the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘YA

pen palPen Pal, by Francesca Forrest

published Feb 2014

where I got it: Received review copy from the author

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From the cover art, my husband thought this novel might be a romance. Personally, I had no idea what to expect. But I was hooked about 5 pages in. It was as if at the same moment, Em threw a fishing line into the ocean, and Kaya lowered a line into the lava lake, and they both caught me and reeled me in. Good thing this book has quality binding, otherwise my copy wouldn’t be in such good shape by now because I pretty much carried it around everywhere.

 

I very recently read Long Hidden, which features marginalized characters and stories. Everything in Long Hidden was historical fiction, stories and situations that should never be relegated to the margins, but still, are history. I didn’t plan to read the books concurrently, but while reading Pen Pal I watched marginalization in action, happening right in front of my eyes.  And it was shockingly sobering.  Due to adult content, Long Hidden probably isn’t appropriate for the under fifteen crowd. But Pen Pal is perfect for the YA crowd, and for any reader looking for stories from the margins.  And if you’re just looking for a damn good book with two empowering women, Pen Pal is that too.

 

On a lark, young Em puts a message in a bottle, and throws it into the ocean.

“If you find it, please write back to me at this address. Tell me what the world is like where you are”,

says the end of the note. From her home in a floating community in the Gulf of Mexico, the bottle finds it’s way to a tiny island nation near Malaysia and into the hands of Kaya, a political prisoner whose prison hangs over a volcano.

 

Written in an epistolary fashion, Pen Pal is the intersection of Em’s and Kaya’s life, and it is fantastic story. What could a twelve year old girl from a  floating community have in common with a suspected insurrectionist? More than you might think.

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00012]

As part of the Book of Apex Vol 4 blog tour, I feel very lucky to be able to interview Alethea Kontis.  An award winning author, she describes herself as among other things, a princess and a force of nature.  Alethea was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and give me more information on her short story “Blood From Stone”,  her current projects, adventures on YouTube, and how she stays sane.

Let’s get to the interview!

alethea kontis 1

LRR:  Your story, “Blood from Stone,” is a dark fantasy about a woman who seduces the man she loves and they succeed with their alchemical magic. What inspired this story?

A.K: “Blood from Stone” is based on the Grimm Brothers’ “Fitcher’s Bird” (some are more familiar with Perrault’s “Bluebeard”). “Fitcher’s Bird” is the tale of Fitcher’s last three wives, all sisters, the last of whom ultimately reveals his true nature (because she heeds the warning of a noisy bird) and leads the townspeople to murder him at his wedding. But what about Fitcher’s first wife? What kind of woman twisted this man into such a serial killer? Had he always been a sociopath? And if so, what sort of woman would have fallen in love with him in the first place?

Few have tried their hand at telling this part of Fitcher’s tale, and I am honored to be one of them. To prepare for this story, I researched the real-life historical figure that Perrault’s Bluebeard was based on: Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais was a baron who fought beside Joan of Arc, but he went on to squander his fortune until his family was forced to place him under something similar to house arrest.

His get-rich-quick schemes then turned to summoning demons, with the help of an Italian magician called Prelati, dark magicks that involved the sacrifice of countless children, whose bodies they subsequently burned in the fireplace (which is why no exact number is known). Once an author hears a history like that, how does she not write it?

I encourage readers who enjoyed “Blood from Stone” to explore further into the real life of Gilles de Rais.

LRR:  I found “Blood from Stone” to be dark and very adult. But you also write a lot of children’s and YA fiction. Is writing for different ages a different mindset? What’s the trick to being able to write kid’s stuff one day, and very adult fiction the next day?

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You know how sometimes I write reviews that look like a cross between a Jackson Pollock painting and a Monet painting? This is one of those. Impression, reaction, response, something that sticks with you.   tldr? scroll to the bottom for the meaty bits.

TheNeverendingStory1997EditionThe Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. translated by Ralph Manheim

published in 1979

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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Are you of an age with me? Did you watch The Neverending Story  all through the 80s? That beloved movie formed a large portion of my childhood, and made a mark on me deeper and more permanent than any tattoo ink. I was always looking for the door marked “attic” at my elementary school.  I had a crush on Atreyu long before I had a crush on Han Solo.

neverending movie

And who couldn’t like a story like this?  Bastian is being chased by bullies on his way to school and takes refuge in a bookshop and ends up stealing an intriguing book. He sneaks back to school, hides in the attic, and reads all day and into the night. And what an adventure to be found in this book! The magical realm of Fantastica is dying, and only a certain warrior chosen by the Childlike Empress can save the world.  She chooses a young boy, Atreyu, who is around the same age as Bastian. Atreyu’s quest? To find a human child, and bring that human child to the Childlike Empress to give her a new name, for without a new name she will die, and all of Fantastica will die around her. But how is Atreyu to find this human child, when Fantasica has no boundaries? But Atreyu must succeed, otherwise The Nothing will destroy all of Fantastica.

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the spirit thiefThe Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron

published in 2010

where I got it: the library

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The entire internet has been afire about Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series for a while now, and it’s no secret I’ve a major weakness for thieves in fantasy environments, so how could I resist a story about the greatest thief ever?  The first volume wasn’t exactly what I expected, but surprises are always a good thing, right?

The infamous thief (and wizard!) Eli Monpress is certainly the focus of the story, but we learn about the world through Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette. She’s been sent to the Kingdom of Mellinor to keep Eli from stealing an important artifact.  Lucky for us, she’s rather unsuccessful in her mission, otherwise this would be a very short and rather un-fun book.

Upon her arrival at Mellinor, Miranda finds that Eli has completely ignored the artifact and has instead kidnapped King Henrith and is holding him for ransom.  Out of the woodwork steps the King’s brother, Prince Renaud, who claims the throne for himself and convinces everyone that Miranda is secretly working for Eli and against the kingdom.  As Miranda unravels what’s going on, she’ll have to choose which is more important: following the rules, or doing the right thing.

Miranda is a court-trained Spiritualist, which means she’s made binding agreements with the spirits she works with. She offers them physical protection and a portion of her own energy, and in turn she can use their magic upon request. It’s a very formal agreement, and she’d never think of using a spirit against its will, or hurting it in any way.  Wizards who go against their training, who take advantage of the strength of spirits, are known as enslavers, and should be destroyed at all costs.

Eli’s relationship with spirits is completely different. He doesn’t offer protective contracts with them, but he doesn’t force them to do anything either.  He just talks to them, almost as if they were just other people he was having a conversation with. He’s certainly not a spiritualist, nor is he an enslaver. The Spirit Court isn’t sure what to make of him.  And that’s just one reason why there’s a huge bounty on his head.  Eli Monpress, the man who steals everything that’s not nailed down, and when he wants something that’s nailed down, he convinces the nails to give him a hand.

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thanks so much to Susan over at Dab of Darkness for suggesting we do this read along.  I hadn’t read Terry Pratchett in years, and had been rather ho-hum about the Discworld books of his I had read.  So when Susan suggested a Discworld related book, I was a smidgen apprehensive.  But, she’s my friend, and nearly everytime a friend has said “try this, you’ll like it”, I’ve usually fallen in love with it.

The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky are by far the best Terry Pratchett books I’ve ever read. I know it sounds hokey, and I don’t care, but I laughed, I cried, I thought about my life and my friends and my relationships and how I treat other people. Sometimes I did all of that in the same paragraph.

It was a tough winter for me. I had some S.A.D. mixed in with some other crappy stuff. I was pretty much checked out of my life for most of January and February. Terry Pratchett is now on my list of things that help the winter end earlier.

Ok, enough with the maudlin, let’s get to the final batch of questions, which everyone else has already answered and discussed, because I’m late!

1) Mistress Weatherwax has a philosophy of her job is to make sure everyone today can get to tomorrow – such as letting people believe in water sprites and goblins if it lets them lead a better life. Do you see yourself somewhere in this philosophy?

If you believe something, then it’s true for you.  and she’s right, climbing up all those stairs is going to give that one guy a healthier heart more than his sacrifices to the water sprites. But if she’d told him to walk a lot for a healthier heart, she knows he wouldn’t do it. Put a story behind something, and it gives it more weight. it makes it more important to the person because they see themselves in the story.

Yikes, is that the secret to how to make friends and influence people? tell stories???   I’m a total chatterbox, but I never actually get anything useful said.  maybe I better learn how to tell stories.

And hmmm… maybe I need to find some exercise or yoga sprites that need sacrifices from me. I hate exercising and I’m really lazy, but if 20 minutes sacrificed to the exercise sprites will keep them from doing horrible things. . . .
2) Do you think Mr. Weavall will be successful with the Widow Tussy? Do you think Tiffany got off light concerning Mr. Weavall’s stash?

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Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

published October, 2012

where I got it: borrowed ARC from a friend

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Cory Doctorow is mean. he likes to hit his readers where it hurts, to show us where our world is going if we’re not careful. If China Mieville’s Railsea is a YA retelling of Moby Dick (complete with similar literary mannerisms), then Pirate Cinema is a YA introduction to political manifestos such as Atlas Shrugged (complete with speeches at the end).  This isn’t the first time I’ve compared Doctorow’s fiction to that of Ayn Rand, and if you know my history with Rand’s fiction, you know I mean that comparison as the highest compliment.

The story follows Trent McCauley, a British teen who does all the normal teen things, like hating school, being awkward around girls, and downloading tons and tons of video clips of his favorite actor, and mashing them up into new and funny videos, a la Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and then uploading his vids for his fans and friends to watch.

Thanks to a new draconian law regarding copyright infringement, Trent’s family loses their internet access for one year due to his constant downloading of films and clips. His little sister can’t do her homework at home anymore and her grades plummet. His mother can’t get her prescriptions refilled online. His father loses his phone-bank job.  Trent’s family is ostracized by their being kicked off internet access. Full of shame, Trent runs away to London.

This may sound like it’s a story for an about people who remix videos and remix music, and if you’re not one of those folks it’s easy to think this politically charged story doesn’t apply to you. Ever recaptioned a photo or submitted something to Lolcats? Ever shared a deviantart image on Facebook simply because you liked it?  ever taken a photo you found online and photoshopped it into something you liked better, if only to show off your photoshop skills? If you’ve ever done any of those things, you’re in the same boat as Trent – you’ve shared someone else’s intellectual property,  changed it, made it into something new, and claimed that new thing as your own unique creation. And you’ve broken the law.  We’re all just as guilty as Trent, we just haven’t been caught yet.

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Orbital Resonance, by John Barnes

published in 1991

where I got it: the library

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Melpomene Murray sees herself as a completely normal twelve year old. She looks up to her older brother, argues with her Mom, has plenty of friends at school, has just discovered boys, and enjoys math and low-g sports. And like all the kids in her class on the asteroid-turned-space colony known as The Flying Dutchman, Melpomene is fluent in five languages, and studies physics, cybernetics, and calculus during her ten hour schoolday. Yup, she’s a completely normal kid, right?

One of the brighter students in her class, Mel has been asked to write a book about life on The Flying Dutchman, something to help the people on Earth realize that the spacers are regular people, just like them.  Orbital Resonance is in effect, her first draft. Mel might be forced to watch news from Earth with her classmates, but it’s the sanitized version. She has no idea of the disasters of post-collapse Earth, of the horror of life outside the domed cities, of the different pressures that children raised on Earth face. And she has no idea that she’s been conditioned to specifically play well with others.  She has no idea of anything, until a boy from Earth transfers into her class and opens everyone eyes.

You see, the scientists of the The Flying Dutchman had a plan. They needed a fully operational and successful colony in the Earth / Mars orbit in the shortest possible time. The social plan for the colony was to raise the children in such a manner that they would be conditioned to love the colony, to want to work for the colony, and to be educated at a young age in fields that the colony needed.  Most citizens take their “full adult” exam at fourteen or fifteen, and are expected to work full time and begin a family shortly after that. There’s a creepy dissonance happening here – Melpomene is a supremely likeable kid, but how much of that likeability is brainwashing?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.