Sunday, September 22, 2013

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum 
“I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas."
"That is because you have no brains," answered the girl. "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home." 
The Scarecrow sighed.
"Of course I cannot understand it," he said. "If your heads were stuffed with straw, like mine, you would probably all live in beautiful places, and then Kansas would have no people at all. It is fortunate for Kansas that you have brains.” 

Dorothy lives in Kansas with her uncle and aunt. It is a grey little farm on a grey little plain. One day a tornado swoops down and takes Dorothy and the house up into the sky and down again, landing in the Land of Oz on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy and her new friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion travel through perils to the Emerald City to each receive what they most desire from the great and terrible Wizard of Oz. But will Oz's price be too much for them to pay?

Please do not read this if you are a part of my book club! This is my first time reading the books. I have seen the movie several times, and I have vague memories of reading Oz stories in picture book form, but I never had all of them, and the ones that stood out were the visit to Oz, the china town and the Hammer Heads. I had never read it all the way through.

I love it! The style is so charming. I shouldn't say that it reminds me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of her Own Making, it should be the other way around, but I hadn't read Oz yet!

I loved that the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion weren't just Dorothy's backup dancers. They each had their own very specific talents -- ironically the exact talents they thought they lacked. On every adventure, the Scarecrow would come up with the plan, the Tin Woodsman built or used a tool to help with the plan, and the Lion had to complete the scary task. They used teamwork to solve problems and they could not have accomplished any part of their journey without the other. There were very few moments like that in the movie where they separately shone as part of the whole.

Dorothy, while still a child, is much more sensible than the Dorothy in the movie. As much as I love Judy Garland, she is very much the damsel in distress. Dorothy keeps a close eye on the food supply for the journey, and keeps her head down when she needs to. She deals with the supposed death or loss of her companions multiple times, and she handles herself in Oz with maturity. When the witch takes her prisoner, she obeys and comforts the lion (one of the more touching moments of the book for me). The end rescue happens in reverse from the movie. Dorothy has had enough and in a fit of frustration throws water on the witch and melts her (rather than as a desperate impulse in the movie). She rescues the lion and then goes to rescue the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow.

I was so shocked at the violence in this book. The Tin Woodsman kills a lot of animals with his ax. But I did appreciate how Baum handled Oz' request for Dorothy, a little girl, to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. She cries and states that she cannot kill someone willingly. I felt this was missing in the movie, the full weight of asking a child to kill someone.

I did feel that the adventures post Oz's departure were a bit too much. The movie handled it nicely, having Glinda appear at the balloon launch. Perhaps it was because I was used to the movie's ending that I didn't fully grasp the trajectory of this story.

I missed the parallels between farm life and the Land of Oz to show that she still carries some Oz with her at home. It makes me wonder if she will be as happy as she claims in the grey land of Kansas. And you do wonder, after the 100th time they repeat the brains, heart, courage, home mantra...what did Toto want?

I did love the book, however, and I will definitely put it on my shelf of classics I will read to my children, along with Peter Pan and the Secret Garden.

Monday, September 16, 2013

REVIEW: Stung by Bethany Wiggins

"As I jump out the window, I glance over my shoulder. The window frames a face with smooth skin and hollow cheeks -- a boy on the brink of manhood. He peels his lips back and growls, and I stare into his brown eyes. For a moment it is like looking into a mirror and I almost say his name. Until I realize his eyes are wild and feral, like an animal's...As I sprint across the empty schoolyard, past the silent, rusted playground, I dare a look over my shoulder. My brother is hobbling toward the fence, his angle hanging at an odd angle to his leg. His eyes meet mine and he holds a hand up to me, a plea to come back. A sob tears at my chest, but I look away and keep running."

Fiona wakes up in her bedroom. Everything is covered in dust. The world around her is lifeless, and there is a tattoo on her right hand. She is 4 years older than she was when she fell asleep. She steps into a world divided, where those bearing the tattoo must live outside the wall because they are infected with a deadly disease that could turn them at any moment into mindless beastly killing machines. Those within the wall are safe, but at what cost? When Fiona is captured by the militia, she is marked as a Level Ten, the deadliest of all the infected. Yet, she feels normal. As flashes of memories come back to her, she and her former classmate Bowen, now a hardened militia man, must discover her secret before it is too late.

This book was chilling. The opening images of a normal world gone wrong were nightmarish. Everything left as if the family had just stepped out, but dust-covered, broken, and warped. Vestiges of her old life present themselves in horribly twisted ways.

There are very few elements of the Sleeping Beauty tale in this adaptation, but they appear in the prick of a needle, the many-years sleep, and the healing power of a kiss, just not in the ways you would expect.

The story itself did not grab my heart the way Scarlet did. The bleak dystopia grabbed my brain, however, and I was moved by the dogged perseverance of Fiona towards the end of the book (after a few chapters of some wandering, and following). While her relationship with Bowen is compelling, I was more taken by her relationship with her twin brother Jonah, a Level 10 who has already turned into an aggressive killer, and how his repeat appearances change as the plot advances.

I found that the story meandered a little and the deus ex machina at the end was a little too abrupt and easy, but it was still a satisfying tale, and a fascinating world to explore. A solid sci-fi version of the fairy tale.

And the cover art is amazing, right?

REVIEW: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

by Marissa Meyer
“A sickening howl stopped her, sucking the air out of her lungs. 
The night's chatter silenced, even the loitering city rats pausing to listen.
Scarlet had heard wild wolves before, prowling the countryside in search of easy prey on the farms.
But never had a wolf's howl send a chill down her spine like that.” 
This second book in the Lunar Chronicles follows a delivery girl named Scarlet whose grandmother has been missing for two weeks. The police have given up, but she tenaciously searches for clues. When she meets a young, handsome, ambiguously affiliated street fighter, Wolf, who might hold the key to her grandmother's disappearance, they embark on a journey that might save her grandmother, or doom Scarlet to the same fate. In the mean time, Cinder (protagonist of the last book), is breaking out of prison with the charming, but rather self absorbed Captain Thorne. And poor Prince Kai is left to deal with the evil Lunar Queen alone. 

I believe I loved this book even more than Cinder! Marissa Meyer creates awesome heroines, all of whom have very strong objectives having nothing to do with love. Any love that they may come across is secondary to their main drives. And so far they have each held jobs traditionally given to men (that of mechanic and delivery person) with unconscious aplomb.

The gentlemen, Thorne and Kai, are given equally complex treatment. Even though Thorne is shallow, you can tell he is capable of more than he gives himself credit for. And Wolf. Oh Wolf. I am a sucker for the primal but sweet and funny but also not-certain-if-he-is-going-to-eat-you wolfman (see Wolf in 10th Kingdom). And may I say, without giving too much away, that damn the romance in this one is passionate.

This book is action-packed with highly creative fights, chases, interrogation scenes, and brawls. The science fiction is deftly woven into the plot so that it is never to exposition or world-building heavy; it just flows with the story. I also appreciated how both the Scarlet story line and the Cinder story line were both equally as strong.

The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Scarlet, are probably some of my favorite fairy tale adaptations out there. They give nods to the important elements of the fairy tale: the pumpkin, the shoe, the searching prince, the red cloak, the wolf, the grandmother. Yet they are not slaves to them. They creatively interpret them to create new and compelling stories. As these ladies join forces, I am excited to see who fills out their crew of powerful fairy tale heroes and heroines. The next book, Cress, comes out soon!

Books Like This:
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Terrier by Tamora Pierce
The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde