Review: Trigger Warning

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Title: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publisher: William Morrow & Company

Publication date: February 3, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I love Neil Gaiman. Ever since I read Coraline as a kid (and had subsequent nightmares for weeks), I’ve been in love with his books. I re-read Neverwhere on the London Underground; I hurriedly consumed The Ocean at the End of the Lane in line at his book signing in Portland; I spent all last summer tracking down each issue of The Sandman. So as you can imagine, I was PUMPED about this new collection of short stories.

Before my reviews – a quick summary from Goodreads:

Multiple award winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things–which includes a never-before published American Gods story, “Black Dog,” written exclusively for this volume…

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements,Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

It’s hard to judge a collection of stories as a whole, because I loved some and was completely uninterested by others. So like I’ve done for other short story compilations, here’s a brief review of each story separately. It’s a little unconventional, but the best way to do it, I think. I won’t review the poems, but here are my thoughts on the nineteen short stories, in order from least favorite to favorite (so if you just want to hear about the good ones, scroll down or pay attention just to the bolded titles):

19. “Black Dog” – I feel like I would have appreciated this if I’d read American Gods, which has been on my to-read list for years. Since I wasn’t familiar with the characters, I skipped this story as a result, so I can’t comment.

18. “An Invocation of Incuriosity” – I skimmed this one. It was uninteresting to me.

17. “Feminine Endings” – I didn’t get this one. I probably just need to re-read.

16. “The Case of Death and Honey” – Based on why Sherlock Holmes was so obsessed with beekeeping in his retirement. I liked the premise, but the execution (the style, mostly) was lacking for me.

15. “Jerusalem” – Eh. Okay. Not particularly scary or interesting, though slightly amusing.

14. “Adventure Story” – Funny but relatively unremarkable.

13. “A Lunar Labyrinth” – Cool mythology, creepy setting, nice.

12. “Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale” – A dark, modern spin on a fairy-tale-like situation. I enjoyed it well enough.

11. “The Return of the Thin White Duke” – Another great fairytale.

10. “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” – A sweet (and creepy) tribute to Ray Bradbury – and also very appropriately reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451.

9. “Orange (Third Subject’s Responses to Investigator’s Written Questionnaire” – This one is fun because you get only the interviewee’s answers, but not the questions, and have to piece together what happened yourself. A great (and successful) experiment in style.

8. “A Calendar of Tales” – Short stories WITHIN a short story – one for each month. All of them were great, and I’ll be re-reading this mini-collection in the future.

7. “Nothing O’Clock” – Essentially, a mini, written Doctor Who episode, set in the Eleventh Doctor & Amy’s era. Gaiman has written for the show before, and this was just as great as any full-length, produced episode.

6. “‘And Weep, Like Alexander'” – Perfectly over-the-top in its execution. A story about a man who can un-invent things – satirical and hilarious.

5. “Down to a Sunless Sea” – YES. SO GOOD. Short and anti-sweet.

4. “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” – A story twisted up in murder and mystery and mythology. This one is longer but it felt like it passed in the blink of an eye.

3. “The Thing About Cassandra” – Cute but also creepy, in a perfect balance. The twist ending actually blew my mind and made me question my own existence.

2. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” – Supremely horrifying, and definitely a story you won’t want to read when you’re home alone.

And my #1: “The Sleeper and the Spindle” – Combine a kick-ass Snow White with an inverted Sleeping Beauty and you get this story. Absolutely perfect in every aspect. This should be the bedtime story for all children forever.

So while about six of the stories were uninteresting or “eh,” I absolutely fell in love with the other half of my list. The great thing about short story collections is that you don’t HAVE to read them all – you have the power to decide which deserve your attention and which you’ll leave for later (or never). For example, I bolded my must-reads. If you like creepy, if you like funny, if you like mind-blowing, or if you like Neil Gaiman, I’d recommend picking up Trigger Warning.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

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Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication date: January 13, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I have been eagerly awaiting Holly Black’s return to the world of faerie for years. Her earlier works, like Tithe and Ironside, were 100% formative influences on me as a middle-schooler. So I was PUMPED when this book turned out just how I expected it to – absolutely perfect.

So you can get on my level, here’s a summary from Holly Black’s website:

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

The greatest thing about this book is that it forcefully pulls you into the world of Fairfold. In this world, magic is seemlessly melded with the modern world – faeries are real, and everyone in town knows it. I could see the town, sense their anticipation, feel their fear. And there was fear! Because like Holly Black’s other books about the fae, these creatures are properly frightening. If you’re expecting Tinkerbell, you’ve got the wrong book. They’re gorgeous and grotesque, powerful, terrifying, and ruthless. And I loved it so much.

The Darkest Part of the Forest also did exactly what I’ve been hoping would happen for years – it completely flips the typical Snow White/Sleeping Beauty fairy tale trope. A human girl is put at the center of the action and forced to save not only her friends and her town but also herself. But she’s not the only star of the story! I was completely in love with all four main characters. And oh god, if the flipped tropes and perfect world-building hadn’t hooked me already, the cast is also diverse, with a wide range of POC and queer characters.

I have zero complaints about this book and I’ve already forced it onto two of my friends and at least four of my students. It’s beautifully written and once you’re pulled into Fairfold, you won’t be able to escape. I desperately want to re-read this again and again, and I know I’ll cherish the reading experience every single time that I do.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought! But I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to do anything but adore The Darkest Part of the Forest.

5 out of 5 stars

Tara

Review: Drowned

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Title: Drowned

Author: Nichola Reilly

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Publication Date: June 24, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I’ve been on a post-apocalyptic YA kick lately – well, who’s kidding who, I’m always on a post-apocalyptic YA kick. I picked up Drowned on my last stop at the library, hoping for the best, and just finished it this afternoon. Mixed feelings on this one, folks.

First, a brief summary from the author’s website:

Coe is one of the few remaining teenagers on the island of Tides. Deformed and weak, she is constantly reminded that in a world where dry land dwindles at every high tide, she is not welcome. The only bright spot in her harsh and difficult life is the strong, capable Tiam—but love has long ago been forgotten by her society. The only priority is survival.

Until the day their King falls ill, leaving no male heir to take his place. Unrest grows, and for reasons Coe cannot comprehend, she is invited into the privileged circle of royal aides. She soon learns that the dying royal is keeping a secret that will change their world forever.

Is there an escape from the horrific nightmare that their island home has become? Coe must race to find the answers and save the people she cares about, before their world and everything they know is lost to the waters.

What I liked was the mystery surrounding this group’s existence on the island. I thought the story was set in the future, and it was fun trying to work out how the world came to the point that it is in the book. The humans who face the tides have reverted to a sort of primitive survival mode – love and attachments aren’t really a thing, brutal fights for power are common, and every day they face the dangers of the rising water and the vicious scribblers that lie in wait. The mood is intense and the story’s action never slows.

Also, I don’t want to give away one of the important twists near the end, but be aware – not everything is what it seems to be. You’ll probably see one twist coming, but the other will blow you away.

At the same time, the book falls into some of the traps that I was hoping it wouldn’t. As soon as I found out that the characters didn’t know what kissing was, I could feel the awkward learning-how-to-kiss scene from a mile away. There’s also an unnecessary love triangle, which, to be honest, made me want to put the book aside in boredom.

But overall, this was a story I’d never heard told before. Supposedly, there will be a sequel – which I’ll probably end up reading, just to find out what happens next. We’re just getting to the good part when Drowned ends. As long as you are aware that you’ll have to work past the cliches, definitely give this one a try if you’re into post-apocalyptic goodness.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Interview with Author – Shay West!

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Today I’ve got a new feature for the blog – an author interview! Recently, I talked to YA author Shay West about her book Dangerous Reflections and her views about writing and the sci-fi/fantasy genre. If you haven’t read my review of the book, check it out! And then read Shay West’s awesome answers to my questions.

Tara: Where did you get the inspiration for Dangerous Reflections?

Shay: I was getting ready for work one morning and just had this weird thought pop into my head wondering how I would react if my reflection changed into someone else’s face. Then the ideas snowballed from there and thus Dangerous Reflections was born.

Tara: How did you go about researching the history for each point in time that Alex traveled?

Shay: I wish I could say I sat in dusty old libraries with dozens of books piled around me but I just did Google searches mainly. I didn’t really have any ideas of where I wanted her to travel when I first started researching but ideas popped into my head and I did a little digging to see if I wanted to pursue that plot line or let it go. Most of the stuff I looked up I never ended up using, not even in the other two books.

Tara: What has been your favorite time period to write about, and why?

Shay: 16th century France where Alex ends up in the body of courtesan. I had just finished watching Dangerous Beauty and thought about how times have changed. And it was sort of fun and awkward to put Alex in a courtesans body because she knows what their profession is, and worrying about whether she would have to do “it” was pretty entertaining!

Tara: Where do you see the fantasy/science fiction genre heading in the next few years?

Shay: I think more and more women will branch out into this genre, although I think it will also be difficult to really make a name due to the enormous amount of books out there to choose from. But it’s also wonderful to think of all the rich and vibrant voices still to be discovered!

Tara: What advice would you give young adults who want to write and publish their own books?

Shay: Make sure you do your research and that you know the genre. I had the great fortune to have an agent – I won a contest – look over the first few chapters of Dangerous Reflections before I self-published it. I admit I hadn’t read much in the way of YA so was just writing like I would for an adult audience, with various points of view from Alex, her best friend, even her mom. This lovely woman kindly pointed out that the readers of YA, mostly teens, don’t want to have an adult point of view. It tends to draw them out of the story. So I did a major re-write of the book and I think it made it a million times better. And always strive to better yourself. When I look back at my first series (scifi/fantasy) I can see a huge difference in my writing now and then. Not to say it’s awful or anything, but my newer stuff is definitely on a whole new level.

Tara: And finally… why should people want to read Dangerous Reflections?

Shay: It’s not just a story of time travel to exotic places. Alex is dealing with a lot of stuff teens and even adults deal with on a daily basis: parents that walk out, feeling like money and having all the latest fashion and gadgets is important, bullying, first crushes, finding your way through life by just winging it. I think most anyone that reads this book will find something they can relate to.

Thanks so much to Shay West for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to check out her website, read her book – I thoroughly enjoyed it – and keep an eye out for her future endeavors!

Tara

Review: Dangerous Reflections

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Title: Dangerous Reflections

Author: Shay West

Publisher: Booktrope

Publication Date: June 17, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I was contacted and asked if Dangerous Reflections sounded like something I’d be interested in reviewing. After reading the summary, I jumped on the opportunity, and thus – here is my honest review! (Bonus: an interview with Shay West is upcoming, so look for that tomorrow.)

A brief excerpt from the author’s website (the same summary that sparked my interest in the book in the first place):

Alexis Davenport wants to go home. She hates her new school, her mother for moving her away from her friends, and her father for walking out.

To make matters worse, Alex is haunted by images of strange girls reflected in her mirror. It’s bad enough juggling homework, a relentless bully, boys, and a deadbeat dad; now, she must save the world from an evil presence hell-bent on changing the past – and our futures. Who knew her A+ in history was going to be this important?

The premise of the book (the first in a series) is that Alex Davenport and her mother move into Alex’s aunt’s guesthouse, in a completely new town, at the beginning of a new school year. While Alex is trying to adjust to the new life she’s been thrown into, she is also dealing with something even stranger – seeing other girls reflected in the mirror where her own reflection should be.

When she touches the reflections, she finds herself sucked into those strange bodies – in different countries, in centuries past. Each time it happens, she arrives in the midst of a history-changing event and is forced to put her life in danger in order to right the wrongs being done to the timeline – though she has no idea how, or why.

I absolutely loved the time travel aspect, and those parts of the book were the ones that I looked forward to reading. Alex’s life with her friends and trouble at school are… okay, but it’s when Alex is thrown into the past and forced to rely on her own knowledge and experience that the book really shines. The imagery is vivid and the characters are so distinct that I felt as if I were the one who had been transported to another world. And even though the book isn’t written in first person, I still felt a distinct sense of empathy for Alex throughout.

There were some parts of the novel that seemed to drag – the pacing was slow whenever Alex was in her normal life, which I mentioned before – but overall, I thought it was both enjoyable and suspenseful. Once I got into the meat of the plot, I finished the book in a day because I was desperate to find out what was happening and why. It’s unclear by the end of the Dangerous Reflections whether the book is more fantasy or science fiction related, but either way, it’s a thrill ride. I’m hoping that I can get my hands on the next book in the series soon.

4 out of 5 stars.

For more information, be sure to check back tomorrow for my interview with Shay West, the author!

Tara

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Give to Readers Who Have Never Read YA Futuristic Speculative Fiction

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Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogging meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish.

The topic for today’s TTT is: “Top Ten Books I’d Give To Readers Who Have Never Read X (examples: New Adult novels, historical fiction, a certain author, books about a certain topic, etc).” I had a hard time deciding what genre I wanted to go with, so I chose speculative fiction, which I believed was fiction that speculated what could happen in the future. That makes sense, right? Well, apparently speculative fiction is a blanket term that covers most of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I also didn’t just want to use “dystopian,” because not all of the books had futures that were horrible and, well, dystopian. Most of them aren’t great futures, but no world is perfect.

Therefore, I had to get a little more specific.

So without further ado – the top ten books I would give to readers who have never read young adult futuristic speculative fiction, or to people who think that’s not their cup of tea. If that sounds like you – do give these books a try.

1. Legend by Marie Lu. Part of the United States is now the Republic, at war with its neighbors. Main characters June and Day’s lives intertwine as they begin to unravel their government’s secrets. Great story, great characters, high intensity, fabulous.

2. The Program by Suzanne Young. In this future, teen suicide is a global epidemic, and the only solution is The Program, which cures depression but also erases memories. Slone has to keep her head down and her feelings secret if she wants to avoid that fate – but of course that doesn’t work out. This book paints a terrifying future that is thrilling to read about.

3. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. When you turn sixteen, you undergo an operation that makes you pretty, and you receive access to a high-tech world of paradise and beautiful people. Tally is forced to go after her friend who runs away to avoid the operation, and she reaches alarming conclusions about their so-called perfect world. This is a spec fiction classic, in my opinion, and really shows what life could be like if our society continues to be so appearance-based.

4. Frozen by Robin Wasserman. Instead of dying in the car accident, Lia is saved by the Download – a program meant to solve the age-old problem of mortality. Her mind is downloaded into a new, computerized but life-like body – and she has to face the issue of being herself but not herself at all. I love the implications of the discussion about what really makes us human and what makes us ourselves. This book got me to think, while also being an engaging read.

5. Feed by M.T. Anderson. This one is another book about the dangers of a technology-reliant, consumeristic society. Titus and his friends run into a hacker who causes the feeds in their brains – which provide them constant communication, access to entertainment, etc, much like a smart phone but right in their heads – to malfunction. Then Titus meets Violet – a witty girl who wants to fight the feed. This book actually hits a little close to home – in terms of futuristic speculative fiction, it could happen tomorrow, which makes it even more impactful.

6. Salvage by Alexandra Duncan. Science fiction with a feminist twist – what happens when the earth has been transformed by climate change, when the ships that travel in space are conservative and male-dominated, when one girl takes her fate into her own hands? Read to find out. I reviewed this book earlier this year and adore it still.

7. A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka. More feminist spec fiction! I can’t get enough. In this book, a synthetic hormone in beef killed millions of adult women in the United States, sparking the Paternalist Movement to protect the country’s young girls – who have now become a commodity, used to be sold in marriage to the highest bidder. Avie intends to flee from her quickly-approaching marriage to a controlling politician, but can she make it to Canada before her world falls apart? I reviewed this one as well and hope you give it a chance, because it is majorly thought-provoking.

8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer. A sci-fi take on Cinderella! A deadly plague hits the population of Earth, the Lunar people are just waiting to attack, and Cinder – a second-class Cyborg – is caught in the crossfire when her mysterious past begins to unravel. This book has hints of fantasy, more than any other book on this list, but I did still want to include it because it’s one of my favorite books of all time and I’ve become a bit evangelical about it, if we’re being honest.

9. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. In this futuristic world, Mary’s village is protected from the Forest of Hands and Teeth, where the Unconsecrated reside, relentless in their quest to breach the perimeter. Yes, this is a zombie novel, and one of the best I’ve ever read. I don’t know what else to say about this book except read it, because it’s a brilliant take on the genre. It left me extremely unsettled about the future, and wanting nothing more but to read the next book.

10. This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. It’s the end of the world, and zombies are beating down on the doors of the high school, where six people are hoping to hold out and live – all except Sloane, who thinks that perhaps it would be better just to give up. I am in love with all of Summers’ books, and although this is another zombie apocalypse novel (yes, I know, I have a bit of a problem), it’s more human than almost anything I’ve ever read.

And finally, a bonus one: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If all else fails to convince you how awesome this genre is, remember that technically The Hunger Games is YA futuristic speculative fiction! Ha.

Tara

Review: Second Star

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Title: Second Star

Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

If you know me at all, you know that I am a sucker for alternate universe fairytales, retold fairytales, contemporary fairytales… you name it. I picked up Second Star desperately hoping it would be related somehow to Peter Pan, and I have never been so happy to be right. This is a great retelling of the beloved children’s classic, and though I had a few issues with it, it was an enjoyable read overall.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing brothers.  Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers.  Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete’s nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas.  Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she’s falling hard for Pete.  A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up – and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

I loved how Sheinmel manipulated the fairy tale’s characters and made them fit this entirely new setting. Wendy is now a young girl on a quest to find her missing surfer brothers, which takes her to Kensington, a surfers’ hideaway led by Pete (Peter Pan) and his posse of surfers (essentially the lost boys, plus the ever-jealous Belle – two guesses as to who she’s supposed to be). Fairy dust is transformed into the street name for a drug, which is dealt by Jas – who I presume is meant to represent Captain Hook, as he’s nowhere else to be found in the novel, though I wish the name had made that a little clearer.

There’s just the right amount of magic and mystery surrounding these characters and their existence in Kensington, and the effects that the drugs have on the surfer population, and the effects that Pete and his gang have on Wendy. I wasn’t entirely sure throughout the book if there was any magic actually involved, which made me love the book more. And the ending of the book left me with more questions than answers – which, surprisingly, I enjoyed.

What I disliked the most about Second Star, however, was the unnecessary love triangle. I don’t think it added anything extra to the plot except for a multitude of sighs from me. Plus, I hate to admit it, but compared to Wendy and Jas, she had absolutely no chemistry with Pete. It was a complete non-competition, it seemed. I understand the need to throw in romance in order to make it more appealing to young adult audiences, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like it fit. It was awkward, and I could have done without it entirely.

But for the reasons I stated previously, I loved the book overall. I’d definitely recommend it as a beach read, a poolside read, and an anywhere-you-need-a-fairytale-fix read.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Salvage

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Title: Salvage

Author: Alexandra Duncan

Publisher: Greenwillow

Publication Date: April 1, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I’ve been craving some good science fiction so I picked up Salvage, hoping it would do the trick. I think it did.

A quick summary from Goodreads:

Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean.

This is a sweeping and harrowing novel about a girl who can’t read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. What choices will she make? How will she build a future on an earth ravaged by climate change?

At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked this book. Duncan threw me right in the middle of things and relied on me as the reader to figure out how things work in her world. I immediately had to make sense of the dialogue, the customs, the slang, etc. I ended up appreciating that the author had faith in an intelligent readership, and I managed to settle into the world after a while.

The heart of this story, to me, seemed to be about a girl making her own way in the world. On the ship, the only home she’d ever known, women had a certain place, certain rules to follow, and very few and specific things that were expected of them. When she breaks away from that – not by choice – she has to find out how to adjust to a whole world of new and terrifying possibilities. Ava’s growth and exploration is gratifying to read about, and I was definitely digging the feminist themes in the book. The slogan on Alexandra Duncan’s website is “Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism,” which I could definitely tell from reading Salvage and which also makes me want to give her a high five.

This was a fabulous sci-fi adventure. There were multiple sides to every character, the book was suspenseful in all the right places, and Duncan really did immerse me in her world, like I mentioned before. I would recommend this book to readers who like kick-ass female protagonists (which should be everyone, really), and also especially to fans of the Lunar Chronicles – I think this diverse, deep, multi-faceted sci-fi has a lot in common with Marissa Meyer‘s works.

Salvage isn’t the best science fiction book I’ve ever read – the overall writing style left some things to be desired – but it was a great science fiction book, which definitely counts for something.

4 stars out of 5.

Tara

Review: The Waiting Room

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Title: The Waiting Room

Author: Alysha Kaye

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: July 1, 2014

Author’s twitter / Author’s blog / Author’s website

Alysha Kaye is an author and English teacher from Texas who provided me with a copy of her upcoming book in exchange for an honest review. As an English teacher myself, I felt an obligation to support her in her novelistic endeavor – plus, her book sounded amazing. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Waiting Room, which turned out to be an absolute delight to read.

First, a brief summary from the author’s website:

Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.

My first reaction was that this book reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite books about a non-traditional yet mythical afterlife, Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. While The Waiting Room isn’t a young adult novel, it still has the same whimsicality and airiness of Elsewhere. The tone is comedic and entertaining, although the novel has some serious issues at its heart. Throughout the book, Jude and Nina struggle with how to maintain their relationship and have faith that they’ll always be able to find each other again, even though they have no idea what makes them so special that they are allowed to wait for each other in the Waiting Room before every round of reincarnation. It should be a heart-wrenching story by all accounts, and at times it is, but the lightness of the tone and the comedic interludes help create a fine balance.

I liked how, when they were reincarnated, they could end up not only wherever but whenever. I liked how not everyone went through that particular waiting room – it would make sense, in a world where every deceased individual passes through the waiting area, that they wouldn’t all fit in one. I liked how suddenly characters I grow to love were ripped from the story – which really nailed the point that life is short and time is precious. I liked how the tone, throughout, was casual – like the characters narrating were sitting next to me and telling me their story.

One thing I found awkward was the change in perspectives. At first, the book is only told from Jude’s perspective, but after a while, it switches to third person briefly. Later, it shifts to be mostly from Nina’s perspective, though occasionally it jumps back to Jude’s. I can understand why certain characters needed to be the primary perspective for certain parts of the book, but it was slightly off-putting until I got used to it. I think the other thing that could have been improved upon was that I wanted more showing and less telling. Some parts of the novel were very dialogue-heavy or very exposition-heavy. Kaye’s story is deftly woven and her imagery is vivid and imaginative, and I wanted more of that.

I think my final comment is that The Waiting Room built characters that I cared about. I cared about not only Jude and Nina but supporting characters as well. I even cared about the Waiting Room itself and was glad to see how it changed and grew throughout the book. Fantasy lovers, romance lovers, lovers of a thoughtful story – all of these readers will enjoy The Waiting Room. I wish the book success and I hope to read more by Alysha Kaye in the future.

The Waiting Room will be available on Amazon on July 1. Be sure to visit Kaye’s website to learn more.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Strange Sweet Song

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Title: Strange Sweet Song

Author: Adi Rule

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Publication date: March 11, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I bought this book on a whim after it came highly recommended by my friend Holly. I am learning that I should automatically read everything she suggests, because all of her recommendations have been fabulous. I am a big fan of fantasy novels, and this book sounded vaguely magic-related, so I gave it a shot. It was worth it.

There are no spoilers in this review, because I think the plot twists are impressive and I don’t want to put them to waste.

A quick summary from the author’s website:

Music flows in Sing Da Navelli’s blood. When she enrolls at a prestigious conservatory, her first opera audition is for the role of her dreams. But this leading role is the last Sing’s mother ever sang, before her controversial career, and her life, were cut tragically short.

As Sing struggles to escape her mother’s shadow and prove her own worth, she is drawn to the conservatory’s icy forest, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. She soon realizes there is more to her new school than the artistry and politics of classical music.

With the help of a dark-eyed apprentice who has secrets of his own, Sing must unravel the story of the conservatory’s dark forest and the strange creature who lives there — and find her own voice.

I was confused when I first began this book, because I wasn’t sure when it was set. It seemed much more gothic – the setting, and the lyrical prose, the whole feeling of the novel. But surprisingly, the book is contemporary. There are sections that are set in the near past (though again, I thought they were set hundreds of years in the past, until I finally figured out the timeline) – and it is easy to tell when the story switches to flashback, because these are set in the past tense while the bulk of the book is in the present.

There are magical elements of the book, but the characters don’t really seem to question the magic or the logistics of what occurs, which reminded me quite a bit of magical realism. This is rare in YA books, I think, which made me cherish the story even more. Additionally, the magical elements don’t overpower the heart of the book, which focuses on Sing’s character development.

Sing (which is a strange name, but I soon got over it, and I did appreciate the symbolism and the repetition of the meaning that was discussed throughout) faced plenty of issues that weren’t magical-related. She struggled with making and keeping friends, with balancing her father’s high demands and her own career aspirations, and with living in the shadow of her deceased mother. These are all highly relevant contemporary problems, and the way Sing’s personality and beliefs shift throughout the book made her a supremely relatable character.

I pride myself on being able to spot twists and turns in the plot, but there are surprises in this book that I never saw coming. One in particular is a clearly orchestrated deception that the author pulls off perfectly – just as I thought I had something figured out, I found out that I was completely turned around. The whole last third of the book, too, moved at a breakneck pace, which was slightly disconcerting at first but which I enjoyed overall.

Also, if you’re familiar with the plot of the Japanese movie Hidamari no Kanojo (which was based on a book, though it was never translated into English) you might find similarities in story. I just watched that movie over the weekend, and I was stunned at how much the stories resembled each other. But while the same thing happens near the end, this novel’s conclusion is much more satisfying.

If you like fantasy or magical realism combined with a contemporary YA novel, this is the book for you. Also, if you’re a music lover, you’ll find the magic in this book. A love of opera and concertos isn’t a requirement to understand this book, of course, but you’ll appreciate it even more. Finally, if you love books that are beautifully written, you should give this one a try.

I’m looking forward to Adi Rule’s next book.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara