Friday, August 19, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Trouble With May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Adam Gustavson -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

In this sequel to Our Only May Amelia, it's 1900 and Amelia is 12 years old. Her Pappa still thinks Girls Are Useless and May Amelia Is Trouble. Amelia tries not to get in trouble but her 7 older brothers make it difficult to stay out of trouble with their constant teasing and tormenting. In Amelia's opinion, Boys Are Trouble! She longs for peace and quiet and admires her eldest brother who ran away. She is also dying for another girl to play with. Though she claims to hate boys, May Amelia prefers wearing overalls to dresses. She enjoys school with the prettiest, nicest teacher they've ever had who lets them do lessons in their underdrawers. Some big changes come to the Jackson farm and May Amelia is right in the middle of them. She gets her chance to prove herself to her Pappa by translating for a businessman who wants to buy their farm and make them rich. Pappa is a hard man though and it will take a lot of sisu (Finnish word that translates to guts or courage) to make her family notice her in a good way. This book is every bit as charming as the first. It's told from May Amelia's point-of-view. May's voice is colloquial and childlike, really suited to her character. The first-person narrative helps the story seem more realistic and adds to the charm. May Amelia is an engaging, plucky little heroine that girls and boys will like. Adults will enjoy the innocence of the story and the refreshing honest voice of May Amelia. This book can be read as a stand-alone or as a sequel to Our Only May Amelia

Violet Eyes  : A Retelling of "The Princess at the Pea" (Once Upon a Time) by Debbie Viguie' -- Young Adult Fairy Tale

Violet knows change is coming when a storm hits. Storms always bring about monumental changes to her life. This storm is no exception. A handsome, wounded stranger is brought to her father's farm where she nurses the young man back to health. The stranger is Prince Richard, heir to the throne of Cambria. Violet quickly falls in love. Prince Richard knows he must marry soon so he has invited numerous princesses to visit his castle where his parents will put them through a test to find the most delicate princess to be his bride. Violet knows true love doesn't matter in royal marriages but a secret about her birth makes her a contender after all. Violet goes to the castle to win the man she loves. She's determined to be his bride no matter what she has to do to win. Violet wonders whether the King and Queen's silly tests hide a deeper meaning Even with a little help from Richard and her new friends, Violet wonders if she has what it takes to be a queen. This is a light fairy tale for the 10-12 year old crowd. There's kissing but not much actual romance. Violet and Richard fall in love almost at first sight, despite being strangers. Violet's mysterious backstory is entirely too coincidental and the story would have been far better without it. I liked the King and Queen and the reasoning behind their tests. It fleshed out the story a lot more than the usual telling of the tale. However, the plot drags a bit in the middle and the actual pea part comes at the end and is a bit too quick. The ending is rushed and rather random. If you like impossible to believe fairy tales then you will probably like this book but I wouldn't recommend it for adults.

Wild Orchid: A Retelling of "The Ballad of Mulan" by Cameron Dokey (Once Upon a Time) -- Young Adult Fairy Tale

Less a fairy tale than a legend, this book tells the story of Hua Mulan (Mulan means wild orchid), a tomboyish girl in ancient China. Her father is a great general serving the Emperor and her mother died in childbirth leaving her father devastated. As a consequence, Mulan has been alone all of her life, raised by an overprotective nanny. She learns how to read, write, shoot a bow and arrow and use a sword from her best friend Li Po. At almost marriageable age, Li Po's mother is horrified at his friendship with Mulan and worries her only son will marry the wrong woman. Li Po isn't sure of what he wants. Mulan knows she doesn't want to marry and be a dutiful wife. Her spirit is free and longs for adventure. When her father unexpectedly returns home, Mulan tries her hardest to make him proud of her. Changes come to the Hua family and to China. When the Emperor learns the Huns plan to attack China again, he calls for each family to send a man to fight. Mulan is determined her elderly, injured father should not have to fight so she runs off to the field of battle. Her friend Li Po is aide de camp to a great general who knows Mulan and her father. He allows her to stay though because her skill with the bow and arrow is much needed. Mulan proves her worth to the Emperor's son Prince Jian, the leader of the archers. Working alongside Prince Jian allows Mulan to see the gentle heart of the man who struggles with many of the same uncertainties as she does. She falls in love but knows such a love is never meant to be. He's a prince and she's a soldier. If she told him her secret, she would lose everything. This story is well known to those who have seen the Disney movie and others who study folk tales. This retelling lacks the comic relief of the secondary characters and focuses more on Mulan and her inner struggles. This Mulan is much like the Mulan in the movie and I think many teenagers and even adults can identify with her. My main problem with this book is that half of it is devoted to Mulan's growing up so when the important part occurs, it feels rushed. There's far more going on in the Disney movie than this short novel. The author could have used a lot more pages to develop the relationship between Mulan and Prince Jian and tell us about Mulan's time in the army. Overall though, I liked this book because it's different from the typical fairy tale.

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