Thursday, 27 August 2015

Review: The Beast's Garden

The Beast's Garden
by Kate Forsyth

Pages: 429, paperback

Publication: August 3rd, 2015, Random House Australia

Source: library

A retelling of The Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany 
Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.The Beast's Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

I'm a huge fan of Kate Forsyth, so I was eagerly awaiting this release.

At first I was a bit weary about this, thinking it would romanticise Nazism, but thankfully--and this is not a spoiler, it's on the back of the book--the nazi soldier is a spy working to assassinate Hitler.

As always, her writing is gorgeous, though this time I noticed that she used colours to describe noises, and noises to describe colours, which I found artistic and appealing, since the main character, Ava, is a singer.

But unfortunately, the story failed to grip me. It felt like a traditional romance from the 80's: I love him, but he's a monster, but he's actually just a good guy after all. (The amount of bodice rippers I read with that sort of plot structure is ridiculous).

Despite my qualms with it, it was a good book. With her gorgeous prose, and her main characters (the rest of the characters got lost in a jumble of German sounds in my head, unfortunately), this book really was a beauty. It's just not something I'd expected after Bitter Greens or Wild Girl. It showed the war within Germany, showing how Germans treated each other during the war: the betrayal, the loss, the unknowing terror. I was mesmerised by how much pain this book showed in both the camps--where most WW2 books are set--and within the very world it all started.

As for the Beauty and the Beast retelling, you'll find none of that here. He was never a beast, it was always love at first sight, blah blah blah.

The end was rushed, a swift storm of telling instead of showing which gave me vertigo after Ava's impossible and intense show of bravery.

I'm confused as to how I feel about it. On the one hand, it's a Kate Forsyth book; on the other, it just didn't make me feel much.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Feature Follow Friday 21/08

Feature Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, and is a way to meet and greet new followers.
So hello any new followers! Feel free to say hi on this post.

If you could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would you pick? Fictional ones count too! - Suggested by Book Cat Pin

I would love to have a fox; they're my favourite animals ever. In the next state over there's a charity that adopts and rehomes foxes, and I so so so sooooooo wish I lived there. Either that or pay $9000 for a domesticated fox from Russia >_>

What about you guys? Any thoughts on foxes as pets?

Friday, 14 August 2015

Feature Follow Friday 14/08

Feature Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, and is a way to meet and greet new followers.
So hello any new followers! Feel free to say hi on this post.

If you could have an endless supply of food what would it be? - Suggested by Not Tonight, I'm Reading
If I could have an endless supply of tacos and tea, my life would be complete.

What about you? What foods couldn't you live without?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Review: Retold: Six Fairytales Reimagined

Retold: Six Fairytales Reimagined
edited by The Book Smugglers

Pages: 145, ebook

Source: bought ebook

Publisher: Book Smugglers Publishing

Released: December 25th, 2014

From Beauty and the Beast to Scheherazade, and Baba Yaga to the North Wind, fairy tales have inspired readers for generations. In Retold, six fables from across the globe are re-imagined--with a subversive twist. This anthology collects six short stories from diverse, feminist, and original perspectives. 
- Hunting Monsters by S.L. Huang
-In Her Head, In Her Eyes by Yukimi Ogawa 
- Mrs. Yaga by Michal Wojcik 
- The Mussel Eater by Octavia Cade 
- The Astronomer Who Met the North Wind by Kate Hall 
- The Ninety-Ninth Bride by Catherine F. King 
These aren't your storybook fairy tales.
Hunting Monsters:
This was a story that attempted to define the boundaries between good and evil in monsters and humans alike. It describes a world where otherkin have the same rights as humans, whether they're monsters or not. This is a story based loosely on what happens after Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast.
What I loved most about this story was the deviation from a traditional family setting. Xiao Hong lives with her mother, and is raised by both her and an estranged woman whom she calls Auntie Rosa. This alteration in the traditional family setting, as well as creating a Chinese main character in a white, traditional world creates a richer world and makes her mother a far more complex character than previously believed.
Loved it. 5/5 stars

In Her Head, In Her Eyes
Hase is a woman with a pot over her head, covering her eyes. As such, she is ridiculed not only by her fellow servants but the wives of her masters. She comes from the Island, where patterns are made up and people are born with them. Hase has been sent to get inspiration for pattern ideas.
This was certainly an imaginative tale, a retelling of a Japanese tale that I've never heard of.
This story changed tones very quickly, and I found that to be jarring at some points, and as a result, I'm giving it 3/5 stars.

Mrs Yaga
I love that this story uses Polish words; it makes me feel right at home, just like Uprooted did. It also explores a mother-daughter relationship that isn't fully noticeable until the very end, when Aurelia realises that Yaga is sending all those boys on hopeless quests because she knows they're not good enough for her daughter.
It's very reminiscent of Brave, in which the daughter claims herself, instead of letting a boy do it for her.
4/5 stars

The Mussel Eater
This is a retelling of a Maori myth, which is a category I'm very unfamiliar with. Even so, the tone of the story feels ideally exotic and foreign, yet still familiar enough that I can understand some of the concepts (with Australia being so close to New Zealand).
The story is utterly seductive, with food being a way to seduce--and ultimately, shackle--the Pania. Food is the focal point of the story, with Karitoki attempting to lure the Pania with cooked food and rubbing her with scented oils in a way to humanise her, to make her his. The ending is wonderful, paying homage to the imagery of food, and is a delightfully dark feminist twist.
5/5 stars

The Astronomer Who Met the North Wind
I wasn't too much a fan of this story. It was mainly the constant telling versus showing. That sort of thing feels jarring to me, and I've never really liked it.
The sotry felt rushed, and while it was a beautiful premise with interesting characters--I loved the tricksy North Wind--it never felt fully formed to me.
I liked the honesty of the story, of Minka being defiant of all the people who try to dissuade her from being an astronomer because of her age or because of her gender. Her resistance to this wall of negativity is what drives the story, and I really liked the strength and will she displays.
3/5 stars

The Ninety-Ninth Bride
This was the longest tale, and once again, relied on telling instead of showing. As a retelling of the 1001 Nights, of course there's going to be some quick recapping of some of the stories, but it just felt so derivative. The big reveal at the end, though, was what made it stand out.
4/5 stars

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Review: Finding Audrey

Finding Audrey
by Sophie Kinsella

Pages: 288, paperback

Publisher: Doubleday Children's

Publication Date: 9th June, 2015

Source: library


Audrey can't leave the house. she can't even take off her dark glasses inside the house.
Then her brother's friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again - well, Starbucks is a start.And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she'd thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.
Be prepared to laugh, dream and hope with Audrey as she learns that even when you feel like you have lost yourself, love can still find you . . .

I have severe anxiety. Leaving the house is sometimes a dreaded chore. Talking to people makes me want to cry. Everything feels too much in my brain.
This is how Finding Audrey feels, as well. And it's amazing to finally find a character who is like me in so many ways. To be honest, my anxiety isn't near as bad as Audrey's, but anxiety is anxiety, no matter how bad.

I kept tearing up at how real her struggle is, because I know what it's like to have a panic attack. I know what it's like to avoid eye contact. I placed myself in Audrey's shoes and it was a brilliant experience.

Audrey's anxiety makes her unable to look people in the eyes, so she wear big, dark glasses everywhere, even inside the house. Her struggle is real and poignant, and it hurts so much because I know where she's coming from.
I can't look people in the eyes properly, I get shaky when someone talks to me, even if it's a loved one, and I stutter when I speak to people because the words just don't want to come out. I understand her pain, and it makes the novel all the more realistic. It's obvious that Kinsella has researched for this book.
There is one segment in the book where Audrey decides to stop taking her pills, just out of the blue. It takes a careful eye--one that perhaps only someone who takes pills would notice--but her behaviour becomes more erratic and unpredictable. This is the first time in a novel I've seen someone praise the use of medication for mentally unwell people. Most of the time, they stop taking their pills and are all better, but here, Audrey learns that she needs her pills to keep her stable. This was a big selling point for the book.

Other stellar mentions were the writing: it was fun, lighthearted, and I could barely put it down. This is such a brilliant book, and I love love love it. It's made me want to read more of Sophie Kinsella's books.

Cover: 4
Plot: 4
Writing: 5
Characters: 5
Investment: 5 

4 stars!

Review: Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens
by Libba Bray

Pages: 396, hardcover

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Source: own

When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island's other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.Written by Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

So imagine an episode of LOST with teen beauty pageant models and a dash of Lord of the Flies, and this is basically what you have.
Libba Bray's scathing yet comedic commentary on the perception of beauty, on mega-corporations, on sexism and racism, and so many more is a riot and a half. I had so much fun reading this.

This was a book that is hardly subtle in its commentary, and for a young adult book, it feels almost revolutionary. I haven't read a book like this that was so feminist in a long time. This is outwardly and proudly feminist and I love it.
At some points of the novel, though, it's a bit heavy-handed. It's already obvious enough what the topics are, but it sometimes lays it on too thick.

Past the halfway mark, it gets a bit too surreal for my liking, when a ship of pirate actors washes up on shore. It became too ridiculous for me. This is my first Bray novel, though I've read some of her shorter fiction in various YA anthologies, and as far as I can tell, this is similar to another of her novels, Going Bovine, in that it's a surreal ride. I'm not a fan of surrealism. I had enough of it at uni.

When the pirate actors come into play, even the most steadfast character, Adina, gets easily wooed, and turns into one of the gushy girls she constantly criticises. This sudden about-face was jarring and completely ruined the character for me. It felt like everything that had been so carefully built up had come crashing down.

Speaking of characters, very few felt fully formed. Most are delegated to their states, and it's difficult to remember who's who. Some are complete tropes, which may or may not be intentional parodies, but either way, it took away from the serious commentaries of the story.

I ended up skimming the last hundred or so pages, bored out of my mind. I'm definitely not going to check out Going Bovine if it's anything like this, and am side-eyeing her Gemma Doyle trilogy and The Diviners.

To wrap up, I would have given the first half a solid 5 stars, but in the end, I give it only 2 stars.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic

by V. E. Schwab

Pages: 484, paperback

Publisher: Titan Books

Date Released: 24th February, 2015

Source: own


Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. 
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

This book is made of magic. That's all I can say to describe it. Pure, unfiltered magic.
Kell is one of the last of his kind, an Antari, who can travel between the doors of the four dimensions of London. There is Red London, where magic thrives; Grey London, which is our London, where magic is non-existant; White London where the magic is slowly being sapped, and slowly sapping the people in it; and finally, Black London, which was destroyed by the corruption of magic.
This world-building alone makes it a brilliant, fascinating read.

Even Luna loved this book
The characters are compelling: Kell with his many sided coat, who smuggles in contraband between the worlds. Then there is Delilah Bard, aspiring pirate from the Grey world. She was an absolute favourite: she took no shit from anyone, and was willing to be killed if it meant the good of a world she doesn't even call home. She's one of the strongest characters (not just a strong female) I've come across in literature this year, and I aspire to be like her in so many ways.

The writing was absolutely gorgeous, and I was left rereading passages over and over again, sighing in adoration. Schwab has a poetic flare to her work, and it makes me yearn to read more of her work. So far I've only read her superhero novel, Vicious, and I also highly recommend it.

I loved every moment of this book, and as soon as I finished it, I wanted to go back to the beginning. I absolutely can't wait to read the next book in the series and see what shenanigans Kell and Lila get up to.

A Darker Shade of Magic managed to worm its way into my favourites shelf. It's a read I highly recommend.

Cover: 4
Plot: 5
Characters: 5
Writing: 5
Interest: 5

Friday, 7 August 2015

Feature Follow Friday 7/8

Feature Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, and is a way to meet and greet new followers.
So hello any new followers! Feel free to say hi on this post.

Today's question is:
If you could have 3 wishes granted, what would they be? - Suggested by Life Is Reading

My three wishes are:

  • Move out of home--I'm almost 24 and still living with my parents. I want to be independent, but to do that, I need to.....
  • Get a job. Honestly, I'd settle for any job, I'm that desperate.
  • Be a successful author. I love writing, and I'd do anything to be published.
What about you? Any wishes?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Review: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon

Pages: 320, hardcover

Publisher: Delacorte books for Young Readers

Source: galley from the publisher

Date Released:  September 1st, 2015

This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more.
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I love the way this book is written, in diary entries and short vignettes and the like. It made it so easy to attach myself to Maddie, a POC African American and Japanese (though this is barely touched upon, which is a shame) girl who essentially lives in a bubble. It is a very intimate book, much in the way the Princess Diaries series were.

Reading it on my kindle feels like it doesn't give the book justice. There are illustrations, and charts, and lists, and handwritten diary entries, and such that I'm sure would have looked fantastic in physical form, without having to wait for the lag of my kindle to load the pages. At first I thought, You betcha sweet ass I'll be buying this book and rereading it over and over for the feels and the proper experience.
But as I read on, something didn't feel right. Maddie's condition was odd. And Ollie ended up helping her endangering her life, which made him the opposite of a sweet sexy love interest. That he would let her go through with her potentially life-threatening plan makes him an unreliable lover, bordering on abusive.

