Blog Banquet: Guest Post on The Bookworm Chronicles

PFF Orange Grove Cover - SmallToday is our first stop (first course?) in my Blog Banquet book tour for The People the Fairies Forget.  Today you’re invited over to The Bookworm Chronicles, where hostess Jessica blogs.

Jessica posts frequent book reviews, and is a dedicated responder to comments from lovely readers!  She frequently participates in the Tough Traveling meme, looking at fantasy tropes.  So for my guest post, I wrote a bit about the fantasy/fairy tale tropes I made use of in my novel–characters especially.

Head over to The Bookworm Chronicles to read the post and find out more about my Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming and Fairy Godmother. 🙂

Book Review: The Ugly Stepsister

You all know how I am about retold fairy tales, especially ones with a twist.  I certainly couldn’t resist The Ugly Stepsister by Aya Ling, retelling Cinderella from a very unusual perspective.

Kat is a typical modern teenager…who suddenly finds herself trapped inside the world of a storybook.  Specifically, Cinderella–but not as the heroine.  Kat is one of the stepsisters, and she won’t be able to get out of the story and go home until the book achieves its happy ending.  But the other stepsister is gorgeous and vying for the prince, the prince has no interest in balls or marriage, quiet and obedient Elle definitely won’t be pursuing the prince herself…and also, it’s hard work being in Society.  Kat could desperately use a fairy godmother, but none seems to be in sight.

I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water aspect of this, as modern Kat tries to cope with a (more or less) Victorian world.  Between corsets, curtsies and dull society calls, not to mention watching her modern slang, Kat struggles to find her way.  Her anachronistic status takes a more serious turn when she ends up confronting the harshness of child labor in the factories.  Her modern sensibilities drive her towards efforts at reform. Continue reading “Book Review: The Ugly Stepsister”

From Beijing to France, with Cyborgs and Lunars

I’m waiting in line at the library for Cress, the third book in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.  Waiting turned out to be a good thing…because it gave me time to reread the first two books, Cinder and Scarlet.  You can click the links for my original reviews, but I thought I’d do a quick re-read review too!  (Some spoilers to follow for Cinder)  These are sci fi, but since they retell fairy tales, I’m still counting them for Once Upon a Time.

The Lunar Chronicles are set a vague but significant distance in the future. Earth has formed itself into seven countries, all at peace–but in an uneasy truce with the Lunar Colony, ruled by the cruel Queen Levana.  Lunars possess magic-like abilities to manipulate the minds of others, and no one is more powerful than Queen Levana.

Cinder is a teenage girl living in New Beijing, a gifted mechanic–and a cyborg.  Despised by society and her adoptive mother, her best friend is Iko, a robot with an overactive personality chip.  Her path crosses that of Prince Kai, shortly before the annual ball (can we see where this is going?)  At the same time, life begins to spiral out of control for both of them–Cinder’s sister is deathly ill with the letumosis plague, Cinder begins to find out startling revelations about her own past, and the death of Kai’s father forces him to take the lead in dangerous political dealings with Queen Levana.

My favorite thing about Cinder may be that she is just so level-headed.  I never understood Cinderella’s relationships in the original story, but I love how Meyer has reimagined things for Cinder.  She has no choice but to stay with her adoptive mother, because as a cyborg she’s legally property.  Cinder is fiercely loyal to her kind younger sister, and her robot friend, so we know she cares about people…but she doesn’t fall immediately under Kai’s spell.  Oh, there’s a crush going on…but she keeps perspective about it all.  It feels like how someone might legitimately feel about a near-stranger they’re attracted to.

I love a Cinderella who would rather run away and start her own life than go to some ball and dance with a cute prince.  Not that she wouldn’t like to dance with the cute prince, but she has priorities!

Oddly enough, much as I love the not-ridiculously-fast romance, it backfires to a certain extent in that I don’t find myself especially rooting for Cinder and Kai as a romantic couple.  Cinder gave us the very beginning of a romance for them…and I hope subsequent books will give us more so I can get more invested in them as a pair.

My other favorite part is Cinder’s amazing cyborg abilities–from the relatively mundane, like having a cabinet in her calf, to the really awesome like being able to detect lying.  They’re woven throughout the book in a very cool way.

Scarlet picks up right where Cinder left off.  Cinder is now a fugitive from both Queen Levana and the Earth authorities, and winds up joining forces with the dashing Captain Thorne.  In his stolen spaceship, they’re on the trail of information about the missing Lunar heir, Princess Selene.  The trail takes them to France, to intersect with our other heroine of the book, Scarlet.  Scarlet is desperate to find her grandmother, who vanished two weeks previously.  She meets Wolf, a street fighter who fluctuates between gentle and fierce, who may have a clue to her grandmother’s abduction.  Although she doesn’t really trust him, Wolf is her only help, and they set out together for Paris.

I liked Cinder, but I really liked Scarlet.  Scarlet is fiery, impulsive, and even more fiercely loyal than Cinder.  And unlike Cinder and Kai, I definitely got behind this romance.  Yes, it’s fast–yes, it doesn’t always make sense–yes, I know all that…but it just works.  Although I tend to like Brooding Heroes with Hearts of Gold (it’s a thing), so that may be a factor…

And a purely personal aspect that will probably not matter nearly as much to anyone but me–a big chunk of the book takes place in the Opera Garnier!  It’s never identified by name, but trust me, it’s the Opera Garnier, former home of the Phantom of the Opera, and Meyer clearly researched the floor plan.

With broader appeal…much as I enjoyed Scarlet’s storyline, I also enjoyed Cinder’s storyline, which kicked into a higher gear in this installment–and how can I not love Captain Thorne, roguish and charming, if not quite as charming as he thinks he is.  I have this thing about arrogant charmers too, so this book was just hitting all my favorite hero-types.

I have to say, I am even more excited for Cress now, which was kind of the point…that, and making sure I’d actually remember who everyone was when I picked up the new book!  I also snagged on to a possible clue about Cress in the first book that I’m sure I didn’t spot on a first read, and I can’t wait to find out if my guess is right. 🙂

Let’s see…#15 in line, and with 27 copies circulating, that’s not so bad!

Don’t forget, you can win a signed copy of my fairy tale retelling, The Wanderers! Just put #WanderersGiveAway in your comment to enter.  Ten days left!

Author’s Site: http://www.marissameyer.com/

Buy them here: Cinder and Scarlet

Classic Review: Silver Woven in My Hair

I don’t know about you, but what with one thing and another, I find myself in a fairy tale mood!  So until I have time to finish reading something fairy tale-related and review it for you, here’s a classic review of one of my very favorite retellings of Cinderella…

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Silver Woven in My HairI originally read Silver Woven in My Hair by Shirley Rousseau Murphy from the library when I was…maybe nine?  I don’t really remember.  Young.  I read it several times, and then it somehow disappeared off the shelf.  Miraculously, I remembered the title–I usually don’t.  I usually remember something like, there was a bit in there where the girl is watching the royal family come back from the island and she sees the goatherd, and then she invites him into the kitchen at the inn to have dinner and it makes her stepfamily mad but he just laughs so it’s all right…oh and then they had a picnic later on in the book, and there was that really good part about the owner of the sword.

And that’s not going to help anyone find the story they’re looking for.  But fortunately I remembered the title, and by the time I was in high school the wonderful world of online booksellers existed and I was able to buy Silver Woven in My Hair for my very own, and I spent an entire afternoon rereading the whole book.  It was lovely.

It’s one of the best retellings of Cinderella I’ve ever read.  It’s a story about Thursey, and her terrible stepfamily.  The royal family was coming back from that island because they were there while the queen and the prince recovered from being captured in a war.  Thursey’s father went to the war and never came back, so this Cinderella actually has a reason to stay where she is–even though she knows he’s probably never coming back, she can’t bring herself to leave, just in case.

Thursey doesn’t have a sparkly fairy godmother, but she does have friends who want to help her go to the ball at the palace.  There’s Anwin the monk, and there’s Gillie the goatherd, who’s funny and charming–and very far from a sparkly fairy godmother.  🙂

I love that Thursey is a Cinderella who loves Cinderella stories.  Her family runs an inn, and she collects stories from the travelers who pass through–all the different Cinderella stories from different cultures, Cendrillon and Aschenputtel and Catkin and so on.  Even though Thursey’s life isn’t very good, she never stops dreaming.  The ball is one aspect of the story, but Thursey’s dreams have a lot more substance than dancing a single night at a ball.

The characters, from Thursey to Gillie to the nasty stepfamily, are well-drawn and life-like.  The story is very grounded in reality, in a practical world where dishes have to be washed and goats have to be fed and there’s none of the impossible and incomprehensible leaps that the original fairy tales often make.  Yet there’s also something whimsical about the tale.  For some reason the word “gossamer” keeps coming to mind, and I think it has to do with the writing style.  Murphy has kept some of the poetry of the old tales, while giving us characters and a plot that are more substantial.

Silver Woven in My Hair isn’t exactly a fantasy…or it could be.  Murphy leaves it up to the reader to decide whether some elements are really magic or not, and I’m not entirely sure what I think.

But even if you decide it’s not a fantasy, it’s definitely a magical story.  And a marvelous tale.

Author’s Site: http://www.srmurphy.com/

Other reviews:
Ex Libris Draconis
Mel’s Desk
Anyone else?  I am sad that this book is not better known…

Buy it here: Silver Woven in My Hair

On Fairy Tales and Masks

Princess in the Opal MaskA couple of common threads around here include retold fairy tales, and the masked Phantom of the Opera…so The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist, with its Cinderella spin and masked princess, seems tailor-made, no?  🙂  It also turned out to have strong female characters, a well-developed world and an excellent fantasy feel, all things I enjoy in a book!

The story alternates narration between two girls: Elara who has a Cinderella-like existence among her adopted family, and no knowledge of her birth parents; and Wilha, a princess who has never been allowed to show anyone her face, not even her own father.  And…it’s hard to say more without spoilers, but suffice to say both girls end up central players in a tentative and uncertain peace treaty with a neighboring kingdom.  There’s intrigue and romance and backstabbing and conspiracies–and Wilha’s mask is only the most visible one.

I really loved the idea of the princess in the mask, and was so intrigued by the mystery–even Wilha herself doesn’t know why she has to wear a mask all the time.  All sorts of rumors fly, that her face is cursed or blessed, and the book explores Wilha’s own confused feelings and fears.  The Phantom of the Opera at least knew why he was hiding his face–Wilha has no answers, except a fear that showing her face will mean death for anyone who sees her.

Wilha also struggles to be seen as a person, not as The Masked Princess.  Most of us don’t go around in physical masks all the time (or hardly ever…) but the struggle to be seen as our true selves is much more universal.

Clearly I warmed to and related to Wilha right away.  Elara took longer–part of her struggle is that she doesn’t want to let anyone get close to her.  Considering her life, that does make sense.  Unfortunately, I felt like I couldn’t get close to her as a reader either.  However, she emerged more in the second half of the book, making more connections to others–and me!

The worldbuilding is another very strong element of the book.  Much of what happens, particularly with the neighboring kingdom, is grounded in the country’s history.  Lundquist does a nice job conveying a lot of information about past events, without getting bogged down or dry.

Description is a strong element here too.  Those masks may be imprisoning Wilha…but they’re beautiful too.  I want an illustrated version of this, mostly just to see the masks.  The cover is pretty, but it really doesn’t do justice to the elaborately-described masks!

There were plenty of unexpected turns in here, and it genuinely kept me guessing in the romance department.  A sequel has been promised for next Fall, and I’m looking forward to it!  Wilha and Elara are both on paths towards claiming their own lives and I can’t wait to see where they go next–and I’m hoping the sequel will pick up some threads (romance included) that were left unresolved here.  If this book was any indication, more twists and mysteries will be in store!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Author’s Site: http://jennylundquist.com

Buy it here: The Princess in the Opal Mask

Scarlet: Book Two of the Lunar Chronicles

ScarletI came late to the game last year with Cinder by Marissa Meyer, so I was determined to jump in sooner with this year’s sequel, Scarlet.  It was a great read, and now I’m eagerly waiting to see where she’ll take the adventure in the next book!  Read my review of Cinder here, and be warned, there will be spoilers for that book in this review for Scarlet.

Cinder is a sci fi fairy tale retelling, featuring a cyborg Cinderella (who leaves her foot on the palace steps!)  The last book ended with Cinder under arrest, soon to be handed over to the vicious, mind-controlling Lunar Queen.  Scarlet brings in several new characters, starting us off with title character Scarlet, whose beloved grandmother recently disappeared.  She’s soon pulled into a much larger and more dangerous game than she realized, and reluctantly accepts the help of a mysterious street fighter she knows only as Wolf.

Meanwhile, Cinder swiftly breaks out of jail and goes on the run, by accident and necessity working together with Carswell Thorne, conman, smuggler and thief.  The stories converge when Cinder and Carswell also end up on the trail of Scarlet’s grandmother, everyone intent on what secrets the woman could be hiding.

As you’re probably already guessing, this volume brings in “Little Red Riding Hood,” though only in the loosest sense.  I do love it that Scarlet wears a red hoodie, though!

The split plotlines gave me some trouble at first–I kept wanting to be in the other one, whichever one I was currently in–but once I got adjusted to that, I very much enjoyed the book.  Meyer ratchets up the stakes and the conflict, and introduces us to some excellent new characters.

I have a soft spot for charming rogues, so Carswell was a great addition.  He’s a very arrogant criminal who expects everyone else to be as impressed by his exploits as he is.  He brings some humor into a frequently dark book.  Scarlet is a good character as well, a fierce young woman who is determined to forge ahead and deal with things.  I hate passive heroines, and Scarlet is anything but.  Wolf is fascinatingly complex.  I have kind of a thing for dark, brooding heroes too, and he’s a wonderful blend of strength and wariness.  He’s immensely capable about some things (see: street fighter) but so nervous about others (like romance).  I love that blend.

My favorite character from the first book was also back, though I would have liked more of her…Iko, Cinder’s android friend.  She was dismantled in the last book but Cinder saved her personality chip, and in this book installs it into their spaceship.  Iko’s freaking out about whether she’s still attractive as a spaceship (“But I’m so huge!”) is absolutely wonderful.

Scarlet is living in France, and her search for her grandmother eventually takes her to Paris.  Being me, my first thought was, hey, maybe there’ll be an Opera House reference!  So imagine my delight when it turns out the kidnappers have actually made the Opera House their base. 🙂  This is set a long stretch into the future, so we get to go wandering through the crumbling but still recognizable remains of the Opera House, including the grand foyer, the marble stairs, and the auditorium.  Loved it.

The book takes a turn near the end, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  For one thing, it suddenly gets a good deal more violent, and I could have lived without some of the blood.  For the other, possibly larger thing, some details are revealed on the Lunar Queen’s army, and I’m not sure if I like where this may be going.  But I can’t really tell, until the next book comes out!

I enjoyed Cinder and I think I may have actually liked Scarlet a bit better.  Or maybe it’s just fresher in my mind.  Either way, it didn’t disappoint, and I’m looking forward to #3!  The title is Cress, so I’m thinking…Rapunzel, maybe? 😉

Author’s Site: http://www.marissameyer.com/

Other reviews:
Dreaming of Books
Sophistikatied Reviews
Dark Faerie Tales
Others?

Buy it here: Scarlet

Classic Review: Ella Enchanted

I’ve reviewed a lot of retold fairy tales on this blog.  One of the first was Ella Enchanted, and I still think it’s one of the best!

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Cinderella, in her traditional form, is a character who drives me absolutely up the wall.  Come on, woman—I know you lived in a pre-feminist culture, but don’t you have any backbone at all?  Your life’s awful—so do something about it!  And the fairy godmother—where was she all these years while Ella was being mistreated?  The fairy only shows up when the girl wants to go to a party?  (Because obviously that’s something of paramount importance.)

But, like all great fairy tales, Cinderella does have that spark of eternal appeal.  Who can’t relate to the dream of being lifted out of your ordinary or even unpleasant life, because that one person (the prince, the book editor, the boss for the dream job, the head of the club…fill in your own relevant personality) sees you and says, yes, you’re special above all others.  That’s the core of Cinderella.  But Cinderella herself is irritating.

So when you can take that eternal spark and improve on the character and the plausibility—well, as I said when discussing Wildwood Dancing, then you’ve got something.  And Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is one of the best retellings of Cinderella I’ve ever read.

Ella is cursed at her christening—if anyone gives her a command (from “eat this cake” to “go jump off a roof”) she has to obey it.  And with that one brilliant stroke, Levine has a heroine who, like the traditional Cinderella, does everything her wicked stepfamily tells her to do—but who also has a mind of her own.  No one could accuse Levine’s Ella of lacking backbone.  She obeys, but I don’t think I’d describe her as obedient.  She can think for herself and, as much as she can around the limits of her curse, takes control of her own life.

There’s a good plot, with ogres and adventures and a kind of quest in Ella’s search for a way to overcome her curse, but I think what mostly stands out in my mind are the characters.  Ella, of course.  And her fairy godmothers (both of them), her more-than-usually complex wicked stepfamily, her absentee father, and, of course, Prince Charmont—because what’s a Cinderella story without a true love, right?

Ella Enchanted probably belongs in the juvenile category, rather than young adult.  But, kind of like the original Cinderella, it has a wide appeal, even if you’re not really the target age group.

I unfortunately can’t quite just ignore the movie here.  There is one, but let’s all just pretend that there isn’t.  Don’t see it.  Really.  I did, and I think I spent most of it twitching and saying, “No, no, no, that’s wrong.”  Besides getting the details wrong, it got the spirit wrong, and while I can sometimes forgive a movie for changing the facts a little, it’s much harder to forgive a movie for maiming of the spirit of a story.

Because what Ella Enchanted really is is a very practical, plausible (once you accept the existence of magic) retelling of Cinderella.  The movie isn’t.  But the book is, and it’s well-worth the read.

Author’s site: http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/