I read The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker in two sittings, the pacing and adventure are that good! The story begins in a mythology-based contemporary sett...moreI read The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker in two sittings, the pacing and adventure are that good! The story begins in a mythology-based contemporary setting that surprisingly ends in the mythological world with a bang and a surprise.
The three main characters in this book were introduced in the short story "The Trouble with Billy," which first appeared in the Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up anthology. There, we met short, skinny Jamie, the only out gay kid in his high school as he was relentlessly bullied by Billy and defended by best friend Sarah. The Unwanted begins with Billy punching sixteen year-old Jamie on the nose at school, Sarah coming to the rescue, and Jamie going home with a bleeding nose without first asking for permission from school authorities. Poor Jamie is in for a surprise because when he gets there his mother is waiting. The mother that was supposed to be dead.
Jamie's parents have a lot of explaining to do -- one of them is the winged horse hanging out in his backyard! Once everything is explained, Billy and a bleeding nose are the least of Jamie's worries. It turns out that his mother is one of the mythological Amazons. As we know from Greek mythology, Amazons do not keep their male children and Jamie's mother left him to be raised by his father. Now there is big trouble brewing and the Amazons may be wiped out by an angry god. However, they have one chance, the Oracle's prophesy clearly says that a male child will save them. Jamie's mother believes that he may be that boy, and hopes he will go back with her to save her sisters and her home.
This is an adventure full of risks and danger! There is a romance, but there are also fantastic friendships, great magical moments, and dangerous battles filled with deadly villains. I enjoyed all of it. Jamie's personal situation captures the reader, but the slow-building danger and revelations really keep the reader going. I was surprised at how well the pacing works in this novel. It doesn't lag even when there's a lull in the action because there is that expectancy that something is about to happen.
As narrator, Jamie's voice is fantastic. Ricker hits the right young adult tone, so that Jamie comes off angsty, sarcastic, and humorous at the most unexpected of moments even as he deals with very serious situations. He's not a know-at-all or the big muscular hero who can do it all. As a matter of fact, he's small for his age, can't really fight, and doubts his abilities all the time. Young adults can relate to him as a character, including when it comes to his handling of family and friends.
Family issues are definitely on the forefront for Jamie: his father's and his own confused feelings for an absentee mother. Additionally, Billy the bully also becomes a key character in this young adult fantasy/adventure. The development of Billy's character, the issue of trust and the growing relationship with Jamie carries to the end of the story.
I loved The Unwanted. I found it to be both fun and highly relevant with central and secondary characters that young adults can relate to, and will enjoy seeing on the page. Additionally, Ricker takes some overwhelming risks with characters and story at the end that I believe give this read a unique touch. Highly recommended! (less)
Read the Spanish version of this fantasy based prequel to Zafon's series and enjoyed his prose and writing style.
Set in the 15th century in Barcelona...moreRead the Spanish version of this fantasy based prequel to Zafon's series and enjoyed his prose and writing style.
Set in the 15th century in Barcelona during the time of the inquisition, Zafon incorporates religion, ignorance, and the prejudicial mores of the times, with a heavy dose of fantasy. A bit too short and lacking depth. (less)
Gaiman's magical, adult fairy tale is narrated by a seven year-old boy as events are remembered by the man he becomes. It's interesting because we all...moreGaiman's magical, adult fairy tale is narrated by a seven year-old boy as events are remembered by the man he becomes. It's interesting because we all know how childhood memories can fade and events can become distorted with time and our narrator is middle aged -- divorced with grown children with established lives of their own. Magic, however, factors into the "distortion of memory" issue, which I believe is a creative approach by Gaiman.
Children often blame themselves for what happens around them, to them, to their parents, as a result of their actions, but most times through no fault of their own. They can also erase and/or rearrange memories, particularly bad ones, to fit their lives and make them more acceptable. In Gaiman's fairy tale, the unnamed protagonist placed those memories in a tight little box and closed the lid. The memories only came into play when he went through changes in his life, but were those memories accurate or was he still placing the blame where it did not belong? After the funeral when our story begins, are the memories closer to being accurate? This adult fairy tale is a magnificent way of telling a story that deals with the consequences of childhood trauma and factors in memory.
