Top Ten Tuesday of 2015

I know it is already the end of January, but I still feel like 2016 just started for me. So here is my Top Ten Tuesday books I read in 2015 (not always books published in 2015, but books I read in 2015).

10.) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood-

I didn’t score this book very high but I had to include it in my top ten because I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a book I wish I read in Feminist Literary Theory, so I could discuss it with other people. Because I have a lot of things to say about this book.

9.) The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series. And the Heroes of Olympus series was even better. The last book was a great conclusion to the series. It also got me excited for his new series, Magnus Chase.

8.) Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

I was a little worried the first novel by an actress I loved. I didn’t want it to be terrible. It was not terrible. It was lovely and delightful. It had awkward moments, but it had all the humor that I associate with Lauren Graham.

7.) Entwined by Heather Morris

I love fairytale retellings and this one was by far my favorite this year. A well done retelling of the 12 dancing princesses (that was a stand alone!) with enough of a twist to make it interesting.

6.) The Heir by Kiera Cass

I was not excited initially when it was announced she was doing more books from the Selection series. I was worried it would ruin the integrity of the original series. I was pleasantly surprised. It was fantastic with a fresh new voice. Can’t wait for the next book.

5.) Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

This book totally took me by surprise as I had no idea where it was going. It’s a little…odd. But in a totally great way. Just read it.

4.) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I was hooked after I read a excerpt of this online. Game of Thrones meets the Hunger Games. Looking forward to the next in the series.

3.) How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

What a surprising find this was. It’s about what reinventing yourself really means and how things don’t go the way you think they will. If you don’t want to read the book, just read chapter 24. It’s two pages of brilliant.

2.) and 1.) Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot and Winter by Marissa Meyer

Really these books are tied. Excellent ending to both series. You can read my full review of Royal Wedding here. Marissa Meyer’s conclusion was extremely well done and didn’t fall flat as some dystopia society series have done. I love both these writers and look forward to more from them in the future.

Honorable mentions: Snow like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Exile by Kevin Emerson, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield, and Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.

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

 

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Fairy tales Retold- PART 1

Fairy tales are timeless for a reason. They lasted as an oral tradition hundreds of years before they were ever written down. Several cultures even have different variations of the same fairytale, such as Snow White and Cinderella. It is interesting to see how fairy tales have become more prevalent in the media.

Disney movies seemed to be the only one capitalizing on the the market of fairy tales for the longest time. Now, it seems to be everywhere. Movies like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack The Giant Slayer, and Red Riding Hood have been released within the last 3 years. TV shows such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time rake in ratings every week.

And I love it.

As a kid, I was a huge Disney fan. I love the princesses and princes falling in love. But there was not a whole lot of variations of fairy tales as I was growing up. You either had Disney or you could plop down with a huge book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales*.

In theme with their movie and television counterparts, more and more books are also doing their own twist on fairy tales. I wish there were as many books based on fairy tales now compared to when I was growing up. Luckily, there were a couple of key books in my young adult life that kept my love for fairy tales alive.

Ella_enchanted_(book_cover)Ella Enchanted – Words alone cannot describe my heartfelt sentiments for this book. Cinderella is one of my favorite fairy tales because of my love for this book.** It is one of my favorite books of all time. It is one of the only books I have read countless times over the years, from age 12 to now. (I even rescued it from my parent’s house because I was craving a read through).

Ella is about a girl who has the “gift” of obedience given to her at birth by a ridiculous fairy. If Ella is given any direct order, she has to obey, no matter how much she doesn’t want to or how ridiculous it may be. She lives in a rich world of ogres, giants, fairies, and gnomes. Despite her curse, Ella is funny, charming, compassionate, and clever. Through her mother’s death, father’s remarriage, and obedience school, Ella falls in love with Prince Char and seeks her own fate to break her curse. It has such a great twist on the Cinderella story, and the main characters are so well told.

There was a movie version done of Ella Enchanted starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy, but the book and movie are so different from each other that I don’t think it’s worth doing a comparison. I will say that I enjoyed the movie, but not in the same way that I enjoyed the book.

zelZel – This book is why my second favorite fairy tale is Rapunzel and why I was overjoyed when Disney finally made Tangled. The author Donna Jo Napoli has other great novels based on fairy tales, but Zel was my favorite. It is also one of the first books I ever read written in present tense.

Zel follows the story of a girl who is taken care of by a witch. As the girl grows more beautiful, the witch becomes more jealous and eventually hides her beauty in a tower. One of the great things about this book is that it changes perspective: Zel’s, the young man’s, and the witch’s. I really appreciated the witch perspective, because that is part of the fairy tale which doesn’t make sense to me. Why would a witch basically kidnap a child? In Zel, you learn the witch is so desperate for a child that she takes the opportunity to barter for one. When Zel starts to fall in love with a man, the witch is terrified Zel will leave her alone and builds the tower. The witch was an interesting character and you almost feel sorry for her.

Zel is a beautiful rendition of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Rapunzel is really a darker fairy tale (compared to Cinderella), but Zel balances it well.

 

Once Upon a Time seriesOnce Upon a Time series – Before it was a TV series, it was a set of independent books that retold fairy tales by different authors. I caught onto them in high school and I was obsessed with them, to the point where I looked them up online, bought them the day they came out, and continued to buy them into my early 20’s. Alas, they no longer make them. Oddly enough, they were not always that good. There were a few really good ones in a series of so-sos and sup-par. The reason I really liked them was to see what the author did to the retold fairy tale.

A couple of my favorites was Sunlight & Shadow and Snow. Sunlight and Shadow is actually based on the opera The Magic Flute (which I still haven’t seen). Snow is obviously based on Snow White and was the first one I read. Most likely, if I had not read Snow first, I might not have bothered with the rest of the series. It shows you how desperate I was for retold fairy tales.

I enjoy the new twists and spins that fairy tales are being given nowadays. It gives new life to the fairy tale that it was based on. The old stories get a new chance to live on.

*Don’t get me wrong! I love the classic fairy tales. I specifically took a class in college to study and discuss fairy tales. But no kid wants to sit down and read 209 tales, especially when half of them aren’t even that interesting.

**I wasn’t a huge fan of Disney’s Cinderella. I mean, I liked it when I was 5 but not so much when I was 12.

Inkheart

I went through a Cornelia Funke phase, where I read most of her books from the library. I can’t remember if it started with Inkheart, or if I ended with it. I do know that I love the title Inkheart. It strikes a chord with the writer in me.

Funke, Cornelia. Inkheart (2003). 534 pages. Scholastic. $17.99 (hardcover).

Inkheart is about a girl, Meggie, and her father, who she simply calls Mo. He’s a famed bookbinder throughout Europe and they travel as he rebinds very old books. It’s a mystery about what happens to Meggie’s mother, as Meggie doesn’t remember and Mo refuses to talk about it. Then you find out that Mo has a very rare gift. If he reads out loud, he can read characters in and out of books, but has no control over who and what comes in or goes out. Mo and Meggie get thrown into an adventure with the fire-eater named Dustfinger, book collector Aunt Elinor, a boy from Arabian Nights, and the evil Capricorn.

It’s been awhile since I read Inkheart (as it is the first in the trilogy and I read its sequels more recently), so I don’t remember it as well. However, I love Funke’s writing. She has beautiful imagery and a great storyteller flow. It’s the reason why I read most of the books that she’s written. The English major in me wonders how well it’s translated (since it’s originally in German). As I’m never learning German, I suppose I’ll continue to wonder.

My only complaint really is Inkheart itself. The book titled Inkheart talks about a book, ironically, also titled Inkheart that Mo accidentally reads out some of its characters. As I enjoy the characters and it has its own entire plot, I wish I could read that book. However, I doubt Funke would ever write it. There’s so much told about the “original” story, it made me want to actually read it.

Towards the end of this first installment, it becomes a little predictable. When I learned that it was a trilogy, I decided to read the rest of the books series. Inkheart didn’t really end on a cliffhanger, and I would have been happy not reading the other two books. However, I’m glad I did. The last 2 books of the Inkworld trilogy are truly amazing, and it all comes to a conclusion that keeps you in suspense. For Inkheart alone, I would rate it 3.5/5. For the series, I would rate it 5/5.

I was very excited to learn that they were making a movie of this book. Then I learned Brendan Frasier would play Mo, and I wasn’t as excited.

Inkheart (2008). Starring Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, and Jim Broadbent. Directed by Iain Softley. 106 min. $9.99

I decided not to have high expectations for the movie. Some great children’s books that have the potential to make great movies never actually turn out that great (Golden Compass, a perfect example). I was also very leery about Brendan Fraser being cast as Mo, as Mo is one of my favorite characters.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I actually was very impressed by the movie. It turned out to be a decent visual representation of the book. This was mostly due to the cast.

As I predicted, Brendan Fraser wasn’t all that impressive (but not nearly as terrible as I imagined) and the girl who played Meggie was so-so. The supporting cast actually made the movie (which made sense as they were my favorite characters in the books as well). Helen Mirren as cranky, bookish Aunt Elinor was fantastic. Andy Serkis as the very evil, creepy Capricorn was also amazing. Jim Broadbent as the absentminded, writer Fenoglio was brilliant. However the actor who stole the show was Paul Bettany as Dustfinger. I might be a little biased as Dustfinger is my favorite character. Half magical, part brooding, all around good guy with the best intentions, but only out for himself. Paul Bettany nails the role like it was meant for him.*

Especially his shirtless, fire dancing scene:

And now you understand.

The movie was a decent visual interpretation of the book, although it could have been a little longer to help explain and develop the movie plot a little better. I rate the movie a 3.5/5. I would still recommend reading the book first though.

And if you love Dustfinger, then definitely watch Paul Bettany.

 


*Then again Paul Bettany is pretty much excellent in everything he does (except for that crap tennis movie he did with Kirsten Dunst. Horrid).

The Tale of Despereaux

The most prestigious award for Children’s Literature is the Newbury Award. Some of my favorite kids/junior fiction are Newbury books such as The Giver or The Witch of Blackbird Pond. When I worked at the independent book store, The Tale of Despereaux was the latest pick and it was flying off the shelves. When the movie came out, I decided I would take the time to read it.

DiCamillo, Katie. The Tale of Despereaux (2003). 272 pages. Candlewick. $17.99

The Tale of Despereaux tells the story about a mouse named Despereaux who doesn’t act like other mice. His ears are too big, his eyes open too soon, he doesn’t scurry, and worst of all, he’s not afraid of humans. The mouse who is not like other mice also learns how to read, and imagines himself as a knight. Unfortunately, his kingdom has been saddened by the loss of their queen who died in a terrible mishap involving a rat (Roscuro) and soup. Therefore the king has outlawed soup through out the land. The beloved mouse has a huge adventure involving falling in love with a princess, a dungeon full of evil rats, a servant girl who dreams of being a princess, and bringing the joy of soup back to the kingdom. It’s heartwarming and endearing. Even the evil bad guys in the plot aren’t all that bad.

Overall, the book reads beautifully. It sounds like a fairy tale, as the author directly addresses the reader to give insights into the motivations and history of the characters. Katie DiCamillo writes a charming story with adventure and romance. I could imagine how it would be a great book to read out loud to children. I rate the book a 4/5.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the movie. I had heard that the movie was “boring”. After reading the book, I could understand why some people would think that. Although the story has a sense of adventure, it’s more of a mental story than a visual one. The narrator of the book really sets the tone for the whole story, and the words are much more compelling than what is actually happening. There are a lot of main characters and you better understand the character’s motivation by reading the book. For example, the reader feels the fear and apprehension in the dungeon because Despereaux is so terrified.

The Tale of Despereaux (2008). Starring Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Watson. Directed by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen. 93 min. $14.98

 

 

 

 

 

 

The movie was so-so. It is very slow paced which I think is an effort to draw out the story for the big screen. They changed a couple things that weren’t bad or good, just different. The evil rat (Roscuro) wasn’t exactly evil but not in the same way that it was written in the book. They added the character of the king’s cook and his magical vegetable counterpart. A bunch of random vegetables came to life to help the cook make his soup. My first reaction to seeing it in the very beginning of the movie was “What the hell?” It was really weird and he played a very odd role in the movie. It was never explained how he could come to life or if he was simply a delusion of the cook’s. It was obvious he was added as comedic affect (as the story itself isn’t very funny), but he came off as creepy.  The only parts that redeemed it for me was the voices of Matthew Broderick as Despereaux, Dustin Hoffman as Roscuro, and Sigourney Weaver as the Narrator.

Overall, I don’t think the movie was successful in translating into a visual story. Kids would be better off reading the book, and enjoy it much more. I would rate the movie a 1.5/5.

On a side note, I decided I liked Katie DiCamillo and read Tiger Rising. I actually enjoyed it better than Despereaux. Although the symbolism for the novella kind of punches you in the face, it blended realism with a bit of fairytale that DiCamillo did so well in Despereaux. I also really would like to check out her other Newbury Award winning book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2007). 224 pages. OUP. $12.99

During my brief stint with working at Border’s, I was in charge of the displays of the newest bestsellers. My manager made me in charge of the kid and Young Adult shelves. His reasoning was that I seemed to care about them most (out of the other employees, which was sadly true). This book was considered as a Young Adult novel, and all I knew was it dealt with the Holocaust. I decided to check it out.

The book started off promising. It begins with very innocent 9 year old Bruno who only cares about hanging out with his best friends, until his dad receives a promotion in the military and they have to move to a place Bruno calls “Out-with” (a not-so-clever name for Auschwitz). The novel continues as the Bruno family move into their new home. The Bruno family is composed of an emotionally distant, domineering father, an alcoholic mother (who presumably has an affair with a German officer), and an older sister who only plays with her dolls. A very bored Bruno explores his new home, and meets a boy with striped pajamas, Shmuel, who lives on the opposite side of the wire fence. They become fast friends in their unique situation as Bruno goes out to meet Shmuel every day.

Bruno begins questioning about all the people living on the other side of the fence in his new home, and questioning what his dad does in his new position. However, he doesn’t question enough. Bruno is very naive which works for the beginning of the novel, and then begins to fall flat. He never develops, never grows, and never seems to understand how Shmuel really lives. He continues to be a selfish brat after a whole year of living in his home, still not pronouncing the name Auschwitz correctly after being told multiple times (he also refers to Hitler as The Fury).

For example, Shmuel asks Bruno to bring food on his daily visits. Pampered Bruno gets hungry on his trips to visit his friend, and most of the food never makes it to Shmuel. Bruno seems to be entirely ignorant of what being a Jew is and even asks his sister if he himself is a Jew. I find this a little hard to believe since Nazi Germany would have certainly educated Bruno on the Jews. Bruno continues to not realize what Shmuel’s life is like and that people die daily on the other side of the fence. Even when Bruno eventually visits his friend by going to the other side of the fence to help Shmuel find his father, (Bruno for some reason thinks he is a detective and can find clues of where Shmuel’s father could be), Bruno STILL doesn’t seem to understand the death, devastation, and despair of Auschwitz.

More depressing is that the book is actually meant for kids (ages 9-12) and some teachers use it as a way to teach children about the Holocaust. There were moments in the book where Bruno’s character should have developed, and instead he stayed static. I don’t feel like he’s a reliable narrator for the devastation of the Holocaust, and there are plenty of better books to teach children with. A book that had a lot of promise fell terribly short of my expectations. I give it a rating of 2/5.

Then I heard there was an indie film released based on the book. And, of course, I had to see how they compare, hoping that the screenwriters might have made Bruno a little more conscientious and little less self absorbed.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008). PG-13. Starring Asa Butterfield and David Thewlis. Directed by Mark Herman. 94 min. $29.99.

The movie begins with a happy family, excited about the father’s new promotion and their move to the country. I was a little thrown off by the movie being entirely cast with English actors, but I got over it and tried to focus on the film. I did not want to like the movie because the book upset me so much. However, I tried to keep an open mind and am happy to report that the movie was marginally better.

The movie initially shows Bruno’s content family, and as the movie progresses the family unit slowly begins to unravel as they continue to stay in Auschwitz. This works much better than the book beginning with a very discordant family, one that has issues from the very start. It helps the viewer have a lot more sympathy for the characters. I cared a great deal more for Bruno’s family in the movie than I did for them in the book. This might not seem a big deal, but it greatly affects the outcome of the ending.

Bruno is still self absorbed, but he does not remain naive. He is taught about who the Jews are and what the camp is for, from his tutor, his sister, and partly by his father. He begins questioning his father’s job and what is done to the people in the camp. After a very key event in the plot, Bruno also begins to doubt if his father is a good man. He changes his mind when he secretly watches a propaganda film on Jewish camps, which makes him think the best of his father.  This worked a lot better than the book because it kept his character naive, not stupid. Of course a young boy is going to want to think the best of his father, even if evidence suggests otherwise.

The liberties they took with the movie actually worked a lot better than the book itself, and a lot of the good parts of the book remained in the movie. The only big difference was that the timeline seemed very different. In the book Bruno lives in Auschwitz for a whole year, while the movie only seemed like a few months. This also worked better for the movie though, because his character did not age nearly as much as he did in the book. A definite improvement over the book, I would rate the movie 3/5.