Tag Archives: magic realism

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1) by Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Title: The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1)

Author: Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. Philippa is a powerful mentalist, Sam is the world’s strongest boy, and Thomas can squeeze himself into a space no bigger than a bread box. The children live happily with museum owner Mr. Dumfrey, alongside other misfits. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I recognize this book has been out for two years already, but I always feel obligated that when I get an ARC from a publisher, even if I haven’t read it right away that I always give it a review. I LOVE Lauren Oliver’s middle grade books, and I would argue that those are her better works over her YA offerings. The Spindlers was imaginative, Lisel & Po has remained a favourite to this day, and then there is The Curiosity House series, which is unique to say the least.

What I enjoyed about The Shrunken Head is that it has this old timey vibe to it, from how the murder mystery elements are set up, to even the whimsical side of the narrative. It also builds of the old circus tropes from a bearded lady, to mind readers, and even a talking bird. There’s a lot of weird and whimsy in this book, and I will argue that that is what makes it so engaging. The Shrunken Head takes so many crazy twists and turns for a middle grade story that it easily keeps the reader engaged.

I will say that the kids took awhile to grow on me. I feel like they just weren’t as fleshed out compared to characters in Oliver’s other novels. This isn’t a bad thing, but it did damper my enjoyment at times because I found it so hard to connect to the children. On the opposite end, I loved how ridiculous the adults were in this story. They were extreme and utterly crazy.

While I wasn’t in love with this first installment to the The Curiosity House series, I still want to read the rest of them. I feel like this series has the potential to grow into something that is truly special, and I look forward to reading on and seeing what the next adventure has in store.

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ARC Review – Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

28588459Title: Still Life With Tornado

Author: A.S King

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am a huge A.S King fan, and I always find her books to be a gripping, emotional, and even terrifying at times, experience. Still Life With Tornado is a book about art, abuse, and what it means to feel stagnant when the world is moving past you before your very eyes.

Sarah is a wonderful protagonist who struggles with so many issues, from her parents being trapped in a loveless marriage, to having her art work sabotaged because she saw something she shouldn’t. Abuse of power is a large part of what makes this novel so rough to read. Teachers, parents, there’s both a desire for control and a loss of control int his novel that is reflected in every single character. It’s also interesting to read how Sarah’s family fell apart through the eyes of her mother, as well as the family vacation that changed everything.

This novel broke my heart right in half. These are the kinds of stories that make me so sad, and make me wish that no one had to suffer these types of situations. Sarah’s question for original art is both thoughtful and sad, and it makes you wish that things could, in fact, get better for her. It makes you wish that things could get better for everyone in the story. Sometimes the only way something can get better is if you choose to meet it head on, which can be so scary. Sarah feels a large void, acting in a part she didn’t really ask to play, and you feel for her. You understand why she seems so broken.

I felt so emotional reading this book, and once again A.S King leaves me thinking about life and family. While I may not have parents anymore, I appreciated the fact that I always felt loved and wanted, even when things were hard between them. Sarah’s story is so moving, and it’s a harsher reality that not everyone has dealt with or seen, which makes it very eye opening as well. Still Life With Tornado is A.S King at her finest, as she challenges her readers in such such a gripping and thought provoking story.

ARC Review – When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Title: When the Moon Was Ours

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I haven’t read Anna-Marie McLemore’s award winning debut, but when I got When the Moon Was Ours in my goodie bag from #TeensReadFeed back in May, the premise had me completely intrigued. This is a novel about defying odds, encompassing identity, and it just offers a plethora of wonder and enchantment to the reader.

This book focuses on magical realism, sexuality, a transgender protagonist, and a Latina main character, who both inhabit each others worlds in the most beautiful and thoughtful way. The beautiful writing sweeps the reader into such an amazing space, and I found myself completely glued to the words on the page. Sam and Miel’s journey is so cleverly written, and McLemore makes you the reader feel like you’re along for the ride. Their friendship was perfect, perfect, perfect. I loved them, I cheered for them, I wanted them to have everything in the world. I felt like I knew both protagonists so well, and I loved the way in which McLemore dealt with Sam’s identity in particular, as it was so methodically done, and I had so much sympathy for him throughout the story.

I also urge readers to please read the Author’s Note at the end of this novel. It was actually one of my favourite parts of the book as it offers so much insight into how this novel was crafted and cared for. When the Moon Was Ours is a stunning journey for readers who love complex relationships and magical storytelling. I was so sad when I got to the last page of this book, simply because I just didn’t want it to be over.

ARC Review – The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

25821928Title: The Night Parade

Author: Kathryn Tanquary

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

The Night Parade is one of those middle grade novels where the cover doesn’t tell you much. It’s beautiful, there’s creatures, darkness, but that’s only the tip of what this story is about. This is a book that explores Japanese culture and folklore, and it’s one of those stories that does a fantastic job of immersing the reader from beginning to end.

This novel focuses on a young girl named Saki who is forced to go on vacation to her grandmother’s remote village for the Obon ceremony. Leaving the glitz of Tokyo behind, Saki is forced to accept that she has no escape and no cellphone reception. She is told she had to make friends for the summer and suck it up. I have to say, I loved Saki. She’s a bit bratty at times, but her plight of a potentially boring vacation is completely understandable. While she seems like a bit of a snot at the beginning of the novel, Tanquary does this amazing job of showing Saki’s gradual growth and transformation in the story. She goes from being completely unappreciative of the world around her, to someone who begins to value it. Essentially this novel is about Saki proving her worth to both the human and spirit worlds.

When Saki defaces the her family’s ancestral shrine (shame on her!) that is when the fun of the novel really begins. A fox, tengu, and tanuki, creatures of folklore begin to appear, and they plan to make Saki’s life a bit more difficult. This novel is rich with beautiful descriptions and poses as a cautionary tale in a lot of ways. There are moments that feel dark and tense, and you get this huge sense that Saki has done so much wrong in defacing her ancestors, and yet you also see how remorseful she is as well. Her guides were cute, funny, and full of sass. I loved how they helped Saki in her journey and I thought how they were used in the story in terms of Japanese mythology was spot on.

This is one of those novels where I read it and adored it all the way through. The Night Parade is full of life and it’s engaging not only for middle grade readers, but adults as well. While the writing is a tad simplistic, I appreciate a lot of the messages shared throughout the story. There is so much fun and adventure to be had reading The Night Parade and I definitely encourage lovers of middle grade to check it out.

ARC Review – The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

20734002Title: The Weight of Feathers

Author:  Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

Holy shit the writing in this book is fucking GORGEOUS. It was like reading the sound of your favorite song or swimming in the most refreshing crystal blue ocean. It was like touching the softest fabric, silk slipping through your fingers. I couldn’t stop reading it because it was so. damn. pretty.

This is a very unique story and I can’t help but compare it to a book I loved earlier this year, Bone Gap, due to the magical realism and the quirky story. I really admire books that are like this, that take a chance on a story that I wouldn’t normally run across. There needs to be more like this out there.

I loved the characters in this. Lace and her family are a traveling pack of show mermaids. Cluck and his family are faeries in trees; ex-tightrope walkers that dance in the tallest trees. Both have magical aspects to them: the Paloma women have scales on their bodies, the Corbeau’s grow feathers out the back of their heads, under their hair. Both are signs of their affinity with the water or the heights. Both are described as important and beautiful.

The families have been at war with each other for over 20 years because someone killed someone, someone caused someone’s death and someone sank the trees that the Corbeau’s used to perform in. There’s magic and superstition and rivalry.

Then, one day during a show, a tragedy occurs. The local chemical plant suffers a malfunction and acid is rained down on everyone. Lace isn’t lucky enough to get out of the rain, and Cluck is off trying to find a rouge cousin when he finds Lace hiding under a tree, her skin burning off as the chemicals hit her. She has no idea who he is, he has no idea who she is, and he saves her.

Only once Lace’s family finds out that a Corbeau touched her… well… that’s forbidden.

I loved the mystery and the tragedy, the way the puzzle pieces slowly fit together, and how everything was connected. I think the only thing that didn’t really 100% work for me (hence the 4.5 stars and not a full 5) was the romance. It was a bit stiff for me and there were only a few times when I did any swooning (sadly it was usually when Cluck was being called by his real name, I had a lot of trouble with his nickname). I also felt it was a bit rushed. But that’s it. The rest of this was beautiful and amazing and I’m so glad that I read it.

ARC Review – Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels by Haruki Murakami

24013720Title:  Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels

Author: Haruki Murakami

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: The debut short novels–nearly thirty years out of print– by the internationally acclaimed writer, newly retranslated and in one English-language volume for the first time, with a new introduction by the author.

