(Book Review) Land of Stories: Worlds Collide

Wanted thief Goldilocks, a baby on an adventure, witches in Manhattan, an old writer with memory problems, the fairytales you know and love in a bright shiny Land of Stories No. 6–what could possibly go wrong?

Well, before we get to that, it would be rude of me to skip the stats. Especially since this culminates an unexpected nine-year journey for me from Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.

Book Review No. 27: Land of Stories: Worlds Collide by Chris Colfer

Series: Land of Stories, no. 6

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy/fairytale retelling

Content for the Sensitive Reader: mild language, 1 or 2 instances strong language, witches, curses, the violent (mostly bloodless) deaths of multiple villains and minor characters. Fine for most middle-grade readers.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 8/10 (Hey, guess who almost forgot she had to do a rating?)

There’s a lot to love about this book. And there’s a lot not to love. Let’s get the worst over with first, shall we? Then on to dessert.

Some of it is lovely, deep and gorgeous writing. That’s why I’m still here. And some of it isn’t. That’s what drives me nuts. One moment I’m thrilled…and then we’re back to stereotypical Marines shouting predictable orders to each other, wearing sunglasses, and willing to blow up all of New York over something that any hardened soldier would expect to be a hoax or a trick.

(What do you think you are, the first Avengers movie? *muffled Bookmarked screaming*)

Sorry, but that’s a lot of people very ready to believe in magic instead of expecting it to be an illusion…and as far as I’m aware, Colfer’s version of reality doesn’t have any exceptional features, urban legends, superheroes…you get the idea.

If someone appeared in New York right now summoning lightning from the sky, I highly doubt the first conclusion would be “Nuke it, it’s gotta be magic.”

Please. Anyone with lightning powers, prove me wrong.

Also I’m not sure Colfer understands how high-powered sniper rifles work (and I’ve also been informed Febreze doesn’t come in aerosol cans–which is awkward since it’s a plot point). But that’s my bone to pick with his overly tragic romanticism.

I hate love triangles.

Yeah. I’m calling it uneven writing until someone has a better term.

For example, how can he write characters that are as deep and complex as the Evil Queen or Bo Peep…and then write Little Red Riding Hood as Ye Predictable Millionare Blonde and Robin Hood as a total flirt?

Actually, I know the answer to that last one. Pretty sure that Colfer is basing his version of Robin not on the original stories or the collections by Creswick and Pyle but on the Kevin Costner film Prince of Thieves. Which by all marks in my humble opinion, does not merit being considered a Robin Hood version in the slightest (and is personally my least-favorite rendition. Go watch the Keira Knightley Princess of Thieves before you argue). Nor, may I add, is it grounded in any book.

Which for a book about characters from books in a book…is awkward. Again.

And while I’m complaining, I might as well tackle Worlds Collide on diversity.

This is a delicate subject. So I’m going to approach it with all the consideration I possibly can. But the flat answer is that I don’t appreciate the way he does it.

The last five books of the series haven’t been remarkable for their representation of any particular people group. Unless you want to consider gingers, which some people do. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that someone mentioned that fact to him, because lo and behold, here in book 6, we have…an effort.

A very small effort. Colfer introduces two LGBT+ couples as mention characters.

Important term, “mention characters.” They are not side characters. They could be eliminated and no one would notice. Together, they appear in maybe five pages of material. They’re literally just there to fill in background space. Like computer-generated Orcs in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

Personally, it’s irritating. If you want to make a diverse book, great. You do you. Tell the story you feel you need to tell.

Tell the story you feel you need to tell. Don’t make it about politics or agenda or doing it because everyone says it’s right. If you want to write an all-boy book, do it. If you want to write something with only minority characters, do that too. But please, don’t just casually mention different people groups in 70 characters or less only in the last book of a six book series like that suddenly makes you a patron of all inclusion and an angel to the world, your entire series the champion of diversity, and sparing you from all such criticism. I know, I’m going overboard. But really. I can’t help feeling like this isn’t inclusion, it’s just lip service–something never done because it comes from the heart. And when that’s the case–well, who wants a gift that someone only gives you to save face?

