Category Archives: fantasy

Mini Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caravalHmm… this is a tough review to write because I definitely enjoyed the overall plot of Caraval, but didn’t necessarily enjoy the journey to get to the bigger plot points. For the first 270 pages or so, this read was a slog that I only trudged through because it was one of two books I brought on holiday (Side note: I found an Advance Reading Copy version of this book in a lending library so it’s possible the final published version is different from what I read). Once I hit the turning point, I quickly finished and enjoyed the remaining storylines, but nothing should take more than 200 pages to be compelling! The romance between two of the leads was a little much for me and I found myself annoyed that adolescents might read this and think this is how they should build their crushes on other people (stop describing this man’s ~perfect muscles~!!), but hopefully the t(w)weens will roll their eyes while reading those pieces too and think “not for me!” The family relationships and affiliations were better described and fuller. All that said, I’ll probably still pick up the sequel if it gets good reviews since the laborious (unnecessary) world building was established with the first novel and I enjoyed the second half much more than the first. 

Publication Date: 31 January 2017 by Flatiron Books. Format: Paperback ARC.

Author: Stephanie Garber web/facebook/@twitter

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Mini Review: Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale

afterlifewitharchieI snapped this little number up from The Strand after a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day as a quick, colorful read that would distract me from my nightmare day. It achieved its goal!! Huzzah! I’m relatively new to the world of comics so take my review for this with a grain of salt, but I thought it was a well constructed — particularly the scene that involves Archie and his father (woof! that blew me away!). I never would’ve picked this up if I wasn’t Riverdale trash and looking for hints about where the plot line might go, seeing as how Riverdale’s showrunner is also the writer of this series. That said, I found Sabrina’s story in the very first few pages to tug at my mind strings a bit more than the Archie characters so I guess I’ll have to scoop up The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in the soon-ish future. I’ll probably keep reading this as the volumes continue to be released, but don’t really recommend it to people outside of the communal Riverdale trash heap.

A Million Junes by Emily Henry

amillionjunesIf you were a fan of Emily Henry’s debut, The Love that Split the World , you will love A Million Junes, a story that exists in the same magical realistic world that will likely become the thread that weaves all of Henry’s works together.

When I began this novel, I was struck by the tale as old as time: Montague vs. Capulet; Hatfield vs. McCoy; Coopers vs. Blossoms (yes, I’m Riverdale trash); two families that have hated each other for generations finds the current youthful generation having ~feelings~ for the forbidden other. While this is the basis for the love story, there is SO much more than the romance in this little novel that I adored and quickly consumed! Henry’s first novel received some critique for featuring an instalove storyline, which also occurs in this novel… but isn’t that how some teenagers, and even certain adults, feel sometimes? Henry cleverly has her narrator refer to her blooming affection as an “insta-crush”, which perhaps acknowledges and circumvents the critique from before.

While the love story is foregrounded in this novel, this is primarily a story about grief and losing someone who was instrumental in making you who you are as a being. Losing that person causes a tangible feeling of missing a piece of yourself when the loved one passes. I will always be partial to these stories since my mother died when I was young, but this book felt like a solace for my little, grief-mangled heart. I would have loved to have this book as a teen. Grief can fill your every thought mentally, but can also overtake you physically. This novel did a great job of exploring that and illuminating the many sources of support that you need to depend upon to lift yourself through your grief and the mistakes you might make and harm you might cause as you struggle with your loss. I loved it. Have I said that yet? I LOVED it.

Also full of love? The best friendship featured in this novel. The two best friends frequently worked on putting each other back together and being a major pillar of support to each other, a side of friendship that I’m not sure everyone even opens themselves up enough to experience. The best friendship here built a base of support like a pseudo family for someone who can’t depend on actual family, either by choice or necessity, for that support. My best friends have always been the ones to help put me back together and remind me who I am when I feel lost. I loved that June, the main character, turns to her best friend in especially trying, emotionally charged situations when June is trying to uncover how she really feels.

Stylistically, Henry writes so beautifully that I think I would probably be in love with how she writes a grocery list. I want to be best friends with the author and talk about life and Big Things like loss and mourning and love, whilst sipping delicious warm beverages in the coziest coffee shop. Is that too much to ask for?? Probably, but that’s how this book makes me feel.

Snatch up this book on May 16, 2017, published by Razorbill!!

