Judging A Book By Its Cover: Cinderellis

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I do purchase special editions of books and multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

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Book Review: Beastkeeper

Beastkeeper
By Cat Hellisen

My Edition:
Paperback, 224 pages
2016, Square Fish
ISBN: 9781250073648

Sarah is thirteen when her mother walks out of her life. Her father becomes distant and wild and soon leaves her in the care of her grandparents, whom Sarah didn’t know she had. Abandoned, living in a crumbling castle tower, Sarah discovers the curse that has tormented her family for generations and drove her mother to leave. Sarah is the only one willing to break the curse on her family, but it proves to be more difficult than she ever imagined.

This book. I can’t even. Sorry in advance for what’s going to be a mostly gushy review. But as soon as I finished this book, I wanted to read it all over again. It became an instant favorite of mine and is definitely on my top all time list for middle grade (yeah…that’s a thing?) fiction. I was already recommending it to people the moment I’d finished. It was just perfect for me. I hope it will be for you too, if you decide to give it a shot.

I was chatting about dark middle grade with Lindsay Smith (@LindsaySmithDC on Twitter) because I needed more of it (all of it!) in my life and she was the one who recommended Beastkeeper to me. I love fairytale retellings so I dropped it in my Amazon cart, and when it arrived the other day, I actually picked it up right away, which is not something I always do. I’m so glad I didn’t let this sit on my shelf for ages!

Hellisen wove a grim tale with beautiful, but simple imagery. I was completely living in this book, even when I had to put it down. This curse was all up in my head and I was eager to unravel it with Sarah. Sarah is a wonderful main character – she’s strong, determined and curious. As a character who was open to magic and actively dreaming about finding it, she still delivered a believable amount of apprehension and skepticism when confronted with it. (Personally it just bugs me when characters are faced with an amazing magical thing and they’re just like “ok.”)

This book is everything I want in a dark middle grade. I need more books like this in my life, stat. Hellisen delivered me the darkness I’ve been craving lately, but also maintained a tone that is appropriate for younger readers. Yet, she also doesn’t talk down to her audience, which I think makes it easier for older readers to enjoy this tale as well.

I fully, 100%, loudly recommend this book for any and all fairytale lovers looking for a grim edge to their retellings.

Also the design is simply lovely:

Mini Review: So Much Satrapi!

20140920_154718I have now read all the Marjane Satrapi books I could get my hands on and since these last three were fairly short, I figured I’d put them all in one post.

20140920_154758The Sigh
By Marjane Satrapi

My Edition:
Hardcover, 56 pages
2011, Archaia
ISBN: 9781936393466 (first edition)

The Sigh is a fairy tale and, as the back of the book proclaims, “contains content suitable for readers of all ages” so you could even read it to a child as a bedtime story. The general outline is a familiar one – a father has three daughters, each of whom asks for a gift when he returns from his journey. Unable to procure the gift his youngest, Rose, wishes for, she sighs and thus, The Sigh is called. He gives her the gift she wanted and in exchange the father promises The Sigh a favor to be granted in the future. The Sigh returns for his favor, to take Rose away, and though the father argues, he has to keep his word. Rose is taken to a grand palace and treated like a queen. She later discovers that a prince has kept her there and was too shy to come forward and profess his love. Their feelings are mutual, but Rose ruins everything by accidentally plucking a single feather from the prince’s armpit (yes) and killing him. So she journeys far and wide, helping others, in a search for the feather so she can bring her prince back to life.

Maybe you haven’t read a lot of fairy tales, but to me, this is all a bit familiar. However, Marjane’s illustrations are colorful and beautiful – they make the book a pleasure to read. Though the story isn’t detailed in the way a novel is, Rose is nicely developed. She realizes her mistake and wants to fix it, but on her journey to bring her prince back to life, she selflessly helps three other families. In a nice twist, she’s offered a man’s hand in marriage as payment for two of the families she’s helped. I’m used to reading about princesses being offered up, so it was nice to see a female heroine. The moral of the story is that life is fleeting and we never know when it might end, so we must cherish what we have, while we have it.

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20140920_154807Embroideries
By Marjane Satrapi

My Edition:
Paperback, 144 pages
2006, Pantheon
ISBN: 9780375714672

Embroideries is categorized as a memoir, though it’s more like a book of short stories, told by different female characters living in Iran, done in Marjane’s usual graphic novel style. Marjane and her family and a few friends are sitting down to tea to gossip after lunch while the men nap. These women relate stories about past or present relationship issues and I think that most female readers will find that they’ve done something similar with their own family or friends. I can’t really describe the plot because each little tale has its own – but they range from cheating husbands, old lovers, sexual experiences, marriage and more. This is definitely not a book intended for children. I found myself laughing out loud several times, especially when the women are discussing the male anatomy. As the blurb on the book says, these stories “will strike us as at once deeply familiar and profoundly different from our own” and I’m inclined to agree. I enjoyed this little book very much and would recommend it to most – as long as you have a sense of humor and don’t mind people discussing sex and the naked body.

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20140920_154743Chicken With Plums
By Marjane Satrapi

My edition:
Hardcover, 84 pages
2006, Pantheon
ISBN: 0375424156

I’ll start right off by saying Chicken With Plums was my favorite of these three books. From the back of the book: We are in Tehran in 1958, and Nasser Ali Kahn, one of Iran’s most revered tar players, discovers that his beloved instrument is irreparably damaged. Though he tries, he cannot find one to replace it. In despair, he takes to his bed, renouncing the world and all its pleasures, closing the door on the demands and love of his wife and children.

Nasser Ali selfishly decides to die, but before he does so, he reflects back on his life and we are given a look into his thoughts during the eight days before he passes. This book was fantastically dark and depressing, yet also very poignant and revealing. I didn’t know whether to like Nasser Ali or not – but he felt so human. He plays favorites with his children, argues with his wife, can’t get over the girl who got away, resents his brother for being their mother’s favorite. What shocked me most was the fact that music was such a large part of his life and when he couldn’t find a replacement tar he literally decided to die and die he did! Satrapi packed a lot of emotion into just 84 pages, primarily doing so through her illustrations. I have a lot of respect for her as an author and I’d be hard pressed to say whether I enjoyed this or her Persepolis stories more.

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I think it’s obvious from my recent posts that I’m a fan of Marjane Satrapi. Out of the five books I’ve reviewed, I think there’s something of hers you’d enjoy and I really recommend that you read her work. At this point she’s on my list of authors I’ll buy anything from and if you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to know what you thought!