Friday, 17 February 2017

Review | Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire


by Seanan McGuire

My Rating:

Eleanor 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.

I so wanted to love this and I just couldn't. I'm a big fan of Seanan McGuire; she also writes under the name Mira Grant, and is therefore the author of one of my favourite all-time books, Feed, and a horror novella I really enjoyed, Rolling in the Deep. I was excited to check out another of her novellas and the premise sounded fantastic: the idea of a boarding school especially for children who have fallen through doors into fantastical worlds, such as Narnia or Wonderland, and have then been spat back out sounded right up my street.

The amount of different worlds and the detail in them that McGuire creates, and in so few words, is enchanting; the story of Loriel, one of the many side characters, and her world completely broke my heart and I don't think I'll be able to stop thinking about it for a while. I also really appreciated that our protagonist, Nancy, is asexual and identifies herself as such within the text: the words 'I am asexual' are actually used, which is super refreshing when so many authors choose to allude to diversity instead of outright saying it.

And that's about where my appreciation for this novella ends, and I hate admitting that when I love McGuire so much.

Shortly after Nancy's arrival at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the story turns into a murder mystery as students start getting killed off; what could have been a clever juxtaposition between whimsy and horror just felt jarring, and I spent the entire novella thinking one thing: why? Why now? Why isn't more done? Why does no one figure it out sooner?

The book's only short, but I still figured out who the culprit was long before it was revealed because, without wanting to sound like a douche, I thought it was obvious who it was going to be. I could have lived with that if it weren't also for the fact that I even guessed why they were doing it, which is often more fun than figuring out the who in a whodunnit, and that everything else made such little sense.

For example, the authorities don't get involved. Now I'm all for younger people trying to solve mysteries, but when it's the younger people themselves getting killed and their headteacher's response is 'eh, just stay in pairs, kids - we don't wanna get shut down!' it steps from the realms of suspending your disbelief to plain old disbelief. I understand they don't want the school to be shut down, I even understand why they don't want the school to be shut down, but what I don't understand is why the school's headmistress leaves the mystery to her students to solve when they're the ones in the most danger. Seriously, the woman does very little to actually solve the mystery.

There also doesn't appear to be any real reason for the murders to start happening once our protagonist arrives. Sorry if I just spoiled the story for you if you were thinking our protagonist is the killer but, let's be honest, that's rarely the case! Nancy as a whole is a rather passive character. Again I don't have a problem with that, in fact I like the idea of a protagonist who isn't a Katniss Everdeen or a Hermione Granger, but a passive heroine still needs to be an engaging heroine and Nancy just wasn't that for me.

I loved the premise of this so much, but the more I read the lower my rating became as the story seemed to lose its otherness that made it so enchanting in those first few pages. I got the feeling the murder mystery was introduced because McGuire felt as though some kind of plot needed to appear to spur the story on, but I happily would have read a slow, quiet novella about these kids coming to terms with being back in the real world. I didn't need the murder mystery, and if there really had to be one I wish it hadn't been so predictable because I know McGuire can do better.

There are a lot of people out there who love this book, though, so if you're intrigued by the premise I'd still recommend checking it out - you may like it more than I did, and if you do I hope you check out more of McGuire's work!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | All the Single Ladies


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!


Happy Valentine's Day! This week's theme is all about romance, and as I talked about my favourite OTPs last year, I figured this year would be a good opportunity to talk about the characters I think should have remained single.


Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy: Sorry Peeta fans (specifically Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight), but I hate the ending of Mockingjay. My ideal happy ending for Katniss was for her to live somewhere peaceful with Prim and if that couldn't happen then I wanted her to either live alone or die. I know that sounds grim, and I understand the comfort she probably finds in Peeta because he's gone through so much of what she's gone through, but I hate the way people use Peeta against her. I wrote a whole post about it here if you're interested.


Rachel Green from Friends: The more I re-watch Friends, the more I realise Rachel should have stayed on the plane. Ross is a pretty awful person and he consistently makes her choose between him and her career and it pisses me off. When they're first dating he's constantly looking down on her interest in the fashion industry, but if someone says they're not interested in science it's like they just told him Santa isn't real. He's a hypocrite and I don't like him, and to be honest by the tenth season I think Rachel and Joey have way more chemistry.


