The End in Mind

Hello all!

Here is an excerpt of my latest article that was featured on The End in Mind.

“When asked to write an article that focused on “the end in mind,” I decided to share about an area of my life that is both precious and terrifying to me: my writing. I was making up stories before I could write my own name. I didn’t understand character development, plot, or how to write decent dialogue, but I knew that stories were something special…”

To read the full article please visit:

http://theendinmind.net/keeping-end-mind/

In other news:

Stay tuned for an article written by guest blogger Joben Lewis, author of Sketchbook of Scarlet!

Sketchbook of Scarlet is currently # 13 on Amazon’s Best Christian Fantasy list.

I’ll be writing a review of the book soon, and am thrilled to have Joben share his journey as a Christian fantasy author.

Exciting things are in the works.

-A.

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The Blood of Olympus Review

“In this fifth and final installment of the Heroes of Olympus series, author Rick Riordan pulls together a myriad of storylines, characters, and ancient myths that keep his audience glued to their books until the final sentence. I wouldn’t normally write a review for the last book in a series, but Riordan’s work has made such an impact on pre-teen and teenage audiences that I wanted to share my experience with his books, and especially his latest novel. I will try to avoid spoilers, and I will flag any spoilers I do share in order to adequately review the work…”

This review was published on The End in Mind. To read the full review, please visit:

http://theendinmind.net/?p=42550

Soman Chainani’s A World Without Princes

A world without princes

This is a follow up article to last month’s review over The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. Chainani’s first book centered around Agatha and Sophie, two friends who were kidnapped from their town, and taken to the School for Good and Evil. Beautiful Sophie was placed in the school for evil, while spunky Agatha was placed in the school for good. The story revolved around both girls trying to switch schools, until it became clear they were exactly where they needed to be. Sophie gave in to her selfishness, and transformed into a horrible witch, while Princess Agatha had to defend the school from the ensuing attacks.

At the end of the story Agatha had a choice to save and return to the town with Sophie, or to stay with her prince, Tedros. Agatha chooses Sophie and the two are transported back to town to live “happily ever after.”

The problem?

Agatha still wants her prince, and makes a wish to be back with him, thus inciting the events of the sequel A World Without Princes.

In this installment, Agatha unknowingly re-opens the portal between worlds because of the strength of her wish, and the two girls are taken back again. This time, things are different. No longer are witches and princesses enemies–this time it’s men who are the enemy. (Yes, you read this right. I had to set down the book and groan when I read that part, so I understand if you need a moment.)

Because of Agatha’s choice to return with Sophie at the end of the first book, princesses from all parts of the enchanted world are throwing their husbands out, or “asserting” their rights to rule alone. This, of course, makes the men angry and hostile, and the general notion is that in order to get balance restored, Agatha and Sophie need to be killed.

To make matters worse? The one leading the charge to restore order is Tedros, Agatha’s prince. He believes that he must kill the “witch” in order to win the heart of his princess, and Agatha is told she must either choose Sophie again, or kiss Tedros. Again, Agatha is caught between her best friend and her true love, and there is no easy way out of the situation. To raise the stakes, Tedros, believing that Agatha has betrayed him puts a price on her head, and Sophie may or may not be showing symptoms of turning back into the evil witch.

It’s up to the two best friends to restore balance in the kingdoms, or a full out war will ensue between men and women.

The biggest problem is the fact that the series target audience is children aged 7-12. This book was sold in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble. Chainani’s first book focused on blurring the lines of good and evil, and this one focused on blurring the lines between gender roles. These books are too old for their target audience, and promote moral and gender confusion at an age where children are bombarded from all angles with the confusion of just growing up. They don’t need more confusion from the books they read. Chainani’s writing, being hailed as original and a fresh look at fairy tales borrows troupes from classic fairy tales and twists them into a “modern” perspective. The books are too long, with the endings springing up quickly from drawn out middle scenes. Character development is minimal, while sentence structure is confusing, and dialogue is cliché. Chainani’s immature writing style muddles any message he would send to the reader.

On the topic of muddled messages:

First of all, readers see that Agatha’s choice set off a chain reaction she never intended. When the girls return to the school, they see it split, not into good and evil, but into the boy’s school and the girl’s school. All the girls whether from the “good” or “evil” side are allowed into the school for girls, and are also allowed to do whatever they want with their appearance. Princesses can have mohawks, and witches can try to improve their appearance. Girls are encouraged to read, study art, play instruments, and better their minds. This should be a good change, but it makes the girls hard, cruel, and they are encouraged to be both men and women in attitude. Their femininity is now perceived as weakness. Meanwhile, the boys school disintegrates into hormonal chaos, as there is no softening element to “hold the boys in check.”

