Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Title: Redshirts
Author:
John Scalzi
Genre: humour/sci-fi
Date Read: 25/02/2015 – 28/02/2015
Rating: ★★

Review:

redshirtscoverI really expected to like this book. Even love it. A book that makes fun of some more of the tropes we love about bad sci-fi? Count me in! Unfortunately, I was left feeling like the book had tried to be clever and missed the mark, and after three years of meaning to get around to reading it, I was disappointed.

Ensign Andy Dahl has just been assigned to the xenobiology lab on the Universal Union’s flagship, The Intrepid. It’s a prestigious posting, but soon Andy and his friends notice that strange things happen to the crew-members on away missions: namely one of them ends up dead, while the Captain and other senior officers never seem to suffer so much as a scratch. As they dig deeper, they learn that the explanation for all this is far more ridiculous than they could ever imagined.

The title of this book is a reference to Star Trek – the unnamed crew member in the red shirt would always die on an away mission, so often that the term “redshirt” is a trope in its own right (warning: TV Tropes link – click at your own risk!). The novel embraces this and plenty of other b-grade sci-fi tropes, and for a while it is quite entertaining. Less than halfway through, however, I started feeling like I was just reading one big in-joke, and while I perhaps expected that a little going in, actually reading it got irritating after a while.

The setting in essentially a thinly-veiled Starship Enterprise. There’s nothing wrong with that and given the subject matter, it’s hardly surprising. The characters, though… I honestly could not tell them apart. There was very little to separate one of the main characters from the other three, and on several occasions, I had no idea which side character was which. There was also a lot of bad science… while that’s kind of the point, I like sci-fi science that doesn’t just leave me confused.

The story itself ends about 100 pages before the end of the book, and what follows are three codas, exploring characters and experiences we had only met or touched on briefly in the main part of the book. It is here that some real depth is added to the prose, but this felt quite jarring after the main story.

As you can see, I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone, but I will say this: it is possible that many of these things I didn’t enjoy in the book (the bad science, the bland characters…) were deliberate choices on the part of Scalzi. Given that [Important Plot Things redacted], it would actually make sense for these things to be that way. But nonetheless, it didn’t click with me, and I was left feeling a little bit like I had wasted my time.

This is my first John Scalzi read, and while I was disappointed, I don’t intend to write him off just yet. I have a couple of his other books on hold at the library, and they sound quite different to this one. Maybe they will be more my cup of tea.

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Title: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)
Author:
Marissa Meyer
Genre:
YA/sci-fi/romance
Date Read: 18/02/2015 – 24/02/2015
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Cinder_CoverAccording to GoodReads, this book was on my TBR shelf for almost exactly three years. A friend of mine started reading it and that made me think I really should get around to it myself. After all, I love fairytale retellings and who could resist cyborg Cinderella, right?

For a start, I think I maybe made the mistake of beginning this book in the wrong mindset. The book I had read immediately before this one was quite a mature, dark urban fantasy/horror novel, and maybe plunging into YA sci-fi immediately wasn’t the greatest idea. While it was very readable (I knocked it over in a couple of afternoons), it’s also quite predictable. I had worked out who certain characters were (but didn’t know they were) by about chapter three. I also didn’t feel any particular investment in any of the characters. They all had pretty awful things happening to them, and I certainly sympathised, but I didn’t feel any real investment in them.

This improved in the last quarter. The stakes got higher, characters confronted each other, and there was finally a bit of action. I actually think Queen Levana, the villain, is one of the best-crafted characters in the book, and seeing her finally interact with Cinder as well as Prince Kai, was really good.

The world-building is interesting, though I always felt it was a bit superficial. I wanted to know more about cyborg technology, about the robots they use, about New Beijing… I have read reviews written by people who know more about Chinese culture than I do, and they have also pointed out that as an Asian civilisation, New Beijing and by extension, the Eastern Commonwealth, do not ring true. I had a gut feeling as I was reading that this was the case.

Cinder and Prince Kai are pretty stock-standard YA leads. I don’t really have much to say about them, other than it is exciting to meet a female YA lead who is a mechanic by trade. We need more of that! I am going to read the next book in the series; while it is based on Red Riding Hood and I don’t generally enjoy adaptations of that story, the following two books in the series are based on Rapunzel and Snow White respectively, and I’m pretty keen on that, as neither of those are stories that get retold very often.

