Beauty and the Beast

img_8589Date Read: November 26, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is not the story of Belle and the Beast that you think you know. It is, of course, a translated and somewhat adapted version of the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Although, I am under the impression that the version I read is at least close to the original. Interestingly, this is also not quite the typical original fairy tale vs. popular story scenario either.

To start, our heroine’s name is never actually mentioned, she is just referred to as Beauty by everyone because she is beautiful. She is not the only child of an eccentric inventor, but is one of 6 children of a wealthy merchant who has lost everything and moved to the country. She adjusts a bit better to the new lifestyle than her sisters, who constantly complain about being poor and bored, but also refuse to do anything to help around the house. Beauty’s father does stumble upon an enchanted castle, where he is well treated. The Beast appears only when he has decided to steal a rose from the garden to take home for Beauty. However, the Beast is not the jerk that you suspect him to be. He is, from the beginning, a generally decent guy. Beauty’s father pleads his case to return to his family to at least say his goodbyes, and leaves in the agreement that either he or one of his daughters will return. Upon learning that it was her request for a Rose that caused this problem for her father, Beauty returns to the castle despite her father’s protests.

The next bit of the story proceeds without much incident or discrepancy from the more popular version. Beauty has a generally pleasant time at the castle, her and Beast get along well from the beginning. She does become homesick, and Beast agrees to allow her to return to visit her family, after she gives her word that she will return after a week. This is where we depart from the popular version of the story, to one that is a bit less dramatic. There is no jealous suitor after Beauty, there is no mob with torches and pitchforks. Beauty returns to visit her family, and her sisters continue to spite her for her new life living in a castle. As the end of her week draws near, they convince her to stay longer– not because they have missed her, but because they hope that she will be punished by the Beast for breaking her word.

Beauty stays, but after an additional week decides that she must return to the castle. We return to the castle to find, not a dramatic battle for the love of Beauty, but a heartbroken Beast. When Beauty did not returned as promised, he was devastated by the loss of her and is in a deep depression. Feeling guilty for the pain she has caused him, Beauty apologizes and declares her love, thereby breaking the spell. Beauty lives happily ever after with the prince, and her sisters are punished for their evil and selfish ways. Although the ending is quite similar, it actually a much friendlier seeming version than the one that we all know from Disney.

Boris’s thoughts: “Day reads make nice snuggle times. I approve. 4 paws.”

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

img_8460-1Dates Read: October 30 to November 25, 2018

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

The last couple months have been a bit crazy for me, and so it has been quite awhile since I have done a normal review. This is one that I struggled with quite a bit. On the one hand, this is a beautifully written and compelling story. On the other, the subject matter is a bit… should I say, problematic? I think perhaps the author hit the nail on the head with the title.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought it sounded potentially interesting. Of course, it’s impossible to ignore that it is definitely polarizing. The main plot is the development of a relationship between a young man and a female child. When they first encounter each other, I believe they are 19 and 8 years old, respectively. The situation that Wavy is living in is quite horrific. Her father is a meth dealer, her mother was recently released from prison and is obviously mentally ill, and she ends up as the primary caregiver to her infant brother as well as her mother. Enter Kellen, a “business associate” of her father, after he crashes his motorcycle on his way up their driveway. After recovering from the accident, he takes an interest in the children at the house. This seems partially due to a perceived debt to Wavy for saving him, as well as some genuine concern for how they are living (really, the first thing he does when he goes to the house is to clean up). Things become much more complicated from here, especially when 11 year old Wavy begins referring to Kellen as her boyfriend, and wondering what she needs to do to get his attention away from other women. This all leading to an increasingly inappropriate relationship developed between Wavy and Kellen over the next several years, with the novel spanning over two decades.

In some ways, it is difficult to deny that Wavy’s relationship with Kellen is in many ways the most functional and healthy relationship that she has with anyone. Does that make this relationship okay? No. It doesn’t. However, I think most of the commentary I have seen about this book ignores what I think might be the most important piece of this: where do we draw the line? I don’t think there are many people who would try to argue that any type of sexual relationship between a 13 year old girl and a 25 year old man is normal. Kellen himself is quick to point this out, and is very clear about the fact that he will not have sex with her. However, there are certainly lines crossed into the territory of sexual impropriety and even sexual abuse (no, it does not matter that she was a willing participant– she was a child, and encouraged his sexual interest in her because she thought it was what she had to do for him to love her).

However, if we look back to the beginning of the relationship, when did it become inappropriate? I think there are some definite places where we can see crossed lines, but many of them are a bit blurred. Was Kellen bringing food to the house, and helping care for the children wrong? Should he have not gotten involved when Wavy’s father was physically abusive? Was the line crossed when he knew that Wavy had a crush on him, but continued to come to the house?¬†What about pretending to be her father for a parent teacher conference, or lying on the forms so that she could be enrolled in school when her parents would not? When Wavy told her Aunt and cousins that she had a boyfriend? Was laying next to her on a blanket in the field wrong, or was it not wrong until she tried to kiss him, or when they started to go out on dates? When Kellen realized he loved her, or told her he loved her? When he gave her a ring?

Doubling back for a second, does any of this make the abusive factor of the relationship okay? Still no. My point though, is that Kellen is not exactly a sexual predator or even a definitive pedophile (he did not have a sexual preference for children; he had no interest in other young girls, just Wavy). Perhaps this is something we should take as food for thought, consider it in how we view other people in the real world. Does it justify their actions? No, but it can help us to understand how lines are blurred for certain people in certain situations.

Boris’s thoughts: “This is complicated. Can we try some light reading next time? 2 paws.”

Gone, Part 3

Fearimg_7940

There is a bit of a jump from the end of Plague to the beginning of this one, so it allows for a bit of time for things to settle. It is a time of relative calm, with separate settlements at the Lake with Sam and Caine reigning as the self-proclaimed King of Perdido Beach. Diana separates herself from Caine at the end of Plague, and Astrid has gone off the grid. It’s good to see Astrid on her own, relying on her own intelligence to survive rather than looking for someone to “save” her. It was also nice to see life outside of the FAYZ.

This was a pretty eventful book, which did keep it interesting and moving along, although I found some of the middle sections a tad overwhelming. There was so much going on simultaneously, with shifts in perspective, which sometimes made it a bit hard to follow. I liked the new perspective gained with Little Pete as still alive, but without physical presence.

img_8184Light

Unlike most of the other books, there is a minimal time gap going into Light. The FAYZ has gone clear, giving the children of the FAYZ their first glimpse into the outside world– and, of course, the world’s first glimpse into the horror of the FAYZ. I thought this was good in putting the whole arch of the story into perspective. Obviously after being cut off from the world for over a year, the mindset of those inside has changed dramatically. Normal life in the FAYZ is far from normal. This is, of course, an obvious observation. However, five books into a series that technically takes place in the “real world,” it’s nice to get that reminder. Grant does well in imagining how this change will play out in the minds of different characters– Brianna, who is younger, takes this as an opportunity for notoriety, bragging about her heroic deeds that horrify the outside world; some of the older characters– Sam, Caine, Astrid– are a bit more realistic about the consequences they may face with an end to the FAYZ.

Overall, I would say this is a solid wrap up to the series. The “end game” unfolds bit by bit, we get to see the demise and redemption of the main characters from throughout the series. My only complaint here would be that the final battle scene was a bit anticlimactic– we certainly have a big build up to this point, but the actual battle is over within about a paragraph. The only real surprise here is the revelation of who Little Pete has chosen to battle with. I also liked that there wasn’t a simple wrap up with the FAYZ wall coming down– there is a fallout, and we get to see how this plays out for most of the main characters.

Series

As a whole, this was a well written and well developed series. There is a good mix of action and the sometimes dull reality between, which helps to build the world of the phase. My only real issue with the series as a whole, is what I addressed specifically in the first book– the content seems a bit mismatched with the Fourth Grade reading level of the books. I can certainly see children that age enjoying parts of these novels, but there are some pretty graphic descriptions of the horrors of the FAYZ, as well as some elements that I would be a difficult discussion with that age group. I don’t just mean violence (although there is plenty of that)– I mean description of intense violence including mass murder, cannibalism, people being eaten alive from the inside by parasites, and issues related to sexuality, suicide, and religion. While I would agree that all of these fit in and have a place in the story (remember, we are focused on a group of children forced into adult roles by the situation), it just seems to be aimed at a bit more mature of a group than the reading level would suggest. I would consider this more appropriately as a young adult read than a novel for the middle grades.

Date Read: June 2018 to October 2018

My rating: 4 (of 5 stars)

Boris’s thoughts: “This is all a bit too intense for me. I think I need a nap. 2 paws.”

Gone, Part 1

This summer, I started reading this young adult series, that I have heard was popular. To be honest, I did not know much about it, but had heard some positive feedback. With so many other things going on this summer, it turned into a bit of an undertaking. I decided that a single post would not be sufficient to address a whole series, but a post for each book also seems just a bit excessive. I’m trying something new here, so let’s see how this goes!

img_6422Gone

A solid start to the series. One day, in the middle of a high school class, the teacher suddenly disappears. It is soon discovered that it was not just the teacher– everyone over the age of 15 has “poofed.” They soon discover that they have been trapped in some sort of dome, deemed the FAYZ, Fallout Alley Youth Zone, due to their vicinity to the nuclear plant and lack of adults. We get an introduction to most of the main players of the FAYZ here– Sam, Astrid, Caine, Diana, Lana, Edilio, Albert, Quinn, Orc, Drake, and Little Pete. I thought this was done well, in that we get to see pieces of each of them, although it is not quite clear if or why these individuals are important. The plot was fairly straightforward Good vs. Evil, although I appreciated that it definitely showed some gray areas. I thought Grant did a good job in imagining the actions of young people in the absence of adults: most aren’t quite sure what to do, and so they indulge themselves in junk food and laziness; those that recognize that they should be doing something are still not quite sure what that is. I also thought the discovery and development of the mutant powers was done well. Several characters start to show powers, but most seem to be uncertain about them. I also liked that many of the main characters do not have any special power, but still are able to find their place.

The early parts of the book left a bit to be desired as far as writing– I wouldn’t call it bad, but it certainly was not great. I felt like this improved later in the book. I did, however, have some issues with the book in general. The story is pretty intense, and there is some fairly graphic violence. While this does not bother me on principle, I find it a bit mismatched with the Fourth Grade reading level of the book. Also not a fan of the liberal use of the word “retard” in describing Little Pete. While it does address this as problematic, I feel like it could have been toned down quite a bit without losing the intent.

Hungerimg_7718

After the final battle in Gone, we have a 3 month time jump to Hunger. The kids in the FAYZ are beginning to realize that things cannot be maintained long term. Food supplies are running short, and the mysterious “Darkness” is starting to create influence in some of the teens. Much of this book felt slower, and a bit less connected than “Gone.” While it did come together in the end, I felt like it took a long time to get there. Sam, as the main character and leader, is in an obvious slump. I can admit this could be realistic, but to me he mostly came off as whiny and annoying.

We do see some good character development in this novel, although I was not a big fan of the female characterization. The three main female characters at this point are Astrid, Diana, and Lana. Astrid and Diana are claimed to be independent and strong women, but really seem to just be sidekicks for their male counterparts. Astrid is somewhat manipulative of Sam, but this is not for some bigger ambition, it’s her survival mechanism, as she does not seem to think she can do so on her own. Diana claims to be independent and in everything for herself, but her actions are primarily as a pawn for Caine. Lana appears to be different– she is strong, she has an attitude, and she is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. However, her encounter with the Darkness in the latter half of the novel leaves her broken and weak.

There is also the introduction of a new character, Zil, whom I find to be extremely unlikable, although interesting. Zil wants to be important, but has always been someone on a lower rung of the social ladder. He wants the prestige of being a leader, but does not really want the responsibility that goes along with leadership. It appears that he is somewhat jealous of those developing powers, but also mostly wants to save face when he is “shown up” by them. He feeds into fears, and seems to bring out the worst in those around him.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

img_5193Dates Read: September 18 to October 5, 2017

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

As I often do, I am finding it difficult to put in to words what it is that made this book great to me. Alas, here I am, trying to put it into words anyway.

The general theme of the story is fairly straightforward– good versus evil. The “good guys” and the “bad guys” are laid out pretty clearly, and there’s a clear winner of the battle. However, to consider this book only in those terms would be a gross oversimplification. While it may be built around a simple frame, there is something beautiful in the words that truly build this story.

