Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon (How to Train Your Dragon, #1)

How to Train Your Dragon (Book 1)
by Cressida Cowell


Goodreads Link:

Recommended to Stacy by: I saw the movie first
Recommended for: Kids, dragon-lovers, people who have not yet seen the movie
Read from September 08 to October 28, 2014

If I were reading this book in 2010, I probably would have rated it higher. But since I am reading in 2014, having been biased by seeing the movie first, I gave it three stars, even though I really wanted to give it fewer. But my judgement of this book was unfairly shaded by my love for the movie.

Never, and I mean NEVER, did I ever think I would admit to this next sentence:


Ahhhhhhhh! I cannot believe that I am actually typing that and associating that idea with myself. Even in the past, when I have read books after seeing the movie (Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter #7, Peter Pan), the books were always better than the movies, more complex with more well-developed and detailed characters and plot lines, but this one was not :( And it pains me deeply to say that because this is one of my favorite plot lines, and Hiccup and Toothless are some of my favorite children's characters. So allow me to elaborate why I am actually admitting to enjoying the movie more than the book (it still kills me to say that though - I feel like I am betraying books):

1. The dragons, especially Toothless, were WAY MORE EPIC in the movie! In the book, they are these tiny, little, lizard-like creatures that fly around and sit on their master's shoulders, more like parrots than dragons. In the movies they were large, intimidating, fire-breathing necromongers (at first)! And that is why the Vikings feared them so much and had developed a long-standing tradition of developing fearless warrior initiates to defeat the dragons. The dragons in the movie were not puny, pathetic, fire-breathing sparrows like they are describe in the book! I mean the Sea Dragons in the book were definitely more like the giant, scary dragons of lore, but they were buried in the sea for most of history, so they were not in the Vikings' lives on a regular basis. It would be like being scared of Bigfoot or the Lochness Monster. Sure, they're out there *wink, wink* but you don't really think about them or worry about them until you run into a looney, wild-haired, mountain man spewing conspiracy theories. These Sea Dragons were merely legends come true, they weren't like in the movie where dragons were everywhere and regularly terrorizing Berk, thereby creating a true and legitimate fear and loathing that the Vikings then had to learn to over come. In the book, they were like pets from the beginning, so the fact that Hiccup knew more about dragons than anyone else seemed very unlikely. If you live with a dragon day in and day out for generations, you're going to know more about them than a 12-year old kid. In the movie, it made WAY more sense for Hiccup to have these dragon-related revelations because he was finding fact in the face of fictitious fear: he was exposing never-before-known evidence that could combat fear-laden rumors and superstitions. Movie wins in this category, hands down!

2. In the book, Hiccup never flies on Toothless!!! Wait, what???? That is what I said when I realized that Toothless was this tiny, teacup-size, toothless, non-terror who was more like a spoiled cat than a warrior companion, like he is in the movie. Some of the best scenes (and best music, by the way) are those that have Hiccup soaring through the air on Toothless's back! Those flight scenes MADE the movie - I loved them. And I was so excited to read them described in the book, but, alas, there were no such scenes to be found :( I mean, how would Hiccup convince Astrid to realize that dragons were friends, not foes, if not for that classic fly-through-the-clouds scene... oh, wait, that's right! This brings me to reason number 3 that the movie far surpasses it's source material - the biggest flaw with the book:

