Review: Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore is the most magical and richly lush story ever! The gorgeousness of the cover does not lie I tell you, absolutely not. This book is aesthetically stunning inside and out and it’s a story of magical gardens and families of women with curses and a dirt and dark secrets and missing people. I was absolutely swallowed whole by the magical and ethereal tones and honestly it’s the kind of book you do not want to miss.

The story is about the Nomeolvides women who live in a garden they can never leave. Or basically they’ll hack up a lung. It’s not great. The five girl cousins are all in love with the unattainable granddaughter of the estate, but they try to be careful about showing it because there seems to be a curse that whoever a Nomeolvides women loves — they’ll go missing. Sure enough, the girls’ beloved Bee disappears and in her place, they dig a mysterious boy out of the soil. He has no memory and no idea what’s going on. The gardens are under threat, dark secrets are rising, and they need to solve the mystery of this strange boy’s past and what it means. It might be their saving or their tragedy.

I can’t even sum up all the things I loved about this tale! It’s complicated and interesting, the plot never letting you down for a second. There are secrets fairly popping up like daisies. It features a cast of completely complex and strong women who you just admire from the first page. The gardens are MAGICAL and, I mean, they dug a boy out of the soil. What more do you want from a book?

Honestly the writing is what absolutely captured my heart. It really hones in on the details. It’s not going to say “she grew a flower”. It will say “she grew a midnight blue rose” or similar, and it just absolutely captivated me with luscious description and carefully designed details. Everything leapt off the pages. I felt like I fell into this magical fairy tale garden of mystery and sadness and utter beauty. The style is thick and luscious. This isn’t the kind of book you skim because it’s like a very rich chocolate cake.

Actually speaking of food: the food descriptions in here are fantastic. Plus the boy they pull out of the garden sees all the women are sad so he cooks food for them. Quality lad.

It’s absolutely FULL of complex and interesting women! The Nomeolvides women all live in this garden that the can never leave (or they die; super fun times) and they grow flowers and tend it etc. etc. Most people think they are witches. 3 generations of women live in the house, 5 grandmas, 5 mothers, and 5 daughters. The 5 cousins basically function as sisters and this pleases me so so much! The girls all love pretty things and they love being feminine, whcih was so refreshing. I loved the Latina culture and how most of the characters fit onto the lgbtqia+ spectrum too.

The book is mainly from the pov of Estrella and Fel. Fel is the boy they dig out of the garden who is quiet and tragic and somewhat confused at everything. Estrella falls in love with him. They are so beautiful, both of them.

Ultimately? Wild Beauty is, in a word: GORGEOUS. It is a celebration of magic and flowers and how beautiful things can often cover up deep suffering.

Review: All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

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All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater is about magic, darkness, and fighting your inner demons. I’m a huge fan of all of Stiefvater’s work, so I went in with excited expectations and wasn’t disappointed! It’s incredibly heartfelt and written in such a whimsical style that you can’t help being addicted to every page.

The story follows three cousins who live on a ranch, Bicho Raro, in Colorado, where their family gives out miracles. The trouble with miracles is that you have to accept your darkness to deal with it, and it often comes out in strange ways. Their world is populated by the weird and wonderful and magical, on a backdrop of deserts in the 1960s. The three teens are: Beatriz, who claim she has no feelings. Then Daniel, who is the resident saint, at 19, and used to be a pure child brat. And then Joaquin is the youngest and he runs an illegal radio station under the name Diablo Diablo (um, don’t tell his family, he’ll be in super big trouble). They watch pilgrims get their miracles all the time, but what happens when Daniel, the only saint who can help them, goes missing?

I loved how magical it was! The miracles are portrayed so interestingly. The Sorias family saints give the miracle and the trick is you have to deal with it yourself. If they help — everything will get dark and worse. Often pilgrims get stuck and are just living on the ranch for months trying to put themselves back together. It’s just accepted that everyone is freaking weird and magical here. Like there are girls entwined with snakes, a giant, someone who gets rained on all the time etc. etc. And everyone is chill with that.

It is written in an omnipresent style, which isn’t typically my favourite, but I loved how it transformed this book into a mythological fairy tale sort of vibe! Weget dozens of POVs and perspectives, from the Sorias to the pilgrims.  I really loved how beautiful, whimsical, and melodic the writing was. It felt so rich and extravagantly magical and the extra perspectives actually made it feel juicy and deep. The story is about miracles, not just the Saints and not just the Pilgrims.

