Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale and it derives from my favorite myth, the mOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale and it derives from my favorite myth, the myth of Eros and Psyche. I am drawn irresistibly to any story that plays off either of them in any way. It is why Till We Have Faces is my favorite C.S. Lewis novel (one of the reasons anyway). It is one of the (many) reasons The Queen of Attolia is my favorite book of all time. Yet I have never fallen in love with a full length novel that was a retelling of the fairy tale and not just using elements of it. Until now. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is perfect for me as a reader in every way imaginable.
Nyx is a girl with a heart full of venom and rage. No one in her world is spared from the bitterness she carries around. Her father made a deal with the Lord of demons, and she was the daughter chosen as the sacrifice. Who wouldn't be bitter? She has been trained for years for one purpose and one purpose only: destroy the evil ruler of her kingdom. She is not expected to survive the experience. She walks into her situation determined, but hating it all the same. Nyx is manipulative and not above hurting others to get what she needs, or simply for the satisfaction of seeing them hurt. There is nothing about her that is "likable'. I adore her. She is complex, driven, intelligent, and in desperate need of someone to love her for what she is, poison and all. Enter Ignifex. Generally, I don't go for the Lord of demon types in books, so I was worried about this aspect. I do go for characters like Ignifiex though. He is sarcastic, flip, outwardly lazy, highly intelligent, and a pessimist to the core. He is also full of bitterness and disappointment with the world, and is not at all what Nyx originally believes him to be. And while he warns her that there are many dangers that could destroy her in the house, he never once presents himself as one of them. The interactions between these two are some of the best scenes of banter. And I love excellent bantering between two intelligent people whom I find myself invested in. I couldn't wait to get to the pages where they were together so that I could have more. I appreciated how, despite Ignifex's power, they were very much equally and well matched. Each gave as good as he/she got and both wielded power in their relationship.
The plot of Cruel Beauty follows the plot of the fairy tale, but is infused with so much more at the same time. And it is all my favorite things. There is Greek mythology woven through all of it, but the myth of Pandora is used the most and quite effectively. There is also, much to my everlasting delight as it is another favorite of mine, elements of "Tam Lin". I was in love with the book already for its rich prose, vivid imagery, layered characters, and excellent dialogue, but when the Kindly Ones were first brought in and I realized Hodge had included faerie lore elements too, my love soared to the heavens and knew no bounds. And how she brought it all to a conclusion was most satisfying. Woven through all of this are themes of pride, forgiveness, sacrifice, and the war in every one of us between light and dark. As I was reading I was reminded in so many good ways of the themes in Till We Have Faces, and was not at all surprised to read in the Afterward that Hodge is also a fan of that book and that it had a great impact on her.
Anything I say here can only touch the surface of how I felt while reading this book. It was a story I experienced in every and I can't convey all of that experience here. Sadly. I can see how for some people it won't work, but for me it is perfect.
I read an e-galley received by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, via Edelweiss. Cruel Beauty is available on January 28th. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I adored Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem, so when I discovered that Booream had aOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I adored Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem, so when I discovered that Booream had a new book coming out about a Banshee and a trip to the Underworld I was excited as could be. I was even more excited when I won a copy of Texting the Underworld via a giveaway at Charlotte's Library.
Conor is not a kid looking for adventure. He likes his world safe and predictable. And spider free. He is not a coward however, no matter how much he thinks he is (and his sister claims he is). When push comes to shove, he rises to the challenge and I liked him all the more for his certainty that he was not cut out for this. Conor is faced with a crazy situation and a horrifying choice that could possibly break anyone. Watching as he found his inner strength to do what was required was fascinating. He has just the right amount of snarky humor to keep a reader like me smiling all the way through too. I loved Ashling, the banshee, too. She has a job, a reward coming to her if she finishes it, and is being manipulated by the Lady who controls the Underworld (for the Irish). I loved how enthusiastic for life she was and how much she craved the world and all it had to offer. She and Conor made great foils for one another, and a great team.
The story is one that plays with Irish mythology and the idea of reincarnation. There are interesting flashbacks to Ashling's life in the world and how it connected with a past life of Conor. I enjoyed how the story moved between this and Conor's life in the modern world, with its typical middle school problems. I appreciated the interactions of Conor's family, the parents who cared, and the role is grandfather played as well.
Texting the Underworld is a fun adventurous mix of myth, modern technology, humor, and hard choices. I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys any of these. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love anything N.D. Wilson writes, but his Ashtown Burials Series has become one of my allOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love anything N.D. Wilson writes, but his Ashtown Burials Series has become one of my all time favorite series and that status was cemented when I read an e-galley of its latest installment, Empire of Bones.
This is a series and you need to read the first two installments before reading this one. They are The Dragon's Tooth (my thoughts) and The Drowned Vault (my thoughts). If you haven't read those, go now. Don't waste any more time.
Like its predecessors, Empire of Bones gets off to an action packed start and just keeps going. There are moments of calm but they are briefer than ever as the heroes are racing toward an unavoidable confrontation with two sets of opponents. This book is mostly about that confrontation and the immediate events leading up to it. Through this the characters that have made the series so outstanding continue to be nuanced and wonderful. The amount of growth in Cyrus over the three books so far is impressive. In this book Antigone also has some growing to do as she confronts her fears and her changing relationship with her little brother. Antigone is seeing the difference in him and there is some reconciling reality with expectation that she needs to do. There is a conversation between Antigone and Diana about Cyrus that only a guy's sister and a girl most definitely not his sister can have about him. It's one of my favorite scenes because it so deftly developed all three of their characters so much more in just a couple of pages. That is the way to do character development.
As for the other characters, they are ALL back again in this volume. Characters from the first book not in the second even make a return (this includes the giant turtle Leon). Nolan continues to be one of my favorites, as does Arachne (but she was not around as much as she was in the last book). A few new characters were introduced into the mix yet again as well. It all reached a point about halfway through the book where I wondered if it had grown too big and maybe the whole creation was going to topple like a house of cards. Not that it was wobbly, I just couldn't possibly see how it would all come together. Wilson managed it though and with great finesse. There is a major battle, lives are lost, and people are seriously hurt. This was all done realistically without being overly graphic and violent.
One thing I really appreciate about this series in contrast to others of its ilk is how present and accounted for the adults are. They are true mentors, trying their hardest to teach the kids and protect them, while acknowledging they are in danger no matter what. The relationship between Cyrus and Rupus is particularly interesting.
The aspect of the book that impressed me the most though was Wilson's deft use of biblical symbolism and how he wove it into the story. I really like how he handled that, and how he took a rather different tack than other authors who have dealt with similar themes.
As usual, I marked so many pages with amazing quotes, but I think I will limit myself to just one:
In every herd, many stampede, while only a few turn to face the lions. Cowards live for the sake of the living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and cowardly.
Every word this character speaks for the next two pages is wonderfully poignant and true. Then Cyrus's response is FUNNY and it struck exactly the right balance and released so much tension. That is the craft of writing at its finest.
The Ashtown Burials are among those books that straddle the upper MG/lower YA ends of the market, but they are for anyone-whatever age -who loves adventure, mystery, mythology, and darn good writing.
I read an e-galley made available from the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Empire of Bones will be released October 22.
It is hard to write a review for a book when I have the sort of reaction to it that I had for Gil Marsh by A.C.E. Bauer. I wasOriginally posted here.
It is hard to write a review for a book when I have the sort of reaction to it that I had for Gil Marsh by A.C.E. Bauer. I was disappointed in it, but not through any fault with the actual writing. This is one of those cases where the author's vision for her story did not match my expectations as a reader. Keeping this in mind I'm going to try and split this into two parts.
For Readers Unfamiliar With The Epic of Gilgamesh This is a story about a boy who is grieving for his friend who goes on a quest to say good bye properly. It is fast paced and there are some intense scenes. Gil is a sympathetic character who is searching for answers to hard life questions and trying to get over the death of his friend. You may question why Gil does some of the things he does and not fully understand why this friendship is such an important one, but Gil is an easy character to like and you will want to see him succeed. There is one place near the end where there is a flirting with the supernatural that will probably have you scratching your head as there is no real explanation for it.
For Readers Familiar With The Epic of Gilgamesh The book pretty much follows the Epic in form as well as plot, except I felt the details were even more sparse in this retelling than they are in the original. Bauer made a decision to remove most of the mythos from the story in the novel. I was okay with this, but was hoping that would mean a removal of the entire mythos. Except it didn't. While the gods and goddesses of Babylonian myth are absent from the story, there is a random immortal dude lurking in the mountains of northern Canada. Unlike Utnapishtim in the original, this guy has no idea how or why he is immortal and is not forthcoming with any help for Gil at all. He basically says, "This is the way I am. No explanation for it. Weird huh? Now get off my property." And that's all we get of that. One of the reasons I like the Epic so much is that one of its major themes is the inevitably of death, but at the same time it stresses life is precious and should be celebrated. The novel kind of sort of flirts with that concept a little at the end, but not noticeably. By removing the mythos Bauer also removed the feminine aspect of the story. The only major female character in the novel is not nice. She thwarts Gil's quest and swindles him. This too works against the themes in the original work, where the female is necessary as it is essential to life itself. Without these themes the story felt empty and lacking in meaning. It was just the story of a sad guy who went on a fruitless and uncomfortable road trip. Hence my disappointment.
This is a review of a copy received via NetGalley. Gil Marsh will be available for purchase February 28. ...more
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell is a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses". Yes. Another one. I have officially lost count of how many this makes. This one is a bit different though because it doesn't just stick to that tale.
I enjoyed Reveka's character. She was brave, spunky, resourceful, and quick thinking. I loved that the heroine of the story was not one of the princesses, but a simple servant whose goal was to be a famous herbalist and be left in peace at a convent. This is why she wishes to break the curse and win the prize money. The stakes are upped a bit when she discovers what happens to people who fall asleep in the princesses chamber. I really enjoy retellings that spin something new from the original and this one certainly does that and in many good ways.
Then comes the creepy part (which I was prepared for from reading other people's reviews). Still. It managed to dull my enjoyment. This is where the second story is incorporated, and that story is strongly reminiscent of the myth of Persephone. There are pomegranates and everything. And Reveka is playing the part of Persephone. She is 13. THIRTEEN! And Dragos aka Hades is most definitely no where close to 13. There is a plot point that in the end makes this sort of palatable, but still to make a decision like Reveka makes at that age.....I think I would have really enjoyed this darker element of the story and the world of Thonos if Reveka had been older and this had been a truly YA book rather than a MG one.
Other people might not have this issue. This may be coming from me having a young daughter. Middle school girls might really like the whole idea of the bad-boy-who-can-be-saved idea. I know I would have at that age. As an adult I have a more difficult time with that concept.
The end sort of leaves one plot line a bit open making me wonder if there is going to be another book. If not that dangling thread is a bit annoying....more
The myth of the labyrinth and the minotaur has always been a favorite of mine, which is why it is embarrassing to admit that IOriginally posted here.
The myth of the labyrinth and the minotaur has always been a favorite of mine, which is why it is embarrassing to admit that I have never read The King Must Die by Mary Renault. It is, after all, supposed to be the quintessential novelization of Theseus. I think I have built my expectations of it so high I'm afraid to read it in case it doesn't live up. I did intend to read it before I read Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett., but then I saw Dark of the Moon sitting so enticingly on the new arrival shelf at my library and I couldn't resist it.
This is an excellent novelization of the minotaur myth. I loved how Barrett took the familiar and changed it just enough to give it depth and believability. For those who are familiar with the myth, you will find all the essential elements of the original story: the tribute, the yarn, the maze, the "monster", Minos. Daedalus and Icarus are both mentioned. I enjoyed the glimpses we had of Medea as well. All readers will find in Barrett's Krete a world fully realized and developed. A very intricate religious system governs the lives of Krete's inhabitants ruled by She-Who-Is-Goddess, the human manifestation of the moon goddess. This system involves yearly human sacrifice to ensure the harvest. Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, daughter of the current goddess and one of the yearly sacrifices.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Theseus and Ariadne. This is all Ariadne's story though. Theseus, while starting off interesting, is not well developed and seemed to only serve to further Ariadne's character. Ariadne is realistically torn about her role in Krete. She is confused and lonely. Through her interactions with Asterion we see her as loving and strong. Her loneliness makes her an easy target for those who want the ways of Krete to change and she leaves herself vulnerable in ways that cause her much distress. In this version her actions take on new meaning and understanding. She has what the Ariadne from the myth was lacking, power to determine her own actions and end. She is not the girl who has her head turned by a charming hero and betrays her people only to be abandoned by said hero to fend for herself. This Ariadne grows in strength, power and knowledge of who she is. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel for what it did with her character.
If you are a fan of mythological retellings this is definitely a must read....more
The Dragon's Tooth pretty much has a little bit of everything. If you enjoy action there are plenty of car chases, bullets flying, and things exploding. If you enjoy mythology there is some of that. (And not the overdone Greek, Roman or Egyptian variety either. Wilson brought in the Ancient Mesopotamian mythology for this one.) If you like supernatural there is a "burial ground" trapping immortal bad guys. If you like boarding school stories you will find the protagonists receiving the most interesting of educations in the compound they are now residents of. (Not a magical education as is so common in fantasy novels, but a "how to become an Indiana Jones type explorer for a secret society" education.) If you like psychological thrillers the book offers up one of the creepiest mind controlling villains to show up in quite some time. (If I were writing about my Most Disturbing Characters now, Dr. Phoenix would be on the list for sure.) If you are a fan of mystery there is also plenty of that. The only thing missing is romance, but there are going to be four more books after this, so there is still time for that too. There are also literary nods to both Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Treasure Island. And a ferocious giant immortal turtle answering to the name of Leon. (No joke.)
Is there a lot going on in this book? Yes. And not all of it comes across flawlessly, but it is pretty close. This is one of those stories where the adults monumentally screw up and the kids get to be the ones to brilliantly save the day. Kids eat those stories up, and I appreciate them still too. The world building here is intricate and not completely understood by the end of the story. That is okay though because Cyrus and Antigone are learning as they go and the reader is sharing the experience. The Order of Brendan in which Cyrus and Antigone find themselves is thousands of years old. It can't be fully explained in one book. What is made known in this book is fascinating and definitely whets the appetite for more.
I very much enjoyed the characters of Cyrus and Antigone. They have experienced a lot of tragedy and it has affected them greatly. They show real emotion and you can really sympathize with them. They are flawed too and not at all the tragic hero types. I really enjoyed how much of each of them was revealed in their interactions with each other. Like in this scene: "I really don't want to sleep in here, and I feel like I'm going to cry." "Well, don't," said Cyrus. "Think of me. How much worse would it be for me if you were crying?" "It's not like I'm planning on crying. It's just that, well, here we are. And Mrs. Eldridge is the only person we know, and it's not like she's excited to help us. Dan's gone and we don't know if anyone is doing anything about it. Mom's back at the hospital-when will we get another Mom day? Are we even allowed to leave? And we're sleeping in a room with a boy we just met who looks like he's dying, and there are Whip Spiders, and the motel is burned, and who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? This place was supposed to help us." She scrunched her face. "I think you are planning on crying," said Cyrus. "It's like you're trying to talk yourself into it." "Dork." "Girl." "Oh, shut up." Antigone raised her head. "If you think making me mad is going to keep me from crying, you're dumber than I thought, and you haven't been paying any attention to girls for pretty much your entire life."
Genuine sibling banter and it tells a lot about they feel about each other. And the boy Antigone mentions who looks like he is dying? Nolan. He is one of the most intriguing secondary characters and probably my favorite outside the main two. Of course, he is an honorable tragic thief ,so no surprise there. He is part of a little posse of supporters that build up around Cyrus and Antigone by the end of the book that I have a feeling we will be hearing more from in later volumes.
Wilson is exploring a plethora of interesting themes with the story as well. I very much like how he portrays immortality as something pitiful rather than desirable. There is also the whole mind set of Dr. Phoenix, his experiments, and what he is doing with genetic and psychological mutation. Racism and cultural elitism. are also explored. Despite the depiction of Cyrus on the cover (Really Random House, why is it so hard to do this right?) Cyrus and Antigone are described several times as having dark skin that they inherited from their mother, who has a very interesting background. It is her background the Order takes exception too and the kids are often referred to by others as mutts and mongrels. There is definitely a lot of food for thought to chew on the book.
I will warn you the end is going to make you want the next volume of the series (which I've heard tell will number 5 total) immediately. This is unfortunate as it doesn't even have a release day yet. ...more