Review: Dangerous Women (Part 1) edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

23018850Commissioned by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, these tales of dangerous women by the most stellar names in fiction are available for the first time in three-volume paperback.

This first volume features an original 35,000 word novella by George R.R. Martin.‘The Princess and the Queen’ reveals the origins of the civil war in Westeros (before the events in A Game of Thrones), which is known as the Dance of the Dragons, pitting Targaryen against Targaryen and dragon against dragon.

Other authors in this volume of warriors, bad girls and dragonriders include worldwide bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Lawrence Block and Nancy Kress.

Contents
Gardner Dozois’s introduction
George R. R. Martin, ‘The Princess and the Queen’
Carrie Vaughn, ‘Raisa Stepanova’
Nancy Kress, ’Second Arabesque, Very Slowly’
Lawrence Block, ‘I Know How to Pick ‘Em’
Megan Abbott, ‘My Heart Is Either Broken’
Joe R. Lansdale, ‘Wrestling Jesus’
Brandon Sanderson, ‘Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell’

PRIOR WARNING I have a lot of thoughts about some of these stories so there will be spoilers. Only read on if this is not a problem for you.

Now with that out of the way – I had high hopes for this collection despite the dull blurb we are offered on the book’s back cover. I have forgotten why I had high hopes when I added it to my wish list (it was so long ago) but high hopes were had.

I’ve been in the mood to read about fierce and wonderful and dangerous women, and thought the time was right considering the Women’s Marches going on around the world. I was ready to read about women, women who would empower me, women who would terrify me, women who were strong.

The introduction promised me things, several things and I couldn’t help but go back and hiss liiiiies at it every so often while I read. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the collection overall and will still be reading parts two and three but my hopes are considerably lower. This book did not do what it said on the tin. (George R.R. Martin, I am looking at you in particular.)

As it’s a collection of short stories by different authors, I want to focus on each separately. Buckle up, kids. This is going to be a long one.

Continue reading

Advertisements

In which I love La La Land

mv5bmzuzndm2nzm2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm3ntg4ote-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Ah, La La Land.

I remember seeing trailers for La La Land many moons ago, and getting incredibly excited about Emma Stone. (I’m always quite excited about Emma Stone.) At first, I didn’t realise it was a musical, then I didn’t realise it was an old style musical. I am so glad it is.

If you’ve been here for a while, you might know that I love musicals and am a frequent theatre go-er. I love the magic of theatre but I also love the magic of cinema, especially musical cinema. In all of its many forms, from Disney to Les Mis to Pitch Perfect.

La La Land brings me all the same wonderful feelings I get when I watch the likes of Singin’ in the Rain and Shall We Dance with my grandmother on a sunny Saturday afternoon but also brings with it the whispers of something more modern. I find it really hard to describe.

La La Land  is like an old musical, old Hollywood but it’s also not. It’s hard to miss the hints to old cinema, the yellow dress and the street lamp both things that recall scenes from Singin’ in the Rain, the tap dancing which could be from any Ginger and Astaire movie.

la-la-land

While it bathes us in old Hollywood nostalgia, it carries more realism than its ancestors – we have some heavy moments that would not have necessarily made it into the movies of old.

I know many people who have fallen head-over-heels for this film and I understand why, it underlines what it is to be a struggling artist and the artist in me feels it to my core. La La Land grew on me. I love it more the more I think about it. I enjoyed watching it, I enjoyed how I felt coming out of the cinema, but it takes some thinking to really hit home. Now, I am in love with it – I have been listening to the songs and singing them to myself in my head.

My other half, however, was not as enthused. And I get that too. This is partly why I find it hard to describe. It’s a great film but it depends entirely who you are. There are some people who simply won’t get it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

lalaland

Visually, it is stunning. My favourite parts happen in the prettiest scenes (the Planetarium and the epilogue, with a large helping of the dance near the lamp post). I love beautiful things and this film is a beautiful thing. The cinematography is everything I could have wanted and more. I want my dreams to look like this film, and I have a feeling it will inspire me for some  time to come.

Vocally, they’re not Broadway or West End stars. For this film, that is perfect. Neither of their characters claim to be singers, neither of their characters are perfect. They are beautifully flawed and so are their songs. It is different and extraordinary and the score is to die for.

Please see this film. You might love it, you might hate it but you should definitely see it.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Order of the Phoenix

9781408855935_309037Phew. We are past my problem book. That’s a relief. The sense of relief I felt when I closed Goblet of Fire was paled only by the excitement of finally being able to read further into the series. I had waited years for this moment.

It was actually quite daunting. What if I didn’t like it? What if I’d built it up so much in my head that nothing I could read would compare to that build up? Had I ruined it for myself? I’d watched my friends fall in love with the last few books and I was so worried that I had missed it, that somehow by not reading them when they came out my enjoyment of them would cease to exist before it had even considered existing. Luckily, I was worrying for nothing.

