Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge - Lisa Jensen

Title: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge
Author: Lisa Jensen
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: October 20, 2018
Finished: October 21, 2018

From the inside cover:

They say Chateau Beaumont is cursed. Servant girl Lucie can't believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier's cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wisewoman grants her wish and transforms Jean-Loup into terrifying Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside.

But Beast proves to be nothing like the chevalier. Jean-Loup would never tend his roses so patiently or attempt poetry - nor express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup's ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced cruel Jean-Loup - until an innocent beauty arrives at the chateau with the power to break the spell.

Filled with gorgeous writing, magic, and fierce emotion, Beast will challenge all you think you know about good and evil, beauty and beastliness.

It seems I'm back on the fairy tale retelling kick again, this time with one of my favourites that I of course had to examine when I saw the news of its release.

This particular version has a unique aspect to it: the story is told from the perspective of a servant girl, and just as much of the plot takes place before and after the curse as during it. Lucie's narrative adds an interesting element to the story because we see a victim of the chevalier's cruelty early on, which makes it all the more surprising when she later becomes Beast's greatest supporter. There's a bit of a plot twist that explains why this occurs, but I won't reveal it for fear of spoilers. It makes sense given the context of the story (and the whole suspension-of-disbelief that one needs to possess while reading fairy tales), but I can see why it might rub some readers the wrong way, especially considering the nature of the chevalier's crime against Lucie.

The book does drag a bit during the middle when Lucie, who has been turned into a candlestick, simply sits in a cupboard waiting to be taken out. This happens later on as well when Rose arrives and Lucie is carried around by her constantly, but nothing much really happens. This is perhaps the downside of a first-person narration when your narrator becomes an enchanted object midway through the book.

Worth the read for the unique take on the story (and I completely sympathize with the author's thoughts in her note at the end of the book), but there are better retellings out there.

Thoughts on the cover:
Aside from the massive font of the cliché title that made me hide the cover while at work for fear that my coworkers would think I was reading a trashy romance novel, the cover's not bad. The rose that hides a wolf's face is a nice touch, as is the candlestick at the bottom.

Friday, October 19, 2018

That's Not What Happened - Kody Keplinger

Title: That's Not What Happened
Author: Kody Keplinger
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: October 17, 2018
Finished: October 19, 2018

From the inside cover:

It's been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah's story - that she died proclaiming her faith.

But it's not true.

I know be cause I was with her when she died. I didn't say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah's parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight...but I'm not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did - and didn't - happen that day.

Except Sarah's martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don't take kindly to what I'm trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what's right. I don't know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up.

From New York Times bestselling author Kody Keplinger comes an astonishing and thought-provoking exploration of the aftermath of tragedy, the power of narrative, and how we remember what we've lost.

I'm such a sucker for books like these, ones that talk about big issues that we don't often otherwise discuss in a way that invites something beyond the surface examination. School shootings are one of those issues.

Lee is one of six survivors of a mass shooting at her high school three years prior. Among the nine victims was her best friend, Sarah. Everybody believes that before she died, Sarah had a confrontation with the shooter about the cross necklace she was wearing, and is now thought of as a martyr. Lee tells us from the beginning that it isn't true, but she kept silent due to the harassment another survivor, Kellie Gaynor, received when she tried to tell the truth. As Lee is about to graduate, she learns that Sarah's parents have written a book about their daughter's story that is about to be released. Wanting to correct all the misconceptions that have emerged about the survivors as well as the victims, Lee asks the five to write letters telling their own stories about what really happened.

This novel is essentially about who controls the narrative in the aftermath of a tragedy. When people die, especially tragically, there's this aversion to talk about them as real people with flaws. No one likes to speak ill of the dead, after all. Lee is interested in the truth, even if it's not pretty, even if it means shattering the images people cling to in order to help them survive their grief. She doesn't shy away from admitting that even a victim people are mourning would've been classified as a jerk while living. But Lee grapples with her insistence on the truth, wondering who it really serves and if it does more harm than good.

I appreciated how the author made this book diverse in so many ways. Lee is asexual, and it plays a significant role in her character development. She's also the child of a single, teenaged mom who is very matter-of-fact about her deadbeat father and thankful to her mother for the sacrifices she's made. Denny is not only black (one of the only black kids in the school) but also blind. Eden is hispanic and a lesbian. The issue of religion is explored as well, from personal belief and lack of it, compared to organized religion.

I also like how the author included so many references to criticisms that we usually hear about in the aftermath of mass shootings: denying that the event ever occurred, calling the survivors "crisis actors," and pro-gun lobbyists confronting survivors. She was also very realistic about the effects of trauma: characters deal with anger, addiction, guilt, and depression that no one else really understands except for each other.

This is a gripping, engrossing story that is hard to put down. This is something everybody should read, especially considering the frequency of mass shootings in recent years.

Thoughts on the cover:
The pencil, sharpener, and eraser marks reinforce the letter theme from the book; it's simple yet effective.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fierce Fairytales - Nikita Gill

Title: Fierce Fairytales
Author: Nikita Gill
Publisher: Hachette Books, 2018 (Paperback)
Length: 156 pages
Genre: Adult; Poetry
Started: October 1, 2018
Finished: October 6, 2018

From the inside cover:

Traditional fairytales are rife with cliches and gender stereotypes: beautiful, silent princesses; ugly, jealous, and bitter villainesses; girls who need rescuing; and men who take all the glory.

But in this rousing new prose and poetry collection, Nikita Gill gives Once Upon a Time a much-needed modern makeover. Through her gorgeous reimagining of fairytale classics and spellbinding original tales, she dismantles the old-fashioned tropes that have been ingrained in our minds. In this book, gone are the docile women and male saviours. Instead, lines blur between heroes and villains. You will meet fearless princesses, a new kind of wolf lurking in the concrete jungle, and an independent Gretel who can bring down monsters on her own.

Complete with beautifully hand-drawn illustrations by Gill herself, Fierce Fairytales is an empowering collection of poems and stories for a new generation.

I'm back on a poetry kick, so I'm working through my list of poets and their collections I wanted to tackle after finally reading Rupi Kaur earlier this year.

Nikita Gill caught my attention purely for this collection focusing on fairytale retellings since I'm a sucker for those. If you're expecting some woke, feminist retellings, you'd be spot on. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just that when there's a whole book of poem after poem of the same thing, it does get a little predictable after a while.

Some of my favourites include a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (which includes the poem excerpt below) that I would actually read to my daughter, a poem about Hercules and toxic masculinity, and a little myth-inspired story about why the leaves change colour.

If you're a fan of Rupi Kaur and other similar poets it's well-worth the read, though the lack of variety with the subject matter may irritate some readers.

Thoughts on the cover:
The blue and silver line drawings really stand out here and look quite appealing.