Wintersong (Wintersong, #1)

Image result for wintersongFirst Lines: Once there was a little girl who played her music for a little boy in the wood.  She was small and dark, he was tall and fair, and the two of them made a fancy pair as they danced together, dancing to the music the little girl heard in her head.  Her grandmother had told her to beware the wolves that prowled in the wood, but the little girl knew the little boy was not dangerous, even if he was the king of goblins.

This was in a display at my library for winter-themed books and, having been on my to-read shelf for some time, I grabbed it.  (It helps a lot that I’m going through a very strong fantasy phase right now–fantasy, paranormal, anything that is vastly different from our world.)  The fact that this sort of sounds like a fairy tale sold me on it.

Since she was a little girl, Liesl has heard stories of the Goblin King.  Stories of how dangerous he is, of how enticing.  At 18 and helping her family run their inn, Liesl uses those stories of the Goblin King to help escape her crushing, hopeless, creatively-draining world.  Feeling her chance at composing slipping through her fingers, Liesl becomes bitter toward her family.  But that all chances when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, who is very much real.  Liesl has no choice but to go to the Underground to get her sister back.  The Underground is mysterious, beautiful, terrifying…and so is the man who rules it.  Faced with ancient laws that work against her, Liesl will be faced with impossible choices to save her sister and herself before her fate is sealed.

This was really different, and I liked that even if I didn’t always follow what was happening.

First of all, I loved the setting. It just felt different. While the year is never specified, it’s pretty clearly Germany in about 1600s-early 1800s, probably skewing more toward early to mid-1700s. (Composers are mentioned by name, so I used those dates to firm up my idea.) This is such a different setting already that I was pulled in.

The whole Der Erlkonig bit was interesting too, though I admit I didn’t always follow that. Being the Goblin King, he’s got magical powers that he uses to trick and pull Liesl into his traps. Of course, there’s more to him and his world than meets the eye.

The plot stuck with me even after I finished the story.  I can’t even quite say why.  Well, ok, maybe I can a little.  I mean, it sort of has this Alice in Wonderland/Persephone and Hades feel to it, which is a story line I adore.  So Liesl gets sucked into an underground world that she doesn’t understand, led by a man she doesn’t trust and creatures that are more than a little scary at times.  That basically sums things up and, no matter how many times I read similar stories, I just keep coming back.

And while I kind of understood who he was as a person and what made him tick, there was some distance between me as the reader and him. I felt like the characters–not just him–were kind of closed off from the audience. This book read more like Literature than a story, so maybe that was part of it. The writing felt loftier. Not that that’s bad, but I did find myself skimming at times on accident.

Still, it was interesting and I do want to see what happens next.

Game of Queens: A Novel of Vashti and Esther

Image result for game of queens indiaFirst Lines: Where does this tale truly begin?  Does it start in the jeweled garden of the harem of the King of Kings, master of half the world?  Shall I begin it there?  Or shall I begin it at an extravagant banquet on the night that a woman defied the King of Kings before all the nobles of the empire?

Ok, so while this isn’t YA, I thought I would still share this because I like retellings.  In the last like 3-4 years, I’ve really been taken with the story of Esther from the Bible.  Now, I’m not what one would call “religious”, but I can get into a good story of women standing up for what they believe in.  So when I heard about this, I was in.

I’m copying the blurb in because it’s good: You may know part of the story already, but you only know what history has passed along. The story of how Vashti, Queen of Queens, the most beautiful woman in all the empire, defied the king her husband and so lost her crown. The story of how Ahasuerus, King of Kings, commanded that the most beautiful maidens be sent to his court so he might choose a new queen. And you may know how he set the queen’s crown upon the head of the virtuous and beautiful Esther, and how Queen Esther herself defied both king and law to save her people from a treacherous fate.
What India Edghill brings us in Game of Queens is the story of power and treachery, blood and deception, bravery and romance that surrounds the court of Ahasuerus and brings to life two of the most celebrated female heroines in all of history.

This was good. It took a very long time to get started, though. Esther doesn’t even enter the story until about halfway through. Before that, our narrators are Daniel (yes, the Daniel who survived being eaten by lions) and Hegai, the Chief Eunuch of the King’s household. It gets more interesting when Vashti becomes a narrator, but it was still slow until we got more to Esther’s story. Maybe that’s simply because that’s what I wanted to read the most.

I did end up liking the characters quite a bit, especially Vashti. Esther is clever and head-strong, but Vashti was raised as an empty-headed, vain princess who eventually decided she wanted to be more than that. And it was sweet to watch her journey. And of course, I enjoyed Esther.

I was a bit disappointed with the love story, such as it is. As the author admits in the beginning, it’s kind of hard to make Ahasuerus into a respectable character when he was doing all of these stupid things in the meantime. But Esther’s draw toward him seemed…awkward. Forced. I wish that had been handled a little better, but I realize the source material kind of limits what can be done.

Anyway, it was enjoyable to read; it just took a long time to get going.

All Fall Down (Embassy Row, #1)

Image result for all fall downFirst Lines: “When I was twelve, I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,” I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.  I don’t ask whether or not she has ever heard the story.  I’m pretty sure she probably has, but I keep talking anyway.

I’m in the middle of moving into my first (!!) home and literally all I can think about is books.  (Partly because I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW AWESOME THAT IS and partly because books are keeping me sane through all this.)  Ally Carter is a favorite of mine and I wanted to see what Embassy Row was all about.

Growing up on Embassy Row, Grace has grown up knowing how tenuous country alliances are–and how much people can get away with.  But now, everything’s different.  Everything thinks Grace is crazy.  She’s not.  She knows her mother was murdered and she’s going to make the man pay.  But no one believes her.  Not her powerful grandfather, not her Russian neighbor and childhood friend Alexei.  Everyone wants Grace to be normal–or at least pretend–but Grace knows that this isn’t something that can just be brushed aside.  If she doesn’t stop the killer, then it’s just possible she may be next.

I’m pretty sure Ally Carter has made a career of writing the same style of books: teenage girls with their finger on the pulse of something either illegal or in espionage (which is sometimes the same thing). And yet, they’re all so compelling.

Grace is a fairly typical Carter character: snarky but can be sweet, adventurous and smart. But having also seen her mom murdered, she suffers from panic attacks and feeling like she’s crazy. I had a lot of sympathy for her and it was so very real. Her confusion, her anxiety.  I liked that this was really the one crack in her otherwise smooth and finished facade.

The plot was pretty good. The whole let’s-find-the-killer part was definitely the best, but the political shenanigans she gets into by hanging out with other embassy kids were pretty interesting too. This was definitely intriguing enough that I would read more.

It’s fun, it’s easy to read, and it’s full of suspense. Definitely fun to read.

On The Spectrum

Image result for on the spectrum jennifer goldFirst Lines: When I was four, my mother dressed me up for Halloween in a miniature tutu and pinned my still-fine baby hair on top of my head in a tight knot that matched her own.

The coincidence of me posting this today, when my school is raising awareness about autism, is making me feel all warm inside.  Ok, initially I grabbed this for one reason: Paris.  But I was quickly hooked on the idea of an autistic character and seeing how he sees the world.

Clara is the daughter of a world-class ballerina–and because of that, she’s never been good enough.  Never been skinny enough.  At 16, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating and measuring out every single thing that enters her body.  After a social media disaster, Clara decides it’s best if she goes away for a while and moves to Paris to stay with her estranged dad for the summer.  This includes moving in with his new wife and Clara’s half-brother, Alastair, who is six and on the spectrum.  Put in charge of her brother, Clara and Alastair journey through Paris and see the sights.  And while Alastair is teaching Clara patience and to love without judgement, Clara may also be learning what it means to love–herself and others.

This was just beautiful. And maybe it was a case of right book, right time because it was very different from what I’ve been reading.

Clara and Alastair were so unique and special in their own ways. Alastair just doesn’t understand social cues, sarcasm, or humor. At 6, he’s old enough that he’s getting bullied by other kids for being different and he doesn’t understand why he can’t be accepted. Clara, at 16, knows how to fit in, though her push for perfection in her body has given her an eating disorder (though not the ones you’re thinking of). For the summer, Clara gets to know her little half-brother and help him through his issues while trying to sort through her own.

It’s an interesting look at so many different things, not just autism and eating disorders. There’s also bits about racism and societal pressures. It’s never preachy, never becomes overwhelming. It was all about how it fit into the story with the characters. Like Clara’s disorder isn’t always the focus, nor is Alastair’s autism. Sometimes the issues are as simple as figuring out how to talk to the dad you barely know.

This book moved me.  It reached inside to my heart and slowly turned it into this little pile of mush.  These characters (and many of the scenes in the story) have stuck with me long after I finished this book.  It was beautiful.

It was just sweet. And different. I really liked it.

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution

Image result for siege roxanne orgillThis is a little different.  I bought this from Scholastic for my classroom, thinking it was nonfiction.  It’s not–it’s actually a lyric novel.  Color me surprised.

Anywho, it’s basically exactly what it advertises itself to be: a (lyrical) book about the siege of Boston in 1775 that more or less kicked off the American Revolution.  Narration bounces between Washington, the Boston newspaper, Washington’s commands, British officers, and others.

I’m a huge Revolutionary buff, so this fit my wheelhouse well. I thought it was an interesting and different way of looking at history, by making it lyrical and turning it all into poetry. It definitely made for a fast read.

It’s just that it seemed to cover so little. I mean, Washington and his aide-de-camp Joseph Reed were really the biggest characters in this. There were appearances by others like General Howe and Abigail Adams, but they were minor characters. More time was spent on Washington’s orders than on other characters.

It’s a catch-22. If you make it lyrical, you have to leave things out. But to put everything in, and still be lyrical, the book would be mammoth.  (Side note: a great lyrical historical fiction novel is The Watch That Ends the Night about the sinking of the Titanic.  I adore it.)

Still, it was a good read.

Compare This! Beauty and the Beast (2017) vs. La Belle et La Bête (2014)

Hey guys!  So I was at the library the other day and I saw this movie on the shelf called Beauty and the Beast, but it was a version I’d never seen before.  When I looked at it closer, I realized it was a French movie and I thought to myself, “Hmm.  The fairy tale is originally French.  I wonder how it compares with our English/Disney versions.”

Look, I’m one of those literature/language/English nerds who loves seeing how stories evolve with each retelling.  Because every storyteller/generation is going to put their own spin on things.  And I absolutely adore seeing what those changes are.  This is just one of the first times I’m able to compare a comparable story not across the ages, but across the sea.

So this is my Compare This! Cultural edition.  I’m going to do this a little differently than usual because I’m just really going to assume that you’re familiar with either the 1991 and/or 2017 Disney versions of the same name.  So let’s go!

Beauty and the Beast vs. La Belle et La BêteImage result for beauty and the beast Image result for beauty and the beast french

Similarities:

  • At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, both heroines are named Belle.  (Hey, it’s not always that way!)  And both men are, well, beasts.
  • Both tales involve fantastical creatures/a healthy dose of magic beyond turning a man into a beast.
  • Both follow the general well-known story arc: Girl attempts to save her father, sacrifices herself to the Beast, girl and beast fall in love.
  • Belle’s personality is generally the same.  She’s well educated, independent, and stubborn.  Oh, and when her merchant father goes out of town, the only thing she requests is a rose.
  • Both stories created characters to fit their needs.  In Beauty, Gaston and LeFou are Disney creations to give Belle another suitor/villain.  In La Belle, the villain is named Perducas.  He’s a thief and has unquenchable greed, along with a suspicious, superstitious streak.

Differences:

  • La Belle is actually more in line with the original tale, even though there are still many many differences.  In La Belle, Belle is the youngest of six (two sisters, three brothers).  Her mother died while giving birth to her and, in some ways, her family holds that against her.  Also in line with the original tale, Belle’s father was a wealthy merchant who lost all of his money suddenly when his ships sank.
  • The Beasts are actually quite different in personalities.  In Beauty, the Beast becomes a beast because he’s vain and selfish.  In La Belle, it’s because he’s greedy and destroys an old magic for his own gain.  So whereas the Beast in Beauty comes to love Belle when he realizes he cares for someone more than himself, in La Belle, it happens when he covets Belle for himself, though he’s learned a bit from his last mistake.
  • The villain’s sidekick is a very different role in both.  We’re pretty familiar with Gaston and LeFou here, but Perducas’s sidekick is a fortuneteller named Astrid, who reads Tarot cards for him.  (Perducas trusts nothing if the cards don’t tell him it first.)  In a way, Astrid loves Perducas, even if he can’t truly love her back.  So it’s a different dynamic than Gaston and LeFou.
  • La Belle is definitely not a musical.  Unfortunately.
  • La Belle, for being French, was incredibly unromantic.  I mean, there was a dance scene but it was not at all like the sweeping dress, “tale as old as time” dance we’re used to.  It just happened out of the blue.  And their entire love story seemed to come out of nowhere.

Thoughts

I appreciated being able to see another version.  And in the beginning, I was totally into it.  I loved giving Belle siblings.  I loved that that made her more fierce because sacrificing herself to the Beast took on more meaning when it meant protecting her siblings as well.  It has some beautiful shots of the landscape, intricate designs, and nuanced characterization to make the siblings all feel different.

But once Belle got to the castle, it got weird.  The Beast was incredibly angry all the time and refused to let Belle look at him.  He would hover behind her shoulder and once he watched her sleep, which ranked really high on my Creepy! meter.  With his claws (and a scene where he kills and eats a pig raw), he’s actually incredibly dangerous as well.  He also came off to me as almost abusive at times in the ways he would treat Belle.  Not that he ever hit her or anything, but more like emotional abuse.  I’m not really sure what it was.  It just unsettled me watching it.

Which made the “I love you’s” really awkward because I didn’t see that coming at all from their previous interactions.

I did like the twist about how the Beast became a Beast, with how his greed blew up in his face.  And the ending had some really awesome action sequences.  But the context surrounding them was hard to understand if I was missing things through dubbing (I watched it in English) or if it was a cultural thing.

So while it was fun once, I think I’m good sticking to Disney.