Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Wide-Awake Princess

I've been wanting to read this book for a while. I saw it at the bookstore and, after reading the back, instantly added the book to my to-read list. It took me a while to get to it, unfortunately. But, I finally did and what a treat! The book is written by the charming E.D. Baker of The Frog Princess fame. I always like a good take on the Brier Rose tale and this one was fantastic.

The story is as follows, Princess Annabelle (Annie) is gifted with a resistance to magic on her christening day. This gift forces Annie to grow up in a rather lonesome way as most people around are afraid to be near her for fearing of losing their magically bestowed beauty. But, when Annie's sister, Princess Gwen pricks her finger and brings the whole castle to an enchanted sleep, it's up to Annie to save the day. As she travels with a guard, Liam, to find the prince to break the spell, Annie meets a whole cast of familiar characters and magical folk.

I loved the premise of this book. The idea of a magic-resistant adventuress traveling through a land packed with magic was very entertaining. And I thoroughly enjoyed Baker's twist on old tales, such as Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and the Princess and the Pea. I also really appreciated the inclusion of Snow White and Rose Red, which is, to my mind, a sadly neglected fairy tale.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a fun romp through fairy tales. Baker's humor and masterful storytelling bring a fresh and charming take on a well known tale.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Thirteenth Princess

Is it appropriate to just hop right into a review after taking a break for almost a year? Eh, sure.
I am lucky because my library has a home delivery system meaning I can go onto their web catalog, order a gazillion books, and then just, well, live life as the books come rolling in (more like tossed on to my front porch, but you get the idea). This was a book I had ordered quite a while back and just recently received it - a classic fairy tale and very engrossing read.

The Thirteenth Princess is a retelling of the "Twelve Dancing Princesses" only in this tale, there were actually thirteen princesses. The father was so angered at never having had a son, he banishes the thirteenth princess, Zita, to the servants' quarters never wanting to hear of her again. Since the poor mother had died at childbirth, there was no one to plead Zita's case so she grows up in the busy and rough life of servanthood while her sisters live the luxurious princess life. Everything seems fine - Zita is accepted secretly by her princess sisters and her father never knows - until it comes time for the older sisters to be wed. Then they seem to have terribly bad luck beginning with an inability to speak to any suitor and subsequently to where daughters begin to get ill; growing more weak and overtired every day. Zita and her friend Breckin, the stableboy, must find a cure to what ails the sisters or the worst will happen!

I've read many, many fairy tale retellings. This one stood out because of its classic fairy tale style. The king is the perfect cold, harsh, heartbroken king, the cook the perfect jolly, rolling-pin-wielding cook, the princesses all perfect, gentle and golden-haired, etc. Although I love a good ironic (The Runaway Princess), humorous (Goose Chase), philosophical (Princess Ben) or historic (The Perilous Gard) twist, a nice, old-fashioned, maybe even a bit predictable fairy tale is enjoyable and, because of the large amount of "different take" stories, refreshing. And, despite the fact that the characters fit perfectly into their stereotypes, it took me quite a while to actually figure out who was causing all the problems. Which, when you read as many children's fantasy books as we do, is a remarkable feat.

I recommend this book for those days when you long for a classic fairy tale where the princes are handsome, the stableboys are freckled, the witches bake gingerbread and the bad guy dies in the end. Curl up with a cup of Earl Grey and some shortbread and dig into The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Shadow Thieves

It has been far too long since a review has been posted on this blog and that, sad to say, is entirely my fault. I completely dropped the ball when it was my turn to review. I shall endeavor to do better next time. In the meantime, here's a review!

My sister gave me The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu for Christmas. Well, when I read it, I wondered (as I often do) why it had taken me so long to read it. The book is utterly delightful!

The book tells the story of middle-schooler Charlotte Mielswetzski (pronounced Meals-wet-ski) and her cousin Zee who find themselves knee-deep in mythological mayhem when they discover that someone is stealing the shadows of the all of the local children. As they are the heroes of our story, they decide to do something about it and, before long, find themselves on an unusual adventure into the Underworld.

The book is laugh-out-loud hilarious from start to finish. Ursu's quips and sarcasm bring a fun and wacky element to the mythological world that is very enjoyable. There are some pretty creepy moments that would be a lot creepier if they weren't coated with Ursu's fresh sense of humor. Both of her main characters are unique and completely likeable. I've read several mythologically-inspired books lately and I especially like Ursu's take on the myths and the characters.

Which Greek god do you wish were immortalized more often in fiction?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

This absurdly cold weather has made me alternately long for stories of heat and sun for contrast and those in frigid settings, possibly to make the weather seem less wearying and more romantic. So I reread Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow - a perfectly freezing tale that fits the cold mood.

It is a gorgeous retelling of the Nordic fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is on the more complex end of the fairy tale spectrum. Jessica Day George introduces the heroine only as 'lass' because her cruel mother refuses to name her when she was born. Despite her namelessness (which, in Nordic legend, makes her an easy target for trolls), the lass becomes famous in her town because of her gift of understanding animals. This talent attracts an isbjørn, an 'ice bear,' to her village; he asks her to live with him in an ice palace for one year to break the curse placed on him. Between that moment and the 'happily ever after (and yes, there is one),' the lass endures many adventures, from troll weddings to enchanted wine to riding the North Wind.

This book is so wonderful. I love fairy tale retellings anyway, and this particular one is fascinating and under-told. Ms. George creates a beautiful and frightening story but one with a delightful dose of humor and spirit. Her heroine is much more three-dimensional than I think many fantasy heroines are and the language is gorgeous.

If you are looking for a classic fairy tale with a wintery feel, this is your perfect story.

What books do you read when it's freezing outside?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Runaway Dragon

Happy February everyone!

Today I'm going to review The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs, a sequel to The Runaway Princess. Now, it's a fact universally acknowledged that sequels sometimes fall short of their predecessors (maybe even most of the time - but that's a matter of opinion). Sequels run the risk of changing the characters' personalities too much, changing the mood from the first book. If an author writes a really wonderful book, we wish she would write a sequel so that we can get more of these wonderful characters and this wonderful world she's created; yet, when sequels are written, we hold them up to a magnifying glass and compare and contrast. It's a tricky line to toe.

Anyway, all of this to say that Coombs's sequel to The Runaway Princess was absolutely delightful. I was laughing out loud for a majority of the book (which was slightly embarrassing as I was reading it at work!). The characters were just as great as they were the first time around - and we get more of them too! My favorite character is Lex and I was very happy to see more of him in this book.

The story line picks up where the first one left off. Meg's been receiving all of those wonderful lessons she was promised, Cam has his own section of the garden, and Laddy is contentedly lodged with Cam's sister. Unfortunately. Meg really only enjoys a few of her new lessons, Cam's love for his gardens has strained the friendship a tad, and Laddy isn't quite content living on a farm. When Laddy flies away from home, Meg persuades her father to let her go on a quest to find him - and the adventure wouldn't be complete if all of her friends didn't join in! The quest is so much fun - there's an evil sorceress, a princess named Spinach who was trapped in a tower, a giant family, and a magical forest! I have to say that Coombs has done it again with this book... and when I say, "it," I mean another memorable, laugh-out-loud, adventure that breaks all of the rules! Coombs's rule-breaking brilliance is what made me so adore her first book and I was very pleased to see her back in full swing for the second one. I can't wait to read more! Maybe we'll be lucky enough to get a third adventure soon?

Any other sequels that you loved just as much as the original?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Thirteenth Child

Happy 2010, Readers! I hope you've had a wonderful holiday season and received many books as gifts. I was lucky enough to receive this marvelous read by the terrific Patricia Wrede and thought it would be a great book to kick off a new year of reviews.

The Thirteenth Child is about a girl, Eff, who has the misfortune of being the 13th child in the family. To make matters worse, her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, making him the luckiest one can magically be. In this alternate, mid-19th century America (called "Columbia"), one's birth order is monumentally important, particularly to Eff and Lan's relatives who have taken to tormenting poor Eff to the point of trying to get her arrested and jailed at the age of five. Eff's parents decide that it isn't good for either of them to grow up around so much prejudice and scrutiny and pack up the family and move west to the prairie very close to the Great Barrier that separates civilization from the untamed and treacherous Far West. As she grows up in this completely different environment, Eff discovers her own talent beyond what is expected of her and ends up being the only person who can save the rest of the magical world.

I have adored Ms. Wrede's books for a while but this book surpassed all others. Her world is so perfectly realized, so detailed and thought out, I was completely lost in it. I loved how she would mix history with fantasy - her wildness has steam dragons as well as buffalo, Benjamin Franklin and magician presidents. Although it is very heavily focused on magic, it has such a realness to it, it seemed more Little House on the Prairie than Harry Potter. She perfectly juggled the myriad of characters and I got a wonderful feel for their growth and development. Often I believe that sequels are unnecessary and take away from the first book but I hope so much that Ms. Wrede writes many books in this captivating world. I enjoyed this book cover to cover.

Any books where you got totally lost in the world? Where their setting felt as real as your own?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Howl's Moving Castle

Hello everybody! Long time, no see! Actually, in my case, it's a bit of case of never-seen. You see, this is my sister's blog and she cordially invited me to join in the fun! I think I should preface this review with a loving nod to my sister's flawless taste in books. Practically everything I've read was recommended by her (often on this blog!). She's been recommending books to me for a while now but I rather think that this one, Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, can be seen as the first in a long line of good recommendations. So, without further ado...

Howl's Moving Castle is about a young girl, Sophie, who is the oldest in her family and, therefore, believes she will inherit all of the misfortune. And when an insulting discussion with the Witch of the Waste results with Sophie's transformation into a 90-year-old woman, she believes she has merely received her lot in life. After this transformation, Sophie sets out to seek her fortune and rid herself of the spell. She journeys to the floating castle of the wizard Howl, strikes a bargain with his fire demon, and takes up permanent residence. And, as is customary in Diana Wynne Jones's books, hilarity and charm ensue.

Upon reading this book, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites and Jones instantly became a favorite author. I love her humor and her characters are simply delightful. Sophie's confidence and wry humor are disarmingly fun in a main character. The vain and wacky Howl is hilarious, frustrating, and charming all at once. I only added this book to my private collection three years ago and the binder is already well bent with multiple re-readings!