Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Author: Meagan Spooner
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 374 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: June 22, 2017
Finished: June 27, 2017
From the inside cover:
Beauty knows Beast's forest in her bones - and in her blood.
She knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who's ever come close to discovering them.
But Yeva's grown up far from her father's old lodge, raised to be part of the city's highest caste of aristocrats. Still, she's never forgotten the feel of a bow in her hands, and she's spent a lifetime longing for the freedom of the hunt.
So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there's no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas...or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman.
But Yeva's father's misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he'd been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.
Deaf to her sisters' protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory - a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva's heard about only in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin - or salvation.
Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?
I would've read this novel regardless, but the author officially had me hooked at her dedication:
"To the girl
who reads by flashlight
who sees dragons in the clouds
who feels alive in worlds that never were
who knows magic is real
This is for you."
This woman knows how to speak to me; I didn't even have to read a word of the novel itself and I was putty in her hands. Thankfully the actual novel is just as spell-binding and enchanting as the dedication.
Yeva, called Beauty, lives in a Russian/Eastern European inspired world with her father and two older sisters, Lena and Asenka. In typical Beauty and the Beast fashion, Beauty's father loses his fortune, prompting the family to sell their possessions and move to his old cabin in the forest. Yeva doesn't complain about the change at all considering she lives for hunting and loathes the shallow socializing she was forced to do when they lived in town. When her father takes off into the forest raving about a Beast and doesn't return, Yeva follows her father's trail into the Beast's valley, discovers his dead body, and is captured by the Beast. Yeva wakes up in his dungeon and vows revenge for her father's death, attempting to kill the Beast at the first opportunity. The Beast then trains Yeva to hunt in the unique environment that surrounds them, telling her that he requires her skills to break the curse that was set upon him, and that he will kill her family if she doesn't cooperate. When details of the curse and Beast's involvement in her father's death are revealed, there remains the question of whether Beauty will succeed in her revenge...or if she even wants to.
Despite my horrible plot summary above (hard to do it justice without delving into spoiler territory), the novel does a wonderful job in creating a nicely varied version of the typical Beauty and the Beast premise, somewhat similar to that in Cruel Beauty: rather than being a passive prisoner of the Beast, Beauty willingly seeks him out to kill him and slowly begins to feel differently towards him through their shared interactions. Yeva narrates the novel, but in between chapters there are excerpts from the Beast's point of view, so we do get glimpses into his mind as well.
I like the approach the author took to this particular story, both in terms of atmosphere and setting, as well as themes. The Russian setting influences elements of the story. The folktale of Ivan, the Grey Wolf, and the Firebird plays a key role not only in Beauty's background and motivation, but also in the greater plot. I really enjoyed the author's focus on the idea of want and happiness in life (that Firebird makes for wonderful symbolism and imagery), and how the novel is (mainly) about Beauty's eventual realization that the things that she wants and that make her happy culminate in her relationship with the Beast. It takes her a while to get to that point, a whole year passes over the course of the novel, which I appreciated. Beauty has to really think about what she wants for her life, and like most people, she eventually figures it out after some soul-searching. And yes, the author addresses the Stockholm Syndrome aspect as well: Yeva and her friends actually have a discussion about women who develop feelings for men who abuse them, and she is asked outright if this is the scenario between her and the Beast. The Stockholm Syndrome aspect to this tale is a dicey one that authors of retellings have to consider, and I think it was handled appropriately here.
Beautifully written, a lush setting, and varied enough to stand apart from other tales of the like. Hunted will definitely be joining the ranks of my well-loved, most-recommended Beauty and the Beast retellings.
Thoughts on the cover:
Pretty bu not awe-inspiring. I like the image of Yeva from behind in her cloak in the forest, looking towards what I assume to be the Beast's domain based on the magical glow effect (either that or she's hunting the Firebird).
Monday, June 19, 2017
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 392 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Started: June 18, 2017
Finished: June 19, 2017
From the inside cover:
The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she'd been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko's convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who've been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Maiko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she's within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she's appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love - a love that will force her to question everything she's ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.
Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Flame in the Mist is a passionate, action-packed adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling author Renee Ahdieh.
Whoo boy, am I having bad luck with books in the past few days...
I have a degree in Japanese Studies, I'm usually all over books set in Japanese settings so long as they don't butcher it completely. Though the author did a good job with the Japanese setting and atmosphere, not even that could save this book.
Mariko is the daughter of a daimyo in feudal Japan, who is betrothed to one of the emperor's sons. She resents this, obviously, because she's smart enough to actually do more than simply be a pawn in a political marriage. When her convoy is attacked with the intent to kill her, she dresses up as a boy and tracks down the Black Clan, said to be responsible for the attack, to infiltrate them to exact her revenge. She soon learns that the Black Clan isn't as bad as she's been led to believe (no, really?), and that her family is actually more diabolical than she ever thought possible (for someone as smart as Mariko's supposed to be, I'm amazed it took her that long to figure it out).
First off, people are comparing this to Mulan....it isn't; it involves Mariko dressing up as a boy, that's about as far as the comparison goes. Mariko is smart, I'll give her that, but she is such a spoiled-little-rich-girl stereotype that it makes me want to smack her. For someone so smart, she doesn't realize her privilege and that the peasants serving under her father might actually be oppressed and unhappy. The romance isn't believable; I have no clue why she ended up with the guy she did. they're not very compatible. Also, the magical elements in this book just pop out of nowhere with no explanation as to what they are or how they work. I honestly thought this was a regular historical fiction novel until Mariko witnesses a magic tree in the Black Clan's encampment that restrains and kills someone, and I had to go back to make sure I'd read it correctly, since there had been no mention of magic at all up to that point (beyond the usual generic cultural references to youkai). Mariko did become a little more tolerable towards the end, but honestly I'd lost interest by that point and was only reading for completion's sake.
If you liked The Wrath and the Dawn (the author's previous work), you'll probably like this, since the stories are rather similar, but it wasn't my thing at all. This is the first book in a new series apparently, so it will be continuing.
Thoughts on the cover:
So stinking pretty. The black/orange/purple combo is just so aesthetically pleasing. I like the little detail of how the flowers slowly morph into shurikens.
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 435 pages
Genre:Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: June 16, 2017
Finished: June 18, 2017
From the inside cover:
Naomi Novik, author of the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm fairy tale.
"Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travellers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that's not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he's still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we're grateful, but not that grateful."
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her fate.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its power at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong thing. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
Yet another Beauty and the Beast retelling, but this one fell flat unfortunately.
It started off so well: Agnieszka is prepared for the harvest, when the Dragon will take a seventeen year-old girl and keep her for a decade before releasing her. The girls aren't harmed and swear that the Dragon doesn't touch them, in fact he sends them off with money that many use to study at one of the universities. Agnieszka isn't worried for herself, she knows she won't get chosen, but she's afraid of losing her friend Kasia. When the Dragon chooses Agnieszka instead of Kasia, everyone is shocked. Though determined to avoid the Dragon for a decade, Agnieszka soon realizes she has magical talent, in which the Dragon instructs her. When Kasia is captured by the Wood, Agnieszka is blindly determined to save her, though the Dragon tells her it is pointless. When Agnieszka succeeds, she and the Dragon come under the scrutiny of the royal family.
The book is big on plot but sorely lacking in character development. The Dragon is a prickly bastard with no redeeming qualities. I like my fictional bad boys, but they need to possess something that makes them likeable...anything. Agnieszka is clumsy with no talents, and no one quite knows how she's able to use magic, not even the Dragon. The romance isn't believable (he insults and berates her constantly), the plot gets boring after the first hundred pages or so, and I just didn't really care about the characters enough.
Disappointing since this had a decent set-up and premise.
Thoughts on the cover:
Quite pretty and eye-catching, which is misleading given how the story doesn't match up.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Hyperion, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Adult/Young Adult; Classic, Fantasy
Started: June 12, 2017
Finished: June 16, 2017
From the inside cover:
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.
And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awakened by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning . Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.
Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
I've reviewed this author's work before, and adored it. She's a magnificent writer, and Canadian to boot. This is an older and vastly different work, but still lyrically beautiful and just plain amazing.
At first glance, A Thousand Nights is a re-imagining or retelling of the classic work, One Thousand and One Nights, just without all the embedded stories we're familiar with, it's the framing device that is the basis for this version. The unnamed heroine and narrator shares similarities with Scheherazade in that she exists in a pre-Islamic Middle East, becomes the wife of a ruler known for killing his wives, and manages to keep herself alive night after night, and that's about where the similarities end. The book opens with the arrival of Lo-Melkhiin in the desert home in which the narrator and her family live. The narrator knows Lo-Melkhiin will choose her older sister, and so she masquerades as her in order that she may be spared death at his hands. When she leaves, the women in her community say they will build shrines to her and make her a smallgod in honour of her sacrifice. When the narrator arrives at Lo-Melkhiin's palace, she doesn't expect to feel simultaneously at home and unnerved; the people that live there treat her well and admire her, but there are traces of Lo-Melkhiin's unsettling nature everywhere. She soon discovers that Lo-Melkhiin was a kind man until he wandered into the desert and came back possessed by a demon, whose impulses fuelled his cruel actions. The narrator also learns that she has powers of her own, and that Lo-Melkhiin cannot kill her like his other wives. Despite the threats he makes against her sister and family, the narrator is torn between helping the man escape from the demon's grasp within his own mind, or killing him outright and plunging her world into chaos.
This is, and probably will continue to be, compared to The Wrath and the Dawn, the insanely hyped book which came out around the same time. The Wrath and the Dawn was a romantic drama, whereas A Thousand Nights is a thoughtful, densely packed, more literary read that you just want to savour. The writing and atmosphere are just lovely; it reads like an old style classic but spruced up a bit to appeal to modern readers who want a more complex story. Although this is annoying as all heck at first, I really do appreciate the symbolism behind the author making practically everyone in the story nameless with the exception of Lo-Melkhiin. It doesn't necessarily make a case for gender or class here since men and women alike are unnamed regardless of status, but it does serve to remind us that even those who are unknown have power and are a force to be reckoned with.
Definitely give this a go so long as you're not in a rush, you'll want to take your time with this one.
Thoughts on the cover:
Very clever. At first glance, the stuff floating around the title font appears to be smoke or mist, but when you look closer you see they're actually quotes from the book.
Monday, June 12, 2017
Author: Ron Powers
Publisher: Hachette Books, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 331 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: June 5, 2017
Finished: June 12, 2017
From the inside cover:
How did we, as a society, get to this point? It's a question that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author Ron Powers set out to answer in this gripping, richly researched social and personal history of mental illness. Powers traces the appalling narrative - from the sadistic abuse of "lunaticks" at Bedlam Asylum in London seven centuries ago to today's scattershot treatments and policies. His odyssey of reportage began not long after not one but both of his beloved sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia.
From the earliest efforts to segregate the "mad" in society, to the wily World War II-era social engineers who twisted Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory to fit a much darker agenda, to the follies of the antipsychiatry movement (starring L. Ron Hubbard and his gifted, insanity-denying compatriot Thomas Szasz), we've struggled to deal with mental health care for generations. And it all leads to the current landscape, in which too many families struggle alone to manage afflicted loved ones without proper public policies or support.
Braided into his vivid social history is the moving saga of Powers' own family: his bright. buoyant sons, Kevin (a gifted young musician) and Dean (a promising writer and guitarist), both of whom struggled mightily with schizophrenia; and his wife, Honoree Fleming, whose knowledge of human biology and loving maternal instincts proved inadequate against schizophrenia's hellish power. For Powers the questions of "what to do about crazy people" isn't just academic; it's deeply personal. And he's determined to forge a better way forward, for his family's sake as well as for the many others who deserve better.
As soon as I saw the blurb for this book, I knew I had to read it. Anyone working in education especially bemoans the state of our mental health care system even in Canada (many therapies and mental health programs aren't covered here), so anything related to the subject instantly attracts my attention.
The author gives an account of the social history of mental illness, while at the same time elaborating on his personal life, particularly his sons' descent into schizophrenia. I enjoy the social history aspect of the book, it shines a lot of light on how the state of mental health in modern life has gotten to this point (the chapter on why people suffering from psychosis cannot be involuntarily committed was particularly interesting). The thing that I found detrimental in my opinion was the author's equal focus on his family's personal experience with schizophrenia. I enjoy books that use anecdotes to personalize some dry and sterile subject matter, but in this case the author devotes whole chapters to his family's unique experiences, which in my opinion detract from what I really wanted to read about: the history of mental health.
Worth a read, but you might get annoyed at the equal focus on the history and the author's sons' experiences like I did.
Thoughts on the cover:
Dark, foreboding, with no apparent way out...matches the atmosphere of the book quite nicely.
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Publisher: Zondervan, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 268 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction, Fairy Tale
Started: June 9, 2017
Finished: June 10, 2017
From the back cover:
Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf le Wyse, a recluse who is rumoured to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of the lord's bailiff - a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.
Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the bailiff's vile behaviour and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord le Wyse. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.
I'm off the graphic novel kick I was on for the past month, and back to Beauty and the Beast retellings. What can I say, the end of the school year is looming and my students are driving me crazy, so I fall back on my perennial favourites to cheer me up.
This particular retelling is an interesting one because it is very overtly a Christian one. I didn't know this before I read it, and normally I stay far away from overly Christian anything. Don't get me wrong, I'm Catholic and I teach religion classes (in addition to English), I just like my religious symbolism to be a little more subtle and a little less heavy-handed. This book definitely is very heavy-handed and not subtle at all, but I have to give the author credit because it completely works and is appropriate given the context of the story.
Taking place in the mid 1300s in England, Annabel was born into a merchant family with more privilege than the rest of the people in her village. Not only is Annabel literate and otherwise well-educated, her family could pay to avoid working the fields for the lord of the area. When Annabel's father dies and his ships are lost, her family becomes indebted to the lord, so they are ordered that one family member should serve for three years under Lord le Wyse to repay their debt. With her mother and brothers begging her to marry the bailiff, Tom (who has agreed to pay their debt to the lord in exchange), Annabel instead decides to serve the lord in part to escape marriage to a man she despises. She eventually finds her niche in le Wyse's household: as the only servant who can read, she is the one who the lord asks to read aloud from his copy of the Bible every evening. Being the 1300s before the dawn of the printing press, pretty much the only thing available to read at the time was the Bible, and even then only if you could read Latin. Since Annabel is educated and can read Latin, this is pretty much the highlight of her evening. So Annabel and Lord le Wyse wax philosophical every evening and bond, and eventually Annabel has to decide whether she truly wishes to go to a convent or to love Lord le Wyse.
Again, the Bible-thumping is pretty blatant, so if you're anti-religion this might be a turn-off. I feel that although it is a bit much, it actually does fit the context of the story given the time period (gotta love the uber religiosity of the pre-Enlightenment period). The book is a super fast read, so of course there is some depth and development that is sacrificed for that.
Worth the read in my opinion, purely because it's different, but not my favourite. I heartily recommend Heart's Blood, Cruel Beauty, and Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast as my favourite retellings if you wish to get right to the good stuff.
Thoughts on the cover:
Decent, but not amazing; but it works for the context of the story.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Dragons - Daniel Bayliss, Nathan Pride, Hannah Christenson, Jorge Corona
Authors: Daniel Bayliss, Nathan Pride, Hannah Christenson, Jorge Corona
Publisher: Archaia (Boom Entertainment), 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 144 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Started: May 31, 2017
Finished: June 1, 2017
From the back cover:
It's not the stories you tell, but how they are told.
The critically acclaimed Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Dragons includes four epic tales of dragons and the men and women courageous enough to face them, inspired by folklore from around the world and told in the spirit of Jim Henson's beloved television series.
Featuring an astounding melange of styles and stories by some of today's most original talent, including Daniel Bayliss (Kennel Block Blues) with Fabian Rangel Jr. (Space Riders), Nathan Pride (Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard), Hannah Christenson (Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard) and Jorge Corona (Feathers, We Are Robin), this stunning hardcover edition also includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the process and care taken in adapting each of these timeless tales.
I've seen The Storyteller television series and read the first volume of the graphic novels and quite enjoy the premise as a whole, it appeals to the folklore-lover in me. I haven't picked up the Witches or Giants volumes yet, but based on what I've seen in the Dragons volume, I'll be picking those up shortly.
The Dragons volume features four stories entering around dragons and, very often, their dragon-slayers. I honestly enjoyed all the stories equally, they're all very engaging in terms of plot and each art style is distinctive and aesthetically pleasing. I appreciated how the stories were nicely diverse: one from Aboriginal sources, one from England, one from Russia, and the last one from Japan. I have a soft spot for the first story, Son of the Serpent, mostly because it has an interesting twist to it, and it is inspired by Aboriginal folklore, which we don't see depictions of too often in graphic novels.
Beautiful art and wonderfully engaging stories, plus the stories are all one-shots so they're short and sweet. If you enjoy stories in general or have an interest in folklore, you'll enjoy the Storyteller graphic novels.
Thoughts on the cover:
These hardcover volumes are certainly gorgeous on the shelf. Dark, earthy colours with gold accents really evoke a classic feel. I like the image of the Storyteller and his dog in the spherical image inset with the image of the focus of the book in the background.