Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week: In the Night Kitchen

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

Maurice Sendak is probably best known for his story Where the Wild Things Are, but another of his picture books also won a Caldecott: In the Night Kitchen.

In the Night Kitchen is basically about a boy who helps some bakers get some milk from the milky way and therefore gets cake for breakfast. If you like Sendak's art in Where the Wild Things Are, I think you'd like this one just as well. They are both whimsical fantasy stories about boys who go on temporary adventures, highlighted by imaginative, detailed artwork.

The book has been banned primarily for nudity; when Mickey floats down the stairs he loses his pajamas, and spends most of the rest of the book in a bread-dough outfit, with a brief jaunt into nudity (which is hardly explicit).

Other objections include a concern that the book encourages pedophilia (since there is a naked boy and the three cooks are older men), and that it encourages poor nutrition (since the boy gets to eat cake for breakfast). Umm... yeah... What can I really say about that?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week: His Dark Materials

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

Phillip Pullman's trilogy has certainly had its share of controversy over the years, particularly as the author has spoken out against C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (I bet he's disgruntled at how often the two series get compared) and against the institution of the Church and organized religion. I think it likely that--although in the books the "Authority" of the church is portrayed as highly negative--a great deal of the controversy surrounding the books comes from Pullman's attitudes and explicit opinions about religion.

I will probably never read these again, but I'm glad I read them, especially since I found the audio version at the library, which is read by the author along with a really excellent cast. It made my long drives quite enjoyable, and I'd recommend the audiobooks in and of themselves if you like to listen to books.

So why will I never read these again? Not because of the religion (which isn't nearly so heavy-handed as people make it out to be) or because of the controversy. Because... they're sad. Satisfying, complete, but sad. (Also: that doesn't make them ban-worthy!)

Comprised of three books, Northern Lights/Golden Compass (depending on where you are); The Subtle Knife; and The Amber Spyglass, these truly are imaginative and adventurous stories, set in a series of worlds tied together and breached at the start of the books. Lyra and Will are two children who may be the only ones who can fix the tears between their worlds. This creative work draws you almost irresistibly into Lyra's world--I challenge you to read these books and not try to figure out how your daemon would appear.

Ironically, the thing that Pullman is most often accused of doing--denying religion and making an "athiest children's series," is one of the things I think his series fails to do. Although the central authority in the book is denied, the concept of "dust" that gathers around the children in the story turns out to be very like the Christian idea of the holy spirit. Oops? I guess you just have to take the art on its own terms, separate from the artist!

The first book was made into a movie in 2008, with some truly dismal box office records, due in part to the Catholic League getting behind a boycott of the movie. Which is a shame, because the casting was stellar, the special effects were top-notch, and the movie was a delicious marvel of steampunk imagery and artwork. The producers probably had an idea that that was a possibility, because they cut out what would probably have been another half hour of film from the end of the story, giving the movie a more satisfactory stopping place (the first two books definitely leave you wanting to keep reading).

All in all, I (East of the Sun, West of the Moon fan that I am) just can't object to a story about a girl riding a polar bear....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week: King and King

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

This is one of the most ruthlessly objected to on my list, which I think is one of the saddest commentaries on our society. King and King, by Linda de Haan, has made the top ten banned books almost every year for the past decade.

This is the simple story of a prince whose time has come: his mother demands that he get married. After several unsatisfactory princesses show up, Princess Madeleine appears with her brother, Prince Lee, and finally the young prince shows an interest--in, as you'll have guessed by now, Prince Lee. (But don't worry, the princess makes off with the page boy, and everyone lives happily ever after!)

I remember reading this and thinking, "Aww, nice." I wasn't overly impressed with the artwork, but it's cheerful and bright. Of course, that's not why it gets banned.

Spare yourself the homophobic 1 star reviews, please. They are altogether too depressing to read. That's right, I am banning them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week: The Witches

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

For today's selection, I have picked a book that is both one of my favorites, and one of the few from my childhood that is still able to scare me: Roald Dahl's The Witches.

