Book Review: Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb by Ally Malinenko

[simpleazon-image align=”left” asin=”1481064061″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61VON%2BP8MNL._SL160_.jpg” width=”105″] [simpleazon-link asin=”1481064061″ locale=”us”]Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb[/simpleazon-link] by Ally Malinenko
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb started off promisingly, especially from the point of view of someone who loves Shakespeare. The problem began when it dawned on me (less than 50 pages in) that the author was throwing everything she loved about the liberal arts into this one volume of what is apparently going to be a series. Malinenko has the chops and the knowledge to be a good writer. I believe, however, that the book would’ve been much better had she picked one focal point and stuck with it. Also, the audience is tweens (based on the cover art, the age of the characters, and the dialogue), but the vocabulary was way beyond their years. A bit of a vocabulary challenge is a good thing, but when the author includes words like “phrenology” which even I had to look up, it becomes a bit much. (BTW if you are curious, phrenology is the science which studies the relationships between a person’s character and the morphology of the skull. Now give me a minute while I look up morphology…)

By the time I was at the climax of this volume in the series, the author had referenced Macbeth, witches, the Statue of Liberty, Christopher Marlowe, the digitization of libraries, muses, fairies, alchemy, elves, Alice in Wonderland, Central Park, the Empire State Building, keeping journals, maps, The Fates, public domain, The Beatles, Vatican City and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven, and Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats. Having had a liberal arts education (I was an English Major), I caught the references, but a young teenager would miss most of them. For those references that the author wanted to be sure were not missed, the author had a character explain them.

I’m a librarian who has raised two children and who used to be a Children’s Librarian. This book has a lot of great information, but it was too much great information. At no time was I able to get lost in the story and forget that the author was trying to teach me. The line from the book that best captures this is when Lizzy realizes that “if she had been forced to learn this in school, it would have put her to sleep” (p. 115).

Malinenko has a noble goal: to entertain young readers while educating them. Good intentions don’t necessarily translate into a good book however. Malinenko would do better to find one focus, remove herself more from the book and entertain the readers while making the references less obvious and toning down the explanations. As I was taught during my liberal arts education, a writer should show not tell.

In summary, there is a lot of good material here, but the author needs to trim it and focus it. Otherwise, she’s not going to reach the audience that she so genuinely wants to reach, and that would be a shame.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, please note that I was given a free review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Doing the Research by Ally Malinenko

One of my favorite things about writing is making stuff up. That’s the whole point, right? You get to build a world, people it and then make them do wonderful and terrible things as per your whims. It’s pure honest creation and there is something holy about it.
Except that sometimes pure creation starts with a seed – a moment of inspiration or truth. A kernel of reality. As Lord Byron said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
When I started working on Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb I knew I wanted two elements: Shakespeare and Mythology. The Shakespeare part was pretty easy. Unless you subscribe to the ludicrous idea that he was an invention of the court, you have a man who lived and died and in between scribbled some of the most famous plays and poems every written. Fact.
Then there was the Mythology which I’ve always been drawn to. And not just the Greek ones – all of it: Roman, Norse, Japanese, you name it, I’m interested. I’m a sucker for creation tales. So when I was researching for Cursed Tomb, I scoured the library checking out everything I could find on gods and goddess and the beasts of the land and sea. I picked up books on different mythologies at used books stores. I collected stories. My piles started to grow.
I knew I wanted Gryphons (Orion), Satyrs (Cleo) and fairies who make killer hot chocolates (Gossamer Willowfly). Beyond that, I waited to see what the research would turn up and it did not disappoint.
I read about other legends like the Selkies from Irish and Scottish folklore – women who turn into seals in the ocean but shed their skin on land. Immediately I knew that I needed to fit that in. If nothing else at some point Lizzy would have to step foot on a boat, captained by a crew of beautiful strong pirate women who sailed the seven seas and transformed into seals. Enter Catriona – a late but favorite addition to Cursed Tomb.
Then I moved onto Taoist stories and came across Elder Zhang Guo, one of the Eight Immortals. I recall reading that at one point he died and deciding he didn’t much like it, picked himself back up and continued on. That little nugget stuck in my brain for quite some time but it wasn’t until I was working in Manhattan’s Chinatown and I watched the men and women gather in the park to do Tai Chi that I began to see the old man, his cluttered room, his small pet dragon and a book that changes based on the reader. I heard the prediction he had for Lizzy and how it would change her life….again.
And then there’s Medusa. And not the beautiful woman with a headful of snakes and a broken heart but a true Gorgon – a monster with fangs and scales and hissing snakes.
There were other characters and stories that didn’t make the final cut or only in small roles. A kitsune – a Japanese fox spirit – lingers around the Belch Palace. In order to get into the Belch Palace, you have to get past Bastet who was a cat goddess from ancient Egypt. Later there is Blackie – the Mara – Scandinavian monsters that rode the chests of sleepers and produced their nightmares.
I used a lot of different books when I researched world mythology but I have to give props to Tony Allan’s The Mythic Bestiary: The Illustrated Guide to the World’s Most Fantastical Creatures and the Dictionary of Ancient Deities by Patricia Turner and Charles Russell Coulter. They were both a huge help.
Researching for Cursed Tomb was as much fun as writing it. And I’m still mining those stories. For the next book, you’ll meet a harpy, a vengeful Siren, a witch that maintains many of the traits of Baba Yaga. The world is ripe with stories, characters, mythology just waiting to be pulled from the sky, and reworked into something new. You just have to do the research.
So take this quiz and find out which mythological creature you are. And then go learn about them!

Quizzes by Quibblo.com

Loopy’s Comments:
I am Medusa. Ironically, I once did get a snake in my hair. I was relaxing  against the side of our backyard pool when we lived in South Florida when I felt something moving in my hair. I’m pretty sure I woke the neighborhood with my screams!!

What mythological creature are you?
Medusa

Congrats! You’re Medusa – the banging babe with the head full of snakes. It’s not your fault. You’re just misunderstood. Facebook quizzes & Blog quizzes by Quibblo

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Author: Allie

I was a Children's Librarian for 8 years and worked in Administration for several more. I love blogging about books, information, and other library related topics. Most of my blogs are book reviews.