Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake...

Publish date- October 1st, 2016.
Publisher- Macmillan.
RRP- $16.99 (AUD)

(A Brief) Synopsis:
Three sisters are brought up together until they are six. Then they are separated-
-one to live with the naturalists, people who have a magical talent at growing plants, understanding nature, who all have a familiar that lives by their side always
-one to live with the poisoners, people who add fatal plants and creatures to their food and relish it, who will teach their queen, over years, how to live despite the odds
-one to the elementals, people who can control the weather and move fire and water with the slightest gesture
With their new families, they train until they are sixteen. And then it is time to fight for the throne.

Thank you to Macmillan AU for this review ARC.

What I thought:
I expected quite a variety of things from Three Dark Crowns, and that variety altered as I read (and began to realise I wasn't in for quite what I had been hoping); it's pitched as, essentially, a story of three sisters who must fight for the chance to rule. Two will die at the hands of their siblings, and the last one standing will have won a bloody crown. There's such a darkness, such an intense and perceptible brutality, and I did expect that to be very much present- to be the guiding point of the book, really- only, it didn't. And that really, really frustrated me.

I can fairly well split my reading experience into three distinct parts:
The Beginning- wherein I was mightily intrigued and quite enjoyed everything, and the potential that lay ahead
The Middle- wherein I took a break, got back into the story, met with quite a few disappointments and for some reason read faster than ever
The End- wherein I became slightly invested and was simultaneously annoyed that this was clearly part of a series (which I didn't know until about halfway through) and wasn't going to even begin to wrap up

Each part had its fair share of good and unhappy plot points, some were much more enjoyable than others, and some read a lot more smoothly than others. I got to know all the characters well, from Arisnoe, the Naturalist who isn't able to bring forth her gift; Mirabella, the sister almost everyone expects to become Queen, for her power is unrivalled; to Katherine, who is weak rather than strong when she takes poison, and who unexpectedly blossomed; I had rather expected to prefer one sister over the others, and yet they all had their good moments and bad. They all had their strength, although Katherine and Arisnoe both doubt in theirs, and they were all distinct. I enjoyed each POV, none more than any other, but I never grew overly fond of any one of the sisters. I wasn't attached at all, not to a single character, and that definitely affected how much I enjoyed the novel.

There was a fair amount of romance in this book, something I hadn't really thought to expect, and almost all of it left me unsatisfied. Every character either falls for a guy, or has their romance set up for the rest of the series, and with two out of three of the girls I didn't feel it was necessary or really added to the plot at all. Additionally, I didn't really like- and certainly didn't love- any of the couplings.
Having all these romantic sub-plots also left me unhappy for another reason, because there was real chemistry between Arisnoe and Jules (the girl who is her sort of protector and also bestie)! SO MUCH CHEMISTRY. From a few chapters in I was eagerly awaiting their finally realising their feelings for each other, because these two meant the world to each other, and they showed it. I think they even said it, at least once. There was the yet more chemistry with Mirabella and Elizabeth, a priestess whom she befriends; they meet and have this instant connection, Mirabella become open and caring (which we hadn't really seen before) and we see her in a new light. And then, with no lead up at all, a guy is thrown in and all that is gone.

This is, unfortunately, another first-in-a-series where I'm happy to stop at the beginning. I can see where the next books will take this series, but I'd much have preferred it to be a standalone, for things to wrap up and not only just start at the end of this one, and I don't really have the investment to read three books to see how everything pans out.

Trigger Warnings: Physical abuse/manipulation; self harm (for the purpose of a spell and not to injure, yet depicted multiple times); animal cruelty/intentional deaths.
Please note tha these Trigger Warnings aren't extensive. From now, however, on I will be taking active note for all books I review here- these were two that stood out as I was finishing the book.

Rating: Hmm/Poor.
There was so much I wanted from this, and I didn't really get much of what I had hoped for/expected at all. It was still an enjoyable read, for the most part, but I found myself unsatisfied when it came to what I had thought I was going into.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

From me to you and back again -8-

-This is where I talk about something. Something that comes to mind and sticks there and I want to describe so that it sticks in other peoples minds and makes them think, because that is what this is about. I want to be thinking. I want to be lit up and even alight. And I want you to leave this post with the memory of the thoughts it made you have-

When you love something (but also don't): and what happens when others feel differently.

I identify with Meg Murray (A Wrinkle in Time). I first met her in the graphic novel version of that book and the sense of recognition I got was practically instantaneous, overwhelming, and simultaneously one of the most magical things I had ever felt. She is insecure and fiercely protective of those she loves, but... it was more than that. It was her inner thoughts, the way she regarded herself and valued her actions, and how all of it was described, that made my mind yell that is me.
Meg is different every time I meet her, and when I read the novel and the sequel it was a different experience again, and while I was disappointed that I didn't see myself in her as vividly as I had in the graphic novel, it was okay. Because she was still there.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of my beloved books, but it isn't an all time favourite. It's not in my top ten, despite how much it means to me, and for all I love Meg I did still struggle with certain elements of the novel and areas the plot journied. I love it, cherish it, but I also... don't, necessarily, all of the time. Which seems a tricky kind of thing to navigate.

An alternate point to this discussion is what happens, what does it mean for/to me, when someone says "I hate/struggled with/was unimpressed by/didn't understand (ect.) Meg"? A distinct variation of not liking someone/thing but also not understanding them/it in the same way you do, and one that is infinitely closer to home, was the time I saw someone had stuck pins into a corkboard at my extracurricular activity place, spelling out the fact they hated me- I who was 8 or 9 at the time. The time, effort and perserverance of that act astounds me, still, and I wonder: what facet of me did they hate? What was there about a passionate child that made someone think I'll do this where everyone can see it? No one understands you like you understand yourself. Everyone sees everything differently. The point here is: can you not like the one character I see myself in almost absolutely (or a facet of them), and yet still like me? Do we see the people we read about in a unique light to every other person who reads about them (of course), taking them not only by what is there, on the page, but what we need there to be, what we pick up on, what we like and loathe about ourselves and others. I see myself in Meg Murray and it is a comfort, but maybe you see her as just a person, and there are elements to her that rile you- and should I automatically think you don't like me, or wouldn't want to know me, as a result of that? 
Would I look at someone who said a character I didn't like was basically them and give up all hope of knowing them?
I don't think so, to either of those questions, and that seems the obvious, reasonable answer. We aren't completely defined by a single thing, and just because you dislike a facet of something doesn't mean you dislike every person who has that facet (in most circumstances, there are definitely some exemptions here), who values themselves a certain way or thinks along certain terms regarding their dreams.

I think that with books, stories, characters, we have this amazing chance at finding ourselves in a way we might not otherwise be able to, and it is so exciting, thrilling, impossibly wonderful, and that also makes it shattering and personal when you see the thoughts of others on that character and they are not nice and praising and understanding of what this means to you. It's absolutely a personal experience, and one that we have a chance to share when maybe, before, if it was just us, we wouldn't have, and finding a way to cope with everything that comes from sharing and being open and exposed is something we must manage. Because even if it's distanced from you, the way a book is distanced from its reader, it can still be personal and it can still hurt.

So I come up with an answer: just because you don't like the character doesn't mean you don't like me. And yet I still think about this, on and off, semi-regularly, because it's an idea that fascinates me endlessly. Maybe because it's so impossible to compile all the ways you look at yourself, which makes it so tempting, and when you find a character that comes so close to matching you it's something to be indefinitely protective and passionate about. Maybe I think about it because I'm fragile, beneath a bit of a hard shell (like a turtle), and I remember that pinboard and how long I cried for after seeing it, and even when I don't care- even then- a part of me still thinks that it's important whether or not people like me.
And really, if I like myself, I don't know that it really is.

What character do you identify with so strongly it almost hurts? Any further ponderings?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Made you Up by Francesca Zappia.

Publish date- 2015.
Publisher- Greenwillow Books.

Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
As Alex makes her way through another awful year of school, she has to combat more than distinguishing reality from the hallucinations that make her see snakes hanging from the roof of her classrooms. She has to navigate friendships, and trust, and fear. Also terrible teachers.

What I thought:
It could be said that I am a fantasy dweller, and when I come out of my genre-built home it is infrequently and usually with lingering disappointment because what a mistake. Contemporary remains the trickiest genre for me to navigate, and also the one that produces the most dnfs-  but sometimes, maybe two or three times a year, I will slip into the pages of a marvellous, captivating gem. And it's contemporary.

Made you up had all the potential, signs and hopefulness attached that made it seem like I was about to read my next stellar contemporary; the reviews were applauding it, and I read many reviews. Also, lobsters apparently featured. And people seemed to really like the lobsters.
When I started reading, I wasn't so sure. The initial childhood memory (feat. lobsters) was cute, but then I had to get to know Alex as a teenager and she was very different.

Luckily, I liked her a lot.
Alex is snarky, doesn't like people, and is fragile- a fact she buries beneath snark and her dislike for people. She has schizophrenia and the up front portrayl of this, showing that it was hard every moment, every hour, making us see and hear Alex navigate the hallucinations her mind throws at her, was so well done. It gave me a perspective and insight to scizophrenia that I was sorely lacking. Of course, every novel will be as different as every experience, but Made you up was genuinely well done. Well thought out, well portrayed, and it felt so very honest.

As for the characters besides Alex, they're a bit of a mixed bag; Alex's dad and sister I liked a lot, but her mother was almost on the uncaring side of pushy and her behaviour was incredibly frustrating; there was a school bully who was the "unnecessarily mean" character, and although she was ultimately important to the plot I didn't really understand how she and Alex hated each other so instantly, and why, particularly, they did; there was the longtime friend, who we drift away from and I never liked much, and the new friends, only Miles of whom we really got to know. I was hesitant to like him, what with Alex's immediate dislike and mistrust, and there's always that lingering doubt: as he becomes more important, Alex questions (and forces the reader to question) whether he's real or simply too good (and unpredictable) to be true.

Going in, I was a little concerned because I had read that Alex is an unreliable narrator because of her schizophrenia and hallucinations, and I always struggle with unreliable narrators. But it turned out that I never actually felt like she was unreliable; for the most part, distinguishing what was real and what was hallucination was relatively simple for Alex.
The plot, while unexpected and enthralling, was also a little bizarre. A part of me wondered whether the whole thing was a hallucination, as things stretched into the realm of almost far fetched, which certainly makes things difficult for Alex and the reader; overall I'm not sure how I feel about that aspect of the novel, but the rest of it I throughly enjoyed.

Rating: Excellent.
A stunning novel. I was emotional and amused and I liked Alex a lot; her growth and struggles were so clearly written and the whole story had such an element of raw truthfulness to it. I do think a. people judged Alex's hair far too much, and b. not enough lobsters, though.

Friday, July 29, 2016

On diversity in fantasy and books in general.

I have generally bad times when it comes to contemporary. I think maybe I always will, because when I escape to fantasy I feel more at home than when I read books set in this world. I like to read about adventures and escapades and more than what surrounds me, and this is both good- thrilling, enjoyable, compelling, knowing what I like- and bad- because in a good portion of fanasty there is a big lack of diversity. And this isn't okay because fantasy is supposed to be an escape. There are so few characters of colour, of gender identities besides male/female, of sexualities besides straight- and those are the characters I want. Those are the characters we need.

I've never read a character like me. I've never read a character who feels like I do. And that isn't okay. I want my reading experience to show me myself, and to show me others, and a lot of the time it feels like I'm seeing the same paper cutout characters, and their stories can be wonderful, thrilling, majestic, but the characters themselves just aren't what I want or what I need. 

So, how is it that I'm escaping to worlds in which so many of the characters make up majorities- and there are exceptions, of course. There are epic fantasy novels that have POC and lgbtiqa+ main characters, but the popular ones? The ones that get the biggest exposure and the most reviews and the ones that everyone talks about?

I do not believe I, or anyone else, should have to stick to one genre to find ourselves and others. If contemporary isn't my jam, I should still expect to find lgbtiqa+ characters in fantasy, or murder/mystery (without there being the victim), or in any genre at all. I should be able to see POC characters leading stories outside of one genre, and it shouldn't *be* a struggle to find these stories.

An important part of diversity in fiction is being able to see yourself, and that is so important. It's important for people who are discovering/learning about/living their sexualities and for people with disabilities and for all the people who aren't represented, who should be represented. And it's also incredibly important for the people who read about experiences beyond their own and grow to be more compassionate, to have a previously unreached comprehension and to see the world from a viewpoint that isn't their own. There are so many important factors to reading diverse books, and there is such a call for it, such a need for it, and yet I still step into fantasy and find myself with characters who make majority groups. I find myself in a world unlike my own, and yet... it runs with the same norms, the expectations and rules of this society.

And these stories, they can be epic, thrilling, gorgeous and I can love them, but sometimes it seems like that's all I'm getting. And I don't want that to be all I ever read.

I feel like it can be hard to talk about the things we need, want, think are lacking. And when I wrote this post, I was afraid. I am proud of this post, and I beileve in everything I've written here, but the reason it's hard is because of backlash and bullying and being attacked for saying that some books are good, yes, but they aren't nearly good enough. But I have the power, in this corner of the blogverse/world, to speak up. And like hell am I going to ignore that power.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes...

Publish date- 1/5/16
Publisher- Harper Collins
RRP- $19.99 (AUD)


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
Dinah, the future Queen of Hearts, has only months to wait until she will take the throne beside her brutal father, before she will take his power from beneath his fingertips and restore Wonderland to the peaceful glory she wishes it to be. Only, then she finds she has a half sister who comes to live at the palace, and a note of warning is left in food, and a sinister presence grows inside the castle.
Her throne is at stake, and Dinah won't lose it.

What I thought:
On a range of different levels, Queen of Hearts felt familiar- and this was a good thing, because it felt familiar to a book I love (Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near; a favourite). The sense of sinister goings on, of ruthlessness, murder and madness (also soft, hazy brutality) was the same, and it was such an unexpected experience, finding those similarities; it made me so hopeful that I would find myself swept up in another impossibly wonderful read. And yet... I also found myself hoping, throughout, that the story would grow, become more than what it was proving to be.
Because Queen of Hearts was nothing like I thought it would be.

We get a bit of an insight on Dinah, the girl who will one day become the fearsome, ferocious Queen of (chopping heads) Hearts, but she still seems fuzzy to me, even now, her character only, really, lightly defined- there was so much potential and she was barely revealed. She's quite entitled (petty), rather fragile, quite childish and also... mean, and I feel like she hardly realised any of that about herself. She goes through some awful things, including having a wretched father, and throughout she felt very much along the lines of- everyone is against me, which got rather tiring when she really didn't do much about it. On the other hand, fragile characters are good. They're realistic, and knowing what was in store for Dinah in the future made it an unexpected and welcome twist when I had anticipated her to be utterly brutal, but I feel, simultaneously, as if it didn't work for her character in a complimentary way. I think being fearless and brutal might have been a better for her (which sounds absolutely awful, really). She might have felt like a truer character, for it.

I feel, too, like Dinah went through hardly any character development. She loves Wardley, a stablehand-come-guard and- I didn't understand why, or get a real sense of that love (apart from her swooning everywhere) and we only met him a handful of times, as it was. She adores Charles, her brother (the Mad Hatter, apparently), who is confined to his room- we see her visit him three times, yell at her father for never visiting him and being horribly indignant at her hated half-sister for visiting him almost daily. I wish Dinah had been given a chance to develop beyond her spite and petty behaviour. There was such a chance for it, too, right at the beginning; Dinah finds a tunnel out of the castle, which she's never left, and she gets locked out by someone, and after that... something about her changes, according to everyone. She loses her mind, a little. But this was just not shown at all. We hardly got to know her before hand, and afterwards she seemed exactly the same.