The Witches is about a little boy who goes to live with his grandmother after his parents die. In the course of the story, he has several nasty run-ins with witches (the bad kind in Dahl's mythology), ending up as a mouse.

The book is violent, frightening, chaotic -- and hilarious. Like all of Dahl's work for children, it shows an irreverence toward grown-up authority, thumbs its nose at any kind of societal expectations, and tells an imaginative story about a child in a difficult situation. (James and the Giant Peach and Matilda have also both been banned or challenged for encouraging disobedience and being disrespectful to grown-ups.)

While I wouldn't give a blanket recommendation of this book to any child, I think there are a lot of kids who would enjoy this book. It's definitely something you have to decide on a case by case basis: does this particular child still take things very literally? Maybe not time yet. Is this child starting to appreciate the supernatural/fairy tales/humor? Might be time to introduce some Dahl. Certainly I wouldn't think it's worth banning, but there is something in this book to offend just about everybody, if you don't, as Dahl himself put it, "Get a sense of humor."

A film version starring Angelica Houston as the Grand High Witch was produced in 1990. Although it gives the story a happier ending, it's as chilling as the book in many parts. (That bit with the girl trapped in the painting?--Truly creeped me out, especially in the visual movie version.) The movie is very much worth checking out if you are a Dahl fan.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Banned Books Week: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Welcome to Banned Books Week on Fairy Layers! While not all of my selections are strictly fairy tale adaptations, I have made an effort to include books with fairy tales themes and tropes. All of the books selected for BBW (September 25th - October 2nd) have been banned or challenged for various reasons. I hope you enjoy!

Today's story is called Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig.
This Caldecott winner is the story of a little donkey named Sylvester, who likes to collects stones. One day he finds a stone that turns out to be a magical wishing stone.

Unfortunately, Sylvester runs into a lion, and in a panic, he wishes he were a stone. So the pebble falls out of reach, and Sylvester is stuck as a rock. His mom and dad search for him, but of course he's a rock and they don't know about the wishes. A year passes before Sylvester is saved from his predicament and is reunited with his family. It's a lovely story about wishes and family.

So why was it banned?

Apparently, some people objected to the fact that the characters were portrayed as animals. (Have they seen ANY picture books from the last half-century?) And, even worse, the COPS were all PIGS. *gasp* (Never mind that there are non-cop pigs in the story, too.)

Read banned books!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Bourbon Street Musicians by Kathy Z. Price

I just had to look around and see if I could find any other variants on the Bremen Town Musicians. And to my delight, I found The Bourbon Street Musicians.

The Bourbon Street Musicians

The tale is reimagined in the setting of rural Louisiana, giving the whole story a Cajun flavor, and with the rich musical history of Bourbon Street, it makes for an apt retelling. Although I found the dialect a little heavy for reading, I think it would be a fun and imaginative way to share a picture book with a kid.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hans Christian Andersen

Perhaps you remember this classic Hollywood piece, starring Danny Kaye, about a teller of tales?

Hans Christian Andersen

Although it's a highly fanciful version of the life of Andersen, it's delightful to see the stories he told brought to the screen. (And my being a fan of Danny Kaye doesn't hurt my opinion of the film.) Andersen is one of the earliest traceable authors of fairy tales; he wrote his own stories, but they were so telling that they have become a part of culture in the same way as the oral traditions passed down through generations.

You can buy the DVD on for $9.99.

It's also now up on, where you can watch it for free. (Although I see in the comments that some of the original movie was cut... might just have to go and buy the DVD anyway!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli

I just finished reading The Magic Circle, by Donna Jo Napoli, and it's one of my favorite books by her.

The Magic Circle

A lot of the time I find Napoli's style of narration to be a distraction from the characters she is trying to create--this is a personal opinion and I know that her style works for many readers. However, in this case, I think her normal voice fits so well with the unnamed protagonist in this retelling of Hansel and Gretel--that is to say, the witch.

And Napoli has done an impressive job of taking a character typically represented as wholly evil and making her into a sympathetic protagonist. I won't say, of course, just how she does it, because I wouldn't want to give anything away. But if you're a fan of new viewpoints in old fairy tales, I definitely recommend it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

If you're a fan of Beowulf and you haven't checked out Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, you need to add it to your reading list! It's a fairly direct adaptation of the mythology, although instead of making it more fantastic, Crichton pared it down to a ... believable account.

In the afterword in the novel Crichton gives a few comments on its origin. A good friend of Crichton's was giving a lecture on the 'Bores of Literature.' Included in his lecture was an argument on Beowulf and why it was simply uninteresting. Crichton stated his views that the story was not a bore and was, in fact, a very interesting work. The argument escalated until Crichton stated that he would prove to him that the story could be interesting if presented in the correct way.

It's been a while since I read it, but I very much enjoyed the story. (Of course, I enjoyed Beowulf, too, but then I am a lit nerd.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Saw Esau edited by Iona & Peter Opie, ill. by Maurice Sendak

This afternoon I read through I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book edited by Iona and Peter Opie and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are). It's a book full of school yard rhymes, which aren't exactly fairy tales, but they do get passed down from one school class to another, so it caught my attention and I thought others here might be interested as well.

I Saw Esau

It's an extremely quick read (unless, I suppose, you want to savor each rhyme for a while), and I was surprised at how many of them I knew, or at least how many of them evoked half-remembered snatches of other rhymes. I thought a lot about jump-roping, too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Trollbridge by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

I've always been a little leery of books that use music as a major plot point. There are many things that I believe books are best for, but the truth is, you can't necessarily hear the music being described when an author goes on about the fiddler or the flautist. Now, having said that, I think Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple to an admirable job with their Rock'n'roll Fairy Tales, the second of which is Trollbridge. Although the two books are thematically connected, there's no plot line that carries over (that I recalled having read the first one long ago) that you would need to know from the first book to pick up the second one.


The story is its own creation, but takes elements of The 12 Dancing Princesses and The Three Billy Goats Gruff and blends them in a unique and remarkable way. I found it highly satisfying and I definitely recommend it, especially to those of us who enjoy a mix of several tales into one story.

Anyone who's already read this--I'm wondering about the butter carving tradition... any insight into where that may stem from? There's always the reverse, the changeling baby left for the human parents, but I wonder if there's anything in folklore that they borrowed from for the whole butter princess thing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fool by Christopher Moore

I'm becoming more and more a fan of Moore the more I read of Moore. Whew, had to get that out of the way! But having said that, I definitely recommend several of his books to those of us who like retold tales (and who else is watching this blog??), in particular his newest book, Fool.


Fool is the story of King Lear, told from, in case the title didn't give it away, the jester's point of view. It's bawdy and brilliant, everything you would expect from the tenacious humor of Christopher Moore and the genius of Shakespeare. Recommended for Moore fans, Shakespeare fans, and... anyone following this blog....

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Capt. Hook: Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart

I just finished reading Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth, by J.V. Hart, which I recommend for Peter Pan fans.

Capt Hook

I thought Hart did well mimicking the voice/tone of JM Barrie... the language was similar and evocative of Peter Pan. He pulled in a lot of familiar phrases: "an awfully big adventure," "good form," phrases that I associate with Peter Pan, as well as references to a second star to the right (of a particular constellation), and a vivid image of an island that appeared before the eyelids as they were closing.

Even more impressive was Hart's ability to make Hook, or James/Jas., sympathetic without taking away his essential villainous nature. He's a bit of an underdog at the beginning of the story, but cunning and ambitious and absolutely willing to do whatever it takes to win. And although he isn't the totally evil Hook we've come to love to hate, the devilish beginnings of his career path are there.

I found about 3/4 of the way through the book things got a little tedious, but I felt obliged at that point to pick it up again, and then things turned around and picked up again, themselves. Also there were a few loose ends left open, and I didn't know if the author intends to write a sequel but he sure left himself space for one. I would probably check it out but maybe not at the top of my list of things to read.

