Friday, June 26, 2015

New Harry Potter Stage Play, Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Written in Red by Anne Bishop, Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley and Cress by Marissa Meyer

There is always room for more of the wonders of Harry Potter's world in this world, and fortunately author JK Rowling agrees!
This morning on Twitter, J. K. Rowling
announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new stage play centered on
the series, will open next summer at the Palace Theatre in London's West
End. The script was written by Jack Thorne, who collaborated with
Rowling, and is being directed by John Tiffany, with singer-songwriter
Imogen Heap writing the music.

"I don't want to say too much more, because I don't want to spoil what I
know will be a real treat for fans," Rowling tweeted, adding: "However,
I can say that it is not a prequel!"
With Neil Gaiman's blurb of approval on the cover, it was nearly impossible for me to resist the lure of the beautifully-jacketed book, Magonia, by Maria Headley when I saw it in Book Page, a monthly book review publication that is free at my local library. Fortunately, the inventive and fascinating story on the inside lives up to the beauty of the cover. Here's the blurb:
Maria Dahvana Headley's soaring YA debut is a fiercely intelligent, multilayered fantasy where Neil Gaiman's Stardust meets John Green's The Fault in Our Stars in a story about a girl caught between two worlds . . . two races . . . and two destinies.
Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.
Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who's always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.
Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza's hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?  
Like most YA novels, there's a dystopia at the center of the plot, but in this case the dystopia is only bad because Aza is really one of the bird people of Magonia who isn't meant to breathe the heavier air on the ground, but is, instead, able to breathe the lighter air in the upper atmosphere, in the ships that Magonians live on while they plunder supplies from earth during storms that they have some, but not much, control over. Though this utopia in the skies provides everything Aza needs, she still can't get over her beloved childhood friend Jason, and though Aza eventually finds her way back to her earth family and the persistent Jason, it seems obvious to readers that she will have to choose between the two worlds soon, and that the only world she can actually breathe in is the better choice. Though the romance in this novel is a bit obsessive and possessive, which made me uncomfortable, I still felt that the lush prose and the impeccable plot built around divine storytelling earn this book an A, and a recommendation to those who enjoy epic fantasy and adventure.
Written in Red by Anne Bishop was something of an impulse buy for me, as the blurbs made it sound a bit too close to a horror novel for my taste. What it actually is is more of an urban fantasy retelling of old fairy tales with a horrific dystopian twist. Here's the blurb:
No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.
As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.
Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.  
There are two problems with this novel from my perspective. One, it's too long, 496 pages, when it could easily have been half that and still have told a good story. Even knocking 100 pages off would have helped, because there were places where the story dragged a bit, and places where readers were privy to too much information about the Others eating habits and what happens to the remains, etc. Gore for it's own sake never helps a plot speed along. Hence my second problem with the novel. Too much anger, hatred, distrust, fear, cruelty, death, gore, mayhem and general prejudice and distrust flow through this novel, and it casts a pall that is hard to shake. In other words, if you are prone to depression, this is not the book for you. There are two kinds of people in Bishop's alternative universe, the innocents and the killers, the predators and the prey, or "meat" as she often reminds us through her Other characters, who view all humans as something to eat. The only reason the werewolves, the vampires, the werebears and the elementals keep humans around is because we can make things that make their lives easier, like cars, beds, clothing, etc. Anyone who steps out of line, goes where they aren't supposed to go, pisses off an Other or tries to take anything from them illegally, is automatically ripped to shreds and eaten. Fortunately, though, Meg, who is a seer, escapes what is basically slavery and ingratiates herself with the Others, via her innocence, and becomes their "liaison" which is another name for postmistress, as well as being something of a pet for Simon Wolfgard and his son, who is a puppy. The Others don't seem to desire humans sexually at all, so any hint of romance between the liaison and Wolfgard becomes uncomfortable for readers and characters alike. Still, the prose is hypnotic and the bad guys get ripped up in a very satisfying manner, plus, there's a distinct HEA at the end, so I'd still give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach who finds gritty horrific urban fantasy fascinating.
