Mini reviews: Every Heart a Doorway, Milk and Honey, The Leopard King

every heart a doorwayEleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Guests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Rating: 3/5

“I think the rules where different there. It was all about science, but the science was magical. It didn’t care about whether something could be done. It was about whether it should be done, and the answer was always, always yes.”

I really, really did want to love this one more than I did, but unfortunately, the chemistry was lacking. And I think this mainly has to do with the short length of the story, so that I simply wasn’t able to connect with the characters. You only really get a surface-level insight into their psyche, and the multiple perspectives near the end dilutes this further.

It is, however, deliciously and disturbingly weird. Just utterly bizarre. Seanan McGuire has a crazy-good imagination, and I can only wonder what it must be like to live in her head.

“I don’t wear these because I want to remember where I’ve been. I wear them because the Master liked it when I dressed in pale colours. They showed the blood better.”

The representation is, as many people have mentioned, excellent. An asexual main character, a transgender supporting character, and a cast of different ethnicities and origins.

And while this is a novella, the author still manages to pack a punch with a number of poignant and political passages.

Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.

***

milk and honeymilk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

Rating: 3/5

I discovered this poet’s work on Tumblr, and was intrigued by what I read. Unfortunately, I think I encountered the highlights of this collection on the web, and the rest of it failed to impress.

I will admit to having a rather fraught relationship with poetry. I am fairly useless at trying to interpret it, and I hated the fact that at school, we were forced to pick it apart in search of interpretations instead of simply being able to appreciate it. Apparently, I’m still bitter.

There also appears to be a pushback against this style of poetry – sentence fragments dispersed over a few lines. However, I think poetry is one of the few written mediums that has prospered precisely because it’s experimental, and doesn’t have to adhere to the same kind of technical rules that prose does.

Overall, there were a couple of gems, interspersed with a few ‘meh’ offerings. But the tone is fierce, impassioned and feminist, which is right up my alley.

***

the leopard kingProud. Imperious. Impassioned.

Until three years ago, those words applied to Dominic Asher, the leader of Ash Valley. His family has ruled the feline branch of the Animari for hundreds of years, guiding the pride through perilous times. Unspeakable loss drove him into seclusion, a feral beast nobody can tame. Now he’s wrecked, a leopard king in exile, and he wants nothing more than to die.

Fierce. Loyal. Determined.

Fortunately for Dom, those words still apply to Pru Bristow, his dead mate’s best friend. She’s had her heart broken too, but she never quits. With the conclave approaching, alliances with the Pine Ridge pack and Burnt Amber clans on the verge of collapse, she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to drag their leader back, before his second can start a war.

At best theirs seems like a desperate alliance, but when their mate bond turns hot and fierce, there’s no end to the questions and the doubts. Neither of them expects to fall in love. But sometimes people don’t know what they’re looking for until they find it.

Rating: 3/5

Not ashamed to say I enjoy me some paranormal romance. And having enjoyed some of Aguirre’s previous series, I was interested to see what she’d do in this genre. I gotta be honest though, she doesn’t bring anything new to the standard set-up.

However, one thing that did stand out for me was the honest communication between the love interests. It’s pretty rare to find, since drama in romance generally depends on miscommunications. While there are certainly personal obstacles for both hero and heroine to overcome, they really do make an effort to talk about things before they become a big issue, which I think is incredibly refreshing.

“Is there anything else I should know? So I don’t hurt you again with good intentions.”

“Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. I appreciate that your heart was in the right place…I’m sorry I started out scolding you.”

“Don’t apologise. If you don’t tell me, how will I learn?”

Furthermore, while the standard trope is for the alpha he-man to put his nice delicate lady friend in a safe place while the fighting is going on, here our protagonist says “You can’t live in a cage, just to ease my mind.”

***

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful start to 2017, barring the global political sense of doom. Goodreads is reassuring me that I’m on track for my reading goal, so let’s hope I complete my challenge this year!

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay – JK Rowling

fantastic beastsJ.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut is captured in this exciting hardcover edition of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay.

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best.

Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any reader’s bookshelf.

Rating: 3/5

Confession time – I haven’t seen the Fantastic Beasts movie – and I think I would have probably enjoyed this book a lot more if I had. After all, it’s in script format, which means that the content is meant to be performed. And without a visual reference, we’re fairly short on background detail, and it will naturally be a tad underwhelming.

That said, I was still curious about this one, the second Harry Potter-related release of 2016. I suppose part of what spoiled this for me, however, is my disenchantment with the author, in terms of her appropriation of Native American elements on her website, and her support for Johnny Depp in the movie sequels. I am a consumer reviewer, not a critical one, and therefore I don’t feel the need to separate the creator from their work.

With that in mind, the book was an enjoyable romp, but it didn’t blow me away. With a similar ‘meh’ reaction to Cursed Child, along with the aforementioned issues, I guess it’s now time for the author and I to part ways.

