Book Review: Pilu of the Woods (Mai K. Nguyen)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Intensely beautiful in every way.

TL;DR – A beautiful story about overcoming your demons

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (November 2018)

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Ragdoll Rating: Exceptional

Recommended For: Anybody who struggles with the nasty voices in their heads.

About the Book…

Poor Willow. Life feels so hard. She runs away from home into the forest after an argument with her sister, where she makes a discovery. Willow finds a forest spirit, Pilu, crying in the woods. Pilu has run away too, but now she is lost. Willow knows the woods better than anyone and offers to return Pilu to her home safely. The pair become firm friends immediately but the monsters are not far behind.

What I thought…

This book is so beautiful. Willow has these monsters in her head, monsters that make her angry and aggressive. She tries to bottle them up, to keep them subdued and hidden – an attempt at being strong. But it doesn’t work. The monsters get angrier the more they are resisted and then they burst out and take over, causing Willow to do things she really regrets.  But with Pilu’s help, Willow learns to overcome the monsters through compassion and understanding. This book shows a real deep, clear understanding of what it’s like to live with little demons in your head – monsters that don’t feel part of you, creatures you despise. It’s something I go through constantly, and to see Willow work through things compassionately is so close to my own personal experience it genuinely made me weep.

The story also deals with loss, feelings of isolation, and friendship. It’s so wholesome and heartwarming.

I’m making a complete pig’s ear of explaining the story, but trust me, it is wonderful.

The illustrations, also, and so pretty. Nguyen’s art style is adorable, and the characters are all so sweet, you just want to hug them until everything is alright again.

Final Thoughts…

This book was completely beautiful in every way, and I will absolutely be buying a physical copy as soon as I am able.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Quantum Mechanics (Jeff Weigel)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

I got me a new favourite graphic novel!

TL;DR – A pair of young mechanics are kidnapped by pirates. Adventure follows.

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Ragdoll Rating: Exceptional

Recommended For: Fans of comics, especially girls ’cause it has 2 awesome female leads!

About the Book…

Rox and Zam live and work, tinkering around in a space junkyard. One fateful day, a real pretty ship comes asking for repairs, but is turned away. The girls offer their services, but find themselves quickly kidnapped by the most feared space pirate of them all.

What follows is a brilliant tale of underdogs fighting the system.

What I thought…

Let’s just go through a quick checklist of things I already loved about this book, long before I finished it:

  • 2 female leads, one of which is fat (and a lizard), both genius mechanics who are totally brave and crazy and totally awesome
  • Space pirates
  • A ship shaped like a skull and crossbones
  • Brilliant, cute artwork

I’m not gonna lie, it would be very hard for someone to put those things in a book and have me hate it – but I don’t just throw that ‘Exceptional’ rating around for just anything.

This book is funny, it’s got plenty of action and it’s totally ridiculous. The main characters, Rox and Zam, are totally awesome female leads. Cool and fun, super smart and totally adorable – and they make excellent pirates! I love the addition of the baby Zolorians (lil’ baby lizard mechanics) – they are so cute and silly. I love them partly because they are about as far away from ‘serious’ as you can get. They are vaguely telepathic, have an affinity for mechanics and eat power cells, and they wind up playing a pivotal role in the story despite being babies. It’s just hilarious and I love it.

Final Thoughts…

If you like space silliness, then you HAVE to read this book, then come back here and tell me all about it. Definitely getting a physical copy of this ASAP.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Mirai (Mamoru Hosoda)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

One of my favourite books ever.

TL;DR – A wonderful, beautiful story about family, sibling rivalry and love.

EBBannerRagdoll Rating: EXCEPTIONAL

Recommended For: Anybody who wants a beautiful story and isn’t put off by a bit of confusion.

About the Book…

Life is pretty good for Kun, until his sister Mirai is born. Suddenly his parents seem irritable, and have less time to spend with him, and poor Kun struggles to adapt to his new reality. He hates his new sister, he hates his parents and he hates his new life. Kun’s world has been turned upside down in an instant. But after an impossible encounter with a future version of his new little sister, Kun is thrown into an even more impossible journey and nothing will ever be the same.

What I thought…

Let it be known by one and all that I want to kiss Mamoru Hosoda and his beautiful mind. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this strange little book is one of the best I have ever read.

I don’t know what it is about this book. Perhaps it’s got something to do with being the eldest of four children, perhaps it has something to do with my own internalised difficulties with perceived rejection and change, perhaps it’s something else, but this book reached out and touched my very soul (an impressive feat considering I don’t believe in the soul!). Kun is such a relatable and believable character. He is flawed, what child is perfect, but everything he does, from his initial negative, even violent reactions over the arrival of his new sister, to the results of his dream-like journey…I just felt it, deep down inside me, that I knew exactly how he felt, and how he was hurting.

Kun is a lost boy, trapped in a scary world of conflicting emotions and change and that hits me where I live. Seeing his journey, meeting members of his family and learning from them, and then losing himself completely and almost irretrievably was heart breaking, and completely poetically beautiful. I refuse to tell you much about the ending, all I can say is that if I hadn’t been convinced by the story up until that point (which I absolutely was) the final few chapters would have swung it.

My only critique about this book is that the dream-like encounters come out of nowhere. You’re reading a slice-of-life story, and all of a sudden things get weird and sci-fi. I still have no idea what was going on, and a little bit of me wants an explanation, but a much, MUCH bigger part of me doesn’t care. Just be aware of it, and if it bothers you, please just accept it and keep reading, it is SO worth it.

Final Thoughts…

I genuinely did not expect the reaction I got from this book. It is currently 3:30AM, and I hauled myself out of bed as soon as I finished reading to write this review because I felt an overwhelming urge to tell anyone and everyone who would listen to read this book. I love it, and I really hope you’ll give it a try.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Kwik Review: The Whale Rider (Witi Ihimaera)

Kwik Reads


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Book of the Month
Book of the Month (September 2018)

This book is pure poetry. It is beautiful and you should read it.

TL;DR – A story of whales, mythology, history and culture. A must read.

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RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional.

What I thought…

This is the story of Kahu and the whales. Kahu, a young Maori girl, grows up desperate to connect with her grandfather, Koro. She wants nothing more than to learn about Maori culture and win her grandfathers love and respect. But Koro will not have it. But Kahu is destined for great things, and when the great whales come, everything starts to change.

I loved this book. I really don’t know what it was specifically I liked so much about it. Perhaps it was the poetic use of language, the way the Maori language was woven in with the English. Or the beautiful way the story of Paikea was told, and linked artfully into the main story. It could have been the characters, and the interplay between them. It could have been the account of how the people banded together to save a troop of whales. Or it could have been any number of other things.

The point is, I read this book and I loved it. I didn’t love bits of it, I didn’t really like the ending and the rest was a bit naff. I loved all of it, from beginning to end. Something about it just spoke to me on a deeper level than just enjoying the plot. But until I can figure out why that was, I’m going to assume it had something to do with the whales.

Just read it, I can’t promise you’ll like it the same way I did, but it’s certainly worth a try.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Foundryside (Robert Jackson Bennett)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (August 2018)

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Ragdoll Rating: Exceptional

Recommended For: Fans of fantasy and adventure. Also anybody else at all.

About the Book

Sancia Grado is a thief. A good thief. But she is also different. Tevanne is a strange land, that runs on a form of magic known as scriving. If you know the write sigils, you can alter objects and change their behaviour – legend has it that an ancient group called the hierophants could use scriving to bend reality to their will!

Sancia is a scrived human. The only scrived human. She started her life as a slave and she was experimented on – but the scrived plate in her head gives her some special abilities which make her an excellent sneak thief.

Sancia is offered the job of a lifetime – steal one item for more money than she could ever hope to see in her lifetime. She takes the chance, and then her world falls apart.

What I thought

I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this book. I mean I really, REALLY loved it. It’s 512 pages long, and I must have read 350+ of them in one sitting – I would have read three quarters of the book in one day if I’d had the energy to keep reading. It was that kind of book.

First of all, we’ve got to talk about scriving. At first this seems like your pretty average magic stuff. Say the right words and it does what you say kind of thing. But it isn’t. It goes WAY deeper than that. Bennett goes into considerable detail over the course of the book about the mechanics of scriving, the theory, the practical uses and the history. It’s rare to find a magical mechanic in a story that has been this clearly thought out, which would be worth big points in my book on its own, but it was the way this information is relayed to the reader that really made this book stand out. We never get too much information in one go – it doesn’t feel like you’re reading fictional non-fiction – you get just enough information to understand without breaking the flow of things…and it’s just really cool.

I’m not sure if the following paragraph counts as spoilers, but I’m gonna talk a bit about why scriving is awesome:

  1. Scrived objects are logical and stupid – you can only change them in ways that make sense. For example, you can make wood stronger, by scriving it to act like stone, but you can’t make it melt by telling it that it’s ice, because that’s too different.
  2. BUT you can do cool things with it if you are clever. For example, you can make a cart propel itself by telling the wheels they are rolling down a hill and telling them how steep the hill is. This leads to some wild things later on.
  3. It’s hard work. You’ve read got to know what you are doing to make it work, and experimentation can be really dangerous because its so easy to get things wrong – because of this, it’s a rich mans game, which has led to a really horrible unequal society.
  4. It controls (almost) everything in Tevanne. It’s so understandable. Sometimes you read about something amazing in a story and wonder why it’s under utilised, like the Force in Star Wars. If I had the force I would never stop using it, all the time for EVERYTHING. But they never do. But in Foundryside, those who can afford scriving, use it for everything they possibly can. It supports buildings, changes weapons, powers foundries, it is everywhere, and that can lead to big problems.

I’m sure there is more I could say about why I like this element, but I don’t want to go on and on. Trust me though, it’s really cool and it stays cool all the way through.

Secondly, two words. Unexpected Queers. I’m not the only queer person who, unless explicitly told otherwise (and often even then), assumes every character in everything is 400% queer. Then I find out it’s not the case. Well guess what – there’s at least 3 actual, factual queers in this book (by my count). Which is GREAT. Not just because they are queer –  but because it’s written completely naturally. Nobody bats an eye. In Tevanne, it’s perfectly, completely and utterly normal to be queer. And that is so refreshing. It’s so nice to read a book that – to the best of my knowledge – isn’t presented as queer-lit where a characters queerness is just another part of their character. It was also really nice to be right for a change, after deciding a character was queer.

Thirdly, the plot. I am a big fan of the idea that if it’s gonna go wrong, it may as well go catastrophically wrong. I like it when things go to hell, real fast. It’s fun and I like seeing how it can get worse as much as I enjoy seeing how that characters fix the problems – and this book did not disappoint on that front. I found every page more exciting than the last (especially the pages involved in the previous paragraph 😀 ). Everything went from bad to worse, and was written really well so you actually care about it.

Finally, the mystery element. This book has a lot of folklore in it – tales of the Makers or Hierophants or Ancient Ones – a race of giants who could bend reality to their whim with scriving. It also includes a talking key and a bunch of weird artefacts which are all surrounded in mystery. You find yourself constantly guessing how the ancient mysteries actually work, and how to solves the puzzles the characters are trying to solve – and I was right about 50-70% of the time. Actually if I’m honest this was probably the only element (besides some peculiar phrasing at times) that I didn’t like as much – mainly because for some things (for example, how the ritual works), I knew how it worked so long before the characters I wanted to yell at them for being so dense! But I suppose that’s the advantage readers have over characters – we get the extra context.

Final Thoughts

I loved it and I think anyone with even a vague interest in the fantasy / adventure genre should read it immediately. Also, I cannot wait for part 2 in the series!

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Coraline (Neil Gaiman)


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I cannot overstate how much I adore this book.

TL;DR – A truly creepy tale.

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RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

Why I read it…

I got this book signed at a talk Gaiman did at Ely Cathedral years ago – it’s the pride of my book collection! I read it again today (all in one sitting) because I’ve been trying to read books aimed with a younger audience in mind (as I am trying to write a book for younger audiences) and this is probably my favourite of them all.

The Story…

Coraline Jones is bored. She has just moved house, her parents are busy working, her toys are not fun anymore and there is nothing for her to do. Until she discovers a doorway to another world – a world full of colour, with attentive parents, delicious food and excitement by the bucket-load.

But all is not what it seems, and Coraline must learn the a lesson in the hardest way possible. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side – and if it is, it’s probably poisonous!

Why I love It…

I freely admit I am biased. I adore Gaiman’s work, but there is a reason for that. I like the way the man writes. It dances merrily between serious and silly, formal and informal. Behind it’s sometimes playful wording, lies a seriously creepy tale of terror. It’s the kind of thing I wish I’d been read as a child, or alternatively, wish I had a child to read it to.

I love Coraline (the character). Her motivations are so believable, boredom, curiosity, and a vague sense that nobody is really interested in her or her thoughts lead her to dive into this new and exciting world. But she is also clever, brave, resourceful and ever so caring. It would be so easy for her to have just stayed in the Other world (except, perhaps, for having buttons sewn onto her eyes), but instead she risks her own safety to save the souls trapped by the Other mother.

I also love the supporting characters. Gaiman has a knack for making characters interesting in as few words as possible. It’s a skill I infinitely admire, and am super jealous of. Characters such as Mr Bobo (Bobinski in the film), and his all-mouse circus.

‘The reason you cannot see the mouse circus’ said the man upstairs, ‘is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed. Also, they refuse to play the songs I have written for them. All the songs I have written for the mice to play go oompah oompah. But the white mice will only play toodle oodle, like that. I am thinking of trying them on different types of cheese.’

One paragraph and Mr Bobo and his world have come instantly to life. I can’t think of many authors who can make me so interested in the inner workings of a supporting character in so few words – heck, many can’t do it in a whole book.

I would also love to talk about how much I love the ending of this book – specifically the part about the picnic – but I can’t think of a way to do so without spoiling the ending for those who haven’t read it, so you’ll just have to trust me that it is wonderful.

Recommended For…

I recommend this book to everyone. Everybody should read this book at some point. It’s fun, it’s creepy and it’s brilliantly told. It is a beautiful example of the art of writing. Although I should point out that it could scare the impressionable youngsters (depending on their temperament), but they should read it anyway and just accept that being scared is a price well paid for such excellent and fun reading.

Final thoughts…

I love this book. The children I used to work with (primary school) loved this book. My sister saw the film this book inspired, and was completely (and hilariously) traumatised by how scary it was. It is truly excellent. Read it. Immediately.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh)


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Book of the Month
Book of the Month (June 2018)

“This is definitely one of the most important books I have ever read.” ~Me

TL;DR – This book is a basic introduction to the foundations of Buddhism, taught from the point of view of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Absolutely recommended.

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RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

The Book…

The book covers the absolute fundamentals of Buddhism. Thầy introduces us to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path and a handful of other concepts he considers to be the bedrock of the Buddhist faith.

The writing style is quite unusual – I have no idea of this a trait of Zen masters, poets, Vietnamese folks or just a personal quirk but it seems quite unique. Specifically, the writing seems to flow quite rapidly from one thing to another, usually from explanation to metaphor and back again. I don’t personally find it difficult to read because my mind tends to wander a lot anyway and I found it actually helped me take things in, but some people my find it a little tricky to deal with.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Who I will refer to as Thầy (teacher) from now on) is not only a Zen master but a poet too and this look is laced with sections of poetry on related topics. It’s a nice touch although I confess I am far to ignorant of poetry to be able to suggest how good it is.

The book is well referenced, linking to canonical texts, other Buddhist teachers works, and other books Thầy has written. It also includes, in the final section, a small selection of translated discourses which had been mentioned in the text.

Why I read it…

I’ve been trying to read a Buddhist text before my evening meditation and I just happened to buy this book not so long ago. I had listened to a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh and found his insights really struck a chord with me.

Conveniently, this book also took up a position in my reading challenge in the “A book that will make you smarter” category.

Thầy has devoted a considerable amount of word-space to the teachings of the Four Nobel Truths and the Noble Eightfold path – 16 chapters in fact. He breaks down the teachings into their component parts, explains these parts, often with the use of poetry, metaphor and canonical sources. Then he explains how all these elements are connected, how the interplay and are how the ‘inter-are’ – when you truly focus on one element, you will be practicing all the elements automatically.

The third section of the book is dedicated to what I hesitate to call lesser known teachings. Perhaps if you have a good background in Buddhism then you would probably at least know what they were (I knew a handful) but if you are new to Buddhism then the chances are you wouldn’t know them. These teachings are well explained and most importantly linked in to the other elements. It was really good to read about these other important teachings.

Why I love It…

Firstly I have to mention the use of metaphor. This book is full of metaphorical explanations to aid the reader in their understanding. They help make the teachings easier to digest – and some of these teachings can be confusing at the best of times. One thing that really stuck in my mind was a metaphor about waves:

“When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, the wave also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, ‘Some day I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing.’

These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. A wave can be recognized by signs — beginning or ending, high or low, beautiful or ugly. In the world of the wave, the world of relative truth, the wave feels happy as she swells, and she feels sad as she falls. She may think, ‘I am high!’ or ‘I am low!’ and develop superiority or inferiority complexes, but in the world of the water there are no signs, and when the wave touches her true nature — which is water — all of her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death,” (p.124/5)

While I was reading this passage (and many others), suddenly the ideas behind impermanence, rebirth and all sorts of other things started to make a bit more sense. The book is full of useful metaphors like these and by the end I felt like my understanding of the fundamental concepts was improved.

All the way through I found myself learning new things, and understanding concepts I already knew about much more clearly than I ever have before. I’m sure I missed more than I took in, and this book will definitely become a book I will re-read over and over.

The main reason this book is ranked ‘exceptional’ rather than just 5 buttons is basically because of my emotional reaction to text. With every chapter my understanding grew and I had clear guidance to help me understand some difficult concepts and encouragement to apply these things to me own life. I really strongly felt motivated to make improvements in my life and to follow the teachings of the Buddha more closely. I felt a really strong emotion of loving kindness in my heart as I read this book and that feeling continued after I put the book down each night. It was a rare experience and one I feel very happy to have gone through. I genuinely feel this may be one of the most important books I have ever, or indeed will ever read.

 

Recommended For…

Everyone with an interest in Buddhism, from the absolute beginner to the advanced practitioner.

Everyone generally. I would recommend this book to everyone actually – the contents are very Buddhism-centric (obviously) but there are lessons to be learned from this book that everyone from all works of life could make use of.

Final thoughts…

This book is probably one of the best books on Buddhism that I have read for a beginners view. The concepts can be difficult but Thầy offers excellent guidance and explanation to help you understand.

The book also contains a good deal that would be of value to a more experienced practitioner. Yes, it’s good as a reminder of the basic teachings but the poetry and imagery of this work make it well worth reading as a guide to deeper understanding and encouragement to deeper practice.

Everyone should read this book.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)


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Funny, clever and entertaining. Gaiman is the king!

TL;DR – This book is cleverly crafted, brilliantly written and endlessly entertaining. Once again Gaiman delivers a cracking read! A must have for fans of fantasy and myths.

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RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

Why I read it…

adore Neil Gaiman – he’s one of my fave authors (I met him once at a book signing, it was tres hoopy). I’ll read basically anything he’s written and this has been on my list for a long while.

Conveniently this happened to fit under the heading of “An award winning novel” for my reading  challenge – it won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Bram Stoker awards for Best Novel and the Locus award for Best Fantasy Novel.

The Story…

Shadow is finally getting out of prison. He’ has a plane ticket home to his loving wife, a job lined up and things will finally start getting back to normal. Then his world falls apart.

His wife and future boss both dead in the same car accident. Now he has a ticket to nothing, no future and no hope. Then he meets a man on a plane. This man, Wednesday, offers Shadow a job – it pays well, it’s mostly legal and very important. With nothing else to do with himself, Shadow takes the job and is thrown head first into a world of Gods old and new, and a war for that could change the mythological world forever.

The book is gripping and funny – it managed to win a fantasy, science fiction and horror award, which should give you some idea as to the quality of the writing. The version I read was the full ~700 page behemoth. I accidentally bought a French version which was less than half that size – I don’t know what was removed from that version, but I’m certain it was missing out on some gold.

The book is full of fantasy, gods and mythology, with twists and turns abound.

What I liked…

When I picked up this book, I didn’t really know what it was about – I assumed American Gods was just a title, but as it turns out this book is brimming with Gods and awesome stories about how they came to America and what has happened since. That was a really awesome discovery.

Gaiman weaves in elements of global mythology into his storytelling, and it is both fascinating and enjoyable to experience. Those of you who have read his book “Norse Mythology” will already be aware of how well Gaiman writes mythology, and for those of you that haven’t, read it and this because both are superb examples of how to write about gods.

The plot is extremely clever. It feels like it several stories, broken up with bonus short stories as a bonus. Gaiman leaves clues about the plot all the way through, but disguises them beautifully – by the end I was left wondering how I hadn’t worked things out sooner and loving that the fact that I had been so blind. It is there for those with the eyes to see.

I was hooked from beginning to end. It’s a long book, and I read it in a few days because I couldn’t put it down.

What I disliked…

Nothing stands out. It was excellent.

Final thoughts…

This book is outstanding, and also totally typical of Neil Gaiman. You know when you read a Gaiman novel it’s going to be great, and this book did not disappoint.

I would recommend this book to anybody who likes fantasy fiction especially – but also to literally anyone and everyone because it’s great.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!