Review #92 The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey

When I found this book on sale at a local bookstore, I grabbed it to add to this challenges reading pile, especially as a contrast to the Godmother books written by Elizabeth Scarborough.  Both women have found unique ways of dealing with traditional fairy tale themes in a humourous and most UNtraditional way.  Unlike the last review, this novel actually IS a Harlequin novel since the company owns the Luna Books Division that publishes these fantasy novels… but they are a far cry for the standard format that fills so many bookstore and library shelves.

The Sleeping Beauty falls into the series known as  “A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms” which began with the The Fairy Godmother in 2004. The theory behind the series is an interesting one.  There are 500 kingdoms where Tradition has become a mindless and powerful force that seeks to push characters into the legendary fairy tale roles.  The only defense against utter and total chaos are the Godmothers.  Women who know how to coax the Tradition into certain outcomes through magic, wit or sheer dumb luck.

The Sleeping Beauty deals with a wonderfully funny mix of all the sleeping maiden legends from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to the more obscure Valkyrie Fire Maiden stories.   Rosamund is a princess whose life has fallen apart at 16 thanks to the Tradition killing off her mother.  After a Huntsman chases Rosa into the woods and tries to kill her, The Fairy Godmother of her Kingdom, who has long befriended the family, tries to bend Tradition to her will by disguising herself as someone else and assuming the role of the Evil Stepmother.  After taking the princess into her confidence and revealing the ruse, they decide that the best solution might be to stage a “Sleeping Beauty” event .  The only problem is that TWO handsome men show up in the clearing at the same time.  With the sudden death of the King on the borders, invasion or conquer seems imminent.  How can a young woman and a desperate Fairy Godmother keep their enemies at bay and still satisfy the Tradition’s longing to create a very Happy or Unhappy ending?

Mercedes Lackey knows how to create great characters and this was one of her funniest adventures yet.  Though the subtle and not so subtle humour may not come as naturally to her as writers like Tanya Huff, she does a wonderful and entertaining job of constantly turning the Fairy Tales we all know and love upside down, sideways and inside out.  I found myself laughing out loud so many times during this story that I may have to go back and reread some of the earlier books in the series.  Since each one stands alone, I can just pick and choose which Fairy Tale I’d like to see her mangle… and I can’t wait to hunt down the newest one in this series Beauty and the Werewolf!

The Sleeping Beauty, paperback format, 408 pages, published in 2010  by  Harlequin’s  Luna Books division

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Review #91 Their Frontier Family by Lyn Cote

I forgot a book I was in the middle of reading during one of my recent Writers In The Schools Visits.  I checked into the hotel and discovered this oversight before I headed off to supper with a friend.  Since I needed to pick up a few other items, I stopped at the nearby Walmart to check out the magazine section.  Compulsive readers can sometimes survive a reading craving that way.  Selection being what it was mid-month, I wandered over the the book section for something small and quick.

I thought I might make it through this whole year without a Harlequin fix.  Though this is not a book by that ever so famous publisher, Their Frontier Family does fit into the standard format, appearance and formula… except that it was both Historical and Religious!

I picked it up on a whim since I am still a bit of a Little House on the Prairie girl at heart.  Since sleep is sometimes hard to come by for me in any hotel, I decided to see if the story would  hold my attention.  Just after midnight, I had inhaled the book and was tired enough to sleep well until the morning.

Their Frontier Family deals with an unwed mother and former Saloon Girl who was taken in by a small Quaker community.  Sunny still feels as if many of the members blame her for the life she was born into and dreams of better for herself and her small daughter.  Noah Whitmore earned the wrath of his Quaker father when he chose to go off and fight in the Civil War.  Now he wants to start a new life in Wisconsin and offer Sunny a fresh start if she goes with him as his wife.  He proposes to the lonely woman even though he believes that the war destroyed his ability to love or feel joy again.

The story deals with how these two lonely souls find their way back to love with each other and forgiveness through God in a way that was tender and unique without being as pushy as some of the more fundamentalist Christian romance novels I have read in my life.  The plot felt a bit constrained by the length and format allowed in this type of story, but it was an enjoyable read that made a hotel stay bearable and added one more book to my challenge.

Their Frontier Family, paperback format, 279 pages, published in 2012  by  Love Inspired Stories

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Review #90 The Heritage of Hastur by Marion Zimmer Bradley

When it was first published in 1975, The Heritage of Hastur was proclaimed to be Marion Zimmer Bradley’s best novel thus far, the longest and most intricate of her saga… destined to become her masterpiece.

Thanks to a wonderful friend in Toronto, who loaned me a copy from her personal Darkover collection, I have at last been able to read this detailed and sweeping part of the planet’s history for myself.  Much of what has always been alluded to in other novels now makes sense and I have a deeper appreciation of the nuances of several characters than ever before.

 

The Heritage of Hastur is partly about how Lew Alton comes to be trapped in the web of the Sharra Matrix, which has repercussions for he and his family from then on, and party about the coming of age of Regis Hastur.  This is the novel in which the famous and beloved character grows from young man to leader, giving up some of his dreams for the sake of his planet.

I cannot believe it has taken me so long to read this key piece of Bradley’s Darkover legacy, but it was well worth the wait.  Now I just have to try to track down a copy for my own library eventually.  Thank You, Christine!

The Heritage of Hastur  paperback format, 381 pages, published in 1975 by  DAW Books

 

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Review #89 Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon

When you really love an author’s work, you sometimes cannot wait to read the rest of a story.  Kings of the North came out less than a year after Oath of Fealty and I simply could not wait for the paperback version to match the copy of Oath of Fealty that graced my bookshelves.  I knew that the entertainment such a wonderful author could provide would be well worth the cost… and I just happened to have a gift card burning a hole in my pocket.

Kings of the North rejoins the characters from Oath of Fealty and continues their adventures.  Kieri Phelan is learning to govern his kingdom wisely, but there is still pressure for him to marry and produce an heir.  Duke Dorrin Verrakaien has proved her loyalty to the Tsaian ruler even though she brought him a magical crown and other regalia for safe keeping that wants her to claim it.  Captain Arcolin has earned the right to look after Kieri’s former company and territory, complete with a title all his own.  Yet evil is moving on all sides of both kingdoms and the perils mount as mysteries deepen and new plot twists are revealed.

Elizabeth Moon knows how to tell a great story.  Her rich gift for writing tangible fantasy is pure joy to read.  The characters sweep you along on their different adventures as if you were right there with them.  Magic is believable, adventure abounds, the path to true love is  fraught with challenges and dragons can be found where you least expect them.

The next book in the series, Echoes of Betrayal, has just come out in hardcover, but the $31.00 price for the Hardcover format made me cringe last weekend at the bookstore.  Instead, I have begun dropping serious hints to my family that this might be the perfect item to pick up for an avid reader as a Christmas present.  I am hoping that subtle works…

Hardcover format, 478 pages, published in 2011 by  Ballantine Books/ Del Ray

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Review #88 Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

One of the best things about having favourite authors is that a new story from them can be like the greatest dessert… except without all the calories!  When Oath of Fealty came out in 2010 to continue some of the story lines from The Deed of Paksenarrion, I am sure that I was not the only fantasy reader to let out a WHOOP of joy in the middle of a crowded bookstore!

While over a decade had passed, reading the pages then and sliding back into the story was like a reunion with really great friends… you feel as if no time at all has gone by.  Once I reread The Deed of Paksenarrion for this challenge, I had to read the newer two novels, especially since I have been dropping hints of how much I would like the latest release, in hardcover format, as a Christmas present!

Oath of Fealty continues the adventures of Kieri Phelan, former mercenary duke of Tsaia, whom Paksenarrion helped restore to the throne of Lyonya as the long-vanished heir as one of her paladin quests. While he is adapting to the differences of co-ruling a kingdom with his Elven grandmother, instead of a mercenary company, evil is on the move again within his own kingdom and the one he left behind. Prince Mikeli faces a coup of the most sinister nature.  It appears that a powerful family, the Verrakaien, have been hiding a dark secret which will force the prince to turn to the only member of that family he can trust- Kieri’s former Captain Dorrin.  She has long been exiled as an outcast from her tainted bloodline and may hold the key to the problem… along with powers that were long thought to have been wiped out.

Unlike The Deed of Paksenarrion, where a single character’s experience and adventure were the main focus, Oath of Fealty does a masterful job of telling separate stories within the same novel which intertwine, intermingle and ultimately form a beautiful work of art.  Moon’s storytelling ability has grown over the years, honed by her work on other series.  The details, slowly revealed, about much beloved but minor characters from the other trilogy, allow you to appreciate the richness of each of their lives instead of just marveling at the adventures of one.  Instead of feeling jumpy, like the narratives in The Rise of Nine, Oath of Fealty switches smoothly from one aspect of the story to the next.  It leaves you feeling as if you are watching one episode after another of your favourite shows instead of sitting next to a compulsive channel changer.

Paperback format, 463 pages, published in 2010 by  Ballantine Books/ Del Ray

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Review #87 The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

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We bought this book for our family as soon as it was released this fall, but thanks to a terrible round of Rock/Paper/Scissors, I had to wait until my daughters were done reading it before I could add it to my list.

The Rise of Nine is the third book in the now expanded I am Number Four series.  Perhaps in the void left with the end of the Harry Potter and Twilight Series (both books and movies) the temptation to expand the story and thus the profits was too great to stick to the original trilogy format.

Luckily for readers, the author and alien hiding among us Pittacus Lore tells great stories.  The Rise of Nine is no exception.  The story is gripping, thrilling and rushes the reader towards the ending only to leave them wanting more.

If I had one complaint, it was the jumpiness between all the separate voices.  Each character gets their own font to help distinguish which person is speaking in each chapter, but some of them were similar enough typographically that you wasted precious time at the beginning of each chapter trying to figure out who was speaking until it became obvious. As a graphic designer, I would have like to see a much bolder mix of serif and sans serif font combinations to make the distinction easier.  I noticed this more than my daughter who read the book in a weekend gulp because I had a busy few days where I was picking the story up every chance I could around what life was throwing my way.  Perhaps this erratic change to the style and number of voices telling the story came from the writing upheaval that the book went through before its publication.

I can only hope that the rest of the series remains focussed on what made the original book  “I am Number Four” so wonderful…. great storytelling!

Hardcover format, 360 pages (plus extras), Copyright 2012, Harper (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)

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Review #86 Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

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I knew that I was going to like Ballad.  I hoped I was going to like Ballad.  I was worried about being disappointed by Ballad because it was the second book in a series by Maggie Stiefvater.  Linger, her second book after the brilliant Shiver, left such deep scars of disappointment that it took a book like Insurgent to make me trust that second books could be wonderful.

The first few chapters felt jumpy and a bit disjointed, especially when a third narrative was woven into the story.  I almost put the book away on the bookcase, but then I remembered that I’d felt the same way about Lament at the beginning and I kept reading.

I am so glad that I did!

Ballad is the story of James, the dependable friend and sidekick of Lament’s heroine who stands by her side and helps out, loving her completely even when she falls in love with the Faerie who has been sent to kill her.  By the end of Lament, James comes to understand that Dee will never feel the same way about him that he does about her.

Ballad opens with a strange, unsent text message  as Dee’s narrative, then jumps into the story from James’ point of view.  He is studying at the Thornking-Ash School of Music on a special scholarship, but soon discovers that he is surrounded by more faeries than ever before, especially one who seems almost human.  Will he lose his heart… or lose his life?

Once you get past the slow pace of the first few chapters, the story develops into something so captivating and satisfying that you are loathe to put the book down for mundane things such as eating and sleeping.  The book and its amazing characters race towards one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve enjoyed in a book in recent memory.

KUDOS to author Maggie Stiefvater for this brilliant and enjoyable tale.  I adored how this second book made the series stronger instead of weaker.  The ending was unexpected, touching and terrific!

Paperback format, 388 pages, Copyright 2009, Scholastic Canada Edition (2012)

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