Sunday, July 24, 2016

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes...

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

(Goodreads)

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*

(Goodreads)

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...





Pros.

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.

Cons.

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.

(Goodreads)

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.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

From me to you and back again -7-

-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-



On being the blogger I'm not.

When I started blogging, I didn't really have an end goal in mind. I didn't know there were really popular bloggers, and I didn't get the idea of blogger perks, so those weren't things I was trying to achieve. I didn't consider whether I would stick with this for years, which I have. I didn't know if I would meet anyone else, or if it would just be me, talking to myelf about books I loved on the internet. My blog title, which I've never changed, shows a little of my intention, because I am as much a writer as I am a reader and I planned on talking about my books, my words, a lot more than those of other writers.

Another factor, and the only other one I can really put into words, is the fact I wanted someone to talk to. I was lonely and I wanted to meet people who cared about the same things as me, and didn't know what the past three, four years had been like for me.
And I found that. I found a community that came to me, and showed me how to be a part of it, and over the years I feel like I've found other new bloggers and hopefully made them feel at home in this massive, sprawling community that we are.

But things do change. Things have changed for me, bloggers I was good friends with have left, and I myself have considered leaving a number of times because it got the stage, towards the end of 2014 and for the beginning months of 2015, that I didn't find myself enjoying anything but the interaction with newer blogging friends. I turned more to my writing, shared more of it than I ever have before, and that kept me going for a year. And last year was, almost certainly, the best, most enjoyable year of my blogging. I was still a part of the reviewing community, but I was also distanced from it. Reviewing wasn't my full focus, and that has remained true this year. I write discussions, do creative posts, pen out my thoughts and share them, and I also write the occasional book review. This is a mix that works for me, keeps me passionate and enthused, and it's probably closest to the mix I had envisaged for myself when I started off.

It is so easy to get swept up. There are posts telling you how to do this whole thing, and posts telling you how not to do it, and there is drama and there is meanness. And it's hard to write this and know I will post it, becase I'm a part of this community still. And I'm looking it in the eye and saying these are your faults, and I don't like you for them. It is so easy to say well I'm not a part of that, it doesn't affect me so I can ignore it, I don't want to get involved, but know it is the truth. Any community can have aspects you don't like, and being aware of those aspects, and not ignoring them but talking about them is, I think, the way for me to continue doing this. Because for the first time in a while, I actually really care about what I'm doing here. I'm enjoying myself, and I think that matters so much. And I think, for it to keep mattering, I have to be honest with myself. I have to stop being quiet about the things I don't like about this place, because they've been growing and it's starting to make me want to stay away.

Being a blogger is tough. Being a part of this community is tough. There are aspects of it that I really don't like, integral facets and quieter ones, and there are aspects of it that I do really care about. Because people from this commuity were here for me when I needed them, they found me when I was alone, not knowing what to do, on this little blogging island, and I don't want to pretend it doesn't matter to me anymore.

This is definitely a more up-front from me to you than I usually post. Which is okay. It's probably the start of a theme. My question to you is what part of being a blogger is the hardest for you, besides keeping up? And have you ever wanted to leave?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Winter by Marissa Meyer... (audiobook review)

Publish date- 2015
Publisher- Macmillan Audio.
Lunar Chronicles #4. See my reviews for CinderScarlet and Cress.

*Please note that this review contains spoilers for previous books in the series!*


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
I just wrote "everything ends. Everything" for my synopsis for Why is this night different and that applies here. So. Everything concludes. It's time for all of it to come full circle.



What I thought:
Winter was a nice end to the Lunar Chronicles. It was long, but the effect was lessened when it was discs you were switching out rather than continuous chapters (I believe there were close on/over 100 chapters, which *was* admittedly terrifying to comprehend). There was a lot of story to be told, and I heard all of it.

I find this slightly amazing, after my slight failure to enjoy Cinder and Scarlet, books full (sans Thorn) of characters I found highly unlikable/irritating, plots that rarely surprised me and romances I... helfeltd nothing for.
Cress changed how I felt about the series as a whole, although not how I felt about the first two books specifically, and I knew things could again regress with Winter. They didn't, and I didn't really think they would have, but still it wasn't amazing. This series, unfortunate as it is to say, never ended up being quite what I had expected of it when I set out. I enjoyed it and disliked it- and was never all consumed, which is such a pity.

One of the things I appreciate and simultaneously struggle with in this series, and especially so in Winter, is the detail. We now have 10 characters whose perspectives we see whose paths we've got to follow, characters who all have their own hopes, dreams, plans, and it's a lot to keep up with. We need to see all of them grow and change, and, at least for the titular characters, we need their stories to pan out in the fairytale way in which they began. And I really felt as if some of those elements were shoved in just to keep following that fairytale path, and it sometimes felt unnecessary or didn't even work with the story.

I can't say that I was particularly surprised by how things panned out, here. Cinder organises a rebellion, of sorts, and the people join her at a remarkably quick rate, and we spend much time in the preparations- only to spend almost no time at all in the actual uprising, 2 or 3 chapters at the very most. It was expected- was almost easy- to see how it would fit together in the end. And I enjoyed it, but I would have enjoyed it more if I had been surprised, if it hadn't been quite so easy to plot out the ending myself.

A quick note, now, on narration: I wasn't the biggest fan of the series narrator in Cinder and I struggled with her accents at times, but by the end, here in Winter, I elieve she did a lovely job. I can't imagine anyone else. I don't know why Scarlet spoke with an Irish accent for that one line, but overall I was satisfied. She does a brilliant Iko, and her Wolf was... not my favourite, but everyone was distinct (apart from Jacin and Kai who *were* distinct in the reading, but not so much in written personality/traits).

There are so many characters, now, so I'll bio all of them because they must be discussed. And also to make this the LONGEST REVIEW EVER.

Cinder and I never got on well. She has tended towards be selfish and I don't remember her getting called out on it, although I did like that, as she grew, she became a little bit selfless, too. A note, though: She's not a very good mechanic for the best mechanic in New Bejing (what if you'd broken Kai's android, Cinder? WHAT THEN?) and this never made sense to me. We spend a whole book with her as the primary guide and we see a handful of chapters where she's working- and most of the other times, the storyline darts to someone else. Which has left me discontent.

Kai is ehh to me, and always has been. He and Cinder have sweet moments, true, but he only kisses her when he realises she's royal too, which is not okay, Kai. It's actually kinda awful. In many ways. And no one ever realised it.

Scarlet has annoyed me even more than Cinder, but I think about 50% of that was because of Wolf. Here she spends a lot of time with Winter, and while the whole thing with her calling Winter crazy, blatantly ignoring her, and speaking of her as if she's not standing right there is written off as an endearing facet of their relationship (even by Winter)- which it was very much not- she was also there for Winter. Mostly. A bit. When it suited her. She showed that she *could* be supportive of someone other than Wolf.

Wolf moons after Scarlet so much, although I did actually grow to like him a little. Not much, because he irritates me a whole lot, but a little.

Iko makes up half of my favourite trio. She is a bit whiney and self-focused, but beneath that her top priority is Cinder and that plays out so very sweetly in this series. I adore Iko. The sweetie.

Levana is interesting, but she could be more interesting, more complex and more convincing as the cold hearted queen. And I realise that the only reason I think she's even interesting is because I listened to Fairest and it built up her backstory- if not for that, I wouldn't care. I wasn't convinced by her character arc at all.

Cress, my favourite, is the character I most liked getting to when each of her POV chapters came around. Especially when it was her and Thorn. She is quite focused on being in love with him and that gets a little thin- her character is not the guy she likes- and she has an outburst that was... odd and really poorly timed, all things considered, and made me frown at her. I was disappointed in, too, when she went in the direction of well that person you kissed was a guy so *pointed looks to you* because no, Cress, no. It doesn't come into it.

Thorn could have been so much better, so much truer, and he takes so long to get to that point. But he is also an utter adorable lovable sweetie who I love, and because we get to see his side of things in the POV chapters it makes it easier to forgive him. He was still stupid, but at least we were given a reason why.

Winter is surprising and so detailed, a character so much deeper than maybe any of the others, and I really loved getting to know her, getting to see how not using the Lunar gift affected her. She hallucinates, can hardly see the world through the blood and hurt and death that has cut up her mind, and she is so incredibly strong throughout. Everyone underestimates her, thinks of her as weak and crazy (looking at you, Scarlet, quite pointedly) but only a part of her is fragile and she is well aware of it. And it was so wonderful to see her hold her own, prove she was more than her mind.

Janice is a little controlling, a little possessive, quite irritating and, for someone who cares about Winter so, he doesn't see her at all. Boo, Jacin. Boo. You and I didn't get along.

Rating: A middling OOoh, very good.
It wasn't quite a whirlwind, and it wasn't quite unexpected, but it was a journey and a journey I enjoyed the latter half of. I'm not sure I'd ever do it again, but I did it and I met some wonderful characters for that, which is kinda wonderful.