Speaking of abuse, let's discuss her mother, who knew that Maddie was never sick to begin with. Who kept Maddie in this bubble, isolated from the world so that they could be together forever. Who ruined Maddie's immune system as a result of keeping her hidden from the world. I detested that there wasn't more done to chastise her mother, no police involved, no nothing. It was just glossed over as a mother who cared too much. That made me mad, that abuse like that was seen as being overprotective.

This book was a huge disappointment. I wish I could say better things about it, but, morally, I just can't.

1 sad cloud

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Fairytales and Retellings

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish featuring a new top ten list each week. Everyone can participate- head on over to their blog and sign up. This feature will be posted every Tuesday.

Favourite Fairytale Retellings

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
This is an adult retelling of The Seven Swans, and it has so much depth to it. I have vivid memories of reading this out in the spring sunshine between classes at uni, and the sun warmed me as I was crying at the injustice of the world, and at the beauty of the writing. I had several people come up to me asking if I were okay, and all I could do was point at the book and mumble incoherently. 

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
I think this may be one of my favourite books of all times. Set upon the backdrop of war, a Rumplestiltskin-type figure kidnaps a boy and takes him to a world where fairytales have gone wrong. It's an epic adventure of growth and love, and it had me crying like a baby.

A Court of Thorns and Roses
I loved this book so much. I think I love everything that Maas writes, but this was just special, mainly because it was targeted towards my age group. There's sex and it's not the kind that's glossed over in YA. It's very mature and realistic despite being a fantasy novel. I eagerly await the next book.

East by Edith Pattou
This is one of the first retellings I'd ever read, and it remains in my heart the way a girl remembers her first time. It's a beautiful retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is a fairytale I absolutely adore.

The Nutcracker Bleeds by Lani Lenore
If you don't know who Lani Lenore is, then I suggest you pick up a kindle or go on wattpad and read her stories immediately. She writes dark retellings of fairytales, and this just so happens to be a retelling of The Nutcracker. I've never read anything as dark and unique and ghastly as this, and I loved every minute of it.

Retellings I'm looking forward to reading

The rest of the Cinder series by Marissa Meyer
I loved the first book, Cinder, but never got around to reading Scarlet nor Cress. I think I'll binge read them just before Winter comes out.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adieh
Everybody and their grandmother has been talking about this retelling of 1001 Nights, and I have to admit I'm quite curious.

Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas
The cover looks absolutely gorgeous and I love Cinderella retellings. I have high hopes for this one.

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine
I have no idea what this could be about but there appears to be a person of colour on the cover, and that's something that gets me excited.

Entwined by Heather Dixon
This is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses which I adore, and the cover is absolutely gorgeous. I own a copy, but still haven't gotten around to reading it which is a travesty. One day....

Have you read any of these books? If so, which ones, and how'd you find them?
Do you have any other recommendations for a fairytale retelling addict?

Monday, 3 August 2015

Comic Review: Arkham Manor vol 1

Arkham Manor vol 1 (#1-6)
written by Gerry Duggan
art by Shawn Crystal
DC Comics

eARC received for review

When catastrophe strikes Arkham Asylum, where will Gotham City house the world's most dangerous criminals, and when inmates are found murdered, what is Batman prepared to do in search of justice? Arkham's madness comes home in ARKHAM MANOR! A bold new collection brought to you by Gerry Duggan ("Deadpool, Nova") and Shawn Crystal ("Deadpool, Wolverine and the X-Men"). Collects issues #1-6 of "Arkham Manor."

In this series, Wayne Manor has been turned into Arkham Manor after the asylum's collapse. Why this has happened isa bit of a mystery, since there are surely better places to hold inmates, instead of raiding someone's home. 

Someone has been killing inmates, so what does Bruce do? Disguise himself as a John Doe of course. Because that's logical. 
The writing wasn't to my liking. It was too detective noir, which I agree was the right tone for the story, but just didn't sit well with me. It's not too original a story, and the while the bad guy was unique and a fresh face, the build up, while purposely misleading, was shoddily done. I wasn't a fan of the way it was handled.

The writing is amateurish--too much telling: "I feel this", "I feel that". Makes for some pretty cheap and dull writing. All this could have easily been conveyed in the art, as is done in most good comics.

I'm not a fan of the art. It feels too gritty for me, even though I suppose it fits with the gritty tone of the story. 
I think the one thing I did enjoy was the interactions with Victor Fries. It was kind of cute the way he acted, especially once he gets released from the manor. His first action is to lie in the snow and make snow angels, which is just adorable. Fries is one of those characters I jut adore, and this comic just intensified it.

Overall, I'm not too impressed. I just want them to rebuild Arkham Asylum and go back to having good old family time in Wayne Manor.