Tag Archive | magical realism

Review : Forget-Her-Nots

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White
Pages : 384
Genre : YA, fiction
Stand alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Laurel is still grieving her mother when she notices there’s something unique about her; flowers make her feel things, things that other people don’t seem to notice. By offering them to the right person, she can also influence their life.

Investigating the source of her power, Laurel discovers she might have inherited her abilities from her family. And as her power grows stronger, Laurel struggles to control it and protect it from some greedy friends…

My Thoughts :

I had few expectations for this novel; I had heard little about it prior to reading it, so I wasn’t sure what the consensus was. I’m glad I did, as it turned out to be a very pleasant novel which stood out from most paranormal YA novels I usually read. I even made a list to explain this :

Things paranormal YA novels usually have, that you won’t find in Forget-Her-Nots :

  • Constant Life or Death situations
  • Teen aiming to save the world from doom with newly found superpower
  • Hot and Steamy romance that leaves place to nothing else

So for me, these are all points in favor of the book. Though I have loved books that used this formula, I do find a lot of them tired and always enjoy being taken out of this comfort zone to explore new ideas. Thumbs up to Forget-Her-Nots for stepping out of the mold on these parts. It’s refreshing to have a story that is not all doom and gloom, even though Laurel was going through some difficult things in her life.

This being said, a few things didn’t work as good for me. Laurel felt a little young to me so I had a more difficult time to connect with her. Her grief was, surprisingly, the thing I related to the most, even though I haven’t lived a loss such as hers. The pace was also uneven, sometimes too slow. I don’t believe you have to put your characters in life or death situations to create suspense and hook your reader, but you need to have a general sense of direction. At some point, I wasn’t sure where this was going or what the plot was, and the story lost my interest a little.

In the end, I was pleased with Laurel’s story even though it won’t be a favorite of mine. There was a fun cast of characters, a cute romance that didn’t took over the story and an interesting idea. I love the last few chapters and the conclusion though, and learning about the flowers was fun. I had heard of the language of flowers before but not with as much details. It sure made me want to find out more!

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Review : The Lace Reader

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
Pages : 390
Genre : Fiction, Magical Realism
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Towner Whitney comes from a family of lace readers, women who can make lace and read one’s future through it. Twoner hasn’t been practicing lace reading ever since she left Salem, over fifteen years ago. When her great-aunt Eva disappears suddenly, Whitney finds herself forced to move back to the place where she grew up. As the disappearance gets resolved and the disappearance of a young woman comes shaking the community of Salem, Towner is faced with memories from her past, a past she had almost forgotten everything about.

My Thoughts :

Let met tell you, it’s really hard to summarize this book without spoiling any of it. Sadly I feel like the Goodreads’ summary spoils way too much of the story, unlike the really short one at the back of my book, but the great news is, there is still much more to surprise the reader in this atmospheric, mysterious novel.

The first thing Towner lets you know as the novel starts is that she is an unreliable narrator. She will tell you that she lies all the time, then move on with her story and almost never mention it again. This creates a certain uneasiness as you read, constantly wondering “What is she lying about? Is she lying about anything at all?”

The Lace Reader is also a story of grief. In Salem more than anywhere else, Towner lives with constant reminders of her twin sister’s death when they were teens. As she revisits the past she has forgotten after the shock of the event, she pieces back together the good and the bad, about her sister but also about the women of her family and the residents of Salem. The novel is, indeed, filled with a colorful cast of characters that are sometimes quirky, sometimes strange and sometimes just scary. This might lead you to believe that “normal” takes very little space in this book, but rest assured that every bit of craziness is added in moderation, giving it the depth of some of the most realistic contemporary fiction.

If I had to hold one thing against this novel, it would be the sudden shift in narration. To say it simply, The Lace Reader is told in a first person narration until it isn’t. And then it is again. But then it’s not. I don’t mind alternating different types of narrations in one novel, but the fact that the first change happens after the first 150 pages was really weird to me. I would guess this was done to add to the construction of the mystery, but I would have preferred to have the whole novel in third person, with smalls chapters in first person when, for instance, we are reading Towner’s journal.

There is a final twist that was really interesting, too. I think if you pay attention to detail you will see it coming, but what I loved was that even though I did, I hadn’t guessed some of the specifics and so it still made for an amazing ending. Reading it changed my perspective on some aspects of the book and I immediately had to go back and re-read some parts after that. Because even though I did pay attention to detail, I was amazed by Barry’s skill to add them in very subtle ways through the narration. You’ll read some of them innocently and then realize later that they were in fact important clues. Loved that!

The Lace Reader was a beautifully craft mystery that I enjoyed immensely. Its slow pace and dark atmosphere made it a perfect read at this time of the year, and I’m really glad I picked it as my first read for this year’s R.I.P. challenge. It has a lot to offer for discussions, too, and I know I have to let it sit on my shelves for a while to make a final decision on its rating. It might be higher, and if it doesn’t become one of this year’s favorites, and will definitely be close to.

Review : Garden Spells

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Pages : 290
Genre : Fiction, Magical Realism
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Claire and Sydney Waverley have both grown up with their family’s name weighting on their shoulders, a name associated with the magic growing in the Waverley’s garden. While Claire embraces the name and everything it stands for, Sydney has been fleeing their grand-mother’s house and its magical apple tree all of her life. But when events in Sydney’s life push her back to the village of Bascon, the two sisters have to face both their relationship and their past.

My Thoughts :

I finally did it! After over two years of blogging and being recommended Sarah Addison Allen’s novels, I finally pulled Garden Spells from my shelf and read it. And if you’ve already done so yourself, you’ll know what I mean when I say that it was a magical experience!

There is much to love in Garden Spells, from terrific characters to the Waverleys’ garden filled with secrets. What surprised me the most in this enchanting story is how believable the magic was, so lightly sprinkled around the words that it didn’t push the border into the fantasy genre. And while it intervened in the characters’ lives in many ways, they were still masters of their lives and their actions.

I think I loved most characters in this book (except the ones you’re supposed to hate, of course) and I loved how different the two sisters were. How same events, same people were understood by them in completely different manners. And yet it did feel like they belonged together, in that house, with this family. There was a complexity to their relationship that had love, anger, regrets, all at the same time in a true-to-life manner.

If you ask me though, I would say there were four main characters in this story, all four Waverley women : Claire and Sydney, or course, but also Sydney’s daughter Bay and the sisters’ aunt Evanelle. Evanelle had one of the most awesome and most original magical power I’ve heard of, which is to give people something they need. Except, it’s always some random item they don’t already know they need. It’s absolutely comical and perfectly brilliant, especially since she’s also a completely lovely lady.

I loved the writing in most parts, though I did feel there were a few rough corners left needing an extra touch. Not really being into the love-at-first-sight-I-lose-all-common-sense-around-him type of story, I have to say the romance aspect didn’t work perfectly for me, but I honestly think it speaks of my interests and not of the author’s talent.

All in all, Garden Spells was absolutely delicious and I will absolutely be reading more from the author. If you love stories that mix love and family relationships with a touch of magic, I would certainly recommend this one. 🙂

Review : The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
Pages : 361
Genre : a little of everything
My Rating :

Remember that time when you were a kid, when your parents told you not to do something and you thought, “oh whatever” and did it anyway? Like, let’s say, they told you not to pet the neighboor’s dog and you did it, the dog bit you and your parents had to rush you to the hospital not minding the speed limit, and then once your hand was better your mother said “I told you so” and you father added “Now you know better”?

Now, replace the dog by The Monsters of Templeton and the parents by all the bloggers who wrote detailed reviews about it, and you’ve got a good idea of how I’m feeling right now. But first, let’s look at the story’s basics;

On the very morning Willie Upton slinks home to Templeton, New York (after a calamitous affair with her archeology professor), the 50-foot-long body of a monster floats from the depths of the town’s lake. With a clue to the mysterious identity of her father in hand, Willie turns her research skills to unearthing the secrets of the town in letters and pictures.

It looked good, and it seemed to have everything I would love; magical realism, a map of the town, a monster, ghosts, a very wrong love affair, beautiful cover art, pictures and letters through the book, etc. I wanted to love it so much that I  made a point of ignoring any review that seemed negative about it. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Well, yes, it could.

Groff isn’t a bad writer. In fact, I really believe that she is talentful, and I would be curious to read something else by her when she’ll write something new, as long as the feeling of disappointment that now inhabits me is gone. She had some interesting characters, many great ideas and a good enough writing.

What is the problem then, you’ll ask me? For me, it was mainly all “too much”. Too many characters. Too many different voices to tell a single story. And, mainly, too many genres mixed together – as if I took everything from my fridge and threw it in the mixer. Definitely not a good idea (another thing my parents would probably tell me not to do). Sometimes, a little less is a lot better.

Willie was interesting enough. A little childish at time, but at least she knew it. She was the narrator of my favorite chapters in the book, and I wish she could have been the only one. Sadly, every other chapter, someone else is telling you part of the story; the “runners” of the town, letters from her ancesters, journals, etc. The changes were so numerous that they lost all surprise effect while keeping you from getting attached to the main character, Willie.

Once I finished reading it, I went around a few blogs to read some reviews. When I read Steph’s review, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the part where she insists on the ridiculous characters names; to name a few, Remarkable Prettybones,  Euphonia Shipman, Wilhelmina Sunshine Upton, etc. Something interesting, though, is that two names are missing from her list that really made me cringe.

First, the book opens on Dr. Cluny; I am sorry to say I couldn’t help but to think of George Clooney on ER! I can’t blame the author for my brainwashed-by-pop-culture head though, so I dismissed it and continued reading. Then came preacher John Melkovitch. Yes, John Melkovitch. Not John Malkovitch the actor. Change a letter and you got yourself a whole new guy. My brain was on wheels though, and I started wondering: was this intentional from the author? Was it some obscure reference to Malkovitch’s life or career? Was this supposed to be a “wink” to a favorite actor? Or was the author not a movie person who heard the name somewhere and thought it sounded cool enough? 

See, that’s exactly what I don’t want to happen when I read a good book: be distracted from the story and start wondering about the author’s writing. A good fiction can make you travel through space and time, make you laugh or cry, teach you, help you, surprise you, make you sleepless, and so on. But what it shouldn’t do is make you wondering about small, unimportant details.

And finally, last but not least, the dialogue was, at some points, absolytely unbelievable. Maybe it was part of the story’s “magic”, but I felt as if the characters were talking one aside each other rather than to each other. 

So maybe I just didn’t “get it”, as some say, but The Monsters of Templeton will definitely not be on my “Best books of 2009” list.