Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Return to Fairyland

I cannot believe I forgot to post this from back in October/November, so here ya go!

While perusing the children’s section, I ran across The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherine M. Valente, the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I immediately locked into its purple allure with the familiar cover design and long title. It was stunning that I had not been informed there was a sequel to Valente’s book! Luckily, it just came out.

September is swept back to Fairyland where things are amiss. Magic is rationed because all the shadows of fairyland’s creatures are being taken to Fairyland Below and the shadows hold the magic of a being. September’s quest this time around is to get the shadows back to Fairyland so that magic might once again return. The problem is that the Queen of Fairyland Below is Halloween, September’s shadow! Shadows are the dark side of a person. The yearnings and contained attitudes and personality that the human person does not show. After failing to convince the shadows to go back to being 2 dimensional slaves of their human counterparts, September must find the prince of Fairyland and wake him from an enchanted sleep so he can take power back from Halloween. Along the way, September discovers all sorts of inhabitants of Fairyland Below, and some somewhat familiar faces.

As in the first book, Valente writes beautifully. I often wonder at this being a children’s book. Although the subject material seems childish, the writing and content are sophisticated and philosophical. It is deep and thought out with themes of family, love, self-awareness, coming-of-age, and so much more. The characters are intricate and it often reminded me of Alice in Wonderland with riddles and strange ways of saying things or getting to a point. The vocabulary is advanced as are the ideas presented. Sure a ten year old could read this, but an adult could read it too and get a lot out of it. This is a great example of a book that you would read when you’re young and reread when you’re older, just to find hidden meanings and new ideas.

I preferred Fairyland Below to Circumnavigated actually. I think the plot of this one ran a bit smoother. Maybe I just enjoyed it more, but either way, this is a fantastic book. As September is getting older, she’s dealing growing up, finding an occupation, and a place for herself. This theme runs throughout the book and lends to part of the coming-of-age aspect of this read. However, it does not slap you in the face like some coming-of-age novels, with overly referenced teenage angst and troubles or morals. This is a novel that lets its reader puzzle on meaning and interpretation.

This is fantasy, as you can tell by the title, because it deals with a pretend world, so it was just up my alley. If you have not read the first book, you need to in order to understand the plot and characters fully in this book. I highly suggest giving this book a read. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another Paranormal YA Romance

Cassandra Clare takes on her first YA novel with a series called “The Mortal Instruments”. Book One is City of Bones. You can tell this is a first novel. The crappy side of YA literature shines through in this attempt at writing.

I’m being harsh? Perhaps. But I’m tired of crap being pedaled off as Young Adult literature. It seems all authors have to do these days is come up with a paranormal romance plot, add a mysterious boy and a girl who discovers an alternate world she never knew existed, and BOOM! You got yourself a best seller. Why are they selling and so popular then if they’re crap, you ask? Well it’s because they’re compelling. You want to know what’s going to happen. They’re world building and that creates a mystery of what these other people, this other world, is like. So even though I found myself rolling my eyes while reading this book, I kept going because I had to hear the ending.

Clary is a fifteen year old whose world has just flipped on its side. She sees a murder of something not human by three teens who no one else can see except herself. Then a day later, her mother is kidnapped and Clary is attacked by a demon. Suddenly, her eyes are opened to a world that was hidden to her from birth: the world of the Clave, Shadowhunters who are descended from angels to protect humans from demons. She meets Jace, a mysterious Shadowhunter with golden locks, who brings her into his world and helps her find her mother, who has been stolen by Valentine, a Nazi-esque ex-Shadowhunter.

Ok I’ll start with the good, so you don’t think I’m a one sided bitch. The plot is a rich one, kind of Constantine-esque (the movie with Keanu Reeves). I wanted to read the book when I found out it is being made into a movie. There’s a lot to build on in this plot: God versus Satan, the ultimate good versus evil, creepy and frightening creatures, and a world that encompasses so many aspects of the supernatural. This is a plot that keeps moving and keeps you interested. I completely understand why the book is popular.

Now the bad!! Goody goody, there’s so much to say. First I need to go with the characters. I didn’t feel attracted or sympathetic with any of them. They were so 2D. There was nothing that felt real about them.  As in a lot of YA novels, their emotions were so overly dramatic and their characteristics were stereotypical. The mysterious, hot guy who tries to shut out the world until the main character comes around. O wait he’s sarcastic. Who would have guessed!? The girl who’s artistic and doesn’t feel like she really belongs…because she doesn’t! Wow. Revolutionary!  The main guy, Jace, is the mysterious warrior man, but upon meeting Clary, our main character, he just starts telling her about this secret world. REALLY!!?? If he’s so secretive why is he doling out this information to a complete stranger? It feels like it’s going against the character’s personality and against the underworld society.

The plot. Warning, I’m going to spoil the plot here so STOP reading if you do not want to hear it. Clare, the author, stole from Star Wars! She took that whole Luke and Leia plot line and put it in her book along with the whole evil father part. First, dude, you can’t just steal stuff from Star Wars and then crap on it. Not Cool. Second, what is up with incest as a plot line these days? Creepy. O and Clare completely cops out on the religion aspect of the story. Obviously if there are demons, there is a demon leader, i.e. Satan, and if there is a Hell and a Satan, then there is a Heaven and angels (Newton’s Law). I mean the Shadowhunters are supposedly descended from angels, but Clare denies the existence of one God. Instead, Jace doesn’t know if he believes in God and no one actually knows if angels exist. Come on Clare! If you’re going to write a book that’s essentially about angels and demons, you got to adopt some sort of overarching belief. I don’t care if it’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster and his beer volcano, but there needs to be a heaven and a hell, thus rulers of both.

The writing. The story is narrated from Clary’s perspective. She is the main character, and as the reader, you’re discovering everything at the same time she is. That makes sense. I got angry when out of the blue, one chapter was partially written from Jace’s perspective. Then back to Clary’s. You can’t just throw that in out of nowhere! Come on! The writing was juvenile. He said, she said. Discovering characters' names, personalities, and plot points in the most obvious of ways. There was no artistry here.

I’ll give Clare props for putting out a bestselling first novel, but that’s about it. My coworker tells me Clare’s “Infernal Devices” series is much better, and after giving myself some time away from this genre, I think I’ll give her other series a read. I know many people love this series. People also enjoy bathroom humor. It has its audience, but it’s certainly not polished or thoughtful.

This was a very long review. Sorry, I just needed to get that venom out of my system and onto the internet. You’re welcome world!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Falling Stars

A star falls from the sky and puts action into motion in Neil Gaiman's adult fairy tale, Stardust. You see, in Faery, a star is not just a lump of heavenly rock, but a woman. Tracking this woman are a witch, brothers seeking their birth right, and a love sick young man. Faery is a place where trees can be helpful or harmful, and magic and strange creatures lurk around corners.

The novel moved quickly. Adventures were not drawn out and characters were not overly complicated. Although I felt each character had much more to say and do in their time, Gaiman did not spend much time getting into the complexity of each person. He did a good job of holding a balance between giving details and keeping the plot moving. I felt he could have gone into more depth, but I was happy for a shorter read that took me through the fantastical land of Faery. There was one scene, when a unicorn is murdered, that was a little disturbing and went into more detail than necessary.

I listened to the book and thought it was a well done reading. Gaiman was the narrator and I’m always intrigued and somewhat put on guard when the author reads their own work. Some authors don’t know when to give control over to an actor who will read it better, but Gaiman was wonderful. He has a lovely voice and read the book well. I would recommend listening to this if you enjoy books on tape.

Overall, I would recommend this to a reader who enjoys fantasy novels. It felt like a Young Adult novel, but it did brush on more adult language and scenarios at points, so I’d say this is aimed at ages 15-adult. It was not one of my all-time favorite reads, but it was fun and easy. If you enjoy Neil Gaiman’s writing, I would suggest you try The Graveyard Book which is about a boy raised by ghosts. If you enjoy adult fairy tales and magic, I would suggest author Patricia Wrede. She writes alternative fairy tales along with books about magic in an alternative pioneer setting. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Castles and Comfort

Winter brings out the romantic in me. Not so much lovey-dovey romance, but the romantic spirit, like Byron or Shelly. I want to read a book while cuddled up and drinking a warm beverage, preferably in a mountain cabin with a roaring fire in the hearth. You get the picture. This mood makes me want a sweet and atmospheric title, something typically in England and about rural life. Perfect timing for I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

Originally, this book was published in 1948, but it takes place in 1930s England. It is told as a 17 year old girl’s journal. Cassandra is a bright girl with hopes of becoming a writer. The Mortmains live in a castle, literally a castle with towers and a moat, that they have a 30 year lease on. Although once a successful writer, Mr. Mortmain is now an eccentric man who keeps to himself and reads detective novels alone in the gate house. He hasn’t written in years and the family is in dire straits without an income. The novel starts out with the family struggling to find money to live on. As the novel continues, adventures and new neighbors rouse the Mortmains from the doldrums and poverty.

Cassandra is an energetic, witty, and sweet narrator. She writes from her heart and is down to earth. The ending is bittersweet and I was surprised to find that it did not wrap up the way I expected. This was the perfect book for my mood. It is relaxed and atmospheric. I got the feel for the countryside and ancient castle. As in many journals I did question the author's truthfulness and her true character at first. You never know if journal writing makes the person more bold and energetic than their actual personality, but after several chapters and hearing about how Cassandra described situations she was in and conversations she had, I got the feel for her and came to really enjoy and trust her.

Originally, I was a bit bored with the book. It was slow and didn't seem to be developing into anything other than a desperate family searching for a way out of their needy situation. After about 30-50 pages, however, the plot started to develop and Cassandra hit her stride in writing.

I very much enjoyed this novel. It was pleasant and lovely. The narration was one of my favorite parts and the characters were memorable. I enjoyed the eccentric family and Cassandra’s details about them. The last chapter of the book was so well done and the last lines will forever remain in my memory. 

If this is a novel you enjoyed as well, try reading The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper. They are also about an impoverished family who use to be something more. The novel is written as a journal from young Sophia’s perspective. If you want something a little more offbeat, but still a coming of age story in an eccentric atmosphere, try Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I would certainly tell any Jane Austen lovers to give this one a read as well and vice versa.