Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, by Liesl Shurtliff
ARC provided by Random House Children’s through NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review

In this fun adventure story, Red goes on a journey to find a magical healing potion for her Granny, who’s sick. On the way, she unwillingly adopts a friend and fellow-traveler named Goldie, finds out the secrets of the Big Bad Wolf, and generally learns a lot of lessons about the value of life. This is a cute fairy tale retelling, appropriate for ages 8-12 years. It’s a bite-sized snack for those of us who gobble up fairy tale retellings – except this story is more like fairy tale fan-fic than an actual retelling. The plot is nothing like that of Little Red Riding Hood or of Goldilocks. It uses the characters and their basic personality traits to make a whole new story. This approach to the tale makes it refreshing because you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. 

This book is the third in Shurtliff’s fairy tale universe and apparently pick up where her book Rump leaves off. I haven’t read Jack or Rump, and I’d say this is pretty much a stand-alone book. 

Merlin’s Blade, by Robert Treskillard

Merlin’s Blade, by Robert Treskillard

Reason for Reading: A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Genre: Young Adult Christian Fantasy

Merlin has been living peacefully as the blind son of a village blacksmith when druids invade the area with an evil stone that usurps the minds of the villagers and turns them against God. Merlin is the only villager who is unaffected by the stone’s powers. His problems become worse when the High King Uther and his infant son Arthur arrive in the village and are attacked by the druids. Merlin must save his village as well as the young prince. This was a fun retelling of the young Merlin’s back-story. It’s marketed as a Young Adult Christian Fiction, though I think it could be enjoyed by a wider audience. Merlin’s Blade isn’t “preachy,” which is a complaint of many Christian Fiction books, though it does (understandably) perceive the worship of a stone to be an “evil” act. The druids are portrayed as mostly bad (or at least mislead) people, but I appreciated that some of the druids were actually rather likable. I’m a fan of Christian fiction writers who are able to see the humans behind the non-Christian characters. So, if you’re a fan of retellings (especially YA retellings), I think this is a book you might enjoy. It took some interesting liberties with the story of Merlin and Arthur, but it was also rather fun to see how that sword got stuck in the stone to begin with. 🙂

I’ll be waiting for the next book in the series! 

Something Rotten, by Alan M. Gratz

 Something Rotten

Written by Alan M. Gratz, narrated by Erik Davies

Reason for Reading: I plan on reading a few Hamlet retellings, and this is the first I picked up. (Now if only I would pick Hamlet up again – what’s with me?! I still have two more acts!)

In this hard-boiled teen retelling of Hamlet, Horatio Wilkes spends a summer in the small-town home of his buddy Hamilton Prince. The Prince family runs a paper plant which is currently undergoing scrutiny for pollution. On top of that controversy, Hamilton’s father has just passed away, and his mother just married her dead husband’s brother. When Hamilton gets a video from his dead father claiming that he’d been poisoned, Horatio promises to root out the murderer. Something is rotten in the town of Denmark, Tennessee. 🙂

This little mystery was funny (though neo-noir isn’t my usual type of humor, I still got a few chuckles). The plot is pretty straight-forward if you already know the story of Hamlet, so I felt very little suspense – on the other hand, it was interesting to see how Gratz played around with the story to make it more appropriate to younger audiences. He managed to stay true to the events in the play, but made it more realistic and less tragic. There are a few Shakespeare quotes thrown in which made me roll my eyes and groan, but in a “good” way. 🙂 I’d say this book is appropriate for 11-15 year olds.

Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

Reason for Reading: Loved the movie and trying to kill reading slump.

R is an above-average-intelligence zombie (he can speak 4-6 syllable sentences!) who is living a doll-drum life in an abandoned airplane – but his un-life gets a sharp slap in the face when he meets Julie, who by all rights he should have eaten. Instead, he takes Julie home and tries to communicate with her. This small act of curiosity on R’s part ignites a chain event of new perceptions. The world must crawl out of it’s stagnant existence and remember what it was to live.

I admit that I watched the movie first. I generally don’t do that, but it just happened that way. I LOVED the movie and had to rush out to get the book. This is one example where I’d say I liked the movie and the book equally. 🙂 Warm Bodies is unquestionably a retelling of Romeo and Juliet (right down to the balcony scene), but it was certainly the most unique retelling I’ve read. Additionally, I interpreted the book as a parody of YA paranormal romance – I took it very tounge-in-cheek. So I got a LOT of laughs while reading it. But what I thought was most interesting was the allegory. The zombies symbolized passionless people who have simply accepted life as directed by the ruling body (Bonies, in this case). And R was a zombie who just couldn’t quite conform. I loved the idea that a renewal of passion (and I don’t just mean romantic passion) could revive R’s potential as an individual. One simple act of individuality could change the course of history. On the other hand, I got a little tired at the end of the book of the cheesy internal dialog (and I DO mean internal dialog and not monologue). I think Marion was laying on his philosophy a little too thick. It would have been much more elegant to leave these philosophical discussions out – anybody who was willing to see Marion’s philosophy would be able to do so without cheesy dialog. But that was my only complaint about this funny, quirky, and delightful story. 🙂

Unnatural Issue, by Mercedes Lackey

Unnatural Issue

Written by Mercedes Lackey,  Narrated by Kate Reading

Reason for Reading: This was meant to be included in a fairy tale challenge in February, but that didn’t work out for me too well. But I’m still going to finish up my Donkeyskin books, regardless! 

When Earth Master Richard Whitestone’s wife dies in childbirth, he discards their newborn  daughter Suzanne in a fit of rage. Suzanne is raised as a servant of the household, while her father wastes away in his chambers. After many years, Whitestone develops a new passion – necromancy. When he sees his daughter wandering his lands, he realizes she is the perfect vessel in which to trap his dead wife’s spirit. Suzanne must flee her father, and hide in the guise of a servant in another household. But her skill in Earth magic is difficult to hide…

This is a non-canonical retelling of the fairy tale Donkeyskin, and is part of Lakey’s Elemental Master series. Although it certainly has charm and originality, it is not my favorite of the Donkeyskin retellings, nor of the Elemental Master series. I felt the premise of the book – a necromantic father, Elemental Masters fighting in WWI, with a touch of romance – had promise. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t delivered as well as it could have been. The romance seemed forced, and the war sections uninteresting. Not that it was a terrible book, but it could have been so much better. Lackey is better than this. 

But, if you’re looking for a fluffy-quick read, or an original fairy tale retelling, this book will certainly deliver that. 🙂 The narration by Kate Reading was quite good. She did the voices well, and had good timing. 

Short Retellings of Donkeyskin

“Thousandfurs,” by Doug Allyn (in Once Upon a Crime, ed. Ed Gorman): When mob-boss King’s wife dies, he starts losing his sanity. In hopes of salvaging his career in crime, King’s second-in-command hurries to find a look-alike to appease his boss. But the actress just happens to be the daughter of King…
This was an interesting retelling of Allerleirauh which placed the characters in modern-day Detroit and made the King into a mob-boss. The concept of the coat of a thousand furs had an interesting twist. 🙂

“Donkeyskin,” by Terri Windling (in The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors, ed. Terri Windling): In this striking poem, Windling mixes gritty modern-day reality with fairy tale imaginings. A girl runs away from her abusive father and becomes a waitress at a truck-stop. There, she hides behind a tough skin, waiting for her prince.
One of my favorite short retellings

“Allerleirauh,” by Jane Yolen  (in The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors, ed. Terri Windling): In this fairy tale retelling of Allerleirauh, a motherless princess would like nothing better to win the love of her father – but he blames her for the loss of his queen. But…what happened to the fairy tale ending?

“Suit of Leather,” by Barbara Wilson (in Salt Water and Other Stories): Carter grew up a sheltered heiress, but when her father attempts to sexually molest her, she runs away to the streets. She buys a suit of leather, which makes her feel tough and protected from the world around her. It makes her feel attractive and it hides her identity of “runaway heiress” well. She finds a dishwashing job (and a room off the kitchen to shelter her) in a gay restaurant. There, everyone decides she’s butch because of her suit of leather, but she is secretly attracted to Nat – a woman who is interested in a more softly-clad type. Carter must climb out of her protective leather suit in order to get Nat’s attention. 
This was a very well-written story, and possibly one of the most memorable. But I personally found the adult content a bit off-putting. 

“The Tale of the Skin,” a short story by Emma Donoghue (in Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, by Emma Donoghue): This is an almost canonical retelling of Donkeyskin, except that it has a cynical twist at the end.  

“Tattercoats,” by Midori Snyder (in Black Thorn, White Rose, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling): On her wedding night, a princess inherited three walnuts which housed her mother’s golden ring, spindle, and reel; her mother’s dresses the color of the sun, the moon, and the weather; and a raggedy old coat. At first, the princess thinks the raggedy old coat is useless and ugly – but her mother explained that the coat helped her to better know herself. Years later, the passion of the princess’ marriage is fading, and she finally decides to make use of her mother’s gifts.
This is an interesting sequel to Allerleirauh, but it has adult content.

“The Color Master,” by Aimee Bender (in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, ed. Kate Bernheimer): When the Color Master falls ill, an apprentice must fulfill an impossible request for three dresses for the princess – one the color of the moon, the next the color of the sun, and the third the color of the sky. The apprentice must put all of her passion and anger into the dresses in order to provide courage to the troubled princess.
-This is a retelling of Donkeyskin from the point of view of the dressmakers. A very imaginative story, with colors like poetry. 🙂

“Dancing in the Ashes,” by Richard E. Friesen (in Once Upon a Galaxy, ed. Will McCarthy and and Martin H. Greenburg): In order to escape her emotionally abusive father, Ally uses her mother’s time machine to travel into the Middle Ages. There, she discovers that not everything is as romantic as she expected. There is filth and stench everywhere, not enough food, not enough water, and a social hierarchy that she’d never dreamed of. Will she be able to find her handsome prince in this world? Or can she find a way back to her own?
-This is a retelling of Donkeyskin/Cinderella that was written by Friesen as an example to modern readers that our fascination with the Middle Ages wouldn’t last very long if we actually tried living there.

“Moss Gown,” by William H. Hook: When Candice’s father decides to split his lands among his daughters, he puts them to the test by asking each how much she loves him. Candice’s sisters flatter her father with fancy words but no sincere affection. Candice answers that she loves her father like “meat loves salt.” Candice’s father doesn’t understand the simple elegance of Candice’s answer, and he gives all his land to the two older sisters, who banish her. While running through the forest, she meets a witch who gives her a magical gown made of moss. She finds a job in the kitchen of a rich man’s house, and attends his balls dressed in her gown of moss (which becomes a beautiful dress at night). They fall into insta-love, and the young master yearns to meet the young lady again. Candice learns that the young master is able to lover her despite her tattered clothing. They get married, and the father (now blind and abandoned on the streets by his older daughters) shows in the area – begging for food. Candice throws a feast cooked entirely without salt, and this is when her father discovers how much meat loves salt. 
-This children’s picture book has elements of Cinderella, Donkeyskin, and King Lear. A cute story, especially for little girls.

“Princess Furball,” by Charlotte Huck: When a king promises his daughter in marriage to an ogre, she tries to postpone the wedding by requesting four impossible gifts – three unearthly dresses and one fur coat made from the fur of all the animals in the kingdom. But when these gifts are quickly provided, she runs away and becomes a servant in the kitchen of another palace. She attends three balls dressed in her beautiful gowns, and the prince falls in love with her. 

    Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley

    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.

    My Review
    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

    My Review

    Beauty must sacrifice her own freedom in order to save her father…she ends up trapped in a castle with a beast who wants to marry her! I really enjoyed this story because it was sweet and simple. It was a refreshing change from all the more recent “twist” retellings of the story. Highly recommended to any fan of children’s fairy tales.

    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.

    The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

    2012 Book 98: The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare (6/30/2012)

    Reason for Reading: I’m participating in the Middle Eastern literature theme read, and this book fits the theme because it takes place in Israel; however, I’m not sure they’re really interested in children’s literature, so this was really for my own edification.

    My Review 5/5 stars
    Daniel has been living for years as a member of a band of Zealots who wish to free the Israelis from Roman oppression. When he meets a preacher named Jesus, he realizes that perhaps his path of violence and thievery isn’t quite as logical as he’d thought it was. This is a fun book for kids, with adventure, interesting moral lessons, and new friendships. Although Jesus is a character in the book, he is only a minor one–the book is mainly historical fiction, and I think the lessons Daniel learns (violence, thievery, and hatred don’t accomplish anything good) are appropriate for kids of all religions or lack thereof. This is a must-read.

    A controversial side-note: This book has been banned from many public school library on the following charges: 1) It’s too Christian, 2) It promotes bigotry against Jews, and 3) It suggests that Christianity is “right” and Judaism is “wrong.” I thought I’d address these issues. 

    1)Too Christian: Kids are intelligent, we need to have more faith in them. They are not going to convert to Christianity just because they read one Christian fiction book. This book isn’t even Christian fiction, though it does get close. Kids will be better people in the end if they are introduced to all world religions, as well as many different cultural ways of looking at the world…it will make them LESS racist and more empathetic towards people with different beliefs. 

    2) Hostile towards Jews: I’m not sure how? I’ve read a few arguments on this subject, and the people who claim that it promotes bigotry or that it is hostile towards Jews don’t provide examples. Or, when they do provide examples, they quote the book out of context to such extremes that it seems purposeful. But I’m going to assume that SOMEONE (who is actually honest) must have been insulted by this book at some point? I see only two reasons why that would be. 

    First, the characters in the book are mostly Zealots who are angry about the oppressive Roman regime. It could be perceived as portraying Jews as angry or racist. However, the book did a good job of showing that this anger is rightfully aimed at an oppressive regime. People under oppressive regimes get angry. That’s a fact. So this book is both sociologically and historically accurate when it portrays some of its characters this way. Furthermore, the book is very sympathetic towards the characters and is rather more hostile towards Romans than Jews.

    Second, there was a very short (maybe 3 sentence) passage in which it said that the priests from the synagogue were angry at Jesus and might try to get him killed. I understand that this pokes at the let’s-blame-the-Jews-for-the-death-of-Jesus wound that is still open and festering among some Jewish people (and some Christians???). I’m truly sorry about this open festering wound, but the passage in The Bronze Bow was very short and there’s no way it will encourage kids to blame currently living Jews for the death of Jesus. 

    I grew up hearing these stories for my entire life, and I never realized this was an open, festering wound until I was 23 and talking to a rather onerous Israeli friend who (for reason still unknown to me) was trying to start an argument. He said to me: “You should hate me because, after all, I’m Jewish and we killed Jesus.” I was completely floored by this comment because the idea of blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death was foreign to me. I answered “But the Romans killed Jesus.” I had a Catholic education, heard all the stories from the Bible and still never considered the idea that Jewish people alive today could be blamed for the death of Jesus. It seemed preposterous. As far as I was concerned, Jesus was killed by Romans for political reasons that I didn’t quite understand. Though I know now that this is not just an issue with my Israeli friend…I came across the same idea in the book The Faith Club

    I think that books like this with very short passages that reference well-known stories out of the New Testament aren’t going to encourage kids to be bigoted. It’s bigoted parents, teachers, and role models that will encourage kids to be bigots, not The Bronze Bow.

    3) Christianity is right, Judaism is wrong: Well, it DOES imply that Christianity is right. That doesn’t mean that it implies Judaism is wrong. It never says that anywhere. There are scenes when the kids break rules, like washing hands before eating…but if kids breaking rules proves that they’re right to do so, then the Harry Potter books imply that kids are “right” and schools are “wrong.”