Showing posts with label fairy-tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fairy-tales. Show all posts

Sunday, January 1, 2017

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a really good print book I found in a used bookstore. On the one hand you have to be a bit cynical in this age of writers (YA authors, I'm looking at you!) taking fairy-tales wholesale and rewriting them shoddily for profit, but that said, this author at least chose a fairy-tale that's not been done to death, and is lesser-known than many others. Plus it's illustrated by the author, very nicely, and decently written. This one is based on a Norwegian story of a polar bear who visits an exiled family and tells them it's important that their daughter comes with him for a year and a day (there's always a day isn't there?!). The girl somehow knew the bear had come for her and that she must go. She didn't like the idea, but she knew in her heart it was her duty. We never learn why it is that the bear selects her, though.

The bear takes her miles away to an underground lair where she has every comfort - except for not being with her family, of course. He's kind and attentive and sees that she wants for nothing. Here's where it departs from your usual juvenile fairytale: that first night, and every night thereafter, in her dark room, someone enters, climbs into bed with her and goes to sleep. It's too dark to see who is it and she isn't allowed lights at night. In the morning, the visitor leaves.

After a few months, the girl asks if she can visit her family just for a short while, and the bear agrees, but warns her never to let her mother get her alone and give her advice about her time with the bear. He doesn't explain why this is so, and there's no reason at all that he shouldn't, so this is poorly done, even though it is trope for such tales. The girl visits her family, and of course her mom meets with her alone, and once she learns of the nightly visitor, far from being shocked and lecturing her wayward daughter, she offers her matches and candles so she can light up the night, and identify this visitor. This the girl does, and she discovers it's a handsome prince, of course. He's been cursed by the troll queen, and if he cannot spend a year and a day with a girl, without her discovering his real identity, the he has to marry the troll daughter.

The problem is that now she's discovered his true self, he has fallen afoul of the enchantment, and he's whisked away to the troll princess. Why this is a problem, I don't know, because troll princesses are hot according to Amanda Hocking! The girl refuses to give up on the guy though, and she makes it her mission to find and free him. He's held in a castle that's East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but she has no idea how to get there. She makes inquiries and is eventually led to three sisters, each of whom passes her on to the next with a gift which she will need to use at the right time in order to save the guy.

Of course she eventually finds him and frees him, and this is where the story, while predictable in some ways, takes a ninety-degree turn away from trope and cliché which is one of the major reasons why I found this a worthy read. The ending is one I liked precisely because the author (or the original fairy-tale) had the courage to side-step the tedious and go somewhere different. I liked, for the most part, the way this was written. It's very well done except for one or two oddities - such as given how long it takes the girl to find her quarry, how come the troll princes hasn't already married the guy?! But I liked the ending and the overall tone of the novel, so for me it was a worthy read.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Frog Prince by Jenni James


Rating: WARTY!

Jenni James (not to be confused with English actor Jennifer James despite Jenni's use of words like "bum" and other 'British-isms'!) has made a career out of retelling fairy tales (think of Disney titles and you'll pretty much have half her oeuvre). She's moving on to pillaging Jane Austen next, but what the heck - if it works, then best of luck with it. She also has a series of videos on her blog (here on Blogspot) and on You Tube, purportedly telling people how to write novels.

I watched parts of some of them and they didn't seem very helpful to me. The fact is that any time you spend not writing is not helpful to your writing career, because you can attend all the lectures you want - in person or online, it doesn't matter - and you can read all the writing-advice books you want, but unless you are actually writing, you're not a writer and you're going nowhere. Have you noticed that those books on 'how to write a best-seller' are almost always written by "writers" you've never heard of, who've never had a successful novel, let alone a best seller? That ought to tell you exactly how useless those books truly are. They're like those books telling you how to get rich quick, written by people whose only wealth has come from selling those very books!

The videos are each about twelve minutes long, and one of them for example, was about sticking it out with writing and making it to the end of your novel. This is an important topic, but the video missed the mark for me. Instead of offering writing tips for making it through the long haul, the author talked about how long her hair was and what it took to grow it out so long and to take care of it.

I could see where she was trying to go with that, but it offered really nothing (unless it was crammed into the last third of the video, which I didn't watch) to help a writer get to the end, and overcome writing blocks. Full disclosure (or given that this is October, maybe it's Fall disclosure?!): the only way to do that is to write. It's really that simple. In the short term it doesn't matter if you are writing crap. It doesn't matter if it's the worst writing you (or anyone) ever did. Write on. Write to the end. Get the thing finished and then you can go back and edit it.

For me, editing is a lot easier than getting to the end in the first place, so the temptation is to keep going back over what you wrote, whether it be one chapter, or fifteen, or one paragraph, primping and teasing, and perking and polishing, but this will never, ever get your novel finished! Quite the contrary. It will prevent you from ever finishing. There is nothing in this world that can compare with putting that final period to the final sentence in your completed novel even if it's only the first draft! At least, at last, you have it done (after a fashion)!

It feels good, even if the novel isn't perfect. Once it's done, then is the time to go back over it and perk and primp and polish. But don't get lost in that. At some point you need to have a go/no-go decision which will determine if that novel is going to be submitted (or better yet published by yourself), or if it goes on the shelf and you start on your second novel instead, because the first just isn't getting it done. There's no shame in this and it does not mean you're a lousy writer. It actually means you're very smart to know the difference, and to make a wise decision about whether it works!

So if my two cents is worth anything (and it's probably worth about two cents!), then all you need to know is that if you want to be a writer, you have to write lots - and lots. And then some more. Lots more. And you have to read all kinds of books and not necessarily only novels. You have the read the genre(s) in which you're interested to see how others do it and learn from their mistakes.

No one in their right mind likes to be stuck in traffic unless they have a really good audio book to listen to, so if you get stuck at a roadblock (I'm talking about writing here!), you need to jump over it and continue on. You can come back and fix that issue later. Even if your hero is in an impossible fix and all you can offer is "and magic happens and he/she gets away," it's far better to do that and move on, and finish that novel than it is to sit for weeks stuck there not going anywhere because of this one issue.

