Razo has never been anything but ordinary. He’s not very fast, or tall, or strong, so when he’s invited to join an elite mission esfrom the publisher:
Razo has never been anything but ordinary. He’s not very fast, or tall, or strong, so when he’s invited to join an elite mission escorting the ambassador into Tira, Bayern’s great enemy, he’s sure it’s only out of pity. But when they arrive in the strange southern country, it is Razo who finds the first dead body. As they try to learn more from the Tirans about the ever increasing murders, Razo is the only Bayern soldier able to befriend both the high and low born, including the beautiful Lady Dasha. And as Razo finds allies among the Tirans, he realizes that it may be up to him to get the Bayern army safely home again.
River Secrets is the third of Shannon Hale's books about the mythical kingdom of Bayern. It's also my favorite of the three. Goose Girl was a little convoluted, Enna Burning was a little long. River Secrets is a fantastic little read. It's fast-paced, with a solid plot and characterization, uppity but sincere royalty, plus a romance or two.
If you're not already a Shannon Hale fan, I'd recommend you put this on your reading list for summer - it would be perfect to read by the pool or on a plane....more
Dashti is a mucker, a steppe-dwelling nomadic herder, who journeys to the city after her mother dies. There, she is taught to read and to write, and bDashti is a mucker, a steppe-dwelling nomadic herder, who journeys to the city after her mother dies. There, she is taught to read and to write, and becomes the lady's maid of Lady Saren, the third child of the royal family. What she discovers is that no one else wanted the role of Lady Saren's maid, because Saren was, that very day, being walled up inside a tower. Saren had refused her father's choice of a husband, and would live in the tower for seven full years. The "Book of a Thousand Days" is the record that Dashti keeps of their time in the tower, and of the amazing events that occur after they leave it.
Book of a Thousand Days has been on my wishlist since before it was released, but I've put off reading it. While I loved Hale's Princess Academy, I was less keen on Goose Girl and Enna Burning. Also, I had just (literally, not half an hour prior) finished her adult novel, Austenland, which was the most fun I've had reading in a while.
I lovedBook of a Thousand Days. It's fresh, the pacing is perfect, the characters are lovely (the women strong and the men wise and compassionate), and there's a wonderful ending. It's not a profound book, but it is sufficiently complex that it's no mere fairy tale retelling, either. If you liked any of Hale's works, or if you like fairy tales retold, you should pick up this book right away. ...more
A Curse Dark as Gold is Bunce's debut novel, and a re-imagining of the folk tale Rumpelstiltskin.
In Bunce's version, Charlotte and Rosie Miller are thA Curse Dark as Gold is Bunce's debut novel, and a re-imagining of the folk tale Rumpelstiltskin.
In Bunce's version, Charlotte and Rosie Miller are the last living descendants of the owners of Stirwaters mill. Stirwaters is the last industry holding their small town together, and Charlotte feels a burdened sense of over-responsibility to keep the mill running. Despite her best efforts, and the dubious assistance of her long-lost Uncle Wheeler, mishaps continue to happen which threaten the future of Stirwaters. Finally, Charlotte makes a deal with a strange man, a deal which may save Stirwaters but will cost Charlotte all that she holds most dear.
A Curse Dark as Gold is well-researched. Bunce bases the story on the woolen industries of Britain and America in the late 1700s, in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. She's comfortable enough with her subject matter to introduce it effectively to her readers - we are neither overcome with information nor do we feel we're lacking.
Unfortunately, the rest of the narrative is not so deftly handled. The pace of the book is slow, even plodding, at times. Bunce seems hesitant in places, and the result is that the reader seems to be watching a train wreck in slow motion - unable to help, unable to look away. The awkwardness is palpable.
The reason I would not read this book again, however, is that the protagonist, Charlotte, thoroughly grates on my nerves. She is supposed to be the heroine, but her willful stubbornness sets poorly against the episodes of naivete, her business cunning belies her ignorance of the world beyond her village. I think the characterization is a reflection of Bunce's uncertainty with her own skills.
I'm torn on whether to recommend this book to you. Indeed, it has some charming strengths, bits of gold among the straw, as it were. Mostly, however, you have to dig through too much straw to find too little gold to make it entirely worthwhile....more
This retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” alternates point of view, chapter by chapter. There are five narrators—Father, Rose, Neddy (RoseThis retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” alternates point of view, chapter by chapter. There are five narrators—Father, Rose, Neddy (Rose's brother), the Troll Queen, and the White Bear. Rose is the heroine, the youngest of a large family, struggling with poverty. To save the family Rose goes off with the White Bear, who promises the family riches if Rose will come with him.
Pattou draws extensively from Nordic mythology as well as the original fairy tale and bits of Greek mythology. She’s done her research in any number of fields, but use of detail in East is deft and masterful. The details of such work as map making and sailing ships among the icebergs come to life as she describes them.
East is a rich tapestry of a novel, but it doesn’t quite sparkle for me. Each of Pattou’s characters has a fleshed-out personality, even the ones she doesn’t like. The most lovingly drawn character is of the Inuit shaman who helps Rose travel to the North-most point of the globe. The plot lopes along with an even pace but it never stalls. The resolution is predictable but still satisfying. And while I recommend you read this book if you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings or historical YA, it’s not one I urge you to rush rush out to acquire. ...more
If, like me, you looked forward to those stories in the Grimms' collections in which there was a clever solution to a piece of trickery, or a particulIf, like me, you looked forward to those stories in the Grimms' collections in which there was a clever solution to a piece of trickery, or a particularly cunning way of defeating the nemesis, you will love that these tales have been collected by Kathleen Ragan to engage your mind, albeit on a different level. Ragan collected these stories - pre-existent, not written by her - from all around the world. They are stories that feature heroines: females who are worthy of emulation and around whom the tale centers. They are not scheming crones or vapid maids. These characters are strong, they act, they think. You'll love them....more
SUMMARY (taken from School Library Journal) Kaye is 16 when she finally learns why she's such a strange young woman: she's a changeling pixie under a sSUMMARY (taken from School Library Journal) Kaye is 16 when she finally learns why she's such a strange young woman: she's a changeling pixie under a spell. A move home to the New Jersey shore brings her back in touch with her childhood friends, the solitary fey, who want to end their servitude to the higher-born faeries by foiling the sacrifice of human blood known as the Tithe. Kaye offers to masquerade as a human for the Tithe and is swept into a complicated net of politics and treason between two rival courts of faeries.
OPINION Do you know the scene in the movie Labyrinth in which Jennifer Connelly's character Sarah eats a poisoned peach and finds herself at a faery ball that is at once beautiful and grotesque?
I have to believe Holly Black had that scene in mind when she wrote Tithe. Jareth, the Goblin King played by David Bowie, shares physical features with Roiben, a faery that Kaye meets in the woods; the descriptions of the dark faery court are reminiscent of the half-human half-animal masks Jim Henson used in his movie. Also conjured are similarities to the fey creatures depicted in the movie Legend.
The word used over and over by reviewers to describe the book is "dark." In fact, it's so dark in the first few chapters, the word I would have chosen was "bleak" and I thought about suspending my reading of it. Kaye's mother is an alcoholic, unmotivated, penniless bar singer who moved around so often her daughter dropped out of high school to work full-time at a Chinese restaurant. Kaye wears heavy boots, heavy black eye makeup, and has a cigarette habit that only someone could acquire living in bars every night of the week.
The problem is, Black is far too poetic to turn readers away. Her descriptions are raw and primal - Kaye thinks of the sun as having committed suicide, bleeding red streaks across the ocean as he died beyond the horizon. The interplay between the characters can be stark, and even disturbing, at times, but then she develops a romance between Kaye and Roiben that made this 32-year-old happily married mom swoon a little bit.
In between vivid, gruesome, lovely descriptions, Black's sparse prose leaves the plot hanging at certain points, almost to the degree of losing the reader. There's a lot of back and forth movement between the Faery hill and Kaye's grandmother's house that, in a stage play, would make for very short scenes, and can be distracting from the thrust of the action.
Overall, however, this was a delicious little read, a tart fruit that satisfies the senses and leaves you licking your fingers to catch every last bit.
OTHER NOTES Holly Black as a really interesting, truly helpful website. It offers her daily journal, FAQs, and this ridiculously well-planned page of writing tips. Despite the darkness of Black's writing, it seems she has a fantastically warm heart....more
When Mira is apprenticed to a witch, the witch's apprentice adopts her as a sister. Too late, Mira learns that she should not trust her new sisSUMMARY
When Mira is apprenticed to a witch, the witch's apprentice adopts her as a sister. Too late, Mira learns that she should not trust her new sister when she changes Mira into a magic mirror. Mira's sister becomes the wicked queen of "Snow White" fame while Mira, once her usefulness has worn out, is abandoned. The end of the "Snow White" tale is barely the first act of Mira's enchanting story. When Ivana, a peasant girl running away from her cruel father, stumbles upon Mira, Mira sees a chance to possibly restore her original form. Mira manipulates Ivana into becoming best friends with a wealthy merchant's daughter named Talia. Mira uses her magic to change the girls' appearances so each resembles the other. What Mira does not anticipate is that Talia is quite happy with her new form and is not as easily manipulated as Ivana. It will take all of Mira's cunning to regain enough power to restore her form, but as she comes to know Talia and Ivana, will Mira be as ruthless with their lives as she needs to be?
The bio on Mette Ivie Harrison tells us that she studied German in college, "which is where she got her taste for the grim side of fairy tales." I hate to break it to you, but from a feminist perspective, all fairy tales are grim. Anyway. There certainly is a tendency toward the grim, or, at least, bittersweet, in Harrison's books. I had read Harrison's The Princess and the Hound, which was akin enough (in theme, at least) to Robin McKinley's Deerskin that I enjoyed it, bittersweet ending and all.
I gave this book three of five stars largely because of Harrison's writing style. Her prose flows easily, her dialogue is well-written, and if the plot lingers too often, well, you feel as though you're on a leisurely holiday stroll.
The rest of the book, however, doesn't merit more than a star, a star and a half. While the premise is captivating, the plot and the characters fall flat. The characterization of Mira is decidedly lacking, although she has the potential to be one of the greatest characters of this genre. Talia and Ivana are created similarly. It's as though Harrison is reigning herself in from describing them as kick-ass heroines, and thus all she does is weaken and diminish them.
In terms of the plot, you could substitute my father's catch-all spoiler phrase "they were ran over by a bus" and not miss much of what's going on. There's no climax, no great repentance, even though Harrison tries her best to make you believe there is. It leaves the book hopelessly lacking.
Other goodreads.com reviewers say that this is a retelling of "Snow White," although, in fact, it includes elements of a number of faery tales, such as Beauty & the Beast, or the lesser known "Snow White and Rose Red." You might try Gregory Maguire's "Mirror, Mirror" for a Snow White retelling that's just as dark, though it's written for an older crowd.
Actually, though, I'm not sure whether to tag this book as middle-grade or young-adult. One of the girls is sexually assaulted, which makes me think YA; then again, the end is morally trite enough (love conquers hate) to make me think middle-grade. There's the torture of a pregnant deer, but there's the simple sentimentality of sisterly bonds.
This is a book that's going on my Paperback Swap shelf, because there are any number of other books I'd prefer to own than Mira, Mirror.
"Please be as you were. I will try to help you." She hesitated, and pulled out the handflower honey and added a little more to the mixture in her cup."Please be as you were. I will try to help you." She hesitated, and pulled out the handflower honey and added a little more to the mixture in her cup. The water was faintly gold against the silver cup; the small stones in the bottom shone like gems. She did not want god and silver and gems; she wanted ordinary things, commonplace things. Trees and birdsong and sunlight, and unfractured earth. "Let the earth knit together againt, like - like darning a sock. Here are the threads to mend you with." And she threw a few drops from her cup into the trench. (p 24)
Chalice is the most recent work of Robin McKinley, whose last novel, Dragonhaven (2007), fell short of what McKinley fans know she is able to do. Prior to Dragonhaven, McKinley had published Sunshine(2003), which won the Mythpoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Still, Sunshine, a vampire love story, was a departure from the sort of voice McKinley was wont to use.
Chalice, at last, brings classic McKinley back to us. Woodwright and beekeeper Mirasol is chosen for a role in the governing Circle of her demesne: the role of Chalice, a position second in importance only to the Master. As young and uninitiated as she is, the new Master is more so: a Priest of elemental Fire. The two of them must learn to work together to pull the earthlines back into harmony after the previous Master's seven years of wanton, careless destruction.
This, McKinley's 14th book, offers the same soothing sweetness as Mirasol's honey. McKinley’s strengths are evident, if not at full force. Her characterizations are flawless, both engaging and subtle. Her sense of geography, the ability to create an unknown world and make it tangible to the reader, is unparalleled in fantasy writers. And while McKinley’s characters battle evil, there’s nothing simple about their understanding of it. There’s little that’s black and white, but much that ends up being rosy, or even honey-colored.
If I had to describe her weakness in this book, it’s too much telling (of the wrong sort – the sort of backstory narration common to the “Once Upon a Time” of a fairy tale) and not enough personal interaction. The Master speaks in paragraphs, and a large part of the first section of story is flashback. This writing style lends to the characterization of Mirasol herself as a loyal over-thinking introvert.
Don’t misunderstand me. This book is enchanting, full of the McKinley that I have long worshipped – erudite and lovely, a fairy tale as personal journey. It’s well worth your time, particularly if you have ever loved Cecil/y or Lissar or Honor-as-Beauty.
While there’s not as much action as The Blue Sword or as much romance as Spindle’s End, Chalice contains the sort of world where, it seems, even Luthe might feel comfortable, and certainly a world to which I hope McKinley takes us again.
I’m a crier. I cry most easily when I’m angry, but I also cry when I’m sad, and when I’m happy, and when my kids are being cute, and when there are frI’m a crier. I cry most easily when I’m angry, but I also cry when I’m sad, and when I’m happy, and when my kids are being cute, and when there are freshly baked cookies to be had. I’m the person Brian Andreas had it mind when he wrote, “She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short.”
The Legend of Holly Claus is a cry book. It made be cry because of its wonder and beauty. Publishers Weekly said it was a “lush and leisurely Yuletide read.” It’s part of the Julie Andrews Collection, that “offers gentle wisdom for the growing years.” If you’re thinking Tasha Tudor meets Louisa May Alcott, you wouldn’t be far off.
To be honest, I bought it because it was 50% off in the Barnes and Noble after-Christmas sale. The premise looked interesting and the illustrations by award-winning Long are breathtaking.
What I found was one of my new favorite books, one that I will read year after year during the Christmas season.
Nicholas Claus is the King of Forever, the Land of Immortals. When a child writes an unusual Christmas letter, he and Mrs. Claus are granted their hearts’ desire: a child. Their daughter Holly grows up intelligent, kind, and spirited. Unfortunately, she also grows up with her heart frozen inside a block of ice, as part of a complicated curse involving the uber-evil being, Herrikhan. The gates to the Land of the Immortals are barred, so that Immortal may carry out his or her work on Earth, and no new Immortal may enter.
Seeing Holly rather than Herrikhan as the cause of their misfortune, the Immortals shun Holly, so that she reaches adolescence with only animals as her friends. Determined to right the wrong done at her birth, she finds a way to travel to the Empire City – Victorian New York – where she proves herself a truly selfless and strong heroine.
In addition to being sappy and sentimental, I’m also superlatively suspicious. I’m almost impossible to surprise. But Ryan manages a few authentic twists and revelations that amazed even me. The Legend of Holly Claus brims with innocence and goodwill, without pandering to naïveté. I highly recommend it, even – and especially – if you’re a crier. ...more
I skipped over the second book in the Modern Tale of Faery series by Holly Black. That book, Valiant, veers away from the Kaye-Roiben story, which isI skipped over the second book in the Modern Tale of Faery series by Holly Black. That book, Valiant, veers away from the Kaye-Roiben story, which is what really interested me. I grabbed Ironside, book 3 in the series, almost as an afterthought at last week’s trip to Borders.
After a brief recap of the story in the form of a prologue, Ironside begins on the eve of Roiben’s coronation as King of the Unseelie Court. Kaye is unwelcome by his subjects, since she alone has the power to control him (using his real name), and she alone is his weakness. Banished on a quest because of her declaration of love for him, Kaye struggles to find the balance between the life she knew as a human and the life she’s learning in the realm of Faerie.
I love the style of this book. It’s fresh and honest without falling into clichés of angst or nonchalance. Black knows how to balance sweeping battle scenes with details like making a bed on the floor. Descriptions are vivid without being verbose; dialogue is snappy and natural. Everything seems to be in place, despite the flip-flopping that Kaye does between Faerie and Ironside.
While the movement between settings works, the movement between characters is more problematic. My main difficulty with Ironside is that I’m still not certain who the protagonist is. There’s almost equal time given to Kaye and Corny, with side trips into Roiben’s perpective. In terms of who develops and changes, it’s Corny. In terms of a hero, it’s Kaye – kind of. Her characterization in this book is weakest, and if you didn’t know Kaye from Tithe, I doubt you’d like her in Ironside, because she seems shallow and uninteresting. The really most sympathetic, interesting, quirky, imperfect and lovable character is Cornelius. Although Kaye dominates several key scenes, it’s Cornelius whom you feel is leading you through the story.
The other disappointing part of Ironside, I think, is the loss of the romantic intensity between Kaye and Roiben. There is romantic intensity between another couple, half of which is Corny, and it’s darling. Overall, though, the best scenes are the raw ones with Ellen, Kaye’s human mother. These are perfectly conceived, perfectly written gems.
Despite the fact that her style is very different from what I usually read, I really enjoy Holly Black. Her website is friendly and welcoming, and I encourage you to check it out. ...more
The Swan Kingdom is a re-imagining of the fairy tale Six Swans. The first written account of this tale was done by the Brothers Grimm around 1812, andThe Swan Kingdom is a re-imagining of the fairy tale Six Swans. The first written account of this tale was done by the Brothers Grimm around 1812, and its variations throughout Europe feature ravens or ducks. Those early versions were meant to emphasize the unity of the family in light of adversity, which theme Marriott continues.
In The Swan Kingdom, King and Queen of the Hartlands have four children: three boys, and the youngest, a girl, Princess Alexandra. Alexandra inherited her mother's skills as "a cunning woman," a woman connected with the natural forces and wise in ways of natural healing. Not even her skills can save the Queen when a malevolent being seeks to destroy the Hartlands. Alexandra is sent away, her brothers are turned to swans, and it takes her a year before she even realizes that she's the only one who can save them.
I understand why an agent and/or an editor took on this book. Marriott has incredible potential as a fantasy writer. Her descriptions, even of lowly herbs, are sumptuous. When she sets her mind to it, she can write a tight, fast-paced scene. Alexandra is (mostly) a smart, likeable protagonist, with the sincerity and doubts of youth but without posturing angst. If you're a fan of fairy tales at all, The Swan Kingdom is worth reading.
However, I don't think that The Swan Kingdom will ever be heralded as her best work. (At least, I hope not.) It's filled with cliches, such as Alexandra thinking she's "plain" and the reader finding out later that she's beautiful. The pace can sometimes lag (I started skimming), and she overdevelops minor characters and under-develops major ones. This book is a great beginning, and I'm excited to see more from this promising author. ...more
This is a beautifully written collection. Hawes retells six familiar stories and a nursery rhyme. Rather than the idyllic heroes and princesses, theseThis is a beautifully written collection. Hawes retells six familiar stories and a nursery rhyme. Rather than the idyllic heroes and princesses, these are stories of human desire, frailty, cruelty, and loyalty. Reacquaint yourself with Jack the Giant-killer, Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper of Hamlin and Lady Godiva. Meet Rapunzel’s mother, as well as the seventh of the seven dwarves, and the emasculated prince who married Cinderella.
Kirkus Reviews writes that these seven tales are
magical and sometimes erotic happily-never-after retellings. . . In this sinister, highly sexual faerie world, heroes are often evil and villains are sometimes innocents who simply don't get to tell their side of the story.
I considered this point of view for a long time, because I didn’t find this book to be erotic or highly sexual. Certainly the Grimm Brothers’ tales can be as dark as anything Hawes has offered here. Perhaps Kirkus Reviews are comparing the tales to the G-rated Disney versions. In that case, then…yes. Hawe’s faerie world is “sinister and highly sexual.”
Instead of “sexual,” however, I would use the word “appetite.” Hawe’s collection of tales shows human appetites in all their variations: for money, for fame, for ease, and, yes, for sexual connection, as well as sexual gratification. Further, Hawes writes in tones as darkly lush and precious as any jewel, pearls or no.
I recommend this book on its own literary merits, but if I still haven’t convinced you to read it, consider this: I have one good reason for you to read this book. The illustration of the Pied Piper of Hamlin makes any imagining of Edward Cullen seem like a toad-faced bottom-dweller. Rebecca Guay’s illustrations make these black pearls truly luminous. ...more
As another commenter said, I disliked Princess Ben (the character, not the book) to such a degree that I almost put the book down. Fortunately, thingsAs another commenter said, I disliked Princess Ben (the character, not the book) to such a degree that I almost put the book down. Fortunately, things happen, and I was quite pleased overall. The story put me in mind of Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, but had the humor of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
The truly outstanding part of this book is Murdock's writing. She uses a slightly formal voice for Ben, who is writing these accounts after everything in the story has happened. I'm a terrible stickler for point of view, and Murdock never falters. The first person POV is executed flawlessly.
I think the best audience for this tale are pre-teens, but early teens, maybe through age 15, will love it, too. Older teens and young adults can read it quickly and enjoy it....more