1926 Newbery Medal: Shen of the Sea

Shen of the Sea, by Arthur Bowie Chrisman, was published in 1925 by Dutton.

A series of fascinating Chinese stories with the character of folk and wonder tales in which the author has caught admirably the spirit of Chinese life and thought. Not only are the tales amusing and appealing in themselves, but hidden beneath their surface is the wise and practical philosophy that has influenced Chinese life for thousands of years.

Rating: 4/5

Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children is a delightful little book of folk tales, something that I think Tales from Silver Lands tried to be and failed. Each folk tale embodies its own humor and cleverness—none of them are straightforward or predictable. There’s some sort of moral attached to each one, but not in any obtrusive way as in Aesop’s Fables.

Shen of the Sea brings a lightheartedness to these early Newbery Medals that has been absent since The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle. The folk tales are simple, but not simplistic, and the language, though crowded with Chinese terms and names, is easy to understand and fits well with the nature of the book. Though I found the characters of each tale tended to blur together, their actions and the plot of each tale did not, allowing for memorable moments from each one.

I enjoy books like these, and this one reminded me of a story I read when I was little, in some sort of story collection, that was similar in style (all I remember is that it was about 7 Chinese brothers who were identical and each had a special ability that they used to save one of their brother’s skin). Though I’m not ranking the Newbery Medals, Shen of the Sea is my second favorite of the 1920s batch I’ve read so far, behind Doctor Doolittle. Let’s hope the 1929 Medal winner will follow in Shen’s footsteps.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Children’s

Who will say that Ah Mee was disobedient? He had been told not to throw his toy dragon through the window. But had his father, Ching Chi, told him not to heave a block through the door? Not at all. Ching Chi had said nothing about blocks, and he had pointed his finger at the window. Nevertheless, Mr. Ching felt almost inclined to scold his son. He said, very sternly, “Ah Mee…”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2rSPKPV

Fairy Tale Friday: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2007 by Bloomsbury.

When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despise, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, the other decidedly less so—the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.

Rating: 5/5

Based off of the little-known Grimm’s fairy tale “Maid Maleen,” Book of a Thousand Days is an engaging, beautiful read of a girl who has to hold herself and her mistress together as they are imprisoned in a tower and then forced into hiding in another country. Dashti is the heart and soul of the book, a female protagonist who is not overtly strong or rebellious against societal conventions, but quietly steadfast and persistent and brave. She’s clever and witty, but not overly outspoken, and she’s basically everything I want in a female protagonist.

Simply put, I devoured this book and its lovely romance. I liked that even though Dashti is the narrator, there are still things the reader will catch onto before she does, such as the nature of Saren’s relationship with Tegus and even, perhaps, the secret of Lord Khasar. I liked that Saren, as annoying as she could get, was at least understandable, in a way, and that she develops, too, and becomes less of an obstacle that Dashti must endure and more of a character.

Book of a Thousand Days is lovely, an adaptation of a fairy tale I’d never heard of (though Hale states she wasn’t particularly true to the original) that is simple, yet engaging all the same. I liked the sweet moments scattered between all the tense and unsure moments; the book has a very good balance of low and high points. This book has redeemed Hale in my eyes a bit after the disappointing sequels to Princess Academy.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Young Adult

My lady removed her hand and started to pace and fret and rub her head. She looked as if she’d like to run away, had there been anywhere to run. My poor lady.

“Say you are me.”

“What?” But why, my lady?”

“You are my maid, Dashti,” she said, and though she still shook like a rabbit, her voice was hard and full of the knowledge that she’s gentry. “It is my right to have my maid speak for me. I don’t’ like to speak to someone directly. What if it isn’t really him? What if he means us harm?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2qBiM6s

Fairy Tale Friday: Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella, by Megan Morrison, was published in 2016 by Arthur A. Levine. It is the sequel to Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel.

