Goodreads: The Fall of Arthur
Published: May 2013
The world’s first publication of a previously unknown work by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the extraordinary story of the final days of England’s legendary hero, King Arthur.
The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries.
Powerful, passionate and filled with vivid imagery, The Fall of Arthurreveals Tolkien’s gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Originally composed by J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1930s, this work was set aside for The Hobbit and lay untouched for 80 years.
Now it has been edited for publication by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work that his father applied to bring it to a finished form, and the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and his greatest creation, Middle-earth.
Arthur eastward in arms purposed
in war to wage on the wild marches.
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending. (1-4)
Tolkien’s retelling of the King Arthur legend is lyrical and imaginative. It draws on medieval sources and the Old English poetry form to create a version that is fresh yet a worthy addition to the tradition. The poem, of course, is unfinished, but the parts that do exist are interesting and well-written. A few lines might be better phrased, but readers can excuse them based on the fact this poem is still a draft, even if a later version of drafts that had already seen multiple revisions. The poem’s most intriguing facet may be Tolkien’s unique portrayal of the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere. The pair loved each other at some point, before the start of the poem, but are drifting farther apart, appearing “strange” to each other when they meet again. Unfortunately, their story, like Arthur’s, is incomplete, and readers must rely on the outlines of projected cantos that Christopher publishes later in the book in order to approach anything resembling a sense of closure.
The poem is certainly worth reading. A better combination than King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien can hardly be imagined. As a medievalist and an author interested in creating mythology for England, Tolkien doubtless must have known and loved the Arthurian legend and it is only right he incorporate it into his own writing. Readers who love Tolkien will love seeing him work with this classic tale, just as he worked with Norse legends, Anglo-Saxon poems, and other medieval romances.
The rest of the book, however, readers can probably take or leave based on their preferences. The first section Christopher contributes is called “The Poem in Arthurian Tradition” and is essentially lengthy summaries of his father’s major soucres: Historia Regum Britanniae, the alliterative Morte Arthure, the stanzaic Morte Arthure, and Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. I, having read most of these works in the original, did not find this section very interesting. Those who have not read the originals may find the section either enlightening or tedious, based on whether they enjoy reading such summaries. Christopher does helpfully point out what is different between these works and his father’s work, however, so readers need not bother to flip back and forth between the poem and this section to figure it out for themselves.
The second section is “The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion.” Christopher publishes some of his father’s notes about The Fall of Arthur and highlights potential relationships between Lancelot and Earendil and Avalon and Tol Eressea. Unfortunately, Christopher does not always know what to make of potential parallels or relationships between The Fall of Arthur and The Silmarillion and often simply observes their existence without drawing any interpretations or conclusions. This section also contains detailed outlines J.R.R. Tolkien intended to follow when finishing th poem and some drafts of cantos not included in the officially published poem.
In the third section, “The Evolution of the Poem,” Christopher publishes various drafts of each canto and points out some changes his father made as he wrote and rewrote. This chapter will be interesting to those readers who enjoy exploring the evolution of texts but can be skipped by those who do not.
The appendix is a brief explanation of the alliterative Old English poetry form that Tolkien adopted for The Fall of Arthur, mostly in J.R.R. Tolkien’s own words, as Christopher tokien publishes parts of a talk his father gave on the subject. This section may not be the most accessible explanation to readers completely unfamiliar with the verse form, but it does nicely highlight the major features of Old English poetry. The appendix closes with an excerpt from The Fall of Arthur, with the “patterns of strong and weak elements in each half-line” listed, so readers have a clear example of how the patterns work.
Each section of the book can be read on its own, and it will behoove readers to determine beforehand which they may find useful. The book itself seems unclear on whether it is intended for an audience who loves Tolkien but knows nothing about Arthur or an audience of medievalists who love Arthur but may not particularly care about Tolkien. It tries to walk a middle ground, speaking to both a scholarly and a popular audience—and therefore will leave both types of readers a little unsatisfied. The poem itself is beautiful and worth a read by anyone. Christopher’s commentaries can be read or skipped with discretion.
Goodreads: The Different Girl
Summary: On an island there are four girls, one with yellow hair, one with brown, one with black, and one with red. Otherwise, they are all the same. This is their world, attending school with their their two adult guardians, and this is normal. Then a ship wrecks at sea, and another girl washes ashore, a girl who talks, looks, and thinks differently. But maybe that is normal, too.
Review: This book was just about as interesting as I expected it to be, but it left me a little unsatisfied and slightly confused. The officially summary seems intentionally vague; all readers know is that there are four nearly identical girls on an island. What are they? Robots? How did they come to be? What is their purpose? It is all rather mysterious, which is half of what drew me to the book. Unfortunately, some of these questions are still unanswered for me.
Basically, the science fiction aspects are not fully developed. There is a lot of world building that is simply missing, Certainly some can be filled in through inference, and to some extent it might not really matter, but its absence can be keenly felt. It is conceivable that Dahlquist is keeping readers intentionally blind, keeping the story on the island just as the four girl only know the island—but it is extremely frustrating. Days after finishing the book, I am still itchy and irritated that I have barely any conception of the world outside the island. There are vague references to “them,” mysterious people who control something—but, yeah, I have no idea who they are or what they are doing or even want in the world.
This is also frustrating because most of the book reads like a very long set-up to a mystery. The reader is made to constantly wonder what is going on—and then he or she only half finds out. The “revelation” simply is not proportionate to the suspense. That is understandably disappointing.
Yet there is also the nagging suspicion that there is something in this book that I just did not “get.” The girls’ tutor asks a lot of leading questions in the story, and readers are clearly supposed to answer some of them, as well. But I do not understand the logic. After examining a photo, the girls decide the parrot in it is symbolic of something, and then several times question what the “parrot” in a certain situation is. And I still have no idea what the parrot means…. I admit that I strongly would like to believe all my confusion is a flaw in the book, and not just an indication I am not smart enough to understand it! Ambiguity in a book does not guarantee profundity, and it should not be used as a crutch to give the illusion of it.
I must clarify, however, that I did not dislike this book as much as my review might suggest. On Goodreads, I gave it a good three star rating. It is interesting, and it is unique. (And I absolutely love the cover, if that counts for anything.) There also is the hint of some deep thought going on behind it all. But I feel left out, or as if something was left out of the book, so I cannot rate it more highly. But I would love to hear others’ opinions, so please comment!
Side note: I also do not understand why Veronika is writing this book, or to whom it is addressed. I find it important for the existence of first-person narratives to be logical and am troubled when they do not seem to be.
Publication Date: February 21, 2013 (Dutton Juvenile)
Series: The Violet Eden Chapters #1
Goodreads Summary: It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”
Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before.
Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her.
A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden…
Review: Embrace is an exciting, solid paranormal romance. It has a ton of the expected elements: a girl who finds out she’s not quite human, her disbelieving reaction, the people who want to help her believe, and the dangerous events that prove it’s all true. Luckily, Shirvington has packaged them all in good writing and made her main characters quite attractive (in both personalities and looks).
All things considered, Embrace should be read for the romance more than anything else. More than once, the explanations of how the magic works in this book had me laughing out loud; it was slightly ridiculous. The angel/religious themes could also have been better. So far, I think Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly has tackled this best. In Embrace, readers learn that some religious stuff is sort of true and some isn’t and there is some stuff no one really knows about—including angels. So there could be a God and there could not be. Only the highest angels actually know. The effect is confusing and almost wishy-washy.
The action is pretty intense, but this is a case where the protagonist actually invents most of it by being overly dramatic (i.e. If Violet were a reasonable person who didn’t overreact every time someone did something, there would be a lot less plot.) Hopefully the drama is out of Violet’s system now, however, so that the second book can feature her acting on good instincts, and some outside forces acting more strongly.
BUT the romance is good. Violet has a choice of two guys, and Embrace is a novel in which there truly seems to be a choice; she is not obviously drawn to one far more than to the other. Both also have a ton of good qualities, so readers can be torn, thinking Violet could really be happy with either one. (The down side is, of course, that one girl spending equal amounts of time flirting with and kissing two different guys means it can feel as if she is cheating or leading someone on. Hazards of a love triangle.)
Again, this is a solid paranormal romance, and certainly one that is better written than many. It is not unique, but it will be satisfying for those who like the genre.
Published: March 6, 2012
Goodreads: The Friday Society
Summary: In Edwardian London, three young women find themselves inexplicably drawn to solving the same mysterious murders. Together, Cora (a lab assistant), Michiko (a samurai), and Nellie (a magician’s assistant) will employ their unusual talents to track down the criminal who has eluded all the experts.
Review: The Friday Society is the perfect book for any reader looking for an adventure full of girl power. Cora, Michiko, and Nellie are fantastic protagonists with great personalities and a wide variety of unusual skills. Alone, each one of them is talented, capable, and uniquely charming: Cora is an intelligent lab assistance, Michiko is a deadly warrior, and Nellie is a glamorous magician’s assistant/escape artist. Together, the three form a perfectly balanced team, bound by their sense of justice and desire to break the boundaries placed on women and make a difference in their world.
And their world is quite interesting, as well. The Friday Society is steampunk, but though there are some very cool weapons and inventions featuring cavorite, a newly discovered glowing material that defies gravity, the story remains character-driven. The inventions and alternate history provide a colorful backdrop for the story, but never overpower it. Kress also very skillfully creates a world where it is believable a few women like Cora, Michiko, and Nellie might be in fairly influential positions, but where women in general are still looked down upon by men. The protagonists, then, stand out as independent and bold, without coming across as complete anomalies.
The story itself is an exciting mixture of mystery, action, adventure, history, and romance. Essentially, this book has everything in just about the right proportions. Kress writes it all in a straightforward style reminiscent of her protagonists’ energetic personalities, and also includes some wonderfully humorous references about what would happen…if all this were in a book. It turns out that this book is not always what one would expect.
It is a book that deserves to be read! With spunky characters, creepy villains, and a ton of crazy scenarios that only Cora, Michiko, and Nellie could possibly find themselves in, it offers a lot of entertainment, as well as a lot of heart.
Publication Date: December 6, 2012
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Goodreads: A Pearl Among Princes
Summary: On the secret island of Miramore, the peasants work all year to host the summer training for a select group of princes. Each year, the princes return home more charming—and the peasants stay, fearful of the fiery whirlpools that would drown them and the deadly spiked shoals in the water. But the rules have changed. This year, instead of returning home to marry princesses, the princes are allowed to marry anyone, and Gracepearl Coal is determined to win one’s heart and passage away from Miramore.
Review: From the summary, I was expecting a fun, light read from this book and not necessarily an artistic masterpiece. However, A Pearl Among Princes failed at even being pure entertainment for me, primarily due to problems in world-building and simple awkwardness.
Miramore, apparently, is an island in our world. The first hint this is so is a random reference to Joan of Arc; eventually Gracepearl tells the readers directly that it is in our world. The location of Miramore, however, is kept a secret from everyone except the princes of the twelve branches who visit each year. Even assuming this story takes place in a time period before technology like satellites or airplanes, this explanation is hard to believe.
And, if this is true, it raises the question of where these princes are from. England? Spain? China? There is no indication that they are from any known part of the world. They do not hail from actual countries, but rather for places named for trees. They are from the houses of Birch, Maple, Elm, Oak, etc. (Which gives the strong impression these princes are all from Europe.) Basically, this entire book would have worked much better if it had been allowed to occur in some unspecified fantasy land.
The characters do not do much to help this flimsy backstory. Their speech is heavily inspired by fantasy, and sadly ends up sounding ridiculous. There are some books where asking, “How go classes?” sounds normal or even epic; A Pearl Among Princes is not one. Part of the trouble is that Gracepearl does not write/speak this way as she narrates this story in first person, which creates a huge disconnect between the speech she uses with the reader and the speech she uses with other characters.
Also, a lot of the characters are just mean. One of the opening scenes shows Gracepearl and her best friends rating the princes on their looks as they disembark their boats. A similar scene of men ranking women would cause outrage (and such actions have caused significant problems in real-world situations). Inverting the genders does not make it any more acceptable. Gracepearl and her friends also have cute little nicknames for the people they dislike. Perhaps the “Muffets” are silly and boy-obsessed and perhaps “Tattlebug” is too nosy; that does not justify name-calling and certainly does not make Gracepearl endearing. (Additionally, Gracepearl’s silly statements like “Flirting is fun!” sometimes make it questionable whether she is even better than the Muffets at all.)
Worst, however, is the entire premise of the book. Gracepearl wants badly to get off the island. She believes marrying a prince is the only way to do so, and is perfectly alright with marrying for little other reason. Sure, she is also interested in looks and picks out the princes who are genuinely nice. The fact remains, however, that she never seems quite sure if she actually loves them. All she wants is a boat. This makes her something of a gold-digger.
This book appears to be an attempt at an original fairytale. There is the whole peasant marrying a prince theme, a mysterious island, and nursery rhymes scattered about that give this impression. Yet the execution is wrong. Gracepearl spends a lot of time discussing whether someone is really a prince (ie. whether he is kind), but she is no princess. The author obviously expects readers to like Gracepearl, but she gives them no reason to do so. I, for one, do not see any particular reason she deserves a happy ending.
Goodreads: Secrets at Sea
Goodreads Summary: Helena is big-sister mouse to three younger siblings, living a snug and well-fed life within the ancient walls of the Cranston family home. When the Cranston humans decide to sail away to England to find a husband for one of their daughters, the Cranston mice stow away in the name of family solidarity. And so begins the scamper of their lives as Helena, her siblings, and their humans set sail on a life-changing voyage into the great world of titled humans . . . and titled mice, and surprise endings for all. The masterful Richard Peck brings all of his talents to this tale of two branches of an American family, set on the eve of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. There are plenty of laughs and thrills, and of course there’s a ship’s cat too. Will our Cranston heroes squeak by, or will they go entirely overboard?
Review: Secrets at Sea is a cute and whimsical tale, charmingly enhanced by the details of the illustrations. The story told is one of family and adventure, enlivened by run-ins with cats and snakes and the novelty of life on the dangerous sea. But the details of daily life are visible beyond the action in the pictures, where one may see the charming inventions scattered through a mouse’s home, such as a comb that serves as a ladder or the thimbles we are assured have myriad uses.
All these things—the big and the little—are told through the voice of the caring if sometimes overbearing oldest sister Helena. She has been responsible for the family since her mother and older sisters met a tragic end in a rain barrel, but such are the realities of life. Mice, we learn, are always running out of time. And Helena does a good job as a leader. She is the perfect narrator because she is the one who tries to see and be in control of everything, even if such a goal is impossible.
This book is full of secrets, surprises, and pure cuteness. A must-read for anyone who likes mice or just a good story about looking out for those you care about.
Goodreads: The Treachery of Beautiful Things
Goodreads Summary: A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction
The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she’s lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice–and not just her own.
Review: The beginning of this story leaves a bit to be desired. My notes on it are basically scattered words to the effect of “weird,” “ridiculous names,” and “wow.” Essentially, I thought it was a little cheesy. And, really, the main character “shines with innocence?” That just made me laugh.
But I am glad I continued.
Quickly enough, I became truly captivated by the main characters. Jenny is obstinate, but it makes her endearing rather than annoying. She is absolutely determined to rescue her brother, and no man and no strange land is going to stand in her way. She’s brilliant. Jack is more complicated. Is he good? Is he bad? Does he truly care for Jenny or is he just playing for his own rewards? The constant questioning of his loyalty was really tugging at my heartstrings, and in fact was almost too stressful for something I was reading for fun, but it did keep me on the edge of my seat! This is a case where you will be pretty sure you know what is going on, but you will never want to bet on it. There is true suspense.
The world itself is also intriguing. It is (you guessed it!) both beautiful and treacherous. But, actually, it is. No need to worry that the title exaggerates! And although Long draws heavily on folklore, I found my very general knowledge of her sources was enough to give me grounding in the book. I have no idea if other YA books use these elements “better,” but they work here.
The plot, after the slightly silly beginning, is truly exciting. In addition to the ever-looming question of who is on whose side, there is simply a lot of action, a lot of running, and a lot of plotting. And it is worth noting that there is a climax truly deserving of the name. Yeah, things go down.
The ending is a little neat, but after the trauma of the preceding pages, I personally would not want it any other way. It makes me happy to think that things might finally fit together in Jenny’s life, my life, the world at large. Long brings an idealized fairytale ending to a fairytale that had previously been bleak. So, readers get the best of both worlds, and that is satisfying.
Published: August 16, 2012
Series: Graceling Realm #3
Summary: King Leck has been dead for years, but Queen Bitterblue is still struggling to bring happiness back to her kingdom.
Review: Cashore continues her streak of writing marvelous, imaginative, and character-driven fantasy in her third Graceling book. This one features Bitterblue, about eighteen now and queen of Monsea. Of course, she has been queen of Monsea for years (she announced the fact herself after her father’s death), but the story reveals that she is still learning her way around the job. Her uncle and her advisors have been handling much of the kingdom’s business for years, and she is looking to learn more about the people and take on a greater responsibility for herself. The combination of her youth and feelings of inadequacy combined with her heart and strength make her a realistic and compelling character. Here is a teenager who can rule but knows she still has much to learn.
Cashore has once again put all her effort into creating Bitterblue as an individual. Though her thoughts are suitably progressive, Bitterblue is neither Katsa nor Fire when it comes to relationships. She is a little more mellow than the two, but still has enough iron to make her admirable and a convincing queen. Of course she has her own habits and mannerism, too. The only fault is that sometimes one is tempted to think, “Oh, look! One of Bitterblue’s mannerisms that establish her as a character with a unique personality!” So although Cashore is paying extreme attention to detail, it is possible some of those details could be better integrated.
As promised, Katsa and Po return in this novel, and it is quite interesting to see them years later. It is the sensation one gets seeing Tamora Pierce’s Alanna appear in the Protector of the Small quartet—grown-up and different but still very much the same. Other wonderful characters also make guest appearances.
Parts of the plot are nothing new to fantasy fans. The story opens with Bitterblue’s sneaking out into her own city disguised as a commoner so she can learn more about her people and the state of the land. Yeah…we’ve all seen that before. However, Cashore makes it work, and it certainly is not the overriding point of the book. In fact, the plot is so convoluted that most of it is wildly unpredictable. Only at the very end does it begin to make some sort of sense, though the degree to which it is satisfying in its logic is debatable.
Readers should be warned that much of Bitterblue’s job entails unraveling what her father King Leck did before her—and readers of Graceling will know that King Leck was a sadistic man. Bitterblue is not recommended for the faint of heart. There is a fairly wide difference between suspecting what Leck was doing and having the facts of it described. The effects of his actions are almost as catastrophic, and in many ways Bitterblue is an issues book confronting how his subjects cope with the violence and lies he inflicted on them.
On happier note, there is a touch of romance to give light to the book—not as much or as strong as in Cashore’s previous work, but very fitting to the story. There is also some interesting subtext which doubtless falls under the category of questions Cashore will not answer, but it begs to be interpreted happily.
An incredibly solid and magical work, and a worthy addition to the series.
Published: May 1, 2012
Series: River of Time #2
Summary: Gabi and her sister Lia return to fourteenth century Italy, where Gabi feels she has left her heart. But she must find a way to convince both Lia and their mother that staying in the past would be the right decision for them all.
Review: Cascade is a fun read following very much in the footsteps of Waterfall in both plot and style. Readers who enjoyed the fast-paced, somewhat episodic nature of Waterfall, in which Gabi repeatedly finds herself in danger and in need of rescuing by her attractive Italian suitor, will find a plethora of similar scenes here. On the bright side, Gabi is starting to show a little more sense and occasionally follows Marcello’s advice, thus keeping herself out of what would clearly be even more trouble.
Zita wrote the review for Waterfall and did not mention what I find to be very unrealistic “teen” dialogue. Gabi uses numerous idioms such as “the whole enchilada” in the first book, and continues to do so here, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. I have decided to find this amusing, and so will continue to read the series ready to chuckle at what are apparently Gabi’s attempts to sound cool. Interestingly, her thoughts are in this “teen lingo,” while her actual dialogue is pseudo-medieval, and she rarely gives a sign of what must certainly be a struggle to translate her modern thoughts to medieval words. She may have to change “breakfast” to “break my fast,” but she never lets slip any of the slang that frequents her head.
In terms of Christianity, the themes are also as light in Cascade as they are in Waterfall. Gabi prays a little more, but I think she still have a little way to go until her words become entirely sincere. She often gives the impression that she is talking to God because, hey, it’s the Middle Ages and everyone is doing it. Or she is just always facing the constant threat of death, so she might as well give asking an almighty God for help a try. It will be interesting to see how her faith progresses.
Overall, I think this series is enjoyable. It has lots of action, two attractive guys, and a great setting. A fun summer read.
Goodreads: Living Dead Girl
Goodreads Summary: “Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared.
Once upon a time, my name was not Alice.
Once upon a time, I didn’t know how lucky I was.”
When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over.
Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.
This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.
Review: Living Dead Girl is a quick, but certainly not an easy read. The chapters are short, which will keep readers turning the pages, but the strongest pull is the desire to see something good finally happen to Alice. Will she escape? Will she be okay? Is it possible to be okay? The questions beg to be answered, and the format of the book suggests to readers that they can find out everything in just a single sitting. And there is nothing else to be done; no one will want to stop and leave Alice still under the power of her captor.
Because this is a horrible story. It is disturbing and, though not necessarily explicit, there are enough details to make the sexual acts forced from Alice clear to readers. This book will be better suited to older teens and adults.
Unfortunately, the inevitable horrified reactions from readers has the potential to keep them from pondering the deeper aspects of the story. Alice’s mental state, especially while she is watching talk shows with women who had been in situations like hers, is quite interesting. Her thoughts about Ray’s wanting to find a new girl are troubling, yet understandable. And, of course, there is the matter that no one ever noticed something was wrong. There is a lot to wonder about human nature in this book.
An unforgettable read, but not one that should be picked up lightly.