Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
Title: In Dreams Begin
Author: Skyler White
Three things instantly struck me when I started Skyler White's In Dreams Begin.
The first was the gorgeous fluidity of the prose. Skyler has obviously studied poets
and is also one herself; she writes in a way that makes other writers in the genre
(namely, me) exceptionally jealous. I took me almost a week to get through the
first hundred pages, because I knew that if I didn't read carefully, I would be
missing some special nuance lost in the language. In Dreams Begin is by no means
a quick read; I re-read many of the sentences multiple times, making sure I was
getting all the information I needed. And I'm still pretty sure I missed a lot.
Which brings up the second thing that struck me: I was obviously missing a lot.
I'm a fan of Shel Silverstein and Ogden Nash. I am not, nor have I ever been, a
Yeats scholar. While reading this, I felt what the Shakespearean-ignorant must feel
when watching Shakespeare in Love. I knew there were a lot of things going on in
the background: the meanings of the chapter headings, the poems introducing each
chapter, names of characters and actions, and the price of tea in Dublin. These
things undoubtedly made Yeats aficionados and Irish historians weep with joy or
burst into copious amounts of laughter, but I felt a little lost in the garden. I did my
best to resist the urge to check out a book on Yeats from the library and carried on,
defiantly reading and enjoying the book.
For In Dreams Begin is an enjoyable tale -- thick and heady as the smoke of a
hookah lounge, lazy and erotic as an opium den. We are Laura as she falls asleep
on her wedding night and her pilgrim dream-self is summoned a century earlier
into the statuesque body of Maud Gonne. Ida Jameson, Maud's bosom companion,
makes several attempts over the next few years to repeat the summoning and
secure her place in the infamous Theosophical Society. But what are decades in
Victorian Ireland are only days to Laura, and Ida has been bewitched by a demon
who only appears when she does the summoning. To make matters even more
complicated, the dashing young W. B. Yeats has fallen in love with Maud . . . but
only when the spirit of Laura resides within her.
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Despite not being privy to the in jokes, I enjoyed Laura's journey through Maud's
eyes. I enjoyed even more the parallel between Laura and the author herself, who
shares a name and birthdate with the protagonist, making the story even more
personal and "real."
Except for this third thing, the thing that still bothers me now, as I refer back to the
text while typing this review. Who the heck is the girl on the cover? Certainly not
Maud, because her body type's all wrong. Could it be Laura in her black wedding
dress? Possibly . . . but why is she wearing fishnets? When did she have the
occasion to rip her stockings? Where the heck is she? What are the keys for? And
why on earth is she sporting welding goggles?
Ah, the wily and wicked ways of Marketing Managers. Ours is not to reason why
. . . ours is simply not to judge a book by its cover and defiantly enjoy.
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
I read Hunger directly on the heels of Skyler White's In Dreams Begin, and
experienced an interesting juxtaposition. Where Skyler's prose is weighty and
thick, Jackie's is much more accessible and even young adult friendly. Where In
Dreams Begin took me over a week to finish, I gobbled up Hunger in one day. But
where the previous one tripped through erotic fantasy, the subject matter of this
book was the more difficult to . . . well . . . consume.
"Lisabeth Lewis didn't mean to become Famine." One of the greater first lines in
literature -- seventeen-year-old Lisa has indeed been selected as the next
Horseman of the Apocalypse to fill a recently vacated position. Death shows up
with a set of scales and a seriously cool horse with a sweet tooth -- the whole nine
yards. Her credentials? Lisa is actively anorexic and is as talented as hiding the
problem from herself as she does from her friends and family.
Every other sentence on every other page, the reader is torn between wanting to
yell at Lisa to stop what she's doing or slap her and tell her to just snap out of it.
What's even more unsettling is how real her obsession is and how, in some small
way, we are all victims of this "bad body double." The staring in the mirror and
finding the image wanting, the constant counting of calories and the hyperfocus on
exercise when dieting. (There's a certain Otis Spunkmeyer snack I still refer to as
"The 3-Mile Muffin.") We empathize enough with Lisa to wonder a little if we,
too, lack enough self-esteem to warrant being classified as victims of a disorder.
But the severity of Lisa's problem is evident in the fact that she's losing old good
friends, making new worse ones, and causing her family concern. The reader is
curious that, as Lisa assumes the role of Famine, if global evidence will even be
enough to make her self-aware.
This book is also personal to Jackie as an author -- in her afterword, she explains
that "Lisa" was real. It was not Jackie personally (though the author did have her
own brush with eating disorder in her teens), but a very close friend who alienated
Jackie over the issue. Unfortunately, as reality often does, the Real Lisa's story did
not end happily . . . but I shall let Jackie explain it to you in words far more
eloquent and heart-wrenching than mine.
It seems that Hunger was a book Jackie had always meant to write in the back of
her mind, but never had the chance to. I am very glad this dream has come to
fruition, and glad that we all have the chance to share this very important work. I
urge you all to read this book, and then hand it to a teenager. Tell them it's got this
really awesome horse in it.
Title: Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences
Author: Brian Yansky
Audio Read By: Alexander Cendese
Yansky's book starts sort of like a gunshot, with -- you guessed it -- an alien
invasion. I enjoy this get-right-to-it mentality in books I listen to on audio, because
(let's be honest) I bore easily. Sometimes, having a book read to me on tape is so
incredibly soothing that my mind starts to wander, or simply falls asleep
altogether. So it helps when the no-nonsense author gets right down to business. It
also helps to have an exceptionally engaging narrator like Alexander Cendese.
Cendese's depth and breadth of vocal range makes for a cast of characters that
feels like more than one person behind that microphone.
Yes, the minute after the story starts, ninety percent of the world's population dies.
It happens easily enough -- Jesse, our main character, describes it as falling
asleep, or simply being "turned off." Those humans who were spared have enough
mental capacity to communicate with the cold, efficient aliens. These humans are
rounded up and made slaves for the leader of the conquering party, an alien Jesse
refers to as "Lord Vert." They are no longer referred to as people, but "product."
Jesse makes a few fast friends (a football star, a supermodel, and a nerd), and more
than one deadly alien opponent. As time goes on, Jesse begins to have dreams of a
girl somewhere else in the camp, a girl who knows about rebel groups to the west,
and has grand ideas about escape. Meanwhile, Jesse and his friends all begin to
realize that they all posses certain latent psychic abilities that have been awakened
by the presence of the invaders. Suddenly, escape doesn't seem so impossible after
all . . .
Because the storyline is so fast-paced, one doesn't mind so much that Yansky
skims over certain details that bothered me about the aftermath of the invasion --
not once did he mention the smell of decomposing bodies that I imagine would
have been pretty prominent after the death of almost everyone. And only one
character's performance threw me out of the story completely: Cendese voices the
character of an older woman in the camp, and I was shocked to find that she was
only in her early sixties instead of an octogenarian with one foot in the grave.
Perhaps that one was a bit too overplayed.
In the main, however, I enjoyed this story immensely. It was both fun and funny! I
finished listening in record time, and some days went beyond my allotted listening
time just to see what was going to happen next. If you are a fan of Adam Rex's
The True Meaning of Smekday, then Alien Invasion is right up your alley.
Read more by Alethea Kontis