September 27, 2016

My Fall 2016 TBR!

Top Ten Tuesday

 

I love everything about fall, from the turning leaves and fall coffee drinks to the chance to wear my leggings on these glorious shorter days. But my favorite thing about fall, without a doubt, is the books.

Fall brings tons of book releases, from fantasy to YA to romance. Whatever suits your fancy, you’ll be able to find something to fit you. Here are the nine books that I can’t wait to read this fall!

Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb

Robb’s In Death series is one of my all-time favorites. From Eve’s snappy banter to her determination to bring each and every criminal to justice, to the wide range of recurring characters to the vibrant one-time characters that grace individual books, I’m mad about these books. Apprentice in Death tells the story of two long range serial killers haunting the New York of 2061, and Lieutenant Eve Dallas’ hunt to find them.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I loved Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (although I admittedly slept with the lights on for a while), so when her Three Dark Crowns caught my eye, I knew I had to give it a try. I love the idea of the fantasy basis of this book. Add in the tension between these queens just in the blurb? I’m in.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

Shorter days and longer nights are perfect historical romance, and Tessa Dare is a must read for me. She’s funny, clever, and creates characters I can immediately relate to. Her Do You Want to Start a Scandal?, complete with the Clue-esqe element, is perfect for a slow fall evening.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

I’d pick up Hodge’s work no matter what, but a Romeo and Juliet retelling? YES PLEASE! Hodge’s retellings are musts on my rereads shelf, and I have the feeling that Bright Smoke, Cold Fire will be another.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

While it took me a while to fall for Six of Crows, I can’t wait to get my hands on Crooked Kingdom this fall. Why? How Bardugo ended Six of Crows. I NEED TO KNOW!

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

If you haven’t read Illuminae, you must. Really. There’s no other option. As to Gemina, can I have it now? Please?

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favorite tales. The movies, the books, even the makeup collections? I’m all in. But when you add Marissa Meyer, the author of The Lunar Chronicles (another series you need to read!)? Fabulous, darling.

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is my go-to fun, fluffy, happy series. I love Stephanie’s lighthearted goofiness (whether she realizes it or not), and the silly nature of the stories. It’s simply happy, fun reading and I can’t wait to get the next installment this fall.

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling are such stunning books, building up to that grand final battle, the war of good against evil, light against dark. While I love the fantasy aspect of this series, it’s the protagonist Kelsea, that grabs me every time.

What books are on your fall TBR? What ones should I add to mine? Let me know below!

Posted September 27, 2016 by Ellen in top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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September 26, 2016

Review | The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

Review | The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs WallerThe Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller
Publisher: Viking, March 2016
Pages: 392
Format: Hardcover
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Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls barely know their father, a plant hunter usually off adventuring through China. Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan reneges on his contract to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid. He will be thrown into debtors’ prison while his daughters are sent to the orphanage and the workhouse.
Elodie can’t stand by and see her family destroyed, so she persuades her father to return to China once more to try to hunt down the flower—only this time, despite everything she knows about her place in society, Elodie goes with him. She has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China. But now, even if she can find the orchid, how can she ever go back to being the staid, responsible Elodie that everybody needs?

It started the moment Elodie showed Deacon Wainwright the plant, the forbidden orchid blooming on top of the glass house her father built for her younger sisters. Soon, Elodie’s family is caught up in their father’s world, a place of mystique, secrets, and men that will stop at nothing to get what they want. Can Elodie save her family and her father’s reputation in the wilds of China?

I had some with this book, issues that kept the rating at three instead of four stars. While I realize the condescending attitude men showed towards the woman in The Forbidden Orchid may have been historically accurate, it was infuriating. At every turn, Elodie was told she couldn’t speak out, couldn’t ask questions, couldn’t look at an orchid because it might tempt her…Really? This effect would have been offset if there was one (ONE!) man that didn’t look down his nose at a woman, but it was rare. At first, I thought Elodie’s father, famed botanist and adventurer, would be the one but View Spoiler ». The closest was Alex, Elodie’s new husband, but even he had a few moments.

Regardless, I was hooked into The Forbidden Orchid from the first chapter. I loved the dynamics between Elodie and her nine sisters, how their mother coped as a woman essentially on her own, and their interactions with the townspeople. The level of detail with even the most minor of characters brought life to the book.

I loved Elodie and Alex’s relationship, although I may have rolled my eyes once or twice (or more) at some of Elodie’s reactions. They had the same sweet, enduring romance that caught my heart when I read Waller’s first foray into YA, A Mad, Wicked Folly. Besides bringing a little bit of light into a rather dark situation, it forced Elodie to grow up in ways she never would have had to in the family home in Kent.

Once Elodie, Alex, and her father land in China, I was hooked. Every detail came alive. I felt like I was walking in an 1800s opium den or riding a horse in the hot Chinese summer. It was vivid, memorable, and extraordinary.

While The Forbidden Orchid has some misses, its hits by far make up for them.

3 Stars

Posted September 26, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 25, 2016

Review | Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare

Review | Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa DareLord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare
Series: Spindle Cove, #4.5
Publisher: Avon Impulse, December 2015
Pages: 144
Format: Paperback
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A snowstorm hath no fury like a spinster scorned!
Miss Elinora Browning grew up yearning for the handsome, intelligent lord-next-door…but he left England without a word of farewell. One night, inspired by a bit too much sherry, Nora poured out her heartbreak on paper. Lord Dashwood Missed Out was a love letter to every young lady who’d been overlooked by gentlemen—and an instant bestseller. Now she’s on her way to speak in Spindle Cove when snowy weather delays her coach. She’s forced to wait out the storm with the worst possible companion: Lord Dashwood himself.
And he finally seems to have noticed her.
George Travers, Lord Dashwood, has traveled the globe as a cartographer. He returned to England with the goal of marrying and creating an heir--only to find his reputation shredded by an audacious, vexingly attractive bluestocking and her poison pen. Lord Dashwood Missed Out, his arse. Since Nora Browning seems to believe he overlooked the passion of a lifetime, Dash challenges her to prove it.
She has one night.

Fueled by the rocketing emotions of a broken heart (and a few glasses of sherry), Miss Elinora Browning puts pen to paper to explain just why the dashing Lord Dashwood, childhood friend and longtime crush, missed out when he left her behind to explore the high seas. The last thing she expects, however, is to be face-to-face with him on her travels to Spindle Cove…or for the carriage to break down in the middle of their journey. Backed against a wall by Dashwood’s demands for clarification, her own heart, and the past, it’s up to Nora to show him just what he missed out on.

I’m not a huge fan of novellas. Normally there isn’t enough room to develop the characters, to create a believable story, a realistic world, to make me fall in love. Thankfully, Lord Dashwood Missed Out not only met but beat my expectations on each score.

Dare created their relationship so perfectly that I never questioned it. Dashwood and Nora’s conversations about their past, combined with their separate narrative flashbacks, built up their backstory and created the perfect environment for their story to continue.

While both Nora and Dashwood fit character stereotypes, there wasn’t much typical about them. While most of us have emotion-fueled letters to our exes in our diaries, most of us today don’t share them, let alone publish them. For a woman to take such a stand, especially against a member of the aristocracy, in that time period was something, and I adored Nora for it. Dashwood, in turn, was just as complex. I loved the surprising twists to his character, the romantic hidden behind the hard exterior.

Lord Dashwood Missed Out was clever, funny, and simply fun to read. I loved their story, and wished for it to be a full-length novel. I wanted more of the banter, the bickering, the romance, the friction that was constantly between Dashwood and Nora. By far, Lord Dashwood Missed Out is my favorite novella.

4 Stars

Posted September 25, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 24, 2016

Weekend Reading | 9.24.16

weekend reading

 

I’m learning how to relax.

Sounds kind of silly when you say (or read) it like that, doesn’t it? It should be so simple, so easy. Just relax

Image result for relax gif

So, instead of loading down my weekends with to-do lists, tasks, cleaning, and cooking, I’m taking it easy. Doing nothing.

This might be harder than I expected.

The latest and greatest you may have missed:

From The Canon:

From around the internet:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Posted September 24, 2016 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 1 Comment
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September 23, 2016

Review | Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Review | Empire of Storms by Sarah J. MaasEmpire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass, #5
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, September 2016
Pages: 693
Format: Hardcover
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The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don't.
As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
Aelin's journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

One day, I will learn how to adequately express my feelings about Maas’ work. But after reading Empire of Storms, I can tell you honestly it won’t be today.

Empire of Storms picks up shortly after Queen of Shadows. Aelin Galathynius has shed Celaena Sardothien, taking up the role as the true Queen of Terrasen. As her court comes together, however, her world shatters around her. Broken apart by old feuds, a terrifying Valg prince, and a furious Faerie, Aelin has the cards stacked against her. Still, she begins to gather an army of misfits through blood debts and favors to build a force that will save her world.

Aelin is not your typical nice person. She’s blunt, a little manical, borderline obsessive, and definitely bossy. And I couldn’t love her more. All of these hid the heart of gold and strong sense of duty that push her forward. I love how Maas creates this push-pull in her protagonist, using the worst parts of Aelin to highlight the best.

Surprisingly, for me anyway, was how much I loved Manon. She and I haven’t always been on the best of terms, but Maas gives her character the same treatment as Aelin, Aedion, Rowan, Dorian…and, well, everybody. She pushes Manon into a corner, makes her worst nightmare come to life, and sees what happens. And I love her for it.

There was an addictive quality in Empire of Storms, an intense need to know what happens next, and a deep fear that the characters I’ve come to know and love wouldn’t make it through the many heart-stopping battle scenes. (I actually had to check the back before I read on. Sorry.)

It’s this intense drive to know what happens, to feel enveloped in her world, that makes Maas’ works so consistently amazing. Empire of Storms may be her crowning achievement of the Throne of Glass series…which makes me only yearn for the final, yet untitled, installment of the series.

5 Stars

Posted September 23, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 22, 2016

Review | The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Review | The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani ChokshiThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, April 2016
Pages: 342
Format: Hardcover
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Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

The Star-Touched Queen blew me away.

Really. It is quite that simple.

See, I knew Chokshi and I were soul sisters when I read her biography in the back of the book (I showed up to lit class too many times in pajamas, to my mom’s chagrin). But it was her masterful retelling of Persephone and Hades that grabbed me.

Maya, a daughter of the Raja, is cursed. Her horoscope, predicting a disastrous marriage, has cast her out for life, whispers and hated looks following her wherever she goes. Despite it, she studies, learns, and tries her best to ignore the whispers. But when her father demands she give her hand in marriage to avoid war, her entire world changes.

I didn’t feel much for Maya until Amar, the mysterious Raja of Akaran, sweeps her away. Once he did, she and I alike were stunned, trying to take it all in. She and I became one, looking for the answer to the oddly-empty halls, the strange but kind scribe, and to where Amar, her now husband, disappears to at odd hours.

But it wasn’t just our shared curiosity that brought me around on Maya. It was her determination, as the story progresses, to right wrongs and injustices, and her intrinsic desire to save. Soon, The Star-Touched Queen turned from a romance to a heroic journey. (Side note: best sidekick ever.)

I fell in love with this world, built from a mythology that I knew little about but quickly entranced me. I loved the tapestry, the different perception of Hades, and the grand battle between love and evil. It was enchanting, engaging, and kept me up late at night, hoping I could finish it before my eyes slid shut.

The biggest win for me was Chokshi’s decision to make The Star-Touched Queen a standalone. Instead of leaving me on a cliffhanger (and there were plenty of opportunities to), she wrapped it up beautifully. It’s a book that I can’t wait to read again.

4 Stars

Posted September 22, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 20, 2016

My Five Go-To Podcasts

Top Ten Tuesday

love podcasts. I listen to them at night, on my commute, on my way to work. I’m a huge fan. I fell in love with radio during my internship and, combined with my addiction to reading, podcasts are perfect for me.

I prefer podcasts about things I know little about. These are the top five that grab me in with the story and to get the ability to learn about things I know nothing about? I’m in.

Serial

Unless you’ve been living in Antarctica, the International Space Station, or under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Serial, “a story told week by week”. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Sarah Koenig’s work yet or just haven’t gotten around to it, it’s time. Koenig’s narrative is powerful and engaging, and their storytelling method is quickly becoming my favorite. Season 1 is my favorite.

Savage Lovecast

Note: This one’s not for the faint of heart.

Lost in love and not sure what to do? Dan Savage, America’s go-to for love and sex advice, is the guy to ask. Nothing is too weird, too gross, too outlandish to run by this guy. His podcast reminds us to keep it in perspective, and, if needed, to DTMF already.

Stuff You Missed in History Class

There is so much more to history than we learned in high school history class. Holly and Tracy break down the forgotten, the weird, the obscure, and the momentous into bite-sized 30 minute episodes that are perfect for your commute or daily workout.

Stuff You Should Know

From internet of things to lighthouses, the guys at Stuff You Should Know, Josh and Chuck, aren’t afraid to delve in. Plenty of information mixed in with the odd tangent makes for fascinating listening.

Daily Power Nap

Some days, you just need a nap. This is my go-to for days I can’t stay awake. Take you lunch break, head to the car, pop in your headphones, and take a load off.

Posted September 20, 2016 by Ellen in the canon talks, top ten tuesday / 0 Comments
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September 19, 2016

Review | Tailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

Review | Tailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean PamfiloffTailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Series: Happy Pants, #1
Publisher: Ballantine Books, August 2016
Pages: 354
Format: Paperback
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A sassy, sexy, laugh-out-loud rom-com between the hottest man never to be tamed and the woman crazy enough to try
SHE WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
Taylor Reed is no stranger to selfish, uncaring CEOs. She was fired by one, which is why she has created her own executive training program—helping heartless bosses become more human. So Taylor shocks even herself when she agrees to coach Bennett Wade, the cutthroat exec who got her unceremoniously canned. She’d love to slam the door in his annoying but very handsome face, but the customers aren’t exactly lining up at her door. Plus, this extreme makeover will give Taylor the golden opportunity to prove that her program works like a charm.
HE WANTS TO BUY IT.
Bennett Wade is many things—arrogant, smug, brusque—but trusting isn’t one of them. Women just seem to be after his billions. So when he hires Taylor Reed, he has no desire to change. Bennett is trying to win over the feminist owner of a company he desperately wants to buy, but something about the fiery Taylor thaws the ice around his heart, making Bennett feel things he never quite planned on. And if there’s one thing Bennett can’t stand, it’s when things don’t go according to plan.
They are a match tailor-made for trouble.

Taylor Reed can’t stand Bennett Wade. The arrogant CEO, whom she credits for losing her job, is blunt to the point of cruelty, arrogant, and despicable. Yet when he hires her for executive training, Taylor can’t stop thinking about him, and not just how to get her revenge…

I had to admit, at first I wasn’t so sure about Tailored for Trouble. The magic-fall-in-love-seven-days-after-eating cookie felt like a hokey ploy, but Pamfiloff’s clever narrative created the nostalgic feeling of the 90s’ romcom.

Don’t be fooled; Bennett Wade might feel 50 Shades of Grey-inspired, but don’t believe it. Sure, he’s got some tendencies: the obsessive need to know where people he cared about were at all times, the huge amount of power and riches that he holds, and the ease he has in it is a lot like Grey. But Pamfiloff brings depth and character to Wade, creating a more powerful character that provides a little bit of a foil against the lighthearted nature of the romcom. I loved how Tailored took the time to explain his “things,” as he eloquently puts it. It made him lovable.

I connected with Taylor right off the bat. As the daughter of a NASCAR driver and an actress, sister of a surgeon, Taylor always felt like odd man out. The failure. The oddball. Having felt like the oddball more than once, it was easy to understand her. She was funny, bordered onto the slightly dumb when it came to Wade (but aren’t we all in love?), and good-hearted, despite her vengeful intent when taking the job.

Unlike many romances, Tailored wasn’t just about Taylor’s growth, or Wade’s growth. Both characters made huge leaps forward in their lives, and that’s what made it easier to fall in love with them and their story. Pamfiloff, simply, writes a fun romance and I can’t wait to read another of her work.

4 Stars

Posted September 19, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 15, 2016

Review | Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

Review | Red Storm Rising by Tom ClancyRed Storm Rising by Tom Clancy
Publisher: Berkley, August 1987
Pages: 725
Format: Paperback
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Tom Clancy, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Ryan novels--including his latest blockbusters Command Authority and Threat Vector--delivers an electrifying tale of international conflict.
Using the latest advancements in military technology, the world's superpowers battle it out on land, sea, and air for the ultimate global control.
A chillingly authentic vision of modern war, Red Storm Rising is as powerful as it is ambitious.
It's a story you will never forget.
Hard hitting. Suspenseful.
And frighteningly real.

Clancy pitches superpower versus superpower in air, sea and land in this alternate history telling of the war between NATO and Russia. As the story progresses, the lives of many hang in the balance. Through it all, the question remains: Will they survive the storm?

What would happen if the Cold War had broken out into World War III? That’s the question Clancy asks in Red Storm Rising. In his fictional ending of the Cold War, Clancy breaks out the big guns…literally. After Russia attacks the strategic island nation of Iceland, NATO pulls out all the stops to prevent, then contain the war. The dramatic descriptions of battle on ship, submarine, tank and plane kept me hooked. The ability to keep the reader engaged while switching between nations and narratives was key to Red Storm Rising.

Now, I have to say that there are stereotypes in this book. Lots of them. Pretty much everywhere. My theory is Clancy used these stereotypes to keep the focus on the action, not the characters (a strong departure from the books I’m used to). Normally, I’d hate this. In Red Storm Rising, it worked. Simply, the action was the enough to (more than) sustain the story – adding in deep character development would have been overkill.

There was some minor character development, especially for the pack of NATO soldiers stranded in Iceland. Their part of the story was the hardest to read. I kept myself at the edge of my seat constantly, hoping everything would turn out all right.

If you’re a military buff, Cold War fanatic, or can’t get enough of Clancy’s work, Red Storm Rising is definitely for you. I’d even recommend it to suspense/thriller fans, even if military history isn’t your thing. This is a world that can grab you in and never let go.

4 Stars

Posted September 15, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 12, 2016

Review | Delphine by Richard Sala

Review | Delphine by Richard SalaDelphine by Richard Sala
Publisher: Fantagraphics, January 2013
Pages: 128
Format: Hardcover
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A mysterious traveler gets off the train in a small village surrounded by a thick, sinister forest. He is searching for Delphine, who vanished with only a scrawled-out address on a scrap of paper as a trace. In his newest chiller, Richard Sala takes the tale of Snow White and stands it on its head, retelling it from Prince Charming's perspective (the unnamed traveler) in a contemporary setting. This twisted tale includes all the elements of terror from the original fairy tale, with none of the insipid saccharine coating of the Disney animated adaptation. Yes, there will be blood.
Originally serialized as part of the acclaimed international series, Delphine is executed in a rich and ominous duotone that shows off Sala's virtuosity just as much as last year's full-color post-apocalyptic horror fantasy The Hidden did; punctuated with stunning full-color chapter breaks.

Delphine, a twisted take on the famous Snow White tale, tells the story from Prince Charming’s perspective as he searches to save his lost love. In the guise of a young university student, the hero traverses roads, woods, dangers and disguises to find out what happened to Delphine, his girlfriend that returns home at the end of the semester to help her struggling father. However, his journey changes him in ways that he can’t imagine.

I’m split on this book. To start, the good:

Sala does an amazing job of evoking emotions: fear, danger, sadness, and hope all pour through his pages, his images. I was surprised at his basic color palette, but as I read, it suited Delphine well. The neutral colors allowed the hero and his task to jump through the pages.

I didn’t realize Delphine was a graphic novel and, unfortunately, I’m not much of a graphic novel fan. Yet I was surprised how hooked I got in the story despite myself.

Now, let me explain the “despite myself” comment. Delphine follows in the history of the Grimm fairy tales, not Disney. In short, it’s dark, gruesome, a little violent, and a little more disturbing. It was entirely too violent for my taste, and the depiction in the images pushed me a little too far at times.

This isn’t a story to read to your kids at bedtime, or even for young teens – there’s a lot of cursing and graphic content. I expected this to be a little more like Coraline – creepy, but not violent. Delphine dives into the dirty, graphic, scary side of forests, spells, witches and fairy tales.

In the end, I’m not sold on the graphic novel or the dark side of fairy tales, and especially not together. Yet, there’s a majesty to Sala’s work that I can’t help but admire. While Delphine isn’t exactly my cup of tea, it’s a great piece of work.

2 Stars

Posted September 12, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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