Saturday, March 24, 2012

Winter's Child: A Retelling of "The Snow Queen"

Author: Cameron Dokey
Rating: G

Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai's grandmother and sharing in each other's secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai -- and their friendship -- away.
Dejected Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai...and discover herself.

My Thoughts: This book is based off of the Hans Christian Anderson story called "The Snow Queen" which is actually A LOT different. I found a summary of the original story here and I have to say I definitely like the premise of the book better than the original story. In the book, the Snow Queen is actually a good character. Because of something that happened to her when she was a baby, she is burdened with the quest to go throughout the world and heal hearts of fear and sorrow, until she finds someone who can heal her own heart. I really liked how all the elements fit together, and for once, it didn't feel like a story full of set-up and very little climax. It was really good, and the ending was really unexpected. Recommended for anyone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Storyteller's Daughter: A Retelling of "The Arabian Nights"

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages: 281
Rating: G

Summary: In a faraway kingdom, a king has been betrayed. Deeply hurt and bitterly angry, he vows never to be deceived again. Unfortunately, the king's plan to protect himself will endanger all of the realm's young women, unless one of them will volunteer to marry the king -- and surrender her life.
To everyone's relief and horror, one young woman steps forward. The daughter of a legendary storyteller, Shahrazad believes it is her destiny to accept this risk and sacrifice herself.
On the night of her wedding to the king, Shahrazad begins to weave a tale. Fascinated, the king lets her live night after night. Just when Shahrazad dares to believe that she has found a way to keep her life -- and an unexpected love -- a treacherous plot will disrupt her plan. Now she can only hope that love is strong enough to save her.

My Thoughts: This is so far one of my favorites in this series of retold fairy tales. I love the fact that it's several stories within a story, since all the stories Shahrazad tells are also in the book. For once the climax is in exactly the right place, because it's building all along through the stories Shahrazad tells Shahrayar (the king) every night. And every night as the stories are told, love is forming between the two. It's such a good story, full of all the good fairy-tale elements, like seeing the good where no one else can see it, being kind to those who don't seem like they deserve it, and earning favor from genies and others who grant wishes. I highly recommend this one. I loved it. =)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunlight and Shadow: A Retelling of "The Magic Flute"

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages: 184
Rating: G

Summary: In a time when the world was young and many things were quite commonplace that are now entirely forgotten, Sarastro, Mage of the Day, wed Pamina, the Queen of the Night. And in this way was the world complete, for light was joined to dark. For all time would they be joined together. Only the ending of the world could tear them apart. In other words, in the days in which my parents married, there was no such thing as divorce....
Thus begins the tale of Mina, a girl-child born on the longest night of the darkest month of the year. When her father looked at her, all he saw was what he feared: By birth, by name, by nature, she belonged to the Dark. So when Mina turned sixteen, her father took her away from shadow and brought her into sunlight.
In retaliation, her mother lured a handsome prince into a deadly agreement: If he frees Mina, he can claim her as his bride.
Now Mina and her prince must endure deadly trials -- of love and fate and family -- before they can truly live happily ever after....

My Thoughts: I loved this story. I have never actually seen "The Magic Flute" originally an opera written by Mozart in German, but it's one I've always wanted to see, and after reading this book, I've now reserved it from the library. If you are interested in reading the synopsis of the opera, I found it here. I think the book has probably a nicer story, in that Pamina and Sarastro were originally married and that Mina was their child. There are two other characters in the book that the summary does not mention. Gayna is the daughter of Sarastro's forrester. Sarastro has raised her in his house since she was small and her parents died. Lapin is a boy who has known Mina her entire life; he lives in the household of the Queen of the Night. In his family's possession are a set of bells said to summon your heart's true love if you play the true music of your heart on it. Mostly, Lapin has just managed to summon birds of every shape and form. Tern is the handsome prince that Lapin summons, and he is the one in possession of the Magic Flute. He carved it out of an old majestic tree in his home country.

 Most of the book is set-up, and the actual climax doesn't happen till close to the end but because it almost reads like an old "Beginning of the World" story, it doesn't seem as cheesy. Like all the other books in the Once Upon A Time series, it's a quick, easy read. However, since it's a story that's probably unfamiliar to most of us, it keeps you intrigued the entire time. I was never quite sure who was going to end up with who, or what is eventually going to happen. I also like the fact that various chapters or even sections within chapters are voiced by different characters. Sarastro and Pamina never get to tell any part of the story, but Lapin, Mina, Tern, Gayna, and Statos do. It can sometimes be a bit confusing who is telling the story though because the chapter headings don't tell you. Usually it can be figured out in the first few sentences. I recommend this one. It definitely has an old legend feel to it. Loved it. =)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bean Trees

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Rating: PG-13 - there's a few sexual references/sex related humor, but I would consider it extremely mild, and definitely not memorable.
Pages: 261

Summary:Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

My Thoughts: I absolutely love this book. I read it for the first time in middle school, again in high school, and again now. One of the big perks to this book is that it's not centered on love, heartbreak, or random teenage drama. It's a real story of a person trying to get by in life. Taylor has a personality that is rather unforgettable, and all the people she meets in the story are pretty similar.

Basically, Taylor (who changed her name to Taylor from Marietta) is tired of Kentucky and decides to get out. She opts to drive her car as far as it will take her, but gives up that idea when her car breaks down in boring, flat Oklahoma. While in Oklahoma getting her car fixed, Taylor aquires a child. An Indian woman simply leaves the girl on Taylor's passenger seat. With nowhere to go really, Taylor takes the kid with her. She names her Turtle because she has a vice-like grip that reminds Taylor of mud-turtles. Eventually, Taylor ends up in Tucson, Arizona, where she finds housing with a woman named Lou-Ann, who recently had a baby, and whose husband just left her.

There are two directions the story goes from here. First, Taylor decides she wants Turtle to belong to her legally, but with no documentation, this proves rather difficult. Most of the second half of the story encompasses Taylor's struggle to adopt Turtle. Underneath all that is a story about illegal immigration. Taylor has a friend in Tucson who is in the business of helping illegal immigrants get into the country and find places where they will be safe. Mostly, these people fled their country in the south because they would have been killed otherwise. It's kind of the second story line going on. Now that I've read a few of Kingsolver's books, I'm beginning to think that the theme of her books always has something to do with a controversial issue involving the United States and our involvement with foreigners. But regardless of the commentary on immigration, I LOVE the book, and I think it's a fantastic story.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.

Author: Daniel Coyle
Rating: PG (there's a few minor swear words)
Pages: 221

Summary:What is the secret of talent? How do we unlock it? In this groundbreaking work, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle provides parents, teachers, coaches, businesspeople—and everyone else—with tools they can use to maximize potential in themselves and others.

Whether you’re coaching soccer or teaching a child to play the piano, writing a novel or trying to improve your golf swing, this revolutionary book shows you how to grow talent by tapping into a newly discovered brain mechanism.

Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math, or just about anything.

My Thoughts: This is probably one of the most fascinating books I've ever read in my entire life. I was hooked, the entire time. The best part is, it's not written in boring scientist language. The author is a talented story-teller, and it's definitely written in layman's terms. You do not have to be a genius to wrap your mind around the concepts in this book.

Also, it could apply to EVERYTHING. Basically, the main focus of the book is that talent in anything (outgoing nature, music, math, athletics, etc) is something that you can grow in yourself if you want it enough and if you practice well and a lot. The book points out that many people we think are geniuses or naturals at something (Mozart, Jessica Simpson, etc) actually spent hundreds of thousands of hours painstakingly practicing the skills that got them their fame. Mozart, "by his sixth birthday, had studied 3,500 hours of music with his instructor-father."

I really don't know how to talk about this book, because it seriously must be read. I enjoyed reading it to learn about education helps as well. Encouraging effort, rather than innate "smartness" helps kids to grow and learn at much faster rates, and the book also helps you to understand that failures are opportunities to keep practicing and get better. The more you fail, the more you practice it to get it right, which helps your brain to cement the correct way into your instincts. Failures and difficulties help us learn more and learn better. The more time we spend practicing what is on the edge of our comfort zone, the better we will get at whatever it is. I HIGHLY recommend this book. SO INTERESTING!!!!