Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: A Review of the Original Fairy Tale

I recently tracked down a copy of the original Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Previously, I'd only read Beaumont's abridged adaptation of this story, as it's much shorter and easier to anthologize. Since this was my first time encountering the original of my favorite fairy tale, I thought I'd talk about what this version has that I've not seen in other adaptations.

  • Brothers: Beauty has brothers as well as sisters, and true to fairy tale form, her brothers are kind and understanding people while her sisters (in contrast to Beauty) are vain and materialistic. I had seen or read adaptations that included the sisters before (Robin McKinley's Beauty, the French film La Belle et la Bete) but I hadn't seen brothers before, and their presence reminded me of the relationship between the heroine and her brothers in "The Wild Swans" (or "The Seven Ravens" or "The Six Swans"). I wish more retellings would include this aspect of the story.
I did discover an animated version and a musical live action film from the '80s that both included brothers to varying degrees of faithfulness, but the animated version is not readily available in good quality and the musical must be rented via Amazon, so I'll have to withhold judgment on those for now.

  • Fairies. Fairies everywhere: In most versions of "Beauty and the Beast" you come across, there is one fairy/enchantress -- the one who curses the Beast. In Villeneuve's version, there are three, count them three, prominent fairies and a full measure of lesser fairies mentioned or implied. The first fairy is the one who curses the Beast, the second is a benefactress of the Beast's family who (like the fairies of Sleeping Beauty) works against the curse to bring about the happy ending, and the third is Beauty's own mother, imprisoned by the fairy congress for having the audacity to love a human king. The fairies here generally remind me of the Blue Fairy (or the Lady with Turquoise Hair) from the original Pinocchio.
I was very pleased by this assortment of fairies since my retelling "Paper and (T)Horns" has some fairy family history involved as well.

  • The nature of the Beast's offense: most versions I've come across (that I can recall, at least) tend to make the Beast a spoiled prince who offends a fairy/sorceress in a way that justifies her curse. He breaks a social rule by refusing shelter or his family as a whole becomes degraded like the royal family of Charn to the point a curse is all that will set things right. Villeneuve does not have such an offense. Instead, she has the prince refuse to marry the fairy who (in addition to being old and ugly) has till this point been his governess and legal guardian. Her reaction is very much one of vanity and spite. She attempts to make the prince feel rejected and unwanted.
It's interesting to me that the prince's greatest challenge is not overcoming his vanity, but in learning to trust the good fairy's guidance and be viewed as such an ignorant person. Beauty's greatest objection to him as Beast is not his appearance, but his apparent stupidity, which she later admits was a foolish appraisal of the Beast's conversation.

One major difference that I'm conflicted about is the extended history of Beauty and Beast's families (including everything to do with the fairies and the curse) which makes up the latter half of the tale. The traditional ending for the story is the breaking of the curse and the marriage of Beauty and the prince. Villeneuve uses this point instead to spend just as long (or longer) providing what would serve in modern stories as backstory. I appreciate seeing all of this in play, but it was difficult to remain interested in what felt like an extended flashback coming just before the I dos. That being said, I want more retellings with this level of backstory involved, if only they'll spread it out through the story.

If you haven't read this version, I recommend reading it at least once to get a different take on a story that we all know. You should be able to find a free or inexpensive version for Kindle.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Reading Lists: My Take

It's Memorial Day, so everyone is gearing up for summer. And that means summer reading lists.

I didn't really do summer reading lists when I was in school, not do I have a good gauge of what a friend called "summer books" (i.e. books that have a summery tone or setting). To be honest, I was constantly reading whatever I could get my hands on no matter the season. (And when I tried to think of "summer" books, I found I tended to place books in either autumn or fall categories if I could categorize them at all; not surprising, since I am an autumnal soul.)

So instead of sharing a suggested reading list for this summer, I thought I'd share what's on my own list for this summer. * means it's a reread. # means I'm already reading it. @ means it's an audio book.

  • Innocents Aboard by Gene Wolfe * #
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik #
  • The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich #
  • Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams * #
  • To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams *
  • The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams
  • The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner *
  • The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner *
  • Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Shadow and Night by Chris Walley
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo * @
  • Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger @
  • The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan @

What's on your list this summer? Do you find that you read certain books or types of books depending on the seasons?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Snippets: May Edition

Just like last month, I've got snippets from Albion Apparent and "Paper and (T)horns".

From Albion Apparent:

Aaron Faust sat in his SUV outside the perimeter emergency services had erected around Buckley High School. He wasn’t the only parent who’d conducted an impromptu stakeout in the last few weeks, but he was the most persistent. The police and fire officials appointed to patrol the perimeter knew him on sight. Though they ought to have kept him under careful observation to prevent his sneaking into the cube of darkness, Aaron knew they would slip eventually.
He tapped out a text message on his phone. A call would be faster—if she answered—but he couldn’t bring himself to hear her voice. Not even with Gabriel trapped behind a wall of darkness with a bunch of—


“Are you ready?” I asked Corrine.

She stared at the unbroken surface of the water. Her breaths were shallow, controlled. “What if it doesn’t work?”
I shrugged. “Then at least we tried.”
She closed her eyes and nodded. “Ok. Be sure you’re turned away. The last thing we need is—”
“—a Djinni-turned-human-turned-Myr,” I said, spinning in place so my back was to the pool. I could still see Corrine in my peripheral vision, until she leaned forward and dipped her hands into the pool.


A hulking figure, human-shaped but the color of onyx, stepped into the pool room. Its arms, though bulky, seemed to rely on an innate strength rather than muscle and sinew. Two eyes like empty marbles rested above a slash of a mouth. The creature had no discernable nose. A strange symbol had been crudely carved into its forehead.

Not a symbol.
A word.
“Golem,” I whispered.


Tucked away in the pocket universe of the school’s basement, the golem did not sense its fellow’s death. It had no ties to other beings, save for the master.

The master, and the one called Pendragon.
The connection it felt to this mysterious person unsettled the golem. It was not designed for such things. Its mind, such as it was, had been carefully crafted to serve a single purpose—the destruction of the Order and its charges.
Yet the Pendragon—whoever it was—now had a hold on the golem’s mind.
It could not picture the Pendragon, nor hear a voice if it tried to recall such a sound. In truth, the golem could not be sure when the Pendragon had first appeared in its mind. One day, it had not known the name; the next, the shadowy presence of the Pendragon had inserted itself into the golem’s thoughts.
It would have been cause for concern if the golem understood the concept.


From "Paper and (T)horns":

Unlike sculpture (there’s a year of my life and a corner of my penthouse I’ll never get back), origami’s final result does not lie in the material waiting to be revealed by the artist’s chisel. Flat paper had to become three-dimensional. It was skill and intention that produced beauty. That doesn’t mean it can’t surprise you. Perhaps an hour into the session, I began folding without a definite plan. I had an idea of what I wanted—something ethereal and possibly winged—but had never seen a pattern for it. Yet some strange intelligence seemed to guide my hands, suggesting a fold here, a tuck there. Once or twice I swore an unseen hand actually stopped mine in place and redirected its action.


“And for his next trick,” said a voice behind me, “he will still not answer your questions about the cranes and the blossoms.”


“Are all his secrets as fascinating as you?”

She scoffed. “I’m not fascinating. I’m a means to an end. In this case, my father’s illusions.”
“Is that why you hide from the cameras and never go onstage?”


“The whole thing is fascinating,” I said at last. “But I suppose it’s the execution that piques my curiosity the most. Unless the folds are part of the trick.” As I spoke, I saw a mixture of triumph and what I took to be—disappointment?—flash across her face. “Of course the folds are part of the trick.” I slapped my forehead. “Everything is. Even the masks. It’s all designed to further the spectacle.”

“Or misdirect,” Molly added. She glanced at the fairy in my hand. “And which are you?” she asked, though I couldn’t tell if she meant me or the fairy. “Spectacle or misdirection?”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

O'Brien Read/Watch: Z for Zachariah Book vs Film

Welcome to the second half of my look at the film adaptation of Z for Zachariah. This time, I'm going to look at the differences between the book and the film and talk about how those differences affect the story.

I knew going into the film that there were going to be differences -- primarily that there was a third character introduced into the main conflict, giving the film a love triangle of sorts. This is, quite possibly, the largest departure from the story in the book. I say possibly because I think there is something that better qualifies -- but more on that momentarily.

The addition of Caleb (everyone has Biblical names here; even Ann is derived from Hannah) actually could have served to emphasize the book's themes very well. His appearance would have been a major concern to the paranoid John from the book, and the potential romantic tension between Ann and Caleb would definitely have rankled the possessive and outright predatory man O'Brien depicts in his novel. By contrast, the film never really explores any of this potential conflict. It flirts with conflict, makes eyes at potential messes the characters might make of their life together -- and then ignores that to . . . move on to more flirtatious not-conflict?

Movie!John is at times more nuanced than his book counterpart. Rather than a attempted rapist and known murderer, the film tries to paint him as a man who is hard on his luck, who has lost his own family, who (though flawed) cares about Ann and wants their relationship (such as it is) to move forward properly. But then he has moments that seem incongruous with this intention, where subtle hints of the manipulative, overpowering man of the book slip through. The film's biggest misstep was not being willing to make John a hero or a villain; some stories may call for moral ambiguity, but Z for Zachariah is not one of them.

Which brings me to the film's biggest departure: Ann. The film's opening sequences with Ann convinced me I was going to see the Ann of the book brought to life by Margot Robbie. She was innocent but capable. She understood a great deal about the world she lived in, but acknowledged the gaps in that knowledge. I was surprised to see that the film emphasized her religious views, because the book was very clear that (although she prayed at the church) she had no strong views. This change actually emphasized the book's themes rather well, in my opinion, but unfortunately it came couple with something that absolutely killed Ann's character from the book: she had no backbone. In the book, Ann determines to live in the cave as long as she can, eventually tricking John into abandoning his precious biohazard suit long enough for her to steal it so she can leave the valley. In the film, she repeatedly waves away his apologies and his harmful actions and words and never really takes up for herself with any gusto (unless it's to protest her feelings for John). In the end, she accepts John's story that Caleb has left the valley and resigns herself to living with John.

This ending -- or lack of one, really -- was what sat worst with me as I watched. There is no climax, no resolution to what little tension the plot has carried this far (and they tout this as a thriller!). The movie simply ends, and when everything is left unstated, nothing is said. Part of the ending's issue stems from a fundamental change early in the film: Ann has left the valley before, in her own piecemeal radiation suit, to bring back books. This is something that John uses to keep her controlled in the book, denying her access to his own high-tech suit for something as "frivolous" as books. John's suit in the movie is "beat up" and rather than a symbol of life and possibilities becomes merely another tool in a decaying world.

Not all of the changes from the book worked against the movie. Having Ann's brother David be killed by John was a good idea that brought the conflict closer to home -- at least, it should have. John did not hide this fact from Ann long enough or hard enough to make it as effective a revelation as it should have been. Especially given the shot of John using the rifle's scope to spot Ann by the store. That should have been a moment of foreshadowing to the book's more proper climax where Ann and John are caught in a game of cat and mouse. Even the introduction of Caleb should not have derailed this moment.

In short, the 2015 film of Z for Zachariah never quite grasps the themes and messages of its source material. While its beginning shows promise, its middle suffers from a lack of direction and the ending suffers from a lack of existence. If you're especially curious about the film and have an hour and forty minutes to kill, there's probably still a better way to spend that time (like reading the book).

At least Secret of NIMH didn't blindside you with a lack of resolution.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Musings: O'Brien Read/Watch: Z for Zachariah Film Commentary

I've finally returned to the Robert C. O'Brien Read/Watch Marathon with the 2015 film adaptation of Z for Zachariah. As I did with The Secret of NIMH, this post will be a running commentary from my viewing of the film. I'll follow up next time with a comparison of the book and the film.

So. Many. Logos. (There were probably over a full minute of studio and distributor logos.)

Nice establishing shots of the empty and run-down buildings.

This dystopia town looks like Rossville (a city near where I live).

Books! They have Ann going for books like she said she wanted to in the book! But why does she have a suit? It's not the suit, is it? Is this a flash forward?

The HD version of this is very intense. (I am not usually a fan of the way HD feels, like I'm actually in the room where the movie/show is happening. It's too real for me.)

The dog is here! :) :(

Ok. Now we seem to be back to the book. The valley, the church, etc. all looks right. It almost feels cozy and homey except for the destruction we've just seen outside.

They did a good job portraying the weird mix of mature and innocent that is Ann.

Random camper in the road? Is this John's wagon?

Ann seems more confident with the gun that in the book.

Yep, it's John. I miss the slowly building dread of his introduction in the book.

I was expecting Chris Pine as Loomis. (That's what happens when you remember who's in the movie, but not who they portray.)

Her reaction to him is on point.

Okay, so she's not so good with the gun.

The filmmakers definitely sped up their first meeting.

John is more volatile and yet more pathetic than his book counterpart here.

Oh, they gave him a family. That's a nice touch.

Quick shot of the store establishes where they get the supplies without lingering too long.

They definitely want you to infer a lot in this film. I think that works well whether you've read the book or not.

Is this fever dream going to give us the mumbling flashback about Edward? No. No it's not.

Ann praying and her time in the church: excellent.

The valley reminds me of Cades Cove. (If you've never been, do a Google image search. It's gorgeous.)

John using the rifle to spot Ann by the gas pump -- nice foreshadowing. (Well, it would have been if they'd actually used the book's climax.)

Ann is more religious here than the book, but I like the extra dimensions it adds to her character and the conflicts.

John's behavior is very much in line with the book. And yet they keep making him soft and sweet, too.

Man, he really doesn't understand her.

Are they gonna have him be drunk when he assaults her? No. Good. Oh. Maybe. That takes away the clear-cut menace of book!John's attempts to force their relationship to move forward in a romantic direction.

"Breakfast," John? How about you give her an apology.

Aaaaaand . . . now she's drunk. Poor, innocent Ann.

That kiss is just gonna muddy the waters further.

He shows considerable restraint here, not pursuing that drunken kiss any furth-- oh, never mind. We're going to have a half-naked conversation about this. Well, he is definitely more nuanced than book!John.

Oh. There's Chris Pine. :) (Caleb. Whatever.)

Loomis' paranoia rears its head.

Now, is Caleb "the good one" or are they just playing us by making us think he is?

Did Loomis kill David? I think he did.

Well, he as good as did, anyway.

Loomis, it's not like Ann knew anything about you when you first showed up, either. Don't be so paranoid.

Using David as the point of contention is more emotionally tied to Ann than Edward was in the book.

I like how this scene captures Ann's loneliness and despondency.

Well, so much for Loomis "not talking about it."

Ann keeps telling him "It's okay" but in the book she was more assertive and aware of her agency.

There's definitely more hope of survivors here than in the book.

The hunting scenes do such a good job establishing the rivalry between John and Caleb, as well as their characters. (Now why hasn't the rest of the film been this good?)

I don't like the dismantling of the church because of its symbolism in the book, but I suppose that's the point they're trying to make here.

The half-down church is so forlorn.

Mixed truth in Caleb's assertion that what was holy about the church was what Ann brought to it and that can't be taken away. Like, yes, it can't be taken from Ann, but holiness goes well beyond what a person brings to a place.

And Loomis is a jerk. Again. It's not about race, dude. It's about the fact that Caleb understands Ann. And she said she's not interested in him, so stop trying to push her away. (Although, that might be a ploy to get her to assert her own feelings for John. Ugh, manipulative people are awful.)

I really can't tell if Loomis is as manipulative as in the book or if I'm just expecting him to be.

Is Ann only with Caleb right now because John's passed out? What happened to her earlier statement about not wanting Caleb?

Now--if John did tell Ann to do whatever it takes to keep Caleb there, I missed it--but that would be just like him to say he did to manipulate Caleb, even if he didn't.

I'm surprised John let Caleb wear the suit, but there's no way he'd be the one down on the falls with Caleb holding the rope. (Although the suit's importance is not really a thing in the movie; John even says it's beat up when he arrives.)

Caleb didn't "leave for Anson," did he? They cut away, but I'm pretty sure John let him fall. Possibly he's back in the cave, waiting to reappear and take Ann out of the valley.

Is John reflecting on his sins (like killing David and possibly Caleb) or regretting the decision to dismantle the church?

Is Ann a cat now, just pushing things off tables because she can?

I like how the music shifts from Ann on the organ to the orchestra.




What even is this?

No climax? No resolution? It just . . . ends?

Way to kill the movie, people.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: The Queen of Attolia

Thick as Thieves, the fifth book in Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series (sometimes called the Attolia series by fans), came out earlier this week. I haven't plunged into it yet because I promised myself I would finish rereading the series (or at least the first three, which are my favorites) first. But, in the spirit of the series, I thought I'd take a quick look back at the second book, The Queen of Attolia. (I did a mini review of the first book, The Thief, a couple weeks ago.)

Spoilers ahead!

The Queen of Attolia is a gripping sequel to The Thief and it lets you know right away that the stakes are higher than before. The opening sequence reintroduces Gen, his skills as a thief, and the rivalry between him and the titular queen. Their encounter breaks a common trope of fiction that says a main character cannot be killed or seriously injured. My first time reading this book, I remember thinking that Gen was clever and resourceful. He'd managed to survive everything in the previous book relatively unscathed. Surely he'd escape Attolia's clutches and get home.

And then she cut off his hand.*

And the book was better for it. Not because we need to go about lopping of body parts, but because this is how we as readers knew the stakes were higher. Gen spends much of the book recovering from this encounter and adjusting to life as a thief with one hand. Turner does a fine job of showing his depression without making it unbearable on the reader. We're treated to another couple of myths from the world (one of my favorite aspects of the first book). And then Gen gets to pull off a heist even better than the first book's: he steal peace, in the form of the Queen of Attolia.

This book expands on the world, story, and characters of The Thief while maturing as a narrative. If you read The Thief, you must read Queen of Attolia to see how things go from okay to bad to worse to not so bad (in roughly that order).

* Megan Whalen Turner has actually commented on how Rosemary Sutcliff's subversion of this trope inspired her. Read all about that here.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday Musings: My Wishlist for Once Upon a Time Season 7

Before we get started, let me warn you that there are SPOILERS AHEAD for the season six finale and past seasons, so read at your own risk if you're not caught up on this show.

Last night was the season finale for Once Upon a Time, and it ended with a wonderful twist to set up the next season (which they didn't even know for sure they were getting till after they finished filming).

My history with this show has been a bit rocky. We watched season one on Netflix while season two was airing and we loved every minute of it. When season two hit, we binged it in order to be caught up for season three, and we've watched every season since as it airs (not as much fun as binge-watching, let me tell you). Season two was almost as good as season one, but the Greg/Tamara arc in the last third just didn't sit well with me. I liked the idea of it (especially Greg's backstory) but having Neal with someone who's obviously not going to last the season was not a good idea, and I didn't care for the way their story panned out. (Ha!)

Seasons 3-5 had some good arcs and episodes, but largely their two-arcs-per-season format did not work. Arcs that had extreme potential were rush (looking at you, Neverland, Oz, and Dark Swan) or were just plain uninteresting as a whole (*cough*Underworld*cough). That being said, I've stuck with this show anyway. (Last year I was ready to just quit but the finale hooked me in with Jekyll and Hyde and Untold Stories.) When season six (just finished) was in pre-production, the showrunners promised a return to the storytelling format from season one: a season-long arc and Storybrooke-centered stuff. This was the best move for the show and it did not disappoint.

Going into the finale, even before we knew for sure there would be a season seven, I wanted just two things from this double episode: Gold to be redeemed for good and the setup for season seven/what might have been season 7 to be both right and fitting. I got both my wishes!

Now that we know what the setup for season seven is, I've compiled a list of what I do (and don't) want to see next year:

  • Henry's daughter's name: because calling her "Little Girl" only works for so long. Plus, we all know names are important, so I expect hers to be very telling. I watched the ending again tonight. Her name is Lucy. As in "light"; reinforcing my idea she's the new Savior. 
  • Who her mother is: because it certainly isn't Violet, Henry's first girlfriend (last seen meeting him at the school bus before the final time jump in the finale). My personal theory is that it's Tiger Lily because Henry says "take the book to your mother" and the next time we see the girl, she's with Tiger Lily. BUT she calls her "Tiger Lily" so maybe not?
  • Why Henry isn't in Storybrooke (or the realm where he vanished after giving his daughter the Book), why he doesn't remember his own daughter, and how exactly he ended up in Seattle.
  • A season-long arc: because season six proved this is the way to go for Once.
  • The battle for Henry's belief to take more than two episodes: because the last time we fought for anyone's belief for longer was season one with Emma, and since the last scene of season six was clearly an homage to Henry showing up on her doorstep, this had better be a long haul battle for them.
  • Whether or not Henry is still the Author: because it seems strange for him to be hiding out like this if he is.
  • A strong season-one vibe, with lots of introductions and ground-laying, without retreading too much. This season can (and in my mind, should) serve as a sequel to the previous six. It's the Girl Meets World to their Boy Meets World. It's the revival/reunion show. The showrunners should make that work in their favor. This is a chance to bring in lots of new viewers while keeping the old ones.
  • Storybrooke: The Next Generation: when we finish season six, there are (at least) five royal babies floating about Storybrooke -- Neal, Robin, Alexandra, Gideon, and Aurora's baby (whose name I've forgotten). These kids should all be at least 12 by the time Henry returns, perfect for interacting with his daughter and maybe even playing a larger role in the story (especially since many of their parents aren't slated to return).
  • A proper send-off for Emma: since Hook is expected to return and there's a significant time jump, I expect Emma's strongly hinted at guest appearance to be a perfect stage-setter for Henry's journey while still not taking away the happy ending from season six. Maybe they time-travel Hook away. Maybe there's a sleeping curse. Maybe it's just Hook from the Wish Realm. But don't tear up this marriage you just spent six seasons building towards.
  • Speaking of, Gold CANNOT go dark again. Not after everything he just went through. Not after you FINALLY gave him redemption. If this happens, I will quit the show and never EVER look back. (You've done this to me TWICE now, Once. I won't be burned a third time.)
  • That said, I'm open to bringing back Wish Realm Rumple because Rumple is so much fun.
  • A new Savior. Emma is clearly gone from the picture, and Rumple has fulfilled his destiny of defeating the Black Fairy. It's time for a new Savior on the scene. But I'm not sure it should be Henry. Yes, he's the son of a Savior and her True Love, the grandson of the last Dark One (who it's also implied is the original Savior). But I think part of Henry's journey this season needs to be stepping into his roles as father and Author, and part of that will be realizing that he is not the Savior -- but perhaps his daughter is.
  • I don't want to see more old characters shoe-horned in "because we can"; this has failed multiple times before. Give us characters with story arcs.
  • Please don't realm-hop for the sake of putting it in the show. There are lots of Disney and fairy tale stories you have yet to explore, but make it part of the season's heart and the characters' journeys. Rapunzel was wasted in season three because you shoe-horned her in rather than giving her a real story arc. Don't do that this season.
  • Lily's father: okay, this one I'm not 100 percent sure I want, because at this point I'd be satisfied with a simple throwaway line about how Lily and Maleficent found the Dragon and they went off to one of the realms to live happily ever after. But address it someway, because you've promised it too many times now.
That's all I can think of for now. Anyone out there watch Once as well? What did you think of season six? Anything on your season seven wishlist that's missing from mine? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: Sun, Moon, and Stars

It's time for another Watercolor Wednesday!

This month, I wanted to do something inspired by Albion Academy, though maybe not as directly as you might think.

Throughout the Albion books, Merlin uses "Stars" as his go-to exclamation, and at some point this will become the more encompassing, "Sun, moon, and stars." I decided to combine this phrase with the Colors of Magic: silver, black, gold, and red. I added an alternating scheme where each quadrant contained the other colors, not just its primary color (so the silver quadrant has a gold sun with black rays and red stars). (The moon quadrants didn't get all four colors because moonbeams just don't work that way.) I added some ink lines with a black fine point and a silver Sharpie to give the boundaries some distinction.

I'm mostly pleased with how this one turned out, but I'm a bit frustrated that the silver stars look so blue/purple in the red quadrant. Payne's Gray is just too loaded with blue to go on top of a red tone, I guess. I'll make a note to use a more watered-down black for gray over red in the future.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday Musings: The Thief and The Gunslinger: Mini Reviews

I recently re-read two books: one that I love and one I was lukewarm toward the last I read it. Both are first books in their respective series, and both were picked because I want to read the rest of their series soon(ish). Since my experience with them was so dissimilar despite the similar reasons for reading them (again) so close together, I thought I would write up some quick reviews of the two.

First off, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.

I've read this book three times now, and it gets better with each reading. Turner's skillful use of an unreliable narrator who never outright lies to the reader, but continually withholds information in such a way as to lead the reader to the wrong conclusions, makes this a landmark in the young adult genre. I picked this one back up to start a reread of the series before the fifth book, Thick as Thieves, releases later this week. (Spoiler alert: I won't be finishing the series before the release, but I will probably read at least Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia before I read Thick as Thieves, because they are both phenomenal; A Conspiracy of Kings didn't wow me as much on a first read.) I had previously rated this one three or four stars on Goodreads, based on my memory of it, but I upped that to five stars this time. It's just such a well-done book.

Second on the agenda, The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

This is the first book in King's Dark Tower series, the film adaptation of which is set to premier this August. The trailer looks absolutely fabulous, and it convinced me to try the series again. I listened to the audio book of The Gunslinger three years ago, wasn't wowed out of my seat by it, and decided I'd get to the rest of the series "eventually" (which often means somewhere between one and twenty years for me). Not wanting to dive into book two (The Drawing of the Three) until I'd refreshed my memory of the first book, I listened to it again. And my reaction to it was much the same.

  • Roland and the Man in Black are powerful archetypes and I love their struggle and Roland's relentless pursuit.
  • The flashbacks to Roland's childhood were some of the best sections and made me want to know more about his past rather than his current conflict.
  • Jake deserved better than he got (turns out book two agrees with me so far).
  • The sexual content was more present and disturbing than in the other King novels I've read. (So far book two has toned this down to almost nonexistent.)
  • Because this book was originally a set of short stories, it feels disjointed (even in the revised and expanded version).
Overall, The Gunslinger still does not wow me. But so far, I'm enjoying The Drawing of the Three much more. It's still not quite 'Salem's Lot or The Eyes of the Dragon for me (those being my two favorite King novels so far) but it is much closer to them than The Gunslinger.

Have you read either of these books (or series)? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Beautiful People: Parental Edition (Link-Up With Paper Fury and Further Up)

Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In have put together a fun set of questions for this month's Beautiful People link-up in honor of Mother's Day. It's been a long while since I sat down and filled out one of these posts, but this one was too good to let slip away! Today we're digging into Merlin Pendragon's relationships with his parents.

Be warned! Major spoilers are ahead for Albion Academy! Continue at your own risk if you haven't read the book yet. (If you have, proceed with delicious glee.)

1. Overall, how good is their relationship with their parents?

Merlin's relationship with his mother is strained at the start of Albion Academy because of her relationship with his sister, Kaya. As the story progresses, it becomes even more strained to the point of breaking when he learns that she's a sorceress who tried to seal his Second Sight. By the end of Albion Academy, Merlin is completely estranged from his mother and has no relationship with either of his fathers (being created magically from the blood of Merlin Ambrosius and Mordred, son of Arthur).

2. Do they know both their biological parents? If not, how do they cope with this loss/absence and how has it affected their life?

At the end of Albion Academy, Merlin has met one of his biological fathers, Mordred, whom Vivienne had transformed into a black dragon. He has never known Merlin Ambrosius, nor really any father, and the gap in his life shows up in small moments when he wishes he'd known his father. The most poignant of these is when he asks Vivienne whether his father would have been proud of him. Now that he knows his true origins, Merlin wishes to meet Ambrosius even more than before.

3. How did their parents meet?

Ambrosius and Vivienne met as children (well, Vivienne was a child in Fae terms) when he was living in the wilds of Wales and she was sneaking out of the Fae realm to see what humans were like. They both met Mordred when he arrived at Arthur's court to petition a place at the Round Table.

4. How would they feel if they were told “you’re turning out like your parent(s)”?

Depends on the parent. He would stoutly deny any relation between himself and Vivienne or Mordred (while secretly dreading the very real possibility that their heritage will determine his future). He would take any comparison to Ambrosius as a compliment, but doubt the veracity of such a comparison.

5. What were your character’s parents doing when they were your character’s age?

Ambrosius was learning magic from Taliesin and the Fae court, dodging death threats from warlords, and generally making a nuisance of himself. Vivienne was planning her future and dabbling in things best left alone. Mordred was being twisted by Morgause and plotting the death of his father's kingdom. You know, typical teenager stuff.

6. Is there something they adamantly disagree on?

Merlin deplores Vivienne's use of sorcery and her attitudes on mortals, Djinn, and other assorted groups of people. He hasn't really had a chance to disagree with Ambrosius or Mordred (yet), aside from disagreeing with Mordred's desire to kill him out of vengeance on Ambrosius and Vivienne.

7. What did the parent(s) find hardest about raising your character?

Vivienne found Merlin most difficult when he displayed apathy toward learning magic and affinity for anything mortal (like his Knower, Harry).

8. What’s their most vivid memory with their parental figure(s)?

Merlin's most vivid memory of Vivienne is the day she tried to kill Bryn and ensorcell him. His most vivid memory of Ambrosius is the memory the Oracle's Eye showed him of the day Vivienne placed Ambrosius in an enchanted sleep. His most vivid memory of Mordred is the night he, Mortimer, and Bryn discovered Mordred asleep in Albion Academy's basement and Mordred burned away Merlin's sight.

9. What was your character like as a baby/toddler?

To quote one of my favorite characters from Harry Potter, "Exceptionally ordinary."

10. Why and how did the parents choose your character’s name?

Vivienne named Merlin after his father, her first (and I'd argue, only) love. His middle name Marcellus she chose because of its Latin connection and her hope he would become a mighty warrior in her plans. She took the surname Pendragon while hiding with Merlin and Kaya because (although it's a very uncommon name) it fit with her cover story (that wasn't entirely untrue) that Merlin was a descendant of Ambrosius' and Arthur's bloodlines. Much of Merlin's name came from her desire to make him appear to be just another descendant while pushing him towards greatness.

If you have a character you'd like to fill out these questions for, head over to Paper Fury or Further Up and Further In to snag the questions and the shiny Beautiful People button seen above. Be sure to leave your link on one or both sites so others can see your answers.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Short Story Collections

John Barth, author of Lost in the Funhouse, once said that writers tend to fall into one of two categories: sprinters and marathon runners, meaning they tend to excel at short stories or novels. Ever since I first read this description, I have identified strongly with it because, like Barth, I rarely find myself wanting to sprint (write a short story). Most stories that I'm inspired to write come to me as fully fledged novels. However, just because I don't tend to write short stories doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading them. I recently was reminded of a short story collection I read four years back and was inspired to track down a copy to read again. In that spirit, I'm listing out my Top 10 Short Story Collections. They are, in roughly ascending order:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

This loosely connected collection of stories deals with the Native American/Amerindian/First Nations experience in modern America. It's a skillful and fascinating read that digs into the human condition. Alexie later adapted it into a film titled Smoke Signals that draws together elements from various stories into a single narrative. I highly recommend viewing it after you've read the book.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Borges was one of the first authors I read who bent the world with his words and invited me to follow him. He doesn't always explain what he's doing, and he rarely follows the expected course for a story. He writes metafiction, magical realism, and surrealistic fiction. He asks you to think about what you're reading while you read it, not just after. He's not for everyone, but everyone should at least read something of his.

Firebirds, edited by Sharyn November

The first of three anthologies featuring many of the big names in modern fantasy, Firebirds gave me hope for multi-author anthologies. It's one of two on this list, which should tell you how often I find and enjoy them. I usually find multi-author anthologies uneven in skill, style, and content, but Firebirds is more evenly written. It features a number of authors I was familiar with before reading it, but it also introduced me to other authors like Sherwood Smith that I had not read before.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

One of a wave of newer authors who write magical realism or literary fantasy (or something that defies genre), Bender is an author who often takes a familiar concept (a fairy story, a small town rivalry) and turns it on its head. She was one of my inspirations when I was in graduate school because she demonstrated that you could write fantastic literature and not be bogged down by genre limitations.

After the King, edited by Martin H. Greenberg

The other multi-author book on this list, After the King is subtitled "Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien." While that was likely Greenberg's intention, I think it's safer to say the stories in this anthology are driven by Tolkien's influence on fantasy fiction overall rather than any desire by the authors to emulate his storytelling and worldview. That said, this collection has some surprising stories that played with familiar tropes in new ways.

Across the Wall and To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

Okay, this entry is two books. That's because I loved both of Garth Nix's collections equally. They each feature a novella set in his Old Kingdom/Abhorsen world that explores the story and the world in new ways. Both feature a wide array of stories that deal with Arthurian themes, vampires, and alternate universes. (Across the Wall has two takes on the Merlin/Nimue story that thrilled this Merlin-loving Arthurian.) Whether you're an old Nix fan or someone new to his works, you'll probably enjoy these.

Innocents Aboard by Gene Wolfe

This is the collection I mentioned in the intro. Wolfe is very much like Borges in that he tends to expect the reader to work at their reading. I'll be honest; I didn't care for Wolfe's fiction the first time I read him. I started with his Book of the Long Sun (well, the first half) and wasn't prepared for his extravagant use of unreliable narrators and his dense, multi-layered storytelling. But I picked this collection up after being encouraged to try his short fiction, and I was not disappointed. The influence of writers like Borges was easier to spot, and I enjoyed trying to figure out each story. I had a note about one of them in my question-a-day journal, which is what set me on the trail of finding the book again.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is one of my writing heroes. He writes lyrically no matter what he puts his mind to, and this is one of his better collections. The stories are loosely connected in a narrative about Earth's attempts to colonize Mars, and the penultimate story in the collection is one of my favorite short stories of all time, "There Will Come Soft Rains."

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

This collection pulls together ten stories that are either fairytales retold or inspired by fairytales. The title story retells "Bluebeard" with the slight revision of the main character's mother coming to her rescue in place of her brothers. It also features multiple retellings of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Red Riding Hood" that take more modern views on the tales. All in all, this was an intriguing collection.

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint's writing always reminds me of autumn and the wanderlust I experience during that time of year. This collection gathers many of his earliest stories set in the fictional town of Newford, the setting for a number of his novels about the intersection of magic and mundanity. It's a solid collection that features a few recurring characters but isn't really concerned with telling a larger story as much as it is with exploring this town where fairies and horrors coexist with humanity.

Honorable Mentions:

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
Skin by Roald Dahl

What are some of your favorite story collections?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Monday Musings: Osten Ard Reread: The Dragonbone Chair

When I listed my top 10 most anticipated books for 2017, I included a couple of books from Tad Williams, an author known for his "doorstop" fantasy and sci-fi novels. He tends to write four-book trilogies*, with the occasional standalone novel**. This year he has already released The Heart of What Was Lost (a short novel -- especially for Williams -- set shortly after his original Osten Ard trilogy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn) and in June the first volume of a new trilogy set in Osten Ard is coming to my doorstep bookstores.

In the spirit of getting ready for the new trilogy (which only has three books announced so far, but really five if you count THoWWL and another ancillary novel set to come out between the main novels of the trilogy), I'm rereading the originals. (Also, it's been approximately 12 years since I reread the second and third volumes and something like 3-5 years since I last read The Dragonbone Chair in an attempt to reread the series that was ultimately derailed by my reading attention deficit disorder.)

So, without further long-winded ado, here are my thoughts on The Dragonbone Chair (the third time around). I will probably spoil some things, but I will keep all spoilers limited to this book in case anyone hasn't read the series yet.

The Dragonbone Chair is not a seat-of-your-pants thriller like many other fantasy epics these days. It takes a note from Tolkien and uses a measured pace in the first third of the novel, building up Simon's character and the looming conflict in his world. While I have heard others find the novel's pace dull or at least slower than necessary, I don't remember thinking that way in my previous readings. I certainly didn't this time; instead, I appreciated not having to rush from chapter to chapter from the start. I enjoyed lazing about with Simon on warm afternoons, perhaps all the more because I knew some of what was in store for him.

One thing I recall strongly from my first reading of these books was that, despite some similarities to Tolkien, there were certain expectations I had which the story either did not meet or flipped on their heads. The main one that disappointed me was a certain character who dies near the end of part one never returning from the grave a la Gandalf the White (though his influence is keenly felt through the rest of the trilogy). Looking back, this is a wise choice on Williams' part, and likely a very conscious one. Osten Ard is NOT Middle-earth. It's a precursor to Westeros (Martin has acknowledged the series as one of his inspirations), but it still clings to the ideals of heroism and valor even as it examines them from a more skeptical modern viewpoint. (When I began this reading, I noticed that Williams' preface includes a warning to those who think they know the end of a journey before they begin. I should have paid more attention to that the first time.)

While there was much I remembered this time through, there was also a great deal I'd forgotten. At the very least, I had forgotten the placement of certain events. The visit to Geloe the valada (whatever that means; I hope Williams expounds on the term in the new books) kept taking longer to happen than I recalled. Simon's time in the Hayholt had a lot more plot packed into it than I recalled. For some reason I kept thinking Simon was in Isgrimnur's camp for more than a chapter (though I remembered the scenes with the Bukken rising from the ground to attack very vividly).

As often happens when I reread a book, certain phrases and images felt achingly familiar as I read them again for the first time in years, though I would not have been able to recite them or recall them only moments before. (Unfortunately, some of these were not the most pleasant, such as when Pryrates the mad priest kills the dog in front of Simon during a feast. Every time I read this scene, I remember the shock of it from the first time.)

An advantage I had this time around was knowing how much of what comes in the later books is set up skillfully in this volume. Plotlines are begun as examples of the wider effects of King Elias' rule and the pacts he has made with the Norns. Characters are introduced as minor actors who later become quite important. Small exchanges and offhand comments -- fully justified by their building the scenes and the world -- are explored in more detail later on. It was thrilling to see the many pieces being set on the board.

My favorite characters have remained fairly steady over the years: Simon, Binabik, Josua, Jiriki, Morgenes. I've grown to like Miriamelle and Isgrimnur more in this first book, though their growth later is what makes them unconditionally favorites. Maegwin's story feels far more poignant this time around now that I've experienced life as a parent, a spouse, and an adult. Cadrach continues to be a frustratingly recurrent figure. Pryrates is still a villain supreme who knows it (I mean, the man dresses all in red and has no hair whatsoever on his body; if that doesn't scream evil mastermind, I don't know what does). Elias was far more sympathetic in my mind this time around, though I still think him a great fool. Guthwulf . . . well, I can't say what I think about him because "Spoilers."

In the end, this book held up to my nostalgia and more developed critical tastes. It's not going to be for everyone, but I think it's a crucial step in the post-Tolkien fantasy genre. Williams, far more than Robert Jordan or G.R.R. Martin, examines the tropes and values of Tolkienian fantasy and begins to play with the threads to create a new tapestry.

Have you read The Dragonbone Chair? What were your favorite parts?

*Including the paperback edition of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, because To Green Angel Tower was too big for a single-volume paperback edition. The Shadowmarch series was expanded from three to four books when Williams was writing it. I'm not sure if Otherland was originally meant to be three books or not, but the fact that his other series were three/four books, I have my suspicions.

** I have not read War of the Flowers, though I expect I will enjoy it when I do. His first novel, Tailchaser's Song, is a gorgeously mythic book about cats that (from what I hear) is everything the Warriors series should have been. I need to reread it when I finish with Osten Ard.