Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Having recently seen Saving Mr. Banks, a film that purports to examine the strained relationship between author P.L. Travers and film-maker Walt Disney when it came to adapting Mary Poppins for the big screen, it was only natural that I finally got around to my long overdue reading of the classic children's story Mary Poppins.
Having grown up with the Disney film, it's quite shocking to realize how little one resembles the other. Of course, I knew there would be significant differences — the film is filled with animation and musical numbers, for a start. But I... Read More
Rebecca FisherOn FanLit’s staff since January 2008
REBECCA FISHER earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series.
Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. She’s not a big fan of epic fantasy, simply because they are often stretched out over several (very long) volumes, whereas fantasy books for children/young adults are more concerned with straightforward storytelling than elaborate world-building and long-winded sentences. Plus, the story usually doesn’t last more than three books to reach completion!
Her favourite book of all time is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but when it comes to fantasy her tastes run toward the likes of Garth Nix, Philip Pullman, Meredith Anne Pierce, Susanna Clarke and Jan Siegel: authors who write within the fantasy genre, but manage to break away from the “simple farm-boy discovers great destiny” clichés and write with creativity, wit, and (most importantly) originality.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Cold Steel by Kate Elliott
The third and final book of Kate Elliott's SPIRITWALKER trilogyfinishes with a bang, wrapping up most of its storylines and myriad of subplots, but also leaving enough room for Elliott to revisit this world and its inhabitants if she so chooses. Preceded by Cold Magic and Cold Fire, this final installment picks up right where it left off: with protagonist Catherine Bell Barahal (or Cat as she's better known) is in the midst of a desperate search to rescue her husband Andevai from the spirit world, having been kidnapped by her own father and the Wild Hunt that rides at his command.
At this stage, there's no point trying to jump into the story without first having read the first two books in the trilogy. All three books are closely intertwined and each builds upon the last when it comes to crafting a full story of immense scope and detail. By this point Cat is beset on all sides by a... Read More
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Like many, I watched the brilliant stop-motion filmic adaptation of Coraline before reading Neil Gaiman's original story, and as such, it was interesting to see the deviations between the book and film. Much like Stardust, another Gaiman book that was given the big-screen treatment, Coraline is a truly wonderful example of a story of such imaginative potency that any filmic adaptation only enhances and enriches it.
Gaiman is consistently good at two things: drawing upon ancient folklore in which to shape his tales, and remembering what it was like to be a child. So many of his books (most recently The Ocean at the End of the Lane) have taken the structure and elements of fairytales and filtered them through a child protagonist's point of view, resulting in stories that tap into o... Read More
Cold Fire by Kate Elliott
This is the second book in Kate Elliott's SPIRIT WALKER trilogy, preceded by Cold Magic and concluded in Cold Steel, but which manages to avoid most of the pitfalls inherent in many second installments. It's a direct continuation of the previous book (making it impossible to start reading with this one) and there's still a long way to go till the finish line, but despite ending on something of a cliff-hanger, it still delivers a relatively satisfying story-arc with a climactic finish and a sense of completeness.
Catherine Bell Barahal has been having a rough year. Married against her will to an aristocratic Cold Mage in her cousin's place, she not only learns that her parentage isn't what she thought it was, but that (having realized that she isn't the bride that was promised them) her husband's family now want her dead. Fleeing for her safety and discovering her roots provid... Read More
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
I feel like I've been waiting a very long time to read and comment on this book, not only because it was recommended to me ages ago, but because it contained everything I love in a novel (which have been missing from various other books on my reading list for quite a while). Not only a complex and appealing female lead, but also a strong bond between two women which makes up the emotional centre of the narrative, solid and fascinating world-building, political intrigue on a wide scale, an emphasis on the female gaze, beautiful prose, lots of diversity, a dash of steampunk and plenty of witty insights strewn throughout its significant length.
That's the perfect recipe for a great book.
Admittedly a little slow to start with, the reader is introduced to Catherine Hassi Barahal, a young orphaned teenager living with her aunt, uncle and extended family in modest dwellings, who attends universi... Read More
Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear
A blend of history and fantasy is what typifies Elizabeth Bear's body of work, as does her reliance on folklore and literary references to craft her tales. The more you know about her favoured subject matter, whether it be Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, Faerie, or Arthurian legend, the better you'll be able to enjoy her books, for Bear doesn't suffer fools and seldom slows down to explain precisely what's going on. Ink and Steel requires your utmost attention if you're to follow it, so don't think you can pick this one up for a bit of light holiday reading.
I read Blood and Iron several years ago and though my memories of it are vague, I do remember having enjoyed it. So it was with a certain amount of confidence that I picked up Ink and Steel, expecting good things. The story is set in Elizabethan London, but not as we know it. In this alternative history Que... Read More
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
If Dracula is the king of all vampire fiction, then Interview with the Vampire may well be its prince. Each one had an undeniable influence on the genre, and though Bram Stoker's novel popularized the image of a hellish bloodsucker, Anne Rice is very much credited with the rise of vampires portrayed not as evil fiends, but sympathetic anti-heroes. Louis in particular was a broody, introspective, tormented vampire long before it became a cliché. By making vampires the protagonists of her novels, Rice flipped the reader perspective to not only explore how it feels and what it means to be an immortal vampire, but to put a spin on our traditional understanding of good and evil, and where vampires fall on that spectrum.