Some of my favorite quotes are below:

“This is how grief works. It watches; it waits; it hollows you out, again and again.” (p. 201)

“Talking about all this has stirred up memories I do my best to leave settled on the floor of my mind.” (p. 47)

“I wanted to forget this feeling forever. The feeling of being ripped into two people: the you of before and the one you’ll always be once you know what it is to lose something.” (p. 161)

“They don’t know that, the more time passes, the more you forget, and the more you forget, the more it hurts — less often, sure, but worse. You want to dig your fingernails and teeth into the ghost that’s slipping through your fingers.” (p. 114)

“But she always said what she loved best about dad was that, to him, she wasn’t a mystery at all.” (p. 54)

“You know life’s not like this. Even when it’s good, it’s hard and terrible and you lose things you can’t ever replace.” (p. 109)

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

ready player one by ernest cline: a conversation

readyplayeroneThis book review for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline follows a different format than all of my other book reviews. When I started listening to the audiobook, I found out that my amazing book blogging friend Amy was reading it at the exact same time so we decided to have a conversation about each of our thoughts and cross-post those thoughts to both of our blogs. We’re going to try to do a few more of these, so please let us know in the comments what you think related to format, content, length, or whatever else your heart desires. Make sure to check out Amy’s book blog The Literature Life when you get a chance!

The Conversation Commences:

Bri: I listened to the audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton and I absolutely LOVED this book! I gotta say, I don’t know a ton about Wil Wheaton, so I didn’t get excited about hearing him read it as other fans would have, but he did a brilliant job. The book heavily includes things from 80s American culture, which I wasn’t as familiar with outside of John Hughes films, but I would say you could be a complete novice and still be thrilled with the pop culture references that proliferate this book. This was the first book I’ve read in a while where I tried to read more slowly because I didn’t want it to be over — definitely the most fun book I’ve read/listened to all year. What are your initial thoughts, Amy? Did you find any of the pop culture references inaccessible as a child of the 90s?

Amy: I’m happy to hear Wil Wheaton did a good job of narrating the audio book, while I know quite a bit about him I wouldn’t really call myself a fan. I’m tempted to grab the audio book myself, as I’ve recently started listening to them, but think my latest Audible credit might be better spent elsewhere as I’ve already read it, any recommendations would be appreciated! I see what you mean about the pop culture references, I understood most of the ones related to films, especially John Hughes films like you, and a couple of games, but not very much. I didn’t find it too alienating though, I enjoyed learning little bits about the ’80s, now have a list of more 80s things to look up, and felt quite excited when I understood the references. I can see why this book is popular and a cult favourite, it does play up the nostalgic feel and that’s surely why it appeals to a lot of its audience who remember when the games and films references were released. Not to mention, there are bound to be readers our age and younger who, like Halliday, Wade and the other gunters (characters in the book who are looking for Halliday’s Easter Eggs, the key to his fortune), engrossed themselves in the culture and love it for the same reason. At times I thought maybe it was a bit overkill when it came to the 80s stuff, but I suppose that’s the point. Did you think it was too much at times, or that the amount of pop culture references was about right?

Bri: I really didn’t think the pop culture references were overwhelming at all, but I did find that I kind of breezed by the references that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t really hold onto them. The only reference that intrigued me enough to want to follow up on is to watch Matthew Broderick in War Games, which I’ve somehow never seen.

With stories like this, I often find myself getting annoyed with the romance subplots because they often feel weak or over exaggerated to me, but I found that I didn’t mind this romance subplot. That’s likely because it wasn’t a huge part of the storyline, but also was believable and not just thrown in to add another layer of drama/conflict. What did you think of the romance and friendships depicted in the book?

Amy: At least something good has come out the references, hopefully you’ll enjoy War Games. Also, if you’ve not seen Fanboys which is a film written by Ernest Cline, you should definitely take the opportunity to now, it’s one of my favourite films and until recently I didn’t realise that it was the same person.

I agree with you so much on how romance subplots can feel over exaggerated. I find as I grow older that I have less and less time for extraneous romantic melodrama when a narrative is doing just fine without it. However, the romance subplot in Ready Player One was tolerable. There’s a point where the love interest, Artemis, breaks it off for a while because it is distracting (I wouldn’t consider this a major spoiler), and I really appreciated what a reasonable decision that was in the context of how high the stakes are in their quest. It seems to me quite tempting to either write drama into romantic arcs for the sake of drama, or when the climaxes of a book aren’t related to relationship issues to make subplot relationships run effortlessly and unrealistically smooth. Ernest Cline here seemed to really think through what problems two young people might face when romantically involved while also in this ridiculous situation. I don’t know about you, but I really liked Artemis, a lot more than Wade. I don’t think that a main character necessarily has to be like-able, but when there’s a character in the mix that I can really get behind that’s always good, so having Artemis and Aech to like was helpful.

I am always quite skeptical of book-to-film adaptations, with the news a few months ago that Steven Spielberg is directing the film version of Ready Player One, the ball seems to be rolling in the making of it (edit: it now has a date!). What do you think will be the major difficulties when they’re making this film?

Bri: It’s so interesting to see Aech’s name spelled out! Since I listened to the audiobook, I spelled out all of the names in my brain and I thought Aech’s name was actually just the letter H. I kept wondering how someone could have a username consisting of only one letter.

I had no idea that there were actually talks about making this into a movie, let alone that someone like Steven Spielberg was attached to direct. As fun and intriguing as I found this book, I honestly can’t picture it being successfully adapted to the big screen, especially with all of the references to other works that will definitely be difficult to incorporate because of copyright issues. If a lot of the references end up being eliminated for the big screen, I feel like part of the magic of the book will definitely disappear.

Since the book shifts from taking place in the game setting to Wade’s real world and never shows the real worlds of the other characters until much later in the book, I feel like this could affect the film negatively tonally. While this works in the book because you’re only following the mindset of Wade, I feel like this is much harder to convey and accept as a viewer of a film when you’re taking in the characters within their environments instead of specifically following a single character’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this book? This can be your parting thoughts, how it changed you as a reader, a single sentence summary of the novel, or whatever your heart desires.

Amy: I rarely think of the little differences that can occur between listening to an audiobook and reading it in print, I suppose new words, names, and general things you’ve never heard of won’t come across the same. Cline’s spelling didn’t occur to you, and it took me far too long when reading to realise it was supposed to be pronounced H.

I do love film adaptations of books, but I feel some stories are meant to be enjoyed as novels and are best left alone. Others feel differently, when they love something so much they need to experience it through as many mediums as possible. I think a film might take something away from the charm of this book. Despite its incredible popularity, it is a cult favourite, and when you’re reading it and nobody around you has heard of it you do feel a bit like you’re part of a special club. Turning it into a blockbuster movie might remove that inkling that you’re onto something great. There’s also something to be said for needing to actively play a part in the world building and having to imagine this insane simulated dimension, I found that a big part of my experience of Ready Player One was that how the OASIS looked was largely down to my interpretation of it.

Hmm… parting thoughts. I found this book to be satisfyingly immersive and really enjoyable, as far as my own reading experience goes it is quite a unique book. I’m looking forward to reading Cline’s second Armada which was published this month, though I’m worried that it will have too many similarities to be as exciting. Despite my enjoyment of Ready Player One I was occasionally drawn out of it to think about how and why it has sold so well, it seems to me that Ernie Cline knows exactly what he is doing and has played on the enthusiasm of fans of old games and films and their need to buy into or collect things. I can’t really talk though, I collect books like nobody’s business… I’m really interested to hear what you’ll be taking away from this!

Bri: While I already want to read Armada, I think I’m going to wait a few months to check it out so that I won’t be constantly comparing it to Ready Player One. Since Wil Wheaton also narrated that audiobook, I’ll probably choose to listen to this book too.

My final takeaways from reading Ready Player One is that I shouldn’t just dismiss a popular book if it takes place in a world that I don’t think I’ll appreciate. Some authors are so skilled that they can make it a fun ride for most readers, even if you don’t have the background knowledge that could ultimately make it more enjoyable.

Having a conversation like this was fun! Let’s do it again! Let us know in the comments if there are any books that you think Amy and Bri should tackle next!

Publication Date: 16 August 2011 by Random House. Format: Digital Audiobook from Books on Tape.

