Happy 2013 everyone! It's that time again where everyone discusses the best of last year and their goals for the next.
I had just as many books on my favorites list this year as in previous years, but 2012 wasn't what I'd call a stellar year in reading quantity. I read 52 books, which is low for me Here is a visual aid (click to embiggen):
Here are my excuses:
- Rampant TV watching. I know, but I can't help it. Last year Spring-Summer was all cycling and the Olympics, Fall was rediscovering Friends, and Winter involved little Holiday movie addiction I have. I'll try to get some help, but we just bought a snazzier, fancier, bigger TV recently. Wish me luck for 2013.
- Job. This is a valid reason and the biggest one - long meetings held at night really did a number on my free time and my reading routines. I was also very busy in general.
- A certain ennui brought on by excuses 1 and 2 and by all the drama that went on in the middle of 2012 (I think that took up some head space because it made book blogging less of a "happy place" it used to be for me. I'm beyond that now though).
- I still haven't figured out how to be faster at writing reviews. If anything, it takes me longer. Reviewer time management fail. It's a work in progress.
Well it's 2013, I have a brand new job. I think the big problem I had last year with work hours and personal time won't be such an issue in this one. So far it is looking good, but we shall see. And I had a really nice long break in December between jobs in which I did NOTHING. I have no regrets about that because it means I feel a lot more invigorated about reading and reviewing now.
The goals for this year are.. well maybe "general idea" rather than goals, but here's what I'm thinking:
- Keep going for 100 books read per year
- Work on SERIES reading. I have a lot of series I am very behind on but I have all the books. I think I'm going to maybe start getting on reading those things.
- Finish up those reviews I'm behind on from last year
Oh, so those reviews I need to do. This is the list below. I have a few to write and I was thinking if people gave me the puppy-dog eyes about certain books, I'll probably work on those first. Anything take your fancy? Let me know!
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire
Polymer by Sally Rogers-Davidson
Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey
Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Adorkable by Sarra Manning
Dark and Stormy Nights anthology
Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer
My copy of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm was provided to me for review from the publisher.
The Premise: The Grimm Brothers' Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), which we know today as Grimm's Fairy Tales, is a collection of 210 stories first published in 1812. Now, 200 years later, Phillip Pullman retells a subset of these - 50 fairy tales which he calls "the cream" of the collection.
My Thoughts: Philip Pullman is known for His Dark Materials and other books (like the Sally Lockhart mysteries) so I thought that maybe his retelling of Grimm's Fairy Tales would mean creative reinterpretations of the stories. I was a bit surprised, but also relieved, that these retellings are straightforward and keep the original stories intact. In his introduction, Pullman writes:
"[...] my main interest has always been in how the tales worked as stories. All I set out to do in this book was tell the best and most interesting of them, clearing out of the way anything that would prevent them from running freely. I didn't want to put them in modern settings, or produce personal interpretations or compose poetic variations on the originals; I just wanted to produce a version that was as clear as water. "
So there you have it. Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm is exactly as the subtitle to this book, A New English Version, suggests: 50 stories told in a clear manner. This makes it a little harder for me to review because these stories are true to the originals, and you can't really review a classic fairy tale - they just are. So instead the focus of this review is going to be how they were presented. To tell you the truth, I found very little to complain about.
Pullman's selections are good ones. He chose a lot of old and familiar stories, like Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel, but he also selects some that are less well-known like The Girl with No Hands and Hans-my-Hedgehog. There are also stories that I had personally never heard of at all, like The Singing Bone and The Donkey Cabbage. I also felt like there was some thought that went into where the stories were placed in the compilation, with stories that were of a similar sort of type grouped together, but not so much that you had too much of one kind of thing. For example, some of the more pious stories were near one another, at least enough for me to see a theme, but they weren't all in the same place, and The Juniper Tree was close enough to Snow White for me to notice the similarity of children with lips as red as blood and skin as white as snow, even if Pullman doesn't really mention the link.
At the end of each of the stories, Pullman devotes a couple of paragraphs for notes and observations. This is probably my favorite thing about the collection. When I was growing up, I remember going to the library and reading a lot of fairy tales, but I approached them as a reader. Pullman does this too, commenting on whether a story works and his take on holes in the stories (like characters that were mentioned once and then we never find out what happened to them). I could completely relate to this, and had the same reaction to many of the things Pullman points out (it feels very good to be on the same page as Philip Pullman). But Pullman also approaches the stories from a more scholarly standpoint. From his notes, I could gather that he read the original editions of the Grimm books, as well as later ones, commenting on the translation of the German into English, and how a mother in an earlier version became a step-mother in a later one. He also prefaces each note with the ATU number of each of the stories, the source, and a list of similar stories. It was fascinating to learn some tidbits about these stories through those notes, and the people who passed these stories along to the Grimm's. I was also a little fascinated by the glimpse of a system for cataloging these fairy tales (I'd never heard of ATU types before this).
