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a travelling circus

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My review of  Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine is up at Worlds Without End Blog as a feature of the 2013 Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge. It is one of my more Reader Response posts where I really like the novel (and the more I think about it the more I do) but it was not without rough beginnings.

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Do head over to WWE, and reply there. They forward me the comments. I would love your thoughts if you’ve read it. The “review” is actually spoiler-free so if you haven’t read Mechanique feedback is good, too.

Mechanique is a tale and most certainly fantastical, so the read also fits nicely into Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge VII.

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"review" · concenter · fiction · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · young adult lit

{book} cinder

11235712Cinder (bk 1: Lunar Chronicles)

by Marissa Meyer

Fiewel&Friends, 2012

Hardcover, 387 pages.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. –publisher’s comments

I am sometimes frustrated by an author’s choice to re-imagine a classic fairytale, but Marissa Meyer’s decision to transport Cinderella into a futuristic city and turn the protagonist into a cyborg was brilliant. The marketplace where Cinder sets up shop brought a more arid Blade Runner to mind, which follows with the adorable image of Firefly’s Kaylee with grease and a blush on her face. Flitting images before Meyers makes all images and references (intentional or no) her own. The hook of the premise and the promise of that red-glass slipper on the cover catches and does not disappoint.

Meyer envisions a future-other place where fairytale magic has scientific leanings. The science fiction is fun, and it pleases me to see this female author stitching it into the fabric of a cinderella-cyborg. The possible resides alongside the impossible in a cyborg and how comfortably this sort of conflicts fit into the story of Cinderella. She is, in so many ways, an impossible girl who is so terribly probable as to be painful for the reader. She loves someone out of her league, someone who really mustn’t love her in return if he knows what is good for him. She is alien within her own family, and community. She is hard-work going no where. She is beauty (read potential) wasted or enslaved for small purpose.

A big shift is not content with a usual feminist revision, but in revisiting the possibility of origins. And why do we not ever think about Cinderella’s mother? Especially when the idea of the father comes across more the doting uncle in some ways… The mysteries Cinder sets up aren’t terribly hard, but the adventure is where the read finds its entertainment anyway.* What will Cinder do now or next? But for the extraordinary time spent on the “pumpkin” (however necessary), Cinder maneuvers pieces into place and pages click along.

Lines from the classic tale epigraph sections and in a way refocus and anticipate coming events. Not that Cinder remains all that anticipatory for long (thus the refocus). The bigger bones of the story are there, but plenty of the elements are either new or skewed marvelously.

The Stepmother is fabulously evil. And the Lunar figures are appropriately strange and creepy. The prince always shifted to a Miyazaki-princeling every time he showed up—much to my delight. Meyers gifts enough to flesh and clothe her characters, while allowing us the pleasure of wanting to see them continue into the sequel. A sequel in these endless teen/young adult series’ that I am actually interested in pursuing.

Marissa Meyer writes a highly entertaining adventure in Cinder with a heroine increasingly equipped into a figure that has me curious where Meyer is taking her. I am equally invested in this very intriguing quandary of Prince Kai’s (talk about revisionist’s play). The next book, Scarlet, visits Red Riding Hood and I do feel a bit anxious** about this—must say something about Cinder that I’m going to read it anyway.

recommendations: mg+; those who like a good visit w/ classic tales, futures w/ a tasteful salting of genetic engineering and dystopic murmurings, sci-fi talk midst a faerie-lore sensibility.

*feels like a young teen read through and through—wish I’d had this to read at N’s age. btw, this is a good thing.

*there are some great readings/tellings of Red Riding Hood, where might Meyers go with it?

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · wondermous

{book} the girl(s) who…

“What if the Green Wind came and found an old lady complaining of gout? Well, of course September would go with him anyway—she would not hesitate if she were eighteen or eighty! But old women faced certain dangers in Fairyland, such as breaking a hip while riding a wild velocipede, or having everyone do what you say just because you had wrinkles. That last would not be so bad—perhaps September could be a fabulous withered old witch and learn to cackle.” (5)

septemberThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

by Cathrynne M. Valente w/ illustrations by Ana Juan

Feiwel and Friends, 2012; harcover, 258 pages.

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.
Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem. . . . (jacket copy).

If you have not read The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making you really must. And not only because the sequel would be all the richer for it. Actually, I am not really all that sure how the sequel would even read without having experienced the first book—It is important to know the September who made her own ship and understand the relationships and the references. September was a child in the first, and is growing-up in The Girl who Fell Beneath and while Valente explains the key differences—primarily their hearts—she can only spend so much time; already September risks losing some of her own while bargaining in a goblin market. It is good to know how September’s first trip informs the second, as well as that between time, the year she waited.

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“September’s secret was this: She had been to Fairyland.

This has happened to other children in the history of the world. There are many books about it, and for ever so long little boys and girls have been reading them and making wooden swords and paper centaurs and waiting for their turn. […]

The only trouble was, precious few books about swashbuckling folk have much to say on the subject of how to behave when one gets home. September had changed profoundly from the girl who desperately wanted such things to be real to one who knew they were real. Such a change is less like getting a new haircut than getting a new head.” (2) *

Comparisons to Oz were strongly suggested in reviews of the first, and Oz returns with Wonderland and Neverland coming to mind in the second. But then, the novel’s interest is in situating itself into the childlike wonder of places of imagination and magic by steeping her own narratives among the layers of all the stories that have come before. [Chapter XI’s discussion on the various Quest structures is not to be missed, Lit nerds.] In Valente’s, she tells of a hero who is much more interested in other titles and job descriptions. [another fun conversation in the novel.] Valente’s is a protagonist that is no Alice or Wendy Darling; however she is a bit like Peter Pan, one part of her anyway—the one who leads glorious revels.

I didn’t think much about the title of the book until after, nor the illustrated presence of the three on the cover. Yet, when delving into the deep of a place—or person—stories are going to yield some unforeseen and delicious complexity, aren’t they? Of course, early on, we learn that not everyone cares for the complicated. From “the door shaped like a girl:”

“Most people don’t like complexity. They would prefer the world to simple. For example, a child is whisked away to a magical land and saves it, and all is well forever after. Or a child goes to school and grows up and gets married and has children, and those children have children, and everyone enjoys the same cake for Christmas every year and all is well forever after.” (40-1)

September, while wishing everyone would just speak plainly and that doors should politely lead where they ought, is practical in other ways, too; namely, she knows things are hardly simple. September knows that sometimes she has to approach things “slantwise or upside-down,” especially when the world is in a similar state. Neither does she long for the sort of simplicity described—although she does wrestle with the guilt over leaving Fairyland in tatters. And I guess, she does wrestle with the uncertainty of what her future is to look like, especially as she meets character after character who knows what they want to be when they grow up. {I so feel her pain!}  And she does long for a straightforward story-book type adventure. I suppose I am thinking of what September’s shadow (her other half) riles against: “Why bother growing up and having a job or a baby or a house or any of the things you’re supposed to have?” (127), especially if you can having something that seems so much more exciting, so much closer to other desires that don’t seem to conform to propriety… I am remembering that September’s mother is a mechanic during a World War—a Rosie the Riveter figure.**

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Drawing the image of an earlier at-war America with female machinists with tea cups in the sink at home and news broadcasting over the radio and ration cards, Valente and her girl-shaped-door unabashedly plays in the psychological. Are these adventures really real or a nap alongside a riverbank? In essence, The Wizard of Oz is a story bent on escaping reality for a little while, fortifying the will of a girl who needs to be brave, intelligent, loving and resourceful…much like the first Fairyland book and two very key female characters therein. The Girl who Fell riles with Peter Pan*** against growing up, for settling for the expectations of the world from which they came. The novel also plays with the idea that maybe growing a heart and growing up has some advantages. And like the first book, we see a girl who is going to find her way and her end on her own terms (all three of them). September lacks a passivity that is breathtaking. This is not to mistake her as being invulnerable.

“I can so hoard everything! Everything! I can have it all here, with me, and no one will ever leave me for some stupid war or hurt me. […] I am everything you aren’t brave enough to be. I am what you cannot even admit that you want to be—Queen of Fairyland, which is how all the best heroines end up.” (126-7)

Is that how all the best heroines end up? The Fairyland books are bent on introducing such inquiries. September, herself, is not sure—only understanding that an answer to the problem plaguing Fairyland is in the waking of a Prince. And September knows with certainty that she is a girl who will do what needs doing and see it through to even the most painful end; as proven in the first novel.

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I like moving internalized conflicts into the external in the various forms authors have found amusing, but the move in The Girl Who Fell Beneath, is that is not the only function of a shadow figure. The shadows are not only viewed as living in a state of repression, but as figures oppressed, too. They enter in conversations not only about forgiveness and compassion and sameness. And in a discussion of dark sides:

“though you might be prejudiced against the dark, you ought to remember that that’s where stars live, and the moon and raccoons and owls and fireflies and mushrooms and cats and enchantments and a rather lot of good, necessary things. Thieving, too, and conspiracies, sneaking, secrets, and desire so strong you might faint dead away with the punch of it. But your light side isn’t a perfectly pretty picture, either, I promise you. You couldn’t dream without the dark. You couldn’t rest. You couldn’t even meet a lover on a balcony by moonlight. And what would the world be worth without that? You need your dark side, because without it, you’re half gone.” (202)

The Girl Who Fell Beneath is wildly entertaining. And I have yet to mention odd tea/coffee parties.

—-

One of the most entertaining aspects of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, was the language and I worried as to whether the voice would carry through into a sequel. It does. Neither does Valente disappoint in continuing in humor and imagination. She translates the fantastical into delectable images; Ana Juan’s illustrations are just pure delightful frosting. Valente draws from bizarre encounters without harming the idea of having encounters with the extraordinary for their own sake. The only false rub were the crows, even as I understand their use, even as I adore the mythic reference made. Valente explores characters and ideas with a great deal of charm and wit and willingness to allow for the ugly among the quaint. I am looking forward to September’s next adventure in Fairyland.

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recommendations: girls and boys, 10 & up (or some younger). love Victorian tales w/ a modern skew, and lovers of tale/lore/myth in general; fans of the whimsical and the fierce; like the first, this would be great for a read-aloud, such is the narrator.

of note: this is the sort of playful read I would adore in a book club w/ fellow Lit-ravaged-classmates.

* thinking about this last paragraph of the excerpt in considering the post-war figures.

**thinking about this and the difficulty for post-war women sent back to the hearth.

***love the close of The Girl who Fell.

my review of The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making 

{images belong to Ana Juan}

"review" · arc · concenter · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} charis: journey to pandora’s jar

of note: A good friend introduced me to her friend Nicole Walters via Facebook fairly recently. Nicole is publishing her first middle-grade novel and Leah knew N and I would very likely be interested in a story involving a strong female protagonist and Greek mythology. Nicole generously allowed me to read Charis in return for a free and unbiased reading and that is what follows, that is always what follows.

CHARIS titleCharis: Journey to Pandora’s Jar by Nicole Walters

published via BookTrope

ARC via e-reader

In many respects, 13-year-old Charis Parks is your typical girl: She goes to school, has friends, a crush, and is bright and sassy. In popular story, she is not so typical: One parent is white, the other is not, and the two adults have an easy affection between them and they attend to their children, too. Charis’ elder brother, though teasing, is kind and loving, and the depiction is mutual. Then there is that thing with her unusual birthmark which points to a destiny upon which the future of our world hinges.

When Pandora’s Jar was opened those many, many fateful years ago, Hope did not fly eagerly outward  into the world with the demons of chaos and instead was trapped inside when the lid was replaced. Pandora and the Jar were lost and with its return comes the one who was born to open it. It is up to Charis to release Hope and thus counteract the terrible curse the Jar has wrought on humankind.

The nefariously cast Hades has plans of his own for the Jar. He also has some very creepy henchwomen, the Erinyes Sisters. They are deliciously menacing figures, who are, at turns, also quite humorous. I adored them. Hermes, Athena, and Nike are determined to thwart Hades and see the Jar opened and Hope restored. Persuading the Fates and Charis to their cause, it is a race to recover the Jar. They have five days—the time span of the novel.

“I’m no damsel.”~Charis

Charis is someone portrayed as heroic without requiring a predestined quest to save the world to define her as such. Walters does not write a prophesied figure who needs a lot of convincing and employs excessive angst in the matter of destiny. It’s lovely. Now, that isn’t to say Charis does not have an occasional doubt, nor does it mean she doesn’t cry. She cries frequently—a nice (unusual) trait in a young hero.  A key personality trait for this hero is her curiosity. A curious mind is one that is taken with observing, questioning, and confronting the world. This is one of the traits belonging to world-changers and hope-bringers. It is beautiful to see it celebrated rather than criticized or hated—especially in a female figure.

Having a nearly 13-year-old girl, I know the age hosts the courageous and the articulate. I am also well acquainted with Charis’ repetitive use of “What tha?” Walters renders the middle-schooler and her world marvelously; though I did question every one’s ability to express themselves so well, but reluctance is an enemy of time when pacing and book-length is of import to middle-grade (one of the reasons I love reading it).

Where Rick Riordan comparisons will be inescapable, Walters favors a fluid writing style over amping up the adrenaline to compel her audience. This isn’t to say she does not provide great action. However, I do prefer the dark tension of that opening sequence to the cross-cutting effect found later in the novel. Of course, Riordan is not only about the ticking clock, so how does Walters do with the Greek myth in present day story? She is smart with it. One of the most enjoyable aspects to the novel is how Walters knows when to elaborate, and which details require prose or witty conversation or dramatic exchanges. She successfully contrives reasons and venues in which to share the myths that fuel the context and conflict in the story.

Gabe is a sweetie and the since-childhood-best-friend who is not Charis’ crush. The downplay of this romantic interest is handled rather deftly without eliminating possibility. And Gabe should add interest for male readers, who should enjoy the lovely insight into a powerful girl regardless. My only catch is how easily Gabe is maneuvered into a full-fledged side-kick role. And in some regards, Charis appear too clean; the plot points too well-finessed for an older audience. It has a very straightforward villain-hero dynamic; strong enough a dynamic at times to brush aside what the stakes truly are. The stumbling blocks placed in the way of recovering the Jar are unsurprising and not terribly threatening; then, perhaps the Reader is meant to be lulled by the “of courses” before that unanticipated ending.

Charis is a delight; and that smooth clean delivery is one of the reasons why. I do have to say I am more taken with the characters than the adventure itself, but such is where I found myself the most charmed. The writing in the mirror, the young eyes looking out upon the world and being affected by it. I worried a little that the premise is too juvenile in point of view: the sense that the world is worse than it ever was and more in need of hope than it ever has been. And then I recall the audience that Walters ever keeps in mind. It is just right. A darkling world in need of the hero pursuing a solution that will break its curse. The young (and old) should be so empowered. I am, just as the novel is, drawn to the pursuit of Hope and the longing for it to be just as part of the consciousness of our world as those other inmates of Pandora’s Jar. Charis already provides a positive image for which to strive: a loving home and friends and a fierce and articulate young lady activated for the good of mankind.

There is a thoughtfulness to the writing that is quiet beneath the smooth entertainment of the reading experience. I love that in a storytelling. Nicole Walters is a debut author to watch, one who has written herself very nicely into the middle-grade set with this smart and entertaining read.

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recommendations: girls & boys; ages 8-13; for those who like good female protagonists, positive family portrayals, seeing the mean girl get her comeuppance, and both the grotesque and glorious figures of Greek mythology.

of note: There were notations for illustrations which I cannot comment upon, except to say that they promise to be a nice addition and I am curious about them. Too, have you noticed how lame most self-published covers tend to be? I was so pleased when this cover popped-up in my message box! I asked after the artist/designer and he is Nicole’s brother. Nice.

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  meets w/ the once upon a time challenge.

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{challenge} once upon a time vii

once7mainbannerWith the first days of Spring, not only do we have the pleasure of a snowy weekend, but the Once Upon a Time Challenge returns for its annual meeting of Readers of Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Folklore and Mythology. Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a 7th year. As Carl writes:

The Once Upon a Time VI Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

While this event retains the word “challenge” from its earliest days, the entire goal is to read good books, watch good television shows and movies, and most importantly, visit old friends and make new ones. There are several ways to participate, and I hope you can find at least one to your liking.

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School has absented me in so many ways, but how lovely that John Milton’s Paradise Lost will do double the work.

I have a new middle-grade fiction and debut author to share, and a review of Marissa Meyers’ Cinder to write.

Braving a heavy snow fall, I have a small, neat stack of Library books to balance coursework over Spring Break:

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Path of Beasts by Lian Tanner

The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Cathrynne M. Valente

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Like all of Carl’s “challenges,” this is not one to be missed, the pleasure of the reads, the reviews, the community… I know many of you are already signed up or considering your level of participation. If this announcement or “Once Upon a Time” is new to you, do come along with us.

“We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices, and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamed that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever, somewhere south of Oz, and north of Shangri-La.” – George R.R. Martin

{images for the banners graciously provided by Melissa Nucera}