Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velvde
Rating: PG; 3 ½ stars
Summary: Cloaked in Red is a collection of short stories that retell the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” All the stories were written by Vande Velde. There's not much to summarize other than that, without giving too much away. The introduction to the collection goes into a bit of detail about how the collection came about, including examining exactly how ridiculous the original story is, even by fairy tale standards. Other than that, the stories are really all just variations on the original tale.
Opinions: Which isn't to say I didn't like them. As is often the case with short fiction collections, not all the pieces were stand-out amazing. However, I did think that they all twisted the original story very well. I enjoyed the humor in each piece and the variety of characters. I have to say that my two favorite stories in the book are “Granny and the Wolf” and “Deems the Wood Gatherer.” I also enjoyed “Little Red Headache.” I liked that the stories weren't the “typical” retelling which, in my experience, retells the story, but with the same protagonist as the original (example: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine). Instead, these stories had a variety of protagonists: the grandmother, the wolf, Red, the wood-cutter. Characters from other stories even have a couple of cameos, as well as the Brothers Grimm, themselves.
One of the things that makes this collection so great is its sense of humor. Vande Velde managed to find humor in some really weird places, and it hits the mark pretty much every time (I'd say all the time, but I don't like using definite articles unless I'm 100% certain). And even when the stories aren't outright funny, there's just this tongue-in-cheek tone that makes me believe Vande Velde had a great time writing this.
Now of course, I did only give this book 3 ½ stars, so obviously it wasn't perfect. One of the things that lowered its rating was the fact that not all the stories were enjoyable, at least to me. And in a collection of stories that barely over a hundred pages, every story needs to count for something. The other thing I really didn't like about this book is more of a formatting thing: each story has a little illustration alongside the title. Now, this is a good idea conceptually, but I found that most of the illustrations were really generic, like someone Google searched for stock photos. Some of them are better than others, but in general they were just annoying. The book rated a PG because while there wasn't anything really objectionable, the nature of any sort of closer look at “Little Red Riding Hood” merits more than a G rating.
This book is a really quick read, so if you have an afternoon to spare, it's probably worth your time. Some of the stories weren't to my taste, but that doesn't mean that everyone shares that opinion. The writing is sound, and the characters are well-developed. It just wasn't as much of my cup of tea as I had hoped.