Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wondrous Strange & Darklight by Lesley Livingston: interview & review

Fairies mingle with mortals at Tavern on the Green in Central Park 

When I finished writing “as u like it,” I searched for other young adult novels with a Shakespeare theme and found the enchanting Wondrous Strange (2008.) The sequel, Darklight, was released on December 22, 2009 (on January 14, 2010 in Canada.) By coincidence, the author Lesley Livingston and I are both represented by the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, although by different agents.

Lesley’s novels, unlike mine, are paranormal fantasy and feature the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream. These aren’t cutesy flower fairies, but strong, passionate characters. They remind me of The Lord of the Rings fairies in their penchant for violence and romantic dalliances with humans. Quests are central to the epic narrative.

Lesley studied Shakespeare in graduate school and was a founder/actor of the Tempest Theater Group. That’s Lesley (to left) in her Nurse costume from Romeo and Juliet. Backstage was a bit cramped so she used a shower for her make up room! The actress/author does a fine job of introducing the reader to Shakespearean characters and storylines without sounding didactic.  Her novel alternates between the interlocking stories of Kelley and Sonny.

My 12-year-old daughter’s review of Wondrous Strange

The protagonist, Kelley, is a professional actress who got the role of Tatiana from A Midsummer Night's Dream in a Shakespeare production. She is mostly described as an average 17-year-old girl until later on she figures out a huge secret about her past.

The story is set in Manhattan, which makes it quite intriguing and different. There are small little paths, portals and places in Central Park that lead her into the Otherworld. The book is written thoroughly and descriptively, which makes you feel that as the reader, you are being lead into a mystical world where fantasies and fairies are true.

The story was wonderful because it was an adventurous, magical page-turner. The characters individually were strong; I particularly liked Tyffanwy, also known as Tyff, who is more than she appears to be. The one criticism I have is that the relationship between Kelley and Sonny was confusing to me.

Sarah Laurence's review of Darklight

Sonny and Kelley’s complicated relationship is the central storyline of Darklight. Romeo and Juliet provides the inspiration. We are talking star-crossed lovers and tragic romance. Kelley comes into her own in Darklight. In Wondrous Strange Kelley had a bad habit of blacking out and needing others to rescue her. Of the two main characters, Sonny is more appealing. He’s a foundling (ie. a kidnapped human baby raised by fairies) of surprising origins who becomes a brave warrior-guard of the gate separating our world from the Otherworld. There's a lot of spilled fairy blood. This series isn’t for the squeamish, but it isn’t gratuitously violent either.

Morality pervades the books, but good and evil aren’t black and white. The most interesting characters came in shades of grey (and green!) The secondary characters (fairies and Janus guards) often steal the stage.  My favorite character was the broody Fennrys Wolf.  I loved the Central Park setting and the Shakespeare references. Theatricality pervades the narrative, stylistically as well.

Darklight is the middle book of the trilogy and should not be read alone. You might want to read the prologue last because it doesn’t make any sense until the end of the novel. The ending leaves the reader longing for the final book in the trilogy, since very little was resolved.

Interview of Lesley Livingston 
by Sarah Laurence and her daughter

What was your favorite book growing up and why?

When I was really young, I devoured horse stories. I think I read the entire Black Stallion series about ten times over. When I was a teenager, I discovered mythology and history and legendary stories. I discovered Celtic tales of wonder. And I met King Arthur. I became absolutely fascinated by the Age of Camelot and read everything Arthurian I could get my hands on. My favorite, to this day, is a book called Firelord by Parke Godwin. I found it as a paperback in a convenience store wire rack on a family vacation down in Montana, and it was the book that started my Arthur craze. It is told from Arthur’s point of view as he lies dying in Avalon. It is gritty and realistic and heartbreaking and funny and full of lyrical, muscular prose. It has Voice. And I usually re-read it once every year or two. It is the book that made me want to be a writer.

Were you interested in the theater as a kid? What got you into acting?

I’ve always been interested in acting. I think because I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller—whether they were my own stories, or those written by others that I could bring to life for an audience. Then, when I first read Romeo and Juliet, it was like some kind of fireworks went off in my head. That was it. I was hooked. That photo (to right) was my acting headshot when I was about Kelley's age or maybe a couple of years older.

Central Park and Shakespearean fairies are an original mix. What was the inspiration?

I’ve been fascinated by Faerie lore in general since I was a kid. The stories that intrigued me the most were never the ones that portrayed the Fae as tiny, sweet, sparkly things. Rather, I was drawn to the idea that these were the creatures that existed beyond the circle of firelight, or just on the other side of the threshold, or just over that far hill; things only ever glimpsed out of the corner of your eye – if you were lucky! I love the dangerous aspects of the Fair Folk. I always appreciated that you got that sense with Shakespeare’s characters. That, given just a little nudge, things could go badly south with those creatures pretty quickly.

As to how that fascination managed to find a home in the middle of an adventure set in NYC, well, I had some time ago written a short story about an actress in a production of Dream in which some of the characters in the play were actually real Faeries. It was a fun little character piece and it stuck with me as something to expand upon. But, if it was going to become a longer tale, it needed a truly extraordinary setting outside of just the theatre.

When I went down to New York for the first time to meet my agent, I—naturally—paid a visit to Central Park. I fell instantly, irrevocably in love with the place. And with its history. The Park was the most magical place I had ever been and it virtually demanded that I turn it into a setting for a story. For some reason, it was just perfect for this story. It fits so well with the play and the pastoral setting, but there is also a whole bunch of really interesting history behind the building of the Park that just dovetailed wonderfully with what I had in mind.

How were you able to research Central Park and life in NYC while living in Canada?

It’s a pretty short hop from Toronto to NYC. At the time I was writing the book, I had friends living in an apartment about half a block from the Columbus Circle gateway to Central Park. I would stay with them and got to know the city quite well (my agent and editor helped get me acclimatized, too). I would always visit the Park and take long, foot-killing strolls all over the place. Even after dark! (My one friend works out a lot and is fairly physically imposing so it was never the least bit scary, even in the middle of the night.)

As far as learning about Park history and anything else I needed, well that was just good old-fashioned research: books and maps and the Internet.

Did you have a roommate or a friend like Tyff?

I had a couple of friends in high school who were crazy party-girl fashionista-types. But, as far as Tyff’s attitude goes… well, it’s kind of funny, but she’s probably the character in the book that sounds most like me! If I were tall and ridiculously gorgeous and had an unending closet, I swear you wouldn’t be able to tell us apart. Heh.

Which Shakespeare play is central to the last book in the trilogy and when is it due to be released?

The third book (or, as I call it, Book the Third – it doesn’t have an official title yet!) is scheduled to release at the end of 2010. It links thematically with The Tempest and was way too much fun to write. Plus, I’m not entirely convinced I’ve left the world of Wondrous Strange behind for good…there are potentially a few Otherworldly tales that remain yet to be told. ;-)

What’s the best advice you’ve had on writing?

Not so much advice necessarily as just a plain truth that was very subtly impressed upon me every time I went to lunch with a well-known author friend of mine. We’d sit down and he’d say “Are you writing?” and if I couldn’t answer “Yes” he would get a certain look on his face. The one that made me make sure I would be able to answer “Yes” the next time I saw him.

Because writers write. It’s as simple as that. You can talk about the great story idea you have rolling around in your head until the crack of doom but if you don’t sit your butt down and get the words out, then you are not a writer. Writers write. And then they re-write. And then they write something else. Rinse. Repeat.

Thank you so much for this, Sarah! It’s been so much fun!

Reviewer's Disclosure: I bought Wondrous Strange (now available in paperback) and requested the ARC of Darklight. Harper Collins Canada sent me the ARC when the US office ran out of copies. Thank you Canada!  Author photos were provided by Lesley Livingston - color portrait of Lesley by John Rait.  I took the Central Park photos on Thanksgiving 2009, inspired by this series.

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Maria Padian said...

I normally don't read fantasy or paranormal, but these sound wonderful. Thanks for reviewing!

tina said...

Your daughter's review shows wisdom way beyond her years. A very nice write up indeed. Too cool Lesley had to use a shower for a make up room.

Sarah Laurence said...

Maria, what a pleasant surprise – welcome to blogging! I’m not usually that into paranormal/fantasy either, but the Shakespeare theme and writing won me over. It helps that the series is rooted in reality, half set in NYC. Lesley calls her subgenre urban fantasy.

Tina, I love when my daughter joins me in a review. It’s fun to share a good book with her and with you too.

David Cranmer said...

The double reviews and interview has sold me. These books will find its way into my next big Amazon order. Thanks.

Jenn Jilks said...

Wonderful review! Very creative. I am quite keen on the paranormal. So much fun having your daughter on board! Thanks for visiting my review.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

What a delightful interview! It's always a treat to hear from your daughter.

Rose said...

As always, Sarah, I enjoy your author interviews; they really give insight into the inspiration behind the books. Your daughter has written another great review; I love the way you paired up to review the two in this series. Fantasy isn't my cup of tea, but these two do sound interesting--and definitely ones my granddaughter, a fan of both fantasy and Shakespeare, would love. I'll have to recommend these to her!

Keri Mikulski said...

Love this!!! I can't wait to co-review and interview with my little one one day. Yay, Maria and Sarah! So cool!! :)

Sarah Laurence said...

David, I’d love to hear what you think of these books.

Jenn, paranormal fiction has gotten over crowded with vampires and zombies so it was great to see a new author do something fresh. Devious Shakespearean fairies are fun. I enjoyed your review too.

Pamela, thank you from both of us! Comments like yours will hopefully encourage her to join me more often. Right now she’s reading Pride and Prejudice just for fun.

Rose, I thought especially of your granddaughter when I reviewed this series. It’s perfect for fans of Twilight plus Romeo and Juliet. I loved your review too.

Keri, it is so much fun to share both my reviewing and my novel writing with my daughter. She helps me to update my YA novels for teens now. She’s the #1 reason I decided to try my hand at writing YA. Her name is not Maria. Since my daughter is only 12, I don’t give her name. Maria Padian (first comment) is my good friend here in Maine. I didn’t know she’d started just blogging until that comment. Maria is also a talented YA author. And your review introduced me to another new YA author.

Beth Yarnall said...

Beautiful photographs. I noticed you took them yourself, you're very talented.
The books sound amazing. I love Shakespeare but am not a deep scholar of his work. I'm hoping that won't be a detrement to enjoying the books.
Your daughter is an excellent reviewer, she makes me want to read these books. Thanks for this review!

Staci said...

Loved both of your reviews and these actually sound like books that I would enjoy!!

Sarah Laurence said...

Beth, welcome to my blog and thank you! Art is my day job. The beauty of Lesley’s series is you don’t have to know any Shakespeare to follow the story. Familiarity with A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Romeo & Juliet will only add to your reading pleasure. It was fun reading your review too.

Staci, welcome to my blog and thank you! I enjoyed your review too.

A Cuban In London said...

I've got my mp3 playing in the background on random mode and as I read your post the song that came on was 'Koyal' by Nitin Sawhney and suddenly your review and your last photo took me to another dimension. Fairies with a penchant for violence? That's original, although saying that I've never read 'Lord of the Rings'.

Your daughter's review has given me an idea. Maybe I should get my almost-twelve-year-old son (in eleven days!) to collaborate on my blog. Of course, I will credit you with the original idea. :-) Your daughter's review was quite mature, concise and solid. I loved it.

Many thanks for another fantastic post. My beloved adopted city is submerged in snow.

Greetings from London.

PS: Word verification is 'comida'. That's a proper word, Spanish for 'food'. :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, I admit to not getting through the entire Lord of the Rings as a kid, but I did read The Hobbit. My husband, my son and my brother are all big fans. I was bothered by the dearth of female characters. So was my daughter. When my husband read the Lord of the Rings to the kids as a bedtime story, he let our daughter believe that one of the dwarves was a girl. You should sample it while in England – it’s such a classic. The author hung out a pub in Oxford. I loved the movies –definitely worth renting.

