Review: The Snow Child

Snow-ChildBook: The Snow Child
Author: Eowyn Ivey
Genre: Adult, Historical/Fairy Tale
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: A childless couple moves to the wilds of Alaska in the 1920s to homestead. A mysterious child and her fox capture the hearts and imagination of Mabel and Jack. But this girl seems other-worldly. She disappears every year with the melting of the snow… only to return with the winter winds.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The snow! (ha ha) 😉

2) This book is based on several versions of a fairy tale where a childless couple builds a little “snow child” only to have the child come alive. This is a beautiful re-imagining of those tales. I love the fairy tale elements of this story, the unexplainable.

3) The story is also firmly set in the real, historical world. While there are some fantastical elements, they are very soft. In fact, like Esther in the book, you can explain it all away. Or at least most of it. Which I also find appealing. (Note: This aspect of the story reminded me a lot of the book Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman.)

4) The relationship between Mabel and Esther is wonderful. The bond of two women in a world of men. Esther is no shrinking violet. And in many ways, this is an unlikely friendship. But it works. One of the most wonderful sections of the book is when (slight spoiler) Jack is injured and Esther comes with her son Garrett to help with the farm work. Why? Because she’s determined not to lose her neighbours.

5) The relationship between Jack and Mabel (the husband/wife duo of the story) is also wonderful. They don’t always agree, but their love for one another is beautiful. What a marriage should be.

6) I love the cover of this book. The child and the fox peeking out from behind the trees… Lovely!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) This isn’t a quick read. Now, that’s not necessarily bad, as long as you realize this. It’s not a page-turner. It’s more like a meandering walk through the woods. (Although, by Part 3, the pace does pick up a bit.)

2) I don’t get WHY they never name the dog. Why not?! (Poor dog.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love this historical fairy tale. It blends elements of a Little-House-on-the-Prairie-type book (set in Alaska) with a Russian folk tale. Beautifully written. (Note: Even though it is a fairy tale, it is meant for adults, rather than children.)

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Review: Hunted

HuntedBook: Hunted
Author: Meagan Spooner
Genre: YA, Fairy Tale Retelling
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: A retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast… set in medieval Russia. When Yeva’s father doesn’t return home from one of his hunting trips, she goes out to find him. She ends up a captive in the castle of a Beast.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Yeva, aka “Beauty”. I liked her. I particularly like how she grows during the course of the story. For her recognition of her own faults, as she comes to see the good in the Beast.

2) I like what Spooner does with the story. It doesn’t follow the Disney storyline (you know, with roses and magical furniture). And it doesn’t fully follow the original French version either. (For example: Beauty’s two sisters are not quite the same as the jealous duo that end up as statues at the end of the actual fairy tale.) And yet, the elements that make up the story of Beauty and the Beast are definitely in this book.

3) I loved the inter-chapters that give us insight into the Beast. I particularly like that they begin as fairly cryptic. Then as we get to know him, they help us understand his frame of mind.

4) The imagery and motifs surrounding the Firebird, and what Spooner does with the Firebird plot-wise in this book, is nicely done.

5) Bonus points for incorporating the magical fairy tale “rule of three” into Yeva’s own story. It’s hard to explain how this is done, but it’s done very well. It’s almost a breaking of the fourth wall of sorts. But it doesn’t feel gimicky. It works with the plot.

6) The cover is beau-ti-ful!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The tag-line is “A Beauty deadlier than the Beast”. I thought this was a stupid tag-line. First of all, it almost turned me off to reading the book. Secondly, after reading the story, I don’t think it’s true. It makes the Beast sound like a wuss. (He’s not.) Nope. If I were on the marketing team for this book, I would have STRONGLY recommended to remove this ridiculous tag-line.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This is a delightful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. If you like this fairy tale, then you should have a blast reading this book!

If You Like Russian Fairy Tales

Bear and the NightingaleSo… I recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Everybody is raving about this book. So, what can I say?

Well, I liked it. But…

I probably didn’t like it as much as you. I don’t know why, because I love Russian fairy tales. In fact, that’s the reason I read the book in the first place. I loved the premise. (And the cover of the book. I mean, just look at it. It’s enticing me. Yes, even now. It’s drawing me in…)

So… this book did not make me want to write a review of the book. (I am definitely not inspired to write a review just now. Maybe later? Instead, I decided to come up with a list of books that I recommend for those who did love the book and loved it because of the Russian fairy tale aspect of the book.

Without further adieu, here is that list*:

7973Enchantment // by Orson Scott Card

While he’s probably best known for his sci-fi (Ender’s Game ring a bell?)… Orson Scott Card does a wonderful job with this book. It mixes Russian folklore and fairy tale elements with our modern world. In a sense, it’s a Sleeping Beauty story. The story begins in the modern day with Ivan, who travels to Russia as part of his graduate studies. But then he comes across a woman sleeping in the middle of the forest and… Well, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it.

By the way, I am truly enchanted by this book. It is probably one of my favourite books outside of classic literature and have read it numerous times.


