A Midsummer Night’s Dream

As a bit of preparation and research for NaNoWriMo, I decided to re-read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I use the term re-read loosely, though, as it has been over 10  years since I read this play in  high school. I have to say that I liked it better this time around than I did in high school. I’m not really sure what the difference is. I really enjoyed Shakespeare’s tragedies, thus maybe I didn’t appreciate the comedies to the fullest extent at the time.

Anyway, I don’t know how much preparation I really got out of this. It did, however, reiterate the mischievousness of fairies, or in the case of my writing, faeries.

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Outline for NaNoWriMo

Yesterday I completed the outline for my novel. Completed, as in, there is a beginning, middle, and end, and the plot seems to actually work! This is more of an accomplishment than I thought possible a few months, or even weeks, ago. I was really having a hard time figuring everything out.

My outline is about 6 pages long, handwritten. Today my plan is to type it out, revising and adding scenes and ideas as I go. I’ve already got 2-3 Beta-readers in mind, just to make sure my outline makes sense and to get feedback and suggestions. I know that NaNoWriMo will be much easier if I have a clear path already laid out, instead of trying to bush whack my way through as I go.

I’m home from church, I’ve got my hot tea and a bagel, and I’ve got a warm fuzzy purring feline, Minerva, snuggled against me. I think that means I’m ready to go!

Correction, in the few seconds it took me to write that last sentence, Albus has climbed into my lap, somewhat obstructing one of my arms, making it a bit difficult to type. So, now I have two felines basically in my lap. That’s ok. It’s good to be loved!

Wondrous Strange

Another book I found at the library…although I was definitely impressed with this one. And, to top things off, this is a debut novel! I love it! Oh, and it’s the first book of a trilogy, the last of which is not released yet. Which means there’s another book I get to look forward to!

Wondrous Strange, by Lesley Livingston, is definitely an entertaining read. The main character, Kelley Winslow, is an actress in New York City, struggling to be successful. Currently, she is the understudy for Queen Titania in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Of course, circumstances dictate that she step into the lead role, which is as close to believing in faeries as Kelley can be…for the moment.

Thrown into the lead role, Kelley rehearses her lines in central park and she is noticed by Sonny, whom she nicknames “Handsome Stranger” until she knows his real name. Sonny is a Janus guard, charged by Unseelie King Auberon to guard the gates to Faerie that open every year on Samhain. Sonny has “radar” of a sort, being able to identify both humans and faeries, but Kelley has him stumped, as she just looks like a sputtering Firecracker to him, as if she could either go out or burst into flame.

Weird things begin to happen, drawing Sonny and Kelley together, mainly since Sonny is trying to protect her. Someone, most likely Queen Mabh, is trying to bring back the Wild Hunt, and Kelley is to be the game. It turns out that Kelley is a Faerie Princess and King Auberon is her father. It is suspected that Queen Mabh is looking for revenge for being banished so many years ago.

As events unfold, Sonny and Kelley discover that nothing is as they thought. At the end, King Auberon has a job for Sonny that takes him back into Faerie, leaving Kelley alone, but he is allowed one evening to see her in the opening night performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From there, Kelley must figure out how to get Sonny back, but Lesley Livingston has saved that for another book, (which someone else has checked out of the library at the moment).

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It was a new spin on the typical faerie stories, (of which I am far from an expert), which was a nice change. It was not the best book ever, but I did like the plot and the characters, although the romantic aspects seemed a bit rushed. I will definitely read the other two books in the trilogy.

Avielle of Rhia

Avielle of Rhia, by Dia Calhoun, is another coming of age story. Avielle is a princess, although as one of the younger children, it is extremely unlikely she will ever inherit the throne. Avielle is a Dredonian Rhian, meaning that one of her ancestors was from Dredonia. Many Rhians are Dredonian Rhians, and they all have one characteristic of Dredonians, whether it be pointed ears or the scalloped ridge on their foreheads. Then there are those called silverskins, who look completely Dredonian. Avielle is a silverskin.

Avielle has lived all her life in the shadow of her evil great great grandmother, Queen Dolvoka, who was Dredonian. The people of Rhia, and even her family, despise or fear Avielle because they believe that Dolvoka’s evil has also passed to her along with her appearance. This is also what Avielle fears most. Dolvoka’s memory is still feared, and she is referred to as the “Cursed One.” Before she died, she cast a spell on Rhia, causing all the birds to die. Any birds that enter the country grow weak and eventually die as well.

Rhians are preparing for war, as Dredonia’s Brethren of the Black Cloaks make harsh demands for slaves and mines of Rhia to be turned over to them. Avielle leaves the High Hall one night to seek out a woman who was kind to her, to ask her about her weaving skills. While in Gamalda’s shop, a Whirlwind sent by the evil Brethren hits the High Hall, killing Avielle’s entire family. Convinced that the people of Rhia would never accept her as their queen, Avielle stays with Gamalda in hiding, as her new apprentice.

Now that the Royal Family is (presumed) dead, the High Council has taken over. There is actually talk of sending the people of Rhia to Dredonia as slaves! Avielle at last has made friends and is beginning to accept all parts of herself, Dredonian and magic alike. In order to save her country, her friends, and even herself, she must make a difficult decision. And maybe with that decision, she can drive away evil and bring the birds home to Rhia.

I found this book in the “teen fiction” section of my local library. While I did enjoy the story, it seemed to progress a bit slowly for me. Avielle took way too long to learn her lesson. She also seemed a bit selfish, but I guess that was part of the coming of age story. During much of the book, I was reminded of the stories/cards that go something like this: “See Dick run. See Jane eat. See Spot sit.” Not to say that the author’s writing was bad, because it definitely wasn’t. Anyway…I think that this book would be better suited to much younger teens, maybe even around the 11 to 14-year-old range.

Fire and Hemlock

When I was browsing the teen fiction section at the library, another book caught my eye. Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones, looked like it would be a good story. A statement inside the front flap reads, “Fire and Hemlock is an intricate, romantic fantasy filled with sorcery and intrigue, magic and mystery, all background to a most unusual and thoroughly satisfying love story.” Sounds pretty good, right?

I was about 50 pages in when I decided that this book was utter crap. The main characters, an old man named Tom, and a 10-year-old girl named Polly, were playing a game, pretending to be superheros and making up adventures. So where is the magic and romance, and more importantly, where are the age appropriate characters for a romance? I was going to stop reading right there, as life is too short to read bad books, but I checked out some other reviews on Goodreads. Many of these reviews were very complementary, rating the book 4 or 5 out of 5 stars. So I thought perhaps there were some redeeming qualities in the book, and I read on.

This book is based on the combination of the tales of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, and in my opinion, a bit of Lolita thrown in as well. The book begins when Polly, age 19, realizes that she has forgotten something important. She begins to feel this ways as she considers the painting above her bed, titled Fire and Hemlock. She feels that there is something tugging at the edge of her memory that she can’t quite get at. So, she remembers back to when it all started, or when she felt as if she only had one, instead of two, sets of memories. She finally remembers Tom, and then knows that she did something terrible, at which point her memories go back to being only one set. But she can’t figure out what it was that she did.

When Polly was 10 years old, she and a friend, Nina, were playing a game. She thought she saw Nina enter the grand Hunsdon House, and she followed her, finding herself in the midst of a funeral. It is at this time that Polly meets Thomas Lynn, a kind old(er) man who plays her pretending games with her. They develop a friendship and Tom sends her letters and books quite often. They make up superhero identities for themselves and discuss their adventures. Sometimes, the things they make up turn out to be true. Their friendship continues throughout adolescence.

Back in the present day, the 19-year-old Polly finally remembers Tom and everything they shared. She asks other people about Tom, but it seems that most people who should know him, don’t remember him. She goes to a music store and looks for Tom’s name, as she knows that he is a cellist and that he has made recordings. She finds an album with his picture on it. In his picture, he looks much younger than she remembers. (Thank goodness!) As she works her way through years of her memory, she discovers the truth and realizes that it is up to her to save Tom from a terrible fate. And she knows she’s running out of time.

This book was also a great coming of age story, telling of Polly’s friends and family and their interactions. Her mother, Ivy, is extremely selfish, her father is basically absent from her life, but her grandmother is someone she can depend on, the one constant and stable person in Polly’s life. The author has created characters that have so much depth and substance. The story moved at a slower pace, as every scene was not action packed. Even so, after the first few (75 to 100) pages, it was difficult to put down.

So, my conclusion is that my initial impression of this book was wrong. It is not crap. It is a fantastical story, with so many interwoven tales that add to its richness. I still think that the statement on the inside flap is a bit misleading, even if it is true.

Ballad

After finishing Lament yesterday, I couldn’t wait to read Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie. I had some questions that I wanted answered. Before starting the book, I thought there would be more information on Dee (Deirdre) and Luke. While Ballad does pick up shortly after Lament, it is James Morgan’s story instead. I soon got over my initial disappointment as Maggie Stiefvater’s story quickly enveloped me.

Both James and Dee are now students at Thornking-Ash, a private school for those who excel in music. However, those that have significant musical capabilities also seem to have abilities of another kind, whether it be psychic, supernatural, or just being able to see Them. James and Dee don’t really see each other very often, and when they do, their interactions are strained by the events of the previous summer. James still loves Dee, and Dee still wants Luke. Potentially problematic.

James is unlike the other students, considering that his instrument is pipes. Bagpipes, actually. And Thornking-Ash doesn’t have a piping instructor who is up to snuff. Shortly after his first and only piping lesson, James meets Nuala, a strange girl that inspires music in him. He recognizes the signs, though, and tries to send her on her way, knowing that she is no ordinary human. She is actually a leanan sidhe, a solitary fey, who is more like humans than most other fey. Like a phoenix, she burns and rises from her ashes, every 16 years. She must take human energy to stay alive, and makes deals with young, artistically talented males, trading her muse-like abilities to inspire greatness, for just a few years off their lives. It had been about two months since her last one died, and Nuala was beginning to get hungry. And she wanted James.

Nuala shows James what she can help him to be, helping him compose beautiful music, giving him dreams of such beauty that waking means to suffer. James continues to turn down her offers and refuses to make a deal with her. Eventually, of course, she decides that she does not want to strike a bargain with James, because she does not want to take any years off of his life. She cares too much for him. As she weakens, she becomes more human-like. She can no longer read James’ mind, she can eat human food, and she can no longer see the golden color coming from James, which initially attracted her as it signifies his musical genius. They have been spending more and more time together, and discover that they love each other. It is a first for each of them, as Nuala never knew it was possible for her to love, and James finally recognizes the difference between real love and what he felt for Dee.

Meanwhile, throughout the school year, James, his roommate Paul, probably in addition to a few others, hear music in the late evenings. It is singing coming from a nearby hill. Unable to resist, James makes almost nightly excursions to hear the singing of Cernunnos, the antlered king of the dead. James doesn’t understand the language, but Nuala is able to translate that he is calling the dead to him, as Halloween approaches. Paul hears him sing a list of names of those who will be dead. Both James and Dee are on this list.

This book is told from first-person, alternating primarily between James and Nuala. While Dee doesn’t play too much of a role in the direct telling of the story until near the end, we do get snippets from her as well. Interspersed between a few chapters, there are text messages that Dee writes to James, but then saves them as drafts instead of actually sending them. It is through these brief messages that we learn that Dee has found Luke again, then that it wasn’t really Luke, just one of the fey toying with Dee. She also says she has killed someone, and that she can hear them coming for her. She ends this last text message with “i love u,” a text identical to the last one James sent to her the last summer, before his car wreck.

Nuala is in her sixteenth year, and she knows that she must burn on Halloween in order to continue to live. But she knows that when she rises, she will be a clean slate, with no memories of her previous existences. She wants badly to remember James. The new Faerie Queen, Eleanor, tells James how to make her remember him. He must say her true name seven times, without interruption, as he watches her burn from beginning to end. But Cernunnos has already told James that he will be forced to choose. So, on Halloween night, as James is watching Nuala burn, (and as Nuala is desperately hoping to return as a human), he learns that Dee is in trouble and is going to be killed. Knowing that Dee is the most important, and realizing that Eleanor had wanted him to stay with Nuala only so that he wouldn’t be near Dee, he leaves Nuala’s bonfire.

