Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review - The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap
by H. M. Bouwman
Date: 2008
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 270
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

Set on fictional islands off northeast America in 1787, this story features two twelve-year-old girls from different cultures who must join forces to save themselves, their people, and one special baby.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I have to admit it: The cover sucked me into reading this one.  It looks like the artwork might be the work of Nicoletta Ceccoli, though my Kindle edition had no information about the cover artist.  While fanciful, it's a fairly accurate representation of the girls in the story.  However, it's also a bit juvenile, and should have given me a clue about what sort of tone to expect from the story.  I like middle grade fiction when it doesn't remind me that it's written for kids; unfortunately, this book failed on that account.

To sum up the basic plot: This book takes place on a fictional group of islands off the eastern coast of North America in the late 1700s.  The Colay are the native people already living there.  The Anglish (as they were called in this book) are a group of convicts who were on their way to the colonies to be indentured servants.  They were shipwrecked on the Colay's islands, and proceeded to act like regular imperialists.  They set up their own British-style government and, eventually, cast the Colay off the largest island (for reasons that are further explained in the story).  Lucy is a Colay girl who lives on one of the smaller islands.  For reasons unknown at the beginning of the story, all the Colay males have been cursed, which makes them turn into stone.  When Lucy's mother gives birth to a baby boy, Lucy is to take the baby up the mountain to a special statue garden and leave him there to turn into stone.  But he doesn't turn into stone... which sets Lucy on a journey to break the curse that eventually involves Snowcap, the governor-in-waiting of the Anglish.

A big problem I had with this book was the characters.  First, their names.  I read all 270 pages of this book, and even by the end, I was still mixing up Lucy and Snowcap.  Giving their children names of the other culture was supposed to have been a sign of respect, but it just confused me.  Every time I read "Lucy", I'd think "English girl".  Constantly having to remind myself throughout the story was annoying.  And it didn't help that (especially at first) both girls were pretty unpleasant, immature, and snarly... making them even more difficult to tell apart once they got together.  Philip the tutor was an amusing character, and I didn't mind Adam, the Minister of Transportation (he took care of the horses), but the villains were fairly weak.  We know who they are from the beginning, and yet we really don't know much about them (other than secondhand bits of information from other people).  Renard was some sort of sorcerer.  What, exactly, could he do?  Where did he learn how to do it?  When someone just starts waving magic about only when it's convenient for the story, it seems a bit inconsistent.  (For example, if you have such powerful magic, why do you need to get rid of your enemies by poisoning their oatmeal?)

As I mentioned earlier, the writing in this book seemed a bit juvenile.  It wasn't bad; it just seemed a little bit... light.  Technically, the writing was nearly flawless, and that's something I usually find pretty impressive in today's crop of books for young readers.  However, the tone just didn't work for me.  The story is also told from a third-person point of view, with quite a bit of jumping around between different characters' thoughts.  It was a bit much, at times.

My biggest issue, however, is probably with the pacing.  I was going along quite merrily, enjoying the story... until I hit page 215.  At that point, the pace really goes wacky.  We'd spent days with the girls as they slowly made their way toward the desert, and then within a few chapters the various characters were bouncing around all over the place.  Into the desert, out of the desert, back to town, off the island, onto another island, back to town...  It was almost enough to give a reader whiplash.  And then everything wrapped up so neatly, so simply, that I felt quite cheated... and a bit insulted as a reader.  Are middle graders, often readers of sophisticated fiction like Harry Potter or A Wrinkle in Time, really going to be satisfied with such a pat resolution?  Somehow, I have my doubts.

So, while I give credit to the author for an interesting idea, I can't really recommend this one.  The confusing character names, weird pacing, and unsatisfying ending were just too much for me to get past.  It might be suitable for readers on the younger end of the middle-grade range... but it probably won't be of much interest to more sophisticated 12-year-olds or adults who read MG novels for enjoyment.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.14 out of 5

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition

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

This week's topic is Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition.

Great topic!  In a literary world where sometimes it seems like certain authors deserve less recognition, let's give some attention to the other side.  I can think of a number of writers (and books) that have, for some inexplicable reason, flown under the radar or not gotten quite as much attention as they should have.  Here are some authors you might want to check out, if you haven't already done so (the authors' names link to their official sites):

10. Isaac Marion - I just read Warm Bodies a few days ago.  How annoyed was I to find that the author hasn't written anything else yet (well, except for a prequel that doesn't appear to be available in Canada)?  The writing and characterization made me fall in love with this zombie novel (heh... never thought I'd use the words "love" and "zombie novel" in the same sentence).  The author is working on a sequel, so there's more to look forward to.  I'd also like to see what else he could do with different characters and stories.  I put Marion on this list because I haven't seen a ton of reviews of his one-and-only book.  The movie may have gotten more hype, but the book is definitely worth a read, too.

9. Edward Eager - This author has no official website (he died before the Internet was born), but his books were recently reprinted and are still available to buy.  I'd never heard of this author before I stumbled across his books in the children's section of our local library a few years back.  I have no idea why they haven't gotten more attention, as they fit in nicely with the contemporary fantasy trend for young readers.  While there are some bits that might seem a bit dated (and sexist), for the most part, these books are lots of fun and offer up some imaginative ideas.  My favourite book of his is probably Half Magic.

8. Michelle Magorian - If you haven't read her most famous book, Goodnight Mister Tom, then you might not even recognize this author's name... and that's a shame, because in addition to that classic, she's also written a number of highly enjoyable historical novels that take place during World War II.

7. Kit Pearson - I'll admit that I haven't read any of this author's books in a while, but she's still writing, and if her new stuff is as good as her old stuff, I don't know why she isn't a lot more popular.  I read the Guests of War trilogy, as well as Awake and Dreaming and A Handful of Time, and really enjoyed all of them.  I think some of these books might be more middle grade than young adult, which might explain why they aren't more popular (it seems that YA gets more attention than MG these days).

6. Charles de Lint - I rarely (if ever) see any reviews for this author's books, despite the fact that he has written a number of highly enjoyable fantasy novels (including a few directed at the YA market).  He's Canadian (which may have something to do with it), but he's also been around for years and has a pretty impressive bibliography.  Celtic and Native American mythologies are the main foci in his stories, which usually include some fantasy element.  My personal recommendations would be Trader, Yarrow, and The Blue Girl.

5. Diana Wynne Jones - This is the author of Howl's Moving Castle.  She's also written many other fantasy novels for the middle grade and young adult crowds.  Sadly, Jones died in 2011... but she left us with an impressive body of work.  I find her books to be highly underrated, especially when so many of them deal with today's popular themes (e.g., a fairy tale retelling in Fire and Hemlock; witches and wizards in Howl's Moving Castle; mythology in Eight Days of Luke and The Game).

4. Gail Carson Levine - This author gave us the popular Ella Enchanted, and yet many may not even recognize her name.  She's written quite a few fantasy stories in the fairy tale vein, sometimes as retellings and sometimes as original stories.  I've read five of her novels in the past few years, and enjoyed every one of them.  The Two Princesses of Bamarre is my favourite of hers; it's not as well known as Ella Enchanted, but I actually enjoyed it more.

3. Antonia Michaelis - This German author is the wordsmith behind Tiger Moon, one of my all-time favourite stand-alone novels.  She has written other things (though I've not gotten around to reading any of them yet).  I loved the story and writing in Tiger Moon (even though it was a translation from the German, it didn't read like it), and I thought about the characters for a long time after I'd finished it.  It seems that not many people have heard of Tiger Moon (or its author), which is a shame.  It's something a bit different in today's young adult scene, a historical fantasy with beautiful writing and unforgettable characters.

2. Alison Baird - This Canadian author has written quite a number of books.  I've only read four of her young adult titles, but I loved them all.  My review for The Hidden World on Amazon was one of the first five-star reviews I ever wrote.  And the Willowmere Chronicles has got to be one of my favourite YA series of all time.  With the current interest in all things paranormal, I have no idea why this series that involves witches and reincarnation hasn't become more popular.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the books aren't that easy to find.

1. Laura Whitcomb - Under the Light came out in May, and while it generated a bit of buzz (mostly from people who enjoyed A Certain Slant of Light), it didn't get the kind of attention you'd expect for an author who's written a small handful of young adult novels with absolutely gorgeous prose.  While The Fetch didn't win me over story-wise, it still had the same beautiful writing I've come to expect from this author.  I hope she keeps writing; I'd love to keep reading!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review - Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)
by Isaac Marion
Date: 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Reading level: NA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 240
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

'R' is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.

Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows - warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can't understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.

This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won't be changed without a fight...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I heard of Warm Bodies when the movie came out, but I didn't realize that the film was based on a book of the same name.  After having mixed feelings about my first zombie read (The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan) and an ultra-negative reaction to my second (Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick), I wasn't sure if I wanted to go for a third.  But I saw it mentioned positively in a few places around the book-blogging world, so I thought I'd have a look.  After reading the preview on, I was hooked; I don't think I could've not bought the book at that point.

I read it in two sittings, which is a rarity for me.  And you know what?  I absolutely loved this book.  Sure, there were some niggling little things like Julie's messenger bag (she always seemed to have it, even at the most unlikely times... and its purpose was seemingly only to carry her asthma inhaler), but I can forgive those sorts of things in this case because the writing and the characters totally make up for it.  I haven't read a book where the main character had such a distinctive, eloquent voice in a long time... and the fact that said character was a zombie made it all the more awesome.  R was so unlike any other zombie I've read about (and that's kind of the point of the whole book).  He's not a mindless, expendable, shuffling specimen of the dead; at least, he doesn't want to be.  The contrast between his inner life and story narration with his grim exterior that can barely string four words together was done so poetically that I couldn't help falling in love with the character.  What does that say about me that my first literary crush in a long time is on a zombie?

I can't say too much about the plot without straying into spoiler territory, and I wouldn't want to rob anyone of the pleasure of reading this one for themselves.  There's action, there's some gore (but, thankfully, not too much), there's romance, there are some deep thoughts about human nature... and Isaac Marion has done a great job of wrapping them all up in a highly enjoyable story.

All in all, it was a surprisingly well-done novel that I would recommend to anyone who thinks it might be their cup of tea.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations

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

This week's topic is Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations.

This topic makes me realize how behind on my movie-watching I am.  I wish I could put movies like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or Breaking Dawn on one of the following lists... but I haven't seen them yet, so I can't.  All I can do is use some of the movies I have seen... and there are some I definitely have strong feelings about.

I'm going to split my list between best and worst:

Top 7 Best Movie Adaptations

10. Shrek! by William Steig - Is it a good movie adaptation when it bears little resemblance to the book?  I haven't read the original by Steig, but as it's just a 32-page picture book, it can't possibly be the sole basis for the movie(s).  In any case, if it provided the nugget of inspiration for the series of successful movies, then I'm going to count it, since Shrek is one of my favourite animated films.

9. The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston - I read the book after seeing the movie, and it's easy to see how much of the story was adapted to make it suitable as a Shirley Temple vehicle.  That said, it's probably one of the more faithful adaptations that were written for her (Heidi and The Little Princess being two other good examples).  I like this movie as an early example of why Shirley Temple was such a phenomenon.  It's also got an early instance of real colour film (this is 1935 we're talking about here!) so it's an interesting piece of film to see, whether you're a hardcore Temple fan or not.

8. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling - I can remember not really being sure I liked the movie after I saw it.  I was put off by the casting of Harry; I didn't think Daniel Radcliffe was that great of an actor (I still don't).  However, I don't know if I've ever seen a movie that brought my imagination out onto the screen like that.  So many things were just as I'd imagined them when I was reading the book.  Kudos to the set designers for that!  I'm still not a huge fan of these movies, but I do like seeing how J. K. Rowling's world translates onto the screen.  Most of the time, it translates very well.

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - I guess it's not technically a "movie" since it was released on television, but my favourite adaptation of this classic novel is the 2006 miniseries by the BBC starring Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester.  I've seen a number of different adaptations of this novel, but this one is my favourite.  It's stylish and fairly faithful to the original book, but with a somewhat better pace, with some of the longer, more boring bits compressed.

6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - Again, it's not a "movie", but another wonderful production from the BBC.  I absolutely love this 2008 miniseries about the lives and loves of the Dashwood sisters.  As a bonus, it's got Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame as Edward Ferrars!  While the 1995 film with Emma Thompson is pretty to look at, I never bought the almost middle-aged Thompson as Elinor Dashwood.  It's supposed to be a story about young love... not about a spinster trying to beat her biological clock.

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - When I speak of the movie in this case, I'm referring to the 1993 version with Kate Maberly as Mary Lennox and Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock.  There was something beautiful about this adaptation, whether it was the creepy house with its secrets or the perfect casting of the characters or the gorgeous costumes or the stunning garden itself.  My VHS copy was watched many times... probably too many to count.  I read the book years ago and found it a bit slow in spots; I might hesitate to read it again.  But would I hesitate to watch the movie again?  No!

4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman - I first saw the movie as a child and wasn't even aware until years later that it was based on a book.  It's a pretty good adaptation, and the plot device of grandfather reading to grandson in the movie works even though it's not a 100% straight copy of what was in the book.  The story of Buttercup and Westley is the real star, though, and the movie got it just right.  It's a charming, wonderful book that works just as well on film.

Top 3 Worst Movie Adaptations

3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine - I'm not sure whether to put this on the Best list or the Worst list.  It's a tough one, because the movie bears little resemblance to the book.  Mostly, it's just the character names that are the same.  Ella does set off to find her fairy godmother to try to get her to remove the "gift" of obedience, but the book is decidedly darker than the movie.  When Ella runs into ogres in the movie, she kicks their amusing blue butts with martial arts moves.  In the book, the ogres eat her pony.  I can't really say which version of the story is better; I happen to like them both.  They're so different that they can't (and, really, shouldn't) be compared.

2. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer -I'll admit that I didn't really like the book.  It was okay, but nothing special (I didn't become vehemently anti-Twilight until after I read Breaking Dawn).  So I went into seeing Twilight without knowing whether I'd like the movie or hate it.  All in all, I thought it was pretty bad.  I thought (and still do think) that Kristen Stewart was too mopey and monotone to play Bella, and Robert Pattinson just looked silly in his makeup.  I couldn't figure out what was up with all the crazy angles and close-up shots, either.  It wasn't a great film.  It was even more obvious when New Moon came out; I still thought the stories were weak, but that movie seemed to have a better look and better direction.

1. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones - This movie was a complete train wreck for me.  I guess if you like Japanese animation or the work of Hayao Miyazaki, you might like this one.  But I'm not a fan of either, and Howl's Moving Castle is one of my favourite DWJ novels.  I thought too much important stuff from the book was left out and too much extra crap (to make some sort of statement) was thrown in.  I had a crush on the book version of Howl.  The only way I could have a crush on the movie version of Howl would be if I became a lesbian; that's how girly they made him.  To this day, I wish that Tim Burton had gotten his hands on this one; that would have been an awesome movie.