I can totally see why this book is so popular with the YA crowd, and I am hoping I will enjoy the subsequent books. Now that a lot of the world-building is out of the way, that allows the rest of the series room for more story, and I hope that’s what I get.

Book Review: Imminent Danger and How To Fly Straight Into It by Michelle Proulx

Title: Imminent Danger (and how to Fly Straight Into It)
Author:
Michelle Proulx
Genre:
YA/sci-fi/romance
Date Read: 06/02/2015 – 13/02/2015
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

immientdangercoverGenerally I like my sci-fi Earth-based. Interstellar travel is just not something I usually get into. However, after seeing a couple of friends review this book favourably on GoodReads, I thought I would give it a go. It sounded fun, if nothing else.

Due to essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time, high school junior, Eris, finds herself kidnapped by six-armed blue aliens. This is the start of an adventure across the galaxy, during which Eris makes friends, enemies, is tortured and experimented on and pursued, mostly in the company of a very attractive alien called Varrin. Oh, and Miguri, another alien who is small and furry and adorable. More on those guys in a moment.

Proulx’s world-building was thorough, from alien civilisations and languages/translation devices, to methods speedy interstellar travel. There were a couple of moments when I wondered why things on other planets seemed very similar to things on Earth, but that didn’t bother me too much.

The three main characters were all very well constructed and very consistent. Eris is a teenager, and she does have her teenage moments, but she’s also resilient and a good lead. Miguri, her Claktill companion, is kind of the “wise old man” character, but at the same time, he doesn’t seem wise beyond Eris or Varrin’s years. There were times when I wanted to punch Varrin in the face, and I kind of hoped that the romance would be drawn out a little longer, though the punchline regarding this at the end did make me laugh. While he does go through his own character arc, there are certain parts of him that I’m not sure will ever change, regardless of how many books there end up being in this series.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read. It wasn’t hard sci-fi, but if it was, I would have stopped reading. Fun characters in a fun world to explore. Looking forward to book 2!

#WIPpet Wednesday – If you run, I will find you (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

250 FOLLOWERS

Goodness me, somehow over the past couple of years, my blog has attracted 250 followers. Now, not all of them are actually followers particularly interested in my blog (as far as I can gather) and were only trying to garner followers of their own, but a lot of them are other writers keen to share ideas, and I love that. In fact, I love it so much that everyone who comments on this post (follower or not, to make it easier), will go into the draw to win an $25 Amazon gift card. Competition ends 11:59pm, December 9, 2014.

Onto my usual Wednesday post and NaNoWriMo is DONE, you guys! This year was another long November: I had commitments every night of week 3, as well as other general life things going on, but I made it to 50029 words on November 29 (which continues my tradition of winning a day early). Josephine, Armand and Bianca’s story is far from over, but it is one of my New Year projects. Until then, I’m reading as much as I can, and writing here and there. I did sort of accidentally sort of decide yesterday that I would attempt a December story-a-day challenge, though that may fall apart as early as today as I have a rehearsal for a Christmas show I volunteered for tonight, then a separate theatre excursion tomorrow, and then I’m hosting board games with my friends on Friday. But we’ll see. I got excited and searched the Google Play store for writing apps, so I now have two prompt apps on my tablet to play with. You can see Monday’s effort here and last night’s here.

Onto WIPpet Wednesday, and I have 12 paragraphs from this NaNo project for you, due to it being the twelfth month. In this scene, Josephine has been doing some spying, and she witnesses Jean Trivette, a well-known and very popular philanthropist, hit his wife. Josephine cries out before she can stop herself, and he spots her. I’ve fixed a couple of things, but this is mostly NaNo-raw.

“I’m sorry.” Josephine tried wriggling out his grip, but to no avail. “I’ll just go now,” she assured him.

“Like hell, you will, girl. Walk to that gate. If you try to run, I swear to god*, I will find you.” He pointed to a gate only a few feet from where they were standing and let go of her arm. She did think about running; technically, she didn’t exist in this world yet, but she believed his threat in spite of that. Shaking, she went towards the gate, and he opened it to meet her. He took her by the arm again and dragged her inside. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and quickly dialled a number.

“Yeah, Marcel, it’s Trivette. I’m at the back gate. Got a trespasser.”

“I wasn’t trespassing!” Josephine protested feebly. She had a feeling no one was going to believe her story now and things were going to get even worse very quickly.

“Okay, yeah, I’ll meet you up at the house.” Trivette hung up the phone. “All right. Come with me. You’re about to meet my head of security.”

As he dragged her towards the house and up the stairs, Josephine saw the woman he had hit sitting with her head in her hands on a sofa on the porch. She looked up as they passed and caught Josephine’s eye, her eyes wide.

“I’m sorry,” she mouthed. Josephine wondered what she was apologising for.

Once inside, Trivette led Josephine to a living area, where he threw her roughly into a chair and sat down across from her. A few minutes later, a man twice as big as Jean Trivette entered the room.

“This is Marcel. Marcel, this girl was eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with my wife outside.”

“Was she on the grounds, sir?”

“Well, no, she was outside the fence, but… well, my wife and I were having a little disagreement, and she… saw some things she shouldn’t have. I’d prefer for that not to get out, you understand?”

Marcel nodded dutifully. “Of course, sir.”

*Yes, I know in last week’s WIPpet we established these people don’t have any gods. I started using these kinds of expressions anyway during NaNo because I didn’t want to take the time to think of more creative ones.

To join in on WIPpet Wednesday, simply post an excerpt from your current WIP that somehow relates to the date, and then link up with us here. We’re a fun bunch, I promise! Everyone is always wonderful and supportive. Thanks always to K. L. Schwengel for hosting. I need to get ready to go to work now – I started writing this last night since I’ll be out tonight – so I’ll go now and see you all when I see you.

~ Emily

Book Review: The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon-Keeping by Ashley O’Melia

Title: The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping
Author: Ashely O’Melia
Genre: Urban fantasy
Date Read:
03/09/2014
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

dragonkeepingcoverAll right, I admit it, I am a sucker for baby dragons. Well, dragons of all sizes are awesome, but there’s something about the way baby dragons tend to fall somewhere between a puppy and a kitten in terms of behaviour and are definitely just as cute that makes me want to flail my arms and go “Aww!”

This book is a quick. delightful little fantasy story, centering on Aubrey Goodknight, who discovers a mysterious book, “The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon-Keeping”, just when she is feeling most alone. Next thing she knows, she is hatching a dragon in her oven, and raising him while trying to keep his presence a secret.

Hugo, as she names him, is completely adorable, and I was continually  “Aww!”-ing as I read. Aubrey was a well-rounded character herself, with equal amounts of insecurity and bravery when required. I also really enjoyed the character of Ben, Aubrey’s eventual boyfriend. He was just so far removed from usual romantic leads in novels: he wore glasses, was a bit dorky, and enjoyed LARP [Live Action Role Play] on weekends. Just as Aubrey is a Wanderer, it is revealed Ben is a “Believer”, which is just as important to Hugo’s growth and the future of dragons in general as the Wanderers are.

The mythology of the book is revealed at a nice pace, mostly through the texts of The Wanderer’s Guide, though towards the end, information is revealed through a few new characters. There are some intriguing bad guys that the reader is aware of for most of the story, though their motivations don’t become clear until later, which keeps up the suspense.

While I’m not 100% sure, I’m assuming that this is the first in a series, as there is still lots of the story to hear. I look forward to the next installment!

#WIPpet Wednesday – Something a bit different

I deliberately skipped WIPpet Wednesday last week because I knew that with my parents visiting, I wouldn’t get a chance to read anyone else’s posts, and I was already feeling bad about two straight weeks of posting and getting lovely comments, and being too lazy to return the favour. I also haven’t really been writing anything, though I think I have found the story I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo and in the last couple of days I’ve started doing some planning.

As I don’t really have any proper writing to share, I’ll share a character interview I wrote with the main character yesterday. As for WIPpet maths, it’s the first of the month and this is the first actual character exploration I put into writing. 😛 It’s actually pretty vague at the moment because I’m still working on exact settings and plot points, and it’s a little inconsistent because I’m still playing around with the character, but I think you’ll get the gist. It’s a little long, but I don’t think it requires much explanation, so I’ll just launch straight in. Everyone, meet Josephine!

[there is a knock on the blogosphere door and it edges open. A young woman with wavy brown hair tied back with a silk ribbon sticks her head into the room]

J: Hello? Do I have the right place?

EW: [skids into the room] Hi! Yes! Please have a seat. Sorry about the mess. I’ve been a bit lax on the blog upkeep as of late.

[Josephine shows no sign of having comprehended anything that was just said, but she sits daintily in the lounge chair provided. She’s wearing a maxi-dress with short sleeves, which she keeps picking at, as though wishing they covered more of her]

EW: So… can you tell us where you’re from?

J: You know the story of Beauty and the Beast, don’t you?

EW: Of course.

J: Beauty was my sister. Our other sister, Christine, and I were always jealous of her. She was the youngest, and our father always doted on her. Christine and I couldn’t stand it. We were horrible to her, and she just took it all with good grace. That’s the type of person she was. When she married the prince, the same witch who had turned him into the Beast turned Christine and me into statues so that we would have to watch Beauty’s happiness until we became better people.

EW: What was that like?

J: I’m not sure it’s something you can imagine without having ever lived it. I couldn’t move or speak. I couldn’t even fall asleep. Beauty used to talk to us – she was the only one who remembered we were there. Even her husband thought she was odd for talking to statues after a while. At first, I thought she was pitying us and I resented her just as I always had, but it didn’t take long for me to start looking forward to those moments.

EW: You were stuck that way for a long time. It can’t have been easy once Beauty and her family were gone…

J: Not at all. I watched my little sister grow old. When she and the Prince were gone, one of my nephews inherited the estate, but after a few generations it left the family and not long after that it was abandoned for a long time. You don’t know how lonely it was.

EW: The witch said that you would be freed when you learned the error of your ways. But you were trapped for centuries… surely it didn’t take that long.

J: Of course not. It’s hard to remain spiteful when you can do nothing but watch someone having a far better time than you and reflect on why it can’t be you. I don’t know why the spell broke, or why it only broke for me and not Christine, but Armand says that my reappearance is only one of a number of strange occurrences lately, so maybe it’s all connected.

EW: As though trying to get used to a new century isn’t hard enough with strange things going on around you.

J: That’s true. I learned some things from the people who visited the castle over recent years – there wasn’t much to do other than watch and listen – but you only learn so much from that vantage point.

EW: Is anyone helping you adjust? [tips head to the side and gives a knowing look]

J: [blushes] Armand has been helping me learn. He’s been very sweet to me. [she sets her jaw] But I can’t stay with him much longer.

EW: Why not?

J: Well, it’s not proper for a start. I’m sure people are already talking. Not to mention he’s…

EW: What?

J: [she is trying to find the most delicate way to phrase it] Well, he’s hardly my…

EW: Your what? Equal? Are you trying to say you’re better than him?

[Josephine is quiet]

EW: You’re no longer the daughter of a rich merchant, remember?

J: [averts her eyes] I know. You’d think I’d have learned.

EW: [relenting] I think you have. We all have our faults. Anyway, look, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other over the next couple of months, but right now I need to go and chop vegetables. Thanks for coming today.

J: You’re welcome. I’ll see you again soon.

~*~

So that’s Josephine. Armand will be the next character I try to expand, and then the wicked witch/fairy character who is my villain. I think you can probably grasp enough of the plot just from reading this. I’m excited to start plotting this properly. We’ve got a long weekend this coming weekend (just had one, too; everyone in Canberra loves this time of year) so some of my writing group, me included, are going for two-day planning getaway. Hopefully I’ll be able to bounce ideas off them and really get a sense of what’s going to happen in the story.

Thanks to K. L. Schwengel for hosting the WIPpet Wednesday blog hop. Join us by posting an excerpt from your WIP (or something like this) that somehow relates to the date, and then join us at the linky. I’m going to go and chop those veges I mentioned now. I’ll see you all soon! 😀

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Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co. #2)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: YA/Urban fantasy/Supernatural
Date Read: 28/8/14 – 30/8/14
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

whisperingskullcoverLast fortnight, I posted my review of The Screaming Staircase, the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series. I gave it four stars, and I expected this one to be at much the same level; to my surprise, this one was even better!

After what should have been a routine mission in a haunted cemetery goes wrong, Lockwood and Co. are trying to track down a very powerful and very dangerous psychic magic mirror which is connected to one of the most terrifying ghosts any of them have encountered. George is especially affected, but Lockwood and Lucy don’t really notice his new obsession with the magical mirror, as he’s always getting obsessed about something. Meanwhile, the skull that spoke to Lucy at the end of the previous book has finally started talking again. It seems to want to help them, but only to a point. And to make matters worse, not only is solving this case a race against time to protect the world from the mirror’s power, it’s also a matter of pride, as Lockwood has turned it into a contest between them and rival agents, Quill Kipps and his group.

In this book, Stroud expands on the alternate version of the UK that he established in The Screaming Staircase. We learn about relic-men, who scour graveyards and other possible Source locations for psychic items to sell to collectors on the black market. One of these, Flo, is a friend(sort of) of Lockwood’s, and helps him out from time to time, including on this case. I loved Flo’s unapologetic abrasive attitude, and that she was willing to be paid in liquorice. We also get to see inside the Fittes Agency and meet Penelope Fittes, granddaughter of the great Marissa Fittes, who founded the agency and wrote many of the books all agents rely on, whether they work for Fittes or not. It seems Penelope is involved with some suspect figures, but the exact nature of that we have yet to learn. While Lockwood remains almost frustratingly mysterious, we do get to learn more about both Lucy and George.
The action is fast-paced and, given the nature and target audience of the book, just the right amount of scary. I sadly didn’t have the same opportunity to stay up all night reading as I had with the first book, but I did find myself itching to go back whenever I had to put it down (like, you know, at work and stuff) because no matter where I left it, there was always something exciting going on. I read the Kindle version, which came out at the end of August. The print version only came out on September 16, so I know I’m going to be sitting about for a while with this problem:
10436169_10154551131630607_7550443262335429488_n
Ah well. I’m pretty sure it will be worth it.

Spotlight and Giveaway: Slave Again by Alana Terry

Alana Terry has a new book out! And it’s really good! And there’s a giveaway! And stuff! Read on to find out more!

Special Time-Sensitive Giveaway! The first 25 readers who enter the giveaway below will receive a free audiobook from award-winning author Alana Terry. She’s also giving away a $100 amazon card, a hundred free audio downloads, and a free ebook to anyone who signs up!

About Slave Again: After escaping a North Korean prison camp, Mee-Kyong is hustled over the border and sold into the Chinese underworld. She vows to survive, but sheer determination and willpower won’t save her this time. Is she fated to remain a slave forever?
Slave Again is a Christian suspense novel from award-winning author Alana Terry, whose debut novel, The Beloved Daughter, won awards from Women of Faith, Grace Awards, The Book Club Network, and Readers’ Favorite.

NEW BOOK RELEASE: Slave Again by Alana Terry is hot off the press, and both the ebook and paperback are at a steep (30-60%) discount!! Prices will go up soon, so grab your copy today.

Slave Again book trailer (contains one mildly violent image):

About the Author: Alana is passionate about human-rights issues in North Korea and has devoted her writing to raise both awareness and funds to help North Korean refugees find freedom and safety. You can learn more about her work with Liberty in North Korea at alanaterry.com/link.

Check out Slave Again now before the price goes up, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!

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Book Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: YA/Urban fantasy/Supernatural
Date Read: 07/08/2014 – 08/08/2014
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

lockwoodcoverIt’s been a long time since I read a 400+ page book in a day. Well, nearly just one day, but it was only the last 40 pages on the second. Boyfriend needed to be up early for work the following day, and a) every room except the bedroom was cold so I didn’t want to move and b) the book was creepy enough for me to prefer to remain in his company and not read, then keep reading alone.

Anyway. Last year I read Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy and adored it. This book also came out last year, and I’ve been aware of it, but trying to clear out my bookshelves rather than get things from the library, so it’s taken me this long to get to it. Given how quickly I read it though, I probably needn’t have waited so long.

Like the Bartimaeus trilogy, Lockwood is set in an alternate version of London, though in this one, Londoner (and all of England, I think) are inhibited by the Problem, that is, an infestation of ghosts. The Problem has existed for fifty or sixty years now, but no one knows what caused it. All they know is that young children have a heightened sensitivity to psychic activity and therefore need to be on the front line of defence. We follow Lucy Carlyle, who has recently joined the Agency Lockwood & Co. in London after a disaster in her hometown left her alive but the rest of her team of child operatives dead. When Lucy steals an artefact during a case, it leads to them identifying a murder victim, and beginning an investigation into her death fifty years prior. Not only that, but they receive an offer they can’t refuse from one of England’s most powerful business men, which requires them to spend the night in one of the most haunted houses in England…

While the titular Screaming Staircase job doesn’t actually come into play until about 250 pages in, the novel is fast-paced from the beginning. The first chapter throws the reader into the action as Lockwood and Lucy investigate a vengeful spirit and accidentally burn down a house. After that, we learn a bit more about The Problem, about Lucy’s past, and the Lockwood company (the third and last member of which is George Crubbins, who is kind of gross and really annoying, but he is an important member of the team). From there, they deal with a ghost somehow getting into their home, an armed robbery, a debt of £60000 with only a month to pay, and finally the most dangerous case of their lives.

The quote from Rick Riordan on the front cover says, “You’ll want to sleep with the lights on!” and there were definitely moments where this was the case for me. Stroud’s world-building is great (there’s even a glossary at the back of all the different types of ghosts); he knows how to really build up the tension, and he creates characters that you really want to see escape alive, though sometimes you’re not sure if that’s going to happen.

The characters are all individual: Lucy with her troubled past, Lockwood has boundless energy but is also secretive and mysterious (he won’t talk about his parents and the house they live in belongs to him, but don’t ask about that third door on the landing; he won’t tell you what’s behind it), and George as… well. That kind of annoying one that you wish didn’t have to be there, but you know you’d be useless without him (where Lockwood loves to dive into a case without asking any questions, George can be found down at the National Archives doing as much research as he can before he sets foot in a haunted area). There are definitely hints of a romance between Lockwood and Lucy, but I’m hoping that won’t get too overpowering in subsequent books.

Basically, I loved this book. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because it is aimed at a younger readership and some of the actual writing itself did feel a bit young for me, and a few other little niggling things like Lucy not seeming hugely affected by the deaths of her teammates. The story itself definitely made up for that, though, and you will be able to read a review of the second book in the series, the Whispering Skull, in two Fridays’ time. At time of writing, it hasn’t come out yet, but I imagine it will be another read-in-one-night book. 😀

P.S. In case you don’t want to take my word for it, here is the book trailer. I haven’t actually been able to bring myself to watch it because it’s bloody creepy!

Book Review: Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Alysse Near

Title: Fairytales for Wilde Girls
Author: Alysse Near
Genre: Dark, gothic YA/fantasy
Date Read:
15/07/2014 – 31/07/2014
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

wildegirlscoverThis book. This book. I have a lot of feelings. At times I’m not sure why I loved it so much, and there were times while I was reading that I wasn’t planning on giving it more than 3 stars. But I was still thinking about it days after finishing it, so it clearly made an impression.

Isola Wilde, named for Oscar Wilde’s sister who died at the age of nine, can see things that aren’t really there. She has six “brother-princes” in the form of two ghosts, a fairy, a Fury and a mermaid (not all her princes are men) and she knows there is a unicorn herd in Vivien’s Wood, the forest near her house. One day she comes across the dead body of a girl in a bird cage, hanging from one of the trees in the woods, and soon after the same dead girl turns up at her window, telling her to turn down the volume of her heart and stay out of the damn woods. This sets off a chain of events that lead to Isola discovering that there is more to her life and to the magical world around her, than she realised.

On the surface, this book is a modern-day gothic fairytale, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s about life and death, love and loss, mothers and daughters, and living with mental illness. There were times when I got confused and wondered if I’d missed something, and there were other times when I felt like nothing was happening and the stakes weren’t as high as I was being told they were (actually there was a decent-sized chunk in the middle where that was the case), but I found myself compelled to read on anyway. It became clearer the more I read that it want really about what was happening on the surface, it was about what that symbolised. Usually I don’t go in for that sort of thing, but it was being symbolised with ghosts and fey and deconstructed fairytales, so how could I not? Everything fell into place in the last 50 or so pages and made far more sense than I had thought it was going to.

The cover, while lovely, is a little misleading; after seeing it, I was surprised that the book was set in the present day, and there were times when I felt the writing style clashed with the setting. But the illustrations in the book are beautiful, and exactly how I imagined the brother-princes to look. There were other things that bugged me, too, like Alejandro’s constant use of the endearment “querida” (he seemed to say it every time he addressed Isola, and I’m complaining about that as someone who swooned over Jesse in Meg Cabot’s Mediator series as a teenager). The character of Isola, and by extension, the book itself, did take a turn for the darker in about the third quarter of the book, which made me a little uncomfortable, but I think that was the point and she did come out of this eventually.

This is the debut novel from Alysse Near, and I certainly look forward to more from her, particularly if they are in the same dark, gothic, magical vein as this one.