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review 2015-11-04 18:35
Review: Trixter by Alethea Kontis
Trixter - Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Amongst a glut of fairy tale retellings, her books immediately stood out for me for both the author's keen knowledge of fairy tales, and the witty way she incorporates even the most obscure into her novels. They have often have a light touch with humor that makes me think of some modern fairy tales, like Alice in Wonderland (while still, ya know, making sense!) with a great sense of innovation and adventure.

 

In my now lost review of the second Woodcutter Sisters book, Hero (lost 'cause who knows why? It disappeared mysteriously from GR; I suppose the gods of GR required a sacrifice and my review was on the altar! Phhht!) I explained that the reason that book received four stars as opposed to Enchanted and Dearest's five was because it felt a bit empty. I loved Saturday's tale, but, after a truly epic start, she gets stuck in a cave, and while that story was wonderful, in felt confining.

 

Well, you could look at Trixter like an expansion of Hero. In the acknowledgements, Kontis explains that it grew out of the Trix-related subplot that she was advised to cut from Hero. Here, it's presented as a novella length adventure of its own. Without a publisher breathing down her neck*, the story feels freer, too, to go down the bizarre corridors that Kontis wants to take it. The result was utterly delightful to read. I'mover the moon that Kontis is continuing and expanding the series, from the Woodcutter Sisters to the Books of Arilland! Can't wait to read more!

 

*I have a very biased view on Harcourt since their forced acquisition of Houghton Mifflin, as they screwed over my sister, author Ann Clare LeZotte, with their openly stated policy to put emphasis heavily on profitable YA. So I'm happy to see Kontis free of them.

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review 2014-11-19 19:59
Review: Dearest by Alethea Kontis
Dearest - Alethea Kontis

I received this book as part of a GoodReads first reads giveaway.

 

With the first two books the Woodcutter Sisters series, Alethea Kontis proved to me that she was one of the most inventive and talented YA writers out there. with the third book, Dearest, she, in my mind, cements this reputation. Dearest focuses on Friday Woodcutter (Friday's child is loving and giving) and, taking place concurrently with Hero, deals with the fallout to the kingdom of Arilland from Saturday's impromptu ocean (summoned in that second book) as well as incorporating fairy tales like The Wild Swans (which I recognized as The Three Ravens from Jim Henson's The Storyteller) and The Goose Girl, as well as elements from Swan Lake and even a little bit of Rapunzel, into the larger, intriguing world of the Woodcutters.

 

I adored Enchanted, and only sort of really liked Hero; the former gave me the wonderful thrill you get when reading a favorite book for the first time, while the latter suffered, for me, from using fairy tale tropes more prominently than any recognizable tales themselves. Though I did find that Dearest strengthened my appreciation of Hero, giving the other half of the story and dealing with the consequences of that book.

 

I love Friday. I always appreciate an author who wants to write kind, giving and happy heroes, and does it well; antiheroes are all well and good, but they're a dime a dozen these days. It's actually a refreshing pleasure to read the angst and drama coming not from the character but the situations they're placed in. As is always of note to me, strong familial relationships as well as female friendships abound, and while I didn't find every one of Rampion's brothers distinctive (I got extremely confused, now and then, trying to put a personality to a name, though it's done better than it is in other books where it's necessary to have a large group of characters.

 

I liked the exploration of the world, beyond just the incorporated fairy tales; there was some solid world building especially concerning religion. As with the other two books, the love story is beautiful: old-fashioned in that fairy tale sort of way, swooning and fate-filled; the book is unabashed in its ideas of destiny and romance. While not quite as interesting to me as Rumbold or Peregrine, Tristan makes a good romantic lead I could easily feel giddy over, especially once he, cough, gets his wings. It was also fun to see the characters from Enchanted involved again, Sunday and Rumbold, Velius and the other Woodcutters. (Please, please tell me, Ms. Kontis, that we'll get a story where Velius is a lead. Pretty please?)

 

Beautifully written, with rich prose than manages to be descriptive and colorful without being purple, and witty, snappy lines that made me laugh out loud, I loved the book and it only lost half a star because it couldn't compete with that passionate feeling that Enchanted gave me the first time I read it. A wonderful sequel. Now, when will we get novels about the other four Woodcutter sisters, hmm?

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text 2014-06-30 16:29
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
[ { HERO (WOODCUTTER SISTERS #2) } ] by Kontis, Alethea (AUTHOR) Oct-01-2013 [ Hardcover ] - Alethea Kontis

Done! And so unbelievably in love with these books I can't even get the proper words together!!! Full review to come. If you love Fantasy you MUST give this book a read!!!

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text 2014-06-28 00:39
Reading progress update: I've read 43%.
[ { HERO (WOODCUTTER SISTERS #2) } ] by Kontis, Alethea (AUTHOR) Oct-01-2013 [ Hardcover ] - Alethea Kontis

What?! I'm already nearly halfway done??? No no no! This book needs to be twice as long!  So absolutely wonderful! 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-06-14 19:00
Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Enchanted - Alethea Kontis

There's an element of personal preference that one has to take into account after a while. I found myself charmed by Sunday Woodcutter, her gently playful, sweet personality and her adoration of stories. At a certain point, I start to long for a heroine who is, well, more like me than the kick-ass, weapon-wielding protagonists; they're important to the status quo, I know (though they get typical and flat themselves if the character and motivation doesn't work), but every now and again, a character shows up and illustrates, for me, that you can be innocent, friendly, girlish and outgoing while still being a likable, interesting and relatable character. For me, this was Sunday.

 

Even more so when she fell in love with a frog. I sorta loved the romanticism of the book. I'll say that right away. And realized, later, that the reviews I'd read had influenced me into thinking in terms of tropes, like insta-love, but I can suspend belief enough in a fairy tale to understand that it as love at first, er, sight? Maybe not, unless Sunday has a frog fetish, heh. But I would have maybe liked more of Grumble and Sunday in those beginning chapters--just a little. And also, to have had more information sprinkled there, since the uneven, janky pacing of the overall story is the biggest criticism I have of the book. Some important things felt rushed when they should have been large dramatic beats.

 

The story genuinely surprised me when Grumble the frog transformed into Rumbold the prince fairly early on, and the main thread of the story changes from The Frog Prince to a mixed-up version of Cinderella, as he orders a series of three balls so he can meet and have Sunday get to know him as the man he is. And to maybe win over her family a bit, since he's not their favorite (due to circumstances involving eldest Woodcutter son, Jack Jr.) We meet loyal guard Erik, and Rumbold's cousin Velius (oh, please tell me that we're going to see MUCH more of him in the future!) and their interactions are a joy; their dialogue, their playful banter, never failed to make me smile. The same goes for Sunday and Rumbold, when they actually have scenes together. Though, for a while towards the end of the story, I felt almost as if Rumbold and his character development eclipsed Sunday as a character, and that was... I have mixed feelings about it, because I did like Rumbold, and I liked that he got so much development.

 

For the first time, reading a book with as many characters as this had, I had no trouble keeping track of who was who, even concerning the seven sisters named for each day of the week. And I can't wait to read about each of them, hoping that Kontis will explore absent sisters like Thursday and Tuesday, as well. I can still hope for a book about Wednesday with some heavy Velius/Wednesday, right?

 

I think what I adored the most was the fact that, unlike many retellings published in YA today, it's not simply a justification to tell a familiar, or semi-familiar story with whatever twist the author's cooked up; the story, twining together many fairy tales, including the obscure, and the original versions of the tales, feels more like a love letter to the fairy tales, and it's obvious that Kontis shares the same love for the stories that I do. It's much more in line with, say, Into the Woods, The 10th Kingdom or Once Upon a Time, where the story elements are taken and woven into something entirely new, but still recognizable. The romanticism, the cleverness, all felt at home with the fairy tale themes.

 

And it is clever, and witty, with some smile-worthy dialogue. It never felt sly, though, or as if she were crowing about her own cleverness. The prose is far above what is typical for YA (which can get very flat, very generic), with more than a touch of magic to it. The first of the fairy tale novels I've read this year, since I've been on my insatiable fairy tale kick, that I'd recommend.

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