Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Silver Woods--Jessica Day George
December 11, 2012 by Bloomsbury
336 pages--Goodreads

When Petunia, the youngest of King Gregor's twelve dancing daughters, is invited to visit an elderly friend in the neighboring country of Westfalin, she welcomes the change of scenery. But in order to reach Westfalin, Petunia must pass through a forest where strange two-legged wolves are rumored to exist. Wolves intent on redistributing the wealth of the noble citizens who have entered their territory. But the bandit-wolves prove more rakishly handsome than truly dangerous, and it's not until Petunia reaches her destination that she realizes the kindly grandmother she has been summoned to visit is really an enemy bent on restoring an age-old curse. 

The stories of Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood get a twist as Petunia and her many sisters take on bandits, grannies, and the new King Under Stone to end their family curse once and for all.


I am rarely disappointed with Jessica Day George's books, and Princess of the Silver Woods was no exception.  It was just a good story.  I read it all day on Christmas and finished it early the next day.  

There is a lot of repeat from Princess of the Midnight Ball.  The villain and some of the plot elements are the same, making it more of a sequel to Midnight Ball, than a stand alone in the same world, like Princess of Glass is.  I loved how Glass had an extremely different take on the fairy tale than what we're used to, and I wish I could have seen more of that dynamic in Silver Woods.  

Sliver Woods blends Little Red Riding Hood with Robin Hood in an interesting and fun way.  Oliver (Robin Hood) is given a compelling back story that explains within the world of Westfalin of why he turned to banditry.  I loved the scene when Oliver sort of accidentally kidnaps Petunia.  He is endearingly awkward throughout the whole novel.  Sadly, archery plays no part whatsoever in this story.  How can you have a Robin Hood retelling without firing a single arrow?  Along with the lack of archery is a lack of merry men.  Going into more of the Robin Hood story would have given the story a different angle that would have made it feel less like a repeat of Midnight Ball.  The book is supposed to focus on Petunia and her story, but I feel like the band of thieves are a vastly under-utilized resource.  

The relationship between Oliver and Petunia is a bit insta-lovey, but that's how George's stories usually go, so I can accept it.  In the same vein, the villains are mostly two-dimensional, evil just because they are, which is less compelling.  Also, I started out already knowing who to distrust.  Even in retellings, I like to be surprised by the twists and turns of the story.

I'm being nit-picky about the book's faults.  That's a bit because what I like about the book is hard to quantify.  It's something like reading Ella Enchanted again for the first time.  It's returning to the land of fairy tales for a fun few hours of imagination.  It's getting a wide mix of personalities between the princesses: some spunky, some feisty, some vulnerable.  It's those face-palm, embarrassed-for-the-characters-because-I've-been-in-that-situation-before moments.  It's the thrill of reading through the climax on the edge of my seat even though I already know there will be a happy ending.  It's just that vibe that's so hard to articulate.  Silver Woods has issues, but I still really liked it.  It's a very curl-up-on-the-couch-with-Christmas-treats-for-a-few-hours kind of read.  It's meant to be light and fun and quick.  And it is. 

Side note:  Absolutely gorgeous cover!  Mysterious with a splash of red.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Chat: Top Ten Favorite Books I Read In 2012

Misty's book chat for the month at The Book Rat and the Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish were about our favorite reads for the year.  So I combined my responses to both into one post. 

The Wednesday Wars--Gary Schmidt
Much Ado About Nothing--William Shakespeare
Speak--Laurie Halse Anderson
Leviathan--Scott Westerfeld
Dark Life--Kat Falls
Alloy of Law--Brandon Sanderson
The Humming Room--Ellen Potter
Seraphina--Rachel Hartman
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry--Mildred D. Taylor
Entwined--Heather Dixon

Like up your responses in the comments.  Let me know what you think!  What books did you love this year?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Entwined by Heather Dixon

Entwined--Heather Dixon
March 2011 by Greenwillow Books
472 pages--Goodreads

Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it.

The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.

But there is a cost.

The Keeper likes to "keep" things.

Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

I read this book by the recommendation of one of my aunts.  I've never gotten a bad recommendation from her, and this book was no exception.  It was great.

The best part of the novel is definitely the relationships between characters.  They are real.  The princesses aren't prim and perfect; they lose their tempers and throw things at each other and say horrible things to their father and have selfish moments and foolish moments.  However, aside from the oldest three, the princesses are a bit homogeneous   I had a hard time keeping track of who was who.  At the same time, having deeply developed characters is difficult when you have twelve of them that are so similar, so it's not the end of the world.  

The interplay between the girls is great, and often funny, especially when the suitors come to call (I love Mr. Bradford and Lord Teddie).  "That rotten shilling-punter nuffermonk" is probably the best insult outside of Shakespeare, who had some real doozies.  I love the little moments of humor throughout the book: girls discovered spying on their sisters from inside trees, awkward and embarrassing dinner conversations, a finger biting tea set, etc.

There is just a touch of swoon-worthy romance with some wonderfully diversified love interests, but romance is not the focus of this retelling; the father-daughter relationship is, and I absolutely loved this.  Since the princesses are the main characters, it's easy to focus on the loss of their mother, but Entwined addressed the oft-ignored King as a grieving husband who now doesn't know how to interact with his daughters.  It hurts to think of his wife, but they remind him of her every time he sees them and that hurts, even though he loves them.  Some reviewers have commented that the middle of the book moves too slowly, but I think they're missing this aspect of the story.  The point of Entwined is not the curse and not romance, but this difficult relationship between a father and his daughters.  Their relationship doesn't just magically get better; it improves slowly with many wrong starts and steps backwards.  It's difficult and messy.  I loved this slow progression, but I can see how the lack of action would irk some readers.  

What did bug me about the plot was the climax.  I like slow builds to epic conflicts with huge finishes and satisfying resolutions.  This climax felt like a whole bunch of little fights strung together.  It was a bit too much stop and go.  This being said, I couldn't put it down until I finished it, so it wasn't a huge problem.  Another small hiccup:  I never found Mr. Keeper compelling.  He's supposed to be this suave, mysterious potential love interest, but I was only ever creeped out by him.  Perhaps this was because I'm the reader and I know what part he's supposed to play, but still.  

Entwined is my favorite retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" that I have read so far.  Usually the girls are cursed or enchanted into dancing, but these princesses started out just trying to escape the strict rules of mourning and a father who doesn't understand them.  The fairy tale didn't dominate the story; it just provided the framework.  Dixon made the story into her own enchanting tale.

And bonus points for the book, the Heather Dixon is awesome.  Check out her blog sometime.  She's the type of person I would love to be friends with.  She walks down the streets in public singing and acting out all the parts to musical numbers from animated movies.  I thought I was alone in this practice!

So, great book.  Pick it up.  Don't expect tons of action or loads or romance, but a sweet and real story of how a family copes with loss.  And the cover is shiny!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: Half the Sky by Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky--Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
2008 by Knopf
294 pages--Goodreads

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.

I read Half the Sky after watching the documentary of the same title on PBS a month or two ago.  It was a surprisingly compelling read.  The oppression of and violence toward women and the huge problems in the world are not subjects I really want to read about, but the Kristof and WuDunn spend the majority of the book on the stories of individual women.  I wanted to know how these stories resolved, so I rarely wanted to put the book down.  Half the Sky was a good mix of stories about individuals and information about organizations you can support financially or volunteer with.  The book definitely has an agenda and a bias, but I felt like they did a good job of addressing the issues with a decent amount of objectivity.   They represented the complexity of each issue, frankly acknowledging that there is no easy fix for any of these problems, but still make you feel able to help.  The book focused on sex slavery, education, maternal health, and violence against women.

The book was very effective in its progression.  We learn about a teenaged girl who is raped with a stick and develops a fistula (a hole in her vaginal canal into her rectum or bladder).  We dwell on that horribleness for a little while.  Then we learn that those kinds of injuries are sustained all the time in childbirth because mother's don't get the proper medical attention or even help from a trained midwife.  The injustice is heightened and we want to do something to change the situation.

In any book like this, we run into the conundrum of respecting other cultures' beliefs and practices while at the same time standing up for what is right.  They did a good job of, for the most part, describing things that most people would agree are not cultural things but universal human rights violation, such as the lack of prenatal care and medical services to lessen maternal mortality.  The  spent a small amount of time on female genital cutting and mentioned head scarves (head scarves are not inherently oppressive, but a matter of modesty), which are more culturally loaded.  Though one of authors is Chinese American, both authors are American, so the book is written from a Western perspective.   I don't think that discredits or invalidates the book.  Half the Sky is still draws awareness to the issues, even if the stories are told by someone outside the problem.

My main criticism of the book is that it ignores violence discrimination against women in the United States, where we are far more likely to be able to have an impact.  I understand that they wanted to focus on the developing world, but ignoring the domestic abuse that happens in our own neighborhoods felt like a gross oversight.  

Overall, it was a very good read.  I didn't expect to like it as much as I did.  Though the subject matter is disturbing, they did a good job of presenting it tastefully.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Haul #3

The class that had book orders is now over, so this is the last book order.  Sad.  I'll just have to find somewhere else to get my books.

Hatchet--Gary Paulsen
Entwined--Heather Dixon
Because of Winn Dixie--Kate DiCamillo

What new books have you acquired?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Review: A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce

A Curse Dark as Gold--Elizabeth C Bunce
March 2008 by Arthur A. Levine Books
396 pages--Goodreads

Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle. Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home.

This was a slow, thoughtfully paced novel, but that worked well with reading it in twenty minute sessions as an audiobook.  The slowness will probably bother some readers, but I liked being given the time to absorb the whole situation and appreciate the story.  
The setting is developed thoroughly and accurately   Bunce did tons of research in writing the book.  But I didn't find myself caring much about the characters.  

I liked it as an adaptation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale.  Jack Spinner was an interesting character.  His development was satisfying and different from any other adaptation I've seen before.  He is the villain, but a sympathetic one.  I couldn't help but compare this novel to Suzanne Weyn's Crimson Thread, which is another Rumpelstiltskin retelling set in the Industrial Revolution, though a bit later on.  Crimson is definitely more lighthearted, and the Rumpelstiltskin character is not as compelling.  

Reading the relationship between Charlotte and Randall is painful.  You don't often see marital strife portrayed in these kind of books; it's usually just happily ever after.  Seeing a couple struggle would have been refreshing if it wasn't heart-wrenching,  but it fit their ridiculously quick courtship.  However, I didn't like how Bunce resolved this conflict.  SPOILER, He just comes back and everything's fine?  What?  And now he does magic?  And all their problems are just swept under the rug, unresolved.  I didn't like their period of distrustfulness  but it was compelling and interesting and real and deserved a better resolution than that.

For most of the novel the magic just didn't work for me.  Maybe if I had gone into it knowing it was a historical fantasy, I would have liked it better, but with the Industrial Revolution setting I was expecting historical fiction.  Even though Bunce set up the magic with all the the hexes and superstitions, the magic felt implausible.  I did like the eventual explanation of Jack Spinner and his origins.

The climax felt a bit sloppy and haphazard.  It was scattered and hard to tell exactly what was going on and who was there.  The conflict was resolved, but I felt almost as if something was missing.

The theme of what's in a name is very important.  The name Charlotte means strong or free, and she lives up to her name, almost to the point of stubbornly refusing any help ever, like she has to prove that she, a woman, can keep her mill running.  I can't say much without spoiling things, but Uncle Wheeler and Jack Spinner are worth paying attention to.  

On the whole, I liked it, but it wasn't fantastic.


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