The Ordinary Princess

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Here is one of my beloved childhood books. As an ordinary girl myself, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye appealed to my desire to find a fairy-tale ending despite the lack of princessly charms. The cover of my book is now a bit worn, its pages yellowing and smelling faintly of damp basement, but I still find the story appealing after all these years.

Despite precautions taken to ensure a successful christening for seventh daughter Princess Amethyst, the fairy Crustacea proclaims, "You shall be Ordinary."

And from that moment she was. From her mousy brown hair, freckles, and turned up nose, Princess Amy is nothing like her older sisters with their fair skin and golden hair. Ordinary suits her though. Amy has no interest in stuffy princes or boring princess activities. And she's quite willing to seek her own adventure to find happiness.

Sometimes ordinary can be the greatest gift of all. And that truth is the greatest treasure I know of to give a young girl struggling to find her own identity in a world dominated by the glamorous. It may be thirty years old, but this story still has relevance for today's tweens, perhaps more so than ever.

The Serpent's Shadow

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Snow White meets Edwardian England in Mercedes Lackey's novel: The Serpent's Shadow, book one of her Elemental Masters series.

Doctor Maya Witherspoon faces many challenges in the land of her father's birth. Daughter of a British physician and a high caste Brahmin woman, she faces discrimination for her mixed blood. She also dares to be a doctor in a male-dominated world. But how could she deny the training begun at the side of her beloved father?

These challenges are small compared to the threat that sent her to this strange land from her native India. Her training was not the only heritage she'd inherited. Her mother, Surya, had been a priestess of Indian magics before becoming outcast for her marriage to one of the hated Englishmen. But despite Maya's burgeoning magic, her mother had refused to train her. With fearful eyes, the only answer her mother gave was, "Your magic is of your father's blood, not mine."

Maya never had the chance to learn what that meant. Before dying in a cholera epidemic, Surya tried to warn her of some danger, but in her fever, the only intelligible words had been the name "Shivani" and to beware the serpent's shadow. Not long after her mother's death, her father had been bitten by a krait hidden in his boot. Only magic could explain how the snake had managed to sneak past her mother's seven pets: a Hanuman langur, a saker falcon, a Eurasian eagle-owl, an Indian ring-necked parrot, a peacock, and a pair of mongooses.

That had been threat enough to send Maya, along with her household, across the seas to England, to hide from her mysterious enemy. However, she knows that it won't be long before she has to face the threat. Only training in Western magic will be able to save her. But who would be willing to train a half-caste woman? And will she master her abilities in time to save her life when the vindictive pursuer catches up to her?

Mercedes Lackey creates rich worlds populated with believable characters. This series is no exception. She captures the flavor of the time period and mixes it with the magic of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. A world where those with magical ability can see elemental creatures such as naiads, selkies, fauns, and more. A world also containing Dark Path magicians and sinister elementals. And not everything is as it appears.

Be sure to watch for reviews of the other books in the series, each with its own fairy tale theme.

Monsters Vs Aliens

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I finally got to see Monsters Vs Aliens earlier this week. Such a cute movie. The plot may have been a straight forward learning-to-accept-yourself storyline, but the characters kept me laughing. Between the references to other movies to the banter and one liners, this movie is full of humor, even if some of it is entirely for the benefit of the adults watching it with their kids.

Just minutes before her wedding, Susan Murphy is hit by a meteorite infused with quantonium, a rare element that causes her to grow. The government captures her as a monster and sends her to a secret government facility (don't say the name!) with other monsters collected over the years where they are watched over by General W.R. Monger. She desperately wants to find some way to become normal again in order to go back to Derek, her weatherman fiancee. Dr. Cockroach, B.O.B., the Missing Link, and Insectosaurus try to help her.

When the alien, Gallaxhar, shows up looking for the quantonium in his quest for world domination, the monsters are called upon to fight the menace. Mayhem and laughter ensue.

I allowed my preschooler to watch this with us, despite its PG rating. After all, this is the child who is already a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy. He dressed as a Clone Trooper this past Halloween, his choice. I find it fascinating to note what he found to be "scary." Was it the monsters, Gallaxhar, the giant robot, or the clones? Was it the battles? No, he thought those parts were exciting. It was Susan's capture and inprisonment that had him huddling against us and complaining about it being "too scary."

We paused the movie, a benefit to watching on DVD, to talk him through what was going on. We even gave him the option of turning it off, but he decided he wanted to keep watching. Then once Susan met the other monsters and made friends, he was fine. Not only fine but got excited about the fight scenes. (He's such a superhero wanna-be. I love it.) Now he likes the movie and doesn't think it scary after all.

This movie is now on my purchase list. Too bad I missed it in the theater; 3D would have been fun.

Silver Woven in My Hair

Sunday, January 17, 2010

For a slight change of pace, here is a book for the Intermediate reader. Silver Woven in My Hair by Shirley Rousseau Murphy is a charming spin on Cinderella legends from around the world.

Thursey lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters in the small country of Gies. Their inn lies off the high road, the only one in a day's ride that offers shelter to the common traveler. Many a merchant has passed through bearing stories from other places, stories of Tattercoats, Cendrillon, Aschenputtel, and others like Cinderella. If she dreams of herself in that role, who could blame her when her family treats her with scorn and forces her to do the hard labor of maintaining the inn?

She longs to know the fate of her father, missing since he joined the war against the Balkskakian hordes. If he were home, he would make things right again. But no one who has returned knows if he is dead or alive. Her stepsisters claim that he died a coward, running from the Balkskak's troops during the push when the queen and young prince were captured. Only a coward afraid of the mill wheel would have lost two fingers, and such a man could never amount to much. But Thursey remembers how he kept her stepmother and stepsisters in better temper.

The kingdom now has reason to rejoice. Five years since the royal family had been rescued, their recovery from the foreign illness and the prince's wounds was finally nearing its end. Now they were returning home from the Isle of Carthemas to meet their people and reassure them that the prince would be healthy enough to take up his duties as a man. An Easter ball would be held for all to attend.

Thursey longs to go but knows her family would never allow her. And her heart is torn between her dreams and the handsome goatherd who tends the Carthemas goats whose milk is responsible for the prince's recovery. The goatherd who has become her dear friend and encourages her dreams. If the magic of the stories comes true, would it mean leaving him behind?

Even for a younger audience, I still find this enchanting. A hope that you never know when or how magic may find you to make your dreams come true.

Never After

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Never After by Rebecca Lickiss is an inventive take on the traditional fairy tale with allusions to at least half a dozen stories.

Prince Althelstan needs a bride, but there is a shortage of marriageable princesses. Lady Vevila is restless and wants adventure, not a husband. Prince Althelstan suckers his cousin into helping him on his quest. All he needs is a princess to kiss the three sleeping princes awake in order for the rest of the castle--and his princess--to also awaken. With the help of three magicians, it should be no problem, right?

Too bad the evil witch wants them all to stay away from her precious sleeping princes. Lady Vevila must prove she is a princess by submitting to a princess test: in her case, spinning straw into gold. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Here enters Rumpelstiltskin with his own agenda, which has nothing to do with stealing her firstborn son and everything to do with her kissing a frog.

Lady Vevila has had it with everyone: the witch for insisting on the silly princess test, the magicians for their greed and adding additional nights of gold spinning, and her cousin for having dragged her into this in the first place. Even Rumpelstiltskin for only swapping the straw for gold instead of getting her out and still charging the unspecified favor for each exchange. What will she do to make each of them pay for her ordeal?

This book kept me entertained all the way through with its fairy tale appeal, distinctive characters, hilarious dialogue, breezy narration, and one strong-willed young woman who does not take kindly to being penned up and having her own desires thwarted.