Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: The Muppet's Wizard of Oz

I rented The Muppet's Wizard of Oz, and I liked most of the music, although some of it was a little too much the kind of pop sound that mostly doesn't appeal to me. For some reason, this just struck me as strange:

Maybe because it was right at the beginning (the song, not the music video) and I hadn't really had a chance to get used to the way things were going. I did like most of the other music, although I didn't really feel like Ashanti was one of those singers who should try to branch out into acting.

I did like most of the casting, both the humans and the Muppets. Really, I can't think of any way they could have arranged the Muppets to be better matches. And I will say, overall, they stuck to the book better than the Judy Garland movie, aside from modernizing Dorothy's home and the non-Oz stuff. I really liked that it was never implied that she just bumped her head and had a crazy dream, which both the Judy Garland version and the Return to Oz movie do.

I think I might have missed out on something from not being younger or from expecting something, but in the end, Quentin Tarantino's cameo was my favorite part of the whole show.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Marvel Classics

Yes, the picture needs to be that big. Because that is how much I love this version of L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is simply gorgeous.

The artwork is stunning and rich. This is one of the first versions I've read that actually made me want to go to Oz, so I could see in person what I was reading about.

As far as adaptations and twists go, this is not a retelling; it sticks very closely to the original story. I didn't pull out my original Oz book to check, but I don't think it's even abridged. Certainly everything I remembered reading was in the graphic novel, including the ending to the original story: the quest to read Glinda in the south of Oz, with the Hammer-Heads and the China doll village.

It's great to see the visualization of Baum's imagination (as it is often left out of movie versions; Dorothy's return from the Wicked Witch of the West is usually considered to be enough story.)

But it keeps going. That's right. And Eric Shanower and Skottie Young do the whole story justice.

I am certainly looking forward to their second installment, as they continue Baum's story with The Marvelous Land of Oz, which was released on October 30th.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Have you ever wondered about Rumpelstiltskin? What's up with that guy, anyway? Why does he WANT a baby? Why does the Miller make up such a blatant lie about his daughter? How dumb can the king be, to believe him? Why does the daughter agree to marry the king after he threatened to kill her?

Have you ever noticed how many PROBLEMS there are with this story?

Ms. Velde certainly did, and she set about to fix these problems, with six imaginative and hilarious retellings of the story.

This is an extremely quick read, and extremely entertaining. I hope you'll do yourself the favor of reading this book. My favorite versions of this story are always the ones where the Miller's Daughter runs off with Rumpelstiltskin. Velde may have a couple of those--and other fun variations, as well.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Extra-Ordinary Princess by Carolyn Q. Ebbitt

The Extra-Ordinary Princess is Princess Amelia, youngest of four princesses and feeling very ordinary around her sisters' beauty and grace. However, when their parents die of the plague and her sisters are cursed by her evil uncle, it's up to Princess Amelia to find the extraordinary within herself and save her family.

This touches on themes of self-confidence and feminine empowerment, but I was really disappointed overall with this book (especially with the high reviews on amazon.com). The plot was all over the place, jumping around the chronology of the story to the point of distraction. The world-building felt very fluffy and anachronistic: while steampunk has proven that we don't have to have the same timeline of technology in all our stories, the umbrellas and telegraphs just felt out of place. The details seemed very American-fantasy, like the children playing jacks and hide-and-seek. The fantasy land that doesn't exist has a tutor teaching English and French.

I was bothered to the point of being unable to read through the book by the disorganization and inconsistencies in both plot and tone. While younger readers might not notice that so much, and younger girls might enjoy identifying with Amelia, a new "princess with moxie," I suppose, this one wasn't for me. I ended up skimming most of it, and then reading the last few chapters, which jumped around the chronology just as much as the beginning.

Overall... meh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly

I was really hesitant to read this when I heard about it, because I am wary of books about children that claim to be for grown-ups. Not that that's a recipe for failure, by any means, but it made me set it aside, mentally, until it popped up again in my life in the form of my friend Annamarie.

