Monday, January 31, 2011

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

In the follow-up to her Dancing Princesses novel, Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George once again takes readers into her magical, alternate-Europe setting, this time focusing on one of the younger princesses of tattered slipper fame. Princess Poppy has vowed never to dance again, but she'll be put to the test in a visit to a neighboring kingdom where balls are still in fashion.

Another sinister fairy, a poor servant girl, and a visiting prince combine to make Poppy's visit far more interesting than she had expected, and Ms. George puts a new spin on Cinderella's dance.

If you liked the first book, you'll like this one. I wouldn't recommend reading them out of order; although the story stands on its own, it's nice to have Poppy's background in your reading history.

I've enjoyed both books in the series, and I hope Ms. George will continue the series. I've been pondering other fairy tales with a dancing motif -- Swan Lake? The Red Shoes? After that I'm stumped. Anyone else have ideas?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Brilliant book.

Adam Gidwitz has, first off all, created a fairy tale book with all the grim and gory you could ever wish for. You know what I'm talking about--fingers cut off, body parts in the stew pot, skinned beast becomes boy.

And then, in a stroke of brilliance, Gidwitz pulled 5 of the more obscure Grimm tales, and found Hansel and Gretel wandering through them, tying them together in one of the most satisfying fairy tale books I've ever read.

With plenty of authorial intervention (e.g. "Please send the small children out of the room!") overseeing the narrative, there's no holding back: the stories themselves are transposed directly from Grimm (the grimmest!), but with Hansel and Gretel weaving their way through. It's clever, fun, and I finished it in a day.

Pick this one up before March to join in with the Sur La Lune book discussion!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Although everyone I know knows the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and many people in my acquaintance have even read the original book, the numbers decrease significantly when I ask who's read any beyond the first book. With that in mind, I thought I'd take a day each month to highlight one of the Oz books, giving a small summary and some general information.

And now, Book 3:

Ozma of Oz -- OR -- How Not To Implement Foreign Policy

Magical Characters Introduced:


Other Introductions:

Billina the Hen
The Hungry Tiger

Old Friends:

Dorothy Gale
Uncle Henry
Tin Woodman
Cowardly Lion


Princess Langwidere
The Nome King

Magical Treasures of Oz:

The Nome King's Magical Belt

Dorothy returns to Oz in the third installation of Oz. Uncle Henry has been sent, by his doctor, to the fresh air of Australia, until he can recuperate from his illness. On the journey they are caught in a storm, and naturally Dorothy is whisked away to a fairy country.

She ends up in Ev, along with a yellow hen named Bill, who she renames Billina for the sake of gender clarity. Billina and Dorothy explore the land of Ev until they run into the Wheelers, a rowdy bunch with wheels instead of hands and feet. The Wheelers chase Dorothy and Billina up a rocky mountain (where they can't follow, with their wheels on the rough terrain), which is a nice bit of felix culpa, as they find a chamber at the top of the mountain, in which they discover Tik-Tok.

Tik-Tok, after being wound up (the first robot in fiction!), points out that the Wheelers are essentially harmless because they have no way to hurt the adventurers, needing to keep their wheels on the ground as they do. Tik-Tok also tells Dorothy and Billina about the Royal Family of Ev, who have been traded to the Nome King in return for a long life for the King of Ev. Who then regretted his actions and drowned himself. Thereby wasting the whole deal.

Dorothy decides to try to help the Royal Family, since she's here and she's got nothing else going on. She travels to the royal residence, where she meets Princess Langwidere, who likes to change heads so that she doesn't get bored. They get along well enough until the Princess decides she needs Dorothy's head for her collection, and locks her up in a tower until she's willing to cooperate.

Fortunately for Dorothy, in the midst of all this, it turns out that Ozma is on her way to Ev, also intent on helping the Royal Family. She talks Langwidere out of keeping Dorothy in captivity, and Dorothy is reunited with the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, who have accompanied Ozma across the desert on a magic carpet provided by Glinda.

Also in Ozma's company are the Hungry Tiger (always hungry but too conscientious to eat what he really wants), and the Royal Army, which is almost all officers with one Private for them to order around. And the Saw Horse is along for the adventure, as well.

Ozma talks Langwidere out of collecting Dorothy's head, and explains her royal mission to free the family of Ev. Langwidere is delighted to hear this because she's tired of the 15 minutes or so a day that she has to spend actually ruling, so she'd like to pass that responsibility off to someone else, and have more time to play with her heads.

So Dorothy, Billina, and Tik-Tok join up with Ozma and company, and they set out for the mountains to talk with the Nome King. They reach his domain with the help of the Lion and Tiger, who safely see the travelers through the giant stomping machine in their pathway by dashing along the path before it can smash them.

The Nome King seems friendly enough, and after revealing that the family have all been turned into ornaments around his palace, agrees to let Ozma and her company guess which ornaments they are. If they succeed, the family goes free. If not, the adventurers get added to the collection.

Everyone fails until Dorothy manages to free the youngest son of Ev, winning her own freedom but not saving anyone else.

Fortunately, in the midst of all the guessing, Billina slips under the Nome King's throne, and overhears him telling his advisor that all the Ev ornaments are purple, and that he's been turning all the Oz ornaments green. After she lays an egg she infuriates the Nome King, because it turns out that eggs are poison to Nomes. (Remember: never travel into Nome territory without a laying hen.) Billina only agrees to remove the egg after the Nome King allows her to have a chance to guess which ornaments are her peeps. Her people, that is, not her baby chicks.

Naturally, Billina guesses correctly, freeing everyone and further angering the Nome King, who calls out his army instead of letting them go as he said he would. While the Private attacks the entire Nome army, the Scarecrow throws Billina's eggs at the Nome King, temporarily blinding him with an egg in each eye. Dorothy runs up and gets the magic belt he uses to perform his transformations, and he calls off his army in favor of getting the egg out of his eye.

Dorothy, Ozma, and crew escape by turning a bunch of the army into eggs. With all the eggs on the ground, the Nome army doesn't dare follow them. (I am not making this up. Baum already did.)

Once the Royal Family has been restored to Ev, Ozma, Dorothy, and the rest return to Oz, where Ozma declares Dorothy an official Princess of Oz. (Once a Prince or Princess of Oz---no wait, that's another magical world.)

Dorothy gives Ozma the magical belt, which Ozma uses to wish Dorothy back to Uncle Henry. She promises to check on Dorothy every once in a while, to see if Dorothy wants to visit. And thus Dorothy becomes the first Ambassador... or something.

This third installation in the series seems to have a more normal narrative flow, in that the first two seem to climax in the middle and then have a long conclusion. This one definitely to the end, making it, I think, a faster read. Of course I enjoyed it, and I recommend again the HarperCollins Books of Wonder replica edition, with the Neill illustrations.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

While Reckless is not a direct adaptation of any story I know, Cornelia Funke does borrow often and heavily from fairy tale lore to create the world behind the mirror, from gingerbread houses to fairy spells and curses.

If you liked Inkspell I think you'll be well pleased with Reckless. My problem with Inkspell was all the capture/escape scenarios, but I feel like Funke has gotten away from that with this newest book, drawing the reader into her mirrorworld and her character's dilemma with insistence.

I found the premise and the setting to be more intriguing than the characters. There is a level of assumption, that we will understand that these two are brothers, so even though they aren't close they are bonded, and these two are engaged, so their love and relationship must be deep. I would have liked to see more character development in the story; however, I enjoyed the plot and waiting to spot the next fairy tale reference.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Black Swan

I know that there are reviews all over the place for the recent movie Black Swan, but I want to talk about it in particular as a fairy tale.

So, with the hope of not spoiling everything for everyone, let me just say:

In the movie, the director (of the ballet) says that Swan Lake has been done to death. But not the way he's going to direct it. Stripped down to its essence. Etc. Interestingly enough, when you see bits and pieces of the ballet, it looks pretty typical--from what I can tell, it's still a ballet, with ballet costumes and ballet dancing. I won't say definitively that they didn't do anything new with it, but from the snatches of the dance that you see, it doesn't appear that he's done a whole lot to change the feel of the ballet.


When you look at the movie as a whole, that's exactly what's happened.

Black Swan takes the concept of Swan Lake (innocent girl falls prey to both magician and prince, and is destroyed by her rivalry with the black swan) and presents it in a modern setting. The movie basically tells the story of Swan Lake twice, once in the ballet form, and once through the destruction of Nina through the forces and personalities swirling around you.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions of which characters in the movie reflect which characters in the ballet (some are more obvious than others), and to find the parallels if you want to see it. This movie is not for the faint-hearted; in fact it took me a couple days after I'd seen it to decide for certain if I liked it. In the end, though, I do think it's fascinating and raises enough questions to be worth watching.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Isn't that ballgown just scrumptious? Couldn't you just... wear it? I could. Of course, the primary princess of the story is noted as wearing a red gown, so that just goes to show, you can't judge a book by its cover.

On the other hand, if this cover makes you want to pick this book up and fly through it, unable to put it down except by absolute necessity, and stay up until 2 in the morning to finish it... you'll have an experience close to mine. By the end of chapter one I was completely captivated: Ms. George draws the reader quickly and completely into her world and her story, a very successful retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.

The two main characters are Princess Rose (with an entourage of sisters, of course) and Galen, a soldier who has just returned to the city from the front lines of the war that has gone on for 12 years. Rose and Galen are inevitably drawn to one another as they work to untangle the mystery and the curse surrounding the sisters and their worn out dancing shoes.

I won't give away anything more, but please, fairy tale lovers, do yourselves a favor and bump this to the top of your reading list!

Jessica Day George has a website with book information and news.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

I used to devour Mary Stewart books. For a few years I read them one after another, until their plots and characters blended in my mind into one intricate and misty gothic romance.

This poetic reference stuck in my head, though, the snippet from The Revenger's Tragedy that occurs to the heroine of this book as she approaches her new home in France:

Oh, think upon the pleasure of the palace:
Secured ease and state, the stirring meats,
Ready to move out of the dishes,
That e'en now quicken when they're eaten,
Banquets abroad by torch-light, musics, sports,
Bare-headed vassals that had ne'er the fortune
To keep on their own hats but let horns [wear] 'em,
Nine coaches waiting. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

And every once in a while some twist of phrase or coincidental sentence will invoke the chorus in my head again, "Nine coaches waiting. Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

So some years after my Mary Stewart years, I read somewhere that Nine Coaches Waiting is, in fact, Mary Stewart's Cinderella.

Well. You know what that means.

I simply had to pick it up and reread it. Although I consider myself much too snobby a reader to read romances (except for when I do), there is something about the gothic suspense of Stewart's writing that makes the romance all the more delicious. And if I'm honest--fairy tale retellings aren't really an escape from romantic writing, now are they?

So with that in mind, let us turn to this particular gothic romance. Cinderella is more of a motif here than a storyline. Linda Martin is an orphan who was brought up in France but was put into an English orphanage. Her longing and love for France engender the ticket to her return to France as a governess for a nine year old boy, Philippe. Amid the lush estate of Valmy and the Valmy family's secrets, she finds romance (of course) and a murderous plot (also of course) but, alone and friendless in a new position, will she be able to thwart the plot before it is too late?

I'll give you a clue: it's not a horror story.

This was fun to reread and refresh, and the Cinderella references were perfect for where I am now as a reader. Mary Stewart is delicious and I hope you'll at least try this one, if you never read another gothic romance in your life.

Here is an interesting blog post with illustration about the abridged version which appeared in Ladies Home Journal.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Slipper and the Rose

I have been hearing about this version of Cinderella for some time now--no surprise, given that it's from 1976. Starring Richard Chamberlain and and Gemma Craven, it's got the 70s not-quite-historical take on what costumes and hair should look like.

I went back and forth between really liking this, and being appalled by it.

For some reason, *every*single*song* took me by surprise. Now, I am a fan of a lot of musicals, and one of my favorite moments is that building tension, you know how it goes--I feel a song coming on! Never once in this movie. It was more like. We're talking--oh, now we're singing. I am not saying that is a good or bad thing, in fact if anything it kept me surprised throughout the movie.

There are some fabulous details. My favorite character was the fairy godmother. In fact her line about how she became a fairy godmother, and then, "But that's another story," made me go, "Where can I find THAT movie?" Her segments are littered with other fairy tale references, everything from Robin Hood to the 1001 Arabian Nights.

And there's a bit of political interest, instead of just a love story. I was pretty worried that they'd blow that off, but they even managed to make it a problem for Cinderella and her prince, and found a somewhat satisfactory solution in the end.

On the downside: this is probably the most passive Cinderella of all time. If you thought Disney's Cinderella was useless, hey, at least she tried to go to the ball with a dress she made. At least she admitted she wanted to go to the ball! This poor Cinderella wouldn't even admit that she wished she could go. I'm amazed that the fairy godmother even noticed she was upset, as all she would say was "I was thinking what it might be like at the ball."

She is rescued a number of times in a number of ways, and doesn't really do anything for herself, which bothered me quite a lot, even taking into account when it was made. (Come on, it was the mid-70s, not the mid-50s.)

I'd recommend this for the sake of completion, if you are an especial Cinderella fan. And honestly there are a few bits that I really liked--I will say that the king's councilors all dancing around the palace library and singing about protocol reminded me of nothing so much as Terry Pratchett's Discworld Wizards. However, if you are easily annoyed by passive princesses, I'd give this one a pass.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Decision by RichLayers

After much thought and deliberation, I must sadly withdraw my daily status. Now that I'm working part time and writing full time, the reading and viewing has gotten to be too much. But, that was way too many recommendations any way, right? This will give you all a chance to catch up on your reading lists!

Anyway, I am having a delightful time with this blog, and I hope you'll follow along with me, albeit at a more sedate pace.

Happy New Year to you all!


(Arthur Rackham's Cinderella pictured)