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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2013
Ah Fairy Tales....I love them for all their weirdness and beauty and timelessness and did I say weirdness. Yes, this one starts out very weird. I thought it was too literary for me to enjoy. The stuffy Jacob Grimm narrates and he waxes prosaic about his lost brother and his time in the world after his death trying to find his way to his brother. Yes, I thought it was just going to be a little too much for me. I was wrong. Very wrong. Jacob Grimm basically lives one of his own fairy tales as an almost silent observer.

The characters in this story are numerous but only a few stand out. I will limit who I describe to Jeremy Johnson Johnson and Jacob Grimm.

Jeremy is a bit nerdy because all he does is study. But when you have a ghost telling you "studies, studies" all the time and you know your only ticket out of town is college and a scholarship, then you know you should study. And he's weird because he once told someone he hears voices. But he does and we know he does because we can hear Jacob Grimm talking to him throughout the novel. But, unfortunately, Jeremy has a tendency to talk to Jacob out loud and that makes him look even weirder. And Jeremy lives with his father in the back of the Two Book Bookstore which, as you may have guessed, sells only two books, the first and second volumes of Jeremy's grandfather's life story. Business isn't good. And, as if you need more to make a boy look weird, Jeremy's father stays in his room all day watching t.v. since Jeremy's mother left him. Life has not been kind to Jeremy. But he's a good boy, studies hard, is kind to everyone, friendly, wary, industrious (he has a lawn service business) and he takes care of his father.

Jacob Grimm's Ghost- Jacob's Ghost somehow got stuck on Earth after he passed away. He's been told by other ghosts it's because he's searching for something, but he has no idea what. He thought his brother would wait for him, but none of the other ghosts have seen or heard of his brother. Finally he determines that he needs to go to Never Better a place that can barely be seen but once found can never be forgotten and he must protect the boy, Jeremy Johnson Johnson from the Finder of Occasions. Jacob also takes it upon himself to be a sort of moral compass for Jeremy and tries to make him not do certain things because he has a bad feeling about it. Yeah, we all know how that goes.

The world- Never Better is a strange place. There seem to be children that disappear frequently, yet parents don't watch their children overly much. There are dark alleys and an old woman that searches the night for her lost son Possy. There is a police deputy that lurks everywhere, seemingly perverted spying on girls, the townspeople, anyone he can blackmail. There is a jolly baker with a generous hand with his baked goods. But there's a darkness that overlays even the simplest of moments in the town. Something lurks behind the windows and the trees and the trashcans. It follows you home, even in the bright sunshine. There is a timelessness to the town as well. Certain references date it such as game shows and bikes and trains, but truly I would have thought it could have taken place in Jacob Grimm's time.

The Story- Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy Johnson Johnson and this makes Jeremy Johnson Johnson take an interest in her. After a few days of her showing interest, she shows up in his window at night and dares him to pull a prank. Not being the pranking type, it goes awry and Jeremy is implicated in it. The townspeople turn viciously against Jeremy and then begins a sort of twisted Hansel and Gretel story. Very,very twisted.

What I thought- As I said, the first time I tried to read it, I thought it was very literary and I was not in the mood. I picked it up again and was enthralled. I really couldn't put it down once I got past the first part and I understand why the first part is there. Just don't think the whole story is like that. It is definitely a contemporary fairy tale, a dark one. There is magic and a love story and a ghost. And a definite tribute to The Brothers Grimm. But it's definitely creepy and dark and you know something isn't right, but you can't quite put your finger on it. When it happens I hope you'll feel the same sense of desperation I did. I had no idea how it would turn out and I was amazed at how twisted and dark this tale turned in such a short amount of time. But things that had happened before started falling into place. And seemingly innocent things from before turn into dire warnings unheeded. Even Jacob Grimm falls victim.

I definitely recommend this for lovers of dark twisted tales! It's a contemporary fairy tale (no fairies) along the lines of the Brothers Grimm. This took me totally by surprise and I'm going to search out more of Tom McNeal's works.

I received a copy of the e-arc from the publisher through Net-Galley. All reviews are my own and are my honest opinion.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2013
A teenage boy shares an extraordinary relationship with a ghost and slowly develops a special friendship with a girl in his class. The two teens become one another's confidantes and partners-in-crime. When the bank threatens to evict the boy and his widower father for lack of payment, the girl and the boy try to figure out a way to save the house. What becomes a noble goal turns into a modern-day fairy tale in Tom McNeal's whimsical, charming Far Far Away aimed at middle-grade readers.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson and his father live in Never Better, a place representing typical American small-town life. Everyone knows everything about everyone, and everyone takes a keen interest in the business of others. So the fact that Jeremy can keep a big secret represents an amazing feat. No one knows that Jeremy can hear the voice of long-dead Jacob Grimm of the Brothers Grimm.

Jacob narrates the story in first person and slowly reveals how he traversed the world from Germany after his death looking for his brother's spirit. Jacob travels for decades asking other spirits about Wilhelm, and eventually he meets one that says he has heard of a special boy. A boy who believes in fairy tales and who lives in a small town--a village--that "can be seen only from the corner of the eye." A boy who can hear those who exist in the spirit world. But the Finder of Occasions also lives in this town and will eventually harm the boy if no one can stop him. Jacob decides to help this boy; maybe helping the boy will somehow lead him to other spirits that can lead him to Wilhelm.

He becomes Jeremy's friend and tutor but when Ginger Boultinghouse starts showing an interest in Jeremy, Jacob becomes skeptical. An innocent prank turns into big news, solidifying Jacob's suspicion. Ginger, he surmises, can't bring anything positive to Jeremy's life. Despite Jacob's misgivings, however, Ginger proves herself as a true friend to Jeremy and even tries to help him raise enough money to pay the bank for his home.

Their friendship doesn't come without its challenges, however. Given Jeremy's status as somewhat of an outcast, people begin taunting Ginger too--all except the town baker, Swedish immigrant Sten Blix. Jeremy and Ginger begin helping Sten in his bakery to pay off a debt. But when the work at the bakery turns into something beyond their imaginations, Jeremy and Ginger--and Jacob--learn the true value and endurance of friendship.

Given that he has cast as one of his protagonists a master of fairy tales, author McNeal has paid due homage to the Brothers Grimm. Readers get cues that the story occurs in the present day by mention of things like Grape Nuts, and yet McNeal has dispensed with modern conveniences like cell phones and the Internet to add to the fanciful quality of the book. Experts say that Disney's adaptations of the fairy tales for its films show audiences a highly sanitized version of the stories the Brothers Grimm wrote, and McNeal follows suit. The tension and drama in Far Far Away will keep readers up late into the night by matching the pace of any thriller currently on the bestseller lists, and yet McNeal never forgets that he is sharing with his readers a fairy tale in its own right.

I highly recommend Far Far Away for anyone in its intended age group and older. Younger readers might get scared at certain points in the book, but readers in the middle grade audience and adults will definitely enjoy it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2013
Think of this title! Yup, it's a clue to what this incredible book is all about, because it's a modern fairy tale - hey! It's not boring - it's a page turner! - starring a boy, a girl, and a ghost - this is not your common garden variety ghost but one of the Grimm brothers - the same guys who put fairy tales on the map.

The thing is, this ghost whispers in the kid's ear and he is just about the only person who can hear the ghost whisperer - old Ghost Grimm tries to help the boy who lives with his dad - an he pretty much stays in bed for most of the book.

But this tale is full of adventures - not just a ghost, a girl, and a boy - but a dwarf, sort of a dwarf, and a giant, kind of giant, and the usual fairy tale plotting - just who is the `witch' here?

This book's great fun - one that will keep you reading deep into the night!
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2013
This is a strange and unusual novel that is likely to be both loved and hated, depending on what a reader is looking for.

