Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie Review: Into the Woods

Into the Woods

Rating:  (& that's being generous, unfortunately)

Viewed on December 29, 2014

I know that this is supposed to be a BOOK blog, but really I am a lover of stories, and movies serve to tell a story, so I feel that I am not cheating too much ;)

And beyond my book deviation, I feel inclined to preface this review with the confession that I have only seen this story in movie format: I have not seen the stage performance, so my review is limited in its scope.

With that said, judging solely by the movie version, this story gets very low marks from me. Upon finishing it this morning, I desperately wanted to go onto Rotten Tomatoes and see its rating: was I the only one who found it awful, or is that a consensus opinion? But I wanted to write my review free from any outside opinions, so here it is.

I did not like "Into the Woods". At all! And it makes me sad to say this because I was very much looking forward to loving it. I love fairy tale retellings; I adore Broadway musicals; I am completely and absolutely enamored with Meryl Steep and will see ANY film in which she acts. And to top it all of, it was a journey story set in the woods, for crying out loud - if that doesn't scream "Stacy Movie," I don't know what else does. So I was completely heartbroken today when I walked away from the theatre: I actually mourned the 2 hours of vacation time that I sacrificed to watch this - it was that bad!

Now, the acting was strong: Ms. Steep was wonderful, as always. And I was very impressed my Emily Blunt and the young boy who played Jack. In fact, with the exception of Prince Charming who had a pretty pathetic showing, the rest of the cast was good. So the 1.5 stars is actually generous to honor the performances. 

But I could not bring myself to give it more stars because the plot was dreadful! In fact, it was one of the most abhorrent plot lines that I have followed in some time - I honestly cannot remember a more poorly written plot, ever! Sad to say. The actors were completely burdened under this enormous twisting, confusing plot that was tethered too tightly to its source  material. It tried to pay homage to too many fairy tales, and in its attempt to be Dickensian, it, instead, came across as muddled and unnecessarily complicated. 
Watching it was like seeing through an ADHD lens - there were so many story lines that I could not focus enough to care about any of them. I mean, who was the protagonist, anyway? Was it the nameless baker/wife? Was it Jack? Was it the witch? What the heck was the point? All of the characters' motivations seemed trivial and inconsequential in the end. 

What are we supposed to take away from it all? "Be careful what you tell the children"? And if that's the actual message, then I loathe it even more! I am a lover of good stories, and I adore fantasy tales above all others, so if the moral of the this story is "Be careful what you tell the children," then all of my childhood daydreams, born from fantasy and fairy tales, were a waste of fanciful whim! I've always believed we need to tell children more stories, stoke more imagination, ignite more whimsical fantasies! And maybe that was the message of the movie, and I just missed it, buried beneath the convoluted plot lines. The movie made me think that I should not waste my life wishing; I should not hope for happy endings; I should not believe fairy tales; and I just don't want to sever my ties to the whimsical worlds of my youth: they are the only light that keeps me afloat in the darkness of adult responsibility.  I want more fairy tales, more fantasy worlds, more fanciful characters. But this movie was not any of these things because it was trying so desperately to be all of them. At the same time. No bueno! 

The movie was only 2 hours and 4 minutes, but I actually found myself getting bored! I must have looked down at my watch 2-3 times to see how long it had been - that is not normal movie-watching behavior for me.

Part of me wants to believe that it was better on stage. I want to believe that, had I seen it on a Broadway stage, I would have adored it, and it was the Disneyfication that ruined it, as Disney can often do. Now don't get me wrong: I am a huge Disney fan, but even I can admit that the company has a reputation for rewriting stories for their own money-making, family-oriented convenience. So maybe that was the case here: maybe the Disney writers got ahold of the original play and manipulated it to the point of complete chaos. I so desperately want to hope that that was the case, but I fear otherwise. I think Disney had a complication-heavy, frustrated, confusing plot to begin with, and Disney just tried desperately to cover up the bad plot with supremely talented actors in the hopes that it would make up the difference. However, in the end, even the beloved Meryl Streep, actress supreme herself, was not enough to carry such an abismal story line. It breaks my poor Meryl-loving heart, it does!

Unfortunately, I do not recommend this movie to anyone. And I wish I could take back those two hours that I wasted watching this movie. It was not worth it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1)
by Gail Carriger


Goodreads Link:

Recommended to Stacy by: fans of Victorian-era costume dramas, action-packed fantasy, and tongue-in-cheek witty humor
Read from December 17 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy, read count: 1

Soulless by Gail Carriger is everything I love in a book: action, romance, wit, tongue-in-cheek humor, and Victorian sensibilities. Ms. Carriger is a creative genius!

1. I loved the action: I couldn't put the book down, and I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next. Even at the end of the book, there were still questions rumbling around in my mind, which makes me want to dive into book two, stat! Like what the heck are with all of the Hypocras Club octopuses? (octopi? octopodes?) Even when responsibility forced me to put the book down, it called to me, and I couldn't wait to get back to it.

2. Her world-building is creative and, yet, historically accurate at the same time - that is quite a gift. It's one thing to create a fantasy world of one's own creation - you can make/break any rules you wish; you can organize society to meet your own convenience; you can allow your characters to do as you will. But historical fiction is creatively limiting for most authors - if forces you to stay true to the time, fear anachronistic inaccuracies, dampen fits of fancy in order to remain factual. But with Soulless, Ms. Carriger manages to merge both seamlessly. Her Victorian details, in regards to fashion, food, etiquette, etc., was accurate to the last jot. Even the language and expressions were accurate to the time. It remained very true to it's influential references, Austen and Wodehouse, but at the same time, she was able to weave in all the elements of her fantasy subworld: vampires, werewolves, preternaturals, oh my! Sometimes they were so well merged, that I had to scoff at the possibility: what if there were actually these supernatural creatures in Victorian England? What if? Maybe? Even if my logical brain knew better, her world was so well integrated, that it made me wonder.

3. Her witty banter and tongue-in-cheek humor was chuckle-out-loud funny! Literally! I couldn't help giggling, chortling, chuckling, even when I was sitting in a coffee-shop, during my students' silent-sustained reading, eating in a fancy restaurant. I challenge anyone out there to read this book with a straight face - you just can't! It's impossible! It's just too clever and witty and amusing.

4. Finally a slow-burning romance instead of the over-used, cliched love triangle. Sure, Mr. MacDougall, the American scientist (with the very unAmerican last name, ironically), was there complicating issues, but he never really had a chance, so I don't consider him a worthy angle in a love triangle. It was somewhat reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice, where they like each other, but don't; they think they know about each other's intentions, but don't; they feel admiration for each other and want to act on it, but don't. It was endearing. And the romance was definitely folding-fan-worthy! Lord Maccon was very sexy, indeed! Oh, my...very steamy ;) - but true to the time, it was always politely related (until the end, when it couldn't be contained any longer - whoa, mama!). I will say that at first it was a bit strange to think of Lord Maccon as a sex symbol: since I read the Finishing School Series first, I thought of him as Sidheag's Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather. And since the Finishing School Series takes place 20 years before Soulless, I had envisioned Lord Maccon more like Sean Connery: old, rough-around-the-edges, formerly handsome, and definitely Scottish. 
Sean Connery
Source: Star Magazine
But upon reading Soulless, this casting had to shift to someone younger and a heck of a lot sexier: maybe Chris Hemsworth or Sam Heughan, the guy who plays Jamie in Outlander - someone beefy and capable of a distant, longing stare, and who would look good naked (read the book, and you'll understand the reason for that).
Sam Heughan (A.K.A Jamie from Outlander)
Source: Pintrest

Chris Hemsworth
Source: Google Images
I did love the Finishing School Series, but I enjoyed this one even more, if that is possible! I highly recommend this to anyone who loves Victorian-era costume dramas, action-packed fantasy, and tongue-in-cheek witty humor. I cannot wait to get started on book two, and I very much look forward to finishing the series as soon as I can. And to think that there is still one more Finishing School book, and the addition of the Custard Protocol series coming out in the future to keep me in this wonderfully-created world. I can't wait :)

page 28
""How ghastly for her...People actually thinking, with their brains, and right next door. Oh, the travesty of it all" (Carriger, Soulless 28). Hahaha! I love Carriger's snarky sarcasm!"
page 28
""But there was something else about Alexia, something...revoltingly independent...Alexia had been born that way, full of logic and reason and sharp words. Not for the first time, Mrs. Loo twill lamented the fact that her eldest had not been a male child; it would have made life very much easier for them all" (Carriger 31). I love Alexia already!"
page 38
""[Lord Maccon] had been Alpha for what, twenty years or so?" (Carriger 38). That means Soulless is happening 20 years after Waistcoats& Weaponry. And since Alexia is 26 in Soulless, she would have been 6 during W&W which is precisely when the "grey-haired man" told her she was soulless, so maybe Carriger will include that in Manners & Mutiny!!!"

page 140
""Strange place, that overseas land [a.k.a. America], where religion and wealth did the talking and history and age held so little sway" (Carriger, Soulless 140)."
page 159
""Cats were not, in her experience, an animal with much soul. Prosaic, practical little creatures, as a general rule. It would suit [Alexia] very well to be thought catlike" (Carriger 159). Ah! Is that why cats are often associated with devilry and witchcraft? Because they have very little soul? Interesting!"
page 166
""He tore his eyes away from the tops of those remarkable breasts of hers and tried to think unpleasant thoughts of particularly horrible things, like overcooked vegetables and cut-rate wine" (Carriger 166). Oh, how I absolutely adore Ms. Carriger's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor! I laughed out loud in the middle of the coffee shop when I read this line! She has the most amazing way with quirky juxtapositions :)"
page 187
"New word: a bluestocking 1. a woman with considerable scholarly, literary, or intellectual ability or interest. 2. a member of a mid-18th-century London literary circle: Lady Montagu was a celebrated bluestocking. Origin: 1675–85; so called from the informal attire, especially blue woolen instead of black silk stockings, worn by some women of the group (def 2)"
page 197
"Awesome new word: fibberty-jibbitus "Your family, they are a bit, well...fibberty-jobbitus, are they not?" (Carriger 196-197)."
page 220
"Lord Akeldama's view on life: "Information: reason for living. Well, that and fashion" (Carriger 220). He is an hilarious character."

Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
by Patrick Rothfuss


Goodreads Link:

Read from October 30 to December 22, 2014

It physically pains me to review The Slow Regard of SilentThings by Patrick Rothfuss. I love Patrick Rothfuss! I adored reading The Nameof the Wind and the The Wise Man's Fear (I gave both of them 5-star ratings and raving reviews)! I cannot wait to get my hands on Doors of Stone! Nonetheless, I did not enjoy this novella :(

It makes me sad to admit it, but I struggled to even finish it, and it is only 159 pages long! I could easily read that many pages in one sitting, but this book took me FOREVER to get through. If it were written by any other author, I might have DNF'd it, but out of respect and love for Mr. Rothfuss, I had to see it through. But sadly, there was no action, no intrigue, and I found it tedious and tiresome.

It read like a book about nothing - and that pains me because Auri is one of the most fascinatingly strange and intriguing characters I've ever read. And that what's most sad: this was the perfect opportunity for him to give some backstory and context to Auri - to explain why she dropped out of University, why she lives underground, why she is so socially awkward. And while he did provide some insight to her OCD tendencies, it really didn't reveal much about the why.

And even though Rothfuss alludes to "his" coming, "he" never actually arrives. I am assuming that the "he" in question is Kvothe, but it could be Elodin, or Mandraug, or any other "he" in the Kingkiller Chronicles, for that matter. But I knew the intrigue of the "he" would never be answered in this novella, and if it ever does get answered, it would not be answered until book 3 comes out, and who knows when that will be.

And while I very much appreciated Marc Aplin's review which brilliantly interprets this novella as an analogy for Rothfuss's own struggles with finding perfection, I couldn't quite appreciate it enough for that reason. I did wonder the entire time if the novella was meant as a giant string of clues that would tie directly into book 3: there is a few mentions of a few doors, even one made of stone!; it does provide a quasi-layout for the underground tunnels, which might come in handy later; it does leave one to wonder of Auri's significance in Kvothe's journey; but I was even more frustrated because I can't answer any of these questions without book 3! And the whole time the other voice in my head kept saying, "but what if none of this matters, and Auri's story is just completely superfluous?" If that is the case, then I'd probably drop my rating down to one star, but again I won't know until book 3! Arrgggg!

And then there was the Coda: it was downright insulting, to be honest. Essentially, in the coda, Rothfuss relates the story of the time that he met with Ms. Vi Hart. He tells about how she loved the novella, even if it is eccentric and convoluted. When Rothfuss worried that people won't get this story, Ms. Hart retorted with "F*** those people...Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Where's the story for people like me?" (Rothfuss 153). Then Rothfuss continues by talking about how his beta readers liked it; his agent liked it; his publisher liked it. All people with credibility and ethos. Then he brings home the insult with his last few lines:
"If you're one of the people who found this story disconcerting, off-putting, or confusing, I apologize. The truth is, it probably just wasn't for you. The good news is that there are many other stories out there that are written for you. Stories you will enjoy much more. This story is for all the slightly broken people out there. I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me" (Rothfuss 159).
Ouch, right!?!? Basically the coda shoots down any fan who doesn't like this novella, and it made me sad to think that I am one of those fans! Double ouch, right? Basically, if Vi Hart, the beta readers, the agent, and the publisher all like it, and broken people like it, and he's a broken person like all the other broken people who like it, then that makes me the enemy, the outsider, the loser who isn't cool enough, smart enough, broken enough to like it like all of those credible readers listed above. I'm not "one of them." But I am one of them, damn it! I am broken; I love intriguing stories; I like eccentric plot lines. The idea that "there are many other stories out there that are written for you" is like saying that I am beneath this novella. But the other stories out there that are for me are HIS BOOKS! I adore his other two books. And I am bidding my time waiting for the third books by reading any other series I can find, but I am DYING to read the culmination to the series. But with this coda, it makes me feel that I'm not in the cool club with all of his "real" fans. It bumed me out.

I'm sure that this was not his intention when writing the coda: he probably didn't intend it to be insulting, so I don't plan to hold it against him. However, even with that said, the pathos in his coda are not strong enough to make me like this novella. Maybe when book 3 comes out and all of the loose ends are tied up, I will come to appreciate this novella more. But right now it felt repetitive, tedious, and downright boring. And it makes me sad to admit that. But it's the plain and simple truth!

Here's hoping that you are one of the cool kids who likes this novella like Vi Hart, the beta readers, the agent, and the publisher. But as for this lowly, loser reader, I did not enjoy it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl


Goodreads Link:

Recommended to Stacy by: everyone
Recommended for: everyone
Read from November 06 to December 20, 2014 — I own a copy

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is such a wonderfully whimsical children's classic. I grew up watching the Gene Hackmanversion of the film, and I was one of the few people alive who actually enjoyed the Johnny Depp version, but shockingly, I never remember reading the book version! In fact, to be equally shockingly honest, I don't remember reading any Roald Dahl books growing up. Now, I might have read them or had them read to me, but I honestly don't remember them at all. So when it came reading books with my own children, I am trying to read as many of the classics as they will tolerate. And I was not disappointed at all with this one.

I am quite sure that most everyone knows the basic premise of the book, and in all honesty, both movie versions were fairly true to the novel; there weren't many differences in the book version. But I did notice that both movies added to the basic premise, and if I evaluate the films based on their additions, I have more issues with the Hackman version than I do with the Depp version, surprisingly! Most people I know detest the Depp version because Wonka was so strange, and they use only one actor to represent all of the oompa-loompas, which was pretty annoying. But even the addition of the dentist father only seemed to enrich the backstory of Willy Wonka, and it didn't drastically change the basic plot line that Dahl puts forth in his book.

However, the Hackman version, the version I grew up knowing and loving, like everyone else, actually added a MAJOR change that alters the very soul of the book, and now having read the original source material, this addition IRKS me a lot! Now if you haven't seen the Hackman .movie, I'm going to include a bit of a spoiler here (but in all honesty, who hasn't seen the Hackman version? And if you haven't seen it, you were robbed of an adequate childhood and should complain fervently to your parents!) In the Gene Hackman version, there is a scene when Charlie and his Grandpa Joe sample fizzy bubble soda and float up to the fan in the ceiling. At the end of the movie, Wonka (played by Hackman) reprimands Charlie and his Grandpa for breaking the rules. Then Charlie gives back the Everlasting Gobstopper, so Wonka forgives him. I remember, when I was young, watching this scene and thinking that all kids make mistakes, but if you tell the truth, it will gain you forgiveness - oh, what a sweet moral.

But that scene isn't in the book at ALL (I know that Wonka does mention the fizzy bubble soda in the book and an oompa-loompa does float up to the ceiling [much like in Despicable Me], but in the book Charlie and Grandpa Joe never drink any of it)! And it should NOT HAVE BEEN ADDED to the movie! Because it wasn't Dahl's intention to make Charlie a bad child who breaks rules. Dahl, I believe, wanted children to see that good children are the ones who win in the end - you shouldn't need forgiveness because you should stay good all the time! And I like this book version so much better - stay golden! That would be what Dahl would have said: Stay golden & one day you will be rewarded! But the movie, the classic movie that we were all raised on, goes and changes that! Why???

I remember watching the Johnny Depp version the first time and wondering why they cut the fizzy soda scene out, and now I know why: it's because it wasn't in the book! And even though the dentist father isn't in the book, either, the dentist father addition doesn't change Dahl's central message. In fact it sort of strengthens Dahl's message: In the Depp version, Wonka goes back to his father and still has perfect teeth. Even though his dad didn't want him to eat candy, Wonka kept his father's teaching at heart by maintaining good dental health, even if he doesn't floss enough. And the dad was proud of Wonka in this version: he kept all of Wonka's newspaper clippings. This addition, while not in the book, doesn't really bother me much because it doesn't corrupt Charlie, and only serves to make Wonka appear more human (even if Depp does make for a quirky Wonka). But the "Stay Golden" message isn't ruined.

The book really wants kids to see a good version of a child, who even though he is poor and starving, he is still golden at heart and deserves to be rewarded in the end. I like this message a lot: it's always best to be good.

I loved reading this book with my boys. I highly recommend it to any child, and now I realize why it is considered such a classic. It's not too long; the chapters are short and manageable; there is some new vocabulary which is great for my kids to learn; and it's message is pure. I look forward to reading more Dahl classics with my boys.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School, #3)

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger


Recommended for: Fans of Ms. Carriger, Victorian England, or the Steampunk genre
Read from December 11 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy, read count: 1

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger, the third book in the Finishing School series, had A LOT of new information and plot twists that could have MAJOR ramifications for the 4th book, Manners & Mutiny, and even more implications in the Parasol Protectorate Series (which is strange to say since that series is already completely published; however, since I haven't read it yet, I think there are so many strings to tie up from this series into that series).

But I digress! In this installment, we learn so much more about Sidheag and Soap, who have always been two of my favorite characters, besides Sophronia, of course. I found it fascinating to see so much development for them. However, their development is so sad in regards to Sophronia and what it might mean for Manners & Mutiny. And Sophronia all but seals her fate in this third installment, so it has some finality that may or may not create problems in her future.

The only complaint I have, and it was especially apparent in this third book, is the author-created convenience - Ms. Carriger's plot twists sometimes seem too easy. Sometimes Sophronia & Co. are in a major pickle (pun intended), and some convenient escape or defense magically appears out of thin air. I don't want to give any away since some of them create new junctions to key plot points, but I found it irksome that solutions proved to be so easily found. And while I did notice it in both of the previous two installments, it was downright laughable at times in this third book.

However, even this annoyance was not enough to ruin the larger plot, and I imagine that Ms. Carriger's plot development was somewhat limited to the fact that its evolution is already tied to a preexisting series: If she is creating links to the Parasol Protectorate, she cannot deviate from the fate that already exists in those books. And these convenient solutions did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the this third installment, hence the four-star rating.

I have so many predictions about how these Finishing School books are laying groundwork for the Parasol Protectorate series. And while originally, I was planning to hold off reading the Parasol Protectorate Series until after Manners & Mutiny comes out next year, I just can't! I plan to bide by time waiting for it by jumping head-first into the Parasol Protectorate, armed with my magnifying glass, looking for connections to these books.

As always, I very much recommend any of Ms. Carriger's books, and I very much look forward to continuing with her characters through all of her series.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School, #2) by Gail Carriger


Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School, #2)
by Gail Carriger


Recommended for: Fans of Carriger; Anglophiles; Fans of Steampunk and/or Victorian England
Read from November 23 to December 09, 2014

Gail Carriger is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors - if she writes it, I will read it. She has such a unique style that clearly depicts her complete love of this Victorian, Steampunk, anglophilic world. (Find Ms. Carriger's personal blog here)

Curtsies & Conspiracies was another fun romp with Sophronia and entourage through Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing School for Girls of Qualit-tay. But I think I enjoyed this installment even more than the first one for a number of reasons:

1. I was already fully enthralled by the world Ms. Carriger created in Book 1, Etiquette & Espionage. I could visualize the dirigible, the characters, the teachers much easier this time around because it was like getting together with old friends. And even though there were some references to which I was ignorant, I was still able to figure them out through the context, and I felt as if I was learning so many interesting facts about the time period: fun and educational - Can't be beat!

2. There were loads of action that kept me intrigued and the pages flipping. There was mystery, intrigue, deception, and fight scenes, and I enjoyed them all. And even though I am not a big fan of love triangles, the Sophronia, Soap, Felix triangle was interesting because it was underscored by societal expectations and prejudices. I am interested to see where it goes.

3. I am enamored with Ms. Carriger's tongue-in-cheek humor! This is my most favorite part of Ms. Carriger's writing, even more so than the historical accuracy, which is my second most favorite part. I challenge any reader out there to read one of Ms. Carriger's books completely straight-faced - it's impossible! You can't help but giggle/chuckle to yourself at the audacity of some of her character's quirks and classic quips. It's just hilarious to have a character who is on the verge of death yet also feels the need to also maintain proper etiquette - it makes me smile every time. I can just imagine Ms. Carriger standing at her desk, typing these books, and giggling out loud to herself - they are so much fun!

4. But even with all of these things, this second installment was more intriguing because I could begin to recognize when Ms. Carriger was weaving in clues of how this series would connect to the Parasol Protectorate series. Now, I have yet to read the series, as I am waiting to finish this prequel series first; however, I have read the summaries of the Parasol Protectorate series, followed Ms. Carriger's blog, and discussed them with friends enough to know some of the basic facts about that series, and even with my limited knowledge, I can still catch possible references that connect these Finishing School characters to those of the Parasol Protectorate series. I don't want to give away too many, but I did notice the following

a. Sophronia is described a few times in this second installment as being heartless and without a soul, which I imagine might somehow lead to a future Soulless character.

b. Genevieve Lefoux is described in this second installment to have an absolute obsession with proper women's fashion, especially with lady's hats, and Ms. Carriger is always posting pictures of Ivy's Hat Bombs from the Parasol Protectorate series, so I am guessing there must be some connection.

c. Lord Akeldama is introduced in this book - that's all I'm going to say about that, not to give too much away.

d. And like in the first book, Sidheag Maccon is always around, and I know that in the Parasol Protectorate series, Alexia ends up having some serious involvement with the Maccon clan, so I'm interested to figure out that connection.

All in all, I very much enjoyed my time reading this second installment, and I began reading the third installment,Waistcoats &Weaponry, the minute I finished this one. I look forward to finishing this series when the fourth book, Manners & Mutiny, comes out November 2015. Then I plan to read the Parasol Protectorate Series, before diving headlong into her newest series, The Custard Protocol, which is about Alexia's daughter!

I love that Ms. Carriger is creating an entire genealogy in this fascinating, Victorian world. She has earned a reader-for-life in me :)

I highly recommend all of her series to anyone out there who, as I do, suffers from an undying love of all things anglophilic, Steampunk, and/or Victorian.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily

Tiger Lily
by Jodi Lynn Anderson

My rating: 

Goodreads Link:

Recommended to me by: a few book bloggers and one of my 10th-grade English students, Lorilei, from 2013-2014
Recommended for: Teens and lost souls

Read from November 12 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson was an interesting retelling of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. (Click here to find my review of Peter Pan)

On the one hand, I love how she sewed Tiger Lily's story so tightly into the original tale: how she includes Tiger Lily's capture, and the Neverbird nest rescue, and the pirate's attack on the burrow. And I love how she told some of the back story to certain parts of the source material: how the Neverbird nest got to the rock, why the crocodile ticks, and what happens to Peter in the end.

But on the other hand, to weave a new, complete story into an already-complete story sometimes means that one cannot fit it all in comfortably, and there were a number of parts that felt rushed and/or unexplained. The Englander subplot and its effects on Tik Tok was a lot to take in, and made it difficult to stay focused on Tiger Lily, Tink, Wendy, and Peter. Then there was the new subplot of Smee that creeped the crap out me, and felt a bit forced and underdeveloped - I could never really get a clear grasp on what motivated Smee's obsession with Tiger Lily. And these new developments with Smee were so counterintuitive and uncharacteristic of the Smee I already knew (from all of the versions: Barrie, Disney, and the movie, Hook), that it was too much change for me to wrap my brain around. It ran so much against my own mental grain that I couldn't believe that it could be possible. And Anderson made a few other changes, too, that disturbed my understanding of the Neverland world so much as to feel impossible. Readers, especially those already enamored with a source text, will never be able to deviate too far away from what they love. So when Anderson changed Smee, or changed Hook's motivation for wanting to capture Peter, or changed the Lost Boys' ability to fly, it was just overwhelmingly unbelievable to the point where my brain fought back against the very suggestion of these non-linear changes.

Also, the ending, while poignant, was so lackluster. They all settled in the end. It kills the very hope that Barrie was so desperately trying to create! In our own real lives, we always have to settle; we always have to give up our childhood fantasies in order to accept our adulthood realities. In Peter Pan, Barrie was trying to create a place where even adults could hold fast to those long-forgotten childhood dreams forever, an escape that we, adults, could hope and dream for, even when we were shackled down to our unfortunate monotony. But Anderson breaks this hope! Tiger Lily, Peter, Tink, they all settle in the end, thereby killing the escape. Neverland is supposed to be about staying innocent forever, and this story is about losing innocence: that was difficult for me to accept.

I did love Anderson's ultimate lesson, though: Love, in all its many forms, marks us - equivalent to rings in a tree trunk or waterlines on a tide marker. Anderson writes, "Peter walked across her heart, and left his footprints there" (290), which is a perfect analogy that also nods to the scene in the movie version when Tink leaves little ink-stained footprints on Hook's map. And I love the ultimate moral: we must learn to find those people who love us exactly as we are (288). Tiger Lily had that kind of love from Tik Tok, Pine Sap, and Tink, but she didn't recognize it as enough because Peter's footprints were all over her heart. Sometimes we have to learn to accept the love we deserve (a nod to The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and the love that others are willing to give. Tik Tok, Pine Sap, and Tink loved Tiger Lily unconditionally, without fear or question. And I liked that lesson a lot, especially in a YA book. Teens need to hear that - accept the love that accepts you for who you are and doesn't ask anything else from you. So many teens are constantly trying to fit themselves into the box they think others want for them; eventually, they will find, years later, that the box caused such deformation that they lost their own unique shape along the way. This book tries to show the reader this lesson. And for this lesson, this was a very powerful book, indeed.

Overall, forgiving a few missteps or wobbles along the way, Anderson did a wonderful job of creating an understory for Tiger Lily that floats, for the most part, just below the surface of Barrie's canonical work. And while there were parts that felt superfluous or forced, I appreciate that Anderson went for it all the way, creating an entire world outside of just Peter's. I highly recommend this book, especially to teens who struggle with finding and owning their own identity. Tiger Lily's example of looking for a love that fit her own mold is a powerful lesson that more teens need to read.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan

 Peter Pan 
by J.M. Barrie

My Rating:

Recommended to Stacy by: Walt Disney and Jodi Lynn Anderson
Recommended for: everyone - it's a classic must-read!
Read from August 25 to November 12, 2014 — I own a copy

I grew up, like so many, loving the Disney version of PeterPan. It was so whimsical to think that one could be swept away to some utopian wonderland whenever she wanted. But then I realized recently that I have never actually read the book! And after re-watching Hook and Finding Neverland, which I also adore, I thought to myself, I really need to read the book. But the ultimate catalyst was my desire to read Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson; if I was going to read a retelling of Peter Pan, it is only fair that I know the source material first. So I buckled down, put all of my other TBR books aside, and read this classic, surprised in the end that it was not as great as I had hoped.

Don't get me wrong, the basic plot points were all there: Wendy and her brothers; Peter and his Lost Boys; Hook, Smee, and the pirates; and Tiger Lily and her clan - all the parts I loved were still there, but the narration was irksome, to say the least. The flow of the plot was random and choppy: parts that should have been described more, like Tinkerbell's sacrifice, were cut short, and parts that were excluded from the Disney version, like the Neverbird saving Peter on the rock, were left unexplained and underdeveloped. And the mermaids were almost non-existent, and felt unnecessary. It just left so much to be desired. All the parts I had hoped to get more information about in the book version - more about the mermaids, the pirates, the Tribe, the Lost boys - were told in the barest of details, and it left me wanting.

Also, I found the narrator to be distracting and annoying. There were occasions when the narrator's voice would interject some off-topic thought or would skip ahead or aside to some other plot point when I wanted to stay in the moment of the story that the narrator felt the need to leave behind. The story could have been significantly improved if the narrator's thoughts were left out, and the narration was merely omniscient. I remember thinking the same thing when I read Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto - the narrator muddled the story line, and left me feeling frustrated. That same feeling returned when I read Peter Pan. I wanted the plot alone, no sidebars or interjections. The plot in Peter Pan is unique and exciting; the narrator's input only served to get in the way of what is a great story on its own.

There were a few things that I did enjoy about the book version:
1. I loved the violence - that sounds so ominous, but I really liked that it was in the book. Disney loved to see all stories through rose-colored glasses and tone-down all of his movies. And I get that - he knew his audience was school-age children, so he had to make his films less graphic in order to appeal to their parents. But I was happy to see that J.M. Barrie was more honest. If a bunch of men were all living on an island, there would be violence, especially if those men included swarthy, swashbuckling pirates and fantasy-obsessed tween and teenage boys. Violence is a must-have! And it was there, in the book. And I was glad for it. It wasn't overly grotesque or unnecessarily gory, but he didn't sugar-coat the violence, fighting, or death.
2. Hook was not some bumbling idiot! That depiction in Disney's versions (including the new Disney Jr. version of Jake and theNeverland Pirates which I watch with my three sons) drives me CRAZY! How would a pirate assume such a high-ranking position on a ship, and amass such a loyal pirate crew if he were a bumbling idiot? He wouldn't! But I know that Disney loves to make villains laughable, and growing up, I did like Hook because I could laugh at him, but I was very glad to learn that in Barrie's book, he was a cunning, sophisticated, multi-dimensional character who struggled with his role as pirate-leader and archenemy of Peter. It, again, was honest of a pirate. I love that Hook was written as a highly educated man, turned sour by the corruption of greed and power. He would have to be smart to be captain of a pirate crew. And even though he is matched by a teenage boy, Peter's lack of fear made him difficult to defeat - how does one best a person who fears and remembers nothing? Peter's confidence came from his invincibility, and Hook would never be able to best that because he was a grown man who knew his own inevitability.

While I still love the story, and adore the creative invention J.M. Barrie brings to the world, the page, and the minds of his readers in Peter Pan, I found the actual source material to be a bit wonky and lackluster. It could have been better for the amazing story that he created.