• Author: Mary Hoffman
    Publication date: 2008 (first publication: 2002)
    Publisher: Bloomsbury
    Pages: 352
    My opinion
    * I hardly think a girl is much of a threat. I presume you searched her for weapons? But if she attempts to suffocate me with her straw mattress, I promise to call out for help. *

    During the day, Lucien battles cancer in his modern, normal life. But at night, he becomes a Stravagante, a time-traveler of sorts who finds himself in Bellezza, a city parallel to old Venice. Befriended by a local girl and protected by an older Stravagante, Lucien uncovers a plot to murder the city's beloved ruler, the Duchessa. But to save the Duchessa and the city Lucien risks losing his only chance to return home to his family and his real life.

    City of masks is the first book of Stravaganza series and introduces us to Talia, a country similar to Italy situated in another world and another time. Everything starts in England, in the twenty-first century. Young Lucien suffers from cancer and cannot move from his bed. But when his father gives him an Italian notebook, he travels to a strange sixteen’s century city, Bellezza, where he learns that he is a Stravagante, someone who can travel between England and Talia. In this world, he is as strong and healthy as he was before, but he will soon find out that it is a dangerous place, especially when the di Chimici try to acquire more power in order to dominate the city.
    During the whole book, we follow Lucien, or Luciano in Talia, as he discovers a city very similar to Venice, as he will notice himself. The descriptions are nicely written and help us imagine this wonderful sixteenth-century setting. The story starts quietly, as Luciano meets young Arianna and they discover the city together. Once the basis of the story is set, more characters appear and the tension quickly builds up until the last pages of the book.
    Every chapter is divided in various parts, each of them telling about one character and his actions or about the events occurring either in Talia or in our twenty-first century world. I liked Mary Hoffman’s narrative choice, because we can then compare the two dimensions and it enables us to know a lot more than the characters. Nevertheless, this does not mean there is no suspense; quite often, we witness actions that we can only understand later on in the book, and this strategy makes it very difficult not to read the whole story in one go.
    We also get to know characters which are extremely important in the other books of the series, such as Rodolfo, the Chimici family, Professor Dethridge, Guido Parole, etc. Each of them is developed enough to make us like them (or hate them) but enough mystery is kept in order to keep the reader’s attention.
    As the story goes on, we become aware of the author’s great knowledge of Italia. Although Talia is a fantasy world, its similarities to Italy are striking and everything is constructed according to reality. The cities mentioned all resemble a real one in Italy and we are at the same time drawn into another world and brought back to the past, but a different past, where silver is more precious than gold and science looks like magic.
    We also learn about the Stravaganti and their history, how the first traveller arrived to Talia, what their role is and why they have to keep their brotherhood secret from the powerful Chimici family. A real history lesson! These details are cleverly mixed with the actions and we never actually notice how much information is included in the story. The end arrives far too quickly and is unexpected – a real good one!
    City of masks is a really thrilling book and a promising start for the rest of the series, which I hope will have many more books published. We are introduced to important characters and presented central concepts about stravagation and Talia in general. The writing style is simple, alternating description of the wonderful setting with rapid actions, thrilling scenes with more romantic ones and contrasting two different worlds and time. The story is a blend between history and fantasy, court intrigue, cheerful celebration scenes among the nobles and tragic family drama.
    Stravaganza is a young adults’ novel, which explains why some of the characters and actions could have been developed more, but it will no doubt please a much wider audience, especially people interested in Italy, history and fantasy.

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  • Author: Kate Atkinson
    Publication date: 2009
    Publisher: Black Swan
    Pages: 480
    My opinion
    * Just because something bad had happened to her doesn't mean it won't happen again.*

    In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime.
    Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison.
    In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried.
    Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend -- Jackson Brodie -- himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

    As indicated by the title, When will there be good news ? is not a cheerful book. Actually, the story itself is quite gruesome, with numerous deaths and a succession of tragic events which seems to never stop. If it weren’t for Kate Atkinson’s obvious talent at writing, I would probably not have enjoyed such a plot.
    Everything starts in Devon, when Joanna Mason’s family is murdered. Aged six years old, she is the only one to survive. Thirty years later, the assassin is released from prison.
    In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works for Dr. Hunter. But when her employer disappears with her baby, she seems to be the only one to worry about her, perhaps because Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is too busy looking for David Needler, who has just murdered several relatives.
    Jackson Brodie, ex-police officer, is on a journey that could change his life, but an unexpected event occurs which turns his plans unsuccessful.
    These three different stories finally come together in an amazingly thrilling plot which holds in store many surprises.
    Although this book is not the first one telling of Jackson Brodie’s adventures, it is the first one I read and it turned out to be a success. I really enjoyed the writing style, which is not what you would expect in a crime novel. It is funny, full of jokes, plays on words and comic scenes; it is literary, full of quotes by famous British authors; it is contemporary, full of references to a typical English or Scottish daily life. And yet, it is full of suspense and dark events.
    We are thrown into the story straightaway, witnessing a terrific crime. However, after these few pages full of tension, the pace slows down notably and we have a whole first part to gat to know the characters. Several stories are mixed together: Reggie’s, Dr. Hunter’s, Louise Monroe’s, Jackson Brodie’s... and many other people’s. The chronology is more or less linear and so we go from one person to another. In these chapters, there is not a lot of action; we get to know the characters we are going to accompany until the end of the book. The way the plot is built reminded me a lot of Harlan Coben’s novels, which always start with different stories that come together in the end.
    It is only about half way through the book that we finally understand the link between these different stories. I would not say there is real suspense, because I had guessed quite a lot of the events, but it did not spoil my reading at all and the tension built up constantly in the second part. From that moment on, the rhythm of the story is a real contrast to the slow – and apparently quiet – life the characters lived at the beginning. I liked the difference and thought it was extremely well balanced; we get to now the characters first and then the action takes place.
    The characters are all extremely well built and attaching. We get to know them extremely well and I particularly enjoyed Reggie, who is the real hero of the novel. Although she does not have a lucky life, she is very clever and kind as well as independent and grown-up – sometimes a little bit too much to my taste. As plays a central role in the plot, all the other characters get to know her and I liked the way their relationships slowly developed.
    The great number of deaths and murders – I think that all of the characters have a member of their family who died of natural or unnatural cause – was sometimes too much for me, but although there were so many coincidences, I was not disturbed by the fact that the story was unrealistic or unlikely. This is probably due to the author’s writing style and the way she constructed her story.
    In summary, When will there be good news ? is a good book, between psychological and crime novel. Kate Atkinson’s writing style is no doubt its biggest strength, with many touches of humour in the middle of a rather macabre story – something fresh and unexpected that will lead us through the pages.

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  • Author: Jodi Picoult
    Publication date: 2009
    Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
    Pages: 432
    My opinion

    * You don't love someone because they're perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they're not.*

    Sara Fitzgerald's daughter Kate is just two years old when she is diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. Reeling with the helpless shock of it, Sara knows she will do anything -- whatever it takes - to save her child. Then the tests results come back time and again to show that no one in their family is a match for Kate. If they are to find a donor for the crucial bone marrow transplant she needs, there is only one option: creating another baby, specifically designed to save her sister. For Sara, it seems the ideal solution. Not only does Kate live, but she gets a beautiful new daughter, Anna, too. Until the moment Anna hands Sara the papers that will rock her whole world. Because, aged thirteen, Anna has decided that she doesn't want to help Kate live any more. She is suing her parents for the rights to her own body.

    * If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone? *

    My sister’s keeper had been in my bookshelf for a while before I decided to read it. I was not convinced that I would like it – or rather, I was quite convinced that I would not like it – probably because of the plot. Anna is thirteen years old and her sister, Kate, suffers from a rare form of leukaemia. From the moment she was conceived, she was destined to help Kate survive. But Anna has had enough and decides to sue her parents for the right of her own body, although she knows that this decision will change their life forever.
    When I read the summary, I thought Jodi Picoult’s novel was going to be one of these heart-rending stories where the author tries to make you cry from the beginning to the end; that it would be centred on Kate’s illness only to the detriment of the family and the characters; that the end would be predictable and contain no suspense. Luckily, I decided to start it anyway and I must say I was extremely surprise by how much I enjoyed it. The book was completely different from what I had imagined.
    Of course, in such a story, illness has got a central part. However, I liked the was the author dealt with it because we could feel that she knew a lot about the topic although we did not have to read pages and pages of medical explanations. A few specific terms were used, but it was more to lead us into the setting than to really give information about leukaemia. So it is present along the whole story, but in the background.
    We focus on Anna’s family, her own personality as well as her parents’, Kate’s and her brother’s and the relationships between these very realistic characters. Each short chapter is told by a different person, which enables us to have a different viewpoint on the events. It is an interesting narrative choice because it stops us from being on Anna’s side or against her. As the story unfolds and we share each of the characters’ experiences, we understand that such a situation is not as easy as it may seem: each person has got their reasons and sometimes there is perhaps no right or wrong.
    The narrators are Anna, her parents and her brother Jesse, but we also have several chapters told by Campbell Alexander, Anna’s lawyer, and Julia Romano, the guardian ad litem appointed by the judge who has to decide what it better for the girl. Although I found it strange at the beginning, I then enjoyed having parts of the story told by characters that are not part of the family. I felt it brought reality to the story and diversion. In a way, it reminds us that no matter how hard the situation of a family is, other people around them also go on with their lives. One of the details that caught my attention was that Kate is not the narrator – except in one single chapter – despite the fact that she is the main actor in the story. I was a little disappointed at first, but after finishing it, I think it was a rather clever option.
    As I said before, I appreciated the fact that the story was not tragic all the time. With such a theme, it was of course not going to be cheerful and merry, but several scenes are funny and will make us laugh. The timeline is not linear, as we have several flashbacks, which help us understand the character’s present actions.
    Jodi Picoult also handles a theme which acquires more and more importance in our current life: genetic engineering. It is something subject to debate and controversy in the medical and political world nowadays and in is interesting to see how, in the story, it is also difficult to decide if it is right or wrong, good or bad. Although it does not occupy a central place in the story, several allusions are made to this matter.
    The ending – which is probably what most readers will want to know before they start reading the novel – is not a happy one. Realistically, it cannot be a happy-ending. However, you will probably be taken aback by several twists and turns in the last pages, where the tension builds up until the last dramatic event occurs. I do not want to give away what happens, as it would spoil your reading, but this ending troubled me deeply. I still cannot decide if I like it or not but it clearly made me want to reread the novel with the new pieces of information I had.
    My sister’s keeper is an amazing novel and I was not able to put it down until I had read it all. The writing style is nice and draws us into the story, mixing different viewpoints, present and flashbacks and tragic events with comic moments. It is a perfectly balanced story and my best read in the year so far. Let us hope the cinematographic adaptation will live up to the book’s success!

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  • Challenge A&M Sagas
    Organisé par: le Forum A&M
    Du 1er janvier 2013 au 31 décembre 2013
    Voici le troisième challenge organisé par le forum auquel j'ai décidé de participer. J'ai attendu un bon moment, mais je n'ai finalement pas réussi à résister.

    Les Sagas font partie intégrante du monde de la littérature. C'est avec plaisir que l'on retrouve nos personnages préférés sur plusieurs tomes, pour vivre différentes aventures et en apprendre toujours plus en se disant que la fin d'un tome n'est pas la fin de l'histoire. C'est pour célébrer les sagas que nous avons décidé de lancer un challenge spécial.

    Le principe est simple : vous choisissez autant de sagas que vous le souhaitez tant que vous vous engagez à les lire du premier au dernier tomes (parus évidemment). Certaines sagas étant plus denses que d'autres, celles de plus de 5 tomes compteront double, celles de plus de 10 tomes triple et ainsi de suite. Vous devrez poster les avis sur les tomes au fur et à mesure sur le forum.

    Vu le nombre de challenges auxquels je participe, je m'inscris au niveau le plus bas, Apprenti sorcier, pour lequel il faut lire entre 1 et 5 sagas. J'aurai ainsi l'occasion de me plonger (ou de me replonger) dans des livres qui attendent depuis bien longtemps d'être lus.

    1) Stravaganza: by Mary Hoffman (6/6) => COMPLETED **

    2) Die Weiße-Wolke-Trilogie: von Sarah Lark (0/3)

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  • Auteur : Ambre Dubois
    Date de publication : 2012
    Editions : Éditions du Chat Noir
    Pages : 304
    Mon avis

    * Là, entre deux hautes pierres sombres, parfaitement immobile, se tenait un jeune homme enveloppé dans une lourde et épaisse cape noire. Sous sa capuche dégoulinante d'eau, je pus apercevoir des parcelles de son visage. Un visage d'une blancheur d'outre-tombe, dur et menaçant, creusé d'ombres et d'obscurité.
    Et surtout, ce qui me coupa le souffle dut la vision de ses deux yeux flamboyants d'une lueur d'un rouge écarlate diabolique, reflétant les flammes de l'enfer. Nul être humain ne pouvait posséder pareil faciès et regard aussi terrifiant. *

    Au pied d'un cercle de menhirs, une jeune femme aux cheveux et aux yeux couleur corbeau se réveille. Qui est-elle ? Elle l'ignore. Où se trouve-t-elle ? Elle va bientôt le découvrir...
    En plein territoire picte, résistant aux envahisseurs romains, une tribu celte recueille la mystérieuse femme. Rapidement, elle va se trouver mêlée au quotidien de ce peuple, à ses légendes, à ses mystères et à ses désespoirs. Le cercle de pierres sera-t-il la clef qui lui rendra son identité ?
    À moins que ce ne soit le vampire qui la surveille dans l'ombre...
    La Dame sombre, premier tome des Damnés de Dana, nous entraîne immédiatement dans le vif du sujet. Une jeune femme se réveille au pied d'un cercle de menhirs, incapable de se rappeler son identité. Forcée à fuir par un étrange personnage menaçant, elle est recueillie par un clan picte et s'installe avec eux en attendant de retrouver la mémoire. Cependant, la quête de son passé n'est pas la seule préoccupation de la jeune femme ; en effet, le peuple celte est menacé, non seulement par les créatures des Ombres, mais également par les Romains, qui poussent leur conquêtes de plus en plus au nord du mur d'Hadrien.
    Comme j'ai un intérêt particulier pour le monde celte, c'est tout d'abord le décor et la période durant laquelle se déroule le roman qui m'ont attirée : des lieux magnifiques où la nature est reine, des légendes passionnantes, des dieux et autres créatures mystérieuses... L'idée d'y introduire des vampires me paraissait intéressante, quoique un peu étrange, car je ne les aurais jamais imaginés dans ce contexte. Je dois toutefois admettre que je me suis rapidement laissé séduire par ce mélange inédit qu'est la rencontre entre Pictes, Romains et vampires... et peut-être même d'autres créatures mystérieuses, qui sait?
    La plume d'Ambre Dubois m'a une fois encore transportée par sa légèreté et son côté poétique. Malgré un rythme plutôt lent dans certains passages, on ne se lasse pas de la lecture; les mots nous portent de découvertes en mystères, nous poussant à chercher des réponses, aux côtés de l'héroïne, sur son identité. De plus, les explications historiques nous permettant de faire connaissance avec les dieux et la culture celte s'insèrent très naturellement dans le récit ; n'importe quel lecteur a donc les clefs en main pour comprendre cette période passionnante de l'histoire.
    L'intrigue en elle-même est bien construite, même si j'ai parfois trouvé qu'elle méritait d'être un peu plus développée ; tout semble un peu simple, les pièces du puzzle s'emboîtent de manière un peu trop parfaite pour que les événements soient réellement crédibles. De même, la relation amoureuse qui s'instaure entre notre héroïne et son jeune guerrier est un peu trop rapide à mon goût, mais ces passages romantiques sont toutefois très agréables et romantiques.
    Nous rencontrons plusieurs autres personnages, ce qui est très agréable car nous ne nous focalisons par uniquement sur l'héroïne, comme c'est bien souvent le cas dans ce type de romans. Ainsi, chaque personne est bien développée et les descriptions précises des scènes nous permettent généralement de nous faire une idée précise de leur personnalité, y laissant toutefois la part de mystère nécessaire, en particulier dans le cas de vampires.
    Si la première partie du roman s'écoule de manière relativement paisible, malgré les différentes menaces pesant sur le clan picte et les interrogations de notre héroïne, la fin présente un retournement de situation qui m'a incroyablement surprise. Autant dire que je ne m'y attendais pas du tout et que l'effet est donc très réussi. L'unique élément que je pourrais critiquer dans ce sens, sans en dire trop pour ne pas gâcher le plaisir des lecteurs, est que les raisons données pour expliquer cet acte me paraissent un peu faibles. En réfléchissant aux conséquences que cela entraîne, j'ai de la peine à m'imaginer que tout ait commencé ainsi. Cependant, comme il ne s'agit ici que d'un premier tome, la suite nous réserve peut-être encore des surprises et d'autres explications un peu plus convaincantes.
    Ambre Dubois nous propose donc un roman riche en rebondissements, mêlant histoire et fantasy: dans un monde où la religion de Rome devient si importante sur tout le continent, nous découvrons les anciennes croyances d'un peuple celte proche de la nature et polythéiste qui doit se battre pour conserver sa culture et ses traditions. Des éléments mystiques s'ajoutent ensuite à la trame, nous proposant un alliage pour le moins original.
    La Dame sombre est mon premier coup de cœur de l'année. Je remercie le forum A&M pour l'organisation de ce tour, les Éditions du Chat Noir pour leur confiance et, bien sûr, l'auteur pour son histoire entraînante et originale. J'attends la suite avec grande impatience !

    Partenariat avec les Éditions du Chat Noir
    Un grand à la maison d'édition pour sa confiance

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