Book review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology

 

I have mentioned it more than once in my blogs that I have a love/hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s works. There are some that I absolutely love, and there are some that I do not like at all. I can’t think of any other writer that would evoke such different emotions in me, as a reader. I do love the fact that Neil is such a versatile writer that he writes across genres and across ages. I read his fiction novels for adults and kids, graphic novels and picture books.

And then came “Norse Mythology”. I was seeing “Norse Mythology” everywhere and kept thinking that it would be a cool book to read, however, I couldn’t justify paying the full price for it, so I got a copy from my library.

Synopsis

 

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Review

 

I had a course in mythology as part of my Bachelor degree, and I studied ancient Greek, Roman and, of course, Norse mythology. Naturally, I forgot many things, since it’s been years, and I always wanted to re-read those myths but never had an opportunity. It came in the form of the book by Neil Gaiman.

It is hard to review something that Neil was merely re-writing plot-wise, but his writing style is undeniable in the book. There is a lyrical flow of words and some dry humour mixed into it. The myths are split into stories or chapters, if you will, and go from the very beginning - the world creation - to the end.

If you have never read Norse myths before, but you love Marvel movies about Thor and Loki, you might be in for a surprise. Thor is less noble, Odin is more cruel, Loki is more frustrating (if it is even possible), and there is so much violence and gore, you might think those myths should have been made into horror movies.

Naturally, there is very little of actual Norse mythology in Marvel movies. But if you are interested in learning about it, Neil’s book is a perfect choice. “Norse Mythology” is not dry and lecturing, but a magical, easy read. Or as easy as a book can be if we have gods and giants killing each other on every other page. But you know - it is old mythology!

I thoroughly enjoyed “Norse Mythology”. It was nice to be immersed into the world of Asgard once again. It was a well-written book, however, since it is somewhat fictional and somewhat mythology, I liked it but did not love it. It has a gorgeous cover, though, both in hardback and paperback.

Nevertheless, I do recommend “Norse Mythology” to all myths and Neil Gaiman fans.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: “City of Ghosts” by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts

One of my main goals for BookCon 2018 was to meet one of my all-time favourite authors, Victoria Schwab. Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to get my copy of new US Vicious signed by Victoria, but after standing in the line for an hour on the second day of the convention - I got an advanced reader’s copy of “City of Ghosts”. I was over the moon!

As a matter of fact, I have several vlogs on my YT channel from the BookCon this year.

I wanted to start “City of Ghosts” as soon as possible but didn’t want to rush into it either. So, I decided to pick City of Ghosts” for #ARCAugust challenge.

Synopsis

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

Review

I could not wait to read “City of Ghosts”! I was very excited! I was, however, trying to be very mindful of the fact that not only I am reading an ARC, but it is also middle grade, so I can’t expect the same depth of world building and character development from “City of Ghost” as from some other Victoria’s books.

I was right. “City of Ghosts” is precisely what Victoria multiple times said, it was. It is the book that she wrote for her 12-year-old self. It is spooky and wonderful, and I kept thinking of Cassidy as Victoria in that age. It is a lovingly crafted narration set in Edinburgh, which is a special city for Victoria, and her current place of residence.

“City of Ghosts” is a fun read full of adorable characters and unexpected adventures. I adored this book. However, no matter how much it pains me to say this about Victoria’s work - this is not the best story she has written.

In her Instagram Stories, Victoria said that she saw some early readers complain that “City of Ghosts” is too simple or the plot is not layered enough, and she explained saying that middle-grade books do not have the same complexity as young adult or adult books because they simply can’t be. That is the whole point of the genre. I wholeheartedly agree.

I felt that “City of Ghosts” was written perfectly aligned with the target audience. It has just the right combination of fun and thrill that is so attractive to the younger audience. I did, however, expect more originality of the plot than there was. Even the title surprised me, as there are dozens of novels with the same title out there.

“City of Ghosts” has haunted places, travelling beyond the Veil and ghost friends. While reading this novel, I kept having a deja vu feeling. Some of the elements reminded me of Fantastic Five by Enid Blyton, some of Susan Cooper’s books (perhaps, due to the setting). Which resulted in me lowering the overall rating of the book.

The writing in the novel is excellent and very typical of Victoria’s style, even though the ARC I got started “uncorrected proof” on the cover. I was impressed by the lack of obvious mistakes. I did pre-order the final copy and received it the day after I finished the book. I am tempted to re-read it again. “City of Ghosts” is supposed to be a duology, so I can not wait to see what other adventure Cassidy and Jacob would get sucked into next.

Rating: 3.5

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Book review: "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan

In Spirit  

A copy of "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was kindly provided to me by Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

Summary

 

Twelve-year-old Molly was riding her new bicycle on a deserted road when a man in a truck pulled up next to her, saying he was lost. He asked if she could get in and help him back to the highway, and said he could bring her back to her bike after. Molly declined, out of interest for her own safety. The next things Molly remembers are dirt, branches, trees, pain, and darkness.

 

Molly is now a spirit.

Mustering up some courage, she pieces together her short life for herself and her family while she reassembles her bicycle—the same one that was found thrown into the trees on the side of the road. Juxtaposed with flashes of news, sounds, and videos, Molly’s chilling tale becomes more and more vivid, challenging humanity not to forget her presence and importance.

 

About author

 

Tara Beagan is a proud Ntlaka’pamux and Irish “Canadian” halfbreed based in Calgary, Alberta. She is co-founder/director of ARTICLE 11 with her most cherished collaborator, Andy Moro. She served as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. A Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning playwright, she has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre, NEPA, the National Arts Centre, and Berton House. Five of her twenty plus plays have been published, and her first film script, 133 Skyway, co-written with Randy Redroad, won the imagineNATIVE award for best Canadian drama. Beagan is also a Dora and Betty Mitchell Award-nominated actor.

 

Review

 

Similar to my experience with “This Is How We Got Here”, I was lucky enough not only to receive a copy of “In Spirit” but also see Tara perform a piece from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Together with Keith Barker’s play, "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was one of my most anticipated reads, and I am a bit sad I got around to reading and reviewing it only now.

 

"In Spirit" serves as an important message about an ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada. Based on a true story with amended names and places, it pulls us into a mind of a young girl, who is trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly, we realize that she is a spirit and what she is trying to piece together is not just a broken bicycle but is her murder.

"In Spirit" is one of those plays that makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty and sad. Aand as it should. Because no child deserves the fate that had befallen Molly. It can happen to anyone and is still happening. And we must feel responsible for it.

 

It is disconcerting to say that ‘I liked the play’ as the word ‘like’ seems to be inappropriate due to the subject matter. I liked Molly as a character and found her to be in some ways more mature than her age - the way she feels threatened by the stranger on an instinctive level and how she notices his eyes lose a smile, etc.

 

A broken bicycle represents her life and her fragile body - the image striking enough to be a character on its own in this play. As she picks up pieces one by one, marvelling at how similar this broken bike is to her new one, Molly attempts to reassemble her identity and her memories. It is heartbreaking to read, especially her mentions of the family and dogs.

 

Oh god, the dogs!

 

As Molly reflects on her life, we learn that every dog that she ever owned was killed in road accidents (as their house is next to a road). Molly says:

 

“But do you think one of them even stopped to see what it was they ran over? ... Not even once! And sometimes for sure other people saw what happened, and they didn’t even say nothing either.”

 

That paragraph strongly resonated with me. It almost feels as if Tara is alluring to the society and police who seem to be doing nothing about the violence against indigenous people, who are going missing or killed and nobody seems to care.

 

I had, however, some issues with stage directions. There was a moment in which Molly drops the handlebars she was holding, and next direction says that she still holds them, and then after another couple of lines, she drops them again.

 

I am a visual reader. When I read, I visualize all the events as in a movie. Which means that whenever there is a tiny inconsistency in my “brain movie” script - I will most probably pick on it.

 

With "In Spirit", I had some issues visualizing the events. The descriptions of visual and sound effects of the billboard were not enough for me to recreate a full image of the play in my head. Perhaps, it would have achieved the desired effect, had I an opportunity to watch it on stage.

 

Sparse stage directions forced me to lower the rating of this play. Some may not find it enough for axing one star, but as I only go by the script, I can’t have incomplete or inconsistent directions. Perhaps, it was intentional to give actors free reigns, but I felt as if the play was lacking something.

 

I encourage you to read this play and educate yourself on the issues that are still plaguing our society.

 

Together with links to GoodReads and Playwrights Press pages, I added some links to articles on the topic.

 

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Book review: Island of Exiles (The Ryogan Chronicles, #1) by Erica Cameron

Island of Exiles  

I was provided with an e-ARC copy of "Island of Exiles" by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. The book seemed like a perfect read for me as it was advertised as a YA Fantasy novel with LGBTQ+ characters.

Since I will be discussing world building and some of the relationships in the book, please, be aware that there might be minor spoilers ahead.

 

Summary

 

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya's home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she's never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.

Review

I started reading "Island of Exiles" at the end of November but due to some personal reasons, unrelated to the book, had to stop. I picked it up again in January and realized that I needed to start from the very beginning. I did just that, and I am very glad I did because I wanted to give this book justice and I felt that I wouldn’t have been able otherwise.

The strongest point of the book is the worldbuilding. But, sadly, it is, in a way, its weak point as well. The author created a fascinated world: the events of the novel take place on an island with very harsh, desert-like landscape and raging storms. The hierarchy of the clan is very strict; the obedience is not questioned; the rations are scarce. You train, fight, and die young. Erica Cameron developed the magic system and the society's structure in which your magical ability defies your position in the world. Every type of skill and status has its own name. The language of this world is quite extensive, which makes the process of submerging into the narrative extremely slow.

Plainly speaking, it will take you some time to get used to all the words and definitions. It is not a bad thing, and many of high fantasy adult novels have complex worldbuilding, including their races, cultures, and languages, but in the case of a YA novel, it slows down the pace of the narrative.

When I started "Island of Exiles" for the second time, I already knew what to expect and made sure to pay attention to the world of Itagami. It made it easier to get into the story again for sure. I do admit, that the narrative does not develop as quickly as I would have prefered in the beginning and once you hit one third into the book - this is when fun stuff happens.

By the end of the book, I was comfortable enough with terms and definitions that I didn’t feel like I was walking in the dark anymore (by the way, there is a glossary at the end of the book - I wish I had known!). I flew through the remaining pages, very keen to find out what happens next.

Let me tell you - the plot went into a completely different direction from what I expected!

My favourite part "Island of Exiles" was the gender and sexuality diversity of this world. People are born of either of three genders: male, female or ebet (which is explained in the glossary as the sex designation for those neither male nor female; while reading the book I kept thinking about intersex, although I can not claim if it is what the author intended it to be). There are specific pronouns for ebets too. Relationships between people can be khai (a relationship chosen specifically to produce children) or sumai (a deep bond/partnership/love, which does not necessarily have to be sexual and can be created between siblings, for example). Or relationships can be simply casual. The sexuality is never discussed or mentioned as something “normal” or not. Anyone can be attracted to any gender or or be ushimo, i.e. asexual or fall on asexual spectrum.

I loved this aspect of the world so much! I wish Erica Cameron would write a pure romance within this world as it would have so many possibilities!

I had some problems with the main character, Khya, as I had trouble understanding some of her actions. She kept referring to Tessen stealing her promotions - something which I only vaguely grasped. She seemed to be hell-bent on distrusting Tessen, while he was only ever amicable and pleasant to her and others. It felt as if the author was trying so hard to make it “enemies to lovers” type of relationship that it felt a bit unnatural. The same thing about Khya’s obsession with her brother, Yorri, that was borderline possessive and manipulative.

I feel as if Yorri’s character was not developed in full either, but hopefully, it is going to be remedied in the sequel.

My favourite characters were Tessen, Sanii and Etaro. I also suspect something is going on between Etaro and Rai - or maybe it is my wishful thinking, but I hope for the happy ending for all characters.

Since I am lucky to have already received the second book in The Ryogan Chronicles, Sea of Strangers, I jumped into it right after finishing “Island of Exiles”. Can not wait to see what happens next.

Highly recommend "Island of Exiles" to those who would not be intimidated by a complex glossary of the world and to the fans of diverse reads.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: Petra by Marianna Coppo

Petra  

Petra by Marianna Coppo

 

Publication Date: 06 Feb 2018

Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada, Tundra Books

Genre: Children's Fiction

 

Description

 

The humorous adventures of an irresistible little rock who finds herself in constantly changing circumstances, Petra is a picture book that celebrates the power of perspective and believing in yourself.

 

Review

 

I rarely read picture books and, more so, request them for review but Petra looked too cute to pass on. I requested a digital copy from NetGalley and was very happy to be approved for it.

 

I loved Petra! It is an adorable narrative about a little rock that dreams of being many different things. The art looks like it is done with watercolours and has a very simple and clean design. It made me want to a have a sticker with Petra, the rock. It is short but, nevertheless, meaningful in its message: you can be anything or anyone you want if you dream of it! I thought it was well executed. If I had any kids of the appropriate age, I would definitely be buying a copy of the book.

 

My only complain = the book is too short! Would love to read more about Petra’s adventures and learn what else she can be!

 

Definitely recommend.

 

Rating: starstarstarstar

 

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Book review: "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds  

I received this book from NetGalley. I requested it after reading the description and thought it would be very interesting to read. I didn’t have much hope for getting the ARC as I am not always successful with big publishers, and Long Way Down is published by Simon & Schuster Canada.

 

Long Way Down is the first book by Jason Reynolds that I have read, even though I heard about All American Boys before.

 

Short synopsis

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

 

This novel is written in verse and is saturated with grief, anger, and pain. I read it in one sitting - and this is how you are supposed to read it, in my opinion - because I couldn’t put it down. It was a very raw and emotional read that was making me more and more uncomfortable and horrified.

 

ALERT: Do not read the full synopsis on NetGalley or GoodReads as it will spoil you the whole thing. And it is too wonderful to be spoiled. I didn’t read past that first paragraph and found the prose to be very profound.

 

 

This book is a cry for help; an angry shout-out. It talks about gun violence, gang violence, poverty, loss, grief. The narrative is both heartbreaking and brutal. It strong enough to leave the mark. It sure did leave the mark on me. It is a hard to describe because it has to be experienced.

 

Read it. And weep. Because this shouldn’t be our reality in this day and age.

 

Publication Date: 17 Oct 2017

 

Links

 

Jason Reynold's website
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Book review: Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles, #3.5) by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

Fairest  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Fairest" is the book which is complementary to The Lunar Chronicles and should be read between "Cress", book three, and "Winter", the last book in the series. Initially, I even wanted to skip it, but since it was about Levana, the Queen of Luna, I figured, I might learn something new about her and Winter, who I already liked.

 

After ploughing through the six and a half hours of this audiobook, all of my thoughts can be summoned as “why on earth did Marissa Meyer write this book?”.

 

 

"Fairest" tells us the story of Levana, from her childhood and the tragic incident that happened (which was absolutely obvious and in no way as exciting of a mystery as one could think), to her quite obsessive fixation on Evret Hayle (which no sane person can ever call love), to her cruelty towards people whom she considered her family. Everything about Levana, with exception of her childhood, is despicable and did not make me sympathize with her any bit. If "Fairest" was supposed to be a redeeming story, in the same way as “Heartless” is, then it failed for me. "Fairest" did not make me like Levana or feel sorry for her. It only solidified my opinion of her being a cruel tyrant. I did sympathize with Levana when she was a child but it was very brief, and there is no redeeming what she did to Evret, Winter, Selene, and countless other characters in the books.

 

As a matter of fact, Levana in this book is extremely reminiscent of Catherine. To the point that it made me think that Levana was written as a doppelganger of Queen of Hearts. Naturally, Levana is a representation of all evil characters in fairy tales, the trope of “the evil stepmother”. And you know what? I was quite happy with hating Levana for being an evil queen. I did not need to know her sad story, because it didn’t change my perception of her at all.

 

To put it shortly, "Fairest| felt redundant and unnecessary for the narrative of The Lunar Chronicle series. Since it is positioned as a supplemental book between books three and four, it might be referenced later on in “Winter” (which would make sense), but for me it felt as a complete waste of time. I did like the characters of Evret and Channery, because they were new and unfamiliar to me, and we do get all of those things regarding mirrors and veils explained to us in this book. However, I don’t think, it should have been explained at all. The whole plot of "Fairest" could have been referenced as hints and snippets throughout the series without losing anything in the narrative. I would have even prefered it to be done this way as it would have made Levana’s character more mysterious and tragic. Having everything explained and described in so much detail made the plot too simplified, boring, and the book - way too long.

 

Alas, I wish I could give it higher rating, but as it stands, this book felt to me like a waste of time. I am glad I listened to it in audio, otherwise I would have DNF'ed it.

 

Narration: 4 stars

Plot: 1 star

Overall: 2.5 stars

 

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Fairest