Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
My rating: 4 of 5
You might say that there were many different things–different people’s lives interacting–that ultimately contributed to the debacle that later became known as Wisdom’s Kiss. The Princess Wisdom (better known as Dizzy) herself, for one, what with her tendency to belie her name and throw herself headlong into drama and adventure. The Duke Roger whom she was to wed, as well, although he was truly a pawn in the hands of his overbearing and scheming mother. Then there was the dowager queen Benevolence, Dizzy’s grandmother, who with her far-too-intelligent cat Escoffier discovered the schemes of said Duchess. Less immediately obvious, yet equally influential, were the presence of Trudy, a young kitchen maid with second sight; Tips, her childhood sweetheart; Felis el Gato, Tips’ mentor and a grand performer; and the Emperor of the whole land himself. But it was the interweaving of these individual lives that allowed even the possibility of such an event, one that would shape the course of the land for generations to come.
I’ve enjoyed Murdock’s writing before in her story Princess Ben. Wisdom’s Kiss actually ties in with this earlier novel, although it is certainly not necessary to read the one to enjoy the other. They’re more loosely connected tales rather than anything like a series. Wisdom’s Kiss is really fascinating in the way it’s written. You don’t really get any straight-up narrative, although the sections taken from Trudy’s memoirs read essentially like a regular novel. But for the most part, the story is told in letters and diary entries and, yes, even articles taken from an encyclopedia. It’s honestly enough to be a bit hard to piece together where the story is really going at times, although everything comes together nicely by the end. And I did enjoy the different perspectives and the way the different characters’ personalities came through from the different sources. It was interesting–and something I haven’t seen done much–to see the same character from multiple different perspectives, including their own; it gives a different appreciation for the individual. As for the writing style itself, I’ve heard the author’s writing described in the past as “frothy,” and I can’t honestly think of a better word to describe it. There’s a lightness and wit to it, even in the sections where things seem dark and awful–but in this particular story, there’s also a busyness and a constant activity from all sides that I might almost better compare to the fizz you get when you first open a soda. I think that this is one of those stories that would tend be polarizing; you would either love all the novelty and the different perspectives or it would drive you mad trying to keep up and make sense of it all. Personally, however, I enjoyed Wisdom’s Kiss and look forward to reading more by this author.
Note: It’s implied at the end of the story that this is a retelling of Puss in Boots . . . and I guess it sort of it, but I would never have caught it if it hadn’t been mentioned directly. For what that’s worth.
Authors: Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
Fey sisters Serana and Meteora have lived in ageless, carefree youth for uncounted years, but that all changes when one of them accidentally reveals their Queen’s most carefully kept secret. In punishment, the both of them are stripped of everything they have always relied on: youth, beauty, magical power, the freedom of the Greenwood, even the presence of each other. The two are dumped into the human world, miles apart, in the forms of fat, powerless old women. And so, they must find a new way to live, blending in with humanity and seeing humans in a new light. But even the Queen’s curse can’t keep them wholly separated, and in the midst of this new life, the two sisters find new purpose and unity.
So, I’m normally a huge fan of Jane Yolen’s writing, but Except the Queen just didn’t hit me right. I still liked it–a 3-star rating is still a definite like–but I probably won’t ever read it again. I even suspect it’s actually quite a good book, but still. . . . The first part of the story, while they’re still in the Greenwood, was very difficult for me to get into; I had to force myself to read the first 6 chapters or so. It was only after Serana and Meteora became a part of the human world, as they became more human themselves, that I found them at all possible to relate to. The actual structure and build-up of the story was quite good–I think if it had been written just a bit differently (maybe by just Jane Yolen; I’m not familiar with Snyder’s writing), this could have easily been a 4.5- or a 5-star read. I did love that a good chunk of the story is told in letters exchanged between the sisters, and that’s probably one of my favorite aspects of this story. One of the biggest negatives was that the story is told from numerous perspectives that flop from first person to third person to (very weirdly, and just for the Queen) second person. It’s kind of off-putting. Still, for those who don’t mind a few issues along those lines, I do think that Except the Queen is an original, intriguing sort of contemporary urban fantasy that melds intrigue, romance, and the sweet daily lives of two little old lady sisters quite nicely.
Author: Barbara Nichol
Illustrator: Scott Cameron
Ten-year-old Christoph’s father recently passed away, and to help make ends meet, her family is renting out their upstairs to boarders. And the boarder who’s just moved in is something else! He’s noisy and antisocial and does all kinds of strange things. Christoph is convinced that Mr. Beethoven is mad, and he writes his uncle Karl to complain of the madman’s presence in his home. As time goes by though, the tone of Christoph’s letters changes . . . to the extent that he eventually writes of Mr. Beethoven with understanding and, perhaps, even admiration.
I’ve enjoyed Beethoven Lives Upstairs ever since I was fairly young. Nearly the entire book (it’s fairly short) is written as a series of letters between young Christoph and his uncle Karl, who is away studying music Salzburg. The tone is quite pleasant; it’s an easy story to read, and I think the correspondence style suits the story excellently. The artwork fits perfectly as well: warm and rich, lifelike, yet somewhat blurred in places, like the borderline between the classical and the romantic in Beethoven’s own compositions. It’s wonderful to see the insight through a child’s eyes of how Beethoven must have seemed in his later years, deaf and desperately composing while unable to even hear the music he creates, famous yet proud and distant. I enjoy the mixture of this somewhat-biographical information (although told as experiential story) with other events in Christoph’s life such as fighting with his younger twin sisters and finding a dog. I would definitely recommend Beethoven Lives Upstairs both as great biographical fiction and as just a fun story.
Author: Lemony Snicket
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Companion to A Series of Unfortunate Events
Okay, mentally disconnect the term “biography” from this book immediately, please. This is absolutely not an actual autobiography of Lemony Snicket; it’s more like an extension of his Series of Unfortunate Events and a forerunner to his All the Wrong Questions series. The author takes a collection of letters, photographs, diary entries, newspaper clippings, etc. and uses them to expand on a variety of topics that are very generally broached in his earlier books. The results are quite amusing and engaging, at least for someone who has already ready read A Series of Unfortunate Events. If you haven’t, this book will probably seem like utter nonsense. Therefore, I recommend that you first read A Series of Unfortunate Events, then pick up The Unauthorized Autobiography for some intriguing back-story.