Monday, 21 July 2014

Book Review: Power to Burn

By Anna Fienberg, Published 1995

A while ago on my birthday I went to several second-hand book shops and bought more books than I care to say. I bought Power to Burn by Anna Fienberg on a whim. The authors name sounded familiar (I later realised she wrote the Tashi books and Madeline the Mermaid which I loved when I was a kid) and the description on the back was appealing – there was magic, danger and plenty of female protagonists. Plus, it was in good condition and only three dollars. Bargain.

Roberto, a young boy living an ordinary life (too ordinary) discovers one day that he has magical powers that have been passed down from generation to generation, usually to women. These powers are not celebrated, rather they are feared and kept secret. His parents decide to send Roberto to his Grandparents in Italy so that he can learn to control his powers. Here he discovers he has a twin sister, Angelica, who also has the power. As she had shown the power from a young age, his grandfather decided that she would be kept away from him so as not to encourage his own magical abilities or infect him with hers.

Roberto’s narrative is interspersed with that of his aunt Lucrezia in the 1960’s. Lucrezia has always loved having magical powers, but her father forces her to hide them, just as he forced her mother to hide hers. When her boyfriend Fabio and his family has to leave town because his father has embezzled funds from his workplace, Lucrezia begs her father to let Fabio stay with them. They’re seventeen, they’re nearly finished school, she reasons, let him stay to finish his education. Her father refuses and the next day Fabio is burnt alive in a house fire. Lucrezia blames her father for not letting him stay with them. She runs away to Lemone where she grows in hatred and resentment for her father, intent on destroying him.

The story culminates with a final show-down between Lucrezia and Roberto and Angelica, as well as her father, their Grandfather.

A Power to Burn was a short read and easy one. On the surface. But as I was reading it, I kept noticing all these big, huge concepts about gender and sexuality that I hadn’t expected. I thought it would be a typical heroic quest story with magic and family secrets. And yes, it was that in a nutshell. But going deeper and looking at the characters motivations revealed a whole other set of interpretations.

At the beginning, Lucrezia is talented, passionate and full of love. She wants to enjoy life, she wants to savour every moment, and her magic helps her do that. But she is constantly being controlled by her mother and father each time she tries to express herself through magic. Whenever she tries to explain why she must use her magic, her parents give her a whole range of reasons why she should not. Her mother says, ‘[…] what would become of you? “the Weird Woman of Firenze” they’d call you. A witch. Who would want to be your friend? Or your husband? No man would marry a woman who could fly away from him. Put a spell on him. Be more powerful than him! Listen, I know. You’d be alone all your life.’
And her mother does know, because she has had to bury her own power so that her husband can be secure in his.

When Fabio is burnt alive Lucrezia falls into a rage and changes into a wolf, attacking her father. Her mother stops her by using her own magical ability. Immediately after, Lucrezia and her parents have a frank conversation. Lucrezia tries to explain how natural using magic is to her, how it belongs to her, not to her father. His response is, ‘[…] you are my daughter, and you’ll do as I say. Your mother tells me this isn’t the first time. Little magic tricks, little games, harmless things, she says. But look what happened tonight! Would you call that harmless? What would have happened if your mother hadn’t stopped you?’

Lucrezia keeps trying to explain. She says, ‘You’ve never trusted me. Never trusted me to do what I want with my life. You stamp on me and suffocate me before I even know what I think. But you won’t crush me like you did Mamma. Where is Mamma’s power? What has she done with her life? She’s just cooked your dinners and washed your clothes and run your errands. You think she’s ever done what she wanted?’

As tempers rise, her father delivers the final insult, ‘How could you ever expect to catch a husband?’ […] Do you think even Fabio, the son of a thief, would love you if he really knew you? Knew what an animal you could become?’

After this Lucrezia leaves and vows to never forgive him. Ever.

It is interesting to me that every time Lucrezia’s magical abilities are discussed, so is the possibility of her marriage and the unstated yet obvious sexual implications of this. Both these concepts - magic and sexuality - are hopelessly tangled together in her parents minds. For them, a woman isn’t supposed to be powerful, she isn’t supposed to be independent or in control of her own body. And for Lucrezia, both her magic and her sexuality are simply natural, wonderful parts of who she is. She experiments with both of them to different extents; she accepts both these aspects of herself and resents her parents from trying to force her into a mould she does not fit.

It is obvious from Lucrezia’s encounters with Fabio that she cares for him deeply and he her. It is also obvious that his death has struck her to the core and she has never felt this level of rage and grief. Whether he would have turned on her had he known about her powers is impossible to say, what is evident, however, is that Lucrezia’s father sees both his wife and daughter’s magical ability as a threat and he believes any future lover of Lucrezia’s will feel the same. The control her father exercises over her life is absolute. After Fabio’s death, Lucrezia accuses her father of being ashamed of her relationship with Fabio. It is interesting to note that both the magical powers Lucrezia possesses as well as her romantic relationship with Fabio cause her Father shame and are used as an excuse to control her further.

During the final showdown between Lucrezia, her father and the twins, Lucrezia says, ‘What could you know about my life? And don’t think I’m the only one. What about all those other women down through history, destroyed by men like Papa!’

Roberto, watching the exchange between father and daughter thinks, ‘I didn’t know who the enemy was anymore, or who was to blame, and I wasn’t sure that Lucrezia knew either. It was bigger than any of us, bigger than this room, or the mountain outside, and I saw us all as small beads in Nonno’s chain of history. An almighty shove from destiny, all those years ago, pushed us along, one by one, our shoulders relentlessly shoving the next over the abyss. But that is how my mother would see it. What about change, the future, the next minute? Couldn’t a lousy bead make some kind of decision on its own?’

This ultimate conclusion brings all these threads together and suggests the revolutionary idea that a woman’s suppression by the men in her life – both her father and husband – is damaging and wrong on so many levels. The story twists and instead of Lucrezia, the witch, being the villain of the story, the reader is forced to consider the fact that her Father has been playing this role all along.

This was an interesting book for so many reasons. It was short, it was easy to read, but underneath it all there was this strength, this burning reasoning carrying it along. I don’t know if it was my favourite book ever or even if I would read it again. But it was revolutionary in a way many books aren’t – it actually looked at big concepts about gender and equality without explicitly saying so.

Best Quote: Witches, warlocks, gremlins, ogres – they’re just words, labels. Haven’t you noticed that when people are labelled, their faces disappear?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Beetlejuice – the most uninteresting character in the movie

The other night my boyfriend and I watched Beetlejuice by Tim Burton. It was funny, grotesque and crazy, in a very Burton like manner. Much of this style can be seen in his later films, particularly Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas.

When Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) die and become ghosts, the Deetz’s move into their former home - the father, Charles (Jeffery Jones), the step-mother, Delia (Catherine O'Hara), and their troubled and decidedly odd daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder). Lydia is the only one who can see the Maitlands and she tries to help them exorcise her family from the house. After all, the Maitlands just want to live out their afterlife in peace. Their efforts are in vain, however, so the Maitlands call on Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton)… only to rapidly change their minds. At which point his disappears from the narrative and then appears again at the end when he must be defeated.

I’d never seen Beetlejuice before, so understandably I assumed that the main character would be someone called Beetlejuice. And whilst Beetlejuice himself is certainly important and must be got rid of if everyone is to live happily ever after, he wasn’t the most important. His character was barely explored and, for such a big idea, he didn’t fit in the small space that was allotted to him. Indeed, it was odd that the film was named after him at all.

It would make more sense in many ways for Barbara and Adam Maitland to be the title characters, or better yet, Lydia Deetz, as Beetlejuice is incidental, whereas the above characters are pivotal.

Lydia Deetz
It’s was if this film was trying to fit two very big stories into a small frame – the Beetlejuice story and the Lydia Deetz story. As it was, there wasn’t enough space for either of them. Beetlejuice tries to take over the story and keeps pushing Lydia into the background, even though she is, arguably, the most important character of all. She can actually see ghosts and communicate with them, without her the Maitlands would be completely alone, she is their one connection to life. The Maitlands need her and she needs them. Exploring the growing relationship between Lydia and the Maitlands to a greater extent would have, for me anyway, made a more interesting story. I loved all the scenes with Lydia – when she found the Maitlands dressing up in sheets to look like real ghosts, her sulky, black attire as she slumps around in lacy veils, and her joy in the final scene because she finally has parents who care about her.

Beetlejuice wasn’t nearly so interesting, he was there to add excitement and danger, to be the bad guy. As a character, he was your typical loudmouth conman and so very obvious about it. There was no subtly, no thought and, surprisingly, little personality in him. He talked a lot, but didn’t actually say anything, only reiterated that he was, you know, evil.

The audience knows the Maitlands shouldn’t call Beetlejuice, heck, the Maitlands know they shouldn’t call Beetlejuice, but they play along with the formula and call him, instantly regretting it and sending what could have been an original film down an obvious path. For the sake of the film, not calling Beetlejuice might actually have been the best thing. All the parts without him glow with this beautiful, whimsical, spookiness that Burton does so well. Beetlejuice ruins what might have been an interesting and far more complex story. A story about a young girl and her peculiar affinity with ghosts.

Book Review: How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon - A Guide for Independent Authors & Sellers

By Theo Rogers

Available: Amazon
Published: 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

How To Get Good Reviews on Amazon is a simple, no-nonsense guide that teaches exactly what it says it does. Written by an experienced Amazon reviewer, this book is grounded in both psychological science and thousands of hours of conversation with some of Amazon's top reviewers. It takes you behind the scenes into the reviewing subculture that’s grown up on Amazon’s website, and gives you a deep, insider's knowledge of how the top reviewers think and operate. It not only walks you through exactly what to say and do: it takes you inside the reviewers’ heads so you can see for yourself why this is the approach that works. 
Lessons include: 

• A simple, four-part formula for writing emails that get your work reviewed. 
• Three things never to say to reviewers! 
• How to pick reviewers who are more likely to give you a good review. 
• How to reduce the chance that a reviewer you contact will give your work a bad review. 
• How people get caught out when receiving reviews from friends and family. 

This book is not just about how to get good reviews: it’s also about how to avoid the bad ones. It will teach you which parts of the “Amazon Jungle” are virtual minefields, and how to avoid some of the costly mistakes that have rendered many sellers “persona non grata” among the entire reviewing community. 

How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon teaches an honest, straightforward approach that works. It works because it’s not based on tricks or gimmicks but on a real understanding of how Amazon reviewers operate: most of all what they expect from authors and other sellers. 

If you want to know how to talk to Amazon reviewers in a way that will lead them to respect you as a professional and see you as the kind of seller they actually want to help, this is the book for you!


My Review:
I read this book from the perspective of both an author and a reviewer and I appreciated it more than I can say on both levels.

At only 72 pages long, this is a relatively short read. The style is also conversational and simple, although topics are gone into thoroughly and the book covers several important aspects of the review process from beginning to end.

Whilst I was reading it, the reviewer in me was constantly nodding my head and internally applauding several points made. As stated in the synopsis, this guide aims to convey five key lessons. 

