When I first found out about this book, I thought it had one of the most unique premises I’ve ever seen. But then the early reviews started trickling in, and it seems the one common opinion among a lot of them were “I had no idea what was going on,” or “I was so confused.” In part, that led me to my decision to listen to The Tourist audiobook in the hopes that the format will alleviate some of the issues, but also, I learned that it would be read by Peter Kenny, one of my favorite narrators.
In the end, the audiobook production itself was as fantastic as I expected; it was the story that left me with mixed feelings. The Tourist, as it turns out, is a time travel book, and “tourism” refers to the excursions back to the past by persons in the future. The 24th century is apparently a rather dreary and dull place, and the possibility of time travel has opened up a myriad options for your everyday jaded vacationer. The most popular destination by far is the 21st century, where the travelers can’t seem to get enough of our quaint shopping malls and fast food joints.
Our protagonist is a tour guide, ferrying his charges back and forth through time, making sure they follow all the complicated rules of time traveling and that they all get back home safely. Then one day, after tallying up his roster following a routine day on the job, he notices that a female passenger in his party has gone missing. She has, ostensibly, been left behind, but as our tour guide digs deeper to recover his lost client, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to the situation.
Ultimately, I think my decision to listen to the audiobook paid off in some ways, while putting me at a disadvantage in others. The story goes on multiple tangents throughout, and had I been reading The Tourist in prose form, these sections might have put me off the book immediately. Needless to say, I am much less likely to lose focus when I am listening to someone reading, especially when the narration is done well.
On the other hand, the audio format did nothing to help the story’s overall feeling of disjointedness; if anything, it might have made it feel worse. For one thing, this book lacks any kind of coherent plotting, and the narrative jumps from person to person, place to place, time to time. In audio, these frequent switches were made even more obvious and jarring. Peter Kenny did his best, but even with his excellent voice work to help differentiate who the story was following, it was hard to keep up. Furthermore, one of the main perspectives was presented in the second-person, a confusing narrative mode even under the best circumstances, and here it only muddied the waters even more.
I have a feeling this book will pose a head-scratcher even for fans of time travel stories, which is a shame because there are some truly original and fascinating concepts in here. Still, it doesn’t matter how amazing a novel’s ideas are, they mean very little if readers cannot make heads or tails out of its story or what the author is trying to accomplish. The Tourist is pitched as a suspenseful mystery thriller, but I am sad to say I didn’t feel any of the “thrills” at all. To be fair though, there actually is a mystery involved, except it just wasn’t the kind that pulled you in, or made you want to know more. Instead, it left me feeling more frustrated than anything else.
Still, while I may be disappointed with the story of The Tourist, I’m not sorry I listened to the audiobook. Even though I can’t wholly bring myself to recommend the novel, the ideas are cool enough that it might be worth picking up this book to experience them, especially if you’re into time traveling stories that are different, and if you’re feeling in the mood for a challenge. Also, given the convoluted nature of this novel, I am even more impressed with Peter Kenny’s narration. The book itself might not have worked for me, but I found little to complain about Kenny’s reading; he delivered an excellent performance as always, on top of which he narrated with an aplomb that gave me confidence that he knew what was going on even if I didn’t—sometimes that alone is enough to keep momentum going, when otherwise I would have set a print book aside....more
This book isn’t your typical ghost story. While it includes a significant number of urban fantasy elements, there is also a darkly profound, rather despairing thread running beneath its surface. Thematically it is also on the weightier side, dealing with topics like suicide, survivor guilt, and emotional trauma. Fans of Seanan McGuire are still going to love her engaging storytelling style and loveable characters, but if you’re used to more offbeat and quirkier UF, I think this one may leave you with a heavier heart.
The story begins with the funeral of Jenna’s older sister Patty, who left for New York City with big dreams but ended up taking her own life instead. Grieving with the loss and blaming herself, a stricken Jenna runs off into the night during a bad rainstorm and tragically slips into the river, drowning in the raging current.
Because Jenna’s death was an accident, however, she died too soon according to a ledger of cosmic checks and balances which states a person’s soul cannot pass on until they have served their full time on the mortal plane. When Jenna died, she found quite a hefty debt still on her record, so like everyone else before her who died before their time, she became a ghost and must remain among the living until that balance is repaid.
Fast forward forty years, and Jenna is living in New York City leeching off a little bit of her debt each day on living strangers, with every minute she gives being another minute added to their youth. However, because Jenna sees “time left” as a form of currency, her gift of life in fact becomes an act of theft in her eyes. In order to earn back what she has stolen, Jenna also volunteers at a suicide prevent hotline trying to save others from Patty’s fate, hoping that when her time finally does come she will rejoin her beloved sister with a clean balance and conscience.
This is probably my third or fourth foray into McGuire’s work, and while overall I have enjoyed her books, I confess thus far I’m still waiting for “the one” which would blow me away. I started Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day with the hopes that this would be it, but ultimately there was just something about it that didn’t quite click for me. Like I said, this is a story with some heavy, tragic themes to it, so it might simply be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. Admittedly, the whole thing left me feeling kind of worn and heartsick by the end of it, even though I was hooked by the intro with its fascinating look into this world of ghosts and their concept of “time owed”.
Looking at this from another angle though, it clearly speaks well of the author that she can so successfully convey emotional impact with her writing and portrayal of her characters. My personal reaction to this novella aside, I can recognize a good story when I see one, and this has all the elements of an engaging tale full of imagination and feeling. Jenna is a narrator with a unique perspective, yet the care and attention to detail paid to her backstory makes it easy to sympathize with her decisions when all around her are other ghosts that do not share her same views or values. She’s a genuinely good character who not only extends her kindness to people in need as evidenced by her goal to rescue as many aging cats from shelters as possible, giving them love and a comfortable place to live out their final days. Death is a theme that infuses every page, but sometimes its oppressive presence is lightened with compassion and scenes like that.
The ideas in this book are also mind-bogglingly original. It took me some time to wrap my head around ghosts and their ability to give and take time, but I eventually came to appreciate the ingenuity behind the concept. As well, McGuire paints an interesting picture for her ghosts’ existence, linking them to special relationships with mirrors and witches. For a novella, the world-building is surprisingly robust.
Ultimately, I feel the ending could have been handled better, but since I can’t elaborate without giving away details, I’ll just say that it didn’t come across as eloquent or consistent as the rest of the story. That said, there is no shortage of feeling, and at the end of the day I think the conclusion manages to achieve its desired impact. If this book sounds like something that might interest you, I highly recommend giving it a try....more
The Last One is a post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller about the world in shambles. There’s also a big-budget nationally televised survival reality show, with almost no lead time between filming and airing, starring twelve competitors. Only one of them can win.
Some elements of this story may sound familiar to the avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, but debut Alexandra Oliva offers a fresh twist on the end-of-the-world scenario which immediately drew me to her novel. Imagine being a contestant on a Survivor-type reality show, in a remote part of the country with no communication with the rest of the world when a very real disaster strikes. As a devastating outbreak wipes out a large chunk of the planet in just a matter of days, you’re still currently trekking through the woods by yourself on a Solo Challenge, unaware that all your friends and family back home are probably dead. Instead, your full attention is fixated on trying to survive and outlast your fellow contestants, because that’s the only way you’ll win the one million dollars. Even now, you think, hidden cameras are probably everywhere capturing your every move. And the wily show producers have already proven they would do anything for ratings, using cheap tricks and props in an attempt to throw the competitors off their game. You can’t trust anything you see, anything you hear—not when anything can be a hidden challenge or scripted part of the show.
All this is going through Zoo’s mind as she stumbles out of the woods upon car wrecks, abandoned stores, and empty towns. As she tries to make sense of the horror and ruin she sees, the lines between reality and reality TV are blurred beyond recognition. For all she knows, the game is still on.
Zoo is not her real name, of course. She and the other eleven contestants are given nicknames by the show creators and viewers, all based on their professions and stereotypes. For example, our protagonist was designated “Zoo” because of her love of animals and her teaching job at a nature and science center. Her main competition is a man dubbed “Tracker”, a survival expert whose work gives him a clear advantage on this show. The rest of the cast include “Engineer”, “Carpenter Chick”, “Waitress”, “Air Force”, “Black Doctor”, “Rancher”, “Cheerleader Boy”, “Biology”, “Exorcist”, and “Banker”. No real names are given in the chapters that serve as an overview of the show, describing the production process with an almost cold, detached attitude. These sections follow the contestants on their team challenges, but also include behind-the-scenes looks at how the episodes are filmed and put together. We come to realize that all the contestants have their own reasons for being on the show, but the editors try to twist and frame each situation so that they become less like real people and more like “characters”—fabricated personalities to fit the narrative they want shown on television.
But in between these chapters, we also get a more up-close-and-personal perspective. These sections are narrated by Zoo, bringing the only part of this reality TV show that feels REAL. True names are used, humanizing the cast once again. We can finally make the connections and discover who everyone is, such as, Tracker is actually Cooper, who wants to win the money to pay for healthcare for his sick mother, or that Waitress is actually Heather, a recruited actress who secretly hopes this stint will be her big break.
Zoo’s own reasons for applying to be on the show in the first place are more complicated. There’s always more to the truth, which we discover as we follow her on her struggles through the wilderness. There’s definitely an element of the unreliable narrator here as well, as we recall Zoo’s memories and live through her fears, and all the while her resolve (and sanity) continues to break down. As such, Zoo’s willful denial of the true reality was probably my biggest issue with the story. I could appreciate what Oliva was trying to accomplish with this, but I also must have lost count of the number of times I wanted to shout “STOP BEING SO STUPID!” at the pages of this book. Zoo’s tunnel vision was overplayed to the extent that it damaged my esteem for her character, and ultimately kept this from being a perfect novel.
