Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
August 2011

Title: The Book of Tomorrow
Author: Cecilia Ahern
EAN: 9780061706301

I was tempted to do something I never do with this book, and that was write the majority of this review while I was only a hundred pages in. First off, The Book of Tomorrow is a bit of a mystery, full of cryptic and strange characters with secrets hiding in every shadow. It's a little Cold Comfort Farm, except that instead of the woodshed, Tamara has the ruins of an Irish castle. Perhaps I Capture the Castle is a better analogy . . . only with a magical diary in which daily entries appear that Tamara has apparently written one day in the future . . . but I digress. This book contains mysteries, and I am not one to spoil mysteries. Part One.

The second part is the author herself. If you are familiar with any of Cecilia Ahern's books, you are aware that she is famous for giving us the antithesis of the feel-good, satisfying ending. I understand that her Irish heritage has brought her up to stick a dramatic knife in the reader's gut nine times out of ten - which I am fine with - but for me, the ending still has to make sense. (Do you hear me, Stephen King?) The one book of Cecilia's I adored (Thanks for the Memories) got blasted in review circles for having such a predictable happy ending. But it's Cecilia Ahern! You didn't expect that ending, did you? But I digress.

Suffice it to say, I did not want to bias a review of a book I was thoroughly enjoying at page 100 because I hated the ending. But, as it was late and I didn't want to stop reading, I put it off. Happily, I am satisfied with this ending. I will not share that ending with you, but I will say that the conclusion satisfied my logic circuits.

What will capture you first with The Book of Tomorrow is the voice. I want to buy a thousand copies of this book and share them with all the adult writers of young adult literature I know and say, "YES! THIS! This is how you're supposed to do it!" Our main character is Tamara, a sixteen-year-old pampered rich kid from Dublin who you're not really sure you're supposed to like at first. But her father has just committed suicide in anticipation of the bank liquidating all his assets and repossessing his once-stable fortune, so she and her mother are being shipped to live with her quirky aunt and uncle (a.k.a. The Deliverance Duo) out in the sticks.

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Uncle Arthur doesn't speak much beyond head tosses and snorts. Aunt Rosaleen talks too much, but only about miserable gossip, and thinks all of Tamara's problems will be solved if she eats meals that would feed a small army three times a day. Tamara's mother has retreated into her room and sleeps all the time and will not come out, or Rosaleen will not let her out, which is the first part of the mystery. Behind the gatehouse, on the hundred acres of land, are the ruins of Kilsaney castle, burned several times in its colorful history. There are also a few nuns on the property who watch over the chapel, led by the beekeeping Sister Ignatius. And though they are fifteen minutes from the closest thing that could be called a "town," Tamara makes a couple of new friends - one of which drives the traveling library that yields the magical diary.

But who is it that's been watching Tamara? Why won't Rosaleen let a doctor in to see her mother? Why does Rosaleen hide photo albums, obfuscate about the past, and refuse to introduce Tamara to Rosaleen's own ailing mother? What is Arthur trying to tell Tamara that he can't ever manage to say? And - now given the power of seeing the future - will Tamara try to change it? And if she does, what happens then?

Cecilia Ahern's The Book of Tomorrow is a gorgeous little tome. It has a great voice, and is a superfast read. You will enjoy this book. Trust me. Or trust Cecilia, who wrote as much in her dedication: "For my readers, thank you for trusting me."

Title: Troubletwisters
Author: Garth Nix and Sean Williams
EAN: 9780545258975

Picking up this book was a serious no-brainer for me: a fantastic adventure penned by not one, but two of my favorite Australian SF authors. The cover, coupled with the title, led me to believe that the twins who are the main characters of this book had the ability to harness the energy of tornadoes a-la Pecos Bill. Like most covers nowadays, that is not the case.

Jaide and Jack Shield (remind you of any other superpowered J-named twins?) are at the age when their magical talents are coming to fruition - the age when their raw, untrained powers wreak havoc over any other paranormal event within about ten miles. The name given in Warden circles to these magical whippersnappers is "Troubletwisters." Any inkling of magic - good or bad - in the vicinity gets whipped into a Tasmanian frenzy.

