Review: Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke – Pan’s Labyrinth (K)

Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

 

A year after her father’s death, Ofelia and her mother move in with her new Stepfather. The dense forest surrounding her new home provides a perfect hiding place, both for the resistance fighters her stepfather is trying to defeat, and fairies, Fauns, and a magnificent labyrinth.

This was a beautiful book. One of this book’s best features was its ability to inscribe wonder in my heart with the fantasy element, where it captured both the beauty and the danger of magic. I find there’s a big difference between fantasy which is simply ‘there are fairies and magic’ and the atmosphere and aura that a well-written fantasy novel can provide, and this book provided that perfectly. Part of the reason I think this is done so well was that the main character in the story is a child. This is the first time reading a book where the main character is significantly younger than I am, but I found that, far from being frustrated by annoying childlike decisions, the childlike innocence added to the atmosphere of the book.

The juxtaposition between the cruelty of Ofelia’s stepfather and the wonder of her secret world was outstanding. Both aspects of the book entranced me, and I never found myself trying to get through one part faster to move on to a more interesting story.

The worldbuilding of this book was beautifully done. The characters were vibrant and 3-dimensional, and the book pulled me in and refused to let me go until the very last page. I would definitely recommend this book, with a note of warning that there are some pretty extreme descriptions of violence, so it would not be ideal for younger readers.

Review: Maria V Snyder – Navigating the Stars (K)

Navigating the stars
Maria V. Snyder

Lyra is sick of leaving behind all her friends. She’s too young to make her own decisions, but every time her parents move to a new planet to continue their research, she says goodbye forever. The terracotta warriors – the subject of her parents’ research – litter nearby planets, but nobody has any clue why they’re there, or how they were made. When the entire population of a warrior planet is wiped out, Lyra realises she has much bigger issues.

Wow. This book was absolutely beautiful. The author clearly put a lot of time into planning the book and making sure that everything linked nicely. Events early in the book became important later on, and it felt like every word I read had a purpose for being there. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about the beginning of the book being based around Lyra saying goodbye to her friends, but it ended up being a great introduction to Lyra, and the characters involved were important to the story, so it was well worth the initial delay in the action.

The relationships and characters in the book were amazing. Even neglecting the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the story, it was wonderful, and more than interesting. I felt invested not only in the characters, but in their relationships, and at times I felt heartbroken along with them. I felt like the characters were my friends, and at the end of the book I was sad to say goodbye.

The book wasn’t afraid of commitment, which made everything so much more exciting and adrenaline-packed. Right from the beginning, it was clear that the author would not shy away from saying goodbye to characters permanently, so when people were in danger, I was legitimately scared for them. I went through so much emotional turmoil reading this book, as I experienced the characters’ ups and downs along with them. It was an amazing book, and I’m already itching to get my hands on the sequel.

Review: Phil Stamper – As Far As You’ll Take Me

As Far As You’ll Take Me
Phil Stamper

Marty has always been the shy kid in the background, and he’s been happy like that. Being gay in Kentucky with a conservative community and Bible throwing parents isn’t exactly the best place to make waves. Marty decides to make the life he wants happen – he’s flying to London in order to play his beloved oboe and find a place to belong.

Did someone say that we needed more diversity in queer fiction? Even if they didn’t, this novel is a worthy addition to any gay teen’s bookshelf. It’s an accessible, friendly novel about Marty finally getting to live the openly-queer life he has always wanted since age six. The romance is a bit ugh, but I liked that it didn’t come to an obvious conclusion. Thank you, Marty, for not being a complete idiot.

I have suffered from anxiety in the past, and I could completely empathise with Marty that crowded spaces and new places freaked him out. However, the couple of times where he seemed to have a panic attack, and then had his new friends calm him down didn’t ring true to me. Thus, the ending to the novel seemed too neat.

Did I read this too fast, or something? I barely even picked up Marty’s disordered eating before his friends did. Yes, he seemed a bit obsessed about foods, but at the same time I felt like maybe it was harmless. I think that my sense of timing was off. The twelve weeks of summer seemed to go past faster than I realised. This was a complaint I had about The Gravity of Us as well.

I think that the blurb on this novel lets it down. I don’t think that Marty’s homesickness ever gets that bad, and he seems to be coping with his anxiety mostly ok. Also, I didn’t really get a sense of him running through his savings. And again, if it was so expensive to live in London, doesn’t that just mean that he should live at home with his aunt a bit longer? Certainly in Australia you are often expected to (or expect to) live with your parents for a while after you graduate high school.

I was very keen for this novel to come and I started reading it in short order. However, I took breaks in reading it because some parts just seemed too real and upsetting. I’m not sure that’s a complaint – just a comment that this book could potentially be triggering for some people. I won’t read it again, but I’d highly recommend it for any musically inclined travel-hungry teenager, gay or not. 4 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 9th February 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer (N)

Oathbringer
Brandon Sanderson

The Parshendi of the Shattered Plains have fallen but at terrible cost. The Everstorm has come and irrevocably changed the Parshmen of the world. One success, they have uncovered the lost city of the Radiant Knights, Urithiru. Dalinar realises that his goal of uniting the 10 Highprinces was not enough and sets his sights on uniting the world in the face of the return of the Voidbringers. But to do this Dalinar must confront his past and all the pain therein.

I was lucky enough to basically read the first three books of the Stormlight Archive for the first time, one after the other right before the fourth book came out. So there have been a lot of connections and inklings made as I’ve read the books, much to the delight of the other Sanderson Fan in the house. Having the little details of the past filled in makes for incredible reading. Often my perception of a character got turned on its head as the details were filled in. The small quotes at the beginning of some chapters provide a little bit of insight though usually only in retrospect did I realise that they were offering that insight. It made for the best sort of game when i was able to catch those details.

Just like the previous two books provided backstory details on Kaladin and Shallan repectively. The backstory in this book was about Dalinar. And oh goodness, were there are ton of details. I had a perception of Dalinar before this book. And he wasn’t my favourite character. He still isn’t, but I can relate to him a little more. Some of his flashbacks were heart-rending. Mainly because there is a weight of experience to Dalinar’s memories. It does come to a a head towards the end of the book in the best possible way.

Interestingly, I’m still very on the fence on who my favourite character is. Because there are aspects of a lot of characters that I enjoy. Kaladin’s fierce desire to protect, Shallan’s struggle with her past and her mind, Adolin’s cheerful nature, Navani’s organised approach and scientific rigour. I think at the moment I appreciate Adolin the most because he knows he is only a person in the wake of the return of the Radiant Knights. But he still wants to be the best version of him.

The main part of a Sanderson book that I love the most is that it makes you think. And it give you the chance to catch the Easter eggs. I’ll definitely be re-reading these books again in the future. Because I know I didn’t catch all the hints and I look forward to catching them. If you haven’t read this series, or are on the fence about it definitely give them a try. They won’t disappoint if you are a fan of epic fantasy. These books fit the term in an incredibly satisfying way.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance (N)

Words of Radiance
Brandon Sanderson

The war on the Shattered Plains continues with no end in sight. Kaladin pushes to keep his people safe, even as he is conflicted between his anger and what is right. Dalinar seeks to end the war with the Parshendi while struggling to understand the path he must take to move forward. Shallan finds herself caught between lies and truth, all the while attempting to ignore the pain of her past. The Everstorm comes and will overtake them all if they cannot unite.

I don’t know where to even start with this book. It was a ride from start to finish. A little slow in places but each story line works parallel to the others. So while one story line might be slow the others may be filling in background knowledge or moving forward. Keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. I had trouble putting the book down at all since I wanted to know what would happen. We get to know each of the characters a little more, as well as getting insight between the characters now that they are in the same place. I couldn’t begin to say who my favourite is, since I love them all for different reasons. Kal is completely bull-headed but has the advantage of being the first character you get to know. Adolin could easily be put into the role of typical privileged noble, but isn’t. Shallan is the back story focus this time around. And I’m beginning to like her more for the twists and turns that her story takes. Her growing more of a spine on her own only helps there.

Sanderson as ever, takes the story line and twists it on its head. You can tell so much planning has gone into these books. Finding out that there was more going on behind the scenes with the Parshendi was a kick to the guts. That perspective makes it hard to totally side with the characters that you have known from The Way of Kings. Sanderson remains top class when it comes to trope breaking and I really cannot get enough of it.

One aspect of these books I adore are the interludes where we get a little bit of extra information about the world of Roshar in general, hints about what may happen with the actual narrative, and what I am sure in some cases are set-up for later books. Given that this is the second book of a planned 10, there is a lot that is only just getting set up to ensure a good flow from start to finish.

This is definitely 5 stars from me. I could not put these books down, and I loved the way these books made me thinks as the characters struggled and came to realisations about themselves and the world. I will definitely be reading them again in the future.

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – More Than We Can Tell

More Than We Can Tell
Brigid Kemmerer

Rev is tortured by his father, both in his past and present. He’s confused by his own strength and doesn’t know how to interact with anyone other than Declan and his adoptive parents. Emma is more comfortable online than in real life, and dreams of becoming a game designer. Her parents don’t understand, and they don’t understand why it’s important to her.

This is a second novel that is set in the world of Letters to the Lost. The characters overlap, but it’s not essential to review Letters to the Lost first or anything. We learn more here about Rev Fletcher, Declan’s friend. What was a tortured shadow friend now becomes a tortured soul that we get to see into.

I cried! Oh, all the feels. Rev’s story is heartbreaking and yet typical for many abused children in foster-homes. Really, Rev is lucky because he’s able to be adopted by a family who cares about it.

Do they always have to fall in love? Can’t they just not for a change? What’s wrong with making an amazing friend? Teenage love is great and all, but speaking as a voice with experience, it doesn’t always end up that this is forever love. When they rely on another person to keep them stable, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

While this got the review of my wife as ‘yet another YA novel with one of those covers’, I enjoyed it. I have to agree on the cover being a bit bland and in line with all of the other YA novels that depend on their title to draw the reader in. I have a couple more of this type of novel on my shelf, and I haven’t felt motivated to read them. Instead, I’m finding myself drawn towards non-fiction – maybe that’s because it’s been a hell of a year and I want something solid to read.

I requested this novel from Bloomsbury over a year ago, but never received a copy. Having enjoyed Kemmerer’s other novels though, I bought it for myself as a Christmas present last year – I don’t regret it at all. I can see myself reading it again, so it’s 5 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | paperback

Review: Kevan Van Whye – Date Me, Bryson Keller

Date Me, Bryson Keller
Kevin Van Whye

Bryson’s got a dare going – he has to date the first person to ask him out on a Monday morning. Kai has a secret – he’s gay, and perhaps a nice guy will notice him eventually. When Kai basically blurts out that Bryson should date him for a week, he doesn’t actually know what the week will have in store.

This came in the door, I read it right there and then, and then failed to review it. What can I say, COVID-19 has been sapping my energy because I spend way too much time in front of a screen. This is a heartfelt romance that starts out just as I would expect it to. Gay boy falls for straight boy, but there’s no gay baiting! Beautiful.

Kai is such an empathetic individual that it almost made me cry at times. I couldn’t bear it when he was hurt! And Bryson goes from a popular kid on a pedestal to being, well, human. Both are full realised characters that I enjoyed reading about.

I also really liked the cover. Mine was an ARC so it didn’t exactly match the one here, but it was cute. Oh, and did I mention that the Penguin on the spine (because it’s published by Penguin Random House) has a rainbow background? It would be easy to browse a (physical) bookshop and find a Queer novel that’s suitable for a young person in your life.

This novel is a cute love story that still manages to cover queer-phobia and coming out without being trite. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this as a teenage read, gay or straight. If you are looking for a gay novel that is a little more racey, try Jack of Hearts or CAMP. Oh! Or The Gravity of Us. There are some really excellent novels out there at the moment.

My only hope is that this book doesn’t trick young queer people into thinking that they can bring people over to being queer! But then, I imagine that they are already sick of reading straight romances where the queer person is the best-friend/side-kick/support-person. I had to resist rereading this again when I was going to review it, so it’s 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 2nd July 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Tui T Sutherland – The Winglets Quartet

The Winglets Quartet
Tui T Sutherland

“Fiercetooth, a NightWing obsessed with what could have — and should have — been. Deathbringer, desperate to prove himself as the next great NightWing assassin. Six-Claws, a loyal SandWing, who will soon find that loyalty comes with a price. Foeslayer the NightWing, a dragon in love turned kidnapper, and Prince Arctic of the IceWings, a runaway turned captive.”

This is a combined review from my daughter (11 years) and myself. She’s still getting the hang of book reviews, but I have great hopes for the future! Her comments:

This book was Wonderful, I enjoyed reading immensely. I think it’s one of the best books in the Wings of Fire series [Rose notes here that she has spent most of her pocket money buying these books, despite finding free copies online]. There are several different stories and I liked that the dragons then had some back story. The second and third short stories go together, which was pretty awesome.

The fourth was my favourite because I really like the ice kingdom and it’s really cool. [Rose: No pun intended!]. The third one was pretty good two because we met the Nightmare Assassin’s mother (the one that Glory met). The second one was a let down, the ending wasn’t as good.

Rose: From my adult standing, and the fact that I generally hate short stories, I felt frustrated by this book. It also didn’t help that I felt somewhat rushed into reading it because I needed to deliver it to my daughter (the new COVID-normal, apparently). I had finished reading the first three books of the Wings of Fire, but hadn’t started the next ones. I think it’s essential to finish reading those first five books to enjoy this one to its fullest.

Thanks for Scholastic for sending this one for my review! I’m not going to reread it (but I’m not its major audience), but my daughter would go out and buy it herself if she hadn’t gotten a copy. She’s also rereading all of these to the exclusion of other books – so they must be good. 4 combined stars. I’d recommend it to any book buyer who has a crazy dragon-fancier in their house. I don’t think you could go wrong buying this for budding dragonologists!

Scholastic | October 2020 | AU$6.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings (N)

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Everything has grown or develop ways to handle those storms. Ten consecrated orders existed once, now long gone but their weapons and armour persist. The Shardblades and Shardplate of the Radiant Knights, capable of transforming men into near invincible warriors. Linchpins of wars.

This book has a three main characters, plus a few extra characters that provide context and world building. The three main characters are Kaladin – an apprentice surgeon turned soldier turned slave; Dalinar – a highprince and skilled general, fearing for his sanity; and Shallan – an unskilled girl with a love of learning, planning a daring theft.

Most of the other extra characters provide information in the interludes between parts of the book. Though Dalinar’s son Adolin sometimes features during the main parts – most often during Dalinar’s section providing context and extra information regarding the war camps that Dalinar has a role in commanding.

I’ve never minded having multiple viewpoints in a book but Sanderson in particular has a distinct skill for each character possessing a distinct personality and motivations. It’s always clear which character you are with and what section of the story is the current focus. There is a focus for whose background you are getting the most information from though. In this book the focus of back story is Kaladin. There are various chapters throughout where we learn of Kaladin’s past. How he becomes and soldier and how he ends up a slave. As ever struggling to protect the people he claims as his own. Despite the length of this book (which is divided into two no less) it was a quick read, and I was able to jump into it so very easily. Even though I didn’t want to put it down (sleep? what is sleep?) I never had any trouble reorienting where I was in the novel. As I got to the end of the second book there were small hints of information, this is an epic world-building in every sense. There are small scraps of information woven throughout that you might not notice fulling on the first reading.

You could read this book as its separate parts quite easily, the selected break point makes sense for the story and still leaves you with a completed feeling for the novel, but finishing the first part left me and an overwhelming desire to dive straight into the second part. But if you aren’t sure, or have less time then you do have that option. Overall, definitely a 5-star read for me and I’m looking forward to an eventual reread to catch small details that I missed the first time around. There are quite a few that I caught. but others that I obviously missed.

Review: Juliet Marillier – A Dance of Fate (N)

A Dance of Fate

Juliet Marillier

This novel follows on from the previous book, with of course a minor time skip. The last book ended on Liobhan and Dau going to tell Liobhan’s parents about Broccs decision. We join them again at the very end of their Swan Island training, having a display bout to determine which of them finishes the training as first or second pick. A formality that goes wrong in all the worst ways when Dau is injured by freak accident. What follows is the discovery of Dau’s background and all the horrible things that lie at the heart of his past.

I dove into this book right after finishing the first, eager to see what the next story would show. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get the see the visit with Liobhan’s parents but I can’t be too sad since it means we jump straight into the meat of this book. It is another gripping tale even when the focus is more on Dau overcoming the pain of the past as opposed to completing a specific task. We also get to see more of the Otherworld as Brocc now lives there. For Brocc, it seems like he is a bit caught between how he was raised and where he now finds himself. Which is not helped by the fact that the Fae Queen is not entirely sure how to be in a relationship either. These parts of the book were not as gripping as the rest of the story but it did provide some important hints and set up some things for the ending. This books’ theme almost seems to be miscommunication. Since there are many instances where if the characters spoke up about their thoughts maybe things would go a little better. But much like in real life people don’t share those inner most thoughts like that.

Again Marillier stuns with complex characters and realistic responses to the situations. We see more of Liobhan’s stubbornness to stick out hardship, even in a role where she needs to keep her head down. Dau’s injury was well handled – I thoroughly wanted to thump him upside the head for his stubbornness. But even feeling that I also understood that I probably wouldn’t have handled suddenly being blind with any more grace. It did make me glad that I live in a day and age where medicine is a little more reliable. All the potential hate I had towards Dau in the first book was well saved for Dau’s oldest brother. All I can say is damn there were some messed up things that happened there. But again there was a surprise by the Dau’s other brother. Once again reminding me that refreshingly complex characters seem to be a standard from this author.

An outstanding read and solid 5-stars, as I’ll want to read it again. The most disappointing part was reaching the end and realising I’d have to wait for the release of the third book.