Dee is the most powerful cloverhand, which means wherever she goes, Faerie must follow. Eleanor is tired of being controlled, so she has stuck a bargain with Cernunnos. He is to choose a successor this year, so Eleanor is planning to unite Faerie and the Dead by giving him one of her choosing. Eleanor has a human consort and has promised him that he will be made a king. She has ripped out his heart and is about to replace it with the heart of the cloverhand. James arrives just in time, before Dee’s heart is removed. But Delia, Dee’s evil human aunt, is there too and is aiding the Queen. James fights back, saving Dee. Cernunnos arrives before Eleanor has a successor for him, but he will give her no more time as he must choose. He wants to choose Dee, or James, but Sullivan, a young teacher, steps in and takes the role, since he is already dying. When he is king, he commands the dead to leave Dee and James alone.

James and Dee rush back to Nuala’s bonfire, where Paul has watched her burn from beginning to end. The three of them dig deep into the hot ashes of the bonfire, with Paul and Dee giving up first. James finally finds her, and pulls her naked, ash covered body from the ground. He gives her his sweatshirt and then hugs her. She seems like she still remembers him, but there isn’t a definite answer.

I really liked this book. It was a cute story, and I was left wanting more. Mainly I wanted to know where Luke was and why he didn’t come back somehow for Dee. It seems a bit unfair that James would get to keep his faerie love and not Dee. And I was happy that Delia got what she deserved too, (death). My only complaint is that I wanted more details, but maybe there will be more books in this series in the future.

Lament

On my last trip to the library a couple of days ago, I browsed the “teen fiction” section and looked for that sticker on the spine of books with the picture of a unicorn, labelled “fantasy.” One such book I found is Lament, by Maggic Stiefvater, subtitled The Faerie Queen’s Deception.

Deirdre Monaghan is a gifted harpist, but due to nerves, she throws up before every performance. At the beginning of the book, the guy from her dreams, Luke Dillon, steps in to hold back her hair during her pre-performance routine. No one else really seems to know Luke, but many people, including her grandmother, find him familiar. Deirdre slowly learns a bit about her stranger, even though he hasn’t, or rather can’t, tell her certain things.

In addition to her musical abilities, Deirdre also has other gifts. She is a cloverhand, or one who is able to see faeries. This is what has caused Luke’s sudden entrance into her life. She finally discovers that he is an assassin, sent by the cruel Faerie Queen, who feels that Deirdre is a threat. But Luke has fallen in love with his prey and now refuses to kill her. And worse, Deirdre also loves him and even seems to forgive him for being a murderer.

As Deirdre’s grandmother, Granna, is working on an herbal concoction that will help keep faeries away, Deirdre’s parents receive a phone call from the hospital. Granna has fallen and is now in a coma. Luke knows the truth, though, and says that They were the ones behind it. Soon, Granna is dead. The next day, after confessing his love in a text message, Deirdre’s best friend, James, has had a terrible car wreck, and the police cannot find his body. There was so much blood that he is assumed to be dead though. Unable to reach Luke, Deirdre goes to the site of the wreck to search for James herself. She tries to call Luke one more time, but instead of hearing his voice answer, she hears his phone ringing, lying in the nearby grass. She finds Luke’s car a short distance away as well. She knows that her best friend and her boyfriend must have been taken by the Faery Queen.

Racing to save those she cares about, Deirdre finds herself in a trap. But both James and Luke are still alive. Armed with the knowledge of her own powers, as well as the Faery Queen’s true name, Deirdre attempts to fight back, even when the odds don’t seem to be in her favor.

I did enjoy this book, and I’m planning to start reading the sequel, Ballad, very soon. The characters were very real, and I enjoyed how Deirdre grew to know herself better and gained confidence throughout the book. The love story did seem a bit rushed, but when dealing with drop-dead gorgeous seductive assassins, I get it. Deirdre didn’t seem to freaked out by everything happening to her and around her, which was a bit unbelievable in itself. Also, I wanted more information. Deirdre’s family history involved the faeries, but there was not a complete back story. I wanted a bit more detail about her mother and aunt, and even Granna for that matter. Maybe more questions will be answered in the sequel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was an entertaining and fast read, and it also answered a question I had about writing about the fey. Apparently, there aren’t as many “rules” to follow as what I originally thought, which is definitely a good thing.