BOOK REVIEWS

The Neil Gaiman Reader: Selected Fiction by Neil Gaiman

The Neil Gaiman Reader showcases Gaiman’s range as an author. Gaiman moves between genres and tones like no other. From funny fairy-talesque stories to more ambiguous narratives with dystopian or horror elements. While I have read most of his novels and a few of his novellas I hadn’t really ‘sunk’ my teeth in his short stories. The ones that appear in this collection have been selected by his own fans, and are presented in chronological order. While it was interesting to see the way his writing developed I did not prefer his newer stuff to his older one. In fact, some of my favorite of his stories are the ones from the 80s and 90s. Even then his writing demonstrates both humor and creativity. Some of the stories collected here read like morality tales while others offer more perplexing messages. Many of his stories revolve around the act of storytelling or have a story-within-story structure. At times he retells old classics, such as Sleeping Beauty, while other times he offers his own take on Cthulhu, Sherlock Holmes, and even Doctor Who. A few favorites of mine were: ‘Chivalry’, ‘Murder Mysteries’, ‘The Goldfish and Other Stories’, ‘The Wedding Present’, and ‘October in the Chair’. If you are a Gaiman fan and, like me, have not read many of his short stories you should definitely consider picking this collection up.


my rating:
★★★★☆

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How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

“I am nothing,” Cardan said, “if not dramatic.”

Holly Black’s prose is as tantalising as ever.
The tales collected in How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories focus on Cardan. We learn more of his childhood and get to see certain scenes and events from The Cruel Prince through his perspective.
Stories are at the heart of this volume as Cardan has various encounters with the troll Aslog who presents him with different spins on the same tale (in which a boy with a sharp tongue is cursed with a heart of stone…sounds familiar?).
Although Cardan is as capricious and dramatic as ever we do get to see why he is the way he is. Black does not condone his behaviour and there is some great character development on his part.
The illustrations are simply stunning. There are quite a lot and they are all beautiful. Rovina Cai’s style and the tones she uses really suit this Black’s faerie world.
If you are a fan of The Folk of the Air trilogy I would definitely recommend you pick this one up.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire — book review

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Although occasionally entertaining, Come Tumbling Down struck me as a rather unnecessary and insubstantial addition to the Wayward Children series.

“Once a wayward child, always a wayward child.”

Don’t get me wrong: Seanan McGuire’s writing style is as lush as ever. Her prose, with its use rhythm and repetition, echoes that of fairy-tale, lending a certain allure to her narrative. As with the previous instalments McGuire weaves real issues into her fantastical setting (such as body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, anxiety, OCD, trauma) however in this case not all of them were seamlessly woven into her story. Some—such as body dysmorphia—were just rushed through and consequently seemed to lack depth.

“No one should have to sit and suffer and pretend to be someone they’re not because it’s easier, or because no one wants to help them fix it.”

The story sadly feels like a rehash of the previous volumes. Part of me doesn’t think that we needed another chapter that focused on Jack and Jill…the dynamics between Jack and Miss West’s students—old and new—weren’t all that compelling. I wish we could have had more of Christopher or Kade instead. The exchanges between the characters felt repetitive and aimless.
The humour felt forced. Sumi was very much the ‘clown’ character who eased the tension of a scene by saying something silly/absurd. The quest itself felt unfocused and made Jill into a rather one-sided character.
On the one hand I really love McGuire’s writing…but here her storyline and characters lacked depth.There were some clever phrases and some ‘aesthetic’ character descriptions but they never amounted to anything truly substantial. Pretty words aside, Come Tumbling Down doesn’t really add anything new to this series.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black – book review

71sHbfc2H9L.jpgCourt intrigue ahoy!

“We have lived in our armor for so long, you and I. And now I am not sure if either of us knows how to remove it.”

