Magic For Liars – Sarah Gailey

34594037._SY475_When Ivy Gamble is hired to investigate a suspicious death at the magic school her sister teaches at, she gets drawn in by much more than the case. The longer she spends at the academy, the more she begins to lose herself in a life she’d convinced herself she never wanted. All the while, a killer is on campus and it’s up to her to find out who it is.

Magic for Liars is a good book, but a teeny bit too “YA” for me. The detective aspect of the novel felt really unrealistic (yes, I realise this is a fantasy novel and therefore not super realistic generally, but the crime/detective element could definitely have been based more on reality). It seemed very unlikely that a real detective would have gone about the investigation the way that Ivy did, and it felt like a very “teen” mystery, despite the main character being a grown woman and the murder itself being pretty grisly.

That being said, I did find Ivy kind of juvenile (so maybe it made sense for her to carry out her investigation in the way that she did) and irritating. She was there to investigate a serious crime, but spent most of her time over-analysing her relationship with her sister, starting up a romance with a teacher at the academy (also, a potential suspect) and carrying around a massive chip on her shoulder re not having magical abilities. She was unprofessional and kind of tedious.

Other than that, I actually really enjoyed the story and the way it was written. The writing style was very easy to follow and the plot wasn’t particularly complex, but was quite gripping nonetheless.

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

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The Unspoken Name – A.K. Larkwood

48336125._SY475_On Csorwe’s fourteenth birthday, she is due to be sacrificed to her god – a destiny chosen for her at birth. But when Belthandros Sethennai shows up and offers her an alternative, she escapes death by running away and becoming his personal assassin. So begins an adventure in two parts: firstly infiltrating Belthandros’ home city and helping him to reclaim power, then going in search of the Reliquary of Pentravesse. Csorwe has to go through a lot to complete her mission, facing her past and making unexpected decisions about her future.

The plot of The Unspoken Name is quite ambitious, mixing high fantasy with a kind of science-fiction and a heck of a lot of action. There are gods, gore, magic and a decent amount of banter, but also some more meaningful elements regarding the choices we make and living with the consequences of our actions.

There was some excellent world-building, with the scene being set without too much time spent of descriptions, as well as some great character development. The story spans over 8-9 years, giving a lot of time for characters to grow and change in quite realistic ways. Csorwe was a good heroine, but I especially loved Oranna, Shuthmili and Tal when we got to know them better. Tal and Oranna in particular bought the majority of the humour to the book, and stopped what was quite a dark story from becoming unbearable.

One of the other great things about this book was the queer romance. Csorwe is 100% queer and faces absolutely no discrimination for this. The romance is relevant to the plot, but the fact that it’s a queer relationship isn’t mentioned or pointed out at all because, well, why should it be?

The Unspoken Name is a very exciting and well-written novel, remarkable for a debut. I would definitely recommend to fantasy fans.

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

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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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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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The True Queen – Zen Cho

43502690._SY475_Sisters Sakti and Muna wake up on the shore of Janda Baik under a curse and with missing memories. Determined to discover who cursed them and how to break it, the girls had to England to the Sorceress Royal’s academy for female magicians. But, on the way, Sakti vanishes, leaving Muna alone and terrified of what may have become of her sister. Finally arriving in England and enlisting the help of the magiciennes of the academy, Muna embarks on a mission to enter the Unseen Realm and rescue her sister from the Fairy Court and the powerful Fairy Queen.

First things first, I haven’t read the first book in this series, Sorcerer to the Crown, and you absolutely don’t need to. I understand that some of the characters appear in the first book, so it might be helpful for background information, but the main characters are different and The True Queen reads perfectly well as a standalone novel.

The narrative voice is quite ‘posh’ and old fashioned, which made it feel quite stilted and not particularly smooth to read. I didn’t really like this at first, but it really grew on me because it fit with the time of the story and the fact that the main characters were not native to England.

The story is fun, with some very sweet relationships and charming characters. Henrietta was an absolute delight, while the rest of the cast were also very likeable. The only real flaw was that the none of the characters seemed to feel any particular urgency to get on with important things, like rescue Sakti and prevent a war between England and Fairy – which really seemed like it should have been a priority. Instead they were quite content to be having balls and generally faffing about, before getting on with anything actually productive.

The True Queen took a few chapters to get into, but I enjoyed it overall.

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

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Snow, Glass, Apples – Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran

45303582._SY475_.jpgSnow, Glass, Apples is a magical fantasy retelling of Snow White, in which a not-so-evil queen attempts to rid the world of her monstrous step-daughter.

This a dark and twisted retelling, very different from the classic fairy tale. In this version, Snow White is a blood-sucking creature who causes the death of her own father and terrifies the young queen into taking drastic measures to be rid of her. It contains many elements of the original fairy tale, following the same general plot, but with a totally different, much more chilling vibe.

Despite being a fairy tale, this book is definitely not appropriate for younger readers. There is explicit content, both sexual and violent, that make it very adult.

Colleen Doran’s illustrations are stunning. They’re detailed and beautiful and complement the story brilliantly. Even if you’re not usually a fan of graphic novels, there is no denying the beauty of this one.

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Spit and Song – Travis M. Riddle

48516172._SY475_Kali is a merchant who longs to travel the world, trading good and seeing the sights. Puk is a musician with a drug addiction who has hit rock-bottom and finds himself stranded in an unfamiliar city with no way back home. A chance meeting and an illicit job opportunity bring the unlikely pair together on an epic journey that could change both their lives.

As usual, I am blown away by Travis’ originality. The creatures in this book are like nothing I’ve seen before. Set in the same world as Balam, Spring, there are one or two familiar species, but also many more completely new and unique ones. The world-building, scenes and characters and all brilliantly developed, so the entire thing is very easy to picture while reading.

The plot is a little bit slow-paced, but this isn’t a bad thing. The story focuses much more on the journey Kali and Puk embark on, rather than their destination. They spend a fair amount of time making plans and preparations, discussing their ambitions in life and singing songs. However, there are still some pretty action-packed parts along the way.

The characters are brilliant. I loved Puk – he was rude and sarcastic but extremely likeable, while Kali had a good amount of attitude as well. My favourite character by far, though, was Voya the ujath.

The only thing I didn’t really need was all the very detailed descriptions of the different food items the characters consumed throughout the book. These were just a little distracting and unnecessary to me but, that being said, it was wonderful to see just how much thought the author had put into every element of the story.

Lastly, how stunning is that cover? And look out for me in the acknowledgements!

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

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Ghost Stories: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense – Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger

40554543Ghost Stories: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense is an anthology of lesser-known stories from literary masters, including the likes of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and many more. Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger have collected these stories and set them in historical context, with an explanation of the significance of ghosts in literary fiction over the past two hundred years,

It should be noted that the stories in this collection are truly classic ghost stories: They are short, atmospheric tales of ghostly and spiritual encounters – definitely NOT modern horror. They aren’t gory or shocking, and in my opinion aren’t exactly scary, but they are creepy and rather spine-tingling.

To be honest, I didn’t enjoy every story. The writing quality of a couple of them was surprisingly questionable considering who the authors are, and one or two (particularly The Family Portraits by Johann August Apel) really dragged on despite being so short. Also, some of them are pretty old, which obviously isn’t a bad thing in itself, but this meant that the language used was sometimes quite difficult to follow.

My favourite stories were definitely The Signalman by Dickens which was the one I found the scariest and probably the best-written, and Sweet William’s Ghost which is actually a classic ballad.

I enjoyed the opening essay on ghost stories in literature, and the contextual description at the beginning of each story. This book is a definite must-read for lovers or ghost stories and classic paranormal fiction.

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

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