Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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stardustTitle: Stardust
Author:
Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased (Paperback)

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Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.

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(This review originally appeared on my blog Winter Distractions on April 3, 2013)

There are some things that have been done to death in stories, especially when it comes to supernatural- or fairytale-type creatures. I mean, we’ve seen vampires, werewolves, fairies, witches, etc., etc. ALL over literature, but rarely do we see something like a star — a star that is not a star at all, but a girl who fell from the sky.

This is actually a reread for me. I remember reading this story way back when it was first released as a mass market paperback. The pharmacy I worked at had a very small section for books and really only had the top ten paperbacks available for purchase. When I saw Stardust, I picked up a copy and started to read. This was my first introduction to Neil Gaiman’s writing and I have never looked back.

The first time I read this story, I wanted to read it while doing EVERYTHING. Even things that would probably be better done had I not been reading. This time around, I saw that my local library had an audiobook copy of the story, read by Neil himself, so I thought that might be a great way to reread the story I had been meaning to reread in the past few years. I was quite worried that my tastes had changed, that I would no longer enjoy the story of a boy who went beyond the wall of Wall to catch a falling star, but I was so wrong — I devoured this story just as I had in the beginning and was still completely taken with the characters and Neil’s wonderful way with words.

This has to be one of my favourite stories — a fairytale for adults — and I love pretty much everything that happens in it. I feel for the star, who was really going about her day before Tristran found her. She never wanted to be captured, which is pretty much what he did to her. I think they were both naive and young in the beginning only to grow so fond of each other and develop something like a friendship — or maybe more than a friendship. Neil writes some fascinating characters other than Tristran and the star, too — we have the witch, who is truly evil; as well as the captain of the flying pirate ship (at this part I only picture Dustin Hoffman in my head, who plays the captain in the movie); and the brothers, the heirs to the throne of Stormhold. The latter were probably some of my favourite characters because they added some great comic relief to the story.

I do love that while this story might come across as a story for children, it really isn’t. There are some truly terrifying scenes in it, as well as some very … ahem … adult scenes. It’s a story that isn’t meant to be read in small doses, but devoured in one sitting and thought about afterwards. And if you have a chance, have Neil read the story to you through audiobook — he is a wonderful narrator and really puts emphasis on the things that should be emphasized and goes at a perfect pace for all ears. I highly recommend this. If you love fairytales with witches, pirates, ghosts, and unicorns, as well as fairytales with a sweeping romance between two very different individuals, this is the story for you.

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[Audiobook] Review: Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1) by Stacia Kane

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unholy ghostsTitle: Unholy Ghosts
Series: Downside Ghosts, #1
Author: Stacia Kane
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased (Audiobook)

Length: 11 hours 10 minutes (Unabridged)
Narrated by: Bahni Turpin
Published by: Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack.

In a future world under attack from the undead, the powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Consequently, there are many false claims of hauntings from those hoping to profit. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully-tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for nailing human liars and banishing the wicked dead. But she’s keeping a dark secret from the Church: a little drug problem that’s landed her in hot water.

Chess owes a lot of money to a dangerous drug lord who wants immediate payback. All Chess has to do is dispatch a very nasty species of undead from an old airport. But the job involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and crossing swords with enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in a dangerous attraction to the drug lord’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

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I really, really wanted to like this audiobook. Mainly because I bought it on sale at Audible — it and the next two books in the series. Unfortunately, this story ended up being just okay and kind of forgetful to me.

I thought the characters were okay, and might have liked them a whole lot better if I were reading the book on paper rather than listening to the audiobook. Especially Terrible. I think he has the potential to be an awesome male companion, but I just didn’t like the narrator’s voice for him (something that tends to happen when I listen to books with romance that are narrated by females — the male voices tend to not work). And while I liked Terrible, I’m not sure how I feel about Chess, She’s had a hard life but seems to get over that with a drug addiction. I can’t say that makes her all that likable.

I did really enjoy the world that this story is set in. There were some perfectly creepy moments and I loved that the whole place is run down and not so perfect. I also loved that the story involved ghosts — one of my favourite supernatural things in books!

The narration wasn’t bad with this story, except for the male voices, like I said. Well, mainly just Terrible. I actually think that the voice done for Bump was perfect (kind of like Lafayette’s voice on the True Blood TV show). The pacing was good, though the pacing of the story itself was kind of all over the place. The narrator definitely had a way with voices and could do the dialects quite well — that was very enjoyable.

Really, though, I wish I liked this one more, but when I finished it, I had a hard time even recalling a lot of what happened. I do hope that the next book in the series is a new story on its own — maybe a little more addicting than this story. I do think that if you’re looking for urban fantasy books to read there are better ones out there.

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Review: The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

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the spindlersTitle: The Spindlers
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Source: Purchased (eBook)

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Evocative of Alice in Wonderland, this novel from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver is a bewitching story about the reaches of loyalty and the enduring power of hope.

Looking across the breakfast table one morning, twelve-year-old Liza feels dread wash over her. Although her younger brother, Patrick, appears the same, Liza knows that he is actually quite different. She is certain that the spindlers—evil, spiderlike beings—came during the night and stole his soul. And Liza is also certain that she is the only one who can rescue him.

Armed with little more than her wits and a huge talking rat for a guide, Liza descends into the dark and ominous underground to save Patrick’s soul. Her quest is far from easy: she must brave tree-snakes, the Court of Stones, and shape-shifting scawgs before facing her greatest challenge in the spindlers’ lair, where more than just Patrick’s soul is at stake.

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With a few exceptions (and really, that’s only an ending to a book I’m thinking of), Lauren Oliver can do no wrong. She’s one of those authors who has a brain that must be working at a million miles a minute. She can write for middle grade kids, young adults, and (soon) adults, and her stories have that diversity that some authors can only dream of. I’d imagine crawling inside of her head would be quite the experience.

While I’ve read all of Lauren’s YA books, I had only read one of her middle grade books, The Spindlers being the only one left on my list to read. I can honestly say that I loved her first middle grade book, Liesl & Po, the audiobook lending itself to my now-love of audiobooks. Now, The Spindlers doesn’t quite live up to Liesl & Po, but it’s a beast all on its own. In fact, when I started reading the story, I really didn’t have ANY idea what it was even about. I just knew it was by Lauren Oliver and that I really liked Lauren’s work.

The book is actually kind of cool. It’s a spin on the idea of changelings, kind of reminiscent of Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series (of which I’ve only read the first book, but the little brother in there is in a bit of a changeling situation). I haven’t read a lot of books featuring changelings, but I can say that I’m slowly getting very interested in these kinds of stories where someone is replaced — and not by anything good.

Just as the synopsis says, it’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland, with the main character Liza falling through the rabbit hole in an attempt to find and save her brother from these “spindlers” — or, the ones who stole her brother. In her journey, she meets all sorts of strange creatures, including her main companion, a rat in a dress and makeup.

This was a fun and quick read and would definitely be a hit with a younger audience. There are plenty of twists and turns and surprises on Liza’s journey, making the story go by in a morning. My only complaint would be the ease with which Liza navigates “Below” — I felt like there could be a few more instances of danger or maybe even some more evil characters. We all love a journey full of not only highs, but lows as well.

Like I said, this book doesn’t quite live up to the fun of Liesl & Po, but it’s still a good story. Lauren Oliver is quite the storyteller and I’m interested in seeing what else she can come up with — for children, youths, and adults alike.

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