BOOK REVIEWS

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark

This is the third novella I’ve read by P. Djèlí Clark and once again I find myself loving his building but not his story or characters. This novella is set in an alternate 1912 Cairo where djinns and angels are the norm. world happens to be the home to djinns Egypt, . In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Our protagonist is Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi, the classic ‘spunky’ female lead who is has to ‘forge’ her way in an all-male environment, whose latest case involves the apparent suicide of a djinn. Alongside Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr, the classic ‘set in his ways/not so concerned by his job’ male counterpart to this type of female lead, Fatima questions and is confronted by otherworldly and potentially world-destroying beings.

The setting is the most unique and strongest aspect of this novella. The storyline is fast-paced and was too action focused. I would have preferred a slower narrative, one that would have allowed for more interiority from the characters. Still, this was an overall quick and relatively entertaining read and I probably would recommend it just the world-building alone (I mean, we have clockworks angels!).


MY RATING: 3 of 5 stars

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Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Schwab’s aesthetics dominate this novel. There is a focus on how words and phrases sound, which does pay off, in fact, Schwab’s prose is one of the most likeable things of this novel. At times certain turn of phrases or repetitions may come across as pretentious or flowery but I think that for the most part Schwab exerts great control over her words. She measures pauses and words as to instil a rhythm to her narration. So, in some ways, Vicious is more ‘style’ than anything else. What characters say, how they look, how Schwab words things, it all creates a certain ‘look’.
While I did find the story to be engaging (different timelines keep the momentum of the story) I wasn’t completely taken by the characters. They seemed very much ‘sketches’ of existing types: morally grey for the sole purpose of seeming ‘ambiguous’…hopefully the sequel will provide them to be slightly more complex then what they came across as…


MY RATING: 3 of 5 stars

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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare — book review

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“Romance was a lot of work.”

The Red Scrolls of Magic is a fun throwback to Cassandra Clare’s TMI in which Magnus and Alec finally get the stage for themselves. After the Mortal War the couple takes a well-earned romantic getaway in Europe. Once in Paris however an ‘old friend’ of Magnus breaks some bad news to him: a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand, which Magnus himself may have founded as a ‘joke’, is killing downworlders. From then on Magnus and Alec go from France to Italy, trying to find and stop the cult and leaving mayhem in their wake. Getting to know each other isn’t easy, getting to know each other when demons are trying to kill you…well that complicates things.
There is plenty of action and wit in The Red Scrolls of Magic. Even in the most deadly of situations Magnus remains a joker. By contrast Alec finds himself mingling with Magnus’ downworlder acquaintances, most of whom are suspicion or hostile towards Shadowhunters.
This was a very entertaining read. It has plenty of amusing dialogues, it gives some insight into the early stages of Magnus and Alec’s relationship (bonus: we read of Aline and Helen’s first meeting), and it has plenty of romance.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

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Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare — book review

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“We don’t always love people who deserve it.”

To be honest, I thought I was over Cassandra Clare….and it turns out I was very wrong. There is something about the Shadowhunter world that I find interesting. And over the past ten years or so I have grown fond of it and the characters that inhabit it.
Chain of Gold sees Clare at the top of her game. The Infernal Devices series is my favourite by Clare…and Chain of Gold has the same atmosphere. Clare is great at rendering historical settings and I just loved the way she depicts the beginning of the 20th century.
There is angst, quite a few battles, drama, secrets, a few complicated love hexagons, and a lot of longing.

“Would you like to be a muse?”
“No,” said Cordelia. “I would like to be a hero.”

Cordelia Carstairs is perhaps one of my favourite heroines by Clare. Kind, just, not afraid of calling out her loved ones for their rude behaviour. There are so many other characters and relationships that I really loved. I was particularly fond of the bond between Cordelia and Lucie. The somewhat fraught relationship between Cordelia and Alastair was surprisingly poignant. The romantic relationships, often restrained, were engrossing.
The merry thieves (James and his friends) brought to mind Maggie Stiefvater’s the raven boys. James and Grace’s story had quite a few parallels with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
This book made me laugh out loud, squee in delight, and stay up all night.
If I had to pick a favourite character it would probably be Alastair who is far from perfect but has a wonderful character arc.

I loved the setting (London), Clare’s writing, the atmosphere, the characters, the action, and the various mysteries that pop up in the narrative. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman — book review

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“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”

It isn’t surprising that American Gods is regarded as one of the genre-bending novels of all time.
Over the course of 500 pages Neil Gaiman deftly blends together fantasy, sci-fi, horror, noir, myths, history, theology, as well as physical, spiritual, and emotional road-trip. The end result is an incredibly imaginative novel, on that is quite unlike anything else I’ve read.

In the preface to the tenth anniversary edition Gaiman describes his novel as ‘meandering’: “I wanted it to be a number of things. I wanted to write a book that was big and odd and meandering, and I did and it was.” It is indeed meandering, wonderfully so. Gaiman’s consistently entertaining storytelling more than makes up for it. Also, given how many different storylines and characters there are in American Gods, it’s safe to say that I was never bored.

“We do not always remember the things that do no credit to us. We justify them, cover them in bright lies or with the thick dust of forgetfulness.”

Summarising this novel isn’t easy. The first time I read it I didn’t know much about it so I found myself experiencing a lot of ‘what the f*ck is going’ moments. This second time, even if I knew what was coming and where Shadow’s story was headed, I still managed to get lost in Gaiman’s heady prose.
The novel’s protagonist, Shadow, gets out of prison and is hired by the mysterious and relentlessly charismatic Mr. Wednesday. We soon realise that Shadow’s new boss is an endlessly scheming conman, and not quite human.

What follows is an epic journey in which Shadow meets many disgruntled and modernity weary gods and deities, some of whom share snippets of their history or lore with Shadow, while others remain far more unknowable. Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters recounting their arrival to America. From heroic battles and bloody sacrifices to tales of worship and faith that span centuries and cultures, these sections were thoroughly interesting.

Over the course of his road trip Shadow comes across a lot of weird stuff. We have the sense that these encounters are leading to something far more big. Yet, Gaiman keeps his cards close to his chest, and it is only after many many pages that we start to understand where the story is leading Shadow, and us, towards.
There are plenty of things that will keep us engaged in Shadow’s story. A dead wife, coin tricks, cons, sex (with divine beings…so things get pretty freaky), some horrific scenes (of slavery, of war, of death), satire, a small town which gives some serious Twin Peaks vibe, a hubbub of different cultures and voices…and so much more. There is also an ongoing juxtaposition between the past and present, ancient customs and modernity, old lore and modern believes which provided some serious food for thought.

Gaiman presents us with a narrative that is wickedly funny, frequently mischievous, and always brimming with energy. I loved the way he writes about myths and how distinctive and morally ambiguous his characters are. As interesting and beguiling as the various gods and deities are, once again I found myself caring the most for Shadow.
Gaiman’s dialogues and scenes too are memorable and compelling. And while his narrative does wander into obscure and mystical terrains, it always held my undivided attention.
American Gods gives its readers a bonanza of flavours. It is funny, moving, clever, and constantly surprising.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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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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Borderline by Mishell Baker

After her suicide attempt, Millie has lost her legs and gained a myriad of scars. She has spent months in a private clinic, not really planning to get back out. But, when she receives an intriguing ’employment’ offer, she finds herself unable to refuse. Turns out that Hollywood is brimming with fairies, and people like Millie, who has BPD, are more attuned to this magical reality.

Borderline is a fast-paced and addicting read. Millie’s mind is in a constant buzz: her mood swings, and passionate reactions maintain the story’s momentum .
Millie soon discovers that the Arcadia Project is dealing with ‘out of the ordinary’ occurences and that her new ‘colleagues’ are rather *ahem* bonkers *ahem*…which led me to wonder, would they really trust a bunch of really untrustworthy and somewhat unbalanced people with maintaining order between these two worlds? Even Caryl, Millie’s boss, seems to have no clue how to keep them all in check. Millie is kept in the dark a lot of the time, which might allow her to wander off on her own, but is hardly credible. She is meant to obey a series of set rules that no one is willing to explain to her: she inevitably ends up breaking rules that she didn’t even know existed. The power structures in Arcadia Project is also sketchy. We don’t get a fully view on how they operate… Still, despite my initial disbelief, I soon found myself willing to believe that yes, there could be a group of dysfunctional individuals living together mostly tasked with tracking faerie folk gone AWOL.
Millie’s companions are not exactly welcoming, which further distances Millie from their organisation. Millie’s first case is the drive of the story. Turns out that fairies have human soulmates (Echos), and that they can greatly influence creative people: most artists and directors have a fairy friend inspiring them…the Echo of one of a famous – and much admired by Millie – director has seemingly disappeared…
I liked Baker’s take on fairies/magic. They are in some ways as one might expect them: they are alluring, they enjoy misleading humans, and there is a strong divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ fairies. I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea of them having human ‘soulmates’ but I soon become used to it. A thing that I really appreciated was how Baker pays attention to the ‘language’, in fact, Millie notices that newcomers fairies stress the wrong syllables.

