Category Archives: Fairy Tale/Mythology

11) Stars Above

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.20.17

Stars Above

Stars Above is a collection of short stories written within the world of The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, and Fairest). Some stories were previously published in the paperbacks and on Meyer’s website so I’d read at least a third of them before. For the most part, I enjoyed these better in the context of the collection than when I read them as stand-alones.

As with any set of short stories, some are more captivating than others. I most enjoyed The Keeper where we get to see Michelle Benoit take in both a fugitive and a runaway (it may be a little too spoilery to use names), After Sunshine Passes By which shows Cress’s childhood, and The Mechanic which gives us Kai’s perspective of the first time he and Cinder met. One of the teasers for the book was that it included a wedding. I very intentionally kept myself from knowing which couple got married beforehand. While I liked the plot for that story, I didn’t love the POV choice, so unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype.

On the whole, it was nice to return to a world I love and to hang out with this pretty great cast again. Naturally, I laughed out loud at everything Thorne said. Obviously, Cress and Thorne did not get enough page time (either individually or together). It’s not a must-read but it is a friendly read.

At the end of the day: For me

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09) Spindle

By: Shonna Slayton

Date Finished: 02.18.17

11. Spindle

Spindle. What a lovely and thoughtful story. This Sleeping Beauty-inspired tale is set in a spinning mill in the late 1800s. It’s a concept that is brilliant in it’s simplicity; of course the world needs to see how Sleeping Beauty would navigate a room that contains hundreds of spindles.

Like Cinderella’s Dress, this is a continuation of the fairy tale rather than a strict adaptation.  There are several parallels to the original while remaining plausible in the historical context. Slayton weaves the two constructs together so well they become nearly inseparable. Naturally, we can pick at the threads in our world but the fabric of Slayton’s universe is tight and strong. Certain historical events very believably become the work of fairy magic. Meanwhile, this Briar Rose is a sixteen year old orphan with three younger siblings to care for. Mill conditions are pretty much Dickensian at the time and Briar is desperate to keep her siblings away from the workhouses – not exactly a charmed life.

Briar has a devil and an angel on her shoulder in the form of her two roommates, Ethel and Mim. Ethel is an unabashed feminist campaigning for voting rights and temperance. Mim is more invested in fashion and catching the eye of a rich suitor. They are both supportive of Briar’s efforts to keep her family together even though they have wildly different approaches. (I’ll let you decide which is the devil and which is the angel.) On the whole, the relationship between the three of them is complex and very realistic. The rest of the cast is equally well-rounded and give Briar a lot to play off of — for better or for worse. (Just forget that jerk Wheeler already!)

The setting, these relationships, they make Briar a fighter from the beginning. She’s doing the best she can with the options available and though magic turns her life upside down, Briar is always after one thing: protection for her family. Her course of action changes multiple times but her objective and her resolve never wavers. It’s an interesting thing to see in contrast to the Disney tale of a mostly passive Sleeping Beauty. I’m grateful that Slayton took the opportunity to give this Sleeping Beauty more agency than most.

As far as historical fiction fairy tale adaptations go, this one fits as perfectly as Cinderella’s magic shoe. (Psst – Cinderella’s Shoes is another great Shonna Slayton book)

At the end of the day: Definitely for me

P.S. Spindle makes for an excellent salon read!

11. Spindle Salon

3) Fairest

Prequel to the Lunar Chronicles

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.09.15

by Marissa Meyer

Princess Levana has grown up in the shadow of her sadistic older sister, Channary, and is the constant target of Channary’s cruelty. A good-natured palace guard is the only person to show her any sort of kindness. Though he is married and devoted to his family, what could his courtesy mean if not love? Levana relentlessly pursues him, demanding the love she’s never known.