1369831Blood Red, Snow White // by Marcus Sedgwick

This book is broken up into three parts. The first part deals with the events of the Russian Revolution almost as if it were a Russian fairy tale. Actually, it’s very reminiscent of Old Peter’s Russian Tales (see below). The second part introduces us to Arthur, an Englishman who comes to live in Russia. It’s almost like reading a new book, but you begin to see how it connects with the first part. And finally, the third part shifts yet again, this time with first person POV. We continue our story, seeing Russia through the eyes of Arthur.

P.S. The Arthur in the book is based on the real life experiences of the author, Arthur Ransome. (If you don’t know who Arthur Ransome is, he wrote one of my favorite children’s series: the Swallows and Amazons books. And yes, Swallows and Amazons does get a nod in this “fairy tale”.)


old-peters-russian-tales-by-arthur-ransome-fiction-animals-dragons-unicorns-and-mythicalOld Peter’s Russian Tales // by Arthur Ransome

Speaking of Arthur Ransome… He really did live in Russia at the time of the Revolution. And he came to love Russia very much. Part of his infatuation led him to write a collection of Russian fairy tales. He created Maroosia and Vanya who live with their grandfather, Old Peter. It’s Old Peter that brings us the stories “that Russian peasants tell their children and each other.” Beautiful writing. Wonderful stories.


Honourable Mention…

The Crown's GameThe Crown’s Game // by Evelyn Skye
I just finished reading this. So, I’m not sure it even belongs on this list. It has some fairy tale elements, like Enchanters and magic. But it also seems a little like it shouldn’t quite be on the list. Probably because there are no bears mentioned in the book! (Tigers are are mentioned. But I don’t remember any bears!)  In all, I haven’t quite decided if it’s got that Russian Fairy Tale vibe. Anyway,  I liked the book, so I’m going to tag it on here for now.

City of ThievesCity of Thieves // by David Benioff
Again, this one isn’t so much a Russian Fairy Tale. It’s more of a coming-of-age story set in the time of World War II. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I remember a fair bit. It definitely has that Russian feel. It’s the story of two young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs during the Siege of Leningrad. Maybe it’s the quest that made me give it Honourable Mention status.

*Please note that none of these books are really children’s books. Although for some odd reason Blood Red, Snow White is listed as a children’s book. In my opinion, it is not. (Not that a child couldn’t read it.) In any case, the only book on this list suitable for kids is probably Old Peter’s Russian Tales. Those were meant for children of all ages. Grown-ups, too!

Got any books to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments. Because I love a good Russian fairy tale!

Review: My Lady Jane

22840421Book: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Young King Edward, son of Henry VIII, is dying and he is persuaded to set his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Which means, she must be married off to ensure a male heir (to make sure the crown doesn’t go to Edward’s sister, Mary). But this isn’t your typical historic fiction. It’s more like the story of Lady Jane Grey set in an alternate universe… with people who can shape-shift into animal form… and where death is largely exaggerated.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I normally do not like it when authors fiddle with history. That said, the narrators of this book (and yes, there are three of them!) definitely took people like me into consideration. They prepped me very nicely in the Prologue. Changing some of the names in the story also helped me make this adjustment. So, I read the story like I would read a fantasy or fairy tale. Yes, it’s still Lady Jane Grey’s story, but… not quite. And I was okay with that! 🙂

2) Okay, so this is a “What If” book. [*SPOILER] As in, what if King Edward the VI didn’t really die at the age of 15? What if Lady Jane Grey didn’t really have her head chopped off after being queen for 9 days? [END SPOILER] What if…? What if…? This is what gives us the alternate universe. And I found that quite intriguing, actually.

3) I really liked the character of Bess, Edward’s sister. She’s a smart and capable character. You can see the beginnings of what would become Queen Elizabeth I. [*SPOILER] Kudos to the authors for how they brought her to the throne at the end of the book. Without much head-rolling! [END SPOILER]

4) The love story between Jane and G was done well. I guessed about the alternate night-day thing pretty early on, and how this would naturally keep them apart. [*SPOILER] With him being a horse during the day (when she’s human) and her a ferret during the night (when he’s human). [END SPOILER] But I also thought this brought a nice romantic tension to the story.

5) The Shakespeare connection had the potential for me-not-liking-this. But I actually did like it! Of course, early on I recognized G’s efforts at poetry as belonging to the yet-unborn bard. (The only thing I didn’t like was how the narrators actually had to explain this later in the book… Just in case we didn’t get it??? I wish they’d have left that one alone!)

6) I liked trying to fit my knowledge of the true historical events with the book events… Especially seeing how the authors “fractured” these events into what, in essence, becomes a fractured fairy tale. (Note: After reading the book, I went to youtube for some refresher history lessons about the real Lady Jane Grey!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt the second wedding was unnecessary. At least describing it in full detail. :/

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love history and I love the story of Lady Jane Grey. Fortunately, I love a good sense of humour and fractured fairy tales. So, I guess this book fits quite well with all those categories!

Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

9780062074676_zoomBook: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Perry is adopted as a baby by Lady Mother and Lord Tove. What Perry doesn’t know yet is that she’s Bamarre, not Lakti (like her parents). When the fairy, Halina, shows up (and fairies only show up to Bamarre), her whole life changes. No longer is she the pampered daughter, but now she’s a daughter on the run…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Perry is a beautiful mixture of likeable and believable. She’s been raised to feel superior to the Bamarre, and this flaw in her comes out again and again. Even when she is learning to become one of them. Even with this unlikeable trait, I felt drawn to her.

2) Gail Carson Levine is the Queen of the Re-imagined Fairy Tale. With some of her books, it’s obvious right away which story she riffing. Think: Ella Enchanted. With other books, it creeps up on you and you slowly realize which fairy tale she’s conjuring up. Think: A Tale of Two Castles. This book is akin to the latter. [*SPOILER] There are hints on the first page (with the reference to the hair and the fact that the father was caught in the garden), so it soon becomes clear that this is a Rapunzel story. And I LOVE Rapunzel stories. When Willem is climbing the tower and we see (with Perry) that Lady Mother is in the tower now… we know this can’t end well! [END SPOILER]

3) I like how other little fairy tale elements are brought into the story… like the table-cloth and the seven-league boots.

4) The twist on the Father (Lord Tove) and Lady Mother left me guessing throughout the book. The revelations are wonderfully done and our loyalties morph as Perry’s do.

5) Levine is also amazing in her world building. One of the best I’ve seen. I actually believe in her worlds. I love that she doesn’t always explain things to the reader, but just says them, as if we should already know… Like the history of the Bamarre and the Lakti. She doesn’t dumb things down and tell us: “Well, I’ve created this world where it’s like this.” Instead, she treats it like it’s real and that we already know this, and then, lo and behold, we do get to understand the whole situation. (She also does this well in A Tale of Two Castles.)

6) I like the fairy, Halina. I won’t say more.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The cover of the book kind of weirds me out. I don’t know why. There are elements in it that I like. I like the blue overtones. I like the hair flying. Maybe it’s the weird glowing blue on her boots???

2) I was expecting an explanation of why Lady Mother gives the seven-league boots to Perry. I thought that maybe a deep secret is that Lady Mother is (secretly) Bamarre? But alas, this is one of those details that isn’t explained, and ends up giving us lots of questions. Like why did the mother hide the boots from the father? And why give them to Perry in the first place? Did I miss something???

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love Fairy Tales and Gail Carson Levine definitely delivers with this book! As I said before, she’s the Queen. Maybe the Fairy Queen? Long live the Fairy Queen!

Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales

20170623ma_1916When I go to the library, I am immediately drawn to the children’s section. Why? Because I love books written for kids.

Not so much picture books. Not those early chapter books. No, give me books written for the Middle Grade reader. What used to be called Children’s Literature. (And by extension, I’ll also include many Young Adult books in this category.)

But the thing is, I’m not a kid anymore. In fact, I haven’t been a kid for quite awhile.

When I was a teen, I quickly grew out of these books. There was a time (probably when I was in high school, but maybe even earlier??) when I didn’t want to read such books anymore. Or if I did want to re-read the occasional book from my childhood (Anne of Green Gables?), I certainly wouldn’t admit it in public. Yep! I was “too old” for kids’ books.

And this reminds me of the dedication C.S. Lewis included in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C. S. Lewis”

Now I’ve reached the age when I am “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Recently, I was trying to figure out exactly when this happened. I’m thinking it started to come about while I was in university. Of course, I took all the literature courses I could get my hands on. I studied plenty of Shakespeare and Dickens, Austen and Edgeworth, Trollope and Harding, just to name a few.

And then, in my fourth year, I signed up for a course on Children’s Literature. This course included some of my childhood favourites, but it also introduced me to children’s books I had never read before. I read books by authors I didn’t even know existed!

And reading these kids’ books for the first time, I found that I actually enjoyed them. I mean, I really enjoyed reading these stories! These stories meant for kids.

But that’s was the just the start of a realization that a good children’s book has special magic in it. A special ingredient. Basically, it needs to be enjoyable on different levels. The book has to be of interest to the child, naturally. But it also will contain truth and humour and characterizations that will pique the interest of the adult.

That’s the secret ingredient.

Slowly, but surely, I began to re-read more of my old favourites, realizing that many of these books were as good as when I first read them as a kid. (Although, I will admit that other books didn’t stand this test of time. Or they didn’t contain that extra, secret ingredient.)

About ten years after taking that university course, it hit me that I actually preferred children’s books to reading most adult books. Maybe it is the fairy-tale element found in many children’s books. Not that the stories have to be fairy tales. Children’s books are so hopeful. Yes, the characters in these stories have struggles, but the point of the story is to overcome those struggles and take us to the happy ending. (I do like a happy ending. While I don’t need an ending to be saccharine, I also don’t want to read a book that ends in a depressingly sad way.)

I still have my old childhood favourites, but I also have my favourite “new” authors. Whether they are long-dead authors I’ve discovered only recently, or authors living and writing for today’s market.

It makes me sad to hear people dismiss children’s books because they’re written “for kids”. Young people especially do this, but so do many adults.

I comfort myself with this thought: One day, hopefully, these people will come upon their own realization that they are now “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”