Favorites Friday: Authors I’d Like to Meet

Book Expo America is going on this weekend, and lots of lucky, lucky bloggers (or ones who planned carefully and put effort in to make it happen…) are attending.  I’m not attending (maybe one of these years!) but reading everyone else’s updates has me thinking about which authors I’d most like to meet.

Oddly enough, they aren’t necessarily my top favorite authors.  Some, like Robin McKinley, would horribly intimidate me, and others, like Susan Kay, would just send me into spinning babbles about how much I love their book(s).  But here are a few I would love to meet, and imagine that I could live to tell the tale without too much embarrassment!

Geraldine McCaughrean tops the list, because I once wrote her a letter and got the most amazing, personal letter back.  She obviously read and valued my letter, and wrote a genunine response in reply–if any part of it was a form, I couldn’t tell.  So I almost feel as though we’ve already met.

Tamora Pierce probably would send me into babbles about how her books changed my life, but they were so very life-changing that I think it would be worth any resulting embarrassment.  Besides, I have a really good story to tell her.  I met one of my best friends because we were both reading Pierce’s books in a high school class, and that gave us the courage to start talking to each other.  I feel like gushing babbles are a bit more okay when you actually have something unique to say…

Neil Gaiman is never likely to top any favorite authors lists for me–I like his books quite a bit, but…we all have our favorites.  However, everything I hear, and as far as I can tell from his Twitter, is that he’s just the coolest of authors to meet.  Very nice, very friendly, graciously poses for pictures…  He is at BEA this year.  Ah well.

Gail Carson Levine writes a lovely blog with writing advice, and on the whole just seems so friendly and pleasant that I don’t think she’d scare me a bit in person (unlike some blogging authors!)   I consider her Ella Enchanted to be a literary ancestor to some of my own writing, and if I can get an accurate judge from her blog, I think she’d like hearing that.

Nicholas Meyer is the most random one here–but he directed Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, AND wrote The Canary Trainer, a Phantom of the Opera/Sherlock Holmes crossover.  What other author is going to hit on so many of my interests?  His Phantom retelling is the only one I’ve found that makes the Phantom less sympathetic than Leroux and, given the opportunity, I’d quite like to ask about the thought process behind that…

At the moment I don’t have any plans of meeting any of these authors, but I do keep my eye out for signings.  If it ever happens, you’ll hear about it!  In the meantime, what living authors would you like to meet?  We’ll get to the dead ones another week!

Blog Hop: The Pleasures of Rereading

This week’s Book Blogger Hop question is particularly relevant to my recent reading…

book blogger hop

What was the last book you reread?  Or name a book you would like to reread.

Since one of my reading goals for the year is to revisit old favorites, there’s been quite a lot of this going on…especially as it’s Once Upon a Time season, and a lot of my old favorites are fantasies!  Recent rereads include:

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Links all go to reviews.  The next book I reread will probably be Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, which I have conveniently sitting on my shelf…

In the meantime, a thought on rereading: “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over.  When you do, the words get inside you, become part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve only read once can’t.” – Gail Carson Levine

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Two Princesses of BamarreMy (unintentional) theme for Once Upon a Time this year seems to be rereads of long-ago books I’ve largely forgotten…and today is another one, The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine.  Levine wrote the particularly excellent Ella Enchanted (review), and also has a wonderful blog with writing advice.

The two princesses of this title are Addie, who is afraid of everything, and Meryl, who dreams of adventure.  When Meryl falls fatally ill, Addie has to find her courage to set out adventuring in search of a cure.  Fighting ogres, spectres and a quite alarming dragon, and with some help from a very nice magician named Rhys, Addie learns more about her kingdom, and about herself.

The plot is somewhat episodic, and on the whole a pretty straight-forward quest.  The strengths of the book are more in the characters and the depiction of magic.  Bamarre is largely over-run by different magical threats, and there are some very interesting ways that magic is created.  Spectres might be the creepiest, as they can appear in anyone’s form.  Dragons are creepy in their own way, though, at least the one Addie meets–she genuinely loves her victims, keeping them around for company, and mourns them once they’re dead…but all the time considers it inevitable that at some point she’ll become angry and kill them.  Very odd!

Magicians are quite odd too, as they’re “born” when lightning strikes marble.  They seem to be mostly human though (and can even intermarry), except they have a tendency to float.  One of my favorite details may be when Rhys admits that he has trouble keeping his feet firmly planted, so he usually hovers a hairsbreadth above the ground.

Addie’s physical journey is pretty straight-forward (and occasionally a bit implausible) but her internal journey is more profound.  I think Levine portrays very nicely her growth and finding of her own strength, without losing who she was.

This was a fun and pretty quick reread.  If you haven’t read Ella Enchanted, read it–not because there’s any connection to this book but just because I think it’s Levine’s best.  But if you’ve already read Ella (seeing the movie does not count) and liked it, then Two Princesses is another good one as well.

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

Other reviews:
Leaf’s Reviews
Escaping Reality (One Book at a Time)
Brightdreamer’s Book Reviews
The Book Vortex
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Two Princesses of Bamarre

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!

***********************************

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/

Friday Fairy Tale Round-Up: Cinderella

Last week I looked at a list of “Twelve Dancing Princesses” retellings, and this week I thought I’d look at what might be the best-known fairy tale in this culture–Cinderella.  I suspect if I really tried to gather up every version I’ve read, this would become completely unmanagable!  So, I’m highlighting the major ones and recent reads instead.  🙂

One thing I found interesting in searching out the “originals” (with due acknowledgement to earlier oral tradition) is that “Cinderella” is one of the few stories that’s in both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.  Between the two of them, they seem to account for almost every major fairy tale in Western culture, so maybe both of them presenting “Cinderella” is part of the key to its popularity.  And, of course, it plays right into the dream that life can be better–that no matter how dreadful your circumstances, everything can change (and the cynic in me says, without you even needing to do anything!)

Later versions have mostly been pretty consistent with the older ones, in the major strokes at least.  Cinderella is a kind, beautiful girl who is downtrodden by her nasty, ugly stepmother and stepsisters.  When the prince throws a ball to find a bride, Cinderella desperately wants to go.  And she does, aided by some kind of magic–either a fairy godmother, or the spirit of her deceased mother.  Cinderella charms the prince but has to leave early, and the prince uses her dropped slipper to identify her–which is a truly bizarre way to find anyone.

I have a lot of problems with the original Cinderella–the incredibly passive main character, the absentee fairy godmother, the prince who apparently can’t recognize his “true love,” and the really weird slipper element.  But often the strange bits of the story are exactly what new authors can use to spin off a brilliant retelling…

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine tackles Cinderella’s passiveness head-on.  Levine’s Ella is brave and determined, but cursed by an obedience spell.  She has to find her own strength to overcome it, and the story is more about her quest to take control of her life than it is to win the prince–who is a childhood friend, not a stranger at a ball.  There’s a movie version too, but don’t see it.  It bears very little resemblance to Levine’s wonderful book.

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix plays with how hard it would be to go from scullery maid to princess.  This is another smart and determined Ella, who made her own way to the ball, only to realize afterwards that the life of a princess is not what she expected–and that the prince isn’t either.

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines is another one that looks at the story after the ball.  This Cinderella (Danielle, actually) got her prince and he is charming–but then he’s abducted by her evil stepsister.  Fortunately, a couple other fairy tale princesses are on hand to help get him back.  This is a great twist on the usual themes of fairy tales, with some truly awesome princesses.  I just read the sequel, so stay tuned for a review of both soon!

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George tells the story from a very different point of view–a princess visiting the court, who notices how really creepy it is when everyone, especially the prince, are suddenly enamored of this mysterious woman in the glass slippers.  Because really–why exactly is everyone so blown away?

Disney’s Cinderella is probably the version everyone knows best, and it’s pretty close to Perrault.  It’s a cute fluff of a cartoon, although the mice are the best part.  Cinderella and her prince are pretty bland, and I just can’t take them seriously when they start singing, “So This Is Love.”  No, it’s attraction.  I can’t believe you got all that far exploring the depths of human emotion in just one dance.

Silver Woven in My Hair by Shirley Rousseau Murphy is, with Ella Enchanted, my other favorite retelling.  It somehow creates a very real, very practical world, tells about it with gossamer-beautiful writing, and even without magic is utterly enchanting.  Thursey has dreams, but they’re real ones.  Her friends are real people and she falls in love with a real man, not a shining prince out of a daydream.

There must be more Cinderellas out there–any recommendations?

Off to Neverland, with Fairies

Long-time readers know that Peter Pan is one of my favorite books.  You might also know that I often have trouble with new writers telling stories about beloved characters.  So Gail Carson Levine’s Fairies series is a slightly dicey situation, with one of my favorite authors writing based on one of my favorite books.  If it had gone bad, it all would have been immensely sad.

So it’s a good thing that it’s a good series!  It’s very much a kids book, but it’s a sweet read.  I just read the last book as part of my challenge to complete more series.  This one is basically a stand-alone, so you could choose to start here if you like.  I started this series so long ago (2006!) that I don’t even remember my thoughts when I began, if I was worried about whether it would work.  But I remember I liked the first two books, and I can talk about why I think they do work.

As you might have already surmised, the series is not so much about Peter as it is about Tinkerbell, and a host of other fairies who live in Neverland.  Shifting the focus makes it easier for a new author to step in.  Barrie only gave us a few hints and glimmers (or should I say flashing lights?) about fairies, so Levine can build up a more complex world without contradicting what came before.  In the first two books, Peter Pan himself is just referenced, and he’s only a supporting character in this third one.

The first two books introduce us to Levine’s Tinkerbell, an emotional but well-meaning fairy who loves to tinker with metal objects.  It’s not the image people usually have of elegant Tinkerbell–but it’s exactly what Barrie said about her, and explains her name.  We also meet other fairies, like Rani, who loves water, and Vidia, a nasty fairy who loves to fly fast.

Knowing the characters would certainly provide more context for book number three, Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, but you could start here because the book really focuses on Gwendolyn, a descendent of Wendy, whose female ancestors have been flying off to Neverland with Peter ever since.  Gwendolyn can’t wait for her turn, especially when Wendy’s “kiss” (the acorn a confused Peter gave her) gives her tantalizing visions of the island.  Peter does eventually arrive, and when she gets to Neverland Gwendolyn rushes off to look for fairies.

That’s both the strength and the weakness of the book.  Gwendolyn gets to meet all the fairies, and their guardian, Mother Dove.  It’s lovely to find out about society in Fairy Haven, and to watch Gwendolyn learn what her own talent is as she struggles to be accepted by the fairies, and then to help them when a terrifying dragon is accidentally released.  It’s a sweet story, exciting in spots, rather cute throughout.

My trouble, actually, is Peter.  As long as he wasn’t in it at all (or just in a passing reference), I didn’t miss him–so the first two books were fine in that way.  But when he’s in it a bit, suddenly it bothers me that Gwendolyn seems to have no interest in him at all.  Likewise, Peter has very little interest in Gwendolyn (and keeps calling her Wendy).  Peter’s arrogance and forgetfulness are very well-established so I don’t fault the character portrayal.  But the magic of Peter appearing at the window to take someone to Neverland…well, part of it is a Cinderella story, that the special person sees you and chooses you and says that you’re special too.  Peter didn’t seem to think Gwendolyn was special at all.  I guess that’s all right, since what she really wanted was for Tink to think she’s special…but I think Peter’s special so it bothered me!

But that was mostly a side issue, a kind of absence of something that I thought should be there.  What actually was there was good.  It’s not Barrie’s Neverland–it’s a bit homier and a bit more practical.  But it’s not painfully not Barrie’s Neverland either.  And to be fair, the cover says it’s about “Disney Fairies,” so I suppose it doesn’t have to be based on Barrie at all, when it’s really coming from another source material.  With that in mind, Levine has actually written something that’s impressively accurate to Barrie, when she probably didn’t need to be at all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the illustrations.  David Christiana did the illustrations for the entire series and they are absolutely beautiful.  There are many full-page illustrations (or two-page, and even one fold-out!) and they add a wonderful dimension to the story.  I like the book, but it’s actually the illustrations that are making me tempted to buy it!

This isn’t one of my favorite Levine books, but it is a fun look at Neverland from a different angle (even if sometimes a little TOO much that angle!)  This is a simple, sweet, fast read–I’m glad I finished the series, because it was a lovely book and when I did finally read it, it only took me a day!

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

Other reviews:
Reading All Year Long
Shannon Messenger
Confessions of a Book Habitue
Yours?

Favorites Friday: Author Blogs

Somehow it never occurred to me to look for author blogs until I started writing a blog myself.  One of the best parts of all this has been reading other people’s blogs, and it’s been so fun to find that several of my favorite authors have blogs.  Today, here are some favorite ones from favorite authors, with links if you want to check them out.

Patricia C. Wrede has a very valuable writing-focused blog.  She posts Sundays and Wednesdays, and discusses both the craft of writing and the complexities of publishing.  Most often I feel like I see either the art OR the business, so this is a great place to get information on both.  She offers solid advice across a range of writing topics, gives funny examples at times, and makes references to her own books, which is always fun too.

Gail Carson Levine also writes about writing, mostly the craft.  I think her target age group is middle school, but her advice is good regardless of your age.  The middle school aspect mostly comes out in that her writing prompts revolve around school or parents or topics like that.  Levine posts every Wednesday, and while her topic is sometimes more basic than Wrede’s, she still drills into great areas and often gives me a new idea or a new angle on something (say, Point of View) that I felt like I already knew a lot about.  She also makes frequent references to her own books and writing process; I’m fascinated by how writers write, so I love knowing that background to her books.

Robin McKinley posts every day; her blog requires a certain amount of wading.  She tends to write stream-of-consciousness about whatever is going on in her life, and some of it seems like it would have, er, niche appeal.  I usually read her posts a week at a time, and I skim until I find a section that looks good.  On the so-so (for me, at least) days, she talks about her knitting, her singing lessons, and the intricacies of bell-ringing.  On better days, she talks about her garden, her hellhounds, and her fights with recalcitrant technology.  On the best days, she talks about her writing.  And then there was the Great Bat Catastrophe (my name for it) last spring, when she had bats nesting in her attic and finding ways through into her house…terrible for her, I’m sure, but so funny to read about.

The thing with McKinley’s blog is–when she’s dull, she’s very dull (unless you’re interested in bell-ringing, perhaps).  But when she’s good, she’s VERY good.  The thing about reading blogs by favorite authors is that they’re good writers.  McKinley can be very funny and very engaging, and once you’ve been reading for a while you get used to the groove of her life and it’s fun to stroll through.  Then when I read her book Sunshine, I felt like I could see her personality coming through in the book, which added a whole new layer to it.  And it’s great to be up on the key events in her writing–I knew about it when she switched the book she was working on, and I got to order a personally signed (and doodled) copy of Beauty when she had an auction!

Other favorite authors with blogs include Gordon Korman and Geraldine McCaughrean, but they post very rarely, and Tamora Pierce, who posts sporadically, usually about news items.  I also hear good things about Neil Gaiman’s blog, though I haven’t followed him regularly.

Who are your favorite authors who blog?  Or favorite blogs that are by authors?  Almost the same thing…but maybe not always.