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Posts tagged ‘fairy tales’

Enchanted

enchanted

by: Alethea Kontis

Blog note: I won a contest over at Ensis Reads, formally Don’t Read! I got this wicked awesome traveling coffee mug (LOVE IT!), and I am going to do a full post with pictures this weekend!

This is the first book in The Woodcutter Sisters series, a book based on the family of Jack and Seven Woodcutter, and featuring modern retellings of European fairy tales – quite a few of them feature in each book.

The woodcutter sisters are seven sisters born to a woodcutter and his wife (naturally).  Each of the girls is named after a different day of the week.  Sunday, our heroine, is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter – I do love that in this world, that is equally powerful as the seventh son of a seventh son.  Sunday befriends a frog in the woods and thus starts an adventure to change the life of her and her sisters forever.  And yes, this book is based mostly on The Frog Prince, one of my favorite fairy tales.

As a protagonist, I liked Sunday a lot.  She was thoughtful and somewhat dreamy, but she still did things and was very much an active participant in the story.  The frog prince, Rumbold, is also a good character – very flawed but likable.  He spends a lot of time in the story learning to be a man, without having it be the central theme of the story.  I very much appreciate that – I feel like too often a main male character growing into manhood automatically becomes the center of the story.  Here, though, it is an important part without overpowering the story. I didn’t necessarily think he was romantic or dashing or any of the things I like my romantic heroes to be – but I did think he was an interesting character and a good fit for Sunday.

The plot was good, though the pacing was a little weird.  There was a bit too much going on, even though it’s a fairy long YA novel.  It was partly because Kontis was fairly obviously trying to set up plotlines for all the continuing book in the series, plus introduce other characters which have already had their adventures, like her sister Thursday.  (That was pretty irritating.  Thursday runs off to sea and becomes a pirate captain.  I want to read that story!) Three of Sunday’s siblings have already found their ever after; one of them finds it as a minor side plot in this story.  The writing was quite good, but there was simply too much going on.  I feel like Kontis could have worried less about making sure we understand everything that’s happened or is happening to this family and worried more about tightening up the plot.

The book, however, was engaging and I definitely stayed up late to finish it! A great sign.  Unfortunately, it also wasn’t that memorable.  While I definitely want to read other books in the series, I did have trouble recalling what happened in this book while writing this review. I think part of that is so much happened that my brain kinda gave up on it.

The characters were, as a whole, engaging and interesting but Kontis ran into the same problem with them as she did with the plot; namely, there were too many that she was trying to give too much attention to.  That means some of the characters, like Wednesday, became “tells” and not “shows.”  Sunday tells us a lot about Wednesday but the reader never gets to see her behaving in her odd Wednesday ways, so her particular storyline isn’t very convincing or engaging, even though she’s central to what happens in the story.  On the other hand, I completely fell in love with Saturday and cannot wait to read her book.  The characters that Kontis fully fleshes out are done extremely well and absolutely perfect for a YA novel.

The flaws didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story but I do think a strong red pen could’ve turned this story from a book I really liked to a book I’d rave about.  That makes me a little sad, to be completely truthful, though I’m happy I read it anyway.

If you’re into YA novels with a strong fairy tale influence or if you like ordinary teenage characters who have extraordinary adventures, you should definitely pick this one up! If you don’t like the feeling of being plunged into the middle of a series (I know it’s billed as the first, but it doesn’t feel like it), or if you like your fairy tale retellings with a darker or socially relevant edge, than alack! this may not the book for you.

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The Fairest of Them All

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by: Carolyn Turgeon

First of all, hello from Boston! I’m all moved in to a new apartment and not quite unpacked.  So my blog will resume it’s normal sporadic updates – yay!

I picked up my first book from Boston, Fairest of Them All, while stopping by the university (where I work) bookstore for a fleece jacket, because it’s fairly chilly in my lab.

I needed a book to escape into and this book was perfect for my purposes.  It’s a retelling of both “Rapunzel” and “Snow White”, from Rapunzel’s point of view (first person).  The blurb revolves around the prince and Rapunzel’s relationship; this is a false synopsis.

The prince is, at best, a secondary character and really pales in comparison to Rapunzel and even Snow White.  His character is quickly sketched instead of complex and developed and he mostly serves as a plot device rather than a character in his own right. This works perfectly for the story, however. I love that the fairy tale gets re-imagined completely around Rapunzel, instead of true love.  Rapunzel is, indeed, the active character in the story and it is her and Mother Gothel’s actions that drive and create the plot, rather than Rapunzel’s fate being determined by a witch and a prince.

Rapunzel herself is a fascinating character. I don’t know that I like her – she seems devoid of morals and certainly lacks ethics.  Indeed, though she certainly can be empathetic, due to her particular brand of magic, she seems unable to see how her actions will harm others; she is only able to feel how her actions have harmed others. She is oddly self-aware, though not introspective; she understands she does not have a “great heart” and is not prone towards morality.

Ever since “Tangled” came out and did such a brilliant job of depicting an emotionally abusive relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel, I’ve been fascinated by that relationship.  There are so many directions it could be taken in. Turgeon takes an unexpected approach and because Rapunzel is not self-reflective, leaves much of the interpretation open to the reader. I wish there had been more exploration of that relationship.

Mother Gothel’s moral ambiguity through the story is also very nicely done.  There’s such a disconnect between how she presents herself to Rapunzel and how the rest of the world views her that it really is impossible to see if she’s misunderstood because of a growing movement against magic or if she truly is evil.  Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

I would have liked a little more character development on Rapunzel’s part on the back third of the story and I do feel it ends right as she truly begins to grow up. In terms of plot, the ending makes sense; in terms of character, it almost leaves you hanging.

The plot itself is quick and nicely paced – perhaps a little too busy at the end, but at that point I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t notice until I’d finished.  The writing is good – a tiny bit on the simpler side, which fits in well with the fairy tale aspect.

I wish Turgeon had spent more time on social critiques of the “fairest of them all” aspect.  She does such an excellent job of setting up rich material for a stark, scathing look at the importance of female beauty in society – but she never really goes anywhere with it. Very sad.  I also hate that both the blurb and the synopsis before the book club questions seem to think this is the story of a prince and a princess and the most important relationship is between Rapunzel and the prince.  In reality, that is the least important relationship and it is annoying that someone(s) seemed to think that the male character of course had to be the most important secondary character in the story.

If you like reimagined fairy tales, feminist takes, or morally ambiguous main characters, you should definitely give this book a try.  If you don’t like instances of rape (though not rape scenes), not-good main characters, or prefer beautiful, complex writing, than perhaps this, alas, is not the book for you.

 

Fairy Tales

I’ve said this before – one good part of having your own blog is that you can be repetitive – but I do so love fairy tales! Right now I’m writing a paper on mother-child relationships in “Once Upon a Time” and in doing so I got to look back at a lot of old fairy tales.

Now, if you’ve never looked back at the older versions of fairy tale – not original, mind you.  Considering the first known version of “Beauty and the Beast” was the Ancient Greek myth “Cupid and Psyche” and that nearly every culture, and nearly every time period, has their own version of “Cinderella,” ‘original’ is hardly a word I’d apply to any fairy tale.  But if you look back at European fairy tales, before they were written and changed and came to America, you might be surprised at what you find, especially since they dominate our culture now. 

Did you know there’s a version of “Red Riding Hood” where Red does a striptease for the wolf and then convinces him she has to go to the bathroom – no indoor plumbing – and runs out and escapes on her own?  It’s my favorite version, especially since the wolf tries to convince her to just go in the bed. Unfortunately,when the European tales came over to America, we lost a lot of our female tricksters – characters like Brer Rabbit, Tom Thumb, or Captain Jack Sparrow; witty yet loveable con artists.

Or have you ever heard of the fairytale called Donkeyskin – written by Charles Perrault – wherein a king, ordered by his dying wife only to marry one as good and beautiful as she, falls in love with his own daughter, forcing her to hide in servitude in a neighboring castle? Probably not, but there’s more than one fairy tale along those lines, none of which made it over to America.

Rapunzel was kicked out of her tower because none of her clothes fit her expanding waistline after her prince’s many visits; Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother was originally their evil mother; the princess changed the frog back by throwing him violently against a wall during a tantrum.

All this is to say that fairy tales are actually very important reflections of society.  You want to know what a society is talking about? Fairy tales/folk tales are a great place to look.  Seeing the older versions, seeing the most popular versions, seeing the most recent versions – besides entertaining, it’s a great sociological experiment.

Compare the Grimms’ versions to modern retellings in books and media, like “The 10th Kingdom,” “Once Upon a Time,” or the works of John Moore, E.D. Baker, and Gail Carson Levine and you might surprise yourself with your thoughts and observations. And the more deliberately subversive works, like Robin McKinley (and her dark yet excellent Deerskin, based on “Donkeyskin”) and Angela Carter deserve some attention, too.

Look at Rick Riordan‘s retellings of the Ancient Greek myths in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to connect and compare cultures thousands of years apart.   Heck, even looking at the evolution of Disney films over the last near-century can be enlightening. And oral folk or fairy tales are even more amazing – if you know someone who’s telling them, be sure to listen!

Fairy tales, I think, are often overlooked or dismissed as “children’s stories” when in fact they’re a really cool way to engage with and talk about our society – and I’m not just talking about Disney princesses setting up unrealistic expectations for girls.  If you like fairy tales, you should read them, regardless of your age.  They are so important! And when you read them, give a thought or two as to what you think they mean in the context of the society you live in.  

What do you guys think? Love fairy tales or hate them? Have a favorite author, retelling, version, or fairy tale? Is there one version you absolutely can’t stand? Or have you a good suggestion for non-European fairy tales?  Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Quotes Worth Sharing

Saturday furrowed his brow. “Why would I care about your First Kiss?” he said. “You can kiss anyone you like.  But if you sometimes want to kiss me, that would be all right, too.”

This absolutely lovely quote, from The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, takes place after our brave heroine, September, apologetically tells her crush, Saturday, that she had her First Kiss with someone else.

I love it. I almost never pick out quotes from books but this deserves to be shared.

What about you, dear readers? Have you read anything lately that’s stuck in your mind? Please feel free to share it in the comments!

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

 

 

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by: Catherynne M. Valente

When I picked up this book (a whole year ago!) I really wanted to have that magic feeling of discovery I had with the first book in this series. Unfortunately, you can really only discover something once and I didn’t get that “Look what I found!” feeling.  Which is why I put it down for so long.

But I finally picked it back up to finish!  I did indeed enjoy Valente’s second book and I do so enjoy her style – it is an old-fashioned style, slightly formal, that really adds to the magical feel of the book.

In the second book, September returns to Fairyland to find that the magic is all disappearing into Fairyland Below and it’s all due to actions she took in her last Fairyland adventure.  Realizing this, the slightly-more-mature September takes off on a quest to right her wrongs.  She heads down into Fairyland Below, which is populated by shadows who have left their people.  She finds shadow-versions of everyone familiar – and yet, these shadow-versions are not familiar.  She must draw on her strength, intelligence, bravery, and newfound adult compassion to ensure the survival of Fairyland.

As compared to the first book, I think I liked the characters less in this story.  The story was, more so than the last time, a story about September helping herself find herself.  She gets help from many characters throughout the story, but most of them are Merlin-type characters rather than her friends.  I think I missed that interaction.

I did, however, really love September herself.  September is growing up, and by doing so she is losing the heartlessness of childhood and learning to work with compassion and empathy.  She’s still rather young – I believe she’s supposed to be a preteen in this book – so it doesn’t lose the feeling of a children’s book.  Also, there’s a bit more attention paid to September’s life in the real world, which is nice. She’s living during WWI (or WWII? Sorry guys!), and her mom works in a factory while her dad is off fighting at the front.  You can see how her life is affecting her, even while she’s in Fairyland.  I liked Valente’s decision to age her rather than keeping her perpetually young.  September remains one of my favorite child protagonists.

The plot was a tad bit confusing at times and could have been tightened up a tad.  One or two things weren’t quite adequately explained to truly suit my need for understanding (but it is a fantasy book and that happens).  However, it was very fun and well-paced.  Excitement abounds and you’ll hold your breath with September as she struggles to complete her quest.  It’s a great length, too; by the time it’s winding up, you’re exactly at the point where you want to see a happy ending.

The world of Fairyland is always great to visit and I like the Alice in Wonderland literal-ness that Valente invokes when creating it.  Things are as a child thinks they should be there. World-building alone is a great reason to read this book, honestly.  It’s such a fun and magical place to visit.

If you’re looking for a new fairy tale, a new children’s book, or if you’re a fan of magic, Lewis Carroll-style, I would definitely give this book a try!  If you’re really into character relationships and more introspection than adventure, than, sadly, this may not be the book for you.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making

A short review that I wrote right before I started this blog but never published!
by: Catherynne M. Valente

This book is both amazing and wonderful! It is everything a fairy tale should be – honest, written in a slightly Victorian manner, and full of wondrous creatures.  The book is slightly old-fashioned in the best of ways  – the feeling comes from the slightly formal tone that makes the reader want to sit and listen to a story their favorite teacher (or nanny!) tells.

It’s the story of September, a girl living during WWI, who accepts the chance to go to Fairyland and all the adventures that entails. There’s humor, both for children and adults.  September is a wonderful character – she is decisive and neither saccharine sweet or unbelievably mature. She’s as practical as a 12 yr old can be, cunning enough to be interesting, and, most importantly, in charge of herself.  Best of all, she doesn’t spend the entire time worrying about getting home, but rather endeavors to have adventures and fulfill promises.  I highly recommend this book!