In any case, I do recommend it for those of you who need more from JM Barrie's world. After all, what would the world be like without Captain Hook...?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron

I thought I'd mention T.A. Barron's Merlin book series, which explores what might have happened to Merlin during his youthful years, before he appears fully grown and fairly wise in our more traditional Arthurian legend. The first book, The Lost Years of Merlin, is my favorite, although I hesitate to say it's the best in the series -- it holds the most nostalgia for me, as I read it when I was young and before the rest of the series was published, then went back years later to read them all.

The Lost Years of Merlin

The rest in the series:

The series is pretty fun, although clearly aimed at grade school audiences. (Which is good for grade schoolers but less in-depth for people my age.) Barron does a pretty good job of filling in a mythological blank without treading on the established legends (for what they're worth, as they tend to change pretty easily). And it looks like since I read the series, Barron has returned to the world with another character in an in-between type adventure: Merlin's Dragon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Neverland Tales

This isn't exactly new news, but if you're looking for something more to round out your Peter Pan collection, these Neverland Fairy stories from Gail Carson Levine (of Ella Enchanted fame) are cute, sweet, and with enough depth to be interesting to any age.

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg

While not featuring Peter Pan (although he gets a mention), Tinkerbell is a character in this story. Mostly I'm impressed, though, with Levine's ability to fill in the fairy setting of Neverland without ever contradicting the original story. The fairies are as impetuous as you could imagine from a reading of Peter Pan, but somehow Levine also makes them quite likable in a way that they aren't (or maybe aren't for me) in Barrie's original.

The first one is Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, and while it's a story by itself, it does open the way for Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand (while not, thank you very much, leaving us on a cliffhanger).

Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand

If you already know and like Levine's other stories, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this. And I think Peter Pan purists (those of us who don't like a fluffy Peter Pan story; those of us who appreciate the melancholy of the original tale) won't be disappointed by an overabundance of happy skipping fairies. While not mean, these fairies aren't gushingly sweet, either. (Maybe just one of them!)

Has anyone else read them? What do you think? Too watered down (not counting the plot point in the second book!)?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

For a nice dose of a fairy tale quest, I recommend The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. A children's fairy tale in the tradition of three tasks tales, it still has a bit of the flippancy of The Princess Bride.

The 13 Clocks

It's not an update or redo of any fairy tale but certainly pulls elements from many of them -- a wise old man guide, a helpless-ish princess, an evil duke, and a youngest son. And goes a step further, acknowledging that these are fairy tale tropes and sometimes commenting on them quite a bit, but never so far as to take the reader out of the story.

It's a very quick read, and I'd go so far as to call it delightfully entertaining. Definitely recommend it for the fairy tale loving crowd.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams

I know there's a lot of excitement about a couple of upcoming retellings of Alice in Wonderland, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk about a book that's not a retelling at all: Down the Rabbit Hole, by Peter Abrahams.

"Not a retelling at all?!" you gasp? "Then why are you putting it here in this adaptation review blog???" you wonder?

Because in spite of being very much its own story, it greatly involves TWO of my favorite retold tales.

Down the Rabbit Hole

First, obviously, Alice in Wonderland. The entire story is evocative of the classic, the parallels made moreso by the play within a novel -- the community in the story is putting on a production of Alice in Wonderland.

Secondly, Sherlock Holmes. The main character, 13-year-old Ingrid, is a devoted fan of the world's greatest detective.

The two motifs blend together splendidly in this fast-paced thriller, which, while it's been tagged as Peter Abrahams first young adult novel, I found entirely captivating -- I could barely put it down. Abrahams succeeded both in creating a believable, dark mystery, and capturing that which makes 13 years old an awkward and awakening age. Ingrid was fun to read -- stubborn, smart, and resourceful, even while being afraid and making mistakes.

I definitely recommend it if you're a fan of either Alice in Wonderland or Sherlock Holmes, or if you just like a good mystery....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Not a straight forward adaptation of a particular fairy tale, instead Nancy Werlin takes on an old folk melody, Scarborough Fair. Intrigued yet? Check out the book trailer:

I could hardly put this book down. I think the writing was fluid and beautiful, and the story and characters captured me from the first pages. It was intense and emotional, carefully crafted so that the price paid felt right and the ending seemed natural. Probably one of my favorite books that I've read all year.