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is the second book in this series, following the smash hit fantasy Queen of the Tearling that I read last year (and thoroughly enjoyed). Here's the blurb:
In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Queen Kelsea and her realm.
With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, Kelsea has crossed the brutal Red Queen, who derives her power from dark magic and who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what she claims is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.
But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing. She finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. Soon Kelsea herself begins to change; she does not recognize either her reflection in the mirror or the extraordinary power she now commands. The fate of the Tearling—and that of Kelsea's own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Queen Kelsea is running out of time.
In this second volume of the compelling trilogy begun with her bestselling The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen brings back favorite characters and introduces unforgettable new players, adding exciting layers to her multidimensional tale of magic, mystery, and a fierce young heroine.
I just finished reading this book, and I was awed by Johansen's ability to take the story in a direction that I did NOT see coming at all. The book moved back and forth in time, and added science fiction elements to what had been a dystopian fantasy. The prose is robust and yet elegant, and manages to keep ahold of the roller coaster of a plot until the very end, which also holds a few surprise twists and turns. Kelsea's story, which had been at the forefront of Queen of the Tearling took a backseat to the courageous story of Lily, a woman living 30 years into our future, in a world where, like Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, women have become male possessions, controlled by their husbands and expected to produce children while allowing their men to abuse them or even kill them if they prove to be barren. Female voices are silenced and women hide from their captivity with drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, the gap between the haves and the have nots has become huge, with the rich few living behind secure walls while a majority of the population starves and dies on the streets. Lily manages to break free from her abusive husband and is swept off with the resistance to a "Better World" and how that better world intersects with Kelsea's becomes the crux of the story. This brilliant page-turner left me hungering for more. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book. 
Cress by Marissa Meyer is the third book in the YA Lunar Chronicles, a wonderful science fiction retelling of classic fairy tales. Cress is the retelling of Rapunzel, except this long-locked girl is on a satellite in space, instead of a tower on earth. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:This third of four books in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles has no shortage of humor, action, or romance, and the author still delivers the clever fairy-tale twists her readers expect. Cress, a self-proclaimed “damsel in distress,” has been imprisoned in an orbiting satellite for more than seven years, and has never been allowed to cut her hair, which has grown to Rapunzel-like lengths. Though Cress—an expert hacker—is supposed to be tracking down the fugitive Linh Cinder for Lunar Queen Levana, Cress has been secretly aiding her. When Cinder and her crew try to rescue Cress, the plan goes awry, leaving Cinder’s group scattered and fighting for survival. Meyer continues to show off her storytelling prowess, keeping readers engaged in a wide cast of characters while unfolding a layered plot that involves warring governments and a fast-spreading plague. The momentum Meyer built in the first two books continues to accelerate as the stakes grow higher for Cinder and her friends. The next installment cannot come fast enough. 
Though I really enjoyed the Cinderella reboot in Cinder and the Red Riding Hood reboot in Scarlet, I was not as enamored of Rapunzel's reboot, Cress, because she was such a wimpy, whiny and fearful little girl, that she didn't fit with the other, more independent and adventurous heroines from the first two books. She was also completely obsessed with the con man Captain Thorne and her childish daydreams and fantasies of his falling in love with her and saving her like a real damsel in distress. She's constantly collapsing, crying, cringing and hiding behind everyone because she has no backbone or grit. She has to "pretend" she's enacting a drama in order to function when things go awry, and it is only by sheer luck and the help of the other characters that she survives at all. I found her character so annoying and stupid that I was hoping she'd be killed off in the desert. Unfortunately, she's the daughter of the main scientist/doctor in the novels, so she lives, but at great cost to everyone else. Still, we get to see more of Cinder and prince Kai, which is good, and that alone made the book worth the price. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first two books.

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