July 4, 2011

Cloaked in Red: Review

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde, read for my "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge

Amazon's description:
"So you think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Well, then, try your hand at answering these questions: Which character (not including Little Red herself) is the most fashion challenged? Who (not including the wolf) is the scariest? Who (not including Granny) is the most easily scared? Who is the strangest (notice we're not "not including" anyone, because they're all a little off.)? Who (no fair saying "the author") has stuffing for brains? Master storyteller Vivian Vande Velde crafts eight new stories involving one of the world's most beloved (and mixed-up) characters in literature. You may never look at fairy tales in quite the same way again."

Why is it outside my comfort zone? Short stories have never been my thing. Usually I've found that just as I've started to get a feel for the setting and characters, the story ends. Also, when I was younger I wasn't such a fan of the ambiguous or unsettling endings short stories frequently have...or perhaps I just read the wrong ones. Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" creeped me out no end. Still, I thought fairy tale retellings might be a good way to get me more comfortable with short stories, since I'm a big fan of fairy tales.

Did it win me over? Why or why not? For the most part it did. I didn't like all the stories equally, but that would be rare. I loved the author's note, where she discussed why she wanted to rewrite the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I found it to be the most hilarious part of the whole book, actually, and she makes some astute points into the bargain. The story, if you think about it, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

In terms of the actual retellings, my favourites were "Deems the Woodgatherer," "The Little Red Headache," and "Little Red Riding Hood's Little Red Riding Hood." I liked the fact that other fairy tales were incorporated into "Deems the Woodgatherer," and the author uses the character/audience knowledge discrepancy very well. We can all see what the nearsighted woodgatherer clearly cannot. "The Little Red Headache" was such a fun take on the story by portraying the (rather conscientious!) wolf's perspective on the events that transpire. And as for the last one — I don't know that I've ever empathized quite so much with an article of clothing before. What a Little Red Pain-In-The-Neck the cloak had to put up with!

I was less thrilled with "The Red Cloak," "Little Red Riding Hood's Family," and "Why Willy and His Brother Won't Ever Amount to Anything." The first was the retelling that stuck the closest to the original fairy tale, and I found it rather bland. "Little Red Riding Hood's Family" introduced a paranormal element towards the end that came out of nowhere. And Willy in the third one just seemed too dense for words (although I did like the twist about his identity at the very end!) 

As for "The Red Riding Hood Doll," I'm feeling kind of mixed about that one. Anything to do with dolls coming to life I find rather unsettling and creepy, but the psyche of the main character Georgette, and her need for a child, was interesting. And "Granny and the Wolf" I feel pretty ambivalent about — it was okay, but nothing special.

Best aspect? The different creative ideas the author used for giving the original fairy tale more depth and explanation. Sometimes the stories ended up veering rather far from the Little Red Riding Hood tale we all know, but they were a good deal more interesting, and often more logical!
If I could change something, I would... I might have had a few darker, more haunting or lyrical stories in there. Most of them are quite light-hearted and obviously intended to be spoof-like and humorous. Yet I didn't find any of them outrageously funny, although there were several mildly amusing ones that made me smile.

Just one more thing I want to mention:  I wanted a better sense of the time period/setting in each story; there wasn't much description given to ground them in a particular time and place.

Would I read more like this book? Sure. I didn't really mind the fact they were short stories because the tale of Little Red Riding Hood itself is quite short, so it worked. I did try to pace myself with them, spreading them out, but even so midway through I did start feeling tired of reading variations on the same story, so I wouldn't recommend reading it all in one go. Perhaps a collection of short stories by several authors might be easier to read in fewer sittings, since each author would have such a different writing style.


If the wolf hadn't had such a deeply held moral belief system, he could have convinced himself that by leaving the basket behind, the girl had forsaken her rights to it. But, instead, he picked up the basket in his teeth, then loped through the trees, following the trails of wailing, crushed forest vegetation and human scent.

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. Enjoyable enough, but these retellings didn't blow me away.

If you haven't signed up yet for the "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" challenge and would like to, you can learn more about it and fill out the form HERE


  1. This one sounds intriguing- I didn't realise it was short stories! I would probably get it from the library just out of interest if they had it over here.

  2. Glad to see you liked this one!! I am definitely with you on the short story thing... I very, VERY rarely enjoy short stories. I read Velde's story collection like this based around Rumpelstiltskin and felt pretty much about that how you do about this. Some great, some alright, some meh, etc.

    I will recommend, if you are looking for good short stories, especially fairy tale short stories- by FAR the best collection of short stories I've ever read is Black Pearls by Louise Hawes. It's awesome.

  3. I'm usually not a big fan of short stories either Danya, just like you said I start to get involved and then I'm kicked out of the story because it's over! I do love fairytale retellings though, and some of these sound really fun:)

  4. Vivian Vande Velde has been one of my favorite authors since I first learned to read. I think this one of hers was actually one of my least favorite books she's written, but I still loved it! You should try out some of her other books. She has a lot with short stories as well as novels. My favorite book of short stories she wrote is Being Dead.
    She also has an amazing Arthurian book called The Book of Mordred.

  5. This sounds fun! I haven't heard of this book, so thanks for reviewing it!

  6. Short stories aren't really my thing either. I did like this collection, but some of the stories were just ok. My favorite VVV books are probably The Conjurer Princess/The Changeling Prince and Dragon's Bait. I think you'd like them since you like Crown Duel.


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