Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Next Person You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

In today’s paper there is an article about a young couple who were recently married and killed in a freak roll over car accident on their way to their honeymoon. While there are many such incidents throughout the United States, what makes this one especially tragic is that these were two young people at the pinnacle of their happiness. Nothing is as sacrosanct as a bride and groom. I am silently sending my condolences to their families in this most grievous loss of life.

Perhaps that’s why Mitch Albom used a wedding to start off his newest novel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, a sequel to a book by a similar title published in 2003. My first reaction was “Oh, no! Not on their wedding day!” since obviously in order to have a tete a tete in heaven, you must be recently deceased. Albom takes us through that happy time and the series of events which followed sending both lovebirds to the hospital where extraordinary measures are necessary to perhaps preserve a life or two.

Then we are in heaven as the former spouse, sans honeymoon, meets the five individuals who most strongly influenced their past. Through the details revealed in their interchanges we get the backstory which led to this fateful day. Back in real time, we discover what happened to those impacted by the couple whose lives had taken such a tragic turn.

I have a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven sitting unread on my bookshelf (my brother gave it to me as a Christmas present, at my request, shortly after it was published). While it was obvious that this book was a sequel, with some common characters to both novels, you don’t need to read the first to understand the second. The language is simple, slowly revealing some reinterpretations of an earthly past which changes the viewpoints of everybody involved, including the reader. While one person might personally take offense at actions (or inactions) from various situations, when secrets are shared both discover that there are perfectly plausible explanations for everything. As understanding dawns, peace can be found, and what better place than heaven to achieve this “life” changing miracle. As the song says “Was blind, but now I see!”.

While Albom shares the Grace of God through his words, the story, almost a fairy tale, seems contrived. At times I want to shake the characters in frustration at their stupidity, or I wonder at the dynamics of some of the situations – “Now, really?” I also felt like Albom was being condescending, forcing us to learn a lesson which we might not want to hear. Yet, there were some interesting aspects to the story with several outlooks we might not have considered on our own. Ultimately, I anticipated the outcome and was grateful I guessed correctly since, despite the tragedy, I was able to leave with a good feeling deep in my soul. What more could you ask about a book with the word “heaven” in the title?

Three stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads

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And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai

First, imagine you are a whale, but not the whales in our oceans. You are the whales in a fantasy world who have developed the technology to breathe underwater, build ships, wear armor, and carry and shoot harpoons. Whales who can speak to humans. Whales who think and plan and hunt man. The same men who also hunt whales. It is war but the true enemy, for both man and whales, is Toby Wick, and it is Bathsheba’s destiny to confront this beast as a part of a great pod destined to meet and defeat this mythical devil.

While this adventure plays out the reader must imagine an upside down world where up is down and down is up. The sky is the abyss or the bottom of the world with the whales traveling up into the bottom of the sea where ships ride on the ocean upside down. For someone who is already directionally challenged, I felt a sense of vertigo throughout the tale, despite the numerous and enchanting illustrations by Rovina Cai

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness is a futuristic fairy tale depicting an alternative universe which barely resembles anything familiar to our everyday world. While I appreciate the creativity demonstrated by Ness, this tale is a little too bloody for my taste. Despite the descriptive language, I never became fully engaged, although I kept on reading in order to make some sense of the bizarre details. In addition, I had a difficult time connecting with the any of the “characters”, even Bathsheba, the cetacean narrator. Ultimately, there is only so much you can do with the inky sea and a pod of whales, either literally or graphically, although the drawings do give some clues to help decipher the storyline. Despite its short length, Ness seems to take forever to get to the point.

Sorry, this one was not for me. Two and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game, Book 1) by Jennifer A Neilson

The Kingdom of Antora has been taken over by Lord Endrick, a self proclaimed king, Lord of the Dominion, who leads with an iron fist with the magic stolen from the Endorians who he conquered (along with the Halderians) in the war which won him the throne. The Dallisors, the rightful rulers, bow down to the power of their Lord, with Henry Dallisor, Endrick’s enforcer, responsible for much of the devastation placed upon the people of the kingdom who are now basically slaves to the whims of this evil overlord. Anyone who dares to complain is swiftly “taken care of” since the common townsfolk are considered expendable often rounded up with the rebels and executed for crimes they did not commit. The Coracks are waiting in the wings, ready for their chance to overthrow the government and the Halderons are keeping their heads down trying to stay out of trouble, although a few have their eye on the prize. The various factions distrust one another and it’s every man for himself. Unfortunately, all the Endorians have been wiped out by Lord Endrick, but if any were still left their lives would be in danger since their kind are hated by everyone for the evilness inherent in their magical powers.

Enter Kestra, daughter of Henry Dallisor, who has been sequestered for three years in Lava Fields after an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt by the Halderians. The event, however, has left her scarred, so her protector, Darrow, has taught her some battle moves, including how to wield a knife. When out of the blue her father sends the Dominion Soldiers to bring her home, Kestra is able to use her survival skills when her carriage is waylaid by the Coracks, but she is forced to give herself up in order to save the lives of Darrow and her lady’s maid, Celia.

Grey Tenger, the leader of Corack rebels, has a task in mind that Kestra is uniquely able to accomplish – finding the Olden Blade, the only weapon which can destroy the immortal king. This mythical object is supposedly hidden in her castle home and she has four days to find it or forfeit the lives of her “friends”. Accompanied by Simon and Trina, disguised as her protector and lady’s maid, they are there to make sure the job gets done. Yet when she arrives “home” she discovers her father has plans for her which threaten to interfere with her stated mission. Lord Endrick also plays a role in determining her future, although from the looks of things she, too, has become expendable in the vast intrigue of palace politics.

The plot of The Traitor’s Game is a YA Fantasy which advances via the points of view of both Krestrel and Simon. The two teenagers have somewhat of a past, since Simon. served as one of her slaves when they were young, but through a series of unpleasant events, he was able to gain his freedom. Their parting left an unpleasant taste in both their mouths, but their close proximity in some fretful situations has softened their mutual feelings of hatred leading to some romantic interludes as their mission progresses. Kestrel is headstrong, acting out without thought to the consequences which sometimes are quite swift and severe. Simon is conflicted, trying to remain loyal to the cause but questioning how he can protect Kestra while staying true to his oath of fealty. Trina, also a teen, is thoughtless and careless, but her determination to succeed at any cost makes her a worthy adversary. All three have daddy issues and each has their own agenda resulting in twists and turns as they move towards their mutual goal.

I thought this was, for the most part, a fast paced story with lots of action and unexpected detours. I didn’t mind the romance (a few kisses) since the two seventeen year olds were in a life and death situation which heightened their emotions, plus they were probably hormonal. The author, Jennifer A Neilson, took her time getting to the climax and, with only thirty pages left, I was afraid there would be no resolution at all, just a cliff hanger to be taken up in book two of the Traitor’s Game series (aptly named because everyone seems to turn on each other whenever it seems expedient). However, there was a somewhat satisfying ending which, although a little rushed and a bit confusing, was mostly unexpected.

I liked it! Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ice Wolves (Elementals, Book #1) by Amie Kaufman

Through the use of two rugrats, Amie Kaufman has found the means to introduce a new world. In Ice Wolves, Book One of the Elementals Trilogy, twelve year old orphans, Anders and Rayna, are swiftly making their way over the garden-like rooftops, avoiding the increasing number of check points on the streets, to the town square where a large group has assembled, perfect for their daily antics. Pick pocketing is an indispensable lifestyle to ensure survival on the streets where Rayna distracts while her twin brother extracts some coins from the victims’ pockets. Unfortunately, circumstances necessitate a change of plan and the two find themselves amongst others their age reaching for the staff which will determine their fate. So far none that day had been successful in their quest to become a part of the Wolf Guard, so Rayna, without a family history (at least none of which she is aware), is stunned when she shape-shifts into the enemy, a Scorch Dragon. Anders, beside himself, reaches for the staff, expecting to follow her as the same, but instead he shape shifts into one of the revered, an Ice Wolf.

How can this be? The role of Ice Wolf is inherited while only traitors become Scorch Dragons. Anders must muster up all his courage and find his sister who he knows is not the enemy, even though as an Ice Wolf he is required to destroy the evil dragons. Assigned to Ulfar Academy, full of the luxuries (like food, clothing, and a warm place to sleep) his former way of life lacked, the shy Anders must learn all that he can to find a way to rescue his beloved sister. He develops some friendships in his pack where loyalty and obedience are a key requirement. Yet, where should your loyalty lie when you discover that there’s more to the story and the fight against the Scorch Dragons might be based on politically motivated disinformation and prejudices? All Anders knows is that his fealty will always be with Rayna, and his number one goal must take precedence over his role as Ice Wolf.

