Book Reviews by Today, I Read…

Generally stories of the fire-breathing dragon, vampire, werewolf, flying horse, and evil wizard varieties.

February 24

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Short Story Review: The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link

by Ann-Katrina

Pretty Monsters coverThe 25 page short story The Faery Handbag is from the anthology Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link or you can read it for free on her website.

Short Synopsis

A grieving Genevieve is searching for her recently deceased grandmother’s very special handbag. As she does so, she explains who her grandmother was, where she came from, and what makes the handbag so special.

My Thoughts on The Faery Handbag

Like ‘The Wizards of Perfil‘ I’m left unsure of what I feel.

As with Link’s other stories this one was readable. It flowed well and before I knew it I slammed into the end. And I do mean slammed. The end was so abrupt that it felt unsettling, but similar to ‘The Wrong Grave‘ it left you with plenty to ponder. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t like it, the abruptness (I like the plenty to ponder part).

One aspect of the story that I found skillfully mastered was the unreliable narrator. Enough doubt is cast about Genevieve’s story to keep you guessing about whether she’s telling the truth, whether she’s outright lying, or whether she’s just a girl trying to cope with the loss of her beloved grandmother and missing (boy)friend Jake. It even cast enough doubt to question the existence of her grandmother and Jake. This story certainly isn’t what it seems.

Despite loving Link’s writing style and her dexterity with voice, I wasn’t in love with this story and that’s mainly because of the denouement…there wasn’t one.

Final rating: C+

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February 17

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Short Story Review: The Wizards of Perfil by Kelly Link

by Ann-Katrina

Pretty Monsters cover The 30 page short story The Wizards of Perfil is from the anthology Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.

Short Synopsis

A mad king has declared war on everyone leaving families broken and fear in his wake. An orphan named Onion, in the care of his aunt, is nearly sold into slavery, but at the last moment, the stranger from Perfil decides to take Onion’s ill-tempered cousin Halsa. Onion and Halsa are both special, they share the same gift, so while Halsa rides off to serve the Wizards of Perfil, it’s as though Onion is right there with her. In time, Halsa, after much hard labor, and Onion learn that the Wizards are nothing like they’d expected.

My Thoughts on The Wizards of Perfil

I’m not sure what I feel right now. I’m a bit unsettled.

The prose was smooth and I glided through pages with ease. The story unfolded like a half-remembered-dream where nothing could quite be nailed down (like ages or dates or locations) which worked in its favor and the story was unique and the characters were memorable, but I can’t shake this feeling that this would have been a better story had it been longer or, at least, more fleshed out. And the end, which I sort of saw coming, fizzled when I expected an explosion (or maybe a firecracker).

The reason for my ambivalence, though, is because I enjoyed reading it. Link is certainly a skilled wordsmith and she has a way of crafting genuine characters. (One small quirk was Halsa’s abrupt and quite jarring personality shift and Onion’s willingness to accept it at face value, but that was minor.) Plus, I like the thoughtful elements of the story; it was almost like a parable causing you to question the costs of war and faith.

But, the fact remains that I’m squarely on the fence and in my mind this story fell just short of excellence.

Final rating: C+

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June 4

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Review: The Clearing by Heather Davis

by Ann-Katrina

The Clearing Cover

Title: The Clearing
Author: Heather Davis
ISBN: 978-0-5472-6367-0
Story Length: 228 pages
Genre: Young Adult Light Paranormal Romance

Back Cover of The Clearing

Every single night that summer I lay awake wishing my life were different. And then one day it was…but not in the way you probably think.

"Different" for Amy was moving from the city to her aunt’s trailer in the country–starting her senior year at a new high school, putting the pain of a broken relationship behind her, starting fresh.

"Different" was Henry, a teenage boy Amy meets in the clearing behind Aunt Mae’s. Henry dresses differently, talks differently, and treats her better than any guy she’s ever known. And she’s starting to fall for him.

But Amy is stunned when she finds out just how different Henry really is. Because on his side of clearing, it’s 1944. By some miracle, Henry and his family are stuck in the past, staving off the tragedy that will strike them in the future. Amy’s crossing over to Henry’s side brings him more happiness than he’s ever known–but her presence also threatens to destroy his safe existence.

In this touching tale about falling in love, finding strength, and having the courage to make your own destiny, two teens living decades apart form a bond that will change their lives forever…and learn that true love can be truly magical

Three Quick Points About The Clearing

  • Point 1: Ultra-sweet. This is a book for true romantics at heart.
  • Point 2: Melding two generations. Through beautiful prose, Davis paints a lovely portrait of the idyllic life of a bygone generation.
  • Point 3: A few tiny holes. Some inconsistencies (and stupidities) pricked tiny holes in an otherwise beautiful story and made me wince. Continue reading »

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February 27

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Review: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

by Ann-Katrina

Tuck Everlasting Cover

Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
ISBN: 978-0-312-36981-1
Story Length: 136 pages
Genre: Children 10+

Is eternal life a blessing or a curse? That is what young Winnie Foster must decide when she discovers a spring on her family’s property whose waters grant immortality. Members of the Tuck family, having drunk from the spring, tell Winnie of their experiences watching life go by and never rowing older.

But then Winnie must decide whether or not to keep Tuck’s secret—and whether or not to join them on their never-ending journey.

Three Quick Points About Tuck Everlasting

  • Point 1: Pensive. If I were to sum up this book in one word, that would be it.
  • Point 2: Ethereal. If I were to sum up this book in another word, that would be it.
  • Point 3: Bittersweet. If I were to sum up this book in one final word, that would be it.

My Thoughts on Tuck Everlasting

(Below are my thoughts on the book. If you want a full run down, you can read the story summary, which includes spoilers.)

I am terribly in love with this book, despite its melancholy.

First, there is the writing itself. On the surface, it looks simple, but there is an elegance in that simplicity. The descriptions are painted with an ethereal quality, quite like a daydream, and it has a steady undercurrent not unlike drifting lazily down a stream.

Next is the characters. Each one seems to have a life outside the pages of this book. Even when I finished reading, I could still imagine these people in miniature size continuing to live out their lives.

Winnie Foster was a bright, curious, and mature young girl, but she was still a little girl who did little girl things. Jesse Tuck was the epitome of impetuous youth, despite 104 years of experience. Miles Tuck was a weathered and pensive man, quite possibly due to his lot in life. Mae Tuck was a jubilant woman who somehow made me smile every few seconds. Angus Tuck was a wise, and sometimes persnickety, man who, more than anything, was ready to leave this world.

And the man in the yellow suit…what can I say about him? It’s been a long while since I remember disliking a character so swiftly as him. A true villain indeed. He was greed incarnate. But I did end up pitying him a bit at the end.

Then there is the story. A young girl tired of her life of confinement sets out on a mission of adventure, and finds exactly that—in an unexpected way. There’s plenty of tension—being held captive in a strange place with strange people; plenty of growth—what it means to truly live; and plenty of learning—what it means to do the right thing.

Finally, the message. There are so many nuanced messages woven in the story, including tolerance, greed, procrastination, choice, but the one recurring theme is that of life and death. Specifically, what does it really mean to live? And when you have immortality bestowed on you, do you continue to live at all?

Some parts of this book made me laugh and some parts choked me up. For instance, there’s a section where Tuck takes Winnie out in the rowboat and lodges it on a fallen tree trunk to illustrate his point:

“It goes on,” Tuck repeated, “to the ocean. But this rowboat now, it’s stuck. If we didn’t move it out ourself, it would stay here forever, trying to get loose, but stuck. That’s what us Tucks are, Winnie. Stuck so’s we can’t move on. We ain’t part of the wheel no more. Dropped off, Winnie. Left behind. And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing. You, for instance. A child now, but someday a woman. And after that, moving on to make room for the new children.”

Winnie blinked, and all at once her mind was drowned with understanding of what he was saying. For she—yes, even she—would go out of the world willy-nilly someday. Just go out, like the flame of a candle, and no use protesting. It was a certainty. She would try very hard not to think of it, but sometimes, as now, it would be forced upon her. She raged against it, helpless and insulted, and blurted at last, “I don’t want to die.”

“No,” said Tuck calmly. “Not now. Your time’s not now. But dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing. But it’s passing us by, us Tucks. Living’s heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it’s useless, too. It don’t make sense. If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I’d do it in a minute. You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.” –pg 63-4

That was the moment that my heart broke for the Tucks. That was the moment I finally drank in all that it meant for them to live forever because forever is a long time to watch the world drift by.

But ultimately, the lesson is: life is what you make of it, regardless of how long you’re given.

This is a book I wish I’d read as a child, and it’s a book I will certainly read again, multiple times (and to my future children). A beautiful story, though bittersweet.

Rating: Required Reading [A] (?)

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October 13

Comments: 11

Review: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

by Ann-Katrina

Hush, Hush Cover

Back Cover of Hush, Hush

For Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She’s never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along.

With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora’s not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can’t decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.

For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen – and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.

Three Quick Points About Hush, Hush

  • Point 1: The best kind of bad. The smokin’ hot half-nekkid angel guy on the front cover barely does Patch justice.
  • Point 2: Nora disappears in the story. I mean that figuratively, of course. Her personality disappears. Sometimes she felt like a shrinking violet. (Not altogether a bad thing.)
  • Point 3: The names made me cross-eyed. OK, some of the character names were so far out there, I had to stop reading, process, shake my head, then continue.

Continue reading »

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