Upon opening the book, the title page clearly states that this is BOOK ONE (thank you, Scholastic), so I gave this origin story a little more leeway in the telling. I still found myself frustrated, however. It's a typical fantasy plot device: two young children come into their powers and are sent to someone with the ability to teach them these powers. That person then attempts to test them without telling them anything about what's going on (and, therefore, also leaving the reader in the dark). That teacher is then struck down by an Evil Force (actually called "The Evil" in this book). These two untrained novices are then set loose to make more of a mess of the situation then it already is, because they've been left in the dark for so long . . . and they have enough powers between them to destroy a small country. Which is exactly what wasn't supposed to happen.

I will be honest: this bit of withholding information - -and the inevitable removal of every possible mentor (the father, the mother, and then the grandmother/teacher) - annoyed me to the point that I had to force myself to put it all aside and concentrate on the really fun adventure that was going on despite these obstacles. Talking cats and flying children and snapping oracular alligator skulls and shadows opening doors . . . there are so many elements of classic children's adventure stories in Troubletwisters that it was hard not to have fun.

The trouble that Jack and Jaide have to get out of (without causing more catastrophe) is healing the East Ward before The Evil gets through and takes over Jack/Jade/Grandma/Everything. So far, The Evil has only been manifesting itself in swarms of bugs and rats and birds, but its power is escalating, and the animals its possessing are getting larger. Will Jack and Jaida manage to fix the East Ward - with no previous knowledge of Wardens, or their powers, or how to use them - before it's too late?

As it is labeled as kid's fiction, Troubletwisters is tailor made for a younger set who will be far more forgiving than this old princess who's seen (and read, and been on) her fair share of adventures. It is fun, fast-paced, and chock full of dreams and miracles. I definitely recommend it, and I look forward to learning more (along with Jack and Jaide) in BOOK TWO!

Title: Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture
Author: Stephen H. Segal
EAN: 9781594745270

"It's a magical world. Let's see what happens next."
        -- Geek Wisdom, on Calvin and Hobbes

Mr. James Hendrick, my high school honors English teacher and one-time nemesis, used to love the phrase "universal truth." Somehow, I was supposed to glean a quintessential kernel of information from every volume of literature we read. I was then expected to write papers about said truisms and be able to support my arguments.

Perhaps I wouldn't have struggled so much if I'd concentrated on the word "universal" instead - I was a big, fat science geek after all. (Still am.) I know it would have been a great help to me to have this particular little black book on hand so that I had something to relate to on a level I could understand.

In Geek Wisdom, the terminally optimistic Stephen H. Segal has assembled a collection that would have bridged the gap between Mr. Hendrick's way of thinking and my stubborn, red question mark-riddled papers. Inside this book are the basic tenets upon which I raised myself, gleaned from the films and books that were my solace in a world that was a puzzle with no place for an overweight, nerdy girl-shaped piece.

From Dante and Gandalf to Isaac Asimov and Wil Wheaton, each quote in Geek Wisdom was met with a giggle or a gasp from this princess, accompanied by a fond memory. The brief essays explaining the intrinsic value of each quote was received with similar enthusiasm and nods of affirmation. Best of all, the geeky side of my Mini Wheat enjoyed the rare sentiments I wasn't yet familiar with and the pop-culture trivia footnotes that graced the entries, when applicable. I wanted to stand on the table and shout this gospel to the world. I wanted to share its brilliance and humor with every single one of my friends . . . which is why I am now sharing it with you.

This book, just like its editor, is all kinds of happy perfect. It's the perfect icebreaker for the socially awkward. It's a sure-fire stocking stuffer for every person on your list who knows Han shot first. It belongs in every bathroom between Poor Richard's Almanac and a Brief History of Time. For sure, it should be taught in every high school honors English class across the nation.

There is a place in this puzzle for those of us with too many brains and too much time on our hands - we carved it ourselves. We painted it with black and white stripes, we threw glitter on the walls, we locked it with a secret elvish password . . . and this is our Bible.

Read more by Alethea Kontis


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