Book Review: Five Enchanted Roses

Oh hello. Betcha forgot I even existed, didn’t you?

You heartless beast.

Since I last wrote . . . I successfully completed another semester of college; toured with my college’s chorale and handbell teams for three weeks altogether; swam in the Atlantic ocean for the first time; re-started my job at Dairy Queen for the summer; had my first gig as a wedding musician for a dear friend; took and passed the CLEP Biology exam; . . . oh, and got engaged. It’s been a very good few months.

But all those things aren’t the reason I’m writing. (Though I bet you’re dying to hear allllllllll about the joys of the biology exam, aren’t you?). I had another of those “Yay-I-want-to-read-this-book-so-I’ll-volunteer-to-be-a-reviewer!”-and-the-review-deadline snuck-up-on-me moments. Actually, the deadline isn’t even for a week or so, but I’ll be busy pretending I’m homeless in the north woods with my family, so all this interwebbing needs to be done tonight. Wait. Camping! That’s what it’s called.

So. On to the review!!!

As you may remember, I had the privilege of being published in the Five Glass Slippers collection last summer, the first in a series of similar fairytale retellings. This year was Five Enchanted Roses--a compilation of “Beauty and the Beast” stories. Ms. Stengl opens the book with a quote from G. K. Chesterton which sums up well the entire anthology (can I use that term in this context?):

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’;
that a thing must be loved before it is loveable.”

The authors (Kaycee Browning, Savannah Jezowski, Jenelle Schmidt, Dorian Tsukioka, and Hayden Wand) included truly did a wonderful job exploring and re-imagining that theme, and I thoroughly enjoyed each story. Five Enchanted Roses took me from a pirate ship, to a semi-haunted castle, to a traditional fairytale country, to a mysterious jungle, and finally . . . to Scotland. A note on each story, and then my thoughts on the book as a whole.

Espirit de la Rose by Kaycee Browning

“Spirited” is a good word for this story and its heroine. Cecilia is just your average privateer’s daughter until she finds herself stuck on a ship full of waterlogged sailors doomed to eternal punishment unless they can find redemption. . . you know, just the usual. Oh, and the captain is dashing. And offers to help her escape. If the Fee will let her . . .

I’m giving this story the “Least Furry Beast” prize, because he wasn’t the typical wolf-like prince. The redemption theme was clear, and the ending–while not quite what I expected or wanted, really–made me eager to hear about Cecilia’s next adventure.

Wither by Savannah Jezowski

I think this was my favorite story in the book–which was surprising, as it included zombies, ghouls, and the like. . . which are normally not my preferred style. However, something about this dark and intriguing fairytale land drew me in. Lilybet (whose name I love, for starters) braves the spooky, deadly Neverway to find the castle of a mysterious beast who has demanded the life of her little sister, and discovers that her ideas of the world weren’t quite accurate. Both the beauty and the beast were endearing, interesting characters, and I look forward to hearing more about them–Mrs. Jezowski promised a sequel in her ending, and After, Book 1 of the Neverway Chronicles, will be released in December.

Also, her dream cast includes Samantha Barks, so props for that.

I’m awarding this story the “My Personal Favorite” award. Good and evil were thoroughly explored, the love story was sweet, and the world of the Neverway was simultaneously unreal and believable.

Stone Curse by Jenelle Schmidt

Firstly, Mrs. Schmidt looks like my friend Rebekah (one of my favorite people on the planet), so obvious bonus points there. Secondly, this was a wonderful story. Of all the novellas in this collection, Stone Curse was set in the most traditional fairytale realm, but the tale itself was far from traditional! It begins at the cursed castle itself: mostly deserted, with only the beast, a few devoted servants, a host of frozen nobles, and the occasional brave (or financially aspirational) lady who visits in an attempt to fall in the love with the princely beast and break the curse, all of whom are unsuccessful, and becoming fewer and fewer as time passes. (Sorry ’bout that run-on sentence.) But. . . why is the Beast even cursed, and where has the Beauty been kidnapped to, and how can everything be righted again? That is the question Karyna sets off to answer, but the answer she finds is quite the opposite of what she had expected.

This tale gets the “My Favorite Love Story” prize. Read it and you’ll see why. (Especially if you’re familiar with my own love story.) (That could be referring to either my imaginary one, What Eyes Can See, or my real-life one. They have some similarities.)

Rosara and the Jungle King by Dorian Tsukioka

Of all the tales in the collection, this story is least like the “Beauty and the Beast” I’ve always known. However, it’s still the same tale at its heart. Rosara is the daughter of a jungle chieftain whose principle goal at the beginning of the story is simply to aviod becoming the town’s drunk’s third wife. (I don’t think he was particularly drunk, actually, but I can’t think of the word I want.) Things change rather drastically when a talking jaguar suddenly befriends her.

This novella wins the “Most Unique Setting” award. (Yes, even unique-er than the pirate ship. And that’s saying something.) Also, Mrs. Tsukioka is from Missouri, so yay for that.

The Wulver’s Rose by Hayden Wand

I loved this tale so much. Set in ancient Scotland, this story has an evil witch and an enchanted castle, but it also has some good old Scottish Protestantism, wild moors, bankrupt barons, and self-sacrificing maidens. (Ok, so the last two really should be singular. I just wanted the list to be matchy. Sorry.) It wasn’t spooky; it wasn’t mysterious; it wasn’t particularly surprising, even, but it came together as a sweet, simple tale of love and faith.

This story will get the “Most Endearing Beauty” prize. I liked all the beauty characters. . . but Bonnie’s sweetness was, well, the sweetest.

In Summary

Now that this has officially taken an hour longer than allotted–I have a camping trip tomorrow to pack for, after all!–I’m going to be rather quick about the summary. I’ll give this collection 4/5 stars: its a unique, wholesome, imaginative, fun little book which I would pick up again for a light afternoon read. I’m holding back the 5th star because I like reserving that for those really special books–the ones that entertain, teach, and become friends.

So. Go. Pick up one for yourself and debate my opinions. And then go write your own fairytale and be part of next summer’s Five Magic Spindles. I’ve got a pretty good idea for that, myself-but it’s a mystery story and I don’t know if I’m quite skilled enough to write that. Also, I have a bachelor’s degree to finish and a wedding to plan and that sort of takes precedence right now. Someday I’ll do some more writing. Maybe someday I’ll write down my real-life love story in all its sappy glory. But not now.

Now I’m going to go pack for a wild camping trip.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

A Ridiculously Long Post (With Pictures)

What is this feeling, so sudden and new? I felt the moment…
I walked out of my sophomore platform.
My pulse isn’t rushing,
My head isn’t reeling.
My face isn’t flushing.
What is this feeling?
Fervid as a flame, does it have a name?
Yes….yeeeeeeeeeees!
Freedom! Nearly-absolute freedom! And peace! And lack of stress!

Okay. Bad Wicked parodies aside, I am basically floating right now. Remember how I termed the past two weeks “Death Week” and “Lesser Death Week”? I wasn’t joking. They were every bit as crazy as I anticipated–maybe, in fact, even worse. Continue reading

Book Review: Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (and other things)

Dearest Interwebs;

Congratulations! You are again being treated to one of those “Betsy just doesn’t feel like editing before publishing” posts, which I know you absolutely adore because they make you feel better about your rationality.

Anyhow, I’m writing this en route back to Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. Thanksgiving break was delightful–with the obvious exception of the persistently terrifying cave crickets, which fortunately didn’t consume too much of my soul this trip–and now it’s back for the final two-and-a-half-week rush. This first week I’m affectionately referring to as “Death Week,” and the second I’ll term “Lesser Death Week.” This week includes the Christmas concert at the far end–for which I am a chorale member, Jubilate member, orchestra member, piano accompanist, prelude-player, and student conductor, because I make poor life choices sometimes–and the music theory final project at the near end–for which I keep staring at a partially-written piece of music blankly, muttering things like “rounded binary” and “leading tone resolution” and “passing 6-4 progression” and “dominant of the dominant” fruitlessly, hoping that such highbrow musical terms will inspire me. (So far, they haven’t much.)

“Now Betsy,” I hear you sweetly interjecting. “If this week is actually as deadly as you make out and you’re not just exaggerating again, why in the name of Sweet Bojangle’s aren’t you working on these things?”

While I appreciate your kindness (and your masterful use of idioms), this has a rather simple answer: a while back I volunteered to be an influencer reader for Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s lastest work, Golden Daughter, which I as to have done by November 30th. Which is, coincidentally, today! Why didn’t I review it over break? Because I was too busy taking naps. Worth it.

Anyhow, without further delay, on to the review.

golden daughter[That picture looks like I’m posting it with a terrible resolution, but I’m hoping it’s my screen.]

Golden Daughter

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

As, I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pretty big fan of Ms. Stengl’s “Tales of Goldstone Wood” series. (Should that title be underlined? Italicized? Quotation-marked? Left alone?) Anyhow, that series–I like it. Golden Daughter was an absolutely fabulous addition, staying true to the series while still introducing something completely new.

One of the “new” things Golden Daughter introduces is the setting; while Heartless began in a fairly traditionally-flavored European-esque fairytale scene, Ms. Stengl hasn’t limited herself to that in following books. This particular book explores the Empire of Noorhitam, previously mentioned mostly in passing. (Well, I can’t say that for certain: the novella Goddess Tithe, so I hear, goes along with this work, but as I have yet to acquire Goddess Tithe, my knowledge is rather limited.) Noorhitam has a distinctly Asain flavor. Do you know how much fun it is to read fairytales that aren’t European-based? It’s not only fun, but it helps to keep the series fresh and unique.

While it’s different in its cultural setting, however, Golden Daughter ties in quite beautifully with the rest of the series. It’s rather incredible to me, actually, how Ms. Stengl can take a theme from one book and make it into a whole ‘nother story… Honestly, most of the connections fly completely over my head. One of the main characters, Sunan, appears as a rather insignificant (I thought) ship captain all the way back in book two, Veiled Rose…but I wouldn’t have remembered that if someone else hadn’t pointed it out. And all the references to the “goldstone” and the night of moonblood and the temple of Ay-Ibunda and Una’s ring…details which I wouldn’t have connected somehow come together. Actually, reading Golden Daughter made me want more to re-read all the other Goldstone Woods books, because I am completely sure I would catch a lot more subtleties now. Someday when music theory isn’t calling. Until then, if someone else cares to make some sort of index or glossary or timeline or something, that would be fantastic.

There’s a lot more I could say–about the characters (I loved Sairu, and Eanrin’s back, being chased by a fluffy lion dog names Rice Cake, no less!), about the plot (Mysterious? Check. Complicated? Check. Engaging? Check.), about the development of Ms. Stengl’s writing (I found Golden Daughter to be adult-ier than the beginning novels, if that makes sense…not that the others were juvenile…you know what I mean…I hope), about the length (deliciously long!!)–but this is already getting pretty lengthy.  A few random thoughts, and then the summary:

  • I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this book. While you technically could–each book is written in a fairly stand-alone style–I still think Heartless is the best starting point.
  • As I mentioned, I found this book “adultier,” even a little bit darker at a point or two. Ms. Stengl has always been good at writing realistically, dealing with both the good and the bad, both the beautiful and the blighted, but it’s getting deeper. Not uncomfortably so, but so nonetheless. Evil exists, and she doesn’t shy away from portraying that.
  • I wasn’t as crazy about the allegory in this book as I was in some of the others. Heartless was a fairly straightforward Gospel allegory, and the subsequent books have delved into other themes. Golden Daughter has a Joseph theme, which , to my great chagrin, I didn’t pick up on until it was pointed out to me. I did, however, notice a fairly strong Revelation likeness, which I just wasn’t quite as comfortable with…probably because Revelation is already pretty debated about, and allegorizing an already-debated book just sits wrong on my dispensational upbringing, you know? However, I don’t think expounding on eschatology was Ms. Stengl’s purpose here.

In summary, I really liked Golden Daughter (though Starflower still has the most feels for me). One of my favorite things about the series is Ms. Stengl’s ability to create realistic characters is non-realistic settings. While I don’t expect to ever go dream walking, witness an attack on the Lady Moon, or discover a temple made of voices, I can see myself in the characters that did. They had weaknesses and temptations and failures like me, and sometimes they had strengths and victories like me, and that is what I love about these stories. Without departing from her previous books, Ms. Stengl has created an epic that’s fresh and surprising and ancient and familiar and believably unbelievable and heartbreaking and joyously glad. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Now. Music theory time!!

xoxoxoxoxoxo (just in case I don’t make it),
Betsy

disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Betsy Unfiltered

Dear World-at-Large;

Hi there.

Bet you had forgotten me, hadn’t you?

That’s perfectly alright. You probably had fewer bad dreams that way.

Anyhow.

This will be a super ramble-y post because I don’t feel like organizing my thoughts and I haven’t written for a month and a half and I just felt like checking in so y’all weren’t worrying that I was dead. You know that this is actually me and not some creeper posing as me so that you don’t get suspicious because no other self-respecting person would ramble like this. Why were you suspecting I was dead, anyhow? That’s super weird. Don’t you have any better problems to solve? Like ending world hunger or stopping Ebola or mailing me a space heater or practicing your special music for missions conference or doing a Sudoku…Suduko?….puzzle or something?

Actually, the practicing special music for missions conference is what I should be doing, but I’m not. It’s 10:30 at night and snowing and I just don’t feel like practicing. I will tomorrow. Maybe. Unless I get distracted by talking to my fabulous ex-RA or certain other friends.

Also, I should be doing my laundry. I started it this morning and then left and just got back, so I should probably finish. But that’s two entire floors below me and I’m pretty comfortable at the moment.

Know what I hate? When Pandora gets funky and just stops and skips an entire half a song. Pandora! I was just getting my little grove on! Why would you do that to me?

What am I listening to, you ask? Ummmm…my Josh Groban Christmas station. Shh. Don’t start judging. I can explain. You see, I never used to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving was over. But last year my delightful roomie–who’s been married for exactically two weeks now!!–got me started early. And I liked it. Christmas music makes me feel like it’s holiday season instead of get ready for sophomore platform and music theory finals and Christmas concert season.  And it is get ready for Christmas concert season, so we’ve already been singing Christmas songs and playing Christmas songs on the piano and playing Christmas songs on the violin and playing Christmas songs on the handbells and discussing Christmas wing decoration ideas and discussing Christmas vacation travel plans. As long as I’m in Christmas mode already, why not just break out the Josh Groban holiday album? Is that so wrong? It’s not like I’m already listening to family tradition songs, like the fife version of “Patapan” or Twila Paris’s Christmas tape or Michael Card’s The Promise. So it isn’t that wrong.

So what have I been up to otherwise? I don’t even know. Lots of stuff. Not very much. I have 14 credits of music classes this semester, which alternates between a lot of fun and a major headache. So. Many. Practice. Hours. On the bright side, I’m learning to conduct and modulate and become a better accompanist, which is just great. I’m still working in the library and doing Jubilate and accompanying at my church every Sunday and teaching the Wednesday night Tiny Trackers class and trying to figure out this RA thing and keeping my poor little fish mostly alive and making chocolate chip cookies and procrastinating on laundry. Speaking of which….blah.

Ok, I really do need to go switch loads. Yes, I have loads plural. It sort of piled up.

Last night I dreamed Ruth did my laundry for me. So I was sad when I woke up. But I also dreamed I grew a goatee, so I was very happy when I woke up. Actually, waking up was very happy because it meant I got to party basically all day: first, roadtripping to Charleston with one of my favorite fellows, then picking up my favorite RAs from the airport and going to Starbucks for chai, then going to the dean’s house for an early Thanksgiving dinner, then going to my favorite admissions girl’s house for a girl party.

It was a good day.

But seriously. Laundry is calling.

I should probably never write a post like this again.

But I probably will.

Anon, Sir, Anon Cover Reveal!

Dearest friends of the blogosphere;

The loveliest of mornings to you! Actually, it’s nighttime when I’m writing this, because I’m actually being organized for once and scheduling this post, because mornings are difficult and I streamline them as much as possible. So I hope it’s a lovely morning, at least. I’ll probably end up drinking tea or something like that, unless I accidentally set my alarm for PM again… not my best morning. Hopefully this one is better.

Anyhow.

I’m fairly thrilled today, because today is the cover reveal for the lovely Rachel Heffington’s newest book, Anon, Sir, Anon! I was first privileged to “meet” Miss Heffington as one of my fellow Five Glass Slipper Sisters. I absolutely loved her writing style in The Windy Side of Care, so I feel pretty confident that Anon, Sir, Anon will be quite fabulous. Plus, the word “anon” is in the title TWO TIMES and that’s a pretty cool word. But you don’t even know what it’s about yet. So here ya go.

Continue reading

I Don’t Have Homework Yet…

…so I wrote the first “chapter” of my “thrilling” new story which is as of yet slightly untitled. Any resemblance to actual names or places are strictly coincidental, etc. etc.

Chapter 1: In Which Smithers and Libby Are Lost

The fog. It was incredible, thicker and darker than she had ever experienced before. Normally, Libby would have reveled in the mysterious atmosphere, but today, she was frightened silly. It was annoying, quite annoying, her tendency to irrationally over-react. Later, when the situation was all over, she would realize that she was never in any danger. Later, she would scorn herself for her foolish fears. But for now, all she could do was shiver, folding her arms more tightly around herself, forcing her feet to keep plodding up the hill.

The hill felt never-ending this morning. Libby’s backpack dug into her shoulders, causing her to bend under its weight. The fog worsened the further she climbed; the air grew chillier, the light became more obscured. By now, she could only see a few steps in front of her, and her overactive imagination kicked in. Perhaps she had missed the music building altogether? Perhaps she was wandering lost? She stopped and looked around. To her right, she still saw the handrail along the sidewalk, the trees on the other side dimly outlined. She made herself take a deep, calming breath. She couldn’t be lost. The only place this sidewalk led was up to Cherry Hall, the music building. She was simply groggy from the early morning and disoriented from the fog. She resumed her heavy plod. Continue reading