Fabulous short treats: A trio of mini-reviews!

These three books delighted me in different ways, so I thought I’d write up a quick post with thoughts on all three.

Title: The Beautifull Cassandra
Author: Jane Austen
Illustrated by: Leon Steinmetz
Release date for this edition: September 11, 2018
Length: 72 pages

Have you read any of Jane Austen’s early writings, collected as her Juvenilia? I hadn’t… but then my daughter sent me this gorgeous edition of The Beautifull Cassandra, a story Austen wrote when she was just twelve years old. It’s a total treat. The story itself is told in 12 chapters, each only a few lines long, with under 500 words in all. The illustrations here are lovely and perfect, and I adored this book so much!

If you’re looking for an unusual gift for an Austen lover, this would make a great choice!

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Title: Snow, Glass, Apples
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by: Colleen Doran
Release date: August 20, 2019
Length: 64 pages

I have loved the disturbing short story Snow, Glass, Apples every since reading it in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection, so when I heard that an illustrated version was being released this year, I just had to have it.

Wow.

The story is as powerful as ever — taking the fairy tale of Snow White and turning it upside down and inside out. It’s gruesome and scary and disturbing, and gives me a chill right down to my bones.

Add to the power of the story the absolutely stunning illustrations by Colleen Doran… and you have a book that is both beautiful and deeply frightening from start to end.

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Title: Galatea
Author: Madeline Miller
Release date: 2013
Length: 37 pages

After reading and loving both The Song of Achilles and Circe, I knew I had to try this earlier short work by Madeline Miller. As with her other books, the author starts with a premise out of Greek mythology: The sculptor Pygmalion creates a sculpture of a woman so incredibly beautiful that he falls in love with her, and begs the goddess Aphrodite to bring her to life so he can marry her.

In Galatea, we learn what happens next. Sure, Pygmalion got the woman of his dreams — but how does she feel about it? What’s it like to be so completely beholden to your creator, a man who only wants you in still, silent perfection? This story is strange and disturbing, and not easy to put from your mind once you’re done reading. Highly recommended.

Top Ten Tuesday: My super-special special editions

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a FREEBIE, meaning we all choose our own themes. My topic this week is Special Editions… which means, fancy/extravagant/nice-to-have books that I gave myself as gifts. Because if I don’t treat myself to the nice things in life (BOOKS!), who will?

Here are ten books that I’ve treated myself to over the years — they make me happy whenever I see them!

1. Anne of Green Gables: I made it through decades of life deprived of the joys of Anne, but I suffer no more! I’m working my way through the series (on book #6 right now), and couldn’t resist this adorable hardcover edition.

2. Firefly: A Celebration: Browncoats, unite! Firefly’s TV life was cut short, but it lives on in the hearts of its fans. This big picture book includes complete scripts, amazing photos, and more. I needed it in my life!

3. Soulless: As a devoted fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, I really needed these pretty editions.

4. The World of Ice and Fire: Not only is this book SO gorgeous to look at, it’s really an amazing reference guide. So helpful when trying to keep your Targaryens, Starks, and Baratheons straight.

5. Y: The Last Man: I loved these graphic novels, and when I found a hardcover set of the full series on EBay, I had to have them.

6. Wonderstruck and The Marvels: I really love Brian Selznick’s approach in these books, using words and images to tell a complete story.

7. Harry Potter illustrated editions: I mean, obviously. I’ve been buying them as they’ve been released. Can’t wait for #4 this fall!

8. The Outlander Kitchen: If you knew me, you’d think it’s hilarious that I own this book. I do not cook. Really, at all. Yet I had to have this Outlander-themed cookbook, because Outlander. (And it’s really fun to look through, even if I will never, ever try any recipes.)

9. The Tales of Beedle the Bard: This one is a pretty recent edition to my shelves. I have a version of this book from when it first came out — but then I heard that there was an edition available with illustrations by Chris Riddell, and I was sold.

10: Hamilton: The Revolution: I bought a copy of this book as a gift for my daughter, back before I’d ever seen the show. But then I became a Hamil-fan, and needed one for myself. And yes, I’ve read it cover to cover, and loved it.

 

 

Do you ever treat yourself to special editions? What’s the best book present you ever gave yourself?

If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Agony House by Cherie Priest

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Denise Farber has just moved back to New Orleans with her mom and step-dad. They left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and have finally returned, wagering the last of their family’s money on fixing up an old, rundown house and converting it to a bed and breakfast. Nothing seems to work around the place, which doesn’t seem too weird to Denise. The unexplained noises are a little more out of the ordinary, but again, nothing too unusual. But when floors collapse, deadly objects rain down, and she hears creepy voices, it’s clear to Denise that something more sinister lurks hidden here. Answers may lie in an old comic book Denise finds concealed in the attic: the lost, final project of a famous artist who disappeared in the 1950s. Denise isn’t budging from her new home, so she must unravel the mystery-on the pages and off-if she and her family are to survive…

My Thoughts:

Similarly to her work in the terrific I Am Princess X, in The Agony House author Cherie Priest tells a gripping story with comic book illustrations mixed in to tell a piece of the tale. When Denise discovers the hidden comic book in the creepy attic of her new house (which she bluntly refers to as a “craphole” at all times), the book seems to be a clue to the unexplainable events happening to the family as they try to make the old place livable once again.

Denise is a great main character — clearly very smart, devoted to her family, but unhappy with being dragged away from her friends back in Houston and forced to live in this awful house. As she settles in and gets to know some of the teens in her neighborhood, we get a picture of the devastation left by the Storm (as they refer to it), even after so many years. The book deals with issues around economic hardship, gentrification, and privilege, not in a preachy way, but by showing the struggles and resentments of the characters and the new understandings they need to reach in order to get along. The social lessons here feel organic and important to the story, and I appreciated seeing the characters come to terms with one another in all sorts of interesting ways.

I’d place The Agony House somewhere between middle grade and young adult fiction. The main characters are high school seniors, but the events and the narrative would be fine for younger readers, middle school or above, so long as they’re okay with ghosts and spookiness. I really enjoyed the comic book pages and how they relate to the main story, and thought it was all very cleverly put together. As an adult reader, I saw the plot resolution twist coming pretty early on, but that didn’t lessen the satisfaction of seeing it all work out, and I think it’ll be a great surprise for readers in the target audience.

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The details:

Title: The Agony House
Author: Cherie Priest
Illustrator: Tara O’Connor
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication date: September 25, 2018
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

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Library Reading Round-Up: A classic re-told, spooky scarecrows, and the invention of a monster

It’s been a busy week, but not so busy that I couldn’t pick up the books waiting for me on the library hold shelf! Here are the three library books I’ve read in the past few days:

 

Pride by Ibi Zoboi: A contemporary YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Pride is the story of Zuri Benitez, who lives in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. When the wealthy Darcy family moves into the mini-mansion across the street, it seems that gentrification has really and truly arrived, and Zuri is not at all happy. What will become of the neighborhood’s way of life? Zuri’s sister Janae falls for Ainsley Darcy, but his brother Darius is rude and stuck-up and immediately sets Zuri’s teeth on edge. Well, if you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you know where this story is going, but it’s nice to read this take on the classic. Jane Austen’s stories don’t necessarily translate well to the 21st century, but Pride does a pretty good job of sticking to the bones of the original while infusing a new and different vibe. Will the target YA audience love it? No idea. I think Pride works well as a contemporary story about family, culture, loyalty, and teen romance, even without the context of the Austen original. As an adult who’s an Austen fan, I wasn’t 100% sold, but then again, I’m more than a little bit outside the demographic for this book!

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden: Moving on to middle grade fiction… Small Spaces is a spooky treat, perfect for the month of October, with some great scares and a memorable main character. Ollie is a sixth-grade girl in a small rural town. In the year since her mother’s death, she’s withdrawn from friends, activities, and everything that once gave her joy. When she’s forced to go on the class field trip to visit a local farm, she sneaks along a copy of an old book to keep her company. The book tells a ghostly story, and as the class explores the farm, Ollie starts to realize that the story may be true. There are sinister scarecrows, spooky fog, a creepy corn maze… and daring escapes, lots of bravery, and the forging of strong bonds of friendship. Katherine Arden is the author of the beautiful adult novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. It’s fun to see her turn her writing skill to a middle grade ghost story!

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Julia Sarda: A gorgeous picture book about the life of Mary Shelley, showing her early years and the events that shaped her development into a writer. The story is told simply, and the beautiful illustrations give life to Mary’s imaginations and dreams. A lovely book.

 

Three books, three target age ranges, all quite fun — overall, a nice way to amuse myself during an otherwise crazy week. And now I can return them, and come home with even more new books to stack on my nightstand.

Saga and Neverwhere: Cool-looking stuff that I read this week

Instead of writing lengthy reviews (as I have a tendency to do), I thought I’d share quick looks at two of my reading obsessions from this past week.

SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples:

I love Lying Cat. And that’s the truth.

What can I say about the glories of the Saga series? In a nutshell, this comic series tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Alana and Marko. Their worlds have been at war for generations, and when they desert their respective armies and begin life on the run together, they’re hunted and despised by both sides. The world of Saga is utterly wonderful, with bizarre beings such as Lying Cat, a race of robots with TV screens for heads, an adorable little seal-like creature who’s dangerous AF, and so much more. The artwork is astounding, with a mind-blowing array of gorgeous, strange, and often disgusting creatures and people and planets. The storyline is intense and always surprising, with plenty of danger and violence, but also some truly funny dialogue and situations.

Take note that Saga is definitely NSFW — between gory violence and explicit illustrations of sex acts and genitalia, this isn’t something you want your coworkers reading over your shoulders. (Unless they’re very cool coworkers, but you might be at risk of violating some company policies… )

Saga is available as standard comic editions, but I prefer to wait and read the trade-paperback editions. The 8th paperback volume just came out this month, which is what prompted my Saga binge this week — I re-read #5, then continued straight through 6, 7, and 8. There are also deluxe hardcover editions available, and if I’m ever feeling super rich, I will absolutely treat myself to those as well.

Saga is amazing, people! Don’t miss out.

NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Chris Riddell

Neverwhere is a classic Neil Gaiman fantasy, originally written as a teleplay for BBC in 1996 before being turned by Gaiman into a novel… which he then continued to tinker with over the years, until now, more than 20 years since its inception, Neverwhere has been published in the author’s “preferred” version of the text, with gorgeous, haunting black-and-white illustrations by the talented Chris Riddell throughout the book.

Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, an every-man who stumbles out of his normal life and into the dark, hidden, magical world of London Below. Swept away from everything and everyone he thought he knew, Richard finds himself embarking on a quest with the Lady Door, a bodyguard named Hunter, and the mysterious yet dashing Marquis de Carabas. As they avoid the deadly assassins Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, Richard and his comrades journey through sewers and non-existent underground platforms, meet angels and beasts, and visit the Floating Market. Finally, when Richard has a chance to return to his former life, he has to decide whether he really wants “normal” after all.

I originally read Neverwhere years ago, and gave it only 3-stars at the time. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I even finished it, since the last half of so of the book seemed completely new to me. The illustrations here really add to the story, bringing the strange characters to life and adding interest and intrigue to practically every page.

At its heart, Neverwhere is a portal story, where a character steps from our world into something new and different, facing dangers but also encountering wonders beyond imagination. Perhaps my appreciation for this type of tale has grown over the years, but I did enjoy the story a lot more this time around — and the illustrations definitely helped me get into the strange world of Neverwhere in a new and marvelous way.

For more on the artist’s process of illustrating Neverwhere, see this article. And below, enjoy a few snippets of pages from the book. (Click to view larger versions).

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Top Ten Tuesday: My top 10 favorites in graphic novels, comics, & illustrated books

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is All about the visuals: Top Ten Favorite Graphic Novels/Comics or Ten Comics on My TBR or Top Ten Favorite Picture Books.

That’s a pretty broad range of choices, but I think I’ll stick with my favorites in graphic novels (some of which might more properly be called comics, but I don’t mind lumping them all together, as people tend to do). I needed to expand the topic to include other types of illustrated books as well. You’ll see why.

Starting with the serious and historically important:

1) Maus by Art Spiegelman: This modern classic is a must-read.

maus

2) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: The story of a girl’s adolescence and young adulthood in Iran is moving and beautifully drawn.

persepolis

Moving on to more fantastical fare:

3) Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan (review): One of my favorites ever! I love this “saga” of a worldwide mysterious event that leaves exactly one human male left on Earth. Brilliant.

ylastman

And speaking of sagas by Brian K. Vaughan…

4) Saga by Brian K. Vaughan: Such a wonderful bit of storytelling — war, love, child-raising, plus wings and horns and TV monitors for heads.

saga collage

5) Fables by Bill Willingham: I love everything about Fables, except the fact that it ended.

fables storybook love

6) Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 8, 9, 10) by Joss Whedon et. al.: No such thing as too much Buffy! The TV series may have ended after 7 seasons, but the official Buffy storyline lives on in comic book format. And don’t miss the spin-offs about Angel, Faith, Spike, and Willow.

buffy94

7) Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn (review): I stumbled across this trilogy purely by accident at the library one day. The drawing are spare, but the storytelling (about a human and a robot who fall in love, and explore what it means to be a real person) is really terrific.

Alex + Ada

8) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: Spooky, eerie stories and illustrations make this one a must (and a great gift for anyone who enjoys the darker side of life).

Through the Woods

Ack! I’m running out of room! So tied for number 9 (cheating!) are two different works that scare the pants off me:

9a) N by Stephen King: Oh my sweet heavens. This is a terrifying book. Nightmares, nightmares, nightmares. But read it anyway!

n-stephen-king

9b) The Locke & Key series by Joe Hill: I’m ashamed to admit that I STILL haven’t read the final volume in the incredibly creative and horribly creepy Locke & Key series. Mainly, I haven’t finished because it’s been too long since I’ve read volumes 1 – 5, and I think I need to do a re-read. But the books are so scary that I’m not sure I want to do a re-read! Seriously, I love Locke & Key, but they make me want to lock all the doors and windows and never, ever go near wells or keys.

locke

And finally, an illustrated novel:

10) Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: Really, I’d pick just about any of this author’s three wonderful illustrated books (the others being The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Marvels). I love how the drawings are part of the narrative itself, rather than simply decoration. Wonderstruck made me cry, so it deserves a spot on my top 10 list!

wonderstruck

What books made your list this week? Please share your link!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I host a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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