Stars Above: What’s Inside?

Stars AboveThe fantastic Lunar Chronicles series came to a close in 2015 with the publication of the final novel in the series, Winter. But wait! It’s not quite as finished as it seemed… because here we are in 2016 and we have a final FINAL volume in our hands.

Stars Above is a collection of stories that tie in and around the main characters and events of the novels, with most taking place in the years prior to the start of the series. The collection includes four previously published stories and five that are brand new.

So what’s inside Stars Above? Read on…

“The Keeper” (new): Ah, some backstory! “The Keeper” focuses on Michelle Benoit and her role in Cinder’s early years. As readers of the series know, Cinder was rescued from an almost successful murder attempt by her aunt Levana and hidden on Earth for years, while all of Luna believed her dead. In “The Keeper”, we see how Cinder was first entrusted to Michelle’s care and how she kept Cinder hidden and safe, all the while trying to provide a loving, secure home for her niece Scarlet. It’s a sweet story, and gives us a glimpse of events that we’ve heard reference to, but which we’d never learned many details about.

“Glitches” (previously published): “Glitches” follows “The Keeper” chronologically, as we see Cinder’s arrival in New Beijing and her introduction to the family of Linh Garan, her protector and adoptive father. Cinder is newly awakened and adjusts both to her new environment and her new status as a cyborg.

“The Queen’s Army” (previously published): This story shows Wolf’s transition from ordinary Lunar child to fierce, modified soldier serving the queen, showing his physical transformation and emotional struggles as well as his development into the pack Alpha.

“Carswell’s Guide To Being Lucky” (previously published): What was Carswell Thorne like as a teen-aged boy? Probably exactly what you’ve imagined — a total flirt, a guy who uses his charm to get his way, and a consummate swindler who seems to always know how to work the crowd. But even as a self-satisfied teen, Carswell still dreams of his future in space…

“After Sunshine Passes By” (new): Oh, so sweet and sad. This new tale introduces us to 9-year-old Cress, a Lunar shell kept alive with other outcasts like herself just for their value as scientific specimens. But Cress is a sweetie and a dreamer and imagines someday being of actual value, maybe even finally being accepted into society. What she gets instead is years of isolation in an orbiting jail… and this story shows how it all came about.

“The Princess and the Guard” (new): Lovely little Princess Winter’s early years are shown in this story, as we see her growing up in the palace and being trained to use her Lunar gift, until she begins to become aware of the danger and cruelty inherent in having such manipulative power. We see Winter’s decision to abandon her gift, even at the risk of madness, the cruelty of Levana, and how Jacin set his course in life with protecting Winter as his top priority.

“The Little Android” (previously published): I loved this story when I first read it, and I love it still. “The Little Android” is only tangentially connected to the characters of the Lunar Chronicles, as the android of the title has a brief meeting with the mechanic Linh Cinder. What this story truly is is an imaginative and moving retelling of the Little Mermaid fairy tale — not the pretty Disney version, but the tragic yet lovely story by Hans Christian Andersen. “The Little Android” makes a great stand-alone, but as part of this collection, shows yet another side of the Lunar Chronicles world.

“The Mechanic” (new): We’ve seen Kai and Cinder’s first meeting in the marketplace from Cinder’s perspective already. Here in “The Mechanic”, we get the same meeting as seen through Kai’s eyes. It’s fun to get the royal view, and to see the crown prince already struggling to fulfill his responsibilities to his people while at the same time being a teen boy who has just spotted a fascinating and surprising girl.

“Something Old, Something New” (new): As the title suggests, this final story in the collection is all about the Happily Ever After that our beloved characters have truly earned! The whole gang gathers for Scarlet and Wolf’s wedding, and there are romantic moments galore for all of the couples. This story really ties up the entire series with all the hearts and flowers and giddy joy we readers could possibly hope for.

Stars Above includes an excerpt from Heartless, the new stand-alone novel by Marissa Meyer scheduled for publication this coming fall. The blurb reads:

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Sounds good, right? I generally prefer not to read excerpts, so I skipped this one… but for those who can’t resist a sneak peek at the next book, it’s yet another reason to pick up a copy of Stars Above.

All in all, Stars Above is a must-read for fans of the Lunar Chronicles. It’s like Marissa Meyer has given a final gift to her readers…

present-307984_1280… and as a grateful reader, my response to Marissa Meyer is:

thank-you-907818_1920

 

Thursday Quotables: Stars Above

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Stars Above

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
(published 2016)

This collection of Lunar Chronicles stories is off to a great start! From “The Keeper”, the opening story:

Cinders. Embers. Ashes. Michelle hoped that whatever strength had allowed this child to survive the fire all those years ago was a strength that still burned inside her. That it would go on burning, hotter and hotter, until she was as bright as the rising sun.

She would need that strength for what lay ahead.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Book Review: Winter

WinterAt long last, I’ve read the final volume in Marissa Meyer’s stunning Lunar Chronicles series! By now, all the die-hard fans have probably gobbled it up, maybe more than once. Being a fan but not quite as die-hard, I waited for my library to finally gets its copies and make one available to me… and I’ve spent the entire past week reading this big, long-awaited book.

I won’t bother with a recap or synopsis. If you’re still reading this review, it’s likely because you’ve either read Winter already or have read at least part of the series and want to know how it turns out.

Well, maybe a teensy bit of a recap. Here’s what you need to know: Winter is the 4th novel in the series (with a novella, Fairest, the most recently published, prior to Winter). The overarching storyline is about a mistreated cyborg mechanic named Cinder, her crush on the Prince (later Emperor) of the Commonwealth, Kai, and the struggle against the evil Queen Levana of Luna.

Woven throughout the four books are reimaginings of fairy tale characters: Cinder is Cinderella, Scarlet is Red Riding Hood, Cress is Rapunzel, and Winter is Snow White. Each gets to headline her own book, but Cinder is the ultimate hero, and hers is the through-story that ties it all together.

I binge-read the earlier books at the beginning of 2015, and adored them. However, it was a little tough getting into Winter at first, after a gap of so many months, and I had to rely on online recaps to feel up to speed enough to be able to move forward.

So what did I think of Winter?

First, the good:

All the action and world-building that we’ve come to love in this series continues in Winter, which plunges us immediately back into the battle for world domination. Cinder and her gang are the underdogs, trying to find a way to take down Levana, who seems to have every advantage possible. She has incredibly powerful mind-control abilities (the Lunar gift), and can make almost anyone within her reach do anything she wants, including self-mutilation, harming a loved one, and worse. How can you fight against power like that?

It’s pretty great to see Cinder’s transformation from unloved outcast to worthy leader. She’s fighting the good fight, standing up for the little guy, trying to take the throne not for her own glory, but for the freedom of the people. All the familiar friends are by her side, doing their parts for the greater good, all at great personal risk to themselves. Winter is a nice addition to the cast of characters, although… well, I’ll get into my “althoughs” below.

The ending is just as satisfying as you’d expect. This is a YA series based on fairy tales, and there’s just no way it’s not going to work out to a happily-ever-after. It’s the getting there that’s such fun.

What I didn’t love quite so much:

Oh, where to start? It’s hard to criticize a series that I mostly loved. I mean, really, it’s just so incredibly rich, detailed, and inventive. That said, there are a few things that felt a bit off to me.

WARNING: LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • Artemisia: Is it just me, or did everyone else immediately think “oh hey, it’s the Capitol from The Hunger Games!”? A glittery, extravagantly beautiful city, filled with the privileged upper class, who are pampered, silly, and frivolous, wearing ridiculous fashions, utterly reliant on the underfed, overworked laborers from the outer districts in order to keep up their wealth and resources.
  • Length: Each book in the series has been longer than the one before. Cinder is 390 pages; Scarlet, 452; Cress, 550 — and Winter is a whopping 824. Yes, it’s the wrap-up to the entire series, and perhaps deserves to be big. But, there are scenes and chapters that could have been cut or whittled down, and the book would have been fine. It felt a little overstuffed to me.
  • Winter and Jacin: Look, I like them both — it just feels a bit late in the game to get invested in yet another couple.
  • Cast of characters: What can I say? The story sometimes loses focus because of the need to involve every single character in the story. The series is really and truly Cinder’s story, and while the others may be wonderful, by Winter, many of them are serving mostly a supporting function. We continue seeing them all because they’re a part of the series, but honestly, Scarlet didn’t seem all that important here, and while I understand that she had to be included, she’s just one of many who didn’t seem particularly necessary.

Finally, my two big issues:

  • Romance: I get it, these are fairy tales, and fairy tales need a happily ever after. But does every single character need to be coupled off? Is each love story so truly perfect and meant to be? It’s too much. Each of the four power couples is just so, so, so devoted and right and madly, truly, self-sacrificingly in love from the bottom of their perfect hearts.
  • Teens and politics: The incongruities get harder and harder to ignore, the further along we go in the series. Kai is the son of the Emperor when we first meet him, a teen heartthrob, adorable, a bit unruly, the boy every girl in the Commonwealth swoons over. Okay, fine. When his father dies, Kai becomes Emperor. Still fine. But there’s something off when we see Kai bouncing between the role of world leader and adorable boy crush. The better he gets at ruling and making the hard decisions needed to protect his people, the weirder it becomes to see him interacting with Cinder and the others — a politician hanging out with a gang of teen rebels. This little exchange made me laugh and wince at the same time:

(Again, spoilers!)