Because of the shortness of the stories, reading is hardly a chore. Anytime I sat down with Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm I would gulp down several stories. This book is perfect for picking up whenever the mood strikes to sink into a story, knowing that you can also set it aside quickly after a story or two.
Here are some of the highlights for me in this collection:
The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage - A trio of unlikely friends live harmoniously together until one day the seed for discord is planted in their midst. This was equally hilarious (in most part due to the sausage) and horrifying. I greatly enjoyed Pullman's notes where he informs the reader that the sausage was a bratwurst.
The Girl with No Hands - One of the stories where piety is rewarded, a miller makes a deal with the Devil where he signs away his daughter in the bargain. Because his daughter is so Good she escapes the trap and lives happily ever after. My reaction to this story was that it is ridiculous. Pullman calls it "disgusting", and his notes say, "The most repellent aspect is the cowardice of the miller, which goes quite unpunished. The tone of never-shaken piety is nauseating, and the restoration of the poor woman's hands simply preposterous." I agree. The mental image of a despondent girl eating fruit with no hands haunts me somewhat.
Strong Hans - This story starts off telling the tale of a woman and her son (Hans) being kidnapped by bandits, but then ends up being the tale of Hans, who grows up strong, sets out to have adventures and rescues a princess. It struck me as one of those odd stories that begins one way, starts to look like something else, then ends up a third thing entirely. Basically, I agreed with Pullman that this story was all over the place. Things were introduced but then never utilized, which feels typical of fairy tales, but even more so here.
The Juniper Tree - This is a lyrical story about an evil step-mother who does a macabre deed but in return is driven to the point of madness as she gets her just desserts. This story struck me as being particularly well-written, and because of this it was one of my favorites. Pullman notes that it was sent to the Grimm brothers by Philip Otto Runge. I loved The Fisherman and his Wife, which was also sent in by Runge and has a similar well-put-together story style. Again I found myself nodding along with Pullman's notes where he says, "For beauty, for horror, for perfection of form, this story has no equal."
The Three Snake Leaves - This one I liked for its weirdness. It has a princess who has a "strange obsession" - that if she dies before her husband, he must be willing to be buried alive with her. Except this princess turns out not to be as loyal as she wants her husband to be. This was a new-to-me story, and delightfully bizarre. Pullman makes an interesting observation about the number of pieces a snake is cut into in this story that I would have missed without his note.
Overall: This feels like the perfect gift book for someone who likes fairy tales. It is a well-curated subset of the Grimm's stories, and the notes by Pullman at the end of each adds just the right amount of perspective. This felt like it would work equally well as a reference book for someone who collects fairy tales, or as an introduction to folk tales for a young reader. I enjoyed this collection a lot. It's definitely going onto my keeper shelf.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
Charlotte's Library - "Reading Pullman's retellings was like coming home to find the walls of my house repainted--fresh and bright and like new again, with the added bonus of some new rooms that I'd never been in before"
The Book Smugglers - 8 (truly excellent)
Philip Pullman talks about Grimm Fairy Tales at Anglia Ruskin University @ Things Mean A Lot
Phillip Pullman reads The Magicians of Bremen
In case you wondered if I was a giant dork, but you weren't ENTIRELY sure, I reveal the proof in my guest post over at Alyssa's blog, Books Take You Places, with a post entirely devoted to my November-to-December addiction: made-for-TV Christmas movies. They are my ultimate in guilty (but not really that guilty) pleasures.
My post is devoted to 10 holiday movies I've seen so far. Let it be said that I could have easily written about 10 more. Very easily. Something about this time of year makes me positively gleeful about my TV watching options and what's going to be on on Lifetime, ABC Family, and the Hallmark Channel.
There was a little YAckers
Secret Santa this year and I just got my package today. I was thrilled
by the thoughtful packaging - double bubblewrap and individually wrapped
presents. This was so much fun to open!
- Scottish Mulled Wine soap (smells AMAZING)
- Adorkable by Sarra Manning (this made me very happy!)
- CROSS-STITCH pattern of Richard Armitage!!! I could make a little pillow with his face on it. Why hello, best thing ever.
- An adorable Hello Kitty card.
Thanks so much Sya!
It's almost the end of another year, but this means that it is also time for another Smugglivus celebration over at The Book Smugglers. I am guest posting again with my top five reads of 2012 and my most highly anticipated of 2013. Please head on over to check out my picks. On the list are: one urban fantasy, one romantic comedy, and three young adult books (historical, contemporary Gothic, and fantasy). :)
The Premise: This is the story of young dwarf Jepp, who grew up in Astraveld, a crossroads between the Spanish Netherlands and the Protestant North. Loved by his mother, who runs a bustling inn, Jepp is treated like a prince and is fiercely protected. It is a good life, but when he is fifteen years old, a man comes by the inn, offering to bring Jepp to the court of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and her husband, Archduke Albert of Austria. Eager to see the world beyond the narrow one he knows, Jepp agrees. He has always held a dream of one day meeting his father and he believes that the man offering to take him away is part of his fate. This begins Jepp's journey away from childhood and all its innocence and into the big world, where perhaps he can
My Thoughts: Before reading Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, I didn't really know what this book was about or what category of young adult it belonged to. I actually thought Jepp was YA fantasy at first because it begins at a inn at a crossroads (familiar Fantasy territory). I soon figured out that I was reading historical fiction when Jepp says he lives in the Spanish Netherlands and mentions the Infanta Isabella, its sovereign from 1598 to 1621. There's an author's note at the end of the book that explains the real life people and events that inspired Jepp, (which is fascinating and worth reading), and basically Jepp did exist, but little is known about his life. Marsh took the question of who Jepp was and extrapolated that into this story. Jepp is divided into three "Books", and each "Book" seems to correspond to a change in scenery and a new direction in Jepp's life.
Book I begins while Jepp still lives in his mother's domain, but not for long. A man named Don Diego comes to the inn and invites him to he court of the Infanta Isabella, and that's where Jepp stays for this part of the story. Jepp is still rather innocent and unsure of himself so he is mostly an observer, doing what he is bid by the others around him. We get Jepp's impressions of the specially designed rooms for the court dwarfs, the gardens where they arranged themselves in a tableau for the Infanta's pleasure, and the performances where he has to play the fool for a few laughs. As for the people at court, Jepp focus is narrow: Don Diego; the other dwarfs, Sebastian, Lia, and Maria; the court jester Pim, who arranges the entertainment; and Hendrika, the mistress who oversees them. These people are the ones he interacts with most, and everyone else is hazy and not so well-defined.
Despite Jepp's faithful descriptions, there's the sense that there's a certain naivety in what Jepp observes. He sees things that trouble him, but does not fully comprehend them until later. He dislikes his treatment at the palace, but doesn't immediately see the same misery in others. His youth is part of the story, but I found some of this innocent observation and floating along very passive. Basically, Jepp wasn't really doing anything, and this didn't make him easy for me to connect to. The only goal he seemed to have was to one day find out the identity of his father, but there seems no way of doing so away from his mother, and so I felt like there wasn't much of a direction to the story. Sometimes there are other things that saves a story for me in this situation, like a romance I could sink my teeth into, but even here, Jepp disappoints. He thinks he's in love, but he barely knows the girl. When things do finally pick up, it is instigated by a situation someone else is in, and Jepp is pulled into it by his sweet nature and wanting to help. Of course this changes his life, and propels his fate along in a way he doesn't expect.
There's some drama as the story segues into Book II, but the story stalls for a second time as Jepp repeats what he's done before: letting things happen to him, and observing rather than doing. The eccentricities of his surroundings is where the entertainment lies, not in Jepp's own actions. Of course Jepp, Who Defied the Stars gets better - Jepp does start to take his fate into his own hands, if you will, and it's nice that when I think back now, I see how Book I is reflected in Book II, but with an older and wiser Jepp, one who begins to take part in his own life - but reading was a slow process (I'm sorry to report that I kept putting the book down and sighing for at least the first half). The last third of the book (Book III) ended up being the best third for me, but it takes some patience to get there. The change in Jepp from passive to active removes a lot of the issues I had with reading, and with his relationships with other characters.
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars essentially becomes a story about fate versus free will, but this isn't a clear message for me until the author's notes at the end. I liked Marsh's own personal relationship with this theme that she described in the addendum, but I'm not sure if the idea that Jepp was fighting against some fate was really something I picked up on while reading this story. I think the history itself was a little bit more interesting. Despite being set in the past, this story does a good job of keeping the focus on Jepp's personal experiences rather than on History. However, Jepp's voice has a formality to it that is a deliberate reflection of the time (Marsh notes she was careful to choose words in use before 1600 when writing Jepp), and the language contributed to feeling like I couldn't comfortably sink into the story.
Overall: I have a sort of "middle ground" reaction to Jepp. I wasn't wowed while I was reading it, and Jepp's passivity and the formality of his narration made me feel impatient with the story. On the other hand, I can see that these were deliberate choices in the writing because of the theme of "fate versus free will" and because of the time period that Jepp is set. I think my visceral response usually determines how I feel about a story and for much of this book, I felt like I was plodding along, but when I think about it analytically, it comes off much better. So: this may be more for the "thinkers" than it is for the "feelers".
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
The Book Smugglers - 7 (Very Good)
The Book Harbinger - positive ("it wasn’t only the engaging history but also the character of Jepp himself which drew me in from the start.")
Word for Teens - DNF
Book Nut - "Overall, it's a bit uneven" but also, "found it to be a wonderful bit of historical fiction"
(Also may I say, this book was BEAUTIFULLY designed? I loved how the inner pages were NAVY with pretty endpages and chapter headings, and the cover had shiny bits on a matte background, silver font, and those stars. Gorgeous.)
Fairytales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version (out since November 12th) is an enjoyable, straight retelling of 50 fairytales. There will be a review from me soon. In the meantime, the publisher has kindly offered a copy for one of the readers of this blog.
Here's how to enter:
- Fill out this google form with your name and an email address (please make it one you check often)
- Enter by Sunday, November 25th.
- This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only
The Premise: Leigh Nolan is a freshman psychology major at Stiles College - a progressive school where students aren't graded and are expected to take charge of their own education. In a small school like Stiles, this means quite a few over achievers, "freaking out about their entire academic career" a couple of months into their first year. It's a trying time, but on top of trying to decide on a topic for her senior thesis, mentoring cynical middle school students, and dealing with other competitive psych majors, Leigh is also questioning her relationship with Andrew, her high school boyfriend and fellow Stiles underclassman. Lately their relationship has lost it's luster, and Leigh is confused by how much she's noticing Nathan, Andrew's roommate who never seems happy to be around her.
My Thoughts: Well this was as cute a story as I was hoping for. I think it has the right amount of the expected love story, but it's balanced by writing that gives Leigh a faceted and likable character. Her psychology major fits nicely with delving into her psyche. Leigh is constantly self-evaluating and acknowledges her own quirks, which include (but are not limited to): refusing to buy a parking pass, waiting until the last minute with her assignments, and a fear of being stranded in the desert. To add to the theme, each chapter begins with a psychological term and its definition, which foreshadows what's to come.
Ask her some psychology related thing, and Leigh can dredge up what she learned in AP Psychology and class. But for all her book smarts, Leigh is a bit naive. She still has NO clue that her relationship with her boyfriend is in trouble. When you forget a date, and so does he, it doesn't really say you're feverishly in love. Leigh's roommate (and best friend) Ami isn't enthusiastic about Andrew, but Leigh defends him:
"Ami doesn't have the benefit of all these great memories, so she continues to think that he doesn't treat me as well as I deserve. Which, in a way, is totally loyal and cool of her-- but completely unfounded. Well, mostly. If anything, his main problem is just that he's too smart. He has so much going on in his brain at any given moment that it's no wonder he's a little absentminded sometimes."
Leigh rationalizes Andrew's non-attentiveness and the distancing that has happened between them since school started. To be honest, from Leigh's workload, I can understand why it's easy for her to do so. She's quite busy with college herself. Her day-to-day life involves going to class, meeting with her academic adviser, long talks with her roommate, and waiting till the last minute to do her work. (As an aside, Psych Major Syndrome captures the college experience really well -- when Leigh stays up till 5am writing a 20-page essay, the details of falling asleep and waking up with barely enough time to hand it in, felt eerily familiar). But schoolwork only goes so far as an excuse, and eventually Leigh has to face what's really going on between herself and Andrew.
In the meantime, all that schoolwork and the social life of college means that Leigh has a pretty full life, and it's not all about her romantic relationships in this book. The interactions between Leigh and Ami, the other psychology students, her mentee, and Nathan are all natural extensions of her life and nothing ever feels forced about them. Even if I could predict exactly where the story was going to go, Psych Major Syndrome adds enough humor and color to make the predictability pleasant and comforting instead of dull. Also (and here I go back to the romance), Leigh's happy ending is one of the sweetest ones I've read in a while. I ended up really liking the guy she is paired with, even if I thought he was a bit of a fantasy boy. I can overlook how Leigh acted before she figured out what she wanted because of how well this guy suited her - it all ended on just the right note.
Overall: A sweet and fast comfort read. It has a good balance between an expected plot and a unique approach to that plot. Leigh is an endearing narrator, and I enjoyed this reminder of college life.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
One More Page - " a very entertaining contemporary YA read, even if there’s really nothing surprising about it"
A Room With Books - "Psych Major Syndrome was an okay read. Leigh was much too blind to everything around her for me really connect."