The Merry Spinster

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Review #40: Fiction

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

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This collection of stories will feel at once familiar and darkly, deliciously fresh.

Though fairytales and fables, these stories carry such a refreshing air of reality. They drip with a dark, sinister unpredictability that flows through our real lives. Ortberg forces the reader to see each retelling and re-imagination through a new lens, one that refocuses the otherworldly and fantastic as real. Remove the preconceived idea that mermaids aren’t real, that animals don’t talk or interact with each other in friendships, or that little boys don’t turn into swans; what do their lives look like? They are as complex and flawed as our own. And they can be similarly heartbreaking and cruel.

With every story, we are given a new glimpse into worlds and situations we thought we already knew. Readers will feel the heart-string tugs of the stories that inspired this collection, nostalgia working to convince us that we know how each story ends. But Ortberg rewrites the script, opening our narrow perceptions to something more – cruel realities of these fairytales we’ve come to love. What may be expected to tarnish the memory of beloved fairytales and fables ultimately elevates them, allowing these stories to grow and mature with the audience.

Ortberg does not shy away from the harsh and unfair or unsavory elements of life, and allows these aspects to shine in this collection. She has given us our favorite stories, with an honest, relatable tone that is unencumbered by preconceived notions of a “happily ever after” ending. We, and our stories, are better for it.

4 out of 5 stars

*Cover image from Amazon

 

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The Invisible Library

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Review #37 Fiction

Blogging for Books #11

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

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The premise of this book had me from the get go. It just jumped out as something that encompassed so many of the things I enjoy about reading: fantasy, adventure, literature, mystery, romance, escapism. And all of those things come through in Genevieve Cogman’s first installment of the Invisible Library novels. If you enjoy Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, The Librarian/ The Librarians, or V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, you will be pulled headfirst into Cogman’s world.

Irene works for a mysterious library. Tasked with finding a dangerous book from an alternate London, Irene must take a new library recruit, Kai, on his first field mission. Their mission becomes beyond complicated when they arrive to find the book has already been stolen by a deadly underground society. Along with the threat of a legendary enemy of the library, Irene and Kai may not make it out of the chaos-infested London with the book, much less alive.

Cogman weaves an intricate tale filled with an eclectic cast of mythical and fantastic characters, including werewolves, vampires, fae, and dragons. There’s an element of steampunk just light enough to mingle with the classic detective narrative and make something fresh and funky. The alternate London that the story inhabits is beautifully rendered by Cogman, incorporating the dark and gloomy, foggy, cobble-stoned streets and the air of mystery surrounding the city.

Throughout, we’re taken on a bumpy Great Detective story, with twists and turns that shock the reader as much as Irene and her cohorts. Though this case is eventually solved, we’re left with a bit of cliffhanger, a whetted palate, wondering just what Alberich (a notorious Library enemy) is up to, how the Library came to be, and how Irene fits into the puzzle.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Cover art from Amazon.com
*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Afterworlds

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Review #16: Fiction

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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*I received this book as an advanced reader copy from Book Expo America in New York in May. The hardcover will be available 9/23/14.

I absolutely loved Uglies which I read for the first time this summer, and Scott Westerfeld quickly became an author I would read anything by. I was so excited to get this advanced copy at BEA I don’t know how I went so long without reading it. It looks daunting, what with the 600+ pages and all, but it’s a quick, fun and engaging read and in no way felt like it dragged on. So let’s get into what makes Westerfeld’s newest novel so great.

First of all, the premise/execution of it are phenomenal. The book is a novel within a novel essentially. One story line is about Darcy, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who has written this amazing book (Afterworlds) and sold it for over $100k to a New York publishing house. She moves to New York to work on her edits and to write a sequel (which is part of her contract) and begins meeting YA authors and going on book tours and learning about life in NYC. Darcy’s story revolves around new relationships and her dreams and career verses her parents’ dreams for her to attend college regardless of her writing career. She has a younger sister, Nisha (who is one of my favorite characters) who acts as the middle man between Darcy and her parents and also as Darcy’s financial adviser as she starts living on her own in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

The other aspect of the book is Darcy’s novel itself, which revolves around Lizzie dealing with the blurring of lines between life, death and the afterlife. Lizzie endures a near-death experience and finds herself being able to pass into the afterlife, and interact with ghosts while dealing with her own relationship with her divorced parents, her mother’s childhood secret, and dating a death god. These parts of the book incorporate the Hindu religion in ways that are truly unique in the YA market right now, and blend with the characters from the other story, Darcy’s story, as she is a young Indian girl whose family (loosely) follows Hindu traditions.

The way these two stories melt together is perfect. They are presented in alternating chapters, and at first I thought it would be off-putting, as if I was picking up a different book every chapter. However, we read about Darcy’s thought process through her rewrites in her story and then understand why certain things are happening in Lizzie’s story. They play off of each other in ways that I was not expecting and truly tied both stories, both girls and their struggles with growing up, dealing with secrets, and navigating new relationships, together.

