Thursday, 28 August 2014

Friday memes and 'Wuthering Heights'

It's the first Friday with me at home and I am very happy to be back in my own room, even when that room is a new room. All my books are here so it's pretty much home to me. I missed blogging during the holiday, to be honest, even though I haven't gone back to it quite as quickly as I probably should've. So let's get on to the memes! Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question is hosted by Elizabeth from Silver's Reviews.

Do you request notifications of new replies when you post a comment on a blog post?
Sometimes I do but, there's a confession on the way so be prepared, all the emails I get afterwards are not replies to my comment but new comments on the post. And sometimes that makes me sad because it feels like other people get so many comments while I'm sitting here trying to interact. And although I know that's pretty childish on my side and I'm also really happy when other people do that well, it tends to lead to me not requesting notifications. Instead, I simply take note of the URL and then visit during the following week to check for a reply or to see where discussions are going! And if it's a blog I visit regularly, I drop by anyway so I don't need to request notifications.

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by
Escaping within the Pages and is:
Tell us about a book character you'd trade places with!

That's actually a really hard question. If you think about it, there's not a single book character that doesn't go through troubling times and because, as a reader, you know about them you wouldn't necessarily want to have to live through that. But since there's not a single character without problems I think the playing field is leveled again.

I think in the end I would have to go for Hermione from the Harry Potter books. She is just so willing to help her friends and try to be brave. And yes, at times she's obnoxiously intelligent and pragmatic, forgetting about how life actually works and that not everyone is as clever as her, but she always does it from a good place. And she's awesome. Let's not forget she's the brightest witch from her age!

Now, for two of my favourite memes: Book Beginnings and Friday 56, hosted by Gillion over at Rose city Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively. I have an undying love for Emily Brontë  which keeps getting stronger and stronger. Hence, I am rereading Wuthering Heights. I am also, daily, almost hourly, reading 'Often Rebuked Yet Always Back Returning'. It is "my"poem and if I could I would make everyone read it. This is your cue to abandon this post and read the poem ;) My copy of Wuthering Heights is the  Pulp! one, which is amazing.

'1801 - I have just returned from a visit to my landlord - the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society.' p.1
I already love Wuthering Heights, I think it surpasses Jane Eyre, but I love how Emily shows the mind of the first narrator. He shifts from his solitary neighbour to his own life within a line and we know what he's like.

'I saw they were full of stupid admiration; she is so immeasurably superior to them - to everybody on earth, is she not, Nelly?' p.56
Heathcliff is full of admiration for Cathy, as she is for him, and it is so wrong. I love how this book shows that being blindly in passion and love isn't necessarily a good thing. On the other hand it gives us some of the most beautiful love passages, in my mind.

So, that was my Friday and my life. Leave a link in your comment and I'll drop by! Have a great weekend everyone!

Review: 'Princesses Behaving Badly' by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale EndingsThis was a book with which I fell in love at first sight. That first sight was online and Quirk Books kindly provided a review copy, for which I will be eternally grateful because Princesses Behaving Badly made me laugh and made me think, which is always a good combination. 'Perfect' is a word you will probably see popping up a lot in this review.
You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.
 I am indeed someone who has read the Grimm fairytales (even the original edition) and loved watching Disney movies. My love for princesses was consolidated pretty early in life with the introduction of Princess Leia into it, blaster and all. As such, I thought of myself as the perfect audience for this book. And I was. I absolutely loved reading Princesses Behaving Badly. McRobbie has collected stories from all the different ages, all the different continents and all the different classes that our world has known. Whether it's an African princess leading her tribe or a fake Russian tsarina, there is bound to be a woman from your culture in this book. Simply for its diversity, then, it is a book I'd recommend to everyone because it says something fundamental, not only about female but about human nature, namely that humans will never do as we are expected. Women, just like men, have dreams and aspirations, may they be "right", such as freeing your own people, or "wrong", such as just looking out for yourself, and the fact that they are princesses changes nothing about that.

McRobbie's writing suits the purpose of this book perfectly. It's humorous and precise, giving the reader enough facts to paint a portrait but adding enough humanity to make those portraits come to live. She doesn't shy away from admitting some of these women made dubious decisions or were, most likely, mad, but she is also keenly aware that many of these women didn't write their own histories. She places herself in their position without becoming soppy or judgemental. Is this book occasionally sensationalist in its representation of these women? Yes, but it is so in a delightful way because who wouldn't get excited about a princess turned pirate? McRobbie luckily decided to evade the Princess-cliche that surrounds figures such as Princess Diana or Grace Kelly and chose figures that not a lot of people would know of. By doing so she coincidentally makes the same decision that Walt Disney used to make, choosing women such as Pocahontas and Mulan for their movies. There may just be a bit, or quite a lot, more blood in this book. But such is history.

One of the most important things about this book starts with a story, a simple one of an older sister constantly badgering a younger sister to pick up a book and find some role models worth following. Usually this older sister, me, in case you hadn't figured that out yet, has a very hard time making the younger sister even glance at the book, let alone pick it up. Princesses Behaving Badly was the exception to that rule. All I needed to tell her about was a princess becoming a pirate, a fabulous one at that, and she was quiet for a five-hour long car journey, nose stuck in this book. And she even talked to me about it, excited and fascinated. Whether the book was enough to make her turn of Keeping Up with the Kardashians is a different question, but the fact that a book such as this exists, that has women in it that break all the rules set by their position, their families or their own expectations, that somehow did live happily ever after or didn't, but that live, really live, and go down in history, is a real treasure because it shows that life is what you make it, no matter what gender or race you are. The fact that McRobbie has made stories such as these available to young girls, in such a way that they can understand it and don't have to dig through ancient Scandinavian or Hindi texts, is a major step forward.

Finally I also want to note that this book isn't "just for women". Just because you happened to be male doesn't mean you can't love this book and be interested in these women. Rather than use this book to shame fathers and husbands, McRobbie uses her space for excellent story-telling. Although a father or husband may have been to blame for misfortune here or there, so were the princesses as mothers and wives. I would consider Princesses Behaving Badly utterly feminist, in the sense that it presents women as equals to men and there is nothing threatening in that for a male audience. Rather I can imagine they would fall in love with at least three of these women.

I give this book...

5 Universes.

This is a book I will read and read again. Whether it's a chapter here and there or the whole book in one sitting, it will be a great reminder that, in the end, you can do and be what you work for. If you're a parent, be it of a little girl or a little boy, give some serious thought to buying this book for them. If you're your own person with your own wallet, give some serious thought to buying this book for yourself. It's that fun. I really hope there will be a sequel because there must be more fabulous stories out there. How about Goddesses Behaving Badly? Because it wasn't just Zeus who misbehaved one, twice or twenty times.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Review 'Children Into Swans' by Jan Beveridge

I am a massive fairy tale fan. Fairy tale books were what I read throughout most of my childhood. When I was a child, we had a collection of fairy tale books from all across the world, African, Native American, European, Jewish, Asian, everything.
Fairy tales are alive with the supernatural - elves, dwarfs, fairies, giants, and trolls, as well as witches with magic wands and sorcerers who cast spells and enchantments.  
Children into Swans examines these motifs in a range of ancient stories.
Moving from the rich period of nineteenth-century fairy tales back as far as the earliest folk literature of northern Europe, Jan Beveridge shows how long these supernatural features have been a part of storytelling, with ancient tales, many from Celtic and Norse mythology, that offer glimpses into a remote era and a pre-Christian sensibility. The earliest stories often show significant differences from what we might expect. Elves mingle with Norse gods, dwarfs belong to a proud clan of magician-smiths, and fairies are shape-shifters emerging from the hills and the sea mist. In story traditions with roots in a pre-Christian imagination, an invisible other world exists alongside our own.
From the lost cultures of a thousand years ago, Children into Swyans opens the door on some of the most extraordinary worlds ever portrayed in literature - worlds that are both starkly beautiful and full of horrors.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Fairy tales and folk tales are something that are intrinsic to pretty much every culture around the world. I really enjoyed how Beveridge brought together stories and traditions from every corner of Northern Europe, showing the threads that run throughout Teutonic mythology and Germanic culture and which bind together different events, peoples and festivals. This book has a very strong focus on Northern Europe. Personally, I found this very interesting since my own roots and interest lie there as well. I recognized most of the themes and fairy mentioned and where I didn't I found that Beveridge's ideas really informed my own already informed thoughts. However, at times I really wished that she would have expanded the scope of her research to include the Near and Far East. The cultures found there have some fascinating fairy and folk tales themselves and I would've loved to have seen how these related to those found in the West. However, I appreciate that an academic project needs to have boundaries.

Beveridge doesn't get too stuck in academics. Although the book is incredibly well-researched, the Bibliography was one of my favourite parts of the book, she doesn't alienate her readers with difficult terms or extended arguments, but rather brings her ideas about fairytales very close to the reader. Although personally I would have enjoyed a thorough analysis of the core themes of folk tales, this simply isn't that kind of book and Beveridge never set out to write that book either. Something I really enjoyed was the inclusion of a specific story here and there, which helped Beveridge explain her argument but also helped remind the reader what lies at the core of Children into Swans and that is the tales themselves.

I've stated repeatedly above that I would have liked some more "depth" and I think that requires some explanation. Beveridge does amazingly at showing the similarities between folk tales from different countries yet never goes quite far enough to really analyze them. This means that upon finishing each chapter the reader is left looking for answers to questions that naturally pop up while reading this book. As such, I consider Children into Swans a great starting point if you are interested in learning more about folk tales. It gives you an introduction to the general ideas about folklore traditions and ist references and bibliography will give you plenty more reading material.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

I really enjoyed reading Children Into Swans. Beveridge has done a lot of research which shows in the book and really makes it an informative read, even if you are already knowledgable about Folklore. If you are looking for in-depth and academic analysis then this is not the book for you, although I would still recommend giving it a try!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: 'Cursed Moon' by Jaye Wells

Cursed Moon (The Prospero's War, #2)This book was, in many ways and from the very beginning, a surprise to me. I was sent this book by Orbit after I became more interested in Urban Fantasy and I had never heard of the author, the book or the series. In some ways you could argue this is a terrible starting point, on the other hand it doesn't happen often I get to start a book completely blank. And in the case of Cursed Moon that was a definite advantage.
When a rare Blue Moon upsets the magical balance in the city, Detective Kate Prospero and her Magical Enforcement colleagues pitch in to help Babylon PD keep the peace. Between potions going haywire and everyone's emotions running high, every cop in the city is on edge. But the moon's impact is especially strong for Kate who's wrestling with guilt over falling off the magic wagon.
After a rogue wizard steals dangerous potions from the local covens, Kate worries their suspect is building a dirty magic bomb. Her team must find the anarchist rogue before the covens catch him, and make sure they defuse the bomb before the Blue Moon deadline. Failure is never an option, but success will require Kate to come clean about her secrets.
Cursed Moon is completely different from, well, almost everything I have read before. Wells writes completely unapologetically and when it comes to magic that unleashes sexual aggression, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the passages in the book are quite confrontational. On the one hand I found myself disliking these parts of the book and on the other hand I loved the honesty of those scenes. And even if they are not your cup of tea, the more explicit scenes are relatively sparse and surrounded by some really fun and energetic writing. Energetic might seem a strange word to use for a writing style, but Wells' writing moves easily between dialogue, exposition and description and successfully keeps the pace going. Not once does a scene feel unnecessary or as if it's dragging the book down. The frequent cursing might throw some readers of but I felt that most of the curses were relatively colloquial ones that people do genuinely do use in their every day lives, so I wasn't too bothered by them.

One of my favourite things about this book (and the rest of the series, which I am yet to read) is how it deals with magic. Although it is something innate, to some people, it is highly addictive and is also something you can leave behind you. Magic is something that is used in a lot of books but not always successfully. In Harry Potter it works because Rowling spent a lot of time figuring out how it should work. Similarly, it feels as if Wells really thought about the idea of magic being cooked and how it would operate, which means that the concept works. Although there are a few gaps for me here and there, those will probably be filled when I read Dirty Magic, the first book in the Prospero's War series, and then anxiously wait for the next one.

