Book Reviews

Review Notes: Kissing the Witch, The Commitments, The Tale of Despereaux

245. Kissing the Witch by Emma Donaghue
Publication: HarperTeen (April 25, 1997), Hardcover, 240pp / ISBN 0060275758
Genre: Fantasy, GLBT
Rating: 3.5 birds
Read: December 17-18, 2009
Source: Library
Summary from Amazon:

Focusing on women and their self-perception, this book contains 13 interconnected stories which update classical European fairy tales. Each story forms a narrative chain, with characters passing the storyteller’s baton from tale to tale.

– Its kinda like The Rose & the Beast in that it takes an unconventional route in its retelling, but I like Kissing the Witch better than TR&TB because I think it’s more universal in what it says: first loves, finding inner strength, admitting that you’ve made a mistake or just sticking to what you believe. It’s also more focused on the inner lives of the women in the stories, rather than their outside lives (I think that’s what I mean to say, anyway). It just feel like an overall more powerful book than TR&TB, and it’s one that works for everyone– not just misfit teens (though I think they’d like KTW, too).
– The focus is also on the women and their relationships with each other and themselves, not on the romance or the men (although there is some romance– just not with the men). That actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it– after all, the princes in fairy tales hardly ever even have names, and they’re only a reward kind of thing. The focus even in the original tales are mostly on women. (Though now I wonder if there’s something focusing on those nameless princes. I feel kind of bad for them because they always seem to get the short end of the stick in these rewrites.)
– Liked how all the stories were connected: secondary characters from one story showed up in a story of their own, and it all felt like one cohesive world/book/story. Each story ended with something like “before you were [a horse/bird/spinster/etc], who were you?” And then the story of that character’s origins was told. It all felt very cozy, and I really, really liked that.
– But sometimes I wanted to know more about how a character got into their current situation than what they were before they were in that situation, you know? How did whatsherface get turned into a bird? Or how did the other whatserherface become a thing that seems totally opposite to who she was before? In cases like those, the story does seem more important than the person, and not having the whole thing drove me nuts a bit.
– The way the stories were changed was VERY interesting, much more changed than in TR&TB. Villains are no longer villains, love interests are always that interesting, and there’s layers and shades of meaning over everything. It was fun trying to pick out which things were changed from the familiar, and some of the changes were so clever I couldn’t help but admire Ms Donaghue for thinking them up. No specifics because I don’t want to spoil you.
– Sometimes I couldn’t even figure out which tale was which until the end, though, and I’m still not sure what two of them were. But maybe that’s because I wasn’t all that familiar with those stories to begin with.
– Overall, it’s an excellent book, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in this sort of thing. There’s at least three lesbian characters/love stories in it, too, which is two more than TR&TB. If that matters to anyone. 😀
246. The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Publication: Penguin (Non-Classics); Open market ed edition (September 1, 1995), Omnibus, 640pp / ISBN 0140252622
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4 birds
Read: December 18, 2009
Source: Library
Summary from Amazon:

This funky, rude, unpretentious first novel traces the short, funny, and furious career of a group of working-class Irish kids who form a band, The Commitments. Their mission: to bring soul to Dublin!

– the lack of quotation marks was annoying
– funny parts, but not a constant laugh riot
– probably rated it a bit higher than it actually deserves because I love the movie so much
– music doesn’t work well in books unless the reader already knows the songs
– a good look at Dublin/Ireland in the late 1980’s/early 1990s
– extremely un-PC bordering on racist re: Blacks – made me uncomfortable
– next book might be a better sense of what sort the author is because I haven’t seen that movie yet!
247. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Publication: Scholastic/Candlewick press; First edition (2004), Hardback, 272pp / ISBN 0439692202
Genre: Fantasy, Children’s
Rating: 4 birds
Read: December 18-19, 2009
Source: Library
Summary from Amazon:

The story of Despereaux Tilling —- a mouse in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea —- has enchanted children and adults around the globe. Now this instant classic by Kate DiCamillo, America’s beloved storyteller, takes on new life with the addition of twenty-four color illustrations by the incomparable Timothy Basil Ering, specially created for this collectible gift edition.

– Seems very old-fashioned, somehow, like it’s a story that belongs to another time. It’s extremely gentle and hopeful and lovely, and you don’t really see books like that anymore.
– Would be a lovely addition to a kid’s bookshelf– if I had a kid I’d definitely give them this. If I was a kid I’d love this, and I’d probably reread it every year.
– However, I was somewhat disappointed by the ending. It was a little bit too gentle and “happily ever after.” It just didn’t seem as authentic as the rest of the book, however authentic a book about talking rodents can be.
– Still, it was much better than the movie. I also liked it better than The Magician’s Elephant, which I felt distanced from.
– My most favorite thing? I loved how I, the reader, kept being drawn into the story itself almost like an active participant rather than an observer. There was one line that basically said something it was my duty to keep on reading the book and see what happened to Despereaux and the other characters, and I like that idea: that I’m just as responsible for a character’s life as they are.
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  • Ladytink_534

    I’ve always enjoyed stories like Kissing the Witch. Oh I know what you mean about lack of quotation marks. I actually had to give up on a book because I was spending more time correcting things in my head than I was reading the book. I still haven’t seen The Tale of Despereaux movie because I haven’t gotten around to reading this one yet. I really liked Because of Winn-Dixie but it’s the only book by her I’ve read.

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