Review of “Winter” by Marissa Meyer

Note: There are necessarily a few spoilers for the first volumes in this series, but none for this installment.

Winter is the fifth book in a fairytale retelling/science fiction series known collectively as “The Lunar Chronicles.” Whereas many continuations of young adult sagas can be painful to experience in light of the promise of the first book in the series, I have not felt that disappointment at all with Marissa Meyer. Each of her books joins a separate fairytale retelling into a connected whole, which takes place in a dystopian future in which the people of Earth are struggling to maintain independence from the mind-controlling, genetically-enhanced people of Luna (i.e., the moon).


The first book, Cinder, focuses on a 16-year-old girl who is meant to evoke Cinderella. Her status as a hated cyborg is exposed when she loses her bionic foot at the ball marking the inauguration of Prince Kai. (Cyborgs are humans who are part metal, having received artificial parts to compensate for damaged flesh. There is a great deal of prejudice against cyborgs, who are considered second-class citizens.)

The second book, Scarlet, is a reworking of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Scarlet is a red-haired teen who will discover an unexpected connection to Cinder. Scarlet also meets and falls in love with Wolf, a former Lunar soldier whose genetic material had been spliced with that of a wolf to add to his deadliness. In a second subplot, Cinder gets caught and thrown in jail, but escapes with the help of a fellow prisoner, Carswell Thorne. At the end of Book Two, the ragtag band of Cinder, Thorne, Scarlett, Wolf, and Cinder’s Artificial Intelligence BFF Iko, is circling the Earth in Thorne’s spaceship as they plot a way to overcome the evil Lunar Queen Levana.

The third book in the series, Cress, introduces Cress (short for Crescent Moon), who is our Rapunzel. Cress has spent most of her life isolated on a satellite orbiting the earth, plying her computer hacking skills at the demand of her nasty Lunar mistress in order to help the Lunar government spy on Earth. Cress has gotten caught up in the real-life exploits of the dramatic escape of Cinder and her comrades; what if this handsome Carswell Thorne could help her escape as well? She reaches out to Cinder and her companions, but everything goes wrong.

In Fairest, a novella which I found to be the weakest in the series, we learn the background of Queen Levana, and why she turned into such an evil person and wicked stepmother.


As Winter begins, Emperor Kaito (“Kai”) of the Eastern Commonwealth on Earth has agreed to marry Lunar Queen Levana in exchange for her ceasing military attacks on the Earth. In addition, upon being crowned Empress, she promised to release an antidote to the lunar plague that has devastated Earthens. (Years earlier, Levana had secretly unleashed the plague on Earth, with the idea that when Earth was at its most desperate, the people would look to her for the cure, which of course she had as well. She reasoned that when she gave them the antidote, they would be “unspeakably grateful” to their new empress.”)

But Cinder and her idealistic group of fairytale heroes know that Levana wants to kill Kai and take over the planet, which will be disastrous. So they plan to kidnap Prince Kai on the day of his wedding, and then Cinder will reveal herself as the long lost Princess Selene of Luna who has come back to take the rightful crown from Levana.

Yet all of these plans create a great deal of unease for Kai and Cinder. In the previous book, Cress, they had revealed their feelings to each other, as well as their mutual fears. As Cinder said:

“…everyone expects me to be strong and brave, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Kai knew exactly how she felt.

As is evident from the title of this installment, a great deal of focus in this book is on Winter, the stepdaughter of Levana, whose “Snow White” is more realistic, more tragic, and more endearing than the original fairy tale version.

Sir Jacin Clay, the royal guard who loves Winter and who played a large role in Cress, explains the actions he took in that book and attempts to redeem himself and help the cause of Winter and Cinder, both of whom are in Levana’s sights.

Jacin Clay as depicted on the Lunar Chronicles wikia site

Jacin Clay as depicted on the Lunar Chronicles wikia site

Meanwhile, Cinder tries to rally the people of Luna, telling them:

“Help me. Fight for me. And I will be the first ruler in the history of Luna who will also fight for you.”

Cinder knows a lot of people have died and will die if they are to defeat Levana, and as much as she thinks it is necessary, she is overwhelmed with guilt. Wolf tries to ease Cinder’s remorse:

“No one is dying for you. If anyone dies today it will be because they finally have something to believe in. Don’t you even think about taking that away from them now.”

Of course, little goes as planned, especially since the Lunars have the weapon of mind control at their disposal. Some of Cinder’s group are imprisoned, and most of them end up very damaged, at least physically. But nothing can destroy their spirit or heart. And since this is a collection of fairytales, one can expect at least some triumph of the good in the end.

Nevertheless, unlike with the Jack Reacher hero in books by Lee Child, these superheroes do not go unscathed in their efforts to restore justice.

Discussion: Meyer does an expert job of respecting the integrity of each fairy tale arc while at the same time meshing it with the other fairy tale plot lines, so that it seems as if they unquestionably belong together. The characters are eminently likable, and the books are quite clever, romantic, and entertaining.

The female heroines in particular are, as Kai thinks about Cinder, “[b]rave, determined . . . smart, resourceful, sarcastic . . . .” They are inspiring role models to say the least. Kai is good-hearted and handsome, but his positive qualities are overwhelmed by those of the other main characters – he is lucky to have them on his side.

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite character, but I would have to go with Scarlet, who is strong, fierce, brave, and loyal.

Scarlet as depicted on The Lunar Chronicles wikia site

Scarlet as depicted on The Lunar Chronicles wikia site

Or maybe it would be Iko, who adds humor and pathos, as well as loyalty and bravery, to her Pinocchio/Isaac-Asimov-robot-like persona. Then there are Cress and Winter, both so vulnerable and sweet in spite of everything, and yet, also brave and smart.

As for the males, you have to love Wolf, with his alpha mate devotion to Scarlet. And sarcastic Carswell Thorne – every bit the hero Cress thinks he is, even though he isn’t so convinced of that himself.

It’s just a hard call to pick a favorite character!

Evaluation: Winter brings all the stories together into a rousing and action-packing ending that will satisfy most readers except those like me who wish the series could go on even longer.

This is an excellent series overall; I loved it. The aspects of fairy tale retellings keep it from being too dark, and there is enough romance and suspense mixed into the dystopian landscape to please aficionados of a number of genres. I hate to say this is a “happy” series given that large numbers of people die or get harmed, and yet, the tone is – well, happy. These are feel-good stories, with romance, danger, the belief that a brave individual can indeed make a difference, and the promise of fairytale endings.

Note: These books are not really standalones, but should be read in order. (And in fact, I felt the need to reread Cress before starting this one.)

Rating: 4/5

Published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, 2015

Posted in Book Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Review of “Deceptions” by Kelley Armstrong

This is the third book in an “urban fantasy” series about Olivia Taylor-Jones, 24, who discovers she is not at all who she thought she was. When she moves to Cainsville, an out-of-the way suburb of Chicago, she meets a number of people who are fae or part-fae, and who seem to think she has a pivotal role in the future of their races, with two different types of fae vying for hegemony. In fact, she learns that this conflict involves both the attorney she has come to work for and value as a friend, Gabriel Walsh, as well as her boyfriend Ricky Gallagher. She must make a choice between them, and this decision matters enough to both sides of the battle between the fae that her choice could be deadly for all of them.


Discussion: As with her other books in the series, Armstrong educates us on different aspects of mythological folklore, particularly that of the British Isles. In this story, Cainsville was founded by the Tylwyth Teg, Welsh mythological fairy folk. They are battling for their futures against the Cŵn Annwn, also from Welsh mythology and folklore. This latter group includes the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. Tradition holds that the Tylwtyh Teg are led by Gwynn ap Nudd, and the Cŵn Annwn are led by Arawn. The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a woman called Mallt-y-Nos, “Matilda of the Night”. In some versions of the folktales, Matilda originally chose Gwynn for her mate, but ended up with Arawn instead. The two species have been at war ever since.

Through visions, Olivia comes to understand that she, Gabriel, and Ricky represent new versions of Matilda, Gwynn, and Arawn, and Olivia is, as in the myths of old, asked to choose between the two men who love her. Also like the myths, Olivia finds she has feelings for both. Ricky is easier; he readily admits he loves Olivia and is eager to spend his life with her. Gabriel is prickly and protective of himself; he has barriers up against being hurt that are almost impossible to breach. Nevertheless, she knows she feels fiercely loyal to both of them. As this book ends, she thinks she has made her decision. And yet….

Evaluation: For fans of urban fantasy, it’s hard to do better than Kelley Armstrong. She does employ some recurring themes in all of her series, such as a strong woman trying to decide between one man with whom a relationship would be easy, and one with whom it would be more challenging, to say the least. There are warring factions of paranormals. And there are usually a number of “innocent” non-paranormals who become casualties in these struggles. But Armstrong is so good at what she does, that I for one don’t mind any parallels among the series. On the contrary, it is a way to continue with stories and characterizations I have loved before.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2015

Posted in Book Review | Tagged | 2 Comments

Review of “The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities” by Justice Stephen Breyer

This is a consistently interesting book, much more so than one would have expected from the reviews in major papers following its initial release.


The book is about conflict of laws, first between the judicial and political branches of the American government, and then between the laws of the U.S. and the laws in the rest of the world. None of the conflicts arise from simple problems. The law rarely provides a black-and-white line, which is of course why so many cases need to be adjudicated, and why the courts so often have split decisions.

In the U.S., there have often been challenges to exercises of executive power by the President. How does the Court decide if the President has overstepped the limits of the Constitution? In previous eras, the Court was reluctant to decide: the President, after all, is privy to a host of considerations, including secret intelligence, treaties, and sub rosa agreements with other governments about which the Court does not and cannot know. In recent years, however, the Court has jumped into the fray, especially with cases arising out of the capture and trial of international terrorists in general, and the prison in Guantanamo in particular. Cases involving terrorists are especially interesting because most precedent involving the use of extraordinary powers by the executive pertains to specific, time-limited wars. In modern times, the war of terror is constant and threats diffuse. How then should executive power be contained or at least balanced?

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.06.15 AM

Then there are the many cases arising out of the globalization of the economy. As Breyer observes about commerce:

“…national markets are now so interconnected and integrated that the most ordinary commercial transactions can involve a host of different activities and entities across the globe.”

How, for example, are American laws to be applied with respect to companies which have operations, sales, manufacturing, and distribution spread around the globe, and can be owned by holding companies in the U.S. or abroad, or may have labor outsourced in the U.S. or abroad, or may import parts and components from anywhere?


What about the case of shoddy goods made in, say, Belgium for an American company and shipped to the U.S. on a ship manufactured in the Netherlands but owned by the United Kingdom? Or what about securities fraud committed by a holding company overseas that owns an American company? Or a conspiracy that takes place over the internet? If there is a perceived infringement of the law at any stage in the process at any location, who can be found libel and in which country’s courts? And how might the ruling of one country’s courts affect international relations?

Breyer argues that the need for courts to understand technical as well as legal dimensions of the world and how other laws intersect with our own is increasingly critical.

Evaluation: Breyer provides an excellent analysis of the facts and issues at stake for each case he discusses, helping readers to understand just how complex the law can be. He presents both sides of the decisions fairly, whether he was in agreement or not, and makes a very good case for the need for increasing knowledge of world law by jurists.

Rating: 4/5

Hardback published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015

Audio Book Run time: 12 hrs, 38 mins. Available as an unabridged digital download from Penguin Random House Audio (2015)

A Note on the Audio Production:

Breyer reads his book well, but employs a number of pronunciation anomalies. These may just be regionalisms.

Note: For a more extensive review of this book, please see the longer version at our sister site, Legal Legacy.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged | 3 Comments

Kid Lit Review of “Cody and The Fountain of Happiness” by Tricia Springstubb

This is an adorable story about a young girl, Cody, scheduled to begin summer vacation at the same time her mom gets a promotion at work and has to spend more hours away from the house. Cody’s dad, a trucker, is on the road a lot, so they have planned for Cody to go to camp. But Cody’s camp closed at the last minute and all the other nearby camps are filled. Cody’s older brother, 14-year-old Wyatt, is attending to a summer program for young science students. So they need to find someone older to help watch Cody during the day.


When Cody’s dad finds a girl, Payton Underwood, to kidsit Cody, it turns out to be the girl on whom Wyatt has a crush. I particularly enjoyed the way Payton, “a hardhearted shampoo commercial” as Cody calls her before she gets to know her, uses “upspeak.” As Cody gets to know Payton, she finds she likes her, and she makes some other summer friends as well.

This book contains a number of subtly conveyed positive messages, including the “meta” message of the friendship between Cody and a young African American boy. Also, Cody is blessed with a kind and loving family. In addition, I liked the fact that Wyatt, though struggling with the beginnings of adolescence and worried about Cody embarrassing him in front of Payton, is still supportive and affectionate toward his sister.

The kid-friendly illustrations by Eliza Wheeler add interest and warmth to the text.

Evaluation: This story is bound to delight middle-grade readers.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick, 2015

Posted in Book Review | Tagged | 2 Comments

Thanksgiving: Over the River and Through the Wood With Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Francis Child, born February 11, 1802, was an American abolitionist, women’s rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and a journalist. Despite her many accomplishments and courageous political activities that were way before her time, she is best known today for her poem “”Over the River and Through the Wood” about Thanksgiving.

This song, written originally as a poem and published in 1844, recalls Child’s visits to her grandmother’s on the Thanksgiving holiday. The poem was eventually set to music by an unknown author. (Occasionally lyrics are substituted to make it a Christmas song.)


Lydia Child and her husband first took up the anti-slavery cause in 1831. Child believed women were also held in subjugation by men, but felt the abolition of slavery was the more important cause. Nevertheless, she began campaigning for equal female membership and participation in the American Anti-Slavery Society, an issue which eventually split the movement. (Some anti-slavery societies, it should also be noted, didn’t even admit black members.)

Child had already gained fame as the editor of a periodical for children and as the author of works for women. In 1833 she published a tract “An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans” which not only called for an immediate end to slavery, but insisted that blacks were as much Americans as whites, and “intellectually equal to Europeans.”

In 1839, Child was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became editor of the society’s “National Anti-Slavery Standard” in 1841, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to edit a political newspaper. She expanded coverage beyond abolitionist news, and under her direction the subscription list grew to 6,000, more than double that of the famous newspaper “Liberator” edited by William Lloyd Garrison.

Child decided to leave the “National Anti-Slavery Standard” over a dispute about the use of violence as an acceptable weapon for battling slavery (she was against it). Eventually, however, she acknowledged the need for the use of violence to protect anti-slavery emigrants in Kansas and also sympathized with the radical abolitionist John Brown while not condoning his violent methods.

Child in 1870, reading a book

Child in 1870, reading a book

In the meanwhile, she continued to write for many periodicals during the 1840’s, speaking out against slavery and in favor of women’s rights. She also turned to the issue of Native American rights, especially after the Civil War was over, publishing a book anonymously about an interracial marriage between a white woman and a Native American man (not favorably received), and publishing a number of pamphlets on Indian rights. While most people were not much interested in doing much about the Indians except eliminating them, she did change the mind of Peter Cooper, a wealthy and prominent industrialist. Cooper organized the privately funded United States Indian Commission, dedicated to the protection and elevation of Native Americans in the United States and the elimination of warfare in the western territories. His efforts in turn led to the formation of the Board of Indian Commissioners.

Child died in Wayland, Massachusetts, at the age of 78 in October, 1880, only a month before Thanksgiving.

Posted in History, Holiday | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Review of “Dairy Queen” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I read this because I kept seeing it on lists like “Favorite Teen Read,” “Teen Recommended,” “ALA Best Books for Young Adults,” etc. And it also had many blurbs saying, in essence, “I loved this book.” And unsurprisingly, I loved it as well.


D.J. (for Darlene Joyce) Schwenk is 15 when the book begins, and she has taken over most of the chores at her family’s farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin, because her older brothers have left home, her mom is working two jobs, and her dad got injured. She has one other brother, but he’s 13, and in any event is in a summer softball league.

D.J.’s dad used to be a football coach for the rival team at Hawley High, where his best friend Jimmy Ott still does the coaching. Jimmy sends his quarterback, Brian Nelson, over to help out at the farm, but Brian thinks the work is too hard, and quits after one day. He only comes back when D.J. agrees to be his personal trainer to help him prepare for the upcoming football season.

The trouble starts, however, when D.J. decides she too wants to play football, for her home team of Red Bend, which is the main rival of Hawley. She doesn’t tell Brian though, because the Schwenk’s aren’t very good at communicating.

Sounds fairly standard, but the character of D.J. is outstanding. She considers herself “poor, stupid, and ugly and just not cool at all” but of course she is none of those things, except poor (but only in terms of money). She’s hilariously funny, smart, courageous, and full of insight about herself and others. As one example evincing all of the above, she talks about how she and her BFF Amber watch the movie “Blue Crush” over and over. She explains:

“It’s a movie about three girls who are a lot like us except they live in Hawaii and don’t have any parents and they date professional football players and surf all the time. And they’re thin. So you can see that the similarities are overwhelming.”

Evaluation: I laughed out loud often while reading this charming coming-of-age story. The author has written some follow-up books and I can’t wait to read them.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

Posted in Book Review | Tagged | 3 Comments

Review of “The Rose Garden” by Susanna Kearsley

Eva Ward is only in her late twenties, but she has just lost her older sister Katrina, and decides to take her ashes from California to scatter in Polgelly, Cornwall, near Trelowarth House where they spent many happy years of their childhood. The Halletts, her old family friends, welcome her back to her old room, and Mark, who was Katrina’s first boyfriend, helps her scatter the ashes. Unfortunately, as Eva discovers, the Halletts are unable to pay to keep up the house for much longer. Mark grows roses for the family business, but it isn’t very lucrative; his sister Susan is considering opening a tea room which will also help boost their income. Their artist stepmother Claire lives in a cottage on the estate, and Eva conspires with her to put some of Katrina’s money into an account to help save Trelowarth for the Halletts.

rose garden us2

Eva, who did PR for her sister, also helps by taking on the job of PR for the tearoom. She wants to capitalize on the fact that Polgelly used to be a smuggling center during Jacobite times. The author based Polgelly on the actual town of Polperro. As the town’s website explains:

“Wending your way through the traffic-free streets to the small harbour, you’re treading the paths where barrows of fish were once carted and, under cover of night, brandy casks and tobacco bales were carried into their hideouts. Make no mistake, this peaceful fishing cove, mellow Polperro, was once a thriving centre for the area’s smuggling.

Wagonloads of contraband left here, some heading across Bodmin Moor en route to London. The ‘freetraders’ have long since sailed into folk history and the shining shoals of pilchards have gone, but a visit to the smuggling museum brings this rich heritage back to life.”

Polperro today

Polperro today

But smuggling isn’t the only distinction of this area of Cornwall. One of the most famous ley-lines in the world runs across England from the tip of Cornwall to the Eastern tip of Norfolk on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. (Ley-lines are geographical trackways that supposedly have mystical properties.) The close location of the ley-line is used by Kearsley to explain in part the fact that Eva finds herself traveling back and forth 300 years, to a time when the smuggling Butler Brothers, Daniel and Jack, lived at Trelowarth. Jack is away when Eva first “arrives,” but she meets Daniel and his best friend Fergal O’Cleary, who live at the house and together with Jack, conduct the smuggling operations. Daniel and Fergal seem to accept readily who and what Eva is, and they help conceal her identity from everyone else as she comes and goes in and out of their lives.


Eventually, Eva finds herself falling in love with Daniel, but how could it possibly work when they are separated by 300 years? Kearsley’s solution requires a leap of faith, but then, the whole premise of her book does anyway.

Evaluation: Kearsley’s books aren’t all that different from one another, but if you like one, you’ll no doubt like them all. The history is good, the characters are appealing, and the romance is always gratifying. With this book, I enjoyed learning more about Cornwall, and the role it played in smuggling and in the Jacobite rebellion.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., 2011

Posted in Book Review | Tagged | 6 Comments