Which led me to read a little bit more about the history of the ballad. (Yes, on wikipedia -- hey, this isn't a research paper! :D ) It's pretty fascinating and disturbing. If you watch this video you can hear the Simon and Garfunkel version, and if you click through to the youtube page, it's got the lyrics they used (also probably the most commonly known):


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Swan Maiden by Jules Watson

The Swan Maiden

Last night I finished reading The Swan Maiden by Jules Watson. It took me a while to get into the book, maybe 100 pages before I felt like I was really invested in the characters and plot. Throughout the book there were passages that I skimmed and I think overall the book would have benefited from an editor determined to make it 75-100 pages shorter.

However, once I got into the story I really did enjoy it. The characters had enough depth to be believable as people, whereas reading the old myth you often just get the bare bones of the events. If you like Juliet Marillier, I think you'll find this comparable; although not as elegant as Marillier, Watson's story certainly falls into that same category of romantic mythology.

The book has 4.5 stars on customer reviews, but I think the most insightful comment I saw is from Publishers Weekly: "This modern retelling of a tragic Irish myth is rich in well-researched detail but moves too slowly and reverently."

I did find the last 100 pages or so to be stunning; whether Watson finally hit her stride or the pace of the story just picked up, I couldn't put it down for that last bit and found the ending to be compelling and well worth the read.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

I just finished reading Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, and I am pleased to report that Gaiman once again does not disappoint. Although written for children, if you enjoy Norse Mythology this is as much of a win as American Gods, and I definitely recommend it. This is a well-woven tale, not entirely outside the realms of predictability but extremely satisfying.

But here to tell you about it himself, Neil Gaiman:

(Can I just say: I LOVE book trailers!)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Troll's Eye View edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

The newest collection of Fairy Tale rewrites from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales, comes to you highly recommended by me! :)

Troll's Eye View

This book was great not only because of the viewpoint--some were arguably more villainous than others--but because each author had a page or a few paragraphs to say why they picked the story they wrote about, what drew them to the characters and fairy tales in general. It was like an interview sampling of a bunch of my favorite authors talking about my favorite type of story.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beastly by Alex Flinn

It's actually been a couple months since I read Beastly, by Alex Flinn, but it left me with a good impression even a few months later. In her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Flinn retells the story from the Beast's perspective, in a decidedly modern setting. I think this is a lot like the way that Shakespeare's stories can be so effectively set in high schools -- emotions run high, everything that happens feels vital and -- whatever the reason, the setting and point of view are very effective in this retelling.


As I recall, this was a quick and engaging read. Not too complex, being aimed at high schoolers, and after all, we already know the bones of the story. Flinn did a nice job of fleshing out the characters believably, with a few twists to keep things interesting.

There's an excerpt and more reviews for Beastly here:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey's newest book is called Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, and is, as you can probably guess from the title, an Arthurian Legend retelling.

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit

Lackey tells the story in her typical easy-to-read, accessible manner, bringing characters and events to life with aplomb. Although Lackey will probably never be recognized for brilliant prose or as divine literature, I love her work and this newest book did not disappoint.

She starts with the historical evidence that there were possibly not one, but THREE queens of Arthur named Gwenhwyfar, and although the story focuses on the third wife, Lackey works in the exploits of the other two, accounting for a lot of the contradictions and busy-ness that Gwenhwyfar would have had to have lived through if it had all been one woman. Lackey does an admirable job of using the wealth of Arthurian legend that is already available, and still spinning her own particular story about Gwen and her life.

Rich in detail, but with an unhampered pace, I recommend this for any of you who have enjoyed Mercedes Lackey's other works, or who love new takes on the Arthurian Legend.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Author Recommendation: Juliet Marillier

Who here loves Juliet Marillier? Raise your hands! A lot of you, I'm sure, are happy to see that name come up here, filled with the warm glow of recognition when you see one of your favorite things come up somewhere in the vastness that is the internet. (Admit it, there's a warm glow.)

Starting with one of my absolute favorite books of all times -- an adaptation of one of my very favorite fairy tales:

Daughter of the Forest

Daughter of the Forest is, I want to say, a fairly close representation of The Wild Swans, although Marillier has taken liberties where they fit the story. Set in ancient Ireland, the story is fleshed out with details of the small domain of Sevenwaters, Celtic lore, and early Christian tradition, blending in a beautiful way. Sorcha is the youngest child and only daughter of the Lord of Sevenwaters, who remarries. His new wife turns to sorcery to eliminate his other children, and place her own son as heir. The brothers are turned to swans, and it is up to Sorcha to save them, and herself, from danger both human and supernatural.


Wolfskin is not as direct a translation of a particular fairy tale, but blends elements of Viking and Orkney mythology. Cultures clash, brotherhood is tested, and love is gained and lost... and perhaps gained again? I don't want to say too much, but there are some beautiful mythological elements, and for those of you who know the Singing Bone/Singing Harp fairy tale, there is a nice inclusion.

Wildwood Dancing

Wildwood Dancing is another beautifully complex piece in Marillier's mythology. This story of five sisters is taken from (have you guessed it yet) The 12 Dancing Princesses. (I guess 12 were too many even for Marillier to wrap her talented story telling around.) From their home in Piscul Dracului in Romania (but don't worry, no sparkly vampires), the girls discover a secret entrance into the Other Kingdom, where they must battle for love and wisdom.

All three of these are counted among my favorite books. Marillier not only retells some of my favorite stories, but she does so with a graceful prose that is hard to come by. Her stories are accessible without the dismissal of the beauty of language I see in a lot of modern fiction. Her captivating writing brings me back to her work as often as her subject matter.


That's right, more. Each of the books above has at least one sequel, so, although she doesn't directly translate other fairy tales in their respective series, she does allow us to continue to dwell in her wonderfully crafted worlds. So if you like those, don't worry, there's more to read after that.

Her website is here, with news and information about upcoming projects.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Prospero Lost

I admit I was initially attracted to Prospero Lost because I was in The Tempest a few years ago, so anything relating to it still catches my eye. This story takes place long after the play, with the idea that Shakespeare knew Prospero, and Prospero told the Bard the tale of his adventures at sea. So the play is part family history for Miranda, Prospero, and the siblings that have come along in the centuries since then.

Miranda Prospero is the daughter of famed Prospero, and in charge of the family business, keeping the elements in line so that the rest of humanity doesn't suffer constant natural disasters. When her father goes missing, leaving a warning for her and her siblings, Miranda sets out to find out what's happening and unearth some family secrets in the meantime.

I really liked the concept behind this book. Although occasionally suffering from an abundance of adverbs, and quite a variety of unnecessary dialog tags, for the most part the writing is fluid and clear. The author pulls in a lot of other fairy tales in small references, like The Well at the World's End (being a key feature in the Prospero family longevity). There's quite a bit of Christmas ... mythology, so I would definitely recommend it for your December reading lists. :)

It is the first book in a trilogy, so be aware of that before you begin!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

Heart's Blood is Juliet Marillier's newest fairy tale retelling, and she's turned out a masterful Beauty and the Beast, keeping the bones of the story while bypassing the cliches of one of the most frequently retold tales there is.

Heart's Blood

Honestly, this may be my new favorite Marillier book (although Daughter of the Forest, as my first book of hers, will always hold a special place in my heart). With her usual graceful prose, she's created an original and strange telling of the familiar story. I don't want to give too much away, but I REALLY loved the concept behind this one.

So as far as plot goes, all I want to say is: Juliet Marillier's Beauty and the Beast.

As far as the writing goes, well, I'm completely in love with Marillier's style, and this one was more quick paced than some of hers -- while I love her writing I do occasionally find parts of the story to drag a little, not so in this one. She brought in a lot of unexpected elements, was really creative with the story in a way I haven't seen in other versions. I think a lot of retellings like to really focus on character development while keeping an old story absolutely in it's original frame. This version is just... more creative -- which is not to say she shortchanged her character development at all.

Agh! Just go read it! You won't regret it!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

Out of the Wild

This continues the tale of Julie, 11-year-old daughter of Rapunzel, and her "brother," Puss in Boots. Having undone the wish that brought the Wild (a fairy tale forest that forces people to act out stories again and again) into power, Julie thinks that things will go back to normal, until one of the Three Blind Mice accidentally (he's blind, after all) runs into the Wild where it's stored under her bed. But instead of growing, the Wild takes the opportunity to trade -- as the mouse enters, Rapunzel's Prince, Julie's father, is set free, and the consequences take both Julie and Rapunzel by surprise.

Tons of fairy tale characters and events, a race across the country, and a surprising foe keep this story zipping along. I admit I did get a little exasperated with the boneheadedness of one of the characters, but that part of the story doesn't last too long and I enjoyed the rest of the book.

This is aimed at younger kids, probably in the grade school range, but I also recommend the duology (start with the first one!) if you love creative mashups of fairy tales.

More information about Sarah Beth Durst's writing and fairy tale adaptations at her website:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

Into the Wild

I picked Into the Wild up after hearing about Sarah Beth Durst's newer book, Ice.

Into the Wild is aimed at grade-schoolers, and the language reads like it. I tend to like my fairy tale remixes to be a little more mature, but taking this for what it's intended as, it's very well done. At first I thought the stories/type characters would stick pretty closely to their origins, but Durst managed some nice twists that left me feeling like she wasn't just rehashing the usual material.

The story is about 12-year-old Julie and her mother, Rapunzel, as well as several other friends who escaped "the Wild" and now live in the real world (such as the flighty "Cindy," selfish "Goldy" and Julie's "brother" Puss in Boots). Until someone breaks into the well at the Wishing Well Motel and makes a wish -- which sets the Wild free to grow and shape their lives again.

In the end I thought it was a nice blend of several stories, with some new ideas. I enjoyed the characters and I think Durst has a nice little package of a story here. Nothing too in depth, but perfect if you're just looking for a light read.

There is a sequel, Out of the Wild, which I haven't checked out yet (but I will). This might be slightly misleading, because the story isn't left hanging with characters in dire straights; however, the possibilities for the sequel are fairly clear.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

Matt Phelan is one of my favorite illustrators, so when he announced the publication of his first graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, I was, to say the least, very excited to see it.

The Storm in the Barn

Set in the Kansas Dust Bowl years, this story weaves together history and mythology, borrowing from tall tales as well as straightforward historical accounts of the time and place. 11-year-old Jack has grown up in a world without rain, and is struggling with his family and classmates as much as the weather. His sister Dorothy is ill, but finds moments to comfort him with tales of "the other Dorothy," as the children read through the Oz books. In the end, Jack must find a way to save his family and their land before they lose hope entirely.

You can get a good idea of the set up of the story, the mood, and the artwork of the book from this book trailer (book trailer yay!):

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels is one of the few retellings of Snow White and Rose Red that I've come across, and it's a very interesting and creative treatment of the story.

Tender Morsels

The book is tagged as being aimed at grade 9 and up, and I would be very hesitant to recommend it to anyone younger than that. Although not gratuitous, there is some serious brutality at the beginning of the story. The story begins with Liga, a traumatized young woman, and the author does not skimp away from her trauma. I think that in spite of the horror of what happens (without giving too much away), it justifies the choices of Liga, who is given the option of taking herself and her daughters into a private heaven instead of raising them on earth.

And then we enter the story as we know it; Snow White and Rose Red (aptly renamed for this telling) grow up with their mother through an idyllic childhood, all around them love them, including the animals, who come when they are beckoned. Liga and Branza (White) are content and happy, but fiery Urrda knows there is something missing from their easy, lonely life, and when she seeks it their world begins to crumble.

I really liked the way the world was built, the way the story was fleshed out to be, although magical, also believable. I struggled more with the author's manipulation of the story once she got past the original frame of the story, and still had to figure out how to end her story. It is well done, but it definitely ended, for me, on a melancholy note.

Definitely worth reading if this is one of your favorite stories, but again, very much with the mature content. Aside from a few strange quirks of language ("ivorily" being a word that struck memorably me as out of place and extraneous, for example), it's a well executed adaptation of the story.