Wrap-Up: June 2012

June has been the first month I used to try and read books within a pre-specified theme. The theme of the month was fairy tale retellings and I must say, it really failed me. Maybe I’ve grown out of the fairy tale phase or maybe it’s not me at all and writers just seem to think if you rehash a well-known story, that’s enough to make it compelling. I did have a few outstanding reads though, one a comic retelling of Peter Pan and one a book that has nothing to do with fairy tales at all.

THE BEST:

Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana 9,5/10

What a read! Kay has been recommended to me for ages but I always found the size of his novels daunting. Now that I read this with the Sword & Laser book club, I feel that I found a true diamond among fantasy books and the community helped me get past the initial phase of confusion and almost-lemming. I recommend this to fans of Robin Hobb, of epic stories told in flowery, sweeping language. Just beautiful and absolutely worth torturing yourself with those first two chapters.

Régis Loisel – Peter Pan 9,5/10

I started reading these when I lived in France but never got to borrow the last volume from the library. Now I’ve reread and finished the series and I fell in love with it all over again. Loisel’s Peter Pan is not for kids. It is gritty and brutal and doesn’t always end well. However, this is the best version of Peter Pan (excluding the original, of course) that I have ever read. I love the artwork and will reread these comic books many times.

Art Spiegelman – The Complete MAUS 8/10

A graphic novel about the Holocaust with Jews drawn as mice and the Nazis as cats. That’s really not important though, because this is a personal story, one that got under my skin despite the topic (we’ve each read too many Holocaust books, but can you really?). Spiegelman’s drawings are not my favorite style but the story was so compelling and the feeling of paranoia and the need to survive above anything else was tangible and believable. If you’re going to read one more book about WWII, make it this one. It’s got pictures in it

Arkady & Boris Strugatsky – Roadside Picnic 7,5/10

You can tell I needed a break from fairy tales, so I jumped into this compelling first contact story. Aliens have visited Earth but left right away and just left behind an assortment of strange artifacts, scattered about in the Zones. Our protagonist goes into these Zones (where the laws of physics are all over the place) and retrieves these items for money. Great idea, great writing (I read the new translation) and human conflict. The ending left me hanging a bit but altogether I’d recommend this to any science fiction fan.

Anne Ursu – Breadcrumbs 7/10

Now this is what I was hoping for. A book clearly written for children but not underestimating them. Beautiful language throughout, a compelling protagonist who deals with problems not just in the fairy tale forest where she must find the Snow Queen to save her best friend, but who also doesn’t lead an easy life in the real world. There are some utterly quotable lines in here and some of the most beautiful illustrations I have seen. Worth reading for children, grown-ups and anyone in-between. Personally, I preferred the part that’s set in reality to the fantastic one, but that’s really a question of taste, not of the writer’s talent.

THE WORST:

Robin McKinley – Beauty 3,5/10

This has been on my TBR pile forever and despite its age, the book is still hyped by fans. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast that did have some very nice language but, unfortunately, an extremely slow plot and pale characters. The only new thing brought to the fairy tale is the protagonist’s love for books. This has been done – and way better – by Walt Disney (the book was published before that movie, so I assume Disney was inspired by McKinley) and it’s probably unfair for me to judge it this harshly. But having seen the Disney movie and what can be done, the book just paled in comparison and was a surprisingly exhausting read.

The rest:

Marissa Meyer – Cinder 6/10

A cyborg Cinderella in a future where androids run around everywhere, hover taxis take you places and a plague kills off the population. What’s not to like? The premise for this retelling is amazing. I loved the world and the fact that the author doesn’t just have one good idea but several. This was a very quick, fun read. But. There is a certain plot twist that can be guessed from very early on in the novel and really ruined the “surprise” at the end. The main character’s oblivion to obvious things was infuriating and the ending is quite a brutal cliffhanger. I did have my problems with this but the ideas were so nice that I’ll be back for the second book in the series anyway.

Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars 5/10

Beddor packs some really nice and original ideas into his version of Wonderland. I loved the technology and little tidbits to be found in this universe. But the writing was so simple and so out there that I felt the author doesn’t raelly trust his readers to understand anything without being told. Having spelled out every last detail of every intruige and everybody’s motivation is a huge pet peeve of mine. I like guessing, I like finding out myself what drives the characters – or being left in the dark completely. Those are things that I personally find enjoyable and I hate when an author treats his readers as if they don’t have a brain or an imagination of their own. Which, unfortuantely, Beddor does…

DIDN’T FINISH:

A.C. Gaughen – Scarlet

It doesn’t happen often, in fact almost never, that I lem a book without the intention of ever picking it up again. I’ve put books aside for as long as a year only to find out that I needed to be in the right mood to devour them. This, however, had nothing that drew me in. The protagonist’s bad grammar felt forced and unnatural, there was no plot that I could detect and if I had read the word “blushing” one more time, I would have literally chucked the book. I read halfway and there still wasn’t anything interesting me so I decided to use my time more wisely and read a good book instead. If it does pick up in the second half, let me know.

Next month:

I’m reading the rest of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. In adition, I will post reviews of the first three books which I’ve already read.

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