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I’ve just finished a couple of books.  The first one, Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison, was pretty good.  This book is fairy tale-ish along the lines of Snow White.  But instead of re-telling the fairy tale, the story follows the wicked queen’s magic mirror.  The story begins with two peasant girls, apprentices to a local witch.  The girls think of themselves as sisters but the first sister only seems to care about beauty.  She becomes more and more power-hungry and evil, eventually trapping her sister in a mirror. 

The rest of the book is about the mirror’s journey.  Not just her physical journey, but her emotional one, too—how she enters the lives of two other girls and as she helps to change them, she herself changes and learns what love is. 

I found the writing in this book quite good.  It flowed very well and it must have been hard to show everything from the point of view of a wood-and-glass mirror that has to be carried everywhere, but it was wonderfully done and didn’t feel contrived for the most part.  The story was fascinating and made me want to keep reading.  The characters seemed real and fun and interesting.  The mirror’s gradual change in feelings and beliefs was done pretty well; there were only a few spots where I was pulled out of the story to think, “Where did that come from?  That was sudden.”

When I finished the last page last night I closed the book, puzzled.  It was not a very satisfying conclusion.  Yes, there’s redemption and a form of happiness, I suppose.  But it felt very rushed and not complete.  I wanted to see much more of Mira, after all her long years of waiting. 

Final grade: B+

 

Deeper by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

I also (finally) finished Deeper this week.  It’s a sequel to Tunnels, which I read last year and found very different, boring in some parts, and quite scary/freaky in a lot of ways.  I was interested enough to read the sequel, I guess.  These books follow two teenage boys who stumble upon a mysterious Victorian society deep under the streets of London.  In Deeper, the boys go…where else?…deeper underground, many miles below the surface of the earth.  They encounter strange plants, animals, giant bugs, lots of dirt and dust, really evil bad guys, and a plot to take over the earth.

It took me a really long time to read this book…nearly two months.  That’s because I found a large part of it really boring.  It’s far too long, for one thing—I love long books if the story is a page-turner, like Harry Potter.  I can’t get enough.  But for this book, most of it felt like all they did for several hundred pages was wander around in the dark, exploring yet another dusty, hot tunnel.  643 pages of this can get pretty old.  I think I only kept plodding through it because after 300 pages I thought, “I can’t bear to waste all the time I already spent…I might as well finish.”  So I’d read in brief, 10-minute stints.  The characters are okay, but really annoying at times, and they do things that don’t really make a lot of sense.  They’re not completely believable.   The authors also seem to have a goal to be as gross as they possibly can…gory stuff, really disgusting stuff, they don’t seem to care as long as it’s nasty.  Perhaps they think this really appeals to teenage boys?

That said, though, it did get more exciting toward the end, and I’ll probably force myself to read Freefall, the next book, when it is published in the U.S.  (It’s already available in the U.K.)  I do feel vaguely interested in the fate of the characters.  But if you have to “force yourself” to read something, that kind of speaks for itself.

Final grade: C+

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Every time I finish a book (and that’s quite often…I usually read two or three novels a week), I write a review in my head.  It’s not even conscious—I just automatically re-play the best scenes and tell myself what I liked or didn’t like.  I always intend to write down the reviews but never actually get around to it.  Soon the finer points of the book fade from my memory as I read the next story.

Today I’m actually going to do it.  I recently read two pairs of books that were quite alike in some ways, and perfect for contrasting and comparing in reviews. 

The first pair is a sort of Regency-era historical romance type, kind of like Jane Austen. 

                                

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle was the first one I read.  Here’s a summary from Marissa’s website:

In 1837 England, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers.  And certainly not careers in magic.

Twins Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are anticipating their first London season with mixed feelings.  Pen can’t wait for the balls and parties and crowds of handsome young men to flirt with, but Persy would far rather stay home with their governess, Ally, and continue her magic studies.  The only thing drawing her to London is the prospect of seeing Princess Victoria, her and Pen’s idol.

But then Ally disappears from a busy London street and the twins are drawn into searching for her…and find that her disappearance is linked to a dastardly plot to enchant the soon-to-be Queen.  Persy also discovers that a good lady’s maid is hard to find, that one should never cast a love spell on anyone after drinking too much brandy punch at a party, that pesky little brothers can sometimes come in handy, and that even boys who were terrible teases when they were twelve can mysteriously turn into the most perfect young men.

Sounds fun, yes?  It was.  It was a nice, light book, fun and Austen-y without much to detract from the story.  The characters were fairly realistic; the author did a good job portraying Regency girls but making them relatable to modern girls, too.  The story/plot was engaging and moved along at a good pace once the book got going after the first couple of chapters.  I liked the magic.  As a fan of both fantasy and Jane Austen, this book had just the right touches of each.  It was a lot of fun. 

The cover is beautiful, though the girl resembles Kiera Knightley and has quite a lot of makeup, and the title is appropriate.  I really liked the historical details and the plot about Princess Victoria and Sir John.  It was so interesting, in fact, that it prompted me to do some reading and research about Victoria and John to find out the whole story about that point in Victoria’s life.  You hear a lot about “Queen Victoria” but not a lot about when she was young.

I read this book a few months ago so the details are a bit hazy, but I think the main criticism I had was that it took a little while to get into the story.

 

Next, here’s The Season by Sarah MacLean.  Here’s the summary from her website:

Alexandra Stafford and her two closest friends, Vivi and Ella, weren’t much looking forward to the London Season of 1815…but, between dress fittings, glittering balls, a murder that only they can solve, and the little fact that Alex’s heart is very much in danger of being stolen…this is one season that is shaping up to be unforgettable!

It’s funny how similar the titles of these two books are.  The cover of this one was not very appealing to me—the girls look very fake and made-up with very modern gown fabric, especially the blond one.  She looks like she belongs on a teen drama TV show.  I was fully willing to give it a chance, though, and plunged right in.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very fun swim.  The book makes a good attempt to portray a loving and deep friendship between the three girls, but it was very lacking for me.  Alex’s two best friends really didn’t serve much purpose to the story at all…they were very similar and mostly sounded like an echo of Alex, the protagonist, when they could’ve been an effective counterpoint to her crazy ideas and whims.  Alex herself was very annoying.  She spouted off constantly about her political and historical views to anyone who would listen.  Her friends joined her.  I understand the author’s intent, I think—to show that this trio of girls wasn’t your typical husband-hunting Regency socialite, that they have thoughts and opinions and are free-thinkers—but it really didn’t work very well.  I found myself annoyed by all three of them but especially Alex.

Another thing that didn’t particularly work was the romance.  The author spent so much time setting Alex up as a guy-hater who wasn’t interested in marriage and thought “the season” of balls and parties a total waste of time…yet suddenly, she’s in love?  It wasn’t very believable.  I do believe that stories of this sort can work if the author is careful, but in this case, it didn’t work.  The love interest was likable enough but I didn’t feel very drawn-in to their relationship. 

The characters were all pretty flat.  The touch of mystery was ok but not very consistent or making me want to keep turning pages.  I also really didn’t like the slang and very modern-American-way of talking the characters had at times.  It kept pulling me out of the novel and the time period.  

I much preferred Bewitching Season in this pair and would recommend it as a good, fun read. 

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I just read on Twitter tonight that there’s a *yearly contest for the worst first sentence in a fake novel.  W-O-W, there are some howlers!  I gasped and choked and snorted until, breathless with laughter, I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to read one to my husband—it was the Spiderman entry that put me over the edge.  Here are my favorites:

 

Detective Pierson mentally reviewed the group of suspects milling around the recent crime scene-two young siblings eating gingerbread, a young girl in a red hoodie, a beautiful girl with narcolepsy, and seven little people with the profession of miners-then gave his statement of "It’s a grim tale" to the press.

Shannon Gray
Wichita, KS

 

No man is an island, so they say, although the small crustaceans and the bird which sat impassively on Dirk Manhope’s chest as he floated lazily in the pool would probably disagree.

Glen Robins
Brighton, East Sussex, U.K.

 

Towards the dragon’s lair the fellowship marched — a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from "Lord of the Rings."

Andrew Manoske
Foster City, CA

 

On a fine summer morning during the days of the Puritans, the prison door in the small New England town of B—-n opened to release a convicted adulteress, the Scarlet Letter A embroidered on her dress, along with the Scarlet Letters B through J, a veritable McGuffey’s Reader of Scarlet Letters, one for each little tyke waiting for her at the gate.

