Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: The Door In The Hedge & Other Stories

The Door In The Hedge & Other Stories
Robin McKinley

Summary via Amazon:
Ensorcelled princesses . . . a frog that speaks . . . a magical hind—Newbery Medal winner Robin McKinley opens a door into an enchanted world in this collection of original and retold fairy tales

The last mortal kingdom before the unmeasured sweep of Faerieland begins has at best held an uneasy truce with its unpredictable neighbor. There is nothing to show a boundary, at least on the mortal side of it; and if any ordinary human creature ever saw a faerie—or at any rate recognized one—it was never mentioned; but the existence of the boundary and of faeries beyond it is never in doubt either.

So begins “The Stolen Princess,” the first story of this collection, about the meeting between the human princess Linadel and the faerie prince Donathor. “The Princess and the Frog” concerns Rana and her unexpected alliance with a small, green, flipper-footed denizen of a pond in the palace gardens. “The Hunting of the Hind” tells of a princess who has bewitched her beloved brother, hoping to beg some magic of cure, for her brother is dying, and the last tale is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in which an old soldier discovers, with a little help from a lavender-eyed witch, the surprising truth about where the princesses dance their shoes to tatters every night.

"The Stolen Princess"
I adored this tale. Out of the four it is easily the best. The best part of this particular story is that it is actually two stories! Robin McKinley weaves together the story of the mother, Alora and her daughter, Linadel.

In the first part of the story we are told about the land they come from and the Faerieland just beyond and how they coexist. This part is a little long but it is worth it once you get to Alora and her sister Ellian. As in all tales, tragedy befalls the human kingdom but as in all things time moves on. Alora finds her prince, Gilvan and they become king and queen. They are then blessed with their own child, Linadel.

The second part of this tale has everything to do with Linadel. Now this princess has quite the surprising journey! On this journey, she sees the beauty of Faerieland and meets the faerie prince, Donathor. While one would think this is the happy ending, it isn't! There is so much more!

The best part of this particular tale is that not only does Linadel find her happy ending so does her mother! The lessons one learns in this dual tale are really good ones and definitely universal (I can't say because then this would have spoilers and I hate those!). This story is definitely a 4! I love how seamless the melding of the story was. The simple yet complex nature of it was truly at the heart of every fairy tale. Well done!

"The Princess & The Frog"
This was a nice retelling of a common story. While this story was told well, it came after "The Stolen Princess" and thus was kind of a let down. In this story, a princess stands for herself and her country against a bully of a prince. I love how the princess was a strong character even though she ended up getting aid from The Frog. In the beginning of this story, she is one of the few that stand against the evil prince. Even her father was forced to concede to him at times. If she hadn't kept herself strong, she never would have met The Frog. Obviously, The Frog saves the day but for more on that you will have to read it! The morals of the story were good even though fairly common. I would say this story is a 2. I could have made this a 3 if it had been more unique.

"The Hunting Of The Hind"
This story was nice because the savior is the forgotten princess! This perhaps was the best part of this story. This particular kind of fairy tale is always a favorite of mine, when the forgotten or least likely person becomes the hero or heroine. Aside from this fact, the story fell flat for me. In fact, when I came to write this review, I had almost entirely forgotten it! I then reread it and discovered why. I feel like this story was almost an afterthought. The story takes sometime to reach its climax and then its over in a snap. And as for its fit within the collection, I feel it is also the odd man out. The others all speak of romantic love and this one it is merely an after thought. I do appreciate the continuation of the familial love. However, I could only give this story a 2.

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses"
Now, I really enjoyed this one! Once again the beginning of this tale seems longer than necessary but it seems this is a part of Robin McKinley's writing style. Thankfully, it is worth the wait! The hero of this tale is but a common man turned retired soldier. We come upon him as he is traveling to the capital of his country to see whom he had given his youth to. Along the way he discovers the mystery of The Twelve Dancing Princesses from an ostler he worked for. Along his travels he comes upon an old woman at the edge of the wood. (Always my favorite character in fairy tales). Of course as he is the hero he treats her kindly. Finally, he makes his way to the capital! Once there he takes on the mystery. I like how he uses his skills from being a soldier to figure out the mystery. While the whole tale itself is pretty common, how things play out in the end is well done. I would give this story a 3 if merely for the very end. The end is what tipped the scales from average 2 to a well done 3.

Altogether, this anthology is well done but obviously had its highs and lows. I feel as a collection it deserves a 3. It had a strong start, a flagging middle and a good finish. Out of all of them the only one that I really loved was the first one. "The Stolen Princess" is such a good story I highly recommend that story (even if you skip the others). Its a feel good story for adults (mostly Moms) and a good story for kids (boys and girls as the morals work for both).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: In The Shadow Of Blackbirds

In The Shadow Of Blackbirds
By: Cat Winters
ISBN: 978-1419710230

Summary via Amazon:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. At her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-20th-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Heartbreakingly tragic and hauntingly beautiful. There are no other words that better describe In The Shadow Of Blackbirds. This novel will stick with you long after you are done reading it. So many of the... themes, for lack of a better term, are so timeless. War. Soldiers, going to and returning. Their families desperate for news, while still fearing it. People being struck down by an illness that no one knows how to prevent or combat effectively. Reaching maturity in a time of great upheaval and disaster. A country fighting within itself to show how patriotic they are, out of fear. Death in its many forms. And most of all, the soul-sucking desperation that is impossible to not feel.

I would describe Cat Winter's writing style in this novel to be visually stark and vividly emotional, a perfect representation of the world as it was in 1918 during World War I. If it were a movie, it would be filmed similarly to Saving Private Ryan (although that story took place in WWII). Where the world is incredibly detailed but almost monotone and the characters stand out in bright relief. The characters themselves also seem to be almost a personification of the hardships the people of this era endured. Mary Shelley is the science vs spiritualism debate. Mary Shelley's father would be the fanatical patriotism. Aunt Eva would be the pandemic as well as women's efforts during the war. Stephen the young soldiers and shell shock/PTSD. Julius, opium and the fake spiritualists. The Red Cross home, the welcome home given to injured soldiers. These are only a few but there are many as you will see.

In no uncertain terms, this isn't a light read. And, once you start reading it, you will have to finish. For although, many of the themes are heavy there is a certain lightness to it as well. You will see a depth of compassion, love, and inquisitiveness that brings this story into a tale of great beauty.

The romance in this story is the driving force behind Mary Shelley and her coming of age story. Through her you see the ups and downs of being in romantic love with Stephen as well as familial love for her mother, father, and Aunt Eva. The emotional roller coaster that is Mary Shelley and Stephen's love is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. I would say it's worse than Romeo and Juliet because there is more to it than the passing fancy of fourteen year olds. They were childhood friends turned more. However, they were cut off before their love could truly bloom by the upheaval of the times.

The ongoing mystery in this novel is also quite good! While I had inklings as to who was involved, I was only partially correct, and up until the very end I couldn't guess how exactly things had occurred. It has been a good long while since I have been so stumped. Granted, I may have been slightly distracted by the love story, but who could blame me.

In many ways, it was almost painful to read this book. Not because it was a bad book, rather because it was so good. I easily give this book a five! The setting was detailed and made the story come alive. The characters were remarkable and pulled at the heartstrings. And it's timeless. It reverberates with this time period so well it's spooky. While we have many modern conveniences and medicines. These things are merely illusions. We are no better off than they were. They allow us to hide our heads and say we are better, while just as they were, we pray we aren't next. We call each other unpatriotic based on whether you are a democrat or republican. We send our men and women to war but we don't care for them when they return. Disease reigns supreme, with no cures, only symptom relief. We are reliving history instead of learning from our pasts and making the world a better place. So hopefully, like in this book we will see the light at the end of the tunnel, dust ourselves off and strive for better.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Women Know Everything!

Women Know Everything!
By: Karen Weekes
ISBN: 978-1-59474-506-5

Summary via Quirk Books:
With more than 3,000 quotations on fashion, family, science, art, history, love, laughter, and more, this massive compilation proves once and for all that women know everything! It’s full of wit, wisdom, and inspiration from a host of legendary women—everyone from Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt to Oprah Winfrey, Donna Karan, Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, Debbie Stoller, and others. Here’s what they say about:

Fashion: “I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch.”—Gilda Radner

Men and Women: “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backward and in high heels.”—Faith Whittlesey

Careers: “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you it doesn't love you anymore.”—Lady Gaga

First published in 2007, this revised edition has been updated with a beautiful new design and an assortment of new quotations from leading luminaries—everyone from Susan Boyle to Sarah Palin. Women Know Everything! is a superb gift for thoughtful women of all ages.

Who doesn't love a good quotation book? This is a particularly great one because it covers absolutely everything! It has quotations set up in alphabetical order based on the subject manner. From A-Z it has some of the best quotes of all time from women, history couldn't even dare to ignore! As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is quoted as saying "Well-behaved women rarely make history" (page 48). Ms. Weekes has included some really fun and intelligent women in her book including Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Drew Barrymore, Margaret Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, Ani DiFranco, and Tina Fey, to name a few. There really are so many women included from all time periods and they aren't afraid of the hard issues. Some of the issues are Activism, Childbirth, Euthanasia, Gender Roles, Identity, Leadership, Mental Health, and really so much more.

In this day and age it's hard to believe that gender inequality still exists (for men & women). Books like this, aside from it's humorous title, I think are very important. I say this not because I am a feminist (and I am) but due to the little notice women are given in many history classes around the world. Many people can quote Einstein but few know anything about female scientists. For example, few people know Hedy Lamarr as anything but an actress but without her, Wifi wouldn't exist. To quote her "Films have a certain place in a certain time period. Technology is forever" (page 427) but sadly people remember her for her films not her contributions. To men this book is also important because it shows that history doesn't solely rest on their shoulders! It is everyone's responsibility to make change and turn this world into a better place for having us in it.

These insights and remarks aren't important just for changing the world or making history, they are for our own development too. These quotes make us examine how we really feel about certain issues. They invoke responses that may or may not surprise you. These quotes can also introduce you to women you have never heard about before, or sides of them you never knew existed. They may even inspire you to find your own voice and make a stand!

As for this month's theme of chick lit meets the paranormal, this is right on par. Our heroines are hilarious and memorable because of their witty one liners and cunning charm, just like our real life heroines. So take a moment out of today and look this book up. It's great for the night stand or coffee table, I personally recommend it as a graduation gift. As we all go through crazy transitions its important to see how others think, and learn from them as Eleanor Roosevelt said "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself." (page 249) I give this book a glowing five star review because it covers many hard subject manners and brings us quotations from past famous women as well as women from today.

If you want to get involved with fixing gender inequality check out activist groups and watch what Congress is doing. may be a good start as it recently has been on the world stage when Emma Watson made a speech about her support for equality. Characters Unite is another good way to get involved. There are many ways to get involved but nothing so important as watching how you treat others, men, women, other genders. "Be the change you want to see in the world" is a popular quotation and sounds pithy but it's true. You can't stand up for rights if you are inhibiting another's rights.

Note: I know many people who read this, may or may not recognize themselves under either male or female gender, you have not been excluded. This is for everyone's rights not just women and not just men, everyone deserves equal rights. Sometimes it's easier to boil this down to gender duality but do not think for one second I have forgotten you!