Saturday 28 September 2013

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen / Isak Dinesen

Out of Africa was the book chosen for me by the Classics Club spin.  It came from my 'books I can't wait to read' list, so I was thrilled to see it chosen and couldn't wait to start it.  It's actually the only non-fiction title on my list, a memoir by Karen Blixen of the time she spent living on a coffee farm in Kenya in the early twentieth century.  Out of Africa reads like a collection of essays, in which Blixen records her impressions of the county and the people who live there, important events in their lives and finally the loss of her farm in 1931, when she was forced to return to Denmark.

I read Out of Africa slowly over the course of a month or so, which I think is the best way to tackle it.  As I mentioned above, it's really a collection of essays/impressions and for a lot of the book it lacks an over-arching tie to hold everything together.  This means that it isn't the most fast-paced of reads and I think I would honestly have struggled to read it straight through over a few days.

However, my slower pace meant that I had time to fully lose myself in Blixen's writing and the Kenya she portrays.  The writing itself is absolutely stunning and reading it is an immersive experience, that makes you as a reader almost able to experience Blixen's impressions alongside her. Although the book is littered with the prejudices of the time and a healthy dose of European colonial attitude, the love Blixen has for Kenya and her respect for the settlers and tribes-people that live near her farm really comes through.  She describes the stillness of Africa, the stars in the sky, the noises of the night and the quality and scent of the air.  Knowing that Blixen wrote her memoir after losing her farm only makes the writing more poignant;

"The cicadias sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek.  You are the privileged person to whom everything is taken."

Out of Africa is an unusual memoir in some ways as it tells us next to nothing about Karen Blixen herself.  Her divorce isn't mentioned and her love for Denys is implied, rather than dealt with properly.  We find out more about the lives of the houseboys, Masai wanderers and Kikuyu people, but that's absolutely fine as it's really a love letter to Africa.  Out of Africa also works as a fascinating historical portrait of Kenya before independence.  I particularly enjoyed the sections detailing how tribal elders meted out local justice.

Even so, I do think the book suffered from it's lack of organisation and overarching narrative.  Although the writing is beautiful and the experience of reading the book completely immersive, there were definitely sections that didn't interest me as much as I wanted them to and times when I was sick of Blixen jumping between topics.  The section entitled 'From an Immigrant's Notebook' was especially guilty of this.  I am glad I picked this book up, but at times getting through it felt like a bit of an effort, and for this reason it isn't destined to be a favourite.  But if you don't mind the slow pace and the rambling nature of the writing, Out of Africa rewards you with some stunning descriptions of a country that has since changed in almost every way.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1937
My Edition: Penguin 1986 (the year I was born!)
Score: 4 out of 5

Classics Club: Book 16/72

Thursday 26 September 2013

Blankets by Craig Thompson

I've been getting into graphic novels recently, and Blankets is one that has come highly recommended to me from a variety of different sources.  I was actually very keen to read Thompson's other graphic novel, Habibi, but Blankets was the one my library stocked, so I decided to try it first.  It's an autobiography of two different parts of Thompson's life; falling in love for the first time and his relationship with his brother.  Told in non-chronological order and jumping between the two narratives, Blankets is a coming of age tale about what it is to be human and the relationships we have with each other.

I reserved Blankets at the library without ever seeing it so was shocked at how chunky it was when my hold finally came in!  At 580+ pages, it's definitely the longest graphic novel I have ever read.  This chunkiness, the sheer length of it, meant that as a reader you get to fully know the characters in a way that I would normally associate with a straight-forward novel.  It was an immersive experience and this made it emotionally engaging.  I really felt for Craig, and the confessional style of the narrative made it easy to connect with him.  Having been bought up by strictly religious parents, Craig magnifies all of his flaws/ 'sins' and this makes him relatable.  It felt like reading a diary, as Thompson wasn't interested in covering anything up in order to appear better than he was.

The parts of the book that dealt with Craig falling in love with Raina were just beautiful.  It's been a while since I fell in love for the first time (it's our ten year anniversary today!), but reading Blankets bought it all back, the intensity and how important everything feels.  Thompson manages to make these scenes sweet  without being sappy and I loved them.  Similarly, the relationship between Craig and his younger brother felt very real, too.

In fact, there wasn't much I didn't love about this novel.  I thought the latter parts were a bit rushed, almost as if Thompson was worried that the book was already long enough, but apart from that I have no complaints at all.  It's a fantastic coming of age story, I loved the style of the illustrations and the story is full of emotion.  I can't wait to pick up Habibi.

Source: Library
First Published: 2003
Edition Read: Top Shelf Productions, 2006
Score: 4 out of 5

Read Alongside:
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Another beautiful examination of first love that feels extremely real.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Sam Sunday #30

These last couple of weeks have been busy!  I've been back at work and seem to have less and less time to read or blog as the days go by.  After having spent all of last weekend working, I was determined not to do the same this weekend so managed to get enough done in the evenings of the week to take the whole weekend off.  And it's been glorious!  I have slept in, watched way too much trashy TV and of course caught up with my adorable nephew, who has just learned to crawl.

I've been in a funny mood when it comes to reading lately.  Nothing seems to please me, despite the fact that I'm reading books that I just know I would love at any other time.  I picked up Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which I've been meaning to get to for ages, but it just didn't feel right.  It was good, but I didn't love it in the way I hoped I would.  The same thing happened with Out of Africa, which is starting to feel like a bit of a slog, to be honest.  I hope I can get my reading mojo back soon!

This upcoming week, I'm going to continue to work on my work-life balance and hopefully read some books I can be excited about.  Thursday is my husband and I's ten year anniversary of starting to date, so we're heading out for a meal on Thursday night then apparently he has a surprise planned for Friday.  I can't believe ten years has passed but at the same time so much has happened.  We were only 17 and 18 when we met and since then we have both finished school, completed two degrees each, rented a flat together, been on lots of amazing holidays, became teachers, got married and bought a house.  And typing that all out just made me feel old....

This week, I've been reading:

Reviews posted:

Saturday 21 September 2013

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #4) by Rick Riordan

Book 4 in the series!  In real life I binged on these books, reading them one after the after in a matter of days, but I've been trying to spread out my reviews so as not to overwhelm you with all the Percy Jackson!  If book three, The Titan's Curse, was the first one in which more mature themes are included, book four continues that.  Percy and his friends must go into the mythical labyrinth from the Minotaur story in order to prevent it from being used against Camp Half-Blood by Luke and Kronos.  As things gear up towards the epic showdown coming in the final volume, Percy must make a tough decision; whether to stay and fight, or to take the easy way out.

As always with this series, spoilers ahead!

The Battle of the Labyrinth is my favourite volume in the entire series.  Part of the reason why is that I just love the concept of the Labyrinth itself, an ever growing and changing thing that is susceptible to dark influences as well as light.   It's a dangerous place, full of endless twists and turns, mythical creatures and seems to almost have a dark force in itself.  I liked that the clue to solving the labyrinth came from a mortal, something that of course would have been overlooked by Luke and Kronos.

Speaking of Kronos, in Battle of the Labryinth we really get to see why creatures, gods and half-bloods are turning against Mount Olympus.  Greek mythology is stuffed full of minor players, who have been ignored or neglected by the major gods.  Being made to feel important is extremely seductive, and it's good that we get something from Riordan beyond 'they picked the bad side because they were evil'.

But what I love most about this book is the scene where Percy ends up on Calypso's island.  At this point in the story, his life is basically a battle with more to come, as well as the prophecy he is dreading.  Calypso's island and life is idyllic and she offers him the opportunity to stay there and pretty much avoid all of that bad stuff going on in his real life.  It can be very hard to turn away from something that makes you happy in order to do something right, especially if the 'right' path isn't the easy one.  I loved that Percy had to make this choice, and I think that it's a great message for younger readers of the novels.

As with all the books of the series, Battle of the Labyrinth is fast-paced and full of action.  Percy's voice is still witty and a joy to read.  I think I enjoyed this book the most out of the series as it's 'grown up' but not completely taken up by war, as the final one is.  This means there's more time for fun and character development, as well as plot.  The only thing I'm not too keen on is the introduction of Rachel Elizabeth Dare, the regular human who helps Percy through the Labyrinth.  She's also there to add tension to the Percy and Annabeth 'relationship', which I get, but she's just a bit too perfect for my liking.  Annabeth feels a lot more real.

But that's a minor complain, I just love this book!

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2008
My Edition: Disney Hyperion, 2009
Score: 5 out of 5

My reviews of the other volumes in the series:

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

R is a zombie.  He exists in a slow-paced, endlessly repetitive world broken only by short bursts of feeding until he meets Julie, a normal human.  Rather than feeding on her, R decides on impulse to capture her and protect her.  But being around a living human for such a long period of time starts to have unusual effects and R finds himself changing, becoming different from all of the zombies around him.  Can a relationship between a human and a zombie ever work?

My first read for RIP!  Sadly it was less than stellar but it was still exciting to get my participation in the event under-way.  I never had massively high hopes for Warm Bodies, but it did come recommended from someone who isn't normally a paranormal romance fan, so I was hoping that it would be fun and enjoyable.  And to a certain extent, it was.  I liked the tongue in cheek tone of the novel and the moments of dry humour Marion sprinkles throughout the story.  Warm Bodies doesn't take itself too seriously and I liked that.

The romance itself was surprisingly sweet and believable too.  I'm still not quite sure how Marion pulled it off, but R falling in love felt sweet in a non-tacky way.  There was no insta-love and the interactions between the two leads were sensitively written, with just enough humour to keep them from being sappy.   I was most definitely rooting for them.

The issue I had with Warm Bodies wasn't the romance, but rather the way the zombie issue itself was dealt with.  Now I'm not an expert on zombies, but I know the basics and I wasn't cool with the zombie mythology in the book.  There was no explanation of how the zombies came to exist in such large populations across the world and as soon as I could predict where the ending was going with R, it felt like a cop out.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone but the whole zombie idea was altered too much for my liking.  It felt like the easy way out.

And that wasn't the only easy way out.  R initially meets Julie on a feeding/hunting trip with other zombies and Julie's boyfriend is killed.  This could have been an interesting source of conflict/tension between them and could have led to some real-life complications, but everything was brushed aside by Marion in order to make the romance 'easy'.  This didn't sit well with me.

On the whole, Warm Bodies was a short, fun read full of dry humour but it required just too much suspension of belief when it came to the zombies themselves.

Source: Personal copy 
First Published: 2010
My Edition: Vintage, 2013
Score: 3 out of 5

Sunday 15 September 2013

Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed by John Bradshaw

As much as I love cats, I'm not normally a fan of books about cats.  They tend to be way too cosy for my taste, and too full of home-spun wisdom, which I am not a fan of at all.  But I was excited to read Cat Sense as it promised to be a scientific portrayal of cats, written by author who works in feline science and based on proper research.  Divided into three parts, Cat Sense covers the history of cats and their domestication, scientific explanations for their behaviour and challenges faced by cats as they live in great numbers alongside humans.

I have always been a cat lover.  Growing up, we always had a pet cat, first Stumpy (black and white) and then Phoebe (tortoise shell), who still lives with my parents and is now the grand old age of seventeen.  Currently, my husband and I share our house with Joseph, a tabby who is almost three years old, who we have had from a kitten.   He is spoiled rotten and basically does what he likes, whenever he feels like it!  Every cat I have ever owned has been completely different, so I was interested to pick up Cat Sense and learn more about what scientists have discovered about cat behaviour and emotion.

The first part of the book, which was a history of cats and their relationship with humans, was completely fascinating.  There was quite a lot of information on genetics, the ancestors of modern day pet cats and the genetic relationship between domestic and wild cats (not as far apart as you would think!).  I genuinely found this interesting, especially when Bradshaw discussed the genes responsible for cat colouring and markings.  I had no idea that blotched tabbies (like Joseph, but you can't see his blotches in the picture above), which are so common in the UK, are rare in other parts of the world.  It's also interesting how some features, such as white paws, have survived because we like them, even though they are counter-productive to the cat's role as a hunter.

After the history, Bradshaw moved on to the science behind cat behaviour, which took up the bulk of the book.  A lot of the information won't be new to anyone who has owned a cat or even observed one, but it was interesting to read about the studies that scientists have carried out.  The section I most enjoyed dealt with the way cats think, their emotions and their personalities.  The idea that animals have distinct personalities and can experience emotion in a similar way to humans is a modern one in science, so I was glad to see Bradshaw outlining the research in this area so far.  As much as this section on cat behaviour was interesting, I felt like it was overly long and too heavily skewed towards the author's own work.

Finally, Bradshaw covers several issues facing cats and their owners, such as what the rising numbers of neutered cats will mean for future kittens.  My cat was neutered at six months and I have always assumed this was the right and responsible thing to do, but Bradshaw argues that this narrows the choice of available males to part feral ones, meaning that the most domesticated, docile cats do not breed, and this could have consequences for the future.  He also discusses the way wildlife campaigners have targeted cats and campaigned for things like cat curfews, and whether this actually has any impact on the population of wild animals in the area.

On the whole, Cat Sense was an enjoyable book if not a mind-blowing one.  It was full of interesting information but tended to be over-long and wasn't always written in the most engaging style.   However, if you like cats and want to find out more about them, Cat Sense won't disappoint.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: August 2013
Score: 3 out of 5

Wednesday 11 September 2013

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

I am no stranger to the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time.  Back when I was in university, I was pretty engrossed by it and read up to book seven or eight before the untimely death of the author in 2007.  As the series was unfinished and it seemed pretty up in the air what would happen to it, it didn't seem worth continuing to read the books and I abandoned them.  Now, six years later, the series has been finished by Brandon Sanderson, which means I can read them and finally finish it!  I'm starting again at the beginning as it's a truly epic series and no way can I remember everything from my first read!

Book one in the series, The Eye of the World, focuses on three main characters, Rand, Mat and Perrin, all of whom live in a small village in the Two Rivers.  One day two mysterious visitors arrive just before the village is attacked by Trollocs, creatures in the service of the Dark Lord.  Moiraine, one of the visitors, turns out to be an Aes Sedai, a woman who can essentially use magic, which makes her the target of suspicion and hostility.  It turns out that only three homes were attacked, those belonging to Rand, Mat and Perrin, which convinces them to join Moiraine and travel to her city of Tar Valon, to find out why they were targeted.  On the way, the journey becomes perilous as the Dark One seems determined to either kill the boys or bring them under his thrall, and they face many challenges.

The plot of The Eye of the World sounds kind of cheesy when I type it out like that, and certainly it's a traditional fantasy type book, in which a simple village boy is destined to fight evil.  But it's much more than that too.  Jordan's world building is truly amazing and reading the book is like being transported entirely to his world, which has a complete mythology of its own.  I like the idea of good and bad being caught in an eternal battle, in which there is never a victor (because isn't that like real life?) and I liked that Jordan was able to immerse the reader in his world, rather than constantly explaining things.  There's a good ratio of showing to telling.

I also appreciated the ambiguity in the characters.  Moiraine is an Aes Sedai, which means she can touch saidar, the female half of a power that can be channelled and used.  Although Aes Sedai have done many good deeds in the world, they are completely mistrusted and throughout this novel, you're never really sure of her motivations.  The lines between good and evil are more blurred than you might expect from this type of fantasy novel, seen again with something that happens to Perrin in the later stages of the book.

The Eye of the World is a long book at 782 pages, and it's only the first volume in a series that contains fourteen books.  Therefore, choosing to read this series is a big under-taking.  Although a lot happens in The Eye of the World, Jordan does include too much description of the places the characters visit and this does slow the pace at times.  I very much enjoyed it and am excited to pick up the next volume, but if you are new to fantasy, I would recommend George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series before you try this one.  It's pacier and darker and has more political intrigue and less magic/mythological creatures.  But if you like fantasy, I don't think you can go wrong with The Wheel of Time series.  I can't wait to read the next one.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1990
My Edition: Orbit, 2013
Score: 4 out of 5

Sunday 8 September 2013

Sam Sunday #29

It's been a week of two halves here; the first half was mega relaxing as I was the only one home (my husband had returned to work) and the second was busy-busy when I went back to work myself.  And then I had a relaxing weekend, so it's been up and down!  

Going back to work was fine, I've been back for two days but the children don't actually return until tomorrow.  I'm pretty nervous for this; although I've met my class once, the first day of actually being the teacher of a new class is always scary.  I'm expecting to be pretty busy with work stuff for the next few weeks, but luckily I have lots of reviews already scheduled as I read so much over the holidays, so there should still be new content on my blog.

This weekend, I've mainly been spending time at home with my husband.  We've spent six weeks being together pretty much all day every day, so going back to work and spending time apart actually felt pretty strange!  On Friday we had some friends round for a cocktail night, which was a lot of fun and the perfect way to unwind.  Apart from that, there's been a lot of sleeping in and a lot of episodes of Buffy being watched.  The weather has suddenly got a fair bit colder, so it's been nice to stay in and snuggle up in the warm.

This week, I've been reading:

Warm Bodies was my first read for RIP, and as much as it was great to get started with the challenge, I didn't love the book.  But it wasn't bad and it was short, so it was an OK read.  Fevre Dream is my second RIP book and it's much better so far; who knew George R.R. Martin could write horror as well as fantasy?  Out of Africa is my classics club spin book, I'm reading it quite leisurely as it's that kind of book, and it's certainly a masterpiece.

Reviews posted:

Saturday 7 September 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

I've been meaning to read Z for ages.  I just loved F.Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (my review) for it's complicated portrayal of a marriage in decline, so I was keen to find out more about the real marriage behind the story.  Z is a fictionalised account of the life of Zelda Fitzgerald from her days as Zelda Sayre from Alabama through the whirlwind days of her early marriage to the time she spent in various institutions suffering from poor mental health.  It's a portrait of both a woman struggling to be known for something other than being F.Scott Fitzgerald's wife and of a turbulent marriage.

I loved this book!  I was expecting to like it but I wasn't expecting to love it in the just-one-more-chapter, unputdownable, kind of way.  The whole issue of Scott and Zelda's marriage is a thorny one, with Zelda accused in some quarters of destroying Scott's potential and driving him to drink, and Scott accused of driving her into a mental asylum.  Fowler manages to tread a more sensitive line and present a more balanced portrayal of a marriage in which two people love each other greatly, but simply can't be happy together.

Zelda's voice is just perfect.  She declares in an initial chapter that all she wants from life is "joy and drama and passion and romance" and boy does she get it.  Zelda is reckless, high-spirited, ambitious and utterly charming and she just jumps off the page at you.  The way Fowler writes her is just full of life and energy and you can't help but fall in love with her a little bit.  I'm not the reckless sort myself so I loved reading about her bathing in a flesh-coloured swimsuit to encourage rumours that she swam nude or jumping into the fountain at Union Square.

The relationship between Zelda and Scott is portrayed very realistically.  It's clear that they love each other and Zelda, who had never been out of Alabama before, is swept away by the bright lights and lifestyle of New York.  Zelda and Scott are both reckless and they encourage this in each other, delighted in being seen as symbols of their age, acting more like characters out of a novel than real people.  Of course, all of their partying and spending comes back to bite them later in the form of Scott's dependence on alcohol and their constant money problems.  Both love drama and both lack the skills to communicate effectively, making endless promises to start over and make everything fresh.

Because Zelda and Scott really do love each other, the book is quite sad at times.  We get to see moments of them genuinely caring for each other, like Zelda picking up Scott's ego after a failure in his career, or Scott not leaving Zelda's bedside when she is ill, but ultimately they just can't work out how to be happy together.  Anyone who is married themselves or who has been in a long-term relationship will know that it takes more than love to make a relationship work and Z is about what happens when you have a lot of love, but not much else.  I love books that show complicated relationships like this, that show how love can hurt as much as it can make you happy.  Fowler did this fantastically, and this is what had me glued to the pages.

As you can tell, I loved Z and would whole-heartedly recommend it.  I've finished this book with an urge to read Zelda's own novel, Save Me the Waltz, as well as Scott's The Beautiful and the Damned.  I might even try some Hemingway again.

I'm going to conclude the review with my favourite passage from the novel;
"It just seemed like we were embarking on a great adventure, but that adventure turned into a party we couldn't resist, a five-year-long party, everybody in sparkling gowns and tuxedos with satin lapels, bottomless glasses of champagne...But that's not a marriage, that's not a way to live.  Real life has to happen sometime."

Source: Library, though I also have a review copy from Netgalley.
First Published: 2013
Score: 5 out of 5.

Thursday 5 September 2013

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3)

The Titan's Curse is book three in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which follows the adventures of a demi-gods living in a world in which Greek mythology is real.  I've been loving the series so far, although the second volume, The Sea of Monsters, wasn't quite as good as the first, The Lightning Thief.  In The Titan's Curse, Percy and his friends are helping Grover bring two new half-bloods to camp when Annabeth is kidnapped. The quest to rescue her and the goddess Artemis is riddled with many dangers, as the Titan lord Kronos is steadily gaining in power.

There are spoilers ahead!

The Titan's Curse is by far the most mature entry in the series so far.  It is of course still action-packed and full of Percy (or Riordan's) humour, but this is the point in the series where things start to get more real and serious.  Percy and his friends are growing up and the story reflects that.  Just like in book two, Percy again has to come to terms with the fact that being the son of Poseidon doesn't mean that everything is going to go his own way.  As well as having Thalia and the two new half bloods to contend with, he isn't selected for Annabeth's rescue quest despite being desperate to go.   Of course he ends up sneaking along anyway, but I liked that Riordan wrote him not being chosen, no matter how much he pleaded.  In life, we don't always get the things we desperately want, no matter how much we want them, and part of growing up is learning that.

We also get the first real deaths of the series in The Titan's Curse.  Up until now the adventures have all be fun, but there's been no sense of danger.  When Bianca is killed, that all changes and it's a sign that the build up to the end of the series has started.  Alongside that, we also get little hints at why so many half bloods, minor Gods and monsters are tempted to join Kronos; we get to see that the Olympian Gods aren't perfect and that there are shades of grey in the story.  A major plus point, as far as I'm concerned!  

As all of the main characters are growing up, the issue of relationships becomes much bigger in this volume.  Annabeth's kidnap forces Percy to think about what she really means to him and there is some pretty heavy hinting of a future relationship going on.  There's also the Hunters, a group of immortal teenage girls in the service of Artemis who basically choose immortality in exchange for turning away from boys forever.  It's interesting that we see the stories of two girls who choose this and of Annabeth, who is offered this but ultimately turns it down.  

I thought the ending of this novel was probably the strongest part.  Having returned triumphant from his quest, Percy is shocked to find the Gods voting on whether or not he should be allowed to live, given the prophecy that Olympus might be destroyed when he turns sixteen.    It's interesting that he chooses to keep Nico's parentage a secret, knowing that a child of Hades would be labelled/judged and not welcomed.  This shows Percy is definitely growing up and realising that things are not as simple as he once thought, even on the 'good' side.

All in all, The Titan's Curse is one of the best books in the Percy Jackson series.  I'm glad to see that things improved again after The Sea of Monsters.  if you enjoyed the action and adventure of the first two books, you won't be disappointed by this one.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2007
My Edition: Disney Hyperion, 2008
Score: 4.5 out of 5

My reviews of the rest of the series:

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Fables Volume 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

I'm slowly working my way through the Fables graphic novel series, which focuses on the lives of a group of fairy-tale creatures living undercover in New York.  Forced from their homelands by a mysterious foe caused the Adversary, they are doing their best to blend into our world and not alert the 'Mundies' to their presence.  Volume three, Storybook Love, contains four distinct stories, two of which are proper 'episodes' in the series and two shorter, unrelated tales to start and finish the collection.  All the stories are loosely tied together around the theme of love.

This review may contain spoilers from the series so far.

I'm having mixed feelings about the Fables series.  I love the premise of it and certainly like it enough to keep on reading through the volumes, but I'm not loving it in the way I hoped I would.  It's just a bit hit and miss.  In this volume, the two shorter stories, Bag O' Bones and Barleycorn Brides, were a miss for me.  They were short, poorly illustrated compared to the rest of the book and felt like filler.  To be fair, Bag O' Bones, in which Jack uses the American civil war as an opportunity to cheat death and have his way with a Southern belle, at least had an interesting plot and would have been good if the drawings were a bit better.  Barleycorn Brides though just had no plot and the worst drawings I've seen in the series yet. It should not have been included at all.

Thankfully, I enjoyed the two longer stories.  In the first, an intrepid reporter notices something suspicious about the citizens of Fabletown and comes up with the conclusion that they are vampires.  Bigby and Bluebeard try to deal with this in very different ways.  And in the second, Bluebeard and Goldilocks plot revenge on Bigby and Snow, hunting them through the forest.  We also get to see a different side of Prince Charming, as he plots to become influential in the community.

What I liked most about these two stories is that now, at volume three in the series, I'm starting to get a glimpse of the 'larger picture' and the plot-lines that might influence the series as a whole. We're no longer in world building or introducing the main characters territory so there's more room for character development and action.    At the moment, I'm particularly enjoying Prince Charming's scheming and the introduction of Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty.  As ever, there are lots of clever little touches, like certain characters being harder to kill than others, as the mundies (regular people) like them more than other characters.

On the whole, Storybook Love is a solid addition to the Fables series.  It's just a shame that not all the stories in the collection are of the same standard.

Source: Library
First Published: 2004
Score: 3.5 out of 5

My reviews of other volumes in the series:

Sunday 1 September 2013

Sam Sunday #27: Summer is Over

It's now September first, and for me that means the end of the six week summer holiday.  I go back to work on Thursday, although the children have another week off, so I won't meet my new class and start teaching them until the following Monday.  My husband is very jealous of this; he goes back to work tomorrow and starts teaching on Tuesday.  He did start his summer earlier than me, so it's only fair.

It's been a good summer.  We haven't been away as we've spent all our money on decorating the house, but it's been good to finally have some time in our new home and get everything the way we want it to be.  I've been able to lie in, relax and read to my heart's content, which has been very good for me as 2013 has been a tough year so far, for a range of reasons.  I definitely needed to step back, recharge my batteries and look after myself.

Although it's still warm, autumn is approaching - we were able to go blackberrying earlier today.  I love blackberries and we're lucky enough to live on the edge of several miles of countryside that has been allowed to be wild that is just full of blackberries.  I plan to eat some, freeze some and then use the rest to make a blackberry and apple pie or crumble (depending on how much effort I want to put into it!).

As for next week, I plan to enjoy my three days at home before going back to work on Thursday.  RIP VIII started today, so I've got some great books lined up.  Plus, with all that extra summer reading, I have quite a few reviews to write and schedule!

This week, I've been reading:

Reviews posted: