Black Dog – Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

31199023In a quiet English village, legend tells of a black dog that appears in the darkness. If you see him, you die. Shadow Moon has been on the road for a long time so, when he meets a nice couple at the pub in this village, he gratefully accepts their offer of a room to stay in. However, when the man collapses on the way home, Shadow realises that this village is harbouring a dark secret.

Black Dog follows Shadow Moon, the main character from American Gods, so although it does work as a standalone novella and doesn’t follow on directly, it would be helpful to read American Gods first for context.

The book is very short but you can really tell what a remarkable writer Neil Gaiman is because it’s incredibly atmospheric and tells a complete and engaging story with barely any scene-setting, character development, or build-up.

I read the version illustrated by Daniel Egneus and the illustrations really made the reading experience special. The pictures are dark and abstract and complement the story beautifully.

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The Twisted Tree – Rachel Burge

41581245Martha can read things about a person and their emotions just by touching their clothes. It’s an ability she’s had since she fell from the tree outside her grandmother’s cabin and became blind in one eye. Determined to find answers about her strange ability, Martha travels alone to visit her grandmother, Mormor, in Norway. However, when she arrives, she discovers that Mormor is dead, there is a strange boy squatting in her cabin and a deadly creature on the loose.

The Twisted Tree is a relatively short book – about 250 pages – and surprisingly slow for such a short story. The plot is very simple and takes a long time to get going. When it did, it was pretty eventful, but kind of dull for the first 100 pages at least.

I struggled with Martha. Her damaged eye is a big chip on her should (fair enough) but her bitterness and the way she kept bringing it up stopped her from being particularly likeable. Also, considering that she was facing death-by-demon-creature and being visited by ghosts, she managed to spend a shocking amount of time stressing over whether Stig fancied her or not. Get your priorities straight, girl.

I’m a big lover of mythology in general, so the Norse mythological aspects were very enjoyable. It was cool to read a story based on a part of the mythology that didn’t revolve around the gods.

Overall, I didn’t think The Twisted Tree was fantastic, but it’s short and entertaining enough to be worth the read.

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

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The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

39866035When the Greeks sack her home, Briseis is taken as a captive to the Greek camp outside of Troy and chosen to become Achilles’ concubine – a prize of battle. She must quickly adjust from her life as a queen to that of a slave, serving the enemy. As the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans wages on, Briseis finds herself caught between two of the most powerful Greeks, and in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation.

The Silence of the Girls is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad,  told from the point of view of a woman, held captive in the Greek camp. It essentially tells the stories of the women and girls who were unwilling participants and collateral damage in the Trojan War. It’s a really interesting point of view to read from and Briseis was a fantastic narrator, but the main character of the book was really Achilles rather than Briseis, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

The story itself was not actually the most exciting. Despite there being a war (with a good amount of gory, bloody detail), the plot was not particularly action-packed or eventful. However, it was excellently written and I was completely addicted. The characters were very strong, likeable and well-developed – even Agamemnon, who plays the ‘villain’ role. The author does an outstanding job of balancing the ‘good vs. bad’ aspect of the plot, with Briseis being surrounded by her enemies and still managing to forge friendships with them, whilst remaining loyal to her people. Although the Greeks are clearly presented as the enemy, they are not made out to be negative characters and they have likeable and individual personalities.

Some of the content is pretty horrific: the women are captured, raped and brutalised. It is not pleasant to read, but these aspects are not overly visual and are, unfortunately, an unavoidable feature of Ancient Greek fiction. To take this content out of the story would be a misrepresentation of the time.

I love Greek mythology in general, and The Silence of the Girls exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

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The Odyssey – Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

34068470.jpgThe Odyssey is one of the oldest known adventure stories in existence. It follows the epic adventures of Odysseus as he attempts to get home to Ithica after the Trojan war. Emily Wilson’s translation is the first English translation ever written by a woman, and it is truly fresh and modern.

How do you review a book like The Odyssey? The fact that it has been so popular for so long and has become one of the main go-to books for Greek mythology says everything you need to know about the story, so I won’t try to review that. Instead, I will focus on Emily Wilson’s translation.

I went into this book anticipating a challenge. In fact, it was a very engaging and surprisingly easy read. It is long (so, so long) and repetitive so it still took a long time to get through, but thanks to the modern language and style of translation, it was incredibly readable. I’ve never read another version, so I cannot compare this one against another, but having read this one, I honestly can’t see why anyone would choose to read any other version.

The book starts with an introduction from Emily which was, frankly, fascinating. It is, essentially, an essay on The Odyssey, outlining the reasons behind her translation choices and highlighting interesting points about the characters and the original author.

This book will definitely be in my top books of 2018, and I have no doubt it will become the modern must-read for Greek mythology.

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

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Weight – Jeanette Winterson

40118697.jpgWeight is a re-telling of the story of Atlas and Heracles. Heracles, when trying to complete his trials, seeks help from Atlas who carries the world on his shoulders. During his temporary relief from the weight of the world, Atlas begins to question, does it even need to be carried?

I was not already familiar with the story of Atlas and Heracles so I didn’t have expectations of this retelling. I love mythology (Greek gods in particular) so was keen to read something new.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It’s very short (150 pages), and a very fast read. Winterson’s writing style is clear and engaging, and the story felt fresh.

The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the, frankly, vulgar sexual references. The abrupt mentions of rape and masturbation were unexpected and pretty grim. I’m not used to rape being referred to so casually. However, this is a story about Greek gods, who typically did pillage and rape whomever they wished, so – in fairness to the author – it’s entirely in place here.

Weight is part of a collection from Canongate, called The Canons. After reading this one, I am already looking into reading some of the other myth re-tellings by other authors in the collection.

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

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Between the Blade and the Heart – Amanda Hocking

35425584.jpgMalin is a Valkyrie and, as such, it is her responsibility to slay immortals when their time is up. But when she discovers that her own mother failed in this responsibility, Malin and her friends undertake the task of restoring balance to the world.

The synopsis of this book made it sound like a Norse fantasy. Instead, it’s more of a YA fantasy with some Norse influences. This was okay, because I do enjoy YA fantasy fiction, but it was a little disappointing that it wasn’t what I expected.

To be perfectly honest, I found the majority of this book rather boring. It wasn’t until very near the end that the story picked up and I started to get into it. I did enjoy the humour in this book, and the unusual love triangle.

It’s a good read, but it took a little too long to get going.

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

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The Last Days of Magic – Mark Tompkins

30849999Bringing together aspects from history, myth, fairy tales and biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic tells the story of a time when magical beings and humans co-existed. Set mainly in Ireland and England, we meet men, witches, goddesses, kings, exorcists and an array of other magical creatures, fighting together and against each other for control.

Honestly, the synopsis of this book makes it sound better than it is. Although it’s based on some good ideas, the story is over-complicated and difficult to read. And, most importantly, boring. So let’s get into it…

Firstly, the book is too long, with confusing time-jumps (flashbacks and time-skips) and far too many characters. A nice idea, very poorly executed. I did like the inclusion of historical detail – it gave the book a bit more depth – but, again, there was too much of it. A lot of the detail felt completely irrelevant and just added length to the book, making it drag.

I did enjoy a couple of the story threads (namely, Aisling and Jordan’s) but there was so much going on and so many different parts, making the majority really hard to get into. Large portions of the book really just seemed to be characters standing around discussing battle plans and strategies which was, frankly, dull.

The amount of research that the author must have done in order to write this book is impressive, and I do applaud that, but it didn’t translate well into the story and, basically, it was a chore to read. Sorry to be so negative but I was really disappointed by this book. The premise sounded fantastic and the actual content of the book was a real let down. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

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

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

31199020I had been meaning to read this book for a while, and finally got around to it in advance of the upcoming TV series. I actually read a new edition, illustrated Daniel Egneus, which is longer than the older editions of the book (so it’s taken me an absolute age to finish). The illustrations are dark and creepy and a fantastic complement to the story.

American Gods asks the question: what if all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today? We follow Shadow, a man who is released from prison a couple of days early following the death of his wife, as he is recruited by Mr Wednesday – a strange man planning a war between the old gods and the new. Along the way we meet a host of characters from both sides – including Easter, Ibis and Jackal, Technical Boy, and Mr Nancy – and watch as Shadow finds himself drawn right into the middle of a war between gods, full of impossible happenings (including the return of his dead wife, Laura).

It is, essentially, a road book. Shadow travels all over America following Wednesday’s orders, meeting strange characters and being followed by FBI-style agents, Mr World and Mr Town. Regular humans also come into the story along the way, making the whole thing somehow believable. It is a long and fantastical tale, but you will find yourself truly drawn in, and rooting for Shadow and the old gods, despite their many quirks and flaws.

There are two particularly great things about this book: the characters and the writing. There is such a massive mix of characters and all of them are special in their own way, and incredibly interesting. And Neil Gaiman’s writing is magic. Even if the story was bad (which it isn’t), Gaiman’s writing style would make it worth reading.

Finally, it does make you think, about gods and where they come from and where they go. What would happen if they decided to go to war, old vs new? Who would win?

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Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

30809689.jpgThis is a collection of stories of Norse mythology, based on the old Norse gods. They feature the might of Thor, the cunning of Loki, the wisdom of Odin, and appearances by all the other key players in Norse myths.

I already knew most of the stories and characters featured in this book, but that did not detract from the reading experience. You certainly do not need to be at all familiar with Norse mythology in order to enjoy this book. In fact, I’d say that it would probably be more enjoyable if you don’t have any previous knowledge.

I loved the stories in this book. They are short and easy to follow, making Norse Mythology a quick and entertaining read. However, I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and would have loved for there to be more of his unique style and creativity. Gaiman has a fantastic imagination, and this book lacked that.

While this book was still entertaining and a great introduction to Norse mythology, I highly recommend reading The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris, for a much more detailed, more creative and more humorous take on all the same stories, and more.

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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