Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily

Tiger Lily
by Jodi Lynn Anderson

My rating: 

Goodreads Link:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12924326-tiger-lily

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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander, #1)

Outlander (Outlander #1) 
by Diana Gabaldon

My Rating: http://www.viator.com/images/stars/orange/16_4.gif

Recommended to Stacy by: I saw the TV series first
Recommended for: Lovers of Language, Historical Buffs, People who don't mind sex in their books
Read from September 17 to November 6, 2014


This book, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, was absolutely blissful to read: every time I fell back into it, it swept me away to a lost world, wrapping me warmly with its luxurious language and pricking my mind with its intricate and accurate details.

I listened to this book in Audible format. In fact, it was the first audio book I've ever heard, and now that I have been spoiled by it, I will listen to all of Gabaldon's series in audio format. On top of that, there could be few other books that I would have preferred to hear as my first audiobook because the narrator, Davina Porter, was completely mesmerizing. Even though her voice sounded a bit older than Claire's should have been, after a while it didn't really matter because her range of accents was perfectly pronounced, and she could switch from British, to Scottish, to French with such ease that I almost forgot at times that they were all read by one woman! She is an amazing talent.

I began to wonder if all audiobook narrators were as talented and effortless as Ms. Porter was; I could not imagine that all audiobooks sound as wonderful as this. But just to make sure, I Googled her, and found that my prediction had been confirmed: she is paramount among her colleagues, one of the most talented voices to record audiobooks, and famous for her readings of Victorian Classics.

In a biographical article in AudioFile Magazine (http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/narrators/davina-porter/), they write that she has recorded more than 100 books and that, "[her] voice is surely one of the most elegant and refined in audiobooks, giving the Victorian classics fluid presentation. She's able to capture historical settings with splendid clarity and yet convey the harsh realities of the period." I could not have explained it more perfectly, myself! I truly believe that it was Ms. Porter's narration that made me adore this text so much. I often wonder, had I read this book in print form, would I have enjoyed it so completely. And while I'm sure I would have, I know that Ms. Porter's rendition added to it in leaps and bounds!

And, while I could gush endlessly about the beauty of the narration, what of the story? I, like many, watched the first half of the TV Outlander series on Stars earlier this fall; in fact, that was my inspiration for wanting to read the book – I was desperate to know how it would go from its cliffhanger mid-season ending. So I had to read the books. When I went onto Goodreads to mark it as “Currently Reading,” I noticed the high average rating, but some mixed reviews: many people wanted to put it down as a Romance novel (even bookstores market it as such); one reviewer even said that it was a “trash novel for lit nerds”; another reviewer compared it to 50 Shades of Grey. Reading these reviews gave me visions of some trashy porn-on-the-page book, poorly-written and jumping from one sexual romp to the next. So I was completely taken aback when I actually began to listen to it! How could anyone claim this novel as trash or compare to that god-forsaken, poorly-written book (I honestly gave 50 Shades of Grey the good-ole college try, but the writing was so horrendous that I couldn’t get past the first chapter – I seriously felt my brain cells rotting away as I read it).

Then it hit me: the sex in Outlander makes people uncomfortable. But why? Sex is a natural occurrence for most, necessary for the preservation of our species, and the sex in this book was superior to most other descriptions I had ever read. It was not crass or vulgar – the descriptions were written sensually and in good taste, referring directly to the act, but without the need to into too many grotesque details. Even those scenes with Captain Randall left some things to the imagination. In fact, this was some of the classiest sex I’d ever read on the page! The writing was gorgeous, and it gave just enough information so that I could understand the effects of the scene, without having to divulge too much (think more “Playboy” than “Hustler” – there’s a difference!).

So why would people consider it trash? I mean, there is sex in other Fantasy novels that is much more descriptive, but you’d never refer to those novels as “trash”:  The Wise Man’s Fear is the first that comes to mind. In fact, in Rothfuss’s WMF, the main character spends an obscene amount of time rolling through the grass with all kinds of different women, but no one called that a Romance novel or “trash for lit nerds”. They called it “great story-telling.” So what’s the difference?

And that is what struck me the most: If Outlander had been written by a male author, and centered on a male protagonist, we would have called it Literature, with a capital L (or at the very least Fantasy, with a capital F)! But when a female writes about a female character having sex, all the sudden it MUST be labeled as “trash” and “romance.” And in Outlander, Claire even marries Jamie before she does anything at all intimate! Kvothe never marries anyone in WMF, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with all of them that are willing, and no one refers to him as a “whore who uses time-travel as an excuse to commit adultery with a hunky Scot”, as one reviewer wrote about Outlander.

This book is beautifully-written, extensively-researched, perfectly-plotted, fictional Literature. Is there sex? Yes. A lot of it. And some sex that might make some readers rather uncomfortable. However, the novel is not trash, and lit nerds, like me, will love it for its specific diction, descriptive imagery, and accurate historical details.

I have already started listening to the second book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, and so far it is even more intriguing that the first (although I have heard that it draws out a bit in the Paris scenes – I’ll have to wait and see). I am very excited to have finally found this series, and I very much look forward to reading/listening to every single installment.

I highly recommend that you do the same :)