Saturday, November 23, 2013

Review: The Ordinary Princess

I took some time last night to read the The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. This book has been on my TBR list for some quite time now. I decided I wanted a lighthearted quick read and I figured what better book? 


Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne of Phantasmorania is given the unexpected gift of "ordinariness" by her fairy godmother, Crustacea. The young princess grows into a gawky youth with an upturned nose, a smattering of freckles, and a mop of uninspiring mouse brown hair - quite different than her six graceful, golden haired sisters.

Amy (as she comes to be called) is, however, cheerful, brave, witty and charming and soon realizes she can have much more fun than her prim and proper sisters are allowed. Amy spends her days exploring the forest of Faraway while her parents puzzle over what is to become of her.

Prince after prince come to court Amy, only to unceremoniously back out when they see her very ordinary features. Amy's parents finally conspire to hire a dragon to lay waste to the countryside. Any prince who can slay the dragon will earn Amy's hand in marriage, at which point he'll be in too deep to refuse her. Amy learns of this plan and, quite put off by the whole affair, decides to run away to live in the forest of Faraway.

Amy lives quite happily in the forest but eventually realizes her dress is in tatters. She meets Crustacea who tells her that ordinary people get jobs when they find themselves wanting for something. Amy sets off towards the nearest town in search of work and becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid in the palace. It is here that she meets the charming Peregrine, a man of all work, who turns out to be just as ordinary as she is.

My Thoughts

This was an adorable little book. It was a pleasantly quick read and had the feel of a traditional fairytale. The story moves along at a nice pace and doesn't dawdle on unnecessary details.

The illustrations, done by the author, are wonderful! They add so much to the story and are just so sweet and magical.

The message of this story is, of course, that looks are not everything. A princess's best assets needn't be her blue eyes or her golden hair. There are princes out there waiting for even the most ordinary of princesses.

I've seen some reviews argue that Amy is too perfect, too good, too clever, too charming. I suppose she is but insisting on making a fuss over this only serves to diminish the overall message here... Are these not traits to be glorified? What's wrong with being witty or brave?

Yes, perhaps Amy would have been more realistic if she were jaded with envy and lacked courtly grace but let's be reasonable. This is a pleasant story about a kindhearted princess who must find her own happiness in a world that primarily values beauty. This is not a story of an embittered princess who must come to terms with her shortcomings. 

In Closing

Characters: Simple but relatable.
Resolutions: Satisfying if predictable.
Plot: An interesting twist on traditional fairytale princesses.
Writing Quality: Very good, an easy read.
Lasting Impact: Strong.

Rating: ★★★★✰  4/5 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

I've been trudging through The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe for the past week or so. It's actually a very easy read, I just didn't like it so it took me a bit of time to force myself to finish it. Curious? Read on.


Connie, a Harvard graduate student working on her doctoral dissertation, finds herself tasked with the massive undertaking of cleaning and readying her deceased grandmother's house so that it can be sold. It is here that she finds, tucked within a seventeenth-century Bible, a mysterious key and a scrap of paper bearing the name Deliverance Dane.

Connie discovers that Deliverance Dane was in fact a previously unknown Salem Witch and, what's more, she kept a physick book of spells that could prove invaluable as a primary source for her dissertation and change the way scholars ultimately view witchcraft. However, the clock is ticking and Connie soon realizes she's not the only one with an interest in the book.

My Thoughts

This book seemed promising enough. New England setting, witches, history, a level headed grad student who must unravel a mystery.... Sounds safe, right? Truth be told, however, this book was incredibly disappointing.

For most of the book we follow Connie as she attempts to track down Deliverance Dane's physick book. She does this by combing public records and archives. She discovers Deliverance was a witch and, by looking at property ledgers and wills, she tracks the physick book only to discover it was right under her nose the entire time. Oh, how convenient and unsatisfying!

Intermittently we see flashbacks from the point of view of Deliverance and her ancestors. These are very tantalizing bits of the story but, ultimately, really add nothing to the plot as Connie is obviously not privy to any of this knowledge.

Also, I assume I'm to believe Connie is your average grad student. They must be setting the bar pretty low because this girl sure is thick. The amount of time it takes her to put two and two together is alarming. I'm not willing to believe it can written off as a convenient character trait – for instance her initial unwillingness to believe in anything that challenges her narrow university way of thinking. I'm not an unusually intelligent reader, so the only remaining possibility is that Howe is simply a poor writer.

This book really just putters along a very narrow and uninspired path. Every twist and turn is easily predicted, nothing really happens, the big tense conclusion ends with a “gotcha!” moment and Connie goes on to write a great dissertation and lives happily ever after. The end. Boring.

There's a number of points in the book that the author seems to fixate on, only to push them off to the side while the reader realizes they really weren't important elements after all. This, to me, is frustrating and shows poor planning. Why treat it as an important piece of the puzzle if it ultimately doesn't fit? Why not work it in? Why not replace it with a substitute or at least make the realization that the object is meaningless at least play back into the plot somehow? I feel Howe tried. I really do. She attempts to squeeze some of these bits back in but it's awkward, forced.

If you want to read this one I won't stop you. However, I would certainly never go out of my way to recommend this to anyone. It's contrived, boring, unimaginative and very bland. 

In Closing

Characters: Average.
Resolutions: Convenient.
Plot: Contrived.
Writing Quality: Good, heavily descriptive.
Dialog: Fair.
Lasting Impact: Forgettable.

Rating: ★★★✰✰  3/5

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off below!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The BBC's Jonthan Strange & Mr Norrell

Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;
The first shall be governed by thieves and murderers; the second shall conspire at his own destruction;
The first shall bury his heart in a dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache;
The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand.
The first shall pass his life alone; he shall be his own gaoler;
The second shall tread lonely roads, the storm above his head, seeking a dark tower upon a high hillside.

If you're at all familiar with Susanna Clarke's masterful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell then you already know fans have long been vying for a screen adaptation. Subtle magic, British sensibilities, fairy enhancement? Come on. We need this!

In 2004, New Line Cinema paid a hefty sum for the rights to product a film adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The plans puttered about until the studio merged with Warner Brothers in 2008. After which point the project lost steam, leaving fans uncertain as to whether or not we'd ever see this adaptation realized.

Luckily, on 30 November 2012, the BBC announced its plans to turn this book into a six-part mini series. The series is being directed by Toby Haynes (whose past works include episodes of Dr. Who and Sherlock). Filming is already underway.

As for the cast, I can say I'm very satisfied! Let's take a look, shall we? I've even constructed an image so you can easily put a face to these names.

Eddie Marsan - Mr Norrell
Bertie Carvel - Jonathan Strange
Charlotte Riley - Arabella
Alice Englert - Lady Pole
Marc Warren - The Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair
Enzo Cilenti - Childermass
Samuel West - Sir Walter Pole
Ariyon Bakare - Stephen Black
Paul Kaye - Vinculus

What do you think? Like the cast? Hate it? Would you have chosen different actors? I was a bit iffy at first but at this point I'm pleased with the casting decisions. I can't make a final judgement without seeing everyone in character. 

Needless to say, I am looking forward to seeing this! From the very beginning I had hoped the BBC would get their hands on this. Who better?

Will you be watching? 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wonders by SJ Tucker

You may call my truest name and fling it to the floor,
but ticks and tocks from broken clocks can't hurt me anymore.
Let’s be done with fairytales and how they’re meant to end.
The truth is that I lost my way and found it here again 

It's no secret that my favorite author is Catherynne M. Valente. She's absolutely amazing. Few authors have moved me like she has. In truth, it was her work that reignited my love of reading. She showed me that some books still hold wonders unimaginable - that some books are still worth losing yourself to.

So imagine my delight when I discovered Wonders by SJ Tucker, a beautiful collection of music inspired by Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I cannot stop listening to this album! There's truly something on here for everyone - from the haunting "Glashtyn Shanty" to the yearning "For Iago". You'll even find Valente's own lullaby, "Little Skylark".

You can give this album a listen for free by visiting SJ Tucker's site: here. Love it as much as I do? Purchase it and take this collection with you on your adventures.

Have you found any music inspired by books you love? Sound off and tell me your favorites!