Category Archives: Fantasty

#Mx3 Review: Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

  • Age Range: 9 – 12 years
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (August 26, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780385371032
  • Source: Publisher

Twelve year-old Gabriel Finley has lived with his Aunt Jasmine in her old Brooklyn brownstone since his father disappeared three years ago. As he gets older, he has increasingly more questions about his father’s disappearance.  As he approaches his thirteenth birthday, his aunt presents Gabriel with his father’s journal in hopes of answering some of these questions.

Called the Book of Ravens, the journal tells of a time when humans and ravens spoke to each other as equals. Partnered for life, humans and their raven partners, known as an amicus, rarely parted ways.   This relationship ended after  group of ravens, enticed by immortality, did the unthinkable and killed their human partners. Now, these evil ravens, known as valravens, were punished with an endless life of darkness and despair.  The only way to tell the evil ravens from the good was to ask them a riddle. Valravens, unable to laugh, would not be able to answer the riddle.

Unbeknownst to Gabriel, he has the ability to communicate with ravens.  Gabriel would never be confused for a super hero. Quiet, with just a few friends, Gabriel suddenly realizes that he holds the power to save his father. Always quite skilled at solving riddles, Gabriel and an unlikely group of allies begin their quest  to a secret world beneath the city in hopes of saving his father.  His nemesis in this journey is his uncle Corax, shunned from his family at the age of twelve. Also skilled with the ability to speak with ravens, Corax’s life took a darker route than Gabriel and his father.

Rich with unusual characters and a fantastical world full of imagination, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle is a genuinely captivating middle-grade novel perfect for younger fans of Harry Potter or The Hobbit.  The themes of friendship, family, and loyalty combined with the fantastical journey form a well-rounded and enriching read.  That said, there are some darker aspects of this novel that might lend itself to be read with a parent.  I read it with my nine year-old and we found ourselves eagerly looking forward to reading time each night.

Readers will quickly pick up on the novel’s similarities with Harry Potter and its homage to Norse mythology. Beyond this, the author excels at making this book stand out on its own merit.  Hints at sequels have my son & I clamoring for more. Highly, highly recommended.



Frightful Friday: The Big Reap by Chris F. Holm

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is The Big Reap by Chris F. Holm:

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Angry Robot (July 30, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0857663429
  • Source: Publisher

*Note: This is the third book in a series. The review below may contain spoilers if you have not yet read the previous books*

Sam is a collector of lost souls, requiring him to collect the souls of the damned in order to ensure their delivery to the proper destination. He’s rid the world of some pretty horrific creatures and his most recent job presents him with an even more difficult challenge: hunting down the Brethren, a group of eight former collectors responsible for evoking vast devastation on mankind. As he embarks on this journey, the storyline flashes back to Sam’s first collection: Hitler. This was a risky and interesting path but boy, did it pan out.

I was worried the flashbacks would interrupt the flow of the current storyline but found it actually enhanced it. Readers got a glimpse of Sam as a “young” and naive collector and followed him as he learned the skills required to be a successful collector (i.e. possessing the bodies of other humans).  Then, when the storyline shifts to present time, readers see just how far Sam has come in his life as a collector. The plot in each of the settings are equally captivating and intense so the reader isn’t really losing anything in the time shifts.

The Big Reap, the first two book in this series, is jam packed with intense action but what really makes this novel stand out is Holm’s truly brilliant writing. Whether it be a steamy description of Sam’s handler, Lilith, or a battle scene with a horrific monster, Holm truly has a way with words. His incredibly descriptive writing allows readers to feel as though they a part of the story, the scenes and setting taking shape before one’s eyes.  The scene that had my glasses fogging is the following, in which Sam sees Lillith for the very first time:

