Book Review: Coraline (Neil Gaiman)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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 Last Chance Hotel (Nicki Thornton)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (July 2018)

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It’s not often I feel compelled insta-tweet when finishing a book.

TL;DR – A twisting, turning magical who-dunnit – a really excellent read!

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I won this book in a twitter giveaway, so it’s been on my reading list.

The Story…

Seth is an ordinary kitchen boy, working in an ordinary hotel, situated in the middle of a not-so-very ordinary forest.

Seth’s world is turned upside down and inside out when a party of magical guests arrive. When one of the guests dies, Seth is accused of the murder and must do everything he can to clear his name.

What follows is a series of twists, turns, surprises and magic!

What I liked…

The thing I liked most about this book was the fact that by the end of the book, almost every guess I made was wrong. But more importantly, even though I was wrong I could pick the clues out all through the book afterwards. It wasn’t one of those murder mysteries where literally everything that happened before the last chapter didn’t matter, because the vital (and indeed only clue) turns up and destroys all previous theories (I’m looking at you Death in Paradise…). No, I had my theories, lots of theories, and while I was close, I was wrong – and that was a lot of fun!

Secondly, I liked Seth. Seth’s a darling. He works hard, despite his horrible bosses, and their scum-of-the-Earth daughter, Tiffany. He’s an orphan, so he’s stuck where he is – but he finds solace in cooking. He’s just a real nice kid. When he gets bullied by Tiffany you really feel his pain. When he’s accused of murder, and every bit of new evidence points to him, you fear for him, I mean it’d be a pretty dark children’s book if he got hauled off to magical jail at the end, but still, you really worry about him.

Thirdly, I liked the buildup. I can best describe this book using the phrase “Nothing is as it seems!” Every time I thought I had a handle on what was going on, something would happen to make me question everything I thought I knew. I still have a question that I want answering about the cat Nightshade, but who knows if I’ll get one! It was well paced, you just got used to things and then something new happened, and it was exciting too.

What I disliked…(but really sort of liked)

I intensely hated Tiffany. Delores Umbridge levels of hate. She is just horrible. Just thinking of how to write this paragraph makes my head spin thinking about the depths of my loathing. Which is obviously what was intended, and I think demonstrates the quality of the writing. Or it triggered some sort of bullying-related PTSD, one or the other. But I can’t put a character I hate as a mark against a book, because it makes the book what it is, which is why I’ve had to change to title of this section.

Final thoughts…

The Last Chance Hotel is a wonderful example of a murder mystery. It is an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone – especially the youngsters!

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

Book Review: Ghosts of Shanghai (Julian Sedgwick)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Ruby is my absolute fave. I could read about her exploits all day.

TL;DR – Follow our little heroes on a dangerous adventure through the underworld of Shanghai. A really exciting book – I can’t wait to read the other 2.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

We’ve had the books sitting around for a while now – my younger sisters have been hounding me to read the series for ages. “You should read Ghosts of Shanghai!” “Have you read it yet?” “Why haven’t you read it?!” “READ IT BEFORE I SET YOU ON FIRE!!” That sort of thing. I was looking for something to read between books of the Maze Runner series (James Dashner) and these happened to be there so I thought I’d finally try it.

The Story…

Ghosts of Shanghai is set, oddly enough, in Shanghai in the 1920’s. It’s a period of unrest, as tensions are growing between the nationalists, the communists, the evil Green Hand gang, and just about everyone else.

Ruby and her little band of ragtag youngsters have found themselves an old book, teaching them how to perform feats of Taoist magic. They find themselves trapping a fox (of the mystical variety, not the little fluffy red dudes) in an old temple, and then there world turns upside down.

What follows is a tale of mythology, espionage, kidnap, betrayal and heroism.

What I liked…

So first off I adore the main character, Ruby. Ignoring the fact that Ruby is my most favouritest name in the whole of ever, she is just a super cool character. She’s been brought up in Shanghai, by English parents who appear to want nothing to do with China at all. They don’t speak a word of Chinese, they aren’t interested in the local culture – they just keep being English. Ruby, by contrast, throws herself into her situation. She speaks the language, she loves the culture, she’s interested in the religions and mythologies of the country. She does everything she can to appreciate what Shanghai has to offer, and that’s a rare treat. I can’t abide English folks who swan off to other countries and insist everything has to be English.

But it’s not just that – we see Ruby start off timid, as a result of an unfortunate incident which led to the death of her little brother. She often alludes to an earlier self – Shanghai Ruby – who was fearless and ready for anything. As the story progresses, we see this personality start to return, and become something more than it was before. Ruby shows bravery and intelligence, and an open heart and mind.

The other characters are less of a focal point, they are important for the plot but less developed during the course of this book.

The plot is really good too. I enjoy a good mythology story as much as anyone, and one of the books key themes is Taoism (or Daoism if you prefer). I can’t speak for the accuracy of any of the themes, I just know I enjoy reading about them, from the foxes, to the martial-artist hermit who arrives spreading wisdom and working his magic.

The plot is full of twists and turns, and it is fun to read about how these kids are thrown into the scary underworld of Shanghai, and how they adapt to the situation and become little heroes!

What I disliked…

I’m at least fairly convinced a handful of the works Sedgwick uses aren’t real words. I’m not talking about the occasional sprinkling of Chinese (of which I understand only a teeny bit), but there are words that are put forward as English and I’m sure they are made up for no apparent reason. It’s not a big complaint, it’s just a bit weird.

Final thoughts…

I loved this book – I’ve already started the second on the series, Shadow of the Yangtze. I love the character Ruby, I love the setting and the plot – it’s all good. It’s a nice, easy read and very entertaining.

Recommended for anybody who likes adventure and mythology stories.

 

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Please note: Although my family do know the author, I have do not. I am reading them because they come recommended by my younger sisters, not because of any connection to the author. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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!

Book of the Month (April 2018)

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This just in!!

The Ragdoll Reads Book of the Month pick for April 2018  is:

questionChildren of Blood and Bone 

by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

Recommended for: Teens and up. Magic / fantasy lovers.

See the full review here: Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

Everyone should read this book immediately, it is amazing. A superb book to kick off our Book of the Month series.

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

Goodreads LinkTomi Adeyemi Website

BOTM
Book of the Month (April 2018)

“Oh my goodness, this book is AMAZING! You have to read it!” ~ My sister (Age 15)

TL;DR – Buy this book, read it, then buy it for all your friends.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ll admit right off the bat there were 3 reasons I bought this book:

  1. It sounded pretty cool (Can’t go wrong with a bit of magical fantasy).
  2. It was published this year – 2018 (Reading challenge category)
  3. My library (with the exception of manga) is pretty monochromatic, both in terms of authors and characters.

I mention this to begin with for one reason. Because I initially struggled with this book.

I know I’m not the only person in this world whose book collection consists of almost exclusively white authors. It’s not intentional – but there is no way justify that fact that doesn’t sound terrible. And it IS terrible. The amount of POC (or any minority) authors I have been exposed to is comparatively small – and that’s a damn shame.

When I started reading, I was plunged into the world of Orïsha, and I am ashamed to say I struggled to picture it consistently. My frame of reference is ‘white people’ and it shouldn’t be. Every so often I found my image of these characters reverting to what I shudder to call my ‘default’.

BUT, not for long.

I usually struggle to imagine characters without reverting to the handful of famous actors I really like – but this wasn’t an issue while reading this book. The world and it’s characters were bought to life by Adeyemi, and by the end of the first few chapters I had a beautiful (and cruel) new world whirling around in my head.

The Story…

Orïsha was a world of magic – until the Raid. Now Zélie wants to bring the magic back.

It’s a story about magic, evil kings and heroic teenagers – but it’s also a story about oppression. People with the capacity for magic (divîners) are born with white hair – before the Raid, this was seen as a good thing – since then, it’s has been something to hate. The peoples connection to the gods has be severed, and as a result, the magic is gone. Now divîners are ‘maggots’, heavily taxed and massively abused.

A young divîner, Zélie, soon learns of a secret ritual which could just bring restore her connection with the gods, and bring the magic back to Orïsha. She sets off, with her brother and a princess, on an epic quest to right the wrongs of the kingdom.

What I liked…

As I’ve mentioned, this book took me far out of my comfort zone, and plunged me into a beautiful, magical world. The writing is wonderful – it’s easy to read and the story is gripping. I finished it in 2 days – I think my sister read it all in one sitting. We were both hooked, from start to finish and begging for more!

I usually find I enjoy the plot more than the characters in most stories, but this wasn’t the case. The characters in Children of Blood and Bone and amazing. The two main characters (Zélie and Princess Amari) are strong women – both physically and spiritually – and the supporting cast is full of strong women too. This is also a refreshing change from the usual mostly male cast and (if you’re lucky) supporting damsel dynamic. But they are also beautifully written. The characters feel real – you understand their motivations and their desires and their pain. This is true of all the major characters – none of them feel like ‘set dressing”.

The premise is fun – magic and fantasy are an enjoyable medium – but it has this strong theme of resisting oppression that is really compelling. At no point would you say this story was ‘frivolous’ or a ‘fun romp’, it’s set in a fantasy setting, but the issues are hard-hitting and real.

One of my favourite elements of storytelling is world building – if an author manages to construct a world that you can really believe it is a joy. If an author leaves you begging to know everything about the world, the mythology and the people it is a treasure – and on these points Adeyemi really delivers! There is so much about the world of Orïsha you want to explore (and a whole world beyond). The mythology she has created (and I must admit mythology is one of my true pleasures) is beautiful in it’s presentation, and I could happily read any number of books detailing the creation stories and magical practices that are part of this book.

Finally, the ‘villains’. I am a firm believer that a good villain is not someone you are told is bad, and are left to hate without reason. The villain is important and the writing should reflect that. The ‘villains’ of this story – King Saran and his armies – are as well written as all the other characters. You see their motivations, their desires and fears – you are led to try and understand their position and I suppose, to make up your own mind.  Well written villain makes for a compelling story, and this book does not disappoint.

(On a playful note – I also loved the word “Baboonum” (sp?), and have chuckled to myself several times as it randomly resurfaces in my brain!)

What I disliked…

I wasn’t a fan of some of romantic elements – however I must stress that this is because I find romantic plots uninteresting personally, not because they were badly written!

Other than that, I really can’t this fault this book.

Final thoughts…

Basically, I adored this this book. It is well written, highly engaging and left me wanting more. I have been able to recommend it to my younger sisters, and they have also loved it. It is listed on Goodreads as a ‘Young Adult’ book, however I would strongly recommend this to any adult who wants a gripping, fantasy action novel.

If you like magic, rich worlds and strong characters – buy this book immediately.

I cannot wait for the sequel!

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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!