Monthly Archives: September 2012

15) Red Riding Hood

By: Sarah Blakley-Cartwright (novel)
David Leslie Johnson (screenplay)

Date Finished: 09.23.12

By Sarah Blakley-Cartright

Oddly enough, the screenplay came first (although the book was released about a month before the movie premiered).  Assuming the inspiration came from author Blakley-Cartwright not Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, it started with him), I wanted to read the book first to decide if the movie was worth watching.   I don’t usually read introductions, but this time I did and learned the film’s director, Catherine Hardwicke, commissioned Blakley-Cartwright to write the novelization because she believed the story was much bigger than film could capture.  And, atypically for such situations, the book is fantastic… to a point.

The writing is incredible; it’s the sort that draws you in and sweeps you along, revealing just enough to keep you interested, but not so much it becomes predictable.  Daggerhorn is a village of haunted secrets.  People there try so hard to maintain a veneer of normalcy as they keep a fragile peace with the nearby werewolf through a monthly animal sacrifice.  Physically, everything is kept locked away and carefully guarded, which is how the villagers conduct their personal lives as well.  In such a place, it’s safest to blend in and Valerie most certainly stands out.  She does try to do her part, but she has never been one to follow the rules and longs to experience the world beyond.  The man she loves re-enters her life just as marriage to another man is arranged for her.  She’s ready to run, but then the Wolf begins to prey on the villagers despite their sacrifice.  Daggerhorn dissolves into chaos with Valerie at the heart of it.  Enter an expert Wolf hunter who reveals the beast lives among them, and no one is safe from suspicion.  While the villagers search for the monstrous Wolf, they fall prey to their own darkness.

I loved the time spent on characterization in this book.  Each person is distinct and fully realized, even those with limited exposure.  Similarly, all the relationships are complicated, messy, and very much like real life.  One oddity in the writing is that the point of view jumps around.  It is primarily Valerie’s story, but almost all the characters have at least one paragraph to their name.  The result is a bunch of third person limited sections creating a third person omniscient book.  It’s quirky, but it works because a) it was introduced early in the book, b) it is very clear who the point of view belongs to, c) it can happen for any character, and d) it happens often enough to be intentional instead of lazy.  This adds to the well-roundedness of the characters, and allows the audience to witness very important events without Valerie present.  I appreciated these advantages since the point of view jumping was handled sensibly.  On a related note, the few flashbacks in the book changed to first person which did not work.  I enjoyed that they were italicized, but I didn’t need anything else to indicate a break from the timeline.  Fortunately, there were only two or three of these to cringe over.

Admittedly, this story does contain a certain amount of teenage angst, but thankfully, it’s not the whole plot.  A wild and complicated love story weaves its way through a darker tale of fear and loyalty.   The writing manages to acknowledge the angst without overdoing it, and in turn, the romance keeps the rest of the story from becoming overwhelming.  It is, in many ways, a very conscientious book.  However…

I reached the end of the book and felt unsatisfied.  I thought I was being selfish, wanting more from the story, and admonished myself to appreciate the open-ended conclusion.  At the same time, I placed the emphasis much more on “open-ended” than “conclusion”.  Plus, there’s a page in the back that reads, “Is this truly the end of Valerie’s story?  Visit to find out.”  So, I checked the website and there is indeed a “bonus” chapter to the book.  In actuality, it should be included in the publication; I don’t know why it wasn’t.  It has an appropriate amount of open-endedness and wraps up the story the way it deserves.  Sadly, it’s obvious this chapter has gone through fewer edits than the others.  It seriously sticks out, but it’s worth reading because the information is useful necessary.  Just on principle, I cannot condone a book for hiding a full chapter on the interweb, however well-written the rest of the book may be.  Even so, I will absolutely return to this book.

At the end of the day: (Really) for me.

11) Palace of Stone

Sequel to Princess Academy

By: Shannon Hale

Date Finished: 04.24.12

By Shannon Hale

I should have done this post weeks ago (the book was released on Aug. 21), but happily, it reached the NY Times Bestseller list without my encouraging you to buy it.  And I do encourage you to buy it, by the way.

It’s hard for me to separate this one from the original, mostly because I love Princess Academy so much.  Reading the sequel felt like meeting an old friend after a couple years apart and discovering that we still have everything in common.  Admittedly, before I read Palace of Stone, I had a difficult time envisioning what a sequel could be, but Hale masterfully blended it into the end of the previous book.  The sequel is not better or worse; it is simply the extension of an already beautiful tale.

Miri’s only desire was to work in the quarry with the rest of the villagers in Mt. Eskel, a backwater territory of Danland.  Then the Academy came for the young ladies and the education improved their way of living as they began to understand commerce and their position within the kingdom.  In Palace of Stone, Mt. Eskel is finding its place as a newly elevated province and Miri is off to the capital city with some of the other girls for the royal wedding.  They will live at the palace and assist the chosen princess, Miri’s best friend Britta, in preparations for the ceremony.  While in the city, Miri will also attend the university in her thirst for knowledge.  But there’s a revolution brewing and she finds herself trapped between loyalty to her dearest friend, and the desire to improve living conditions for the commoners.  As before, Miri’s big heart and unquenchable spirit give her the strength to devise a unique solution to the stalemate.

In the original, I always loved that each chapter begins with a fragment of a quarry song.  The short poems change in style throughout to set the tone for the chapter that follows.  I was delighted to find Hale kept this feature in the sequel.  She brilliantly extended the range of songs to encompass Miri’s new experiences in the city and they come to echo her emotional journey.  In addition to songs for each chapter, Palace of Stone uses letters as a break between larger sections.  Most are written by Miri, although a few early letters come from other characters.  They add a great dynamic to the book and insight into the characters.  I also love that this allows Miri’s sister, Marda, to remain in the story while still on Mt. Eskel.  That sister relationship is an important one even though Marda has always stayed at home.

Many members of the old cast play a role in the new book, continuing the character-specific journeys Hale created in the original.  The new cast is a diverse group, with some wonderfully surprising characters.  For better or for worse, all the characters challenge Miri in new ways, preparing her for the tough decisions, personally and politically, that she will have to make.  The city itself is a whole new beast, raising the stakes as every action has greater repercussions.  The book gets its fairy tale ending, but only through hard work as Miri and her friends overcome very real dangers.

Hale creates such strong relationships between the characters and does an excellent job of connecting the environment to the story’s development.  Everything goes toward a cohesive story and while the ending may be expected, how they get there is the real mystery and treasure.  Miri has been one of my favorite fictional characters for many years and she’s a true delight in this new adventure.

At the end of day:  Really, really, really for me