3. ASTRID IS NOT IN THE BOOK! WHHHAAATTTTTT?????? Astrid is AWESOME, AMAZEBALLS, RIDCULOUSLY INSANELY WICKED!!! I love Astrid. If I could go back to being a little girl and see this movie at, say, age 6-9, I would swear that I would idolize Astrid for life, and spend every second of my youth becoming as wickedly awesome as she is! She was my favorite character in the movie, by far, bar none! She was self-assured, persistent, hard-working, dedicated, intelligent, tough, strong, and a girl! She could be all of those amazing things AND be a girl at the same time - I totally want to be Astrid! She was determined to become the best warrior, and neither her gender nor society's fixed gender roles ever limited her from honing her skills! She was empowering, even to an old lady like me. And then I go and read the book, and I CANNOT believe she is not in those pages - and I mean NOWHERE in those pages. Actually there are no female characters mentioned in the tribe besides Hiccups mother, Vahallarama, and she is just there in the background in the house tending to the family, stereotypical, archaic gender role. WHERE ARE THE WARRIOR WOMEN IN THIS BOOK??? Ahhhh! It KILLED me!!! I remember watching the movie and thinking "How AWESOME is Cressida Cowell for creating a female character as awesome as Astrid?" But she didn't, or at least not in this book! Maybe, and I hope, Cowell introduces Astrid in one of the later installments in the series because she was such a positive female character. If I were a little girl reading this book for the first time without seeing the movie, I would be so bummed to realized that dragon-totting, Viking warriors was only something that boys did. And for by own sons, for whom I was reading this book each night, I was so bummed to see that they didn't get to read about amazingly awesome female warriors. All three of my boys loved Astrid in the movie: they thought she was a cool Viking warrior - they actually thought that ABOUT A GIRL! That is something I could have only dreamed my boys to think, and the movie actually got them to do it. But the book, it had nothing about girls, as if being Viking warriors was just another boy thing. And while I realize that historically speaking, Viking warriors were male, this book could have included the same empowering role as the movie did, without soiling the historical accuracy. I mean, really, it's not a historical account; it's a fictional children's book; Cowell should have included a girl or two in the bunch. It was the biggest let-down when reading the book.

In the end, the book was still fun to read with my boys, and it has a nice, if not somewhat predictable, plot line to it, so I still recommend that you should read it. But for me it was a pretty significant disappointment after how much I LOVED the movies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: You Can't Get There from Here by Gayle Forman

You Can't Get There from Here: A Year on the Fringes of a Shrinking World
You Can't Get There from Here: A Year on the Fringes of  a Shrinking World
by Gayle Forman

Goodreads Link:


Recommended to me by: Gayle Forman mentioned it in her website's FAQ section
Recommended for: wanderlust daydreamers & travel lovers
I read this from Oct 1 to Oct 21, 2014

You Can't Get There from Here: A Year on the Fringes of a Shrinking World by Gayle Forman is a tough book for me to review: I really enjoyed it and found most of it fascinating; however, it took me a long time to get through, longer than most fiction novels take, anyway.

This was most likely because the writing in You Can't Get There from Here was a bit too conversational and article-ready. When I read Forman's Just One Day and Just One Year, the writing was divine and the plot was meticulously-planned. But that is the biggest benefit of writing fiction: the author has the ability to manipulate the story, setting, characters however she pleases to make the story more appealing.

On the other hand, though, in non-fiction, the author is expected to "tell it like it is," and sometimes, as is the case in this book, the experience is not very well designed and perfectly worded because it was reported honestly. Kudos to Forman for staying true to her journalist roots; however, some times I wanted to skim through certain sections, but I couldn't do it for fear of missing out on something important. Some of Forman's sections were more like he said/she said lists with some statistical data and relationship drama thrown in for good measure.

And so much of this book was about individual people, and even more than that, as the title implies, individual people who exist on the fringes of society. I, personally, tend to obsess over traditional cultural experiences abroad: the food, the historical sites, the festivals and holidays. Unfortunately, I am more of an ethnographer than a journalist: I'm not looking to discover a unique story, but rather to observe the stories that have exists in the same way for centuries. For this reason, I found myself wishing some of Forman's stories had been about the more traditional societal cultures of these far-off places, in addition to those stories from the fringes. For example, she goes to India, but her whole experience is reported from a Bollywood movie set. And while Bollywood is uniquely Indian, it didn't seem like the India I was hoping to explore. It was too niche-specific.

I still really enjoyed the stories that she included - they were fascinating and different that anything I had read about before (except the Bollywood part - I read about that in Just One Year, & I can definitely see what inspired that scene). But I only wished that she had broadened her frame a bit more - included the unique and niche-specific anecdotes alongside the traditional and culturally historical stories.

It is definitely worth the read,though, and I particularly enjoyed escaping my mundane routine for a little atypical adventure. It was a fun escape, and I learned about a lot of unique groups whom I wouldn't have otherwise known existed without this book. I recommend that you get yourself a copy and escape to these far-off places because most of us will never get to experience events like the ones in this book.