Balloon Animals ~ Jonathan Dunne

  • Title: Balloon Animals
  • Author: Jonathan Dunne
  • Genre: Literature, Fiction
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Emma, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  BALLOON ANIMALS is a pilgrimage and road-trip of unusual dimensions.

Follow me, Jonny Rowe, on a wild goose-chase from Ireland to the USA with my American grandfather’s remains in my red birthday balloon. I use ‘remains’ in the loosest sense of the word: my grandfather, 45, puffed his last breaths of air into my birthday balloon before suffering a massive heart attack right there at my birthday party which becomes my deathday party.

Feeling responsible for 45’s death and as a thank-you for filling Clinical Dad’s void after leaving that questionable suicide note, I make it my quest to return 45 to his birthplace amongst the corn of Iowa, USA, suspended inside his soul-bubble. This journey might also help me with my identity-crisis … I’m a genealogy student, by the way. And who knows, maybe I’ll find love. I tend to find things when I’m not looking for them. I have more detours than I had planned because 45 isn’t the man we thought we knew … if we ever knew him.

Join me on a desperate race against time to unveil the truth as my birthday balloon begins to deflate and loose 45 forever to the wind.

Review:  The book starts funny and just kept going. I frequently found myself laughing out loud at “Mrs Brown’s Boys” type Irish humour which, I have to say, Mr Dunne captures beautifully with his observational writing.

The book is very clever in that it lulls you into a false sense of complacency. Leading you to think the book will be one farcical episode after another, which I quite like. However, the book is much more than that. Once you have a clear sense of who Jonny Rowe and his back-up cast (Cha, The Reiki Mistress and Vera), the story suddenly bursts forth amidst the humour and grows into itself. It still maintains its humour but the adventure really promotes curiosity in the reader and the book then takes on the mantle of “Mystery”. That’s when I found it really difficult to put the book down. I just had to know who 45 really was!

My respect for Jonny Rowe grew through the story. I do believe that was Mr Dunne’s intention as Jonny Rowe himself matured and grew to respect himself through the ups and downs of his adventure. This book is a story of personal discovery, written under the guise of humour, but with a genuinely emotional backbone that, in my opinion, provides the foundation for the humour to work.

I doff my cap to you, Mr Dunne, and thank you warmly for the laughs (and the tears).

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Down to You ~ M. Leighton

  • Title: Down to You
  • Author: M. Leighton
  • Series: The Bad Boys #1
  • Genre: Romance, Chick Lit
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  The scorching tale of one girl, two brothers and a love triangle…that’s not. Olivia Townsend is nothing special. She’s just a girl working her way through college so she can return home to help her father run his business. She’s determined not to be the second woman in his life to abandon him, even if it means putting her own life on hold. To Olivia, it’s clear what she must do. Plain and simple. Black and white. But clear becomes complicated when she meets Cash and Nash Davenport. They’re brothers. Twins.

Cash is everything she’s always wanted in a guy. He’s a dangerous, sexy bad boy who wants her in his bed at any cost. He turns her insides to mush and, with just one kiss, makes her forget why he’s no good for her. Nash is everything she’s ever needed in a guy. He’s successful, responsible and intensely passionate. But he’s taken. Very taken, by none other than Marissa, Liv’s rich, beautiful cousin. That doesn’t stop Olivia from melting every time he looks at her, though. With just one touch, he makes her forget why they can never be together.

Black and white turns to shades of gray when Olivia discovers the boys are hiding something, something that should make her run as far and as fast as she can. But it’s too late to run. Olivia’s already involved. And in love. With both of them. Both brothers make her heart tremble. Both brothers set her body on fire. She wants them both. And they want her. How will she ever choose between them?

Review:  Olivia knows she’s in trouble. She has a weakness for bad boys. Men who are an edgy parallel to herself, a responsible farm girl. This time, she’s not falling for just a bad boy. She’s falling for identical twin brothers who incite a need in her to be reckless. To leave her mind behind as the chaotic whirl of emotions, driving needs and spontaneous actions thrusts her headlong into living a wild fantasy.

Well done, M. Leighton, well done! A small part of me thought it was coming but I didn’t think too hard about it because I was flowing along with the story and enjoying it. There are complicated elements to the book but my responses to it are simple. Down to earth girl meets two boys and decides to take some chances. There’s passion, humorous flirting, wordless exchanges full of something, and knock down honesty mixed with–well, I don’t want to ruin it for you!

I admit that I didn’t go into this book with the intention to think too much. I wanted a fun, sexy read and that’s exactly what I got! Yay! Where’s Shawna, Olivia’s bestie that’s getting married? She’s a fun sidekick and I’m sad that she wasn’t in the story more. I’m willing to suffer more exposure to Marco. Haha! Ginger is a hoot and she reminds me of a few friends.

My favorite word from the whole book: Deassholization.
It doesn’t even need a definition! Mwahahahhahah~

The story is full of characters that I can easily envision and relate to. It’s a sexy romance with it’s own twist. Is it bad that I think it’s sweet? That I enjoyed my chick lit and came away happy? NAH!!!

I’ll definitely read the next book in the series!

3.5 Stars~

The Influence of History on Epic Fantasy by Anthony Ryan

When considering the course of epic fantasy as a genre since its inception with Lord of the Rings, I can’t help but recognise its debt to, and continued reliance on, the study of history. Tolkien was not a historian but he was a renowned scholar of Anglo Saxon literature and its to this influence that we owe many of the tropes of epic fantasy. However, Tolkien’s seminal work is really a blend of successive European eras that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. Whilst the Hobbits of the Shire exist in a medieval world of inns, developed agriculture and clearly delineated geographical boundaries (south farthing, east farthing etc), the world of men is an altogether more Dark Age place, echoing the epic of Beowulf with its magic jewellery, endless lineages and culture of heroic monster slayers. In comparison the world of Elves seems more akin to the reduced lot of the indigenous Celts of Britain following the Saxon invasions; an increasingly marginalised people, worshipping trees and composing ballads on the fringes of a growing empire. It may be stretching a point, but the ever busy dwarves and downtrodden but productive orcs of Mordor could be read as Tolkien’s reaction to the march of industry and loss of romantic ideals following the advent of the Enlightenment.

That other principal progenitor of modern fantasy, Robert E. Howard, also borrowed extensively from history in creating the Hyborian age across which Conan strode with broadsword in hand. Although the world of Conan is not strictly speaking a second world fantasy, he exists in a mythical forgotten age between fall of Atlantis and “the rise of the sons of Aryas” (read ‘Aryans’ – Howard, sadly, was a bit of a racist). He felt little compunction in including Picts and pseudo-Vikings in this apparently prehistoric land, along with the gods of the Celts and Egyptians, none of which were contemporaneous.

As Howard demonstrates, one reason why fantasy authors find so much inspiration in history is the simple fact that it saves a lot of work. Why spend time creating an entirely fictional chronology, culture and belief system when any reference library has it all for free? This is not meant to denigrate the work of authors who tend to mine the past for plots, among whom I include myself. David Gemmell’s Rigante series, for example, makes a positive virtue of its pseudo-historical setting. The first two books, Sword in the Storm (1999) and Midnight Falcon (2000), are a retelling of the Roman conquest of Celtic Europe, except this time the Celts, embodied in fierce warrior folk the Rigante, get to win. The next two books, Ravenheart (2001) and Stormrider (2002), propel the narrative forward eight hundred years finding the Rigante now an oppressed northern hill tribe facing off against religiously inspired southern invaders, essentially a reworking of the conflict between Scotland and England during the Cromwellian Protectorate. However, Gemmell is never a slave to real world chronology, mixing in shades of the exploits of Rob Roy, the later Jacobite rebellions and the colonisation of North America along the way.

It’s this freedom enjoyed by the fantasy author that makes the employment of historical elements such a powerful tool. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing and Aspect Emperor series can be read as reimagining of the crusades, with a hefty dose of modern philosophy and Tolkien mixed in. Bakker has concocted a world every bit as morally and politically complex as Europe and the Arabian peninsular in the 12th century, with a plethora of different nations, cultures and belief systems fighting ever more destructive wars. Similarly, George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire could be described as historical fiction without the history, the endless feuds of Westeros a restaging of the Wars of the Roses on a greatly enlarged canvas.

The parallels to historical reality in Martin’s work are rarely obvious, his often short-lived characters embodying the spirit of brutal medieval Europe without being brazenly allegorical. Scheming ultra-bitch Cersei Lannister bears some resemblance to the formidable Queens of France and England in the 13th -14th centuries, but is an undeniably great fictional creation in her own right. Sadly, history has always been rich in Joffreys (President Assad, I’m talking to you) and, for all their pretensions to chivalry, one of the few real medieval knights who came close to displaying the decency and courage of a Ned Stark was 11th century Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar – known to history, and Hollywood, as El Cid. Although, Scotland’s Robert the Bruce runs him a close second (if you overlook the whole stabbing a man to death in church stuff).

Re-watching the old Charlton Heston epic was in fact one of the starting points for my own Raven’s Shadow series; the concept of a man set apart by honour and loyalty in an age of betrayal and war was a major element in the genesis of my main character Vaelin Al Sorna. I also owe a debt to Philip Ziegler’s The Black Death (1969), possibly the most readable account of the plague that claimed an estimated third of the European population in the 14th century, for my own similarly apocalyptic Red Hand. The crusades were at the back of my mind in conceiving of King Janus’s unjust war on the Alpiran Empire, but recent events in Iraq, and the opium wars in China during the early 19th century, were probably more of an influence.

Not all epic fantasy is so reliant on history however, the world of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series reflects many typical elements found in slaveocracies throughout the ages, most closely, but not exactly, resembling the serfdom of Tsarist Russia. However, its mostly urban setting and inventive world-building make it a distinguished outsider to the cod-medieval club. Those seeking perhaps the ultimate imaginary slaveocracy should look no further than the exquisitely horrible world of Ricardo Pinto’s Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy, an often gruesome magnification of the excesses and intrigues typical of ancient Rome, but played out in a completely original world with few obvious parallels to our own.

The influence of history on epic fantasy has been considerable, and certainly a component in its success as a genre. But that success is dependent on a willingness to engage with the truths history has to tell us rather than the myths. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a richer and more interesting place for his sombre recognition that for one culture to flourish others often have to die. The world of men ultimately cannot tolerate the world of elves any more than the Saxons could tolerate the Celts or European settlers could tolerate the Native Americans. The knights of Westeros would be a dull bunch indeed if they didn’t embody the brutality and self-serving ambition of the real medieval knight, as well as the courage and loyalty of which they were also capable. History is inspiration for the fantasy author and, if employed with respect and insight, possibly an education for the reader, even if it’s all made up.

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For more information on the author and his work, check out Anthony Ryan’s website.

This article was originally posted on September 3, 2012 at the Fantasy Book Critic.

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