Series Review: Wintersong/Shadowsong

wintersongWintersong/Shadowsong
by S. Jae-Jones
Fairy Tale Retellings
436 pages/379 pages
Published 2017/2018

So I knew this was inspired by Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. That’s partially why I picked it up, as I love that movie and David Bowie as the Goblin King. I didn’t expect to get, basically, Labyrinth fanfiction. That was my first impression. As the book carries on, though, and especially as you get into the second book, it’s more like a musician’s fever-dream of their favorite childhood movie. There are so many elements taken from the movie, but they are deconstructed and put back together in such unexpected ways.

You’ll recognize a line or two from the movie. The fairies still bite. The Goblin King is still beautiful and angular and strange. Liesl’s after a stolen sibling. But Liesl and her family live in rural, probably 18th century Bavaria. She is not a spoiled, baby-sitting half-sister. Her grandmother has taught her the old stories, and unbeknownst to her, she’s played music for The Goblin King her entire childhood.

The first book concerns Liesl’s first foray into the Underground to save her sister when The Goblin King steals her to be his bride. This is where the acid trip starts. If you’re familiar with Labyrinth, remember the ballroom scene? With people whirling about and appearing and disappearing and mirrors and the sense of disorientation as it all falls apart? Yeah, that’s basically the entire time in the Underground. Though there is a ball scene, and it is especially trippy.

While Liesl manages to save her sister (that’s a spoiler, but it isn’t much of one), she has a harder time saving herself. Whether she actually does or not could be debated.

shadowsongThe second book of the duology, Shadowsong, has an interesting author’s note in the front of it. The author first gives a content warning for self-harm, suicidal ideations, addiction, and reckless behaviors. She goes on to say Liesl has bipolar disorder, and further, that so does she. (The author.) She says Wintersong was her bright mirror, and Shadowsong her dark one. I can see that. Wintersong is a much happier book than Shadowsong, but the story would be incomplete without both books. Wintersong does end in a satisfactory conclusion, but Shadowsong just completes the tale in a way that I, at least, really enjoyed.

Shadowsong also contains more throwbacks to the movie – she falls and is caught by goblin hands; goblins form a giant face that talks to her about the old laws. These things don’t happen in the same scene, though.

I loved the elements of music woven throughout the story; Liesl is a composer, and music – her music – is almost a character in its own right. It’s definitely a huge plot element. It’s in her connection to her brother, and her connection to The Goblin King. It’s her way into the Underground, and her way out, and her way to reach back in.

It’s an enchanting duology; I don’t know if it would be as good for someone who didn’t love Labyrinth the way I do. If you dislike the movie, I would probably advise against reading these. But if you like it or have simply never seen it, these would be good, atmospheric books to read in the dead of winter.

From the cover of Wintersong:

The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride . . . .

All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind and spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.

But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious  man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

Dark, romantic, and powerful, Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.

End of Yearathon!

I didn’t originally have a post planned today, but I woke up to find two friends on Twitter (@whatvickyread and @amandalynnbxo) are hosting the “End Of Yearathon” – a reading challenge spanning December 26th to January 1st, to try to knock out the last of everyone’s 2018 reading list. While I’ve made my Goodreads challenge for the year, and mostly given up on the others, I do still have a bunch of library books to read!

The prompts for the challenge are: 

A book released in 2018

A book with Christmas colors on the cover (red, green, gold, or any combination of the three)

A book in a series

A book with more than 400 pages

A book released before 2018

 

I actually really like these prompts, because I think I have library books currently out that will fit all of them! For the the first one, I have several choices – A Blade So Black, Good and Mad, Give the Dark My Love, and more. I have a lot of new releases right now!

For Christmas colors, I have either The Dreaming Stars or The Sisters of the Winter Wood.

For a book in a series, I have the latest Mercy Briggs novel that I somehow missed reading at the beginning of the year. (The Dreaming Stars would also fit in this category.) silence_fallen_layout.indd

Ten Years In The Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books is 464 pages. ten years in the tub

And I again have options for a book released before 2018. Where Am I Now? and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, plus any number of books I actually own.

I’m really looking forward to knocking out a bunch of my library books. This will be fun!

Book Review: Unbroken

unbrokenUnbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens
Edited by Marieke Nijkamp
Young Adult/Short Stories
310 pages
Published September 2018

I’ve read a few different Young Adult anthologies recently, and they’ve all been utterly fantastic. This belongs right up there with A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Toil & Trouble.

As someone who HAS a chronic illness that affects every aspect of my life, I identified with several of these stories quite a lot. There’s one in particular in which they’re putting on a play, and the narrator mentions how TIRED they are. That their doctor would tell them to back off, and not do so much, but they call that stagnation and they’re not willing to give up the highs that come with accomplishing something that takes so much effort – and I feel that intimately. I’m still coming to terms with my new limits. There are times when I do too much, and I pay for it, in pain and fatigue and days unable to function as a human being – but it’s usually worth it. I just have to plan for the aftermath. To see that in fiction was a really validating thing.

Other stories deal with other sorts of physical disabilities – a wheelchair user, people with canes, or blindness. Some of the characters have more mental disabilities – severe anxiety, depression, schizophrenia. This is a fantastic collection, spanning genres from contemporary fiction to magical realism to sci-fi to fantasy.

I’m going to be keeping an eye out for more Young Adult anthologies, as this is the third one that I’ve read recently and they’re SO. GOOD. I know there’s two more coming out in the near future; one centered on Jewish characters that Katherine Locke has another story in, and one centered on vampires that also has some familiar names in it. (Vampires Never Get Old, which is a super clever title for a Young Adult anthology of vampires!)

I love checking out short story anthologies to keep handy for days I don’t have time to sit down with an entire novel, and man there have been some great ones recently. This is definitely one of them.

From the cover of Unbroken:

WARRIOR. ACTOR. FRIEND. HEROINE. TRAVELER. SISTER. MAGICIAN. LOVER. BIKER.

In this stunning anthology, #1 New York Times-bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp teams up with fellow disabled authors to create a collection of fictional stories that dispense with the tired, broken stereotypes – and reclaim narratives and identities. 

By weaving together tales of interstellar war, an enchanted carnival, or a dating debacle, Unbroken celebrates the varied experiences of disabled teens, including teens of color and of diverse genders and orientations, without obscuring the realities of their disabilities.

At turns hilarious and heart-stopping, these short stories share a common thread – one that has bent over time but will never break.

Friday 56 – Wintersong

wintersongThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Wintersong, by S. Jae-Jones. It’s a re-imagining of Labyrinth. With the Goblin King and all!

Was Josef afraid he was damned? God, the Devil, and the Goblin King were larger figures in my brother’s life than I had realized. More than either Käthe or me, Josef had been sensitive to the moods and emotions around him. It was what made him a superb and sublime interpreter of music. Perhaps this was why he played with such exquisite clarity, agony, frenzy, ecstasy, and longing. It was fear. Fear and inspiration and divine providence all in one.

Book Review: The Spy with the Red Balloon

spy with the red balloonThe Spy with the Red Balloon
by Katherine Locke
Young Adult/Historical Fantasy
356 pages
Published October 2018

This is the sequel to The Girl with the Red Balloon – though chronologically, it actually takes place first. Since it mostly deals with different characters in related but different events, though, it doesn’t really read like a prequel. Really the only bad thing I have to say is that it didn’t answer the question of what happened at the end of Girl with the Red Balloon, and to be honest, I don’t actually mind. Spy could be read as a completely standalone book and be just as satisfying. There’s very little overlap between the two books, even though they deal with similar themes, in the same world.

I personally think SPY is better than GIRL, but I find that a lot with second books. I think authors tend to have a little more confidence by the second book; they know a little more about their world. They’ve gotten feedback from readers about what worked and what didn’t in the first book, and can somewhat adjust course based on that if they’re good. And Locke is excellent. I really liked GIRL, don’t get me wrong, but I LOVED SPY. The characters were fantastic, and the way she addressed Wolf’s demisexuality was perfect.

The book is set in a time when being gay was straight-up illegal, and one of Wolf’s fellow spies asks him about it because it was apparently in his file. He tells her there’s no evidence of that because he doesn’t feel that way about ANYONE. (He’s lying, but we’ll get to that.) He can appreciate when people are attractive, but he doesn’t feel desire that way – except for one person. One person, who he’d known for years and been best friends with before those feelings showed themselves. They’d never acted on it, which is why there’s no evidence of it. Demisexual is on the asexual spectrum, and as such it varies wildly in terms of how sexual a person is, but Wolf’s demisexuality is the closest I’ve seen in fiction to my own, so it’s really special to me.

Veering away from representation specific to me, SPY, like GIRL, stars Jewish people at its heart. This time we have a pair of Jewish siblings from America, each fighting in WW II in their own way. Ilse with her brain, helping develop magic for the US, and Wolf more directly, sneaking around Germany and disrupting their forces. GIRL dealt more with the oppressed German Jews, while SPY shows us the other side – the Jews who are fighting back for their kin, even though they could stay in the US and be safe.

Both books are excellent reads. I’ve had the fortune to interact with Katherine Locke on Twitter quite a lot, and at this point I will pretty much read anything she publishes. I love her characters and her plotlines and the obvious care she takes with the representation. Fantastic book.

From the cover of The Spy with the Red Balloon:

In a nuclear arms race, you’d use anything for an edge. Even magic.

Ilse and Wolf Klein bear many secrets. Genius Ilse is unsure if her parents will ever accept her love of physics. Her brother, Wolf, strives for a quiet life, though he worries there’s no place in the world for people like him. But their deepest secret lies within their blood: with it, they can work magic.

Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes  behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.

When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the secret letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty – and find a way to help her brother – before their time runs out?

Loyalties and identities will be tested in this sweeping fantasy and fast-paced thriller that bravely explores the tensions at the dawn of the nuclear age.

Library Loot Wednesday

I didn’t have one of these last week because, for once, I didn’t check anything new out of the library! I know, weird, right?

This week, however, I checked out five, and they are all amazing!

Brandon Sanderson’s newest, Skyward, is more for my husband than for me, but I’ll still read it. He’s the Sanderson fanboy though! Heidi Heilig’s For A Muse Of Fire finally got to me and I am SO EXCITED about that! The Spy With the Red Balloon, sequel to Girl with the Red Balloon, also finally got to me. Unbroken is an anthology of stories about teens with disabilities, and Annalee, in Real Life involves a girl using an MMO to avoid her social anxiety.