Review: Heathen Vol.1 – Natasha Alterici

Heathen Vol. 1 – Natasha Alterici – 3 stars

Heathen

So is Viking mythology cool now, or did it just never go out of style? I’m seeing these tropes all over the place – and loving it. Heathen draws from the raw warrior energy of ancient Scandinavian tales, and it works fantastically. Thanks to Diamond Book Distributors for letting me have a copy!

This is the first Volume of a comic series drawn and written by Natasha Alterici, due to be published on 8 August. The art is beautiful: thoughtful and bold, and perfectly paired with well-written and concise dialogue. I could look at some of these pictures forever.

The protagonist of this story is a lesbian Viking girl who has been kicked out of her village for being different. It’s moving, and great for representation, but I think I wanted to know a bit more about her than just her sexuality. I wanted to meet her father properly, to know how she felt about the loss of her mother, and how she befriended Saga…I think the emission of more rounded character details meant that the story came off as slightly moralistic, which is such a shame because the premise is so wonderful.

It will be interesting to see how the series progresses, as there are some hints towards the Christianisation of the country, as well as a pending showdown with the god Odin. Having said that – it’s definitely the illustrations that will stick in my memory. Three stars for Natasha Alterici – I’m impressed!

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: A-List – D.P. Lyle

A-List – D.P. Lyle – 3 stars

A-list.png

This book is a contemporary American murder-mystery novel, and the second in the Jake Longly series. (Thanks to Oceanview Publishing for letting me read a copy!) Here we have a high profile murder with an apparently obvious culprit, and a surprising resolution, speckled with humour, sex and showbiz. And I didn’t really like it.

Let’s do positives first: this is quick and readable, witty at times, and had a satisfactory conclusion. And can I just say, a protagonist who learns self-defence from a book is the most adorable thing.

We can’t talk about ‘A-list’, though, without talking about tautology. This book was repetitive not only semantically (I think jokes need to be delivered as quickly as possible, and NEVER twice) but thematically – the same theories and facts and clues were repeated over and over again throughout the book, to the extent that it wasn’t just unnecessary but patronising. I understand that a mystery without much evidence means everything counts for more, but readers aren’t stupid. We prefer not to have things spelled out to us!

Some of the dialogue was very stilted, and there was no character in particular that stood out to me as particularly rounded, but superficially, the story was interesting, and I didn’t work out who the murderer was until about 70% through.

I think some people will really like this book, and I’m happy for them! But I have to admit that I was very happy to finish with this, and to tend to my craving for a sentence with more than one clause.

If you’ve read this too I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

Dani

Review: Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte – Joe Benitez

Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte – Joe Benitez – 4 stars

Lady Mechanika

This edition of Lady Mechanika is due to be released on 26th September (thank you Diamond Book Distributors for letting me have a copy!), and it includes all the comics pertaining to Lady Mechanika’s adventures as ‘La Dama de la Muerte’.

This was my first time meeting Lady Mechanika, and although she does seem to have a lot of backstory, this snapshot of her life – as a stand-alone – did a pretty good job of introducing her. There are a few major gaps that I definitely need to know more about (EYES??), but on the whole our protagonist seems like an altruistic – if troubled – badass.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful. I always think you need a certain standard of visual representation if you’re going to deal with El Dia de los Muertes in your story, and ‘La Dama de la Muerte’ nails it. The colour and vibrancy of the art is enchanting, dragging the reader into the more mystical elements of Mexican culture.

The story is interesting and hard to put down, if a little…quick. I suppose it might be different for readers who are already familiar with the characters, but I felt a bit like it was all over before it had started. There’s something to be said for compact story-telling, but this is a little extreme.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first introduction to this comic franchise, and although I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of back-story elements, I guess that’s probably the point! I gave this collection a four stars, and although I’m not sure I would pay $10 for something this length, I have to admit that this is a pretty fantastic work of storytelling.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – 4.5 stars

The Miniaturist

I was in a kind of fiction-reading-slump when I picked up this novel, and – no exaggeration – the first paragraph snapped me right out of it. This book is beautifully written, well-crafted both structurally and syntactically, and just thoroughly enchanting.

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, the story focuses on the lives of an unusual little household. A wealthy merchant marries a country girl young enough to be his daughter, and she moves in with his prim and religious sister, their nosy maid, African manservant, and two dogs. Although some of the characters may seem like fairly run-of-the-mill story components, it’s the relationships between all of these people that kicks the story into being. The people are three dimensional and complicated, and they are what pulls the plot along at a good pace.

This book is full of twists and turns that I couldn’t have predicted, and the unpredictability – the mystery – is what I think will make this book really memorable for me. This is just a sample of really really good story-telling.

One little thing that did niggle me was the ideology. There are a lot of key issues addressed in some way in this book (no spoilers!), but there were a few times that characters spoke and reasoned about these things in a way that would fit perfectly into our modern society, but that seemed a little anachronistic for their context. I wanted more transition; more space so that a counter-cultural stance isn’t just portrayed as moral integrity, but as something learned, discovered.

Overall though, the setting of this book is magical, and I feel pretty confident in saying that this book will drag you back to 1600’s Netherlands, and you won’t want to tear yourself away.

If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: You Break What Falls – Robert Okaji

You Break What Falls – Robert Okaji – 4 stars

‘You Break What Falls’ is a quick little poetry collection which you can access (for free!) here. It consists of six little poems, and guys – I would suggest it’s worth a look!

Each poem is succinct and thoughtfully crafted, grounded in tangibility, and yet light with abstraction. Although there were points where the philosophy felt a little heavy-handed (especially in ‘In Praise of Rain’), as a whole the collection was delightful to read. I loved the almost haiku-like simplicity of the lines, and the way each poem focused on specificity without running out of things to say.

My particular favourite of the collection was ‘Mirror’ – it was so perfectly contained that it left me wanting to give someone a sincere yet animated high five.

The other thing is, Okaji excels at last lines. Every single on of these poems is rounded off neatly, concisely, and without limiting the breadth of meaning behind the poems.

Have you read through this collection? Which would be your favourite poem?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: Vicious – V.E. Schwab

Vicious – V.E. Schwab – 4 stars

Vicious

I originally read this in 2012, and I loved it. It blew my mind: it was gritty and there were superpowers – but not in a cheesy, muscles-and-Lycra kind of way – and it has this snappy, non-linear structure. I picked it up again last week for a re-read, and to be honest, I kind of wish I didn’t. It was the teeny-tiniest bit better in my head.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think this is a really good novel. It’s careful of cliches, and I think it puts a lot of work into being believable. ‘Vicious’ does all the superhero-y things you need it to do – moral conflict, ethical tension, violence at a safe distance – and humanises them. This book sports a cast of really fantastic character ideas. Maybe that was part of the problem, though: the characters never seemed completely realised. They played roles and sported brilliant quirks and motivations, but they never quite made it off the page. It hurts me to say this, because the character concepts are phenomenally imaginative, but a book whose distinction lies in humanity needs to excel in it, and I’m not 100% sure this one did.

The pace was full throttle throughout; this is a very quick and intense book to read. Although it was definitely violent, it wasn’t unnecessary gory – it dealt out its action scenes efficiently, vividly and with real class. Although there are a lot of injuries throughout the story, it’s never sadistic, and that’s something I look for in books (as a slightly sensitive person).

So we have a cool plot, made interesting by non-chronological story-telling and characters that are starting to sneak out of their little stereotype boxes. I gave this four stars, because although there was something that felt a little flat, I powered through right to the end, and found the whole thing thoroughly satisfying.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Did you know she’s planning on bringing out a sequel?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

Review: Flawed – Cecelia Ahern

Thank you to Harper Collins and Netgalley for letting me have a copy!

Flawed – Cecelia Ahern – 4 stars

Flawed

I picked this up out of love for Cecelia Ahern. I couldn’t get enough of Love, Rosie (I reviewed it here), and I was really excited to read her take on YA.

This story is set in a Dystopian society, where moral perfection is encouraged and enforced by ‘The Guild’. If these people catch the slightest hint of weakness or defectiveness of character, they march you off to court and physically brand you as punishment. Those who are branded – or ‘Flawed’ – are ostracised from society and are forced to live under an oppressive and separate set of rules.

I have mixed feelings about a lot of things in this book, but I want to be completely fair: once I got into the story, I couldn’t put it down. This book is pacy and intriguing, with an interesting protagonist.

It might have been the first couple of chapters that gave me doubts. It wasn’t that they were uninteresting, it was just that they reminded me so much of Divergent that I struggled to see this as an original story.

Once I got to know some of the characters, however, I pretty much managed to get over my inhibitions. It’s a thoughtful story, and although there’s not a lot of ‘letting the reader decide what they think is right’, the concept is strong.

I liked Celestine as a protagonist. She was shy and rule-abiding to a fault, and we got to see some real character growth throughout the story. I also loved that she was mixed race – I always think we need more diversity in YA! We have an awful lot of white western girls represented, and I think we can even out that ratio (And no, Cinder doesn’t count. She’s from the moon.)

I also loved the parents and the family dynamic. In fact, I thought all the relationships in the book were dealt with well…except for Celestine’s romance with Art. Art was written off as weak and unsupportive, as a quitter, although I’m fairly sure he disguised himself to see Celestine at her trial, barged into the courtroom and publicly stood up to his father. I’d have said that was fairly good reason to stick around?

Overall, there were a lot of really lovely things about this book. It was mature enough to be shocking, and tastefully dealt with so as to be accessible. I enjoyed it, and will probably read the next book. That said – there was something a little unmemorable about it, too. It wasn’t at all bad, I just found it a little lacking in that special spark – that intangible something that slips a story under your skin, and sets it apart from everything else in its genre.

I gave this book 4 stars, and I really think a lot of people will enjoy it.

If you’ve read it too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

The Huntsman Winter's War

I saw The Huntsman: Winter’s War! I’m counting it as a loose book to film adaptation, as the concept was originally a retelling of the story of Snow White.

While the film has come under a lot of criticism, and there are some – shall we say shaky? – elements to it, I want to start by saying that I did definitely enjoy a lot of it.

There were some things in particular I thought this film did fantastically, and the first was the casting. Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna is utterly terrifying, and although Chris Hemsworth’s face now has a lot of Marvel baggage to it, he did a great job as the Huntsman – to the extent that you could almost brush away the image of Thor. For me, though, the real star of the show was Emily Blunt. She brought a really thoughtful and nuanced ‘villain’ to life, and the way she portrayed the character as both damaged and powerful, vulnerable and untouchable, was a huge part of what made this film not-intolerable.

I also loved the British-isms in the language of the dwarves: they were humorous without being mocking, and I thought they were a nice – if not completely original – interpretation of the dwarf trope. My only confusion was about the accents of Eric and Sara: was that meant to be Scottish?

So the film was promising. It was also painfully derivative from the very start. Images from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; The Golden Compass; and The Lord of the Rings were generously scattered throughout, and one of the main characters was a white-haired, blue-dressed girl with emotional baggage and ice powers, who ran away from her sister to build a ‘kingdom of isolation’…out of ice. Really, Universal Studios? Did you actually think anyone was over Frozen?

One critic for the Guardian wrote:

Now Snow White is awol, this dreary and incoherent CGI mashup of plots from Frozen, Narnia and The Incredibles really cannot justify its existence.

I wouldn’t have been so harsh; I personally didn’t pick up on The Incredibles vibes at all.

The last major thing that tainted this sequel for me was the complete absence of Snow White. Surely they should have found a replacement actress? Or…not made the movie at all? The subplot about the mirror causing problems for Snow White was fascinating, and could really have been developed.

Honestly, the mirror is one of my favourite things about these films. I think the design is stunning, and I love the dark – if completely unexplained – powers that surround it.

So to conclude: there’s a lot about The Huntsman that could have been wonderful. Unfortunately, it did end up a little bit like a messy and extravagant tour of high fantasy tropes.

To end on a positive note, did you know that one of the writers was called Evan Spliotopoulos? Now that’s a surname.

 

If you’ve seen the film too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux – 3 stars 

The Phantom of the Opera

I recently just finished reading ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Gaston Leroux. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for ages, because I’ve been completely enamoured with the musical for years now. It was a really exciting concept: I was envisioning the musical’s story beautifully rendered in magical, dancing prose. In my head, this book was a masterpiece, and I think that’s why I’m a bit disappointed with it.

If you’re not familiar with the story, ‘the phantom’ referred to in the title is the rumoured Opera Ghost abiding in the Paris Opera House. He asks for money, and for Box Five to be left vacant for him every showing. No one has ever seen him, until he falls in love with one of the singers. It’s a big story: dramatic and exciting, and I think it’s crafted with great flair.

It did bother me that I was reading a book so similarly written to Dracula, though. Obviously this in itself is not a bad thing, but I thought this was another class of book, you know? I was expecting poetry, and all I got was a nosy narrator joining up a series of diary entries and letters from participating characters. Again, there’s nothing bad about that; only there wasn’t really anything good about it either. I felt like the structure was a bit limp beside the grandeur of the story.

Also, ‘the phantom’ is so much creepier in the book. It makes me slightly more worried about my Meyer’s Briggs results. (if that makes no sense to you, see this post.)

The plot is – in general – beautifully and romantically creepy: I love the setting of a Parisian opera house, and there is a lot of mystery built up around the story. Kudos to Mr Leroux: it’s an amazing concept.

There’s one scene that stands out to me: when the Persian and Raoul are trapped in Erik’s torture chamber. To me, as a modern reader, it seemed so out of place, and far too James Bond for the story. It felt like an anticlimax, and I can understand why they changed it so much for the stage version. It’s not worth the effort.

Having said all of that, the book’s ending is quite perfect, and I put the book down feeling satisfied, if not blown away.

If you’ve read this too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Review: God’s Eagles, Athletes and Pilgrims – Haide Sanchez

God’s Eagles, Athletes and Pilgrims – Haide Sanchez – 5 stars

God's Eagles, Athletes and PilgrimsThis is a book of fifty two devotionals, so it can last from 52 days to a year, depending on how often you plan on reading it. I went with a couple of times a week, so it lasted me from February to August. The title is inspired by the famous Bible verse:

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

-Isaiah 40:31

What’s lovely about this is that each devotion starts with a verse and a discussion of a concept, and then there’s a testimony. Every single ‘Week’, there’s a new person telling their story, and it’s so inspiring to hear about their lives. There are some really powerful testimonies in this book, and they’re all related so beautifully to their respective themes. This is such a well thought-out book!

One of the things that really struck me was how well-researched this book is. It’s SO in-depth! There are discussions of the original Greek and Hebrew Biblical words, and every concept, person or event that may not be familiar to everyone is explained in a footnote. I love that this book can teach the reader so much, but that it’s also managed not to leave anyone behind.There were places where it all got quite wordy, but I have it on good authority that a shorter, revised version is in the works, so we’re all good.

It’s the sort of book that you do need to read in order; there’s a real progression and continuity in the devotions so that when you get to the end, it’s powerful! All the study and reading leads to one big, wonderful truth – but, like, spoilers.

There’s a lot more I could say about this book, but it would mostly be gushy enthusiasm, so we’ll leave the review there. If you’ve read this book too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani