Tag Archives: fantasy-scifi

#2: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

KindredI really wanted to like this book.  I was so disappointed.

The plot should have led to an amazing book.  It’s 1976, it’s Dana’s 26th birthday, and things are looking good.  She’s married to a white man named Kevin, they’re in their new home, they’re both ready to write more books, and things are really quite great.

Then she gets dizzy and wakes up near a river where she sees a white boy drowning.  She leaps into the water to save him and is incredibly confused when a she turns and finds a gun pointed in her face with an angry white man yelling at her.

Then she’s on the other side of her living room in her new house.  She’s wet and muddy and Kevin can’t figure out how she got over there.

And here’s the first moment where I thought to myself “Oh no.  This isn’t going to be as great as I want it to be.”

Pretend you see someone pitch over in front of you.  You race over to see what’s wrong, to check if she is breathing, if  you need to call for help, or if she just needs a minute.  Your mind is racing as  you try and figure out what needs to be done.  Then she vanishes.  Then she calls your name and you turn around to find her on the other side of the room, wet and muddy.

I don’t know about you, but my reaction would be something along the lines of

Joaquin-Phoenix_OMG

She was right there!  You had your hands on her, then she DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.

Kevin is confused, but it’s more of a “How in the hell did that happen?” angry puzzlement.  Dana tries to explain that she got dizzy then was in front of a river watching a boy almost drown.  Kevin doesn’t really believe her.

DUDE!  SHE DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.  Ignore the part where she is suddenly wet and muddy.  She was right there, then she was not right there, and now she is over there!  You saw it happen!  Why do you think she’s making it up???

ARGH!

Anyway…

After Kevin tries to convince her it was a hallucination or a dream, she tries to get back to the day.  She’s confused, as one would be if they DISAPPEARED AND SHOWED UP – you know what?  Forget it.  I’m not going to get past this part.

And it happens again.  And again.  And again.

Turns out she’s going back in time to the Southern plantation where her ancestors are from.  The white boy she saved from drowning is Rufus, the plantation owner’s son.  And apparently he’s also her super-great-grandfather.

What in the holy fuck?

No one ever told her that her super-way-back-grandmother Alice Greenwood married a white man. And why is she even here with him?

The second time she appears it’s about five years after Rufus almost drowned.  This time he’s about to burn himself to death while possibly taking down the entire house with him.  Dana puts the fire out and the two of them begin to talk, trying to figure out what’s happening.

The first time Rufus calls her a nigger, she begins to suspect that something terrible is going on.

This time when she returns home to Kevin, she’s covered in blood.

She continues to go back and forth to Rufus.  Each time he’s older and his personality is changing.  She realizes she needs to make sure he has a child with Alice Greenwood or she will no longer exist in California in 1976.

This is why this book should have been awesome.  A modern, strong black woman is going back in time to slavery.  She sees what is happening.  She has to become a slave in order to survive, both in the past and in her present time.  She has to quickly learn the rules to stay safe without giving up on her 1976 self.  It’s confusing and terrifying and had so much potential.

But it didn’t work for me.

It was interesting and heartbreaking to see how Rufus changes from a scared white boy to a cruel slave owner.  Even though Dana is brought there to save him and he knows that they are linked together, he still sees her as his property.  Even worse, he knows that he controls when she comes to him.  Dana becomes more and more trapped and begins to lose her sense of self.

Kevin ends up being pulled into the past with her, and this is where the strongest part of the book happens.  Dana is horrified to see how quickly they both fall into their roles of slavery in the South.  Kevin now owns her and this gives her a sense of freedom because his skin color protects her.  As long as she has a white man to claim her, she can’t be sold.  She sees Kevin slipping into an uneasy comfort as he tries to make things better.  He can’t change society, but he feels like he has a chance to do some good.

I don’t know.  I wanted this book to be so much more.  The idea of a black woman from 1976 being transported back in time to her slavery past was fascinating but it didn’t work for me.  I wish I had written this review soon after finishing the book because I can no longer remember what I wanted the book to be.  Because it was a disappointment, I’ve shrugged it off and forgotten the details that didn’t work.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t really care about anyone.  In order for this story to work, I needed to love these people, and I didn’t.  I don’t know if it became a Tell and not Show situation, but I just didn’t care.