Ella Coach has one wish: revolution. Her mother died working in a sweatshop, and Ella wants every laborer in the blue kingdom to receive fairer treatment. But to make that happen, she’ll need some high-level support. Prince Dash Charming has one wish: evolution. The Charming Curse forced generations of Charming men to lie, cheat, and break hearts—but with the witch Envearia’s death, the curse has ended. Now Dash wants to be a better person, but he doesn’t know where to start. Serge can grant any wish—and has: As an executive fairy godfather, he’s catered to the wildest whims of spoiled brats from the richest, most entitled families in Blue. But now a new name has come up on his list, someone nobody’s ever heard of…Ella Coach. This is the story of three people who want something better, and who work together to change their worlds.

Rating: 2/5

Grounded was one of my favorite adaptations of the Rapunzel fairytale I’ve read, so I was excited to read Morrison’s latest work, this time taking on Cinderella’s fairytale—or so I thought. Instead, what I got was a preachy, “all rich people are evil” narrative without the faintest trace of Cinderella except for the main character’s name.

I mean, it was a good cause Ella was yelling about for the entire book, but it was the complete over-the-top descriptions and the numerous speeches (literally) that made it feel more like a pamphlet on fair labor laws and trade than a fairytale retelling. It was also completely devoid of almost everything from the Cinderella fairytale, except for miniscule aspects such as her stepmother and stepsisters. I get that Morrison is trying to be original here, but why even bother masking this as a retelling of Cinderella when it’s not? It would have been better to introduce it as an original story set in Morrison’s fairytale world.

Also, I think I would have been a little more sympathetic towards Ella if she had stopped acting like only she knew what the laborers were going through and that only she stood for what’s Good and Right in the world (not helped by the author painting every rich person as selfish, cruel, and completely devoid of compassion). Luckily, at least a few of the characters point this out to her, and by the end of the book she’s slightly better in terms of her overall attitude.

So, Disenchanted, while having an interesting world with several clever fairy tale elements woven into it, is far from a good Cinderella reimagining. I could barely recognize the original fairytale in the plot and world Morrison created. That’s not a bad thing that Morrison expanded on the world she built, but it would have been far better not to attach the Cinderella name to it at all. As a world with fairytale references, Disenchanted is clever and fun. As a Cinderella retelling, Disenchanted is irritating, preachy, and unrecognizable as such.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

“Don’t tell on me,” he begged. “Please. I can explain.”

“You stole Ella’s contract. What were you thinking, Jasper?”

“The same thing you were thinking!”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“You thought it was wrong to ignore a child just because she couldn’t pay,” said Jasper. “You proved it by letting me come here, didn’t you?” His breath came fast. “We should do this together. We should help Ella.”

“Presumptuous.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2mWwpHA

Fairy Tale Friday: Frogged

Frogged is written by Vivian Vande Velde. It was published in 2013 by Harcourt.

A princess ought to be as good as she is beautiful.” So says The Art of Being a Princess, which Princess Imogene is supposed to be reading. But since she is neither particularly good nor all that beautiful, she skips her homework to visit the pond. There she meets a talking frog who claims to be a prince under a witch’s spell. Imogene kindly kisses him to remove the spell—and gets turned into a frog herself! Now the only way for the princess to un-frog herself is to convince someone else to kiss her. But before she can figure out a plan, Imogene gets kidnapped and becomes the unwilling star attraction in a third-rate traveling theater company. Can she find a way to undo the witch’s spell—or will she be frogged forever?

Frogged is Vande Velde’s take on the “Frog Princess” fairy tale (where the princess who kisses the frog gets turned into a frog herself), but she does it by circumventing everything about the fairy tale and adding a twist to the spell. It’s a refreshing read, but it’s also amazingly funny mostly due to Imogene.

Imogene, for being only twelve, has fantastic snark. She gets into full-form during her travels with the theater company, and what takes the cake is that she’s a frog, so just picture a frog making a sarcastic comment and you get 80% of what Imogene does while with the traveling theater. She also becomes a crow and flies around and discusses the finer points of poetry with Ned, the leader of the company.

As I said, Vande Velde subverts a lot of this fairy tale, so that nothing is as it seems: not the “frog prince,” or the story he gives, or the spell, or the witch, or Imogene’s route out of froggery. I’m glad that she doesn’t play it straight, since Frogged has a lot more charm and memorable moments attached to it than E. D. Baker’s The Frog Princess (the “princess gets turned into a frog” fairy tale played straight). And it gives a nice, fresh perspective to the fairy tale, which is always appreciated.

One thing that bothered me slightly was that China, Africa, etc. were mentioned but to all intents and purposes the kingdom Imogene’s parent’s rule has no resemblance to any country on Earth, so in that respect the worldbuilding is rather poor if Vande Velde just created this made-up kingdom and squashed it in the world somewhere.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“I heard of parrots, Bertie. This is not that backwards of a place. But this is a frog, Bertie, not a bird.”

Bertie proved he was not the sort to ever back down from a debate. “I’m getting to that, my sweet. So in high society there’s always one duchess who wants to out-fashion another, and the very newest thing is to have a speaking frog from remotest China.”

“I thought you said it was an African speaking frog.”

“No, the parrots are from Africa; the frogs are from China.”

“You said Africa.”

Bertie considered. “Yes, my treasure, but the Chinese part of Africa.”

Imogene cut into the bickering. “Excuse me for interrupting,” she said, “but actually I’m from here. You see, I’m Princess Imogene, and—”

Luella asked Bertie, “If it’s a Chinese speaking frog, then how come I can understand what it’s saying? How come it don’t speak Chinese?”

Overall Review:

Frogged is delightful, an unique, fresh look at the “Frog Princess” fairy tale where Vande Velde doesn’t play by the rules and happily twists everything around while Imogene snarks from her bucket. The worldbuilding is confusing and a little sloppy, in my opinion, but the tale itself is wonderful.

You can buy this here: Frogged

Fairy Tale Friday: Scarlet

Scarlet is written by Marissa Meyer. It was published in 2013 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Cinder.

Summary/Blurb:

“Cinder, the cyborg mechanic…is trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information about her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

What I Liked:

Once again, Meyer melds science fiction and fairytale wonderfully together. I loved the little nods to the original fairytale, like the fact that Scarlet wears a red hoodie. I especially loved the “My, what big teeth you have” moment and the fact that Wolf, despite being called Wolf, is actually the Woodsman of the fairytale (although, yeah, he’s also the wolf).

I said about Cinder that I thought it would have been better as a stand-alone, but I don’t see that about Scarlet. It needed that larger plot that was started in Cinder to make sense as a whole. I did enjoy how Meyer tied the two stories (or the two characters, really) together. Having fairytale characters join forces is always fun.

Part of this book was in Cinder’s POV, and I must say, I was a little irritated with her choices. I thought Scarlet was spot-on when she blamed Cinder. The moment Cinder decided to go off and do her own thing rather than focus on doing her duty and try to stop Levana was aggravating, but at least she comes around in the end. Too bad that it took mass murder for her to realize it, though.

While I think Wolf and Scarlet as a couple are cute, I didn’t particularly like their romance plot in the book. It was too generic. I did, however, love the twist with Wolf and his “gang” and the fact that he wasn’t such a perfect guy at first, after all. I also liked how Scarlet is actually a bit of a weak character. Everything that should scare her, does. Everything that should make her weak, does. She’s not helpless, by any means, but she’s also not particularly awesome. And that’s fine with me.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“L…S…” He shook his head. “I can’t remember. There was more.”

Her mouth ran dry, hatred overtaking the dizziness. She knew that tattoo.

He’d pretended to be kind. Pretended he only needed honest work.

When—days? hours?—before, he’d tortured her father. Kept her grandmother prisoner.

And she’d almost trusted him. The tomato, the carrots…she’d thought she was helping him. Stars above, she’d flirted with him, and all the while, he knew. She recalled those moments of peculiar amusement, the glint in his eyes, and her stomach twisted. He’d been laughing at her.

~Meyer 48

Thorne dismissed the news channel. “Did you know that Michelle Benoit has a teenage granddaughter?”

“No,” said Cinder, bored.

“Well, she does. Miss Scarlet Benoit. Supposedly she just turned eighteen, but—brace yourself—she doesn’t have any hospital records. Get it? Holy spades, I’m a genius.”

Cinder scowled. “I don’t get it.”

Tilting back, Thorne peered at her upside down. “She doesn’t have any hospital records.”

~Meyer 256

Overall Review:

Scarlet continues that wonderful science fiction/fairytale mash-up that I loved in Cinder, with some more clever adaptations to fit the setting done by Meyer. I did like Cinder a little bit more, but only because Cinder was annoying in this one, and Scarlet and Wolf’s romance was a bit too cliché to be enjoyable. But coming up next is Rapunzel and I am excited.

You can buy this here: Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, Book 2)

Fairy Tale Friday: The Wide-Awake Princess

I love fairy tales, and I love fairy tale adaptations. I’ve read so many that I’ve decided to make them their own special blog day!

The Wide-Awake Princess is written by E. D. Baker. It was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury. Baker’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“When Princess Gwen (otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty) pricks her finger and sends herself and the whole castle to sleep for one hundred years, only her younger sister, Annie, is left awake. And only Annie—blessed (and cursed) with being resistant to magic—can venture beyond the rose-covered hedge to get help. She must find Gwen’s true love to kiss her awake.

But what about the one hundred years? And who is Gwen’s true love? Her irritating suitor, Digby? The happy-go-lucky prince Andreas, who is holding a contest to find his bride? The conniving Clarence, whose evil motives couldn’t possibly spell true love?

Joined by Liam, one of her father’s guards, Annie travels through a fairy-tale land populated with characters both familiar and new as she tries to find the prince to rescue her sister…and perhaps even discover a true love of her own.”

Thoughts:

A great, unique twist on a classic fairy tale! More than one, actually. All the fairy tale characters we met in this book had a different spin, such as the witch from Hansel and Gretel being forgetful and writing down instructions on how to cook children on candy hearts and sticking them to her walls. Even the story of Sleeping Beauty was different in execution and, of course, in resolution.

Annie was one of those “rebellious princesses” (and by “rebellious” I mean “not wanting to conform to princess rules”) but I actually quite liked the trope this time because Baker executed exactly the way it should be executed, in my opinion. Annie wasn’t rebellious for no apparent reason as many of the trope are. She wanted to do everything her sister didn’t do; thus, she could read, ride horses, etc. That’s a much better way to portray that trope then the standard.

I loved how Annie just went out and got every single prince to come kiss her sister, and I love how, after the successful one woke her up, Gwen freaked out and then, when Annie said, “He’s your true love!” she immediately switched to the prince being the love of her life. Actually, it’s a great illustration of how everyone in the kingdom is silly (because of the magic?) to some degree, and Annie is the only non-silly one (besides Liam) and thus can get stuff done that others can’t.

Oh, Liam, why couldn’t you have stayed a soldier? Why did you have to conveniently be a prince the entire time? (Well, okay, this is a fairy tale…)

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

Gwendolyn turned the tree around, revealing another, smaller key at the base of the egg. Beaming with delight, she wound the key, which made the egg spin and play a merry tune that soon had the ladies tapping their feet. This time when it stopped, the sides split in quarters, revealing a tiny object covered with precious gems.

“What is it?” said Gwendolyn.

The sides of the egg continued to lower. When they were down all the way, the object tilted to one side and tumbled out of the egg.

Gwendolyn’s hand shot out and caught the object before it hit the floor. “I have it! Look! It’s lovely. What do you think it is? Oh!” she exclaimed, looking at her hand in dismay.

“No, it can’t be!” cried the queen.

~Baker 24-25

Andreas frowned. “If you didn’t want to marry me, you shouldn’t have entered the contest.”

“It isn’t that I wouldn’t like to marry you, but my sister, Gwendolyn—”

“Princess Gwendolyn? Isn’t she supposed to be the most beautiful princess in all the kingdoms?”

“I understand how angry you must be with me, but Gwennie needs you and—”

“All she needs is one kiss? Then what happens, I mean, after I kiss her and she wakes up?”

“Why, it would mean that you were her true love, so I suppose you would get married and—”

I would marry Princess Gwendolyn? The most beautiful princess in all the kingdoms?”

“Yes, and I know that wasn’t what you had in mind, but—”

“No, no! I’d be happy to help. When do we leave?”

~Baker 127

Overall Review:

A great twist on a popular fairy-tale, with tons of fun moments and an awesome princess who can scare even the most dangerous fairies just by threatening to move in with them. The only damper was Liam, who was cute but a convenient prince.

You can buy this here: The Wide-Awake Princess

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland And Cut The Moon In Two: Sadly Disappointing

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is written by Catherynne M. Valente. It was published in 2013 by Feiwel and Friends. My reviews of the first two books in the Fairyland series can be found here and here. Valente’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I talked in my reviews of the first two books that September’s voice sounded really off to me. In this one, I feel that September finally grew into her voice. It was just right, finally.

I love the unique aspects of Fairyland that Valente has shown us in each book. It reminds me greatly of the Oz books, where L. Frank Baum did something similar with showing something new each book. I especially loved the Land of Photographs and the paper circus in the whelk shell.

The ending was pretty intense, although not as awesome as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland’s ending was. I’m intrigued as to how September is going to get out of this mess, and also profoundly glad that this cliffhanger was not in the second book, but in the third—a rare departure from the FSASCH formula (although Fairyland is not a trilogy, so maybe that explains it).

What I Didn’t Like:

Nitpicky: the title is a little misleading. I mean, September doesn’t actually cut the moon in two and actually has nothing to do with the “cutting in two” of the moon at all. But I guess The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Was a Passive Bystander to All That Went On There is not as catchy (before anyone complains, I’m being a bit hyperbolic. But really, September didn’t actually do much besides drive around).

I must admit, I found most of the book to be a bit…boring. The ending was better than the rest of it, but I think The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland set too high of a bar in terms of plot, and as a result the rest of the series just can’t stand up to that, in my opinion. I’m also disappointed in the lack of a solid villain, and the subsequent undermining of the villain once he appeared. It makes all the tension just fizzle out in the worst way. The best thing about the Marquess was that no one truly understood her or her past, and yet once she told September (i.e., when September “understood” her), she stayed the villain anyway. Ciderskin was even worse than September’s shadow in his “misunderstoodness.” I got to that part of the book and thought, “I just read 200 pages for this?” The ending made up for a little, but only a little.

Also, the fact that people continuously spoke in run-on sentences was a little annoying.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

September wriggled out from under the Blue Wind’s fingers, which prodded her forehead for further evidence of devilry. “But I’m not a criminal! I know all that sounds bad, but there were such good reasons for it all! What else could I have done? The Marquess was terribly cruel and my shadow would have driven all the magic out of Fairyland. And as for lying, the Green Wind told me to do it!”

The Blue Wind patted her shoulder convivially. “Oh, we all have such good reasons. It’s the reasons that make it sweet.”

“I am not a criminal,” September repeated, pulling away from the Win. “Just calling me one doesn’t make it so.”

“Well, of course you’re not a Criminal!” chuckled the Calcatrix. “Not yet. You’re not licensed to commit crimes! A fine place we’d be in if we let just anyone go about infringing and infracting!”


 

“Oh, forgive us, of course we don’t know you yet,” said the boy, whose long, tall body was covered in blocks of text, little birthmarks of fourteen lines each. He was made of sonnets, from head to toe. His hair was a flutter of motley ribbon marks. An intricate origami looked September in the eye, folded and smoothed and peaked into a friendly, narrow face.

“But we feel as though we do!” cried the girl, whose body was the warm, expensive gold of old letters, an elegant calligraphy covering every inch of her round, excited cheeks, her acrobat’s costume, her long, red, sealing-wax hair, the postmarks like freckles on her shoulders. September could make out a number of addresses and signatures, words like Dearest, Darling, Yours Foerever, Heart of My Heart: love letters, woven together to make a girl. “I’m Valentine,” she said, holding out her angular hand.

“I’m Pentameter,” said the sonnet boy.

Overall Review:

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland continues the great portrayal of Valente’s Fairyland, with new places to see that are equal parts Alice in Wonderland, Oz, and something new all together. However, I did find it a bit boring, and a little disappointing. The ending made up for it a little, but not quite. I would read The Girl Who Circumnavigated again, but not this one.