First, the positives. The book pulls readers in from the start with the eerie voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm and his mysterious search for "the thing undone" in his mortal life: "I have been dead since the Saturday afternoon in September 1863 when I saw the elm tree in the garden dissolve into nothing." The ghost of Grimm has searched for a boy "who sleeps in an attic full of fairy tales" in order to protect him from the evil and tortured schemes of The Finder of Occasions. Jeremy Johnson Johnson is the boy, and his relationship with the ghost of Jacob Grimm is one of the strongest and most touching parts of the novel. The book is at its best when we hear the musings of the long-dead Jacob Grimm: the language and his unique perceptions are lovely and poignant.

I also enjoyed the plot twists that reveal the horrors of the evil waiting for Jeremy and his friends - the Finder of Occasions is a bone-chilling combination of a modern mass murderer and an ancient fairy tale villain. Additionally, the dark fairy tales of the Grimm brothers are woven throughout the story in a way that is wonderfully creepy.

And now the negatives: The supporting characters in the story, especially Jeremy's friend Ginger, are annoying and inconsistent in their speech and actions. Ginger is alternately whiney, devout, rebellious, sentimental, snide, loyal, and fickle. It's nearly impossible to get a sense of a real person, and she tosses off odd slang terms like "Zounds" and "fabulouso" so often that her speech begins to grate like nails on a chalkboard.

In addition to uneven character development, there are a number of plot lines that are never resolved, but rather left to hang (no spoilers, but what are readers to think about Jeremy's mother, Jacob's "thing undone," or the early plot teasers about the importance of books?).

This is a book that balances on a knife's edge: wonderfully unique and worth reading for its fantastic reimagining of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales, yet disappointing in its execution of that vision.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2014
Far Far Away is my first encounter with the writing of Tom McNeal. As a voracious devourer of fairy tale retellings, I located this book on the Surlalunefairytale web site on the "Hansel and Gretel" Modern Interpretation page. Surprisingly, the book is not so much a retelling of the familiar Grimms tale but more of a twisted exploration of the seemingly uneventful humdrum of a small town and the malevolence that lurks beneath the surface. In fact, this story defies genre conventions, for it can be read as a coming-of-age tale, a fairy tale retelling or a psychological thriller. I was fascinated by the seeming lightheartedness that weaves its magical spell until you are enmeshed in a terrifying web of evil that you cannot escape. I read the book with lightning swiftness simply because I could not stop.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives with his father in a typical small town. Having been abandoned by his mother, Jeremy cares for his grief-stricken father and desperately tries to keep the Two Book Bookstor where they live from being sold. Because Jeremy can hear voices that others cannot, he is ridiculed and often misunderstood. Jeremy retreats into a world of studying and loneliness, his only source of comfort being the ghost of a man named Jacob Grimm. Yes, that Grimm. Yet a young girl, spunky Ginger Boultinghouse, who takes nothing from no one, is determined to pull Jeremy from his world of loneliness. What follows is a tale that might seem at first to be a tender romance. But, evil lurks in the shadows, and the Finder of Occasions waits to strike. Who wishes to harm Jeremy and Ginger and why? In a town peopled with eccentric individuals, anyone could be the culprit.

I loved that Mr. McNeal chose to have Jacob Grimm narrate this tale. Not only did this character provide amusing and poignant rumainations on the world today, but I learned a great deal about the Brothers Grimm that I did not know. Jacob is a very sympathetic character who learns just as much from Jeremy as Jeremy learns from him. Although this tale is clearly Jeremy's story, one could argue that it is Jacob's as well, for from Jeremy, Jacob learns what is truly important in life.
The villain in this tale is very complex and one of the most terrifying I've encountered in quite a while. All the characters in this tale are complex and unforgettable.

I urge everyone to read this vivid and beautiful story. Embark upon a journey to Far Far Away, a land that is closer than you think, a land that, if you journey there, you will never forget. For, when you go far far away, you take yourself with you, and you will be forever changed. God bless you all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2013
I was really excited to read this book, especially since there are fairy tales, the Grimm brothers, mystery, ghosts, and all sorts of things that make up a great book (in my humble opinion). And McNeal did not disappoint at all! I found myself not wanting to put this book down, and finished it much more quickly than I thought I would. I loved every minute of it.

The pacing does drag a little bit near the middle, and there were a few times when I thought it would end soon.. but it really ended up not being so bad, and those parts were very important to the plot. Especially when it comes to the thing Jacob is supposed to be protected Jeremy from. There are so many clues leading up to who the "unknown dark evil" is that I thought it was pretty obvious when it's finally revealed, but if you aren't looking for them, I think they would be easy enough to miss.

I was not really a fan of Ginger at first, but I came to really like her by the end. I thought she was going to be one of those "take advantage of the nerdy kid" popular girls, but she's really so much bigger and better than that. Although many of the characters are fairly stagnant, I felt like the main characters, and those directly related to them, grow and change enough that things don't get too boring in that area.

Overall though, this is a really sweet story with an excellent, intriguing plot. I loved being in the present but also going back to the past and learning more about Jacob and the rest of his family. I don't know much about the personal lives of the Grimm brothers, but I loved the spin that McNeal gave while still including enough factual details that it doesn't seem too stretched. Everything about this book is just fantastic though!

I would totally recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales and anyone who is especially interested in the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales. This book will not disappoint you, and is definitely worth the read! I would have loved to see more books set in this world, but I'm actually kind of glad it was a standalone. A 5/5 from me!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This was a tough one for me. There were times that I absolutely loved it and there were times I simply hated it. It had a very slow start. Because our narrator is Jacob Grimm, the tone of the book is that of an archaic fable, which seems to be in direct opposition to our contemporary hero.

At times, in spite of myself, I found myself loving it. I loved Jeremy and Ginger and was rooting for them. The book moves in fits and starts. Something would start happening and I'd read along at a frantic pace, but then it would slow down into a slog. Part of the problem is that it was very predictable. Jacob keeps giving the reader all these "had I but known moments", so you always know when things are about to fall apart. In addition, in spite of some rather haphazard misdirections, it is entirely too obvious who the villain of the piece is throughout the book.

I still don't get the Gaiman comparison, but I do give the author credit. In spite of my issues, this is a fitting tribute to the Brothers Grimm. There's a soft, dreamy, fable-like quality to the writing that's enjoyable.

I kept going between a three and a four star for this one, settling finally on three stars. The author has my admiration and respect, but just didn't satisfy me with this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There are two things that I really like about Far Far Away.

The first is that I found the dialogue to be very very good. Its really hard to find dialogue this good these days. I really enjoyed the first few chapters, particularly Ginger. Ginger comes across as an adventurous girl very believably. Its not just assigned to her character as so many authors do. I liked the immediacy of the flirtatiousness, as well as the "magic" of the Prince cakes.

The second thing I really like is that this book is not part of a series. At the end of the book, the Ghost has fulfilled his obligations. Jeremy (and his father) start to live fulfilling lives and leave their disappointing past behind them.

An author who can write dialogue and finish a story in one book! You might not be able to handle all this goodness at once...

The book is well written, but I will make the complaint that it drags on from time to time. There are entire pages that can be skipped... (and entire pages that should NOT be skipped). I felt that it needed a good editing, maybe there was a sequence that could have been removed here or there.

The book has a really strong start and a good finish, with lots of clues dropped here and there along the way for those who are looking for them. I like clue dropping (as opposed to hitting me on the head with plot twists). This also made it better than most books out there, you can actually wonder whats going to happen next.

