Susanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)
Kate Atkinson delivers a beautifully written, wildly imaginative tale of 20th century England. In Life After Life, Ursula Todd lives her life, over and over again. From the pre-war bucolic setting to the Great War and 1918 Influenza, to the horrors of WWII in London and beyond, Atkinson guides the reader through the first half of the 20th century through Ursula’s eyes. A novel of historical fiction with a fantastical element, Life After Life is a thought-provoking read of what might change if you could relive your life.
The plot may seem farfetched, but the author structures the book in such a way that it is believable. If you enjoy reading historical or literary fiction, WWII novels, stories about families, alternative histories, or just want a good story, try this book – you won’t regret it!
And if you’re hooked, a companion novel, A God in Ruins, will be released in May (and focuses on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy).
Katie’s restaurant has been doing really well, but it no longer feels like hers with all of her original staff gone. Looking for a new adventure, she plans on opening a second restaurant, but things are moving pretty slowly and she keeps wondering if she should have chosen somewhere else to build. When one of the waitresses in her current restaurant is badly injured, Katie is visited by the resident house spirit, who gives her the power to restart her day and give her a second chance. The rules are simple: 1. Write your mistake, 2. Ingest a mushroom, 3. Go to sleep, 4. Wake anew. The spirit gave Katie only one mushroom, but when she finds more beneath the floorboards, she tries to reset all her mistakes, including her restaurant location and her last break-up, but things get out of hand quickly.
The art in Seconds is adorably unique and fun, with lots of dynamic and entertaining characters. I greatly enjoyed Katie’s story and the mythology behind the house spirits and their connection to space-time, giving this book both a supernatural and science fiction feel. Readers of Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series should also look closely – there’s a few Easter eggs hidden in the panels for them!
The book opens with its unnamed narrator returning to his childhood home in Sussex, England for a funeral. He finds his way to the farm down the road from his old house and remembers Lettie Hempstock, the girl who used to live there. As he sits in front of Lettie’s “ocean” (a pond on the property), the narrator remembers a fantastical adventure with Lettie where the two fight a dangerous monster taking the shape of the narrator’s family’s new tenant.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very fast, light read, which holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end. There are many strong female characters to be found in this novel, with most of them staying with the reader long after the book has been closed. Neil Gaiman’s brilliant writing shines through, providing both unease when dealing with the monster and comfortable nostalgia when describing the narrator’s childhood home and the Hempstock farm, both of which provide evocative images of the English countryside.
This is a fantasy book I would suggest for those who do not often read fantasy. The magic is minimal and the adventure important, yet contained, feeling like a story straight from a child’s imagination. This book is wonderful in that it encapsulates all the wonder (and fear) of childhood without losing anything of adulthood, or alternately, takes adulthood without losing any of the wonder of childhood. Overall, Gaiman has managed to write a children’s book for adults, leaving the reader feeling nostalgic for childhood bedtime stories, but without feeling patronized.
Shades of Grey is science fiction, suspense, and comedy rolled into one. It is set in a dystopian future in which everyone is color blind and one’s class status is determined by the amount of color that he or she can see, with the greys toiling at the bottom, the purples at the top, and several other hues in constant conflict.
Jasper Fforde has a vivid imagination, an eye for detail, and a gift for writing. I especially enjoy the clever dialogue, and each comically absurd scene outdoes the last. John Lee is excellent as the narrator of the book on CD. I would highly recommend listening to this book.
The circus arrives without warning. Le Cirque des Reves, or “the Night Circus” moves from town to town with no prior notice or schedule. These black and white tents are open from dusk until dawn and feature wonders beyond your wildest imagination. The circus is more than your average carnival; it’s the setting for two magicians, who have been bonded since children to compete against each other until only one is left standing.
The Night Circus was enchanting, by every definition of the word, equal parts magical, fascinating, delightful, and charming. Erin Morgenstern deftly weaves together multiple storylines, perspectives, and timelines, and creates a strong sense of place in the circus, pulling both the setting and the reader in as important characters. This is a fantasy book, but the fantasy is secondary to the story and the characters and fans outside of the genre can easily enjoy this book. The audiobook is narrated by Jim Dale (the narrator from Pushing Daisies and the Harry Potter audiobooks), whose voice has its own magical qualities and suits the story nicely.
This is my first taste of Neil Gaiman as a writer for an adult audience. The same master storytelling and ability to keep you on the edge of your seat is there. The Ocean at the End of the Lane seems like a child’s novel at first. The main character is reminiscing about a nightmarish memory from his childhood. After a while, it becomes quite apparent that the content is straight from a nightmare and also for mature audiences.
Gaiman keeps the reader questioning. Is this reality, fantasy, or are we dealing with mythical creatures as old as life itself? As a consolation to readers, no matter how horrible the nightmare gets, we know our hero survives to recount the story as an adult.
Percy is a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who doesn’t fit in, his mother lives with an abusive stepfather, and he has just been expelled from his sixth school in six years. Life is frustrating, and the future seems bleak, when he suddenly learns the truth: his father is one of the Greek Gods! This, of course, means that Percy is half a God, and it opens up a whole new world full of danger, but also hope. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Rick Riordan’s young adult series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and it will make you wish you paid attention more in high school when you were studying mythology. This is a fun book with a Herculean quest, prophecies, and plenty of action.
Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth is a word lover’s paradise which both children and adults can enjoy. The story follows Milo, a boy with not much interest in anything, through a mysterious tollbooth into a magical land where he must try to reconcile the differences between the land of Dictionopolis (which holds words most dear) and Digitopolis (a kingdom ruled by numbers). Only by rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason can Milo end the discord dividing the kingdoms. It is a fun adventure for everyone as Milo learns to find delight in the world around him.