Millie is a bit of a mess. And she knows it. I initially didn’t like how often she refers to her BPD as to explain her behaviour, as if readers are led to believe that Baker is justifying Millie’s selfish actions and sharp words. But it isn’t. Millie is just using the coping mechanism she has learned in her hospital stay. She is trying to understand her own actions, by putting them in perspective of her BPD and disability. The anger and frustration at the loss of her legs was intense. All of her emotions are vividly rendered, and while Millie is undoubtedly damaged, she carries a spark that makes her incredibly engaging. I loved her, in spite of her irrationality and hot temper. And, more importantly, I liked that this novel is about her. Yes, she forms various relationships – none of them romantic – but she remains the focus.
The other characterswell. They could be just as maddening. I often wondered if Millie was really deserving of their behaviours: she was often treated as this big hot mess (which, to be fair, she sort of is) but they themselves are offbeat… I couldn’t really get a good ‘feel’ of them; they were are all a bit too erratic. I was curious about them but I was hoping for a fuller picture of their personalities.

All in all, I wasn’t fully taken by all of the story’s aspects, but, I did find Borderline to be a hugely compelling read with a fresh spin to UF genre, and I soon grew accustomed to some of the more questionable scenarios.

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Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

But how did you fight an enemy who never fought fair? Didn’t you have to break the rules to win against the Devil?

It took me awhile to get into this novel, mostly because I couldn’t recall a lot of the events that had occurred in the previous instalments. Nevertheless, Bray’s engaging portrayal of the roaring twenties was compelling enough for me to keep reading, and I’m glad I did. Bray has created a world filled by an almost overwhelming cast of characters who we see develop through the course of the series: their many flaws and particularities make them relatable and likable. I was especially taken by the dynamics within the diviners, and I did wish I could see more of Henry and Ling…
Still, I loved the way in which Evie is portrayed: she is far from the ‘ideal’ heroine but it is her strong personality that makes her such a vivid and unique character. Sam, Theta and Memphis are as compelling. Each of their story arch gives us a fuller portrayal of them.

Because I’m not enough, she thought. That was the terrible echo shouting up at her: Fraud, fraud, fraud. She got drunk and talked too much and danced on tables. She had a temper and a sharp tongue, and she often blurted out things she instantly regretted. Worst of all, she suspected that was who she truly was–not so much a bright young thing as a messy young thing.

The story itself is intriguing, it may not be ‘jaw-dropping’ but Bray manages to include a few twists here and there while also playing around with certain cliches.
The setting is beautifully rendered: the slang, the atmosphere, the description are vibrate with an energy, a tone, attributed to the twenties.
(view spoiler)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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Vigil by Angela Slatter

While Vigil doesn’t necessarily bring anything ‘new‘ to the paranormal/mystery genre, it has its own quirky take on the popular genre.
Weyrds are living in Brisbane. Their unusual appearances and abilities hidden behind glamours or merely thought of as eccentricities by the Normals.
Verity Fassbinder, a half and half, is a private investigator apt in solving Weyrd-related accidents. Her character is perhaps one of the book’s biggest strengths: she is incredibly straight-forward and sarcastic. Her witty remarks and perfectly timed puns made for very entertaining scenes. I found her to be an extremely charismatic narrator. Verity is from the very start the ‘engaging’ force that drives the story. Her investigations were engrossing: each lead she followed was captivating. Also thanks to the many other interesting characters such as Rhonda McIntyre, Ziggi, the Norns’ sisters and Lizzie, my attention never wavered. They made the story all the more compelling.
The humour somewhat reminded me of a more ‘adult’ Rick Riordan. And yes, Vigil might not be an incredibly moving or deep story, but I believe it is because it isn’t meant to be. Some aspects of it were stronger than others, still, it is a promising start for a highly amusing and absorbing series. Vigil is a fun and gritty mystery peppered by myths and magic.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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