Category Archives: Fantasy

Short Review: Saga Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

vaughanSaga Volume 2

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

153 pages

Published in June 2013 by Image Comics

Source: Publisher

 

In the second volume of Saga, one of my favorite literary couples is back.  Marko and Alana, two lovers from warring territories are still on the run with their infant daughter, Hazel, from assassins. During the last few pages of the first volume, readers were introduced to Marko’s parents who mysteriously appeared on their ship.  Now, readers are learning more about Marko’s childhood, how the young couple met, while meeting even more fantastical creatures in this strange galaxy.

I wasn’t planning on reading the latest volume just yet but once I read the first page, I didn’t want to stop. I’m not going to write anything more about the plot because what makes this series special is the fact that it’s not a typical “star-crossed lovers” situation. It’s better and there’s so much more to this story.  While there is some movement forward for the couple, volume 2 is more of a back story but it’s worth reading.

Fiona Staples is such a talented artist. The creatures featured in both volumes, the look of Alana and Marko . . .all of it. I think she is definitely the perfect artist to illustrate this series. I have an egalley of this book so I can’t show you what I’m talking about but it’s all so original. I have just two problems with this volume and one has to do with the cover. The cover doesn’t fit the story at all. The cover for the first volume was so eye-catching, you wanted to pick it up. This cover is pretty blah. My second problem is that I wish the volume was much longer! Now I have to wait for the next volume.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good read but I still enjoyed the first volume more. My rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars.

Graphic Novel Review: Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite

Barry Deutsch

128 pages

Published in October 2012 by Abrams Books

Source: Publisher

Mirka is at it again in Barry Deutsch’s latest Hereville book, How Mirka Met a Meteorite. In the first book, Mirka wants to fight a dragon. But after many twists and turns, including a duel with a troll, it didn’t happen. Now she just wishes that she had a villain to fight. When a troll sends a meteorite to the witch’s house, Mirka saves the day (and Hereville) by warning the witch just in time. Unfortunately, the witch transformed the meteorite into Mirka’s double. The new Mirka is faster and better at just about everything than Mirka. Sharing Mirka’s life isn’t good enough. One of them has to go.  Will it be Mirka?

Mirka is definitely one of my favorite middle grade characters. In case you haven’t read the first book, Hereville is a village of Orthodox Jews. Readers see Mirka and her family celebrating the Sabbath, find out rules about non-relatives touching, and more in a way that never bogs down the story but enlightens it. Hereville fills a space in literature. Before reading the first book, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with an Orthodox Jewish girl as the main character especially not in a graphic novel. The emphasis is never on the religion but on Mirka. She’s an average girl who dreams of being of hero and doesn’t find it out of the ordinary when she finds herself talking to trolls, fighting a talking pig, or seeing magic performed by the witch who lives on the outskirts of the village. In her view, anything is better than learning how to knit.

Sometimes when you read a fantastic first book in a series, you often wonder how the next book will stand up.  How Mirka Met a Meteorite was just as good as the first book though I do have to say that I miss the talking pig. The book starts out with Mirka still being grounded after her last adventure with the troll. After getting off of punishment, Mirka’s stepmother Fruma tells her that whenever she needs to make a decision, she should imagine the person that she wants to become and ask “what would that person do?”. That advice is one of the reasons why I really love the Fruma character. She’s one of the many strong and opinionated female characters in the book.

Since I had an advance reading copy, the artwork and coloring wasn’t finished but it didn’t take away at all from the story. The story stands on its own. Not every graphic novel can say that.

How Mirka Met a Meteorite is a fantastic book with a spunky protagonist. I waited a year for this book. I hope the next story in the series comes out soon. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

You can find a preview of the book on the author’s site here.

If you’re still unsure about the series, you can find my review of the first book here.

Banned Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver

Lois Lowry

180 pages

Republished in 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Company

Source: Public Library

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. . .

I had to review this book for Banned Books Week. The Giver is a book that I’ve read as a seventh-grader and loved. It’s one of those books that I push on my younger sisters, who are now seventh graders, in the way that only a crazed bookworm can. I haven’t read The Giver since middle school, so when I picked it up; I wondered if I would love it as much as I once did.

Within the first few paragraphs, readers realize that Jonas’s world is very different from our own. An airplane flies over the community Jonas lives in, frightening not only the young boy but every person around. Airplanes aren’t a part of their everyday lives. But then, things like choosing your spouse or occupation aren’t a part of that life either.

When Jonas turns twelve he, like all the other twelve year-olds, learns what their occupation will be for the rest of their lives. But Jonas is different. Instead of being chosen to be an engineer or teacher, he learns that he’s been selected to become the next Receiver of Memory. It’s a job of high honor but little power. Jonas is to receive the memories of others who lived generations ago. That way, those memories aren’t a burden to the rest of the community and no one else needs to experience anything but the most ordinary life. During his training, Jonas learns of war and love, happiness and hope. But can Jonas go back to living his life as it once was without these things?

I’m glad to say that The Giver is just as powerful to me now as it was when I was twelve. I was surprised about how much of this book came back to as I read. After Jonas receives the memory of war and sees his friends playing it as game, he freaks out. Of course his friends have no idea what war is but Jonas does, and it sinks in how there’s so much this group will never know. Lowry’s writing is simple and the story gives readers just enough details to understand Jonas and the community he lives in. I can’t wait to read the last three books in this series.

The Giver is #23 on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of Banned and Challenged Books of 2000-2009. The book has been challenged (someone has asked it to be removed from library shelves) or banned several times since its publication. It’s always been by parents who don’t like the ambiguous ending or the community’s method of dealing with troubled people, the elderly, and infants who aren’t thriving.

If you haven’t read The Giver, I think you should. My rating: 5 out of 5.

Review: Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor Lavalle

Lucretia and the Kroons: A Novella

Victor Lavalle

99 pages

Published in July 2012 by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House

Source: Publisher

Most twelve-year-olds don’t know much about death, and that’s the way it should be. But a handful get the knowledge too soon. You can see it in their eyes, a sliver of sorrow floating in the iris, visible even at the happiest of times. Those kids have encountered that enemy, too soon and will always bear its scars. . .

Lucretia and the Kroons is a frightening story about the power of friendship and love between two young girls. Lucretia, known as Loonie, has just turned twelve and wishes she could celebrate with her best friend, Sunny. Sunny’s suffering from cancer so her treatments, along with her frail health, have kept the girls apart for months. When Loonie is finally able to see Sonny, tragedy strikes and it will take everything that Loonie is made of to bring her friend back from the grips of death.

I find it amazing what Victor Lavalle has managed to do with less than a hundred pages. During the first few pages of Lucretia and the Kroons, you would think this is just a normal story about kids. The novella is set in present-day New York City in an old apartment building.  Loonie has just finished celebrating her twelfth birthday with three girls that she really don’t care for, wishing that Sunny was there instead. When Loonie’s older brother, Louis, tells her the story of the Kroons, a family of drug addicts that lived two stories above, and used to snatch children or worse, slowly the horror rolls in and readers learn that there is so much hidden behind this façade of normalcy. But isn’t that what great horror shows us? Peel back even a few layers of the everyday world and underneath is something almost unrecognizable.

The Kroons are a frightful bunch who lives between the world of the living and a sort of urban purgatory. Loonie’s battle with them to find Sonny and bring her back is fantastical and eye-opening. I love how Loonie is a child. She only has a child’s knowledge of the world around her and readers see that there’s so much she doesn’t know. Loonie isn’t like some of the kids I’ve been reading about in other books where they’re basically adults in child form.

My only problem with this book is the ending. Lavalle should have deleted one of the last paragraphs. It’s supposed to be a bridge to his latest book, The Devil in Silver, but it feels more like an afterthought.

Even with the less-than-awesome ending, I highly recommend Lucretia and the Kroons. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

There’s an excellent short post about how Victor Lavelle got the idea for the book on Everyday eBook. You should check it out.

This review is part of the week-long celebration called A More Diverse Universe. To read other reviews, click here.

Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
352 pages
Published in June 2012 by Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Step Day. Fifteen years ago. Joshua had been just thirteen.
Later, everybody remembered where they were on Step Day. Mostly they were in the shit.

What would you do if you knew that there’s more than one Earth? That there are millions of Earths and you could just “step” from one world to another and start over? Would you? Would you leave your career behind? What about your family? That’s what authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter explore in their collaboration, The Long Earth.

It’s Step Day on Earth and all hell is about to break loose. The instructions to build a small box called a stepper are all over the internet and kids are racing to make their own. But what no one knows is the purpose of this small box. That is, until kids start disappearing. They’re reappearing in another world where chaos is ensuing. Joshua Valienté is one of those kids but in the midst of it all, he’s keeping calm and helping everyone get back. Fast forward fifteen years and stepping is a way of life. People are leaving Datum Earth (Earth as we know it), in droves to start over and explore what the other Earths have to offer. The possibilities are endless or are they?

I decided to read The Long Earth because I read and enjoyed Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters earlier this year. Pratchett and his Discworld series are pretty popular in the blogisphere. When I heard that The Long Earth was being published, I decided to hold out on reading more books from the series and read this instead. I have to say that I made a good decision.

There is so much going on in this book, that if I were to share it all with you, this review would be a page or two long. Seriously. But that isn’t a bad thing. I think it’s good for readers to go into this book not knowing much about the story.

There’s so much for the authors to explain about these different worlds and the pair do an excellent job with world building. Every Earth is different from the others but they all have one rule: iron and other metals won’t pass from Datum Earth to the other worlds. So people are finding themselves having to start over. Some Earths are going through an Ice Age while others are hot and balmy, and also one that’s covered entirely in water. There are weird creatures, nicknamed trolls, whose singing is so beautiful you will stop everything to hear them, and elves who kill for sport. Another similar thing found on each world is that there are no humans.

Pratchett and Baxter go to lengths to illustrate how society might change if people are able to make new lives elsewhere. In the story, the poor and those who are no longer willing to be chained to their careers, leave Datum Earth without a second glance. Their absence hurts economies and empty cities. The rich find their fortunes dwindling but are unwilling to start over again in a new world. Those who are unable to step find themselves in heartbreaking situations, as they are left behind by family and friends. I thought the changes in society were believable even though I wanted to know more about the people who weren’t exploring.

What I didn’t like about the book is that for the first 100 pages, readers are introduced to countless characters. There’s just so much going on. You get attached to one character and the next thing you know, you’re being introduced to another character. There’s this constant back and forth. I almost put the book down for good but I was curious about where the story was leading to. After the first 100 pages, not as many new characters are being introduced and the plot picks up.

Another thing I should mention is that a lot of the book consists of exploring other worlds. I found myself pretty interested in that aspect but I think some people will find the pacing slow. From the cliffhanger ending, I expect this to be the first book in a series.

It’s not a perfect read, but I definitely recommend The Long Earth. If you like quirky stories, robots, parallel worlds, or weird creatures, this is your book. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

387 Pages

2011

Publisher: Doubleday

Source: Public Library

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers.  It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Usually when I see a particular book being the center of discussion online, I try to wait until talk dies down before running out and reading it myself. With the R.I.P. challenge going on right now, I decided that The Night Circus sounded too good to pass up. I think the book is worth the hype it’s getting though there are a few things about it that was problematic.

The Night Circus is the tale of Celia Bowen and Marco, two gifted illusionists who are forced to compete against each other as adults by their mentors. Celia and Marco have no idea why they have to compete or that the tournament is to the death. With the help of a talented group, Marco’s mentor is able to pull off the perfect battleground for the pair – Le Cirque de Reves, a circus that’s only opened at night and is filled with wonderful attractions. The tournament doesn’t affect just the pair but also everyone around: from those who work for the circus to the people who attend almost every time they can to those who helped to create it. While many people think the circus is the best in the world, others know its true powers and those close to it will never be the same.

Forgive my vague description, but it’s hard to describe this book. Luckily for readers Morgenstern didn’t have that same problem. One of the book’s greatest strengths is that the descriptions are so vivid. The circus is not only the setting but also a character. Readers can easily imagine the black and white stripes of the tents, the red scarves of the circus’s most devoted followers, the dress that Celia wears that changes colors to match whoever she’s talking to at the moment. This is a great book to study to learn how to describe a setting.  Andi wrote about the book’s cover and design which sadly I missed since I was reading The Night Circus on Edison (my Kobo ereader).

I found some of the characters very interesting. The twins, Poppet and Widget, were a delight to read about as they roam around the circus with their new friend, Bailey. Not all the characters were as fleshed out as I would have preferred. Celia the child and teen who refused to answer to the name Miranda and had her fingertips sliced off by her father/mentor Prospero was much more interesting to read about than Celia the adult. The same goes with Marco though I think the only interesting thing about him was the thing about his physical appearance. Did anyone figure out who Marco’s mentor, the man in the grey suit, really is? I’m pretty sure that I did and was so happy with myself.

There’s so much that the author builds on in the book but there’s so much that also doesn’t get explained or isn’t as detailed like the back story of Tsukiko the contortionist. I really wished that readers knew more about Tsukiko along with Prospero and what exactly pushed this cold man to try his last trick. (It was an awesome trick.) I wouldn’t have cared if this book had turned into a chunkster (400+ pages) if it meant that I learned more about the characters I was interested in.

Besides some of the characters, another problem I had with this book is the plot. I was pretty let down by the disappointing climax that’s more of a small hill than a climax. That didn’t stop me from reading the book but the disappointment wasn’t something that I could easily overlook.

The Night Circus isn’t just some fantasy book about a circus. After reading it and letting everything about it turn over and over in my head, I’ve realized that the story of the two illusionists is also a story about storytelling, living your life to the fullest, and learning that no matter how powerful you are, there are some things you can’t always escape. Flaws and all, The Night Circus is an engaging read that I can easily recommend to those who enjoy fantasy. I look forward to reading more of Morgenstern’s work in the future. My rating: 5 out of 5.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Stories have changed, my dear boy,” the man in the grey suit says, his voice almost imperceptibly sad. “There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case. There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really ending, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead. Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act? Though perhaps it is a singular wolf who goes to such lengths as to dress as a grandmother to toy with its prey.”

Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

The Last Werewolf

Glen Duncan

293 Pages

Publication Year: 2011

Publisher: Random House

Source: Public Library

 

A second silenced shot buried itself thud-gasp in the B&B brick. Silver ammo? I had nothing to fear if it wasn’t, but no way of finding out other than taking one in the chest and seeing if I dropped dead. (This was so typically unreasonable of the universe. Apart from a few days to do what I had to so I didn’t want any more life. What’s a few days after two hundred years? But that’s the universe for you, decades of even-handedness then suddenly zero negotiation.) I got down on my belly. The concrete’s odour of stale piss was a thing of cruel joy. Low, moving in tiny increments, I stole a look round the doorway’s edge.

Jake isn’t your average werewolf. Sure he turns into a monster every month on the full moon. And yes, he does require human flesh to survive. But what makes Jake special is the fact that he’s the last of his kind. Werewolves were always small in number but they’ve been hunted to the brink of extinction by WOCOP – an organization whose mission is to hunt the creatures. WOCOP has done its job so well that with Jake being the last werewolf, the people behind the organization have no other purpose.

Jake doesn’t care about being the last. In fact he welcomes it because at 201 years old, Jake has had enough of life and wants an end to it all. What Jake doesn’t know is that while he’s counting down until WOCOP comes after him­−namely Grainer, a hunter with a vendetta−there are others who will stop at nothing to keep Jake alive. The Last Werewolf is a welcome addition to the literature of werewolf and other creatures of the night.

There’s been a lot of positive talk surrounding this book since before its publication. I think the book lives up to some of the hype but while I liked the book I didn’t love it. The Last Werewolf is a smart book that reminds me of A Discovery of Witches and Justin Cronin’s The Passage because it isn’t just fantasy. It also adds science and conspiracy theories to the mix while rewriting the shape-shifter myth to give readers something truly monstrous.

I can’t put my finger exactly on why I didn’t love this book. It’s a page-turner that keeps readers mostly interested in the story, the transformation between Jake and the thing that lives within him is gripping and the twist is unexpected. . . Maybe it’s the fact that after reading so many positive responses to this book, I believed that I was going to love it. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Have you read this? Is there a book that you liked while everyone else loved?

R.I.P. Challenge VI

As I sit here typing, the sun is setting and the wind’s blowing. Outside my window the leaves on various trees have started to change from that brilliant green of summer to the crisp orange of fall. I can’t believe that I almost missed one of my favorite reading challenges: Carl’s Readers Imbibing Peril challenge. It’s hard to believe that this is my fifth year but it is.

This year I’m participating in a few perils:

  • Peril the First- four books of any length
  • Peril of the Short Story
  • Peril on the Screen – scary movies!

I also plan on participating in a peril you may not have heard of before: Peril of the Children. I love this challenge so much that I’m making letting my children participate too. I plan on reading one spooky picture book or story to them each night throughout October. The kids have already started putting some of their favorite Halloween tales on hold at our local library. I’m hoping to write a post a week on the stories we read together.

My pool of books:

  • Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol  (re-read)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (re-read)
  • Fish by Gregory Mone
  • The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
  • The Night Circus by Erin Mortensen
  • The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Beowulf
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King
  • Bradbury Stories by Ray Bradbury (re-read)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
  • Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
  • A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot
  • Under the Green Hill by Laura L. Sullivan
  • Hellboy series by Mike Mignola
  • Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

Have you read anything in this reading pool? Is there one book you think I should put at the top of my TBR list?

Mini-Reviews: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and A Discovery of Witches

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Nina Sankovitch

256 pages

Pub. Year: 2011

Publisher: HarperCollins

Source: publisher

When I first heard of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, I wanted to read it because Sankovitch is a book blogger over at ReadAllDay.org. I was ecstatic to see a fellow book blogger come out with a book about reading.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is Sankovitch’s memoir about the year that she challenged herself to read and review a book everyday for the whole year. Well that’s what HarperCollins says the book is about but it’s not really. Tolstoy is more of a book about grief and finding ways to live after the loss of a loved one. The author, a life-long reader, just finds a way through her grief with books. That’s okay but I expected a memoir that dealt more heavily with reading than grief and that’s not what the book is. I was about halfway through the book when I realized it so I had to change my expectations. The book is filled with some great observations about reading but it wasn’t enough for me. Though many bloggers have loved this book, sadly I’m in the “like” group. Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness

586 pages

Pub. Year: 2011

Publisher: Viking

Source: Public Library

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.

I read a lot of positive reviews about A Discovery of Witches including Carrie’s from Books and Movies. So I downloaded the book on a whim, just in case I needed something different from all the non-fiction I’ve been reading lately. What a difference!

Diana Bishop is an American historian who comes from a long line of powerful witches but has refused to learn the craft in hopes of a normal life. A visiting scholar at Oxford University, she’s working on a paper about alchemy for an upcoming conference when she comes across an old bewitched book called Ashmolem 782. Diana is unaware of what Ashmolen really is: a book written by the very first witch that tells of the origins of the three creatures that walk among humans; witches, vampires, and daemons. When the world of creatures realizes that Diana has been able to open the book, all three groups want her on their side for the book’s contents and the chance to be the most powerful. With the help of a mysterious vampire by the name of Matthew Clairmont, the pair travel around the world trying to keep Diana safe from those who want to harm her while trying to get Diana to learn how to control her emerging magical abilities before it’s too late.

It’s almost too hard to write about what I loved (and didn’t) about this book but I’ll give it a try.

  • I loved that at almost 600 pages there was never a dull moment and the author did a great job with the pacing. This isn’t a book that leaves you thinking that there were chapters or pages that could have been left out. Every page was needed.
  • There’s so much that’s been written about vampires, witches, and daemons but A Discovery of Witches adds on to that genre in a refreshing way by intertwining history and science which reaches out to not only readers of fantasy but also to those who love history even that which isn’t real.  
  • I love the Bishop house and its inhabitants, dead and living. The Bishop house was a character itself since it could open and close doors, hide objects, and misbehave when it wanted to.
  • The book is a chunkster (over 350 pages), but it reads so well that I didn’t want to sleep until I finished it. Luckily I did get some sleep in though at the time I really didn’t want to.
  • From the way the book ended, I’m sure it’s at least a trilogy so there will be more books to come about Diana, Matthew, (and hopefully) the Bishop house.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Readers come to understand Diana’s reasons why she won’t (and can’t) use her powers. But I disliked how she refused to try even though there were so many people who wanted her dead or wished to harm her to get her on their side. Harkness made readers see how scared Diana was but I think after awhile you have to fight back or just lie down and die. Once Diana started using her powers (that’s not a spoiler) it was refreshing to see this new strength rise out and take charge.
  • Matthew Clairmont was in love with Diana from the moment he saw her but some of his behavior had me wondering whose side he was on until the very end. That part I didn’t mind since it kept me guessing but it didn’t keep Diana wondering. Matthew constantly kept secrets from Diana even when there wasn’t a reason to. His controlling nature reminded me of a certain famous sparkling vampire.

Even with its flaws, A Discovery of Witches is a great book that I can definitely recommend. Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5.

Thoughts: Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa

Three Shadows

Cyril Pedrosa

Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin

272 pages

Pub year: 2008

Publisher: First Second

Source: Personal Library

Back then, life was simple and sweet. The taste of cherries, the cool shade, the fresh smell of the river. . . That wads how we lived, in a vale among the hills – sheltered from the storms, ignorant of the world, as though on an island, peaceful and untroubled.

And then . . . everything changed.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books that I would describe as being gentle. Stories that quietly unfold as I read them but yet still leaves me stunned after I have read the last page. Cyril Pedrosa’s Three Shadows is that kind of read.

Louis leads a simple life with his wife Lise and their young son, Joachim. It’s a life where the three can easily forget that the rest of the world even exists. But one night Joachim notices three hooded horsemen that loom on a nearby hill, shadows that watch the family. It’s during a fateful night when the horsemen call out to Joachim that Lise and Louis start to realize the danger their son may be in.  Louis decides to do everything in his power to keep his son away from the horsemen so he flees in the middle of the night with Joachim and some rations, vowing not to come back until they have outran the shadows. Lise is left behind to grieve for the lost time she has with her son in hopes that her husband will one day make peace with what’s ahead.

My description may sound odd but I’m letting you know just the basics. I think the less you know about this book in terms of plot- the better your reaction to it will be. When I bought Three Shadows earlier this year, I thought its vague description was interesting enough to buy. I was so amazed about this book that I had to read this book twice before I could write a review on it. The story of this small family against these three mysterious beings and the ensuing race to get Joachim as far away as possible from them was interesting enough that I had to read to the end. The art, done in black and white, helps to keep the pictures as part of the story and not a distraction.

click on the picture to enlarge

There are scenes that are so beautiful that I held my breath as I read. These were scenes that revealed the motives, emotions, and acts of bravery of everyday people and villains. The front flap of this book asked “What price would you pay to save your child?” Louis is a great example of a parent who’s willing to sacrifice everything for their child. In the end,  Three Shadows is the fable that it sets out to be.

You can see a much longer excerpt from the book here.

Once Upon a Time V

It’s that time of the year again! Time for Carl’s excellent Once Upon a Time challenge. It started March 20th and ends June 20, 2011.  Nothing says spring like the start of this challenge. I wasn’t going to write a post about this challenge but after Kelly’s excellent post of potential reads, I thought I should write my own post about the pool of books I’m choosing from.

My quests:

Read at least five books that fit somewhere within the criteria.

 

Read two non-fiction books that treat any of the four genres covered in this challenge.

Who can resist a good movie?

Last but not least of my quests:

I have read some great short stories so far this year, so this is the perfect quest for me.

Last year I’m trying to read as many of books from my tbr pile as possible, so the books that I’m going to read from this challenge will mostly come from my shelves.  Here’s my list of possible reads:

  • The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
  • Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
  • Under the Green Hill by Laura L. Sullivan
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  • The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
  • Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
  • The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
  • The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • Bone: Rose by Jeff Smith
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (re-read)
  • Chew Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman
  • Bloodroot by Amy Greene
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
  • A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot
  • The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
  • The Beastly Bride edited by Ellen Datlow
  • Trickster: Native American Tales
  • BB Wolf and the Three LPs by JD Arnold
  • Bayou Vols 1 and 2 by Jeremy Love
  • The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Maria Tatar
  • “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles” by Kij Johnson

I also found out about a few more books that I’ll probably add to the pool later on in the challenge. Have you joined the Once Upon a Time Challenge this year? Is there a book, short story, or movie that you’re looking forward to reading or viewing?

 

 

 

Nebula Award Nominee: “Ponies” by Kij Johnson

“Ponies”

Kij Johnson

Published by Tor. com

Publication Date: January 2010

The invitation card has a Western theme. Along its margins, cartoon girls in cowboy hats chase a herd of wild Ponies. The Ponies are no taller than the girls, bright as butterflies, fat, with short round-tipped unicorn horns and small fluffy wings. At the bottom of the card, newly caught Ponies mill about in a corral. The girls have lassoed a pink-and-white Pony. Its eyes and mouth are surprised round Os. There is an exclamation mark over its head.

The little girls are cutting off its horn with curved knives. Its wings are already removed, part of a pile beside the corral.

Barbara, a young girl, and her pony Sunny are invited to a “cutting out” party by a group of popular girls from school. The two want more than anything to have friends but what’s involved may be more than they can handle.

I can’t tell you anything else about the story without spoiling it. I can tell you this: even though “Ponies” is only four pages long, it packs a punch. I know that some of you don’t read short stories or fantasy but this is a story you really should read. I first read this story last week and since then, I’ve re-read several times. “Ponies” is easily on my “best of 2011″ list.

The great thing is that the story can be read in its entirety on Tor.com. You can also read the comments that follow the story. Everyone has their own theory about the meaning of the story but I think the story can be applied to the cruelty we experience as children and also as adults and how willing we sometimes are to do anything to fit in.

Have you read any of the stories or books nominated for the 2010 Nebula Awards? If you read “Ponies”, what do you think of it?

Review: The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

The Night Bookmobile

Audrey Niffenegger

40 pages

Publication Date: September 1, 2010

Publisher: Abrams ComicArt

Source: Library copy

After a fight with her boyfriend, Alexandria is walking the streets of Chicago when she finds a bookmobile and Mr. Openshaw. Mr. Openshaw is the librarian of this particular bookmobile which is housed in an old ratty Winnebago. During her first visit, Alexandria realizes that what’s so special about the bookmobile is that it exclusively houses everything she has ever read: from Pat the Bunny which she read as a child to The Complete Stories of H.G. Wells. Over the years, the bookmobile changes with each visit just as Alexandria changes. Now she’s single and a librarian herself but the real job that she desires is to be a librarian for the bookmobile.

I really enjoyed reading this. The Night Bookmobile contains some beautiful passages about reading and being readers.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

After reading this book I wondered how my own bookmobile would look like, what books would fill the shelves. Just the thought of it makes me want to read more, to fill those shelves with more books. I love the imagery that Niffenegger uses and also the questions she ask. In the afterword the author asks “what is it we desire from the hours, weeks, lifetimes we devote to books? ” Alexandria gave up human companionship for books, looking for something that could only be found between pages. I think for each reader the answer is different.

Review: Flight Vol. 7

Flight Vol. 7

edited by Kazu Kibuishi

284 pages

Publication Date: July 20, 2010

Publisher: Villard

I’ve read the previous six volumes in the Flight series, so it was a no-brainer to check out volume seven from the library. Flight 7 is one of the better volumes in the series but it’s still not better than my favorite which is volume 3. This volume included stories from series veterans like Kean Soo who returned with another “Jellaby” story and Michel Gagné with “The Saga of Rex”, an intergalactic story of a lovable puppy.

One of the great things about the series is that most of the volumes are suitable for young kids to read and entertaining for adults to pick up too. I found this true for volume 7 also. It’s a volume that my kids can easily read and I won’t feel uneasy about it.

Another great thing about the series is the beautiful artwork with each story. I don’t think I’ve ever read one story from this series and hated the artwork. The stories match the artwork beautifully. Some of my favorite stories in this volume include “Premium Cargo” by Kostas Kiriakakis about an airman who steals a very special package and realizes that it’s time to send it back. It’s definitely a tear-jerker that left me wanting to know more about the characters.

Click to enlarge the image.

Cory Godbey’s “Onere and Piccola” is a mythology story about love that is so beautiful.

Click to enlarge picture.

So if you haven’t read any of the volumes from this series, what are you waiting for? Each volume is a stand-alone so you don’t have to worry about reading them in order. The Flight series is one of the best graphic anthologies you can read. Highly recommended.

Mini-Reviews: I Kill Giants, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Life of Pi, and Read Remember Recommend

Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Publisher: Harcourt

Source: Personal library

I picked this up because it’s required reading for my Philosophy of Religion class. This is a wonderful story about a young boy, Pi Patel, who’s stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker after the ship he was on with his family sunk. There’s a lot in the book about religion, life, and God which was a perfect fit for my class. It’s not a book for everyone but I thought it was a great read.
 
 
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: Personal library
 
What if you had the ability to know what people felt by tasting the food they made? That’s the question behind the story of Rose and her amazing ability. Rose is nine years old when she discovers her gift but at the time it doesn’t feel that way. With an emotionally detached father, an unhappy mother, and a older brother named Joseph who prefers not to have any part in the world, Rose doesn’t know what to do or how to cope with this new abilities. Bender gives readers a great coming-of-age tale about love and loss. I highly recommend this book for readers who love magical realism. It’s also a great companion read to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which features a protagonist with a similar ability.
 
Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers
Rachelle Rogers Knight
Publisher: Source Books
Source: Publisher
 
I thought this was a great book for teens who really love to read. Read, Remember, Recommend is divided into several parts featuring awards and notable lists, a place to write down recommendations and tbr lists along with everything you’ve read. My favorite part of the book was the awards and notable lists because it featured the lists of winners from such diverse awards like the Eisner Award to the American Indian Youth Services Literature Award.
 
 
I Kill Giants
Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
Publisher: Image Comics
Source: Personal Library
 
I Kill Giants is probably my favorite graphic novel of the year. Barbara is a young teen girl obsessed with killing giants. A girl who’s practically friendless, Barbara spends her time playing fantasy games and ignoring the growing dysfunction in her home. But when a new girl named Sophia wants to be friends with Barbara, it starts a chain of events that change everyone involved. What I love about this book is how it deals with grief and love. I highly recommend it.

Review: Flight Volume 5

Flight Volume 5
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
368 pages
Publication Year: 2008
Publisher: Villard, an imprint of  Random House
Source: Library

If you ask me pretty much every project that artist Kazu Kibuishi touches turns to gold. Kibuishi is the editor of the Flight series, an anthology of comics from artists around the world. One of the great things about the series is that the volumes are stand-alone and can be read in any order without the reader feeling like they’re missing something. So far there are seven volumes in the series.

I first started reading the series a few years ago and every volume has been pretty satisfying. Volume five is no exception. Just like the other volumes, there’s about twenty different stories each with a different contributor. The subject matter varies but each story is fantasy.

Artist Michel Gagné starts the series off once again with another tale about Rex, a small dog who has many adventures through space as he travels to different worlds and meet a variety of creatures. Tony Cliff is becoming a favorite artist of mine who has been featured in previous volumes before. His story “Delilah Dirk and the Aqueduct” has bits of steampunk and leaves readers satisfied once they reach the end of the story. I found Sarah Mensinga’s “The Changeling” to be one of the best stories in the volume. “The Changeling” is almost a modern-day fairy tale about an unmarried girl who is sent to an orphanage to give birth and give up her child. There’s such a difference in style and tone with each story, that  I wanted to show you  a few panels. This is the opening panel of “The Changeling”:

There’s a beauty to many of the stories in the series as a whole, that makes me wish I could hang up a few of the panels in my home.

“Voyage” by Kness and Made is a tale of an unexpected voyage that a polar bear takes around the world. I always need to stop and look closer at the panels to see every detail.

There were two or three stories in the book that I didn’t care for that I saw other reviewers loving. The thing I really like about volume five is that kids, tweens, teens, and even adults can read the book and enjoy it. Highly recommended.

Sunday Salon: Devouring books and a few mini-reviews

Good morning! It’s been so long since I’ve participated in Sunday Salon, that  I knew it was time for me to start again. July started off as a month where I couldn’t read as much as I wanted to since I was taking two classes that occupied a lot of my time. After dropping my math class (yay!), I have more time to read and my reading life is back! I’m pretty behind in reviewing books, so I’ll just tell you about a few of the books I’ve read lately instead of trying to review them all.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I read this book back in June but I still wanted to write something about it. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the story of two teens with the same name who meet unexpectedly one day and who are changed by the meeting. Told from the viewpoints of both boys, readers learn the characters’ flaws and also what makes them so special. I really liked some of the diversity of the characters like Tiny, best friend to the first Will and a very talented teenager who puts on a school play about his life. Tiny is gay and there’s no bits about coming out or struggling with his sexuality. Tiny is who he is and he’s not afraid to be emotionally vulnerable. He’s a very caring guy who puts his neck out too much for other people. Some of the secondary characters were just as interesting as the main characters. This book is filled with humor and also had a few scenes that brought tears to my eyes. If you haven’t read it already, you should.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. This summer like every summer, I participate in my library’s summer reading program for adults. When you review three books, you can pick a free book to take home and Ghost World was my pick. Enid and Rebecca are teenage girls with a complex friendship. Like most teenagers, both girls are trying to figure out who they are while planning their futures. Enid walks around in these ridiculous costumes while Rebecca plays the role of Enid’s sidekick. It’s not until almost the end of the book that the roles are reversed and we get to see the characters for who they really are.

This is definitely a book that once you finish reading, you have to reread it for all the subtle things you miss.  This was my first time reading a book by Clowes but I don’t think it’ll be my last.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Maree from Just Add Books decided to host a read-along for American Gods and since I’ve already read several of Gaiman’s books, I  joined in.

Shadow is an ordinary man, counting down to the end of his 3-year prison sentence, so he can finally be with his wife Laura. When Laura is killed in a car accident Shadow is released early to find the mysterious Wednesday, ready to pay Shadow a decent amount of money to take a job as his “helper”. Shadow soon learns that this isn’t an ordinary job. Both men travel across America, finding the Gods of Old: Anansi, Kali, Czernobog, Eostre, and others who are willing to go to battle with the Gods of New like technology, media, and tv for the soul of America.

I love this book! Love love love! Gaiman uses American Gods as a way to ask and answer the question: what happens to the gods of certain cultures when its followers die off or assimilate into a different culture? The gods are personified and you see how they have suffered from the loss of belief. The gods can be obnoxious, funny, or dangerous. They come from a variety of cultures and lands. In the book they are like everyday people: fortune-tellers, cab drivers, even addicts. One of my favorite things about the book was reading the lives of different believers and how their beliefs are incorporated into their everyday lives.  The book is funny but tragic and also beautiful. I listened to the audio book while also reading a print copy and enjoyed the dual way of reading. Out of the many books I’ve read by Gaiman, American Gods is probably my favorite.

A passage from the book:

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe. And then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.

So that’s only a tiny bit of the books I’ve read lately. What are you reading today?

Read-along: Touch Magic by Jane Yolen

I’ve been a bad blogger! This week I had much of my blogging schedule mixed up plus with the semester ending, my days have been hectic. I was supposed to post my part of the read-along that I did with Carrie from Books and Movies and Kelly from The Written Word on Tuesday but didn’t get to it.  (Sorry guys!) So here it is.

Touch Magic is a collection of essays by wonder writer Jane Yolen. Yolen is the author of over 200 books, in genres from children’s books to graphic novels, fiction, and non-fiction. In Touch Magic, Yolen discuss the connection between fairy tales and American culture, the need to preserve fairy tales and myths, and the importance of children to grow up knowing these tales. This collection of essays is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve read. Yolen mentions so many books and it makes you want to go out and read what she mentions.

One of my favorite essays in the book is the title essay. In it Yolen talks about the difference between the stories of then and now.

Touch Magic. The good sister in the old tale helps out without the thought of reward and is given a mouthful of diamonds. The bad sister goes looking for diamonds and gets toads. A condition of choice overlies the best stories and that is what is missing in so much of the new literature for children. Instead of that reminder of the hard work of choosing, we are each of us told that we can marry the prince or princess. The half of the kingdom is ours for the asking. There is never the risk of a mouthful of toads.

Tough Magic usually asks as its price the utmost sacrifice: a life, a soul, a never-ending torture. And those who choose Tough Magic never really know whether the ultimate rescue is at hand. The outcome is always in doubt at the moment of choosing. Prometheus knows he must endure until a son of Zeus arrives, but he does not know when that will be. Arthur waits in Avalon, neither dead nor alive, until he is needed again in the world, betrayed but not forgotten. . . .And so the tensions of the stories carry us past the unbelivability of the magic into the credibility of miracles in our everyday lives.

I love this collection and would recommend it to parents and lover of fairy tales. Click on the link for Carrie’s review of this book.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale or myth?

Touch Magic
Jane Yolen
1981
130 pages
Publisher: August House
Source: Personal Library


Review: The Magickeepers Book Two: The Pyramid of Souls

Magickeepers: Book 2: The Pyramid of Souls
Erica Kirov
162 pages
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: Publisher

I think I enjoyed The Pyramid of Souls even more than I did The Eternal Hourglass, which is the first book in Erica Kirov’s Magickeepers series. Like all first books in a series, The Eternal Hourglass had to set up the world in which the main character, thirteen-year old Nick Rostov, lives in.

In The Pyramid of Souls, Nick is enjoying his new life with his Russian relatives. He’s getting the hang of his magical abilities, eating Russian food (but not caviar!), and being around his controlling cousin Damian.  When another magical relic is stolen along with his cousin Sascha, Nick has to use every trick he’s learned to help bring back his cousin from the evil Rasputin.

Just like the first book in the series, The Pyramid of Souls had me asking a few questions. In book two, the magical relic is a pyramid that can trap souls and keep them there indefinitely. One of the most famous people to have it was Edgar Allan Poe. The book did a great job setting up the story of how the author received the relic but readers are never told how it was stolen from him.

As usual Kirov does a wonderful job of keeping readers interested and the pages turning. A great read for younger kids.

Review: Magickeepers Book 1: The Eternal Hourglass

Magickeepers Book 1: The Eternal Hourglass
Erica Kirov
256 pages
Publication Date: May 1, 2009
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: Publisher

Nick Rostov is a young boy who’s life is about to change. He lives in a rundown casino with his father, the worst magician in Las Vegas. Tired of moving from place to place and school to school, Nick’s glad that summer is finally here. He doesn’t have to worry about making friends or being the new kid. On his thirteenth birthday, Nick is whisked away from his father and sent to live with his mother’s family, one of the most powerful magical families in the world. It’s then that Nick discovers he has powers of his own and must help his family find a hourglass that can stop time before it gets into the wrong hands.

Does this sound a little familiar? A boy with magical powers whose life changes at thirteen? Whose mother died protecting him from evil? I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Nick Rostov and Harry Potter. Sometimes these similarities had me asking more questions which don’t get answered like why did Nick had to be told he had magical powers instead of him accidently finding out?

The good thing about this book is that even with the similarities, Magickeepers is a great book for kids to read. It takes Nick awhile to adjust to his strange Russian family, all of whom he didn’t know existed before he was sent to them. He doesn’t like the weird food or going to school during summer break but he loves using magic and finding a place that he really belongs. The book also gives history lessons on Russian history using figures like Rasputin and the Grand Duchess Anastasia while using American figures like Harry Houdini.

I found Magickeepers to be a book that kept me turning pages. The plot didn’t lag and I wasn’t ever bored. Once I started reading, I didn’t stop until the final page.

I think this is a great book for kids who haven’t started the Harry Potter series yet and are starting to read thicker books.

The Ghost’s Child

hartnettThe Ghost’s Child (2008)
Sonya Hartnett
176 pages
Young Adult Fiction

Matilda, an elderly woman, comes home one afternoon to find a young boy sitting in her living room waiting for her. She has no idea who he is or what he wants. As they sit down for tea, the boy asks Matilda about the picture of her as a young girl on  her boat.

Matilda tells the story of her childhood and growing up as a young girl named Maddy. She was the daughter of a materialistic mother and a father who had to divide himself into two different people: the “Iron-man”, an important and wealthy member of the community who only wants to make money and “Daddy”, a man who loves his daughter and only wants her to be happy.

Matilda describes her childhood self as

an over-lookable child, doubtful and reluctant in her dealings with others, mousey as a mouse. She was easily hurt, deceived and dispirited.

After a year-long journey with her father all over the world to experience life for the first time, Maddy comes back changed and more sure of herself.

Soon she falls in love with a mysterious boy named Feather. They fall in love and though Feather wants to make Maddy happy, one day he disappears to the horizon and a place called The Island of Stillness. Unable to let Feather go, Matty learns to sail and goes off on an adventure to ask Feather for the answer to the only question she has. . .

I really enjoyed reading this book. The Ghost’s Child is a book that has to be read slowly. The book isn’t really plot-driven but focuses more on character-building: Matilda as an old woman and as a young girl named Maddy. One of my favorite things about this book was the language. There were so many passages that I marked to read again later.

I love this passage by Matilda on love:

The world changes when something in it is loved. Words become feeble. Colors glow. Every moment vibrates with possible importance. And the heart that loves wonders how it live, in the past, without loving-and it will live now, now that it loves.

What I didn’t like were the few times that were unbelievable. Maddy as a child was a little too mature. She understood too much about life though she hadn’t experience life yet. Here’s a passage from Maddy as a child:

In the black of night, however, she was wrung with fear. She did not want to be uncaring, and uncared-for. She did not want to spend her whole life taking steps in the darkest, the coldest, the most lonely direction. Yet how, she wondered, does one craft sturdy happiness out of something as important, as complicated, as unrepeatable and as easily damaged as a life?

A beautiful passage but from a child? The Ghost’s Child has few faults and all can easily be overlooked. This is a great fable about the lessons of love and letting go, beauty, and having the courage to live life as you see fit.

Highly recommended.

Bird by Rita Murphy

murphy1Bird by Rita Murphy (2008)
150 pages
Middle school fiction

From the inside flap:

Miranda has no recollection of where she came from-only that years ago, a gust of wind deposited her outside Bourne Manor. The Manor’s sole inhabitant, Wysteria Barrows, took Miranda in and promptly outfitted her with special boots-boots weighted with steel to keep Miranda anchored to the ground. But aside from shelter and clothing, Miranda receives little warmth from the aging widow. The Manor, too, is a cold place, full of drafts and locked doors. Full of menace. Full of secrets.

Then one day a boy named Farley appears, and with his help, Miranda embraces her destiny with the wind . . . and uncovers the Manor’s hidden past.

I saw the cover of this book and decided to check it out. Originally I picked this book up for the read-a-thon because of its small size but I became a little impatient and decided to read it now.

Miranda is a girl so small she can easily be carried away by the wind. She was so young when the wind carried her away and dropped her in trees next to Bourne Manor that she cannot remember where she came from and what her name was. One day Miranda finds a skeleton key and her imagination opens  up. She secretly explores Bourne Manor behind the back of her guardian Wysteria. After Miranda meets Farley and Wysteria is sent away to the hospital to recover from an illness, Miranda starts to become more sure about herself and learns the Manor’s past.

I loved the cover of Bird which was done by Fernando Juarez. In the beginning of the book Murphy describes Bourne Manor and I wouldn’t have been able to see it in my mind without the cover. The inside of the Manor was easy to visual with its many rooms and the ballroom that no one had ever danced in. I love the way Miranda described the Manor, which is not just a setting in the book but an actual character:

For although no one ever perished unnaturally within its walls that I knew of, the Manor, set out on its own as it was, battered by the wind, invited the spirits of those long departed and of those who roamed the shores in search of a warm fire, as it had invited me. The lost and aimless: to these Bourne Manor gave its shelter.

Rita Murphy’s writing style is simple yet so beautiful. Every character comes across the way they’re supposed to. There is not one sentence that is there needlessly.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I recommend this book to any reader of middle school or young adult fiction. I hope the author writes more stories about Miranda.