The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales – Hans Christian Andersen & MinaLima

35397031._SY475_This is a collection of thirteen classic fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen almost two hundred years after their original publication, accompanied by specially commissioned illustrations and interactive elements by MinaLima.

As The Little Mermaid isn’t actually a very long story, this book is padded out with some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other classic fairy tales which all have their own stunning, unique illustrations to go with them. Quite a few stories are crammed in, so there’s a good amount of variety. My favourites (besides The Little Mermaid) were The Princess and the Pea and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

As mentioned, these are the classic versions of the fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen, not the Disney versions, so they aren’t all magic and sparkles and they don’t all have a happy ending. The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl both end in death, while The Red Shoes and The Tinder Box are surprisingly violent, so I would bear that in mind before giving this book to a small child. There’s also an unpleasant emphasis on pretty things being good and ugly things being bad, as well as some general sexism which shows the age of these stories. Unfortunately, there’s an obvious reason why these stories have undergone multiple adaptations over time.

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Starve Acre – Andrew Michael Hurley

51121450._SX318_SY475_After their son, Ewan, died suddenly at the age of five, Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s home is a sad, haunted place. Juliette is convinced that her son is still present in some form, while Richard distracts himself by digging for a legendary oak tree which used to stand in the field opposite the house.

Starve Acre is a very atmospheric, menacing book. Hurley sets the scene very well and the general vagueness and consistent sense of intrigue throughout the story was very effective… for the first quarter. Every time a mysterious reference was dropped, it was explored and explained a few pages later, just before the next one was mentioned. This systematic style of storytelling really detracted from the mystery after a while, because it became very plain that any questions were going to be answered as soon as you had them.

That being said, the overarching mystery of the field and what happened to Ewan took forever to be answered, with all the minor developments taking priority and slowing the plot right down. I got bored before the halfway point, and this isn’t even a long book.

Also, although I was pretty happy that the book wasn’t very long, the ending was way too abrupt for me. I’m sure the intention was for the ending to be the kind that keeps you thinking, because everything couldn’t be fully explained, but to me it just felt like the book wasn’t finished.

Starve Acre has a lot of potential, but fell a bit flat for me.

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

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Are You Watching? – Vincent Ralph

49756844._SY475_*Teeny tiny spoiler alert*

Ten years ago, Jess’s mother was murdered by the Magpie Man. She was his first victim, with many more to follow and he still hasn’t been caught. Determined to get justice for her mother and catch the killer, Jess enters a YouTube reality series in an attempt to draw him out. Is he watching?

I didn’t find the premise of this book very believable. Social media and vlogging is a huge part of everyday life nowadays, so it makes sense to incorporate this into the story, but I honestly don’t know anyone who watches YouTube TV like the kind featured in this book. So, I chose to just accept and embrace this element of the story, but still came up with significant flaws to the plot. Firstly, it’s incredibly convenient that the Magpie Man was indeed watching Jess’s show, despite the fact that it wasn’t in the news or anything to begin with. And maybe it’s not all that surprising that he was, but Jess’s confidence that he would was kind of weird. Secondly (sorry, small spoiler here), the killer could have been literally anyone. He murdered women in different locations and was never caught by the police. What are the chances that he turns out to be someone Jess knows? I mean, COME ON.

Anyway, if you can get past these frankly lazy plot features, Are You Watching? is a decent murder mystery for the modern era. It’s fast-paced and thrilling, while also managing to deal quite effectively with grief and internet fame.

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

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The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

39837245In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus’ wife Penelope is portrayed as unwaveringly faithful and loyal, pining for her husband throughout his 20-year absence and using her wiles to trick the suitors competing to take his place. On Odysseus’ return, after killing monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he slays all the treacherous suitors, and Penelope’s twelve favourite maids who had been forced to serve the suitors in his absence. Curiously, no explanation was ever provided for the brutal murder of the maids, beyond their being bedded by the suitors without their master’s permission – which they would have had no choice about. In this contemporary addition to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood imagines events from Penelope’s point of view, as well as that of the twelve hanged maids.

Atwood has managed to pull off an outstanding retelling, keeping all the familiar details of The Odyssey but twisting them into a new, modern perspective. I really liked the way Penelope tells the story from the underworld is present day. She refers to the way the world has moved on since the time of Odysseus and his contemporaries, and is able to bring a really fresh, modern voice to the story despite being one of the original characters.

The other characters we meet in Penelope’s underworld (Helen, Amphinomus, the maids) bring a level of real comic value to what is otherwise actually quite a dark tale. These details, along with the Greek, tragicomedy-style songs and ‘performances’ by the chorus line of maids, really push The Penelopiad over the line of ‘very good’ to ‘genius’.

I would 100% recommend this book to anyone with even a remote interest in mythology, but I would say that it would help to be at least vaguely familiar with The Odyssey.

I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher.

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The Ninth Sorceress – Bonnie Wynne

48481720._SY475_Gwyn knows nothing about her family or where she came from. So, she cannot fathom why she’s now being hunted by the goddess Beheret and tracked by wizards. Even more shocking is the discovery that she herself is a wizard. Now, in order to protect herself, she must learn how to use the magic that terrifies her and embrace a destiny she could never have imagined.

The writing style is very suited to the fantasy genre, with detailed descriptions and solid world-building.

I enjoyed the characters. Gwyn is a very strong heroine; not an automatic figurehead of a revolution or anything like that, but a scared teenager forced into a situation where she’s out of her depth but chooses to fight anyway. This is a much more believable scenario than what we’re usually given in YA fantasy novels with a female lead. The other characters were also very good. My favourites were Faolan and Lucian, who are very different but contribute a lot to Gwyn’s adventure.

I was totally immersed in this story. The plot is imaginative and intriguing, and I was particularly interested in the interlude chapters set in the ‘present’. I can’t wait for the next book.

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

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The Beauty and the Beast – Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve & MinaLima

30166719._SY475_The MinaLima version of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s The Beauty and the Beast is a stunningly illustrated edition featuring interactive elements and beautiful designs to complement the classic fairy tale.

This is the original fairy tale, in which a beautiful woman goes to live in the palace of a beast in order to save her father – very familiar, right? Where it differs most from the Disney-fied version is how the story continues after the beast has turned back into a prince, and the rather lengthy explanations for how and why he was cursed in the first place.

The Beauty and the Beast is the kind of story often referred to as a ‘timeless classic’ but, actually, it hasn’t aged well. The love-story is one of the least romantic things I’ve ever read, while the entire book is filled with duty-bound actions and appalling sexism. Without the many retellings and modern versions of this story, it would not have survived the test of time.

It’s a lovely, traditional story – despite the overt sexism – but what really makes this book special are the illustrations. They bought the book to life.

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