2012 Book 132: Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley (9/9/2012)
Reason for Reading: More light reading. 🙂 I chose this book because I had just finished reading Beauty, by Robin McKinley and I wanted to compare her two versions of the Beauty and the Beast story. They had a lot of similarities (both were rather canonical retellings rather than “twists.” But they were also very different. In the end, I think I enjoyed reading Beauty more, but I found the ending of Rose Daughter more satisfying.
Beauty and her two sisters were living in the lap of luxury with their successful father when suddenly everything changed. Her father’s business failed, and they were left destitute. They made a new beginning in Rose Cottage, where things weren’t quite what they seemed. The coming of Beauty’s family to Rose Cottage was the first step to opening an ancient curse that would change their lives forever. This was an adorable little story…just as enjoyable as McKinley’s first retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. I was skeptical that McKinely could tell the story twice but, although there were some similarities, the two stories were very different. THIS Beauty used her magical gardening capabilities to change the world…
Beauty, by Robin McKinley
2012 Book 124: Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, by Robin McKinley (8/23/2012)
Reason for Reading: Green Dragon Group Read
The Brothers Grimm Household Stories
2012 Book 115: Grimm’s Household Stories, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; Lucy Crane translation (7/27/2012)
Reason for Reading: Fantasy and Science fiction Coursera text: week 1
This is a short, illustrated collection of Grimm’s folktales. All of the most famous of Grimm’s tales are in there, without too many of the redundant same-story-but-slightly-different tales that you’ll inevitably come across in a longer collection. The illustrations are enjoyable. The translation has a few small errors (apparently), but overall I think it’s a good place to start with the Grimm brothers.
It was really hard to get this down to the correct word length! I had to leave out so many fantastic examples of horrible snake-like men! As well as examples of brave women. After reading these tales, I’ve decided I don’t agree with the feminist analysis of these stories. Though I probably already had a skeptical bias.
One of the examples I really wanted to include was The Wonderful Musician. This guy had a marvelous power over fellow creatures…he played his music and creatures would come to praise him. These creatures would trust and revere him. However, he kept attracting animals that didn’t please him: a wolf, a fox, a hare. So he promised to tutor them, but deceived them and left them to die. When he finally found a man, he said: “At last! Here comes the right sort of companion. It was a man I wanted, not wild animals.” But the wild animals are more humane than the musician was. The wonderful musician is like a charismatic politician. One that can charm people during the election or important diplomatic meetings, and afterwards he does whatever he wants–essentially stabbing his supporters in the back. I could have written a whole second essay on this subject. 🙂
The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
2012 Book 102: The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller (7/8/2012)
Categories: Speculative Fiction, Award Winner
Reason for Reading: This book won the Orange prize this year.
My Review 5/5 stars
On the outside, this book is a retelling of Achilles’ actions in Troy; however, Miller has incorporated deeper elements to the well-known story. The Song of Achilles is a celebration of Achilles’ humanity, rather than of his God-like martial skills. It is a touching love story between Achilles and his companion Patroclus. It is a story of forgiveness for human flaws. And it shows the reader that sometimes the best part of the story is forgotten in legends. Above all, it’s one of those books that sucks you right in…and then leaves you breathless when it’s over. Although Song of Achilles is technically fantasy, it is also a book that can be enjoyed by literary snobs and by people who don’t know much about Greek mythology. I loved it.
Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer
2012 Book 92: Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer (6/24/2012)
Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read with the 75ers
My Review 2/5 stars
The intent of this book is to use anthropology and cognitive science to “explain” why religious beliefs developed (and are still common) in humans. I started reading this book with the expectation that it was intended as popular science; but it assumed that the reader already had a background in anthropology and cognitive science. Boyer made his explanations using terminology that was unnecessarily complex; and although the meaning could be discerned from the context, it made the narrative into very heavy reading. Furthermore, he made many bold statements without providing evidence, possibly because he figured his readers had a background in this area and knew where he was coming from. The examples he did provide often fell short for me as a scientist–I felt there were too many obvious loopholes to the experiments described, and it was unclear whether these loopholes were addressed. Overall, I think this book may be interesting to someone who has already read a lot of literature in this field, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone with a casual interest, nor as introductory material.
Islands of the Blessed, by Nancy Farmer
2012 Book 79: Islands of the Blessed, by Nancy Farmer (5/18/2012)
Reason for Reading: Third, and final, book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy
My Review 3.5/4 stars
When an angry ghost arrives on the shores of Jack’s village, he, Thorgill, and the Bard must go on a dangerous voyage to pacify her spirit before she hurts anyone. Like the first two books of this series, Islands of the Blessed is packed with adventure after adventure, a vast array of creatures from Celtic, Norse, and Christian mythologies, and an engaging historical background. Like the second book, The Land of the Silver Apples, Farmer may have tried a little too hard to pack in extra adventures and creatures…this makes the book fun and entertaining, but it has the disconnected-wandering-adventures feel of Homer’s The Odyssey instead of the tight every-event-has-a-reason feel of Harry Potter. Overall, an excellent book for perhaps the 5th through 8th grades.
Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman
2012 Book 72: Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (5/1/2012)
Reason for Reading: It was there
Odd, a boy with a bum leg and an odd personality, runs away from home after his father dies and his mother remarries. In the forest, he finds a fox, a bear, and an eagle, whom he befriends. With these new pals, Odd recaptures Asgard from the Frost Giants. A short and sweet fairy-tale like story.
The Land of Silver Apples, by Nancy Farmer
2012 Book 54: The Land of the Silver Apples, by Nancy Farmer (3/27/2012)
Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a trilogy.
My Review 4/5 stars
Jack, the Bard’s apprentice, sets off on a rescue quest when his sister Lucy is kidnapped by Elves. His companions are an unreliable slave/rightful-heir-to-the-throne and a recently freed girl-slave who worships the ground Jack walks on. They meet many magical creatures, re-discover some old friends, and have lots of exciting adventures along the way. I thought this was an excellent sequel to Sea of Trolls. It expanded the mythology of the land while developing the characters already introduced in the first book. I really appreciated the way Farmer handled the three religions that were represented by her characters in this 790AD Britain-based world. She showed the power and beauty of the Pagans as well as the Christians and subtly made the point that they all got their believers where they needed to go—but she did this without forcing the point or lecturing, which is the sign of excellent story-telling! My only quibble about this book is that most of the major plot threads were completed by page 400, leaving 100 pages for the final (and least pressing) plot thread. This is why the book got 4 instead of 5 stars.
Vampires Burial and Death, by Paul Barber
2012 Book 49: Vampires, Burial, and Death by Paul Barber (3/16/2012)
Reason for Reading: Interest in folklore and popular culture about vampires
My Review 3.5/5 stars
In Vampires, Burial, and Death, Barber differentiates between vampires of folklore and those of popular fiction (with a very strong emphasis on those of folklore). He proposes that the folklore of vampires arose due to people’s fear of dead bodies. He rigorously notes the common traits of folklore vampires (blood at the mouth, bloating, groaning when staked, red face, etc.) and points out that all of these things could occur naturally in a decaying body. The content of this book is very interesting, and Barber’s thesis is quite logical. However, the narrative was a little drier than necessary. I enjoyed learning, but wished it could have been a little more engaging!