Anyway.

There’s a few other things that bugged me–the on-page final battle carnage that conveniently avoided bloodshed every time (death is death whether you strangle ’em, stab ’em, or magically vaporize, Colfer. Caught you), pondering if we have bordered on bestiality with an enchanted-animal character, witty remarks suddenly turning stale, exceptional convenience, why couldn’t we have librarians discover the fairytale world since they are clearly the most prepared and they were right there and we didn’t and now I’m disappointed because that’s how I would have written it, oh, imagine all the happy librarians wandering around Rapunzel’s tower and saving New York from doom–and could someone please explain to me why Conner didn’t bother to learn any magic from his sister while he had the chance so he isn’t so utterly helpless 80% of the time? Did I miss something? But that’s not worth going into.

On to the good stuff!

And oy, there is a lot of it! I laughed and cheered just as much as I grumbled. Just can’t help it with this stuff.

Besides. Mother Goose is back. I love Mother Goose.

And beyond the witty lines and fantastic magic–there’s heart in this story here too. Villains don’t always deserve “unhappily ever after.” You don’t have to be perfect to be happy. What you look like, appearances need never define who you are–ooh, that last one was good. From all sides.

And getting fairytale characters through airport security? Now that is what I came for! Not to mention Bree building a bomb in like 20 seconds, the return of characters absent since book one, the conclusion for the Book Huggers, Trollbella, Charlotte–arrgh, so many great moments! The thing is, these characters he invented are still as lovable as they always were.

It makes me wish he realized where his strengths really lie, and let the rest of the fluff worry about itself.

It’s not bad. There’s a lot concluded (which is a relief after the cliffhangers of several of the books in the series) and a lot left to hope for–not in the future of the series, but in the lives of the characters. And that’s the best ending of all–no “and they lived happily ever after,” but “and they lived on and had more wonderful and thrilling and dangerous adventures for the rest of their lives.”

At least, in my humble opinion.

So! Land of Stories. I don’t think I’m the only one curious to see what Colfer is up to next. What could he do outside the Land of Stories, do you think?

(Book Review) Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey

Book Review No. 26: Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey by Chris Colfer

Series: Land of Stories, no. 5

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy/fairytale retelling

Content for the Sensitive Reader: mild language, gruesome pirate backstory (slavery, murder, etc.), witches, curses, a creepy scene in a graveyard, zombies (not particularly graphic), at least 2 violent deaths. Fine for most middle-grade readers.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 7/10 –not bad, but not Colfer’s best, either.

It’s been a really long time since I read a Chris Colfer book. And while it wasn’t Monte Carlo and Neuschwanstein castle, it was nice to have a reunion.

What did I like? Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin. First off, it isn’t an “eleven-year-olds must save the world” book. The parents of the main characters are involved. More than that, they are vitally important. It’s a fabulous thing to see when most middle-grade books exclude parents entirely, dead before the opening, or write them as total killjoys (Harry Potter, All Four Stars, A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans–don’t get me started). Seriously, I dare you to name 5 that have healthy relationships, let alone those where the kids ask their parents for help.

So when Charlotte Gordon insists on putting herself front and center in this book (while Bob is in the background going “magic…oookay” in the most amusing way), I’m cheering her on.

Besides. She’s a cool mom.

The Bailey twins and their family dynamic really fascinates me. It’s comic and charming and believable–really, the only thing I have to complain about is that they’re too perfect. How they possibly do all the madcap things they do without arguing endlessly…that’s a fantasy in itself.

And that’s another thing about this book. Beyond a healthy family relationship, every time I turn around, the characters are trying to build one another and the reader up. For most of the series, Alex has been the one to “get everything right.” The serious sibling. Conner goofs off, doesn’t let people make expectations for him. But in An Author’s Odyssey, the reader gets a chance to see how bright and strong he really is, no matter what people think of him. And that’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s a beautiful thing to feel, when so often everyone, no matter the age feels crushed, defeated with the weight of their mistakes before they even try. You are beautiful and gifted all on your own.

(clears throat awkwardly)

Also Trollbella’s play. I’m a little bit mesmerized by live theater and that chapter had me giggling. I love me a play production like that in real life, and having fantasy characters in it only made things better.

That’s something else about the book–nothing is as it typically should be. The setting can’t get boring. Fantasy characters are in the real world, the mom’s somewhere else, and Conner’s stories have come to life.

I know he has a hard enough time in the book. But I’d probably have a much worse track record if I met my characters…if I came back alive.

Anybody got Portal Potion, call me up. My weekend can wait.

That being said, Colfer’s suspense is fabulous. Maybe a little too fabulous. The cliffhanger in book 3 was what originally had me furious at the series. I was prepared for it this time around. Still involved a midnight trip to the library just so I could have the next book ready and waiting before I went to bed. Virtual library. Still.

I can’t help comparing it to Frank Herbert’s Dune since I was reading the two at nearly the same time. They’re totally different. Dune is sci-fi prestige and awards. And yet An Author’s Odyssey manages by telling the reader “Here’s the villain. He has three bullets in a gun,” to create more suspense than the entirety of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Yeah. It’s well done.

Can’t say I’m totally fond of the conclusion for the villain…but I do appreciate how the main characters don’t just move on. Nobody’s happy about it. Tragic things are still tragic, even when they happen to people that deserve them.

Still not sold on zombies either, but at least they’re not the worst sort. I remember telling a friend, “You know, there’s never been a book I’ve read and just thought You know what this needs? Zombies. That’s what would really give this plot some zest.” Yeah, still not feeling it. I have a theory you could take them out of every place they exist and the story would be equally strong without it. But that’s personal, and Colfer’s aren’t as gross as they could have been, so…use your own judgement.

In the end? Doesn’t stand on its own too well. Colfer doesn’t exactly stop to reintroduce all the characters you might have forgotten. It’s clearly written for the next book to follow. The conclusion is the “blink and you’ll miss it” type.

But there’s a lot of heart. Like a hug and a fireplace and a fuzzy orange sweater in woolly stripes. And pairing that with witty, charming, realistic characters and a hefty dose of suspense–I guess I can’t complain too much, can I?

Stay tuned–review for Land of Stories: Worlds Collide coming soon!

Hobbity Cheer for New Year’s

So I was up until almost 1:00 this morning watching The Return of the King. You could pretend to be surprised.

The odyssey started on January 30th. This year a few loved ones and I decided to complete the challenge–to line it all up so Theoden says “So it begins” as the clock strikes twelve.

*clears throat* yes, about that.

We’re a little disorganized, my Hobbity crew. Got a smidge behind, so we were closer to Theoden’s speech about “I would have them make such an end” before the battle of Helm’s Deep rather than “So it begins.”

I don’t think we calculated switching the discs of the special extended edition into when we were supposed to start.

Eh. Ringing in the new year with Tolkien. I’m not going to complain.

Anyway, one of my Fellowship told me this morning that today is Master Tolkien’s birthday.

So here’s to J.R.R. Tolkien. For giving us the Hobbits. For building a world more beautiful and terrible than most of us could dream.

I confess: the date had slipped my notice. I’m good at keeping up with Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, but other dates on the calendar, not so much. We all agreed it seemed fitting that we should finish today.

I’m not one of those people who thinks “starting the new year right” can make everything perfect, that a flick of the clock suddenly changes everything. I’m most likely to forget what year it is until the end of February or March. I’ve already done it once. I’ve entirely forgotten to make any resolutions, as if they would hold longer than a month. I haven’t even written a New Year’s blog post until January 3rd.

But I did return to a world of friendship and magic and goodness, of green fields and daring battles, a place that will always be a piece of home.

And doing what you love, dreaming of how the world should be–is there anything better I could do as the snow blankets the world in cold, crystal white?

Land of Stories: A Reader’s Odyssey

Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. I have a love/hate relationship with this series.

Literally. We have history.

I’ve been reading it since 2012 when the first one made its way to my library. I can’t think of the series without remembering being up with a flashlight after midnight that Christmas Eve, reading page after page after page. I am a fairytale nerd. If there is a retelling, I know about it. Whatever After? Been there. Liesl Shurtliff? Read it. A Hero’s Guide? Don’t ask, it’s kind of a fabulous train wreck. The original and complete Grimm’s fairytales? Those I had with me at university orientation (Friendly tip: they work like garlic. Nobody talks to the freaky nerd who has a book that could strain a muscle to lift and whose contents involve a lot of murder and blood pudding).

But Land of Stories…it’s different. It’s clever and witty and charming and unique enough that it’s not just repeating everything you’ve seen before. Simple, yes. Not everything they way I would have written it. But it’s quite its own thing.

You can imagine my excitement when I heard it was a series.

Skip ahead a bit, and I’m screaming my head off after finishing A Grimm Warning. After grumbling my way through the battle sequence, I received no end-book resolution. I hate books clearly written so you must buy the next one in the series to get any kind of completion. Yes, the cliffhanger sometimes happens. The Two Towers has a horrifying ending. But the sake of the book should be the story, not marketing. Colfer had a fine ending and ruined it within the last 20 pages. Material that could have been a perfect opening chapter, tacked on at the end. It’s a sticking point with me.

And he made Cinderella some kind of warrior/soldier murder thing. That’s a no.

I was furious enough at the lack of conclusion then I vowed never to read anything of his again, made a very good bookish friend over mutual ranting (she was unhappy about The Hunger Games), and life went on.

Page forward to my post-Lord of the Rings self being utterly disappointed with almost all literature because it isn’t as good and running my fingers along the blue spine of Land of Stories: Beyond the Kingdoms.

I missed them. I still hated them, but I remembered all the good times I’d nearly laughed myself to tears over Mother Goose and Connor–the wedding of Goldilocks, that was golden–the research he’d put into Monte Carlo and Neuschwanstein Castle, the random granny who ran away with a circus in her youth–in a lot of ways, A Grimm Warning is one of Colfer’s best.

Not to say I was happy about it. But whether it made me angry or glad, Land of Stories did make me feel something. And frankly, that’s not something I could say about a lot of other books on the shelves, middle-grade or otherwise.

You guessed it. Beyond the Kingdoms made its way home with me.

I think I must have gone back to read The Enchantress Returns sometime…but I don’t honestly remember much of it. Beyond the Kingdoms didn’t stand out particularly well either. The premise is great, but Colfer works best when he’s building his own characters, not when he’s stealing them from classic stories. We all have our own ideas about what classic stories sound and feel like, and unless you can emulate that original author’s style exactly, someone isn’t going to be happy. Or more likely, a lot of someones.

In other words, don’t mess with my Robin Hood. There will be blood.

But to be perfectly fair…the clearest memories I have of reading Beyond the Kingdoms are in waiting rooms, tense about a loved one in the hospital, trying to make occasional polite conversation with family. One of my least favorite places in the world. That’s not the optimal situation for reading concentration, even if it has burned the experience permanently into my memory.

Which brings us to now. Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was, in the virtual OverDrive library, politely offering to entertain.

After Dune, I needed something to cheer me up. Light and easy. I was already thinking of the world-renowned outlaw Goldilocks, Alex and Connor Bailey, Emmerich Himmelsbach…Beyond the Kingdoms hadn’t ended on much less of a cliffhanger than A Grimm Warning, and I did want to know how it all might end.

To be honest, I’m not sure I went through that much thinking before I borrowed it. Time has a way of helping me forget the things I didn’t like about books. It was more of saw it, click it, now it’s mine.

But there was no possibility I could write a review without explaining some of the history that’s cropped up around this series for me. An explanation with why I’m starting here, with book 5, why I don’t currently have the guts to go back and relive my readings of all the others. Why I’m still reading them, despite my youthful fury years ago.

So, yeah. Backstory dump of a blog post. I take my book relationships very seriously.

Happy reading.

Writing Update/Library Card

So I hadn’t realized my library card had expired. For someone who considers it a more important ID than a driver’s license, this is significant.

As I was renewing it, I discovered that my library has a “responsible party” signature on cards issued to young readers. And since I’ve been a patron hither and thither since I was much too short to peek over the top of the juvenile fiction stacks, that applies to me. I know the signature is to ensure books get returned, fines get paid, librarians don’t need to sharpen their katanas to save their precious treasure from unworthy hands…it still amuses me that after all this time, I still have a card with that on it.

Not like I’m changing that. I’m more than comfortable with my reputation as the irresponsible Hobbit party.

Why did I find out about this now?

OverDrive.

I didn’t know I could get online library books. This is seriously embarrassing!

Not that it’s unexpected, though. I’d always take a hard copy of a book over any other format if I can get it. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred. There’s something thrilling, almost sacred about going to the library, smelling the books and musty carpet, finding my way to the very back of the stacks where it’s almost too dark to read the titles on the spines–why would I want to skip all that?

But in light that I haven’t been able to visit my library in a ridiculously heart-wrenching long time because plague…

The discovery is revolutionizing.

More books. I’m ridiculously excited. It feels like I can breathe again. No, it’s more like I’ve been a little bird pecking at cage bars and now the wind’s under my wings like a great, welcoming heartbeat.

Forgive the poetics. I was getting really homesick.

And this probably would be the shortest library trip in the history of my life if I were actually going in the flesh…checking out only one book.

Weird. But I wanted to make sure I understood how the eBook system worked before I went completely nuts grabbing all the books.

I’ll be back.

Other things?

Just sent off another entry to Writers of the Future. Urban fantasy. Lots of wizards. Too much gorgeous detail describing ordinary things. Fight scenes are probably a mess. Narrator who could be bleeding out from a stab wound and only respond with “This is inconvenient”–which, by the way, makes it so much harder to scare your reader because they’re lulled into thinking everything is fine. Characters I know better than I know myself. I hate it. I love it. It’s submitted now so I get to wait on average 3 months to find out if some of the best SF/F writers in the country loved or hated it too.

It was a hard story to write. I like wizards that are still grounded in the real world, with physical (and mental and emotional) struggles magic can’t always fix.

Combine that with the fact that I all but inhabit my characters to write them, try to feel everything they feel to make it genuine…it’s been a rough last few weeks.

Getting away from that, I’ve returned to my favorite fluff fantasy series. One I’ve been working on intermittently since the summer I was fifteen. Started as an afternoon of fun, grew into a trilogy of novellas, and now I might have five underfed books coming out of it.

Also need to learn a pile of vocabulary about medieval seafaring. Because only Vizzini of The Princess Bride gets away with yelling “Move the thing! The other thing!”

Midwinter Stars, Dune, and Ink…another writing update

I’m quite terrible at astronomy. Always have been. Even before I became a nearsighted creature from too many books and the sky went blurry-blurry.

But I do love a sky full of stars. It doesn’t matter what their names are or what pattern they make in their dance, I just find the night beautiful. Maybe someday I’ll learn them all. For now I’m happy to wax poetic over that fairylike silver light in my writing.

Yesterday was a slight exception to the rule. I went out looking for the “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn on the Winter Solstice, longest night of the year.

I guess it’s hard to miss something that bright. Didn’t stop me from being rather pleased with myself, enjoying the sight perched in a tree.

Yes, I climbed a tree in the dark. Had a better view that way.

In between that adventure and (as always) writing like mad, I have cheerfully been paging my way through Dune.

I won’t lie–there are times I’m slightly muddled by the technical jargon. And I’m not a big fan of “the prophesy.” But sandworms seem remarkably like wingless desert dragons, the Bene Gesserit mentalism/magic/concentration is absolutely fascinating, and almost every character to step into view is compelling.

In other words, yes. Yes, please.

Writing? At the moment I am at the “I-hate-every-word-of-this” stage of my latest Writers of the Future entry. In translation? It’s almost done. I’m planning to shred the whole thing apart and piece it back together again, shove both versions at my alpha readers, and see what happens. In the next nine days.

Do I hear you wish me luck? Yes, I could use some. No more than usual, of course. This is becoming quite normal for my writing process.

I know, I know. It’s my own fault for trying to use what should be a chunk of a novel as a short story. I’m bogging myself down with so many gorgeous details that novel readers would relish…and short story readers would be utterly baffled by. And high urban fantasy is complicated enough.

But when characters are more persuasive than the author…sometimes it’s just more enjoyable to go along for the ride. See where we wind up.

And, naturally, wax poetic about the stars along the way.

Writing Update: December 18, 2020

How are things in my post-NaNoWriMo little world, you ask?

Odd. Distinctly odd.

Currently in the midst of arguing with one of my characters to the point we’re not speaking much. And even though it’s awkward, this is an improvement. I am not crying every afternoon I try to write over the possibility of his demise.

Can’t help wondering–do all authors feel like this when they kill their favorite characters? This isn’t exactly my first time around doing this, but I haven’t ever had it hit so hard. A moment of deepest gratitude for my writing buddy who was perfectly willing to grieve along with me even though the character in question is part of a book she hasn’t read.

Get yourself a writing buddy like that. No, you can’t have mine.

Aside from not working on that story…

I’ve started my first NaNoWriMo goal outside of November. Just to see how much I usually do write during the year. I tend to belittle my own achievements (easy to do when your working draft is over 600,000 words), so it’s been rather nice to have all the little bars and charts reminding me rather than my efforts being swallowed up by this hungry monster of a “novel.”

Yeah. About that. Fun fact: it’s now longer than Les Misérables.

Speaking of NaNo, I finally claimed one of my prizes from the Ninja Writers Club. Aside from my sheer delight that I can say there is a group of ninja writers, I might be enjoying their advice. Time will tell.

My obsession with Writers of the Future, you ask? Quarter entries due at the end of the month. I have nothing ready yet. But, you know, with two weeks to write a universe-altering science-fiction or fantasy short story in 17,000 words or less…I could cook something up. Maybe.

I did finally complete the Writers of the Future writing workshop! About time, I know. Got my lovely certificate of completion and a bucket full of techniques and ideas. Highly recommended.

Otherwise?

I suppose you could say things are more or less normal. Going for a hike with shape-shifting dragons. Admiring Christmas lights with the ghosts. Still drinking too much tea. Enjoying the first few snows.

Book Review No. 25: MG Fantasy Ahoy

So it’s been a while! What with NaNoWriMo and my neglect of the Harry Potter Project, I haven’t posted a book review in some time.

Never fear! I picked up The Castle Behind Thorns for a little light reading, swallowed it up within 24 hours, and now we’re back to the original purpose of this blog: reading and reviewing all the books I can get my grubby claws on.

So!

Book: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy/fairytale retelling

Series: Standalone

Content for the Sensitive Reader: a few instances of mild language, plot centers around a murder, resurrection/the undead depending on how you interpret it, references to saints/witches/magic, a few scenes with corpses which might be disturbing to very young readers. Relatively mild for MG fare.

BookmarkedOne Rating: 6/10

I could have marked this off right away as a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but I think there’s more woven into it than that. There are threads of fairytales, of course. The familiar hedge of thorns–though raspberries, rather than roses this time–should have clued me in instantly. But the characters and story itself are unique enough I think it’s better to appreciate it in its own right.

On the other hand…

I found myself almost warring over this book as I read along, trying to decide if I liked it. Reasons for this?

Pros
  • Blacksmithing. Probably the best strength of the book. Haskell’s use of the smithy in the story, both as illustrations and a piece of worldbuilding was excellent. I love it when books hold secrets I don’t know, making the place feel real.
  • The historical references. Breton, Richard the Lionheart, the Queen of France–all of it served to really ground the story in medieval history. And had the added benefit of making me feel like I was meeting old friends.
  • The survival plot. Not going to lie, I love this structure. There’s something about the survival storyline that creates a sense of tension and thrill even if the characters are just going about their day. Everything becomes interesting.
  • The realistic struggles. Our protagonist talking to himself because he’s lonely. The two main characters dealing with (sometimes in messy ways) the fact that they’re under a lot of pressure in a strange situation. It’s fantastic because everything isn’t just fine…but it’s not too dark for the target audience, either.
  • You can’t fix everything. Excuse me, but YES. I was worried there for a while the book would push the “I can fix it” mentality. And hard truth, we flawed humans can’t do that. It would be nice if we could. Personally, I find this the strongest message of the book. Some things are just broken. The Phantom of the Opera, for example. Our cold lady Morwen from The Children of Hurin. It’s not always daisies and summer and hugs. And that’s okay. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. So full applause for Haskell here.
  • The emphasis on forgiveness. I admit, it’s a little “on the nose.” But if your magic system is linked to religion, why not make the focus love and forgiveness rather than some obscure spell or ritual? And why not center your magic system on the power of imagination? It’s something all readers can do themselves.
  • The conclusion for the villains of the story. Without spoilers…A friend once told me she hated the MG trope of killing villains. And yes, more often than not, at the hand of the 10-14-year-old protagonists. Awkward. While it doesn’t bother me so much, I can appreciate that Haskell devised a fitting punishment for her villains that didn’t involve more death.
  • And who doesn’t love a happy ending?
Cons
  • Slow start. Not a big deal, but there’s a few pages of description of the castle that I had to forge through before getting to the story itself. Compared to Colfer’s Airman, it’s hardly worth talking about.
  • The obnoxious nobility trope. I get it, everyone assumes if you grow up in the lap of luxury then you’re destined to be a jerk. But it’s simply not true. Ditch the prejudice. Snotty people exist everywhere. Haskell got past this in her story, but I’ve seen it enough times that I couldn’t help being a little annoyed.
  • The magic system. So eventually, we as writers of medieval fantasy, especially those grounded in real-world history like Haskell, have to deal with magic and religion. It’s about as awkward as getting two estranged relatives to have dinner together. Haskell makes a choice. A reasonable choice. But one, in my humble opinion, that’s a little flawed. Rather than keep them separate, Haskell combines the medieval Catholic symbols (relics, saints, etc.) with the magic. It appeases worried parents, yes. Miracles are generally easier to stomach than blood magic. It still irks me. If Haskell chooses actual saints from church history to use in her story, then she runs the risk of offending religious individuals. And creating the sense of a cult. Religion is a super touchy subject. But beyond these extreme possibilities, there’s a general rule: either you get good theology or good stories. If they mix, both tend to get soft. Exhibit A: Landon Snow. Don’t even get me started on that. Again, it’s a choice. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it. But it’s not my favorite choice.
  • The definition of forgiveness. Don’t misunderstand, it’s fantastic that Haskell hinges her story on forgiveness. I just squirm at defining its purpose only for the person doing the forgiving…again, definitions of terms I have that not everyone may share.
  • The murder. Again, it’s not graphic…it’s just cold blooded murder stands out as a little strong for the rest of the book…and the target age group. Use your own discretion.

All that aside?

It’s the story of two friends who make something new. That’s beautiful, yes. But it didn’t really speak to me or sing or tear something loose the way other books I’ve read had.

In the end, it’s a fine book. Amusing for a few afternoons, perhaps. But it’s not earth-shattering. And after some of the beautiful things I’ve read, I admit I’m harsh on my ratings if it’s not something that forced me, even kicking and screaming, to fall in love.

So! The Castle Behind Thorns. A slightly longer review for a book that sits squarely in the middle of the shelf. Now on to read more.

The 100 Followers Appreciation Post

Raising my glass (or tea tankard, as the case may be) to the lovely readers who have found something they like in BookmarkedOne! A hearty thank-you to you all. This wouldn’t be nearly as much fun writing to silent void. And I know. I’ve experience in both.

I am aware I’m late to the party for my own blog, so to speak. Technically it’s past 100 followers now. In my defense, I was in the trenches of NaNoWriMo when I got the notification, and throwing another post into my schedule just then was beyond mad.

So a correction, then. Thank you to the 100 followers and the 13 more recent followers who are equally important in terms of cheering me up as I blog.

Right.

I have no idea what to do now.

Suggestion box? Books you’d like reviewed? Snarky comments? Content requests? Complaints about my exceptionally mousy quietness on the remaining Harry Potter books and the long-promised Name of the Wind review?

About that…it’s next on the list. Right after I check the box on this post.

In the meantime, a few random things because it seems wrong to post something so short.

  • Reading Dune at the moment. It is already so much better than Runelords and the first Shannara book put together I’m afraid to say anything else in case I jinx myself into a massive disappointment. I hope it’s good. I really hope it’s good. Thoughts?
  • Finally figured out the magic art of pinning my hair up with just a stick. Not only does this have the effect of making me feel like a wizard every time I do it, I will literally never need to be separated from my pencil again. Apologies to all those with short hair and cute pixie cuts I’ve just made very jealous.
  • Had a character tell me (just as I was finishing NaNo) “Yes, I’m willing to die for xyz character because x has had a very hard life and I want x to have a happy ending.” And then I was on the edge of tears for at least three days. I’ve had characters die, either by tragic accident or going with jaw set to doom. But I have never, in the history of ever, had a character this good-hearted. All of the others fight death kicking and screaming. As they should. If anything happens to this Twizzler-eating little hero, I’m not sure I’ll ever emotionally recover. Send help.
  • Had three socially-distanced violin recitals/events/things in the last few days. Which is substantially low for this time of the year. Still trying to decide if it felt right to be in the swing of things or weird. At least I didn’t get “please do not have dead fish face” as a comment this year. One good thing about wearing a mask. No one can tell how hard I might be concentrating.
  • There’s a Pat Rothfuss on NaNo. It’s either actually him or a forgery by someone who really knows what they’re doing. Hard to tell. I salute the fabulous either way.
  • I owe someone a pie. That really makes me sound like a Hobbit, doesn’t it?

As always, wherever you are and whatever the book, happy reading.

NaNoWriMo Recap

The end of NaNoWriMo 2020! Plus three days of not posting anything because I really needed sleep.

Final stats?

  • November 30th Word Count: 94,889 words
  • Total Mugs of Tea: …frankly, I’ve lost count.
  • Nights writing after midnight: Perhaps a better question would be how many nights I didn’t write past midnight. Which I still can’t answer, but the number is small.
  • Sanity/Mental Health: Had a few breakdowns. Too in love with writing to complain.
Regularity in writing is not my strength…clearly.

Yeah, I have no clue how a “this might have 50,000 words” idea got me to 94,000 words. The thing was rather like Pac-Man–you keep feeding it and can’t tell where it all goes because it doesn’t seem any bigger. I could probably find out, but there’s always this moment at the end of November where I’m scared to look back at what I’ve written. Because it might be fantastic! And it might be a gibbering pile of goo!

I was obsessively determined to finish the thing and write all the scenes. It took me until 11:59 p.m. on the last day to feel satisfied.

But to be perfectly honest…I was on the brink of tears at 12:00 a.m. December 1st. Not because of any logical reason at all. Just because of the rush of it all.

I think some part of me wasn’t ready for it to be over. Some part of me was ready to keep writing for another month, until everything was polished and poised and noveled just the way it should be.

The other part of me just needed sleep. And since I’d been ignoring the little voice saying so for a month, we decided to listen to her for a change.

I haven’t been writing for the last three days.

It’s been freakishly weird.

Twice, loved ones have made perfectly innocent snarky comments or jokes and I’ve pulled out my “I am still not over NaNoWriMo” card so they don’t ask me to react. Or respond in any sensible way.

Considering one friend compares my NaNo experience to a drug habit, they’ve given me a nice amount of space to grieve or compose myself or celebrate or whatever it is that I’ve been doing.

Short answer is that 50,000 words probably is enough to tackle in one month. Write more at your own risk.

Still, at the end of my university responsibilities next week, I have every intention of plunging back in. My urban fantasy characters are complaining about how little they’ve seen me. And yes, I miss them too.

In other words…

A fictional character informed me I’d be spending Christmas with them because he knows how little time I spend taking care of myself (hence 94,000 words and minor emotional breakdown). And while we’re at it, we might as well see how urban fantasy wizards celebrate holidays. It’s uncharted territory for me, and while it might be absolutely pointless, I’ve got a feeling it should be entertaining. Likely to the degree that I won’t be “invited back.”

Happy December, everyone.

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