BOOK REVIEW: The Beast’s Heart, by Leife Shallcross

BOOK REVIEW: The Beast’s Heart, by Leife ShallcrossTitle: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by Berkley
Published: February 12th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.

I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.

Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast's heart.

It feels like it’s been forever since a I read a fairy tale retelling that was set in its traditional time period. The Beast’s Heart is a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in 17th century France that evokes a lot of the style and magic of what I associate with the fairy tale. Shallcross manages to retell a familiar tale set in a familiar landscape and somehow make it entirely infused with a fresh magic. This retelling is told from the Beast’s perspective, and Shallcross does a fantastic job of letting us into the mind of the beast, showing us the arrogance and the assumptions that the young woman should love him just because he saved her. She shows his growth from “the beast” to “the prince” in a sympathetic and true way, and I liked seeing the Beast’s growth from his own perspective.

While this does stay true to the original tales, as I get older, I realize and recognize some of the weird behaviors that are often swept aside for the romance. As someone in her 30s now, I do find it generally off-putting for men to continually ask someone else out even after she’s said no, find non-consensual voyeurism strange, and think that the whole “woe is me, please love me I’m alone” deal to be tired. You’ll find all of this in the book, and on one hand it is grating and off-putting. I found myself thinking “just leave her alone!” several times when the Beast kept making his advances. I thought some of the scenes where the Beast was watching Isabeau and her family through his magic mirror to add a depth to the story, but there were times he watched Isabeau for the sake of watching her (and in one scene watching her undress). The Beast also bemoans his lack of humanity and the horrors of his beast self, and the consistency with which that happens gets old after a while. But there are people out there in the world who behave this way, and the Beast does come to his senses, matures, and begin reversing a lot of those thoughts and behaviors by the book’s end.

I thought the descriptions of the chateau and its surroundings were beautiful, the dialogue is sparkling, and the pacing is just right for a story like this. It reminded me a lot of the fairy tale retellings I read ages ago by Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, and Gail Carson Levine, so it left me with good feelings by the end.

BOOK REVIEW: New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier

BOOK REVIEW: New Boy, by Tracy ChevalierTitle: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare #5
Published by Hogarth
Published: May 11th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Retellings
Pages: 204
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring comes the fifth installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a modern retelling of Othello set in a suburban schoolyard

Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, a diplomat's son, Osei Kokote, knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day so he's lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can't stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players - teachers and pupils alike - will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970's suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi, Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

 You are not my brother, O thought. He hated it when white people used that word, trying to take on some of the coolness of black culture without wearing the skin and paying the dues.

Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy is the latest installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, and I think it’s one of my favorites of the series. Having studied and taught Othello, I felt as if I were able to deconstruct the novella as I was reading it and delight in the correlations of the novella to the play.

Osei, or O, is a Ghanian diplomat’s son, and he is attending a new school in the 1970s in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. when a series of dramatic events unfold on school grounds from first bell to the final bell. It’s evident from the beginning that O is one of the only black students to attend this school, and that sets him apart immediately. Racial tensions are high, and everyone from the students to the instructors harbors some kind of prejudice toward O either through their own ignorance or through something that happens during the span of the day.

I thought Chevalier’s transposition of the dramatics of Othello to a schoolyard playground with all of its hormone-fueled rage, jealousies, and love was spectacularly done. Somehow the age of the major characters seemed to elevate the drama to something at once so believable and frightening. The final scene in the novella is heart-stopping and ends abruptly. I only wish there was more, a few pages of the aftermath, but as in the play, the reader is left with a quick cut to a black screen without that neat resolution.

In such a small book, Chevalier weaves a depth in each of her major characters, and her talent really shines in her development of O’s struggles at home, with himself and his place in the world, and how those struggles clash with the reality he faces at his new school. You feel his awkwardness, his intelligence, his anger, his love, and his wrath in a mere two hundred pages, and you’re left wanting to know more about this young man by the time the book ends.

New Boy is a masterful retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most racially charged plays, and it had me hooked from page one.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review by Blogging for Books! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

BOOK REVIEW: Norse Mythology, by Neil GaimanTitle: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Published: February 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mythology
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

In their huge bedroom that night, Tyr said to Thor, “I hope you know what you are doing.”

“Of course I do,” said Thor. But he didn’t. He was just doing whatever he felt like doing. That was what Thor did best.

In the introduction to Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman writes that he went straight to the sources for his retellings of these myths, the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. He interjects his own style of writing into retelling the old myths and brings new life into the stories. Norse Mythology is a great introduction as well as being an invigorating new look into tales for those who are already familiar with them. The stories are also perfect for reading aloud, and you don’t have to read them in order to really get full enjoyment out of them. I’m certainly going to be borrowing the audio book from the library so I can listen to Gaiman read them to me.

I was, however, expecting some kind of Gaiman-esque twist or one of his signature dives into the weird, so if that’s something you’re expecting out of this, be aware that it’s exactly what it says on the tin. It’s Norse mythology told to us by one of our greatest storytellers. The stories themselves are dark and gruesome and at times very funny, and I couldn’t think of a more popular writer to make these tales accessible to everyone.

Reading this was a perfect start to a new year. It feels both old and new at the same time, a talent Gaiman possesses and shows in many of his works. It’s ethereal, dangerous, and so much fun. It was sometimes difficult not to imagine Thor and Loki’s dialogue in their Marvel counterparts and that made me giggle out loud sometimes.

My favorite part was probably the introduction. While reading it, I could thoroughly understand that Neil Gaiman loves Norse mythology (it’s seen in many of his other works like Sandman and American Gods). As he writes in his introduction:

… the Norse gods came with their own doomsday: Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, the end of it all. The gods were going to battle the frost giants, and they were all going to die.

Had Ragnarok happened yet? Was it still to happen? I did not know then. I am not certain now.

It was the fact that the world and the story ends, and the way that it ends and is reborn, that made the gods and the frost giants and the rest of them tragic heroes, tragic villains. Ragnarok made the Norse world linger for me, seem strangely present and current, while other, better-documented systems of belief felt as if they were part of the past, old things.

Norse mythology, and stories of Vikings and the like, always felt atmospheric to me. Of chilly and foggy springs and autumns, endless and gorgeous summer days, snowy winters; of gatherings of people in long halls with endless feasts and drinking; of stories and songs told and sung around fires, the passing on of knowledge through the rhythm of words. Neil Gaiman brings that to life in Norse Mythology, and I’m hoping he’ll do more like this or even write an extended tale of Norse inspiration like his fairy tale Stardust.

Thank you to Netgalley and W.W. Norton for a review copy! All quotes are from an uncorrected proof, and all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye

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BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay FayeTitle: Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: April 2nd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Retellings
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.
A masterly re-creation of history’s most diabolical villain, Lyndsay Faye’s debut brings unparalleled authenticity to the atmosphere of Whitechapel and London in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters. Jack the Ripper’s identity, still hotly debated around the world more than a century after his crimes were committed, remains a mystery ripe for speculation. Dust and Shadow explores the terrifying prospect of tracking a serial killer without the advantage of modern forensics, and the result is a lightning-paced novel brimming with historical detail that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

 As he passed a hand over his eyes, I recalled the he could not have slept more than twenty hours in the last seven days. For the first time since I had known him, Sherlock Holmes appeared to be exhausted by work rather than inaction.

“Because if I am right,” he murmured, “I haven’t the first idea what to do.”

Lyndsay Faye’s debut novel Dust and Shadow imagines what it might be like if Sherlock Holmes and John Watson investigated and solved the Jack the Ripper murders. While she tackles some of the more sensitive issues regarding women and people who are not well-off white men, Faye brings to life that Holmesian Victorian London as if Doyle himself might have imagined. The details of day-to-day life are so vivid and believable that there were times while I was reading this that I forgot it was a pastiche.

This novel is a bit slow at first and really takes about a third of the novel to get to the really interesting bits, but once you’ve hit that mark, the story sweeps you away. Holmes is our cynical, cold, cerebral detective, and Watson is our devoted and daring narrator. Faye’s Watson illuminates the humanity of every character in the novel and develops them well. The addition of Mary Ann Monk, a prostitute who proves herself to Holmes and Watson to be “a woman of extraordinary fortitude. Compared to Doyle’s historically sexist and racist writing, Faye’s Victorian England and the characters intertwined are presented in a more modern and humanist light that I found refreshing, daring, and forward.

While I have read many historical documents and fictional narratives surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders, I found Faye’s (and Holmes’s and Watson’s) deductions and conclusions regarding the murderer to be enlightening, engaging, and well-researched.

As usual, we readers are seeing the story unfold through Watson’s eyes and Watson’s pen, so there are times when we should question Watson and his presentation. Did things happen so neatly as Watson writes them out to be? Watson, when writing these narratives, already knows the end and the resolution, so are any of the details exaggerated or changed to fit a narrative? And there are times when Watson and ourselves as readers have no clue what Holmes is about to do, and that’s what I think really drives this story (and any good Sherlock Holmes story).  Holmes already knows the answers, but we need to know them, even if “on occasion his dictatorial glibness grated upon [our] nerves.” But that’s what keeps us reading until the very end.

If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes in any form, find Jack the Ripper fascinating, or just like a good murder mystery, pick Faye’s novel up immediately.

Faye has a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories coming out in early 2017, so I’m looking forward to reading more of her Holmesian mysteries.

The Cyborg Cinderella; Marissa Meyer’s Cinder

cinder

The Cyborg Cinderella; Marissa Meyer’s CinderTitle: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #1
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Published: January 3rd 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 390
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I love love love fairy tales. I especially love imaginative retellings of fairy tales. Some of my favorite books of all time are retellings, and they are often the titles I recommend to people first. I couldn’t honestly tell you what got me into retellings initially. I grew up on Disney movies, and some of my favorite movies are Ever After (a Cinderella “history”) and The Princess Bride (which plays on fairy tale tropes). The first retelling I vividly remember reading was Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. I think that one might have been the tipping point. After reading it, I sought out every other retelling I could possibly find (and this was in the early stages of internet searching, so it was a difficult and arduous task!). My searches led me to Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, Cameron Dokey, and many others. I’ve got an entire overflowing shelf filled specifically with retellings.

When a few friends told me about Cinder, I had to read it. When I read it for the first time back in Feburary 2013, I devoured it in a single day. It wasn’t until I finished it and had some more conversations with friends about it that I found out about Meyer writing Sailor Moon fanfiction and everything fell into place. It’s the perfect mix of fairy tales and Sailor Moon. While I worked in a bookstore, I would recommend it based on that alone. Love fairy tales and anime? You’ll love this series.

I love how Meyer weaves in several fairy tales in one overarching narrative. It’s not an entirely new concept (and admittedly I’m using a similar one for a series of novels I’m planning), but the little science fiction twist to it is something I like most about this series. Most fairy tale retellings I’ve come across have a very high-fantasy/historical twist to them, but this adds space and science to the mix. I didn’t know how much I wanted to see princesses in space and cyborg princesses until I came across The Lunar Chronicles.

Cinder follows the traditional Cinderella storyline. Cinder is a ward who was adopted by her now-dead father. She is raised by her step-mother, and she has two step-sisters. There’s a handsome prince, a cute android sidekick, a ball, a terrible queen, and mild drama sprinkled between. It’s a perfect setup for a series. The events leading up to the ball bring everything together and set the stage for the rest of the series. The only thing I really wanted more out of Cinder is more about New Beijing, the culture of a future world in which China is the leading world entity, and the day-to-day details of that culture. Why China? What happened? I can’t remember if much of it is touched on in the later books as its been a while since I’ve read the second and the third, so hopefully this reread will be a bit more revealing!


I’m trying a sort of new format with my posts! I love the images other book bloggers use, so I’m trying out some new styles from Canva! I feel like my blog needs a few more graphic elements, so this is a good place to start.