Monday, July 29, 2013

YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Series: Mind Games #1
Publisher: HarperTeen
Date: February 2013
Format: ARC
Source: ARCycling
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 237
Reading time: couple of hours

From GoodReads: Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future. Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

My review: I apparently paid more attention to a potential "dystopian" tag than to the synopsis for this one, because usually psychic/special powers/teens-trapped-and-used-for-their-abilities novels aren't really my thing. But. Once I started reading Mind Games, it didn't take long to get hooked. I wasn't a huge fan of the main character - even though her actions/thoughts are entrenched in all the crap she's been through and are therefore explainable, I just didn't like her attitude - but the plotline was engrossing. Finding out what Annie and Fia had been through, what they had done, and what the motives of all the characters were was intriguing. Also, Kiersten White does a fantastic job of switching between different parts of the sisters' lives to form a nonlinear narrative. Usually having details pop up towards the beginning of the book to be explained only much later would annoy me, but the author succeeded in seamlessly connecting everything. So even for a type of book that's not usually my cup of tea, this was a quick, very enjoyable read.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sci-Fi Mystery: Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Series: The Last Policeman #2
Publisher: Quirk Books
Date: July 16, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 316
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: There are just 74 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over...until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband. Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace—an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

My review: I liked Countdown City for pretty much the same reason that I enjoyed this series' first book: it's different. It's speculative fiction, but the setting is pre-apocalypse, not post-apocalypse, and many of the genre tropes are ignored. At the same time, the novel is also a mystery, but unlike a lot of other crime/thriller series I've run across, time and the overarching plot move forward  from book to book and give a greater depth to the story.

Otherwise, though, I didn't enjoy this sequel quite as much as the first book. There was less dark humor; it just wasn't as much fun. The plot and characters also seemed less well-developed. It felt like Hank was jumping to too many conclusions without taking the reader with him, and his actions at times seemed a bit random and not very well thought out. I ended up enjoying this read more for its storyline's basic difference from the YA dystopian novels I usually stick to than for its style or plot details, the elements that really make a book stand out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Speculative Fiction: In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

Publisher: Soho Press
Date: June 18, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 312
Reading time: five days

From GoodReads: In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife's beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.

My review: I like weird speculative fiction books, but I think this one was just a little too weird for me. I got that Bell is trying to make some (in my opinion, rather depressing) points about marriage and parenthood, but I wasn't sure exactly what he was trying to say. I would love to be able to have a conversation with him and ask what he was thinking as he wrote and why he picked this form of novel.

Overall, I think I liked this book for its uniqueness, if for nothing else. I'm not sure how I feel about how dark the story was. There was plenty that I definitely didn't really like. I found most of the characters' violent encounters with each other graphic and gross. Also, I had no clue when the book would end. There were several points where it felt like it could conclude, but then there were still dozens or even a few hundred pages left to get through. By the end, it seemed like the plot just kept going and going, and I was mostly lost as to what the underlying purpose of it all was.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Recent Acquisitions IX

For review:
Punch and Judy in 19th Century America by Ryan Howard (Early Reviewers)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Early Reviewers)
Rivers by Michael Farris Smith (First Look)
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (TLC Book Tours)
Havisham by Ronald Frame (publisher)
Drown by Junot Diaz (thanks, Mariela and ARCycling!)

Jack the Giant Slayer DVD/Blu-Ray (thanks, Me, My Shelf, and I!)

Picked up free in various locales:
Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall et al.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Cherokee Nation by Marion Starkey

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Did Not Finish: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

*spoilers alert*
Publisher: Riverhead
Date: June 4, 2013
Source: GoodReads First Look, for review

I read the first 60 pages of this one day but haven't picked it up again in over a month - time to give up hopes of ever actually finishing it. It's my own fault, really, because I was so intrigued by whatever sent Thea off to Yonahlossee that I skipped ahead to find out her secrets. Big mistake. I seem to have caught all the sexual parts but not much about the rest of the story, and I was just kind of grossed out by what happens: incest with her cousin and an affair with her married teacher. I realize that this novel is supposed to be about a teen girl's coming-of-age and "awakening," but I didn't realize it would be quite so sexual in such directions. And what I caught of Thea's characterization irritated me. She seems quite intelligent, but she has absolutely no thought for the consequences of her actions. I know she's supposed to be this naive girl, raised around very few males and so acting on her emerging sexual desires where she can, but the whole scenario seemed unnecessary and just really bothered me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review and Giveaway: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Date: June 4, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 325
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate, eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one. But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

My review: The atmosphere of The Testing is much the same as more "classic" YA dystopias; its beginning reminded me of The Giver, and it quickly morphed into The Hunger Games. But even though the plot almost constantly reminded me of The Hunger Games and I didn't find much unique about the story itself, this was a very enjoyable read (well, as enjoyable as gritty post-apocalyptic dystopian reads involving gruesome deaths and betrayals can be).

The storyline is tight, with no plot holes, and the characterizations are consistent. I especially appreciated how the characters weren't always sure of the consequences of their actions or whether they were even capable of beating the system at all; so often it seems the heroes of dystopias are rather unrealistically able to jump wholeheartedly into resistance and never look back. The plot was engrossing and exciting, with few of its details foreseeable. I'm impatient to see what the rest of this trilogy has in store!

Giveaway: I have one extra ARC of The Testing up for grabs! U.S. addresses only, please (since I'm paying for shipping). Ends 7/31/13.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Once Upon a Read-a-Thon FINISH

This year's read-a-thon was quite successful, as without a fuss I was able to finish all five of the books I had originally picked out. Thank you to the hosts, and I'll see you again next year!

Day One:
Read all 300 pages of Abandon
Read the first 50 pages of The Patchwork Girl of Oz
Read the first 120 pages of Illuminated

Day Two:
Read the last 120 pages of Illuminated
Read the first 200 pages of Song of the Sparrow
Read 60 pages of The Patchwork Girl of Oz

Day Three:
Read the last 200 pages of Song of the Sparrow
Read the last 120 pages of The Patchwork Girl of Oz
Read all 198 pages of Midnight Pearls

Mini-challenges participated in: 1
Pages read: ~1370
Time spent reading: ~12 or 13 hours
Books finished: 5

On an unrelated note, check back tomorrow for a review and giveaway of The Testing!

YA Fantasy: Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie

Series: Once Upon a Time
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Date: 2003
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: to clean out my TBR pile
Pages: 198
Reading time: an hour and 45 minutes

From GoodReads: In a quiet fishing village seventeen years ago, one lone fisherman rescued a child from the sea. He and his wife raised the girl, Pearl, as their own daughter, never allowing themselves to wonder long about where she came from — or notice her silver hair, usually pale skin, and wide, dark blue eyes. Pearl grows from a mysterious child into an unusual young woman, not always welcomed in the village. As all the other girls her age find husbands, she has only one friend to ease her loneliness. One very special, secret companion: Prince James. But their friendship is shaken when trouble erupts in the kingdom — a conspiracy against the royal family combines with an evil enchantment from beneath the sea. Now, just when Pearl and James need each other most, bewitching magic and hints about Pearl's past threaten to tear them apart...forever.

My review: Midnight Pearls is much like the rest of the Once Upon a Time series in that its retelling of a classic tale is quite inventive, but it goes by way too fast. There's not much easing into the setting and characters before the main plot takes off, so readers don't really get in-depth looks at the main figures. Things got super-complicated super-fast, like, "Whoa, where did that come from?" And then there was a major time skip; one page, someone's uncovering a huge conspiracy, but on the next, we've skipped ahead a couple days and no one's doing anything to deal with the murder plot.

But Viguie certainly held up the series' reputation for creativity. The story of "The Little Mermaid" is split between multiple characters, which ups the ante. Without just one "Little Mermaid," the plot becomes more complicated and, really, more interesting, since readers also lose their preconceived notions of the ending. The writing could also be cheesy and unintentionally funny at times, making Midnight Pearls a fun read in which to lose oneself for a couple hours.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Classic Fantasy: The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Series: Oz #7
Publisher: Watermill
Date: 1913 (1989)
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: to clean out my TBR pile
Pages: 234
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: Ojo and Unk Nunkie visit a magician, who uses the Powder of Life to bring a Patchwork Girl to life. But then a terrible accident turns Unk Nunkie into a statue! Ojo must go on a quest to gather the strange ingredients needed to restore his uncle. Joined by Scraps the Patchwork Girl, Bungle the glass cat, and a host of other creatures, Ojo sets off on his travels around Oz.

My review: I absolutely adored the Oz books in fifth grade, though this is one of the few of Baum's original series that I don't think I read back then. I was a bit disappointed because this didn't seem quite as enchanting and wonderful as I remember the series being. The plot even seemed a tad tedious at times, though this could just be because I was reading this during the read-a-thon and trying to go too fast. At other times, though, Baum's humor came through; I think there were even a few points where I caught a bit of satire...I don't recall any of the other Oz books containing as much enjoyable word play, which reminded me a good deal of Through the Looking Glass. Overall, this was still a fun read, just not as magical as I remember.

YA Historical Fiction: Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date: 2007
Format: hardback
Source: purchased used
Read: to clean out my TBR pile
Pages: 394
Reading time: about two hours (it's a novel in verse, it goes really fast)

From GoodReads: The year is 490 AD. Fiery 16-year-old Elaine of Ascolat, the daughter of one of King Arthur's supporters, lives with her father on Arthur's base camp, the sole girl in a militaristic world of men. Elaine's only girl companion is the mysterious Morgan, Arthur's older sister, but Elaine cannot tell Morgan her deepest secret: She is in love with Lancelot, Arthur's second-in-command. However, when yet another girl -- the lovely Gwynivere-- joins their world, Elaine is confronted with startling emotions of jealousy and rivalry. But can her love for Lancelot survive the birth of an empire?

My review: What The Song of Achilles did for me and The Iliad, Song of the Sparrow does for Arthurian legends: it humanizes the ancient stories for modern readers. (Except The Song of Achilles is adult literary fiction, and Song of the Sparrow is YA, and I enjoy reading Arthurian legends way more than I did The Iliad. But, still, same principle of humanization.) Sandell does a fantastic job of placing readers in the midst of the beginning of the Arthurian saga, and not just in the myth, but in the history that surrounds it. At the same time, readers get inside the life and mind of Elaine - also known as the Lady of Shalott - and see the origins of her relationships with the men, and also the main women, involved in the Arthurian tales.

The only thing that fell flat with me was the romance, which seems to be my common complaint with books lately (this could, however, simply indicate that I'm an emotionless dweeb). Elaine and Lancelot, okay. That's in the traditional stories, and it worked for this novel. Elaine and who she moved on to, no. Though the author was great at getting us into Elaine's head for most of the book, she didn't do enough with Elaine's thoughts and feelings for this guy for her declaration of love to him not to seem a bit sudden. Otherwise, I really enjoyed Sandell's take on the Arthurian saga and Elaine's role therein, especially since she incorporates details of Tennyson's famous poem while departing significantly from his version to create a much deeper and more interesting tale.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

YA Fiction: Illuminated by Erica Orloff

Publisher: Speak
Date: December 2011
Format: paperback
Source: purchased new
Read: to clean out my TBR pile
Pages: 244
Reading time: about two hours

From GoodReads: Some loves are not made to last . . . Like Romeo and Juliet, Heloise and Abelard were doomed from the start, and their romance was destined to pass into history. Yet when sixteen-year-old Callie Martin discovers a diary hidden within an antique book, their story - and hers - takes on another life. For the diary leads Callie to the brilliant and handsome August, who is just as mysterious as the secret the diary hides. Their attraction is undeniable. As the two hunt down the truth behind the diary - and that of Heloise and Abelard's ancient romance - their romance becomes all-consuming. But Callie knows it can't last . . . love never does. Will their love that burns as bright as a shooting star flame out, or will these star-crossed lovers be able to defy history?

My review: While reading Illuminated, I realized that this book was not, in fact, my cup of tea. Mostly, this is due to the fact that this is not a retelling of Abelard and Heloise's story like I had thought, but rather, it's a contemporary teen romance that finds its inspiration in that classic tale of love. The characters felt a bit flat to me - for a potential history major, Callie's original interest in the medieval manuscript that sparks everything is rather sporadic - and I wished the plot had focused a little more on the secrets hidden in the manuscript and a little less on Callie's strange obsession with connecting her and August's new romance with that of Abelard and Heloise. But hey, how much fault can you find with a romance who's male lead is intelligent, attractive, nice, and into old books? It's a cute read, just not my cup of tea.

Monday, July 8, 2013

YA Fantasy: Abandon by Meg Cabot (and a Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge)

Series: Abandon Trilogy #1
Publisher: Point
Date: April 2011
Format: ARC
Source: blog giveaway
Read: to clean out my TBR stack
Pages: 302
Reading time: between three and four hours

From GoodReads: Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back. But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid. Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most. But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

My review: I'm of mixed opinions on this one. On the one hand, it's Meg Cabot, whose books I absolutely adored and devoured during my middle school and early high school years. Her writing is hilarious and her characters are easy to relate to. On the other hand, Abandon fell flat compared to my high expectations from earlier Cabot reads. There were sparks of the humor I remember with such fond memories, but Pierce seemed a bit silly to me. And, as a high school senior who had once attended a prep school and seemed to have made good grades, she was unaware of who Homer was. For once, I join with one of the elderly characters in this book in bemoaning what is taught in today's schools.

I also wasn't always very clear on what was going on or where the story was headed, but then, neither was Pierce herself. The romance was completely flat - the attraction was entirely one-sided until a kiss resulted in insta-love, and the "Hades" figure in this Persephone retelling was very Edward Cullen-esque. The twist on the original myth, however, grew increasingly more fascinating as the book progressed, though the ending wrapped up a little too quickly. While it will be interesting to see what the rest of the trilogy has in store, I don't think this is one series I'll be super-eager to complete.

Once Upon a Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge hosted by Cover2CoverBlog:
1. Which book are you most excited to read in the coming year?
The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma. I read and absolutely loved The Map of Time last year, but I'm intimidated by its sequel due to its length and my absurdly high expectations.

2. Which book would you re-read if you had the time and weren't so busy reading ALL the other good things?
The Mummy! by Jane Loudon (an 1820s sci-fi novel, which I'm sure just everyone has heard of). I've read only an abridged version of it, given as it's the only physical edition published within the last 100 or so years, but the original 3 volumes are on Google Books.

3. If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?
No clue. Maybe Pi from Life of Pi, just to ask him about that ending.

Once Upon a Time Readathon START

Welcome to this year's Once Upon a Readathon, hosted by Reading Angels and Candace's Book Blog! This year, I'm starting out with five books (I took the lazy way out and intentionally tried to make sure they were all fairly short or looked like quick reads). As usual, I tried to stick to a retellings and classic fantasy theme to help weed out the large number of these sorts of books I have sitting around my room, unread. I'm pretty excited to get started, especially since today I am conveniently off work at my internship. :)

The list, to be updated throughout the readathon:
Abandon by Meg Cabot my review
The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Oz #7) my review
Illuminated by Erica Orloff my review
Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell my review
Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie my review

Good luck to all the other participants!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fiction: A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

Publisher: Riverhead
Date: May 2, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 195

From GoodReads: A Guide to Being Born is organized around the stages of life—love, conception, gestation, birth—and the transformations that happen as people experience deeply altering life events, falling in love, becoming parents, looking toward the end of life. In each of these eleven stories Ausubel’s stunning imagination and humor are moving, entertaining, and provocative, leading readers to see the familiar world in a new way. In “Atria” a pregnant teenager believes she will give birth to any number of strange animals rather than a human baby; in “Catch and Release” a girl discovers the ghost of a Civil War hero living in the woods behind her house; and in “Tributaries” people grow a new arm each time they fall in love. Funny, surprising, and delightfully strange—all the stories have a strong emotional core; Ausubel’s primary concern is always love, in all its manifestations.

My review: The content of collections such as this are always hit-or-miss with me. Because the stories are so short, it seems like they either strike a personal chord with me or are easily forgettable. The stories in A Guide to Being Born were about half and half. Sometimes, I was left wondering what point Ausubel was trying to convey. Other stories, I loved for their combination of magical realism and details of everyday contemporary life. All, however, were intriguing and thought-provoking.

The ones that stood out: While the opening story, "Safe Passage," was fascinating simply for its unusualness and dreamlike surrealism, the next story, "Poppyseed," was strikingly bittersweet. "Chest of Drawers" was perhaps my favorite, exploring gender roles and one couple's relationship from the male's perspective as he watches his wife's body change with her first pregnancy. I enjoyed reading "Magniloquence" the most, as I could easily connect it to the world of academia of which I am on the edge. It would be hilarious to see my professors in the story's scenario!

Friday, July 5, 2013

YA Historical Fiction: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Publisher: Delacorte Books
Date: June 11, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 323
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive. Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil. But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

My review: Belle Epoque is based on Emile Zola's 1866 short story "Les Repoussoirs" about the fictional agency of Durandeau. Ross launches off from this story to write the compelling tale of Maude Pichon, a girl struggling to write the story of her own life by moving to Paris in the late 1880s in the midst of the changes to society brought by France's Industrial Revolution and Belle Epoque.

Maude is one of the most candid and realistic heroines I have encountered in a while. There's romantic interest, but it doesn't override the main story, and Maude's slight attraction to multiple boys before one begins to stand out seems much more true to real life than the usual insta-love. While she gets caught up in the opulence of her feigned fashionable life with the Duberns more than would be thought prudent, it fits with Maude's characterization as a provincial girl with overly-romanticized and cheery notions of what her life in Paris will be like. There is no fairy-tale, rather historically-anachronistic instant rise to fame, fortune, or love; the plot seems to take its natural course and suit both the characterizations of the book's key figures and what is realistic for the time period. At the same time, the issues with self-image and self-worth faced by Maude are things that any girl of today's time can easily identify with, making Belle Epoque an engrossing read for both fans of historical fiction and those who prefer more connections to contemporary life.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

MG Fiction: The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Date: 2010
Format: ARC
Source: ARCycling
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 280

From GoodReads: Life in a small town can be pretty boring when everyone avoids you like the plague. But after their father unwittingly sends them to stay with an aunt who’s away on holiday, the Hardscrabble children take off on an adventure that begins in the seedy streets of London and ends in a peculiar sea village where legend has it a monstrous creature lives who is half boy and half animal. . . . 

My review: I believe my opinion of The Kneebone Boy would have been different if I had read this in elementary or middle school versus in college. Back then, I think I would have found Potter's writing style enchanting and hilarious, witty and perfect for the audience. Now, however, I couldn't tell whether I was amused by the author's sense of humor and jabs at the tropes of similar books, or whether I found such shenanigans rather immature. It's a sad dilemma, really, to feel like you're too old to appreciate novels for younger readers.

I read Potter's newest novel, The Humming Room, last year. In comparison, The Kneebone Boy is written in an entirely different style, and the ending seemed perfectly paced rather than rushed. Overall, I enjoyed both books. I was particularly surprised/intrigued by the ending to The Kneebone Boy, as it is more serious and realistic than what one would expect from what at first seems to be a wacky fantasy book. It works well for the story, though, and adds deeper significance to what could otherwise be viewed as a fun but flighty read.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Classic Lit: The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse

Publisher: Bantam
Translator: Jack Zipes
Date: 1995
Format: paperback
Source: OU Honors College
Read: as part of an Honors College informal reading group/to be a completist
Pages: 263
Reading time: about three months, or entirely too long

From the back cover: To read Hermann Hesse's fairy tales is to enter a fabulous world of dreams and visions, philosophy and passion. This landmark collection contains twenty-two of Hesse's finest stories in this genre, most translated into English here for the first time. Full of visionaries and seekers, princesses and wandering poets, his fairy tales speak to the place in our psyche that inspires us with deep spiritual longing; that compels us to leave home, and inevitably to return; and that harbors the greatest joys and most devastating wounds of our heart.

My review: I was so, so excited to get this book - it's fairy tales, who wouldn't be? - and so, so disappointed once I started reading it. For one thing, they didn't much resemble fairy tales to me (though this could be at least partly because I'm more used to folkloric rather than "literary" fairy tales). The tales have the simple, blocky style of writing that characterizes such stories, but whereas I usually find such a style charming,  Hesse's manner of writing just irritated me. It was very much "THIS happened, then THIS," a lot of telling readers about the emotions and experiences of the characters rather than actually demonstrating them. I was often bored by the sequence of events, annoyed by Hesse's inclusion of vague philosophical ramblings significant only to himself.

The main thing I learned from this spring semester's Hesse reading group (we also read Narcissus and Goldmund and a selection of his poems) is how much I dislike Hesse's style and subjects. His fairy tales largely rehash the same themes as his other writings: the uniqueness in mind of the artist, how artists should separate their lives/work from the world, childhood innocence, and some vague oedipal thing about mothers. There's almost always some vague oedipal thing about mothers, and his constant bringing up of it is what probably most got on my nerves. Overall, Hesse came off as whiny to me, complaining about how great artists (with some obvious references to himself) are different from everyone else, more in tune with the natural world around them rather than with society.

Granted, I did not dislike every story in this collection. The stories about environmentalism and the dangers of modernism, such as "The City" and "Faldum," appealed somewhat to me. I loved the surrealism of "A Dream Sequence." My two favorites were probably "If the War Continues" and "The European," blatant criticisms of WWI that contained dystopian and allegorical elements, respectively. While overall I was irritated by Hesse's style and content, there were a few gems among this collection that I found quite worthwhile to read.