Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

Book Review: The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black

I have not reviewed many ebooks on my blog, but made an exception in this case as I’d been intrigued by the sample chapter and wanted to read the rest. When A.G.R. Moore (@agrmoore on Twitter) approached me, I agreed to review his book, The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black.

The book is a little fantasy and a little steampunk: there are wizards and robots and monsters and a haunted forest. And an airship, naturally. The illustrations were done by Gillian Reid and, honestly, were some of the best I’ve seen. It was a perfect marriage of picture and text. Her interpretations really brought the story to life.

I enjoyed Amelia as a heroine, as she’s exactly the type of plucky little girl I would follow into an adventure like this. There is a great exploration of the shades of grey within us all – not all of the good guys are good and even the bad guys are not as they seem. Amelia has powers that she struggles to control, on her quest to find her parents.

The narrative suffered from a slightly disjointed feeling. The action would occasionally leave Amelia for awhile and focus on the other characters, but none of them had the draw for me that she did. It was a quick read and pleasurable.

Some truly not-so-nice things happen to the characters along the way, a few nightmarish moments, so be prepared. This book would be too intense for young children, but might be just right for tweens and, of course, adults who enjoy Young Adult literature. I recommend this book for lovers of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and dark fantasy.

It’s a very affordable buy on Amazon and totally worth it – support indie authors!

Book Review: Lies, Knives, And Girls in Red Dresses

There’s a dark, twisted underbelly to fairytales that modern parents generally do not acknowledge.

Early fairytales were often moralizing, cautionary tales with very real messages: do not walk into the woods alone, do not always trust the honeyed words of strangers, not every fair face is your friend.

In the original tale, the Little Mermaid feels like she is walking on swords when she uses her legs and dies in the end of a broken heart, returning to the sea as foam.

Edmund Dulac

 Our contemporary, sanitized and Disneyfied stories are pastel-colored and always have a happy ending. While there are dark moments (notably Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty terrorized me), we are comforted and secure in the knowledge that our protagonist will succeed in their quest, often accompanied by crooning crabs.

Failure, ruin and despair don’t have much play in modern fairytales, except in books like Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge (illustrations by Andrea Deszo).

Koertge makes no bones about his dark retellings; he writes on the first page:

“Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you want to think about the world in a new way?

Come closer. Closer, please. I want to whisper in your ear.”

Even the cover promises dark dreams: a lascivious red tongued wolf threatening to gobble a girl in a red dress.

These are true retellings. Do not look here for many happy endings. At best, his characters end up with their expected version of happiness, which isn’t so permanent after all. At worst, maiming, suffering and beautiful death.

If you enjoy the original Grimm Brothers stories, if you like your tales with a razor’s edge, Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses will be your cup of tea. The finely designed laser-cut illustrations from Andrea Deszo give the look of old-world woodcuts, adding a perfect punctuation to the dark-rimmed stories.

Here are twenty reimagined tales, written in free verse ranging from poetic prose to rhymed couplets. It reads like stories rather than poetry, though, and is quite easy to slide into.

My favorite is a series of five stories on Rapunzel, from the point of view of the mother, the father, the witch, the prince and Rapunzel. It will make you rethink Happily-Ever-After.



Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is available for pre-order on Amazon. It releases July 10, 2012.

Thanks to Candlewick Press and Raquel Matos for the advance copy to review.

PC Game Review – The Book of Unwritten Tales

The Book of Unwritten Tales begins with a “spirited leap” onto the back of a dragon and doesn’t let go till the very end, some 20-odd hours later.



The action in the game is third person point and click. You play as a number of characters throughout the game: the gnome Wilbur Weathervane, elvish Princess Ivo, Nate the human buccaneer, or his creature Critter who is a…creature.

Some videogames have annoying and repetitive music and voices. This is not the case with The Book of Unwritten Tales. The few times when I had to play in a quiet area, I got my headphones so I didn’t miss a moment.

In fact, the music and vocal work is truly exceptional, the soundtrack nuanced with believable sound effects. Unlike some games that force two voice actors to create five or six different voices, this game has a sizable vocal cast about a dozen and you can tell as you encounter people throughout the world.

The visuals are five star, a dizzying array of locales. There are icy mountains, underground caverns, and dark forests.



 The pacing of the plot dynamic and keeps you interested.  The puzzles range in challenge from easy to ‘scratch your head difficult.’  The game raises the difficulty by disguising objects so perfectly into the background that you can’t perceive them.

Several mini-games require a series of quick key presses to progress, which creates a little urgency in a linear game since you cannot progress otherwise. Like most adventure games, the player has to combine unexpected elements. Fasten the rubber chicken to the torture device to create a makeshift slingshot? Check.

You also often have to switch characters during cooperative play as you often need to use a character’s specific skill to solve a puzzle.

Lots of humor is written into both the dialogue and the tiny reaction animations. The designers don’t take anything too seriously, a great deal is tongue-in-cheek. There are countless gaming and geek references: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Magic: the Gathering, Mission Impossible…and those are just the ones I caught on the first go-thru.


Not only are there countless references in-game, but also musical jokes to those attuned to the soundtrack. Early in the game, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” starts playing to underscore with ominous bassoon a risky venture by the main gnome. I often found myself laughing out loud.
If you are not a fan of puns, some of the humor in the game may strike you the wrong way (i.e. you encounter a cast-iron safe for saved games). On the other hand, who can resist cheeky termites talking in a Cockney accent?  “Get out of our sun, homeotherm!”

The game, however, is not without a few issues. The animation to switch characters is odd; they half walk in a circle around each other to swap instead of instantaneous, which gets old when you have to constantly switch. The same half-circle happens when going in and out of doorways and entrances.

Though the script is very good, the last few lines of dialogue in the game is in untranslated German. It was an odd way to finish, but a small mar of the face of an otherwise excellent game-playing experience.

Some lessons to take away from The Book of Unwritten Tales:
• Don’t tee off the trolls.
• If you can’t see the solution to the puzzle, it’s likely under your nose.
• Individually, tiny creatures are no threat. Collectively, they can cart you off and toss you into the bushes.

The Book of Unwritten Tales definitely gives you your money’s worth. The game is presented as a book, divided into five chapters. I’m quite adept at adventure games and I found myself stuck in several places for a day or two. I opted not to use the walk-thru, as that takes all the fun out of it.



Like any good tale, I did not want it to end and didn’t want to leave these characters behind. Does plucky little Wilbur have the courage to adventure forth and be a true mage? Do Ivo and Nate end up floating off into their own sunset in a gnome balloon? Well, I’ll let you play and write the story on your own.

There are strong hints of a sequel–“Maybe there’s another adventure out there for us,” says Wilbur–and there’s definitely room for more creative adventure games like The Book of Unwritten Tales.

Game Trailer:

You can also buy the full game as a digital download for only $29.99.

The Book of Unwritten Tales is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB

Article first published as PC Game Review: The Book of Unwritten Tales on Blogcritics.

Book Review: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

To the 19th century mind, the camera captured truth. You placed an object in front of it, clicked the button, and it created an indelible record of reality…or so it seemed. Yet in 1917, two young girls produced photographs which claimed to document fairies. If you are curious, click here to see the photos and find out more about the Cottingley fairies.

The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure tells the well-known story from the girls’ point of view, first from the perspective of Frances on her arrival in England (Part I), then from the perspective of Elsie (Part II) and then the story intersects to weave the tale of both girls and how their own personal fairytales ended. Losure consults primary sources like previously undisclosed personal letters to build her narrative.

In an era where Photoshop makes edits invisible, the story of the Cottingley fairies holds great fascination. To our sophisticated 21stcentury eyes, the series of fairy photographs is obviously faked, yet the girls persuaded one of the great minds of the 19th century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Conan Doyle, who wrote one of the most skeptical anti-heroes of all time, Sherlock Holmes, was infamous in his own lack of skepticism. He believed in mystics and communications with his dead son through séance. Conan Doyle published a public defense of the photographs in the noted The Strand magazine, much to embarrassment of the girls’ parents.
The Fairy Ring has all kinds of engaging little details, like the fact that Frances was originally from Cape Town, South Africa. Or the fact that 15 year old Elsie was rather older than Frances, at nine. The language is delightful and reminds me strongly of Frances Hodgson Burnett – my favorite author who writes children’s books that are more than children’s books. It would be the perfect book to read aloud, as the prose has a charming freshness that lends itself to speaking.
The book has excellent high-quality scans of the photographs, which in itself is a pleasure to those who love Edwardian photography. There is a lot of argument about the final photograph in the Cottingley series. Fairy enthusiasts point out how different it is from the others, which clearly contain paper cut-outs. Here is the photo. The flanking fairies look like paper, but the central creature has a magnificent translucence – what do you think?

You should read this book if you love fairies and wish there was a touch more magic in the world. 

Pre-order The Fairy Ring; also available as an audio book. 
Candlewick Press, 2012. Thanks to @quellelove for the fantastic recommendation and ARC .

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Matthias Malzieu


What if falling in love cost you your life? Would you be able to resist?

The story opens in Edinburgh, in the late 1800s, during the greatest freeze the city has known. In this introduction, the cold and snow almost become a character on their own. You meet the protagonist, Jack, as a frail infant abandoned by his mother to the idiosyncratic and brilliant Dr. Madeleine.
To save his life, Madeleine grafts a cuckoo clock to his heart, but this alteration requires rules that cannot be broken:
“FIRSTLY: DON’T TOUCH THE HANDS OF YOUR CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART. SECONDLY: MASTER YOUR ANGER. THIRDLY: NEVER EVER FALL IN LOVE. FOR IF YOU DO, THE HOUR HAND WILL POKE THROUGH YOUR SKIN, YOUR BONES WILL SHATTER, AND YOUR HEART WILL BREAK ONCE MORE.”

Jack is tortured by the continual presence of his clock heart, which ticks and whirrs and cuckoos at the least convenient moment. He is bullied and mocked at school and it embarrasses him in public. 
The cast of characters that surrounds Jack as he grows is colorful and eclectic, a peg-leg prostitute and a Scotsman with a musical spine, all overseen by the protective and loving Dr. Madeleine, who has adopted her boy with the cuckoo clock heart.
The heart of the story is Jack’s doomed love for the coquettish, mercurial and short-sighted Miss Acacia, a street singer turned cabaret performer. For Jack, the perils of love are very real and shape all of his choices throughout the book. It’s not only love he has to control, but jealousy and anger ground through the gears of love, as his rival Big Joe vies for the hand of Miss Acacia. 
Jack later teams up with the famous film pioneer and illusionist Géorges Melies, who becomes enamored of his condition and its ramifications. The theme of illusions figures strongly, for nothing is quite as it seems in this little fable.
Malzieu seamlessly integrates the elements of steampunk with literary fiction, allowing this novella to transcend the usually cursed designation of “genre fiction”. It should, for this is really literary steampunk and you need neither to be really very literary or steampunk to enjoy it.
Melzieu’s prose has a dreamy, cinematic elegance, distinctly European. The pacing ticks along steadily – it is a quick read at 172 pages – and the action winds tighter and tighter until you cannot wait any longer for the denouement. The vivid characters stay with you long after you close this slim volume. There is a twist at the end, which cuts sharp as the second hand of a clock.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart has already been lauded as an adult fairytale, but it seems even more than that. The story concerns the lies we tell ourselves and others in our pursuit of love and our fear of love’s loss. It’s a magical journey that ends too soon, but makes the re-reading all too pleasurable.
Mathias Melzieu is also known as the lead singer of the French band, Dionysos. I have included the peculiarly wonderful book trailer, set to the music of Dionysos. The book is currently in production to become a full-length animated film, La Mécanique du Coeur, directed by the author and Stéphane Berla. In short, Malzieu proves steampunk offers stories with a beating heart.
Article first published as Book Review:The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu on Blogcritics.