So we'll just agree to go into this review knowing that I really enjoyed Rosamund Hodge's debut novel Cruel Beauty, shall we? In general, fairy tale/Greek mythology mash-ups complete with lovely words are welcome in these parts. And so I confess I was excited but just a little bit sad when I found out the next entry in the world would be a novella. Give me all the pages, please. But. It was to be a Cinderella retelling set in the same world and, as that was clearly awesome, I resolved to take what I could get and be grateful for it. I like this cover, although it's a bit bland for my taste and doesn't inspire quite the same swirling dread as the cover of Cruel Beauty. I do like what they're doing with the stairs. I think I might have liked a hint of Maia somewhere in there to humanize things. And, as it happens, there is a whole heaping helping of dread in this little book, so something more sinister would have worked splendidly. But, as I said, take what I can get, etc. etc.
Maia lies all the day long. From the moment she gets up at the crack of dawn to prepare the morning meal for her stepmother and stepsisters to the moment she curls up at night and gives in to oblivion. She lies and lies and lies some more just to be on the safe side. Because if she doesn't, if she lets on for one moment how impossibly dreadful every moment of every day is, her mother will exact revenge on the people around her. And no matter what they've done or what they call her, they don't deserve that. Maia's mother passed away when she was a little girl. But on her deathbed she made a bargain with the Gentle Lord that she be able to watch over her only daughter from the other side of the grave and that any who hurt her would be cursed. And so Maia is never truly alone. She must marshal every thought, every wayward impulse, so that the only quasi-family members she has left are not torn asunder. And it is a grief-filled existence to be sure. Her stepmother went mad upon her father's death. Her stepsisters expend all their energy scrabbling for their mad mother's approval. And it is Maia barely holding the whole decrepit thing together. Until one day her beautiful and desperate stepsister Koré sends her with a letter for the prince. A letter she is certain will spark his interest and potentially lead to a union between them. Against her will, Maia makes her way to the palace to deliver the missive. And it is there she meets Anax—a man she can talk to, who could all too easily become another person she must protect from her mother's dark curse.
My mother loved me more than life itself. That's how everything went wrong.
The brilliant twist on the fairy godmother absolutely made this book for me. That it is her own mother who unwittingly made Maia's life a living hell. That Maia is simultaneously forced to serve and trying to save the people who despise her. That everyone seemingly had such good intentions and that those intentions are now literally tearing their loved ones apart from the inside. Well. It's a feast for the imagination. And it is just such a wicked fun Cinderella retelling. What this tale needed was a little more in the way of savage, black-hearted deceit and Rosamund Hodge brings it. I loved Maia immediately. It was suffocating, her life—her exhausted, interminable insistence that she was happy, that everything was okay. I loved Anax, too. He's so far from the sort of blank and charming male that often fills the prince role in this story. He, too, has an impossibly painful past and looks to his future with little to no joy. Each time Maia is sent to deliver a letter, they talk. They just . . . talk. And it's a moment to breathe for each of them. Of course it grows to mean more to both of them, despite the sizable gap in their understanding of what the other's life is like. It is as though each character in this rich novella is operating under the thinnest veneer of sanity. The deeper in the reader goes, the more apparent this tenuous hold on reality becomes. But those scenes in Anax's study. Their lovely conversations. They provide such a quietly affecting and sweet counterpoint to Maia's internal chaos.
When the footman eases the door open, Lord Anax is sitting at the piano with his back to us, pounding out a rollicking dance tune as if his life depends on it. The footman opens his mouth to announce me, but I shake my head and slip inside silently.
The sofa is soft as newly risen bread dough. I sink into it. Lord Anax is slamming out the notes of the song as loud and as fast as he can, but I'm asleep in moments.
When I wake up, he's playing a different song—slower, more intricate, with a multitude of trills. He stumbles over every one, and though he manages to keep his playing gentle enough to suit the piece, the whole thing feels shapeless.
He hits the final chord a little too fast and loud. Then he looks over his shoulder at me. "Should I be flattered or insulted that I sent you straight into the arms of Morpheus?"
I stand and walk to his side, digging into my pocket. "I have a letter for you."
"Of course. Did you think it was any good?"
"My playing." He's staring at the piano keys, and his voice is light, but I can hear the tension underneath. "Did you think it was any good?"
I consider the question. He's never punished me for telling the truth yet.
"It wasn't terrible," I say. "But it wasn't good. It wasn't anything, really."
He laughs softly. "Did you like it?"
"Don't be tactful now. You were thinking something."
"I was thinking," I say, "what does it matter if I liked it or not? You won't stop or start playing for love of me. You don't care what I think, and I don't care what you play."
"I would have been a piano player," he says abruptly. "If I weren't the duke's son. I know it's not genteel, but if I weren't my father's son, I wouldn't be a gentleman."
"You'd get tired of it," I say.
"No." He stares at the keys. "I'd never get tired of music. But I'd never be much good at it either." Gently, as if he's closing the doors of a shrine, he lowers the lid back over the keys. "Just as well I'm the duke's son and everyone has to flatter me."
I remember this morning, how I yawned and immediately whispered, I'm so happy to be awake, Mother, as I stirred the porridge. I remember Koré looking at the dress I sewed for Thea and saying, I'm glad you've found something that stupid girl is good for, Mother.
"You're not alone," I say. "Everyone has to flatter somebody to survive. Besides, I didn't mean you'd get tired of music. Being a commoner isn't easy, you know. You'd get tired of the work."
"Every day. But unlike you, I don't have a choice. Here's your letter. I suppose I'll see you tomorrow."
He catches my wrist. "Maia," he says, "thank you. Thank you for telling me the truth about my music."
"Just for that?" I ask.
"You're the first one, can you believe it?"
I feel the opulent room weighing down on me, as heavy as the smiles I craft for Mother.
"Yes," I say. "I can believe it."
His music really is terrible.
But it echoes in my head, all the rest of the day.
I read it in one sitting (not a difficult feat as it clocks in at a scant 111 pages) and my only complaint was the eternal one when it comes to novellas—I wish it were longer. It didn't need to be. But my greedy heart will always ask for more.(less)
I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them toge...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them together and, if it’s done well, I am the happiest of happy campers. The Lunar Chronicles have such a brilliant concept. Four (yay for quartets) books, each set in Meyer’s fictional and futuristic Earth, each focusing on a heroine from a well-known fairy tale. From Cinder and Scarlet to Cress and the upcoming Winter, I’ve loved the covers, I’ve loved the titles, and I’ve loved the smart and inventive ways in which these stories have had new life breathed into them. I did wish for a little more emotional payoff in the first book, but Cinder herself was such a highlight that there were no questions about whether or not I would be reading the second. Then Ms. Meyer went and wrote Scarlet and launched me into full-fledged fangirl status. I wouldn’t change a single thing about that book, people. Not one. So my anticipation for Cress was just a wee bit on the high side. We get the tiniest of snatches of Cress herself in the first two books, and given how much I loved the first two heroines, I felt pretty sure my love for this orbiting computer hacker would be something of a foregone conclusion.
Cress has spent the last seven years shut up tight in an orbiting satellite. Her solitude is broken only by the occasional terrifying visit from Miss Sybil, the Lunar Queen’s henchwoman sent to monitor Cress. With years and years of nothing but her netscreens to keep her company, Cress not only becomes a considerably talented computer hacker, but she develops a pretty substantial romanticized view of Earth, its inhabitants, and especially the noted rascal Captain Carswell Thorne. Most recently, Cress has been tasked with putting her hacking skills to use tracking down the most wanted Earthen criminal: the cyborg rebel Linh Cinder. Having had her own secret contact with Cinder and her band of motley rebels, Cress is instantly dismayed and sets about working as hard as she can to deflect Queen Levana’s sights from Cinder’s actual location. For their part, Cinder, Wolf, Scarlet, and Iko are careening about space trying to avoid capture and work out a plan to save the world from the encroaching Lunar threat. But Cress can only do so much, trapped as she is. And when Cinder’s ship, the Rampion, is spotted, the two groups are set on a literal collision course. In the aftermath, the dashing and derelict Thorne and Cress herself wind up crashing to Earth in the smoking remains of the only home Cress has ever known. And so it is up to them to trek through the wilderness and try to find their way back to Cinder and Co. in time to stop the unholy wedding of the century before Levana weds Emperor Kaito and closes her wicked fist over Earth for good.
It’s difficult to say I wasn’t enchanted with this one, but that is the bare truth of the matter. It was all set up to be a knockout installment in the series, but nothing. ever. happens. Until the end when the inevitable Rescue Poor Kai mission is finally set in motion and events begin trundling along nicely. But Cress is one thick book (a trait I usually love in novel), and it takes far too long to get to the meat. Most of that time is spent trudging with the hapless Cress and Thorne through the Sahara Desert, an expanse of time and space that could have been put to good use developing their relationship, which naturally had a lot of potential. Instead, it was a numbing eternity of the naïve and incapable Cress mooning over Thorne and wailing at each bump in the road. And Thorne. Wherefore art thou, dude? You were the perfect scoundrel in Scarlet, a delightful combination of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. But the Thorne of Cress was a watered down buffoon at best. He was given a couple of truly winsome and hilarious lines, a far cry from the leading man I felt justified in looking forward to. Together they lacked all of the spark, paling in comparison to the serious sweetness of Cinder & Kai and the deep swoon of Scarlet & Wolf. It was honestly a relief to be pulled away from their uninspiring exploits to find out what was happening with Cinder and the gang, although I couldn’t help but sigh more than once at how little page time Scarlet and Wolf were given. In that instance, I understand the game is afoot and we must work our way through some plot twists in order to achieve the necessary series climax in the next book. But still. Their relative absence was harsh for this Scarlet-loving girl’s heart.
Romantic subplot(s) aside, I just never engaged with Cress, the book or the character. The creeptastic Levana was all but absent. The exciting and long-awaited knock-down brawl and (hopefully) makeup fest that has been brewing between Cinder and Kai since the end of Cinder was wedged too tightly into the literal last couple of pages. The timing and pacing felt decidedly off in general, uncharacteristically so. I don’t know if the onus of that rests on the fact that Cress herself wasn’t up to the challenge of carrying off a whole book on her own or if it was a dose of third-book syndrome or what. But it was a struggle to finish. I did finish, hoping all the way that meat would grow on the bones before my very eyes. I still like each of the main characters (Cinder’s irrepressible android sidekick Iko made me laugh on more than one occasion), and the glimpse of the certifiably crazy Winter near the end gives me hope for the final installment. But it’s going to have to be one hell of a strong finish to wash the disappointment out of my mouth after Cress.(less)
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
If I stop and hold still for a minute, I can still feel the tingles I felt after finishing Scarlet last year. It was that good to read a new and, more importantly, impressive Robin Hood retelling. And it was impressive. From the gender-swapping and Scarlet's dialect to the individual members of the young band, each of them keeping their own secrets. I really had no idea where Ms. Gaughen would take them after everything spiraled so maddeningly out of control at the end. And now, having read it, I love how many times, and with what unflinching force, she surprised me in LADY THIEF. I never saw things coming. I mean, I saw a couple of things coming. But by and large I gasped more than I nodded knowingly. And even now I can hear my husband laughing. He is used to my gasps. He is also used to me looking up with glassy eyes and whispering something along the lines of, "Everything is not okay." But more on that later.
Some spoilers for the end of the first book I found impossible to avoid. Proceed with caution.
Scarlet's been living on borrowed time ever since her unwelcome marriage. Inexplicably willing to bide his time, Gisbourne has been gone. And Scarlet has been somewhat free to periodically slip away from the keep and check on the boys. What she's seen has not been encouraging. Robin's past haunts his nights. He rarely sleeps and when he does it always ends violently. Occasionally, Scarlet or John get a little too close and it comes to blows, which improves exactly none of their moods and does not bode well for the little band's sense of unity. But now her husband has returned, and Scarlet must play the role she bought when she agreed to wed a monster in exchange for Robin's life. Just what Gisbourne wants remains a mystery as there is zero love lost between the two of them. When Prince John and his entourage arrive, Scarlet's life only gets more difficult as the machinations at work take on a much grander scale than she imagined. And with the people of Nottingham starving and no relief in sight, Scarlet must force herself to fully inhabit her role as a noble if she is to spare her people (and her small family) from the prince's wrath.
I believe my favorite thing about this book (and series) is the perspective we get through Scarlet's eyes. It is her view of Robin Hood we see. She marks his flaws. She knows them as well as she does her own. And so the whole tale feels unusually honest and decidedly spare. It works incredibly well. Especially because, while she sees a hero in Rob, it is her bravery and endurance (and grief) we are closest to. Scarlet's a hero. And she's going to save her people. I have no doubt of it. That said, I will admit I was not expecting the level of sadness in this book. You guys. It is so sad. It is also riveting, exciting, unquestionably romantic, and I absolutely loved it. But, you guys. A.C. Gaughen is not kidding around. Her characters are stalked at every turn. By their own demons as well as the ones foisted on them by their impossible circumstances. The whole twisted web only becomes more knotted as events progress and the villains keep shifting chairs. And can I just say Prince John is simply splendid if you're in the mood for despicable tyrants. And let's be honest. You're here reading this review. When are you not in that mood? My hatred for him was and is unswerving. And while we're talking bad guys, Gisbourne came through in spades. My feelings for him were nowhere near as single minded as my feelings for the prince. Gisbourne and I, we were all across the map. But without spoiling anything, I can tell you his story is one of the most compelling. All that potential he carried in the first book is present and accounted for and deliciously explored here in the second.
I wanted to quote any number of passages between Scarlet and Robin, because their relationship travels in such lovely and aching ways in this installment. But they were all a little too special to take out of context. So instead I'm sharing a scene between Scarlet and Much. Because I love them and the way they love their friend.
"You look a little lost."
I turned to see Much steps from me. He smiled under a big farmer's hat in his crooked, half-sure way, and I hugged him. He hugged me tight with a laugh. "John and Rob are awfully boring without you around."
I mussed his hair with a laugh. "I'm certain they are. So what do you reckon, will someone make me a widow today?" We went and leaned on the fencing that were meant to keep the common folk from the grounds. We were low, back, and to the side, and from there the whole thing looked vicious and fierce, less like a game and more like gods stomping about for notice.
"I doubt it," he said, honest as ever. "Gisbourne is a very good fighter."
I rubbed my still swollen lip. "I know."
"He slept, you know," Much told me. "Last night, whole way through."
This thrilled my heart like a holy fire. "It's fair strange, talking about Rob like he were an infant or such."
"It's good news."
I shivered. "It's perfect news."
I shivered throughout this worthy sequel, both in response to the ever-unwinding intrigue as well as the prevailing chill it exudes. If ever there was a winter book, it's this one. I read it huddled under my blankets, fear and delight close at hand, as I watched Scarlet, Robin, John, and Much, the ice clutching at the hems of their cloaks, threatening to freeze any vestige of warmth inside. It's going to be an immeasurably long wait for book three. But, like Scarlet, I aim to survive.(less)
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several mont...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
So I read another Beauty and the Beast retelling. As one does. Cruel Beauty has been on my radar for several months now. The truth is I was a goner when I heard it blended my favorite fairy tale with Greek mythology. Having read it now, another truth is that, in my humble opinion, it would be better billed as a Cupid & Psyche retelling. Not that all the lovely elements of Beauty and the Beast aren't there and thriving. As a matter of fact, threads of several different fairy tales run through the veins of this crazy, lovely book. And I appreciated all of them. But the Greek mythology aspect of it is real and very important to the story as a whole. As such, I think it bears the strongest resemblance to the tale of beleaguered Psyche and the god she weds. I've read a myriad different reactions to Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, and I can credit all of them because Cruel Beauty is a twisty, mercurial cracker of a tale and most readers are not going to feel mildly about it one way or the other. I do hope you'll give it a shot and see which way your feelings lean.
Nyx is a sharply honed blade. Raised from a child knowing precisely what was expected of her, she has never known the simple happiness of her sister Astraia, the noble firmness her father, or the proper domesticity of her aunt Telomache. All she has known is dread and hate and unscaleable walls. So when the day finally comes when she is to fulfill her duty and marry the Gentle Lord as befit the terms of her father's bargain with the demon, there is very little she will miss about her home or the family members who claim to love her yet are willing to send her off to a fate worse than death if it means it will save their own skins. In fact, despite the primitive terror she feels when the heavy castle door shuts behind her, she is ready. She is done with waiting and ready to avenge her mother's death and defeat the evil lord who brought an ancient curse on the land of Arcadia. Either that or she will die trying. It's doesn't make much difference to Nyx. Until she makes her new husband's acquaintance, that is. Until she looks into his blood red cat's eyes and listens to his mocking voice as it tells of past wives, all of them useless, all of them dead. How very glad he is she's arrived to provide the next course of entertainment. Then? Why then she wants to kill him very, very much indeed.
I love immeasurably flawed protagonists. I love them, love them, love them. So I experienced something akin to glee when I realized Nyx and Ignifex were the real thing. She wants to kill him. When she says she hates everyone in her life, she is not kidding. And that hate flows off the page. In a good way. He finds her endlessly amusing and he fully expects her to join his eight past wives in the family tomb, as it were. When he says the people who come to him to bargain get what they deserve, he really believes it. Their verbal (and physical) sparring gets underway the very first night Nyx arrives at his home, and it just doesn't let up. Basically, I wore a deranged grin every time they exchange parries. And every night as Nyx set off to explore the castle and find the path to destroying her husband, I relished the beautiful and terrifying descriptions of the ballroom that is also a midnight lake, the library full of books she cannot read, the mirror that bears a keyhole, and the shadows that lick at her heels. It is worth pointing out that while I enjoyed myself throughout the book, it wasn't until roundabout the halfway mark that things reached unputdownable status. But reach it they did, and I read the last half through in one headlong rush.
There is one other denizen of the Gentle Lord's home. One who remains there against his will and who sets out to help Nyx on her bloody quest. His name is Shade. He is quite literally Ignifex's shadow, and he believes that this time, this wife might actually be his hope of escape. I never knew quite what to think of Shade. My feelings for Ignifex were immediate and sure, but Shade left me alternately hot and cold. His role in the tale is a murky one, and I will admit to resenting his presence at times, even up through the end. But much of that can be chalked up to the sheer sparkle and force imbued in every scene in which Nyx and Ignifex share the page. I quite simply couldn't look away from the girl intent on murder and the quicksilver demon who has been the agent of murder for centuries. Because something remarkable and elusive was happening to them both, even as they threatened each other with all manner of bodily harm and eternal torment. And the fact that Ms. Hodge managed to quietly craft this fragile something inside a fortress of fury, without compromising her characters, well, it impressed me. I love them so very much for all their vengeful hearts and angry, clenching hands. But perhaps most of all for the ultimate mercy they show (not to themselves, but to one another) in spite of the suffering they've undergone.
In closing, my favorite passage:
"You don't think our plan will work."
"I'd give it rather low odds."
I leaned forward, hoping that for once his gloating temperament would be useful. "Why not? Explain to me how I'm stupid, husband."
He poked my nose. "You're not stupid and neither is your plan. But the Heart of Air is utterly beyond your reach. And your people have not even begun to grasp the nature of this house."
"Then tell me." I tilted my head. "Or are you scared?"
"No," he said placidly, and abruptly dropped to the ground, resting his head in my lap. "Tired."
I swallowed. The easy comfort of the gesture touched me in a way his kisses had not. I couldn't understand why he kept acting like he trusted me.
"I had a long night," he added, looking up at me from under his lashes.
"I told you I'm not sorry," I growled.
"Of course not." He smiled with his eyes shut.
"You deserve all that and more. It made me happy to see you suffer. I would do it all over again if I could." I realized I was shaking as the words tumbled out of me. "I would do it again and again. Every night I would torment you and laugh. Do you understand? You are never safe with me." I drew a shuddering breath, trying to will away the sting of tears.
He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. "That's what makes you my favorite." He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. "Every wicked bit of you."
This is both my first Jodi Lynn Anderson book and my first Peter Pan retelling! I know there are quite a few out there, but for whatever reason I just haven't dipped into that pool yet. I've seen and enjoyed multiple screen adaptations, but this was my first outing with a retelling on the page. The thing about Peter Pan is that I read it a couple of years ago with my oldest boy and it was . . . rather devastating, actually. In the very best way, of course. But the emotions were real and they cut deep. So I probably should have expected to be a bit wrung out upon finishing TIGER LILY. Because even though it's all about Tiger Lily (and is told from Tinker Bell's perspective), it's about Peter, too. And Neverland. And the Lost Boys. And Hook. And every other excruciating bit of that original story that so embodies the sense of wonder and loss endemic to childhood and growing up. All of which is to say that beyond this point there be emotions. Proceed with caution.
Tinker Bell remembers the exact day on which she met the girl called Tiger Lily. She remembers it so clearly because she'd never seen anyone that outside, that tenacious, that determined to forge her own path. Ostracized for her differences, Tiger Lily's only friends are her adopted father (the village shaman) and a pair of mismatched outsiders her own age who are inexplicably drawn to the caustic girl. But ever since that fateful day, Tink has stuck by Tiger Lily's side. Entranced with her life and energy and isolation, the tiny faery unexpectedly finds a kindred spirit. Able to listen in to Tiger Lily's thoughts and feelings, Tink knows better than anyone just how hard she works every day just to stay inside her own skin. And then one day, she accompanies Tiger Lily on what seems a normal outing. But in the course of a single afternoon, she watches the determined girl spare a killer's life and take her own life in her hands as she stumbles across the infamous Peter Pan. And thus begins an intense and unlikely bond that will shape the lives of both the human girl, the faery, and the boy who would not grow up.
It starts with a Walt Whitman quote, which is so often guaranteed to garner my attention and admiration. From the opening of the prologue, Anderson's writing shored up any lingering questions I had in my mind about how this book and I would get on. As a matter of fact, this book and I were immediately inseparable. I may be particularly susceptible to this story's charms, but given the level of beauty Ms. Anderson's writing achieves, there was simply no way I was not going to be enthralled by a revisionist version focused on the girl(s) who came before Wendy. It was, of course, genius to have Tinker Bell tell it. And the friendship between the two girls is one of the highlights of the whole dark, exquisite story. At first blush, neither of them are incredibly endearing. Prickly and headstrong and inveterate loners, they resist advances from both their peers and their readers. But it didn't take long for me to appreciate Tiger Lily through Tink's eyes. And no time at all for me to sympathize with her impossible situation and fully support her attempts to escape the bonds restricting her. Peter was such a perfect avenue for that. His feral joy, his hidden vulnerability, his wordless understanding of and refusal to accept his world all worked their magic on the strong women who found their way to his burrow. Peter and Tiger Lily's version of first love mirrors the two of them. It is a wild, joyful, and vulnerable creature, at once wondrous and painful to witness. TIGER LILY is composed of layers upon layers of love stories, each one tiny and perfect and desperately flawed. Here, my favorite passage featuring Tiger Lily and her adopted father Tik Tok as they confront the issue of an unwelcome arranged marriage:
He sighed. "It's not your fault. It was my selfishness. I didn't have the courage to leave you in the woods. But I should have let someone else have you . . . one of the other tribes," he said. He leaned down onto one palm as, with the other, he yanked a root from the ground and brushed it off. "I could have told you. But I didn't want you to live under a shadow. I never held you back from anything."
Tiger Lily was silent for awhile, her long, dark hair falling across her face, obscuring her expression, and Tik Tok stared at the root in his hands. Finally she reached for his fingers. "I'm glad you took me. It's just a husband. Maybe it won't be terrible."
"It was my job to protect you," he said. "And I didn't."
Tiger Lily shook her head. "You have. I'm okay. Really, Tik Tok." Secretly, Tiger Lily knew it was her job to protect him too.
Tik Tok smiled, but his eyes became wet. His shoulders sank, and he steadied himself where he knelt over a patch of bitter gourd.
"I let you down, little one."
She reached for his arm. "I'm not so little. I can take care of myself."
"Yes, I know." He frowned. "But you shouldn't have to. You should have someone to love and take care of you. Not like him."
Tiger Lily didn't want someone to take care of her. But I heard the longing in Tik Tok's heart too, and the loneliness of being such a singular type of person, without another like himself to hold at night. He didn't want the same for his daughter.
"You love me," she said. "That's enough. We love each other."
"Yes. Yes, that's true." He smiled. "We are a love story."
You see? In fact, each love story in this book is so sensitively handled that I couldn't choose my favorite. I like their unexpectedness and how they wind up in places you didn't see. And they are each highlighted by the quiet ways in which they echo and play with their original counterparts. But as far as friendships go, my favorite is Tiger Lily and Tink's. Subtle as it is, what distinguishes it is how consistently they (individually and collectively) buck being tied down. To family, to life, to their own fears, even to Peter. Infatuation, passion, true love aside, their integrity doesn't waver. Even in the face of despair and all the years ahead. And if this Tinker Bell was a little more serious than I expected and this Tiger Lily a little more unbridled and fierce, well, that only made me love them more. I choked back tears more than once and, as in the original, the ending is fragile and aching and right.(less)
The moment I heard about a steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre, I geared up for its release. I am always up for a retelling of t...moreOriginally reviewed here.
The moment I heard about a steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre, I geared up for its release. I am always up for a retelling of this book. And I've had spectacular success in the past. This one is not YA, or even New Adult, and I could tell it relied more heavily on the rich fantasy aspects of the world and story, all of which I was eager to fall into. I love the cover, particularly the iron mask, and everything about it just had the ring of excellence to it. This is not to say that I wasn't apprehensive, because there's always a bit of that when you go into a retelling of any kind, isn't there? But do any of you ever start to tire of your own wariness when it comes to upcoming releases? I go back and forth between feeling justifyingly jaded (particularly when it comes to oversaturated genres or tropes) and feeling like shaking off all my suspicion and caution and just jumping in like I used to as a kid. Because the exhaustion of both maintaining expectations and forcing yourself not to have them . . . it's exhausting. So all of that to say that when an ARC floated my way via NetGalley, I didn't even blink before downloading it to my nook and settling in that evening.
Jane Eliot survived the Great War. They don't call it a victory as the Fey just up and disappeared rather than outright lost. But the humans who survived are altered beyond recognition. Some of them inwardly and some of them (like Jane) very much outwardly. Those struck by Fey fire during the war bear a curse. The curse not only affects the victim but spills out from the site of the wound onto all those they come into contact with. Each curse is different. For Jane, it is rage. From the jagged scars on her face that never heal, rages pours through her and onto those she encounters. That is until she stumbles across the Foundry. There ironworkers create what they call ironskin. These pieces of iron attach to their bodies over the wounds, sealing them in, preventing the curses from affecting passersby. And so Jane wears a mask, and all the rage is bottled inside. Nevertheless, when she applies for a job taking care of the reclusive Mr. Rochart's daughter Dorie, she does cherish some small hope that in this wild, remote location she might find a place where she could belong. Of course, Mr. Rochart, his daughter, and the entire household are so strange that Jane begins to feel the normal one. Despite her mask and veil. Despite the rage boiling under her skin. For something very wrong lurks behind the doors of her new home and Jane may find her mask is not the only one keeping curses at bay.
This is a fantastic setup. I found myself instantly caught up in the whole notion of the ironskin, of seeping curses from fey wounds, of Jane filled with an unnatural post-war rage. I even enjoyed Connolly's revisionist version of Mr. Rochart's uber-creepy secret. The whole world, its history, the way it was peopled, and the horrors they bore set my imagination racing. I couldn't wait to watch it play out. But then it . . . didn't. Unfortunately, I felt as though the writing itself never matched up to the premise, which was grandly dark. The words just plodded along, never rising above serviceable, never engaging in an organic way with the world's potential to really give the story wings. Add to that the fact that the characterization just stagnated after the beginning. Jane herself is primed to be a force in her own story, yet she remains flat throughout. Mr. Rochart comes off as a mere placeholder, and I felt as though I was waiting the entire novel for the "real" Mr. Rochart to reveal himself, or at least make an entrance on stage. No such luck. And without any actual chemistry between those two key players, it's quite impossible difficult to make this particular tale work on any level. Without that connection, the hints at the horrific left me simply cold, without that delicious chill that comes when it is happening to people you care about and have some emotional investment in. In lesser problems, several twists felt fairly predictable to me, and I was uncomfortable with some of the implications when it came to the various races and/or creatures in this world and the way they were viewed. The end result was, as you can imagine, me struggling to finish the book and mourning the myriad of missed opportunities and empty characterizations where so much richness was possible.(less)
I have retellings on the brain right now. So you'll have to bear with me, as this is one of my favorites. VALIANT is the sec...moreOriginally reviewed here.
I have retellings on the brain right now. So you'll have to bear with me, as this is one of my favorites. VALIANT is the second book in Holly Black's excellent Modern Tales of Faerie trilogy. I read Tithe back in the day, and it immediately became my favorite Tam Lin retelling. I've been somewhat his and miss with that tale, and this angsty teen version of it worked remarkably well for me. So my introduction to Ms. Black was a fine one. When VALIANT came out, I didn't know exactly what to expect given that it switched characters entirely. Things always seem to go one way or the other when that happens in series, don't they? But I wasn't so utterly devoted to Kaye and Roiben that I couldn't make room in my heart for a few more beautiful, crazy denizens of Holly Black's urban fantasy world. And though I should have guessed, I didn't put together the fact that it was actually a Beauty and the Beast retelling until things started getting interesting with Val and a certain troll. By that time I was completely enraptured, and it has remained one of my favorite retellings ever since. As far as the covers go, the one with the sword is my copy and far and away my favorite. I like the whole snipping hair with scissors vibe on the later one, but the horned model dude is kind of freaking me out. Besides, the sword has too much importance not to feature on the cover of this book.
Valerie Russell has chosen to disappear. When her not-so-great-to-begin-with home life takes a turn for the horrible, Val leaves. Striking out on her own, she falls in with a band of misfits who live in the New York City subway system. They take her in when she's at her most vulnerable. Unfortunately, companionship and the squatter lifestyle comes with some pretty unhealthy chains, and they all seem to lead back to the Unseelie Court. And it turns out Val has a long way down to go before she finds out what it really means to disappear. A favorite passage, involving Val and a troll by the name of Ravus:
"So you'll teach me?" Val asked.
Ravus nodded again. "I will make you as terrible as you desire."
"I don't want to be--" she started, but he held up his hand.
"I know you're very brave," he said.
"And stupid. Brave and stupid." Ravus smiled, but then his smile sagged. "But nothing can stop you from being terrible once you've learned how."
I love Ravus and his role in Val's story. This little snippet of dialogue pretty fairly captures the twist in the gut you experience while reading, but it also hints at the hope underscoring all the doubt and fear.
I rarely stand a chance when a woman scorned takes up a sword to fight for herself and for those she cares about. Val came through for me like gangbusters. No one could consider what happened to her to be anything other than outrageously unjust. And yes, when faced with the ultimate betrayal, she barrels off and makes a series of seriously ill-advised choices. Seriously ill-advised. I worried myself sick about her. About Val and Lolli and Luis and Dave. It wasn't easy watching them scrabble desperately for escape . . . for control. Val's journey is a rough one. But it also such a rewarding one. In that sense it occupies the same space in my mind as Enna Burning and Ink Exchange. These are the "dark" installments in their series. The ones in which your favorite characters make mistakes. Sometimes their mistakes are so bad the consequences stretch out to encompass loved ones. They're also my favorite books in their series in each instance. Val, Enna, Leslie. These girls are so strong. They're such survivors. I love watching them pick themselves back up again, learn from their mistakes, and extricate themselves from destructive situations. Even if they are of them own making. Especially if they are. It is these incredibly human elements that make these fantastical stories of death and faeries and love in dark places soar. It is Val's story that is paramount in this version of the tale. The fact that there are lessons in sword fighting (obviously), a sweet romance, and a gritty mystery make it that much more the whole package. I enjoyed VALIANT so much, I missed Val and Ravus and that crystal sword for weeks after finishing it. While not for the faint of heart, it does such a lovely job of contrasting the flaws in Val and her companions, the bleakness of their lives, with the sudden beauty of finding you're stronger than you believed. And for that it has my heart. To quote Val, "and it was perfect, was exactly right, was real." (less)
WHEN YOU WERE MINE came and went across my radar after I took a brief glance at its cover and mentally relegated it to the Je...moreOriginally reviewed here.
WHEN YOU WERE MINE came and went across my radar after I took a brief glance at its cover and mentally relegated it to the Jennifer Echols realm of contemporary YA romance. I enjoyed Going Too Far, but haven't loved her others or found myself in the mood for more of the same since. But that judgement was admittedly based entirely on the cover, font, tagline, etc. Then I read Carla's review over at The Crooked Shelf, and I took a second gander. Shakespeare, you say? Retelling? This is all exceedingly promising. Oh. Romeo and Juliet? Hm. Not sure I want to go there. Not that I don't enjoy R&J (I once saw it on stage, and Romeo's death scene was positively EPIC in scope. My brother-in-law and I were crying tears of mirth long before the poor boy let loose his final gasp and put us all out of our misery). And, as is so often the case, I was powerless to resist the call of a possibly excellent retelling. It was when I realized that it was told from Rosaline's point of view that the deal was sealed.
Rose Caplet is keeping her hopes on a very tight leash. Her best friend Rob has been gone all summer, but he's coming home today and Rose is trying pretty hard to keep it all together. They shared that one kiss, that one extended glance. That's all. And despite her best friends' insistence that the very first thing he'll do now he's back in town is declare his undying love for her, Rose is not so sure. They've always been friends. Rob helped her learn to ride a bike. He taught her how to swim. He knew her way back when. Even if he did have the kind of feelings for her that she seems to be developing for him, wouldn't it rock the boat of their friendship too much to be worth it? But then he is back. And he asks her out on a real date. And things are heading in a most promising direction. Until Rose's cousin Juliet comes to town. Rose hasn't had any contact with Juliet in years, though the two used to be close as kids. Now Juliet's back and trouncing all over Rose's life in her designer flip flops. But it's when she sets her sights on Rob that Rose really begins to worry. What is happening here? Why does her cousin seem to have it out for her? Surely Rob won't respond to Juliet's advances. Not after confessing his affections for Rose. Rob wouldn't do that. Would he?
I'll admit, it took me 100 pages to get into this one. I teetered on the verge of putting it down and moving on. But then I hit the following passage (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Charlie puts her arm over my shoulder. Olivia stands on the other side, arms crossed, Ben behind her. They're flanking me, like human pieces of armor.
Rob can't see me from this angle, which is worse than if he could, because it means I can stare as hard and as long as I like. He whispers something to her, and she laughs, then brings her finger to her lips to tell him to be quiet. But it's in that cute way certain girls have that lets everyone know they don't really mean it. That she wants him to go on bothering her forever. Even while turning him down she's inviting him. Forget the lip biting. This is definitely her power move.
He's leaning so close to her that it takes everything in me not to run right over and tear them apart. And part of me wants to. Part of me wants to fight. To tell him to pick me. To beg him to stop what he's doing, erase the last three days, and just come back. But I'm already fading into the background, like a house in the rearview mirror. I can feel myself getting smaller and smaller, shrinking, so that when Mr. Johnson says, "Have a great day, everyone!" I think I might have just disappeared.
And that's all it took. From that sentence on, it was all systems go for me. Because that is exactly what happens in the play. Rosaline--the object of all of Romeo's formidable passion and desire--just . . . disappears . . . when Juliet comes on stage. And when this Rosaline experiences that precise moment, it called to the forefront of my mind every ounce of sympathy I had for her and for the singular horror of being overlooked, of being left behind in the wake of fickle infatuation. All these years I assumed Rosaline never gave Romeo a second thought. But what if she did? What if the loss of his love hurt like a brand pressed to her skin? The rest of the story following this moment has its share of ups and downs. I never completely warmed to Rose's flock of privileged, preening friends. There were hints at more depth than was shown, but I could have done with some actual exploration of those hints, especially when it came to Charlie and Olivia. I've heard that some readers felt the inevitable tragedy that comes lacked weight, but I actually thought it was incredibly thoughtfully done. I grieved with Rose. For the years wasted in enmity between the two families, for the deception between the generations, and for the senseless loss of two teenagers whose greatest sin was letting go of their senses so wildly, of losing sight of themselves in the name of each other. Because if I didn't love this Rob and Juliet as much as I did the originals, I loved Rose more. And her love and compassion for them (despite what they did to her) overshadowed any bitterness I might have harbored. All of this is helped, of course, by the fact that Rebecca Serle chose to give Rose another love interest who I admired wholeheartedly. I would have liked a bit more in the way of development in this arena as well, more than I got by the time the ending rolled around. As it was, the ending lacked the kind of weight I felt it needed in order to serve as a proper epilogue to the tragic events that preceded it. It felt a bit pat, a bit cute, when I wanted it to mean more. A contemporary retelling of this play is always going to run that particular risk, but given the excellence of Rose's point of view and the truly elegant moments Ms. Serle was able to craft, I was really pulling for a perfect end for WHEN YOU WERE MINE. An enjoyable, if uneven read, recommended for its interesting perspective and moments of insight.(less)
I know this is an almost unpardonably early review. But honestly, I waited on it as long as I possibly could before the effo...moreOriginally reviewed here.
I know this is an almost unpardonably early review. But honestly, I waited on it as long as I possibly could before the effort of holding it in caused me some sort of bodily harm. I've been anxiously looking forward to FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS for going on two years now, and the day an ARC showed up on my doorstep was just a very good day indeed. When a book you've been dying to read finally falls into your lap, do you ever just hold onto it and savor the possibilities? I do. I did with this one for a little while. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I just tear into it immediately. But sometimes I don't. Because sometimes dreaming about it while you're actually holding it in your hands is special, too. So I savored and I dreamt and I started reading and . . . I was gone. My first reaction to finishing it was a sense of complete satisfaction mingled with sadness that it was over. My second was thinking that I cannot wait to see FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS work its magic on readers far and wide. As post-apocalyptic retellings of classics go, it pretty much killed it on all levels for this devoted Austen girl.
Elliot North knows how to work hard. As a member of the elite Luddite nobility, she has a keen sense of what is expected of her, of which actions are acceptable and which ones could get you disowned and out on the streets. It is that very sense of duty that kept her from following her childhood friend Kai four years ago, when he fled servitude on her father's estate for a life of uncertainty and, just possibly, freedom. Their friendship was forbidden from the beginning, as Kai belongs to the Post-Reductionist class, and ever since the catastrophic Reduction, matters or birth and class ruthlessly define every aspect of a person's life. But now, four long years have passed, and at eighteen years old, Elliot is the only thing keeping the family lands going. As her father and sister grow further distanced from reality, the world as they know it is changing. Determined not to be left behind, Elliot convinces her family to lease the land to a group of unusual shipwrights known as Cloud Fleet. Hoping the extra income will save her home, Elliot is, well, gobsmacked when one of the renowned shipwrights turns out to be none other than her old friend--no longer playful, open Kai, but smart, remote Captain Malakai Wentforth. Elliot knows how to work hard, but even she may not be up to the task of withstanding the flood of guilt and longing that threatens to overtake her with his return. Especially given the suspicions that being to swirl in her head regarding just what he and his fleet are up to.
Everything about this book soars, from its supernal setting to the dreams its characters hold in their hearts. Having read (and adored) Persuasion for years now, it was extremely gratifying to see the massive amounts of care and thought that went into the crafting of this story inspired by Jane Austen's final novel. In fact, I felt a healthy dose of admiration for the storytelling the entire time I was reading it. But the wonderful bit is that it won me over on its own strengths entirely. The world and its sinister history, the characters and their eerily perfect names, the writing and its effortless flow--they're all so interlocked and balanced, coming together so as to make hours go by like seconds. I may have been predisposed to like Elliot, but the way my heart launched itself into my throat when hers did, the way my temper rose on her behalf, and the way I held my breath at her restraint and cheered her adamant refusal to be downtrodden . . . I more-than-liked Elliot. I more-than-liked Kai (even when I wanted to hurt him). And most of all, I more-than-liked the brilliant ending. Here is one of my favorite non-spoilery passages (taken from my uncorrected ARC), in which you get a feel for the way the writing lauds the original while extending it to support the strengths of these new characters and their spectacular world:
Elliot had had enough. "If you can't be civil to me, Miss Phoenix, I wish you'd leave me in peace. I have never done anything to you, and if you seek to punish me for past misdeeds, there is nothing you can devise that I haven't already suffered." Four years of worrying about Kai, followed by all these weeks of having him back here, but hating her. Was that not punishment enough?
"You baffle me, Miss Elliot," Andromeda replied in the same high-wrought tone. "I can't reconcile the young woman I see before me with the reports I have had."
What lies had Kai been spreading abroad? "I'm sorry to hear that, but it's none of my concern. I am the same person I've always been." She turned her face away from Andromeda, away from the crowd and from Kai. "Maybe you should ask yourself why, if I am the person you've been led to believe, someone would put their faith in me at all?"
"People are foolish when it comes to love."
Elliot hadn't been. She'd been rational, logical, reasonable, prudent. She'd been cold and cruel and disloyal and distant.
She hadn't been foolish.
She'd been the most foolish girl on the island.
Great, no? The killer thing about Elliot (have I mentioned how much I love her?) is that she has all the layers. She's the perfect blend of unmitigated strength and harbored regret. Every moment of every day she embodies dedication and resolve, all the while trying to mask the hope and the pain she lives with every moment of every single day. Here is Elliot:
No one came. Not her sister or her father, not Benedict or the Fleet Posts or even Admiral Innovation. No one appeared in the hall all afternoon but the mute, shuffling figures of the Reduced housemaids as they went about their chores. Time passed, and Elliot sat in the chair, waiting for the verdict from Felicia.
How much of her life had she spent waiting? Waiting for a plant to sprout? Waiting for her father's judgment? Waiting for another letter to appear in the knothole from Kai? Waiting for years after Kai left to feel at peace with her decision? She fed the Reduced, she did her chores, she avoided her father and her sister, and she waited. She did every duty she'd been taught as a Luddite, and she lied with every breath.
I'd say I don't know what to say, but I do. And it's this. Snatch it up the day it comes out--this beautiful book--this meticulous, breathtaking retelling of one of the greatest love stories ever penned.
In the mood for a cozy, post-holiday read? I suggest you give MAYBE THIS TIME a try. I first discovered Jennifer Crusie thro...moreOriginally published here.
In the mood for a cozy, post-holiday read? I suggest you give MAYBE THIS TIME a try. I first discovered Jennifer Crusie through the insanely entertaining Bet Me. I then immediately went on a Crusie binge. And though I enjoyed several of them, none quite matched up to that first one. So I'd been kind of avoiding another Crusie read, even after hearing very positive reviews of her newest. The fact that it was categorized as a mystery/romantic suspense piqued my interest, but when I received it as a gift awhile back, I placed it on my nightstand and promptly forgot about it. Sometimes you have to wait until the right time for a certain book rolls around, you know? I've made my mistakes trying to force a book at the wrong time, and it never accomplishes anything but driving a rift between us. So I waited on this one. And the right time rolled around (as it almost always does) a few nights back. I'd been bouncing around from book to book for awhile, searching for the one I needed. What a relief and a surprise to find it was the unassuming little ghost story that had been patiently sitting on my nightstand lo these many months.
Andie Miller is trying to do the right thing. Walking into her ex-husband North Archer's law office to sever all remaining ties seems to be, by all accounts, the right thing to do. Even if it is almost impossibly hard. After all, they have been divorced for ten years. And the single torrential year they were married ended so spectacularly badly it almost crushed Andie. They've both moved on since, and it's time for some closure. But when she sits down with North, the man who never asked anything of her while they were married now has a favor to ask. Will she travel down to one of the family estates where his two young wards are living? Their aunt died not long after their parents did, and it seems there's some trouble keeping a reliable caregiver in the house. Could she possibly go down and check on them, see if she can get them ready to attend school? Then in just a few weeks' time they'll be done with each other for good. She can go off and marry her fiance and start that calm and peaceful life she's been looking for. In the face of the hefty wad of cash North is offering her in exchange for her efforts, Andie agrees, overrules her own doubts as well as her fiance Will's objections, and packs her bags. Of course, circumstances at the old house are far grimmer than North suspected. Twelve-year-old Carter and six-year-old Alice are unusual, to say the least. And desperately unhappy. Creepy old Mrs. Crumb, the housekeeper, seems to encourage Alice's tantrums and Carter's increasing isolation. And the longer Andie stays there, the more convinced she becomes that the whole place is haunted. She tries to convey the extent of the weird in her sporadic calls to North, but it's clear that saving these children from whatever dark force is lurking will be up to her and her alone.
I started making a list of my favorite things about MAYBE THIS TIME on page one, and I quickly lost count. A retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw complete with all my favorite Gothic trappings and a leading lady and man with a history with a capital H? I was instantly in heaven. From the first page, which has just two lines on it:
This book takes place in 1992.
And you know the slightly odd, not-so-very-far in the past setting is perfectly suited to this wacky, atmospheric, romantic tale. I was charmed by the sartorial, cultural, and musical references throughout. In fact, the song "Somebody's Baby" plays a significant role in the book, and I could not get it out of my head (in a good way) the entire time I was reading it. I love it when that happens, when an author successfully accesses a specific cultural artifact that I as the reader have experience with. And so we both bring a set of emotions to the table, creating a wholly new, vibrant experience through the act of reading. I hadn't thought of or heard that song in years. But suddenly I'm singing it in the shower and humming it while I'm driving. And from now on I will associate it with this story and these characters. Speaking of these characters, here's a representative phone conversation between Andie and North which shows a hint of why I keyed into this thing going on between them so quickly:
She sounded worried, and North tried to think of a way to make her feel better and then realized that was ridiculous. She was doing a job for him, she hadn't called for comfort, they weren't married anymore no matter what lies she was telling down there, he had Mrs. Nash waiting, and there was nothing he could do anyway . . . "Do you need me to come down there?"
"No, I can handle this," she said, her voice as confident as ever. "It's the kids I'm worried about. I don't know if I can make things normal for them. I think I can make things better."
"You always make things better."
The silence stretched out at the other end of the phone as he thought, Dumb thing to say, and then she said, "Thank you." Her voice was softer than it had been, and it brought the past rushing back again.
"You're welcome," he said, thinking, Get off the damn phone. "I'll get you your cable and your contractor and somebody to fix the phones."
"I know you will. You always come through."
Jesus. "Call me if there's anything else," he said briskly, trying to find his way back to normal.
"I thought we weren't supposed to talk to each other."
"I was going through an independent phase," North said, and then closed his eyes as her laugh bubbled through the phone.
"That was a helluva long phase. I'll call if there's anything else. You have a good day."
She hung up, and he sat there with the phone in his hand for a minute, trying to find his way back to normal.
There's a lot going on behind those words, and one of the highlights of this book was tracking down those hidden histories, following the progress of this relationship that ignited, flared out, and is trying to find its way back to normal. Another highlight was far and away Andie's relationship with the two kids. Alice and Carter are just barely hanging on. I loved them immediately, and if North did nothing else admirable in this book, I would love him for sending them Andie. She's strong and mouthy, and without blinking an eye she sets herself up as their protector, promising she won't leave until she sets things right. I lapped it up right along with them. Truthfully, I was glad she was there, because this book effectively creeped me out. The roaming spirits and the eerie, bloody history of the house's inhabitants slipped their icy fingers under my skin. And, while the last third of the story got a little too crazy, and I started wishing it had gone back to the restrained tension it mastered in the first two-thirds, I thoroughly enjoyed it for taking me away from it all, giving me characters I could root for, and sending chills down my spine.(less)
This cover. This cover is in the running for my favorite cover of the coming year! I love it that much. And I love the title....moreOriginally published here
This cover. This cover is in the running for my favorite cover of the coming year! I love it that much. And I love the title. And, even more than both of those put together, I love the premise of a sci-fi/cyberpunk retelling of Cinderella with a cyborg as the main character. You should have seen my face when I first found out about CINDER. It's like Marissa Meyer asked me for my list of all that is good and then slapped them together into this book. Add to that the fact that it's the first in a quartet (oh, how I love quartets, see Alanna, and Secret Society Girl, oh, and The President's Daughter), and the name of the series is the Lunar Chronicles. I don't know . . . it kind of seemed like this book and I were a match made in heaven. I've been reading sci-fi for as long as I can remember, and I feel like we don't get enough of it these days in young adult fiction. So I would have been on board for that aspect of the book alone. But a sci-fi/fairy tale mashup? Fuggedabout it. And so it was with much relief that I started it and found out it was legitimate on both counts.
Linh Cinder is a mechanic and a cyborg. Orphaned as a child in a terrible accident, her life was saved when doctors intervened, replacing her missing hand and foot with metal ones. Now she works long hours in her stall at the market in New Beijing, and she goes home to a loveless household headed by her evil stepmother. There's certainly no love lost between these two. But while her older stepsister Pearl takes after her mother in every respect, her younger stepsister Peony is as innocent and sweet as Pearl and her stepmother Adri are cynical and conniving. Unfortunately, Cinder also has the question of class working against her. Cyborgs are second-class citizens in every way. Looked down on, and often outright loathed, by the people of New Beijing, cyborgs are the first to be offered up for medical testing and the last to be invited to social events such as, oh, say--a ball. Incredibly, our girl Cinder is headed for both, though she has no idea yet. Then one day the emperor's son Prince Kai shows up at her stall with an android in need of repair. The emperor himself is dying of the deadly plague letumosis, which has been decimating the population for the past decade. And before she knows it, Cinder is caught up in both the fight against the disease and an unlikely friendship with a young man who has his own set of problems.
CINDER is quite a serious book, both in the sense that it takes itself seriously and that it deals with serious issues, such as death, disease, class conflict, and war. I think I was expecting something lighter, but the whole taking-itself-seriously and the fascinating world building quickly set me at ease. I loved the attention to detail with which Ms. Meyer depicted the grimness of Cinder's life and her world. She's a mechanic and an outcast. She wears castoff coveralls and a worn-out work belt in place of the flouncy dresses and jewels other girls her age are flaunting. And her outlook matches her clothes. Cinder is a realist, and that is my favorite thing about her. She knows the way things work. And mechanics with steel appendages do not make good with emperors' sons. No matter how charming they may be. As a result, there is very little of the lovelorn teenager about this girl. As much as she slowly allows herself to enjoy the prince's company, not once does she fool herself into forgetting the horror that would blossom on his face were he to discover what she is. Instead, she reserves the majority of her emotional energy for fixing up an old car she finds in the junkyard, harboring the long-shot hope that it just might serve as an escape vehicle when the time comes that she can no longer stand her abysmal home life. Then when the plague strikes close by, Cinder taps already flagging reserves of strength to help and support the ones who are stricken. She's tough and pragmatic. We like Cinder, yes we do. Then there's Kai. Prince Kaito. What you need to know about Kai is he's . . . very cute actually. Determined to do right by his own obligations, he won me over as he did Cinder for being more than he seemed. At the same time, this is the aspect of the novel that needed more development, in my humble opinion. I liked that the story took its time, but with all that time, there wasn't actually much of it devoted to these two developing their relationship. What was there was good. I just needed a little more. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be, I wish that the relationships between characters had benefited from the skill applied to the world building and the awesomely creeptastic villain. There's quite a buildup by the end (the end is possibly the best part). But just when things finally get going, it ends. On one big, fat doozy of a cliffhanger. Which is fine. I'm not opposed to cliffhangers, per se. But I did expect just a hint more in the way of resolution depth for such a slow cycling climax. I was left wanting. My needs aside, I thought the characters deserved to have it out. I realize there are three more books in the series, and there is clearly more to come. I just could have done with a little more emotional payoff to keep me believing, if you will. That said, I loved each of Marissa Meyer's clever sci-fi tips of the hat to the elements of the original fairy tale. Word is the next books will incorporate more fairy tales, including Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White. Color me intrigued (and hopeful) for more development in future installments.(less)
Okay. You are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it s...moreOkay. You are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it should come as no surprise when I say that I was filled with glee when I first heard about A. C. Gaughen's upcoming retelling--SCARLET. I liked the cover and, without running down too many spoilery details, I looked forward to the focus on Will Scarlet and the fact that it hailed from a debut author. All of these things add up to that most wonderful of things--possibility. I've reviewed both my favorite Robin Hood retellings here already. And I've read quite a few more. They have all been interesting reads aimed at a variety of types and ages of readers. This particular one is being marketed YA, and I wondered idly, as I anticipated the book, what form my beloved characters would take in this incarnation.
Scarlet is a thief. And a liar. She's a thief and a liar and about twenty different kinds of deadly with her knives. And she's loyal to one person on this earth and one person only--Robin Hood. Also known as Robin of Locksley or (less commonly now) the Earl Huntingdon, Robin gave her a place and a hood to hide behind when Scarlet needed it the most, and now she forms an integral member of his band in Sherwood Forest. Standing up to the ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin, Scarlet, and the lads (Little John and Much) are determined to spare the good folk of Nottinghamshire from the sheriff's wrath for as long as it takes. Outside of her three comrades, few folk have any idea Scarlet is a girl. The boys refer to her as Will, and she has no intention of disobliging anyone of that particular notion. You see, Robin is not the only one with demons in his past. And when the sheriff goes and hires the dreaded Guy of Gisbourne to hunt down the Hood and his band, Scarlet knows her days may at last be numbered. It's only a matter of time before her past catches up with her, and then even Robin's protection may not be enough to keep her from the hangman's noose.
SCARLET is massively entertaining. I was caught up in this unusual thief's story from the first page. At the point in which we meet her, Scarlet herself is eighteen years old. The same age as John and just a couple or three years younger than Rob (I love that she calls him Rob). This age spread worked nicely as Robin is home from the crusades--an old man in a young man's body--and Scarlet herself is an old soul, having prowled the streets of London before Rob hauled her off to Sherwood to join his noble cause. These two broken youths find something akin to hope in each other despite the harshness of their previous lives, and I can't tell you how many times my heart contracted with sympathy for them. The characters in SCARLET like to keep their secrets. Every one of them is holding onto something they'd prefer not come out into the light of day. Nobody more than Scarlet herself, of course, but I appreciated the various histories and enjoyed the ways in which A. C. Gaughen incorporated the many traditional threads of the tale. I'm always a fan of girls in disguise, and this one has the bite to match her bark, if you will. She has few soft spots--possibly just the one--and that one is so rife with impossibility and unspoken hope that it hardly warrants the name. But I happily plunged into those impossible hopes with her and adopted them as my own. Which is to say, Scarlet had my affections from the get go. The boys I liked at first and grew to love (and sometimes hate) as the game unfolded. I like that Robin isn't portrayed perfectly. Don't get me wrong. He's a hero through and through. But he has his fair share of shortsightedness. And ghosts. And I wasn't always sure he deserved the ending I wanted for him. I also wished for a bit more complexity on the part of the villain. There was so much potential for Gisbourne in this retelling, and I felt as though he came off a bit, well, ridiculous at times, when he should have been terrifying. But despite these smallish quibbles, I stayed up hours past my bedtime devouring the final chapters in this delightful debut. If you're at all a fan of Robin Hood and women who know their way around a weapon, you won't want to miss it.(less)
I look forward to this season every year because it means I get to reread SUNSHINE. This is one of my few solid seasonal reads. I revisit it every yea...moreI look forward to this season every year because it means I get to reread SUNSHINE. This is one of my few solid seasonal reads. I revisit it every year for so many reasons. Because it originally came out in October. Because it absolutely encapsulates autumn for me. And Halloween, of course, what with all the vampires and the midnight outings and the smell of fallen leaves and cinnamon rolls in the air. And because it's just one of the biggest Angie books there is. I remember being almost apoplectic with excitement when I heard Robin McKinley was writing a vampire novel. The whole notion filled me with tingles. And imagine how happy I was when it turned out to be better than I could ever have imagined. I know people have strong feelings on this book, one way or the other, and it's certainly not your run-of-the-mill urban fantasy (thank heavens for that). But for those who love feisty girls with thoughts of their own, ugly vampires with developing senses of humor, and wonderfully rich, dense, smart writing, this book may very well have your name on it. As for me, I bought it the day it came out (almost exactly eight years ago). I took it home and read it aloud with DH. And to this day favorite passages and scenes come up in our daily conversation. So as Halloween approaches, a review of my very favorite spooky read.
A side note: I'm not even slightly embarrassed to admit I own all three U.S. editions. If a new edition of SUNSHINE comes out, I buy it. End of story. It helps that they're all so very pretty. If pressed, I will admit that the original hardcover with the chandelier is my favorite. But I adore all three. And the important thing is that they're there. On my shelves. So that when the urge arises, I can take them out and stroke them and know that they're there and that they're loved. I know. But like I said--not even a little embarrassed.
It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn't that dumb. There hadn't been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.
These opening lines set the scene. Sunshine just wanted some solitude. Just a little time away from the strange and chaotic life she leads as the head baker at Charlie's and as her mother's daughter. She gets up every morning at the butt crack of dawn to get the dough going for her famous Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head. And for Sunshine's Killer Zebras. And for Bitter Chocolate Death. And any number of awesome, original desserts and pastries she whips up on a daily basis at Charlie's--her stepfather's diner. She gets up and fights another round with her overprotective, obsessive mother. She gets up and goes out with her former soldier/reformed biker/cook boyfriend Mel. She gets up and gets through another day in New Arcadia--one of the few remaining spots that wasn't utterly demolished by the Voodoo Wars. And all she wanted was a moment alone in a peaceful place. So she drove out to the lake to sit. And that's when they came. And that's where they got her. As everybody knows, you don't hear them coming. Not when they're vampires. And you don't come back either. But Sunshine does come back after her extended and terrifying encounter with one vampire Constantine. She comes back and comes home. But. Even though she's home once more, nothing is the same. For all her surviving the encounter, she may not survive living with herself after.
Sunshine is one of those sarcastic, supremely set-in-her-ways tough girls that I seem to live for. The girl holds my heart in her flour-dusted hands. And because she is rendered in Robin McKinley's trademark prose, she's even more quirky and meandering and tangentially-inclined than those girls usually are. The tangents and meanderings bother some readers, I understand. If long internal monologues aren't your cup of tea, then they're not your cup of tea. But nobody can say that Ms. McKinley didn't go all-out hardcore when she sat down to write an urban fantasy. Because she did. And I love SUNSHINE with the fierce kind of love I reserve for those characters and stories that take no prisoners and make no apologies. I knew I would love Sunshine herself on page two when she set out to describe her stepfather.
Charlie is one of the big good guys in my universe.
There's so much fight and heart in that simple statement. Her relationship with Charlie is a highlight of the book, as he took her in as his own, gave her a job and a way out, and understood her when her mother could only scream. The way she introduced him made me love her. Many of Rae's rambling monologues include wry, self-effacing asides that always make me grin. For example:
I didn't want to know that the monster that lived under your bed when you were a kid not only really is there but used to have a few beers with your dad.
Set against the backdrop of almost certain doom, these barbs of humor secured my affection the way nothing else could have. I laugh a lot when I read SUNSHINE. I also shiver deliciously with fear. Which brings us to Con. As if Sunshine wasn't enough, Robin McKinley had to go and write Con--a vampire as far removed from the sexy-sparkly variety as is inhumanly possible. I really don't know of any other author who could make me fall in love with a vampire with skin the color of old mushrooms and a voice that unhinges your spine. But fall in love with Con I did. Or, more precisely, fall in love with the unlikely alliance of Sunshine-and-Con I did. It is this unprecedented friendship between human and vampire that is the real heart of the book. And it is made more believable (and much more valuable) by the lengths to which the author goes to to display how antithetical, how other, they are from one another. These two are not drawn together by attraction or random circumstance. They are bound together by the will to survive, by the refusal to live at the expense of another life, and by a slow-simmering, if uncomfortable, mutual admiration. The combination of Sunshine's jittery rambles and Con's remote and ominous silences gets me every time. As does the smart, knotty writing, Sunshine's passion for what she does, and the wonderful, wonderful restraint exercised to let the story unfold in its own way. Every time I read it, I find extra nuance and sympathy. And a perfect ending. As only she knows how to write them. This book, you guys. This best of all combinations of fairy tale, urban fantasy, and horror story. Neil Gaiman notably described it as "pretty much perfect," and I have to concur. I never tire of it. It's October once more, and I'm feeling that familiar SUNSHINE pull. Which copy shall I read this time?(less)
The time has come. I knew that at some point I would have to review Daughter of the Forest. Do you ever go through your book reviews and realize you h...moreThe time has come. I knew that at some point I would have to review Daughter of the Forest. Do you ever go through your book reviews and realize you haven't reviewed one of your favorite books of all time? And the reason is simply that you read it before reviewing was even a twinkle in your eye. You may have talked about it here, there, and everywhere. You may have heckled dear friends shamelessly until they broke down and read it. But you haven't actually reviewed it. And the other day I realized that was the case here. Despite the fact that I've read everything Juliet Marillier has written, I've only actually reviewed two of her books. And so while I feel like I've talked and talked about it, it's only in references here and there. Okay, sometimes impassioned exclamations. But you catch my drift. So I decided it was only right to go back to the beginning and tell you how and why and when my love for this book began. And it began, as so many wonderful things in my life have, on a plane to Italy. I needed a book to read on the flight over to visit my folks, and I had been eyeing this one in the bookstore for awhile. I knew it was a retelling of the Seven Swans fairy tale, which was a mark in its favor even though I was pretty unfamiliar with that particular tale at the time. It was a debut novel by an Australian author with a beautiful French name. And it just looked so lovely. So I snagged a copy and cracked it open after my beverage service, with a lovely long night ahead in which to lose myself in the writing. Which I promptly did somewhere in the middle of the first paragraph.
Three children lay on the rocks at the water's edge. A dark-haired little girl. Two boys, slightly older. This image is caught forever in my memory, like some fragile creature preserved in amber. Myself, my brothers. I remember the way the water rippled as I trailed my fingers across the shining surface.
Shivers of delight, my friends. That's what that opening sent down my spine then, and that's what I felt just now as I typed it. Published over a decade ago now, this book loses none of its magic over time. Rather it grows stronger and more captivating with each read.
The seventh child of a seventh son, Sorcha is the daughter who should have been a son--that most magical of all beings--a seventh son of a seventh son. Instead she is a girl. And with six older brothers and a mother long dead, she grows up wild and free at the heart of the forest of Sevenwaters. And while her father, Lord Colum, has been ever distant and forbidding, her brothers have always been there to watch out for her and to teach her. Especially Finbar. So close that they are often able to tell what the other is thinking or feeling, Sorcha knows something is wrong when Finbar goes suddenly distant and troubled shortly after her father's men haul in a stranger from foreign parts found trespassing on their land. It's all very cloak and dagger, but it quickly progresses to a nightmare, when Finbar defies his father and sneaks the prisoner out under cover of night. Sorcha's healing skills are immediately called upon to treat the wounds her father's men inflicted upon him. In the meantime, her father shocks them all by marrying again. His chosen bride, the Lady Oonagh, fills the boys and Sorcha with an almost irrational fear. But it's not till the prisoner she has worked so hard to help disappears, followed shortly by her brothers, that Sorcha comprehends the magnitude of her danger. For a spell has been cast on those she holds dear. Turned into swans, her brothers are gone, only to reappear briefly each Midsummer's Eve. Prompted by the Fair Folk themselves, Sorcha makes a terrible bargain, exchanging her voice and her home for a faraway land, a stranger's protection, and the slimmest of chances to restore her brothers and her fragile peace.
A retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale set in 9th century Ireland, this gorgeous historical fantasy shot right to the top of my comfort reads list the moment I closed the final page. Happily, in my experience, it has proved to be one of those books that binds people together through their shared love of its characters and their story. An example of a young woman triumphing over evil through love, sacrifice, and unfathomable determination, Daughter of the Forest is also a truly remarkable bit of storytelling. Sorcha is at the heart of it, with her love for her brothers, and the way she gives of herself, harnessing her considerable skills and will to bring them back from the brink of annihilation. What a daring feat of storytelling to strike your heroine literally silent for the majority of the book and still render her incredibly vibrant and active within the narrative. Everything comes together so perfectly in this book, as it is historical novel, fantasy epic, and flawless fairy tale retelling at once. And it is, of course, also a love story. How could it not be? Even now I find it difficult to express my feelings about this aspect of the story except to say that these two have one of the most tender, romantic, and equal relationships I've had the fortune to witness. The love story will lay you out flat, it's that outstanding. Here, a non-spoilery section taken from my very favorite scene in the book:
It was getting late. The beach was half in shadow, the sky darkening. I realized there would be no return to Harrowfield that night. He did not press me for my answer; he just stood there, watching the seals, waiting. He had done a lot of waiting. A scrap of parchment lay on the rocks behind him; the rising breeze threatened to snatch it away from the round stone that had held it there while the ink dried. There he had made his final meticulous markings that morning as he sat there in the sun; that morning that seemed, already, so long ago. But there were no tallies of cattle or crops on this page, only pictures, small delicate pictures in careful pen strokes. I had watched him at this task before, and marveled at how he could choose to work, and disregard the wonder of the place that surrounded him. But it seemed he had not needed to look, to know its beauty. For this sheet showed the open sky, and the smooth, shining surfaces of wet stones, and the curling lace of breakers. It showed the great seals with their knowing eyes, and the flight of the gulls against tiny scudding clouds. At the foot, very small, was the last image he had made. A young woman running, her hair blown out behind her like a dark, wild cloud, her gown whipped against her body by the breeze, her face alight with joy. Red reached across and picked up the parchment, slipping it out of sight between the boards and away into his pack. I thought, after all this time, I do not know this man. I don't know him at all.
And that is how she writes. That's the kind of breathtaking emotion Juliet Marillier can evoke in her characters and in her readers. Nothing could possibly erase my memory of this scene or my memory of reading it for the first time. Sorcha and Red. The wind on the waves. Her blue dress trailing in the sea. And so much unsaid between them. I think of it often, when I am in need of a quiet, perfect moment. The best part is, this scene is just one of many, including a climactic moment that had me literally losing my grip on the book and gasping aloud it is so intense. Those of you who've read it, you know the one I mean. Finest, finest kind. My original copy is absolutely falling apart. I tend to treat my books rather tenderly. And I'm pretty sure this is the most shocking state any of mine are in. But really what can you expect when it's been read and handed out and reread and handed out so many times that it's literally falling apart at the seams? Someone along the way kindly stuck some tape in there on the worst parts. I can't tell you how many times I've lingeringly run my finger over that lovely raised foil F on the cover. This is a book both well-read and well-loved. I hope a copy finds its way into your home and your heart someday. I hope it never leaves.(less)
What a beautiful cover. I remember when I first saw it my initial thought was, Oh, please don't let it suck. I know that sou...moreOriginally published here.
What a beautiful cover. I remember when I first saw it my initial thought was, Oh, please don't let it suck. I know that sounds harsh, but sometimes a cover just calls out to you and you know when you finally hold a physical copy of the book itself you'll just want to stroke it and love it and tell it it's found its home on your shelves. Unfortunately, the innards (as my boy is fond of saying) don't always match the outtards. And then I am forced to cry. Because . . . so pretty. So when a review copy of Stacey Jay's JULIET IMMORTAL came my way, I held my breath. Just a bit. Okay, maybe for the first five pages or so. Thankfully, that's all it took. Because this innovative retelling (of sorts) of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has teeth. And they sank into me with delicious ferocity. This was my first foray with Stacey Jay, though I know she has a handful of books already out. After this encounter, I look forward to checking out her other work.
Juliet Capulet's nightmare is never going to end. No one knows what really happened to her. Murdered by her true love, Juliet is saved at the last minute by powerful but nebulous forces of good (known as the Ambassadors), who recruit her immortal soul in their timeless battle against the powers of evil (known as the Mercenaries). Filled with grief and hate at Romeo's unforgivable action, Juliet accepts the offer and finds herself pitted against Romeo, who essentially sold his soul to the Mercs for promised immortality. And the two of them face one another over and over and over again. For seven hundred years, they've been racing against the clock and each other to save (in Juliet's case) or damn (in Romeo's) pairs of soul mates, literally slipping into human bodies (in Juliet's case) and dead ones (in Romeo's) in order to sway their charges for good or ill. Each and every time Romeo tries to kill Juliet and Juliet fights back and escapes, though she is forbidden from taking his life as part of her mission for the Ambassadors. But this time--this mission--something is different. And they can both tell. This time more seems to be riding on the outcome than just a point scored for one side or the other. This time it's difficult to tell just who exactly are the soul mates, just who loves who. This time Juliet may not escape with her immortal soul intact.
JULIET IMMORTAL wins because it is both a competent retelling and re-envisioning of the most famous star-crossed lovers of all time, while managing not to forget the ruthlessness, violence, and eerie inevitability of the original. In fact, I thought Stacey Jay's clever explanations went a long way toward fleshing out the characters and events of the play. I certainly loved the life and depth she breathed into both leads. How brave Juliet is. And evil Romeo? Where have you been all my life? There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This Romeo is evil, he's out for Juliet's blood, and the enmity between them is real. The story starts off with a bang, literally, as Juliet is flung into the body of a girl who has just decided to end it all and drive the car she's in off a cliff, taking her shoddy date with her. It's one of my favorite scenes in the book and the first one to give me real chills. Right after the crash (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Dylan's eyes flutter open.
