I, personally, love rewrites of fairy tales, so this was just up my alley. But I think the particular take on these stories is very clever (Cinderella as a cyborg missing a foot; Little Red Riding Hood as a produce truck driver for her grandmother's farm, Rapunzel as a hacker stuck in a space satellite). They each put the female leads in roles that are not gender-traditional and promote STEM interests, so have a nice educational aspect without being heavy handed. Plus there is an over-arching plot/mystery that is original and connects all the fairytale twists together. While at times predictable (again, working with known stories/fairy tales), quite enjoyable. I have hooked both middle school and high school girls on these.
I must admit, I am not that in, but not sure how far I am going to make it with this narrator. The emotionless, stultifying reading is bad enough, but if you are going to narrate a book about Greek mythology, check pronunciations! His pronunciation of Epirus just made me wince.
This has a lighter tone than many fantasy series, yet avoids being merely farce. The characters grow and develop. It does at times take them to dark and difficult places (psychological, in addition to actual adventures). In dealing with the in- world prejudice, I think the author gets that element of self-hatred in the most raging bigots dead-on, along with the casual acceptance of bigotry and indifference of many in society. The author deals well with issues of race, class, gender, and other social identifiers.
The review I read that got me started said strong female characters but that it would take time to be evident. I would say that was accurate. There was at least one who was evidentially strong from the get go and she continued to grow throughout. Others' mettle only became clear through time and struggle.
But back to my initial point: while I love series like Game of Thrones, I sometimes am left feeling grim reading/ listening to them. There is a lot of pure joy in these books.
I give the story only 2 stars not because it is not well-crafted (it is) and well-written (it is), but simply because it is not my cup of tea. I have rarely read a bleaker view of human nature. Rowling is playing out an extension of British concern with appearances vs. what is hidden underneath, a theme present in her HP books but really developed here. But, in this book, rarely is what lies underneath pretty. Or joyful. Moreover, parts of the language and explicit scenes feel like she is trying to prove she is now an adult author and not just a YA author. Or it could be a bluntness that is an extension of her search for the truth buried under social niceties. Again, well written, well narrated, but a real bummer of a read.
I fell in love with Louise Penny's writing very quickly. Her descriptions of human nature and her characters are fabulous. You care about them all. You can envision and even feel the settings. The mystery is a good one. And, as the title might indicate, there is a strong interest in art (and literature) throughout the book. A clear backstory to the main characters exists but Penny avoids the compulsion to just tell you everything. Instead the backstory is revealed slowly (and not all in this book but over the course of sequels) and naturally. The narrator does a marvelous job. I recommend highly and without reservation -- even for those for whom mysteries are not the first choice of genre.
In terms of basic story telling, I found the background information dumps a bit awkward. But what really got to me was the attitude towards sexual activity among teenagers. I actually would have been fine with a "wait until you're adults/married" attitude. But instead it was an attitude that teenage boys engaging in sexual with a number of partners are to be admired/become the romantic lead; teenage girls who "give up their v-card" (yes a phrase from the book) to long term boyfriends are frowned upon; girls with multiple partners are "sluts." It is causally thrown in throughout the book (e.g. the main character's skill is finding lost items, such as "lost bras that girls should have known better than to take off in the first place."). It is books like this that lead to unhealthy, misogynistic attitudes in society. By coincidence, I read the same day about a community's response to a statutory rape case. One fellow student tweeted “Young girls acting like whores there’s no punishment for that, young men acting like boys is a sentence.” This real-life, sad little tweet could have come from our protagonist's mouth. Confession: I haven't finished it and not sure I will be able to make myself do so.
Wonderful alternate history of preWW I. Positive male and feme protagonists for kids to relate to. But Alan Cumming's accent proved too difficult for the middle school children with whom I tried to listen to this.
The story is very anecdotal and thus works well even listening to short chunks. Each little bit stands on its own as a comic bit but yet the overall story arc works well.
The attitudes in this book are a little dated. When a big reveal comes part way through, it will only be a surprise to listeners stuck back in the 1950's. Dialogue is clunky.
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