Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon

Lil lives a quiet life, working each day in a dusty used book shop in Manhatten,  then returning home to her lonely apartment each night.  We soon realize, godmotherhowever, that Lil is not just any old woman.  Home after a long day of work, she draws a warm bath, undresses and sinks into the welcoming warmth.  “I was alone, finally, completely free.  I leaned forward and unclenched my back.  A pure feeling of bliss moved through me.  My wings unfurled.  White feather by white feather, curving out and up toward the ceiling, spreading to their full span, like two halves to one heart, until they tapped the walls.”

You see Lil is a fairy.  A very famous fairy.  Imagine a Cinderella story where the fairy godmother botches the big night with tragic consequences.  Banished in disgrace  from the fairy world, Lil finds herself living amongst the humans in New York City, old and lonely and longing to return to her world.   One day in the book store she sees a book  with photos of the Cottingley fairies  and becomes convinced that the familiar fairy faces she sees in the photos are a sign that if she can just complete the assignment that she botched hundreds of years before, she can return to her world.  One day beautiful, quirky Veronica walks into the bookstore and soon Lil is on a mission to match her with the “prince” who owns the bookstore and send them to a  charity ball at the Pierre Hotel. 

Turgeon gives us a darker take on the familiar Cinderella fairy tale with some unexpected surprises.  Moving back and forth in time between the Cinderella story and the modern day story, we grow to love Lil and feel her sadness, loneliness and isolation.  We root for her to successfully accomplish her mission and find redemption and a way back to her world.  The story ends with a twist that may leave you feeling a bit disappointed, or maybe even a little bit cheated if you expected the typical “happily ever after” ending, but overall I found the whole story quite enchanting.

 

My Rating: 

 

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

*****SPOILER ALERT:  If you have not yet read The Hunger Games this review contains spoilers of that book.*****

  This is the second book in a  planned trilogy by Suzanne Collins centered on The Hunger Games.  The Games have ended and Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 as heroes, being the first tributes to ever defy the Capitol and figure out a way for more than one participant to survive the Games.  As they travel around the country to promote their victory, it becomes evident that they have sparked dissent amongst the downtrodden citizens of the 12 Districts of Panem.  Through their defiance, they have inspired others to stand up against the repression and cruelty of  the Capitol.  As the unrest spreads, Katniss and Peeta become unwitting symbols of the rebellion and the Capitol must scramble to come up with an even more twisted way to keep the districts under their control and quell the uprisings that threaten to erupt.

This being the “middle child” in the trilogy you might not expect much.  But though this installment starts out a bit slowly, it gathers steam and becomes almost as gripping as the first installment even though we know much more about what to expect this time around.  The love triangle centered around Katniss, Peeta and Gale is a bit disappointing since Gale is such a peripheral character this time, but most likely it will all play out in the third and final book which will follow our characters into the mysterious District 13 and the inferno of rebellion that is “Catching Fire” in this segment.

Can’t wait for the third book and also the movie which is due out in 2011.  Word is that Suzanne Collins is writing the screenplay and if you read The Hunger Games it no doubt crossed your mind what a fantastic movie it would make. 

My Rating: 

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Dorrit Weger has reached her 50th birthday and is about to embark on a new life.  She’s moving to a place where she’ll have her own apartment in a beautiful community with every recreational opportunity you could imagine, beautiful gardens, great restaurants and trendy boutiques all at her fingertips.  The best part is that none of it will cost her a dime.  It’s all being taken care of by the government.  There’s just one catch.  There are surveillance cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom, and once you become a resident of  “the unit” you never leave.  Your world is literally under a huge glass dome where even the dew on the grass is artificial and the seasons never change.

“The unit” is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material.  Women who reach the age of 50, or men who reach the age of 60, and are single and childless with jobs in areas that don’t support economic growth become classified as quite literally “dispensable” and are sent to the unit.  Once there, they participate in various scientific experiments and become walking organ donors, providing a kidney, cornea, or whatever else is required to keep the “needed” citizens healthy.  Most last 4 or 5 years before making their “final donation”. 

The creepy thing (well one of the creepy things) about the unit is the way people, even dispensable people, accept it as a normal part of society.  In fact, the unit was established after a referendum was voted on and passed by the citizens.  Everything is done in such a humane and downright cheerful manner.   Dorrit arrives feeling slightly nervous, but the lavish welcome party thrown by the staff soon has her making new friends, dancing and feeling a part of the community.  It’s not long before Dorrit finds something that eluded her in the outside world — love.  As the experiments and organ donations continue,  obedience and compliance  turn to helpless horror at the inevitable ending.

Holmqvist draws you in from the first page and keeps you moving  forward with short chapters that make it impossible not to want to read just one more (or two or three)  before you put it down.  Creepy good read.

My Rating:

The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti

The Gentling BoxOh my Wild Things, come close, come close; the Dragon has a treasure for you.  I remember now what it is to be afraid . . .

It is the mid-nineteenth century, but the Age of Enlightenment has bypassed Hungary and Romania’s itinerant gypsy population.  Imre is a half-gypsy horse trader who lives with his wife and daughter in Hungary, but their happy existence is shattered when they receive word that his wife’s mother, the sorceress Anyeta, is dying.  Mimi insists they go to Romania to ease her mother’s final days and against his better judgment, Imre agrees to make the journey with his wife and young daughter, Lenore.

By the time they arrive, Anyeta’s body is dead, but the old sorceress’ spirit has taken possession of another woman’s body.  Anyeta contrives to seduce Imre from his family so she can destroy him.  Anyeta has plans for Imre and Mimi’s beloved daughter, Lenore.  Imre can stop the sorceress, but first he must overcome his own terror of using the gentling box.

Imre’s haunting tale grabs the reader by the eyeballs from page one and does not let go. In spite of his best efforts, Imre watches everything he loves slip away, and his struggle with his conscience is heartbreaking. Mannetti weaves Imre’s story with skill and her dark prose evokes the wild loneliness of the Romanian wilderness where Imre’s small family struggles against Anyeta’s evil.

I was delighted by the accuracy of Mannetti’s research both into Romany culture and the time period.  Mannetti recently won the Bram Stoker Award for first novel with The Gentling Box, and it is an honor that is richly deserved.

I warn you now: let no one disturb you when you read this novel, because you will not want to stop until you have devoured the last word.  I could not put The Gentling Box down and neither shall you.

Tshailo sim.”

I am replete . . . (hehe)

My rating:

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip

I believe this is the most recent book by Patricia McKillip (published in late 2008) and it is my third McKillip book.  While I did enjoy it for the most part, it was the least satisfying McKillip book to date for me.

The story centers around a crumbling manor house in the small town of Sealey Head, perched on the cliffs above the sea.  To all outward appearances, not much happens at Aislinn House where Lady Eglantyne lies on her deathbed.  The only sign that things are not as they seem is the mournful tolling of a bell as the sun goes down each day.  No one knows where the bell is or what it signifies.  It has been a part of the lives of the residents of Sealey Head for so many years that many don’t even notice it any more.

It soon becomes apparent that there is another side to Aislinn House which only a select few people know about.  Emma, the housemaid, sometimes opens what seems to be a closet door or a door to an unused bedroom and finds instead a parallel world of princesses and knights entangled in some sort of bizarre ritualistic existence unchanged for year upon year.

The entire idea of the story is fascinating and as I said before I did enjoy the book, but the ending was a bit of a letdown with many questions left unanswered (for me at least).  The mystery is wrapped up rather quickly and anticlimactically (is that a word?).  Of the three McKillip books I’ve read, this one seemed to have the least of the enchanting and poetic language that initially drew me to her work when I read In the Forests of Serre

Still, I would recommend this one to McKillip fans and those who have not discovered McKillip yet and enjoy “world within a world” fantasies.  As always, the artwork on the cover by Kinuko Y. Craft is extraordinary as well.

My Rating: 

A.D. 62: Pompeii by Rebecca East

It’s no secret that I like time travel themes (see my reviews of Mary Modern and The Mirror).  This one sends bookish Harvard grad Miranda back to the first century Roman empire, and lands her in the ocean near the doomed city of  Pompeii.  Caught in a fishing net, she is soon sold to a wealthy slave owner, Marcus Tullius, and is put to work as a house slave.  At first Miranda is unworried, confident that she can return to her world at the touch of the transmitter implanted in her arm.  Unfortunately, something goes awry with the transmitter and Miranda finds herself stranded in ancient Rome.

Apparently Rebecca East is the pen name of a university professor.  I would venture to guess that her area of expertise is history or archeology, rather than english or literature.  The historical descriptions are detailed and interesting, if a bit reminiscent of a tour book one would purchase at a kiosk when visiting Pompeii.  The characters are rather thinly sketched, and what starts out a detailed historical overview eventually loses steam and degenerates into a typical Master/slave romance.  Even the impending explosion of Vesuvius is barely acknowledged in the end. 

This book had promise, but could have benefited enormously from a good editor.  There was much repetition of thoughts and ideas, and also more than one misspelled word.  Still, it wasn’t so bad that I gave up on it.  I bravely saw it through to the last page.

My Rating: 

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Having read Gaiman’s graphic novel, Coraline, I was eager to dig into his adult fantasy, Neverwhere, but as I moved through this book, I kept experiencing déjà vu. I began rooting through my old paperbacks and found that I had read Neverwhere when it was first published in 1996. I felt good knowing this wasn’t a flashback like having a purple pony dance on your pillow. Not that I would know anything about that. It did happen to a friend of mine, though.

ANYWAY . . .

This is the story of Richard Mayhew, a young businessman in London, who has a good job, a grand heart, and a fiancé who rules him with an iron fist. It is also the story of London Above, London Below, and a girl named Door. (Dragon note: one day I’d like to know about Mr. Gaiman’s fixation with doors . . .)

On his way to dinner with his fiancé, Richard comes across an injured girl lying in the street, and though his fiancé demands that they leave the girl alone, Richard helps her by taking her to his apartment. When she awakens, she tells Richard that her name is Door and that he must find the marquis de Carabas, who owes her a favor and will take care of her. What she doesn’t tell Richard is that her family has been murdered, and that two of the most entertaining villains that I’ve had the good fortune to read are hot on her trail – Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar, who live by the motto: “Things to do. People to damage.”

Unfortunately, after his contact with the marquis and Door, Richard suddenly ceases to exist in London Above. Richard embarks on a trip to London Below where he hopes to find the secret that will allow him to return to his normal life in London Above, but London Below is a place fraught with magic and intrigue. Joining the marquis and Door in their hunt for the killers of Door’s family and pursued by the vicious Croup and Vandemar, Richard struggles to understand himself and the strange new world he inhabits.

Gaiman gives us a wonderful romp with delightful characters. At times laugh out loud funny, poignant, and just plain fun, Neverwhere takes the reader on a wild ride through London Below where nothing is sacred, neither angels nor death.

My Rating:    

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

“Coraline discovered the door a little after they moved into the house.”  Thus begins the creepy adventures of a little girl who discovers an alternate world in her own house.  The world beyond the door is similar to her own world.  There is even an identical set of parents…but wait!  Are those big black buttons in place of eyes?  Soon Coraline realizes that her “other mother” wants to keep her permanently in her world.  She even has a lovely set of black buttons for Coraline. 

This is the graphical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s hugely popular children’s book, Coraline.  Not having read the original book, I can’t really compare them, but it seems the ideal story to receive the graphical treatment.  The illustrations by P. Craig Russell are detailed and realistic, evoking the kindness of Coraline’s real mother and the evilness of her sinister “other mother” equally well. 

This book will be released as a major motion picture in stereoscopic 3D in February of 2009.  See the trailer here

My Rating: 

Angelica by Arthur Phillips

In the beginning,  Angelica plods along with all the lethargy of Constance Barton’s husband, Joseph.  However, once I made it past Constance’s hand-wringing hysterics to meet the fascinating Anne Montague, the pacing picks up dramatically, and Angelica turns into a very satisfying horror tale in the tradition of The Haunting of Hill House.  The story opens in London during the 1880s and follows the tiny Barton family as they struggle with a sexual spectre that threatens their little daughter, Angelica, and the Barton’s marital harmony [the last is spoken with tongue planted firmly in cheek].  The family’s interaction with the spiritualist, Anne Montague, who has promised Angelica’s mother that she can help Constance remove the demon that threatens the child, is what hurls the story forward. 

The beauty of this novel is that is it broken into four parts with part one narrated by Constance, part two narrated by Anne, part three by Joseph, and part four by Angelica. Each of the characters give an entirely different voice and viewpoint of the same circumstances so that each time I thought I had the answer to Angelica’s demon, a new twist would present itself into the equation. Phillips’ prose is elegant without being too flowery while he spins a dark tale of Victorian sexual taboos and those deep seated horrors residing in own minds.

My rating: