A Holmesian mystery set against an 1800's freak show introduces a hero with a brilliant mind and an unusual face.
Abandoned as a baby, a boy who sufferA Holmesian mystery set against an 1800's freak show introduces a hero with a brilliant mind and an unusual face.
Abandoned as a baby, a boy who suffers from Ambras syndrome (a rare condition in which hair grows all over the body and face making the subject resemble a "werewolf"), suffers a painful existence in a workhouse where he is taunted and abused until a circus employee picks him up to be an attraction in a traveling freak show.
Named "Wild Boy", by his new patron, the child's life does not improve much on terms of abuse, but it does afford him the opportunity to observe the world in each town visited. Wild Boy has the great ability to observe everything around him at such great detail that he can deduce secrets about the people who move in and out of the crowds. He often fantasizes about being more than the "boy monster" that amuses and terrorizes the audiences at Mary Everett's circus, but each time he makes any attempt it is met with crushing disappointment. That is until he is framed for murder.
With the help of Clarissa Everett, an acrobat girl close to his own age, Wild Boy is led on a dark chase through London to clear his name (and subsequently, Clarissa's as well). Can Wild Boy's keen abilities help him solve the crime? Even if they could, would anyone even bother to listen to the words of a "Freak"?
There is a lot going on in this (hopefully) first novel starring a character with a physical condition that is not well known. In fact, with the success of the more realistic, "Wonder", this might be the perfect time for Wild Boy's story to reach young readers. He is a clever child who just wants to fit in, but due to the cruel times he lives in, it isn't just the taunts of fellow children that Wild Boy has to endure, but all of a society which puts little value on orphaned children in general, let alone one who is so very different.
Unlike "Wonder", where August is supported by a loving family and a school system that wants him to succeed, Wild boy is a commodity. To Mr. Finch and Mrs. Everett, the circus show runners, he is disposable. This is where the book is truly terrifying. We have learned that it is not acceptable to "judge a boy by his face", and yet Wild Boy is literally abused at every turn because of his appearance. Sadly, this is very much an accurate fate that suffered many who had no other options but to join a freak show. Still, a historical note regarding conditions in orphan houses and such travelling shows might help put the horrors Wild Boy experiences into a context young readers can understand.
Nevertheless, this is a solid mystery and a good read. Wild Boy is clever, yet not saccharine. He has an explosive temper which comes from years of defending himself. His keen senses are a tribute to the intelligence he holds. Clarissa is an interesting choice to be his "Watson". A pretty girl with the ability to leap up on high when needed, Clarissa is able to match Wild Boy in curiosity and challenge him when his stubbornness is clouding his judgment. While the two begin the story as enemies, their friendship evolves from both necessity and understanding.
The nature of the mystery itself is also a firm nod to Arthur Conan Doyle (in fact, his name is dropped in one of the clues Wild Boy and Clarissa uncover). The killer's motive lie within the ambitions of a secret society of men who are conducting science experiments on the human form. Members of the society itself are the victims and the acquisition of a mysterious machine they possess is the ultimate target. This is where the plot touches lightly on science fiction, though this is far from central to the plot. The identity of the killer will be obvious to some, yet still the conclusion provides enough trap doors and hidden rooms to keep readers wondering if they have guessed correctly.
Short but compelling, this well paced historical fiction novel is set in Victorian London and aims to introduce young readers to a frightening outbreaShort but compelling, this well paced historical fiction novel is set in Victorian London and aims to introduce young readers to a frightening outbreak of cholera that killed hundreds of residents of Broad Street in a matter of days.
Eel is a street urchin (or "mudlark") who spends his days working at a pub and his nights doing odd jobs. One such job Eel has been lucky enough to acquire is to take care of the lab animals for a Dr. John Snow whose work with anesthetics had earned him reverence of the Queen herself. When Eel is accused of steeling from the pub, he aims to get one of his night employers to prove that his extra coins come from Eel's hard work and not the profits from the alehouse. His first instinct is to talk to Mr. Grigg, a tailor whom Eel has cleaned house for and whose family has befriended the boy. Unfortunately, when arriving at the Grigg's home, Eel finds the tailor has fallen ill. Reluctant to bother Dr. Snow (he is way too important to come to Broad Street to vouch for a mudlark) Eel allows his cushy job to slip away and tries to pick up the slack on the streets.
