Friday, February 27, 2015

Fairy Tale Reading Challenge | A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Title: A Tale Dark and Grimm
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Series: A Tale Dark and Grimm {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
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.

I'll be honest: I didn't really want to read this book. I didn't believe that Gidwitz would truly retell the Grimms' bloody tales into a story for kids, and if he did, it would be so tame it would be boring. And that is what I get for making judgments about books before I've tried them. Simply, I loved this story. I spent all of my Saturday curled up with a cup of tea, paging through A Tale Dark and Grimm with a single-minded fascination. 

I loved the narration: following Hansel and Gretel through the Grimms' canon was a hoot, for two reasons: the writing style itself, and the narrator's interjections. The writing style was vibrant, quirky, and funny, off-setting some of the more gruesome parts of the stories, a remarkable feat on its own. It was the narrator's comments that truly grabbed my heart and humor. It was as if a funny older relative was reading the story to the family, adding in their thoughts and humor as the story grew. I didn't expect to love the vibrant, dry-humored nature of the narrator as much as I did, but without the bolded commentary throughout the story, A Tale Dark and Grimm wouldn't be half as spectacular. 

That being said, this is definitely not a book for young children. When the narrator cautions to take out the little ones, take them (and those with squeamish stomachs) out. When Gidwitz calls his novel "Grimm-inspired", he's not kidding. However, this ability to delve into the gruesome parts, but still make it readable - especially to someone squeamish like me - is remarkable. 

I have still yet to read the Grimm's Fairy Tales, but I fell in love with Hansel and Gretel. A Take Dark and Grimm follows them from childhood to young adulthood/baby teens. To see how the stories affect their characters, create a stronger person, was fascinating. 

Simply, truly, a must read.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Canon Classics | The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Date: 1950 {original pub}
Publisher: Harper Collins {this edition}
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

Journey into the land beyond the wardrobe! The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second book in C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy series, which has been captivating readers of all ages for over sixty years. This is a stand-alone novel, but if you would like journey back to Narnia, read The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

The Chronicles of Narnia never really grabbed my attention until I started college. Once my professors started using The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an example of critical analysis, my curiosity was piqued. Finally, I got my hands on the story, and fell in love with the world in the wardrobe.

Lewis' writing is the masterpiece of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. There are so many layers contained with his words: a genuine adventure for children, a moral story to teach them between right and wrong, and a darker underbelly that appealed to me, dealing with metaphors, symbols, and themes that sparked the analytical spirit in me.

Aslan is the most obvious symbol in the novel - the comparisons between his story and that of Jesus were overwhelming, and somewhat comforting. I knew the story's general path and, if you've been with me for a while, you'll know I can't handle any type of animals in pain, cruelty, death... So perceiving Aslan as a symbol of Jesus helped me through crucial parts of the story. I'm curious to know what symbols stood out for you in this novel? Do you see Aslan the same as I do, or a different analysis altogether?

As I just finished Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been, I found quite a few comparisons between young Alice listening to the Rev. Dodgson weave a story about her to C.S. Lewis' dedicating the first Narnia book to his goddaughter, Lucy. After reading that first page, Lucy held a special place in my heart.

I'm glad I reread this book; years ago (maybe elementary school?) I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but didn't connect with it. Reading from a critical analysis point-of-view put a whole new spin on this childhood favorite. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Canon Talks | Books and Memories

It's partly why we moved to a bigger house. Every time we go to Ikea, we have to pick up a new set of bookshelves. What's a book blogger to do?

The hardest thing in the world: purge the shelves.

Right now I only have three bookcases, but they're a bit weighted down. We bought a new media center this weekend, so that means I get the now empty case that housed our DVDs. So it's time to decide what to keep, what to give away.


I'm a bit of a book hoarder. Even if I already have the hardcover, maybe I need the paperback! Or that's a new edition...look how pretty the cover is! It's a problem, especially when I go into used book stores/sales where the books are only a quarter or something equally mischievous. So where to start

It came down to something I didn't expect; many of these books represented relationships, events, in my past that I wasn't quite sure I was ready to let go of. There were books from college that I thought I should love but didn't, and kept to read in the future, to see if they sparked something in me. Into the bag. There was a series sitting on my shelf that posed a problem: I enjoyed the first book, hated the rest. First is sitting pretty on my shelves, the others are on their way to Goodwill. 

It's funny what represents memories to us; for me, it's books. It's the my great-aunt's handwriting inside a book she thought I'd like, it's the cute kitty photo book my mom bought for my birthday. Those memories are the ones I want to live on my shelves. The boring book my ex bought me because he thought I needed to "broaden my mind?" That's heading to Goodwill. 

It was so liberating to stand back and see all the good memories in the rows of beautifully bound books. That's what I want my library to be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Canon's Top Nine Memoirs

Memoirs are one of my favorite go-to genres. Maybe it's my nosy nature; I love other people's stories, especially when they come with a nice cup of hot tea! 

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica || My favorite of all server memoirs. I fell in love with Dublancia's blog years ago and it's been a steady affair ever since. (Tip: try his older stuff in the blog for the juicy restaurant posts.)

Defiant by Alvin Townley || A powerful memoir focusing on American POWs in the Vietnam War. A must read for military and history buffs alike, Townley's book comes with a warning: this is a hard read, emotionally.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman || Ever wondered what prison would be like? Kerman's glimpse into the life in a women's prison is engaging and a little bit scary.

Getting Rooted in New Zealand by Jamie Baywood || We all struggle with finding a place in life, but in New Zealand, it takes on a whole different meaning for Jamie.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson || An American family in Berlin during World War II. The father's role as U.S. Ambassador to Germany is balancing on the edge of a precipice, and at any moment, the whole family could fall into danger. 

The Year of Living Bibically by A.J. Jacobs || What if we actually lived by the rules of the Bible? All the rules? Jacobs puts it to the test. 

Voyagers of the Titanic by Richard Davenport-Hines || A favorite among Titanic memoirs, Davenport-Hines delves into not only the lives of the passengers, but that of the Titanic's crew. 

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs || Remember the Encyclopedia Britannica? Jacobs reads it. All of it, from A to Z. 

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky || Tomsky's work was my first hotel memoir, but I fell in love with his narrative style, dry humor, and balanced wit - all necessary qualities in the customer service world.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review | Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb

Title: Obsessed in Death
Author: J.D. Robb
Publication Date: February 2015
Series: In Death {Book 30}
Source & Format: Owned; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Lieutenant Eve Dallas walks the thin line between love and hate in the latest thriller from #1 New York Times bestseller J. D. Robb....Eve Dallas has solved a lot of high-profile murders for the NYPSD and gotten a lot of media. She - with her billionaire husband - is getting accustomed to being an object of attention, of gossip, of speculation.
But not Eve has become the object of one person's obsession. Someone who finds her extraordinary, and thinks about her every hour of every day. Who believes the two of them have a special relationship. Who would kill for her again and again. An aggressive defense attorney who's sparred with Eve in the courtroom is the first victim, but she isn't the last. The messages left for Eve at the crime scenes chill her and turn her stomach. It doesn't get much more personal than this - and Eve refuses to hand the investigation over to anyone else. With a murderer reading meaning into her every move, handling this case will be a delicate - and dangerous - psychological dance.
And eve knows that underneath the worship and admiration, a terrible threat lies in wait. Because the beautiful lieutenant is not at all grateful for these bloody offerings from her "true and loyal friend." And in time, idols always fall....
I might have to reread the thirty-nine other books in the In Death series to find one I love more. Obsession in Death reminded me why I fell in love with this series in the first place: a terrifying killer who has the ability to slip through Eve's fingers, aware of all the small details of her life, forces Eve to reconsider what and who is truly important to her.
Eve's faced every type of killer in the world, but never one so obsessed with her...well, not enough to leave "love notes" at each of the crime scenes. This particular motive shows not only the killer's terrifying mindset, but how far Eve has risen in the public's eye. In her hunt for the killer's identity, Eve has to delve into her fan mail, something she's never even considered before. The amount of fan mail itself is astonishing, let alone what people are writing to her. It brought her character's growth through the series into sharp perspective. 
The killer's motives - to impress Eve - forces the plot another way as well; how on earth are they accessing all this personal information about Eve and those she loves? What happened to the killer that made them think this way, to make taking the lives of others okay? Even though this is a theme explored in each book in the series, I love the psychological aspect: there's always a different answer to that question.
The writing was intoxicating. M snagged the book out of my hands right as I was getting into the good final scene, and I had to threaten to withhold pancakes if he didn't give it back (we have a Saturday morning tradition of maple apple pancakes). It's been a while since I felt so involved in a story; I was a part of Eve's world, sharing her worries, her stress, and her deep-seated frustration at the stupidity of some people. I finished Obsession hours ago, but already have a deep-seated yearning to open the orange cover and start reading again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the DNF

Here's the thing: I hate marking books DNF (check out this post for more on that) and since I've stopped pressuring myself into finishing each and every book I pick up - a relief, let me tell you! - there have been a few more DNFs piling up on my return-to-the-library pile. Instead of writing a whole post explaining in detail why I didn't like a book/marked in DNF, I'm taking a page out of the fabulous Mel's book and following her footsteps in making a feature of mini DNF reviews. Welcome to The Good, The Bad, and the DNF!

I so wanted to love The Last Mermaid! Mermaids are my creature of choice: The Little Mermaid was my go-to after school movie when I was a kid and I tried so hard to grow my hair long and red like Ariel's (managed to get it long, but turning it red was trickier...). Maybe my expectations were too high going into The Last Mermaid: the layered love story, time travel, and hint of destiny caught my attention, but the execution of this promising plot left a lot to be desired. 

My mom handed me this book a few weeks ago and simply says, "Tell me what you think." Normally when she lends me a book, it's a full review (occasionally spoilers included) of how much she loved it. Intrigued, I started Charleston when I got home. The plot was interesting - a girl, struggling to find her place in the world, lost love, the trials and tribulations of returning home - but the narration completely threw me off. It was stilted, awkward and forced. There wasn't a single conversation that flowed naturally, and the odd phrasing in the general narrative made me hyperaware that I was sitting, reading, instead of falling inside the novel. A pass for me. 

A few weeks ago, M and I went on a road trip, so he went by the library to grab a few audiobooks (along with the massive amount of books waiting for me in the reserved section) and found Davis' A Nation Rising. Both M and I love history, so this looked like a slam dunk: we didn't make it through the first CD. 

To be fair, if we were reading this from the book, we might have been able to actually get into the thick of the book, but the author's introduction note was so...arrogant, that we simply couldn't handle it. The narrator's voice had the oddest inflections, emphasizing odd words and disregarding ones that would have made a bigger impact. A Nation Rising might be a good read down the road, but we'll grab the book format next time.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Canon Talks | Marking Books DNF

I hate not finishing a book. Maybe it's an OCD thing, or simply a drive to finish what I've started, but whenever I start a book, it feels like I should give it a fair shake. Physically putting a book down is one of the hardest things in the world for me.


You might think it's a bit silly, but each book is someone's heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, their struggles...and I owe it to them to read it. It would be horrible to look online and find my work marked DNF.

DNF can feel like a cop-out rating: occasionally, it's based solely on personal preferences and can't be explained as simply as the writing was horrible. To choose to not finish a book is a tough thing, especially for me. But I have my limits:

There are some issues I just can't overlook:
1. Animal cruelty
2. Descriptive, graphic torture
3. Pedophilia

And a few in the writing...
1. Dull, one-dimensional character (like Ana in Fifty Shades)
2. Flat, lifeless dialogue.
3. Lack of plot.
4. Poor narration.

Beyond those, I'll give anything a try. However, it's come down to this: there aren't enough hours in the day anymore. Instead of forcing myself to finish a book that just isn't clicking with me or has one of the above issues, I'm going to mark it DNF. I always felt a bit of guilt when writing a DNF review, for I hate writing an entire post about something I dislike/hate. However, I found a solution! Stay tuned for tomorrow's post - The Good, the Bad, and the DNF.