Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Enchanted," by Alethea Kontis

The Protagonist: Sunday Woodcutter. The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, she feels lonely and superfluous until she meets (and grows to love) a talking frog by the local well.
Her Angst: Just as she comes to realize her feelings for the frog, he disappears, and her family is swept up into a centuries-long conspiracy of kings, fairies, and forbidden magic.

The Other Protagonist: Prince Rumbold. Turned into a frog by a meddling fairy, he falls for the beautiful Sunday Woodcutter, and her love sets him free.
His Angst: He returns to human form in time to confront his father's evil machinations, his mother's ghost, and the fact that Sunday's family blames his for the death of their son, Jack.

Secondary Cast:

Jack: Sunday's father - holds a grudge against the Royal Family for the death of his son, Jack Junior.

Seven: Sunday's mother, who only speaks when she's criticizing or barking out orders.

Saturday: Sunday's crazy axe-wielding older sister.

Friday: Sunday's super-nice pious churchgoing sister.

Wednesday: Sunday's Super Emo Magical Poetry sister.

Sorrow: Rumbold's Fairy Godmother. Evil.

Joy: Sunday's Fairy Godmother - somehow not seen as Evil.

YA/Fantasy Angst Checklist:
  • My Emo Journal entries keep coming true!
  • My mother never has time for me
  • Insta-Inter-Species-Love
  • I'm in love with a boy my family hates
  • Dead Relative Angst
  • Daddy Issues
  • Fairies Are Really Just Terrible People. WHY Do We Even Listen To Them?

The Word: So I'm back! Well, not really. I promised myself I would cut down on the book reviewing while I struggle to write something vaguely fictional. I didn't want to give up reviewing, but I decided for the next little while I would only review books that were exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

While Enchanted is a very good book - it's more exceptionally interesting than anything else. Another word for "interesting" is weird.

Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter - and despite her large, unusual, but loving family, she often feels useless and lonely. That is, until she meets an enchanted talking frog at the local well. Sunday and Grumble, the frog, strike up a friendship that very quickly (in the nature of fairytales, natch) deepens into more. What sounds like a by-the-book retelling of The Frog Prince turns out to be something else entirely.

Sunday's kiss has a delayed reaction and Grumble changes back into Prince Rumbold after she leaves. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing from then on. You see, Sunday's parents hate the Royal Family, whom they blame for the death of their firstborn son, Jack Junior. And the meddling fairy who cursed an innocent Rumbold to become a frog? She's Sunday's godmother. There's bad blood on both sides, on top of the fact that Rumbold's father, the King, is up to some Very Naughty Shenanigans.

This book is very, very weird and it's both a good and a bad thing.

In fact, I would probably say that almost every aspect of this novel is a double-edged sword. The writing style is whimsical and clever - but it can also be melodramatically purple. The story borrows many structural cues and references from fairytales, which serve it well when it comes to setting, atmosphere, and the wonderfully loopy history of Sunday's family - but it hinders it when it comes to plot progression that makes any sense whatsoever. Like fairy tales, there are sudden, out-of-the-blue revelations and just as sudden, out-of-the-blue solutions that pop up in the nick of time. It works in fairy tales but in the longer format of a novel it's difficult to establish real stakes.

While Sunday and Rumbold are relatively relatable, many characters behave in ways that serve the otherworldly nature of the fairy tale rather than understandable human motivation - for instance, one character purposefully chops herself in the leg with an axe to get out of going to a dance because she's shy. It's laughed off as wacky shenanigans and it's meant to call to mind the story of the enchanted axe that attacks the woodcutter but - but - dude. She nearly chopped her own leg off to get out of wearing a dress. That's insane. She needs psychiatric help and supervision. How are we supposed to understand her as a human character?

Overall, I felt the novel could have used a little more structure. I don't just mean realism - but it could have been bit more grounded, just when it comes to reactions and consequences. It reminded me a bit of Deerskin by Robin McKinley - and yet Deerskin still managed to balance the illogical, otherworldly setting with realistically human characters.

And yet, I still really enjoyed Enchanted and couldn't really put it down. I loved the mishmash of fairy tale references, explanations and tidbits that were thrown in willy-nilly. I loved the concept of the seven sisters, the power of words, and the nasty politics of Fairy Godmothers (seriously, why Godmother Joy is seen as a positive character is beyond me). And even though the ending makes no goshdarn sense I still wanted to keep reading to find out what gonzo Grimm-flavoured thing would happen next.

So like I said - Enchanted was an incredibly interesting book, and I look forward to reading the sequel, Hero. Even though the heroine of that novel (Saturday) is the same nutcase who took an axe to the leg to get out of dressing up. Cray. Zay.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

ReRead Rollout: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," by J.K. Rowling

The Protagonist: Harry Potter, recently on the run from Privet Drive after turning his uncle's cruel sister into a meat balloon.
His Angst: His parents are still dead, and now the wizard responsible for turning them over to the Dark Lord has escaped from prison!

New Characters:

Professor Lupin: The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Despite his ill health and shabby clothing, he's a talented and well-loved teacher by all except the Slytherins, who are The Worst.

Sirius Black: A supporter of Voldemort who took out thirteen people (including 12 Muggles) before he was apprehended. Also betrayed Lily and James Potter - strange, since he and James used to be BFFs in school.

Buckbeak: A proud and glorious hippogriff who finds himself at the centre of a scandal after he bites Draco Malfoy.

Professor Trelawny: Professor of Divination - she teaches wizards about predicting the future. Kind of a crackpot.

Peter Pettigrew: Another BFF of James Potter, and the one wizard who stood up to Sirius before being blown to pieces.

Angst Checklist:
  • Prejudice
  • Wizard Prison Reform
  • Let's have the Most Evil Creatures in the World Guard the Most Evil Wizards in the World, What Could Possibly Go Wrong With That?
  • Getting Caught in the Middle of a Fight Between Friends
  • The Proper Care and Feeding Of Your Fugitive Murderer
  • Time-Travel Paradoxes
  • Vengeance
  • Overcoming Phobias
The Word: Harry Potter starts his third year at Hogwarts while the wizarding world is in a panic - Sirius Black, an infamous Voldemort supporter who reportedly murdered thirteen people before he was brought to justice, has escaped from the magical prison of Azkaban. Even worse, many believe Sirius escaped in order to track down and kill Harry for incapacitating his dark master. As a result, the Minister of Magic has hired loathsome, happiness-sucking Dementors to beef up Hogwarts security, and their presence provokes intense fear in Harry.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is considered by many Harry Potter fans, including myself, as a transitional point in the series. The first two books had delicious moments of terror and darkness, but they were definitely aimed at younger readers and their stakes were relatively small. Survive the trials of junior high school, oh and also don't get killed. While Azkaban sticks with this pattern for the most part (Harry worries over his exams, his Quidditch skills, getting caught in the middle of Ron and Hermione's arguments), it also starts to wedge open the Hogwarts door and widen the story's scope beyond the walls of one magical boarding school. We now have wizard prisons and wizard politics, not to mention double-crosses, grudges and plots that have been in motion since before Harry was even born.

As well, Azkaban introduces the idea that authority figures (other than Snape, obvs) aren't always altruistic or effective, and thus disobeying them is sometimes necessary. None of the Ministry's efforts to protect Harry from Sirius Black succeed, and many of them are actually worse than ineffective - the Dementors not only induce blackouts and anxiety in Harry, but spread panic throughout the rest of the school. As well, both Professor Lupin and Hagrid's hippogriff Buckbeak are ultimately betrayed and cast aside by close-minded wizards in power.

Yes, kids, sometimes life isn't fair. It's a pretty tough message, but one I think the novel handles wonderfully. While Azkaban isn't nearly as dark as later books become, it does an excellent job of setting the stage for these larger and darker stories.

But how does Prisonor of Azkaban do on its own? Excellently. Azkaban mixes in the darker themes without sacrificing the recognizable early tone of the series. It's also well-plotted and, like the previous two books, ends with a fantastic twist that'll have you reading it again to catch all the clues and details. It mixes in a lot of delightful magical nonsense but still infuses it with human drama - Harry's angst over his parents, reckless adventurer Ron clashing with goody two-shoes Hermione, Harry learning to overcome his fear of the Dementors - which has always been, in my opinion, the number-one draw of the Harry Potter series.


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013: The Year in Writing, In General, and the Year to Come


Happy New Year, readers! We've been through how I did as a reader and reviewer, but 2013 was also a really good year for me in terms of writing.

In 2013, I wrote 4 articles for Heroes and Heartbreakers:

I also wrote two articles for The Huffington Post's Book Blog:
The biggest writing event for me, however, was selling The Duke of Snow and Apples (my genderbent retelling of Snow White) to Entangled Publishing! Yes, 2013 was the year I became a published - er, to be published author! Before you ask, it's coming out this year, but I have no idea when yet. We will see! 

2013 In General

So 2013 was an interesting year overall. I took some time in the summer to recap Fringe, Veronica Mars and Downton Abbey - although it wound up taking way more effort and time than I'd anticipated.

I went to Book Expo America for the second time, and I had an amazing roommate for it. I also got to meet my favourite author Alice Hoffman in person - and Jim Carrey! Extremely blurry Jim Carrey.

The Year to Come
As some of you may know, I've been blogging for a while. Going on ten years this June. I started out whining about my parents, then reviewing romances, and then I expanded to reviewing literally every book I read. I loved doing it, it strengthened my writing and editing skills and introduced me to a wonderful community of fellow bloggers, book lovers, writers, and publishing industry professionals.

However, for the last couple of months, blogging has started becoming a little overwhelming. What with my paying job, my non-paying publishing intern position, and my attempts to actually write another book of my own, my schedule has gotten pretty tight. I've had trouble juggling all these different responsibilities and while blogging has always come easily to me, it still takes up a huge chunk of my time. The average book review can take anywhere from two to four hours to write. And since I'll be starting the editing and revision process for The Duke of Snow and Apples soon, I'll have even less time. 

I can't help but feel a little guilty - after all, I'm already pretty low-maintenance for a blogger. I don't have a set schedule, I read whatever I want, I don't do blog tours or giveaways or memes or cover snarks, and I've never managed to review more than eight or nine times a month anyhow. I still have so many ARCs from Book Expos gone by.

It's also difficult because book reviewing is something I'm good at and know I'm good at. I'm way more confident of my reviewing skills than I am of my fiction-writing skills. It's so tempting to just give up the editing and the novel writing altogether in order to stick with the skills I already receive positive reinforcement for. In fact, that's pretty much what I did for most of 2013 - I used my blogging as an excuse to not write fiction. Not enough time! Can't do both! Sorry, I filled my writing quota for the week raging at Everything But the Moon! My fiction sucks and my blog is awesome - so why waste time on the novel? However - if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. And if I want something different, I have to do something different.

For me, 2014 is going to be about abandoning the Safe and Same. I'm not giving up blogging. I'll start slow with a blogging sabbatical for a couple of months. I'll still read, obviously - and I'll still review if a book is particularly excellent, interesting, or terrible (or if I've already promised to review it). But my schedule just can't support reviewing everything I read anymore.

However, I'll keep up the snark on Twitter and star-grade everything I read on BookLikes. I'll still be more than willing to discuss which books suck donkey balls on either of these platforms. I'll still keep up with and comment on other book blogs.

So I'll still be here - just not with constant reviews.

Here's hoping for an exciting and successful 2014!