Even in the moonlight shining through the ceiling they look dark, peculiar. There's something strange about this boy, something warped inside him. I'm not surprised that he played a cruel trick on Ariel, but I'm curious to see what he'll do next. How will he deal with the fact that she nearly killed them both?
"Ariel?" he asks, his voice slurred. "Are you okay?"
"Ye-yes, I think so." Maybe he doesn't remember how the car crashed? If so, I won't be helping him with his recall. I keep my expression carefully blank. "Are you okay?"
"I think I'm fine. I . . . think I might be . . ." His words fade as he leans closer. He's staring at me. I can feel it, though his chin is tipped down, creating hollows the light through the roof can't touch.
The roof! I look up, and a sigh of relief escapes my lips. Glass. It's made of glass! Thank goodness. Getting out of this car seems like a better idea with every passing second. If Dylan is this disturbing at eighteen, he'll be a serial killer by the time he's twenty.
"We'll be fine. We just need to get out." I lift blood-slicked fingers to pry at the latch, ignoring Dylan when he leans even closer.
The sunroof is manually operated. I see that the glass panel can pop out, but the mechanism gives me a bit of trouble. Still, I'll get it open and there will be plenty of room for us to fit through the hole. Me first, of course.
"I'm sorry, could I--" He exhales, his breath hot on my neck. I fight the urge to shudder. "Could I ask you something?"
He wants to talk. Lovely.
I sigh. "Sure." I pull on the hinges, then realize I should have been pushing and sigh again.
"Has anyone told you your hair looks silver in the moonlight?"
I glance in the rearview mirror. My new hair does look silver, like something from a fairy tale. And the rest of what I can see of myself is equally haunting--shocking, really.
Why does Ariel think herself so repulsive? Huge blue eyes dominate my new face, dwarfing my small nose and thin lips. The scars on my cheek and jaw are visible, but they aren't as terrible as Ariel thinks. The face looking back at me is attractive, compelling. There's something about it that makes you want to look twice.
So I do, staring a little too long, giving myself away.
Dylan laughs, his lips suddenly far too close to mine. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"
No. It can't be. We've never-- He's never--
"Did you miss me, love?" He kisses me on the cheek, a rough, playful kiss that leaves a bit of wet behind.
Dylan has died after all. And Romeo has found a corpse. It's my last thought before his hands are around my throat.
Yep. Chills. There's also a pretty sweet love story going on within the pages. I was delighted with who Stacey Jay chose for Juliet and how she updated him for a contemporary take. Their initial encounter is another of my very favorite scenes in the book, and my affection for them lasted for the duration the story. So much so that I actually could have done with a little more connection between the modern boy and the one from the play as it would have enriched the bond for me. That part, along with one section in which Juliet sort of uncharacteristically fails to make a few connections, are the only instances that bothered me a bit. Otherwise, the novel's strengths stood out, particularly older-and-wise Juliet herself. She's such a strong character, able to contain a plethora of rich and complex emotions. She is clawing her way toward revenge or peace, whichever comes first. I loved her fire, and I loved how the writing reflected her rage and pain, without marring that original, first love between the two kids from Verona. Rather, it supports its authenticity in all its breathless perfection. Which then only highlights the atrocious betrayal and the loss she feels. It's all very affecting and enjoyable. As is Juliet's foray in young Ariel's body. Her interactions with Ariel's well-nigh estranged mother and her problematic best friend Gemma are nuanced and gripping. Lastly, I do have to say that my favorite thing about this book is that it scared me. There are a couple of scenes in particular that gave me the cold shivers, and I just love it when that happens. All in all, JULIET IMMORTAL is an unexpectedly visceral read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to handing it around.(less)
I talk about my love for Robin McKinley's books a lot. I know everyone's read Beauty. It was her first book. It's essentially a classic of fairy tale...moreI talk about my love for Robin McKinley's books a lot. I know everyone's read Beauty. It was her first book. It's essentially a classic of fairy tale retellings now. And I love it and will always love it for giving me a Beauty who was not beautiful and avoided mirrors at all cost and a Beast with a library of books from all the ages, including ones that hadn't even been written yet. Makes my little heart sing just thinking of it and the way I absorbed it when I was twelve. But fewer people are as familiar with Ms. McKinley's second retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. If you have a free moment, it's really worth hopping over to her site to read the wonderful essay, "The Story Behind Rose Daughter." It's lovely. When I discovered she was returning to her favorite fairy tale twenty years later and giving it a fresh new take in an entirely new novel, my skin tingled with anticipation. And not a little curiosity at just how she would give the story she'd done so well by a fresh take and whether or not it would capture my imagination the way the original did. People seem to be very divided on their loyalties to these two books. Some would fight to the death for Beauty and don't give ROSE DAUGHTER a second glance. Others feel quite the opposite and gravitate toward the slightly more lush second version. I've listened to these conversations. As for me, my heart is big enough to love them both. And I am so glad she wrote both books. Because someone who understands and loves that particular fairy tale the way it seems she does should never stop telling it, in my opinion. I would read a third and a fourth version and I will re-read these two for the rest of my life.
Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream. It was also her only clear memory of her mother.
Beauty and her two older sisters Jeweltongue and Lionheart live with their father in the city. Their lives have been rather gentle ones, filled with plenty to eat, soft beds, and the best society has to offer. Though they lost their mother early on, they have managed to make a good life with their father, each pursuing the hobbies and talents they love, as represented by their names. Lionheart is brave and strong and loves riding and sport more than anything else. Jeweltongue knows exactly what to say in every situation, sets people at ease, and sews and embroiders the most beautiful dresses. Beauty loves nature. She loves flowers and gardens and especially roses, in all their varieties and iterations, because they remind her of her mother. Then tragedy strikes. Their father loses all his wealth and they are forced to move to tiny Rose Cottage far away in the countryside. The sisters' talents are put to good use earning what meager money they can and their lives are changed in starkly unimaginable ways. But none more than Beauty's. All her life she's had the same dream. More of a nightmare, really. In which she is walking down a long hallway, uncertain of the mystery she will find behind that final door, but dreading it all the same and filled with the terror that she will both eventually get there and not get there in time. The usual events follow and Beauty takes her father's place and finds herself living in the Beast's home, where his lovely rose garden is dying. But, of course, everything is more than meets the eye, and Beauty will, in the end, have to make the hardest decision of all.
Roses are for love. Not silly sweet-hearts' love but the love that makes you and keeps you whole, love that gets you through the worst your life'll give you and that pours out of you when you're given the best instead.
Sigh. I love this book so much. It is, without a doubt, a more adult retelling of the fairy tale. And I don't mean that there is any potentially objectionable in it at all. I merely mean that you can feel the depth of experience and emotion in the work, which I think represents what the author brings to the tale twenty years after she first retold it. The sisters feel a bit older, a bit more mature, though I always love that McKinley represents them as loving and kind to one another and as in the whole thing together. The Beast himself feels more ancient to me, closer to the end of his long existence, and we get even more background information on how he came to be the way he was and what his interminable penance has really been like. And the love of beauty and gardens and all living things permeates the page in such a way that I, who am the most unskilled and amateur of gardeners, go looking for a spade and seeds the minute I put the book down. The language in ROSE DAUGHTER swallows me up as well. I find myself eternally charmed by the archetypal names and the various village denizens the girls encounter: Miss Trueword, Mrs. Words-Without-End, Mrs. Bestcloth. Each personality is distinct and you can tell that they each have their own vital stories playing out, even as the focus remains on Beauty and her path. Each time I read it, I relish getting lost with her in the ever-changing castle that is the Beast's home, as the words and the corridors wrap their twisty novelty around me and the heady magic that suffuses the place and the world has its way with me. The romance is wonderful and just as it should be. The magic is dense and carefully woven. And the descriptions so visual I can call them to mind on any given day, so vibrant are the impressions they made on me. And the ending, you say? Well, you shall have to find out for yourself. To me, it is perfect. I'm interested what it is to you. (less)
I've had my eye on this one ever since I heard it was a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I haven't read a Christopher Golden book in quite a long...moreI've had my eye on this one ever since I heard it was a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I haven't read a Christopher Golden book in quite a long time and I was anxious to see what he was up to lately and how his take on the fairy tale stood up. My favorite retelling of Sleepy Beauty is Robin McKinley's Spindle's End (surprise, surprise) and that one definitely reshapes the tale in new and beautiful ways to allow Rosie to take a much more active role in her own life and with regards to the curse she lives under for so many years. Frankly, I was interested to see how a male writer would envision a modern version of the story and I really was not disappointed in the least.
Rose wakes up in a hospital bed in an unfamiliar place, with the people around her speaking a language she cannot understand. Confused and disoriented, it isn't until her two aunts come into the room that she feels the first quaking reassurances that she is not crazy. For she recognizes her aunts and they speak in her native French to her. When she responds without trouble, and even begins to remember the English she once knew, the doctors relax a little. Having been in a coma for several years, it comes as a huge surprise to Rose that her aunts brought her to America to receive the best treatment they could find. They live in a small brownstone in downtown Boston and, as soon as she's ready and recuperated, they're going to take her there and help her pick up the threads of her life. And recover she does. But the dreams don't go away. Every night Rose dreams she is a princess in a faraway land, watching her father prepare the country for war, knowing it is a losing battle. Dark forces are assembling to destroy her kingdom and it seems Rose herself may be the only hope for averting total destruction. But her aunts brush these dreams off as vestiges of her coma and Rose tries to shrug them away as she starts school and tries to jump start her life again.
Christopher Golden has come up with a great angle from which to tell this familiar tale. Waking up from the coma and only catching bits and snatches of her former life in disturbing dreams, it's easy for Rose to believe this is the only life she's ever led and that her Aunt Fay and her Aunt Suzette have nothing but her best interests at heart and are only trying to help her begin anew. I loved the strength Rose possessed, even with how fragmented her memory was and I loved how much she longed for normalcy and friends and earnestly went after the things she wanted. With her flowing skirts and straightforward attitude, she won me over even as she won over Kaylie, Dom, and Jared. Shunned by the popular crowd, and dubbed "Coma Girl" by pretty much everyone, she pushes through the horrors of high school with a determination and a thick skin I fully admired. Hampered by her seemingly insanely overprotective aunts, Rose struggles to engage in any kind of social life. Even with exuberant Kaylie and quietly interested Jared around encouraging her to step out a little and have some fun, Rose finds it hard to disobey her aunts in even the most minor of ways. I liked her for it. As aching as those restraints were, it was clear that her aunts were hiding something. Something huge. And I waited with baited breath for Rose to discover what it was and see how she chose to handle that new and fantastic knowledge. It really was her integrity of character and the very sweetly developing relationship with Jared that glued me to the page. The final conflict does happen rather suddenly (though pretty spectacularly) and I could have done with a slightly more protracted resolution--but when could I ever not? Overall, WHEN ROSE WAKES is a thoroughly engaging, light read and one I enjoyed from cover to cover. Recommended for fans of fairy tale retellings, gentle love stories, and strong heroines.(less)
THE JUMBEE somehow flew under my radar for quite awhile and I only became aware of it when I saw reviews popping up on a couple of trusted friends' si...moreTHE JUMBEE somehow flew under my radar for quite awhile and I only became aware of it when I saw reviews popping up on a couple of trusted friends' sites. What's that you say? A Phantom of the Opera retelling? Indeed? A YA Phantom of the Opera retelling, set in the Caribbean, in the present day? How on earth have I not read this book already? Fortunately, the benevolent Holly offered to let me borrow her copy and I jumped into it with uncharacteristic abandon at a time when only a string of old standbys were doing anything for me. And that was the first mark in its favor. I had no trouble whatsoever falling into THE JUMBEE's world. In fact, I gave myself over to its whimsical and deathly charms without batting an eye. Pamela Keyes' inventive retelling was just what the doctor ordered and I'm so glad I decided to give it a shot. It should be noted that, while I am not what you might call a rabid Phantom of the Opera (the musical) fan, it did sort of rock my world when I went to see it for the first time at the age of 16, and I have a fondness for the story and music that persists to this day.
Esti Legard has made a rash decision, but one she feels certain is the right one. In the wake of her famous father's death, she and her mother packed their bags and moved from their longtime home in Oregon to the small house her father owned on the island of Cariba in the West Indies. One of the most lauded Shakespearean actors of his time, Esti's father's spirit is still very much with her as she gathers her courage to try out for the part of Juliet in the local high school's production of Romeo & Juliet. Everyone there knows her name. Everyone knows her father's name and watches her for signs of having inherited a portion of his greatness. Meanwhile, her mother struggles to move on and worries about Esti as she becomes more and more involved in the disturbing events taking place at the school theater. The locals have their eye on Esti and murmur words of an evil spirit known as the Jumbee returning to the theater. The sudden death of a student rocks the little town. And the return of a former childhood friend turned local bad boy has Esti's emotions in a complete tailspin, especially as she's already more than halfway in love with the elusive Alan--the man she's never once seen, but whose voice haunts her dreams. The talented Shakespeare aficionado who coaches her, who gives her confidence, and who clearly loves the stage every bit as much as she does.
I read (and fell in love with) Gaston Leroux's original Phantom of the Opera long before I ever saw the musical. I loved how genuinely creepy it was and how he made the whole thing feel so real. I wondered how Pamela Keyes would take on these themes after transplanting the characters to high school and to such an unexpected setting. But, you know, it flowed beautifully. I loved the setting, with its rich history, colorful culture, and natural beauty. It was the ideal backdrop for this story of passion and drama, pain and longing. I loved Alan. I crept down the path of his dark history along with Esti, afraid what I would find, certain it would be worse than I thought. I liked Rafe and his easy friendship with Esti. He seemed a very logical Raoul and his temper and assumptions made more sense at this age and in this context. But he came through in ways I didn't expect and I have to say, somewhat dreading the ending as I was, I felt distinctly relieved at the way it unfolded. It was, in some ways, a more hopeful conclusion than this story has seen in the past. That's not to say that Ms. Keyes alters it in unacceptable ways, but merely that all three of the lead characters handled things strongly and surely and I felt that and loved them for it. As love triangles go, this is a good one. This one is not a waste of your time. The storyline is well-paced and thoughtfully laid out so that I was never bored, despite the familiar subject matter, and I enjoyed every aspect of it, especially the added bonus of all the wonderful Shakespeare. THE JUMBEE is a worthy retelling and I highly recommended for fans of the original or anyone in the mood for a spooky love story with all the trimmings.(less)
I have had my eye on this book ever since I saw it pop up around the blogosphere a few months back. As you know, I am a sucker of the largest order fo...moreI have had my eye on this book ever since I saw it pop up around the blogosphere a few months back. As you know, I am a sucker of the largest order for a good retelling. Retold fairy tales in particular are a weakness of mine, but when I saw that April Lindner's upcoming novel JANE was, in fact, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, I didn't know my heart could beat quite that fast. I got my masters in literature, specifically Victorian lit, and Jane Eyre has been a special favorite of mine ever since I first read it on a cross country road trip when I was 14. As I am also a huge fan of historical fiction and YA, I think we can safely say I am sitting just about dead center in this novel's target audience. But it should also be noted that quite a bit of that quickening heartbeat can be chalked up to this breathtaking cover. I want to marry this cover. I think it perfectly conveys what you are getting with this package--from the misty moors landscape feel, to the girl in the timeless outfit that could be either Victorian or present day, to the bold pink lettering of the title. It's a modern Jane Eyre. It's got some excellently updated twists. It is at once faithful and fresh. In other words--it's the real deal.
Jane Moore walks up the stone steps of Discriminating Nannies, Inc. with several desperate hopes in her heart. Having just completed her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence, she is forced to drop out and search for work as a nanny when her parents are killed in a car crash and her indifferent siblings make off with what inheritance there is, leaving Jane to give up her education and scramble to support herself as best she can. An art major with only a few child development classes under her belt to qualify her for the job, she feels certain the agency won't deign to look twice at her short resume, but will send her packing in short order. It turns out, however, that she does have one rare and highly sought after qualification. Shy and somewhat taciturn by nature, she does not bother to keep up with popular culture. And, as such, she just might be the perfect nanny for one of the agency's high profile clients. Nico Rathburn, an enormously famous rock star who is trying to mount a comeback tour, has recently found himself in need of a nanny to look after his five-year-old daughter Maddy. And, just like that, Jane is off to Mr. Rathburn's Connecticut mansion Thornfield Park. With a single suitcase containing all her meager belongings, she approaches her new position with some hope but much more trepidation, wondering if she'll be up to the task of being in such close proximity to the rock star's infamously wild lifestyle and temperament in addition to taking care of his little girl. But Thornfield Park turns out to be not at all what she expected. And neither does Nico Rathburn.
Reader, I loved this book so much I can't stop thinking about it. I had such a gut feeling about JANE from the first time I heard about it and it really is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world when your first uninformed impressions of a book come true. It was honestly difficult putting this one down at night and then getting through the next day all the way until reading time once more. I kept eying it, sitting there in my purse. I finished it somewhere in the vicinity of 2 AM a couple of nights ago, with an enormous grin on my face and no one to talk to about it. You see, this is an incredibly faithful retelling. I was actually caught off guard at how closely it sticks to the original tale. What made it even more astonishing, however, was how April Lindner managed to keep so much from the original story and make it her own at the same time. It exists in the marvelous space, where the old and the new meet and wonderful things happen. Nothing about it felt odd or disjointed. This Jane is definitely a descendant of the original. She is just as independent, just as practical and plainspoken and consistent. And Ms. Lindner delicately brought out her vulnerable side, born of such a solitary upbringing, and my heart went out to her. I loved her and worried about her. I wanted to protect her from what I knew was coming. But the thing is? She didn't need me. She was fully up to the task of her story and I was free to sit back, mesmerized, and enjoy the whole thing unfold. A favorite passage from one of Jane's few remembrances of her childhood (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
On one of my days off, cold rain kept me in my room until late afternoon when the sun finally broke through. I pulled on my rainboots, grabbed my raincoat and my tackle box full of art supplies, and hurried out the door. It felt so good to be outside that for once I didn't stop at the high iron fence surrounding Thornfield Park. The guard on duty was a young, open-faced man with long blond hair. He waved me through the gate, smiling, and looked for a moment as though he wanted to speak to me. I considered stopping to introduce myself, but the very thought brought a flush to my cheeks. I looked down at my feet, letting my hair fall forward to curtain my face, and kept hurrying on.
"Smile at the other children," I remember my mother telling me at the little playground near our house. "Don't cling to me. Go over to the monkey bars and say hello."
I followed her instructions and walked over to the monkey bars. I even tried to say hello to the laughing girls hanging upside down from the topmost bars, but they were so happy and familiar with each other, their long hair sweeping from side to side like banners, that I felt the words die in my mouth. I stood frozen a long time until, still laughing and chattering, the girls unfurled down to the ground and ran off to the swings.
My mother's anxiety about my social skills grew more acute the older I got. "By the time she was your age, Jenna had three boys fighting over her," she would say. "Why don't you ever go on dates?" Usually I would brush the question off and retreat to my room, but once I made the mistake of answering.
"I'm not as pretty as Jenna," I said, as though it needed saying.
"If you smiled you'd be more approachable." She put a hand on my arm. "Isn't there a boy you like?"
There was: Michael, a popular boy with creamy skin, roses in his cheeks, and dark brown eyes, a basketball player. I'd liked him since fourth grade. Unlike the other popular boys, he wasn't unkind to girls like me. Once in junior high when the bell rang, I left my pencil case on my desk, and he ran after me, shouting my name.
"You forgot this." He pressed the case into my hands. "It's nice. You wouldn't want to lose it." He was gone before I could thank him. But he knew my name. And he had cared enough to run after me. The next time I saw him, I wanted to speak to him but hadn't dared to.
"Well?" asked my mother. "There's no boy you like?"
I couldn't bring myself to utter his name, to break the magic spell of secrecy and expose my crush to the ordinary light of day. "Not really."
My mother withdrew her hand. "You're a cold fish," she said.
Tears rose to my eyes. I knew there was no use pleading my case, and before I could think of anything more to say, she turned and walked away. "I'm not," I whispered to the empty room.
I love that whisper sent out into the void. She is not. And her spirit will not be dimmed by rough treatment on the part of people who ought to love her. And--while we're on the subject of love. JANE features a splendid one. I have noted that, despite my love for the original book, I often have trouble with May-December romances, in which there is a large age gap between the two principal characters. But I was immediately and fully behind Jane and Nico. Nico is . . . well, Nico is hot. Yeah. You're going to love Nico. The rock star angle works exceedingly well and definitely adds a sexier tone to the novel as a whole. His history is nothing if not cringe-worthy and it is in turns painful and hilarious watching these two beings from different worlds interact. Their relationship is handled so simply and naturally that it somehow becomes its own entity, both echoing and extending the relationship that inspired it. I fell in love with them on their own merits, if you will. At times, my pulse raced for them. This book has the potential to be an excellent crossover novel as these two are old souls and their romance reflects that, enhanced as it is by the modern setting. Happily, the writing matches the characterization. Assured and smooth, I felt shored up by the words. How many books have you read where you already knew exactly what was going to happen, and yet they still held you spellbound? Because that's exactly what happened to me here. As with the best retellings, JANE will leave you utterly satisfied, and with a strong desire to pull out that old copy of Jane Eyre and settle in for a nice, long visit with old friends. (less)
As soon as I heard about Sarah Beth Durst's retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale, I felt that old familiar tug. I've read Edi...moreAs soon as I heard about Sarah Beth Durst's retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale, I felt that old familiar tug. I've read Edith Pattou's East and Jessica Day George's Sun and Moon Ice and Snow and enjoyed parts of both of them very much, though neither captured my imagination the way I really wanted them to. You see, as it is basically a Norse version of Beauty and the Beast, I've always felt I ought to love this fairy tale more than I do. But I've been vaguely but persistently dissatisfied with every retelling I've read. I'm beginning to think this is a problem with the source material, a mismatch between us if you will, and not necessarily with the retellings themselves. As I've talked about before, it's a problematic storyline in many ways and particularly difficult to pull off in novel form, I think. Yet somehow I eagerly anticipate each new attempt, hoping this one will be the one.
Cassie loves ice. She was raised on it and has very little inkling of or interest in the world outside the Arctic research station that has been her home for the past eighteen years. As a little girl raised by her dedicated researcher father, she lived for those nights when her grandmother would tell her the story of her mother. Even though she knew it was only a fairy tale, Cassie never tired of the story of the rebellious daughter of the North Wind who defied her father and escaped an arranged marriage to the Polar Bear King to run away with her father, only to be blown away to the land of the trolls for her transgressions. To a little girl desperate for her mother, this story serves as a precious dream about what life would have been like if it had all gone well. But when she turns eighteen, Cassie's life changes. An ancient and enormous polar bear shows up and talks to her. He tells her her time is up and he is there to collect on his end of the bargain her mother made with the North Wind. He will have Cassie for his bride and carry her off to his ice palace. Being the smart cookie that she is, Cassie makes her own deal. If the bear rescues her mother from the trolls in that land east of the sun and west of the moon, she will marry him. The bear achieves the impossible and off they go.
The first half of this book is extremely strong and utterly enjoyable. I loved that Cassie had such a forceful personality, and I loved even more that Bear was allowed to be a vibrant character. In my past experience with this tale, so much of my problem with it seemed to stem from a lack of development of the bear's character and, therefore, a distinct lack of depth to the relationship between the girl and her intended. This was not a problem at all in the first half of ICE. Cassie is rugged and determined and smart with it. Bear is equally intent on achieving his goal and on his responsibilities as a munaqsri, or guardian of souls. This aspect of the world building was especially strong. I loved how unique it felt and the way Durst drew on Inuit legends and folklore felt very organic and fresh. As a result of these strengths, combined with the fact that she actually gave her leads time to get to know each other, I was immediately drawn to their developing relationship. It is sweet and slow and readable and just an all-around treat. One moment when Bear is in his human form standing behind Cassie as the two of them gaze out at the beauty of sunset over the frozen tundra actually had me catching my breath it was so lovely. At about the halfway mark, the bear is captured and it's up to Cassie to rescue him. This is normally the point where things get awesome in a story and I am 100 percent behind the heroine going in, guns a-blazin', and getting the job done. Unfortunately, everything slowed down just when it should have sped up. Bear is out of the equation and, unfortunately and rather surprisingly, Cassie doesn't hold the whole thing up on her own. She's traveling, traveling, traveling in the ice and snow and some things happen but never to their full potential. By the time she finally reaches the trolls I've lost interest in whether she'll win or not. The momentum and narrative thread are scattered in ten different directions and the final page in which things wrap up can't make up for the loss. Once again I'm filled with a sense of so much potential somehow unfulfilled. I truly loved the first half, but it drifted slowly downhill from there. And yet. I remain hopeful. Maybe the next one will be the one.(less)
LADY OF THE FOREST is my second favorite Robin Hood retelling, after The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. I've talked about Roberson's Sword-Dan...moreLADY OF THE FOREST is my second favorite Robin Hood retelling, after The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. I've talked about Roberson's Sword-Dancer saga here before, but her historicals are written in such a markedly different style from her SF/F that they deserve their own discussion. I also discovered her through this book and will always be glad I picked it up that day, despite how thick it was, and despite the cover featuring Marian's neverending braids. Actually, I think it's quite a pretty cover. I love the font, the banner-style heading, and the general composition. But those braids...
Marian of Ravenskeep has lost her father. Cut down while on Crusade, all she got was a letter informing her of his death. No explanation. No words of condolence. Merely the fact that he is gone. And then Robert of Locksley returns home from Crusade. Marian attends the lavish homecoming the earl his father throws for him in the hopes that Sir Robert knew of her father and might have some bit of information to give her about how he died. The moment they lock eyes, though, she knows it is hopeless. The young man she remembers as a solitary, withdrawn youth from her childhood, has grown into a forbidding man with no time for pleasantries. No longer the innocent young man she remembers, his eyes are black with shadows. Haunted by the atrocities of war, by his years of captivity within Saladin's walls, Robin of Locksley has not one ounce of available energy left to shoulder the burden of a young woman's grief. Until her face breaks through the fog of indifference he surrounds himself with and he remembers the promise he made and the message he failed to deliver.
Roberson wrote this Robin Hood retelling, for all intents and purposes, as a prequel to the standard tale. The subtitle reads, "A Novel of Sherwood," and it is apt as the meat of this story follows all the traditional central players as they first meet, find their way to Sherwood, and become the people they need to be to need Robin. To want to join him in Sherwood and take their lives in their hands by defying the Sheriff of Nottingham. Throughout the story the viewpoint shifts between each and every one of the major players (and a few minor ones to boot). But Marian's story remains the focus and I will always be fond of it for that fact alone. This Marian displays quite a bit of growth from beginning to end. She is determined to "grow a spine," as she puts it, and I love how she accomplishes her goal. And how she and Robin fit so well. The Robin of Locksley we meet here is a more brittle Robin than you often find. He has suffered and fought and killed on behalf of the king he loves and when he is returned to England he has little idea how to act, how to take up the reins of his life again. Where he is weak, Marian is strong and vice versa. Every character is tweaked a little from their more familiar forms in this version and you may be surprised at the treatment of some of the old favorites, including Will Scarlett and Much the miller's son. There is honor and betrayal, greed and hope and certainly no shortage of characters to hate. But there are more to love. This is an earthier, much blunter take than many I've read and the harsh realities of rank, position, gender, and power don't get the glossy treatment. But by the end Marian is chock full of spine and Robin is a hero. This is a favorite re-read of mine. I never fail to find it refreshing and perfectly enjoyable. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, historical romance, and (naturally) Robin Hood.(less)
Honestly, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL once I heard it was a modern-day Beauty & the Beast retelling. Then I saw t...moreHonestly, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of CRAZY BEAUTIFUL once I heard it was a modern-day Beauty & the Beast retelling. Then I saw the cover. *clears throat* That's one good cover. Reminds me of another cover I'm rather fond of. In fact, reading and finishing this book prompted an immediate re-read of Perfect Chemistry. The two actually have a fair bit in common, though they are very different in style and length. There was a lot of hype around the blogosphere surrounding CRAZY BEAUTIFUL and I found myself anxious to see if it lived up to my expectations. This was also my first novel by Lauren Baratz-Logsted and I was very much looking forward to both a new author and a fresh take on one of my very favorite old tales.
My arm rises toward my face and the pincer touch of cold steel rubs against my jaw. I chose hooks because they were cheaper. I chose hooks because I wouldn't outgrow them so quickly. I chose hooks so that everyone would know I was different, so I would scare even myself.
Lucius is starting at a new school. He is unenthused, to put it mildly. Recently he, his parents, and his little sister relocated to a new home and a new town in an attempt to rid themselves of the taint of what happened to Lucius last year. Where he used to be plain Lucius Wolfe, now he's that crazy boy with hooks for hands. And he likes to live up to the reputation. It's clear from the word go that he's working pretty hard at not examining his life too clearly. It's just not exactly clear why. Aurora is also starting at a new school. The same school, as fate would have it. She and her father are trying to get back into the groove of their lives now that her mother is gone and the two of them are all each other's got. Where she used to be beautiful, popular Aurora Belle, now she's that new girl whose dad is the school librarian. Lucius and Aurora inadvertently make eye contact on the school bus one morning and a connection is forged, whether they know it yet or not.
My first reflection upon finishing this book is how much I loved the title. I love how it captures the way these two characters are perceived by the outside world, which is in direct contrast to the insight the reader gets about who they really are under the surface. Told in alternating point of view chapters, we get to experience firsthand Lucius' awkward blend of defiance and resignation when faced with all the rumors and insinuations about his mental status and the state of his missing hands. We get to be in the room with Aurora as she puts on a good face for her grieving, desperately hopeful dad, while achingly unsure whether or not she can get through another day pretending to be fine. Most of all, as is true with all good Beauty & the Beast retellings, we get to watch as two people in need find each other and see beyond the superficial to find that they are able to fill the cracks left by their past. CRAZY BEAUTIFUL is such a brief story. Weighing in at a featherweight 208 pages, I was worried I would emerge at the other end wishing for more, feeling like I only just got a taste of these two. I'm happy to say I didn't feel that way at all. On the contrary it felt like a perfectly natural glimpse into an ongoing story. There was a lot of crap that came before Lucius and Aurora encountered one another on the bus and, in the same vein, their story continues on beyond the final pages of the book. The lovely writing lent this modern high school story just the right hint of fairy tale splendor. I may be a sucker for this particular tale, but I thought Ms. Baratz-Logsted pulled it off beautifully. I read it in one sitting and it was exactly the sweet, funny, and moving read I hoped it would be.(less)
I have a thing for Robin Hood. Specifically Robin Hood retellings. I love Robin, Marian, Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller, Alan-a-Dale, and...moreI have a thing for Robin Hood. Specifically Robin Hood retellings. I love Robin, Marian, Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller, Alan-a-Dale, and the whole merry crew. I read Ivanhoe cover to cover just for Robin Hood's periodic appearances. And when I went on study abroad to England, I dragged my best friend all the way to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest as well so I could walk around in the woods and soak it all up. It's still one of the happiest, most golden days I can recall, that one. My first encounter with the tale itself was no doubt the Disney animated version (which I still love watching with my son), but I'm pretty sure the first actual novelization I read was Robin McKinley's THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD. And it remains my very favorite to this day. Admittedly, I seem to possess the McKinley gene. I love her writing. I love the unexpected, twisty paths she takes, the obstinate characters, and the wry humor. True to form, her Robin is not the typical Robin of legend. If you cherish the strapping, dashing, swashbuckling hero a la Errol Flynn, then this version is probably not for you. But if you like an unusual, but beautifully wrought, take on a classic then you really ought to give this one a shot.
The story opens with the following lines:
A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course--just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark. Robin sighed and dropped his bow.
Robin is on his way to Nottingham Fair to meet his childhood friends Marian and Much and have a bit of well-earned frivolity. As an apprentice forester in the King's Forest, Robin barely scrapes by and his days off are few and far between. Unfortunately, while on his way he is ambushed by a few of the Chief Forester's men who have had it in for Robin for years. No one is more surprised than Robin when he wins the resulting archery contest and the skirmish ends in an attempt on his life and Robin's arrow buried in his attacker's chest. From this point on Robin is a wanted man. His friends convince him to go into hiding while they work up a plan to keep their friend alive and prevent the Norman overlords from raining down punishments on all the Saxons' heads as a result of Robin's "crime." Against his better judgement, Robin goes along with Much and Marian's plan and, in the process, he becomes a hero--albeit a reluctant one.
There is so much good in this book and it all centers around the characters. Either you will fall in love with Robin or you will not. And if you love Robin, then you will love all of the characters for they gather around him despite his adamant refusal that he is no hero because they need him. Marian and Much, his old friends, see this. They understand it and they try to help Robin understand it. Their love for him, their need to believe in him, and their willingness to walk away from their homes and their lives to follow him into hiding in Sherwood Forest reflect the desperate nature of the times and the ways in which this good man is able to inspire and take care of other good men and women like him who have been caught in the ever-tightening vise of Norman justice. I love watching this transformation, this coming together of such a motley band of comrades. Every time I read it I savor each one. And, as with any McKinley book, if you're a fan of strong female characters who do not do what they are expected to do, then this book is for you. Marian is awesome. It's Marian who is the excellent shot. It's Marian who has the vision and who knows Robin's potential before he does. It's Marian who risks more than anyone else to create the legend and keep it alive. There is one other standout female character, but I can't tell you any more than that as she is so excellent she must be discovered entirely on her own. Along with Deerskin, I think this is the most emotional of McKinley's works because it is as grounded in reality as any retelling I've read. THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD is an emotional, subtly humorous, visceral take on the legend and I cannot recommend it highly enough.(less)
"Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme..."
Since reading this book I have not been able to get that song out of my hea...more"Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme..."
Since reading this book I have not been able to get that song out of my head. It has been, you'll forgive the pun, Impossible. It's all good, of course, because I've always loved the Simon & Garfunkel version, as well as Dylan's quasi-adaptation of the ballad "Girl from the North Country." And it's good because Nancy Werlin does such interesting things developing a novel based on the lyrics. In a few words it is a contemporary suspenseful folk fantasy with some hereditary insanity, a sweet romance, and one extremely dubious (and dangerous) elven knight.
Lucy Scarborough has spent her life with her adoptive parents because her mother, Miranda, is insane. Lucy manages to lead an eminently normal life interspersed with occasional random visits from Miranda, who is never really lucid beyond mumbling strange lyrics to "Scarborough Fair." But when prom night turns disastrous for Lucy it sets into motion an unbelievable chain of events and they all lead back to Miranda and an awful curse the Scarborough women have suffered under for centuries. Soon Lucy is rushing to beat the devil and save herself from insanity and her unborn daughter from sharing her unbearable fate. She is accompanied on this endeavor by her childhood friend Zack and her adoptive parents Leo and Soledad.
Impossible reminded me of an end of high school version of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. It had that same eerie, lyrical feel to it and I had similar responses to both books. I enjoyed them but felt that the characters remained somehow aloof from the reader to a certain degree, with the result that the stories as a whole felt cold. Part of this removed feeling comes, I think, from the nature of the tales themselves. They center on truly cruel supernatural beings playing wanton games with desperate, usually outnumbered humans. I've loved similar storylines, but if I can't get into the desperate humans and really root for them, it's hard to stay involved. Despite this, I did like the easy friendship Lucy and Zack shared and how their growing feelings for each other both surprised them and made them stronger. And I especially appreciated the emphasis Werlin put on humble human triumph over haughty supernatural manipulation and how true love does not cloud judgement but enables one to see clearly. (less)
Despite the cover (and title), the princess and her hound are not the main characters in this story. The narrative centers instead on a boy named Geor...moreDespite the cover (and title), the princess and her hound are not the main characters in this story. The narrative centers instead on a boy named George. Prince George, to be exact. And Prince George possesses a pack of problems. His mother died when he was young, leaving him alone in the world with no siblings to share his grief and a father who knows how to rule a kingdom but understands nothing of how to be a father. On top of which, George has the dubious gift of animal magic. He can speak their language and feels most comfortable out in the wild, conversing with the animals, than around humans. Trouble is, animal magic is feared and loathed far and wide in George's world and he quickly determines he must keep his talent a secret if he wishes to live long enough to inherit the throne.
When it comes time for George to do his princely duty and marry to preserve the kingdom, he goes forth to meet his betrothed with a strong sense of duty, if not alacrity, for the task at hand. The Princess Beatrice proves to be a particularly fierce young woman whose life has been as bleak as George's own and who has a few painful secrets of her own to guard, as well as a hound she refuses to be separated from. It's clear to the reader from the moment these two meet that they need each other desperately and would do well to stick together, that is if either of them could see past their own troubles long enough to recognize what's standing right in front of them. Beatrice, however, shows even less interest in the match than George, and the two of them are rarely ever in the same room together long enough to go about the business of getting to know each other. And marriage negotiations aside, there is a truly creepy mystery running throughout the book, to do with a potentially mad doctor moving from kingdom to kingdom bent on revenge.
Yep, it's a recipe for success. And it succeeds...for the most part. I liked the dark, creepy feel that pervaded the majority of the story. This is not a gentle fairy tale, by any means. Characters such as Beatrice's father and the mysterious doctor brought to mind the evil Cabbarus of Westmark fame (never a bad thing), and I liked George's journey from frightened boy to capable ruler. There were a few very poignant scenes, particularly between George and his father, that struck me. I even liked Beatrice, despite how off putting and seemingly lacking in all emotion she was throughout the book. The problem was in the unrealized potential between these two characters who needed each other so badly. Yes, I realize Beatrice's secret made realization a bit difficult on the whole but, when it finally did come out, things wrapped up rather quickly and I couldn't quite buy into the abrupt shift. I felt like they needed more time to cement things between them. And, I will admit, the ramifications of the revelation proved a bit too bizarre even for me to stomach. On the whole, The Princess and the Hound was a complicated and intriguing tale which I felt need a little more refining to smooth out the bumps and cracks along the way.(less)
This one has been getting lots of good press and was a National Book Award Finalist for 2006. Keturah and Lord Death is a sort of Scheherezade meets B...moreThis one has been getting lots of good press and was a National Book Award Finalist for 2006. Keturah and Lord Death is a sort of Scheherezade meets Beauty and the Beast meets the Persephone myth, in which a young woman is forced to spin a new tale each night to keep her captor from killing her. In this version, her captor is, in fact, Death himself (hence the Persephone connection), and he actually lets her go on the condition that she will return the following night with the end of the tale. Should she be able to find her true love in that time, he will release her from her promise and Death will no longer stalk young Keturah.
The story is set in the rather charmingly vague village of Tide-by-Rood, located at the far edge of the country of Angleland. The setting exuded a sort of Canterbury Tales feel, while the townspeople reminded me of the denizens of a Hawthorne novel, everyone suspicious of everyone else and nobody with the guts to question the status quo or talk about the things that need talking about. In the course of trying to save herself from Lord Death and her village from the plague, Keturah steps up and speaks out in order to unite the villagers under a common cause. I liked the setting, the names, and the people. The world Martine Leavitt set up is full of dark shadows and possibilities.
It was about 100 pages when things started to pick up for me. It felt like Leavitt sort of found her stride at that point. The writing felt a little deeper, the pace a little more controlled. The thing is, the book is only 216 pages long and the halfway mark proved a little to late to really suck me in. I felt like I was reading the abridged version of a full-length work. It needed to be either 100 pages shorter or 200 pages longer. As is, it felt too abbreviated. I never could get a handle on Keturah or Lord Death. Neither one felt fully formed. They were both shadowy compositions and every time I tried to glimpse them clearly, they slipped behind a tree and out of sight. I really did want to get to know them better but never got the chance because the book was over, she'd made her choice, and I was left with just a taste of something that could have been delicious but now I'll never know.(less)
I've been savoring this one. I mean, I read a chunk every day, don't get me wrong. But if something happened to come up at night during my normal read...moreI've been savoring this one. I mean, I read a chunk every day, don't get me wrong. But if something happened to come up at night during my normal reading time, instead of muttering, "Vital point," like I usually do, I was up for it.
Watch a movie? Sure.
Clean out a few more boxes from the study? Let's do it!
Because I just didn't want this book to end. It more than lived up to the expectations I had, having heard such wonderful early reviews. And I was so pleased that it did because the initial prospect of a Rumpelstiltskin retelling was not all that attractive.
Let's face it, in its original form it's an awful fairy tale. Awful Dad sells his nameless daughter to Awful King in exchange for money. Awful King threatens nameless daughter with death unless she is able to spin straw into gold. Otherwise he'll marry her. Then to top it all off, creepily Awful Dwarf appears and saves nameless daughter's bacon....in exchange for her potential first-born child. And she's willing to make this Awful Bargain because she really doesn't want to die and can see no other way out. So she marries Awful King, makes a baby with him (shocker!), and, when Awful Dwarf comes to claim his due, is only able to save her baby by guessing his Awful Name. Yeah. Not my favorite fairy tale.
Turns out it wasn't Elizabeth C. Bunce's favorite either. I love that she rewrote it because it bothered her. And she did such a splendid job filling in the cracks, reworking the plot, carefully shaping it into a lovely tale of courage and ill luck, curses and redemption. The setting was a perfect choice: eighteenth century England, just on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. And the beautiful names. Charlotte Miller, Randall Woodstone, Shearing, Stirwaters, Jack Spinner. The names truly belong to their characters and places. I could tell each one was carefully chosen for effect, like a Dickens cast. And I was drawn to them, the animate and inanimate alike. For the mill, the mansion, and the curse itself are characters in their own right. Bunce's beautiful, unselfconscious writing propels the story forward to its climactic conclusion. This is a dark, drafty, remarkably real tale and, like Jack Spinner, it will spin its golden thread around you.(less)