Joseph Aspler
Kirkland, QC, Canada

 

Mortimer froze in his tracks; the rhythmic clicking on the stones of the path (well . . . not really a clicking sound so much as a kind of clinking sound, more like the noise made by shaking a charm bracelet filled with Disney characters to a salsa beat) made him suddenly realize he had forgotten to buckle one of his galoshes.

Rick Cheeseman
Waconia, MN

 

He slowly ran his fingers through her long black hair, which wasn’t really black because she used Preference by L’Oreal to color it (because "she was worth it"); her carrot-colored roots were starting to show, and it reminded him of the time he’d covered his car’s check engine light with black electrical tape, but a faint orange glow still shone around the edges.

Lisa Mileusnich
Willoughby, OH

 

Their relationship hit a bump in the road, not the low, graceful kind of bump, reminiscent of a child’s choo choo train-themed roller coaster, rather the kind of tall, narrow speed-bump that, if a school bus ran over it, would cause even a fat kid to fly up and bang his head on the ceiling.

Michael Reade
Durham, NC

 

It was a dark and stormy night, well, not pitch dark so much a plumby, you know, that time of night where it turns into that kind of eggplant color, which I hate– eggplant not the time of night–and it wasn’t stormy so much as drizzly, like a cold that’s not so bad but really annoying, where you sound a little plugged up and all your mucus just sort of hovers at the edge of your nostrils or drips down the back of your throat, it was like that.

Maisey Yates
Jacksonville, OR

 

As she slowly drove up the long, winding driveway, Lady Alicia peeked out the window of her shiny blue Mercedes and spied Rodrigo the new gardener standing on a grassy mound with his long black hair flowing in the wind, his brown eyes piercing into her very soul, and his white shirt open to the waist, revealing his beautifully rippling muscular chest, and she thought to herself, "I must tell that lazy idiot to trim the hedges by the gate."

Kathryn Minicozzi
Bronx, NY

 

George scratched his head in abject puzzlement as he tried to figure out where he’d parked the rocket this time in the 100-acre parking lot of Nallmart 75B, but then he remembered that a ship-boy had taken his DNA key-but which one, the kelly toned humanoid or the atmosphere-of-Rylak-hued android; scanning the horizon, he at last turned to Babs and asked "how green was my valet"?

Leigh A. Smith
New Douglas, IL

 

Using her flint knife to gut the two amphibians, Kreega the Neanderthal woman created the first pair of open-toad sandals.

Greg Homer
Placerville, CA

 

There were earthquakes in this land, terrible tsunamis that swirled flooding torrents of water throughout, and constant near-blizzard conditions, and not for the first time, Horatio Jones wished he did not live inside a snow globe.

Rich Buley-Neumar
Amityville, NY

 

The skydiver jumped out of the plane and felt his skin being pulled back like that of a dog sticking its head out of a car going 110 on the highway, owned by a driver rushing to be on time for work or else he would get fired by his boss with the curly mustache who owned a large speedboat.

John Faherty
Queensbury, NY

 

Grimly aware of the rapidly approaching disaster, Spiderman leaped from rooftop to flagpole, from flagpole to fire escape, hurling himself recklessly from building to building, darting glances through every window in his desperate search for one vital room, while silently cursing the fact that the last thing he had done before donning a one-piece skintight costume, was to eat a large bowl of hot chili.

David J Button
South Australia, Australia

 

How best to pluck the exquisite Toothpick of Ramses from between a pair of acrimonious vipers before the demonic Guards of Nicobar returned should have held Indy’s full attention, but in the back of his mind he still wondered why all the others who had agreed to take part in his wife’s holiday scavenger hunt had been assigned to find stuff like a Phillips screwdriver or blue masking tape.

Joe Wyatt
Amarillo, Texas

 

A dark and stormy night it was; in torrents fell the rain –except at occasional intervals, when, by a violent gust of wind was it checked, as up the streets it swept, (for in London it is that lies our scene), along the housetops rattling, and the scanty flame of the lamps fiercely agitating, that against the darkness, struggled.

(The story of Paul Clifford, is Yoda, to a padawan telling)

Jay Clifton
Berkeley, CA

 

*Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

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