October Wrap-Up

Another slightly slow reading month for me, though thankfully I feel like my reading slump is drawing to a close, helped along by some community reading events that I really enjoyed (the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon & the Library Scavenger Hunt, as well as a readalong with some of my friends). 🙂 I’m looking forward to the books I’m planning on reading in November, too – though I’m sure that NaNoWriMo (which I am attempting for the third time) will significantly cut into my reading time. ^^’ Anyway, in total this month, I managed to read 5 novels, 2 graphic novels, and 2 short/single-issue comics.

Kate Beaton//Step Aside, PopsStep Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton. The follow-up to Hark! A Vagrant, which collects several more hilarious comics from Beaton’s webcomic of the same name. Some of my favourites in this volume include: The Nancy Drew book cover interpretations, Liszt and Chopin, the Wuthering Heights parodies, and many, many others.4 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 5Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan. The latest instalment of the Saga series – an epic space odyssey comic that follows a couple from two warring races, on the run from both of their respective societies in order to protect themselves and their daughter. Obviously, since this is the fifth volume, I can’t say much about the plot, but this is probably the best volume yet. 😀5 starsRick Riordan//The Red PyramidThe Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. The first book in the Kane Chronicles series, which follows Sadie and Carter Kane on their journey to defeat the evil god Set, and hopefully rescue their father along the way (and get mixed up in a lot of Egyptian magical messes). It’s tempting to say that this book felt a bit like a less-good version of Percy Jackson, because at times it did, and it’s difficult to look at the two series separately when Riordan is constantly trying to push the idea that they’re not fiction… Speaking of which, this book is written as if it’s been transcribed from a recording, which I wouldn’t have minded, if we’d been allowed to forget it for more than a couple of pages at a time, but Sadie and Carter were constantly interrupting each other, which made the narrative kind of choppy. The characters were also a little lackluster, and while Sadie seemed to come into her own towards the end of the book, Carter remained a bit “meh” the whole way through. (This all sounds very negative, doesn’t it? I did like this book, but it was definitely trying too hard to replicate everything that made Percy Jackson so great, and feels a little forced as a result. It’s a little hard to go back to after reading the Heroes of Olympus books – where Riordan did away with most of the gimmicky stuff – but if you manage to get through the first part of the book, I wager you’ll enjoy the result.)3 starsRainbow Rowell//Carry OnSally Slater//PaladinAt this point, the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon took over, for which I read two books: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, and Paladin by Sally Slater (only the former of which was actually on my readathon TBR ^^’ ). I’ve written a mini-review for each of them, which you can read by clicking on their covers.5+ stars4 starsJoanne M. Harris//The Gospel of LokiThe Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris. A re-telling of the legends of the Norse god Loki, as told by Loki himself, which was unfortunately not as good as I was hoping it would be (though, to be fair, my expectations were quite high). That said, I did enjoy it, and I have written a full review explaining my issues here. I read this book alongside Chloë from SSJTimeLord and Her Books and another (non-blogger) friend, and it was a really fun thing to do. More readalongs hopefully to come. 🙂3 starsPaul Dowswell//Sektion 20Sektion 20 by Paul Dowswell. My Library Scavenger Hunt pick for October, which follows a teenager called Alex who lives in East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’ve written a mini-review of this book, which you can read here, if you’re interested, but – long story short – it’s not a book I’d recommend.2 starsHanna K//Adventure Time 2015 SpoooktacularAdventure Time 2015 Spoooktacular by Hanna K. A cute one-shot comic that follows Marceline and Schwabl, her adorable dog, as they explore the world that Marceline comes from. This apparently ties in to a new Marceline mini-series that’s going to be released soon, but even on its own (and even to someone like me who hasn’t read or watched much Adventure Time before), it’s a really great story, with some beautiful art.5 starsThe Fabulous Adventures of a Gallant Gentleman by Emma Vieceli. A short comic told mostly in pictures, about a man living (or possibly just camping) in the Antarctic, who sets out one day to find a cup of tea, and is helped along the way by penguins, seals, and a yeti! Another adorable read; it’s amazing to think that this whole thing was drawn in just a day! 😮5 stars

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Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (Spoiler-Free)

THE GOSPEL OF LOKI
3 stars

Joanne M. Harris//The Gospel of LokiSUMMARY

The rise and fall of Asgard and the Norse gods, as told by Loki the Trickster (also called Wildfire, Father of Lies, Light-Bringer, etc.), one of the most notorious members of the Norse pantheon – and one of the key players in its ruin.

The Gospel of Loki is the first fantasy novel from best-selling author Joanne M. Harris, who is best known for her novels ChocolatBlackberry Wine, and Five Quarters of the Orange, amongst others. It was first published in 2014.

STORY [3/5]

The story was a pretty straight-up retelling of the traditional Norse legends. I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but I didn’t notice any significant deviations from the source material in terms of plot, or setting, or… anything, really – except perspective. The selling point with this book is that it’s narrated by Loki, who’s not a character whose side we often get to see (recent Marvel-induced popularity notwithstanding). And Loki’s insights were interesting, but not interesting enough to be the driving force of a whole book.

I’ve bumped this section up a point simply because the source material was solid, and therefore the actual plot is quite fun. And I will admit to a certain amount of satisfaction upon seeing Loki’s more successful exploits. 😛

CHARACTERS [2/5]

There was quite a large cast of characters in this book, and Harris did a good job of making them all quite memorable, but unfortunately it wasn’t always for the best reasons, which made it very difficult to truly like any of them. Loki himself was funny, but often cruel – something I expected, since he is the Trickster god. What I didn’t expect was quite how petty he would seem, or that it would carry over to the rest of the characters as well. Even the gods whom I think I would ordinarily have liked (such as Balder and Idun) were tainted by it, as we see them through Loki’s eyes, and the “nice” gods always seem to be the ones that he dislikes the most.

Additionally, there was a distinct lack of anything resembling character development. Everyone in this book is a walking stereotype, with no desire to break out of that mould. The almost episodic nature of the storytelling would usually lend itself towards a character-driven story, but because all the characters are gods, and only have one or two “aspects” each, there’s just no room for them to change or grow at all, except in terms of developing grudges – which just brings me back to the pettiness. :/

WORLD-BUILDING [3/5]

The quick pacing of the majority of this book unfortunately took something of a toll on the world-building: The narrative jumps rapidly between different events, with little time to flesh things out in-between. The different worlds in which the story takes place are described loosely in the early parts of the book, but it would have been impossible to tell when Loki moved between them, if he hadn’t mentioned it himself – and, in fact, most of the locations in the book were distinctly same-y. Asgard itself was an exception to this, however, as it was where Loki spent most of the book, and its hierarchy and geography were quite well-described.

WRITING [4/5]

In terms of pacing, the story started out quite slow, but flowed more easily after the first few chapters, and Harris’ writing style was quite engaging – it’s easy to see that she’s an experienced writer. The book is written in first person, and as a recollection, meaning that the narrator (Loki) is portrayed as omniscient, armed with his future knowledge, which is something that I know a lot of people can find irritating, though I personally wasn’t troubled by it.

Loki’s narrative itself was very witty, and I found myself stumbling across quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, even though in other parts I also found him quite irritating. In particular, he had the annoying habit of constantly referring to himself as “Yours Truly” or “Your Humble Narrator”, instead of just using “I”.

OVERALL IMPRESSION [3/5]

A witty retelling of the Norse myths, from an interesting new perspective, but which was more interesting for its individual story arcs than for its overarching plot – and which unfortunately fell rather flat due to a disagreeable and under-developed cast of characters. Enjoyable, but flawed.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Mythology fans (particularly Norse mythology, for obvious reasons). Those who like less scrupulous main characters will also probably appreciate Loki’s perspective – such as those in Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy, or Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard books.

March Haul

A worrying thing happened a couple of weeks ago: My Dad came into my room to wake me up, sat down on the bed, looked around for a moment, and then said, “Frances, I think you shouldn’t buy any more books.” This was, I suppose, an intervention (of sorts), but my my excuse this time is that I bought most of these books at the Oxford Literary Festival – and so clearly should not count towards book-buying bans! The Cambridge Literary Festival also happened just last weekend, and I went, but I think that now I really should cut back…

In other news, I thought I’d do something a little different for my haul photo this month, since so many of the books I bought in March were both beautiful and rather oddly-shaped! What do you think?

March Haul

1) Jane, the Fox and Me by Isabelle Arsenault & Fanny Britt. A beautifully-drawn graphic novel about a girl who’s being bullied at school. I read this towards the beginning of March, so all my thoughts on it are in my March wrap-up.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. A short comic about Charon, the ferryman in Greek mythology. I’ve also read this already, so, again, there’s more about it in my last wrap-up.

3) The Snow Queen and Other Stories by Isabel Greenberg. Another comic, this one based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. This book, along with The River of Lost Souls, seems to only be available from Isabel Greenberg’s Etsy store.

4) The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. A re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, with elements mixed in from Snow White, and beautiful illustrations by Chris Riddell. I’d been on the edge about buying this for a while, but I finally decided to pick it up while I was in Oxford, ’cause I was really in the mood for fairytales… 🙂

5) Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick. A short story that was published for World Book Day. I really don’t know anything else about it, except that I’ve really liked what I’ve read of Marcus Sedgwick’s writing so far.

6) Nowhere People by Paulo Scott. These next three books on the list were something of an impulse buy, which I picked up mainly because I really want to read more culturally diverse books this year… Paolo Scott is a Brazilian author, and this book was originally written in Brazilian (naturally).

7) By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel. See (6) for reasoning. This book was originally written in Spanish, and is, I believe, set in West Africa.

8) The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naudé. Again, see above. This was translated from Afrikaans, and Naudé is a South African author.

9) Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp by Philip Pullman. Another impulse buy from Oxford, but I’ve always loved Philip Pullman’s writing, and the illustrations in this book were absolutely beautiful!

10) Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain by David Crystal & Hilary Crystal. A book about the history of various different English words (presumably, most of them particular to Britain). I’ve read a couple of David Crystal’s other books, and enjoyed them, and I’m looking forward to reading this, too. 🙂

11) 100 Ghosts by Doogie Horner. A collection of cartoon ghosts, with various different cute and quirky themes.

12) Flambards in Summer and Flambards Divided by K.M. Peyton. The new Oxford University Press editions of the last two Flambards books, which I read years ago. I bought the first two at the beginning of the year, and have been eagerly waiting for these to be released, so that I could finally have a matching set!

13) Sorry, I’m British! An Insider’s Romp Through Britain from A to Z by Ben Crystal. Another book about Britishisms, though this one looks to have a more humourous approach…

14) The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris. A novel inspired by (or possibly a re-telling of) the stories about Loki in Norse mythology. I’ve always been interested in Norse myths, but even more so now than I have been previously, because I’m so excited about Rick Riordan’s new Asgard series. 😀

15) The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. A biography of Lewis Carroll which I bought in Oxford (which was quite fitting, since that’s where he lived). I’ve only read the introduction so far, but since I’m going to go to a talk by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst later this month, I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to read some more of it soon (& maybe get it signed!).