Sunday 31 August 2014

Audiobook Reviews: Beauty, Enchanted and Swordspoint

Beauty by Robin McKinley, narrated by Charlotte Parry
This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it contains all of the elements of the story you usually see. Loving the story so much, I was expecting to enjoy this too, and I was not disappointed. It's beautifully told, and McKinley's interpretation of the world and the characters is truly delightful. I adored Beauty, who was not "typically" beautiful or by any means perfect, which just made her all the more real and powerful. I loved the slow build of her relationship with the Beast. I loved her relationships with the rest of her family. I loved the twists and turns of the plot. I loved the narration by Charlotte Parry. I just loved this book.
Rating: 4.5/5

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Beauty left me hungry for more fairy tale retellings, and having seen Mands at The Bookish Manicurist rave about the Enchanted audiobook I decided to give it a try. It was a lot of fun. This time the fairy tale was the frog prince (with a few more mixed in!) and it was a charming and interesting take on the story. I really liked the main characters of Sunday and Rumbold, and the secondary characters - who apparently take centre stage in later novels in the series - were also great. I did find myself confused in a couple of places, where I thought the backstory of exactly what was going on could have been explained better, but overall it was a lovely book, with excellent narration by Katherine Kellgren.
Rating: 4/5

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, narrated by Ellen Kushner with performances by Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan and Simon Jones 
I was drawn to this book by the "Neil Gaiman presents" label, and the idea of the "enhanced" audiobook, complete with performances - including by Katherine Kellgren - intrigued me. The story itself, a swashbuckling adventure that Gaiman describes as "if Jane Austen wrote fantasy", completely sold me. So this book had a lot going for it. It's a shame it didn't live up to that potential. First, the narration was terrible. The author's own American accent just sounded completely off for her clearly not American story and characters, and she was not great with the various voices. The fact that character voices were replaced by actors in certain scenes was more jarring than anything, and the sound effects and music were totally ridiculous and distracting. As for the story itself, considering it's all about sword fighting and murder plots, it was surprisingly slow-paced and boring. There was too much focus on high society politics for my liking. It didn't help that not one of the characters were likeable - not even in a love-to-hate kinda way. They were just annoying, infuriating, or tedious. I had to force myself to finish this book, and I was SO glad when it was over.
Rating: 2/5

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Bookish Buys: Outlander Edition

I haven't done one of these posts in awhile but I'm trying to get back into regular blogging so here's hoping this will be the first of many regular features to get back up and running. I'm reading (or rather, listening to) Outlander by Diana Gabaldon at the moment and even though I'm basically hating it I know A LOT of people love it, so out of curiousity I thought I'd see if there were many related products available and, unsurprisingly, there is! Like...

Outlander book necklace
Outlander coasters

Jamie and Claire earrings

Claire-inspired ring

Outlander scented candle

Sassenach bookmark

Craigh na Dun necklace

Je Suis Prest necklace

Jamie necklace

Sassenach mug

Thistle earrings


Time and place necklace

Dragonfly necklace

J+C earrings

Claire and Jamie card

Jamie doll

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Top Ten Books On My Wishlist

1. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins. I probably don't need to explain this one - I think if you're a book blogger and don't already own it, you want it!

2. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su. I adored the web series so I'm interested to see how they've adapted it as a book.

3. Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines by Samantha Hahn. This book of illustrations of female characters looks gorgeous.

4. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. This one has been sitting on my wishlist for years. No idea why I haven't managed to get my hands on it yet.

5. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson. I loved Matson's first book and liked her second so I'm really keen to read this one too.

6. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. I've heard mixed things about this book but I adored Lanagan's Sea Hearts when I read it last year and have been meaning to check this one out since.

7. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. I am one of those terrible people (or possibly the only one?!) who is yet to read this series. I almost bought it recently but held myself back because I was buying other books - but I will have to get this one some day soon.

8. Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. This is another book that has been on my wishlist since it came out, a couple of years ago now. For some reason it's never made it to the TBR pile, but I still really want it.

9. The Messenger by Markus Zusak. Despite loving The Book Thief A LOT, I haven't read any of Zusak's other books, which I kind of kick myself over every so often. I need to remedy that.

10. Bossypants by Tina Fey. I was desperate to read this when it came out and then never got around to buying or reading it. Again, I really need to!

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. 

Sunday 10 August 2014

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I don't know what I can say in this review that hasn't already been said by many other reviewers. But I can't not say anything about it because this book affected me so much. So I'm adding my voice to the chorus. It's true what they say. We Were Liars is an incredible book. And the less you know about it going into it, the better. Suffice it to say it's about four teenagers - three cousins and a friend - called the Liars, who spend each summer on a private island together. But nobody wants to talk about what happened two summers ago, when there was an accident that caused Cady to lose important memories. As she tries to piece together the past, she has to come to terms with the messed up present - with the help of her Liars, of course.

So yeah. This book is a mystery. But it's also about friendship and family, anger and love, grief and desire... you know, all the big little stuff - or little big stuff. It's simply beautiful. I know the writing style is not for everyone (many other reviewers have mentioned how it bugged them), but I ADORED it. It's rich and elegant, the kind that you want to read out loud, that evokes the texture and taste and smell of a place and a story and the people in it.

And oh, the people in it. This book is not about poor little rich kids that you can't feel sorry for. Cady and her Liars are all interesting and real and loveable. Along with Cady, I especially loved Gat, the outsider on the island who belongs and yet doesn't. He got under my skin, as did all the Liars. The one part that was mildly annoying was that it's never clear why they were called the Liars in the first place. But that was no big deal. A surface issue. What really matters is the amazing story and the brilliant characters and the vivid emotional core.

I hope it's not spoiling too much to say this book made me ugly cry. Hard. FOR HOURS. I am not exaggerating. I can't remember the last time a book made me cry so much. It didn't help that I wasn't expecting it to be so emotional, and I was up late reading it long after everyone else had gone to bed (because yes, it's impossible to put down), and so suddenly I found myself alone and CRYING AND CRYING AND CRYING AND CRYING AND CRYING. It hurt so much. I went to bed and cried some more. My husband woke up and was all "WHAT'S WRONG?!" and I had to be like "This bo-oo-ooo-oooooook." And he hugged me and I cried some more until I finally fell asleep. And then in the morning I woke up and remembered and CRIED SOME MORE.

To be fair, I read this book along with Bree at 1 Girl 2 Many Books and I don't believe she cried at all. So it could have just been the right book at the right time (or maybe the wrong book at the wrong time) for me. It might not make you cry so much. But I just want you to know that it tore my heart out and stomped on it a bit and offered it back to me slightly mangled.

But it was worth it. This is a beautiful book. One of my favourites of the year. You should read it. With some tissues and somebody to cuddle nearby.

Rating: 4.5/5

Fine Print
Published: 2014, Allen & Unwin
Source: Netgalley
Get It: Abebooks

Saturday 2 August 2014

Audiobook Review: Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters, Narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers

Bedbugs is a pretty standard horror. A young family moves into a new home and it seems like a dream come true, until of course things start to go wrong. Strange smells, strange noises, strange neighbours, and increasing tension within the family itself. Where it differs from a lot of horror, however, is that this time it's the mother, rather than the father, who is affected by the new place and whose sanity slowly starts to unravel and turn her against her own family.

I really liked this different perspective on the classic horror narrative. I liked the family at the centre, and loved Susan and Alex's relationship, making it hard to watch it start to unravel. True, Susan thinks some awful things even before she starts to go crazy, but that didn't make her an awful character - I found her to be incredibly realistic, actually. Everyone has bad thoughts they wouldn't ever say out loud, and it was kind of refreshing to see them on the page. I also really related to Susan's own guilt and anxiety, particularly about her painting - she left her job to focus on her art, and finds a million things to instead so she doesn't have to begin and risk failure. I wasn't expecting to connect so much on an emotional level in a simple horror story, but I guess deep down good horror is about everyday anxieties amplified.

Which I suppose is why this book puts the hysteria over bedbugs that happened in New York a couple of years ago at front and centre. It's a good device, a threat that most people recognise, and yet I do feel like it wasn't used entirely effectively here. What was most interesting was Susan's inner chaos, and the bedbugs could have been substituted with any kind of threat or annoyance, really. They didn't form an essential part of the story. If anything they made Susan's unravelling seem a little more unrealistic, because not a lot actually happens regarding bedbugs before she's totally freaking out over them and becoming obsessive. I get that there were other things affecting her but it just seemed a little ridiculous in spots.

There's a slow build to this book that I quite liked but it did drag in spots. It was very creepy for the most part but sometimes I just wanted something to happen. But when something did happen I was a little disappointed, the creepiness disappeared and it just felt a little... silly. I still liked it overall but I didn't LOVE it.

I listened to this on audiobook and the narration for the most part was very good. Elisabeth Rodgers captured Susan's voice really well and the supporting characters were great, with one exception - Emma, Susan and Alex's daughter. I get that it's hard for a grown woman to do a toddler's voice but it really got on my nerves. I think part of that was also the writing - some of the dialogue coming from Emma just didn't sound authentic to me, it was frequently overly cutesy, like how someone thinks a toddler would sound and not how a toddler actually sounds. But otherwise it was a pretty good listening experience.

Rating: 3.5/5

Head Cast
I pictured Alice Eve as Susan and Michael Rady as Alex.

via Dreamworks 
via CBS

Fine Print
Published: 2011, Audible Studios
Get It: Audible