The summary of the book above is quite accurate in detail, but lacks spoilers. It is in fact the perfect summary for this short novel by Gaiman. However, it would help to clarify that forty years earlier means 1960, and that has to be kept in mind when reading the seven year-old boy's narrative, particularly his feelings about adults and his reactions to them.
Grownups and Monsters:
"Grownups and Monsters aren't scared of things. "
"Oh, monsters are scared," said Lettie. "That's why they're monsters. And as for grown-ups. . . "
As terrifyingly beautiful and creative as the fairy tale turns out to be, this story is about growing up. There is little subtlety in the way Gaiman portrays the death of innocence or the depth of terror or fear felt by the boy as he narrates his experiences. But there is no question that I wouldn't have missed walking in the boy's shoes or missing out in those experiences.
I think what I love about The Ocean at the End of the Lane is that it can be read and enjoyed in different ways, as a magical fairy tale or as more. Although it has children as protagonists at its core and family is part of the story, this is not a warm, children's fairy tale like The Graveyard Book. It has a much darker atmosphere, and deeper and much more complex plot that makes this an adult fairy tale. This is my interpretation of what I found at the core of the fairy tale. I'm sure we all have different thoughts about it... and of course, that is the beauty that comes from reading this piece by Gaiman.(less)
I was introduced to Richard Bowes's writing by way of a short story. Later I read and really enjoyed his adult fairy tale book The Queen, The Cambion,...moreI was introduced to Richard Bowes's writing by way of a short story. Later I read and really enjoyed his adult fairy tale book The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others. His short story "Grierson at the Pain Clinic" in the Wilde Stories 2013 anthology was so unique and creative that I went hunting for his Lambda Literary Award-winning novel Minions of the Moon. So what is it that about Richard Bowes' works that grabbed me? I love the realism he utilizes to set up his fantasy. His latest fantasy novel Dust Devil on a Quiet Street has that quality in spades.
As a child I went to bed worried that the me who fell asleep would disappear in the dark and not be remembered by the me who woke up. I've never wholly lost that. It's one reason I write these stories.
Bowes's tale of dust devils, local ghosts and small gods begins in Greenwich Village on the evening of 9/11 right after the Towers fell. Richard's friend and old lover Megs insists that as a result of the tragedy, a rift opened and ghosts from past and present disasters are coming through and flooding the City. She can see them, and decides to search for the ghost of Richard and Megs' old lover Geoff. As this tale of ghosts, friendships, and lovers lost progresses, the reality of what happened on that beautiful, tragic September morning slowly creeps in as Bowes imbues the atmosphere and his characters with a sense of dislocation and disorientation so spot on that ghosts, dust devils and witch girls seamlessly become part of that reality.
As the story of Richard, Megs and Geoff continues, Bowes plays with time by relating events taking place in the present and connecting them to the past, taking the reader for a fantastic ride through a Village's past history full of the real and the supernatural. In the second chapter we learn what drives our main character and narrator, Richard. Supernatural events surrounding Richard's encounter with the eerie Witch Girls are weaved in with his college years, new friendships, sexual escapades, and a significant early childhood trauma that leads to a long battle with self-destructive behavior and drug addiction.
When I opened my eyes they were gone. I understood that what I'd done and what had been done to me were the misfortunes that come to a Witch Boy trying in all the wrong ways to be human.
The supernatural encounters continue as the reader is introduced to lovers, friends, writers, sexual escapades, and in the process is whisked back in time to a City that lived a long time ago. That is most evident in the Ray Light and Judy Finch incident where the narrator's strong presence is felt on the periphery while Bowes transports the reader to the 1960's in a mesmerizing story of young runaways, hippy life, hustlers, drugs, sex, psychic powers, and murder. Bowes brilliantly weaves the Ray Light incident throughout the whole book so that it blends in with the "memoir" style of this novel. But as I said before, he also plays with time, so that this and other events that begin long ago are effectively connected to events, or small moments, taking place in the present. It all works out quite well.
I particularly love how Bowes incorporates events that begin with the present as the setting but flow in and out of the past. In relating the death of New York City, Bowes turns to Richard's present and the ghost of a past lover Hal Dizeg, dubbed the Downtown Ganymede, who was legendary in the Village for his brilliant beauty and wealthy sugar daddies. Later they were involved as lovers in a relationship fueled by drugs that ended with Hal telling Richard: "I don't think you're really here, and you don't think I'm really human." But this chapter is about Richard's present and his nostalgia for the past. He is singularly harsh on a modern Manhattan full of yuppified New Yorkers, yet, not unexpectedly, Richard is always toughest on himself. The proof is in the pudding when returning as a ghost Hal leaves our aging narrator with these words: "It wasn't a soul you lacked, it was courage and timing, darling. You didn't know when it was your moment to die."
Dust Devil on a Quiet Street was more of an experience than I expected. It is a fantasy book full of those fantastic supernatural events some of us love, and yet, it is also much more. Bowes inserts himself as the central character, establishing a thorough connection with the reader while relating the highs and lows of life, such as they are or were, so that this book is an intricate, masterful blend of fantasy and life-long experiences gained during a lifetime of living in a New York City he knows and loves. Bowes is so good at using this device that there are times when the reader must wonder where reality ends and fiction begins. Highly recommended.
Favorite quote: (Chapter 11, Page 158) "Writing is the place where I can be as bold and compassionate and wise as I choose." (less)
The Resurrectionist is such a gorgeous book! When I first received the print copy all I wanted to do was pet it. It is the size of a coffee table book...moreThe Resurrectionist is such a gorgeous book! When I first received the print copy all I wanted to do was pet it. It is the size of a coffee table book, and an excellent conversation piece as I quickly found out. The fantastic illustrations rendered by the author E.B. Hudspeth, The Codex Extinct Animalia, that make up the second section of this book steal the show. Of course, there is a story to go along with all those gorgeous illustrations and the aesthetically pleasing package.
Set primarily in Philadelphia in the late 1800's, the first section of the story is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black. Although it is written in a biographical style narrative with journal entries by Dr. Spencer Black and occasional entries by his brother Bernard, the story soon takes a twist into dark fantasy as Spencer comes to believe that mythological creatures are the true ancestors of humans. At age twenty-one, Black is known around the world as a medical prodigy, but as his research grows into an obsession that takes him away from his brilliant works as a surgeon working with operable birth defects and into an entirely different direction, his credibility with the medical community is irrevocably damaged and his mental health rapidly deteriorates.
This section of the book is rather short, at times providing gruesome details of Black's experiments, while at others it leaves blank or unknown details up to the reader's imagination. Black's experiments and descent into obsessive darkness fascinated me to no end and left me disturbed. That is until I looked at those gorgeous illustrations again.
The Codex Extinct Animalia, or second section of the book, is dedicated to those fantastic illustrations I mention above. I wish I could show you instead of telling you about it. There is a page describing each mythological creature, another page with Dr. Black's notes about the creature, and a page dedicated to different illustration plates enumerating bones, muscles, internal organs, and the final sample of said creature. My favorites are the amazing illustrations of the Harpy Erinyes. But as beautiful as the illustrations are, they become deeply disturbing when placed in context with the story or Black's obsession. It is through these that the reader comes to realize the depth of the doctor's madness and realizes just how far he goes with his experimentation. A rather macabre thought...
Now, take the disturbing dark fantasy narrated in biographical style and put it together with illustrations that take the story up a notch into the macabre and you have a winning combination. For readers like me who love a taste of the unique and different, the aesthetically beautiful journey into the dark mind of a madman in The Resurrectionist will most certainly do. (less)
Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold is a fantasy mystery with an unquestionable steampunk flavor that does not overwhelm the world-bui...moreDeath by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold is a fantasy mystery with an unquestionable steampunk flavor that does not overwhelm the world-building, yet offers enough magic and subtle details to give this story set in a recognizable Victorian London, a very distinct atmosphere. There is quite a lot to enjoy in this well executed fantasy mystery with its delicious twists and turns, red herrings, murders by magic, personal struggles and a question of the heart.
The absorbing mystery drives the plot in Death by Silver as Scott and Griswold keep clues and details coming at a fast pace with well-executed red herrings, twists and turns. The mystery is well integrated with the world-building and the relationship struggle taking place between the characters. Most importantly, none of the characters in Death by Silver, including the villain(s), fall into the black and white category. Instead, they all display strengths and human frailty. Scott and Griswold effectively explore gray areas and the humanity of their characters through Ned and Julian's perspectives.
The fantasy details are organically incorporated into the world-building throughout the story and make sense from the beginning. For example, details such as a recognizable London as the setting with true to time Victorian morals, behavior, and lifestyle, are subtly blended in with magic, enchantments, automata-building salesmen, alternate institutions, laws, some rather interesting flora, and religious beliefs.
However, the hearts of this story are our main characters and narrators Ned and Julian. The story is narrated from their alternating first point of view perspectives. As a result, Scott and Griswold give the reader an in-depth look into both characters that include personal history, intimate thoughts, fears, and feelings. They also give an excellent view of secondary characters and different perspectives of the unfolding plot. The shifts in point of view flow well as do the intermittent flashbacks employed to show the characters' pertinent past experiences with bullies at boarding school.
The extent of the bullying episodes is revealed slowly and blends in with the mystery, as Julian and Ned confront personal fears and consequences of those boarding school days while working closely with the man who bullied them. Also slowly integrated are our main characters' depth of feelings and insecurities as they circle each other and wonder where their relationship stands. This is not the main focus of the story, still, I love Ned and Julian's "friends and lovers to romance-in-the-making" conflict.
I loved everything about Death by Silver -- the world-building and excellent atmosphere, the characters and their personal struggles, the twisty well-paced plot and the delicious romantic relationship-building elements, all the way to the great ending. I just hope that Scott and Griswold are planning a series because these characters and world are begging for one! Highly enjoyed and recommended. (less)
Myth is the sea on which the Fantasy story floats. Legend is the wind that drives it. Its place of birth is the Fairy Tale.
So begins The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others by Richard Bowes, a beautifully illustrated little book containing eight stories ranging from modern fairy tales and fantasy, to variations on myth and legends. The afterword by Mr. Bowes, "A Secret History of Small Books," enhances the overall reading experience.
I read this magical little book and enjoyed all of Mr. Bowes' stories. Of course I have a few favorites, including "The Queen and the Cambion" in which Bowes takes events from the life of a historical figure, Queen Victoria of England, and incorporates a character from Arturian legend to create a magical modern fantasy tale. There is "The Lady of Wands" a magical fantasy with a fantastic narrator as the central character, and a whodunit with twists, turns, and political undercurrents that can only take place when a story is set in the land of fairies. And the fantastic "The Progress of Solstice and Chance" with its soap opera style plot where the King of Winter and Queen of Summer marry and their child Solstice falls in love with Chance. I recommend all the stories, but I'm going to focus this post on one story, a single Fairy Tale.
The book begins with "Seven Smiles and Six Frowns" a fairy tale. It goes something like this. On a summer's evening the Witch of the Forest of Avalon gathers the children on her porch to tell them a simple tale about Prince Alaric who is beloved and gifted by his father the King and the Fairies with all types of magical presents. When the time comes for Alaric to marry, he is not satisfied with the princesses presented to him, but while traveling through the forest, a beautiful maiden uses cunning and magic to divest him of the magical items that make Alaric special until all he has left to win her is himself. There is a happy ending of course, but, what happens after that is what makes this a striking and unique piece.
Bowes' simple fairy tale gains complexity as the Witch invites her future apprentice to return the next day, alone, so she can tell her a different version of the fairy tale, one that is based on 'truthful' events. After the apprentice becomes the Witch, she in turn makes further revelations to her own apprentice and the reader. By the end, what began as a simple Fairy Tale with a handsome Prince and a happy ever after evolves into "a tale that not only entertains but teaches." Bowes' "Seven Smiles and Six Frowns" is an excellent example of the evolution of a fairy tale where modern insights are used by the narrator to enhance the listener's understanding but retaining the magic remains essential to complete the experience.