Shortly after, Eel finds that Mr. Grigg has passed away from what is most definitely cholera. As the days pass the epidemic worsens. When his friend Florrie informs him that Mrs. Grigg and one of their children is also sick, Eel decides it is time to "bother" Dr. Snow. As it turns out, John Snow is historically linked to this particular outbreak as the one who dispelled the theory that cholera is spread through bad air. In defiance of "miasma", Snow suspects that the disease is coming through contaminated water, and he recruits Eel as his assistant to prove this.
Eel shows a natural curiosity and respect for science and education that allows the reader to believe that a man such as Snow would trust him. His side story, which is woven neatly within the plot builds his character. Having fled from his oppressive stepfather, a Bill Sykes type called "Fish-eye Bill", Eel uses his money to board his little brother Henry and make sure the boy is kept in school and far from Fish Eye's seedy desires.
Along with his friend Florrie, Eel is able to help Dr. Snow and gains respect for the work of a physician. The tale of cholera along with the threat from Fisheye keep the plot tense and moving fast. The ending is wrapped up neatly and one might hope that Eel himself could be considering a future in medicine.
When I first had the pleasure of watching "Puella Magi Madoka Magica", I was floored by the skill that went into taking an overused anime trope and diWhen I first had the pleasure of watching "Puella Magi Madoka Magica", I was floored by the skill that went into taking an overused anime trope and dissected it into what was surely a work of art. Later I purchased the three volume manga series and enjoyed how well the story had been translated.
Naturally, the idea of a sister series involving a team of magical girls in contract with another incubator (Jubei) was enticing. Unfortunately, if you are new to this series, you will most definitely be lost here. I can safely say this, because even as a fan of the original series, I spent the first few chapters wondering what on earth I was reading!
The story begins with another well known anime trope. Kazumi is an amnesiac. She wakes up naked and locked in a suitcase with no memory of how or why she is in this position or who she is. It seems as if she was accidentally given to a young name who thought he was purchasing an explosive. Finding Kazumi, he is talked down from his original plans and befriends her. The two bond over their love of food.
Eventually, two young women Kazumi's age claim her and take her home. When the female cop who had been tracking Kazumi's rescuer transforms into a dark creature, Kazumi instinctively transforms into a magical girl. With the help of her roommates, Kazumi fends off her attacker and learns about the secret society of magical girls.
Instead of the psychological tension that builds during Madoka's story, "Kazumi" opts for cheap panty shots and fan service. What made "Madoka" so extraordinary was that it didn't need these cheap tricks to be "edgy"! It relied on the story to do that instead. And that is what annoyed me most about, "Kazumi". The story is just confusing! It isn't even that it simply assumes that you know the original material. It is disjointed as hell! I am still confused two volumes in! Hopefully the writers will retain a grip on the world that made the original so great. If not, it appears the soul of "Kazumi" may be far from the empty shell of her story. ...more
While this first book in Stroud's new series took a bit too long to get going, it did eventually turn in to a promising page turner. This did3.5 Stars
While this first book in Stroud's new series took a bit too long to get going, it did eventually turn in to a promising page turner. This didn't happen for me until a little more than half way through the book. The question is, will the slow moody mystery of the book be enough to actually take readers to the titular "Screaming Staircase" or will they lose interest before they get there?
Set in a clever alternate version of Victorian London, hauntings are on the rise. So much has this grown recently, that the vast issues with ghosts (or "visitors") has been dubbed, "The Problem" and several ghost hunting firms have been working to clear houses of ghosts. The more famous firms, Rotwell and Fittes are named after two famous young ghost hunters who literally wrote the guides to dealing with visitors. They employ several teams of children because youth equates to ghost sensitivity. Once an investigator ages and loses their ability, they often are kept on to supervise the new hires.
Lockwood and Company is not one of the more notable firms. In fact, the entire company consists of Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins. All children living in Lockwood's childhood home which he inherited under mysterious circumstances. The book opens with Lockwood and Lucy investigating a haunting that leads to the discovery of a long dead society girl who has been trapped in the walls of the haunted mansion for decades. So dangerous is this ghost that Lucy and Lockwood end up burning down the mansion while fighting her.
The story begins at a fast pace but this ends abruptly after the fire begins to consume the house. Lucy Carlyle, our heroine takes this opportunity to backtrack explaining the mysterious beginings of the Problem in London and how she began her life as an investigator which subsequently led her to work for Lockwood. We learn a lot more about Lucy's relationship with her young employer and meet young George Cubbins, who serves more as a reaearcher than a combat agent for the firm. While this all adds some great depth to the story, the detour slows the action to a crawl. Background is good, but pacing could have been better when following the heart pounding opening chapter.
The story takes yet another detour when we return to present and find Lockwood in dire straights after the damaged caused by the fire. Lucy and company begin to research the body of the girl found in the mansion. However, it seems unlikely that the firm will be able to survive with an impending law suit and no new clients. In the midst of their investigation into the killer of the girl in the wall, a famous iron mogul swoops in with the offer of a case that can save Lockwood from ruin. Lockwood immediately offers his services, but the danger of death is particularly high for this case as no previous investigators have survived and the haunted house in question has been the scene of several deaths (which inturn now haunt the house) for centuries.
The second case is where this story really begins to sizzle. Once this once started I found it difficult to put the book down and the pages turned like wildfire. And yes, there is some payoff when the new case lends some clues toward the former. However, this is more than 200 pages in and up until this point I found myself distracted rather than wanting to pick the book up. If a reader is interested in the history and background they will find the bridge between the stories less of a hinderence. ...more
In the first of this series Molly Bigelow an awkward young girl with mismatched eyes learned that she was destined to follow in her deceased m4 Stars.
In the first of this series Molly Bigelow an awkward young girl with mismatched eyes learned that she was destined to follow in her deceased mother's footsteps as part of a zombie killing initiative known as Omega. While Molly was able to defeat Marek, the head of the Unlucky 13 (the 13 first zombies and rulers on Manhattan's undead underground) it did not come without consequences. Her lack of social skills and secretiveness lead Molly to subject her team to a possible disbandment. She also discovered that her dead mother is in fact undead and has been watching out for her ever since her change.
While Molly and her team (rich girl Natalie, computer savvy Alex and Krav Maga expert, Grayson) await their trial for misconduct, strange events begin to unfold in the world of the zed. First, one of the Unlucky 13 is found dead. I mean DEAD dead, dead, handcuffed to a subway seat out in Brooklyn. Due to the fact that a chemical deep within the ground of Manhattan causes the zombie phenomenon, the undead will cease to be if they cross over into the other boroughs. Second, Molly's mom begins to surface more frequently in her life and informs her that if she wants to save her team she must tell the Omega tribunal that they have been invited to work on the Baker's Dozen case. While this certainly saves the day, it implies that Molly's mother may be dead, but her time in Omega is not. Also, while Molly is just rebuilding the trust of her teammates, she is not allowed to tell them about her mother's existence and therefore while she saved the day, the team is not allowed to question Molly as to how she knew the magic words for their reinstatement.
With Marek gone, the remaining members of the 13 are on the move and behaving strangely. In order to keep status quo in Dead City, each of the 13 are required to appear in public to ensure the other zombies that they are still in charge. If Marek fails to show, someone else may be poised to take over. Someone worse?
While I am positively sick of the zombie genre, this series stands out for several reasons. First, the zombies themselves are not your usual stumblers and groaners. There are three levels to being undead. The first level are sentient and often able to regain most of their former lives and need protection from Omega. The second are still aware and lucid yet they lack souls. The third are muscle and more like the zed we are familiar with. There is also some well written mythology and pseudo science as to how the undead were born into the streets of Manhattan.
Molly and her friends solve puzzles, conduct research at the morgue and razz a few zombies with sarcastic quips as they land punches and kicks. For sure, the Dead City series channels Buffy the Vampire Slayer in it's finest days. While Molly and her friends are as much fun as the Scoobies, the story itself feels fresh and the action weaves itself seamlessly with the well layered plot.
Another bonus is that there is no romance angle. I repeat, this is a book with several young teenage protagonists and there is no romance. If one were to develop organically it would be fine, but James Ponti does not weigh the story down with any hint of a love web between Molly and the rest of her team. A lot of fun!...more
Sid Fleischman's "The Whipping Boy" gets an update ala YA dystopian science fiction.
Syd (16), a poor orphan from "The Valve" was born into debt. ThisSid Fleischman's "The Whipping Boy" gets an update ala YA dystopian science fiction.
Syd (16), a poor orphan from "The Valve" was born into debt. This is a common situation in Syd's world, in fact all of his peers have 18 year of debt on their hands at work. And like his peers, Syd's debt was bought as an infant by a wealthy benefactor who would use him as a "proxy" for Knox (also 16), a spoiled rich boy. While some proxies are lucky enough to have mild mannered "patrons" who get into only small amounts of trouble in their lifetimes, Knox looks for trouble. And why wouldn't he? Knox knows that any crime he commits would be paid for in punishment by his proxy. While Knox and Syd have never met face to face, Knox is forced to watch "his" punishments on a screen via Syd's body.
While Syd's life has been a virtual hell due to his patron's devil may care attitude, Syd take comfort in the fact that that in two years he will be Knox free and debt free. That is, until Knox's antics cross a line that raises the stakes too high and society discovers that Syd is not an ordinary proxy. On the run, Syd and Knox are thrown together on a journey through a futuristic Detroit where the battle between debtors and creditors have been taken to a new level.
Class warfare. Bored, wealthy society where the citizens dress in ridiculous fashions. This is some well worn territory for sure. However, "Proxy" finds a fresh voice in Syd and executes its premise admirably. I cannot think of another novel in this genre with a character like Syd. Not only is he non-caucasian, but he is gay and his coming out is not central to the story. Early on we know that this is who Syd is and while it contributes to all the things that make up his persona it alone does not define him. In fact, he is a protagonist any teen can relate to regardless of race or sexuality.
While the villains could have been fleshed out a little more I have to applaud some of the plot points. "Proxy" throws in a few curve balls that keep the plot moving. The ending itself while not totally unexpected was heart wrenching just the same. I look forward to spending more time with Syd in further books in this series....more
Rafe came out to his very accepting parents at a young age. His mom even threw him a party! He wA solid 4 star read.
My thanks to NetGalley for my ARC.
Rafe came out to his very accepting parents at a young age. His mom even threw him a party! He was never bullied in his liberal Colorado school and he enjoyed an active social life that included his best friend Claire Olivia. Sounds ideal in a world of bullied teens and tragic stories. Rafe however, is tired of being looked at by everyone as "the gay guy" and not just Rafe who happens to be gay. So he devises a plan to transfer to an elite all boys prep school in Massachusetts and live as one of the guys. He won't tell anyone he's gay, but he won't tell anyone he's straight. Or at least that is the plan. He just wants to be accepted without the label and he insists he is not going back in the closet. Or course best laid plans don't always go accordingly, and there is no pun in that statement. Especially when Rafe develops feelings for Ben, a straight (or is he bi?) student at Nattuck.
I will admit this book made me a bit angry when I first began to get into Rafe's story. Rafe himself is extremely self centered and his oblivious, "no big deal" attitude towards hiding a key part of who he was in order to impress some real jerks grated on me. But then, that was the point wasn't it? I got Rafe's initial motivation. He was never bullied, but everyone made assumptions about him according to the fact that he was openly gay. For instance, teachers would direct specific civil right questions towards Rafe in hopes of getting a "gay perspective". Straight guys would randomly ask him if they would be considered attractive. This is the sort of naive but well intentioned dialogue I'm sure even the best of us have tripped into when dealing with a friend who is different. For Rafe, it was distracting from who he was other than gay.
So, Rafe goes to Nattuck and claims he won't comment on his sexuality one was or the other. Except he tells the guys that Claire Olivia is his girlfriend. When asked directly, he doesn't come out to his roommate's gay best friend Tobias (who has had his share of bullying at the hands of some of Rafe's jock friends) and he certainly isn't honest with Ben when the two begin to skirt the lines between friendship and a relationship. So yeah, Rafe IS actually back in the closet and very dishonest, which makes his entire "experiment" feel like a vanity project at times.
I felt so embarrassed for Ben, who was just figuring our where he stood on attraction. He really felt that Rafe was experiencing the same thing with him at the same time, and it made me very angry at the protagonist. Rafe didn't lie to Ben in order to seduce him, but Ben was missing the entirety of Rafe's story...while Ben himself was sweetly candid at all times. Also, Rafe didn't bully anyone persee, but there was at least one time when I felt like he was a bystander. Of course as time goes on, this all changes.
The thing is, Rafe is called out for his selfishness. Claire Olivia sees it. His parents see it. Rafe himself eventually realizes that his dishonesty not only hurt the people he loved but himself. I liked that, because I wanted to reach through the pages and hit him myself at a few points.
Openly Straight cracks the door open for a bunch of questions that are not often brought up in everyday dialog let alone a YA novel. What is attraction? Can you fall in love with a person without the stigma of sexuality? Why are western guys so uncomfortable around other guys while other cultures past and present celebrated close masculine relationships. In fact, I really wish the book went a little more into the idea of omni/pan sexuality as there is a need to understand that you don't always find yourself attracted to who you think. I was impressed that the idea of male bisexuality was brought up at all. I can't say that I recall any book which touches upon that idea.
Most importantly, Openly Straight discusses love. Not just love in a relationship, but love between friends and family. Early on in the book I had to skip to the end in order to decide if I could handle all the anger I was feeling towards Rafe's behavior. What I read was honest and well thought out. Like in "If you could be mine" another LGBT themed book I had reviewed, there were no easy answers, but I expect they were honest. And in the end that is the lesson Rafe learned for his heartbreak. Be who you are. Be honest about it. If you can accept that person and you have the support of those you love, you are already well on your way. ...more
While I was amused but not blown away by the first book, I noticed the sequel to Jamie Thompson (cough) I mean DIRK LLOYD's junior novel, "Da3.5 Stars
While I was amused but not blown away by the first book, I noticed the sequel to Jamie Thompson (cough) I mean DIRK LLOYD's junior novel, "Dark Lord, The Early Years" was available on Net Galley. I decided it could be a fun light read for my upcoming trip to Scotland.
I was still not blown away by the book, but I don't think that is the point in this series. In fact I would have to say, this book hit it's stride with me where the first one missed the dance.
The book recaps briefly what we learned in the first. The Dark Lord (think Sauron or Voldemort) or the Darklands was stripped of his powers and send to our world in the body of a twelve year old human boy. Still with some (very weakened) powers in tact, the Dark Lord was renamed "Dirk Lloyd" and sent to live as a foster son with the Purejoie family who were thought the best fit for an emotionally disturbed and delusional child.
The story picks up where the last one left off. Sooz, Dirk's goth friend (NOT girlfriend!) was sent back to the Darklands in Dirk's place when the ritual to send him home was meant to transport only the one who wore the ring of power. Dirk had given it to Sooz in the first book only to have her make a copy to give to Dirk when he wanted it back. With the ring on her hand Sooz is confused to be Dirk's betrothed. Her gentle but dark personality charms the Dark Lord's minions. This is including Gargon, Dirk's most loyal creature, the head of the goblins and even Rufino who is a Paladin under the rule of Hasburdan (think Gandalf).
You see, while Sooz insists on repainting Dirk's Iron tower black (Hasburdan had it painted pink in the Dark Lord's exile) she also introduces a five day work week and other amenities of our developed world that the evil Dark Lord would have never approved. Sadly for Sooz, Hasburdan still considers her evil and pledges to attack.
Meanwhile, in our world, Dirk and his foster brother Christopher desperately try to find the means to contact Sooz and bring her home. There is some real hilarity that comes from this venture and it is different from the humor in the first book. In fact there are quite a few things that worked in this book that were absent in the first.
While the first had a fun "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" written by Sauron thing going for it, I found myself at a real distance from the characters. Sure, Sooz was kind of sweet, but I didn't really give two figs about Chris or even the protagonist, Dirk. The unlikable hero niche that made Greg Heffley's antics so popular didn't really click for me in Dirk's case because he is more aware of his bad qualities than Greg.
This book managed to actually make me care about Dirk, which surprised me. It also broke from the diary format which was a good breather and added some moderate depth to Dirk's motivation. Chris was still a little stiff, but I felt a definite shift in the way I felt about him.
With a few laugh out loud moments throughout, I can say for sure that I hope the Dark Lord will reign for another volume or two.
When Neil Gaiman announced a book tour, I decided I would have to get tickets. I have missed my chance to meet and get a book signed by him a few timeWhen Neil Gaiman announced a book tour, I decided I would have to get tickets. I have missed my chance to meet and get a book signed by him a few time before, so this seemed like a golden opportunity.
I won't talk about the signing itself, though Neil seemed very sweet and gracious towards his audience.
One thing Gaiman did say at the signing which is relevant to this review was that he believed in order for books to thrive as a tangible media, they had to offer a certain sensory satisfaction that one could not receive from downloading the text itself. I argue that they already do accomplish this feet. Sure, I have downloaded a few ARC's to the Kindle App on my itouch, but there is nothing in the world like holding a real book. The feel of the pages, the weight of the spine in your palm, the unique scent that each book contains as you turn each page... beautiful. However, this particular book was designed with senses in mind.
The book in question is, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and the minute you touch the jacket, you are drawn in. The cover is an almost cloth like texture and each page appears to be hand cut. The uneven page thing is pretty common, but it was clear that much thought was put into the presentation of this book.
The story has a similar feel to one of Gaiman's earlier works for the "younger" set Coraline. This doesn't mean that Ocean doesn't feel original. The unnamed (?) narrator, a middle aged man returns to the town of his youth for a funeral. He finds himself wandering to the farmhouse of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. When he gazes upon a duck pond which he recalls Lettie had referred to as an "ocean" he is flooded with the memories of a sinister event that occurred when he was seven.
After discovering the suicide of the family boarder, an opal miner who gambled with his friend's money, our protagonist is invited to Lettie's farmhouse while his father speaks with the police. Young Lettie lives with her mother and grandmother, all of whom have the surname "Hempstock" and claims that her farm has been around since the time of William the Conquerer. Their milk and porridge is the best he has ever tasted and the three seem to have a subtle form of precognition.
The Hempstock women speak in riddles of a supernatural being that is wreaking havoc on the minds of the townspeople driven by their desire for money. The protagonist becomes a victim of this mysterious magic when he nearly chokes on a sixpence that appears in his throat while he was asleep. The Hempstocks discuss a plan to banish the force that is causing the problems. Lettie herself agrees to preform the task and our protagonist asks to go with her since her presence makes him feel safe.
Unfortunately this goes awry when the apparition (probably some sort of dark sidhe) uses the young boy's inexperience to latch on to him allowing her to appear in a human form. This is where the Coraline comparison begins. The apparition arrives at the boy's house in the form of Ursula Monkton, a lovely young woman who wishes to rent a room in the family's house. While she appears beautiful and gracious, the boy can see through her guise and tests her.
Unfortunately for him, she infiltrates his house in the most alarming ways. As the Other Mother in Coraline controls the mirror world that Coraline ventures into, Ursula Monkton controls the boy's home life. However, while the Other Mother initially uses Coraline's favorite things to lure her into a sense of false security, Ursula immediately turns the boy's family against him and menaces him by destroying his sense of security.
I won't go into specifics, but it is truly terrifying and one particular scene was extremely upsetting. The boy, who is admittedly very fearful eventually finds a way to reach the Hempstocks who offer him asylum and plot to banish "Ursula" once and for all.
There was a lot to like about this short novel. The mood was thick like a fog and the language, while simple set a vivid picture of what was happening. I really like stories about british folk monsters. It seems as if almost every field, every hill, every body of water in these areas have some sort of supernatural being that is native. The Hempstocks themselves seem to exist as a mosaic of several different folk beings and their presence in the story is powerful. Lettie herself emerges as the ultimate champion, but as these stories usually go, there is a price to pay.
Steeped in mythology, in which Gaiman is a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a quick and satisfying read. Add s'mores and a campfire for that "ghost story" feel....more
A children's fantasy novel that had so much potential effectively reveals itself as a mess.
Having read a few other middle grade fantasies set in the cA children's fantasy novel that had so much potential effectively reveals itself as a mess.
Having read a few other middle grade fantasies set in the city of Venice (Water Mirror and The Undrowned Child to name some), I was eager to see what Baucom's magical vision of this ancient landscape. What I read was a tale that was influenced by C.S. Lewis but lacked the subtlety of his religious undertones. In fact, I would call the religious themes in this novel overtones, as they come across as awkward. They seem to insist upon themselves.
The story begins with three siblings. Jared, Shireen and Miranda. Jared and Shireen are adopted from India and Miranda is the biological daughter or their parents. The children are living in Venice with their professor father and mother who home school them. They are drawn into an odd bookshop where they are given an ancient text which talks about the Thousand and One Nights but is the story of a boy named Rashid who travels with his uncle. They are also "given" two magical rings and a magical die. The rings allow the girls to communicate with cats and bring the stone lions of Venice to life. The die allows Jared to call fourth characters in famous paintings. One of these are a faun named Silvio for instance. It also turns out that the siblings' names and descriptions are written in the book of Rashid... who is still somehow alive and under the influence of an evil christian preist from the time of the Crusades. Are you getting a headache yet?
Anyway, at this point there is a lot of oddly placed religious lipservice in the book. Jared, Shireen and Miranda are mentioned to say their prayers everynight. We don't get a sense that they feel any sort of connection to prayer, just that it is something they do. Also, the stone lion (Lorenzo il Picolo) that Shireen commands talks about the Holy Virgin and the Father and the Son. Silvio the faun swears by the names of a bunch of Roman gods. We hear that Rashid is a Muslim and a talking cat mentions offhand and awkwardly that a bookseller who originally kept Rashid's book is a jew.
At first I thought maybe all of this wasn't central to the book until the themes just kept popping up. The Crusades are spoken of by the siblings' father as attrocious (which they were). When the siblings are united with Rashid and two other girls under the influence of the evil preist, one of the girls holds up a cross and asks if the children acknolege it. It all became too much.
When C.S. Lewis wove the tale of the resurrection into "The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe", it was done so that the story of sacrifice was in the text, but the world of Narnia could be enjoyed as a secular fantasy as well. This just felt stiff and forced. More than that, the joining of Rashid's story with the story of the three siblings was so confusing at times, I had trouble wanting to suspend my disbelief. And in order to enjoy fantasy you really have to allow yourself to go with it.
I think that the author had two potentially good stories here. Maybe they didn't have to be told in the same book. Maybe they could have been plotted differently. However, if I am reading Christian literature, I would like a bit more warning before having it hit me in the face repeatedly. Aside from that, the story was just so confusing that I had trouble keeping track of what was going on. ...more
While I hoped that this would be a story of defiance in the name of true love, what I got was a more complacent look at the status of the gay3.5 Stars
While I hoped that this would be a story of defiance in the name of true love, what I got was a more complacent look at the status of the gay community in Iran. This does not mean that this was a bad story by any means. In fact, I learned about the status of transsexuals in Iran which gave me a serious, "wrinkle in the brain" moment.
Let's get down to plot. Sahar is a lesbian. Living close by, her childhood friend Nasrin has also been her secret girlfriend for years. Nasrin claimed Sahar as "hers" years ago when they were children and this bloomed into a deep love with the manic feelings of teenage lust and passion. Nasrin, however is quick to declare to Sahar that they are not "gay" they are in "love" and while this may be the (pansexual) case for Nasrin, it is not for Sahar. However, gay or not, what Nasrin says is true. The two girls are indeed in love.
There are some issues with their relationship, of course. First, Sahar, while a valued friend of Nasrin's, is from a working class family while Nasrin is upper class. More than that, the two girls live in Tehran, Iran, where a lesbian couple could be potentially killed. Also, Nasrin seems more than a little selfish. She is spoiled and has her whole family in tact, while Sahar has to care for her despondent father who has not been the same since the death of Sahar's mother. While it is well known that Sahar is very smart and will most likely go to medical school, Nasrin is thought to be only good enough to marry rich. And while Sahar dreams of herself being the successful doctor who will marry Nasrin, in reality Nasrin's family has arranged a marriage with a currently practicing (male) MD intern. Blindsided by the engagement, Sahar is equally enraged and depressed.
The story takes a detour when Sahar's gay cousin, Ali introduces her to the gay underground in Tehran in hopes of showing Sahar that there are other eligible young women to fill the void that will be left by Nasrin. What Sahar learns is that in Iran, a transsexual can receive a sex change operation at the partial expense of the government. This is where that "wrinkle in the brain" came in for myself. I looked it up and it is true. "Gender reassignment" is considered a "cure" for a sickness in Iran. If it is deemed that you actually are a man trapped in a woman's body or vice versa, not only is it sanctioned but the government will pay up to half the cost of the operation. Iran is actually one of the countries with the highest number of gender reassignments preformed aside from Thailand. However, as a homosexual, you are condemned.
So, when Sahar meets a lovely woman named Praveen and discovers that she was once a he, love begins to take Sahar's mind to strange places. If she was a man, she could marry Nasrin. At least this is what Sahar believes, not taking into account how Nasrin's ultra showy family would feel about their daughter's childhood friend changing genders and marrying their princess. Praveen agrees to introduce Sahar to a support group of transsexual youth but it becomes clear to everyone that Sahar is a lesbian and not trapped the the wrong body. Sahar looks at the days ticking closer towards Nasrin's wedding and tries to speed up her "operation" in spite of herself. It is a dreadful plan and everyone, including Sahar knows this. However, it is all she has to get her through the day, especially when Nasrin frequently tells her that her heart belongs with Sahar.
So that is the plot and background. Without giving anything away, the story has a very open ending. If you are expecting the girls to run away together or for the families to suddenly agree to call off the wedding and hide Sahar and Nasrin's love from the government, you will be sorely disappointed. Again, this does not mean that this is a bad book. I really feel that this is unfortunately a very real portrayal of how this situation could (safely) play out for these two. Nasrin, we see is very used to creature comforts and would probably never give them up no matter how much she loves Sahar. It also adds dimension to the story that Nasrin's fiance is actually a nice guy. While it would have been easy for the author to create a monster akin to poor Maryam's husband in "A Thousand Splendid Suns", or so many other books that deal with arranged marriage, this author gives us a fine young man who is silly infatuated with Nasrin. He is also eager to gain the approval of her best friend, Sahar. Through no fault of his own, he is doomed to be hated.
Other great angles that adds some depth are the emerging friendship between Sahar and Praveen, Ali's rise and fall as the "go to guy" in the underground community and Sahar's love for her clinically depressed father. Faced with many difficult choices, Sahar has more on her plate than other young lesbians in progressive countries and we want her to make the best ones, but because of her native country there are no easy answers. This may make this read feel unsatisfying for some. Still, that doesn't mean that it is not worth reading. ...more
So, I picked up "Dreams and Shadows" after the book's marketing campaign finally wormed its way into my brain. Whenever I looked up a book I e3 stars
So, I picked up "Dreams and Shadows" after the book's marketing campaign finally wormed its way into my brain. Whenever I looked up a book I enjoyed or wanted to read, there was an ad for "Dreams and Shadows".
As a children's librarian, the majority of what I read is, well, children's novels. This is not to say they are juvenile, most are quite sophisticated. Sometimes even more sophisticated than adult novels. And that is because children, tweens, teens, young adults, whatever you may call them are not stupid. I think it was Dr. Seuss who said ,"Children can smell a moral a mile a way." If that is not a direct quote, it is close. So while people get all high and mighty with me when I read children's books and say that it would drive them mad, because they are juvenile, I argue back that most of the time a good children's author will write a better story than an adult author. Because, while a child may not be totally jaded, they are not stupid.
What does this have to do with "Dreams and Shadows"? I have been reading some adult literature lately for a number of reasons. One, I am running a 20-30 something book club at work and two, I feel like I need to be familiar with some of the more modern stuff. As I enjoy most of Neil Gaiman's writing, this one was suggested. And in a way I see how. Cargill weaves a dark fairy tale complete with some great research of fae and dark legends. Not all that "glitters" is gold in the world of fairies and djinn. Anyone who does a little probing of this type of lore realizes that cutesy victorian fairies are not very good representatives of the creatures of legend.
The main issue I had with this book was not the storytelling. I found that I wanted to know what happened next. There were points when I couldn't put it down. It was mainly the characters.
I realize now, that I have gone through most of this review without talking about plot. Here, there are several plots running. The first is the doomed romance of Jared and Tiffany Thatcher, which begins as a story of a too perfect couple with all the luck. Their text book courtship is interrupted when they are chosen as targets of baby snatching fae who replace their newborn son, Ewan, with Knocks, a hideous changeling. This drives Tiffany to suicide and Jared to a watery death at the hands of other dark forces. Knocks is the only survivor, and while he proves a good villain, he is probably the only well fleshed out character in the entire novel.
The second main plot is that of Colby Stevens, a little boy chosen by the cursed djinn Yashar to be "granted" a wish. When Colby's wish leads him into the dark realm of Austin Texas' fae Limestone Kingdom (yes, Austin Texas) he meets Ewan, grown into a boy around Colby's own age. While Ewan has grown into a precocious little boy seemingly beloved by the fae (especially Mallaigh or Molly, a young Sidhe) Knocks, Ewan's changeling counterpart seethes at Ewan's very existence.
Everything comes together when ghosts or demons from the past come together and Colby discovers that Ewan's fostering by the fae has been part of a sinister plan. Colby, being a young boy who knows no better uses his bond with Yashar to give himself the power to save Ewan. Of course this is also not for the best.
The story follows these characters, Colby, Ewan, Knocks into their adult hood and while it was a fun ride, once again, only Knocks' rage fully fleshes out his character. I would have liked to get to know Colby and Ewan a bit better. Neither or them seem to display the power of emotions I like to see in protagonists. Once again, this is what children's novels do so very well. A good author will know that a child must connect with several characters on many levels. Therefore they will flesh them out. I would have liked more "flesh" on these bones. Yashar, the cursed djinn may have been the only other character that had enough substance to intrigue me.
Also, I know there have been several complaints about the female characters being very thin. While I agree, I can forgive some of them due to their fae nature. Still, I really like to see a well written female character that does not only exist as a love interest. Tiffany Thatcher and Knock's adopted mother Leila were as close as we could get to a well written heroine, but neither of them seemed to stick around long enough to be more than plot devices. However, neither of these plot devices were particularly bad, so I am not sure how much of a complaint that is.
Littered between each chapter are "real" accounts of fairy activity from excerpts of a fake text written by a mysterious Phd. of metaphysical studies.
This is definitely worth a read. It is funny in places (especially when it comes to the dialogue between Yashar and the young Colby) and terrifying in others. However, there are parts of this novel that left me feeling like I had an itch I could never scratch. This was likely the holes in the characters....more