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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole…and before the roses were painted red…The Queen of Hearts was just a girl, in love for the first time.”

REVIEW: I’ve been wanting to read this reimagining of the story of the Queen of Hearts for quite some time, and was really excited when I picked it up on my birthday book-shopping trip. This novel tells the story of Catherine, Lady Pinkerton, the future Queen of Hearts. In this version, however, Catherine is a very a likeable character; a young woman who wishes to run away from her life as a member of the nobility and use her exceptional talents to set up a bakery with her maid, Mary-Ann. This dream appears to be dashed, however, when Catherine discovers that the perfectly kind but extremely foolish King of Hearts wishes to ask for her hand in marriage, a fact which her parents are all too delighted by. Upon fleeing his initial proposal Catherine meets the King’s new court jester, Jest, a handsome and mysterious young man who captures Catherine’s interest at once. As the Kingdom begins to grow in fear after a series of Jabberwock attack and the King’s intentions grow increasingly serious despite her attempts to slow things down, Catherine’s dreams seem to be becoming an increasingly distant possibility. Her relationship with Jest develops throughout the novel in a way that draws the reader in at once and makes us desperate for the two to find a way to be together, removed from the world they know so that each of them can realise their dreams. It is difficult to write more of the plotline without giving away spoilers, but it is easy to see how Catherine developed into the infamous Queen of Hearts, a villainess we are familiar with from her many depictions in book and particularly in film. Even knowing what she will become and witnessing some of this transformation towards the end of the novel, the reader still sympathises with Catherine. I am really hoping that there will be a sequel to this novel, as it is definitely one of my favourite Wonderland-set novels that I have read, and I’m eager to find out what happens next now that Catherine is the Queen of Hearts.

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

REVIEW: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is one of my favourite poems – in fact, Rossetti herself is among my favourite poets. My Mum even bought me a beautiful Folio Society copy of ‘Goblin Market’ and other poems for my eighteenth birthday. S. Jae-Jones was clearly inspired by the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in the writing of this fantastic novel; she quotes it at the beginning of the book and quotes a number of other poems by Rossetti throughout. The novel tells the story of Liesl, a gifted young composer who is overshadowed by her beautiful sister Kathe and her talented younger brother Josef, who looks set on his way to becoming the next Mozart. What no-one knows is that Liesl is the talent behind the music that Josef plays, and has continuously helped and inspired him, despite her compositions being scorned by her drunken father. Liesl and Josef have always had a deep belief in the stories their grandmother Constanze tells them about the Goblin King and his Underground court, and the Goblin Grove has acted as a sanctuary for them for many years. Liesl has long forgotten her childhood friendship with the young Goblin King, and the promise she once made to one day be his wife, and her belief on the stories themselves is starting to slip away. After a terrifying experience with Goblin fruit sellers at the market, however, Liesl is forced to confront the reality of the Goblin King. Her sister Kathe is taken by him and, although the rest of her family have erased Kathe from their memories, Liesl cannot. She finds her way to the Underground world of the Goblin King through her music, and manages to set Kathe free. As her price, however, she must stay Underground with the Goblin King, whom she feels a reluctant but powerful desire for. The complex relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King makes for gripping and powerful reading, the desire between the two characters so strong that it practically jumps from the page. The love that slowly begins to develop between them is so full of passion and emotion that the reader is completely sucked in by it, the sacrifices they make for each other painful to read of  – and the ultimate sacrifice that is made at the end of the novel made me cry for quite some time, though I will not spoil it here.

I absolutely loved this book. S Jae-Jones really captures the magical, fantastical, yet somehow Gothic and slightly terrifying atmosphere of much of Rossetti’s poetry, especially ‘Goblin Market’. She turns this epic poem into a beautiful, gripping story full of emotion and meaning, and I enjoyed every page. I only wish the book could have been longer!

 

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me”

REVIEW: I was lent this book by a friend when I was about fourteen, and couldn’t get past the first ten pages. When I went on a trip to Foyles with my boyfriend for my 21st birthday earlier this year (a wonderful day where he gave me money and basically let me run riot in a five-floor bookstore), I saw this book on the shelf and decided to try it again. Something about the way the blurb was written appealed to me, and having now read many more fantasy novels than I had when I first tried this one at fourteen, I thought it might now be more up my street. I’m pleased to say that I was right, and am very glad that I tried reading this novel again. Rothfuss’ writing style is brilliant; witty, gripping, descriptive and transformative. I felt completely immersed in the fictional land that Kvothe is part of, and fully believed in all of its legends and history. This is the first novel in a trilogy telling the story of Kvothe. When we meet Kvothe at the beginning of the story he is a humble innkeeper, hiding from his own notoriety and accompanied only by his closest friend, student and servant, Bast. Most of the novel, however, is taken up by Kvothe sharing the story of his past; when a Chronicler arrives at the Inn desperate to hear his tale, Kvothe is reluctantly persuaded to let the Chronicler record his words on paper. Kvothe has led a fascinating life, and the reader eagerly awaits to find out what lies behind Kvothe’s fame and the air of mystery surrounding him. We learn of Kvothe’s past as part of a touring troupe, and his early training by the arcanist Abernathy. His parents and the rest of his troupe are killed in a horrifying murder that Kvothe believes was caused by the legendary Chandrian, and he decides that he will not rest until he finds out the truth about this unspeakable legend. After extensive months of living on the streets, Kvothe finally earns himself a place at the renowned University, through pure talent; but University without money is not easy, and Kvothe’s financial struggles, his enmity with some of the masters, his quick advancement through the ranks and his rivalry with rich student Ambrose combine to make his University years both a fascinating story and a constant struggle. The arrival of the beautiful Denna in Kvothe’s life, however, only complicates things further, and I must confess that Denna was my favourite character in this tale.Beautiful, talented and as mysterious as Kvothe, she is a true match for him, but love does not come easy. At the point of the novel’s ending, dark forces are at work in the present day that are forcing people to confront the possibly reality of the Chandrian, and we are yet to get past Kvothe’s University days in his relaying of the past. I am eager to read the next installments in the series and found this book to be gripping and beautifully written.

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The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the palace prepares a sumptuous display of riches. But in Skyggehavn, things are rarely as they seem. Beneath the veneer of celebration, a mysterious illness plagues the royal family, and one courtier’s power-lust will set a devious plot in motion.”

REVIEW: This book is a complex and remarkable tale combining history, fantasy, passion and intrigue within the kingdom of Skyggehavn, a land in which the royal family are finding themselves slowly dying away and being plunged deeper and deeper into mystery and scandal. The book mostly follows two women, although a variety of characters get their own chapters in order to have their say, which adds to the depth of the novel. These two protagonists, however, are the main focus of the tale, and despite their dislike of each other they form an unlikely alliance as they become entangled in the plots and treasons that surround the throne. Ava Bingen is the first of the women that we meet; she is a young seamstress to the Queen who finds herself in a great deal of trouble after accidentally stabbing the Queen with a needle on the night of the Princess’ wedding. Forced to become an unwilling spy and treated like a whore by the ambitious Nicolas in order to save her own life, Ava finds herself far deeper in the court web of intrigue than she would like, particularly when she is placed in the royal nursey, caring for the four youngest royal children, all of whom have an unknown and possibly deadly disease. The other woman involved in the story is Midi, a black woman who is unable to speak after an injury inflicted on her tongue by a jealous mistress. Seen as exotic and craved by many of the men of the court, Midi also works in the nursery, tending to the royal children, and both women become caught up in relationships with the eager court historian, Arthur Grammaticus. The intense rivalry between them, mostly stemming from Midi, is forced to dissipate when King Christian dies suspiciously whilst his Queen, the mad Isabel, is still pregnant with a possible son and heir. Ava and Midi end up in the thick of the scandal as Isabel’s most trusted maids, and are forced to take drastic steps to ensure the survival of the Queen and their own safety. This book is so gripping, brilliantly written and absolutely fascinating – definitely a contender for top place in the Top Ten Books of the Year list I will be publishing at the end of 2016. The twists and turns the novel takes, taking the reader to ever darker and more mysterious places, are truly unbelievable, and I left the book with the sense that no matter what I read next it couldn’t quite match up to the standard of this fantastic work of fiction.

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Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Once upon a time, there was a girl from Kansas named Dorothy. You might know her as the Girl Who Rode the Cyclone. She ended up in Oz, where she became friends with the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. But the temptation of magic was too much for her. She let it change her. Her friends became twisted versions of their former selves. The magical land of Oz is now a dark and menacing place. My name is Amy Gumm. Tornadoes must have a thing about girls from Kansas, because I got swept away on one too. I also landed in Oz, where Good is Wicked, Wicked is Good, and the Wicked Witches clued me in to my true calling: Assasin. The only way to stop Dorothy from destroying Oz – and Kansas – is to kill her. And I’m the only one who can do it. But I failed. Others died for my mistakes. Because of me, the portal between the worlds has been opened and Kansas and Oz are both in danger. And if I don’t find a way to close it? Dorothy will make sure I never get to go home again.”

REVIEW: I was very excited to read what I thought would be the final installment in the Dorothy Must Die series, which I always assumed was a trilogy; after reaching the end of the book, however, I am now even more excited to say that I am pretty much certain that I was wrong, and another book in the series will, hopefully, soon emerge – or at least I hope so, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was left desperate for more when I finished reading the final page. After being swept into a portal, Amy must resume her quest to finish Dorothy from Kansas, a place she finds very different to the home she remembers. The drastic change in her once alcoholic mother is heartwarming for the reader as the two are reunited, as is her growing friendship with once-nemesis Madison Pendleton and her blossoming romance with the witch Nox; yet, Amy still has a job to do. With both help and threats from a new enemy, the Nome King, Amy and the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked find Dorothy’s shoes in Kansas and are sucked back into the land of Oz, destined to find Dorothy and put an end to her reign of terror by killing her, once and for all. I can’t reveal much of what happens upon their return to Oz, for fear of giving too much away; but I feel that this book really connected more to the atmosphere of the first novel in the series, being gripping, shocking and easy to read – I had found the middle book slightly less so, although I still enjoyed it. Amy’s character has also greatly developed by this point and her relationship with Nox provides some relief for the reader from the tense and graphic battle scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if – as I suspect – there is to be another installment, then I can’t wait to read it.

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Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Meet Oliver, a prince literally taken from the pages of a fairy tale and transported into the real world. Meet Delilah, the girl who wished Oliver into being. It’s a miracle that seems perfect at first – but there are complications. To exist in Delilah’s world, Oliver must take the place of a regular boy. Enter Edgar, who agrees to play Oliver’s role in the pages of Delilah’s favourite book. But just when it seems that the plan will work, everything gets turned upside down. In this multilayered universe, the line between what’s on the page and what’s possible is blurred. Is there a way for everyone to live happily ever after?”

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of Delilah and Oliver’s story, ‘Between the Lines’, which I did in fact review on this blog not long after it was released in 2012. Although I had not expected there to be a sequel, I was excited to see how Delilah and Oliver’s story had progressed after Oliver’s removal from the fairy tale world and emergence into our world. The multiple perspectives from the three principal characters; Delilah, Oliver and Oliver’s replacement in the novel, Edgar; allows the reader to see how both worlds have been dramatically changed by Delilah and Oliver’s relationship and their desperation to be together, and all is not going well. Oliver’s arrival causes some problems for the couple when he finds himself becoming incredibly popular, particularly with girls – something that Delilah is none to happy about. There is also the problem of Oliver’s adopted mother – who is really Edgar’s mother, and the author of the book in which Oliver once lived, Jessamyn James – as she becomes increasingly unwell. Back in the fairytale world, things are also not going smoothly for Edgar or many of the other beloved characters – including Frump, Oliver’s best friend, and Seraphima, his ex-girlfriend. The book has noted the changes being made and is beginning to rewrite itself, pleading with Oliver to return and spontaneously causing people from the real world to swap with characters in the book, leading to both disastrous and tragic consequences (I may have cried at this book, but unfortunately can’t let on why). Delilah and Oliver are desperate to find a way for everyone to be happy and for Jessamyn to stay alive, but things are not so simple. This novel follows their journey to achieve a happy ending in both worlds, but cleverly intermingles this with the more general ups-and-downs of teenage relationships, and the problems we encounter when we fall in love for the first time and suddenly realise that being in love and in a relationship isn’t always easy. I did really enjoy this book and was pleased to be reunited with the characters, who remained consistent across both stories and kept me entertained. The book was easy to read and I read it quickly; I was undoubtedly hooked from beginning to end. I did, however, feel that this book was not quite so gripping as the first, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why – it seemed to lack some of the magic of the first story. I would still highly recommend it, however, particularly for fans of ‘Between the Lines’ who would like to be reuinted with all their favourite characters.

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The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. After a tornado swept through my trailer park, I ended up in Oz. But it wasn’t like the Oz I knew from books and movies. Dorothy had returned, and she was stealing magic from the land. The Wizard was back. Glinda could no longer be called the Good Witch. And the Wicked Witches who were left? They’d joined forces as the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, and they wanted to recruit me. My mission? Kill Dorothy. Except my job as an assassin didn’t work out as planned. Dorothy is still alive. The Order has vanished. And the home I couldn’t wait to leave behind might be in danger. But in a place where the line between good and evil shifts with a strong gust of wind…who am I supposed to trust? And who is actually Wicked?”

REVIEW: This second installment of the ‘Dorothy Must Die’ series picks up immediately after the previous novel left off, with Amy and her monkey friends Ollie and Maud fleeing to seek safety with the rest of the flying monkeys. Amy has failed her orders to kill Dorothy, who has escaped along with Glinda, and has also found herself without a clue of how to find the rest of the Order. With the demented Ozma/Pete in tow, Amy and her friends seek sanctuary with the somewhat unfriendly Lurline, and experience ever more adventures as they try to keep out of Dorothy’s clutches and find the rest of the order. It is difficult to describe the book in too much detail as I don’t wish to give anything away, particularly as the final installment of the trilogy has only just been released. This book is as easy to read as the first and is gripping and fast-paced, full of action; because of this, things can sometimes seem a little rushed and may require more than one read, but this is simply due to the many dangers and chaotic events that follow Amy rather than being a flaw in the writing of the author. The twist at the end, which involves both Amy and Dorothy, is brilliant and sets us up nicely for the next book, ‘Yellow Brick Wars’, which promises to be just as exciting and thrilling as the rest of the series!