Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

The Immortals Series by Tamora Pierce

immortalsBook – Meet Daine, a girl with an unusual gift that allows her to communicate with animals.  With only her beloved pony, Daine finds a new life as the animal handler of the Queen’s Riders, working with the knight Alanna.  However, it soon becomes clear that Daine’s gift is more than unusual; it’s magic.  With the help of a mage called Numair, Daine learns to harness the power she possesses.  As her magic reveals its true nature, Daine embarks on a crusade with her newfound friends to protect the city of Tortall from the attacks of  immortal creatures set on destruction.  The series order: 1- Wild Magic, 2-Wolf Speaker, 3-Emperor Mage and 4-The Realms of the Gods.

I first read Wild Magic as a teen, initially attracted by the human-animal communication aspect of the story, but there is so much more to love.  Dragons and other magical creatures, mystery, and fantasy all come together to create this captivating novel. The best part is that Daine’s story continues for four books (no need to feel rushed in your reading!).  This series was everything I wanted it to be.  Which, for me at least, is a pretty big deal.

Tamora Pierce has written a bunch of other novels within the same universe as The Immortals Series, appropriately dubbed the Tortall Universe.  Each mini-series follows a different character; if you liked Daine, try following Alanna, Kel, Aly, or Beka in his/her own adventure. Check out more tales from your favorite characters of the Tortall Universe at Goodreads.com.

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Book – What if everything we know about science were wrong, just a side-effect of a particularly orderly-minded god who is just the last in a long line of forces controlling the universe? And what would happen then if that god were dethroned? That’s the central premise of The Library at Mount Char, one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in years, but it’s not the central focus. The focus of the book is on Carolyn, one of several orphans who were raised and trained in the mysterious, convoluted Library, who is now fighting for her life and her independence after her father – the orderly force holding the universe together – has been murdered.

Part fantasy, part thriller, part – well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s a fascinating, fast-paced story. There’s time travel, so some things don’t make a lot of sense to start with, but Carolyn’s narration is so confident that it’s easy to trust her. It is a very violent book, with several scenes of graphic torture, which I’m not usually sensitive about, but the first thing I told people about it when they asked was, “It’s so violent!” It’s got a great payoff, though – and although it doesn’t need a sequel, I’d love to read one anyway.

Cinderella (2015)

Movie – And so it begins.  The 2015 film, Cinderellastarts Disney’s new endeavor to take all our favorite childhood films and transform them into live-action remakes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty excited to see a few of them hit the screen, mainly Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan. So, obviously, the premiere of Cinderella was a BIG deal.  Because I love children’s movies, I felt obligated to give the fairy tale remake a try.  With Lily James as our lovely Cinderella, evil stepmother Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter as the quirky fairy godmother, the film has a killer cast.

Unlike many previous Cinderella adaptations, this film gave Cinderella’s mother some screentime before she passes, which I thought was a nice touch.  The story moved a bit slowly for my liking, which I understand was probably due to the in depth storytelling of the film.  It seemed there was a greater focus on each of the characters.  For example, the deeper character development of the wicked stepmother helped to see her in a different light, which was a unique change of pace.

I did get caught up with how much the story dragged (in my opinion), which was rather annoying.  And the CGI was a bit much for my taste.  I also thought the main message of the story,  Have courage and be kind, though a good message, was unnecessarily repetitive throughout the movie.  Still the film managed to retain the fairytale magic that made me fall in love with the original story.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Book – Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal, is having a rough time of it. England’s magicians are torn by internal strife at the same time the country is demanding their assistance in the war against Napoleon, and Zacharias’s own reform ideas are being shoved to the side. And the rumors surrounding his own ascension to the post after his mentor’s death are stirring. As the first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias is none too popular among England’s magical elite.

Meanwhile, Prunella Gentleman, the mixed-race orphaned daughter of a mysterious wandering magician who has been raised by the mistress of a School for Magical Ladies, is growing frustrated with her lot. Ladies, after all, are not supposed to be magical, and those who are unfortunate enough to suffer the affliction have to be carefully trained to avoid using it at any cost. Prunella, on the other hand, is sure she could do something great with her life, if only she were given the chance.

The collision of these two – Zacharias who desperately wants to keep the peace, and Prunella who is determined to fend for herself no matter what society thinks – provides the largest part of the enjoyment of Cho’s first novel. Despite the cover, this is a Regency fantasy of the best kind, featuring dignified English magicians, grasping English politicians, and, uniquely, powerful and fascinating main characters from the underside of the empire. Fans of Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Mary Robinette Kowall’s Glamourist Histories should love this.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Book –What happens when we die?  Does Heaven await us in the afterlife, or perhaps the fiery pits of Hell?  Maybe, our souls merely evaporate into the air, leaving no trace of our existence.  Shall we meet the pearly gates or travel the River Styx?

Gabrielle Zevin explores this age-old question of what happens after life in her novel, Elsewhere.  Imagine that you wake up in a strange bed, aboard a ship you’ve never seen before, embarking on a journey to a place you’ve never heard of, called Elsewhere.  Fifteen year old Liz thinks she’s having a bad dream, until it finally hits her; she’s dead.

Dead and stuck in Elsewhere, all Liz wants to do is go back home, or at the very least find a way communicate with her family so they know she’s okay.  But the afterlife has other things in store for her.  In Elsewhere, people age backwards instead of forwards, and they return to Earth as infants.  so Liz is placed in the custody of her late grandmother, a woman she has never known.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  Liz doesn’t want to build a new life growing young; she wants her life back.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s more to  the afterlife than meets the eye…

I adored this book as a teen, and still consider it one of my favorites today.  The world of Elsewhere seemed like a fantasy to me, a quite intriguing hypothesis of what lies in store for us in death.  A morbidly light read, with a fun cast of characters and a charming story.

 

Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Book – Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children is a lively and imaginative tale that follows a young lad named Jacob.  Jacob has grown up hearing the most fantastical stories of children with magical capabilities from his grandfather.  An Invisible boy.  A girl who holds fire in her hands.  Children who, Jacob thinks, couldn’t possibly have existed.  After the sudden passing of his beloved grandfather, Jacob becomes obsessed with the photos and stories they shared.  The tragedy sends Jacob and his father far away to escape their grief.  And that…is where the adventure really begins. While exploring the island, Jacob discovers the old ruins of an orphanage, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  Jacob soon discovers that all the stories his grandfather told him might actually be true, as the children of Miss Peregrine’s Home come to life.  Yet there are still questions left unanswered. 

For anyone who has ever been awed by circus performers, amazed by people who can do unbelievable feats, pick up this book and take a gander. The story itself is charming, but it is the unique photographs sprinkled throughout the pages that really breathe life into the novel.  It’s almost enough to make you believe that the characters are real people, each with their own history.  Ransom takes these images from his extensive collection of vintage photographs to illustrate the novel; what a brilliant idea!

If you find yourself nearing the end of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, fear not, for the trilogy continues with Hollow City, and the newest installment, Library of Souls.  Also in the works to become a motion picture, don’t miss the premiere of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in March of 2016. And for another visual adaption of the book, be sure to check out the graphic novel adaptation.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

bccf75d26f52209597a6c2b5567444341587343Book – In a lilac wood lives a unicorn who has heard a rumor that she is the last of her kind. Although unicorns are solitary creatures, she does not like the thought of being the last, so she sets off on a quest to find the rest of them. Along the way she meets a witch running a questionable carnival, a slightly (but not entirely) inept magician, a band of outlaws and their long-suffering cook, and (of course) a prince.

Reading The Last Unicorn is like reading your favorite fairy tale for the first time. It’s a tremendously deep, rich fantasy story that is nothing at all like Tolkien, but contains all of those things that made you like fantasy stories when you were small – talking animals, wizards, an evil king, true love, and, of course, unicorns. When I was a kid, I wore out the local video store’s VHS copy of the movie, which is not only gorgeously animated but is a remarkably faithful adaptation. (The singing, well, the less said about Mia Farrow’s duet with Jeff Bridges, the better.) This is the book I always turn to when I want to feel good about the world.

The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

the-cure-for-dreaming-cat-wintersBook – Cat Winters weaves a tale to delight readers with her latest novel, The Cure For Dreaming.  Without even taking a peek into the pages of this book, the cover art alone sparked my curiosity immediately.  The dust jacket depicts a woman laying on her back, levitating above a chair, with spiraling rings overlaying the image.  Quite hypnotizing, you might say.  A perfect scene to preview the story that lies within.

The setting is Oregon; the time is 1900.  Olivia Mead is an independent and strong-willed young woman, fighting the patriarchy as a suffragist, much to her father’s dismay.  He would rather have a quiet, submissive daughter, someone to be seen and not heard.  But it seems Olivia’s rebellious streak will not be tamed…until hypnotist Henri Reverie comes to town and starts stirring things up.  Detecting an opportunity, Olivia’s father hires the young illusionist to prevent his daughter from speaking her mind, to suppress her fight for women’s rights.

Much to Olivia’s surprise, Henri has actually given her the ability to see people for what they truly are, yet without the ability to speak a word of her visions as she begins to see people manifested as good or evil.  Overwhelmed by the nightmarish sights around her, Olivia is more determined than ever to make her words known.

Cat Winters blends history with fantasy, entwining feminism and mystifying illusion to create a story that will charm readers of all ages.

 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

fifth seasonBook – The world is coming to an end but Essun’s world ended three days ago, when she came home to find that her husband had beaten their three-year-old son to death when he discovered the boy was an orogene, one who has a supernatural power over the shaking of the earth. An orogene girl is picked up by a Guardian to be taken somewhere she can learn to use her powers, rather than be lynched by her community. Syenite, a young trained orogene, travels to a coastal city to fulfill more than one assignment given to her by her mysterious handlers. These three stories converge in fascinating and unexpected ways through N.K. Jemisin’s new series debut, The Fifth Season.

Some people might be put off by Essun’s part of the story, which is told in second person, the narrator speaking to “you” who is also Essun. I’ve definitely read poorly done second-person stories, but this is not one of them: in Jemisin’s careful hands, these sections are full of raw, immediate emotion. After a couple of pages I forgot about the pronouns and fell into Essun’s life and world completely.

This is a rough book, to be sure. All of the main characters are of a despised magic-using minority, and Jemisin writes painfully well about the bigotry and oppression they suffer. But they’re all strong, powerful, compelling characters, and to watch them refuse to be cowed by the experience is wonderful. It also features some of the best fantasy worldbuilding I’ve ever seen, with a fully-developed world with thousands of years of history so very different from our own but so believable as well. Jemisin’s already racked up a number of awards for her Dreamblood and Inheritance series, and she’s bound to pick up some more for this one.