Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review - A Tale Dark and Grimm

A Tale Dark and Grimm (A Tale Dark & Grimm #1)
by Adam Gidwitz
Date: 2010
Publisher: Puffin
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 256
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

While I do like a good fairytale retelling, and I appreciate what the author tried to do here, I just wasn't feeling this one.  Perhaps it was just too young for me... or perhaps the moral fell flat for me (because this book comes across as a little preachy at times).

The author took the story of Hansel and Gretel and wove it together with a number of other stories by the Brothers Grimm.  That was an interesting idea, and I'll give the author credit for that.  However, I do sort of question the appropriateness of Grimm stories as the basis for a middle-grade novel.  There is a lot of blood and gore.  Beheadings.  Amputations.  Boiling in oil.  Add to that the fact that the framing device is the story of two murderous children, and I'm kind of scratching my head as to why anyone would think this was a good idea.

It's not a long book, but it seemed to take forever to get through.  The writing is okay, but nothing special.  The author is a fan of said bookisms, while I'm most assuredly not.  The story is supposed to be like an old-fashioned fairytale, and yet there were numerous instances where very modern expressions popped up, which were distracting.  And, through it all, the author repeatedly interjects, usually to tell the reader to remove young children from the room because something gory is coming up.  I'm not sure whether I liked that or not.  On the one hand, it disrupted the flow of the narrative.  On the other hand, it provided some much-needed relief from the tiresome characters.

The characters are the book's biggest weakness.  You know how in fairytales you don't generally know much about a character, other than one or two personality traits and their basic physical appearance?  Well, that's what we got here.  In fact, I think my favourite character in the whole book is the Devil's grandmother, simply because she's unexpected and provides some comic relief.  The king and queen (Hansel and Gretel's parents) are awful people.  Murderers, in fact.  Hansel does little but make a mess of things and not listen to his sister.  Gretel is the voice of wisdom and reason, but she quickly becomes tiresome.

The moral of the story (that children's lives are more valuable because they are innocent and wise and adults' lives are expendable because they're evil and stupid) makes no sense, especially in light of how the story ended (psst, Mr. Gidwitz... children do eventually grow up).  I guess kids might like such a sentiment, but as an adult, I found it absurd -- and just a bit insulting.

When I was a child, my mom used to read to my sister and I all the time.  She never liked reading us the story of Hansel and Gretel, though.  She'd always say it was a story about a couple of thieves and murderers.  Adam Gidwitz has managed to take that to a whole new level with this book!

Quotable moment:

But before he left, the Devil announced that he could not find his glasses.  He was furious, for he could barely see without them.  "I hardly recognize you, Grandmother!" he shouted.  "Where in Hell did I put them?"

"Devil knows!" his grandmother said.

"No, he doesn't!" he shouted.  Eventually he stormed out of the house without his glasses, grumbling about telling one sinner from another and wasting a perfectly good day of damnation.

Recommended to: die-hard fairytale retelling fans

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.57 out of 5 ladybugs

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island.  I actually can't think of anything less appealing than being trapped with other people on a deserted island.  We probably wouldn't get along, there'd be tons of drama, and someone would undoubtedly go all Lord of the Flies and I'd end up crushed by a boulder.  But I guess it wouldn't be so bad if I got to choose my companions...

Penryn from Angelfall by Susan Ee - She's used to scavenging in post-apocalyptic settings and kicking butt when the need arises.  Surely some of those skills would be transferable to a deserted island.  Especially if there are scorpions...

Ronan from The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater - Let me preface this by saying that I do not really like this character, and I probably wouldn't enjoy having him around.  However, his skill of being able to take objects out of dreams would be very useful in a situation with limited resources.

Laura from Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox - I'm assuming we wouldn't have TV or the Internet on this deserted island, so we'd need some form of entertainment.  Laura can harvest dreams and then "perform" them for a sleeping audience... so having her around would be pretty interesting!  (Too bad it probably wouldn't work, though, since she can't access the Place from just anywhere...)

Katniss from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I shouldn't even have to explain this one: mad bow skills and strong survival instincts put her on the list.

Newton from Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival by Arthur Slade - The kid goes to a survival school.  I don't know how you could find a much more appropriate person to be stranded on a deserted island with!

Daniel from My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares - Since Daniel can remember all of his past lives, presumably he remembers how to survive in less-than-ideal conditions.  He'd be useful to the group... but I'm not sure if he'd be very happy if Lucy wasn't also on the island.

Ty from Stolen by Lucy Christopher - Yes, I know he's technically a villain.  But he also knows insane amounts about survival situations.  If the deserted island was similar to the Australian Outback, we'd be set.

Gen from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner - He proves himself to be resourceful and crafty, which is just the sort of person you'd want around if you were trapped on a deserted island.  Plus, he's witty and charming, and seems like he'd be a fun guy to have around.

Nitish from Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis - This is a sentient, white tiger who can communicate telepathically.  He's kind of naive and amusing, but he could also be pretty useful.  He could climb trees to get at the coconuts there, and he could hunt for meat as well.

R from Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion - I know, I know.  I, too, questioned the wisdom of having a zombie on an island with an already-limited population.  But think of it this way: he's one less person that needs actual food, and if we get tired of any of the others, we can just let him have at it!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can I get a half ladybug, please?

I've been thinking about revamping my ratings system a bit.  I'm finding that my ratings don't always reflect my overall impression of the book and how much I enjoyed it.  Take, for example, one of my recent reads, The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M. G. Buehrlen.  With my current criteria, I ended up giving it 3.57 out of 5 ladybugs, which I rounded up to 4 (because the idea of chopping a ladybug in half seemed just plain wrong).  But that 3.57 doesn't really take into account my overall impression or how I felt while I was reading the book; I do have a rating for enjoyment that factors into the total, but it often seems not to make enough of a difference (and that also applies when I haven't enjoyed a book that was otherwise well written but maybe wasn't my cup of tea).  Had I rated the aforementioned book without doing all the math, I probably would have given it a solid 4, just based on my overall impression.

I'm going to figure out a way to have my numerical ratings better reflect how I really felt about what I read.  I'm not sure if that'll involve somehow giving the enjoyment number more weight, or reworking the criteria altogether.

Beyond that, I'm going to have some half-ladybug ratings.  But, don't worry!  No bug abuse was involved.  The icons will look like this:

Then maybe books like Eat, Brains, Love won't end up with a misleading 3-ladybug rating in my review archives when my enjoyment rating was only a 2 (it got 3 points for pacing and originality, which skewed the final outcome).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weekly Recap - June 29-July 5, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Sunday - I shared what I got In My Mailbox.  I got quite a few freebies this week!

Tuesday - I participated in the Top Ten Tuesday meme.  This week we talked about our favourite classics.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Favourite Classic Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Favourite Classic Books.  How does one define a "classic"?  I have no idea.  For the purposes of this post, though, I'm going to define a "classic" as a popular, well-written book that's more than 50 years old.  Here we go:

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1600) - This was the first Shakespeare play that I read just for enjoyment.  It's also my favourite.  Its dialogue seems somehow modern at times, even though it was written more than 400 years ago.  The banter between Beatrice and Benedick is great.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847) - I didn't read this classic novel until my first year of university.  I hadn't seen any movie versions of it up until that point, either, so the story was entirely new to me.  Even though my professor spoiled the ending for me (I wasn't reading fast enough), I truly enjoyed the book and it immediately went on my list of favourite classics.

The Light Princess by George MacDonald (1864) - This story has to be my all-time favourite fairytale.  There's not really any gore or scary bits.  It's just a sweet story about levity, love, and sacrifice.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868) - I read this, plus a number of the author's other books, when I was on a classics kick a few years back.  I really loved the characters of the girls; they were so different, yet wonderful in their own ways.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1901) - While I never had my own copy of this book, I borrowed it from the library too many times to count.  The story of a disobedient rabbit and his exploits is fun enough... but the charming illustrations just make it that much more of a must-read.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (1926) - This book was part of a set that was given to me when I was born... so it's one of the first books I ever owned.  I grew up having it read to me, so I was very familiar with the Hundred Acre Wood.  A few years ago, I read the book again as an adult.  It's still charming, and it's easy to see why it became a beloved classic.

