Although we all seem to be familiar with the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood”; most of us are less familiar with the origins of the tale, the me...moreAlthough we all seem to be familiar with the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood”; most of us are less familiar with the origins of the tale, the meaning and implications, and the evolution of the story. Catherine Orenstein explores these areas in “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale”.
Orenstein opens “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” with interesting focal points concerning the history of the tale, various versions, the effects of cultural groups on the story, and a breakdown of each various element within: from the color red to the wolf’s representations. Combining cultural studies, social histories, and psychoanalysis (although not as deeply as one would expect); “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” captures reader attention and is compelling immediately from the get-go.
Although not overly scholarly (and using many outdated sources); Orenstein’s writing style and language flows, provides fast and smooth transitions, and delights with its grammar. “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” is a simple book with a unique topic. On the contrary, however, Orenstein sometimes seems to lose focus of her topic and strays on tangents focusing more on the history of fairy tales/fairy tale evolution, in general. Although this is also an interesting road and “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” always returns to discussing the tale at hand; the text can be disjointed and clunky.
One of the biggest issues of “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” is Orenstein’s habit of repeating information and sounding like a college research paper. Literally: at times the text sounds like the papers from my Myths, Symbols, and Rituals class during my college days.
The second half/latter portion of “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” is distracted and too fast. The meaning is lost and the reader fails to grasp the information. Furthermore, Orenstein continues to be repetitive and only quotes the same sources over and over. This portion of Orenstein’s work also features issues with cohesiveness between chapters which don’t follow a singular path.
Orenstein’s ability to be raw and blunt (such as when writing about sex) can be both revealing and offensive, requiring reader discretion.
The conclusion of “Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked” is weak and unrelated to the entire book leaving confusion and questioning of Orenstein’s hypothesis. Basically, the first half of the book is much better than the second.
“Little Red Riding Hood” reads like a college paper which makes sense as it began as Orenstein’s thesis at Harvard. Although the execution failed somewhat and the text is lighter than expected; the book is still interesting and suggested for those interested in the symbolism involved in fairy tales/folklore. (less)
I admit that my initial attraction to “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” By Megan Mayhew Bergman was due to the cover. Having an obsession with owls, my rad...moreI admit that my initial attraction to “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” By Megan Mayhew Bergman was due to the cover. Having an obsession with owls, my radar zoned in on the book at Barnes & Noble… and I am glad it did.
On the surface, Bergman’s “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” is a collection of twelve short stories (about 30 pages each) which gather around the common theme of animals. However, on a deeper level, the more important common themes of self-discovery, love/fear, and the all-too-common error of being our own worst enemy (both a protagonist and an antagonist) are evident.
Bergman’s pieces are simple and yet etched with depth, emotion, and literary language. She knows the perfect ratio of when to urge her characters to act in familiar ways resulting in stock responses from the reader and yet surprises both the characters and the reader with new conventions. This causes the reader to review his/her own life and encourages an almost philosophical angle to Bergman’s works.
Although some authors’ short stories are dragged out or try too hard to be deep; “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” contains perfect stories with ample pace, development, and poetic flair. Of course the reader will enjoy some stories more than others, but either viewed individually or as a whole; the works are unparalleled. Impressively, Bergman fits and compacts a novel-full of emotions into a small space without making it feel confined or unreadable. In fact, the stories feature thoughts we have all experienced (especially females as the main character in each story is a female); beautifully worded on paper in ways the average person frustratingly can never express. Although each story’s main character is a female, the reader is able to apply different traits to each and will not accidentally blend them into one role throughout (such as in a novel); the switch in gears is smooth.
Bergman’s format doesn’t make the number one mistake of emerging short story authors where their works seemingly follow the rules set forth by a college creative writing professor and instead her work is unique and even classical.
The concluding stories are undoubtedly Bergman’s weakest. These are quite good in execution but in comparison, lack the other stories’ zeal. These should have been spread out throughout the book versus clumping weaker stories together.
Overall, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” is an absolutely terrific compilation. Every art form has an artist that the viewer is impressed by and yet has some animosity that they can’t be “as good” as the artist. I felt that way with Bergman and thought, “Why can’t I write like this?!” I suppose that demonstrates a true, good writer.(less)
When I was a little girl, I was quite intrigued by unicorns. Their single horn, creamy white flanks, and magical capabilities… I was smitten. To this...moreWhen I was a little girl, I was quite intrigued by unicorns. Their single horn, creamy white flanks, and magical capabilities… I was smitten. To this day, I love white horses. Whether young or old, Nancy Hathaway’s “The Unicorn” is a coffee table book which brings back the heavenly unicorn into our lives.
Sadly, “The Unicorn” is not a social history or analytical book. Although the introduction does fall somewhat into that description and provides some very interesting antidotes/symbolic explanations; “The Unicorn” is instead a collection of unicorn stories/folklore from various time periods and geographic regions. Hathaway’s breakdown (Ancient Unicorn, Middle Eastern Unicorn, etc) is clear and logical; however, the actual text is quite confusing in the respect that each story flows into the next without a title break. It appears that Hathaway was striving to write in a flowing historical account manner, but each individual story has its own distinct writing style making the bundling less than ideal. This results in a chunky dissonance and a filter for the reader.
Despite this negative, the tales are interesting, compelling, and resonate with the reader. At times, Hathaway steps in to offer some symbolic explanations but this also causes confusion, as the reader can not simply decipher whether this is the author’s opinion or part of the tale. Basically, “The Unicorn” lacks clarity. Somewhat easing the pain from this lack of insight is the easy-to-read writing style which can be read by both children and adults (although there is some implied sexual context).
“The Unicorn” has a satisfying amount of glossy page illustrations of paintings, illuminations, tapestries, sculptures, etc; which complement and strengthen the text. Like any great oversize/coffee table book, these illustrations capture the reader whether or not he/she reads the actual text.
The final section is the most confusing of all as Hathaway blends historical facts with tales, again making it almost impossible to interpret which are folktales and which were actual beliefs by cultures during the time periods discussed. Furthermore, Hathaway summed up “The Unicorn” with a chapter discussing the unicorn’s impact and appearance during current times which would have resulted in a strong ending but then included a chapter of a (less than interesting) unicorn fantasy story. This appeared to be simply “thrown in there” to add to the page count and weakened the text.
Although the reader will learn some unicorn facts which could win a few rounds of “Trivial Pursuit”, Hathaway’s “The Unicorn” is utterly confusing and lacks cohesiveness. (less)
Books about books… it seems redundant but for us bibliophiles, they open up yet another way of thinking about our obsessions with reading. The ever-ch...moreBooks about books… it seems redundant but for us bibliophiles, they open up yet another way of thinking about our obsessions with reading. The ever-charismatic Alan Bennett explores the world of reading (with a unique main character: the Queen!) in his novella, “The Uncommon Reader”.
“The Uncommon Reader” is two-fold in its complexity as it follows the storyline of the Queen of England suddenly developing a love for reading; while including a philosophical underlying message/exploration regarding books and book-reading. Combining the characteristics of a light, novella form with deeper connotations results in a book with which makes one rethink his/her own literacy and of that of society as a whole.
Bennett instantly captures the reader with a flare for storytelling, yet not being too simple (which would make the philosophical journey appear forced or disjointed). Basically put, “The Uncommon Reader” is smooth, concise, and yet entertaining at the same time. Bennett explores the world of books: why we read, what we read, how books open the world to us, class/society distinctions in regards to literacy, personal growth resulted by reading, etc. For book lovers, “The Uncommon Reader” is almost a manifesto or acceptation of our good taste and decision to have reading as a hobby (which, by the way, is also explored by Bennett).
One of my favorite theories made by Bennett was based on ladies-in-waiting to the Queen complaining that she has “become a handful” because the ladies now have to carry her books. This reflected on a deeper view that some restricted societies could harken reader as becoming a handful when they “read too much” and increase their intelligence and/or understanding of the world around them.
Bennett also ventures so far as to observe the connection between reading and everyday activities and also the connection between reading and writing (with the debate of whether reading leads to writing, writing can keep one from reading, or if they occur simultaneously). This is all deep in thinking but presented with wit, humor, and actual laugh-out-loud moments.
The latter end of “The Uncommon Reader” sort of trailed off in comparison to the strength of the early portions of the book but was still a simply but enjoyable finish. “the Uncommon Reader” is excellent for a quick (one day) read but one that will amp some thought on the reader’s behalf.
I will leave you with this excellent thought from the “Queen”: “ And it occurred to her (as next day she wrote it down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle that one seemingly developed. She could read the novel with ease and great pleasure, laughing at remarks, they were hardly jokes, that she had not even noticed before.” (less)
Bread crumbs. A cottage in the woods. A witch. An oven. These simple phrases evoke the imagery of the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel”. It is a saga whi...moreBread crumbs. A cottage in the woods. A witch. An oven. These simple phrases evoke the imagery of the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel”. It is a saga which is haunting enough on its own merit. Louise Murphy uses the skeleton of the story and builds in Nazi-occupied Poland to enlarge the revulsion in “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel”.
“The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is not a re-imagining of the famous fairy tale but is instead an allegory using the familiar symbolisms in order to fashion a Holocaust-era story with two children (renamed Hansel and Gretel) who are forced to survive without their parents and are taken in by a village ‘witch’, Magda. Sounds simple enough, right?
Wrong. “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is layered with planes of emotional depth, imagery, and symbolism. Although the narrative is simply-written and flows like fairy tale in essence; the message and plot are moving and not simplified. Murphy magically meshes together beauty and the naive simplicity of children with the horrors of the Holocaust and the instinct to survive.
One of the major strengths of Murphy’s writing is the use of darkness and negative imagery (one will see smoke, blackness, and feel pain while reading) and yet not “turning off” the reader to this grit. The pace is steady and page-turning is encouraged, as the reader will want to know the outcome of the story. Furthermore, one is not distracted thinking about the famous fairy tale as “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is strong enough on its own and basically only shares the name of the children. The novel is in no way silly or simplified. I cannot emphasize enough how real the plot and descriptions feel: “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is the 3-D of fiction.
“The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is told through alternating viewpoints, adding fullness to the tale as it can sometimes have the thinness common to short stories/folk tales. This plumps the narrative into a thicker fiction.
There are some aspects of the story which are raw, dark, and even criminal (both lawfully and morally). However, these objectifying actions did happen during this era and it would have been a loss for Murphy to not include them. Murphy doesn’t use these simply for shock value but to show the desperation, rage, fear, etc; of the Holocaust’s victims. Basically, despite the horrors, respect is demonstrated. Murphy effectively contradicts these terrors by still maintaining Hansel and Gretel’s childish behaviors showing the resilience of children in a perfect blend. Plus, if the reader is appalled, hurt, or disgusted; it is proof that Murphy has done an extraordinary job in bringing the story to life.
Following the format of a fairy tale, “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is strong in morals/lessons which are memorable and resonate with the reader. The action picks up (and is almost chaotic, psychologically) approximately three-quarters way through, resulting in a very compelling plot with each character involved.
The climax of the novel has a heavy impact, including the characterization of Magda being an anti-witch but finding her demise to be symbolic of the original fairy tale. The conclusion follows suit with strength, vivid imagery, and a happily-ever-after (hey, it is based on a fairy tale—it has to end that way!).
“The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is a dramatic and poignant story of World War II, bringing emotions to the forefront for the reader and is therefore recommended for those interested in these historic topics but with a ‘different’ way of expressing them. “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is wonderful and a masterful piece from Louise Murphy. (less)
Living in Los Angeles means that I have many acquaintances whom are first-generation Iranian having escaped I...moreWon an ARC copy from Goodreads Giveaways
Living in Los Angeles means that I have many acquaintances whom are first-generation Iranian having escaped Iran during the Revolution. Goli Taraghi is one of the many Persians having lived through this tumultuous time and left Iran for life in Paris. Taraghi has since become one of the most well-known contemporary Iranian authors. She compiles some of her work in “The Pomegranate Lady and her Sons: Selected Stories”.
“The Pomegranate Lady and her Sons” is a collection of short stories centralizing on the theme of the Iranian Revolution. Taraghi infuses each story with personal emotions, events, and reactions (this is quite evident); giving each story a passionate and almost memoir-like feel. Yet, despite its personal touch, the stories are all believable and extremely real/vivid whether the narrator is male, female, an adult, or a child. Taraghi knows her characters well, producing likeability and accessibility.
Each story is intelligent, has literary merit, and has an underlying depth filled with morals and symbolisms. Don’t fear that these are merely political, as the stories focus more on the life/feelings of the average person during the Revolution. A dose of lighter fiction is added in order to water down the heaviness and create a strong pace. Naturally, some stories are better than others but overall, “The Pomegranate Lady and her Sons” is a strong, cohesive whole.
Shunning perfection, there are some repetitive areas within the stories which dampens some creative merit. Luckily, this isn’t avid enough to negatively affect the enjoyment as each story is compelling and encourages page turning within individual stories and in the book, overall. This is also supplemented by each story’s format which varies in style: dialogue, stream of consciousness, different points of person, etc; allowing the reader to experience a range of tones and avoiding boredom.
The duplicity and plot symbolism in “The Pomegranate Lady and her Sons” is astounding. The reader will be entertained by what feels like a novel storyline and then will have an “Ah ha!” moment when the true meaning (usually relating to government and social classes, freedom, and suffrage) becomes clear. Taraghi’s views are subtle, yet crisp and strong. This depth is an underlying history lesson which will teach readers about the Revolution (although a better painting of the background politically would be welcome).
“The Pomegranate Lady and her Sons” remains captivating until the last story (although I personally would have changed the order, somewhat) and the entire collection leaves a lasting image of the Iranian people and life during the Revolution which incites further research on the topic.
Taraghi is clearly a masterful writer and I would certainly read a longer fictional work (or other stories, as well) written by her. “The Pomegranate Lady and her Sons” is a terrific compilation in the short story genre and is much recommended for readers interested in Iran, the Revolution, or just short stories, in general. (less)
How would you feel if you could speak to a deceased love one? Not through a clairvoyant or a Ouija Board; but simply on a telephone. How would it affe...moreHow would you feel if you could speak to a deceased love one? Not through a clairvoyant or a Ouija Board; but simply on a telephone. How would it affect your life and that of your community? This is precisely the topic in five-time best-selling author Mitch Albom’s, “The First Phone Call from Heaven”.
Readers familiar with Albom’s works will recognize his short story-esque writing which aims to blend inspiration, theology, and philosophy in between the text of a fictional plotline. With that being said, “The First Phone Call from Heaven” is much thinner than Albom’s usual work. Although it contains a creative story of a small town whose eight “special” citizens begin to (supposedly) receive phone calls from deceased relatives in heaven; the novel is simply not as ‘moving’ as Albom’s books usually deliver. Basically, “The First Phone Call from Heaven” feels too simplified.
There is also an issue with the main characters (Sully, Jack, Katherine, Amy, etc) who are much too stereotypical in regards to the story. Of course there is the “one who believes”, “the one who doesn’t”, “the one who doesn’t want to but does”, etc. The characters and their actions are much too predictable. As usual, Albom jumps between the character perspectives which is common to his style but he does so too much in “The First Phone Call from Heaven”.
Despite the complaints, Albom does provoke some thought-provoking scenarios which can apply to various facets of life aside from just spirituality. This adds depth to the story and promotes page-turning. However, as one would expect from title, Albom doesn’t shy away from Christian topics (some of his other works are more subtle); so “The First Phone Call from Heaven” is not recommended for Atheists or Agnostics.
Although a minor detail, other reviews have noted that Albom always describes the female characters in “The First Phone Call from Heaven” based on looks/appearance but not the male characters (and he seems to have a thing for females with pixie haircuts). I am not sure of the meaning of this but it is noticeable and also annoying.
The concluding chapters of “The First Phone Call from Heaven” turn the novel into less inspiration and more of a pseudo-suspense story. This loses potency and isn’t as captivating; weakening the message of faith. This can also be said about the ending of the novel which was not as moving as one would expect from Albom plus somewhat abrupt and not fully executed.
Overall, “The First Phone Call from Heaven” is not one of Albom’s strongest novels and lacks his usual depth and inspirational ‘oomph’. I feel all the positive reviews are merely because the masses just think Albom is golden in whatever he writes but in reality, the novel would be rated lower if it was written by another author. “The First Phone Call from Heaven” is a very quick read (1-2 days max), so it is suggested for that; but otherwise it is lackluster. (less)