Thursday, 31 March 2011

Book Review: The Clan Of The Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Goodreads synopsis

When her parents are killed by an earthquake, 5-year-old Ayla wanders through the forest completely alone. Cold, hungry, and badly injured by a cave lion, the little girl is as good as gone until she is discovered by a group who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear. This clan, left homeless by the same disaster, have little interest in the helpless girl who comes from the tribe they refer to as the "Others." Only their medicine woman sees in Ayla a fellow human, worthy of care. She painstakingly nurses her back to health--a decision that will forever alter the physical and emotional structure of the clan.

Although this story takes place roughly 35,000 years ago, its cast of characters could easily slide into any modern tale. The members of the Neanderthal clan, ruled by traditions and taboos, find themselves challenged by this outsider, who represents the physically modern Cro-Magnons. And as Ayla begins to grow and mature, her natural tendencies emerge, putting her in the middle of a brutal and dangerous power struggle. Although Jean Auel obviously takes certain liberties with the actions and motivations of all our ancestors, her extensive research into the Ice Age does shine through--especially in the detailed knowledge of plants and natural remedies used by the medicine woman and passed down to Ayla. Mostly, though, this first in the series of four is a wonderful story of survival. Ayla's personal evolution is a compelling and relevant tale.

My thoughts

I'd never heard of this book before I was asked to review it but when I looked up the synopsis on Goodreads, I thought it looked really interesting and there were lots of Goodreads, so I was really excited when it arrived through my post box.

Ayla, a girl born to the Others is five when she is found by the Clan when they are on their search for their new cave. Starved and frail, the medicine women Iza takes pity on her and pleads with the leader of the Clan (Brun) to let her travel with them so she can be nursed back to health. Little does he know how Ayla will eventually change the Clan forever...

Ayla in the Clan Of The Cave Bear
Ayla is an amazing character because she suffers so much pain and hardship but she fights to survive and never gives up on what she believes is right. Everthing about her is different and strange to the Clan and her striking blonde hair, blue eyes and tallness. The challenges she has to overcome in becoming a member of the clan such as prejudice and learning their customs are many. I loved seeing Alya grow throughout the book and try to conform to the ways of the clan to stay out of trouble. She stood up to Broud's (the son of the leader of the clan) hatred of her and his cruelty towards her very well and showed the strength and courage of her character. Somehow, she managed to worm my way into her heart and it felt like I was experiencing everything with her even when I was frustrated about how long the book was taking me to read.

Each of the other characters are bought to life really well and I could see Creb's one eyed and disfigured but gentle and affectionate face and picture Iza the medicine woman foraging for roots for her medicine bag very clearly. I loved the special and loving bond that Ayla had with Iza and Creb, who are like parents to her since they bought her up and Iza is much more of a mother to Alya than the women who birthed her that Ayla has no memory of. I think that the characters are the true strength of the novel and why the series has become so popular.

The author has created a world totally different to the one we know now and you can tell that it has been meticulously researched. The Clan race have no foreheads but instead a huge brain at the rear of their heads to store memories that are passed on through generations to help the clan to survive. They live in a world where no progress has been made for virtually 2,000 years, children become adults at the age of about 9 and can mate straight afterwards and being in your mid-20s is considered old. I loved learning about the ways and customs of the ancient people from their beliefs about totems and the spirit world, the rankings in their society, the different plants and herbs that they used as medicines and the way they hunted. However, there are no unnecessary facts or details that have put in just for the sake of it because they all fit into the everyday life of the Clan.

At the beginning of the book I was very put off by the large numbers of characters that were introduced with very similar names and the overly descriptive writing and it felt like hard work to trawl through the first chapters but I soon became absorbed by the story later on. The writing was still very descriptive and different from the simpler styles of the YA books I've been reading recently but I came to appreciate it later on because it is that that makes the world in the book seem so real and tangible for real prehistoric days. So, if you decide to read this book, don't be put off by that!

One thing I would say about this book is it does have a bit of sexual content in 'mating' scenes that I had to skim over. This was to show how this was a way of life for the Clan. It's a shame about this because I think teenagers like me will enjoy the book even though it is written for adults. I've heard that this is worse in the following books so I don't know if I'll be allowed to read them right now considering I'm only (in a month) 14.

Final words: The Clan Of The Cave Bear is a story of coming of age, hardships, friendships, hope and survival. It is one of those books where I only realised how much I enjoyed it after I'd finished. Once I'd put the book down, I realised how close I had become to the characters and wanted to find out what would happen to them. If you're looking for something a little bit different, then this would be a brilliant choice.I can't wait to find out what happens to Ayla in the next installment of her journey!
Rating: 4.5

The final book in the series, The Land Of Painted Caves was released 2 days ago, on the 29th of March.

Thank you to Kate at Holler for sending me a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors That Deserve More Recognition

Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome me held over at The Broke And The Bookish and this week's topic is authors that don't get enough recognition. Some of the ones in my list are ones that I don't think get enough recognition in the blogopsphere and others are just more general.

Here's my list:

1) Eva Ibbotson

I love Eva Ibbotson's fairy tale like stories and her slightly old fashioned writing, filled with adventure, fantasy, mystery, magic, romance and nature.So I was saddened to hear that she passed away last October and wrote a post in memory of her. She is quite well known in Britain as both a children's and adult's author but I  think she is relatively unheard of in the US. My review for her book A Company Of Swans is here. Her new cover redesigns are lovely and there are two examples below. 

2) Marie Louise Jensen

She writes wonderful YA historical fiction so how could she not be one of my favourite authors? Her new book that came out in February, Sigrun's Secret (the loose sequel to Daughter Of Fire and Ice) was released in February and it's very sad to see that there have been no reviews up on Amazon of it and few on Goodreads. If you're taking part in the YA historical fiction challenge, then make sure you consider reading one of her books!

 3) Helen Dunmore
 Helen Dunmore is the author of the Ingo series, which is one of my favourite series EVER. It features an underwater mermaid world and is the closest I've come to feeling a fantasy world is real in a book because Dunmore's description is just so immersive. If you like mermaids, then she's definitely a good author to try. She's also written some adult novels but I haven't read those.

 4) Elinor M Brent Dyer

The 50 book long Chalet School  boarding school series set in 1990s Austria is written by her and I really love it. It's old fashioned but fun and the characters are very endearing and lovable. I have about 30 of the books in the series at home because my mum and my school librarian's mum passed their collection onto me but I've only read 9. Unfortunately, her books are now out of print but they can be found second-hand at a good price on Amazon. I really hope that one day they'll be published again if more people discover them. If you want to know more, you might like to check out the post I did here about the series.
5) Noel Streatfield

Noel Streatfield's books are typical classic girly reads and her most famous book is probably Ballet Shoes. You may be wondering why she is on my list if Ballet Shoes is well know but I feel that a lot of teens aren't discovering her books anymore and they need more attention and love.

6) Jennie Walters

I know Jennie Walters for her Swallowcliffe Hall series beginning with House Of Secrets, which is about a young Victorian servant girl. The series carries on through the generations until WW2. I love the way Walters conveys emotion and I really connected with her characters.

7) Julia Green

I discovered Julia Green's contemporary YA books, Drawing With Light and Breathing Underwater, last year and really enjoyed them. Her writing is beautiful and I love the way she focuses on the characters and story whilst still managing to fit some lovely imagery in here and there. My conception of contemporary before I read hers was that contemporary books didn't have wonderful description (stupid, I know!) but I'm so glad Julia Green proved me wrong.

I can't think of anymore at the moment so my list will just have to stay at seven. What are your top ten most overlooked authors?

Book Review: Tess Of The D'Urbivilles by Thomas Hardy

Amazon Synopsis:

Cover to go with the BBC adaptation

When the beautiful and innocent Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting the manipulative Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent...

My review/thoughts

Seventeen year old Tess Durbeyfield is the eldest daughter of an impoverished country haggler whose fortunes turn for the better when he discovers they are the last surviving branch of an ancient and distinguished family called the D'urbivilles. Sent off her family to work on the estate of their new relations, Tess is manipulated by her cousin Alec and is haunted by the implications of her encounter there for long afterwards. Then she meets another man called Angel Clare who seems to offer her an escape from her past but only if she can tell him her shameful secret....

Tess Of The D'urbivilles was my first Hardy read (I was encouraged to read it by my English teacher) and I was interested to see what I made of this famous author and one of his most well known works. I wasn't quite sure what to expect because a lot of the descriptions online were unclear but I'm glad I chose to read it.

It is such a tragic and sorrowful tale that left me saddened as I turned the last page after the unfolding of dramatic events. However, I found Hardy’s writing turns it into a beautiful and poignant story and it helps to evoke the emotions in the book. From the beginning imagery of the English countryside of Tess’s home village in the last chapter to that of the rugged rocks of Stonehenge, the personification throughout really brings the English countryside to life and makes it an important part of the book. However, it took me a while to get used to the hard-going lyrical and descriptive writing and I found that parts of the writing in the book was unnecessary and too long winded, for example Angel’s courtship of Tess at the dairy seemed long and worn out. This sometimes caused me to get distracted from the story and lose interest in it but I did come to appreciate the beauty of the language eventually.

