Monday, 8 April 2019

Book Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Published: 2019
Pages: 304
Genre: Gothic, Horror

"Something has been let loose..."

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.

Maud's battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father's past.

Spanning five centuries, Wakenhyrst is a darkly gothic thriller about murderous obsession and one girl's longing to fly free.

I was extremely excited to read Wakenhyrst, I'm a huge fan of Michelle Paver's writing style. I absolutely tore through Dark Matter and I couldn't get enough of the creeping dread and icy cold fear that it invoked. When I heard Paver had written a historical, Gothic fiction I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

Wakenhyrst started out strong, it was beautifully atmospheric with the eerie fen such a constant presence that it almost developed as much as the characters.

The central figure of the book, Maud Stearne is an intelligent and scholarly girl who is dominated by an overbearing father who holds strong views about the roles of women and men. Maud is an intriguing and unusual main character, in turns she's insular and proper and in other she's as wild as the fens. It would be easy to dislike Maud because of her changing nature, and often selfish pursuits. However, her love and compassion for other characters grows throughout the book and she becomes a much more sympathetic character. Her development is so strong it often overrode the suspense and chill factor for me.

I was far more invested in Maud than I was the eerie ghost story that I feel like Wakenhyrst was trying to spin. It's by no means a criticism. Maud is potentially Paver's strongest character yet, and certainly the most multi-faceted. However I did miss the oozing and seeping feelings of dread I had built up in her previous books.

I hope that the next book manages a more even balance - because the bottom line is Michelle Paver is an artist at weaving words and I can't wait to see what she does next.

My Rating /5: 



Monday, 4 February 2019

Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Published: 2016
Pages: 352
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, YA

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

There's no doubt that Roshani Chokshi writes beautifully, The Star-Touched Queen is a lush romance inspired by Hindu myths and classic fairytales. Like it's predecessors, it's a world of fantasy that's described lavishly.. Each sentence is positively dripping with beautifully crafted description that feels like a feast for the eyes. But, if you dig a little deeper and really think about the phrasing, that's where it's begins to fall apart. 

Take for instance;

"You look like edges and thunderstorms. And I would not have you any other way."

And really think about it. Yes, it sounds beautiful. But, what does it really mean? Can you imagine someone who looked like an edgy thunderstorm? Is it really the compliment it seems to be?

For me, The Star-Touched Queen is like a collection of really beautiful words, sentences and paragraphs that don't really achieve anything. 

And it's not just the purple prose. In The Star-Touched Queen, we're led to believe that Maya is a headstrong, smart, independent woman who we should be rooting for. Her behaviour doesn't really reflect that. It begins with a really flimsy case of instalove which, for me, diminishes the character and once again puts her firmly in the realm of "I needed to fall in love to be useful" heroines. 

Maya is also the perfect example to show that love makes us stupid. Her behaviour in Akaran just becomes more and more foolish as she spends more time there. It seems like she's the star-touched queen of rash decisions and regret, more than a powerful ruler. 

The story is flimsy at best, and spirals out of control as the book progresses. I actually found myself having to re-read huge segments as I couldn't understand what was happening in later chapters. 

Towards the last half, the only thing that kept me reading was Kamala. The introduction of a zombie horse that just wants to bite people and things was unexpected, but I was grateful for the injection of a character with a strong personality. However, the introduction of Kamala also served to highlight just how flat, and empty Maya was.

Sadly, in my opinion The Star-Touched Queen was a massive case of style over substance. If Roshani Chokshi ever writes a book about the overly sassy zombie horse - I'm there. But, I think I'll be giving book two a miss. 

My Rating /5: 





Monday, 21 January 2019

Book Review: The Girl From the Other Side Volume 1 by Nagabe

Published: 2017
Pages: 180
Genre: Manga, Fantasy
Once upon a time...

In a land far away, there were two kingdoms: the Outside, where twisted beasts roamed that could curse with a touch, and the Inside, where humans lived in safety and peace. The girl and the beast should never have met, but when they do, a quiet fairytale begins.

This is a story of two people--one human, one inhuman--who linger in the hazy twilight that separates night from day.

Hot on the heels on The Ancient Magus Bride comes The Girl From The Other Side. Both books focus on the developing relationship between an otherworldly creature, seen by humans as a monster, and a human girl. However, while romance is at the core of The Ancient Magus Bride, The Girl From The Other Side instead focuses on the nurturing bond formed between Teacher and Shiva.

It's a beautifully soft fantasy, imbued with magic and love. Unlike The Ancient Magus Bride, where Elias clearly holds all of the power in the early books, it's clear that it's Shiva who is in charge. From stomping around the woodlands to demanding that Teacher has tea parties with her, Shiva knows how to get her own way. But, it's never in a whiny, petulant manner. Shiva is instantly likeable and it's easy to relate to her. Anyone with children, or young relatives will know how charming a child can be. It's also easy to connect with Teacher, despite his arcane background. He clearly loves and cherishes Shiva, and the way he dotes upon her adds a joyful warmth to an eerie fairytale. 

The artwork is well-matched to the story, almost looking like old fairytale illustrations or woodcuts. The panels are full of incredible details that are an absolute pleasure to explore. 

I can't wait to read the next volume. 

My Rating /5: 









Thursday, 17 January 2019

2018 in Knits (and Crochet!)

Following on from 2017's blog post, it's time for the annual knitting review!

I feel like I haven't really achieved much knitting this year - or rather, I feel like I haven't really achieved many finished objects. There's been plenty of knitting, just very few FOs.

In 2018 I finished just 16 projects.

Last years total was 26, so I'm down by 10. There were 2 shawls. 10 pairs of socks. 3 crochet toys. 1 hat. It was a much quieter year for finished projects, but it's well in line with the goal I set myself for 2018 to create more mindful knits.

My first finished object of the year was a simple pair of vanilla socks in Felt Fusion's stunning candy-coloured Christmas colourway Whoville. I generally use my own experience to make toe-up socks now, but my knowledge retention for making heels is terrible! So, I tend to fall back on Carle' Dehning's Vanilla Socks pattern just for the heel.

The second was my Ravellenics Games project Maighdeann-rΓ²in by Nat Raedwulf. It's a glorious pattern with just enough interest to not be dull but it's still a nice soothing knit. It's made with the most squishy, soft Cosmic Strings yarn as the main colour. I fell so in love with the egg yolk yellow mixed with black and white that I knew I wanted it to be the centrepiece. It's paired with some well-loved and hoaded Sparkleduck (that soft purplish grey) and the coal black Titus.

After that, I tackled Veera VΓ€limΓ€ki's Slow Shawl (see top picture) - a gorgeous stashbusting project that helped me to use up a whole bunch of leftovers and create a colourful shawl that's full of memories. I loved the rhythmic flow of the pattern and it always delights me to work on scraps projects because as you work with each yarn, you're folding in the memories of where the yarn is from, what the original project you used it for was and the times you've worn or used the original item.

After that I put down my knitting needles and picked up my crochet hook to make this cute little Cinderella amigurumi. The pattern is from a kit that I received as a gift and reading all of the new, unfamiliar stitches really scared me. But I'm a big Disney fan, so I decided to buckle down and learn them. It's not the neatest of FO, but it really represents how far I've come in my crochet journey. So, I can't be mad about it. Check out that popcorn stitch!

My next FO was actually another crochet project. My friend gifted me a Toft kit for my birthday to make Bruno the Okapi. The wonderfully weird and shy okapi is one of my favourite animals, so I was super excited to make him (if a little intimidated!). He actually whizzed up pretty quickly, with the only troubling bit being the sewing of his horns.

And...oh my gosh - what's this? ANOTHER crochet project? Say hello to Don the Golden Retriever, another Toft kit.

I was actually so proud of this little guy - he got his own blog post.

We're moving back to more familiar ground now, with a whole bunch of socks. There's the beautifully bright Satsuma Socks.

These plain and simple beauties.

The Felix Felicis vanilla socks that I knitted mostly while on holiday in Wiltshire. They even had stitches added at Stonehenge!

The simple, yet stunning Sakura Socks.

And finally this pair of Nausicaa socks destined for my friend Adam - who is most certainly knitworthy (which is a good job because he has big feet).

I ventured into non-vanilla territory for the Winter Rose Socks by Helen Stewart in a beautifully sunny Sweet Georgia. I'd never used their yarn before, but I'd love to get my paws on another skein. It's so soft, yet strong and feels glorious slipping through your fingers as you knit.

And then picked up a skein of my own yarn in Wicked Like A Wildfire to make the beautiful Astrantia Socks by Helen Stewart.

My last sock knits of the year were both pairs of festive socks - and both self-striping yarn. The first is a Twisted Limone yarn and the second is London House Yarns.

I also rounded out the year with Caitlin Hunter's Kobuk hat - in a beautifully fluffy and soft combo of Rowan's Kidsilk Haze and some Exmoor Horn DK I picked up at Yarndale this year. It was a very fun project to knit - I'm most certainly a sock and shawl knitter generally, so I often forget the joy in smaller projects. And I adore bobbles.

2018 was almost certainly the year of the sock. I'm hoping too add a bit more variety to my knitting selections in 2019, with some shawls, garments and mittens. But I'm certain there will be socks too - because there always is!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Book Review: The Ancient Magus Bride Volume 7 by Kore Yamazaki

Published: 2017
Pages: 180
Genre: Manga, Fantasy, Romance

Lullaby, and Good Night...

After mistakenly putting Elias under a sleeping spell, Chise can't find a way to wake him up! She turns to Angie for help, and brews a potion meant to undo the spell--but the process is so exhausting, Chise ends up falling asleep herself. Upon entering a dream world, she crosses paths with the person she least expected: Cartaphilus. But something's off--the amoral alchemist seems to have lost his threatening edge. Meanwhile, in the outside world, trouble is brewing...on a dragon-sized scale!

Kore Yamazaki's mystical manga is absolutely spellbinding, and this volume is no exception. Volume 7 picks up after the cliffhanger in Volume 6, and soon resolves the chaos. If anything, I felt like this was resolved a little bit too quickly - it didn't keep the momentum and suspense of Volume 6. It felt more like an afterthought before Volume 7 spun its own story. But, that's a minor grumble, as with all previous volumes of this fantasy-romance, I sped through the pages. 

As I've found previously, my favourite moments of the series are the sweet, everyday interactions between the characters so I really enjoyed the section where Chise met up with Angelica and her family. It was wonderful to get a deeper view on some of the minor characters in the series. I also really enjoyed meeting some of Renfred's friends (or colleagues, may be more accurate. Does that man actually have any friends?) and found Torrey to be especially delightful. A nice zing of energy added to an often sombre cast of characters. 

While the artwork is beautiful, it's the strong thread of story and the developing relationship between Chise and Elias that keeps me coming back to this series.

A small criticism of this volume is that the artwork became quite dark towards the end, so it became difficult to see what was happening clearly, but with extra studying it became easier to unfold. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can't wait to read Volume 8.

My Rating /5: 





Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Thoughtful Shawl Project: Shawl Six

Shawl Six: Brush Creek Shawl by Carina Spencer

It's time for another Thoughtful Shawl post!

Shawl six is this absolutely beautiful shawl by Carina Spencer that I knitted back in 2015.

This shawl is a definite keeper. It's made of two of my absolutely favourite yarns and I love the elegant, light lace of the design. 

The soft grey with flecks of pink, yellow and blue is Confetti on The Uncommon Thread's tough sock. I've been in love with this colourway for years now, and this is actually the second skein of it that I bought (I now have a third in my stash - waiting for the perfect project). The deep blueish grey at the top is Old Maiden Aunt's Selkie on her cashmere/merino/nylon base. This is another yarn that I've bought multiple times - I love the subtle colours and soft blending. Finally the third yarn is a ball of Lang Yarns Jawoll that I picked up from The Yarn Cake in Glasgow. 

I love this shawl, it's full of favourites and special memories and I know that I could never lose in from my collection.

The only problem I have is that it's a smidge on the small side - so it tends to be a Spring/Summer only shawl - but I think that a heavy block might open up the lace and add a little width. 

I'm going to give it a nice long soak and give it a big old stretch to ensure I give this little shawl the love and wear it deserves. 

What is the Thoughtful Shawl Project?

I saw a post by Jennie of tinypaperfoxes about her 39 shawls project, it sparked something inside of me.

Like Jennie, I have an absolute wealth of shawls, but wear the same ones regularly which means that I own unloved, neglected shawls, just like Jennie.

The Thoughtful Shawl Project is my journey to reassess and explore my shawl collection and decide whether to frog, donate or keep. 

You can read the whole post about the project here: The Thoughtful Shawl Project or you can browse the other blog posts about shawls here: Previous Thoughtful Shawl Project Posts.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Book Review: The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes

The Wisdom of Sally Red ShoesThe Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ruth Hogan's second novel has lost none of the charm and wit of her hugely popular debut The Keeper Of Lost Things.

This novel takes a slightly darker turn than her debut and is self-informed by the author's own battles with cancer. That's not to say this is a dark book, it's not. It deals with death, loss and grief with the wonderful wit, warmth and wonder first experienced in The Keeper Of Lost Things.

The story follows lead character Masha, and secondary character Alice. Both women are well fleshed out, with quirks and flaws that make them both real and endearing. I found myself both laughing and crying along with Masha, a complicated but deeply likeable woman dealing with the loss of her son.

What I liked the most about this book is that while there IS a romance, it's certainly secondary to the friendships and bonds that Masha and Alice have with other people in their life.

It's an extraordinary novel, full of gentle wisdom and joy even while following Masha and Alice through dark and troubling periods in their lives. There's such pleasure in watching Masha learn to live with her grief and blossom through the connections she makes.

Ruth Hogan is a skilled writer, and I think her personal experiences have really fed into this book. You can feel the heart and love and overall the hope.

View all my reviews
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