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review 2018-01-07 12:59
The Book of Joan
The Book of Joan: A Novel - Lidia Yuknavitch

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A tricky rating to give, for I did like some parts of this novel, but others just didn’t sit with me.

It made for intense read, for sure: for the catastrophe it depicts, the parallels it draws with our current world, the violence inflicted to characters (and especially women), the crude representation of a degenerated mankind, the desperate way the main characters live their lives. Christine and Trinculo, lovers in bodies that cannot experience physical pleasure anymore, united through skin grafts and art instead, as well as through their common support of Joan of Dirt, burnt for heresy. Leone, sexless and hardened warrior who never gives up. Nyx and their willingness to bring about destruction to help creation in turn.

One may or may not appreciate, also, the literary references. Jean de Men is most obviously a reference to Jean de Meung, and his perverted goals a direct echo of de Meung’s writings about women being deceitful and full of vice. In the same vein, Christine is Christine de Pisan, whose own writings attacked de Meung’s. Trinculo, both in name and behaviour, is the Shakespearian fool, whose apparently nonsensical language and insults are used to carry unconvenient truths. This goes further, since Christine is a feminist voice who lost her physical femininity, while Jean defiles bodies too close to his for comfort. As far as I’m concerned, those worked for me.

The writing itself, too, has beautiful moments, and weaves metaphors and descriptions in a way that gives the story a surreal aspect. Something larger than life, something that the characters try to reach for and clutch to, just like they clutch to their past sexualised humanity because they don’t really know what to do with their new bodies, much too fast devolved.

The science fiction side, though, didn’t work so well, and even though I was willing to suspend my disbelief, I couldn’t get over the evolutionary processes throughout the story. Joan’s power? Alright, why not. But human bodies degenerating to sexless, hairless, mutating in such a rapid way affecting everybody, not even on two or three generations but within one’s own lifetime? That’s just completely illogical. I see the intent, I understand it to an extent ( as it pitches this broken mankind with its broken bodies against the one being who brought destruction yet at the same time is the only one who can still bring about true creation), but it still won’t work for me from a scientific standpoint, which is something I still expect to see in a sci-fi/post-apocalyptic setting.

The writing deals with first person points of view that aren’t necessarily the same person’s from one chapter to the other, and it made the story confusing at times, until a hint or other made it clearer whose voice I was reading. At times, it made the narrative disjointed and the characters ‘remote’, which made it more difficult to really care for them.

Nevertheless, it was a compelling read that goes for the guts, violent despite—or because of?—its poetry.

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review 2017-10-22 14:42
Book 69/100: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire
This is one of the best Maguire books I've read, right up there with the first couple Oz retellings (I only read the first two but heard the later ones weren't as good.)

Similar to "Mirror, Mirror," Maguire places the story of Cinderella within a firm historical time and place -- Holland at the start of the tulip trade. But unlike "Mirror, Mirror," it doesn't have the strange conflagration of fantasy and historical realism that didn't quite work for me. "Confessions" could be read as a straight historical retelling with the characters holding onto some "magical" belief systems, or it could be read as a very subtle fantasy rooted in a historical setting. This ambiguity worked for me.

The stepmother and stepsisters, as well as the "Cinderella" character, are all vividly drawn. The stepmother comes across as both wicked and sympathetic -- surely not an easy feat to accomplish. As soon as I got over my hangup that it felt as if this story should be told first-person (it's CONFESSIONS, after all!), I enjoyed the masterful and detailed writing -- although the level of detail and the change the characters underwent in the course of the story made it feel as though it should have taken place over a longer span of time than it actually did. Still, that was a minor quibble -- and the minor "twist" at the end really worked for me.

The retelling genre teems with Cinderella stories, but this one moves to the front of the line for me.
 
 
 
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review 2017-09-29 02:04
Book 62/100: Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue
Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins - Emma Donoghue

So I guess I knew who Emma Donoghue was before she was "cool" (i.e., pre-ROOM), since this book has been on my shelf FOREVER ... but I didn't actually read it till after I'd read her more recent stuff. I'm generally 10-20 years behind on my TBR, though, so this is not at all unusual.

Having read her later stuff first, I can see that her writing voice is not quite as strong or refined in this collection, but the prose is still beautiful most of the time, with the exception of a few moments when it becomes vague or a little garbled. But as fairy tale retellings go, these are decent, not often changing the structure of the originals much, but casting their meaning in new light. In particular, I liked that the stories subverted the original trope common in fairy tales of women working against one another in competition, and instead presented heroines who were liberated by or in cooperation with the traditional "villains" in the story.

All of the retellings in this collection are connected, so the protagonist in one story is telling her tale to the protagonist of the previous tale. This forms a backwards running chain that I thought would somehow come full circle, but it didn't. In some cases, the revelation of who a minor character in one story was in her past made perfect sense -- in others, it felt like a stretch, and too bizarre to be meaningful (there are several instances of people being reincarnated as animals). Overall, this particular narrative device felt somewhat gimmicky, and I feel doubtful about whether Donoghue would have applied it later in her career as a more mature writer.

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review 2017-08-08 19:25
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle  
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

These days we know from ranting, gibbering, racist, sexist, nasty-ass old men horrifying their friends and relations with pointless cruel stupidity, stunning everyone at the festive holiday gathering into silence. LaValle answers Lovecraft's most vile, offensive story, with a work of terrible beauty. "Ah, yes," you think as you close the shorts book: "that's what I wish I had thought to say." Order has been restored, the nasty old man has had his ass whipped in public.

You know what horror is? How far we haven't come in a century.

Damn, I love this story. I just want to go around smacking people upside the head with it, mostly figuratively. Perhaps the most thoroughly satisfying work I've ever read.

Library copy

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review 2017-08-05 22:34
Book Review For: Glamour: Contemporary Fairytale Retellings
Glamour: Contemporary Fairytale Retellings - AL Jackson,Sophie Jordan,Aleatha Romig,Skye Warren,Lili St. Germain,Nora Flite,Sierra Simone,Nicola Rendell

Glamour: Contemporary Fairytale Retellings is a box set with eight exclusive novellas by different authors:
1. KNOT by Lili St. Germain
A Rapunzel story
2. RED HOT PURSUIT by A.L. Jackson
A Little Red Riding Hood story
3. RIPPLES by Aleatha Romig
A Prince and the Pauper story
4. IN A STRANGER'S BED by Sophie Jordan
A Goldilocks story
5. BEDTIME STORY by Skye Warren
A Sleeping Beauty story
6. ROYAL MATTRESS by Nicola Rendell
A Princess and the Pea story
7. MUSIC BOX GIRL by Sierra Simone
A Twelve Dancing Princesses story
8. BROKEN HARP by Nora Flite
A Jack and the Beanstalk story
What the great thing about box set like this is that you can get a taste of new authors that you haven't tried before. Or a quick read by a favorite author. I know for me Ms. Jordan is a favorite so I quickly read that book first. Another thing I have always said about novella box set is that they are great for a quick read while waiting for an appointment or a story before bed.
Loved this set and would recommend it.
"My honest review is for a special copy I voluntarily read."
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