Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke

Can I just say this is the best book I’ve read in a long time, better even than Convenience Store Woman? Holy moly. Maybe it’s because I loved the movie so much, but goodness.

In case you haven’t seen the movie (maybe you should pause here and go watch it), a girl named Ofelia and her pregnant mother, Carmen, arrive at a mill to live with Vidal, Carmen’s new husband in the midst of war. Ofelia soon meets a Faun and is asked to perform three tasks. Ofelia does her best to comply while her mother is struggling and her stepfather is busy being a generally horrible human being.

The book has a slightly childish air to it, but don’t let that fool you; I believe that’s due to the innocence of the main character. The book is very dark and deals with some very grown-up themes.

One thing I liked that I didn’t expect to was the expansion of the mythology of the movie (at least, I think it was an expansion…I probably should’ve rewatched it). Every little tale you read gives a little more substance to the tale before it and to the “real world” of the story.

So in conclusion, I liked this so much that I will probably be buying my own copy.

House of Salt and Sorrows

by Erin A. Craig

TW (SPOILER WARNING FOR SOME!!!): mental illness, suicide, rape, stillbirth, death (lots of it)

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Children’s, and Delacorte Press for the ARC.

This was such a great summer read! It’s billed as a YA book, but there are some dark situations that aren’t seen in literature for teens, so be prepared. It’s loosely based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses and has a slight twist of horror added.

Annaleigh Thaumus is the sixth of twelve sisters. Four of them have died mysteriously, along with the matriarch, and people outside of the Thaumus family are afraid there’s a curse. Morella, Annaleigh pregnant stepmom, urges the family out of morning with a ball for some of Annaleigh’s younger sisters. Later on, the surviving sisters start attending mysterious late night balls, and that’s right before the real trouble begins.

One thing I dislike about a lot of YA novels is love triangles, and this one almost had one. I also have a hard time with heroines/heroes that just happen to be talented at everything, and that definitely happens with the MC here.

I would definitely recommend this novel if you like fairy-tale re-tellings; just be careful with the TWs.

Waisted

by Randy Susan Meyers

Would you do anything to lose weight? A group of seven women decides to go to a weight loss camp for a documentary, and they get more than they bargain for.

I’ll say right off the bat that this book was only so-so for me, which is the biggest reason why I’m so behind in posting this review (thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC). I put it away for awhile and felt better about finishing it after a break. Most of this is my fault–I thought it was going to be a funny book (not sure where I got that idea).

However, I didn’t enjoy the story. Alice, one of the main characters, seemed very stuck in certain attributes. There was a lot of diversity in the story, which is great, but it also felt very forced, although it was probably the author’s intention to show that women of all races may not feel good about how they look.

What I thought would be the meat of most of the story ended at just over halfway through the book. And the book focused on only two of the characters, and while that may have been a smart move on the part of the author due to the vast range of cultures, it left the story a little less exciting.

Overall, it’s not a bad book. It just wasn’t for me.

Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic

illustrated by Kotaro Chiba

Tales of Old Japan is a book of traditional Japanese stories. Each story is accompanied by a beautiful illustration from Kotaro Chiba.

The book is divided into three sections: “Journeys”, “Ghosts and Monsters”, and “Justice”. I didn’t realize until I began the second section that I had already read most (of not all) of the horror tales in Kwaidan, but I didn’t skip over them. The stories are also good the second time around, and the illustrations give it a spark of new life.

My favorites were “The Happy Hunter and the Skillful Fisher”–imagining the underwater kingdom while I read was really fun–and “The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoïchi”–this one provided some beautiful imagery with a touch of creepiness.

(I received an electronic ARC from NetGalley and Chronicle Books in exchange for an honest review.)

East of England

by Eamonn Griffin

(I received an ARC of this book from Unbound/Unbound Digital through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Please accept my apology for finishing this book so late.)

(TW: violence. LOTS of violence.)

East of England is one of those novels where you root for the main character, but you’re not quite sure why. Dan Matlock is fresh out of a two week stay in prison. He immediately steals a car. Instead of deciding to travel to the west and escape from the situation that put him in jail, he heads east into the thick of everything. Instead of laying low, he immediately starts causing trouble.

I found the plot pretty fascinating. The violence in the book probably should bother me more than it did. Violence is very central to this book, so if you don’t like it, this may not be the best pick.

The writing style was hard of get used to and was a little frustrating. Griffin switches between complete sentences and sentence fragments, and that sometimes come off as choppy. It fits the style of story pretty well, but again, it can be frustrating. It was also sometimes hard to tell who was speaking, but I think most of the blame for that lies on me.

Overall, I do recommend this book. I would’ve been fine if this was a stand-alone, but since that seems to be rare these days, I will probably be reading the sequel; I’m not anxious for it to be published, but I will be looking forward to see where Matlock heads in the future.

Monday’s Not Coming

by Tiffany D. Jackson

(TW: child abuse, bullying)

I decided to pick up this novel because my book club had read her debut effort, Allegedly. Friends, this woman knows how to tell a story.

Claudia and Monday are best friends. They do everything together except summer vacation. When it’s time for the school year to start, Monday doesn’t show up. And show doesn’t show up the next day. Or the next. Or the next. Claudia knows something is wrong, but nobody will listen to her. What really happened to Monday?

Ms. Jackson does an excellent job writing as an eighth grade girl. The plot is absorbing, and the novel is written well to match up with the plot. The narration switches between “The Before” and “The After”. While the ending is maybe not as shocking as Allegedly, I still didn’t necessarily see all the pieces coming.

If you haven’t read Ms. Jackson before, I’m going to recommend you start soon.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories

I’m not usually a fan of collections of short stories, but after I picked up my The Frangipani Hotel last year, I’ve decided to keep trying.

This particular collection by Yukiko Motoya (translated by Asa Yoneda) is…strange, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The stories all involve at least a touch of the supernatural, and most of them end kind of abruptly. One story involves morphing faces; one involves dueling couples; another involves what seems to be a normal cat. I do wonder if some of the meaning got lost in translation.

If you’re a fan of Japanese literature or weird, abrupt stories, you’ll probably enjoy this collection. If you don’t like strange…well, this might not be the collection for you, but you could give it a shot.