Bradbury perfectly captures all of the wonder and magic of the fall season, and his style here fits with that beautifully. I have read Bradbury before, but never noticed the beauty in his writing. The Halloween carnival is the perfect setting, and I felt there was just enough mystery and intrigue for my liking. This is horror, but not overt, in-your-face horror. It’s more of a lurking, sinister horror, where you never know what may lay around the next corner– not quite waiting for the killer to jump out and grab you, but wondering what trap may have been set for you to stumble upon.

Boris’s thoughts: “I don’t know about all this creepiness, real life is scary enough! As long as you will keep me safe, I give it 3 paws.”

The Witches of Eastwick

img_5282Date Read: October 6 to November 12, 2017

Rating: 2 (of 5) stars

Although October is my favorite month, I am going to start it off with something a bit untraditional for me: a review of a book that I did not like! Prior to reading this, I had heard many mixed opinions on Updike. Most were negative. There are a few people out there, however, who think he is a genius. His characters are so “real.”

Let me start by saying I had some fairly high hopes for this book. Three small town witches, mysterious rich man, scandal. Sounds like so much potential! Unfortunately, my high hopes did not last long. Apparently, what people mean by saying his characters are “real,” is that they are “flawed.” This is definitely true. To a fault. There is not a single character in this novel that I liked. I could not find a single slightly redeeming quality in any of the witches. They were selfish, petty, and generally horrible people. Even their “loyalty” to their coven was so easily cracked with the introduction of a man. These are supposed to be “real women?” Seems more like a parody of every negative quality that you think a woman could possess.

Then there is a power of the witches, which is linked so heavily to their sexuality. This I can understand to an extent– there is a power in a woman’s sexuality, and this would be especially poignant in the era in which the book is set. However, this seems to be the only power that the witches have. A witch whose power is inextricably linked to her sleeping with other women’s husbands? Seems pretty lame to me.

I found the plot to be a bit lackluster as well. There were a few interesting moments, but for the most part, it seemed mediocre. The witches do some questionable things, introduction of mysterious man that seems good at first but ultimately leads to discontent among them, discontent leads to revenge, leads to more questionable things, we get a little hint of some possible remorse, but then ending with indifference. Nothing in the plot of the novel seemed to matter to anyone in the end. Perhaps this is supposed to be some deeper level of social commentary, but it comes off as rather dull.

I will give the novel as a whole a few redeeming points, which is why I gave this 2 stars instead of 1. I did enjoy the style of the writing, and many of the descriptions. This is part of what helped push me through the novel, although also gave me a false hope that it would get better as I read. There was also a single scene, so to speak, that stood out to me. When Alexandra first meets Darryl, he “traps” her on the island with the incoming tide. She realizes that this was in intent, and chooses to exert some power over him by leaving anyway– standing tall and turning her back to him, even though it should have been something that embarrassed her.

Boris’s thoughts: “What kind of real witch has a dog as a familiar? Where are the cats? 1 paw.”

The Little Prince

img_6395Date Read: June 10 to June 12, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me until 2018 to read this book. I really loved this book, but I also have some mixed feelings about this book. I’m going to admit up front that I’m not sure this is going to count as a traditional book review– more of my own semi-rambling thoughts. Although, I suppose that is at least somewhat appropriate for such a well known story.

The Little Prince is a book about what a pain adults can be, written by an adult for children, but maybe actually for the adults that are reading the book to children. Did I lose anyone there? Understandable.

I suppose what I’m getting at here, is that I cannot quite decide who the intended audience actually is for this book. Certainly it is written as a children’s book, but there is so much that I feel is intended for adults. These things, of course, are good reminders. We are kind of a pain– especially from the perspective of children. We are so often wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own things to do, our own “matters of consequence.” At the same time, I think there are plenty of themes in there for children as well– responsibility, relationships, recognizing that our actions are part of what gives the things around us value. Perhaps these are themes for children that are also areas where adults may need some reminders?

Honestly, I could probably type for days without ever feeling that I have done this book justice. It is sad, but it is sweet. If you’ve debated reading it, I would suggest that you stop putting it off. It is a fast, easy read–the only reason I did not finish it in a day is laziness and silly adult responsibilities. Even if you do not love it, it is a book that I feel undoubtedly is worth the read.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think this counts as a snuggle-time book. 4 paws.”