Book Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman (2015)

Friday, June 26th, 2015

For Children Aged Zero to One Hundred and Twenty-Three

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review on NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including domestic violence and war.)

Miamas is Granny and Elsa’s favorite kingdom, because there storytelling is considered the noblest profession of all. The currency there is imagination; instead of buying something with coins, you buy it with a good story. Libraries aren’t known as libraries but as “banks,” and every fairy tale is worth a fortune. Granny spends millions every night: tales full of dragons and trolls and kings and queens and witches. And shadows. Because all imaginary worlds have to have terrible enemies, and in the Land-of-Almost-Awake the enemies are the shadows, because the shadows want to kill the imagination.

And when the morning light seeps into the hospital room, Elsa wakes up in Granny’s arms. But Granny is still in Miamas.

The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living.

Almost-eight-year-old Elsa is what many adults call “smart for her age.” She may only be seven, but Elsa knows a backhanded compliment when she hears one. A precocious kid, Elsa isn’t terribly popular, with children or adults. And most certainly not among shopkeepers, whose grammatically incorrect signage she doesn’t hesitate to correct with her handy, ever-present felt-tipped pen: her all-time favorite gift from her font-obsessed father.

Elsa’s best friend – her only friend, in point o’ facts – is her seventy-seven-year-old grandmother. Luckily, Granny lives in Elsa’s apartment building – right next door! People say that Granny’s “crazy,” and that may be true … but only to an extent. Mostly Granny doesn’t give a flying fuck what others think of her. It kind of comes with the territory: Granny was a medical student, and then an accomplished doctor (a surgeon, no less), before these fields had opened up to women. Heck, during Granny’s first few years on this earth, it was even illegal for Swedish women to vote!

So that’s one part of Granny’s “madness” – the radical notion that women are people and can do the same things as their male peers. Even if that involves traveling the globe, visiting the sites of natural disasters and man-made catastrophes while everyone else flees, rescuing people and rebuilding lives the best way she knows how.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood, Henderson Smith (2014)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

ALL the scars! (Instead of stars! See what I did there?)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Read program. Also, this review contains clearly marked spoilers towards the end.)

I wondered if in the history of the world there had ever been a Princess as ugly as me? I doubted it. But was there ever a Princess in the history of the world who saved their kingdom twice from annihilation by the time they were eighteen, and I doubted that as well. I gave myself a brave smile then attached the veil to my crown and appraised myself – well, it was a beautiful dress.

So there’s this princess named Olive, see.

But she’s also a magical creature called a Winnowwood – the last of her kind.

In addition to being troll-like in appearance, Winnowwoods can control nature, speak to animals, assume animal form, even heal their fellow earthlings. But every time a Winnowwood uses her magic to change something outside of herself – such as to heal her nonhuman friends – she becomes uglier on the outside: she sprouts a new boil or wart, for example. But to the animals she just grows more and more beautiful.

Hundreds of years ago, the lands were teeming with Winnowwoods. But a witch called Cassandra the Dragon Slayer cursed them with a knife, the Blade of Winnowwood, which tempts the Winnowwoods with physical beauty: should they use it to sever their crux (an extra joint on their pinky which is the source of their powers), they will lose their magics in exchange for youth and beauty. This is why all the Winnowwood save for Olive are gone – having long since died or succumbed to the curse. The beauty a Winnowwood will attain after “winnowing” is inversely related to how ugly she is at the time of the ceremony.

Beauty is all Olive’s younger sister Roseline ever wanted. As a child, she rarely used her magic, for fear of becoming uglier than she already was. But the day of her winnowing ceremony, she made a rare visit to the glen, where she spent hours torturing a doe – slashing her chest, breaking a leg with a hammer, etc. – so that she could heal the deer over and again, becoming uglier and uglier with each act of magic. And, ultimately, more and more beautiful that night. (Spoiler alert: Olive found the doe her sister left for dead and healed her – or her physical scars, anyway.)

The whole time I’m reading this, I’m thinking: yeah, but what about dinner time? You don’t eat your friends: cows, pigs, chickens. Awkward.

Turns out that Olive and her mom Opal are both vegetarians! (Roseline was, but not since her winnowing.) It’s not vegan, but I’ll take it.

Up until this point, I’d slowly been falling in love with The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood. But page 57? That’s when I gave my heart over to it fully. This is one beautiful story, people. Inside and out.

(More below the fold…)