Mini Reviews: Hidden Figures, Snow Like Ashes

Here’s some fiction and nonfiction for ya. I will admit, this is one of the rare times I actually prefer the movie to the book. I tend to appreciate historical nonfiction provided it’s done right, but this one was only okay.

On the other hand, I really, really, really wanted to love this book. It was about four kingdoms that are named after seasons. It’s about a girl and her chakram. I mean…ONLY XENA HAS A CHAKRAM AND SHE IS BADASS. But ugh. It was really hard to get into this book, and when I got done, I just sat there going “meh.” I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

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Tortall Just How I Like It || Tempests and Slaughter Review

Initial Thoughts 

Ughhhh I still have so many questions that needed answering WHY DID IT HAVE TO END?! But mostly two things. 1. I am biased to almost all things Tamora Pierce so the rating here could have easily been 5 stars because yes I effing enjoyed the book. But 2. While I absolutely adored Arram living a Harry Potter lifestyle during a fantastical medieval setting, what I was mostly left with was the desire to reread the entire Immortals series again and the desire to move on with the plot because THINGS HAPPEN OMG at the end. BUT THE QUESTIONS!

Alright I’m done.


TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER

by Tamora Pierce
Random House, February 2018
Fantasy, young adult
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

Carthaki-Bound!

You’ve got to understand this about me: I’m a die-hard Tamora Pierce fan. Back in the not-so-distant past, I went so far as to write fanfiction for certain scenarios that were never expanded upon in the Tortallan series. By the time I’d finished-slash-devoured The Immortals quartet, I was so completely enamored by the idea of Numair’s character and his meeting up with the Alanna gang that for a long time I couldn’t bring myself to read anything else. And then I started writing fanfic about it. And then I started sharing that fanfic. And then I began to get really into the details.

Fast forward almost a decade since the rumors of a Numair book has been in tow (no, seriously, I’d been promised one since 2010, dammit, and I’d heard about a possible Numair novel in the works as early as 2007…), and I can finally let out a sigh and a squee because YES, Pierce has done it once again and I cannot wait for the next book already!

Tempests and Slaughter delivers where it counted. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be Harry Potter meets the medieval times plus gladiators and slavery. You have your medieval magical school which is Carthak University. You have your golden trio of Arram, Varice, and Ozorne (though honestly, Ozorne is hardly humorous and extremely prejudiced against a certain race, and it’s Arram who’s the super nerdy know-it-all), and you have a Chosen O–actually, nope. Nah. It’s not that kind of story.

What Pierce did well was make her magical school a workable, plausible one. If the world had magic during medieval times, I’d totally buy this homage to a school system with modified and differentiated curricula (HAH! I’m using educational terminology, take that, nay-sayers!). I mean, who wouldn’t want to teach very promising and enthusiastic students on a one-on-one basis? Only in an ideally magical world, amiright?

I absolutely loved the characters in the story. Pierce has had so much writing experience under her belt by now that getting the details in is seamless for her. She always writes such interesting personalities and backgrounds, and she always delivers on strong female characters, regardless of whether the female is a kitchen witch, a slave/gladiator, or an elderly magic teacher. There are also familiar characters that have appeared in her previous books as well, and it’s really great to see them. That said, now I have to reread The Immortals series again, because there’s so much allusion to that series that I keep wanting to pick up previous books to find characters so I could make sure I knew who they were. Cannot. Deal.

That being said, I did find myself wanting more. A lot of this first book of Arram’s/Numair’s story focused on his time growing up in Carthak’s only magical school (the only other one that could boast a similarly high standard of magical education at this point is the City of the Gods in northern Tortall). At this point we really only get a glimpse of how the characters were like, what the political climate is, and how the culture and setting greatly differed from Tortall’s familiar and favorable world. Not much really happens as far as overall conflict until near the end of the novel. Not that I minded too much, but still, I would have loved to have seen more progression on the plot and wouldn’t have minded a curtailing of Arram’s in-depth studies.

Overall, though, as a fan of Pierce’s work–especially that of her Tortallan series–I’d heartily recommend this. It would not necessarily be bad to read this before getting into the other books, as timeline-wise, this probably happens concurrently or a little after Alanna: The First Adventure. Maybe I should throw in a reading guide order of the Tortall series at some point…that might be a nice idea.

4 out of 5 cookies! With all of the leading up to the next book, I absolutely cannot wait to see what Pierce has up her sleeve next!


Snow White Has Six Guns || Review

Initial Thoughts:

The story of Snow White is probably one of my least favorite fairy tales (and that’s not saying much, considering I love fairy tales in general), but I can definitely appreciate a retelling when it’s well done. And this novella was very well done. Valente is a new author for me this year, but gawds, do I want to read more of her stuff? YES PLEASE.


SIX-GUN SNOW WHITE

by Catherynne M. Valente
Saga Press, November 2015
Western, fairy tale retelling, novella
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies

Forget the dark, enchanted forest. Picture instead a masterfully evoked Old West where you are more likely to find coyotes as the seven dwarves. Insert into this scene a plain-spoken, appealing narrator who relates the history of our heroine’s parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. Although her mother’s life ended as hers began, so begins a remarkable tale: equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, this is an utterly enchanting story…at once familiar and entirely new.

Skin as white as snow

This story was actually my second of Valente’s novellas, the first being Speak Easy, which was also a fairy tale retelling. In the case of Speak Easy, the scene was the Roaring Twenties and the subject was a bit more familiar to me because I do love me some Jazz Age stories from time to time. I enjoyed that book, but for some reason, Six-Gun Snow White was my personal favorite of the two.