Mostly I was frustrated at how Dana lets Rufus live.  I don’t know if it was because she needed him to get Alice pregnant or what, but it didn’t fit in with her character.  She’d get angry but then… eh.  She’d try and teach him that things would be different, but then… whatever.  She’d feel that she was in danger, but not really because he knew she needed to be kept safe.  The two of them are completely locked together but there’s no sense of balance.  Rufus is able to control her in his time because he’s white, but it felt like an afterthought, which makes zero sense because it’s the entire point of the book.

I don’t know.  I wanted it to be more, and it wasn’t and that was depressing.

 

#50: The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

I’m doing the Dark Tower series on audio.  I’ve been slowly working my way through them and for some reason the audio helps when it’s been months and months since listening to the last one.  King also does a great job of summarizing what’s happened so far without retelling the entire story.  The only downside is not seeing how certain words are spelled so forgive me for any errors.

If you haven’t read the series, there are about to be spoilers.  You have been warned.

Wolvescalla

The tl;dr review: Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy continue on the Beam to the Tower.  They need to protect the Rose in NYC but can’t figure out how to get there and back.  The Beam brings them to a township that needs help.  Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot has Black Thirteen which will take them to NYC.  While they are in the town they need to help save the children.  Susannah is pregnant with a demon child and doesn’t know because her mind has created a new personality to protect the Chap.

The full review:

The book opens in Calla Bryn Sturgis, a small township that is plagued by the Wolves.  Every generation or so, they descend on the town and take the children.  Almost all of the children are twins and after being taken, they are returned to the town a few days later.  One from each set is now roont, the Wolves having taken something from their minds.  They become giants, growing in agonizing pain and they all keep the minds of young children.  The twin that is saved takes care of their brother or sister, hating the Wolves, but not knowing what to do.  As the saved twins grow and have families of their own, they wonder if this is the year the Wolves will return to take their own twins.

When the story starts, they’ve been given warning that the Wolves are returning.  The folk gather together to prepare to lose their children until one member decides to fight.  This is when Father Callahan stands up at the meeting, letting them know Gunslingers are near.

Roland,  Jake, Eddie, Susannah and, of course, Oy continue their journey along the Beam toward the tower.  They worry about what’s happening in New York in the times of Jake, Eddie and Susannah.  They fear for the Rose, knowing that it is protecting the Tower and that enemies are trying to destroy it.  After going todash, a state of moving through time where you cannot affect what is happening but can see everything clearly, they realize they need to move quickly to protect it.  As they try to figure out how to move back and forth from this world into their own, Father Callahan appears to let them know he has Black Thirteen, the wizard’s glass that will let them move through a Door.  Black Thirteen is the evilest of all the rainbow bends.  Callahan knows it will help the ka-tet, but even if they don’t want it, he will beg for them to take it away.

The two groups join together.  Roland is weary to the point of being broken when he realizes the townsfolk want to be convinced that the Gunslingers can either be hired or convinced to leave.  He has been through this many times and feels even more isolated from everyone, including the ka-tet.  He is more depressing here because although they’re all growing closer and these are the people who now know him best, you can tell they will never truly understand him and he will always feel separate from everyone.  It’s heartbreaking, especially because you’re not sure how much he will continue to sacrifice on his quest.  Even worse, his body is starting to break down and he’s not sure how long he’ll even be capable of being a Gunslinger.  Will ka even let him see the Tower?

When Callahan appears, I thought I was going to need to read Salem’s Lot, but happily, his story is retold (I’m not sure how much of it) and then goes on to show what happened to him after he left Maine.  I really enjoyed this part of the book even though it at first seemed to have nothing to do with the Tower.  However, because everything is connected and there is no coincidence in this world, I knew at some point it would circle back.  I’d say that most of this book is Callahan’s story, which was weird.  Actually, now that I think of it, this entire book is just a quick pause on the Beam.  It’s not really Calla Bryn Sturgis’ story even though it’s what brings Black Thirteen to the Gunslingers.  It’s more about Callahan and Black Thirteen and the Rose.  Roland begins to wonder if Callahan has become part of the ka-tet and what his role is in the quest will be.

Even though there wasn’t as much devoted to the Calla and the Wolves, it worked really well.  There was a tight timeline for how long the Gunslingers could stay and if ka will have the Wolves kill them and end their quest.  Roland has realized that Susannah did become pregnant by the demon when they rescued Jake and brought him back through the door.  Her mind has created Mia, daughter of none, to carry the Chap.  Although he lets ka decide most things, he struggles with this information and doesn’t want to tell Eddie or Jake.  When he does, they keep it from Susannah and aren’t sure if they should try to kill the child, or if that will cause Mia to kill Susannah.

The Calla bookends Callahan’s story and ends with a solid cliffhanger as Mia escapes to birth her Chap.

#48: Switch by Carol Snow

Quick and easy premise:

Fifteen year old Claire is a girl with normal and fairly easy teenage problems.  Nate, the love of her life, sees her as a bro.  Her body, while strong from swimming, isn’t going to turn any heads.  She’s average.  Well, she would be if it wasn’t for two things: she hangs out with her dead grandmother and she sometimes switches bodies with other girls.

OK, so everything is normal and quiet about her except for that whole switching bodies.  Turns out that electricity does something to her and she wakes up as someone else.  The first time it happened was quick and weird and the result of a science experiment at school.  She tried to put it out of her mind.  But the second time she woke up in a strange body she freaked the fuck out.  Wouldn’t you?  It’s the middle of the night, there’s a crazy thunderstorm, you wonder how you got into someone else’s room and then you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and HOLY SHIT THAT ISN’T YOU!!!

Luckily she falls asleep, wakes up in her own body, and her grandmother is all “Uhm, yeah.  That’s a thing you can do now.”

So she does it.  Grandmother Evelyn hangs out and when electricity shoots Claire into someone else, Evelyn slips into her body and holds it for her until she falls asleep and returns.  The other girl sort of hangs out, neither dead or alive, asleep or awake.  As soon as Claire falls asleep, Evelyn moves out of her body, Claire moves back in, and hover girl returns to her own body.

When the book starts, this whole thing is commonplace to Claire.  There’s been a few uncomfortable nights, but for the most part she waits for a thunderstorm to roll in, closes her eyes, wakes up in a new body, goes back to sleep and wakes up back at home.  Easy, breezy, lemon squeezy.

But then…

When Evelyn is hanging out somewhere else in the house, Claire gives herself one hell of an electrical shock.  Not expecting to be shot into a new body, she sits up in bed and tries to figure out why this happened.  Shrugging, she figures she’ll go back to sleep to reset the whole deal, but she is curious to find out whose body she’s in.

She looks into the mirror and falls in love.

She’s beautiful.  More than beautiful.  She’s perfect.  The kind of girl who looks amazing no matter what she wears.  The kind of girl who makes boys fall over themselves just to get a glimpse of her.  The kind of girl who can roll out of bed and be stunning.

The girl that Nate has been trying to meet.

Larissa.   Even her name sounds luscious.  Gorgeous Larissa, visiting the beach town where Claire lives year round.  Hating the beach town.  Scornful of the boys who think they are worthy enough to even speak to her.

Things get fun for a bit.  Claire, ever unhappy with her swimmer’s body, pulls out just about every article of clothing from Larissa’s closet and has a one woman fashion show.  It’s like playing dress up Barbie, except it’s her body now and she gets to admire it.  Well… it’s not permanently her body, but since she’s borrowing it, she’s going to squeeze as much fun out of it as she can.

But too soon she realizes that she needs to go to sleep so she can go home and give Larissa her body back.

And then she wakes up and she’s still Larissa.

Oh.  Shit.

For the rest of the book, Claire has to figure out why she’s still Larissa, how to get her body back, how to keep people from finding out, and what to do about her grandmother.

Also?  She’s totally going to make out with Nate.  Hard.

This isn’t too challenging of a book and I liked how much fun Claire had in Larissa’s body.  At times she did feel a bit guilty for taking advantage of this body, but on the other hand… just look at this body.

I was a but surprised that she didn’t feel guilty or conflicted about her “relationship” with Nate.  At some point Larissa was going to get her body back and have no memory of Nate.  It’s pretty convenient that she’ll be leaving town as soon as this happens.  Claire creates a fake email account so that Nate can stay in touch with her.  Larissa.  Claire.  Claire/Larissa.

It’s kinda skeezy.

Getting back to the non-challenging parts of the book:

  1. There is a piece of foreshadowing that foreshadows so hard that the only way it could foreshadow more is if there was a bright red arrow pointing at it that said “FORESHADOW!!!”
  2. The set up of who Claire can switch with is a total cop-out.  Snow didn’t want to write a book where Claire could switch into older and younger people, and definitely not boys, so she comes up with a pretty bullshit set of rules that dictates what happens.  I get why she did it, but I rolled my eyes when I read it.
  3. There is very little fallout in this book.  Everything ends well and life goes on.  This goes back to my skeezy feeling about her and Nate.  She knows he’s out of her league, so she’s happy that she got to make out with him as someone else and now she’s probably going to cybersex him all the time with Larissa’s fake email.  Dude.

One thing that really pleased me about this book is that it was nothing like Wake by Lisa McMann.  It’s a sort of similar premise and I was worried that this was also going to be shit writing and easy answers.  Happily, the writing was good, there were some challenges in the plot, but it wasn’t anything that was going to keep you up at night.  Well, unless you’re paranoid that someone is going to take over your body during a thunderstorm.

 

 

#45: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is a book that has been on a ton of READ THESE BOOKS OR DIE! lists since it was published last year.  I kept flipping through when I saw it in the store and added it to my TBR list, but for whatever reason, I didn’t pick it up.  Since the paperback was recently released, my book group decided it would be a good choice for October, so here we are.

There have been many reviews of The Night Circus in this and last year’s CBR. Several friends gave it five star reviews and have added it to their lists of favorites.  I liked it a lot, but don’t have the passionate love that they do.

It’s a fairly simple plot, which I like because then the details can get insane.  Two magicians have been dueling for ages, only they never go after each other directly, each choosing a student to fight for them instead.  Prospero the Enchanter is delighted that he has found a winning player when his five year old daughter is delivered to him.  Testing her skills he knows that she will be able to destroy anything Mr. A.H. can find.  The two agree to the same rules, although Mr. H. does pause and ask Prospero if he is sure he wants to bet his own daughter.  The pact is made and the game begins when Mr. A.H. plucks an orphan from obscurity and surrounds him with books to prepare him for the challenge.

Celia and Marco are doomed without knowing what has happened.

The two magicians leave much of the competition to fate.  They do not know how the game will be played, when it will start, or even what it will look like.  Years pass and the two students train constantly, even though they don’t know each other, don’t know the rules, and don’t know how the game is played.  All they know is that they will compete and one must win.

Fate chooses the game to be held as a circus.  Chandresh Christophe Lefevre is chosen by Prospero to bring Celia and Marco together.  Chandresh doesn’t know what’s happening, only that he wants to create an amazing circus, something no one has ever seen before.

Almost without realizing it, Celia and Marco begin the challenge within the circus itself.

Things get very confusing at this point, but it works because Celia and Marco don’t know what’s going on.  Marco isn’t able to travel with the circus and had to bind himself to it on opening day so he can keep track of Celia.  Celia doesn’t realize that Marco is her competition for some time, but knows that she must keep growing the circus from within.  She uses her magic to create amazement for the visitors.  They are enthralled with the tents, the food, the music, and the performers and are swept up in the fantasy.  No one ever pushes themselves to look for the wires and strings that must be holding everything together.  They simply smile and enjoy the magic, not realizing that it actually is magic.

It was obvious early on that Celia and Marco would fall in love, and of course they do, and of course this causes problems.  They still don’t know how the game ends.  If they try to quit or walk away, they can’t.  So, they keep creating magic and pushing themselves to strengthen their skills and create new levels of magic. Their respect for each other pushes them to create more and more powerful pieces and it seems that neither will win.

Eventually things are built too high and begin to crumble.  Marco realizes he made an unforgivable mistake when he bound the circus.  Chandresh and the other architects begin to push against the magic, not realizing what is happening. Celia slowly begins to understand the rules and doesn’t know what will happen to the circus performers once the competition is won.  They have become her family and she is terrified to hurt them, but knows she cannot walk away.

For me, the strongest aspect of this book was the supporting characters.  At times Celia and Marco’s story doesn’t feel like the main one, even though everything revolves around the two.  We have moments from other POVs and get to see the circus in very different way.  I wanted to know what the sacrifice was going to be and where it was going to touch.  No one was safe and I quickly sped through the last part to find out how it would end.  These characters played wonderfully against Celia and Marco because there was so much love and friendship.  Neither of them was raised with kindness, yet they responded to it and wanted to protect the others even if it meant losing the game.
I also enjoyed the pacing of the book because time felt fluid.  It was confusing at times to flip back and forth between the chapter headers to see when you were and what had already happened or hadn’t happened.  Thing slowed down a lot in the middle, but this worked for me because I felt like Celia and Marco were in a holding pattern.  They knew what they had to do, but not how to do it.  Or where.  Or when.  Or to whom.  When things started revealing themselves, the book began to pick up speed and fly to the end.

I was pleased with the ending of this book because a choice had to be made.  Neither could walk away and someone had to win.  The way they created the circus meant that it couldn’t continue forever, no matter how powerful their magic was, together or as individuals.

I wish the Night Circus was real.  Not so much the part with the cruel competition, but I want there to be a place where everyone believes in magic and  pauses for a moment to watch it happen all around them.

#35: Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker

You’re still pretty young, living at home, wondering what comes next.  Life has already made it clear to you that you’re not going to be the next best anything.  Between getting thoroughly beaten by your dad at home and thoroughly beaten by the kids in the neighborhood on your way home, your position at the bottom of the shit pile is as solid as a position on the shit pile can be.  Your mom has made it clear that you never should have been born, and yet you wait… for something.  Surely something has to happen next.  Do you get older, move out, move on and become someone?  Or are you trapped in this pitiful, helpless situation for the rest of your life?

It sort of sounds like any book with a teenage protagonist, except maybe for the constant beatings, but what happens if you’re a demon and near immortal?  Not only do you suck at life, you’re going to suck at it for centuries.

Meet Jakabok Botch.

He’s never going to amount to anything and life (or what ever the demonic metaphor for life is) makes sure he knows it at every moment.  Even now, telling his story, you already know how it ends.  His very first words to you are “Burn this book.”  Is it a command?  Is he begging?  All we know is that whatever sad little things have happened to this pitiful little demon, the end result is that he’s trapped in this book.

In between begging/commanding you to burn the book before you get hurt, he tells his story.  Sometimes he does it in the hopes that you’ll burn the book as a favor, other times he does it to spite you, and then there are times when he seems to need to tell you.  It’s not a happy tale.  He is pitiful.  Even if he has a moment of greatness, it’s not that great.

Jakabok Botch was yanked out of the Ninth Circle of Hell and is now trapped on the upper world with the humans.  Even here he gets no respect and is immediately recognized as a lesser lesser demon.  It’s extra shameful when a human looks at you in disgust at seeing how little you matter.

And yet I enjoyed my time with Jakabok.  I wanted him to have that last minute comeback.  Triumph of the human spirit, and all that.  Well, triumph of whatever the demonic version of the human spirit is.  Although he threatens you and breathes down your neck, you still want to know what happened.  How does a demon get trapped in a book?  Should you fear him?  Be sad?  Laugh at his misfortune?  Who is this demon and what emotion is he worth?

I was very entertained.  I liked how Jakabok talks directly to you, immediately setting up the relationship of book and reader.  You’re in control every time your eyes flick over a word, and yet you wonder how much he is guiding you.  There were parts that did get a little creepy because you’d wonder if a really powerful demon did get trapped in a book and you were to read it, what would happen?  Well, creepy for me and my overactive imagination.  Because, seriously, demon in a book?  That can’t end well.

My favorite part about the book is when Jakabok explains the mechanics of you as a reader.  I really liked the idea of your face giving you away to the book.  A twitch of your fingers as you turned the page, an eyebrow lowering, your lips turning down… all of this gives power to the book because you don’t even know you’re doing it.  I loved it.

Jakabok’s relationship with his BFF and frenemy Quitoon was really well done.  Jakabok’s desire to be better himself, to be feared, to be loved, to be something important is both reflected and diminished in Quitoon’s presence.  With one look, Quitoon can lift him up or crush him, and Jakabok revels in his attentions.  Again, my emotions were mixed.  Is he a pitiful little puppy, groveling in the mud and making you feel embarrassed for him or is he trying to grow and learn and become what he knows he can be?

This fits with his tone when he speaks directly to you.  Is he commanding you burn this book or begging you to do it?  Is he threatening you into obedience or hoping your human nature will take pity on his smallness?  And how many sentences will it take to go from one to the other?

And how on Earth (literally!) does he expect you to burn this book without finishing it?  Something huge happens that brings all the demons and all the angels to a moment on Earth to battle.  What did a human do to gain this attention and which faction will win control over the invention?  And how does Jakabok come into play?  Will he have his moment?  Is he just a bystander?  Does he get caught in the crossfire?  Does he sacrifice himself for a greater purpose?  What is going to happen before the last page ends?

This was a fun read and I’m very interested in the mixed reviews it has on Goodreads.  I think a lot of people really did not like it because it was written by Barker and they expect perfection from him.  I didn’t go into it as “OH MY GOD CLIVE BARKER! THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST THING I’VE READ IN THE PAST TEN YEARS!”  I was more “Hey!  Clive Barker!  Let’s crack this open and see where it takes me.”  And off we went and I had a good time.

#29: The Book on Fire by Keith Miller

I wanted to love this book.  Earlier this year I read The Book of Flying by Miller and was madly in love by the end of the first page.  The language and the characters and the story had me dizzy.  It was that good.

I looked him up to see if he had other books and ordered The Book on Fire after not being able to find it at the library or in stock at the bookstore.  It arrived and landed at the top of my To Be Read pile while I finished up a few other books.  I kept looking at it, excited that it was there and ready to dive in.

I liked how it started and settled in happily.

And then it started to drag.

And then I didn’t really care what was happening.

And then it sat unfinished while I read a few other books.

Maybe my hopes were too high.  Maybe I loved The Book of Flying so much that this was bound to be a letdown. 

I’m not sure why this didn’t work for me.  The book is about books and loving books and what people do to feed their addiction to books.  The main character is Balthazar, a book thief who follows the scent and promise of books.  He has created a collection for himself that he keeps close and are only for him.  Other books he gladly trades and makes a living feeding other readers’ addictions.  He arrives in Alexandria to break into the famous library, but he has no plan on how to proceed.  The library is unlike anything he’s ever faced.  At one time it was open to all, but things have changed and it is locked to the world and no books are ever sent out.  It is guarded by fierce and deadly protectors.  Those foolish enough to try to break in are mercilessly killed and their bodies are left to rot on the gates as a warning to others.

Balthazar is soon tailed by a mysterious figure named Zeinab.  Is she a ghost?  A prostitute?  A woman?  He is obsessed and disgusted by her and the two feed each other’s book addictions even though Zeinab destroys what Balthazar wants.

Eventually Balthazar figures out the riddle of the library and breaks in.  Overcome with the decadence of pages, words, stories, smells, shelves, inks, pictures and his forbidden presence, he nearly drowns in his success.  His thievery serves him well and he is able to hide from the murderous librarians while living in the stacks.

And then he sees Shireen.

Shireen was born in the library from the books themselves and like his books, Balthazar must posses her, open her, learn her stories and memorize her lines.  His addiction changes and I couldn’t tell if it was love, lust, the challenge, the forbidden nature, or friendship.

I really liked when Balthazar and Shireen first meet and reading their interactions as they try to figure out what to do with each other.  They are both obsessed and afraid, and watching their relationship change was good.  Unfortunately, I began to not like Balthazar at this point.  At first I liked him a lot because of his obsession with books and his code of thievery.  He lives in grandeur, yet poverty.  The friends he joins when he arrives in Alexandria make a wonderful supporting cast and I liked watching them all swirl around each other while they fed their individual addictions.  They are both connected to each other and completely alone.  When he meets Shireen, however, his addiction becomes cruel and he punishes her when he cannot possess her.

Reading other reviews. this is described as a love story, but I didn’t feel it.  I wanted Shireen to be stronger, and when she was, I wanted Balthazar himself to become stronger because of her.  To me it felt like Balthazar was convinced he was rescuing her, but was he simply trying to steal her for himself?  Even when he wallowed in withdrawal and despair, I didn’t feel any love.  It was more that he was in agony because he was being denied a thing, not a person.  It felt more like a child having a tantrum, not a man in love.

I did like most of the ending.  Zeinab’s story is told, and then finished.  Everything becomes violent and a pure destruction emerges, and yet suddenly things feel peaceful.  I wanted to stay with Zeinab, but Balthazar and Shireen still had their own lives and their stories needed to be finished.  While I did like their endings, I found myself wishing this was Zeinab’s story and that the other two would be an epilogue when she was done.

I wonder if this would have been a five star book for me if I had read it before The Book of Flying.  I liked the darkness.  I liked the cruel moments that came from the other characters because they happened in honest moments.  I didn’t feel like Balthazar was honest in his desires.  The other addictions are pure, but for some reason I felt like Balthazar was about possession, not about fulfillment.  I can’t quite explain it, but I’m sure if you’re sympathetic to him, you will like this book more than I did.

#25: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, Illustrated by Ana Juan

This book was delightful!

Folklore is my favorite genre because it can be super small and specific to one group, or huge and universal.  I love fairy tales, both new and retold.  When a talented writer works with the motifs to create something new, I’m always thrilled that they’ve made it comfortable and familiar without writing a cliché.  I’ve talked about this in other reviews, and it’s a thrill to see it done.  Sometimes you get a book that follows the path and there’s no surprises.  It might be a nice journey, but it doesn’t really impress you.  Sometimes you get a book that tries something new and fails.  But then you find a book that is wonderful all around, and Valente wrote one of those for us.

September is twelve years old and lives in Omaha.  Her father is off fighting in the war and her mother is in the factories making planes to help with the war effort.  September is bored, frustrated and angry.  A Green Wind shows up and takes her away to Fairyland, letting her know that help is needed and that maybe she’ll be the girl to save them all.

Her introduction to Fairyland was really funny.  She has to go through a TSA-like procedure to get a passport and cross over.  I loved how Valente did this.  It’s still a familiar story, but there’s a pause into the absurd before September can carry on.

Of course she’s going to meet characters along the way, take up quests, solve problems, and learn about herself.  It wouldn’t be a fairy tale if she didn’t.  She gains a wonderful companion, a Wyverary who knows everything A-Through-L.  Like many characters in many tales, I wanted him to be real so we could hang out.

September learns that the good Queen has been missing for a very long time and the evil Marquess is now in control and wants to make life miserable for all of Fairyland’s residents.  September, of course, must confront the Marquess, but before she can do so, she must follow the folklore path and learn more about Fairyland.

I loved the structure of this book so much.  The nameless author has asides for the reader, and this almost always works for me, especially in kids’ books.  I would get stupidly excited when I was young because I thought it was hilarious when the author broke the fourth wall to talk directly to me about what was happening in the book.  Seeing it as an adult, it makes me feel like that giggling little kid again.  Sometimes it can be annoying if the author tries too hard, but Valente uses it well and it adds to the story.

I liked the twists and reveals.  There was one that I saw coming, but another one was a surprise.  The book is targeted for a middle reader audience but it works on many levels.  There are traditional themes, nods to female protagonists that have explored tales before September’s journey, modern ideas, and a little bit of information about Rosie the Riveter.

I’m happy there will be more in this series and I hope to see more with September and her mother, although I can’t wait to hear about A-Through-L’s adventures.

Super cute, super fun, and a wonderful take on the classic motifs.