Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

How many Labyrinth fans are out there? Come on, you know you love it. David Bowie singing and dancing with Muppets? A teenage future Oscar-winning actress? What’s not to love???

How many Labyrinth fans also love Phantom of the Opera? or L.J. Smith’s “Forbidden Game” trilogy? If you just bounced up and down in your chair, then put Wintersong on your “to read” list because you’re going to want to check it out.

Wintersong front cover (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press)

Wintersong front cover (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Griffin)

THE PLOT: In early 1800s Germany, plain Elisabeth (Liesl) Vogler is the oldest of three children. Her sister, Käthe, is gorgeous and has become betrothed to Liesl’s childhood friend and crush. Liesl’s little brother Josef has been groomed by their father as a musical genius, even though it’s Liesl who composes the music he plays so beautifully. Liesl is stuck helping run the family inn while her siblings go on to everything Liesl wants for herself. She used to believe in magic, and often composed music in the Goblin Grove near their home, but now she believes she’s outgrown these tales. Her father has convinced her that a girl simply cannot be talented.

When Käthe is taken by Der Erlkönig, the Goblin King, Liesl fights her way to the Underground to get her sister back. But is it Käthe the Goblin King even wants? What bargain will Liesl strike to save Käthe? Liesl will learn some difficult truths about herself, familial love, and romantic love while she fights for her life. And what will the Goblin King sacrifice to get what he wants most?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a difficult book to review, because I could just say “I loved it!” and leave it at that, but it deserves a bit more scrutiny. First, the author cleverly plays off readers’ possible exposure to the setting of Labyrinth while also painting a vivid picture of the Underground. It’s very lushly written; very descriptive, which I enjoy, but maybe not everyone would.

Also, it’s a very “adult” written book. I don’t mean to say it’s sexually descriptive; it’s not. What I mean is that nothing is black and white. It’s not a fairy tale with a cut-and-dried “they loved each other and all lived happily ever after” ending. Real life and real love is full of difficult choices. You seldom get something valuable without giving up something else. Some younger readers, with their limited life experience, may not “get” everything this book is saying, all the layers and nuances—and, therefore, may not love it. A naive reader might ask, “But if two people really love each other, shouldn’t they be able to work it out?” while more jaded readers will appreciate the difficulties the characters face.

While I’ve mentioned Labyrinth a few times (and anyone would make that connection with the Goblin King), does the book really rely on the movie? No, but there are enough allusions that if you wanted to mentally go there, you could. For example, the Goblin King is described as having different colored eyes, a la David Bowie. He’s described as both a young man and an older yet ageless counterpart. Liesl’s goblin attendants would certainly make fantastic Muppets. Reading about the Underground and the Goblin City might bring certain images to mind.

Anyone who’s read the “Forbidden Game” books will also see a resemblance to Julian (not that there aren’t plenty of Jareth/Julian crossover stories to begin with). Just setting it in the German forest and using the term Der Erlkönig will resonate with anyone familiar with Volume 1, The Hunter. As will some of the Goblin King’s actions. How much does he love? How can he show it?

Finally, there are similarities to The Phantom of the Opera. The Goblin King is drawn to Liesl because of her music, and he’s a powerful yet unloved, unlovable figure living underground. He knows the only way he could make her stay with him is to take someone she loves and make a trade. But Liesl’s choices mid-book will surprise even him. Then there’s that gradual change from monster to someone who learns to love.

Will this book have a sequel? I don’t know. I would certainly welcome a sequel, and I think there’s more story to tell here. It could also stand alone as written.

COVER NOTES: What a beautiful cover! No girl in a floofy dress; just an image that brings to mind Labyrinth (snowglobe), Phantom (rose), and Beauty and the Beast (rose again). The color scheme is fairly stark and wintry.

BOTTOM LINE: I crazy-loved this book. I will buy it in hardcover to keep on my shelf and re-read at the earliest possible opportunity. Whatever this author writes next, I’ll be there to gobble it up.

TEACUP RATING: Five plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available February 7, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

Beheld (Kendra Chronicles #4) by Alex Flinn

I absolutely loved, loved, loved the last Kendra book, Mirrored (reviewed here). This one is written more of the style of Bewitched with multiple story arcs based on different fairy tales. How did it stack up?

Beheld front cover (HarperTeen)

Beheld front cover (HarperTeen)

THE PLOT: The overarching plot is that Kendra met her true love, James, a wizard, back during the Salem witch trials. James helped save Kendra, but the two were separated. Even though they vowed to wait for each other, centuries go by as they occasionally re-connect only to separate again.

Other than that, the plot is broken into four stories:

1. Little Red Riding Hood/Salem Witch Trials/ Ann Putnam. Lonely Ann is befriended by a talking wolf, and when Kendra spots the two of them together, Ann accuses Kendra of witchcraft before Kendra can accuse her.

2. Rumplestiltskin/ Bavaria, 1812/Cornelia. Cornelia meets handsome Karl at Kendra’s bookstall. Kendra’s assistant is also interested in Cornelia, and probably a much better match, but Cornelia is swept away by the romantic Karl. When Cornelia finds out the truth about Karl and realizes she’s in very big trouble, it’s Kendra’s magic and assistant to the rescue.

3. Cupid and Psyche/London, WWII/Grace (Okay, the ad copy says this is based on the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but I had never heard of that and recognized it as the myth of Cupid and Psyche). When Grace’s brother is reported missing in action, Kendra offers to help find him if Grace will marry cursed Phillip. Of course, Grace cannot see Phillip’s face, and can’t look at him even after they’re married. Grace takes the bargain but is ultimately goaded into breaking her word by her jealous sisters. Now she’s on a quest to get her husband back.

4. The Ugly Duckling/Modern-day Miami/Christopher. Chris and Amanda were best friends throughout childhood, both outcasts of sorts…Amanda an athletic tomboy whose mother was in jail, and Chris a weakling with an absentee father. But will their friendship survive when Kendra’s magic makes Chris a high-school swan?

MY TWO CENTS: It’s a little difficult to compare a book with multiple story arcs to a book like Mirrored, which really only had one story, or two halves of one story. On the whole, I don’t feel like we got a lot more development of Kendra herself in this book, while I enjoyed each of the four sub-stories to varying degrees. I definitely liked the middle two stories better than the first and last. The first story I felt was a bit confusing and maybe unfinished; I half-expected Ann Putnam or her wolf to show up again in one of the later stories. My least favorite was the last, most modern story. I feel like Kendra was all but unnecessary in this story, and the childhood/teenage angst of Chris and Amanda was drawn out way too long. Plus, it didn’t help that Chris became a jerk.

The middle two stories were delightful, though. I think the Rumpelstiltskin story was probably my favorite, although the WWII story about Grace was also intriguing. The heroines of both stories act foolishly and bring at least part of their troubles on themselves, as is the way of good fairy tales. Cornelia is blinded with the idea of romance and can’t see Karl’s true nature, nor that of the one who really does care about her. Grace is perfectly happy in her arrangement until she lets her sisters goad her into breaking the rules. Thankfully, both of them are able to learn from their mistakes.

COVER NOTES: While this cover matches the style of the other Kendra books, it’s a little dark and murky for my taste. I like the elements of the mirror, straw, and crow; it’s just the colors I don’t like. I like that the title font matches that of the other books (I like when series books look they belong together).

BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t love it the way I did Mirrored, but definitely still a must-read for any Alex Flinn/Kendra fans.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half to four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

 

%d bloggers like this: