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Eyes Like Stars

Mantchev, Lisa. Eyes Like Stars (2009). 368 Pages. Feiwel & Friends. $16.99

Theatre Illuminata: Act I

Some books, you just have to leap in and keep going, because they take their sweet time revealing themselves. You’re thrown into a new and interesting world, and it takes some time to get it figured out, and as you search for explanation you find yourself in the middle of a book you don’t really want to put down. This strategy is risky; you either grab your audience, or you alienate them. Being a bit of a Shakespeare geek, and a fan of theater (though never an actor), I found myself enjoying this book, once I started to sort it out.

Within the Theatre Illuminata* all the characters of every play ever written exist for the sole purpose of performing their plays. They aren’t actors, they are the characters, allowed to mingle within the confines of the Theatre. The characters from Hamlet appear most frequently– Ophelia and Gertrude have quite a few lines apiece– but there is also Nate, a sailor from the play The Little Mermaid, who is the young, handsome Love Interest. There are only six people who are not characters, though in their own ways they are; five of them are the managers, one is Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, a seventeen year-old girl who is not from any play.

When she was young, Bertie was left on the Theatre’s doorstep, a child in need of a home. The denizens of the Theatre opted to take her in, and she has caused chaos and wrought havoc ever since. She’s not crew, and she’s not an actor, she’s just Bertie. When she turns seventeen, they decide they’ve finally had enough of her and her chaos, so she is told that she must leave the Theatre forever. Distraught at the idea of leaving behind everything (and everyone) she’s ever loved, Bertie fights for a chance to stay, and makes a deal. If she can sellout the theatre, and get a standing ovation with her directorial debut, she will prove that she has something to give back to the Theatre, and can thus stay.

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially when we’ve got characters like Ophelia and Gertrude (to name a few) strutting around. There is a lot going on, and it at times can be overwhelming, but there were a few moments where I found myself laughing out loud;

“I am the queen!” bellowed Lady Macbeth.

“No, I’m the queen. You merely have aspirations for him.” Gertrude pointed at Macbeth, who was holding up a cruller and muttering, “Is this a doughnut I see before me?” Then he noticed raspberry jam on everything and started to shriek. (128)

I cackled. It perhaps says a lot about the quality of my education that I find jokes about Shakespeare hilarious. Or there’s a gem of a scene with Ophelia;

Ophelia followed him, wringing the water out of her clothes while talking to puppet-Laertes. “I spend far too much time toweling off, dear brother.” But the oven mitt didn’t answer, as its mouth was full of her skirt. (135)

And then, there’s Gertrude (again), throwing a dramatic fit about The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father shedding his flowery sheet:

“So, unless Hamlet was an immaculate conception, there’s nothing going on there that you haven’t seen before. Stop playing the dewy-eyed virgin.” Claudius jabbed a finger in Ophelia’s direction. “That’s her job!” (166)

Bertie has a strong voice, and is an interesting (if vaguely described) character. We know more about her hair color (Cobalt Flame), her footwear (Mary Janes) and her socks (Black and Red Stripes) than anything else about her. I don’t feel like I demand all that much of my protagonists, but when it’s in third person, I really don’t feel like I’m asking too much if I ask for description. Anyway, she manages to be a teenage girl without driving me crazy, which is saying something.

I have a bit of an issue, however. There’s not a lot I can say on the subject without spoiling a lot, but Bertie is part of a love triangle with Nate the Pirate, and Ariel the air spirit (from The Tempest, though in this case he’s a very, very handsome young man). She seems in love with Nate, but spends an awful lot of time kissing Ariel, for all she says she doesn’t like him. I have a very, very strong feeling that this only gets worse in Book 2 (Perchance to Dream).

The Quick Version:

You have to be pretty well versed in Shakespeare’s more popular works to get most of the characters and references this book makes. However, if you’re at least mostly familiar with Hamlet, you’re going to be alright. The book starts abruptly, and it feels like you spend the first half trying to figure out what is going on, but it manages to hook you, and keep you reading so you keep going to find out what is going on. Aside from a few issues with the way Bertie’s lovelife plays out, this book is good. It’s not a standalone, and it leaves you needing more, as a rather large story arc is just beginning. It gets a 4/5 for originality and fun.


* Which is marked with some rather pretentious accents that I will not bother replicating… (Théâtre Illuminata)


Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

12 Days

Kim, June. 12 Days (2006). 192 Pages. TokyoPop $9.99.

It’s not often that I read stories about death, or mourning. I have never been one for focusing on death. I prefer happy, light-hearted books about fuzzy warm things (like the cheesy romance novels I review so often). However, I do appreciate books that deal with the bittersweet, with mourning and moving on, with the sadness of those left behind.

Jackie and Nick have lost Noah, and neither feels really capable of moving on. They find some solace in each other, and some comfort in Jackie’s crazy ritual, but their story doesn’t end on the last page.

I normally try to come up with my own summary, but I’m really at a loss, so I’m going to share the blurb from the back cover of the book:

When Jackie’s ex-lover Noah dies, she decides the best and quickest way to get over the love of her life is to hold a personal ritual with Noah’s ashes. Jackie consumes the ashes in the form of smoothies for 12 days– hoping the pain will subside with her profound reaction to Noah’s death.

In this intense exploration of love’s power over tragedy and loss, June Kim crafts a moving tale that delves into the intricacies of family, friendship, and love.

There is a lot more to be said about this book than just its cover blurb. The artwork is beautiful, the dialog perfect. When characters are speaking, their words express their feelings, and when they are silent, it is visible in the artwork how they feel. It’s clear that Nick and Jackie find some solace in each other, and it’s clear that Nick knows more about Noah’s feelings for Jackie than even Jackie knows.

The past and the present really blend together, sometimes the definitions are clear, other times it’s blurred, and you’re not really sure when you’re looking at. It’s beautifully done though.

The Quick Version:

For a graphic novel about mourning, this book really is good. It’s subject matter I’m not usually into, but it somehow managed to end up on my bookshelf, and maintain a spot there for several years now. I periodically re-read it. It gets a 5/5 for being beautifully illustrated, and very in-tune with some realistic characters.


Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Graphic Novel, Young Adult Fiction


McKinley, Robin. Chalice (2009). 272 Pages. Ace. $7.99

I’ve read every single book Robin McKinley has ever written, and I’ve read some of them so many times that they have fallen apart and had to be replaced. Some, I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed more than others. Chalice is midddling; it’s not my favorite of her books, but it is good.

To explain the world a little bit, there is an Overlord who rules the region, like a King. The region has been broken up into demesnes*, and each demesne has a Master- the lord of the estate- and his Circle which is made up of various people who have different skills and responsibilities. Mirasol- our protagonist- was a simple beekeeper and woodsman until she had to step into the role of the Chalice for an ailing demesne. Too many years of a bad Master, a broken Circle, and a weak Chalice have left the land hurting.

Mirasol isn’t quite sure what she is expected to do as Chalice- she never had an apprenticeship, and acquired the job after the last Chalice died- but she’s learning from the books she can find, and trying to do what she can. As a beekeeper, she was in the unique position to become the only Chalice whose power works through honey, something which makes her feel even more inadequate and unprepared.

There is also the Master, a priest of fire who has lost a lot of his humanity through his priesthood. As the younger brother of the previous Master, he is the next to ascend through bloodlines, but his position as a fire priest has the entire population of the demesne worried. The Master himself is unsure about himself or his ability to help, but he loves the land, and is trying to keep it whole.

Mirasol and the Master both love their home, and want to save the land. Together, they hope to protect the Willowlands, repair the damage done to it, and perhaps find themselves in the process.

This book reads like a fairytale- something Ms McKinley works well with- and has the feeling of high-fantasy which marks all of her work. Chalice, like so many of her other books feels like it is in three parts; the introduction, the rising, and the climax. While the plot remains the same through all three, there are very different feelings from one part to the next. It stays continuous enough that it feels like a single book, which is key.

The Quick Version:

Mirasol is the sort of protagonist who works well for a world so alien to us. She is new enough to her role that she is still learning, which allows the reader to learn with her. She is also the sort of character you find yourself rooting for, and really liking. The Master as well is a very sympathetic character; you want to like him as much as Mirasol wants to like him. The plot and the world are incredibly alien to our own, which means that they are sometimes very hard to understand, but it is mostly explained well. The book is not suspenseful, and does not grab you so you can not put it down, but it is a nice, relaxing read. It gets a 4 out of 5 (perhaps my most common rating) because it is good, but it is not her best book.

I’m sure you’ll want to read it; find it on Amazon, or Swaptree.


* I was confused by “demesne” when I first came across it. It is a large estate, typically controlled by nobles. It’s not a common word, but it works here.


Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Toads and Diamonds

Tomlinson, Heather. Toads and Diamonds (2010). 278 Pages. Henry Holt and Co. $16.99

The cover is what grabbed my attention. The color is so vibrant and lovely that I couldn’t help noticing it. Then I looked at the image itself, and then I noticed which story it was. I’ve always been interested in the Toads and Diamonds tale, but it’s so rarely re-written that I’ve honestly never seen it before. It was brilliantly done, and I loved it. No point in dragging it out; this book gets a 5 of 5.

Diribani and Tana are the main characters, step-sisters who love each other very much. Tana’s mother cares for both her daughter and her step-daughter. However, Diribani’s father (a very successful gem merchant) is recently deceased, leaving his family penniless and in turmoil. The three women live in a tiny house in a small town, struggling to get by.

The story starts with Diribani going to the well to fetch water to make dinner for her family. When she arrives, she meets the goddess Naghali, where her longing for beauty is granted, and she gains the ability to speak flowers and gems. Tana then has to go to the well because Diribani broke their water vessel due to shock. She also meets the goddess, but under slightly different circumstances. Tana longs for a way to protect her family, and is gifted with the ability to speak snakes and frogs.

This doesn’t stay secret for long, and the girls are separated; Tana is to be given a home outside the city limits where she can speak snakes without bothering anyone, and Diribani goes with the prince, who will protect her from the avaricious governor of their region. Of course, both girls feel that they have some destiny, something which they are meant to achieve, but neither of them knows quite what.

The setting is somewhere between the Mughal Empire and a magical universe, and the conflict between two religions which are based in reality is a dramatic background. The meat-eating monotheistic ruling class is in direct conflict with the polytheistic, vegetarian Hindu-esque middle and lower classes. The conflict between the two is not resolved in this book, but this was also not the point, so it is to be expected that it continues.

The Quick Version:

With a unique setting, a great twist on an old plot, and great pacing, this book is solid. Add to that some lovely prose, and you’ve got a winner. The pseudo-Indian characters with the Anglo story create a fascinating novel. Because the book is made up, you are not expected to know anything about Hinduism, the Mughal Empire, or Islam, though if you know of them, it is clear the book was well researched. Because it was so very enjoyable, this book got a 5 of 5 rating.

I know you’ll want to read it. Find it on Amazon or trade for it through Swaptree.

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Filed under Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, Young Adult Fiction