Happily Ever After

Once-A-Upon-A-Time

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess; she lived on the highest floor of her apartment building, and her life was filled with Disney movies and coloring books. She spent her days reading and writing, and no prince or evil Queen ever told her what to do. She surrounded herself with beautiful things and laughing faces, and all that glitter kept the darkness away. She never worried about living happily ever after because she was happy right now, and that’s all that really mattered. 8482ee5074bc90572f81570b117cadf9Every morning, she rolled out of bed, about 30 minutes too late – because she was not a morning person, and asked “Mirror mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” And the mirror never responded, but she was pretty sure it would say, “You,” if it could…

I’ve always loved princesses and fairytales, but for some reason, since moving into my own apartment, my love for all things “fairest of them all” has turned into a full blown obsession. Maybe it’s because I’m finally free to spend my days doing whatever I want without some boy complaining that “we’ve already watched Beauty and the Beast 4 times this week,” or maybe it’s because I’ve purposely covered my walls with pictures of Cinderella… or maybe it’s because one of my best friends is a 3-year-old who’s equally as obsessed with the movie Tangled as I am – and she once referred to my apartment building as a “castle.” Whatever the reason, I’ve spent the past few months watching Disney movies every single day, and reading fairytale books every single night. It’s been absolutely wonderful. Without further ado, here’s a few books I loved so much, they’ve somehow taken my obsession with gowns and glitter to an entirely new level.

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon StarStarStarStarStar

The Fairest of Them All

If you love fairytales at all, you need to check out this author. I’ve read almost all her books. She takes a classic fairytale, gives it just the slightest (and oftentimes dark) twist, and makes it new (I’m pretty sure I’ve reviewed both Godmother, her modern – and psychological – retelling of Cinderella, and Mermaid, her somewhat morbid take on our favorite fishy-friend). However, Fairest of Them All takes fairytales to a whole new level – especially if you’re a fan of Rapunzel (aka the princess that epitomizes unrealistic hair expectations). Before delving into this book, which begs the question “what would happen if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil queen?,” I decided to catch up on some classic Grimm’s fairytales.

Their take on Rapunzel starts with a husband and wife who, for some reason, live in the shadow of an evil enchantresses wall. Just over the wall, a bushel of rapunzel grows (I think it’s a type of lettuce). The wife sees the rapunzel and longs to eat it so badly that she begins to waste away. The husband, seeing this, climbs the wall to steal some of the rapunzel from the enchantresses garden. The enchantress sees him and allows him to take the plant, as long as he gives her his firstborn child in return (seems totally fair). The man agrees and when the baby is born, the enchantress, Gothel, takes the baby and names her Rapunzel. We all know what happens next; Rapunzel gets stuck in a tower, Gothel uses her hair as a rope ladder, and she spends her days singing beautiful song and bonding with whatever wildlife makes its way into her tower. One day, a prince happens upon Rapunzel and the two conspire to meet every evening. Unfortunately, Gothel catches wind of this plan, cuts Rapunzel’s hair off, and uses it to draw the prince to the tower – where she basically pushes him over the edge. In a weird twist, he lives, but some thorns scratch his eyes and blind him. He stumbles around the forest for, well, I don’t know how long, but eventually stumbles into the desert (in what universe is the forest right next to the desert?) where he discovers Rapunzel. Her tears heal his eyes (bring back what once was mine…) and he immediately whisks her back to the castle where she is crowned as “princess.” Talk about happily ever after.

The Fairest of Them All starts similarly – in that Rapunzel was whisked away from her parents by Mother Gothel, but she’s under the impression that she was “rescued.” You see, Rapunzel’s real mother was so obsessed with getting her hands on some rapunzel (the lettuce, not her daughter) that she went batshit crazy. Gothel took the girl and raised her as her own, deep in the woods. The two live beneath the ruins of an old castle (pretty much all that’s left standing is the tower – which Rapunzel sleeps in, but only by choice) and Gothel teaches the girl the art of healing. They both possess magic, but mainly just the magic to heal a broken heart. Magic is pretty frowned upon in the kingdom, but that doesn’t stop young women from stealing away in the middle of the night to beg Gothel, a known enchantress, for a love potion. In any case, a prince happens upon their cottage one day and invites Rapunzel to a royal ball – she, of course, agrees, but Gothel, wanting to keep Rapunzel safe from palace life, locks her in the tower. Fortunately, Rapunzel has long flowing hair – long enough for the prince to climb when he comes to her tower the next day to enquire why she missed the ball. Long story short; they sleep together, he tells her he’s engaged to someone else, and leaves her with her heart in pieces.

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Thus begins Rapunzel’s descent into…not madness – but something close to it. When she discovers that the prince, now King, has had a daughter of his own, named Snow White, with his new wife, the Queen, she and Mother Gothel decide to take matters into their own hands…

This book had it all; “mirror, mirror, on the wall,” romance, action, adventure, beautiful princesses, evil queens, and magic – both light and dark. Plus – just look at that beautiful cover!

When I shut the cover on Fairest of Them All (metaphorically, of course – I read it on my nook), I just couldn’t fathom leaving the world of princesses and magic just yet, so I picked up Spindle’s End and delved into the tale of Sleeping Beauty…

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley StarStarStarStarStar

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In the Grimm’s fairytale, the King and Queen invite 12 of the 13 Wise Women of the kingdom to celebrate the new princess’s birth. This isn’t because they don’t like the 13th Woman, but simply because they only have 12 golden plates (obviously). The shunned Wise Woman bursts angrily through the doors, just after the 11th Woman has bestowed her gift upon Briar Rose, and curses the baby to prick her finger on a spindle and die on her 15th birthday. The last Wise Woman softens the curse by claiming that the princess won’t die, but sleep for 100 years. The King orders all spindles to be burned and, on Rose’s 15th birthday, they leave her home alone (seriously?!). Of course, she pricks her finger, and the whole castle falls into a deep sleep. Before long, the entire thing gets covered in thorns and any prince who attempts to rescue the Sleeping Beauty gets stuck to the thorns and dies. But then, 100 years later, just as the castle is about to wake up, another prince decides to try his hand at rescuing the princess – he finds the castle, not covered in thorns, but surrounded by flowers that part for him as he makes his way to the tower to wake Sleeping Beauty. Uh, yeah… doesn’t he sound brave?

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Did not actually happen.

Anyway, Spindle’s End begins with the birth of Briar Rose (although she has about 15 names in front of that) and the invitation of (almost) every fairy in the kingdom to serve as fairy-godmothers. All but one, evil fairy, at least. Katriona, a guest to the princesses name day, is disgusted by the gifts the fairies are giving – red lips, white skin, golden hair, etc., etc. But then the evil fairy, Pernicia, appears and curses the baby to, you guessed it, prick her finger and die before her 21st birthday. As Pernicia makes her exit, Katriona finds herself holding the baby and, suddenly, forced to kidnap her – or save her, depending on how you look at it. She takes the princess, now known as Rosie, to live with her in her cottage in the woods where “ordinariness” will surely save her from Pernicia’s grasp.

For 21 years Rosie lives with Katriona and grows to be, not beautiful, but kind of weird looking. She has golden hair, white skin, blue eyes, and pearly teeth, but all those features come together in a way that’s not quite natural. She spends her days working at the blacksmith shop and believing she is Katriona’s orphaned niece. But, because this is a fairytale, the dark magic eventually catches up to her – forcing her and her friends to go on a darkly magical journey that ends in, well, not quite “happily ever after.” a694ce22a8a0b7caa08ca32968313ce8

I loved this book because it was written like a classic – even though it was actually written just 14 years ago. It reminded me of the old books I used to read at my grandma’s house – things like “The Enchanted Castle,” “The Five Children and It,” or even “The Phantom Tollbooth.” And the ending proved that true love’s first kiss didn’t have to be between a prince and a princess, or even a man and a woman (take that FrozenSpindle’s End did it first!) – true love saves the day, but not in the way you would think. It was an amazing story, worthy of being a classic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more Robin McKinley books.

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Mermaid Month

I love mermaids. Who doesn’t? What girl hasn’t flopped around like a mermaid in a pool? (Okay, I still do that). My dad had the entirety of The Little Mermaid memorized by heart by the time I was 4 and at one point I very seriously considered getting an Ariel tattoo.

Anyway, I’ve been on a bit of a mermaid kick lately… maybe it’s because I just spent a week in Key West walking up and down the beach… maybe it’s because summer is finally here and I’ve spent every spare, 110 degree moment in the nearest body of water… or maybe it’s because I secretly am one, we may never know. Regardless, it all started when I picked up Wake by Amanda Hocking (actually it started with Siren Storm, but I already blogged briefly about that), I got so shamelessly sucked into Hocking’s Watersong series that, after finishing Tidal, I had to have more. So I read every mermaid book I could get my hands on. If I’ve learned anything from these books it’s that all I have to do to transform into a sultry siren or murderous mermaid is launch myself off of a very high cliff into the ocean. Results will follow.

The Watersong Series by Amanda Hocking StarStarStarStar

Like I said before, I was shamelessly sucked into this series. I read them so fast I can’t even review the individual books, they blend together. I was honestly shocked at myself for loving this series so much – the main character, Gemma, is exactly the kind of girl I hate to read about (but appears oh-so often in teen books). She’s the baby of the family, much prettier than her older sister Harper, and the apple of her single dad’s eye. She’s irresponsible, self absorbed, and a liiiiittle bit stupid. She’s also dating Harper’s best friend, Alex, which is SUPER uncool in my opinion. Then Gemma meets Penn, Thea, and Lexi, 3 gorgeous yet terrifying girls who are new to the small beach town of Capri. And by “meets” I mean they drag her out of the water during one of her midnight swims and make her drink their blood in order to transform her into a siren, like them.

Siren Gemma is much more likeable than human Gemma. She suddenly cares about people other than herself, she’s forced to take responsibility for her own actions and she actually manages to think of something other than Alex for a moment or two. To be fair she does have a lot on her plate. Yes, she gets to be a mermaid, but in order to remain alive she has to eat a human heart every once in a while, and she has to stay with the other sirens (how ever evil they may be) or they’ll all die… and she can’t fall in love – rather, due to the siren curse, no one will ever be able to truly love her. She has to stay within range of the ocean and swim everyday in order to remain healthy. Above all she needs to keep her emotions under control. She quickly discovers there are fatal repercussions for using her siren magic on humans, a magic she hardly understands and can barely control. Suddenly Gemma has to choose between life with the sirens, or death… unless she can break the curse.

The first two books of this series were great. Gripping, exciting, intriguing… the third book fell flat.  It was more or less a 300 page set-up for the fourth and final book. Regardless I would consider this a worthwhile series and actually look forward to the final installment, Elegy. It’s a guilty pleasure kind of book.

Between the Sea and the Sky by Jaclyn  Dolamore StarStar

I was excited about this book because it was loosely based on the original Little Mermaid story – it was more “classic mermaid” and less “evil siren.” Unfortunately it just wasn’t very good.

Esmerine is a mermaid and she has just received her siren belt (okay, there are siren’s in this story too, but these siren’s aren’t murderous, they just have magic belts). She is the second siren in the family. Her sister, Dosia, received her siren belt a few years before. But the day after the siren ceremony Dosia goes missing and her family fears that a human man has taken her belt – forcing her to remain on land as his wife. Esmerine volunteers to go to the surface in search of her. The transformation from tail to legs is painful and every step she takes on land feels like knives. She makes it as far as the capital city where she unexpectedly finds Alandar (ahem, Alan Dare), her childhood best-friend. Alan belongs to a winged race of people and offers (unwillingly) to fly her across the country in search of her sister. His father frowns upon Alan’s fraternization with mermaids and Alan is loathe to rekindle the forbidden friendship… yadda yadda yadda, their journey brings them closer (literally, she rides on his back for days) and they start to see each other in a different light.

It was written almost like a Jane Austen novel – that’s not really a bad thing, it was just odd considering the content. There wasn’t really any conflict, there was a lot of formal conversation between Esmerine and Alan, and the ending was very “18th century romance.” It is set in a fantasy world but I have to assume it’s also set in the 1800’s, Esmerine complains about the stays in her dress and her stockings, and she faints and weeps like the women of 18th century literature a wont to do. The ending was anti-climatic and sudden (I was just thinking “something has to happen sooner or later” when *poof* it was over) and made me think I had wasted precious time reading this pointless novel. It wasn’t deep or dark or thought provoking, it wasn’t exciting or intense, it wasn’t swoon worthy enough to be considered a romance, it didn’t do anything different… it was just boring, and then it was done.

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter StarStarStarStarStar

I’ll admit it, I loved this book. It was beautifully written (seriously, borderline poetic), and it wasn’t just a run of the mill paranormal teen book. There were no monsters or curses, there was no romance, the main character didn’t perform any amazing feats of bravery or save the world from imminent destruction. Just complex characters trying to survive among other complex characters… and they happen to be mermaids.

Lucette, or Luce, used to live with her dad, he was a thief and she was his little helper, then he died in a boating accident and left her with her deadbeat, drunken uncle. Over the years she’s become numb to the beatings, she’s learned when to hide and when to run. But one night the beating goes too far and she finds herself on the ground at the top of a high cliff, beaten, battered, and violated. With nowhere else to go she rolls herself over the edge.

When Luce wakes up from what she assumed was death she discovers she has a tail. After the horror wears off she is taken in by a group of mermaids, originally girls who were mistreated in their human lives, ruled by Catarina – a fiery red head with a tail to match. The mermaids have made it their calling in life to take down as many ships as possible, to kill as many humans as they can. They believe humans are innately bad and should be drowned before they can hurt any other girls like themselves. Luce is still compassionate for humans and resists what her voice naturally tries to do; kill. This makes waves (heh) with the other mermaids, especially Catarina. The stormy relationship only intensifies when a new mermaid is introduced into the group; a mermaid who doesn’t deserve her tail.

This book was essentially a character drama that takes place under water. Luce was easy to relate to, sympathize with, and root for. She is written as a 14 year old but she acts much older. She’s likeable, rational, and compassionate. I would recommend this book to young adults, teens, and adults alike. Based on how much I liked it as a 23 year old I can’t imagine the love I would have had for it as a teenager.

Other notable mermaid titles for your reading pleasure:

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon (actually I recommend you check out ANY of her books because they are all fantastic.) Mermaid is a dark and wonderful twist on the classic tale.

 

 

 

A Mermaid’s Kiss by Joey W. Hill
It wasn’t fantastic but it was pretty good for a racy romance. Warning: VERY racy.

Hellhounds and Sirens and Bears, Oh My!

Actually, now that I think about it, I’m surprised Goldilocks and the three bears didn’t make an appearance…

This is one of those “two birds, one stone” or “two books, one blog” blogs. This is because I ended up reading two books at once last week (something I was forbidden to do in the third grade after an unfortunate mix-up between Mr. Poppers Penguins and Mary Poppins). I am also very tired right now and basically writing this in effort to keep my eyes open until an appropriate bedtime…

Let’s start with The Woodcutter, which I special ordered in… because it had a beautiful cover.

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley StarStarStar

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They have since redone the cover which is why the only picture I could find of the original cover is small and blurry. Anyway, it’s also about fairy tales, which I normally love. However, this book somehow crammed every single fairy tale ever written (minus Goldilocks) into 250 pages. It was clever, it flowed well, it was enticing, and honestly a little overwhelming.

After finding Cinderella scared to death (literally) in the forest, the Woodcutter, protector of the Wood and the 12 Kingdoms, sets out on a quest to kill the offending beast (whatever it may be). Along the way he encounters pixies (including their leaders Oberon and Titania), Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the beanstock, giants, *deep breath* the princess and the pea, Odin and his hellhounds, the billygoat gruff, the troll under the bridge, the twelve dancing princesses, the red shoes… etc. However, he soon discovers that the beast is only half the problem – an evil Queen has been capturing pixies and gathering their magic dust to increase her own (stolen) power. The Woodcutter must save the pixies (and in turn the Wood itself), return the rightful rulers to their thrones, capture an errant hellhound, and overall rid the land of evil. All in a days work.

For some reason I was finding it very hard to get into this book, it was a fast read (mainly because each chapter was approximately one page long), but characters came and went so quickly that it was hard to get attached to any one of them. There was also such a multitude of characters and quests springing up on every page that it was hard to keep track of the actual story… almost as if the author was trying so hard to squeeze in every fairy tale that she forget there was a plot line taking place beneath it all. Like I said before, the story was very creatively spliced together and well written, it was just fairy tale overkill.

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Siren’s Storm by Lisa Papademetriou StarStarStari/2

I ended up reading this book because I forgot to take a book to work and I always, always, always read on my breaks. I live too far away to go home for lunch so I escape the confines of the retail world through books. Naturally when I realized I forgot to bring a book I panicked… until I remembered I work in a book store. I hastily grabbed the nearest teen book I could find and cracked it open. I didn’t expect to like it enough to finish it (I should have known better, I almost always finish books, even if I hate them), but I ended up reading the entire thing over the course of the week. And I didn’t hate it, I actually somewhat enjoyed it…

Will’s brother Tim disappeared one year ago when the two boys were out sailing off the beach near their house. Will doesn’t remember the incident, he only remembers waking up on the beach with a bloody face and a flaming sailboat, but no one in the small town of Walfgang believes him. Except Gretchen. Gretchen is Will’s best friend. She is also an incurable sleepwalker who finds herself waking up in some very strange places. Her dreaming body is inexplicably drawn to the ocean while her conscious self is terrified of it. In effort to take her mind off things she takes up a summer job at a local café, there she meets Asia, a green eyed vixen with long black hair and melodious voice… who has an incredible ability to control people without a single touch. Asia is new in town and the residents are mystified by her swift arrival. Will swears he saw her crawling into the ocean in the middle of a hurricane, but even stranger things begin to take place in the town of Walfgang

One thing I will say about this book, there is no silly, stupid, mushy gushy teen romance. I was actually able to enjoy the story without Will getting sidetracked by Gretchen’s boobs or Gretchen getting sidetracked by Will’s lips. (The author is a little awkward about switching point of views but you get used to it). In fact, aside from being hormone happy high schoolers, all the characters were very down to earth and believably human. Both Will and Gretchen were affected by Tim’s disappearance (though neither realizes exactly how much or why). They have just reached that awkward stage between childhood friendship and newly developed romantic feelings, unfortunately they are forced into a situation far beyond their control before those feelings can come to fruition. Asia is mysterious and not decidedly good or evil – we soon discover she has her own past to contend with. While Will and Gretchen battle their inner demons, Asia prepares for a battle with demons that are all too real. Their reactions are as realistic as they can be for a paranormal teen fiction novel in which Siren’s attack the town.

I also liked the subtle references to other classic mythological tales, namely the Odyssey and Dracula. If you end up reading the book, check out the authors note.

The only real downfall to the story is its predictability… which is evident from page one. SPOILER ALERT: Asia is a siren. Okay, that’s not really a spoiler, it was pretty clear from her first appearance. She pops up in the middle of the road in a hurricane then slithers down the rocky beach and into the water. She never really tries to hide what she is. Gretchen keeps dreaming that she’s running towards water and wakes up standing at the edge of a bluff, high above the ocean. She’s taken to humming a haunting tune that makes Will think of the day Tim disappeared. It doesn’t take a literary analysis to figure out that Gretchen is somehow involved. The ending with pretty anticlimactic… nothing really happened that I didn’t already anticipate. There is a sequel but I’m not sure I care enough to read it. Overall it wasn’t half bad and I would recommend it but I would also recommended that you keep your expectations low.

Splintered

There are generally three things I love to read about; Ancient Rome, magic castles, and Alice’s adventures in Wonderland (be it the classic or a newly imagined take on it). Imagine my delight when I was browsing amazon.com at work (shh) and happened upon Splintered by A.G. Howard. Based on the description it promised to be a fun, slightly sinister take on the Alice in Wonderland adventures. Based on the reviews it promised to be the best book I’ll ever read (not so, but not half bad). What really sold me on it was the author page, er, the author herself. A.G. Howard “hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child.” Great! The Alice stories are classics and every teen should read them without being forced to do so. Any author whose motivation is to aspire people to read more classics is a-okay in my book. Not to mention she enjoys perusing 18th Century graveyards in her spare time. She. sounds. awesome.

It’s also clear that she is a genuine lover of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, Splintered takes some liberties but explains them in such  a way that I’m not sure whose story to believe, Howard’s or Carroll’s. She has done her research and crafted a great story that is somehow whimsical and dark at the same time. I was drawn in by the cover, encouraged by the author (who, based on 2 short paragraphs from her amazon author page, I would like to befriend), and convinced by the second chapter that I had stumbled upon something great.

Splintered by A.G. Howard StarStarStarStar

Alyssa has always been plagued by Alice in Wonderland, rumor has it that her ancestor, Alice, was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s classic story. The kids at school constantly make fun of her for that reason (although I can’t see why) and she allows it to ruin her life (I would personally be quite proud). Her mother, Alison, was institutionalized years ago for talking to flowers and malevolently chasing butterflies – a curse that has been passed down from Alice herself. Now Alyssa lives with her doting father, surrounded by the objects of her crazy mother, and the ever increasing fear that she will be submitted to the same fate. Unfortunately, her fear is justified.

It started when she got her period – with puberty came boobs, boys, and the ability to talk to insects and plant life. That ability is Alyssa’s darkest secret, one she has never told anyone about. Not her dad, not her mom, not even her best friend Jeb (not that he would listen anyway, now that he’s dating the most popular girl in school aka Alyssa’s arch nemesis *sigh*). She has almost convinced herself that the voices are all in her head when she realizes that her mother can hear them too. After that Alyssa finds herself on the trail to Wonderland in effort to set things right and break the family curse.

Moments after Alyssa has stepped through the looking glass Jeb bursts into her room and jumps in after her, very heroic-like, plunging them both down the rabbit hole. There they meet Morpheus, the moth-man that had been haunting Alyssa’s dreams since she was a little girl. He, along with all the other characters of Wonderland (albeit slightly more sinister versions of themselves), accompany Alyssa and Jeb as they travel across Wonderland and attempt to clean up the mess the original Alice left behind. There they encounter the sea of tears, the garden of talking flowers, the tea-party stuck in time, the vicious bandersnatch, and of course the Red Queen (among others), not realizing all the while that someone is using them as pawns in a giant (and not quite metaphorical) chess game.

It was all quite clever the way the author meshed Alice’s classic stories into one terrifying yet beautiful Wonderland. The story itself was very smart, A.G. Howard clearly pulled her inspiration from Lewis Carroll but managed to make it very fresh and a touch more gothic. Overall I really loved the book, I loved figuring out how the classic story provided the backdrop, I loved that the characters were not clearly divided into good and evil, I loved that it made me want to revisit the original stories. There was just one problem: it’s a teen book. It’s filled with teen romance that was more ridiculous and hard to believe than Alyssa’s ability to talk to tulips.

Let’s start with Alyssa, overall I liked her, she shows maturity when dealing with her mother’s mental illness and living with a father who isn’t ready to let go. She has a lot of baggage and she handles it well. However, when it comes to her romantic feelings she may as well be a preteen girl. She acts like this cool skater chick but it’s really only an effort to impress her friend Jeb (something I actually did when I was 13, but definitely not 18). She also hates his girlfriend and doesn’t make any effort to hide it, both girls act super catty and Jeb would probably be better off without either of them.

Unfortunately Jeb has what I like to refer to as Edward-syndrome. He is entirely too perfect; he’s bad-boy hot with a charming good-boy personality, and he always says exactly what Alyssa wants to hear.  It’s glaringly obvious from page one that they’re going to develop feelings, er, act on the feelings they already have (and are doing a terrible job at hiding). When they finally do kiss it’s followed by a lot of grinding and leg-wrapping that goes just a smidge too far. They fill any awkward silences by blurting out really cheesy pick-up lines that were more smirk inducing than they were sexy. Honestly it was a bit sickening.

Weird teenage romance aside, this as a great book with (mostly) great characters, a thought provoking plotline, and a cool flashback to a classic tale.

It’ll leave you wondering which story is the real story. 

The Odyssey: an untold story

Every once in awhile you’re lucky enough to find two books, written by two different authors, that so perfectly compliment each other they should have been sequels. I found that in The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Penelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona. I read Song of Achilles first and loved it so much I couldn’t quite drag myself out of the world of the Odyssey, not yet. So I picked up Penelope’s Daughter and dove right back in. And I’m so glad I did. While Song of Achilles covers the war in Troy (caused by the beautiful Helen of Sparta), Penelope’s Daughter focuses on what happens back in Ithaca. Together these books tell the whole story of the Odyssey from perspectives that Homer hadn’t considered. What Achilles lacked Penelope’s Daughter fulfilled and vice versa.

I will assume you probably know the story of the OdysseyHelen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in all the world, is whisked off to Troy by Paris. Her husband, Menelaus, becomes enraged and puts together an army to sail to Troy and take her back. Among the warriors is Odysseus, the star of the Odyssey, who is most famous for taking 10 years to sail back from Troy (where the war had gone on 10 years already). He encounters sirens and cyclopes and endures the wrath of the Gods. When he finally returns to Ithaca he finds his house overrun with suitors for his wife, Penelope. Also among the warriors is Achilles, this is his story.

The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, a young Prince. When Patroclus is exiled from his home for accidentally murdering Clysonymus, he is sent to Phthia to serve Achilles and his family. Achilles sees something in Patroclus that intrigues him and he chooses the exile as his companion. As the boys grow older they grow closer and closer, Achilles begins to view Patroclus as his equal and Patroclus admires Achilles in every way. When they reach the age of manhood they discover that the bond they share goes much further than simple boyish companionship. While it was normal for Princes to take slave boys for lovers, it was not exactly normal to fall in love with another man. Achilles had responsibilities; he was supposed to take a wife and raise heirs… he was also destined to become the greatest warrior the world had ever seen, greater even than the Gods themselves. But all Achilles wants to do is spend his time with Patroclus, and to keep him from harm. Eventually Achilles is called to duty, to fight in the war at Troy, to take Helen back. It is prophesized that the war cannot be won without him. From there the boys must face challenges both to their relationship and their lives. Hardly old enough to be considered men (especially by today’s standards) they struggle with their childish morals, they struggle to keep each other safe, and they struggle to portray Achilles as the demigod he is supposed to be. Overall The Song of Achilles is a beautiful love story, a coming-of-age epic, and a historical retelling that will leave you yearning for more.

If that is the case and you are yearning for more, you’ll find it in Penelope’s Daughter. According to Laurel Corona, Penelope was newly pregnant when Odysseus left and she soon gave birth to Xanthe; a daughter who grew up hearing the brave tales of her father but couldn’t escape the thought that he didn’t even know she existed. When the war finally ends and Odysseus still doesn’t return their palace is overrun with suitors; nasty men looking for a chance to take over the palace in any way they can. Xanthe’s brother isn’t strong enough or manly enough to rule on his own, nonetheless run the household. Penelope can only rule as long as Odysseus is alive, and people are beginning to doubt that he is. In order to keep Xanthe safe Penelope sends her off to Sparta to stay with Helen, the woman who caused the war. Xanthe resents Helen already, for taking away her father before she ever got to meet him, and dreads her stay in Sparta. Instead, what she finds is a humble, caring, and broken woman who will teach her all there is to know about life, love, and becoming a woman in a world ruled by men.

Together these books covered all the unknown aspects of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective to Helen’s to Achilles’. They gave the famous epic a sense true human emotion and a refreshing backstory. I don’t know if I can ever think of the Illiad or the Odyssey and their famous characters in the same way again.

P.S. StarStarStarStarStar both books.

Note: I tried to hyperlink all the important names and stories, I find mythology fascinating and spent about 3 hours reading up on this stuff on Wikipedia. As is always the case with Wikipedia I stopped when I reached a page about “tarantula hawks.” Be careful with Wikipedia, it can be a dangerous place.

The Great Night

Every now and then I take a trip to Barnes and Noble (despite the fact that I work at a bookstore and get a discount at said bookstore) to pick up a little sumpin’ sumpin’ special. Something my store wouldn’t normally carry. On my last trip I discovered The Great Night, and I was a little devastated to find it. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been my favorite play since elementary school when I unwittingly ordered it through my Scholastic book order, not realizing it was a play written in what seemed like a different language. Nonetheless, it was filled with fairies and magic, therefore I loved it.

Sometime during my freshman year of college I decided I was going to write a novel, that novel was/is going to be based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Imagine my disappointment when I picked up The Great Night and discovered that Chris Adrian had had the same idea and he had written it first. (Insert life lesson about procrastination). Anyway, I still wanted to read it and I had a 20% off coupon* so I put my jealousy aside and bought it.

*The above mentioned coupon actually didn’t work and I ended up paying full price. After reading it, I somewhat wish the coupon had worked.

The Great Night by Chris Adrian StarStarStar

This was not a bad book but I also would not label it as a great book (see what I did there). It was far from anything I expected… in fact you might enjoy it more if you put Shakespeare entirely out of your mind before you attempt to read it. The story follows six or seven characters as they make their way into San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on Midsummer Eve. Three of the characters are making their way through the park to a party on the other side, but as the book progresses it is revealed that they are really running/hiding from the failures of past relationships. The remaining characters are a group of homeless folk who have gathered in the park to rehearse a play they plan to  put on for the Mayor, whom they hate… for some reason. 

The author delves deep into the lives of each character; how their now broken relationships initially formed, their flaws and downfalls that eventually brought the relationship to an end, and how they found themselves wandering endlessly through Buena Vista Park on Midsummer Eve. The park, of course, is the secret home of Titania and her fairy court. Titania, like the humans who have unknowingly wandered into her kingdom, is experiencing a loss of her own. A loss so devastating she does something incredibly rash and dangerous, unleashing a monster who plans to end the world as we know it.

While I believe this book is well written I do wish it was organized a little differently. The author skips back and forth between characters, delving deep into their individual lives (which are closely yet subtly linked), and it was difficult to keep track of who did what. There were also more than a few strange, sexual scenes that created some dissonance within the book as a whole… in my opinion. At times the characters randomly break into masturbation sessions or threesomes for no apparent reason. It’s surprising in a not so good way. Less than half of the book actually takes place in the park, which kept me reading only because I was looking forward to the rare chapters that did. Titania’s kingdom is very well imagined and I constantly wished I could see more of it. The ending left me feeling unresolved… and I hate that.

However, I did not dislike this book because it didn’t match my expectations. When I stopped thinking of it as a fantasy novel and started thinking of it as a character drama, I began to like it more and more. Their individual stories are all very human and heartbreaking, and the author ties them together in a way that’s almost indiscernible. I want to go back and create some sort of character map so I can see how subtly their lives are linked. Also, while this novel did not contain as much magic as I had hoped for, the magic it did contain was done very well. For example; at one point the “man in the moon” goes from laughing to frowning, a slight change only noticed by those who knew what to look for (the fairies) but discernable to all characters. It was subtle and quite Shakespearean. The ending was very dreamlike (true to the original play) and overall well done… despite my hatred of non-resolutions. While I didn’t love this book I am glad I read it and even more glad that I can still write my Shakespeare inspired novel without resentment.

Goddess Interrupted/Goddess Legacy

SPOILER ALERT – This is a series, I might make mention to things that happened in the first couple books.

First of all I have to say, though I hate myself for saying it, I LOVED this series. Seriously, I read all 4 in less than a week and now I’m absolutely DYING for the 5th installment (er… 3rd, since two of them were novellas and only count as 1.5 and 2.5). I don’t usually say that about a teen series. 

I originally gave Goddess Interrupted 3 stars, mainly because Henry pissed me off. Kate returns from her summer abroad to a brooding, depressed, distant, and sometimes downright mean Henry. Not the loving, happy husband she left in the spring. She spends the entire books basically groveling at his feet and begging for his affection. He refuses to kiss her or even hug her, and forget consummating their marriage. He disappears for days at a time and she spends all her time moping around the palace looking for him. Her thoughts are consumed by the idea that Henry no longer loves her… or never did to start with. Consumed. This book is more or less 200 pages of a tormented teenage girl’s thoughts on unrequited love.

Things only get worse when, in order to save the world from a recently awakened Titan god, Kate has to turn to the one person she hoped to never meet, Persephone. Henry’s first wife; the girl he loved with all his heart, the girl he still yearns for (openly), the girl Kate could never hope to replace. From the moment Persephone enters the plot Kate feelings nothing but insane jealousy, hurt, and betrayal. And Henry does nothing to alleviate those feelings. He skirts around the problem and refuses to tell her what he knows she needs to hear. He twists his words until Kate can no longer discern how he feels, but everything becomes quite clear when (spoiler) she catches him kissing Persephone. At this point I realized Henry is my ex-boyfriend (except Henry is supposedly gorgeous and my ex-boyfriend, last I checked, looks like a homeless man). At this point I also decided that I hated him and I pitied Kate.

I have been in Kate’s position, I have been the girl who begs and pleads for love that obviously isn’t there. I knew what it felt like to fight what is clearly a losing battle, to do whatever it takes to close the distance that had been forming from the beginning even though every effort just increased that distance. I made all the same mistakes Kate was making and I wanted so badly for her to get some self-respect and stop being so pathetic. I wanted her to stand up for herself and walk away, to ignore all of Henry’s empty promises and heartless pleas for her to stay. And then, after months of clinging to false hope, she finally reaches the end of her rope. And I was so proud, as proud as I could be of a fictional character in a teen series.

Then, of course, (more spoilers) Henry changes his tune and becomes the Prince Charming he should have been all along. Though he still loves Persephone (grumble) he suggests that one day he might learn to love Kate more (grumble grumble). Kate accepts this with a grain of salt, she agrees to stay with him and continues to love him on the off chance that one day he might love her the same amount. Good for them. She then uses her new found independence to venture out in the world in search of Rhea, a Titan god she must convince to fight in a battle against another Titan god (did I forget to mention the battle waging in the background of Henry and Kate’s love affair?) Anyway, in retrospect this book deserves more than 3 stars and it left me yearning for the next installment.

Goddess Legacy turned out to be a compilation of 5 novellas, each detailing the early lives of the Greek gods and goddesses, before we meet them in The Goddess Test. This book gets 5 stars, I don’t think I would have loved the series as much as I did if not for this book. It was beautifully and artistically written, it ties the entire series together in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and it gave me empathy and understanding for characters who wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise. Because of this book, decisions that were made in book one suddenly make more sense, relationships that were strained for no apparent reason now have a reason. The author is either incredibly lucky that everything fell together so nicely or this was a series that was carefully planned and outlined from the beginning. Either way, these are books that deserve more recognition and I would recommend them to anyone.