Still, there’s no denying that its premise is unbelievably clever and well thought out. I’m no fan of reality TV myself, but I’ve seen my fair share of them in the early 2000s spending summers with my cousin who was a real Survivor, Big Brother, and Amazing Race junkie. For The Last One, Oliva nails the “Reality TV” angle right down to the tiny little nuances, making it all seem so scarily convincing, capturing that kind of atmosphere so perfectly that it’s uncanny. This juxtaposition between carefully crafted illusion and true reality is also a theme present throughout the novel, as Zoo tries to come to terms with what she sees in the real world. I was so wracked with suspense over what might happen to her once she figures out the truth, several times I almost caved to the temptation of flipping to the last page just to see how it all ends (but I am glad I didn’t).
All told, I can’t tell you how impressed I am that this is Oliva’s debut effort. She’s taken an incredibly unique idea and executed it in a very ingenious and ambitious way—and I think that boldness paid off in spades. I would definitely recommend The Last One to readers looking for a thought-provoking and eye-opening novel, especially if you like the idea of a very different kind of apocalyptic dystopian story. ...more
The Warlock and the Wolf is a historical fantasy set in mid-17th century Netherlands, in the South Holland city of The Hague. The story begins with the hanging of a woman, accused of being a witch. It was a quiet affair in the woods, but news of it soon spread to our protagonist, a young naturalist apprentice named Mina who spends much of her time in the wilderness studying the fauna and flora. One day, Mina is suddenly set upon by a strange creature—something with the body of an owl but the face of a human woman—and its talons rake and injure her. Fortunately for Mina though, she is saved from further harm thanks to the timely arrival of a talking wolf, who chases the creature back into the woods.
Wait, a talking wolf? Mina is sure that she imagined it all, or that the strange owl creature’s talons must have infected her with a disease and somehow made her hear and see things that weren’t there. Being a woman of science, she is ready to dismiss the whole thing, and certainly she’s not about to tell her mentor, the great Pieter Moll who serves as chief naturalist to Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. Mina has hopes of succeeding Pieter one day, and it would do her no good to talk of anything related to the occult or supernatural.
Still, when Mina hears the details of the witch’s hanging from her aunt, she grows unsettled. The supposed witch’s name was Leonara, and as the story goes, the woman did have some magical power, which she was using to keep a murderer named Gregor from escaping his prison cell. And as Gregor was the man who killed Mina’s parents when she was little, the story was understandably of interest to her. Sure enough, the news comes that Gregor is now on the loose. Worse, he’s reputed to be a powerful warlock, and it may seem he still has unfinished business with Mina and her family.
With a premise like that, it’s no wonder we here at The BiblioSanctum were intrigued by this SPFBO entry. Within the first five chapters, we were introduced to a historically rich setting, a fascinating young heroine, and talking animals. I have to admit, it was this last point that really sealed the deal for me and made me decide to nominate it for our shortlist. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a quirky little hook like that to make me want to know more about what’s going on.
I also took to the main character right away. Most of all, I liked how quickly the book established a complex picture of Mina, presenting a number of conflicts which immediately made her an interesting protagonist. One of the main themes of the story is Science versus Magic, and Mina frequently finds herself in the middle, torn between her family history and her desire to be a master naturalist. She also endeared herself to me with her determination to make it in the scientific community despite the field being dominated by men. To be named her Pieter’s successor is all she has ever wanted, and she will fight her detractors to the end in order to fulfill her dreams. However, if it comes down to a battle between being true to herself versus pursuing her aspirations, what will she do then?
The story also has a “folklore” feel to it that I enjoyed, with a nice mix of fantasy and history. Mina’s newfound ability to speak with animals made for some humorous scenarios as well, and the author has a knack for writing conversations and giving each creature their individual personalities. Perhaps it is no surprise then that the character who stole the show was not even a person but an animal, the titular wolf Basa. He was the absolute greatest, and I liked him more than many of the human characters in this book.
Despite a solid beginning though, I thought the book’s momentum started flagging towards the middle and the story didn’t end as strongly as it started. Mainly, I think it was because no other characters besides Mina really stood out for me. There’s some build-up to a possible romance, but I felt disconnected to it because the love interest came across as somewhat clichéd. The villain also didn’t affect me much, as no compelling reason was really given to explain his motivations. Mina’s actions also become inconsistent towards the end, and often I found myself frustrated with her impulsiveness every time she ran headlong into danger, having learned nothing from her past mistakes.
As followers of my reviews will know, I’m also big on atmosphere when it comes to historical fiction. This was something I struggled with while reading this book, but I really think it would work better for readers familiar with the context of the setting. One thing to know is that the last execution of a witch in the Dutch Republic was probably in the early 1600s, which sort of explains the “in between” nature of belief for the people in this story as the populace moves towards an age of scientific enlightenment while some still hang on to superstitions. Admittedly, not being too well-versed in the history of the time and place left me confused and feeling untethered to the world at times, and I wanted more context to go with the historical facts and figures. The writing was also sparse in description, and I think some fleshing out of the setting would have helped in making this story feel more immersive.
My verdict: The Warlock and the Wolf captured my attention right away with its intriguing premise and complex heroine. While the momentum gained by the strong intro didn’t carry through as far as I would have liked, I still think it’s a great read, which I would recommend especially for fans of historical fiction and magical stories. There’s lots to like, and plenty of potential for more....more