Pat of Silver Bush by L. M. Montgomery (1933) - I knew I had to include at least one L. M. Montgomery book on this list, but I couldn't decide.  I also like Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon and Jane of Lantern Hill... but, for some reason, Pat is probably my favourite L. M. Montgomery heroine.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947) - This was another book I had as a very young child, and it was one of my favourites.  Despite the simple illustrations and the weak paperback binding that eventually fell apart, it was a well-loved and often-read classic in my house.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948) - This might be one of my very favourite books of all time.  I really don't know why; it has none of the fantasy elements that I usually find myself drawn towards.  But it's charming and sweet, with a wonderful protagonist and a varied cast of engaging secondary characters.  If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend that you do so!

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (1955) - This is the only one of the Ramona books that's more than 50 years old, but let's face it: they're all classics.  Ramona Quimby is one of my favourite child characters of all time.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

In My Mailbox (72)

Bought from Amazon.ca:
Nana Cracks the Case!
by Kathleen Lane, Cabell Harris & Sarah Horne

Nana is not your ordinary grandma. She never wears cloppy shoes, drinks prune juice, or worries about slippery surfaces. Eufala and Bog's nana would much rather join the circus, work as a backhoe operator, or maybe become a detective. Which is exactly what happens in this very funny chapter book. When Nana answers an ad in the local newspaper for a detective, she arrives at the police department just in time to investigate the theft of one entire case of delicious Yumdums candy. Can one little old lady find a way to save the day and stop the candy thief from striking again?

Freebie from Amazon.ca:
The Deepest Cut
by J. A. Templeton

Sixteen-year-old Riley Williams has been able to see ghosts since the car crash that took her mother’s life and shattered her family. Guilt-ridden over the belief that she’s somehow responsible for her mom’s death, Riley is desperate to see her mother’s elusive spirit to gain her forgiveness.

When her father moves the family to Scotland so they can all start over, Riley believes her life couldn’t get worse––that is until the ghost of nineteen-year-old Ian MacKinnon catches her purposely cutting herself. An uneasy truce quickly turns into friendship, and soon Riley’s falling hard for Ian.

Riley believes her gift could help Ian end the curse that has kept him tied to the land for centuries, but that would mean letting him go forever and she’s not sure she is strong enough to do that. As if her life wasn’t complicated enough, the spirit of the woman who killed Ian returns and she’ll stop at nothing to keep Riley from helping Ian find eternal peace.

Freebie from Kobo:
Wool Omnibus (Silo #1-5)
by Hugh Howey

This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

Freebie from SYNC AudioFile:
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
by Matthew Quick

How would you spend your birthday if you knew it would be your last?

Eighteen-year-old Leonard Peacock knows exactly what he'll do. He'll say goodbye.

Not to his mum - who he calls Linda because it annoys her - who's moved out and left him to fend for himself. Nor to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing the unthinkable. But to his four friends: a Humphrey-Bogart-obsessed neighbour, a teenage violin virtuoso, a pastor's daughter and a teacher.

Most of the time, Leonard believes he's weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he's not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye.

What was in your "mailbox" this week?  Let me know in the comments!

In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Weekly Recap - June 22-28, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Sunday - I shared what I got In My Mailbox.  I got one e-book and a couple of audiobook freebies.

Tuesday - I participated in the Top Ten Tuesday meme.  This week was all about trends on book covers.  I might have gone a little overboard with the pictures...

Thursday - I went Booking Through Thursday.  This week's topic was anticipation.

Also on Thursday, I finally gave up and officially rated Splintered by A. G. Howard as a DNF.  It just wasn't the book for me.  I have too many other books I want to read to spend time struggling with something I'm just not enjoying!