Posts Tagged ‘Tales Re-told’

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

April 23, 2014

TodayStill Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and also World Book Night, which is always on his birthday.  What better way to celebrate than with a fresh take on one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays?

Romeo and Juliet has been subject to dozens of adaptations and retellings – so many that it might be difficult to believe that one published just last year could have something new to say. Yet Melissa Taub manages it deftly in a painstakingly researched and imaginative young adult tale of what might have happened after the play’s conclusion.

Days after the events of the play, the truce reached by the houses of Capulet and Montague has fallen upon deaf ears among the young members of each family. Each house blames the other for the death toll; brawls and swordfights abound, and the city’s peace is at increasing risk. Prince Escalus is desperate to find a way to ensure that the pact between the lords of the houses is upheld. But he can’t think of anything other than ensuring a blood tie between them – a marriage between two living members of the families.

Not only is seventeen-year-old Rosaline Capulet mourning her cousin Juliet, she feels responsible for the deaths that occurred in Verona just days ago. After all, if she had accepted Romeo’s romantic advances, maybe he wouldn’t have tumbled into his doomed romance. Maybe she could have spared their city all this heartache. Benvolio hasn’t forgiven her, either. Romeo and Mercutio were his cousins and closest friends – he feels isolated at the loss of his Montague friends and wants revenge. Imagine the surprise and indignation of both youths when Escalus decides that the two of them are the best candidates to unite the houses, ending the feud once and for all. Now they just have to agree to the plan…

The genius of Taub’s story is all in the use of characters given little stage time in the play. She’s wonderful at taking the little we know about them and fleshing them out into full characters. Rosaline’s independence and family loyalty (hinted at in the original play) are admirable traits and help keep the tension going throughout the story, while Benvolio’s stubborn streak creates ongoing conflict. Taub uses Shakespearean dialect in dialogue, but modern language in description, helping immerse readers in the world of Shakespeare without making the book seem unapproachable. If you’re a big fan of Shakespeare (or love a good historical romance), this might be just the ticket!

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Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

April 11, 2014

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna TrollopeThere’s a growing trend for the estates of famous deceased authors to commission new “continuation” titles based on the settings and characters the authors created, sort of like officially sanctioned fan fiction.  One good example is The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, a new Sherlock Holmes novel approved by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate. Agatha Christie’s estate has also recently authorized more Hercule Poirot mysteries.  Publisher HarperCollins is going one step further with its Austen Project, asking some of today’s best-selling British authors to re-imagine Jane Austen’s works with close retellings of her books set in the current time period.  The first of these out of the gate is Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility.

Trollope’s book, like the classic, focuses on the three Dashwood girls, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, and their mother.  Mr. Dashwood expires before the book even begins, but from a modern ailment – severe asthma – not from a hunting accident. His estate passes to his son from his first marriage, not due to entailment laws, but because he never actually legally married the girls’ mother, a modern twist. Left homeless, they snap up the offer of a cottage in the countryside free of rent from a wealthy cousin, John Middleton.  The story proceeds with the same characters and plot points as the original, but with modern “sensibilities.”

Much of the charm of Austen’s books lies in the customs and manners of the time period when they are set and her own unique style in making fun of them and her character’s many foibles.  Trollope’s book is also witty and satirical in its own way.  It’s interesting to see how much of the humor and how many of the romantic predicaments are timeless and translate well to today.

The Austen Project has scheduled all of Jane Austen’s books for this treatment.  Next up is Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, followed by Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Travis H’s Picks

December 26, 2013

I’m the manager of the Zebulon Community Library and have a long tenure with the library system. I majored in English and have had my fill of “good books.” Since then, I read mostly nonfiction, techno thrillers and things I find funny.

The Lost Prince by Seldon Edwards  
Edwards’ first book, The Little Book, captivated me but left me unsatisfied. The Little Book had a great plot, likable characters and an interesting setting during interesting times. It lacked however a flow that compelled me to keep turning the page. The Lost Prince though, at least for me, was a page-turner. Both of the books focus on Eleanor Burden. In the first book, Eleanor has a life altering experience. In the second, we see how her experience plays out. Time travel and predestination are the respective devices in these two books.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening That Changed America by Charles A. Cerami
Thomas Jefferson fascinates me. Discovering Cerami’s book was exciting. I did not get what I was expecting however, as the evening referenced in the books was just a small part of it. By serving as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson, the agrarian anti-federalist, found himself in an administration trying to establish a Federal Government. Key to these efforts was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who Jefferson thought might be a closeted Royalist. No wonder, the author explains, that Jefferson was a migraine sufferer and postulates that he also suffered from depression.  The dinner that the book’s title references was Jefferson’s way to hammer out a compromise between Hamilton and Congress (represented by Madison) over Hamilton’s Report on Public Credit. Hamilton wanted the federal government to assume the various states’ Revolutionary War debts, to the detriment of those states. The lasting impact of Jefferson’s dinner is why Washington DC, carved out of Virginia and Maryland, is our seat of government as opposed to New York City, or Philadelphia. By centering this history on such a pivotal event, the author gives us a focused and revelatory exposition of the key players and times. The included recipes are interesting as well.

Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon by Howard E. Covington Jr.
Biltmore always seemed to me to be a rich man’s folly, like Hearst Castle in California. Hearst’s folly is owned and run by the State of California. Biltmore is still in the hands of Vanderbilt’s descendents. I’ve long be interested in historic preservation and what drew me to this book was the struggle Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, Sr., has had in keeping the property private. Ultimately, to keep family control, it seems national inheritance tax law would need to be amended. Nonetheless, as the book details, the Cecil family has skillfully managed to make Biltmore relevant, productive and viable as a privately held venture. This accomplishment mirrors the skill it took to build the Vanderbilt fortune in the first place.

Outlaw by Angus Donald
This retelling of the Robin Hood saga is in the voice of Alan-a-Dale, the Merry Men’s minstrel. Donald’s realistic and believable Robin is a leader and provider of those wanting their freedom from various injustices. Donald set his tale, earlier than most retellings, during the reign of Henry II, an unsettled time a few generations after the Norman Conquest. Outlaw is the first of five novels featuring Robin Hood. If you like Bernard Cornwell’s books, you’ll probably like this.

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippy Dream by Neil Young
Young writes in his autobiography that he wrote his autobiography to cash in.  At age 66, Young seems to have had a wakeup call. He gave up cannabis and alcohol, fears dementia and writes about some projects he wants to pursue that do not relate to music. Young has yet to give up on the promise of the sixties; long may he run.

Muppet Sherlock Holmes by Patrick Storck

May 22, 2012

Since today is the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I thought it would be a good time to review a comic book adaptation of his work with this graphic novel by The Muppets. Our Book-a-Day blog has reviewed some of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books before and we have also reviewed some Muppets books before — so, much like Reese’s peanut butter cups, here are two great things that go great together. In true Muppet fashion, they have put their own humorous spin on one of Doyle’s most famous lines: “Once you eliminate the rational, whatever remains, no matter how absurd, must be the Muppets.”

This graphic novel collects four of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories with Gonzo the Great as the world’s greatest detective and Fozzie Bear as his loyal companion, Dr. Watson, who narrates the stories. Inspector Lestrade is played by Kermit the Frog, and many of the large cast of Muppet characters also make appearances throughout the stories. The first story is The Speckled Band, a classic locked room mystery, which even contains a 19th century version of the Veterinarian’s Hospital sketch from The Muppet Show. The second story to be re-told by Gonzo and crew is A Scandal in Bohemia featuring Miss Piggy as the intriguing Irene Adler — who was always referred to as the woman by Holmes. And, just as he did in the first season of The Muppet Show, Gonzo (Holmes) falls madly for Miss Piggy (Adler). The third story is The Red-Headed League in which shady goings on lead Holmes, Watson and Lestrade to don red wigs and take up menial clerical jobs with the league to try and deduce why their client, Mr. Wilson, is paid so handsomely for work that keeps him away from his shop during the day. The final tale is The Musgrave Ritual about an old aristocratic family legend which just may turn out to be some sort of treasure map. This version, however, concludes the final story with an abbreviated version of the events which occurred at Reichenbach falls (in the original Doyle story The Final Problem) with Holmes/Gonzo facing down his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty (played by Uncle Deadly).  The writers did an excellent job of re-telling these tales as faithfully as possible, while also putting the unique “Muppety” spin on them at the same time.

For you more serious Sherlock Holmes fans (who should still totally give this graphic novel a try), you can find many different collections of Doyle’s stories and novels in our catalog.

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P.S. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shares his birthday with my wife, so Happy Birthday my love!

Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire

January 3, 2012

An evil queen with a bent toward vanity.
A mirror that reveals “who is the fairest one of all”.
A girl with skin white as snow and hair black as night.
Seven dwarves in forest cottage
A poisoned apple.

Sounds familiar, right? True to form, in this novel Gregory Maguire reimagines a fairy tale and embellishes  the tale with darker and quirkier details than even the Brothers Grimm could concoct.  Maguire paints the world of Bianca de Nevada (Maguire’s name for Snow White) with just enough reality and vivid detail that the fantasy aspects are nearly believable.  The novel is set in 16th century Italy, the era of oligarchy, political intrigue, and papal corruption.  The evil “queen” in this version is Lucrezia Borgia, the real-life illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who is obsessed with her own beauty and power.  She enters the tale collaborating with her brother, Cesare, to convince Bianca’s father to go on a dangerous quest. They want him to steal three apples from the Tree of Knowledge that are protected by an order of monks.  Even though Vicente de Nevada does not want to leave his daughter to go on the quest, the Borgia’s threaten Bianca’s life if Vicente does not comply.  After he leaves, the tale continues, including the basics of the original story, with the addition of many scrumptious details.

After listening to the audio version of Wicked several years ago, I was intrigued by the writing of Gregory Maguire, and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to try another one of his novels.  Having seen the musical, Wicked, before reading the book, Maguire’s writing style initially caught me off guard.  It was much darker and more postmodern than the theater version, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first, because I wasn’t prepared for some of its more “adult” content. But, once I stopped comparing the two versions, I was able to really appreciate Maguire’s ability as storyteller.  Because of my previous experience with Maguire’s writing, I was better primed to enjoy Mirror, Mirror.  I enjoy adapted fairy tales, historical fiction, and writing that makes me reread sentences so I can fully grasped the depth of thought contained in them.  Mirror, Mirror is a wonderful mix of all three.

Long story short, this novel is a reimagined fairy tale, rich in imagery and unexpected interpretations.  Maguire’s literary talent very evident, which makes for an enjoyable, yet thought-provoking read.

Click here to find this grown-up fairy tale in our catalog.

Muppet Snow White by Jesse Blaze Snider, et. al.

April 5, 2011

“It’s time to start the music, it’s time to light the lights! It’s time to get things started on The Muppet Show tonight!”  If you remember that catchy little tune, then you’ll love this new comic book style re-telling of the classic story of Snow White by your favorite Muppets.  Just as they did with other classic tales (the movies A Christmas Carol, & Treasure Island) the Muppets have now put their own hilarious spin on this beloved fairy tale.

Jacob & Wilhem Grimm (Gonzo & Rizzo) narrate the story for us, in which The Queen (Miss Piggy) discovers from her magic mirror (Fozzie Bear) that she is not the fairest of them all.  The woodsman (Sweetums) must take young Snow White (Spamela Hamderson – who is accompanied by her agent, Pepe the King Prawn) into the woods to kill her, but he can’t do it, so she ends up finding a nice little cottage to live in.  That cottage is occupied by the seven dwarfs (not dwarves, as the Muppets are keeping with the original spelling from Brothers Grimm), portrayed by the band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.  The band turns out to be one dwarf short, so they hold auditions.  Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Kermit) is about to meet Snow White when he’s captured by Queen Piggy who has somehow gotten ahold of the dragon from Sleeping Beauty.  Kermit is kept prisoner by the Queen – if Piggy can’t have her frog, then no one can – and Snow White eventually falls under the sleeping-in-a-death-like-trance spell, leading to a very long line of potential suitors who are each charged $1 for a kiss and the chance to be the one to break the spell.  Hilarity ensues throughout the story and just about all of your favorite Muppet characters make an appearance!

As with the best books, movies or TV shows for children, there’s plenty of humor for grown ups in here too.  In fact, there are several “in jokes” that only true Muppet fans would get and that will go right over the heads of kids (or almost anyone under 30).  I don’t want to spoil anything here, but suffice it to say that if you don’t know who the “Mahna Mahna” guy is, then you won’t get the joke he’s in. There are several other Muppet versions of classic “tales re-told” (Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, & King Arthur) in comic books form, and I hope we’ll see them all in the library one day.  But, for now, after having read this, maybe I’ll watch some of the original Muppet Show via Netflix while I eagerly await the new movie “The Muppets”, written by and starring Jason Segel, coming out this Thanksgiving.

“Why don’t you get things started” by reserving your copy of Muppet Snow White!


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