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Book Reviews: Mirror Mirror, The Looking Glass Wars

August 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Today I’m bringing you a double review, two retellings of fairy tales.

The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor; Young Adult, 400 pages

The Looking Glass Wars is a retelling of Lewis Caroll’s Alice stories, with the premise that Lewis Caroll was inspired by the real Princess Alyss Heart, but got everything wrong, including the spelling of her name. Princess Alyss of Wonderland is celebrating her 7th birthday when her evil Aunt Redd invades Wonderland, murdering Alyss’ parents. Alyss escapes to England, where she is adopted by the Liddell family. As she grows up, her memories of Wonderland begin to fade…but the people of Wonderland haven’t forgotten about her, and need her now more than ever.

Don’t you hate books that have such an awesome premise, but then completely fail in the execution? That’s exactly how I felt after I put this one down. The book started out great, and I was really excited to see how Beddor would reinvent and twist the classic tale. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really go anywhere.

I do have to give Beddor credit for coming at this story from a completely unique direction. The best kind of retelling keeps many elements of the original story (enough to make you excited when you spot them) but changes them enough so that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Whether you’ve read Lewis Caroll’s stories or just seen Disney ‘s version, you’ll recognize the inspiration behind most of the characters (Hatter Madigan, for example) but will be excited to see how Beddor uses and reinvents them here. All of the characters had a lot of potential, but they were never fully developed. Alyss was likable enough, but even at the end I didn’t know very much about her, or any of the other characters really. This ambiguity made it hard for me to understand where the character’s were coming from.

While I applaud Beddor’s approach, I really feel like he could’ve gone further with it all. I’m trying to avoid the “If I had written this…” trap, but it all felt very cheesy at times, when it didn’t need to be. The book had some great sci-fi elements (particularly with the description of the card soldiers [see the cover above]), and I think the book could’ve been stronger by embracing its science fiction tendencies. Unfortunately, these few elements were bogged down by mind numbingly boring battle sequences and too many “Off with their head”‘s.

The story starts off slow, and it seems like things are going to pick up when Alyss is transported to England, but like all things in the book that were almost great, these scenes are skipped over as the story suddenly leaps ahead in time.

In summary, The Looking Glass Wars was not necessarily bad, but it was slow-moving, boring, and unmemorable, and I will not be reading any more in this series.

Rating:2 / 5

Mirror Mirror, by Gregory Maguire

Mirror Mirror, by Gregory Maguire; Fiction, 304 pages

Mirror Mirror is a retelling of the classic fairy-tale, Snow White. Bianca lives a quiet life with her father, Don Vincente, on their farm in the hills of Tuscany, until the wicked Cesare Borgia and his sister, the vain Lucrezia, arrive. The siblings send Vincente on a seemingly-unachievable quest, leaving Bianca to be “cared for” by Lucrezia. Driven by jealousy, Lucrezia plots Bianca’s demise.

First, a little background on my history with this author: When Wicked, the author’s most popular work to date, was first released, my high school librarian raved about it, and suggested I read it. I couldn’t even make it through the first third of the book (and it’s unusual for me to not finish a book that I’ve started, no matter how much I hate it). I love nothing more than a good retelling of a classic fairy-tale, so I bought Mirror Mirror because of its intriguing premise, and I was hoping it would help me figure out why every one was so crazy for Gregory Maguire.

Unfortunately, it fell completely flat for me. I had to really force myself to finish this one without skimming. The story didn’t go anywhere surprising. The plot was nearly identical to that of the classic story, only differing in the minor details, particularly by casting historical figures as the villains. This led to a lot of uninteresting background that felt more like filler than worthwhile additions to the plot. Unlikable heroes, a very weird portrayal of the seven dwarfs…I could go on and on.

If you’re a fan of Wicked or any of the author’s other works, you might like it. However, if you’ve never read any of Maguire’s works, I suggest you try out Wicked to see if its your cup of tea before moving on to this one.

Rating:1 / 5

If you’ve read either of these books, please let me know what you thought of them!

Book Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

August 12, 2008 1 comment

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson; Fiction, 256 pages

Middle-aged and dowdy, Miss Pettigrew is an out-of-work governess who arrives one morning at the glamorous Miss LaFosse’s apartment, hoping to find a job. After helping Miss LaFosse defuse a sticky situation, she is swept into the exciting world of the rich and sophisticated. What follows is a delightful Cinderella tale of sorts, in which Miss Pettigrew is transformed into a more elegant and (in her eyes) scandalous version of herself.

It is with Miss Pettigrew’s character that the book really shines. Although she goes through many changes, the strength of her character never wavers. You just can’t help but like her, and you’ll root for her all the way to the very satisfying ending. The novel’s dialogue is just as delightful, particularly the witty exchanges between Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse’s various boyfriends. This, combined with a charming cast of characters, makes the novel at times feel very Wodehouse

Recently adapted into a movie, I saw the trailer (which looked great) before I’d ever heard about the book. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the charming cover (above left) caught my eye one day while I was browsing through the bookstore, so I thought I’d try it out.

Miss Pettigrew is not mind-blowing in any way, and lacks real conflict. It’s completely fluffy. Sometimes fluffy is good, though, and if you’re looking for a quick, fun read to lift your spirits, you’ll find it here.

As a side note, this edition also includes some lovely illustrations, which I think is always a treat in a work that’s not meant for children.

Miss Pettigrew is a quick, enjoyable, but not particularly complex, read.

Update: I finally managed to see the film version, and I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read the book yet.

If you’ve read this book, I’m curious to know what you think! Please let me know in the comments, or link to your own review.

Review: The Luxe

August 10, 2008 1 comment

The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen; Young Adult, 433 pages

tl;dr: Although its nothing new, The Luxe is still an enjoyable summer read.

I was initially drawn to ‘The Luxe’ by its unusual and striking cover art. Unfortunately, there is nothing inside the book that I haven’t seen before. ‘The Luxe’ gave me exactly what I’d expect from books in this genre. If you’re a fan of these types of books (and oh boy there are a lot of them), you will not be disappointed by it. Just don’t expect anything more than Gossip Girl with ball gowns. In fact, almost every character has their Gossip Girl equivalent (and with the blessing of Gossip Girl creator/”writer” Cecily von Ziegesar on the back cover, I’m hardly surprised). There’s the spiteful brunette Blair-knockoff Phoebe—though here Phoebe has sharper claws, and absolutely no redeeming qualities. There’s blond goddess Elizabeth, living a seemingly perfect life, but who has a somewhat scandalous side that is in such contrast to her public personality, it makes you wonder sometimes if, and especially how, they’re really the same person.

As for the ending: you’ll probably see it coming from the less-than-subtle opening chapter, which tries to create intrigue by beginning with the end, Elizabeth’s funeral, but fails rather miserably. The only intrigue created is who is going to pair up with who, but after everyone gets paired up, the last 100 pages of the book become a chore to get through (I found myself skimming).

Bottom Line: Every time I pick up one of these books, I hope for it to be a little something more than just a run-of-the-mill romance series / Gossip Girl knock-off. Something a little smarter. Unfortunately I did not find that in The Luxe. It is however, a fun summer read if you’re a fan of the Gossip Girl-style series.

If you’ve read this book, I’m curious to know what you think: Did you find the book as predictable as I did?

Book Review: Breaking Dawn

August 7, 2008 6 comments

Note: Spoilers ahead.

tl;dr: Thumbs Down. Although there were some successful moments, it was a very disappointing end to the Twilight series.

Breaking Dawn, by Stephanie Meyer

So. I finally finished ‘Breaking Dawn’.

It was very unexpected. So unexpected, so left field, that I’m honestly not even sure what to think. Before its release, I thought I had mentally prepared myself for every possible scenario that I could imagine Stephenie Meyer writing (Team Edward / Team Jacob / Jacob dies…etc. etc.) But this was so unexpected and…weird.

Unrealistic

The biggest problem I had with ‘Breaking Dawn’ is that it was too saccharine. The Twilight series as a whole has been criticized for this from the beginning, with many saying that the romance between Bella and Edward was too good to be true. However, I never saw it that way. I always felt that, in the end, no matter which path Bella chose, she would have to experience loss. In my mind, being with Edward, for example, would mean that Bella would have to give up her humanity, give up her family and the possibility of having children, and break Jacob’s heart.

‘Breaking Dawn’ took an unexpected approach, however, and ended with everyone happy. But things just don’t work like that in real life. Although the Twilight series is a fantasy, one of its strongest points was Bella’s realization that being with Edward ultimately would mean giving up a lot. Having Jacob imprint on Renesmee let Bella off the hook, and was a huge cop out on Stephenie Meyer’s part. Bella needed to break Jacob’s heart. Only with loss can we truly appreciate the things that we gain, but having Bella gain everything and lose nothing made ‘Breaking Dawn’ as shallow as its predecessors were accused of being.

Even Bella’s initial experience as a vampire was too easy. She did go through a lot of pain during the initial transformation, but afterward…where was the struggle that Edward had told Bella she would experience? Everything was just too easy for Bella, particularly her unusual ability to resist human blood.

Becoming a Vampire

I’m really glad that Bella became a vampire. It’s one of the things that I wanted to see happen in this book. However, once it did happen, I was a bit..underwhelmed. Bella just didn’t seem like herself; her clumsiness was gone, her innocence was gone…basically, all the quirks that made Bella so likable, arguably her most admirable traits, had disappeared from her character. Sure, becoming a vampire is supposed to be a huge transformation, but I don’t think it should have made Bella unrecognizable. Bella has always been so clumsy, someone who needed protecting…why was she suddenly very strong? Crazier things happened in this novel…I don’t think it would’ve been outside the realm of possibility for vampire Bella to be a little clumsy.

Renesmee

The strangest and most unexpected situation was the unusual twist of Bella and Edward having a half-vampire half-human child. I did not like the Renesmee storyline at all. Bella marrying Edward was a big enough step already, but having Renesmee was just too much. To me, the only reason Renesmee was necessary to the story was to easily resolve the Bella-Jacob situation, and it was convenient that she could also be at the center of the Volturi conflict, which shaped the last part of the novel. A novel’s elements shouldn’t seem like they were created out of convenience. Throughout the series, It was never suggested that Bella could have a child with Edward. Maybe if it had been brought up as a possibility before it wouldn’t have seemed so out of place. I felt like Stephanie was saying “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you this in all the previous novels, but you’re going to have to accept it anyway because its going to shape the entire book.”

Too Mature

I also have a big problem with Breaking Dawn not being YA. You can try to play it down as much as you want, but the fact of the matter is that Breaking Dawn was a very mature book compared to the rest of the series. While it was great to see the characters grow up, Bella is still 18. The unnecessary elements make it feel very disjoint from the other three in the series, especially the pregnancy, which was too dark and gory (Note: especially compared to the vampire stuff, which probably would’ve been more interesting had it been more violent, but in actuality was unusually tame).

Too Long

The book also felt too long, I think because of too many plot points. There were just too many ideas here. At times I felt as if Meyer didn’t want to say goodbye to her characters, and was keeping them around to tell the story longer than was needed. I think the Jacob section of the book, in particular, could’ve been shortened. As painful as it was to watch Bella go through the pregnancy–imagine her narrating it—and as much as I love Jacob, I can’t say that I was exactly happy spending so much time from his perspective. However, other things that I felt would be a HUGE conflict in this book, were quickly resolved: the vampire-werewolf treaty situation was resolved so quickly, I almost missed it.

—–

I just don’t really understand what Stephenie Meyer was thinking, why she decided to come out with a book so controversial and from such an unusual direction. The other three books in this series had a certain tone and rhythm , but the fourth seems very out of place next to the other books.

This is a review that I honestly didn’t want to write. I feel really disappointed. As much as I love the series, and as much as I really wanted to love this book, I just couldn’t. And unfortunately, as much as I tried to prevent it, ‘Breaking Dawn’ has left me feeling not as jazzed as I used to be about Twilight in general.

I’m glad Edward and Bella ended up together, and I’m happy with the choice to make Bella a vampire. These were not only the endings I wanted, but also the endings that I felt would make for a suitable end to the series. However, I can’t help but think that there could’ve been a much better, simpler way to get to these endings, one with at least a smidgen of reality.


Again, please let me know what you thought about ‘Breaking Dawn’, or post a link to your review in the comments! Thanks!

New Image from ‘Up’

August 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Above, a brand new still from Pixar’s upcoming film ‘Up’ (imdb) appeared in an Italian magazine (from Upcoming Pixar).

I don’t really know what to think about this film yet, mainly because Pixar hasn’t really given me much to go on, even though the film is coming out in less than a year, May 29, 2009 to be exact.

From what I’ve seen, I’m not that excited yet. But, I also don’t feel like I quite get it yet, either. I felt the exact same way about Wall-E when the teasers were first being released, though, and I really enjoyed that film, so for now I’m just going to trust that Pixar knows what they’re doing and not judge ‘Up’ until I see it.

Categories: Movies Tags: ,

(Short) Review: The Mummy 3

August 4, 2008 Leave a comment
How I felt after watching this movie

How I felt after watching this movie

No. Just…no.

This wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it was close. The script was a disaster, the story a shallow, fact-less mess. Maria Bello was a terrible replacement for Rachel Weisz‘s adorable Evie. I wish so much they’d just written Evie’s character out of this movie, killed her off, something. Oh, who am I kidding…it wouldn’t have changed anything. But it’s not often that I sit in a movie and hope that one of the main character will get eaten by a yeti so I don’t have to watch her deplorable acting anymore.

Oh, did I mention there were yetis?

I’m a huge fan of the original Mummy movie, and even the second one was pretty good, rare for a sequel. But the third one just left a bad taste in my mouth for the whole franchise. If you were a fan of the first two and you were at all interested in seeing this one, I highly suggest that you don’t.

Categories: Movies, Reviews Tags:

Breaking Dawn Release Party

August 3, 2008 Leave a comment
The first wave of Twi-hards line up downstairs to buy their books.

The first wave of "Twi-hards" line up downstairs to buy their books.

Last night, the much-anticipated fourth and final book in Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn, was released. Midnight parties were held at Barnes & Noble’s across the country, in the same vein as the Harry Potter release parties. As a recent but huge fan of the series, I was eager to get the book myself as soon as it came out, so I headed to the bookstore last night.

I have to say…Twilight is a very hard series to theme. The books aren’t traditional fantasy stuff… they’re set in modern day Washington state, and characters don’t wear capes, nor do the vampires have fangs. The theme of the party was a prom, which I think is a bit of a stretch, and attendees were encouraged to dress in prom-wear.

Read more…