You can buy this here: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

East: It’s All In The Details

East is written by Edith Pattou. It was published in 2003 by Harcourt. It is a retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Pattou’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Rose is the youngest of seven children, meant to replace her dead sister.

Maybe because of that, she’s never really fit in. She’s always felt different, out of place, a restless wanderer in a family of homebodies. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with it—in exchange for health and prosperity for her ailing family—she readily agrees.

Rose travels on the bear’s broad back to a distant and empty castle, where she is nightly joined by a mysterious stranger. In discovering his identity, she loses her heart—and find her purpose—and realizes her journey as only just begun.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

This was a really interesting (and detailed!) retelling of a fairy tale. The background that Pattou gave was astounding, and she really expanded a lot on the original story. All the little details and customs she included were great. I liked the fact that she set it in Norway (or what is presumably supposed to be Norway) and gave places familiar names, but kept that slight tint of unfamiliarity so that the fantasy/magic part of it would feel more like a natural extension of the world and not something abrupt or placed there because she wanted to set the book in the current world. Do you get what I’m saying? Familiar, yet not familiar. The natural world, and yet not.

Cover Art

I loved Rose’s character development. I didn’t really like her in the beginning, but as soon as she got to the castle I could almost immediately see her change and it made me like her more, gradually, as she changed gradually.

I loved the fact that she wove. I feel like a lot of YA fantasies that feature heroines focus more on the fact that the heroine can sword fight, shoot bows, etc. like the men around her. This one, however, made her weaving the central “awesome trait” of the heroine, and it was really refreshing to read about. Heroines should be able to defeat the bad guy with their sewing skills as much as with any sword fighting they learned because they’re rebelling against propriety (Jessica Day George does this really well in Dragon Slippers).

What I Didn’t Like:

I didn’t really like the white bear poem-y sections. I don’t know if Pattou was trying to make them like poems, but they were similar enough that they sounded like poems, and bad poems at that.

The switch between PoVs was interesting, but not really all that necessary. I get why in the beginning, but towards the end there was really no point. It just interrupted the flow of the story.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

He gazed around the room, from one to the other of us. His eyes stayed longest on Rose. Then he turned to Father.

“If you will give me your youngest daughter…” The eerie huge voice echoed in the room. He spoke slowly, pausing between each word, as if the act of speaking was difficult, almost painful for him. “Then the one who lies near death will be made well again. And you will be no longer poor but wealthy, and will live in comfort and ease.”

The silence in the room was punctuated only by the sounds of the storm outside and an occasional crackle from the hearth fire.

~Pattou 72-73

“You were under a spell?”

“Yes. White bear by day; boy…then man…by night. I could not speak of it. The only way I could be released was for a maiden to live with me, of her own free will, for one year. And during that time she was not to gaze upon my human face.”

I heard a faint jingle of bells, though they registered only dimly, so lost was I in the damning words. “And now?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“I go with her. Forever.”

“Who? Who do you go with?”

He shook his head, hopelessness flooding his whole body.

“Can’t you tell me?”

“It does not matter. I know her only as Queen, and her land is far.”

“Where is it?” I asked, willing him to tell me.

He laughed suddenly, and I could hear the full-throated, grating sound of the white bear’s laughter in it. “East of the sun and west of the moon,” he said.

~Pattou 249

Overall Review:

East is a fairy tale retelling that really expands on the original by adding a lot of background, cultural details, and little things like that while still staying (somewhat) true to the original. Personally, I like Jessica Day George’s retelling better, but Pattou’s has really good worldbuilding and has its own original feel to it.

You can buy this book here: East

Coming Up Next: Ambush by Obert Skye

 

Just Ella: A Great Critique/Spoof of Fairy Tales Or Just Another Fairy Tale?

Just Ella is written by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It was published in 1999 by Aladdin. Haddix’s website can be found here.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“It’s a familiar story: in spite of the obstacles put in her way by her wicked stepmother, Ella goes to the ball, sweeps Prince Charming off his feet, and is chosen to be his bride. Now she’s comfortably ensconced in the palace, awaiting marriage to the man of her dreams. It’s happily ever after time, right?

Wrong! Life for Ella has become an endless round of lessons and restrictions; even worse, Prince Charming turns out to be more like Prince Boring. Why can’t she talk with him the way she can with Jed, her earnest young tutor?

Slowly, Ella comes to realize she doesn’t want the life she fought so hard to win. But breaking her engagement proves more difficult—and dangerous—than escaping her stepmother’s tyranny.”

~Back Cover

Passages/Quotes:

This wasn’t what I’d imagined at the ball, the stars wheeling above me as I danced with the prince. Truthfully, I didn’t imagine anything. Just being at the ball was beyond my wildest dreams. And then everything happened so fast—the prince seeking me for his bended-knee proposal, everyone making wedding plans, me returning to the castle to stay, for good. I remembered an old neighbor woman cackling as I rode by, astonished, in the prince’s carriage: “Now, there’s one who will live happily ever after.”

I was cold. I was lonely. I was engaged to be married in two short months to the most handsome man I’d ever seen—the prince of the land, the heir to the throne. But I had never felt so alone in all my life, not even shivering in rags in my garret the day they came to say my father was dead.

This was happiness?

~Haddix 9-10

“Of course I didn’t suffer too much sun,” I told Mary crankily. “What’s too much sun? I barely saw a single ray of sunshine. It was that stupid dress. I couldn’t breathe. Why would anyone wear that torture device?”

Mary patted my hand.

“But you looked so beautiful in it, Your Highness. I saw you across the field…”

I snorted. “Oh, beauty. What’s that good for?”

Mary stared, her eyes round.

“It won you the prince, did it not?”

I snorted again. I seemed to be trying to do everything I could to annoy Madame Bisset, even though she wasn’t there.

“I prefer to think he was captivated by my charming personality.” I giggled to let Mary know I was trying to make fun of myself. But Mary only looked away.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing, Princess.” Mary patted my hand again. “I should leave and let you rest.”

“But I’ve been resting all day. I’m full of rest. I’m sick of it.” I shoved back the covers and sprang from the bed. I hopped up and down on the cold floor. “I want to do something. Jump. Dance. Run. Live.”

~Haddix 105-106

Cover Art

Warnings: None.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

Ah, Margaret Peterson Haddix. She and Caroline B. Cooney (and Diana Wynne Jones) were the authors I devoured during my high school years (apparently I have a thing for authors with three names). Haddix does suspense/thriller/mystery often and well, so I actually had forgotten she had written a book like this until I saw it on the shelf.

I found it humorous how Haddix poked fun at fairy tales in this book, because even though Just Ella is a continuation of a fairy tale, it’s not actually a fairy tale. Haddix challenges people’s perceptions of and reactions to fairy tales through Ella’s character. It’s an attempt to show that sometimes happy-ever-afters aren’t how they appear to be, and that they can be hard to gain. It shows that sometimes people can be blinded and dazzled by something, and it’s not until afterward that they realize that they were wrong. It shows that happiness isn’t something that is constant or easy to gain. At the end, Ella sees that there will not be endless happiness in her future—but she is happy with her life, anyway.

Haddix

What I Didn’t Like:

Haddix gets a little heavy-handed with Ella’s circumstances. Yes, we get it. Her “happily-ever-after” with Prince Charming is not at all what she thought it would be. Yes, we get that the palace is restricting to the point where there is no free will or original thought (yeah, right).

To me, it seemed that Ella went from one extreme to the other. She went from Charming, who is boring and ultimately coldly cruel and is only marrying her because of her beauty, to Jed, who is perfectly understanding, who perfectly says that he will wait, he will let her become a doctor, that he loves her because of her personality and not just her looks. Jed is so perfect that he is almost a parody himself, just like Charming is. Yes, Haddix tries to make him not so perfect, but then ultimately makes him even more perfect by the end. I think that Haddix’s attempt to make things seem realistic just made things appear unrealistic. Charming is unrealistic, Jed is unrealistic, at times Ella herself is unrealistic (she is perfectly rebellious against the perfectly bad restrictions of the castle). It’s hard to take things as seriously as Haddix wants us to take them, because in her attempts to display the “real” results of fairy-tale thinking, she makes her own story a fairy tale.

Overall Review:

Just Ella has some good things to say about happiness while it gently pokes fun at fairy tales. However, Haddix often resorts into fairy-tale territory herself by overemphasizing the restrictions of the castle and by making Jed into a type of perfect Prince Charming, just as the Prince Charming in the novel is so uncharming. It’s hard to figure out just what Haddix is trying to say about fairy tales when she gets so fairy tale-y herself (or maybe that’s the point?).

You can buy the book here: Just Ella (The Palace Chronicles)

Coming Up Next: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making: I Haven’t Liked A Villain So Much Since Rumplestiltskin

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (boy, is that a mouthful) is written by Catherynne M. Valente. It was published in 2011 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the first in a series. Valente’s website can be found here.

Minor spoilers.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Fairy Tale

Summary/Blurb:

“September is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

“I am the Honorable Wyvern A-Through-L, small fey. I would say, ‘at your service,’ but that’s rather fussy, and I’m not, you see, so it would be inaccurate.”

“That’s a very funny name for…”—September consider her words—“such a fine beast,” she finished.

“It’s a family name,” A-Through-L said loftily, scratching behind one horn. “My father was a Library. So properly speaking, I am a Lyvern, or…a Libern? A Wyverary? I am still trying to find the best term.”

~Valente 41

A tiny brown creature stood at her feet, barely a finger high. She was brownn all over, the color of a nut-husk. Only her lips were red. Her hair was long, covering most of her body like bark. She seemed very young. She wore a smart acorn cap.

“She’s just for show,” breathed the wee thing.

“Who are you?”

“I am Death,” said the creature. “I thought that was obvious.”

“But you’re so small!”

“Only because you are small. You are young and far from your Death, September, so I seem as anything would seem if you saw it from a long way off—very small, very harmless. But I am always closer than I appear. As you grow, I shall grow with you, until at the end, I shall loom huge and dark over your bed, and you will shut your eyes so as not to see me.”

~Valente 148

Cover Art (Also, the illustrations in this book are wonderful)

Warnings: A little bit of violence in the way of blood, but not a lot.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

This book (and its sequels) have been reviewed a lot by bloggers like myself, so now it’s my turn. It reminded me a lot of both Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, a sort of strange hybrid of the two with a dash of Lemony Snicket.

I loved the Fairyland in this book. Wonderful worldbuilding, wonderful descriptions of people and places. The rules and the mechanics were so beautifully interwoven into the story. I’m hoping that in each book in the series we get to see something new, much like Frank Baum’s Oz series.

I have to admit, one of the things that made me love this book so much was the twist at the end. My mouth literally fell open. I was not expecting it at all, and it just made me love the book even more because, for once, I was actually surprised by a plot! The Marquess is quite possibly the best villain of any children’s book, ever. Children’s villains tend to be rather flat and slightly goofy, but this is as dynamic a villain as any novel for older readers.

September on the back of the Leopard of Little Breezes

Also, the heck was up with the girl at the end? Why was she there and how did she get there? I mean, unless it’s the whole marid thing, so she can be there before she actually exists (also, do we see that happen or do these books only take place when September is young? I suppose this was Valente’s way of saying what the future will bring without actually having to show it).

I feel like this is a book you have to read several times just to see what Valente is saying about certain things, because this is clearly just as much a book for adults as it is for children.

I loved the language and the capitalization of certain things, and…well, this was just a great book.

What I Didn’t Like:

I’m not quite sure how I feel about September. I liked her, but…she was sort of the typical “girl who goes to Fairyland” character. Maybe that was the point, since the story is already so familiar to us. I found her just a little too perfect and polite, but that’s just me.

Overall Review:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland… is a book that’s not just for children (clearly, since I read it and enjoyed it). The worldbuilding and introduction of new elements is wonderful. September’s journey is a bit typical, but the villain is fantastic and the reveal at the end was so wonderfully not-expected. A great beginning to a series that I am looking forward to reading!

Coming Up Next: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde