Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Teddy Kristiansen
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A hard-boiled detective investigates the legendary case of Humpty Dumpty’s murder. A boy wanders off along the railroad tracks and has a close encounter with a troll under a bridge. Another boy finds himself at the wrong party, where the guests talk about the strangest things. An intergalactic scam artist tells the tale of one of his greatest cons. And a group of jaded epicureans bemoan that there’s nothing new for them to taste . . . until one of their members mentions the legendary Sunbird. In other words, pure literary magic.
In the spirit of Ray Bradbury’s classic children’s book R Is for Rocket, Neil Gaiman pulls together a collection of his short stories that seem well suited to a younger audience, and publishes them together in one neat volume, M Is for Magic. I love it. These tales are some of Gaiman’s best short stories, whatever the age of the reader. They evoke the things I love best of his writing–the wit, the magic, the amazing literary style that is both captivating and easy to read. One thing I found unique about this collection (as compared with his adult short-story collections) is the picture it gives of growing up in the sixties. Probably an unexpected but natural result of most of the stories being written in respect to the author’s own childhood, but there’s an authenticity to the feel of that era as demonstrated in these stories that’s really neat to read. I do have to warn: while a more child-friendly collection than his others, there are still a few things in these stories that might be a bit old for some children. Generally speaking, I’d say this collection would be best for a 12 and up audience. Whether you’re looking for a fun fantasy/sci-fi short story collection for a kid you know or you’re interested for yourself, I think M Is for Magic is a choice that’s, well, magical.
Authors: Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
Fey sisters Serana and Meteora have lived in ageless, carefree youth for uncounted years, but that all changes when one of them accidentally reveals their Queen’s most carefully kept secret. In punishment, the both of them are stripped of everything they have always relied on: youth, beauty, magical power, the freedom of the Greenwood, even the presence of each other. The two are dumped into the human world, miles apart, in the forms of fat, powerless old women. And so, they must find a new way to live, blending in with humanity and seeing humans in a new light. But even the Queen’s curse can’t keep them wholly separated, and in the midst of this new life, the two sisters find new purpose and unity.
So, I’m normally a huge fan of Jane Yolen’s writing, but Except the Queen just didn’t hit me right. I still liked it–a 3-star rating is still a definite like–but I probably won’t ever read it again. I even suspect it’s actually quite a good book, but still. . . . The first part of the story, while they’re still in the Greenwood, was very difficult for me to get into; I had to force myself to read the first 6 chapters or so. It was only after Serana and Meteora became a part of the human world, as they became more human themselves, that I found them at all possible to relate to. The actual structure and build-up of the story was quite good–I think if it had been written just a bit differently (maybe by just Jane Yolen; I’m not familiar with Snyder’s writing), this could have easily been a 4.5- or a 5-star read. I did love that a good chunk of the story is told in letters exchanged between the sisters, and that’s probably one of my favorite aspects of this story. One of the biggest negatives was that the story is told from numerous perspectives that flop from first person to third person to (very weirdly, and just for the Queen) second person. It’s kind of off-putting. Still, for those who don’t mind a few issues along those lines, I do think that Except the Queen is an original, intriguing sort of contemporary urban fantasy that melds intrigue, romance, and the sweet daily lives of two little old lady sisters quite nicely.
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The town of Gentry is very good at keeping secrets and not noticing horrible things. Mackie Doyle knows this better than anyone . . . after all, he’s the best-kept secret of them all. When he was little, he was placed in the crib of Malcolm Doyle–a fey changeling to replace the stolen human child. But instead of creating an uproar, Malcolm’s parents chose to treat Mackie as their son, hiding the fact that he wasn’t human as best they could. But now as Mackie is in high school, it’s not so easy being a fake; blood makes him sick, all the iron around him everywhere is slowly poisoning him, and now he finds himself approached by individuals who aren’t even as convincingly human as he is . . . which isn’t particularly, not that anyone seems to notice. Because Gentry is good at not noticing.
The Replacement was an unexpected find for me, a dark paranormal romance with a refreshing twist. I have to admit, I’ve gotten extremely tired of vampires and zombies, even though there are some excellent stories featuring these beings. But having a contemporary story that looked back to the old legends and fairy tales of the fey and their habits of stealing children in exchange for “luck” or “protection” or some such was a pleasantly creepy change. I think the way Yovanoff handled the concept worked well too, especially in Mackie’s character–the extreme allergy to iron allows for all sorts of interesting plot developments, since the element is so commonplace we don’t even notice its presence usually. But Yovanoff also did a great job of keeping the story human, of putting people in Mackie’s life to love him, whatever he may be. I did have a few minor issues with the plot development, although I realize they were probably necessary for the story to flow. For one, the romantic development felt too fast for me; I mean, I totally think that Mackie fell in love with the right person, it was just like “whoa, they’re kissing already?!” you know? The other thing was the complete paralysis of the parents. I get how a town could overlook awful stuff happening around them when it’s convenient. We do it all the time, you know we do. But mother instincts are pretty crazy strong things, and I can’t see any real mom not realizing that her baby’s been exchanged–or not doing something about it when she realizes, however futile her actions may be. But still, in spite of these relatively minor issues, The Replacement was an eerie, exciting teen paranormal romance that I would recommend, especially to those who really enjoy the genre.
Author: Heather Tomlinson
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Once upon a time, four children were the best of friends: three humans, a boy and two girls, and one fae, a drac who loved mischief and gave the other three a salve that allowed them to see the true form of the fae. Years passed, and the four grew apart. Princess Aurelie lost her mother and became caught up in great responsibilities as her country descended into war. Her dear friend Netta was blinded by another fae, angered by her ability to see him truly, and now she refuses to leave her quiet country town. Loic, the drac, is convinced that his friends abandoned him on purpose and has isolated himself in the world of the fae. And Garin has returned to his home country with his parents–a country that is at war with the land of the princess he loves. Yet none of them have forgotten their affection for each other, and as circumstances rage around them, the four find themselves once again drawn together. . . . And just perhaps, the bonds they share will be enough to save them all.
Having never read any of Heather Tomlinson’s work, I was intrigued by the cover and summary of Aurelie, which promised something along the lines of a new fairy tale or maybe a retelling. I really wasn’t expecting the story that unfolded, though–a politically-charged, romantic fantasy along the lines of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner’s writing. I loved it! The plot and the prose are tight and sure, making this a short but engaging tale. The multiple perspectives (of all four friends) work very well in this context. I found it particularly intriguing that Tomlinson chose to give first-person perspective to the three “secondary” main characters–Netta, Garin, and Loic–while writing Aurelie’s perspective in third person. It’s unusual, but it works; I actually didn’t notice until a good ways into the story. The slightly French feel to the story gave it an interesting flavor as well, something more along the lines of Perrault’s fairy tales as opposed to the Brothers Grimm, say. Aurelie was exciting and sweet both, full of unexpected turns and great characters, and I would highly recommend this story, especially to those who enjoy the works of authors like Pierce and Turner.
My rating: 5 of 5
You all know the story, right? A young, orphaned noblewoman oppressed by her evil stepmother and stepsisters until her fairy godmother steps in, saves the day, and gives the girl the opportunity to meet Prince Charming. But what if none of it is that simple? What if Cinders’ stepmother and stepsisters are more than just evil oppressors? What if there’s a chance to really be a family? What if there are other people involved, other secrets to uncover? And what if Cinders decides to take matters into her own hands and decide her own fate?
Cinders is such a great visual novel! It takes the classic fairy tale and utterly transforms it in an amazing way. The creators describe it as a “mature” version of the story, and it’s definitely that–but not in the sketchy way that might seem to imply. Rather, it’s mature in the sense that choices have consequences and people are complex individuals. I think the characters are some of the best, most developed ones I’ve ever seen in a visual novel. There are so many different facets of their personalities, and even the unlikable ones (like Cinders’ stepmother) have a depth that is unusual. Cinders herself is a far cry from the typical stereotyped “Cinderella” character–fiery red hair, determined self-confidence, and a witty tongue complement the dreamier side of her character, making her a rich, enjoyable character to role-play. And there is a good deal of role-playing and decision-making involved in this visual novel, with the choices you make significantly influencing the ending you get and what you encounter along the way (although of course, there are numerous set events along the way as well). I found it interesting that the creators put in a small, tasteful indicator in one corner to show the places you could have a different outcome if you chose differently (it popped up a lot). The music and art add a lot to this visual novel as well, with the art being particularly notable. It takes a more western semi-realistic style (as opposed to the anime-styled art of many visual novels), and the work is really quite beautiful. There’s so much attention to detail that I found myself pausing just to stare at the scenes and take it all in–colors, expressions, fashions, even subtle animations on flames and such. For those who enjoy visual novels–or who just enjoy a great retelling–Cinders is an excellent game that I would highly recommend.
Credits: Game & Story by Tom Grochowiak/Art by Gracjana Zielinska/Music by Rob Westwood/Writing by Hubert Sobecki, Agnieszka Mulak, & Ayu Sakata
Note: Cinders is available on Steam, and you can find more information at the official MoaCube website. One play-through took me about 3 hours, and the game definitely has replay value, with at least 4 distinct endings available.
Walt Disney Studios
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Two sisters separated by a secret. A stunning power. A storm that could destroy the kingdom. An epic quest through the snow. The promise of true love. . . . Oh, and an adorkable snowman who dreams of warm weather.
So . . . I’ve been avoiding this movie for over two years now, mostly because I hate the whole hype. But my brother finally made me actually watch it, and I have to say that I enjoyed Frozen for the most part–certainly more than I have liked most Disney princess stories. The characters were a huge part of that; Elsa and Anna felt like real people with personalities and quirks (Elsa with a fantastic bad-girl vibe and Anna with a more funny/adorable feel). They work well together, as characters. The pacing of the story works well also, and it’s not quite so cookie-cutter Disney Prince Charming of a story–much more a girl-power and nice-sensible-normal-guy sort of story, which is great. Supposedly, this movie is based on Andersen’s The Snow Queen; I’ve only read one retelling, but as far as that goes, there’s almost no resemblance at all. Visually, Frozen is very nicely done; the CG is very attractive, with nice color schemes, great character expressions, and some absolutely stunningly gorgeous shots (most notable the whole “Let It Go” ice-castle scene). Which brings me to the music: over all great compositions that are musically attractive and that contribute a lot to the story lyrically. I really appreciated that the music was used as a story-telling element so much. And of course, the voice actors did a great job both in the acting and the singing; superb choices for the roles (I especially love Idina Menzel’s work as Elsa). There were a few minor negatives that kept this from being a full 5 stars, however. First of all, although I loved Olaf as a character, he seemed off in relation to the rest of the story–and how does a snowman created by a princess in a fairy-tale setting know about sunglasses and beach umbrellas? It just doesn’t fit. And I just don’t like the trolls, although I realize they’re a necessary storytelling element. Still, Frozen was a very enjoyable movie with a nice modern fairy-tale feel that’s great for all ages.
Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee/Produced by Peter Del Vecho/Screenplay by Jennifer Lee/Story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, & Shane Morris/Based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen/Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, & Santino Fontana/Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Christophe Beck, & Frode Fjellheim