Agatha, like the reader wonders why girls couldn’t improve their minds, strengthen their bodies, and still be feminine? Why couldn’t boys work alongside their princesses, without being pushed out? Sophie even asks the question of “Why can’t a girl have both a best friend and a prince?”

Neither men nor women were portrayed in a great light in this story. The men were violent, and the women power hungry. I don’t even know why Agatha wanted to be with her Prince so much. He was shown throughout most of the story to be focused on the fact that because his mother betrayed the family when he was a young child, that every woman must betray him. He is too full of bitterness and distrust to have a healthy relationship, and the author presents “true love’s kiss” as the healing element. That is not a good message to be sending out to young girls. “Oh just kiss him, and all of his bitterness will melt away.” Not likely.

Sophie, throughout the story, is afraid of losing her best friend to a prince and will therefore do anything to keep the two apart. She is not doing this for Agatha’s benefit, but for selfish reasons. She believes that if Agatha has a prince, then their friendship will be over. She does everything in her power to prove she’s changed, that she is not evil, but her actions still come from a place of self-protection.

At the end of the story, Agatha is again given a choice: Tedros or Sophie, and this time she chooses Tedros. What is alarming, is that the aftermath of that choice makes the reader question if her decision was correct. Sophie, heartbroken, runs straight into the arms of the series villain, and the last line of the book reads: “…two girls now pulled apart like strangers, each in the arms of a boy, Good with Good, Evil with Evil…”

It is a terrible thing to instill in children from an early age that they must “choose” between friendship and romantic love like it’s a choice of life or death. The author is trying to create an edgy fairy tale for children, but is leaving out the redemption, the solidity of friendship, and the beauty of real love. Everything is tainted with lust, ambition, and selfishness.

Perhaps the final installment will clear some of this up, but as of now, both books in the series have left a negative impression with me. I wish I could encourage the reading of these stories because it is a creative idea, but the poor writing style combined with the inappropriate material for the age level forces me to encourage readers to let this one pass by.

The School for Good and Evil: Soman Chainani

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“Welcome to the School for Good and Evil, where best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.

But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are . . . ?”

-Amazon

I read Soman Chainani’s debut novel in one day. I’d seen the gorgeous cover for the book on a fairytale site I frequent and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the story. My hopes were high. I dove into the novel headfirst and immersed myself into his created world where Good and Evil are not what they seem.

At the beginning, I thought the book was going to be about two friends who discover that physical beauty is nothing compared to the condition of their souls. Sophie was physically gorgeous but her attitude towards others was shallow and at times even cruel. Agatha did not consider herself physically attractive but through the story she is revealed to be a brave, kind, and complex character.

After their placement, Sophie was furious at being put into the School for Evil and did everything in her power to “fix” the situation. She was not above manipulation, violence, or seduction to get what she wanted. At one point, after she’d performed her first act of pure evil, she decided to seduce her way into people’s good graces by wearing skimpy outfits to flaunt her body. This was not shown as acceptable in the story, but the scenes where the author describes Sophie’s transformation are too risqué for younger readers.

At the heart of the conflict is a handsome prince (Surprised? Me either) who is more annoying than charming. Prince Tedros is obsessed with his looks, and the looks of others. He hates Agatha from the beginning because she looks different from the “beautiful” girls in the school. Tedros is physically attracted to Sophie and vows to help her get out of the School for Evil. Through a series of events, it becomes clear to Tedros that Sophie is not kind at heart and his affections shift to Agatha. The scenes where Tedros was allowed to express his point of view were supposed to create complexity in the character, but only made me roll my eyes at the stereotypical “misunderstood hero” who couldn’t be held accountable for his actions because he’d had a rough childhood. Despite this, he did grow as a character and honestly he and Agatha made a great pair, but this was only explored near the end of the novel after the reader had been exposed to his melodramatic side for over four-hundred pages.

The ending of the novel was vague (to many readers) about the course of love and this opened the doorway for the sequel A World Without Princes in which Chainani says that not only will the lines between good and evil be blurred, but so will the lines of gender expectations.

I was severely disappointed by this story because of the content being explored in a novel for a target audience of middle grade readers (ages nine to twelve) and I was confused as to the message being sent to readers. For clarification, I decided to do some research on the author. In interviews he stated that he wanted to re-invent the ideas of good and evil in his story to show kids today that they do not have to be what society demands of them. He wanted to create an unfamiliar world for the readers where conventional ideas are cast aside and people are allowed to explore different ideas of morality and gender. He wanted to show that we are all human, that we all have areas of light and dark in our hearts, and are all in are in need of redemption. While this is true, his “redemption” or conclusion to the story caused more harm than good.

Blurring the lines between good and evil does not necessarily equal a complex story. Some novels with a clear cut “good vs. evil” theme have seemed contrived as of late, but I blame authorial laziness and not the theme itself. It’s time for authors to leave behind the idea of “perfect” heroes and “one dimensional” villains. That’s one thing Chainani and I have in common. But I believe the exploration of humanity’s utter depravity and our desperate need for redemption should draw readers towards hope, not point them down a path of moral ambiguity. 

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

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“When a great white bear promises untold riches to her family, the Lass agrees to go away with him. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle. To unravel the mystery, the Lass sets out on a windswept journey beyond the edge of the world. Based on the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with romantic echoes of Beauty and the Beast, this re-imagined story will leave fans of fantasy and fairy tale enchanted by Jessica Day George.”

–Amazon

I’ve had this book on my ‘to read list’ for over two years, and was thrilled when I received it as a Christmas gift this year. I had no idea what to expect, but the premise looked entertaining, and I already owned another book by the same author that I quite enjoyed, so I decided to take some time the day after Christmas and read a chapter or two.

By the second page, I was hooked, and knew I’d be reading much further than anticipated. Several hours (and too many Christmas snacks) later, I finished reading the book. I don’t normally have time to ingest a book in one sitting, and I don’t usually sit still long enough to do so, but I was utterly captivated by Jessica Day George’s story of a girl with no name and the adventure she embarks upon in this novel.

The story is a re-telling of a Nordic legend entitled East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but also has elements from several other tales including: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, the story of Cupid and Psyche from Greek Mythology, and Beauty and the Beast. In some cases, the blending of an original idea plus so many stories would be tedious, and seem contrived, but in this scenario, it was the opposite. The story was fresh, and although it held allusions to other tales, it was authentic in its own right, and extremely creative. It was clear the author did her research (there’s even a select biography in the back of the book), but the research only added texture to the story.

George spun her tale with apparent ease. The plot moved forward at a pace that was engaging, the prose was clean and crisp, and the characters developed as the story progressed. I will say that the style of the book is very ‘simple,’ in the way a fairy tale is ‘simple’ at first, but George manages to hide subtlety within the pages of this re-told fairy tale.

As in the tradition of fairy tales, some of the characters remain static (unchanging), and some felt a bit underdeveloped at times, but that is the way that traditional fairy tales go. The focus was on the heroine, and in this case, it worked for me. Our unnamed girl goes through a journey that forces her to grow up and look at how her decisions affect not only herself, but those around her in a wider circle. She learns the importance of honesty, humility, and of putting others before herself. George’s focused attentions on her main character were well spent. I went from liking the protagonist, to not liking her, to respecting her in the end.

Before I write any more on the subject, I need to submit my one and only hesitation about the story. This will include SPOILERS.

*** BEGIN SPOILER ZONE ***

The lass’s world is under a reign of terror from the Troll Queen and her daughter. The Troll Princess brings havoc on the lives of men. Every century or so, she decides to find a new husband, but no man would want to marry a troll, so she forces them. Her first husband struck a deal with her that once a husband is chosen, he may live away from the Princess for a year in a castle of ice. The only catch: the man is transformed into a polar bear by day, then back to a man each night (think Swan Princess). If, while in bear form, he can find a maiden to live in the castle as a ‘bride’ for one year, without looking at his face during the night, the spell will be broken.

When the heroine of our story goes to live at the palace, she is alarmed because each night, a stranger climbs into bed with her and sleeps there. There is no sexual promiscuity, they do not even kiss, or touch. He just sleeps in the same bed with her because the rule states that she has to be a ‘bride.’ It is very chaste.

There is also a scene near the end of the novel where the Lass rescues the Prince, but is locked in a room with him for a whole night without enchanted sleep. George has them talk, kiss once, and the Prince kisses her hands…there is no other explanation of the events of the evening.

***END SPOILER ZONE***

Would I recommend the book? Yes, I would, with one hesitation that I raised above. The book, as a whole, inspired me as a writer in the best way possible.

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.

A.