again.

This would have been number 24 in Bringing up Burns 2015.

Just E this time!

'Star Dancer' by Beth Webb (E):
(reread January 2015)

Tegen is born the night the stars dance. At the end of the Iron Age, the age of Roman invasion, of druids and of magic, her birth is auspicious. A prophecy has foretold that a 'star dancer' will be born who will be able to save the people in the face of the troubles to come. But, from everything the people know, their traditions, prejudices, knowledge, the star dancer just can't be a girl... can it?

The first in the Star Dancer quartet - we are introduced to our wonderful heroine, Tegen. She is young, but wise beyond her years: Webb has managed a good balance between this wisdom and youth - she deals with death and powerful magic, but she still weeps in her mother's arms. A realistic heroine, in comparison to many of the oh-too-strong heroines that YA books have. She and her step brother, Griff, learn to navigate the world of spirits and druidic life, whilst battling against those who would have them overthrown within their own village. Building to a thrilling climax, Star Dancer leaves you desperate for the next book.

It is nice to read a YA series that isn't dystopian. Don't get me wrong - I love my dystopias! - but it is so refreshing to read something original, and wholly unique. As a reader, you can tell the thoughtful and thorough research that has gone into the writing of this - from the food they eat and the clothes they wear, to their beliefs and superstitions. A fascinating insight to Iron Age Britain - not an age that gets much written about for younger readers. 

The story is entirely absorbing and you really warm to the characters. I have a special place in my heart for "half head" Griff. He has Down's Syndrome and it was interesting to see how someone with a disability may have been treated; Webb deals with this subject very sensitively. I enjoyed the variety of characters as well: different ages, professions, beliefs, backgrounds... Just so much to explore! It's like being placed in an Iron Age village and being given a personal tour! Every character is carefully crafted, and realistic - at times, painfully so. It is hard to see the failings of human nature presented so clearly, because it feels real.

It may feel like a younger child's read at the start, but as the novel continues it definitely moves into teenage territory! The themes explored are complex, and the story becomes darker as the story progresses. I won't give anything more away - but the ending is pretty terrifying!

Overall, a brilliantly unique story, perfect for YA readers - particularly for people who want something a little different.


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Barn Building, Day 4, May 8th and Festivities

So, the last day dawning - and with beautiful weather after a short period of dullness! No rain! Couldn't have picked a better weekend. Perhaps the sun was a bit too hot for the builders, as fatigue set in a bit for a few, and they needed sun creaming and hat reminding, as well as gallons of water!

So, the last morning planning meeting, over pain au chocolat:

And C speaking eloquently about how everything feels coming to the end.


At this stage, there were only a few shingles on the LHS started by cousin J, so this was one of the key things to do. There was also a bit more work on the back wall, sky lights to put in, and more braces, as well as all the pullins to be finished at the back...  So... not much! Especially considering there were guests due to potentially arrive from 10am... Luckily even the most die-hard field festival goers didn't arrive 'til 12 or so.

But things had to prepared for the guests too, so there was a while where builders helped in this, but then A did a sterling job all by herself - cooking and planning for weeks in advance. (Cheers for the people behind the scenes!)

Getting started in the glorious sunshine always puts everyone in a good mood, so never underestimate the power of warmth! So, at the start of the day there were barely any shingles, so this (as well as the braces) was the key job - we wanted a roof! The sky lights were at the back, and are also in situ, but there's a distinct lack of shingles on the back roof... It's fine: a project for the rest of 2CC in between the rest of life for the next few months. But having them complete at the front makes it really look finished.

So... mega shingle time, aa d you can see from this picture: there was a lot needing doing. And the back wall, as much as possible AND more braces. And the pullins. Sounded like an impossible job, but it's amazing what six builders with lots of stamina, work ethic, cake and powerful tools can do!

Architect J putting in some bracing - and look! You can see
the skylight holes! (all though there's nothing around them yet...

There seemed to be some despair at some points - will it all come together?

Yep - there's a thumbs up in picture 2!

Little M was still very involved in organising Germany, between shingling, pretty good multitasked!


And the sheep were ever-happy; we also realised there are multiple uses of shingles.

And H from the foundations team
got back into action.
They double as tables!
Little M called Bunty a 'loaf sheep,'
which I really like!

So, the guest started arriving. A had little idea who was coming and when, so catering was a little haphazard but no one went hungry, that's for sure!

Lots of people - J senior, B&R with partner from
Joe's men's group, K&R, C&P, the Stallards with their van, K
from the village, C&C, the O family M&B who almost didn't
make it because of breakdowns... might've missed some
people, because there were lots!

Lots of intrepid guests had a go doing some shingling, including my Good Mother C - pretty impressive! There was a treasure hunt for two little boys where they had to find sheep stones hidden around the garden but I think I made it too difficult, because there are two that I couldn't even remember! We also had a sheep cake competition, but only 3 competitors. I think there was a clear winner - there's A feeding the sheep amongst the hay (apples) and mud (sultanas) - a very impressive Dutch apple cake from the Oof Family in the village. Amazing! A well deserved first prize.

And the last bits of the barn!

The shingles progressing from underneath...

The skylights at the back going in...

Look at the progress on the shingling!

A's amazing sheep carving done on the jig saw for one of the
end pieces, the other had flowers put there.

And then: The Barn Opening Ceremony. Although it's not 100% done, it's certainly complete enough (and in such a short time) for the ceremonial opening. A started with a funny poem about needing to have sheep and wanting to have them in the house, but this was an impossibility, so the barn had to be made! Uncle M blessed the shed with a Berry poem, and T and H (unfortunately absent)
had written some haikus. A also read a poem written a while ago from some dear friends of ours, which was special for our family. And then... we had the ribbon cutting!
A reading poetry

Uncle M reading a Berry poem

Ceremonial ribbon cutting.
And Prosecco opening - if you look carefully
you can see one of the corks flying right over
the barn.

And everything all coming to a sad close... visitors leaving, and builders going back to their normal lives. It all seemed sad to finish, but everyone was so proud of the work that had gone into it.

And so, here are the six amazing builders: Little M, J, A, C, Architect J and Uncle M. What a creation they have made. 

The stay-at-homers were packing up until late, and then the house seemed very quiet. The cats were ridiculously pleased to have the run of the place to themselves again, and normal life resumes. It's almost as though the JAM² has always been there.

In all her glory:

And what of the amazing camaraderie and fun that the builders had throughout their days together? United by J, some had never met before, but they've really done something stupendous that I imagine will stay with them. Don't worry, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of them, like the dodo...

Thank you so much to everyone who came, particularly our stars. I hope these blog posts have been enough to document at least some of what went on. Builders (and others) feel free to comment and tell me if there's anything I've missed out or got wrong. This is my tribute to the barn, small as it may be.

Thank you all.