Book Thoughts

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns Book Cover Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Julie C. Dao
Young Adult Fiction
Penguin
October 10, 2017
384

I love a good villain story, and this is an Asian inspired retelling of how Snow White's evil queen came to be. Xifeng has a destiny written in the cards, but it's up to her whether she wants to chase power or love, and how much she's willing to sacrifice for what she wants.

The story is beautifully written, but like most fairy tales it has a dark underbelly: Xifeng's abusive home and manipulative mother. Xifeng's fear of being controlled. The silken perils of the Emperor's court. I admired how Xifeng's choices sometimes felt inconsequential, but every small choice propelled her along one of her two possible destinies.

The book reminded me of the Chinese historical dramas I watched growing up, rife with beauty and court intrigue. And it also brought up some complicated feelings from my own life, about Asian culture and family expectations, about worth, about what constitutes beauty. I'm still mulling it over - and I believe that's the function of all good stories. It connects somehow, and makes you think.

Xifeng's story reminds me how easy it would be to be the villain. Just one choice could change the path we walk forever. Or maybe, some of us are already the villain in other people's tales...

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Journal

Writing:

Can I scream for joy? Because YES this story is working now. Ideas have been bubbling out of my brain and fleshing out the bare scaffolding of the first draft. The setting choice seems to be working, and it brings in layers of complexity that were missing from the first science fictional version. Maybe I guess, I just enjoy monster stories? It’s a bit further down the horror scale than I’d normally write for YA fiction, but I’m having so much fun. It’s Gothic,  creepy, haunted, and at it’s heart is a lonely monster that wants a friend. The story is still rough, and I’m just fixing the major structural issues involved, but I know where I want this to be headed.

Unfortunately, my December work schedule is going to be a mess, and that means my writing schedule will be too. I’m not sure how much I can get done before the new year, but fingers crossed that I can tackle a bit more of this revision.

Reassessing:

Writing was the biggest bright spot this month. I know 2017 has been a terrible year for just about everyone, and despite living on Canada we’re no exception. We lost another uncle this November. That makes it three deaths in the family this year. How do you explain death to a 2 year old? I don’t think she quite gets it, which is both relief and heartbreaking. She’ll still talk about uncle is as if he’s coming back.

I’ve been reassessing what I consider a good day lately. The joys are are smaller: quiet moments cuddling a child that still fits in my lap, seeing the full moon in a clear sky and being able to pick out constellations. Good hair days. Ill advised sewing plans that come together on a wish. Sitting on the beach with my toes in the sand and hot coffee in my hands. That feeling of relief when the child actually goes down for a nap. The occasional non-embarrassing photo. Those brilliant moments where a new idea for a story brings a world to life. Books.

Most days are bad and good in broken bits and pieces. It’s sometimes hard to find the good bits, but noticing them helps make everything a little less overwhelming. But oh, I hope there to will be some brilliant, shining, blazing, good ones for us all soon.

Reading:

  • Monstress Vol 2 by Marjorie Liu
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

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Book Thoughts

Wintersong Book Cover Wintersong
S. Jae-Jones
Young Adult Fiction
Macmillan
2017-02
368

 

This story is Gothic to the bone: unexpressed passions, strawberries in winter, furniture grown out of roots, clothes stolen from the dead, changelings, underground music, beauty and decay.

Wintersong follows the tale of Elizabeth, spinster elder sister, who is a brilliant composer, but due to both poverty and society, can never be one. But her music has caught the interest of the goblin king, and when he can't have her, he steals away her younger and more beautiful sister. Elizabeth has to save her sister, and then ultimately herself. It's a story about coming to know who you are, imperfect and terrible though that might be.

To be honest, I know this is not a story for everyone, but I loved it anyway. I've always been a fan of Gothic fiction. The haunted and surreal, the pleasure and pain. Like all Gothic tales, it's stuffed full of over the top emotions, but it never felt like it ventured into melodrama. I could relate to the anger of a woman who is  always ignored, and never gets to live her dreams because her life doesn't allow her.

If you enjoy flawed characters struggling to endure, and messy relationships that grow. If you enjoy music or composition, or dark fairy tales, I'd recommend giving this story a try.

P.S. I doubt many teen readers have seen the 1986 Labyrinth movie, which inspired this novel, but that colored reading of the story. The goblin king will always be Bowie to me.

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