tension and spark

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

My flight trip paperback of choice during my weekend away from it all was Kristen Callihan’s Firelight, which was just the right size for my +1 personal item restriction :). Everyone else on the flight had their e-reader or ipad but I rocked it old school. Yep. Mostly because I didn’t want to deal with charging the nook while on vacation. I’m a lazy technology owner. But back to the book…

Firelight is part of a genre that has really caught my attention: historical paranormal romance. Historical? I love a good historical novel. Paranormal? Like that too, in good measure. Romance? It’s the best kind of “trashy” fun. All in one? My mind explodes. Firelight manages to do all this in an unexpected way. While many of the books in this genre focus on the traditional vampire/werewolf/fair folk/other legendary creature of choice, Callihan introduces a different “monster,” something more akin to Frankenstein (yes, the doctor not the creature) than Dracula.

The novel begins with a chance encounter between Miranda Ellis, daughter of a destitute merchant who just happens to have a particular talent at starting fires, and the dread Lord Archer, a man who hides behind a mask lest he reveal the horror that he has become. Of course, damaged Archer is hot, as is the spritely Miranda. Insta lust with a Beauty and the Beast twist. Unable to stop thinking about Miranda, Archer (who was about to exact his revenge on Miranda’s father before he met the intriguing daughter) comes to an agreement with Ellis–Miranda will be betrothed to him but must agree to the marriage of her own free will. See, Beauty and the Beast. They do marry and a great dynamic is formed between the couple as they come to learn each other’s secrets and admire one another’s tenacity. When a sinister murderer with links to Archer’s mystery ailment threatens to destroy the life claimed, Archer and Miranda must come to terms with their own dark pasts in order to safeguard their future.

A few cliches at the start of the novel, mostly involving the insta lust factor and a somewhat heavy-handed effort to assure the reader that the story is set in Victorian England, pea-soupers and all, soon gave way to a character-driven novel that established a true, companionate relationship between its sexy yet guilt-ridden protagonists. Neither Miranda nor Archer are innocents in this novel and that makes for an excellent connection between the two, one that adds to the overall suspense of the novel as they each try to keep their secrets while trying to make something of their marriage. Secrets are a major part of the plot, more so than the murders that drive the two together. Archer’s ailment is revealed in degrees as Miranda searches for a reason behind the murderer’s seeming desire to frame Archer. That Archer was once a scientist on a quest for immortality adds to the Frankestein-esque, man overreaching the boundaries of humanity, theme of the novel.

A prequel novella, Ember, adds further depth to the characters, though it reads more as an accompaniment to the novel rather than an introduction to it, and does a good job of addressing a few of the details that I found lacking in the plot (especially with regards to Miranda’s history and ability).

It’s an interesting world that Callihan has created and one that I want to spend some more time in.

Last post of 2010

Goddess of the Rose by PC Cast

Mikado “Mikki” Empousai has always had a special affinity with roses, as did her mother and grandmother. When she starts to have tantalizing dreams about a mystery lover, she starts to wonder if it’s the result of loneliness and an overactive imagination, or something more.  It doesn’t help that her dream man bears a striking resemblance to the mythical beast statue that guards the local rose garden. Little does Mikki realize that it’s a sign of a change to come, an awakening that brings her close to her true destiny and challenges her concept of dreams and reality.

I picked this book up on a whim at the used paperback store by my old job. The cover was a bit more sensual than the kind of covers that usually pique my interest, but I was intrigued when I read the blurb and realized that it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling.

I have mixed feeling about the novel itself… I found the concept original. The plot draws on Greek mythology and casts the Beast as the misunderstood Minotaur who guards Hecate’s Realm of the Rose, the place where the mundane world’s dreams are made. Mikki is portrayed as a strong, determined woman willing to chase her dreams, while the Beast is presented as a creature who is well aware of his position as a man-beast. The magickal elements also seemed a natural part of the world created by Cast. However, I had some trouble with the prose. I’m very particular about my idea of romance, dialog, and description when it comes to sex in literature, and the language just fell short in my opinion.

True North

Edith Pattou’s East first came to my attention when I was browsing through the very small YA section of my university’s library. After writing my thesis on “Beauty and the Beast,” I became fascinated by the many versions of the tale and the retellings thereof. I had never heard of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” until a fellow lit student mentioned it; I was just starting my research for my thesis and was immersing myself in every version of the “Beauty and the Beast” that I could find. East is Pattou’s extraordinary retelling of the Norse fairy tale.

East begins with the mysterious contents of a box found in an old attic. The discovery reveals a series of objects and a selection of writings–a record of a most fantastical journey to the ends of the world and beyond.

Eugenia knows that she will have seven children, as surely as she knows that the sun will rise in the east. One child for each point of the compass rose, except North. Her husband does not put much stock in her superstitious beliefs regarding birth-directions, but he humors his wife and shares in the joys of family life; what does it matter the direction a child is facing when they are born? Seven children are born and Eugenia’s wish is met, until one of the girls is lost. There must be an East in the family and Eugenia will do whatever she must to ensure that this is so, even lie.

Ebba Rose, Ebba for East, is born to replace Elise. She knows this and finds it difficult to replace her patient, East-born sister when she feels a constant restlessness and desire for adventure. Rose dreams of the adventures that she will have in the company of her imaginary white-bear, but what if the adventure is more than a dream?

Rose’s tale is told by five distinct voices: Rose, her brother Neddy, her father, the White Bear, and the Troll Queen, each adding a different perspective to the narrative. The voices blend together seamlessly to add depth to the tale, resulting in what is one of the best fairy tale retellings I have read since Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Rose Daughter.

Rose is a brave and strong-willed heroine, her character developing as she journeys to the frozen north on a quest to find the land that does not exist. The story is comparable to Cupid and Psyche, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Beauty and the Beast. The combination of myth and realism make Rose’s tale stand out as a sort of history of events; the reader almost imagines that these events might have happened.

From beginning to end, I was enchanted by the novel and could not put it down! I was almost sad to reach the end and know that the story was over, but like the best of fairy tales, I know that this is a story that I will return to again and again.

My copy of East was a gift from Amanda of The Zen Leaf during the Book Lovers Secret Santa gift exchange.

tale as old as time

Since I decided to writer my master’s thesis on “Beauty and the Beast”, I’ve become something of an expert on the tale and its retellings. There are so many versions of this story, both old and new, that it’s a bit overwhelming. In fact, when I first blogged about it, a little over a year ago, I received so many recommendations (novels, movies, folk tale versions) that I’m still trying to get through the list of titles.

However, despite all my research, I had never found any mention of Nancy Willard and Barry Moser’s illustrated version of “Beauty and the Beast”. Actually, I found it by chance while searching for a copy of Pippi Longstocking in the tiny juvenile section (a corner really) of the university’s library.

Beauty and the Beast Based on Madame de Beaumont’s version of the tale (the most well-known version of the story and the one that most retellings and movies are based on), Willard locates the story in late nineteenth century New York, where a shipping tycoon and his three daughters–Vanessa (Vanity), Mona (Money), and Beauty–lead lives of luxury until their father’s latest business venture fails and results in their ruin. Moving into a cottage in the country, the two older sisters make Beauty do all the work, while they whine and complain about their misfortune. The rest of the story follows the same familiar pattern, Beauty’s father hears that one of his lost ships has returned to the city and so goes to collect his earnings. Before leaving, he asks his daughters what gifts the would like from the city. The two eldest daughters ask for jewels and furs, while Beauty only asks for a rose. And everyone knows what happens next.

Moser’s woodblock engravings add a darker feel to the story and Willard’s subtle exploration of vanity, materialism, and inner beauty add depth to an otherwise simple tale.

Though out of print, this seems to be the kind of old book that is always available in libraries and makes for a nice, quick read.