Norse Mythology

norsemythology_hardback_1473940163

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: February 7, 2017

Taken from Goodreads.com: In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I’ve never had the opportunity to advance read one of Mr. Gaiman’s books, so I jumped at the chance when I saw it on Netgalley. Plus it’s about one of my favorite subjects that I have loved since a child, and I could identify with Mr. Gaiman’s similar experience, in regards to the introduction of Norse mythology into his life, in the foreword. His writing is beautiful as it always is and I discovered stories I had never heard before, but I guess I just thought it would be different and a better interpretation because of his past work involving Norse mythology (Odd and the Frost Giants and American Gods). 3-1/2 stars. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publishers, WW. Norton & Company on Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review. 

Saving Hamlet

saving-hamlet

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth

To be published: Nov 1, 2016

Emma Allen just got a cute new haircut and she can’t wait to start her sophomore year of high school. She is especially excited this year because she will be the Assistant Stage Manager for the high school’s production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and her senior crush Brandon is directing the play. Only things start to go wrong from the beginning. She is thrust into the role of Stage Manager, the cute soccer guy with no acting skill gets cast as Hamlet (which infuriates her best friend Lulu who had wanted the role and is not talking to her right now), and Brandon is a horrible director. Plus, as Emma discovers one night, she can go through the trap door of her high school stage and ends up in Elizabethan London at the Globe Theater where Shakespeare and the King’s Men are performing the original Hamlet. Because of her short haircut and clothes, she is mistaken for a boy and soon becomes Master Allen. She catches the attention of Master Cooke, the young man playing Ophelia. What is a girl to do? To find out, read this fascinating glimpse into the play Hamlet as seen through teenage eyes. 

I did find it interesting that I managed to read two ARC time-travel books back to back last week. This one was completely different from the other one, but has similar qualities, i.e. about growing up and rediscovering yourself and what you can be. I loved the in-depth study of the play and the characters and their motives, as it is one of my favorites and I enjoy watching different interpretations of it. I’ve never seen the play in street clothes, but it seems like it would work just fine, as it did in the text. The David Tennant version of Hamlet they mentioned in the book is really quite excellent, I recommend it. 

I liked the interpretations of Hamlet and Ophelia that Josh and Lulu came up with during the course of the play. During the “To be or not to be” speech, Josh suggests that “maybe this is about being stuck in a weird place. Knowing that you have to do this thing, but not being brave enough to do it. Being too much in your head.” I am totally guilty of doing this, especially with events going on in my life right now, so I can see where he is coming from about it. My favorite part was about Lulu’s interpretation of Ophelia, which also has points about it that remind me of my life at the moment. She says:

“I’ve always thought that Ophelia was this throwaway character and that Shakespeare was a sexist pig for writing her so fragile…But lately I’ve been thinking: she’s always being controlled, right? By her father, by her brother, by general sexism and the court. But then she has this love and she does everything correctly but loses everything, including Hamlet…She’s just so alone  and so done with living in this sexist world that doesn’t make any sense. So she just lets it take over, and gives in, and lets herself drown in it.” 

Emma is actually a pretty interesting character. She has decided to do drama instead of soccer (even though she was awesome at it) and changed to a whole new better group of friends. Her best friend is bisexual and her friend’s parents are super traditional and are in denial about everything, and making their daughter’s life miserable. Emma likes Brandon, the unattainable older hottie, but he barely acknowledges her existence outside of the play. Then there’s Josh, the untrained actor who rescued Emma from a party last year and she’s kind of attracted to, but not ready to admit it. Then of course, there’s the whole part of the book in Elizabethan England, where Emma becomes a boy assistant stage manager and uses the skills she acquires there to help out Josh in the future. I loved the mysterious Master Cooke character and I kind of would have liked to get to know him better or maybe have her pick him in the end. 

Disclaimer: Thank you to Disney Hyperion, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read a copy in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

snow-white-a-graphic-novel

Snow White: A Graphic Novel written and illustrated by Matt Phelan

Published: Sept 13, 2016

Using watercolor in the Art Deco and film noir style, Matt Phelan introduces us to a fresh take on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story. After Samantha White’s (aka Snow) mother dies of tuberculosis in the 1920s in NYC, Snow and her father are heartbroken. Ten years, her father, “The King of Wall Street” is lonely and discovers that the “Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies” is performing on Broadway. He is captivated with her elegant style and bobbed hair and promptly marries her. The Queen is not pleased that Snow is around and promptly sends her to boarding school in the country. She soon gets rid of her husband, but he still gets the last laugh, which she discovers during the reading of the will. Her husband has gone behind her back and left Snow three-quarters of the estate. The Queen is furious and vows revenge by getting rid of Snow, but the Huntsman spares her. She is rescued by the Seven, a group of street children that adopt her and try to protect her, though she still falls to the Queen’s poisoned apple. The Seven put her in a glass cage. Will she be rescued by her Prince Charming and live happily ever after? To find out, read this charming version of Snow White. Recommended for ages 10+, 4 stars. 

I was honestly not a fan of the artwork until I learned more about it from the author, via this interview. I liked that he not only loved the Disney Snow White version (one of my personal favorites), but also enjoyed film noir movies such as Citizen Kane and the Thin Man movies (which I also enjoy) and these influenced how he created the graphic novel. I really loved the story line and the twist on the classic tale. The Ziegfeld Follies were always cool to see on movies from the 1920s and 1930s, and they must have been spectacular in real life, so yeah I can see how the King would be dazzled after seeing the Queen of the Follies dancing so glamorous and looking like a real stunner on stage. I liked that the Seven were a group of abandoned street kids because in a way, they are kind of like Snow, forced to fend for themselves even though they’ve definitely gotten a more rotten deal. I also liked that they made the Prince a working detective instead of a superficial pretty boy. 

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex (Heroine Complex #1) by Sarah Kuhn

To be published: July 5, 2016

Ever since the demons started coming out of inter-dimensional portals eight years ago, Aveda Jupiter has been San Francisco’s on-call heroine. She loves kicking butt, taking names and collecting all the fame and attention that goes with it. Evie Tanaka is her long-suffering personal assistant (and best friend) who very much prefers to be behind the scenes organizing Aveda’s schedule and handling her tantrums. Lucy, a martial arts instructor and bodyguard, and Nate, a demon scientist and physician make up the rest of Aveda’s team. Staying in the shadows is hard for Evie when she also has to be the caregiver for her unruly teenage sister Bea. To top it off, her boss is injured after a demon fight and Evie must take her place, and her secret powers emerge.  On top of that, she finds herself in a very unexpected romance with a co-worker. She suddenly realizes that being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Can she figure out how to handle her superpowers, her love life, her boss and best friend and her sister, all while trying to save the world from a demon invasion. To find out, read the exciting first book of the Heroine Complex series! 4 stars. 

I honestly thought this was a Young Adult book until I picked it up and discovered the prodigious use of the the F-bomb in the beginning (the content/storytelling style makes it more New Adult). My only gripe with it was the beginning didn’t really grab my attention like I was hoping and I had to kind of force my way through it. Once the story got going however, it was great. I picked this one up because it’s about kick-ass Asian heroines, which is something you don’t see too often, and I love a good multicultural superhero story. The book reminded of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the feisty-heroine- fights-demons-with-her-assorted-talented-friends-and-hunky-love-interest kind of way. I loved Evie’s character and the way she fell in love with the guy that always annoyed her but turns out she has a secret crush on. I’m sure this has happened to pretty much everyone at some point in their life (I know it has for me). Nate was totally the hot nerdy guy I always seem to fall for. I completely was not expecting the twist at the end of the story, but it definitely made for some interesting reading. So if you are looking for a fun light read with snarky humor about awesome heroines,  nerdy references and guys, karaoke contests, and a touch of romance and sex, then this is definitely the book for you.

 

And I Darken

And I Darken

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Kiersten White

To be published: June 28, 2016

Lada is the daughter of Vlad Draculesti, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. Only he is not pleased to have a girl as she is not pretty enough to be married off for an advantage. She is trained from an early age to fight and Vlad recognizes that strength in her and is proud of her viciousness, but not enough to give her love or attention. Her younger brother Radu is handsome, fair and meek, everything is sister is not. But their father doesn’t care for him either. So it is not surprising that Vlad, the ruler of Wallachia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in Southern Romania, uses his two children as bartering chips with the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Murad. Lada and Radu spend the majority of their childhood in Eridne in the palace, learning to survive in a place and with a religion not their own. Eventually they become friends with Mehmed, the third son the Sultan, and it is he who changes their life forever. Will Lada finally get the recognition and power that she deserves? Will Radu finally come into his own and become his own man and not an extension of his sister? To find out, read the exciting first book in The Conqueror’s Saga. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I adored this book. I’ve been fascinated with the Ottomans for awhile now and I love stories that are twists on the original. Everyone pretty much knows who Vlad Dracul is, but to imagine his daughter (a noblewoman in 15th century Romania) as the brutal vicious one is a definite twist. It’s so rare to find such a richly detailed story, with a non-preachy view on religions (especially Islam), and such complex characters. In fact, the author made Islam sound really peaceful and centering, like I think it really is based on my studying of it. The executioner being labeled “the head gardener” was an interesting concept for me, as was the knowledge that it was the Ottomans (or more accurately the Ancient Mesopotamians who preceded them), not the Wallochians, who came up with the idea to impale people as punishment. The fratricide law that Mehmed enacts at the end of the book was based on historical fact and did basically give the sultan the right to get rid of his male siblings so that

Lada’s character is fascinating and it’s nice to hear about a rather unconventional heroine who is not flawlessly beautiful and is bitter and vengeful and ready to kick ass and take no prisoners. And she has a right to be, as life has always been hard on her and she really has no one to confide in about her deepest darkest feelings, even though she can barely admit those to herself. She is manipulative and strong and feisty and someone I would want to fight for me.

Radu is completely different from her in a way – he is softness and civility, to Lada’s anger and violence. He gains power not by force but by being charming, sophisticated and courtly. He has to hide the biggest part of himself to survive. But they both want the best for Mehmed, even though they disagree on what exactly that is. And they both love him, something I know he is aware of and does exploit to his better end.

My biggest gripe with this book was how much the story got bogged down in the middle with politics. I’m all for story-building but I felt that the author could’ve skipped a bunch of not vitally important stuff to get to more meatier parts. I hadn’t seen that it was part of a trilogy until I was about to write this review. I’m not surprised as the author has set up way too much of the story for it to be a single volume, plus I’m interested to see where she goes from here with it. It was just starting to get good, with Lada finally coming to terms that she might actually have some real power, Radu learning that even though he can never openly show his feelings for the sultan, he can still be around to protect and advise him, and Mehmed finally becoming the ruler he is meant to be.

Grayling’s Song

Graylings Song

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman

Published: June 7th, 2016

Grayling’s mother, Hannah Strong, a wise woman who provides medicine and small spells for the local village, has been turned into a tree by an unseen force. It is up to Grayling to rescue her and return with her Grimoire, Hannah’s book of spells. She is soon joined by a shape-shifting mouse named Pook and a weather witch and her grumpy apprentice, an enchantress and a wizard. Grayling must learn to believe in herself and brave a hostile world in order to free her mother and the other magic users whose grimoires have been stolen. Recommended for ages 9-12, 2-1/2 stars. 

I picked this book up because Pook sounded adorable (he’s probably my favorite character) and the story seemed an intriguing coming of age story. Plus I love Karen Cushman’s work, especially Alchemy and Meggy Swan, Catherine Called Birdy, and The Midwife’s Apprentice. So I had high hopes for this one as well. But I couldn’t get into it, so much so that I almost didn’t read it because it lost my attention very early on. Once the story got going, it was a little bit better. Hannah Strong obviously does not support her daughter or believe in her abilities, and therefore Grayling has very low self-esteem and no great opinion of herself. As someone who has struggled with this issue myself, I know how disheartening it can be and how limiting, and I hate to see girls undermined in books. But it is a quest story and Grayling does grow and come into her own by the end of the tale. The characters, as a whole, seem a little underdeveloped and the only one that Grayling had any attachment to was Auld Nancy, the weather witch. The author left the story rather open-ended, possibly paving the way for a sequel later on. 

Disclaimer: I received this Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publishers,  Clarion Books, via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. 

 

 

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Published: May 3, 2016

Sixty-nine year old Arthur Pepper is a lonely routine-driven man who has just reached the first anniversary of his wife Miriam’s death. He is not dealing with it well. While going through some of her things to donate to the charity shop, he finds a mysterious charm bracelet and decides to investigate it to figure out its significance to his wife. In doing so, he discovers not only the truth about his wife’s past but also more about himself and what he is capable of.

I first picked this book up because the blurb reminded me a little of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (which I loved), not so much for the story but because they are  both older men who are starting their life over again after the death of their spouse and changing the way they think. I loved Arthur’s character and the transformation he goes through. It gives me hope. Arthur is depressed at the beginning of the book, trying to sort through his emotions on the anniversary of his wife’s death and not really succeeding. There’s a quote from near the end of the book where Arthur is thinking about the past year and says “The past twelve months of living alone, of devising his strict routines, had made the color fade from his life.” I thought that was a really good description of what depression feels like. There’s also a great quote where he talks about missing Miriam: “He could smell her perfume, something with roses and lily of the valley, and it made him want to nestle his nose in the nape of her neck, just one more time please, God.” The quote makes me wonder if that’s how my grandfather secretly feels about my grandmother when he misses her.

When Arthur finds the bracelet, he is reluctant to learn new things about his wife. I enjoyed reading about how Arthur ends up discovering so many more new things about himself, instead of just his wife’s past, and how much he is still in love with his wife, despite everything. I especially liked the part of the story in London with Mike and the guy with two girlfriends. The ending made me cry, not in a bad way, but in a sweet way. This is especially true when Arthur reads the note from his wife and sees that she thinks that “he is quiet and kind. He is steady and he loves me. We share a quiet kind of love.” So he realizes that she didn’t just settle for him but truly loved him for who he was, especially because he of who he is. Sigh. Who doesn’t want that? 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book as an Advanced Readers Copy from the Harlequin publishers in exchange for my honest review.