If you don't like what you're writing, then write something different. If you're not looking forward to hacking the next chapter, write a different chapter or make something different happen. Listen to your characters! Let them tell you how to get out of a fix and where to go next. I promise you it's what your characters will do for you if you have done them the favor of writing them well.

But I digress. Majorly! You're the writer. Take what advice you think helps, ignore the rest, including this if it doesn't help. But write! Write! Write!

This novel didn't get it done for me either because it felt inauthentic and I had to DNF it. It's like the author wanted to get a traditional fairy tale told, but didn't want to write it traditionally, and rather than go determinedly one way or the other, she got stuck somewhere in between, and it didn't work. What it delivered instead was some truly jarring writing, so in the space of three lines, for example, I read three different forms of "maybe":

Mayhap her thoughts and ideals and dreams and all those things she longed for and loved—all of it—perhaps they were too simple for handsome princes to care about. Maybe....
It just did not read easily. I have to confess a personal hatred of 'mayhap' here. I think authors use it as a lazy way to try and put some authentic antiquity into their tales and it almost never works. There were some other writing errors, such as the author using "crumbled" when she ought to have used "crumpled", but those aside, the writing was not awful. It just didn't feel right to me.

On top of this the attempts humor fell flat, and the writing level seemed aimed at middle-grade even though the main characters were young adult. The amusing thing about this to me, is that in and around the era when this story supposedly took place, young children were routinely married off at a very young age, and I'm forced to wonder why so few authors have the courage to write it like it was? that would offer some historical authenticity and do a lot better than tossing in a 'mayhap' here and there, or mixing modern English idiom with antique ones and making the reading a jarring roller-coaster experience, instead of a pleasant read.

For me, the worst thing was the two main characters, because I didn't like either of them. The way they were written made then both look like idiots, in which case they probably deserved each other, but I quickly came to feel like my time would be better spent reading something else, or better yet, writing something! The problem with fairy tales is that they're pretty much all tapped out now. If you want to do this, don't, unless your take on it is going to break seriously new ground and put a truly new spin on the tale. Instead of chasing the vogue, you should try to plough your own furrow: find something new to tap and start your own trend! I wish the author all the best but I cannot recommend this one.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


Rating: WORTHY!
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Erratum
"Sasha though suddenly of his stepmother," 'thought'?

This is a traditional-style fairy tale employing Russian folklore and mythology, and exploring the inevitable clash between religions: the extant traditional natural religion of the Russian hinterland, and the sick encroachment of Christianity into it. I loved the way the story started out, and enjoyed the ever-unfolding pace and power of the story-telling. There was no slack here, no annoying flashbacks or side-tracking and meandering, and it grabbed me from the start, even though I'm not usually a big fan of stories set in Russia.

This author knows her craft, and she did not cheapen the tale by writing it in first person, either. For that alone, I intend to paint an icon in her name! (You have to read the story to get that!). For me it really took off when a couple of new characters showed up, bringing conflict to what had been a rather idyllic existence for our main character. The fun thing was that the story never did play out quite as I might have expected, or even written it myself. There was always a twist, a turn, a quirk, an event to keep me guessing where this would go. I adored it for that.

The very best thing about it is the main character Vasilisa Petrovna, aka Vasya, aka Vasochka. Yes, the endless variations on names was one complaint I had. It was really hard, to begin with, to keep track of who was who since so many name variations, nicknames, and pet names were employed for the same character. I realize this is what Russians do, but this wasn't written in Russky! The author herself explains in an afterword that literal translation is not always a good goal for an author of fiction, and I agree with her very much, so a little more clarity would have been nice, but maybe that's just me.

That aside, Vasya was one of the most engaging and amazing characters I've ever read of. Alert to all Young Adult novel writers! If you want to know how to write a strong female character who is more than merely a male appendage, then you seriously need to read this novel. It's not the only novel which has a strong, independent female character who owns her life, and by 'strong', I mean within herself, not necessarily in her ability to kick someone's ass, but this is a fine example of such a novel. Katherine Arden gets it, period. Vasya was wonderful: a breath of fresh air in a world of lackluster and very forgettable young adult female characters.

The basic story begins with a Russian land baron in a period of history often called The Renaissance. That name didn't seem to fit here. Medieval felt more appropriate, but this was just after that era. In the particular case of this novel, I prefer to think of it as Age of Discovery! The land baron's wife dies giving birth to main character Vasya, a child who grows up rather odd and wild. She is so in need of minding - thinks her father Pyotr - that he travels many weeks to Moskva (curiously written as Moscow in the novel) to find a new wife at court. The ruling monarch is one of a small handful of Ivans to come to power in Russia. The story doesn't make this clear, but I assume it's Ivan the Fourth ("the Terrible"), who ruled from the mid- to late-sixteenth century.

He had three daughters named Anna(!), one of which died before she reached the age of two, and the other two of which were sent to convents. Such was the fate of unmarriageable girls, in Russia or anywhere. And that gives me an idea for a story! I hat eit when that happens! Anyway, Ivan did not like immodest girls, and he accidentally killed his own son during an argument over his daughter-in-law's perceived immodesty. In this story however, one Anna isn't sent to a convent; she escapes such a fate because Ivan adopts a plan to rid himself off this "crazy" girl to Pyotr in exchange for one of Pyotr's daughters marrying his son, and thereby helping secure his dynasty. This story succeeds admirably where Ivan failed so dismally in his quest!

