Tag Archives: fantasy

Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre:  Young Adult
Rating: 5/5

Why I picked it: Never read anything by the author before and this was a bargain book.

Synopsis: Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice. Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward? This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

(Mini) Review: Let me begin by saying that I was totally hooked on this book about 5 pages in, and it’s very rare for me to be so into a book so quickly. Having read nothing from the author before, I was very pleasantly surprised by the subject matter of this book, as well as the create world-building.

Elizabeth Hall is dead. Instead of ending up in a heaven-like world where one lives on a cloud and is surrounded by angels, Liz finds herself in a world called Elsewhere that mirrors Earth but isn’t exactly the place that she had left behind.  I found Zevin’s interpretation of what happens after you die to be really original. Part of the reason why this book was such a page turner for me was because of how much I wanted to know about this world.

For a long while, Elizabeth is really depressed and accepting of her status as a member of the deceased. The struggles she goes through are just what one would expect of a person who died to young – never being able to grow up and enjoy all that life awaits them.I felt like I was there with Liz on her emotional journey of denial and acceptance.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. The story works, and the supporting characters really do a wonderful job of really building Liz up as she learns acceptance. Although a book about death, “Elsewhere” brings a refreshingly positive outlook to life, in general, which is always something I enjoy.

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Review: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Title: The Replacement
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Publisher: Razor Bill
Genre:  YA, Fantasy, Paranormal, Suspense
Rating: 4/5

Why I picked it: Loved the cover and wanted a more “Halloween”-ish read.

Synopsis: Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

Review: Even before I heard of “The Replacement,” I was intrigued by Brenna Yovanoff after reading about her upcoming book “The Space Between.” After seeing the cover for “The Replacement,” I knew I had to read it and what better time to do so than during the Halloween season?

The story centers on Mackie, who is a replacement (changeling – the baby of two mystical creatures like faeries or goblins). Although left in the crib to a new family, Mackie is embraced by his human family and loved as if he was their born son. Their love, though, cannot stop Mackie from feeling as if he doesn’t belong. It also cannot stop him from slowly dying in the human world.

While the theme of love and family is strong in this book, it never comes across as cheesy or pandering to the YA-set. The bonds between Mackie, his parents, and his sister, feel natural. It’s a kind of relief to read a story where there is a positive relationship between the protagonist and those forces in his life. I especially loved Emma, Mackie’s sister – who is thoughtful and protective of her special younger brother, yet does so in an authentic way that mirrors an actual relationship between two siblings.

The other strong theme of “coming of age” has a darker twist to it, due to Mackie’s background and the conflicts contained in the book, but it still…works. He’s easy to relate to and seemed to me more of a tragic figure than most other heroes in YA books. The other plus is that I did not find him at all annoying, which tends to happen sometimes when I read YA (a tell-tale sign I am old)!

Although it can be dark at times, “The Replacement” doesn’t lack funny moments, and is brimming with positive relationships.   Due to some sexual descriptiveness and language, this may be better for the 15+ set but – as I am a prime example of – really has appeal across the age pool. I loved this book and now am even more excited to Brenna Yovanoff’s “The Space Between.”

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Genre:  YA, Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Why I picked it: Love the concept of a story motivated by found pictures. Plus…AWESOME cover appeal.

Synopsis:  A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

Review: From the very moment I happened to stumble upon this book on Amazon, I was intrigued. The cover is fantastic and gives off such a spooky air that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. Although I went into it expecting horror and got fantasy…I was not at all disappointed.

Ransom Riggs collects “found” photos. These old, and often super creepy, pictures are the inspiration behind this novel, which incorporates those images with a fantastical tale about a teenage boy trying to find his place in life.

Jacob has grown up listening to his grandfather’s stories about an island on which there is a school filled with “peculiar” children who all have different special talents. When old enough to dismiss such fantastical ideas as magic, Jacob decides to take his grandfather’s stories with a grain of salt – that is, until tragedy strikes and our hero realizes there might have been some truth behind it all. The story follows Jacob as he attempts to uncover the hidden secrets of his grandfather’s life – with a lot of humor and descriptive language peppered throughout.

I must admit this book hooked me really fast and the author’s build-up of events kept me reading well past my bedtime. I loved how the photos were incorporated into the text – with descriptions preceding actual pictures. I found myself really excited to turn the page and see what the described characters looked like. I also really enjoyed that these seemingly scary pictures were turned into something more innocent via the story. Instead of scared, I found myself fascinated by the photos.

One thing I did not care for was how the story builds up to a sequel (which has already been announced). In plain terms, there is more of a lack of resolution than I usually like. Don’t get me wrong, I like to read a series but I especially like to read a series where a book can stand alone. While this one can, it’s teetering on that edge of the unknown. And as a totally random side note, I actually thought to myself as I read “Hey! There’s not many pages left and it seems like too much is still open ended. But they’d have a hard time making this a series, unless they have many pictures of same individuals or enough pictures that kind of obscure the subject’s face.”

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read and I liked the format and the imaginative story. I would highly recommend this book, but be forewarned – if you like an ending wrapped in a neat and tidy bow, you will likely be disappointed.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre:  Fiction
Rating: 3/5

Why I picked it: Loved the premise from the get-go.

Synopsis: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Review: I know I am going to reflect the minority here but I did not love the book as much as I wanted to. Maybe it was the repeated hype and build-up, or maybe it was my own excitement, but I really expected a lot out of this book and it did not deliver.

First of all, it took me about 100 pages to get into the book, which was longer than anticipated. I kept reading but it took me a while to get into the energy and flow of the back-and-forth dialogue enough to be truly excited about picking it back up.  While the writing and description were wonderful, the characters struck me as rather bland.  I felt this especially about Marco and Celia, who – as two of the more magical people – could have been focused on more, and given more time in the book. The whole storyline is centered on this competition that both Marco and Celia are unwilling participants in. Instead of pity or empathy, I could offer no emotions for the two protagonists as they did not come off as tangible people. I understand this is supposed to be “magical” but what good is magic if there is no element to tie it to the reader?

My favorites, by far, were the secondary characters – Bailey, Herr Thiessen, Poppet and Widget, and Tsukiko. The colorfulness of these characters, added to the overwhelming blandness of the gray mood of the circus as a whole. While we get bits and pieces of their overlapping stories, Morgenstern chooses to do so in a disjointed time-frame that is often confusing. Her narrative jumps forwards and backwards, but there is really very little reason for her to employ this technique, as the general flow of the story is very linear.

My absolutely favorite thing about this book was the imaginative scenery and the circus as a whole. The smells, sights, and sounds of it were so beautifully explained, that I could almost smell caramel apple as I sat reading it. The many different tents that were a part of the circus were so creative and wonderful that I found myself longing to be a part of that world. The ice garden, in particular, was so beautifully explained. I loved that this book made me imagine the circus so vividly. While the descriptions help, it left just enough out that I am sure my version of the ice garden is different from that of anyone else.

I would recommend this book to other readers who love a fairy-tale like story but are not looking for too much emotional involvement or character substance. I have heard that the rights to the movie version of “The Night Circus” have already been bought and I think that is fantastic! The book is so visual, that I just hope that the studio who will be responsible can do it justice.