Annamarie is not a BIG reader. She loves books about horses, and fairy tales where everything comes out okay in the end. I have recommended a lot to her; she had never returned the favor--until The Book of Lost Things. Which she insisted emphatically that I read. And dragged me to a bookstore, and bought it for me, and put it in my hands, and sat me down, and forced me to read the beginning so that I would be hooked and read it right away.

Which I did, nearly in one sitting. And oh my. What an excellent recommendation.

This is the story of David, a 12-year-old boy who's just lost his mother. When his father remarries and has another son, David retreats into his books and fairy tales, but gets much more drawn in than he expected.

And, oh, the references and rewritings. With many stories twisted into new shapes (including a Beauty and the Beast where the Beast is the woman--and the Beauty does not free her from her spell--and a Sleeping Beauty where the sleeper awakens every night and is more of a danger to the princes than any thorns ever were), David explores a new land where the greatest danger will be the ones he calls from his own imagination.

Try to figure out who the villain is before the reveal at the end. (Yeah, I totally did.)

This is now one of my favorites books. (I don't say that too often, do I???) Check it out!

I do recommend the paperback edition with the red cover, as there's a section of notes at the back of the book, with Connelly's thoughts on the fairy tales he used, as well as original versions of the tales.


I know that I say "This is one of my new favorite books!" far too often, especially here where I am talking about my favorite kind of book. But I really want to back that up this time, with this exceptionally good book.



Post a link back to this blog on your blog for 1 entry, or on twitter for 1 entry. (If you have multiple blogs you can have an entry for each blog you post on, but only one entry per blog.)

Be sure to put a comment on this entry so I can see your links!

I'll draw a random winner on Friday, December 3rd, and I'll send the winner a copy of The Book of Lost Things.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Silver Shoes by Paul Miles Schneider

I really wanted to like Silver Shoes a lot more than I ended up liking it. Not to say it's terrible, but, well. I did like the premise very much: What happens to the silver shoes that Dorothy loses in her flight back to Kansas? The young adult novel starts out well enough, with Donny's mother purchasing a strange silver shoe on the return from their vacation to visit family in Kansas. It's clear right away that the shoe is not just a lovely piece of silversmithing, but also an extraordinary and strange thing.

For the first half of the novel, I was into it. The writing is not the strongest I've read but aimed at younger children, so it wasn't too distracting. I wanted to see how all the elements would tie into the Oz mythology.

Then some point around the half-way mark of the book the plot seemed less structured. Elements like Donny's mother's despair and the constant running and hiding began to bother me. The end of the book was a disappointment, as it became clear that certain parts of the story would not be explained (the identity of the strange woman who sold them the shoe) and other things would be drawn out for a possible sequel (the sorcerer being stranded in our world).

So: for its own sake, I thought the novel was on the weaker side. As an added bit of Oz world, there are some creative and interesting ideas here--I liked the bits about L. Frank Baum. On the other hand, I didn't like the idea that the silver shoes themselves were malevolent. Some good and some bad here. Worth reading if you're very into Oz and looking for something new, but otherwise you might pass this one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Thief and the Beanstalk by P. W. Catanese

Jack, of Beanstalk fame, is an old man at the beginning of this novel, which features wanna-be thief Nick. When Nick tries to steal from Jack, all he gets away with are three glowing green beans. You can guess where this story is going--until you get to the top of the beanstalk, where Nick, like his predecessor, finds a gentle giantess who is willing to help him trick her wicked sons--if he can help her.

Quick-paced and clearly written, this book is ideal for younger readers or reading aloud. I found the story to be overly-simplistic (but then I am a fairy tale connoisseur), as the driving plot tends to drive out much in the way of character development. Still, this is a fun one, definitely a quick read, and worth checking out if you're a fan of the "But what happened AFTER THAT" scenarios.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguié

Midnight Pearls is one of the books in the "Once Upon a Time..." collection by Simon & Schuster. (If you're familiar with Cameron Dokey, you're probably familiar with this series.) This is Debbie Viguié's retelling of The Little Mermaid.

I found this book kind of... ehhhh. It was a quick read, and Viguié had an imaginative twist for the story, but I got tired of Pearl's self-pity pretty quickly. The plot picked up with, not a love triangle, but a love pentagon, between Pearl, the prince, the mermaid... the mermaid's brother... and the translucently evil Sir Robert.

My favorite bit was Viguié's creative twist on mermaid-to-human magic. And it would be unfair of me to say she hasn't given the story a different angle. I certainly appreciate any version of the Little Mermaid that isn't Disney's. (Okay, it's possible that I appreciate that version, too, in some childish part of my heart.) However, this isn't one of my favorites, and unless you're a devoted fan of all variations of the story, you might pass this one up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women by Nancy Madore

I love looking at the amazon.com reviews for sexy books. I always read all the one star reviews because it's fascinating to me to contrast the ones who thought the book was too sexy with the ones who thought it wasn't sexy enough....

But anyway. Nancy Madore's Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women is the first in a series of short story collections, focusing on fairy tales. The second book seems to mainly draw from nursery rhymes, the third from a more general fantasy background. The stories are gently erotic--you won't find anything harshly graphic in this collection.

The collection includes these stories:

Beauty and the Beast
Cat and Mouse
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Goldilocks and the Three Barons
Mirror on the Wall
Mrs. Fox
Snow White in the Woods
The Empress' New Clothes
The Goose Girl
The Sheep in Wolves' Clothing
The Ugly Duckling

I quite enjoyed the twists on Beauty and the Beast and The Goose Girl. The rest of the stories I found less memorable; some were more clever than others.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

Hush tells the story of Melkorka, an Irish princess who was kidnapped by Vikings and taken to Iceland, and rebelled against her captivity by becoming completely mute. Napoli draws from Icelandic folklore, namely the Laxdœla saga, in which Höskuldr purchases Melkorka, believing her to be a mute thrall, and it's not until her son is born and he overhears her speaking that he realizes she can talk.

Napoli's version follows Melkorka from before her capture with her sister Brigid, through the birth of her son in Iceland. I found the story particularly effective in that Napoli is able to portray Melkorka in difficult situations, in a fairly passive role, without making her seem weak or submissive.

It's one of her more difficult books, in that it is often harsh subject matter: kidnapping and slavery being only the beginning of the story. It's not a happy fairy story, that's for certain, and I didn't find it as enchanting as some of Napoli's other works. For all that it's a hard story, it's well told, and if you enjoy the darker side of mythology, I'd suggest this one.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories by Margaret Mahy

This is my favorite collection of short stories, ever. Partly because I love the stories, and partly because of the epic quest that was part of my life and involved this book.

First of all, let me just point out that if you haven't read anything by Margaret Mahy, you probably should. She's a wonderful children/young adult writer who draws a lot from mythology and folklore, although as far as I know she doesn't have any direct adaptations.

My favorites of hers, though, are her short stories, which snap and sparkle with magic, from girls with literal green thumbs, to giants' bathtubs, to angels and devils selling love, courage, and wisdom.


So that brings me to the tale of my Epic Book Quest, because it's a great story and you want to hear it.

When I was 6 or 7, one spring, my family moved one city away. The school district took pity on us and let us finish out the year at our current school, so Mom drove us half an hour or so every day. Naturally we filled the time with audio books, one of which was a book of short stories (you can perhaps see where this is going).

These short stories were so captivating and magical that we would sit and listen to the end of the current story in the car after we got where we were going. I think we may have listened to this particular book 2 or 3 times, narrated by a rich male voice. The story about the Griffin's tears particularly stuck with me, as did the one about the Angel and Devil at the Corner Grocer.

Fast forward about 18 years. I had thought of the stories from time to time, but I had no real recollection of the title or author or any details. Still, somehow it lingered in my mind, until I was determined to find it again.

I first contacted the Newton Centre Public Library's children's librarian, who chatted with me in a live session (what a concept back in 2004). After we consulted a bit, we thought it might have been a John Bellairs book, since they had several of his audio books in the collection, and they had the right "feel" to them. However, further research showed that he did not have any short stories in publication.

I then asked every children's librarian, librarian, forum, and community I could find, as well as chronicling the mission on my personal journal, with daily updates like, "They were definitely read by a man!" and "I'll find the darn thing if it's the last thing I do!" For some reason, my mom (Librarian Extraordinaire) got the idea that I should look into Margaret Mahy--it must have been ringing distant bells in her head already. However, none of her titles jumped out at me, and I continued to search.

In my searching, I had found a website called Stump the Bookseller. It cost $2 to submit a stump, but they have extensive archives, so I spent some time searching through those, by keyword. At last I gave up and sent them a check.

After 21 days, I got an email, identifying my book as (you'll have figured this part out by now) Margaret Mahy's Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories. I had my doubts, as I remembered nothing about chewing gum--in fact I find that story to be one of the least memorable in the collection. I suppose it was before the children's book publishing world went nuts with the fantasy marketing.


I hope this will inspire you to check out Margaret Mahy, in general, and this collection in particular. These stories have some great sticking power.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brobdingnagian Bards: Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales

I was first introduced to the Brobdingnagian Bards with their song "Happily Ever After," in which a princess saves herself from a dragon and dismisses the vain knight who's come to rescue her, all in a lilting, jolly tune.

In days that have long since passed,
There lived a beautiful mahogany lass.
An unmarried and virtuous princess, alas,
She was brave, strong and bold.

Tra la di di hidey ho
Di hidey hey, di hidey ho
Tra la di di hidey ho
Happily ever after.

One morning while riding no guard around,
Armed with sword should trouble abound,
She heard the most horrible sound,
And her nose burned of sulfur.

The sky it darkened, gave her horse a fright.
A dragon swooped as black as night,
Grabbed the princess then out of sight.
Her horse ran frightened home.

The king cried, "All knights be sworn!
Kill the dragon with your swords.
Return me daughter for this reward,
That you may marry her."

The bravest knight in all the realm,
Young, handsome and vain as well
Declared the maid his holy grail
And rode off to rescue her.

The knight he climbed up rugged heights
Snagged a run in his pristine tights
At cavern's shaft, he saw no lights
And heard no sound inside.

The knight called the dragon out.
But only a lady's voice came back.
"I killed the dragon!," the lady shout.
And stepped into the sun.

The princess dressed in scraps of cloth,
Her mahogany hair was all burned off.
A muddy face, the vain knight scoffed,
"Can you clean be for we go?"

The princess still in clothes undone,
Told the knight, "I work alone."
The knight rode lone into the setting sun.
And the princess was happy thereafter.

The Bards note says that the song is based loosely on The Paperbag Princess. In whatever case, it's a lovely little ditty.

So when I looked into it farther, I found that it was on their collection, Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales.

The Bards feature a rather simple sound, reminiscent of what you'd find in a castle hall or tavern in days of yore. And these days, as well, as they mainly played various cons and festivals. (They are no longer together, it looks like, although their music is available as CDs or downloads on amazon and cdbaby.) With simple tunes on recorder, autoharp, and mandolin as a counterpart to Marc Gunn's rich, playful voice, this album makes me want to open an old style tavern with a big hearth, heavy wooden tables, ale, and music. I think it will transport you there, as well.

Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales features fairy tale adaptations and spoofs, along with riffs on Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other pop culture fun. I hope you'll check them out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Rumpelstiltskin

Man, this is a greedy king. Well, of course, we all know the story of Rumpelstiltskin, and Faerie Tale Theatre doesn't go out of its way to excuse that. The king is depressed because he can't find a princess rich enough to marry, when the Miller shows up and begins talking about his beautiful and talented daughter who can embroider tapestries that are like gold--that are practically gold--that in a gold-like way are very much like gold!

Which naturally leads to the tale as we know it.

Again, this episode isn't one of the best as far as pacing, although it is a quite close translation of the commonly told tale. The special effects are dated but they work pretty well for this particular tale--and I admit I do love the matte paintings of the external castle.

Also: Unicorn pony? Freakin' cute.

You can watch for free on Hulu, though, so that's a good price for a show.

(I've chosen to review all the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes separately because they vary so much and cover so many different stories. Also: reading/watching the material for this blog takes a lot of time! I hope you enjoy the slightly more in depth reviews this way.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flora's Very Windy Day by Matt Phelan

I can hardly describe my excitement when I saw that Jeanne Birdsall (of The Penderwicks
) was teamed up with Matt Phelan, one of my all time favorite illustrators. I mean, just look at this--every page is delicious:

Reading this reminded me of Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak, and Labyrinth, and other tales wherein the rescue of a sibling or significant other takes one into fairy land or some other strange place. Although that's not a "fairy tale" per se, it did get me thinking. It has the same kind of thread through mythology and literature as so many of the fairy tales that are told over and over. It seems to fit here, anyway.

In any case! Check out Flora's Very Windy Day--it's glorious!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lon Po Po by Ed Young

This was a fun discovery. Lon Po Po is, as you can see, a Chinese variant of Little Red. Three sisters are left at home when granny comes calling--except it's really Lon Po Po, the wolf, pretending to be granny in order to eat the girls. Fortunately the eldest sister, Shang, figures out the ploy, and the girls in their turn trick the wolf into a tree and kill him. (Poor wolf! Oh, wait, he was going to eat them...)

Young doesn't pull his punches in this retelling, from the dark and elegant artwork to the graphic nature of the story (much like the version we are familiar with, in the Grimm version). It's definitely one to check out, for the artwork alone. Of course the fairy tale component makes this Caldecott winner extra desirable for my library....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale has taken on one of the more obscure Grimm tales in this retelling of Maid Maleen. (Ever heard of it? I mean if you haven't already read Book of a Thousand Days....)

Hale has taken some creative liberty with the original tale, all for the best if you ask me. It's a strange tale... Anyway, she's set the story in a fantasy land inspired by the Asian steppes, and gives her characters the normal rich treatment I have come to expect from her work. As is typical for Hale, the story is satisfying and unexpected.

You can read sample chapters from this and most of her books at her wonderful website, which also features her wonderful and fascinating blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Frog Prince

Ahhh Faerie Tale Theatre. The Disney alternative of my childhood--that paragon of parable, that which probably kept me from believing fairy tales were all about princesses falling in love and little else.

I do love Faerie Tale Theatre, in spite of somewhat dated special effects and an occasional tendency to go for the slapstick comedy. Having said that... The Frog Prince, the first installment in the series, is probably one of my least favorite. As I watch it now, as an adult, I can't help but feel that Robin Williams is just imitating himself. Weird but true.

Aside from that, it's a straightforward re-telling of the story: Princess drops ball in well, frog retrieves ball, Princess goes back on word, father reinforces, Princess throws frog: Ta da! Prince!

This episode suffers from the problem that a lot of the simpler tales in the series do: there's just not enough material and the series is rarely successful in stretching the stories to fit the hour time slot.

However, you can watch it for free on hulu (at least if you're in the U.S.), and the collection is selling for a decent price on amazon.com these days.

(I've chosen to review all the Faerie Tale Theatre episodes separately because they vary so much and cover so many different stories. Also: reading/watching the material for this blog takes a lot of time! I hope you enjoy the slightly more in depth reviews this way.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper

Beauty is a particularly complex fairy tale retelling, touching on Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella, with references to others along the way. From the first time I heard of it, I was determined to read it, but broke. Fortunately I walked past the fiction section at the library and it yelled to me, "Here I am!" from the shelf where it had been waiting for me. True story.

I found this to be a very engaging book, holding my attention through the unusual plot twists. Although Beauty has received some criticism for hosting such disparate elements (from a 14th century princess to a future dystopia) I was utterly captivated while reading. Tepper manages to write an issues book without being preachy (although some readers will disagree with me; I thought the story was in the forefront the whole time, rather than the issues).

Overall, the book was much... BIGGER than I was expecting. Tepper bravely goes to a whole different level with her book. While some feel it's less successful, I have to give her mucho credit for her bold, unique book. It's certainly worth a shot.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli

Crazy Jack is one of my favorites by Donna Jo Napoli, one of the big authors of fairy tale retellings. Sometimes her writing style doesn't really work for me: it really does for this story.

This one sticks pretty closely to the original story, as far as the bare bones. She doesn't rearrange many of the elements of the story, but rather fills them in delightfully, with a romance story that I found far more satisfactory than the relationships in Hush or Zel. Crazy Jack is so well told that even though I know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Napoli's skillful weaving had me wondering until the meaningful and pleasing ending.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes

I was pleasantly surprised by Letters from Rapunzel. It started out a bit simplistic (aimed at grades 5-8): Cadence finds a ripped up letter from her father to PO Box #5667, declaring that the unknown pen-pal is the only reason he's able to write. Candace takes it upon herself to write to Box #5667, seeking aid for the evil spell (chronic depression) that has captivated her father.

I do hold a certain fondness for epistolary novels, and over the course of the story, Cadence's letters and situation gain complexity, becoming what is a very tightly woven story about a young girl learning to rescue herself. She also writes several of her own versions of fairy tales, which are both funny and touching.

Letters from Rapunzel won the Ursula Nordstrom First Fiction Contest, and with the way the different facets of the story come together, I am not surprised. This was a very impressive book.

Check out Sara's website for more information on Letters from Rapunzel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy by Donald R. Hettinga

I went to the public library absolutely DETERMINED not to look at the new books (since they check back a week earlier than older books). But all my efforts were thwarted when this caught my eye:

The Brothers Grimm

Well of course I had to check it out. It was all shiny and stuff.

The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy is a fairly light look at the combined biography of my two favorite brothers. It skims over the details of their lives, from birth to death, and sets out for the reader the path that led them to collect their nation's folktales, as well as the other writing they did over the course of their lives. Liberally illustrated with portraits from the time, pictures from the places, and drawings done by their brother, Ludwig Grimm (both of the fairy tales and the scenery and people in their lives), it's an excellent book to check out if you want to know a little more about the master story collectors without devoting a great deal of time to it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Midnight Magic by Amy Gordon

One of the few other stories I've found up with that makes use of the Puss in Boots without just being a retelling of the story is Amy Gordon's Midnight Magic.

Midnight Magic

I found the book to be pretty simplistic, aiming for a gradeschool age range. It was a cute story and I'm sure kids would like it, especially if they like Puss in Boots. I did like the way they imagined the ogre's point of view and what had he ever done to deserve that--certainly in early versions of the story it's simply that he's an ogre and he's claiming a lord's title, although in later versions they make him something of a terrorist. My sympathies still fall firmly on the side of Puss, but it made for an interesting thought exercise as well as a cute story.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein, is (as you can probably guess from the title) told from the point of view of Ophelia, starting before and ending after the play, but going through the same essential framework as Shakespeare's story.

Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Personally, there were times I found the writing a bit tedious, but the story itself moved quickly enough that it didn't drag things out. The character is interesting enough that, familiar as the story may be, the fresh perspective makes it a worthwhile read. (And we like retold stories here anyway, right?) I think the 4 1/2 star rating on amazon.com is fair, and as the above review says, whether you've seen Hamlet or not, this is a creative, enjoyable story.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride by Barbara Ensor

A while ago I was thinking about the story of Thumbelina, and how it always bothered me that she escapes two marriages only to become a bride at the end of the story.

Then I happened upon Barbara Ensor's Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride. Well OF COURSE I had to check it out.

It's a pretty faithful retelling of the story, with some wonderful details, like Thumbelina writing in her diary, and then writing in it again in larger letters so her mother can read it. Her extremely protective mother, whom Thumbelina loves but would like to perhaps get a break from once in a while. Understandably--after all, mother IS reading her diary!

The adventure begins when her mother agrees to let her sleep outside one warm night in early spring, and as we all surely recall, that's when she's kidnapped by a mother frog to be a bride for Frog Jr. Ensor does a nice job of putting us in Thumbelina's head. This particular Thumbelina is resourceful and full of moxie and spirit.

Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride

The book is a quick read, full of black paper cutouts to illustrate the story--with an interesting note in the back about Hans Christian Anderson and how he used to make illustrations in the same way.

Thumbelina and Ms. Mouse

Ensor's additions are inventive and bring the story up to date for a modern audience. If you like the original story, but were perhaps unsatisfied with the matrimonial ending, definitely don't let this runaway bride get away from you!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale

You may be familiar with Shannon Hale from her Goose Girl story, if you are (as I suspect since you are reading this) a fan of the fairy tale adaptations. More recently Hale turned her skills to Rapunzel's tale, or tails if you like.

Rapunzel's Revenge

What I didn't realize when I ordered Rapunzel's Revenge was that the book is a graphic novel. The story is written by Shannon Hale and her husband, Dean, and illustrated by Nathan Hale (apparently of no relation). It's an excellent retelling, bringing the tale up to more modern sensibilities (Rapunzel is able to rescue herself, for example). The artwork is lovely and sets the scene beautifully, taking the reader right into the tale. I honestly have no complaints at all about this work.

There are some great reviews and descriptions over at Amazon.com, so I'll just point you their way if you want more details. It definitely deserves it's 4.5 star rating and I would go so far as to say that should be a 5. I recommend it to all of you, particularly if you like the retellings that are more creative and flexible. Enjoy!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms Week: The Sleeping Beauty

The fifth book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, The Sleeping Beauty is new as of this July. Touching on both our major "Beauty Asleep" stories, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the Godmother Lily is keeping a sharp eye on the Kingdom, trying to figure out which way the Tradition will push things--but it seems to like Princess Rosamund for either version, and before she can figure it out, the Princess is whisked out of her sight.

To further complicate things, Prince Siegfried wanders into the kingdom with his own sleeping beauty problems--this one being his aunt, with whom he's supposed to fall in love with, ick. As you might imagine, he's doing all he can to avoid his Traditional fate. This throws another wrench in the works for Godmother Lily, who must do all in her power to persuade the Tradition to work for her before the kingdom's enemies, on all borders, come crashing in.

With a clever plan, and a bit of luck, they all might find a happy ending. Okay, okay, this is a Lackey book... of course they'll find a happy ending, and it won't be entirely outside the realm of predictability, but we're just here to enjoy the ride, right?

Once more, I wish Lackey would stop having her characters explain things to each other, after she's had them think about things to explain them to us. BUT having said that, this is a clever weaving of stories. I especially like the third sleeping beauty aspect, from Norse/German tradition. In her introduction, Lackey recommends checking out Anna Russell's routine, "Ring of the Nebulungs (An Analysis)".

So when I was a couple chapters into the book, I got distracted by the internet (more a reflection on my personal habits than on the book), and decided to look it up. Personally, I recommend watching it before you read the books, if you aren't familiar with Siegfried's story. (If you are familiar, it could go either way.) I'll include it here (three 9ish minute youtube videos) for ease of reference:

(The routine is hilarious. I add my recommendation to Ms. Lackey's, for what it's worth!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms Week: The Snow Queen

This is a pretty solid entry in the series; not my favorite, not a bad one. Lackey gives us the flip side of the coin with a sorceress (snow queen) who, in the position of a character who is usually a "bad guy" Traditionally-speaking, is actually a Godmother, using her "evil" position to carefully and safely move her kingdom through the Traditional tales toward happy endings.

It's an interesting perspective into the Five Hundred Kingdoms. There is a hint of it in a previous book, a "good guy" getting set up as the big baddy of the land, and this explores that concept a bit more--how far can your manipulations go while you're still on the right side?

So this is the story of The Snow Queen, with most of the elements from the original story, told mostly from the perspective of said Snow Queen.

Again, this series gets heavy handed with the long winded explanations, but this is a decent book nonetheless, and a fun episode in the series.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms Week: Fortune's Fool

Following up with the drearily slow One Good Knight is the third installment, and possibly my favorite in the series: Fortune's Fool. Lackey returns to the kingdoms with a story about a mermaid who falls in love with a prince--fortunately this is a very, very lucky prince.

This is also the beginning of the storylines that seem to focus a lot on a family of royals who really understand the Tradition and how to use it to their benefit. So Sasha, seventh son of the king, plays the fool in public, but in the rare moments of privacy, his family cherish their good fortune in having him--because in Traditional manner, things just naturally go his way.

When he meets Katya, a princess from a very different kingdom, things heat up right away between them (naturally), until they catch the attention of one of those magic-power grubbing Jinn the Tradition is so likely to throw your way in this world.

I thought this story was one of the strongest in the series, mostly because there was enough plot to keep things rolling steadily. Lackey incorporated the folklore of more than European culture, here, as well, which always changes things up a bit. Also, the spicy romance didn't hurt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms Week: One Good Knight

Mercedes Lackey's second installation in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, One Good Knight, is... weak. Probably my least favorite of all her books (and I say this as a fan), it seems that although the concept is interesting, Lackey didn't have the time (deadlines?? who knows??) to really explore the storylines and characters. There is a load of exposition, followed by some more stuff about the world, a smattering of plot, an awkward love story, and some more stuff about the world.

Although I love Lackey, and enjoy this series, I'd say that unless you're a huge fan already, or you just desperately want to know what happens in detail, you could just as easily skip this one and move onto the next in the series without missing much.

The dragons in this story are referenced in later books, but all you honestly need to know for continuity's sake is that Godmother Elena ends up with some dragon buddies.

Not my favorite, but others have enjoyed it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms Week: The Fairy Godmother

I admit up front, I am a big Mercedes Lackey fan, ever since I read Magic's Pawn (The Last Herald-Mage Series, Book 1). I devoured the rest of the series, and almost everything she's put out since then.

So when she started a new series, devoted to a magical land where a fairy tale Tradition forces people into unhappy situations in order to play out the same stories over and over--let's just say, my resistance was nil.

In this world, the Five Hundred Kingdoms, a powerful magical force called the Tradition acts to put people in their places--in commonly told stories. Magicians, sorcerers, and witches are all able to harness this magical power, so "evil" magic users are drawn to princesses or maidens or heroes around whom the Tradition is acting strongly, setting them up for stories to replay over and over. Some of the only people to truly understand this power are the Godmothers (fairy or not), who see how the Tradition works in the wide scope, and are able to direct the power toward the happy endings versions of stories--if they can get there in time.

The trouble is, there aren't enough Godmothers, so when Elena finds herself at the mercy of her stepmother and sisters, the Tradition pushes her into the "Ella Cinders" path with no one to come to her aid. Not that it would do any good, since the nearest prince is about 7 years old. She has to take matters into her own hands, and so she sets out to find a job as a housekeeper for anyone else. And that's when she does meet a Godmother, and sets out on a new path of her own choosing.

While this series sometimes gets a bit heavy-handed, as far as telling-not-showing. Even so, this one moves along at a fairly good pace, and I love the concept of the world. It's fun to spot the references, from common tales to obscure, and see how Lackey has woven them into her tale.