I love the later books in this series. Even if I do get a little frustrated with Harry. But what’s a bit of frustration between friends, eh?

This book has a special place in my heart for one main reason: we actually find out what’s happening by way of prophecy. Before this book, each story seemed more separate. Goblet of Fire led us to this, and Order of the Phoenix dumped us head first into the crux of the story.

We lost even closer friends than Cedric, and our hearts were all but ripped out of our chests. (Just you wait… I could hear the pages whispering to me as I read. I knew what was coming, of course but that’s for later entries.) J.K. Rowling, I have realised, is ruthless. Maybe not the upfront kind of ruthless, but a quiet kind that sits in the back until just the right moment. That kind.

I cannot write this post without mentioning Dumbledore’s Army. This book is a gift because it gave us Dumbledore’s Army. A group of young people who want to learn, who want to defend themselves and who are afraid but don’t let that fear get in their way – a lesson we could all learn from. We get to see a lot more of the supporting characters in these scenes, which brings me to my next reason that this book is a gift. Luna Lovegood. Little Luna, lovely Luna. There is nothing I dislike about Luna, she is my tiny fave, and she should be protected at all costs. The fact that she is in Dumbledore’s Army is so lovely and poignant, especially considering she doesn’t have many existing friends that we know of – not that that bothers her. It is heartwarming to see her being accepted.

There is a third reason that this book is a gift (I know, three reasons in one book – I could list more, don’t tempt me), and that is sassy!McGonagall. I love McGongall. She is easily my favourite teacher, and not-so-easily my favourite adult character (alongside Molly Weasley).

Even though the story takes a dark turn, we still get humour in the scenes with McGongall and Umbridge (I do not like Umbridge), and for that I am thankful.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

27827627Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. I read the first paragraph on amazon many moons ago and knew I had to read it.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.

It’s a fantastic opening paragraph. That combined with the idea of a Wood with malevolent power and I was all in.

It follows Agnieszka as she is chosen by the Dragon to serve him in his tower for 10 years as he works to keep the Wood from consuming the valley, and the kingdom with it.

I didn’t know how fairy tale-esque the novel would be (the clue should have been in the ‘girl serves dragon in his tower for 10 years but apparently my brain didn’t pick up on that very large cue), I don’t know what my expectations were before reading but they weren’t that! I love fairy tales, and I love stories that feel like fairy tales. So Uprooted was a win.

I really enjoyed the way magic was presented, and the different methods of using it, as well as the names given to the various wizards. They made me very happy. One thing I wished for though, was more of Jaga. I adore the mythology she is based on and would have loved to have seen a little bit more on that.

However, the thing that stole the show was the Wood itself, how it was described, the back story, all of it. I adore the Wood more than anything else, though I think Kasia comes close second.

It’s a lovely little standalone, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good fairy tale.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Goblet of Fire

978-1408855928_309033 I have been putting this post off, as you might have guessed, and as I mentioned in my last post. However, I said it was to be my next post and so it is – even if it did take me months to pluck up the drive to write it. I have wanted to blog. I have wanted to post things but I haven’t wanted to write this particular post. So I avoided it. No more – three of my resolutions are linked to this blog (my next post will be about these – hooray for planning) and I would like to try my hardest not to fail them.

So here goes.

You might be asking yourself why I avoided this post even though I finished my re-readathon around this time last year, well, to answer that question we have to travel back in time. We have to go back to the year of Goblet of Fire‘s release, then the next, and the next, and the next…

My experience with the Goblet of Fire was a trying one for one simple reason: every time I reached page 362 of the original hardback, my brother would steal the book to read. Every. Single. Time. It was always that page. Eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t face reading those 362 pages again to get to page 363 and beyond. But I didn’t want to randomly begin reading on page 363 just in case I forgot any of the details. It was a horrible cycle, one which I never want to repeat with any other book. Luckily mine and my brother’s reading habits are no longer the same, and even if they were we live in different places so his access to my current read is pretty much nonexistent.

So that’s my confession. This is the last actual re-read, though I will still call the others re-reads for consistency. When I was a child, I never got past the fourth book and pretended I wasn’t that into the series as a cover. I lied. I love it wholeheartedly (especially now that I have a Ravenclaw jumper and hoodie to show off my pride, and a subscription to The Wizarding World crate from LootCrate, which I recommend). It’s a good thing that I have never really been bothered about spoilers.

The Goblet of Fire is my least favourite (tied, perhaps, with Chamber of Secrets), probably through no fault of its own. Part of me is glad I waited until I was an adult (and over the trauma of having to read the first 362 pages on a loop) to finish it. I feel like, even though it is my least favourite, I enjoy it a lot more now than I would have before. It is a book of change, and the book where everything gets a little more real. To re-purpose a line from later, the story opens at Goblet of Fire‘s close. From here on out, the novels are less stand-alone and it becomes clear that there really is a longer, deeper plot developing.

It also takes us somewhere a lot darker than the previous books, with the death of a loved character and the horrific manner of the spell which restores He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to his former glory (well, sort of).

In comparison to the first three books, my nostalgia is less joyful but the real joy now comes from my appreciation of the series as an adult and for that, I am thankful.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Prisoner of Azkaban

9781408855676_309040Be still my tiny-child heart. The memories. For a long time, as with most Harry Potter fans, The Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite. It’s one of the more standalone-ish of the series, and it’s early enough in the series that, while it deals with difficult things, it is still quite lighthearted – the darkness of the later books seeps in over the edges of the pages, but not so much so that your hands come away blackened and your heart hurts.

For now, everything is going down the ‘happily-ever-after’ route. Everything has ended well so far. (Besides things which happened before the books started and Wormtail making his escape, of course, but even Wormtail escaping doesn’t seem too dire a thing at this point because he’s so pathetic and weedy. Feeble.) Things are looking up. Harry has friends, and family, and friends who are family. He has Hogwarts, which is potentially the best place anyone could ever be.

Of course, knowing, as I know, what happens in later books this makes me want to tell him to turn back and quit while he’s ahead; but I remember little-Emma being filled with a sense of wonder and possibility, I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Even the bad guys on the Wanted posters are turning out to be good after all!

Oh, little-Emma. How naive you were. Now you’re a seasoned Elou (of a ripe quarter of a century), you know that very little stays wondrous and new and happy and always ends well. That fact and lack of naivety makes me love this book more. This book is the last time we see Harry as a child, truly a child. Sure, he had to time travel, met a werewolf and was attacked by dementors but he’s only just touching on the horrors that await. He’s only just being pulled into the story-proper.

I can’t lie to you, reader, the nostalgia is strong with this one.

I re-read this book so many times. More than any of the other books in the series. I read it over, and over, and over, and was still thrilled when it ended well as if it was still my first read. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, it still felt exactly like the first time I was reading.

Our old copy is damaged, very damaged, from my and my brother’s constant re-reads. (It makes me cringe, I try to keep my books as nice and neat as possible now-a-days.)

I am pretty sure that there is no spot of that old copy which is not covered in my fingerprints.

Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

I am very into graphic novels and comics at the moment. I’d seen Through the Woods floating around for a while and wanted it. Before that, I wanted it because the author’s name was so similar to mine (and so I was intrigued).

I’m so glad I put this on my wish list. It’s a quick read, I read the whole thing in less than an hour. The art style is glorious, I love it. It differs slightly between each story but it is all tied together, by the use of colour especially. I enjoyed her art so much that I then went on a hunt for more, and will heartily recommend Anu-Anulan & Yir’s Daughter and The Prince & the Sea for any who might want a taste of her work before buying it in print. Do yourself a favour, though, and buy this book.

The stories are effortlessly creepy, and definitely spoke to the teen, Point Horror obsessed version of me (who I still revert back to every now and again) but in a much more satisfying way. Emily Carroll is good at what she does.

The book itself is well produced, the paper choice is perfect and the finish on the cover is wonderful though I am unsure what it actually is. It brings something very tactile to the book and as the stories themselves are tactile in their own way, it’s very well suited.

All of the text is written by hand, which is a lovely touch and makes me envious of her handwriting. It’s easy to read and the layout really works for each spread. Overall, I love it. It’s definitely a winner.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to leave this without some visuals, so here are a few spreads to get you interested (trust me, you want to be interested in this book)!

through the woods spread through the woods spread2 through the woods spread3

Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Furiously HappyIn Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

Jenny’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn’t need a bit more of that?

This book. This book is brilliant. I have to confess, I haven’t read Lawson’s first book but it is most definitely on my to-buy list now.

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled across Furiously Happy, but stumble I did. With a cover like that I couldn’t just click away – I had to know what it was about, who it was by, why it existed and all those wonderful things you find out when you look into and then buy a book.

Except I didn’t buy this one. I read a bit of the ‘look inside’ on Amazon, added it to my wishlist after falling a little bit in love with the writing style and then went on my merry way. About a month later, when my birthday happened, I opened a present from my parents and there it was, a taxidermy raccoon staring out at me.

I started it reading it that day and finished it the next, which is quite impressive considering I read most of it out loud to my family and my boyfriend.

Reading aloud is not something I do by choice, I go lobster red and stumble my way through almost every word. It is a bad time for everyone involved. But with Furiously Happy I just had to share everything. There was very little that I did not read aloud. This is a testament to both the writing and the stories themselves – I use stories with a pinch of salt here, they are true, perhaps I should say anecdotes but they feel more story-like.

Furiously Happy  is relatable, I found myself thinking ‘that sounds like something I would do’ throughout, and my boyfriend actually exclaimed that I would have done some of those things too were I in those situations. It makes typically difficult subjects easy to digest and engage with and that can never be a bad thing. Lawson has a way of writing about really serious things in a really entertaining way that doesn’t mock or jibe.

I don’t often read memoirs and the like, I prefer my books to have a little bit of magic to them, but I discovered that sometimes memoirs have their own kind of magic. Furiously Happy  definitely does. I was hooked, completely and utterly.

I would recommend this book to everyone. Seriously. Buy it, read it, love it.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of SecretsHoo boy, I was supposed to post these every week for seven weeks, since I read the whole series in about 14 days. But alas, life happened, as it often does, but I have resolved to be more regular in my blog updates and book reviews and various other things. So I am posting this from the past. Hooray for queued posts! Anyway…

The Chamber of Secrets was never my favourite. Possibly because it sits between the first book (much excitement because it’s the start of the series) and the third which, until recently, was always my favourite. It’s pretty hard, then, for the book between those two to be quite as exciting. That said, it does have the joy that is Gilderoy Lockhart and his failure at life. (Or perhaps it’s not a failure, not until the obliviate mishap anyway.)

Though it was never my favourite, Riddle and the diary always fascinated me. I loved the idea of having a book that could interact with me, and I mean really interact with me, not a choose your own adventure or an enhanced ebook type deal. A really real book, which really did talk to me and respond to my words and actions. Who doesn’t want a book that tailors itself to them and them alone?

I often ignored the fact that the diary was evil. Or rather, I didn’t care that it was evil, I just thought it was cool.

Now that I am older, wiser, and more dashing (the crowd sniggers), I see it in a different way, even though I would  still like a really real interactive book. I can see now how creepy and twisted the Riddle in the diary is, and how much that scarred Ginny (especially when it is mentioned in later books). There are all sorts of mental manipulation techniques in the Potterverse and arguably this is the worst. Especially when you consider the life-sucking part.

Shudder.

I can now see what little-me overlooked, the ever so subtle setting up of the latter half of the series, though if older me hadn’t already known about horcruxes, I never would have guessed what relevance the diary would have had to future events. At first the series was seemingly less connected, the first three books had clear openings and endings and most things were left resolved, excepting the looming threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but once you go through them again, you see that it isn’t quite as cut and dry as it at first seemed. I like that. I like that a lot.

Review: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The GracekeepersA flooded world.
A floating circus.
Two women in search of a home.

North lives on a circus boat with her beloved bear, keeping a secret that could capsize her life.

Callanish lives alone in her house in the middle of the ocean, tending the graves of those who die at sea. As penance for a terrible mistake, she has become a gracekeeper.

A chance meeting between the two draws them magnetically to one another – and to the promise of a new life.

But the waters are treacherous, and the tide is against them.

A floating circus. There was no way I wasn’t going to read this book. Ahem…

In keeping with my current theme of prettily-written post-apocalyptic fiction, with more of a character drive than a plot drive, I present to you The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan.

The novel follows Callanish and North, a gracekeeper and circus performer respectively, as they try to find their place in a world which seems to be against them.

Unlike most of the dystopia/post-apocalypse type novels I’ve read, The Gracekeepers takes you to a world of water, where the end of the world was meted out by way of floods, and, unlike most of these novels, the narrative isn’t too pre-occupied by the world of Before. We have no idea whether the end came suddenly or gradually. There are some mentions of it but these are more in-passing than actual plot points. I quite like the lack of importance it places on the world of Before, the idea that the world changed but it is what it is. There’s no sub-plot of trying to restore it – which would be a challenge for any protagonist when the world of before is beneath more water than can be imagined. (Unless the world had a giant plug that no one had discovered yet…)

Speaking of protagonists, the novel has two primarily, Callanish and North (whose name I love), but it doesn’t just tell the story through their eyes. Interspersed between their chapters, we hear from other characters, each a brush stroke adding dimension to the rest of the story. It’s a short book but it covers a fair amount of characters. If I were to name my favourites, I would probably name most of the cast, so I won’t. While not all of the characters are likeable, they are each compelling in their own way.

I really like the idea of the gracekeepers, and graces, and how Damplings (those who live out at sea rather than on land) mourn their dead. The world-building in this novel isn’t the most in-depth but what’s there is both pretty and intriguing.

The one thing, I think, that lets this book down is the ending – something happens which is quite heartbreaking but it isn’t really dealt with in the way that you would expect having read the rest of the novel. It feels as if a few extra paragraphs might have done it a bit more justice. Despite this it is a lovely novel and I did end up thinking about it for a while after finishing – I would love to know what happened to some of the other characters.

It also has a gorgeous cover. Just look at it. Beautiful.

A pretty little read, both sad and hopeful – definitely worth it if you’re into floating circuses.