The thing about Anna is what she shares in common with Vasya. The difference between them is the interpretation of what they see, and the subsequent fear or it, or lack of such fear. Anna often sees what she believes are demons around the palace, and she is scared to go into the wild, frozen north. When she arrives, she sees even more demons, and this time the demons see her. Meanwhile there's a strange nobleman (or maybe not so noble) who manipulates Pyotr into giving his youngest daughter a necklace, unless Pyotr wishes to see his oldest son die. But the family nursemaid manages to wangle it so that the daughter doesn't get the gift until she's of age. What will happen then, is anyone's guess!

The writing was evocative and engaging, but occasionally, a part here or there struck me as being 'off'. For example, at one point early in the story the youngest daughter, Vasya, wanders off and gets lost in the forest. She is rescued (fortuitously before a freezing night falls) by her older brother who was out searching for her. She had encountered a strange man in the forest before her brother brings her home. She was terrified, but we read, "Pyotr thrashed his daughter the next day, and she wept, though he was not cruel." Excuse me? He "thrashed" her, for getting lost and scared half to death, and he's not cruel? That struck a sour note for me.

And yes, I get that people, especially people in those climes and times, were a lot more rough and ready, and pursued what might be termed "frontier justice" with a lot more vigor than people do today, but this is cruel by any light. I get that someone like him might thrash his daughter, but to 'qualify' that by adding that her father was not cruel, was poorly done for me. This isn't the last time that Vasya is so disciplined. In fact, the second time it's an even greater injustice, but she's older then, and bears it stoically, especially since it simultaneously rescues her from something she was not looking forward to. It seems that Vasya is fated to live always slightly apart from her own people. This is one of the things which made her such an intriguing character for me.

Yes, nicknames and pet names! Here's one example: "After Sasha and Olga went away, Dunya noticed a change in Vasya." I had to actually parse that sentence before I got out of it exactly who was doing what here! Here's a classic example:

Alyosha was waiting for her. He grinned. "Maybe they will manage to marry you off after all, Vasochka."
"Anna Ivanovna says not," Vasya replied composedly. "Too tall, skinny as weasel, feet and face like a frog." She clasped her hands and raised her eyes. "Alas, only princes in fairy tales take frog-wives. And they can do magic and become beautiful on command. I fear I will have no prince, Lyoshka."
Alyosha is actually her older brother, Aleksei Petrovich, who is one of the few people who actually 'gets' Vasya and supports her. I really liked him, but this endless parade of nicknames was irritating (Google is going nuts underlining all these names in red as I write them! LOL!). Eventually I learned to overlook it and it became less important as the story progressed, but I could have done with a lot less of it. It's not necessary to name a person every time you speak to them or even of them. I think quite a few of these names could have been dispensed with and left the novel a more pleasing demeanor in the doing.

That was my only real complaint about this story. I do have to say that the ending fell a bit flat given that the entire novel had been leading me to it. I was expecting more of Vasya, but overall the story was an engaging and very endearing one, and I fully recommend it. In general it's a tour-de-force of how to write a fable like this, mixing folklore and fairy-tale, and it was a joy to read. I very much look forward to Katherine Arden's next literary outing.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Vögelein: Clockwork Faerie by Jane Irwin, Jeff Berndt


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the precursor to the volume I favorably reviewed back in November, 2014. It's about the titular 'fairy' who is clockwork, and it relates her origin story. It's interesting and I wasn't sure I truly liked all of it, but I liked enough to vote this one the same way I did the other one.

The story is titled "Vögelein" which means little bird and which, in the peculiar German language is pronounced like it's "Few Glean." I think German is an interesting exercise in paradox in that it has a mix of what might be described in genderist terms as masculine and feminine words, and I don't mean in a grammatical sense, but purely in how they sound when spoken. Some are very soft, and might be described poetically as effeminate, whereas others are very harsh sounding, and might be likewise described as macho. It's always struck me most when watching movies about World War Two, where these supposedly tough Aryan types were speaking such a soft language at times, and then could turn around and upbraid someone in much more brutal tones. The contrast fascinates me! It's definitely a beautiful language and a startling mix.

In this volume, we learn how Vögelein came to be, what she represents, and how hard it is for her to live her life when she's so dependent upon people who can easily take advantage of her need to be rewound every day. It was this which finally won me over to favorably rating this - the dilemma and the harsh existence she had been forced into by an act which started out as one of love. I liked the follow-up story better, but I also recommend this one. The author has a website that you might like to visit: http://www.vogelein.com/.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Shalilly by Elizabeth Gracen, Luca di Napoli


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the author and publisher.

I was so impressed with this novel that I began to think that the author had been through all of my reviews, made notes of the things which tick me off in YA novels, and then strove to avoid all of them in her writing. It was, frankly, a bit creepy! Obviously she didn't actually do that, but I have to say this was a remarkable read, and hit all the high notes for me (that's an inside joke - you'll have to read the novel to discover what it means!

Elizabeth Gracen has had an interesting history in film and print, and this is her debut novel. It's very good and refreshingly different - playful, inventive, humorous, original, and a truly engaging read. Illustrated with welcome insight by means of a few (too few for me!) delightful images from talented artist Luca di Napoli, this is written in an easy-going, quick-moving style if, I have to add, a little stilted on occasion in the conversations. It tells the story of young Filipina, heir not-so-apparent to the oracle Theano, and of Fippa's young friend Ision, a soldier.

It has a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues (and I never miss them!). Chapter one launches us right into the middle of things, which is where I love to begin a story, with Ision being cast into another realm and Fippa electing to go after him in an effort to prevent the evil Timeus from succeeding in his plans, which rely on keeping them apart. The first thing Fippa does is to get drunk! How many times have you read that in a fairy-tale?! I was hooked.

Technically, Fippa isn't a fairy, but one of the butterfly girls known as Shalilly, and she really didn't intend to get passed-out drunk on the nectar. It was just so good! I mean come on. Tell me you've never drunk so much nectar you haven't passed out. I knew it! This episode does educate her and strengthen her resolve, however. It was honestly refreshing to encounter a young, leading character who quickly learns from her mistakes, and it soon becomes clear that Fippa is dedicated to her mission, and constantly re-evaluating strategies to achieve her aim. She has a lot going on upstairs and it was so nice to read of a female character written by a female author who had more on her mind than how studly her beau was (not that she didn't have that on her mind, too!). See, YA writers? It can be done! Elizabeth Gracen shows you how!

That's not to say Fippa is perfect though. She has a temper and a jealous streak on which she has to strive to keep a tight rein, and these are traits which do not help her circumstances. Fippa's experiences in Paradigm, the fairy-tale world which she volunteered to visit in order to save Ision are very entertaining, but she quickly becomes disempowered, and a prisoner - and a despised one at that. Now her job is all the more difficult, and she has only her wits to save the day, but she proves equal to the task.

In a page (or two!) taken from One Thousand and One Nights , she tells Ision, who is now ignorant of their critical past, a story in the hopes of educating him as gently as she can. I'm not a fan of flashbacks at all, but this was one way of doing this, and which didn't feel false. It didn't even feel like it was interrupting the story because it was an integral part of it. Nicely done! Some might find this section a bit long, and I confess I missed the Shalilly version of Fippa quite honestly, but never was there any point where I wanted to skip this part.

The humor was a delight, yet the story was also serious. I did find some unintentional humor, but more than likely it's just me being weird. One example I remember was at the beginning, where I read, "Ision felt the horse slow its pace as Fippa placed her hand on his." Now it's obvious what is meant here, but the way it's written, if you're as warped about writing as I am, it can be deemed that Pippa put her hand on the horse's hand. Hey, it's a fantasy - it could happen! And we know the horse was maybe fifteen or sixteen hands, so that's a lot of hands to go around! LOL!

Not that I'm going to downgrade a story for that kind of thing, but as a writer, it's worth keeping in mind that it's not only what you write, but also the way you write it. As it was, this novel was warm enough and such a joy to read that I could overlook more serious problems than this (not that there were any here), and that counts too: your readers will forgive you a lot more if you give them good reasons to!

Anyone who reads my reviews will know that I always find something to carp about, but it was really hard to find anything wrong here. Yes, there was the cliché of the heroic dude with the "gold-flecked green eyes" - gold flecks are way over done in YA literature - but it seemed like every time I experienced a growing fear that this story was going down to tropeville, the author took it in another direction and saved it. Hence my feeling that she'd been reading my reviews!

Sometimes the language seemed a bit overly modern for ancient Greece, such as when Ision says, "...chuck it all...", and other times there were questionable turns of phrase, such as when Fippa says, "What if they could care less if I am returned?" What she meant was "What if they couldn't care less..." Normally this wouldn't bother me because people really do speak like that in real life, but this was not modern life where that phrase has entered common use - it was ancient Greece (or a very near approximation to it), so it felt like this ought to have been more accurate.

The last thing I'd mention is that "I am a girl who has barely stepped foot..." is a pet peeve of mine. I don't like 'stepped foot' because to me it sounds odd and clunky. I know authors write this routinely, but in this particular case, I'd like to argue that the more traditional "set foot" would have been a better choice of words for a charming story like this. It's worth thinking about as a writer, but as a reader, none of this was worth down-grading a novel over, by any means, because it would be mean!

I've been to Greece more than once and I've actually been to the Delphi area. It was beautiful, and the writing really brings out the essence of the country and the scenery without going into excessive detail. The author writes it beautifully, and she depicts the ancient Delphi oracle to perfection in my opinion.

Talking of essence, this novel made me wish I could bottle the essence of how she wrote it so I could unleash it on my own writing! The novel is so good that it almost makes a fellow writer wish for its author to fall on her face in her next outing just so he can feel better about his own efforts! But since I fell in love with the Shalilly (shamelessly and inappropriately so, I confess) I'm going to be bigger than that, and instead congratulate Elizabeth Gracen on a really good novel, and wish her all the best. Grace-n is the perfect name for this author! I recommend this novel highly, and I now I must endure the agonizing (<-Greek roots word!) wait for her next novel! O the Phates! (<-Greek joke word!)


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot


Rating: WARTY!

This officially marks my flat refusal to read another thing written by Meg Cabot! I've read her Ready Or Not and found it a not ready. I read Haunted and found it more ghastly than ghostly, and I read Size 12 and Ready to Rock and found it ready to rot!

Perhaps this novel should have been titled "The Princess Diarrhea", since it both runs to more than ten volumes, and the main character, Mia, runs off at the mouth with an endless bitch and tedious moan about everything. What a nightmare she is. The novel is nothing like the movie, and bland as that is, the movie is far better. The movie has heart. All the novel has is spleen. The novel is as washed out as the Genovian flag, but it did make me want to watch the movie again.

The audio book is read by Anne Hathaway, who played the role of Mia in the movie. Her reading actually isn't too bad, but her voice tends towards mumble here and there. That's all I have to say about it, other than that I ditched it in short order, and I've now sworn off ever again reading anything by Meg Cabot!


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Winter by Marissa Meyer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last of the Lunar chronicles, and a case in point as to why I no longer read series with 'Chronicles' in the name (or 'Saga' or 'Cycle' or any of those other trope pretentious buzzwords), and certainly an excellent example of why I typically dislike series. I loved the first volume ion the series, Cinder and reviewed it positively. I even reviewed Scarlett positively though I had some major issues with it. By the time I got to Cress it was time to say, "Enough is enough!" I wrote some 45K of reviewing material on these three volumes explaining what I saw in them (or failed to see!).

After Scarlett and particularly Cress, I wasn't as willing to spend so much time on Winter as I had on the previous three. If it failed even after a couple of chapters, I was out of there. And after a couple of chapters I was out of there. There are over ninety chapters and almost 900 pages in this tome, and from what I've gathered from other reviews, and from what I saw myself, all of it is a waste of perfectly good trees and bandwidth. It turns out it was exactly as I feared it would be and exactly why I'm not a fan of series.

The first problem is right there in the blurb: "... despite the scars that mar her face, [Princess Winter's] beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana" How is this a qualification for anything? What does beauty have to do with it? Is she a runway model? No! She's a princess in line for the throne, so what, I ask again, does beauty have to do with anything? She's apparently admired for her " grace and kindness" but nowhere do I see competence, integrity, diligence, advocacy or anything else like that listed here. Grace has nothing to do with it, and kindness is relative in a totalitarian society like the one which she exists, but at least she's in love with " the handsome palace guard," so what else could possibly matter? The beautiful people are together. The hell with everyone else! Excuse me while I barf profusely.

Winter turned out to be the most limp of all four "princesses" in this story (which is, from other reviews I've read, nothing more than a litany of one "princess" or her lover after another being captured and held prisoner. Seriously, that could have been taken care of in a few pages. Well over eight hundred is completely self-indulgent and is what happens when you have some success with earlier volumes that you're allowed to get away with anything in later volumes. Another reason to despise series, the writers who religiously vomit them up, and the publishers who so avariciously beg for them from writers. And why I shall never, ever, ever write a series. And why I refuse to grace this garbage with the kindness of a positive review. It's ugly!


Friday, June 10, 2016

The Bitches of Everafter by Barbra Annino


Rating: WORTHY!

This is without a doubt the most hilarious and best-written (with a couple of amusing exceptions I shall point out) novel I've read in a long time. It's humbling to read something like this and distressing to think I might never write one this good, although Femarine, which came out this month, would give it a good run for its money on a level field, I'll warrant!

In a lot of ways, it's like the TV show, Once Upon a Time, which I used to watch, but gave up on because it became boring and repetitive. There were no worries about that here until I discovered that the ending wasn't. There are two more planned volumes. This annoys me, and it means I did have a problem because I am not a fan of series. They rarely end well. Having said that, there are some series I've read and enjoyed throughout. The horns of this dilemma are: dare I pursue this one and risk disappointment or should I quit while I'm ahead?

This novel also got away with breaking a rule which I normally like to see enforced: don't start chapter one in the future and then flashback in the rest of the book. In this case it was done perfectly, which just goes to show that some authors can write and others can't. We quickly meet the main characters, which is another good thing about this since they're far too good to keep them waiting in the wings. A third wonder about it is that it's written in third person. Far too many stories of this nature are in first person, and I am ever after grateful to the amazingly-named Barbra Annino for giving that route the derision and disdain it so richly deserves. Twit to all YA authors: you can write a brilliant novel in 3PoV! Rilly! Wed this and Reap!

We do get the story mainly from the perspective of Snow White, who has committed some crime over which she holds no regret, but for which she has a ninety-day psych eval to endure. She's not confined to a hospital ward, but is living in Granny's Home for Girls, along with Aura Rose, an ex-car-thief and burglar, Cindy Glass, a non-recovering drunk, and Punzie Hightower, who can currently be seen stripping at the Fairest of Them All club downtown. All of whom are corralled and controlled by the estimable Bella Bookless, whose dog is named 'Beast'.

These girls were all put there by Judge Redhood, aided by the surprisingly deep and self-motivated Tink, and these villainous vamps are watched over by parole officer Robin Hood and psychiatrist Jack Bean. So far so good, but what is happening in this house when Snow finally gets settled in? What are the odd lights she sees? Do patterns on the walls really move? What's behind the forbidden doors? Why is the fearless Aura suddenly and inexplicably terrified of a spinning wheel?

I devoured this and loved it until the last page when I was a bit disappointed to see that it ended on a cliff-hanger because it was part of yet another trilogy. I know trilogies and series are very lucrative, but how about doing we readers a favor now and then and fitting it all into one volume? I was tempted not to pursue this purely out of spite, despite enjoying volume one, but having thought that, I can’t deny that for as much pressure as Amazon megacorp is putting on book prices to squash them down to next-to-nothing, maybe the only option we authors have anymore, is to revert to the way novels used to be published: in installments.

The unintentionally amusing portions of this book were few. There was the common one of thinking biceps has a singular form: "spearing through his bicep." I had an online discussion with a friend about this, and yes, technically you can use 'bicep', but my point is that does anyone honestly think that your typical author knows anatomy well-enough to specify that one muscle? I'd have a hard time believing that! No one uses the singular form - unless it's an anatomist!

I've never seen a novel where someone was wounded through the triceps, so I'm guessing authors who do this are not actually being anatomically precise but simply don't know the difference between bicep and biceps any more than they know the difference between stanch and staunch. My guess is that they think 'biceps' refers to the muscles of both upper arms, so the muscles of one upper arm must be 'bicep'! Who knows? OTOH, Barbra Annino isn't just any author as her writing chops demonstrate, so maybe I'll give her the benediction of the doubt here and dedicate a song to her (not original with my I hasten to add):

My analyse over the ocean
My analyse over the sea
My analyse over the ocean
So bring back my anatomy....

The other mistake was one that I personally have never seen before in a novel as far as I can recall, and for which even I can offer no excuse: "Not that she was opposed to murder, per say." The Latin is per se, FYI! Some of us writers fear for the English language the way it's going with all this self-publishing, texting, and tweeting. OTOH, language isn't what you see in a dictionary - it’s a living, morphing, growing thing, so we can only guess at what we'll be reading in fifty years, but with this kind of thing getting loose, I fear for the language Dear Hearts! Fear for it I tell you! It's enough to make my tricep twitch....

Anyway, that aside, I recommend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spooky Tales Vol 1 by Bill Wood, Vicky Town


Rating: WARTY!

This was a library audio book I picked-up when I was going through my audio fairy tales binge recently, and it was awful. Bill Wood and Vicky Town takes turns telling moderately scary stories, but they were really not that great, and the voices they used for reading were just tedious. Kids might be less discriminating, but I don't want my kids to be less discriminating when it comes to good stories. I cannot recommend these.


World Tales Volume 6


Rating: WORTHY!

In earlier reviews of volumes in this series, I've railed against the lack of female readers, so I was happy to find one in the library which featured one, and despite my plan to move on from the series, I had to review this. Susan Sarandon's reading of The Firebird (the Russian for that, Zhar-ptitsa sound remarkable!) was elegant and charming. It is based on the Slavic tale, The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa. It has similarities to Stravinsky's opera, but differs in many ways. Archer Ivan and his trusty companion, The Horse of Power, were traveling in the forest one morning when they find a golden feather of the firebird. Despite a warning from the wise horse, Ivan proceeds with his plan to present it to the Tsar in hopes of receiving a reward for the valuable and rare gift. His reward is to be ordered, on pain of death, to capture the entire firebird alive.

This is the start of a downward spiral for poor Ivan, who demonstrates that the joke 'no good deed goes unpunished' really isn't a joke in his world. After he captures the bird, the Tsar demands he bring him a bride - the Princess of Never - but the princess proves to be every bit as feisty as the Tsar, and so Ivan finds himself on a quest to find her bridal dress which is hidden away somewhere odd. The story has a predictably happy ending, but it takes a twist and a turn, and another twist on the way there. This combined with Sarandon's reading made this story wonderful and I recommend it.

I've been a big fan of Raúl Juliá for some time, particularly in his more comedic roles such as in Street Fighter (where I also fell in love with Ming-Na Wen who is now as enjoyable as ever in Marvel's Agents of Shield), Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, The Addams Family, Moon over Parador (featuring the ever excellent Richard Dreyfuss), and also in The Gumball Rally which is where I first saw him. Juliá reads The Monkey People which is a Columbian story about the laziest people in the world, who live by a lake and one day become curious about the puffs of smoke appearing on the other side of the lake.

The smoke is emanating from the pipe of a craftsman who (he claims when they finally meet him) is liberating monkeys from the large leaves of plants by carving them out. These monkeys can do anything a human can, which delights the lake people, who demand the artist gives them all of the monkeys he creates so they can have them do all the work, allowing the people to continue lazing around in their hammocks. This is not a wise decision, as they soon discover!

I recommend both of these stories. Highly entertaining, beautifully read. The music is, as ever, annoying, but not too intrusive.


Monday, March 7, 2016

World Tales Volume 3


Rating: WORTHY!

This one was another delight despite the music. Again it was one disk, two stories, each a bit under thirty minutes. The reading was excellent, the music not so much. I like UB40, but not when it's mixed in with a story so that you can't focus on either one. Denzel Washington read Anansi, which is a spider who is the owner of all stories. The idea of Kwaku Anansi seems to have arisen in Ghana, but has been well preserved in Jamaica, to which all-too-many Africans were shipped during the hellish slavery years.

I like Anansi, because he's not always guaranteed to win, so you never can be quite sure what will happen. In this double story, he first outwits a snake by means of a sneaky ruse, and simultaneously proves you don't need a carrot and a stick - just a stick! The other part of the story sees Anansi not faring so well as he dishonestly pretends he's fasting after his mother-in-law died.

Neither Denzel Washington nor UB40 hail from Jamaica, and I can't help but wonder why a Jamaican actor and a Jamaican band (if they must have music!) were not employed here. Washington does a fine job of sounding Jamaican, and UB40, a phenomenally successful band named after a British unemployment benefit form, do a fine trade in reggae and have a string of classics behind them, but if they could afford Denzel Washington, surely they could afford Sean Paul or - and here's another issue: why is this all guys doing the reading? - Roxanne Beckford, or Audrey Reid or someone like that? Jamaicans are not a scarce commodity! That said, Washignton has been a favorite of mine since movies like Fallen, Courage Under Fire, and Much Ado About Nothing, and he does a fine job.

Max von Sydow has been a favorite of mine ever since The Exorcist and Three Days of the Condor, and he takes East of the Sun, West of the Moon (not to be confused with the A-ha album!) to grand heights. This is very much a story in the mold of Beauty and the Beast, but it's different enough for children, and it has a charm all of its own. I recommend this brace of fairy-tales.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

World Tales Volume 1


Rating: WORTHY!

This is my second of three forays I am initially making into the audio books for children published by Rabbit Ears. I wasn't thrilled with the first, but the second one was much better. I suspect a large portion of this was because of the narrators, who are several steps above Danny Glover in delivery! Again there were only two stories, the first was Aladdin and the Magic Lamp read by John Hurt, and the second was The Five Chinese Brothers read by John Lone. Both stories are just under thirty minutes each. I've been a huge fan of both of these men for a long time and their delivery was exquisite.

I'm not familiar with the story of the five brothers (well, I am now!), so I can't speak for how well that adheres to the original, but it's a story of Chinese super heroes versus the villainous emperor! Aladdin was very much what I expected and very well told by John Hurt (aka The War Doctor!). John Hurt was born just ten miles from my home town, and I've been a fan of his for a long time, since well before Harry Potter and Alien! In movies such as 10 Rillington Place, Watership Down, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as TV movie, The Naked Civil Servant, I've enjoyed his performances. His retelling of Aladdin is wonderfully done, and his cadence and intonation a pleasure on the ear.

I've been a big fan of John Lone since The Shadow, and I've enjoyed his work in other movies, too, such as M. Butterfly and Rush Hour 2, both of which I recommend. His easy relation of this story of five brothers, who all look alike, but who have very different, and rather strange supernatural powers, and how they help each other when one of them falls afoul of the god-like emperor, is as engaging as it was soothing to listen to. My kids, who normally don't pay much attention to what I'm listening to in the car, insisted on hearing this one out after we got home and the story will wasn't finished! I recommend this disk highly, but I wish Rabbit Ears would realize that there's no rule which says that only men can read children's stories.


Tales of Brer Rabbit


Rating: WARTY!

I found a set of audio disks at the local library which are produced by a publisher called Rabbit Ears. At first I thought they were all stories about rabbits, but they're not. They're a bunch of old folk tales and fairy tales which are read by celebrities, but there are only two stories per disk and a lot of music which you may or may not like, so you get little for your outlay, which is why the library is so wonderful!

The first story is Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, and the other one is Brer Rabbit and Boss Lion, both of which are read by Danny Glover. Both stories are about twenty minutes listening time, but would have been a lot shorter with no music! I'm guessing that's why the music was added. I'm not a huge fan of Danny Glover, but I liked him well enough in the Lethal Weapon movie series and the second of the Predator movies. Unfortunately, in this, he's acting more like a stereotypical actor from one of the seventies Blaxploitation movies, and for me this was not remotely entertaining.

He was significantly less animated in the second story, but it still did not entertain me. Obviously these days, stories about Brother Rabbit are not aimed at people my age, but historically, these stories including, believe it or not, the Tar Baby story, have a long tradition. Some commentators tie the stories to slavery, but there are traditions of such stories among American Indians and other peoples. Note that 'tar baby' is considered to be a racial slur.

If you really like these two stories, or you really, really like Danny Glover, and you're desperate for something for your children to listen to, then this might work, but I can't recommend it for as short as it is or as poor as it's told.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Baker's Magic by Diane Zahler


Rating: WORTHY!

This story grabbed me from the start and wouldn't let go. It's an amazing fairy tale about a young girl, Bee, who runs away from her obnoxious foster parents and heads for the big city. On her journey, she finds a new father, meets a princess, sails with pirates, and discovers two of the most interesting islands ever to appear above sea level. This story read like it was written for middle-grade, although the main characters were all in their mid-eens. That said, however, this is really a story for all ages, in the classic mold of fairy tale telling.

All this in a land where trees won't grow, a mage rules in place of a king, and something Bee does seems to put magic into everything she bakes. Not that that's always a good thing, but there is a recipe at the back for one good thing: the famous Bouts buns! I enjoyed this, and as important, I felt that the writer had a great time writing it, which all-too-often doesn't come out, even in stories I've enjoyed. In this novel though, the fun she had in the writing came through just as powerfully as anything which Bee baked into her breads and pastries.

As if the story so far wasn't quite wonderful enough, Bee is asked to deliver some of her pastries to the castle, wherein lives the reclusive mage, and a princess who hasn't been seen in years. What's going on here? Why is the princess an orphan just like Bee? Why is the only tree in the land sitting in the palace garden? And what's with the hedgehog?

The novel is set in a fantasy version of The Netherlands, which caused a couple of hiccups for me, since it was written from a very American point of view. At one point, johnnycakes put in an appearance, but they're known only in North America, not in Europe - at least not in medieval times. The same goes for pecans.

There were a couple of missteps like that, but nothing your typical American reader would notice. The primary focus of my blog isn't about books per se, but about writing books, so it would be remiss of me to pass over what I found to be a delightful trip into English - not England, English - and Dutch! Naturally since this is a well-baked story, there is mention of cookies, but this, again, is a North American term. Like soccer versus football, the rest of the world calls them biscuits, which is also the Dutch word for them (although they have more than one word). However, the Dutch also have a word for cake, which is koek, so it's not so bad to be caught in possession of koek in Holland! LOL! The diminutive of koek is koekie, from which we get cookie, so it's not such a leap as it seems. Note that it's pronounced more like cook than coke, so you can discount my cookie joke. Confused yet?! I know I am.

I really liked this story, and despite it being rather lengthy, I blitzed through it in short order. It's very, very readable, and I recommend it. In fact, I'm prepared to guarantee that it won't burn your biscuits...!


Monday, December 21, 2015

A Small Pony Tale by Lily Lexington


Rating: WORTHY!

A Small Pony Tale, in addition to being a pun worthy of a horse laugh, is a story about a pony, and thereby hangs a tail. All the pony's brothers were saddled with some talent or skill, be it strength or speed, but the one thing those horses didn't have? Well, that was this pony's great strength, and it wasn't even the mane thing abut her! This is a very short review for a very short and very adorable story!


The Little Duck and the Great Big Pond by Lily Lexington


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not talking about a pond which put on a bit of weight over the holiday season. I'm not talking about your typical overly large pond. I'm talking about a great big pond. This pond was huge. It was resplendent in its massive pond-i-ness. If Doctor Who said, "Come along, Ponds," this pond wouldn't even be able to move an inch. It was that grand. At least that's how the Little Duck saw it.

Can I just say a word about overly generous families as long as we're banging on about largeness? This momma duck had twenty ducklings. I am not egging you on. This was a sizeable, yellow, fluffy ball of a ducklings. Unfortunately, there was only one girl and she was hydrophobic to the max, like totally!

Told poetically, this story of the huggable duckling is very sad, no mater how cute she is. She's hardly unflappable since she so wants to get into the swim of things, but entreaties from the rest of her family are like water off a duck's back. I kid you not. It looks like a stuck duck. A duck stuck in a tree. How will this fluffy duckling ever get down?(!) Call me quackers, but I loved this story.


Princess Maddie Mouse by Lily Lexington


Rating: WORTHY!

Moving into the second day of my Lily Lexington Retrospective, today I feature the mouse princess! Maddie Mouse lived in a hole in the side of a red barn with her mom, the queen, her dad, the king, and her kid sister, the Princess Molly, and her two older brothers, Mitchell and Mark. My word! There goes the throne! Each of the children was the royal heir of something. Mark is in charge of the crops. Not the riding crops, but the growing crops. Mitchell is in charge of the animals. Not the five-member pop group from Newcastle of swinging 60's in Britain, but the farm animals. Maddie was in charge of the bugs. Not the Volkswagen's, but the insects and other creepy crawlies. Young Molly was in charge of the flowers...okay, I got nothing. Let's move on!

One day Molly's crying was so bad it woke the sun early (!), and all day, everyone was tired. This wouldn't do at all. Maddie set herself to thinking how she could help her sister sleep. I wonder if it had anything to do with her little six-legged charges? Well don;t let it bug you! Buy the book! I loved this story. A kid who cries so loud she wakes the sun early? C'mon! That's treasure that is! And Princess Maddie ought to be arrested for gratuitous cuteness.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Princess Tiffany Tooth Fairy by Lily Lexington


Rating: WORTHY!

Princess Tiffany rides a royal cart pulled by two ponies as bright as the moon. Not only does she fulfill all the usual royal duties, she also had to collect teeth. it;s hard work, but it's not like pulling teeth, since these have already fallen out and have been placed hopefully under pillows by young children.

Do you have any idea how heavy teeth are when you’re a tiny fairy and you have fifty seven of them in a huge bag? I thought not. Well, neither do I! But it has to be something that makes you grit your teeth, right? It’s especially onerous if the young child wakes up right as you’re carrying our such an important duty, and rudely traps you in a glass jar. What a royal pain!

This little girl greatly underestimated Princess Tiff, however. The princess is not only cute, she’s also smart. The princess would give her eye teeth to get free, but unfortunately she has none, so she tricks the girl into letting her go. Actually it’s not even a trick. It's more like a brush off as she offers some really good advice that all children would do well to heed, and escapes by the skin of her teeth. Delightfully told and warmly illustrated, this is a fun and inventive story you can really get your teeth into. If it made an old codger like me smile, it can probably work wonders on your child!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Monstrovia by Mark H Newhouse


Rating: WORTHY!

"I’m so cared! Really scared!” I don't think the author meant the first one to be 'cared', but you never know!

Everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Do beans talk? Well if you eat enough they will find a way of expressing themselves. But do you know the real story? What if Jack wasn't a hero. What if he was a murderer, hacking down the beanstalk knowing that the innocent giant would plummet to his certain death? That's the premise presented to the courtroom here, and Brodie's uncle is the only person standing in the way of Jackson Bordenschlocker and doom!

I read the advance review ebook version of this story. I understand the print version will have illustrations by Dan Traynor, but there were none in the e-version. This marks the third of an odd trilogy I am going through right now, featuring Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Camp Midnight, an advance review graphic novel by Steven Seagle, and this one. While Bradbury's novel turned out to be merely wicked gnarly, the two ARCs are curiously parallel in some ways in that they both feature a child packed-off for the summer by their primary parent, and the child finds him/herself stick amongst monsters. I'm not a fan of first person PoV novels, and I had some difficulty getting comfortable with this story to begin with, but it grew on me as I read and in the end it was a truly worthy read.

Brodie Adkins's mom is going to China, and for reasons unknown she doesn’t want him along, so he's sent to stay with his crazy uncle, who’s a lawyer. What Brodie doesn't know is that his uncle works in Monstrovia - a parallel monster and fairytale world and there, he's considered a hero, and known as Doofinch the Defender, who stands up for downtrodden monsters. All Brodie wants to do is go back home, but he finds himself drawn into this world against his wishes and better instincts when Emily Beanstalk, aka Bordenschlocker shows up worried about her brother Jack, who's accused of murdering this giant, Eugene Bulk.

After having climbed the beanstalk with Emily to find Jack and bring him down to earth - so to speak - the latter two disappear, and when they're found, Jack's mom and key witness Annabelle Goose go missing! Jasper Doofinch feels they’ve been had - that Emily used them for the sake of rescuing her brother, but Emily turns out to have more going for her than you might think at first. She's strong and feisty, self-determined and self-possessed. She didn't seem like the kind of person who would require a boy to help her with anything.

Emily is evidently smarter than Brodie, too. At least she knows that while spiders may be poisonous, the correct word to refer to their ability to inflict painful and potentially dangerous bites, is 'venomous':

“Are the spiders poisonous?” I am reaching into the back of my shirt for a good scratch. I’m all itchy.
Emily looks serious. “Oh, Monstrovian spiders are very venomous. One bite and they turn you into a scratching post!”
Quite clearly Emily knows that poisonous refers to what might happen if you ingest an animal that's not good for you. Venomous refers to that thing's ability to inflict damage if it bites or stings you. Mushrooms can be poisonous for example, but they're never venomous. Snakes are venomous, but not poisonous judged by how many get eaten, even by humans....

The beanstalk is also an interesting character. Despite being cut down, presumably by Jack, it can regrow - and does well on lawyer jokes. It evidently has feelings. I started wondering if it would end up as a character witness for Jack! Jasper is more interested in taking a gander at the goose, but when she gets on the stand, she lays an egg - and not in a golden way. Can Jasper, his nephew Brodie, and Brodie's new friend Emile save Jack from the juggernaut jaws of giant justice?

This novel was hilarious, and an easy, fast read. I highly recommend it.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Alice The Fairy by David Shannon


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an amazing book, amusingly drawn and nicely colored, with some great little doodles that augmented the main story, such as the 'W' in a word turned into a crown, and strawberries and cookies appearing as other letters on other pages.

Alice is actually rationalizing that she's a fairy in training in order to explain away some of the, er, incidents in her life at home, such as her ability to turn her nice white dress into a red one. Juice may have been involved. She's only a temp because you have to pass a lot of tests in order to be a permanent fairy. She can't fly very high - namely as high as her legs can hold her, but she can fly (run) really fast. She can do real magic, too - well, she made a plate of cookies disappear....

She has fairy dust that she uses to turn oatmeal into cake. It looks very much like sugar, but I'm sure it's really fairy dust! Alice manages to avoid the perils of evil which beset her in the form of broccoli. I'm not sure about the up-skirt views we got on the double page spread showing real fairies flying off to fairy school, but that's a minor issue. Overall, this book was amazing, and sly, and funny, and inventive, and I recommend it.