Month: April 2014

2014 Book #22: A Tale Dark and Grimm

taledarkandgrimmI’m really disappointed that I didn’t like A Tale Dark and Grimm. It’s a retelling of various Grimm’s Fairy Tales for kids with lots of the gore left in. I’ve read some brilliant kids’ books in the past few months, and I was expecting something similar. That’s not what I got. Adam Gidwitz‘s writing lacks the creativity I look for in children’s books. That said, if I was a kid, I’d probably like it, if only because all of the gore seems a little taboo after the fairy tales we’re used to. I guess I’m too old to enjoy this one, which happens disappointingly often with books like The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perks of Being a Wallflower – and, really, with The MagiciansAt the same time, though, if I’m too old for A Tale Dark and Grimm, I shouldn’t have enjoyed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making half as much as I did.

I read A Tale Dark and Grimm after I saw Adam Gidwitz speak at Artbreak this weekend. He’s a fantastic speaker, and he seems like a really nice guy. I so wanted to enjoy this book. My problem, I think, is it’s too much of Grimm and not enough of his own work.

Artbreak 2014

Here’s what happens. Hansel and Gretel are inserted into a slew of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are strung together to make a reasonably sensible story. These aren’t your usual fairy tales: the murder and general gore is left in and presented almost like it’s a secret. As the story progresses, the author inserts himself with asides in bold print, saying things like “little kids should leave the room so they don’t get too scared” and making other super-preachy statements about the moral of the story and such. That was fun for the first few pages, but it got old very quickly. The end is tied up together too sweetly, even for a kids’ book, and what the reader should have learned is written blatantly on the page in one of Gidwitz’s asides. No critical thinking is involved, which annoys me, especially in kids’ books. There are also parts that just don’t make sense, he says, because fairy tales often don’t make sense, but he’s trying to make them into a coherent novel, so I wish he’d put a little work into that.

Which is basically my problem with A Tale Dark and Grimm. At the talk, Gidwitz answered a question about writer’s block by suggesting that kids steal their basic story from somewhere and adapt it to their own purposes, like Harry Potter and Star Wars follow the same basic pattern. Except that’s not what Gidwitz did: he just adapted someone else’s stories and did very little of the making-it-his-own part. There is, of course, a benefit to bringing Grimm’s Fairy Tales to a younger audience, but I set this in with those illustrated and abridged classics like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island that used to sell for 50¢ in grocery stores when I was a kid. When I got older and read the real thing, I felt cheated, that I should have spent my time reading a real book, even if it was written for contemporary kids.

All of that said, I think that Adam Gidwitz is fantastic as a speaker. He was a teacher, and it shows. He quickly memorized the names of every kid in attendance and addressed them directly and non-condescendingly. I really enjoyed listening to him and meeting him. Which was why I picked up the book in the first place and why I was so disappointed in it. I’m pretty sure this was his first published book, so maybe he got better (Suzanne Collins did!), though the future works he talked about seemed about the same: he’s contracted to write an adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, which is very cool, and he’s working on adaptations of medieval myths kind of like his Grimm series. That also makes me wonder if he shares my inability to come up with a plot on my own (which is one reason I don’t write), but has found an ingenious way to get over writer’s block by rewriting what others have already done. And does that make it just a gimmick?

Also: I’ve embedded a slideshow of the few photos I took at Artbreak! It looked amazing.

Artbreak is what I remember of the Revel from my childhood, but it’s so much more interesting than the Revel! Maybe I was remembering Artbreak, and the Revel has, indeed, been mostly a collection of crappy, generic fleur-de-lis art since I was little. I don’t know how I missed Artbreak for the past several years. It makes me proud to live in Shreveport!

2014 Book #21: The Magicians

magiciansI’d seen The Magicians around the internet, marketed as a sort of Harry Potter for adults. It’s the first of yet another wizardy series, and despite my best judgment (and having read all of the Game of Thrones books available), I checked it out from the library.

Here’s what happens: Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts, graduates, and goes to Narnia with some friends.

Except Harry’s name is Quentin, Hogwarts is Brakebills, and Narnia is Fillory. I’m sure you can figure out the rest of the plot. Seriously. That is the plot of this novel. Ugh. Really, it was all fine until one of his friends showed up saying he found a way into Fillory, about three-quarters through the novel. It was just a rehash of Harry Potter, but with some sex and alcohol added, so you know they’re older. There almost nothing original in the whole thing – it was just mindlessly entertaining until the downright stupidity of the Fillory adventure.

It’s also full of crazy plot holes. Here’s one of many: Each Brakebills class is composed of twenty students. After their first semester, Quentin and Alice (eventually his girlfriend) are inexplicably selected to skip into the second half of their second year. Later, when they graduate, there are twenty students in their class. What happened to the other two? The Magicians is full of annoying little holes like that. Lev Grossman also finds weird ways of using the “show, don’t tell” formula – like Quentin randomly goes into some sort of sunroom where he’d been hanging out, only to find his friend Eliot giving a blowjob to some unnamed, sinister-sounding kid. I thought something bad must be going down at school, but no, Eliot is just gay. That’s it: Grossman just found a really awkward, uncomfortable way of showing that this kid likes dudes – which isn’t even a thing in the book. Eliot’s sexual preference has nothing to do with anything important. No idea.

I have a feeling that The Magicians has been edited: I bet it was thinly veiled fanfiction about Harry Potter finding Narnia, then some publisher saying, sure, we’ll publish it, just change some names so we don’t get sued. Isn’t that how Fifty Shades of Grey happened? Even if it didn’t start out as fanfiction, it’s entirely derivative. Of the whole novel, there’s only one part I thought was interesting: during their fourth year, the class disappears for a semester, and no one will say why. One night, Quentin is woken up by a professor, he and his class are taken to a balcony at the top of the tower, and told to disrobe, after which they are thrown off the building as they turn into geese. They fly all the way to Antarctica for a few months. That part is original (as far as I can tell) and interesting. The rest of the book is pure wizard formula. And all of the Fillory crap is just plain dumb.

I’m so disappointed in The Magicians. My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t this low, either. It’s just a really bad book written to capitalize on the nostalgia of 20-somethings. It would be fine if this book stood out in any way, but the characters are flat, and all of the descriptions are firmly rooted in the collective memories of Narnia and Harry Potter readers. Maybe I’m just a little too old, and maybe I’m not a big enough fan of Narnia. The more I think about it, the less I like this book, and I already disliked it. Ugh. This is a series I probably won’t be finishing – though I think I said that about The Hunger Games, too.

2014 Book #20: A Dance with Dragons

dancewithdragonsI don’t have much to say about A Dance with Dragons. It’s the fifth book in George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and, as I’ve said before, once you get this far into a series, there is no review without spoilers. I also find that until the last book, the farther I get in, the less I have to say. And these have been some long books.

Events off note and off the top of my head (again: spoiler alert): Tyrion made it to Pentos, had a time with Illyrio, ended up with Rhaegar’s son, Aegon, got picked up by a slaver after a hurricane, ended up a slave outside of Meereen, talked his way into the Second Sons, a group of sellswords. Oh, and Barristan Selmy started all of that business, trying to get back to Danerys. Who spent most of the novel sitting in Meereen and making stupid decisions, including marrying a nobleman and essentially agreeing to reverse everything she did after she overtook the city. After the wedding, a dragon shows up and whisks her away to parts unknown while the city goes mad. Good times. Arya is still in that temple, doing things. Meanwhile, in Westeros, Cersei gets her comeuppance and walks through Kings Landing naked and bleeding. I almost feel bad for her. There’s also Theon Greyjoy, who shows up alive and tortured, named Reek by Ramsay Bolton, who is arguably more twisted and evil than Joffrey ever was. Ramsay supposedly marries Arya, but it’s really Jeyne Poole, and she and Theon escape, finally running into his sister, Asha, who almost ended up dead, herself. On the Wall, Winter is Coming, and Jon Snow lets all of the Wildlings cross to the south so they can all fight the zombies together. Except at the end he might or might not end up dead, Caesar-style. Speaking of I-thought-she-was-dead, Brienne apparently survived being hanged at some point, and she’s run off with Jaime, who was no help to Cersei. Oh, and Bran is somewhere north of the wall, turning into a tree. The end.

This one took me longer to read than most of them, and I don’t think it was just because it’s one of the longer books in the series. I got a little bored at points – hence Inverted World. I stopped not too much farther in to read Oakley Hall’s Warlock, but I was more bored with that than with A Dance with Dragons, so I went back to the Martin. I think that I’m to the point that I’m not reading so much for enjoyment as to Get All the Spoilerz, which is unfortunate. I enjoyed it well enough, but I was more interested in who would die than anything else.

Remember how, in the early books, if someone died, he was probably actually dead? Like Ned Stark and Joffrey? I liked that. I’m tired of people supposedly dying and then showing up again in the next book. Catelyn Stark, by the way, did not make another mysterious appearance here. I am interested to see what’s going on with Zombie Catelyn. But Brienne? I thought she was hanged. And Theon should have been dead – though the life he has had lately is much worse. I bet Jon is still alive.

Which all means that I eagerly await The Winds of Winter, which will hopefully be published before George R.R. Martin dies. I wonder if he’s even finished writing it. The fourth season of the HBO show just started, but the only part I’ll be watching is Joffrey’s wedding because it should be fun, as, from what I’ve seen, the books are so much more interesting than the show.

In other news, it’s finally Spring! Palmer and I went to the Red River National Wildlife Refuge in Bossier for a little nature time. Of course we went in the middle of the day when the light was bad for photos, but here are some, anyway (and here’s the Flickr set):

I’m just realizing how little I’ve said lately that’s not about books. When Spring hit, our peach tree bloomed, and I took some photos of that, too. Here’s the best one:


We also had a little bit of a cookout, though we only invited ourselves.

A good time was had by all. Well, both. And, I guess, the cats. Who know what to do on rainy Spring mornings:

And, finally, after two years of terror, I finally went to the dentist to start fixing my teeth, which months of sugary saliva have made rotten. So far, I’ve been twice, and each time I go, I’m rewarding myself with a new Game of Thrones toy. So far, I have Ned Stark and Joffrey:

Next are Tyrion and Danerys, then maybe a dragon. I have enough dental work ahead of me that I’ll amass quite a few. Luckily, the only major thing I have to have done is a crown, which I would have needed with or without ye olde beetus.

In all of this picture-taking, I discovered that my good ol’ Nikon SLR needs a professional cleaning. I spent way too much time in Photoshop, removing blurry specks from the mirror or the sensor or wherever it is that I can’t get to. So for my birthday, I’m getting it cleaned. Maybe that will inspire me to pull it out more often.

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