This first review of April 2021 is one of a movie adaptation. It had been on my TBR for for a good two years beforehand, but I finally got to watch the movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, last summer. And cried like a baby. But that’s not the point.
Anyway, when I went to Barnes & Noble, I knew I had to pick it up! I’m glad to say that I liked it almost as much as I did the movie – a bit lacking in the writing department, but still managed to capture much of the dark, fairytale allure that Pan’s Labyrinth had in droves.
Thirteen-year-old Ofelia has always lived through fairytales, especially those in the books she carries around. But when she and her mother move to live with her new husband, the cold and murderous Capitán Vidal, it seems all of the magic has faded away. But when fairies appear to her in the night, Ofelia realizes that the tales in her storybooks may be real after all – and more sinister than she could have ever imagined.
Now, led through a dangerous set of tasks by an enigmatic faun, Ofelia grows closer to the fairytale world that she may be the key to. But the deeper she ventures, the more dangerous they become. The Faun may not be trustworthy – but is the alternative any better?
TW/CW: graphic violence, torture, fantasy violence/body horror, blood, childbirth complications, past death of parent, death of children
I’ve been skimming through some of the reviews from people who haven’t seen the movie who thought that this was middle grade just because the protagonist was 13…and no judgement, none at all, I don’t blame you all, but man, I’m SO, SO SORRY.
I’m a huge fan of all things Guillermo del Toro (after all, he’s responsible for my comfort movie, Hellboy II: The Golden Army), so naturally, after watching this movie for the first time over the summer, I knew I had to pick this up soon. Now, I’m so glad I have a copy of my own – though it wasn’t without its flaws, this was a beautiful adaptation of a truly remarkable film.
Let’s start out with my only criticism: the writing. Of course, I’ve read some of Guillermo del Toro’s short stories and adored his style, but I think my main problem was with Cornelia Funke’s part of it; I read Inkheartsome time ago and it wasn’t my thing, and I think some of those feelings resurfaced while reading this. For source material as brimming with faeries and dark magic as this, her prose didn’t fit at all. There’s a lot of telling as opposed to showing, a lot of “[they] felt” and “[they] knew” and similar phrases. While it wasn’t egregiously bad, some of the telling parts took me out of it.
Other than that? I don’t have any critiques at all! For the most part, this novel absolutely did justice to the book, and both del Toro and Funke clearly had a careful eye to make sure that this adaptation was as close to the film as possible. I loved revisiting the simultaneously dark and beautiful world of the fairies, and the human element was just as poignant and tear-jerking. Though the sting of…well, y’know, everything was dulled a bit by knowing the outcome (having seen the movie), everything was still so potent and gripping. Allen Williams’ beautiful illustrations also added a new layer to the novel, with renderings of Ofelia, the Pale Man, the Faun, and others in simple but striking pencil artwork.
I also loved the short stories woven within the chapters, and I loved seeing how interconnected they all were. Each one added a new thread of lore to an already intricate and detailed story, and it was fascinating to see how each and every short tale came together to flesh out an already well-fleshed-out world.
All in all, a beautiful adaptation of an even more beautiful dark fantasy film. 4 stars!
Guillermo del Toro is most famous for his many films, which include the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water,Hellboy & Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and Crimson Peak. Cornelia Funke is also the author of the Inkworld trilogy, the Dragon Rider series, and the Mirrorworld series.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourself!
I’d had this novel on my TBR for a good two years or so, but I forgot about it until I saw it on display at my local library. I picked it up as soon as I could, and man, I’m so glad I did! I’ve started to lose faith in a lot of YA dystopian novels, but London Shah shows us all the way to do it almost exactly right.
London, 2099. The entire city has been swallowed by the rising oceans, and humankind ekes out a living, in fear of the evolved creatures of the sea and the genetically-modified Anthropoids who lurk alongside them.
Leyla McQueen makes a living as a submersible racer, and when she enters a prestigious competition, she doesn’t enter for the fame or the fortune – all she wants to do is save her father, who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. But after the Prime Minister refuses her pleas after she wins the competition, she sets out on her own to find him, leading her through a dark, watery world of secrets and lies.
This bookwasn’t perfect, but man, I’d do anything to have a debut as good as this! London Shah restored my faith in dystopian literature, and The Light at the Bottom of the World is practically a guidebook on how to do dystopian YA right.
Shah’s worldbuilding is what stood out most to me. There’s rich history in every chapter, presenting a post-apocalyptic world swallowed by rising oceans, where the last pockets of humanity war with the deep and corrupt governments tighten an iron fist around the needy. I loved seeing how the inhabitants of this drowned London eked out a living, from the submersible races to the ruined architecture.
Leyla McQueen was also the perfect protagonist for this book! Besides having great #OwnVoices British-Muslim rep, she was just the kind of main character that we could root for – quick-witted, clever, sassy, determined, and fueled by a love for her father and a flaming desire to make things right. Her chemistry with Ari was great, and she was so spirited and authentic in a way that most dystopian protagonists aren’t. Plus, I may not be a dog person, but Jojo was so adorable and must be protected at all costs 🥺
The only pitfall about The Light at the Bottom of the World for me was the writing. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it just felt a bit lacking. Everything was quick and to the point, without much metaphor or dressing. Now, I’m not saying that it needed to be bright purple prose, but I feel like it could have used a bit more vivid imagery and language. The plot made up for it though; I truly felt the adrenaline of the characters for the whole book, whether it was in the breakneck submersible races or a daring prison break.
Either way, a fantastic YA dystopia with a lovable cast of characters and a fascinating world swallowed by the waves. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!
The Light at the Bottom of the World is London Shah’s debut novel, and it is the first in the Light the Abyss duology, followed by Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, which is slated for release on October 26, 2021.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I haven’t done one of these since November, and my Goodreads TBR continues to be disturbingly long (1,261 books at present 😬), so I figured it would be fun to do another one. Shelf #14 was picked by the random number generator, so here goes nothing…
1. Go to your Goodreads To-Read shelf
2. Order on ascending date added.
3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
From the author of ‘The Midnight Dance’ comes an epic YA fantasy featuring royal drama, dark magic, and a secret that could topple a kingdom.
Kalen has been cursed with a gift: he’s a mental picklock, able to access a person’s memories and secrets by touch. His skills make him the perfect questioner to the king, and he spends his days interrogating prisoners of the crown.
But when Kalen’s estranged childhood friend, Prince Cirrus, falls into a sudden coma, the king begs Kalen to intervene. By accessing Cirrus’ mind, Kalen saves his life—and uncovers a terrifying secret. The prince has a sister, banished long ago, and she is the key to the destruction or survival of the kingdom.
With the help of Cirrus and a silver-haired thief named Luna, Kalen must find the princess and bring her home. Or risk death at the hands of his king.
This one sounds interesting enough, but I read a lot of reviews saying that a) the worldbuilding was dismally underdeveloped and b) there’s insta-love…mmmm, nope. The 3.11 rating on Goodreads was definitely a bit of a red flag (though average ratings often lie), but I don’t think I’ll take my chances.
In the sky, the fire spirits dance and ripple. Grandma says they showed our Tribe that I’d be a captain, before I was even born.
Ever since Ma died, Mouse has looked after her little brother, Sparrow, dreaming of her destiny as captain of the Huntress. But now Da’s missing, Sparrow is in danger, and a deathly cold is creeping across Trianukka . . .
Sea-churning, beast-chattering, dream-dancing, whale-riding, terrodyl-flying, world-saving adventure. The first book in a stunning new fantasy adventure trilogy, perfect for readers aged 9+ and fans of Philip Pullman, Piers Torday, Abi Elphinstone, Katherine Rundell and Frances Hardinge.
I should really read more middle grade, but I don’t think this one’s the one for me. The synopsis is a bit sparse, and I wasn’t a huge fan of Piers Torday, Frances Hardinge or Philip Pullman, so…nah.
Battersea, 1961. London is just beginning to enter the swinging sixties. The world is changing – but not for sixteen-year-old Violet. She was born at the exact moment Winston Churchill announced Victory in Europe – an auspicious start, but now she’s just stuck in her family’s fish and chip shop dreaming of greatness. And it doesn’t look like fame and fortune are going to come calling anytime soon. Then she meets Beau. Beau’s a rocker – a motorcycle boy who arrives in an explosion of passion and rebellion. He blows up Violet’s grey little life, and she can’t believe her luck. But things don’t go her way for long. Joseph, her long-lost brother, comes home. Then young girls start going missing, and turning up murdered. And then Violet’s best friend disappears too. Suddenly life is horrifyingly much more interesting. Violet can’t believe its coincidence that Joseph turns up just as girls start getting murdered. He’s weird, and she feels sure he’s hiding something. He’s got a secret, and Violet’s got a dreadful feeling it might be the worst kind of secret of all…
O O F I’m sorry but the closer I looked at the cover, the worse it got…it’s trying way too hard to be edgy…
Eh, but anyway, books with “and then she meets [insert name of broody boy here]” lines in the synopsis are always red flags for me, and either way, there’s not much else in this one that’s pulling me in.
In the bloody revolution, gods were all but wiped out. Ever since, the children they left behind have been imprisoned in an orphanage, watched day and night by the ruthless Guard. Any who show signs of divine power vanish from their beds in the night, all knowledge of their existence denied.
No one has ever escaped the orphanage.
Seventeen-year-old Hero is finally free – but at a terrible price. Her sister has been captured by the Guard and is being held in a prison in the northern sea. Hero desperately wants to get her back, and to escape the murderous Guardsmen hunting her down. But not all the gods are dead, and the ones waiting for Hero in the north have their own plans for her – ones that will change the world forever . . .
As she advances further and further into the unknown, Hero will need to decide: how far is she willing to go to do what needs to be done?
WHEW, this one has an even lower rating than The King’s Questioner (2.88)…so I’m still a little hesitant, but there doesn’t seem to be anything blatantly offensive in the reviews. The premise sounds fascinating too, and it’s shelved as LGBT (though I’m not sure of the representation), so I think I’ll keep this one.
Jade, a headstrong young woman, lives in an irradiated wasteland. She struggles each day to protect her younger sister Pearl, a sweet girl who was born mutated. Their life is tough, but Jade is determined to survive.
One day, Jade returns from a supply run and finds her sister missing. She knows one of two groups is to blame: the fascist society that lives underground, scorning the sun and all mutants, or a fellow scavenger on the surface, acting out of depravity or desperation.
Jade is willing to risk everything to save Pearl, including her own life and morals. With her gas mask fixed tight, and a heavy chain in hand, she sets off on a mission of vengeance. If she fails, Pearl will die.
There…really isn’t anything I’m finding in this synopsis that sets it apart from a lot of other dystopian books I’ve read/heard of? I’m a bit jaded with dystopia as a whole, but occasionally, there’s some that pull off an inventive twist. I can’t find anything compelling or terribly original here either…
A genre-smashing kidnapping drama about Tamara, who’s faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her captors.
Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping. Tamara has been living on a freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive.
But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis. As Tamara comes to know the Crowpeople’s way of life, and the threats they face from humanity’s exploration into deep space, she realises she has an impossible choice to make. Should she stay as the only human among the Crows, knowing she’ll never see her family again … or inevitably betray her new community if she wants to escape?
This ground-breaking thriller is the latest YA novel to win the Ampersand Prize, a stand-out entry with a blindingly original voice: raw, strange and deeply sympathetic. With its vivid and immersive world-building, this electrifying debut is The Knife of Never Letting Go meets Homeland, for the next generation of sci-fi readers.
Uh…the fact that “Stockholm syndrome” was my first thought upon reading the synopsis over again instantly turned me off. Nope.
June Bana might post nearly daily makeup looks that gain thousands of likes but Real Life June has built a wall behind which she exists with her two cats.
But with messy feelings getting in a way of early hermit life, June begins to realize that she wants more. She wants model/actress, Sunshine Reincarnated Selena Clarke. It doesn’t hurt that Selena is amazing with cats and quiets down June’s anxiety to bearable levels.
June is given the choice of facing her anxieties about relationships to gain not only a girlfriend but also a better understanding of how far she’d go for love.
But would she take it? Would she leave her comfort zone for something softer?
I don’t usually gravitate towards contemporary novels, but this sounds like such a sweet sapphic romance! And cats!
In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.
Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.
What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending
I read another of Alice Hoffman’s books (Nightbird) ages ago and rated it 3 stars, and I remember nothing about it, so I don’t really have much to go off for this one. It sounds a bit depressing, too…I’m not opposed to heavy books, but this one doesn’t feel like the right fit for me.
A darkly romantic gender-swapped modern retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, with a scarred Muse girl, a rock-star boy, and a singing competition. For fans of The Wicked Deep (Ernshaw), Wintersong (S. Jae-Jones), American Idol, or The Voice.
Mel must share her creative magic or be driven mad by it. But finding her first protégé isn’t as easy for her as it is for most Lianhan Sídhe (muses of Celtic myth). Though the women of her race are naturally beautiful, she carries horrifying scars across one side of her face, inflicted by her mother’s obsessive boyfriend. And Mel isn’t only interested in pouring her creative energy into a man; she wants to use her musical genius herself, too. But the laws of the Lianhan Sídhe, and her own savage appearance, stand in the way of her ever singing onstage.
To relieve the painful pressure of her magic, Mel latches onto Kiyoji, a boy with a beautiful voice, and coaches him through a televised singing competition. But neither of them are prepared for the power of their connection, or for the new kind of magic that happens when the two of them sing together.
Fans of Holly Black’s contemporary fantasy books (Tithe, Valiant) or Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely will enjoy this dark, offbeat retelling with a hint of cyberpunk and a dose of Celtic mythology. The novel celebrates a broad range of music from various decades.
I’m not super familiar with The Phantom of the Opera, and this retelling doesn’t sound all that compelling…I mean, there’s some interesting aspects, but it seems like the only thing that’s been done to it is a bit of modernizing.
It’s the summer of 1987 and Mira is beginning her first year at uni. She’s got a radical new haircut, and an all-black wardrobe — she should be having the time of her life.
But it’s hard to get excited about anything when you’re being smothered by your crazy Italian family, enrolled in a course you’re not interested in, and expecting nuclear warfare at any moment.
Even a new best friend and the magnetic boy from art class can’t wipe away the image of a looming mushroom cloud. And Mira’s right. Her world is about to explode, but it’s not the skies she should be checking.
I’m not opposed to long books, but with the sparsity of the synopsis, I’m not sure how this one will fill up 370 pages with just that…maybe there’s more than the blurb lets on, but I don’t think I want to stick around.
VERDICT: LET GO
LET GO: 8
MY MOST SUCCESSFUL DOWN THE TBR HOLE TO DATE! I’ll be looking for the two that I kept, but I’m glad I was able to cull a few books from my endless TBR for once. And what I like about doing these posts, other than the obvious, is that maybe even though I cut a book from my TBR, somebody else might put it on theirs. Something for everybody, right?
But there’s more good news than bad! On Wednesday, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff announced that there would be a cover and title reveal on Friday, and yesterday afternoon, it came! So without further ado…
I CAN’T HANDLE THIS ALL AT ONCE THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL
FINIAN???? KING OF THE SPACE BISEXUALS??? FINALLY GETTING THE COVER HE DESERVES! AND THE RA’HAAM IN THE BACKGROUND
But can we talk about that title too? I certainly didn’t see it coming, but I guess we were foolish to think that Kaufman & Kristoff would stick to the Aurora [blank]ing formula for the past two books…either way, I am very excited. I’m also very frightened.
So as you can imagine, my brain has pretty much sounded like this since Friday afternoon:
The squad you love is out of time. Prepare for the thrilling finale in the epic, best-selling Aurora Cycle series about a band of unlikely heroes who just might be the galaxy’s last hope for survival.
Is this the end? What happens when you ask a bunch of losers, discipline cases, and misfits to save the galaxy from an ancient evil? The ancient evil wins, of course. Wait. . . . Not. So. Fast. When we last saw Squad 312, they working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally. But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite thirs. Maybe two. It’s complicated. Cue Zila, Fin, and Scarlett (and MAGELLAN!): making friends, making enemies, and making history? Sure, no problem. Cue Tyler, Kal, and Auri: uniting with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay. That, too. Actually saving the galaxy, though? Now that will take a miracle.
So let’s see how this all matches up with my cover predictions from my Aurora Rambling post.
My main three contenders for the cover were Scarlett, Finian, and Zila, though Tyler was in the mix there. I also had a dream at some point about Tyler being on the cover, and that it was green.
…well, I’m glad that the green part came true and not the Tyler part.
But anyway, here were some of my original thoughts, circa August 2020:
PERSONALLY? I’d like to have either Scar, Finian, or Zila, but more so the latter two.
SEMI-LOGICALLY? I think that Zila or Tyler have the best chance of being on the cover, judging from their previous roles. Of course, they’d face the wrath of the Finian side of the fandom, but will that stop them? I doubt it…
[insert an infinite string of clown emojis here]
Welp. Sort of screwed that up. But let’s revisit what I thought about Finian’s chances:
Finian: At this point, a good 80% of the fandom is willing to hand over their entire life’s savings to Kaufman and Kristoff for the chance to have him on the cover, so the chances here are…interesting.
And to be honest? I ABSOLUTELY understand the sentiment. Aside from Auri and Kal, he’s my favorite of the Squad, and such a wonderful balance between comic relief and a genuinely complex character. Beyond that, I think he might have an important role to play–after all, we haven’t seen how he uses the ballpoint pen, and how the “tell her the truth” note plays into that.
Also, as with Zila, wouldn’t it be great to have his representation on the cover? He’s bisexual and has impaired mobility, so that would be amazing to have him front and center.
But hey, now we can rejoice, because we DO have a disabled, bisexual character on the cover! And I think we all adore Finian, myself included. (Plus, I’m glad we didn’t have to see the Finian side of the fandom go feral if he didn’t make the cut…) I’ll fully admitting to freaking out when I saw his face on the cover. I would’ve freaked out either way, but he’s one of my favorite members of Squad 312, so…
Now you can all join me in anxiously trembling and ferociously re-reading until November 9th of this year, I guess…(hey, I actually have an excuse for Aurora Burning…one of my friends suggested it for our my school’s book club and he’s amazing for it…) Also, I’ve preordered a signed copy, because I am nothing if not impatient and predictable.
So there you go. I guess I’m as bad at predicting covers as I am at predicting plotlines. Doesn’t matter, though. All that matters is that we have more Aurora Cycle content coming our way in November!
That’s it for yet another rambling, incoherent post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I meant to post this earlier in the month, but, alas, school. But hey – March isn’t over yet, is it? And here in the U.S., March is Women’s History Month! So for the occasion, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite YA novels with feminist themes not just for March, but for all year round, because we should all be uplifting the voices of women every day of every year.
I mean, how could the premise of an Arthurian retelling where the reincarnation of King Arthur is a POC, pansexual woman not hook you? Plus, lots of dismantling imperialism, sword fights, and an almost entirely queer cast.
Can I rant for a minute? I loved this book to death, but the Netflix adaptation of it looks AWFUL. I watched the trailer, and it looks like it COMPLETELY misconstrued the message of the book. The movie makes feminism look like a joke; in the book, Viv was already conscious of the toxic environment of her high school, but in the movie, they (unintentionally?) painted feminism as something that was “trendy” or “what the kids are into.” (In the beginning of the trailer, Viv magically has this feminist awakening from seeing her mom’s old Riot Grrl pictures…) Also in the trailer, she only starts to notice the rampant sexism in her high school AFTER SOMEBODY TELLS HER…
Okay, I know this has been shelved as both adult and YA, but…hey, Rory’s 15 for most of the book, so I think I can slip it in this post. Plus, what’s not to love about disobedient, patriarchy-smashing princesses in space?
As disappointing as the sequel was, Girls of Paper and Fire still remains a book that stunned me like no other. A powerful tale of rebelling against oppression and corruption – and some lovely forbidden romance!
A super twisty and inventive novel with plenty of morally grey characters and secret societies. Plus, it raises some great points about vigilante justice. And there’s nothing better than getting back at misogynists and rapists, right?
Every time I look back at this book, I think something along the lines of “man, I’m so glad I bought this.” Secret libraries, alien invasion, quality music references, cross-country road trips, and more than a little bit of resistance. Very nearly flawless!
A beautiful romance set against the backdrop of protest and resisting homophobia in 1977 San Francisco. There’s lovely representation for both lesbian and bisexual characters, and it’s such a tender and resonant read!
TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! Have you read any of these novels, and if so, did you like them? What are your favorite feminist YA reads?
Apologies for disappearing again, I just had some stuff to work out school-wise. I’ll probably be back to semi-normal for some of this week and next week, but I’ll probably be more infrequent in April and May because of the SAT and AP exams.
Anyway, I recently received this eARC but put it off for a few weeks, knowing I had to review it…and in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. For although The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. wasn’t without its flaws, it was a quirky and fun blend of historical fiction, mystery, and contemporary fiction. With more than a few awesome goths added to the mix, of course.
Frankie Doe doesn’t remember much of her childhood, but what she does remember is the constant bouncing between foster homes. But lately, she’s been having the same recurring dream, in which the ringmaster of a circus beckons for her to join him.
As her dreams grow more vivid, Frankie finds her way into the mystery of a 100-year-old sideshow and the strange cast of characters who inhabited it. But behind the curtain lurks a more sinister story, one that may hold the key to her missing memories.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Dundurn Press for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!
TW/CW: childhood trauma/PTSD, bullying, brief mention of sexual assault, fire
This is my first taste of Colleen Nelson’s writing, but I’m already a little sad that The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. has such a low rating on Goodreads at present (3.48 at the time I’m writing this review). There were certainly flaws, for sure, but this novel was one that shouldn’t be missed, a mystery cloaked in circuses and dreams.
Frankie wasn’t the most likable of protagonists, but for the story she was in, she was the perfect fit. She’s certainly more than a little dramatic, and for the first part of the novel, she definitely fell into the dreaded “not like other girls” trope; I would’ve certainly rated Frankie D. lower if it had continued, but luckily, with the introduction of Jessica’s character, Frankie learned a lot from her past mentality, and although it wasn’t entirely cured, it was a step forward that I was so grateful for. I also loved seeing some of the story come alive through her personal graphic novel and the art that filled her sketchbook.
The plot was easily the most compelling aspect of this novel. Frankie’s world oscillates from present day to a 100-year-old circus filled with all manner of unusual denizens, and although we only got small glimpses of all of them, it was so fun to see them all characterized! The historical aspect of the world felt wonderfully fleshed out, and there was clearly so much care put into it.
Adding onto that, I loved seeing the mystery of both the fate of the circus and Frankie’s origins unfold before my eyes. The various twists that came together were both clever and added a fascinating layer to the story. The conclusion was a bit too neatly wrapped up for my taste, but most of the story leading up to that point mostly made up for it.
All in all, a fresh and inventive piece of genre-bending YA with circuses, immortality, and mystery. 4 stars!
Expected release date: April 13, 2021
That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
The novel I’ve decided to review this week came in my last library haul. This is only my second foray into Noah Hawley’s novels after I fell in love with Before the Falllast month, but I can tell from just these two novels that he’s become an auto-buy/borrow/read author for me.
Joe Henry is dead, but what he leaves behind is a dysfunctional family in tatters. His wife Doris, has all but given up on life, his eldest son David struggles to keep two separate relationships (and his constantly teetering emotional state) afloat, and his youngest son Scott grapples with paranoid cynicism and a luckless love life. The three surviving members of the Henry family are brought together to scatter Joe’s ashes, bringing to light everything that Joe kept in check while he was alive and leaving all but chaos in their wake.
TW/CW: loss of loved ones, description of illness, substance abuse (mainly smoking), mild physical violence (hence the title), cheating
As I mentioned earlier, this is only my second Noah Hawley novel, but judging from this one and Before the Fall, he’s easily earned a spot as one of my favorite authors. The Punch had a very different feel to it than the latter, though; all at once tragic and laugh-out-loud funny, a superbly written story of the trials and tribulations of a dysfunctional family.
Let me just start off by saying…I think The Punch boasts one of the best opening scenes/images that I’ve ever seen in a book; the story of the Henry family begins/ends in a hospital on Valentine’s Day, with sickly and injured patients being wheeled about amidst cheery heart decorations and a pianist playing “Wonderwall” in the background. It’s hysterical, it’s so well-crafted, and in one scene alone, the mood of the entire book is encompassed–equal parts tragedy and comedy.
Having a novel with a cast of unlikable characters is usually hit-or-miss for me; I had a hard time getting through Watchmen for the first half or so because of how despicable most of the characters were. (and on that note, PLEASE 👏 STOP 👏 ROMANTICIZING 👏 RORSCHACH 👏 HE’S 👏 AWFUL 👏 [ahem] I digress), for example. The difference between my being able to enjoy a novel with an entire cast of characters like this is usually a mix of whether or not you’re supposed to like the characters and how well-written they are. (And no, that’s not a dig at Watchmen – it ended up being a four-star read for me in the end.) Clearly, the cast of The Punch are all deeply, deeply flawed people, but they’re not framed as the “good guys,” but simply protagonists. That, coupled with Hawley’s stellar writing, made me stick around even when the characters were at their all-time lows (which were…pretty low, not gonna lie.)
What also made a difference with the characters was the familial chemistry that they had with each other. They all bounced off each other so authentically, behaving exactly how you’d believe a dysfunctional family would, producing no shortage of weird occurrences and plenty of quotes that made me laugh out loud. (I can’t seem to find the quote, but there was this one that made me just WHEEZE…it was something along the lines of “It’s like it says in the Bible. All is full of love.” “No, I think that’s a Björk song…”) (I wish I’d written it down, I borrowed a copy from the library…)
But in its (tragically) short entirety, The Punch was a perfect blend of tragedy and comedy, a story of family, dysfunction, and a whole lot of miscommunication and shaky relationships. Clever writing, memorable imagery, and hysterical quotes – this one really has it all. 5 stars!
The Punch is a standalone, but Noah Hawley is also the author of Before the Fall, Other People’s Weddings, The Good Father, and A Conspiracy of Tall Men. He is also the creator of FX’s TV adaptations of Fargo and Legion, the latter of which in association with Marvel Television.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
Happy Saturday, bibliophiles! I can’t believe it’s almost March…
Last week, I got approved for not one, but three eARCs (!!!) which are all loaded up on my Kindle at present. I recently got around to reading the first of the three, and I’m SO EXCITED to see it go out into the world! A Dark and Starless Forest is just the kind of diverse dark fantasy that we all need.
Derry is one of eight magical lost children living in the woods. Though they are not related by blood, they all possess different types of magic, and they all live under the roof of their caretaker, Frank, who helps them hone their Alchemist abilities. But when Jane, the oldest of the siblings, goes missing in the dark woods beyond their home, Derry is determined that she’s still alive. As she tries to get to the bottom of Jane’s disappearance, she and her siblings confront dark secrets about their upbringing, and that their caretaker may not be the kindly man he makes himself out to be.
TW/CW: Death/disappearance of loved ones (siblings), fantasy violence, body horror, frightening situations
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and HMH Books for Young Readers for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!
I was intrigued by the premise of this one, but wow, I didn’t expect to be blown away as much as I was! A Dark and Starless Forest was such a rich and dark fantasy, and a page-turner in every sense of the word.
First off, I was so glad to see all of the representation in A Dark and Starless Forest! Derry, our protagonist, is plus-sized, and among her siblings, there’s several Black and Latinx characters, a nonbinary (they/them pronouns) character, a trans girl, and several Deaf characters; and beyond that, it’s implied that most of them (if not all of them) are queer, and two of them were confirmed to be on the asexual spectrum. It was such a joy to see such a diverse and unique cast of characters as the stars of the show in this novel, and I’m sure that I’ll be recommending this one to lots of people!
What also stood out to me was the unique relationship shared by all of the siblings. Most of them aren’t related by blood (save for two sets of twins), but they’re such a tight-knit community, in tune with each other’s comings and goings no matter what. Each of the characters had such distinct personalities, and there was clearly so much care put into each and every one of them. They were all so caring towards each other, and they stuck together until the end.
Beyond the characters, I loved the dark fantasy aspect of A Dark and Starless Forest! It’s more of an urban fantasy (real-world, but with fantasy aspects woven in), but there’s no shortage of gripping suspense and creepy plot twists. Without spoiling anything, there was definitely a sensibility about it that reminded me of some of the darker X-Men storylines, and I loved seeing how the story unravelled. (I guess the X-Men parallels go beyond that – the relationship that the siblings have is certainly akin to the denizens of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Mutant and proud.) Hollowell hits a perfect balance between showing the tender side of the siblings’ magic and showing the darker, more body-horror side to it.
At its heart, A Dark and Starless Forest is a story of sibling-hood, a story of resistance and uncovering hidden truths, and a story of sticking together against all odds. It’s a beautiful found-family story, and even though the ending was more bittersweet, it made me feel so warm inside at some points.
All in all, a dark but tender story of family and magic that’s sure to enchant so many readers. 4.25 stars!
Phew, I’m so glad to be on a long weekend…we have the day off school today and next Monday, so I think I’ll have some much needed time to wind down…
As some of you may know, here in the U.S., the month of February is Black History Month! So for the occasion, I decided that it would be a good idea to make a post full of my favorite YA reads from #OwnVoices Black authors. Now more than ever it is critical to share stories from marginalized voices, and in the current climate that much of the world is in, uplifting POC voices should be at the forefront of creative endeavors.
I’ve made a list of YA reads of all genres for this post, all of them 4-5 star reads for me. So let’s begin, shall we?
THE BOOKISH MUTANT’S YA READS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH
The Sound of Stars was one of my favorite reads of 2020! A diverse cast, a tender romance, and no shortage of music and book references. Other than the ending, it’s pretty much everything I could want in a book.
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is one of those special novels that simultaneously touches on a myriad of important issues, but still retains a lighter, slice-of-life mood. Romantic, sweet, and so inclusive!
It’s been a few years since I’ve read this one and my memory of it’s a bit hazy (oops), but from what I remember, Children of Blood and Bone was such a well-written and well-crafted fantasy! (Plus, that gorgeous cover…)
I have a distinct memory of looking through reviews for Raybearer before I picked it up; it was a struggle to find any sort of reviews with ratings below 4 stars (I usually try to read reviews in the 3-2 star range before reading most books), and everybody and their mother seemed to be gushing about it. But I’m glad to say that Raybearer absolutely lived up to that hype, and I now count myself among the legions of 4-star ratings!
I just finished this one last week (bought it with a gift card I got for Christmas!), and I must say, absolutely worth buying! Complex protagonists, and a writing style that all at once felt nostalgic and wonderfully fresh and unique. (I’ll try to review this one next week!)
TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! Have you read any of these novels, and what did you think of them? What are your favorite YA novels from #OwnVoices Black authors? Any recommendations?
That’s it for this list of recommendations! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I haven’t done an eARC review in a little bit, and it was nice to see this one pop up after I’d forgotten about requesting it. It was a quick read for me, but although there was clearly a lot of care put into the worldbuilding, much of The Brighter the Stars fell flat for me.
At only twelve, Jake Saunders witnessed the murder of his uncle by Romalor, the tyrant of a distant world. His death shaped him for years, eventually leading him to the Legion, the intergalactic military. For years, he has sought revenge, but only now does he have the chance to avenge his uncle. But when Diane, an ambassador to Earth and a close friend to Jake, is captured, he must find a way to rescue her–and right the wrongs of the murderous Romalor.
TW/CW: violence, loss of a loved one
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and CamCat Publishing for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!
Wait, so we’ve got a protagonist who witnessed the murder of his Uncle Ben in his formative years? Wait a minute…[PETER PARKER INTENSIFIES]
I always feel pretty bad giving more indie books low ratings. It’s hard to put yourself out there, and especially since this one has hardly any reviews or ratings on Goodreads as of now, it did pain me a little bit to give The Brighter the Stars a lower rating. But hey, I’m supposed to give an honest review here, and to be honest, this novel really wasn’t my cup of tea, even though I’m a huge fan of sci-fi.
Let’s start off with the positives. What stood out most to me about The Brighter the Stars was the worldbuilding; the author clearly put a lot of work into making a fleshed-out, intricate world, and for the most part, he succeeded. Although there were several instances where I felt like the information was being info-dumped, the futuristic world that Prosek crafted was one that felt very lived-in.
I also liked the dynamic between Jake, Cal and Diane. They had great chemistry together as a trio, and even though Jake’s and Cal’s personalities/voices were almost indistinguishable, I liked Diane’s character.
What bothered me most about The Brighter the Stars was the writing. It was often very choppy, with long clumps of sentences that were almost the exact same length. Within at least half of the paragraphs, most of the sentences seemed to start with the same word(s); this, combined with the lack of variation for the sentence length, made for a novel that didn’t really flow. I can usually just scan the pages if the sentences have differing lengths, but even the action sequences failed to flow. Additionally, the descriptions leaned quite a lot on telling instead of showing–there’s a whole lot of “was,” “[they] felt,” “[they] knew,” etc., which also contributed to the lack of fluidity throughout the story.
There’s an interesting combination as far as genres go; The Brighter the Stars is pretty hardcore sci-fi, but there’s some clear Western influences on it. (I really don’t know much about Westerns, so take this all with a grain of salt. I guess The Mandalorian was pretty Western-inspired, soooo…) There were quite a few nods to the latter throughout, and I did kind of like the desert/saloon planet, but plot-wise, it still felt quite flat. It was fast-paced, but everything felt far too easy for Jake (ex. beating the supposedly “unbeatable” fighter in the arena, another plot point that I won’t spoil). Now, I’m all for good triumphing over evil in the end, but there seemed to be little to no struggle for Jake to get over the obstacles in his path. He was definitely more of a Gary Stu-type protagonist, which…mmm, nope.
Overall, a sci-fi that clearly took time to create a fleshed-out world, but suffered from dry, choppy writing and unrealistically skilled protagonist. 2 stars.
Release date: November 10, 2020
That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!