Category Archives: B-

Beauty

Robin McKinley 1978

(This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Kind of nice.  This book reminded me a lot of Spindle’s End.  Please pardon me, but for whatever reason, some of McKinley’s books do not agree with me.  Mainly I feel that the core story of Beauty and the Beast was neglected and most of the emphasis is on the back story, which I suppose is understandable and likely what she was going for.  But personally I get more enjoyment out of my shady perception of the tale and the Disney depiction.

First off there was a severe separation between the life with the sisters at home and the (short) life with the Beast in the castle.  The transition’s drama and emotional upheavals didn’t seem real.  The magic, integral to the story, was left murky where it could’ve been explained, and there were weird bits like one finds at the end of Spindle’s End.  Because after all magic has to make sense a little bit.

Secondly, none of the details of the fantasy world really struck me.  I felt like McKinley much more focused on the blacksmith shop and the garden by the little country house than the lawns and gardens of the castle.  But that’s not altogether true; Beauty’s room was a nice enough place that saw some setting development.  Importantly, though, I was severely unaware of what the Beast was supposed to look like and struggled to visualize him the whole time, even after he transformed.  His past self, the character in the painting, was well-played though.  And I think the character with the best development is the horse.

Overall, there are points where this book shines and others where I was left grasping.  But in the end it did not leave me with a strikingly different interpretation or probing look at the tale that I always knew.  So, sorry Ms. McKinley, but I’d say stick with the real greats, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

Advertisements

The Time Machine

1957 cover art, courtesy of monikalel42 on flickr

H.G. Wells 1895

Thanks Wishbone for exposing a young mind to another great story, this, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

This book harbors more than just the era-typical beginnings of sci-fi and drawing-room stories, topics of communism, social stratification and Darwin-ism murmur in its pages.  Furthermore, the cover portrays the most striking part of the book, the end where The Time Traveller witnesses the eclipsing of a very red, cold sun.  The rest of the tale revolves around H.G. Wells’ speculations on the direction humanity was headed, namely towards a complete stratification into two separate species in 800,000 years.  The “Haves” or Eloi live  in beautiful comfort but also ignorance, the “Have-nots” or Morlocks live below ground in darkness and savagery.  The future the inventor emerged into is humanity in decay.

His book is interesting and imaginative, although at times he speaks like the fluttering of a moth, the character tiring and resolving and worrying constantly.  I liked very much his imagined mechanics of time travel, with days blurring in and out to grey.  The Epilogue holds a gem not really explored in the book but great at an ending thought as a friend of the traveler reflects on what he has witnessed and his lost friend: “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers–shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle–to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.”

And being a Doctor Who fan, I found this intriguing: “The Time Machine book appears in Doctor Who when the Doctor is reading the novel in the 1996 TV Movie. H.G. Wells’ story is the inspiration for many modern time travel science fiction, including Doctor Who.” ~ Monikalel42‘s flickr page

More on Richard Powers’ sci-fi cover art, or this fun selection of his images

Queen of Babble

by Meg Cabot

From Booklist: “Lizzie Nichols, a fashion-history major, wants nothing more than to graduate college and then fly off to London to be with her boyfriend, Andy. But at her graduation party, Lizzie finds out that she can’t graduate until she writes a senior thesis. And when she lands in London, Andy turns out to be a liar, gambler, and a fashion disaster. Lizzie, stuck in London with an unchangeable ticket home, escapes Andy via the Chunnel in hopes that her friend Shari, who is catering weddings for the summer at a French château, can help. On the train, Lizzie meets a stranger, Jean-Luc, and spills everything that has happened, only to find out that he is the son of the château’s owner. At the château, Lizzie continues to babble when she shouldn’t, ticking off Jean-Luc, shocking his mother, and upsetting a bride. Will she ever learn to keep her mouth shut?”

Warning, this book lives up to its name.  At times Lizzie’s internal babbling was so distracting I would lose the real conversation.  But I’m sure this was intended, just like in real life when we talk to ourselves and get lost in our own thoughts sometimes we look up and the scenery has changed.  One place though that irked me was when she was illusioning that Luke was a kidnapper/murder preying on innocent travelers.  It’s like, come on, even YOU should be able to see that you will end up together! Continue reading

Gathering of Pearls

by Sook Nyul Choi

I could personally relate to this short novelette about a girl entering a new world and adapting to college.  A good view of one Korean immigrant’s perspective.  Otherwise very short and moderate.  I think it is best to read the whole series:

{From an anonymous reviewer on Amazon: This book is a sequel to Year of impossible Goodbyes and Echoes of the White Giraffe. Year of Impossible Goodbyes won a Judy Lopez Award and was chosen as an American Library Association Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults. The author of these books, Sook Nyul Choi, also made a picture book titled Halmoni and the Picnic.

This book is mainly about a girl named Sookan who is a foreign exchange student from Korea. She goes to a college in New York City, and finds out how different life in the United States is from Korean life. Sookan struggles with an internal and external conflict. She doesn’t know if she should act Korean and keep Korea’s ways or give up all of that and act like Americans. She is afraid that of she becomes to American-like her family will be dissatisfied with how she has become. Sookan finds that she is becoming more American-like and scolds herself for not following the Korean ways enough. Her external conflict is that she overworks herself with all of her subjects and gets a serious lack of sleep since she studies so much. She would stay up many hours into the night and study, sleep a few hours, and wake up early to study more. It’s very interesting how she fights through all of her difficulties, so I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers interested in college and/or becoming a foreign exchange student in the future.}

The Book of Mordred

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

by Vivian Vande Velde

Before this novel the most I’d heard about King Arthur and the knights of the round table came from the 1998 movie Merlin (directed by Steve Barron and starring Sam Neill), the Whoopi Goldberg movie A Knight in Camelot, and our readings in English class, including “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

This was an interesting book and gives even more insight into the life of people and mythology from these times.  The writing style and voice is not quite to my liking, but I enjoyed the book more when I got to the part narrated by Keira. (This book is divided into three parts, each narrated by a different woman [Alayna, Nimue, and Keira] who was important in Mordred’s life.  They take us on separate adventures.)

The part with Nimue is very interesting. I did not imagine a blonde-haired witch with the habit of second-guessing herself for Merlin’s wife, and I didn’t like how Nimue got between Alayna and Mordred. I was really routing for that couple.

As the inside cover summary warns, this is a different interpretation than the usual Arthur legends.  It is a focus on the villain, Mordred, not so much a villain in this version, and actually a part of the knights of the round table.  I liked this alternative look at the dashing rogue, but I was looking for a little more depth in his reasoning and the factors that contributed to tipping points in his thinking and actions.

But things are definitely different.  From HomeschoolBuzz.com: “Lancelot is not a hero, and Mordred is simply a misunderstood, strong, charismatic, and likeable old fellow.”  And new characters are introduced.  You probably didn’t recognize the names Alayna and Keira, they’re new, and so is an evil wizard named Halbert.

(Details about the ending are hidden below, stop here to avoid plot spoilers!)

Continue reading

A Well-Timed Enchantment


A Well-Timed Enchantment
by: Vivian Vande Velde

(Amazing pen name, btw. I think I’ll name my first child Vivian Vande Velde.)
I also read her book “Dragon’s Bait” which was more geered towards an older audience, which I also liked.

Even though this book is meant for under 14 year olds I liked it. It has good ideas and a good ending, but the details aren’t as fully developped as I would have liked. (But of course if I had my way all books would be about twice as long!) The ending comes too soon.
There are some pretty silly puns laced in and the main character doesn’t grow a backbone until the end of the book.

It is very quirky and light-hearted, fast-paced, enjoyable.