Tags: reviews

Birthday Princess

KIRKUS Loves Hero!

Hero, October 1, 2013

Author: Alethea Kontis

Review Issue Date: September 1, 2013
Online Publish Date: August 14, 2013
Pages: 304
Price ( Hardcover ): $17.99
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-544-05677-0
Category: Fiction

The cover is terribly wrong—again—but Kontis’ return to the Woodcutter family is still mightily entertaining.

This story focuses on Saturday Woodcutter, whose sister Sunday from Enchanted (2012) is now queen. Saturday is a big, strong girl who has not figured out her magic, except that the ax she was given as an infant has turned into a sword that strengthens and heals. Tossing away a magic mirror endangers her whole family, especially her changeling brother, Trix, and she goes off to find and save him. She’s mistaken for her lost brother, Jack Woodcutter, by a blind witch whose eyes he stole and who imprisons Saturday. The witch also keeps captive a man named Peregrine, magicked by the witch’s daughter into taking her place. Peregrine does his best to keep busy and sane, while dressing as a woman and trying to both serve and outwit the witch. Peregrine and Saturday are a wonderful couple, as they spar, miss signals and exchange roles, aided by Betwixt, a chimera also held by the witch. There is hardly a fairy-tale or gender trope that Kontis doesn’t turn on its head, and readers don’t need to know about Hercules cleaning out the Augean Stables to find Saturday’s impossible task of cleaning the witch’s bird’s nest both hilarious and revolting.

Whether Kontis tells the tales of other Woodcutter children or not, readers will await her next with joyful anticipation. (Fantasy. 11-18)
Snow White

13 Little Blue Reasons

I finished Maureen Johnson’s The Last Little Blue Envelope this morning at the bookstore. The premise of the book is this: Virginia (the main character) spent all last summer hopping around Europe (starting in England), following the instructions in thirteen little blue envelopes her artistic Aunt Peg left her before she died of cancer. Only in Greece, before she had a chance to read letter number thirteen, her backpack was stolen. This story begins when she is contacted by Oliver, a boy in England who somehow found the letters and wants to get them back to her. Now, Ginny finally has the chance to read (and comply with) that last little blue envelope.

Ironically, the bookstore closed last night when I was on the last chapter. I thought to myself, “Oh, I have to open first thing in the morning. I won’t lug this book all the way home just for one chapter. I’ll just finish it in the morning when I have time.”

Which led to me being annoyed all night. I even had dreams about how the book might have almost ended. Coupled with a migraine and insomnia, this is not something I’d recommend to any of you in the future. But I will tell you–I now have an inking of how Virginia felt when she couldn’t get her hands on that little blue letter.

Overall, I found The Last Little Blue Envelope highly enjoyable. I’m not jumping up and down saying it was the best book I’ve ever read, but it was a lot of fun, and I’ll go see when they make it into a movie. (Isn’t that always the way these days?) While the writing for the most part was concise and moved the story along (a trait that many authors are forgetting–thank you, Maureen), there were a couple of lines that jumped out at me:

“Painting, writing. Both just stains on the page.”

“We have the mad one here. Strange things seem to find her. She’s like a party in your pocket.”

Books like this make me want to do a complete 180 and leave fairyland to write contemporary YA…but I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. We’ll see. Right now, I’ll just be glad that I have John Green and Maureen Johnson to keep me occupied.

And, goodness, how reading this book made me miss England. Maureen is there right now (I stalk her on Twitter), and I am excessively jealous. Yes, I am very glad I didn’t marry that lying, cheating citizen of the United Kingdom I was engaged to that one time, but a part of me is still sad that I had to lose a country in the breakup. I miss my England, with its cream tea and its traffic circles that go clockwise. I still have friends there, and a promise of a football game and Guy Fawkes Day…and Dulles airport is RIGHT HERE and I’m so incredibly tempted sometimes to break my bank and hop over the pond just to wave and play hopscotch on the cobblestones and throw a penny in Trafalgar Square fountain and fly right back home again.

But, unlike that Virginia, I do not have thirteen blue excuses and a tidy little bank account. So for the meantime, I will stay here in this Virginia and enjoy the bookstore’s weighty population of British customers, and dream.

Assuming I can sleep tonight.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: Rejiggering the Thingamajig
Author: Eric James Stone
EAN: 0979534992

I absolutely loved reading this book. For me, Rejiggering the Thingamajig wasn’t just a collection of brilliant stories by an author so funny and clever it makes me angry sometimes, it was a trip down memory lane. I’ve been a fan of Eric James Stone’s since Day One, literally. As you’ll discover in his afterword to “Betrayer of Trees,” I sat across from Eric during Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp when he presented his first draft of this story . . . and okay, I did threaten to slap his characters. But what everyone likes to forget is that I began my critique with, “This was about magic and trees, so you had me at hello.” And then came the infamous “But . . .”

However, ladies and gentlemen, please let the record show that Eric James Stone had me at hello. (Read more…)


Title: The Kitchen Daughter
Author: Jael McHenry
EAN: 9781439191699

I found The Kitchen Daughter by chance, on a shelf in the bookstore. I was scanning the fiction section as opposed to the sci-fi & fantasy corner, since I was in the mood for something a little more mainstream, a little more . . . magical realism. I honestly had no idea what was out there, but this book, face out, caught my eye after only about thirty seconds of looking. I had just ordered a book for a man’s wife that morning called The Kitchen House, and the coincidence of the title made me pick this one up. When I read the inside dust jacket, I knew it was exactly the book for me.

The best way to describe Jael McHenry’s debut novel is that it’s a cross between Sarah Addison Allen’s subtle magic fiction and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time(Read more…)

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: Sparks
Author: Laura Bickle
EAN: 9781439167687

It’s funny . . . I read this book a few weeks ago, and I’m still not quite sure whether or not I liked it. I finished it, which is certainly something for the plus column these days. So I must have enjoyed it, anyway. I certainly loved the main character’s job: Anya Kalincyzk a rare type of medium called a “Lantern”. Not only does she see dead people, but she kind of eats them too. Not a bad thing, certainly, but it’s not exactly win-win either, an intriguing dilemma for the reader… (Read more)


Title: WWW:Watch (audiobook)
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Narrated by: Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, Jennifer Van Dyck, Robert J. Sawyer

In my capacity as reviewer, it’s incredibly difficult when I come across an absolutely brilliant piece of literary work, because I feel compelled to rise to the challenge and pen a thorough review as complex and elegant as this work that took months — sometimes years — of an author’s life. Seriously, I actually stress out about this. Granted, I’m lucky if a book of this caliber comes across my desk once or twice a year, so I don’t need a therapist’s couch or anything. I’m just going to go ahead and say this: Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW: Watch is a masterpiece. Read it. But for an even better experience, listen to the audiobook… (Read more)


Title: The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
EAN: 9781428511163

I enjoyed Leanna Renee Hieber’s first two books in this series: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. As a third book, Perilous Prophecy is unique in that it is technically a prequel for the series. It more closely covers the original love story of Persephone and her Phoenix, the destruction of her lover and the terrible plight set for the goddess by Darkness himself, and the initial creation of Persephone’s precious Guard.

“Five Muses ran toward [the phoenix feather]. Four ran away.” As eloquently simple as that, the Guard was formed to aid the Goddess against Darkness and fight for good, as outlined by The Grand Work. Of course, since The Grand Work is tantamount to ghostbusting, it’s a pretty sweet job to get . . . one would think… (Read more)


Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: Fuzzy Nation
Author: John Scalzi
EAN: 9780765328540

Admit it: it’s a strange title. I figured it was about animals (a lot of animals), or a bunch of fetishists, or a country of very hirsute folk. Regardless of the title, I am a pretty big fan of the author (both on and off the page), so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy. When the book arrived, the illustration on the front had a man in a futuristic flight suit sitting with a funny little guy that looked like a cross between an Ewok and a Mogwai (the Gremlins, not the band). I did not look anything up on the internet, nor did I flip the book over and read the back. It was a John Scalzi book, it was SF, and that was all I needed to know… (Read More)


Title: The Uncertain Places
Author: Lisa Goldstein
EAN: 9781616960148

Sometimes there is magic in every day life. It’s there; you just have to find it. Are your eyes open? Are you concentrating? Because once you start to see it, you’ll never stop. Take Lisa Goldstein, for example.

At the beginning of March, I hit a bit of a wall in this fairy tale novel I’m working on. So I decided to do what most red-blooded authors do in this position: more research. I consider myself fairly well-versed in more fairy tales than you can shake a stick at, but I know I haven’t read them all. I needed to go back to the source. I’ve already taken on the project of podcasting all the Grimms’ tales, so I took out a notebook and concentrated on the Lang fairy books (at least, the three volumes that managed to make it out of storage). I plowed through the Crimson Fairy Book and went straight on to the Red Fairy Book . . . (Read More)


Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: The Desert of Souls
Author: Howard Andrew Jones
EAN: 9780312646745

I loved this book. This could possibly be the shortest review I ever write, because I don’t know how to say it any other way: I loved this book. I wish it had been about 800 pages long. I wish I could pop in the DVD and watch the movie. I wish I had the kind of pocket change to pay Howard Andrew Jones to write me another story just like this. I wish I had the power to stop time, drop everything, and read every single one of the source texts he lists in his afterword. Heck, I wish I had the power to turn back time two days just so I could read this book all over again… (Read More)

Title: The Stainless Steel Rat (audiobook)
Author: Harry Harrison
Reader: Phil Gigante
EAN: 9781441881090

For the last few years, Brilliance Audio has been expanding their science fiction and fantasy selections by snagging the audio rights of classic novels in the genre. It’s a brilliant (no pun intended) move on their part — the audio presentations breathe new life into these gems, putting them back on the radar for those of us with too little time to go back to the library and catch up on the sections we missed when we were twelve… (Read More)




Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactc Medicine Show!

Title: The Winds of Khalakovo
Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu
EAN: 978-1-59780-218-5

If your reading habits are anything like mine, difficult pronunciation in a book can be a real turn off. If I scan down a book’s jacket and find that the main characters’ names are long strings of apostrophes and consonants, nine times out of ten I’ll put it right back on the shelf and move on. This is not the case for all books, of course — I shudder to think who would I be right now if I had never picked up Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, but discussion over the pronunciation of “Eilonwy” often kept my best friend and me awake into the wee hours.

From the very front cover (the author’s last name is pronounced “bowl-yer”), The Winds of Khalakovo can appear daunting — so I will tell you right away that this is an excellent, epic, Russian-based fantasy about airships and elemental spirits… (Read more)


Also, for a unique spin this month, I talked a little bit about the dangers of being a book reviewer, and did several mini reviews!
Hexbound by Chloe Neill
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev
Starbound by Joe Haldeman
Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock
Night School by Mari Mancusi
Ghost Town by Rachel Caine

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

My new reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: Pegasus
Author: Robin McKinley
EAN: 9780399246777

Ask me who my favorite authors are and — hard pressed as I am to narrow it down to less than twenty — Robin McKinley is always at the top of the list. She has remained stubbornly at the top position, despite the fact that I have not enjoyed her last three books. I couldn’t even finish Dragonhaven. I felt completely miserable about that one. But I refused to give up on her. I hoped that the muse would find her again, that she would wander back to Damar, or retell another fairy tale in the way that only Robin McKinley can. I wanted the gorgeous prose and complex worlds and even more complex characters that she can weave like straw into gold. I didn’t expect another Blue Sword or Deerskin, but a girl can dream, can’t she? I bought my copy of Pegasus hoping for nothing, but praying that I would not be disappointed.

I am happy to report: This is the book I’ve been waiting a decade for. (Read more…)

Title: The Osiris Ritual
Author: George Mann
EAN: 9780765323217

Once upon a time I was a series purist and completist. I needed to start with Book One of a series and go on chronologically until I came to the end (or until the author lost me in boring minutiae). Now that I’ve read my way around the library a few times, I enjoy jumping into an already-established series just to see if the author has the chops to draw me in and pull it off without my having read the first one. In The Osiris Ritual, a Newbury and Hobbes investigation, author George Mann passes the test with flying colors. (Read more…)

Title: Subject Seven
Author: James A. Moore
EAN: 9781595143044

The theme of my column this week is apparently series, or books that are some small part of a bigger whole. I dove into Subject Seven having no idea if it was book one of a series, and at the writing of this column I still have no idea. But sure as heck hope it is, because I would really like to know what happens.

From the first page of Subject Seven, author James A. Moore throws you right in the deep end. There are authors who can’t pull this off, but Moore is not one of them. The reader is too busy following the action to wonder about answering all the questions they don’t know — there will be time for that, we realize, right now we just need to get out alive. (Read more…)

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: In Dreams Begin
Author: Skyler White
EAN: 9780425236956

Three things instantly struck me when I started Skyler White’s In Dreams Begin. The first was the gorgeous fluidity of the prose. Skyler has obviously studied poets and is also one herself; she writes in a way that makes other writers in the genre (namely, me) exceptionally jealous. I took me almost a week to get through the first hundred pages, because I knew that if I didn’t read carefully, I would be missing some special nuance lost in the language. In Dreams Begin is by no means a quick read; I re-read many of the sentences multiple times, making sure I was getting all the information I needed. And I’m still pretty sure I missed a lot… (Read more)

Title: Hunger
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
EAN: 9780547341248

I read Hunger directly on the heels of Skyler White’s In Dreams Begin, and experienced an interesting juxtaposition. Where Skyler’s prose is weighty and thick, Jackie’s is much more accessible and even young adult friendly. Where In Dreams Begin took me over a week to finish, I gobbled up Hunger in one day. But where the previous one tripped through erotic fantasy, the subject matter of this book was the more difficult to . . . well . . . consume… (Read more)

Title: Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences
Author: Brian Yansky
Audio Read By: Alexander Cendese
EAN: 9781441889966

Yansky’s book starts sort of like a gunshot, with — you guessed it — an alien invasion. I enjoy this get-right-to-it mentality in books I listen to on audio, because (let’s be honest) I bore easily. Sometimes, having a book read to me on tape is so incredibly soothing that my mind starts to wander, or simply falls asleep altogether. So it helps when the no-nonsense author gets right down to business. It also helps to have an exceptionally engaging narrator like Alexander Cendese. Cendese’s depth and breadth of vocal range makes for a cast of characters that feels like more than one person behind that microphone… (Read more)

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up in my column at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Title: Warrior Wisewoman 3
Editor: Roby James
EAN: 9781607620617

I’ll admit, when I first received this book and looked at the title, I was slightly concerned that I was getting into part three of a Conan-style fantasy that I hadn’t dived into before . . . but it was recommended by a friend, so in doing my friendly duty I had to give it a shot. And then I looked a little closer at the cover (and remembered that my friends are pretty intelligent people). Vera Nazarian’s classic busts of women against a star-filled backdrop, with some sort of satellites in the foreground, hinted at a bit more than She-Ra and the Power of Grayskull. (Read more…)

Title: Archvillain
Author: Barry Lyga
EAN: 9780546196499

The coolest thing about hunting down authors you really like at conventions is that sometimes they give you free books. The tough thing about hunting those authors down is that you need someone who’s met them before to point them out in the crowd while wandering through Baltimore Comiccon. Otherwise, you’ll pass them three or four times and never even know it. Luckily, this year I had a friend with me to point out Barry Lyga, who gave me a copy of his new YA book, Archvillain. (Read more…)


If you would like to send me a copy of your SF/F book for review consideration, please mail it to me at:
Alethea Kontis
PO Box 2024
Ashburn, VA 20146

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.