Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

This week’s topic of Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is just up my alley. There are many books that I like while reading them, but then, a few months later, when I think about them, I have very different feelings about them. The same thing happens in reverse. Certain books don’t seem like much when I read them, but they grow in esteem, they get stuck in my mind, I think about them long after reading them. Because this has definitely happened to me, I picked some examples of both changed-for-the-better and changed-for-the-worse books. I only came up with seven examples, though.

Seven Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

old man's war1. John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

Here’s a book that was a lot of fun while it lasted. However, not even long after finishing, I couldn’t remember the characters’ names or, indeed, many plot points. The fact that so very, very little of the plot or characters stuck with me makes me like the book less in retrospect. I now think of it as fluffy, forgettable science fiction. Nonetheless, I do know that reading it was enjoyable.

2. Mira Grant – Feedfeed

Similar (but not quite) to the Scalzi book, I enjoyed some of this zombie novel. It was incredibly slow to start, most of the plot points were sorely predictable, but the second half of the book was written really well, so I kept turning the pages. Now that some time has passed, all that book makes me think of is that it has one original idea – and a beautifully clever title – but otherwise lacks any depth.

3. Ellen Kushner – Swordspointswordspoint

I really have to re-read this book, especially with the Serial Box stories that were recently published. Swordspoint is the opposite example of the two books above. I read it in English when I was still rather shaky on my feet concerning the language, and that is an injustice to this book. Kushner’s language is beautiful and demands to be savored, something I just wasn’t able to at the time. But whenever I think back on the book, certain scenes stand out so clearly in my mind and make me want to go back to the world of Riverside. This book definitely grew on me over time and I intend to re-read it soon.

4. Alaya Dawn Johnson – The Summer Princesummer prince

I gave this book a pretty good rating right after I read it. But this is the prime example of books that’s don’t want to let go. I still think about the themes of the story, see the pyramid city of Palmares Tres in my mind, and happily remember the joy this book brought me. It was a good book when I read it, but I believe I did have some criticism. Now, all negative aspects have been forgotten (which doesn’t mean they aren’t there, just that my brain decided to filter them out) and all that remains in my mind is a perfect gem of a novel.

5. Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragonhis majestys dragon

I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t like the first two Temeraire books very much. After having read – and ADORED – Uprooted, I’m starting to think it may have been my mood at the time. The parts of the book I can remember all sound good in my mind and I really don’t know what my problem was when I first read it, so I am making plans to re-read the two Temeraire books I have already read and then give the rest of the series a try as well. So here’s a book I didn’t like much when I read it but which I now think I should have loved.

6. Miyuki Miyabe – Ico: Castle in the Mistico1

I had a lot of problems with this book and I still remember them vividly. But, now that ploughing through the boring parts is in the past, I have to appreciate the author’s original ideas all the more. Thinking back, I just leave out the boring bits, and instead only remember the good parts, which makes me like this book a whole lot more than I did while I was actually reading it.

7. Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forestdaughter of the forest1

Due to the hype surrounding this book – at least in the places I go to for reviews and recommendations – I may have expected more than there is to it. So there was some disappointment when I finally read the book and it wasn’t what I expected. But over time, I have come to think of this story more fondly. Yes, it was a quiet book, but there are so many layers to it – and it is exactly these layers that keep coming up when I think about books I loved.


That’s it from me. What are some books that you changed your mind about long after reading them?

Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla

A nice little thing on Goodreads is that, when you mark a book as “currently reading”, then change your mood and put it back as “to read”, Goodreads remembers when you started reading and even where you stopped. This function showed me just how long it took me to finish this fifth Dark Tower book, or at least how long I put it aside before finally making it through. It’s almost three years, in case you’re curious…

wolves of the calla

WOLVES OF THE CALLA
by Stephen King

Published by: Hodder, 2003
Paperback: 771 pages
Series: The Dark Tower #5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where kaJaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

divider1

So Roland and his ka-tet are on their quest to find and save the Dark Tower. In this fifth book of the series, they arrive at a place called Calla Bryn Sturgis whose population is visited by the Wolves of Thunderclap every once in a while. These wolves always do the same thing. They take their children and give them back roont (ruined) – they come back strangely tall and bulky, with their minds not fully intact. They’re never the same and they die very early. Now Roland could just walk on, continue without bothering with these people’s problems, but that’s just not like him. Plus, it all comes together and it all has to do with the Tower. So the ka-tet stays and decides to fight the Wolves.

I loved this idea so very much that I expected to rush through this book the way I did through the previous three (I’m one of those who don’t much like The Gunslinger). Alas, in the Calla, they meet a man named Callahan who relates his entire tale to them. And this tale takes SO. DAMN. LONG. and is so incredibly boring at times, that it was the reason I put the book away for years. What happens in the Calla, in the present, with Roland trying to win people’s allegiance, Susannah dealing with her own demons, Jake learning to understand betrayal from both sides – this was all fantastic and, just as you’d expect from Stephen King, written really well. Sure, things take a long time to happen but I like the way King builds up tension, creates his characters and settings and then brings us the big show-down.

Now Callahan’s story is important to the plot and I don’t have any useful criticism of it other than it bored me out of my mind. I was so glad when it was over. Suddenly, the pages flew by again, I couldn’t put the book down and I feared again for these characters that have become beloved friends to me.

One of the more intriguing things in this novel is the way technology weaves into the world. While Shardik was a relic of times long gone, here we are introduced to Andy, essentially a still-functioning robot who lives in the Calla. Although I know that technology was once present in this world, it still felt weird to have a robot play with the children of the Calla. There is also a fair bit of character development, not just in Roland but his entire ka-tet. Every one of the protagonists feels like a real person and seeing how they’ve changed from what they once were into… well, gunslingers, was just a joy to read. Seeing them work together as a team, communicate in glances and gestures as much as in words, it makes me dread the next two books all the more because I get the feeling King is going to kill off at least one main character. Just a gut feeling – I hope I’m wrong.

The idea of the stones and travelling doors is continued in Wolves of the Calla and again, doesn’t seem to fit into Roland’s world but somehow seamlessly works. King is mixing all sorts of sub-genres together and somehow makes it internally consistent. Time travel, westerns, science-fiction and epic fantasy all combine to create this wonderful thing. There were no great twists or surprises in the story surrounding the Wolves but there was one serious WTF moment at the end that makes me question the entire universe Stephen King has created in his Dark Tower series. I can’t possibly say more than that without spoilers but I re-read that passage to make sure I understood it right.

All things considered, this was my least favorite Dark Tower book because I feel Callahan’s story could have been shortened a great deal. The main plot, dealing with the Wolves, although atmospheric and an opportunity for King to show off his world-building skills, was fairly straight-forward and went as expected (by me). But there’s no denying that Stephen King is a great writer who knows what he’s doing and the language he created, especially the way the Calla folk talk, was entertaining enough. So not great, but good. On to Song of Susannah which promises an event that makes me cringe already…

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

divider1

The Dark Tower Series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole

Rosamund Hodge – Crimson Bound

I wasn’t completely convinced with Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge’s debut fairy tale retelling, but then I read her short spin-off Gilded Ashes and really quite liked it. In Crimson Bound, Hodge proves that she can write complicated characters with complicated relationships, as well as create her own mythology. There are still flaws in this book, but an author who gets better with every story is one I’m definitely willing to follow.

crimson boundCRIMSON BOUND
by Rosamund Hodge

Published by: Balzer + Bray, 2015
Hardcover: 448 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “In all your life, your only choice,” Aunt Léonie said to her once, “is the path of needles or the path of pins.”

When Rachelle was fifteen, she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.
Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as they become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

divider1

Among the myriad of fairy tale retellings aimed at young adults, it can be difficult to find something truly original, and it usually turns out that the retellings that stray quite a bit from the original fairy tale are the ones that stick in my mind long after reading. In this sort-of-retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” and a gender-swapped “The Girl With No Hands”, Rosamund Hodge, like her protagonist Rachelle, strays far from the path and creates something wonderful and fresh.

Rachelle lives with her Aunt Léonie and learns how to become the next Woodwife. But when, one day, she doesn’t stay on the path through the evil forest, she meets a forestborn and is promptly cursed by him. She must kill within three days or die. Cut to three years later – Rachelle did indeed kill within the given period of time and this murder haunts her every day of her cursed life. For now, she is a bloodbound – destined to become a forestborn herself but, until then, granted amazing strength. Bloodbound are used as a sort of bodyguard/police force that keeps out evil spirits from the forest. There’s a whole system that I won’t go into right now but that is a lot of fun to discover. It reminded me, in many ways, of Katsa from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling – a girl who, because of her powers, is used more like a weapon than a person, a girl with a million self-doubts, a pure survivor.

Rachelle is an intriguing character not just because of her past and the moment that formed her personality, but also because of her relationships. Erec, another bloodbound and her partner and friend, is just as interesting – if difficult – as Rachelle. Amélie, Rachelle’s only other friend, made for a beautiful counterpart. Where Rachelle is gloomy and pessimistic, Amélie sees the good in people (even bloodbound) and doesn’t judge easily. Although Amélie doesn’t get a lot of spotlight, she is a believable character in her own right and I loved the friendship between these two girls.

As she feels the forest tugging at her, and with the threat of the Endless Night, Rachelle plans to go hunting for a famed mythological sword that can slay the Devourer, the dark evil that controls the forest and its forestborn.

