Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Other Place by Darren Dash






  I was contacted by Darren Dash about a week ago to read his upcoming novel, An Other Place. Being such a huge fan of his, it was a surprise and an honor to receive an email from him, let alone hear that he wants me to review a book of his, before it's even released.
  Once the shock subsided, I was ready to sink my fangs- er- teeth into his new story.
  Newman Riplan is not who you would call a saint. He is successful at his work as a troubleshooter, well on his way to making his first million, but he is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Easily hypnotized by the crook of sex, alcohol, and drugs' spindly finger, Newman is entirely out of it when his two friends send him on a plane to a mystery vacation.
  Little does Newman know, that on his way to his destination, he gets lost in An Other Place. Everything is wrong with this Other world. The currency is teeth, no glass is to be found anywhere in the city, and strange beasts run free with every corner you turn. No one there seems to know of anything relating to the world Newman has left, and he quickly realizes that he can never leave.
  I have never been so happy to be an outsider (looking in) so much in my life. Although I didn't care for Newman (at least at the beginning), I took comfort in the fact that I was not facing this nightmare of a journey on my own. I have been successfully terrified by Darren Dash's YA books (written in his alias, Darren Shan), but never to this extent. Darren Dash has opened a new artery of terror in An Other Place, and has let the adrenaline-laced blood flow into his readers.
  Several times this book made me shout, "What? WHAT?" I couldn't dig my heels into the ground far enough to slow this ride. I am not entirely sure if I can even categorize this book as a book I loved, as I have with his other books. Though, in all honesty, I know for a fact that this story will stick with me. As soon as I finished the last page, I felt as if I had been sucker-punched in the gut.
  "I liked it" or "I loved it" doesn't come close to summarizing the feelings I have for An Other World. I hated it, I wanted to leave Newman's head, I wanted to explore, I wanted to take a handful of Cheryl's sleeping pills, I wanted to tell Newman everything was going to be alright, I wanted to scream at him to run, I wanted to talk to the Alchemist, I wanted to stay, I wanted to flee, but most of all, I wanted to know more. I had to know how this city was born, and what Newman has to do to beat it.
  One thing you can say for Darren Dash's writing; he has you always wanting more.
  All in all, An Other Place is unlike any book I have ever read. It had hints of The Twilight Zone, Pines, and Station Eleven, but not quite. An Other Place was an entity of its own.
  So, Darren, I have one question for you: Where do you think you are? 



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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri






  From the author of Lemongrass Hope, Secrets of Worry Dolls takes us on a journey to the fertile orchid fields of Guatemala, through the devastating trials of a mourning family post 9/11, and into the past of a woman whose secrets can only be trusted in the hands of her tiny worry dolls.
  In Amy Impellizzeri's latest inspiring novel, we meet Lu, and are transported through time as she tells her story, and the story of her mother, and why her life has made her mother the way she is; distant and haunted.
  Secrets of Worry Dolls spins a sad tale, lights a spark of hope, and mends our broken hearts with the meaning of family, love, and courage. Together, Lu and her mother Mari will make it through this life, and in the process, inspire us all.
  Since I was so hopelessly in love with Ms Impellizzeri's debut novel Lemongrass Hope (full review here), I was a bit hesitant to jump to conclusions with Secrets of Worry Dolls. I was scared I wouldn't love it as much, and I would be comparing the two throughout the entire read-through. Cautiously going into the story, I slowly warmed to Lu and Mari's narrative, but still, I held off solidifying an opinion of the book until I was finished. I didn't particularly adore Lu or Mari, and although I tried not to compare the two in my mind, and although I loved Lemongrass Hope right off the bat, Secrets of Worry Dolls was not hooking me as quickly as I expected.
  I came to the end of the book, and the story, and the twists, the emotions--everything hit me so hard and so fast, I immediately rated the book five stars. I may not have had a love affair throughout the story as I did with Lemongrass Hope, but as for endings, Amy Impellizzeri's latest book takes the cake. As I said, I wasn't in love with Lu, but her character progression was impeccable. I wasn't too in love with Mari either, but her story...her story. Ms Impellizzeri did a remarkable job of painting a literary portrait of Mari, and why she is the way she is.
  I could honestly talk about this book for hours. I am just stunned at what a 180 degree turn this book took for me, and although I was lukewarm throughout, this story's end was well worth the wait.



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Thursday, November 3, 2016

An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Darren Dash




An Interview with Darren Dash


I have been a fan of Darren's for quite a while. He was extremely influential in my love of reading as a young adult. So, when he approached me and asked if I would help spread the word about his new adult novel, An Other Place, how could I say no?


So, without further ado...





The Literary Connoisseur: Hello, Darren! Thank you for joining my readers and me here at The Literary Connoisseur! I know we’re all very excited to find out more about your new book, An Other Place, and to hear what you’ve been up to lately! If you’re ready, let’s begin. For readers who have yet to become fans of yours, why don’t you tell us all a little about yourself. 


Darren Dash: I’m best known for my YA books, written under the name of Darren Shan, but I’ve always written for adults too – in fact the first book I ever published, Procession of the Dead, was for adults. I live in Ireland, though I spend a good chunk of time in London too, and I travel frequently.


The Literary Connoisseur: Please tell us about your new novel, An Other Place. 


Darren Dash: A young go-getter chokes on a peanut on a flight to a mystery destination, and when he recovers he finds himself at the start of a journey to… an other place. That’s really the most I want to say about it, as I think this is a book that’s best enjoyed with the minimum of knowledge. All I’ll add is that it’s very dark and twisted, a book which will hopefully unsettle readers and leave them asking questions for a very long time.


The Literary Connoisseur: I’m sure you have plenty of possible plots rattling around your head at all times! What inspired you to write this particular story? Has it been brewing in your head for some time, or has it been recently discovered? 


Darren Dash: I actually wrote the first draft back in 1998, but let it lie fallow for many years while building my Darren Shan career. I have mild OCD, but back in 1998 I was ceding more and more ground to it, letting routines dominate my life to an unhealthy degree. I was in the middle of a frenetic creative streak, knocking out novels one after the other, ideas coming fast and furious. But socially I was in a much darker place, worried that I might end up like Howard Hughes. I wrote An Other Place to try and make more sense of my world and to examine the creative process.


The Literary Connoisseur: How would you say An Other Place is unlike your other Darren Dash novels? 


Darren Dash: It’s very different. I think it’s different to most other types of novels too. It’s a very personal book, but also one that I think will connect with a lot of readers, because it addresses questions that plague and intrigue us all – Where do we come from? How do we make sense of the world? Are there other realms to be explored? But it doesn’t come at these questions in a straightforward way. Instead it sneaks up on them in a way that Franz Kafka or Rod Serling might have approached them.


The Literary Connoisseur: Is there a possibility for more Other Place books in the future? Perhaps one following future Alchemists? 


Darren Dash: I very much doubt it. An Other Place was born out of a very strange, very specific period of my life, and I hopefully won’t ever find myself back in that sort of head space again. Bad news for the variety of my stories, I know, but good news for my own mental health!


The Literary Connoisseur: Newman undergoes some serious trauma, changes, and alterations to the comfortable life he had before his journey to An Other Place. Without spoiling anything for your readers, would you say he grows as a character and as a human being (as I believe)?

Darren Dash: Absolutely. Newman is very self-centred and egocentric when we first meet him. In fact he’s something of an unlikeable character, even though I think many readers will share far more in common with him than they might wish to admit. We don’t really warm to him that much over the course of the novel – he’s not someone who becomes a nicer guy, because the plot of this book doesn’t require niceness – but I think we come to empathise with him, because nobody deserves to endure what he was to go through, and also because I think most of us can’t say for certain that we would behave any differently than he does.


The Literary Connoisseur: What would you like to say to readers who are considering picking up An Other Place? 


Darren Dash: If you want to go on a disturbing, mind-bending horror trip, this is hopefully the novel for you. If you prefer simpler, plot-driven horror novels, this might not float your boat.


The Literary Connoisseur: An Other Place is somewhat of a different book for you. How do you feel, sending this new story on into the world? Nervous? Excited? 


Darren Dash: Very nervous! I genuinely had no idea what the response to this one would be. It covers so much ground, and is so different to anything else out there, that I was afraid that readers would give up on it halfway through in their droves. A general reaction has yet to be determined, but the first couple of reviews have been excellent, so hopefully they’re an indicator of good things to come. Or else those two reviewers are just as warped and rare as myself!


The Literary Connoisseur: Do you find it difficult to switch back and forth from Darren Shan to Darren Dash, considering you write both YA (young adult) and adult fiction? Or is it second nature now that you’re a pro at this? 


Darren Dash: I’ve always found it natural to flip between the two. It helps that my YA books are extremely dark and adult in many ways, but even if I was to write more innocent books for my younger readers, I think it would just seem normal to me to move between worlds. I’m interested in different types of stories, horror, sci-fi, literary, thrillers… and in stories for the young as well as the old. I read both YA and adult books for pleasure, I believe at writers should write the sorts of books they enjoy reading, hence the straddling of the two realms.


The Literary Connoisseur: Again, without spoiling anything for your readers, what symbolism or “point” would you like readers of An Other Place to take from their reading experience? 


Darren Dash: There are lots of different questions I hope they go away asking themselves, but one of the impressions I most hope they take from it is that they should value their family and friends, as they can be far more important to us than we realize, and we never know when we might be cut adrift from them.


The Literary Connoisseur: Are you currently working on any new projects? 


Darren Dash: Yes, I’m working on a new Darren Shan series which is still probably quite a way off being released, and the next Darren Dash book, a light-hearted sexual comedy inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which might well see print in the summer of 2017 if all goes according to plan.


The Literary Connoisseur: Last, but definitely not least, what is your response to, “Where am I?” 

Darren Dash: 
I should say, “Where do you think I am?” But that would only make sense to people who’ve read the book! I’m in a good place, at least in this world, and fighting to cling on in there, despite the call of Alchemists and my OCD.


The Literary Connoisseur: Darren, thank you again SO much for stopping by The Literary Connoisseur! I am beyond honored to say that I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you. I cannot wait to hear what other projects you have in store for your beloved fans and new fans alike! Happy writing!








About the Author






Darren Dash was born in England in 1972, but has spent most of his life in Ireland, where he lives with his wife and son. In his day job, under a different name, he has sold over 25 million books worldwide, mainly in the YA market. But he feels much more at home in the nights of his adult worlds...



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: Book Before Movie






  When Louisa Clark's father loses his job, Louisa becomes the sole bread-winner of her entire family (which includes her grandfather, sister, and her sister's son). When Louisa herself loses her job at a local cafe, a new opportunity presents itself.
  Will Traynor is a former thrill-seeker/adventurer, now a quadriplegic. After Will is hit by a motorcyclist in a tragic street accident, he is wheelchair-bound, and not at all amused by his new caretaker--Louisa.
  Together, she will bring out the newly-found hope in him, and he will bring out the adventurer in her.
  When I started Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, I was warned over and over again that I would be devastated by the end. My fellow readers were right, and no matter how much I prepared myself, I would not be fully aware of the emotional impact of Will and Louisa's story. That being said, in all honesty, I was not as crazy about the book as many of my friends. I enjoyed it thoroughly, cried quite a bit, and it left an incredible impression on me, but it wasn't one of the best books I had ever read.
  Fast-forward a few years later--now. The movie has come out, with Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, and I was anxious to see it. Perhaps not anxious. Nervous. Okay, I was extremely terrified of seeing the movie, in fear of the emotional spectacle I would make of myself. (Hence, why I chose to wait until the DVD came out to see it, instead of going out in public--with people.)
  As I said before, I loved the book, but I wasn't obsessed with it, as I am with, say, The Fault in Our Stars or Charles Sheehan-Miles' The Last Hour. But I was interested and curious enough to look forward to this movie.
  Boy, was it a pleasant surprise.
  I was expecting a movie like The Secret Life of Bees, that was beautiful and charming, but Me Before You was...incredible. Hilarious, sweet, emotional (VERY emotional), well-acted, beautiful, and enough to be a movie I would watch and rewatch over and over again. In a way, I enjoyed it more than the Fault in Our Stars movie, because Me Before You was not so overwhelmingly sad to the point that I couldn't watch it again. (I have yet to watch The Fault in Our Stars for a second time after seeing it initially, two and a half years ago...)
  When I went into the Me Before You movie, I expected to be blown away by Sam Claflin since I am already just so in love with him (thanks to The Hunger Games movies and Pirates of the Caribbean), and not so much with Emilia Clarke. Not because she isn't talented, but because I had never seen her in a role before. (I am going to read the Game of Thrones books before I watch the show.) But Emilia Clarke was the star of Me Before You. She was the most perfect Louisa, more perfect than I could have ever pictured Louisa. She WAS Louisa. Of course, I am always impressed with Sam Claflin, but Emilia Clarke stole the show.
  All in all, the book to movie adaptation of Me Before You only enhanced my opinion of the book, as did other remarkable adaptations like The Help, Gone Girl, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Amazing book with an even better movie, and that's quite an accomplishment.



