February Wrap-Up

Another satisfying month of reading, and quite a few four-star books this time, particularly towards the end of the month… A lot of these were blind picks, too, so I’ve been pretty lucky! 😀 In total, I read 7 novels and 2 short stories in February; here’s what I thought of them:

Amy A. Bartol//Sea of StarsSea of Stars by Amy A. Bartol. The second book in the Kricket series, wherein Kricket and Trey find themselves (once again) on the run from the Alameeda clan. I liked this book, but the series is getting a bit same-y (which is probably not a good sign when I’m only on book two!), and Kricket’s overwhelming tendency to be good at everything, and incredibly beautiful, and somehow gain the undying love and loyalty of everyone she meets (okay, I’m exaggerating on that last one) garnered quite a few eye-rolls. Bartol seems to be pushing the fact that she can’t swim as her major character flaw, which does not a relatable heroine make. ^^’ Again, I am still enjoying this series, but I’ll probably leave off for a while before reading Darken the Stars (despite Sea of Stars‘ not-all-that-suspenseful cliffhanger ending).2 stars

Julie Berry//All the Truth that's in MeAll the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry. A short crime novel that follows a girl named Judith, who went missing as a teenager, only to reappear two years later with her tongue cut out so that she couldn’t say what had happened to her. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for February, and as such I’ve already written a review – you can find it here.3 starsHimself in Anachron by Cordwainer Smith (from The Time Traveller’s Almanac). The story of a man who takes his wife with him on his search for something called the Knot of Time as their honeymoon. And, of course, things go horribly wrong. This story was more about the emotion of what was happening than the science of it, which I appreciated, and the story itself was both interesting and inventive. One of the better entries that I’ve read so far from this anthology.
3 stars

Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie (from Dangerous Women). A short story about a highway(wo)man who is on the run from her former associates, who have betrayed her. It had something of a Wild West feel to it, though there was a distinct lack of guns (the characters are all armed with swords, knives, and bows and arrows), so I’m not sure whether it was meant to, or if my imagination just ran away with the word “desperado”. Well-written, and I liked the main character (Shy) a lot, but it was a bit too bloody for my taste, unfortunately.3 starsNeil Gaiman//StardustStardust by Neil Gaiman. A romance between a man who is half faerie, and a woman who is actually a fallen star. Neil Gaiman’s prose is beautiful, and I particularly loved the way he portrayed the land of Faerie and its inhabitants. The beginning was a little bit slow-going, but everything that happened afterwards more than made up for that… The edition I was reading was also illustrated by Charles Vess, and his art suited the story perfectly – it really emphasised the simultaneous beauty and danger of Faerie; both enchanting and at times incredibly gruesome. I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can find here.5 starsMorgan Rhodes//Gathering DarknessGathering Darkness by Morgan Rhodes. The third book in the Falling Kingdoms series, in which things escalate, there is a great deal of duplicity, and my ship finally sails! 😀 What to say about this book without spoiling it? Hmm… Well, Magnus is rapidly becoming my favourite character in the series, and I’m really intrigued by the direction Lucia’s character seemed to be taking towards the end of the book. I still love Cleo, though the way she’s choosing to deal with her situation makes me supremely uncomfortable – as manipulation of one’s supposed friends tends to, so that’s not really all that much of a surprise. There were also some very interesting developments with Nic, though I still miss the happy-go-lucky Nic of the first book… 😦 Also, I take back everything I said (or at least felt) in my review of Rebel Spring about how Jonas was growing on me. He’s not. His plans are all ridiculous, and how anyone thinks he’s a serious threat is beyond me; the fact that girls in the book seem to be falling in love with him left and right is becoming extremely annoying. 😡 That said, this series is still getting better as it goes on, which is a trend that I hope will continue.4 starsPeter V. Brett//The Desert SpearThe Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett. The second book in the Demon Cycle, in which we continue to follow our heroes – Arlen, Leesha & Rojer – in their efforts to save the world from corelings. There was a new major protagonist in this book, too, who I remember despising in The Painted Man: Jardir! About the first third of the book is taken up with his perspective, which I didn’t initially like all that much; it was interesting, but also quite disturbing. So I wasn’t a huge fan of the first part of the book, but once Arlen & co. were brought back into the spotlight, things got seriously epic (and often hilarious), and the book ended on a definite high point. I’m looking forward to reading The Daylight War soon (i.e. for next month’s readalong).4 starsE.K. Johnston//A Thousand NightsA Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. A new retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, in which an unnamed (and that’s an interesting theme in this book) protagonist tricks the demon king Lo-Melkhiin – who has killed all his previous wives – into picking her, when he comes to her village to choose a new bride, in an effort to save her sister. And then, much to her surprise, Lo-Melkhiin is not able to kill her. I’d heard mixed things about this book before picking it up, and although I liked it a lot, I can also see why others might not. There is almost no romance, which I didn’t expect; most of the book is taken up with the main character’s thoughts and memories, about her husband and her sister, whom she has visions about; and the plot is so slow-building that the story’s climax really sneaks up on you. These were all positive points for me – I loved learning about her family and culture, and the glimpses we got of Lo-Melkhiin were such that a stronger romantic sub-plot would have seemed out of place… And I do love a good slow-burn story, even though A Thousand Nights is actually quite a short book. And the writing was also beautiful, which certainly helped.4 starsLaura Dockrill//LoraliLorali by Laura Dockrill. A standalone paranormal novel, about Lorali – a young mermaid who makes herself human – and Rory, the teenage boy who finds her lying naked on the shore after her transformation. And pirates. Lots of pirates. 🙂 There’s definitely a visible The Little Mermaid influence, as well, but it’s certainly not a straight-up retelling. As for my thoughts on the story itself – it was wonderful. Rory and Lorali were wel-developed, likeable and sympathetic leads, and much of the story was also told from the perspective of the sea itself, which was interesting (and very well executed). I wasn’t initially sold on the pirates, but they definitely grew on me, and I really, really loved the portrayal of Rory’s friend Flynn and his grandfather Iris. The plot was also surprisingly action-packed (in the best possible way), and it was fascinating trying to piece together the mystery of Lorali’s past, and of all the Mer – which was revealed at the perfect pace. (This was also the first book I picked up for the Under-Hyped Readathon, and it definitely got me off to a great start!)4 stars

[EDIT (3/5/2017): Changed rating of Sea of Stars from 3/5 to 2/5 after finishing the last book in the trilogy & thinking on the series as a whole.]

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Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Spoiler-Free)

STARDUST
5 stars

Neil Gaiman//StardustSUMMARY

Tristran Thorn is half-human and half-fairy, and fully in love with the most beautiful girl in his small town of Wall, which guards the barrier between the mortal world and the world of Faerie. Her name is Victoria, and one day, while Tristran walks her home, they see a shooting star fall beyond the wall – and he swears that he will bring that star back to her, to win her love.

Stardust was originally published in 1999.

STORY [5/5]

This is a love story, but romance is definitely not all there is to it. In some places it’s all about the adventure; in others, it managed to be pretty disturbing (though thankfully without venturing too deep into horror territory. I don’t scare well). I found the pacing a little slow at the beginning of the book, during the chapter that centred on Tristran’s father, but the story picked up very quickly afterwards, and had me hooked right up until the end – which managed to be both unexpected, and entirely appropriate in a dramatic sense. I wasn’t initially sure whether or not I liked how the plot was resolved, but after some time to think about it, I’ve come down firmly on the “liked it” side. 🙂

CHARACTERS [5/5]

The two main characters in the book are Tristran and Yvaine, two very different characters, who are at odds for much of the book. Tristran is, of course, trying to bring the fallen star back to Victoria, in hopes of winning her affection; Yvaine, on the other hand, is stuck tagging along on his journey, and would very much like to leave. Both characters are extremely likeable, and it’s very easy to sympathise with both of their situations.

Other important characters include two of the heirs of the faerie castle of Stormhold – Primus and Septimus – who are each searching for a particular magical gemstone that will allow them to become the next Lord, while simultaneously trying to outwit the other; the Queen of the Lilim, a fearsome witch who is also searching for the star, which will restore her youth; another witch, of rather less ability, who has enslaved Tristran’s faerie mother; a strange, hairy man who accompanies Tristran for the first leg of his journey; the captain and crew of a sky-ship, which sails around the clouds, fishing for lightning bolts; and a wonderful unicorn. (The unicorn is my favourite.)

Victoria is also quite important to the story, but more because of her effect on Tristran than because of her actual character. We see little of her during the larger part of the story, but she is conspicuous in her absence; Tristran thinks about her constantly.

ROMANCE [5/5]

Despite the summary I gave of the story, the actual romance is not between Tristran and Victoria – who never believes for a second that Tristran will follow through with his promise – but between Tristran and Yvaine. It’s a slow-building relationship, but definitely worth waiting for. I loved watching their relationship grow, and their feelings develop, and Yvaine’s stubborn offence at Tristram’s behaviour provides a good amount of tension between them.

WORLD-BUILDING [5/5]

The world-building in this book is probably its strongest point (though, to be honest, everything about the book was pretty much perfect). The world of Faerie was incredibly well developed, and beautifully described, and Gaiman somehow managed to portray it as simultaneously enchanting and harrowing; as lovely as it is deadly.

WRITING [5/5]

There’s not really much that I can say about the writing, except that it was excellent, and really brought across the whimsical nature of Faerie and its inhabitants. Several steps up from anything else I’ve read recently.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [5/5]

A very sweet love story, set in a beautifully fleshed-out world, that is both sinister and lovely. Tristran and Yvaine are both wonderful characters, but this book really shines is in the writing and the world-building, both of which were perfect.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Lovers of fairytales in the more traditional sense, such as the works of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen & Charles Perrault. For something a bit more recent, Stardust will probably also appeal to fans of The Princess Bride by William Goldman.