Author: Ernest Cline web/twitter/facebook/blog

Narrator: Wil Wheaton web/twitter/tumblr/instagram

stardust by neil gaiman

stardustVery rarely do I enjoy when authors narrate the audiobooks of their own novels (see my cringe worthy review of Lord of the Flies by William Golding), but Neil Gaiman must be a multi-talented superstar! I found myself borrowing the audiobook of Stardust from my local library upon realizing that I had never read any of Gaiman’s works despite seeing that lots of people I follow on twitter mention him often. This is no doubt aided by his own very active Twitter presence  because it truly appears that Gaiman is a Renaissance man and can don many hats. I selected Stardust as my first Gaiman read because I remembered that the film version is one of my best friend’s favorite movies (… yet I somehow still haven’t seen the film… sorry Sam!).

Gaiman is an incredibly animated narrator and is able to tell the story in a similar vein to people who are trained to be the best audiobook narrators. Thus, I didn’t have any of the normal issues that I experience when I listen to books narrated by their authors when I listened to Stardust. Despite Gaiman’s enthusiasm, I did find the book a bit boring in the beginning and likely would have put it aside after the first few pages if I had been reading the book instead of listening to it. That said, I became much more engaged after the “world building” was complete and the action started filling my ears.

Stardust is a fairytale for grown ups, according to Gaiman in a bonus interview that is included at the end of the audiobook. The “grown up” part mainly means that the novel includes some sex scenes and that the overall tale, in the way it’s presented (even if the sex scenes hadn’t been included), wouldn’t be that entertaining to a child. This is because pieces of the book draw upon experiences and feelings that you have as you become older, but that you likely don’t have a familiarity with if you’re under the age of twelve. Stardust follows the story of Tristan Thorn, a young man, who decides to leave his home on a quest to win the hand of a lady that he would like to marry. He ventures to another land to complete a quest that he conjured himself and encounters many hijinks and twists and turns (fit for a fairytale!) along the way. I didn’t really get into the book until the introduction of Yvaine, which luckily happens fairly early into the story, as I found her to be the most interesting character in the book and thoroughly enjoyed all of the scenes which included her. While I was able to guess some plot pieces of the book along the way, parts of the ending surprised me and left me in awe of how Gaiman constructed his truly great fairytale for grown ups.

Should I check out a different one of Neil Gaiman’s works? What’s your favorite thing that he’s published?

Publication Date: 1 February 1999 by HarperCollins. Format: Digital Audiobook from Harper Audio.

Author/Narrator: Neil Gaiman web/@twitter

harry potter series by j. k. rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Audiobook Cover

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Audiobook Cover

Last fall during the holiday season, I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic. I had moved to a new city that I hadn’t quite adjusted to yet and was missing being geographically close to my loved ones. To combat my homesickness, I decided to dip into one of my favorite memories and reads from my childhood: the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. I hadn’t done a proper re-read since the final book (Deathly Hallows) was published in 2007 and it was time for me to re-visit the beloved series. I was able to finish the first two books in 2014 and listened to books 3-7 in 2015, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban being my first completed book of 2015 and thus kickstarting my journey of reading 52 books in 52 days during 2015.

Unfortunately, my hardcover books are stowed away at my grandparents’ house and I didn’t want to carry the heavier books (aka 4-7) on the subway every day, so I decided to digitally check out the audiobooks from my local library. If you’re a member of your local library, you should find out if your library has digital services. The Brooklyn Public Library has a few digital resources, including Overdrive, a service that I access on my phone regularly. If you haven’t used Overdrive or if you’re not a member of your local library, I thoroughly recommend you introduce both of these into your life! Libraries are pretty great, but they’re even better when they give me access to resources like digital Harry Potter audiobooks for free when the entire series would have cost $242 if I paid to own them!! Audiobooks are very expensive and public libraries are helping expand access to them. This post could also aptly be titled “A Love Letter to Public Libraries.”

These audiobooks were absolutely great and allowed me to dive back into a series that I grew up adoring, while allowing them to feel fresh because the narrator, Jim Dale, is enormously talented. Even though the series is comprised of more than a hundred characters, Dale managed to provide each of them with a unique voice. He is definitely the most adept audiobook narrator that I’ve listened to so far since my foray into audiobooks approximately a year ago.

If you haven’t done a re-read (or a read ever) of the Harry Potter series, think about adding them to your to-read pile. If you haven’t listened to an audiobook before, I think this series narrated by Jim Dale is a wonderful introduction to how fun they can be to weave into your life.

Publication dates: 29 June 1997 – 21 July 2007 by Pottermore. Format: Digital Audiobook.

Author: J. K. Rowling web/@twitter

Narrator: Jim Dale web