Fairest is part of the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress with Winter to be published later this year) that tells the backstory of the series’ evil queen. The previously published books contain a few chapters from Levana’s point of view, but this is all Levana all the time. The chapters in Scarlet and Cress sparked my interest and so I was ecstatic when Meyer announced that she would publish an entire book that told Levana’s story. I waited with bated breath for the volume that would show Levana as a misunderstood young soul before her transformation into power hungry evil queen. Which isn’t Fairest. Belatedly, I read in article in which Meyer explains that Fairest is meant to let the reader understand Levana’s journey and not necessarily to make her a sympathetic character. Mission accomplished.

It’s a bit of a harrowing read, truth be told. The book is a rather up close look into madness and brokenness. Levana’s experience of love has been so twisted that her expression of it is hostile and poisonous.  I want to believe that kind of abuse is exaggerated, but I know it’s a reality for too many people. And the entire book is spent inside a madwoman’s mind who believes she is completely justified, even wise. This is not your fluffy fairy tale or a cute twist on the classic villain. Levana is a seriously unsettling adversary, and she started young.

So where does Fairest fit into the rest of the Lunar Chronicles? Chronologically, it’s at the beginning, but I would recommend reading it after Cress as it was released. That way the surprises of the first three are still surprises and you have Winter to look forward to. And, hopefully, this story will make Winter even more satisfying. It’s the hardest of the series to read – not that it’s dull or plodding, rather it’s heartbreaking – but I’m glad Meyer was able to publish it. Levana is a major player in the Lunar Chronicles and her story set the entire series into motion. I very much look forward to re-reading the original three books armed with the information revealed in this book.

At the end of the day: For me (in context)

25) The Chaos of Stars

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 09.08.14

by Kiersten White

All I know about American high schools is what I’ve seen in movies, and I doubt it’s very accurate.  Too many spontaneous, choreographed dances for real life.  That or the American education system is seriously screwed up.

Isadora had an unconventional childhood – as the child of the Egyptian god Osiris and goddess Isis, she never expected her life to be normal, but she had believed it would be permanent.  She grew up blissfully unaware of what it means to be the mortal offspring of an immortal family: Fleeting, forgettable, replaceable.  When her understanding of her family is abruptly shattered, Isadora tries desperately to get away, and to save herself from a future pain by avoiding attachments altogether.  But as it turns out, immortals are difficult to escape.

Isadora fascinates me.  Had she been presented differently, I may have found her annoying.  As it is, White connects Isadora’s rebellion and conflict with her mother to a place of very real pain.  And even as Isadora tries to build a fortress around herself, she’s incapable of shutting others out entirely.  I think it helps that Isadora has a clear and tangible passion (interior design) and is given opportunities to use that passion throughout the story.  Being able to see her shine while in her element made me more sympathetic when she freaked out over other things.

There’s a lot going on in this book: a prologue that sets up Isadora’s internal conflict, the main storyline, dreams that simultaneously depict childhood memories and an ominous future, and recaps of the real Egyptian myths.  Everything’s formatted uniquely and has a distinct use of tense.  It felt like a lot to keep track of at first, but I quickly settled into the rhythm of the different sections.  For the most part, everything contributes to the story intrinsically.  Only the dreams became repetitive and I wonder if I needed to know quite so much about her childhood.  The Egyptian myths seemed a touch overkill initially, but ultimately, I loved them.  Each myth is compacted into two or three short paragraphs and ends with a beautifully snarky comment.   They were always good for a laugh and turned out to be a nice way to break up the chapters.

I had the opportunity to hear White speak shortly after I read the book.  She said that reactions to this one are heavily divided — people either really like it or can’t stand it.  I would recommend it, having enjoyed both the story and the experience of reading this book.  Now, pardon me while I read all things Kiersten White.

At the end of the day: For me

19) Cinderella’s Dress

By: Shonna Slayton

Date Finished: 06.08.14

by Shonna Slayton

As cowardly as running away seemed, it might have been the bravest thing she’d ever done.

