Dearest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dearest by Alethea KontisFriday is an optimist and content with her life. She loves her family and her work as a talented seamstress. Her life is full.

But even gentle Friday has to admit that her younger sister Saturday made an egregious error when she broke the world and called an ocean to the previously peaceful (and landlocked) borders of Arilland.

While Saturday goes off to seek her fortunes on a pirate ship, her family is left behind to deal with the aftermath. Friday, in particular, soon finds herself in charge of an army of wayward children not to mention dealing with an increased need for laundry, clothes and food within the kingdom.

Friday’s problems increase tenfold when she finds seven cursed brothers in the highest tower of her sister Sunday’s palace. When Friday sees Tristan, she knows she has found her future. But with a curse to break, an errant ocean, and other demands everywhere, there is no guarantee that Tristan and Friday will ever make it to that shared future in Dearest (2015) by Alethea Kontis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dearest is the third book in Kontis’ Woodcutter Sisters series. It is preceded by Enchanted and Hero.

Kontis once again takes what could be a formulaic story and moves it in a dramatically unexpected direction with this latest installment in her delightful series.

As the rhyme goes, Friday is the “loving and giving” sister which makes Friday a uniquely content heroine. Throughout the novel she remains hopeful, optimistic and above all determined. While Friday’s hopes and dreams grow to include Tristan and his siblings–Friday is a refreshingly satisfied and flexible character willing to take life as it comes.

With elements from traditional fairy tales and myths, Dearest is the most romantic Woodcutter adventure yet. Both Tristan and Friday add a new element to the overarching story with their narrations in this story that hints at bigger things to come for the entire Woodcutter family. Readers will also be rewarded with more of Kontis’ now familiar humor and madcap pacing in this latest satisfying installment in the Woodcutter Sisters series.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Chris Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones,Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

You can also check out my interview with Alethea about Dearest!

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2014*

Author Interview #2: Alethea Kontis on Dearest

Alethea Kontis author photoAlethea Kontis is here again! Today she is answering some questions about Dearest, the third book in her Woodcutter Sisters series (this book is preceded by Enchanted and Hero.)

Miss Print (MP): Dearest is the third book in your  Woodcutter Sisters series and follows Friday. What was the inspiration for this story?

Alethea Kontis (AK): The Woodcutter Sisters novels always start, like perfume, with a “base note” fairy tale. For Enchanted, this was “The Frog King” (aka “Iron Hans”). For Hero, this was “Petronella” (aka “Master Maid). For Dearest, this was “The Wild Swans” (aka “The Six Swans”).

I also knew that this would probably be the most romantic volume of the whole series, as it’s about Friday, the “loving and giving” sister. What I didn’t expect was for it also to be one of the funniest…and the most heart-wrenching.

MP: In addition to the expected nods to traditional fairy tales, this book references some familiar mythology as well. What prompted you to bring myths and other non-fairy tale inspiration into the mix? How did you decide which source material to reference in this installment?

AK: Once I start with my “base note” fairy tale, it’s time to fill in some blanks. Go back and read any of the Grimms’ tales—you’ll inevitably end up with some questions, as the stories tend to gloss over details. How did the main character get from Point A to Point B? How did the bad guy come into possession of that particular magic object?

As I write the Woodcutters series, I simply (ha!) fill in blanks like this with other fairy stories. For example: At the beginning of Dearest, Friday is washed ashore in Arilland after her sister conjures a magic ocean. I needed to get her to the castle, so I had Conrad (from “The Goose Girl”) find her, as he was already on his way to the castle. When she gets there, Friday is sent to tend the children (instead of geese), and one night stumbles upon seven mysterious young men in the highest tower…who have a connection to the herb girl that was introduced in Enchanted and named after Rapunzel…

I can’t tell you much more than that because SPOILERS! Discovering all the fairy tale references is part of the fun! The more well-versed a reader is in fairy tales and classic fantasy, the more hidden treasures there are to discover.

Putting all these unlikely things together and then letting them all play out is SO MUCH FUN. I imagine the writers of Once Upon a Time must also experience this level of evil-genius-like glee.

MP: While all of the Woodcutters are very special, Friday is a bit different from her siblings in that she is quite content with her lot in life. Unlike Sunday and Saturday, Friday doesn’t start her story wanting to change much about her life. How did you go about channeling that level of contentment in Friday’s voice?

AK: Oh, yes, I’ve already gotten flack from reviewers because Friday is an optimist who isn’t damaged enough. It’s hard for me to be sorry about this because so far, her adventure is my favorite.

I had a very privileged childhood: I grew up in a beautiful brick house on a lake in a subdivision that Norman Rockwell could have painted about, and there were children aplenty. (I was the instigator of many adventures with my bands of child misfits.) I acted on stage and television. I loved school. I never went to funerals because no one I loved ever died.

Even as a young writer, I was aware of this pie-in-the-sky existence. I worried that because I didn’t have a horrible childhood, my writing would never be good enough. Now…was my life really perfect? Of course not. I was a teenager. I have yet to meet the teenager with a perfect life.

Friday’s character pulls greatly from that part of my childhood, and hopefully speaks to other young people who may feel as I did. It is okay to be an optimist. It is okay to appreciate the life you have, while still striving to make it better by helping others. Everyone else might think you have a perfect life, but things will come along—as they always do—to screw it up. How you deal with those things is up to you. In Dearest, I dealt with them as Friday would have, with her brightness and love.

MP: This book overlaps with the beginning of Hero (which goes on to follow Saturday’s adventures at the Top of the World) but instead stays in Arilland for the most part to follow Friday and some of the other Woodcutters. Did you always know the sisters’ different adventures would cover the same span of time?

AK: Always? No. I have always known the End game, the “base note” fairy tales of each book and the order in which I wanted to tell them, but I was not aware at the beginning that Hero and Dearest would be parallel novels.

I wasn’t sure I had the ability to tell a parallel story until that first ball in Enchanted. When Sunday first walks into the ball, she is dealing with her own emotional baggage. Similarly, Prince Rumbold is going through his own story arc. Both chapters held vital information to the plot, and I could not reveal everything I needed from only one character’s POV…so I wrote each character’s story as a separate chapter, ending them both at the same point, when the two characters meet on the dance floor for the first time. AND IT WORKED.

Hero and Dearest work together on the same lever, just a larger scale. Saturday spends most of Hero as a prisoner in the White Mountains—if I had continued chronologically on from that story, there would simply have been too many questions. Not the least of which was: What did happen to Arilland when Saturday called the ocean?

The Brothers Grimm may have had the freedom to gloss over those details, but in good conscience, I could not. And I’m so glad I didn’t!

MP: Tristan and Friday are an interesting pair. Obviously, we’ve known Friday since the beginning of this series. When did you known Tristan would be the male narrator of Dearest?

AK: Sometime around 11:47am on February 10, 2013.

Okay, maybe not exactly then…but darn close. I knew that Friday would fall in love with one of Elisa’s swan brothers. That was about it until my fellow Mermaid Carlene Love Flores asked a bunch of us to contribute to a Valentine’s day post on The Waterworld Mermaids about our fictional heroes. A bunch of us had just been talking about the celebrity crushes we had in high school—I had a ton, but none bigger than Jonathan Brandis. I Googled a picture of him for the post…and suddenly Tristan’s character sprung into my head, fully formed. In fact, all of the swan brothers were born that day—you can find them all on my Dearest (the book was still called Beloved then) board on Pinterest.

MP: Is there any character in this story that you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

AK: YES. Oh my gosh, yes. There are at least four of them. I think this is one of the reason I love Dearest so much—because it introduces these characters that are PIVOTAL to the rest of the series. But if I tell you anything about them it will ruin the surprise! So I will simply say that Conrad is particularly awesome. And not just because he comes from my favorite fairy tale.

In fact, there is a missing chapter from Dearest, written from Conrad’s point of view, that the publisher asked me to cut from the book. I think I might have to make that available in an e-version. Unfortunately, I can’t just make it free, because it contains MASSIVE spoilers. I’m very anti-spoiler.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

AK: I can tell you about three upcoming projects—all of which I hope to have out in the next six months. The first is the worldwide release of Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome, another one of my collaborations with Janet K. Lee. It was born as an illustrated Twitter serial, and we managed a limited print run of 50 before deciding that printer wasn’t cost-effective. Happily, we are releasing that VERY SOON.

Second, there is a Woodcutter tie-in novella called Trixter, yet another parallel story that tracks Trix through his adventures after Saturday calls the ocean. Trixter will release shortly after Dearest, and I’ve planned several more installments in “The Trix Adventures.”

Thirdly, I am writing a series of contemporary romance novellas (warning: there will be sex) set in a small town in Florida called Sand Point–very much like the one I moved to this summer. I wrote the first draft of the first novella in only 13 days, and it was SO MUCH FUN. Even better, all the books in the Sand Point Series will be titled after Adam Ezra Group songs, by use with special permission from the band. I am so excited!!

2015 is going to ROCK. :-)

Thanks again to Alethea Kontis for a great interview.

You can see more about Alethea and her books on her website.

You can also read my reviews of Enchanted, Hero and Dearest here on the blog!

Hero: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hero by Alethea KontisSaturday Woodcutter is tired of being the lone ordinary child among her magically gifted siblings. Even with an enchanted sword to call her own, Saturday fears she is never destined to have a great adventure like her sister Sunday or travel the world like her sister Thursday. The idea of Saturday ever being the stuff of songs and ballads like her older brother Jack is downright laughable.

Then Saturday accidentally creates an ocean outside of the Woodcutter family home and sets sail on a pirate ship.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s first adventure is cut short when a witch kidnaps her. Saturday is whisked to the Top of the World and embroiled in the witch’s evil plans. Even with her magic sword and sensible thinking, Saturday isn’t certain she has what it takes to stop the witch and save herself–let alone anyone else. But she is certain that she has to try in Hero (2013) by Alethea Kontis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hero is a sequel/companion to Kontis’ earlier novel Enchanted. (Enchanted was Sunday Woodcutter’s adventure. And while the same characters feature and references are made to the events of Enchanted in Hero, you could probably read this one without reading the first book and still enjoy it.)

Hero is full of the wit and nods to familiar tales that readers of Enchanted will expect. This time around Kontis also creates a tighter narrative with smoother plotting and more surprising twists (including a very surprising one at the end!). Peregrine is an excellent foil for Saturday. The two together are as memorable as they are formidable. Their unlikely pairing also provides ample opportunities for gender bending as traditional roles are flipped or just thrown out the window.

Saturday is a great heroine. She is tough, surly and she hates all things romantic. (Don’t even get her started on magic and all the trouble it causes.) She is also massively tall and often rude and obnoxious to strangers (or relatives . . . or friends). Which is to say that Saturday is an incredibly human protagonist. She makes quite a few mistakes throughout the story and she carries more than her share of guilt over said mistakes. But at the same time she is proactive and selfless in a way that heroines don’t always get to be when a fairy tale atmosphere comes into play.

Hero is another excellent installment in the Woodcutter Sisters story and a mandatory read for anyone looking for an antidote to the typical princess story. With a central arc that resolves nicely Hero still promises even more adventure and mayhem to come for the kingdom of Arilland and the Woodcutter family.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Chris Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones,Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

I was also a stop on Alethea Kontis’ blog tour for Hero so be sure to check out my interview with her.

Author Interview: Alethea Kontis on Hero

Alethea Kontis author photoOne of my favorite books I read this year was Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. The book came out while I was still working in a bookstore and, though I didn’t get to read it as soon as I’d have liked, I was quite taken with the cover and the premise. So much so that I hand sold the book to anyone who would stand still. Then I read it and loved it. Then I found that Alethea was absolutely delightful on Twitter. THEN I found out the book was the first in a series AND I got to meet Alethea at BEA 2013 where she was signing arcs. Needless to say it was all very exciting and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Hero (the second book in the Woodcutter Sisters series). For more info about the blog tour and to see the other stops check out:

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Alethea Kontis (AK): I can pinpoint the birth of my writing career to when I was eight years old. That year my grandmother gave me a doorstop copy of Unexpurgated Tales of Grimm & Andersen, I got my first real, paid, TV acting job, and Romancing the Stone was the blockbuster movie that summer. I was already writing poetry, but suddenly I wanted to be Joan Wilder more than anything in the world.

I was a good student–I’ve always liked learning things–but my parents frowned on the idea of my being an English major. So I got a degree in Chemistry real quick, left college not long after my 20th birthday, and went to work in a bookstore. I haven’t left the publishing industry since. I’ve been a bookseller, a librarian, an editor, a copyeditor, a reviewer, a columnist, an interviewer, a small press publisher, and a book buyer for a major wholesaler. Oh — and an author. I can’t just do one thing. I HAVE TO LEARN IT ALL.

MP: Hero is the second book in a series. It’s preceded by Enchanted. What was the inspiration for this series? When you started, did you know the story of the Woodcutter family would encompass four books?

AK: The plan is for the Woodcutter Sisters Series to encompass 7 books — one about each sister. That’s always been my original plan. The publisher’s plan was for Enchanted to be a solo book. But I pulled out all the stops doing my own publicity and the book got some pretty rave reviews, and dontcha know it, they asked me to write two more books! This seems to be how publishing goes nowadays — everyone plays it close to the vest. Mama Woodcutter would be proud.

The inspiration for the series was the original novelette “Sunday” which I wrote for a fairy tale contest in my writers group. As the idea got bigger and bigger in my head, I had to promise myself that I would write the novel in order to edit out key points for the short story. AND I DID!

MP: What was the inspiration for Hero specifically?

AK: I was reading by the age of three and was quite the avid reader by age five. One of my favorite books was Petronella, a feminist retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ “Master Maid,” written by Jay Williams and illustrated by Friso Henstra. I always envisioned Saturday as a Petronella-type character: a girl who was meant to be a boy, but was just as tough and clever. Saturday’s story is definitely a nod to my heroes Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

MP: Obviously these books nod to a lot of fairy tales throughout. Were any books or stories especially helpful in your writing?

AK: One of my favorite books in my personal library is an Annotated Mother Goose, and I recently purchased the Annotated Brothers Grimm. I have many versions of the Grimms’ tales, of course, and Andersen’s. I’ve also been reading back through the Lang fairy books, taking obsessive notes on place names, character names, food, animals, and objects. I’m sure the inside of my head looks like one of those serial killer rooms on TV…man, I wish I could collage a room like that without getting locked in a padded cell.

MP: Working off the last question, both Enchanted and Hero have some great settings in the story. Did any actual locations help to inspire Arilland? Or the Wood? Or even the Top of the World?

AK: I’m so glad you asked! In one of my favorite books (The Princess Bride), the author (William Goldman) says that the story takes place “before Europe, but after Paris.” That’s my setting for the Woodcutters–a Once Upon a Time land where I can recognize the French influence in certain words and character names without ever naming “France” as a country. I want to be able to pull in all sorts of cultures and folk/fairy/magic tale influences while still obfuscating with author handwavium.

MP: One thing readers learn fairly early is that the Woodcutter sisters are all very unique. Was one sister more similar to you than others? Did you have a favorite sister to write about?

I was born on a Sunday, and like Sunday, I’ve always hated that nursery rhyme about the days of the week. But Sunday makes her own adventure, as I have made mine. Despite that, of course, there is quite a bit of all of me in each of the sisters. It’s as if they all live in my head at the same time…like in Tanya Huff’s The Last Wizard. My favorite sister is always the one I’m writing at the time.

Personally, I CAN’T WAIT to write Monday’s story…but that might be because it’s the awesome culmination of the series. It also scares me the most, because I’m definitely not ready for my time in this fairy tale world to be over. Not in the slightest.

MP: In the Woodcutter family, each child received a special name day gift. If you had a fairy godmother, what would you hope to receive as your name day gift? Is there anything you’d really want to avoid receiving?

AK: Everything happens for a reason and all gifts are useful, so I’d definitely never turn anything away–especially if it was something intrinsically liked to who I was destined to be. I’d certainly love Sunday’s neverending journal. I have a bazillion notebooks. I would save SO MUCH space and money.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

AK: Right now I’m working on BELOVED (Friday’s story), which will release in the fall of 2014. I’m also working with a friend at a small press to release a collection of my non-fairy tale short stories called WILD AND WONDERFUL, DARK AND DREAMING.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

AK: NEVER STOP. Never stop writing, never stop learning, and never stop putting yourself out there. Opportunity is out there, but it’s a lot of hard work finding it. And then you have to find the next one. And the next one. It’s tough. Really tough. But you can do it!

Thanks again to Alethea Kontis for a great interview.

You can see more about Alethea and her books on her website.

You can also read my reviews of Enchanted and Hero here on the blog!

Enchanted: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Enchanted by Alethea KontisSunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. She is not destined for greatness like her oldest brother, Jack Jr. She is not hardworking like her sister Saturday, or unfailingly kind like her sister Friday.

It is also almost impossible for Sunday to live up to her own name. Blithe and bonny and good and gay? That’s a lot to live up to.

Still, Sunday is happy with her life. She loves her family. She has her notebook to fill with stories (that have a slightly disturbing tendency to come true). All is well in their crowded hope near the enchanted forest.

In a land as ripe with magic as Sunday’s, it isn’t particularly surprising to meet a talking frog. The real surprise comes when he shows an interest in Sunday’s stories and quickly becomes her dear friend.

Until he disappears.

Rumbold is more than happy to be human again thanks to Sunday’s love. Even if it does mean he is once again Prince Rumbold–a man Sunday’s family has long hated.

But love and magic can be complicated things. And Rumbold isn’t one to give up easily. Rumbold will have to try to win Sunday’s heart all over again amidst a whirlwind of balls, fairy godmothers and true danger for himself, Sunday and the entire kingdom in Enchanted (2012) by Alethea Kontis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Enchanted is Kontis’ first novel. The second book in the Woodcutter Sisters series, Hero, is due out later in 2013.

Enchanted is part retelling and part fractured fairy tale as Kontis works in every fairy tale trope, convention and character imaginable into this volume. (Half the fun is catching all of her references.)

Happily, Enchanted is a fine addition to the world of fairy tale novels. Sunday is a winsome heroine who is steadfast, brave, and just the right amount of stubborn. Rumbold is as charming as one would expect a fairy tale prince to be. With a sprawling cast, this novel is filled with characters that are as amusing as  they are endearing.

Working with so many different pieces of source material, you might expect a story like this one to feel forced. It doesn’t. Kontis’ writing is seamless as she effortlessly brings together many beloved fairy tale elements to create a story that is both sentimental and exciting. The heavy focus on the importance of family–especially the obvious affection the Woodcutters have for each other–was a delightful part of the story.

With adventure and magic and not one but three royal balls, Enchanted is guaranteed to have something for everyone. This story even has a perfect ending to Sunday’s tale (and a perfect beginning for the next Woodcutter Sisters book).

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Chris Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones,Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

I flipped the cover of this book earlier in May. You can see the results in my CoverFlip post.