Friday, September 30, 2011

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

The Amaranth Enchantment is Julie Berry's refreshing take on Cinderella--although the heroine, Lucinda, never quite makes it to the ball. She does manage to dance with the prince a few times along the way, though.

Lucinda's parents died when she was only five years old, leaving her penniless and in the care of her aunt and uncle. Her aunt is a miserable woman who makes both their lives terrible, and when Lucinda's uncle dies, her aunt casts her out onto the street. Lucinda casts her fate with that of a strange woman, Beryl, a beneficent creature from another world; the two of them, lonely, find friendship with each other.

With the help of Beryl and a street thief named Peter, Lucinda has a chance to win true love... and save the kingdom, while she's at it.

The story was pretty good. I loved seeing the elements of Cinderella crop up without actually reading the same old story of Cinderella again. Overall, there were elements that didn't hang together, and too much crying and random coincidence for my personal taste. But this is a quick, fun read with a creative premise. It's worth checking out if you want something light to read.

October 1st Edit: It's currently $2.99 for the kindle, which is pretty reasonable if you want a chance to check it out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Secret of Moonacre

Have you guys HEARD about this MOVIE? It is AMAZING.

I spotted it at the library and thought it looked like it might be worth a go... although I was afraid it might also be really cheesy. I think it was the holographic cover that had me worried. But never fear! It turned out to be AWESOME.

I'll compare it to Stardust or The Golden Compass as far as quality/special effects/fantasy movie, though the plot is not anything like either of them. This is about a newly orphaned girl, Maria Merryweather, who goes to live with her uncle at Moonacre Manor. Her only legacy from her deceased father is a book which tells the ancient story of the Merryweathers and the De Noirs, two families that have been feuding for years.

Naturally, she, a Merryweather, has continuous run-ins with this scoundrel, Robin De Noir.

As she spends time at Moonacre Manor, she quickly comes to discover that all is not as simple and mundane as the life she is used to. The stars on her ceiling move, strange creatures appear and disappear, et cetera. She unravels the mystery of Moonacre, and discovers that there is very little time to save it and the people she has come to know.

The plot is solid, but this movie is worth it for the costumes alone. I had complete and utter dress lust after watching this movie. I mean, LOOK:




There's a romantic sub-plot, a handful of fun and eccentric characters, and a typically wonderful performance by Tim Curry as the bad guy. My only real problem with this movie was the occasional feeling of things being rushed--which isn't a problem so much as it makes me want to read the book the movie was adapted from, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. (It's on my library list, so we'll see about a review in the near future....)


Definitely check this out if you like fantasy movies; it's really well done.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones


Enchanted Glass is the story of Andrew Hope, a young professor who's just inherited more than he realizes from his grandfather, and Aidan Cain, a boy who has just lost his grandmother and his home, and is on the run though he doesn't know what he's running from.

With her customary skill, Jones draws the reader in to the story of a magical estate, a "field of care," in which the mundane meets the mythical. Creatures of fairy lore live all around Andrew's home, and it's his job to walk the boundaries and see that all is well.

This book is mostly brilliant for the setting and characters. The plot is good, too, but it's the people that really shine--like a lot of British comedy, once the situation is set up, the characters run away with it. My main issue with this was that just as I was getting into it, the plot was tied up and the book ended. Which isn't a BAD thing, per se, but perhaps it was geared more towards children and I got hooked and wanted something a bit deeper and more grown up.

In either case, I recommend it for a different twist on the Underhill type stories of fairy and folklore, or if you like a dose of British humor with your fantasy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Fall


The Fall is a strange and beautiful movie. Although it's definitely its own thing, you could compare it to Pan's Labyrinth or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, or other mind-trip films with gorgeous cinematography.

I can't believe I never heard of this until a few weeks ago. As soon as I heard the premise, then saw the preview, I had to see the movie. And it's well worth it, for the imagery alone.

The story itself is of two people who meet in a hospital: a little girl, Alexandria, with a broken arm, and Roy Walker, a movie stunt man who has seriously injured himself and is now contemplating suicide. They meet incidentally, and he begins to tell her a vast fantasy story, partly to entertain her and partly to manipulate her.


The fantasy story is the richer, less coherent part of the film, although it fits as it is mutable and involves a lot of input from Alexandria, whose expression of interest or boredom often influences the direction of the story. Roy's cruel streak is balanced by Alexandria's optimism, and the story and reality conflate toward the end of the film.


The movie ends on a wistful, bittersweet note. The fairy tale/mythology motifs are subtle but present. And as I said, the film is worth watching for the cinematography alone.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey

This book is another entry in the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey. All the books in the series feature a mage who has control of an element (fire, water, earth, or air) and borrow heavily from fairy tales for their plots.


Unnatural Issue is the story of Suzanne, who has grown up in her household without the acknowledgement of her father. Obsessed with his grief at the death of her mother, he blames his daughter for his wife's death, and the staff has orders that he never set eyes on her.

As she comes of age, she falls into the care of The Puck (of Shakespearean fame), who, in Lackey's world, is a nature god who teaches young Suzanne all she needs to know about caring for the elemental earth. One day her father sees her--for the first time in years--and conceives a plan to use forbidden necromantic powers to bring his long-dead wife back to life.

Loosely based on the Donkeyskin story-type, and set against a background of burgeoning WWI, Lackey's story is a fairly quick, interesting read, a bit bogged down by her tendency to tell and not show, and her characters' needs to discuss, mentally or aloud, every aspect of their decisions. In spite of that, it's an engaging story, and the protagonist is certainly sympathetic. Lackey throws a hitch in her usual romantic story by having Suzanne besotted with a man who shows no return interest, even as the other main character falls for her. The wrap-up to that part of the storyline felt a bit sudden and unsatisfactory to me, but all is well and so--happily ever after.

I did like the way Donkeyskin was incorporated. It was not as straightforward as I would have thought, and is mostly in the setup of the story, which Lackey takes from there to make her own.

If you've enjoyed the other entries in this series, I recommend this one. A few characters from the other book make minor appearances (although it's been long enough since I read the others that I only had vague recollections of the stories they were in). It's about on par with the others in the series.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Snow Queen's Shadow by Jim C. Hines

The more I read of Jim Hines work, the more I love his writing. If you are a regular reader of this blog, PLEASE do yourself a favor and read his Princess series. You will not regret it!


This is the fourth (and final) installment in the series, and it was good. Really good. Amazing. I was not expecting to laugh out loud, or to cry, and I did both. (Really my eyes just misted up for a moment... I swear.... >.>)

I don't want to tell you too much of the plot, in case you haven't read the previous books. Let me tell you a bit about the characters, instead.

Danielle (Cinderella) is the princess of Lorindar, married to prince Armand. She had a glass sword which never cuts her, the legacy gift of her mother. She knows how to use it. She has a son and the powerful love she has for her family shines through her actions. She is totally the brains of the operation. She still cleans a bit around the palace, out of habit.

Talia (Sleeping Beauty) is gifted with fairy beauty, grace, and charm. And she despises the fairies for it--after all, those gifts lead to the downfall of her family, her 100 years of sleep, and her rape by the prince who "rescued" her. Now she's a fighter, fiercely loyal to her friends, and stubbornly resistant to the use of magic. And she's lost her heart to someone who can't return her love.

Snow (Snow White!) is a powerful sorceress who uses her mirror magic to light their way, see far away places, and more, though the toll of her magic is more than she admits. She is sensual and sexy and sassy, by far the most glib of the three. She has a more serious side, and the effects of her broken heart (her mother killed the one man she really loved) follow her through her more carefree years with Danielle and Talia.

The three of them together form a sort of kick-ass/Charlie's Angels-esque secret agency for Queen Beatrice, and they stop the truly awful magic and political attacks on the Kingdom of Lorindar. Though these books are funny, I would hesitate to call them lighthearted: Hines gives the princesses real stakes, and the consequences for their failures follow them through the series. There is no "and everything went back to normal" at the end of each installation. And because of that, they are more powerful, and will get to you, more than you expect!

As much as I love the cover art (and I do!) I think the covers are a little misleading. You might look at them and think: "Here are some hard-core chicks! All right!" And that's true... but there is a lot of depth to the stories as well, and I'm not sure the covers quite nail just how... good!... these books are.

Unlike perpetual series (which Hines admitted on his blog was his original conception for the Princess novels) which can drag on in a state of limbo, each book in the series gets better. I loved his use in this one, not only of The Snow Queen, but also of Snow White and Rose Red, in a most unexpected manner. The character development and plot were perfect, making the quartet of books one of my all-time favorite fairy tale adaptations. These aren't retellings, per se--most of Hines's books deal with the aftermath of the stories we know. Just what does "Happily Ever After" mean? More trouble, usually--and I think that's part of what makes them more enjoyable that the average retelling.

Please read these! You'll be glad you did, and if you ever have a little girl who is obsessed with Disney Princesses, here are three amazing, charming, and fabulous princesses you can introduce her to, as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Three Little Pigs

I was not looking forward to watching this. The Three Little Pigs is not a favorite story of mine, and I am often perplexed as to how it gets lumped in with "fairy tales" when obviously it is just an overtold children's story.

However, as often happens when there's not a lot of tale to work with, Fairie Tale Theater does a surprisingly good job of filling in the time slot.


This is the story of three brothers: Peter, Paul, and Larry. All three are on their own agenda; all three think they have the best idea about how things should be done. Peter is scheming to make it big through real estate fraud, Paul is looking out for the ladies, and Larry is an artist, musician, and architect who has a lot of big ideas. When the three brothers are sent by their mother, they are all determined to make it in the world, though with very different ideas about how to do so.

With Billy Crystal as Larry and Jeff Goldblum as the Big Bad Wolf, I did get a few laughs out of this episode. It MAY be my favorite telling of the Three Little Pigs, though I am not sure I'm ready to admit that.

Definitely a strong entry in the FTT collection, with enough humor to keep the adults in the room engaged.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Narnia Week: The Magicians and The Magician King

"You HAVE to read this book," Nathan said, and he put The Magicians in my hands. "It's like Harry Potter for grown-ups. But better."


Actually, I think it's more like Harry Potter meets Narnia meets The Phantom Tollbooth, for grownups. I don't even want to tell you anything about the plot, because it's so amazing, you'll want that "reading for the first time" feeling to be completely unspoiled. But to start, you have a young man, Quentin, who is about to graduate high school, and feels there is something missing, at some deep, fundamental level, from his life. When he is whisked away to take a test for a very special academy, Brakebills, his life changes in more ways than he could have imagined.

Somehow these books manage to cram in allusions and references, and never once be derivative. Lev Grossman's writing is biting, bitter but funny, and completely captivating.


Even better--in a rare trick for a sequel--is The Magician King, which continues the story of Quentin with his desire to go on a quest. This is to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader what the first book is to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe--again, very much the grown-up version. Interspersed with that quest is the harrowing story of Julie, Quentin's childhood friend who missed out on the magic of Brakebills college, but found it again on her own, darker path.

I cannot rave about these books enough. Please read them. They are darkly beautiful, captivating, frightening--everything Narnia for grown-ups should be.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Narnia Week: Till We Have Faces

Til We Have Faces is C. S. Lewis's take on the myth of Eros and Psyche. It has nothing at all to do with Narnia, but I feel leaving it out this week would be denying you the chance to know about Lewis's greatest work. Well, he is noted as considering it his most mature and masterly work of fiction, which I agree with, out of what I've read. It is my favorite.

This is one of my favorite retellings, ever, as well. Lewis offers a stunningly complex characterization; the story of Psyche and Eros, told from the point of view of one of the "ugly sisters." And, honestly, I was blown away by this. This book is one of the best books I've ever read--being both in my favorite category of story and amazingly, beautifully written.

This book makes me long for more mythology and fairy tale retellings from Lewis... I guess I will just have to read the rest of his books, instead!

I cannot recommend this enough. Whether or not you like the Narnia books, if you love mythology and retellings, you need to read this book.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Narnia Week: The Life and Faith of C.S. Lewis

The Life and Faith of C.S. Lewis: The Magic Never Ends is another one I spotted incidentally at the library, and as I have been going through a bit of a Lewis phase lately, reading his work more widely than I have in the page, I thought I'd check it out. Also it's only an hour and twenty minutes, so I didn't think it could be that much of a waste of time.


Well, it wasn't THAT much of a waste of time, though frankly, I was pretty disappointed. This movie is like... for Christians who have never heard of C.S. Lewis? I guess? I'm not really sure what they were going for here, although maybe they weren't sure, either, and that's why the video was so generally disorganized. It skipped around through time AND theme, not really settling on anything long enough to be interesting. The interviews with people who flinched away from the details of Lewis's life were actually embarrassing after Laura Miller's direct and respectful analysis of how his personal life influenced his fiction.

I wouldn't recommend this unless you are a huge Lewis fan, and if you are a huge Lewis fan, this video doesn't have anything new. There are interviews with both his stepsons, which was interesting for a moment. But every time they started to get past the basic plot of one of his book, or talk about a little more detail of his life, the video veered away into the next topic, and I'm sorry, but I just don't need you to tell me the plot of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I say this AS a Lewis fan, but honestly, the best parts of this video were the harp music in the menu, and Ben Kingsley narrating.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Narnia Week: The Magician's Book by Laura Miller

I know a lot of fairy tale lovers don't count The Chronicles of Narnia as fairy tales. I grew up loving them--my mom read them to my sister and me every couple years, until I started reading them on my own--and as I got older and read more about them, I discovered that C.S. Lewis had a passion for mythology, and intended the Chronicles as fairy tales. With that in mind, I feel it's only fair to mention them on this blog.


The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, caught my eye one day at the library. I, personally, have gotten tired of people dismissing the Chronicles as "just a bunch of Christian symbolism." Sure, there is a good dose of that, but I don't think I enjoy them nearly so much if that were all they were.

And apparently I am not the only one who feels that way.

Laura Miller, who's agnostic, went through her rebellious teenage phase, and around that time she read an incidental citation of the Chronicles that listed them as "Christian allegory" (which, if you've looked at literary types, the chronicles are not classifiable as allegory). She felt so betrayed that she'd never seen it before that she gave them up and swore never to read them again.

Except she LOVES them. So eventually she went back and explored them for other merit.

The book isn't the most organized non-fiction I've ever read. It reads more like one of those organic, train-of-thought conversations you have with a good friend, you know what I'm talking about? Where one thing leads to another, and so you don't necessarily have an organized essay of thought, but you have a really good, enjoyable conversation. It's fairly witty, quite observant, and pulls in a lot of other fairy tales and literature, as well as giving a lot of background about Lewis, stuff like his friendship with his brother, and with Tolkien. And it talks about some of his other works as well.

The BASIC premise is: you don't have to be Christian to enjoy the Chronicles, and if you ARE Christian, you shouldn't only consider the Christian symbolism, because the books have a lot of literary merit aside from that.

So. Very interesting read, I think you'd like it.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Well, you may or may not have noticed the blog having a great deal of downtime. But never fear! Fairy Layers is not gone, not by a long shot. There are going to be a couple little changes around here: mostly background stuff. If you are just here for the reviews and the fairy tales, you shouldn't notice too much difference. Basically, I want this to be a fun place for you to find the books you want to read, and for this not to feel like a job to me. (Hey, I already got one of those!)

I hope to have a great many old and new recommendations for you as we head into the last stretch of the year.

I am also doing away with the advertisements, due to a general annoyance at advertising as a way of making money. There may be a paypal donate button; any income from that will go toward giveaways and blog maintenance.

Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading!