Book Review: Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis

April 25, 2012 at 9:38 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Words have power, be they names or stories, and no one knows this better than Sunday Woodcutter, seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. But what starts as an unlikely friendship with a frog becomes a great deal more when curses cross and stories twist, and not only Sunday but all her sisters will have great destinies to fulfill to save their kingdom from an evil without a name.

So I have this thing for fairy tales. Liiiiike really have a thing for fairy tales. So I saw the cover and thought oh, cool, Princess and the Frog, that chould be fun.

This book blew me away. It is so much more than a single fairy tale, so much more than any fairy tales, and yet somehow it’s everything that every fairy tale could ever be. Seriously, I could gush for days and still not be able to relate how much I loved this book. I devoured it, and having to clock back in for work was painful. I wanted to blow off everything so I could keep reading.

Sunday is an amazing character, joyful and brooding and open and strong. She has a destiny given her by her name but also a burning desire to be more than that, to make a life outside of a name and a fate. She’s a storyteller, but she’s one that knows the power of words, so she’s cautious with them. For all that, there’s an unfettered merriment and love in her, love for all her family members (no matter how crotchety). Everything she feels, she feels intensely, with no filter between who she is and who she seems to be. She’s refreshing, and while she’s not someone who races out to save the day, neither does she stand around and wait to be rescued.

I absolutely fell in love with our frog prince. He starts out as someone with the potential to have great strength- if he can find it. He’s one of those rare people who has the chance to start completely over, but that redemption has a price he may not be able to pay. More to the point, he may have to sacrifice that redemption for something far greater. Determined to be a man worthy of Sunday’s love, despite the history between their families, he has to acquire a lifetime of memories and skills in just a few days’ time. There’s so much he doesn’t know, some he may never know. He doesn’t have to seek adventure because it’s waiting for him right at home.

Most of this cast is phenomonal. In a family of extraordinary people, extraordinary starts to feel rather normal, so they accept things as commonplace that would otherwise be mind-boggling. Why wouldn’t Sunday fall in love with a frog? After all, eldest son Jack Jr was a dog for a time, and brother Trix is a changeling. Each character has a different destiny but each twines through the others. They’re not a loose collection of people in a house; they’re a family. Each is distinct and well-drawn, and like sister Wednesday’s poetry, sometimes the truths lie more in the shadows and the spaces between.

And the fairy tales. Oh, the fairy tales. This isn’t a single fairy tale, but rather a tapestry that weaves through so many. Just a sampling of the stories included: Princess and the Frog, Twelve Dancing Princesses, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. But there are so many others, sometimes pillars of the story and sometimes fleeting glimpses that make us smile even as we’re too absorbed in the book to look away.

This book is as enchanting as the title suggests. Beautifully paced, gorgeously painted, this book is simply not to be missed. Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis, out 8 May 2012.

Until next time~

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Book Review: Shadow of the Bear, by Regina Doman

September 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Once upon a time in New York City, there lived a widow and her two daughters. One cold winter night, a Bear came to their door.
And they let him in.

I love fairy tales. I’ve said that before and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again, but I absolutely love fairy tales, and more specifically I love retellings of them. I find it fascinating how many different ways there are to tell the same stories, all the different aspects that go into staying faithful to the original tales and yet still becoming unique stories in their own right.

My sister pointed me to Shadow of the Bear, and we cracked up because we know the guy whose face is on the cover. I think it was curiosity that pushed us to actually get the book and read it- and possible the desire to bring it up for laugh value the next time we see him- but once we started reading the book, that changed. A lot.

On the surface, the story is an updated telling of Snow White and Rose Red. It’s kind of a neglected little sister to the other Snow White story (you know, the one with the dwarves and the evil queen/stepmother) but I actually like it a lot more. It’s a story of courtesy and greed, of friendship and loyalty, of the bonds between siblings, and- of course- true love.

Instead of a quaint cottage on the edge of a forest, we have a small brownstone in New York City. Blanche and Rose Brier and their mother Jean move there after the death of Mr. Brier, leaving behind their farm community and their homeschooling for the busy streets of the city, education at St. Catherine’s, and- for Jean- work in an emergency room to support her girls. Rose, the younger of the girls, takes well to shared schooling and city life, outgoing and flamboyant and at ease in any setting. Blanche is a worrier, practical and shy and uncomfortable in her own skin, silent and mostly unnoticed in public.

Enter Bear, a large, rather shaggy young man with dredlocks who, contrary to a rather imposing appearance, assists their mother with her dropped groceries. They invite him in to thaw out his frozen feet and a slow, tentative friendship forms. The tentativeness comes mostly from Blanche, who recognizes Bear as someone who hangs around the drug dealers at her school, and Bear readily admits that he was once in juvie for possession. Still, over the course of the winter nights and his regular visits, Blanche starts to wonder if there might not be more to him than dreds and a record.

It isn’t precisely safe to be Bear’s friend, however, something of which he is keenly aware and his younger brother is quick to remind him. When an evening out threatens the girls, he starts to distance himself from them for their own well-being, and even Blanche isn’t sure whether she should be relieved or not.

There are several mysteries that weave through the book, Bear’s true identity the least of them. There’s also his brother Fish, as slippery and hard to pin down as his name implies, the murder of their mentor Father Michael Raymond, and the disappearance of valuable church property. Through these run the threads of family life, of school hazards and the adjustment to life in the city and the wonders and dangers that life offers.

Here’s what sets it aside from most other retellings: Regina Doman is a Catholic writer, and that comes through the story in lovely and unexpected ways. It’s never a sermon, not a point on conversion, but it unfolds through the story, through the characters, and allows for some very interesting thoughts. I’m not personally Catholic so in many ways some of the aspects were like looking into a new world, one of structure but also of comfort. For the girls, especially for Blanche, religion is a way to look out on an otherwise terrifying world, a source of strength and grace in difficult times. For the brothers, it’s a way to make sense of a hard, cruel world, a world where a beloved mother dies and a father disowns them, where their mentor can be murdered within his own church. It’s what got them through juvie and it’s what continues to carry them through their quest to find the identity of the murderer.

It’s not a simple thing, but it’s an elegant one, a nature that supports the story and allows it to unfold. We see the best and worst of mankind, the despair of losing against an encroaching darkness of the human soul, but also the supreme hope and redemption that gives us the promise of better times.

Religion, especially in fiction, can be a chancy thing, largely because it’s a highly personal and easily misinterpreted thing. It’s a polarizing issue and people respond to it with a great deal of passion. That passion often translates to anger or outrage. Here it’s offered with a gentle hand, used to support the story and characters in view of a certain outlook on life, but never used as a bludgeon. It never attempts to step outside the story or become separate from it, an inextricable part of the characters but an offering rather a smack to face.

These characters offer a lot to fall in love with. Bright and bold Rose, unafraid of the world even when she should be, gutsy and resourceful and entirely too trusting; timid and careful Blanche, afraid she’ll let life pass her by but too scared to reach out and take hold of it; Bear, wounded and bone-sweet, careful of others even as he’s relentlessly driven by his quest; sarcastic, flippant, and hard-to-know Fish, good as distancing himself from others but not so skilled at connecting with them. They’re very real characters, mixed with virtues and flaws, people who’ve been damaged in their own ways and finding their own roads to overcoming and incorporating those scars.

And the best news? If you love this book, there are more: Black as Night, Waking Rose, The Midnight Dancers, and Alex O’Donnell and the 40 Cyber Thieves, hopefully with more to come in the future.

Until next time~

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