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?


#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

Book Review: The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton)

Details:Publisher: Picador
Pages: 424
Release Date: 1st January 2014
 
Blurb:

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift; a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true.

 

As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household, she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?

Review:

I’d heard a lot about this book before I started it (who hasn’t really, it’s been everywhere!) and thought I’d give it a go, though I don’t often read ‘adult’ books.At the beginning, I didn’t get on well with it. I’m going to blame it on the fact it’s an adult book and it just moved too slow for me. I feel that in YA, there’s always grabs for my attention and a quick pace to keep me interested, but here there was a very slow build, so much so that almost half way in I was sure I wasn’t going to like it.

It did pick up, however. I think as soon as the first revelation hit (no spoilers!) I became more invested in the story. Before that, I felt sorry for Nella, and awkward around Marin and Johannes, but little else. Once one secret was out though, they kept coming, and worried how the family would cope.

I loved Marin’s character the most: I thought there were so many deft little touches there that made her so human: so full of contradictions, mood swings and uncertainty. She was by far my favourite, although the others were by no means sub par.

Strangely, when I think about this book, the actual minituarist doesn’t come to mind very much. It was the thing that drew me to it at first: the idea of seeing one’s life carved out in miniatures that also seem to predict the future. But I felt this story line didn’t really live out its potential: I thought the miniaturist would be someone of more importance, perhaps someone we knew, and that the uncanny ability to predict what was happening and what would happen to the family would be explained, but it never was. I just wanted more from that story line.

This book definitely grew on me. I’d advise you to stick with it if, like me, you struggle at the beginning, as it definitely gets more intriguing. That said though, I don’t think it’s one I will be reading again.

My Verdict:

I enjoyed – give it a read

 

If you enjoyed this you might like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Soundtrack Saturday: Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson)

 

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 The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury.

This week I decided to do one for Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. I read this as part of my Random Reads feature, chosen by Stacie, and I just fell in love (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m aware I haven’t shut up about it for the last week!)

 

17727802The Ruler and the Killer – Kid Cudi


When I talk you should listen
All of you belong to me
Come on, we should get it going
Now what I want is specific
Respect what I have done for thee
The ruler and the killer baby.

 

Monster – Paramore


I’ll stop the whole world, I’ll stop the whole world
From turning into a monster, eating us alive
Don’t you ever wonder how we survive?
Well now that you’re gone, the world is ours.The World is Black – Good Charlotte


Living in this place it’s always been this way
There’s no one doing nothing so there’s nothing changed
And I can’t live when this world just keeps dying
People always tell me this is part of the plan
That God’s got everybody in his hands
But I can only pray that God is listening
Is he listening?

All or Nothing – We Are The In Crowd


In the moment we are living
Please don’t waste the chance we’re given this time
It could be gone in just a minute
So find your place within it
Slow down, we have common ground
Before you change your mind dont you want to try
To see all this through someone else’s eyes?

Hell and Back – Tonight Alive


It was the heaviest rain I ever felt on my skin
It was the heaviest place that I had ever been in
As the walls crashed down I felt it slip away
‘Cause I went to hell and back just to be where I am today.

Now – Paramore


Were we indestrcutible?
I thought that we could brave it all
I never thought that what would take me out
Was hiding down below
Lost the battle, win the war
I’m bringing my sinking ship back to the shore
Starting over, we’ll head back in
There’s a time and a place to die but this ain’t it

Hero – Måns Zelmerlöw



Don’t tell the gods I left a mess
I can’t undo what has been done
Let’s run for cover
What if I’m the only hero left?
You better fire off your gun
Once and forever
He said go dry your eyes
And live your life like there is no tomorrow, son.

 

 

#RandomReads May Discussion

For the final post in May’s Random Reads, I’m going to be chatting about this month’s two Random Reads books in a bit more detail.
Our theme for this month was the fantasy genre. I am a big reader of fantasy – it’s probably my favourite genre, although I have been trying to read a bit wider lately. The two books I read this month – Song Quest, as picked by me, and Steelheart, as picked by Stacie – are really different ends of the fantasy spectrum, but they both got me thinking about one thing in particular.
Female characters.
So that’s what I’m going to discuss today. Feel free to join in with your ideas in the comments – it’s always interesting to hear some different opinions.
Stacie and I differed a little in our opinion of the female protagonist in Song Quest (see her review here). I’ve always loved Rialle: I grew up dreaming of being like her, and on this read through as an adult, I still loved her.
But I do understand where Stacie and others views come from. Rialle isn’t really the kind of kick ass heroine we’ve come to expect from YA books today. She’s softly spoken, scared of standing up for herself and yes, she does spend a lot of the book being drugged or feeling sick or being someone’s prisoner.
And I do see all of that. I do. But I also see Rialle standing up for the half-creatures, even when she’s not brave enough to stand up for herself. She stays silent for so long, even when she’s kept in a cage like an animal, just to try and protect the Echorium and their Songs. And when all is lost, she’s willing to sacrifice everything to try and stop the Kizpriest in his plans, even if it means death to herself.
She might not be the kind of heroine we’re used to now, but I still think she’s brave and strong in her own way. She might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I will always defend Rialle.
And now on to Steelheart.
I’ve heard this described as a ‘boy’s book’ which irritated me greatly. I’m not a boy, and I enjoyed it. What makes it a boy’s book? I enjoyed the fact that it had superpowers and nerdy characters and car chases and cool weapons. None of that makes it a boy’s book to me.
It is a rather male-focussed book though. As mentioned in my review, the book is told from a male perspective, the majority of Epics seen and described are male, and the only female characters we really see are two of the Reckoners: Tia and Megan. Tia is the nerd and medic, and doesn’t play a huge role in the story.
Megan, on the other hand, is quite clearly love interest first, character second.
I don’t want to judge her too harshly, and I did like her as a character, especially some of the late developments (those of you who’ve read it will know what I’m talking about). But I felt like we saw her through David’s eyes, and in his eyes she was often a hot body before she felt like an actual person.
I felt this was a shame, because she was such an interesting character, and I know there were other things David liked about her, but too often he got distracted by how hot she looked, or how that was making him feel, and that irritated me.
That aside, (that was more a personal rant) Megan as a heroine was almost the direct opposite of Rialle. She was fierce, sometimes mean and she wandered into danger, not without care, but willingly at least. She saved David’s ass more than once (even when he didn’t realise it) and led some villains on one awesome motorcycle chase.
To me, Megan and Rialle are two very different type of heroines, but heroines they are, in their own way. I understand the need for girls who can stick up for themselves, for girls who don’t have weak characters or personalities that would have been classed as ‘girlie’ in the past. But I don’t think we should discourage characters who do cry, or feel afraid, or aren’t ‘feisty’ or ‘feiry’. Not everyone in the world is like that, and not being like that shouldn’t be seen as a bad point either. 

Diversity in books is a big pushing point at the moment, and I think this means the types of characters we have, as well as genders, race and sexual orientation.
See Stacie talk about Song Quest in more depth here.

Book Review: The Memory Hit (Carla Spradbery)

 *I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 352
Release Date: June 4th 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):
 
On New Year’s Eve, Jess’s life is unrecognizable: her best friend is in the hospital, her boyfriend is a cheater. A drug-dealing cheater it would seem, after finding a stash of Nostalgex in his bag.

 

Nostalgex: a drug that stimulates memory. In small doses, a person can remember the order of a deck of cards, or an entire revision guide read the day before an exam. In larger doses it allows the user detailed access to their past, almost like watching a DVD with the ability to pause a moment in time, to focus on previously unnoticed details and to see everything they’ve ever experienced with fresh eyes. As Leon, the local dealer, says ‘it’s like life, only better.’ What he fails to mention is that most memories are clouded by emotions. Even the most vivid memories can look very different when visited.

 

Across town Sam Cooper is in trouble. Again. This time, gagged and bound in the boot of a car. Getting on the wrong side of a drug dealer is never a good idea, but if he doesn’t make enough money to feed and clothe his sister, who will?
On New Year’s Day, Jess and Cooper’s worlds collide. They must put behind their differences and work together to look into their pasts to uncover a series of events that will lead them to know what really happened on that fateful New Year’s Eve. But what they find is that everything they had once believed to be true, turns out to be a lie …
Review:
I had to request this on NetGalley as soon as I saw what it was about. A drug than lets you relive memories? Colour me intrigued. I had no idea what it was really about other than that. Turns out it’s a bit of a mystery/crime novel with a bad ass (fictional) drug thrown in the mix to spice things up a bit.The crime and mystery element were interesting and drove the plot for the story, but my interest was really sparked every time the drug was used. It moved the plot along but also revealed a lot more about characters and relationships, in a really clever way.

I thought the characters all worked really well. Jess and Luke’s relationship was the most interesting to me, especially when she’s reflecting back on her memories of him. She’s a really strong, believable character, one that you can easily get behind. I also loved the back story that slowly came out about Leon, one of the ‘villains’ of the book (and I use quotation marks because it’s not always clear who’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’).

It really got me thinking about memories and the difference between what really happens and how we choose to remember it. Memories that should have been sweet turned bitter for the characters and, with their senses heightened by the drugs, they noticed things they hadn’t before: the tone of voice used here, a raised eyebrow there.

It’s a book that sang to me of regrets. Characters would watch times from their past and wonder why they didn’t just go along with what that person said or pay more attention when they were with someone. And that made me reflect on myself, how I might come across if I was watching myself, how it could look and sound differently to how I meant it to. It’s a book that really gets you thinking.

It also had me guessing right until the end. When the first clue to who the mysterious ‘Whiteface’ was came out, I was shocked and couldn’t have honestly said I saw it coming. When a twist came, I guessed it quickly, but then was proved wrong with another twist. It certainly kept me on my toes.

I did wonder at the very end whether, after losing so much as these characters do, I would be able to give up the drug that could let me relive those times. It’s such a different kind of addiction, a real emotional connection to those chemicals that I think would make it harder to give up than any other drug (thank goodness it’s not a real one!)

This is a real thrill of a book, with a different take on what can happen when young people get mixed up in drugs and crime, without being preachy and moralising. I can’t wait to see what Carla Spradbery has for us next!

My Verdict:
 
 
Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!If you enjoyed this, you may also like Sleepless by Lou Morgan