Holly Black’s sensual and lush writing style perfectly complements the menacing world her heroine inhabits.
Black’s silvery prose brims with lavish descriptions: she renders the extravagances of the fairy realm, from their wild and dreadly revels to their taste for grandeur and riddles. Whether she is describing their dresses or foods Black truly succeeds in conveying how decadent and unpredictable the faerie world is. Black’s depicting of the fae and their ways is simultaneously alluring and threatening. Regardless of their appearance—whether they are painfully beautiful or possess disturbing attributes (I’m fairly sure there were a few fae who resembled spiders in here)—and personality, Black’s faerie’s speak in an invitingly mellifluous language. Given their inability to lie there is an emphasis on how they phrase things. Even when making threats or bargains the fae retain their ability to form beautifully articulated phrases.
Black’s faerie world is thrumming with the tantalising presence of magic. While this world offers many glamorous and temptation we are always aware of the danger it poses (to mortals in particular it’s definitely not all fun and games).

“[I]n the great game of princes and queens, I have been swept off the board.”

Jude is a compelling main character and her arc is one of the most interesting aspect of these novels. Perhaps this is due her being the narrator of these novels but she is definitely the most fleshed out character in this series. In this last instalment we really see how much progress she has made. Her resilient nature is stronger than ever. She is brave, if occasionally foolish, and can definitely spin a tale or two. Rather than letting herself be blinded by her thirst for power and revenge, she demonstrates how much she cares for her siblings and the faerie world.
The other characters, although entertaining enough, struck me as occasionally being a bit one dimensional. Jude’s sisters in particular. Taryn is given a sort of ‘redemption arc’ (similarly to other previously ‘wicked’ characters in this series) that just didn’t convince me. Her personality is…pretty bland. Vivi seemed to be the series’ comic relief…which in some ways worked, given that most of the other characters take themselves rather seriously.

“It’s ridiculous the way everyone acts like killing a king is going to make someone better at being one,” Vivi says. “Imagine if, in the mortal world, a lawyer passed the bar by killing another lawyer.”

Cardan is as amusing as ever. I was once again not entirely convinced by some of the reasons we are given about his ‘wicked’ past…I’d preferred for him to have grown into a better person rather than having been somewhat misunderstood. Nevertheless, I still loved his presence in this volume (still not a fan of his tail though, my best friend and I had a similar knee-jerk reaction when we read this: “His tail lashes back and forth, the furred end stroking over the back of my calf.”)

“Mortals are fragile,” I say.
“Not you,” he says in a way that sounds a little like a lament. “You never break.”

Usually romances are not my favourite aspect of a story or a series but in the case of Jude and Cardan…well, their chemistry is off the charts. Their scenes are just pure enjoyment.
It was also refreshing to see the way their relationship changes and develops throughout the course of this series. Their deadly romance is the perfect combination of angsty and dazzling. Now this is how you portray a convincing enemy-to-lovers romance.

“It wasn’t an accident, his choice of words. It wasn’t infelicitous. It was deliberate. A riddle made just for me.”

While the scope of this series is rather narrow Black has plenty of tricks up her sleeves and the dynamics between the various characters are always shifting. The fast paced plot of The Queen of Nothing has quite a few surprises along the way (maybe not as twisty as the ending of The Cruel Prince but still…).
The resolution felt too neat (the epilogue was particularly cheesy) but I still enjoyed seeing (or reading) how things unfolded.
At times I craved for a more leisurely pace amidst the heart-in-throat action, the many double-crossings and face offs.

While I did prefer The Cruel Prince to its follow ups, I would still heartily recommend this series (even if The Queen of Nothing makes for an entertaining, if a bit rushed, finale).

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) : Book Review

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The True Queen
by Zen Cho
★★★★✰ 4.5 stars

Now this is what I call a great companion novel.

“Relations are a terrible burden to a girl with magical ability.”

It’s not easy to describe this series. A mad fantasy romp? A comedy of manners? A fantasy of manners? A pastiche 18th– and 19th-century literature? Fun quests?
I strongly recommend reading Sorcerer to the Crown before embarking on this one. I actually think I enjoyed this novel more because I started this knowing more about Zen Cho’s style and magical world.

