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!

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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/

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?