Ice Wolves follows the basic formula for preteen readers – youngsters (after discovering the deceit of adults) take it upon themselves to save the day. Kaufman has a talent for bringing the characters alive and connecting them to the readers who find themselves rooting for a successful outcome. This will definitely appeal to the middle school crowd, including some advanced elementary aged students, as well as those in high school. Its short length is a plus with an ending which will draw them into the next book of the series. Adults, once they accept the premise that twelve year olds rule, might also appreciate this well written tale.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Grimm’s Manga Tales by Kei Ishiyama

Grimm’s Manga Tales by Kei Ishiyama lives up to its Manga status. While some of the titles might be familiar, the stories themselves only have a nod to the original Grimm. In Little Red Riding Hood there is a romantic interest between the handsome wolf and Little Red. Grandma was never in danger and the dear grand daughter has to intercede to save her true love’s life from the woodcutter’s axe. There’s a happily ever after for the wolf and his savior. In Hansel and Gretel, the handsome Hansel finds true love with the witch and poor Gretel fears that the beautiful woman who is keeping her brother “captive” wants to fatten him up to eat, while the two lovebirds have something else in mind. Hansel finally realizes that he owes Gretel a better life, so he guides her home via those convenient shiny stones he dropped, their pockets filled with gems from their generous benefactor. The evil stepmother is gone and their dad, who had been searching for them in vain, tearfully welcomes them home overwhelmed by their new found wealth. Additional stories feature Rapunzel, The Two Brothers, The Twelve Hunters, Snow White, The Frog King, Puss in Boots, and the Singing, Springing Lark – all containing Manga style twists. For example, Rapunzel’s companion in the tower appears to be female, although there must have been some male contact because the formerly long haired beauty ends up pregnant.

I found this ebook physically difficult to read. One reason was the online format which cut off the ends of panels leaving off important parts of the story, plus it was hard to make out the rich illustrative details. In addition, the condensed story lines were complex and even the well known fairy tales were changed just enough to be barely recognizable. Without any narratives, the dialogue and art work had to be interpreted to determine the plot. Sometimes this was so challenging it took away from the normal enjoyment found in a fantasy world where anything is possible. This volume would definitely be better purchased in paper format. Perhaps an expanded plotline for a few selected stories would have been a wiser choice instead of tackling such a broad inventory.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

You might have seen these fantasy themes before: An overpopulated community stuck within the confines of a certain set of boundaries due to the threat of a plague which has destroyed the outside world with the home-bound population being controlled by magic and death/execution – a common occurrence meant to keep everyone in line. In Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta, that’s not enough, the King requires an obedience bond between himself and his subjects, administered when they become “adults”. Thus our rebels are teenagers who know there is something out there worth risking everything, even their lives, to discover.

Of course, each has their own motivations. Faris Locke originally wanted a better life than one of eking out an existence in the Brim, a slum like community, but now she is forced to fight her way to the prize to save her sister from being used as a drone at the workhouse. Princess Bryn is determined to be Queen of Brindaigel, so she magically binds Feris to her as a servant to not only protect, but to serve as a virtual “whipping boy” who absorbs any pain the princess experiences (even if maliciously self-inflicted). Upon entering the forbidden Avinea they immediately get captured, but are rescued by North, a nomadic magician who wants to free his beloved homeland from the deadly sickness which is creeping throughout the kingdom.

I’m thinking this book should be included under the Steampunk Category. This is a YA fantasy novel full of intrigue, violence, greed/self interests, and a bit of romance, all entangled with the power of magic which can both protect and destroy. While the premise has a few twists using this common theme, the concept is muddled enough to require a bit of an explanation instead of simply leaking details on the fly as the plot unfolds. After a few attempts, I gave up trying to make sense of events by rereading passages which leave out the clues necessary to provide any cohesiveness. While the characters are intriguing, there are so many secrets and scams, it is easy to get confused about their motivations. These young people all have complicated relationships with their parents, most of whom are out of the picture for one reason or another, but who influence their actions, which makes discovering who’s who and what’s what requiring the skills of a detective.

However, the book is readable if unpredictable (for various reasons), just don’t expect a definitive conclusion as the ending is a cliff hanger leading to book 2 of the series. Three stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Insight Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.