Review: ‘Stardust’ by Neil Gaiman


Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria—even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie—where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman comes a remarkable quest into the dark and miraculous—in pursuit of love and the utterly impossible.

Given how old Stardust* is, I debated whether or not to write a review for it, especially as I don’t think Mr Gaiman really needs my validation one way or the other. Still, maybe someone will read this—someone like me, who has been under a rock this whole time and hasn’t seen the movie either—and decide the book is right up their alley.

Also, any excuse to share my various Instagram pictures!  😉

Stardust is a quick read, so thin that you might be forgiven for mistaking it for middle grade fiction. But there are a few scenes in there that are for an older audience; the book is based on the old-school, original Grimm fairy tales (from before they sanitised them for children), and Gaiman deliberately includes bloodthirsty, selfish witches, a trio of murdering princes, and many other fairy tale trappings.

The writing is beautiful, as always, with some long, lovely sentences that evoked an old-world feel without being difficult to absorb. The story was largely quite predictable (also like fairy tales) and the main character, Tristran, was a little dense at first. Okay, a lot dense—though maybe I’m being unkind. Maybe his head was just full of romantic notions and a teenage crush, and he got swept away by both. Still, given that he largely seems to be a kind lad, the way he treats the star at first is unfathomable. And if it weren’t for the aid he receives (largely as a result of his good manners) he’d have been killed or lost in the first few minutes of entering Faerie.

The relationship between him and the star is never really fully developed. Because there’s a lot of hand-waving around events as they travel, she seems to go from “I hate you” to quietly loving him without the transition being obvious. Again, this does suit the fairy tale style—I can’t think of a single fairy tale that has a genuine romance storyline—but it wasn’t as satisfying to read as it could have been.

The setting, though, is delightful: quixotic, unforgiving, beautiful Faerie. The characters weren’t what immersed me in the story; it was the world itself. Gaiman is no doubt a master of his craft, with a vivid imagination and a tremendous ability to execute his story. For me, that’s what brought this book up to a four-star read. I’d highly recommend it for fans of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings.


Four stars

*Note: Not the kind in Pokemon GO.


In case you missed it, last week I was over at Aussie Owned and Read talking about pitching contests — why I used to enter them, and why I don’t anymore.

Pitching Contests: Yes or No?

Review: ‘Winter’ by Marissa Meyer


Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

This series is the queen of fairy tale retellings. But not the evil queen.

Okay, maybe slightly evil.

If you haven’t read the rest of the series, then don’t start with Winter, which is the fourth and final (as far as I know) book in the Lunar Chronicles. Instead you want to start with Cinder, which I reviewed here. The entire series is a five-star read for me, so you should do it. Do it now!

Winter is a huge book, at over 800 pages. I noticed because after an afternoon of binge-reading I had a sore wrist, and — despite my best efforts — my copy was the worse for wear by the time I was done. Some of the pages even fell out! Aaah! I didn’t notice how big it was because of the pacing, though; the story ticked along nicely.

As always, the fairy tale references to Snow White were there but didn’t dictate the story. Most of those references related to the titular character, Winter, but occasionally they were used in reference to her cousin Cinder — for example, Levana’s order that someone bring her Cinder’s heart. The seven dwarfs are incredibly subtle, so subtle I missed it at first, but I think they refer to the number of other main characters (excluding Jaicin, who is the “prince”): Cinder, Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne and Iko.

As far as the characters go, my favourite relationship is Cinder and Kai’s, far and away. ❤ My other favourite characters are Scarlet, for her sheer, brash defiance of everything and Iko, because Iko! Levana is suitably evil, although doesn’t really muster as much of a defence as I might have liked. But then, in a book with such a big ensemble cast, I’m okay with a little more tragedy-related feels than Winter has. (I’m a fan of Joss Whedon. Enough said.)

Still, if you want a sci-fi series with a fairy tale feel, some kissing and an actual, honest to goodness “they all lived happily ever after” (because it’s a fairy tale retelling and that’s obligatory), I highly recommend this entire series!

Lunar Chronicles

Five stars


Review: ‘Fairytales for Wilde Girls’ by Allyse Near

Fairytales for Wilde Girls

‘He’s gone the same way as those little birds that bothered me with their awful songs! And you will too, you and your horrible heart-music, because you won’t stay out of my woods!’

There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.

Her real-life friends – Grape, James and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – the mermaids, faeries and magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.

It may not be enough.

Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise and appease her enraged spirit, before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.

Fairytales for Wilde Girls is a strange and wonderful little début from Melbourne author Allyse Near. The genre could be described as contemporary fairytale, a bit like the Splintered series by A. G. Howard. But Fairytales also falls squarely into  the gothic fiction category — with those traditional elements — and has some quirky screenplay influences (when, for example, the characters are introduced as though you’re reading a script). There are also gorgeous pictures throughout the book of Isola’s six princes.

I don’t know why the blurb describes the book as “bubblegum gothic”, though. I didn’t get a bubblegum feel from Fairytales at all.

Ruslana, one of the six princes. Yes, she's a woman.

Ruslana, one of the six princes. Yes, she’s a woman. I noticed that too.

The book is masterfully executed. Allyse Near’s writing is some of the most luscious and rich I’ve read; her prose is magical, her metaphors often both beautiful and disturbing. The story is seeded with references to Edgar Allan Poe, the Grimm Brothers, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Alice in Wonderland (plus probably others I missed). But the tales with the heaviest influence on Isola and the story is the fictional book The Pardieu Fables and Fairytales by Lileo Pardieu — the author whose name Isola has as her own middle name. We get to read excerpts of The Pardieu Fables scattered throughout the story, and they are even more beautiful and strange than the rest of the novel.

There are ghosts, a mermaid, a fury, fairies and a hilariously grumpy gargoyle — a menagerie that appealed to my urban fantasy-loving heart. There’s a wonderful best friend; a talented, quirky guy; and a bad boy I wanted to snot (that’s my usual reaction to bad boy characters, by the way)…

There’s also a plot twist that I didn’t see coming till maybe a chapter beforehand, but that made total sense and begs for a re-read, just so you can admire the way it was foreshadowed.

The one thing that disappointed me at the outset was that I half-expected the book to be set in Australia. It’s actually set in England, in a little town called Avalon, near the magical Vivien’s Wood (where Vivien supposedly entrapped Merlin in a tree). Given the circumstances, I forgave Near for not setting it here. 😉

Grab yourself a copy of Fairytales for Wilde Girls. You won’t regret it.

Four stars

Guest post: Sex and New Adult Romance in Fairy Tales, by Diane J. Reed

Stone-of-Thieves banner

Everything old is new again. You’ve often heard this cliché, but nothing brings it home better than the skyrocketing rise in popularity for a new genre publishers are calling “new adult romance”. What, exactly, is new adult romance? Literature that focuses on young people from about the ages of 18-24 who are encountering their first sexual relationships (with the accent being on relationships—not necessarily their first one-night stand or bump and grind in the back of a car).

Why all the shout? Because though you may not realise it, the reading ages of 18-24 used to be death in the publishing industry. Publishers and marketers have known for decades that their bread and butter came from readers who are ages 25-55—the largest demographic of book buyers around the world. But then something happened—welcome to the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. All of a sudden, younger people were reading in droves. And as if on cue, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer appeared, single-handedly hooking teenagers on a book and film franchise that addressed all of their angst and need for a book boyfriend or girlfriend. Young adult fiction became a huge force in the publishing industry, but there was only one problem: these readers grew up. And they wanted to keep on reading . . .

Enter new adult romance!

diane j reedNow, you can’t swing a dead cat in a bookstore without seeing new adult romances plastered all over the shelves. Titles like Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, Lick by Kylie Scott, and My Favorite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron address this unique age bracket that is testing out adulthood and what it means to have a possibly fulfilling relationship that includes sex. But let’s face it—our first sexual relationships often crash and burn because we’re just beginning to figure out who we are and what we want, and new adult romances address the relationship minefields that often plague us in our twenties.

It’s as though, in high school, we are given a script for how to lead our lives (stay in school, study hard, don’t do drugs or get pregnant), but in our late teens and early twenties, the script gets a lot hazier. Okay, maybe you want to graduate from college or try to get a good job, but what about relationships? You’re old enough to vote now, you probably don’t live with mummy and daddy anymore, and no one’s around to tell you “no” about much of anything. So you experiment with sex, boyfriends or girlfriends, and try to figure out what feels right to you in ways that no previous set of “rules” can quite apply. All by yourself, you figure out relationships are messy and hard to define.

And at this point, you’d really like books that reflect this sea of possibilities as well as their pitfalls. As Margo Lipshultz, senior editor at Harlequin, says of new adult books, “These characters do have more freedom [and] less parental supervision. They’re in charge of their own lives, but they’re figuring out how to navigate those lives for the first time, and they’re making mistakes along the way: trusting the wrong person, or falling for the guy that they know is bad for them”.

So along with this new-found maturity in our twenties come very high emotional stakes. You don’t necessarily have mummy and daddy’s shoulders to cry on about your choices anymore, and you probably want to test out relationships that your relatives might not approve of.

But wait a second—

I can think of a centuries-old literary genre that has been addressing this age bracket, and all the crazy, love-lorn machinations that accompany new adulthood, for about as long as mankind has been walking this earth. And it’s called fairy tales.

Yes, fairy tales! Think about it—how old do you think Snow White was when she was lying in that glass casket, about to be “awakened” by a dashing young man? Or Rapunzel when she was letting down her golden hair for that handsome prince? Though fairy tales rarely are specific about the age of their characters who’re about to blossom into sexuality, they’re generally taken to be of “marriageable age.” In times of old, that particularly angsty age bracket can range anywhere from 16-22 (depending on which scholar or version you listen to). This is a very similar demographic that the more recent new adult romances address. What’s more, there are several fascinating features that many popular fairy tales often have in common with new adult romances, and they are the following:

  1. The main characters are considered of “marriageable” age for their culture.
  2. The main characters set upon a journey away from home where they are no longer supervised by their parents or caregivers.
  3. The main characters encounter obstacles that there are no ready answers for—they must figure out the path forward for themselves.
  4. The main characters encounter male or female partners who often provide their first serious encounter with the opposite sex that might lead to a long-term relationship.
  5. The main characters (whether overtly or metaphorically) have an intimate encounter with the male or female that they fancy.

So let’s take a look at two of the most popular fairy tales of all time: Rapunzel and Snow White, to see how they are indicative of the same classic scenarios in the more recent new adult romance genre.


robin in the oodIn Rapunzel, we all know that this poor young woman was sequestered in a tower around the age of 12 (depending on the version) as she was just about to approach puberty, locked away by a nasty fairy, sorceress or godmother (again, depending on the version). But as Rapunzel blossoms into marriageable age some years later, along comes a dashing prince who ventures through the forest and finds her through the echoes of her beautiful song. It’s important to note that the prince has left the comfort of the castle and his parents’ supervision and taken the classic new adult journey (often through the wild woods, an interesting metaphor for the unknown) to find his possible mate. Thereafter, we hear the prince state his famous words, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” Obviously, most psychoanalytical literary critics view his call as metaphorical for his desire for sexual intimacy. Interestingly, however, it is now Rapunzel’s choice whether to invite this young man into her private chamber. At first we are told she is “frightened”—yet she decides to do so anyway.

New adult romances are all about such angst-filled choices, particularly ones that are made without “permission” from other adults, and could have long-term consequences. Luckily, Rapunzel and the prince are said to have “lived in joy and pleasure for a long time” which results in her pregnancy with twins. How fascinating that there is no wedding involved in this story, and Rapunzel at one point says to the evil fairy/sorceress/godmother “Why is it that my clothes are all too tight?” Though Rapunzel may seem naïve, she’s encountered one of the real-world consequences of new adult sex: parenthood. Another consequence is the disapproval of elders, and the fairy/sorceress/godmother becomes so irate that she cuts off Rapunzel’s hair, banishes her to the wilderness, and informs the prince that he’ll never find her again.

But true love—often the biggest goal in new adult romances—wins out! Though the prince loses his sight and wanders in the forest for a dark period, Rapunzel eventually finds him in the wilderness and her tears of joy restore his sight as the lovers are reunited.

I absolutely adore this particular fairy tale because it clearly shows that both female and male characters have a long and arduous journey through the “wilderness” to ultimately find their most suitable long-term relationships. Just having sex with each other isn’t enough to secure happily-ever-after—there is a difficult path ahead towards adulthood that they must tread before they are settled with one another, a path that sometimes means bucking against the approval of their elders. Yet how wise fairy tales are for not offering a simple formula for happiness! Anyone who truly reads fairy tales knows how complex and full of puzzling twists they can be, but for new adults in particular, they offer something of a road map to the arduous minefield we all must navigate towards maturity.

Snow White

StonesofThieves.eBookSimilarly, Snow White contributes another glimpse into the complexities and angst-filled stakes that are often involved in truly becoming a “grown up” who makes his or her own relationship choices. As we know, Snow White has the stepmother from hell who envies her like crazy—and true to most new adult romances, there aren’t adults around who’ll be of much help on one’s journey and may even be a thwarting influence.

At a tender age (some versions say 7, but archaic versions hint that Snow White had reached puberty), the evil stepmother hires a huntsman to take Snow White out to the woods to kill her. Here we are at the woods again! That classic metaphor for no rules and no society—a place where you must figure out your way forward by yourself. Yet precisely at this wild place, Snow White inspires the pity (and some say sexual attraction) of this huntsman, who feels sorry for her and lies about her death to the evil stepmother.

What happens next is very intriguing—Snow White hides out and sets up “house” with a bunch of men, the iconic dwarves. More archaic versions say they were miners, later called “dwarves” to lessen the sexual tension, because such a job favors people of shorter stature. And many psychoanalytical critics see her living situation as a metaphor for Snow White “shacking up” with various boyfriends on her road to new adulthood in order to try on various female roles—for we know in the fairy tale that she “tested all the beds”. In return for her cooking, cleaning and washing, the dwarves promise Snow White that “you can stay with us, and you shall have everything you want.” Sounds like a classic live-in relationship to me, but I have to wonder if perhaps these men are assigned “dwarf” status in the fairy tale because they don’t quite measure up to the ultimate long-term partner Snow White is seeking.

Yet in due time, Snow White’s experimental lifestyle infuriates the evil stepmother once she finds out that the young woman is still alive. In famous fashion, the stepmother disguises herself as the old farmer’s wife and offers her a “poisoned apple” that kills her. It doesn’t take a psychological genius to see the parallels to the “fruit of knowledge” that Adam and Eve ate of, or that this apple is perhaps a metaphor for sexual activity that “kills” Snow White’s younger self. Could it be that during her time in the woods with the dwarves, Snow White experimented with sexual relationships that changed her from a child to a woman forever, yet left her wanting? And the stepmother merely reminded her of this with the apple—that she is no longer a young girl?

This is a huge theme in current new adult romances—that after experimenting and pursuing the “one,” many young women feel adrift and emotionally “comatose” due to the crash and burn nature of early sexual relationships. After all, Snow White is later placed in a “glass coffin,” not a heavy box made of wood with metal hinges—one that she could easily break out of if she has a single breath of life left in her. And even more peculiarly, her coffin is set on display in the forest for all to see. Metaphorically, it makes one wonder if Snow White is very much alive, but too emotionally drained by her previous relationships or experiences to allow herself to be a bold adult woman just yet. She’s in a holding pattern, emotionally and sexually, wearied by her former experiences and perhaps merely waiting for “the one” (that new adult romance characters so often long for) to awaken her into a happier adult relationship.

However, as if by magic (or perhaps Snow White’s intuitive wisdom to lay low and wait for what she truly wants), her Prince Charming does appear, and with a brave kiss “awakens” her to her happily ever after with him. Well, duh—“awakening” moments in fairy tales are often a more palatable way of describing intimate contact, particularly after ancient fairy tales were scrubbed of sexual details and innuendos by the Grimm Brothers in order to sell to broader audiences as nursery tales in 1857. (Their 1812 edition of fairy tales often left in the sexual connotations.) After such an “awakening”, this young woman, who’s already been through her wilderness experience and associated with several men, is said to have finally found her true love.

Again, what I love about Snow White, similar to Rapunzel, is how frequently these fairy tale characters at the brink of adulthood must wander through the wilderness to find their way to maturity. Even Prince Charming in Snow White has to venture into the forest and take chances, with some serious risks involved. After all, why, oh why, does he approach a creepy glass coffin and open it in order to kiss a total stranger? That’s crazy—but you often have to go through a lot of crazy as a new adult to find a rewarding relationship. Blind dates, online dating websites, trusting potential mates who turn out to have baggage, or are emotionally scary, or are downright stalkers—this phase of young adulthood if filled with emotional minefields and genuine risk. But as the classic saying goes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince—or princess. No guts, no glory! And in fairy tales as well as modern new adult romances, the stakes are always high. That’s because heartbreak, let alone pregnancy or the possible transmission of sexual diseases, has real-world consequences.

But if you never muster the courage to continue on your journey towards adulthood, you’ll forever remain emotionally locked in Rapunzel’s tall tower or Snow White’s glass coffin. The one thing that fairy tales and new adult romances have most in common is that true love requires bravery. And perhaps this is why we love these characters so much. They could take the easy way out and follow the rules or do what’s expected of them to lead a psychologically stale life. But instead they keep going through dark times to grab that chance at true love and genuine happiness. It doesn’t mean that their paths are always easy. But if they can survive their journeys through the wilderness (both sexually and by bucking society’s rules) their reward is a meaningful and fulfilling adult relationship.

And isn’t that what most of us really want? Though new adult romances shed a fresh light on the precarious nature of this necessary growth phase of entering adulthood, the desires and dreams of all of us to find true love and fulfillment in our adult lives is as old and as beautiful as fairy tales themselves.

About the Author

Diane J. Reed has a Ph.D. in English and a lifelong passion for books—both popular, forgotten & literary—as long as they touch her soul & make her want to tuck them under her pillow at night to remember them in her dreams. She writes novels that are infused with enchantment, where characters dare to break through boundaries and believe in true love. She also has a soft spot for artisans & outlaws of the heart, those who burn brightly to live each day as a gift—because it is! She loves to hear from readers, so feel free to visit Diane J. Reed’s website at or message her here to share the whispers of your spirit.



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About Stone of Thieves

The Stone of Thieves . . . for centuries its magnetic draw has twisted the hearts of ambitious men and women with the promise of power, passion, and intrigue until it fell into the hands of unlikely thieves Robin and her boyfriend Creek. But can they steal their destiny away from the curse that pursues this magnificent ruby heart?

As the stone begins to spread its sorcery, Robin races to find her long-lost mother in Italy in the hopes of discovering the truth about her unique gypsy heritage and the ruby heart that is rumored to steal souls. Yet when the desire for this stone by powerful members of her family threatens their very lives, Creek decides to take matters into his own hands to protect Robin, his greatest treasure of all . . .

Stone of Thieves is a sensual, stand-alone new adult novel and the sequel to Robin in the Hood in the Robbin’ Hearts Series. Due to mature themes, readership is advised for ages 17+.

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