Review: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

14781178Some places are too good to be true.

Under a pink moon, there is a perfect little town not found on any map.

In that town, there are quiet streets lined with pretty houses, houses that conceal the strangest things.

After a couple years of hard traveling, ex-cop Mona Bright inherits her long-dead mother’s home in Wink, New Mexico. And the closer Mona gets to her mother’s past, the more she understands that the people of Wink are very, very different …

This book is weird. Not quirky-weird, weird-weird.

My best friend read this book and then decided I should too, and mentioned it constantly until I ended up buying it. She knew I was currently very into Welcome to Night Vale, and this book is similar in that it takes place in a fictional town somewhere in the desert (well, near the desert) where everything is a bit strange and at its heart lies a conspiracy. As soon as I read the second line of the blurb above, I knew I wanted this book. I knew I needed this book. It was exactly the kind of weird I was looking for.

It follows Mona, an ex-cop with a complex relationship with her past, as she travels to Wink to find out more about her mother who died when she was young. Her mother left behind a house, and Mona thinks there might be answers there. What she stumbles into is not the quaint little town it seems.

There is a lot to uncover in American Elsewhere, around every corner is something new and it takes a while for it to all click into place. The novel jumps around from person to person in a fashion that I absolutely love. I love the little glimpses of the lives and thoughts of other characters, especially when those characters are not quite normal. I fell in love with these not quite normals, Parson and Mr First especially.

My favourite character, however, was Gracie, sweet, sweet Gracie. She’s a tiny cinnamon bun who needs to be protected, and smothered with love. I can’t really reveal much about her without giant spoilers, so I won’t. Just know that she is precious, and she speaks to my awkward little heart.

American Elsewhere is immediate. Written in the present tense, we are always in the action. I love the present tense, and I know how difficult it is to do well, so it always makes me incredibly happy when I find a book that does just that.

It’s a hefty book but, because of the present tense narration, it’s quite a quick read. It’s definitely a page turner and it’s hard to put down once you start!

If you like Welcome to Night Vale, you’re going to love this. If you like weird, you’re going to love this. What are you waiting for?

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25493853At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I cannot even begin to tell you how hopelessly I have fallen in love with this book. I mean, I am going to try but it might just sound like loving nonsense. I am okay with this, as long as you know that I love it. I’ve already mentioned this book on here before, and I am almost certain that I will be mentioning it again.

Just thinking about it makes me feel warm.

So, as written in the blurb above, The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of Vasilisa (or Vasya as she is commonly referred to), an impish Russian girl who lives and breathes the old stories in more ways than one. I love Vasya. I love that she is not pretty. I love that she is gangly and frog-like and her eyes are large and that she likes to climb trees. I have taken Vasya into my heart and I am going to cling to her for the rest of my days.

I love a compelling main character, and Vasya is that. She has a set of beliefs which she values over all but she also has respect for her family, even when they are cruel to her.

Speaking of cruel, I love it when a book gets me to react and, boy, did I react. I wanted to strangle Anna, Vasya’s stepmother, and Konstantin, a priest. Every time they were horrible, every time they were being ridiculous, I found myself shouting a little at the pages (luckily I read this book from the comfort of my own sofa and not on public transport). But I wanted to strangle them for all of the right reasons, I wasn’t supposed to like them. It is a powerful and talented author who can get you to react visibly and audibly, and I bow down.

I find Konstantin particularly apt in the current political climate – he wants people to be afraid. I couldn’t help but compare what Konstantin was doing with what is happening in the real world. Even though The Bear and the Nightingale is steeped in fantasy, I couldn’t help but relate it to my current view of the world.

One of the central themes in the book is the clashing of the old and the new, the old stories, the chyerti with Christianity. The old gods and spirits with the new, and how village life can fit into that. It looks at the roots of its people and pulls them from the ground, only to tentatively put them back again. We learn about all of the various spirits that keep the world turning, the grass growing, the houses protected, and we learn about them both from the perspective of someone who wholeheartedly puts their faith in them, and someone who fears them. It’s so interesting to see both sides, even if one side makes you want to throw something.

It’s a slow burn. The Bear and the Nightingale takes its time and revels in the storytelling. It is in no rush to end but everything feels essential. It’s not heavy-heavy action but it’s not dormant either. It grows into itself as Vasya grows into herself, it is a journey in and of itself.

I just love it so much. I want to shout out to the world, I want to command the world to read this book and love it and take it into their hearts.

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

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.

The Mime Order Blog Tour: If I were a voyant…

On this the 4th stop on The Mime Order’s UK blog tour, as I’ve already posted a review I decided to get creative.

If you’ve read The Bone Season, there is absolutely no way you’ve not thought, if only in passing, about what kind of a voyant you may have been were you thrust head-first into its pages. My own thoughts on the matter have been fleeting, first used as a gag for a video review on my somewhat defunct (but hopefully one day revivable) youtube channel, but as the publication date of hotly anticipated book #2, I decided it was high time I considered it seriously—and photographically.

My choice was to between two obvious options (three, if there were a type of voyant whose numa were twin lens reflex cameras, or box cameras, or any cameras): firstly, bibliomancy. I work in books, I spend most of my life reading books, I design them, I devour them. It would be all too easy for books to be my numa and I thought that might be too obvious a choice to make.

Secondly, cleidomancy (which you may have guessed if you saw a certain question and answer on twitter). Though obvious to almost everyone who knows me in person, you, dear reader, may be wondering why I made this choice and rightly so.

You who read this blog probably haven’t seen my wrists or the box which sits on one of the shelves in my room, waiting for a time when I have my own walls on which I can hang beautiful display frames. You would not have seen the equally beautiful leather-bound notebook I still have not dared to use for fear of ruining it. You might, if you follow one of my tumblr accounts, have noticed my obsession with a certain key-wielding series of video games. You will definitely have noticed my usernames on almost every social media platform ever and perhaps the other URL which brings you to this website.

I am obsessed with keys. I collect them, skeleton keys mostly (currently living in the aforementioned box). I love to imagine the doors they once opened and the rooms into which those doors led, and then the people who walked through those rooms; born, grown, lived, died. It makes sense, then, that if I were to commune with the spirits of the dead I would use one or more of my collection.

The key featured in these images, newly-probably-not-quite-coined bookography (expect more, I like it), is the first I ever purchased and the key that provided the shape for the tattoo on my right wrist. I remember vividly the day that I bought it, the smell of the shop (appropriately situated in Oxford), the long walk to another which sold masks after, the walk back to college and the impending A Level exam. It is my favourite.

So there you have it.

If I were a voyant, I would be a cleidomancer. A smoky-purple aura’d soothsayer, who has a penchant for top hats and deep purple–burgundy colours.

Hop along to Curiosity Killed the Bookworm tomorrow for your next stop! But before you go…

Competition time!

Enquiring minds would like to know what type of voyant you would be and why, in return I will endeavour, with the help of my camera and my partner in crime, to turn two lucky entrants into their voyant selves! Easy peasy!

How to enter

Leave a comment below with your chosen voyant type and why – do be creative! And remember to leave your name and twitter handle (or email) so that I can contact you!

What you win

A photoshoot with myself and Dress.Simple (at a time and date discussed with you by email later) in which we will transport you, using magic, into the world created by the brilliant Samantha Shannon.

Terms and conditions

  1. To enter you must be over 18 or have written permission of a parent or guardian (who will accompany you to the shoot should you win).
  2. You must be able to get to London or Oxford for the resulting photoshoot.
  3. You must be willing to have your image displayed online (via this website and my facebook photography page) and used by Bloomsbury* should they see fit.
  4. All entries need to be in by midnight (GMT) on 18th February 2015.
  5. Winners will be announced within a week of the closing date on this blog, twitter and facebook.
  6. If you do not respond within 48 hours of the initial winners announcement, another winner will be chosen.

Judging

There will be two winners, one chosen by me and the other chosen by a mystery judge, who will be announced 1st February in another Mime Order-related blog post. We will be picking our favourites so make ‘em good!

 If you want to buy The Mime Order it is available on the Bloomsbury website, Waterstones, Amazon and all good retailers! Happy reading!


 *Please note: this competition is not run by nor affiliated with Bloomsbury beyond being a stop on the blog tour, and will only run if more than 5 entries are received

Review: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth – the Novelisation

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Fifteen-year-old Sarah accidentally wishes her baby half-brother, Toby, away to the Goblin King Jareth who will keep Toby if Sarah does not complete his Labyrinth in thirteen hours.

Finally back in print and for the first time in hardcover is the novelization of LABYRINTH written by A.C.H. Smith and personally overseen by Jim Henson. This is the first in a series of novels from the Jim Henson Archives. This beautiful hardcover features unpublished goblin illustrations by legendary illustrator and concept artist Brian Froud and an exclusive peek into Jim Henson’s creative process with 50 never-before-seen pages from his personal journal, detailing the initial conception of his ideas for LABYRINTH.

I waited a long time to review this book. If you know me, you know the film is one of my favourite things in the history of favourite things; I love it. Eighties fantasy films make me happy in a way that no other film makes me happy. As such, while I was wildly excited to get my grabby, little hands on this book, I was also quite apprehensive: I wasn’t sure how it would translate to writing, it’s such a vivid film, I wasn’t sure it was possible for it to be as good in written form.

My worries were unfounded. It is a brilliant rendition and I recommend it to anyone who can’t get into the film – my best friend wasn’t entirely enamoured by the singing (and crotch-magic-crotchiness of a certain scene) but once I force this book into her hands, I think she will really enjoy it. Perhaps force is a strong word, I don’t think I would have to force her to read it.

It translates really well and brings a new angle to the film that I wasn’t expecting. Getting to read the thoughts and feelings of the characters rather than simply seeing it on screen gives the story a lot more depth. As an avid fan, I am pleased. I know I am somewhat slow on the ball with this one – the book was released some time before and then made out of print – but, for once, I am really glad to have been slow. This edition, as it says above, includes some of Froud’s unpublished goblin illustrations and notes from Jim Henson’s journal and  is beautifully presented. Not to mention it’s part of a series alongside The Storyteller and The Dark Crystal, both of which are calling to my twitchy fingers.

Characterisation is, as to be expected, en pointe – my favourite is still the junk lady and the fireys still freak me out a little; the descriptions of familiar settings and scenes are wonderful, I particularly love everything in the goblin city; and Jareth is still, well, Jareth. Songs are replaced instead with dialogue and altered scenes, which I rather enjoyed and overall, I am incredibly happy with it.

If you like Labyrinth, do yourself a favour and read this book. If you don’t like Labyrinth but think you could, maybe, if not for all that singing, do yourself a favour and read this book. Heck, if you don’t like it anyway, read the book and you might find that you do!