Sunday, 15 February 2015

REVIEW: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

So I decided to review this book because, despite really enjoying it, I completely forgot to include it in my January Wrap Up post. I had a niggling feeling I'd forgotten something when I published the last post but it took me a few days to pinpoint the exact book that I'd overlooked so, rather than amend and re-publish my wrap up, I thought I'd give 'The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland' a full review and a blog post of its very own to make up for my forgetfulness. As usual, I'll try to keep the review spoiler-free and I'll include a link to the novel's Goodreads page for those of you who want to check it out after reading this.

'The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making' is the first book in Catherynne M. Valente's 'Fairyland' series. It follows a twelve-year-old girl called September who leaves behind her dreary life in Oregon when the Green Wind invites her on an adventure. Entering the magical Fairyland, September discovers that the land is under the rule of the tyrannical Marquess. Soon September is embroiled in a quest to retrieve a mystical artifact and to try and save Fairyland's inhabitants from the Marquess' rule.

I really like classic fairy stories and I loved Catherynne M. Valente's take on the classical fairytale tropes and images. Valente isn't afraid of using traditional images in her work but she subverts many of them, adding new and original elements to well know fairytale devices and characters. I also liked the fact that this book is a proper fairy story and, as with the original Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson stories, September ends up going to some dark places and encountering some gruesome scenarios before the story ends. If you think fairytales are for children, think again - this one has some very grown-up ideas and, in my opinion, is most definitely a read for mature teens and adults.

The characters are all very unique and I really liked heroine September - she's feisty,brave and vulnerable in just the right measures. My favourite character though had to be A-Through-L, a Wyverary. What's a Wyverary you ask? Why it's a cross between a Wyvern and a Library of course! And that, right there, is one of the reasons I loved this book. It's a little bit insane but in all the right ways. In fact, it reminded me a lot of 'Alice in Wonderland' - when reading it I kept returning to the famous Mad Hatter quote "You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret....all the best people are!".

This book is entirely bonkers but in a completely delicious manner. It's one of those novels where you just have to roll with it and accept the world that the author has created, however crazy it might seem. For this reason, I'm not sure everyone will enjoy the ride. Fans of classic fairy stories and magical realism will really love 'The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland'. For those who prefer more linear fiction, or don't enjoy whimsical storytelling, the randomness of the world and with some of the more fantastical elements of the plot and characterisation might irritate rather than fascinate. 

For me however, I really enjoyed this book and was thrilled to discover this is the first of a series of novels set in Fairyland. I've already purchased the second book, 'The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There', and have the third novel, 'The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two' on pre-order for the UK paperback release. I think there is also a short story prequel for Kindle only called 'The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - for a Little While' which I'm planning to track down if it's available on he UK Kindle store. I believe that a fourth book, 'The Boy Who Lost Fairyland' is due out later this year and that there are more to follow. So, plenty more Fairyland for me to discover and enjoy! And, if you're a fan of fairy stories and like the sound of a Wyverary, I'd urge you to check them out too! Until next time book lovers, Happy Reading!



Tuesday, 3 February 2015

January Wrap Up

I started 2015 (and this blog) by making a commitment towards more reading and reading time in an attempt to reduce the ever-growing Shelf of Unread Books in my spare room. So less Facebook, less YouTube, less Xbox, more reading. But we all know how New Years Resolutions work out - what seems like a grand idea on January 1st can very easily have become a chore by January 30th. So I am pleased to report that not only have I increased my reading time through January but that I have thoroughly enjoyed it! I've read some cracking books this month and wanted to share the bookish love by telling you all a bit about them:

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
I kicked off 2015 by finishing this fantastic debut fantasy novel set in an inter-dimensional library, which was released this month. I've already dedicated a blog post to a review so, instead of repeating myself, I suggest you mosey on over to my previous post here

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman
I loved this book when I first read it at 15. I loved the bustling world of zeppelins, scholars and gyptians that make up young heroine Lyra's alternative Oxford. And Lyra herself was everything I wanted to be - feisty and brave and clever but kind-hearted too. Plus she has a talking armored bear for a bodyguard and which girl doesn't want that?!? However, I struggled to get into the follow up novel 'The Subtle Knife' and as a consequence never finished Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy (which concludes with 'The Amber Spyglass') despite having all three books languishing on my shelves. This changed over Christmas when I saw a video by the wonderful Booktuber Jen Campbell (who has also written the very amusing 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops', 'More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' and the official Books Are My Bag book 'The Bookshop Book' - all highly recommended if you love your books) in which she enthusiastically talked up the remaining two books. Jen's video (you can watch it herereminded me how much I loved this first book as a teenager and this inspired me to give the trilogy another go. I started by re-reading 'Northern Lights' (I still love it) and fully intend to move onto 'The Subtle Knife' this month in an attempt to finally crack it.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
This cropped up time and again on some of my favourite podcasts and blogposts so I duly jumped on the bandwagon and bought a copy. I flew through it - it's so engrossing. Set in an America ravaged by an deadly flu strain, the novel follows the members of a wandering Shakespeare company called 'The Travelling Symphony' as they tour the post-apocalyptic landscape,bringing music and Shakespeare to the townships formed since the collapse. This is interspersed with flashbacks detailing life before and during the flu crisis and charting the unexpected links between the six narrators, all of whom are connected in someway to Shakespearean actor Arthur Leander, who dies of a heart attack on stage at the very outset of the crisis. All of the usual post-apocalyptic tropes are present and correct (cannibals, doomsday cults, plucky survivors) but, despite this, 'Station Eleven' avoids the cliches and instead offers a meditative and though-provoking look at art and it's ability to sustain us, even in the darkest of times. Even if you're not usually a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, I'd urge you to give this one a go.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Poor Angela Carter. Everyone kept telling me how good her fiction - especially her short fiction - was and I kept avoiding it for fear of being dragged kicking and screaming back to heady university days when her name was mentioned only in the context of heavy feminist readings of her work. But what a treat I was missing out on! Yes, the stories in this collection - all of them subverted takes on classical fairy tales - can (and probably should) be read within a feminist context and yes, the collection raise interesting questions about the role of girls and women within traditional storytelling. Just as important as that however is the fact that they are lively, playful re-tellings with excellent pacing and a keen eye for detail. My favourite stories - her wistful, sensuous take on Beauty and the Beast 'The Courtship of Mr Lyon' and the riotously re-imagined  'Puss in Boots' - are wry and insightful examples of storytelling at it's best. As with all collections, I enjoyed some stories more than others but I'm so glad I finally read this one and would recommend it to short story lovers and fairy tale fans alike!

So that was my January reading wrap up. If you've read any of the above books, or if you'e been inspired to read them as a result of this post, I'd love to know what you thought about them so please pop a comment down below. And are there any others you think I should add to my TBR pile as a result of my enjoyment of these?

As for February, I've got a bundle of books I'm really hoping to get through this month including finishing off Michael Faber's 'The Book of Strange New Things', finally reading Ernest Cline's 'Ready Player One' (been on my TBR forever) and delving into the much-hyped January release 'The Girl On The Train'. AND I want to carry on with Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy and finally get 'The Subtle Knife' read. As it's going to be a busy month, I'd better go get reading! Until next time folks...

Happy Reading!