Levana sighed. “Why, Selene? Why do you want to take everything from me?”

Cinder narrowed her eyes. “You’re the one who tried to kill me, remember? You’re the one sitting on my throne. You’re the one who married my boyfriend!”

Wrapping it all up:

This may make it sound like I didn’t enjoy Winter, and that’s just not the case. I did enjoy it, quite a bit in fact. The writing is fresh and fun, mixing humorous moments with absolutely horrific scenes and pulse-pounding action.

The author takes a moment that was making me uncomfortable — showing the true face of Levana, scarred and burned, that lurks beneath the outward glamour she shows the world. At first, it felt as though her looks alone were being shown as making her worthy of contempt, but fortunately, that’s not what we end up getting:

Cinder hated her own mind for labeling the queen as grotesque. She had once been a victim, as Cinder had once been a victim. And how many had labeled Cinder’s own metal limbs as grotesque, unnatural, disgusting?

No. Levana was a monster, but it wasn’t because of the face she’d kept hidden all these years. Her monstrosities were buried much deeper than that.

Sometimes even a little throwaway moment is so well-written that it shines:

She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She was not pretty when she cried, and Winter liked this about her.

So really, what’s the deal?

I liked Winter. I really did. Somehow, the plot felt a bit overcomplicated and jumbled, and the large cast of characters kept the focus scattered rather than firmly on Cinder, which would have created greater dramatic tension. The book is clearly a must-read for anyone who’s been reading the series, and it’s a much more satisfying series ender than a few others I can think of (like Mockingjay or Breaking Dawn). The book didn’t need to be 800+ pages long, and I missed some of the awkward quirkiness and self-doubt that made Cinder so special earlier on in the series. Still, I’m glad to have read it, and overall, I still give high marks to the series as a whole.

Reading tip:

Truly, my best advice for someone thinking about getting involved with this series is to read Cinder, decide if you want to continue, and then read straight through. I think one of the reasons Winter fell a little short of my hopes is that I had about a 10-month gap in between the rest of the series and this book. The Lunar Chronicles is a series that demands to be binge-read. I’d lost all momentum by the time I read Winter, but I think if I’d read it right after Cress and Fairest, I might still have been so swept up in the energy of the story that the little irritants I mentioned wouldn’t even have caught my notice.

Interested in the series? Check out my post about binge-reading the earlier books, here.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Winter
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: November 10, 2015
Length: 824 pages
Genre: Young adult/science fiction/fairy tale reimagining
Source: Library

Thursday Quotables: Winter

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Winter

Winter by Marissa Meyer
(published 2015)

My library request for Winter finally came through! I’ve only read about 50 pages so far — but I’m already happy to be back in the world of the Lunar Chronicles!

“Cinder, I have nothing better to do. Literally, nothing better to do. My time on this ship has taught me that I have zero practical skills. I can’t cook. I can’t fix anything. I can’t help Cress with surveillance. I know nothing about guns or fighting or… Mostly, I’m just a good talker, and that’s only useful in politics.”

“Let’s not overlook your ability to make every girl swoon with just a smile.”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Series Binge: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

lunar_collage2

Curse you, Marissa Meyer! (Okay, not really).

This is why I hold back. This is why I don’t let myself start new series. Because THIS happens. I read one book. Do I stop? No. I keep going. And before I know it, I’ve read three novels, three short stories, and I’m pulling my hair out over the fact that THERE ARE NO MORE BOOKS. For now.

Last week, I wrote a review of Cinder. And since then, I gobbled up Scarlet and Cress, plus the stories Glitches, The Little Android, and The Queen’s Army.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, here’s the general idea: In a world set at some point far into the future, over a hundred years since the end of World War Four, planet Earth is divided into large commonwealths who live at peace with one another — but the Earthen peace is threatened by hostilities from Luna. The moon was settled and colonized generations earlier, and over the generations, the Lunar population has developed its own characteristics, most notably the ability to control bioelectricity — basically, the ability to control actions, perceptions, and emotions of others. This makes Lunars very dangerous and very scary to “normal” Earthens.

The Lunar Chronicles books take classic fairy tales and plunk them down in this futuristic landscape, creating a mash-up that’s surprisingly original — and which surprised me by how good it really is.

Cinder herself (think Cinderella) is our #1 heroine, a lowly cyborg mechanic who’s discovered to have a secret connection to the Lunar world. When she catches the eye of Prince Kai, heir to the throne of the Eastern Commonwealth, a chain of events is set into motion that makes Cinder the planet’s most-wanted fugitive.

By the 2nd book, Cinder is joined in her struggle by Scarlet (Red Riding Hood), the farm girl whose grandmother was involved in a royal deception many years earlier. Scarlet is tracked by bioengineered super-soldier Wolf — but she can’t quite tell if he’s the man of her dreams, or the most dangerous thing she’s ever encountered.

In book 3, Cress (Rapunzel) enters Cinder’s world. Cress has been trapped on a satellite in Earth orbit for seven years, completely alone (and with no sharp objects, hence no haircuts). Cress is a master hacker under the control of the Lunar high command, but her true sympathies lie with Cinder and her ragtag band… and the daring, wise-ass space captain Carswell Thorne who comes along to rescue Cress.

And now? Two more books are scheduled for release in 2015: Fairest, focusing on Luna’s evil Queen Levana, comes out in January, and Winter will be released in November. Both relate to the Snow White story — the queen’s version and then the princess’s.

Why do I love these books? Many reasons, but for starters:

In many fairy tale retellings, the fairy tale structure is too obvious. Sure, maybe the story is set in a different time, but the overall story is preserved and presented more or less intact. In The Lunar Chronicles, the fairy tale framework is a supporting structure, but doesn’t dominate or force the story into a shape that restricts the characters or action in any way. So yes, in Cinder, there’s an unloved stepsister, a ball, and a handsome prince — but beyond that, there’s a plague, the second-class citizen status of cyborgs, and geopolitical maneuvering that goes way beyond a rags-to-riches love story.

Likewise, in Scarlet, we have a girl in a red hoodie seeking her grandmother and menaced by a wolf — but also a secret army, mind control, a Big Brother-ish tracking system, and desperate fugitives. In Cress, there’s a girl with long hair locked away, and a dashing hero who is blinded in the rescue attempt — but also space chases, gun battles, kidnappings, and royal subterfuge. The through-stories are never obscured by the fairy tale structure, so Cinder remains the key person of interest throughout the following books, even though the titles would indicate that they’re not about her.

What maybe doesn’t work for me quite as much is the over-emphasis on romance and coupledom. Clearly, with fairy tales as their base, the romance will not be ignored. Still, is it truly necessary for each book to match up its main character with her soulmate? This, I think, is where the fairy tale retelling maybe gets in the way a bit. With so much action, with the intrigue of this sci-fi world — full of new mechanical wonders, genetic mutations and manipulations, and political danger and strategy — we don’t necessarily need so many supercouples. By the end of Cress, there are three clearly defined couples — all of whom seem to have achieved instant soulmate status — and the love story of Winter has been more than hinted at as well.

There is some amazing fan art out there. This one is from http://lostie815.deviantart.com/art/Lunar-Chronicles-Characters-421566528 -- check it out, there's lots more!

There is some amazing fan art out there. This one is from http://lostie815.deviantart.com/art/Lunar-Chronicles-Characters-421566528 — check it out, there’s lots more!

The super-coupledom is really a minor issue, though. I’d call it a gnat-sized irritant in the midst of an absolute smorgasbord of sci-fi, futuristic, female-powered adventure. I love the ultra-imaginative world-building in this series, the distinctive voices of the characters, and the way that the shifting narrative viewpoints add on top of one another to keep expanding our knowledge of this world and all its hidden nooks and crannies.

If you’re a curmudgeonly old hold-out (like I was until about a week ago), resisting the hype and refusing to give in to yet another YA series craze… well, come on! If I can do it, so can you! Sure, I’m a little bent out of shape about having to wait for more, but *sigh* I’m sure I can find other books to read in the meantime.

And hey, if I need a dose of more of the Lunar Chronicles, I’m sure there are a thousand or so Pinterest boards to lose a few hours to.

Final note: The three short stories are all available free online, and are definitely worth checking out. Of the three, The Little Android actually broke my heart just a little. It’s a stand-alone, in that it does not include any characters from the main novels, but it is set in the same world. And it just happens to be a retelling of The Little Mermaid — the non-Disney version, which is one of the saddest fairy tales ever.

Don’t say I never did anything for you. Here are the links to the stories:
Glitches
The Little Android
The Queen’s Army

And now, back to my resolution not to start any more series!

Until the next irresistible one comes along…