I'd like to make another comment: After I posted this review, I read other people's reviews, which I sometimes like to do. Unlike another reviewer, I didn't find that there were any loose ends at the end. I'm very sensitive about loose ends and inconsistencies. I guess the three things that another reviewer mentioned (the mother, the thing undone, and the books) were satisfied in my opinion. The second thing is the entire reason the ghost leaves, the first and third actually just came off as background information that didn't need to be "finalized" in the end. Thats just my opinion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2013
Jeremy Johnson Johnson seems to be a peculiar boy around the small town of Never Better --- and not only because he has the same last name twice. He claims he can hear a voice, often retreats to his attic full of fairy tales and is most focused with his school work so he can get into a good college away from his town. But what may seem to be peculiar is intriguing to the adventurous Ginger, a girl whose eyes land on Jeremy while she's still eating the first bite of Prince cake. Falling in love with the person you see while eating your first bite of cake is only the first interception of reality and fairy tale in FAR, FAR AWAY, but it is the one that sets most of the story in motion.

Ginger begins seeking Jeremy out so she can spend time with him. First, she enlists him in a prank on the town's baker, then she climbs up to his room and accidentally spends the night. Soon, they are the talk of the entire town and suddenly blacklisted. This is certainly no good for Jeremy, whose house is about to be foreclosed and whose only source of income is what he can earn mowing villagers' lawns. The worst part is that his father has been driven incapable of pretty much anything but watching his favorite TV show, Uncommon Knowledge, ever since he wife ran away, never to return. And although Jeremy can't do much in terms of raising the necessary funds or helping his father renew his life after his mother left them, he sure is willing to try. And fortunately, not all of the villagers are eager to ignore Jeremy, and some even try to help.

Tom McNeal creates a wonderful story that weaves real life situations with fantasy. Because the story is narrated entirely by the voice of Jacob Grimm --- the voice that Jeremy alone can hear --- there are excellent facts about the lives of the Brothers Grimm, as well as glimpses into the fairy tales they collected and rewrote. Readers will quickly learn that "happy ever after" isn't always found in reality nor in many fairy tales, and that sometimes things can become much darker before they get better. This is not to say that this is twisted story. In fact, in this tale first love, beginning anew and justice are all well represented. Curiously, these are also main themes in Grimms' fairy tales.

Reviewed by Liz Kossnar
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2013
Jeremy Johnson Johnson has lived in Never Better all his life and he has an interesting ability, he can hear ghosts. Ginger is just a girl from the same town who has taken an interest in Jeremy and they begin to hang out over summer break. Far Far Away is a modern adaptation of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and who best to tell the story than Jacob Grimm himself? Jacob is Jeremy's ghost, they have been together for many years Jacob working with Jeremy to help him study to leave the town of Never Better for university some day, and Jeremy listens to Jacob and they are friends. The some strange events occur and Jeremy, Jacob, and Ginger are thrown into one of Grimm's tales and not all have happily ever after endings.

I listened to this book as an audiobook I received from the publisher and I was so excited to have gotten it in the mail. I have been hearing wonderful things about this book AND the audiobook reader, W. Morgan Sheppard... and it all lived up to the expectations I had for it. The plot is hauntingly twisted and macabre and the characters are interesting and have a depth that is rare in young adult novels. Tom McNeal brings out the best in these teens and the fact that the story is told from the point of view of the ghost adds a sort of mysteriousness to the characters. I really enjoyed that aspect.

The plot was entertaining and kept me on the edge of my seat. The first few discs are a bit of a struggle there is a good amount of build up and climax to the plot, but the last four discs flew by as the reader learns about maniacal plots and goings-on from the eyes of the ghost.

I really recommend this as an audiobook, granted I did not read the book, so I cannot say for sure that it is a better option; however the production is great and the reader is perfect for the story. And that can make or break an audiobook.

I recommend this for those interested in the Brother Grimm, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and also young readers and adults who enjoy a good teenage based suspense story. This book has it, it kept me interested, questioning, and shocked the whole way through...

Tom McNeal is also known for his work with his co-author and wife Laura McNeal. They have written multiple young adult novels and you can visit them at [...]
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