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. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Plotting a takeover: Character Buys 10

A not so regular feature in which I pick a book and then pick out things I think the character/s themselves would own/use or just really like. All links go to etsy/the store's website. This week the featured book is...

Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori.
*Contains relationship spoilers for the series*
Focusing on Tamaki.

France is of huge importance to Tamaki as a person and character, and it's a place he thinks of with fond, bittersweet memories. It's his home, but he can't go back. Later on, I think he would fill his house with pictures and maps (like this one, of Paris) and know it was always surrounding him.

There's a whole play-out between Tamaki and Kyoya about visiting Hokkaido, and whether either of them ever got there, I know Tamaki would bring home these socks. And probably gift everyone a pair because he's adorable and sweet like that.

A snowy Paris scene would be another perfect addition- although I'm also thinking it's likely Tamaki would have lived in a house like this, at some point. 

Tea is something elemental to the Hosts, and in a way it's what brings them all together with every day; add to that the fact this is so cute Tamaki couldn't resist it, and you're set.

Not only perfect for Haruhi, who would be mercilessly loved up all the time, but for Kyoya, who, I think, would never grow out of being the "mother" to Tamaki's "father."

I made a list of words that I thought represented Tamaki as a person, and the things he likes, and "suave clothing" was one of them. Also scarves. I put the two together and found this floral print, that would look stunning on him. And I think he'd know it, too.

Not only is it old sheet music, for Tamaki's love of the piano, but it's French. *cries forever*

A love potion scented candle? The idea of Tamaki buying these and stashing them about the place, just to make sure Haruhi never stopped loving him, is, I think, accurate and also utterly sweet. Because she would find them, and know about it, and never say a thing. Well. Maybe never.

I may have already got this point across, but Tamaki likes things that are adorable. He also likes poking things, even if he shouldn't. So an adorable Marimo, which you poke to keep alive, would be perfect. Also it looks fluffy/squishy and YES.

Coming into the somewhat cushion-oriented section of the post, I adore this peaceful heart cushion, and I can 100% see Tamaki holding it (or throwing it) to signify his love, even if Haruhi had told him to hush up.

A sad teardrop cushion, perfect for when Tamaki is feeling too many emotions and needs to express them without words. Because he was never very good at that.

This is so like Nekozawa's curse doll, which was always a terror to Tamaki and simultaneously utterly adorable. The twins would send something like this to Tamaki weekly, because they're good like that.

Some things are just perfect (and necessary) because they're so cute. Tamaki loves animals. This is a sad little kitty. It's perfect. He would fawn over it.

The instant I saw this scarf, I knew it would be perfect. Dogs! Animals! Perfection! He would look brilliant in it every single moment, and everyone would know it.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson....

Publish date- 2015.
Publisher- Harper Collins.


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
There's a villain (Ballister), a sidekick (Nimona) and a hero (Ambrosius) and all of them are connected and interconnected and there's fighting, treachery, body swapping, and really it's fabulous.

What I thought:
Nimona is a highly enjoyable, rompish kind of read (which esentially means it's an adventure story with quirky characters, aka: perfect for me), although at first I wasn't so sure what it was or how I felt about it.

It's a bit confusing at first, becaise it seems somehow so unexpected: a villain gets a new side kick, she is rambunctious and delightfully vicious and over enthusiastic, likes changing her hair colour and style with as much notice (although possibly less prior planning) as I do, and she can turn herself into anything she likes (although Nimona does favour sharks, which was the moment I began to love this graphic novel). She was such a polar opposite, in every respect, to Ballister. She was perhaps more vicious, which could be rather amusing, and her way of caring was so touching (as was his). They were a perfect duo from the start. If a slightly terrifying one.

I also took a little while to get used to the art style, which verged on feeling unfinished at times. It's cute, and nice, but not what I expected and that did take some adjusting to. I always find with manga and graphic novels that I expect the art on the cover to be the same as the art inside. It never is, but I always anticipate it and it's always a shift in perspective when I don't get it.

It is the characters, above all else, that seal the deal with this sgraphic novel, though. Nimona, Ballister, and Ambrosius are all wonderful and unique and their dynamic and interactoins are often priceless. I love Nimona's spur of the moment personality, beneath which she is fragile and hurt and determined, how she sweetened Ballister and encouraged his plans with everything she had (occasionally making them better), how Ballister and Ambrosius were just about the cutest, most pained almost-couple I've ever seen. Everything about them in a room together was just so bittersweet because betrayal and longing and hearts broken everywhere; it's definitely subtle, and I'd have liked more in every respect, although I did love what I got.

It's both positive (because I know I want to own and reread it) and negative (because forgetfulness) that the plot is the perhaps the most easily forgotten part of this graphic novel. I definitely felt like it was the characters (and Nimona's humour) that were the strongest and my favourite parts of the story. I did enjoy the plans for taking over the city, but it was how they got there, and the interactions that led the way, that I really loved.

Rating: Excellent.
This is such a lovely, wonderful, delightful graphic novel. I truly cared for the characters and was surprised by the plot and the characters; I would definitely read future Nimona-related releases. These have become some of my favourite characters, and I would definitely not say no to more of them.