Friday, November 29, 2019

BEAUTY


Review of BEAUTY by SARAH PINBOROUGH
(third in the TALES FROM THE KINDGOMS series)

With BEAUTY you get exactly what’s advertised: a dark twist on familiar fairy tales. For anyone sick of fairy tale twists, well, I don’t expect it’s for you, but for readers like myself who genuinely feel too many fairy tale twists isn’t a thing, this novel a skillful addition to a growing collection of varied perspectives.

The primary fairy tale being retold here is "Sleeping Beauty." However, you will find elements of "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rumpelstiltskin," and "Beauty and the Beast," to name the most prominent influences. Do not forget that these novels are labelled “wicked” retellings. This is no cute, childish spin on sweet little fairy tales, but a dark, sinful twist on the bleaker originals behind the “Disneyed” version.

Aside from twisting fairy tales, I love some of the plot twists worked into this slim novel. The book succeeded in surprising me, and I loved discovering further layers to the interconnectedness of the various tales.

At less than 200 pages, this is a short, satisfying read. Thoroughly engaging and absorbing, I am relieved to say, that rather than a sensation that I lived the story, instead I felt more like I watched this dark tale unfold safely removed from the danger, as though through a magic mirror.

Friday, November 22, 2019

ACROSS THE WALL


Review of ACROSS THE WALL: A TALE OF THE ABHORSEN AND OTHER STORIES by GARTH NIX
(including a story set in the ABHORSEN series)

Garth Nix remains one of my favorite authors, a master of stellar writing and fast-paced plotting that even I, an overanalytical reader, struggle to nitpick. This eclectic collection of stories also showcases his breadth.

The first, and the longest, “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” is set in his ABHORSEN series and epitomizes the gripping action scenes I associate with Nix. Though not a fan of action myself, when Nix writes an action scene I feel glued to the page and invested in every word. This story perhaps especially so. While Nix’s books may have an action scene here or there, this short story breaks into a fast stride early on and doesn’t let up.

I want to call out a few other favorites. “Charlie Rabbit” is about how war affects children and is not fantasy. (Not everything here is; it’s actually quite an eclectic collection of stories that really showcases Nix’s range.) “Lightning Bringer” is right up my alley in terms of taste, but—since it’s so short—difficult to describe without giving too much away; suffice to say I recommend it. “Down to the Scum Quarter” is a very fun, nostalgic experience for anyone familiar with the “Choose Your Own Adventures” books. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, the protagonist is you, second person, and every scene ends with a choice. Based on your selection, you’re directed to a specific page number. Many fans enjoy systemically re-reading to discover every possible ending and route through the book.) I also giggled a lot at “My New Really Epic Fantasy Series,” a humorous satire poking fun at overdone fantasy tropes.

Aside from the stories themselves, I really liked that Nix provides a brief 1-2 page introduction for each story. Especially with such varied pieces, it’s intriguing to read what inspired him for each. It was also amusing to learn how many readers send him emails wondering when his “New Really Epic Fantasy Series” will be published. For at least one piece, “The Hill,” I found the opening—a discussion of cultural appropriation—possibly more interesting than the revised piece itself.

Nix is a solid, consistent writer. I know what to expect from him, and I always enjoy it. While my taste runs more towards the fantasy, he’s a skilled enough writer that I enjoyed reading every piece in this varied collection.
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Friday, November 15, 2019

The Artist’s Way Program: Week 8


The Artist’s Way Program: Week 8, Recovering a Sense of Strength

This is a series of blog posts following my experiences doing Julia Cameron’s 12-week Artist’s Way program. If this series is new to you, feel free to read the original book review first.

Week 8’s theme is “recovering a sense of strength” and focuses on time. We already discussed money and now time is the other big-ticket creative block. Cameron focuses more on age than on making time in our day. “It’s too late.” and “I’m too old.” are some of the most common excuses she hears for avoiding one’s passions.

While I didn’t entirely follow how it connects to the time theme, Cameron also has a long discussion of academia in this chapter. Academia doesn’t have to be but sadly often is an enemy of creativity. I entirely agree with Cameron that the reason this happens is because many academics are blocked creatives themselves. She discusses creative writing programs in particular. While they have a lot of potential for nurturing, many do fall into the stereotype of creatively unfulfilled professors cutting down their students as a way to vent their own frustrations. I majored in Creative Writing and found it more harmful than helpful towards improving my writing and actually pursuing publishing. Also, as a bit of the black sheep creative in a family and extended family consisting almost entirely of academics, I definitely experience an internal struggle of intellect and creativity. Prestige versus passion. Increasingly, I tell myself that these concepts can co-exist, but society certainly tries to tell us otherwise.

As for this week’s assignments, I really enjoyed returning to affirmations, especially now that I’m more open to them than the first time I tried them. I also enjoyed “early patternings,” another fill-in-the-blank exercise, this one focused on parental influence about art and creativity. Last, I appreciated listing twenty things I like doing and then “sorting” them, in a manner of speaking. Which are free and which cost money? Of the latter, are they cheap or expensive? Which are solitary activities and which with company? Are they job related? Is there physical risk?

Writing out my ideal day, while a nice idea, seemed counterproductive for me personally. Since I battle perfectionism, I avoid synonyms like “ideal,” too. Giving myself an ideal day sounds wonderful, but the minute my day doesn’t go exactly according to my carefully crafted plan, the day is ruined, no longer ideal anymore. This is the all-or-nothing thinking I’m working hard to disengage. So rather than planning some single perfect day, I think I would rather take elements of what I like and scatter them throughout my life. Balance, balance, balance!

I missed morning pages one day this week. First time that’s happened. My partner returned, bright and early, from a long trip and I was so excited to spend time with him that I entirely forgot about my pages. However, this week’s check-in asked if I’m tempted to abandon the pages and…not at all! I really like them now. I also started a file this week listing a plethora of artist date ideas. I like Cameron’s suggestion of doing two artist dates in one week as a special treat.

Part of why Cameron’s program reminds me so much of mindfulness is that she emphasizes moderation. We often decide we don’t have time for something when we think too big, but sometimes we can work it into our lives on a smaller scale, even possibly expand from there as we grow more familiar with it. Yes, there’s never enough time in the day, but more importantly it’s never too late.
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Friday, November 8, 2019

THE GLASS CASTLE


Review of THE GLASS CASTLE by JEANETTE WALLS

Several people recommended this book to me over the years, but they recommended it generally: it’s a good, popular book. When someone finally recommended it to me personally—it’s about a complex, dysfunctional childhood and you, Rachel, will relate—then I immediately made time for it. What a read. While I experienced my own dysfunctional childhood, Walls made me hyper aware that it could have been a lot worse. Ah, perspective.

However, I think I related to the complexity more than the dysfunction. I’ve read plenty of survivor stories detailing the writer’s specific trauma. Something Walls touches on that makes everything more poignant and real is that her childhood wasn’t all bad. Oh, there was plenty bad. But along with lighting her dress on fire and falling out a moving car, Walls also remembers the adventure, the creativity, and the knowledge.

The chapters are very short, a few pages each dedicated to specific memories that all piece together into a startlingly unique family portrait. I find myself both impressed and entirely unsurprised by Walls’ factual, detached tone regarding such personal subject matter; there is no doubt that detachment became a survival skill for her. By focusing on events over emotions, she leaves plenty of room for empathy, letting us imagine how we might feel if each memory happened to us. (See my opening paragraph about the wonders of perspective.)

I cannot imagine how Walls “summarizes” her family in conversation, if she does, beyond a vague, evasive “it’s complicated.” I like to imagine her handing this book to anyone who asks.
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Friday, November 1, 2019

CHARM


Review of CHARM by SARAH PINBOROUGH
(second in the TALES FROM THE KINGDOMS series)

Like any fairy tale retelling, this one comes alive with distinct, dynamic characters. Pinborough interweaves allusions to several well-known tales, but the primary storyline here is “Cinderella.”

All of the characters feel familiar, believable, and their own twist on more typical interpretations. Though shoved unfairly into a servitude role, this Cinderella is no Mary Sue saint. She’s vain and materialistic, and daydreams of the day when she has her believed due and can lord her power over those who once made her feel powerless. The stepmother, while indeed cruel, is clearly driven by bitterness. She married for love, but it cost her wealth and status and some days she doesn’t know if it was worth it. As for the stepsisters, one is already well married off while the other is kind, but – as Cinderella observes – not pretty enough for the marriage prospects her mother entertains for her.

This is a short book, at 187 pages, so no surprise I’m writing a short review. I find readers rather split on fairy tale retellings. Some have had enough of them, no matter how original, while others can never get enough. I fall into the latter category, but I do want every version I read to feel slightly different. CHARM stands out with complex and unexpected portrayals of familiar characters. I would happily gobble up dozens more of these satisfying twists.
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