Audiobook Review: Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins /// royal f/f romance in Scotland

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Summary: Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.

The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.

She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?

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★★★★.5✩

I devoured this book on audio in basically a day and oh my god, friends. There is a very specific emotion that us sapphic girls feel when presented with good sapphic content in fiction, and depending on our tastes in terms of tropes and genres, different sapphic books will hit us differently. The feeling I got from this book was one of pure joy from getting a royal romance, usually reserved for a girl falling in love with a prince, starring two girls.

I loved Millie, the protagonist, right away. She’s smart and she wants to be a geologist!!! She wants to go to a school in Scotland and part of the reason why she loves Scotland is because of its cool geology. Not to be so me, but give me any girl protagonist who’s a scientist or wants to be one and I’ll immediately be ten times more invested in her story. Also, her interest wasn’t just mentioned once in passing, it’s actually pretty much present throughout the book and she has her own collection of minerals and rocks (I do too!! okay, technically my mom does, but that’s not the point) and UGH I love her so much okay!! I have no actual idea how accurate some of the things she said were. Since I was on audiobook I didn’t feel like pausing every time and google or ask my mom if the geology stuff was correct BUT whatever, I appreciate the sentiment in any case (and if you’re a geologist don’t @ me I’m just here for a fun gay time). Okay now I made it sound like this is way more about geology than it actually is, but no, it’s just I feel very strongly about geology so pardon me.

After a brief introduction to Millie’s family and friends back home, she gets to Scotland and we get that Hogwarts-y feeling of arriving to a place you know very little about (despite all the research Millie has done) and having to navigate through a new school and new people, most of which are filthy rich or straight up aristocrats. Among which is HRH Flora and, surprise surprise, Millie’s roommate.

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Their relationship can only be described as hate to love, as it often is when the couple starts off as roommates. Only after weeks of forced vicinity Millie’s perception of Flora starts to change, and I think although we don’t get Flora’s POV, the same could be said for her. I don’t want to wander too much into headcanons, but I believe that Flora started to view Millie under a new light after Millie’s coming out, and I found that such a realistic experience for sapphic people.

Speaking of coming outs, there were two, in two separate moments (Millie’s, which we know about since the very first page, but she comes out to her new friends in the school – she’s bi, and Flora’s, who is gay), and they both warmed my heart so much because of how they were handled. There’s also a “wait, you’re straight???” moment for one of the side characters that had me laughing for hours (okay, not literally but I have to laugh whenever I remember it). (No, don’t worry, there was no queerbait.)

While I wouldn’t call this book super diverse as a whole, it does deliver on casual queerness and on people never making a big deal out of it. I really appreciated both aspects and how much a non-issue it all was, I really felt like it was a book written for queer people instead of just about them, you know? ♥

Back to the romance, I loved Millie and Flora’s relationship. You can’t help but hate Flora in the beginning but by the end you’re almost as in love with her as Millie is (okay, not sure that’s possible actually). They got such cute and cliché romantic moments and they were TO DIE for. Twentybiteen is giving us such sapphic goodness!!!!

Anyway it’s been a while since a full-on gush review and I usually don’t really review audiobooks because those are the books I read purely for fun without reviewing in mind, but I couldn’t not talk about this. I went into it only for a good sapphic time and it never ever disappointed me.

I do want to say that if you’re expecting this to be completely realistic you should maybe change your mindset a little before you start reading. Yes, we all know there is no queen of Scotland and therefore no princess of Scotland. Maybe the blurb should make it more clear that it’s a fictional/alternate Scotland, but that’s hardly the first book series that does something like this. Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never been and I have no ties to Scotland, but I understand not liking the idea of changing things for the sake of the book. You do you and while it never bothered me I wanted to mention this aspect.

Another brief note for those who want to read this but haven’t read the first book in the series yet, go for it! I haven’t read book one either and as you can see I loved this book. It follows different characters and we do get to see the protagonists from the first installment (one of which is Flora’s older brother), but the book pretty much explains everything and we’re not left wondering who these people are. And if you’ve read book one and want to see them again, well read this book!

In conclusion, I don’t think this book is perfect, and if it hadn’t been f/f maybe I wouldn’t have liked it so much, but as you can see I loved it so much and I had such a good time reading it. I 100% recommend it to everyone!

TWs: mentions of loss of a parent in the past, mention of casual homophobia (“it’s just a phase”), several instances of “more than friends”(not challenged), sort of cheating (not the main couple).

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Audiobook Review: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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Summary: Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution.  As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and DuneThe Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.

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★★★.5✩

This is one of those books I would’ve never read if it wasn’t for the audiobook so I’m glad I had this experience. The narrators are great but I didn’t know how to feel about the story for the first 30% maybe, although there were enough elements to keep me interested so I kept listening.

Once it got to a certain point it became more of a travel fantasy (yes it’s a space opera but to be honest there’s not that much space) I started to enjoy it more, but bear with me: this book is truly disgusting. If you’re squeamish you need to stay away from this book. It has body horror and gore on every page and it takes place on worlds/ships that are rotting cephalopods. The book doesn’t make things nice for you, it just tells them like they are. Also stay away if you’re bothered by pregnancies and reading about giving birth and not in the “omg such a beautiful thing” way. Basically don’t read it if even the mention of bodily fluids makes you go “eww”.

It’s definitely not something I would have wanted to read otherwise but I was in it for the all female, all lesbian cast, and although I wouldn’t say there’s actually a romance (nothing I would call healthy anyway), there’s a really messed up f/f/f love triangle (but one could argue it’s more of a love square) where one of them (at least one of them?) is the villain. Another aspect I loved was the main character having lost her memory and see her on her (not only metaphorical) journey to regain it, alongside a strange and unlikely group of women that were really what kept me listening even when I was confused (and I was confused a lot).

Would I recommend this if you’re able to handle the stuff I warned you about? Probably only if you’re a big scifi/space opera/fantasy reader, or if you’re as invested in stories about lesbians as I am, or if you want to try reading outside of your comfort zone. So basically, yes.

TWs: extreme gore, violence, cannibalism, death, birth, memory loss

Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

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Summary:

Set in a darkly glamorous world, The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous but thrilling adventure.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

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★★★✩

I had a hard time trying to come up with a rating with this before even trying to write a review, so I’ll just get straight to the point: I listened to this and I usually can follow audiobooks very well. (If you’ve read my Audiobook Guide, you know this by now, and you’ll probably laugh at me for this. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it and then come back so you can laugh at me.) I’ve listened to fantasy books with worldbuildings supposedly more complicated than this one and felt like I understood them with no problems. And yet, listening to this I felt like I was lost half of the time. Part of it I’m sure is due to the fact that I didn’t like the male narrator – while he can do dialogues and voices splendidly, he’s always so….monotone and boring when actually narrating. And since he had most of the worldbuilding to do (because of Séverin’s POV), that was a big deal that made me not enjoy this/not understand this as much as I would’ve liked. But seeing as I had similar problems with the other narrator, which I liked much more, makes me think that the book itself was confusing too.

The pacing and amount of action was also not for me. I usually prefer slower books where I get to know the characters slowly and everything builds up to a big action-y thing, but not before a good 200 pages of build-up in which I actually get to care about what’s going on and I am able to familiarize myself with the stakes and consequences if things go wrong. In this book, I felt like one action scene was followed by another, and this, on top of my problems being able to follow the audio, threw me off things.

I also feel like there was a disconnect between how I felt about the characters for like, 80% of the book and how I felt about them by the end. I definitely loved the found family element in this and I think the squad + Hypnos are going to be a lot of people’s new favorites, but I hard a hard time getting invested. It’s not that I didn’t care about them, but I couldn’t stop seeing them as very arbitrarily constructed archetypes that had to make up just the perfect recipe in order for the reader to fall for them. No, I’m not trying to go the “let’s compare every trait of every TGW characters to every trait of Six Of Crows characters” route, because while I definitely would recommend this books to SoC fans, such a trait-by-trait comparison has been done before and I don’t think that’s a very kind thing to do to an author. These are Roshani Chokshi’s characters, but they only started to feel like actual people to me at the end of the book.

And what an ending this book has. I might not have known what was going on most of the book but BOI did the entire ending shook me to my core. That’s where I saw the characters come truly alive for the first time, and everything about it made me want to jump right into the next book. Which, you know, won’t be out for at least another year, which is totally. fine. Yep. Most definitely. f i n eJUST KIDDING I kind of need it right now.