The setting was gorgeous too. I could totally see the ranch and the desert and the box truck. You could taste the dust and see the owls and tumbleweeds!

The characters are just so amazing and complex and different. They are odd little tumble weeds and I loved them. I adored the three Soria cousins and their illegal radio station and their inner darkness. I loved Beatriz who was very firmly convinced she had no feelings and Joaquin who loved his hair and Daniel, the childhood-devil-turned-saint. I loved Pete who loved to work (what the heck is wrong with him though) and was so earnest and pure. And I loved the dogs who wanted to eat everyone alive. #relatable

All The Crooked Saints the kind of story that definitely leaves you wanting more, which is amazing. It’s whimsical and bizarre and addictive. This book is a bit like being told wild dusty folklore stories with black roses and owls with strange eyes and strange box trucks and girls who like boys’ elbows. It’s unusual and it’s slow and it’s pretty and there are SAINTS. It’s every scoop of magic you need in your life.

Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a beautiful example of why Magical Realism is the best. It took me a few pages to get into the swing of this magical world where people can grow feathers and curses are very real, but after that? I was hopelessly hooked. The writing was flawlessly gorgeous. It was the kind of writing that absolutely devoured your attention so it was just you + book = everything there is. (Which is a little unfortunate if one has to, like, stop reading and go to work or whatever. Note To Self: read this book when you have a free weekend and can devour it all at once!)9781250058652

This year has only just begun and already I’ve found a few favourite!

The story is basically of two warring performer families: the Spanish Palomas family who wear mermaid tails and put on whimsical shows, and the French Corbeaus family who grow feathers and wear wings and dance in the tree tops. Their rivalry dates back generations and they believe even touching each other will cause death and curses. It has a Romeo & Juliet feel! And of course two teens from each side accidentally end up falling for each other, in a slowburn and entirely magical romance. Lace gets thrown out of the Paloma family and ends up masquerading as a nobody in the Corbeaus family in an effort to get a burned curse lifted off her arm. She doesn’t mean to fall in love with Cluck, the outsider with damaged hands and red feathers in his hair. But bring on performances, burns, terrible storms, and hopeless accidents and here is The Weight of Feathers.

This is magical realism at its finest. It mixes real world settings with dashes of magic and comes across so well written I felt like I got sucked into another land. The story is also mostly set in a small town, and I loved the aching summery vibe of stillness and loneliness. When the setting just leaps off the page, you know you’re in for a good read.

The diversity is also amazing and exceptional. Not only do we have French and Spanish protagonists (dual narrating) who are also people of colour, it also touches on disability representation. Cluck has damaged fingers which complicates his job of making wings for his family’s shows. Lace sustains massive scarring on her face and has to learn to accept herself and not view herself as damaged. It’s really beautiful how all the themes are woven together. I also loved the amount of French and Spanish words! I did have to resort to Google Translate a few times, but mostly you can tell what they’re saying by context. And it gives the cultures a deeper feel to see them using their own tongue.

I absolutely loved the protagonists too. Usually dual point-of-view and I don’t get on well. But both Lace and Cluck’s perspectives were brilliant. Lace is more logical and down-to-earth and will not be pushed around by anyone. Cluck is dreamy and an outsider even with his own family. He’s constantly abused and pushed aside by them and he wears strange clothes and is unknowable — until Lace chooses to know him. The way they ended up relying and being strengthened by each other was so encouraging to read.

I also appreciated that the romance was very slow. No instalove or falling into each other’s arms on page 5 and professing eternal love. It felt realistic! And it was more a journey of trust = friendship = love.

This is definitely a book I’ll come back to for copious re-reads. It was unique and beautifully written, with a storyline that wasn’t particularly new, but was written in such a fresh way that I was addicted to every page. Lace and Cluck are the most adorable and winning couple I’ve read about in a long time. And I rooted for their lives to get better! It features family, magic, and quite a bucketful of suffering. I only wish there were more books.

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Review: The Lost And Found by Katrina Leno

The Lost And Found by Katrina Leno is a precious little bookish creature built for anxious people with internet friendships. It’s so very relatable! I immediately felt at home with the teens who confessed it’s easier to make friends online sometimes. (YES IT IS.)

Although, be ye warned: It’s actually contemporary with a slight dose of magical realism. The magical aspect isn’t going to drown you, but it’s still there. Things go “missing” in the story and end up appearing in impossible places.

9780062231208What’s It About?

Frannie and Louis met online when they were both little and have been pen pals ever since. They have never met face-to-face, and they don t know each other s real names. All they know is that they both have a mysterious tendency to lose things. Well, really, things just seem to . . . disappear.FOUNDLouis and Frannie both receive news in the mail that sets them off on a road trip to Austin, Texas, looking for answers and each other. Along the way, each one begins to find, as if by magic, important things the other has lost. And by the time they finally meet in person, they realize that the things you lose might be things you weren’t meant to have at all, and that you never know what you might find if you just take a chance.

The story is dual narrated by Frances and Louis. Both narrators have very distinct voices and I was invested in both their lives. Frances lives with her grandparents because her own parents are pretty crazy. And she’s wondering if a famous movie star is actually her father. Louis has severe PTSD and anxiety after his twin sister fell out of a window and lost both her legs. And he’s a tennis champ. And he’s not sure if he should move off to college. Because anxiety.

I adored Louis and his twin sister, Willa. Their relationship was fantastic and full of sibling banter and tension. Willa’s really matter-of-fact about her disability and basically lets nothing stop her. She puts up with stares and discrimination over it, but it doesn’t get her down.

The story also is full of diversity! Louis and Willa are half-Indian. Willa has no legs. France’s adopted cousin, Arrow, is Vietnamese. It talks openly and honestly about anxiety disorders.

I also am a huge fan of the way it portrayed internet friendships! So often I see books only outline all the horrible things that can happen on the internet…but that’s not always how it goes down, okay?! Sometimes you meet the nicest most special people online! Louis and Frances had been friends online for several years before they decided to meet up. I mean, they were safe about the meet up. They took friends for backup. But ultimately, it was all sweet and real! It’s a great reminder of the power of internet friendships.

As for the magical realism aspect? Both Frances and Louis are always LOSING stuff. It just disappears. I did like this a lot, because when you have anxiety, you actually often lose track of things. So I appreciate how it added in something real like that, but put in a magical twist.

Ultimately, this book resonated with me so much! Coupling internet friendships with accurate portrayal of mental illness and witty banter and delicious tacos…I had no choice but to adore it! It’s also entirely quotable and precious. The writing was utter perfection and it was fast and easy to read, yet complex and poignant.

 

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Review: Ophelia And the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

9781471403361Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee was an entirely marvellous book. YES. Pun intended. (I couldn’t resist, okay?!) It was magical and adorable and I ate it as fast as I possibly could and enjoyed every second of this incredibly written tale.

It’s basically the story of 12-year-old Ophelia who moves with her family to a gothic museum and there she finds magical (and dangerous) things. Aka — a boy locked in a room for 300+ years by an evil queen. Ergo Ophelia must rescue the boy and defeat the queen! All the while trying to get her family to believe that weird things are going on in the museum. It has a bit of a Snow Queen fairy tale feel to it, which is amazing. I love retellings!

I was also very excited going into reading this because a) I love Karen Foxlee (Aussie authors FTW!) and b) like I said, I’m a sucker for retellings, and c) the cover is just beautifully magical. Also Karen Foxlee sort of broke my heart in The Midnight Dress…so I wanted to see what her Middle Grade/Junior Fiction style was.

I announce that it is FABULOUS. I finished this book as a rather happy snowman. (Not that I’ve seen snow?? But there is snow in this book and that calls for Frozen references, okay?! Okay.)

The writing style is very simple and clear. Perfect for youngish bookworms, but still wonderful enough that I (as an adult reading it) adored it to pieces. Also the book is tiny (just over 200-pages) so I finished it in a few hours.

I also appreciated how the writing was interesting and quirky! And I loved the story and the plot! It deals with a few sad and heavy issues (such as Ophelia’s mother is dead when the book starts and she’s reeling from that) and the grief and being alone and feeling ignored and forgotten. It’s handled beautifully.

It’s definitely not a horror story…but it does have creepy parts! It reminded me slightly of Coraline? Minus the intense Tim Burton-esque freaktastic fest.

Ophelia narrates (in 3rd person) and she is basically a tiny world-saving mite who needs no hugs and can handle this. I loved her! She’s not confident, she has asthma, and her glasses are always smudgy. She constantly thinks, “What would Mum say?” which was so bittersweet considering she’s just lost her mother but is still trying to live by what she’d like. Ophelia wasn’t brave, she was curious. It’s nice having slightly unconfident characters — it gives us weakling smudgy-glasses nerds the belief we can face enchanted statues and wield swords and help magical boys someday. This book is immensely relatable.

Definitely a solidly wonderful read that I can’t recommend enough! If you like magical adventures, curious characters, swords, evil queens, and the word “marvellous” (which is such a stupendous word I might add) then Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is FOR YOU. It also might tug at your heart strings. Just warning you.

 

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Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

9781848452312I had no idea what to expect from Ink (Paper Gods #1) by Amanda Sun apart from the fact that it was set in Japan. And since I have a love of travelling vicariously through books, I knew I needed it. I completely fell in love with the story and the detailed writing style and the CREEPY INK MONSTERS. I’m now convinced that every book needs creepy ink monsters.

Here is a very quick overview on what goes down in this book:

  • An American, Katie, goes to live with her aunt in Japan because her mum died.
  • Plenty of Japanese culture and food. Which is delicious I might add.
  • There is a dude who draws stuff and it accidentally comes to life in vicious inky monsters.
  • There are gods and paper dragons.
  • The book has artwork inside!! In the same style as the cover (but black and white) and it’s beautiful!

I was tooootally in love with the premise of “drawings coming to life”. Plus they were nasty!? I am so onboard with this. (It reminded me of Inkheart in a way!) The writing was gorgeously descriptive and I could basically see the ink oozing off the pages.

Shall we take a moment to talk about the characters?! I confess, at first I was unconvinced. Katie is nearly a Plain-Jane. She has a few bouts of witty retorts, but otherwise she seemed kind of swept along by the story instead of taking charge. Then of course we meet Tomohiro Yuu who is the resident “bad boy”. He has secrets and scars and can be really rude. Ridiculuosly, Katie is attracted. But. Tomohiro has a smushy little marshmallow heart of gold and I totally found myself falling for the romance despite initially being skeptical. Tomohiro’s character is deeply and excellently written. Katie also has two best friends: Yuki and Tanashi. They were hilarious and I loved every opportunity we got to enjoy their banter. I loved Yuki’s energy and giggling!

9780373210718Also I adored the fact that I had a brief visit to Japan. This is the only Japanese-flavoured book I’ve read, so I enjoyed the quick immersion into that country. There’s plenty of Japanese words and it goes into detail about some festivals and customs and what kind of food they devour (which I appreciated a million percent). They talk about tea ceremonies and calligraphy. They mention bento boxes and futons and go through a temple and talk about Japanese mythology. Basically yes please and thank you to all of that.

 
The plot is intense! But not staggeringly speedy. There are total awesome action scenes and blood goes everywhere and there are sword fights and kidnappings and all that awesome stuff. But, mostly, the pace wasn’t fast. Most of the action happens near the end.

Overall it’s a GORGEOUS book. I am a sucker for a bad boy meets quiet girl romance, and I loved the Japanese flavours and the magical reaslim. And I adored that there was a paper dragon, even if it was only briefly. Plus isn’t the cover for this book stunning?! Consider me stunned. I plan to get my clammy paws on the sequel, Rain, as soon as I can!

 

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is one of my favourite reads of the year, and I was excited to hear it had been The Fishermen by Chigozie Obiomalonglisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015, and elated when it made the shortlist. Woohoo!

Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma has crafted a magical book about brotherly love and the meaning of family in The Fishermen. Breaking the rules by fishing at the local forbidden river, four brothers come across a local madman who has a history of delivering accurate prophecies. The madman tells the eldest boy that he will die at the hands of one of his brothers.

This prophecy has a devastating effect on the brothers and ends up tearing the entire family apart. But can the madman actually see the future, or do the boys give the prophecy life with their belief? This is up to the reader to decide.

The Fishermen is at times funny, moving, heartbreaking, lyrical and magical. The narrator Ben is the youngest of the four brothers and we see the events unfold through his eyes. Thinking of Ben right now makes my chest ache with longing; that’s how much this story sticks with you. Even the cover (above, right) showing the four fishing hooks representing each of the brothers is poignant and full of meaning to me.

The Fishermen is so perfect (in my humble opinion) that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel for Chigozie Obioma. He’s certainly in good company amongst his fellow shortlisted writers.A Spool of Blue Thread

The other Man Booker shortlisted novels for 2015 are:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

In case you’re wondering how a Nigerian author qualifies for the Man Booker, this is the second year the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, as long as they write originally in English and publish in the UK. (Previously, the prize was only open to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe).

Have you read The Fishermen or any of the others novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction this year? I’ll definitely be crossing my fingers Chigozie Obioma walks away with the prize this year. Either way, he’s definitely an author to watch out for in the future.