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Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: May 2013
Pages: 512
Source: Review copy from publisher
For: Review
Series: The School for Good and Evil, Book 1

Summary from goodreads:
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
Things I Liked:
I loved the story idea - a storyteller who steals children and takes them to a school for good or a school for evil.  Then the storybooks show up later.  Also, I enjoyed seeing both Amelia and Sophie show both good and evil sides.  The mix up was quite fun.  I also loved the clever ways that they dealt with the mix up, particularly Sophie's ingenuity.  It was a great fairy tale background kind of story and I really got into it.

Things I Didn't Like:
It was a bit heavy-handed in its message at times (looks do not make someone good or evil).  I felt like that one whacked you over the head a lot.  Also, a bit predictable (or so I thought).  Until the ending, which seemed to come completely out of left field in the last five pages or so and left me totally confused and rather disappointed.  Not sure I'll get around to a sequel any time soon.

Read-alikes:
I haven't read them yet, but it reminds me of Shannon Hale's new series Ever After High

BOOK CONTENT RATINGS:
s-factor: none
that I recall

mrg-factor: none
some kissing

v-factor: none
though it was a bit intense in parts

Overall rating: *** (until the ending, which dropped it to **)

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Classic Double Challenge Link-Up for August & September

Sign up for the Classic Double Challenge.

Link up with any reviews/thought posts you've done or will do in August or September (or really any time, it doesn't matter)! I finished Second Star, a retelling of Peter Pan, and I managed to start Peter Pan, but haven't gotten very far.  Anybody out there working on this challenge still?  Hopefully you are still reading retellings and their originals, even if you aren't doing it for my challenge!
 

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel
Publication date: March 2011
Pages: 352
Source: ARC from publisher
For: Review

Summary from goodreads:
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.
Things I Liked:
This was such a unique view of WWII and something I know nothing about.  It really never ceases to amaze me how horrible humanity can be and also how resilient humans can be.  We can do such cruel things to one another and then justify it.  We can also survive in such dreadful circumstances and some can even be so positive about it.  It's at once heart-wrenching and hopeful to read such stories of survival.  I wish I knew more about the Lithuanians who were taken from their homes and sent so far away.  There is so much that people will never know about.

Things I Didn't Like:
I kind of expected this to blow me away, and I really was impressed and loved it, but I found it a bit more simplistic in style and a bit less gripping in story than I expected.  Obviously, this is a fault of my own expectations.  Still very much worth the read.

Read-alikes:
Reminded me of The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

BOOK CONTENT RATINGS:
s-factor: !
a very few

mrg-factor: X
a little bit of implied stuff

v-factor: ->
there are some cruel things that happen

Overall rating: ****

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lord of the Rings Read-Along, Part 6


Questions from Jenni Elyse's blog.
See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

1. Has your favorite character changed in The Return of the King? If yes, why?
Well, since I was pretty vague throughout in my favorites, not really.  I still adore Aragorn and SAM FOREVER.  Also, Eowyn and Faramir. 

2. Which is your favorite book of the series? Why?
I'm afraid I love them all!  I do love the ending though, since it is so bittersweet.

3. Do you like how the series ended? Why?
Yes!  I think it shows just enough of what happened after the great events that you can feel satisfied.  I also love how Frodo tells Sam that he won't *always* feel torn in two.  After devouring the appendices (actually I didn't read them this time, but previously) right near the very end of Appendix B, it mentions that in legend, Sam eventually passed over into the West as well, after his wife died.  Makes sense to me - as he was a ringbearer too.

4. If you could change one thing about the ending what would it be and why?
I would have liked to have more of Aragorn and Arwen and, Eowyn and Faramir.  Even the appendices don't fill my need for more romance in these books! I did also always feel sad that they came home to the Shire and found it all in ruins.  So sad that they wanted to protect it and it still was hurt.

5. Were there any changes in The Return of the King movie that you liked or disliked?
I think they should have had some of what went on in the Shire.  It kind of made Sam's vision in Galadriel's mirror pointless (though, I guess it was Frodo's vision in the movie).

6. What was your favorite moment in Book 6?
Pretty much anything having to do with Eowyn and Faramir was my favorite.  I did love the moment with Arwen and Frodo.  I had forgotten about that!  They even sneaked something of it into the movies (albeit, it was in Fellowship).

7. Which death affected you the most?
I have to say Theoden's was the most epic.  He really went out with a bang. (Also, I agree with Kami that his death scene with Eowyn in the movie was so much more touching than the book.)

8. Why do you think Frodo didn’t want to kill Saruman and Wormtongue, even after all the destruction and heartache they caused in the Shire?
You know, I think Tolkien really was trying to put his pacifist ideals into Frodo.  Almost throughout his time in the books, he doesn't want to hurt or kill anyone, but especially so after his meeting up with Gollum.  It's just most obvious in this instance.  I think it's very noble and it's also very different from pretty much how anyone else would react, except perhaps Gandalf.  It shows an interesting value for life, even when it seems like it isn't what people deserve.

9. If you were in Frodo’s place, would you have done the same thing? (See previous question.)
Yeah, probably not.  I would have been more vindictive, I think.  Then again, having someone's death on your hands would be rather uncomfortable.

10. If JRR Tolkien were still alive and wrote a sequel to The Lord of the Rings, which character would you want to see the most and why?
Hello, let's have more romance!  I think Faramir and Eowyn need their own series.  For those aching for a bit more Aragorn and Arwen, there are a few pages in Appendix A :)

Thanks so much for hosting such a fabulous read-along, Kami and Jenni Elyse!  It was lovely to devour this series again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Retellings: A Guest Post by Jessica Lawson

I'm happy to welcome Jessica Lawson, author of The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher to my blog today!  She's planning to tell us more about retellings and some rules to follow if you plan to write one!
 
Rules for Retellings/Reimaginings
 
Recycled stories are popular nowadays (just take a look at this epic chart of 162 YA retellings). Authors vary widely in their approach, from Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted (a take on the Cinderella fairy tale) to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which is pretty much what the title implies—a zombie-fied version of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice). My own debut middle grade novel, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, is a retelling/origin story mix, with old/new characters blending with old/new plot elements…and with the original tale’s author (a young Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain) thrown in as a happenstance observer.
All this to say, there are lots of ways to go about creating a new version of something that’s already been written. Fiction, by nature, is open to interpretation and there aren’t too many true instances of “you can never do that!” Still, if you’re thinking of writing your own story based on an already-established tale, there are a few things that you may want to keep in mind:

Three Rules for Retellings/Reimaginings
1. First, you should love the original work as written and have respect for the author. Basically, retell the story because you love it, not because you loathe it. In my opinion, a retelling shouldn’t be undertaken in order to “fix” something that the original author did wrong, but rather to bring fresh attention and a new perspective to a well-loved tale.

I love Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer exactly as written. I love the story so much that I found myself thinking of its characters often, and eventually that emotional closeness to the story prompted me to revisit the world I loved so well.

2. There must be at least one large twist. But the twist should be a playful/thoughtful/deliberate one that has meaning within the original elements, not just a random item. In the words of Mark Twain, “know the facts and then distort them as you please.” Know why you’re changing a key element of the story and be confident in your reasoning. A version of Charlotte’s Web in space? That’s fine! But you need to be able to justify the twist being necessary in order to bring something new to the context of the original. Utilize the twist to strengthen your version of the story and let it inform your plot and characters. Choose your twist deliberately and with attention to the plot/characters of the original.

3. Keep the heart of the original in mind and try your best to honor it. Even if you’re retelling Cinderella to make the wicked stepmother character the heroine and her stepdaughter a horrible conniving brat, the basic idea is the same—one person is unfairly treated and must find their own journey to happily-ever-after, while the baddie gets punished.

While my own retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alters personalities and changes plot elements, the themes of learning what it means to grow up and struggling with losing pieces of childhood are still there and are recognizable.

Happy writing and reading! And if you haven’t read a retelling lately, my blog hostess Melissa’s own Classic Double Challenge is a wonderful way to get motivated.

Thank you so much, Melissa!

Jessica Lawson’s debut middle grade novel, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is available now. You can visit her at http://jessicalawsonbooks.com and on twitter

Thanks for the post, Jessica!  I've always wanted to write a retelling and now I have some lovely guidelines (for if I eeeeever get around to it).  You can check out my review of Jessica's book, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Speaking from Among the Bones AND The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: January 2013
Pages: 400
Source: Library
For: Fun
Series: Flavia de Luce, Book 5

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: January 2014
Pages: 336
Source: e-book from NetGalley
For: Review
Series: Flavia de Luce, Book 6


Summaries (sort of):
Flavia is the budding chemist and sneaky sleuth wrapped into an 11-year-old package.  She's obsessed with solving the crimes that appear in her small town of Bishop's Lacey, and they just keep coming.  In Speaking from Among the Bones, the town is digging up St. Tancred, but they discover a different body instead.  In The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Harriet (Flavia's mother) is coming home, but even before she's arrived, there are mysterious messages from strangers and Flavia must figure out what may have happened to Harriet.

Things I Liked about Both:
I just really enjoy reading these books (or listening to them on audio, thanks to narrator Jane Entwistle).  Flavia is a lot of fun, eager to please and trying to figure out where she fits in the world and her family.  But I love her unique way of assessing things and figuring out the mysteries.  The books all tended to follow a very regular pattern, until the last one which kind of sent us on a different path.  I'd really like more Flavia books in the future, especially as we might learn more about Harriet in them!

Things I Didn't Like:
Sometimes, I just had to raise my eyebrows at the way things conveniently happened or how Flavia knew something so obscure or random.  Still, I just get some plain, old-fashioned pleasure out of these stories.

Read-alikes:
Start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Reminds me of The Agency series by Y.S. Lee

BOOK CONTENT RATINGS:
s-factor: !

maybe one or two
mrg-factor:none

v-factor: none
usually a murder involved though not explicitly described

Overall rating: ****

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lord of the Rings Read-Along, Part 5

Question on Kami's Library Thoughts.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

I've been trying to come up with something to say about the discussion question (basically, we can talk about some kind of theme from this book).  I loved seeing all the responses so far and they all made me think even more about the book.  What I decided to focus on was the idea of sacrificing all in order to do some small good.  Throughout this book in particular, but in other ones as well, characters make the choice to do something that seems like it will fail and they will die, but knowing that full well and still choosing to do it.  Pretty much every time I read those kinds of things, I feel like my heart swells and I have all the feels going on.  Here are some examples:

-Rohan riding to the aid of Gondor - Theoden as well as Eowyn and Merry all assume this will be their last act
-The seige of Gondor - pretty much the entire time, the people assume this is the end, but they will still make a stand
-Faramir going out to defend Osgiliath - everyone knows this is a suicide mission and there is no point, but he goes because his father asks him to go
-The march to the Black Gates - all of the people know from the start that their chance of survival is miniscule.  I love the part where Aragorn sees that some of his people are overwhelmed by fear and he offers them the option of still maintaining their honor, but not having to face something they are not able to.  Pippin, right near the end of the book, says he's going to go out with a fight. 
-Obviously, Frodo and Sam feel like they are on a doomed mission from the first, but they just keep going.  And yet Sam always has such a positive outlook on it.

I just feel like the kind of courage it requires to make the choice consciously to fight even knowing you will fail or die is something inspiring.  It always makes me wonder what kinds of choices I would make if I experienced those kinds of odds and knew it was a choice between making a stand and dying or running away.

And since I've mentioned how very obsessed I've been with Lord of the Rings (see this tribute for some proof), I decided I'd post a bit of my fan art. I'm not super creative, so most of this is just me copying stuff from the movies. 


I had a Legolas obsession (movie Legolas, of course)


I loved the jewelry from the movie - some seriously beautiful pieces

And, of course, Eowyn!


If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New and Upcoming Retellings

It's been ages since I last did a New and Upcoming Retellings post, which means there are LOTS of retellings that have come out and that are announced. Here's what I've been able to gather. I'd love to hear about any that you have heard about! See my previous retellings posts and my master list of classic retellings and fairy tale retellings. (My thanks to Bonnie at A Backwards Story for blogging about many of the fairy tale retellings coming out.  She's got some fabulous lists and reviews of fairy tale retellings on her site.  Check it out!)

Already released:

Gorgeous by Paul Rednick, released April 2013, a contemporary retelling of Cinderella


A Midsummer Night's Scream by R.L. Stine, released July 2013, a retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare


Gris Grimly's Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, illustrated by Gris Grimly, released August 2013, creepily retells Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody, released October 2013, retelling Robin Hood


Roses by G.R. Mannering, released November 2013, retelling Beauty and the Beast


Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, released January 2014, retelling Beauty and the Beast (and apparently some Greek mythology too)


Splintered by A.G. Howard came out over a year ago, but the sequel Unhinged released in January 2014 and the third title, Ensnared, is coming in January 2015, all of them retelling Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll


Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes came out in January 2013, retelling Macbeth by Shakespeare.  Anyone But You published on January 2014 retelling Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (I mentioned their Tempestuous in a previous New and Upcoming Retellings post)


Such Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout, released February 2014, retelling Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (and, apparently, Hamlet by Shakespeare)


The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman, released February 2014, retelling Snow White and various other fairy tales


While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell, released February 2014, retelling Sleeping Beauty


Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow, released March 2014, retelling Cinderella


The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson, released March 2014, retelling Tam Lin


A Phantom Enchantment by Eve Marie Mont, released March 2014, retelling The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux





Second Star by Alyssa Scheinmel, released May 2014, retelling Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie


Cinderella's Dress by Shonna Slayton, released June 2014, retelling Cinderella


The Stepsister's Tale by Tracey Barrett, released June 2014, retelling Cinderella

Not Yet Released:

Wild by Alex Mallory, coming July 2014, retelling Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs


Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen, coming July 2014, retelling Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie


Frostborn by Lou Anders, first in a new series called Thrones and Bones, coming August 2014, based on Norse mythology and folklore


Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, finally coming to the US in September 2014, retelling Rapunzel


Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, coming September 2014, retelling Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire, coming September 2014 (I think?), featuring Baba Yaga of Russian folklore fame


Stray by Elissa Sussmann, coming October 2014, more of a fairy-tale-esque story featuring fairy godmothers


Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis, coming October 2014, retelling Snow White


Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, coming October 2014, inspired by The Arabian Nights


Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, coming December 2014, retelling Sleeping Beauty


Crown Of Ice by Vicki Weavil, coming December 2014, retelling The Snow Queen


Fairest by Marissa Meyer, coming January 2015, retelling Snow White (the queen's backstory anyway)

Love, Lucy by April Lindner, coming January 2015, retelling A Room with a View by E.M. Forster


Dearest by Alethea Kontis, coming February 2015, retelling The Wild Swans and Goose Girl

Any you can think of I missed? What are you most excited for?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage
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