book review

Album Review: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Hi everyone! I’m Stuart, new to the Picklepants review team but hoping to be a regular contributor going into the future. Here’s a review of the latest Panda Bear album for you.

Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

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The latest solo album from Noah Lennox – AKA Panda Bear, one quarter of the Animal Collective – sounds something like a combination of his previous two efforts. There’s the same washed out, percussive psychedelia of 2011’s Tomboy, but filtered through the colourful folk deconstructions of 2007’s landmark Person Pitch. The result is a breezy, woozy grower of an album that, while not as immediately arresting as some of the AnCo discography, slowly threads it’s winding melodies and hooks around your ears, growing more essential with each listen.

Key to it all is Lennox’s vocals, which tie each track together with their reverb-soaked buoyancy, while at the same time remaining poignant and relatable through the simple, melancholy prettiness of Lennox’s lyrics, even when they aren’t wholly decipherable. Mid-album cut ‘Come To Your Senses’ is a perfect example of this, a track that wouldn’t have been particularly remarkable without Lennox’s simple, infectious refrain ‘Are you mad? Are you mad?’, which seems to be clawing itself out of the noisy, psychedelic swirl that surrounds it. The achingly beautiful ‘Tropic of Cancer’ is another highlight, full of lilting guitars blowing away in the tropical breeze of Lennox’s vocals, as he laments the sadness of partings and the struggles of fatherhood.

Not every song reaches these same heights, however – a couple of tracks, namely ‘Principe Real’ and ‘Acid Wash’ – are lost in the bulk of the album. And the handful of 30 second, glitchy instrumentals which bridge some of the songs, such as ‘Davy Jones Locker’, are largely a pointless annoyance. These aside, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a wonderfully enigmatic record, and the strongest release from anything AnCo related since 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion.

8/10

Johnny Dangerously – Michael Keaton With An Adverb!

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Oscar season is upon us and it is a fantastic time to be a film fan. The other day I was sat with some friends discussing the nominated actors/pictures etc. when I brought up a little known gem tied to Michael Keaton. People sat, confused faces twisting when I mentioned it. Johnny Dangerously, the 1984 gangster parody film that almost kick started Michael Keaton’s career as a film actor. When I found out that no one I knew had seemed to even hear of this film my heart sank, It’s sad that when people think of Keaton they only think of Beatlejuice and Batman (And now Birdman) but never bring up this little beauty. So here I am giving it a little bit of attention and affection.

Johnny Dangerously Is a tale about a young immigrant trying to make money for his family and ends up joining a local gang. However this film is so much more than just a simple tale of rags to riches, the comedy in this film is not only incredibly funny but timed and executed perfectly by the like of Michael Keaton. It’s use of breaking the fourth wall is reminiscent of films like Blazing Saddles or Airplane. The characters are memorable and there are some rather good performances from the likes of Danny Devito, who makes a small appearance. With jokes ranging from sight gags, to slap stick to satire this film epitomises what parodying really is, and shows us just how dead it has become.

Filled with quotes and one liners, especially from Johnny’s rival Danny Vermin, this film will have you beside yourself laughing. Even over 30 years since its release the comedy and jokes are still easily accessible and funny due to the nature of the film. Honestly I can’t really say enough about this film without spoiling it but all I would say is that you haven’t seen it then go out and grab yourself a copy. It’s sad that such a funny and well put together film doesn’t ever seem to get the credit it deserves and with Keaton getting nominated for an Oscar it couldn’t be a better time to see where he started his career.

 

-Grand Pickle

88. Magnum, "It shoots through schools."

88. Magnum, “It shoots through schools.”

 

‘Grave Witch’ by Kalayna Price, Review

Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

“Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around…

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life…and her soul.”

Now, computer troubles put me down for the count last Monday, so let me make it up by throwing a doozy of a book at you guys.  Grave Witch has quickly become one of my favourite books, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a series new to me and fell head over tail in love. Maybe four or five years ago? Yikes.

Grave Witch is full to the brim with everything I love in an Urban Fantasy novel. Magic, mayhem, mystery, miscellaneous beasties of assorted size and teeth-number… it’s got it all. But it’s also wonderfully different and fresh, an awesome new take on a lot of familiar old concepts in the genre, including witches, branches of magical ability, Faerie courts and even folded spaces, which you don’t hear much of in stories but may be one of my favourite concepts – a space of any size that has always existed but just hasn’t been detectable or even spatially present until a catalyst makes it ‘unfold’. Nekros City, the setting of the novel, is one such space and is the hub of weird things in America. Magic is absolutely everywhere in this world – even the most mundane of mundanes use hair straightening tricks, and quick cleaning spells, and complexion charms. The Fae own a bar, witches set up market in the centre of the city, a kelpie lives in the river… it’s fantastic. Well, not the kelpie. She’ll eat you dead. But still! And don’t forget that vaguely prophetic gargoyle living in the garden, who you never see move, but definitely changes location and whose name is Fred.

Urban Fantasy is really brought to the extreme here, with magic more believably integrated into ‘our’ world than I would have thought possible. The descriptions of the riots and violence after the Fae made themselves known and witches came out of the broom closet gave me chills, and there are even powerful political parties within the world against ‘non-humans’. Some of the bigotry demonstrated harkens back to real life in a way that definitely drives the point home.

The Fae and witches and their dynamics in this novel’s world are just great. Their different uses of magic are fascinating, and I loved hearing about all the specific abilities witches alone can have (these witches being ‘wyrd witches’, often powerful in their ability, but paying a steep price in using them – and if they don’t use their magic, it seeps out of them in dangerous ways!). With folks such as grave witches around, those very rare magic users who can raise shades from corpses, see ghosts and even peer into the terrifying, decaying land of the dead, we see into a deeper world. Though it’s really only hinted at, the things that live in the wastes of the land of the dead sound way scary. Definitely not somewhere you want to be trapped if you’re a ghost reluctant to move on to whatever’s next.

Which brings me to the soul collectors. Damn, these guys are awesome. The collectors are this story’s iteration of what we might call ‘grim reapers’ and their job, yep you guessed it, is to take the souls of the dead to wherever the hell they go. Operating through magic all their on, they’re beings utterly shrouded in mystery, invisible and impossible to sense by any other than the dead – and powerful grave witches. And anti-social and governed by rules unknowable to mere mortals as they may be, that doesn’t stop one soul collector from being our heroine’s oldest, closest friend. Hey, if you met the only living person who could touch you and through that make you capable of eating pizza and drinking coffee, you’d hang around too! And it was definitely interesting to find out that Death is a snarky, sassy babe.

Alex Craft is everything I adore in UF heroine. She’s tough and weird and funny, never a self-righteous prude, not too judgemental to others for their life choices (as long as people aren’t being disembowelled because of them, of course). Very much not arrogant, but has plenty of self-confidence and she’s damn well going to make sure haters know it. She is far from perfect with her abandonment issues, her quick-decisions, recklessness and often her blindness – both metaphorical and literal, at times. She is her own person, reluctant to lean on anyone, but so very grateful to those who add support anyway. Death, of course (wow, that’s weird to say) supports her where he can, and she even has a new partner in solving-crime-but-also-kind-of-committing-crime-because-why-the-hell-not, Falin Andrews, mysterious detective who may or may not be human and who may definitely be an ass. A useful ass, but the point stands. I have to say, he has yet to win me over completely. I enjoy his scenes, and I don’t dislike him. But I don’t exactly want to swaddle him up in a bundle of blankets and protect him, which is the symbol of truly beloved characters, as we all know.

The prose itself is wonderful. It’s never too pretentious, but beautifully descriptive and rich, as well as great in conveying emotions. It’s the type of writing that just flows off the page and paints a fabulously dynamic picture in your imagination. Grave Witch is just full of engaging writing that kept me glued to the book and left me dying for more.

The book builds itself up with action and development to an intense climax, filled with great revelations.

Although, if I’m honest here, some of these revelations were a little predictable. But it personally didn’t take the fun out of the story, nor out of watching Alex discover things in her own time. I could seriously read everything about this character and her life, she’s that much fun.

The story was generally steady-to-fast paced, but it did slow in a couple of places, and I did catch myself skimming when I hit them, though it didn’t exactly take a heroic measure of patience to keep going – the book drags you in quite well.

4.5/5 Stars, Very few complaints, all in all, and I am excited for an Urban Fantasy series in a way I have so missed!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

Kalayna Price

– Meg

‘Skin Game’ by Jim Butcher, REVIEW

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If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. It is easily one of my favourite book series’ and is still going strong upon the release of it’s fourteenth book. You’ll be hardpressed to find other long-running series’ holding up so well.

At midnight last night, Skin Game, book fourteen, was released and I’ve already completely devoured it. And it was mind-blowing!

After a very, very goddamn rough few years, in which Harry Dresden has actually died, Harry has had a year break away from magical beasties and bullies trying to literally eat his face, even as a parasite has grown within his head and risks bursting out of his skull any day now. But hey, small victories, right?

I wasn’t too sure what I was expecting from this book, but as the last few have been heavy and extreme and have put Harry through a lot of shit, I think I assumed that it would  be a kind of fast, funny and cool sort-of filler book for introspection on Harry’s life and experiences and a break in the increasing trajectory and pace of the series.

Boy, was I wrong.

Harry’s new boss, good old Queen Mab of the Winter Court of Faerie, needs to settle a debt. And of course, she uses her new Knight to do that. This would turn out horribly for Harry anyway, because it’s Harry and because it’s Mab, but it just so happens that the debt collector is Nicodemus Archleone, host to a Fallen angel, old enemy of Harry’s, and all-around murdering psychopath.

And the job he wants doing?

Yeah, breaking into the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

A lot happened in this book.

It was still hilariously funny, of course, and had me snorting and giggling out loud more than a few times. Of course, it also had me lapsing into tears a few times, though I think I did so more out of happiness than actual pain and sadness for once. Very unusual for a Dresden book, let me tell you. The book as a whole is beyond intense and I genuinely feared for the lives of some characters several times – cue panicked animal noises from myself – because of the very frightening circumstances they found themselves in, in quick succession. The pace never let up and the action and adventure was constant. I was never bored or felt myself skimming words, which I would rarely ever do in a Dresden book in any case, but the intensity of the story kept me utterly enthralled throughout and I’ve successfully bitten my nails to stumps. Despite that, Skin Game is an oddly uplifting book! Upon finishing it, I felt good about Harry’s choices, his losses and his victories. His ‘lost’ talk with Michael brought back a wonderful return of the ‘old’ Harry. He still has his scars and his past to battle through and carry with him, but there was something lighter about him and the return of something he lost through the hell of his recent years. Though I felt frightened,too, for what’s to come, because this is Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden we’re talking about here. I mean, come on.

A few things I very much enjoyed:

We get to see Subconscious Harry! Yay! The visual incarnation of Harry’s inner-self is a total dick, complete with all black outfit and goatee, but I really love that guy and his frank sass. Along with this, we get some serious insight into the parasite that Harry’s been harbouring. Talk about your bundle of joy, eesh! But I am way excited for what’s to come in regards to the ‘parasite’ after the end of Skin Game.

I was so glad to see the Carpenters made a great comeback, too. I adore that family, and Charity’s attitude to life is everything I hope to gain. What a badass. Molly shows up, too, more awesome than ever and seemingly recovering from her own hellish experiences. However, Harry hasn’t seen her in the year since she gained the mantle of Winter Lady, and there are some… changes. And worries. Molly is my baby and any possible harm to her character makes me want to curl up and cry. So just a warning on that. Still, she was awesome as all heck when we did see her in action, even if she didn’t get much.

Speaking of the Carpenters, Maggie’s appearance was surprising and yet not, because it was so long overdue, but suddenly Harry turned around and was faced with her, just there, and he couldn’t run from his daughter anymore. And I could not be more thrilled about how that turned out. You go, Harry. And you go, Mouse! Mouse, Harry’s Tibetan Mastiff-like magical, mystical Foo dog was as brilliant as ever. I would give so much for my own Mouse, let me tell you.

Weirdly, I enjoyed Nicodemus’s role in this book. He’s as awful and horridly evil as ever, a true villain in every way, but weirdly enjoyable as one. He got no sympathy from me whatsoever, but I can’t wait to see his next appearance in the series. And to see his butt get kicked all over again, hopefully!  Though I have to admit, the Genoskwa terrified me a bit.

The many confrontations Harry found himself in the middle of (or starting, dammit Harry) started to show to what extent he’s beginning to exert control over the Winter in him. He pulled back the violent instincts a lot easier this time around, and seemed prepared for it. And Harry Dresden? Prepared for things? That’s character growth right there.

And if anyone is wondering about an appearance by the Lord of the Underworld himself, seeing as his vault is the target of the heist, then I’ll say yes. We get a little personal time with Hades himself, but I’ll say no more on that. It’s too cool to spoil.

I will say that I missed a few things, namely Thomas. He’s always a great character and I missed his snark and own brand of drama. Similarly, I also wished we’d seen more of Molly and Bob, though what little we did see was a promise of great things to come, I think. I do wonder what will happen with Bob now, what with Butters, his current boss, having this whole new position? Hmm…

The Outsiders and the Nemesis, too, were something I could’ve done with hearing more about, after that huge conflict Harry had with them previously. But a few certain things in Skin Game definitely promised more to do with them, and Mab’s war with them was referenced.

And the questions I was left with about that ‘parasite’! I will not be over that until the next book, which cannot come fast enough. I see many re-reads in the near and far future. Bravo, Mr. Butcher. Bravo!

5 / 5 Stars, easily!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Jim Butcher

– Meg

 

X-Men: Days Of Futures Past – Review!

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Hey everyone! I was all ready to do a review today about a game but then I went to see the new X-men film last night and thought that I had to write about it. Now im gunna keep this review no- spoilers  which means I can’t really speak about all aspects of the film in detail so there are gunna be a few points that I really wanted to speak about (and I probably will do at a later date) that I am going to leave out to save you from having the film spoiled. So here goes.

 

First off this film is great and you should go see it. The film itself is well paced and directed and Brian Singer does a great job bringing to life the X-men we all know and love while also showing Brett Ratner how its fucking done! This is up there challenging for the best X-men movie rather easily but I still feel it needed to do a little more. The trouble with a film world this big with so many mutants available to use is that you can’t fit them all into a normal length movie so what the film does is just show you small glimpses of certain characters, rather than setting up actual character development, more in line with a cameo. Now this is a sort of bitter sweet thing because if you’re a fan of the comics and know the characters that they show you’re delighted that they made it into the film and then kinda disappointed that they couldn’t have been in it for longer. but that’s just a nitpick more than anything.

The storyline is tight and well constructed and a lot of the time doesn’t hold your hand the whole way like some comic films do. The story jumps around a lot so you do have to keep track of multiple storylines but it’s not too much of a bother because the film keeps you engaged and interested in what’s happening with the main characters. The film itself is kind of a strange one to place as it seems like it’s trying to take itself more seriously with some much heavier themes but then also contain the wit and humour we’ve grown to expect from marvel films. Personally I like it and I think its pulled off really well in this film but I can see that it might worry a few fans and maybe some parents that take their children to see this thinking it’s a nice family film which is exactly what it seems it’s trying to get away from.

However because of all the jumping around between characters the film feels a little hollow in some places and does leave you wanting more, but not in a good way. Now don’t get me wrong as a comic book movie this is great but as a movie its good. It is taking a step in the right direction where people will think of marvel films as great films rather than just great super hero films. It may not sound like there is difference their but trust me there is a big one.

As I said though you should definitely go see this film and im gunna end the review their before I go into spoiler mode. I give this film a 8/10 and is a must see for any super hero fan.

 

Joe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spoiler-alert

 

 

 

Spoilers be here! Do not read this final tid bit if you don’t want the ending spoiled in some way, no major details but just sort of in general. So Yeah stop reading if you want to stay pure and innocent.

Sorry I just had to say this one last bit otherwise I’m gunna explode, I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say thank fuck that the ending wiped out all events of X-men 3 and Wolverine- Origins (I assume), but after the ecstasy left me that those shitty films are no longer cannon it also made me sad that we have no idea what IS canon anymore, did X-men 1 and 2 even happen? in this new future are Magneto and Charles still frenemies? Ahhh the questions without answers! anyway that’s all that I wanted to say. If you’ve seen the film please let me know what you think, also one last bit before I sign off, how disappointed were you with the whole rogue thing?! Use her in the adverts and then have her for not even 5 seconds at the end! Im not even sure if she says a line! Sorry rant over thanks for reading and im sorry if this bit spoiled anything for anyone but I did warn you.

Mirror Sight, by Kristen Britain, REVIEW

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I’ve reviewed the first book of this series, Green Rider, before, and now I’m skipping right on ahead to the newly released fifth book, Mirror Sight, which I have been desperately waiting for since early 2011 after a horrifying cliffhanger ending from Ms. Britain.

In Blackveil, the previous book, we left Karigan G’Ladheon, seasoned Green Rider, fresh from a confrontation with Mornhavon. She’d denied him literally astronomical power and the fallout left her blasted through the layers of the world, trapped in a sealed stone coffin who knows where, injured, her air supply dwindling and supposedly no help forthcoming. Imagine waiting three and a half years for that to be resolved!

Thankfully, here we are picking right up where we left off. You know, our beloved Karigan about to die horribly and all that. She of course survives – where would we be without the heroine of the story? – and finds herself almost 200 years in the future where magic no longer seems to exist and an empire has all but erased Sacoridia and everything she knows and loves. Though this sounds pretty flaky for a high fantasy series, trust me, trust the writer, and don’t fret; Britain has integrated time travel shenanigans into the series before, and she continues to carry it on marvellously.

The previous few novels have explored the POVs of other various characters, which was fascinating, fun and important, but I have to admit that it was great getting back to Karigan more in this book, with just enough outside POV to spice it up and keep the other plot threads moving along. Despite this, I still rather missed hearing from a few well-loved characters as the book progressed.

As usual, Kristen Britain’s writing was brilliant, a great blend of intensity, drama, action and hilarity come together to make Karigan’s story shine. The description of so many new and amazing, if terrifying, things within her world was something I eagerly ate up, particularly the steampunk-ish elements of the magic-and-otherwise-powered technologies of this awful future in which Karigan has found herself. As a reader, the more you see of this future, the more you whole-heartedly agree with her urgent need to get the hell back to her own time and prevent it from coming to pass.

Although I adored this book, as I always will with anything Britain creates, I was left yearning for more. And not just because of the three year wait between books! Many questions were left unanswered, even un-attended to, from previous books. Though I totaly understand this, seeing as the heroine has been tossed into the far future by a death god who is up to – well, only he knows what. Still, I was hoping to hear more about Alton, Estral’s loss of her magical and evidently extremely important voice, the other Green Riders, their history, about what that awful Grandmother and her crew are up to in Blackveil Forest, about King Zachary, and about Amberhill, especially after his last chapter in the book in which he woke up them.

But, for anyone who has read Blackveil and was as interested in Yolandhe the Sea Witch as myself, boy are you in for a treat towards the end of Mirror Sight. It’s not morally right or pretty, what she does, but new personal idol? Hell, yeah. Talk about girl power.

Overall, I was blown away by this book, and I’m already sitting around pining for the next instalment.

The romantic choices were surprising, but enjoyed (if painfully), the ending was beautifully painful as is becoming the norm for Britain, the foreshadowing throughout the book had me shaking in fear but clueless as to where it would lead up until the moment it happened (‘Mirror sight’ – you’re not bloody kidding!), and the story was a fantastic adventure, even if it started of a teensy bit slow and had the vague feel of a ‘filler’ novel, though I by no means believe it unnecessary to the series as a whole. It is more that it has added a whole new urgency to it.

[4.5 / 5]

Please go read this series!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kristen Britain

P.S. Look at the breathtaking full image of the US cover art by Donato Giancola and check out his website and gallery!

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– Meg

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, REVIEW

 Whoo, well, here we are, after two weeks of nothing from me. But things pile up and work happens and we sadly have to deal with that. But now, here’s my promised review of Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor!

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It’s the final instalment of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and boy is it a doozy. What began as a tale of an art student leading a secret second life as an errand girl for monsters has blown up into a realm-crossing war between angels and chimaera, the two inhabitants of the world ‘next door’ to Earth, Eretz. Yes, we know that’s Hebrew for ‘Earth’. The irony was not lost.

In the two previous books we’ve seen love, loss, death, war, betrayal, and back to love, only for the cycle to repeat.

Karou, after a vicious attack from the Wolf, leader of the waning numbers of the chimaera rebellion still left alive, has orchestrated an explosive betrayal and taken control of the rebellion, none of whom but a trusted few are any the wiser of which. Now she has to stop them from carrying on this futile war and inevitably destroying themselves out of a need for revenge that would prove pointless once they’re all dead. Never mind keeping her and Akiva’s respective rebel armies from tearing at each other’s throats, even as they attempt to ally themselves against the greater threat that Jael poses. We’ve heard nothing but how much chimaera and Seraphs loathe each other, and it was nail-biting, to say the least, watching them attempt to survive together.

What I love most about this series, aside from it’s fresh take on angels and fantasy, is the characters, and they do not disappoint in Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Every single character has a very distinct and unique personality that shines through in their actions. No matter how despicable they may be, I still find myself completely engulfed in the passages featuring the villains, because they are just wrote so well. This series definitely has some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen, made all the better when they interact among themselves.

I am always unsure what exact genre the trilogy is, my opinion hovering somewhere between YA paranormal romance and fantasy, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters certainly leaned more towards the latter in the final arc, but whatever it is, it’s done very well. I never quite favour one world over the other, desperate to know how Earth is faring in the wake of the Seraph invasion, even as I long to learn more about Eretz and how the war is progressing. At the same time, I’ve found myself heavily invested in the romances blossoming – and crumbling – throughout the books. Zuzana and Mik are the constants, never doubting one another, together through everything, and willing to sacrifice anything, even their fragile, human, mortal lives, to help Karou and Eretz. They kept me sane through the twists and turns, particularly when it comes to Karou and Akiva. Finally, finally, these two begin to see that they aren’t the monsters they thought themselves to be, and that they may deserve forgiveness, and even each other. But things are never easy for these two and while they’re beginning to reconcile with themselves and each other, there’s much going on behind the scenes, as it were, that may yet tear them apart again and forever.

A vicious queen Seraph and her magi are hunting Akiva after the massive release of power he demonstrated in the previous book, determined to put an end to the threat he poses that could destroy everything these near-mythical angels of the Far Isles have fought for over the millennia. Scarab, the queen in question, is young, but hard and brutal. Even so, she is sympathetic. Though they vowed never to get involved with the Empire’s wars and path of destruction, she actually saves the lives of our rebel armies. She sees the value in warriors fighting against something they could not hope to defeat, yet fighting with hope anyway. It’s time for her and her people to do the same.

It is Scarab’s arrival into the story that truly turns it on its head. Suddenly, much of Karou and Akiva’s troubles of the past seem horrifically insignificant in the larger scheme of things. I’m not going to spoil it and reveal this revelation, but I will tell you to go back in the series, and pay very close attention to Razgut, to the tales of their species origins that Madrigal and Akiva tell one another, and to the title of this particular book. It rocked my world almost as much as it did Karou, Akiva and everyone else’s. Then you’ll realise the full horror of the bruises spreading across the sky, and why the creatures of Eretz should never have crossed onto Earth or any new universe.

I had to put the book down for almost a full day, and nothing can stop me reading when I love something this much.

Unfortunately, I worry that it might just be too big. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the plot twist, and the history behind it. A lot of things suddenly made a lot more sense, and made the rest of the series that much more poignant. But in the end I was left feeling almost as if Daughter of Smoke and Bone had been something of a prequel series. The plotlines that had emerged from book one and grew and twisted in book two were certainly resolved, which is far better than some series’ ever managed, but book three perhaps introduced something far too big and brilliant to just be left unresolved. I mean, read this entire series and tell me; can you believe we were worrying over Karou’s douchey ex-boyfriend in the first book when all along this has been hanging over them?! I mean, jeez.

Though I was left feeling like I had an unfinished series in my hands, I do understand the intention behind it. To paraphrase, “this was not a happy end, but a happy middle,” and it makes sense in that context. They’ve fought past most of their prejudices and bloody history, and now all of Eretz is ready to fight against the new – but very, very old – enemy, finally. Many YA series end in a sort of ‘happily ever after’ state, making me roll my eyes, because they’re still so young, and still have the rest of their lives. Where’s that happy ever after? This series manages to escape that trope, showing readers that their lives and loves are just beginning, even after so much strife.

I’m now just desperate to know what happens next in a trilogy that is over! Here’s hoping for a spin-off, or a sequel series, anything to give the closure so many readers now need. Though I’d rather Karou and Akiva be left alone for a while. They deserve some hard-won peace after their very long-lived, very rocky beginning.

But gods above and below, that was one hell of a beginning.

4/5 Stars. Kept me on my toes constantly!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Laini Taylor

– Meg

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (novel) – review

Up until now, I’ve only been reviewing television shows on here, and while I love writing about the incredible programmes that grace our screens, I think a book review is long overdue. Written by Stephen Chbosky and published in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a compelling novel about a young boy trying to muddle his way through school, life, and love. I chose to write about this story for my first book review because it holds great meaning for me. While I often find myself becoming emotionally involved with many books that I read, this one really got inside my head in a way that others haven’t – it altered my way of thinking in a very positive way and I found it to be incredibly inspiring and moving, and it has now become one of my most treasured novels.

A definitively outstanding aspect of ‘Perks’ is its composition – it is transcribed in such an excellent way, with Chbosky going for the classic ‘journal’ layout, having the entire book being ‘written’ by the protagonist, Charlie, as a series of letters to an anonymous friend. The first-person narrative provides fascinating insight into Charlie’s teenage mind, thus allowing us to get an exceedingly firm grasp on his feelings and opinions, helping the reader to connect more with the character and empathise with the struggles he goes through. We get a very private, and at times unsettling, view into how Charlie’s experiences have shaped him into the person he is, and, on occasion, the tone of the novel hovers between refreshingly frank and painfully honest as we see Charlie battle the demons inside his head while also trying to deal with the stresses of starting high school and making friends.

In his letters, he vocalises his worries about people disliking him and thinking that he’s ‘weird’ but he admits to keeping quiet about these fears when asked about it by his parents – his aversion to attention then carries over into his interactions at school, thus earning him the title of ‘wallflower’.  However, the book manages to steer clear of sounding pretentious or angsty when delving into sensitive areas such as these, and deals with everything in a way that is tactile and careful, while still retaining the feeling of ‘realness’.

A particularly poignant scene from the movie adaptation of the same name.

A particularly poignant scene from the movie adaptation of the same name.

In terms of the actual writing itself, Chbosky has written the character of Charlie brilliantly, giving him a naïve sort of innocence that the reader can’t help but love; though his attempts at being what he deems ‘normal’ are sometimes misguided and often backfire, we can see that Charlie is simply a conflicted young man who is trying to figure out life just like a lot of people. This makes him likeable and easy to relate to as a main character, which I believe effectively spurs the reader on to cheer for him as the underdog.

The other characters are also brilliantly written, each with their own individual quirks and traits that become apparent when they each meet Charlie – while he begins the story as a frightened young boy who has been through a lot of hardship in the past, he starts his first year of high school and he soon discovers that life can actually be fun after he befriends Sam and Patrick, two students who are in the year above him, along with their eclectic group of friends. This then leads on to many first experiences for young Charlie – first kiss, first drink, first time having sex – some facets of the hedonistic lifestyle that some teenagers dream about. The character of Sam in particular is key in Charlie’s journey into maturity, as she is essentially his gateway into the world of ‘firsts’ – she is his first love, and seeing his feelings described so openly in his letters gives everything a certain rawness that is both addictive and entirely heart-breaking. Another character that holds a lot of weight throughout the novel is the aforementioned Patrick, who happens to be Sam’s stepbrother. Patrick experiences his own troubles throughout the story, his main concern being that the boy he is in love with is deeply in the closet and doesn’t want anyone to know about their relationship for fear of retaliation. This impacts Charlie because when tension arises between Patrick and his secret lover [Brad], Charlie soon begins to learn that having friends means he cannot hide himself away anymore, especially when his friends may require his help.

But don’t be swayed by the possibly familiar-sounding tropes and themes of this novel – this isn’t simply a typical coming-of-age story about a teenage boy at school. From the moment it begins, ‘Perks’ touches on some very sensitive topics, including abuse, bullying, and social ostracism. Each aspect is written respectfully, and Chbosky ensures that themes of a serious nature, like depression and mental health issues, are in no way glamourised [as is often seen in the media of today] or treated as less important than they are, something which I wholeheartedly appreciate.

Although the book deals with some heavy subjects, it ultimately ends on more of a high than a low note. The ending itself is bittersweet – while Charlie is still struggling to overcome the fear and pain lingering in his mind, he realises that he doesn’t have to do it alone anymore and can see hope on the horizon. I felt this to be an extremely stirring way to end the novel, and I’ve found that it has helped me to persevere whenever I’ve come across an obstacle that I thought I couldn’t overcome. With a well of beautiful and intricate quotes peppered throughout –

We accept the love we think we deserve.

There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.

And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

– ‘Perks’ is a stunning read, and is an inspirational tale with some truly wonderful moments to behold. So, if you’re ever in a book shop and you see it on a shelf, buy it and take it home – snuggle up on the sofa with a hot drink and a blanket, and immerse yourself in the brilliance that is The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

love always

*Side note: The movie adaptation is fantastic too, with a stellar soundtrack featuring the likes of David Bowie, The Smiths, and the classic ‘Come On Eileen’, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Go check it out!

5/5 – There are not enough words to express my adoration for this novel.

~Steph.

A Quickpickle on More Books!

Just a Quickie from me today, I’m afraid, even though it’s late AGAIN. Gimme a break, I’m sick.

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Recently I became invested in a new book trilogy, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The first book goes by the same name, the second is Days of Blood and Starlight, and the third and final is Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I don’t want to give much away as I plan to fully review Dreams of Gods and Monsters next Monday, but this series has pulled me in like no other has for many years. We see two worlds throughout the books, earth and our nearest ‘neighbour’ in the next universe over, inhabited by the seemingly monstrous chimaera, a race made up of many tribes of people who are all mixtures of different animals – we see centaur chimaera, sphinxes, griffins, mostly human appearances with mixes of beast aspects such as gazelle, rams, wolves, even snakes! The chimaera and their variety is amazing.
Then there are the other inhabitants of that world, the ones who enslave and are at war with the chimaera. I know that dozens of books claim that their angels are ‘special’ and unique in recent years, but these angels, the Seraph, truly are in my eyes. They’re vicious, domineering, destructive and as we see more of them we realise how similar many of them are to the chimaera. Suddenly, somewhere around mid-book two, I realised I didn’t see them as this great enemy to destroy anymore, for all their atrocities against the chimaera. Likewise, some of the chimaera were too caught up in their war to even see the right choices any more, and have become the evil they were fighting to destroy.
At the centre of this war, we have Karou, a human girl raised by the chimaera Brimstone, a secretive monster who gives out magical wishes in exchange for teeth. She has only ever seen Brimstone’s ‘shop’ in the other world, and has grown up on earth feeling somewhat lost as the chimaera’s errand girl – there’s a particularly amusing scene in book one where we see Karou dragging elephant tusks across Paris.
And at her side, across the battlefield, and at times worlds away, is Akiva, an angel soldier seeking revenge for a lost love and trying to leave behind the dreams of a new world he and his lover once hand. Something that becomes near-impossible when he meets the mysterious errand girl who wished her hair blue.
Anyway, I’ll be reviewing the final book next week, so be sure to check back then!

– Meg

‘Dirty Magic’, by Jaye Wells, REVIEW

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I’ve been a fan of Jaye Wells’ writing for a while now, from back in the days of her ‘Sabina Kane’ series, so I was super excited to read her newest novel and the beginning of a new series, ‘The Prospero’s War’. Dirty Magic didn’t disappoint. As per many urban fantasies, the world is one in which magic is present and pretty dominant in day-to-day life, but Wells has given it a great twist in that it’s almost completely based in alchemy, and I adore reading about alchemy in fiction. There’s always some new interpretation and application of it that makes me grin like an idiot at its cleverness, or lack thereof. I loved seeing the fictional city of Babylon and its extensive, scary world of covens, criminals and potion junkies, in the seedy Cauldron district especially. The twist on ‘vampires’ and ‘werewolves’ was fresh too, ‘vampires’ being human but vaguely anaemic, mentally unstable addicts to blood potions, and ‘werewolves’ the product of a new, highly dangerous potion called Gray Wolf that twists the mind into animalistic rage and bloodhunger, and happens to be the starting conflict and, arguably, the main villain of the novel as our heroine, Officer Kate Prospero, works with a Federal task force to hunt down the creator and supplier of Gray Wolf before it destroys the Cauldron from the inside.

The plot is wonderfully action-packed, barely slowing down for more than a chapter, and never left me feeling bored or uninterested. I don’t think I caught myself skimming paragraphs even once in my first read-through. Everything about the world created in the novel is endlessly fascinating, especially when we get to see the more delicate process behind cooking potions (yes, like cooking meth, that’s how dangerous the potions and their properties are) and see the actual magic manipulation behind it. It’s all very beautifully described, even the ugliness of potion addiction and the covens, who would be crime families to you and I in the real world.

Kate, the main character, is great as well. She’s tough and stubborn, but also very vulnerable and careful with herself. She comes from the coven that was once the most powerful in Babylon, having left the life as one of the most impressive potion cookers and heiress to the coven’s leadership after she lost her mother, choosing to live a Mundane life with her younger brother Danny. She’s always on edge about magic, seeing its effects in the Cauldron every day as a cop, and trying to suppress her long-clean addiction to cooking potions, rather than taking them. Apparently, it’s as easy to get addicted to the power of magic as it is in taking it like a drug in potion form.

I had a few eye-rolling moments, I’ll admit, in the predictability of much of the novel. The twists barely even deserve to be called so. Plot wobbles, maybe. But that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. Not every book needs to be full of out-loud gasps and mind-boggling twists. Though I also got annoyed that pretty much everyone seemed to be out to screw Kate over at one point or another. Give the girl a break and some respect! And please, gods above and below, let this series stay far away from a love triangle. I’m rather worried I smelled the beginnings of one in Dirty Magic.

But hey, it was still a funny and refreshing new book, engaging and an awesome start to a new series from Jaye Wells. Really looking forward to book 2 in ‘The Prospero’s War’!

3.5/5 Stars!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Jaye Wells

– Meg