Library Scavenger Hunt: October

This month’s challenge was to find a book with either an alliterative title or an alliterative author, and I knew immediately what book I was going to seek out; the final book in a series that I’ve been meaning to finish for ages (and also conveniently checks off one of my year-long reading challenges, which I really need to buckle down on in the next few months if I want to complete them… 😓): the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series…

LIBRARY OF SOULS
Ransom Riggs

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but may contain references to events from previous books in the series (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City).]

With their friends now missing along with their beloved ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, Jacob and Emma are forced to continue their rescue mission – through some of the world’s most dangerous time loops – with only the help of Addison the peculiar dog. Luckily, Jacob’s still-developing powers seem to have manifested in a useful new ability: controlling hollows…

The main problem with this series as a whole, I think, is that it tries to pitch itself as a scary story, when it’s really, really not. Or at least, no more so than any other adventure series (such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson) that would probably be pretty scary to live through, but is not so horrifying to read. Even in this third book (the readers of which presumably all know exactly what they’re in for), there are comments – this time in the form of a mini author-biography – that try to play up the creepiness of the series; a creepiness that is barely present in the book itself.

This is on the publisher, however, not the author. Taken as the adventure series it is, the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series is interesting, well-written, and great fun. It’s certainly not without its flaws, and I personally felt that Hollow City and Library of Souls were much weaker novels than their precursor, but it’s a solid, entertaining series to read…

Some Library of Souls-specific things I wanted to bring up (since this is, in fact, a review of Library of Souls, and not the whole series): Jacob’s new hollow powers play a major role in the plot; so major that none of the other peculiars’ abilities are important for more than a moment, and they are able to deus-ex-machina many of the situations that Jacob finds himself in. I did find that they took the story in an interesting direction, however, and I enjoyed the strange bond that developed between Jacob and “his” hollow – though that was a thread of the story that remained sadly open-ended. The final few epilogue-style chapters also involved a very sudden and very convenient plot development, which was somewhat disappointing.

In regards to the photos, I found that the ones that were included in Library of Souls were both less interesting in and of themselves than those in previous books, and also less relevant to the plot. There are some notable exceptions (Mother Dust on page 252, the ambrosia dealer on page 229, the grimbear with its ymbrynes on page 185, and so on), but in most cases they only showed people or things that Jacob noticed in passing, without having much effect on the story. In fact, the passages in the novel where these things are mentioned often seemed shoe-horned in in order to justify including the pictures. I don’t know if it’s just that Riggs has already used his most interesting pictures or shown pictures of all his most important characters, or if the novelty of the combination has simply begun to wear off for me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both, but its a shame regardless of the reason, as the way the story and pictures worked together was a big part of what made Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so compelling.

But despite all this, I did enjoy the book a lot. It’s both exciting and well-paced, with very few moments where nothing seemed to be happening at all. And there were a few important new characters introduced, too: most notably Sharon and Mr. Bentham, though I personally thought that Mother Dust was the most interesting of them all, both in terms of her peculiar abilities and her role in the story. I’m glad that I took the time to finish this series, but I doubt it’s one that I’d re-read, and I’m unlikely to be picking up the spin-off (Tales of the Peculiar).

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

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September Wrap-Up

Last month seems to have been something of a reading rollercoaster; the highs were high, and the lows were rock bottom… 😓 On the whole, though, I’d say the good outweighed the bad. Here are the five novels I managed to read in September:

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice. An erotic retelling of Sleeping Beauty that had so many problems beyond just not being my thing… I’ve written a full review of this book – voicing all my confusion and frustration over it – which you can find here, if you so desire. But in short: the characters were bland, the plot was non-existant, the world-building (which my brain got really stuck on for some reason) was abysmal, and the sex scenes were boring and repetitive… 😑 Would not recommend. To anyone.Now I Rise by Kiersten White. The sequel to Now I Darken, which follows a Lada who has now left the Ottoman court to reclaim her throne, and her brother Radu, who has stayed behind in a seemingly hopeless attempt to win Mehmed’s love. Ah, I love this series so much! 💕 And everything seems to be escalating beautifully; it’s such an exciting novel! Obviously I can’t say much about what actually happens, but I will say that both Lada and Radu remain excellent protagonists, and it’s very interesting contrasting the way each of them thinks of Mehmed (about whom my own feelings are becoming correspondingly complicated).When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. A somewhat lacklustre romance between two Indian-American teenagers, one of whom feels that her family’s traditions are holding her back, while the other feels very connected to those same traditions. Also there was an app development convention, but it wasn’t as important to the story as it might have been… The book had both cute parts and interesting parts, but was mainly rather meh. 😕 You can find my review here.Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. My September Library Scavenger Hunt pick; a classic adventure/exploration novel, wherein an eccentric geologist and his nephew embark on a trip to the centre of the Earth. This book was silly, but a whole lot of fun, and I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Once again, I’ve got a review for this already posted.Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. The second book in the Imperial Radch series, which follows the soldier Breq, who was once part of an enormous starship, but is now learning to live with one body instead of hundreds… There’s not much that I can say that will do this series (so far!) justice, but I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as I did Ancillary Justice… I did like the interactions between Breq and her new crew, and I also found the story very interesting, but I was surprised by how little it seemed to be connected to the events of the first book – and even now, I’m not entirely sure why Breq was sent to Athoek Station (I understand why she wanted to go there, but it wasn’t so clear why she was ordered to go there). Also, I would’ve liked to see more of Seivarden, who was absent for a lot of this book… That said, I still liked it a lot, and, to be honest, Ancillary Justice must have been an incredibly hard book to follow up. Hopefully I’ll have a more detailed review up soon. 😊

Source Material Matters!

Why do people re-tell stories? To flesh out otherwise bare-bones, moralistic fairytales? To add a new perspective? To put beloved characters in a new setting and see what they’ll do? And so on, and so on… There can be any number of ways and reasons to write a retelling, and the results can be spectacular. One good way not to write a retelling, however, is to ignore your source material altogether.

I recently read (and reviewed!) a book called The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice, which is nominally an erotic retelling of Sleeping Beauty that “probes the unspoken implications of [the] lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire”[1]. What it actually is is an utter travesty of a novel, for a variety of reasons… but one of its worst offences is that it claims to be a retelling at all. In the very first scene, the Prince wakes Sleeping Beauty not with a kiss, but by having sex with her – which is not an unexpected way for such a book to begin. Afterwards, however, the retelling aspect of the story is thrown away entirely. The world seems not to have changed at all in the hundred years that Beauty has been asleep (or, if it has, it’s never mentioned), and it is made quite clear that nothing that happens to Beauty in the book is unique; hundreds of other princes and princesses have gone through exactly the same thing, curse or no. In short, there is no reason to include Sleeping Beauty in the narrative at all, and Rice has done the book a huge disservice by even mentioning the fairytale. I’m not saying that this is a book that shouldn’t exist (I know it has its fans), just that it should not exist as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, as the original source material has no bearing on Rice’s story whatsoever.

And the source material really should matter! After all, if you’re not going to do something with whatever tale your story is based on, then what’s the point of bringing it up at all? Why not write something completely original instead? For example, Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass was, in its pre-publication form, a retelling of Cinderella, but at some point during the editing and re-writing process, almost all the Cinderella aspects of the story were removed[2]. How is that any different from The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, you might ask? Because Throne of Glass doesn’t claim to be a fairytale retelling. Sure, you can find hints of Cinderella if you’re looking hard for them, but no more so than in any other rags-to-riches story. In its current form, Throne of Glass exists as an entirely separate entity from Cinderella.

But we’re not done with Sarah J. Maas quite yet, as the other book I wanted to talk about in this post is A Court of Mist and Fury, the second book in her A Court of Thorns and Roses series, which is (or at least starts off as) a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. In the first book, Feyre kills a faerie who is disguised as a wolf, and as punishment she is taken away to the Spring Court, whose people and Lord are bound by a terrible curse – which can only be broken if a mortal woman and the High Lord Tamlin fall in love. So far, so conventional. And A Court of Thorns and Roses – though I wasn’t as in love with it as I’d hoped I would be – is actually quite an interesting retelling of Beauty and the Beast; the way that Maas blends together the fairytale with traditional Faerie lore is really original, as it the way she is able to expand the plot from a simple, romance-driven retelling to an exciting, intrigue-ridden fantasy… And then the sequel happened.

I personally consider A Court of Mist and Fury (you can find my review here) to be a far superior novel to A Court of Thorns and Roses… it just doesn’t make sense that it’s the continuation of a Beauty and the Beast retelling. The message of Beauty and the Beast is, after all, that we shouldn’t judge people by their appearances, and this is illustrated by the monstrous Beast turning out to be not-so-monstrous after all. The way that Tamlin’s character develops in this book, however, completely undermines that message; why set him up to be the misunderstood “Beast” in book one, if he’s just going to turn out in the sequel to be an awful person after all? And I could understand wanting to do this with a fairytale that has a completely outdated message, or moral, but I’m of the opinion that Beauty and the Beast‘s message continues to be as valid and important as it has ever been…

To end on a more positive note, I thought I’d recommend some really great, interesting retellings that I’ve come across, because there are a plethora of them out there, all with a lot to love about them. The Lunar Chronicles is a series of incredibly inventive retellings of several different fairytales; my favourite in the main series was Cress (which draws mainly on Rapunzel), though I found the spin-off novella The Little Android (a retelling of The Little Mermaid) particularly compelling. Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle is a dark, clever take on Sleeping Beauty, with some Snow White elements in the mix as well, and there are also short stories in The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski[3] that do the same for The Little MermaidSnow WhiteBeauty and the Beast and The Snow Queen… Tiger Lily offers a fascinating new perspective on Peter Pan (as I Was a Rat! does for Cinderella); and GeekerellaNora and Kettle and Boy, Snow, Bird bring their respective fairytales beautifully into the real world. I could go on, but I expect it’d get boring fast.

CITATIONs:

[1] A quote from the back of the 1990 Plume edition of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice (ISBN 0-452-26656-4).

[2] “… it started off as a Cinderella retelling and later it became it’s own original fantasy.” Maas, in conversation with Valerie Tejeda for the Huffington Post.

[3] These two short story anthologies are the first two books in the Witcher series.

Books i talked about in this post (in order of appearance):
  1. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice
  2. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  3. A Court of Thorns and RosesA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
  4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  5. The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
  6. The Last WishSword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
  7. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  8. I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman
  9. Geekerella by Ashley Poston
  10. Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
  11. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with “journey” (or a synonym) in the title – was chosen in honour of my best friend and co-moderator, Chloë, who’s just moved to Japan. I didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to read for it, and actually abandoned my in-person search after a few hours without success (the only book I could find was Fear Itself: Journey into Mystery, which is something like the twentieth book in a series, so no thanks… 😓). My second go was via the online catalogue, and I’m happy to say that this time I found more success! The book I ended up picking was…

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Jules Verne

Brilliant but eccentric Professor Lidenbrock discovers a 300-year-old runic manuscript, which his nephew Axel is unexpectedly able to decode. It spells out the first step of what will become an extraordinary voyage – first to Iceland, and then on to the Earth’s core, with all kinds of unlikely discoveries to be made along the way.

What a fun book! It’s silly, but an incredibly good read. The story was well-paced, eventful and exciting, and though the characters didn’t seem too deep, their differing personalities made them interesting travelling companions. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Lidenbrock’s wild theories (which seemed mad, but more often than not ended up being right) and Axel’s anxiety over them (which was actually very sensible, but was treated as – and came across as – the attitude of somebody who was just closed-minded). Hans’ unflappable nature was also delightful, and whenever the party got into a pinch, it was always fun to see how Hans would save them…

The Extraordinary Voyages series is massive, and seems only to be thematically connected, so I don’t know that I’d be likely to seek out the rest of them. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reading a few more, though, if I stumbled across their paths.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Spoiler-Free)

Dimple Shah has one dream, and one dream only: To create an app that can make a difference in people’s lives, while still being fun. The elite Insomnia Con could go a long way towards making that dream a reality, but she’ll need her parents’ permission (and funding) if she wants to attend the expensive app development course, and their plans for Dimple’s future are very different; a husband and family, as soon as possible.

Rishi Patel is hoping to attend Insomnia Con, too, but not because he has any particular interest in coding… He’s there just for Dimple, the girl his parents (and hers) have arranged for him to marry.

This book has been hyped to the skies recently, and I’ll admit that I may have fallen victim to that to an extent, but my main problem with When Dimple Met Rishi was not that it wasn’t what I expected, but just that it’s not very good. 😑 The advertising for the book is certainly misleading in regards to how important Dimple’s app (which, by the way, sounds very much like a narrower, less customisable version of Habitica) would be to the story, but as I was anticipating this (the first time I even heard about this aspect of the story was in a list of books that lied about themselves), it didn’t bother me too much.

What did bother me was how much of the book was taken up with the talent show sub-plot, which could easily have been cut without any consequences whatsoever – except that the book would only have been about half the length. To be honest, it was strange that this talent show was taking place at all at a convention that was supposed to be so labour-intensive that it’d been called “Insomnia Con”… It is explained after the show is over that the prize money is supposed to go towards the winning team’s app, but it doesn’t seem to me to justify the amount of coding time that’s sacrificed in order to prepare for the show. A question for people who know more about app development that I do: Is the money that goes into an app more important than the time? If yes, then I guess this is a non-issue, but otherwise… (Also, if yes, then Menon really should have tried to find a way to make that clear.)

And the characters were also pretty frustrating. Both Dimple and Rishi started out reasonably likably, but their characters went rapidly downhill once Insomnia Con started. They were really judgmental (Rishi less so than Dimple, but not enough to save him from also being incredibly irritating) about everyone around them, and in particular a group that they referred to as the Aberzombies – a trio of wealthy, elitist teenagers who were the most clichéd and one-dimensional villains Menon could possibly have added to the story. Celia and Ashish were the only other major characters at Insomnia Con, and they also only seemed to be there for the benefit of Dimple and Rishi: Celia’s presence meant that Dimple would always have amazing clothes on hand, without Menon having to portray her as the kind of girl who takes her whole wardrobe on holiday with her (which kind of feels like judgement from the author, as well as the characters; liking clothes doesn’t automatically make a person shallow), while Ashish popped up in order to teach Dimple and Rishi how to dance… And also to provide a contrast to Rishi. But since that contrast had already been provided in Dimple, there was really very little point to his being there.

I did find Dimple and Rishi’s different perspectives on Indian culture very interesting, so that’s something that this book has going for it, and I also thought that the relationship between Dimple and her father was very sweet… Menon seemed to be going for a mixture of cute and quirky that makes so many contemporary romances so fun to read, but ended up with something that was mostly just shallow. On the whole, When Dimple Met Rishi ended up falling rather flat for me.

Teaser Tuesday #10

THE RULES:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This week month more-than-a-month I’ve been reading Now I Rise by Kiersten White, the second book in an amazing series that re-imagines the life of Vlad the Impaler, in a world where he is born a woman. I really loved the first book, and so far this sequel is living up to my admittedly high expectations – which is making me very happy indeed. 💕

Teaser #1:

She was as likely to kill anyone who talked to her as she was to make a friend.
No. She was 
far more likely to kill someone than to make a friend.

Teaser #2:

The fog changed the character of the city, obscuring landmarks, leeching the already faded colors. With no church steeples visible, bells rang out as though from the world of spirits, their metallic warnings hanging lonely in the air.

[Teaser Tuesday was created by MizB over at A Daily Rhythm.]