Westerfeld is an imaginative and inspiring writer. Not only did I enjoy both stories, I related to both girls’ struggles in different ways, and he brings much needed diversity to the young adult market. He gives us an Indian protagonist, themes of Hinduism throughout both stories, and two strong, independent and fleshed out female main characters. What he also does is give us both a heterosexual love story and a homosexual one, and the truly amazing part is that it is all woven together seamlessly. It all makes sense, it all feels right and it made me feel that much closer to his characters. Westerfeld has written a novel that the YA market has been missing for far too long; it is everything a modern young adult book should be–diverse, insightful, accepting, thought-provoking and relatable.

I want to give it to everyone I know and tell them to read it now. Westerfeld does so much in these 600+ pages: he pokes fun at the YA writing community; he highlights the publishing industry and its triumphs and shortfalls; he tackles death, murder, and loss; growing up and moving on; following dreams; new friendships and new romantic relationships; and gives a voice to minority subjects and characters with his inclusion of Hinduism and LGBT themes. It’s an important work for YA and is brilliantly executed by an author that I didn’t think could get any better, but with Afterworlds, Westfeld has truly outdone himself.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Review #10: Fiction

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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I just finished reading Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children collection, and I thought, why not write two reviews (of the first and the second book) in one day. Brilliant right? So here’s the first; I’ll get cracking on the second posthaste.

Okay, so let’s get into in.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the most imaginative, and creative (in both content and execution) YA novels I’ve come across. And it only gets better going into the second installment. I will say, I am glad these are coming out now, because they are rather creepy, and I am a complete wuss when it comes to things that could go bump in the night. I think I would have shied away from these in my teens, but for those kids now who like a good chill down your spine and eerie images burned into your mind, run don’t walk to pick these books up.

The first novel starts with Jacob Portman, who had grown up with his everyone-just-assumed-he-was-crazy grandfather and his mysterious stories of children who could do strange things. These are stories from WWII and before, when Jacob’s grandfather was a young man. Because of these odd photographs his grandfather had of the children, when Jacob was younger he believed these stories, but as he grew up, he started to believe as the rest of the family did–that the stories of strange children on a mysterious island in Wales, and the dangers surrounding them, were merely delusions of an aging man.

One night, Jacob get’s a disturbing call from his grandfather, and assuming he’s having an episode, Jacob goes to check on him at his home. When he gets there, he finds his grandfather in the woods behind his house, covered in his own blood and dying. He then sees a man, or monster, with tentacles where a mouth should be watching from the woods before vanishing. As he’s dying, Jacob’s grandfather tells him to find a letter, and a bird, to know the truth.

After this traumatizing experience, Jacob sees a psychiatrist because obviously no one believes he saw a monster kill his grandfather, and it’s this doctor who believes it may help Jacob get closure if he follows the letter that he does eventually find, to an orphanage on a Welsh island. Jacob goes with his father, and while exploring the island alone, finds what he’s looking for and then some.

It is here that Jacob learns his grandfather’s stories were not just stories, but the truth of a life he once lived, and he realizes that, like his grandfather and the children he meets at this orphanage run my Miss Peregrine (who can turn into a bird), he is also peculiar.

There are dangers for this peculiar group, who are stuck in a time loop in 1940. Other peculiars who want to harness the unique nature and create god-like rulers over the non-peculiar world, are hunting the children, and all other peculiar people, to use for experimentation. When the orphanage’s time loop is raided, and Miss Peregrine (in bird form) is kidnapped, Jacob must decide where he belongs and what path his life must take: stay with the peculiars and help them in their fight for their lives, or return home, with his family to a normal life.

I love this book, mostly because it really encompasses what a good YA can do, and that’s provide insight into difficult subjects that are all parts of growing up. From feeling different and not knowing where you fit in, to having a tumultuous family life, to losing loved ones, YA is a unique genre that can tackle these issues in creative and constructive ways, and Miss Peregrine’s Home is a brilliant addition to this style.

The most amazing aspect of this book are the images and the way the story is written around them. There are peculiar photographs throughout the book, all the strange and eerie creatures and evidence of the powers of the children, pictures of the mysterious island and images of the war. The best part: they are all real, they are all found images that Riggs has collected, or received from others to use. The story is literally written around these incredible photos that come from vastly different places and people, and the novel does not once feel that way. It doesn’t feel like the images are forced, or like they are simply thrown in. They make sense, and it really is a fantastic achievement.

I think some elements of the world that Riggs builds are under-explained. We are left with a few questions, though I rightly assumed that with the next installment in the collection, many of them are fleshed out. It effortlessly sets up a continuing struggle to face in the next book, but also means that you cannot pick these up out of order; you would have no idea what was going on. But since it’s a great read, that shouldn’t be a problem.

My rating for this first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: 4 out of 5 stars.

*cover image from Amazon.com