Flash Fiction Reviews: February 2015 Part II


February was such a great month for reading that it took me what felt like forever to write up all of these flash reviews. But I’m happy to report that I’m finally finished with all of the books I read in February. These include gems like The City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, As You Wish by Cary Elwes (and Joe Layden), and Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen…


The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Annie and Buster have spent their lives being involved in, and often the center of, their famous parents’ “living art” pieces. Child A and B, center of chaos, two moving parts in the unstoppable creative machine that is Caleb and Camille’s performance art. Both children feel lucky to have escaped their childhoods with their lives (somewhat) intact. So when crushing personal defeats force them to make their way back home, it’s no wonder they’re reluctant to take up the Fang Family Mantel once more. This book is intriguing, rip-roaring, absurdity from page one. Rating: 9/10

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

I wasn’t sure what I’d be walking into when I picked up Anderson’s critically acclaimed YA novel. I knew that, at its heart, it was a story that centered around the effects of PTSD, but I had no idea how she would bring that to light in a book about a seventeen-year-old girl. My worst fear was that it would be a tearjerker with no sustenance, but luckily Anderson knows what she’s doing, and this is a beautiful novel. Rating: 10/10

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Who hasn’t quoted this line at least once in his/her lifetime? If you’re anything like me, you definitely use it more often than you should. But, hey, it’s a classic, which makes it okay to overuse it, right? Right? In any case, I love this book so much that I once bought a very expensive throw-blanket from Barnes & Noble because it sported famous novel lines, including this one.The second I saw that, I had to have it. I love this book. I have always loved it. “It is a far, far better thing” to have read this book than to have simply passed it over because it was written a couple hundred years ago. If you haven’t picked it up, you should. It’s good for the soul. I mean, was there ever a love deeper and more poignant than the love of Sydney Carton? But, Caitlin, I’ve tried reading Dickens, and I just couldn’t get into it. No. Don’t tell me you’ve read Great Expectations or Oliver Twist, those novels have nothing on this one. For one thing, this one takes place amidst one of the greatest events in Western Civilization’s history – The French Revolution. For another, this story has it all – likeable characters, deep anti-heros and perfect dainty damsels, wizened men with dark secrets buried in their pasts, and loyal sidekicks who kick serious ass (yes, Miss Pross, I’m looking at you). There is action, suspense, and romance that will make you look at your own heart and wish it were capable of such love. This is my favorite classic novel, and by far the best of Dicken’s many works. Read it, but don’t forget to bring your own tissues. The waterworks are free. Rating: Timeless/10

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

Demons, demons, and more demons. That’s the theme of this charming YA debut by Michelle Knudsen. Basically, the new school librarian turns out to be – gasp – a demon! He’s trying to suck the life-force out of the entire student body, and he wants to make Annie, Cynthia’s best friend, his human consort and child-bride. Cynthia is the only one who’s completely immune to his demon powers, so naturally it’s up to her to save the school (and the world). Only, she’s also falling in love with Ryan, who happens to be the star of the school musical, Sweeney Todd, a show for which she’s stage-managing. She has to enlist his help to stop the evil librarian from taking over the world, while still trying to pull off the greatest high school production of Sweeney Todd ever. What’s not to love about this? There are plenty of musical-references (Who knew that Sweeney Todd was so popular in the demon realms?), and the prose is packed with Joss Whedon-esque sass. It’s a nerdgasm in a book, and I loved every second of it. Rating: 10/10

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden

There’s a reason that The Princess Bride (both the film and the book) is considered among the greatest of cult classics. Epic swordfights, daring heroes, a quest for revenge, and a quest for true love – all this and more can be found within its simple story (which, of course, turns out to be not so simple, after all). This is one of the first movies I can ever remember watching with my dad, and I loved it from the first minute onwards. As a young girl, I was captivated by Inigo Montoya (to this day his famous line, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” is among my favorites), fascinated by Fezzik (my dad’s real fascination with Andre the Giant ensured I was taken to Baylor Hospital in Dallas to see the mold of Andre’s, indeed enormous, hand), and head-over-heels in love with Wesley. So, when I saw that Cary Elwes had written a book about his experiences as part of The Princess Bride cast, I knew I had to read it. I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. It was charming and engaging, written in a very easy-to-follow style that made me feel like Cary and I were old friends, and that he was recounting his fondest memories directly to me, and me alone. It was a pleasure to read, and to see a different perspective on the film that holds a special place in my heart. In fact, I found it impossible to read without also going back and re-watching the film; and what a different experience that was! I laughed at new scenes because of what I now knew had been going on behind the scenes in those moments. It gave me a new appreciation for the hardwork and dedication that the cast and crew put into making The Princess Bride come to life so beautifully on screen. Just reading about the sword-fighting alone was worth the price of the book. Plus, Cary had the wise foresight to ask many of his fellow cast and crewmates to come in and write little guest blurbs about their own memories and experiences, which made it into an even more remarkable reading experience. It really is inconceivable that someone who liked the film would not enjoy this witty, honest, and poignant portrayal of the many minute details that came together to make it into the film tens of thousands of people know and love today. Rating 10/10

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I really love Maggie Stiefvater. Her book The Scorpio Races is among my favorites of all-time. But The Wolves of Mercy Falls don’t hit the same “perfect ten” level that one does. Still, Shiver is a sweet book about Sam, a boy who turns into a wolf every winter, and Grace, a girl who doesn’t. They meet, fall in love, and then have to risk it all to be together. It’s an interesting twist on the tried-and-true young love trope, and the descriptions of the weather are especially evocative. If you like the supernatural, and you’re yearning for something refreshing, this is a good choice for you. Rating: 9/10

The City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

The final book in Cassandra Clare’s Immortal Instruments series definitely went out with a bang. Like all the books before it, there was plenty of action, romance, and plot twists to keep me reading well into the night (I finished this gargantuan in one sitting! On a week-night!). For fans of the series, this is a must-read, and it ties up all the man loose ends into a neat little bundle, while also leaving behind a few details that suggest another tie-in series that will be debuting soon. I’ve already grown attached to the new host of characters who will be taking over in The Dark Artifices, and I think that other fans will be as thrilled as I was to see two very fond and familiar faces from The Infernal Devices pop up and stick around long enough to cement themselves in her forthcoming series. I won’t spoil it by saying who, but I will say that the ending of The City of Heavenly Fire ties is beautifully to that of Clockwork Prince. That alone might have made this my favorite Immortal Instruments book yet. Rating: 10/10

Faery Tales and Nightmares by Melissa Marr

I had already read about half of the stories included in this collection, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying having them all bound up together in a hardcover book. Melissa Marr is a fantastic voice in YA and Adult Fiction, and she’s only ever written one book that didn’t hit a home run for me (I just couldn’t get into The Arrivals), so it was a safe assumption to believe that I would enjoy this collection. Among some old favorites – mine being her awesome selkie story, Love Struck, which is just phenomenal – there are new stories set in both in and out of the Wicked Lovely universe. I’d have to say, just getting to read stories that tackle what happens after the final pages of Darkest Mercy, made this a worthwhile read. The last two stories were my favorites – one dealt with Niall and Seth and the other dealt with the consequences of Keenan’s mortality and his relationship with Donia – and any fan of the series will be glad to have those in her/his possession. Rating: 8.5/10

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Compared to Shiver, the second Wolves of Mercy Falls book fell a bit flat for me. I wanted to love it – I really did – but in the end I thought it was a little too dramatic. Grace gets very whiny, treats her parents terribly, and just grates on my nerves a bit. And though I really like Sam, he is just not a person who can take control and make things better. The saving graces of this book come in the form of Isabel and Cole, who really spark the story line. If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I could have rated this one so highly. Rating: 8.5/10

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

The first time I read this book I was a sophomore in high school. I read it for a research paper I was writing for my English and Humanities class, and it completely changed my life. There are only a handful of books about which I can say something like that. I loved it so much that I tracked down the author, Lisa See, and emailed her to ask her if I could interview her for my paper. I didn’t even consider that she might be too famous to ever reply to me because as a 15-year-old I had the kind of confidence that gets harder and harder the manufacture the older you get. I felt invincible, and, much to my delight, Lisa See responded. She let me interview her. Not only that, but she actually read my finished paper and sent me a signed copy of this book for my best friend, my lao-tong, who loved this book as much as I did. This became the defining book of our friendship, and even later, when we would both take very different paths in life and find ourselves tossed asunder and apart – much like Lily and Snow Flower – it would prove itself the most fitting talisman of our relationship. Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa See, herself, at The National Book Festival. It was everything I could have imagined, and it made me realize that this book that changed my life in high school, had been sitting on my shelves back home, gathering dust since I went to college. I hadn’t read it in years, partially because it made me miss my friend, whom I had lost, and partially because I had been so busy reading new books, so I was eager to re-read it. And I have to say  – WOW – there are so many facets of this story that I just totally glossed over as a teenager. The descriptions of foot-binding rituals made me physically ill, and the gender inequality, something I barely thought twice about the first time I read the book, really bothered me. But, at it’s core, this is still a beautiful story about friendship, forgiveness, and life. I would recommend it to anyone who is struggling with learning how to let go of grievances and move on. It’s hard to stomach at times, but this is a book with the power to change you. Rating: 10/10

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

This book took me twice as long as it should have to finish because I spent so much time stopping to copy down passages. I mean, my goodness, Amy Poehler is quotable. My favorites include her observation that “short people DO NOT like to be picked up,” and the gentle reminder that, “everybody is scared most of the time.” In addition to these nuggets, Yes Please is brimming with wisdom. She remarks, “In general, the amount of sharing men do with each other in one year is about the same as what I share with my female friends while we wait for our cars at the valet.” She compares careers to shitty boyfriends, who treat you better the less you seem to care about them, and reflects on the fact that “the only thing we can depend on in life is that everything changes.” Throughout this book, I constantly thought to myself, here is a woman who gets it. Amy Poehler understands how hard life can be, she understands my selfish first-world problems, heartaches, and fears. She knows about losing and loving and picking up the pieces to try again. She’s confident and successful and happy, but she’s also scared and faltering and sad. She’s not perfect, and she doesn’t try to be. She likes my favorite animal, elephants, and knows (and shares) lots of cool facts about them. She’s been called bossy, and she’s not afraid of it. In fact, it’s a quality she embraces both in herself and others. It’s that charisma that makes this book easy to pick up and hard to put down again. At one point, Amy states that “it’s important to know when to turn in your kazoo.” That may be true, but when it comes to writing and Amy Poehler, the time for that is certainly not even close. Rating: 10/10

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