Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M Valente)

Details:Publisher: Corsair
Pages: 328
Release Date: 7th June 2012
 
Blurb (from Goodreads):

Gather up your courage and your wishes; grab a little pinch of luck – and prepare to be swept away, in a ship of your own making, to a land unlike any other. September is a twelve-year-old girl, Somewhat Grown and Somewhat Heartless, and she longs for adventure. So when a Green Wind and a Leopard of Little Breezes invite her to Fairyland – well, of course, she accepts (mightn’t you?).
When she gets there, she finds a land in crisis and confusion – crushed by the iron rule of a villainous Marquess – she soon discovers that she alone holds the key to restoring order. Having read enough books to know what a girl with a quest must do, September sets out to Fix Things.

 

As September forges her way through Fairyland, with a book-loving dragon and a partly human boy named Saturday by her side, she makes many friends and mistakes; loses her shadow, her shoes and her way. But she finds adventure, courage, a rather special Spoon, and a lot more besides . . .

Review:


I think I have mentioned this book a few times on the blog before. It’s one that popped up as an Amazon recommendation and I couldn’t resist with a title like that!

The book is as amazing as its title. There is such a clear, quirky writing style: it’s all very whimsical, a little Alice in Wonderland like, full of weird logic, magical characters and always underlying threats of danger.

September is a wonderfully protagonist. She is brave but not afraid to cry, a little ill tempered sometimes and a little Heartless (but then all children are, according to the book’s logic) and she is quite prepared for all the adventures one might expect in Fairyland.

And she gets them.

September makes friends with some truly strange creatures – a Wyverary (a kind of dragon bred with a library), a Marid, and a lantern that’s 112 years old – she charms her way out of some situations, stumbles into others and faces down her own Death, all to save Fairyland.

While this could easily be another twee, Alice aspiring story, there are some darker moments that can be very creepy. September’s adventures in the Autumn Provinces were a particular favourite, where she gets herself into a predicament that still makes me shiver to think about.

The villain of the story is not a disappointment either. The Marquess is equal parts charming and terrifying, and she has one of my favourite back stories to match as well. Her reasons for being rather awful are almost understandable, and it’s sad to see how she got to be that way.

Another little detail I really enjoyed is the start of each chapter, which has a wonderful little diagram and a description of the chapter under the title (In which September meets…etc). It gives the book such a lovely, old fashioned feel that makes me want to gobble it up.

This is a thrilling start to what I imagine is going to a wonderfully whimsical and beautifully dark series, and I’d recommend everyone to give it a go, if not just for the narrative voice, which is superb.

My Verdict:

OMG GEE WHIZZ How have you not read this yet?!

Top Five… Grimm Tales

This was going to be a post about my Top Five fairy tales in general, but as I wrote I realised they were all Grimm tales so I changed it to that. I am crawling my way through a massive (and beautiful) Grimm tales anthology at the moment – there’s so many and some are very weird, but I’m really loving it. I like how many different versions you get of these stories, and how some are more child friendly and others are rather gruesome.

So, here are my Top Five Grimm Tales.

5


Rumpelstiltskin
Brothers Grimm 

Who doesn’t love a good name game? And that’s basically what Rumpelstiltskin is. I love stories with spinning wheels (Sleeping Beauty is another favourite) and spinning straw into gold was a lovely image. In some versions, when he is thwarted Rumpelstiltskin runs away,  but I know in one he tears himself in two, a fittingly gory ending.

4

Rapunzel
Brothers Grimm
I’ll admit, a large part of my love for Rapunzel was her hair. I’ve always wanted longer hair – however long mine got, it was never long enough! But I remember loving the husband stealing cabbages for his pregnant wife, and that in my copy the Prince was cruelly blinded by the witch. And I do adore the Disney Tangled version as well – it’s one of my feel-good films.
3


The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Brothers Grimm
This one always felt truly magical to me. I loved the rebellion of the Princesses all secretly dancing at night, and was always a bit disappointed when the soldier thwarts their night time plans. I really enjoyed the little mishaps of the soldier when he was invisible, like the way he weighed the boats down, or stepped on a Princess’ dress. 


2



The Elves and the Shoemaker
Brothers Grimm
I remember explaining this story to a friend who had never heard it and insisted I must have made it up. Well, I recently read it in my Brothers Grimm anthology, so joke’s on him! I loved the part where the shoemaker made tiny clothes for the little elves, and how happy they were about it.
1

Snow White and Rose Red
Brothers Grimm

This has been my favourite fairy tale for about as long as I can remember. My mother had a lovely copy that I read constantly (I just asked where it is and she says she’s given it away – I’m hoping it was to me and I have it packed somewhere because I want it so much!) I also performed as Rose Red in a little stage version once (with bright red hair to match) and I feel it’s a story I can never grow tired of.

Are there any Grimm Tales or other fairy tales that you love to read?


Book Review: Through the Woods (Emily Carroll)

Details:

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Pages: 208

Release Date: 1st January 2014

Blurb (from Goodreads):

‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

Review:

This is a book I’ve had my eye on for a while, and my partner picked it up a couple of weeks ago for us both to read.

The book contains five short stories (plus an intro and a prologue), which I’ve decided to do separate, mini reviews of, but I have to say first off, as a whole I completely adored this book. It was haunting and beautiful and has completely inspired me too.

An Introduction

These first few pages play on a fear that almost everyone has had: fear of the dark, of something moving in the dark, of something waiting for you just outside the light that protects you. It feels like a warning of things to come in the book.

Our Neighbor’s House

This was a lovely introduction into the style of story. It felt very much like a fairy tale: the way the story progressed with the three sisters and the focus on the three cloaks made me think of Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood all in one (especially as the sister narrating has a red cape). It also sets the tone for the rest of the book: the ending is ominous and resolves nothing

A Lady’s Hands Are Cold

This was definitely my favourite of them all, It contains a really haunting rhyme that stuck in my head and completely creeped me out, as well as some of the most beautiful illustrations to go with it. I read fast and I know I should probably take longer with illustrations in graphic novels, and in this one I did double take and have at deeper look a bits, because I kept noticing lots of different elements. The image of the lady in the walls was truly haunting.

His Face All Red

I really enjoyed this story too, but it did leave me wanting more. I wanted – no, needed – to know what had happened to the brother. This tale really dragged me in from the beginning and is a creepy tale of jealousy. I know the ambiguity is part of what makes it so chilling, but I wanted it to go on much longer.

My Friend Janna

This was probably my least favourite – not because it was bad, but someone has to take last place. I thought the introduction parts were a little long and I wanted it to get to the creepy stuff sooner. It did have a brilliant climax though, and the illustrations really dragged out the tension and the picture to go with the twist at the end is brilliant.

The Nesting Place

I felt like this was maybe the ‘main’ story, mostly as it felt like the longest. Again, the setup was possibly a little slow for me, but the payoff was brilliant. The monster of this story was not only creepy but really horrifying looking: it could have been comic if it wasn’t so disgusting. The ending too, was perfect. Just when you think you may have found a happy ending, you are very mistaken.

In Conclusion

This is just a tiny bit, not really a story at all, but it was one of my favourite parts. Its morbid message is like the cautionary part of every fairy tale all rolled into one.

I’ve read a few graphic novels before but this is my favourite in a long time. The short stories are reminiscent of Neil Gaiman and Grimm tales and are showcased beautifully with haunting illustrations. I’d recommend this to anyone, whether you’re a fan of graphic novels or not.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: When My Heart Was Wicked (Tricia Stirling)

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Pages: 192

Release Date: 24th February 2015

Blurb (from Goodreads):

“I used to be one of those girls. The kind who loved to deliver bad news. When I colored my hair, I imagined it seeping into my scalp, black dye pooling into my veins.

But that was the old Lacy. Now, when I cast spells, they are always for good.”

16-year-old Lacy believes that magic and science can work side by side. She’s a botanist who knows how to harness the healing power of plants. So when her father dies, Lacy tries to stay with her step-mother in Chico, where her magic is good and healing. She fears the darkness that her real mother, Cheyenne, brings out, stripping away everything that is light and kind.

Yet Cheyenne never stays away for long. Beautiful, bewitching, unstable Cheyenne who will stop at nothing, not even black magic, to keep control of her daughter’s heart. She forces Lacy to accompany her to Sacramento, and before long, the “old” Lacy starts to resurface.

But when Lacy survives a traumatic encounter, she finds herself faced with a choice. Will she use her powers to exact revenge and spiral into the darkness forever? Or will she find the strength to embrace the light?

Review:

I won this in a competition over at Jim’s blog (Ya Yeah Yeah), so big thanks to him and agent Molly Ker Hawn for the copy!

I found this a little bit of an odd read, but I did enjoy it very much. I loved that it had a non-nuclear family at the centre of it: after her mother abandoned her and her father died, Lacy lvied with her step mother, Anna, who is not a wicked, fairy tale kind of step mother, but a sweet and loving one. I adored her and really felt bad that she had not rights to Lacy as a parent even though it was clear who was better for her.

Lacy was really relatable in the way that she felt flawed. She wasn’t the perfect protagonist by any stretch of the imagination, and sometimes I got angry when she did things I didn’t want her to, but it all made her very normal and human, and I really appreciate that in a character.

I thought her mother, Cheyenne, was superb as well. Horrible, of course, but a brilliant character. There’s something about a character like that – one that’s so unpredictable, one that’s sometimes horrible but you want to love her anyway – that I find really interesting, and I think it’s a real skill to write someone that you can both like and dislike that much.

The magic parts of the book did confuse me a little sometimes. I just felt like I needed more ‘rules’ around it to understand what was going on, but I got used to it as the book went on, and I really enjoyed some bits of magic that were dark and creepy.

This is a short read, but an intense and thought provoking one that I’d definitely recommend.

4

Soundtrack Saturday: The It Girl (Katy Birchall)

Soundtrack Saturday is a weekly meme created and run by Erin at The Hardcover Lover. I’ve been really enjoying making these so am trying to make it a regular thing on my blog.

Last week I chose to make a soundtrack for Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.
This week I decided to do one for The It Girl by Katy Birchall. I thought this would make a nice change, as the books I’ve done it for recently have all been a bit dark/dramatic, and this one is a lot more fun, so I can have some upbeat songs!

23201793

The Last Great Star in Hollywood – Meg & Dia

I’ve got my same old nose and no cheek bones

I’ve got my stomach rolls, rather bare wardrobe

They’ve got seven floors, one on the east coast

Why they grin so wide, they’ve got their visions no one knows.

Gold Girls Guns – Metric

I remember when we were gambling to win

Everybody else said better luck next time

I don’t wanna bend like the bad girls bend

I just wanna be your friend

Is it ever gonna be enough?

Anything But Me – Lindsay Lohan

Now is a never ending thing

One moment turns into another

Before I’ve had time to run from all the other ones

And it’s so hard to live a dream

When the everything that they want you to be

Is anything but me.

Mean – Taylor Swift

You, with your switching sides

And your wildfire lies and your humiliation

You have pointed out my floors again

As if I don’t already see them

I walk with my head down

Trying to block you out ‘cos I’ll never impress you

I just want to feel okay again.

It’s a Hit – We Are Scientists

I should have know this would happen from the start

This kind of function’s gonna have to fall apart

I guess before I would’ve sworn that we were friends

Maybe this problem points towards some larger trend

Good Girl – Carrie Underwood

Hey good girl, with your head in the clouds

I bet you I can tell you what you’re thinking about

You’ll see a good boy, gonna give you the world

But he’s gonna leave you crying with your head in the dirt

Proved You Wrong – Cassadee Pope

Hey, I’m breaking free just watch me walk away,

Had your hooks in me but I escaped

I don’t need excuses, done with your abuses,

Telling me that I’m not strong

Just listen to the song

Guess I proved you wrong

Book Review: The It Girl (Katy Birchall)

Details:Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 352

Release Date: 7th May 2015

Blurb (from Goodreads):

Everybody wants to be a famous It Girl. Don’t they?

Anna Huntley’s aims in life:

1) Must keep my two lovely new (and only) school friends by not doing anything in usual manner of socially inept dork and outcast.

2) Train Dog (my labrador) to high-five. This is probably the most ambitious life goal on this list.

3) Do not set the school’s Deputy Queen Bee mean girl’s hair on fire (again).

4) Work out whether 2) and 3) constitute being socially inept or outcastish.

5) Go to Africa and give out rice.

6) To hide in a cupboard FOR LIFE with Dog now Dad is engaged to one of the most famous actresses EVER, the paparazzi want to spash my face all over the papers and everyone in school (and The World) is soon to discover the level of my social ineptitude.

7) Is rice a bit done now? Maybe I can give out chocolate in Africa too. I do like chocolate. Must work out how to do it from the cupboard…

Review:

I was lucky enough to win this book in a competition over at the lovely Tales of Yesterday, so big thanks to Michelle, Katy Birchall and Egmont for that. I’ll admit to being a bit sceptical going in, as this just didn’t sound like my kind of book, but a few pages in I found I was really enjoying it.

A large part of this is probably me relating to Anna so well. I’m massively nerdy (only a lot less embarrassed by it) and also (lets be honest) probably as weird and unpopular as she is too. I guess the difference with me is that I don’t mind all of this, and have embraced that, whereas Anna really wants to change these parts about her, to hang out with the popular kids and not be so damn weird.

I felt a little disconnected from the plot at some points, and I’m going to put this down to an age thing. As a 24 year old, I’m pretty comfortable with who I am now, but I do remember what it was like to feel awkward about yourself and wish to be ‘normal’ like other people. I just felt Anna was being a bit silly wanting to hang out with people that blatantly only liked her because of her new found minor celebrity status – this naivety irritated me and I couldn’t really see the justification in some of her decisions.

So I had some minor plot/character problems, but as a whole I really enjoyed the book.

Anna is chatty and funny and her antics did make me laugh out loud a few times (embarrassing when you’re reading on the bus on the way to work…) The book’s written really well, with the story told, not just through Anna’s narrations, but her notes passed in class, the lists she doodles for herself and emails between her family and friends. It was great to have these little slices of something different in between the narration and I hope it’s something that will be continued in the next book(s) – I hope there’s lots of them!

This is a lovely, light hearted comedy with some important themes on staying true to yourself and knowing who you are. As an old(ish) person I wasn’t as keen on this aspect but I think younger readers will find it both interesting and helpful as they struggle to navigate their own teenage lives. The book reminded me of the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson which I read as a teen, so anyone who’s read them is sure to love this.

4
Check out my soundtrack for The It Girl here

#RandomReads: June Announcement

 

Hello and welcome back to #RandomReads with Stacie and Maia. If this is your first time joining us, this is where we randomly pick a theme each month and nominate a book for the other to read. We review the books and then have a bit of a discussion about them as well – feel free to join in with us by commenting/posting your own reviews in the comments and using #RandomReads on Twitter.
If you saw last month’s #RandomReads then welcome again and thanks for sticking with us!
And now, without further ado, the theme for June is…
(drum roll)

 

Contemporary 

This is an interesting one for me, as it’s not something I used to read much of at all, until this year, when I started making an effort to try new things. Stacie’s and I also had a bit of a debate over what contemporary is, as I think it’s not as easy to define as other genres.

So while I now have a fair few contemporary books I’ve read and loved, my choice this month was surprisingly easy. It’s one I bought because it looked pretty, but I instantly fell in love with the story. It has some of the most wonderful characters I have ever met.

(another drum roll)

 

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch20810072

This book just grabs you by the emotions and takes you for one hell of a ride. I found it heartbreaking and inspiring all in one and just adored every word. The language is incredibly beautiful and I really hope Stacie enjoys it!

 

 

If you’d like to see what Stacie has nominated for me then hop on over and check out her post.
I’ll be posting my review in two Thursdays time, then having my discussion post on the last Thursday of the month. As I said, feel free to join in with us (I’d love to chat with other people who have read this book!) and follow along with #RandomReads.
See you in a couple of weeks for my review!

Book Review: The Crane Wife (Patrick Ness)

 

Details:Publisher: Picador
Pages: 424
Release Date: 1st January 2014
 
Blurb (from Goodreads):

THE EXTRAORDINARY HAPPENS EVERYDAY
One night, George Duncan is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly away, his life is transformed. The next day, a beautiful woman called Kumiko walks into his shop and begins to tell him the most extraordinary story.

 

Wise, romantic, magical and funny, The Crane Wife is a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.

Review:


I was lucky enough to receive all of Patrick Ness’ books for my birthday this year (or at least the one’s I didn’t already own) and this included his adult books – there’s me branching out into something new again. I love his other books so much, I thought I was bound to enjoy the adult ones to. I also read through this with the lovely Miss Chapter who’s had it on her TBR for a while.

While I enjoyed the first chapter of the book, I wasn’t bowled over straight away, like I have been with all Ness’ other works. It took a little while for me to get fully into it, which is a pattern I’m starting to notice when I’m reading ‘adult’ books, so maybe it’s just me…The story is told in a few different ways: some chapters follow George while others show his daughter, Amanda. There are some which are entirely in dialogue, and others which follow the story of Kumiko’s 32 tiles and show the crane and the volcano. I particularly enjoyed the stories of how the fire started, as all of them felt true, and in the end it didn’t matter how or who started it: it just burned.

Out of all of them, I enjoyed Amanda’s bits the most. There was something that I really related to in her (which is a bit worrying, as I didn’t often like her very much…) That’s where I always feel Ness’ skills lie: in creating characters that are real and flawed and feel like actual people. Amanda can be mean and brash and doesn’t often know how to talk to people, but she was also lonely and confused and I just got it.

The sad thing about this book was that I quickly realised where it was going and I didn’t want it to get there. As soon as George forms this amazing relationship with Kumiko and has success with their art, you know it’s reaching its peak and there’s only downhill to go after that.

It seems that whatever he tries his hand at, I’m destined to love what Ness writes. I have three more of his adult books to get through from my birthday, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into them.

My Verdict:

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

 

Top Five… School Stories

School is nearly over for another year (for all you young people anyway – all I have to look forward to this summer is more work – sigh!) so I’ve been thinking about school stories. I used to read a lot as a kid as I was desperate to go to boarding school (I got an all girls day school instead, which is not the same) so this week’s Top Five is school stories, and I won’t lie, it is mostly Enid Blyton books…
5

TheNaughtiestGirlIinTheSchool.jpg
The Naughtiest Girl series
Enid Blyton


The first of many Enid Blyton appearances in this list, The Naughtiest Girl series was always a favourite of mine. Elizabeth Allen, a very spoiled girl, is sent to boarding school and determines to be so naughty they’ll have to expel her. Of course, she has plenty of adventures and learns her lesson on the way. The series was continued by Anne Digby, which I’ve not read, but I may have to look into now…
4


Harry Potter series
J. K. Rowling
Rather predictably, Harry has to come in here somewhere. Not only do you have all the awesome bits of boarding school, but there’s a ton of magic and danger thrown into the mix as well. Apparently a very winning combination!
3


Malory Towers series
Enid Blyton
Oh look, it’s another Enid Blyton… These always felt a bit like a knock off St. Clare’s to me, but I loved them anyway. Darrell’s hot temper gets her into trouble, as does her friendship with prankster Alicia, but we all know they’ll all turn out good eventually. I particularly loved Gwendoline, the spoilt and sometimes malicious girl who does her best to come between Darrell and her friends.


2


Black Magician series
Trudi Canavan
Another mix of magic and boarding school, I loved this series and really need to reread it. There’s a lot of the usual school stuff to deal with, like lessons and bullies, as well as magic and saving the world and all that jazz. Such a brilliant series, I thoroughly recommend it to everyone.
1

St Clare’s series
Enid Blyton


Surprise! Here’s yet another Enid Blyton. The Twins at St. Clare’s were by far my favourite school books, possibly because of my twin obsession (I wanted one so badly!) and partly because of the amazing Carlotta, who was by far the best character. Similar to Elizabeth in The Naughtiest Girl, the twins start off determined to hate school, but they soon grow to love it and (spoiler!) end up becoming joint head girls in their last year.

Writing this has made me want to reread these so badly! Are there any other school books that need adding to my list?


Book Review: Beautiful Darkness (Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoёt)

Details:Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Pages: 94
Release Date: 25th February 2014
 
Blurb:

Kerascoët’s and Fabien Vehlmann’s unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization’s heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience.  The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerascoët’s delicate watercolors serve to highlight the evil that dwells beneath Vehlmann’s story as pettiness, greed, and jealousy take over.  Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society.

 

Review:
My boyfriend bought this home from our favourite comic book shop in Nottingham (Page 45, check it out) with orders to read it immediately and strict instructions not to flick through (apparently that spoils it).

I did as I was told and… wow. What a strange little thing he brought home.I say little, as it follows a group of tiny people as they climb out of [something disturbing which I won’t spoil here] and start to make a life for themselves in the wilderness. We follow Princess Aurora as she tries to recreate a civilised society in a place that is far from that.

It started beautifully, almost twee in fact, as Aurora entertains the Prince at her house but this quickly dissolves as something drips from the ceiling and seems to consume them completely. But they survive and find themselves starting life anew. After this, the story got a little confusing sometimes, as it jumps quickly between characters. This took a some getting used to, but I soon found it wasn’t always telling a linear story: more like snippets of events.

And what horrible snippets they can be sometimes! There are some very disturbing images in this book, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers. That’s where the beauty in the book lies: cute, almost cartoonish characters drawn next to shocking scenes of violence and gore.

I’ve had some debates with my partner over what this is about, but it screams to me of a Lord of the Flies type story: ultimately, man is evil and, whatever order we try to keep in nature soon turns to chaos. We see this when Princess Aurora throws a party for their new woodland neighbours, and is upset when they have no table manners, snatch food and piss on the table.

I expected a little more resolution or climax at the end. I think it could take a few more reads of this to fully understand it. But overall I’d recommend this to read if you’re a fan of Alice in Wonderland or Lord of the Flies type stories, and have a strong stomach for gore and the downright disturbing!

 

My Verdict:

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

If you enjoyed this you might like A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness