Review: The House with Chicken Legs

Published by Usborne
Published on 5th April 2018
Cover Illustration: Melissa Castrillon
Inside Illustrations: Elisa Paganelli

This is a truly special book which completely immersed me in the folklore of Baba Yaga and the magical quality of the story-telling, so much so that I read it in one rainy day sitting. 

Marinka lives with her Grandmother, Baba Yaga, in the most amazing house, with a personality of its own, and chicken legs which can travel quickly from place to place.  Baba Yaga facilitates the dead ‘through The Gate’ so that they can ‘return to the stars’.  I really liked how the dead people’s lives were celebrated and memories relived before passing through The Gate.  Baba Yaga is kind, generous and clearly has a deep respect for her important role which is certainly not without its sacrifices.  What is also apparent is that she has a deep love for Marinka who she hopes will become the next Yaga.

However, this is the last thing Marinka wants.  She is determined to choose her own path, and it involves the living, not the dead.   Desperate for friendship with the living, she is very excited to meet Benjamin who proves that real friendship and genuine acceptance of others can transcend any barrier put in its way, even that of a house getting up and moving away on its chicken legs! 

Marinka’s desperation to have a friend leads to her making a decision that will have a profound impact on her life, a decision which also leads to some breath-taking revelations.  This story is magnificently crafted, from the deeply engaging plot, with gripping action, to the magical quality of the writing, to the bringing to life of characters who I became really emotionally invested in. 

I wanted to be something I’m not.

Marinka is just the most wonderfully brave and fallible young girl with an inner strength that I marvelled at:  I absolutely adored her, all the more so because she is not perfect.  She is a whirlpool of so many emotions that tumble from her tumultuous heart.  She has the tenacity to reach for her own destiny; she is full of anger, defiance and frustration at the life she is expected to lead; yet, above all, she is a young girl on a journey of self-discovery whose triumph is in finding her place in the world, despite her struggles and hardships, surrounded by others who care for her. 

This is a perfect story for anyone interested in Slavic folklore, or just a brilliant story, and one which completely entranced me from start to finish.  The artwork is stunning from the front cover (by Melissa Castrillon) to the inside illustrations (by Elisa Paganelli) and really enhance the magical quality of this stunning story.

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

She descended into the basement, tasked with collecting the bones.  In her hand, a single candle illuminated the way.  It cast a small circle of golden light that pressed the deepest shadows into the corners.

Any ideas?

I’ve been seeing this one reviewed quite a lot on blogs I follow, and it sounds so good that I had to add it to my ever-increasing TBR.

Goodreads synopsis:

Made of dust and bone and imagination, Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life—and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unraveling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.

When Irréelle makes one final, unforgivable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life, Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irréelle flees to the underside of the graveyard and embarks on an adventure to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more.

With echoes of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, debut author Heather Kassner crafts a gorgeously written story humming with magic, mystery, and dark imaginings.

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.      What are you currently reading?

2.      What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle.  I’ve been enjoying lots of fantasy books recently, so thought I’d have a change with my other favourite genre, historical fiction.  Just started this one, but I can already tell I’m going to love it.

This week I have read An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu, Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, The Magic Story Shop by Katja Frixe (translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp), Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig and The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.  I’ve now got a lot of reviews to write up!

I hope to read a couple of approvals I’ve had via NetGalley:  Pages & Co: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James and The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason.  These should be perfect company on my flight to Florida! 

Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

Published by McElderry Books
Published: 25th September 2018 (Paperback)

This is not a genre I have read in a long while, but I must admit, I really enjoyed An Enchantment of Ravens which is a young adult fantasy romance with plenty of action and moments of danger. 

Isobel is a highly sought-after portrait artist whose patrons are the Fair Folk.  She is always cautious and wary around them, so is surprised to find that she lets her guard down around Rook, a Prince of the Autumn Court who has come back to Whimsy after many years to have his portrait painted by Isobel. 

However, she makes an unforgivable error by painting human sorrow in his eye, an expression of emotion which should be impossible for the Fair Folk.  The painting, showing his weakness, may cost him his life and, in order to save himself, he kidnaps Isobel so she can stand trial for her crime.  Any tentative feelings she finds herself having towards him are dissipated by his act.  This is just as well as Fair Folk and humans are strictly forbidden to fall in love under the Good Laws on pain of death or having to drink from the Green Well to become one of the Fair Folk, which is worse than a death sentence for Isobel.

Of course, their journey to the Autumn Court does not go according to plan and they find themselves in dangerous situations which inevitably leads to them slowly learning to trust each other, and the return of Isobel’s feelings for Rook.   The relationship between Isobel and Rook has a fairy tale quality and innocence, but with Isobel being in control despite the more obvious power of Rook. I loved many of the awkward, endearing encounters between them, and the moments of humour and tenderness.

Isobel and Rook find themselves drawn into a power struggle between the Fairy Courts which puts them both in the utmost danger.  Rook is determined to protect Isobel, no matter the cost.  Isobel is a feisty character with a quick wit who will not allow herself to become a victim to the political machinations of the Fair Folk. But, at what cost?  I really enjoyed the intertwining of the political plot thread with the development of the romance. I found the Fair Folk both fascinating and rather terrifying:  charming and glamorous yet vicious and cruel.

Overall, An Enchantment of Ravens is an engaging story with fast-paced action, a compelling plot, an endearing romance and sumptuous world-building. 

Review: Circe

Published by Bloomsbury
First published 10th April 2018
Waterstones Edition published 4th April 2019

This is the story of little-known Greek goddess and witch, Circe, told from her perspective:  it reads like such an honest portrayal of a woman fighting for her place in a male-dominated society that it completely engrossed me.  A truly beautiful and sometimes brutal read, steeped in well-known stories of Greek mythology, which lends a familiarity to the narrative, but imbued with a fresh interpretation grounded in a feminist approach.

Circe is the daughter of the Titan sun god, Helios and the nymph Perse.  Feeling worthless and powerless amongst the gods, she feels drawn to mortals who are to become an important part of her life and her knowledge of self.  Caught up in the politics of the Titans and Olympians, Circe is made a scapegoat for seeking her powers openly as a witch, and for standing up to her brutal father.  She is exiled to the island of Aiaia for all eternity as a punishment.  Knowing that she is alone forever, after having sought and been rejected in love, could have made her give up, but Circe decided to fight back …

I will not be like a bird bred in a cage … too dull to fly even when the door stands open.  I stepped into those woods and my life began.

Circe attunes herself to her witchcraft, growing in strength and power, with two of her greatest abilities being in illusion and transformation, both of which she will need to protect herself, and the people she comes to care for.   Although she is sent to the island to be isolated from others, this is not to be the sum of her existence. 

Circe plays a role in many of the major Greek myths and gains the attention of both Gods and heroes.  Engaging with these well-known myths, from Circe’s viewpoint, was genuinely fascinating and gave me a fresh insight into, and more awareness of, many of the gods and hero myths, especially that of Odysseus

Circe is a complicated character who at times I raged at, and at others, I raged with.  She may be an immortal god, but she exhibits a broad spectrum of human emotions throughout her many centuries:  jealousy, love, rage, revenge, loneliness, courage, compassion, grief to name but a few.   What really resonates with me is the sheer depth of her strength and tenacity, her ability to endure, to fight, to build relationships, to live a life not confined to the dictates of others.

I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out!

Circe’s story is epic in scope and a beautifully written deep exploration of one woman’s fight for her place in a patriarchal world, forced to endure, determined to fight and prepared to dream.

#SixforSunday: Fictional places you’d love to go on holiday

The August theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot, is Books and Holidays and today’s wish is for fictional places you’d love to go on holiday. There are so many fictional places I’d like to go on holiday that it was difficult only choosing six.

Eerie-on-Sea

I loved the map for Eerie-on-Sea and would love to visit some of these amazing places during the summer.  I’d book into the Grand Nautilus Hotel before heading to the Eerie Book Dispensary to see if the mermonkey had a book for me.  After reading it on the Harbour Wall, I’d head to The Whelk and Walrus Pub for lunch before exploring the Museum of Eerie.  I’d then visit Mrs Fossil’s Flotsamporium to see what treasures she had found on the beach and finish my day with an evening walk along the beach.

Arranmore

The real Arranmore Island is in County Donegal where I was born, but I have not visited.  I’d love to visit it first and then visit the Arranmore in the books to see how they compare, but without Morrigan!

Turtle Island

I’m not really a fan of beach holidays, but if I had to choose one, it would be a beautiful island in the Pacific with glorious sandy beaches, just like Turtle Island! Somewhere I could relax, read books and wander along the sandy beach.

Rook’s Island

My ancestors are from Scotland and I visited Inverness and the surrounding area a few years ago.  I would love to spend some time on a Scottish island just like Rook’s Island with wandering goats, a music festival and some veggie chilli to enjoy.

Rumblestar

I’d love to travel to the Unmapped Kingdom of Rumblestar through a portal and visit the fantastical landscape of floating clouds, waterfalls, spectacular castle and meet the magical creatures.   Maybe even be lucky enough to talk to a cloud giant or a snow troll – and have an adventure!

Medlock

My favourite kind of holiday involves exploring and I’d love to be able to take the Gigantrak to the City of Medlock to meet some of the mechanimals and maybe – if I’m daring enough – sneak into the Imperial Personifate Guild of Medlock.

Review: Firefly – The Magnificent Nine

I have to start this review by admitting that I’m a MAJOR fan of the Firefly/Serenity universe and was gutted when they cancelled the series.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure about reading this book in case it didn’t live up to expectations … I needn’t have worried.  I LOVED THIS!  It was like sinking straight back into this amazing space western world which I completely fell in love with after being introduced to it by my boyfriend, now my husband!  We even went to the Starfury Convention where we met lots of the cast.  I have a signed poster, autographed comics, DVDs, graphic novels, series companion books and board games.  Reading this book, made me go and look them all out again:  they made me feel really nostalgic and brought back lots of happy, treasured memories.

Just a few pics from my collection:

Anyway, on to my review ….

Published by Titan Books
Published on 1st May 2019 (Hardback)

The events in The Magnificent Nine take place between the end of the Firefly TV series and the movie Serenity.  The scene-setting, the characterisation, the language and the plot all worked perfectly to help me imagine this as an episode of the TV show – just shiny!  And exactly what I was hoping for from this book!

Whilst trying to convince an elegantly dancing River Tam to give him back his beloved hat, Jayne Cobb, tough guy with a softish heart, gets a message from an old flame, Temperance McCloud, begging for his help.  Coogan’s Bluff is a dead-end town on the scorching planet of Thetis where water is more precious than gold.  Elias Vandal, who claims to have run with the Reavers, and his gang have imposed a reign of terror on other towns on the planet, and they have now arrived at Coogan’s Bluff intent on controlling its water supply. 

Captain Malcolm Reynolds accepts the plea for help, with a little persuasion from his crew.  If there’s one thing they despise, it’s the weak being oppressed by the powerful. 

I fought at Serenity Valley.  It ain’t about optimism.  It’s about doin’ what’s right even when everything’s stacked against you.

When they arrive, two surprises greet them:  a missile grounding Serenity and Temperance’s daughter, Jane – I’ll leave it at that!  

This story includes everything I loved about Firefly:  the bar brawl, the life-and-death situations, the complications, the revelations, the camaraderie, the banter, the bravado, the vicious villain, and the comeuppance.

The Serenity crew may come across as a rather dysfunctional family, but they are a family who, when the chips are down, look out for each other.   I absolutely loved returning to the world of Firefly through The Magnificent Nine and am really looking forward to the next instalment, Generations – super shiny! 

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

The sun was raining again.  Soft and bright, rainlight fell through the sky, each drop tearing a hole in the season.  Winter had been steady and predictable, but it was quite poked through now, and spring was peeking from underneath it.  The world was ready for a change.

Any ideas?

I hadn’t heard of either this or the second book, Whichwood, but I spotted both on a visit to Foyles in London. I definitely judged these books on their cover.  They’re so gorgeous I just had to have them!

Goodreads synopsis:

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, 12, rates three things most important: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. Father disappeared from Ferenwood with only a ruler, almost three years ago. But she will have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. Her only companion is Oliver whose own magic is based in lies and deceit. Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

Review: The Monster Who Wasn’t

Published by Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 8th August 2019
Illustrator: Claire Powell

I absolutely adored this extraordinary story, full of wonderful characters, rich description and powerful messages relating to identity, familial bonds and belonging.  It wholeheartedly captured my imagination as it took me on a riveting rollercoaster of fast-paced action through a series of tantalising twists and turns which astounded and delighted me.

Deep down in The Hole, a monster has been hatched by the Ogre King, formed from the last regretful sigh of a dying man, and the first gurgling laugh of his grandchild.  What hatches is an enigma:  nothing from the known bestiary of monsters, but a young boy, with a heart and a soul.  The boy has been created for a sinister purpose, but will he have the strength and courage to fight against his destiny?

When he draws the keen and hungry attention of King Thunderguts, the ruler of the monsters, and his crone, he makes a desperate escape from the pandemonium that ensues.  During his escape, he encounters three gargoyles:  Wheedle, Bladder and Spigot.  The relationship between the boy and the gargoyles is incredibly heart-warming as these gruff, kind-hearted creatures make him a part of their pack and give him a sense of belonging.  They are hiding a secret of their own which, if revealed, would see them even more despised by the monsters than they already are.  It also explains their kindness, humour, loyalty and protectiveness towards the boy – and possibly their love of chocolate!

The diverse collection of monsters, who have their own hierarchy, are richly imagined and described in horribly delightful detail, striking a perfect balance between the scary and the grotesque. 

The aching vulnerability and innocence which radiates from the boy as he grapples with some of life’s big questions relating to identity and belonging is very touching:  Who am I?  Where do I belong?  As he begins to find answers, the reader is drawn into some amazing twists and unexpected discoveries which makes this a book which I found impossible to put down.   

Thank you to Toppsta Book Giveaways and Bloomsbury Kids for a copy in return for an honest review of the book.

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.       What are you currently reading?

2.       What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson.  This has been on my TBR for a while, and I’ve since bought Sorcery of Thorns which I’m really looking forward to.

This week I have read The Frozen Sea by Piers Torday, The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan, The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke and two more books from my 20 Reads of Summer:  Circe by Madeline Miller and Firefly:  The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove.  This takes me to 12 books from this list.

I hope to read The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu and Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver.