Mini Reviews: Arabian Nights, The Wicked + The Divine

Whoo! Catching up on more light reading before hunkering down to the big stuff (although, yes, snort at the fact that “light reading” encompasses a partial re-read of a 1,000-page tome…). In any case, I’ve got some book mini reviews for you!

I will say that my sub-par rating for Arabian Nights is not on the stories themselves. This was mostly a skim-read, with a focus on a few stories, so it still stands to date that I have NOT read the entire translated work of Richard F. Burton. It’s also likely that I won’t, because my problem lay not in the stories, but in the archaic translation. It would be nice to have a more reader-friendly copy, if only to keep my attention span from sputtering from lack of paragraphs and the random times people broke into verse within the pages.

As for The Wicked + The Divine, I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to start reading this series! Very enjoyable, albeit somewhat confusing as a first volume. I’m hoping many of my questions gets answered later on, though.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

Hope within a Thurible || Days of Blood and Starlight Review

Initial Thoughts: 

Dead. I have died and Karou needs to exist to glean my soul into a thurible so she can resurrect me as a monster. This book hurts so much it’s a miracle that I’VE not learned the power of invisibility (because in the book, magic is caused by a sort of pain). And OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE THEY ALL DONE.

Dead, I tell you. Dead.


DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT

by Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books, November 2012
YA fantasy, paranormal
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Let me talk to you first about how Daughter of Smoke and Bone broke me just a bit.

A while back, I’d read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and was practically heartbroken by the end, because not only was the setup to the next book so positively cliffhangery, there was just so much sadness in the wake of so much happiness and DAMMIT LAINI TAYLOR WHY WOULD YOU WRENCH MY HEARTSTRINGS SO?!

That was three years ago. I’ve since been so utterly inspired by Laini Taylor that not only have I baked my way through Prague, I went and lived the dream. I went to Prague, and solely because I wanted to live in Karou’s shoes, even for a little while. Smoke and Bone was such an integral part of my desire to travel to fictional and non-fictional worlds, and once more, Days of Blood and Starlight delivered on that level.

The kasbah was a castle built of earth, one of the hundreds that studded these southern reaches of Morocco, where they had baked in the sun for centuries. Once, they had been home to warrior clans and all their retinue. They were primeval fortresses, proud and red and tall, with crenellations like the hooked teeth of vipers, and arcane Berber patterns etched on the high, smooth walls.

I was transported to Morocco, to its heat and desert sands, to Marrakesh and Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou. For a brief moment, I lived in an Eretzian sandcastle filled with monsters, and I followed angels to the heart of its seraphim empire in Astrae.

And by all the godstars, I’ll be damned if I don’t go to Morocco as one of my vacation destinations.

Warning: Now here’s the part where you might want to turn away if you don’t like spoilers. Because as this is the second installment of a trilogy, expect me to be talking about things happening in the first book.

Blood and Starlight continues the story of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and opens back in Prague, where most of the supernatural events occurred, making the public aware that angels exist. Talk of the blue-haired Karou continues, and in the eve of it, Zuzana wonders what’s happened to her best friend. While the media and the public eventually die down in search of the flying blue-haired girl (and onto supernatural teeth-thieves), it is not so in Eretz.

Eretz is rife with war, and it gets worse now that Thiago is back and exacting vengeance upon the chimaera’s slavers: the seraphim. On the other side stands Akiva, the Beast’s Bane, and his seraphim brothers and sisters, fighting a war that never seems to end.

If the first book was merciless in its depiction of the casualties of endless warfare, this second book takes it to a brutally higher level. Days of Blood and Starlight is DARK. And BLEAK. And TERRIBLY VIOLENT.

“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is. Look at you. You are a lord of ashes, a lord of char. You are filthy with your victory…You are lord of a country of ghosts, and that is all that you will ever be.”

I don’t think there’s a more perfect quote to describe Eretz in this story as the quote above. The world is bleak, and there’s a lot of blood spilled on both sides, painting a world where neither seraphim nor chimaera are innocent of their actions. And to top it off, Karou and Akiva are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, their parting of ways in Smoke and Bone one filled with hatred and sorrow. Honestly, I found myself putting this book down very often, because of the star-crossed lovers trope, because it’s clear that Laini was going to use everything in her power to keep these two separate in a bleak story of war where characters are hanging onto the tiniest sliver of hope.

You’re not going to find any Akiva-Karou quotes in this review, because I die inside over and over again reading those passages. DAMMIT JUST GET BACK TOGETHER ALREADY, YOU GUYS.

So let me keep going. There are characters in Blood and Starlight that get a bit more limelight. Besides Karou and Akiva, there are several little POVs that reflect the thoughts of various characters in the book. Liraz, Ziri, as well as Zuzana and Mik are given POV scenes, which adds to the story. Occasionally I found this a bit distracting, because here I am, reading and captivated by a scene, and suddenly, instead of Karou or Akiva’s POV in the next chapter, I got a fistful of other characters. I got used to it by the end, and by that point, I was actually relieved to find some of the breakage in Karou and Akiva POVs. There’s only so much heartbreak I could take after all.

“Is life worth keeping on with, whatever happens?”

“Yes,” he said, wary, thinking of the thurible, and Karou. “As long as you’re alive, there’s always a chance things will get better.”

“Or worse,” said Liraz.

“Yes,” he conceded. “Usually worse.”

Hazael cut in. “My sister, Sunshine, and my brother, Light. You two should rally the ranks. You’ll have us all killing ourselves by morning.”

And can I just talk about how much I love Akiva’s Misbegotten siblings? It was hard to gauge Liraz and Hazael in Smoke and Bone, because their first appearance was out of anger and hatred for chimaera. Liraz and Hazael came down to kill Karou–as had Akiva, really–only to be thwarted by their Misbegotten brother. It was a blow to Liraz and Hazael, because Akiva was the closest half-brother they had, hence there’s a lot of tension in the beginning of Blood and Starlight. Past that, though, the twin seraphim are closer in thought to Akiva than Akiva expected, and honestly, I found this the best relationship of siblings ever.

“Neek-neek, afraid? I don’t believe it.” There was a ferocity in the tiny Zuzana that had started Virko calling her neek-neek, after a growlsome breed of shrew-scorpion known for facing down predators ten times its size.

And, of course, there’s no talking about the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy without Zuzana. Zuzana is seriously THE BEST ever. She’s a human with a healthy curiosity and a loyalty to Karou that defies worlds. At this point, she’s already hooked up with Mik, a violinist, and the two of them–mostly Zuzana–spend a great deal of their time in Prague in search of Karou’s whereabouts. The beginning chapters have some hilarious emails from Zuzana asking if Karou is dead, and I swear, without her and Mik bringing a bit of humor and wonder and excitement into this book, there wouldn’t be much of a silver lining anywhere else. (Well, maybe Hazael. Hazael was a peach, too.)

There was a note…in archaic Seraphic, in a feminine hand, and stamped with a wax seal depicting a scarab beetle: Thank you, but we must respectfully decline your overture, being more enjoyably occupied at present.

A lot of Blood and Starlight–which seems to be the case for most second books of trilogies–was leading up to an even greater conflict that would not only involve chimaera versus seraphim, but also humans and monsters, and angels against angels. I was a bit of a mess by the end of the book, because a TON of shit happens, and Karou and Akiva are forced together in light of a common enemy. Which means they’re at close proximity, BUT DAMMIT LAINI WHY ARE THEY STILL NOT SNOGGING EACH OTHER?!

Uh, okay. I got a bit heated there. Don’t mind me.

By the end of Blood and Starlight, I’m wondering many things. I want to know about Stelia, about Akiva’s explosively potent magic, and most of all, I definitely want to know how two different armies will try to coexist.

Also…I’m going to have to scrounge up some Moroccan-inspired foods at some point.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! Ugh, if my ship sails and sinks by the end of the third book, I might very well be inconsolable.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Beauty, Beast, and Sexy Times || A Court of Thorns and Roses Review

Initial Thoughts:

I feel conflicted about this book. I so very wished that it was just a damn standalone because AS A STAND-ALONE I CONDONE THE SHENANIGANS A LITTLE BIT. What drove me nuts was the hint of a love triangle. OF COURSE that’s what would drive me nuts.


A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES

by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsburry, May 2015
New adult fantasy, fairy tale
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Note: This review has spoilers. This review is also a mess. This review won’t discuss everything I made notes on because future podcast reasons.

So I have a love-hate relationship with Maas right now. Well, maybe. Okay, not so much her as a person but the direction she takes stories sometimes. Alright, all the time, judging from what I’ve been seeing on the Maas fandom.

I’m going to back track because honestly, I loved Throne of Glass and likely I’m going to love Crown of Midnight, but I haven’t read anything past ToG in ages. And then I ended up picking ACoTaR for “research” reasons. And judging from the pattern that’s said to have happened in the ToG series (where eventually the intended ship sinks and the story goes in an entirely different direction), I’m betting it’s going to be the same in the ACoTaR series. Correct me if I’m wrong, but considering I’m hearing more about how awesome Rhysand is and not enough about Tamlin, I’m willing to bet the story gets away in the later books and shifts into something horribly wrong.

(Like Rhysand the jerkwad being part of the romantic arc. Oh god, he so is.)

So…anyway, this book.

I was a little underwhelmed by it, and for the longest time I ping-ponged between liking the story and groaning because once again, the main character was doing something stupid. Feyre is very different from the massively confident and deadly Celaena (or whatever her name is nowadays), and she constantly reminds me of how different the two characters are by putting herself down several times within the same chapter. I get it, Feyre, you’re human, you’re not something super-powerful or assassin-like deadly, you’re not even a special snowflake (up until the end of the book where we discover OH LOOK. She’s quite phenomenally a snowflake now!). But for eff’s sake, you killed a damn snow-fairy-wolf-thing right in Chapter 1, so clearly you aren’t as useless as you make yourself out to be.

Oh STFU Feyre.

Rant over, I liked where the story was actually headed at a certain point. Things picked up once Feyre actually stopped trying to run away and started trying to live her life within Tamlin’s castle. I mean, it’s an effing easy life, Feyre, stop making excuses about family vows when clearly EVERYTHING IS BEING TAKEN CARED OF. What the hell, Feyre. Does nothing please you?!

Alright, sorry, I get heated when I think of the main character.

There is a rich history revolving the creation of the wall between humans and fae. There is a great war that happens which killed off many people on both sides of the war, and somewhere along the way, a Treaty is enacted in order to keep the peace between the fairy realm and the mortal realm. Now the problem with Treaties is that for one side to stick to it, the other side has to stick to it, too. But clearly in this story, there’s some rule-breaking ahead, and that’s what lands Feyre in the mess she’s in.

I wish there’d been more of a prologue to work with. It took two-thirds of the book to finally introduce the big baddy, who turns out to be someone whose past revolved around love and betrayal–typically something you’d expect humans to feel, not so much the fairies. The whole affair in the fairy court humanizes creatures like Tamlin and Rhysand and Amarantha, and also displays the kind of shit they get into when they’re super-powered creatures with very human problems. I liked that. I liked that a lot.

(There could have been a bit more work on the worldbuilding, which is a whole other discussion that would get really lengthy, so I won’t even try to talk about that right now.)

I was pretty tickled with the romance. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, and I don’t really know if I’d ship them, but I will admit that the sexy times were the right kind of steamy. Except for that one bit where Tamlin pretty much bites Feyre and then talks about the dirty things he’d do to her if he’d caught her during one of the fairy festival-rituals. Yes, I know, she didn’t seem so bothered by his advances, but um, dude, no means no. Totally creepy. Thankfully, Tamlin isn’t super-psychotic, and it turns out he’s kind of a nice guy, except when he’s being all fae-y. A nice, muscled, strong guy with a mask perpetually glued to his face, but Feyre totally knows he’s hot underneath that, just by how his strong jaw looks and everything. He doesn’t even keep slaves or anything! (This is me trying my best not to snort…seriously trying here!)

As for Rhysand…I still think he’s a jerk. The Darkling from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone comes to mind for comparison, and honestly, I thought the Darkling was a more compelling and seductive force than Rhysand was. It’s clear both characters are assholes, but honestly, the Darkling was a special kind of lovable asshole (or…maybe it’s just me…).

Um. Lucien was awesome. So was Nesta, actually. I want more of these two characters. Yep.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! Again, there was a lot more I wanted to say, but I’ll save it for podcasting purposes.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Literature and London Part 2: Hogwarts and Harry Potter

Technically, most of the Harry Potter stories don’t really figure into London, and even the Warner Bros. Studio (which houses many of the original scenes and prop decorations) lot isn’t located in London. But I suppose it wouldn’t be a “Literature and London” series if I called it something different every time, heh.

And I did say I was going to write about my Harry Potter experience.

Which was much easier to say than to do. At first I’d thought it would be almost impossible to do just the one post about a series that originally spanned seven books. I mean, seriously, what pictures would I have to choose? What quotes would fit each picture? And did I really need to add 30+ Quidditch-related pictures? No? Darn.

But what I will add, is this stunning depiction of the Great Hall entrance in all its glory. Because I totally got emotional just seeing them open. I’m not a sap, promise. Okay. Maybe I am. #sorrynotsorry

Seriously, I could go on and on about the series and how much of it has been a part of my life. I could go on and on about how I walked the halls pretending I was kinda sorta there, in my own way, down at Leavesden, inside the Warner Bros. lot. But at the interest of brevity, I won’t go crazy, and have limited myself to blogging about a few choice pictures.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

It’s the first sentence quite literally heard ’round the world. And it’s the first location within the HP books that readers paid attention to. Not so much because of its perfectly normal, English quaintness, but because of the things that happen right after. Like cats reading maps and owls flying by day and a cloaked man putting out the lights with a cigarette lighter in the middle of the night.

It didn’t come….he kept on running…he opened his eyes.

A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o’clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it. He had done it.

I hadn’t been able to visit the King’s Cross Station platforms much, even though I had walked by that way a few times to transfer lines. That said, it was still fun to walk into the HP Studio to find myself transported to Platform 9 3/4, with a full-blown train set on makeshift tracks, just waiting for people to board it. And I didn’t even have to walk through a wall!

There was a loud “Oooooooh!”

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.

I had originally selected a different picture, one of a much larger model of the Hogwarts grounds. Unfortunately, WordPress didn’t seem to like showing it because it’s one of those weird panorama photos, so I had to make do with a miniature model of what set designers pictured Hogwarts would look like. Still, it’s rather impressive. And if you were standing before a much larger model of the castle, you’d be severely knocked out with awe.

“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potionmaking…I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses…I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death…”

Confession: While I probably would have excelled in Arithmancy (because math-ish magic? Yespls!), my passion would have probably been Potions class. And not because I think about using it for evil or anything…um. Let’s hide any evidence I try to poison people through my concoctions…*buries the Dark Mark cookies under pillows and stuff*

Honestly, though, the Potions class boasted an excellent ambiance and well-stocked equipment. I wish I had the kind of budget for my future science classroom, but alas.

“The Chasers throw the Quaffle and put it through the hoops to score,” Harry recited. “So–that’s sort of like basketball on broomsticks with six hoops, isn’t it?”

“What’s basketball?” said Wood curiously.

Quidditch! Anything that can let you fly on broomsticks is a fun game to me. And yes, I do have a position I prefer to play, which is kind of fitting, considering I’d probably end up being one of the more violent ones on the field. Unintentionally, of course. I mean, as a Ravenclaw I’d be sort of expected to be able to approximate the trajectory with which to send a bludger careening down the opponent’s head, right? Right? Okay. That joke was made in poor taste. #sorrynotsorry

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

This was quite honestly one of my favorite props there. Apparently the door–which opens up into the Chamber of Secrets–is made out of several snakes that actually do move through a series of mechanisms.

With a yell, he rolled back onto the pavement, just in time. A second later, a gigantic pair of wheels and headlights screeched to a halt exactly where Harry had just been lying. They belonged, as Harry saw when he raised his head, to a triple-decker, violently purple bus, which had appeared out of thin air. Gold lettering over the windshield spelled The Knight Bus.

Also another of my favorite descriptions of things Harry Potter related. This one happens to operate in London in the books, and for the longest time, I actually did think that buses in London were triple-deckers. Of course, I eventually realized that normal buses were only two decks, not three. And none of the official transport was purple, either. How unfortunate!

“What we need,” said Dumbledore slowly, and his light blue eyes moved from Harry to Hermione, “is more time.”

“But–” Hermione began. And then her eyes became very round. “OH!”

It takes a very trusting teacher to give a 13-year-old that much hold on time. Hell, I barely trust my 12- and 13-year-olds to do anything right when given that much responsibility. I mean, you’d think that after two years people would get the idea that Hermione broke almost as many rules as Harry and Ron did during their time at Hogwarts. That said, wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff was interesting at best.

The lid creaked slowly open. Dumbledore reached inside it and pulled out a large, roughly hewn wooden cup. It would have been entirely unremarkable had it not been full to the brim with dancing blue-white flames.

No flames in this particular cup, but then again, this one isn’t exactly the Goblet of Fire. This one happens to be the Triwizard Cup, a prize given to the player who makes it through the third task first. Of course, things don’t go exactly as anyone would expect, but things sort of pan out slowly by the end.

The walls of the Hall had all been covered in sparkling silver frost, with hundreds of garlands of mistletoe and ivy crossing the starry black ceiling. The House tables had vanished instead, there were about a hundred smaller, lantern-lit ones, each seating about a dozen people.

I always thought the Yule Ball was much better done through visuals than description. It was cool to see how the Great Hall was decorated, and how it had changed once the music went from a classical style to The Weird Sisters. Also, the food and drink must have been grand!

And that’s where I’ll stop. I had hoped to have seen a couple other places like the Department of Mysteries and maybe even Xenophilius Lovegood’s house, but I suppose there’s room for them to add to their exhibits later on. When I went, the Forbidden Forest had just opened up, which was cool to see. The Ministry of Magic also had a few highlighted areas, but again, not enough in my book. I would have loved to have seen more.

That said, I did end up walking out of Hogwarts and back into London with a spring in my step and a sweater to tout off my Ravenclaw pride.

For the first Literature and London post, please click here.

Coming up in the last Literature and London post: Odds and ends and a bit of Shakespeare.

Mini Reviews: Snow White, Camelot

Oh, blog. I know I have neglected you. Come to think of it, I’ve been neglecting many things lately. In lieu of the end of the year shenanigans, I’ve been generally swamped with grading, exam writing, teaching, and more grading. I’m behind on my Goodreads goal, I’ve not written a blog post since the end of May, and I’ve completely dropped off the face of the editing and short story writing circuit.

Buuuut…

I needed to get out of this slump/hiatus. And it’s ALMOST the end of the school year. And I have a ton of catching up blogging-wise, so hang onto your, uh, figurative hats, yeah?

Anyway, got a few blog posts I need to write for the next few weeks, I just need the actual time to write it now!

So first, a couple of graphic novel reviews. I went back to reading some Fables goodness because it was high time I finish reading this series once and for all. My goal this year is to at least finish a couple of completed series, novels and graphic novels included!

** Note: These two graphic novels are Volumes 19 and 20 of the Fables series by Bill Willingham, so while I do attempt not to spoil the story so far, there is a bit of a jump.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?