Having read plenty of Rice's books (including The Witching Hour, which remains one of my favourite books, period) I though... Read More
The Princess and the Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison
I was about three chapters into The Princess and the Bear when I realized that it must be a sequel. The narrative seemed to assume that I knew more about the characters and their situation that I actually did, and after a quick flick to the back of the book (where there was an interview with the author) this was confirmed. The predecessor to this is The Princess and the Hound, the reading of which probably would have given me a greater understanding of the background that this book draws upon in the crafting of its story.
Yet in saying that, I prefer that every book be readable in and of itself, and the fact is that I struggled a bit to get a grip on what was going on here since it felt as though most of the pertinent background information on many of the characters had been established in the first book. This dampened my enjoyment a little, so I would encourage any ... Read More
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.
Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the Hempstock family farmhouse, certain that he used to play with the family’s young daughter Lettie. At the back... Read More
Angelfall by Susan Ee
Angelfall was an unexpected reading experience. Having no foreknowledge whatsoever as to what it was about or where it was heading, I was completely caught up in the story and its surprises, staying up well past a reasonable hour in order to get to its conclusion.
Best described as a melding of the supernatural romance of Twilight with the dystopian wastelands of The Hunger Games, the story revolves around Penryn, a seventeen year old girl who struggles for survival in the wake of an angel invasion. These angels aren’t the wise, benevolent angels of New Age pop culture, but the Old Testament-style warriors who leave mass destruction and chaos in their wake. Earth’s population has no idea why they’ve invaded the planet or... Read More
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Perhaps the most well-known of Diana Wynne Jones's extensive body of work (and not just because of the Hayao Miyazaki film), Howl’s Moving Castle is colourful, imaginative, humorous, mysterious and immensely clever, where nothing — absolutely nothing — is what it seems. Chock-a-block full of vivid characters and a twisty-turny storyline, this is one of those rare books (usually reserved for adult novels) that I can read for the third, fourth, fifth time and still pick up on some new detail that I'd previously missed.
In a sendup of the usual fairytale formula, Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters, and so well aware that she's destined to have no adventures whatsoever in her life — especially with two younger, prettier sisters. Still, she's resigned to working in her late father's hat shop until the day the notorious Witch of the Waste enters and turns he... Read More
The Rope Trick by Lloyd Alexander
During his lifetime, Lloyd Alexander was a prolific children's writer, perhaps best known for the wonderful THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, which is essential reading for any young fantasy fan. The Rope Trick was one of his last books (only two more followed it) and it contains a lot of what his fans have come to expect: a plucky heroine, a twisty plot, nuggets of wisdom, a range of colourful characters (including an enigmatic wise man who always lingers just out of reach) and the familiar theme of it being the journey, not the destination, which really matters.
After her father's death, copper-haired Lidi is determined to become the greatest stage magician of all time. With her clever hands she can perform all sorts of marvellous tricks that keep her audiences enthralled and her belly full with the money it earns her. But the secret to one illusion continues to elude her: the titular rope tri... Read More
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
Kate Mosse's Labyrinth has one of the best premises for a novel I've heard in a long time: two women, one from the past, one from the present, both caught up in a search for the Holy Grail. The former is entrusted with one of three books leading to the Grail's hiding place, whilst the latter becomes entangled in a conspiracy concerning its rediscovery.
In 2005, Alice Tanner is volunteering at an archaeology dig in the Sabarthes Mountains when she is drawn to a hidden cave in the hills. There in a concealed chamber she finds two skeletons, one of which is clutching a book in a leather bag and a ring with a labyrinth design engraved upon it. Soon... Read More
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: A unique, bold, intriguing modernist fairytale
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Reading through Catherynne Valente's first children's book, I found it increasingly difficult to imagine what my review for it would be like. It almost defies categorization, even as it's hugely reminiscent of various other stories: not only myths and folklore, but also the likes of Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan, as well as authors such as Eva Ibbotson, E. Nesbit and a dash of Read More
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Brenna Yovanoff's first novel The Replacement caught me off-guard; a book that was fascinating not for the story, but for the way in which that story was told. It was the cover art that initially caught my attention: a vintage baby carriage with an array of sharp objects dangling above it from a tree branch. I can easily imagine that image as the poster for a Tim Burton film.
Malcolm "Mackie" Doyle is a teenager living in the small industrial town of Gentry, a place that is clearly harbouring a deep, dark secret. No one says anything openly, but Mackie knows that something is going on — it's in the town's prosperity, in the way children keep disappearing, in the strange rituals and customs that make up life amongst the townsfolk.
And Mackie should know, because he's a part of that secret. For as long as he can remember, he's been struggling with allergies to iron, blood ... Read More