Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
January 2012

Title: Extraordinary: The True Story of My Fairy Godparent, Who Almost Killed Me, and Certainly Never Made Me a Princess
Author: Adam Selzer
EAN: 9780385736497

"Do you believe in fairy tales?" asked the back cover of Extraordinary.

"Why yes, thank you, I do," I replied to no one in particular.

This book was recommended to me by fabulous book blogger Bonnie Lynn Wagner from A Backwards Story (http://abackwardsstory.blogspot.com). The full title alone had me ordering it in a heartbeat, and when the book finally arrived, I just stared at the cover in shock for a while. If I had encountered this book on a shelf in the bookstore, there's no way I wouldn't have picked it up - it's a perfect "homage" to the movie poster from Disney's Enchanted.

Most folks aren't brave enough to go anywhere near something that might almost sort of come within 100 yards of infringing on a Disney copyright. Because I'm incredibly curious about such things, I pulled out my DVD of Enchanted and did a side-by-side comparison. The letters are the same color and style, but the font is ever-so-slightly different here and there. The frame around the title is the same general shape and style, subtle enough to pass on city streets as a genuine knock-off. It's brazen and eye-catching, which a cover is supposed to be. What else can I say to the designers but "Well done!" (and possibly "I hope no one gets sued.")

Such an impressive cover does set a rather high bar for the story inside, and thankfully Adam Selzer has the skill to clear it. Extraordinary is what English teachers love to call a "Frame Story." In a parallel universe very much like this one - only one in which the paranormal members of society ("post-humans") have come out of the so-called closet - a woman named Eileen Codlin wrote a very successful book based on the life of local high school teen Jennifer Van Der Berg. This book, Born To Be Extraordinary, saw Twilight-level success, including the release of a blockbuster film.

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You can imagine how this extreme level of exposure has affected the life of the real Jennifer Van Der Berg, who knows exactly which parts (5%) of the story are true, and which parts (95%) are trumped-up fiction.

Extraordinary is Jenn's candid response to Born To Be Extraordinary. Each chapter starts with a small excerpt from BTBE, and then Jenn launches in with her very strong opinion of what she thinks of Eileen Codlin's flights of fancy. Jenn subsequently tells the whole story of the fairy godparent fiasco - the "true" story - plain, unadulterated, and unfancified.

This princess was amused, from beginning to end . . . and isn't that the whole point? Was it a perfect book? No. But it didn't need to be. Adam Selzer's humor is brilliant. I tip my tiara to you, sir. You have made a new fan.

Title: Magic Bites
Author: Ilona Andrews
EAN: 9780441014897

Like visiting beloved family members, December has always been the time of year when I enjoy re-reading my favorite books. Annual classics have gone from Little Women and Tamora Pierce's Alanna series to Sharon Shinn's Jovah's Angel and Robin McKinley's Deerskin. This time around, my December re-read was The Hunger Games. And while I was at it, I took a chance on a book series that was unfamiliar to me, but on the re-read list of my good friend Laura. (She swapped me the first two books for Meredith Ann Pierce's Darkangel Trilogy. How could I say no?)

Ilona Andrews's Magic Bites and Magic Burns are the first two books in an urban futuristic-fantasy series that launched back in 2007. My first question to Laura was of course, "Are there vampires in this?" To which she replied, "Yes, but they're really ugly golem-type things that are controlled by necromancers. They're not romantic at all. It won't bother you. Trust me." And because I didn't want to be rude, I took her at her word.

I tell you what: I am so glad I did. This series is phenomenal. I blew through the second book in a day and resisted texting Laura and begging her for more of the books at 3 a.m. The worldbuilding is fascinating, the characters are great, the dialogue is quirky, and there's no steamy gratuitous sex bogging down the pacing. In fact, there's no sex at all, vampire or otherwise (at least, in the first two books). It's just a fun, fast-paced adventure that will leave you begging for more. (Obviously.)

The setting is a ruined downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in a future where magic and technology sweep across the land like weather patterns. When the tech is up, phones work, cars work, magical wards fail, and electricity is as reliable as it's always been. When the magic waves hit there are no phones, different cars run on water and enchantments (or you take a horse), feylanterns light your way, and any random Joe on the street with a book and a candle can summon a demon from wherever to wreak havoc upon the city.

Kate Daniels is a sword-wielding mercenary who works at cleaning up these kinds of messes. She's clever, sassy, and a lot more powerful than she looks (which is also nothing like the leather-topped, amber-eyed redhead on the cover). At the beginning of Magic Bites, Kate discovers that her guardian, a Knight of the Order of Merciful Aid, had been murdered. Kate has her own personal issues with the Order, but puts them aside to solve the crime. The strange clues she uncovers lead her further and further down the rabbit hole, and put her under the scrutiny of two very powerful factions: the Masters of the Dead (the vampire controllers) and the Pack (werepersons, of course).

I love this series. Love it. If you miss really smart, shameless, adventure-packed urban fantasy - or if you have yet to find a good one - pick up this series. You will not be disappointed. (My editor may be disappointed, however, if I get caught up in reading the rest of this series and don't get my reviews in on time . . .)

Title: Finish This Book
Author: Keri Smith & (your name here)
EAN: 9780399536892

This one's not a sci-fi or fantasy (unless you want it to be), so I'll be brief.

A few years ago, Keri Smith took the world by storm with a little title called Wreck This Book. It was a fabulous and wonderful thing that encouraged both creativity and willful destruction of one's own property.

Smith's sophomore effort, Finish This Book, unfortunately doesn't even come close to the phenomenon of Wreck This Book. Finish starts out with the story of Smith having found a loose manuscript in the wild, pages everywhere, and you are going to help her put it back together and finish it.

The first part of the book has some really quirky and fun activities, like telling you to cut out eyebrows and a mustache, put them on yourself, take a photo of yourself in the mirror, and paste it inside the book. There's a whole section on making up secret messages and decoder-ring type stuff. There are memory challenges and map-drawing challenges. Enough to keep a kid busy on a long car ride for a while.

The second part of the book - the "Finish This Book" part - is all about making your own Secret Society. Which is cool and fun in its own way, but the book should have been called Lemony Snicket 101 instead. As a writer, I was expecting this to be more of an exercise in creativity and journaling and inspiring the reader/writer to take his/her own direction . . . which I suppose this is, but I wanted it to be less of a directed and Organized Classroom Project thing.

I was also disappointed by the final page in the book: an ad for the "Wreck This App" application for your smartphone. Out of curiosity, I looked it up. It's a pricy app, at $4.99, so I read some reviews. There were more bad reviews than good, saying that it wasn't long enough for the money, and half of the things suggested couldn't be done on a phone. My favorite was: "There is no world where this is worth 5 bucks. It's ok - not great."

Now that review I give five stars.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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