But let me start by prefacing this review with the fact that of the many fairy tales out there in the world, and the many times I gush about fairy tales and their respective retellings, the story of Snow White is definitely one of my least favorites. I couldn’t really explain to you why, but it probably stems from the fact that I still resent the progression of the tale itself. I mean, honestly, how much better was Snow’s situation after escaping from her super-vain stepmother? Not much unless your dream job is to be the housekeeper for seven grown-ass men. Come on, Snow, let’s not settle there.

Also, the whole perspective on beauty is just…meh. Most fairy tales tend to put a blanket “beautiful” statement about their heroines/damsels, so it’s not hard to imagine many of them being of different color. Snow White, on the other hand, breaks that norm by stating EXACTLY what makes Snow White the most beautiful woman of all. Sigh.

Hem. I mean…there are definitely many flaws, plot holes, and anti-feminist subtexts in a number of fairy tales, so Snow White is definitely not the worst (and most certainly not the most disturbing…though I suppose the queen practically asking the hunter to carve Snow White’s heart out is pretty macabre), it’s not a tale I care for.

Which is why I absolutely adored Valente’s retelling.

Snow White has a gun and she knows how to use it.

Valente pretty much took the tale of Snow White and ran with it. She put the setting in the mid-west. Snow White’s name wasn’t actually Snow White; she was named this way as a mockery, for the skin color that she would never have. She was the child of what is essentially a rape (yeah, this book is for adults, if you don’t already know), where her white father took possession of Gun That Sings, a Crow-woman he has lusted after since the moment he’d set eyes on her. In the end, things don’t end well for Gun That Sings, and Snow is left as a child of two cultures, unwelcome in both.

The beginning of the story kind of reminded me of the tale of “Donkeyskin,” which is one of my favorite tales (yeah, my head is weird). There were a lot of elements Valente used from “Donkeyskin,” including the three dresses and the fact that at some point even the father looked at Snow White and was reminded of the woman he’d tried to woo.

For the most part, the novella was definitely more “Snow White” than “Donkeyskin,” and elements of the original fairy tale pop up every so often. There’s a disturbingly magical mirror, there’s a stepmother whose goal is mostly ambiguous, there’s a hunter that was paid to go after Snow, and there’s the “dwarves” (who I’ll get to in a bit).

That said, this is a Western, and Snow White is pretty much a half-Crow, half-white girl who learned how to shoot a gun by the time she was six. She lived in a mansion, tucked away in her own little saloon, with arcade games and precious stones delivered straight from her surprisingly doting father. Eventually Snow White runs away (similar to the original), and she wanders for a while until she runs into a town that houses seven oddball characters.

And this is where Valente definitely twisted the elements around. Snow White doesn’t find men or miners. Snow White doesn’t become some housekeeper to a bevy of unwashed dudes. Snow White actually finds herself in a town filled with outcast women who kick ass. These are the women of the Wild West, women who had to survive out there without the boys in tow. Valente gave each woman a voice and a backstory, and that made it even more awesome.

Also, can I just say how much I love the illustrations that accompany this book?

Again, this is my second Valente, and I don’t know how her writing style is for her children’s books (I have The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…), but what I read in Speak Easy and Six-Gun Show White was that she really emulated the style and dialogue of the time period. The 1920s came alive for me in Speak Easy, and I can practically visualize the nitty gritty Wild West in Six-Gun Snow White. I loved how she incorporated many elements that made the West what it was during the Gold Rush and mining eras, and to me, it made absolute sense that Snow White’s story would be retold at this particular time and place.

So all in all, I enjoyed the novella. It was a fun, fast-paced read. It had characters that were super-interesting. It had a pleasantly candid perspective, and its heroine’s major character trait is not her outward beauty, but her spunky, independent attitude towards the life she’d been given.

Also, that twist in the end was something I never saw coming.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I cannot wait to actually read more of Valente’s stuff.


Have you read this book or anything by the author? What did you think?

Mini Reviews: Speak Easy, Out of My Mind

With mid-winter break this week, I’ve been catching up on my reading, which means getting books read and done to review! These are minis, mostly because I’ve already said as much as I can say about Speak Easy on the Fableulous Retellings Podcast my friend and I co-host, and I really don’t have anything extra to say about Out of My Mind other than it was a recommendation from one of my students. (And when I say “recommendation,” she practically shoved the book at me and told me to “READ IT, MS. ANGWAY.”)

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

Book Traveling Thursdays: Uprooted

Wheee October is here! And that means the return of SWEATER WEATHER! Yaaaas. Seriously my favorite season, and mostly because it’s cool without being extremely cold, and also the foliage. So. Orange. And warm. And lovely!

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump the past week or two, so I haven’t brought myself to review any of the books I’ve read. Scratch that, “listened to,” because let’s be honest, I’ve had more audiobook listens than I’ve cracked open a page. I need to remedy that, I really do.

But this isn’t about book reviews, it’s about book covers!

Book Traveling Thursday is a book meme that involves book covers from different parts of the world. Rules include picking a book according to the theme and then posting the original covers, covers from your country, your favorite covers, and your least favorite covers. This week, the theme is in commemoration of Johnny Appleseed: “A Book That Originally Had Flowers or Foliage on the Cover.”

Uprooted by Naomi Novik fits the bill! The original cover is lovely, really, and considering the story’s antagonist is practically the Woods, it makes sense that there’d be foliage in the cover! In this case, a lovely rose and a snaking of vines and roots. And the evil, evil tree.

Original Cover

And since the US cover is mainly the original, I wanted to highlight the UK covers as well because holy crap, I love them a little bit more than the original cover (and I already think the original cover is beautiful).

UK Covers

Favorite Covers

There are two on this, because I am absolutely in love with the Hungarian and I think the Slovenian is really cute, too.

Least Favorite Cover

I will admit this is pretty eerie, but I’m still not a fan of full-on face for a cover.

What do you think of these covers? Do you have a favorite?