Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
December 2010

Title: In Dreams Begin
Author: Skyler White
EAN: 9780425236956

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.

Title: Hunger
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
EAN: 9780547341248

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
EAN: 9781441889966

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


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