Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category
Born in Ireland in 1828, Fitz-James O’Brien moved to the United States in 1852 after running through most of his inherited fortune. Once in the USA, he made a living writing for a variety of publications, like the New Yorker and Harper’s. He also wrote short fiction, and Hesperus Press Limited recently rereleased a collection of his work.
The Diamond Lens and Other Stories contains three creepy gems: the eponymously named Diamond Lens, featuring a scientist’s obsession with a microcosmic world, originally published in 1858; The Wondersmith, a revenge story with soulless mannequins and interesting romantic message, first published 1859; and last of all What Was It, an invisible monster story that predates The Invisible Man and other stories with similar concepts, as it was published in 1859.
If you like Edgar Allen Poe, and macabre stories, this is a collection for you. Early science fiction and fantasy is fascinating both for the sheer creativity but also the worldview it gives to the time period it was published.
On a side note, O’Brien joined the New York National Guard in 1961, after the Civil War broke out. He was wounded in action in February 1962, and died from his wounds later that year.
Title: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories
Author: Fitz-James O’Brien
Read: September 2012
Some books just feel timeless. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of those books. It could have been written during World War II (the same time period it’s set), although it was published in 2011. The language has a classic, poetic feel and the story is timeless.
Twelve-year old September is bored with her life in Omaha. Her mother works long hours for the war effort, and her father is abroad, serving his country. The Green Wind offers to take September on an adventure, and they head to Fairyland. Luckily September has the tools to save Fairyland.
September is a strong character, and the friends she makes add to the story. She faces real problems and has to find courage within herself. This is a great novel for children and young-at-heart readers who enjoy fairy tales, fantasy, and whimsical writing.
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Source: Purchased an e-version
Read: March 2012
Timeless starts up about two years after the end of Heartless. Alexia and her husband are still living in Lord Akeldama’s second-best closet to allow them to participate in their daughter, Prudence’s, upbringing with her adoptive vampire father. Life is normal for everyone, well, as normal as living with a toddler able to steal the magic of others temporary turn into, for example, a toddler vampire or tiny werewolf, can be.
But trouble is brewing, and Alexia is summoned to Alexandria. Why does the most powerful vampire in the world want to see Lady Maccon? And will the Egyptians know how to properly prepare tea?
Timeless brings the Parasol Protectorate series to a satisfying close while leaving enough room in the writing-sandbox for the new YA series involving Prudence. Major plot threads, like Alexia’s father, are resolved. Prudence is a delightful addition to the story, bringing humor to the story. Some of the supporting characters, like Biffy and Floote the Butler, play bigger roles to good effect.
Author: Gail Carriger.
Source: Purchased (E-book)
Read: February 2012
American Gods kicks off with the protagonist, Shadow, finishing his last few days in jail. He practices coin tricks, and thinks about how much he loves his wife, Laura. He’s getting out of jail in a few days with a job waiting, and of course Laura.
So when the prison warden calls Shadow into his office to tell him that Laura died in a car accident, Shadow’s world shatters. Released from prison early to attend the funeral, Shadow meets a man, Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, which he eventually convinces Shadow to take. Now Shadow is the errand boy for a god in the middle of a war between the old gods (think Norse mythology, Egyptian gods, and traditional stories) and new gods (like Media, and what gods could be created based on what our current society values).
As a fan of stories that transplant traditional folk tales and legends into modern settings, this is a natural book for me to read and appreciate. What we as a society believe and worship (whether in an organized fashion or through other means, like what we spend our free time or money consuming) is a fascinating, and multi-faceted, subject. American Gods touches on these concepts while also telling an engaging story.
Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source: Local Bookstore
Date read: January 2011
Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.
Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.
Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.
Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
When I was a teenager, I loved The Secret Circle trilogy by L.J. Smith. When I saw the show was being turned into a TV show, I was intrigued. Would I still love these book? Would my teenage self have approved of the adaptation?
Let me start by talking summarizing the plot of the books:
<b>Warning: massive spoilers ahead! Do NOT read if you plan to read the books!</b>
The story opens with sixteen-year old Cassie vacationing on Cape Cod. It’s a long way from her home in California. She saves a boy and his dog from four college age students with a gun, and she thinks she sees a silver cord connecting her to the boy she saves. He gives her good luck charm crystal, kisses her hand, and leaves. She never asks his name.
Cassie expects to go home to California, but instead her mother tells her they’re moving in with her grandmother in New Salem, Massachusetts. It’s a small town on an island, and Cassie is dismayed by the move for several reasons: she’s shy, and starting a new high school is daunting. Her grandmother’s house on Crow haven road is old and rundown, and on the first night she hears her mother and grandmother talking about a “sacrifice”.
On her first day of school, Cassie runs afoul of the queen mean girl in school, Faye, resulting in mean-spirited pranks like her locker being filled with raw meat. The principal doesn’t help her, and tells her the kids from Crowhaven road need to solve their problems amongst themselves.
The bullying comes to a head when Faye lures Cassie into the abandoned science building and holds a piece of burning paper to her face. Diana comes to her rescue, saving Cassie from Faye and becoming her friend in the process. Diana and Cassie feel drawn together, and decide to become adopted sisters.
Meanwhile, Cassie has learned the teenagers of Crowhaven road have a club, and she’s not invited to join. There’s going to be an initiation ceremony for Kori and Cassie swallows her jealousy and helps Diana prepare for Kori’s birthday. But then Cassie finds Kori on the bottom of some stairs at school, and she’s dead.
That night, Cassie is ‘kidnapped’ from her bedroom, and taken the beach. She’s initiated into the “club” in place of Kori since they need a twelfth member to finish their coven. Cassie finally finds out the truth: she’s from a long-line of witches. Her ancestors moved from Salem to form New Salem after the witch trials. Their parents aren’t that interested in witchcraft, but the teens have found several families “Book of Shadows” and are practicing magic.
As Cassie finds out the truth, the twelfth member of the club shows up after a long absence (he’s missed the first few weeks of school). It’s Diana’s boyfriend, Adam . . . and also the boy Cassie saved on the beach. Cassie pretends she’s never met him, and Adam plays along. Adam has big news: he’s found a powerful crystal skull that had belonged the original coven.
Within the coven, there’s a power struggled between Diana and Faye. Diana is currently the leader, but it’s only temporary until a permanent leadership vote will be called in November. Faye wants the coven to investigate the crystal skull right away, but Diana wants to take a slower, more measured approach. Diana ends up bowing to Faye’s pressure, and schedules a time for the coven to scry the skull.
When the cover scrys the skull, it releases a dark energy. Cassie has one of the strongest connections to the skull, able to see a door inside it and a grinning face. The next day, they find out their high school principal was crushed by a giant rock on the beach.
Adam escorts Cassie home after the coven scrys the skull, and makes him tell her why she’s been avoiding him. She tells him the truth: she loves him, but she knows it’s wrong because he belongs to Diana. Adam realizes he loves Cassie and they kiss for a while. They end up vowing they won’t show their attraction to each other and won’t betray Diana’s trust. They say good-bye.
The next day, Cassie gets a phone call from Faye and she goes to visit. Faye knows about what happened between Cassie and Adam, and blackmails Cassie. Cassie does what Faye demands, and finds the crystal skull. She decides she can’t give the skull to Faye, but the other girl has followed Cassie and takes the skull from her. They investigate the skull, releasing more dark energy.
Meanwhile, Adam ends up escorting Cassie to a school dance because Diana’s sick. They realize this is a terrible idea after their attraction to each other is too much and they kiss on the dance floor.
Cassie turns into the belle of the ball, but the night turns dark: she finds the school quarterback, who had been flirting with her earlier, strung up on a pipe in the school boiler room. He’s dead.
After a brief freakout, Cassie gets several coven members—Adam, Debrorah, and Nick—to trace the dark energy with her since she knows Jeffrey didn’t commit suicide. They track dark energy to the local graveyard, and see a dark shadowy shape. It rushes them and disappears. Cassie feels guilty because she knows the dark energy she and Faye secretly released are responsible for Jeffrey’s death.
Faye has continued blackmailing Cassie, and she forces Cassie to vote for Fay in the coven leadership vote. Once Faye is leader, she has Cassie get the skull from its hiding spot, and she casts a circle of the four elements (wind, water, fire, earth) and calls upon the skull. They fully release the dark energy, and the skull disappears. Several other things happen: a mound in the graveyard explodes; a dark sludgy type figure threatens Cassie’s mother and grandmother, leaving her mother in a catatonic state and triggering her grandmother to have a heart attack. As her grandmother dies, she tells Cassie that she alone has the power to defeat Black John, the shadowy figure, since their family was always the most powerful and had the clearest sight. Black John had managed to return to life in 1976, and formed a new coven of the current parents of Crowhaven road. They realized he was evil, and part of the coven fought against him. They managed to kill Black John, but everyone that fought him died in the process. She tries to tell Cassie something more, but she’s very weak and Cassie can’t make out what she says. She dies.
Cassie decides to stand up to Faye and stop being blackmailed. Faye tells Diana and the rest of the coven about Cassie and Adam, and about some of the things Cassie did while being blackmailed. She partly tells the truth, but strongly distorts the story.
Adam comes to Cassie’s rescue and tells the truth. He’s furious that Faye blackmailed Cassie, and makes everyone see the truth. Cassie mentions the silver cord. Diana forgives Cassie, and she’s about to say something about Cassie and Adam when Cassie interrupts. She begs Diana to give her a chance to show she can trust her. Diana agrees, and they two are back to being close friends.
Meanwhile, Black John has come back to life, and he’s their new school principal. Faye has gone to his side. He breaks the power of the club over the high school by creating hall monitors. School isn’t nearly as much for the students of Crowhaven road, and when Cassie gets in trouble, she realizes where the crystal skull has gone: it’s in Black John’s head. She also finds out that Black John is her father from when he came back to life in 1976.
They discover that Black John plans to act against them during a lunar eclipse. Even though the coven is united, they put on a disorganized front to Faye. Meanwhile, Cassie has found the coven’s “master tools”. The original coven hid the master tools from Black John since they’re very powerful.
The coven elect Cassie leader as they get ready to fight Black John. Cassie is ready to nominate Diana, but the fellow members of her coven talk about how Cassie is the strongest, and it’s true. Overtime, Cassie has become more confident and shows a lot of leadership skills.
Cassie leads them in their fight against Black John, and she figures out how to defeat him forever. Faye comes back to their side in the end.
After their victory, Diana tells Cassie that she knows Adam and Cassie are soul mates; the silver cord is legendary. She would have told them earlier except Cassie wanted to show Diana she could be trusted, and Diana thought it would be good for Cassie.
The book ends with the coven deciding what they should do in the future, and Cassie and Adam holding hands.
When I re-read this last week, I saw plot holes and such that I missed as a teen. But this is still fun escapist literature, especially if you ignore the lack of character depth in most of the characters. (For example, Diana is too perfect.)
Next up: summary of the TV show so far.
In September, I was on quite possibly the most miserable flight of my life. The one-week-shy of two years old child who sat on his mother’s lap next to me kicked me at least once every thirty seconds. (He also tried to steal my food and book.) Their dog escaped from his kennel partway through his flight and I ended up holding it on my lap for a couple of hours. The flight attendant spilt apple juice on my three times.
(Seriously—who only buys one seat when she’s traveling with both a two year old and dog? And who doesn’t bring food for a child on a six+-hour flight? Okay, rant over.)
Luckily I had something to escape to while flying—Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. The book begins as we meet Karou, an art student in Prague with an interesting home life. Karou was raised by a chimera, Brimstone. She doesn’t know where she came from or who her parents are. She runs errands for Brimstone and his companions, going into the human world in exchange for receiving beads that allow her to make wishes.
While on a mission, Karou comes across an angel. This meeting turns her entire world upside down. I won’t say anymore since I don’t want to spoil the plot. The very wonderful, engaging plot with interesting characters. The sort of novel that whisks you away into its own world and you’re sad to leave when you come to the final pages.
Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Source: Gift from Friend
Read: August 2011
Private investigator Harper Blaine dies for two minutes, and after being resuscitated she becomes a greywalker. She can see into the grey, a sort of alternate plane for ghosts and other paranormal creatures that go bump in the night. When she takes on a case to find missing college student, her investigation takes her into the world of vampires.
Greywalker is a good choice for adult fans of paranormal fiction. The private investigator set-up works quite well, as it gives Harper skills to adapt to her changing world, while also giving her reasons to dig into other people’s problems. Plus the concept of being PI for the weird? Brilliant. At times the explanations of the grey get a little wordy as both Harper and the reader learn about the grey.
Author: Kat Richardson
Source: Public Library
Read: September 2011
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children took me by surprise. By the back cover copy, I thought it would more of a ghost story with maybe some light horror type elements. It’s actually a fantasy novel along the lines of an X-Men type story with no technology and a little more magic.
In the present day, teenage Jacob loses his World War II grandfather to what police and his parents call a vicious dog attack. Jacob knows this isn’t true, as he found his grandfather and saw the hideous monster responsible for the attack. Jacob falls apart, and eventually his father takes him to a Welsh island for six weeks. The island is interesting to both Jacob and his father. To his father, it’s a birdwatchers paradise. For Jacob, it’s a chance to research his grandfather’s past, as his grandfather was evacuated from Poland to an orphanage on this island during World War II.
Jacob’s grandfather showed both his son and grandson photos of ‘peculiar’ children, like a girl floating a few inches off of the ground. He told them tall tales of his life in the orphanage before he enlisted in the Army. As Jacob finds the bombed-out orphanage, he realizes that maybe those tails weren’t quite as tall as he’d assumed.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a great novel for both older middle-grade and younger YA readers. There’s a little romance but it’s inline with novels like Rick Riordan’s Olympian series. The old photos add a nice visual touch to the novel. This is clearly the first novel in a series, with an end that clearly sets up the adventure for the following books.
Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Source: Nook e-book
Read: August 2011
Sixteen-year old Pearl is the youngest vampire in a powerful family. When she’s getting a “snack” at the local Dairy Hut, she sees a unicorn. Which is a surprise to her, since unicorns don’t exist. She doesn’t take the unicorn seriously, a bad miscalculation since the unicorn stakes her in the back.
Pearl awakes the next day in the not-so-loving arms of her family. Instead of dying, Pearl can now walk in the daylight and more shockingly – she develops a conscience. Of course, she ends up going to high school, and a high-stakes adventure ensues.
Drink Slay Love is campy, kitschy, funny . . . in short, a great summer read. It made me laugh out loud, like when Pearl sarcastically says that unicorns poop rainbows. It pokes fun at other YA vampire novels. Durst adds lots of amusing details, like vampires learning about high school by watching John Hughes movies, and Pearl’s analysis of high school based on hunting and war theories.
Title: Drink Slay Love
Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Source: Publisher E-Galley
Read: August 2011