The Treasures of Carmelidruim by N. R. Williams

Fellow blogger N.R. Williams has published her debut fantasy novel, The Treasures of Carmelidrium. It has been well received and today's review will show you why...

Synopsis: When a hooded man steps in front of her car, Missie is thrust through a portal into a medieval world where she encounters monsters and mythical creatures. Here, her flute has magical powers to heal and destroy and to empower "The Treasures of Carmelidrium." She is romanced by a prince and hunted by the villain. Will she find her way home? Does she want to?

Firstly, this is the first time I've read a book on my Kindle. I've started others and not finished them (as I really prefer a print book - yes, I'm a Luddite!) However, N.R. Williams' " The Treasures of Carmelidrium" transported me into a fantastical, Medieval-like world of Gil-lael and I was happy to stay there for the duration. The book is written in beautifully-flowing prose which hooked me right from start to finish.

The story's protagonist, Michelle "Missie" Kersten is a flutist a few classes away from graduating from the University of Colorado when she suddenly crashes into another world, a fantasy world, the mists of Gil-lael. The swiftness of this caught me by surprise and there was no chance I wasn't going to push on reading right through to the end in the digital world. In the world of Gil-lael Missie meets the valiant Prince Healden. The two are linked to King Carmel and Queen Lysandra, and history repeats itself as Missie and Healden fight against Renwyck, Lord of the Symberveen. This has overtones of Romeo and Juliet as it is captivating how Missie and the Prince fall in love and fight together for peace in Gil-lael.

N.R. Williams has taken great care with her world building, and I think this is what amazed me (I'm not usually a reader of fantasy). In her whimsical world there are giant eagles, elves, and a vast history within this world - not to mention noblemen, castles and courtiers. In this created world there are unicorns and also the author's mythical creation, the symberveen, which is a bear-like monster that fills its victims with psychological horrors. Perhaps we shall see these legendary beasts, the symberveen, in more fantasy stories.  I don't think it is grandiose to say that the novel has almost Tolkien-esque touches at times

N.R. Williams' novel uses hard-hitting themes - friendship, betrayal, love, and hate. These all have a major part to play in "The Treasures of Carmelidrium." Throughout the fantasy, music, magic, and war entwine,  leading to new beginnings.

The author is about to make a start on the sequel, which is a relief, as this story demands a follow-up tome.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 9/10

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is an old book but I thought it would be fitting since not long ago the 10th anniversary edition was released. I actually read the book back in 2003 for my first college English class and it was an honors one so we got away with reading the book. Luckily the administration didn't know what we would be talking about cause I remember at one point during the book our teacher discussed proper ways to slit one's own throat with a straight razor. Yeah. I am sure the college in South Dakota didn't want us discussing that but it was a very memorable class and book.

The author is an amazing writer. He can be found on twitter (@neilhimself) and has been interviewed on a number of great podcasts. I like the interviews that Mur Lafferty did on I Should Be Writing. He's fun to listen to so I recommend checking out that podcast or the one on Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing.


Cover on the book I read.
New cover.

About the book from Goodreads: After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace... Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman's epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America

My review: Amazing book. I loved it and have read it at least a couple times since taking the Honors English class. It's one of the few books that I've read more than once as an adult and during a time when I rarely read for fun. I recommend this book to anyone who is at least slightly open-minded. There are a couple of scenes that would disturb the extremely uptight, so I try not to recommend it to those types of readers. Let's just say the scenes have sexual content and not just normal stuff from romance novels because this is not that kind of book and leave it at that. But the scenes are important to the overall story. The whole writing is because Neil Gaiman is an amazing writer... prolific writer even.

I even liked the main character's name. It's hard to get away with naming a man something like "shadow" and having it seem fitting but the way Gaiman has written this book, the name works very well with the character. And Wednesday is a perfect name for the character Shadow meets in the beginning of the novel. Then there is the whole concept of the old gods versus the new ones. Wonderful idea. Part of the fun was trying to figure out who each character was and some were easier than others. Most were different religious figures, with a couple of characters who didn't quite have "god/dess" status but they were fun to research. The only one we had a hard time with is a character that goes into a casino and can see the money in a magical sense. I'm sure someone figured it out. I also like that the author, Gaiman, doesn't give answers to readers because he prefers to have them figure things out for themselves. He knows that readers will respond in their own ways and has no problem letting them interpret the text.

The chapters aren't always from the main characters point of view and sometimes they seem unrelated to the overall story but once you've read the story one time you will want to read it again in order to appreciate how everything intertwines to create the amazing story that is this novel. The plot is intricate and fun to read. I didn't expect the ending but once I reread, I was able to see how every complicated storyline worked together in order to get us to that point and it totally made sense. In fact, I really like it.

Cover wise, I prefer the old cover. They aren't overly different but the small differences make a big impact. The street and lightning felt right to me. The 10th anniversary cover is more about the title and author name and not much else. At least the lightning is still there but I miss the road. I do get the reason for the new cover, the storm is in the first part of the novel, but I still hold firm that I think the other one is a little better.

But whatever cover, it doesn't matter, just read this book.

Dawn's Verdict: 10/10

The Boys are Back by Simon Carr

This memoir of a widowed father raising two boys by himself in New Zealand and England had me laughing aloud within the first pages, and then on the verge of tears a few pages later. It's so well written and downright hilarious at times that this book is worth picking up. I read it from cover to cover, but found myself tempted to bookmark pages and go back to them. I even read pieces of it to my husband because I found parts both amusing and surprisingly informative.
Goodreads review:"So there we are, a father and two sons in a household without role models, males together in a home different from anything I'd known—an idyllic Lost Boys' world with a house full of children and as few rules as possible."

When Simon Carr's wife Susie lost her battle with cancer, Carr was left to raise his 5-year old son, Alexander, on his own. Soon after, Hugo, his 11-year old son from a previous marriage comes to live with them. Now, this motley crew of boys has to learn how to be a family. Along the way, Carr reveals some illuminating truths about parenting and the differences between mothers and fathers. His messy household bears no similarity to the immaculate home his wife kept; his response to mothers on the playground fretting about his son's safety on the handlebars is, "If he falls, at least he'll know not to do it again." Emotionally honest and sharply witty, Carr's story is at once heartbreaking and wonderfully life-affirming.

I think where the THE BOYS ARE BACK (also called THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN in earlier editions) is flawed is in its severe lack of plot consistency (which coincidentally is what the movie version of the novel manages to correct). It has next to no structured plot, and reads more like a series of short stories, or excerpts on life rather than an actual novel. In saying that, its lack of structure certainly reflects the household Carr is portraying, so perhaps when taken in that light, it's merely a rather poetic technique? It seems to jump in time quite a bit, and I was never quite sure exactly how old the boys were, and it was only thanks to the Part 1-3 headings like "England" that gave me some clue.

The memoir almost reads as a self-help guide for solo dads, although at times it's more like a "what not to do" guide. Carr is at times exceptionally un-PC, heartbreakingly honest and freethinking. This book won't be for everyone, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people who read it completely disagree about everything he says. For example:
"Whenever you hear a parent say 'You'll put someone's eye out with that!' on average it's the mother and when you hear a parent say 'If you stretch you could get the next branch up' it usually seems to be the father... The reason fathers underestimate risk may be that we just care less than mothers do.

This isn't to say we fathers don't care, we just don't care as much. Of course we will run into burning buildings to save our little ones, but we don't feel the scrape ourselves when they scrape their knees."

However, whether you agree or disagree with Carr's liberal views, at the very least this memoir does provide a different point of view on parenting. And it made me laugh. So what more could you want in a novel?

WritersBlockNZ's Verdict: 7/10

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Read in 2011. Woot!  I had actually seen the first part of the movie before reading the book, though I hadn't seen how the movie ends. As usual, reading is different than watching but there are parts in the beginning that felt almost identical. Especially chapter 1 with the whole picking of jobs thing and the mayor. So, that was strange. Also, when I first bought the book I didn't know it was middle grade, just remember hearing it was a good book. I don't read many middle grade stories but this one is definitely worth an exception.

From Goodreads: The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must decipher the message before the lights go out on Ember forever! 

The beginning was weird because I'd seen that part in the movie but once I got past that, I really got into the book. It wasn't quite "can't put down" but it was a great read. Both characters are likeable and that is a good thing because the story is told in third person but told from both Lina and Doon. It's a useful story for me because I'm working on two main character novels and it helps to see someone who did it right. But enough general, let's get down into the actual story. Oh and, Read this book!

The city itself is so well done that I can actually believe that a story could be built underground even though in real life I would raise both eyebrows at the mere suggestion of such. While it does spend some time through the novel showing the city and how it's running down, the writing is done in a way that makes sense. There isn't an info dump or anything of the sort. It feels real in many ways and I can see how the people of Ember would be in a panic as their city is deteriorating around them. If I were to really think into the concept I would wonder things like "would not having sunlight exposure affect them" and how does oxygen or air flow word but for now I'm content with just seeing it as a fictional world with an interesting story.

All of the characters are great. I really liked Lina, Doon and many of the other characters. Lina is the main character most of the time, though Doon's role is still large. She is fun, flighty, and has a great imagination. I like how she draws pictures of an unknown city. Always love a dreamer as a main character.

As for the end... I won't say what happens but it doesn't try to make it sound like the only book. Which it's not. This is book 1 of a series and they don't make any attempt to hide that fact. But unlike other books that have not so much of an "ending" types of endings, I actually liked this one. I will point out that it isn't one of those endings where the reader will feel cheated. It does complete what the characters set out to do within the plot, so it's an ending that works even though it's obviously a pause instead of a full stop before the next book. Or at least, if it was the only book I'd feel a little sad and I hope that book 2 shows us the same two characters from book one somehow because I want to know what happens to them.

If my to-read list wasn't overflowing I would go out to get book 2 right now and start reading.

Dawn's Verdict: 9/10

Sister, by Rosamund Lupton

The Sunday Times best seller Sister by Rosamund Lupton is a tear jerking tale of family bonds, loyalty, and the lengths that sisters are willing to go to insure justice.

First, the Goodreads review:
by Rosamund Lupton

Nothing can break the bond between sisters...

When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first flight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister's disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister's life - and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face.

The police, Beatrice's fiance and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.

Let's hear from one of my favourite thriller writers, Jeffrey Deaver who says: "Truly marvellous! As compelling as it is stylish, Sister exists in that rare place where crime fiction and literature coincide".

I like to read books by debut novelists and it was a pleasure to read Sister. It is the most exciting debut thriller I've read for some time. The suspense kept the pages crackling, with twists and turns coming thick and fast. There is also a touching poignancy about the relationship between the sisters. Lupton has been described by some as a young Daphne du Maurier. I think she is truly original.

When Beatrice gets the call to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she wastes no time in boarding the first flight home to London where her mother and sister still live. Beatrice has become an uptight New Yorker who appears to be living the American dream - great job, the fiance, nice apartment - all of which is shattered when she receives the phone call from England. As she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister's disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister's life - and she is unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face with each discovery.

The police, Beatrice's fiance (a New Yorker who follows her to London) and even the mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on finding out what happened to her sister. As a result she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost. And the cost is high.

In a bid to find her sister, Beatrice plays Tess in a police reenactment of her (Tess's) last known movements, and when it becomes clear that Tess was pregnant at the time of her disappearance, the race is on...

One thing that I really enjoyed about this book was the fact that every single time I thought that I had discovered who the villain was, something would happen to turn everything around. The end came as a complete surprise. At the start of the last chapter, I was confused about how the ending could possibly turn out, but by the final page all was revealed in a (sort of) satisfactory way.

This book had some very intense emotional moments that ranged from the uplifting to the dark and disturbing. The bond between Beatrice and Tess felt very real and was maintained throughout by the author. Even though the reader never meets Tess face to face in the book it feels as if she is known through Beatrice’s thoughts and the opinions of others.

This is a well-paced thriller that manages not to give too much away until the final moments. This is a book that would even suit those who do not usually read thrillers because it also has great emotional depth and looks at family relationships and how they survive under pressure.

A wonderful read, and a beautiful story of love family and sisterly bonds. This is the first book in a long time that moved me to tears, while telling a fantastic crime story. Well written, and a must have for any book shelf.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 9/10

Dreaming in English (ARC) by Laura Fitzgerald.

This is my first ARC that I've actually managed to read. I won it along with an ARC for Kristie Cook's second book, Purpose. I jumped it to the top of my reading list after I noticed the publishing date is February 1, 2011.

Warning: This is a sequel. If you like to read the first book of a series before learning about the second then it's okay to ignore this review. I haven't read Veil of Roses either. But for those interested, and I'll explain why, it's really not that bad to read the second book first, just be prepared to know how the first book ends. Also, this is an advanced readers copy so changes may have been made between this draft and the finished product. Example of how the ARC is different to the published book is the number of pages. On goodreads it says the book is 384 pages but the ARC version is 418. A bit of a difference.

From Goodreads: "Knowing she could never be happy in Iran, Tamila Soroush took her mother's advice to "Go and wake up your luck" and joined her sister in the United States. Now, after a spur-of-the-moment exchange of "I do"s with her true love, Ike Hanson, Tami is eager to start her new life.

But not everyone is pleased with their marriage, and Tami's happily- ever-after is no sure thing. With an interview with Immigration looming, Tami wonders if she's got the right stuff when it comes to love, American-style. Maybe her luck is running out. Or maybe she'll stand up for herself and claim her American dream."

Love this book. OMG! I really didn't except to like this book as much as I did because I am a fantasy reader at heart. So, I rarely read anything that doesn't have fantasy elements and when I do it's usually stuff like John Grisham novels. But when I saw this book in my prize options from Kristie Cook's giveaway the description made me want to read it and even though I've never read the first book,  Veil of Roses. And while I love the character, chances are I won't read that book because I already know what happens at the end pretty much.  But I may consider getting it anyways. The covers are pretty for both, though I'm a little partial to the Dreaming in English cover.

One good part about this book is that even if you haven't read the first book, it's written in a way that you can understand the whole story without having read the one that came before it. The first chapters have layered carefully the information that would have been read in portions of book 1, but they are written in a way that doesn't come off as an info dump or anything like that. It's laced in well enough that this book stands up on its own. And even though it's written in first person, I barely noticed. The main character's voice is very distinct and easy to like. I was rooting for Tami from the first chapter. And while I was pretty sure I knew how it ended, near the end I was in tears but unwilling to move to get a kleenex. In fact, I cried several times with this novel.

I could get a little nitpicky: like I always struggle to understand when random words or sentences are italicized. I understand when it's done as inner dialogue but in spoken dialogue when it's just one word or sentence, I still haven't quite figured out the purpose of that. Maybe I need to research uses of italics because clearly I don't know what they can be used for afterall. And at first it was jarring in the last 100 pages because the point of view changes. The first time was rough but I'm glad it was done more than once because it would have been out of place if it had been the one time. But those little points don't affect my opinion of the novel.

Normally, I won't do this but I saw the greatest paragraph about books in this novel and have to share it. Don't worry, it has nothing to do with the plot of the book so I promise, it's not a spoiler.

"The Bible, the Torah, the Koran--all books of stories that people use to get or keep power. They do more, of course. They provide comfort. They inspire. They justify--both good and evil behavior. I think a well-told story is more powerful than any person ever could be, because people die but stories can be handed down century after century, year after year. They can hold people captive; they can set people free. I think it's the stories people tell that, in the end, will bring down regimes."[p. 145-46] Spoken by the main character, Tami.

And with that said, here is my verdict because this book is awesome. Even if it's not your normal genre or age group, I say go ahead and read it anyways.

Dawn's Verdict: 10/10

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

There's steampunk, which I'm a huge fan of. And then there's Scott Westerfield's steampunk. His unique twist on the somewhat overlooked genre might sound strange to some: an alternate history of WWI involving giant robot machines and flying whales used as airships? But Westerfeld pulls these elements with precision, flair and and a surprising amount of authenticity that I was sucked into the story from the first page.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

Setting aside (which is only added to by the incredible artistry of Keith Thompson - see picture below), this young adult novel was action packed enough to keep me turning the page after every chapter. The writing is fairly simple, making it lower YA, or upper MG, but I could not put this book down and read it in one sitting. Being set at the beginning of WWI the amount of action is necessary as the two young main characters are dragged into the war. It also feels like a fairly realistic representation of wartime (despite the floating whale) as the characters face death and danger at every turn.

It is the characters and the growth that Alek in particular goes through, that is the real drawcard of this novel. Alek, the Austrian-Hungarian son of the assassinated Duke (for those of you who know your history, that's the assassination that started it all) has to overcome both the death of his parents, his sudden exile, and a war that he's been thrust into. It's very much a tale of boy-becomes-man, although with a second book out and a third on the way, it's apparent that Alek still has a huge amount of growing up to do.

British Deryn, a girl who's disguised herself as a boy to get into the Air Service, is a strong character herself, but my only complaint (and there really are no other complaints about this novel from me) is that she didn't contrast enough with Alek for me. The novel really builds up to these two characters meeting, and I found myself wanting to rush through the beginning of the book to see them interact. But their personality traits seemed similar at times and despite their cultural differences, I couldn't help but feel that they could have been better distinguished from one another. Even so, Deryn is a strong female character and everything in her 3rd person POV was just as enjoyable to read as the parts in Alek's.

The novel managed to finish with a bit of a cliff-hanger that implies a second novel is on its way (and thankfully #2, Behemoth is out now), yet still allowed me to feel that the book was complete in itself. I'll be hunting down a copy of Behemoth a.s.a.p.

9 out of 10 from me. A must read.

WritersBlockNZ's Verdict: 9/10

Are You Ready! by Bob Harper

Going with something different this week. Instead of ya, fantasy or even fiction, my book for today is a health nonfiction book. Health is a big genre nowadays and something I peruse occasionally.

The real title is long. The full title is Are You Ready!: to Take Charge, Lose Weight, Get in Shape, and Change Your Life Forever. Author Bob Harper is known for his work as a trainer on The Biggest Loser and is featured on the Biggest Loser video games. This is a book I listened to on Itunes that I think I started at the end of 2010 but finished a few days into 2011. Audiobooks still count.

Rant Warning: I will be going on a rant/tangent at the end of this post.

From Goodreads: On The Biggest Loser, Bob Harper gives contestants the practical tools and psychological insights they need to get into the best shape of their lives. The key to his success is the emotional connection he makes with each participant, and he brings that same spirit to Are You Ready!...

I'm probably going to be nicer than some when it comes to this and maybe a little fan girly but look who wrote it. Bob is just awesome. Even though I don't watch The Biggest Loser often, he is my favorite from the show and wii game. Also, it says a lot when someone like me, who has a preference to women, would pick the guy trainer on the game.

One good thing about the audio version is that Bob does the reading so get to hear the tips right from the source. Which I think is cool. It would be a little less effective if it had just been some random person reading and since he is a celeb in the fitness world it only makes sense. The bad part about the audio is that the last section of the book really needs to be read. I am trying to figure out how to find a pdf of it at least but I'm not too keen to purchase something else online. Might just go buy the paperback version. I'm torn because it's convenient to have the audio, not to mention fun to listen to the author, but the paperback version might be better for using the information provided.

On a nitpick note: As an editor there is something about the title that bugs me. I don't like the "to" before "change your life". I think it has to do with the two punctuations before it that makes the word seem unneeded.

What I liked about this book is the focus on the internal when it comes to trying to lose weight. By this I mean, the mind. To get personal here, I am overweight. And at one point I lost 40 lbs several years ago but I didn't feel any different. 40 lbs should seem like a lot and sure I was fitting in a smaller pant size but there was no difference at all in how I felt. So, Bob's focus on the mental and emotional factors first really makes sense to me. The rest is a little hard to follow in the audio version but getting the book will make things a little easier. If going with the audio version, I also suggest finding a pdf too.

I haven't read or listened to many celebrity books but this one was good and within the expected genre considering what Bob is famous for.

Dawn's Verdict: 7/10

Rant: Time for the warned rant. One issue that some reviews I've seen have with the book is that it doesn't seem original to them. Sometimes, I think people forget exactly what counts as new and what is completely unoriginal. It's basically impossible to have something that is 100 percent original but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It's possible to take ideas that have been used in the past and to change it into something that can be called original. There is a reason people say "good artists borrow and great artists steal."

And the thing is... this is not just for celebs or even published authors. I've had someone say something similar about a section of my adult mutant novel and I'm not published. On I had a section of Standing Ground I wrote during a friend's contest and the person who helped her review/judge called mine an "x-men ripoff". Because apparently a gay male mutant who controls energy and has to deal with his boyfriend returning from war having jealousy towards his best friend, who is a mutant that has prophetic dreams that are hard to decipher is just like X-Men. I know that genetic mutation isn't 100 percent original and I"m okay with most X-Men references because let's be honest, I can't really avoid it. But ripoff? Really? The movie Push must have been an X-Men ripoff too.

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