Monday, September 24, 2018

The Forest Queen - Betsy Cornwell

Title: The Forest Queen
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Publisher: Clarion Books, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 296 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale
Started: September 17, 2018
Finished: September 21, 2018

From the inside cover:

When sixteen-year-old Silvie's brother, John, becomes sheriff of Woodshire, she feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. And when John puts to marry her off, Silvie fears she will never see her beloved home again. She runs away to the forest with her dearest friend, a handsome young huntsman named Bird, and soon a girl called Little Jane, a midwife named Mae Tuck, and a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.

But even Silvie can't imagine the depths of depravity her brother is willing to sink to, until the terrible day she's forced to confront him. Can she overcome the evil in her own family in order to save the people of Woodshire, as well as the new family she's created for herself?

Perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings, this smart, gorgeously written take on the Robin Hood tale goes beyond the original's focus on economic justice to explore love, gender roles, the healing power of nature, and what it means to be a family.

I can honestly say I can't recall ever reading a Robin Hood retelling, let alone one that flips the genders to feature a female protagonist that isn't Maid Marian, so obviously I was curious about this one.

There were many aspects of the story I enjoyed. Silvie's privilege as a noble is called out and made aware to her, and she uses that to make change. Nature plays a prominent role in the novel, and its restorative powers are addressed. Feminine power is a big theme here, as is the role of mothers and nurturing. Toxic family structures (including sexual abuse and rape) and other darker themes are explored, but not in an overtly explicit way.

What I found lacking in the novel was that all of these themes and even character development tended to suffer as a result of the length of the story. The novel felt too short and everything seemed rushed along. I think if there were another hundred pages or so to add depth to some of these things, it would make them even better.

The novel is too short, in my opinion, but its well worth the read nonetheless.

Thoughts on the cover:
I'm not sure why they thought a boot would be the best option for a cover image (the arrow is nice and fits with the story), but oh well.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Not One Damsel in Distress - Jane Yolen

Title: Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore
Author: Jane Yolen
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 134 pages
Genre: Children's Fairy Tale
Started: August 29, 2018
Finished: September 5, 2018

From the back cover:

This book is for you because it's important to know that anyone can be a hero if they have to be. Even girls. Especially girls. Especially you.

These fifteen folktales have one thing in common: brainy, bold, brave women - and not one damsel in distress! There is Bradamante, the fierce medieval knight; Li Chi, the Chinese girl who slays a dreaded serpent and saves her town; Makhhta, a female warrior who leads her Sioux tribe into battle; and many more women who use their cunning, wisdom, and strength to succeed.

Drawing from diverse cultures around the world, renowned author Jane Yolen celebrates the female heroes of legend and lore in a collection that will empower every reader.

This new edition features two brand-new stories and enhanced illustrations.

I've read many of Jane Yolen's books since my teenage years, including more than a fair share during one year in university when I took a course in fairy tales. I wish I had discovered this book during my teen years (apparently the earliest edition came out at the tail end of my teens), I would've devoured it.

The tales are fairly easy to read and have that lovely quality to them that begs them to be read aloud. The author did a wonderful job in trying to present a diverse offering: there are not only tales from the European/Western tradition, but also China and Japan, Africa, Indonesia, and even Aboriginal America. The illustrations included are offered at about one per tale, and are a nice touch but aren't anything to write home about (except for the cover illustration).

If you have a daughter, granddaughter, niece, etc., this is a must-buy for bedtime reading. This could even be used in schools studying mythology as well to present a more balanced offering of stories since the myths tend to skew overwhelmingly male.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love it. The art style and colour palette are visually appealing, the image is dynamic, not to mention the book's diversity is nicely represented even on the cover.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: Dial Press (Random House), 2008 (Paperback)
Length: 290 pages
Genre: Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: September 7, 2018
Finished: September 9, 2018


January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written in a book by Charles Lamb.

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters,  Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends - and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island - boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society's members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humour as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

I watched the film version of this on Netflix this summer, so of course I was curious to see exactly how much was similar to the original novel and how much was changed during the switch from novel to film.

First off, I did not know the original book was written solely in letters, I don't think I've read a book in said format since I first read Dracula back in the day. A departure from the usual prose narrative tends to turn me off those books, but the letter format works well here. Juliet's letters begin with writing to Sidney, her friend and publisher, and Sophie, her friend and Sidney's sister. Once Dawsey sends her that fated first letter, Juliet begins to correspond to all the society's members until she travels to the island in the middle of the book. Once on the island, Juliet corresponds still to Sidney and Sophie, but readers also get a glimpse at letters from other characters not interacting with Juliet, like Isola writing to Sidney.

In terms of differences between the film and the novel, there are many, mainly in terms of extra secondary characters and plot points existing in the novel, whereas things have been condensed in the film. The novel is also less focused solely on the love story between Dawsey and Juliet, and more balanced about Juliet's relationships with everyone else.

The novel really is a lovely story for bibliophiles, especially the idea that's hammered into readers several times that the act of reading, which the Guernsey characters did not really engage in to a great degree before, managed to save these characters' sanities during the war and occupation.

This is quite a quick, enjoyable read. If you've seen the film, you should definitely give the novel a try. If you haven't seen the film, but you like historical fiction and literature, then you should still give it a try.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, yet very appropriate for the novel's content. You have the title written on a letter complete with stamps and postmarks, with a figure that I'm assuming is Juliet standing pensively at the sea.