These first major works of fiction by Haruki Murakami center on two young men–an unnamed narrator and his friend and former roommate, the Rat. Powerful, at times surreal, stories of loneliness, obsession, and eroticism, these novellas bear all the hallmarks of Murakami’s later books, giving us a fascinating insight into a great writer’s beginnings, and are remarkable works of fiction in their own right. Here too is an exclusive essay by Murakami in which he explores and explains his decision to become a writer. Prequels to the much-beloved classics A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, these early works are essential reading for Murakami completists and contemporary fiction lovers alike.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So I spent many, many years looking to find a translation for both of these novels. Believe it or not a translation did exist forHear the Wind Sing, but the price to get a physical copy of it was beyond absurd. So colour me thrilled when this collection was announced (and once again translated by an old professor of mine). Wind/Pinball is a bind up of Hear the Wind Sing andPinbal 1973, and are Murakami’s first two “novels” if you wish to call them that.

What I loved about this collection was that we get to see the beginnings of a young Haruki Murakami. We see the themes that are now considered staples in his works showing early life. Isolation, love, jazz, it’s all here in it’s rawest forms. Personally, I really enjoyed the visit in both these stories, especially because it gave me a lot of insight into Murakami as an early writer, and it shows the rougher areas in his writing where you can tell he was still new to the craft. It felt like such an enriching experience. The downside, however, to this is that while these were his first novels, they don’t actual feel like anything new. I could sense that some of his later works were influenced by these first two stories, particularly South of the Border, West of the Sun, which I’d argue is still a better novel than both of these.

However, I enjoyed and read both novels in one sitting. Murakami’s writing is still captivating, and it was interesting to see the origins of The Rat, who is a popular character in A Wild Sheep Chase. You get to see two very distinctive and different sides to this character when reading Wind/Pinball, and yet you know it’s the same person from all three stories. I adored both novels but for different reasons: in Hear the Wind Sing, I loved how the hero was a disc-jockey, yet he didn’t have the greatest social skills. Reading that particular story gave me a huge appreciation for why jazz and its culture is so prevalent in Murakami’s works.

Pinball 1973 was the more quirky of the two stories, as once again we have a jazz loving protagonist, with an interest in pinball, but can’t seem to get the ladies to like him. Again, we have all of Murakami’s signature themes, but in this story we start to see more of the quirky sense of humour that Murakami has. My favourite part was these two twins and the protagonist could never figure out how to identify them separately, and they play being identical twins up so hard on him. It’s gets so bad that they get sweat-shirts with different numbers on them, and when he asks if he can call them by number, they take off their shirts and switch them. I thought that was hilarious.

I think for hardcore Murakami fans, this is a must read in the sense that it’ll provide you with some historical insight into his early works, as well as his writing process. The introduction in this collection alone is worth reading for those curious about his habits, where he came from, and why he reuses the same themes throughout his stories. Both stories offer a lot of interesting moments, though similarly they don’t offer anything that feels new or that you haven’t seen from Murakami before. They’re worth the read, and then while your at it, go read A Wild Sheep Chase to simply see how the Rat’s story comes to end.

 

ARC Review – The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

23164922Title: The Strange Library

Author: Haruki Murakami

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: From internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami–a fantastical illustrated short novel about a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library. A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, bestselling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

Huge thank you for Random House Canada for this ARC!

The Strange Library is certainly one of Murakami’s more unique reads, but I’d argue for such a short book there’s a lot going on, a many mysterious left to the imagination. Actually, this book is insanely imaginative and kind of disturbing, but that’s ultimately what kept me turning the pages.

A kid goes into a library and is essentially taken hostage and forced to read books about taxes in the Ottoman Empire. Of course, he has an ill mother at home and a strong will to escape the hellish library so that he can make it home to her. He meets a voiceless girl and a sheep man, both with a desire to help him escape, and it’s a pretty fast journey.

The translation was one of my favourite aspects of this book, if only because it has this whimsy, creepy sort of tone to it. I mean, being trapped in a library should be a book lover’s dream, but for our nameless hero, it’s an absolute nightmare knowing that his capture is a man who wants to suck the knowledge from his brain. Yeah, disturbing.

This is a really fast read, and a fun one for the most part. It definitely not Murakami’s best work, but it has such a unique presentation with half the book filled with artwork and the other half text. Plus reading it requires the reader to play around with it for a bit. It’s surprising nifty! The ending, however, I admit, it was completely unsatisfying, though that may be because the story is so darn short.

While I don’t think The Strange Library will be for every Murakami fan, I do think it offers a fun, morbid take on libraries and it’s staff. There’s definitely some quirkiness here, and for the right Murakami fan, this book is sure to delight.