Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente

fairyland1I finally caved to peer pressure! This book has been on my radar for pretty much a year now and I finally gave in and read it. Well, actually I listened to it. I used one of my audible credits this month to download the audiobook which is read by Catherynne herself. I was very dubious going in to this, it’s been compared to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland so many times by so many people that I didn’t want to read it because I love both of those books dearly. Even recommendations by friends who love either or both of those books were not swaying me! While I loved the audiobook, I will definitely be reading the future books in the series as physical or eBooks as I don’t think the narration did this one favours.

For anyone who doesn’t know, this book follows a young girl – September – who is whisked away from her boring Nebraska home by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. But September soon finds herself travelling through Fairyland herself, encountering a number of interesting characters on the way! This book is utterly nonsensical but completely charming alongside it. While there are striking similarities to classic fairy stories such as Alice and Oz and others such as Peter Pan and The Chronicles of Narnia it is a completely beautiful story in its own right, it was charming and full of its own fantasy that made those other books equally as wonderful. For me though, it was a little too whimsical in places which made it somewhat hard to follow at times, especially listening to the audiobook!

As for the audiobook, while this was beautiful being read by Catherynne herself, I did have to download the Kindle version to follow along as I often found myself missing things! I think if it was being used for a child, or someone who is happy to read on x1 speed it would be perfect, but I like to listen at the speed I generally read which is x1.5 or x2, this didn’t really lend itself to that in my opinion! As I’ve said, I found it somewhat hard to follow without the words in front of me, I was struggling to keep up with what was going on and while it was beautifully narrated, I did need the book in front of me to actually keep up with the story.

So, for all my doubts I too firmly love this book. It wasn’t as incredible as others made it out to be so I’m glad I went in to it with some trepidation as I actually think I enjoyed it more because of that! Ultimately this is a 3/5 from me which is, among the people I’m friends with on goodreads, unusual.

Review: Hollow City – Ransom Riggs

hollowcityFor anyone who doesn’t know, this is the second book in the Miss Perigrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series. I read the first one in October (review here) and I loved it, so when this came out in paperback I snapped it up.

It picked up right where book one left us. This one is much more action packed than the first, the way I described it to my friend today was it’s very Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz but written by Tim Burton. It’s an adventure, it’s a quest, it’s dark and twisted and I loved it. There were flaws in it, it was a bit far fetched even for a ‘fantasy’ novel (is this a fantasy novel?!) in places but ultimately it was damn good.

It is a very slow start and I struggled to find the willpower to get through the first 100 pages or so; the final 300-ish pages I read in 2 days. The characters didn’t really develop all that much more, which saddened me a little, there was a lot of missed potential with them. I think there was just so much that Riggs could have done with such vibrant characters – instead they were all quite one dimensional.

The ending was just “what?”, that twist I did not see coming and I loved it. It was a mad frenzy in the last 50 pages or so and I just need a 3rd book now because leaving it on that cliffhanger was just mean! Seriously, if you’ve read the first one and thought that was a tough cliffie, this is worse.

On the most part I loved this book. I loved the characters even though they were underdeveloped and I loved the plot. It was just good and compulsively readable once I got past the 100 page mark. This series is one that is way out of my comfort zone of reading, I just love it though. I’m glad I took a risk on this series and I can’t wait for book 3. It’s a solid 4/5 from me!

Review: Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

peterpanQuite shamefully, this is another children’s classic I’ve never read. As I’ve got in to my 20s, and friends are having babies, I’m realising how woefully deprived of children’s classics I was when I was little. It wasn’t that I didn’t read, or wasn’t read to, but that I seem to have jumped from The Gruffalo to Harry Potter with nothing much in between. So I set out to remedy this and added Peter Pan to my Christmas list. I was lucky enough that Santa brought me the beautiful Puffin Chalk edition (along with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz from the same series) and I settled down Christmas Day to make a start on this.

I do, once again, have to just gush momentarily for the beauty of Penguin/Puffin publishing. I adore their reissues of classics. The Puffin Chalk series are all absolutely beautiful and have decaled edges and just feel so beautiful in your hands. I’m in no way sponsored by Penguin (if only!) but I just love their publishing.

On to the book. It’s not a story I’m actually particularly familiar with. Truthfully, I’ve never even seen the Disney movie! So I went in to this story pretty much blind. I thought it was going to be a sweet tale as from what little I do know it appeared to be a lovely story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enchanting and whimsical and perfectly lovely but in the same breath it’s really quite sinister. There is a lot of violence; I’m not sure how many parents would appreciate the unapologetic violence that is present in this book truthfully. Then there’s the misogyny – which though woefully period accurate – seems to be quite a bit heavier in places than in other books from this time frame. It made me a cringe in places. When there is such blatant sexism, I do find it hard to put it aside and enjoy the story that I’m reading.

But, it absolutely has to be said, it is a beautiful story. A story of flying and mermaids and all the innocence that childhood entails. All the things I was expecting in this book were present, just not quite in the way I expected them to be! Neverland is one of the most wonderful places in fiction (save for the Pirates). It’s written with such whimsy and delicacy the writing itself is a pleasure. There are some wonderful metaphors and explanations to things; it’s just magical.

My main issue was the characters. Peter was a manipulative, cocky brat. Tinker Bell was a jealous, spiteful little madam. Wendy was a wet blanket. The Lost Boys were just blah. It just really didn’t inspire me, or make me want to know more about them. Yeah, the characters were not all that great.

I think a lot of people assume that the Disney adaptation is an accurate retelling of the book, but from what I have seen of the movie since I began reading this (snippets here and there) it’s really not all that similar. The adaptation seems far more sugar coated.

Overall, the writing style won out for me in this one. The story itself was good, in spite of sexism and poor characters, this was mainly because the writing itself was just charming. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t a children’s classic I’ll be in a hurry to reread any time soon! 3/5

Review: Oz Series (Books 1-5) – Frank L Baum


This review is a little different, in that this month I’ve dedicated to reading the Oz series. Most people are aware of the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the amazing 1939 movie with Judy Garland, but the actual story, the world that the movie is based on, is so much more. It’s a 14 book epic series, it’s about more than just a little girl whose house lands on a wicked witch, it’s a vibrant world full of weird and wonderful characters – some who are familiar and others who aren’t so much.

Three of the stories are present in the beautiful Penguin Threads edition that I own and have used as the image for this post because, truly, this book is beautiful. I cannot compliment this series of books enough – the Threads series that is – they are absolutely beautiful with decaled edges and the overall design and feel, it’s just beautiful. I only wish that they had published the entirety of the Oz series, rather than just books 1, 6 and 14 (I think) because there really is not a uniform series that is pretty.

Vanity over, on to the books. This has to be one of my ultimate middle-grade series of books. I didn’t realise it was a book until I was about 14 or 15, by that point it had long been my favourite movie and I devoured the first book numerous times. My first copy of this book is now falling apart. I knew there were more books in the series but I was somewhat reluctant to read them as I love the first so much as a stand alone. However, Lesley over at WordsofAReader on YouTube is doing a Children’s Literature Month wherein she’s reading only children’s/middle-grade fiction so I thought I’d challenge myself to read the entire series. Easy!

Book one is the story we’re all familiar with, but it’s very different to the movie (for example, the shoes are silver not red. A little fact is that the red shoes were used on film as it picked up better in technicolour). While all the key elements are there, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion; Witches and Wizards… but there was also more. Rather than just magically going home, there’s more to the story after the Wizard flies away in his balloon.

From there, the series ventures out and explores the world of Oz a bit more. Book Two (The Marvellous Land of Oz) is about a young boy called Tip who isn’t quite who he seems. His adventures with his friends Jack Pumpkinhead and Saw-Horse lead him to Dorothy’s old friends, Scarecrow and Tin Man.

Book Three (Ozma of Oz) is another adventure with Dorothy, who finds herself in a magical land once again with a Princess who wants to take her head (quite literally), the lost Princess of Oz comes and saves her along with all her old and new friends; but freedom for her isn’t easy. Eventually her little hen Billina saves the day.

Book Four (Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz) we find out what the old Wizard got up to. It was a little more disjointed than the three previous books, and possibly my least favourite of the series. With weird vegetable people it seems it was at this point Baum really wanted a break from this world! This discombobulation sort of carried over to Book Five (The Road to Oz) and I feel that the new characters introduced in this book – Polychrome especially – had a huge amount of wasted potential.

At this point I had a slump, so I paused my reading for a while and will be continuing in December and hope to finish the rest of the series!

Review: Theodosia Throckmorton Series – R. L. LeFevers

Theodosia seriesI wish I’d had these books when I was 12. I loved them now, but honestly this would have been my dream book series when I was younger. Ancient Egypt is something that has always interested me, more so since I watched The Mummy aged 9. So having a book series, with a girl (!!!) at the helm, who has more balls than Alex from The Mummy Returns and with brains that put Hermione Granger to shame – sure she was a little precocious, but I loved her. I absolutely adored her, actually and over the course of the 4 books that have been published (I’m holding out for the 5th) she grew so much and my love for her only grew too

The series follows a young girl, Theodosia Throckmorton, daughter of the curator of London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities. But, as per most books, Theodosia is a very special little girl – she can see the curses and black magic that cling to artefacts. As the series progresses, we learn more about little Theo and her special talents but not without a bit of mayhem, of course.

While these books are technically middle grade books, there’s so much in them that a ‘grown up’ can enjoy. Theodosia could be classed as quite obnoxious (she is obnoxious, but I love her in spite of  that) but there is a lot to love in the adults of this story too, and there’s a lot that would go over a younger readers head but is appreciated by an older reader. There’s a level of sarcasm and quite adult humour underlying something quite innocent (somewhat like any good children’s movie, it’s truly written for the adults!)

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