Tag Archives: Fiction

Alice Hoffman – Museum of Extraordinary Things (2014)

MuseumofExtraordinaryThingsI’d heard of Alice Hoffman, author of The Dovekeepers, but never took the time to read anything she’d written. I fell in love with this book quite fast, and not only because it deals with some of my favourite subjects, (freakshows, immigrants living on the Lower East Side, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire), but because Alice Hoffman is an incredibly talented and beautiful writer.

Through her novel Hoffman traces the stories of two characters, Coralie, a young girl who spends her days serving her cruel father, Professor Sardie, and serving as one of his living wonders at The Museum of Extraordinary things, and Eddie Cohen, a Jewish boy who turned his back on his faith and makes a living as a photographer. The two lives intersect in various ways as they both attempt to help the other escape.

Hoffman is such an amazing writer, telling a story in such vivid detail. It’s been a while since I found myself completely lost within a book, but it was quite easy to do with this one. The characters are flawed and relatable and there is the perfect mix of intrigue and whimsy. Set against the backdrop of the Coney Island boardwalk and the Lower East Side Tenements, this book was a fantastic snapshot of New York City at a particular moment in time.

Advertisements

Lev Grossman – The Magician King (2011)

9780670022311_MagicianKing_CVF.inddIn contrast to the tested theory that the second installment in a trilogy will never be as good as the first, The Magician King was in my opinion, better than The Magicians, especially because it follows two storylines as opposed to one.

The character of Julia, the girl Quinten originally had a crush on before coming to Brakebills and meeting Alice, reappears in this story and we learn what happened to her while Quinten was obtaining a formal magical education and becoming a King of Fillory. Essentially Julia was in the admissions exam for Brakebills and did not pass. While students who are not admitted to the school normally have no recollection of the event, Julia knew something was wrong and she let that fact consume her. We learn that Julia, obsessed with becoming a magician, found an underground world of hedge magicians to train with.

While we learn Julia’s backstory, specifically how powerful she became eventually becoming a Queen of Fillory, follow Julia and Quinten as they find themselves accidentally kicked out of Fillory and struggle to find a way back.

While Grossman introduces some interesting moments in the Julia and Quinten storyline, like having to travel to Italy to speak with a Dragon and the nature of those dragons, Julia’s backstory is far more interesting and compelling to read. The book ends with Quintin once again in exile from Fillory and I’m sure the third book is all about his attempts to return. I really hope Grossman does more with the story however as I got tired of Quinten not in Fillory.

Patrick Rothfuss – Wise Man’s Fear (2011)

The_Wise_Man's_Fear_coverAs mentioned, I loved Patrick Rothfuss’ first instalment in the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of The Wind, and while I devoured this one just as fast, it was far more tedious. For starters, and I guess this is somewhat of a spoiler alert, by the end of this book you still don’t know why Kvothe is expelled from the University!

This review is going to be short because it is just more of the same. Kvothe has no money, he makes money as a talented musician and trough luck, he finds Denna, she runs away, he finds her, she runs away, etc. Kvothe does take a break from the University (He is arrested for pranks played on Ambrose but rather than being expelled is given a tuition he cannot pay), and takes up service with the Maer of a neighbouring town helping him procure a wife. Rothfuss does introduce the reader to new lands and therefore new characters, cultures, religions, and even mythical characters. You learn a bit more about the Fae, the culture that Bast belongs too.

If you love fantasy, you’ll like this book. As with most other second books in a trilogy however, it felt like this novel was being written simply as a lead up to whatever is going to happen in the last installment. I will give Rothfuss this, I have no idea how he plans on ending this; there are so many directions he could take. Unfortunately there is still not publication date set, so the Kingkiller Chronicles becomes just another fantasy series to play the wait game with.

Sarah Waters – The Paying Guests (2014)

PayingGuestsWith her novel The Paying Guests, Waters looks at postwar 1920s London, but through a very unique lense. We are first introduced to the Wray family, spinser Frances and her mother who live together alone in a townhouse. Due to the deaths of the men in the family, Frances and her mother are forced to rent out a room in their house to a young couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber. While initially Frances is suspicious of the the couple, she then strikes up a friendship with Lillian which develops into something much more.

Without giving too much away the story is essentially about the blossoming friendship and eventual affair that occurs between Lillian and Frances set against the backdrop of 1920’s London, a time in which class and gender structures were very much in flux. While I very much enjoyed the story as well as Waters’ writing style, so much of this book seemed so very long. There were parts that dragged on forever without ever really coming to a conclusion. Waters’ writing is great, but the editor really should have cut this book down about 100-200 pages. The unnecessary dialogue and inner thoughts detracted from the rest of the book.

As a feminist scholar specializing in female sexuality in Victorian England, Waters certainly knows her subject and sets the scene beautifully. She is not unfamiliar with creating a dramatic story and does so quite well. Even though the book runs a bit long in places, it is still a worthy read and a great piece of historical fiction.

Lev Grossman – The Magicians (2009)

TheMagiciansI originally had this book described to me as “Harry Potter meets The Catcher in the Rye.” As a fan of both those things I was intrigued. While Grossman does draw inspiration from Harry Potter, making casual references to the series and subtly mocking it, this book was much more of a dystopian version of the Narnia series.

The book starts off at Brakebills, a special school for young magicians (much like Hogwarts, leading to the comparisons to Harry Potter), but moves much farther past that. The characters in the book are older than Harry and his friends, and as such are much more prone to vice. They drink, do drugs, have sex, and use magic for their own personal gain. While magic is the driving force behind this book, the characters still live in the real world which is much less fantastical than other fantasy series. Magic is something that is hard, and it does not necessarily solve all the problems.

Even when the group of friends travel to Fillory, the magical Narnia-esq realm, magic is still a very dangerous thing. This novel is a very weird, twisted, cynical, and bitter look at the fantasy books that we all read growing up. In Grossman’s world, magic is not some wondrous problem solving thing. With or without magic, people are still people and will make mistakes and be corrupted. Using magic, even for good, changes a person and has the ability to break them.

The only problem I had with this book is that on a number of occasions very strange and random things happen, (like the group is all turned into geese in order to fly to the South Pole), or Grossman will be building up to a major event, which will quickly be resolved by magic but in a very uneventful way. I think Grossman was doing these things on purpose, but they bothered me nonetheless. There are still two more books left in the trilogy and I’m excited to see where those take us.

Harper Lee – Go Set A Watchman (2015)

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanThis book has been out for a while now, and the initial uproar that surrounded its publishing has died down. I’ll admit, like most fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was skeptical when this sequel was announced and suspicious of the circumstances surrounding it. After reading it, I stand alongside those who believe that it should have never been published in the first place.

It’s not even that the characters seem completely different from their TKAM selves, or that Atticus is now a racist (there have been a number of interesting think pieces written on this, about how Atticus had always been a racist but in Mockingbird, it was a kinder, gentler racism). The whole novel was just kind of confusing. As a continuation/sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, this book is bad, but as a stand alone novel it’s even worse.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this reads like an unfinished manuscript, because that is exactly what it is, and the publisher was very forthcoming about this. Lee switches perspectives multiple times which makes this very confusing. The bright points in this book are definitely the flashbacks and so it’s easy to see why, in 1960 Lee’s publisher told her to write that story instead.

I look at it this way, even though Go Set a Watchman is a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, it was written first. This was the first iteration of Scout and Atticus that Harper Lee envisioned; this was her draft. To Kill a Mockingbird is the final product, and that is the Atticus that we should remember and cherish.

Susanna Kearsley – The Firebird (2013)

FirebirdIt wasn’t until after I finished this book that I realized it is part of a series, and is meant to be read after The Winter Sea. (I have both, but grabbed this one first). I friend of mine however assured me that it didn’t really matter as there is no real plot continuity between the two books.

This book follows Nicola, a young woman with a an extraordinary gift that allows here to see glimpses of the past when holding an object. Working with fine art and antiques, this gift comes in handy. Nicola becomes drawn to an object however, a firebird from Russia, which takes her on a whirlwind tour through the Jacobite Revolt to the Imperial Russian Court in search of the young woman she saw when holding the bird, Anna. The story shifts between present day Nicola, and her traveling companion and similarly gifted romantic interest, Rob, and the 1700s where Anna is living.
I found that this was a good work of historical fiction, dealing with a time period that doesn’t get much attention in novels (The Jacobite Risings), but the writing and story didn’t really do anything for me. I know a lot of people, who this kind of story appeals to will disagree with me, but personally I didn’t love this as much as I thought I would. I still enjoyed Kearsley’s work and am still planning on reading The Winter Sea, even though I am not dying to do so.