What I liked:

-The creativity and imaginative scope of all the magical animals

-Newt, badass Hufflepuff with a spine of steel and a heart of gold – although not always too considerate of the consequences for others

-Queenie, who is sunshine personified

-The moral of the story, if you can call it that. The fight against bigotry and ignorance, couched in the magical universe, has always been a staple of the HP world

-The sinister atmosphere that is evoked and simmers underneath the madcap hijinks that occur, coupled with creepy nursery rhymes and cults. *shivers*

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Most anticipated books for 2017

No explanation needed, yes? So let’s dive right into it.

YA:

most anticipated 2017

When I Am Through With You – Stephanie Kuehn The author is the queen of mind-fuckery and mystery.

The Love Interest – Cale Dietrich A love triangle where the two dudes end up hitting it off? Count me in.

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The Song Rising – Samantha Shannon Because this richly detailed series is well worth the wait. Pity about the cover redesigns though!

Our Dark Duet – Victoria Schwab The world introduced to us in This Savage Song has me eager to see how she resolves things.

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The Inexplicable Logic of my Life – Benjamin Alire Saenz I’ve read two of the author’s books thus far, and they’ve blown me away.

Honestly Ben – Bill Konigsberg Openly Straight was a delightful read, and I’m so hoping for a happy ending for Ben and Rafe.

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Caraval – Stephanie Garber I’ve heard incredible things about this one

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor Better late than never. Laini’s imagination is a thing of wonder.

Urban fantasy:

  • The Brightest Fell (October Date #11) – Seanan McGuire
  • Etched in Bone (The Others #5) – Anne Bishop
  • Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson #10) – Patricia Briggs
  • White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) & Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) – Ilona Andrews
  • The Ippos King (Wraith Kings #3) – Grace Draven

Contemporary:

The Comfort Zone – Sally Thorne

Fantasy:

The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3) – N.K. Jemisin

***

So there you have it, folks. It’s not the wildest list out there, but I’m not too in tune with 2017 debuts, so I’ll be relying on fellow bloggers for recs!

YA vs The Rest of the World

weird things in YA novelsYeah, what a well-phrased title!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Cape Town, situated at the bottom of that mysterious and misrepresented continent – Africa.

As an avid YA reader, however, there are many things that I find utterly strange in these books – due to the fact that they are mostly based in the USA, and life is a tad different in your neck of the woods.

So let’s get into it, shall we? Here’s a list of the shiz that just doesn’t resonate:

  1. You can drive yourself to school. Your school has a student parking lot where you seem to spend a lot of time hanging out. Your parents let you get into a car with someone who has just got their license.

Over here, you can only get your driver’s license aged 18. So there ain’t no driving yourself anywhere. You rely on the parentals to taxi you around. By the end of my last year of school, there were only like 5 people who were driving themselves to school. Also, no way in hell my mother was letting me travel ANYWHERE with someone who just got their license. And how does everyone have a car?! That shit’s expensive.

  1. You just hop and off public transport, free as a daisy.

This is something of a class thing here, but if you’re middle class, you probably don’t use public transport alone as a teenager because your parents think you’ll be murdered.

  1. You sneak out the house

HA HA.

Try getting past security alarms, motion sensors, multiple door locks, barking dogs, extremely alert parents, the night time neighbourhood watch patrols…and then how would you get around if you and your friends can’t drive? Bad plan, homie.

  1. After school jobs

Sure, many of us get part-time jobs as a teenager, but these are for the weekends and holidays. I don’t know of anyone who had one after school – only ending at 3pm, and having to get home and do homework doesn’t leave much time for money-earning activities. (Unless its babysitting, or something like that.)

  1. Sneaking alcohol

In almost all countries of the world, the drinking age is 18. So we don’t really need fake IDs or have to bribe other people to buy our alcohol – we can all get our own drinks! (or at least, our already-18 friends in our group can do it for us and it’s not such a big deal as its made out to be in books).

  1. You seem to plan your outfits for school

Uniforms over here, yo. Makes life a lot easier, although today I still have a strong aversion to the colour brown.

  1. Parties when the house gets trashed

As far as I know, the raucous parties are cordoned off to one part of the house. And destruction tends to be limited to the breaking of a couple of glasses.

But maybe I just wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

Scratch that, I definitely wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

***

And as for the rest of you? What thing do you find completely out of place in YA novels that just don’t translate to your country?

 

Review: One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) – Ilona Andrews

one fell sweepDina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage. 

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!

Rating: 4/5

It was so wonderful to be back in this universe – the world building is utterly creative, and the concept of sentient homes continues to be my favourite, harking back to the days of Hogwarts castle. (Although the inn featured in this series is a lot less murderous.) While the book was released as a free online serial, anticipation is not my thing, so I decided to rather wait until the book was released and then binge read it in one sitting. Which is exactly what I did.

In this instalment, Dina has to weigh up the safety of herself, her inn and her business against saving a species hunted down to almost extinction. Her good heart wins out, of course, and the stage is set for a bloody war in her backyard.

“You’re up early, Your Grace.”

“It’s a lovely day and we’re under siege. People are trying to murder us.” Her eyes shone with excitement. “Isn’t it marvellous?”

Things I loved about this book:

  1. Getting to see more of Dina’s family. Thus far, they’ve always been mentioned in the background, but in One Fell Sweep, we meet Dina’s sister Maud, and Maud’s daughter Helen.
  2. Arland and Sean going from rivals to friends
  3. The humour, as always.
  4. Arland meeting his match. It was a tad instalovey, but *hand wavey motion* I’ll roll with it.
  5. Sean and Dina taking things to the next level
  6. More mysteries.
  7. The sentiment and message beneath the action and banter was touching

“There are killings that are justified. Killing someone who is trying to kill you is self-defense. Killing a being who is suffering and is beyond help is mercy. Killing someone because you don’t like the way they look is murder. There is no room for murder in this inn.”

Horror of horrors, I thought this was a trilogy, but with THAT ending, I’m hoping there’s going to be more in the future…right?

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) – N.K. Jemisin

the fifth seasonThis is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Rating: 4.5/5

An incredible, effortlessly original fantasy novel, well-deserving of its Hugo Award. This is the second book of the author’s that I’ve read – The Killing Moon was the first – and again, I was struck by how fresh Jemisin’s work feels. She doesn’t waste time rehashing the tired old fantasy tropes that we see over and over again. She also has absolutely no fucks to give, and it comes through in her work that has so many highly relevant messages to the world we live in today.

Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Them them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at those contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.

First, let’s talk world building. It pairs astronomy with sentient rock people, as the author herself notes in the acknowledgements, which is such a fabulous, intriguing notion. Basically, there are a small group of people born who are able to control the earth’s geological forces, causing or dispelling earthquakes and other seismic activity. Rest of the world is terrified of these people, and the sentient rock people (its a catchy term, okay) are heavily discriminated against. And that’s all you really need to know going in.

There are so many intricacies and subplots going on in the background – you simply have to trust the author to reveal the information to you as relevant. Indeed, you’re thrown into the deep end when the book begins, with three different perspectives of three women in very different situations. But you’re able to piece things together without being spoonfed by the author. She makes you work for it, which is so  much more satisfying.

“I didn’t know.” She slurs the words around the back of her hand. The words don’t make sense but she feels compelled to say them. “I didn’t.”

“You think that matters?” It’s almost cruel, the emotionlessness of his voice and face.

The characters are … interesting. There’s no other way to put it. They are substantial, but the author has perfected showing, not telling, so there’s much we have to infer from their actions and words. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the diversity of characters. Female perspectives dominate, and they are kickass, intelligent, self-sufficient women. Almost everybody in this novel is of some shade of brown. Sexualities are fluid. Trans people exist without fanfare or furore. There are complicated relationships and not-relationships, which I will leave you to discover for yourself.

The moments of humour are few and far between, considering the subject matter of the book, but this makes them all the more valuable. The following exchange in particular had me cackling out loud:

“Don’t follow me.”

“Wasn’t planning to.”

“I mean it… You don’t know what I’m going back to. I could live in a walled compound with fifty other rusters just like me. We might have tooth-files and a ‘juicy stupid people’ recipe book.”

You get the impression that you are just skimming the surface of what is a deeply intricate, deeply layered universe. Kudos to the author, and highly recommended.

Review: Little Beach Street Bakery – Jenny Colgan

little beach street bakeryAmid the ruins of her latest relationship, Polly Waterford moves far away to the sleepy seaside resort of Polbearne, where she lives in a small, lonely flat above an abandoned shop.

To distract her from her troubles, Polly throws herself into her favorite hobby: making bread. But her relaxing weekend diversion quickly develops into a passion. As she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, each loaf becomes better than the last. Soon, Polly is working her magic with nuts and seeds, olives and chorizo, and the local honey-courtesy of a handsome local beekeeper. Drawing on reserves of determination and creativity Polly never knew she had, she bakes and bakes . . . and discovers a bright new life where she least expected it.

Rating: 3/5

Sometimes you just need a feel-good fluff read, mmmkay? I had a good experience with the author’s previous novel, The Little Bookshop of Happily Ever After, and so I thought I’d give one of her other books a go.

And while its now only the second one of Colgan’s that I’ve read, a formula is still immediately apparent – a strong focus on economic uncertainty and tough financial times for the heroine who must rely on her own hands-on abilities, and the appearance of two love interests, the first of whom will meet some kind of tragic end. But these aren’t necessarily bad things – in fact, I think it’s a pretty refreshing change to the contemporary romance books saturated with twenty-somethings dripping in privilege.

And Colgan is brilliant at evoking settings – both the beauty and the inconvenience that comes with them. Living on a quaint island? Sure, it’s great, until you get stuck because the tide’s too high and you can’t get across the causeway. Or the terrifying waves and wind and general run-down state of your new glorified shack aka home sweet home.

Also, this book will make you hungry. You will crave carbs. Freshly baked bread and all sorts of deliciousness.

“Oh my God, did I fall asleep?”
“I hope so. Either that, or it was quite a fast coma.”

All in all, formulaic but a gently humorous and enjoyable distraction – just what I needed!