Weekly Photo Challenge: Glow

From Trinity College, Dublin.

Libraries always seem like magical places to me.  The library at Trinity College (which also houses the Book of Kells) certainly has a magical gallery.  The sun shining through the window of this alcove gives the stacks of books a warmth that echoes my own feelings of contentment at being in such a place.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Glow

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My Top 5 Versions of Cinderella

I had so much fun looking at my favorite versions of Beauty and the Beast a few months ago, I thought I would do the same with another favorite fairy tale, Cinderella.  This one was way harder, because I have read and seen so many more versions of this tale, and some of them rank among my favorite fairy tale retellings of all time.  I managed to narrow it down to five…plus a few honorable mentions.

Cinderella (2015)

Related imageThis Disney live-action version by Kenneth Branagh, building off the classic animated version, was a pleasant surprise for me when I saw it at the drive-in theater.  First of all, it is visually gorgeous in its costumes, sets, and cinematography.  The actors are uniformly engaging; Cate Blanchett in particular is a treat as the Evil Stepmother.

It also has the most wonderful soundtrack, centered around a charming version of the folk song “Lavender’s Blue.”  I even used the soundtrack as writing music during NaNoWriMo.

But the best thing about it is the way it improves on the original Disney movie.  The original Cinderella is one of those pretty princesses without much agency, and the plot relies heavily on insta-love.  This version condenses the themes of Cinderella stories nicely with its mantra of “Have courage and be kind.”  It’s the kind of moral I would be happy to see a daughter of mine glean from a fairy tale.  We also see a much more developed relationship between Cinderella and the Prince.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Related imageI read this story for the first time about a year ago and fell in love with the creativity of this retelling.  First, it’s a sci-fi take on the story (Cinder is a cyborg), and it actually has some pretty cool biological concepts in it.  It also has a lot in common with Sailor Moon.

The romance is slow and sweet; how can you not love Prince Kai?  I also liked that there is not really one specific Fairy Godmother in this story; Cinder makes it to the ball with her own willpower (and a little help from darling Iko the android).

Cinder is only the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and as such it does not have a happy ending.  Instead, it spins nicely into the other stories without being saccharine.  I also really liked how the series goes on to feature other great female characters from fairy tales, ending in an awesome team-up.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)

My family had recorded this on VHS when it was on TV in 1997, and I can’t remember how many times we watched it as kids.  Brandy plus Whitney Houston is just a magical 90s combination.

This version, like the previous two mentioned above, also uses the idea of the Prince and Cinderella meeting once prior to the ball, which I always thought made more sense.

The songs may not be on par with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best, but they do the job, and the cast really breathes life into them.  My personal favorite is “Ten Minutes Ago,” sung by Cinderella and the Prince at the ball.  The dancing scenes are also fun, and the actors play up the comedy throughout nicely.

Speaking of the cast, I love the racial diversity here.  We have black, white, and Asian characters, sometimes all in the same family.  Of course, the story does not address this fact in any way, but visually it’s nice to see that representation.

Ever After

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Before Disney’s big screen, live action version a few years ago, the Cinderella movie crown was unquestionably held by Ever After, which is apparently appropriately subtitled “A Cinderella Story.”  This version grounds itself in real life by taking place in Renaissance France, with a framing story about the Grimm Brothers collecting European fairy tales.

Our main character Danielle has dreams, but she also has nerve and ambition.  She is one of the boldest Cinderellas I can think of, pretending to be a courtier as well as standing up to gypsies.  She is also very well-read thanks to her father, being able to quote Utopia.  I think my favorite part of this version is that Leonardo da Vinci serves the role of fairy godmother in helping Danielle get to the ball.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Image result for ella enchantedFor me, this is the book that started my entire love of fairy tale retellings.  I still re-read it, even now, most often going back to my favorite part: the letters that Char and Ella write to each other while he is away in Ayortha.

In this version, Ella is not obedient of her own accord; no, she has been cursed to be obedient (the fairy who bestowed this trait called it a gift!).  Ella must do anything that anyone commands her to do.  This, of course, nearly ruins her life, and the lives of her friends, so she sets out to break her curse and is able to overcome it in the end.  The story actually has a lot to say about autonomy and free will, which is pretty deep stuff for a children’s book; I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so beloved.

Even as it adds to the original tale, it stays close to its origins, using devices like Ella’s fairy godmother, the glass slippers, pumpkin carriage, and three nights of balls.  Plus, this book has everything you could want from a children’s fairy tale: magic curses, fantasy creatures like fairies, elves, ogres, and centaurs, made-up languages, and an adorable main couple.

There is also a movie version of Ella Enchanted, starring Anne Hathaway, that is delightful, but aside from the basic premise does not have that much in common with the novel.

I couldn’t let it go with just five this time, so here are some Honorable Mentions:

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Image result for princess of glassThis story is the sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball, itself a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”  The main character is Princess Poppy of Westfalin, who is just awesome, with so much humor and spunk.  But she is not really the Cinderella character; though Poppy does stand in for her once, the real Cinderella, Eleanora, is a side character and the Cinderella story is really more of a side plot.  I liked that it is a bit darker; for example, the fairy godmother is not good, and the molten glass is poured on the girls’ feet to make the slippers.

Another Cinderella Story

I will be honest: this is objectively not a great movie.  But I just love it anyways!  I guess I am just a sucker for dance movies.  Selena Gomez stars as an aspiring dancer who falls for a famous teen pop star after they dance together incognito.  The dance numbers are awesome, and the songs are stupidly catchy.  And how can you not love Jane Lynch?  She is hilarious as a has-been pop star in the evil stepmother role.  I like it way better than the first movie in the series with Hilary Duff, and the two movies after it get progressively worse.

Cinderella (Prokofiev)

Did you know there is a ballet version of Cinderella?  I danced in it when I was younger, as a “court lady,” aka part of the corps de ballet.  (My costume was a long maroon dress…maroon is a terrible color for redheads.)  The score by Prokofiev is very nice, though not as memorable as, say, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.  There are several versions of choreography (I don’t know which my company did), but the story is very classic.

What is your favorite version of Cinderella?  One of these, or a similar story from another culture?

 

 

Words Have Power: Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week 2017 Official Words Have Power Twitter Image

This week (September 24-30, 2017) is the annual Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and others.  The ALA has a department called the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which records “challenges” to books in public schools, libraries, etc. every year.  Last year in 2016 there were 323 challenges.

Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2016 GIF

There are many reasons why books are challenged; here’s the list of the ten most frequently challenged books last year, along with why they were challenged.

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Several of these are YA books; several are graphic novels.  The only book I’ve read is Eleanor & Park, which is a truly wonderful book that really touched me.  You can read my thoughts on it here.  It was challenged for its “offensive language,” which I honestly don’t remember.  Maybe there were some kind of slurs in it?  I don’t believe the book portray this language in a positive way, but rather as a realistic part of the sometimes harsh lives of these teenagers.  Here’s an interesting article on the challenges to Eleanor & Park, as well as the author’s reaction to them.

Several of these books I can understand may not be appropriate for certain age levels.  I always support parents taking an interest in what their kids are reading.  However, that does not give someone the right to determine what other parents’ kids are reading, and that is what censorship does.  Banning or removing books takes away our freedom to information, our freedom to read what we want.

Have you read any of the top ten banned books?  Any other challenged books you are reading?  Here’s some more info about book challenges in the US.

GeekyNerdy Book Club: Shockaholic

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Our late-summer selection for GNBC, hosted by GeekyNerdy Girl, is Carrie Fisher’s memoir Shockaholic.

Right from the dedication (to her daughter and the former president) you can tell this book will be entertaining.

This short memoir actually reads more like a series of essays than a chronological life story.  I ended up really liking the format because it was easy to pick up and put down.  Each chapter is a different topic, ranging from her family and friends to her mental and physical health.  There is very little mention of Star Wars at all.

Of course, I was expecting some discussion of her struggles with mental health, because I know she was a great advocate on that topic, but it is really only covered directly in one chapter.  However, I do think it was such a big part of her life that it bleeds over into everything she talks about, especially her family.

Carrie Fisher clearly had a unique sense of humor.  I actually put this book aside for a few days when I started, because it can be pretty dark humor at times and I just wasn’t in the mood for it.  But as I kept reading, I really appreciated it and laughed out loud a lot.  I thought the funniest story was when she went to dinner as a young woman with some senators in DC.  She refused to be intimidated by them, and I was totally cheering for her as she held her own with inappropriate humor.

I also really loved that there are personal pictures throughout the book.  And the captions are hilarious, rarely pertaining to the picture at all.  Instead, they sound like a historical documentary.  For example, her friend Michael Jackson reading her memoir is labeled as Harry Truman playing golf.

I didn’t know much about her family prior to reading this book, so learning about her famous parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, as well as Eddie’s wife Elizabeth Taylor, really helped me understand her better.  She had such a unique perspective on fame, having grown up around such famous people; this seems to be one reason she was able to understand her friend Michael Jackson so well.  In fact, she was an extremely self-aware person, and this comes through in all her writings.

Reading this memoir in light of her death last year was interesting, considering that a good part of the book deals with remembrances of other people after their deaths, including her father, stepfather, Michael Jackson, and another close friend who OD’d basically right next to her.  It definitely leads to a sense of one’s own mortality, and feels very poignant now that she’s gone, too.  As I said, she was very self-aware, and left us this thought:

What you’ll have of me after I journey to that great Death Star in the sky is an extremely accomplished daughter, a few books, and a picture of a stern-looking girl wearing some kind of metal bikini lounging on a giant drooling squid, behind a newscaster informing you of the passing of Princess Leia after a long battle with her head.

It was a battle she continued to fight until, and even as, she died, and I think, as does her daughter Billie, that she would want to continue to be open about that battle no matter the results.  She was used to living her life for others, and she continues to do so even in death as an icon, not just in sci-fi, but also for those of us who also fight mental health battles.

 

Regency Romance…with a bit of Magic

So I recently went on a months-long Regency Romance kick.  It’s been a wonderful escape from everything going on in my life and in the world.

The “Regency” period refers to a time in the early 1800s when Britain was ruled by the Prince Regent (later King George IV), because his father George III was deemed unfit. (This era also includes the Napoleonic Wars.)

Not actual Austen books

Jane Austen is of course one of the most famous authors of the Regency period, and I have read all six of her completed novels many times (my favorites being Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice).  So it’s no surprise that in the twentieth century a whole genre developed around writing similar novels, now as historical fiction.

Georgette Heyer essentially created the Regency romance genre, doing meticulous research to provide readers with accurate information about the period, using the same phrases people of the time would have used, and with the same worldview.  This has spun out into a large, varied genre whose books have varying degrees of historical detail, humor, intrigue, sex, and even sometimes a little magic.

Georgette Heyer

As I said above, for Regency Romance, there is no better place to start than the works of Georgette Heyer.  I am currently working my way through her thirty-some historical romance novels, and there are so many things to love.  She comes very close to Jane Austen in her dry wit and love of the ridiculous in her characters.  I am constantly laughing as I read them.  I love that she writes with 8367225such historical detail; I’ve learned so much about the culture of that time.

I also love that she has many varied plots and characters: she has some Gothic novels, some mysteries, settings in London and in the country, main characters that are young and silly, or older and more sensible, couples that have known each other forever or have just met.  Her romance is very clean, usually with some kisses at the end.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

The Grand Sophy: The second of her novels that I read, and the one that got me hooked.  Sophy is a tour-de-force main character, the kind of person that can manipulate everyone around her into doing what’s best for them.  The ending gets a little ridiculous, 11727810but it’s so funny you won’t care.

The Quiet Gentleman: I liked that this one has some mystery in it as well as romance; the main character suffers several attempts on his life after returning home to claim his inheritance.  It was pretty easy to figure out who the culprit was, but I still enjoyed it.  I also liked that the heroine is very unromantic and sensible—a girl after my own heart.

Bath Tangle:  This novel features several couples, all with varying (but entertaining) 11689134personalities, and it is set mostly in Bath as the title implies.  I really enjoyed the interplay between as the characters as they all struggle to figure out what they really want.

The Alastair-Audley series: The three main books in the series (These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck) are absolute classics.  The heroes are not always particularly likeable, but the heroines are always capable of handling them.  These books probably have the most history in them, too, dealing with many important figures and events of the day.  The first two are actually set in the Georgian period just before the Regency which gives the series even great scope.

Lester Family series by Stephanie Laurens

The Reasons for Marriage • A Lady of Expectations • An Unwilling Conquest • A Comfortable Wife

24406970This is a series of “reformed rake” stories all centering around one family.  It’s not really necessary to read them in order, but I liked that they were all connected, and many of the same characters appear throughout.

The first book, The Reasons for Marriage, was probably my favorite.  It features an apparent marriage of convenience that turns into something more.  I particularly liked that the heroine Lenore was intelligent, independent, and even a little introverted; her eventual pregnancy is also part of the plot, which resonated with me currently.

These are actually the first Harlequin romance novels I have ever read, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed them.  Though more racy than Heyer’s novels, they are fairly tame in terms of adult content.

I also started reading Laurens’ Cynster family series, and those are much more explicit in a bodice-ripper style.  As I told my husband, I was 7% of the way into the first book and there was already a hot shirtless guy running around.  For reasons.  Anyways, the Cynster books are not as much my cup of tea, but also feature some entertaining characters.

Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey

25320766I loved the intrigue and adventure in this recent, lighthearted YA romance.  It was just wonderfully fluffy and charming.  I also loved that the heroine Juliana is a scientist trying to get her work published!

The book was nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it was entertaining from the very first chapter.  The main couple was very cute.  There was quite a lot of stuff like Miss Telford had very nice eyes and a nice smile but Spencer wasn’t going to think about that right now.

The author also published another YA Regency title this year, Duels and Deceptions, which I have on hold at the library and hope to read soon.

Now…onto the magic!

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

24737347On my quest to read more of the authors from the twisted fairy tale anthology I enjoyed last year, I uncovered this gem (pun slightly intended).

This one has all of the charm of a Regency romance, plus dangerous magic, adventure on the high seas, and assumed identities thrown in, too.  It was a wonderful mix of genres; I think it leans a little YA also.

The first chapter, in which Lady Newtington’s (Newt’s) emerald is stolen, read a bit like a short story, and then the rest of the book kind of goes off in a different direction in searching for the emerald, with a bit of shift in tone.  It was a little weird, but the book was so entertaining it didn’t bother me much.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is the first in a series about a family of sisters that have some talent for glamour, aka8697507 magic, which is kind of considered a womanly art.  I really, really liked how the concept of illusionary magic was done here; it was interesting and could easily be explored further in the series.  Although the tone is more adult, I don’t recall anything more than a bit of kissing.

However, the characters and plot were rather average.  I read this several months ago and can’t even remember all that much about it.  The heroine Jane was interesting enough, but I did not take to the hero at all, finding him at turns boring and confusing.

So, in short, I don’t plan on reading any more of the series.

Do you guys have any favorite Regency stories (of any genre!) to recommend?