The Beast Within

My favorite Disney movie is probably Beauty and the Beast. Like many bookworms, there’s one major reason for this.

Image from disney.wikia.com

What girl wouldn’t love such an amazing gift?!

Anyway, when I got the opportunity to read Serena Valentino’s The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince on NetGalley, I went in with some fairly high expectations…especially since the book is produced by Disney.

Cover from Goodreads

Sadly, the book did not live up to those expectations.  Parts of it were very good, but, as a whole, the book felt sloppy at some points, and the ending seemed rushed. I get that we all know how the story ends, but a book like this needs a little more than “The curse was lifted and everyone was happy. The end.” (That’s not a direct quote, but that’s definitely how the ending felt to me.) The book spent so much time relating the Beast’s feelings about everything, but we didn’t really get to see how he dealt with the curse being lifted. I’m assuming there was a bit of an adjustment period, and it would have been nice to see that.

This book gives readers a glimpse into what life was like for the Beast/Prince both before and after the curse was placed on him. Even though The Beast Within relies heavily on the Disney movie for its basis, the book does throw some twists in that will both intrigue and vex readers. A few examples are:

  • Gaston was the Prince’s best friend growing up. Both were arrogant jerks, Gaston often resented the Prince’s lofty station, and the curse gradually erased their memories of each other. I actually thought this part was kind of cool. While Gaston remained a jerk–and the Prince did too, to a certain degree–it was neat to see how each man grew into the man/monster we see in the movie.
  • The story of the witch who placed the curse on the Prince/Beast was turned on its ear. Apparently, the Prince was engaged to a witch, broke the engagement, and the witch and her crazy older sisters used the curse to get revenge. And these sisters were CRAZY! They took revenge to a whole new level, and, while I appreciate how insane they were and how their actions impacted the Beast, I think this change-up actually detracted from the story I was looking for. It was a little unsettling.
  • The curse had a sort of Weeping Angel effect on the castle’s household staff. (If that reference doesn’t make sense, watch the “Blink” episode of Doctor Who.) Gradually, the staff disappeared, but the Beast would often hear voices or see movement in the corner of his eye. When he looked for the source, though, seemingly normal objects would be frozen in place. Belle, however, could interact with the staff in their new forms. Anyone familiar with the movie knows this is a major change…and not a totally welcome one.

I think The Beast Within has the potential to be a wonderful story, telling a beloved tale from perspectives we had maybe not considered before, but I do feel that there are some things that were changed unnecessarily.  I also think that the author should veer away from “talking” directly to the audience. When one throws second person point of view into a story that should be totally third person omniscient, the waters get kind of muddy.

I did enjoy the allusions to other Disney tales. At various points, references were made to Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and other classic stories. Readers who enjoy Once Upon a Time and other media that interweave popular tales will appreciate that aspect of this book.

I’m hoping that a few of the things that bugged me will be changed before the book’s release on July 22nd. If they have, I’ll definitely consider purchasing The Beast Within for my school library. If not…well, we’ll just have to see.

Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tiger Lily

I’ve been kind of inundated with Peter Pan lately. Eighteen of my current students have been involved in a local high school’s production of the play. (Several former students were also involved.) For the past couple of months, all I’ve heard about is Peter Pan. The classic Disney movie has also been playing on cable. In this case, I decided to join in the madness by not only seeing my students in the play (which was fabulous, by the way), but I also moved Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily to the top of my reading list.

If you know anything about the story of Peter Pan, you can probably figure out that this book focuses on Tiger Lily, one of the natives of Neverland. In this book, she is the adopted daughter of a shaman (not the chief’s daughter like she’s been portrayed in the past). This novel, told from Tinker Bell’s perspective, gives readers a glimpse of a character that has often been overlooked. Sure, everyone loves to focus on Peter, Tink, Wendy, Hook, and the Lost Boys, but Tiger Lily often gets shoved to the background. Tiger Lily brings this mysterious character to the forefront and shows us the struggles she encounters. We also learn that, before Wendy even entered the picture, another girl stole the heart of Peter Pan…

Tiger Lily–of the tribe of Sky Eaters in Neverland–is no ordinary girl. She is tough, she keeps to herself, and she has few friends. She is close to her adopted father, Tik Tok, the tribe’s shaman, but she knows she doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tribe. In fact, they often seem a bit scared of her. (She’s not the scary one. That honor goes to Giant, the massive man who she is promised to marry.)

Tiger Lily is dreading the day that she is forced to marry a man she despises, but she does have an escape from her worries. That escape comes in the form of a strange boy…a boy that her tribe has always thought is surely a monster. Peter Pan. With Peter, Tiger Lily can let her worries go, if only for a little while. She’s still holding parts of herself back, but she gradually grows to love Peter, his freedom, and even the Lost Boys who are always ready for a new game or adventure. Soon, the time will come when Tiger Lily will have to choose between her love for Peter and her duty to her tribe. Will she choose love over duty, or will that choice even be hers to make?

Changes are coming to Neverland. Some of them are dangerous and have the power to completely destroy Tiger Lily’s life as she knows it. One such change comes in the form of a girl. Wendy Darling. Who is this dainty English girl who has so captivated Peter and the Lost Boys? How could Peter so easily forget Tiger Lily in the presence of this new girl? And what will Tiger Lily do to recapture Peter’s attention? How far is she willing to go–and what alliances is she willing to make–to get rid of this girl?

Journey to Neverland to discover the story of Tiger Lily, the girl who first loved Peter Pan. Yes, this is a fairy tale in the strictest sense of the phrase. (It is told by a fairy, so there you go.) It may not be the happily ever after we’ve always expected, though. What really happened to Peter Pan, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Hook, Smee, and Tiger Lily? The answers may surprise you, but, I promise, you’ll never look at this classic story quite the same way again.

I always enjoy books–particularly YA books–with strong female characters, and Tiger Lily definitely fits the bill. At some points, Tiger Lily could even be considered too strong, and readers will want her to bend a little, but you have to respect someone who is so strong-willed. Tiger Lily was determined to live life on her terms, and, even when she did what others wanted, she still retained her will, determination, courage, and tenacity. Things didn’t always go the way she would have wanted, but Tiger Lily endured.

Tiger Lily is told from Tinker Bell’s perspective, which I think is kind of cool. Tink, though she’s always been portrayed as totally loyal to Peter Pan, was a faithful companion to Tiger Lily in this novel. Yes, she did spend some time with Peter and the Lost Boys, and she even did a little recon to gain information from the pirates, but she always returned to Tiger Lily. In this book, we experience Tink’s frustration with the situations around her and how little she could do to change things. Tink sees and hears all, but she can’t really communicate that with the people she’s come to care about. It’s up to them to figure things out.

Tiger Lily turns the beloved Peter Pan story on its ear, and I think that’s a good thing. I like it when familiar stories are shaken up a bit, and I’ve always been a fan of fairy tale retellings. This new perspective could help to reintroduce this familiar story to teen (and adult) readers who want to experience just a little of their childhoods all over again. Yes, the story is a little different, but, now that we’ve grown a little older, so are we. (Notice I didn’t say that we’ve grown up. I, for one, plan to stay young at heart forever. “Growing old is mandatory.  Growing up is optional.”)

For more information about Tiger Lily, author Jodi Lynn Anderson, and her other books, visit her Facebook or Twitter pages.

Published in: on April 29, 2013 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Cinder

I love a good fairy tale retelling.  (That is clear to anyone who follows me on Twitter and sees my comments about Once Upon a Time every Sunday night.)  I also enjoy really well-written science fiction.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I found Cinder by Marissa Meyer to be a real winner.  This book combines the classic tale of Cinderella with cyborgs…kind of Disney meets Terminator (or Battlestar Galactica).  What more could a nerdy girl ask for?

Cinder doesn’t have what one would call an easy life.  Her stepmother treats her as nothing more than a slave.  Everyone around her gives her a wide berth.  But why?  What’s wrong with Cinder?  Well, she’s not entirely human.  After a horrible childhood accident (that she has no memory of), parts of Cinder’s body were replaced with mechanical and computerized parts.  Those around her consider Cinder, a cyborg, to be disposable and easily overlooked…unless they need something fixed, of course.  Cinder has an uncanny ability to fix nearly anything that’s broken…and it’s this ability that leads her to an encounter with the Crown Prince of New Beijing, Kai.

Kai goes into the local marketplace looking to have his android fixed, and his search leads him to the best mechanic available, Cinder.  He doesn’t know she’s a cyborg, and she has no intention of telling him.  But Cinder—and Kai—have no way of knowing that forces are at work that will reveal all their secrets and put both of them—and the people they love the most—in more danger than they could possibly fathom…

A devastating plague is sweeping across the earth.  The emperor, Kai’s father, is in the final throes of the disease.  Peony, Cinder’s beloved stepsister—and her only real friend—has just been infected.  Cinder is blamed by her stepmother for Peony’s sickness, but even Cinder is not prepared for the lengths her stepmother will go to for retribution.  Cinder is “volunteered” as a test subject for plague research.  As everyone in New Beijing knows, this is a certain death sentence…one that Cinder has no intention of accepting quietly.

As it turns out, Cinder will have bigger problems than being a glorified science experiment…for she is immune to the disease that is engulfing the world.  How is this possible?  What’s so special about Cinder, a cyborg that no one—except maybe Prince Kai—wants to befriend?  Cinder soon learns that she’s even more special than her cyborg parts would indicate.  She may, in fact, be the salvation that the entire world is looking for.  As everyone knows, though, one person’s salvation is often another’s destruction.  Who will ultimately be destroyed?  Who will be saved?  That answer may just rest with the decisions made by Cinder, a girl forced to deal with more than anyone should ever ask of her.  What will happen?  I’ll leave that for you to find out!

I admit that it took me a little while to get truly invested in Cinder.  About a quarter of the way through, though, I got absolutely hooked, and I couldn’t wait to get home from work to immerse myself in this story.  Yes, there was a ton of foreshadowing, and anyone familiar with the basics of the Cinderella story could predict what was going to happen, but there were a few surprises thrown in that made this an action-packed tale that, in my opinion, male and female readers could enjoy.

Cinder is also a fine read for readers in middle school on up.  I’m not one to pay a huge amount of attention to bad language in books, but I can’t recall much of it jumping out at me in this book.  There was a sort of innocent love story in this book, but, again, there was nothing that really struck me as being inappropriate for middle grade readers.

I love that, at its heart, Cinder is a science fiction book geared primarily toward teen female readers.  For too long, girls (and women) who love science fiction have been bombarded with loads of male protagonists, but we’ve had very few—relatively speaking—that we as females could identify with.  I hope many other authors will follow Marissa Meyer’s example and write quality science fiction with strong female characters!

I look forward to reading more about Cinder in the next book in this series, Scarlet, which will be released on February 5th of 2013.  Book three, Cress, is scheduled for a 2014 release, and book four, Winter, is set for a 2015 release.  There are also a couple of free ebook novellas that go along with this series.  You can find more information about those on Goodreads.

If I still haven’t convinced you to give Cinder a try, visit the author’s website at http://www.marissameyer.com/ for a closer look at this series.  You may also want to check out the video below to hear author Marissa Meyer tell even more about this fabulous first book in the Lunar Chronicles.

Published in: on October 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sweetly

Notice:  Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.  It is not absolutely essential to read Sisters Red first…but it would help.  And since Sisters Red is awesome, you should really read it anyway.  The cover alone is reason enough to pick this one up.

Now, moving on to Sweetly…like Sisters Red, it is a retelling of a familiar fairy tale.  Where Sisters Red gave us a new way to look at Little Red Riding Hood, Sweetly gives us a new view of Hansel and Gretel.  (In my review of Sisters Red, I mentioned that I was not a big fan of Little Red Riding Hood.  Well, the same is true of Hansel and GretelSweetly may have changed that.)  And again, readers are blessed with a cover that does its part in drawing us into the story before we even get to the first page.

Sweetly begins twelve years ago with a brother and two sisters in a forest. They are looking for the witch that a book said lives in the woods. Unfortunately, they find more than they bargained for.  The book may have been right, and a witch–or something even more sinister– comes upon the children in the forest, and this mysterious yellow-eyed thing begins to chase the young children.  They try to stay together–holding hands as tightly as possible–but they have to let go to run faster.  When they reach their home, it immediately becomes clear that every child did not make it.  Ansel made it, Gretchen made it, but Gretchen’s twin sister never returned home.  Ansel and Gretchen know the witch took her, but no one truly believes them…and the two siblings have to live with the knowledge that the witch is still out there, waiting, watching, while a family is slowly torn apart.

Fast forward twelve years…Ansel and Gretchen are on their own after their stepmother throws them out.  They are all alone and trying to start a new life away from the pain of the past.  The brother and sister make a long journey from the only home they’ve ever known in Washington to a small town near the coast in South Carolina, a town where outsiders are viewed with contempt.  Only a few people treat the siblings with kindness.  One of those people is Sophia Kelly, the local candy maker, who is dealing with her own problems with the people of Live Oak, South Carolina.  Sophia takes the two young outcasts in and makes them feel welcome in her home.  They had only intended to stay a night, but a night quickly turns into a week, a week into a month.  Before they really know how it happened, Ansel and Gretchen have found a home, one that is far removed from the past they are running from.

But is it really?  As everyone knows, small towns tend to have secrets, and Live Oak is no exception.  It seems, though, that the secrets in Live Oak revolve around one Sophia Kelly, the girl who has befriended Gretchen and bewitched Ansel.  The townspeople blame her for their daughters leaving and never returning.  They don’t visit, they don’t call, they don’t write.  In fact, no one ever hears from them after they attend Sophia’s annual chocolate festival.  Could Sophia have something to do with their disappearance, or is she as innocent as she seems?  Gretchen knows that Sophia is keeping secrets, but she just can’t believe that the girl who has become her only friend could have anything to do with girls vanishing from the face of the earth.

Gretchen reevaluates her views, however, when she encounters the very thing that has haunted her for twelve years.  She discovers it wasn’t a witch that captured her twin sister.  It was a werewolf…more specifically, a Fenris.  When Gretchen narrowly escapes one of these monsters, with the help of the mysterious Samuel Reynolds, she is determined to learn more about these horrible beings and what they have to do with the missing girls of Live Oak.  What do they want with the girls, and how is Sophia involved?  The truth may be more than Gretchen is prepared to handle, but handle it she must.  Gretchen must face her own fears if she has any hope of preventing other girls from vanishing like her sister did.  Is she strong enough to face an evil that has ruined nearly everything she holds dear?  And can she face her dearest (and only) friend’s role in the horror surrounding her?  Join Gretchen as she learns that living in a candy shop isn’t as sweet as it seems.

If your interest has been piqued at all by this post, I strongly urge you to make both Sisters Red and Sweetly part of your holiday reading.  They’re awesome books with strong, yet flawed, female characters, and they turn the “fairy tale” idea of a helpless girl who has to be rescued by the handsome prince on its ear.  (Don’t get me wrong.  There are handsome guys in these books, but these strong ladies could get along just fine without them…most of the time.)

According to Jackson Pearce’s website (http://jackson-pearce.com/), there is going to be another companion book to Sisters Red and Sweetly (and given the way that Sweetly ended, I expected this and even predicted which fairy tale would be retold next).  The book is Fathomless, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and will be released in August of 2012.  I’m very interested in the connections between these three stories, and I hope Fathomless answers some of the questions that popped up at the end of Sweetly.  At any rate, I know I’m in store for another great story from Jackson Pearce and, I hope, another fantastic cover to grace my bookshelf.

Ash

It is no secret that I love fairy tales.  I especially like retellings of these tales, particularly when they have a twist.  My latest read, Ash by Malinda Lo, is a retelling of Cinderella, and it definitely has a twist (many twists, in fact).  I’ll get to the changes soon, but I must say that this story is beautifully written, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fairy tales.  Malinda Lo has crafted a timely version of the Cinderella story that is so haunting, so rich, and so vibrant that readers who take the time to truly appreciate the story will not be disappointed.

Ash seems to lose everything in the blink of an eye.  First, her mother dies.  A short time later, after remarrying suddenly, Ash’s father becomes sick and leaves Ash all alone.  Her cruel stepmother forces Ash to become a servant in her own home, and Ash grieves for the life she once knew.  Her only solace is in reading the fairy tales her mother passed on to her.  Ash wonders if the fairies are real, and, if they are, will they take her away from her current life and the pain that comes with it?

Her answer comes in the form of Sidhean, a fairy who seems to have a strange connection to Ash.  Ash wants Sidhean to take her with him to the realm of the fairies, but he resists and insists that she is not ready.  Ready for what?  Ash does not know, but she can feel Sidhean’s presence with her, and she knows that the time will come when he will claim her forever.

Everything changes, though, when Ash encounters Kaisa, the king’s huntress.  The more time Ash spends with Kaisa, the less she focuses on Sidhean.  She grows closer to the huntress and does whatever she can, including making wishes of fairies (which are never simple and always come with a price), to spend more time with Kaisa.  Ash and Kaisa develop a friendship, which soon evolves into something that neither young woman was expecting.

When Ash realizes that her time with Sidhean grows closer–and her time with Kaisa comes to an end–she knows that she has a choice to make.  Will she go with the fairy who has given her all that she has asked, or will she risk everything for the love she has always wanted?  Read Ash to discover what happens when one young woman must decide between the fairy tale and true love.

Although I kind of knew what to expect when I began reading Ash, I was not prepared for the absolute beauty of the story.  I was utterly captivated.  It did not (and does not) matter to me that the Cinderella in this story did not want the handsome prince.  She just wanted love.  I think that’s all that anyone wants, and I applaud Malinda Lo for telling a story that will resonate with gay and straight readers alike.  I look forward to reading Huntress, the prequel to Ash, and I know that it will be just as beautiful.

For more information on author Malinda Lo and her writing, visit http://www.malindalo.com/.

Beastly

As you may be aware, the movie adaptation of Alex Flinn’s Beastly will be released on March 4th.  Since I want to see this movie, I simply had to read the book.  Honestly, it’s a bit surprising–even to me–that I had not read Beastly before now.  Beauty and the Beast is my all-time favorite Disney movie.  I may have mentioned this before, but I really like it when the Beast gives Belle her very own, totally awesome library.  Best.  Gift.  Ever.  Anyhoo, I finally got around to reading Beastly this week, and I really enjoyed it.  It transplants this famous fairy tale into modern Manhattan and tells the story from the beast’s point of view.  It’s nice to get a glimpse of what he is thinking about his drastic transformation…

Kyle Kingsbury has it all.  He’s gorgeous, popular, and everyone wants to be around him.  Well, almost everyone.  See, Kyle is kind of a jerk, and he makes it clear to everyone that they’re only important to him if they’re beautiful (a little something he picked up from dear old dad).  He makes fun of those he thinks are inferior, and he thinks nearly everyone is inferior to him, especially the weird girl with the green hair who doesn’t seem all that impressed with him.

In actuality, the weird, green-haired girl is a witch, and she thinks it’s time that Kyle learned his lesson.  That lesson comes in the form of a most unwelcome and unexpected transformation.  The witch, better known as Kendra, takes away Kyle’s beauty and transforms him into a hideous beast…but there is a way to reverse the spell.  He has two years to find someone to fall in love with him.  The trick is that he has to truly love her to.  If this mystery girl will kiss him–and show that his appearance doesn’t matter to her–the spell will be broken.  Simple, right?

Kyle is convinced that no one could possibly love the monster he’s become.  His own father can’t even bear to look at him.  How can he expect anyone to fall for him in his current condition.  Since his condition seems hopeless, Kyle isolates himself from everyone except Will, his blind tutor, and Magda, his housekeeper.  In his isolation, Kyle transforms into a boy whose only solace is in tending to his roses, reading, and watching the world go by from his fifth floor window.

One night, though, everything changes.  It starts with a junkie breaking into Kyle’s precious greenhouse.  In exchange for Kyle’s silence, the junkie agrees to bring his daughter, Linda, to live in Kyle’s house.  Kyle knows that this is his one and only chance at finding love.  But can this girl ever love someone so hideous, especially since she considers herself to be imprisoned by him?  And can Kyle grow to love someone other than himself?  Is there any real hope of breaking the spell, or is Kyle doomed to be a beast forever?  Relive the fairy tale when you read Alex Flinn’s Beastly.

Even though I knew what was going to happen in this book, I really enjoyed the journey the author took me on.  I really enjoyed reading about how Kyle changed and the similarities between Kyle and Linda’s father issues.  They really created a sense of connection between the two main characters that moved their love story along.  I also thought the ending was great–how Kyle stopped caring that he was a beast and only thought of what was best for Linda.  Beastly is truly heartwarming and totally lived up to its source material.

I hope you’ll read Beastly before you see the movie version.  It’s been my experience (most recently with I Am Number Four) that the book is ALWAYS better than the movie.  If you’d like more information about Beastly or author Alex Flinn, visit http://www.alexflinn.com/.  Happy reading!

Published in: on February 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Kiss in Time

It’s no secret that I like fairy tales.  Beautiful princess, handsome prince, fighting the bad guy, true love…what’s not to like?  There is one, however, that’s never been a favorite of mine–Sleeping Beauty.  I just didn’t see the point.  This girl pricks her finger on a spindle, falls asleep, is awakened by a kiss, a witch gets mad, the witch is killed, and they all live happily ever after.  Not my thing.  Well, my lastest read, A Kiss in Time, is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by acclaimed author Alex Flinn.  It puts a new spin on this story, and I must say that I like this version a lot better.  When I was reading, I was reminded of Enchanted, the movie where a fairy tale princess is magically transported to modern-day Manhattan.  I adore that movie, and I feel the same way about this book.

Princess Talia of Euphrasia has lived her entire almost-sixteen years in fear of spindles.  At Talia’s christening, a curse was placed on her by the evil witch Malvolia stating that the princess would prick her finger on a spindle before her sixteenth birthday and die.  A fairy modified the curse a bit so that the princess wouldn’t die.  Instead, she and everyone in Euphrasia would sleep until Talia was awakened by true love’s first kiss.

Nearly sixteen years pass, and Talia has been bombarded with talk of this curse.  Spindles are outlawed from Euphrasia to protect her, and she is horribly sheltered.  She can’t go anywhere, and she’s tired of it.  As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Talia can finally see an end to a life full of fearing a curse and always being told what to do.  The curse has not been fulfilled, and she’s almost sixteen.  (The key word here is “almost.”)  Well, guess what?  Shortly before her birthday celebration, Talia is searching for her perfect dress when she happens upon an unfamiliar room.  An old lady is inside with just the dresses Talia is looking for.  The old lady just needs a bit of help from Talia.  Just hold this sharp, pointy thing for a bit…lights out.

Fastforward three hundred years…

Jack is in Europe on a boring trip full of museums and other stuff he’s not interested in, so he decides to escape for a bit.  He and his buddy Travis walk through a dense hedge and find a village where everyone appears to be sleeping, even the horses.  They soon find a castle.  Jack is drawn to the highest tower where he discovers a sleeping girl.  She’s beautiful, and he feels almost compelled to kiss her.  He does, and she wakes up.  Surprise!

Join Jack and Talia as they deal with expectations, customs, and technologies (or lack thereof) of different time periods, parents, ex-girlfriends, running away, a continued threat from Malvolia, and a three-hundred-year age difference.  Can this even be real?  Do Jack and Talia have any hope of getting together under these circumstances?  He’s a slacker; she’s a princess.  Do they even want to be together?  Read A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn to find out!

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Princess Ben

Although I love fairy tales, I’ve always had a problem with some of them:  Why does the beautiful princess need to be rescued by the handsome prince?  Additionally, why does the princess have to be beautiful, and why can’t she save herself?  (If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, I am a feminist.)  I like seeing a strong, smart heroine who solves her own problems.  I got what I wanted in Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  (The whole title is Princess Ben:  Being a Wholly Truthful Account of Her Various Discoveries and Midsadventures, Recounted to the Best of Her Recollection, in Four Parts.  Great title.)  At times, Ben is irreverent, brash, and a bit immature, but she grows into a woman who thinks for herself and can save herself and those she loves.

Princess Benevolence of Montagne has just lost her uncle, King Ferdinand, her mother, and her father.  She is the sole heir to the throne, but Ben has almost no desire to learn the seemingly trivial things that her aunt, Queen Sophia, thinks she should learn.  Ben isn’t interested in pointless conversations, fashion, needlework, or starving herself so that she can be the slim princess who will attract a husband.  When Sophia becomes fed up with Ben’s apathy and locks her in a tower cell, Ben thinks her misery will surely be a permanent condition.  That changes, however, when Ben stumbles upon an enchanted room and secret, magical passageways throughout the castle.  Ben begins to explore magic and learn things that are definitely not boring and may, in fact, have some use for her in the future.

When neighboring Drachensbett begins to threaten the kingdom of Montagne, Ben sets off on a perilous journey that threatens her very life.  She comes to painful and eye-opening realizations about herself and those around her.  What will become of her?  Will she ever make peace with Queen Sophia?  Will Drachensbett attack Montagne?  And what is she to do about her tumultuous feelings about Prince Florian, heir to the throne of Drachensbett and Ben’s own nemesis?  Princess Ben is definitely not your typical princess, and her story is not your average fairy tale.  Read Ben’s account of her life and discover what it’s really like when a princess grows up and learns the lessons that will make her a strong woman and queen.

Published in: on November 14, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Princess of the Midnight Ball

I love a good fairy tale.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still one of my favorite Disney movies of all time.  And what girl didn’t dream of being Belle in Beauty and the Beast (especially since the Beast gave her that wicked awesome library)?  My point is…fairy tales are great.  They’re even better when they’re adapted for a new audience.  My latest read is just such a tale.  Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and it has been retold to fit a young adult audience.  Now, many of my students will claim that they’re too old for fairy tales, but I contend that you’re never too old for a great story of romance and good triumphing over evil.  They’ll get it all in Princess of the Midnight Ball.

Princess Rose and her eleven sisters mysteriously disappear every night.  No one knows where they go, and the sisters cannot speak of their activities.  The only evidence that evil is afoot is their worn-out dancing slippers.  The sisters are under the power of the King Under Stone, a horrid being who is imprisoned deep within the earth.  The princesses are condemned to dance for him every night at his Midnight Ball.  There is seemingly no escape from this horrible curse.

Galen, a soldier returning from war, has recently been hired as a gardener at the palace.  He notices that things are not right with the princesses.  When the king begins to offer rewards for he who can solve the mystery of his daughters’ nightly activities, and the princes who try to figure things out begin to die, Galen starts to piece things together (with the help of a few magicians-in-disguise).  He is determined to help the princesses, especially Rose, break their curse.  He seeks no reward other than the knowledge that the princesses are safe.  (But we all know how those things go…the brave but poor commoner is really the best guy for the nice princess to end up with.)  Will he succeed?  Will the curse be broken?  What will become of the princesses, Galen, and the King Under Stone?  I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a lovely story, and the book cover is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.  Although this will be marketed as a “girl book,” there’s lots in it that guys will find appealing–danger, fighting, and bad guys.  It’s a winner for all readers!

Published in: on September 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Amiri & Odette: A Love Story

I don’t typically like poetry.  I don’t really like ballet either.  So Walter Dean Myers’ Amiri & Odette:  A Love Story, which is a retelling of Swan Lake through poetry, was really not for me.

Don’t get me wrong…there were things about it that I liked.  For instance, I LOVED the artwork by Javaka Steptoe.  The illustrations were done with acrylic paint on slabs of asphalt embellished with things like jewelry, bags, and candy wrappers.  I thought these were very unique.  I also liked the setting of the story.  Myers moved the story from the realm of fantasy to the inner city.  The key ingredients to the story were still there (mom throwing a party for her son so he can find a wife, bad guy getting in the way, mistaken identity, etc.), but the setting and characters were more relevant to urban teens.

Like I said, I’m not a big fan of poetry, but I know a lot of my students are, and Amiri & Odette may be just what they’re looking for.  It’s a quick read (took me about five minutes) and has appeal for both guys and girls.

Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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