The first lesson is a simple, four-part formula for writing emails requesting for your product to be reviewed. This might seem like basic stuff, but as a reviewer each of these four points I entirely agreed with! Reviewers receive A LOT of emails asking for reviews. And a lot of them are very much the same. By following Rogers steps, you'll be able to craft an original email that will appeal to any reviewer.

The second lesson Rogers imparts is three things never to say to reviewers - 1. ask for a positive review, 2. complain about a bad review and 3. offer money for a positive review. Each of these things is never wise to do, particularly if you don't know the reviewer. Each of these things will more likely receive a negative reaction from a reviewer rather than a positive one - particularly the second one. You're going to get a bad review eventually. Rather than flaring up and responding to it, perhaps take on board what the reviewer has said. Responding to bad reviews never ends well.


The third lesson is how to pick reviewers who are more likely to give you a good review. As Rogers points out, going for the top reviewers on Amazon isn't likely to work as they get so many review requests. Further, targeting a reviewer who only reads romance when your book is an action thriller isn't going to work. Reviewers aren't all the same. Its important to consider them as people (revolutionary concept) with different tastes.

The fourth lesson is how to reduce the chance that a reviewer you contact will give your work a bad review. Obviously asking someone who is interested in your product is key here. But further than avoiding bad reviews is also how you respond to them. Just to reiterate, bad reviews are inevitable, everybody will get one at some stage. But responding to them is almost never wise. 


And the fifth and final lesson is how people get caught out when receiving reviews from friends and family. I cannot stress how important this final lesson is! As a reviewer, whenever I see a book with all five star reviews along the lines of 'OMG I loved this book it was soooo good!' and little substance, I instantly go on red alert. These reviews, more often than not are 'one-hit-wonders' from friends and family or even from fake accounts set up by the author themselves. A string of five star reviews of this flavour is never a good sign. As such, reviews from friends and family are always a good idea to avoid - don't go asking for them, indeed, its best to ask your friends and family not to write reviews!


As a whole, this guide shows authors an accurate and clear way of requesting reviews and responding to reviews that will appeal to reviewers. He allows authors a look at reviews from the other side of the table and his advice is invaluable. This guide is a must-read. For authors and reviewers alike.

Excerpt from 'Noise' by Brett Garcia Rose

Twenty-Eight
The sounds I cannot hear: The whistle of the hammer as it arcs through the air. The wailing of pain and the begging of The Bear. The dripping of blood from thawing meat onto the wet concrete floor. The beautifully crude threats.
My own hideous voice.
I drag The Bear into a walk-in freezer by the hook sunk through his shoulder and toss him into a corner on the floor. When I reenter the freezer, dragging the oak table behind me, The Bear is hard at work on the hook, trying to muscle it out, but it’s sunk deep, through the tendons. Hope is adrenaline, fear masks pain, begging helps no one.
I yank him up by the hook and then hold his hands outstretched, one at a time, as I nail his wrists to the table with railroad spikes. I put all of my 240 pounds behind the hammer, but even so, it takes several swings. His body shakes, the nails sink further into the wood, his face is pain. He screams, but I cannot hear.
The building above burns a deep blue hue with my smuggled-in accelerants.
The sound of the hammer into The Bear. The pain in his eyes. I have never seen so much hatred. It is beautiful to me, to reach this center, this uncomplicated base, to disassemble the past and honor a new history. It is another film, also homemade and rough, an overlay, an epilogue. The Bear is broken but I have spared his face, and to see those eyes, that is what I needed; to see his hatred flow into me, my own eyes sucking down the scum like bathtub drains. His life whirls into me and I taste the fear, the hope, the sharp sting of adrenaline pumping and the reeking muck of despair. His pain soothes me, a slow, thick poison. We will all die.
I know it now; I am a broken man. I always was. I imagine Lily watching me, Lily keeping score, making lists, balancing all. As a child from far away, she was the queen, even more so than her mother. But she didn’t survive. The world was not as we had imagined, not even close. The world is a cruel, bastard place, Lily cold and lost somewhere, me hot and bleeding and swinging my hammer. Life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
The sounds I cannot hear: The laughter of the watchers. The groan of my sister as The Bear cums inside of her, pulling her hair until the roots bleed. The Bear screams and shits himself inside the dark freezer. Lily’s wailing and cursing and crying. I scream at The Bear with all my mighty, damaged voice, swinging the hammer at his ruined hands, hands that will never again touch anyone. Lily at the end, beaten and pissed on and begging to die.
Lily is dead. I am dead. It will never be enough.
I remove the stack of photos from my wallet that I’d printed at the Internet cafĂ© a lifetime ago and place them face down on the table in front of The Bear. I draw an X on the back of the first photo and turn it over, laying it close to the pulp of his ruined hands.
The Bear offers me anything I want. An animal can feel pain but cannot describe or transmit it adequately. The Bear both is and is not an animal. I lack hearing, so the Bear cannot transmit his experience to me unless I choose to see it. His pain is not my pain, but mine is very much his. I swing the hammer into his unhooked shoulder, and then I draw another X and flip another photo.
His lips move, and I understand what he wants to know. Five photos.
In my notepad, I write: you are a rapist fucking pig. I put the paper into the gristle of his hands and swing the hammer against the metal hook again. It’s a sound I can feel.
Anything, The Bear mouths. He is sweating in the cold air of the freezer. Crying. Bleeding.
In my pad, I write: I want my sister back. I swing the hammer claw-side first into his mouth and leave it there. His body shakes and twitches.
I turn over his photo and write one last note, tearing it off slowly and holding it in front of his face, the handle of the hammer protruding from his jaw like a tusk. You are number four. There are a few seconds of space as the information stirs into him and I watch as he deflates, the skin on his face sagging like a used condom. He knows what I know.
I turn over the last photo for him. I turn it slowly and carefully, sliding it toward him. Victor, his one good son, his outside accomplishment, his college boy, the one who tried to fuck him and they fucked my sister instead.
I remove another mason jar from my bag, unscrewing the metal top and letting the thick fluid flow onto his lap. I wipe my hands carefully and light a kitchen match, holding it in front of his face for a few seconds as it catches fully. He doesn’t try to blow it out. He doesn’t beg me to stop. He just stares at the match as the flame catches, and I drop it onto his lap.
The Bear shakes so hard from the pain that one of his arms rips from the table, leaving a skewer of meat and tendon on the metal spike. I lean into his ear, taking in his sweet reek and the rot of his bowels and, in my own hideous voice, I say:
“Wait for me.”