One of my favourite things about the book is the very human and believable flaws of the characters and the way that I was able to sympathise with them so deeply. Tess is a heroine that can show bravery and courage at times whilst sometimes appearing to be weak, ignorant and foolish. This was sometimes a little frustrating but I kept in mind that Tess was a Victorian young women and that is why she is portrayed that way. Though, most of all Tess keeps true to herself and learns from the mistakes she has made. Also, even at the most testing times when she had to make difficult decisions, she goes through life without making a fuss, remaining a loyal friend, making an honest living and staying true to her one love. That is why I found myself feeling Tess’s pain, love, anguish, hope, joy and despair.

Angel Clare was a character that I had very mixed feelings about because I liked him at first when he seemed to offer Tess an escape from her troubled past and he seemed to be a caring, thoughtful and faithful young man. My opinion of him changed later for the worse and you can highlight the text below to find out more if you know the story because it's very spoliery (sorry, the white shows up on the pink a bit so just skip over): Angel's betrayal of Tess after she told him her terrible secret after they were married came as a shock to me because I thought he would understand and forgive her after an initial shock, especially since he also did the same thing when he was drunk.
Despite this, I still believe him to be an honest and good man at heart who just made a big mistake.

The situations that Tess finds herself in are often devestating but there are moments of warm heartedness and hope that shine through the darker scenes such as her friendship with the other girls at the dairy and the brief time of blissful and complete happiness that she spent with Clare. I found the other's girls working at the dairy's constant mooning over Tess' love was amusing and bought a lighter touch to the novel.                                                                                                                                                    

 Verdict: Tess’s fateful journey is infused with raw human emotion that tugged at my heartstrings and left me with a lot to think about.
Rating: 4

I've got the 2008 BBC adaption of Tess Of The D'urbivilles out now and I'm part way through watching it. It's really helping to bring the book alive and help me undertsand it more so I think I would appreciate and enjoy it much more if I read it again now, which I hope to do in the future.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Coverlicious: The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K Madigan

Coverlicious is a feature that sporadically I hold here featuring everything to do with covers from covers I love to cover reveals.

 The gorgeous cover of The Mermaid's Mirror, which I reviewed on Thursday, was what initially grabbed my attention. It captures the essence of the book so well with the feel of the spray of the stormy sea and I love the way the girl's damp and messy hair has been pulled back in a stylish and loose way, The water droplets over her hair look like pearls adorning it and really adds to the effect. Also, the blue glow surrounding the title contrasts really well with the grey colour of the sky and adds a warmer tone to the cover. The cover designer could have done some fantasy mermaid shot but I'm so glad that the cover ommits the mermaids because I think The Mermaid's Mirror is so much more than just another mermaid book.

Image courtesy of Melissa Walker: The Blog- thank you!
Above is a shot of the cover jacket, which is even better! The moody ocean continues onto the back cover and I love the way that the gir's shoulder expands over to the back cover naturally with the little yellow swirl feeding out of it. Often I find that photos from the front cover leading onto the back doesn't work but I think it does for thid cover. Even the small details have been thought out well such as the green shells on the spine. A difference to the cover image at the top is that the aqua blue glow around the title has been removed. This adds a lot to the dark, story and windswept look of the cover. Also, the quote from Malinda Low on the ocean doesn't ruin the cover effect for me either because it's quite unobstrusive. 

 Whilst looking for a picture of the cover online to go with my review, I found a cover story post with the author on the blog ReaderGirlz. L.K Madigan shared the original cover design, which is on the left. I'm SO glad that the designer changed it because this design doesn't incorporate any of the sea/mermaid elements of the book except from the title and isn't anything special.

 I also discovered a look-alike cover on my search on Dreaming Of Amelia by Jacyln Moriarty as the stock image of the girl has been used. This cover has much brighter colours than the final design for The Mermaid's Mirror so the cover has a very different atmosphere and the girl is positioned centrally instead of to the side. I do like it on this cover but I love it more on the Mermaid's Mirror.

 What do you think about the two The Mermaid's Mirror covers and the lookalikes? I'd love to find out!


