13 December 2013

Review of The Three Little Pigs Get an Extreme Home Makeover & other Modern Mash-ups by Caprice Hokstad

The Three Little Pigs Get an Extreme Home Makeover & other Modern Mash-upsThe Three Little Pigs Get an Extreme Home Makeover & other Modern Mash-ups by Caprice Hokstad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of this book as the author is a friend of mine.

This book is actually a collection of short stories—modernized rewrites of classic fairy tales. They include “The Three Little Pigs Get an Extreme Home Makeover”(The Three Little Pigs), “The Plaid Pipers of Hamelin Elementary”(The Pied Piper), “The Flaxen-Haired Freeloader”(Goldilocks), “Don’t Eat the House!”(Hansel and Gretel), “Jack and the Genetically Modified Beanstalk”(Jack and the Beanstalk), and “Always a Bad Hair Day”(Rapunzel).

The little pigs on reality tv is clever and funny, and I really liked the “wee wee wee, all the way home” nod to the other famous little piggies. Also, the ending was very cute. This story was very well-done.

The lecture from the writer to the reader at the beginning of the Goldilocks story bored and annoyed me. I understand that it is aimed at children, but the best children’s books are also enjoyed by adults (eg: The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, etc). However the “bear-germs” made me smile. I did have to wonder why Mama Bear and Papa Bear sleep in separate beds, and I’m sure there are some precocious children who would ask that question. And then, the teaser at the end for the next story annoyed me.

“Don’t Eat the House!” was a decent retelling of Hansel and Gretel with some important lessons for children. However, the witch being blind surprised me as it wasn’t mentioned before it was suddenly a major plot point.

Jack made me laugh. It was a very good retelling of the story, even though the giant was left out. The plot here had no need for silliness like giants and magic. Really. It didn’t.

The narrative commentary on Gothel’s stupidity in dealing with Rapunzel, and on Rapunzel’s annoyance with her hair is very clever. It made me smile several times. I used to have long, curly hair, and I completely agree that long hair is annoying. I can only imagine the difficulties Rapunzel would have with hair long enough to be a ladder.

The last story about the Pipers was way too short. Nothing really happened. I was left feeling cheated.

Over all, this was a good and clever retelling of the classic tales. I kind of wanted more, but I usually do.

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11 December 2013

Review of The City of Bones Movie

WARNING: There be spoilers ahead!
This review contains major spoilers for both the book and the movie. You have been warned.

The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is a pretty good book. It isn’t as good as the Harry Potter series, but it’s better than Twilight. I really liked how Clare took some of the basic ideas from the original Star Wars trilogy, and gave them a few twists. I enjoyed the read.

The movie, of course, is a whole different animal. Now, I know that movies have to be different, but they don’t have to be so different, do they? I mean, it's not even the same story anymore. The basic plot points are there, but it's barely recognizable.

Let’s start with appearances, and get that out of the way. In the book, Clary has bright flame-red hair. In the movie, she has dark auburn hair. Okay, fine. That’s close-ish. But then there’s Jace. In the book, he is described as angelic in appearance. He looks like a Renaissance painting of an angel. The actor they hired to play him in the movie looks nothing like this. He’s not even very handsome, in my opinion. Maybe other viewers would disagree with me, but I was disappointed. At least his hair is the right colour, though.

That's your daughter, creep.
Jace and Valentine are both blond in the book, but Valentine has dark hair in the movie. And he has dreads or braids or something weird in the movie. While Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is a great actor, and could easily be Valentine, the script didn't allow him to do the character justice. The Valentine of the book is more like Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter series, while the Valentine of the movie is like a cross between Sirius Black and Barty Crouch Jr, with a hefty dash of Sid Vicious thrown in for good measure. He doesn’t just look different; he’s a completely different character.

Now, we get into the story. In the book, when the Ravener demon attacks Clary in her apartment, she kills it by stuffing Jace’s Sensor down its throat. When Jace arrives, he finds Clary unconscious with the demon’s dead body on top of her. In the movie, Clary doesn’t have Jace’s Sensor, and cannot defeat the demon. She is about to be killed when Jace arrives and stabs it with his seraph blade, killing it and saving her. It’s as if the director said, “She’s a girl! She can’t kill a demon. She needs a man to save her.” Ugh. Oh, and she faints at least twice in the movie. You know, because she’s a girl and girls faint, right? I’m rolling my eyes so hard right now.

In the book, there is a party in Magnus Bane’s apartment where Simon gets turned into a rat and some vampires accidentally take him home, thinking he’s one of their pets or something (yes, they have pet rats). In the movie, Simon never gets turned into a rat, and there is no explanation given why the vampires take him. Viewers who haven’t read the book must be very confused—or they just brush it off as vampires wanting him for some vampiric reason. Who knows?

This is where the movie decides to spoil the second book, which I hadn’t read when I watched it. Simon wakes up after his rescue from the vampires and he no longer needs his glasses. I was reminded strongly of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in the first Spider-Man movie. Then Clary finds two little holes on Simon’s shoulder that are just the right size and spacing to have been made by vampire fangs. In the first book, no one suspects that Simon might have been bitten. It isn’t even mentioned in passing. I’m currently reading the second book, and it still hasn’t been mentioned, though it probably will come up soon. Thanks a lot, movie makers.

In the book, Clary doesn’t find out that Valentine is her father and Jace is her brother until nearly the very end. In the movie, Valentine tells her he is her father the first time they meet—and it’s rather anti-climactic too. He gets in her face and says, “You’re my daughter.” She doesn’t want to believe him, but it’s no Darth Vader moment.

I loved Luke in both the book and the movie, though the movie didn’t give him enough screentime. The movie also didn’t really make it clear that he used to be a Shadowhunter and his real name is Lucian Graymark. He’s almost a mixture of Harry Potter’s Severus Snape and Remus Lupin, combining the best traits of the two. He was by far my favourite character in the movie. I think he’s the one thing the movie actually got right.

As a rule, the book is usually better than the movie. But sometimes, the movie is pretty good, as in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. However, this is not one of those cases. This movie is a pretty sad attempt at putting this story onscreen. The book is better.

06 December 2013

Review of Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley

Stones of RemembranceStones of Remembrance by Julie Presley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ll start by saying that I don’t usually read books that have no fantasy or sci-fi elements to them, but I picked this one up because I used to know the author years ago when we were teenagers, and it’s her first novel, and I believe in supporting new authors.

There is a lot to like in this book. I really wanted to love it; I really wish I could rave about it. Unfortunately, it falls prey to first novel syndrome. A good editor could make this book shine, but right now it’s a bit of a mess.

Allaya (or Ally) is trying to recover after the death of her sister, who was also her best friend. As my sister is also my best friend, I found this hard to read, but very real. I can only imagine what it would be like to lose her, but it might be a lot like when Ally says it was “torture trying to function like a normal person.”

Finnegan (or Finn) is running from God. This bothers me. I dated a guy who was running from God, and it was awful. He said I was his “angel” and I felt like I was the only reason he wanted to have anything to do with God. It was not a healthy relationship. The Bible says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NKJV) and I learned first-hand what this means: if a team of two are yoked—or harnessed—together, but pulling in opposing directions, nothing gets done and everybody is frustrated and exhausted.

You may have heard the maxim, “Show; don’t tell.” It’s oft misunderstood and there is much argument over it. Many a new writer either doesn’t know how to show, or simply gives up. However, the point is to pull the reader in, and telling feels distant. Showing makes the reader feel. I didn’t feel much in Stones of Remembrance. Julie Presley tells us what her characters are feeling rather than showing it through actions and body language. After reading “Ally was sad” a few times, I don’t care anymore. I want to feel her grief.

Omniscience is great—if you’re a god. Harder to pull off in a novel. Experienced authors get around this by writing each chapter from a different character’s point of view. This works well for a really long story where not everything can be shown from one character’s POV. Even though Stones of Remembrance isn’t epic-length, if Julie Presley wrote each chapter from either Ally’s or Finn’s POV, this would have worked quite well. She didn’t. The POV switches within a chapter—often, within a scene—sometimes, within a sentence. This doesn’t work. At all. It’s called head-jumping, and it’s very confusing for the reader. Who’s doing what now?

Awkward wording is hard to put a finger on, but there’s a flow to well-written prose that I just didn’t feel here. Also, consistency is key. When Ally makes coffee for Finn, he shouldn’t be sipping decaf, then taking a drink of tea minutes later. Where did he get the tea? She made coffee. Proofreading is important, kids.

Let’s talk dialogue tags for a minute. Some people like the tried and true “said.” Some people think that’s boring, and opt for the more colourful “yelled,” “screeched,” “murmured,” etc. Whatever floats your boat, but please don’t use words that aren’t dialogue tags in place of dialogue tags. Ally and Finn “resign” and “blush” their lines of dialogue. How on earth do you “blush” a sentence? You can’t. Not in English. This could easily be fixed by making it into two separate sentences: “Hi,” she blushed becomes “Hi.” She blushed. Remember, dialogue tags are not always needed.

And the voice of God? While I do believe that He can communicate in many ways, and a voice in my head—or even an audible voice—is definitely within His abilities, I don’t think He does that very often. In this novel, He does it all the time, and I don’t see that as very realistic, especially since Finn doesn’t want to hear Him. God doesn’t force people to hear His voice.

The ending feels rushed and way too easy to me. It’s not exactly a spoiler to tell you that they get married, right? It is a romance novel, after all. While their wedding vows made me smile, the wedding itself came way too quickly for my tastes. Maybe it’s just me. After all, I knew my husband for a few years before we even started dating, and then we were engaged for a year and a half before we got married. Ally and Finn may have been childhood friends, but they haven’t seen each other for years at the beginning of this novel, and they’ve changed a lot in that time. They need more time to get to know each other again, and they don’t get that time. I don’t see this as a very good basis for a relationship.

I really wish I could recommend this book, but I just can’t. Unless you really don’t care about anything I just laid out, and you just want a feel-good read, this is not the book for you. It is a feel-good read, though; no doubt about that. I just wanted more.

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