She was, it shames to me to say so soon after selling my soul to save the love of my life, the most stunning woman I’d ever seen.  And apparently, I wasn’t the only one to find her so –  even the radio in the other room had fallen silent upon her arrival. Her eyes glinted emerald and onyx, somehow suggesting throaty laughs and whispered secrets and traded glances from across a crowded room that led wordlessly to clothes discarded and limbs tangled in passion.  Her cheeks and shoulders were dusted with freckles, and the sultry scent of sun-warmed skin clung to her, as if she’d wandered through a summer orchard on her way to these bleak environs.  Her hair tumbled lustrous red across her shoulders in undulating waves and curls, the last of which on either side curved to frame her perfect breasts, which seemed to ever-so-slightly strain the mere molecules of silk that attempted to contain them.  And her lips, painted the color of fresh blood, were so sensuous – so transfixing – I couldn’t help but wonder what foolhardy acts men had perpetrated with the hopes of kissing them, of tasting her breath, of simply seeing them smile.

Hot, right!? Yet Holm’s talented writing goes beyond writing sultry descriptions into truly complex and intense scenes throughout the novel. I imagine him writing many of these scenes, wondering if he realized the moment he wrote them just how brilliant they are?

Additionally, another unique aspect of this series is how Holms so easily and so naturally weaves in a bit of philosophical/social commentary.  It isn’t forced or out of place, but flows naturally within the storyline.  A key message The Big Reap is the concept of forgiveness.  While it isn’t pervasive, it clearly plays a role in Sam’s existence.

Sam, as a character, is vastly complex and tremendously well-developed. This novel in particular provides readers with a far deeper and intimate glimpse into his character. Sure, he’s a big, tough, brute of a man but, despite losing his soul, Sam hasn’t lost track of his human morals and beliefs.

By far, the best thing about this series is the fact that is crosses so many genres, nearly impossible to classify it into just one. While the supernatural aspect is present, Holm’s own history is in writing horror so there are elements of that genre that are present. Honestly, I don’t think there is a reader out there who wouldn’t appreciate the sheer brilliance contained within this series. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Missing Rose by Serdar Ozkan

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; Reprint edition (December 27, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0399162305
  • Source: Publisher

When Diana’s mother dies, a letter she wrote on her deathbed reveals a life-altering secret: Diana’s father, thought dead, is actually alive. Additionally, she has a twin sister, Mary,  she never knew existed. Her mother’s dying wish is for her to find her sister. While wealthy and head-strong, Diana has always sought out the approval of those around her. Mary has spent a large portion of her life trying to find their mother. Through a series of letters written to her mother, Diana learns of Mary’s art of “hearing roses.” Based on the letters, written using elaborate imagery about this art, Diana is certain Mary is mentally ill.  Reluctantly, she travels to Istanbul in an attempt to locate her.

There, she locates the magical garden in which Mary learned her art. In this journey to find her sister, Diana embarks upon her own journey of self-discovery, truly realizing her own self and potential is more valuable and true than the identity imposed by others.

As an international bestseller, published in over 40 languages, this novel had the potential to be something great. Unfortunately, it fell quite short for me. While some of the prose was incredibly beautiful and almost poetic, other segments seemed rudimentary, almost robotic, to me. At first I thought it might be due to a translation error, but the author completed his university education here in the United States. Additionally, the overall storyline was quite formulaic, the characters the only difference than other novels like it.

That said, it is a relatively short read at just over 200 pages. I can concede that perhaps I’m not the right reader for this novel, so I wouldn’t suggest that you not read it. To put it simply, it just wasn’t the right novel for me.

Frightful Friday: Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured book is Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp:

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (September 25, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0345533933
  • Source: Publisher (via Edelweiss)

“Through bad glass it all gets tainted…”

Spokane has been evacuated by the military. Some residents remain, their whereabouts and condition unknown. Quarantined by the military, no one gets in. Rumors of improbably and unexplainable incidents escape the quarantine, spreading like wildfire to the surrounding area. The news isn’t reporting anything, the government hasn’t released a statement. It’s almost as if they are attempting to ignore what is happening inside the city limits: strange creatures that can’t possibly exist, human beings melded with inanimate objects, somehow still alive.

Dean Walker is an aspiring photographer desperate to get inside the quarantine zone. He wants to provide photographic evidence of what is transpiring in Spokane, admittedly, to attain fame as the only photographer to cross the quarantine line. It doesn’t take long for Dean to experience for himself the unimaginable terror unleashed, seemingly by the city itself. He unites with a band of survivors desperate to find the cause of this chaos.

Around them, the city of Spokane is alive (almost literally), a character unto itself. It strikes out against those who walk and breathe inside it, as if the planet, nature itself, is seeking vengeance for centuries of damage and abuse. What Dean and the survivors discover may potentially be the cause of the chaos is a psychological, and ultimately philosophical, nightmare.

It’s hard to categorize a book of this magnitude. Precautionary apocalyptic fantasy/horror? Whatever you want to label it as, this novel is truly mind-blowing. Each chapter begins with a written description of a photograph, an image that serves as proof of the twisted reality existing within the Spokane city lines. Gropp’s skilled prose plays with the readers’ mind, similar to effect the city of Spokane has on its inhabitants. Not overly graphic or gory, instead Gropp uses the mental images, the writing itself to illicit terror in his readers.

I’ve tried to sum up this novel without giving too much of the plot away, finding it hard to describe a book that still has my mind reeling. If you are looking for dark apocalyptic tale with a tinge of horror, guaranteed to play tricks on your mind, then this is the novel for you. Highly recommended.

Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

  • Hardcover:416 pages
  • Publisher:Viking Adult (August 9, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0670022314
  • Source: Publisher

 Immediately following the series of events that takes place in The Magicians, Quentin, Eliot, Janet, and Julia are now the High Kings and Queens of Fillory.  Quentin isn’t impressed with the amount of work he has to do as king, so he decides to go out on a mission of sorts, to the Outer Island, a small, remote island on the edge of his kingdom. Julia joins him on this journey, one that isn’t as “low key” as Quentin may have expected.  The island is reported to have “the key that winds up the world.” 

The key drops Quentin & Julia where they least expect, back to Earth and the depressing world of Chesterton, Massachusetts.  As they attempt to return to Fillory, they discover that Neitherlands, the “junction” point to other worlds, is nearing it’s demise.  The key they hold ins one of many; all of the keys must be found in order to prevent a magical apocalypse.

Quentin & Julia must rely on all sorts of magical and mysterious creatures, including a league of underground magicians, a sloth, and more, to gain access to all the keys and prevent the Neitherlands from being destroyed.

Interspersed in the main storyline are flashbacks Julia takes to a time before she was reunited with Quentin. It is during this time that she partakes in some pretty dark magical behaviors.  The result of these practices, and the forces they summoned, force Julia and her friends into quite the destructive and dangerous magical battle.  Julia & Quentin are forever changed as a result, not necessarily for the positive.

The writing in The Magician King is just as breathtaking and beautiful as in the previous book.  I found myself marking passages I adored; soon the book was full of marked passages.  The reader continues to learn more about the characters they loved an adored from The Magicians, but it is Julia’s character that I felt I learned more about in this particular book. Julia’s character was never really “right”…we get to see a completely different side to her in this book.

When I read The Magicians, I appreciated the characters and the writing style, but I didn’t love the book. The same goes for The Magician King. It’s a fantastic book for fans of fantasy, adults looking for a book to help them get over their depression over the Harry Potter series ending.  It is quite the impressive read, just not the one for me. While I enjoyed this book more than the previous, I wasn’t able to become invested in the storyline or the characters. This is no fault of the book or the author; this series just isn’t for me.

Despite my personal feelings, I do still recommend The Magician King for fans of fantasty.  As indicated, the writing is breathtaking, a style one doesn’t often uncover.  The characters are severely flawed, making them even more realistic and believable. They are quite witty and sarcastic, guaranteeing a few laughs. Others liken the series to an adult version of the Harry Potter and Narnia series. I will leave that to you to decide.