Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Last year was a busy time work-wise. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been a bit quiet over here as I took some time off, but I think things will be better now that things have settled down for the new year and I‘ve had a breather. This is a long overdue review!

My copy of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm was provided to me for review from the publisher.

The Premise: The Grimm Brothers’ Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), which we know today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, is a collection of 210 stories first published in 1812. Now, 200 years later, Phillip Pullman retells a subset of these – 50 fairy tales which he calls “the cream” of the collection.

My Thoughts: Philip Pullman is known for His Dark Materials and other books (like the Sally Lockhart mysteries) so I thought that maybe his retelling of Grimm’s Fairy Tales would mean creative reinterpretations of the stories. I was a bit surprised, but also relieved, that these retellings are straightforward and keep the original stories intact. In his introduction, Pullman writes:

“[…] my main interest has always been in how the tales worked as stories. All I set out to do in this book was tell the best and most interesting of them, clearing out of the way anything that would prevent them from running freely. I didn’t want to put them in modern settings, or produce personal interpretations or compose poetic variations on the originals; I just wanted to produce a version that was as clear as water. “

So there you have it. Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm is exactly as the subtitle to this book, A New English Version, suggests: 50 stories told in a clear manner.  This makes it a little harder for me to review because these stories are true to the originals, and you can’t really review a classic fairy tale – they just are. So instead the focus of this review is going to be how they were presented. To tell you the truth, I found very little to complain about.

Pullman’s selections are good ones. He chose a lot of old and familiar stories, like Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel, but he also selects some that are less well-known like The Girl with No Hands and Hans-my-Hedgehog. There are also stories that I had personally never heard of at all, like The Singing Bone and The Donkey Cabbage. I also felt like there was some thought that went into where the stories were placed in the compilation, with stories that were of a similar sort of type grouped together, but not so much that you had too much of one kind of thing.  For example, some of the more pious stories were near one another, at least enough for me to see a theme, but they weren’t all in the same place, and The Juniper Tree was close enough to Snow White for me to notice the similarity of children with lips as red as blood and skin as white as snow, even if Pullman doesn’t really mention the link.

At the end of each of the stories, Pullman devotes a couple of paragraphs for notes and observations. This is probably my favorite thing about the collection. When I was growing up, I remember going to the library and reading a lot of fairy tales, but I approached them as a reader. Pullman does this too, commenting on whether a story works and his take on holes in the stories (like characters that were mentioned once and then we never find out what happened to them). I could completely relate to this, and had the same reaction to many of the things Pullman points out (it feels very good to be on the same page as Philip Pullman). But Pullman also approaches the stories from a more scholarly standpoint. From his notes, I could gather that he read the original editions of the Grimm books, as well as later ones, commenting on the translation of the German into English, and how a mother in an earlier version became a step-mother in a later one. He also prefaces each note with the ATU number of each of the stories, the source, and a list of similar stories. It was fascinating to learn some tidbits about these stories through those notes, and the people who passed these stories along to the Grimm’s. I was also a little fascinated by the glimpse of a system for cataloging these fairy tales (I’d never heard of ATU types before this).

Because of the shortness of the stories, reading is hardly a chore. Anytime I sat down with Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm I would gulp down several stories. This book is perfect for picking up whenever the mood strikes to sink into a story, knowing that you can also set it aside quickly after a story or two.

Here are some of the highlights for me in this collection:

The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage – A trio of unlikely friends live harmoniously together until one day the seed for discord is planted in their midst. This was equally hilarious (in most part due to the sausage) and horrifying. I greatly enjoyed Pullman’s notes where he informs the reader that the sausage was a bratwurst.

The Girl with No Hands – One of the stories where piety is rewarded, a miller makes a deal with the Devil where he signs away his daughter in the bargain. Because his daughter is so Good she escapes the trap and lives happily ever after.  My reaction to this story was that it is ridiculous. Pullman calls it “disgusting”, and his notes say, “The most repellent aspect is the cowardice of the miller, which goes quite unpunished. The tone of never-shaken piety is nauseating, and the restoration of the poor woman’s hands simply preposterous.” I agree. The mental image of a despondent girl eating fruit with no hands haunts me somewhat.

Strong Hans – This story starts off telling the tale of a woman and her son (Hans) being kidnapped by bandits, but then ends up being the tale of Hans, who grows up strong, sets out to have adventures and rescues a princess. It struck me as one of those odd stories that begins one way, starts to look like something else, then ends up a third thing entirely. Basically, I agreed with Pullman that this story was all over the place. Things were introduced but then never utilized, which feels typical of fairy tales, but even more so here.

