Book Review · Nonfiction

Heart of Dankness

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Whether you like it or not, marijuana is becoming more and more mainstream for both medical and recreational use. According to many polls being thrown around in the news, most Americans have either smoked weed, support legalization, or both, so the odds are that a few of you reading this have smoked it and/or are cool with it. So, let’s be cool with it. Heart of Dankness provides an inside look at the current culture of cannabis.

Heart of Dankness follows author Mark Haskell Smith’s quest to define the term “dank.” You’ve probably heard of the word dank in some context, but it can have several meanings in the world of weed. Some think of “dank” as an essential part of quality cannabis, while others see dankness as a way of life or a simple descriptor. The author begins and ends his book at the Cannabis Cup, an annual marijuana contest held in Amsterdam. In between his experiences at the Cup, he interviews many different people who work in the cannabis industry from seed companies and underground growers to medical professionals and legalization activists. The book is informative and fun. It is partially about a stoner on the hunt for the best stuff to smoke, but there is more to it than just that. The culture around this plant is so varied. The book gives a glimpse into the serious and scientific part of the industry, and the people involved aren’t always the stereotypical stoner.

When reviewing nonfiction, I think it is important to mention what kind of knowledge level you need of the subject matter to understand and enjoy the book. So, how much weed knowledge do you need to enjoy this? Not a whole lot. I am no expert, but I know some very basic things and terms like indica, sativa, THC, CBD. The author is pretty good about quickly defining terms, but it isn’t difficult to look something up if you want more information. The book gets into some technical terminology for genetics and botany, but it is explained well for a general audience.

Not only does the title make give me the literary giggles but this is actually a very funny book. The author is such a conversational writer, and the way he portrays himself is perfect. As I read, I pictured the author as a slightly awkward guy who is genuinely eager to learn all about this plant. He unapologetically asks the dumb questions for us and gets good answers from his interviewees. I don’t know how he was able to get close to all of these Cannabis Cup winners, underground legends, or professionals in the industry, but he makes good use of his experiences and describes them well. I was particularly impressed by how he described the eccentric characters he met during his journey. It was very easy to get a clear picture of the people he met. Smith also has some very poetic lines when he describes some of his experiences with the plant. The dude can write!

I had a lot of fun with this one. It’s a fairly short read (~230 pages) that is packed with facts and humorous moments. If you’re interested in either the recreational or medical side, or both, you’ll probably learn a lot and enjoy this book. Even if you’re an expert on the plant, the author’s unique experiences were worth reading about. I gave Heart of Dankness four out of five stars.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism

The Kingdom of Copper

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I don’t usually review sequels here because to care about the sequel, you probably need to have read the first book. It’s also hard to talk about a second book in the series without spoiling anything, but my reading time has taken a big hit this year because of work, so we can’t be too choosy about what we review! But, I have to say, The Kingdom of Copper helped me get out of a bad reading slump because it’s just a fun, creative series that I genuinely enjoy.

Nahri thought she was just a regular orphan girl from Cairo with some… odd powers. But one day she accidentally summoned a djinn who whisked her away to a whole new, mythical world. In The City of Brass we followed Nahri and her friends as she became accustomed to her magical home of Daevabad and her new life as part of its royalty. In The Kingdom of Copper there is trouble brewing in Daevabad. The various tribes of djinn have always had their grievances about each other, but now the city has become a tinderbox looking for a spark. When everyone has their own motives for power and peace, Nahri must confront both her friends and enemies for a happy future in Daevabad for her and her people.

I would say that author S. A. Chakraborty stepped up her writing in this sequel. I mentioned in my review of The City of Brass that the book read a little on the Young Adult side and would be a good series for readers who are looking for something to bridge the gap between YA fantasy and adult fantasy. The Kingdom of Copper still has a slightly younger leaning to its writing and characters, but overall, both the writing and characters have matured a lot. Since there appears to be a gradual maturing of the writing and characters, I maintain my judgment about this series being great for readers who are just getting into adult fantasy from YA fantasy. There’s still a bit of a love triangle in this book, but it does not get in the way of the plot. In fact, I would even say that slightly awkward romantic asides in book one were practically absent in book two. In my opinion, this is a good thing, but if you like a good bit of  romance in your fantasy, this series might not be the best choice.

I really like the characters in this series. Nahri has a lot of spunk, but she isn’t stupid or reckless. She is a smart, resourceful girl who knows when to bide her time for sweeter revenge later. She was a little too headstrong and emotional in book one, but Nahri was the character that I felt grew the most in this sequel. Ali, a prince of Daevabad, has also matured as both a warrior and diplomat. He is still very rigid in his beliefs, but he has learned to use his brain and brawn much more carefully. I would say that all of the main cast (and there are quite a few) are well written with a good amount of depth. The secondary characters (again, quite a few of them) have less purpose and depth and seemed to be there mostly to have a sad death scene. Maybe some of them could have been utilized more, but it would have been difficult to give them all a good amount of “page time” without derailing the story or making it overly complex.

Probably my favorite thing about this novel and this series is that it is so politically intricate. I would not say it is as complex as something like A Song of Ice and Fire, but I loved how every single character had their own independent agendas in addition to their tribe’s or group’s plans. Even if Character A is on one side of a fight, Character A may still sympathize with another group’s plight in some specific ways. In short, it felt realistic. War is never completely black and white because of all of the different lives that get tangled up in it. The Kingdom of Copper just does gray areas well. I rooted for specific characters instead of taking just one side, which made my feelings about certain events mixed– both happy and yet sad. And although I do not want main characters I love to die, I hope the author considers the possibility in book three so that this does not become a series in which everything and everyone has a happy ending. It would not feel as realistic as I have come to expect from the first two books.

I really look forward to the last book in this series. I feel like it will come to another happy/sad conclusion, but it will be a realistic and fulfilling conclusion. A lot of bad things happen in this series, but there has yet to be a big event where justice is served. I am hoping that book three will give me the closing I am craving. When the time comes, I will be on the lookout for an ARC of the last book, and you’ll probably see a review. But, here’s to at least a year of waiting.

 

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Science Fiction · Short Story Collections

Invisible Planets

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I know the subtitle of this blog is “spoiler free reviews (almost) every Saturday,” but just know that every time I have to skip a week… I feel guilty about it. Despite the delayed post, I actually read this book quickly when I had time to read it. Invisible Planets is exactly as the subtitle says: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. I am still new to science fiction, so maybe my opinion doesn’t mean much, but if you’re also a “newbie” to the genre, I hope my perspective helps. Settle in though. This will be a long one.

I chose this collection because I have enjoyed Ken Liu’s past work, and I believed that he would translate and put together an interesting collection of work from various authors. I was not wrong. There are a variety of writing styles, settings, and themes between the stories. Seven authors (most are also newer voices in the genre) are featured in the collection, and each author has 1-3 short stories. I found myself easily gravitating toward some authors and confused by others, but there should be a little something in here for anyone.

If you’re unfamiliar with fiction in translation or have some reservations about understanding any cultural/political nuances in Chinese sci-fi, this is actually a great collection to start with. In the introduction of the collection, Ken Liu explains that he has selected short fiction that he thinks Anglophone readers will appreciate. Still, he urges Anglophone readers to try not to view the stories through a “lens of Western dreams and hopes and fairy tales about Chinese politics […] Chinese writers are saying something about the globe, about all humanity, not just China, and trying to understand their work through this perspective is, I think, the far more rewarding approach.” And, if you want a little extra information about Chinese science fiction, the anthology includes three essays at the back of the book on the subject. As I said, this is a great place to start for Chinese sci-fi. It just feels “dummy proof” for an English reader.

I find it difficult to review any anthology collection in a broad way because there are so many different authors and stories, so I will briefly discuss the authors, my impression of their styles, and a little bit about their stories that appear in the collection.

Chen Qiufan: “The Year of the Rat,” “The Fish of Lijiang,” and “The Flower of Shazui”

Chen Qiufan’s stories may not have been my favorites, but they certainly made me think. Ken Liu described his work as “melding a global, post-cyberpunk sensibility with China’s traditions  and complex historical legacy.” I found some of his stories disturbingly real. For example, in “The Year of the Rat,” the protagonist is at war with genetically engineered rats with human-like characteristics. The near-humanness of the rats was contrasted against humanity’s and society’s often barbaric side, so it made me uncomfortable in a thoughtful way. Chen Qiufan’s stories feel smart; there’s a lot to unpack and examine in each one, but you can still enjoy them without doing much deep reading.

Xia Jia: “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight,” “Tongtong’s Summer,” and “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse”

Xia Jia’s work was what drew me into this anthology. According to Liu, she describes her own style as “porridge SF,” apparently meaning that she considers herself a mixture of “hard” and “soft” sci-fi. I was drawn to Xia Jia’s work because of her lyrical and descriptive writing style. “Tongtong’s Summer” was a heartfelt tale about an injured grandfather and the summer that he had to stay with his granddaughter and her parents. Grandfather and granddaughter initially have a hard time getting along, but their relationship blossoms into something very sweet. “Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse” was another of my overall favorites in the collection. It felt like a fairy tale about the passage of time and the how memories can transcend time. I found her stories to be hauntingly beautiful, and I would very happily read more from her if I could.

Ma Boyong: “The City of Silence”

“The City of Silence” was the only story by Ma Boyong in the collection, but it felt like a full length novel. (Or, because of the ending, it could also be a prologue to a great sci-fi novel…) The story focuses on a protagonist who lives in a society with very strict censorship. It is so strict that there is a list of “Healthy Words” everyone must use in their writing and speech, but every day the list of acceptable words grows smaller and smaller. The story discusses the relationship between humans, language, and freedom of expression, but it also goes deeper than that. The characters and how they live in the cracks of this increasingly silent society are extremely interesting. It showcases humanity’s adaptability as well as our limits of what we can endure.

Hao Jingfang: “Invisible Planets” and “Folding Beijing”

Both of Hao Jingfang’s stories were a bit surreal. “Invisible Planets” is structured as if the narrator is talking to another person and telling them about different planets and their inhabitants. The “meaning” of the story is hidden between the planet descriptions and the conversation between the narrator and listener. “Folding Beijing” takes place in a Beijing that can fold itself away at certain times of the day, flip completely over, and unfold itself for another set of residents on the other side. A man in a low class part of the city attempts to illegally travel between the Beijings to deliver a message for pay. Both stories were beautifully written and very creative in both their themes and world building.

Tang Fei: “Call Girl”

“Call Girl” is about a young call girl, but she isn’t really that kind of call girl. I think. She does something with dreams… maybe? I was a little confused by this one, but it was pleasant to read. The point likely flew over my head.

Cheng Jingbo: “Grave of the Fireflies”

“Grave of the Fireflies” felt like a fairy tale. Despite the first person narration, I felt distanced from the characters because of the history-book tone. It was a love story on a planetary, thousand-year scale. The writing was very descriptive with often surreal metaphors. The story felt familiar because it read like an Arthurian tale but with an Eastern flair and some technological/scientific influences making it wholly unique.

Liu Cixin: “The Circle” and “Taking Care of God”

Liu Cixin’s stories were some of my favorites. They have interesting plots with deeper underlying themes. “The Circle” takes place during the reign of the first emperor and involves mathematics, betrayal, and history. It was a very entertaining and smart story. “Taking Care of God” is also very intelligently crafted. Many elderly human looking beings visit Earth, all claiming to be God and requesting food and shelter from humans. Is it a critique on how society treats the elderly? Is there some religious debate in there? There’s certainly some analysis of humanity in it. No matter what meaning you draw from the story, it is humorous, introspective, and sad.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism

The City of Brass

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I looked at my shelves the other day and realized that there was nothing on my there that I was truly interested in reading at the moment. This has been a big problem for me in the past year, so I took a couple of bags of books and sold them to a secondhand bookstore. While I was there and because of my reading slump, I decided to buy one book that I was interested in reading right that second, take it home, and read it immediately. So, I did.

Nahri scrapes by in 18th century Cairo by being a little shady in her business dealings. She steals, lies, and cheats her way to a meager living every day. It helps that she has some magical abilities like healing small wounds and instantly understanding most languages she hears. When she attempts a ritual to remove the supposed spiritual possession from a child, she accidentally summons a real djinn. Dara the djinn introduces Nahri to a hidden, magical word populated by the djinn, their descendants, and a whole host of strange mythological beings. Nahri quickly learns that she has a stake in this magical world that she never asked for.

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book in a while. In many ways, this book is nothing too ground breaking or special, but there’s actually quite a bit going on under the surface. To begin with, this is a novel based on Middle Eastern mythology and Islamic beliefs. The author herself is a Muslim convert. The novel is told in third person perspective with a focus on the perspectives of Nahri and Ali, a prince in the djinn’s world. The world is expansive and the characters are interesting, but the novel suffers from a few issues and tropes common to recent fantasy releases. However, it has a lot more complexity and heart than many overly hyped reads in the same vein.

Although this book is classified as adult fantasy, it reads a little younger. The writing itself, some of the plot devices (read: tropes), and some of the characters come off a bit “less adult” than I usually read. There’s actually quite a bit of violence and some adult themes though, so don’t be too turned off by the slight YA feel. If anything, it just reads more quickly because of this, but it does not feel overly childish. If you usually read adult fantasy, you may have some issues with the writing, but if you usually read YA and are looking to dip your toe into adult fantasy, this would be an excellent starting point.

A few common complaints I see from other reviewers are that the world is too confusing (there’s a glossary in the back of the book!), there is a lot of information dumping, and that the plot becomes too slow in the middle of the novel. I would say that I partially agree with all of those comments, but I feel like the book deserves a little defense in those respects. The world building of the novel is actually quite good in my opinion. The world feels “off the page,” meaning that it feels like it has a long, rich history intertwined with some of familiar real-world history. Does the mythology and history of the world get “dumped” on the reader all at once? Maybe.

The book is packed with action and adventure, but near the midpoint there is a definite dip in action. There is a long travel sequence in the early to middle part of the book. During the traveling, the characters discuss the history of the world at length. Because this information about the world is sandwiched between so much action and because of the complexity of the world, I can see why many readers complain about the slowness of the middle of the novel. While I do wish that the travel scenes were shorter and that the world building was woven more smoothly throughout the novel, it isn’t a major issue in my opinion. However, I do feel like too much of the history/mythology of the world was packed into the first book in the series. The end in particular felt as if the author was throwing a lot of mythological curve balls at the reader to add twists and complications to what you thought were the rules of the created world. This was a bit confusing, but it also intensified my desire to read the sequel so that I could hopefully get some answers.

Remember when I mentioned tropes earlier? As with many fantasy novels, we have the “normal girl finds out she is special and has to save the world” plot. Although the first book is not yet focused on saving the whole world, it hints at larger evils and problems to come in the subsequent books. To me, the more egregious trope is the dreaded love triangle. I hope that the sequel dispels the implications that a love triangle is developing, but it is a possibility that it may become more integral to the plot as it moves forward. There’s also (unless I am reading it completely wrong) some hope of a bi/gay relationship between a couple of the characters. Despite all of the romantic speculation, I would not say that this book is a romance masquerading as a fantasy, as some YA and adult fantasy seem to be guilty of doing. Although the romantic pairings have some importance to the plot, it does not distract from the major plot devices so far.

This review actually turned out to be pretty long, so I think I will wrap it up. The final verdict: The City of Brass is an imperfect but extremely entertaining and interesting fantasy novel. It gets tangled up in a few tired tropes, but it is overall worthy of some recognition for its representation, creativity, world building, and endearing but flawed characters. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The City of Brass, and I plan to pick up the sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, released on the 22nd of January in the U.S. I gave The City of Brass a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Book Review · Nonfiction

From Here to Eternity

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Last year I reviewed Caitlin Doughty’s previous book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which was her memoir that discussed her experience in the death industry. From Here to Eternity is Doughty’s travel account of death rituals from around the world. She visits places in the U.S. where they have open air cremation, Japan where they combine technology and old practices, Indonesia where in some places they keep their dead at home for months to years, and Bolivia where an old skull can give you financial advice. These places (and more!) offer a different kind of send off for the body and the spirit of the deceased. Doughty interviews both those in the death industry and normal mourners to give an expansive look at death practices in different cultures.

Doughty gets a lot of flack from traditional funeral homes in the U.S. She has become a green burial boogeyman to them because she advocates for more eco-friendly and cheaper options for mourners instead of the pricey and unnecessary casket and embalming process that many funeral homes push hard. Some may call her a kind of “death hippie” because of these ideas, but I at least think that she makes a lot of good points. As I said in my review of her other book, I don’t think she comes off too preachy about her ideas because she is only advocating for more options, not saying we should all do things her way.

She also encourages Americans to take a look at how we avoid death in our culture. Many of the cultures she discusses in her book get up close and personal with death. They confront it by taking care of the deceased’s body, incorporating death into festivals and art, and making death a less somber and strained affair. I think the following quote sums up the book nicely:

“Many of the rituals in this book will be very different from your own, but I hope you will see the beauty in that difference. You may be someone who experiences real fear and anxiety around death, but you are here.”

Here you are. As I’ve mentioned before, I had actual panic attack when thinking in depth about death. Doughty’s wit, humor, and factual information has comforted my own death anxiety because I was finally able to confront my fear and mostly conquer it. From Here to Eternity does not have to be about death advocacy or avoidance; you can simply enjoy learning about the death rituals in other cultures, which is extremely interesting itself. But it would be a disservice to Doughty not to mention the underlying ideals she works so hard to bring to the forefront of American culture.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Children's Fiction · Fantasy/Magical Realism · Young Adult Fiction

Odd and the Frost Gaints

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What would 2019 be without some Neil Gaiman? The edition I chose to read is illustrated by Chris Riddell, who sometimes provides illustrations for Gaiman’s works as well as writes and illustrates his own books. He and Gaiman have worked together on editions of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, The Sleeper and the Spindle, and Fortunately, the Milk… I absolutely love Gaiman’s fun, fantastical stories being accompanied by Riddell’s fairy tale-esque, full-of-personality illustrations.

Odd and the Frost Giants follows a boy named Odd. Odd’s father died in a Viking raid, and his mother married another man she was not in love with. Odd, unhappy with his new living situation, leaves his village to stay in his father’s woodcutting hut. He meets three strange animals in the forest who are much more than they appear to be. It is up to Odd to help the animals reclaim their true forms and their homeland.

In case you don’t already know, Odd and the Frost Giants is a short, lighthearted story about the Norse gods Odin, Thor, and Loki. Picture it as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology-lite. It is a simple adventure story that would be appropriate for both young and older readers, but the language is not overly simplistic. If you have some knowledge of Norse mythology, you will find a few Easter eggs and nods to other Norse myths in Odd, but having little to no knowledge will not hinder your enjoyment of the tale at all.

I would recommend Odd and the Frost Giants to anyone who enjoys an adventure story, Norse mythology in a more lighthearted structure, and fans of Gaiman’s other writing. Odd and the Frost Giants is a quick and enjoyable read, but it is not necessarily the deepest of Gaiman’s work, if that is what you are looking for.

Lists & Tags

2018 in Review, Looking Forward to 2019

Hello, fellow readers! If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that I always try to make a looking back and looking forward post at the end or beginning of each year. I love seeing what goals or reading trends other readers have each year, so I thought I would share my own with all of you. I hope you have all had a good reading year in 2018, but even if you did not, here’s hoping 2019 is better for everyone!

In 2018, I found a spreadsheet that I could fill out and track my readings statistics throughout the year. Although I am sure that other readers have made these, I downloaded my template from Portal in the Pages on YouTube. This spreadsheet tracked basic book information, author information, reading statistics, my TBR pile, and much more. This would be a very long post if I shared everything I tracked, so I will share what stats I found most interesting.

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To begin with, I read 58 books with a total of 22,579 pages in 2018. This was a decrease from 2017 and 2016 in which I read 79 and 130 books, respectively. I anticipated this decrease in reading because I started a new job and was extremely busy with other things. Overall, I am happy with reading 58 books, but I would like to read more in 2019.

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Of those 58 books, none received 1 star, and eight books received 5 stars. I usually have at least a few 1 star ratings, but I was more picky about what books I read in 2018. This was also my first full year without any required reading for school, so I did not rate many books low since I picked them myself.

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Looking at genre, it was no surprise that I read mostly fantasy this year because that is my go-to genre every year. My second most read genre was historical fiction, which was slightly surprising. Graphic novels followed close behind. One of my 2018 reading goals was to read more nonfiction. I read more than past years, but I am unhappy with how little I read compared to how many more I have on my TBR. I plan to continue my goal of reading more nonfiction in 2019. I was surprised that nearly 10% of my reading was in the horror genre. I’ve been a chicken about horror for most of my life, but I have recently dipped my toe into the genre with pleasant results. So far, I have 10 horror novels on my TBR for 2019, so I am curious how my reading percentages will change next year.

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Another of my 2018 goals was to read more diversely. I noticed in past years that most of the authors I read were white males from the United States or the UK. I would give myself maybe a C+ on this goal. I read more female authors for sure (however, no no-binary authors at all), and I read more books by POC than past years. I would like to read 50/50 white/POC authors in the future. From what I can remember of my reading, most of the POC authors I read were from Asia. I read some books from African American authors, but not as many as I planned to. As you can see from the bottom chart, most authors were from North America, then Europe, followed closely by Asia, and just a sliver from Oceania. In 2019, I hope to read from more different areas of the world and continue to read more female and POC authors. Luckily, women and POC authors are becoming more and more common in my go-to genre of fantasy.

To wrap up, I want to continue with my 2018 goals into 2019. This means reading more diverse authors, more nonfiction, and to branch out of my fiction comfort zones more. I will very likely do another spreadsheet like this next year because I found it extremely interesting to track all of these in-depth stats.

That’s it for me in 2018! See you all next year! 🙂

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Historical

The Essex Serpent

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Cora Seaborne’s husband has passed away. She isn’t terribly upset about this, but she knows she should act the part of the bereaved widow. Cora is a free spirit who enjoys nature and science. A woman being interested in these “masculine” subjects is frowned upon in 1890’s England, but she does not care. Upon hearing about the sightings of the “Essex serpent,” Cora moves herself, her son, and her female companion to the countryside to investigate the serpent. However, Cora finds much more than a mythical beast. She finds love, friendship, and her identity.

If I had to describe this novel in one word, I would choose slow. The pace of the plot and character development is steady but slow, which may turn off some readers. If you want to relax, enjoy beautiful writing, and read about some Victorian romantic drama with a touch of feminism, I would say that The Essex Serpent is a good fit. Personally, while I enjoyed what read, I had to push myself through the first 100-150 pages. I listened to most of the novel on audio book just to get into the story. However, once I become attached to the characters, it became a much more enjoyable reading experience.

Despite my summary and most blurbs going on about Cora, there are at least a dozen other characters in the novel that get not insignificant page time. Most of them are well developed with their own beliefs, personalities, and relationships. (There are a few that I would have liked to see more of, particularly Cora’s son.) There are also love triangles and romantic pairings everywhere. The book is less about the mythical serpent and much more focused on the relationships (both romantic and not) the characters have with one another. This is not a bad thing, but it should be said so that no one gets the wrong idea about the plot. Yes, the serpent is alluded to often and has an effect on the townspeople, but it seems secondary to the lives of the main characters.

I was slightly disappointed by The Essex Serpent, but I had very high expectations for the mythological aspect of the novel. This is much more of a Victorian romance with a bit of folklore thrown in. Still, I would give The Essex Serpent a 3.5 out of 5 stars for its beautiful writing and strong characters.

Book Review

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground

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Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is, from my understanding, the original manuscript that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) gifted to Alice Liddell (the real life inspiration of Alice the character). Dodgson drew some amateur illustrations to accompany his original story, but this edition has illustrations by Charles Santore that were inspired by Carroll’s original sketches. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the title for the expanded version for publication.

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is missing some of my favorite characters and scenes, like the Mad Hatter and March Hare, but most of the story is in tact. It is interesting to see the “early draft” of the Alice that I know and love, but there isn’t a lot of new content– besides the illustrations of course– to see in this book. This is mostly a collector’s piece, and it is beautiful. The edition is a small hardback with a cutout in the cover where the illustration of Alice is placed. Inside there is a short note from the publisher that explains the history of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, an introduction by Michael Patrick Hearn, the story itself, and lastly, a Q&A with the illustrator, Charles Santore.

If you still need a gift for an Alice fan, perhaps get them Alice’s Adventures Under Ground as it is a nice edition to round out their collection.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism

Deathless

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So, I really like fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. I also like the fantasy genre. If you give me a fantasy novel that has a lot of inspiration from the fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, I am almost certainly going to love it. Meet Deathless, a fantasy novel with a heavy dose of Russian folklore and fairy tales.

Marya Morevna is a human girl living in Russia during the Russian Revolution. Throughout her childhood, Marya occasionally saw glimpses of what she called “magic.” Her sisters married birds who turned into men before her eyes, and she has seen domovoi meetings within her family’s home. So, when another bird-turned-man shows up at Marya’s door asking for her hand in marriage, she isn’t too surprised. In fact, she expected it and waited eagerly for the day. However, her husband to be isn’t quite what she pictured. What she does not yet know is that her future husband is Koschei the Deathless.

I could say more. I could say a lot more, but just know that this novel is packed with Russian myths, history, and culture. I will admit that a lot of it went over my head in the early chapters. Since I never studied much Russian anything in college, I was torn between looking up the tales and avoiding them like the plague because of possible spoilers. If I could go back in time before I started the novel, I would probably brush up on the stories about Koschei as well as other Russian mythological creatures and figures. Doing this might help add some context to the references and make it easier to picture some of the other creatures/characters. Even though the author takes her own creative liberties with certain details, having some foundation of what she is describing would have helped me at least.

OK, onto the regular stuff. How are the characters, plot, and everything else? Pretty great, actually. Marya grew as a character at a believable and nonlinear pace. She started out as a young, naive girl, and even though she did something brave, strong, or clever, that does not mean she will always be brave, strong, or clever in the future. Sometimes she regressed a bit as she progressed, and I found that to add a lot of depth and realism to her character. She also struggled with morality, power, and relationships. Marya is flawed and imperfect, but it is impossible not to cheer for her and her fiery spirit to succeed. The other “demons” in the story, like Koschei, were lively and well written, but some of Marya’s less important friends and allies didn’t make as much of an impression.

I admittedly struggled with the plot of the novel, but I think that was more of a problem with my own mindset than it was with the book itself. I got into a horrible reading slump at end of November and start of December that made me not want to pick up anything. The beginning of Deathless went a bit slowly as we are introduced to Marya and watch her grow up. When Koschei entered the picture around fifty pages in, the plot sped up, as did my interest. Without my reading slump, I would likely have had no issue with the pace.

Deathless is a very unique read that fans of Russian folklore or general fantasy might adore. My verdict is a rating of 4 out of 5 stars, but I would not be opposed to changing my rating to a 5 when I inevitably reread this one.