Snow fell to the ground outside while I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I took this to be a sign, a sign that something...moreAs posted on Outside of the Dog:
Snow fell to the ground outside while I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I took this to be a sign, a sign that something magical was happening. And it was. For books are magical things, good books, even more so. Books can take you away, move you to another planet, or another realm, or just across street…and into the woods. The woods are magical too, you see.
Hazel and Jack have been friends since they were six years old. They shared their joy, the grief and their bountiful imaginations. Jack was Hazel’s lifeline in her new school, a school where imagination wasn’t appreciated and paying close attention was essential. With Jack, Hazel belonged. She fit in. Until one day, she didn’t. One day, after an accident on the playground, Jack stops wanting to hang around with Hazel, and she doesn’t know why. Then Jack does the worst thing of all. He disappears. He’s been taken by the white witch (which Narnia got from her, by the way), and it’s up to Hazel to get him back. This takes Hazel on a journey into the magical woods, which tests her heart and her head. Will she have the courage to do what is needed to get Jack back, and will Jack ever be the same best friend he was again?
Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is based upon Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, but it owes a debt to many other works as well. Normally, I don’t like it when books are too referential to contemporary works (it can badly date them; see: The Princess Diaries), but in Ursu’s world, it only adds to the magic. Among the works referenced are the Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass, the aforementioned works of Narnia, Coraline, When You Reach Me, The Phantom Tollbooth and others. What this does is give credence to Hazel’s knowledge of how stories should go. When Jack’s friend says he saw Jack being taken away by a woman in white, Hazel knows what this means. Her knowledge of the tenets of fantasy saves her in the woods (as does some sheer dumb luck).
As pointed out by Fuse 8’s Betsy Bird, “The Snow Queen” is a great metaphor for puberty. (Breadcrumbs is actually the second time I’ve seen this story used in such a capacity this past year, the first being Catherine Breillat’s film, The Sleeping Beauty). Boy and girl are friends, boy and girl grow up, and the friendship changes. Thankfully, Hazel is the kind of character who isn’t going to let this slide, isn’t going to let her best friend disappear without a fight. She’s a little bit lost and uncertain, but much stronger than she knows. She rightfully takes her place among the fantasy heroes and heroines she admires so much, just as Breadcrumbs should and will take its place among the books that inspired it.(less)
I have always loved fairy tales. When I was a child, I absorbed the stories of the fairy land of Oz, and as an adult I h...moreAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
I have always loved fairy tales. When I was a child, I absorbed the stories of the fairy land of Oz, and as an adult I have devoured and dissected the tales of Andrew Lang, the Brothers Grimm and other legends from around the world. There is something about the fairy tale, whether it involves fairies or not, that endures, and something about that fascinates me. In the case of Ellen Booraem’s Small Persons with Wings, we’re dealing with fairies (more on that later) and the humans who see them.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way. The proper name to call these pint-sized pixies is Parvi Pennati, or if you must, “small persons with wings”. As the book cover pronounces, “they hate to be called fairies”. Our heroine, Mellie Turpin, lived with a small person with wings when she was a small person without wings, but after a simple childish mistake, Fidius leaves her, which leads Mellie to be teased and ostracized at school (she is teased for her weight and called “Fairy Fat”), and her parents accidentally lead her to believe Fidius wasn’t real. Because of this, Mellie promptly packs away her imagination and dedicates herself to facts, especially about art history. With her nose in a book, Mellie survives school and bullies until her grandfather dies and her parents uproot to go and take care of the family inn and pub Ogier Turpin left behind. Settling into her new home, Mellie discovers oodles of Parvi, and is forced to accept that her imaginary friend was not imaginary after all.
What follows is a little complicated to explain, so I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say, there is a mystery, a threat, new friends, a creepy villain, some scary moments, some downright bizarre ones, and lots and lots of small persons with wings. All hinges on a moonstone ring entrusted to the Turpin family and needed by the Parvi for their future survival. In all, the story is a little too complicated. There’s French and Latin being thrown around and ancient pacts and magic and lots of little details to keep track of. Good for us, Booraem seems to know exactly what she’s doing, even if the reader isn’t always sure. I always felt like there was somewhere important we were going, and I trusted Booraem to get me there.
There’s something to be said about a not altogether likable hero (or heroine). Nan Marino’s Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me was one of my favorite books of 2009, and Tamara, the heroine, is hardly a girl of sterling character. In fact, she’s kind of a bully. But she was utterly relatable, and a huge reason behind my love for the book. Similarly, if I met Mellie in real life, I’m not sure I would like her. She can be acerbic, obnoxious and a know-it-all. Granted, as a girl who has been teased for most of her life, she has reasons to be standoffish, but her personality could still use some polish. As a character, however, I loved her. She had spunk, she had spirit. She felt her fear, then pushed it down and went on in spite of it. The secondary characters are well fleshed out, especially Mellie’s grandfather, who makes a surprising appearance (to say the least), but Mellie is the star of the show. It is her hurt that we feel and her determination we latch onto when things look bleak. Small persons with wings may bring the fantasy, but Mellie brings the heart of this charming fairy tale. (less)
I've said before that I'm a fan of fairy tales, and fairy tales deconstructed. I find these stories fascinating, the wa...moreAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
I've said before that I'm a fan of fairy tales, and fairy tales deconstructed. I find these stories fascinating, the way they move across cultures and adapt for their surroundings. So any time a book incorporates fairy tales in its storytelling, you better bet I'll be nearby. I loved Alex Flinn's Beastly, a solid story from a different point of view with wonderful touches of magic and modernity. I haven't read her A Kiss in Time (it's on my list), but I just had the opportunity to put my paws on her newest novel, Cloaked, which once again takes up the hero's point of view and puts him on the road for a rollicking good adventure.
Taking its cues from half a dozen fairy tales (at least), Cloaked tells the story of Johnny Marco, a seventeen-year-old living in South Beach, working at his family's shoe repair shop.
"My family's run the shoe repair at the Coral Reef Grand, a posh hotel on South Beach, since before I was born - first my grandparents, then my parents, now my mother and me. So I've met the famous and the infamous, the rich and the...poor (okay, that would be me), wearers of Bruno Magli, Manolo Blahnik, and Converse (again, me). I know the beautiful people. Or at least I know their feet."
Then one day a princess walks into his shop, the young Victoriana from Aloria, a fictional, French-speaking country, and turns his life upside down. One minute Johnny's biggest worry is how to pay the electric bill, the next, he's off on a quest for the princess to recover her brother, Philippe, who has been turned into a frog and is loose somewhere in south Florida. There is magic in the world, he discovers, and he learns to use part of it by means of a cloak that will taken him anywhere he wishes (but he must learn to be very specific) and an earpiece that will allow him to speak with animals, at least those who used to be human. Along his way, Johnny is joined on his quest by his best friend, Meg, and sparks fly in every direction when they get close and when they fight. All fairy tales must have a happy ending, of course, and this one does it up right, with a few twists and surprises on the way (although I wasn't particularly surprised by one of them).
Part of the charm of Cloaked is Johnny. He's affable, a sort of teenage everyboy, but one that harbors a special dream and talent. He wants to design and make women's shoes. That in and of itself is unusual, but I love that Flinn doesn't make a big deal about it. The dude loves shoes, and that's just fine. Johnny's an easy character to like, necessary for the kind of journey Flinn puts him on, so that even when he does something dumb (and he does, often), you're still on his side. Meg doesn't succeed quite as well. She's a little bit of a stock friend character, but charming in her own way. I just happened to find the princess, with her frantic faith in Johnny as a "good boy" and slightly sneaky manipulation of her own image, a little more interesting, and I was a bit disappointed when we didn't get more of her.
The fairy tales are the real gem of this book, though. Here are stories less well known than your average princess tale, including "The Salad", a personal favorite of mine. Also at work in Cloaked are "The Elves and the Shoemaker" (of course), "The Six Swans" and "The Fisherman and His Wife". I was thrilled to find a fairy tale at work that even I was unaware of; Flinn names it "The Golden Bird", though it was originally a Russian tale called "The Firebird and the Gray Wolf". Flinn incorporates all these tales quite deftly, spinning them together into a story of her own, one that captures the imagination and keeps you on the edge of your seat. This is a must read for dedicated fairy tale fans. (less)
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. I love fairy tales. Just love 'em. And one of the things I love best about the medium is the way...moreIf I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. I love fairy tales. Just love 'em. And one of the things I love best about the medium is the way they are reshaped and retold time after time, in place after place. This iteration is comics. Excellent! Some are hilarious ("Goldilocks..."), some are more thoughtful ("The Prince and the Tortoise"), and some I've never heard of (several in fact...bad fairy tale fan, bad, bad). With each tale being taken on my a different artist, we still get to still how eclectic these stories can be. In a market stuffed with fairy tale books, this should rise towards the top.(less)
**spoiler alert** Damn you, Buckley! You and this series has caused me too many sleepless nights. This book was one long race to the finish, and with...more**spoiler alert** Damn you, Buckley! You and this series has caused me too many sleepless nights. This book was one long race to the finish, and with what appears to be one book left in the series, I'm okay with the pace. I do wonder about bringing in a new villain at the eleventh hour (I'm trying to recall if Atticus means anything to me as far as fairy tale history, but I'm not remembering anything). It's a little late in the game to be dangling a new Big Bad over our heads.
I loved the idea of the Editor and the Revisors, though. Perfectly creepy and strangely endearing as well.(less)
I remember having a collection of fractured fairy tales when I was younger, and reveling in the familiar tales gone wron...moreAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
I remember having a collection of fractured fairy tales when I was younger, and reveling in the familiar tales gone wrong. This interest has continued into my adult years as I devour retellings of my favorite stories like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. But fairy tales have always been close to my heart, (you can only imagine how fond I am of TV’s“Once Upon a Time”) so when a popular author like Sarah Mlynowski comes out with a new series of fairy tale books, called Whatever After, you can bet I wanted to get my hands on them. Starting off the series is Fairest of All, a take on the Snow White tale (not to be confused with Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All, which is the Wicked Queen’s side of the story), which introduces us to our main characters and gives us our first glimpse of the magic involved in these story-busted tales.
If you’ve ever moved from one place to another, you know how Abby feels. Everything seems upside down. The kids play the wrong kind of tag, they don’t know the proper way to make peanut butter and banana sandwiches and they call Coke, Pepsi, etc. “soda”. Soda, I tell you! All this change makes Abby long for something familiar and normal. Unfortunately for her, “normal” isn’t in the cards. While doing some late night exploring, Abby’s younger brother Jonah discovers something mysterious about the creepy mirror in the basement, and before you can say “Mirror, mirror on the wall”, both Abby and Jonah (along with some furniture and a fair amount of law books) are sucked into the mirror and taken far, far away. A little bit of exploring later and the kids find themselves witness to a familiar scene: a haggard old woman attempting to give an apple to a beautiful girl. Just in time, Abby realizes what’s going on and stops Snow White from eating the poisoned apple, thus saving her life, and the day. But Abby and Jonah soon realize that saving the day has messed with Snow’s story, and now she might never get her prince and her happy ending. Now Abby, Jonah, Snow and seven dwarves (some of them women!) are on a mission to fix Snow’s story and find the Queen’s Magic Mirror to send the siblings back home.
There are so many little things about this book that I enjoyed, I’ll start there. First of all, I loved the personalities and the diversity of the seven dwarves. Making some of them female is genius; I’ve never come across that idea before. In fact, I enjoyed all the characters at play here. Abby, our heroine, is ultimately smart, creative and relatable. Jonah has heart (and stomach), bravery and is very loyal. And while Snow White starts out naïve and a little simple, she quickly grows into someone quite clever, though she will probably never be a good cook.
Mlynowski has a really good handle on her story, as well. She wastes no time in setting the scene. In two short chapters we are introduced to Abby and her new girl worries, and her brother and his mysterious discovery. From chapter three onward, we are off! The action moves at a very quick pace (at only 169 pages, it’s an easy one-sitter for an adult reader), but leaves nothing out. All the seeds are planted for an interesting series, and I can’t wait to see what stories Mlynowski muddles with next.(less)
Fairy tales are fluid things. To offer one of my favorite quotes, “The story is like the wind. It comes from a far off p...moreAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
Fairy tales are fluid things. To offer one of my favorite quotes, “The story is like the wind. It comes from a far off place, and we feel it.”* We tell each other these stories, and the details change across countries and languages, but the spirit transcends barriers. I love this about these stories. Fairy tales are often intended to teach lessens, and some do so obliquely and some put the moral right in your face. In the case of Heather Vogel Frederick’s Once Upon a Toad, loosely based on the tale by Charles Perrault called “Diamonds and Toads” (as well as other variations), the moral is fairly straightforward, but the getting there is all the fun.
[WARNING: There be spoilers ahead.] Cat Starr is your average bassoon playing, nature loving, astronaut-Mom having 12-year-old. Life is good for Cat, until her mother gets called up last minute for a mission to the International Space Station. This means a mid-year move to her dad’s house in Oregon, which would be fine except for one thing: her mean-girl step-sister Olivia. Things between the two are tense and soon explode, prompting and impromptu visit from Cat’s great aunt Abyssinia, who just a little, shall we say, strange. After this visit Cat wakes up in the morning to a terrible surprise: every time she talks, a toad falls from her mouth! Conversely, whenever Olivia speaks, flowers and diamonds fall from hers. The family tries to keep things under wraps while they deal with these startling developments, but word soon gets out and suddenly it seems as if the entire world is camped on their front lawn. Everyone wants a piece of “Diamond Girl”, including the U.S. Government. In order to save Olivia from being dissected in Area 51, and their little brother from a crazed kidnapper, Cat and her step-sister run away in a mad dash to track down Great Aunt Abyssinia and get her to fix the girls’ problems.
In the original tale, “Diamonds and Toads”, a sorceress grants the “blessing” of flowers and diamonds to the kinder of two sisters and curses the crueler of the two with snakes and toads. For Ms. Frederick, poor, addled Great Aunt Abyssinia gets things a little muddled when our heroine ends up with the toads and Olivia the diamonds. But this doesn’t mean that the intended lesson doesn’t get across its audience. The girls have to learn to work together to save both their hides and their little brother. Yes, the story goes off the rails a little bit in the last act, with a magical deus ex machina in the form of Abyssinia’s RV, but never does Frederick lose control of the delight in her story. Using the old legend as a base for her “coming to terms with family” story, Frederick has woven a charming tale about familial affection, loyalty, magic, and yes, toads. (less)
Fairy tales. They’re my thing. Give me princes and princesses in disguise, young people turned into animals, magic cloak...moreAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
Fairy tales. They’re my thing. Give me princes and princesses in disguise, young people turned into animals, magic cloaks and lettuce that turned you into a donkey. It’s all gravy. I especially love when someone takes a fairy tale, something that is ingrained in our public consciousness, and makes of it something unique and unexpected. This is why I was so excited over the prospect of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. A futuristic Cinderella set against the backdrop of interstellar intrigue? Count me in.
Linh Cinder is a cyborg, living in New Beijing under the iron thumb of her “stepmother” Adri. She’s the best mechanic in town, and one day, none other than Prince Kai, son of the reigning Emperor, stops by her booth asking for her help. This starts a chain of events that leads Cinder down a path she never imagined. Her beloved stepsister Peony comes down with the horrible Letumosis disease, a pandemic that has ravaged the world. Her stepmother volunteers Cinder for a governmental experiment program that drafts cyborgs and injects them with the disease in order to search for a cure. Add to this the oncoming storm of Queen Levana, the Luna ruler, who comes to Earth in the wake of the Emperor’s death in order to form an alliance with Kai. But Queen Levana has evil lurking beneath her beautiful visage, and the new Emperor-to-be is not fooled. With each twist and turn, Cinder learns more about herself and her mysterious past and falls just a little bit more for Kai with every encounter.
I’m not sure what I was really expecting when I opened Cinder. I knew the basic plot line, but what I was really interested in was the fairy tale element. It turns out, that element is secondary to the true nature of the book, a high-kicking science fiction fantasy. The world that Meyer has created is fully realized and perfect for the story she wants to tell. Cinder is an interesting character. She has your typical teenage neuroses, but they manifest in atypical ways. She struggles with being a cyborg, with feeling inferior and unwanted. But she has strength in her too, and asserts herself when needed. This is no passive fairy tale princess. Meyer’s story does have some bumps: the “surprise” ending is perfectly evident from the beginning. And the ending comes in a too-soon rush, certainly setting up the action for the next in the series. But the overall effect is one of great fun and excitement. I practically devoured this book, and I’m anxious for the sequel. If this is what Meyer does with her first time at bat, I can only expect greater things to come with time and experience. (less)
I’ve always liked the word “peculiar”. It brings to mind, not the frightening, but the strange and unreal. It’s the perf...moreAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
I’ve always liked the word “peculiar”. It brings to mind, not the frightening, but the strange and unreal. It’s the perfect word to describe the main characters of Stefan Bachmann’s debut novel, aptly named The Peculiar. In a world where humans and fairies live uneasily side by side, anyone willing to stick their neck out might certainly be called odd.
