Book Review – All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie

All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All the Horses of Iceland is a fictional historical account of Eyvind, a man from Iceland who travels all the way to Mongolia and back in search of horses to trade and sell. During this journey, he encounters ghosts, and a magic horse that not only may ensure his survival on his way back to Iceland, but also the survival of the many horses that travel with him.

I went into this book expecting a lot more mythology than history, and so I was a bit disappointed at the lack of fantastical elements. I thought it was going to be a folk tale about the origins of horses in Iceland, which I guess this was, but still not enough mythos. What there was – ghosts and the folklore of lands foreign to the protagonist – I did appreciate. It was a lot of magical realism, which I also appreciate, using the beliefs of different peoples at the time to illustrate a strange happening in this man’s journey. However, instead of feeling like an origin story, it felt more like a short folk tale – unexpected, but welcomed nonetheless.

I did like the historical elements of this novella. I liked the diverse cast of characters that Eyvind meets: Jewish traders, many Khazars (most at war), some Rus (also at war), a Muslim poet, and, of course, a Khan of Mongolia. I thought that was very interesting, and illustrated the possible life of someone who lived during this time (around the Medieval period). I also loved the representation of languages in this novella. Tolmie does not actually write out languages foreign to the protagonist, but the way she has him experience them is a wonderful experience to read. He is appreciative, and not often upset that he doesn’t understand.

I’m glad I read this book, but again the lack of mythology does not make it a favorite. I know many will love it though for its history and characters.

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Book Review – D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber

D (A Tale of Two Worlds): A Novel by Michel Faber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

D (A Tale of Two Worlds is about a girl, Dhikilo, who lives in Cawber-on-Sands with her adoptive parents, and goes to school where no one knows anything about Somaliland. One day, Dhikilo finds that all of the Ds are disappearing from words. After much confusion, she finds her old (and apparently immortal) history teacher, who sends her off on a journey (accompanied by a Sphinx named Nelly Robinson) to rescue all of the Ds.

I really liked the premise for this book – a book with a language mystery? Sign me up! It was also hyped up a lot by many book people online, and Neil Gaiman has a blurb on the book. So yes, this book was very appealing to me.

However, this novel sadly did not live up to my hyped-up expectations. Not that I didn’t enjoy the novel, but I felt as though there were things missing.

Some things I didn’t like:

1. The story did not provide any interesting reason for the letter D in particular to have disappeared. Sure it made using words harder for the characters, and it made some D-words disappear, but it didn’t go deeper into “why D?”. I wanted to know, why did the villain hate D? Would it have more of an impact on Dhikilo’s existence? I understand that this would make the story more complicated, but I really wanted those answers.

2. We did not get to know the characters well enough. We know Dhikilo and Nelly very well by the end of the story, which is good. However, we barely get to know Professor Dodderfield, who seems to be pretty important to the story. His role seems very unfulfilled, though. With Dodderfield, and a lot of the other characters, it feels like Dhikilo hasn’t made any real relationships in this story. It all seems to depend on Dhikilo and her position in the world (i.e. how much of an outsider she seems to be), though that theme isn’t developed nearly enough either.

Some things I liked:

1. The writing is beautiful. While the story itself was, at times, unsatisfying, the writing made reading this novel worthwhile. I would very much like to read Michel Faber’s other works now that I know what a beautiful and descriptive writing style he has. It is very much in the style of Gaiman, Anna James, and others who write similar stories.

2. I loved the imagery and the language. I think my favorite part of the story was when the Ds were missing, and I loved how Faber played with words with all of the Ds gone. Made for some challenging, but at times punny reading. I also loved the fantasy world of Liminus (also that it’s named “Liminus”, from the Latin/Greek limen meaning “threshold”). I do wish there was more lore or background with regards to Liminus in this story, and especially regarding the sinister and ever-shifting hotel, Bleak House.

Overall, the writing was gorgeous, but the story and themes were a bit disappointing. I don’t know that I would read this book again, but, as I mentioned, I do want to check out some of Michel Faber’s other works.

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Book Review – Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater

Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater

Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater is a charming and silly slice-of-life adventure story, in which our narrator, Mick, a guru from New Jersey, his brother, and two friends embark on an adventure around the city of Poughkeepsie.

I received an advanced e-copy of this book from Tachyon Publications, and it could not have come at a better time! I have been loving middle grade adventure stories lately, and this book gave me exactly what I wanted. I only wish it was longer, but that just means I now need to read Pinkwater’s other books!

There are many things I liked about this book, but for now I want to talk about the top three things I really liked about it.

First, are the characters. All of them are slightly crazy, but all of them are also super likeable. At first you think the guru from New Jersey is going to be a fraud and a layabout. But, it turns out the guru is a very wise and silly layabout, that does and teaches Mick, his new pupil, very good things. And Mick himself is skeptical about all this at first, but goes along with it and finds that he enjoys the guru’s various adventures.
Then we have Vern and Molly. I especially want to know more about Molly and the Dwergs (I think that is what they are called) – I really liked how Pinkwater compared them to the fae, although they are much less vengeful.

That is the second thing I want to talk about: the folklore. I really loved how Pinkwater took Poughkeepsie – a city not known for being very exciting – and laid out a whole network of folklore. Besides the Dwergs and the guru, there are ghosts and their specific rules, and people who just seem to know about the mysteries of the world, from circus performers to traveling hobos. The folklore is fascinating, and I like that it was found right under our narrator’s nose!

And the third thing, which is not as prominent as the first two: the absolutely Jewish feel to the story. Now, this may be just because I am Jewish myself, but I saw the Jewish cultural references everywhere, from the language they used (quite a bit of Yiddish), to the names of the characters (you just KNOW a guru with a name like Smythe-Finkel from New Jersey is going to be Jewish). Also pretty sure Mick’s family is Jewish too, with their Kosher Kibble company. I just love it – the nods at Jewish culture were very subtle, but I rather enjoyed it when I noticed it.

Overall, Crazy in Poughkeepsie is a delightful book. It is a simple story with tiny bits of adventure all around, but I think that’s what many of us, me included, need often right now. I recommend this book to those who want a quiet adventure and a bit of funkiness in their lives.

Thanks again to Tachyon Publishing for sending me Crazy in Poughkeepsie!

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Book Review – The Blue Fox by Sjon

The Blue Fox by Sjón

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Blue Fox by Sjón

The Blue Fox is a melting pot of a story, taking the lives of different characters and intertwining them together to create a very strange fairy tale.

This really was a strange tale. So strange that honestly I did not understand a lot of what was going on. That is really why I only gave this book 3 stars. I saw the importance of the blue fox in the story, but the other characters’ stories didn’t make a whole lot of sense most of the way through. In fact, it didn’t come together until the very last chapter. I think I would have liked it better if I understood earlier on why each of the stories were important to each other.

That said, it was very much a fairy tale, and we all know how much I love my fairy tales. The language, too, was beautiful, and it kind of makes me want to learn Icelandic just to get the beauty of the original text. I will have to look up foxes in Icelandic lore now, though I know that foxes are often trickster beings in folklore, and it is no different in this tale.

This was a beautiful read, and maybe at some point I will read it again to see if I can make more sense of the stories.

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Book Review – Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoet, and Helge Dascher (translator)

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann

Beautiful Darkness is a hard book to summarize, as there is so much going on in it, but I will do my best! Aurora is a girl who wants to marry her prince. But when a catastrophe strands her and many other little people in the wilderness, it is up to them to work together to survive. However, whether they will truly work together in harmony would remain to be seen.

I truly loved this book. First because the art is so gorgeous, I could just sit for hours perusing these beautiful illustrations. The characters are drawn such that you would think that this is a book for children, but it is deceiving, making the atmosphere of the story very unsettling.

Second, because of the themes. Picture Alice in Wonderland meets Thumbelina meets Lord of the Flies and you have Beautiful Darkness. And with all of those, there is the underlying question of what happens when we die. All of the little people, Aurora included, are forced out of the body of a dead girl, supposedly the real, human form of Aurora. The question is, do all of our little quirks, our many little personality traits survive after death? They do in this book, as little people with strong personalities, though often not for very long. Aurora, as the main consciousness of this girl, does.

There are some graphic images and themes in this book, so do remember that before going in to read it. However I absolutely recommend this book, for the art, the whimsy, and the dark realities that folk tales bring to everyday life.

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Book Review – A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman

A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Matter of Disagreement: The Mechanical Universe

A Matter of Disagreement is about two scholarly gentleman, Lord Ashcroft (Andrea) and the Marquis (Gregory), who have been rivals in research for some time in a world where magic and machinery are coming together. However, when they actually meet face to face, they realize that what they feel for each other is more attraction than rivalry, and a relationship starts to bloom, very, very slowly.

This novella was a nice short read for me, and has a very sweet plot with two endearing characters. Definitely a worthwhile read for those who like the enemies-to-lovers trope. I think what drew me in to this story, besides the romance, was the fact that both of these characters are passionate about learning. In addition, the time that this book is set is very renaissance in nature, when science and knowledge were at the height of discovery. And, being a scholar myself, I am all too familiar with the struggles a researching academic, like Andrea, goes through (all that’s missing is a handsome marquis to be my patron!).

This was a delightful queer/mlm romance, and with a main character who is trans! I very much appreciated the way that the character explains his transition from childhood to adulthood, and how he talks about the science, magic, and medicine behind it.

The reason I gave this book 3 stars, though, is that there were some things that didn’t wholly sit right with me in my reading.

First are the spelling and grammar mistakes. I read this book on Scribd, so I don’t know if the mistakes are due to an uploading or transcription error, or if the mistakes were there to begin with. Either way, the numerous errors made the text a bit hard to read at times, as I would be too focused on the mistakes than on the story. However, it wasn’t so big a deal that I didn’t end up enjoying the book as a whole.

Second is the world-building. I didn’t expect much of it in so short a book, but I think I would have liked to know more about this world that is combining magic with machinery (a nod to an industrial age). If E.E. Ottoman has written another book that focuses on the magic and machinery aspect of this world, I would absolutely need to check it out. I’d also like a more extended view into the transition that the trans character went through, though it was enough for this length of book.

There are a few other things as well – a sort of abrupt sex scene, not as much insight into some other characters, etc. – that I could have had done in other ways, but it really didn’t hold as much bearing over the overall story.

All of that said, this was a fun and quick read, and I recommend to those who want a short and sweet romance.

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Book Review – Myth & Magic: Queer Fairy Tales

Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales by Radclyffe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Myth and Magic by Radclyffe

Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales is a collection of queer fairy tale retellings written by queer authors. The stories are all based on well-known tales: Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Snow Queen, Cinderella, and others we all know. Some of the retellings are pure fantasy, while others border more on magical-realism.

As any of you who read my reviews know, I love me my fairy tale and folklore retellings. When I saw this collection recommended to me on Scribd, I was so happy. Now, I realize I gave this book 3 stars, but that’s only because I didn’t like every single story that was in it. But the ones I did like, I really really liked.

I think my favorite stories were the ones based on Jack and the Beanstalk, The Princess and the Frog, Sleeping Beauty, and I really liked the story based on The Red Shoes – it was so sweet, and definitely one of my favorite fairy tales in general.

The ones I didn’t like I think I didn’t like either because I wasn’t a fan of the author’s writing style, or because some of them dealt with sex in their story in a way that just wasn’t for me. However, they will definitely be for someone else, which is why I urge everyone to check out this book!

I don’t think there’s much more to say about this book, except that it was a super fun read, and, again, I love me some fairy tale retellings. And, in my opinion, reading queer fairy tales is the best thing to do during Pride month! I recommend this book to everyone, but especially those who want a bit of fantasy and love mingled in their life.

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Book Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch named Kiki who, at the age of thirteen, leaves home for a year to train and come of age. She leaves home with her black cat Jiji and finds a town by the sea, where, after some trials and tribulations, makes friends, starts a business, and leads a happy life.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli film, and it was only last year that I discovered it was based on this book! So of course I immediately bought it, but took my time in reading it. While the film will always be closer to my heart, this book was a cozy and wholesome read.

Some key differences between the book and the film:

The book talks more about the culture of the witches and Kiki’s family, explaining more why the witches have to live away from home after a year.

The book is much more episodic, with each chapter acting as a different sketch during each season Kiki lived in her seaside town. She makes many more friends than are shown in the film, including a girl just her age. I think that was important to include, especially after Tombo tells Kiki, basically, that she isn’t like other girls (and she finds it really weird to say). The other characters are very quirky and fun and give the reader a greater sense of the town’s character.

I am happy to say that Jiji is just as snarky as in the film, and as all black cats should be.

While this book is targeted towards a younger audience, I recommend it to readers of all ages. It is the perfect, wholesome coming-of-age story, filled with magic and learning how to be a person.

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