Another thing I loved is the casual diversity and how everyone’s identity is fleshed out and is fully part of them. Because of the problems I had following the book and because so many of these characters’ experiences (effects of colonialism, being biracial, being brown, being white-passing, not fitting in or being welcome in any of your cultures, etc) aren’t in any way similar to my own, I don’t feel like I can properly talk about them in depth, so I definitely encourage you to look for more reviews. For example, check out Mel’s review in which she talks more about Enrique’s character. All I can speak for myself is that I loved the fact that not one but TWO characters (Enrique and Hypnos) are bi/pan and that they’re kind of in a low-angst love triangle (which I’m hoping is going some kind of way *coughs*polyam triangle*coughs* in book two but WE’LL SEE).

Overall I can say that I definitely liked a lot of elements in this but I also feel like I didn’t get the best experience I possibly could out of this, and I can’t gauge how much of that is actually the book’s fault, which frustrates me to no end. I’m going with a 3 stars rating for now, but I WILL reread before the next book comes out and this time I’ll get my hands on a paper or digital copy, since the audiobook didn’t work for me.

6 Reasons To Read: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant // mermaids, but terrifying

I don’t usually feel like I can review audiobooks. Most of the time, I read them for my own pleasure without thinking about writing a review after I’m done with them. However, I loved Into the Drowning Deep so much that I thought I couldn’t possibly not talk about it.

This is still not a review but I’m trying out this format for the first time and I’m hoping to use it in the future for other audiobooks too!

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The casual and effortless diversity. If anyone goes “oh diversity nowadays is so forced” I’ll just throw this book in their faces. Seriously, this is a brilliant example of an adult book that is not about any particular identity, the characters just are, but at the same time their identity is important to them and is fully part of their character, it’s never forgotten or brushed aside and I think the author does a great job of giving each marginalized character their own agency and analyzing the way that their identity plays into that and their action.

A non-comprehensive list of identities includes: bisexual MC, autistic lesbian LI, Hawaiian rep, a character with chronic pain, a Latino character, two deaf twins who use ASL.

Scientific research added a new fascinating layer to mermaids. If you like science and facing in a more scientific way, you will like this. Mermaids are treated like the scientific mystery they are and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Think of what we’d do as scientists if we ever came face to face with aliens from space: this is what this book does with mermaids, because they’re just as alien.

The atmosphere is terrifying. If you think mermaids are lovely sea creatures made for soft romances and fun adventures, think again. Or rather, they can be, but this book will make you reconsider how you think of the sea and its creatures. But if you’re like me, it also won’t make you scared of anything too tangible. Unless you live very close to the deep sea. Or are reading it while on a cruise. Then I would recommend reading it when you’re far, far away from the ocean.

It has so many POVs and it’s never confusing. I know some people don’t like many POVs in their books, but I personally have a weird love for the most obscure POVs that are only there for one chapter and then never again. I don’t know, I think they are kind of a way for me to see if the author is really good: if you make me love a 3-pages POV, you’re a writing genius. Most POVs here are the main characters but there were a few random ones that were just the best, whether they were bloodcurdling or jaw-droppingly beautiful.

• It’s as much tension-driven as it is character-driven. I want more horror books to be like this. The tension is always present, even when you think the characters can relax a little you know things won’t stay calm for long. This book also has probably one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve ever read, I still get chills just from thinking about it. But it’s also a book that focuses a lot on the different characters and their relationships to each other, whether professional or personal. It’s basically the best of two worlds.

It has so many themes it’s hard to even begin listing them. Some of the prevalent ones are environmentalism, the relationship that humans have with nature, the way abled people often behave towards disabled people, and of course scientific research and what we’re willing to do for the sake of knowledge. But there are so many other social, ethical and philosophical themes that are mentioned even just in passing, maybe just in a sentence or two, and they still hit you like a punch in the gut. But like, in a good way.

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What are your favorite not-too-scary horror books? Have you read Into the Drowning Deep

 

All I Learned About Audiobooks: A Guide

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In January 2018  I started listening to audiobooks. If someone had told me before that that I’d not only end up liking them, but that I would rely on them as much as I’ve done this past year, I wouldn’t have believed them.

One year later, I’ve read a total of about 40 audiobooks and I’ve collected a few general thoughts on them that I thought I’d share so everyone who’s still uncertain can decide whether this format might work for them too. Also let me point out that these are just some of the things I noticed that work for me, we’re all different and what works for me might not work for everybody.

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Why audiobooks?

  • You’re a slow reader: finish a book faster by finding a playing speed that works for you (and even work your way towards higher speeds).
  • You’re in a reading slump: try switching the format by listening to an audiobook, it might just be the thing to take you out of your slump.
  • You need glasses to read but you’re doing a face mask and you can’t wear your glasses: oddly specific AND YET I bet y’all have in been in this situation.

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  • You have a long commute: whether by car or by train/bus/tram, you can get a lot of reading done that way.
  • You’re “too tired to read”: sometimes that just means you have to rest your eyes and use your ears instead.

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  • You have problems focusing/ADD/ADHD: audiobooks seem scary for those of us who have problems concentrating (I don’t have a diagnosis yet but I’m probably ADHD myself), but once you find a way to keep yourself focused (I’ll talk about this in the next category), listening to audiobooks actually helps you not get distracted as much as you do while reading on a page.

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  • You need motivation to do chores: this works best if you stick to listening to audiobooks almost exclusively while you do chores instead of listening to them in your free time. You have no idea how much I hate washing the dishes, but sometimes while I’m in the middle of a good audiobook I find myself looking forward to it because I know I’ll be listening to it while doing it (pro tip: use headphones if you’re doing “loud” chores, with running water etc.)

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  • Sometimes the performance adds to enjoyment of the book: a good narrator can make a book a thousand times better. They can give a totally different vibe to a book and even make your rating go up one or two stars compared to your rating if you’d only read it.
  • If you’re not in love with a particular genre but you still want to read a specific book: okay hear me out, I tend to postpone reading books I know are going to be on the more action-y side or have elements that I personally don’t care much about. But if I know from other reviews that they also have great characters, great relationships, etc, I found that listening to them doesn’t make me dread the parts that I normally wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about. Example: The Disasters.

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How to read audiobooks?

  • Fast or slow: this totally depends on factors only you know, like your knowledge of the language you’re listening to, and how used you are to listening to books on faster speeds. All listening speeds are valid and it doesn’t matter if you listen on 0.75x or 2.5x speed as long as you’re enjoying it. Pro tip: you don’t have to listen to the whole book at the same speed! You can slow down on dialogues or parts you feel are more important and speed up in action scenes or descriptions.

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  • While playing a casual puzzle game: this is what I mostly use when I want to focus and I’m not doing a repetitive chore. I have trouble focusing unless I’m doing something with my hands that doesn’t require a lot of effort. I like playing some sort of Tetris game on my phone, sometimes I switch it up by playing different things like Dots or Bejeweled, but you could play Candy Crush or Bubbles…there’s a lot of choice out there.
  • With a coloring book: this serves the same purpose of the previous point. I haven’t done this since this summer but sometimes I’m just tired of phone games (or my phone/iPad needs charging lol). There’s lots of coloring books whether it’s for adults or for kids (I don’t judge) so just find something you like. I personally prefer sticking to abstract figures but you do you boo. I know my friends who are artists like to draw while listening so that might be something worth thinking about if you’re good at that.

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    • With headphones: this is obvious on train/bus/etc but I find it helps at home too, especially while doing chores with running water or if you have to go from one room to another. Bluetooth headphones work best for this so you’re free to move around (AirPods users now it’s your time to shine, if you can actually find them).

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Which types of books work best?

  • Action-packed: a good narrator will make the scene come alive and if you’re like me and like action scenes but can’t for the life of you picture what’s going on when you read on a page, audiobooks are a great help. Example: all the Rick Riordan books, Kingdom of Ash, Six of Crows.

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  • “Slow” books with lots of character development: sometimes it’s easy to get impatient with a slow book although we’re enjoying it. Audiobooks make the slower parts go by faster (just adjust the speed) and they give more depth to the internal monologues. Example: Nine Perfect Strangers.
  • Rereads: this is one of my favorite use of audiobooks. Rereading feels like I’m wasting my time sometimes (which is NOT true!!! but I feel like my TBR is judging me), but if I listen to it I know that I’m much faster and I don’t feel as guilty. It’s also incredibly enjoyable to go back to a world you loved and experience it in a different format.
  • Extremely long books: this ties back to the fact that you’re most likely reading faster if you’re on audio. It’s scary to look at how many hours the book will last, but if you’re on 2x speed the book will be half the length. Example: Kingdom of Ash.

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  • Honestly? Any book. I haven’t read all kinds of them and a lot will depend on the narrator or the subject of the book, but I see no reason to exclude any category or genre, you just have to find what works for you.

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Cons of audiobooks?

  • Can’t see words/names on page: this is especially frustrating when you’re reading fantasy or reading in a second language and hearing a lot of new names of people or places. It makes it awkward to write a review or chat about it with online friends, because sometimes you just don’t know how to spell things.
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idk I just really wanted to add a Runaan gif. isn’t he beautiful?
  • Beautiful prose gets lost, can’t highlight without a visual version: sure, you can bookmark the spot you’re on if you’re on Audible, but unless you also own an ebook or printed version it’ll be awkward to write down a quote whether it’s for your future reference for a review or just because you enjoyed that particular sentence.
  • They’re expensive: there’s little going around this, audiobooks are expensive. If you’re lucky you have a library near you that lets you borrow them and use apps like Libby, but that’s not the case for most of us internationals. I like my audible subscription because I feel that it lets me make the most out of my money, but it’s still very expensive and I know it’s not for everyone.
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with a little bit of poetic licence I’m using cabbages as a metaphor for money
  • No time to process emotional scenes: especially if you’re going fast, it might be hard to remember to pause while you’re in the middle of something Big going on in the book because you want to know what comes next. This can make it so that some of the dramatic moments get lost among the sea of information being thrown at you at 2x speed. I personally like to take a moment to cry or at least process that something dramatic has happened while I’m reading, but it can be hard to do with audios.

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  • You might not like narrator: a narrator can make or break a book. I haven’t found many bad narrators and the few I did find haven’t made it impossible to enjoy the book, but that’s because they were rereads of books I already knew and loved. Definitely always try to check out a sample of the book (Audible has 5-minutes samples for every book) and sort reviews in a way that shows you the ratings of the performance. If you feel like a particular narrator might turn you off an otherwise good book, maybe it might be worth giving the paper or digital version a try instead.

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Where to start?

  • Rereads: these are probably the easiest books to get into if you’re still uncertain whether audiobooks are for you or not. Think about that one book you’ve been postponing rereading for ages and just try it out! I would, however, suggest avoiding your favorite books, the ones you’ve reread 1000 times, where every line of dialogue already has a specific tone and feel to it, because it will inevitably be different when the narrator reads it.
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look at him being smarter than you and me
  • Tales: I don’t know how to categorize this but my first audiobook ever was Norse Mythology and it made me feel like when my mom read to me before bed when I was little. It just felt like something meant to be read out loud and it made me fall in love with audiobooks in general. It doesn’t have to be this book in particular but try to find something that gives you the feel of fairy tales or mythology and that you’re interested in and that you might think it’s meant to read out loud by a fire or something like that.

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A few quick recs of personal favorite audiobooks with great performances:

✨ Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant ✨

✨ Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty ✨

✨ Far from the Tree by Robin Benway ✨

✨ Sadie by Courtney Summers ✨

✨ The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas ✨

✨ Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman ✨

✨ The Disasters by M.K. England ✨

✨ The whole PJO series by Rick Riordan ✨

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So that’s it for this guide! I hope you enjoyed it and if it was useful to you please leave me a comment because I love feeling like I helped!

I’m also just casually dropping my Ko-Fi here and pretending to slowly walk away in a way that lets you know I don’t really care if you click on the button or not but it would also made my day.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Audiobook mini review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Summary: Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

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★★★★

This was my first audiobook EVER and I don’t think I could have chosen a better one to start with. I don’t know how to review myths and stuff but Gaiman’s retelling was so good and it gave life to these silly and scary and traitorous and petty and clever gods.

If you already know your Norse mythology you would probably still enjoy this a lot, but for a complete newbie like me this was amazing and the audiobook format only made everything more right. It reminded me of my mom telling me about the Greek myths when I was a kid, and that’s how myths were originally narrated before people started writing them down.

I’m so so happy to have read this and I cried at the very end because I wished to never finish listening to Neil Gaiman’s voice. I don’t know how you can feel nostalgic of something you’ve finished twenty minutes before, but this book has made me laugh and cry and it has opened a whole new world (or nine) to me and I will always love it and cherish the time I’ve spent with it.


Have you read this or anything by Neil Gaiman? What else should I read by him?