Young Bartholomew Kettle is a “changeling” child, though it is pointed out in the text that this is a misnomer. He was not a creature hidden in a crib while the real child has been stolen away. He, and his sister Hettie, are half-human, half-fairy. They’re Peculiars. Arthur Jelliby is a young member of Parliament, a set-in-his-ways kind of person, with his comfortable house and his pretty wife. But news that Peculiar children have been turning up dead upsets both Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby’s lives, the boy because he soon learns the danger he and his sister are in and the man because, despite his inclination not to get involved, his better nature takes over and urges him to investigate. The last straw occurs when Bartholomew is marked to be taken, but it’s Hettie who disappears in the night, and Mr. Jelliby’s search leads him straight to the Peculiar boy. Together they must combat the nefarious Mr. Lickerish if they hope to stop the cataclysmic event the fairy has planned, and if they have any chance of getting Hettie back alive.
Stefan Bachmann was sixteen years old when he began work on The Peculiar in 2010. His inexperience is nowhere to be seen in The Peculiar’s 376 pages. His youth, however, is all over it. This work is lively, imaginative and elastic. The words simply bounce off the page. The world building, while not superb, is sufficiently detailed (with an absolutely wonderful prologue), and Bachmann’s characters are so well drawn, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t yet had even twenty years’ worth of experience in the world. My favorite is the well-meaning but mildly bumbling Mr. Jelliby, a character worthy of his Dickensian name. My only quibble is the cliff-hanger of an ending Bachmann has left us. The sequel, The Whatnot, is out now, and I'm dying to get my hands on it. I can’t wait to see what Bachmann has cooked up next.(less)
Ha! Excellent fractured fairy tale. Pigmella the piglet and Priscilla the princess get switched by accident and go on to lead each others' lives. Pris...moreHa! Excellent fractured fairy tale. Pigmella the piglet and Priscilla the princess get switched by accident and go on to lead each others' lives. Priscilla (now called Pigmella) grows up to be a kind, smart, beautiful young lady while Pigmella (now called Priscilla) grows up to be a...well...pig. A perfect story for the anti-princess girl, and maybe even the princess girl, if she's got a good funny bone.(less)
If you really know your fairy tales, the secret of the Valentine's is not much of a secret at all, but I still enjoyed the journey. Mira was a tad bit...moreIf you really know your fairy tales, the secret of the Valentine's is not much of a secret at all, but I still enjoyed the journey. Mira was a tad bit annoying, but with all that going on in her life, I can almost forgive her. I wasn't terribly happy with how things ended; I don't know if this is going to be part of a series or not, but the resolution left something to be desired.(less)
Started so well - nice characters, I liked the way she was casually walking though different tales, but it all came to such a disappointing ending. Ba...moreStarted so well - nice characters, I liked the way she was casually walking though different tales, but it all came to such a disappointing ending. Baker waited too long to introduce/reveal her villains and their plans so that the ending feels rushed and squashed. Another ten of fifteen pages might have helped prevent the feeling of being abruptly dropped off a very tall building.(less)
Not as good as the original (far too much Olympia to stomach), but it has its charms and actually has a very good lesson at its heart about the up and...moreNot as good as the original (far too much Olympia to stomach), but it has its charms and actually has a very good lesson at its heart about the up and down, give and take needed for a successful relationship. And knock-knock jokes. Gotta have knock-knock jokes.(less)
Interesting take on the Cinderella story. The introduction of fairies as the magical element of the story gave it a darker, more sinister shade. The l...moreInteresting take on the Cinderella story. The introduction of fairies as the magical element of the story gave it a darker, more sinister shade. The love story is very sweet, although I would have liked to know more about Kaisa and her history.(less)