Allison's Book Bag

I have both exciting and disappointing news for Marissa Meyer fans. The exciting news is that the final two volumes in The Lunar Chronicles are now available and will provide you with over 1000 pages of reading time. Naturally, the disappointing news is that once you’ve read these two page-turning sequels, this fairy tale dystopian series is over.

FairestFor those of you who enjoy bad characters as leads, the fourth title is dedicated to Levana, whom fans will quickly recognize as the wicked queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. What do I like about Fairest? In a word: Levana! In Levana, Meyer has created perhaps her most complicated character. Levana wants to be loved but grows up in a poisonous family. Her rich and powerful parents don’t have time for their daughters and they soon disappear from the picture when murdered. Her older sister is not only cold but also pure evil, being the one responsible for Levana’s hideous looks. Sadly, as the relationship between Levana and a guard who shows friendship to her fails to ignite, we realize that her distant and abusive family has left Levana incapable of knowing what true love is. Mayer makes me feel both sympathy and disgust towards Levana, which shows great craftsmanship.

If Fairest left me with one wish, it would be to even better understand this family and their planet. How did Luna become an undesirable place to live? Why would Levana’s parents so distant? And why did Channery constantly torment her sister? Mayer has already written several short stories about The Lunar Chronicles and I can see fans continuing to desire more of these long after they finish the five volumes in this mesmerizing series.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

WinterThe final title in The Lunar Chronicles is both a reunion party and the story of Winter, the daughter of the guard whom Levana forced to marry her. Although Winter made a brief appearance in Cress, it’s in this fifth title that we finally start to understand her. She’s an intriguing character. On one hand, she avoids corrupting herself by refusing to use her glamor but, in doing so, Winter also subjects herself to hallucinations and other chaotic behavior. In addition, at the start of the book, Winter seems quite fragile and weak, but eventually she develops inner strength as she decides for herself who to become. While none of the other characters, except perhaps Jacin, feel fully developed, this won’t bother fans who already know the majority of them from earlier volumes.

How do I feel about how Meyer wrapped up The Lunar Chronicles? I have to admit to not being completely happy. The ongoing cruelty of Levana and her allies left me nauseous. Fantasy should provide some escape from reality, but at times Winter felt no different from watching the world news. Eight hundred pages filled with battles also left me exasperated with the whole dystopian genre. Doesn’t anyone have a different vision of our future? At the same time, I appreciated how vulnerable to failure and fears our beloved characters were. Also, given how few in numbers our heroes were, I admire their gutsiness and bravery in challenging a corrupt leadership. Meyer has created a world that stirs the imagination and will long be remembered.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer are fantasies inspired by famous fairy tales, most notably Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. The fourth actually inspired both Fairest AND Winter, the final books in the series. As a prelude to my review of those two books, I’m sharing some of the origins of Snow White. Tomorrow, I’ll return with reviews. Save the date: November 27!

A magic mirror, a poisoned apple, a glass coffin, and the characters of an evil queen/stepmother and the seven dwarfs. These are all elements of the German fairy tale, Snow White, made famous by the Grimm Brothers. There are many versions of this story, one of the most modern being found in The Lunar Chronicles. Let’s now take a step back in time to look at the origins to the Grimms version.

Like many of the Grimm tales, it is believed that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been in existence since the Middle Ages, passed down through word-of-mouth over the centuries. Recent research suggests, however, that the tale may be anything but fiction; the story may have roots in true tragedies. Two young German ladies have been identified as possible inspirations for the story of Snow White and her jealous stepmother.

Snow White_SevenDwarfsAncient Legends describes the claims of German historian named Eckhard Sander, who argued that the character of Snow White was based on the life of Margarete von Waldeck, a German countess born to Philip IV in 1533. At the age of 16, Margarete was forced by her stepmother to move to Brussels. There, Margarete fell in love with a prince who would later become Phillip II of Spain. Margarete’s parents disapproved of the relationship as it was ‘politically inconvenient’. Perhaps due to having been poisoned. Margarete died at the age of 21,. Historical accounts point to the King of Spain, who opposing the romance, may have dispatched Spanish agents to murder Margarete.

Mental Floss puts a slightly different spin on this tale, saying that back in the mid-1500s, there was a girl named Margarete who lived in a mining town called Waldeck. Possibly due to problems with her father’s new wife, Margarete moved out of Waldeck at the age of 17, and headed for Brussels. At this point, the two versions of Snow White begin to mesh. Apparently, Margarete attracted the attention of Philip II of Spain but someone didn’t care for the idea of Philip marrying Margarete and she fell gravely ill. Her handwriting in her last will and testament was shaky enough to make most people think she had developed tremors, a sign of being poisoned, by whom no one knows.

What about the seven dwarfs? Both sites suggest that Margarete’s father owned several copper mines that employed children as quasi-slaves. Ancient Legends suggests that the poor conditions caused many to die at a young age, but those that survived had severely stunted growth and deformed limbs from malnutrition and the hard physical labor. As a result, they were often referred to as the ‘poor dwarfs’. Mental Floss writes, “Children worked in the mines there, so you can see where retelling of the tale eventually morphed the children into small men over the years.”

What about the poisoned apple? Sanders believed this stemed from a historical event in German history in which an old man was arrested for giving poison apples to children who he believed were stealing his fruit.

Not all experts are convinced, however, by Sander’s claim that Snow White’s character stems from the life of Margarete von Waldeck. Ancient Legends refers to a different account, in which Snow White is based on Maria Sophia von Erthal, born 1729 in Bavaria. She was the daughter of 18th century landowner, Prince Philipp Christoph von Erthal and his wife, Baroness von Bettendorff. After the death of the Baroness, Prince Philipp went onto marry Countess of Reichenstein, who was said to dislike her stepchildren.

SnowWhite_TalkingMirrorMental Floss concurs with the above details, adding a few of its own. For example, Maria’s outlook under her stepmother wasn’t quite so bleak, in that there was no huntsman seeking internal organs for proof of Maria’s death. However, scholars still believe it wasn’t an easy existence. “Presumably the hard reality of life for Maria Sophia under this woman was recast as a fairy story by the Brothers Grimm.”

What about the dwarfs? The dwarfs in Maria’s story are also linked to a mining town. The smallest tunnels could only be accessed by small-statured men, who often wore bright hoods, as the dwarfs have frequently been depicted over the years in the tale of Snow White.

This version of Snow White also accounts for the poisoned apple, the glass coffin, and the mirror. The poisoned apple may be associated with the deadly nightshade poison that grew in abundance where Maria lived, while the glass coffin may be linked to the region’s famous glassworks. Whether the acoustical toy that could speak had been in the house during the time that Maria’s stepmother lived there or Maria’s father gave the looking-glass to his second wife as a gift is debated, but the fact remains a “talking mirror’ existed.

“Songs are only half the story.” So writes Jewel Kinkaid in her lengthy memoir just released this fall. In her memoir, she not only shares the story of her life, but also lessons learned from her experiences and her music. Shortly after I purchased my copy, I also received an email wherein I learned that Jewel self-produced both her memoir and its accompanying CD, foremost so that she could focus on being a mom but also so that Jewel could stay true to her vision for her “Never Broken” project.

How does one reduce a 400-page memoir to a one-page review? For starters, Never Broken reveals how much of a struggle relationships have been for Jewel. Her mom left the family when Jewel was only eight, leaving Jewel with an eternal need for approval from others. Then her dad became alcoholic and abusive, a fact that fans might have picked up on with even Jewel’s first CD. As Jewel’s career began to take off, her mom renewed involvement with Jewel’s life. Initially, this delighted Jewel, who desired to have what every child does—the pure and true love of their parents. Eventually though, Jewel realized to her great sorrow that her mom had only been using Jewel for her money. While Jewel’s relationship with her dad has improved over the years, the dysfunction of her family ultimately robbed Jewel of a much-needed stability. Years into her marriage, Jewel found herself still unable to accept her own beauty. She continued to feel driven by a need to be perfect in order to receive love, a feeling that led to her becoming a single mom. Never Broken is full of sadness, but also full of a gritty determination of a much-applauded singer to find love simply in who she is.

Never Broken also reveals how difficult to climb to fame has been for Jewel. Living on a homestead in Alaska, she learned to yodel young, and joined her family’s entertainment act. For a time, it seemed she had a happy life. Behind the scenes, however, there was instability and trauma. In middle school, friendships didn’t come easy for Jewel. She smelled of the farm. She didn’t know about shaving her legs. No one taught her about bras or periods. By high school, her parents had divorced. Jewel often had to work to feed herself. She was diagnosed with dyslexia. At times, she found herself without a place to stay. Even as an adult, the challenges continued to pile up. She began having panic attacks. At a time when her rent was due, Jewel lost her job after refusing to accept a proposition from her boss. Earning money as a singer in cafes proved hard, because all the door money went to the owners not the singers who brought in the customers. Never Broken is a compelling read because of how bumpy the ride to fame was for Jewel, as well as inspiring due to how Jewel has continually fought to remain true to her values.

Some readers have criticized Jewel for being overly preachy in the latter part of Never Broken. I would not disagree with them. Indeed, I wish at times Jewel had shared more details about her musical career choices, instead of rambling about lessons learned. Also, I have to note that some of her beliefs are alien to mine, belonging somewhat to new age philosophies. At the same time, I admire her intentions to encourage those facing challenges. Indeed, Jewel even asks fans to post why they are never broken with the hash tag #NeverBroken and to find a community to rally with them.

Jewel is one of my favorite singers. From the first time, I heard her hit song “I’m Sensitive” on her first album I felt as if she were describing me. After a string of heartaches, I found solace in repeatedly playing, “Goodbye Alice in Wonderland”. Jewel’s songs and her story, as different as our backgrounds are, speak to me at a heart level. Fans of Jewel will want to read Never Broken.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

SacredSorrow“Why is this happening, God?” “How long will you wait to intervene, Lord?” “Where are you?” According to A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card, all of these are questions that were posed at some point by Biblical heroes. Having experienced a lot of sadness over the past few years, along with hearing of tragedy and even evil repeatedly in the news, this book has personal significance to me.

In the first few chapters, Card defines lament and discusses its place in the Christian’s life. Card talks about how we have lost the language that accepts suffering and how we need to find it again, because it’s an inherent part of our relationship with God. From our earliest days, we’re taught to control our tears and that of others, so in that way we might control pain. Card claims that instead lament is the path of true worship of God. Lament will help us heal, show us how to reach out to others, and allow us to develop intimacy with God.

The bulk of the remaining chapters focus on four Biblical heroes who expressed lament: David, Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus. Second king of Israel, David faced many sufferings including initially being overlooked as a candidate for God’s anointed, then being on the run as an outlaw, and even having his own children revolt against him. As for the prophet, Jeremiah, he accused God of being unfair. Jeremiah felt that God called him into service, only to have no one listen to or understand him. Using Biblical heroes as examples, Card show how we can find hope in troubled times.

Rounding out A Sacred Sorrow is an abundance of additional information on lament. There’s a list of all characters in the Bible who expressed sorrow, quotes from religious individuals from outside of the Bible, selected Davidic laments, and even a section on how to journal as part of lament. Readers are encouraged to grieve in God, but also to recall the blessings of God, and therefore to find fulfillment in God.

In my introduction, I wrote that A Sacred Sorrow has personal significance to me. I had reached the place in my Christian walk, where I felt questions and doubts but lacked any answers or joy. Ironically, by allowing myself to cry and vent, I begin to find my faith renewed. Since reading A Sacred Sorrow, I’ve even started a Biblical study of my own on the topic. If you’re looking for a new way to grow in God, A Sacred Sorrow should be on your reading list.

This post is part of the Musing Mondays line-up. Check out others by clicking on the below graphic.


AwwwMondays-Puppy-AvatarWith our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Most every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect fit!

For my first three posts, I’m going to introduce you to our cats in order of arrival. Last but not least is Rainy! She was meant to be part of our family. By this I mean, the timing was perfect. Because I got involved with a local Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) group, my husband and I had the opportunity to see several kittens. This led Andy to want to foster a kitten. I also gained a reputation with my friends of being involved with animal welfare. This led to a friend of a friend contacting me when she found a kitten. Long story short, Andy and I fell in love with our foster kitten. After a couple of weeks, it was clear that our other pets loved Rainy too. We took the next natural step of adopting Rainy.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

December: Favorites

December is the month when I pull out favorites. I'll also review books for our local dog club and our local diversity committee. Happy holidays!

  • To Help You Through the Hurting by Marjorie Holmes
  • Writing from the Heart by Marjorie Holmes
  • Lessons from a Sheep Dog by Philip Keller
  • Wonder O The Wind by Philip Keller
  • Christmas in America by Calista Gingrich
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  • The World of Farley Mowat
  • Otherwise by Farley Mowat



Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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