Kate is caught in a rapidly changing world, navigating high school as the Second World War claims the services of both her father and brother.  Her mother is the ultimate stage mom, pushing auditions and model gigs on her when Kate has no desire to be onstage.  She’s drawn to the elaborate window displays at the department store where her mom works, and longs to help bring them to life.  Unfortunately, that is strictly a man’s work, and Kate must push her way through the smallest opening to participate.  The war also brings relatives from Poland to their door, seeking refuge.  They carry with them the dress belonging to the real Cinderella and need Kate’s help to keep it hidden from the descendants of the wicked stepsisters.

Cinderella’s Dress is the hot chocolate of fairy tale adaptations (or tea, if you’re more Britishly inclined).  It is sweet and soothing, but don’t forget to watch the temperature.  The history of the dress is not entirely peaceful, and a sense of danger permeates.  This adds heat to the lovely coming-of-age story.

I enjoy the time-span of the novel (It can be a little hard to track, but look for the letters – they’ll lead you through the major jumps).  The war is well-established at the time the book begins, and is an offscreen character, ravaging Eurpoe and Japan while Kate is safe in New York.  Even without bombs falling on Kate’s world, the war orchestrates the whole plot.  The Polish relatives only find Kate because they were driven out of their home country.  And with all the men leaving for military service, Kate is able to play a more active role in producing the window displays.  The war isn’t the whole story though, and the book explores the tension of the women having to give up their jobs for the men returning to work.  I would have loved to see even more of this conflict because it is a fascinating conundrum.

I’m also a fan of Kate as a leading lady.  Others push her, sometimes quite adamantly, in many separate directions as she’s trying to find her place in the world.  While she is intrigued by the dresses, he wants to make an informed decision about taking on the responsibility of taking care of it.  But she also makes some pretty poor and rash choices, particularly in things she says, which keeps her human.  I appreciate that aspect as well.

Strictly speaking, the plot is less of a fairy tale adaptation and more an extension of the Cinderella story.  However, there are some delightful hints at original tale in Kate’s life sprinkled throughout.  This is the perfect day-off read, so cozy up, and savor this story.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

Lately I have noticed a massive increase of typos in books.  With quicker editing processes, I’m afraid pandemic is here to stay.  Most of the typos I’ve seen are in books by established authors, including Stephen King – the Eye of the Dragon was riddled with them.  For the most part, the typos are obvious and don’t inhibit the plot too much – although a mid-chase scene chapter that opens with “Easter!” instead of “Faster!” will definitely take you out of the moment.

I haven’t mentioned this before because, well, I’m sure there are plenty of typos in this blog, and why bother calling attention to them when they’re obviously an oversight?  Unfortunately, Cinderella’s Dress suffers from a typo that doesn’t look like a typo, which is why I bring up the issue.  Slayton weaves Polish words throughout the book and you can tell they’re used deliberately.  Early on, the English word for ‘Cinderella’ is used when the character has only heard the Polish word at that point.  The rest of the book is extremely careful about when each language is used.  It is a mistake, yes, but no more intentional than the Faster/Easter mess up.  So, don’t despair at the typo.  Even Steven King is not immune!

At the end of the day: Really for me

16-18) The Lunar Chronicles

Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 05.16.14

Marissa Meyer

 

Cinder is a cyborg, which makes her both a second class citizen and the best mechanic in New Beijing.  Her skill as a mechanic leads to an encounter and ultimately a friendship with Prince Kai.  Scarlet is a feisty farm girl who will go to any lengths to rescue her kidnapped Grandmother.  If that means accepting help from a street fighter who goes by the name of Wolf, well, she doesn’t have much choice, does she?  “Captain” Carswell Thorne is in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time or… something.  It’s always hard to tell with him.  His credentials of Criminal Mastermind are dubious, but he has a ship and can sort of pilot it which makes him an ally of necessity to Cinder.  Cress has been a prisoner her entire life and kept in isolation for the past seven years, interacting only with the cruel mistress who locked her up.  She’s forced into service for the moon’s evil Queen Levana, but is completely enamored of Earth and its inhabitants.

I somehow heard about Cinder as it was nearing its debut and was interested until I heard the word cyborg.  At the time it was a little too weird, even for me, so I let it pass.  But over the years I have continued to hear only positive things about the series and decided it was time to give it a try.

Boy, oh boy, what I’d been missing.

This is a concept that has the potential to go very much awry.  But with an all-star cast and compelling story, Meyer makes it absolutely enthralling.  Each book is divided into four sections with a quote from the Grimms version of these fairy tales — the basic sum-up-this-story-in-four-sentences quotes.  They also serve as a teaser for what’s coming in ways both specific and abstract.  What makes the books work is that Meyer is not a stickler for the following the fairy tale.  The original is a framework around which a much bigger story is constructed.  BUT, she does hit even the most unlikely key elements of the originals in surprising and exhilarating ways.

I enjoyed Cinder and when Goodreads asked me for a rating, I lingered over the five-star button.  In the end, I chose four stars and would have placed it squarely in the paperback section of my own ratings system as well-crafted, but didn’t leave me breathless.  Not long into Scarlet I realized how much ground work had been quietly laid in the first book and the more I read, the more impressed I was with the whole story.  In Cress you see roots that trace all the way back to Cinder, some obvious and some forgotten.  By the time I finished Cress, my mind had been blown over and over.  It was beautiful.

Some things I loved in no particular order:

– Cinder actually had a good relationship with one of her stepsisters

– Some characters who seemed despicable when they were first introduced turned out to be quite well-intentioned.  Some who seemed like valuable allies turned out to be sketchy.  I’m still unsure about the loyalties of some.

– Angry Kai.  Too bad he’s supposed to be a diplomat because he is wonderful when he gets upset.

– The threat of an incurable epidemic

– The use of technology

The fact that each book picks up within a day after the previous one ended.  Genius.

– The character arc of Carswell Thorne.  All the character tracks really, but his is the most fascinating.

– The unique way Cress builds up her courage

– Scarlet’s determination

– The introduction of the fourth book’s title character, Winter.  Can it be 2015 already?  Please?

There’s more, so much more, but it’s a long enough post already.  I am an admitted fangirl, but, unlike other books, I can speak rationally about these, partially because there are so many juicy topics to discuss.  I could write a full dissertation on the use of touch or the power of perception because both play such a huge role in the books.  But I’ll save those for another outlet.  In the meantime, if you’re in the mood for some exquisitely crafted writing (and can afford to put your life on hold for a couple of days — you won’t want to put them down) get to a library, stat.  Or learn from my mistakes and just buy them up front.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really just exactly for me

 

15) The Game

By: Diana Wynne Jones

Re-read finished: 05.03.14

by Diana Wynne Jones

The only life Hayley has known is within the tight confines of her Grandmother’s rules and the gentle, but distracted care of her Grandfather.  Hayley has a spirit that yearn for adventures and when her imagination invades Grandmother’s boundaries, she gets shipped off to stay with her many aunts and cousins.  In the middle of a bustling family for the first time in her life, Hayley joins in their secret game played in Mythosphere, where all the stories that have ever been told converge.  The Mythosphere is a marvelous place, but it’s controlled by a tyrant that only Hayley can stop.

This one’s a novella, if you want to be technical, but there’s a complete and brilliant world packed inside.  It is perfectly delectable for its small size.  I came across it somewhat accidentally while I was casually familiarizing myself with Jones’ canon.  I loved it.  And when I read the appendix explaining who the characters represent in Greek mythology I loved it even more.  Every time I re-read this one I discover something new, even though I practically know it by heart now.  Jones does a genius job capturing the essence of these Greek characters (or just a particular aspect of their personality) and making them into people you might meet on the street.

There is a certain amount of magic involved given the existence of the Mythosphere and the ability to traverse it.  Still, the magic is almost underplayed — it’s just something that happens so why make a fuss?  Truly, this is one of the richest morsels of literature that’s out there and after all these years, I’m still head over heels in love.

14) Nameless: A Tale of Beauty and Madness

Book One of Tales of Beauty and Madness

By: Lili St. Crow

Date Finished: 04.28.14

by Lili St. Crow

She was found in the snow, battered and unable to speak, and adopted by one of the most powerful men in the city.  He named her after his dead wife, Camille, and raised her alongside his own son, Nico.  She finds safety with her adoptive family, but though her past is forgotten, it still terrorizes her.  Whatever had abused Cami as a child hovers in the shadows of her memory, calling out for her blood, until she is driven to find out the truth.

This book jumped out to me at the store.  Gorgeous cover.  Magnificent title.  I had to pick it up.  I read enough of the cover to see that it was a Snow White adaptation and I was completely hooked.  You may have noticed that I adore a good fairy tale adaptation, yet I’ve never read a full-length Snow White tale.  It took me a while to get my hands on a copy, so I was quite excited the night I settled in and started reading.  Then, the first line opens with, “Of all the cars in New Haven –” Sorry, what?  New Haven?  A fairy tale in New Haven?  And that’s when I realized that I had never actually read the description, rather I picked it up for the title and cover alone.

You see, I lived in New Haven, CT for nine months and it is definitely a city with character.  I understand why it would make a good backdrop for a book, I just didn’t expect it to be a “magic-ridden” place.  As I got further in the book, I began to suspect that she just liked the name and wasn’t alluding to the actual Connecticut city.  Even so, it remained a personal distraction throughout.

So ignoring my own connotations of New Haven, we’re left with a present-day, post-apocalyptic-esque, magic-is-everywhere-but-unstable, fairy tale featuring the mafia who are essentially vampires, but not exactly, other less defined creatures who are almost recognizable as traditional paranormal beings, and a child-sacrificing cannibalistic cult.  Yes, it is a tad confusing.  Also, a bit dark.

The vampires, known only as the Family, make up the Seven who more or less run the city.  Cami was adopted by the head of one of these Seven, so she basically has the full force of the mafia on her side.  She also has her best friends, Ellie (Cinderella) and Ruby (Red Riding Hood).  I knew there was a sequel for the Cinderella story, but I didn’t expect her to be so featured in this one.  I didn’t mind having her around, except that the Cinderella fairy tale was set up better than the Snow White one.  It’s all good and well to take liberties with a fairy tale adaptation, but elements of Cami’s story simply didn’t make sense while Ellie’s secondary story was painfully obvious.  Still, there were some fascinating dynamics at play among the characters.  And Cami has a stutter!  A fairy tale princess who isn’t perfect!  How cool is that?

It’s funny, I couldn’t put this book down, but even as I was reading I suspected it’s not that great writing.  I appreciated her attempts to build a new structure for her world and supernaturals, but not enough context clues were in place.  There was simply too much unrecognizable slang that wasn’t integrated into the plot.  She also included a lot of unnecessary words that made the book feel muddy.  Even so, I was captivated and couldn’t put it down until I knew where it was all heading.  Unfortunately, the last couple of chapters were kind of a let down.  It was set up pretty well, but we didn’t get the payoff.

So this book is either not terrible despite its strangeness or its strangeness masks the fact that its terrible — whatever the case, I’m glad I fulfilled my curiosity by reading it.

At the end of the day: Erm…a one time read, probably

4) Ella Enchanted

By: Gail Carson Levine

Re-read Finished: 02.02.14

by Gail Carson Levine

Ella is cursed.  The fairy meant well, but forced obedience is restricting at best and downright perilous at worst.  When her father remarries a horrible woman with two horrible daughters, Ella cannot save herself from becoming a slave in her own home.  And even if the prince should want to rescue her, accepting his help will only put the whole nation in danger.