And then there’s Armand, the king’s bastard son, who lost his two hands defying a forestborn. A whole religion is rising up around this brave young man who sacrificed so much to avoid spilling innocent blood. Rachelle hates him deeply, so the story gets all the more intersting when she is charged with protecting him with her life. But Armand turns out to be more than a lying prince with no hands and destroys Rachelle’s prejudices every chance he gets. Their relationship was a lovely thing to read about, especially because Rosamund Hodge finally managed to get away from her insta-love problem. One could interpret Rachelle, Erec, and Armand as a love triangle, although I personally wouldn’t because Rachelle’s relationship to Erec is so complex and difficult that it doesn’t fit into the annoying two-boys-love-one-girl trope we see so often in YA fiction. If you do consider this a love triangle, well, then that’s the kind I like to read about.

crimson bound detail

Now I’ve talked a lot about the characters and there’s still so much more to this book. Hodge created her own mythology on which the entire kingdom is based. Religion features heavily in this story, as does the question of guilt and redemption. The myth of Zisa and Tyr would have made a great story all by itself, but as a background tale to a court intrigue/fairy tale, it was even better. The one thing that did surprise me was how, at the same time, this book is a quiet, sometimes slow-moving character story, yet there is so much going on. Hodge focused quite a bit on world-building without long exposition or info-dumping. She put great detail into her characters, the villains, protagonists, and side characters alike. But she also created a religion, a fully functioning royal court, and a class system. Not every part of this society has received the same love for detail but the atmosphere permeating the book more than makes up for that. I am quite impressed!

The ending, similarly to Cruel Beauty was a bit of a rushed mess but I still liked it. I suspect that whether you will like it to depends entirely on taste. Although it has very little in common with “Little Red Riding Hood”, Crimson Bound is a great story based on a fairy tale. I can’t wait to see what Rosamund Hodge does next. I see there’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet planned for publication in September, titled Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. A new take on Shakespeare by Rosamund Hodge sounds like just the thing. I’ll be sure to pick it up.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

divider1

Second opinions:

Bout of Books 16 – Updates

I’ve had all levels of success with the Bout of Books read-a-thon but even when I barely finish one book, I still enjoy this event so much that I can’t resist joining in. The Twitter chats are epic, the challenges a lot of fun, there are always new people to meet and blogs to follow. How could I say no to that?

bout of books banner

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 9th and runs through Sunday, May 15th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 16 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

Since I boasted about sticking to my goals and reading only the books I picked yesterday, I hope I won’t get distracted by all the new books on my shelves. My read-a-thon books are all choices I think I will love, so sticking to them shouldn’t be a problem. Now it’s all about reading as much as I can. May the read-a-thon begin!


MONDAY

Total books read: 
Total pages read:
 ~ 250
Pages read today: ~ 250
Books finished: 
Books I’m reading:

  • V.E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows
  • Bill Willingham – Fables Deluxe Edition: Volume 11

Notes:

I read last night before going to sleep and I’m counting that towards my pages for today (just because :)). The first 200 pages of Fables were pretty good, although it took me a while to remember all the things that happened previously. Still, I love seeing where this idea of fairy tale characters living in the real world has gone. After many, many issues, this is a whole new universe full of fairy tale awesome.

I’m now past the halfway point of A Gathering of Shadows and the plot is still slowly meandering. We’re building up to the big magic tournament but, so far, very little has actually happened. I enjoy reading about these characters but I’d seriously like stuff to happen soon.


TUESDAY

Total books read: 
Total pages read:
 ~ 373
Pages read today: ~ 123
Books finished:  0
Books I’m reading:

  • V.E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows
  • Bill Willingham – Fables Deluxe Edition: Volume 11

Notes:

What a stressful day! I was at work rathr long today and I’m afraid Wednesday will be the same. But, I managed to read Fables in the morning with my coffee and A Gathering of Shadows before sleep again.

In Fables, I am currently in the middle of a flashback about Snow White and Rose Red, which is fantastic. I feel like a child again, reading this old tale. And, to my delight, A Gathering of Shadows finally found its footing, the magical tournament has started and it is not very exciting. Taking more than half of a book to catch up and remind the readers of what happened previously is a bit long, mind you, but now that the action has begun, I’m quite happy.

I had no time for challenges today and if the week continues the way it started, I think I’ll have to postpone all challenges to the weekend.


WEDNESDAY

Total books read: 
Total pages read:
 ~ 425
Pages read today: ~ 52
Books finished: 
Books I’m reading:

  • V.E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows

Notes:

Today was an exhausting day at work. I got home later than planned and was too tired to read much. I mostly focused on A Gathering of Shadows because it got really good and I can’t stop reading.


THURSDAY

Total books read: 
Total pages read:
 ~ 437
Pages read today: ~ 12
Books finished: 
Books I’m reading:

  • V.E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows
  • Bill Willingham – Fables Deluxe Edition: Volume 11

Notes:

Another even more exhausting day at work. I am totally beat. I’ll crawl to the couch, fall down on it, and hope I can stay awake long enough to read a few pages. I have already started The Raven King on audiobook but I’m much too tired to concentrate properly. So I’ll definitely be doing most of my reading on the weekend. At my current pace, I’ll have a lot to catch up on.


FRIDAY

Total books read: 
Total pages read:
 ~ 594
Pages read today: ~ 157
Books finished: 
Books I’m reading:

  • V.E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows
  • Bill Willingham – Fables Deluxe Edition: Volume 11
  • Bill Willingham – Jack of Fables: The End (Volume 9)

Notes:

So yesterday, I read almost nothing. That sucks but I am really happy I got that sleep. It was desperately needed. Today is Friday, however (yay!) and if nothing bad happens at work – fingers crossed – then I can leave earlier and finally start into the weekend with some reading.

Aaaand I’m back on track. I’ve read the next big chapter in Fables, dealing with Rose Red and her past. Rose Red and Snow White were enemies when the series started but only now did I find out just exactly what happened between them. It was a beautiful, sad, disturbing tale that only made Red feel more real. A Gathering of Shadows is also taking its toll. My blood pressure suffered a lot this morning on the commute. This magical tournament that’s finally started is really something. Every scene is so thrilling that I keep holding my breath (not a good idea), so I’m saving the next chapters for later this evening. But I’m confident that I’ll finish these two books – the comic and the current novel – during the read-a-thon. The Raven King also shouldn’t be a problem and I hope to fit Helen Oyeyemi’s collection in there somewhere.


SATURDAY

Total books read:  0
Total pages read:
 ~ 727
Pages read today: ~ 130
Books finished: 
Books I’m reading:

  • Bill Willingham – Jack of Fables: The End (Volume 9)
  • V.E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows

Notes:

Good morning! While our breakfast was frying in the pan, I continued reading, because hey, only two days left in this read-a-thon. Now it’s time to eat, and then I’ll be off into the world of Fables and Fulminate Blades and Dragonslaying once more.

So, I still haven’t finished a book but I’m getting to the end of most of them. Jack and his comic continues to be hilarious and I kind of don’t want his spin-off comics to end. But I am also so very curious how the entire Fables series will end.


SUNDAY

Total books read:  2
Total pages read:
 ~ 917
Pages read today: ~ 190
Books finished: 

  • Bill Willingham – Jack of Fables: The End
  • Bill Willingham – Fables, the Deluxe Edition: Volume 11

Books I’m reading:

  • V. E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows
  • Helen Oyeyemi – What is Not Yours is Not Yours

Notes:

Alright, I have finally finished both the last instalment in the Jack of Fables series (which ended… Shakespearan) and the Deluxe Edition of Fables Volume 11. I particularly loved that, after the story, the creators answered fan questions with little comics. In this case, the questions came from celebrity fans and were all things I’d wanted to know as well. Lots of points for this bonus content, I really enjoyed it.

Now back to V. E. Schwab and on to the first story in Helen Oyeyemi’s collection. It’s already Sunday but well, I gotta get started sometime.

Aaaand this concludes the read-a-thon. As expected, work makes it hard to read a lot. But I did catch up on my current book (almost finished), am in the middle of The Raven King audiobook and finished two graphic novels. That’s not a lot, but it is something. On to the next one!

 

Bout of Books 16 – Goals and Books

Bout of Books It’s time for Bout of Books and I am so ready to catch up on my reading. I did pretty well during the first few months of the year but what with my inability to say no to a challenge, I do have a lot of books to finish.

Seeing as I was all big-mouthed and said I would decide on the books to read and then stick to that plan, here are my goals and the books I’ve picked:

  • Read one comic book/graphic novel
  • Finish whichever current book I’m reading
  • Finish one other book that is part of a reading challenge
  • Start listening to one new audiobook

My graphic novel of choice is Fables: The Deluxe Edition Volume 11. I’m still enjoying the Fables series a lot, although I’ve noticed that the deluxe collected volumes got bigger and bigger. This volume is almost 450 pages thick. PLUS, in order to read all of this graphic novel, I need to take a quick side-trip into the Jack of Fables comics. That’s another 200 to 300 pages. And yes, there are pictures and all that but Fables can be pretty dense stories. Anyway, I look forward to catching up.

The audiobook is easy to pick. It will be The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Although I ordered the hardcover to sit on my shelf next to all the other beautiful Raven Cycle books, I also got myself the audiobook version which I’ve been kind of avoiding because I don’t want the series to end.

My current read – and I don’t understand why I took such a long break from the book – is A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. I loved the first book A Darker Shade of Magic, but this one took a long time to get started and I guess I just wasn’t in the right mood. But it’s really time to pick it up again and finish it.

Aaaaaaand for my last goal, I will pick a book that is part of one of my reading challenges. There is a lot to choose from, mind you, because I’m an idiot who thinks she can read a billion books a year. But I’ve narrowed it down to a challenge (reading more authors of color) and even a book: Helen Oyeyemi – What is Not Yours is Not Yours. I’ve read two of Oyeyemi’s books and I adore her style. Maybe I should have tried an author that is new to me, but for this read-a-thon, I thought a collection of short fiction would be better because I can read one story per evening or ideally even a story per train ride to and from work.

The big post of pages/books read and mini-challenges and other stuff will be posted tomorrow. By the way, there’s still time to join the read-a-thon if you feel like it. Just go here and sign up.

E.D. Baker – The Wide-Awake Princess

I’m going through a weird phase right now, where I pick up a book I’ve been looking forward to, can’t get into it, find something else that I randomly start and can’t stop. In my attempt to get into a normal start-a-book-finish-a-book rhythm, I took a deliberate break and read this little middle grade book as a sort of palate cleanser.

wide awake princess

THE WIDE-AWAKE PRINCESS
by E.D. Baker

Published by: Bloomsbury, 2010
Ebook: 288 pages
Series: Wide-Awake Princess #1
My rating: 5,5/10

First sentence: “We can’t let it happen again,” Queen Karolina said, dabbing at the tears that glistened in her deep blue eyes.

In this stand-alone fairy tale, Princess Annie is the younger sister to Gwen, the princess destined to be Sleeping Beauty. When Gwennie pricks her finger and the whole castle falls asleep, only Annie is awake, and only Annie-blessed (or cursed?) with being impervious to magic-can venture out beyond the rose-covered hedge for help. She must find Gwen’s true love to kiss her awake.

But who is her true love? The irritating Digby? The happy-go-lucky Prince Andreas, who is holding a contest to find his bride? The conniving Clarence, whose sinister motives couldn’t possibly spell true love? Joined by one of her father’s guards, Liam, who happened to be out of the castle when the sleeping spell struck, Annie travels through a fairy tale land populated with characters both familiar and new as she tries to fix her sister and her family . . . and perhaps even find a true love of her own.

divider1

What if Sleeping Beauty’s parents didn’t behave like fools twice? So they messed up their firstborn’s fairy gifts and the evil fairy made sure that Gwen will prick her finger on a spinning wheel when she turns 16.  Except a good fairy made sure that, instead of dying, Gwen only falls asleep for one hundred years, and can be kissed awake by her true love to lift the curse. Sleeping Beauty as we know it. But with their second child, Annie, the king and queen took care to make smarter choices for her christening gifts. Instead of beauty and a gorgeous singing voice, Annie’s got the ability to resist magic of any kind.

I really liked the beginning of this story. Annie is (almost) the only person in her kingdom who isn’t enhanced by magic, so next to her beautiful sister and mother, she looks rather plain. Princes and princesses are all beautified and seem perfect because when magic is easy to obtain, why not be pretty, right? This puts Annie in a difficult spot from the start because she is a princess but she looks … normal. Her personal fairy gift/curse to resist all magic comes with another caveat. Whenever she is too close to or touches somebody enchanted, their magic fades. Annie’s mother doesn’t want Annie anywhere near because then her own beauty will fade. The same goes for Gwen.

So Annie spends time with people who don’t care about looks – she talks to the palace servants, learns how to ride a horse from the stable boys, chats with the guards, and silently suffers being so distant from her family. It’s a great set-up for a novel, even if it hammers its message in with a sledgehammer later on.

Despite the king and queen’s careful precautions, the curse on Gwen does come to pass, everyone falls asleep and only Annie is unaffected because magic doesn’t work on her. She teams up with Liam, the palace guard who was outside the castle when the curse struck, and goes on an adventure to round up all the princes in the kingdom. She’s not sure who is her sister’s true love, so just in case her fiancé isn’t, bringing a few more princes for safety sounds like a good plan. On their adventures, they meet a version of Hansel and Gretel, the frog prince, and many other characters who seem familiar but original.

The idea is cute enough, as are the brief encounters with fairies, princes, princesses, and lost children. But there is absolutely no depth to this story whatsoever. I haven’t read middle grade books in a long while and I don’t really know how forgiving to be about the on-the-nose message. You see, Annie is special because she does boy-stuff (riding) and non-royal stuff (talking to servants like they’re actual human beings). Apparently, you can only be kind if you’re not beautiful because everyone who is pretty – usually by magic fairy gift – happens to be a major douchebag. The princes, even the ones who seem okay at first glance, turn out to be shallow, money-grabbing idiots, the girls are even shallower, obsessed with their looks and being royalty and with no interests of their own.

At times, it seemed that Annie and Liam are the only two decent people in the entire kingdom. Some side characters are at least not complete jerks, but have one character flaw or another that makes them not as good as the protagonists. In the tournament for prince Andreas’ hand especially, I loathed the side characters. Except for Annie, all the participating girls were shallow, unlikable idiots. The “tests” in that tournament included things such as horse riding, how to keep dancing when your partner stomps on your feet, and eating food. Because learn this lesson, young girls: You must be able to eat everything and enjoy it! Except we all know you must also be pretty and take care of your body… there’s a real-world dilemma for you. But since only Annie masters all these tasks, because she is the protagonist and thus perfect, it’s not really something that encourages readers to think for themselves.

On the one hand, I’m willing to forgive the stereotypes and tropes, because this was written for very young kids. On the other, I always think children – even small ones – should be challenged and treated like real people. Just because somebody is young doesn’t mean they can’t grasp big ideas or see that treating someone badly just because they’re not beautiful is wrong. This isn’t the most thought-provoking children’s book out there, but it does mix up fairy tales in a really cute way. So ignoring the extremely black and white characters and the predictably convenient plot, I have to say the book still offered me a couple of hours of brainless fun.

MY RATING: 5,5/10 – Good-ish

divider1

Second opinions:

Kurtis J. Wiebe – Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons

I remember when I discovered Rat Queens and fell in love with the comic so much, I read it twice in a row. The second volume went through a change of artist but still kept most of the humor, heart, and great friendships intact. This third volume is a complete disappointment and marks the spot where I’m only willing to try one more issue to see if the series is worth continuing. Yep… it was that bad.

rat queens demons

RAT QUEENS VOLUME 3: DEMONS
by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Artwork: Tess Fowler
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Ed Brisson

Published by: Image, 2016
Paperback: 160 pages
Series: Rat Queens #3
My rating: 4/10

Having survived the end of the world, the Queens follow Hannah back to where it all began: Mage University. A long perilous journey awaits the Rat Queens as they attempt to find out what happened to Hannah’s father while battling their own demons.

divider1

After some interesting revelations in the last collection, we don’t get a second of time to catch up. Our girls are on their way to Hannah’s old school… to do… something. Once they arrive, Hannah is confronted with her past – which is no surprise considering that people there know her from way back when. Conveniently, however, all the others are also haunted by their demons, which all show up sooner or later. Most of this felt incredibly cheap, like somebody desperately grasping for plot and drama in a comic series that used to be all about fun and games and swear words.

Apart from the thin plot, the writing was really bad this time. I sometimes felt like I’d skipped a page because the cuts between scenes were so sharp, the plot jumped around all over the place, and things that were supposed to have impact left me completely cold. Plus, there is nothing of these four girls’ shining wonderful characters coming through. Hannah seems like a different person, Betty gets some shitty backstory that nobody needed (but I guess everyone has to have a dark past, nobody can just be what they seem to be) and there is no banter between them going on.

The change of setting comes with a change of costumes, some of which look nice, but again gave me the feeling that I’m not dealing with the girls I fell in love with but four imposters standing in their place. I frequently caught myself thinking “That’s so not like Hannah” or “Vi would never wear this” and wondering very, very much what the point of this collection was.  The artist change (again!) did have positive aspects however. The characters’ faces look like themselves again, although in certain panels Tess Fowler turned up the cute to eleven. Hannah isn’t cute. She may be gorgeous but what’s with the Disney eyes? I do prefer her artwork greatly to Sejic, who made the Rat Queens look much too harsh and pointy. Wenn done, Tess Fowler – I’m so sorry you didn’t have a better story to work with.

rat queens demons panels

The plot isn’t really advanced all that much. It dwells on Hannah’s past and on who her parents are, there is no mention of Sawyer or indeed much recognition of the girl’s current home town and friends and foes and love interests. I honestly felt like in a TV show where I accidentally skipped an episode and then the current episode was choppy and jumped over important scenes. Also, with new actors who are trying to put their own spin on the characters… it was a jarring experience that alternately made me want to cry and throw the comic across the room.

Rat Queens is a comic that could have just rolled with what made it so great. Female friends fighting demons and orcs and goblins for money. Being foul-mouthed, drinking and partying, and bantering is what they do best. Now it’s all angsty and pseudo-dramatic, the girls fight and behave out of character, and it’s just missing that spark. But what Demons is missing the most is the thing that made me re-read the first collection right after finishing it: Fun! This was just no fun. It felt like work, trudging through page after page of blahblah with no substance, re-hashed jokes, and weird afterlife-y parallel worlds… I just don’t even care anymore.

I’ll give Kurtis J. Wiebe one more collection to change my mind, otherwise I’ll just re-read Sass & Sorcery, ignore all  new issues, and pretend this never happened.

MY RATING: 4/10 – Bad

divider1

 

Bout of Books 16 – Sign-Up

I’m doing it again.  The Bout of Books read-a-thon is one of the most fun things a reader can do on the internet. This time, it falls on a regular work week for me, so I won’t be reading thousands of pages. But catching up a little on challenges, reading a sequel or two, and a comic book for good measure – that sounds perfectly doable.

Bout of Books

 

Don’t know what the hell I’m talking about? Here’s some info:

 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 9th and runs through Sunday, May 15th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 16 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

 

I’m even going to set myself some loose goals right away. The weekend before the read-a-thon I’ll pick which books exactly I’m going to read and (trying a new thing here) I will actually only read those books and not be distracted by shiny covers or cool stuff my friends recommend. For one week, I will stick to a plan. Booyah!

 

So. Goals.
  • Read one comic book/graphic novel
  • Finish whichever current book I’m reading
  • Finish one other book that is part of a reading challenge
  • Start listening to one new audiobook

That’s pretty ambitious for a 40 hour work week during which I also have to feed myself, spend time with my boyfriend, and watch at least the most necessary amount of TV. But I’m excited and motivated and look forward to the Twitter chats.

If you want to join the fun, there’s still time until  May 10th to sign-up. Trust me, you do not want to miss it.

Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown

I did it. I read the very last Discworld novel. Mind you, I still have a lot of books in the series to catch up on, but my favorite sub-set – the Witches and Tiffany Aching – is over. As expected, it was as much the author saying goodbye to his books as it was another goodbye. My boyfriend actually preordered the super expensive special edition (with the golden slip case) for me, only to be told a few weeks ago that – oops – no more copies available, after all, despite a successful preorder. I would be grumpier about that if the fact that it’s the last Discworld book wasn’t so terribly sad. Now I’m just… even sadder, I guess.

shepherds crown

THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Harper, 2015
Ebook: 276 pages
Series: Discworld #41
Tiffany Aching #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence:  It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.

A shivering of worlds.
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.
This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.
There will be a reckoning…

divider1

I had a feeling long before this book was published that there would be a character death coming up. Most people knew what was coming, and it does happen in one of the first chapters. But if you’re really worried about spoilers, stop reading now. I can’t write about The Shepherd’s Crown without talking about… the thing, so anything after this paragraph is spoiler territory.

tiffany aching

Tiffany Aching has grown up a bit and is now a proper witch of the Chalk, taking care of all the business that witches concern themselves with. Whether it’s cutting an old man’s toenails or doing someone’s laundry, Tiffany doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty as long as she can help others. It’s what witches do, after all. She already has both hands full of work when news reaches her of something that we all expected to happen sooner or later. Granny Weatherwax has died. Despite knowing it was coming, the chapters building up to Granny’s death and the chapters just after she has gone were some of the most touching Pratchett has ever written. Granny, in her eternal Granny-ness, makes all the preparations, weaves her own coffin, cleans her hut, and asks her bees to be as kind to her successor as they were to her. I cried like a baby.

Nanny Ogg knows that Granny didn’t want a big fuss made about her funeral but Granny was such a respected witch that people from all over the Disc come to pay their last respect. Even Ridcully shows up, mournful and nostalgic about a love story that could have been. Death himself, who is normally so serene about his job and the people he helps to cross over, is sad about this one. But the Disc doesn’t stand still and Granny’s successor is to be Tiffany Aching – to noone’s surprise except Mrs. Earwig, who thinks she is much better suited to the job. But when even the cat You decides that Tiffany is the new leader the witches don’t have, it is settled.

Tiffany now has to deal with two steadings, two sets of people in need, and she is straining under the stress of travelling back and forth between the Chalk and Lancre. The big bad of this last Tiffany story is one who has tried to take over the world before – the Fairy Queen. This felt as re-hashed as it is, complete with another visit to the Fairy King, Magrat donning her trusty old armor, and the witches all working together to defeat a common foe. In Geoffrey Swivel, a man who wants to be a witch, we also have a beautiful conclusion to the Witches subseries. Remember in the very first book about the Discworld witches, Eskarina wished to be a magician, not a witch.

Plot-wise, this wasn’t a strong book. Even the language is noticably weaker, with many repetitions (“There will be a reckoning”) and none of the well-known little lines of wisdom that stick in your head long after you’re finished reading. But it is very much a book full of goodbyes. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that many, many characters from earlier books show up again or are at least mentioned. We see Miss Tick, Agnes/Perdita, Magrat and Verence, Eskarina, Granny Aching is mentioned along with Thunder and Lightning, even Horace the cheese gets his moment. To me – and this is pure speculation – it read very much like Terry Pratchett’s goodbye to his characters and if that turned out a little repetitive, remembering all their adventures, I can’t really fault the author for that.

It was impossible for me to read this book out of context. Were Sir Terry still with us, were this another among many Discworld books, I’d say it was a weaker Tiffany book, althugh still a pretty good Discworld novel. But it is not just one among many, it is the last one, and I felt like crying all the time while I read it. The Shepherd’s Crown may not stand too well on its own, but as a look back on all that has come before, it is just right the way it is.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

divider1

Second opinions:

Skottie Young – I Hate Fairyland: Madly Ever After

I love Fairyland! And Skottie Young’s art! So what could be better than a comic book set in Fairyland, drawn and written by Skottie Young? Not many things, I tell you. This bloody rampage through an enchanted world was so much fun, I still have a stomachache from laughing so hard.

i hate fairyland

I HATE FAIRYLAND Volume 1: Madly Ever After
by Skottie Young

Colorist: Jean-Francios Beaulieu
Letterer: Nate Piekos

Published by: Image Comics, 2016
Ebook: 138 pages
Series: I Hate Fairyland #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, there was a girl.

From superstar writer and artist Skottie Young (Rocket Raccoon, Wizard of OZ, Fortunately, The Milk), comes the first volume of an all-new series of adventure and mayhem. An Adventure Time/Alice in Wonderland-style epic that smashes it’s cute little face against grown-up, Tank Girl/Deadpool-esque violent madness. Follow Gert, a forty year old woman stuck in a six year olds body who has been stuck in the magical world of Fairyland for nearly thirty years. Join her and her giant battle-axe on a delightfully blood soaked journey to see who will survive the girl who HATES FAIRYLAND. Collecting Issues #1-5

divider1

Just look at the colors on that cover. Look at them. They are like colors from a dream, bright and rainbow-y, and they tell you exactly what you’re going to get from this comic book series. A beautifully colored story of a cute girl killing everything she comes across.

Gertrude is just your average, adorable little girl with green curls and a pink dress when the floor in her room swallows her up and drops her headfirst in Fairyland. In best Ozian tradition, she is welcomed by a ton of cute creatures and the Queen of Fairyland herself, Cloudia, whose hair is a cloud that changes with her mood – it’s awesome! Like any good fairytale, this one contains a quest. If Gert wants to get back home – and she really, REALLY does! – she needs to find a key to open the door to her world. She is given a companion guide and a map and off on her little feet she goes, to wander Fairyland and hunt that key.

Cut to 27 years and a billion side-quests later. Gertrude is a 37-year-old trapped in a 10-year-old’s body. And since she hasn’t found that key yet, her temper is… let’s say not so cute anymore. With Larry, her guide, she has been killing and maiming on every step of her journey. Disregarding the riddles and side-quests she is given, she simply hacks her way through enchanted forests, bogs of madness, hills made of snot, and zombie hordes. She even makes her very own shooting stars (not the nice kind).

The lovely setting and happy colors stand in stark contrast to what’s actually happening and how Gertrude talks. Okay, so swear words are changed into nice-sounding, child-friendly words (Fluff off) although I don’t see the point in such a blood-soaked comic. The gore may be literally sugarcoated but that doesn’t make Gert any less violent or foul-mouthed. I ADORE HER!

i hate fairyland slo-mo

But what makes this comic so much fun, other than Gert’s quick and bloody solutions to any problem, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Villains bear such names as Darketh Deaddeath or Horribella. It’s fun and funny, especially when Skottie Young takes tropes from fairy tales and more modern tales in the same vein, and has Gertrude show them the finger. She does that. A lot. Sometimes with guns.

Gert’s relationship with Larry is also worth mentioning. Although they both pretty much hate each other, they’ve got some wonderful banter going and stick by each other’s side. Well, Larry has to, and I think that he secretly hopes with each new assassination attempt on Gertrude that is successful. However, things change when Queen Coudia lets a new girl enter Fairyland, who is now also hunting for the key. Suddenly, Gert has some motivation to get the fluff out of there and maybe take that adorable, cutesie, doe-eyed girl down in the process.

This is not a deep kind of comic series, so don’t expect any redeeming qualities in Gert’s character. But after the first issue, the series finds its pacing, sets up its jokes really well, and shows a girl straight out of a video game, just facing her enemies head-on and reducing them to nothing. Or sometimes cookie crumbs.
I wasn’t sure I’d like this because the story’s beginning feels incredibly rushed. But once established in Fairyland, I fell in love with this crazy story and its crazy eyeball-scorching colors, and most of all its badass antihero. Gert is the best!

I can’t wait for the next issues!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

divider1

i hate fairyland gert in action