The story focuses on Muna and her sister, Sakti, both of whom have lost their memory. Waking up after a storm they remember only their names and that they are sisters. The two travel from the island of Janda Baik (where Sakti is trained by the powerful witch Mak Genggang) to England. Sakti however is spirited away during their shortcut through the unseen realm (aka fairyland), and Muna arrives alone to England.
Here we are reunited with familiar faces such as the Sorceress Royal (Prunella!), her husband, Zacharias Whyte, and Henrietta Stapleton (a schoolmate of Prunella).
The novel follows different characters, and Cho easily waves together their different storylines. Muna remains the central figure of the story and I was utterly absorbed by her determination to rescue her sister.
Along the way she will have to lie (something she doesn’t like to do), adapt to a society which is not friendly towards women practicing magic or foreigners (more than a few ‘respectable’ members of the British society refer to her as a ‘native’), trick a number of magical creatures, and forge an unexpected friendship (which might blossom into something more).

Cho’s pays incredible attention to etiquette and modes of behaviour. She includes a lot of archaic English words (mumchance might be a new favourite) and really brings to life the old British empire without romanticising it. Yes, her world is enchanting but the society she focuses on has very conservative social mores (our protagonists are judged on the basis of their ethnicity, race, sex, and class). Yet, it isn’t all gloom and doom! Quite the opposite in fact. Humour and wit underline this narrative and I was smiling throughout.

Do you know that food must only speak when it is spoken to?

Cho combines different mythologies and folklores creating a unique compendium of magical beings and traditions: there are fairies, dragons, lamias, vampiresses, as well as Malaysian spirits and supernatural beings such as a weretigers, bunians, and polongs. The unseen realm is richly imagined and I loved the parts set in it (those scenes gave me strong Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland vibes).

The more the polong said, the less reassured Muna felt. “But are not spirits famously changeable?”
“I will have you know that is an offensive generalisation,” said the polong. “No one could accuse me of inconstancy.

The way in which magic works in Cho’s world is just as interesting as I remembered (more cloud-riding, yay!).
The characters were another delightful aspect to this story. Regardless of their standing (wherever they were old fogeys or angry dragons) they were portrayed in an almost endearing way. Muna was probably my favourite character. I loved the way she looked up to Mak Genggang, her bond with her sister, her sense of duty, her sheer determination…

This is escapist fiction at its best. It provided me with a brilliant story, an interesting mystery, magic, funny mishaps, balls, a dash of romance, and non-stop entertainment.

“When I have mislaid my things, murder is not my first course of action,” said Prunella. “What I do is look for them—and quite often I find them.”

One of my favourite scenes features a depressed dragon:

“No one ever saw a longer face on a dragon.
He had never been overly fond of the usual draconic pursuits and in the circumstances they lost all their savour.
At most he might dutifully pick off a unicorn that had wandered away from its herd, but he had not the heart to finish devouring the carcass before his appetite failed him. ”

Another brilliant scene was when Muna told off a bunch of rude fossils paintings:

“I am a guest in your country, I am entitled to your hospitality, and instead you hoot like monkeys. You dishonour your white hair by your conduct. Men so old should know better!”

My review of Sorcerer to the Crown.

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IN AN ABSENT DREAM: BOOK REVIEW

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In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire

 ★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars

Katherine–never Kate, never Kitty, never anything but Katherine, sensible Katherine, up-and-down Katherine, as dependable as a sundial whittling away the summer afternoons–was ordinary enough to have become remarkable entirely without noticing it.

Compared to the previous volumes in this series [book:In an Absent Dream|38244358] is a bit of a let down.McGuire’s writing style is enchanting: she uses a lot of repetition which gives the narrative an almost hypnotising rhythm (recalling traditional faerie tales). This instalment follows Lundy, a character previously introduced in [book:Every Heart a Doorway|25526296], who is a solitary and quiet child fond of books and logic. After entering a special sort of door she ends up in the Goblin Market.
AbsentDream-Memories.jpgWhile novel takes inspiration from Rossetti’s [book:Goblin Market|430788] the two do not have a lot in common. The market featuring in this story seemed rather dull. Yes, there are plenty of weird rules that make little sense, and two sisters appear in this in this story, but for the most part Lundy’s adventure lacked the allure and danger of Rossetti’s market.
I also found it weird that a the ‘strict’ rules did not seem to be clearly obeyed by all characters. Initially it seems that no one can ask any question of any sort, then it turns out that very young children can on occasion, and then someone says that it depends from the sort of question.This Goblin Market wasn’t clear cut.
Lundy looses a friend which readers are never aquatinted with, and she goes on dangerous adventures which we also never get to see. Why put these things in? To make this world more interesting?
The characters seemed a bit like a mix of the characters AbsentDream-Market.jpgfeaturing in the previous volumes of this series.
The beginning has a lot of potential. It reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making but the story that unfolds is both rushed and surprisingly boring.
Still, McGuire’s writing is compulsive enough to make up for the rest.

He shouldn’t have treated her like she didn’t matter. He shouldn’t have treated her like his idea of a girl.

 

Review of Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2)

Review of Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3)

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Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire


McGuire’s style resonates completely with the fairytales she draws from. Her lyric narration thrums with the magic which she portrays. Her prose is alluring, it carries a melodic repetition that is incredibly compelling. And while she might be paying homage to old tales, McGuire is also creating her own – equally spellbinding – tales.
Her characters showcase plenty of emotional depth, and McGuire swiftly establishes their differences and similarities. The plot-line in this instalment does not carry as many surprises as the one of Every Heart a Doorway or Down Among the Sticks and Bones, but is nevertheless a vivid and endearing take on the ‘hero’s journey’. The various worlds visited by Cora and the others were all equally tantalising.
That McGuire is able to interwoven realistic issues (eg. anxiety) into a fantastical setting makes her novel all the more unique.
Scary and delightful, bitter and sweet, Beneath the Sugar Sky is a must for any fairy-tale aficionados.

My rating: 4.25 stars

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

First things first: I read both Tithe and Valiant, when I was about twelve or so, and I absolutely loved them. They influenced my later readings, for I had found myself desperately in want of more dark fairy tales.
To say that I was looking forward to The Cruel Prince would be an understatement. I was ecstatic when I discovered that Holly Black was writing more about the faerie world of her previous novels, so I impatiently awaited the release of this novel. I’m happy to say (or write) that the gorgeous cover and intriguing synopsis fulfilled – and surpassed – my high expectations.

One of the main characteristics of this novel is that it is extremely sensual. There are the more apparent lush scenes, but also there are many observations and remarks referring to Jude’s sensory faculties: there is an emphasis on smell, taste and touch. Because of this the faerie world is extremely vivid and clear cut. There is an almost tangible physicality to Jude’s surroundings, one that, more often than not, borders on being both dangerous and sexual. Holly Black is able to write of a scarily convincing world, by playing with established tropes but also by forging her own lore. Her fairy world is so satisfying. Her fairies are tantalizing: they play clever tricks, employ artful magic and live in alluring castles.

The narrator Jude, despite being a ‘mere‘ human, can hold her own ground against her immortal companions. Too many times we find a simply ‘likeable’ heroine, who is not nearly as complex or developed as her male counterpart or other secondary characters. Jude, instead, is one of – if not the – most absorbing characters of the story. She is nuanced and flawed, possessing an admirable resilience and an understable thirst for power. She is an unconventional heroine, and I loved her in spite – and because – of that. She confides in us, and while she isn’t always truthful, I felt connected to her. And while this novel may be called ‘The Cruel Prince’ Prince Cardan is not the main focus of the story, Jude plays the vital role in her own story. Still, Cardan was incredibly fascinating, and he too cannot be neatly fitted into the ‘antihero’ category. Holly doesn’t make condone his cruelty or his behaviour, and yet, she is able to give him other attributes that make him as complicated as Jude. There is an array of fully fleshed out side characters: there are many characters who make an impact on Jude and her story, her sisters, her ‘father’, her ‘Court’…
The story is at once fast paced and not. Many things happen but Holly Black never rushes the plot. There are almost leisurely passages in which we can glimpse the faerie world and its customs, and I was more than happy to see certain familiar faces…
A beautifully written captivating fairy tale, one that is satisfyingly eerie and intricate.

My Rating: 5 stars

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