On the Shelf: Winter by Marissa Meyer

FINALLY, the conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Lunar Chronicles series.  This book was released on my birthday and it was one of my favorite gifts.

This post contains spoilers.

winter-finalMy rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

To answer the question in the summary: Yes they can.

I knew that these books would tie up neatly.  The tone in which they are written doesn’t imply defeat.  It was clear that all would end well, that Cinder would cast down Levana and reclaim the the Lunar throne.  I knew that the four couples would get together.

But, oh, how I loved the ride.

The thing about this series is that it’s not perfect.  To be honest, the characterization is patchy at points.  I like most of the male characters, but some of the heroines *cough*Scarlet*cough* are boring.  The plot tends to be predictable.

But what Meyer does is create a world and enjoyable that is so original that I can’t help overlook the weak points.  I loved my time in these books.  There are a lot of dystopian YA worlds out there and while the way her Earth is structured is similar to many of its contemporaries, the existence of Luna makes hers unique.  I mean, she’s got a society of magical aliens who can manipulate people’s minds who live on the moon!  How cool is that?

I adore the way Meyer merges dystopian lit with fairytales.  She balances them well.  Throughout the series, we see familiar moments: Cinderella losing her shoe, Red Riding Hood searching for her grandmother, Rapunzel escaping her tower, Snow White eating a poisoned apple.  But they’re morphed: Cinder is a cyborg and loses a foot and Cress is a computer-hacker and escapes a satellite.  Meyer strikes a wonderful balance between reteling stories from long ago while creating something new.  She has the hallmark moments, but those moments don’t overwhelm the story.  It’s almost as if the story pauses over the moments, acknowledges the source material, and then pulses forward into something entirely new.

While some of her characters get old, the rest are incredibly endearing.  Cinder is probably my favorite.  For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella retelling and Meyer’s princess has stolen my heart.  I mean… she’s a cyborg mechanic!  How cool is that?  She meets the fairytale requirements, but also throws them off entirely.  I also really love Carsewell Thorne, the dashing, obnoxious thief who is the hero of the third installment of the series.  Cress is timid to the point of being annoying, but definitely grew on me.  I couldn’t help love Winter and Jacin’s relationship.  Iko, though, remained one of my favorite characters.  Even though she’s an android, she is incredibly human.  She’s the perfect companion for Cinder, matching Cinder’s quiet intensity with her bubbly charm.  More than once, her swooning and sighing over attractive men and beautiful fashion made me laugh out loud.

I won’t go too far into revealing plot details, but the story doesn’t disappoint.  Characters are constantly coming together and becoming separated, various storylines weaving together towards the final conclusion.  The final showdown between Cinder and Levanna is extremely satisfying.  The happily-ever-after wraps up all the loose ends.

When I reached the end of Winter, all I wanted to do was go back and read the series again.  Meyer’s fairytale retellings are endearing, successful, and I know they will grow on me the more time I spend with them.

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Fan art by candy8496 on DeviantArt

Be sure to check out my review of Fairest: Levanna’s Story as well!

On the Shelf: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marilier

Because I’m not quite ready to discuss Bleak House (which I finished last night), this week I’ll be revisiting another old favorite–one of Juliet Marillier’s few forays into YA lit.

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads | Amazon

Summary: High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.
But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.
When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

My Thoughts:

This was a book that I read in one sitting my first time through and loved so much that I proceeded to read it two more times in a row.  I adore the way Marillier combines The Frog Prince and The Twelve Dancing Princesses with Romanian folklore.  If you, like me, are a sucker for fairy tale retellings, this one is top-notch.

I purchased this audiobook several years ago and have listened to it countless times since.  Last week, I picked it up for another go-around.

You may be wondering, though… if I profess to love it so much, why give it such a low rating?  Let me explain… I decided to give the story a 3.5 mainly because I’ve grown up since I fell in love with this book.  I don’t see the world the way I did when I was sixteen–and, frankly, some of the romance in this story is hard to believe.  For the majority of the book, the main love story exists between Tatiana (the eldest sister) and Sorrow, a man from the Other Kingdom.  As I listened to their romance unfold, all I could do was roll my eyes–mainly because Tati is underdeveloped and boring, making her hard to relate to.  This is countered well by Jena’s love story, but I won’t go into ’cause I don’t want to spoil too many things.

I’ve always loved the protagonist of the novel, though.  Jena is intelligent, capable, and willing to go to any lengths to protect and preserve those she loves.  This time through, I kept wondering… what is her Meyers-Briggs type?  I normally don’t try to figure this out about characters, but Jena has always left such a lasting impression that I couldn’t help pin her as a ISTJ.  (Full personality description here)  After doing some digging, I realized that my prediction was spot-on.  Jena is ruled by her sense of duty and follows common sense without fail.  One of her main areas of growth is learning to trust her instincts and learn to go by her feelings, not by logic.  This struggle is a real one–there are times when I want to reach into the book and shake her.  She learns her lessons slowly, which is frustrating because things would be so much better for everyone if she just stopped over thinking herself.  All in all, Jena is an enjoyable character to spend time with and, above all else, her growth is the most interesting.

Marillier is one of my favorite fantasy writers–I’ll read anything published with her name on it.  Even though my original zeal for this book has faded with age, it’s one that I know I’ll always return to.

Sample Quote:

“Death is final. The felling of trees is final. What we ask of you is simply the recognition of change, Jena. Yours is a world of constant change. You must learn to change, too. You spend a great deal of time worrying about others: trying to put their lives right, trying to shape your world as you believe it should be. You must learn to trust your instincts, or you are doomed to spend your life blinded by duty while beside you a wondrous tree sprouts and springs up and buds and blooms, and your heart takes no comfort from it, for you cannot raise your eyes to see it.”

You Will Like This Book If: You love fairy tales, cute romance, folklore, and vampires

Stop by next week for my thoughts on Bleak House by Charles Dickens!

Sketchbook Corner (Watercolor Edition)

Or shall I say… Watercolor Corner?

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was a set of new watercolors from my little brother.  For the past few months, I’ve been scraping by on an eight-tint Crayola set that is five years old.  Yuck.  The new set has a massive array of colors and when I combine it with the big set of brushes I got for my birthday, I’m capable of achieving so much more with my paint.

I’ve been exploring some different techniques/subjects, which has been a blast.  Since this is a watercolor-only edition of SK and I’ve put a lot of thought and time into all these works, let’s take things one by one…

(Please excuse the crappy image quality)

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These mountains were the first thing I painted upon receiving my new paint.  I gave this one to my best friend as a belated Christmas gift.

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I had a blast painting this sunflower on Christmas day.  I gave it to my summer partner, Eva, (who loves yellow).

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This is my amateur attempt at capturing The Lonely Mountain from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  It took forever to paint–so many layers!  I rewatched one of the films while I painted, staying up WAY too late to finish.  But, gosh, am I pleased with the result!  I loved it so much I sent it home with my older brother, who shares my love of Tolkien.

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Okay, so the picture quality is REALLY crappy here.  It looks much better in person.  This was my first real attempt at painting people since getting the new brushes and paint.  I originally started out doing lots of people (see previous Sketchbook Corners for examples), but it was difficult with only one brush to work with.  I started this one on a whim–the basic sketch took only a couple minute.  I finished her up at a sleepover, which was actually pretty challenging as I had to balance the paints on my friend’s couch while avoiding her over-excited pomeranians.

Did this one last night as well.  I wanted to experiment more with painting people, and I'm quite pleased with the result!  I've been reading several YA fairytale retellings, so I imagine she's either Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or has a story of her own.

I painted this last night while watching the premiere of Marvel’s Agent Carter with my mother. I wanted to experiment more with painting people, and I’m quite pleased with the result! I’ve been reading several YA fairytale retellings, so I imagine she’s either Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or has a story of her own.

Finally…

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This took FOREVER.  I did the background and sketches of the trees before New Years and didn’t pick it back up until last night.  The details on the trees took what felt like hours.  And yes… it’s inspired by a Taylor Swift song.  (My favorite on her 1989 album).  Painting all the black got annoying and adding words with white felt like a risk, but I’m definitely pleased with the result!

That’s all for this edition of Sketchbook Corner!  Check by in a few weeks to see what else my hands come up with.  If you haven’t seen them, do look at my previous SK posts and see how I’ve improved!

Also, because I’m curious… What painting is your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Progressive fairy tales

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always loved a good Cinderella adaptation.  It’s one of the most popular, well-known fairytales.  I’m fascinated by the amount of ways people can tell the same story over and over and still breathe new life into it.

Can we stop for a moment and appreciate the fact that this movie exists?

As a kid, I was obsessed with this movie.  I’d rent the VHS from our local video store countless times.  When the video store went out of business, I asked for the DVD for Christmas.  It took three years of asking for my parents to finally indulge me.

It’s not only a retelling of the classic fairytale, but a re-rendering of the classic Rogers & Hammerstein musical, complete with a handful of brand new songs.  When I was younger, I loved the romance.  I liked the pretty dresses, the over-the-top characters, and garish colors.

Now that I’m older, the movie has taken on new significance.  Yes, I still love all the cheesy parts.  But I’m starting to realize just how progressive the movie is.  Hailing from 1997, it was a Disney-sponsored production that features only four white characters (the stepmother, stepdaughter, king, and Lionel).  The main couple is African American and Asian.  And there is no racial stereotyping, no odd excuses for such casting choices.  They’re treated as any other couple in any other movie like this.  I think it’s fantastic.

Is there a fairy tale adaptation you’re head-over-heels in love with?  Tell me about it in the comments!