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T5W: Books Without Romance

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is books without romance. Sometimes, romance plots can follow certain cliches, and are, by their nature, usually quite predictable in their endings. For that reason, I don’t typically love romance novels, and prefer the romance to be a secondary storyline, or play a minor role, if any at all. Sometimes I love the cliches, and sometimes I want something new. This can be difficult to find, but it can be refreshing and if done right, can bring to light different themes that aren’t always explored as much, as well as exploring other relationship dynamics that characters have, whether they are friendships or family bonds.

Here we go!

1. The Red Abbey Chronicles – Maria Turtschaninoff

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When does this series not feature in one of my T5W posts? I don’t know if it ever won’t be here. I will find every opportunity I possibly can to talk about this. Romance is completely absent in the first novel, Maresi, and features slightly in the second, but never in the way that you expect it. Turtschaninoff’s writing is completely new and different, and so her exploration of love and romance is as well.

Read my reviews for the first two books in the series here and here.

2. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

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Romance features briefly at the start of this novel, but not for long. Before the story has even got going, Shadow Moon discovers that the love of his life Laura has died. From then on, he embarks on an adventure with the mysterious Thursday, discovering that gods are real, and that they are going to war. Although this isn’t a book devoid of romance, much like the Red Abbey Chronicles, this is not a story that is driven by romance.

Read my full review here.

3. The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton 

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The most important relationship in this novel is that of Zoe and her grandmother, who she runs away from home with to protect. I thought at one point that romance would feature, but it turned out to simply be a red herring. It was so satisfying to see a YA novel adventure that focused solely on the family relationships of the main character.

Read my full review here.

4. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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Another YA novel that focused on family bonds, Everything I Never Told You is one of the most interesting books I have read in this genre. In the very first page, we are told that Lydia, the favourite child of the Lee family, has died. Over the course of the novel, Ng explores not only the relationships between the characters, but the dynamics of interracial relationships, racial identity, the American dream, the pressures that children face, and guilt.

5. Uprooted – Naomi Novik 

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The whole way through this novel I expected there to be more romance. It just goes to show how conditioned we are to expect it. Although romance did feature, it only made an appearance two times, if I remember correctly. Other than that, there was so much more to the plot that it took a back seat, and it would have been just as good without it altogether, because the relationship between Agnieszka and ‘the Dragon’ is so complex regardless.

Read my full review here.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

American Gods – Neil Gaiman Review

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I said in a T5W post a few weeks ago that I was desperate to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work, and with the release of the television adaptation of this book, American Gods seemed like a good place to start. I was so excited to read this, and I was well rewarded for making it through the 600+ pages with a winding tale of mythology, fantasy, magic, murder, and American road trips.

At the start of the novel, Shadow is awaiting release from prison so that he can return home to his beloved wife Laura, however, days before his release, he is told that his wife has died suddenly and allowed to return home early. On the journey home, he meets the mysterious and charismatic Wednesday who offers him a lucrative job for him, and having no other options, Shadow agrees. This leads him on a journey with Wednesday that takes him to intriguing locations in small town America, and also introduces him to a vast array of gods, old and new gods, loved and forgotten gods, gods that he had never heard of.

It was impossible to not be drawn into the cast of this novel. There are so many interesting gods in this novel that I had mostly never heard of. While I had heard of big names like Odin and Loki, Mr Jaquel who was the Egyptian god Anubis, and Eostre, the goddess of Easter, I hadn’t heard of others like the Zorya sisters, Czernobog and the characters of Mad Sweeney and Whiskey Jack. What I loved was that the characters are often initially introduced as ordinary characters, and then we piece together what gods they actually are. I also really enjoyed the new gods, such as the technology kid and Media. The concept of gods dying if they are forgotten was interesting to read not only as a plot point but also as a sort of commentary of modern society, and it makes you think about what makes certain deities and beliefs fade away and what makes certain aspects of our modern lives like television and freeways take their place.

Second, I absolutely loved how this book crosses so many genres. There was fantasy, mystery, adventure, love, history, and my personal favourite, the murder mystery that takes place in the town of Lakeside. I always looked forward to the ‘Coming to America’ chapters, which take the form of individual short stories describing how certain gods were brought to America by all sorts of figures, from travelling tribes, to prisoners who were transported to America, to slaves and modern immigrants. Neil Gaiman did a really good job of developing these characters well so that you felt a connection to them even in a short time. My favourite was probably that of Salim and the jinn, but all of these stories are emotional and tell stories of people from all over the world throughout history.

I didn’t know how long this novel was, and at times it did feel quite dense, but it always paid off in the end. I think I am getting out of the habit of reading longer novels, but American Gods was overall a lot of fun with lots of plot twist that I didn’t see coming – maybe I am slow, maybe they were obvious to other people, but they definitely shocked me! I am definitely looking forward to continuing my journey of reading as much of Neil Gaiman’s work as I can get my hands on.

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T5W: Authors You Want to Read More From

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is 5 authors you would like to read more of, and it was actually very difficult to only pick 5! I tried to pick authors who have books out that I haven’t read yet, rather than authors I love who simply haven’t written more books yet, which made it a bit more challenging, but I thought it might be a bit more interesting to talk about the masses of literature out there already that I haven’t yet been able to experience.

1. Neil Gaiman

 

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I love Neil Gaiman’s mind. His work is always original, and he has this great way of mixing dark and funny writing together which I love. Even if I’m not head over heels with a book, I am always head over heels with the way his brain works. His settings and characters are always unique, and he can make everything feel new and different and slightly creepy. I’ve loved everything I’ve seen of his work, from novels to his Doctor Who episodes (The Doctor’s Wife is one of the best episodes ever – fight me.)

I admit, I am a little in love with Neil Gaiman’s brain. And the man.

2. Kazuo Ishiguro

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Never Let Me Go is one of my favourite novels of all time. I loved the delicate blend of different genres and Cathy’s voice as a narrator telling her story to the reader. Even though this novel isn’t exciting in the jam-packed-with-action type of way, I devoured this book in a day. I think that perhaps one of the reasons why I didn’t go straight to Ishiguro’s other novels is the fact that Never Let Me Go isn’t really a clear-cut genre story, so I don’t know whether the other books will be similar or not. I do know that I loved his writing and characters though, so I think I need to buckle up and give it a try.

3. George R.R. Martin

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I have read all of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and it is one of my favourite series. I haven’t read anything as expansive and exciting as these books, with such a vast array of complex characters. I love the moral ambiguity of his characters. Maybe the sheer size of this series, and the way that it feels like it is sometimes taking over my life, is the reason why I haven’t tried George RR Martin’s other books, but I would like to give them a try. I own a couple already, and I know that there is a lot out there to read across different genres and formats, from novels to short stories. There’s a lot to keep me entertained, it’s just a matter of time.

4. Maria Turtschaninoff

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Maresi was beautiful in so many ways. I loved the setting and world-building, the characters, the story, and the writing. It reminds me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing in Never Let Me Go, with the narrator telling you the story after the events have happened, and Maresi’s tone was calm and dream-like like Cathy’s was. It is so refreshing to find an author whose writing feels so comfortable and easy, so I can’t wait to read Naondel, the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles. I also know that Maria Turschaninoff has other books in Finnis. So, what do I have to do to get these translated to English?

5. Victoria Schwab

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I’ve read Schwab’s This Savage Song and am excited to see what happens in the sequel. Even though this book didn’t blow me away, I was impressed by her creativity and I have heard so many good things about her adult fantasy books published under the name V.E. Schwab, in particular A Darker Shade of Magic. From what I’ve read about these novels, I feel like I might get some Neil Gaiman vibes from Schwab’s writing, so I can’t wait to finally get around to reading these.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Review – ‘Neverwhere’ – Neil Gaiman

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Rating: ★★★★

I have frequently found myself saying, to myself or to somebody else or to nobody in particular, that Neil Gaiman is an absolute genius. Every single time that I have come in contact with any of his work I have been fascinated from start to finish and Neverwhere did not break that mould. This book puts Gaiman’s excellent skill on a pedestal, and everything about it amazed me.

Neverwhere is a story about an ordinary man, Richard Mayhew, being thrown into a whole new world below the streets of London. It starts when he stumbles upon an injured young girl by the name of Door, and decides to help her. However, as a result of this small act of kindness, he is almost completely erased from his world. He follows Door, who is on a mission to discover who killed her family and why, into the world of London Below. Travelling with them are the cunning Marquis de Carabas and the legendary warrior and Door’s bodyguard Hunter. Along this journey, we meet plenty of interesting characters, and watch as the group help Door on her mission while trying to stay away from the clutches of the assassins Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 20.38.18From reading that summary above, you can probably see the complexity of the story in Neverwhere. It was jam-packed with action and mystery and it seemed as if every page brought either a new question or a huge plot-twist. Nothing was solved until right at the end, and I suspected most of the characters of being behind the murders of Door’s family and being the true villains of the story. Further, I was generally worried for all of the character’s safety at some point – minus the villains, who Neil Gaiman did a fabulous job at making me hate. I never once felt bored reading this book, and never considered skim-reading a page or skipping ahead. In fact, I was more disciplined a reader than normal, and resisted the urge to peek ahead a few pages or steal a glance at the final page to see what happened.

I found Richard Mayhew to be a great protagonist for this novel and loved seeing the world of London Below through his eyes. I felt like his thoughts were exactly what my thoughts would have been in such a situation, and such a relatable protagonist makes the story that much easier to really delve into. Above all however, I loved that Richard spent the whole book dreaming of returning to his life in London Above, but then you begin to doubt whether he could go back to his normal life again as the book goes on, and then get to see whether he can crack it. The characters of London Below were fun on an entirely different level, as they were all captivating from the start, particularly the Marquis de Carabas. He was made all the more interesting when I couldn’t figure out whether he was good or not. However, even though the story pretty much centred around Door’s journey, I feel like we didn’t get to see much of her or understand her, although I loved that at the end we saw how intelligent she is as she saves the day. Nevertheless, despite the characters all being great fun to read, I feel as if the real story is a story of London Below, and I was enraptured more by the characteristics of this strange and dangerous world and the struggles it inflicted on the characters rather than the actual characteristics of the characters. For instance, I usually love reading into characters’ relationships, but I don’t feel like they took centre stage at all in this novel.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 20.38.51I am completely enamoured with the world that Neil Gaiman has created in Neverwhere. Perhaps, being a proud Londoner, this may have enhanced by intrigue, but I am sure that it would be equally fascinating for anyone in any part of the world – especially as Gaiman mentions similar imaginary worlds in other cities of the world. I loved imagining a whole elaborate city under my feet, where people travelled through time and space, where there are huge markets held in Harrods at night and where there were larger than life people named after places that I had visited – or are the places named after them? I found all of the puns entertaining; one of my favourites being the Black Friars and Earl’s Court being an actual royal court on an underground train. It goes without saying that I now dream of returning to the world of London Below.

Overall Neverwhere was a truly engrossing and fascinating read. I am quite surprised, with hindsight, that I enjoyed it as much as I did, as it is not as much of a character-driven book as usual; the protagonist is passive for the most of the story. I would have liked it if the characters had been explored a little more, but the world of London Below made up for the characters who, perhaps in a less well-written book, would have dragged a story back. Did this story change my opinion of Neil Gaiman? No – he is still a genius in my eyes.