The plot never felt truly distinct, moving this way and that but never really drawing me in. The end goal seemed to be Dinah's coronation (and her fantasy of marrying Wardley) and that was interjected with a mystery Dinah falls into head first when she finds a note concealed in her food. Her suspicions were aroused, built upon almost nothing, but mine were not, and thus following this twisting plot line... wasn't really something I had much interest in, at all.
The pace was also rather unsteady, jumping forward in weeks and months- at one point, two months before the coronation, we learn a month has passed in which Dinah has basically been in a daze. Just before the event she's been waiting for all her life. And she suddenly didn't care so much.

Intermingled with the mystery, we got to go outside the castle just once, and while it so was very neat to see that bit more of the kingdom, I wish it had been expanded so much more. My favourite scene was right at the end, where there's some really gorgeous forestry description which was beautiful, vivid and captivating, and that made me want to keep reading. I would have loved to come across that earlier. Even seeing more of the castle would've been wonderful, since we saw a bare few rooms and returned to them semi regularly. This is Wonderland, and most of the time I couldn't tell.

As it stands, despite that gorgeous end scene and my interest being piqued, I don't see myself reading the sequel. This could have worked so well as a standalone, the two books brought together and made tighter to form a longer but more focused and driven novel. That, I think, I would have enjoyed so much.

Rating: Hmm.
Although full of potential, and with some spots I did enjoy for the intrigue and trying to work out what will happen to particular characters, how they tie into the story we know, rarely did I feel like the majority of the potential was really dug into, and as a result of that, uninspiring characters, and a plot I didn't quite see the end goal of, this was a let down.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Books for when you're... (22)

Each fortnight, month, fifteenth full moon of the half equational motion of the earth's full circuit I will showcase some books that I think would be fantastic reading to suit a certain mood.

Wanting gorgeously and fantastically creepy.
I feel like I generally stay far, farrrr away from "creepy" books, but there are a few I've read and just adored- adored, in fact, more than many non-creepy books I've read. These two just have a certain magical something. They scare me, but don't leave me utterly terrified. They... actually fill me with yearning, to meet the characters (at least some of them) and spend a few brief moments in their world. And I like that so much.

Coraline is perhaps the most wonderfully terrifying book I have ever read. It's incredibly creepy, especially the 10th anniversary edition that I have (pictured; the link also takes you to that edition), illustrated by Chris Riddell (fairly well my all time favourite illustrator). His illustrations really cement the creepier facets of this book, because they are vivid and detailed and just capture the world and characters so well, bringing to life other-mothers you maybe never wanted to meet and will certainly never forget. There is such beauty in this art, too, and it leaves you utterly speechless, which is why I think it's such a perfect fit for Coraline.

Gaiman's story is full of a childhood sense of fear that I think is inescapable as an adult. A fear that you'll see your "family" in a different form and what once was delight and love is now an all-consuming fear. I think it was the thing of nightmares for me, as a child, that the people who loved me would stop, or they would change, and I'd never be ready or okay with that. That is so present, here, in a way, and I know I would never be able to read it in YA or adult fiction because it is so very striking, unforgettable and scary (but well done) in MG.

This one! *sighs* I feel like I bring this up, in favourite book lists and Instagram photos and just really quite regularly. I was shocked, when I went to get the link, and found I only gave it 3 stars in the day. A reread is vastly required.
I have such a love for this book and that is surprising to me even now, because I really didn't like the first two thirds of it and was almost certain I would DNF. But I didn't, because something happened- I have no idea what- and I just... went from dislike to love. And now I sing its praises semi-regularly. Fairytales is a dark, murderous feat of writing; the ground you tread on is unstable and the characters have a threatened/threatening sense to them that is so very undeniable and completely captivating.

For all the unexpectedness and peculiarity to this tale, though, the darkness is met (although often swamped by) whimsy, and it's such a good mix. When things feel almost overwhelming, you have a moment where red eyed bunnies appear, or all manner of interesting, fascinating, wonderful characters turn up. Throughout there is a definite sense of darkness, of reality, and those are just as penetrating as the fantastical aspects of this dark, wonderous book that just clicks, somehow.

My last Books for when you're... topic was Wanting a character with witty comebacks. I think I'm going to have to do another one of them, to be honest.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland all the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente...

Publish date- March 1st, 2016.
Publisher- Atom.

Read my reviews for book 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the Fairyland series!
*This review contains spoilers for the previous books in the series*


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
This is it. The end.

What I thought:
My goodness. There was such a bittersweet delight in returning to my dear fairyland and seeing all those characters I love for the last time. I was practically tearing up at the dedication, and every moment after I was brimming with such emotion. This is a series and world I loved the instant I met it, and that love hasn't ever faded. I met new characters, went on wild, romping adventures, and across five books I loved every single moment. This is a series that is more than simply special to me.

I've always reviewed them in lists, so: one last time...


1. September.
Always it is darling September, who is wonderful and fiesty, more than ever here, who again and again is proved to be human. Not invincible or unbreakable or any of it. She is scared, and she doubts herself- she is Queen of Fairyland all of a sudden and she doesn't know if she wants it, let alone if anyone will allow her to have it as the past kings and queens and rulers come out of death and retirement to fight her case. She is a character I have grown to love and cherish and adore, and every fear of hers that I've learnt, every time she hasn't thought she's able to cope with a situation and has showed how she isn't perfect, I have grown to adore her more.

2. The Derby.
Essentially? No one is happy with September as ruler. So? They have a race, to find the heart of Fairyland. Anyone can participate and many do on the wild trek across the land. We get to meet libraries and old friends and cuttlefish and an octopi army that live in jars, and it is splendid and fearful and exciting and just what I could have hoped for. We have been to Fairyland many times, but only once before, in the very first book, to Fairyland Above. We went below it, to the moon, and the time with Hawthorn doesn't count to September's name. It was so good to be back, and be back with her.

3. Ell and Blunderbuss.
Both I love in their own right, but here they are together and they become friends and it is almost as lovely- and more so, in some ways- as Ell's friendship with September. Blunderbuss shows love by insulting, as all scrap yarn wombats ought, and sweet Ell is so cute about it, and tentative, and tries to insult right back but never quite manages it. They are a team I never saw coming, and I absolutely adore them. Also they read the best sort of mysterie novels together and it's splendid.

4. Saturday.
He has always been so soft and kind and loving, and it was so sad and beautiful to see his fears over September leaving play out, and see September fear those very same things. The utter care these two have for each other is completely unique to this series, and the growth of their relationship, playing out sumptuously and delicately with each book, has been slow burning and full of longing and I have celebrated every triumph, every moment of sharing and love.

5. The plot.
Of course, we have the overarcing plot to consider, that of September being in Fairyland now for long enough that her family has missed her, and getting to know her parents and Aunt Margaret a little was just so unexpected, after seeing but glimpses of them for years, and nice (because we've seen but glimpses of them for years). I could see September in them so clearly, which was lovely, and it felt like I was being given the chance to know these people so important to my favourite adventurer.
We also get to see more old friends and meet new friends and see more of everything, which was splendid. Discovering new places in Fairyland even halfway through the last book was so magical.

6. The writing.
Valente has been able, from book one, to conjur up a world that feels like home to me, and slipping back into this one I was all the emotion for a number of reasons. She, as the narrator, talks to us, the reader, and it was so fond and sweetly done and I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay in the deadly, lovely, temptuous world and never look back. She writes with such a gorgeous, divine tone and the drifting sentences and the haughty characters and the direction of everything is just so glorious. I never wanted to stop reading.

7. The ending.
It was bittersweet and unexpected and just yes.


0. If there were any, they didn't bother me. I was too in love to mind. And only the best books can make you feel like that.