Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Fantasy (page 1 of 6)

More from the pre-blog archives…

For a wet bank holiday Monday, I’m revisiting my archives of the capsule book reviews I wrote for myself pre-blog. (For more of these see here.)

Having concentrated on 10/10 books in previous posts, I chose some books that I found more challenging this time. I picked the first because I spotted it reviewed on someone’s blog recently – but I can’t remember whose – sorry, I’d link if I could…

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From A to X by John Berger

a to xI loved this book, the writing was exquisite, but I needed so much more from it that ultimately it disappointed a little.

A’ida and Xavier are lovers, but X is imprisoned on terrorist charges. Their story is teased out through some of A’s letters to X in jail which were found in his cell when the new prison was built. He never replies, but sometimes writes on the back of the letters.

They live in an unnamed country where A’ida is a pharmacist. She writes about everyday life, her friends, neighbours and customers, and there are always hints of troubles and oppression in the background and it is implied that she is also an activist. She is desperate to be married to X, but the authorities won’t allow it so visiting X in prison is an unattainable goal for her – she eventually has to be content with fantasising about him. Xavier’s writing is not about A, but is often thoughts about the authorities in the outside world that he is prisoner in.

The reader is left to fill in the gaps which gives great poignancy to the texts, but I was left hungry to find out what happened to them, what X was imprisoned for, what A’s role was in their struggle and other questions. Just a few answers would have satisfied, but with the exception of a brief scene-setting introduction, the author is deliberate in his intention of letting these letters speak for themselves. (August 2008, 7/10)

NOW: I’ve not read any more of Berger’s work since, but am open to suggestion…

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Beowulf trans Seamus Heaney

beowulfThis was my first encounter with Beowulf – I haven’t seen the film either. I chose the bilingual edition to see what the Old English looked like and although I could barely recognise a word, it did help to see the shape, metre and style of the original. Heaney’s translation is easy to read, very straight-forward in language, and the accompanying essay helps you see how much work goes into preserving some of the form of the original in the modern translation.

With the original and Heaney’s version printed side by side, it affected the way I read it. I tended to read it aloud to myself (but in my head), trying to see the translation’s cadence resonating with the original’s two parts to each line. This was novel for me and enjoyable for one who doesn’t normally do poetry!

As a story, you can see why it survives, but there is too much pontificating on the glories of war, fighting and serving the king and not enough action; Beowulf’s dispatching of Grendel seemed to be little more than arm-wrestling and was over in a couple of pages.

I’m glad I read it and am sure I will refer to it again, but now I’m waiting for the DVD of the film. (Jan 2008, 7/10)

NOW: I’d probably score this differently now – with ratings for the story and a higher one for Heaney separately perhaps.  Still not seen the film in full. Instead, see below…

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Grendel by John Gardner

grendelHaving recently read Beowulf for the first time, I was looking forward to this slim novel, told from Grendel’s point of view.

Poor Grendel, although we never find out exactly how he was created, he does realise that he has a bit of man in him somewhere, and he agonises over this as he lurks around watching men and occasionally getting the urge to kill one – always to eat at this stage. It is his encounter with the arrogant Unferth, that starts to really turn him and this is sped on by the dragon’s wisdom until he becomes the killing machine we know from the original text.

The very dense and literary style with much philosophising will not suit all, but it has great insight and goes very well with Beowulf indeed. A difficult but rewarding read. (Feb 2008, 8/10)

NOW: I’d love to re-read this book.

The first Little bit of a Big novel…

Just to say I’m joining in the readalong  of the modern classic fantasy novel Little Big by John Crowley this May, hosted by Dolce Belezza, together with Helen of A Gallimaufry and Tom of Wuthering Expectations.

little big uk pbkI read this book back in the early 1980s when it first came out in paperback – I remember I was drawn to the cover (left) with those blues and violets like a magnet. It’s 25 years old this year, and it’s fair to say I’ve forgotten almost everything about the actual novel. I almost exclusively read fantasy and science fiction back in those days, devouring without remembering much of it.

little big pbk

The edition I currently own (rescued from a charity shop) has more of a Gothic feel to the cover with the sepia photograph and gives me the impression somehow of being an American version of Gormenghast (which wouldn’t be a bad thing?). We’ll see, but it begins thus:

On a certain day in June, 19–, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.

Given Little, Big‘s reputation as one of the best fantasy novels of the later 20th century, I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into the world of Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater once more.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Little, Big (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) by John Crowley, 1981. Gollancz paperback, 560 pages.

More Shiny Linkiness

Time for some more links to reviews I wrote for the latest edition of Shiny New Books. Please do click through and read the full things if these teasers interest you. Feel free to comment here or there. Today’s choices are YA titles:

Half Wild by Sally Green

half wildHalf Wild is the middle book in a trilogy which started with Half Bad last year (my blog review here.)  The first volume was rather unfairly described by some as Harry Potter for teenagers, as the story is about witches – black and white, good and bad. The tricky bit is to identify which lot are the good ones and which are the bad – and it’s not always the way round that you’d think. Stuck in the middle is Nathan Byrne, a young lad of mixed parentage, having a black witch father and white mother. He ends up on the run searching for his father who has to give him his three gifts and blood on his seventeenth birthday to fully fledge him as a witch.

In Half Wild, Nathan is still on the run from the white witch hunters, and the novel becomes a thriller – a classic chase across Europe, not made better by the object of Nathan’s affections being a white witch, Annalise. It is pacy and definitely more grown up than the first novel and huge fun.

Read my full review here.

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner

door that led to whereSally Gardner is one of my favourite YA authors – her light touch with magic and soaring imagination make all her books a treat.
This, her latest, is all about a teenaged boy discovering his ancestral heritage. AJ, a failure at school apart from an A* GCSE English, gets a job as a ‘baby clerk’ in the law firm that his mum used to clean for. There he discovers a key with his name on, and it opens a door – a time portal into Dickensian London. It turns out that lots of other people want control of the key and AJ and his friends will have some interesting adventures in both worlds before deciding ‘when’ they want to be…

This book is a well-plotted adventure that has a lot to say about friendship. It was surprisingly gritty too, so not for the youngest of teens perhaps.

Read my full review here.

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Source: Own copy and publisher respectively
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Half bad? Not at all … it's all good!

Half Bad by Sally Green

half bad

This is the latest teen crossover fantasy hit that everyone’s reading, The Hunger Games is so last year dahling! At first I was resistant, but when it was picked for our book group choice, I grasped the mettle and am really glad I did read it.

If you read the blurb which mentions witches a lot and being kept in a cage – it immediately makes you think of Harry Potter and the broom cupboard under the stairs. There are some superficial similarities – The Ministry of Magic’s less benign aspects resemble Green’s Council of Witches, the Death-Eaters are certainly similar in some respects to the black witches here, but that’s as far as it goes. Potter may have been one inspiration, but in fact, Half Bad owes a lot more to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy in style, for it is a gritty and violent adventure too, although set firmly in our world rather than a frontier planet.

It starts in an interesting way.  A few pages in and we’re introduced to Nathan’s typical day:

Waking up to sky and air is OK. Waking up to the cage and the shackles is what it is. You can’t let the cage get to you. The shackles rub but healing is quick and easy, so what’s to mind? …
You’ve got to have a plan, though, and the best idea is to have it all worked out the night before so you can slip straight into it without a thought. Mostly the plan is to do what you’re told, but not every day, and not today.

In Nathan’s England, witches live amongst the normal folk, the ‘fain’, and the vast majority are white. Nathan’s mother was a white witch, his brother and sister too will become white witches when they reach seventeen. Nathan is different, his father was a black witch – he’s half and half by birth, and thus of special interest to the Council of Witches, who control all the white witches. Whilst growing up he will be tested regularly, to see if he’s showing black witch tendencies. Black witches are murderous loners, who’d as soon dispatch their own kind as their enemies, the whites. The Council is totally intolerant of black witches, and would like to destroy them all.

We periodically flash back to hear more of Nathan’s childhood, and find out how he came to live as a prisoner in a cage out in the wilds. Nathan is desperate to escape. His seventeenth birthday approaches – he needs to be given three gifts and blood from an ancestor. His mother died years ago, his grandmother is under the Council’s controls – he’s never met his father. He’ll die without the blood, he needs to escape and find Marcus.

That’s all I shall tell you, as there is a whole raft of adventure coming for young Nathan and it’s thrilling stuff. There are twists and turns and some shocking scenes and reveations along the way, not least finding out how bad the white witches really are, which I’m sure you will have surmised already.

Interestingly, the book is written totally in the present tense, but you can distinguish between the past and the present by the past being written in the second person, and the present in the first. This combination makes the narrative very immediate and intense. You’re instantly on Nathan’s side – for a lad who could turn out to be the next Voldemort so to speak, he appears to be a reliable narrator.

It will be interesting to see what our book group think, but I really enjoyed this novel.  It was pacy, easy to read, and very dark. Roll on the sequel. (Surely you didn’t believe this would be a standalone volume!)  (9/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below…
Half Bad by Sally Green, Penguin paperback, March 2014, 400 pages.

Annabel elsewhere – The Gospel of Loki

For the past couple of months, book reviews have been a bit thinner on the ground because I’ve been reading a lot for the first issue of Shiny New Books. In subsequent issues, we hope to spread out the reviewing a bit more amongst a whole host of wonderful bloggers who are also writing for us. (If you’d like to join the gang, do send an email to

gospel-of-lokiBut I can now do some linky posts … Today I’d love to direct you to my review of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris (yes there is an ‘M’, and yes it’s the same Joanne Harris as Chocolat). Click here to read the review and feel free to leave comments here or there or both.

The Gospel of Loki is a really fun take on the Norse Myths and I loved it. It is totally different to A.S.Byatt’s Ragnarok which I recently read and reviewed here.  For all it’s lightness in the way Harris tells the story of Loki, Odin, all the other Norse Gods and Ragnarok, the underpinning myth is all there though.  It also has the most gorgeous cover with a myriad of little gold leaf highlights which don’t show up on the picture. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own bought copy. To explore more about this book on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris, pub Feb 2014 by Gollancz, 320 pages, hardback.


Once Upon a Time VIII

I don’t do challenges as a rule, but having discovered the Once Upon a Time challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, now in its eighth year(!), I had to join in at the lowest level once I saw the gorgeous artwork.


Carl says:  “This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

The Once Upon a Time VIII Challenge has a few rules:
Rule #1: Have fun.
Rule #2: HAVE FUN.
Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!
Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

While this event retains the word “challenge” from its earliest days, the entire goal is to read good books, watch good television shows and movies, and most importantly, visit old friends and make new ones. There are several ways to participate, and I hope you can find at least one to your liking:”


“This is really as simple as the name implies. It means you are participating, but not committing yourself to any specific number of books. By signing up for The Journey you are agreeing to read at least one book within one of the four categories during March 21st to June 21st period. Just one book. If you choose to read more, fantastic! If not, then we have still had the pleasure of your company during this three month reading journey and hopefully you have read a great book, met some interesting people, and enjoyed the various activities that occur during the challenge. It has always been of utmost importance to me that the challenges that I host be all about experiencing enjoyable literature and sharing it with others. I want you to participate. Hence, The Journey.”

I can cope with that.  Just one book with three months to read it in.  I have so many that fit the criteria already on my shelves – but which one?

Some of the contenders are:

  • Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire (Fairy tale)
  • Runelight and Runemarks by Joanne Harris (Folklore/Mythology/Fantasy)
  • The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (Mythology)
  • The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy)

I could read all of them, but which would you choose first? 

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