Juliet Capulet from Romeo and Juliet: SIX PEOPLE DIED. This applies to Romeo too, I guess, but to be honest Romeo's always seemed pretty flaky to me while Juliet has all these amazingly violent monologues throughout the play and has always felt like the more fleshed-out character to me. I understand that she doesn't just want to marry some stranger her father picks out for her, but was there really no other option for her than a whirlwind romance that KILLED SIX PEOPLE? Come on, Juliet, you're better than that.


Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre: I think Jane and Mr. Rochester have amazing chemistry but let's be honest: Rochester is a problematic fave. Let's not forget that he literally locked his wife in the attic and then lied to his second wife about it. What exactly in that scenario suggests great husband material?


Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones: In no way can Sansa's marriage to Ramsay Bolton be described as a relationship because he was abusive and she was in no way able to give any form of consent. Really I'm just angry the writers gave her that storyline at all; she deserved better than to be abused in that way, especially after already spending so long at Joffrey's mercy.


Tauriel from The Hobbit movies: I love the fact that someone thought 'we can't ask little girls to sit through 9 hours of film without a single main female character', but they butchered any progress when they created Tauriel just to act as eye candy. There didn't seem to be any depth to her character, instead she was a watered-down mix of Eowyn and Arwen.


Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility and Lydia Bennet from Pride and Prejudice: I'm putting these two together because I think they'd be good friends if they met, and I'd love to see the two of them travelling around Europe together, Marianne could play her music and Lydia could act on the stage, because frankly they both deserved better marriages than the ones they end up in. Especially Marianne, because at Lydia can hold her own and still have a bit of fun with Wickham, whereas Marianne gets a General who, while he may be lovely, is far too boring for her.


Desdemona from Othello: Othello's a prick. That is all.


Anna from Frozen: Elsa won't let her marry a guy she's known for a day, but apparently a guy she's known for two days is fine. I don't really like Frozen anyway, I think it's full of plotholes and one day I may write a post about it, and this is one of the reasons why. It tried to be witty with its 'oh isn't it funny how Disney princesses marry men they barely know?' only to repeat the same mistake.


Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Disney one's fine, albeit old-fashioned, but in the original tale the Prince carries Snow White away while he thinks she's dead, only for the apple to dislodge from her throat and wake her up. In other words, the original Snow White marries a necrophile. Poor girl.

What did you talk about this week?

Monday, 13 February 2017

Review | As I Descended by Robin Talley


by Robin Talley

My Rating:

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

I received an eARC of As I Descended from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Check out my reviews of Lies We Tell Ourselves and What We Left Behind here and here!

So, lesbians and Macbeth anyone?

I've been following Robin Talley since I read and enjoyed her debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves, a couple of years ago; it was refreshing to find a new voice for LGBT+ women in the world of YA, and when I heard her third novel would be a modern, lesbian retelling of Macbeth - my favourite of Shakespeare's plays - I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.

Considering the kind of retelling this is, I think it's a clever one. Out of all of Shakespeare's plays, Macbeth certainly isn't the first to jump out as being the best story to retell in the setting of an American high school for no other reason than that it's difficult to imagine its cast of characters as teenagers; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are married, and many of their friends (and their enemies) have their own children. Talley did a pretty good job at converting one of Shakespeare's darkest stories into a high school setting and I think she should be commended for it. It was easy to tell who each character was meant to represent from the original text, and making the school a boarding school was a brilliant choice by Talley as a way to get these kids' parents out of the way when things start to get out of hand.

One of the things I really appreciated was that you don't have to know Macbeth well to enjoy this story. I love Macbeth, but I can appreciate that a lot of people out there feel intimidated by Shakespeare and may be wary about picking a retelling up - if you're one such person, you needn't be! The tips of the hat to Macbeth are there for those who'll recognise them, but the book can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their Shakespearean knowledge.

The thing I probably enjoyed most about As I Descended is how it explored the same themes that Macbeth does - our relationship with guilt and what we're willing to take into our own hands when we feel as though we're not getting what we deserve, and ultimately getting what we deserve because we take things into our own hands - and did so in such a way that really fit its setting. The competitiveness in As I Descended is the kind I'd expect to find in a school for the wealthy, where your days are spent trying to get the most scholarships and awards, whether you work hard for them or just happen to be sleeping with the right teacher.

That this is a lesbian retelling of Macbeth is all the better, in fact I think this is the first LGBT+ retelling of one of Shakespeare's plays I've encountered and it's made me want to seek out more. There must be more out there! My only complaint in regards to Maria and Lily's relationship is that I would have liked to have known more about how they met and why they were together; I believed their chemistry, and I loved that the fact that their relationship was an LGBT+ one wasn't the focus of the plot, I just wanted to know more about where it started.

In fact I'd've liked to have known more about all of the characters, as for the most part I didn't feel as though I got to know any one of them particularly well and that was mainly because of the way it was written. Both of Talley's previous novels have been told from the points of view of the two main protagonists, in alternating chapters, whereas As I Descended flits from character to character to character, often in the middle of chapters, and it left me unable to really get to know any one character in particular. Unlike her previous books, As I Descended is also the first of Talley's books that's written in third person and I got the feeling she wasn't quite as comfortable writing in third person as she is in first person because she flitted from one character to the next so often.

I was also disappointed with the lack of witches in this book. I love me some witches, and whenever I come across an adaptation of Macbeth one of the things I'm most interested in is how the witches are portrayed. As I Descended was fairly clever in that it's revealed Maria has been able to speak to spirits since she was a little girl and the novel opens with herself, Lily (Lady Macbeth) and Brandon (Banquo) playing with a ouija board, thus it's spirits who give Maria their prophecy and subsequently cause a lot of mischief.

I had an issue with this for a couple of reasons: firstly, I was just disappointed they weren't witches and I thought there easily could have been a way around that if they were the spirits of women who'd been executed for witchcraft. Secondly, the story began to suggest that the characters wouldn't do the things they were doing if it weren't for the spirits. Now that's true to the initial plot to an extent - Macbeth only kills Duncan because the witches tell him he'll be King after his death and it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy - but in As I Descended the spirits continued to pop up and influence people's decisions, and I couldn't help feeling that Talley was trying to make her characters a little more sympathetic by implying it wasn't really they who were 'bad', but the whole point of Macbeth is that these characters make a terrible decision all by themselves and then suffer with the guilt of that decision. Not that they're driven to madness by witches, because all the witches do is tell them the future - it's up to Macbeth and co. how they interpret it.

The spirits certainly fit into the Southern Gothic feel of As I Descended; there's an old story that a rich family once lived on the same land the school has been built on, and one day the patriarch went mad, locked his family and their slaves in a building and then set fire to it, but I wasn't sure if that story needed to be there. The spirits of angry slaves punishing the children of the modern-day wealthy elite might have been more satisfying if it weren't for the fact that a lot of the main characters weren't white themselves, and often it was the ghosts of the family rather than the ghosts of the slaves who were causing the trouble so the whole backstory just felt a little confused to me.

My biggest problem with the story, however, was motivation. I loved the little allusions to the original story such as Maria becoming the Prom Queen instead of Delilah, a fun, modern-day tip of the hat to Macbeth becoming King after Duncan, but the reasoning behind Maria and Lily's attack on Delilah just seemed rather weak to me. Maria wants to win a scholarship that only one student can get which will make sure she can get into her college of choice, and that means going to college with Lily where the two of them can be open about their relationship. This will subsequently mean Delilah doesn't get the scholarship because she doesn't deserve it; while Maria has been studying and working hard throughout school, Delilah has been riding high on her parents' money and sleeping with her teachers.

I get why they'd want Delilah to be punished, it can be hard to see someone else be rewarded when you know you've worked harder, but Maria doesn't really seem to need that scholarship. Her family's hardly poor so it's not like she can't afford to go to college, and her grades are so good I don't see why a scholarship would stop whichever college she wants to go to from taking her on. Plus does she have to go to college with Lily? It'd be nice, sure, but there's no reason why they couldn't go to different colleges and stay together. Clearly priorities are different in this school environment and the scholarship is a big deal, but I'm not sure it's worth everything that happens in this book. Maybe that's the point: is Macbeth's reign worth it when it's doomed from the start?

Ultimately I didn't like this as much as I wanted to, but I did enjoy it and I would recommend it. I still think Talley is a very important voice in the YA world and I'll continue to read her work in future. If you're not a huge Macbeth fan I think you'll really enjoy this, and if you are a Macbeth fan I think you might be a little more nit-picky - but it's still worth reading!

Friday, 10 February 2017

LGBT+ History Month Book Recommendations!

Happy LGBT+ History Month!



February is LGBT+ History Month here in the UK (our Black History Month falls in October) so I figured now was as good a time as any to recommend some books to you that feature LGBT+ protagonists. This list is not as long as I'd like it to be; despite being able to think of a lot of LGBT+ characters out there, the list became much narrower when I considered how many of those characters were the main protagonists of their books. I still have a lot of reading to do!

(Before I continue I'd also like to say that reading LGBT+ authors and characters is something we should be doing all year, not just LGBT+ History Month!)


Five of Sarah Waters' six published novels have LGBT+ protagonists - The Little Stranger is the only one that doesn't - so she's an author well worth checking out this month and beyond. Fingersmith is considered her masterpiece and I can see why; it's probably the most shocking book I've ever read (in terms of plot twists, not content) and it's such great fun. Being a gay woman herself Waters writes gay women well, and is particularly good at writing these women back into history. If you haven't read Fingersmith yet, you're missing out.


I wasn't actually the biggest fan of Every Heart a Doorway, which is a real shame because I love Seanan McGuire, but it gets points from me just for having a protagonist who identifies as asexual and actually calls herself asexual in the text. Even better, she discusses the differences between asexuality and aromanticism, and as someone who has asexual friends and falls somewhere on the spectrum herself (if I had to identify my sexuality, I'd probably describe myself as demisexual) it was really refreshing to see it being acknowledged.


This beautiful graphic novel is a lesbian retelling of The 1001 Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights) and it's so lovely and funny and bittersweet. If you like self-aware stories and stories within stories you'll enjoy The One Hundred Nights of Hero, and while the romance is an important part of the book it also has a general focus on women's relationships - be it sisters or mothers and daughters or friendships -  that was a real joy to read.


I don't read much YA but Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is probably one of my favourite ever YA books. I was wary of it at first because there was so much hype surrounding it, but this is one of the few instances in which the hype was well-deserved. If you're keen to read some LGBT+ YA and you haven't picked this one up yet, you're definitely missing out.


A bit of historical YA now and, like Sarah Waters, LGBT+ women are the focus of all of Robin Talley's novels. She's such an important voice in the YA community and from what I've read so far (I still have her most recent book, Our Own Private Universe, to read) her debut is still her best work yet because it's so heart-breaking and, sadly, so relevant when we take into consideration the problems with racism the world is still having in 2017. What I appreciate about Talley is that her characters feel like people, they're not perfect, and while I did have one particular issue with Lies We Tell Ourselves that I discuss in my review it didn't take away from my enjoyment of it. This is such a great read, and also relevant for those of you in the US celebrating Black History Month!

Have you read any of these books? Which books with LGBT+ protagonists would you recommend?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Extra! Extra! Read all about it!


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Books I Wish Had (More/Less) X In Them', so this week I'm talking about the books I wish had more pages in them!


Woman Who Brings the Rain by Eluned Gramich: This teeny little memoir was my first read of this year, and was also shortlisted for the English-language Wales Book of the Year in the non-fiction category. I've been really into learning more about Asia in this year and I loved the way this little memoir, about the author's time in Japan, was written, so I'd've really liked a much longer book. Perhaps she'll produce one in future!

Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember: This has LGBT+ protagonists and unicorns, so what's not to love? I really enjoyed Ember's debut, I just wanted even more of it.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Similarly, the only thing I wanted from Binti was even more of it because the universe Okorafor has created is fascinating.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: Something's revealed at the end of The Wonder that I felt was brushed under the carpet very quickly considering the seriousness of it. I would have liked a few more pages so that what's revealed could have been dealt with more than it was.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: Okay so this book, one of my favourites of all time (possibly my ultimate favourite of all time), is perfect as far as I'm concerned, I just didn't want it to end. More please?


St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell: Pretty much every single story in this collection ended in medias res and I found it really frustrating. I think I might have liked the book a little more than I did if I felt as though every story actually had an ending.

Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein: I really enjoyed this, and I recommend it if you're interested in the history of fairy tales, but I'd love an updated version talking about some of the more recent versions and adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I loved Heilig's debut, the idea is just delicious, and the only problem I had with it was that ending felt a little rushed compared with the pace of the rest of the book. I'd've been happy for a slower ending, but it didn't really take anything away from my enjoyment of the book.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant: I don't think this novella really needs to be longer, it's an ideal size for what it is, but I loved the concept so much that I'd've happily read a full-length novel - especially as I don't read enough horror.

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen: This is one of those classic Gothic Victorian stories, told in hindsight in a 'tell-don't-show' way that so many 19th century stories were, but the idea is so interesting that I wish it was longer and a bit more, well, more.

What did you talk about this week?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Reading Wrap-Up | January 2017


I stuck two big fingers up to the 2016 reading slump in January and read 14 books, which I think is the most I've read in one month possibly ever; I read a lot as a child, but I had a tendency to re-read books I adored again and again and again.


Not only did I read a good amount of books, but I enjoyed most of them, too. In fact most of them I enjoyed a lot, with only a few disappointments (including two DNFs) thrown in there. I'm going to be DNFing a lot more books this year, at least I am if I find myself reading books that I want to DNF; I'm hoping that the majority of the books I read this year are going to be ones I enjoy, but I'm not going to stress out about not finishing books like I feel as though I did last year. There's just too much I'd rather be reading to feel guilty about DNFing something isn't for me!
What did you read in January?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Fandon Mashup | We Will Rock You

Fandom Mashup is an original featured created and hosted by the lovely Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews. Each week she proposes a unique fictional scenario and then invites you to build a dream team of five fictional characters from five different fandoms to help you to complete the task. Make sure you check out Micheline's blog for more info!

I've been meaning to join in with this for ages now but because I tend to be so lazy on a Sunday I forget about it, but this week I remembered! (Just in time). Thanks for creating this fun feature, Micheline!

This week's scenario: You find yourself in ancient Rome lined up to become a Gladiator. Woah.  The one upside is that you get to pick your own team to train you up for the task. Who do you pick?

(I don't know about you, but whenever I think of gladiators I think of that Pepsi advert with Beyonce, P!nk and Britney Spears...)

Finnick Odair

Finnick is essentially a futuristic gladiator, right? He even uses similar weaponry. Not only that but he already knows how to coach people to help them use their own skills and he knows how to appeal to the crowd, too, because your survival could all be down to how popular you are with the crowds in Ancient Rome. Just like the Tributes in Panem, Ancient Rome's gladiators were celebrities, too.

Wolf
Lunar Chronicles - Wolf © Laura Hollingsworth
Scarlet first sees Wolf fighting and the guy's pretty brutal - he's been biologically altered into a killing machine - so I think he could teach me how to fight dirty, which I'd definitely need to do if I wanted to win.

Éowyn

Any woman who can take down the Witch King of Angmar is a worthy teacher in my book, plus Éowyn is probably my favourite character from The Lord of the Rings and I feel as though she doesn't get as much love as she should. This woman is the ultimate warrior princess, and the inspiration for so many others.

Xena

Speaking of warrior princesses, I'm pretty sure there's nothing about gladiatorial combat this woman couldn't teach me. If Xena spends her days fighting evil, I'm sure she can spare some time to teach me how to kick someone else's butt.

Wonder Woman

If Wonder Woman can't teach me how to win a fight (or at least survive one) then I don't know who can. She's the original feminist superhero and I'd want her on my team. Plus if I'm not doing so well, hopefully she and Xena will step in and defend me...

Who would you choose?