What I especially liked about Lesley’s series was that it wasn’t gender biased. I could see the series appealing to boys and girls, men and women, if they like fantasy or paranormal fiction. Good for Shakespeare fans too.

I’d love to hear your son’s voice on your blog. Let me issue a warning though, getting a tween to contribute on his/her parent’s blog is a bit like herding cats. I do love when she decides to join me. It’s an open invitation but not one I force.

Snow in London – you must be thrilled. Can you post photos?

Isn’t it fun when the word verification makes sense? I hated adding it to my blog but I’ve been getting spam comments. Now you’re making me hungry.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Excellent review and interview, as always! This book sounds really fun. A Midsummer Night's Dream was always my favorite Shakespeare play--I too was fascinated by the fairies. I will definitely look for these!

Makes me want to go back to Central Park for another visit...but not in the dark.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyssa, I'd love to hear what you think of the series.

I grew up in NYC and I would NOT recommend going into Central Park or any park at night, even with a big friend. I had some close calls even during the day on horseback in the park, but I still love it. Crime has gotten better in NYC since I was a kid. Still. Thanks for bringing that up. Lesley is from Toronto - much lower crime.

I enjoyed your review too.

walk2write said...

Your daughter does a fantastic job of reviewing, Sarah (you're no slouch, either, by the way). She will be a famous literary critic in no time. I love the idea that these novels might get teens and young adults interested in exploring the classics. Ms. Livingston deserves a round of applause for her efforts. I'd like to learn more about the history of Central Park. Will Ms. L be compiling any nonfiction impressions about it?

Ellen Booraem said...

This month's crop of reviews is seriously messing with my time commitments. Here's another one I've gotta read--I love fantasy, especially if it dovetails with reality, and I'm a Shakespeare fanatic from way back.

Too bad about that revision sitting on my desk. *sigh*

Thanks, Sarah. I think.

Lesley Livingston said...

Hello everyone!

What a lovely crop of commenters you have on your blog, Sarah! :-)

In answer to walk2write's question, I am actually planning on incorporating a feature on my website that highlights real-world features and landmarks of the Park, along with the Faerie flip-side equivalent! It's a bit of a complicated project though, but I plan to have it finished hopefully sometime this summer... we'll see how that goes along with the other writing projects I have on the go. Heh.

I promise I'll let Sarah know when it goes live but if you're interested in the meantime, my website is

Thank you all for the wonderful comments.


Barrie said...

What a pleasant time I've had this morning with my coffee and a visit to your blog. So, Lesley's from Toronto? I love her already. (I'm from Toronto!) It sounds as though she's taken "Shakespeare in the park" to a whole new level! Kudos to you and your daughter, Sarah, for a great review/interview!

Rosaria Williams said...

Lovely pictures, insightful questions. I like how both you and your young daughter are doing the interviews together. Cool.

Kelly H-Y said...

I love that the reviews and interview wre done by both you and your daughter. She is one well-spoken 12-year old! Beautiful pictures, as usual!

Donna said...

These books sound so good! I'm adding them to my to-read/to-get list. I like it that part of the setting involves Central Park, a place that I love too. Great interview and review! Thank you for the recommendation.

Sarah Laurence said...

W2W, thanks! My daughter wants to be a novelist/actress/artist when she grows up. I do enjoy YA books that have a literary link. I’ll be reviewing/interviewing another one like that for the book review club in February. It looks like the author answered your question.

Ellen, call it a book carrot? Revise then read. Good luck with it! I enjoyed your review too.

Lesley, thanks for dropping in. I’ll post a comment link to your landmark page once it’s up if you let me know. W2W had a good suggestion for a follow up book. Have you seen Lyra’s Oxford that goes with Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series?

Barrie, thanks for hosting another stellar book review club. I look forward to it every month. I’d forgotten that Lesley and you share the Toronto connection. It’s a small blog world. Shakespeare in the Park – very witty!

Lakeviewer and Kelly, I do love when my daughter joins me. Thank you for encouraging her. She does write well.

Donna, these books have your name written all over them. Enjoy!

Bee said...

My 12-in-a-week daughter has an Amazon gift certificate just begging to be used, and I am going to recommend these books to her. They sound utterly beguiling.

I really enjoyed your interview with Lesley Livingston as well. She gave wonderful answers to your nicely elastic questions.

☆sapphire said...

Hi Sarah.
I enjoyed reading the two reviews and the interview! Great!
Really amazed that your 12-year-old daughter has written such a nice review!! She is so talented like her mother!! The setting in the Central Park sounds very intriguing. I love fantasy, paranormal, and science fantasy. Are the two story lines loosely based on "Midsummer Night"? or quite different?
In Japan fantasy and paranormal have been very popular in these 10 years. How about in the States? James Cameron's fabulous film, "Avatar" will certainly strengthen this trend here....
Thank you for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

AS ever, a most detailed and thoughtful introduction to these fascinating sounding cooks.
I'm impressed by your daughter's review. (She must have been taking lessons from a good teacher).
Always lap up the NYC allusions of course.
Re paranormal, I used to be irritated by it, but as I get older and older I'm more open to the strangest things.
All best wishes from cold NY
but I imagine it's even colder by you!

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, happy birthday to your daughter! The series is geared for teens, but a mature 12-year-old, who can follow complex plots, would enjoy it too. The content is suitable for all ages if violence isn’t an issue. The magical elements would definitely appeal to young readers.

Sapphire, Lesley’s novels feature the bickering fairy Queen Tatiana and King Oberon along with Puck from A of Midsummer Night’s Dream and a foundling (Lesley names him Sonny,) who caused the disagreement in the play. Queen Mab from Romeo & Juliet is also player. The protagonist, Kelley, is an original character with her own story. Many of the other characters come from general fairy lore and legends. The books are inspired by but not enslaved to Shakespeare. Paranormal is huge in the US now, especially in Young Adult, which adults read too. I’m not surprised it’s big in Japan.

Ewix, I’m also reading paranormal novels for the first time since childhood. Avoiding it meant missing out on many talented new authors. I still prefer my fiction based in reality so if I blog about a paranormal novel, I truly love it. My favorites tend to have a firm foundation in the real world and in literature. As a writer, I prefer spinning the magic of realism. It’s actually warm for January in Maine. We usually have single digit days. It is still below freezing. Keep warm!

Charlotte said...

Great interview, compelling reviews, and entrancing photo of Central Park!

Sarahlynn said...

Fabulous! I really appreciate your (and your daughter's) reviews. I might have missed this trilogy, otherwise.

My youngest sister has a birthday in a couple of months, and these will definitely be in her gift box - with the assumption that I get to read them afterward.

(My sister has always been very interested in complex portrayals of the fey, and is writing a YA novel about faeries herself.)

Sarah Laurence said...

Charlotte, thanks!

Sarahlyn, thank you; I enjoyed your review too. I hadn’t realized that your sister was a writer too. You must have grown up in a literary household. These books sound like the perfect gift for her. I enjoyed reading them as much as my daughter did. Let’s hope Lesley has started a new trend in fey and Shakespeare in YA.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Great reviews and interview, Sarah. These books sound really intriguing and I'm going to make note of them for future.


Sarah Laurence said...

Linda, thank you and I hope you enjoy the books. I enjoyed your review too.

cynthia said...

I think you're on to something with these mother/daughter reviews of YA books. So nice to get both opinions in one spot, plus the interview. Love the Central Park photos, especially the black and white. A lovely package!

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, thanks and welcome back! I was aiming for a classic image. In high school I set up a darkroom in my home to print black and white. Central Park has been a favorite subject of mine for a long time.

Anil P said...

Enjoyed the Q&A very much, and so also your daughter's review.

Lesley's advice on writing is uncomplicated, and true.

I couldn't help but imagine Avatar as I read your review.

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, welcome back! I haven’t seen Avatar yet since we don’t have a proper 3D theater in our town. I imagine Lesley’s series would make excellent 3D material too.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I've just finished Wondrous Strange and really enjoyed it--now I'm in search of Book 2.

Thanks again for the review!

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyssa, wow, that was quick! Thanks for coming back to share your reaction. I guessed these YA novels would have crossover appeal to adults, and you confirmed it.