I needed something simple and light after Code Name Verity.  It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, but it’s an old stand-by and definitely holds up over the years.  Looking back, I think this is the book that pulled me into the world of fairy tale adaptations and made this blog what it is today.  It is charming, sassy, quirky, and absolutely delightful (my summary above does not do it justice in the least).  Most pleasingly, it addresses that sticky love-at-first-sight issue with the Disney movie, allowing Ella and Prince Char to fall in love over the course of a year through a number of marvelous encounters and regular correspondence.  Well, done, madam author.  The book also gives Ella some serious spunk; she has a loving heart at the core, but refuses to be a puppet even with a curse that controls her will.

With a delightful heroine, a fantastic world, and a playful plot, Ella Enchanted is pure magic and, well, downright enchanting.

7-10) Percy Jackson and the Olympians

The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Curse of the Titan, The Battle of the Labyrinth, & The Last Olympian

By: Rick Riordan

Date Finished: 08.09.13

by Rick Riordan

“You deal with mythological stuff for a few years, you learn that paradises are usually the places where you get killed.” (The Battle of the Labyrinth)

“I love New York.  You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping along behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”
(The Last Olympian)

Percy Jackson isn’t a bad kid, but a combination of dyslexia, ADHD, and apparent bad luck has resulted in him getting kicked out of every school he’s attended.  His main goal is to survive sixth grade without getting ejected, but after an attempt on his life by a teacher that no one seems to recognize, he becomes understandably distracted.  The strangeness keeps increasing as Percy’s best friend manages to bring him to Camp Half-Blood, a summer training camp for demigods.  Percy finds out the Greek gods still exist, having followed Western civilization to New York City, and still do what they’ve always done — have affairs with mortals and produce a bunch of half-god offspring they can barely keep track of.  Not only did the gods survive, but the same monsters reappear to wreck new havoc.  As the son of a god, Percy is pulled into this world of gods and monsters that is invisible to mortals.  And it seems that trouble is stirring for Olympus with Percy, as usual, unintentionally in the middle of it.

This series is characterized by a beautiful sarcasm and self-awareness of the absurdity of the situations.  Especially in the beginning, Percy (and his friends) tend to win battles by sheer dumb luck and tenacity.  Their skills increase as the books progress and the challenges become more difficult, but Percy retains a endearing kind of cluelessness.  The amazing thing about this series is that even though Percy is the main character/first person narrator, it’s not really The Percy Show.  All the characters make unique contributions to the story and there are plenty of battles Percy would have lost without his friends.  There are a number of climactic and decisive victories that belong to other characters, even ones who are generally painted in a bad light.  It is refreshing to find a series that spreads the wealth so well.

Let’s talk about other things Rick Riordan does extremely right:

1) Each book features a different group of questers.  While there is a distinct trio of heroes, they are often separated.  Many times, there are rivalries among traveling companions, adding another layer of difficulty to the quest and increased curiosity in how things will develop.  Each book therefore explores a distinctly different dynamic and prevents the series from becoming repetitive.

2) Modernization of the Greek myths.  It’s possible to enjoy these books with only a minimal knowledge of the myths, although there is extra delight for those that recognize the stories.  There were a number of characters/scenarios that I wasn’t familiar with, but my ignorance didn’t hinder my understanding of the books.  And with the myths I knew well, it was thrilling to see how they were translated into the world we live in.  Riordan did an excellent job explaining his allusions in a way that was easy to understand, but didn’t inhibit the plot.

3) Chapter titles and similarly wry humor.  The first chapter of The Lightning Thief is called “In Which I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher.”  And they only get better.  Some of my favorites are “Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death,” “Everybody Hates Me but the Horse,” and “The Underworld Sends Me a Prank Call.”  (Okay, really I could go on forever).  Even in the midst of very real danger, Percy reacts with an undercutting humor that matches the brilliance of the chapter titles.  Take for example the first line of The Last Olympian: “The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the roof of my car.”  Lines like this are the rule, not the exception and keep the books from getting too heavy while the events become increasingly darker.

At the end of the day: Practically perfect in every way. 

(In case anyone noticed, I only counted this as four books because I had previously read The Lightning Thief.  Let it be known that there is logic in my miscalculation.)