The Juniper Tree – This is a lyrical story about an evil step-mother who does a macabre deed but in return is driven to the point of madness as she gets her just desserts. This story struck me as being particularly well-written, and because of this it was one of my favorites. Pullman notes that it was sent to the Grimm brothers by Philip Otto Runge. I loved The Fisherman and his Wife, which was also sent in by Runge and has a similar well-put-together story style. Again I found myself nodding along with Pullman’s notes where he says, “For beauty, for horror, for perfection of form, this story has no equal.”

The Three Snake Leaves – This one I liked for its weirdness. It has a princess who has a “strange obsession” – that if she dies before her husband, he must be willing to be buried alive with her. Except this princess turns out not to be as loyal as she wants her husband to be. This was a new-to-me story, and delightfully bizarre. Pullman makes an interesting observation about the number of pieces a snake is cut into in this story that I would have missed without his note.

Overall: This feels like the perfect gift book for someone who likes fairy tales. It is a well-curated subset of the Grimm’s stories, and the notes by Pullman at the end of each adds just the right amount of perspective. This felt like it would work equally well as a reference book for someone who collects fairy tales, or as an introduction to folk tales for a young reader. I enjoyed this collection a lot. It’s definitely going onto my keeper shelf.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library – “Reading Pullman’s retellings was like coming home to find the walls of my house repainted–fresh and bright and like new again, with the added bonus of some new rooms that I’d never been in before”
The Book Smugglers – 8 (truly excellent)

Other
Philip Pullman talks about Grimm Fairy Tales at Anglia Ruskin University @ Things Mean A Lot
Phillip Pullman reads The Magicians of Bremen

Giveaway: Fairytales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Fairytales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version (out since November 12th) is an enjoyable, straight retelling of 50 fairytales. There will be a review from me soon. In the meantime, the publisher has kindly offered a copy for one of the readers of this blog.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Fill out this google form with your name and an email address (please make it one you check often)
  • Enter by Sunday, November 25th.
  • This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I won an ARC of this book last year but didn’t get around to reading it until: a) I heard so many good things about it from my fellow readers, b) I heard Cat Valente speak at a NYPL event and, most importantly c) it was chosen by my readalong buddies Holly and Chachic.

The Premise: September is a twelve-year old girl, tired of the same thing at home while her father is away at war and her mother works in a factory. Then one day while she stands over the dishes, the Green Wind sweeps in through her window and asks her if she’d like to come away with him to the great sea that borders Fairyland. Of course she says yes, and pretty soon she is stepping through the closet between worlds in a green smoking jacket and meeting witches and a Wyvern. September would like to enjoy Fairyland, but ever since Good Queen Mallow disappeared and the Marquess took over all is not well.

My Thoughts: There are layers to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. On the surface, it’s a story of a girl who escapes her humdrum life and has lovely adventures in Fairyland. I think young children would enjoy the descriptions and the lush language (it has the sort of omnipresent narrative with dashes of whimsy and color that would be perfect for being read aloud, one short chapter at a time). On a deeper level, there’s poignancy and gems of insight in September’s adventure that makes this a book that will resonate with mature readers too.

The surface story reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but more of The Phantom Tollbooth (a book I grew up adoring), in which a bored boy is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom via magic tollbooth and has to rescue two princesses whose banishment has caused disharmony..  With Queen Mallow’s disappearance and her replacement by the Marquess, and the playful of storytelling and its characters, I saw a lot of parallels, but as I read further on, they fell away. The Girl Who is a lot more complex. The prose is full of lush vocabulary and description. Fairyland manages to be both a wonderful dream, but it also holds reminders of life’s realities.

So September is whisked away to Fairyland. As can be expected, it is a place of magic, with its own strange rules. September is flown there on a flying leopard with the Green Wind and has to put together a puzzle and get through immigrations in order to enter. Once there she meets three witches (one a wairwulf) who tell her that the Marquess has stolen their Spoon, which September offers to retrieve. Along the way, she meets a wyvern, A-Through-L, who is the son of a Library, and whose wings are all chained up on account of the Marquess’s new rules. Not liking this Marquess the more she hears about her, especially when compared to the Good Queen Mallow, September goes to Pandemonium (the capital of Fairyland) to meet her, and picks up another traveling companion – a boy named Saturday that grants wishes. That, in a nutshell, is the start of September’s adventures, but it doesn’t really describe the experience. Maybe this tidbit will help show you:

September let go a long-held breath. She stared into the roiling black-violet soup, thinking furiously. The trouble was, September didn’t know what sort of story she was in. Was it a merry one or a serious one? How ought she to act? If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end. But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies. Of course, we would like to tell her which. But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And, perhaps, we do not truly know which sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.

As you can see, the narration seems well aware of the traditional stories of children who go to have adventures, and September, a reader herself, is aware as well. There’s a consciousness that comes with the creative madness – as if the story is quite cognizant under its merry storytelling of all the other stories in which children are taken to Fairyland, and of all kinds of other things. This made me feel like I had to pay attention to the details so I wouldn’t miss anything. At the same time there was a lot of playfulness that comes out in the words and descriptions, and the setting itself is like another character. I think that feeling of having to pay attention while the story was also so lush in describing the wonder of Fairyland hurt my reading speed initially. I had to slow it down to a crawl so I could digest the story in manageable bites. Things hit their stride when the story, previously innocent and fairly light, took a turn for the more serious.

When I say it became more serious, I think it depends on the reader how things will affect them. It remains, as always, light on the surface. I can see children reading this and seeing a straightforward adventure that they could enjoy, and they may not wonder too much about things like whether September’s flight to Fairyland represents her escaping her own reality (in which her father is fighting in foreign lands and her mother works in a factory leaving September alone by herself), and whether the wyvern has created a father he can more easily accept than one that abandoned his family. When September begins to face the work of the Marquess, I saw a lot of underlying themes packaged in a fairly harmless manner. It’s Good (September) versus Evil (the Marquess), but look closer and there are shades of grey, commentary on childhood, fear, growing up, and death. All of these things aren’t in your face – just gently touched on so that you can contemplate them later at your own leisure, long after the pages are closed and that lovely ending has faded.

Overall: This is a fairytale that works for many ages. If you are looking for depth you will find it, but if you are looking for straightforward adventure, you will find that too. The writing itself is colorful and odd and really rich in substance. It’s the sort of writing you can read aloud, but not meant for fast flipping. I enjoyed the experience once I realized that this was one I had to consume at my own pace.

To see what my readalong buddies thought of this one, take a look at their reviews posted today: Chachic / Holly.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
A Room with Books – “a book that deserves to be read by anyone”
Calico Reaction (has spoilers) – 8 – Excellent and “an easy book to recommend to anyone who has a soft spot for classic fantasy literature, for stories where fairylands are equally magical and dangerous, for beautiful, imaginative prose and ideas”
The Book Smugglers – top 10 of 2011

Other Links

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While, short story prequel up on Tor.com

The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

This is a retelling of a lesser-known fairytale (Maid Maleen) that I have been meaning to get my hands on for some time. I finally found a copy while perusing a new used bookstore in Sedona, AZ (where the parents and in-laws live) and read it over the end of last year.
 
The Premise: Dashti is a mucker girl who gets a job as a lady’s maid on the very day that her lady is imprisoned in a tower for seven years. This is because Lady Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar, claiming a prior engagement with another nobleman – Khan Tegus. While Lady Saren’s father shouts and the other maids run away, Dashti vows to stay beside her lady. The two girls are holed up in a small tower, and Dashti begins a journal detailing their days. Both Lady Saren’s suitors come by: Lord Khasar to taunt and torment them, and Khan Tegus to speak, but Lady Saren commands Dashti to impersonate her with Khan Tegus. As months go by and turn into years,  the food supply dwindles and Lady Saren settles into a dark depression. Only Dashti’s no nonsense attitude and faith in her gods keeps her from losing all hope herself.
 
My Thoughts: This is a epistolary novel told through Dashti’s entries in her journal, which she names “The Book of A Thousand Days”. From the get go, Dashti proves to be a heroine familiar with having to persevere when times are tough. She is a mucker – used to a nomadic lifestyle that depends on things beyond human control. She’s weathered a few hardships before selling her last animal for a job in Lady Saren’s household.  When Lady Saren, a young girl like Dashti herself, is put in a tower by her own father, Dashti is the only servant willing to take care of her lady.
 

    My lady was squeezing my arm so tightly now, my fingers felt cold. One of her cheeks was pink from his slap, her brown eyes red from crying. She reminded me of a lamb just tumbled out, wet all over, unsure of her feet and suspicious of the sun.
She’d be alone in that tower, I thought, and I remembered our tent when Mama died, how the air seemed to have gone out of it, how the walls leaned in, like to bury me dead. When Mama left, what had been home became just a heap of sticks and felt. It’s not good being alone like that. Not good.
Besides, I’d sworn to serve my mistress. And now that her hair was fixed and her face washed, I saw just how lovely she was, the glory of the Ancestors shining through her. I felt certain that Lady Saren would never disobey her father lightly. Surely she had a wise and profound reason for stubbornness, one blessed by the Ancestors.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll stay with my lady.”
Then her father up and slapped me across my mouth. It almost made me laugh.

I liked Dashti a lot. Not only does she have skills for survival, but she also knows how to write and how to sing mucker healing songs. She’s self-sufficient, unlike her lady, who falls apart inside the tower. Dashti is the one looking at how much food they have and rationing it, worrying about the mice, cleaning, fetching water, and going about the day to day tasks of survival. Faced with a problem, Dashti doesn’t sit around – she does something. She’s just as worried as Lady Saren is that they may not survive, and yes, every so often she cries and despairs, but she picks herself up and carries on.

Day 528
Today I thought I would like to die, so I went into the cellar and smacked a few rats with the broom. It helped some.

As much as Dashti has skills that her lady does not, Dashti considers herself a servant and of a lower class than her lady. The class boundaries are very clear in her mind, and while others would think ill of Lady Saren for her uselessness in the tower, Dashti does not. Dashti believes in the gods and that the gentry have the mark of the Ancestors on them. It is Dashti’s job as a servant to obey and make her lady’s life easier. In many ways, Dashti’s unwavering belief make her something of an innocent, but I found her faith and heart endearing. It made her character very pure of heart, which fit well within the fairytale structure of this story.
 
When Lady Saren’s suitors pay them a visit at their tower, Dashti begins to realize why Saren refuses to marry Lord Khasar and prefers Khan Tegus. While Khan Tegus is likable, Lord Khasar is terrifying. Lord Khasar is a power hungry ruler who wants to take over all the Eight Realms. In this fairytale retelling, Lord Khasar is very clearly the bad guy while Khan Tegus is the Prince Charming of the tale, but the story puts a little twist to both the concepts. There is both a romance and a vanquishing in this story, and I don’t want to go into it and spoil anyone’s fun, but I have to say that both had me cheering.  I think that the structure of the story, as a series of journal entries, forces the narrative to sometimes focus on the mundane details over action, but I never found myself bored. Instead I was charmed by Dashti’s voice and her evolution from an ordinary lady’s maid into someone who could be the Hero of the story. I couldn’t predict what way the story was going to go, but I loved the way it unraveled.
 
I also loved that this story had a Mongolian influence. The Eight Realms and the Gods as Dashti knows them are clearly from Hale’s imagination, but the clothing, the animals and landscape, and many other details are very Asian.  There are also a lot of charming drawings that pepper the text which underline that these characters have Asian features. I really enjoyed reading a story that was so steeped in this sense of place.
 

 
Overall: This could be my favorite Shannon Hale story. I like a lot of Shannon Hale’s stories, but The Book of a Thousand Days had such an endearing heroine: a maid with a big heart who is determined to take care of her lady. It was heartwarming to see such a good character get her happy ending. This hit the right “fairytale” note while mixing in fantasy and Mongolian inspired story elements. I’m calling it a keeper.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Stephanie’s Written Word – positive
SFF Chat – positive
My Favourite Books – positive
need_tea – B
christina-reads – positive
temporaryworlds – 5 out of 5 stars

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder
Marissa Meyer
As a fairytale retelling with a cyborg Cinderella, and set in “New Beijing”, Cinderpromised to deliver a story containing some of my favorite themes. I’ve had high hopes for this one so when I saw a contest for an ARC, I made sure I signed up. This review is based on an ARC copy I won from the publisher.
 
The Premise: It’s now 126 T.E. and in the teeming city of New Beijing, Linh Cinder is a talented mechanic who works out of her stall at the Weekly Market. While she’s a teen-aged girl, not your typical store owner, she’s also a cyborg, and thus the property of her stepmother Adri,  who uses Cinder’s income to run the household and keep her two daughter’s Pearl and Peony in relative comfort. Adri has no love for Cinder, and the feeling is mutual. Cinder’s life is not easy, but even the limited peace she has is gone when the plague comes to her home. While things are at their lowest point with her step-family, Cinder finds herself entangled in international politics and in the life of Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth. Somehow this is all tied to her own past and the ruthless Lunarians poised to take over the planet.
 
Download the first 5 chapters in Kindle format here
Download the first 5 chapters in eBook (nook) format here
 
My Thoughts: This story starts off very well. It begins with Cinder at her usual stall in the market, a space that is obviously her own.  I loved the way Cinder’s skill as a mechanic and her ostracization as a cyborg are incorporated with the sights and sounds of the New Beijing marketplace. When Prince Kai arrives, incognito and carrying an android for Cinder to work on, he has no idea that Cinder is part machine. Cinder, faced with a cute boy that every girl in the city has a crush on, isn’t eager to reveal something that she’s vilified for on a constant basis. It was a great opening scene and the tension of secrets between the two characters added something to the whole meeting. Another great dose of drama is added when there is an outbreak of letumosis nearby, and the reader is made aware of this deadly and horrifying disease and how its victims are treated.
 
That was all on the first chapter. I was happy with just the thought of a story that contained Cinder, the prince, and letumosis, but the story becomes much larger in scope. Beyond Cinder and her step-family (whom we are introduced to soon after Cinder and the prince), are world-wide machinations. It isn’t long before Cinder’s world is upended and she is involved in a frantic see-saw between trying to save a loved one from letumosis and trips to the palace where she continues to run into Prince Kai and discovers surprising things about both herself and the Lunarians. All the while, Kai has his own problems. His father has the plague too, and the diabolically evil Queen Levana wants the seize power through marriage to an inexperienced young monarch.
 
I really liked Cinder’s character. She is a girl who doesn’t have many supporters but she makes the best of what she has. She knows how to fix things, she has a realistic attitude, and she’s rather scrappy when things go south. I adored all the little reminders of her cyborg status like readouts and her leg compartment that liberally peppered the story. Kai struck me as a generally nice guy trying to do the right thing under trying circumstances. There are brief sections of this book told from his point of view.  Overall, he’s not as well fleshed out as Cinder, but his frustration at his father’s sickness and the way the Lunarians are exploiting the situation is palpable.
 
There’s an obvious intent for there to be a romance between the two characters but the romance is not quite there yet. I had the impression that there was an instant like between Kai and Cinder, but that’s as far as it goes. With the weight of the world on their shoulders and with moments in each other’s company, it was a stretch to believe Kai would have any interest in Cinder being at his ball. Thankfully, the book didn’t try to sell me on a full-blown love between the two, which saves things somewhat, but it does skirt on the edges of disbelief without really going over. I think that the real romantic development is being saved for later books. I hope that the characters can spend more time with each other before the romance really happens.
 
Actually, a lot of this story felt like it was set up for later books. There are several ongoing threads that deal with Cinder’s past and her true identity which obviously won’t be resolved in this book. Unfortunately, there was a bit of frustration with having Cinder kept ignorant until the book’s climax. I could see where the story was manipulated there. I think that with the intent for this to be the series, it also necessitated that the Cinderella formula wasn’t adhered to in Cinder and the introduction of the ultimate bad guys – the Lunarians, in particular their evil queen. As bad guys go, I much preferred Cinder’s stepmother, who misdirects her anger and grief at her losses toward Cinder. Andi was a villainess with a motivation I understood. The Lunarian queen is just felt evil for no reason. Yes, fairy-tale bad guys are usually like that, and taken from that perspective, she is typical, but I wish Cinder could have stuck more to the original than it did.
 
I also was hoping to have a better sense of place in this story than I did. Other than the marketplace introduced all the way at the start of the book, there was little to show that the story was set in New Beijing. The only thing to indicate where everyone lived was their names. Even while preparing for the ball, the ballgowns sounded western: satin and tulle, big and fluffy, rather than silk and embroidered. I felt like the author had a missed opportunity in not making New Beijing a presence in the narrative.
 
Okay, so I have my complaints about this story, but none of them were deal breakers. There were things that I think affected my enjoyment of the middle part of the story, even though Cinder is well written and flowed well. I just found the middle part of the story not as compelling as the beginning and the end. There were parts that dragged because I felt like I could see what was going on behind the curtain. The ending was a good one though – it sealed my like of Cinder’s character and I enjoyed how the fairytale elements showed up. We’re left with plenty to look forward to in the sequels. Cinder continues with Scarlet (inspired by Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White). I will be interesting to see how the series plans to keep Cinder’s story within the frame of stories meant to be about other characters.
 
Overall: I loved the premise of a cyborg Cinderella so much that I wanted this story to really wow and excite me the way the premise did. The execution was good, but it didn’t thrill me like I wanted to be thrilled. The beginning and the end were great, but the middle suffered under the weight of being set up for a series and I had several qualms with the setting, romance, and antagonists. In the end, I liked Cinder, but it wasn’t a home run. I’d recommend this with reservations.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 6 (Good, recommended with reservations)
Good Books and Good Wine – loved it
Books and Things – 3 and a half stars (out of 5)
Pirate Penguin reads – positive
Giraffe Days – 4 giraffes (out of 5)
The Cozy Reader – a perfect score
On the Nightstand – “highly readable blend of science fiction and fairytales”
The Canary Review – 3 canaries (out of 5)
The Book Pushers – C+
Inkcrush – “It would have sucked me in big time when I was a teenager. I liked it as an adult.”
 
Other links:
Glitches” — a short story that prequels Merissa Meyer’s CINDER

A Kiss In Time by Alex Flinn

A Kiss In Time
Alex Flinn

I enjoyed Beastly when I read it last year (my review: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg), so was happy to find a copy of another YA modern fairytale retelling by Alex Flinn, this time a riff on Sleeping Beauty.
 
The Premise: Princess Talia is the sheltered daughter of the King and Queen of Euphrasia, gifted with beauty, musical talent, and intelligence, but also burdened by a curse. She will prick a spindle on her sixteenth birthday and she and the whole kingdom will fall into a magical sleep until True Love’s kiss awakens her.  All her life, Talia has been cautioned against spindles and her terrified parents have made sure she’s never alone. Talia may be cossetted, but she’s also confined. Then the day comes when despite all her parents’ efforts, the inevitable happens. Almost three hundred years pass before Talia wakes up to find Jack, a American  teenager (from Florida) standing over her. Talia is horrified to find out how much has changed: boys can kiss girls without meaning to marry them!
 
Read an excerpt of A Kiss in Time here
 
My Thoughts: The perspective in this book goes back and forth between Talia and Jack, and while both have humorous voices, neither make the best first impression. Talia comes off as somewhat spoiled in the sense that she knows that she’s a princess and smart and pretty and accomplished, and she has a chip on her shoulder about her treatment because of her curse. Jack comes off as ungrateful about his luck as well: his parents have sent him off on a trip to Europe by himself over the summer, and all he can do is complain about how bored he is, how his girlfriend just dumped him, and how little his parents want him around. Jack convinces his friend Travis (also sent on the same trip) to sneak out of the tour and go to the beach. Of course, being rather obnoxious to the locals, they get deliberately wrong directions and end up looking at a wall of brambles.
 
When Talia and Jack meet, the huge culture and generation gap lies between the two: Jack doesn’t understand Talia’s old-fashioned values, while Talia is shocked by Jack’s casualness about a kiss. Dungeons and armor are alien to Jack, while technology like watches, cell phones, and air planes blow Talia away. Jack just wants to go home and has no intention of marrying Talia, while she is sure he’s her destiny – how else could he wake her? So Talia sneaks off with Jack to his world, telling him she just needs a guide to ease her into the modern age, but really planning to make him fall in love with her. Their escape was a bit of a stretch to my suspension of disbelief, but I think this is the part of the story where I began to warm to the two characters as they alternatively clashed and bonded on their adventures.
 
For the first time, Talia is free from restrictions as a princess and can speak to people without her rank being an issue. I liked that her upbringing was brought into the story as she uses her diplomatic skills to win over Jack’s family, who are surprised by her arrival at their home. She also brings a fresh outsider viewpoint into Jack’s life and helps him evaluate his relationship with parents and with a manipulative ex-girlfriend. Talia shows how perceptive and thoughtful she is while Jack proves to be a nice guy who has interests which he stifles for fear of his parents’ disapproval. Both seem to share a similar tense relationship with their parents, but while we get to see some resolution to Jack’s issues, Talia’s are not returned to, which added to the general feeling that the plot could have been a bit tighter.
 
My favorite part of the book ended up being the climax, where the curse and all that lead up to it come back to haunt the young couple. I liked the way magic and fairytale traditions were brought back into the story here. The backstory of the curse was introduced in an interesting twist, and we get some perspective from the so-called evil fairy/witch. I really wish the book had stopped there and not continued onto an epilogue. I want to remove the epilogue, which felt like took this magic and stuffed it into a cheesy commercialized package, from my memory.
 
Overall: I ended up not enjoying this one as much as Beastly (for some reviewers, the opposite is true). While this had a lot of elements that I liked about that book, including some great twists to the original fairytale and a relationship that wasn’t InstaLove, the story felt like it could have been more tightly plotted. I wished the characters hadn’t made a bad first impression because it seemed at odds with how they behaved the rest of the book, I wanted a bit more character depth, especially with the secondary characters, and there were some fridge logic, but I really liked the climax of this one, which sort of makes up for some of these detractors (and I’m going to pretend that epilogue didn’t happen).
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Hiding Spot – C-
One Librarian’s Book Reviews – 3 stars (out of 5)

When Beauty Tamed The Beast by Eloisa James

Eloisa James is an author I’ve never tried before, and I have to be in a certain mood to read a historical romance, but when I heard that When Beauty Tamed the Beast was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and the hero is a nod to Gregory House, I had to get it. This was a book picked up at BEA.
 
The Premise: Linnet Berry Thrynne is incredibly beautiful but rather unlucky of late. After being caught kissing a prince, she’s shunned by high society and rumors fly that she’s pregnant. The prince who was once so attentive doesn’t stick around to dispel the nasty whispering, so to regain some control of the situation, her father and aunt devise a scheme for Linnet to regain her reputation by marrying Piers Yeverton, the Earl of Marchant. Piers’ father, the Duke of Windebank is desperate for an heir, and a woman pregnant (by a prince no less), would be the perfect thing for his son. All that needs to be done is for Linnet to charm Piers into marrying her, so she goes off to his castle in Wales, but when the man is known as Beast because of his vile temper, of course he’s going to be a challenge.
 
Read an excerpt of the first 3 chapters here
 
My Thoughts: So I was in the mood for a plain ol’ fun romance without too many complications and this fit the bill. I noticed that there was a blurb from Julia Quinn in the front inset cover and I think this is was a good choice. Both authors inject enjoyable humor into their historical romances that is sort of in the same type of vein (though I find James’ a bit more situational and Quinn’s more about the dialogue).
 
With Piers, as the Beast, modeled after House, I was expecting a lot of angst, but surprisingly, there was less than there could have been. Yes, he walks with a painful limp (caused the same way House’s was), has issues with his father, and he is very moody and abrupt, but I didn’t feel like Piers was truly beastly in the way the Beast was in the original fairytale. He’s a doctor and his anger is mostly for ineptness and fools who kill their patients. I didn’t feel like he really needed redemption (although, perhaps his father did). When Linnet first meets Piers, she thinks him a bully, but moments later, they’re getting along quite well:
 

They reached the stairs leading down to the main floor. “If you want to keep holding onto me, you’ll have to move to my left side,” Marchant said. “Though, of course, there’s always the possibility that you could descend the stairs all by yourself.”
Linnet moved to his left side, just to irritate him. She curled her fingers under his arm this time. She rather liked all that muscle under her hand. It felt as if she were taming a wild beast.
“I suppose you think I’ll fall in love with you,” he said.
“Quite likely.”
“How long to you give yourself?” He sounded genuinely curious.
“Two weeks at the outside.” And then she did give him the smile–dimples, charm, sensuality and all.
He didn’t even blink. “Was that the best you’ve got?”
Despite herself, a giggle escaped, and then another. “Generally, that’s more than enough.”

Linnet herself is used to men falling for her very quickly based on her looks, but she has the brains to go along with it. This means she usually finds herself with men who are smitten but unable to keep up. With Piers being rather impervious to her charms and rather tetchy about it, I think Linnet is actually delighted to find someone with which she doesn’t have to hold herself back.
 
Since Pier’s is not so easily beguiled by Linnet’s beauty, she figures that that’s the end her scheme to get him to marry her. On Piers’ side, he isn’t willing to marry a woman his father picked out, no matter how lovely she is. The two settle into what they think is an amicable relationship based on that, and even start a daily routine. Piers begins to give Linnet swimming lessons in the morning, and Linnet begins to take an interest in the hospital that Piers runs at his castle. While there are parts that strain credibility (Linnet getting into this situation in the first place, the swimming lessons), I was able to overlook these and just enjoy the story.
 
The romance kind of grows of it’s own accord as the days pass. There are subplots that have to do with Piers’ family history (when his mother arrives at the castle, that ignites some drama with his father), and with Linnet’s improvements to the hospital (I could have done without these, but I guess she had to have something to do all day). The real drama happens towards the end of the book, and it is not your typical Big Misunderstanding or Bad Guy suspense plot. I liked the unique way this one brought up the suspense and added difficulties to the romance before the HEA.
 
As Beauty and the Beast retellings go, this was very loosely based. If I were pressed about it, I could make arguments that “her father sent her to the beast in his stead” sort of happened, and that the traditional ending sort of happened (with a twist), but mostly the biggest similarity was that Linnet is a Beauty and Piers is the Beast. I thought that the similarities with House where much greater, with Piers stomping around with his cane, brilliantly diagnosing patients with his team of doctor-students.
 
Overall: Good. There was nothing that I actively disliked about it, and there were was plenty to like – humor, unique characters, plot, and setting (I particularly loved the seaside pool). Logically, I would call this a fun book, but viscerally, I feel strangely neutral about this story. I am not sure if this reaction is due to my mood, or because I’m not usually a historical romance kind of girl, or if it’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it. I do recommend it for historical romance fans though.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Giraffe Days – positive
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – A-
Dear Author – A-
Babbling about Books, And More – A-

The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt

The Sevenfold Spell
Tia Nevitt

There was some buzz about this novella a few months ago, so I requested an eARC for review from Carina Press through Netgalley.

 

The Premise: This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, told from the point of view of a young woman and spinner who is affected by the curse. Talia is a plain, not very attractive girl, with limited prospects, but she has a nice relationship with Willard, a farmer’s son, and she hopes to marry him one day. These simple dreams are shattered when the princess of the land is cursed by an evil fairy, and all spinning wheels are ordered destroyed, including Talia and her mother’s. This is the end of their livelihood and, with their reduced circumstances, Willard’s father uses the opportunity to renege on his promise to let his son marry Talia. Instead, Willard is destined for the monastery.
 
Read an excerpt of A Sevenfold Spell here
 
My Thoughts: I really liked the premise of this one – an ordinary girl who doesn’t seem much, with her simple desire to marry the not-so-attractive himself Willard has her life turned upside down because of how the Royal family’s life affects the everyday people. Talia’s anger and grief over what her life has been reduced to is a palpable thing, and when she has almost no income, and she’s lost Willard, she grasps at what she can get. So before Willard leaves for the monastery, she gives herself to him, in the hope that at least she will have a child.
 
It is around here where the story goes from a regular fantasy tale into more erotic/steamy territory. Several trysts are recounted in detail, with Talia uncaring of Willard’s brother’s overhearing them, or of the village knowing. The creative ways they’ve found to be together are described. I don’t know if this is my prudish side coming out or just not being a fan of this much explicit sex in my stories, but this is where I sort of got bored and stopped reading. I guess I wasn’t expecting this ebook to have this level of sex in it because it was labeled as being in the “Fae, Fantasy, Legends & Mythology” category. I understood that Talia was trying to hold on to Willard in some way, but after the first couple of encounters, I got the idea and recounting all the sex didn’t seem to add much to the story.
 
A few months later I figured I would pick up the novella again, and once Willard has left to join the order, the sex continues. Talia is looking for a connection similar to that she had with Willard, and she enjoys having sex, so she uses her body to pay for favors from their next door neighbor, and describes getting a reputation and gives us a general idea of her numerous trysts. What kept me going was that outside of all this, there are hints of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Characters familiar to that story appear, and I wondered where it was going and how Talia fit into the story. I’m glad I kept reading because just when the story seemed to be getting darker, suddenly something happens which manages to propel the story forward into a happy ending with a twist. It all ends on a sweet note.
 
Overall: Not a bad way to pass the time, and at 97 pages, this is a short read and it has a unique spin on a well-known fairy tale, but it’s heavy on the sexual content, which almost kept me from finishing this short piece. I’m glad I pushed on because of the last part of this story, which had a nice twist on the happy ever after.
 
Buy: Amazon (kindle) | Carina (PDF/ePub)
 
Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 7/10
The Book Pushers – B-
The Book Smugglers (Joint review) – both gave it a 6 (Good)
Fantasy Literature – 4/5
One More Page – 2/5
Stella Matutina – 3.5 stars (out of 5)
A Buckeye Girl Reads – positive

Reading Raves: Red Riding Hood Photography

Ranting & raving is something I do periodically on this blog. Look for the “rants and raves” category for past rants and raves.

When I was looking for Little Red Riding Hood pictures last week I was overwhelmed by how MANY they were. These are ones from photoshoots based on fairytales.

Eugenio Recuenco


Into the Woods: US Vogue Sept 2009.

Photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott via Persephone Reads
(do click the link, lots MORE of this one)


Dakota Fanning in Vanity Fair, Jan 2007. Photographed by Karl Lagerfeld
(link has huge images)


Eva Mendes for the 2008 Campari Calendar


Jade Rodan from America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6:”The Girl That Kissed the Roach”

Reading Raves: Red Riding Hood Illustrations

Ranting & raving is something I do periodically on this blog. Look for the “rants and raves” category for past rants and raves.

I cannot BELIEVE how many pictures of Little Red Riding Hood there are online! I could do TWO posts about it. Actually… I think I will.

Walter Crane

“Red Riding Hood” (1865) by John Everett Millais



German Post, 1962

Tyler Garrison

George Sheridan Knowles

James Sant

Paul Woodroffe

Jesse Willcox Smith

Vanessa Elms

Warwick Goble

American McGee concept art (Luis Melo)

American McGee concept art (Ken Wong)

Nao-Tukiji Saikusa

[many many more images!]