Kate is a fascinating main character. Helped by Wells' insightful writing, it is really interesting to see Kate Prospero battle with old and new demons. Although her situation sounds about as unrelatable as they get, her problems are very human. Whether it is dealing with family members, struggling with your job or trying to come to terms with your past, there will always be problems and I really enjoyed how Wells combined those "normal" problems with magic. Apart from Kate, there are a whole range of interesting characters with a good balance between female and male characters. I also enjoyed the appearance of a hermaphrodite, which is a group who we don't often see represented in literature or any kind of media. I also felt that their relationships were well developed and not too cliche. Of course there is romantic attraction here and there but it never overpowered the narrative, which I was very happy about.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading Cursed Moon. It isn't often a book manages to overthrow my expectations and I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. Wells' writing style is really fun and recognizable, which makes her characters all the more enjoyable as well. I would recommend this to people who need a strong, female heroine in their life and are looking for something new with magic. Cursed Moon is a quick read but is full of remarkable moments.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Review: 'The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm' by the Grimm Brothers, Jack Zipes

I adore fairy tales. They were the first stories I ever really read to myself from a thick volume with hardly any drawings. It made me feel very grown-up. Knowing fairy tales really helps in discovering underlying themes in most other works of literature, however, over time it's easy to lose track of the actual fairy tales themselves, which is why I really enjoyed this collection.
When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children's and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as "Rapunzel," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Cinderella" would become the most celebrated in the world. Yet few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes, since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style. For the very first time, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm makes available in English all 156 stories from the 1812 and 1815 editions. These narrative gems, newly translated and brought together in one beautiful book, are accompanied by sumptuous new illustrations from award-winning artist Andrea Dezsö. 
From "The Frog King" to "The Golden Key," wondrous worlds unfold--heroes and heroines are rewarded, weaker animals triumph over the strong, and simple bumpkins prove themselves not so simple after all. Esteemed fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes offers accessible translations that retain the spare description and engaging storytelling style of the originals. Indeed, this is what makes the tales from the 1812 and 1815 editions unique--they reflect diverse voices, rooted in oral traditions, that are absent from the Grimms' later, more embellished collections of tales. Zipes's introduction gives important historical context, and the book includes the Grimms' prefaces and notes. 
A delight to read, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm presents these peerless stories to a whole new generation of readers.
Being half-German and having the good fortune of having a grand-father who loved telling tales, I grew up with all the fairy tales there were. As a child I preferred Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales over those of the Grimm Brothers, but this collection really made me appreciate them anew. I always felt like they had too strong a moral but the introduction to this collection made it clear how strongly the Grimm Brothers edited the fairy tales in the later editions. Jack Zipes reproduces the original fairy tales from the first edition and they are a real joy to read. Zipes translates these stories very well and captures the tone perfectly. The rather blunt punishment of those that are wicked and the extravagant reward of those who are good are almost humorous and the moral is not quite as obvious in all of them.

This collection is absolutely bursting with stories. It was an amazing experience to be brought back to my childhood, where there was always a next story, there was always more. So although this collection would be great for children, it also has a lot to offer to adults. Apart from the story-telling aspect to fairytales and folk tales, it is also really interesting to look at the similarities and differences between the stories. They can tell you a lot about Northern European culture and this aspect is really brought out by Zipes in his introduction. The Grimm Brothers were originally philologists and sociologists and they collected stories for the purpose of exploring what they shared. Seeing that the morality lessons were added later on, mostly, really allows you to

The fact that these are the original stories rather than the edited is important because this is the first time they have been translated. Where people are used to Disney-esque fairy tales in which princes rescue princesses, these stories are actually very different. Did you know there was a fairy tale about the Virgin Mary which starts out very Bluebeard-ish. Who'd have guessed! Similarly I was very happily surprised by the role of women in these stories. The traditional image of women in fairy tales is quite bad, painting them as passive and simply as prices. However, these original fairy tales show daughters protecting their fathers from the Devil, sisters saving their brothers (again and again) and girls saving their lovers. Naturally we also have it the other way round but that is equality for you. Sure, there are also fathers and men who command their daughters around, but there atr women who do the same. Fairy tales allow for women to be maids, daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, queens, princesses and murderers. I am really happy that these versions of the stories are now translated and will soon be available because every nursery needs one. Maybe save the more gruesome stories for later on.

I give this collection...

5 Universes.

This collection of Original Fairy Tales is one I would love to read to my future children. There are short and long stories, ones about knights and farmers, men and women, children and adults. Although reading should be educative, these fairy tales aren't submersed in moral but are allowed to be fun and interesting. Not only suitable for children, even adults will love sinking into the world of magic and wishes that come true again.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Review: 'Untold' by Sarah Rees Brennan

Untold (The Lynburn Legacy, #2)The first book in The Lynburn Legacy, Unspoken, was the book that opened my eyes to the fun things that the YA and Paranormal genre actually can offer. Up until that point I had only really encountered YA/Paranormal books that disappointed me and I had basically given up on both genres. Unspoken popped up on Netgalley and I thought 'Why not?' and I raced through the book, loving pretty much every page. It should come as no surprise then that I picked up the second book as well.

It's time to choose sides.... 
On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.
But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?
A darkly humorous take on Gothic romance, Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy weaves together the tale of a heroine desperate to protect those she loves, two boys hoping to be saved, and the magical forces that will shape their destiny.
Unspoken ended on a very painful note, which made me both want to read this book but also curl into a ball and pretend the last chapter of Unspoken never happened. In Untold Sarah Rees Brennan continues along the same paths of misery, but in a different way. What I really appreciated about this book was that you could see that in some ways, the characters had grown up. Although hardly any time passes between the two books a lot has changed from the beginning of the first to the beginning of the second and it was really interesting to see how this impacted upon the characters. I loved Kami Glass in the first book and maybe I love her even more now. Whereas in the beginning she was plucky and maybe a little bit too reckless, she becomes a lot more responsible and protective, while securely remaining a teenage girl. While this may sound as an impossibility to some, Brennan makes Kami very three-dimensional, giving her a character that can change and adapt, depending on the circumstances.

Although romance played a part in the first book, it is definitely a bigger theme in Untold, which I really enjoyed. Although there is a hint of a love-triangle, Brennan deals with it in such a fantastic way that it becomes quite clear love-triangles don't really exist. If that doesn't make sense, read the book and it will. Brennan writes some really steamy scenes without making her characters act out of character, another really refreshing aspect of this book. I really enjoyed how she explored some of the side characters more and the further the book progresses, the closer they all grow to your heart, which is its own special kind of torture considering how dark the future looks for Sorry-in-the-Vale. It was also fun to see parents actually try to keep their children out of trouble. Often when the protagonists are teenagers parents are either completely oblivious or support their children's strange exploits. Untold offers a number of different parental and maternal figures, which once again creates a lot of variety. Not that this means the protagonists get into any less trouble than in the first book.

Where in Unspoken it was just the key characters who faced danger, Untold definitely pulls out all the stops in making the danger tangible. There is one scene near the beginning, which must be one of the creepiest ones in the whole book. All I will say is it involves scarecrows and if that doesn't give you an idea of how scary it can be then nothing can. Sometimes when series amp up the drama, it comes of as ridiculous. For example, in Eclipse it is almost impossible that no one notices the "massive" vampire battle going on in the forest just outside of town. In Untold however, it all seems quite plausible if one accepts the existence of magic. The whole town is suffused with it and has been for centuries, which makes what happens almost logical. Props need to be given to Brennan for that.

I can't wait to read what happens in the next book, Unmade. If the title is anything to go by we can expect a major showdown. The only thing I wish had been different was the coverart. I loved the gothic-like drawings that were on the cover of Unspoken and the two prequel novellas. It really made the books pop out.

I give this book...

4 Universes.

I really enjoyed Untold and would have finished it sooner had I not been desperate to not finish it. It's the kind of book you race through and don't want to put down, but then when you finish it you wish it'd been longer. I recommend this book to YA fans but also to readers looking for a book/series with a diverse cast, interesting characters and a strong female protagonist. This series offers it all!

Weekly Overview

It's been quite a strange week, partially because it's gone really quickly and on the other hand it's been quite a slow week. Strangeness all around. This also means I haven't been able to post as much as I would've liked to or participate in memes the way I usually do! I'm still making the round on visiting blogs from the Friday memes, so bear with me.

Emma and Elton: Something Truly HorridMonday:





That was my week. I've got a few books which I've just finished which means that hopefully next week there'll be more reviews! How was your week? If you have a weekly overview post as well, leave a link in the comments!