Review: Daughter of the Forest

July 11, 2011 at 9:54 pm (5 stars, Australian, review) (, , , , , , )

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Pages: 552, paperback

ISBN: 9780330424417

Publisher: Pan Australia

Date Released: November 1st, 2008 (first published 1999)

Genre: adult/ fantasy/ romance / retelling / historical

Source:  library

Premise:

A beautiful retelling of the Celtic “Swans” myth, Daughter of the Forest is a mixture of history and fantasy, myth and magic, legend and love… To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss and terror. When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for Sorcha to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows no boundaries, and Sorcha will have to choose between the live she has always known and a love that comes only once.

(Taken from Goodreads)

Buy it from: The Book Depository / Amazon

It was about time that I started this book. I’d heard nothing but stellar reviews about this book. The fact that Marillier lives in Australia (albeit the Western part, which is literally desert)and being born in New Zealand made this even more irresistible.

When I first started this, I sort of really disliked it. My thoughts were “WTF is this? It’s so slow, nothing’s happening! I don’t care about her family! How do you pronounce that?” It takes some getting used to, because the writing is so thick and verbose. This is not a quick read. This is the kind of book you slowly savour, reading it and relishing in the beauty of the words. Everything comes to like around you, the smells and sounds of the forest, the hardships that Sorcha had to deal with, everything. By the end of the first chapter (which is 30 pages long, but feels like 300), I was loving it. I loved how the reader got to know every detail about Sorcha’s family, no matter how grizzly and dark it may be. I loved the relationships between Sorcha and her brothers, how they all felt real and different from each other, which I think is quite a feat when too many characters are introduced at once. You really get to know all the characters in such a way that they become important to you, and not only do you see a growth in Sorcha,  but in everyone else.

Sorcha is a very strong young woman; despite her gift for storytelling, she keeps silent, even when it costs her her life. She does all she can to break the spell that the Lady Oonagh cast on her brothers. She lives through her hardships, seemingly by herself, but she had Red to help her, and her brothers, who believe in her persistence and patience.

The story, based on the Celtic Swans myth, adds so much depth to such a fairytale. I absolutely love fairytales, and this one is one of the best that I’ve read so far. It still retains the magical properties of a fairytale, while having its own element.

This is a novel that doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. There is rape, abuse, torture. It really feels like a kick in the gut. So why read it, then, if it’s so heavy? Well, there are also moments of hope and love–both romantic love and familial love.

Cover Art: 3
Plot: 4
Characters: 5
Writing: 5
Level of Interest: 5

Total Rating: 5/5 stars

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Review: Behemoth

June 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm (4 stars, review) (, , , , , , , )

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Pages: 485, hardcover

ISBN: 9781416971757

Publisher:

Date Released: October 5th, 2010 (first published September 25th, 2010)

Genre: YA / steampunk / historical

Source: library

Premise:

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan‘s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.

(Taken from Goodreads)

Buy it from: Book Depository / Amazon

To start off with: I hate the cover. It is such a disaster compared to the masterpiece that was the original Leviathan cover. What went wrong? If I were some random browsing the aisles of the YA section of my local bookstore, I would have shrunk back in disgust, and quickly averted my eyes, as if the horrific cover might somehow infect me. In fact, that’s exactly what happened when I did encounter this book. I had heard news of Behemoth‘s release, and I eagerly went forth to buy the book, which I had pictured would be similar in majesty and beauty as Leviathan had been. But no, I was met with this monstrosity. Once again, I ask, what went wrong? What were Simon Pulse thinking? I actively avoided buying this book for almost a year, until I managed to get my hands on it for $1 when a Borders was closing down. Even then, I was reluctant. Was I willing to pay $1 to have this accident of a cover sit next to my beloved copy of Leviathan? Finally, I caved in, but only because I had already borrowed it from the library and loved what was between those frightening covers.

And this is coming from a hardcore fan of the first book. I had waited impatiently for over a year to read Behemoth. I loved the first book so much. I reread it several times.  And you know what the worst thing is? That the cover for Behemoth would have been even more stunning than it was for Leviathan. Here, have a look. Aren’t you just seething with rage? It’s beautiful, isn’t it. I don’t understand what Simon Pulse were thinking. They had potentially lost a customer (me) and maybe many more with their hideous reboot covers. (and to be brutally honest, I don’t know who’s who on the reboot covers. Whoops. :-/ )

Now, cover rant aside, I loved this book. If I thought Leviathan was good, then this is just a work of art, meant to be savoured.

This book deals with a lot of emotional baggage, from Deryn’s experience with her father dying a few years earlier, to her developing crush on Alek. But, poor girl, she can’t reveal her feelings to him without revealing her true identity! And with that came a fresh and delightful dose of drama. Especially when a new girl enters the picture, causing jealousy to spark from poor Deryn. The results were completely unexpected and hilarious, and I couldn’t have been more pleased at the maybe-love-triangle.

And while Deryn is struggling to hide her true identity, so is Alek. He’s in a new world, filled with the enemy. At any moment, he could be found and killed. The similarities between the experiences of Alek and Deryn make this a great tool to understanding their characters and their motives. They mirrored each other in so many ways, and it was awesome reading about their characters.

The plot is just as exciting as it was in Leviathan, with explosions starting right off the bat (if you’re into that sort of thing). And after that, there’s non-stop action and suspense all throughout the book, making it literally impossible to put down. I sat with Behemoth in my hands for four hours, braving a grumbling tummy and neglected housework. It will leave you completely hooked and wanting more.

The writing is  amazing, but, it still uses the annoying over-used vocabulary like bum-rag and such. Thankfully, the descriptions make up for it. Everything was described so vividly that it was really easy to imagine what was happening, and what everything looked like. This is especially amazing in the completely new setting of Turkey, where everything feels surreal, exotic and wild. The city actually felt like a whole new character, just like how the Leviathan felt like a character in the first book. For that, I applaud Westerfeld. It’s hard to pull off a setting like that, and to make it feel like a living, breathing characters with its own flaws and characteristics.

And, lastly, I have to give an honorable mention to Keith Thompson, whose artworks also feature in this book. Once again, they have left me speechless with their precise beauty. They certainly add depth to an already fantastic book.

I’m eagerly awaiting Goliath, but, unless they go back to the original covers, I probably won’t buy it. The cover just looks bad. I’m very picky with my covers, as you can see. But August can’t come soon enough.

Cover Art: 0
Plot: 5
Characters: 5
Writing: 4
Level of Interest: 5

Total Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs

May 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm (5 stars, review) (, , , , , , , , )

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

Pages: 320, paperback

ISBN: 9780738714264

Publisher: Flux

Date Released: February 1st, 2009

Genre: YA / fantasy / adventure / historical / pirates

Source: library

Premise:

In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with “the dust of one hundred dogs,” dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.

Now she’s a contemporary American teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica. (Taken from Goodreads)

Buy it from: The Book Depository / Amazon

This is a book I truly loved. The writing was a masterpiece, and I was unable to put the book down. The words seemed to flow so well and since it was written in first person, it allowed a strong connection with the main character. The writing is often emotional and violent, but also beautiful and captivating.

The story itself was a gem. The basic plot consists of a poor Irish girl/pirate, who got cursed to live the lives of 100 dogs before turning back to a human. Did you read that? PIRATES. OH MY GOD. How can that not sound like a great read? Plus reincarnation? Wow, just wow.
The story switches between Emer/Saffron’s first life, her present life, her memories as dogs, and the point of view of a creepy, perverted bisexual man who constantly chastises himself for being interested in males.

This story encounters a lot of interesting themes. For example, sexuality. In one of Emer’s recounts as a dog, she told a story of a male dog who had sex with another male dog, and how this sort of stuff was normal for dogs. It didn’t matter about the sexuality, it just mattered about relieving the tension. She points out that if a creature as simple as the dog can be able to have sex with members of the same gender and be fine with it, then it would make sense for humans–who have proclaimed to be far above all other creatures–to embrace this sort of behavior. Fred Livingstone, he is bisexual, yet he feels ashamed about this, and this ties into the story of the gay dog.

What I hated was how rotten Emer (or rather, Saffrom) was towards her parents. She didn’t seem to realise that her parents–especially her mother–cared deeply for her and want the best for her. With her vast intellect, she could have done anything she wanted, an her parents were trying to help her embrace that. But there were so many instances where she thought these horribly malicious thought, like cutting her mother’s eyes out, or slicing her ear off for absolutely no reason. It just made me wonder if she learned nothing in her 100 lives as a dog. And it didn’t make her seem strong, just bitchy and ungrateful and unable to grow. It gave me very little reason to sympathize with her for the most part of the book.

He story as Emer was rather epic, how she survived an invasion on her hometown, while the rest were slaughtered like animals. She ended up trying to fend for her own while she reached the Caribbean, and from there, her journey to becoming this frightening pirate. It showed great character, and she built lots of relationships with the other characters. She really grew in those pages, in her first life.

This is a story that I really loved, and I recommend that everyone read it. It might not be suitable for the faint of heart: it rape scenes and animal cruelty, and some rather graphic imagery. So approach with caution.

Cover Art: 4
Plot: 4
Characters: 3
Writing: 5
Level of  5

Total Rating:  5/5

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Review: Briar Rose

April 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm (4 stars, review) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Pages: 239, paperback

ISBN: 9780765342300

Publisher: Tor Teen

Date Released: March 15th, 2002 (first published 1989)

Genre: YA / historical / speculative fiction / fairytale retelling

Source: library

Premise:

Ever since she was a child, Rebecca has been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma’s stories about Briar Rose. But a promise Rebecca makes to her dying grandmother will lead her on a remarkable journey to uncover the truth of Gemma’s astonishing claim: I am Briar Rose. A journey that will lead her to unspeakable brutality and horror. But also to redemption and hope. A Tor Teen edition of the modern classic by critically-acclaimed author Jane Yolen. (Taken from Goodreads).

Buy it now from The Book Depository

This book is a very loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Like, very loose. A young woman must find out why her grandmother’s life revolved around the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and her research takes her to Poland, where she finds the truth.

To start off with, the pacing of this story was really hard to follow. At times, it was easy to get into, and then it would abruptly change into something dull and tedious, and I’d feel compelled to skip past it. Until the second half of the book or so, when we get the perceptive of Josef. It seemed as if Yolen had added in those unnecessary tidbits to lengthen her already short novel.
The writing itself is nothing impressive, was sometimes slow and unclear. It distracted me from the story sometimes, which is obviously not a good thing. It only started to get better–more fast-paced and intriguing– when it started following from the perspective of osef, instead of Becca.

That being said, the characters were quite flat and annoying, except for Gemma, when she was still alive. The dialogue of all the other characters was frustrating and made me groan. I really disliked Becca, she seemed like the worst, most boring protagonist ever. I couldn’t understand her thoughts most of the time, which was incredibly annoying.
I found the romance between her and Stan to be non-existent. It was disappointing, slow and lacked that special something, that spark that made it work. It just seemed like some boring, awkward friendship between two very awkward people who didn’t want a relationship. When they finally kissed at the end, I was bored and unimpressed, taking no interest in the event due to the very poor build up of their relationship.
The only character that I found to be tolerable was Josef, during the second half of the book. It was also the time that the story started picking up, when I finally found myself unable to put the book down. When Josef tells Becca and Magda his story and his survival in Poland during the war, and the story of Gemma, Becca’s grandmother, it was touching, and really played on my emotions. It was then that I really started to care for this book and for the characters. That was one of the two things that redeemed this book for me.

The other redeeming quality was the story in itself. It is a really sweet Sleeping Beauty retelling. That, combined with the Holocaust made it a really strong and emotional story that really hit close to home. Both my parents are from Poland, so I know so many stories about the war. Holocaust stories are something very special to me, I just love them. Stories like Night by Elie Weisel and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak really make me emotionally attatched to them, simply because I understand them. I’ve had grandparents and uncles and parents and family friends tell me every memory of the war that they have.
So, that made it a really good book for me.

If the story hadn’t have started so late in the book,  then I would have given this novel a rating of 5. But alas, it doesn’t get that.
I’d definitely recommend this story. Slow or not, it is a brilliant retelling.

Cover Art: 3
Plot: 5
Characters: 3 (would have been 1 if not for Josef)
Writing: 3
Level of Interest: 4

Total Rating: 4/5 stars

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