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Monday, August 29, 2016

The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger






  There are different categories of "amazing books" in my head.
  There are series that I love, like Twilight, Outlander, The Hunger Games, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. There are also books that I enjoy, but don't see myself reading more than once in my lifetime. Then there are books which hold such undeniable beauty and mysterious magical abilities, I feel as if my hands are glued to the book's pages, and won't separate themselves until I am finished. These books touch my soul so, that I fear their end before I'm even halfway through. These are novels that stay with me forever. Novels I would reread in a heartbeat, and read and reread until my old, arthritic hands cannot hold their binding anymore.
  The Ruby Ring is one of these books.
  The only books I remember being as captivating (at least for me) as Diane Haeger's story of Raphael and his very own Madonna, are Susanna Kearsley's time-slip novels. I had the same reaction to The Ruby Ring as I did with Ms Kearsley's The Rose Garden. Every time I would put down the book, my mind would still be in my characters' time. With each time I would pick up the book, I would almost be in tears in fear of the story actually (God forbid) ending.
  With Diane Haeger's The Ruby Ring, I actually slowed my reading pace, JUST so I could be with Raphael and Margherita that much longer. Which I never ever do. Ever.
  To sum up the plot, I will say that this book takes place in 16th century Rome, and follows the life of the painter, Raphael Sanzio, as he searches for the perfect woman to be the model for his masterful painting of Madonna. Instead he finds Margherita, a baker's daughter, who not only is the perfect model for his Madonna, but is also the love Raphael has been searching for his entire life.
  Promises to the Vatican, and financial status (among many other things) try to keep these two apart, but when a flame of passion and romance is lit, especially between the painter Raphael and his love, Margherita, it's impossible to extinguish it.
  This book is just so beautiful. I wish I could carry it with me everywhere, just to read and reread in my spare time.
  I wish now that I could wipe its story from my memory, just to be able to read it again for the first time.



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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany






  Yes, it's time for this review.
  If you have not read the much anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet and are interested to hear my viewpoint before you go into it, have no fear, because my reviews are spoiler-free.
  It's 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has just been released. An author, rejected by so many publishers, has no idea what lies in store for her and her story. A boy, with a lightning bolt-shaped scar, has just been born by paper and ink, and his world is about to change forever.
  It's 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has just come out at midnight, and I am an out-of-breath eager (almost) twelve year-old, with a fresh, new hardcover in my hands.
  The Battle at Hogwarts had not happened. No one had yet perished at the hands of the Dark Lord (besides those who died in previous books). I had no idea that all would be well. All I knew was that this was the last book, and I had it in my hands. The final chapter of Harry's story. The book that completed the series, and the book that would tell all.
  I, like many others, thought that it was over.
  Fast-forward to 2011, I am an emotional fifteen year-old, who is wearing entirely too much makeup in hopes that my crush would finally ask me out. I am sitting in a dark theater, surrounded by fans both young and old, head to toe in Wizarding garb. Robes, scarves, glasses (taped in the middle), and lightning scars galore, I am in my element.
  This was the end. The last time I would hear Hedwig's Theme playing as the Warner Brothers sign edged closer and closer to the camera (which I later found out was in fact replaced by Lily's Theme, much to my surprise and tearful delight). This was the last time I would see a Harry Potter movie for the FIRST time. This was the end.
  I, like many others, thought that it was over.
  It is now 2016, and I am twenty-one. I am sitting on the stage in the children's section of Barnes and Noble, making wands with hundreds of children and adults (five or so at a time). Once again, robes, lightning scars, and wizard hats galore, and I am overly thrilled to be surrounded by my people.
  But this time, I'm noticing something that wasn't there five years ago. Babies, toddlers, and young children, children who weren't even alive when book seven came out, are possibly more excited than me. They're waving wands, casting spells, dueling, and answering trivia that even gave me a pause.
  The Harry Potter Generation has grown up, and has raised a new generation of nerds.
  I am standing in line for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I am flanked by a woman in her mid-twenties, and two very young children who beg to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando every year for summer vacation.
  I am hit with nostalgia. Like a blast of cold wind in mid-February, my breath is taken away, and it hits me how many lives depend on the Wizarding World to turn on the light when the world seems the most dark.
  Nine years after book seven, five years after movie eight, and nineteen years later for Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Ginny, we have our story.

  There is a common misconception that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is book eight (which is basically the fault of whoever decided to call it the eighth book as a tagline). Yes, it is the eighth story (nineteen years later), but no. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not the eighth book.
  A Harry Potter book is written by J.K. Rowling, the Queen herself. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a script from the play currently in London, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was written by two playwrights, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany.
  ANY reader who goes into this book expecting it to be like its seven predecessors will be severely disappointed. This is not the eighth book, it is a script, from a play, based off of J.K. Rowling's nineteen years later.
  In addition to that note, the book is laid out like a play. There are characters entering and exiting stage right and left, and it leaves a lot to the imagination because, as you may have guessed, THIS IS A PLAY. Not a book that gives you a clear visual of what's going on in the author's mind, it is a script, from a play, which is acted out on stage. I say there is a lot left to the imagination because John Tiffany and Jack Thorne have given us a visual as to what's happening, but we, as eager readers, have to resort to this Shakespearean form of technology called "using our imaginations" to grasp an idea of how the story is played (literally) out.
  What bugs me the most about the "Cursed Child" hype is that everyone is disappointed. This isn't what they thought/wanted/expected/yearned for for nine years. I say that we can't be picky with what J.K. Rowling herself releases to us, because when book seven came out, she said she was done. Done, done. And now we have Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Ilvermorny, new books, new movies, new Pottermore stories-
  (Takes a moment to take a sip of coffee and calm down.)
  Anyway...
  I understand that many fans were disappointed with the eighth story. I don't relate, but I hear their outcries. I don't agree, but I listen.
  For an eighth "book" based off a play in London (that everyone was complaining they couldn't afford to see, and yet they're complaining about having the script now), written by two playwrights who are not J.K. Rowling, based off of J.K. Rowling's beloved characters, and continuing a story so dear to my heart, my life would be incomplete without it, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was everything I wanted and more.
  Completely, honestly, totally, swear to the book Gods, J.K. Rowling, and all that is holy, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was what I needed in my life.
  It adds such a new depth to the story, I literally cannot think back to it without crying. (More than I did before.) I cannot read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban without crying. I cannot watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire without thinking "what could have been" and, yes, crying. I cannot think about that night at Godric's Hollow without wanting to find Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, grabbing them by their dress robes (everyone dresses like wizards in my mind) and sobbing, "WHY?"
  This eighth story sinks into your heart like the giant squid sinking into the Black Lake.
  There is one aspect of the book that throws me off, as it has with many others. (Again, no spoilers.) When I first finished the book, it unsettled me, because it gave me the gut-wrenching feeling of thinking perhaps this book would end up being a desperately-awaited disappointment. But after time, and the more I let the story settle in my brain, the more I realized that this is the Wizarding World. Not everything in the original seven books made sense when I first read them. Heck, I was a child. Of course they didn't make sense with the first read-through!
  That's why, after I finish rereading the first seven books for my third annual reread, I will reread Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I will sob like Moaning Myrtle.
  So yes, this book can come off as being disappointing to some. For me personally, I feel sorry for those who didn't take out of it what I took out of it. I am sorry that it wasn't what many fans were expecting, and they went into it with preconceived notions.
  For me, a fan of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World, and J.K. Rowling ever since my mom first read them to me when I was five (after she picked up book one at a Scholastic book fair), I am in love with the eighth story.
  If you haven't read the book yet, please keep my warnings above in mind as your start it. Please don't go into it prepared to read it like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Please enjoy it for what it is, and for what the Queen has bestowed upon her loyal servants- er, fans.
  If you have, and you didn't like it, I am sorry. Please consider rereading it after some time, and see if you can come to terms with Jo, John, and Jack's story for Harry as an adult. As someone who accepted it right off the bat, I promise it isn't that bad. After some time to digest Harry and Albus Severus' fate, it's quite a satisfying beginning to the next (hopefully) more peaceful generation at Hogwarts.
  If you have, and you loved it, I only have one thing to say to you; For Voldemort and Valor.



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Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett






  Before The Color of Magic, I had never read a book by Terry Pratchett. But thanks to a friend who suggested it as part of my Recommended Reads of 2016, I dove headfirst in to Mr Pratchett's work.
  Now, if you read the synopsis of The Color of Magic, it is very easy to become overwhelmed (especially if fantasy is not your forte). In short, there are four elephants on a giant turtle's back in space, and on this bizarre planetoid are many cities, provinces, and villages. This is the Discworld.
  As we start The Color of Magic, we (theoretically) zoom in on one of these villages, where we meet Rincewind the wizard, who was kicked out of the university of magic (long story), who has just met Twoflower, a tourist. I know, the plot is all over the place. But it is for a reason.
  A wonderful reason.
  This book, these books (because as I write this, I have already finished The Light Fantastic, book two in the Discworld series), are HILARIOUS. Rincewind and Twoflower become the most unlikely of friends, and travel far and wide across the Discworld. They come across many people, some dangerous, some kind, all funny in their own way, and all are trying to kill them.
  Packed full of adventures and witty British situations and one-liners, The Color of Magic makes excellent company for fantasy-lovers and non-lovers alike.
  I love this series so much. The friend who recommended this book to me may or may not read this post, but I'll risk some judgement in saying that I fully went into this book expecting to hate it. Not that I don't trust his taste in books, but as soon as I read the plot, I was incredibly skeptical and confused. (Which is not difficult to achieve.)
  I was wrong. I was so wrong, and now have 39 books on my "to buy" list. (The rest of the Discworld series.)



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