Friday, 25 March 2011

Super Snippets (2) : The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K Madigan

Recently I've seen quite a few quotes that I love in books so I thought it would be a nice idea to start a new feature here sharing and commenting on all of my favourite quotes or 'snippets' from the books that I have been reading/reviewing on the blog and so Super Snippets was born. I hope that the snippets from the books that I share will whet your appetite for more and give you a better taster of the book so you can decide whether you would like to read it or not. Any suggestions for the feature would be welcomed!

Today's snippets are from The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K Madigan, which I reviewed yesterday.

Goodreads description

Lena has lived her whole life near the beach — walking for miles up and down the shore and breathing the salty air, swimming in the cold water, and watching the surfers rule the waves — the problem is, she’s spent her whole life just watching.

As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena vows she will no longer watch from the sand: she will learn to surf. But her father — a former surfer himself — refuses to allow her to take lessons. After his near drowning years ago, he can’t bear to let Lena take up the risky sport. Yet something keeps drawing Lena to the water . . . an ancient, powerful magic. And one morning Lena catches sight of this magic: a beautiful woman — with a silvery tail. Now nothing can stop Lena from seeking the mermaid, not even the dangerous waves at Magic Crescent Cove.
And soon . . . what she sees in the mermaid’s mirror will change her life forever.

Some of my favourite 'snippets' (with help from my book club)

'Lena's world had become a tangle of broken sleep and waking dreams...voices in her head and mermaids in the water...locks and keys and calls from the sea.'

I love this beautiful imagery that appears frequently in Madigan's writing because it makes Lena's world so vivid and feel more alive.

Lena's heartbeat slowed as she gazed out at the sea. Her breathing calmed. She didn't try to study the conditions; she just drank in the soothing ocean breeze and the hypnotic sound of the surf.'

'She could hear a mournful, sweet song reaching up to her ears from the depths of the sea. It was like no human song she had ever heard, sounding more like a thousand violins and flutes playing at once.' 

How are those quotes for appealing to the senses?

"Lena," persisted Cole. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Her parents and Grandma Kath had stopped talking and were looking at her now. Lena raised her eyebrows at them and said to Cole, "Happy."
This one really stood out to me because it made me pause for a minute and think about what she said. It's a memorable quote!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Book Review: The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K Madigan

The Mermaid's Mirror
I love the 'sea' feeling of this
gorgeous cover.
Goodreads description

Lena has lived her whole life near the beach — walking for miles up and down the shore and breathing the salty air, swimming in the cold water, and watching the surfers rule the waves — the problem is, she’s spent her whole life just watching.

As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena vows she will no longer watch from the sand: she will learn to surf. But her father — a former surfer himself — refuses to allow her to take lessons. After his near drowning years ago, he can’t bear to let Lena take up the risky sport.
Yet something keeps drawing Lena to the water . . . an ancient, powerful magic. And one morning Lena catches sight of this magic: a beautiful woman — with a silvery tail. Now nothing can stop Lena from seeking the mermaid, not even the dangerous waves at Magic Crescent Cove.

And soon . . . what she sees in the mermaid’s mirror will change her life forever.


The Mermaid's Mirror is one of those books that I felt myself flowing along with the ebb and tide of the plot because I wasn't constantly guessing what might come next and I think this is because the plot builds up to a climax in the fantastical world and I gradually became more captivated by Lena's world as the book progressed. By the end I began to see what a vidid and detailed world Madigan had created without me realising it as I read. Although, there was one major plot line that I guessed nearer the beginning but it didn't really affect my enjoyment of the story.

I found that Lena's feelings were very well described and realistic so I was able to empathise with her and she was a sweet but serious girl. However, my one problem was that I wanted her to have more personality to flesh her out a bit as a person, rather than everything about her coming from what is going on in her life.This would have helped me to forge a connection with her better and for her to be a more memorable character.
One aspect of Lena's character that I particularly liked was the close relationship she had with her family and the different bond she had with her mum, dad and sister. The reason why I liked this is because it is unusual to find YA books where the parents are at the front of the plot and not blended into the background or forgotten about most of the time. Lena's good and loving relationship with her stepmother was great because I would never have guessed she was her stepmother if it had not been mentioned before and usually in books step mothers are perceived as enemies. Her father is the one she goes to for advice and her younger brother Kye was adorable. Despite this, her family is not without problems of its own and there are many secrets behind the outside appearance that cannot remain hidden forever.

I read and absolutely loved the mermaid series, Ingo by Helen Dunmore, a couple of years ago so I was excited to read another mermaid story. However, I think that I would have loved The Mermaid's Mirror so much more if I hadn't read the Ingo series because the underwater world was really good  but the one in Ingo was amazing. I am in no doubt that the descriptions were enchanting because of their strong imagery and helped me to imagine the underwater domain of the mermaids but I didn't feel as immersed in the world as much as I did in Ingo. For that reason, I liked the part of the book set on land better even though it seems strange saying that about a mermaid book.

One of my favourite things about the book was the way the ehiliration of surfing was captured in writing because it made me feel like I was out by the sea with the wind blowing through my hair carrying the smell of salt as I watched surfers ride on the waves. It really made me want to try out surfing (not that I think I ever will!)

There were several unwrapped plot lines left at the end and I know that L.K Madigan had a sequel planned but like many bloggers have heard, she sadly passed away about a month ago at the time I was reading the book. When I came back from holiday after finishing it, I was very sad to hear this news because a wonderful author, family member and friend to other people has been lost.

Verdict: The Mermaid's Mirror is a creative and enchanting book that has an interesting and unique take on mermaids and I looked forward to returning home to my holiday cottage whilst I was away to curl up with it. However, it isn't the best mermaid book I have read but then again, I think that it is so much than that because the contemorary side is strong.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme/ feature held over at The Broke and Bookish and this week's topic is bookish pet peeves. It seems like ages since I've done a TTT post and a lot came to mind for this topic so I thought I'd join in this week.

My bookish peeves are:  (in no particular order)

1) Blurbs that give away too much of the plot.
I find blurbs that describe the plot in so much detail that you know what happens up to halfway through the book just from reading it. I seriously don't need to know half of the plot line just to make me interested in the book-that's why I want to read it!

2) When the next book in the series lets you down
I hate when I love the first book in the series and really look forward to the next book for months and then I get disappointed because it doesn't live up to my expectations. It seems that sequels are either a let down or are better than the first in the series but they're never equal.

3) Shop assistants who seem to be clueless about the books they work with
Sometimes, when I'm browsing in a book store I overhear another customer asking for example where they can find a book in the store or a parent asking for recommendations for their children and the shop assistant seems to be pretty clueless. They're supposed to be the experts but often they seem to have no interest in the current book market or know what they're talking about. Of course, I know that there are bookshop assistants who are really dedicated to their work and passionate about books too!

4)Stickers on the covers of books or black marks on bargain books
It's very irritating to get a brand new shiny book from the bookstore or online and to find it has a sticker that leaves a horrible residue on the cover or a black mark on the pages to show it was selected as a bargain book. If there really is a need for this, it would be much better for it to be more subtle or for stickers to be easy peal.

5) When the models or illustrations on the front covers are completely different to the characters that are described.
It makes me wonder whether the cover artist read any of the descriptions of characters or conversed with the author at all when this happens. I find that it most often happens with girl's hair colour, for example a ginger haired girl is shown with blonde hair. I can't think of any specific examples at the moment but I know there are lots around.

6) When the cover design theme changes half way through a series.
I love to have matching covers for my series that they look  pretty, uniform and neat on my bookshelves so it's very frustrating when the publishers decides to change the looks of a series. An example that comes to mind with this one is the Lacy Romance series by Eve Edwards, where they changed the look in time for the release of the second book, The Queen's Lady (covers below.)

7) Character stereotypes
Okay, I've had enough of flat and stereotypical characters such as the popular, mean and beautiful cheerleader and the clever but ugly girl. This one has been around for so long now that it's very tiresome and the characters often aren't very original or well developed.

8) Rushed endings
Rushed endings just leave me with a bad impression of the book when I finish it even if I liked most of because it is really aggravating when the author spends a lot of time artfully creating suspense and building up the storyline before hastily wrapping it up in ten or so pages. It makes me feel like they got bored of that writing project and wanted to move on to something else as quickly as possible or felt the book was getting too long.

9) Books that are compared to popular books
There are so many books around that say '(Insert book here) will be the next (insert name of very popular and well known book.) The most common example I can think of here are paranormal books that continually get compared with Twilight or dystopian books that are compared with The Hunger Games series. It puts me off a bit because it's highly unlikely that this prediction will come true and it's just trying to appeal to fans of popular series.

10) When authors jump on genre bandwagons
Whenever a new YA book is released that sells well and becomes very popular, there seem to be hundreds of other books that pop out in the same genre to try and ride on its success.  This is what happened with the success of Twilight and the deluge of paranormal fiction that arrived afterwards or the wave of new dystopians being released now after The Hunger Games. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with this at all because I love the sound of some of the dystopians coming out now. It's only when the book has nothing new to add to a saturated genre that it becomes a pet peeve because the author could be writing an original book that starts a new trend.  

 What are your bookish pet peeves?