Noise, by Brett Garcia Rose, was published in June 2014 and is available for sale on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Noise-Brett-Garcia-Rose-ebook/dp/B00KYY4MM4). Genres: Action, Adventure, Mystery

Synopsis:

The world is an ugly place, and I can tell you now, I fit in just fine.

Lily is the only person Leon ever loved. When she left a suicide note and disappeared into a murky lake ten years ago, she left him alone, drifting through a silent landscape.

Or did she?

A postcard in her handwriting pulls Leon to the winter-cold concrete heart of New York City. What he discovers unleashes a deadly rage that has no sound.

A grisly trail of clues leads to The Bear, the sadistic Russian crime lord who traffics in human flesh. The police—some corrupt, some merely compromised—are of little help. They don’t like Leon’s methods, or the mess he leaves in his wake.

Leon is deaf, but no sane person would ever call him disabled. He survived as a child on the merciless streets of Nigeria. He misses nothing. He feels no remorse. The only direction he’s ever known is forward.

He will not stop until he knows.

Where is Lily?

Praise for Noise:

“A staggering, compelling work of fiction…mind-blowingly perfect. It has everything. Exquisite details, world-weary voice, and people worth knowing. It is truly amazing!” – MaryAnne Kolton, Author and Editor of This Literary Magazine

“Strong, compelling, raw and human in the best sense. Beautifully written.” – Susan Tepper, Author of Deer and Other Stories

“Perfect, compact and explosive, closing with the gentlest word.” – James Lloyd Davis, Author of Knitting the Unraveled Sleeves

“Wow. Beautiful and wonderful and sad and real.” – Sally Houtman, Author of To Grandma’s House, We . . . Stay

“Frighteningly good.” – Meg Pokrass, Author of Bird Envy

“Superbly explosive. The rage escalates and careens out of control. Amazing.” – Ajay Nair, Author of Desi Rap


About the Author:

Brett Garcia Rose is a writer, software entrepreneur, and former animal rights soldier and stutterer. He is the author of two books, Noise and Losing Found Things, and his work has been published in Sunday Newsday MagazineThe Barcelona ReviewOpiumRose and ThornThe Battered SuitcaseFiction AtticParaphilia and other literary magazines and anthologies. His short stories have won the Fiction Attic’s Short Memoir Award (Second Place), Opium’s Bookmark Competition, The Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction, and have been nominated for the Million Writer’s AwardBest of the Net and The Pushcart Prize. Rose travels extensively, but calls New York City home. To learn more, go to BrettGarciaRose.com, or connect with Brett on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.






How to Reach Readers with the Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion

From ALLi:

Who are Indie B.R.A.G.?
The initials stand for Book Readers Appreciation Group, a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located worldwide. In IndieBRAG’s own words:

‘Our mission is to discover new and talented self-published authors and help them give their work the attention and recognition it deserves. Our primary focus is fiction across a wide range of genres and we selectively consider non-fiction books as well.’

Since IndieBRAG was formed in 2012, they’ve received nearly 2,000 self-published books for consideration – a victim of their own success! Free for authors at first, they now charge a modest $20 fee to cover admin and website costs. And only the author or designated representative can submit a book.

What is Their Selection Process?
The final test of a book’s eligibility is whether or not readers would recommend it to their best friend. On average, 50% of the books submitted to IndieBRAG fail to pass the initial screen and another 40% are subsequently rejected by the readers. Thus, only 10% of the books they consider are awarded the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion.The selection process is tough! After an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content, it’s then read by members drawn from their global reader group. They judge the merits of the book based on a comprehensive list of criteria, including plot, writing style, characters, copy editing, dialogue and cove, and interior layout.


(Read the full article here)

I was kind of excited to see this article because I actually won a B.R.A.G Medallion for the Bagman a little while ago (you can read the review here). I did it on a whim and I didn't realise that only 10% of books were accepted. If I had, I probably would have bragged about it a little more... better late than never, eh? You can see proof here.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Book Review: The Show



17381278By John A. Heldt


Available: Amazon
Published: 2013
Genre: Romance
My Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.



My Review:
'The Show' is the second book in John A. Heldt's 'Northwest Passage' series. I read 'The Mine' some time ago. Fortunately, however, I found it quick and easy to remember the characters and the plot in 'The Show'. 

In this book Grace is the narrator rather than Joel. It was a little slow to start off with, but as the plot progressed and Grace begins her second time travelling adventure, the story picked up apace. 

Grace was an interesting narrator, both relatable and real at the same time. Her hopelessness at being transported back in time, and yet her joy at meeting her young parents was beautifully contrasted. 

Grace soon enough works out how it was she was able to go back in time and makes several attempts to replicate the circumstances, although to no avail. When she thinks she will have to live in 1918, she slowly becomes resigned to the idea and begins to show an interest in her neighbour, the wounded army captain mentioned in the synopsis. It was here that I began to get a little irritated with Grace. She seemed to give up on Joel and her life with him a little too easily, leading the captain on when she knew she would go back to Joel if she had the chance.

Further, the rules about time travel and Grace's attitude towards it seemed entirely too cavalier. It is only common sense that you shouldn't change the past, at least not too much, in case it impacts your future. And as Grace was dabbling about in her parents past (their present) I did wonder whether the things she changed would impact her own birth. The casualness with which she used her time travel expertise was a little unsettling.

Finally, I found this book to be a little too happy and convenient. Characters problems were sorted out with ease and apart from the great big problem of Grace time travelling to 1918 and not knowing how to get back, everything else was very happy and lovely. Call me cruel, but I enjoy books more when people have to fight for their happy endings. 

Still, this was an enjoyable second novel for the most part and leads to interesting questions that will hopefully be answered in the third book.

Book Review: Fables Volume 5

Fables: Cinderella Libertine, War Stories, The Mean Seasons (Issue 22 and Issues 28-33)


Where I read this: Eating leftover birthday cake on the couch.

What the book is about and why I liked it:
Cinderella Libertine is the first close look we have at Cinderella herself. She’s made several appearances before, but she has done nothing to suggest she isn’t just what she appears – a pretty, vain blonde with a shoe obsession (and Prince Charming’s third ex-wife). This issue-long story twists that around completely. Cinderella is set up as a super spy who will go to all manner of lengths to get the job done. This was a nice little twist, especially considering the assumption in previous issues that she conformed pretty much to her fairy tale persona (apart from that one sword fighting scene with Bluebeard, of course).

War stories is two issues long and looks at Bigby and his involvement in World War 2. Unlike most other Fables, Bigby was concerned about the state of the world and the future of America, where Fabletown is based. In this arc, Bigby (with the help of a small group of soldiers) infiltrates a Nazi castle where scientists are attempting to create a monster. Very Frankensteinesque…

I enjoyed this arc, it was full of twists and turns, deception and action.  As a character, Bigby is always good – he’s morose and grumpy, but also kind-hearted at his core. I kind of sped through this arc, though, because I wanted to see what had happened with Snow White, because the last time we’d seen her, she’d been about to have her babies.

Which leads us to the final arc in this volume, The Mean Seasons. Snow White gives birth to a whole litter of furry, human-like babies. And, as they are descended from the North Wind on their father’s side, they can fly as well. This arc presents a difficult conundrum for Bigby and Snow. Not only do they now have six children, but Prince Charming has been elected as mayor. Both of them train their replacements – Beauty and her Beast – and prepare to leave Fabletown. Snow plans to go to the Farm, as her children are not wholly human, the laws forbid them from staying in Fabletown. Bigby, however, is forbidden from entering the Farm so he plans to leave and live as a recluse.

This arc was heartbreaking. But Snow White, as she has previously, gets on with things. She takes them to the Farm, she raises them. And when the North Wind comes to visit, she accepts his offer of training her cubs. This storyline could go one of two ways: number one, Snow will still be an important character who goes out and does things and has adventures vital to the overall story arc or, number two, simply because she is a mother, she will fade into the background. The authors have already literally crippled Snow in that she can’t walk without a cane, I hope that they don’t cripple her in every other sense of the word also.
This arc is important, but a lot of it is spent tying up loose ends after the election and the birth of the cubs. It does, however, provide an interesting premise as to the whole Bigby/Snow romance and whether they’ll ever be together.

We’ll see, I guess.

What I liked: How Snow takes six flying furry babies in her stride and doesn’t completely freak out like a normal person.


What I didn’t like: The fact that Snow is still being forced into traditional fairy tale roles for women - nurturer, weak, vulnerable. How her role of mother plays out, however, should be interesting. You'd think with a great character like Snow, amazing stuff will happen.

Book Review: After Realm

By Renee Travis

Available: Amazon
Published: 2013
Genre: YA
My Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:
Hellebella is not your average teenager. She is a demon princess from the underworld. She does, however, have teenager tendencies. She is outspoken, blunt, funny and rebellious. When a final act of rebellion sends her father into a rage, he sends her off to the North American School of Paranormal Princes-sing where he hopes she can learn to become a proper young lady and do something constructive with her life.

Not the only princess being sent away to the NASPP, Hellebella meets a lively bunch of girls from different paranormal kingdoms, including fairies, a vampire and shape-shifters. But not everything is light and happy at school. The girls find themselves entranced by a secret and mysterious club in another realm. There, they are forced to dance every night, and if they do not the consequences are dire.

Helle, as her new friends call her, must find a way to break them free of the spell holding them hostage, figure out WHO is behind the malicious magic and struggle with her own love for her best friend’s brother. Hopefully she can save them in time, before they become ghosts powerless to stop the magic from harming someone else.

My Review:

I enjoyed this story on so many levels. As a concept, it is a modern retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (although in this case there are eight). Despite its modern setting, the plot works surprisingly well. Instead of a forest glade to dance in, there is a nightclub for instance.

Throughout the story we get to know all the characters well. Hellebella is a likable, intriguing main character. As a demon princess, she has ruby red skin, black finger nails and horns sprouting from her head. She narrates the story with such character you grow to like her more and more with each page. You learn about her developing relationships with her best friend Lilith (Hellebella's roommate and a born vampire) as well as Lilith’s brother Rouke. As a character, you care for Hellebella right from the beginning and you want her to succeed.
The other princesses are also interesting and intriguing characters. Each princess is from a different court, there's Cali, a werecanine, Roxanne, a Seelie (fairy) princess and many more besides. These different cultures and species are all explored to different extents and each princess has her own distinct personality.

The plot itself is well paced and exciting. The villain is a little unbelievable in that there weren't many, if any, clues dropped along the way to allow the reader to guess who it was. Still, the overall plot of a secret realm with an enchanted dance floor and the curse it places on the girls was an exciting one. I also liked the twist that Hellebella, the princess, had to save Rouke, the prince.

The only other criticism I would have is that there were often quite long descriptions of what each girl was wearing. And, as there were eight of them, this could often slow the story right down.


On the whole, however, this was an interesting and fun read. I’d definitely read more books by the author.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Book Review: Fables Volume 4

Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Issues 19 – 21 and 23-27 (issue 22 is in Vol. 5 for some reason…))

Where I read this: Late at night, curled up on the sofa because I couldn't sleep

What this book was about and why I liked it:
It took a long time to get surviving Fables out of their world, away from the Adversary and his armies, and safely into the Mundane world. At the Last Battle, several Fables held the gate so the last ship could escape. Boy Blue was one of the lucky ones, but his love, Red Riding Hood, was left behind…

In the present day, Ride has returned, but Bigby suspects her miraculous survival isn’t as miraculous as it’s cracked up to be. There are also wooden men terrorising the streets, Snow White is recovering from her ordeal with Goldilocks and is very much pregnant, and Prince Charming is running for election against King Cole, who has been mayor since the beginning of Fabletown.  But when Boy Blue goes missing and the wooden men deliver an ultimatum, war looms on the horizon and Fabletown will have to defend itself yet again from the Adversary.

This was a thrilling story arc, probably one of my favourites so far. Little Red is a great character, from her back story with Boy Blue in the last battle to her present day incarnation. We also meet Frau Totenkinder (the witch with the Gingerbread house) who is just plain scary, even though she’s one of the good guys.

Bigby and Snow both do what they do best. Bigby goes off to Canada to investigate how Riding Hood got into the Mundane world and Snow begins preparations to defend Fabletown from the wooden men and devises strategies to defeat them. And all this whilst being heavily pregnant and having to use a walking stick due to her injuries. Snow is an organisation machine. It was nice to see that without Bigby breathing down her neck and being all protective of her, she was able to finally show off what she can do. I like Bigby, he’s a good guy. And I’m rooting for them, yes. But whenever he’s there, she takes the back seat and he takes over. In this arc, she was finally given the chance to do things her way. And, even though she made mistakes, her way worked.

As a whole, this was a great arc. I loved it.

What I liked: Snow White being in control.


What I didn’t like: Umm... the change in artist for the prologue? That's the best I can do. This arc was great.

Monday, 7 July 2014

2014: A Story a Week

 Zita
Zita looked out over the city, the terracotta rooftops gilded red in the sunset. She smiled, but it quickly faded. Out beyond the city, she could see the rolling desert sands. Dusky, dim. The sunlight did not catch them. In the distance, she could even see the temple. How small it looked from up here, worshipers still coming in and out, leaving their shoes at the door.
She stretched her arms and adjusted her position on the rooftop. Down below people hurried through the streets, merchants called their wares, girls flirted with their eyes, silk veils shadowing their faces. Young men jostled in tavern doorways and pickpockets moved through the crowd unseen. Cries, screaming, laughter… they all mingled together.
The sun dropped behind the horizon.
Zita stood. The lights, the silken laughter, the hot smells of the city filled her with a sadness, but a joy also. Memories of dancing with her husband, of coming home and picking oranges, of eating them with her love, the juice running down their chins… Zita turned away. That was gone now. He didn't want her and she was what she was. A shadow, a darkness. What she had always been without him there to find the light in her.
She slid down the roof and onto the highest balcony the house had to offer. The doors were open, silk curtains blowing in the wind.
Zita pressed herself against the wall. Inside she could hear laughter, splashing. She smelt rosewater and perfumes. She peered out from behind the curtains. A man was standing at the edge of the bath, one foot on the first stone step. His laughter echoed. A young girl gazed up at him, her body wet and soapy in the water.  She smiled, but Zita knew that smile was only for the gold coins the man would pay her after, if he felt so inclined.
He stepped further into the bath, both feet in the water now. The girl moved away from him, her laughter caught up in the splash of the water. The man went further into the bath, sinking into it. He sat on the stairs, the water reaching his shoulders even as he reached for the girl. He pulled her into his lap and she squealed.
Zita moved then.
The marble floor was cold and slippery beneath her feet, but she did not falter. She darted behind him and gripped his neck, pushing him under the water.
The girl screamed and blundered away, slipping and sliding out of the bath. The man thrashed, his hands grabbed at her. Zita kept away from his clawing fingers. She tightened her grip.
She didn’t watch his face as he died. Instead, she watched the bubbles pouring out of his mouth. How they popped and shattered on the surface. How fragile life was.
When he was finally still, Zita stood. She shook the water from her arms and looked about for the girl. She had hidden herself in the bedroom, a sheet held tight around her damp body. She whimpered when Zita came in and curled further in on herself.
“Poor little beetle.” Zita ran her fingers over the silken bed as she approached the girl. “Poor little worm. You did not expect tonight to go quite as it did, I expect.”
The girl shook her head, tears running down her face. So young. So foolish.
“I only kill those assigned to me, and get handsomely paid for it too I might add. I do not make a habit of killing people who don’t deserve it.” Zita unsheathed a dagger from her belt. “But I do not like leaving witnesses either. You understand my dilemma.”
The girl tried to speak, but her sobs choked her.
Zita knelt before the girl. She tugged at the black veil covering her face. Cool, fresh air prickled against her sweat stained skin. She smiled, but the girl did not smile back. "What is your name, little beetle?”
“Mila.” The girl’s eyes were bright with tears, her voice was soft, the merest whisper.
“Mila,” Zita repeated. “I will pray for your soul.”
She pulled the girl’s head back and slit her throat.
Zita stood. Her hands were red with blood now. How she hated blood. She returned to the bath and dipped her hands in and then her arms up to the shoulder. She scrubbed until the blood was gone and the water was red.
When she was finished, she stood and looked down at the dead man floating in the water.
“Goodbye, husband,” Zita signed the Evil Eye at his body. “May your soul burn in hell.”

She left the way she had come in, through the balcony and across the rooftops. A darkness, a shadow. 

Book Review: Marco Antonio and Amaryllis

By Y Correa

Available: Amazon
Published: 2013
Genre: Romance
My Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis from Amazon:

The year 1585. The Anglo-Spanish War. England’s greed for Spain’s crops, land, and supplies gives birth to the inertia of intolerance on both sides. Yet, even then, Love surges forth. 

MarcoAntonio, a Spanish gentleman and knight, defied all boundaries of color and culture, when setting eyes on the English lady Amaryllis. Although to others, he may be a bit reserved, he dares to lower his defenses solely for her. 

Amaryllis is an English lady. One with an open heart, gentle spirit, and shining eloquence. She knew that she should not desire MarcoAntonio. Still, a love feeling so right couldn’t be so horribly wrong! 

Travel with MarcoAntonio and Amaryllis as they duel with internal and external forces threatening to tear their powerful love apart. In the midst of troubles the likes of which have no compare, MarcoAntonio and Amaryllis find themselves having to fight the most unexpected of adversaries, just for the right to love each other. 

Discover why their LOVE is the result of ALL things conquered! 


My Review:
Marco Antonio And Amaryllis is a beautiful love story from beginning to end. What I liked best about it was that it did not follow a typical romantic storyline. Although initially I thought it would. The two lovers were separated by Amaryllis' cruel father and Marco Antonio must go and save her. But then Amaryllis' body is possessed by Mother Haydie. The fact that the very villain Marco Antonio must save his lady love from is actually residing in his love's body was a nice little twist.

I also enjoyed all of the characters, particularly Rye. Rye was a funny, sweet character who was  brave, clever and loyal. I particularly enjoyed Rye's vocation as an amateur inventor. Marco Antonio was a solid male lead, but as his love Amaryllis is possessed for most of the story, we don't know as much about her. Damien too was also a fun character as was Mother Haydie herself.

The ending was beautiful and had such a depth of emotion and feeling. And, like the rest of the story, it wasn't what I expected. This worked really well.

Occasionally the dialogue could sound a little forced. Often characters would speak phonetically, for instance, saying, 'Ma' Lady' instead of 'my lady' and the English character's often had the 'h' in their speech removed. This at times made it hard to read. Further, dialogue was constructed to sound of a medieval era, although this was not always achieved. The use of the word 'tis' was also quite repetitive. 

My issues with dialogue aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, particularly the fact that it did not follow a 'typical' romance plot and had several original concepts. A very memorable read.

2014: A Story a Week

Authors Note: In my creative writing classes I get a lot of students who begin their story with a character running and some dark, nameless fear chasing them. In each batch of assignments, I expect at least one story like this. Usually I get more. So for this week's writing challenge, I thought I'd indulge in a little running myself...

Running

Char ran like there were hounds on her tail, like she was a fox, fleet, quick of foot, fast. She ran like each step wasn't killing her, like each breath wasn't a painful wheeze. She ran like she was getting somewhere, when really each step was only delaying the inevitable, only keeping her one step ahead from death.
The pavement thumped under her feet, each step jarring up her leg, the sinews in her knees feeling like they were going to snap any second. Her feet felt pounded flat, pancake flat, pain flaring with each step, blisters rubbing to life on her toes, the arch of her foot.
Her lungs were straining. They were two pathetic bags that couldn't hold the air she needed. She gasped with each step, each breath a burning tear, her mouth dry and raw. 
Even her arms ached and they weren't doing anything. Her elbows she kept draw into her side, her arms at a right angle. But the strain of keeping them in place, the ache to her shoulders as she tried to keep her posture, tried not to slump... everything hurt. Even her nose hurt. Her teeth, her eyeballs, her scalp. 
She turned a corner a little to slow and felt its hot breath on her neck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
She bolted forward, fear giving her a new burst of energy.
The pavement stretched ahead of her, a nice straight stretch. There was a park on one side and a row of burnt out ruins on the other. If she could make it to the end, maybe there would be something to save her. Maybe there would be a building still standing, a door to slam shut. Maybe the thing chasing her would tire. 
There was a growl to her left. She turned to look automatically. Stupid. Never look. There was another one coming at her from across the street. She'd be surrounded. Fuck.
She vaulted over the park fence and the thing yowled. The ground here was uneven, bumpy and hilly. She wasn't as fast here, they'd catch her. She felt one of them swipe at her, felt the sharp burst of air as it missed her by a millimeter. 
Up ahead of her a playground loomed. It was falling apart, old and broken. There were swings and climbing equipment, with an yellow tunnel slide. 
Char didn't stop to think. She ran up that tunnel like a rabbit down a hole. It was slippery, her sneakers struggled to grip, but she'd gone in at such a speed she made it half way up. She braced herself against the tunnel wall and took great heaving breaths. The tunnel turned in the middle and she couldn't see the top or the bottom. 
She heard the things outside, circling the playground, sniffing at it. Sniffing for her
She felt the tremors as one of them bounded up the climbing equipment and snuffled at the tunnel entrance above her. 
Below, she heard the echo of the other at the exit. There was a creak and the tunnel shook. Char watched as one black paw then another patted about on the inside of the tunnel below. But the surface was too slippery and they retreated. She heard the climbing equipment rattle again as the thing above her bounded away from the entrance, back to the ground to join its mate. To wait for her to come out.
She took a deep breath, her throat burning. She was so thirsty, so tired. Her legs were aching from keeping herself propped up inside the tunnel. She couldn't last. Not much longer.
Char closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and touched the gun in her belt. There were only three bullets left. One for each of the things and a third for herself if necessary. She'd been saving them for a special occasion.
Slowly, painfully, she started moving herself upwards towards the tunnel entrance. Pain jolted through her, her muscles cramping, her back aching. By the time she pulled herself out, her whole body was shaking with exhaustion. The things below her looked up as one, their eyes glowing red in the dark. Aim for the eyes. Char lifted the gun, her arm trembling. She pulled the trigger. 
Once, twice, three times.

Book Review: Fables Volume 3

Fables: A Sharp Operation, Storybook Love and Barleycorn Brides (Issues 11-18)

Where I read this: Trying to eat bacon and eggs and hold the book up at the same time – challenging.

What the book is about and why I liked it:
A Sharp Operation is a two issue story arc that focuses more at Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming’s second wife) who we haven’t seen much of before. Whilst her role isn’t necessarily that of the main character, she is vital to the plot. It begins when a reporter threatens to expose the Fables for what they are – immortals. Bigby has to keep him quiet and destroy the evidence, and he needs Briar Rose to help achieve this.
It was kind of cool seeing another fairy tale princess playing a role other than the helpless, vulnerable one she plays in the stories. Even though her power (or curse) is sleeping, and causing everyone in the same building to sleep also and large thorns to grow around it, it’s still a power and it has its uses. Whilst her assistance in this story is passive, especially considering that she’s asleep the whole time, it was cool to see a fairy tale princess use her powers for something other than getting a kiss.

The second story arc in this volume, Storybook Love, takes a dark plunge as it is revealed that Bluebeard and Goldilocks are plotting to kill Bigby and Snow White. Bigby and Snow wake up in the woods with no memory of the past few days. It’s evident that they’ve been staying there for some time, as there’s a campsite all set up and a tent… but with only one sleeping bag… As the story progresses, Bigby and Snow have to fight for their lives and, it is revealed, the life of their unborn child or children.

Snow is a little more active in this arc. She steers a car careening wildly out of control down an incline, she uses an axe with bloody consequences and she handles all the kicks life throws her way. Even so, Bigby is still undermining her, treating her like a fragile, weak child. She’s vulnerable, sure, but she’s tougher than he gives her credit for. Through the whole camping adventure, as they get shot at and have to fight for their lives, Bigby is constantly telling Snow what to do, constantly talking down to her, reassuring her, assuming that she’s afraid and needs his protection. She stands by and lets him. What I wonder, though, is in the thousands and thousands of years that they’ve been alive, wouldn’t Snow have picked up a few tricks of her own? Wouldn’t she have figured out how to defend herself by now? In one of the earlier arcs, we see Cinderella taking a fencing lesson. After surviving everything and escaping the Adversary, it seems logical that Snow would have picked up a sword at some point herself. 

When Bigby is put out of action and Snow has to stand on her own two feet, she handles it. She wields the axe like she knows exactly how. There is this inbuilt assumption in this story that Bigby is this tough man of action and Snow is this scared, vulnerable princess.  But she gets shit done. A lot of the story surrounding Snow is constantly trying to put her in these very traditional fairy tale roles – princess, damsel in distress, and now mother. She’s constantly battling through all these stereotypes and trying to be who she is, which is brave and above all, capable. If she needs help, she’ll ask for it, she doesn’t need Bigby assuming she does. And, when she eventually has her litter of wolf babies, she’ll handle that too and be great at it. The only thing I wonder about is whether she will be able to remain deputy mayor after she has children? Because being deputy is important to her and she’s good at it. She’s the one who holds Fabletown together and keeps it hidden from the Mundane’s (humans) of New York. It will be interesting to see how this story progresses, whether she juggles children and a job or whether she has to pick and choose. It will equally be interesting to see Bigby’s role in this – especially considering the fact that if any of the children don’t look human, they will have to live on the Farm and Bigby isn’t allowed there.

The final arc in this volume is Barleycorn Brides. It is an issue long story looking at the Lilliputans and how only males managed to escape from Lilliput. They live on the Farm in Smalltown, population male. Thumbelina is the only little woman and she isn’t particularly interested in any one man. She does, however, explain that her mother planted barleycorn and when the flower grew, Thumbelina was inside. And so Johnny, a Lilliputian, decides to go back and find the jar of barleycorn so there will be women aplenty in Smalltown.

Whilst the story never expressly says this, the assumption is that the barleycorn brides and their subsequent ‘birth’ (fully grown and beautiful) is specifically for the men. Even though the men don’t force them into marriage, none of the barleycorn women – and certainly not Thumbelina herself – are described as people or given any personality. They are things, things to be planted, harvested and used.

Fables is such an original idea, but in terms of gender roles I feel like a lot of female characters are just on the verge of redefining the female role in fairy tales, and then they slip back. Snow White gets pregnant and the barleycorn brides get planted. Their lives are defined by the male characters and, in the case of the barleycorn brides, this is literally true.

What I liked about this volume: Storybook Love was a great arc, it was interesting to see Bigby and Snow’s relationship develop (and how!).


What I didn’t like: The fact that Snow is still being treated as weak, she’s not! She can do stuff!