Book Review: The Too-Clever Fox by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review: The Too-Clever Fox by Leigh BardugoThe Too-Clever Fox by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #2.5
Published: June 4, 2013
Format: eBook (32 pages)
Genres: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Short Stories, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
In Ravka, just because you avoid one trap, it doesn't mean you'll escape the next. This story is a companion folk tale to Leigh Bardugo’s upcoming novel, Siege and Storm, the second book in the Grisha Trilogy.
4 Stars

This fable has a little of everything – talking animals, a moral about being wise, and a girl to save the day.  Yep. A girl.  This is an adorable, well written companion story to the Grisha Series.  Even if you haven’t read the Grisha Series, pick up this charming fairy tale that stands well on its own.

beware-spoilers

 

This was a gripping fable about a fox that is so clever he tries to outsmart death.  It doesn’t work out so well.  Luckily, he has a smart girl to come and save him.  We need more fairy tales to end that way.

Normally, a story about talking animals telling us how to be wise instead of clever would be tedious, but Leigh Bardugo sucks you right into the story. She gives the fable an Ugly Duckling twist and a good dose of feminism to make this fairy tale feel modern and different.  The other animals point out how ugly the fox is, but instead of crawling into a hole and whining about how he doesn’t fit in, he says this:

I can bear ugliness.  I find the one thing I cannot live with is death.

– Leigh Bardugo, The Too-Clever Fox (Location 61)

That’s a good way to look at life.  Optimism at it’s best.  Yeah, I’m ugly.  At least I’m not dead.

Nikolai is compared to the too-clever fox and they have a lot in common.  They are both clever, rejected by their families, loyal, and they both love to flatter people.

Fables don’t usually have magic.  This one doesn’t really have it either.  What looks like magic is really people looking for evil in the wrong place.  The fox is eager to have magic explain something instead of using logic based on the evidence he has.

Part of what makes the fox so clever is that he never uses the same way to escape twice.  My favorite way he escaped was by making a promise to some fleas and then HE KEPT IT.  He let fleas eat him alive for a year because he said he would.  That kind of loyalty is amazing to me.  Most stories are about how un-loyal people are. I found his loyalty refreshing and impressive.

All of Leigh’s short stories for this series have had a feminist slant.  This one did, too.  The girl is assumed to be harmless because she is young and pretty and lonely.  Leigh does a great job of playing off of our stereotypes and challenging them.  Even re-reading the fairy tale, I still didn’t want to believe that sweet young girl killed all those animals.  I found her trap so interesting.

The trap is loneliness, and none of us escapes it.  Not even me.

-Leigh Bardugo, The Too-Clever Fox (Location 268)

How is loneliness a trap?

I don’t really have a good answer for that.  I think loneliness trapped the animals because they trusted someone they shouldn’t have.  Or maybe she trapped them because they were traveling alone.  Buddy system people. The fox was only saved because he had the nightingale with him.  It makes me wonder how I get influenced by loneliness.  For me, loneliness only makes me feel powerless when I’m not making an effort to care about other people.  What do you think?  Do we get trapped by loneliness?  How do you escape that trap?

Content Rating: Mild, for a very brief description of skinning an animal while it’s alive.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives in Hollywood, where she indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. Occasionally, she can be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.

Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children’s/ Macmillan), is a New York Times Best Seller and the first book in the Grisha Trilogy. Book 2, Siege and Storm, will be published in 2013. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf.

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Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: Coraline by Neil GaimanCoraline by Neil Gaiman
Published: August 4, 2002
Format: eBook (162 pages)
Genres: Childrens, Horror
Source: Purchased

 
Coraline lives with her preoccupied parents in part of a huge old house--a house so huge that other people live in it, too... round, old former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and their aging Highland terriers ("We trod the boards, luvvy") and the mustachioed old man under the roof ("'The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,' said the man upstairs, 'is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.'") Coraline contents herself for weeks with exploring the vast garden and grounds. But with a little rain she becomes bored--so bored that she begins to count everything blue (153), the windows (21), and the doors (14). And it is the 14th door that--sometimes blocked with a wall of bricks--opens up for Coraline into an entirely alternate universe. Now, if you're thinking fondly of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you're on the wrong track. Neil Gaiman's Coraline is far darker, far stranger, playing on our deepest fears. And, like Roald Dahl's work, it is delicious.
4 Stars

Even if you don’t like horror, pick up this beautifully written children’s book about bravery, boredom, and getting everything you want.  Turns out, getting everything you want isn’t as great as you’d think.

beware-spoilers

Coraline is horror light. All the creepy richness of a regular horror novel but with a light, happy ending instead. In all honesty, this book was the max amount of horror I could handle.  The horror parts of the novel involved things like going in dark basements and you KNOW something is down there.  There were gross parts involving bats and moving spider-egg-sac-things.  Does she have to touch it?  OH YES SHE DOES.  The thing she needs is inside it (of course).  This story is about bravery, which I obviously do not possess.  I would not do any of the things Coraline did, especially touch the creepy egg-sac-thingy.  As Neil Gaiman puts it, Coraline has “scared many adults and fewer children.” (Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition, Q&A with Neil Gaiman)

There’s also a general feeling of something being off, something not quite right.  I think it’s mostly from his word choice when he uses similes.  And they are gross.

The flat had walls the color of old milk.

– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 129)

There was a tiny doubt inside her, like a maggot in an apple core.

– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 75)

Why use “off-white” when “old milk” induces dry heaving?

The thing about Neil Gaiman is that he really nails childhood.  He gets how kids work and how they think.

There was also a well. On the first day Coraline’s family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible made a point of telling Coraline how dangerous the well was, and they warned her to be sure she kept away from it. So Coraline set off to explore for it, so that she knew where it was, to keep away from it properly.

-Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (pp. 5-6).

Because seriously – what kid that was told there was something dangerous nearby wouldn’t do exactly that?

This parent gets points for a) not screaming at his kid for bugging him all the time about being bored and b) for coming up with the most tedious, time consuming game possible.  I’m stealing this game for my kids to play tomorrow.  “Where did you get this idea, mommy?” “A horror novel.  You’ll love it.  Have fun.”

“Then explore the flat,” suggested her father. “Look— here’s a piece of paper and a pen. Count all the doors and windows. List everything blue. Mount an expedition to discover the hot water tank. And leave me alone to work.”

– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 9)

And now for the random deep thought of the day from a cat.

“Cats don’t have names,” it said. “No?” said Coraline. “No,” said the cat. “Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (p. 43)

Like, WOW.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s kind of deep.  Without labels, do we really know who we are?

One of my favorite things about this book is when Coraline decides she doesn’t like this creepy, alternate reality that she found because it turns out – getting everything you want? Not so great.

Coraline sighed. “You really don’t understand, do you?” she said. “I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?”

– Neil Gaiman, Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition (pp. 144-145)

It’s true though, isn’t it?  As a parent, I don’t give my kids everything they want on purpose because I know it would make them unhappy.  It’s sad that I don’t have this problem as an adult because what I want gets longer by the hour.  But kids?  What they want is food made exactly their way and their parents to pay attention to them all day long.  At least, that’s what Coraline wants.  And that’s it.  How beautiful is childhood that complete happiness is so simple.

Is getting everything you want closer to a horror novel or to a fairy tale?

It’s kind of crazy to me to realize after reading this that it’s probably closer to a horror novel.  What do you think?

Content Rating: Mild, for some scary elements that might scare young children (or really wimpy adults).

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: “I wouldn't be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh BardugoRuin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #3
Published: June 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover (417 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
4 Stars

Spoiler free even if you haven’t read the first book in this series. 

I’m once again left with the task of writing a book review that I took no notes on whatsoever.  That’s usually a good sign since it means I got sucked into the story and I forgot to take notes.  So I’m going to do my best.

The theme I loved the most in Ruin and Rising was that life doesn’t always go the way you think it should.  No matter how grand your designs, you can almost always count on them going wrong.  It’s a quest that doesn’t go the way it should because that’s life.

After reading a few of Leigh Bardugo’s short stories, I really enjoyed how she tied mythology and legend into the plot.

Ruin and Rising made me ask some great questions.  Can you do the right thing no matter how hard? What are you willing to give up? Power? Love?

I came across this quote as I was skimming it, trying to write this review.

“I would never know if it was greed or selflessness that moved my hand.”

– Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising pg 377

Now THAT’S a question I had never asked myself.  Are greed and selflessness so similar that they are hard to tell apart?

Mal became unexpectedly important.  I liked Mal, but he always felt like just a love interest until this book.  If you love Mal, this book will make you love him even more.

What a beautiful, happy but also bittersweet ending.  Just enough of the bitter to keep me from gagging on the adorably sweet stuff.  Like I said, nothing in life ever works out perfectly and there were still consequences that the characters had to deal with.  But man I loved that ending.

Overall, it was a great ending to one of my favorite YA fantasy series.

Content Rating: Medium, for some violence and a few make-out scenes.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives in Hollywood, where she indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. Occasionally, she can be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.

Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children’s/ Macmillan), is a New York Times Best Seller and the first book in the Grisha Trilogy. Book 2, Siege and Storm, will be published in 2013. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf.

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Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published: September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover (215 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Middle Grade
Source: Library

 
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.
5 Stars

The beautiful first line of A Monster Calls drew me into the story.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

– Patrcik Ness, A Monster Calls

But the best part is that what comes next is not what I expected.  It’s a bittersweet story about a boy facing something that is scarier than monsters.  The monster is scary, yet endearing.  A Monster Calls is kind of like A Christmas Carol since the monster comes to teach him something – and it’s not lessons in kindness.  Instead of showing him his past, present, and future he tells him stories that have very unconventional endings.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?

– Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

I would call this book mild horror.  It has a Princess Bride vibe since the kid gives sassy commentary about the monster’s story while he’s telling it.  I guess even ancient monsters can get impatient with boys who ask too many questions.

Some people might call the ending “open-ended.”  I would not.  I think it ended perfectly.  If you think about the conflict of the story, it does resolve it but leaves the rest up to your imagination.  Kind of.  You know what happens next.

I loved this book.  Beautiful illustrations. Beautiful symbolism.  Get it in print to appreciate the art inside.

Overall – beautiful, bittersweet, moving.  You need to read this book.  

Content Rating: Mild for mild horror with monsters and mild spoiler View Spoiler »

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London.

Book Review: The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review: The Witch of Duva by Leigh BardugoThe Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha Trilogy #0.5
Published: June 5, 2012
Format: eBook (43 pages)
Genres: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Novella, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls...or so the story goes. But it’s just possible that the danger may be a little bit closer to home. This story is a companion folk tale to Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow and Bone.
4 Stars

The Short Version

The Witch of Duva is a beautifully written fairy tale that feels close to our own fairy tales but it messes with your expectations by twisting the story around in new ways.  This prequel novella reminded me of Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling.  The Witch of Duva, like Tales of Beedle the Bard, is a fairy tale set in the same world that doesn’t necessarily advance the story but functions to flesh out the world and add a little more magic to it.  I couldn’t find more of a connection between The Witch of Duva and Shadow and Bone other than they are both set in the same world.  I actually prefer this kind of novella to one that tells some back story of a character.  I feel like the fairy tale is something fun that lets me stay in that world a little longer.  When I’ve read novellas that try to continue the narrative, I found myself bored.  This fairy tale was beautiful and engaging and I highly recommend it.

The Jessica Thinks Too Much Version

There were just too many awesome and juicy details that I couldn’t skip discussing them.  I will talk about the details of the book and the foreshadowing that I saw, but I won’t tell how it ends.

The Witch of Duva reminds me of Hansel and Gretel.  Like Hansel and Gretel, there is a witch in the woods that eats girls.  Nadya, the main character, talks about how her mother becomes sick and the only thing that comforts her is sweet cakes from Karina.  I love the theme of food in this fairy tale – especially sweet food – that ties it into our fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.  One theory of why the girls go missing is that they smell food in the forrest and wander off.

I can see hints now of what happens at the end now that I’m reading it again.  It describes the girls as “full-grown girls near old enough to marry.”  There’s lots of misdirection to Karina since we are seeing the events through Nadya’s eyes and she automatically doesn’t like Karina trying to replace her mother.

Karina sends Nadya into the forrest to find the rabbit traps and Nadya follows the white stones that mark the path that were left by her brother, Havel.  I’m geeking out over all the Hansel and Gretel references!!  Nadya gets lost because the stones get covered in snow.  I like how this changes the Hansel and Gretel version to fit into the Russian-like setting of Ravka.

Hungry, Nadya finds a house that smells like cooking sugar.  The old woman that lives in the house feeds her.  I love how Nadya even mentions that she feels like she’s just being fattened up to be eaten later.  But this is where the twists come in.  The witch’s house becomes a safe place for Nadya instead of the other way around.  The witch helps people and even hides Nadya so rumors don’t start that she kidnaps children.  Haha! Oops too late.

I loved the elements that came from other fairy tales, too.  There was a reference to the Gingerbread Man story.  But again it’s different than I thought it would be.  The witch also asks Nadya all the time what she wants that reminded me a little of the original Beauty and the Beast.

I had a blast reading the fairy tale.  I loved analyzing it and thinking about it and just getting lost in the world.

Discussion

Why are we so quick to villainize women?

The thing that made me think the most about this story was how easy we are to attach sinister motives to women when their outward actions show mostly kindness.  It only takes one or two harsh things for us to immediately hate a woman when men do much worse things and it often gets looked over.  What do you think?

Content Rating: Medium, for a suggestive scene.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives in Hollywood, where she indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. Occasionally, she can be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.

Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children’s/ Macmillan), is a New York Times Best Seller and the first book in the Grisha Trilogy. Book 2, Siege and Storm, will be published in 2013. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf.

WebsiteBlogTwitterFacebookGoodreadsPinterest