October 24th, 2009

Book Beach

Book 37: A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Here is book thirty-seven from my Book List 2009. The link leads to a more detailed review in my journal.

37. Title: A Curse Dark as Gold
Author: Elizabeth C. Bunce
Pages: 392
Thoughts: Link
Review in five words or less: Dark and complex; beautifully written.
Personal Rating: «««« out of five.

A Curse Dark as Gold is a richly textured and complicated retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Bunce takes many characteristics from the classic tale and breathes new life into them by giving them complex and detailed backgrounds. The result is a fascinating and compelling story that comprehensively explores the motivations of certain characters.

The story focuses on Charlotte Miller. She and her sister Rosie have just inherited the family mill and all the debt, problems, and curses associated with the business. Charlotte is extremely practical and has no time for curses and superstitions. The mill provides employment for many people in the town and she feels the weight of that responsibility.

Facing seemingly insurmountable problems, a desperate Charlotte is willing to try anything. A mysterious stranger named Jack Spinner appears and Charlotte reluctantly accepts his help. In exchange for his assistance, Jack asks for mere tokens at first. He then demands something that Charlotte is unwilling to pay. It is at that point when she is forced to confront the reality of the family's curse that she must somehow find the strength to break it.

Rumpelstiltskin was one of my favorite tales as a child, but it always felt somewhat incomplete to me and I felt bad for the title character. Bunce's book provides a completely satisfying and plausible account for Jack Spinner's (Rumpelstiltskin's) actions and motivations. The last part of the book that focused on Jack's side of the story was delightfully creepy.

This book was won the 2009 William C. Morris YA Debut Award by the American Library Association. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I highly recommend it to those who like the Rumpelstiltskin or fairy tales in general.

37 / 50 books. 74% done!

13,046 / 15000 pages. 87% done!

Books 36-40

First, on a more discussion-y note, I'm kind of interested in reading John Milton's Paradise Lost in full (we've only been reading extracts for my coursework). The problem being that I really don't feel confident in reading that work in an edition which doesn't have footnotes explaining odd word usage and references to other works. I tried looking in our university library to find an edition that did, but none of them did, and my Lit professor couldn't tell me what would be a good edition offhand.

Anyone know an edition that has good, extensive footnotes? (Note that I'd prefer them to be actual footnotes with some kind of notation in the text; I found one edition that simply had a list of bolded words and explanations at the bottom of the page and I find that a lot less helpful for my reading.)

36. Den förbjudna ravinen (original title: Horse Angel - Wolf Chasm) by Angela Dorsey (young adult/horseback) - 9 Aug 2009
Claire finds out that in about a week she and her mother will forever move away from the horseback tour ranch where she has taken care of her much-beloved horse Smokey every summer since he was just a foal. Devastated at the thought of having to leave him behind, she sets out on horseback, and on a whim decides to go to Wolf Chasm, ignoring the warnings she's previously gotten about the danger of the place. They end up trapped by a snow storm in a cave where they are not the only residents - the mother-wolf Snowfall has hidden in the cave together with her four cubs and her injured brother Avalanche, all six of them slowly starving to death. Things are looking quite dire for Claire and Smokey, when Smokey calls for the Horse Angel Angelica to save the day.
I can handle Angelica being the horse angel who somehow can help all horses no matter what trouble they're in. I can handle the incredible campiness of her powers being restored by a horse crying over her. The anthropomorphization of Snowfall just irked me, though. It was not trying to put animal instincts into terms comprehensible to humans, as Watership Down does. It was human reasoning where human reasoning had no place to be. And that pretty much ruined my fluff reading for me. Can't really reccomend this book. The Horse Angel comics are much better.

37. Annie John by Jamaica Kinkaid (coming of age) - 19 Sep 2009
Annie John is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel by Jamaica Kinkaid, following the main character from a little girl whose mother is her whole world to a young woman at odds with her mother and wanting nothing more than to get out of her mother's chafing influence.
Throughout the story Annie narrates events that affect her as she grows up, primarily her mother's actions which in her view shift from including her to pushing her away, and her own rebellion in response to this treatment.
While the book wasn't badly written, and the narrator character of Annie John was often entertaining, I also didn't find the book very engaging. Annie was often unfair to her mother in her self-pity when she declares her mother's actions "cruel", and while she tells of her early childhood delusions with a tone of amusement at her childhood naïvete, there is no hint that she, as the presumably older Annie reminiscing, thinks that her younger self was wrong in her resentment of her mother.
Not a book I would have read if it wasn't assigned reading for my Essay Writing class, and having finished it I don't feel that would have been any terrible loss.

38. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (play) - 6 Oct 2009
We read Shakespeare's play for the Literary History course in my English program, and it is a play that holds up reasonably well. Personally I find I like the first few acts much better than the final one or two, but it was an interesting text to read and discuss. Admittedly I find that in general I am more interested by the "low" points of Shakespeare's plays than the "high", though Macbeth has some interesting intrigue, plots and backstabbing that I kind of have to admire.

39. Sunrise With Sea Monster by Neil Jordan (coming of age) - 12 Oct 2009
For those of you considering reading this book, my advice is don't bother. It has its decent points, but for the most part it drags on; Jordan has a writing style that grates on me a lot (not separating dialogue from the rest of the text, for instance - it worked alright for José Saramago, it didn't work for Jordan) and some parts of the story just don't work at all for me. It did spawn some fairly interesting discussion, I'll grant, but it has the problem of being too long and not really heading in any direction in most parts. The story may be more worthwhile to people who've more knowledge of Irish and Spanish history.
The story is about Donal, a boy become a man whose choices in adult and semi-adult life have been largely motivated by spiting his father. He starts telling it sitting in a cell in a monastery somewhere in Spain as a prisoner of war, alternating between the now and the then. His betrayal of his father leads to more betrayals, leading to yet more in what seems like a neverending chain. It almost seems to have two endings; one point which felt enough like an ending to me to wonder why the book continued, followed by what may well have been the dullest passage in the entire book, followed by the actual ending which I will grant gave some additional closure.

40. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (romance) - 20 Oct 2009
I didn't have high hopes for this book. My taste in classic literature doesn't tend towards semi-romantic stories like this, but Austen is a remarkably skilled storyteller and I found myself really enjoying it despite my original misgivings. The only thing that really caused me trouble was my terrible memory for names (not helped by the fact some characters have - to me at least - very similar names), which meant I was a little lost until I got a ways into the book. Elizabeth is an interesting protagonist not really suited for her time, who during the course of the book gains quite a bit of maturity and insight into both herself and others.
A recommended read, though I do wish I'd had the chance to read it a bit more leisurely as it occassionally got a bit overwhelming in its old-fashionedness.
  • dj_89


ohhhh tooo bad it wasn't forty-two, that would have bee wonderfully coincidental and symbolic! because, i just finished reading The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by DOuglas Adams. It is part of the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy series. it left off a bit abruptly at the end, but i suppose that's because it was originally radio shows, and it is just a random book....brilliantly witty though.

Books 78-81

78. Sadako and the thousand paper cranes, by Eleanor Coerr. Based on a true story of a young girl who was stricken with leukemia, most likely as a result of the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. While I think most people know the immediate destruction the atom bomb wrecked, it's easy to forget the aftermath. This is a beautiful story of courage and faith in the face of impossible odds. Sadako, once a bright, healthy girl who loves to run, is diagnosed with the "atom bomb sickness" and goes to the hospital. While there, she makes paper cranes, in the hopes that if she makes 1,000 she can make a wish, which would be to get better. Unfortunately, she dies before she can reach her goal, but her friends and family, in a tribute to her, finish the task. This is a beautiful story, for a teacher to read to a class of older grade schoolers and up, or a parent to read to a child.

79. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. This is the sequel to "The Hunger Games," and wow, what a follow-up! I got the impression at the end of Hunger Games that Katniss' troubles were just beginning at the end of the forced competition pitting children and teens from the various districts against each other. The sequel pretty much starts out with the president himself giving Katniss orders to help the Capital quell the resentments and uprising she has unwittingly ignited by her performance in the Games. Unfortunately, this is far easier said than done. Indeed, the growing anger at the Capital seems out of her hands. And in the end, Katniss isn't even sure she wants to stop the uprisings. The heroine really grows and matures in this book, going from a self-reliant teen who does what she needs to do to get by, to assuming more of a leadership position, realizing that things can change and maybe, just maybe, you can fight city hall --although at a cost. Katniss isn't perfect. The story is told solely from her perspective, and I found myself picking up on things well before Katniss does, which makes her more human. She is so suspicious (understandably so) and sometimes a bit dense, and has trouble picking up on the signs, and realizing who her allies are. I hope the third book comes out soon (yes, it looks very much like there will be a third installment!)

80. Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel, by Maggie Anton. This book wraps up the trilogy on the three daughters of Salomon ben Issac, a revered Jewish scholar. The series is part story, part history lesson on what it was like in the early Medeival societies, particularly in France. In this one, Rachel, the youngest of Salomon's daughters, is looking to start a cloth-making business, where she would control the process from start to finish. She is an excellent businesswoman but there is another consideration as well: she wants to keep her husband Elizier at home in Troyes. Elizier, who travels across Europe as a tradesman and scholar, is finding the roads more perilous due to the increase of bandits and, among other things, the start of the Crusades. The first half of the book pretty much follows the patterns and day-to-day lives of Salomon's family -- births, deaths, making wine, prayer and more. But about halfway through, a lot begins to change. Whole Jewish towns in Germany are practically obliterated. Salomon ben Issac suffers a stroke. Rachel herself finds herself at odds with her husband, who wants to move to the comparative safety of Spain. The second part, while action-packed and tightly written, was at times hard to read as characters from previous novels suffer from the clashes between religions. The conclusion of the book and series does end on a hopeful note.

81. Kiss of Life, by Daniel Waters. This is the follow-up to "Generation Dead." I enjoyed this second installment (and it looks like there will be a third), although perhaps not quite as much as the first. One, I'm not the greatest proof-reader or speller in the world, but there were some editing mistakes that caught my attention. Also, personally I thought the "mystery" behind one of the crucial plot points was revealed far too soon. Another point is that two of the newer undead mentioned -- the ages weren't given but I got the impression they were preteens. Why this happened wasn't addressed. That said, I do like how much more layered this is becoming. Some characters that came across as villians may not be so, and others that were allies -- may not be so. Phoebe, the heroine of the story, is now conflicted between two guys -- Adam and Tommy. Who are both dead. Phoebe is flummoxed when Adam doesn't seem to "come back" as quickly as most of the other "differently biotic" teens. I really liked the chapters told from Adam's point of view -- it was neat seeing the progression in his speech, movement and thought patterns. Reminded me of "Flowers for Algernon." I do wonder how many books are planned -- there's a lot of unanwsered issues and mysteries, like how and why teens are coming back from the dead in the first place.