Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

beneaththesugarskyBeneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #3

Date Published: January 9th, 2018

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 174 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

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This is a spoiler-free review, but may contain some spoilers for Every Heart a Doorway.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is yet another novel that is pure magic and further cements this series into my all-time favorites list. McGuire presents readers with an exquisitely crafted tale that dabbles in friendship, darkness, and nonsense and takes us on a captivating and powerful journey. Though the worlds are as fantastical as always, the multi-dimensional characters and relatable themes make this story incredibly easy to become absorbed in. McGuire expertly creates something that readers can easily relate to and builds up the world around them so that one is fully immersed in the enchantment of this fractured fairytale.

While this novel does return to the setting of the first, the story is structured in a much different way. We are taken from Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children and travel through a variety of portal worlds that we have only heard of thus far. It is an adventure unlike any other with a beautiful and diverse cast of characters—both old and new. It is a wholly unique tale that combines fantasy with reality and celebrates our differences and the qualities that make us human. And, above all, it is about love, belonging, and the camaraderie that can form between an unlikely group of young heroes.

In this novel, we follow four kids from the School for Wayward Children—Cora, Nadya, Christopher, and Kade—and their unexpected guest, Rini. Every single character in this novel is absolutely brilliant and the friendship that binds them together, even more so. They fully accept each other for who they are and treat each other with equal amounts of respect. McGuire’s characters are always so lovable and I adore every second I get to spend with them. Time and time again, she is able to create fully fleshed out characters very quickly and fluidly, as these stories are quite short.

All of the novels in this series feature a huge amount of diversity and this one, in particular, demonstrates this extremely well. McGuire takes things such as sexuality, race, disabilities, gender identity, and size and folds them into the story. She does not highlight these qualities in a way where they clearly stand out compared to the rest of the plot. Instead, she treats them as pure, natural facts about her characters—it is just a part of who they are and that is all that matters. She does not make a big deal out of it, instead, showing how important it is to see people for who they are. We are all exactly who we were meant to be and nothing that makes us who we are is abnormal or should be a cause for discrimination. We are all equal. That is how she treats her characters and this is one of the many reasons why I love this series.

Through all the magic and nonsense and impossibilities, the humanity radiates from behind it all. It ties us so closely to the characters—the struggles and environments—despite the fantastical nature of the storyline. Adding in issues that run rampant in our society and take a toll on people—particularly younger people—allows readers to relate to each character and the obstacles they face. This also provides insight into the many problems that plague us and how everyone’s story is different. Every moment, this novel reminds us how important it is to be open-minded and, above all, that even though life carries each and everyone one of us through a unique journey, we all share one similarity that links us. We are still human.

The worlds that McGuire creates are utterly enchanting and easy to become a part of. They are so vividly described and I could always form a clear picture in my mind. For the first time, we are taken into multiple worlds, which was absolutely fascinating. In such a short period of time, she meticulously constructs them and seamlessly fits them into the adventure of the characters. These glimpses have left me dying to see more of each character’s individual world and hear their full backstories.

As always, McGuire’s writing is skillful and beautiful. The emotions that she evokes throughout the novel are palpable and her worlds are painstakingly created to the point of absolute solidity. She has the perfect voice for telling these types of narratives that are styled very much like modern fairytales. This voice of hers breathes life into every page, every element of the narrative itself.

The novel is imaginative—sugary sweet as the cover of the book with an undercurrent of sadness and longing. She fills it with adventure and magic while also weaving in the struggles people face in reality. Insecurities, fears, desire for acceptance—these and many more topics can be seen as the base for this story. This is what makes her stories feel so real—like we as readers could simply step through a door and instantly find ourselves exploring these breathtakingly beautiful worlds. They are each built up around us in such a detailed, multi-dimensional way that it is almost impossible for them and the characters to not take up residence in one’s mind. McGuire truly is an artist. If you have not begun this series yet, I highly urge you to give it a try.

5.0 TARDISes

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Mini Review: Helium by Rudy Francisco

heliumHelium by Rudy Francisco

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: November 28th, 2017

Publisher: Button Poetry

Pages: 98 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Helium is the debut poetry collection by internet phenom Rudy Francisco, whose work has defined poetry for a generation of new readers. Rudy’s poems and quotes have been viewed and shared millions of times as he has traveled the country and the world performing for sell-out crowds. Helium is filled with work that is simultaneously personal and political, blending love poems, self-reflection, and biting cultural critique on class, race and gender into an unforgettable whole. Ultimately, Rudy’s work rises above the chaos to offer a fresh and positive perspective of shared humanity and beauty.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

I absolutely loved this collection of poetry. Short but sweet, Francisco’s words are beautiful and evoke a myriad of emotions. His writing flows beautifully and depicts each poem’s deepest meanings in vivid detail. It is impossible not to become wrapped up by each phrase and carried through each and every page. He uses his great talent for words—for memorably phrasing his thoughts—to raise awareness about elements of conflict and trouble we currently deal with in society. It is wonderful to see writers attacking these issues and trying to reach a wider audience in such a creative way.

This is one of those collections that truly stands out to me because, while it fits very well with the work we see in the poetry genre these days, it has a little something extra to it. It does focus on common topics such as love and heartbreak, but it defines itself as even more unique and different than that. Francisco does not shy away from discussing social issues and these are the poems where we as readers will feel the most. His words are raw and fearless, upfront and honest, meaningful and utterly powerful. They spoke to me greatly, as I am sure they will to many other readers.

Every poem contains a strong and important message that truly packs a punch and is sure to stick with the reader long after completing the collection. Francisco speaks on topical and significant subjects, such as racism, sexism, and mental health—subjects for which constant discussion is crucial. He brings attention to these things through lyrical and absorbing prose that activates the mind and envelopes the soul. I found these poems to be incredibly impactful, thought-provoking, and a fantastic use of this literary platform. I very highly recommend giving this collection a read and I am personally beyond eager to read more of Francisco’s work in the future.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Knee Deep in Little Devils by Various

kneedeepinlittledevilsKnee Deep in Little Devils by Various

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: October 20th, 2018

Publisher: WorD Publishing-pgh

Pages: 84 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: In a restless suburb of Pittsburgh PA, there dwells an odd writing and critique group called Write or Die. Celebrating a mysterious annual rite, the authors disclose secret and sometimes tragic circumstances; evident only to those who have experienced the incidents . . . until now.

The stories in this collection will take you for perilous jaunts on All Hallows Eve, send you sprinting down a beach at midnight, drown your soul in inky waters, soak you in the blood of wizards and dump you down the rabbit hole of insanity.

Whether these are parables that predict or tales to instruct, prepare yourself to be,  

This is the first WorD (Write or Die) Halloween-themed anthology. The short stories contained herein were all written for, and read, during the first three annual Halloween reading events. 

These stories range from wonderfully frightening to frightfully preposterous. Sometimes shocking and unpredictable, this disquieting collection will keep you guessing at the sanity of the authors who write these tales.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I absolutely love short story collections and I have just recently begun to journey into the flash fiction category. Flash fiction is quite new to me, but I can tell how incredibly difficult it must be to write and I have a tremendous amount of respect for authors who can accomplish this well. This particular collection is quite mixed, as were my opinions on the stories. While these writers have a great deal of talent and that remains clear throughout, I personally felt that not all of these stories worked well in this abbreviated format. Topic-wise, each one was unique and creative but definitely quite hit-or-miss.

This collection begins with an extremely inventive forward which is a fantastic hook. It is a humorous and entertaining take on the creation of the Write or Die (WorD) writing group—the writing group that has brought us this work. This story combines fictional events with background information on the origins of WorD. All the other stories are interspersed with creepy haikus written by author Vincent Baverso as well as darkly stylized pen drawings. Both are wonderfully imaginative and fit extremely well with the overall theme of the collection.

For the rest of this review, I will go into some more specific—and still spoiler-free—details about each of the individual stories themselves as well as my thoughts on them.

A Check-Up for Mr. Bangles by Michael A. Amzen (4.5/5)

In this first story, a daughter asks her father to check on her doll because she believes it is dying. The father, of course, plays along and begins the check-up, finding most things normal—until he begins to feel around the stomach. This story was definitely one of my favorites from the collection. Amzen’s characterization was fantastic and he used a great amount of detail that truly carried the tone of the story. He established solid characters with a realistic child-parent relationship as well as a convincing setup to the story. It was very short but was still extremely creepy, and Amzen builds suspense well within such a small period of time.

A Walk in the Park by Frank Oreto (3.5/5)

In this story, we follow a middle-aged man who decides to take a walk down a dark path through a seemingly empty park one night. It is near Halloween and he wants to feel scared in a way he has not since he was a teenager. Initially, he is met with disappointment as his plan does not produce the desired reaction. Then, he passes parents and a child who all seem normal at first—that is, until he notices the overly large heads and sharp teeth.

I found Oreto’s detail and world-building to be absolutely fantastic. The story had a very distinctively eerie tone and atmosphere. It was very short of course and was somewhat predictable. There was not much time to build up too much suspense, but it was still quite enjoyable overall.

A Storybook Halloween by Kevin M. Hayes (3/5)

A man named Dimitri is out volunteering for the Neighborhood Watch on Halloween and finds a young girl named Lucy standing in front of one of the houses on his street. Lucy is dressed as Little Red-Riding-Hood and appears to be lost. She tells him she has been followed by a wolf all night, and soon one appears from the bushes and begins chasing them down.

Like all the other stories so far, the writing and descriptions were great. The atmosphere of being out trick-or-treating was present at the start, but I felt that it was lost by the end. It was as if the entire neighborhood ceased to exist when the wolf entered into the story. Nonetheless, the wolf’s pursuit itself was still intense and harrowing. In my opinion, the ending was a bit too full of twists that took place within a few sentences of each other. It was unexpected but maybe a bit much and too confusing for the story’s length.

From the Deep by Larry Ivkovich (1/5)

It is All Hallows’ Eve and Alanalla Steadman tells us that she has experienced a dream state that has allowed her to realize what she truly is and where she comes from. She grew up in a normal human family, adopted when she was young, but her life has been built completely on lies. Now, she sees images of treasures, ship-wrecks, an undersea civilization, and the race that she belongs to. This night, Alanalla is going to embrace her destiny and rejoin her people.

This was definitely my least favorite story within the collection. The writing is detailed but incredibly flowery and a bit over-the-top. I could see this potentially fitting the character’s voice and personality to some extent, but it is taken a little too far and sounds too pompous. Personally, I was just not a fan of the plot itself. The length was definitely not sufficient enough to tell it and it felt far too rushed. It also was not overly creepy or spooky and it did not feel like a horror or Halloween story in any way.

Dead Dog Gone by Katie Pugh (5/5)

Nancy is really good at three things: making pancakes, necromancy, and getting rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She loves Halloween and always prepares early in the month. On Halloween, she leaves one of her cleaned-out cauldrons outside her door filled candy for the kids and then sits inside to wait for Death. Death is one of few people who she ever lets into her house, mainly due to her collection of curious wares and potions.

Nancy dresses up as if for a date night since it is their tradition to get together on Halloween. However, this year things change when a small puppy with two horns appears in her cauldron among the candy, frightening all the trick-or-treating kids away. She takes an immediate liking to it and decides to keep the puppy despite the dangers brewing as Death tells her that hellhounds have escaped into the world.

I would have to say that this was one of my absolute favorite stories from the collection. The start is very strong and extremely attention-grabbing—it definitely pulled me right in. I loved the character of Nancy and the way Death was depicted. The characterization was phenomenal. The writing was quirky and charming, and Pugh created the perfect atmosphere and tone for the story that she told. This one was more light-hearted and silly and I loved it.

The Author by Karen Yun-Lurz (4/5)

This story was written in verse, which was a unique and interesting change to mix in with the regular short stories. It was a rewriting of “The Raven” and focused on this author’s experience trying to come up with a new piece of work for the Write or Die (WorD) group. It tells of the struggles to begin a piece of writing and the process as ideas form in one’s mind. Then, she moves on to the editing, rewording, and perfectionism that inevitably follows.

This was such a creative take on the original poem and matched up with it very well. This poem was humorous and over-dramatized, which I loved. Yun-Lurz did a great job of blending in the theme of being a writer at work while staying faithful to the classic. The way she personified aspects of the writing process—like writer’s block into an imp that came to pester her—was very clever.

Coney Hijinx by Joe Coluccio (3.5/5)

A man named Rufus sees someone dressed as a rabbit walk into his local tavern and, as this is, of course, a very curious sight, he decides to follow and talk with him. The rabbit-man insists that he is not in a costume and Rufus notes that he speaks with a cartoonish voice. When Rufus asks what he is, the rabbit-man’s name sounds like a bunch of odd letters and clicking sounds, but he then says he just goes by Claude. Rufus follows Claude and gets in a car with him for a very strange journey down a rabbit hole and into another civilization entirely.

This was yet another extremely quirky story which I definitely liked. I will say, it felt very random and left me with quite a lot of questions. I would have liked a little more detail and set up but, as this is flash fiction, I understand why it was not in the story. The writing was light and clear and the characterization was solid. The author did a decent job creating this story in the constrictions of the short length. Overall, it was really weird and I enjoyed it.

Halloween Haiku by Douglas Gwilym (5/5)

The format changes here from short stories/flash fiction to haikus, which I absolutely loved. Having this poetry interspersed with the full stories worked extremely well in this collection. The work found here is a series of creepy and dark haikus that are perfect for Halloween. Gwilym conveys an eerie atmosphere and conjures up detailed images in such a small number of words. This section was a nice change of pace and served to enhance the atmosphere of the book as a whole.

In His Own Blood by Jon Carroll Thomas (3/5)

In this story, our narrator is summoned through a book and into an ancient artifact. He is arriving to meet his new master—a necromancer—but things do not go as planned. This is about all I can give in terms of a synopsis for this one. It is by far the shortest of the stories as it is only a few paragraphs in length. However, the author does a great job of establishing the tone and voice of the narrator very quickly. The writing is very strong and uses a lot of detail. It is hard to judge something this short, but it definitely left me wishing there was more. And the last few sentences were gruesome and really packed a punch.

To Bridge the Night by Brandon Ketchum (3.5/5)

While stumbling drunkenly along Betsy Ross Bridge, Tyler comes across a woman dressed in a Victorian outfit. He starts to talk with her and finds that her manner of speaking is very old-fashioned and out-of-place. The lady asks where he goes to university and their talk turns quickly to the bridge they are standing on, as well as the new parking lot of the school, both of which have recently been completed. They were both built on land that previously consisted of cemeteries and, mid-conversation, Tyler finds the woman suddenly becoming quite angry.

I personally thought that the characterization was very good, particularly with Tyler. Ketchum definitely captured his drunken attempts at flirting and generally how a guy Tyler’s age might act decently well. I also quite liked his writing and storytelling style. The story was a bit predictable but still engrossing and I think that Ketchum did a good job making a complete story within the small amount of space he had. It still felt rushed, but it was a solid story overall.

A Sandbox Singular by Thomas Sweterlisch (2/5)

This story begins with a guy named Reggie who has just woken up and is stretching in preparation for a run along with a number of other runners. Immediately we get the sense that this is not the world we know, as Reggie refers to other people as “organics” and speaks about how everyone is not only running naked but that they all have visible burns on their skin from acid rain. It is established that runners who accumulate the most laps win the day and that this is some sort of task he and the others have been assigned to do. The curiousness of the situation hits its peak when the point-of-view of “the Mother” is worked in—a mysterious, omniscient being that wipes away all motivations and pleasures from those she watches over.

The descriptions of the characters and most of the environment were very detailed, but I was not a huge fan of this story. There were way too many questions left in the end and not in a good way. Rather than leave me imagining the possibilities, it felt incomplete. I understood parts but, since it was so short, there were a lot of things that never made sense and never got explained. It was mysterious, but some aspects of it did not seem to fit with others. I could comprehend what was literally happening within each moment. However, it really did not make much sense overall and I lost interest. I love weird stories, but this was a bit much for the short length.

Etymology of WorD by Diane Turnshek (3/5)

In this final story, one of the founders of the Write or Die group describes how all the participants came together and helped each other for many years with writing critiques. She speaks about how it began with her hosting a gathering for anyone interested in joining a critique group and that many more people showed up than she had expected. They remained a group that was open to the public and had very few but strict rules to focus themselves.

They welcomed all writers and supported each other through everything, whether it was the publishing process or work just written for fun. By 2011, many members had left due to moving from the area or because of various other commitments and it was disbanded in June of that year. It sounds like it was an absolutely wonderful group that did so much to bring like-minded individuals together and provide the strength and support that they all truly needed.

Overall, I had some varied feelings about this collection, but it made for a fun, quick read that I did enjoy for the most part, especially as a pre-Halloween read. Short stories are always nice to have around to mix in amongst a long list of full-length novels. As I said before, I believe these particular stories would be classified as flash fiction, so the collection as a whole is extremely short. While I do not think that all of the ideas present here worked as well as they could have if they had been fleshed out into longer stories, the great amount of talent and creativity housed within these pages is very recognizable.

3.0 TARDISes

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Review: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

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thebrilliantdeathThe Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: October 30th, 2018

Publisher: Viking

Pages: 352 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This novel was, by far, one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it absolutely did not disappoint. I was instantly drawn into this story from the very first page and it held me captivated all the way through. The richly designed, Italian-inspired world of Vinalia is incredibly immersive, combining magic and politics in a way that deeply intrigues. A long-believed fantasy come to life, the magic-wielding strega—that come to us in the forms of our protagonists—drive the narrative to fascinating lengths. A tale of family and friendship, bravery and strength, gripping conspiracies, capped off with a refreshingly unique, gender-fluid romance, The Brilliant Death is an absolute delight to read.

In this novel, we follow Teodora DiSangro, a strega and the daughter of a mafia don. The strega are nothing but a myth to the people of Vinalia—there is no way they could be real—but Teo’s powers prove otherwise. She has kept her powers a secret from her family for many years, partaking only in turning their enemies into music boxes or other such trinkets. But circumstances change suddenly when her father, one of the heads of Vinalia’s Five Families, is sent a poisoned letter that leaves him critically ill.

Teo is thrust into a world of politics where secrets abound and enemies lie in wait, and must fully harness her gift by transforming herself into a DiSangro son. With the help of Cielo—a strega who can shift between genders, and with whom she is falling in love with more each day—Teo embarks on a journey to the capital in order to save her family and face the man responsible for their suffering.

The magic system featured in this story is truly unique and beautifully woven into the fabric of the plot. I appreciated how it begins in a somewhat humorous way that, while it is weighted with much importance, takes off to a lighter start. However, as the narrative progresses and becomes increasingly more complex, Teo’s abilities reflect this change, showing more depth and dimension—from the creation of decorative objects to the shifting of one’s entire being. Her power is inextricably linked to and bolstered by her love for her family and the pure strength that she shows in order to protect them proves that they are, in a way, the true source.

The characters are some of the best parts of this novel and they are a major force that drives the narrative forward. Teodora is a superbly crafted, multi-dimensional character who makes the perfect protagonist and heroine for this particular story. She is easy to connect with and root for and works brilliantly as the narrator. Seeing the events of the plot through her eyes and thoughts serves to further enhance the already intriguing tale. We see her move from transforming people and objects on the outside to learning to transform herself on the inside—both literally and figuratively—as she grows and develops as a character. And as if I could not love the characterization found here any more than I already did, in comes Cielo.

Cielo is charismatic, mischievous, and one of those characters who is just impossible not to love. I do not often go for the romances in most stories—I do not find myself shipping many characters or falling in love with them myself. They have to be extremely special and well-crafted to really reach me, and this one did reach me by a long shot. As Cielo takes on the role of Teo’s magic tutor, as they come together and grow in and with each other, Capetta depicts their interactions in such a pleasing way. The chemistry between Teo and Cielo is palpable and their story is an absolute joy to watch unfold.

Capetta’s writing is excellent and very captivating. From her loveable characters to her detailed and strong world-building, it is easy to become completely immersed in every aspect of the novel. She creates a compelling backdrop for the myriad of events that form this spectacular saga and seamlessly entwines her characters with each other and their surroundings. At times I felt the events were a bit too fast-paced and I occasionally became a little lost among everything. Some scenes and character decisions were a bit rushed and confusing. Nevertheless, these moments did not detract much from the overall storyline. Capetta’s words are fluid and I still felt carried effortlessly through the pages.

I feel I must admit that I do believe this book is not one that will appeal to every reader. Much of it is quite quirky and unusual, a very singular and extraordinary style, and the action moves very rapidly. However, I highly recommend giving it a read. The messages that this novel conveys are progressive and important beyond words. It strives to remind us to always be true to ourselves and to never give in to the expectations and pressures of others or the world around us. It speaks of the significance of getting to know ourselves and discovering our identities. The power at the core of these words increases in intensity and takes hold of you through—and well-beyond—the final pages.

Personally, I found The Brilliant Death to be a beautiful and enchanting story of love and the lengths that one is willing to go to save and protect their family. It was all that I hoped it would be and more. Capetta has created an utterly distinctive tale—a powerful and enjoyable adventure with characters that will undoubtedly win many readers’ hearts. It is one of those novels that is quite refreshing to come across in today’s young adult fantasy market, and I applaud her for breaking the mold and making her own voice stand out. She proves herself to be a very talented writing through and through, and I really look forward to reading more of her work. This is a story that will stick with me for quite a while.

4.0 TARDISes

Author Bio:

Amy Rose Capetta c. Cori McCarthyAmy Rose Capetta [she/her] is an author of YA fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery. Her first novel, Entangled, was a BEA Buzz Book. Her latest, Echo After Echo, is a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway. It received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Upcoming: The Brilliant Death (Viking 2018), The Lost Coast (Candlewick 2019), Once & Future (co-written with Cori McCarthy, from Little, Brown’s Jimmy Imprint in 2019). She holds a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. Amy Rose is the co-founder of the Rainbow Writers Workshop, the first-ever LGBTQIAP workshop for YA and middle grade. She lives in Vermont with her partner and their young son.

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Mini Review: The Longest Night by Ranata Suzuki

thelongestnightThe Longest Night by Ranata Suzuki

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 24th, 2018

Publisher: Ranata Suzuki

Pages: 184 pages

Source: Author

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Heartbreak and grief touch every soul at least once in a lifetime and Ranata Suzuki translates those raw emotions into words. The Longest Night combines strikingly poignant quotations, powerfully emotive poetry and captivating silhouette imagery to form a mournful lover’s journal that explores a side of love that is deep, dark and hauntingly beautiful.

Each of the book’s elements are skilfully woven together to reveal fragments of thoughts and feelings that seem almost to belong to the reader as years of painful longing are condensed into the context of a single night. 

The journal begins with ‘Sunset’, in which poems convey the initial feelings of shock and loss first felt when a relationship with a loved one ends. As the poetry descends into an emotional downward spiral, the book progresses into its next chapter, ‘Darkness’, in which emptiness, jealousy, sorrow and despair are passionately portrayed.

The concluding chapter, ‘First Light’, sees the gradual dawning of a new outlook. The final poems express a gratitude for what once was, an acceptance of what now is, and come to the uplifting conclusion that even though a relationship can be fated to end tragically, the memories gained and lessons learned from it are, in their own way, treasured gifts that will last a lifetime.

A book for anyone who has found themselves separated from someone they love no matter the circumstance, The Longest Night is a companion for the broken heart on the painful emotional journey that is losing someone you love from your life. Its words serve as a comforting reminder, whether you are travelling this road or have recently completed this journey yourself, that despite the loneliness you may sometimes feel along the way none of us walk this path alone.

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*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

I read so many poetry collections these days and have found that my tastes have become a lot pickier. It takes quite a lot for poems, as well as an author’s view and writing style, to truly stand out to me. The Longest Night definitely emerges from the mix, with Suzuki’s writing being very strong and attention-grabbing, showing that she is very skilled in her craft. Her work touches on relatable topics and emotions in her own unique and eloquent way. This was a beautiful and very poignant collection that really resonated with me and exceeded my already high expectations.

The poems in this collection focus on the heartbreak that comes when we are forced to be separated from those we love. They are not only meant to reach readers who have specifically suffered the crumbling of a romantic relationship, as I find so many poetry collections concentrate very heavily on. Suzuki’s writing covers the emotional journey that comes with any type of loss, producing a message that will bridge any gap that one might find within during these painful circumstances. Through her words, we are taken on a universally understandable trip through the complexities of both human grief and healing.

Suzuki tells a story in small snapshots. Starting with “Sunset” and resolving at “First Light”, we are carried through the night we are suddenly and often unexpectedly plunged into—a seemingly endless one that stretches out for miles before us. It is here that we can feel the most intense loneliness we have ever felt, but Suzuki strives to remind us how this is not actually the case. It is true that no one person will ever understand every part of another’s personal grief but, as humans, we all love, lose, and grieve. It is the general scope of emotion that unites all of us. These poems serve as a light to move toward, as a hand to hold along the way, and as a glance back at how far we have come and how strong we are.

In regard to my own personal experience reading this collection, I happened to be drawn to pick this up at a time when I desperately needed these words and this message. I read this entire collection mere days after the greatest period of loss that I have ever suffered in my life thus far. There is no way to fully express what these poems did for me or how they touched my life—it was a very powerful and private journey. However, I learned firsthand the comfort that emanates from each one. I was able to have a wholly intimate relationship with it, which is quite rare to go through to this degree when reading poetry at any given time. Whether you are in the midst of this long night or you have emerged into the day, I very highly recommend reading this collection.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: Doctor Who: Royal Blood by Una McCormack

royalbloodDoctor Who: Royal Blood by Una McCormack

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Doctor Who: The Glamour Chronicles

Date Published: September 8th, 2015

Publisher: Broadway Books

Pages: 240 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: An original adventure tying in to the ninth season of Doctor Who, the spectacular hit series from BBC Television, featuring the new 12th Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi.

“The Grail is a story, a myth! It didn’t exist on your world! It can’t exist here!”

The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.

But all is not what it seems in Varuz. The city-guard have lasers for swords, and the halls are lit by electric candlelight. Aurelian’s beloved wife, Guena, and his most trusted knight, Bernhardt, seem to be plotting to overthrow their Duke, and Clara finds herself drawn into their intrigue…

Will the Doctor stop Aurelian from going to war? Will Clara’s involvement in the plot against the Duke be discovered? Why is Conrad’s ambassador so nervous? And who are the ancient and weary knights who arrive in Varuz claiming to be on a quest for the Holy Grail…?

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This is a spoiler-free review.

As I’m sure you know or can tell, I am a massive fan of Doctor Who, and I find the book series to be so fun, especially when waiting for new episodes. As soon as this particular novel was released, I was immediately intrigued by it. I love stories dealing with politics and conspiracy within a kingdom—particularly anything set in a medieval or medieval-esque time period. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling very disappointed by this novel. While it is a quick and light read, there are many, sometimes glaring, issues that are impossible to ignore.

In this novel, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in the land of Varuz where tensions are high, war is on the horizon, and secrets are profuse. Aurelian, the duke of Varuz is struggling to keep his city from falling apart completely. His enemy, Duke Conrad, is eager to capture the city for himself, and Aurelian is contemplating making Varuz’s last stand against the waiting army. After The Doctor’s path collides with Duke Aurelian’s men, he is mistaken for a holy man, and he and Clara are taken to the court of the duke. Aurelian is eager to receive The Doctor’s opinion on the decision, and the pair plan to leave as soon as he has given one. But The Doctor and Clara are soon enraptured by the fate of Varuz and the potential treason going on behind-the-scenes.

Even though I finished this novel a few months ago and have spent time thinking through it, I’m still finding the majority of the plot somewhat baffling. I’ll start off by saying that one of the biggest problems pertaining to the actual text itself is the massive amount of typos and grammatical errors. Frankly, I am stunned that they were so prevalent—you can find at least one spelling or sentence structure issue on every single page. It is as if no one bothered to proofread before publishing the book. This ended up being quite distracting, and made the lack of polish of story as a whole even more prominent.

After reading the synopsis of this book, I was very intrigued—it sounded like a story or episode of the show that I would have adored, and I wanted so badly to enjoy it. I love reading the novels about the Twelfth Doctor, especially ones containing Clara as I think she is a strong and intelligent protagonist. The interplay between the two is always enjoyable—they have so much chemistry and make a fantastic pair, balancing each other well. This is what I was hoping to find in this tale of their adventures, but I came out feeling very lukewarm about absolutely everything.

The plot just did not live up to it’s potential, and this could have been such a wonderful one in so many ways. It promised mystery and drama and suspense, but proved to be lacking all three. Too many facts are revealed too rapidly, and then it is essentially a slough to the end. Personally, I think it was a mistake to write this storyline in first-person in general, but even more so because of the character McCormack chose to be the main narrator. This choice ruins all of the enigmatic nature of the plot, the primary element on which it is heavily riding. We also spend a far too short amount of time focusing on The Doctor himself, a pitfall that the novels in this series sometimes run in to.

McCormack’s writing is sufficient, but definitely mediocre and much weaker than I was expecting. There are a number of aspects of the various settings in the novel that are depicted with a reasonable amount of detail, however, the world-building is quite wholly inconsistent. For me, there were times where I found it challenging to imagine what the city of Varuz, and the outside environment in general, looked like. This adds another challenge when trying to become immersed in the world.

I also found the character depiction in this story to be very hit or miss, particularly with the Doctor and Clara. Early on, McCormack does a decent job of replicating the personalities of the characters we already know and love. However, she soon slipped up, and they began to come across the wrong way. Their personalities are in constant instability—one moment things are matching up and then they suddenly talk or act in ways that are completely uncharacteristic of the characters from the show. The side characters in the narrative are, for the most part, very bland and one-dimensional. They are not built up well enough for the reader to feel any sort of connection to them.

While I generally judge these types of books on a bit of a different scale due to the simple and fun nature of them, this particular installment had a greater quantity of weaknesses than I typically find. With this all being said, it is still an interesting enough novel, and makes for a light, quick read. Despite its flaws, the imperfections do not make it so difficult that it is impossible to understand. And while this should not be entirely the job of the reader, one’s imagination and inner editor can easily fill in the gaps and make corrections when needed. As always though, the books from the Doctor Who literature series are always nice to have around when the show is in between seasons.

2.5 TARDISes

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Review: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

themermaidThe Mermaid by Christina Henry

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: June 19th, 2018

Publisher: Berkley

Pages: 336 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P.T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

The Mermaid is yet another beautiful novel from one of my favorite authors. After first hearing about it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I, like many other readers, immediately thought we would be getting a retelling of The Little Mermaid in typical Christina Henry fashion. It surprised me to see that this novel would be a historical fiction tale with fantasy mixed in—but, whatever the story, I was here for it. Going in, I knew I would enjoy it, but it surpassed all of my expectations. It is a different style of story than Henry’s most recent works, but it retains all of the raw emotion, vivid backdrops and memorable characters, and that undercurrent of magic that becomes almost tangible.

In this novel, we watch the life of a mermaid named Amelia unfold—as she finds her freedom and her place in the human world. This journey begins when a fisherman accidently catches her in his net. He could not bear to keep her, so he set her free. But Amelia does not forget glimpsing the deep loneliness in his eyes.  She realizes she could not stand letting him remain alone, so she found her escape from life in the ocean and transformed into a woman. And so the pair led a beautiful and happy married life together, until the fisherman was lost at sea.

Meanwhile, P.T. Barnum is looking for his next big exhibit to astound the public with, and he is determined to have it feature a mermaid. When he hears tales of a supposed mermaid living on a cliff by the sea, he is eager to find her. In his eyes, she is the exhibit that will ensure his riches and success. Though he agrees to Amelia’s terms—that she should be free to leave whenever she wishes—he doesn’t intend to keep his promise. There is no way he is going to let his most valuable treasure walk away.

I absolutely adored that this tale was based on historical events—events which I knew very little about prior to reading this. Being able to research P.T. Barnum and his American Museum on the side made my experience with the novel even more enthralling. The way that Henry so fluidly weaves magic into the lives that were real, the places that existed, is beyond brilliant and incredibly enchanting. I have never read a novel quite like this one, and Henry has the perfect style and voice to truly bring something like this to life.

I could talk for ages about Henry’s writing style in itself. Her words flow seamlessly, taking the reader over the pages with ease and leaving them not wanting to let go. The way she builds the settings so vividly and creates the tone and atmosphere with such strength pulls you right in—the sounds, the smells, the intensity of the emotion travel along with you. Her words transfer you into an entirely new place, one that is unique, yet comfortably familiar. I always feel so invested in her characters’ lives, and like I am such a part of their world. And this is how a bit of extra magic is created for us as readers.

There are important messages threaded throughout the events of the narrative as well. Amelia is a strong woman, and she is determined to be independent, no matter what anyone else says. From the very first time we meet her, she is searching for her freedom, and once she has it, she keeps it and holds her own. She doesn’t care what people think or about conforming to the pressures that society puts on women—it is unfamiliar to her, and she will not let her mind be changed by it. Due to being brought up and learning to be a woman under much different circumstances, Amelia has a remarkable insight into the importance of unapologetically being yourself and living the life that is healthiest for you.

As I said before, this novel was everything I wanted and so much more. The multi-dimensional narrative is a joy to get lost in. It is bitter and sweet, heartwarming and heartbreaking, aching with loneliness, longing, and love. This is a beautifully crafted work that will have you spellbound. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for everyone, but especially for those who love to get swept up in a fantastical yet thought-provoking tale.

5.0 TARDISes

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