Children's · Fantasy · Teen Fiction · YA



by: Gail Carson Levine

I’m a huge fan of Gail Carson Levine.  Ella Enchanted was the first re-imagined fairy tale that I fell in love with and her Princess Tales series was a favorite of mine growing up.

But I didn’t like Ever.  It was cute and the premise was good – I really wanted to like it!

Ever is the story of Kezi, a girl who lives in an alternate version of Ancient Mesopotamia.  (The cover models are oddly white, considering that.)  Doomed to die young, she falls in love with Olus, the Akkan god of the wind.  To be together, they must go on an epic quest and overcome great odds.  If they survive, they stand a chance of gaining their happily ever after.

Like I said, the premise is good.  Ancient Mesopotamia, powerful gods, a doomed woman, epic quests and dangerous situations.  Levine is a good writer and I generally like her characters – strong, intelligent, relatable – as well as the world she creates.  The setting in this book actually is fairly reminiscent of Ancient Mesopotamia, without losing its ability to relate to the modern-day reader. There a lot of everyday touches that really work to put you in the time period, and the dialogue is a nice mix of modern and old-fashioned so you’ve never jolted by the characters’ speech.  (That is a pet peeve of mine.)  She also uses some of the Sumerian language (I’m assuming here) which is a nice touch.

It’s told in first person perspective, alternating between Olus and Kezi.  It’s not my favorite, but she transitions well and uses it to build tension fairly well.

Like I said, the set-up is for a fairly good novel.  But Levine keeps this novel so simple that it becomes simplistic and looses all depth.  Now, it is a young adult novel and often they’re written on a lower reading level but that doesn’t mean that the novel has to be simplistic.  Simple can include depth.  The characters seem almost stunted.  They’re not very well-developed – I mean, they have an appropriate number of different traits and virtues and flaws, it’s just that everything about them is so straightforward and lacking depth.  They are completely scared, or completely grateful, or – their emotions just seem to lack complexity.

The situations are the same – they should be more exciting but everything is linear that it takes away from the suspense.  I don’t know – on its surface this should be a great book but it just doesn’t work on anything but a surface level.  I wish it did – I really do love Levine’s work.  But this book just doesn’t have anything going on besides the plot and the plot, while not terrible, isn’t enough to make up for its shortcomings.

It’s a quick read, so if you’re interested in Levine’s work or fictional representations of Ancient Mesopotamia there’s no harm in reading the first chapter or so.  The book is pretty consistent throughout, so if you like the first chapter you’ll probably like the rest.  Otherwise, you may want to give this one a pass.

Anyway, I’m interested in seeing what others thought of this book. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!


This is what comes of having too many books

First, you’re roaming around an author’s website and you realize that you read one of their books but never (after checking your blog) reviewed it.  You need to review that book!

The last place you remember seeing that book is in the bathroom (we all read there; don’t judge.) so, since you don’t leave books in the bathroom, it’s probably in the bedroom.

It’s not in your bedroom, after sifting through your laundry, moving all your blankets, and checking behind your dresser (we’re still not judging, okay?) but you do find evidence of the mouse you thought you’d gotten rid of. Under your bed, with the remnants of the tissues you’d sworn you’d thrown away after your cold. (Okay, you can judge here, but the mice are coming from my neighbor’s apartment.)

You spend a second thinking of the friendly apartment complex cat that was JUST in your apartment eating and napping and couldn’t s/he have caught the darn mouse? (You make a mental note to pick up ear mite and flea treatments for the cat, just in case.)

You immediately move your refrigerator  to plug up the hole you’d noticed earlier (but were waiting for your brother’s help in filling) with the steel wool and repellent your mother provided, noticing the poison you’d put out in the safety box hadn’t been touched.

Putting the fridge back requires you wedging your back against the dishwasher and “walking” your feet up the fridge door, denting it slightly in the process.

You vacuum under your bed and, when emptying the vacuum, notice the black brushes are completely blonde due to the astonishing amount of hair it’s picked up in the 5 times you use it.  You grab your scissors and cut your vacuum free.

You then put more poison out, this time not in the silly box, and mouse repellent in your bedroom.

Remembering the book, you look around your bedroom (just in case), your bookshelf, your not-a-bookshelf-bookshelf, and finally in the trunks that make up your living room “table,” cleaning up some as you go.

You finally find the book. But now all the stuff that was on your trunks is on the floor.

At this point, it is too late to review the book, as you have plans to go blues dancing with a friend.

And to top it off, you didn’t even really like the book anyways.

This is what comes of having too many books.

Children's · Classics · Uncategorized

The First Book You Read

GreenEggsHam1Do you remember the first book you read all by yourself? I do – it was Dr. Seuss’ immortal classic, Green Eggs and Ham. I was 5, maybe 4, and I remember being so proud for getting through the book on my own.

It was night, and it must’ve been past my bedtime, because I remember coming out of my room and going to my parents in the living room extremely excited to read them Green Eggs and Ham all by myself.

My parents, who were settling down in front of the T.V. for some child-free time and the nightly news, were… less than impressed.  I got a half-baked, “Okay, good, now go to bed, Topper” response to my big moment.

To be fair, I don’t think I adequately expressed that this was the Very First Time I had read a book entirely independently.  In fact, I don’t think I said anything but “Mommy! Daddy! Look! Listen!” and then diving directly in my book.  Add to that I was not the easiest child to get to sleep – I’ve always been a night owl – and I was one of four children that they had finally gotten into bed for the night – well, you can understand their response being less Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and more Marvin K. Mooney, Would You Please Go Now!

But I do remember – and laugh at – my parents’ underwhelmed response to this day, twenty years later. (Luckily, they’ve more than made up for it with other milestone moments in my life.)

To top off the story, I was an extremely picky eater as a child – and am still fairly picky as an adult – and “Try it, you just might like it!” has never been a motto I’ve tried to live by.

Do you remember the first book you read independently? If so, let me know what it was in the comments!

Children's · Uncategorized

Barnes & Noble’s (or your local bookstore’s) Holiday Book Drive

Even though I firmly believe the holidays don’t start until after Thanksgiving, this is my holiday plug for the year.

I don’t donate much to charity – I volunteer instead – but I always buy books at charity book drives.  Whether it’s at the long-lost Borders, Barnes and Noble, or my local bookstore, when I see those children’s books come out on the counters, I get really excited.

Barnes and Noble partners up with local charities, like children’s hospitals, and encourages customers to purchase and donate a new children’s book.  They keep a selection of books up at the counter and you just have to point to the book you want and pay – the clerk does the rest.  (All book drives that I have seen work like this; I imagine you could also select and donate a book you particularly loved as a child.) Most places pick out cheaper, paperback books, so you, as a kind-hearted customer, are only looking at $6-$10 extra. If it’s a concern, the clerks generally know what charity they’re donating to this year.  But the good thing is, 100% of your book is going straight to that charity.

If you have a bit of extra money and find yourself at a participating bookstore, I encourage you to donate a book.  Like most readers, books were a big part of my life growing up and while I was lucky enough to have parents that kept me supplied, not every child else does.  And owning a book can be a big deal; libraries are excellent places and should be encouraged but there’s something about having your own, worn, dog-eared copy of a favorite book that’s really special.

Children's · Uncategorized

Calvin and Hobbes

They’re making a documentary about the importance of Calvin and Hobbes – which is long overdue, in my humble opinion.  I’m so excited about it! It’s showing in a city near-ish to me, but unfortunately, I’ll be out-of-state that entire weekend.

Calvin and Hobbes was a staple of my childhood.  I think I grew up after the newspaper run finished but my mom bought us the giant book collections and my brothers and I would squabble over who read them first.  They are just the perfect mix of funny and thoughtful and thought-provoking.  So I think I’m going to buy the DVD and host a viewing party with some of my friends, which’ll be great fun.

Any other Calvin and Hobbes lovers out there? Are you excited about the documentary?

Contemporary Literature · Fairy Tales · Uncategorized

Fairy Tales

I’ve said this before – one good part of having your own blog is that you can be repetitive – but I do so love fairy tales! Right now I’m writing a paper on mother-child relationships in “Once Upon a Time” and in doing so I got to look back at a lot of old fairy tales.

Now, if you’ve never looked back at the older versions of fairy tale – not original, mind you.  Considering the first known version of “Beauty and the Beast” was the Ancient Greek myth “Cupid and Psyche” and that nearly every culture, and nearly every time period, has their own version of “Cinderella,” ‘original’ is hardly a word I’d apply to any fairy tale.  But if you look back at European fairy tales, before they were written and changed and came to America, you might be surprised at what you find, especially since they dominate our culture now. 

Did you know there’s a version of “Red Riding Hood” where Red does a striptease for the wolf and then convinces him she has to go to the bathroom – no indoor plumbing – and runs out and escapes on her own?  It’s my favorite version, especially since the wolf tries to convince her to just go in the bed. Unfortunately,when the European tales came over to America, we lost a lot of our female tricksters – characters like Brer Rabbit, Tom Thumb, or Captain Jack Sparrow; witty yet loveable con artists.

Or have you ever heard of the fairytale called Donkeyskin – written by Charles Perrault – wherein a king, ordered by his dying wife only to marry one as good and beautiful as she, falls in love with his own daughter, forcing her to hide in servitude in a neighboring castle? Probably not, but there’s more than one fairy tale along those lines, none of which made it over to America.

Rapunzel was kicked out of her tower because none of her clothes fit her expanding waistline after her prince’s many visits; Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother was originally their evil mother; the princess changed the frog back by throwing him violently against a wall during a tantrum.

All this is to say that fairy tales are actually very important reflections of society.  You want to know what a society is talking about? Fairy tales/folk tales are a great place to look.  Seeing the older versions, seeing the most popular versions, seeing the most recent versions – besides entertaining, it’s a great sociological experiment.

Compare the Grimms’ versions to modern retellings in books and media, like “The 10th Kingdom,” “Once Upon a Time,” or the works of John Moore, E.D. Baker, and Gail Carson Levine and you might surprise yourself with your thoughts and observations. And the more deliberately subversive works, like Robin McKinley (and her dark yet excellent Deerskin, based on “Donkeyskin”) and Angela Carter deserve some attention, too.

Look at Rick Riordan‘s retellings of the Ancient Greek myths in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to connect and compare cultures thousands of years apart.   Heck, even looking at the evolution of Disney films over the last near-century can be enlightening. And oral folk or fairy tales are even more amazing – if you know someone who’s telling them, be sure to listen!

Fairy tales, I think, are often overlooked or dismissed as “children’s stories” when in fact they’re a really cool way to engage with and talk about our society – and I’m not just talking about Disney princesses setting up unrealistic expectations for girls.  If you like fairy tales, you should read them, regardless of your age.  They are so important! And when you read them, give a thought or two as to what you think they mean in the context of the society you live in.  

What do you guys think? Love fairy tales or hate them? Have a favorite author, retelling, version, or fairy tale? Is there one version you absolutely can’t stand? Or have you a good suggestion for non-European fairy tales?  Leave a comment with your thoughts!